Thursday 31 March 2011

Head Games, by Steve Lyons (Virgin New Adventure)

"Dr. Who's face blackened and his voice was a threatening growl.'You dare ask that? You wiped out the Seven Planets in the Althosian system, left Silurian Earth to a lingering death, and even now have friends plotting to destroy a civilized world'"

Head Games is a sequel to the author's masterpiece, Conundrum. It lacks the radical literary style of that book and is a good deal more serious, but it is still a very strong and impressive novel.

Like Conundrum, Head Games follows up the Land of Fiction first seen in The Mind Robber. The Land of Fiction is a great idea, but one that could get old rather quickly. Lyons puts a new twist on it by having elements from the Land of Fictional interacting with the real world. We are therefore given a much stronger contrast between fantasy and reality.

Head Games also follows Conundrum in suggesting that the TV Comics exist only in the fictional universe. I prefer to view those stories as genuinely part of the Doctor Who canon. I don't think this is too much of a problem. Jason, the master of the Land has based the appearance of his doppelganger Doctor on the real one, so it's quite possible that all the TV Comic references, such as John and Gillian going to Zebedee University are based on the Doctor's memories. Steve Lyons also seems to make the common assumption among fans that the Doctor is not really called 'Doctor Who.' I have challenged that assumption on this blog. The Doctor does not normally call himself Dr. Who, but that does not mean he has never used that name before.

As with NAs by Paul Cornell and Kate Orman, there is a huge amount of angst going on and Head Games brings into sharp focus the Doctor's morality. The Seventh Doctor is presented as a very morally questionable figure who uses people horrendously. The novel demonstrates this by bringing back not only Ace (who had left the Doctor in Set Piece) but also Mel. This helps to elaborate just how much the Doctor has changed since Season 24. Mel is appalled that the Doctor should associate with the gun-totting Roz and is horrified when she finds out that Dorothy is no longer that 'nice little girl.' Lyons does a bit of a retcon on her departure and the revelation only alienates her further from the Doctor and she departs from him on bad terms. The return of Ace is also effective. She has come to terms with the Doctor's meddling and manipulation, but she does not let him forget about it. She tries to help Mel comes to terms with the Doctor, but is scorned by her. It's great to see all the various companions of the Seventh Doctor interacting (just a shame it was written before Klein turned up in Big Finish- I'd love to see Mel's reaction to the Doctor hanging around with a Nazi!), though the downside is that Roz gets a bit neglected and she is not so well developed here.

Head Games follows Timewyrm:Revelation in using a past incarnation of the Doctor to challenge the Seventh. The Seventh Doctor finds himself under attack from his Sixth incarnation who accuses him of his various 'crimes' (as does the doppelganger Dr. Who and Jason). This is a little different from Timewyrm: Revelation in that the past incarnations of the Doctor were not so much real personalities as symbolic manifestations of the facets of his psyche. Some fans dislike the notion in this and other NAs, that the Seventh Doctor was somehow special and that he is the Time's Champion and the Ka Faraq Gatri. Personally, I have always liked this idea. While it is true that the other Doctors could be dark and manipulative, the Seventh Doctor does seem to be remarkably more proactive about it.

One small fault is that Jason does not really come across as a sixteen year old. Much of his dialogue and his worldview seems much more like that of a nine or ten year old boy. One thing that is definitely worth noticing is the very clever reference to the Dalek Attack computer game. Did you ever play that game? Head Games is not as magnificent as Conundrum, nevertheless it is still amongst the strongest of the Virgin New Adventures.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

The Roof of the World, by Adrian Rigelsford (Big Finish Audio)

*Spoiler alert*

The Fifth Doctor, Peri and Erimem encounter an ancient evil in Tibet (which is not the Great Intelligence, fanboys and fangirls).

Big Finish have produced a number of audio plays set between Planet of Fire and Caves of Androzani. This is a rather controversial continuity gap. It has been argued by some fans that a lot of the impact of the Fifth Doctor's self sacrifice is down to the fact that he gave his life for somebody that he barely knew. This impact is muted if she had several unseen adventures before Caves of Androzani. I have a lot of sympathy with this argument, however it must be said that there is a good reason for creating these stories (aside from the unwillingness of Janet Fielding to work with Big Finish until recently). Peri and the Fifth Doctor make such a great team. She is a bit abrasive, he is gentle and calm. The Fifth Doctor takes some of the edge of Peri, while the Sixth Doctor just fired her up. It is natural that fans should want more stories with Peri and the Fifth Doctor.

Big Finish introduced a new companion to this TARDIS crew, Erimem (Caroline Morris), who is a princess from Ancient Egypt. I have not listened to any of her other stories so I am going to have to judge her on the basis of this appearance alone. It's great to have Peri interacting with another companion and she seems to take on a protective big sister role towards Erimem. It also seems a great idea to have a character from such a distant time in the past, especially as the potential of Katarina was so wasted. On the other hand, Erimem does not come across as particularly exotic and speaks like a typical middle-class English girl from the Home Counties. I suppose the Doctor's telepathic gift (it had nothing to do with the TARDIS until the New Adventures) might make her sound English, but one might expect an ancient Egyptian princess to speak in a quite different manner.

The story begins with the Fifth Doctor getting involved in a game of cricket with a bunch of English explorers in Tibet. There is always something heartwarming about the Fifth Doctor playing cricket; it's when he is in his element. The interaction between two groups of explorers is also quite effective.

A good deal of the story takes place in a kind of dream sequence, in which Erimem is lead to believe that she has died. The exploration of Erimem's background is useful and makes me want to listen to the The Eye of the Scorpion, her introductory story. These kind of dream sequences are a risky strategy (the NA writers seemed to go to town on them and got them right only some of the time) as you can be sure that the Fifth Doctor and Peri would not really be dead and blaming it all on Erimem. Knowing this is obviously not real makes one a little impatient with the sequence. On the other hand, with Erimem being a new and unfamiliar character, one had to face the possibility that the writer might have killed her off. I found myself checking the CD box to work out if she made further appearances just to make sure!

The big bad guys turn out to be an ancient evil, the Old Ones. It's been done before, but personally I can't get enough Lovecraftian influences in my Doctor Who. Clearly, these are not the Great Intelligence who also coincidentally inhabited Tibet. We never get a true description, but they seem to be twisted, hideous things with claws. They have apparently interbred with other lifeforms and so are clearly physical beings, unlike Fenric or the Nestene Consciousness. The Doctor mentions the Dark Times and so the Yssgaroth seem to be in view. The Old Ones here are evidently more corporeal and less powerful than the Yssgaroth seen in the The Pit. According to Lawrence Miles' Book of the War, the Yssgaroth tainted other species creating the hybrid Mal'akh, the source of the vampire legends and presumably the vampires of State of Decay. The Old Ones of this story seem to be some variation on the Mal'akh.

As ever, nobody can play creepy, sinister aristocrats with the same style as Edward De Souza. General Bruce (Sylvester Morand) is a bit cliched, but has a wonderful relationship with his companion, the frustrated journalist John Matthews (Alan Cox). The writer, surprisingly plays a minor role in the drama. The best performance comes from Nicola Bryant. Her acting has improved enormously since her television role. She plays Peri as a much more mature and intelligent character and when she appears to be angry and accusative in the dream sequence, she is very impressive. Peter Davison is good, but does not bring much that is new to the role and as with his other Big Finish appearances sounds regrettably older.

This is hardly the most original Doctor Who audio, but if you are keen to hear more of Peri with the Fifth Doctor or you need more Lovecraft in your Who, then this is worth a listen.

Infinite Requiem, by Daniel Blythe (Virgin New Adventure)

"The Doctor looked away shiftily. 'I don't have a darker side,' he attested, but without much conviction."

This novel is much better than Daniel Blythe's first NA, The Dimension Riders. That earlier work was rather disappointing. Infinite Requiem has a relatively fast pace and a strong set of characters. It has a thematic depth, with it's elaboration of two different stages of future history, it's brief exploration of British Asian society and domestic abuse and references to Hindu mythology.

I particularly appreciated the presentation of the classic NA Dark Doctor. Blythe does a fantastic job of capturing the sinister, manipulative and Machiavellian portrayal of the Doctor that had characterised the NAs. I also liked the somewhat dreamy atmosphere on the Pridka world in the far future. When Doctor Who deals with the very far future, it should have a somewhat ethereal atmosphere, a little like The Ark.

Infinite Requiem unfortunately makes the mistake of many other NA novels in killing off great characters. The deaths of Suzi and Cheynor at the end came across as pointless and unnecessary. Sometimes the New Adventure writers seemed determined to leave us all a bit depressed!

Infinite Requiem is not an earth-shattering novel that is vital to NA continuity, but it's well written and enjoyable.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

The Macra Terror

"It's just possible that you've been given a series of orders while you've been asleep. You know, "Do this", "Do that", "Do the other thing". My advice to you is: don't do anything of the sort. Don't just be obedient. Always make up your own mind."

This story shows Doctor Who at it's most liberal; challenging authority and encouraging questions about how society works. It is a quite thoughtful story. Being quite a conservative person, I struggle a little with the notion of "Don't just be obedient." As a Christian, I believe that it is in obedience to the Bible that human beings find their identity and purpose. If one rejects the authority of God's Word, one must follow some other authority, even if it is one's self and that authority will always be fallible.

I have watched this story with the telesnaps and also listened to it without. As the telesnaps are very poor quality, I think one is better off just listening to the audio. I think I very much prefer listening to Colin Baker's narration instead of Frazer Hines. Hines never quite sounded like he was taking it very seriously. One advantage of seeing the telesnaps, however is being able to see the rather surreal opening scene with the majorettes and the even more surreal music. It's nice that a similar scene with the majorettes and the same music concludes the serial. The idea of making a space colony look like an holiday camp is rather inspired. The show would again bring up these very British institutions in Leisure Hive and Delta and the Bannermen.

The Macra Terror has been criticised for attempting to do an intelligent, thoughtful story and then sticking in a bunch of giant crabs. Personally, I quite like the idea of doing a clever surrealistic story with a fun B-Movie monster thrown in for good measure. Doctor Who has always been good at working on different levels and pleasing different demographics within the audience. True to this, the script also has some nice humour, with the Doctor's jumping in the 'rough and tumble' machine in order to deliberately mess up his clothes, as well as Jamie's demonstration of the 'Highland Fling.' Patrick Troughton is delightfully manic in this story, yet shows a deep and wild cunning throughout.

The minor characters in The Macra Terror are as developed as they need to be for the story to work. The regulars stand out far more, however, with Jamie developing an ever stronger bond with the Doctor. Ben always had a tendency to get very worked up about things. Here it works quite well because of the mind control influence. I just love the moment where he turns into a Daily Mail reader and demands that the Doctor be placed in the mental hospital. Polly does a lot of whimpering in this story, but she also manages some subtle sarcasm. She tells Ola that his job title of Chief of Police 'sounds very important' and she reminds Ben that 'the voices are our friends!'

The Macra are very much a Quatermass alien. They are a force of nature that remains unknown to the end. Unlike other alien races, they do not boast about their plans of galactic conquest or their superiority and in fact do not communicate at all. We cannot be sure if they are sentient or just a form of advanced bateria, as the Doctor suggests. Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood raise the question, in About Time, of the morality of the Doctor's actions in wiping out the Macra. Of course, we have all seen Gridlock and know that the Macra were a race of conquerors, but this retcon ignores the fact that the Doctor knows nothing of them. There was no reason not to think that they were the native inhabitants of this planet. Whiling they are exploiting the humans, there is no indication that they have any plans to kill the colonists. It seems that the Doctor simply sides with the colonists just because they are less alien.

The Macra Terror is usually dated in the early phase of human colonisation. It is interesting to see the range of dysfunctional societies that are found amongst the early colonies. The colony in Power of the Daleks is full of scheming little Napoleons, the colony in The Happiness Patrol is a ruthless totalitarian state where even emotions are subject to state control, on Androzani Major, ruthless capitalism rules the day, Nightmare of Eden indicates that many early colonies were ravaged by drug addiction and in the society of this story, people are obsessed with pleasure. It seems that in the Doctor Who version of the future, mankind will take some time to adjust to living on other worlds.

Friday 25 March 2011

Season 13

Season 13, along with Season 14 is among the most popular years of Doctor Who. That puts me into a rather lonely position in not particularly liking it.

The popularity of Season 13 is unsurprising. It has Tom Baker at his strongest. He had a good relationship with Philip Hinchcliffe who was able to keep him from trying to dominate proceedings. The Graham Williams era would demonstrate what could happen when Tom Baker was not kept on a tight leash. Most of the stories in this season are reasonably good. The production values are strong when compared to some of the disasters of the Williams era.

The strong chemistry between Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah and Tom Baker's Doctor is often cited by fans as one of the strengths of the season. I am not so sure of this. What we fan reviewers call 'chemistry' is something that you don't really see in real people having real conversations. Very few people are able to come up with a quick reply to everything that a close friend says. The dialogue between the Fourth Doctor and Sarah is just too quick, too smart and a bit too knowing. This points to the big problem with Sarah Jane Smith. No matter how popular she may be with fans, she is simply not believable as an human being. She is a composite of all the characteristics that conservative fans and writers want to see in a companion. It is as though she has been genetically engineered to be the Doctor's Companion.

In Season 13 we start to see the writers become overly reliant on reproducing the plots of famous horror and science fiction movies. In fact, every single story of this season is to varying extents, a Doctor Who adaptation of another film or story. Most obviously, Brain of Mobius takes after Frankenstein and Pyramids of Mars takes after The Mummy. More subtly, The Seeds of Doom is influenced by John Carpenter's The Thing From Another World. I think it is a fair to describe the Hinchcliffe producership as a 'one-trick pony.' For all the faults of the Graham Williams era, his producership at least offered a wide variety of different kinds of stories instead of the one-note reliance on horror. In my judgment, the Season 18 attempt at the Hammer-style, State of Decay is far superior to these Hinchcliffe horror serials by virtue, not only of it's being a one-shot attempt, but also by a far more polished production.

Related to the horror aspect of this season is the increasing violence of the stories. I don't view the Doctor as a pacifist and resent the suggestion of later writers that the Doctor never kills (one of the few things I liked about The End of Time was the Tenth Doctor's admission that he had killed people in the past). He is not Batman or Superman. I don't have much of a problem with the Doctor killing Solon with cyanide gas. I just feel that there is a bit too much death and violence in these serials. While the violence is mostly fantasy and unrealistic, there is often a suggestion of gruesomeness. There seems a real desire to arouse the morbid curiosity of the viewer. I think Pyramids of Mars is particularly tasteless in having a character killed by his zombified brother and another character crushed between two robot mummies. You might not see any gore, but it is horrible and sadistic.

I think fans really need to reevaluate whether this season is really as glorious as it is generally considered.

Terror of the Zygons- 8/10

The textbook story of alien infiltration.

Planet of Evil- 4/10

What is the point of remaking Forbidden Planet without the big robot and that girl in the short dress skipping around?

Pyramids of Mars- 5/10

Even more overrated than Genesis of the Daleks. There are so many things that I hate about this story, so I'll save further comments until I write a proper review of it. In short, a clumsy attempt to combine Hammer horror and science fiction.

The Android Invasion- 2/10

A tedious remake of Terror of the Zygons with robots instead of shape-shifting aliens. The worst story of the whole Tom Baker era (at least The Sontaran Experiment was only two episodes long).

The Brain of Morbius- 9/10

An attempt at remaking an horror classic that is not only fun to watch, but also inserts some interesting ideas.

The Seeds of Doom- 8/10

A really entertaining story with a great script. The Krynoid is an impressive monster and Chase is a brilliant villain. On the other hand, it is excessively violent and does come a little too close to making the Doctor into a James Bond-style action hero.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Putting Doctor Who to shame: The Day of the Triffids (1981)

I think Remembrance of the Daleks clearly indicates that the Quatermass stories are part of the Doctor Who canon. There are also good reasons for thinking that Blake's 7 is also set in the Whoniverse (though at what period of future history, I have no idea). However, John Wyndham's apocalyptic tale clearly can't be slotted into our shared fictional universe of British science fiction. So can I justify departing from the format of this blog and reviewing something that is very clearly not Doctor Who?

The 1981 version of The Day of the Triffids has some very important connections to Doctor Who. Obviously, it is made by the BBC. Not only that it was produced by David Maloney who directed a number of Doctor Who serials, including The Talons of Weng Chiang and Genesis of the Daleks. Like Doctor Who, The Day of the Trffids series has important similarities with Quatermass. The Triffids are an utterly alien menace. Like the monsters of Quatermass, they are a force of nature that can be reasoned with or easily stopped.

John Wyndham's novel is like Doctor Who, one of the great British contributions to science fiction. It is a timeless classic that has been studied in schools. It is unlikely that there were any Doctor Who writers who had not read The Day of the Triffids. Doctor Who had at times attempted to create monstrous plants with varying results.

As a Doctor Who fan, what shocked me about The Day of the Triffids was it's incredible quality. The production values of this series were so strong that in comparison, most Doctor Who looks pathetically cheap and tacky. The direction was strong. The acting was full of conviction, free from the hamming up that was all too common in Doctor Who. The camera work was masterful and the location filming was glorious.

There is a ready excuse for Doctor Who in that The Day of the Triffids is an exclusively earthbound story with extensive location filming. David Maloney did not have to create alien worlds from quarries and cheap studio sets as he had done on Doctor Who in The Krotons and Genesis of the Daleks. This is true, but The Day of the Triffids outclasses almost all earthbound Doctor Who stories. It might also be pointed out that The Day of the Triffids does not attempt many special effects apart from the Triffid gun that is used only once. This is also true, but it might also be argued that Doctor Who was overambitious in it's use of special effects and might have benefited from the more sparing use in The Day of the Triffids. It seems that the BBC really could do a great job of science fiction; they were just only prepared to put in the money and the effort with a classic novel like this.

I cannot think of a Doctor Who monster that is as scary as the Triffids in the 1981 version. The props contained an operator, yet they do not come close to looking like a man in a rubber suit. They do not look like monsters at all; they look like big orchids, which is what makes them so effective. The way they are filmed also helps a lot; we are not given any long shots of them moving, thus avoiding the problem of lumbering that ruins so many well designed monsters in Doctor Who.

Even as a concept the Triffids are terrifying. They are plants. The idea of a big sunflower that stings people is nightmarish. There is also a sense of realism about the Triffids. They are blind like plants. They have no brain, yet somehow show some instinctive cunning. They also restricted to eating rotting flesh. If the Triffids had long tendrils to grab you and a big mouth to gobble you up, they would be just another fantasy monster. However, the idea of a Triffid killing you and then standing over you waiting for your body to decompose is a much more horrible thought. Very obviously, John Wyndham's novel was the origin of all those apocalyptic stories about flesh-eating zombies that are so popular these days. To my mind, flesh-eating Triffids are a scarier thought than flesh-eating zombies. I know that dead bodies don't walk around eating people, but there are carnivorous plants and so the idea of a walking, stinging plant seems very easy to imagine.

The Day of the Triffids is a very faithful adaptation of the novel. It has a much more modern setting of course and minor details have been altered. The scene at the house of the blind couple is a very helpful one in providing some exposition and the perspective of the newly blind. There is a danger with this story that we identify too closely with the minority who have their sight and become distant from the blind masses. The series engages very well with the moral dilemmas of the disaster and presents all of the different responses to it very effectively.

As I said, the location work in this series is glorious. It really captures the beauty of the landscape of southern England. I first read the novel as a child when I was on holiday in Cornwall in my parents' caravan. Thus, in my mind this story and the English countryside are quite closely connected. As they should be. It is a very British novel.

Some viewers have complained about the passage of six years in between episodes 5 and 6, but this makes perfect sense within the narrative. The point is that the protagonists are surviving peacefully during that time. There are only so many times you can watch somebody killing Triffids. In my judgement, The Day of the Triffids is a masterpiece of British television that should be watched by anyone who appreciates British science fiction.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Project: Twilight, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright (Big Finish audio)

The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn encounter vampire gangsters in the London.

I absolutely hated this audio. I find it hard to see myself listening to it again.

When it comes to violence in Doctor Who, I have fairly strong feelings. I am not too bothered by the violence of the New Adventure novels. Not because I don't object to graphic literary descriptions of violence, but because I acknowledge that they were of their time. There was a strong desire to push boundaries and to make Doctor Who more adult. I don't care for the sex, swearing and violence, but I understand why those authors did it. They were not writing for a family show, but for fans who were growing up. Eric Saward is the name that tends to get mentioned when it comes to violence in Doctor Who. He certainly went too far at time; the crushing of Lytton's hands in Attack of the Cybermen was horribly unnecessary and inappropriate. On the other hand, some of the violence in the Saward era had a thematic importance. Season 21 is the story of how the conscientious Fifth Doctor is overcome, overwhelmed and eventually destroyed by the violence and depravity of the cosmos and regenerates into a form that is more accepting of violence. On the other hand, fans seem to accept and celebrate the violence of Philip Hinchcliffe's producership. It is true that the violence of the Hinchcliffe era was not all that realistic and of a more fantasy nature than much of what we see on today's small screen. However, there was a real attempt to exceed the limits of what was acceptable and to arouse the morbid curiosity of the viewer. Hinchliffe seemed to have the remarkable ambition of turning a family show into a show about torture, mutilation and gruesome deaths. So many of the serials under his producership, such as Robots of Death and Talons of Weng Chiang strike me as tasteless. Mary Whitehouse will forever be an hate figure among fans, but I do think she had a point about the unpleasantness of mid-Seventies Doctor Who.

Cavan Scott and Mark Wright seem to want to beat all previous attempts to create Doctor Who gore-flicks on the unlikely medium of audio. You can't see the violence in Project: Twilight, but there is an awful lot of it, some of it fairly graphically described and I found it absolutely sickening. I was quite unprepared for the level of horror and gore in this drama. I really do hope that Big Finish have not done many more audio drams that are this violent. I don't think that Big Finish can be excused as easily for this violence as the Virgin New Adventures. Big Finish have consistently tried to keep things 'Trad' and put out endless conservative attempts to recreate the experience of watching a Doctor Who serial. If they are going to go down that line, they should stick to the limits of that medium when it comes to possibly objectionable material.

Coming to the actual story, gore aside, it's a fairly interesting one. It has a interesting set of characters, with the exception of the stupidly cliched Reggie. Did we really need to be told that he modelled his style on the Kray twins? "No s**t Sherlock," as Janet Fielding would say.

I think this story tries a little too hard to do a vampire story without bringing up any continuity (the Doctor makes just one reference to the Time Lord's conflict with the vampires). I found that disappointing as I find the whole mythos introduced in State of Decay, with it's ancient war between Time Lords and the Great Vampires fascinating. I love the way this was followed up in the Missing Adventure, Goth Opera and with the Yssgaroth in The Pit and Lawrence Miles' Book of the War. I would have liked another installment to that mythos. The vampires of Project:Twilight seem to be a different kind. Where the State of Decay vampires were very much supernatural beings (as befits enemies of the rational Time Lords), these vampires are the product of technology. The physical change of vampirism is brought on by nanobots. Perhaps the nanobots (in this story utilised by early Twentieth Century British scientists) were the product of some alien technology that sought to replicate the State of Decay-type vampires.

Colin Baker and Maggie Stables are great as the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe. Evelyn has the effect of bringing out the Sixth Doctor's kinder, gentler side. This is nice and a positive development from the t.v. series, though I do miss the crazy, dysfunctional relationship he had with Peri. I suppose there are only so many times you can watch the Doctor being mean and Peri moaning about it.

Listen to this if you can stomach some excessive gore, but if not, stay well away.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, by Marc Platt (Virgin New Adventure)

"The Ancients have much to teach, but one should not dwell amongst them forever."

Ghost Light was a serial bursting with ideas, but let down in the execution. Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, by the same writer is similar. It has some really interesting ideas, but they are not well communicated and make for a rather heavy, ponderous reading experience. Marc Platt's prose is heavy on description, but lacks the vitality needed to make this entertaining. He makes the bold attempt to tell a story that is non-linear in structure, with the different characters encountering each other at different stages of their futures. This could make for an interesting read, but ends up coming across as a little tedious.

The main plot is intersected with a subplot about the ancient history of Gallifrey and the rise of Rassilon. This is interesting stuff, but it is unfortunately not closely connected enough with the main plot involving Ace.

A lot of readers have complained about the absence of the Doctor for most of this story. This works in relation to the theme of the book; that is the Cartmelish exploration of the Doctor's mysterious background and his futurity (Will Be Doctor). The Seventh Doctor was always working behind the scenes and up to unseen stuff anyway. It has to be said, however, that Nigel Robinson does a much better job of working with an absent Doctor in Birthright. In that novel, the Doctor was largely absent but the events manifest his presence as though he were some incredible force of nature. This novel tries to do this, but is not quite there. It must have been refreshing at the time, however, to have seen Ace separated from the Doctor in a story for a considerable length of time. In her televised stories, Ace had been deliberately kept close to the Doctor at all time (one of Cartmel's innovations) and only Timewyrm: Revelation had Ace significantly separated from the Doctor (though not for so long).

I think the strongest element of the book is the alien monster, the Process. It is really well conceived and rather fascinating. That it moves like a Slinky is especially cool!

Thursday 17 March 2011

The Ark

In the grim darkness of the far future, flip flops are the first choice for footwear!

This is definitely not the most highly regarded story of the Hartnell era. I love it though. I saw first saw it on VHS when I was 18 and really like it and having watched it on the new DVD release, I feel it is my second favorite 1960s story after An Unearthly Child (the whole thing; those cavemen episodes are as brilliant as the Totters Lane junkyard episode!). The Ark has it's faults but it has an positive and innocent charm that is lacking in later stories. It is a welcome relief after the rather downbeat and violent mood of The Daleks' Masterplan.

A story about the destruction of the earth millions of years in the future was a bold and imaginative idea. Even bolder is the idea of a story that looks into the long-term consequences of the Doctor's actions. The return of the TARDIS to the same spot is masterfully clever, with the cliffhanger discovery of the completed statue. It is a very artful twist.

The Monoids have generally not been regarded favourably by fandom. This is a shame, as they look great, even if their movements are a little awkward. There is a great sense of mystery about them in the first two episodes; we don't know their origin and they never speaking, thus keeping their character a mystery. I prefer to think of the outer layer on their torso as a long snakeskin robe rather than skin (some fans think the head of the Nimon in Horns of Nimon is a mask). They have a somewhat Platypus-like appearance.

The great criticism of the Monoids is that they are a bit silly. Personally I think that is what makes them interesting. Does every race of alien monsters have to be expert in galactic conquest? Surely they must all start of as beginners. Having been a servant class on the Ark, it is unsurprising that they have not had a lot of practice at being evil. The moment when the Monoid can only mumble "err..." when Dodo rumbles their plans is great. There is also something delightfully childish about the Monoid who is about to smash the vase saying "When he hears what I am doing, he will come out to investigate." Like badly brought up children, they just need some attention and the Doctor and the Refusian's response reflects the childish folly of it's actions. The way the Monoids just give up their fight in the end suggests that they don't really have the stomach for a long fight. People have also criticised the fact that the Monoids address each other with numbers. They forget that the Monoids have only just adopted spoken language. Why would they have proper names before this? Besides, they are an alien culture. We should not expect them to be like us in every way. The Monoids do seem to have rather low standards of food hygeine (maybe this is due to their mouthes being in some unseen part of their anatomy?). They are strangely happy to eat food prepared in a room in which people eat, sleep, go to the toilet and, probably, copulate.

The Guardian society is not very well portrayed, nevertheless we are shown a variety of different ages, including children. This gives The Ark some points for realism. I think the Guardians' venetian blind tunics look rather good, though the female version reveals a bit too much flesh. As somebody who loves flip flops, I think it's great that all the male Guardians are wearing them. The female Guardians all wear the gladiator sandals that were so fashionable last summer. We get a lot of bad acting from some of the Guardians. Eileen Helsby who plays Venussa is an exception who shows real talent. She comes off as an unusually brave and spirited character among the Guardians. It would have been great if she had become a companion.

The Refusians are a budget saving invisible monster. That is a bit of a cliche, but the Refusian voice at least sounds great, with both authority and character. It has been suggested that the Refusians are a bit of a deus ex machina. I disagree. We are lead in the first episode to believe that there are Refusians and are left to wonder what they are like. The suggestion is that they may be hostile. Nevertheless, we are surprised to find that the Refusians are kindly preparing for the humans' arrival. The Refusians are perfectly happy for humans to come and colonise their world. There is also an irony in that the humans call themselves Guardians, but in the end they need a powerful guardian to help them out and to arbitrate between them and the Monoids.

The sets and modelwork for the Ark is wonderful. The production team do a fantastic job of capturing the size of the ship. The use of a real elephant certainly adds to this and makes it an exceptional spectacle. The shuttle that carries individuals to Refusis is also a well designed spaceship. The Refusis set is also distinctive and looks quite different to other tropical worlds that we have been shown in Doctor Who. The statue, with it's altered head is a real visual triumph. It totally captures the sense of social upheaval and also makes a nice visual reference to Lord of the Rings.

Hartnell was declining at this point, nevertheless he still has some strong moments in this story. The moment where he offers some friendly encouragement to a Monoid assisting him is beautiful. He recognises their talent before the Guardians who have known them for longer. He also offers comfort to a distressed Dodo when she is overcome with guilt and shows a stoic resignation at the thought that he and Dodo might be trapped on Refusis. Peter Purves is also as strong in this story as William Russell ever was. Jackie Lane was clearly not a brilliant actress, but she still managed to make Dodo a very likable character. There is a real sense of bubbly enthusiasm in Dodo.

The story makes a good moral point about the long term consequences of inequality. The Doctor rightly chides the humans for their intolerance and short-sightedness. He is a little harsh in saying that the Monoids have repaid the humans in kind. The humans had a patronizing attitude to the Monoids, and shockingly seem to think that being saved from a doomed earth is a privilege that the Monoids should rightly repay in service. Nevertheless, the humans were never cruel to the Monoids in the way the Monoids were to humans.

I love the fact that this story gives us an happy ending so far into the future. The humans have lost their homeworld, but they begin life on a new world, watched over by the Refusians. They have the chance to make peace with their old oppressors. I love the Refusian's stern warning that the humans and the Monoids must live together in peace or else they have no future on Refusis. There is such a wonderful sense of both optimism and innocence in this ending.

You know what? I like this story much more than Ark in Space. I prefer the sense of beauty and hope in this story much more than the terror and horror of that Robert Holmes offering.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Season 12

Tom Baker's first season! Tom Baker is recognisable to the world as THE Doctor, but he does not quite settle into the role until Genesis of the Daleks. Nevertheless, it is apparent from the start that he is a big improvement on Pertwee. What Baker had that Pertwee always lacked was a truly alien quality. The Third Doctor might tell us that he was from the planet Gallifrey, but this was just scripted dialogue. When the Baker Doctor revealed his alien nature, you really could believe that this man was from an alien planet!

Despite Pertwee's departure, Sarah Jane Smith remains in the role of companion. Elisabeth Sladen's performances are rather mixed in this season. She is strong in the first two stories of the season, but becomes a bit wet in the next three. Sarah is joined by the first male companion since Jamie, Harry Sullivan. Sullivan was definitely one of the most likable people to ever travel in the TARDIS. He was so at ease with himself and had such a pleasent manner. As somebody with Dyspraxia, also known as 'clumsy child syndrome, I can identify with his awkwardness and apparent stupidity.

Strangely, Barry Letts continued as producer for the first story. Hence, we begin with a very cosy story in the UNIT format, complete with a grumpy Brigadier. Nevertheless, in The Ark in Space, we get the new producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. Hinchcliffe's first season is a little more consistent than Graham Williams debut in Season 15. Graham Williams began his Doctor Who career with an odd mix of brilliant and poor stories; Hinchcliffe gave us a rather average bunch of serials in Season 12.

Hinchcliffe does not introduce his Hammer horror pony trick in this season, but his interest in horror comes out in The Ark in Space. His distasteful obsession with death, torture and violence comes out very strongly in The Sontaran Experiment and more unpleasant stuff would come in the next two seasons.

Season 12 is very much a returning monster season. This probably reflects the desire to reassure an uncertain audience that the new man really is the Doctor. While the public did take to Tom Baker, the use of returning monsters in this season is on the whole a failure. The Sontaran costume is wrong, the Cybermen are hilarious and the Daleks hardly appear in Genesis of the Daleks.

Robot- 8/10

An old-school UNIT story (just one more for old-times' sake) with a refreshing new Doctor. It's a bit childish, but it's fun.

The Ark in Space- 7/10

Remarkably prescient of the Ridley Scott's Alien movie. There is a strong sense of horror in this, but for me it loses impact with every viewing. The Wirrn costumes are poor and Kenton Moore's performance is not nearly as good as some people make out.

The Sontaran Experiment- 3/10

Mercifully short. This is a really stupid and pointless story. Our first taste of the Hinchcliffe era's morbid indulgence in violence.

The Genesis of the Daleks- 6/10

The story that so many fans and non-fans adore. Personally, I don't see the point of origin stories; you know how they will end and they take away room for imagination.

The notion that the Time Lords really would order the Doctor to alter history in this way is rather hard to swallow. Unsurprisingly, the Doctor fails and I have no truck with the idea that a new version of Dalek history results from this story.

Michael Wisher and Peter Miles are great as Davros and Nyder and there are a few moments of great dialogue, but this is otherwise a dull plodding escape and capture sequence. The Nazi visual references are rather banal too.

Revenge of the Cybermen- 6/10

I read the novelisation of this as a child, before I watched any videos or televised stories. It got me hooked on Doctor Who.

Revenge of the Cybermen is a bit weak on the whole. There is some good dialogue, however and the Vogans are a well designed and conceived alien race. The Cybermen are silly, but they are hilarious. I just love the way the Cyberleader puts his hands on his hips in a scornful gesture!

Saturday 12 March 2011

The Five Doctors

What? No, not the comfy chair!

This is the first Doctor Who story I ever watched (barring about five minutes of The Curse of Fenric that terrified me). The BBC video was released not long after I had taken an interest in the show and my mother bought it for me. Not having become a fan while the show was still on television I can say that there is no one Doctor that I saw first (hence I feel that the New Adventures Seventh Doctor is "My Doctor"). It is interesting how many other fans watched this story before any others. For those who saw the original broadcast, this is a testimony to the publicity this story generated at the time.

Creating a story to include five Doctors plus six companions, the Master and a bunch of old monsters was a rather ludicrous idea. Unsurprisingly the plot suffers enormously and we are left with characters with little to do, a party-trick scenes and very little of the interaction between the Doctors that made The Three Doctors so enjoyable. It is a testimony to Terrance Dicks' writing skills that he makes it work as well as he does. Terrance Dicks is the disaster management guy of Doctor Who. Need a story writing with little budget and little time? He will always save the day.

There is a real celebratory feeling about The Five Doctors. It is fun and it is goofy. In fact it smacks you in the face with it's goofiness. I am certainly not one of those fans who enjoys watching bad Doctor Who. If a story is absolute garbage, I am not going to waste time watching it again. Yet with the The Five Doctors, I cannot but help enjoying the sillier scenes in this, such as the First Doctor and Tegan hiding from Cybermen who are right in front of them, or Sarah needing to be rescued after rolling down a gentle slope. The Five Doctors challenges you to dislike it and wins every time. One almost feels that the production team are aware of how naff it all is and are sharing the joke with the viewer.

Take the scene in the council chamber where the Master is brought in. It's a dull and heavy expository scene with lots of dialogue. The actors are trying to do Shakespeare, but are ending up with dull Doctor Who and even manage to muddle up that line about the clause in the constitution. Borusa looks a bit embarrassed, Flavia looks incredibly bored, the Castellan finds it rather funny and the Master is hilariously camp. It's hardly well done, but somehow there is a magic to it.

The unavailability of Tom Baker is perhaps not so unfortunate as it seems. It's hard to imagine Tom Baker being happy being slotted into a few scenes and not being given the chance to dominate the whole thing. Terrance Dicks in the commentary, points out a number of ways in which Tom's absence made the writing process simpler. The scene taken from Shada is really nice, in fact, I think it's the only decent scene of Shada that survives. The original broadcast edition of The Five Doctors raises continuity issues in relation to Shada that make it's canonical status problematic. I don't mind if Shada is left out of the canon at all. Fans imagine it would have been the redemption of Season 17, but what is left of it looks like garbage to me.

The absence of William Hartnell is a problem. I find it hard to forgive John Nathan-Turner for choosing to use an impersonation of Hartnell. Can you imagine it being done with an impersonation of Troughton or Pertwee? You can't. Fans would never forgive such an insult. Yet because of the low regard with which Hartnell and his era was held, it was felt that somebody could just pretend to be Hartnell. I get really annoyed when people say that Richard Hurndall is just like Hartnell. Hurndall tries hard and gives a good performance, but he does not capture the original Doctor. This is not just his fault. Terrance Dicks never wrote scripts for the First Doctor and you can tell because he fails to capture his character completely. The First Doctor was not just a bit grumpy and short-tempered. He was full of life, humour and curiosity. There is none of that richness in either the script or in Hurndall's performance. I simply cannot imagine the First Doctor wanting to wait in the TARDIS instead of going straight to the tower to solve the mystery. The Five Doctors also makes the mistake of thinking of the First Doctor as being older and wiser than the others. This is not the case. The First Doctor was actually the least mature and sensible of any of the Doctors, except the Sixth. He was like a teenager in an old man's body. Terrance Dicks simply did not get the First Doctor.
I do enjoy the First Doctor's chemistry with Tegan. The two of them really get on! Never mind Season 6B, I want to see Season 3B/20B where Tegan becomes a companion of the First Doctor! If you think the Sixth and Peri like to argue, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Susan is also handled dreadfully. I know Carole Ann Ford was not a great actress, but there was an ethereal beauty to her performances in season 1. She was never well used by writers then and on her return, Dicks cannot think of anything to do with her other than have her twist her ankle. This looks especially ridiculous because she is wearing flat boots, while Tegan is skipping across the moorland in high heels. As I suggested before, Tegan's ability to do almost anything in high heels was probably the result of cybernetic enhancement. I am not sure about Tegan's first aid skills though. I am a substance misuse worker not a nurse, but I am sure you don't put a bandage on to a stockinged foot. Do you? I am also rather bothered by the fact that none of the Doctors apart from the First acknowledges Susan as their granddaughter. In fact, apart from saying goodbye, they don't interact with her. The special edition includes some extra footage where the Fifth Doctor and Susan smile at each other before being separated by the First Doctor. This was cut, presumably because of the incestuous implications of somebody's grandfather becoming young and sexy. There does seem to be a tendency in post-Hartnell Doctor Who for the Doctor's relationship with Susan to be forgotten and for her to be treated as just another companion. According to Carole Ann Ford, in the original script Susan addresses the Doctor as 'Doctor' which seems pretty shocking in it's disregard for the Hartell material.

Patrick Troughton is sadly given little to do. He does have some wonderful moments. I suspect that this story, more than his original performances, have built up the notion of the Second Doctor as being mysterious and slightly sinister. His angry challenge to the ghosts is rather chilling. He is put with the Brigadier, who is rather less impressive in this story. He whinges and moans and only shows his old strength of character towards the end when he gets to slug the Master from behind.

The Third Doctor is even more arrogant, obnoxious and patronising than he used to be. Terrance Dicks got his 'writer's revenge' on Pertwee for his arrogance during the Letts years by making him obstinately refuse to believe the Master's story. Being an anti-Pertwee fan, I think that's cool. He is paired up with Sarah Jane Smith who, like the Brigadier, does an awful lot of moaning and moping. It must be the bad weather in the Death Zone.

While Troughton's performance is great, it is Peter Davison who is the real star of the show. His performance is full of energy and urgency. The moment I loved best was when he discovers that Borusa is the villain. He asks "What happened to you, Borusa?" While he is horrified at Borusa's corruption, he is full of compassion towards the man he once admired so much. He recognises the tragedy of the way Borusa has fallen into bad ways. That one moment of horror captures the tender heart of the Doctor's conscience. Mark Strickson gives a great performance as Turlough, but he is the character who suffers most from the lack of space in the narrative. In the end, he is just left in the TARDIS worrying.

Anthony Ainley is delightfully camp as the Master. I think this really is one of his best performances. The fruity way in which he greets Chancellor Flavia cracks me up and it's wonderful the way he smiles as Borusa describes the extent of his villainy. You have to feel rather sorry for the Master. He tried to do the right thing and help the Doctors, but ended up being scorned.

The Dalek scene was a singularly pointless and quite unimpressive. The Daleks only work when backed up with a decent story. Just having one Dalek appearing and then destroying itself does them a real disservice. The Cybermen end up looking a bit stupid, but they are dreadfully fun. The Raston robot is a remarkable achievement. It is amazing how the low budget trick of putting a dancer in a spandex suit creates one of the most memorable monster scenes ever. Just watch those Cybermen getting slaughtered!

There is something rather appropriate about Borusa turning out to be the villain behind it all. The Doctor's old schoolteacher turns out to be the Demon Headmaster. It's remarkable how so many of his former pupils turned out to be such renegades and drop-outs- the Doctor, the Master, the Rani, Drax. It would hardly be a surprise if that younger renegade, the Monk, turned out to have been Borusa's last student before he went into politics. I also would not be surprised if it turned out that it was Morbius who first suggested his change of career. In the New Adventure Blood Harvest, Terrance Dicks included a rather tongue in cheek chapter set in the Dark Tower, in which a repentant Borusa is freed from his perpetual imprisonment by Rassilon and goes to some sort of Time Lord heaven.

The Five Doctors was broadcast in between seasons 20 and 21, but it fits the themes of season 21 much better than the previous season. Season 21 is all about the compassionate and morally pure Fifth Doctor discovering just how dark and brutal the universe is, a darkness that overcame him and brought his death and regeneration into an unstable and more morally ambivalent persona. In The Five Doctors, he is placed in a microcosmos filled with terrors and dangers from his past and in the end he comes to find that his past (Borusa) has turned to evil. We knew the Time Lords were a shady bunch, but here it turns out that the Time Lord closest to the Doctor and seemingly the most incorruptible has succumbed to the grim darkness of the cosmos.

Being a New Adventures fan, I love all that stuff about the Dark Times. The history of the Time Lords is presented as dark and mysterious. Questions are raised about the accuracy of the official version. While Rassilon appears to be good when he acts as Deus Ex Machina in the end (in a literal sense), the Second Doctor alluded to rumours and legends about his cruelty. He certainly comes across as a dark and ambiguous figure. He operates the so-called Game of Rassilon. This is clearly distinct from the games in which creatures were forced to fight each other for the entertainment of the Time Lords, as this was banned by Rassilon. The Game of Rassilon is a sort of trap to ensnare dangerous individuals who seek immortality. This is exactly the sort of scheme that the chess-playing Seventh Doctor would set up. If Rassilon is an ancestor of the Doctor, clearly the family likeness came out most in his Seventh incarnation.

The sinister theme of the Gallifreyan past is captured by the design of the Dark Tower, both in it's interior and the model shots. The atmosphere of medieval grimness is enhanced by the hornblast theme in the musical score. The location filming is rather less effective. The fog looks atmospheric, but the Welsh moorland is simply too gentle and picturesque to look like any 'Death Zone.' It's got trees (aren't they scorched by the regular thunderbolts?) and a beautiful lake. It's even got very well paved roads for automobiles. This really does not look the hellish place that is demanded by the script. The Capitol sets are the best that we have seen in the classic series. We only get to see a hallway and two rooms, but they are very well designed. The hallway boasts a lovely ornamental garden feature and the council chamber has a real elegance, with it's harp and painting. There is the sense of a much greater and nobler past.

The 1995 anniversary edition made a number of changes, adding extra scenes, adding CGI effects and altering the score in places. A good deal of these are rather pointless and add little to the story. One very regrettable change is the removal of the Cyberman's expression 'ah!' when spotting the Doctor. It sounded silly, but it was rather funny. The Doctor is given a different tune to play on the harp. I preferred the old one. I was also annoyed by the alteration to Rassilon's voice. Those changes really weren't necessary.

The DVD includes a publicity appearance by Davison, Fielding and Strickson on Saturday Superstore. I found this hilarious because Janet Fielding uses such a wonderfully posh voice! She sounded so refined and precise in her pronunciation! Nothing at all like either Tegan or the much more Australian accent she uses today.

Oh, and before I forget, that line about the mindprobe cracks me up every time!

"Toulouse is to win; and he who wins shall lose."

Friday 11 March 2011

...ish, by Philip Pascoe (Big Finish Audio)

The Sixth Doctor and Peri do battle with a malevolent word.

Fantastic CD cover, don't you think?

The audio drama medium has some very obvious limitations. Philip Pascoe managed to produce a drama that is crafted to work with those limitations. It's hard to imagine how this story would work in another medium. It would not even a work as a novel, as you would not get the benefit of hearing the sound of the language used. This is a story all about language; a story that positively delights in the beauty of words in the English language.

...ish is also a story that is ideal for Colin Baker. His Doctor was always the most eloquent in engaging in witty wordplay. Here he gets to show off the Doctor's gargantuan vocabulary. For once, the Sixth Doctor is paired up with Peri; a duo that Big Finish has not used much. Perversely, I have come to really like this team, as it shows up the Doctor's nasty side. Here Peri is used really effectively and is allowed to actually come across as intelligent.

Season 18 saw writers mixing in an awful lot of Platonic philosophy. This Hellenist influence can be seen here, but ...ish looks just as much to Hebrew as Hellenist thought. The notion of words have mystical power is very strong in Judaism, especially in the magical ideas of the Kabbalah. In the Christian tradition, Christ is described as the logos or Word in the first chapter of John's gospel. I do love it when Doctor Who brings in these mystical and philosophical ideas.

At times some of the exposition is hard to follow in this story, making some of the plot details a little obscure on the first listen. Nevertheless, this does not stop one drinking in the superbly crafted dialogue. ...ish also creates a rich and esoteric atmosphere that is quite overwhelming.

...ish is a refreshing drama amidst all the rather overly traditionalist and unambitious stories that Big Finish put out. They really should have tried to do more stories like this that push the boundaries of what Doctor Who can do.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Theatre of War, by Justin Richards (Virgin New Adventures)

"I have been to the Eye of Orion, have been caught up in the black hole of Tartarus, been hunted through the universe by the Daleks, and played backgammon with Kublai Khan. And you say I don't know what I'm talking about? Have you ever seen the skies above Metebelis Three, tried the experiential grid on Argolis, or watched the space yachts of the Eternals race against the stars?"

This was Justin Richards debut novel back in 1994. It does not seem like a debut novel. Not only is it one of the longer Virgin New Adventure novels, but it also shows a remarkable confidence throughout. His writing style could be better and he fails to create characters that really interest the reader; nevertheless the book is full of creative ideas and imagination. I think the author would have done better to cut it down a little to make a faster paced story. The extra length does not help a lot.

It is interesting how much critical literary theory was sneaked into the Seventh Doctor era. Theatre of War is packed with critical discourse on the subject of drama and the theatre. Much of this is very interesting and makes up a little for the lack of interesting characters.

Justin Richards captures the Seventh Doctor well. He also gets Bernice Summerfield into her element, allowing her to use her archaeological skills. Ace is not used quite so well. Richards tries hard to make her likable, emphasising her horror at the atrocities committed in the course of the war. Call me weird, but I prefer Ace to be a aggressive, moaning bitch who hates the Doctor.

Theatre of War introduces Irving Braxiatel, who would become a very important character, especially in the Bernice Summerfield adventures. I can't help feeling that he comes across as a little colourless in this novel.

Monday 7 March 2011

Happy Conincidence

The release of the 'Mara Tales' boxset happily conincided with my 30th birthday.

It makes so much sense to release Kinda and Snakedance together; they are essentially the same story continued. I love both of them. It's great to watch Doctor Who dealing with intelligent ideas instead of remaking horror movies or dishing out absurd mad scientist plots. I defintely prefer 80s Doctor Who to 70s Doctor Who.

I will post a reviews of both Kinda and Snakedance, but of course I have a lot of other stuff to review first.

Having Martin Clunes on the cover of a Doctor Who DVD is rather funny, don't you think?

Saturday 5 March 2011

The Space Pirates

Zoe : "Milo, there's one thing I don't understand."

Milo Clancey : "Well you're very lucky, girl. There's about a hundred thousand things I don't understand but I don't stand around asking fool questions about them, I do something useful. Why don't you do something useful? Why don't you... um... make us all a pot of tea or something?"

By all accounts, this story cannot really be appreciated in audio format. This is very much intended to be an highly visual story, with heavy use of modelwork to create various spacecraft. I suppose it is in part the limitation of the audio format, but I find The Space Pirates incredibly boring. It does feel awfully padded in places. Some of the plot elements feel like they have been used a few too many times before, such as the Doctor defusing a bomb at the last moment. Ending the story on a bad joke is also a bit irritating. Nevertheless, The Space Pirates is not without a few charms. One of these is the use of ethereal operatic vocals by Mary Thomas in the score. This is a delightfully atmospheric effect.

The way that The Space Pirates incorporates the atmosphere and dynamics of the western genre into the new frontier of space is is imaginative. Milo Clancy is a brilliantly conceived character who reflects that old pioneer spirit. His cheeky interaction with the snooty General Hermack is hilarious. Having him prepare food in his spaceship is also a smart idea. His accent is a bit odd, but as Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood point out inn About Time, he may not actually be American; non-English speakers using English sound American in a weird way to us native English (though apparently not to Americans).

The space pirates are a bit dull, though Caven is appropriately scary. The space corps are also not terribly interesting, apart from General Hermack. I love his plummy voice and his flirting with Madeleine is amusing. The Doctor is delightfully whimsical. One has to love the way he retrieves the green marble because it is his favorite.

As the Hinchcliffe era has not started yet, Madeleine is not miserably killed off. It's nice to see that she surrenders peacefully to the long arm of the law. In the end, she is escorted off to a (hopefully) short stay in the clink.

Friday 4 March 2011

Season 11

In my judgement Season 11 is the worst season in classic Doctor Who. Apart from the first story, The Time Warrior, it is appallingly bad. Pertwee had simply been in the role too long and his performance was wearing thin. A change was desperately needed at this point.

The season started off promising; that awful Jo Grant had gone, we had a great story in The Time Warrior with a great new monster and a refreshing new companion. Yet things rapidly slipped in the remaining stories. Most noticeable is the shockingly low standards of scriptwriting in this season, though there is plenty of poor acting and badly thought out effects too.

Aside from it being the last Pertwee season, Season 11 is most notable for the introduction of Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elisabeth Sladen. Sarah has the reputation for being everybody's favorite companion and is fondly regarded by all fans. While Sarah is a refreshing change from Jo Grant, who was truly diabolical, I would have to dissent from the opinion that Sarah was the best companion. The problem with Sarah is she never really came across as a convincing human being. She always seemed like she had been genetically engineered for the purpose of assisting the Doctor. She was brave, but still screamed. She was independent, but still did what the Doctor told her. She was plucky, but always ended up needing to be rescued. She would moan, but always be determined to help the Doctor save the day. She simply comes across as too much like a tailor made Doctor's companion. On the whole, I prefer companions like Tegan and Peri, who have a somewhat less harmonious relationship with the Doctor.

The Time Warrior- 8/10

A well thought out story with a magnificent script. The Sontarans get a nice introduction and Sarah Jane Smith is a character that one warms too quite quickly (even if she does not come across as terribly smart).

It's not the best production and some of the acting is poor, but it is still a good story.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs- 2/10

A plot so stupid it insults the intelligence of the audience. The final death of the overused 'Yeti in the loo' concept. Mike Yate's treachery was a brave idea, but it does not save this serial from much deserved ignominy.

Death to the Daleks- 2/10

A dull and cliched Terry Nation space adventure with some Von Daniken idiocy thrown in.

Monster of Peladon- 2/10

A dull and pointless sequel. It's nice to see Alpha Centauri again, however.

Planet of the Spiders- 3/10

This story is a mess. Pointless car chases, ropey spiders and far future yokels all thrown together. I quite like the idea of demonic spiders and the Great One looks quite good, but the smaller spiders are a lot less impressive.

I quite like mystical elements in Doctor Who, but the Buddhism in this story is just a bit too overt. It does not seem right watching the Doctor bowing and scraping before religious figures. I certainly can't imagine the Fourth Doctor doing that. The idea of the Doctor having a guru makes him seem like some dizzy 70s rock star.

Thankfully change was on the way.