Six Short Case Studies by Stephen Maslin 1/9/12
It can't be easy creating a Doctor Who enemy and so it is understandable that Big Finish have tended to revisit the show's store-cupboard of aliens as often as copyright would allow. (And why not? It is, on the whole, a pretty good store-cupboard.) From a customer point of view, a great many older fans seem happiest with the devil they know rather than accepting a new one. From a producer's point of view, new alien species are a notoriously hit and miss affair (Voord, Mandrels, Tereleptils, etc), just as new humanoid ones are notoriously uninspiring (Moroks, Dominators, Morestrans and so on).
You often feel that BF writers have been most concerned to find an entirely fresh angle on what it is to be something that "must be fought" but a lot of evidence from Doctor Who's earlier days seems to point to such striving as being the wrong way to go about it. For example, there's absolutely nothing new about the intergalactic con-men in The Ribos Operation, but they are scripted so beautifully that it doesn't matter one jot. Season 13 is a succession of pastiches on horror classics and yet it is one of the show's unarguable high points.
Though most of Big Finish's new villains have not warranted an encore, this does not necessarily mean that stories in which they appeared were without merit. (Fairly obviously, many enemies have not returned as it is in the nature of enemies to be defeated and, as often as not, killed off). Let's take a look at some that really did work and have a ponder as to why they did so.
Case 1: "See How Scary I Am Without My Rubber Suit?"
Take Phantasmagoria (Mark Gatiss, 1999). In Nicholas Valentine, we have a truly great villain, not because he is particularly original in conception or motivation, but because he is written so well and perfectly acted. An alien, yes, but divested of anything that might clog up the dramatic flow. (Jon Pertwee stated that his favourite villains were the Draconians because you could see the face. In this case, you can, so to speak, hear it.) The sound design and superb evocation of period help no end, but without David Ryall hitting his mark, we would have nothing to feel at all unnerved by. So it was that, early on, Big Finish gave us a lesson that they themselves have so often ignored: forget trying to magic up a fantastic new blockbuster alien and just do the basics. When it comes to audio villains, a great acting performance, a cock-on script and a general love of the show is enough to see you right.
Case 2: The Hulke Effect
Malcolm Hulke (60s & 70s TV scribe and Target novelizer extraordinaire) once said something to the effect of: "What you need is an original idea. It need not, however, be your own original idea" and in BF's early days, some rather traditional conceits spawned some excellent stories. 'Ancient-Legend-Turning-Out-To-Be-Of-Alien-Origin' was well captured in The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (Nicholas Pegg, 2000), though the real prize has to go to human villain, James Bolam. As was 'Humans-Turning-Out-To-Be-Shape-Changing-Aliens' in Winter For The Adept (Andrew Cartmel, 2000), but in neither case was anyone gasping at great new aliens, just great new stories (and, in the latter, a poltergeist piano).
Case 3: "They're Just As Bad As We Are."
It's not that it hadn't been done before, but 'The-Aliens-Are-Really-Just-Like-Us' meme in Invaders From Mars (Mark Gatiss, 2002) is just such a great example. It's not the adult Lederblakkers' altered voices or what they are supposed to look like that makes them so good, but that they have enough human failings to make them instantly knowable: they are (and this is a very hard job to pull off) both ridiculous and highly dangerous. One might have said the same about Adolf Hitler: idiotic pageantry, a laughable moustache and gas chambers. A key point is the way Invaders From Mars. plays these two elements off against each other. When Charley first encounters the adult Lederblakker, she is genuinely terrified even though their beating wings sound like an umbrella and their dialogue concerns how odd humans look ("without much hair"), full of quality bickering that Robert Holmes himself would have been proud of.
As time passed and they built on early success, Big Finish came up with more and more spin-offs and character ranges, therefore having to scrape the barrel a little deeper for storylines. Increasingly, we had to suffer alien non-entities like the Galyari, the Kromon or the Viyrans, which were depressing not because of a lack of originality, but because it seemed impossible to build a half-decent story around any of them. Worse still were the infinite variety of Equity-Card-carrying, squabbling humanoids with which the Universe is so tediously littered. But it wasn't all bad...
Case 4: "Enmity Begins At Home"
Other Lives (Gary Hopkins, 2005), one of Big Finish's finest post-TV releases and well worth anyone's money, brought us a superb example of a well-trodden baddie type: the ordinary bloke. Jacob Crackles (played by Mike Holloway) is, like Nicholas Valentine, the product of a superb acting performance hand-in-hand with a marvellous script. Yet his ordinary brand of sadism is carried off without the need for anything else. This is not a disguised green lobsteroid that eats human cheekbones; it is an extremely nasty Earth human and much more scary for being so.
Case 5: "Mother Theresa Was Not A Saint"
If new alien races don't seem to be working and we've done aliens-like-us and good old fashioned human unpleasantness, where else could one turn to for a touch of the wicked? How about Well-Beloved-National-Hero-As-Villain? In The Kingmaker (Nev Fountain, 2006), that is precisely what we get, but it's not just a matter of subverting expectations; the author has a real point to make. One expects Richard III to be the bad guy and yet we are reminded that his reputation as being totally beyond the pale is based almost exclusively on Shakespeare's play. For all his peerless poetry (and whatever the actual truth of the matter), Shakespeare wrote many distorted versions of history to please the winning side (or, more charitably, to avoid falling foul of the Elizabethan police state). Lest you think the denouement of The Kingmaker is more than a little frivolous, given access to the technology of the future, what else might Shakespeare have done?
Case 6: "Alienness Is Scarier Than Aliens"
Though Memory Lane (Eddie Robson, 2006) has villains that were in some ways of the Invaders From Mars model (that is, being a lot like you and me), unlike Invaders From Mars (ultimately a simple invasion romp with a very clever twist), Memory Lane came with aliens whose very nature gives rise to the entire plot. This is also true of the NEDA The Scapegoat (Pat Mills, 2009): without some peculiar cultural norms, there would be no story. Instead of a bunch of intergalactic ne'er-do-wells who are going to blow everyone and everything up with their big weapon, both plots describe the aliens (and vice-versa). Very neat and not a tendril or a mandible in sight. In both cases, it is not the aliens that are threatening but their alienness.
My point? Stop trying to create the New Daleks. When you've heard one shouty, implacable quintessence of evil, you've heard them all. It is all too tempting for writers to envisage creating a great, new, monumental, alien super-race (with all the marketing potential and possibility of immortality that might go with it); either the most evil, or the most technologically advanced or the smelliest, thinking that such trading of extra-terrestrial superlatives is what Doctor Who is all about. It isn't. If all you have is another attempt to take over the Earth (or all or part of the cosmos) without any narrative skill to back it up, it's just boys-and-their-toys writ large and as embarrassing as buying a Ferrari to make up for inadequate genitalia. (Hearing that such-and-such a mineral is the most valuable in the cosmos more than once has a similarly wearying effect.) Common sense should tell us that a show with its Eleventh incumbent still going strong is not going to be killing the lead off anytime soon, or that 'the biggest threat in history' is, by definition, a one off. So it is that, in terms of drama, small threats are bigger than large ones.
Canon and Conundrum by Matthew Clarke 25/9/12
I absolutely love the New Adventure novel Conundrum by Steve Lyons. I think it is among the best of the Virgin New Adventures. The sequel, Head Games is also a great book. Steve Lyons is a great Doctor Who writer. Yet I find it really hard to forgive him for a clever meta-textual trick he pulls in Conundrum and repeats in Head Games.
In Conundrum, we learn that a new Master of the Land of Fiction has created a fictional counterpart of the Doctor, who is called Dr. Who (and the real one is not?) and who has two grandchildren, John and Gillian. In the sequel, Head Games, we meet Dr. Who. Although he looks like the Sylvester McCoy Doctor, his personality is quite different, having a very superficial and naive view of good and evil. His answer to monsters is to wipe them out. Dr. Who references several TV Comic stories. The clear meta-textual implication is that the TV Comic stories did not feature our Doctor, but this Land of Fiction creation.
I realize very well that Steve Lyons meant all this in good humour, but I can't help seeing a certain literary snobbery in the idea of relegating all the TV Comic stories to the Land of Fiction. This is basically an attempt to create some sort of Doctor Who canon and to define the boundaries of what is Doctor Who and what is not. Doctor Who has no canon. The BBC licences products, but it makes no attempt to define what material is part of the Doctor Who mythos. Doctor Who has no Gene Roddenberry or George Lucas who can make pronouncements about canon. I'm very glad it does not. I grew up with the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels. I actually have a much fonder place in my heart for them than I do for the original Star Wars trilogy. When George Lucas changes things in the Expanded Universe, it really annoys me. I totally agree with Paul Cornell's claim that canon is just another form of bullying. To exclude a story from the canon is to say "No matter how much you might love this story, it doesn't count. So there."
There is a certain incongruity about a spin-off novel trying to exclude another spin-off from an hypothetical canon. I am a New Adventures fanatic, but there are plenty of fans who hate them. There are fans who hate the manipulative Doctor in the NAs and the bitter and violent Ace. There are fans who like the idea planned for Season 27 of Ace going to Gallifrey to become a Time Lord. Steve Lyons seemed to think that the TV Comic did not count. Plenty of fans think the New Adventures don't count and only the televised stories are genuine Doctor Who.
It is often pointed out that the TV Comic stories give the Doctor a somewhat different personality to the televised Doctors. The TV Comic version of the First Doctor uses magic and its Second Doctor invents things to make money, appears on a television chat show and carries a ray gun. Yet it ought to be apparent to a fan that even the televised show does not always get the Doctor quite right or achieve a consistent tone. Take The Seeds of Doom. I'm sure that The Seeds of Doom went through a much more rigorous editorial process than Martha the Mechanical Housemaid, but there are still some oddities about that story. The Seeds of Doom is a very enjoyable story, but in some ways it does not feel like Doctor Who. The tone of it comes closer to a spy thriller at times and, in the end, the monster is destroyed not by the Doctor, but by an airstrike. Furthermore, the fourth Doctor does not quite feel the same as in other Fourth Doctor stories. He seems more of an establishment figure and much more ready to deal out violence. Robert Banks Stewart had not spent hours studying past episodes to make sure he got every detail right (as a fan would do); he just wrote it to commission. That is why the tone of the story is different and that is exactly why the TV Comic strips feel different to most Doctor Who stories. We would not exclude The Seeds of Doom from the 'canon' because it is a bit different and neither should we exclude the Sixties comic strips.
Steve Lyons makes a really interesting point in Head Games about the TV Comic version of the Doctor having a naive view of good and evil, and being ready to destroy anything that looks like a monster. While this is true of the Doctor in the TV Comic, it is also true of much of the televised show, especially in the Second Doctor's era. The Doctor wipes out the Macra without knowing anything about them, he cheerfully blows up the Dominators with a bomb and he destroys the entire Martian fleet, even though they are a dying race. This is the sort of gung-ho attitude that Robert Holmes so brilliantly satirized in The Two Doctors.
There is another irony in the idea of the TV Comic being relegated to the Land of Fiction, that is that the whole idea of the Land of Fiction is a bizarre concept in itself and might just as easily have been something from the TV Comic strips. The Mind Robber might be part of a hypothetical canon, but there is no way that story would have been made in any period other than the Sixties era of Doctor Who. There is just as much a stretch to say that The Mind Robber and Terminus occurred in the same universe as to say that The Challenge of the Piper occurred in the same universe as Pyramids of Mars.
Graphic Adventures by Jamie Beckwith 23/12/12
It's recently been announced that the classic story The Reign of Terror is due for DVD release next year and that the two missing episodes will be recreated not by stills footage narrated by Carol Ann Ford, as happened with the VHS release, but with brand new animation from Australian company Theta Sigma. It follows on from the 2006 release of The Invasion on DVD, which also had its two missing episodes animated, that time by Cosgrove Hall.
Whilst it's laudable that such creative minds are working on finding ways to bring these missing episodes alive (and YouTube is awash with clever people who've attempted with varying degrees of skill to recreate missing episodes) there will come a point where from a commercial point of view it's not going to be viable to do this for every story. If we're lucky we might see The Tenth Planet episode 4 animated for a future DVD release but it's going to be simply impossible for the 9 missing episodes of The Daleks' Master Plan or all of Marco Polo to get the same treatment.
There seems to me though a very obvious alternative to animation and I'm surprised nobody has really looked in to this before. The appearance of Doctor Who in comic strips is almost as old as the show on television itself. (Indeed, if you factor in the break between 1989 and 2005 then the comic strip version has been running longer.) Why not therefore produce a series of graphic novels of the missing stories? Interest in the show's past by new fans really took off in 2009's and 2012's gap years. Whilst I've no doubt some will go for the tested route of tracking down the telesnaps online and listening to the off-air soundtrack, it can be pretty arduous. I've been a fan for 22 years and as much as I love Patrick Troughton's Doctor, I simply don't have the patience to do that for all his stories. On the other hand, if you told me a graphic novel version of The Power of the Daleks was out, I'd be first in the queue. It might even do wonders for those stories which have poor reputations like The Space Pirates that aren't helped by the fact there are no telesnaps and the only surviving episode barely features the Doctor and company (and, when it does, they are completely disconnected from the main plot, trapped in a damaged space beacon with a dwindling oxygen supply).
As great as the novels and audio plays are at offering new worlds of adventures (and, believe me, I'm big fan of the New Adventures) Doctor Who began as a television show and is a very visual concept: a time machine that looks like a police box and is bigger on the inside that it is on the outside? Absolutely fantastic when you see it but it loses something somewhat when it's written down and goodness knows how they sell it on audio!
There are plenty of talented artists out there already working in the comic world and, just as different directors brought their own stamp to each story, they could adapt the stories to fit their particular styles as well. Imagine for example Adrian Salmon's take on The Wheel in Space, which would be a complete contrast to, for example Dan McDaid's take on The Savages.
There are some who might consider this idea sacrilege and want the adaptations as close to the original as possible, with 'photo likenesses' of William Hartnell and Anneke Wills and a frame by frame recreation based on the telesnaps of The Smugglers. This is absolutely fair enough and may help sell a more "authentic" 60s Doctor Who experience.
Quite equally though, there is the opportunity to bring a new spin on old material. Yes, you could recreate the Fish People of Atlantis as they were on screen and which have been much derided, even by those who are more inclined to give 60s Who a more generous break for special effects than they are for 70s and 80s Who. On the other hand, you could go brand new, go back literally to the drawing board and come up with a fresh take on the Fish People which really makes them spooky or unsettling or at least less like extras wearing netting, spandex and goggles.
You could also take the opportunity to update those classic stories so they tie in with the current series. Whilst I know several hardcore fans would probably have a heart attack at the suggestion of a Daleks' Master Plan graphic novel in which the Skarosian critters are rendered in the same brightly coloured hues as seen in Victory of the Daleks, but why not? Those same fans might dismiss it as a cynical marketing ploy, not stopping to consider that there are some fans who not only wouldn't know William Hartnell's Doctor yet but haven't even seen David Tennant's portrayal. Why not lure them in to the wonderful back catalogue of Doctor Who adventures that way? Of course, it doesn't even have to be as drastic as that, it can be subtle little reference, like having Mavic Chen's announcement that he is going on vacation being broadcast on the Bad Wolf channel
The structure of the original Doctor Who stories lends themselves to comic strip form as well, with each episode ending on a thrilling cliffhanger so you just HAVE to tune in the next week. In this case, you'll just have to turn the page to find out what happens next!
So come on BBC, why not give this some thought? Imagine the possibilities and don't underestimate the appetite for classic stories. You could always start off with obvious Dalek crowd-pleasers like Evil of the Daleks or stories that thematically link to the post-2005 series. If you can broadcast an Ood-tastic episode which contains a throwaway line referencing The Sensorites broadcast 44 years earlier, then I'm sure you can get away with a full graphic novel adaptation of The Macra Terror.
And just think... if the range does really well, it doesn't have to stop at Hartnell and Troughton. Invasion of the Dinosaurs could throw off its unjustified low ranking by those who can't see past the puppets, Underworld can dazzle the imagination and even the Myrka could be turned in to a fearsome beast. The possibilities are endless.
Taste the Blood of the Frock Coat Dogma by Andy Wixon 8/3/13
If there's one thing that many great Doctor Who stories tell us, it's that eternal vigilance is the price of safety: no matter how many times or how completely it looks like the Daleks, or whoever, have been consigned to the dustbin of history, you can never be completely sure that they're not going to come creeping back and causing all sorts of mischief. This is such an important plot idea that they practically based three full years of the series on it in the mid-to-late 70s.
However, it seems that the people who make the show are often too busy to actually pay attention to the messages it has to offer us (which just begs the question as to how they ended up there in the first place, but I am in danger of digressing as usual). I mention this as I find myself moved to a further set of observations regarding one of the most pernicious menaces in all of Doctor Who's history: namely, the ghastly horror that is the Frock Coat Dogma.
I can already imagine the assembled worthies of the DWRG exchanging confused glances and mouthing 'the what?' at each other. Through the miracle of HTML, I invite you to refresh your memories on this topic by looking here and here, preferably in that order.
When we last checked in on the Frock Coat Dogma, we found that Rusty Davies was playing clever little games with it, exploiting the grasp it maintains on the collective consciousness whenever he needed to establish a particular character as being somehow evocative or reminiscent of the Doctor - a generic Doctor, rather than any particular incarnation. However, something of the lingering power of the Dogma is discernible in David Tennant's insistence on his Doctor having a great big long coat to wear - almost as if he was indulging in being a cosplay version of his own character.
(The great big long coat is obviously not a bona fide frock coat, which may propel some readers to object that its mention in connection with the Frock Coat Dogma is nothing but scaremongering. However, bearing in mind that what actually constitutes a frock coat in the real world and what we Doctor Who fans tend to mean when we talk about our hero wearing one are frequently wildly different things, I am inclined to ignore this. Also, if I were to write a series of articles about the Great Big Long Coat Dogma I would just sound silly.)
Anyway, three years into the Moffat regime and where do we stand? Well, initially, everything in the garden of Doctor Who was lovely, as the Doctor went about his business in a traditional tweed jacket. Hmm, lovely - even a brief excursion into wearing a tailcoat was forgivable, as this was part of an ensemble and for a special occasion. (Although, and this is perhaps telling in retrospect, the tweed jacket combo was very much a last minute choice after Matt Smith - bless the lad! - demurred at appearing in what has variously been described as 'a Matrix-style leather coat' and 'a pirate costume').
However, what's this that begins to appear about the Doctor's person from Let's Kill Hitler onwards? Hmm, it's a military-style greatcoat, and as such significantly closer in cut and silhouette to the frock coats of old. Despite dropping out of sight throughout the most recent run of episodes, the greatcoat was clearly a portent of things to come, as The Snowmen sees the Doctor wearing an almost entirely new costume - the bow tie is practically the only surviving element - of which the outermost element is, inevitably, indisputably and unquestionably, a frock coat.
We should not be surprised by this, given that back in the 20th century it was Moffat himself who boiled down the quintessence of Doctor Who to 'a man in a frock coat with a police box having adventures in space and time'. But, surprised or not, is there a justifiable response other than aghast horror with a side order of despair?
Funnily enough, I find myself to be not that bothered by the Doctor's adoption of a frock coat as his chosen outwear. This is partly because it is entirely justified by the story - if the Doctor has really retired to the late Victorian era, and is trying to escape undue attention, it would be silly for him not to wear a frock coat seeing, as this is probably the heyday of the garment. (It should also be pointed out that the Doctor's latest acquisition really is a bona fide frock coat, or at least much closer to it than most of the so-called frock coats he's supposedly worn in the past.)
But there's also a part of me that's quite relieved to see the series so mindful of and positive about one of its traditions, dubious though that tradition has sometimes been in the past. I've found myself feeling rather lukewarm about the last couple of series, feeling that the series' usual focus on strong plotting, interesting characters, and imaginative fantasy concepts has been eclipsed by a fixation on narrative and visual gimmickry, with trite emotional beats and a general sense of complacent introspection. Given all this, I'll take anything I can get more redolent of old-style Doctor Who: and, happily, The Snowmen fits that bill rather agreeably. I find that, for the time being at least, I'm not averse to a Doctor in a frock coat, as long as he has the kind of adventures the apocryphally-frock-coated Doctors of old had. Sometimes there is perhaps some value in being dogmatic after all.
On the Doctor and her Future by Rob Matthews 21/6/13
In recent months, there's been an awful lot of fuss in the news on the subject of equal marriage. Basically, this amounts to a change in the law that allows homosexual couples to be able to wed in just the same way as heterosexual couples can, and it's something that, on the face of it, there is simply no reasonable argument against. I'd say it's an overdue correction to the law that makes a democratic nation more civilised. If it's happening now, well, better late than never.
Yet... well, that hasn't stopped a continual stream of objections from tedious bigots, that just keep on coming long, long after you'd thought the subject was done with. Every time you think the subject is settled, you hear about some new hurdle. And it comes to the point where you read fresh headlines involving nonsensical pronouncements from Norman Tebbit and his undead cadre, or wacky interviews with people like Jeremy Irons, who seriously suggest this means fathers will now be able to marry their own sons for tax purposes (?), and... well, a weariness sets in. There appears to be no arguing with these entrenched, vociferous, lunatic opinions and eventually you come to dismiss them as a sort of nutty sideshow, one to which society on the whole thankfully now appears to pay little heed.
There's nothing more dispiriting than a long-running 'argument' about something that shouldn't even be seen as contentious. It judders on and on, sapping your spirit and making you wonder just what the hell is wrong with people that they make such a big fuss about nowt.
Anyway, onto the subject of a female Doctor Who.
Well, where does the time go. It seems like only about a year since David Tennant handed in his notice and we were all speculating about who'd be next. And yet somehow, five years have actually tumbled down the time vortex since then. As has happened since I think about 1980 when Tom Baker was heading for the door, the notion of a non-white or a female Doctor came up back in 2008. With Paterson Joseph emerging as a favourite at that time, the debate-that-isn't-a-debate centred mainly on the idea of the next Doctor being black. Idiots, let's call them what they are, happy enough to accept that the Doctor might look like Jon Pertwee at one point and Peter Davison at another, suggested the Doctor couldn't possibly - during one of his regular miraculous transformations in a fantasy show - change skin colour. And they were wrong, wrong, wrong. Not a shred of credibility to their embarrassing assertions. And when I say embarrassing, that's just what I mean: I'm always kind of appalled to find that anyone who call themselves Doctor Who fans could harbour views so contrary to the spirit of the show. You'd hear them say this rubbish and you'd think: this is why people think Doctor Who fans are freaks.
Then when Matt Smith's casting was announced, the fuss was merrily deferred until next time. Smith, incidentally, was a great choice, and he's been brilliant. But now he's announced he's quitting, the howling maelstrom of speculation has once more been unleashed, and it's like it's never been gone. Apparently Steven Moffat had hoped to keep a lid on it by getting Matt Smith to make a phony confirmation that he was staying for another series, and then making the Doctor's regeneration at the end of this year a great big Christmas surprise - kind of like that cliffhanger ending of The Stolen Earth, but for real. It would have been great if the Moff could have pulled that off. The endless discussion of which famous name should be the next Doctor gets wearying very quickly - especially since every really well-known name that gets bandied about would, like Christopher Eccleston, not be likely to hang around for more than one series anyway, which would barely give this ruckus time to end before it starts up again.
In the meantime, these debates, such as they are, have started to make their presence felt in the show itself. The 2011 season threw in some casual confirmation, via River Song, that the process of regeneration can involve a change of skin colour, while the Doctor's discussion of fellow Time Lord the Corsair in Neil Gaiman's episode made clear that a change of gender is not an impossibility for these Gallifreyans either.
("He's a Time Lord - not a Time LADY" shriek calm and erudite observers. And yet we've seen the show's most prominent female Time Lord, Romana, referred to in the show as just that - a Time Lord. 'Time Lady' is a dated condescension, like 'comedienne' or 'actress'.)
Part of the fun of the 21st century series is seeing how both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have enjoyed mopping up some of these lingering issues, big and small, in the background of the show: Davies himself impishly indicated, in the now painfully poignant Sarah Jane episode he wrote featuring Matt Smith's Doctor, that a Time Lord's regenerations can run into the hundreds. And the Who episode that presented us with a black incarnation of River Song didn't stop there: also throwing in a cheeky dismissal of that 'temporal grace' stuff from The Hand of Fear, as well as offering us a description of the Doctor's TARDIS as a 'Type Forty, Mark Three' - you know, for all those of us who suffer agonised sleepness nights over how to reconcile a couple of remarks in The Time Meddler with the rest of Who lore. For some of us, this kind of peace of mind is is far more important than worrying about whether the Doctor might wake up one day with labia.
Anyway, this peripheral but pointed focus on the ins and outs of regeneration - three different iterations in that period of the show - would appear to be an effort to spell out, to those who need it, that a female and/or ethnically different Doctor is by no means impossible, and may be on the cards at some point in the future.
I would hope by this point that the not-racist-buts who think the Doctor can't ever be not white would be too ashamed to pipe up any more; it's a very ugly view to countenance, and it's rightly not taking seriously by most of us.
And yet still the notion of the Doctor becoming a woman is considered a step too far by many. As I write, Doctor Who Magazine is running an online poll, 'for fun', asking people if they favour or don't favour the idea of a female Doctor and dividing responses along gender lines (ie - 'I'm a woman and I don't want a woman Doctor' etc). This is not a format, one would hope, in which they'd run a poll about an ethnic minority Doctor, and I anticipate depressing results. A bit like with UKIP at the local elections.
What is the objection really? Genuinely, what? The Doctor, it appears to me, is not a character whose appeal or, well, characterisation depends on his maleness. I can see why you wouldn't recast Don Draper, intergalactic shagger Captain Kirk or James Bond as women; those roles are all defined to some extent by their libido - and, besides, they're human beings who don't depend on a fantasy process of metamorphosis for their longevity.
But the Doctor?
Well, I can only address the objections I've seen online. Bearing in mind some of these are taken from the same rung of internet commentary where people traditionally blame whatever the subject at hand is on immigrants, perhaps I'm not taking on the strongest arguments. Then again, I'd be interested to know what those are.
One was: 'How can the Doctor be a woman? He was a GRANDFATHER. Haven't they heard of a thing called CONTINUITY?'
In a show whose most recent episode featured Richard E Grant making a reference to yer actual Valeyard, yes, I think we can take it as read that they have heard of continuity (that would be Richard E Grant playing the embodiment of a disembodied consciousness last heard of in the show in the mid-1960s, by the way).
And again, I don't see what the argument is supposed to be. Yes, the Doctor was once an elderly grandfather. And now he's a young man. That's a bit weird. So what's the difference between that and the similar a-bit-weird of the Doctor having once been an elderly grandfather and now being, say, a young woman? Perhaps Time Lord family get-togethers are just a little more complex than ours. The Doctor regenerating into a woman would not somehow mean that he wasn't previously a man. It in no way disrupts the precious 'continuity'.
Linked to this is the argument about the Doctor having been in love with Rose Tyler and River Song. Wouldn't this make the new Doctor - gulp! - a lesbian??
Well, not unless you wrote her as one, no. Even glossing over for now the ambiguity that actually accompanied the Doctor's relationships with his wife and girlfriend, it bears pointing out again that the Doctor's interest in these women has never once been portrayed as intrinsically lust-fuelled. Davies and Moffat have been careful to leave a space there where the viewers' imaginations can fill that in if they like, but it hasn't been as directly portrayed on screen as we sometimes imagine. Indicative of this is the clip that is always, always trotted out to show how much the Doctor and his companion snog each other nowadays. You know, the one from New Earth, with Billie kissing David with some gusto. The one where Billie Piper is playing Cassandra, not Rose.
The Doctor does have romantic relationships, I would on the whole agree, but they're not casual, and he doesn't exactly have a roving eye. What I mean is the next Doctor would not, for example, be looking for a replacement for River - because that relationship is unique, it's specific to her. The Doctor doesn't travel time and space on the lookout for a date, but if one comes along, so be it. I don't think that needs to change.
As an aside, it seems horribly condescending to point out here that there does exist a particular breed of fan who want the Doctor to stay a man because they fancied David Tennant and quite like the idea of fancying the next one. I feel grubby about alluding to this, obviously I'm not suggesting it's universal, but a quick gander online does show that this is indeed the case with some viewers; fangirls with Tennant Twitter avatars dismissing the notion of a female Doctor is an objective phenomenon. Davies himself fostered this by encouraging the idea of the Doctor as a quasi-romantic lead, and Tennant's apparent fanciability (I never saw it myself) sealed the deal for his tenure.
But I'm pretty much of the opinion that a big popular show like Doctor Who should throw in some eye candy for all as a matter of course, so if the Doctor doesn't tickle your fancy, there should be someone else there to do so. After all, embracing populist titillation is not new for the show; we all remember Zoe and her spangly arse. Just put someone else in there to look at.
And even bearing in mind that the Doctor dances, when the mood takes him, this does not necessarily mean that every Doctor partakes of the same shimmy. It's very easy, for example, to imagine Matt Smith's Doctor meeting Rose Tyler and not feeling for her the same emotional connection that Tennant's Doctor did, even though he may remember doing so. Similarly, Tom Baker's Doctor could well run into Cameca the nice Aztec lady without batting a melancholic eyelid. She'll make someone a lovely wife, probably. And if River Song bumped into the Hartnell Doctor on her travels, she'd likely cut her losses and decide to just come back later ("Eh? Sweetie who? What's she talking about?")
What I'm saying is, the Doctor changes. Just like we change over time, but more so. What he once was does not need to reconcile directly with what he is now, but that doesn't mean he isn't fundamentally the same character.
'You wouldn't change Robin Hood or Sherlock Holmes into a woman!' those voices thunder. Obviously having not grown up on Maid Marian and her Merry Men on CBBC. But you know what I'm going to say: this misses the point. The Doctor is far more malleable than those other icons of our folklore; his ability to change into different people is part of the character's lore. You can't just conveniently discard this from the discussion. For a truer analogy, picture Robin Hood living in the Doctor Who universe, where he'd be an exiled alien who'd he'd later regenerate into Sherlock Holmes, and after that into James Bond, and maybe later into Lara Croft. The rules are different in Doctor Who, and it wouldn't have survived so long without being adaptable.
It seems to me there are fans who would rather the show stick to a particular paradigm that defines the series for them, something they treasure from a time gone by. I've noticed that if you point out to these people that the show wouldn't be viable as a current-day series in that format, they will respond something along the lines that it would be better off not doing so, then. Well, that's fine for them, they'd prefer the show dead than modern, but not for those of who enjoy Doctor Who as something that is ongoing, something that exists now.
Certainly, despite what they'll claim 'can't' happen, there is no within-the-series reason why a female Doctor couldn't appear on the other side of that golden artron volcano. The blunt, deaf, oft-made claim that it would be 'silly' if this happened is almost too daft for a response. But suffice it to say that there is very little about the basic concepts of this show that does not reveal itself as utterly, wonderfully silly once you make the effort to forget just how much you've become accustomed to it over the years. A spaceship inside a defunct policing implement. An alien with two hearts who regularly changes his face and personality. A screwdriver that works with soundwaves. Everyone in the universe speaking English, and it not being an issue for fourteen years.
And then there's the specific: murderous seaweed, killer plastic daffodils, robotic Egyptian mummies that crush nosy poachers to death with their reinforced tits. Giant woodlice who can focus gravity, little alien babies made out of packets of human belly fat, rotund abominable snowmen menacing a public transit system by shooting webs out of guns, fierce green reptile warriors who fall over and die when it gets a bit warm.
There's a Doctor Who serial from Jon Pertwee's first season, called Inferno. It is frequently hailed as one of the most 'gritty' Doctor Who stories ever. It involves blue werewolves. Also, their skin is molten but their clothes remain unsinged.
Trust me. If you're going to object to something new in Doctor Who, you're going to have to come up with better than 'it's silly'.
Thing is though, if you give even a modicum of attention to these 'silly' claims, well, don't they reveal something rather offensive? Namely, the not-quite-articulated-but-implicit suggestion that a woman is a daft, novelty version of a man. And from thence come the quips about how he's a Doctor, not a Nurse, about how the Daleks would win because the Doctor would be too busy putting on her lipstick etc
'Oh, here we go' is what I'm sure a lot of you are rolling your eyes and thinking here. But that's the exact same reaction I have when I hear 'Of course the Doctor can't be a woman!' And just because pointing out sexism is so tiresome an activity, it doesn't mean that it's not there.
I saw DWM editor Tom Spilsbury on a recent BBC interview suggesting there would have to be 'a good reason' for the Doctor to become female, that it's not something that should be done 'just for the hell of it'. And yet what, in this context, could you consider a 'good reason'? A story where the Doctor desperately needs to infiltrate the WI? Did the Doctor need 'a good reason' to become him out of All Creatures Great and Small or a shirty mancunian?
The only 'good reason' I can see is an actor who brings something fresh to the part. And it has to be said, a fresh start is very much what the show needs right now. I loved a lot about The Name of the Doctor, but I couldn't avoid noticing how utterly impenetrable it must be to any new viewers. The John Hurt thing was a nice tease, but I do know people who are now under the impression that John Hurt is Matt Smith's replacement, an idea that probably won't shift for them until the actual replacement comes along.
For all that unreasoning fans keep demanding guest appearances by unrecognisably aged actors for the anniversary, I'm of the opinion that the show has gone far too much up its own arse lately as it is. The Clara mystery, while clever, has baffled some more casual viewers (remember them?), and the stretching of one series over two years hasn't helped keep it vital or at the forefront of viewers' minds. I think the show is, at this point, in need of the same kind of fresh start it had back in 2005, a clearing of the decks, and we shouldn't be ruling anything out.
No one out there in the real world will know about it, of course, but we fans had a glimpse, albeit an aural one, if such a thing is possible, of a female Doctor back when Big Finish did its 'Unbound' series, where a host of new actors were invited to play the Doctor in one-off audio plays. One of these involved Arabella Weir as the Time Lord and, wouldn't you know it, was a silly knockabout comedy that came in a pink cover. You know, pink: the colour of women's stuff.
For some reason, seemingly associated with this idea that a female Doctor can only be some silly novelty version of the character - almost a spoof version in fact - we continue to get the suggestion of female performers known mainly for comedy as the Doctor. An 'alternative history' article appeared online recently suggesting a pretend history of the show where the Doctor had always been female. It's purpose wasn't to mock the idea, it must be noted, but among the names that came up were Hattie Jacques (in place of Troughton), Penelope Keith (in place of Tom Baker), Sue Perkins (in place of David Tennant) and Miranda Hart (in place of Matt Smith).
Some of these are decidedly off - Perkins in particular is barely even an actor, or if she is, I've not seen any evidence that she has a talent commensurate with Tennant's. And Hart has emerged recently as an alleged favourite to become the first female Doctor - disregarding of course that anyone who's already a well-known name will almost certainly not take this role. Granted she's a bit of a flavour of the month right now, but still, why instantly gravitate to people known for comedy? No one expects the BBC to do that while casting around for a male Doctor. In fact, there'd be derision if they did.
Among the more feasible suggestions - albeit keeping in mind that 'too-well-known' caveat above - have been the prolific Olivia Colman and alt-her majesty Helen Mirren, the latter of whom has actually publicly said she would like the role, on the basis that she would only do it for a year.
The idea is tantalising, as all these daydream-castings can be, and, thanks to her willingness, is even a plausible possibility. My worry with this, should it ever come off, is that the casting would overshadow the series for that one year: it would be all about Helen Mirren as the Doctor, and the individual stories would become irrelevant. The one-year Doctor worked with Eccleston to establish the role as a 'serious' part, and also to quickly reintroduce the notion of regeneration, but - well, maybe this is where I'm being old-fashioned and narrow-minded now - I prefer a Doctor who sticks around long enough for us to get to know them. It should mean something when the Doctors come to the end of their lives, and you'd lose that with too much chopping and changing.
I've also heard good things about Zawe Ashton. Don't really know enough about her work to say any more than that.
As a rebuttal to the 'that's just too silly to happen!" assertion, it should also be kept in mind that when the show faltered in the 1980s, Sydney Newman himself, the actual creator of the series, suggested an overhaul with a female Doctor:
"At a later stage Doctor Who should be metamorphosed into a woman. Don't you agree that this is considerably more worthy of the BBC than Doctor Who's presently largely socially valueless, escapist schlock? This requires some considerable thought - mainly because I want to avoid a flashy, Hollywood Wonder Woman, because this kind of heroine with no flaws is a bore."I mean, I know Newman got it wrong on the Daleks, the man's not infallible, but this couldn't be more straight from the horse's mouth. If you want to suggest a female Doctor betrays the core concepts of the show, well, look at who thinks otherwise.
Objections to a female Doctor have largely been 'in-series' ones that, you may have noticed, I personally don't think hold much water. The only good argument - in fact I'd say the only one that even qualifies as an argument - that I've seen for the Doctor remaining male comes from a journalist named Claire Budd who wrote for the Independent, her contention being, in a nutshell, that the Doctor is a valuable, thinking, non-violent role model for young boys, something that is unique in our culture. And it's telling that the only decent argument against a female Doctor comes from someone looking at the series in its wider cultural context, instead of focusing fruitlessly on 'continuity' and offering 'it's never happened before' as a reason that it can't happen now.
Budd's argument gives me pause for thought, though I won't say I'm totally swayed by it. I think the Doctor can be a role model, male or female. But then I'm ostensibly a grown-up, and it's not for me to judge who young boys will want to identify with. Bloody kids.
The only note of caution I would sound about the possibility of a woman Doctor is that it appears - unless they're keeping something from us rather more successfully than they did Smith's departure - that the next incarnation will debut in a show still being overseen by Steven Moffat. And while Moffat has many strengths as showrunner for Doctor Who (look - I've even stolen his 'slutty title' approach for this article), I'm not sure a writer who gave us lines like 'What has happened to time?'/'A woman' and 'What's she like?'/'Hell in high heels' is the one to oversee a female version of the Doctor from scratch. It's possible I'm misjudging based on limited information, but he appears to favour sexy/sassy male-wish-fulfilment female characters - with River herself often painted as a femme fatale. Overemphasising the 'Hey, I'm a woman!' aspect of such a Doctor would fall into the trap of doing exactly what all those detractors expect; namely, treating it as a 'novelty' version of the character. Also, Moffat has expressed hesitance about it in the past, albeit while not ruling it out. It may not be his bag.
Basically, I think it still remains much more likely that the next Doctor will be a man than a woman. And who knows, maybe by the time you read this, Ben Whishaw will have been announced and the maelstrom comfortably sealed away again like that currently inactive Cardiff rift. But if those running the series were to rule out female performers at audition stage - well, what a bunch of male chauvinist bilgebags that would make them. I hope that's not what they're doing, and it truly disappoints me that so many people would wish them to.
Nostalgia and the Doctor by E. John Winner 16/7/13
1. The Doctor Is A Victorian Scientist
By 1963, science fiction had already passed through three distinct eras. The First, beginning in the 19th Century, was dominated by scientist heros engaged in adventures of discovery and invention; the primary writers were Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. The horrors of WWI, inflicted partly through the efficacy of industrial weaponry, largely put an end to this era. The Second Era appeared in the 1920s, and with the genre becoming little more than fantasy in rocketships. Important authors include Edgar Rice Burroughs and Flash Gordon creator Alex Raymond, but it was most memorable for its media of presentation: comic strips, serials, pulp magazines. By the end of the 1930s, however, the pulps were publishing the early work of the writers who, after the war, would bring in the Third Era of science fiction - such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke - an era that would explore the scientific, social and political implications of the concepts embedded in the new technologies developed during WWII. Rockets now really could put humans into space, or deliver nuclear weapons to their targets with precision, while the viewing of images over long distances was becoming a commonplace. The Third Era sci-fi writers no longer needed to limit themselves to exploring a 'brave new world'; i.e., a future earth - they could now create and explore many new worlds, some brave, some disappointing....
But the 1950s also saw the rise of a vigorous nostalgia for the fiction of the First Era. For more than a decade, from the early '50s to the early '60s, international film industries (dominated, of course, by Hollywood) produced a plethora of films based on the writings of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. With one major exception (George Pal's War of the Worlds), these films were set in the late 19th Century - or the Victorian period, as English speakers would have it - and they were again dominated by scientist discoverers as heroes - despite the fact that the world they were discovering had already been discovered. (By 1954, when Disney produced Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, thousands of men had already fought two major wars in submarines.) Thus the nostalgia: the audiences of these films well knew of contemporary explorations of the oceans and of outer space; they delighted at looking back at a 'more innocent' time when such explorations could only be accomplished through the imaginations of great writers. It is notable that the most popular of all these movies was Michael Todd's Around the World in Eighty Days, a film that contained no elements of science fiction, but instead explored Victorian industrial advances in transportation, most of which had gone the way of the dinosaur by the time of the film's production. It cannot be overemphasized how popular these movies were; the most expensively made film of its day, Todd's 80 Days earned back seven times its cost at the box office.
When Sydney Newman put together a creative team to develop what would become Doctor Who, they couldn't have avoided the influence of this cultural trend - because something had already been produced partly in response to it, which they couldn't have ignored. Although the BBC Quatermass serials were set in the near future, the character of Bernard Quartermass is a clear throwback to the the scientist heroes of H. G. Wells, perhaps with a touch of Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger thrown in to give him an edge of toughness that Wells' heroes often lacked. Author Nigel Kneale was certainly a Third Era sci-fi writer, but the Quartermass character is just as clearly engaged in First Era scientist-heroics. (To me, it is not at all surprising that the Quartermass serials would be brought to theaters by Hammer Films, whose stock in trade was nostalgia for Victorian gothic.)
My point is not that the character of the Doctor was mere regurgitation of Bernard Quartermass; that is clearly not the case. My point is that Quatermass and the Doctor share the same literary and dramatic geneology and that at the core of both is a nostalgia for the Victorian scientist hero of First Era science fiction.
Anyone who can watch the Hartnell Doctor and not see in his personality the irascibility of Professor Lidenbrock, the curiosity of Professor Aronnax, the over-the-cliff risk-taking of Wells' nameless Time Traveller, the bullheaded arrogance of Professor Challenger - well, clearly one would have to know nothing of either literature or film to miss this.
I think most fans of the Doctor are aware of it; but they seem to treat the matter lightly, as a kind of amusing subtext. That assumption couldn't be farther from the truth. I am trying to point out that this nostalgia is at the very core of the Doctor, this is his personality, this is what he is: a Victorian scientist who happens to come from another planet from the far-off future.
This seems to be a contradiction, but the inference that resolves it is near enough to hand - and is actually subtly implied by Robert Holmes (the writer most aware of the Doctor's geneology) in The Deadly Assassin (where most of the dangers found in the Matrix are lifted from the period of WWI - the moment when the First Era of sci-fi came to a close). Isn't obvious that, although we meet the Gallifreyans when they have developed superior technology and have evolved superior intellects and physiologies, that Gallifrey clearly underwent a history quite similar to our own (in their 'ancient past')? The Doctor can have the personality of a Victorian scientist because Gallifrey once underwent an age of scientific discover similar to that of our own late 19th Century.
Of course, I admit that's just a fan's speculation - an explanation, if one is needed. But, really, it's not needed. The character of the Doctor is fictional and specific to the many stories in which he appears. If his personality is that of Victorian scientist, and if that appeals to us for any reason, including and especially nostalgia, than so be it.
2. The Use and Abuse of Nostalgia
Nostalgia is a funny thing. Once it kicks in, it begins to multiply many layers over time, since its principle concern is time and memory. All serial entertainments rely on some degree of nostalgia; we go to the next episode of the serial partly because we have such warm memories of the previous episode we enjoyed. The longer the serial goes on, the more complicated the complex of nostalgia that envelopes it. One develops a nostalgia, not only for previous episodes, for previous storytelling styles used in older episodes of the serial but for the era in which the older episodes appeared. Nostalgia for Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker Doctor Who stories is certainly in part nostalgia for the 1970s. And with good reason; their stories encapsulate many of the cultural changes of that decade.
And as a serial goes on, over succeeding generations, each new generation of fans develops its own layers of nostalgia. There is a whole (quite vocal) sector of the fan base for the New Series of Doctor Who that is nostalgic, not for the Classic era, not for the Virgin NAs, but for Russell T. Davies and David Tennant.
Of course, there other fans nostalgic for the Classic era, many of whom were born well after the original series ended, who first came to Doctor Who through their parents' old VHS tapes of the series. Fans who follow the Big Finish audios (still in production) are pretty honest about being nostalgic for the original series or for the Doctor Who TV Movie or for the Virgin NAs. These audios, concerning older Doctors set in their original time-lines, are nostalgic by definition.
I'm not saying that nostalgia explains the whole of the Doctor Who phenomenon; that's silly. Obviously, many of us come to any Doctor story in any medium looking for a good story well told. If we had no interest in the stories, just as stories, we would soon lose interest in the series as a whole. We might nostalgically look at our DVD collection, our Target books collection, our Big Finish CDs, and remember the enjoyment they first provided us, but we would not listen to them or read them or watch them anymore; we would recognize them as artifacts of the past, rather like photographs of loved ones who had passed away.
We all know that nostalgia can be dangerous to our memories and to our perceptions of reality. Nostalgia for an era frequently hides the truth of the era; the 1950s were the era of the young Elvis Presley and his blue suede shoes; it was also the era of McCarthyism and anti-integration violence.
However, denial of nostalgia, of its importance to our enjoyment of any entertainment, can be equally dangerous. It creates monsters of the mind. A friend of mine who insists that he listens to classic music compositions of the 19th Century simply because they are great works of music, needing no nostalgia at all, will sometimes also slip and reveal that he believes 19th Century Germany to represent the height of Western Civilization, when "giants walked the Earth". Yes, but such giants composed while German workers virtually slaved in mines and factories, and politicians prepared the way for total world war in the century to follow. I really believe that if my friend would simply admit that his enjoyment of the works of Beethoven and Wagner included a big dose of nostalgia, that he could both enjoy those works more freely and come to grips with the fact that his image of 19th Century Germany is really pretty much a fantasy.
There is another denial of nostalgia that can be dangerous, that to be found among younger writers and producers of the very entertainments that largely depend on the sentiment. I'm not refering to a certain blindness to the nostalgic element one frequently finds among contributers to serial entertainments - say, those who write a Doctor Who story and assume that is all they are doing and not engaging in tweaking the nostalgia nerve of their audience. These writers can create oddities, but no more so than those who intentionally tweak nostalgia for the sake of irony and humor.
No, I'm refering to those who decide that they will assault the nostalgia surrounding their serial heroes and somehow strip the serial of its nostalgic value, under the misguided presumption that they are 'updating' these heroes for a new generation and a new era. This is misguided largely because, as I've noted, nostalgia is rather built into the gestalt of any serial entertainment. Amusingly, several authors of the Virgin NAs were quite obviously trashing the format of the original series in order to accompish this, and all they did was develop an audience that became nostalgic for the Virgin NAs. Russell Davies produced a number of episodes rather unkind to our nostalgic reading of the Doctor's personality; e.g., Tooth and Claw, wherein the Doctor arrogantly insults Queen Victoria. But now, as noted, we have fans nostalgic for the Davies era of the New Series. Nostalgia is an integral part of a serial entertainment phenomenon, and when a writer attacks it, he or she may indeed generate an audience, but that audience will evidence the same level of nostalgia, albeit in different ways. And there are other dangers here; one, obviously is that the writer will alienate large sectors of the serial hero's fan base, and this in turn will certainly create divisions among fans, thus eroding any sense of community among them.
3. Fiftieth Anniversary: Celebration or Funeral?
As I write this, Doctor Who is approaching a Fiftieth Anniversary. Licensed books and audios are appearing all over the place, many of them stories concerning previous Doctors. Target novelizations, Virgin NAs and older BBC books are getting republished. Actors who have played the Doctor (and are still playing him in Big Finish audios) have appeared together on stage; the BFI has organized a series of public showings of older episodes replete with panels of cast and crew for Q&A sessions.
Meanwhile, the New Series itself has come to a remarkable - and remarkably unsettling - turning point. It is not just about the announcement that we will soon have a new Doctor, now that Matt Smith is leaving; it is not simply that the 50th Anniversary episode has already been produced and will apparently include little reference to any Doctor before those of the New Series. But the second half of the last complete Matt Smith series ("7b" as it is known) ended with The Name of the Doctor - the most violent attack on the nostalgic element of the series even imaginable. I have never seen any story in a serial entertainment that was so assaultive on the nostagia for its hero that was not overt parody (e.g., the embarrassing Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen.) I won't go into The Name of the Doctor further, having reviewed it elsewhere; and maybe it's a better story than I give it credit for. But that it is aimed at disrupting the nostalgic element in Doctor Who cannot be questioned
So the 'scientist hero' element of the Doctor's personality has been dispensed with, the Victorian subtext of that element is now trash, and the Doctor's very history, the history of the serial as whole, is now reconfigured beyond recognition. What could possibily be left? A more disruptive and divisive rewrite of the series could not be imagined. If Steven Moffat wants only fans who are his fans, fans of his Doctor, however he rewrites that character, he may well find them, and indeed fan reaction to that episode indicates he has found quite a few of them already. But I think for the general audience and for many older fans (and by older I include fans nostalgic for Davies and Tennant), Doctor Who has entered his 50th year tiptoeing along a cliff above a deep chasm of uncertainty.
Because if the nostalgic element in the Doctor's personality is compressed to the point of ridicule, then, again, what we have is parody. If it is ripped from his personality entirely, then we don't have Doctor Who. (I mean, what next? A battle cruiser appears on screen; cut to the interior: 'Captain Doctor, of the Starship TARDIS: "Take the helm, Commander Clara!"' Or more likely: 'Doctor Pan: "Clara Bell, we must sail the Jolly Tardis back to Neverland, Dalek Hook is after us!"')
Throughout the many fan debates, one topic causes such dissension that it has come to be avoided: what constitutes 'proper' Doctor Who? And it has been my feeling that, really, the Doctor's history and previous adventures are such that so much leeway can be given to the many imaginations that produce Doctor Who stories in various media that the question became irrelevant long ago.
Now, unfortunately, it has become relevant again. If the nostalgic element of the Doctor's character is completely trashed, then he is of no further use to many of us. If he can no longer enjoy some element, however slight, of being a Victorian scientist from another age, another planet and having lived through all the stories and experiences we already know him from, then he can certainly be anything Steven Moffat wants to make of him - but the series will no longer be Doctor Who.
My hope is that Mr. Moffat (who is certainly talented and capable and has demonstrated that on previous Who stories and elsewhere) will decide to leave the series in order to develop his ideas in a different format and that whoever follows him as showrunner of the New Series will be able to reconnect with the Doctor's previous history with all its many layers of nostalgia, as well as providing us with stories interesting enough to attract the more general audience.
If not, the Doctor's 50th anniversary may well need to be endured like a funeral. Some funerals can actually be entertaining, but all of them are ultimately sad, since they are about grieving a loss. Let's just hope we are not losing the Doctor.
In Defence of Carey Blyton's Score for Death to the Daleks by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 9/1/14
I have always loved Death to the Daleks. This partly stems from the fact that it was the first Doctor Who story I ever owned on video when I was just a small child. That childhood fondness for it has stayed with me into adulthood and remained intact despite the fact that I can now view it with the more discerning and critical eye of a grown up. It's a story that has always been something of a mixed bag as far as the majority of fandom are concerned; some are very fond of it while others actively dislike it. One of the main bones of contention for those who fall into the latter camp is Carey Blyton's incidental music. I have always felt this to be more than a little unfair and I am of the (some might say biased) opinion that if you decry the music for this story then you haven't really listened to it properly...
One possible reason for people taking such a dislike to the score is that, in terms of the sonic palette, it is very different to the rest of its Season Eleven bedfellows. Consisting mainly of saxophones, clarinets and basset horn with some additional flute and percussion, it makes a rather stark and I would say, effective, contrast with Dudley Simpson's usual combination of small instrumental ensemble and synthesiser. But this is an argument that would really only hold water back in 1974 when the individual episodes of Season Eleven were being shown for the first time; making the transition from Simpson's by-then-very-familiar noodlings to Blyton's distinctive and much more melodic sound may have been somewhat strange on the ear. I probably speak for most people when I say that most of the time we watch individual stories as we feel like it, depending on what we're in the mood for. Although the option to watch whole seasons in sequence is there, I would imagine that this is something that we do only occasionally. With this in mind it isn't really a valid criticism any more to say that Death to the Daleks does not sit musically with its fellow Season Eleven stories.
This particular score has sometimes been referred to rather unflatteringly as 'Saxophone of Doom'. Well so what if it does use a lot of saxophone? It is never anything less than tasteful and is played with great skill and finesse by the London Saxophone Quartet, who conjure a wide range of different textures from their instruments.
The stylistic differences between Blyton and Simpson are noticeable but I don't feel that this is a good enough reason for disliking Death to the Daleks. Blyton gives us some of the catchiest melodies ever heard in a Doctor Who score, the theme used for the City and Exxilon chants being a prime example. Simpson was for the most part concerned with creating an atmosphere in order to set the scene with motifs and melodic material being used only occasionally. This particular method can seem dull, monotonous and intrusive if used excessively, as with Roger Limb's scores for Arc of Infinity and Terminus. Both of these stories lack musical variety and are bogged down with turgid synth tones which add very little to scenes. But in the hands of a master like Simpson, it was always successful. It cannot be realistically argued however that Simpson's scores possessed a great deal of individuality. There was most certainly a very distinctive Dudley Simpson 'sound' (a fact which helps establish a lot of stylistic ground between Doctor Who and Blake's 7) but a score for one story can tend to sound very much like another. At the other end of Simpson's style was his score for City of Death which is atmospheric, stylish, individual and makes full, glorious use of beautiful melodies and motifs. It is easily his crowning achievement as a Doctor Who composer.
Carey Blyton uses melodies/motifs in his Doctor Who scores and then treats them to varying degrees of thematic development in much the same way that classical composers would vary their thematic material within a symphonic or chamber work, the City theme being a prime example of this. The same approach can also be found with the Cyber-theme in Revenge of the Cybermen. This certainly appears to be more of a noticeable feature with his music than with Dudley Simpson's.
The one aspect of the score that I can objectively understand people taking umbrage with is the Dalek theme, a piece that is frequently accused of being far too frivolous, even silly and inappropriate for the most evil creatures in the universe. Although this theme certainly has a lighter touch to it than the rest of the score, I can't say that I find it silly. It also makes sense within the context of the story; the most ruthless beings in the cosmos have been temporarily rendered impotent and robbed of their ability to kill. It therefore follows that their musical theme should reflect their fall from power. If the Daleks cannot kill they are robbed of much of what makes them sinister. So how should one approach this musically...? By providing a theme which is also not particularly sinister.
The first half of Episode One is a masterful example of using music in tandem with fog and shadow to create a superbly creepy atmosphere. Exxilon is indeed an eerie, unwelcoming place with a very distinct sense of menace to it. Yes, the visuals have much to do with this, but Blyton's music contributes to it enormously and these early scenes would be much less effective without it. Philip Hinchcliffe is on record as saying that Blyton can't score action sequences effectively but this simply doesn't hold true. The Exxilon charging towards the crouching Doctor in Episode One, Sarah frantically fleeing across the barren surface of Exxilon, the Doctor flinging himself into the Exxilon ceremony and the ensuing melee... These are all skillfully scored scenes. Hinchcliffe was also of the opinion that Blyton wasn't good at scoring menace and suspense. I can only conclude that he hadn't seen the first episode of Death to the Daleks when he expressed this viewpoint, particularly the scene with Sarah and the Exxilon in the TARDIS...
Blyton's sonic palette for his work on Doctor Who seemed to favour wind instruments; the saxophones as mentioned here, various clarinets, horns and a whole range of krumhorns for The Silurians alongside cello, piano and percussion and for Revenge of the Cybermen, trumpet, piccolo, cornet, trombone, ophicleide and serpent. While each each of these three scores is fairly different from the others, his predilection for wind instruments lends them a very organic sonic unity, clearly and consistently defining the Carey Blyton sound world. Those with a sharp ear may also have noticed certain passing musical ideas in The Silurians that would be developed into more distinctive passages in Death to the Daleks.
One of the finest moments in Death to the Daleks in terms of music and visuals in conjunction is when Sarah first stumbles on the City. The gleaming white edifice shines out through the darkness, accompanied by the baleful chime of its beacon and the City/Exxilon theme is heard for the first time, a steady, almost chorale-like piece which instantly evokes a sense of the ancient and mysterious. This melody effectively serves as the main theme for Death to the Daleks and we hear it many times throughout the score in various guises. It seems to be reminiscent of the style of music that we would associate with Aztecs, Incas, Mayans etc. I'm assuming that this was a deliberate stylistic ploy on the part of Blyton as the script makes reference to the Exxilons teaching the ancients of Earth how to build, notably the early inhabitants of Peru. The architectural references are also implied by the design of the City. The final scene with the City disintegrating is hauntingly beautiful, the mournful variation on the main theme combining effectively with the wailing noises emanating from the dying building. The music in in this scene also beautifully underscores the Doctor's evident sadness at the loss of one of the Seven Hundred Wonders of the Universe and is genuinely poignant.
And of course who could forget the Exxilon chant? This is essentially the main theme set to a Latin text, very much in the style of a religious choral work. It was actually just the voice of one male singer, Mostyn Evans (who also played the High Priest) but overdubbed to create a choral sound. The result is grand, imposing, eerie and very memorable, familiar and yet very alien.
It seems to be the case that in an era dominated by the musical ministerings of Dudley Simpson, Carey Blyton has been swamped and largely forgotten, at least in terms of fond remembering. His three Doctor Who scores are tasteful, stylish, elegant and above all, memorable. They are more distinctive and characterful than Simpson's and he should've been given the opportunity to do more. It seems to me that it has become fashionable to deride Death to the Daleks in general and its incidental music in particular. As a story, it has always stood out for me and a huge part of that is down to the music. Carey Blyton may only have scored three stories but musically they stand up there with the best of them. Death to the Daleks is the most elegant, most effective and most enjoyable of those three. It is very much his City of Death...
What Is 'Life' in Doctor Who? by Hugh Sturgess 12/5/14
In the real world, life is pretty much how the Doctor defines it in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances: "A quirk of matter. Nature's way of keeping meat fresh." Defining it precisely is a nightmare for scientists, since the universe doesn't come with neatly delineated boundaries, but it's essentially a self-regulating chemical system somehow distinct from its environment, capable of producing near-identical distinct chemical systems from itself. It's hugely complex, but it's a question of scale, not kind. For such a wonderful thing, it's pretty prosaic.
Life isn't like that in the Doctor Who universe. Though the series may occasionally profess an empirical, ultra-materialist line (for instance, in The Deadly Assassin, in which the Doctor effectively denies the existence of the soul), "life" is shown repeatedly to be something more. It possesses its own unique energy, independent of the "real" chemical and electrical energy of proteins, neural activity, and so on. It also seems to be deeply embedded within the structure of reality, "life" being a fundamental quality linked both to the universe and to itself by near-mystical forces. Doctor Who has never shown anything like a god to exist (the Guardians, who come closest, don't really cut it), but it might as well come out and admit that the soul is a quantifiable essence.
Doctor Who (and plenty of other things, to be fair) frequently refers to "life force" or "life energy", often interchangeably with "life" itself. In Image of the Fendahl, the Fendahl is described as feeding on "the entire spectrum" of life itself. What exactly does this mean? It's not pitched as though the Fendahl is just a really undiscriminating omnivore, but as though it consumes "life" itself. It is a Lovecraftian anti-life entity, an existential threat. Why else would the Doctor describe it as "death itself"? This is presumably "life force". Some of the Doctor's enemies, like the Animus and the Intelligence, seem to be life force without any physical form, and the Doctor even suggests, in Amy's Choice, that it's this lack of solidity that makes them so grumpy. The Daleks can "suspend" the life force of their troops, sending the Doctor a Dalek in such a state for his experiments in Evil of the Daleks, and this may be what the dormant Daleks in Power and Planet of the Daleks are doing.
Is this "life force" some literal energy unknown to human science? In Dead Man Walking, Martha refers to an "energy" keeping Owen's "alive" (even though his heart isn't beating and he doesn't need to breathe), though this energy in reality is the figure of Death trying to manifest itself in the world of the living, and it has dissipated by A Day in the Death. If it was some kind of energy, that would be what the Fendahl fed on, but it frankly doesn't match what we see onscreen. In From Out of the Rain, the Ghostmaker captures his victims' "last breath" and holds it inside a metal flask. His victims remain alive, with a heartbeat, but they are deeply dehydrated and they don't breathe. Captain Jack suggests that their "life force" still exists, but it has been removed from them and suspended somewhere.
The idea that there is a specific "life energy" or "life force" is a common one, even outside science fiction. A lot of people believe that life, like evolution, is a force of nature rather than a process. Back when scientists were called "natural philosophers" (and the scientific method was strictly a matter of choice rather than a requirement for such people), the idea that there were hidden forces beyond the perception of humans at play in the world wasn't considered far-fetched. Indeed, the debates were more often over what kind of hidden forces rather than whether they existed. Faraday, for instance, used his work to disprove the claims of table-rappers and hypnotists, but not because of any disbelief in forcefields and the "luminiferous aether" per se, but because he believed that frauds were misleading the public away from the real hidden forces of the world. (He was a member of the Pneumatic Society, pneumas from the Greek word for "spirit", and the link between gases and spirits was quite common in the nineteenth century: see The Unquiet Dead for a probably unintentional evocation of this.)
The belief that life was more than simply a biological process was widespread in an era that was falling out of love with the God of the Catholic or Protestant churches but still was superstitious by default (though this isn't as great today, it's worth noting that even Doctor Who evinces a belief in a "force of evolution", notably the work of Terry Nation). This "Vitalism" led people to look for the "life force" - the soul, in other words, dressed up in vaguely scientific terms. Many thought they'd found it in electricity, though Luigi Galvani (he of Galvanism), as a Vitalist, thought that electricity was too physical and vulgar for that. Andrew Crosse claimed to have engendered insects from crystals by applying an electrical current, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein breathes life into his creation with the power of a thunderstorm. Franz Mesmer (he of Mesmerism, but I suspect you knew that) proposed that there was an intangible field of energy surrounding and interpenetrative of all animate objects; he called this biophysical energy "animal magnetism" to distinguish it from contemporary work on mineral magnetism and cosmic magnetism. The original meaning has been somewhat lost now (but it's still appropriate to describe a person with particular vitality as having "animal magnetism"), but it really proposed a model for the so-called "life force". Hypnotism came from the idea that a man of personality could manipulate this magnetism, using it to affect other people from long-range. (Charles Dickens once claimed to have cured a woman of hysteria by this method.)
But it's scientifically loopy. A human being is substantially different from (say) a rock, but only in the sense that a human being is primarily carbon- rather than silicon-based, and is more chemically active than an inert piece of stone. "Life" is, as far as we can make out, just a physical, chemical process, a quirk of matter. On a universal scale, the difference between a rock and a human is tiny, let alone the difference between a live human and a dead one.
However, what may be a very important difference between a living human and a dead one (and a rock) is that a living human being is conscious. I'm sure most of us have got the idea that teeny-weeny quantum things are affected by conscious observation (the wave/particle duality, etc). Though it has yet been impossible to put anything as large as a cat in a state of superposition (though a strip of aluminium visible under a light microscope has been), Doctor Who exaggerates for illustrative and dramatic purposes (in Time Zero, for instance, Fitz Kreiner is put in superposition). The Weeping Angels are wired into causality so that they turn to stone when they are observed.
Does consciousness have an impact on the universe itself? If so, is that impact the mysterious "life force"? It would explain such strange things as the Blinovitch Limitation Effect. Two Brigadiers touch, "shorting out the time differential" and causing a huge release of energy. But it can't simply be a physical process, as none of the molecules in Brigadier #1 would be the same as in Brigadier #2. To us, they're obviously the same person, but to the universe they're no more similar than any other two lumps of matter. They do, however, share the same consciousness, or rather, both possess a continuity of consciousness. As consciousness affects the universe on a quantum level, having the same consciousness in two different places at once would have all sorts of weird effects.
There may be some kind of energy release associated with the collapse of superposition (this is mentioned in ...Sometime Never), which leads to another discussion of bloody artron energy. Its exact nature is maddeningly vague, due to it being wheeled out by writers as a piece of general-purpose guff that has the benefit of being "established" (even the Doctor uses it in this way: in Four to Doomsdaya, he name-drops it in the belief that Monarch won't pick him up on it). It seems to be an energy common to both time travel and (you guessed it) life force. Either time travel itself, or at least the time vortex, seems to generate it, and this "background radiation" mutates Martha's immune system to make it stronger, makes Rose's DNA acceptable as a source of biomass for a Dalek and slides segments of Time Lord DNA into that of Melody Pond.
I think the strange case of Melody Pond gives us an opportunity to plumb to the heart of regeneration (again) and "life force". In A Good Man Goes to War, the Doctor reveals that Time Lords "became what they were" (specifically including regeneration) due to exposure to the time vortex "over billions of years". Being conceived in the time vortex is enough to make Melody half Time Lord. Firstly, this appears to refute the idea that Time Lords' got their superpowers from a Rassilonic gene-splicing-spree. Secondly, it seems to suggest that regeneration is a natural by-product of the time-travel process (if you can call time-travel "natural"). Stand in front of the Untempered Schism for long enough and you too will be able to turn all glowy and change your entire body.
Frankly, that seems pretty weird. The idea that the time vortex will slide segments of DNA into your genome that will give you an additional twelve bodies all different from the last is... umm, unusual, to say the least. Here we come back to the other effect of time-travel: Martha, Sarah and Rose have all had their DNA rejigged by the vortex, including boosted immune systems. And then there's Captain Jack. As I mentioned in my article about regeneration, Lawrence Miles has compared Jack's immortality to that of a cancer cell that has "forgotten how to die", raising the possibility that it is both a threat to the health of the universe (as both the Doctor and the TARDIS seem to believe) and capable of spreading (and see what happens to Owen and Rex after they've come into close contact with him). So maybe the "twelve strikes and you're REALLY dead" rule is a Time Lord imposition; maybe Time Lords have to change bodies/minds with each death, rather than just rebuilding the old one, for the safety of space-time. If Blinovitch is triggered by the same consciousness being in two places at once, then the fact that the Doctor can meet himself without blowing up the universe suggests that there is a definite break in the continuity of consciousness between regenerations. The "cheating death" aspect of regeneration ("Stage One") is a natural effect of travel through the vortex, and the Time Lords have engineered the "cheating the actor's retirement" aspect ("Stage Two") to stop them from becoming carcinogenic to reality. Artron energy, picked up by a trip in a TARDIS, "hardwires" Time Lords into the universe more than a normal being. In other words, Time Lords have an excess of "life force".
Captain Jack also has, in his words, "an excess of life". Unlike a Time Lord, when he repairs himself, he rebuilds his body as it was before the Daleks killed him on Satellite 5. He can also survive significantly more extreme injuries (he's blown to bits in Children of Earth, exposed to Stet radiation in Utopia, and buried alive for two thousand years in Exit Wounds). Even when he gives all of his energy to defeat Abaddon in End of Days, he simply takes longer than normal to revive. He mentions growing older incrementally, though that may be just mild paranoia on his part, as his aforementioned two-thousand-year-long imprisonment should have left him looking much older in that case. (I think we'll have to assume Barrowman's visible signs of aging in Miracle Day are just the limitations of the real world.)
The description of him as a "fixed point" is apt, since - despite becoming immortal and living for thousands of years - he never really changes from the Captain Jack we knew in The Parting of the Ways. He might become a bit death-obsessed in Torchwood Series 1, and Ianto's death shakes him deeply, but he's still basically the same old Captain Jack. He's too angry to have learnt to appreciate the vastness of eternity, too cheery after spending two millennia buried alive. You'd think that would be enough to leave anyone a wreck, but he's ready to whizz back into action in moments. The comparison with Rory in The Big Bang is a useful one. Rory spends two thousand years basically alone, but is still the same man at the end, because he's made of plastic and so physically CAN'T change. We could be cruel and say the same thing about Jack.
Strange how the laws of life seem to be more lax in the presence of Torchwood than anywhere else, isn't it? It is hard to imagine a Dead Man Walking situation happening on Doctor Who or the Sarah Jane Adventures. They just work by different rules. Despite being the most nihilistic, depressing of the three Doctor Who series, Torchwood is also, strangely, the most existential and spiritualist. The other two series never ask what happens to you when you die, it's just assumed that you "cease", though possibly someone may download your consciousness into a supercomputer afterwards. Torchwood actually consigns its lost souls to a black void afflicted by a distorted camera lens and inhabited by Death himself. The immortal Jack warps everything around him.
In They Keep Killing Suzie, Gwen brings Suzie back to life with the Resurrection Glove, but at the cost of linking her "life force" to Suzie, who proceeds to absorb it: Suzie comes back to life and Gwen begins to become dead ("Gwen begins to die" doesn't really describe it). In Dead Man Walking, all the rules have changed: Owen lives (or, rather, un-dies), but he isn't drawing energy from Jack. Owen doesn't have a heartbeat or a blood supply, doesn't need to breathe, doesn't possess body heat, is insensitive (well, he's always been insensitive, but this time not figuratively) and can't digest food. On the other hand, he remains conscious and capable of moving and speaking, and he doesn't begin to decompose (it seems). The energy to do this is never revealed. Like Jack, the "fact" of his continued consciousness has been hardwired into the universe (until his entire body is destroyed, at least). The episode offers the vague suggestion that it's a different glove with different properties, but a more likely reason (in light of Miracle Day) is that it's Jack who uses the glove.
Owen is at one point on the spectrum of immortality in Doctor Who. The extreme "ideal" (if immortality is what you're looking for) is Jack, who will always remain young, beautiful and enthusiastic. The Doctor has a cycle of life after life, but will still eventually die for good. (Note that the Eternals in Enlightenment do not consider him to be an "ephemeral", but don't consider him on their level either.) Owen lives a literal death-in-life, but without Jack's (or the Doctor's) regenerative abilities. What happens to the entire human race in Miracle Day is between the living-forever of Jack and the dead-forever of Owen, growing ever older and decrepit. And this time we have a pseudoscientific excuse: "morphic fields".
Despite the work of Einstein in disproving the existence of the luminiferous aether and banishing it from the field of physics (though Lorentz, he of the Lorentz transformations in relativity, still thought there was a place for it), the idea of an invisible, intangible energy that makes life "life" rather than vulgar chemistry has remained popular on the fringe. Wilhelm Reich (despite the name, he actually fled Germany when Hitler came to power) interpreted the writings of Freud on the libido literally, theorising that there was an energy common to all animate beings that made them "alive", and was linked to the libido (somehow), which makes it seem like a half-way house between Mesmer's meaning of animal magnetism and the current one. He called this energy orgone, deliberately choosing a word linked to both organism and orgasm. As a Freudian Marxist, he suggested that a lack of good orgasms was what was keeping the working class from achieving its destiny, and diagnosed sexual impotence in his critics, as explained in his pithily titled book Listen, Little Man!. He tried to push this line with American psychologists, who weren't very impressed. Neither was the FDA when he started marketing various quack treatments using orgone, and they seized and burnt most of his Stateside work.
So ends his story. But in the 1980s, a scientist named Rupert Sheldrake declared that, since Darwin and materialist science couldn't explain any number of things that had always bugged him, there had to be more going on. He posited that (wait for it) there was a mysterious energy common to and generated by every discreet "structure" in the universe, which he called a "morphic field". This was the real creator and sustainer of an entity's structure (it didn't have to be just a living thing, it could a block of stone, a mouse-trap, an idea, and so on), and impinged that structure on the base physical world. In relation to living things, DNA is just the "footprint" created by the influence of the morphic field on inert chemicals. (One can see an echo of this in the X-Files episode "Leonard Betts", in which the title character can regrow whole limbs - including his head - by shaping cancer cells through something analogous to qi.) These fields interacted, so that something happening in one field made it more likely that something similar would happen in another. This, he claimed, "explained" all manner of things, such as why people can tell when they're being stared at from behind (!).
Needless to say, the scientific community had a collective gag-reaction, but he blithely declared nonetheless that all scientists would have to look into this fascinating new area of research. Since he offered no explanation for a) what this "morphic" energy was, b) how it was it generated and how it influenced the physical world, and c) how to detect it, scientists weren't in a hurry to take him up on his offer. The theory has enjoyed a certain esoteric popularity, usually by those who would prefer a more God-friendly universe than the one we happen to be living in. (Sheldrake made no secret of his deep interest in the religions of the world, which did nothing to help his case. "Morphic fields" seems like dream logic, and Sheldrake has never woken up and thought "huh?".)
But, after Miracle Day, it seems that morphic fields are "real" in the Doctor Who universe. Captain Jack mentions it (and Vera Juarez treats it as though it's a genuine theory, rather than a crank's attempt to start a new religion) and ultimately it's unambiguously declared that the Families created the Miracle using the morphic field of the Blessing. The Blessing, for those of you who haven't seen Miracle Day, is an unbelievably rude-looking pink crack that runs right through the centre of the Earth, somehow without there being lava, Stahlman's Gas or Racnoss in the way, and without Torchwood (who also drilled to the centre of the Earth) noticing. (If this was a Steven Moffat story, people would be making jokes about the revelation that a giant vagina controls the world, and the day is saved by Jack and Rex dropping their bodily fluids into it from both ends.) It exists in symbiosis with the entire human race through a vast morphic field that binds it and the human race together "like magnetism, like sunlight". Whatever that means.
What happens to the human race is something like what happens to Owen. Even when Rex's heart stops after his car accident, the "process of life" - the transfer of oxygen, the electrical activity of the brain - continues. Even after being virtually incinerated and then decapitated, a would-be suicide bomber still seems conscious and capable of moving his eyes around. Unlike Jack, whose body will always revert to "normal", humanity has had life suspended, but flesh itself is still violable and mortal. The Blessing, exposed to the blood of an immortal (Jack), changes the settings, as though the human race is a circuit box and it has been switched from "DEAD" to "ALIVE", permanently. Given this information, I think it's safe to assume that Jack's immortality stems from the Bad Wolf fiddling around with his morphic field, albeit in a more extreme form than the Blessing.
So, what exactly is the Blessing? Well... umm... Jack specifically says that the Blessing is the gap between the two "lips" of the crack, the absence rather than the presence. People who look into it "see themselves", or just a feeling of overwhelming dread made specific to their circumstances. Another yawning black chasm that defied the laws of physics that we've seen in Doctor Who is the black pool in Planet of Evil, a gateway to an anti-matter universe, contact with which caused Sarah to get the heebie-jeebies and turned Professor Sorenson into a ravenous ape-man. Exposure to the green goo in Inferno (Stahlman's Goo?) turned its victims into... ravenous ape-men, just as the Doctor was flung into a parallel universe. So maybe the Blessing is a meeting point between two different universes, and the green goo is something from the other side. Planet of Evil has lots of "this whole planet's alive!" talk - is Zeta Minor bound to the black pool the way humanity is to the Blessing? The green goo and Planet of Evil's anti-matter might be messing with the morphic fields of those who come into contact with them, resetting them to a new pattern, the way the Blessing does in Miracle Day. Why ape-men? Well... Doctor Who has established that various forces (Scaroth, Azal, the Fendahl, the Silence) have manipulated the history of humanity. Maybe the Primords and Sorenson's "anti-man" are what humans were meant to look like, in our "proper" history.
The Runaway Bride (a story written by Russell T Davies, chief writer of Miracle Day) shows the Earth forming around a damaged Racnoss spaceship. The Racnoss, we are told, are an evil (evil!) since the dawn of time, before the universe settled on the laws of physics and all the rules were different. At the heart of the Racnoss ship are Huon particles, which are particles (or energy, or a chemical solution, depending on what point in the episode they are mentioned) with no discernible properties beyond being "deadly" to living things and attractive to other Huon particles, and yet the Time Lords seemed sufficiently worried by them to "unravel the atomic structure" and essentially banish an entire class of particle (or energy) from the universe. They only remain in the Heart of the TARDIS. So they must, surely, have something to do with time travel (even if only as a by-product). Maybe they're some kind of reverse-timey, anti-entropy kinda thing? Inferno's green goo doesn't cool down, in defiance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Maybe Huon particles are what gives the "anti-matter" of Planet of Evil and the Inferno goo their weird effects, because they're from a time so distant to our own that the laws of physics were rather different. (In Planet of Evil's sequel Zeta Major, the Doctor suggests that the substance on Zeta Minor should be called "ante-matter", which would fit rather nicely.) You can imagine Time Lords being worried about something like that. The connection to morphic fields is a little harder to explain, but the Racnoss did need to "mature" Huon particles into Donna, not in a vat or something else. It needed something with a morphic field. Donna is ultimately destined to undergo a biological metacrisis, a dramatic shake-up in her morphic field. Influenced by her exposure to those eldritch molecules?
So, to sum up: the Blessing is a remnant of the universe as it was before the Time Lords enforced their mean, inflexible laws of physics on it, generated (or sustained) by the Huon particles leaking out of the Racnoss spaceship. Huon particles have some affinity with morphic fields, and so (over time) the Blessing binds itself to humanity (and, presumably, to any other sentient beings on Earth, like the Silurians). Contact with Huons, or the Blessing, or anything that comes out of it is liable to do unexpected things to your morphic field, essentially rewriting who you are. When the Blessing came into contact with Jack's blood, the influence of a morphic field deeply entrenched in the universe caused it to flip to a new setting, making humanity immortal in the process. I won't pretend I'm satisfied with that, but it's the best I can do. If you think that you've now put more effort into the Blessing than the author did, imagine how I feel.
Two asides (for a change, you think). Firstly, if the Huon particles in the Racnoss ship were active, The Runaway Bride dictates that every TARDIS ever made should be dragged towards the centre of the Earth. Well, why not? Every renegade Time Lord we ever meet finds themselves, at some point, on Earth, and yet we never find out just what's so important about this insignificant little blue-green planet. It would also explain why the Doctor was dragged into the parallel universe of Inferno: the Huon-saturated green goo wot done it. Secondly, if Mondas really was the Earth's "twin" in the sense of an exact copy, maybe made by the Daemons as a control for their experiment, then it would have its own Crack of Doom. If the Mondasians found it and learnt to harness it, it would explain why the original Cybermen seem tied to their homeworld, and die when it melts. Phew, enough with the Blessing.
The "morphic fields" explanation, while a handwave that answers a question with technobabble, is a nice anchor on which to hang our explanations. It also fits nicely with the tradition Doctor Who is following: life is more than "alive", the mind is separate from the body, and death is a presence rather than an absence. Perhaps it's because imagining a stick as an extension of the arm (and thus as a tool) automatically leads to going the other way and imagining the whole body as the tool of a "real" inner self, or maybe it's because humans don't want to think of themselves as just lumps of matter, but the desire to believe in something within us that makes us human is in every culture.
"Morphic fields" would even explain why so many lifeforms look just like humans: if the Time Lords were among the first sentient beings (which is implied in The Sound of Drums and The End of Time), then they would have "reformatted" the morphic fields of the lesser species to be more like theirs. Unlike Sheldrake's theory, the Miracle Day model doesn't seem to include morphic fields for non-living creatures, so maybe they're generated by a living being's ability to collapse quantum superposition states. The energy of those fields might even be that elusive artron energy, which the Doctor describes in The Banquo Legacy as being "to normal energy what deep ocean currents are to the waves on the surface", which would describe morphic fields rather well.
The Emasculation of Doctor Who by Stephen Kidd 1/6/14
At time of writing, we stand about three months away from the proper debut of Peter Capaldi as the new, Twelfth Doctor. Pre-publicity has it that Capaldi's incarnation will be mad, bad and dangerous to know and altogether more of a masculine figure than the last two "pretty boy" Doctors who seemed largely tailored to the female audience. Given the way that the character has been written since its return in 2005, however, and the nature of the modern series in essence, I have grave doubts that this will actually be the case.
The character of the Doctor has, in my contention, been completely emasculated since the advent of the new series. The Eccleston Doctor certainly seemed at first glance to be a very masculine figure (thanks primarily to the casting of the very no-bullshit Christopher Eccleston) but was written as a largely useless lump, who in all but two of his stories proves incapable of saving the day and has to be rescued by another (usually a woman). The Tennant Doctor proves a little more capable (at least in terms of actually getting to be the hero in his own series) but, as written, appears to be a man who has completely lost all possession of his testicles. This is a 900+ year old alien genius who runs around after a 19 year high school dropout like a whipped puppy and who pines after her endlessly when she leaves, in stark contrast to the Doctors of the original series (particularly Tom Baker) who may have been sad when a friend departed but who quickly got on with their lives and the more important task of having some fun - a thoroughly male attitude.
Worse, Tennant is written not as the loner who is, in fact, quite happy being a loner exploring the cosmos, but as a pathetically lonely character who whines and cries a lot. Even more disturbingly, and with a hint of the anti-male hostility that permeates so much of the mainstream media in the West these days, he is also shown to be someone who "needs someone to stop" him - i.e. a woman - without whose steadying influence he will become a dangerous lunatic with no moral code. A more radical departure from the inherently moral male role model character of the Doctor in the original series you could hardly create (it is frightening to witness just how popular this inverted characterisation really is, especially with female fans, pandering as it does to that demographic by having a "pretty" man that they alone can "save" from himself). The Smith incarnation has been little better, constantly emasculated by River Song, a character who inexplicably can fly the TARDIS better than he can (despite her having no way of learning other than him teaching him to do so her) and who forever cuts the balls off the resolutely single and intellectual Doctor of the original series by actually wedding him (for no readily apparent reason).
All of this, of course, fits perfectly well into the modern incarnation of the series, where emotion - or rather hysteria and emotional incontinence - is the primary focus. Time and again you encounter articles and fans of the modern series extolling its virtues and praising it for making them cry every week; not a major motivation of the young male audience that fell in love with the original series, I would wager. The answer to this objection of course is that the new series is more "inclusive" by now appealing to a female audience, but the reality is that, as is so often the case with modern television and culture, we now have a Boys' Own adventure series that had at its centre one of the best male role models ever created that has become the TV sci-fi equivalent of a "chick flick", complete with an emasculated central character to whom exploration - physical and intellectual - and being his own man comes secondary, much like the series itself, to pandering to women.
Richard Hurndall IS the Doctor by Jamie Beckwith 12/6/14
Put any group of Doctor Who fans together for the first time and within about 20 minutes, inevitably someone will ask the others to rank their favourite Doctors. Leaving aside the "splendid chaps all of them" brigade who either find this question too traumatic or are actually being diplomatic to avoid providing flame bait, most people will oblige. Depending on the age of the speaker, it's often no surprise when they utter Tom Baker or David Tennant first, and it's usually the order in which they rank the other incarnations that provokes the most potential for interest.
There is one name however that is consistently missing from that list and, whilst it's completely understandable that he is, I want to take a moment to sing his praises and to make the case that his portrayal is an absolutely valid one and not something we should easily dismiss as simply a one-off-special-circumstances-just-about-tolerated aberration.
I first watched Doctor Who in 1988 and therefore my first Doctor was Sylvester McCoy. My first asynchronistic Doctor was Tom Baker by means of a school friend who had The Robots of Death on VHS. As my own obsessive fandom grew, the back catalogue of previous Doctors adventures slowly made my way usually as birthday and Christmas presents. Whilst it's true that my first William Hartnell story was An Unearthly Child he was NOT my first First Doctor. I had already encountered him in The Five Doctors where he was most definitely Richard Hurndall.
The Five Doctors is an interesting story. It has become fashionable to mock it these days and I fully hold my hands up and confess to being part of that crowd that does so. However, when I was a kid, it used to be my favourite story and the only reason it is no longer is the combination of over-familiarity with the story, cynicism that is easier to play with than enthusiasm and because I think the story casts a very long shadow across both fandom and the worlds of the Not-We who might assume that all the time the show is about multiple incarnations of the Doctor larking about together and fighting the same old monsters over and over. Conversely, though, this is exactly why The Five Doctors is a hit if you first see it when you're young and why it's often the first asynchronistic story fans watch, especially New Who fans who aren't sure where to start dipping in to the classic series and aren't sure whether to start right at the beginning or to go for what looks like the Greatest Hits Compilation.
For me The Five Doctors was my first introduction to the First, Second and Fifth Doctors (the Fourth already covered above in The Robots of Death and the Third, accompanied by Sarah Jane, I'd seen in the first Doctor Who video I ever bought, Death to the Daleks) as well my first introduction to Susan, Jamie, Zoe, Liz, Captain Yates, Romana, K9, Tegan, Turlough, Time Lords on Gallifrey, Bessie and - last but by no means least - the Yeti.
Not being old enough to know the difference when I first watched it circa 1990 on VHS, I had nothing to compare Richard Hurndall too, other than against his interaction with the other Doctors and the idea of the First Doctor that I had pictured in my head. For me, and I suspect a great many fans, whether they want to admit it or not, Richard Hurndall is the very definition of the Doctor and who flashes in my mind when I think of the First. This is not to disrespect William Hartnell of course, and one can appreciate the irony of it being Hurndall who gets to utter the line "The original you might say," but the truth remains that, for a large proportion of Doctor Who fans, particularly if they were born after 1972, Richard Hurndall was their first First Doctor and, until the advent of commercially available video tapes and the absence of regular repeats, their ONLY first Doctor.
Playing the game of comparing Hurndall's performance to Hartnell's really misses the point. He wasn't hired to play William Hartnell, he was hired to play the First Doctor. This he accomplishes very successfully. If anything, Hurndall is likely to have been chastised by fandom had he tried to do a carbon copy of Hartnell's performance rather than bring something of himself to the role and faithfully play the character as portrayed in the script. We lose the "hmms" and "ehs" of Hartnell's performance but we do get a genuine sweetness beneath the cantankerous exterior. He seems rather fond of Tegan, bristling at her in a way he usually reserved for "Chatterton" or Steven but accepts her over Susan to accompany him to the Tower of Rassilon. (True, Susan had just injured her ankle. Interestingly, Terrance Dicks changes this scene in the novelization with the Doctor actually much more pleased that Tegan wants to go with him.) In his own way, he tries to comfort her as they get near the source of Rassilon's power and her mind starts playing tricks on her. That his Doctor is the one who figures out the "To lose is to win and he who wins shall lose" riddle makes sense in terms of the story itself as this is the Doctor who is the most authoritative. It is true that in the sense of the Doctor's overall character the earliest incarnation should in reality be the most naive - and it's never really expressed onscreen until Time Crash - but it still feels right to the audience that the First Doctor is the wisest.
Whilst fascinating to consider how The Five Doctors might have turned out if Tom Baker had appeared, his no-show was to the benefit of Richard Hurndall as he got to breath life in to the First Doctor beyond simply having him dodder about in the TARDIS. Whilst it's a shame he doesn't get a real opportunity to interact with the Master or even the Cybermen, he trounces a Dalek single handedly, gets a touching, albeit brief, reunion with Susan and his scenes with Davison sparkle. His screen time with Pertwee and Troughton are short but nonetheless play well and play true; witness the look he shoots his immediate successor when he finally arrives in the Tower: you can easily conjecture a mix apprehension but also begrudging excitement that that is what he'll turn in to.
So I call upon fans to give Richard Hurndall a second chance and give him due consideration as a legitimate Doctor. He may have only played for one night (and technically in a longer story than Paul McGann did) and it's accepted that the behind-the-scenes reasons for him appearing are less than ideal, but he's there and he's real and for 90 minutes he shines. I'm not asking you to accept him over William Hartnell, but I think it's fair to say there's a high probability that more fans have seen Hurndall's portrayal of the Doctor, and more often, than they have seen the genuine article. His illegitimacy to the title is understandable but long overdue for review. Richard Hurndall isn't just a Doctor he is THE Doctor. The Unoriginal, you might say, but still fantastic
"Why does the Doctor like humans so much?" by Thomas Cookson 19/5/15
It seems unrealistic that an enlightened alien like the Doctor calls humanity his favourite species, considering the evil cruelties and selfishness we're guilty of. Certainly it got irksome in Tennant's era, making many fans pine for when the show and its hero were more cynically critical about mankind.
Doctor Who began life as a chronicle of humanity's bloodier history, but the points where a misanthropic view of man and the Doctor's alien remove from us were most pronounced were Seasons 7 and 22. Both are poles apart in terms of fan reception. Season 7 is praised even by Pertwee bashers. Season 22's only recently been rehabilitated after being long vilified, despite being closer to that ethos than any other era.
How can misanthropy work dramatically?
Sci-fi often utilises speculations on extra-terrestrial life, to suggest humanity might be the lowest species. In black-and-white monster movies, we usually empathised with the persecuted, antagonised tragic monster and came away hating the fearful, narrow-minded belligerence of man.
Planet of the Apes made this a philosophy, where mankind belonged at the bottom of the caste system. The sequel Beneath pretty much cemented sci-fi's love affair with mutually assured destruction being no less than we deserve.
Planet of the Apes was brutally violent because its inherently goofy premise necessitated a stronger serious tone. Beneath was especially nihilistic, being a sequel no-one wanted to make. It suffered various failed drafts before one political thriller writer gradually figured out its direction, but the overkill ending was decided by star hubris of the head of the NRA wanting to burn all bridges. Resulting in a compelling but murky mess with a nasty aftertaste.
Wrong turns and writer defeatism produced chillingly vivid, groundbreaking apocalypse horror in four dimensions. Right when cinema otherwise wasn't touching Vietnam with a bargepole.
This zeitgeist produced such bastard offspring as the Mad Max films, and the inevitability of apocalypse was definite. It wouldn't be unusual if The Terminator had remained a standalone film that never got a sequel and just ended with 'a storm coming', or if Escape had marked the chilling end of the Apes films.
Inevitably the 80's makers thought Doctor Who needed to aspire to this ethos.
But Doctor Who, at heart, is about defying inevitability through crucial history-changing decisions, pioneering ideas and plain improvising your way out of the jaws of defeat. It's not about face-value confirmations of people's worst or most pathetic nature, but about the power of deceptively hidden strengths and capabilities, meaning the Doctor was never quite the genteel passive softie he appeared to be. Except when JNT and Saward defined the Fifth Doctor entirely as such and somehow fooled fandom into seeing it as 'radical'.
If that's Doctor Who's ethos, then the Saward era was its complete antithesis. An era of meaningless arguments and the most fatal procrastinations of the most easily abundant plot devices, and a Doctor who was no longer actually 'playing' the idiot.
This illuminates several problems with misanthropic storytelling. The Apes sequels after Escape prove how the only way forward from Beneath's dead end nihilistic conclusion, is the way back. Misanthropy is a black hole, and when 80's Doctor Who was drawn and warped into it, there was no escaping it.
But why does the apocalyptic work? It isn't because the audience shares a disgust at humanity and a delight in seeing ourselves face retribution, but because there's nothing more vivid and iconic than seeing a world in ruins. But in Doctor Who, Genesis of the Daleks had already made future imitations redundant, and official canon dictated the world couldn't end in 1984, as it'd contradict the 60's Cybermen stories.
There's something Tat Wood and Philip Sandifer asserted about how ironically Saward's approach was a safe form of comfort food. Existing in a retreat from genuine human behaviour or affairs, and to be taken at the most simplistic face value. Because Eric couldn't end the world in his stories, he could only deliver a poor man's apocalypse of just shooting anyone left in the guest cast and calling it an M.A.D. metaphor.
But it wasn't vivid, revolutionary or symbolic and only worked on a misanthropic contemptful level. The Doctor can often comes across as callous towards death. But that's his job description. 'He can handle the shocks.' Any Saward massacre would be 'flea-bitings' to him, and yet they are now supposed to get under his skin, but only reflectively because having the Doctor give a damn whilst they happen would require characterising him with the determination to prevent them, and we mustn't have that.
But usually these would be 'flea-bitings' whilst greater things were at stake (and not their own killers). By Eric making the last few deaths the only thing the Doctor has to prevent, and yet having him wilfully fail at that, just made him totally impotent and not worth championing at all. Defeating the point of even making the monsters so powerfully formidable.
Yes, fans claim the show was reflecting real-life events and fears of the 80's, but recently seeing Argo proved true stories existed even then of imagination and cooler heads prevailing over rash, self-defeating military responses, and returning the hostages home safely. This exposes Saward's fixation with killing everyone off to be 'dramatic' as a forced, fabricated lie and contrivance.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes, you can tell the makers hated doing. Likewise, Alien 3 was made with contempt for its audience, hence its killing off anything that made the previous films matter, and never bothering to explain how a surviving face hugger even ended up in the escape capsule because apparently the audience won't care why it's there, only that it is. But such disregard for coherent narrative or stillborn stakes make Alien 3 a freak anomaly whereby I've never started watching the first two Alien films without becoming hooked to the end, yet Alien 3 consistently makes me give up halfway through.
Unfortunately, under Saward, treating the fan audience with contempt as gullible idiots paid off. During the hiatus, fans were demanding more of this crap. But this misanthropy broke certain agreements with the casual viewer. We can easily be too critical of Doctor Who, but we can never be too critical of misanthropy. Once you produce vindictive, sanctimonious condemnations of humanity like Warriors of the Deep, you forfeit the right to say the viewer's being 'too critical'.
But many fans are autistic, with debilitating tendencies to take things easily at face value, sometimes no matter how malevolent the message. Therefore if Warriors of the Deep purports to have something worthy to say, many fans will sadly, gullibly believe it.
Star Trek also has an autistic fanbase, on-the-nose writing and much angrily sanctimonious preaching about 'the good in everyone (even the Borg)' that suggests writers who are desperate to validate their own self-worth and personality problems. Like Saward having the Doctor claiming Lytton wasn't so bad really. Because without hope of a better tomorrow, we might as well celebrate living selfishly and treating each other as horribly as we like.
Doctor Who's 80's misanthropy was just a desperate, dramatically insincere way of setting terms of when this vacuous era was meant to be seen as meaningful. Leaving us with immature, undeveloped misanthropy, too insensibly moronic to justify itself, with the Doctor himself as its voice and legacy by his impotence. Revelation of the Daleks is the closest Saward got to understanding the Doctor's more zen, effective methods of doing 'the right kind of a little', and briefly seemed the culmination of everything strange and challenging the show could've been, gesturing toward something new and greater.
Many fans think this mutually assured degradation was the show being cool and adult again. But heroes endure and register with audiences because they stand for something and make a difference. The Saward Doctor didn't, except in inconsistent fits and starts, which only exposed his moments of impotent callousness as a personal choice, and his displays of emotional concern or devastation as horribly feigned. In Warriors of the Deep we're forced to accept the Doctor's alien detachment to the massacred humans, whilst simultaneously his better nature and sanctity of life makes him sentimentally distraught at the Silurians' deaths. What, both?!?
There are better reasons for the Doctor to despise humanity enough to condemn them to their fate than because someone whose comrades were massacred and was afraid of dying herself suggested using the plot device gas to defend themselves and thus save the planet from annihilation. So petty it's abhorrent. Like being disgusted by real killing fields, yet bizarrely directing the scorn at their victims.
Saward's era could have given a voice to Cold War anxieties, but instead told us moronically and superciliously to think good, suicidal thoughts and don't get emotional. It wasn't voicing our fears, it was denying and scorning them as a natural response.
I've often felt that there's an uncomfortably malevolent 'rapey' quality to this, with the Doctor outright blaming the victims, and scorning them for wanting to resist the worst possible thing from happening to them. Like the sleazy abuse of Peri, and the male rage behind JNT's driving the competent Romana out of the show in favour of the maladroit, sexist Adric.
Doctor Who stood for putting your life on the line for a greater cause. Saward's Doctor expected and demanded humans give their lives for their own killers' sake. It wasn't challenging, cathartic viewing. It was just plain bullying viewing, from a production team that equated horrifying death and petty scornful behavior with drama. Aimed at myopic fans who value precedent and archetype over progress or higher consciousness, whilst casual viewers could be counted on to lose sympathy and turn away.
Why does the Doctor like humanity? Tennant's Doctor gushed about humanity because the makers desperately wanted new viewers to love him back. Saward's Doctor inexplicably regarded far worse cold-blooded mass-murderers like the Silurians and Lytton even more sycophantically.
Before Levine's continuity fixations, the Doctor was generally motivated by most recent onscreen events, so newcomers would understand enough about the story's most immediate ongoing events. So the Doctor doesn't mention Davros' betrayal of his own city to Gharman in episode 6. This had the byproduct of characterizing the Doctor as forgiving and not someone who's vindictive or holds grudges. Warriors of the Deep marked a destructive reversal of this, making the Doctor utterly oblivious to immediate events whilst holding a misremembered grudge from a decade ago.
The Doctor's chief concern for humanity was initially a grumpy, begrudging one, but mainly, unconsciously based on the idea of higher consciousness. Of positivity coming from being in synch with positive energies.
Many autistic fans lack a sense of personal centrality, feeling at a remove from people. Doctor Who was once a show that appealed to autists, whilst its hero showed how to be in touch with connecting, hopeful energies and engaging successfully with the chaotic world.
JNT, Levine and Saward forced the show to regress from that. Making the Doctor a confused, repulsive failure, drowning out the show with loud noise and defeatism. Which cannot be forgiven. All cut the show off from positive creative energy, and making the Doctor a wilful loser was somehow praised as 'progressive'. That's the curse of making the show for face value acceptance. There was nothing else to latch onto. Doctor Who could've ended neatly in 1980, but JNT's era was from the outset anything but neat. It pandered to more debilitating autistic mindsets. Retreatism, repetition, egocentric obsession with minutiae. Familiarity with incoherent antagonism. Social maladroitness. The show ceased being a path to anything but itself and death.
There's a reason studies of wartime history are considered 'humanities' subjects, about understanding the human condition. Being horrified by what mankind does to itself means caring about its human victims. That's essentially why the Doctor should care about humanity. When he stopped, we ceased having a show. Because when the Doctor doesn't care about the horrific events onscreen, how can we?
Dude, Where's My TuBMO? by Stephen Maslin 3/9/15
"Unless the music is stopped now, the human race (mumbling, snapping its fingers and twitching its hips) will sink back into an amoebic state where it will take a coagulation of hundreds of teenagers to make up a single unit of vital force which, once formed, will only live on sedatives, consume itself on the terraces of football stadia and die."In case you don't know the history of the 'TuBMO', let me fill you in.
- Quentin Crisp
In 2004, an American climate disaster film was being prepared for its DVD release. On the face of it, all was well. Yet there was still something causing concern amongst the production team. As they sat through the film one last time, to check if there were any last minute tweaking to be done, it was clear that something was not quite right, something that no one could quite put there finger on. (Everyone knew the dialogue and the plot were awful but that was par for the course - and there was nothing that could be done about it now.)
Was it perhaps the colour balance or the panoramic stereo? The framing or the aspect ratio? Were the Danish subtitles in the wrong font? No, everything looked fine. In fact, it looked great. The proposed packaging looked great too, something that would enhance the shelves of any self-respecting aesthete. So why did everyone feel that there was still, even at this late stage, some improvement to be made? What the hell was wrong?
After a long silence, one of the production team slowly raised their hand. "I think I know what's wrong: there's too much sh*t music going all the time. It never f*cking stops." She was right. Everyone knew she was right.
So it was that, deadline looming, without demanding extra pay or even sandwiches, they worked through the night pondering how they could remedy the situation. At about 3.42 in the morning came the happy realization that the music could be separated from the ambient sound, and that it would be a relatively simple matter to add this option to the features menu. Thus the TuBMO was born. TuBMO, short for 'Turn that Bloody Music Off': the now familiar 'mute music' feature included on every single DVD and Blu-Ray disc sold in every single country.
Well, almost every every single DVD and Blu-Ray. For some reason known only to the BBC, twenty-first century Doctor Who, a show that needs a TuBMO more than any other show currently in production, does not include this feature on any of its DVD releases. While it is obviously technically unfeasible to re-address the crimes wrought upon the ears during the 1980s by such as Paddy Kingsland, Dominic Glynn, Keff McCulloch and, it pains me to say it, Mark Ayres, surely we deserve the right not to have such pointless drivelling overkill repeated in the new series. Orchestra or synthesiser, Family of Blood or Mawdryn Undead, it makes no difference: in either case, the discriminating listener instinctively looks for the TuBMO that isn't there.
There's a scene - I think it's in The Pandorica Opens - when Rory, who had been killed three stories previously, seems to suddenly re-appear in the middle of a fight scene as (incongruously) a Roman soldier. It is a brilliant conceit, all the better for not being acknowledged until the scrap is done and dusted. Afterwards, he and the Doctor are (or so it would appear) reunited; a brilliant set-up, with skilled dialogue and superbly nuanced acting. Potentially multi-layered, it could be interpreted in a number of ways: awkwardness, shame and embarrassment; an emotional reunion; resentment or recrimination; shock; mystery; a sense that there is something not quite right. Surely one would want to keep all these ambiguities alive, yes? Yet as soon as we hear that perky, plucked strings accompaniment, we are forced - condemned - to react in only one way: that this is a humorous scene. Why? Because the music insists that it is. What could have been a truly fine moment of television is wrecked by a director who either does not credit the audience with any degree of emotional maturity whatsoever or does not have confidence in their own ability to tell a story or has lazily given the composer of incidental music carte blanche to piss wherever they please.
The fact that this revolting cattle-prod tendency is almost ubiquitous in both television and film does not mean that Doctor Who has to follow it. Yet it does. In fact, it specializes in it.
Dude, where's my TuBMO?
Vince Hawkins: A Swell Chap by Tim McCree 29/9/15
Throughout its long run, Doctor Who (both Classic and New Series) has presented us with guest characters that connect with the audience. We like these characters, we cheer for them. And when they're killed off, we feel for them. We wish that perhaps said character could have been spared. Well, the character I feel this way about is Vince Hawkins, the young lighthouse keeper from the 1977 Tom Baker story, Horror of Fang Rock.
When we first meet him, Vince is shown as young and eager to embrace new ideas. Yes, he does live in the Edwardian age, but that does not hold him back, characterwise. He is only about nineteen years old (although the actor who played him, John Abbott, was in his early 30's at the time). In short, he is a likable young man and the audience easily connects with him.
Of course, Vince does have some flaws. He laughs at the old legend of the Beast Of Fang Rock, but believes that the dead can walk (Ben, the first victim of the Rutan - the alien of this story - is killed, and his body is taken away by said Rutan, and Vince thinks that Ben rose from the dead). Of course, Vince no doubt grew up around those parts, small isolated fishing villages of that time (as the Doctor said, the folks around there are very superstitious) and no doubt heard such stories most of his life. I guess he could dismiss them in the light of day, but when it got dark and foggy, when there was seemingly no rational explanation for the strange events happening around him, he fell back on those old stories.
When the Doctor and Leela turn up on Fang Rock, Vince takes to them almost at once (and there is a funny scene in which Leela, not native to Edwardian England and its customs, starts to change clothes in front of Vince, and poor Vince almost flees the scene). With Ben the senior keeper now dead, and Reuben, the other older keeper, seemingly mad (more on that below), the Doctor more or less takes charge of the Fang Rock lighthouse. Vince willingly listens to what the Doctor is saying. Vince knows that this Doctor bloke is more than he seems. When the Doctor tells Vince to man the lamp room, Vince does so without question.
So all these things make Vince's death more poignant to the audience. Because he was such a sweet and likable character (unlike say, Lord Palmerdale, who was only looking out for himself), we mourn his passing. What is also sad is that Vince is seemingly killed by someone he considered a mentor, Reuben. Of course, what Vince doesn't know is that it wasn't Reuben, but the Rutan that had assumed his form (Rutans are shape shifters). The real Reuben was himself dead at this point. We feel that Vince was the one guest character in this story that should have been spared.
This is one thing that makes Horror of Fang Rock stand out from many Doctor Who stories. Namely, all the guest characters die. When the Rutan and its mother ship are finally disposed of, only the Doctor and Leela are left alive. You just have to wonder, as the great website TV Tropes would say: What the hell, hero?
In the excellent book, Who's 50 (written by Robert Smith?, the owner of this site, and Graeme Burk and is a must-have for any Doctor Who fan, IMHO), Mr Smith? (yes, that question mark is part of his last name) takes Horror of Fang Rock to task for this. He says that since no guest character is left alive to learn a lesson or remember how the Doctor saved the planet, we have a bittersweet ending. Well, Mr. Smith? sure hit it right on that head in that count. A supporting character SHOULD have been left alive to tell the world of how the Doctor and Leela saved the Earth from the Rutans. And that character, in my opinion, should have been Vince Hawkins.
I've often wondered what would have happened to Vince had he survived to tell the tale. I could easily see Torchwood wanting to debrief him about this "Doctor" bloke. Alas, we'll never know, will we.
So my hat is off to you, Vince Hawkins. You were a decent chap who deserved far better than you got. I'm sure there is a special place in Heaven for chaps like yourself.
On the Flogging of Dead Horses by Stephen Maslin 10/8/18
"The monopoly will stay in our hands, and with it the control of the whole planet!"
Let us start in the wrong place: The Sensorites. No one's favourite story, I'll warrant. Yet, unheralded or not, it is a story that has at least four different modes of existence. (I say "at least" as, for all I know, it also exists as a tea towel, a fairground ride and an interactive shampoo):
1. the original BBC TV story (broadcast in 1964, released on VHS in 2002 and on DVD in 2012);
2. the Target novelization by Nigel Robinson, published in 1987;
3. the TV soundtrack, with narration by William Russell (released on CD in 2008; re-released in some kind of box in 2013);
4. an unabridged reading of the novelization, read by William Russell, and released on 5 CDs in 2012.
Does anyone else think this is overkill? Remember, this is The Sensorites we're talking about, not The Brothers Karamazov. Is this not merely cynical or ridiculous, but also pointless? Modes 1, 2 and 3 do have some kind of historical context, I'll admit: the TV original was after all the TV original, however ropey; the Target book range in pre-video days had its own unique fanbase; the TV soundtrack is perhaps a digitally tarted-up harking back to days of tape-trading. But mode 4? Is there really any point?
ON THE *** EXPERIENCE
If, for sake of argument, one wanted THE Earthshock Experience, then one would automatically go to one's DVD shelves (with two different versions from which to choose, episodic or feature-length) or stream it. While there might be a certain nostalgia from reading a battered old Target paperback, the novelization of Earthshock had no particular virtues and only existed because videos did not. Thus, no matter how good Peter Davison's reading of that novelization is, it seems entirely unnecessary to have asked him to bother. Earthshock was always meant to be watched.
Likewise, THE Fury From the Deep Experience (or the closest one available to us) is there with all your CDs or MP3s (or perhaps even your cassettes). The actual Target book may bring back a memory or two; indeed for many who never saw its original broadcast, it may even have been their first encounter with the story. But does it need to be retrodden in an audible form? Could one ever hope to find someone who could speak Troughton's lines better than the great man himself? No. Could Oak and Quill's appearance be made to sound any more creepy? Likewise, no. Wherever one turns, no matter how good the original story, no matter how well read, these unabridged audios cause one to ask instinctively "How many times can a dead horse be flogged?".
There might, of course, be a spark of interest caused by the reader involved. A diverse array of acting talent has been roped into the unabridgment enterprise, including many highly regarded thesps: Martin Jarvis (Invasion of the Dinosaurs), Michael Cochrane (Black Orchid), Tim Pigott-Smith (Masque of Mandragora), to name but three. The thought of Derek Jacobi reading The Mind Robber may be mildly intriguing and Geoffrey Beevers reading The Deadly Assassin does give us an interesting revisionist twist. Anything involving Maureen O'Brien or Bonnie Langford is at least worthy of consideration, and Jon Culshaw reading the previously un-novelized The Pirate Planet may well turn out to be a tour de force. Yet do we NEED any of these sterling efforts really to be there? (We all, so to speak, know that the Watcher was the Doctor all the time. The prospect of C H Bidmead, or anyone else, telling me so does not fill me fevered anticipation.)
Moreover, some of the choices of reading personnel the BBC have made are quite bizarre: Azal-Eldrad (Stephen Thorne) reading The Myth Makers? Davros-3 (Terry Molloy) reading The Curse of Fenric? Worst of all, Todd (Nerys Hughes) reading The Awakening? Think of the rationale involved in that choice of speaker:
1a. Polly James played Jane Hampden in The Awakening.
1b. Polly James co-starred in the completely unrelated 1970s sitcom 'The Liver Birds'.
2a. Nerys Hughes played Todd in Kinda.
2b. Nerys Hughes co-starred in the completely unrelated 1970s sitcom 'The Liver Birds'
3. Polly James was, for whatever reason, unavailable to read The Awakening.
4. Nerys Hughes was asked to read The Awakening.
This would be like Rutger Hauer being asked to read a novelization of 'Star Wars' because he co-starred with Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. It makes no sense at all. Were there no better options available from the original 1984 cast? Are we supposed to filter 80s Who through a lense of 1970s light entertainment? Or is this a hint that 'The Liver Birds' was some kind of prequel to the Davison era?
ON FRANKLIN WATERHOUSE
. . .and does anyone honestly want to hear Matthew Waterhouse or Richard Franklin reading anything whatsoever? (Master W reading Four To Doomsday and Full Circle must be some kind of mental health test, with anyone caught buying either of them immediately carted off to a secret quarantine facility so that the contagion cannot spread further.)
Then there are the stories that should never even have existed as TV in the first place. How good would a reading of the novelization of The Twin Dilemma have to be to make it worth anyone's while? Or The Sensorites, with which we began? Or (please, no) The Trial of a Time Lord on 13 CDs? (13! Part of the BBC's 50th anniversary output, for Heaven's sake! Is there even the vaguest possibility that anyone anywhere has sat through even a fraction of it?)
ON THE VAGUE POSSIBILITY OF REDEMPTION
Are there really any stories which turned out as rubbish TV but which had enough unfulfilled potential to be salvaged by an unabridged reading? Surely not. The Power of Kroll or The Time Monster at a pinch (though, at time of writing, neither exist in such a format, and I for one don't think either of them are that bad as TV). Or how about The Space Pirates? Possibly, but the BBC had already put out the narrated soundtrack. (And, for the unabridged reading, they decided to have Terry 'Davros-3' Molloy reading it. No disrespect intended, but why him?) No, I think there is only one: a novelization made by a writer from his own terminally ruined TV story and read by its leading man: Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit. A grubby, excruciating watch on TV (it's post-City of Death Season 17, how could it be otherwise?), the novelization might be a much-needed redress, and, with Uncle Tom Baker at the helm, the reading thereof is at least, er, extravagant. Some of it is definitely better: pace, music, tone. Even the odd rendition of K9's voice is an improvement on David Brierley. (Though Tom's take on Lady Adrasta is a bit Lady Bracknell, and, as elsewhere, the familiarity of the story means that no tension is created whatsoever. Perhaps these readings are not meant for Old School Who fans - but if not for them, then for whom? Are the BBC expecting anyone born this century to sit through four and half hours of mere audio?)
No, even this does not qualify. This whole unabridged reading business really should stop. It's cynically opportunistic, wholly unnecessary and, most of the time, just plain embarrassing. The BBC's releasing narrated soundtracks that exist as TV seems to have already come to an end. (Warriors of the Deep was possibly the sole 'essential' one there, but only because there was one fewer sense organs being insulted than by watching the wretched thing.) The fact that the reading of Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit is sometimes better than its TV counterpart is merely a function of the original TV being late Season 17 and therefore rubbish, not because the idea of doing these unabridged readings is the product of creative genius. If you want to read a Target novelization, go and do so, but don't expect someone famous reading it for you (occasionally barely famous) to enhance or expand your 'Who Experience'.
And if you still don't agree with me, try justifying the existence of the audio novelization of Tomb of the Cybermen, when we already have:
Who needs it? by Stephen Maslin 10/10/18
Maybe things are not as bad as they were, but, once upon a time, Old School Doctor Who Fans bought almost anything with the show's name on it. Anything. If you've ever tiptoed into a specialist outlet (or perused a relevant website), you'll know just how extreme that "anything" can be. Let's not concern ourselves that such a tendency is right back with us (albeit, one feels, slightly better served than in days of yore and with a younger clientele). Let us instead ask ourselves this simple, simple question:
What, as a fan of Doctor Who, does one actually need to possess?
The advent of digital media has radically changed the answer to this in terms of physicality, but let's assume the answer to consist of actual objects and, moreover, that this is a case in which funds are limited.
Apart from that? Some of the better original fiction in book form or pdf perhaps? Or a few back copies of DWM? Maybe a reference tome or two? The rest are non-essential luxuries. All the toys and T-shirts and TARDIS-shaped money boxes: sheer ephemera.
To take a specific example, does one really need any of the myriad Doctor Who music releases to have been lobbed our way? I mean really NEED them, in the way that one really needs The Key To Time DVD Box Set. The short answer is, in almost every instance, "no". The sources of these musical offerings, stuff that is for the most part of only passing interest, have been many and various:
Even a publicly funded broadcaster has to turn a profit, and one suspects that Doctor Who has done more than any other franchise to help keep the cash registers a-ringing. Of their Doctor Who 'music' releases, The Doctor Who Sound Effects collections were quite fun (though perhaps not classifiable as music); in fact, anything involving the Radiophonics workshop is worth a listen but overall...
Back in the wilderness of the late 1990s, the DWAS (keen to show off their aesthetic impoverishment) offered us cassette compilations of the music of Dominic Glynn and (oh, horror of horrors) of Paddy Kingsland. As if having no Who on TV wasn't bad enough! If these were attempts to remind the fans of what they were missing, they were grievously ill-judged.
Cottage industry or contractual loophole? Initially, Silva Screen concentrated on Mark Ayres' 80s soundtracks for the Seventh Doctor era (plus a truly appalling collection of synthesizer re-recordings of mid-70s Dudley Simpson scores). Even though not all of the incidental music of 80s Who was excruciating, none of it is of any interest when heard out of context, unless you count frequent embarrassment as interesting. Later Silva Screen releases, with slightly more street-cred, focussed on Roger Limb (The Caves of Androzani) and Brian Hodgson (The Krotons). Nevertheless...
One can't blame a fledgling company for trying to put a few more shekels in the till, but Big Finish's eight music-only collections always seemed rather desperate. Good though some of the accompanying music of their early days undoubtedly is, none of it was ever meant to be heard by itself. Or should be. The realization that this was the case is underlined by the company not having released any such collection since 2003.
Verdict (by their own admission it would seem): unnecessary.
The BBC have so far released eleven (!!!) collections of Murray Gold's audible excreta, which, without visual and script distractions, only make clearer just how badly orchestrated it all is. (Badly orchestrated? Make that "unorchrestrated".) It is worrying indeed that enough people are buying this garbage to make it worth the BBC's while.
Verdict: highly unnecessary, bordering on criminal.
Were Xanxia and Cessair pawns of the Black Guardian? by Tim McCree 16/3/19
In the final story of the Key To Time saga (The Armageddon Factor), the Doctor and Romana met the Shadow (the guy who seemed to enjoy breaking into laughter for no apparent reason every two minutes). The Shadow revealed that he was a servant of the Black Guardian himself. In the whole saga, the Shadow was the only villain that was tied to the Black Guardian.
Or was he?
During their quest for the Key, the Doctor and Romana ran into two other villains, Queen Xanxia (The Pirate Planet) and Cessair of Diplos (The Stones of Blood). When I originally saw these stories, decades ago, it never occurred to me to connect these two ladies to the Black Guardian.
However, the recent publication of The Pirate Planet novelization has made me think about this. In the novelization, it's revealed that the Black Guardian has been whispering in Xanxia's ear, and possible had been doing so for a long time (he actually appears to old Xanxia in the time dams). However, what the BG was telling her was left up to the reader to decide.
And then there was Cessair of Diplos, and, while there was no hint of the BG being involved with her, she did posses the third segment of the Key To Time (it was the Great Seal Of Diplos, which she had stolen) and seemed to understand the powers it had. You have to wonder, how did she know this?
In fact, by the time they encountered the Doctor and Romana, BOTH Xanxia and Cessair had a segment of the Key in their possession (in Xanxia's case, it was the planet Calufrax, which the titled Pirate Planet had processed and added to the trophy room the Captain maintained). Now, was that just a coincidence or was there more to it? It just seemed a little to convenient, at least to me.
Now, I don't think that either Xanxia or Cessair were direct servants of the BG, like the Shadow was. Rather I think these two ladies were pawns, that the BG carefully moved into place, each with a segment of the Key, to make it easier for the Doctor to collect said pieces (so the BG could grab it at the end). I could easily see the BG coming to both these women, either directly or using suggestion. Both these women wanted something (for Xanxia, it was power; for Cessair, it was the Great Seal). One could easily see the BG saying to both of them: "Hey, I can help you get what you want, provided a few conditions are met."
Clearly, the BG never told Xanxia or Cessair about the Doctor, as both were unfamiliar with him. However, that makes sense. As I said, Xanxia and Cessair were just pawns, to be used and then discarded when they were no longer needed (when the Doctor had successfully collected the respective segments of the Key To Time from them). The BG would be ruthless enough to do just that.
In that light, one can almost feel sorry for Xanxia and Cessair. Yes, both were criminals who did terrible things. But, ask yourself, would they have ended up doing those things if the BG had not prodded them into doing it? Perhaps, or perhaps not, depending whether you buy into the BG theory.
Something to think about.