Thursday, 25 December 2014

Last Christmas

As I watched Last Christmas, I had the strange feeling that it was the first time since Runaway Bride that I had actually enjoyed a Christmas special. Then, someway through the episode, I realised why. Last Christmas is essentially a re-working of Field Trip, one of my favorite episodes of The X-Files.

In Field Trip, Agents Mulder and Scully investigate the mysterious death of a young couple and find themselves experiencing strangely unreal sequences of events. They later realise that they have been captured by a gigantic fungus colony that is digesting their bodies, while giving them dream-like fantasies. They free themselves, but then find that they are still imprisoned by the fungus creature and are only having a fantasy of escape. At the end, they are freed by their colleagues.

Despite the similarity of plot, what separates the two stories is the tone and atmosphere. The dream sequences of Last Christmas are, despite the presence of some horrific elements, gaudy sentimental fantasies, with the presence of Santa Claus and the idea of a perfect romantic Christmas day. In contrast, the dream sequences of Field Trip are realistic in tone, like standard X-Files episodes with somewhat offbeat plots; Mulder encountering the dead couple alive and then finding proof of alien life, Scully investigating Mulder's death and being congratulated on wrapping up the case. There is a sense of the mundane becoming oddly dreamlike in that episode. Where Last Christmas offers non-stop action and lots of running around, Field Trip is an unusually slow paced story, it takes its time and allows the strange dream-like atmosphere to build up.

The way in which the characters discover they are in a dream is different. In Last Christmas, the Doctor just tells them that they are experiencing dreams. In Field Trip, Mulder and Scully have to work this out for themselves. Mulder realises that he is in a dream when Scully accepts his proof of alien life without question, while Scully realises that she is dreaming when everybody uncritically accepts her rational explanation of Mulder's death. We also get in Field Trip more of a sense of just how horrifying the carnivorous dream-producing entity is. In the opening sequence, we see the young couple clinging to each other in their fantasy, before turning into skeletons, still wrapped in each other's helpless arms.

The resolution is also very different. With typical Christmas special sentimentality, the solution for the characters is to embrace the fantasy of the dream, hence the sleigh ride prior to their escape. In Field Trip, such an escape is impossible. You cannot will yourself to wake up from a dream. In the end, Mulder and Scully are helpless and have to be rescued by their FBI colleagues. It is perhaps not the strongest resolution to an X-Files episode, but it does fit with the more pessimistic tone of the show compared to Doctor Who.

I enjoyed this episode and feel it is one of the stronger Christmas specials the BBC Wales series has offered. However, the thematic similarities to Field Trip show it to be lacking in elegance of execution.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Romana II Demotivator

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Why the Hartnell era is so much better than the Troughton era

So you think The Sensorites is a bit boring?

Just imagine if The Sensorites had been made in Season 5.

The Sensorites would be another bunch of evil alien monsters, except with psychic powers. We would spend six episodes running around that tiny spaceship with the Sensorites trying to turn the crew into zombies, until Dr. Who finds a way to blow them up.

Does that sound better or worse than the Season 1 story?

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Creature from the Pit

For me, the Graham Williams era seems very hit and mess. On the rare occasions when Graham Williams got things right, as in City of Death or Androids of Tara, the results are glorious. Sometimes there is a delightful sense of fun pervading some of the shoddier serials of the era, yet often the shoddiness is all that comes across. In the midst of all this era's problems is the unrestrained Tomfoolery of the show's lead actor. The Creature from the Pit is unfortunately one of those stories which particularly showcases the problems with the show in this period. It ably demonstrates just how necessary it was for John Nathan-Turner to come on board at bring the program into shape.

For a serial of this era, the production values in this are a little higher than usual. The jungle sequences filmed in Ealing studios are very impressive and the 'indoor' sets are not bad either. The costumes are also particularly lavish. Unfortunately, the alien monster Erato is rather less impressive and his resemblance to something else makes him a little embarrassing to watch.

Myra Frances is enjoyable in her camp performance as the evil Lady Adrasta. Unfortunately, her adversaries, the gang of bandits are a silly bunch, who offensively modeled on Fagin. They demonstrate the repeated failing of Season 17 to take the stories seriously. As Phil Sandifer argued in his recent book, they are the oppressed underclass of this planet. The viewer should be led to sympathize with them, not laugh at them.

Organon seems to be a creation of Douglas Adams; there is no character quite like him in any of David Fisher's other scripts. He serves no purpose in moving the plot, apart from a little exposition. He is there to deliver Douglas Adams style satire. If you like Douglas Adams' stuff you will love him, if you don't, then every minute of his presence on the screen will be annoyance.

This serial had Lalla Ward's first performance as Romana. With her haughtiness, she plays the role a little closer to Mary Tamm's style and she is dressed up in a dress that was rather more like what Romana no.1 would wear. This is not the Romana no.2 we see in other stories, yet I quite like the way she comes across as a sort of fairytale princess in The Creature from the Pit. It rather fits with the incredible earnestness and innocence with which Lalla Ward approached the role.

As usual for this period, Tom Baker spends his time wandering around the set delivering comics lines. The gag about Teach Yourself Tibetan is just daft.

There is probably a good story wrapped up in here, yet the failure of all involved to take it seriously means that it just ends up being a silly comic story in which any kind of social or political critique is lost.

On the positive side, it is a story about the Doctor exploring a strange alien world, something which happens very rarely in the BBC Wales series. For all that Graham Williams era ended up looking cheap, it did try it's best to give us exciting new worlds. With an exotic jungle planet with a peculiarly appropriate name and lavisly dressed natives, this feels like a story that might have been done and played straight in the Hartnell era. Erato would certainly have looked much more convincing in black and white.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Gallifrey Exile: 10 Things I Hate About Who. Part One: Lack of Bel...

'But Verity Lambert, Anthony Coburn, Waris Hussein and Co. took this off the wall idea and made us believe in it. We believed in this utterly bizarre idea because it was grounded in everyday reality, the reactions of our everyman characters of Ian and Barbara were what our reactions would have been if we had stumbled across this impossibility. 
There is nothing about this first episode which is trying to be clever or funny; it is just good honest drama and immediately sells Doctor Who as a believable sci fi concept. But it could have been done differently, the producers could have decided to make everything wacky which is pretty much what Moffat does today and then the credibility is gone. 
So for the first few seasons Doctor Who goes backwards and forwards in history and out into space, any viewer with a bit of imagination can believe these things are going on, and outside our normal everyday world is a whole universe of adventure.  Later things get a bit more complicated because Doctor Who starts to visit contemporary Earth a bit more and aliens start to invade. The problem is that any viewer knows that there hasn't been a worldwide alien invasion so Doctor Whocould lose that connection to reality.  The producers therefore do the sensible thing and most of the alien invasions occur in the future or in isolated areas. With a stretch of imagination we can still believe in the reality of Doctor Who and that everything occurs just out of view. Okay a lot of the UNIT stuff is now contradicted, but at least at the time they tried to make their ideas palatable. 
The new series has ceased to be believable since probably the first episode Rose back in 2005. In the old days we were slowly edged into the mythology of the series; in RTD's version it comes in one fell swoop: invasions, TARDIS time travel, there is no time for a viewer to be slowly drawn in like there was in An Unearthly Child so it's all chucked in in the space of 45 minutes.'

Saturday, 22 November 2014


I am a huge fan of Season 18 and consider it to be the strongest season of the show (the only other contender being Season 25, which is let down by Silver Nemesis). Meglos is unfortunately the weakest story of an otherwise brilliant season. However, Meglos is not nearly as atrocious as it is sometimes considered by fans and shows the consistent improvement in quality between Seasons 17 and 18.

Central to John Nathan-Turner's agenda for his first season as producer was in improvement on production values after the sloppiness of the Graham Williams era. This is very much evident in Meglos, with the spacecraft design, the costumes and the the appearance of Zolpha-Thura. Tigella is perhaps less effective as a planet, with the jungle looking a little unimpressive. More importantly, the brilliant musical score helps to give the worlds of this serial an haunting sense of atmosphere. As even critics of Meglos agree, the spiny make-up effect on Tom Baker is extremely impressive and disturbing. Meglos is certainly an interesting character, a disembodied intelligence manifesting in a cactus. It reminds me a bit of Vulthoom from the Klark-Ash-Ton story in the Cthulhu Mythos.

We also get Jacqueline Hill returning to the show in the role of Lexa. Admittedly her part as a closed-minded fundamentalist is a rather cliched one, with little for her to develop, yet she still gives a lovely performance.

The Chronic Hysteresis is rather less impressive, as well as being scientific nonsense. The scene goes on rather to long, even if Lalla Ward does a good job of appearing distressed by the absurd situation.

I always love carnivorous plants, so I quite like the Bell Plants, even if they are not terribly impressive. It would not be long before the BBC put Doctor Who completely to shame with the brilliance of its Triffid monsters in their own series.

Part of the charm of Meglos is that it is an old-fashioned space adventure that goes to strange and exotic worlds. The presence of Jacqueline Hill is rather appropriate, as it very much evokes the spirit and style of the Hartnell era. This willingness to create exotic worlds is something sadly lacking in the new series.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Death in Heaven

Phil Sandifer recently complained about reviewers criticising this last season of Doctor Who as derivative. In his opinion, those who make such a charge have nothing meaningful to say about Doctor Who. What I say is that I know when Doctor Who is not derivative. Warriors' Gate does not feel derivative, nor does Snakedance. Yes, those stories have influences both inside Doctor who and outside it. Yet this is very different from being essentially a rehash of other stories, in the way that Attack of the Cybermen is. Death in Heaven feels rather more enjoyable than Attack of the Cybermen, but it still feels very much a recycling of similar stories and themes. There is a lingering sense of deja vu about this episode. One feels that one has seen something pretty similar before, but can't quite remember exactly which episode.

Death in Heaven very much feels like a Russel T Davies story with Moffat elements thrown in. Arguably, it is a stronger version of Closing Time with UNIT and the Master thrown in. Perhaps it is inevitable that a story that brings back the Master, the Cybermen and UNIT will feel unoriginal, which perhaps raises the question of whether doing all three together was such a great idea.

Death in Heaven has some exciting moments and it is Michelle Gomez's Missy that makes it really enjoyable, but on the whole it is a slightly disappointing piece of work. The pacing is definitely uneven and the ending is a little confusing and clumsy.

The death of Osgood has definitely bothered a lot of fans and it is easy to see why. Killing off a likeable character is a risky move. I would argue that the last season has been a little too heavy on big emotional moments; they should be used sparingly. Yet in this instance, we arguably ought to have had a more emotion put into the death of Osgood.

Killing off Osgood was a questionable move and so was killing off Missy. I used to be very much in favour of the death penalty. I'm not sure I disagree with it, but I'm not convinced any more. Perhaps this is due to my conversion to Catholicism. Catholicism is ambivalent about the death penalty; acknowledging that it may be necessary, but not identifying it as an ideal. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the death penalty, I was very uncomfortable at seeing an unarmed and helpless woman killed in cold blood. The viewer is clearly encouraged to sympathize with Clara who demands Missy's death. I am sure Moffat did not intend this to be advocating the death penalty, but that is how it came across, much like the way Kill the Moon seemed to unintentionally oppose abortion. Would it really have been such a bad idea to have Missy handcuffed and frogmarched off to jail at the end? Why does the Master need to be killed at the end of every appearance, only to have the writers find some contrived way to bring her back? Lawrence Miles rightly complained about the laziness of writers who kill off too many characters.

As a theologian, I am very glad that the Doctor denied that love is an emotion. Yes, love is not an emotion, but a disposition of the will. Christian orthodoxy holds that God is love, yet he is also impassible, that is without emotions.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Dark Water

The first fifteen minutes of this story are pretty amazing. We see Danny killed, Clara venting her rage at Dr. Who and appearing to have him at her mercy until he turns the tables on her and then his announcement that he will help her get Danny back from 'hell.' This is incredibly powerful drama and gives Capaldi exactly the kind of material he can deliver like diamonds.

Things get a bit more wobbly once we enter the bizarre pseudo-underworld. It did seem remarkable that the Doctor believed he could take the TARDIS into the afterlife. I was a bit confused by the scepticism he later showed once he got there. Did he believe in the afterlife or not, and if not, why did he expect to find Danny somewhere?

The afterlife is somewhere that Doctor Who should not explore. I'm rather glad that this afterlife turned out to be fake, but the episode probably went a little too far. I know that if I had watched this as a child, I would have been troubled by the apparent conflict with my Christian beliefs. I agree with the Radio Times review that said the idea of cremated people being in conscious torment was insensitive and distasteful. This episode could have been very upsetting for people who had seen a bereavement. The level of darkness here was probably a bit much for younger viewers.

So Missy turns out to be a female incarnation of the Master. Most fans had guessed this as possible, but I had expected her to be some disappointing throw-away character like Kovarian. A female Master is an exciting idea and nobody can fail to love her twister Mary Poppins guise. Her pretense at being a droid is a nice reference to either Scream of the Shalka or Planet of Fire and the sort of camp trick the Master would play. On the other hand, her kissing Dr. Who is a bit of a throwback to flirty River Song, reminding us of the difficulties Moffat has had writing female characters. I also feel a sense of dread at the thought of the Master coming back. A female Master is still the Master; a character with ludicrous schemes that always scuppered and who comes back again and again. No doubt Missy will be killed in the big season finale only for the next producer to find a contrived way to bring back a new Master.

I don't have high hopes for the next episode. The Cybermen harvesting the dead and invading London is hardly a very original idea. This story is starting to feel a lot like a story that RTD did a few times.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

In the Forest of the Night

Phil Sandifer's review of In the Forest of the Night, which delves into the Blakean aspects of the imagery, really made me want to like this. Unfortunately, the depth of Sandifer's review does not quite match the quality of the episode.

I do like the fantastical magical feel of this story. I really do like fantasy in Doctor Who. Unfortunately, this is a story with a solar flair in and so we can't just throw away the science. Doing a fantasy type Doctor Who set on Earth is tricky. Greatest Show in the Galaxy could afford to deal with magical themes because it was set on another planet; a different world with different rules. Even Survival, another magical story was partly set on another planet.

It's a little hard to fathom trees growing so quickly that nobody notices them until they have turned into a forest. Even more incredibly, London seems almost deserted. I know we get the government warning to stay inside, but what happened to the legions of homeless people? What about the people who were not at home when the trees started growing. Of course, what I would really have loved to have seen in this episode is the gigantic trees growing out of the oceans. Such a shame we didn't get to see those.

Once again we get a Problem with Sutekh moment. Clara points out that the world cannot end because she has seen the future. Dr. Who replies that the future has been erased by this event. That makes no sense. No time traveller has intervened to alter history. If history can alter at random like that, then the Doctor could never have any knowledge of past or future history. In fact, history would be meaningless. Would it even matter that humanity would die; their future history erased? Maybe another even would alter this course of history and humanity would survive.

I'm a little bothered by Clara's objection to Dr. Who saving the children. Yes, they would be upset by the deaths of their parents, but would Clara really be happier to see those kids scorched to death with the rest of the planet?

Some aspects of this story were confusing, particularly those related to Maebh. It was difficult to make sense of just how she fitted into the plot. I'm utterly baffled about how the return of Anabel fitted in. The theme of childhood mental illness is a very sensitive topic and I'm a little surprised it came up. I can't say I feel at all qualified to comment on how well this topic was handled.

On the whole it was probably not the best idea to write a story requiring a lot of child actors. And those CGI animals looked terrible.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


Most people seem to like this story, but I found myself getting really bored watching it. Flatline seemed to be full of lots of running around and pointless action.

The idea of non-3D aliens was an interesting one and had the potential to be genuinely creepy. Unfortunately this failed to terrify due to the comic tone taken by the script. Sometimes I just wish the writers could tone down the humour and try to give us a more serious story. We really don't need a laugh every minute. The story was also ruined by the awful music, the sort of score you get in those family movies they show on Christmas day.

In Flatline, Clara gets to take on the role of the Doctor. She turns out to be rather good at it. It was fun at times seeing her act Doctorish and her resourcefulness was appealing. However, I can't help thinking thst it would have been more interesting to see her do a bad job of being the Doctor. What is the point of watching Doctor Who if anyone can be the Doctor?

Once again, the Doctor suggests that a black man is unintelligent. This really reminds me of that Father Ted episode in which Father Ted accidentally acquires a reputation for being a racist.

I didn't feel at all engaged by this episode. Like so much of Moffat-era Doctor Who, this is just boring.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Mummy on the Orient Express

This story is set on a recreation of the Orient Express in space. It seems a remarkably vivid recreation, because both the crew and passengers are dressed in period costume. Furthermore, they are all human and seemingly British. I think it would have been more interesting visually to do a less perfect re-creation of the period, by having some characters be aliens and some of the passengers wearing non-period costumes. Would that have confused the costume department too much? If they really wanted to do a period drama on the Orient Express, why not have it set on the real train on Earth, with the monster being an Egyptian mummy? This seems a bit like RTD's demand for werewolves, Kung-Fu monks and Queen Victoria in the same story.

I'm not sure why the carriages of the train are swaying, as if on a winding railtrack. If this is a spaceship travelling through space, it ought to be moving straightforward, having no physical obstacles to affect its movement.

I don't think this is how to do a monster story. We get a full reveal of the monster right at the beginning. We see so much of it that it does not stay scary for very long. What is more, the very title gives away the fact that it is a mummy. Could the nature of the monstrous entity not have been concealed for a while? An unknown terror is much more frightening.

The mummy turns out to be a form of alien technology, like several other entities we have encountered in this season. Are we not going to get any proper aliens in these stories? It seems a mundane and dull explanation for the monster. I would much have preferred it to have turned out to be the mummified remains of some ancient alien emperor. This story shares with Pyramids of Mars a misunderstanding about just why mummies are scary. Mummies are not scary because they are wrapped in bandages. They are scary because they are dead things. They are part of the 'uncanny.' A robotic mummy is a bit banal.

I think this story was reasonably well polished and did interesting things with the characters, but it had a lack of imagination and flair.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Gallifrey Exile: The Hypocrisy of The Doctor

'One of the places I go to for Doctor Who reviews that I genuinely trust and admire is Tea With Morbius, run by Matthew Celestis.  For his review of The Caretaker, he made some very pointed comments about the issue of how soldiers are presented on Doctor Who, as well as on the issues of race and class involving both the newest character, Danny Pink (played by Samuel Anderson) and other characters of color whom Celestis I think is saying are shown in a bad light.
I think this merits some examination.
I think the best thing to do is to look at Doctor Who pre-Moffat, and in particular pre-12th Doctor, to see that I agree with Celestis in how Doctor Who appears to have a bizarre pathological contempt for soldiers, and worse, which is completely contradictory to what Canon has established.
If we go back to the beginning, we see that the Doctor didn't have this lifetime hatred for soldiers.  In fact, while he was a pacifist he had a great deal of respect for the military.  We only need to go to the most obvious example: UNIT.'

I'm glad somebody likes my reviews.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Kill the Moon

You know what, yesterday I was outside an abortion clinic, taking part in a prayer vigil. You might expect me to like this episode on the basis of my strongly pro-life stance, but I didn't.

I actually don't think this story is deliberately meant to be about abortion. The abortion implications were on the same level as the unintentional but still quite shocking racism of the previous episode. The compassion for the space dragon was the same sentimentality bestowed upon that dinosaur in Deep Breath. This is about not being mean to cute animals. I very much doubt that Guardian-reading Clara cares in the slightest about abortion. She's probably one of those people who will be outraged at cruelty to animals, while approving of the legalised murder of unborn children. I did not feel admiration for the writers for accidentally touching on an issue I care about, but rather contempt for the moral clumsiness of it.

This really does feel like a clumsy story. As with A Town called Mercy, building a plot around a moral dilemma always feels a bit cold and artificial. The decision of Dr. Who to step outside the dilemma was interesting, but felt odd given he had never done such a thing before. This just feels like a way to set up the big argument between Clara and Dr. Who at the end. What is more, that the egg turns out to open harmlessly feels like an unconvincing and unsatisfying resolution.

All that talk about whether to say Courtney is 'special' seems a bit odd. I rather thought describing people as 'special' was meaningless and banal. I would imagine most teenagers would feel patronized by being called 'special.' I do find it interesting how the current show handles a teenage character. In the classic series, teenage companions were just treated as immature adults. Courtney is treated as a child who has to be protected. I'd quite like to see a teenager as a regular companion, but Courtney is a bit too whingey and cliched to be entertaining.

The most irritating aspect of the episode was the scientific howlers. How did the moon gain mass? The mass had to come from somewhere. How did a newborn creature lay an egg that was the same size as that it had just hatched from? Doctor Who often has wonky science, but howlers like that cannot be excused.

I think the idea of monster spiders on the moon is a pretty cool one. However, it seems just a little odd that over-sized singular celled lifeforms would look like spiders and even more surprising that they should spin cobwebs.

This was a really odd episode and not one that I enjoyed very much.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Caretaker

Given the way the previous episodes have been set up, it was inevitable that Danny Pink's first meeting with Dr. Who was going to take a definite shape. We were basically waiting for an episode in which Danny finds out about Clara's double-life and is completely mind-boggled. We knew he was going to say something along the lines of "I just don't know who you are any more." We knew the Doctor was going to disapprove of him because he was a Soldier (shock horror!), but he would prove himself to be a decent sort of chap by saving the day. The Caretaker does all this and it's really rather predictable. It felt like a painful exercise to get through.

So Dr. Who has a big problem with soldiers, no not just soldiers, to be precise ex-soldiers. It seems a bit odd given he was happy to travel with Harry Sullivan, a serving naval officer, and Sarah Kingdom, a serving military intelligence agent. He also seemed to get on fine with Wilf. Not to mention spending a lot of time hanging around with all those military personel from UNIT. We are never actually told that Ian Chesterton, also a school teacher was an ex-soldier, but there is quite a bit of evidence that he had done some military service, as well as the likelihood that he had done national service. If the Doctor does not like ex-soldiers, he is going to have an horrible time if he ever visits Finland, Brazil, Singapore or anywhere else where they have compulsory military service. You can just imagine the Doctor going to Singapore and saying "No! No! There are ex-soldiers everywhere! Ah!"

I'm getting tired of the capitalization of the word Soldier that we are seeing in Doctor Who. As I said regarding Into the Dalek, they are not some special category of human beings. They are just ordinary people rightly or wrongly doing an extraordinary job that people have done since the dawn of history. I think this comes down to the remoteness of the military from the lives of middle-class television writers, especially given how the armed forces have come to recruit predominatly from the working-class communities. It is not helped by campaigns like Help the Heroes which seem to sentimentalize and infantilize members of the armed forces. Notice how often the army are referred to as 'our boys.'

In short, Dr. Who's attitude to Danny Pink seems unreasonable. The unreasonableness of it makes his objections and antagonism toward him seem rather false and unconvincing. Worse than that is the awkward racial sub-text of the Doctor, a white man, making prejudiced assumptions about the intelligence of a black man. No doubt the writers were intending this to be on account of Danny being a Soldier, but the racial sub-text cannot be ignored. What is more, in the same episode we get a black girl who is a 'disruptive influence' who the Doctor casually suggests might go shoplifting. Along with a white police officer harassing a couple of black kids. Call me a Sandiferian or a Jack Grahmite if you like, but I found this painful. This is of course, from the same producer who gave us Mels, the black delinquent incarnation of River Song and an episode in which the rare inclusion of a group of black characters turn out to be a dim-witted bunch of petty crooks.

We get to spend a bit more time with Danny Pink in The Caretaker and it's not a fun experience. What we have seen so far seems like a rather surly and miserable character who can't cry convincingly. Now it seems that in a relationship he is rather controlling and manipulative. It's getting really hard to warm to this bloke.

This episode was fun in places, and the acting and direction was really quite good, but I found it rather depressing on the whole.

Saturday, 27 September 2014


A lot of Doctor Who stories are padded out to fill extra episodes, but Inferno takes padding to a completely different level. The orginal story about a drilling station and green slime turning people into werewolves would have needed padding to fill out four episodes, but this serial had to stretch to an impossible seven episodes. The ever resourceful Terrance Dicks came up with the idea of filling this out by taking the Doctor to a 'mirror universe' version of the same setting, with Fascist versions of the main characters. Conveniently, this removed the need for new sets and hiring new actors. All it required was a slightly higher costume budget and Nicholas Courtney to spend a bit longer in the make-up chair.

A lot of fans think the idea of the 'mirror universe' is a fantastically clever one. I don't. As Phil Sandifer points out (there is very little in his Inferno essay that I disagree with), the idea of a mirror universe is one that television writers continually turn to. It's a very standard trope. It's not used in a particularly creative way in Inferno. The Doctor's witnessing of the destruction of the mirror Earth does not give him any new insight that enables him to save the regular Earth. It simply feels like a way to draw the story out and we are denied the pleasure of seeing the Fascist characters meeting their other selves.

That is not to say that the Inferno-verse is not fun to watch at times. The actors are clearly enjoying the chance to be evil for a while. Nicholas Courtney is particulary memorable as the sneering Brigade Leader. This is possibly a problem for Caroline John's Liz Shaw. Liz never really had much personality or character development. It is actually only when she becomes a Fascist that she appears to be an interesting character who we want to watch. Furthermore, the Fascist world is never really explored. It never really offers more than a fleeting glimpse of what this world is like. It seems perhaps a little surprising that the royal family were executed in this world. In our world, the British Union of Fascists supported the monarchy and our royal family were hardly left of centre in their views. Perhaps the mirror universe regime is closer to Communism than Fascism. Or more accurately, given the Terrance Dicks input, they are a British version of those nasty foreign bureacratic types that we British patriots all hate and UKIP imagine are running the European Union.

Of course, Inferno has some great direction, thanks to Douglas Camfield, with Barry Letts filling in when the director became ill. This story has some enjoyable moments, but for me it is just too long and bores me. This is not a classic by any stretch.

It has been said that the first four episodes of a new Doctor's run follow a pattern. The first story is a frenzied runaround (Spearhead from Space- not much plot going on), the second story is one more suited to the previous Doctor (Dr Who and the Silurians- the old base under siege) and the third story an experimental new kind of story that is not really repeated (Ambassadors of Death- realistic elements at the forefront and science fiction elements kept in the background). It is the fourth story that defines the new era. With its theme of industrial research, energy sources, green slime, Venusian Akido and pointless car chases, Inferno sets up the Third Doctor era perfectly. All that is missing is Jo Grant and the riotous colours that came in with Claws of Axos.

It does seem remarkable given all the massive historical differences between our universe and the Inferno-verse, that all the main characters are all together in an almost identical scientificc installation. The novel Timewyrm: Revelation offers a handy explanation that this universe has been artificially constructed. I did come up with my own theory as to the nature of the Inferno-verse. In The Chase, the Doctor conjectures that the TARDIS had entered a realm formed from human fears. It seems surprising that the Doctor would suppose that such a psychological world existed and that the TARDIS could take one there, but perhaps the Inferno-verse is this 'land of fears?' Could the Inferno-verse be a sort of projection of the Doctor's own fears about the drilling project? It occurred to me that the Republic Security Force represent the Doctor's anxieties about working with a military organisation. It's worth noting that the Brigade Leader is not that far removed from the Brigadier in personality. Notice the scene in Inferno where the real Brigadier rants at Benton and orders him to act like a bully and to coerce Stahlman. Of course, this theory contradicts the novels in which the Inferno-verse is a real place.

So what is going on with all that green slime? Some of the New Adventure novels hint at the idea, championed by Lawrence Miles, that the Earth is an artificial planet. After the Time Lords first experimented with Time Travel, they unleashed the vampiric Yssgaroth from a hellish other-universe. After Rassilon defeated the Yssgaroth, he fixed up the holes in the universe with artificial planets, Earth being one of these. Thus, the weird green slime that seems to defy the laws of physics is matter from another universe. This is supported by Planet of Evil, in which material from another universe has a similar effect in turning people into werewolves.

I think the Yssgaroth/ Hollow Earth theory fits Inferno perfectly. The very title of this serial captures the idea of hell being underground. The drilling station is not simply causing an ecological disaster, but is awakening demonic forces. Notice that the Primords and Stahlman in particular act like they are under the control of some unseen force. They are being controlled the Yssgaroth, who want to escape and unleash havoc on the universe (no pun intended).

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Time Heist

Wow, I actually liked this one!

The very enjoyable Rings of Akhaten showed that once they get the Doctor and the TARDIS away from Earth, the production team can sometimes come up with a decent Doctor Who story.

Taking the standard tropes of a heist/ crime thriller, this episode delivers an exiciting piece of science fiction action. This story does not do anything amazing or radical, but it is a solid and entertaining story all the same.

Time Heist is well served by an interesting set of guest characters. What is more, we get an interesting and very enjoyable villain in Madame Karaborax and her clone. The alien monster, the Teller is very effective and scary looking, even if it has become something of a cliche in the new series for monsters to turn out to be nice creatures in the end.

I'm not a big fan of plots which revolve around the mechanics of time travel and backward story telling, but the time travel elements are not too confusing here. I'm a bit concerned though, that Dr. Who might have altered history by freeing the Teller. I don't think he should be able to do that. I was very pleased and relieved that Karabarox did not die a gruesome death, as I expected, but got the chance to feel remorse for her actions.

There are a few problems with the plot, such as how the Doctor got into the bank to place the architect's gadgets. However, these are the sort of problems with most Doctor Who stories.

Along with Rings of Akhaten, this is among the better stories of the Moffat era.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Klein by the Sea

I asked the excellent French artist Claire Lyxa to once again draw Elizabeth Klein from the Big Finish audios. This time, I asked her to draw our favorite Teutonic scientist walking by the sea.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


Listen draws heavily on all the Moffat tropes that we have become very used to; frightened children, characters meeting other characters as children, sitcom dating and monsters that exist beyond the boundaries of human perception. Nevertheless, despite the familiarity of these tropes, the finished product is something that comes across as quite surprising. Arguably it's not bad television, but I do not very much like it at all myself.

The episode begins with the Doctor speculating about whether unseen beings might be listening to him. He engages in some very illogical, if intuitive, thinking. His thoughts that there might be things listening to him when he speaks alone come across to me as rather childish. I'd like to think that Dr. Who had something more intelligent to say.

Everybody has the same nightmare? I can't remember ever having a nightmare about something scary being under my bed. My nightmares have involved things happening to me within the dream, rather than things located in my bedroom. Perhaps when I was younger I might have been afraid of unknown terrors being in my room or in the house, but being aware that I was in bed, these were not nightmares as such. Maybe this is just semantics and the Doctor is not talking about nightmares, but about nightime fears in general. It seems a bit clumsy though.

Once again, Moffat follows the odd reasoning that because Doctor Who is a program for children, it should feature children and deal directly with chidhood fears. I think this probably puts off a lot of young viewers. Children are not generally interested in watching other children, unless it is a child they want to indentify with. Children will enjoy watching a child going off and having adventures, doing the things they would like to do themselves. They are less likely to enjoy watching a child who is afraid of the dark, which will either remind them of their own fears or else be considered a bit wet. I rather think the show has lost something with the current policy of only having adult companions in their twenties. Why can't we have a teenage companion like we had in the Sixties?

We get a glimpse of the Doctor's childhood. It's an odd sequence. It doesen't really fit with anything we have previously been told about the Doctor's childhood. The couple talking about him don't seem much like Lance Parkin's Ulysses and Penelope. But I'm not going to wrestle with the continuity questions, as I don't consider the New Series to be canon.

It is nice to get a reference to the Hartnell era in this story with the line 'fear makes companions of us all,' but I can't help feeling that line is reduced here to mawkish sentimentality. The point of that line was that in that story, the Doctor and Ian and Barbara were effectively enemies. Dr. Who was a dangerous figure who kidnapped people, yet circumstances meant he had to form an alliance with the people he had kidnapped.

This kind of story rests on the assumption that Doctor Who is all about terrors entering the domestic space. Moffat takes the whole idea of 'Yeti in the loo' to the next level. A lot of people see Doctor Who that way, but I don't. It's an idea about Doctor Who that is a far cry from the show in the Sixties, in which the Doctor and his companions went to places and had adventures. Stories of this kind, which focus on domestic terrors usually at least offer some kind of monster. This does not offer one at all. It is not even certain that the thing in Rupert's bedroom really is an entity at all and not just some psychological manifestation. This is simply a story about fear itself. That might be an interesting idea, but as a Doctor Who story feels rather unrewarding and falls a little flat. This feels far too introspective a story.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Shakedown, by Terrance Dicks (Virgin New Adventure)

Shakedown, originally a Virgin New Adventure, was republished by BBC Books as part of a series of novels called 'The Monster Collection.' These all featured images of New Series monsters on the cover art. Having a New Series Sontaran on the cover is fine with me, though the New Series Eocene on the cover of the newly repuglished Scales of Injustice seemed a bit weird. Nevertheless, I was glad to see Virgin novels being republished by BBC books. I was disappointed that the Remembrance of the Daleks novelisation rather than a New Adventure was re-released as the represenative Seventh Doctor novel. That said, the New Adventures were not really about reviving famous monsters, they were about doing new and exciting things with Doctor Who.

Shakedown began life as a fan made video production, featuring the Sontarans, but not the Doctor. It was scripted by Terrance Dicks, apparently for a very minimal fee. Terrance Dicks was later approached by Virgin, who wanted him to adapt it as a novel featuring the Doctor. Instead of changing the story of Shakedown to include the Doctor, Dicks did something rather more interesting. He wrote a basic novelisation of Shakedown, then included this as the middle section of a longer novel. This novel created a literary backstory for the fan movie. This involved the Doctor and his companions pursuing a Rutan spy.

Shakedown is written in that minimalistic, unfancy prose which characterised Terrance Dicks' novelisations. The middle section, based on the fan movie, is very reminiscent of his Target novels. However, it also draws on his Virgin novels too, with the playfulness and the endless references to other Doctor Who storie, especially Uncel Terry's own scripts. And with it being a Terrance Dicks, a female character inevitably gets threatened with rape.

As with some of his other novels, Dicks tends to make the Seventh Doctor seem more like Pertwee than McCoy, though he gets Bernice, Chris and Roz spot on. The Sontarans were portrayed more sympathetically here than in the Classic Series, one can see the emergence of the friendly Sontarans of the New Series. I was rather glad to see the Rutans getting a bit more attention here. I think they are a great monster.

There is some great world-buiding here, especially the planet of insectoid Oxford dons. Likewise, Dick's portrayal of the corrupt and anarchic Megacity has a cynicism to match the late Robert Holmes. The most striking character we are introdued to is the Ogron police chief, a polite and educated Ogron, who sips tea and eats cakes. Before we can applaud Dicks for breaking stereoypes, it turns out that this Ogron has been surgically altered. This is rather disappointing. Dicks just assumes Ogrons are all dumb because they conform to racially suspect stereotypes. Wouldn't it have been nice if Dicks had given us an Ogron who really did fail to conform to the cliche (without having been 'civilized' by surgery)? But we can hardly expect Uncle Terry to be progressive.

This is a fun novel with plenty of action. Readers who have grown up with Terrance Dicks' Target novels will very much enjoy this.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Robot of Sherwood

I generally find Mark Gatiss' stories unbearably awful, so I was not looking forward to this. It turned out to be rather better than I expected. Much of the strength of the story lies in Tom Riley's delightful performance as Robin Hood, effectively managing to rival Capaldi's Dr. Who as the leading man.

A colleague of mine offered his opinions to me about the new Doctor. He said he thought there was too much of a tension between the attempt to make the Doctor more serious and a continuing tendency to make the Doctor very quirky and funny. I think he is largely correct. Robot of Sherwood seems to attempt to address this, by putting the Capaldi's grim and dour Doctor next to a character who is flippant and jokey.

Mark Gatiss' preferred genre is the celebrity theme park historical. He seems to place with this here by having the Doctor suspicious of just how much this Robin Hood conforms to genre. I ended up feeling slightly disappointed when Robin turned out to be the real thing. The story had set up the idea of a false Robin and then given us a real one. I think this was trying too hard to be clever. If you want to put Dr. Who in an Eroll Flyn type Robin Hood adventure, just do it. You don't need to lampshade it. Of course, I'm not sure how familiar this old fashioned picture of Robin Hood will be to younger viewers. For them Prince of Thieves seems as ancient as Casablanca.

On the whole this is a rather dull story. Like any New Series pseudo-historical, there is some alien mucking about who gets sorted out very easily by Dr. Who. The alien robots here are developed enough to be interesting, though it is implied they might be connected to the robots in Deep Breath.

I was not quite convinced by Clara's scene with the Sheriff. The way she was pumping him for information seemed just a bit too obvious. His line about "First Nottingham.." was good though.

Having a short Little John is not funny. The whole point about the character is the irony of him being big.

Robot of Sherwood manages to be fun, but that is more down to the strength of the performances than the quality of the writing.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Galaxy Four (revisited)

I reviewed Galaxy Four quite a long time ago, but having watched the rediscovered episode three and the new reconstrution on the Aztecs DVD, I thought I ought to write something about it.

The reconstruction on the DVD is very impressive, despite the scarcity of material. It's better than the Loose Canon recon and better than many other recons with far more available photographic material.

I am struck how much this is a story aimed at the kids. Not in the way that today's show aims stuff at children, with dumb laughs and non-stop action, but with a simple plot and simple morals. As I said in my previous review, there is an element of fairytale (not the Disney or Moffat style) in these Hartnell stories.

The recovered episode demonstrates that Stephanie Bidmead's performance as Maaga is less than impressive. As Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood say, she comes across as a "slightly irked school dinner lady," rather than a villain with true menace.

I think the Drahvins are a future offshoot of humanity. Maaga strongly imples that she (unlike her soldiers) is human. That means that this story, like a number of other Hartnell stories is set far into the future. For some reason, the First Doctor seems to end up in the far, far future far more often than his later incarnations.

I think this story would have worked well as a Graham Williams era story. Romana would have been able to fight Maaga, K9 could make Computer Love to the Chumblies and Tom Baker's Doctor would have been completely dismissive of the whole story. Quite a few Graham Williams stories feel like send-ups of the Hartnell era.

I still feel very sorry for the Drahvins who are left to perish with the dying planet. I wish Dr. Who could have found a way to save them.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Romana I Demotivator

Mary Tamm, we miss you.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Klein Demotivator

Sunday, 31 August 2014

(Into the) Dalek

Non-British viewers may not be aware that soldiers teaching in schools has a political context. The present government went through a phase of trying to re-train military personnel as school teachers. A large part of the logic behind this was the idea that boys just need tough male rolemodels to look up to. This idea is nonsense; boys don't see male teachers as rolemodels, they hate their guts because they are invariably stricter and meaner than female teachers. There was a former army captain teaching at my school. If pupils got on his wrong side, he would take them outside and shout and scream at them. I liked him, but most of the pupils hated him. Our government even floated the idea of having entire schools run by ex-soldiers. These would be particularly aimed at naughty kids who couldn't be handled by other schools. The idea was absurd. Even if they recruited enough ex-soldiers (leaving aside the potential indirect sex discrimination in recruiting from a source that is predominantly male), it would never have worked. Right-wing people like to imagine that parade ground orders are going to straighten out unruly boys, but the reality is that a lot of kids today would just tell the ex-sergeant to fuck off, if not punch him. And what could the poor veteran do? He can't punch them back or send them to our military prison in Colchester.

But enough about soldiers for the moment.

Like the previous story, there is not much for the kids in this one. This continues the dark and adult tone. Peter Capaldi is showing himself to be a pretty ruthless and grim Dr. Who. I still find myself struggling at times to understand what he is saying. Am I really the only one having this problem?

This story is a typical attempt to do a story that feels like a classic series story, complete with a Famous Monster. It does a better job of this than Cold War or Victory of the Daleks, but on the whole it feels a bit unoriginal and uninspiring. It seems to follow Dalek rather too closely (as did Cold War), though with a strong dose of Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. The idea of a good Dalek is nothing new and can be traced back to Evil of the Daleks, a story that was followed up in the 8th Docctor comics. Star Trek fans will also be reminded of a certain story about Borg.

I don't think the Daleks work any more in Doctor Who. We're continually told that they are the most evil creatures in the universe and that they are Dr. Who's worst enemy, but we never quite see this backed up. It's all show and no tell. The visual expectations of television today make it impossible to do the kinds of stories that would really show the evil of the Daleks on a feasible budget.

As Phil Sandifer has said in his review, Dr. Who's question "Am I a good man?" is a bit unearned. At the start of this episode, the viewer has not seen enough of the Capaldi Doctor to form any kind of judgement.

Danny Pink could be an interesting character, but his crying looks really false and unconvincing. Real crying generally does not look nearly that dignified, especially from people going through mental anguish.

I don't very much like the way soldiers are being talked about as a particular kind of human being. Of course, military experience can radically change a person's outlook and behaviour, nevertheless there are some countries where everyone has been a soldier as a result of compulsory military service. We still have a generation alive who went through the horrors of a world war. Warfare has been a universal constant of human existence and a large proportion of the human race has just got on with the business of war and fighting. Soldiers are people like you and me, not some kind of weird alien beings.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Deep Breath

Another season of Moffat-produced Doctor Who and we are back in boredom-land again. Well, not quite. This time we have a new Dr. Who. And what's more, the story is not too bad. Like an elderly couple describing their holiday, I would say Deep Breath is not too bad.

As with every post-regeneration story since Castrovalva, Dr. Who goes through a period of instability and erratic behaviour. This has become a cliche uniting both the classic series and the new series. It's a tiresome one, as Power of the Daleks and Robot established the character of their new Doctors by bringing them straight into the action of the story. Deep Breath is less a story introducing the new Dr. Who and more a story about how Clara comes to accept the change.

So what are we to make of the Capaldi Doctor? Time and the Rani told us little about what the Seventh Doctor would be like and likewise, Deep Breath only partially establishes the characterisation of the Capaldi Doctor. What is most notable is how unsurprising Capaldi's performance and character portrayal was. The new Doctor is everything we expected, still funny, but a little more serious, a bit grumpier and a little bit angsty. No doubt this will be refined and developed as we go through the season. I did struggle at times to hear some of Capaldi's lines clearly. I'm not sure if that was down to his Scottish accent or the typically poor BBC sound quality.

I don't think we really needed comments in the dialogue about the new Dr. Who being Scottish. Previous Doctors never had lines commenting on their Englishness; it was just taken for granted. When we finally get a black Doctor, that will be the way to play it; not to comment on his ethnicity but to just have it accepted by everyone.

One of the things Moffat had promised in interviews was no more flirting between Doctor and companion. There is an attempt to make good on this promise with Dr. Who declaring "I'm not your boyfriend." Yet oddly enough, despite a bit of flirting, there was never all that much sexual tension between the Smith Doctor and Clara. Now that Capaldi has replaced Smith, the sexual tension has actually gone up by 100% and this may makes things rather uncomfortable. Despite being an older man, Capaldi is an actor who is inevitably going to come across as a lot more red-blooded than the rather awkward Matt Smith. He is never going to be a cosy middle-aged eunuch like the Seventh Doctor or a fey and unworldly young man like the Davison Doctor. He has the potential to be as sexy as Tennant. With his being older, suddenly we have a very big problem with Susan, to borrow Phil Sandifer's expression.

I groaned when I heard we would get another story set in the Victorian era. Given the frequency of this setting, it seems there were aliens on every street corner in the late 1800s. This setting brings with it all the tiresome old Cool Victoriana tropes that have been done to death; steampunk, useless cockney coppers, private detectives, gawking passers by, grisly murders as a beggars as a colourful backdrop. Jack Graham on Shabogan Graffiti has some insightful comments on the politics of these tropes. They inevitably serve up a particular ideological reading of history. You might expect a Tory like me to admire the Victorian era, but I doubt that writers like Moffat who deliver all these Cool Victoriana tropes are deliberately setting out to write right-ing propoganda. Yet the presentation of the Victorian era in fiction has clear implications about class, race and sexual politics.

Was there any point to the Dinosaur in this story? It only served to provide a self-congratulatory note of "We did a better job than Invasion of the Dinosaurs." The Dinosaur was horribly sentimentalised by Dr. Who and the other characters. One should not be cruel to animals, but talking about it as though it was a sentient being panders is rather mawkish.

There is a definite darkness of tone to this story. It all feels very adult, with very little, other than the Dinosaur, thrown in for the kids. That can sometimes work, but I'm not sure that Doctor Who as a show can maintain that kind of darkness for long.

No doubt the appearance of Missy at the end will fuel a course of "Is it the Rani/ Romana/ a female Master?" but she will no doubt turn out to be a throwaway character like Kovarian. This is a sure sign that Moffat is up to his old tricks and about to foist on us a season arc that promises mystery but turns out to be hollow.

Shabogan Graffiti: Pyramids of London ('Deep Breath' 1)

Shabogan Graffiti: Pyramids of London ('Deep Breath' 1):

Strax, you see, is essentially a funny foreigner.  You know, with his allegedly hilarious misunderstandings and all that stuff.  Moffat evidently imagines that Strax's misunderstandings are a rich and continuing source of humour, since he stops the plot of 'Deep Breath' for a few minutes so that he can (once again) run through all the same Strax jokes he's already done several hundred times in other episodes.  (This, by the way, is another way in which Strax resembles a character from 'Allo 'Allo - he is the same joke, repeated endlessly, over and over again, with the laugh demanded - upon recitation of a well-known catchphrase - from an audience supposedly trained via pavlovian technique.  If you object to my singling out 'Allo 'Allo here then, really, I agree with you.  How about we use Little Britain as our example instead?) 

 But here we run into yet another twist in the story... because this alignment of the other with 'us' is worrying in itself.  This recurring team - Vastra, Jenny and Strax - worries me.  It represents the reconciliation of the antagonist with 'us'.  They don't just live with humans, they live in Victorian London, and this seems to me to be the most blatant possible way of integrating them into a kind of aggressively middle-class, twee, cutesy, ostensibly lovable, yet aggressive and insular and ressentimental Britishness, a Britishness at its most iconically imperialistic and hierarchical.  Victoriana is the heavy drapes and elaborate dresses and cravats and top hats of the middle-classes.  Victoriana is the coughing, shivering, gin-swilling street poor as an essential background decoration, a set of tropes to locate us.  Victoriana is brown derby-wearing police inspectors (probably called Lestrade) who consult toff private detectives because, being working class, they're too thick to do their jobs themselves (the implicit goodness and necessity of the police is never questioned in Victoriana - something that wasn't true amongst common people in actual Victorian London, who often saw the bobbies as incompetents at best, violent spies at worst).  Victoriana is empire as backdrop.  Queen and country.  Big Ben.  Smog, gaslight, cobbles, hansom cabs, etc etc etc.  This is the milieu that Vastra, Jenny and Strax have assimilated themselves into.  Vastra even challenges the bad guys "in the name of the British Empire!"

Jack Graham's politics is pretty far from mine, but I just love the way he puts things. I admire the Victorian era in some ways, but on the whole the Cool Victoriana trope really annoys me.

Gallifrey Exile: Parody Review: The Nerdist on "Deep Breath"

Gallifrey Exile: Parody Review: The Nerdist on "Deep Breath": The Following is a Parody of The Nerdist's review for Deep Breath , the new Doctor Who episode premiering on August 23 on BBC Americ...

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Web of Fear

As it is a Troughton base under siege, featuring a classic monster in England, with Lethbridge-Stewart making an appearance, The Web of Fear represents for some fans the very ideal of what a Doctor Who story should be. For those fans, the rediscovery of this story (with just one episode still missing) must have seemed like a dream come true. I remain unconvinced that this story is in any way a classic or a particularly great story, but it was good to be able to finally view it.

There is always an element of paranoia in base-under siege stories, but The Web of Fear seems to take it to another level. Nobody trusts anybody in this story, apart from the TARDIS crew who trust each other, Professor Travers who trusts the TARDIS crew and Travers and his daughter trust each other. Anybody else could be an agent of the Great Intelligence. For much of the story, it creates a sense of claustrophobia, particularly combined with the underground setting, but at some point, the tension starts to get tedious. This is not helped by the six-part length of the story. It is uncomfortably padded out.

This story is famous, of course, for having the first appearance of the Brigadier, then just a Colonel. It has been pointed out by many that he seems a quite different character to the one we meet in the UNIT stories; though there is a pretty big difference between the portrayal of the Brigadier in Season 7 and the rest of the Pertwee era. For me what was most striking and surprising about the Colonel was his readiness to believe that the Doctor really had a machine that could get his men out of the Underground. This contrasts remarkably with the absurdity of his scepticism in the UNIT stories, most especially in The Three Doctors.

The return of Professor Travers brings with it pseudo-companion Anne Travers. Anne is a likeable and intelligent female character, who is arguably in some ways perhaps a prototype of Liz Shaw. Her relationship with her ageing father is nicely portrayed. According to the novel, Millennial Rites, Anne Travers goes on to succeed Rache Jensen as scientific adviser to the Cabinet and helps to establish UNIT. With the presence in the serial of a pseudo-companion, Jamie and Victoria are left a little bit redundant at times, but in the case of Victoria, that is probably not a bad thing.

It is quite remarkable how similar this story is to Fury of the Deep. Both stories about a mysterious intelligence that takes control of humans and which manifests itself as foam. I very much prefer Fury from the Deep, as parisitic seaweed is more interesting than robotic Yeti.

The monsters in the London Underground are Yeti, they might as well be Cybermen or Ice Warriors. Shooting people with web guns is not a particularly Yeti-ish thing to do. Rather than strange mysterious monsters of the mountains, they are standard sci-fi robot monsters. What we get in this story is the arrival of the worst idea in Doctor Who, the 'Yeti in the loo' theory. This notion holds that a monster is inherently more interesting for being placed in a mundane setting. This is an idea that tends to lead to ludicrous plotting, as well as a lack of atmosphere. A Yeti on a misty mountain is scary; a Yeti in a loo is at risk of seeming rather comical. Unfortunately, the writers of the present series of Doctor Who have been rather too attached to this kind of story. For all it's good points, Web of Fear has to take the blame for this.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Doctor Who and The X-Files

Recently I have been watching The X-Files a lot. Often I tell myself I will watch a Doctor Who DVD, then I end up putting on The X-Files. I actually feel I have a stronger sense of nostalgia for The X-Files. Apart from the 1993 repeats, I never had the experience of watching Doctor Who on television. My experience of that show was mediated through novelisations and video releases. On the other hand, I started wathing The X-Files in its second season in 1995 when I was fourteen, a key period in my life.

A while ago, Phil Sandifer wrote a post on The X-Files in the context of Doctor Who. I'm going to look at this from a slightly different angle.

It is often commented that Doctor Who is about the juxtaposition of the mundane and the fantastic. A junkyard contains a time traveller, a police box is a spaceship, a quarry is an alien planet and monsters are made of bubble wrap and sink plungers.

In a similar way, The X-Files also deals with the fantastic enmeshed with the mundane. This is seen in the genre; the two protagonists are FBI agents who investigate crime, following generally normal police procedure. They follow up leads, interrogate suspects and analyse forensic evidence. The X-Files is as much a crime drama as it is a science fiction show.

The fantastic entering the mundane is obvious in the 'Monster of the week' episodes; the child that is posessed by a demon, the separated identical twins who murder their parents and the perfet neighbour hood in which residents are killed when they put out tastless garden furniture. Domestic horror is nothing new. Yet the same principle of the mundane-fantastic finds its way into the conspiracy-orientated 'Myth Arc' episodes in a much more creative and striking manner.

I find it fascinating how so much of the big conpiracy episodes take place in mundane settings. Terrible government secrets are hidden in drab, functional buildings. Alien autopsies are carried out on trains and alien technology is transported on lorries. The alien and exotic in The X-Files is mediated through bureaucracy.

The X-Files might have better special effects than Doctor Who, but it had similar budget constraints. Hence, while Doctor Who had its quarries, The X-Files had endless scenes in car parks. There is the sense of a childrens' game of make-believe where you have to use your imagination to see the magnificence of the alien myth arc. Like Doctor Who, The X-Files seems to harvest the power of the imagination in glimpsing the fantastic. Just as children can see a quarry and imagine an alien world, the young viewer of The X-Files can imagine nefarious deeds taking place in a car park.

When I was fifteen and a fanatical viewr of The X-Files, I would imagine that every train might be carrying an alien corpse, that every warehouse might conceal a crashed flying saucer and that every government building might contain records of terrible experiments.

Friday, 8 August 2014

The New Doctor

Does anybody else think that hand gesture looks a bit daft? For what conceivable reason would somebody make such a gesture, other than to say "I'm the new Doctor and I'm a bit scary"?

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Blue Angel, by Paul Magrs and Jeremy Hoad

I have been dreading writing a review of this novel. It's a really sprawling mess of a book.

The Blue Angel gives us a number of sub-plots, without bringing them altogether in a way that actually makes sense. We get a starship crew that are essentially a Star Trek parody, a group of old ladies who get whisked away to another world and are attacked by giant owls and a complex space opera about the various races living in a pocket universe. We also get a strange, dream-like sub-plot about the Doctor living in a Georgina house with Fitz and Conpassion and going for tea with a friend called Sally. It's never explained how this subplot relates to the rest of the book. In the centre of it all, we get Paul Magrs best known creation, Iris Wildthyme. Furthermore, the novel has no resolution. At the book's climax, Iris whisks the Doctor away before he can bring the story to the sort of conclusion that we would expect in a Doctor Who novel. This is a really clever idea, but it does leave one feeling a bit unbsatisfied. However much we might admire literary experimentation, one does tend to like some kind of resolution at the end of a novel as a reward for reading, even if it is a Virgin novel ending, with nearly everybody dead and Ace and Bennie absolutely furious with the Doctor.

Magrs and Hoad decentralize the Doctor from the narrative. He runs around trying to solver every problem that arises, but ends up looking useless and incompetent. Phil Sandifer suggested a while ago that in this, Magrs and Hoad were reacting to the Virgin books and the 'Time's Champion' idea. However, the Virgin books occasionally pulled off this trick, with the Doctor's plans frequently falling apart. The Blue Angel is basically an Iris Wildthyme novel with the Doctor making an appearance. This incarnation of Iris, resembling Jane Fonda's Barbarella, is undoubtedly the strongest version of the character. This Iris is not a dithering old lady, but a powerful and dangerous figure.

The Blue Angel is of course the second appearance of Copassion, after her debut in Interference. I like Compassion, but I don't think Magrs and Hoad handle her all that well. She is harsh and cold, which sets her apart from other companions, but in this novel her coldness ends up coming across as annoying. Fans have often compared Compassion to Seven-of-Nine in Star Trek: Voyager, yet that program utilised the ex-Borg very well. For all Seven's coldness, the viewer was able to like her and warm to her. Magrs and Hoad do nothing to make us warm to Compassion and everything to make us resent her presence. That the novel fails to follow the lead of Voyager is ironic, given the Star Trek parody going on here.

There is plenty of humour here, but it is not the kind of laugh-out-loud humour that Magrs achieves in Mad Dogs and Englishmen. I didn't find the Star Trek parody all that funny; Bang-Bang-a-Boom does a better job of that. I did like the attept at world-building, with all the various distinctive alien races. It is just unforunate that with all the various sub-plots and ideas in this book, nothing really gets enough attention. I'm afraid to say that on the whole, I found this novel rather disappointing.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

In Answer to Moffat's Question

In the most recent issue of Doctor Who magazine, Steven Moffat asked:

“Here’s a question I tried on some Doctor Who fans recently, and we were all a bit startled by the answer, when it finally emerged – if we got it right. Okay; keeping in mind that everything you know for sure is probably wrong, answer me this: in which story is it confirmed, definitively, that the Doctor is not human?

“Now before you jump up and yell An Unearthly Child – sorry, but wrong. He makes it clear he’s not from this time, and seems to indicate that he was born on another world, but he never says he’s an alien. He could, just as easily, be a human being from the far future, born on some colonised world. Indeed, most of his conversation in the early days would seem to confirm that he thinks of himself as human, and he even explicitly states that he is, at least once.

“So come on then. To your DVD collection. In what story do the wise men and women of the BBC stop fudging the issue, and make our hero Not One Of Us. I’m not talking about him having remarkable abilities or attributes – we’ve always known he’s not ordinary, that s fair enough. Spider-Man’s not ordinary, but he s not an alien. And I’m not talking about series bibles, or internal memos or retconned continuity – when did the Doctor Who production team stop hedging their bets and make him alien?"

We might well wonder or speculate about his motivation for asking such a question, nevertheless, I shall offer a straight answer.

The first time the Doctor is definitely identified as non-human is in The Dalek's Master Plan. Mavic Chen discusses the Daleks' opponent:

CELATION: Having had your contribution to this great weapon stolen, it must be a relief to you now that the Daleks have managed to recover it.
CHEN: Without my help, it is unlikely that they'd have got it back.
TRANTIS: At least that absurd story that it was my people from Trantis who stole the taranium has been discredited.
CELATION: Yes. They were from Earth, I believe.
CHEN: Only two of them and they are under the influence of some creature from another galaxy.
TRANTIS: He looked like an Earth creature.
CHEN: That's only a disguise. The Daleks know of him. He is some kind of time and space traveller.
CELATION: Then he is nothing to do with me. We have not yet conquered the dimension of time.
CHEN: I hear your experiments in that field are progressing, Trantis.
TRANTIS: We have not yet succeeded. Only the Daleks know how to break the time barrier.
CELATION: And this other creature, from wherever he comes.

Here the Doctor is described as a 'creature from another galaxy' who only appears to be human. The notion that the Doctor's human appearance is only a disguise is a fascinating one. What does he really look like? A walking jellyfish? A purple spider? It's rather unfortunate that later stories have not followed this idea. The only exception would be the novel Sky Pirates!, in which the Doctor transforms into his 'Other other self,' a sort of cosmic god-being.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Crossover Klein

I asked Sylvant to draw Elizabeth Klein having coffee with Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files. This is based on a crossover fan fiction I wrote. I think he did a fantastic job.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Klein and the Smoking Man, Part 3

A Doctor Who/ X-Files crossover

Scully was in the basement at the FBI headquarters, listening to Mulder talking at length about newspaper cuttings, magazine articles and internet rumours from UFO fanatics. He was like a little boy in a toy shop, displaying wide-eyed enthusiasm at every scrap of information.

"Now this is the best lead I have here, Scully. Just over a week ago, a meteor was reported to have hit in rural Wisconsin," said Mulder.

"Let me guess, you think this is a UFO crash landing?" suggested Scully, raising her eyebrow.

"Precisely. I have read a number of eyewitness accounts descrine a flying saucer within a two-mile radius immediately prior to this 'meteor' hitting the ground," replied Mulder.

"It hadn't occurred to you that an inexperienced observer might have difficulty distinguishing between a meteor and a flying saucer?" asked Scully.

"Hold off on the sceptic routine, Scully. There is more coming," he said. "A UFO enthusiast I am in contact with tried to get close to the crash site or 'meteor.' He couldn't get close, as the military had cordoned off the whole area. He did, however, manage to take a very interesting photograph which he sent me."

Mulder handed a photograph to Scully. It showed a man smoking a cigarette, while taking to a blond middle-aged woman.

"It's him! The smoking man!" said Scully.

"It seems he has an interest in meteors. I'm interested in who the woman is he's talking to."

"Somebody from the Federal government?" offered Scully.

"No. My friend took some other photographs, one of which included the car that brought this lady. I traced the registration number. It turns out it belongs to the United Nations headquarters in New York."

"She works for the UN?"

"I think this is a lead we should explore, Scully," Mulder declared.


After Mulder had returned to his apartment, he carefully placed two pieces of sticky tape onto his window, forming an X. He then shone his lamp behind it.


The next day, Mulder was getting out of his car, when we has approached by a black man, dressed in an overcoat. He had a greying beard and a scowling expression. The man was a nameless figure who often provided information to Mulder, though always on his own terms.

"Is it just me or do the two of us spend a lot of time in car parks?" said Mulder.

"What do you want from me this time, Agent Mulder?" snarled Mr. X.

"I wondered if you might know who this lady is in the picture," replied Mulder, handing Mr. X the photograph he had shown Scully.

"Agent Mulder, do you realise just how deep you are going here?" snapped Mr X. "Do you realize the web of secrecy you are trying to pierce?"

"If I didn't I wouldn't be asking," said Mulder with a shrug.

"This woman works for the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce."

"I think I've heard of them. Some sort of top secret security organisation," said Mulder.

"You think our cigarette-smoking friend is secretive? These people are on a completely different level," barked Mr X. "These are real military. Trained killers. Like Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, one of their former officers. My death could be ordered just for talking about UNIT. You don't know what you are dealing with, Agent Mulder."

"What exactly does UNIT do?" asked Mulder.

"They are Earth's last line of defence against invasion by extraterrestrials, Agent Mulder."

Mulder's eyes widened.

"You find this woman, Agent Mulder. Her name is Dr Elizabeth Klein. When you find her, aske her about the Doctor," instructed Mr X.


"Dr. Who, Dr. John Smith. He has many names. But he is the Doctor."


Mulder and Scully arrived outside the headquarters of the American branch of UNIT in Arkham, Massachusetts. The organisation was based in an old house from the 18th century. Like many of the buildings in Arkham, it was in an ornate neo-classical style. UNIT clearly had good taste.

The two agents presented themselves at the reception, displaying their FBI badges to the guard.

The guard wore the uniform of a US Marine, though she had a UNIT badge on her sleeve and wore a blue UNIT beret.

"I am very sorry, but Dr. Klein can only see visitors with a prior appointment. Her stay here is temporary and her time is limited," the guard explained.

"We are Federal agents conducting a criminal investigation," insisted Scully.

"I am sorry, but this building and it's staff are under UN jurisdiction. Dr Klein has diplomatic unity and cannot be subject to Federal investigation."

At that moment, a middle-aged blonde woman dressed in a dark skirt suit entered the reception heading toward the exit.

"Dr Klein!" cried the two agents.

"Can I help you?" asked Klein.

"These people are FBI agents, Dr. Klein. They wanted a consultation with you," interjected the guard.

"Is that so?" asked Klein with a raised eyebrow.

"It is Dr Klein. I'm Agent Mulder and this is Scully. We believe you may be able to shed some light on our recent investigations."

"I would be happy to talk with you and provide you with whatever information I can. There is a coffee shop on the other side of the street. Perhaps we could go there," the UNIT scientist suggested.

Mulder and Scully nodded and followed Klein into the street.


"So what exactly does UNIT do?" asked Scully.

"Oh, we're spies. We deal with invisible ink, that sort of thing," explained Klein.

"Nothing to do with Extraterrestrials or anything beyond Earth then?" asked Mulder suspiciously.

"You must be joking! I do wish my job was that interesting," replied Klein.

"Over a week ago, a meteor was reported to have hit Wisconsin. Can I ask what you were doing in the area?"

"I have a certain expertise in meteors. I happened to be giving a lecture at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. I was asked to come to the examine the meteor."

"You were photographed with this man," said Mulder, showing Klein the photograph of her with the smoking man. She showed a definite sign of recognition.

"He's a professor at the university. Is he is some kind of trouble?" asked Klein.

"He doesen't exactly come across as the academic type," commented Scully.

"I'm sure he has some varied hobbies. I really don't know him very well," said Klein.

Mulder changed the subject.

"Is it true that in 1976, the London Underground was closed because of robotic Yeti?" he asked.

Klein made an amused face.

"I have heard of such stories, but the 1976 evacuation was due to a toxic substance that had been unleashed," she replied.

"I'm aware of the toxic substance, but it is believed by many that this was a creation of an alien force, along with the robot Yeti," he insisted.

Scully rolled her eyes.

"I think it's rather more likely that the toxin was unleashed by a terrorist group, such as the IRA. If there were any 'Yeti,' I am sure that they were just men in costumes."

Scully nodded. She was starting to warm to this Klein woman.

"Is it also true that London was evacuated in 1983 because of a horde of rampaging Dinosaurs?" asked Mulder.

Scully tried hard not to laugh.

"Oh, I've heard that one so many times," said a smiling Klein. "There was a serious gas leak from a chemical plant."

"I have read eyewitness accounts of people describing Dinosaurs. They seem pretty accurate," said Mulder.

"Perhaps, but Dinosaurs have been extinct for a long time," replied Klein.

"What about the Loch Ness Monster swimming down the Thames in 1984?" asked Mulder. This was his favorite of these British stories.

"I can assure you that your 'Loch Ness Monster' was a whale that had become trapped in the Thames. The poor thing was driven mad. The remains were preserved. I could arrange for you to see them if you like," said Klein.

Mulder was starting to get frustrated.

"Who is this man? The one they call the Doctor?" he said, handing Klein a photograph he had found on the internet.

The photograph displayed a man with tightly-curled brown hair. He was giving a boggle-eyed stare, while grinning madly, displaying huge white teeth. He had a brightly-cloured scarf wrapped about his neck.

Klein grimaced in recognition of the man.

"Oh, he was a medical student we had doing a placement with us. We used to call him the 'Doctor.' We were being sarcastic. He was completely incompetent and useless. I doubt he ever actually went on to qualify."

"You expect us to believe all these cover stories?" snapped Mulder.

"Would I be telling you them if I didn't?" sneered Klein.

"Come on, Mulder, We've wasted enough time on the 'invisible ink' people. Let's get back to grassy knolls and flying saucers," said Scully.

"You can't hide the truth from the people of the world forever!" said Mulder.

"Come on," said Scully dragging his arm.

"You really have no idea," said Klein with a sigh.