Monday 28 February 2011

The Enemy of the World

The TARDIS crew sort out Salamander, a 21st century dictator with an uncanny resemblance to the Second Doctor.

Episode 3 is the only one of the six parts that survive. I had to listen to this one on audio. I think it's probably easy to just listen to the audio and let one's imagination work than trying to watch an irritating set of immobile telesnaps. That said, I don't think much of the BBC recordings. Frazer Hines narration is rather uninspiring, being either flatly descriptive or a bit too droll. Perhaps it would be a big departure from the original format, but I can't help thinking that in-character narration might make the recording a little more dynamic. It would also be nice to have a complete recon package. Ideally, the CD would come with the photography and the surviving episodes on DVD.

It has been suggested before that there are remarkable similarities between the Doctor and James Bond. Both are great British cultural exports that began in the Sixties and have lasted for years. Both are radical individualists with a flamboyant dress sense and who make heavy use of gadgets. While the latter may have a more obvious libido than the other, both like to have a lady around with them. The Sixth Doctor shared Bond's habit of making quips at the death of bad guys. The production team have quite clearly looked to James Bond for inspiration. This has been most obvious in the Third Doctor years, with the Doctor working with a security organisation and the Ambassadors of Death being just as much a spy thriller as a science fiction story. Nevertheless, throughout the history of the show you can see James Bond elements. Many of the villains that the Doctor faces could fit into a James Bond film very easily. It is this story, The Enemy of the World, which is the closest that Doctor Who has come to an all-out James Bond-style spy thriller. It's a good thing too. The Enemy of the World is a wonderful demonstration of how flexible the format of Doctor Who can be. It is particularly needed in the Patrick Troughton era, with it's endless base-under-siege plots and in Season 5 with it's relentless monsters.

Season 5 is best known for it's monster stories- Cybermen, Ice Warriors and Yeti. The Enemy of the World is conspicuous for it's lack of an alien monster. Nevertheless, it gives us an incredible human monster in the form of Salamander. He is so ruthless, self-serving and cold-blooded! What is even more scary is the fact that he is hailed by the masses as a saviour of humanity. It is a bleak idea indeed. Troughton's Mexican accent may be a little comical, but he does a superb job of portraying the evil dictator. Kudos to him for taking on two roles and doing a splendid job of both.

The Enemy of the World features such a great cast of supporting characters- the sadistic Benik, the glamorous Astrid, the ultimately cynical and self-serving Kent, the abused Fariah and Griffin, the hilariously grumpy chef.

Jamie and Victoria, being from the historical past both comes across as a little out of their depth in this strange bleak world of the 21st century. However, through boldness and pluck they both manage to prove effective antagonists of Salamander's schemes.

It is easy to complain of these serials being too long, but at six parts it can feel a little tired as a story. It does feel a little awkward that it is Astrid and not the Doctor who frees the underground people at the end, but I suppose the Doctor has always given others the chance to be the hero or heroine.

Sunday 27 February 2011

The Juggernauts, by Scott Alan Woodward (Big Finish Audio)

* Spoiler alert *

Davros is messing about with Mechanoids. The Sixth Doctor and Mel put a stop to it.

This is a bit of a shopping list story. It's got Davros, the Mechanoids and the Daleks all thrown together in that way that fans of returning monsters (in other words Doctor Who fans in general) love. The Juggernauts joins some of the continuity dots between Revelation of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks, though whether this is necessary is another question. Being a fan of the more experimental Virgin New Adventures, I can't help thinking that Doctor Who audio ought to be capable of a bit more than this kind of traditionalist fare, but it's still fun.

The plot is not the best, but it gets us along at a reasonable pace. Obviously, having Daleks and Mechanoids in, we are going to get a lot of fighting and this works surprisingly well in the audio format. Naturally, the Mechanoids are the main selling point of this audio. Nicholas Briggs does a fantastic job of recreating the sound of their voices. It's nice to encounter them again. On the other hand, the idea that these new Mechanoids contain human body parts just comes across as stupid. Surely if they were efficient enough before without human body parts they could be equally efficient as pure machines in their rebuilt state? It seems like the writer is trying to throw in too many new ideas. Likewise, it seems odd that the Davros is suddenly so anxious to destroy his Dalek creations. He has never shown this ambition before.

Terry Molloy puts in a good performance as Davros and we get some insights into his psychology. Colin Baker also shines and delights in being arrogant and bombastic again. However, the real star of this story is Bonnie Langford. She is amazing in this story, showing real depth and grabbing the role of heroine by the throat. This Mel is tough and indomitable. As the Doctor says "hell hath no fury like a Mel scorned." Of course, she does not seem at all like the character we saw in seasons 23 and 24. She is a little more like the Mel in Craig Hinton's novels.

The Juggernauts is a fun and well produced audio drama that is worth a listen. I enjoyed it, though a part of me feels like Big Finish could do some much more interesting stuff than this.

Saturday 26 February 2011

I think I like the new Daleks..

A recent visitor to this blog suggested that I am a bit too negative about the BBC Wales series. Well, I am going to surprise everybody by offering some faint praise to the New Dalek Paradigm designs in the last season. I would venture to say that they are one of the few decent things in the last Dr. Who season.

I don't think they are perfect. They are a bit too large. I think the small size of the Daleks in The Daleks reflected their freakiness better than the bigger versions we have seen since The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

Part of the appeal of the new Daleks is the obvious homage to the Daleks in the Cushing movie. Those films might not have been Doctor Who, but those Daleks were cool. The other more obscure influence is of course the Marx Dalek toys that were sold in all good toyshops back in the 60s. Such was the nostalgic appeal of the Marx toys that you could buy remakes of them by Dapol back in the 90s wilderness years. I had one myself. I suppose my liking for this ridiculous Sixties design betrays me as being hopelessly nostalgic. But how can one separate a liking for the Daleks from nostalgia?

Part of the appeal of Daleks is that they are both silly and frightening at the same time. Nobody working in science fiction television today would come up with a design like the Daleks. Yet they have lasted for nearly fifty years. The RT Davies brass Daleks went a long way to restoring the terror and violence of the Daleks, but aside from the flying saucers, allowed them to lose a little of their Sixties kitsch. With their bright and bold colours, the new Dalek paradigm are full of it. They look like vacuum cleaners or fire extinguishers. Nevertheless, we can be sure that when they start exterminating people they will chill the blood as ever.

Having been utterly disappointed by the dreadful Christmas special and the absurd season 5 finale, The Big Bang, I can only hope that in the next season we will see an all-action Dalek adventure with the fab new Daleks.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Legacy, by Gary Russell (Virgin New Adventure)

"The Doctor did not venture into Ace's bedroom too often. He was almost frightened of what he might find there. Discarded cans of Nitro-9, half-eaten MacDonalds, he'd once seen her knock the stuffing out of a large teddy bear with her old baseball bat, swearing at it and accusing it of betraying her. A short while later he had sneaked in whilst she was having a bath and found the wrecked toy. On it's shabby back was the name Mike Smith in permanent black ink. That was when he realised how much he had misjudged Ace. How he'd never really noticed how much she had kept bottled up."

What is it about Peladon that seems to inspire endless sequels? Curse of Peladon was a great story, but one can't help wondering why it needed the appalling sequel, The Monster of Peladon. More recently, Big Finish gave us Bride of Peladon. I don't think that Gary Russell's Peladon novel adds an awful lot to the mythos, even if it is reasonably diverting. Legacy gives us the usual fare- friendly Ice Warriors, a well meaning king, a bigoted high priest(ess), Alpha Centauri and a self-serving villain.

Legacy is by no means badly written. It is a fairly interesting story, even if it does plod along rather slowly. It is filled with continuity references, some of which are a bit silly. I don't think we particularly needed an explanation of the Time Lords' sending the Third Doctor to Peladon. There is a really stupid in-joke on p.88. I must admit I found the cameo appearance of Mavic Chen rather cool.

The Ice Warriors are well served by this book. It's great to read them so well portrayed. We even get to 'see' them without helmets. Bernice becomes particularly affectionate with Ice Lord Savaar. Alpha Centauri seems true to form, though he is less interesting in print than on screen. Gary Russell does a good job of portraying the Seventh Doctor. Ace is unfortunately not given an awful lot to do.

Atissa is a dreadful cardboard cliche. One question on my mind: were there always female high priests on Peladon? If there were, it seems odd that Peladonian society seems so sexist (being high priest is one of the two top jobs). If female high priestesses are a new idea, then Atissa's whole ideology is hopelessly inconsistent.

Nicholas Courtney (1929-2011)

Fans across the world are sadly remembering Nicholas Courtney who has passed away at the age of 81. He is best remembered for his part as Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, in which he appeared alongside several different Doctors. He also made an early appearance as Bret Vyon in The Daleks' Masterplan.

The Brigadier was used most effectively in Season 7, where his relationship with the Doctor was uneasy. His credibility was ruined after this by writers who opted to use him as comic relief.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Time and the Rani

"Drop the Mel-odramatics!"

Being a massive fan of Sylvester McCoy I desperately want to give this a positive review and find lots of redeeming features. I must admit, I find that practically impossible. I do think there are far worse stories (Time Flight, Colony in Space, The Mutants, etc) and it is reasonably fun to watch, but Time and the Rani is is undeniably naff.

The biggest problem is McCoy himself. McCoy went on to give us some great performances, but in his first serial he really is at sea. He simply has no idea how to play this role and ends up being an absurd clownish figure. It is unfair to blame the guy; the director probably had no idea, and writers Pip and Jane Baker are equally perplexed, having previously written for Colin Baker. Andrew Cartmel had only just taken over as script editor and would take time to formulate his vision of how the Seventh Doctor should be.

We can't let the director and writers off the hook though. This story is a frantic mess. All of the characters are rushing around like headless chickens. Worse still, they are given absolutely horrendous dialogue that nobody could imaginably say in real life. Pip and Jane Baker come across as such lovely people, but they really could not do natural sounding dialogue.

Sadly, we are denied a proper regeneration for the Sixth Doctor, as Colin Baker refused to return for this episode. I don't blame him at all after he was so horribly treated by the BBC.

The story is not without a few redeeming features though:

1. The Rani disguising herself as Mel

I can't believe so many fans hate this bit. It has me in stitches watching the Rani in her Mel outfit! Kate O'Mara captures not only Bonnie Langford's voice but the way she walks too.

It is just such an unusual scene. Even the Master, that Master of disguise never tried pretending to be the Brigadier, as fun as that would have been. Back in the more serious Saward era, the Rani would have had some holographic device to change her appearance and Bonnie Langford would have played the Rani in disguise. Here we get something much more fun.

2. Kate O'Mara's performance in general

She might have some awful lines to say, but she says them with style. She is so hilariously butch. Her new nose stud is cool too.

3. The Designs

The Tetraps are such a great looking monster. The Lakertyans also have good costumes, even if they are a bit pathetic. The Rani's castle is very well designed.

4. The ending

It's nice to see the Rani outwitted by her own minions and the writers sensibly avoid killing her off, thus allowing a return appearance that would never happen.

5. The new costume for the Seventh Doctor

This is something the story really gets right! This is in my opinion the best Doctor's costume in the history of the show. For once the Doctor no longer looks like he is going to a fancy dress party. He wears something that looks modern and stylish. Their is an eccentricity to the costume, but it is the eccentricity of a trendy academic, rather than some weirdo who wants to imagine he is living in the Edwardian era. The two-tone shoes are a particularly stylish touch. The Seventh Doctor has a real sense of cool. All he lacks is the paisley scarf that he would get for the next story.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Season 10

Thankfully this season saw the departure of that awful Jo Grant woman. Unfortunately, that did not occur until the season finale and she continued to annoy throughout.

Season 10 sees the growing emergence of continuity. In the first story we get a celebratory reunion of the first three Doctors. This story also gave the first glimmer of Time Lord history (even if the name Gallifrey still had not been revealed). Later in the season, viewers were granted two interconnected Dalek stories. Thus, the history of Doctor Who as a fictional universe was beginning to be established.

The Three Doctors- 4/10

For the first time, viewers got to see more than one Doctor at the same time and compare them. A pity that this both a confused story and an atrocious production. Patrick Troughton rather steals the show, though Omega is well conceived and played. Katy Manning gives the most diabolical performance of her Dr. Who career in this story.

Although they do look silly, I have a certain fondness for the 'Gell Guards.' They remind me of Lovecraft's Shoggoths.

Carnival of Monsters- 10/10

How did that get in here? This story really is a diamond in mud. With it's postmodern irony and camp comedy it actually feels like it ought to be in Season 24 (though it is better than every Season 24 story, even Delta and the Bannermen). Does anybody else find it really easy to imagine this story with the Seventh Doctor and Mel?

We get a sneak preview of future regular Ian Marter too.

Frontier in Space- 5/10

The basic premise of this story is quite inviting, but it's so tedious. The Doctor and Jo go through a cycle of capture and escape followed by re-capture. The presence of the Ogrons rather gives away the fact that the Daleks are behind it all.

On the other hand, the Draconians are really well designed and the Master is very effective here as a cosmic manipulator. On the realism front, the Doctor has his fancy dress clothes replaced by a prison uniform, even if the mixed-sex correctional facility does seem a little odd.

Planet of the Daleks- 2/10

A tedious jumble sale of Terry Nation stock plots. Even watched as weekly episodes it starts to get old.

The Green Death- 7/10

It's irritatingly cosy and one that will invariably annoy somebody like me who dislikes the Pertwee era. On the other hand, it's flaws are fairly minimal and it is quite well thought out and produced. The Doctor's sadness at Jo's departure is a nice touch, even if it does strengthen the impression of the Third Doctor as a sad old man.

Is it really feasible that mutated maggots would be immune to gunfire and explosives? I suppose they would have had a hard time getting six episodes out of this story if they were not.

Thursday 17 February 2011

The Keeper of Traken

"They say the atmosphere there was so full of goodness that evil just shrivelled up and died."

I think Season 18 is without a doubt the most consistently brilliant season of Doctor Who. There are no rotten stories, even if Meglos was a little mediocre. A good story, Full Circle is followed by a classic (in my opinion) State of Decay, which is followed by Warriors' Gate, another classic, which is followed by the classic, but easily forgotten, Keeper of Traken.

I love the way the JNT era blends hard science with mysticism. While you get a certain amount of Star Trekky science stuff in this story, you also get a whole bag of spiritual ideas. Not only is there the idea of a fantasy world where evil is supernaturally eradicated, but there is the medieval idea of sacral monarchy where the king somehow maintains the harmony of the balance of nature, a kind of musical arrangement of the cosmos by an hierarchy of celestial powers, along with the Hellenistic idea of prime numbers being the source of power in the universe and everything that goes with the mythology of gardens. It is quite remarkable the way that Doctor Who in the early 80s expounded a pre-modern cosmology. As a Christian I can totally identify with the worldview elaborated in The Keeper of Traken. The epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament says:

1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high

The idea in this serial of a guy on a throne upholding cosmic harmony seems remarkably familiar.

The Platonism of The Keeper of Traken also reminds one of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. This is appropriate because the BBC adaptation of the Narnia books was the last gasp of that genre that was dying in my childhood; the children's fantasy drama. The Keeper of Traken is remarkably reminiscent of such fairy tale style offerings. A lot of those dramas were studio bound like this one and had the same escapist feel. A lot of viewers complain about the obviously studio bound nature of The Keeper of Traken, but I think the well designed sets fit the style of the story rather effectively.

Doctor Who often succeeds best when it manages to create a world that we can believe is real. The Keeper of Traken is one of those few stories, like Snakedance and The Ribos Operation, that manages to do this. The title helps; it at once creates a sense of history. Even more importantly, when it comes to world-building, it's the little details that count. For instance, one of the things that makes Snakedance authentic is the presence of a puppet show for children. Likewise, the production of The Keeper of Traken thinks about the small things too. Young and old wear different clothes; young Kassia and Nyssa wear similar outfits. Most significantly, we have a wedding in the first episode. How often do we see a wedding on an alien planet in Doctor Who? Furthermore, all of the characters are fleshed out fairly well and given plausible motives. The narration of the history of the Melkur by the Keeper at the beginning is really effective and thus removes the need for clumsy exposition.

Dr. Who monsters invariably suffer the same problem in that no matter how good they look, the actors cannot move them properly. The ideal monster would avoid this clumsiness by not moving very much at all. This is why the Melkur is effective- he is a creepy living statue. The idea was such a good one that the BBC Wales series adopted it to great effect with their Weeping Angels. It might have been nice to have seen other calcified evil beings. A garden full of evil statues or petrified monsters would have looked so cool. I suppose their budget did not go that far.

As with many fairy tales, there is a wicked stepmother. In this case it is Kassia, who is not really wicked, but has a warped and twisted desire to protect her husband. She is a really effective character and is ably played. The scene of her as a girl greeting the Melkur is one of the most effective scenes in the story, not only in setting up her character and relation to the Melkur, but in showing the world of Traken.

This story sees the first appearance of Anthony Ainley, for most of the story as Tremas and finally as the Master. He does a great job and gives a performance that is much better than some of his later appearances. On the whole, the other cast members are very good and there is no bad acting anywhere in this serial.

We also see Sarah Sutton's Nyssa for the first time. Nyssa was always a boring character who was never really developed. She is pretty good in this story, especially the way she stands up to her 'wicked stepmother.' The question does remain as to exactly why she was made a companion in what would become a rather overcrowded TARDIS.

Tom Baker puts in a performance that is both brilliant and different to his other acting styles, even in the same season. In The Keeper of Traken, as with other stories in this season, he is acting instead of being a stand-up comic, yet he lacks the moroseness that can be seen in other Season 18 stories, particularly the next one. He seems really relaxed and getting into the spirit of this story. It comes across as so very naturalistic. More controversially, Adric comes across really well here. Perhaps he is at his most likable in The Keeper of Traken. He has such a great rapport with Tom Baker.

The Keeper of Traken challenges it's own premises. We are told that the people of Traken are always 'being nice to each other,' but we actually don't see that much of it. The Trakenites actually come across as remarkably hostile and suspicious. What is more it seems unlikely that Neman is the only person in this society who is hopelessly corrupt. We learn in this story that the best of societies have their hidden flaws and can so easily descend into tyranny.

The Keeper of Traken may not feature in many fans' lists of the best stories, but it is a true classic and a John Nathan-Turner production that has as much substance as it has style.

Monday 14 February 2011

The Yssgaroth

My favorite Doctor Who monsters!

"Its body resembled a huge serpent, with spikes and billowing dragon-like wings. Its reptilian head was lean, with dozens of eyes square in the forehead, savage teeth, long, languid tongue and small horns bulging from the crown.

As she stared, the Beast seemed to take on many forms. Glimpses. Was it one monster or a myriad? She thought she could see painted wings, like a deaths-head moth, claws, wet feathers. Perhaps there were smaller creatures clinging to the main body, or maybe flying things hovering around the Beast. Whatever the Beast was, it rose up above the machinery, through the hole in the roof and hundreds of metres into the heavens."

Neil Penswick- The Pit

The Yssgaroth first appeared in the Virgin New Adventure novel, The Pit by Neil Penswick. This is a very poorly regarded Doctor Who novel, but it is appreciated by fans who enjoy exploring some of the more Lovecraftian elements in Doctor Who.

We learn in The Pit that the Yssgaroth are monstrous beings from another universe. The Yssgaroth were introduced into our universe eons ago by Rassilon and his fellow Gallifreyans. Rassilon experimented with black holes in order to achieve time travel. This tore open the fabric of space and allowed the Yssgaroth to enter.

The Time Lords then fought a terrible war, known as the Eternal War against the Yssgaroth. Apparently, none of those who fought survived. The Gallifreyan General Liall a Mahajetsu was believed to be killed, however, he survived and waited through long millennia to guard against the return of the Yssgaroth. The Time Lords were clearly embarrassed by this event and erased it from their records of the Dark Times. The Yssgaroth were remembered on Gallifrey only in tales told to frighten children. The universe was ravaged and many planets were devastated by the extra-dimensional invaders. Stories about these horrific beings entered into the mythology of many cultures. The Yssgaroth were regarded by some races as the 'Elder Gods.' Through the ages, various nihilistic cults worshipped them and performed gruesome sacrificial rituals to them.

The Doctor described the Yssgaroth as 'nameless, formless horrors.' They do not appear to have any definite form and shape. As they come from another universe, they are probably constructed of a very different kind of matter and substance. When the Yssgaroth first appear in the novel; it takes the form of a lamb on a throne, an obvious allusion to Christ in the book of revelation. It then transforms into a terrifying winged and horned serpent with multiple eyes. The Yssgaroth are forces of chaos, misery and death. They are utterly antithetical to life and if they were given free reign in this universe would utterly destroy it. The Yssgaroth have captured and enslaved countless beings in this universe and brought them to their own hellish realm. These enslaved beings exist in eternal torment; denied the release of death.

Are the Yssgaroth the same as the Great Vampires? Neil Penswick used the word 'vampires' in The Pit, without clarifying whether these are the same kind. The background to the Great Vampires in the Season 18 serial State of Decay is obviously similar to the Yssgaroth. The Great Vampires apparently came from nowhere during the Dark Times of Gallifrey. They swarmed across the cosmos, spreading their evil to many worlds. They were defeated by the Gallifreyans and their menace was stopped. The record of the war with the vampires was erased and only survived in stories like the ones that were told to the young Doctor.

There are some clear differences between the Yssgaroth and the Great Vampires, however. The Great Vampires have a definite form and shape and are made of like matter to living beings. The Yssgaroth are formless, ethereal beings of a more spiritual nature. The Great Vampires can be destroyed by piercing their hearts with a bolt of steel. It is hard to imagine the chaotic entities that Penswick describes being so easily described. It also appears that Rassilon took a more active role in the conflict with the vampires than he had in the Eternal War against the Yssgaroth. This could be propoganda on the part of Rassilon, his morality seems ambivalent enough to try to steal the glory from Liall a Mahajetsu. On the other hand, if the vampires are a slightly different order of beings, then it could be that the war with the vampires is a second stage of the Eternal War.

I would suggest that the Great Vampires are Yssgaroth that have adapted to exist in our universe. They have a physical form that enables them to remain in this universe and to produce vampiric offspring from the species of our universe. This comes with the downside of making them vulnerable to weapons such as Rassilon's bowships.

The Yssgaroth are one of the few elements of the Whoniverse that have been retained in Lawrence Miles Faction Paradox spin-off without a change of name. The Book of the War, an encyclopedia of the War in Heaven, fought between the Time Lords and an unknown Enemy, contains many references to the Yssgaroth. The Eternal War against the Yssgaroth was the first and original War in Heaven. The Time Lords had never been engaged in war between this conflict and the conflict with the Enemy.

According to The Book of the War, the Yssgaroth represent a primal bestial chaos:

"One of the Yssgaroth (if, indeed, there is more than one) would, fully unleashed, be capable of turning an entire world into a playground of casual torture. Nor did the Yssgaroth seem to have any ambition beyond this, or any desires more complex than the generation of pain and the glorification of despair."

The Yssgaroth turned many worlds into 'laboratories of cruelty' where the inhabitants were subjected to unimaginable torment. These worlds were thought to have been retro-annulled by the Time Lords.

The Book of the War ties the Yssgaroth to the vampires through the Mal'akh. These are hybrid offspring of the Yssgaroth and the species of this universe. These are identified with the story of angels mating with humans in the Old Testament and the apocryphal Book of Enoch.

The Yssgaroth show the clear influence of H.P. Lovecraft, who populated his stories with similar intangible, conceptual horrors. As mentioned above, the appearance of the Yssgaroth as an enthroned lamb is a reference to Christ in the book of Revelation. The multitude of eyes that the Yssgaroth posses may also be an allusion to descriptions of heavenly beings in the Bible. A number of mythologies make reference to winged serpents and dragons.

The Yssgaroth are intended on a symbolic level to be complete opposites of the Time Lords. The Time Lords are creatures of science, knowledge and harmony, while the Yssgaroth are creatures of chaos, death and pointless destruction.

The reason I love the Yssgaroth as a Doctor Who monster is because they reflect my own worldview as Bible-believing Christian. I believe that there was a primordial conflict before this present creation between forces of chaos and the Lord. The Old Testament uses the serpentine Leviathan as a symbol of the chaos before creation and the evil that will be defeated by Yahweh in the future. The Book of Revelation takes on this imagery and presents Satan as a dragon or sea monster. I believe that there is an age-long struggle being fought between God and His angels and evil spiritual beings in heaven. These things in Doctor Who may be fiction, but they are not far from the truth.

Valentine's Day presents for myself

The Ark came out on DVD today. I had been eagerly awaiting this and made sure I got to Tescos to buy it first thing in the morning.

The Ark is not the most highly regarded Hartnell story, but I love it. It is really charming and the Monoids are well designed. Plus I think it is cool that all of the far future humans wear flip flops!

I will post a review sometime.

Doctor Who Magazine also reached the shelves today and I got myself a copy. I am not the biggest fan of the magazine. It's uncritical stance towards the show can be irritating and their is a tendency to focus on the actors and production team at the expense of the fictional world of Doctor Who. The new Doctor Who magazine they brought out in America sounds better, though I doubt that will be available in the UK.

Thankfully, DWM had it's format vastly improved last month. A particularly impressive new feature is A Battle of Wits.. which offers two views on a controversial topic in Doctor Who. This month sees a debate about the new Dalek design. It's a great idea, though I find it difficult to imagine them being able to condense an effective debate on some topics, such as the question of whether history is immutable in the Doctor Who universe.

I also got myself a bottle of White Port to enjoy with the The Ark.

Saturday 12 February 2011

The Architects of History, by Steve Lyons (Big Finish Audio)

Elizabeth Klein comes close to her goal of creating an eternal Reich, but her work is interrupted by the invasion of the Selachians.

*Spoiler Alert!*

For some reason, I was convinced the title of this was The Architects of Infinity (even after listening to it). I think that sounds better than The Architects of History, but I imagine there was bound to already be a science fiction story called The Architects of Infinity.

Author Steve Lyons (who gave us the magnificent NA Conundrum) states "I'm not keen on alternate timeline stories because there's always a reset switch looming at the end of them, but perhaps, just perhaps, there was a way..." Unfortunately, there was not and we end up getting a big reset switch at the end. I suppose given this trilogy began with a survivor of a lost timeline, the trilogy was bound to end up with a mess of alternate timelines at the climax.

As much as I have enjoyed the Klein trilogy, I am not at all happy with the notion that history can be mucked about with so easily in the Whoniverse. I know things have moved on since Season 1 and it is undeniable that history can sometime be altered, but I think there are good reasons for thinking that history in Doctor Who is at least normally immutable. Nevertheless, it's been fun and it has been great to enjoy Tracey Child's glorious performance as Elizabeth Klein.

I think it's fair to say that The Architects of History is the weakest of the Klein trilogy. We get no explanation as to how the Doctor passed from the end of Survival of the Fittest to his present circumstances as a prisoner of Klein in this story. The ending is also utterly baffling. The Doctor persuades Klein to execute herself by removing herself from the timeline. The Doctor assumes that this will allow time to unravel itself. This makes no sense. Surely it would unwrite Klein's part in Colditz and thus allow the timeline with the Nazi victory in the Second World War to prevail? Even more baffling, Klein is not really removed from the timestream and we get a nice un-Nazi Klein at the end who is working for UNIT.

Despite the radical nature of this story, it relies on that old Doctor Who format of the 'base under siege.' In this case, the alien monster invading the moonbase are the Selachians, a shark-like race introduced in the BBC novels. The Selachians are more interesting than other monsters on a physical level (they are fish wearing water-filled armour), but their behaviour is the same as Daleks, Sontarans, Kraals and other assorted Returning Monsters.

The Doctor in this story is the dark Doctor of the New Adventures who manipulates everybody and does some rather questionable stuff. This is the Doctor I love, but if you hate the New Adventures, it is safe to say that you will hate this story. The grim and downbeat climax is certainly very NAish.

Leonora Crichlow puts in a great performance as a companion of the Doctor in an alternate timeline who is lost with this one. There is a real tragedy in that not only is her coming to exist jeopardised with the termination of this timeline, but she may exist but never meet the Doctor and experience the things he has shown her. However, her romance with a moonbase crew member is a bit irritating.

The musical score is dramatic and very strong. It is included as a music track at the end (I like it when Big Finish audios do that). The CD insert also features some great artwork. It's nice when Big Finish go to the trouble of making a really good package.

It would be nice to see more of Klein. It's been so wonderful to have an attractive, elegant and mature companion in the TARDIS. I know we have an older companion in Evelyn Smythe, but Klein is a lot more glamorous. There is a gap between A Thousand Tiny Wings and Survival of the Fittest, so future audios or novels could explore Klein's travels with the Doctor. Alternatively, we could have some adventures with the un-Nazi Klein who works for UNIT, though she is probably a less interesting character.

I want to thank Big Finish for the fun I have had with the Klein trilogy. It was a really dynamic and imaginative story arc. Of the three dramas, the first one, A Thousand Tiny Wings was the best, but the other two are well worth buying.

Friday 11 February 2011

Iceberg, by Daivd Banks (Virgin New Adventure)

The Cybermen cause more trouble in Antarctica.

As we all know, David Banks played the Cyberleader in 80s Doctor Who and put a great deal of enthusiasm into the part. He also wrote a thick book on the history of the Cybermen, which I really enjoyed when I was ten years old. I loved the Cybermen.

As you can imagine, Iceberg spends a good deal of time dealing with various continuity issues relating to the Cybermen. Some fans hate that sort of thing, but I think it is fine so long as it does not distract from the story. We learn that not all Cybermen are affected by gold, which makes sense, as the Sixties Cybermen had enough other weaknesses of their own.

The second chapter gives us a nice snapshot of everyday life during the events of The Invasion. This does help to set the stage for the rest of the novel. David Banks would seem to take a similar view of UNIT dating to me; he has a punk walk down the street, which means that The Invasion must take place close to 1979 and thus support an 80s setting for the later UNIT stories.

The story takes place during the Doctor's separation from Ace and Bernice during Birthright. Thus, we do not see either of them. The role of companion is taken over by Ruby Duvall, a journalist. She is quite a likable character. Banks also gives us a General Pamela Cutler, daughter of the General Cutler in The Tenth Planet. Disappointingly, she does not have that much of a role in the plot.

It takes rather a long time to get into the action. Iceberg could have done with a much faster pace. David Banks' prose writing is not bad, but it is hardly the best among the NA writers. As with John Peel in Timewyrm: Genesys, David Banks portrays a Seventh Doctor who is closer to the Season 24 version than the Darker Doctor that we have seen in the other New Adventures.

We get a very graphic and disturbing description of the process of converting people into Cybermen. I am not sure that we really needed to know that people converted into Cybermen have their sexual organs removed. Some things are best left to the imagination.

The book abounds with references to The Wizard of Oz. This would probably have worked very well had we not had one Dorothy Gale in the TARDIS. The Oz thing feels a little overdone, even six years after Dragonfire.

Taking a plunge into the mind of Lawrence Miles

I have purchased a copy of Lawrence Miles' Faction Paradox: The Book of the War. This is not a novel, but is rather an encyclopedia of his 'War in Heaven' creation; the original Time War before the idea was nicked by RT Davies. It is not simply a description of the concepts he created for the War in Heaven arc, but an elaboration of an entire cosmology. You have to admire the guy's ambition.

It does not seem like the sort of book that can be read cover to back. Perhaps I might have done better reading a Faction Paradox novel first, but I have already been introduced to the Faction Paradox and War concepts in his Doctor Who novel, Alien Bodies. I am quite fascinated by the whole thing. I also wanted to read it because it has an entry for the Yssgaroth, who are my favorite Doctor Who monsters ever. The Yssgaroth are one of the few Doctor Who elements not created by Lawrence Miles in The Book of the War that have not been forced to have a name change. The inclusion of the Yssgaroth makes me wonder if Miles, like me, admires Neil Penswick's much despised NA, The Pit.

I will post a review when I have read it.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

The Tenth Planet

"Have you no emotions, sir?"

We can be very thankful that only one episode of this is lost from the archives, particularly given the wholesale decimation of the rest of this season and the next.

The Tenth Planet is a real turning point in the history of the show. Not only does it feature the first regeneration of the Doctor and the first appearance of the Cybermen, but it is also the first in a long series of 'base under siege' stories. Unless we count The Sensorites, it is in fact the first 'base under siege' story. Having seen so many of such stories, the fan watching this for the first time might well feel a sense of deja vu that would be quite different from the experience of the original viewers.

We can well imagine that the original audience would be baffled by the transformation of the Doctor in the final episode. The departure of Hartnell was inevitable given his ill health. In this final story he remains inactive for nearly the whole story. It is therefore left to Ben to take on the proactive role in this story (while Polly is shockingly left to make coffee). Yet despite Ben's activity, the TARDIS crew play little role in directing the course of events. As with an historical, they are left as bystanders and witnesses to inevitable events. This makes for a rather odd narrative, but not an uninteresting one.

Michael gives a pretty decent performance as Ben. The character he plays is a bit of a cliche, but in this he carries it off well. Anneke Wills is also great as Polly, defying the Cybermen. The guest cast are all very cliched and not very noteworthy. We get to hear some typically unimpressive American accents.

Few will deny that the strongest part of The Tenth Planet is the Cybermen. Their first design is remarkably different to later appearances, with the cloth face mask and the distinctive voices. While I like the later designs, I love the fact that these early Cybermen seem so human. They are not at all robot-like. Ben even feels remorse when he is forced to kill one of them. They seem rather more individual than the Troughton-era Cybermen, who often came across as mindless zombies.

The whole business with a moving planet is rather bizarre and just a little unbelievable, but never mind. Finally, I think it's so charming that the First Doctor addresses a Cyberman as 'sir.'

Saturday 5 February 2011

Season 9

Anything new in Season 9? We have a story that is pretty different to what has gone before, a bit less of the Master and the Doctor doing a bit more travelling in the TARDIS. Pertwee gets to battle with Daleks for the first time. Things are also getting a bit more camp this season. Otherwise, things have settled into a rather cosy formula. The trick of having the Time Lords enable the Doctor to travel on errands is getting a bit tired now. Letts and Dicks really should have let the Doctor have his ability to travel back this season rather than the next.

Day of the Daleks- 7/10
Remarkably prescient of The Terminator movie. The alternate timelines element does not make much sense. It does a good job of creating a grim future world. On the other hand, the battle between UNIT and the Daleks is a massive let down.

Curse of Peladon- 9/10
The best Third Doctor story since Season 7. Curse of Peladon tries hard to do something different and succeeds. Having the Ice Warriors as good guys is a remarkably imaginative idea.

The Sea Devils- 5/10
An attempt to remake Doctor Who and the Silurians with the Master and lots of naval hardware. Well produced but uninspired. Definitely not the classic some fans consider it to be.

The Mutants- 1/10
This is awful. Too long, dreadful dialogue, and the worst acting in Doctor Who ever.
It's not even redeemed by people slowly turning into bugs.

Could the super-evolved Solonians be the Enemy in the 'War in Heaven' story arc?

The Time Monster- 5/10
Not as bad as some fans make out. It is dreadful in places, but there is a real sense of camp fun. Possibly Roger Delgado's best performance. Just watch him seduce the queen of Atlantis!

Friday 4 February 2011

Why can't John and Gillian be real companions?

TV Comic published Doctor Who comic strips between 1964 and 1979. These stories featured the First, Second, Third and Fourth Doctors, but TV Comic did not posses the rights for all the companions and so the First Doctor strip featured an untelevised pair of grandchildren of Doctor Who, John and Gillian. The TV Comic strips have generally not been fondly remembered by fans and there seems to be a consensus that they are not canon and John and Gillian do not belong on the list of official companions. I think it is important to question that consensus. If we can accept New Adventure novels, Big Finish audios and even the TV21 Dalek strips (look at their influence on Parting of the Ways!) why not the TV Comic and poor forgotten John and Gillian?

The most obvious canonical objection to the inclusion of John and Gillian's adventures in the canon is Steve Lyons' glorious New Adventure novel, Conundrum. In Conundrum it is revealed that the Master of the Land of Fiction created fictional grandchildren for Dr. Who, John and Gillian. It is clear that the Seventh Doctor does not recognise the pair as being his grandchildren. However, he never actually states that he has no grandchildren called John and Gillian, only that he does not recognise the ones in the Land of Fiction. The fictional pair could be based on the Doctor's real grandchildren.

There is of course, a question of continuity. Where do we fit John and Gillian's adventures in the personal timeline of our hero? The lack of a companionless period during the First Doctor era has lead most fans to conclude that there is no room for the John and Gillian companionship. It would seem that the Doctor had these adventures during Steve's brief departure from the TARDIS in The Massacre. The Second Doctor's reunion with John and Gillian would have taken place in the Season 6B in between The War Games and Spearhead from Space. In fact, it is the TV Comic that introduced the idea that there was a Season 6B.

Another possible objection to the inclusion of the TV Comic First Doctor adventures in the canon of Doctor Who is that they are somewhat whimsical and fairytale-like. In the TV Comic we have the First Doctor battling the Pied Piper and helping out Santa Claus, who was menaced by the Demon Magician. Yet this objection seems to rest on the assumption that Doctor Who is a science fiction show. It is true that the writers of the t.v. series have generally assumed that it is science fiction and that nothing, no matter how weird in the program cannot be explained rationally. However, there are some stories where this approach is dropped, such as The Celestial Toymaker and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. These stories are just as whimsical as anything faced by John and Gillian.

The worst objection to the inclusion of the John and Gillian stories in the canon is the fact that the Doctor introduces himself as 'Dr. Who.' For some reason, most fans are convinced that the Doctor is not called 'Doctor Who' in spite of the fact that this name appears in the credits until Season 18. I have argued on this blog that he really is called 'Doctor Who.' 'Who' might not be his real name, but it is at least a pseudonym that he has used and has significance for him.

I don't buy the idea that Susan is not really the Doctor's granddaughter. This flies in the face of everything we see and are told in Season 1. Likewise, I am happy to accept that John and Gillian are real blood relatives of Doctor Who. This obviously raises the question of whether they are Susan's brother and sister or whether they are cousins. Given that Susan never mentions having a brother and sister, it seems safer to assume that they are cousins. This means that the Doctor has had more than one son or daughter. The ultimate fate of John and Gillian is unknown. The Seventh Doctor said that he did not know whether he had any family, raising the possibility of their deaths. Moving into BBC Wales continuity (territory I am uncomfortable in), we must assume that John and Gillian have been lost along with all the other Time Lords in the Last Great Time War.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Warriors of the Deep

Anything could happen in the next half hour... including lots of killing, unfeasible running and climbing in high heels and a pantomime sea monster.

This is a yet another review I am going to begin with a comment about how this story was one of the first Target novelisations I read as a nine-year old new fan. Yes, I did and I loved it. How was I to know that it was such an unloved story?

Fan opinion has been very harsh with regard to Warriors of the Deep. Many stories with far more significant faults, are dealt with more kindly. I would suggest that this story is far better than popular fan opinion allows.

This story does have a lot of flaws. Let's bring them up and then we can look at what is good about it.

Most obviously, the Myrka is bad. It really does look and move like a pantomime horse. Not that it is the worst designed monster ever. I love sea monsters. If it had just been filmed differently; if we had just been granted glimpses of it, it could have been a really effective and scary monster.

This failure with regard to the Myrka naturally leads on to the failure of Pennant Roberts' direction in general. It really is bad. The invasion of the sea base by the Eocenes looks dreadful. And just what inspired him to have Dr Solow attempting to confront the Myrka with some karate instead of running away? What was he thinking? The apparent drowning of the Doctor is also rather clumsily done. Turlough jumps rather quickly to the conclusion that he is dead. We get an awful lot of flat acting from the guest cast to make matters worse. It must have been lovely to see the late Ingrid Pitt in Doctor Who a second time. I was so saddened to hear about her recent death. She had a genuine enthusiasm for the show and even wrote an unmade episode (The Macross, which you can hear on Big Finish audio). I don't like to say anything bad about her so soon after her death, but it is fair to say that she was more of an icon than a really talented actress. She injected absolutely no life into the character of Dr. Solow.

The new look Eocenes are disappointing too. The Sea Devils look alright, but the actors can barely move in them. The Eocene costumes in Doctor Who and the Silurians look better than the later version here. It is quite remarkable how the two sets of monster costumes in the 70s were superior to these. I don't care for the flashing third eye when they speak; in Doctor Who and the Silurians they indicated speech by wagging their heads, which is fine by me. Their voices are also different. It has been suggested that the differences are due to the Eocenes having been enhanced by cybernetics. This idea makes sense, but it would have been better had it been indicated by the dialogue.

The Eocenes also come across as just a bit too evil for us to sympathize with for the most part. Their origin is brought up in the dialogue, but this is not enough to back up their case for being the original inhabitants of the earth and so they end up seeming like any old alien monsters (and with the continual repetition of 'Excellent!' they sound like Cybermen). We might ask what happened to the old race memory thing in Doctor Who and the Silurians. Yet we do see something of their compassion. We are told that they did try to make peace before. Okay, so the line about the "hand of friendship" does not quite fit the two previous Eocene serials, but Missing Adventure writers have filled in that continuity chink for us. They also tell us that they bear no malice against the Doctor and offer to let him and his companions depart freely. Not typical alien monster behaviour.

So what is good about this story? The set designs are impressive. The Eocene HQ looks interesting. The Seabase set might be a bit wobbly and look too much like polystyrene in places, but it still looks like an impressive 3 -dimensional set that captures how a futurist military base might look. The modelwork for the space probe and the Eocene submarine is also good.

We get some amazing acting from the regulars. Fielding and Strickson are great, but Davison is really on fire in this story. He is no longer the wet fish of season 19. Just watch him fighting with those guards and threatening people with guns! His moral outrage and despair at the conclusion seems so heartfelt.

The setting is really well-conceived. We are given a vision of a future cold war that is not specific enough for us to get smug about. The claustrophobia and tension of a constant threat of nuclear war is convincingly portrayed. We also get a cyberpunk element, with all that stuff about implants and neural connections. I can just imagine Warriors of the Deep with a score composed by Front Line Assembly!

Nevertheless, this story makes me hate the Doctor. This story sees every man and woman on the Seabase die a violent death. Yet the Doctor seems to care far more about the Eocenes who are trying to wipe us of the face of the earth. The Doctor even calls humans 'pathetic!' If only he had been willing to use the Hexachromite earlier, he could saved those people. We can be sure that the Second Doctor would have got the Hexachromite out in an instant. I want to hate him for his inaction in this story. However, I think it is right and good that sometimes we don't agree with the Doctor or feel able to sympathize with him. He is not one of us. He sees things from a different perspective. The Doctor has witness humans commit appalling atrocities and injustices in every corner of history. In this period of 2084, humans are poised ready to annihilate each other with nuclear weaponry. For the Doctor it really is an open question whether the humans or the Eocenes deserve the planet more. We can spit on the Fifth Doctor and call him a moral coward, but we cannot deny that he has a reason for his reluctance to take sides.

The very linear plot of Warriors of the Deep has been criticised; yet I think this is an important element. It helps to underline the sense of inevitable descent into tragedy. The final moments are gloriously tragic with Turlough's grim line "They're all dead, you know" followed by the Doctor's classic lament "There should have been another way." We find out in Timewyrm: Revelation that the Davison Doctor is the Doctor's conscience. In that novel, he manages to get his Seventh incarnation to choose "another way" and find a solution that does not involve death and destruction.

To my mind the individual stories of Season 21 have to be seen as an whole. In Season 21, Eric Saward gave Doctor Who a vision and theme. In every story of that season (and you can see the start of this in The Five Doctors) we see the Fifth Doctor faced with the horror, brutality and futility of the cosmos. In the end, he succumbs to that horror and after his death regenerates into a new incarnation that has succumbed to the horror and madness of it all, as we see in The Twin Dilemma. As an individual serial, Warriors of the Deep finds it hard to stand. Yet in it's relation to the tragic themes of the season, it really shines. I would say it actually rivals Resurrection of the Daleks in the same season.

On a lighter note, costumes are interesting in this story. The Seabase crew all wear shell suits and deck shoes. Nobody wears socks. I suppose there is no reason why military personnel in 2084 would not wear liberal amounts of eyeliner.

I am amazed at Tegan's ability to climb on chairs, crawl through ventilation shafts and run through endless corridors in those high-heeled shoes. THAT must be a result of cybernetic enhancement. Judging by The Stones of Blood, Romana 1 would have kicked them off and run about the Seabase in her stocking feet.

For all it's faults, I really like this story. I like it far more than The Sea Devils, which most fans seem to love so much.