Friday, 27 December 2013

The Time of the Doctor



I watched this episode with my father. He's not a regular watcher of Doctor Who and he was very confused. Although I follow the show, I was almost as confused myself. This was a confusing muddle of a story. This story really jumps around, moving from one scene to another and introducing a muddle of plot threads and continuity references. It was really hard to follow.

There was a lot of silliness and clowning around in the first half of the story. The scene with the Doctor naked was embarassing. The stuff about Dr. Who and Clara being naked in the church beneath their holograms seemed odd too. Why have characters naked if you are not going to show it? It felt pointless.

It was difficult to feel anything about the Doctor's apparent impending death when we knew Peter Capaldi was going to show up. This episode established that Matt Smith was playing the 13th Doctor and in principle, the 'last Doctor.' We all knew the problem of the Doctor's final regeneration was hanging in store for a future producer. However, Moffat has made the odd decision to fix circumstances so the problem is his own burden. This smacks a little of egotism, not to mention his usual over-indulgence in puzzle-box plotting.

It turns out that Time Lords can destroy Dalek spaceships when they regenerate, which makes for a convenient conclusion. It also turns out that the Time Lords have the power to grant a whole new life cycle of regenerations, which makes it difficult to understand why Borusa was after imm-mortality back in The Five Doctors. I always thought the reason the High Council was able to offer the Master a new life cycle was because he had become a Trakenite through his posession of Tremas' body.

The Time of the Doctor faces the ultimate problem of the over-use of epic storylines. Every season finale has to be big and epic; the anniversary special had to be big and epic and now the Christmas special attempts to offer a grand cosmic opera. The more the production team deliver these grandiose cosmic dramas, the smaller and more mundane the Doctor Who universe feels. The Doctor has already destroyed and re-created the universe, making him in effect a god. There is simply no direction Doctor Who can go in now without looking utterly crass.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Underworld



Underworld is one of the stories most hated and derided by Doctor Who fans. I'm not sure I hate Underworld personally, but I don't feel able to defend it. There is very little to like about this story.

The idea of the Time Lords as gods, intervening in a culture is interesting, though this idea is largely forgotten. The set of the Minyan spaceship is a great design, but this serves to reflect on how poor and cheap the 'alien city' set looks. We could regard the presence of cave people as a nod to An Unearthly Child.

The use of CSO to create cave scenes was a bold move. It is generally agreed that the results are disappointing, but I am confident that had they used corridors for these scenes, Underworld would have looked even cheaper and more underwhelming.

The performances do not help. The Minyan crew have been on a quest that has been unsuccessful for a thousand years. They should seem weary, perhaps bitter and possibly half-crazed. None of that comes across in the guest cast performances.

The intention of this story seems to be to create the sense of epic space fantasy, along the lines of Star Wars. To that intent, it borrows the myth of Jason and the Argonauts to try to create that mythic feel. Unfortunately, the borrowing feels so obvious that it feels rather false. There is no sense of the creation of any sense of fictional history, such as we get in Star Wars. The use of big science themes also seems to run counter to the intent. Star Wars had spaceships and robots, but it never dwelt on hard science themes, that would have distracted from its operatic grandeur. Underworld aspires to be great space fantasy epic, but in the end it is a dull and bland science fiction story.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

"I don't know if you're familiar with Wagner's Ring des Nibelung" : Silver Nemesis



I like Wagner a lot. He's definitely my favorite composer. I got into him when I was 13, at a time when I was going through a worrying phase of interest in the Third Reich. It would be interesting to explore whether there are any Wagnerian elements in Doctor Who. I don't think I have the expertise to write such an essay. Perhaps Phil Sandifer could, though I don't know if he is much of a Wagner enthusiast. It would be a little disappointing if Silver Nemesis is the only Doctor Who story with roots in Wagner.

I love Season 25. It's such a strong season. It begins with two 10/10 serials and ends with a 9/10 serial. Yet stuck between these brilliant stories, there is Silver Nemesis, a serial that is just dreadful. Really dreadful.

One of Silver Nemesis' faults is very similar to that of Dragonfire. Dragonfire is supposed to be set on an ice planet, yet absolutely nobody in the cast acts as though they are cold. It is such a basic flaw one wonders how they could have got it wrong. Likewise, Silver Nemesis is supposed to be set in November, yet everything you see on the screen tells you this is a glorious summer day. Faults like this can't simply be ignored, they ruin whole productions. It is simply absurd to suppose the viewer can pretend this is November when they are watching an outdoor jazz concert with nobody wearing gloves or a woolly hat.

It is generally agreed by fans and critics that there is just a bit too much going on in this story; too many plot threads and too many villains. Having a 17th century sorceress, a bunch of Neo-Nazis and the Cybermen does not leave much room for the exploration of what makes these adversaries interesting. Some fans wish that De Flores and his Nazi pals had been left out, considering them superfluous to the plot. I would have left out the Cybermen; their addition to this was typical JNT shopping list commissioning. I would have beefed up De Flores into a bigger menace and given him more interaction with Peinforte. The messiness of the plotting is not helped by the fact that what there is here is remarkably similar to the season's opener, Remembrance of the Daleks.

The Cybermen are simply rubbish here. They are not a convincing threat in the slightest. While the addition of gold as a Cyber-weakness in Revenge of the Cybermen was unnecessary, at least then it was actually quite difficult to use it against them. Here the Cybermen are terrified of the metal and their chest units explode on contact with gold coins.

Anton Differing, best known for his role in Where Eagles Dare has had a lot of criticism for his performance. I actually think he was alright here. He was not exactly helped by the character being so underdeveloped. I like the fact that he understates the performance. I can't stand cliched, caricatured Nazi characters.

Lady Peinforte comes across very well, particularly as she descends into madness. On the other hand, her sidekick, Richard (with his beard, it's hard not to keep thinking of Richard Branson. I keep expecting him to get into a balloon) is a really badly written character. He starts off as a badass criminal and killer, who brutally murders an old man and who can overpower two skinheads. Then he morphs from this to being a frightened peasant, then a fanatical devotee of his mistress, then finally turns out to be a rather nice chap at the end.


We see in this production one of those faults that has carried over into the New Series, namely an obsession with spectacle at the expense of story. This story throws in Courtney Pine, a Queen-impersonator, Windsor Castle, Cybermen and some American actress. It is all about grabbing attention. RT Davies has gone down this road and so has Moffat. It's a really bad way to produce Doctor Who.

I very much enjoy the exploration in Seventh Doctor stories of the theme of the Doctor's mysteries and the Dark Times of Gallifrey. Unfortunately, this story is not strong enough to hold such weighty themes and they fall slightly flat. When Peinforte threatens to reveal the Doctor's name, he acts like he does not care (we know he is called Dr. Who anyway).

It does seem like Silver Nemesis is the classic story that most provides the template for Moffat-Who, with the mystery about the painting of Ace, Peinforte's empty tomb, the comic tone that detracts from the story, the stuff about the Doctor's name, not to mention the fez. This really feels like it could be an Eleventh Doctor story.


I do like the fact that Silver Nemesis offers no wonky scientific explanation for Peinforte's time travel. She is a magic user, plain and simple. This acceptance of the supernatural can be seen in other Seventh Doctor stories, such as Greatest Show and Survival. Given the mention of Old Time Gallifrey, we might wonder if she trafficks with the Old Ones, such as Fenric.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Genesis of the Cybermen (yes, you read the title right)



Genesis of the Cybermen was a script written by Gerry Davis, creator of the Cybermen and submitted to Eric Saward, script writer for Doctor Who. It was rejected, yet was included as a short story in David Banks' (clenching fist) excellent Cybermen book. It is regrettable that this short story is written more as an outline or an extended synopsis, featuring no actual dialogue.

Poor Gerry Davis seems to have been a bit confused by all the comings and goings among the TARDIS crew. Having lost track of exactly who Dr. Who was supposed to be travelling with, he has her accompanied by a pretty but light-headed blonde girl called Felicity.

Genesis of the Cybermen, as its title suggests, gives us a glimpse of the origin of the Mondasian Cybermen as Gerry Davis conceived it. As much as Eric Saward liked stories about Cybermen and lots of continuity, it is pretty easy to see why he rejected this. It is very much an old fashioned space adventure in a pseudo-Tolkienesque society in which everybody has a Latinized name. This sort of story would have looked dated if it had been done in the Pertwee era, let alone in the 80s with Peter Davison or Colin Baker. It is also structured like an over-padded Doctor Who story, with lots of capture and escape routines.

Yet this story would have fitted very neatly into the Hartnell era, despite the presence of the Cybermen. With his forgetfulness, the Doctor in this story comes across as very much more like Hartnell than Davison or Colin Baker. Genesis of the Cybermen has that fairy tale quality that is often found in First Doctor space adventures. It feels like it could have been a Wagnerian, particularly as it features a Valkyrie-like blonde queen who has been partially cybernised. Steven Moffat talks about wanting to give Doctor Who a 'fairy tale' quality, but I rather doubt he has ever read the Brothers Grimm or the Blue Fairy Book. His awareness of the fairy tale genre does not seem to stretch beyond Disney adaptations and I imagine he thinks Mary Poppins was in the Brothers Grimm. He really should read this story to find out how Doctor Who can have a fairy tale quality.

The story compounds its datedness by offering a nod to Von Daniken. We learn that some of the Mondasians fled to Earth after Mondas drifted from its orbit. They apparently left many artifacts for archaelogists to puzzle over. This naked Von Dankienism is certainly implied in The Tenth Planet, with the talk about Mondas being an ancient name for Earth.


Is Genesis of the Cybermen canon? We cannot treat every unmade story as canon, but certainly those reproduced by Big Finish are candidates. The Cybermen book was published by arrangement with the BBC, so it might be said to be a licensed product. True, it is difficult to harmonize some aspects of this story with Spare Parts, but no more so than the difficulties in harmonizing Spare Parts with The World Shapers.

So if this is a story that 'really happened,' when is it set? Although this was submitted to Eric Saward, I really don't think this is a Fifth or Sixth Doctor story. The Doctor seems to have little recollection about Mondas and the Cybermen, while those 80s Doctors had a pretty good grip on continuity. It seems likely therefore, that the Genesis of the Cybermen Doctor is the First Doctor. So when did he travel with Felicity? This must have been one of those mysterious gaps in the television stories during which the World Distributors annuals and TV Comic First Doctor stories are set. This could be in between The Dalek Masterplan and The Massacre, or it could be before the end of The War Machines, before Dr. Who returns for Dodo. We might well wonder whatever adventures Dr. Who might have had with Felicity.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Day of the Doctor




I wish this had been written by Terrance Dicks. The big problem with The Five Doctors was that it was essentially a showcase of set pieces, classic monsters and classic companions. Yet that story was held together by Terrance Dicks skillful plotting. It had more coherence than it deserved. Only Terrance Dicks could have made The Five Doctors work.

Strong coherent plotting is what The Day of the Doctor badly needed. It rambled from one mismatched sequence to another with no real sense of where the story was going. It was made up from a number of story strands, the UNIT stuff with the Zygons, the daft bits with Queen Elizabeth I and of course the stuff about the War Doctor and the destruction of Gallifrey. These all felt like they belonged in different stories and they seemed rather poorly held together in this. As is so often the case, two much comedy is allowed to weaken a serious storyline. The New Series has consistently, and particularly under Moffat, failed to understand that to tell a serious story, some of the laughs have to be trimmed. What made Season 18 so great was that the comic excesses of Tom Baker had been curbed and prevented from intruding on proper storytelling. The New Series has never really achieved that consistency of tone. It presumes that viewers can't cope for two minutes without a comic line being thrown in.

Pacing was also a problem. The New Series format of short forty-five minutes episodes has big limitations, but Moffat seems to struggle with stories with a fuller length. The Day of the Doctor rambled on for quite a while before any kind of story felt like it was in motion. As with much that Moffat has written, I found myself feeling bored. Doctor Who is always at its worse when it starts to feel boring. Nothing felt particularly original; shape-changing aliens, weapons of mass destruction, historical romps, these are all things that Doctor Who has done in different ways before. I know this is supposed to celebrate the series' past, but simply regurgitating old themes makes for a uninteresting story.

As a multi-Doctor story, I don't think it was a great success. There was hardly any real chemistry between the Doctors. They argue a bit, but there is no sense of a conflict between contrasting personalities who are actually the same person. Part of the problem is that David Tennant is such a leading man actor. He seems to struggle to know how to play his role in tandem with Smith. Not having seen Hurt as the Doctor before this, it was also difficult to really regard him as a Doctor alongside the other two.

There was some nice dramatic tension toward the end with the question of whether the Doctors would press the button, and thankfully this got resolved almost satisfactorily, provided one completely forgets about The End of Time. We had better hope that the Doctor finds Gallifrey soon, otherwise freezing children in time seems no better than killing them.

I'm surprised this story has gone down so well with viewers and fans. I'm sure nobody who follows this blog expected me to like this, but I had expected a bit more of a critical reaction from some writers. For all its faults, I think An Adventure in Space and Time is the real 50th anniversary special, not The Day of the Doctor.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

An Adventure in Space and Time



I think we can all accept that this is not a factual documentary. There are things in this drama that are not accurate or realistic. For instance, I'm pretty sure that Verity Lambert was a lot more confident and not nearly as timid as she appears in this, as Lawrence Miles pointed out the other day. This is a tender and affectionate tribute and celebration of the birth of Doctor Who.

I was a bit worried about this, as I regard Mark Gatiss as one of the less impressive Doctor Who writers. He has written some very second-rate stories. However, it turned out to be both moving and enjoyable. This is probably the best thing Gatiss has written. It tells the story that all of us Who fans know by heart, but brings it to life in a way that is accessible for the newer viewer.

David Bradley is incredible in the role of Hartnell. He seems so true to the part, much more so than Richard Hurndall was in The Five Doctors. The other cast do a great job too, though the stand-in for Troughton does not look much like the man at all. He looked more like somebody doing a cosplay of the Second Doctor at a convention.

Long term readers of this blog will know I obsess over Received Pronunciation and lament the inability of many modern actors to speak in proper RP. I was dreadfully worried that Verity Lambert was going to sound like Tony Blair or a BBC newsreader, but thankfully Jessica Raine sounded RP most of the time. Some of the actors ought to have sounded a little posher, but never mind.

While at times there was a touch of sentimentality in An Adventure, it succeeded in being moving. Some of the tenderest moments were when we saw Hartnell with his family. It was so lovely when Hartnell was crying over the fireplace on knowing his time when the show was over, that Heather Hartnell said "I'll make a nice cup of tea."

The drama was not, however, perfect. A lot of the people most involved in the early success of the show were glossed over, such as Terry Nation, Ray Cusick, Delia Derybshire and the Radiophonic Workshop. Unsurprisingly, Gatiss made the decision to play safe and barely acknowledge Hartnell's tendency to bigoted opinions, something that genuinely impacted his relationship with others, including Waris Hussein. The appearance at the end of Matt Smith was quite unnecessary, as were some of the in-jokes, most especially the reference to one of Gatiss' novels.

Wouldn't you like to think?



Wouldn't you like to think that every single human being who appears in Doctor Who is descended from the tribe of cave people we meet in An Unearthly Child? That in that first story, Dr. Who creates the very future of the human race?

Of course, if the Doctor is half-human, that would mean he himself is descended from the Tribe of Gum.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Night of the Doctor




I was in two minds about whether to review The Night of the Doctor. After all, at just over seven minutes, it is essentially an extended trailer for the anniversary special. It's rather hard to review something this short.

Visually, it has lots of special effects, indicating that the BBC is spending lots of money on the anniversary episode. It would be nice to hope that the same effort goes into the writing, but I very much doubt it given what we have seen in the last couple of years.

This mini-episode is clearly geared toward appealing to fans. Not only do we get the return of Paul McGann, but also the Sisterhood of Karn. Nevertheless, despite the fantastic visual affects, I' very disappointed by the dull costumes worn by the sisters, They have nothing on the exotic outfits they wore in The Brain of Morbius. What is the point of putting loads of effort into CGI when something basic like costumes ends up looking shoddy in comparison with a Seventies serial?

I'm not altogether happy with the decision to show the Time War. I think some things within Doctor Who are best left to the imagination. The Time War shown on television will just end up being a lot of spaceships and explosions, when it should be something much more complex and difficult to visualize. Remember that great line from The End of Time?

You weren't there. In the final days of the war. You never saw what was born. But if the time lock's broken then everything is coming through. Not just the Daleks, but the Star of Degradations. The Horde of Travesties. The Nightmare Child. The Could-Have-Been King with his army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres. The war turned into hell! And that's what you’ve opened. Right above the Earth. Hell is descending.

How do you portray something as surreal and intriguing as all that?

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Patience



I asked the excellent French artist Claire Lyxa to draw Patience as she appears in Lance Parkin's novel The Infinity Doctors.

Patience was the Doctor's long lost wife and Susan's grandmother. She first appeared in Cold Fusion.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Introducing the Real Doctor's Wife: Cold Fusion, by Lance Parkin




"Turning her over onto her front, kissing the back of her neck, his hand running down her body. His thoughts dipping into hers, tasting her emotions. She was propping herself up on her elbows. Her body was familiar, he'd known it for centuries, seen it for centuries, seen it age ever so slowly. The birthmark on her ankle, the pattern of freckles on her shoulderblades. Only he had ever had those thoughts."

The above is one of the rather racy memories that Dr. Who experiences when he mindmelds with "Patience" a mysterious woman from ancient Gallifrey who turns out to (probably) be his wife. That the Virgin novels would include sex scenes involving, or at least appearing to involve, Dr. Who is an example of just how radical they were. Of course, the introduction of the lost Doctor's wife is not the only ambitious thing about this Missing Adventure. It is multi-Doctor story involving two Doctors, two sets of companions, includes an encounter by the Doctor with Adric after his death, as well as a complex plot involving another universe and dealing with themes of political conflict and a clash between magic and science. More than any other Missing Adventure, Cold Fusion pursues the New Adventures path of radically reshaping what Doctor Who can do. Lance Parkin is one of the few Doctor Who writers who could write a novel like this and he truly makes it work.

Lance Parkin pursues a somewhat ambivalent course with Patience. In some parts of the book, it is implied that she is the Doctor's wife. Yet he also implies, equally strongly, that she is the wife of the Other, an ancient Gallifreyan who was an associate of Rassilon and Omega. Since Remembrance of the Daleks, the Seventh Doctor material has hinted at a connection between the Other and Dr. Who. This myth arc was concluded with Lungbarrow by Marc Platt. This revealed that Dr. Who was an reincarnation of the Other. It also made the monstrous and abominable suggestion that Susan was not the Doctor's granddaughter, but the granddaughter of the Other. This is a terrible idea. Not only does it pander to the preference of some fans for an asexual Doctor, but it seems to diminish the genuine bond between the Hartnell Doctor and Susan. Lance Parkin seems to play a double game in Cold Fusion; on the one hand implying that the Doctor is a reincarnation of the Other and on the other hand implying that the Doctor was really married to Patience in some time in the past. He also stronly implies that the Doctor (or Other) married to Patience was one of the Morbius faces, specifically the Douglas Camfield face. I have said before that I do not care for the idea of pre-Hartnell Doctors. However, as the Doctor's experiences are only revealed through recovered memories when he mindmelds with Patience, the reader is left free to figure it out themselves. The Infinity Doctors seems to contradict this. The Infinity Doctor tells Patience that he is in his old body, while she has regenerated. This would imply that the Infinity Doctor has not regenerated, that he is a younger Hartnell Doctor and that there are no pre-Hartnell incarnations.

Freed from the constraints of the Virgin editorship, Parkin would go on to write Gallifrey Chronicles and The Infinity Doctors. While neither book is exactly intended as a retcon of Lungbarrow, Parkin drives a few nails into the coffin of the Virgin novel, by giving the Doctor biological parents and implying even more strongly in The Infinity Doctors than in Cold Fusion that the Doctor is the husband of Patience and the biological grandfather of Susan. Many fans have wrongly assumed that The Infinity Doctors is an apocryphal Unbound Adventure that does not take place in real continuity. This is a mistake; Lance Parkin incorporates it into his AHistory chronology, while acknowledging the conflict with Lungbarrow. Other fans have treated Infinity Doctors as an 8th Doctor story, taking place on a reconstructed Gallifrey. Parkin has stated this was not his intention and it is contradicted by the fact the Infinity Doctor is surprised by Patience's regeneration. It is clearly set in the Doctor's past, but Patience's future.

In trying to make sense of how Patience fits into Doctor Who continuity, I not only consulted Parkin's own AHistory, but I also bravely attempted to study the perplexing and bewildering chronology of the Doctor on Curufea.Com. Curufea offers a fascinating attempt to tie up disparate sources about the life of Dr. Who and the history of Gallifrey. It is difficult to read because of the multi-coloured text and like most fan chronologies, it completely ignores the TV Comics and World Distributors annuals (as does AHistory sadly). According to Curufea, Patience was in a love triangle with Omega and the Other in the Dark Times of Gallifrey. She went on to marry one of the Morbius Doctors. When the Time Lords began to kill their children for being womb-born, she travelled back to the Dark Times to ensure Susan's safety, possibly in the company of her son. She then attempted to leave ancient Gallifrey in a proto-type TARDIS, only to be discovered in Cold Fusion.


The attempt to re-sexualize the Doctor that we see in Cold Fusion (and in Infinity Doctors) has been done very differently from the New Series. While the Tennant Doctor kisses one woman after another, the Fifth Doctor in Cold Fusion recovers tender and bittersweet memories of a love we have never been allowed to see. Contrast Patience with the horrible attempts to create a "Doctor's wife" in the New Series. We get the pathetic notion of a man wishing his car was a sexy woman in The Doctor's Wife and elsewhere, we get River Song, a character who tastelessly flirts and who exists primarily to serve Moffat's banal and mechanical plot-writing. Patience, on the other hand, is a beautiful and mysterious figure, elegant and almost goddess-like. Somebody we can imagine being married to the Doctor. Like him, we never know her real name (of course, he is called Who, but this may be a pseudonym). In a DVD commentary, Andrew Cartmel suggested that it was a mistake that the Doctor was given a granddaughter at the birth of the show. In his opinion, the Doctor should not have a family. Cartmel did a great job as script writer in the 80s and he did write the hauntingly brilliant Cat's Cradle: Warhead, but a lot of his ideas about Doctor Who are very wrong. That is certainly one of them. That Dr. Who has a granddaughter actually makes him more mysterious. It means that he had children of which we know nothing. What happened to them? It also implies he had a partner of whom we know nothing. What happened to her? Cold Fusion offers us a glimpse of the answers to these questions, but still leaves the Doctor and his past as mysterious as before.

Forgive me if I am talking a lot about Patience and forgetting the novel. The introduction of this character is such a bit development that it does almost overshadow the brilliance of the novel itself. Cold Fusion is extremely well written. Lance Parkin does a great job of portraying two Doctors, the Fifth and the Seventh, along with their companions, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric, and Chris and Roz. Parkin's prose has a strong flavour of Terrance Dicks. One thing that he particularly excels at is writing action scenes, never allowing the reader to be bored by his prose. It is very much in the style of a Seventh Doctor adventure, but it manages to fit the very different Fifth Doctor era characters into it.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Revenge of the Cybermen




Revenge of the Cybermen was the first Target novel I ever read. It was my first experience of Doctor Who after reading the 1966 Dr Who Annual (how weird is that as an introduction to Doctor Who?), before watching any televised stories. I immediately followed it by reading the novelisation of Moonbase, purchased at the Doctor Who Exhibition at Longleat Safari. A few months later, I watched Revenge of the Cybermen on VHS and loved it as much as I had loved the novel. Over thirty years later, I am confronted by the fact that fan orthodoxy holds this story to be rubbish.

It is interesting how this story has become the classic example of the rubbish returning monster story. Remarkably so, given how there seem to be far worse candidates, such as The Sontaran Experiment in the same season and Death to the Daleks in the previous season. Phil Sandifer offers the interesting notion that the story is meant to be rubbish, making way for the more original returning monster-free serials of the next season. Of course, I doubt fans watching it at the time saw it that way. I'm pretty sure most viewers enjoyed watching Dr Who do battle with the Cybermen again. I'm also pretty sure people watching the it when it was the first ever VHS release must have loved it too. When considering the faults, it is worthwhile considering the fact that the celebrated Hinchliffe era was perhaps not always as perfect as fans like to think. Every Hinchliffe story has problems and weaknesses, with the possible exception of Brain of Morbius, which is the closest the era came to perfection. Ark in Space has unconvincing monsters and lacks atmosphere due to an overlit set, Genesis of the Daleks is horribly padded, Terror of the Zygons is an unoriginal working of earlier stories, Planet of Evil has a terrible script, Pyramids of Mars has a dreadful final episode and The Android Invasion is unwatchable.

The Cybermen are probably not at their best here, but they are fun. While they suffer for being in colour for the first time, they look effective in the darkness of the cave scenes. Why complain about the Cybermen's apparent anger and hands on the hip gestures? The claim that the Cybermen have no emotion at all has always been a little dubious. The creation of yet another weakness for the Cybermen seems unnecessary, but it seems a small one. We have not yet reached the point where a gold coin will kill a Cyberman; the Vogans' presumably gold bullets just bounce off their armour.

The script for this story is weak, with some really awful lines ('I sometimes think your friend is not quite right in the head' Sometimes? He's only just met him!). Yet there are still things to like about Revenge of the Cybermen. The location shooting in the caves of Wookie Hole with the use of underground river is very effective. The set designs are fantastic too. The Beacon set looks great, as do the ornate chambers of the Vogans. The special effect of the Beacon hurtling toward Voga is not great by today's standards, but I was impressed when I saw it on video in 1990. The Cybermat is clumsy, but it looks more menacing than the original Cybermat in the Sixties. While there are things in the plot that do not make a lot of sense, this is a fast paced story with plenty of tension and excitement.

I love the Vogan designs. They look distinctly non-human, yet still capture individual personalities. Kevin Stoney and David Collings do a splendid job in their roles. Michael Wisher is also good, despite being underused. His use of an handkerchief is a very nice touch.

Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles say in About Time that Vorus and Tyrum are basically another version of the Nice Sensorite and the Nasty Sensorite, or the Old Silurian and Young Silurian. This is not really true, as they are much more complex than this. Tyrum is afraid of outsiders like the Nasty Sensorite, yet he is friendly to humans when he meets them and is appalled by Kellman's murders. Vorus wants to make alliances with the outside world, yet he is hostile to humans who do not fit into his plans and has no qualms about murdering them. These are characters who are not defined by their factional politics. Despite being non-human aliens from 'the planet Zog' they feel like real people. Kellman, the human double agent also makes a great villain. I love the way he smiles as Tyrum describes how wicked he is.

Tom Baker is still settling into his new role at this point. Once or twice here he comes across as though he is not taking the story seriously, something that would become a problem in later years. Thankfully, Hinchcliffe managed to keep Tom in check most of the time after this story.

You have to love Harry Sullivan. He is so at ease with everything. The way he says 'Steady on, old chap' as a Vogan manhandles him is infinitely lovable. As somebody afflicted with dyspraxia, I can't help thinking that Harry also has 'Clumsy Child Syndrome.' It is horrible to see the Doctor being so mean to him. Sarah Jane Smith is also pretty horrible to him too. Sarah is not at her best here, mostly being used as a damsel in distress, though she is pretty resourceful, crossing the underground river in the Vogan boat. She is wearing nice pink socks too.

Revenge of the Cybermen is not the greatest of Doctor Who stories, but it is not nearly as bad as some fans make out.


Monday, 21 October 2013

"I've never seen such an incredible bunch" - The War Games



It is appropriate that in the last Second Doctor story, ending the black and white period of Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton gives an absolutely stellar performance. Whether pretending to be an official, manipulating the gullible alien scientist, fleeing in terror or acting the clown before the Time Lords, Troughton displays complete brilliance.

The War Games is a story that fans will always celebrate, after all it is the story in which we first learn of Dr. Who's people the Time Lords and his reasons for abandoning his kind. The fine scripting, the clever blending of historical with science fiction and the impressive acting within this serial are rightly praised. Yet The War Games is let down by the excessive length that was inflicted on it for production reasons. While the extra episodes does allow an interesting exploration of the tense and fractious relationships among the aliens and create a sense of constant peril and chaos for the TARDIS crew, the overall result is a repetitive and seemingly never-ending run of capture and escape routines. It would have worked so much better in six episodes, though this was sadly not an option at the time.

I know it is not the most important detail, but I do wonder if Lady Jennifer Buckingham's hair is authentic for the period. Her hairstyle does look a little modern for 1917. Of course, I could be wrong about that.

The unnamed aliens in The War Games look human, but they definitely have an alien quality to them. David Bree, who plays the Security Chief, gives his character a distinctive slow protracted form of speech. It was also a great decision to cast the Time Lord War Chief as somebody who looks physically distinct to the other alien characters. While the War Chief is handsome, suave and charismatic, the other aliens are pudgy, bald and pasty-faced. They are stereotypical bureaucrats. The best of them is of course Philip Madoc as the War Lord. He is absolutely fantastic. Instead of playing the character with bluster, he is cool and quiet, exhibiting a constant menace. He even smiles when he threatens people. With his scruffy beard, his spectacles and palour, he looks every inch a psychotic. Echoing the Nuremburg Trials, he remains defiant before the Time Lords, refusing even to acknowledge their authority. His terrified cry of 'No! No! No!' as he fades out of existence is a nice end for him.

The other alien who really stands out, even more so than General Smyth, is the fake German officer, Von Weich. He seems to take great delight in putting on different accents, switching from being a German officer, to a Confederate and then to a 19th century British officer. Von Weich must have been so disappointed that there was no Second World War zone and therefore no opportunity to play a Waffen SS officer or a Soviet commissar! This makes a really interesting point about the theatricality of military authority. After all military authority is largely about dressing up and speaking in a certain tone of voice. Also highly effective is the scene where Von Weich and Smyth move about their model soldiers and talk about how they will kill off each others troops. War truly is a game to these people.

The War Chief, the first character ever to be identified as a Time Lord, is very nicely developed. He is a much more complex and interesting character than the Master ever was. It might have been nice if he was an earlier incarnation of the Master, though this is clearly contradicted by the novels, which identify him as Magnus, yet another one of Borusa's errant pupils.


The Time Lords are pretty impressive here, with their incredible power. They are aloof and mysterious. It is unfortunate that they are less effectively used in other stories, though many of the later developments with the Time Lords were not without interest. It is amusing to watch the Doctor clowning around in the court room, dismissing all the faces he is offered, though it is hard not to be bothered by his lack of concern about the Time Lords erasing his companions' memories. It's hard not to laugh at the fact that when attempting to show his people the terrible things in some corners of the universe, he shows them the Quarks. Though admittedly, the Quarks proved themselves in the comics to be resourceful opponents; taking control of domestic robots, making use of a giant wasp and stealing racing cars. Interestingly, he seems to expect the Time Lords to be relatively lenient with him. He predicts that as a punishment, the Time Lords will make him listen to a 'long boring speech.' There is no implication that he would face the same treatment as the War Lord. His terror at capture by his people must have been a terror of losing his freedom.

We know of course, that Dr. Who does not immediately change his appearance after this story. There is a gap between The War Games and Spearhead from Space, referred to by fans as Season 6B. This is shown by two stories, The Five Doctors, in which the Second Doctor is aware of Zoe's departure and The Two Doctors, in which he and Jamie are working for the Time Lords, despite his having no dealings with them during the Troughton era. It seems that after his trial, the Doctor was given limited freedom to travel in the TARDIS, in return for performing missions on the Time Lord's behalf. Season 6B was first revealed in the TV Comic, where the Second Doctor is exiled to Earth before the Time Lords can change his appearance. He takes up residence in the luxurious Carlton Grange Hotel, which remarkably makes it into the newspaper headlines. In a series of stories, the exiled time traveller tangles with criminals and alien invaders, as well as becoming a panelist on a television show. Finally, he is captured by the Time Lords' scarecrow servants, who force him to regenerate. It is logical to conclude that the other TV Comic Second Doctor stories take place in Season 6B, as they do not fit anywhere else in the Second Doctor era. It would seem that some time during this period, Dr. Who was reunited with his grandchildren, John and Gillian. It also seems that Jamie took a break from travelling with the Doctor and temporarily resided in a castle in modern day Scotland. It is possible that other adventures happened in this period, such as Dr. Who's first contest with Fenric and perhaps his first encounter with Lady Peinforte. We have no way of knowing how long Season 6B lasted. Given discrepancies in the Doctor's age, it may have lasted as long as a century.


Friday, 11 October 2013

I Destroy Therefore I Am: The Three Doctors



"If I survive only by my will, then my will is to destroy!"


It was perhaps unfortunate that before watching The Three Doctors at the age of ten, I had read the Target novelization. It was disappointing that the Gell Guards did not form into one tentacled mass, as they did in the novel, nor was Omega's palace a fantastic castle, but instead a makeshift door in a quarry. While in the book, the Third Doctor was transported into a giant gladiatorial arena to battle a hideous demonic creature rather like the Destroyer in Battlefield, Pertwee instead wrestled a man in a sequinned catsuit. Thankfully this discovery of the limitations of BBC special effects did not spoil my enjoyment of the serial and they still do not twenty-two years later.

The first Doctor Who story I ever watched was The Five Doctors, so I'm rather used to seeing more than one Dr. Who around. It is hard to imagine what a treat it must have been for the original viewers to see Troughton, Hartnell and Pertwee sharing the screen. The celebration is rather marred by the sadly unwell state of Hartnell, who can only deliver a few lines from a chair. It is impossible not to notice how Troughton's acting outshines Pertwee's. Quite a few of the original viewers must have been wishing that Troughton had stuck around a bit longer.

Like the stories of Season 18, The Three Doctors seamlessly blends hard science with mysticism. It is striking that the story offers a three-decker model of the universe, with UNIT on Earth, the Time Lords in their heaven and Omega in his hellish Pandemonium beyond the black hole. The writers have quite clearly borrowed liberally from William Blake as is demonstrated in Phil Sandifer's beautiful, but barely comprehensible essay on the serial.

I just adore Stephen Thorne's performance as Omega. Doctor Who has plenty of baddies who shout and rant, but Thorne takes it up to a new level. His voice is so rich, even when he speaks softly, his voice booms. I found him rather scary when I fist watched The Three Doctors. He is helped in his performance by the brilliantly designed mask. With its hollow mouth and eyes, emotion can be projected on to it. Depending on Thorne's delivery, the mask looks angry, disdainful, haughty or sad. Omega truly comes across as a pitiable figure.



The Gell Guards have come in for a lot of criticism. While they look a little comical at times, I do like their appearance. They are how I imagine H.P. Lovecraft;s Shoggoths in At the Mountains of Madness. Admittedly, Katy Manning's Gell Guard vocal contributions on the DVD commentary is very funny. The blog creature is one of those less effective Seventies CSO effects. It looks good when going down drains, but when it becomes larger, it is less impressive. Omega's palace is interesting visually, despite looking a little unconvincing. Perhaps the stagey looks is appropriate given the story's Christmas pantomime feel.

While Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is rather funny in this story, it is unfortunate that he has become such a figure of fun. He is ridiculously obstinate and pig-headed in The Three Doctors. On the other hand, it is interesting how unhinged he seems to become throughout the story. Was his mental health deteriorating? Mawdryn Undead has the Brigadier undergoing a breakdown. This is explained in-story as a result of the timestreams crossing, but had he already suffered trauma as a result of this experience and others? It would explain the quiet and unglamorous circumstances of his retirement that seems to bother some fans for some reason. He was never meant to be a companion and seems to be seriously effected by TARDIS travel.

Jo Grant seems to have overdosed on Cute and Fluffy pills in The Three Doctors. She might as well be one of those generic anime cute girls that people love to draw on DeviantArt.

As with The Five Doctors, it is implied that the First Doctor is older and wiser than the other Doctors. This does not really fit with the First Doctor era, in which he appears to be a lot less mature and less able to handle situations than his successors. This might be explained if The Infinity Doctors is a pre-Unearthly Child story, featuring a younger Hartnell Doctor. It may be that the First Doctor, unlike the other two, has some memory of the encounter with Omega in The Infinity Doctors and can understand the situation better.

This was a celebration of Doctor Who, but in many ways this is a celebration of the Barry Letts era, with all of the usual tropes- Ineffectual UNIT, excessive CSO, blobby monsters, a bumbling scientist, a yokel and the Time Lords needing Dr. Who's assistance. It is held together by an interesting story. In my judgement, it is a lot better than The Five Doctors which was just a collection of set pieces artfully, but not altogether convincingly scraped together by Terrance Dicks. While I can't bring myself to dislike The Five Doctors, I genuinely do like The Three Doctors and consider it to be one of the more enjoyable stories of the Pertwee era.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Philip Sandifer: Writer: Outside the Government: Warriors of Kudlak


"Frankly, writing a 1970s-style Doctor Who story is dead easy. This is the dirty secret of the bulk of the wilderness years - all the oft-praised “trad” writers who cranked out good old-fashioned Doctor Who had it profoundly easy. Writing a Hinchcliffe-era clone of a story is fairly trivial. You find a horror movie concept Doctor Who hasn’t done before, you come up with some technobabble as to why it’s aliens, and then you just have to learn to imitate the voices of Tom Baker and Lis Sladen and you’re good to go. It’s doubly easy if you actually have Tom Baker and/or Lis Sladen working for you, because then they’ll helpfully imitate their own voices.
 This isn’t to knock Robert Holmes, or any of the other Hinchcliffe-era writers. For one thing, it’s a lot easier to imitate the Hinchcliffe era than it was to come up with it. Doing it in 1977 is harder than doing it in 2007. Nevertheless, doing it in 2007 is dead easy. And the same goes for the Letts era: come up with some mundane aspect of the modern world and have aliens take it over. Instant Pertwee story. In that regard, The Sarah Jane Adventures should be able to take any halfway decent writer and let them have an episode without any difficulty. There’s just not a lot of moving parts here."
Phil Sandifer demonstrates the banality of so much Doctor Who, both new and old. I tend to dislike the 'middle period' of Doctor Who in the 70s and it's so frustrating that the current show so often uses it as a template.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Daleks Among Us, by Alan Barnes (Big Finish Audio)

*Spoiler Alert*



Alan Barnes, what have you done to my favorite character?

I was dreading listening to this audio. The recent Klein trilogy beginning with Persuasion has been disappointing, and I had a feeling that the concluding release would seriously mess up Klein's character arc. It took me nearly a week to pluck up the courage to listen to this CD. I suppose it could have been worse, but I was hardly impressed with what was done with our favorite blonde ice maiden scientist.

I think we can all agree that Klein's backstory is a bit complicated. She is a character whose entire life has been re-written, having previously been the sole survivor of a deleted timeline. Now we are told that the current UNIT version of Klein is a clone who was created by the Third Reich (!) using the DNA of Elizabet Wolfenhart, a sadistic female SS officer, who was also the daughter of another Nazi scientist that we met in this trilogy. Klein was then adopted by Ralf Klein, a German officer who was spying for the British. Let's not go into the unlikeliness of the Nazis obtaining cloning technology. This is Doctor Who, even if this is rather stretching credulity.

Why was all this complication necessary? Klein's backstory was complicated already, but what we knew of it had an elegance to it. It was always plausible that the UNIT version of Klein might have been the Klein that would have existed in our timeline anyway in the absence of the events of Colditz. This retelling of Klein's story makes what we saw before feel very distant. The big question left in my mind is what we are to make of the original version of Klein from the Colditz timeline, the one who travelled with the Doctor after A Thousand Tiny Wings. Did Elizabet Wolfenhart marry Ralf Klein in the Nazi victory timeline? If so, why do the two Kleins look the same? We get confirmation in this story that the UNIT Klein was born in 1945. I do still think Colditz implies that the Nazi Klein was born before the Second World War. The strange development of Klein's backstory makes me wonder how much input, if any, Steve Lyons her creator had into this trilogy. Is this really how he imagined the character?

The original Klein triology, beginning with A Thousand Tiny Wings was very much in the mould of the New Adventures, with all their sense of tragedy and moral complexity. The new Klein triology, on the other hand, has all the worst excesses of Moffat-Who. Klein has become a cosmic pixie girl, a Teutonic Amy Pond, a fifty-year old Clara or a less flirtatious River Song. Klein has ceased to be a person and has become a walking plot device.

Dominion largely avoided delving into Klein's backstory. Instead, we got a glimpse of a new and different Klein. The character we met in Dominion had the potential to be developed and to become interesting in her own right, aside from her complex backstory. This character was squandered by the writers of the new trilogy. Character development is not about adding new details to a character's background. Character development is not about creating puzzles for listeners to solve. Character development is about seeing how the narrative shapes the character and how the character moves forward the narrative through her actions. Moffat does not get this and it seems the writers of Big Finish are following his poor example. There was a nice moment when Klein accuses Dr. Who of ignoring the person she is and refusing to acknowledge her as a character distinct from what she was in a previous timeline, but such moments are largely absent from Daleks Among Us.

One of the things that can be admired most about the original Klein trilogy was its moral depth and the complex interplay between the Doctor and Klein. We have none of this here. What is more, the Klein trilogy was free from irritating cartoon Nazis. Here in the Persausion trilogy we have Schulke and also Klein's clone-mother Elizabet Wolfenhart, one of the most cliched portrayal of a female Nazi she-wolf ever.

Thankfully, Klein survives this story and we can hope that better writers will do new and exciting things with the character. Tracey Childs is a brilliant actress and Big Finish know that her portrayal of Klein is one of their best creations. I'll also try and get over my Klein fixation and point out that it was nice to see Terry Molloy reunited with Sylvester McCoy. As tired as the character of Davros has become, Molloy can always be relied upon to put in a great performance.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Verdigris, by Paul Magrs



I think Verdigris demonstrates that there is a difference between good writing and good stories.

Some of the writing in this novel is absolutely fantastic. Paul Magrs vividly recreates the Pertwee Doctor, along with Jo Grant. His satirical portrayal of the Pertwee era is very funny, with his lampooning of unconvincing monsters and bad CSO, the lack of characterisation of Mike Yates and the uselessness of the UNIT. This is not as hilariously funny as Mad Dogs and Englishmen, but the writing here is very entertaining.

On the other hand, while the writing is great, the story is not so good at all. The story is basically a sequence of one weird event after another, without much of a semblance of a plot. At times the tone feels altogether too silly. There is a place for silliness in Doctor Who sometimes. Magrs' Mad Dogs and Englishmen was silly, but it felt altogether more grounded than this work. It probably helped in Mad Dogs that Iris took more of a backseat in that story, whereas here she is central to the story.

I am one of those fans who enjoy Iris Wildthyme. I found it surprising how Magrs made her much more obnoxious and unpleasant in this story than in other works. This was perhaps appropriate given how obnoxious the Pertwee Doctor could be. I actually found that pairing the Third Doctor with Iris rather made him a little more likable.

I very much enjoyed the first few chapters of this novel, but halfway through I became very frustrated by the lack of plot progression. This is definitely not Magrs best novel.



Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Ice Warriors



I really did not want to buy The Ice Warriors DVD. The Ice Warriors is a story that I find deathly dull. However, it occurred to me that if fans don't buy these DVD releases with animated reconstruction, we won't see any more of them. It would be nice to see The Crusade with animated reconstructions (though apparently Moonbase/ Underwater Menace is to be the last classic DVD release). So I bought the wretched DVD.

I did not find myself liking the story any more than last time I watched it. It was nice to see the missing episodes animated. The animation is simple, but highly effective and infinitely superior to the hasty linking sequences on the old VHS release. Yet the restoration of these episodes only served to show how slow and tedious this story is.

It is unfair to criticize some older Doctor Who stories for being too long, after all the original viewers didn't sit down to watch whole serials in one go. They watched the episodes week by week. The Web Planet and Dr Who and the Silurians have enough plot twists to keep one's interest despite their length. On the other hand, there is nothing in The Ice Warriors to justify its six episode length. It feels artificially drawn out.

This story is mostly loved for being the first appearance of the Ice Warriors themselves. Their costumes are very inspired, with the crocodile like armour, the make-up under the helmet and the curious tufts of hair sprouting from their joints. They are unfortunately quite slow and cumbersome, but there is some compensation in the skill with which the actors give them distinctive movements. The Ice Warriors are at their best here. They have more distinctive personalities, where in later stories they would be reduced to just heavies.

Victoria is incredibly annoying in this story. She spends much of it whimpering and crying. Jamie is a little bid underused for much of the proceedings. Dr. Who has some technical problems to solve, but I don't quite feel that he is as engaged in this story as he is in others. Of the guest characters, Leader Clent is perhaps the most interesting.

There has been much discussion about when this story is set. The Radio Times gave it a date of 3000 AD, but most fans seem to favour a date of 5000 AD, around the time of Magnus Greel. For me the decisive factor is that nobody recognizes the Ice Warriors. By 5000 AD, the Ice Warriors would become a major power within the Federation. While what we see here appears incompatible with the Doctor's description in The Mutants of the Earth as totally urbanized, this is not necessarily the case. We only see a small part of the Earth in this story. Perhaps more equatorial regions are totally covered in the huge urban hive that the Doctor described in that later story.






Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Phil Defends Moffat

Philip Sandifer: Writer: The Definitive Moffat and Feminism Post

Phil Sandifer is currently addressing the RT Davies stuff, but he took a detour on his blog to address those who have criticised Moffat for sexism.

This has generated some fascinating discussion. Anti-Moffat people have made some pretty good criticisms of Phil's apology for Moffat, pointing out that he does not really deal with the arguments and that he unhelpfully builds his case by bringing up the sexism of previous eras.

Phil's persistent support for the Moffat stuff is interesting. In part it reflects his uncomfortable narrative of Doctor Who, in which the New Series is better  than anything that went before and the Wilderness Years material was a sort of warm-up exercise for the BBC Wales show.


Saturday, 31 August 2013

Trading Futures, by Lance Parkin


The Troughton serial Enemy of the World is set in the early years of the Twenty-first century and is possibly the Doctor Who story most heavily influenced by the James Bond movies. Lance Parkin's Trading Futures is also set in the early Twenty-first century, just years before Enemy of the World. Appropriately, Trading Futures is from cover to back a homage to James Bond in all its glory. This novel has some of the key ingredients of James Bond, non-stop action, multiple locations, a sexy female spy (with the amusing name Malady), a girl in a bikini (in this case Dr. Who's companion Anji Kapoor) and lots of devious scheming. There is also a British agent called Jonah Cosgrove, who is clearly intended as an elderly version of James Bond.

This story is very much focused on Anji. She takes on an almost Doctorish role, effortlessly gliding through the adventure, improvising at every problem. She seems completely at home and at ease in this environment; only decades away from her own time and guided by the assumptions of markets and capitalism. I love Anji. Being a Tory and a right-winger, I'm inevitably going to like a character who is a capitalist who supports the establishment. It's remarkable how much Anji stands out in Doctor Who because of her contrasting values. This is especially striking in this novel when she defends the arms trade. I can't imagine any other companion expressing such sentiments. Even if the Brigadier probably would agree with her, writers would never have a beloved character like him defending the arms industry. Anji offered a right-wing diversion in a franchise that was consciously left-leaning. Of course, it would be awful to have a character like Anji in Moffat-Who. Doctor Who has turned into a show that is essentially conservative due to the unreservedly middle-class nature of its characters and assumptions. It has nothing to offer in the way of challenging society. As much as I am a Conservative, I prefer Doctor Who being left-wing, rather than having absolutely nothing to say except middle-class sentiments.

Both the Doctor and Fitz take a back seat in this story. Despite his secondary role, the Doctor is portrayed here as an unstoppable, seemingly indestructible whirlwind of energy. Fitz gets a really memorable role in this novel when he is mistaken by aliens as the Doctor. He does an absolutely fantastic job of improvising as a Doctor-stand in, attempting to say Doctorish things. It is remarkable that no other companion (that I'm aware of) ever got to do this.

Lance Parkin had me in fits of laughter with this book's warlike alien race, the Onihr. The Rhinoceros-like Onihr are deliberately portrayed as a bogstandard naff Doctor Who alien species. In a really Monty Pythonesque scene, they torture Fitz with a rubbish torture device called a 'Pain Inducer.' They even change into scarlet cardinal-like robes before operating it.

Despite my enjoying Trading Futures immensely, I did feel it had two problems. The first was the excessive number of factions at work. I don't think the two minions of Sabbath contributed anything useful to the plot. They could easily have been dispensed with, but seemed to have been brought in to keep up with the story arc about the villainous Sabbath. Secondly, speaking of villains, I think a story that emulates James Bond needs a much stronger villain. Baskerville is not particularly memorable and never captures the glamour and style of a Bond villain.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

That Doctor Who Blog: Future Failure

That Doctor Who Blog: Future Failure:

Sooner or later Doctor Who will be taken off our screens again. It won’t happen under Moffat and it’s unlikely to happen under whoever replaces him, whoever that may be. But it will happen. The programme has already been back on television for eight years. It can’t continue indefinitely. Even if it’s for three or four years it’ll disappear.
And when it does disappear from our screens I think it’s currently running the risk of being looked on as a broken show in much the same way as the ’89 incarnation was. It’ll be for different reasons of course. In place of wobbly sets people will talk of wibbly wobbly plotting (see what I did there?). That’s something that the next showrunner could fix, but something tells me they won’t. Even if they move away from Moff’s time-tangling shenanigans I can’t anyone creating a strong enough identity for the show to rid it of the image the current man in charge has created.
Which will almost certainly lead to Doctor Who being remembered as a convoluted, complex show about time travel paradoxes. Which it’s not of course. But not all of the original series was badly made. Most importantly the final three years of the original series were actually pretty well put together. But because of a few dodgy episodes and bad decision twenty-six seasons are remembered by the general populace as being pretty ropey television.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Starlight Robbery, by Matt Fitton (Big Finish Audio)



The prospect of Elizabeth Klein meeting the Sontarans was certainly exciting one. So far, the only recurring monster she had encountered was the Selachians from the BBC novels. This audio will be followed by a story with the Daleks. I am not the kind of fan who thinks everything is better with Famous Monsters, but as a massive Klein fanboy, I'm keen to see her do cool stuff like fighting Daleks.

The premise of Starlight Robbery is that Garundel, a Salamader-like arms dealer holds a galactic arms auction to sell weapons to the war-like races of the universe. The highlight of the auction is the Persuasion Machine, the key component of which is Kurt Schulk. Determined to recover, Schulk, the Doctor sends Klein and her lab assistant Wil Arrowsmith to infiltrate the auction. This being a cosmic auction, fans will inevitably find themselves being reminded of Alien Bodies. This story does not come close to the surreal brilliance of Alien Bodies, but it is still funny and enjoyable in a number of ways.

Given the way Nu Who has treated the Sontarans, it is a bit disappointing that the Sontarans here are mostly played for laughs. They are given distinctive voices, which is helpful, but they have none of the intimidating presence of Lynx. However, Garundel, the Urodelian merchant, truly is a character worthy of Robert Holmes. He is hilariously played by Stuart Milligan in a camp American accent. Like the best of Robert Holmes' villains, he is ridiculous up until the point when you realize he is a cold blooded killer who is actually deadly serious. There is a wonder transition between Garundel being funny and Garundel finally becoming deadly serious. In a shocking moment, he shoots dead his former associate for her betrayal.

Starlight Robbery does a lot more with Klein than the disappointing Persuasion. There is a nice moment when she complains about the absurd leather uniform the Doctor has given her as a disguise. She is more compassionate and humane here than her Nazi alternate self, showing shock and disgust at Ziv's death, but she is still cold and detached about Garundel's fate. In an interesting moment, she gives an uncomfortable pause before replying when she is asked by the Sontaran marshal about motherhood. I am a bit worried about the revelation of a connection between Klein and Schulk. I do hope the writers do not make Klein's backstory even more complicated than it already is. I think she deserves to be developed as a proper rounded character, rather than turned into a Moffat style cosmic pixie girl like Amy Pond or Clara.

Will remains as annoying as he was in the previous story. He does have a few good moments, however. One really appreciates his sense of wonder and fascination at everything he sees. He is incredibly impressed with the twenty-first century mobile telephone, coming as he does, from either the late eighties or early nineties. I'm not convinced by the implication that he has not had much experience with women, given the rugged good looks he displays on the cover of Persuasion. The Doctor is largely left out of the action until the third part. I rather like the way Garundel points out his un-trusting, controlling nature.

One complaint I have is that during the auction, there is a lot of screaming in the background. Presumably, this is on video footage that is being played to the guests. However, the noise does give the confusing impression that the weapons are being demonstrated on live victims, a notion that would rather conflict with the dialogue.

I am not really a critic of the arms trade. Governments need weapons and somebody has to manufacture and sell them. Of course, such companies can have unethical practices and there so there is a need for them to be regulated. Given those reservations, I was rather surprised how little this story attempts to satirize or critique the arms industry. I can imagine what a leftist like Jack Graham would say about this story. He would probably point out that the villain turns out to be just a small-time conman, and not a powerful corporation, thus avoiding critique of capitalism. Most of the outrage that the characters express toward Garundel is over the fact that he is ripping off his customers rather than his involvement in the arms trade.

I think Starlight Robbery goes on a little too long. It could probably have been finished in three parts, rather than four. It is however, a vast improvement on Persuasion and is enjoyable throughout.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code (Big Finish Companion Chronicle)


Being an huge fan of the Virgin New Adventures, I was really keen to hear a Companion Chronicle starring Bernice Summerfield. Not that I am actually a fan of the character. I find her a bit too overconfident and clever, as well as annoyingly Leftist in a self-righteous way. Arguably, she is a Mary Sue for fannish Doctor Who writers. Yet it is significant that she was the first non-televised companion to have her own Companion Chronicle. She is indeed a memorable and popular Doctor Who companion in her own right. She is also a character who is always going to deliver great dialogue, even if it is irritatingly cocky.

While there are a lot of continuity nods to the Virgin Doctor Who novels in this story, this very much feels like a Bernice Summerfield adventure, with the futuristic archaeologist once again investigating another weird planet. The Doctor takes a back seat for much of the story, with the focus thrust onto Bernice. Unlike a typical Katy Manning or Carole Anne Ford companion chronicle, this is not really about the Doctor. Yet the descriptions really do manage to create a mental image of McCoy's mannerisms and evoke nostalgia for both Seasons 24-26 and the Virgin novels.

I rather wish that this had been a story featuring 'New Ace' as well as Bernice. I would love to have heard Lisa Bowerman attempting to create the mature voice of Sophie Aldred's character. Incidently, I rather felt that Sophie Aldred failed to really capture the Virgin books conception of Ace in Shadow of the Scourge.

It's not the most exciting story. It's a little bit 'talky' with some big information dumps and it does not move all that quickly. Nevertheless, it kept my attention better than a lot of audios and delivered a reasonably interesting, if not altogether Earth-shattering tale.

Lisa Bowerman delivers the narration expertly, and unsurprisingly so given that she has directed plenty of companion chronicles. A lot of reviewers have complained about her imitation of McCoy's voice. She does not get it quite right; it's a bit too Scottish, nevertheless it is fun to listen to. Lisa Bowerman's skillful delivery is not really matched by her co-actor, Charlie Hayes, who fails to really bring much to her role.

For those who love the Seventh Doctor in a linen safari suit, this is definitely worth a listen.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

For everyone claiming that Moffat chose Capaldi because he was “the best for the role”

Fandoms and Feminism:

For everyone claiming that Moffat chose Capaldi because he was “the best for the role”

Capaldi was THE ONLY PERSON HE CONSIDERED FOR THE ROLE.

He didn’t even let anyone else audition.


It wasn’t like a diverse group of actors of all races, ethnicities, genders, and talents showed up and were all carefully considered and Capaldi was simply the most choice of the lot.

He was the only one Moffat even looked at for the role.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Find and Replace, by Paul Magrs (Big Finish Companion Chronicle)


Having experienced the disappointment of another white male being cast as Dr. Who, it was refreshing to get some Iris Wildthyme. The eccentric female Time Lady (?) is played by Katy Manning, and so with Katy resuming her old role as Jo, she effectively plays two parts, as well as voicing the Third Doctor when he appears.

I really don't care much for the character of Jo Grant, nor am I a fan of the Pertwee era, yet somehow I am drawn to the Companion Chronicles featuring Jo. Perhaps I appreciate the earnestness with which Katy Manning performs them, as well as the creativity with which the writers approach this popular, but difficult era of Doctor Who.

The beautiful cover tells you that you are in for a nostalgia trip on this audio. Indeed, this is very much a passionate celebration of the Pertwee era. You can just feel Katy Manning's delight in her memories of the show as she performs here. When Jo describes the feel of Dr. Who's velvet coat, one feels this is just as much Katy Manning's feeling as the character she is playing. The affection and tenderness displayed in the final parting scene between Jo and the Third Doctor is heartbreaking.


The premise of this story is that Jo, having been parted from the Doctor for over twenty years, bumps into Huxley, a creature called a Novelizer. This Novelizer informs her that her memories have been corrupted. She never knew the Doctor and had instead been a companion of Iris Wildthyme, while assisting MIAOW, the Ministry for Intrusions and Ontological Wonders. Both Jo and Iris are sceptical of this claim and travel back to the 'Seventies' to prove Huxley wrong.

There are so many great elements to this story; the nostalgic affection for the show's past, the fact that every line uttered by Katy as Iris is hilarious and the Novelizer's constant and breathless narration. I have only two real complaints about this story. Firstly, I object to the Pertwee era being called the 'Seventies.' I think those stories were set in the 1980s. Admittedly though, this story rightfully reflects the strong 70s character of the era. I also find it disappointing that Paul Magrs has ostensibly contradicted and effectively upstaged his novel, Verdigris, in which Jo meets Iris. Nevertheless, despite these complaints I found Find and Replace a truly enjoyable and heartwarming listen.

Shabogan Graffiti: Nerd Evidence

Shabogan Graffiti: Nerd Evidence:




Nice one, Jack! Keep on blogging!

STFU Moffat: "Why does it matter that it's another white guy?"

STFU Moffat: "Why does it matter that it's another white guy?"



Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The New Dr. Who Really, Really, Really Should have been Black or Female



A response to GerryD on TARDIS Musings: You Can't Please All of the People All of the Time...

Gerry wrote:

"I've made my views on the ethnicity of the role clear before. I would only want to see an actor from an ethnic minority if he was the best for the role - but would have serious concerns about tokenism - giving it to a black actor just because there hadn't been one before. Positive discrimination is, well, a different form of discrimination. A white actor would be denied the role because of his colour."

You have to look at the big picture. Women and people from minority ethnic backgrounds are disproportionately represented in key sections of society. This has to be taken into consideration within the selection process.

Suppose the prime minister appointed only white males to the cabinet. He could argue that the people he chose were the best men for the job and that they had the talents he was looking for. However, we would rightly be inclined to be suspicious of this selection and could reasonably protest that there might be women or black members of parliament who possess the talents for ministerial office.

No doubt Peter Capaldi is a brilliant actor and will do great stuff with the role of Dr. Who. However, are there no female, black or Asian actors who could have done great stuff with the role? Gerry says a black actor would have been fine if he was 'best for the role.' Just what does it mean for somebody to be 'best' for the role of Dr. Who? Every single actor who played the lead character has brought something different to it. Troughton's approach to the part was utterly different to David Tennant's. To say that Peter Capaldi was the predetermined choice to be Dr. Who is ludicrous.

Supposing the next Doctor is played by a white man. What if the show should continue for long enough for there to be twenty Doctors, all played by white men (and a line in The Deadly Assassin is not going to stop that). At what point do we start to get uncomfortable about the fact that the Doctor has been played by a string of white men?

Gerry continues:

"Are the people arguing for a black Doctor, applying the same logic, equally arguing for a black Monarch? We haven't had a black king or queen before, so we really should have one next?"

Gerry is comparing apples to oranges. Nobody chooses who becomes the monarch. The person next in line succeeds to the throne. When somebody who is black marries into the royal family, we will get a black king or queen. The person who plays Dr. Who, however, has been chosen by the producer with the approval of the BBC. That is a decision. That Moffat has overlooked all the talent present in female, black and Asian actors and sees no problem with every incarnation of the Doctor being white shows just how lacking he is in political awareness. Shame on him.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The Conservative Party is more progressive than Doctor Who

And the new Dr. Who is... another white bloke.


We Tories field parliamentary candidates who are female, black and Asian.

In 2013 everybody knew the BBC was going to cast a white male as Dr. Who and they didn't defy our expectation.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Persuasion, by Jonathan Barnes (Big Finish Audio)



For the first time we get a Klein story that is a bit disappointing. Not that this is Tracey Childs' fault; as usual her superb acting range shines through this story. It is still wonderful to have another Klein fix (and this is the first of a trilogy of new Klein stories as well!). I complained in my review of UNIT Dominion that Klein needs to get out of her laboratory a bit more. The writer had obviously read my review, because she was given a scene in a bar, where she sips a white wine and soda. This is in the context of trying to be a considerate and approachable boss to her subordinate, Will Arrowsmith. The decision to introduce a new character for Klein to interact with was a sensible one from a character development point of view, though oddly, the pair are separated for much of the story. Despite the positive signals of continued development for Klein, this audio does little with her, leaving her to simply complain about Dr. Who not telling her anything, like so many other companions. I disagree with reviewers who say she has become a generic companion in Persuasion, but it is not material that complements the character.

So, Will Arrowsmith? What does the cover suggest to you? A character who is rugged, easy-going and sexy? A character who is smart, if perhaps a little out of his depth, like most companions? Clearly a contrasting character to Klein; one expects she will find him exasperating, but admit grudgingly that he is useful to have around. The character that we actually get in the audio, voiced by Christian Edwards, is the most appalling and cliched caricature of a nerd ever. I found it impossible to imagine the character voiced by Edwards looking like the chap on the cover. My mental image was something of a cross between Billy Bunter and Herbert in Timelash. It was a really big mistake to give the character such a silly voice. We ought to be be able to feel for Will. We can laugh at his inadequacies, but this laughter should feel painful, knowing he reflects ourselves. Instead, we are encouraged to ridicule the man. The character needed to be played straight, or at least straighter (not necessarily in a sexual sense!) It's a real failure of direction.

The story itself is a bit uninspiring, with a rather meandering plot. Ostensibly, it is set at the end of World War Two, but this setting plays no real role in the plot, other than offering some Nazi characters who don't really show much ideology. It could have been set in any historical period. It also suffers from an unevenness of tone. The sections with the alien god-like beings are grandiose and ethereal, while the sections with alien races doing battle has a comic satirical tone that jars with the rest of the material. One can only hope that the next two stories in this trilogy show some improvement. Personally, I'm not sure we needed a trilogy like this for Klein. We got an awful lot of grandiose cosmic drama in previous Klein stories. What we need with Klein is a more low-key, more incidental story. That would probably do more for Klein as a companion than another big story arc.

On the positive side, it was a good idea to have the alien gods speaking in Shakespearean poetry was a great idea and sounds beautifully haunting. It really makes them stand out for other run-of-the-mill Space Gods. There is also a lovely reference to Quatermass.

Continuity Question

According to this story, Klein's parents moved to Britain after the Second World War. I had been pretty sure, based on Colditz, that Klein's parents had emigrated before the war. I suppose this could be a result of the re-writing of her history. It might allow her to be a bit younger than she would be had she been born in say, 1935 (a detail I created for my fan fiction).

Saturday, 20 July 2013

TARDIS Eruditorum Volume 3: Jon Pertwee, by Phil Sandifer


Once again we review the most recent volume of Phil Sandifer's fascinating psychochronography of Doctor Who. As ever we ask, why buy it when you can read the blog for free? Firstly, the quality of the writing is so much better in the book than on the blog. Secondly, we get bonus essays on Torchwood, the mechanics of the TARDIS and a guest essay from Anna Wiggins.

From the outset, Sandifer admits that the Pertwee era is his least favorite period of Doctor Who. This is something I have in common with him, though my reasons for liking the Pertwee stuff are less political than his. This critical stance toward these episodes enables him to write on them with a very evident creative and reflective tension. His concluding essay on Jon Pertwee's tenure is delightfully nuanced, yet for all that he is able to celebrate those things about the character, the actor and the era that are enjoyable.

The book begins with a very interesting essay on Monty Python's Flying Circus. Phil points out that Monty Python had a sketch entitled Science Fiction Sketch, which comes across very much as an absurd parody of the Third Doctor and UNIT. However, remarkably this was broadcast before Spearhead from Space! Thus, the Pertwee era had been effectively lampooned before it had even begun. This observation sets the theme for much of the book, with Sadifer viewing Pertwee-Who as a sort of unintentional parody of itself.

Phil's leftist politics come out in his strong criticism of the Doctor's involvement with UNIT. He makes two criticisms, firstly that the Doctor so quickly becomes involved with a military organisation. Secondly, that the Doctor remains involved with UNIT after the Brigadier's actions at the end of Dr Who and the Silurians. He feels the Doctor's relationship with UNIT ought to have ended then and any criticism in that story is muted by this failure to disengage. He is also uncomfortable with the patrician demeanor adopted by Pertwee.

The essay on The Ambassadors of Death is primarily about David Whitaker, being his last story. It is an affectionate tribute to one of the most fundamental creators of the show. Phil is much more critical of Inferno, a story that gets a lot of undeserved praise from fans. I very much agree with Phil's preference for the former story.

Sandifer does not view Season 7 as a distinct era of Doctor Who, as some fans do. He does, however, make a distinction between 'Action Pertwee' and 'Glam Rock Pertwee.' The former is basically a straightforward action thriller styled science fiction story. The Mind of Evil is perhaps the best example of this. Phil is very critical of this kind of story and seems to feel it is too great a departure from the ethos of Doctor Who, as well as tending towards a dangerous moral simplicity. 'Glam Rock Pertwee' is a rather more complex beast. It is a kind of colourful composition of action and exotica that is absolutely serious, yet somehow feels like a pastiche. Sandifer views The Claws of Axos as the defining example of this genre, with each character playing a clearly defined role that on the surface appears absurd.

I was glad to see that Phil finds things to like about The Time Monster. It's a terrible story, yet he recognises that it has a fascinating combination of Platonism and Buddhism. His essay on the mechanics of the TARDIS also explores the alchemical properties of the Doctor's ship. I found the essay on David Bowie's music and it's thematic similarities to Pertwee-Who very enlightening, particularly as I have never been a Bowie fan.

Phil's essay on The Three Doctors is a marvel. He refers to Doctor Who characters by names taken from William Blake's mythological works. It's beautifully written, but I'm not sure I understand it. I do wish Phil would write a more straightforward essay about Blakean themes in Doctor Who for the benefit of more matter of fact people like me. Anna Wiggins, adds a little clarity to what Phil is trying to do, but her piece is not aided by her unfamiliarity with Blake. I would love to have a better understanding of what Phil is trying to say in his comparison of Blake and Doctor Who.

Unsurprisingly, Carnival of Monsters gets a lot of praise from Phil. It is definitely his favorite story of the period. It is of course, completely different anything else in its era. I would suggest that it feels more like a Season 24 story. Phil seems impressed with Frontier in Space, despite the problem of the Doctor spending much of the story in various jail cells. He comes up with an interesting redemptive reading of the underwhelming and rather tedious Planet of the Daleks. He points out that Terry Nation does not really capture the Third Doctor's usual persona:

"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."

Sandifer suggests that Planet of the Daleks is the kind of old fashioned space adventure that the Doctor has outgrown. Now that he is capable of dealing with more complex stories, he can take a back seat and just make speeches about courage and leave the heroism to others.

I was glad to see that The Green Death came in for some criticism. This story tends to get let off easily by fans, despite its shortcomings. While praising The Time Warrior, Phil savages it for its sexism. He finds little to praise and much to criticize in the (in my opinion barely watchable) Season 11.

I am a bit puzzled by Sandifer's handling of Jo Grant. He attacks the sexism of Terrance Dicks which led to her creation. However, he seems to offer some sort of redemptive reading, describing her as 'alchemical' and claiming that she subverts the narrative structure of the stories. I'm not quite sure what he is talking about. This seems to be an example of our author getting lost in his nether-world of radical literary theory and losing the rest of us. That said, this volume is yet another interesting read from Phil and I must say I can't wait for the Tom Baker volume.