Friday 30 July 2010

Stones of Blood

Searching for the third segment of the Key to Time, the Fourth Doctor and the first Romana encounter an alien lady masqerading as a Celtic goddess.

Fan opinion has not been kind to this story, but I just love it.

What have fans got against this story?

Complaint #1

The first part of the story is good, evoking a feeling of gothic horror ('like in the good old Hinchliffe days'), but it turns lame when the Doctor goes into hyperspace and it turns into a silly space opera.

What would be the point of a Hinchliffe-style gothic horror story? All that had been done before. What we have is instead a send-up of Doctor Who Gothic with all its cliches subverted (see below).

Okay, so the parts in hyperspace could have been done better, but they are still fun. The Megara are hilarious with their Good Cop, Bad Cop routine. You must have smiled when Tom Baker pulled on the barrister's wig that he happened to have been carrying in his pockets. Stones of Blood defies both convention and expectation in its change of genre and style.

Complaint #2

Cessair of Diplos' motives are never explained. It is implied at the beginning that the Black Guardian might be involved, but it is never explained whether Cessair is his agent or not.

Yes, the lack of motivation for Cessair is a weakness in the plot. However, a lot of things in Doctor Who do not make a lot of sense.

It is a refreshing change to have a villain that is not only female, but is also not particularly interested in destroying humanity, taking over the earth or causing cosmic havoc. Vivien Fay of Rose Cottage doesen't want to conquer the universe, she just wants to eat sausage sandwiches with her lady friend and be a positive role model for young girls.

Complaint #3

The sequence where Romana is lead to a cliff edge by an unseen image of the Doctor is very badly done.

Yes, this is a weak part of the story. This was unfortunately caused by Tom Baker refusing to pretend to be evil.

So the story has its faults, as do many better-loved stories, but I would maintain that Stones of Blood is a story of real quality.

What really makes the story stand out is its uniquely feminine quality. Its supporting cast is almost entirely female. Also unique is its heavy use of a domestic setting in Rose Cottage (and all that talk about tea and sausage sandwiches..) and subtle (?) lesbian subtext.

Stones of Blood sends up many of the conventions of gothic horror and Doctor Who. For instance, the Doctor finds himself tied up ready to be sacrificed and needs to be rescued by a woman. And of course, the shoes. Romana's trouble with shoes is such a wonderful moment of realism in Doctor Who. Don't you ever get irritated by the unrealism of so many companions running and climbing in high heels without any apparent difficulty? Yet here we have Romana realising that her high-heeled sandals are a bad idea and opting to go barefoot. The only other example of this shoe-consciousness is the Rachel, the female scientist in Remembrance of the Daleks holding her heels having climbed into the Dalek ship in her stocking feet.

Tom puts in a splendid performance. Mary Tamm also gives a superb performance. And she looks absolutely fantastic in that peach jumpsuit and Burberry hat (with the already mentioned high-heeled sandals). Such an odd choice of outfit, yet she looks so elegant. When I watch Stones of Blood, I can't help feeling that I actually prefer Mary Tamm to Lalla Ward.

Few fans would deny that Beatrix Leahman is marvellous as the eccentric Professor Rutherford. It takes real talent not to make an eccentric scientist into a cliched caricature. Rutherford has real chemistry with the Doctor and she is one of the great unused companions.

Susan Engel seems a little uneasy in her role as Vivien Fay and ends up overplaying it a little at times. She is rather obviously a villain when she first appears, though she is very elegant and I think even classier than the Countess Scarlioni in City of Death. When she sheds her human disguise and reveals herself as Cessair of Diplos, she looks fantastic, with her shiny green skin and Jewish-style kerchief.

As mentioned above, it is commonly complained that as a villain, Cessair of Diplos lacks a motivation. While this does seem to be a plot failing, it does make her more interesting as a character. She shows no interest in ruling the world and apart from the mystical warning at the beginning of the first episode, there is no evidence that she is an agent of the Black Guardian. Significantly, we learn that she has never demanded human sacrifice prior to the Doctor's arrival. Her malevolence towards the Doctor seems to be motivated by the desire to protect herself, rather than out of cruelty. Cessair also does not seem to have lived a life of luxury and extravagance as the Jaggoroth does in City of Death. She appears to live a life of very modest rustic spinsterhood, even if her clothes are rather fashionable. When I read the Target novelisation at the age of ten, I was shocked to learn that an alien being would be a Brown Owl! The thought of an alien villain leading a group of Brownies just seems so surreal. There is no indication that any children have been molested, so her being a Brown Owl seems to indicate a caring and gentle nature. It is therefore hard not to identify with Rutherford's sympathy for Vivien in the end.

Saturday 24 July 2010

12 Reasons He Really Is Called Doctor Who

One of the really irritating cliches among fans is the insistence that the Doctor is not called Doctor Who. Various people involved in the production of the show, such as Matthew Waterhouse, David Tennant and the late Barry Letts have repeated this cliche. It is true that the Doctor is generally called the Doctor, but there is substantial evidence that Doctor Who is either the Doctor's name or a pseudonym that he has sometimes used:

1. If Doctor Who is not his name, why is the program called Doctor Who? If it was a question, not a name, there would be a question mark in the title.

2. The Doctor is was named as Dr. Who in the credits until John Nathan-Turner. David Tennant showed of his supposed fan credentials by asking for it to be changed to 'the Doctor' but this should not impress anybody as throughout much of the history of the show, the credits give it to Dr. Who.

3. In The Gunfighters, the Doctor is asked 'Doctor who?' to which he replies 'Yes, quite right.'

4. In The Highlanders, the Doctor calls himself 'Dr. Von Wer' (who in German).

5. In The Underwater Menace, he signs his name as Dr W.

6. The computer WOTAN refers to the Doctor as Dr. Who in The War Machines. This might be the case of WOTAN confusing a nickname as a proper name, but it is clearly a nickname that the Doctor accepts and acknowleges.

7. The second story of Season 7 is titled Dr. Who and the Silurians.

8. The Doctor is always called 'the Doctor' onscreen. However, he has used other names such as Theta Sigma (when he was at the academy) and he occasionally uses the alias John Smith. It is not clear that he has used the title 'the Doctor' as a name before the events of The Unearthly Child (Susan always calls him 'Grandfather'). It is perfectly possible that if 'Who' is not his name, he has used this as an alias or pseudonym.

9. Who is used in the registration numbers of Bessie and the 'Whomobile' (never called this onscreen). So Who does have significance for the Doctor.

10. Most fans hate the question mark logo that John Nathan Turner imposed on every Doctor during his time as producer, but this is onscreen evidence for mystery being associated with the Doctor's name. In Remembrance of the Daleks, the Doctor even has a calling card with a question mark logo.

11. He uses the name 'Dr. Who' in the TV Comic strip. Most fans assume the TV Comic is uncanonical, but is this assumption justified? It follows the television series more closely than the BBC Wales series and the Kleptons appear in the novel Placebo Effect.

12. In the Peter Cushing movies, the Doctor is called Dr. Who and even has grandaughters called Susan Who and Barbara Who. Not canonical I know, but it does demonstrate that people used to assume he was called Doctor Who and this assumption was left unchallenged.

So I am a wilderness era Who Fan

Correction to the last post- I found out I must have only become interested in Doctor Who after it was cancelled. I discovered that the first issue of Doctor Who Magazine that I read was published in 1990. There could only have been a gap of a month or so before I got interested in Doctor Who and that was during the summer. So I was clearly not into Doctor Who before the show had been cancelled in 1989.

So again, My Doctor is the Virgin New Adventures Seventh Doctor and I love it.

Sunday 18 July 2010

My Doctor is.... the New Adventures Seventh Doctor

Everybody has their own My Doctor. That is the Doctor they saw when they were first watching the program or when they were most enthusiastic about the show. Millions of older people have Tom Baker as Their Doctor (his era being the most popular time in the show's history, leaving aside some ambiguity about the viewing figures). For a lot of fans, Their Doctor is not necessarilly their favorite. A lot of fans got into Doctor Who when Peter Davison or Colin Baker was on t.v. and they retrospectively came to prefer Tom Baker or John Pertwee. And now we have many younger fans whose memory will be of Christopher Ecclestone or David Tennant being on the screen. Their nostalgia will be for him.

So who is My Doctor?

I got into Doctor Who bizarely enough through coming across an ancient Doctor Who annual from the Hartnell era. I believe Sylvester McCoy was still on television for a few weeks or months after I first got into Doctor Who, but I never watched him, barring a few moments of Curse of Fenric that terrified me. Instead, I devoured dozens of Target novelisations borrowed from the local library.

The first Doctor Who televised story that I saw on video was The Five Doctors. Its quite remarkable how many people have The Five Doctors as the first story they ever saw. I suppose this is at least in part down to publicity. Not only was the original screening well publicised by the BBC, but also the video release was given much publicity too. That means on the first story I saw, I had five Doctors to choose from. The next stories I watched on video were a mix of Baker, Pertwee and Troughton.

I spent most of my personal fandom during the wilderness years without Doctor Who. That means I had the Virgin New Adventures. I read a few of them during my late childhood and teenage years. I found them pretty hard going and difficult to follow, but I still enjoyed them. The one I really loved was Timewym Exodus, by every fan's favorite uncle, Terrance Dicks. I knew and loved him for his many Target novelisations and I just loved his novel about Doctor Who meeting the Nazis. I read it so many times. I was fascinated by the way the Doctor was portrayed in the New Adventures. I loved the idea of the Doctor as a schemer with the "cheek of the Devil." The New Adventures Doctor was deep and mysterious. Much more than the brash and bold Pertwee Doctor that I had seen on video. I also liked Ace. She was totally different from Sarah Jane Smith and Jo. She was violent and destructive. And the New Adventures made her even more violent, destructive and dangerous. She was cool.

Today, when I watch DVDs of Doctor Who with Sylvester McCoy and Ace, I am reminded of the New Adventures era. This was my era of Doctor Who. It was a time when Doctor Who stories were deep, intellectual and very weird. It was a time when the Doctor was deep, mysterious and manipulative and his companion was violent and dangerous. The Virgin New Adventures had their faults, but they were my Doctor Who.

Friday 9 July 2010

The Masque of Mandragora

The Fourth Doctor and Sarah battle an alien entity in Renaissance Italy.

This story is generally well-regarded, while not being seen as one of the classics of the Hinchcliffe era.

The story suggests the influence of H.P. Lovecraft, with a cosmic intelligence impersonating an ancient deity that is worshipped by a sinister cult. Being a fan of Lovecraft, I like that, however, I do find it hard to be gripped by the conflict with the Mandragora Helix. It is a somewhat to abstract opponent to be really engaging. The two similar cosmic horrors, The Image of the Fendahl and Curse of Fenric were able to make their 'Old Ones' grip the viewer, through a monstrous appearance in Fendahl and through human drama in Fenric. Mandaragora lacks these two strategies.

As always the BBC excels at costume drama and this story works well enough on the level of costumes and sets. On the other hand, it does feature a lot of stock characters. Hieronymous the astrologer is the only character who is particularly interesting.

Like The Ribos Operation there is an element of cosmic irony at work. Although the Doctor has a vastly greater understanding of science, his talk of 'alien intelligences' comes across to the Renaissance characters as superstitous mumbo jumbo. Although Federico thinks he is part of a movement for a better understanding of the world, the truth is that the Whovian comos is actually closer to the world of superstition and magic that he rejects.

The TARDIS' secondary control room is an interesting feature of the story.

Thursday 1 July 2010

City of Death

The Fourth Doctor and the Second Romana enjoy the atmosphere of Paris.

I re-watched this story the other day and I can't help thinking it may be the best Doctor Who story ever. There is very little you can fault in this story, and brilliant acting, a witty and inspired script and a straightforward plot combine to create an stunningly pristine story.

The thing that most strikes one with this story is Tom and Lalla. They are so natural together. Holding hands and skipping giddily around Paris. Leaving aside Tom and Lalla's offscreen relationship, this is the closest the Doctor has come to a convincing romance in the classic series. It is so beautiful and heart-warming to see the Doctor and Romana taking such a sweet pleasure in each other's company.

The title of the story seems to have been chosen for the sake of irony. It seems like a cliched title from a Hinchliffe story. Yet instead of horror and darkness, we are treated to a story that is light-hearted and fun. This story reminds us that Doctor Who does not have to be full-on gothic horror or about grim violence in the far future. The light-hearted tone is supported by one of the best musical score's in the history of the show.

While the story may justifiably be described as comic, it is played absolutely straight without any attempt at send-up or parody. Guest performances from Julian Glover, Catherine Schell and Tom Chadborn. All three take their roles seriously and make us really believe in the characters. The cameo appearance of John Cleese and Eleanour Bron is not really necessary, but is a fun touch.

Scaroth is a brilliant villain. He is so suave and cool. The fact that he needs to put effort into his fun-raising by selling artwork makes him stand out from every other Doctor Who villain. Even as a rubber monster, he works very well.

The countess is an interesting character. She comes across as desperate to please her husband, who sees as just a dazzlingly romantic criminal mastermind. Obviously, with it being a childrens' show the story does not go into some of the more delicate aspects of their marriage. The adult viewer cannot help wondering what is, or perhaps what is not going on in their bedroom!

I love the sassiness of the second Romana. Seeing her work with Duggan brings out her haughtiness too; she is almost cruel in her teasing of Duggan. Romana's costumes are always a treat, this school girl outfit is one of her best. It is not in the slightest bit sexy or cheeky, but rather provides a clever contrast with the Fourth Doctor's Bohemian undergraduate look. I like the fact that the pair coordinate their outfit's by wearing colourful lapel badges; the Doctor's badge a paint pallet and Romana's appears to be some sweets.

The real tragedy is that the extraordinary quality of this story is absent from all of the other stories of season 17.