Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Sensorites

Although a lot of fans hate The Sensorites, claiming it is a sleep-inducing plodder, I absolutely love it. It is one of those stories that I will defend whatever critics say.

The Sensorites has an element of nostalgia for me. The novelization was among the first Doctor Who books that I read at the age of nine. Like most I read, it was in the beautiful WH Allen hardback edition, borrowed from the local library. What is more I read it during my first holiday in France. I remember sitting outside my parents' caravan in the sunshine of Brittany, reading about the City Administrator's treachery, about Ian getting poisoned and the Doctor being given a stylish black cloak as a reward. It was all very charming stuff and I thoroughly enjoyed it then. Watching the DVD twenty-two years later, I still love this story.

Part of why I like this story is because it is very gentle. The story is about 'alien monsters' but they turn out to be relatively friendly. There is only one onscreen death and the villains are treated with mercy at the end. This contrasts with the morbid sadism of the Hinchliffe era and the pointless violence of the Saward era. The story is also quite radical for its time in that it has humans as the villains.

The most common complaint against The Sensorites is its slow pace. This is a charge that could be levelled against most Hartnell stories. Perhaps this is more noticeable with this serial because of its low level of violence. Another complaint is the round feet of the Sensorites themselves. I don't get this complaint at all; the point of the round feet is that they are not human. I think the Sensorite costumes are very effective.

Being one of the few fans of Susan, I particularly like the way this story, unlike the others of Season 1, makes good use of the character. She is given impressive telepathic powers, reflecting her ethereal alien quality and for once, she gets to stand up to her grandfather. It is sad that other writers could not do more with Susan. Notable also, is Susan's delightful line about her planet having a sky like a burnt orange and silver leaves on the trees. That line was used so hauntingly in the New Series.

The Sensorites should be regarded as one of the most creative and interesting stories of the Hartnell era.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Dr Who and the Daleks Cadet Sweet Cigarettes

Sweet cigarettes were one of those things that my mother disapproved of. She thought they encouraged smoking. I always enjoyed them when I got the chance to eat them, but it was a guilty pleasure. I vaguely remember the days when sweet cigarette packets contained a picture card, though this was a dying genre. Cool kids in the 80s ate Milky Ways and Smarties, not sweet cigarettes.

In 1964 Cadet Sweet Cigarettes issued a set of picture cards which told a rather epic story entitled 'Dr Who and the Daleks.' This was not, as its title might suggest, an adaptation of the second Doctor Who serial, but was in fact an original story involving the Daleks (with their egg-headed Emperor) and the Voord.

Some of the artwork on these cards is really beautiful. There are some very impressive space battles and some lovely Sci-Fi landscapes. The Voord look far more impressive in this story than they do in The Keys of Marinus. However, Dr Who bears little resemblance to William Hartnell. We could speculate that this is an unknown incarnation of the Doctor, but there is enough superficial resemblance to Hartnell to suggest that the artist has just done a bad job with the likeness. The Doctor's facial appearance actually varies from one picture to another, showing a terrible lack of consistency.

The prose text that accompanies the pictures is written in surprisingly bad grammar. It comes across like a story written by a nine-year old. Yet the epic scale of this story and its puzzling relation to continuity make it rather fascinating. There is no sign of the TARDIS and the Doctor is seen wearing a spacesuit for much of it. The Doctor is far more physically active than the Hartnell Doctor, which suggests this might be a younger version of the First Doctor. The Doctor Who- Complete Adventures website argues that this is a pre-Unearthly Child story in which the Doctor is on a mission for the Time Lords (perhaps with a Time Ring). If the Doctor's memories of this incident were erased, this would account for his later ignorance of Daleks and Voord.

Part of the story involves Earth in the future. It also features Marinus. This creates a problem if we embrace the claim of The World Shapers strip, that Marinus is the same planet as Mondas and the Voord are proto-Cybermen. We could always resolve this with the usual solution that the Marinus here is a 'New Marinus.'

The last surprise that the story leaves us with is the Doctor making peace with the Dalek Emperor and sharing a victory toast with the Daleks. This is quite disconcerting given that the Daleks are generally seen as the Doctor's deadliest enemies.

Image credits: Hello, I'm the Doctor

Friday, 12 October 2012

Battlefield, by Marc Platt (Target novelisation)

When Battlefield was on television, a lot of my friends at school were watching it. They urged me to watch it, but back then I had no interest in Doctor Who. A year later, I suddenly developed an interest in Doctor Who. Hence, three years after the serial had screened, I read the Target novel without having seen the original. I really enjoyed this book. Despite the fantasy plot, it felt much more realistic and gritty than other Target novels I had read.

The Seventh Doctor run of Target novels featured quite a few that had a much deeper level of literary sophistication. While Battlefield is less experimental than Ian Briggs' Curse of Fenric novelisation, it's prose is very rich. The moment of Lt. Laval's death in particular is beautifully described. Battlefield is a much more straightforward retelling of the original story than Curse of Fenric, yet it still adds considerable richness to the narrative.

The big problem with the Battlefield serial was that it had too many characters. None of them really got the treatment they deserved. The great strength of the novelisation is that Marc Platt was able to add a depth of characterisation to them that was very much lacking in the original. The portrayal of Professor Warmsley, for instance is infinitely better than what we saw in the serial. Mordred becomes a bit more than just a mummy's boy.

The novelisation also treats us to a few glimpses of the strange Thirteen World realm of Morgaine. We also get to see the Merlin incarnation of the Doctor. I particularly like the way the Doctor sees his doom as Merlin as an inescapable fate than he can delay, but never avoid.

On the whole, the novelisation does a much better job than the well-meant but lacklustre serial. Battlefield was one of the brightest ideas in Doctor Who, but one of the most disappointingly executed ones.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Dr Who and the Great Old Ones

This has to be the best ever Target novel cover art. I remember seeing this paperback in a shop when I was nine years old. I was quite disturbed by it and decided I definitely didn't want to read that novel.

It is such a shame that this does not actually depict a scene in Spearhead from Space. The idea of some colossal eldritch space monstrosity threatening the Earth is so much cooler than anything in that serial. It reminds me a little bit of the Fendahl Predator in the 8th Doctor novel The Taking of Planet 5.