Monday, 25 May 2015

The Rani Elite



It is perhaps a little surprising that it took Big Finish this long to bring back the Rani, especially given her popularity among a significant segment of Doctor Who fandom. This story was originally written for Kate O'Mara. The great actress sadly passed away before she could make her glorious return and so the story was hastily re-written to allow a regenerated Rani. Big Finish wisely decided to be upfront with the Rani's return and to make it a selling point rather than a surprise.

The new Rani is a post-Kate O'Mara Rani meeting the Sixth Doctor out of sequence. While the script makes mention of the Rani's knowledge of the Sixth Doctor's regeneration, it does not deal with the oddity of an out of sequence Time Lord encounter. The history of the classic series seems quite consistent in always having Time Lord's meet in chronological sequence. It has been suggested that the very nature of TARDISes ensures this. I really wanted to know if there is a special reason why this should happen here. There are of course two ways that they could have avoided an out of sequence Rani story. They could have had Peter Davison meet a pre-Kate O'Mara Rani. I always imagine the pre-Kate Rani/ Ushas looking Indian, but I suppose it would be racially problematic to have an Indian actress playing the Rani. Or is it actually a form of blacking up to have a European actress calling herself the Rani? Which is worse? Alternatively, they could have had the Seventh Doctor encounter the newly regenerated Rani. Evidently, they felt that the Sixth Doctor would work best with the Rani. I think the results show they are right, as the Sixth Doctor and the new Rani spar quite nicely together. She is cool and cold, he is loud and bombastic.

Siobhan Redmond seems a little too in awe of Kate O'Mara to be quite comfortable in the role, but hopefully this will change should she return for future audios. What she brings to the role, other than her Scottish accent, is a cool detachment which probably fits better with the core of what the Rani represents than Kate O'Mara's campiness. Not that I don't love watching Kate being camp and dressing up as Mel, but I think Redmond brings a nice seriousness to the role. Of course, she loses her cool once she is defeated and starts ranting about getting revenge.



I think perhaps Redmond suffers a little from this story being very much meant for Kate O'Mara. The plot is not that far away from Time and the Rani. To introduce a new Rani, it would have made more sense to have her involved in a more radically different plot than what we have seen from her before. However, you can understand Big Finish working with what they had. Like so much of what Big Finish does, the big fault of this story is its unwillingness to do anything adventurous. This is yet another story where Peri gets threatened with somebody trying to possess her body, with lots of running around and getting captured. However, in spite of this, I still found it genuinely enjoyable.

To my delight this turned out to be a continuity feast that would have impressed even the late Craig Hinton. Along with Speelsnapes, we even get the Deca stuff from Divided Loyalties (so that stuff is canon now!). I punched the air when Dr. Who addressed the Rani as Ushas!

It looks like the Rani gets hauled off to prison at the end. I hope she enjoys having her mugshot taken and getting strip-searched. Hopefully, when she gets tired of being alpha bitch in Stormcage, she can escape and come back for some more misadventures with the Doctor. I genuinely hope we do see more of the Redmond Rani.





Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Dalek Invasion of Earth




Despite its title, this serial concerns the Dalek occupation of Earth, rather than the Dalek invasion. In this, it strikes an original note, as there are plenty of films about flying saucer invasions, but very few films about what the flying saucer people do after they've turned up and knocked down the Statue of Liberty and burned down the White House.

There is a very effective sense of bleakness about Dalek Invasion. The characters find themselves in an utterly hostile, yet not unfamiliar environment, harassed at every turn by Robomen, Daleks, flying saucers, hungry dogs, collaborators, crocodiles and spivs. The scenes of a silent London remind me of the 80s Day of the Triffids series. Indeed, the scene where Barbara drives her truck into a group of Daleks is remarkably similar to a scene in Day of the Triffids, where a truck runs over a bunch of triffids. I actually found myself looking at the credits to see if David Maloney had any involvement.

There are two things that are not so effective. The long, lumbering plot with it's grab bag of Terry Nation action sequences and the rather weak direction of Richard Martin. In the rather unworldly atmosphere of the first Dalek serial, Richard Martin worked alright. However, he was much less adept at the more realistic action drama of this story. The fight scenes are simply terrible. This is a story that simply cries out for Douglas Camfield.

The final scene of the departure of Susan is moving, especially for me, as I am one of the few fans of Susan. However, it is hard not to feel Dr. Who's actions were a bit drastic and heavy handed.

The Daleks are perhaps less interesting than they were in the first Dalek sequel. They have become a generic space conquering race, the likes of which we would see rather a lot of in Doctor Who. The obvious difference from later Daleks, however, is their reliance on satellite dishes to move about in the open (in contrast to the city-bound Daleks of the first serial). Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood offer a good explanation for this, arguing that the more familiar space Daleks adapted a number of Skaro city Daleks to boost their forces.

What do we make of the Daleks bizarre plan to turn the Earth into a spaceship? When we considered Inferno, we connected that to that story to the theory that the planet Earth is constructed on a hole in the universe and that beneath lies an entrace into the hellish Yssgaroth universe. I pointed out that in Inferno, the Primord mutants appeared to be under some kind of psychic direction. The Yssgaroth vampires were trying to break out into this universe. I would suggest that something similar is happening in this story. The Daleks are being telepathically manipulated by the Yssgaroth into drilling into the Earth's core. Their Dalek minds are being fooled into thinking that they can turn the Earth into a spaceship, when actually they are breaking out a far more terrible enemy.



Saturday, 16 May 2015

Seeds of Doom



I am one of the few Doctor Who fans who is not keen on the Philip Hinchcliffe era. To be honest, given that horror is not everybody's cup of tea, I am surprised there are not more of us. I really struggle with the Hinchcliffe/ Holmes delight in gruesome painful deaths. They really pushed the show too far in a violent direction. Philip Sandifer, who often says things I agree with, ends up being a very uncritical defender of this period of the show. Yet when it comes to Seeds of Doom, he admits that the critics of Hinchcliffe have a point here. He points out that in this story, the producer cannot plead that the horror is fantasy and not realistic violence, with Dr. Who brandishing a gun, beating somebody up so badly he ends up in hospital and instructing a mercenary to make a Molotov cocktail. This is Doctor Who doing a big dumb action thriller. It does feel quite right, with Dr. Who at the beck and call of government agencies, investigating clues like a detective and the final resolution coming from an air strike.

Yet for all that I detest the excessive of violence of this story, I still can't bring myself to dislike it. I certainly enjoy a lot more than anything in the season that follows it. On the most basic level, it's got a big tentacled vegetable monster in it. I like man-eating plants and I like big tentacled monsters. The concept of an alien monster being dug up out of the Antarctic ice and menacing an isolated base (yeah, The Thing) always works. The direction and effects are superb, as you would expect with Douglas Camfield at the helm. We also get memorable characters like Harrison Chase, Scorby and Amelia Ducat. Although it is a six-part story, it does not feel too long or padded. It maintains a much better sense of pace than Genesis of the Daleks or Talons of Weng-Chiang. So I just can't dislike this. Seeds of Doom is a guilty pleasure of a Doctor Who story.



Sunday, 10 May 2015

Planet of the Daleks




I watched the re-run of Planet of the Daleks on BBC1 in 1993. I was twelve years old at the time. I think at the time I was disappointed that it was not the original Dalek story. I was a huge Doctor Who fan at the time, but even then I found myself getting bore of the story as I watched the last two or three episodes. It just seemed so long and drawn out. This seems to challenge the argument(an argument I have sometimes used)that the overlong and padded stories can be more easily enjoyed and appreciated when watched over a course of weeks. Planet of the Daleks really is as padded out and tedious as any Doctor Who serial can get.

Planet of the Daleks is basically a re-working of The Daleks, with every one Terry Nation's favorite tropes thrown in for good measure. This is the ultimate cliched Dan Dare space adventure. Carnivorous plants, explosions and the inevitable virus.

Yet it does benefit from the superb direction of David Maloney, who was doing everything he can to make this a decent production. Admittedly, some of the effects are a bit weak, such as the Dalek army model shot. I don't think these detract too much overall from its overall visual strength.

Like so much of the Pertwee era, this story is colourful. I used to like the early gritty Season 7 Third Doctor material best. However, I have come to appreciate the colourful Glam Rock Third Doctor stories that don't really fit with the common perception of the Pertwee years as realistic TV action.

I love Phil Sandifer's essay on Planet of the Daleks. He does a great job of re-assessing it in a positive light. Sandifer points out that Nation does not quite get how to use the Third Doctor and so has him spending much of his time making speeches about the nature of courage:

"So Pertwee does not get to run around and be ostentatiously imperious as he prefers. Nor does he get to be ignored and occasionally tortured, as he's best at. Instead he stands around and gives speeches about the meaning of courage. Pertwee certainly isn't bad at this, but it's neither in his wheelhouse nor something he visibly enjoys."

Yet he argues that Pertwee finds the way to make this work:

"The solution he settles on, however, is perfect: he plays the story with a cool detachment. The result is a perfect postmodern commentary on the episode- as if the Doctor recognizes that he's in an unusually easy adventure of far less complexity than he routinely deals with, and that it does not actually require his full attention. The tendency to make speeches about fear instead of doing what are now the core elements of "Doctory" behaviour becomes not a mischaracterization but a case of the Doctor taking it easy and figuring he doesen't have to work, he can just sit back and encourage everybody else."

I think this is such a beautiful insight from Sandifer. I love the idea of Dr. Who having outgrown this sort of story.

By no means a great story, but I love the fab black and gold Dalek Supreme.






Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Glorious Revolution



The Glorious Revolution of 1688 has always been a significant event for me. When I was a Protestant, I celebrated it. Now that I have converted to Catholicism, I regard the Glorious Revolution as a disaster. I do find it distressing though, that so many people are unaware of this event. The writer admits that before researching for the story, he had not heard of it, having not been taught about it at school. The Stuart dynasty used to be a staple part of the British history curriculum, but it seems that modern schools avoid the Stuarts. Popular culture seems more interested in the Tudors, presenting a sanitized image of the Elizabethan 'Golden Age,' ignoring all of the achievements of the Stuart era. Thankfully, Big Finish have paid tribute to this most fascinating era with this Companion Chronicle.

Jamie's background as a Jacobite had not really been explored prior to this audio. It was nice to see Jamie in a situation where he understood what was going on and was less of a fish out of water. Yet he soon gets into trouble and has his own Aztecs moment, attempting to change history. This is brought to us via Frazer Hines who is on top form. He not only reprises Jamie brilliantly, but gives an uncanny impression of Troughton. Frazer is assisted by Andrew Fettes, who plays too roles extremely well; the tortured and embittered James II/VII and the cynical civil servant-like Celestial Intervention Agent.

On the whole, I enjoyed this story and thought it was well done. It was great hear the Second Doctor dragging up again and disguising himself and Jamie as washer women. However, it does suffer from a problem with pacing and feels rather rushed. The interesting idea of a change in timelines is not really developed. More importantly, I felt Jamie was far too quick to accept that history could not be changed. There was no sense of conflict or discomfort in his betrayal of James II/VII.

According to this audio, Jamie lived a very happy and contented life Post-War Games (+ Season 6B). This definitely conflicts with what we saw in the comic strip, The World Shapers, but I doubt anybody will complain about that.




Saturday, 25 April 2015

Gallifrey: Intervention Earth



I listened to the first series of Big Finish's Gallifrey spin-off, but after that I had not followed this range. However, when I saw the incredible cover of this audio, with the new Romana, Ace and Omega in his original costume, I had to buy it. As it turned out, I had no problem enjoying it having heard only one Gallifrey season. I'm sure Doctor Who fans could have enjoyed it without having heard any previous releases.

In this story, we see Ace with her own TARDIS, working for the Celestial Intervention Agency. I have always like the idea of Ace becoming a Time Lord; it made sense of the way the Seventh Doctor seemed to be testing and preparing Ace for some unknown task. Ace is not a Time Lord here, but she is obviously moving in that direction. I'm not sure Sophie Aldred pulls of this massive character development, but I'm glad she's here.

The big treat here is the return of Stephen Thorne as Omega. I simply adore his bombastic vocal performance as Omega in The Three Doctors. Sadly, we don't get to here him as much as we might have hoped and he does not get quite as angry as he did the first time around (You have angered me!)

The story follows The Three Doctors quite closely in plot. This actually makes it the second attempt to re-write the Three Doctors after The Infinity Doctors. One problem is that though we go into the anti-matter universe, the sound effects do not really convey any sense of what this place is like. They could at least have given us Omega's wibbly-wobbly Gell Guards!

I really do like the new incarnation of Romana. Juliet Landau really does bring something new to the character with a much more seductive and understated performance than we got under Lalla Ward. I'm very much forward to hearing more of her. There seems to be quite a bit of debate among fans as to whether the Juliet Landau Romana, known as 'Trey' is the same as the Romana III in the BBC books. Her creator seemed to suggest she was not, despite other voices in Big Finish to the contrary. I am very much of the opinion that she is the same Romana III who becomes War Queen of Gallifrey. Her appearance clearly resembles descriptions of the character, even down to the outfit she wears on the cover. Furthermore, she has the ruthlessness and seductiveness of the novels' Romana III. Her interest in the future of Gallifrey reflects the interest of Romana III in the coming War of Heaven, though I doubt Big Finish will be exploring that continuity minefield, even if Lawrence Miles did give them permission.

I don't think this audio quite lives up to the explosive cinematic looking cover, but it is enjoyable and promises exciting things ahead. The upbeat musical score, included as a separate track, as usual, is impressive too.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Frontier in Space



Frontier in Space is by no means the greatest of Doctor Who stories, or even the greatest of Pertwee era stories. Yet it certainly feels unique. In large part this is because it pursues the genre of epic planet-hopping Space Opera far more than any other serial. In this story we visit no less than three planets, as well as the moon and various spaceships. In this modern era, when Doctor Who stories are set on Earth, particularly in Twenty-First Century England, this stands out a lot. The mood of this story also feels different, with the rich political intrigue and the heavy political overtones, even if these are a little heavy-handed.

Most significantly, more than any other story, Frontier in Space makes the future feel like a real place. So many things contribute to this, such as the news reports, with their accounts of Finland and Japan. We get the delightful scene with the female president getting a massage. We get buildings that are seen from outside and which therefore do not feel like television sets. We get some nice costume designs, most notably the decision to put Jon Pertwee's Doctor in a prison uniform. This small costume change is such a massive dose of realism. We see the Doctor locked up all the time. We are used to seeing him threatened and in danger. Yet we seldom see him stripped of his visual identity as the Doctor.

The story has other things going for it; a visually interesting set of aliens in the Draconians, a script that plays to Pertwee's strengths and some fantastic performances. Chief of all of these is the superb last appearance of the Delgado Master. Sadly, Delgado would pass away in an automobile accident not long after this was made, but he had saved his best for last. Here we see the Master as the ultimate cosmic manipulator, trying to control events on a galactic stage, but doing it with an ever present sense of humour.

Unfortunately, Frontier in Space does have some significant weaknesses, particularly relating to its plot. Most obviously is the common complaint that Jo and the Doctor spend so much time in this story locked up in one jail cell after another. This feels almost parody of the Doctor Who staple of capture and escape routines. This would probably have been less obvious to the original viewers who saw the seven episodes over a considerable period of time, but it is irritating to those watching the DVD in one sitting. The conclusion is also disappointing and fails to give the Master the send-off he deserves. Yet despite these and other small faults, Frontier has a tremendous sense of grandeur that sets it above many other Doctor Who stories.

This is a story that tends to get overlooked in assessments and overviews of the Pertwee era. Phil Sandifer has pointed out at least once that most people who talk about the Pertwee era don't really appreciate its richness. People tend to view this era through the lens of Season 7 and forget how often the Third Doctor left the Earth. The BBC Wales Doctors have all spent far more time in England then Pertwee ever did.



Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Silent Stars Go By, by Dan Abnett (BBC novel)



This novel by popular science fiction tie-in writer Dan Abnett, was originally published as a deluxe hardcover volume, then republished as a paperback in a series of Doctor Who reprints.

This was actually the first New Series novel that I have read. I don't care for the New Series, so I was hardly likely to take an interest in its spin-off novels. However, this being the first appearance of the Ice Warriors in a BBC Wales Doctor story and it also being a Dan Abnett novel, I definitely wanted to read it.

Silent Stars is a novel that very much wears its influences on its literary sleeve. With the Christmas feel, it very much feels like a Moffat Christmas episode (though it is better than all of those dreadful affairs). On the other hand, it is not only the presence of the Ice Warriors that makes this feel like a classic four or six part Doctor Who serial; it is also set on a planet that appears to be inhabited by about ten people and has a council consisting of an elder hostile to the Doctor and an elder sympathetic to the Doctor. The simple and effective storytelling puts one in mind of a Terrance Dicks Target novelisation. The playful use of language, such as 'Guide E-manual' and 'Unguidely' also reminds me of Paradise Towers. Rather less fortunately, the novel seems to borrow from the New Series in giving a rather too easy resolution to the story. In the end, the Doctor finds a solution just by tinkering around with machinery, which feels a little uninspiring.

Dan Abnett is experienced in writing franchise fiction, so it should be no surprise that he crafts a very enjoyable and exciting tale here. It is very effective and efficiently told and captures the actors voices very well. Dan Abnett could easily be a Terrance Dicks for the Twenty-first century. What I felt was missing was Dan Abnett himself. When the BBC hires a writer of his reputation, you expect to get something special. I didn't really see that here. Perhaps if he had given us a darker and more militaristic novel, we would have felt more of the writer's individual style.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

TARDIS Eruditorum Volume 5: Tom Baker and the Williams Years, by Phil Sandifer




When I discuss Phil Sandifer or link to posts on his blog here, I often get comments expressing disdain and contempt for Sandifer. I suspect a lot of the people who like my blog are the sort of people who can't stand Sandifer and the views he represents. I do not share such feelings at all. I very much enjoy reading his writing. Yes, I often disagree with him, but I actually agree with him just as often. I don't share his politics, but is that important? I get frustrated by the way he comes across as so angry and bitter, but I have plenty of my own faults.

Sandifer wisely decided to split the massive Fourth Doctor era in half. This book therefore covers the less well appreciated Graham Williams era, along with the brief period of Season 18, in which Tom Baker worked under John Nathan-Turner.

I criticised the previous volume on the Hinchcliffe era because I felt Sandifer allowed his love of Seasons 12-14 to cloud his judgement and overlook some of the faults of those stories. It lacked the more objective critical perspective of volume 3 on the Pertwee era. In this volume, he gets his critical perspective back. He shows a real awareness of the faults of the Williams material, yet he also shows a genuine appreciation of what is great about it. There were definite flaws to the Williams era, it's low production values, its occasional tendency to silliness and the way it became dominated by Baker as an out of control lead man, yet it was also immensely fun. I don't think Sandifer regards Season 18 as quite the high point of Doctor Who that I consider it, but he is also well aware of its depth and creativity.

Sandifer begins the book with contemporary culture, looking at the Sex Pistols and the Punk movement. He later relates this to The Sunmakers, seeing that serial as the strongest expression of the Punk aesthetic in Doctor Who. I remember in the blog comments when he was covering this period, Sandifer got quite a bit of criticism for his use of Punk as a paradigm for understanding the Williams era. I think the criticism is to some extent fair. One can perhaps vaguely see something punkish about that story, but otherwise, Punk does not register at all in Doctor Who until the Seventh Doctor stories. I remember somebody arguing that intellectuals and writers tend to overemphasise the importance of Punk as a cultural movement. Heavy Metal was much more popular with the working classes in the late Seventies and early Eighties and intellectuals generally despise Metal.

Coming into the first story of the Williams era, The Horror of Fang Rock, Sandifer discusses the common view that this is essentially a Hinchliffe type story. Sandifer points out that Horror of Fang Rock lacks the grandeur of Hinchcliffe stories, offering a far more mundane setting. Where an Hincliffe adversary would be a cosmic threat, the adversary here is just a lone alien scout. The stakes are lower. There is also the suggestion of the story as being in some way a critique of the Hinchliffe era, with the enormous body count and the sheer callousness of the Doctor's reaction to the carnage.

Unsurprisingly, our author identifies The Invisible Enemy as the first bad story of the Williams era. He sees it as being let down primarily by its poor designs, as well as the more general faults of Bob Baker and David Martin. Sandifer is not overly impressed by Image of the Fendahl, arguing that it's use of Von Daniken's ideas are clumsy and problematic.

Leaving Doctor Who to address the appearance of Star Wars on the scene, Sandifer takes a well deserved swipe at Joseph Campbell. He also points out that the new trick of George Lucas was to tell fantastic adventure stories using the visual trappings of science fiction, without the hard Sci-Fi concepts that had previously been the bread and butter of science fiction. Inevitably, discussion of Star Wars leads on to an examination of the Underworld, which like almost everybody else, he regards as a failure. He points out that Bob Baker and Dave Martin's work is effective when backed up impressive visuals from the production team and in this story, the visual effects are a massive letdown. The author praises The Invasion of Time for treating the viewers as intelligent people, with its apparent subversion of the Doctor as moral centre of the story. He sees the story falling down in the way it treats the Sontarans as another race of pointlessly returning monsters and the Time Lords as utterly pathetic.

In contrast to Underworld, Sandifer sees The Ribos Operation as the story that truly gets the new paradigm of Star Wars right in Doctor Who. The grand cosmic drama is shifted to a rather more small scale story about inter-planetary fraud, yet is used to frame this narrative. Graham Williams' bonkers idea about cosmic dualism is subverted by Robert Holmes with the portrayal of the White Guardian as just another colonial master and the Doctor visibly rejecting the notion of subordination to him. Answering Lawrence Miles criticism that Mary Tamm does not take her role seriously, Sandifer argues that she is not supposed to; Romana is there to mock and ridicule the Doctor and the very premise of the story. In a separate essay on whether the Guardians can be regarded as a legitimate part of the Doctor Who canon, he points out some inconsistencies between the Guardians in Season 16 and in the Davison era.

Regarding Pirate Planet, Sandifer defends this story, arguing that its genius lies in fooling the viewer into complacency. It seems like a light-hearted story, but it turns out to be a tale of genocide on a monstrous scale. I was overjoyed by his positive evaluation of The Stones of Blood, as this rather maligned serial is one of my favorites. He writes:

"It's a genuinely enjoyable subversion of the by now standbys of the Hinchcliffe era that goes into some of the most fun Doctor Who has ever had at being anti-authoritarian, and with a new sort of authority figure. We haven#t seen the Doctor do the legal system in a while. It's also another nice step in the larger anti-epic, thanks to the Megara. The Megara are, after all, keepers of justice, and what is justice if not maintaining fairness and balance? And of course, the Megara are shown to be ridiculously blinkered and silly, striking another blow against the basic assumptions of the Key to Time."

He also acknowledges The Androids of Tara as a well made and enjoyable story, if lacking the coneptual depth of The Ribos Operation. Power of Kroll he views as a cynical hack-job, handed in by the usually brilliant Robert Holmes because he was fed up with the show. He also unsurprisingly treats the Key to Time finale, Armageddon Factor as a disappointment, while recognising that at its conclusion, it brings itself in line with Robert Holmes in subverting the premise of the story arc. He takes a brief look at The Auntie Matter, viewing it as a sad, but enjoyable piece of nostalgia, like much of Big Finish's output.

Sandifer moves from Season 16 to talking about Margaret Thatcher and the Winter of Discontent. I'm afraid our author comes across as quite hysterical when he talks about Thatcher, viewing her as the 'raw embodiment of all evil.' He says this description was initially a joke, but he seems to seriously paint Margaret Thatcher as the politial equivalent of Voldemort. I find his attitude rather disappointing. One might expect that it is the mark of an intelligent adult that they can disagree with the policies and view of a political leader while according them some basic respect. I'm not quite sure, however, that Sandifer really understands the concept of respectful disagreement, at least not when it touches anything vaguely political. His attacks on the late Baroness Thatcher, along with his comparing the late Mary Whitehouse to a school bully he once encountered show something of a lack of maturity and perspective.

Fans have endlessly criticised Romana's regeneration scene in Destiny of the Daleks, including Lawrence Miles in About Time. Sandifer offers a great response to this:

"I mean what, does Miles just want Lalla Ward to put on a Mary Tamm wig and roll over before Davros enters and shouts 'Leave the man, it's the girl I want?' Say what you want about the opening scene, and I'm certainly not going to pretend it's the shows finest hour, but there is a job to be done and it gets it done with a minimum fuss."

Personally, I quite like that scene and it is positive prove that Time Lords don't have to have white skin after regenerating. Moffat should have remembered that scene and given us a black or Asian Doctor after Matt Smith. Sandifer appreciates the sheer glee that Lalla Ward brought to the show. Mary Tamm's difficulty taking the stories seriously worked in its own way in the Key to Time, but Lalla's insistence on taking the stories deadly seriously is quite welcome. As might be expected, Sandifer is unimpressed on the whole with Destiny and it's return to Dan Dare style space adventure.

You don't need me to tell you that Sandifer thinks City of Death is a good story. The Creature from the Pit, however, is more contested ground. Sandifer sees a strong political message in this story (which was perhaps lost in the direction), with Lady Adrasta representing the same ruthless capitalism as Thatcher. Moving on to Nightmare of Eden, our author brings up an interesting fact; that Bob Baker has written three Oscar-winning films, namely the Wallace and Gromit animated features. He sees in this the fact that Bob Baker (and his former writing partner, Dave Martin) were at their best when producing stories that were structured around visual events rather than dialogue. This means that the writing duo were quite ill-suited to the William years, with the centrality of Tom Baker's comic dialogue and the generally unpolished visuals. Sandifer agrees with Lawrence Miles that Horns of Nimon is, like Underworld, a failure to understand how to use the epic scope of mythology in science fiction. A large part of this is the budgetary constraints and the disappointing visual aspects of the production. He argues that this accounts for Robert Holmes demoralisation and disenchantment with the program. On the lost story Shada, Sandifer comments "So Shada is at once better than the manifestations of it that we have and clearly inferior to the heavenly ideal that some have made of it." He offers some very interesting discussion of the different variations of Shada, including among them, Douglas Adam's DIRK Gently's Holisitc Detective Agency, which was essentially a reworking of the story. After a discussion of Gareth Roberts' novel The Well Mannered War, we get an interview with the man himself, which offers some insights into Williams-era appreciation.

In a commissioned essay, Sandifer addresses the question of whether it makes sense to talk about a 'JNT era.' Given the considerable differences in style between the script editors employed by John Nathan-Turner, it is difficult to identify a unifying theme for 80s Doctor Who. He finds a paradox in JNT's desire to tone down the humour of the Williams years, while seeing Doctor Who primarily in the paradigm of light entertainment. He finds something of a resemblance between the work of JNT and RT Davies, in that both men treated Doctor Who as 'event television' working the stories into the broader picture of television broadcasting.

Taking a look at other science fiction shows of the late 70s/ early 80s, our author is unimpressed by Quatermass (1979), sadly describing it as 'one hundred minutes of Nigel Kneale yelling at the damn kids to get off his lawn." On the other hand, he admires David Maloney's adaptation of Day of the Triffids. He also has much praise for Sapphire and Steel and suggests David McCallum's performance as Steel was an inspiration for McCoy's Doctor.

The Leisure Hive is viewed as the start of JNT's new 'event television' approach. Sandifer points out that in every way, the serial broadcasts the fact that Doctor Who has re-branded and reinvented itself. He connects this to the new relationship between JNT and fandom, what he cleverly calls 'the fan-industrial complex.' On Meglos, his most interesting comments relate to the way that the Chronic Hysteresis works as a kind of magic. He views the introduction of Waterhouse's Adric in Full Circle as a spectacularly bad casting decision. Nevertheless, he acknowledges both the dramatic strength of Full Circle and Bidmead's new aesthetic vision for the show. He feels that State of Decay has some great ideas, particularly its reinvention of Time Lord mythology, but it is let down by a less than impressive production. Personally, I think State of Decay reaches a pretty high standard, but perhaps I'm not the best television critic.

We get an enjoyable diversion by way of a look at 2000 AD, one of the better known British comics. At the heart of this comic was Judge Dredd, the future law-enforcer with his perpetually humourless expression and huge gun. Sandifer says of it:

"But what's interesting about Judge Dredd is that underneath the extravagant violence there is a rather wicked bit of intelligent satire. The entire premise of it rapidly becomes that the audience is rooting for a character who is obviously a bad guy, while the villains are often perfectly sympathetic characters. In the first major storyline, Dredd violently puts down a rebellion of robots who are shown to have free will, and who are rebelling against conditions that are clearly slavery- a rebellion that would, in any normal sci-fi story, treat them as the good guys."

Examining Warriors' Gate, Sandifer asks what Bidmead really understood by magic and science. He suggests that what Bidmead objected to was plots in which the Doctor wins simply because he's the Doctor. Instead, he wanted to see the Doctor winning the day through the rules and structure of the narrative worlds he enters. This essentially fitted with the original vision of David Whittaker and with the first two Doctors. However, the brash and bold showmen Doctors of the Seventies were incompatible with this paradigm, hence the need for Tom Baker's departure. In the departure of Romana, Sandifer sees the resolution of his 'Problem of Susan;' we finally have a companion who outgrows her role and becomes a potential protagonist on her own. Sandifer argues that The Keeper of the Traken is structured like a Shakespearean comedy, but subverted into a tragedy at the end by the death of Tremas. When we finally get to Logopolis, our author gives us one of his experimental pieces. The Logopolis essay is written as a 'choose your own adventure.' It is written in beautiful poetic language, but it's one of those occasions when I largely fail to understand exactly what he is trying to say.

Finally, in his overall summary, Sandifer praises the sense of fun in the Graham Williams era. For all that he appreciates the dark and epic stories, he cannot fail to enjoy City of Death or Androids of Tara. He suggests that even the weakest stories of this period, such as Nightmare of Eden are enjoyable to watch with friends and snack food.



Sunday, 11 January 2015

Counter-Measures Series 3



I was quite slow buying this box set. I suppose my enthusiasm for Counter-Measures was dampened a little by the last series. I really love the characters, especially as Remembrance of the Daleks is my favorite Doctor Who story, but I find it hard to get enthusiastic about the sort of stories they have run since Series 2. I suppose I just don't care for the science fiction lite medium. I really want aliens and monsters and they just give me gangsters with alien technology, top secret weapons and Communist plots. The stories are a little like 'monster of the week' X-Files stories, but with a more rationalist worldview. X-Files kept us watching the more mundane stories because we knew behind it all was an amazing story arc about aliens. Counter-Measures has story arcs, but nothing of the grandeur of the X-Files mythos. This is particularly seen in the final story, Unto the Breach. The initial premise, an alien in the custody of the Communist powers is really exciting and then it turns out to be just a trick. I felt a bit cheated.

It is difficult to see Counter-Measures as a Quatermass homage, as it was in its first series. The Concrete Cage certainly owes a lot to Nigel Kneale, but otherwise there is not much Quatermass going on. Quatermass was always about the cosmic 'other,' about the inhuman intelligences beyond the borders of our world, about slimy tentacled beings. Without aliens, you can't really have anything close to Quatermass.

I wish Counter-Measures would do some stories about space travel and exploration, after all Rachel Jensen references British Rocket Groups in her very first appearance. If you take the common view of UNIT dating (which I disagree with), Britain is going to send spaceships to Mars in about ten years from when Counter-Measures is set. Space travel ought to be a hot issues in this time period.

Templeton, who had taken over from Sir Toby at the end of the previous series is kicked out at the end of the first story. Although he makes a return in the final story, I was still disappointed. What was great in the previous series was his interaction with Sir Toby. They were great together; too similar characters who are still quite different. Unfortunately, they do not interact at all in this series.

Gilmore seems to have gained a few more men, which is a good thing. In the previous two seasons, he was rather reduced to being a chauffeur for Rachel. On the other hand, as a senior military officer, he ought to have a few more staff officers around him (not that UNIT never had that problem in Doctor Who).

It was nice to see Alison's backstory being developed in The Forgotten Village. It was also great the way they dealt with the subject of dementia. However, Alison does come across as a bit whiny in much of this series. In fact, Ian and Rachel come across the same way. The problem is that the first story establishes that the team really want Sir Toby back. Then, after they get him back, they go on about how dreadful and untrustworthy he is. It really makes them look rather fickle. I don't see how Counter-Measures can go on with continual suspicion of Sir Toby's motives. Sooner or later (and it is surprising they have not already done so), the team are going to have to get used to Sir Toby.

The theme music has changed for Series 3. The new theme seems to reflect the generally dark tone. The original theme seemed to suggest that Counter-Measures was a light-hearted pastiche of Sixties spy drama. I almost wish it was. I do find myself wishing we could have a bit more humour. It would also be nice to have a few more references to the wider Doctor Who world. Obviously, you can't have Zygons or Daemons appearing in every story, but it is Doctor Who fans buying these audios and sometimes they deserve rewarding with a bit of continuity fodder.

I like this series for the great characters, and generally the writers serve them well, but Counter-Measures is not quite the spin-off I would like it to have been.