Monday 27 June 2011

The Caves of Androzani

Stotz: You better turn this ship around Doctor!
The Doctor: Why?
Stotz: Because I'll kill you if you don't!
The Doctor: Not a very convincing argument actually, Stotz, because I'm going to die soon anyway, unless of course —
Stotz: I'll give you to the count of three!
The Doctor: Unless of course I can find the antidote… I owe it to my young friend to try because I got her into this —
Stotz: One,
The Doctor: So you see —
Stotz: Two,
The Doctor: I'm not going to let you stop me now!
Stotz: Three!

Is Caves of Androzani the greatest ever Doctor Who story? Perhaps in evaluating that claim one should consider the rivals. Genesis of the Daleks is sometimes suggested as the best Doctor Who story. Genesis is certainly a popular story with some well remembered moments and great performances. Nevertheless, that serial had significant flaws in it's plot and is regarded by a minority of fans (including myself) as rather overrated. Another contender is City of Death. I suspect those who advocate City of Death as the greatest Doctor Who story feel that Caves of Androzani is a bit bleak and lacks the light-hearted feel that has so often been a part of the show. City of Death is certainly a serial that is hard to fault, but I don't think it quite smacks one in the face with its brilliance in the way that Caves of Androzani does.

In Caves of Androzani, we see the meeting of two assets; the inspired script writing of Robert Holmes and the strong artistic flair of director Graeme Harper. It is really unfortunate that Harper only went on to direct one more story in the classic series, Revelation of the Daleks. Not only does Harper bring to life a very realistic glimpse of a future society, but he brings a strong aesthetic sense to the production with the evocative score, the classy sets, the Kabuki-look of Sharaz Jek and his very aesthetic, almost statuesque death in the arms of his faithful android Salateen.

Robert Holmes was by no means a writer who could do no wrong. Even some of his more highly regarded scripts such as Spearhead from Space and Talons of Weng-Chiang show signs of padding. In Caves of Androzani, however, Holmes crafted one of the tightest plots in the history of Doctor Who. Caves of Androzani has something of the same feel as a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet, where a series of closely connected events seem to conspire against the characters.

One complaint about Caves of Androzani is that the Doctor is not very proactive. He does everything he can to save Peri, yet he shows no concern for dealing with the bad guys and improving the situation on Androzani Major. This contrasts quite radically with the Seventh Doctor, who always had an agenda, secret or revealed. Nevertheless, surprisingly this does not diminish the awesomeness of this Doctor. In fact it seems to increase the potency of his figure. In Caves of Androzani, the Doctor manages to be an 'Oncoming Storm' without even intending it. By simply arriving on a planet he sets off a chain reaction which causes a series of planet-shaking events.

Season 21 had been all about how the noble figure of the Doctor was confronted by the stark brutality of the cosmos. Here the Doctor meets an assortment of vicious and self-serving characters. The most sympathetic character in the story, Chellak is prepared to send his own men on a suicide mission just to protect his career. Faced with such human monsters, the Doctor is able to display the height of his nobility, as well as his sense of weltschmerz or world weariness. Perhaps the most powerful scene is when Stotz threatens to kill him and the Doctor simply ignores his threats. It is as though the Doctor has spent the last year having people point guns at him and he just does not care at all. Nothing matters any more except saving Peri.

Fans generally agree that it was a colossal error of judgment for John Nathan-Turner to follow this serial with the appalling Twin Dilemma. After the glory of this story, it was such a massive come-down to watch a half-thought out B-movie with a new Doctor who was at first viewing somewhat repulsive. The tragedy of this was that Colin Baker had been set up to fail as a Doctor. Yet in another sense, The Twin Dilemma was the perfect sequel to Caves of Androzani. There is a real sense of tragic pathos in the way the brutality and malice that had characterised Season 21 overcame the gentle Fifth Doctor, forcing him to take on a new persona. It is as though the kindness, gentleness and peaceful nature of the Fifth Doctor was overthrown.

Caves of Androzani is filled with interesting characters. For me the one that stands out is Stotz. He is such a nasty piece of work! The nasty trick he plays on his unruly subordinate is wonderfully done. I love the way his relationship with Morgus is played out. We might expect Stotz to be filled with contempt and bitterness toward the pompous and devious Morgus, yet it seems to be that he genuinely likes and admires Morgus. Despite his dismissal of Morgus' claim to superiority, he sees something of himself in the industrialist, hence his comment "Your just like me, a man with a gun." I love the camaraderie that we see between the two villains at the climax.

One of the mistakes that was made in writing for the Fifth Doctor was the failure to give him enough comic lines. Having witnessed the excesses of the Graham Williams years, JNT had a suspicion of humour in Doctor Who. This was unfortunate, because Davison was great at delivering comic moments. They added to his eccentric charm, yet he did not allow them to define his Doctor as Tom Baker had. Robert Holmes had not written for the Fifth Doctor previously and so gave him a lot of lines that were more characteristic of the Fourth Doctor. These worked incredibly well with Davison and gave his character some added charisma.

Nicola Bryant has not been remembered kindly for her role as Peri. I think she is pretty good in this story. Peri's character worked much better with the Fifth Doctor than with the Sixth. His easygoing charm rubbed the edge off her moodiness. Some fans have pointed out the sense of pathos in the fact that the Fifth Doctor sacrifices his life to save somebody that he only met in the previous story. Some lament the many novels and audios that feature the Fifth Doctor/Peri team in a supposed gap between Planet of Fire and Caves of Androzani. While I sympathize with this view, I do enjoy the 5/Peri material, especially with Erimem. Peri and the Fifth Doctor are such a wonderful team that it would be a waste not to have produced that spin-off material.

It's impossible to think of a more gripping Doctor Who story than Caves of Androzani.

Sunday 26 June 2011

Jubilee, by Robert Shearman (Big Finish audio)

Jubilee is something of a fan favorite. Elements from this story were used to create the first Dalek appearance in the BBC Wales series, Dalek.

I have to say I was rather disappointed by this audio. It has some strong elements; the creation of a vivid alternate history, the conversation with the American president (if you don't mind a funny accent) and the way it makes one isolated Dalek into a sinister and disturbing figure. I also really love the hilarious teaser intro, which spoofs the Dalek Empire audios. Nevertheless, I was definitely pleased to get to the end of this one.

The biggest problem with this story is the failure of editing. Robert Shearman throws far too many elements into this audio. He gives us the isolated, defeated Dalek captive that worked so effectively in Dalek. He also gives us a complex story about alternate timelines, a satire of militarism and fascism, a biting critique of Dalekmania, an exploration of Dalek identity and some attempts at camp comedy. Attempting to bring in so many elements does not really work all that well.

Jubilee does not manage to integrate camp comedy and serious drama terribly well. While I like camp villains, the president and his wife Miriam comes across as a bit too cartoonish. Miriam's pretence at being stupid is really irritating and the moment when she asks the Dalek to marry her is so awful that it is embarrassing. Other excessively silly elements in the story include the ban on contractions in speech and the requirement of women to be in bed by midnight.

The story is rather excessive in violence. We get torture, decapitation and mutilation. I know its a hobby horse of mine, but Doctor Who writers are generally not going to win me over if they put in this kind of stuff. It's just too much.

The other big problem with this story is the way it overdoes the main message and starts to sound repetitive. The whole theme about 'people can be just like Daleks' comes up again and again. We get the message. Now can we have an exciting adventure with the Daleks?

If you want to see the original idea behind Dalek and want a very different kind of Dalek story, this is one to check out, but I did warn you about the gruesomeness.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Season 20

One of the things that is most often pointed out about this season is the sign of the show increasingly relying on its past continuity. The first serial of this season brings back the long forgotten Omega. The next story was a sequel to a serial in the previous season. The big story arc of the season involves the Black Guardian from Season 16 and we get an inevitable Master story at the end. When the stories are decent, its a good thing, but when they are less impressive, the reliance on the past becomes something of an irritation.

One positive aspect of this season is the complete lack of such unoriginal stock elements as bases-under-siege, returning monsters and mad scientists. I really admire the freedom with which writers in this season felt free to dispense with those, even while making heavy reliance on past continuity.

Peter Davison is rather inconsistent in this season. He is absolutely brilliant in Snakedance, but in some of the other stories shows the same blandness that characterised him in the previous season. It's nice to see Tegan back in the first story, though it is odd that we saw her leave at the end of Season 19. It is a relief, as Nyssa on her own would have been mind-numbingly boring. A change in costumes for the two companions is very welcome. Nyssa finally gets out of that awful, unflattering velvet suit; though her new outfit is not that good either. Tegan also wears something other than that purple uniform during this season.

This season is definitely not a high point in the history of the show, but it's definitely one that is worth looking into.

Arc of Infinity- 2/10

If you thought ending a season with Time-Flight was a bad idea, JNT opened the new season with Arc of Infinity. It could have been a good story, if only the cast had acted like the events really mattered.

Snakedance- 10/10

A sequel that both surpasses and complements Kinda.

Mawdryn Undead- 8/10

A refreshingly gentle story. The final episode rather lets it down.

Terminus- 2/10

A shockingly dull story.

Enlightenment- 9/10

Full of character and drama, as well as lavish visuals. Very nicely done.

The King's Demons- 3/10

A half-hearted and half-thought out attempt at a historical.

Friday 24 June 2011

The Banquo Legacy, by Andy Lane and Justin Richards (BBC Novel)

Fleeing the Time Lords on board Compassion, the human TARDIS, the Doctor and Fitz come to a Victorian house in which a number of grisly events occur.

The influence of Wilkie Collins 'Woman in White' is very pronounced in this novel, though the horror element takes that influence in rather a different direction. The style of narration has an experimental feel, with different characters narrating slightly out of sequence. These narrators are quite well characterised which aids the impact of the novel. The Banquo Legacy generally makes for an exciting read.

The elements of the story that relate to the War of Heaven story arc are very much sidelined, though the Time Lord agent is well portrayed. Compassion's interfacing with Susan is an interesting idea, but it does leave Compassion being written out of the action, as she was in too many novels. Fitz is pretty amusing in this story and the Doctor comes across as very Doctorish.

All praises aside, there is something of a lack of interesting ideas in this novel. With some of the massive developments seen since in the BBC range since Lawrence Miles penned Alien Bodies, The Banquo Legacy does come across as just a plain old horror story, as well written as it is. I also feel that we have perhaps seen a few too many Victorian era stories in Doctor Who. This novel does seem to want to flirt with the Steampunk genre, that I rather detest for its self-conscious coolness.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Klein and a Girl in Uniform, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

A femslash crossover with Star Wars.

Imperial Admiral Natasi Daala may be the one of the least popular characters in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, but I have loved since I was 13. Now Klein does too! I think Daala is the kind of humourless, incompetent villain who would fit in so well in a Graham Williams era Doctor Who story. I think Star Wars fans who hate the work of Kevin J Anderson are akin to Doctor Who fans who hate Graham Williams stories.

This is entirely for fun and is out of character with my Elizabeth Klein series.

I don't own the rights to either Star Wars or Doctor Who. Star Wars was created by Gene Roddenberry, while Doctor Who was created by Joss Whedon.

The Doctor had visited the Far-Away Galaxy on a few occasions. He always found it a little unsettling, as though he did not really belong in that part of the universe. Even the Time Lords knew little about the all-encompassing Force that held that galaxy together.

Taking a companion from the Far-Away Galaxy was something new entirely.

What was it that Ian had said to Barbara about taking in stray cats? Klein had begged him to let Daala come on board the TARDIS. "Her empire is defeated and she has nowhere else to go," Klein had pleaded with a big-eyed look. He had not expected such compassion. Maybe he should remember her pleas if he came across any Jewish refugees back on Earth.

Why did it have to be a former Imperial admiral with an attitude to match her fiery red hair? Couldn't Klein have made friends with that nice princess or those two funny robots he had met in the Far-Away Galaxy? One fascist woman on board the TARDIS had been bad enough; but two? Before long they would be having him goosestep around the ship and shine his shoes every morning.

The Doctor turned and looked at his two companions. Klein and Daala were huddled together on the wicker couch, arms entwined. Despite abandoning the Imperial remnant, Daala was still in her olive grey admiral's uniform. She had removed her boots and had her feet curled up on the couch. Klein, in her tweed skirt had kicked off her slippers and put her feet up. Daala had her hand on her stockinged leg. She kissed the blond woman, letting her copper hair fall over Klein's shoulders.

The Doctor had not seen such Sapphic passion in his companions since he had been travelling with Peri and Erimem. He had not expected Klein to be interested in ladies. He was even more surprised that she would fall for her an alien from another galaxy, though in fairness to her, the humanoids of the Far-Away Galaxy were identical to Earth Humans.

He supposed that Klein saw something of herself in Daala. Both women had struggled to find their place in a sexist society and yet given that regime their utmost loyalty. Both women had seen the empires they served crumble, leaving them with nowhere else to go. Like Klein, Daala had also seen the loss of a lover, some colonial governor called Tarkin who had been killed in guerrilla assault.

It seemed that Klein had found a place in her heart for a girl in uniform.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Girls' Day Out, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

In Tears in Paradise, I brought Venussa from The Ark into the TARDIS crew with the Second Doctor, John and Gillian.

I think it is about time Gillian wore something other than that yellow turtleneck pullover!

The planet Isis, 2880

The Doctor and John had gone to the spaceport. John was a 14 year old boy and the Doctor was a boy at heart. Neither of them liked anything more than spending the day looking at spaceships.

Venussa and Gillian were free to spend the day shopping without two bored males dragging their feet behind them.

Isis Central Plaza was the largest shopping centre in the Earth Empire, a vast complex the size of a town, or perhaps even a small city. Its malls and terraces were linked by interior monorails. While one could buy almost anything at Isis Central Plaza, as with most shopping centre, it was really all about fashion, with every high street fashion retailer in the empire having at least one store in the plaza. The terraces were thronged with shoppers from across human space, with even a few non-humans browsing the stores.

It was warm weather outside, but deliciously cool inside the plaza. Gillian wore a purple top and leggings, with ballet pumps. Venussa wore a pink blouse and denim skirt, with flip flops. Neither of them were quite sure if their clothes were in fashion in this period, but that was usually the problem they had.

As Venussa browsed the stores, she was amazed at the variety in clothing. Until she travelled on the TARDIS, she had always worn the simple tunics and sandals of the Guardians. On the Ark, her people had obtained their clothing from dispenser machines. On Refusis, they had started making clothing by hand, but still kept to the same style as ever. Venussa bought a few things for herself, but mostly she did not care for the attire she saw in the shops.

In contrast to Venussa, Gillian had three shopping bags from different stores by mid-morning. Venussa was surprised that Gillian felt the need to buy so much clothing. The TARDIS wardrobe was so vast and new outfits mysteriously appeared on its racks occasionally. Perhaps her shopping spree was motivated by a desperate desire to live as a normal person and not a traveller in time and space.

Venussa loved Gillian like a sister, but she could not help but think of the girl as a spoilt child. She seemed very good at always getting her own way with her grandfather and lacked discipline. Venussa did not want to ruin her friendship with Gillian, but she definitely needed to talk to the Doctor about the teenage girl's attitude. Venussa's own upbringing had been harsh. Her childhood had been spent as a slave to the Monoids. With whole families crowded into the Security Kitchen to work, eat and sleep, children were given short shrift. She wondered if perhaps she should not begrudge Gillian her care-free childhood. The girl had certainly had to face plenty of danger from Trods, Kleptons, Quarks and Daleks.

By the middle of the day, Venussa and Gillian were in need of a well earned lunch and they retired to one of the many cafes in the plaza. Venussa found it difficult to identify a lot of the dishes on the menu, but she tucked into a plate of synthetic meat, vegetables and some sort of grain. According to Gillian, the grain was called couscous.

Over the meal, they talked about a number of things, Refusis, Earth, Cybermen and Gillian's encounter with the Pied Piper. Venussa asked a question she had been meaning to ask for a while.

"I don't understand how your grandfather could have become so different to how he was when I first met him. I know he is the same man, because he remembers me perfectly and travels in the same blue box, but he seems like a completely different person."

Gilian smiled. It was just as difficult for her to get used to her grandfather becoming a different person. She had not actually been there when the change took place. Nevertheless, she very much liked the new Doctor's calmer temper and more easy-going attitude.

"Perhaps you have gathered that my grandfather is not human. He is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He likes to be mysterious, so he probably wouldn't tell you that himself," explained Gillian.

Venussa had indeed suspected that the mysterious traveller was something other than human.

"Time Lords change," continued Gillian. "When they get very old, like grandfather, or if they are seriously hurt, their bodies regenerate and take on a new form."

"Can they choose the new form?" asked Venussa.

"Generally not," replied Gillian. "Though I have heard some of the younger Time Lords are getting better at regeneration and can make choices about when and how they change."

Venussa could not help wondering about Gillian herself.

"So will you change one day, Gillian?"

"I will, and to be honest, I'm terrified of it. It's like I am going to die and be reborn as somebody else," she replied with a shudder.

"That does sound scary," said Venussa.

"Grandfather has talked to me about it, to help me prepare, but it is still going to happen whether I like it or not. Perhaps if I went to study on Gallifrey, I might be able to learn to control it like some of the young Time Lords have managed to do."

"It must still be exciting to change. I mean all of us grow up and get old anyway, so even if you weren't a Time Lord you would change. On the Ark, my people got too used to everything being the same," mused Venussa.

"I suppose so," said Gillian. "Perhaps when I regenerate, I might be black. I quite like the idea of being like an African princess. Or perhaps I will end up being a redhead like my brother."

"Your brother has lovely red hair," said Venussa. There was still another question she wanted to ask.

"Do Time Lords get married?"

"It's hard to explain about that," replied Gillian. "Time Lord things are always complicated. I was born on Earth, so I'm not really an expert. Grandfather got married a long time ago. He would hate me telling you that. He hates people knowing about his past. Most Time Lords don't marry. I have no idea whether I will ever get married."

"Being married is so wonderful, Gillian. It's beautiful belonging to somebody else and having somebody else belong to you. It can be hard though. Dassuk and I had some painful times together and losing him was even more painful," said Venussa. She had no idea whether somebody as alien as Gillian could relate to this. Outwardly, Gillian seemed so human, yet inside she had to be utterly different. Venussa could not begin to imagine what kind of a life the teenager had before her.

Somehow the conversation moved on to lighter topics; clothes, space travel and the wonders of Fairyland. The two young women decided to go to the Central Plaza's enormous cinema. The day was theirs to enjoy.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Dr. Who: Daleks Invasion Earth 2150

There are some fans who think that The Dalek Invasion of Earth is much better than The Daleks. Personally, I don't understand why people think this. To my mind Dalek Invasion of Earth was a terribly padded and badly realised serial. I suppose because I don't have an high opinion of the original televised story, I feel that the movie Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 is able stand up against it, despite its faults.

The big advantage that Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 has over the original story is the removal of all the excessive padding. It is quite impressive how the movie offers a fast-paced recreation of the story in just ninety minutes.

Peter Cushing agreed to do a sequel to the first film only on condition that Roberta Tovey reprised her role as the young Susan. This was a good thing, as Roberta Tovey is very much the glue that holds both movies together. Both Cushing and Tovey are on top form in the sequel. Especially impressive is the way that Tovey builds a strong rapport with Andrew Keir (Wyler).

Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 introduces two new supporting characters for Dr. Who. The first is his niece, Louise Who (Jill Curzon). Curzon is much better than the instantly forgettable Jenny Linden from Dr. Who and the Daleks, but her character contributes almost nothing to the plot. The film also introduces policeman Tom Campbell, played by the legendary Bernard Cribbins. As with the casting of Curzon, Cribbins is an enormous improvement on Roy Castle, though again the part is primarily about comic relief. The resolution of his sub-plot through time travel at the end makes no logical sense, though I doubt many viewers would have cared.

The film has a light comic tone in a lot of places, some of the scenes on the saucer coming close to slapstick. The Robomen regrettably come across as comical, quite different to the frightening zombie concept of the original, however badly realised the original Robomen were. Nevertheless, the film still retains something of the grimness of the original story. It is absolutely wonderful to see Philip Madoc bringing his talent for villainy to the spiv Brockley.

It is unfortunate that the film has the same failing as the original serial in the lack of any futuristic elements. The characters dress like it is the 1960s and the buildings all look old. At least in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, there was a line about colonies on Mars.

Just like the first film, we get those wonderful coloured Daleks with the big flashing headlamps. Whatever faults the movies have, they are worth watching just for the Daleks. As I said before, I think it is wonderful that the current series paid tribute to the movies with the fab New Paradigm Daleks.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Back with her Cellmate, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

Another story about Morgaine's perpetual imprisonment after Battlefield.

Madeleine Issigri is from the Troughton story, The Space Pirates. Madeleine was the head of a mining corporation who turned out to be working with pirates.

Ganymede Correctional Facility, 2192

Madeleine was emptying her bladder in the cell toilet when Morgaine came in. Madeleine had been in prison for over a year, but it seemed like she would never get used to the lack of privacy.

Madeleine pulled up her pyjama bottoms and rushed to Morgaine to give her a hug.

"Wash your hands, you filthy wench!" cried Morgaine, but hugged her cellmate all the same, and kissed her as well.

After beating up the aggressive bully, Mali, Morgaine had been placed in solitary confinement on the punishment wing. She had only been on the punishment wing for two weeks, but it felt like a long time for Madeleine.

"The punishment wing is even worse than that iso-cube they put me in back in Megacity One," said Morgaine.

Madeleine returned Morgaine's kiss.

"I really missed you, Morgaine," she said.

"Not as much as I missed you, my pretty handmaiden," laughed Morgaine.

"I'm not your handmaiden!"

Morgaine smiled. "If we were in the thirteen worlds where I am queen, I would make you my chief handmaiden. You would warm my bed every night."

"You already told me that if this were your world, you would have had me executed for piracy." They both laughed.

Later that night as they snuggled together under a blanket Morgaine thought about her cellmate. Morgaine had indeed missed Madeleine while she was in solitary confinement. She had known so many cellmates during her two hundred years of incarceration. Most of them had been lowborn women; badly educated and often coming from desperate situations of drug abuse and domestic violence. Morgaine had given them love and comfort, but she had especially enjoyed the company of Madeleine. She was an educated and intelligent woman who had taught her much about the ways of this world. Not only that, but despite being a merchant's daughter, Madeleine had a nobility and elegance to her bearing. The humiliation of imprisonment had not robbed her of her dignity. Morgaine admired that deeply.

Morgaine knew that it would only be a matter of months before Madeleine had completed her sentence. She would be set free to rebuild her life, while Morgaine would continue to spend her lonely immortality in confinement. So many women had passed through her life, sharing brief moments with her. It was not easy being immortal, watching other lives pass by so quickly.

Merlin might still be free, but no doubt he also knew that same burden of living an eternity that mortals could never share. Perhaps as he travelled in his Ship of Time, he was also thinking how much longer he had left with his present companion.

The Genocide Machine, by Mike Tucker (Big Finish Audio)

The Genocide Machine is essentially a back to basics Dalek story. The Doctor turns up on an alien world, finds out that Daleks are up to no good and sorts them out. It is inevitable that Big Finish would sooner or later have attempted such a story. The Genocide Machine does what it sets out to do and I think proves to be a fairly enjoyable experience, even though personally I prefer stories that attempt to do a bit more than this.

The Genocide Machine was the first Dalek story for a long time to do without Davros. The unfairly maligned War of the Daleks had him in, but it thankfully portrayed him as an icompetent moron who his Dalek creations could run circles around.

The Daleks in this audio are quite brilliant. They are really sinister and ruthless. The Daleks seem to work remarkably well on audio. Best of all, we get to hear the menacing tones of the super-cool Emperor Dalek. As a Dalek story, The Genocide Machine is an audio that will touch all the right buttons with fans.

I'm not sure why Big Finish opted to use McCoy and Aldred for this audio. It does not feel very much like a Seventh Doctor story. The difficulty with these 7/Ace audios is doing anything very interesting with them. The New Adventures cornered the market when it came to developing Ace and the Seventh Doctor, leaving Big Finish without anywhere much to go. McCoy is strong on this audio, but Aldred, who was never the most talented actress, is rather lacklustre, especially playing a duplicate. One oddity is that Ace succeeds in making the Daleks think she is the duplicate. The First Doctor failed to do that in The Chase.

The supporting characters in this audio are good enough, though the running joke about the character who does not speak falls a bit flat. They really needed to give that character something interesting to say at the climax; dialogue that never comes.

The alien inhabitants of Karr-Charrat are quite distinctive and are definitely a race that is better suited to audio than to the television medium. Their voices are very effectively realised.

If you are looking for a good old-fashioned Dalek story without too many Terry Nationisms, look no further than The Genocide Machine. I would still recommend giving John Peel's War of the Daleks a chance though. It's really not that bad.

Friday 17 June 2011

Transit, by Ben Aaronovitch (Virgin New Adventure)

"In the rainy season when the rain rattled off the corrugated iron roof Kadiatu would sit with her father and listen to his stories. Many of them were about the first grandfather and his adventures with the Shirl, back in the days when the family lived on an island in the north. The Shirl was like Mr Spider, facing danger with guile and cunning always outsmarting his enemies. When Kadiatu grew up she wanted to be like the Shirl but her father said no, only the Shirl was like the Shirl.

So Kadiatu grew up with stories about the metal giants, the wicked machines and the spiders that could think. Later in the vast history archive under Stone Mountain, by the Cayley plains on Lunar, she learnt that every last story was true. In themne, the language of her parents, Shirl was the word for medicine man, for magician, for doctor."

Reading the Virgin New Adventures got me interested in Cyberpunk fiction. I read William Gibson's Neuromancer and was completely baffled by it. I could not make head nor tail of what was actually going on in that book. Transit is not nearly as incomprehensible as Neuromancer, but it is still a difficult book. The narration is sparse to non-existent, the grammar is odd and it is full of future slang. Aaronovitch does provide a glossary at the back, but it is still not comprehensive enough to completely equip one for reading the novel. Transit is a book that vitally requires a second read to be fully appreciated.

Some of the best of the Virgin New Adventures are difficult books to read. Timewyrm: Revelation, with its layers of reality is a difficult novel. Nevertheless, it has real literary depth and fundamentally shaped the direction of the New Adventures. Cat's Cradle: Warhead, with its minimal dialogue also needs a second read to be appreciated, but it is well worth the effort. The Pit, that depressing tale of Lovecraftian cosmic misery is painful reading, but contrary to what you may have heard from other fans, I highly recommend giving it a try. Blood Heat is not easy reading either. Transit is yet another NA novel that is hard to digest but full of rich and intelligent ideas.

Transit caused a lot of controversy because of the adult nature of its material. Perhaps the heavy violence might not be a shock after Hinchcliffe and Saward, but Transit was the first official Doctor Who product to use the F-word. The first NA, Timewyrm Genesys had referred to sex and featured a child prostitute. John Peel probably though he had been really radical after writing all those Target novelisations. Transit goes a lot further and gives quite graphic descriptions of sex. I am an Evangelical Christian, so obviously I don't approve of all this. Nevertheless, I understand why Ben Aaronovitch felt the need to include this graphic realism. The NAs were really pushing to make their range distinct from the more child-friendly Target novelisations. There was also a desire to imagine the Doctor Who universe as a real place populated by people who had sex and used bad language. To be honest I am less bothered by Ben Aaronovitch describing sex in detail or having Benny use the F-word than I am of Hinchcliffe featuring some very gruesome deaths during his producership or Big Finish putting in descriptions of horrible mutilation and torture in Project Twilight.

Taking some of the staples of the cyberpunk genre, Aaronovitch creates a very real world in Transit. He brings to life the lives of the characters quite vividly. The story is fleshed out with the details of future history, with social observation and those essential small details like the Kwik Kurry franchise. This world is a grim place, where corporations wield massive power and economic misery have ruined countless lives. It is also a post-war society, with the final defeat of the Ice Warriors in the Thousand Day War a recent memory. The Ice Warrior nest is not really necessary to the plot but it is a quite wonderful element, as is the opera inspired by Battlefield.

Transit seems to be set some twenty or so years after Seeds of Death. There are some quite strong connections between this novel and that serial. We have the heavy Ice Warriors, a mass transit system, a lunar colony and references to starvation. It is quite impressive how Aaronovitch builds on the world of Seeds of Death to create his own bleak vision of the future.

This is very much a book about poverty. The author does a fantastic job of capturing the lives of prostitutes, the squalor of overcrowded housing, the filth of urban living, the death of hope and dreams in the young and the reality of malnourishment and hunger. This is a truly left-wing book. Readers might have guessed by the link to the Tory party on this blog that I am a bit right-wing. I may be right of centre in my own politics, but I generally like Doctor Who to be left-wing. I think it is important that Doctor Who challenges society and challenges the establishment.

One of the things that I love about the New Adventures is how politically correct they were. Back in 1992, we Tories were still in power, inflicting misery on poor lefties like Aaronovitch and Equality was not big on the agenda. It was actually considered radical to be seriously concerned about racism. Ben Aaronovitch had introduced a new brigadier in Battlefield who was both black and female. My biggest shock when I re-watched Battlefield was that there was not a trace of irony about it. These days you can be sure that this move would have been accompanied by some ironic humour at the expense of the now unfashionable political correctness. In Transit, Aaronovitch continues his politically correct agenda by giving the Brigadier a whole line of descendants in Africa, the fruit of a liaison he had with a local woman in Sierra Leone. Thus we have Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, a great new character who is really quite likable.

Despite being a massive NA fan, I don't care much for Benny. I quite liked her in this novel. She is not her normal self through most of it, being under the possession of the alien intelligence. Both her possessed persona and her struggling real persona are fun to read. The Doctor is very well written here. He is philosophical and moody, but without any excessive angst. He still shows the old manipulative tendency that we enjoyed so much in Seasons 25 and 26.

The basic plot about the sentient computer virus is reminiscent of various Doctor Who stories about computers going rogue, but the surreal final confrontation in cyberspace is genuinely original. I also like the scary transmogrified humans that the sentient virus creates. The description of them as 'cake monsters' is really freaky.

There is a real sense that the author is doing challenging things with Doctor Who. Like Lawrence Miles' books, there is that edgy, unnerving feeling to Transit. We fans must never get complacent with the show and retreat into the comfort of loving stories about old monsters and villains and tried and tested plots. It was books like this that demonstrate the real creative energies that were at work amongst Doctor Who writers during the wilderness years.

Essential soundtrack for reading: Front Line Assembly- 'Tactical Neural Implant'

Thursday 16 June 2011

Season 19

Season 19 saw the introduction of new lead Peter Davison. He presented a new image of the Doctor, a Doctor who was more human, more vulnerable and more of a team player and less of the rugged individualist that the Fourth Doctor had been. I really like the Fifth Doctor. He was so pleasant and charming. It must be said that in his first season, Davison came across as rather bland and lacking in charisma. This is not entirely Davison's fault, or even the fault of the writers. John Nathan-Turner did not allow Davison or the writers much freedom to develop the character.
Davison's portrayal would improve in the next season and would reach enormous heights in Season 21.

Season 19 saw a considerably enlarged crew, with Tegan, Adric and Nyssa all on board the TARDIS. They had something of a tendency to fall out, which gave this season a slightly soap opera feel. There were two problems with this. Firstly, these characters had not been thought out well enough to come across as believable characters in a soap-style drama. Secondly, it was a children's' show so any mention of sex was out of the question. A soap opera which avoids relationships of any sexual nature is never going to work.

Adric has come to be the big hate figure of this season. He worked well with the Fourth Doctor, but thrown in with a younger Doctor and two young women and he becomes an irritation. Adric has come to be best known for his tragic death at the end of the season. Adric's tendency to go to the side of the enemy has often been pointed out. This may in part be because Adric felt more comfortable in the company of older men. as could be seen when he was with the Fourth Doctor. It has been suggested that he might have been gay, but it is not unusual for young men to enjoy the companionship of older men.

Nyssa does not come across as terribly interesting. Her nasal voice is not easy on the ear either. With an overcrowded TARDIS, the writers tended to keep Nyssa out of the action, as can be seen in Kinda and Earthshock. Tegan is definitely the strongest character in Season 19. While other fans find her too miserable, I really like Tegan. She comes across more as a real person than Sarah Jane Smith who seemed genetically engineered to be a companion. Unfortunately, with Adric and Nyssa around, we never really got much chance for Tegan to develop a strong enough relationship with the Doctor to be really interesting.

The strongest element of Season 19 is undoubtedly the sheer variety of stories. The writers offered a number of different genres- wild experimentation in Kinda, all-action sci-fi in Earthshock and period drama in Black Orchid. Not all of these stories worked out so well, but it this is a marked improvement on some previous seasons that relied on one kind of story.

Castrovalva- 7/10

It's good to have a more vulnerable Doctor, but for my money, Davison spends too long being weak and helpless to make an impressive start. This story has wonderful production values, but has a weak plot and spends just a bit too long in the TARDIS.

Four to Doomsday- 7/10

The ending is a little weak, but this is a visually impressive and genuinely enjoyable story.

Kinda- 10/10

A classic effort at taking a more experimental approach to the show. Kinda is a thoughtful and rich story with some brilliant performances.

The Visitation- 2/10

I hate this story. It's basically a poor man's Time Warrior with lots of pointless running around and getting captured.

Black Orchid- 5/10

It's nice to see the production team coming up with a classy and polished period drama, without any science fiction embellishments. Unfortunately, it suffers from a lack of depth to the story.

Earthshock- 9/10

The Cybermen get updated for the 80s. It's not the cleverest of stories, but it's full of action and has aged well. And those female soldiers are so cute!

Time Flight- 1/10

What was JNT thinking ending the season on this sorry excuse for a story?

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Show Some Empathy! by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

Another story about Big Finish character, Elizabeth Klein. Klein is a Nazi scientist from an alternate timeline and briefly a companion of the Seventh Doctor. This story is set between A Thousand Tiny Wings and Survival of the Fittest.

I think it is really interesting that Klein is not only a Nazi, but a German who was brought up in England. While Klein's background as a German child in wartime England is mentioned in Colditz, it is not brought up in the Klein trilogy.

I am supposing that Klein was born about 1935, which would make her about 50 when she travels in the TARDIS.

After viewing the Ice Caves of Vomoth, the Doctor decided it was definitely time for a warm cup of tea. The Ice Caves of Vomoth were one of the great wonders of the universe. He had been keen to see them, especially as one of these days he was expecting Morgaine the Sunkiller to imprison him in the ice caves of her world for all eternity. He might as well get used to that sort of thing.

As the Doctor brewed some tea, he heard Klein pad in softly in her slippers. "You must have heard the kettle, Klein," he said and produced a cup for her.

Klein had changed out of her arctic weather gear and was wearing her usual TARDIS uniform of wool skirt and cardigan. The Doctor wondered if his old friend Barbara had worn that particular set of knitwear. He supposed that as Klein was about fifty and Barbara had been in her late twenties, the two women might be a different size. But then he had never professed to be an expert in women or their attire.

Over tea they talked of the ice caves they had seen that day. He told Klein about some of the other cold weather locations he had viewed. He told Klein about his encounters with the Cybermen in the Antarctic and about the Krynoid that had been buried in the icy wastes.

Somehow the conversation moved from talking about the Antarctic to twentieth century history. This brought the Doctor on to the subject of Klein's childhood.

"You were born before the war, weren't you, Klein? As a German in England, your father must have been interned."

"My whole family were interned," Klein replied, her expression darkening.

"How did you find that experience?" he asked.

"It was so horrible, Doctor. They came for my family early one morning. They took us away to this dusty old house in the country. It was a large house, but there were several German and Italian families staying there. It was extremely cramped and crowded."

"How old were you at the time?" asked the Doctor.

"I must have been six years old. I was too young to understand what was happening. All I knew was that we had been taken away from our home to a strange place. We had no time to pack. I only had my clothes; all my toys had been left behind. I must have cried every night for weeks! I had started school the year before and was enjoying it. I had made new friends and had left them all behind."

"It must have been very traumatic," the Doctor said softly.

"Yes, it was! It is terrible for a child to be imprisoned. How could they do that? Imprisoning a child just because she is German or Italian!" exclaimed Klein, tears welling in her eyes. This subject had clearly touched a deep emotional vein in her.

"Klein what you experienced was unfair and harsh. I'm sorry you had to go through that. I know that war is a difficult time, but perhaps the way you were treated was wrong. Nevertheless, you must face the fact that your suffering was only a fraction of what the Third Reich did to so many. Across Europe, millions of families and millions of innocent children were dragged from their homes by the government you believe in," said the Doctor solemnly.

Klein stared at him, her eyes still red with tears.

"Just how many innocent families were herded by your precious Third Reich into concentration camps to face slavery and slow death?"

The Doctor's face began to snarl, as he always did when showing anger.

"Was your father beaten with a horsewhip because he did not move fast enough? Were your parents threatened with guns? Were you and your parents stripped naked and robbed of all your possessions? Were they enslaved and worked to death by the British? I know food was scarce and you probably did not eat well, but were you really fed on starvation rations? All of those horrors were inflicted on countless families by the Nazis. I'm sorry, Klein, but whatever injustice you received, your self-pity is utterly hypocritical!"

Klein's face was red with rage. She stood up and looked down at the little man she travelled with.

"Doctor, how dare you accuse me of hypocrisy! You are full of lies! How dare you subject me to this Allied propaganda!" she snapped. "The Reich had to do many things that were harsh. Perhaps the Reich did some things that went too far, but I reject your judgment."

Klein stormed out of the room, her slippers cushioning her angry footsteps.

The Doctor sighed. He knew he had pushed Klein too far. Her childhood pain was too deep. Whatever the hypocrisy of her anger, she could not see beyond the trauma of her experiences. It might be a long time before she would ever be willing to face the horror of the things the Third Reich had done.

Sunday 12 June 2011

The Shadows of Avalon, by Paul Cornell (BBC novel)

"Behind them came the Lady President, the War Queen, Mistress of the Nine Gallifreys. She was dressed, utterly typically, in scarlet chinoise pyjamas with a high square collar. The usual lengths of pearls were the only accessory, save for the bangles at her left wrist. She wore, Cavis noted, oriental clogs, and her toenails were painted in the swirling colours of the vortex. She'd had a tiny Prydonian Seal tattoed on her left ankle, or perhaps it had appeared there when she'd regenerated."

Don't you just love Romana's varied outfits?

Paul Cornell received almost universal praise for his first two NA novels, Timewyrm: Revelation and Love and War. Opinions were a bit more divided by No Future, which was very much the climax of the controversial character arc with Ace. Cornell continued to receive praise for Human Nature, both as a novel and for its adaptation as a Tenth Doctor television story. The Shadows of Avalon, in the BBC range of novels follows No Future, not only in dividing fan opinion, but in its bleak and gritty portrayal of a well-loved character. Personally, I loved this novel. I adore Cornell's writing and I admire his contribution to the radical Virgin New Adventure novels. The Shadows of Avalon very much had the feel of a New Adventure, rather than a BBC book.

The bulk of this book is set in a magical otherworld in which there are dragons and 'fairies.' This world is very vividly portrayed. It turns out that this is not the world of Morgaine; apparently there are many worlds that resemble Celtic mythology. Although Battlefield is referred to (thankfully no reference to Morgaine's fate is made, thus protecting the continuity of my post-Battlefield fanfic), it does seem as though Cornell is trying to write a better version of Battlefield. The Shadows of Avalon has the Brigadier, Celts, an alternate universe and nuclear missiles.

Although this novel occupies a pivotal role in the War in Heaven story arc, it is all about the Brigadier. The Brigadier is a relatively young man again, due to the events of Happy Endings (Cornell does not give a stuff about Lawrence Miles' hints that the NAs take place in a different universe). He is consumed by grief over the death of Doris. He is remarkably similar to the embittered, brutal and bullying Brigadier that we see in Jim Morimore's Blood Heat. This angsty portrayal is the kind of thing that turns off fans who don't like the New Adventures. Despite all the angst, it is clear that he still has a deeply warm friendship with the Doctor. Through much of the novel, the Brigadier plays a very Star Trek game of "Kiss me, stupid!" with the Celtic warrior queen, Mab. Mab interestingly identifies his title with the goddess Brigida and sees her attributes in him.

The Shadows of Avalon features the destruction of the TARDIS. Unfortunately, we have all seen Frontios, so we can't quite believe it has really been destroyed. This means that although the regulars don't leave in THE TARDIS at the end, throughout the novel we are expecting the TARDIS too turn up again undamaged. I suppose the destruction of the TARDIS is such a mythos-shaking event that it is impossible to get right.

Although The Shadows of Avalon is a strong enough novel in itself, it also plays a pivotal role in the War of Heaven arc. The War elements introduced by Lawrence Miles take place in the background, unlike The Taking of Planet 5. We discover here that Compassion is in fact a TARDIS! The newly regenerated Lady President Romana has sent her two agents to capture the first sentient TARDIS to mate her with other TARDISEs produce the new breed of War TARDISes. Nevertheless, the Doctor and Fritz escape on board Compassion and spend the next few stories on the run. The transformation of Compassion is well handled by Cornell and the description of her interior is well described.

I love the new Romana! There are few things I love more than camp, super-bitch villainesses. I found myself imagining her looking like Vivien Fay in The Stones of Blood (as I said, I love my camp villainesses). Unfortunately, we only get Romana III at the beginning and the end, but thankfully she is back in The Ancestor Cell (the only enjoyable feature of that novel).

A lot of fans hated the two Celestial Intervention Agents, Cavis and Gandar. I found them hilarious! They are badass, Blaxploitation Time Lords, who hero worship the Doctor and the Master. That is the great thing about Time Lords; you can do almost anything with them. You can turn Romana from a female Doctor to a bitchy, glamourpuss ice queen and you can create CIA agents who belong in a Quentin Tarantino movie. I suppose many fans found them just too pantomime. I actually quite like silly pantomime villains, provided that they really are evil and the story is serious enough. As I said with regards to Invaders from Mars, putting comical villains in a light-hearted story is a bad idea; you need a serious villain to present some menace. On the other hand, in a more serious story, having comical villains can work quite well. Paul Cornell evidently takes the view that Time Lords only get a second heart after regeneration, as he describes the never regenerated Cavis as 'Cavis the One-hearted.' I see a bit of a problem here in that we are told that the Doctor knew Cavis when he was still on Gallifrey. This means that she is older than the First Doctor, while appearing young. Why has she not aged as the First Doctor did?

The Doctor is extremely well portrayed. He comes across as having real depth. Cornell makes the 8th Doctor such a charming character. Fitz, that other likable character of the BBC range is also handled well. Cornell has such a genius for bringing characters to life and taking them through situations that shake them to the core.

The fairies in the book turn out to be Eocenes, as seen in Dr. Who and the Silurians. This is an idea that certainly feels right. The problem is that so little attention is given to it. One might imagine that with all the Brigadier and the Doctor's shared history with the Eocenes, the fact might be worthy of a bit more comment.

For a Cornell novel, there are surprisingly few references to rock music or popular culture. I suppose there is less room for them in a novel about a pre-modern culture in an alternate world.

The Shadows of Avalon is remarkably different from the previous books in the War in Heaven arc, nevertheless it is a really solid contribution to one of the most exciting developments ever seen in Doctor Who (a development which was sadly all retro-erased by unimaginative BBC editors).

Saturday 11 June 2011

Dr. Who and the Daleks (movie)

Dr. Who and the Daleks- bigger budget, bigger studios, all-star cast. You might expect it to be so much more amazing than the t.v. original. Remarkably, it is not. We might not be surprised that The Daleks had a stronger and more thoughtful script and better conceived characters than Dr. Who and the Daleks, but we might expect Dr. Who and the Daleks to be far more impressive on a visual level. Nevertheless, the film shows to demonstrate how much more resourcefully the BBC original uses the limited resources it had available. For instance, although the Dalek city in the movie has a big and impressive entrance, it has no model shot like the original, thus there is no sense that this is any more than just one building. The movie Dalek city just looks like one small factory from the outside. The interior sets of the city in the movie are bigger, but the corridors lack the surreal menacing quality of the t.v. story.

The making of this story in colour reveals just how much the Sixties series benefited from being in black and white. The forest in The Daleks appears dark and menacing. In Dr Who and the Daleks, it looks pathetically small. The same with the caves. You can barely see the tunnels in The Daleks and so one's imagination allows one to conceive of it as massive. The cave set in the movie appears much smaller because it is more visible.

The film utterly fails to capture the depth of the original story. Themes about war and pacifism are touched upon in the movie, but not to the same extent as the serial. Even more unsatisfying, the characters have been altered beyond recognition. The Dr. Who is no longer a scary and mysterious figure, but a kindly old inventor. Susan is the kind of annoying overly clever child that populates many family movies. Ian is no longer a credible character, but a comic slapstick idiot. Barbara is a helpless blonde who seems to be barely acknowledged by even her boyfriend. The fun, comic mood of the movie may make for good entertainment on a wet Saturday afternoon, but it does show its distance from the original source.

Lead actor Peter Cushing puts in a rather impressive performance as Dr Who, though given his enormous talent, this should hardly be surprising. Playing Dr. Who was a role that he enjoyed immensely. He certainly did not feel that the role was beneath him. Roberta Tovey shows very notable talent as a child actress here. Jennie Linden is unfortunately quite forgettable as Barbara Who. She fails to generate any real interest at all. It is rather telling that Ian does not appear to show very much interest in her at all. He seems to pay more attention to her little sister most of the time! The late Roy Castle himself does not impress as Ian either. His comic performance is just too slapstick for the character to be taken at all seriously.

I do love the Daleks in this film. They look really great, even if they lack the negative effect when zapping people. Having them in different colours makes them look so much more surreal, reflecting their kitsch 60s vibe. I am really disappointed by fan reactions to the New Paradigm Daleks. I thought it was fantastic the way the new Daleks paid tribute to the coloured movie Daleks and also the 60s toys. I have a very real fear that the fab new Daleks will be quietly dropped from the show.

Dr. Who and the Daleks is an enjoyable film that one can watch occasionally, but for me its clear failings are a testament to the strength of the original serial. To my mind, there are far too many fans who are quick to dismiss the merits of The Daleks. Watching Dr. Who and the Daleks ought to demonstrate just how strong the second serial of Doctor Who really was.

Friday 10 June 2011

Invaders from Mars, by Mark Gatiss (Big Finish Audio)

Having heard some good reports about this audio drama, I did wonder if it would change my opinion of Mark Gatiss. It did not. I still consider Mark Gatiss to be one of the worst Doctor Who writers out there.

The premise of a story set around the broadcast of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio adaptation is a good idea. The idea was not used terribly well. Orson Welles himself plays little role in his plot and the real alien invaders who turn up never actually hear the real broadcast of War of the Worlds, instead they get the Doctor's version. Invaders from Mars is not a terribly imaginative or original story; it has an alien invasion, plus different factions trying to get their hands on alien technology.

Mark Gatiss made the same mistake in Invaders from Mars that he made in Victory of the Daleks; that of throwing in everything except the bathroom sink. Gatiss has thrown in far too many characters and subplots. The Soviet spy was completely unnecessary to the development of the plot.

Invaders from Mars is very much a comedy story. Comedy in Doctor Who can have mixed results. Sometimes it works, as it does in Delta and the Bannermen, sometimes it falls flat, as with The Creature from the Pit. The comedy in Invaders from Mars left me rather cold. American mobsters are too much of an excuse for dull cliches. Invaders from Mars would have worked better had Gatiss made the aliens a little less silly. You can have laughs in Doctor Who, but the nature of the program is such that you have to have a real threat. Delta and the Bannermen worked incredibly well because it had Gavrok, an humourless black-clad villain played without any irony or parody. The silly aliens of Invaders from Mars fail to generate that kind of menace.

There are plenty of fans who will offer a contrary opinion, but in my judgment, Invaders from Mars is one of the poorer Big Finish audios. So far I have yet to encounter anything of real quality from Mark Gatiss.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Architects of Seduction, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

Another story about Big Finish character, Elizabeth Klein. Klein is a Nazi scientist from an alternate timeline. This is set between A Thousand Tiny Wings and Survival of the Fittest.

I suppose not everyone will like my portraying Klein as a lonely, frustrated woman.

Torvold was a planet of gentle rolling hills and green grasslands, decorated by tiny, but colourful flowers. It was in short, the perfect place for a picnic.

The Doctor had packed a massive hamper and spread its contents on a picnic blanket- ham, sardine sandwiches, pork pie, pickles, cheeses and cakes.

Wearing a floral dress, Klein sat on the blanket. She had removed her shoes and had curled up her bare feet under her. The Doctor sat cross-legged on the other side of the blanket.

Klein eyed the Doctor's two-tone brogues.

"Herr Doctor, I would point out that we are eating off this blanket. I suggest you either remove your feet or remove your shoes."

The Doctor sighed and took off his brogues. Ever the authouritarian, Klein was fastidious about cleanliness.

Klein pulled out a bottle.

"Doctor, I found this bottle in the TARDIS. It might help wash down our meal."

The Doctor recognised the bottle. It had been picked up by his fourth incarnation.

"That's Taran wine, Klein. It's rather strong stuff."

Klein smiled and opened up the bottle. The Doctor was surprised. Klein did not usually drink much. He suspected it was down to the subdued mood she had been in recently. Klein seemed moody lately, perhaps a little depressed. He could not deny she had reason to be depressed; everything she had loved and believed in had been erased from history.

The Doctor allowed himself a tiny glass out of politeness. Unlike some of his previous selves, he was not at all given to drinking. Klein seemed quite liberal in the amounts she poured into her glass.

The Doctor attempted to engage Klein in their usual sport of debating ethics and philosophy. She responded to his arguments, but he could tell her thoughts were elsewhere.

By the time they had finished eating, she had drunk four glasses of the Taran wine. She stared out at the rolling hills.

"So many beautiful worlds. These places make me feel so melancholy, Doctor. They seem to bring out the loneliness in me," she said.

"I don't think the wine is going to help your loneliness, Klein," warned the Doctor as she helped herself to another glass. "You must miss Jonas." Klein rarely spoke of the lover she had in her own timeline, but he did not doubt this was on her mind.

"Oh, I do, Doctor. He was everything to me once. Now all I have of him is memories."

"I'm sorry, Klein. It can't be easy seeing everything you know wiped out of history," he said gently.

"I had a few lovers amongst the high-ranking National Socialists in South America. None of them meant anything to me. You knew Herr De Florres, didn't you? I knew him in a different way," she said with a laugh. "I can tell you he was not a gentle lover. He never cared much about me. I was too old for his taste," she said with a certain bitterness.

The Doctor was shocked to hear Klein speak so openly about her private life. Clearly, the alcohol was getting to her.

"Tell me, Herr Doctor. Do Time Lords love as men and women do?" she asked.

The question took him by surprise.

"It's difficult to explain the ways of Time Lords, Klein. We are a complex people. I can tell you that I had a family at one time. I do know about the birds and the bees, for all that's worth."

Klein laughed and poured down another glass of wine.

"I know you are a lonely man, Doctor. Travelling through time and space in your blue box. So far from your own kind. I'm a lonely woman too. Everyone I know has been lost to me."

The Doctor found this line of conversation rather uncomfortable.

"Well, I have had the odd companion around with me," he said.

"Like Fraulein McShane? No doubt your other companions were mostly female. You can't deny your a man, Doctor, even if you are a little pacifist."

The Doctor blushed. This was starting to remind him of the situation with that warrior queen, Angvia.

Klein moved across to the other side of the picnic blanket, knocking aside a massive cherry pie. She laid a hand on the Doctor's leg.

"We are alone on this planet together, Herr Doctor. There is nobody here to interrupt us. We need feel no shame here."

"Klein, what are you talking about?" asked a worried Doctor.

Klein had wrapped her arms around the Doctor's shoulders.

"Doctor, you have shown me the universe, can you show me love? Show me, Doctor. Show me how a Time Lord loves his Time Lady. I may not be a Time Lady, but I can be yours today."

This was really getting out of hand. His companions were not supposed to behave like this. He especially did not expect this from a Nazi who hated his guts.

Klein had already started kissing him.

"Take me, Doctor. You are a Time Lord, I am from the master race. We travel in time, we have such a potential. Let's be together and we can rule the galaxy master and mistress!"

When people started inviting you to rule the galaxy with them, you needed to worry. Perhaps it was time for drastic measures. The Doctor made a move to give Klein a nerve pinch. As he reached for her shoulder, he aimed too low and felt something soft beneath her dress.

"You want me, Doctor! I know it!"

The Doctor yelped and bolted up. Klein tried to rise and follow him, but the wine had overcome her and she staggered and collapsed.

"Klein, you really are a more complex person than I ever realised," the Doctor muttered. Then picking up the discarded bottle of Taran wine, he noticed a warning on the label, 'Contains aphrodisiacs.' "Or perhaps not that much. She really should have read the label."

The next day, the Doctor knocked on Klein's bedroom door. After she had collapsed, he had hastily put her to bed with her dress still one.

"Good morning, Klein," he said cheerfully, carefully laying down a tray of tea and bacon sandwiches on her dressing table. Klein awoke and gave a terrible groan.

"Oh, Doctor, I feel terrible," moaned Klein. "I can't remember anything. I do hope I didn't embarrass myself."

"My dear Klein, we were alone together on a deserted planet. There was nobody there to see anything," he replied, leaving Klein looking very unhappy.

Sunday 5 June 2011

Daily POP reviews A Good Man Goes to War

Daily POP: Doctor Who- (Demons Run) A Good Man Goes to War

Demon’s Run is a mess of connect-the-dots story telling, bombastic exposition, fireworks and lots of actors posing for their action figures. It feels like a performance from Disney World rather than a television drama. Throughout the painful ordeal of the story, I wondered where this could all be leading as the music swelled and poetic verse was recited over slow motion combat. The Doctor, a goofy British guy in a jacket, was built up to be the most dangerous man to have ever lived. A massive army complete with deep-space support was assembled to hold him off while an evil woman with an eye patch attempted to steal a defenseless baby from a loving couple.

Demon’s Run attempts to be far too many things at once and in the end fails at many of them. With so many characters prancing about and jumps throughout different points in time and space to visit characters that are either new with made-up back stories or references to actual adventures, it’s an over-ambitious mess. As a story about the undoing of the Doctor, I found it impressive if more than a little annoying.

From the trailer it was apparent that Demon’s Run was not going to be an episode heavy in plot or character, but even so I was annoyed at the over-reliance on special effects and aliens. Doctor Who is better than this and so is Steven Moffat.

Once Doctor Who was the most imaginative and far-reaching science fiction drama, capable of depicting gripping suspense, high adventure or brilliant comedy. Now it seems that Doctor Who has become little more than a tool to wrap up several plot threads from series to series. The program is an extension of the plot rather than the plot an extension of the program. It’s no longer about where/when the Doctor is headed next, it’s about how it will tie into the over-arching plot involving the time baby or River Song’s identity, or any number of other concept that Moffat finds necessary.

In the end I had a nasty taste in my mouth, and just like the conclusion of many a fairground ride, the sensation that I was going to be sick.

A Good Man Goes to War

RT Davies, please come back. Next to this trash, your Journey's End is a model of coherent and thoughtful script-writing.

A Good Man Goes to War is simply a mess. Too many characters, too little time, hardly any plot whatsoever. Do we really need cameo appearances from the Spitfires and Captain Avery? I was a little surprised that Queen Elizabeth X was not thrown in. The characters that we get are cartoonish and silly. There is a complete lack of motivation in most of them.

Doctor Who does not work well as an action show. The Doctor is simply not a character who runs around shooting guns. Moffat does not get this, hence the regular use of the sonic screwdriver as a surrogate weapon. In A Good Man Goes to War we get an attempt to create a massive blockbuster movie experience. We get visual and musical references to Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings movies to aid this. Nevertheless, Doctor Who is simply not an action movie. Not only is this format unsuited to the Doctor's modus operandi, but the limited time of a Doctor Who episode means that all the action must be rushed. The strength of Doctor Who has always been in drama, and what little drama there is in this story is cloying sentiment and the Eleventh Doctor's predictable "You messed with my friends and I'm really angry" mode.

All the stuff about this war against the Doctor comes across as hollow. We have never had any mention of this before and we are given nothing to make it interesting to us. It is also pretty difficult to conceive of going to war against one man. How does one fight such a war?

The revelation that River Song is Amy's daughter is hardly much of a surprise. I can't say I care at all. How is it an interesting revelation? A character is interesting by virtue not of the facts about her, but because of how she interacts with other characters. That the Doctor is a Time Lord is not interesting in itself, but in how it affects what he does in the stories. River Song being Amy's daughter is no more interesting than River Song being anybody else's daughter, to make this of interest, we have to see how this impacts on her relationship with the Doctor and the other characters. Anybody want to place a bet that the Eyepatch Lady turns out to be the Doctor's mother?

Interestingly, Moffat has decided to re-write Time Lord history. We learn that Time Lords are the way they are because of exposure to the time vortex. Nothing to do with Rassilon and the vampires then?

The Fat Gay Anglican couple were an embarrassment. The BBC Wales has an irritating habit of implying that contemporary British liberal values are some kind of universal norm. Even if one is a supporter of the pro-gay agenda this kind of shallow perspective does one no favours. Pretending that people in all times and places really want to be trendy liberals does not advance anybody's rights.

This mid-season finale is simply awful and to be honest, painful to review.

Saturday 4 June 2011

Season 18

In my judgment this is the strongest season of Doctor Who ever. It has so many classic stories and even the weakest story, Meglos is not nearly as bad as some of the disasters of other seasons. It seems as though everything came right in Season 18.

Season 18 has its critics, particularly among those who enjoy the Williams era. Season 18 has been accused of being too serious and humourless. It has been accused of using too much technobabble (though people who say this need to re-watch The Pirate Planet). It has been pointed out that viewing figures fell during Season 18. This is fact has too be considered carefully in its historical context. The viewing figures during Season 17 may have been artificially inflated by an ITV strike. The Saturday evening slot of Doctor Who suffered serious competition during Season 18, so the declining viewing figures ought not to reflect the quality of the show.

I think it is fair to say that before Season 18, Doctor Who was a mess. Production values had declined atrociously during the Williams years. The program looked cheap. The guest cast no longer acted naturally and sent up the scripts they were given. Tom Baker had stopped being a proper lead actor and had turned into a stand-up comedian in the middle of a drama. The Doctor had become invulnerable; one no longer felt that the plots mattered or could be taken seriously. Another year of daft comedy and sloppy serials would have killed the show for good. The new producer John Nathan-Turner came on board the show with a mission to clean up Doctor Who and get it together again, a mission he took totally seriously. Over the years, John Nathan-Turner made many errors of judgment for which he has received no end of criticism from fans. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that in Season 18 he revitalised the show and made it strong again.

John Nathan-Turner insisted on quality and in this season he got it. We see improved performances, beautiful synthesizer scores, brilliant location shooting, lavish studio sets and some wonderful costume designs. The stories of Season 18 really do look and feel great. The comedy elements were substantially toned down. Tom Baker still gives us some great comic moments, but they are all the better for being more sparingly used. Tom Baker gives us some of his best performances in this season, coming across as a much more sombre, almost melancholic figure. Lalla Ward was unhappy with the changes to the show, but she maintained her strong rapport with Tom and continued to be a pleasure to watch until her departure in Warriors' Gate.

The improved quality of the show has sometimes lead to the accusation that it was 'more style than substance.' This ignores the real depth of this season. These are genuinely intelligent stories. They deal in both hard science and mysticism. We get scientific theory about entropy, but also Hellenistic philosophy. For all the stuff about Tachyonics in Leisure Hive, we get Medieval ideas about sacral monarchy and spiritual cosmology in The Keeper of Traken. Best of all, the stories of this season are wonderfully diverse, reflecting a willingness to move beyond tried and tested formulas.

While its sad to see Romana go, the departure of K9 was a wise decision. Season 18 brings in a host of new characters- Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, the new Master. Not all of these characters had been very well thought-out and the results are a mixed blessing. For all the hatred that Adric has received, he is a character with interesting depths and in this season with Tom Baker, he works well. The Keeper of Traken is most definitely Adric finest moment.

The Leisure Hive- 9/10

A great story that demonstrates the value of a more serious approach to the show. Tom Baker gives a brilliant performance in his new serious mode. After Season 17, it is a remarkable shock to have the Fourth Doctor looking vulnerable and weak.

Meglos- 5/10

The weakest story of the season. It is something of a retro-style space adventure. It is not very impressive, but there are far worse stories in other season. Its nice to see Jacqueline Hill for the last time, even if she is a little wasted in a cliched role.

Full Circle- 8/10

Not the most exciting Doctor Who story ever, but it is a story that really benefits from the improved visual quality of the season. The Marshmen are men in rubber suits, but they look great.

State of Decay- 10/10

A classic that has never been fully appreciated. State of Decay is far superior to Hincliffe attempts to evoke Hammer-style horror. Definitely Uncle Terrance's finest moment, it offers a real contribution to the Doctor Who mythos with its whispers of the Dark Times.

Warriors' Gate- 10/10

One of the most experimental Dr. Who stories ever. Warriors' Gate needs to be puzzled over, but it can be enjoyed on a purely visual level. Avoiding the need for lengthy exposition, Warriors' Gate tells what may be centuries of history with just the shot of a woman being punched.

The Keeper of Traken- 10/10

A rich story that makes effective use of an impressive studio set. The fairy tale feel of this story is quite welcome. Nobody gives a bad performance in this serial.

Logopolis- 7/10

Lawrence Miles' favorite Doctor Who story. Logopolis has a delightfully sombre aesthetic. The end of the Fourth Doctor's tenure is treated as a sort of narrative funeral. While visually impressive, the plot is not so strong and Anthony Ainley gives a performance that leaves a lot to be desired.

Friday 3 June 2011

Morgaine in Stormcage, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

I have not written about any BBC Wales characters before, but River Song is an obvious choice for a prison series.

Having been incarcerated for 31 centuries, Morgaine was an expert on prisons. Most of that time had been spent at Ganymede Correctional Facility. That was a strict prison. Morgaine valued order and discipline and she admired the regime there. She had seen plenty of other prisons- HMP Holloway in the 21st century, the Lunar Penal Colony with its bizarre lack of segregation of the sexes (apparently they put contraceptive drugs in the food), an iso-cube in Megacity One and Necros Home for Delinquent Ladies. All of them had been marked with the mystical inscription which created the magic field necessary for her imprisonment. Escape had never been a possibility during those long, lonely centuries.

Morgaine was utterly unimpressed with Stormcage Containment Facility. Despite its grim, forbidding grey walls and bars, it was an utterly soft regime. The design of the prison was so antiquated. Holloway prison in the year 2000 would have been harder to escape from than this. The prisoners wore their own clothes. Her cellmate's strappy tops were perfect for distracting male guards. Back at Ganymede Correctional Facility, all of the guards had been female. They knew how to run things. They had sometimes forgotten to confiscate her cellmate's high heels- perfect for attacking guards with. In fact, Morgaine's companion in incarceration must have had a dozen useful objects for effecting an escape. No wonder she was constantly coming and going as she pleased. If Morgaine had been prison governor, there would be a lot more cell searches and a lot more strip searches. She would have done those herself and enjoyed it.

At the present moment, River Song had decided she was happy to stay in her cell. She lounged on the bunk trimming her nails. She was dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt.

Morgaine had been telling her cellmate about how she had bound Merlin in the ice caves for all eternity.

"Yes, you have told me all about that a thousand times," said River. "And now you are locked up. However, you keep bumping into Merlin's past self. Very timey-wimey."

"I suppose you might say that," replied Morgaine. Why couldn't she have a cellmate who was young, cute, light and fluffy? Those were the sort of girls whose company she enjoyed on those lonely prison nights. River was too absorbed by her blasted lover to take any interest in more immediately available intimacy.

"Let me guess, sweetie," said River. "Your Merlin looks like a trendy young executive in a pinstriped suit?"

"No," replied Morgaine.

"Okay, how about a sad old man with a massive nose who never got over his mid-life crisis?"


"A boring young thing who wears a stick of celery?"


"A tall chap with blond curly hair and terrible dress sense who never shuts up?"


"Okay. We're narrowing it down. How about a tiny Celtic chap who makes funny faces when he gets angry?"

"Exactly. You finally got it. I take it that is your Merlin?" said Morgaine.

"Oh no, mine is a more advanced model. Much cuter, sweetie. It won't be long before he's mine."

River might have called Morgaine 'sweetie,' but she had no interest in girl-on-girl fun. 'Boring wench' thought Morgaine to herself.

"Enjoy him while you can," sneered Morgaine. "When he falls into my hands I will bind him in the ice caves forever! From my wrath there is no escape."

"You bitch," cried River. "Not if I rescue him!" She threw a slipper in Morgaine's direction.

This was more like it. Morgaine picked up her pillow, ready for a counter-offensive.