Sunday 30 October 2011

The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, by Lawrence Miles (BBC novel)

The book in which the Doctor gets married, but not to River Song or the TARDIS!

The same day I began reading The Adventuress of Henrietta Street I re-watched Spearhead from Space, a story I first saw when I was eleven. It's strange to think that 19 years after that innocent Doctor Who experience I would be reading a Doctor Who novel partially set in a brothel which makes Tantric Sex a major theme.

Miles departs from all convention by writing this novel as a biographical account. All of the speech is reported, leaving very little dialogue. The identity of the narrator and biographer is never given and as with Dead Romance, there is the suggestion that he is not altogether reliable. This peculiar choice of style makes for a very distinctive experience of reading a Doctor Who novel, but it does make the whole story a lot more difficult. The reader has to work a lot harder to understand what is going on.

As surprising as it might seem, we see hints of the Moffat era in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street. In The Wedding of River Song, we had the Doctor getting married, a marriage that had cosmic significance in that it repaired a breach in space and time. In The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, we have the Doctor getting married in order to establish a cosmic connection with Earth and it's fate. Scarlette, the woman that the Doctor marries has been compared to Iris Wildthyme, but she actually reminds me of River Song much more. Sadly, her character fails in exactly the same way that River Song fails. Both characters are portrayed as strong and intelligent, with a very blazen sexuality. Both characters seem to be created to appear an equal match for the Doctor. Yet in the end neither character quite lives up to the promise. We expect them to be amazing, but they end up just joining a list of strong, intelligent female characters. In fairness to Lawrence Miles, Scarlette does not fail nearly as badly as River Song because she is just a one-off character in a novel. Moffat made disaster inevitable by deciding to centre the last season around the character of River Song. Miles also wisely keeps Scarlette fairly mysterious. Moffat on the other hand, kept dangling hints about the identity of River and then deliver a big revelation that most of the viewers had already guessed. If you want to find out where Moffat got his ideas, you really need to read this book, along with Alien Bodies. Then you will see just what a mess he made of his influences.

The other main character introduced in the novel, Sabbath also has a similar problem to Scarlette. Miles seems to want to present him as this really amazing interesting character, but with the limitations of the biographical narrative, he never quite succeeds in showing this.I can't help thinking that making Sabbath so much like a James Bond villain renders him a little silly. His only outstanding moment is when he steals the Doctor's second heart, something no villain has ever done before. This development bothered a lot of fans, as it renders the Doctor a good deal more human.

The Adventuress of Henrietta Street is set after the destruction of Gallifrey in The Ancestor Cell. Miles presents the notion that the Time Lords have not simply been destroyed, but removed from history altogether, a notion that seems rather problematic to me. Despite their loss, a good deal of the book is spent presenting Miles' brilliant conception of the Time Lords as cosmic forces or elemental beings. The Doctor and his two companions are continually described by the other characters as 'elementals.' It's a quite fascinating idea and you do see hints of this in the new series. As with other Lawrence Miles books the removal of the Time Lords to an higher plane of existence and their remoteness from the action makes them a far more impressive force, as they had been in The War Games. The Doctor provides a wonderful description of the Time Lords as being like a steady rock in the middle of a river, around which the rest of the universe flows; the consequence of the removal of this 'rock' being complete chaos.

This novel takes Doctor Who about as far away from science fiction as it can go. Like Survival, it is all about the mysticism of female sexuality and menstrual cycles, hence the suggestion that the Doctor's success in 'summoning' his companions resulted from the fact that the prostitutes in the brothel were in their period. The Doctor had initially planned to marry a teenager called Juliette as there was power tied up in her virginity. His plans of course changed and he eventually marries Scarlette. It seems to be the case that the loss of the Time Lords has resulted in the universe becoming more chaotic, allowing magical and irrational forces to take root. In this world, the Doctor is a force of good and order, yet at the same time a sort of god and his companions spiritual beings themselves. Miles does an absolutely fantastic job of portraying the Doctor in this way. In this story he must turn his back on the old order of Time Lord dominance and unite his elemental power with humanity through marriage to a human woman.

The magical arrival of Fitz and Anji is the most enjoyable moment of the book. They just appear out of nowhere and are at once taken by the inhabitants of the brothel to be elemental spirits. Like the Terminator, they arrive stark naked which adds to the amusement of this scene. Despite their glorious arrival, Fitz and Anji get almost nothing to do in the book. Fitz offers some welcome comic relief and Anji gets to do some sulking and complaining. Miles is on record for his dislike of the character of Anji, but he does alright writing for her in this book.

The monstrous apes are really disturbing. They are summoned through Tantric rituals, which seems to connect them to the sensual side of human nature. The way they appear everywhere is very similar to the Sphinxes in Dead Romance. The Kingdom of the Beasts to which they belong is a really creepy place. There is a very Lovecraftian feel to this side of the book.

The Master appears in this book, in the form of the Man with the Rosette. He makes a very clever comment about how the universe has changed so that his struggle to the death against the Doctor is no longer significant at all. On the subject of rosettes, one minor quibble I have is with the politics of the period. The Whigs are identified in this book as defenders of democracy. While the Whigs were closer to this than the Tories, I don't think they would have seen their ideology in exactly those terms. They would probably have seen themselves as the defenders of Parliament and Protestantism, but not democracy as such.

This is a novel that does some really radical things. As with other Lawrence Miles books, it is not so much interesting for the story itself as it is for the way it presents and develops the Doctor Who cosmos. Like every other book by this author (except perhaps This Town Will Never Let Us Go) it is about grand cosmic themes. It's not his best written or most enjoyable novel, but it is one the most daring.

Saturday 29 October 2011

The Crusade

The novelisation of this story, Dr. Who and the Crusaders was in my school library. I really enjoyed reading it at the age of ten, though it was a little more difficult to understand than other Target novels, for instance The Horns of Nimon. As with so many children, a story about knights had instant appeal. The novelisation contained an interesting piece of dialogue, in which the Doctor explained that the TARDIS crew can never change history. Once they land, they are instantly involved in the flow of history. This is how I understand time in Doctor Who. Whatever planet the TARDIS lands on, it's crew don't work against history but perform their allotted role. So when the Doctor goes to Terra Alpha, in The Happiness Patrol, he does not alter history by overthrowing Helen A. The downfall of Helen A was a part of history, the Doctor simply took his place in the tide of history and brought it about. This does not mean that there is no free-will. The Doctor's knowledge of the future is not exhaustive, so he simply does what seems right in the situation, knowing that history will play itself out. That's not how most fans and Doctor Who writers view history in Doctor Who, but I think this makes sense of a lot of stories. As regards The Crusade, if history were not immutable, then the Doctor would surely have been concerned that his involvement in the politics of the court of Richard the Lionheart could alter history. However, he knows that history is immutable and so nothing he does will alter the outcome of history.

Anyway, enough about that. What about the televised serial?

If any story deserved to survive the great wipe-out, The Crusade definitely did. Possibly of all the lost episodes, I think I would most like to see the episodes 2 and 4 of this one rediscovered. The two surviving episodes of this serial reveal just how strong it was, both visually and in the performances. Douglas Camfield is rightly regarded as one of the greatest of Doctor Who directors and in The Crusade he is at his strongest. The Crusade does not attempt to mimic a big movie production, instead what we get is a very theatrical, stagey production that relies on first class acting and exquisite dialogue. It's a very 'talky' story (which is why the audio recordings of the lost episodes work so well without narration), but with such a superb script this works fine. The Crusade tries to hard to be a Shakespeare play and succeeds.

I am a fan who rather likes The Web Planet, yet even I will admit the enormous contrast in quality between this serial and the story prior to it. Perhaps the comparison is not altogether fair. The Crusade was working with familiar historical territory and had access to stock costumes, while The Web Planet required the realisation of an utterly alien world from scratch. Yet one can imagine that Douglas Camfield would have injected some much stronger direction into that serial. The Web Planet suffers not just from the difficulties of realisation, but also from some very clumsy scenes and rather lacklustre performances (though I will always love Roslyn De Winter's plummy voice!).

The Crusade has some remarkably adult features. The regulars are put through some quite terrifying experiences! It's quite disturbing to see Barbara threatened with rape and torture. It must have been quite traumatic for her, having one bloke after another wanting to molest her. It's interesting that younger companions in Doctor Who are never faced with the same level of physical violence that Barbara was so often faced with. One cannot imagine Jo Grant or Zoe ever being threatened with rape. I suppose this is due to those characters being child-identification figures. Maybe the loss of a mature companion, along with the historicals resulted in a certain lack of realism in Doctor Who.

While the villain is an Arab and the Doctor, Ian and Vicky join with the Crusaders, the story avoids taking sides. Richard the Lionheart is not portrayed as a saint and Saladin is given a sympathetic treatment. The Crusades genuinely come across in this serial as the brutal affair that they were.

Together, Julian Glover as Richard and Jean Marsh as Joanna give an absolutely brilliant performance. There is a real subtlety to their work and there is a definite hint of incest in their brother and sister relationship. Odd that Jean Marsh would go on to play Morgaine who also had a dodgy relationship with her brother. The regulars also give some great performances, especially Hartnell, who delivers his delightful lines with such passion. Jacqueline Hill is just so adorable. Perhaps Ian's part in the story is a little dull. Ian does come across here, even more so than other stories, as a bit of a square-jawed hero type.

I have no doubt that if The Crusade were recovered it would go down as one of the greatest of Doctor Who stories.

Friday 28 October 2011

Down, by Lawrence Miles (Bernice Summerfield novel)

Despite loving the Virgin Doctor Who novels, I really dislike Bernice Summerfield. She has always come across to me as too clever and confident, as well as horribly self-righteous. That tends to keep me from taking much interest in the vast range of Benny Summerfield spin-offs released by both Virgin and Big Finish. It does seem that unlike me, Lawrence Miles likes Benny. He writes well for her, though it did not make me like the character any more.

This is of course Lawrence Miles' second novel. He had not yet become the legend that we know. In Down we see Miles' enthusiasm for world-building, his love of deconstructing tropes, playfulness with language and flirtation with intellectual concepts. Yet he has not started his career of shaking fictional universes to the core and rebuilding them in twisted form. That would be seen in his second Benny novel, Dead Romance, which would be re-released as a supplement to the Faction Paradox series.

Down is not as accessible to the new reader as Dead Romance. Down is far more closely tied to the continuity of the other Bernice Summerfield books. In particular, Down is part of a story arc regarding a super-advanced race inhabiting a Dyson Sphere called 'The People.' The parts of the book that deal with this arc are perhaps the least interesting aspect of the novel.

Down offers two likable supporting characters in the persons of Benny's two student's, Ash and Lucretia. While these are great creations, I don't get reviewers who say that Miles' other books lack interesting characters. Christina Summerfield in Dead Romance is just as strong, as is Homunculette in Alien Bodies. The action hero Mr Misnomer is amusing, particular in his discussion of his own character guidance notes! I am not at all keen on comedy Nazis, but Miles a reasonably good job with the Neo-Nazi character Katastrophen.

Unusually for a Miles novel, this is an action adventure. Of course, it is all a big send-up of all the cliches and tropes of pulp science fiction and fantasy. We get a hollow planet inhabited by an ecosystem with Dinosaurs, ape men and Yetis. I am a little reminded of Terry Pratchett's books. It has the humour, the playfulness with language, the mocking of tropes, the likable characters and the hard science fiction concepts. Like Terry Pratchett books it all gets a bit confusing towards the end.

As with all Miles books, there is a strong postmodern streak running through the narrative. Much of the story is told through the recollections of Benny as she is interrogated. Given the inconsistencies in the story and the impossibility of her having access to the interior thoughts of the other characters described there is a huge question over the reliability of the whole story. We are even give the perspective of a criminal psychologist who offers his commentary on Benny's account. Alongside the usual postmodern literary theory on display, Miles' favorite intellectual concept in this novel seems to be Jung's theory of Archetypes.

I like the handling of the subject of transmat technology, with Lucretia's conviction that she dies during the process of molecular dispersal. Miles makes a brilliant statement:

"The machines could easily copy you without killing the original, but they were programed to slaughter you first, because the hardware companies didn't want to rock the economy by letting people know you could produce exact copies of valuable objects out of thin air."

I have never found the idea of matter transporter technology very believable, mainly because the idea that you can create an entire living, breathing, conscious human being. Even if the same matter is used the process of putting all the parts together must be impossible. If you can do that, you can do anything. You could instantly manufacture any piece of machinery, no matter how complex. Hunger would no longer be a problem as you could produce entire herds of livestock. Species would no longer become extinct, because you could always replicate new members of the species. I know they have replicators in Star Trek, yet the characters always complain that replicator food does not taste the same as real food. If Worf or Picard coming out of the transporter is the same as the Worf or Picard that went into it, they could surely replicate food that tastes exactly like the original.

Down is not one of Lawrence Miles' grand cosmic operas, but it is a deep and intelligent novel.

Sunday 23 October 2011

The Underwater Menace

"Blimey! Look at him! He ain't normal!"

Animated recon courtesy of DrWhoAnimator.

I read the novelization of this when I was nine or ten years old. It was the hardback edition from WH Allen. The local library had a whole collection of these hardback Doctor Who novels with beautiful covers. It made a huge impression on me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Many years later I was to discover that The Underwater Menace is considered one of the worst Doctor Who serials ever, a reputation which I think is entirely undeserved.

Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood point out in About Time that this is the Doctor Who story that comes closest to what was going on in the 60s TV Comic strip, with lots of insane plots, a cranky Second Doctor and mad scientists. The resemblance is even stronger when we notice that the Doctor signs his name as Dr. W, providing yet more confirmation that he really is called Dr. Who. Perhaps my affection for the TV Comic helps to make me sympathetic to this story or just my fond memories of the Target novel.

In many ways The Underwater Menace is cartoonish and silly. It's plot is utterly ludicrous, it has many derivative elements and the most outrageous mad scientist ever. Yet so much science fiction really is like this. You can find elements of this story in Jules Vernes and H. Rider Haggard. There are plenty of B-Movies that are pretty similar to this serial, the sort they always show at 2:00 PM. I really do not see how The Underwater Menace is really all that sillier than Invasion of the Dinosaurs (possibly the most bonkers Doctor Who plot ever) or even The Green Death (toxic sludge that makes maggots become bullet proof).

The plot is full of holes and is a bit of a runaround, with lots of getting captured and escaping again (hardly unique in Doctor Who). It is full of action, however. It is not a story that will send one to sleep. It's difficult to judge the quality of the final scenes of Atlantis being flooded, but you can't fault the ambition displayed. The surviving episode reveals some really horrible direction and some appallingly sloppy fight scenes. On the other hand, the scene at the end of episode one, with Polly menaced by surgeons about to turn her into a Fish Person is quite chilling and effective.

It might be supposed that the Fish People have been thrown in just because somebody thought the story needed a monster. They are, however, quite interesting visually, especially with their balletic swimming. The concept behind them is very reminiscent of the Cybermen, as is their appearance. The notion of being surgically altered is quite a frightening one and is captured quite well here.

It is not just the Fish People that look good; most of the sets are very well designed, despite being pathetically small. There is a real sense of a distinct and alien world, a bit like what we got in Gerry Anderson's Stingray show. The costumes are also very creative and make a strong visual impact. Polly looks glorious after replacing her hospital gown with an Atlantean seashell dress! The musical score is also very atmospheric, with the spooky organ music giving it a really dark mood.

Professor Zaroff is certainly the most bonkers of bonkers Teutonic scientists. Can anyone believe that somebody would attempt to destroy the world just for the sake of doing it? You might have thought that turning people into fish was a big enough achievement in itself. It is as though a character from a children's' cartoon had suddenly been given an extra dimension. That said, he is awfully entertaining. You can't watch it without all joining in with the immortal line "Nothink in ze vurld can stop me now!" It's not like we haven't recently seen any motiveless camp villains on Doctor Who recently. Anybody who dismisses The Underwater Menace while praising episodes featuring the eyepatch-wearing Kovarian is an hypocrite. The servant girl Ara, played by Catherine Howe, was a pretty good non-regular character. She had the potential to become a companion (probably a better one than Victoria), though with three companions on the TARDIS at this point that was not going to happen.

Troughton is great as Dr. Who in this story. He is so wild and eccentric and he looks hilarious in his gypsy outfit. I really wish writers had continued to have Dr. Who dressing up in disguises as the Second Doctor was prone to do at this stage. There is something delightfully anarchic about the Second Doctor in Season 4 that was lost in the next two seasons.

Ben is fantastic in this story, along with The Macra Terror (where he becomes a Daily Mail reading fascist) he is at his best. Polly does not fare so well and does an awful lot of whimpering. It's remarkable how Polly alternates so frequently between being plucky and resourceful to being completely pathetic. Still, being threatened with monstrous surgery must be pretty traumatic. Jamie fails to make much impact in his first story as companion proper, but it's always tricky for writers to manage three companions.

Anybody who likes Indiana Jones or James Bond films ought to be able to recognise the entertainment value of The Underwater Menace. To my mind this is much more fun than The Moonbase or The Ice Warriors. Season 4 is definitely the most interesting phase of the Troughton era. It is such a shame that fun stuff like this was replaced by routine stories about returning monsters and bases under siege.

Saturday 22 October 2011

The Smugglers

The Doctor : "You are now travelling through time and space."

Ben : "Yes, well, make sure I get back by tea-time!"

Animated reconstruction courtesy of DrWhoAnimator.

Perhaps a good deal of charm in watching this story today is that they don't make anything resembling this these days. Historical adventures are pretty much a dead genre. There are historical dramas with lots of emotion and serious themes, but historical adventures with lots of swashbuckling, black-hearted villains and hidden treasure are a thing of the past. I have never actually seen any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but the impression I get is that they are more in the realm of fantasy than historical action adventure. Perhaps it is a little surprising that this jolly pirate story was followed in the same season by The Highlanders, which is essentially another pirate story. While this story is on the surface a more light-hearted story than The Highlanders, it is apparent that the Troughton story is treated as more of a comedy, particularly in the lead actor's performance. While The Highlanders is enjoyable, the comedy feels out of place in such a dark story, while in The Smugglers, is able to tell an exciting adventure, not quite a comedy, but with a keen sense of fun.

The most obvious difference between The Smugglers and The Highlanders is that the latter provides a swashbuckling pirate adventure that arises from its historical setting, while the former makes no real use of it's historical location (other than the frequency of smuggling in that era). The Smugglers would not have looked out of place in the Colin Baker, with a change of setting to a far future space colony and the pirates as thuggish Sawardian types. It has to be said that the 17th century offers an awful lot of missed potential for historical stories, with events like the Civil War, the Monmouth Rebellion and the Glorious Revolution. One of the really sad things today is the lack of awareness of this period. Our schools teach kids about the Nazis and Henry VIII, but seem to miss out on this much more fascinating period of English history. Likewise film and television producers are fixated with the Tudors and seem to forget about the far more interesting Stuarts.

Obviously we don't know quite what this looked like, as no episodes survive. Nevertheless, given the BBC's talent for producing great historical drama, we can imagine that this looked quite fantastic. Judging from the audio recordings, most of the performances are pretty impressive.

This is the first story with Ben and Polly as companions proper. I love the way that the Doctor explodes with rage when he finds them aboard; there is something adorable about the way the Furst Doctor lost his temper. After they have left the TARDIS it becomes clear that he is coming to accept the arrival of young strays as routine.

Ben and Polly are a glorious companion team. It's tragic that they have only one completed story in the archives. Ben is tough and heroic, but not in the rather stiff Dan Dare mode of Ian Chesterton. As much as I love the original TARDIS team of Season 1, the cockney sailor is a good deal more fun than Ian. Polly is simply delightful. Her Received Pronunciation makes her seem as though she is from another world. Oh for the days when middle class girls spoke properly! Regrettably, the writers were never very consistent in their portrayal of Polly, even within the same story. One moment she is bold, confident and resourceful; another moment she is whimpering at the sight of a rat, as she does here.

One difficulty of this story is how little Ben and Polly seem to take it seriously. They adjust remarkably easily to the realisation that they have been transported to the 17th century. Then when locked in a dungeon, having been accused of murder, Polly talks about how much fun she is having! We could look to the philosopher Baudrillard and say something very postmodern about this. We might suppose that if a person from the Sixties who was used to watching swashbuckling ITC historical adventures were to be transported to the 17th century and placed in the midst of vicious pirates, she might indeed treat this as only a virtual reality equivalent of what she was used to seeing on the television or in the cinema.

There is no complex characterisation here, but we do get a wonderful cast of characters, the vicious Cherub, Longbottom, the creepy church warden, the corrupt squire and the remarkably heroic taxman, Blake. These people are so colourful!

This is not deep and educational like The Massacre or full of emotional drama like The Aztecs, but it is a wonderfully fun escapist adventure story. I doubt that any future Doctor Who producer will ever make anything like this.

Friday 21 October 2011

Gallifrey: Weapon of Choice (Big Finish Audio)

In his infamous 2002 interview, Lawrence Miles said of Big Finish:

"SOME HAVE SEEN THE NEW RANGE OF BIG FINISH AUDIOS AS THE RETURN OF REAL DOCTOR WHO". Yeah, sure. Never mind the fact that some of us have been doing everything we can to build up a next generation fanbase. Just get a couple of has-been character actors to do the voices, and suddenly that's real. For f**k's sake... When Doctor Who finally dies... and it will die, because now the newcomers are going to start turning away again, and you're going to be left with this dwindling audience of fifty-year-olds who just buy the CDs because they've got Peter Davison's picture on the front...

For all the harshness of this comment, it does hit a certain truth. I'll admit I am a sucker who bought the first season of the Gallifrey spin-off just because it had Louise Jameson and Lalla Ward in it, not to mention Lynda Bellingham. The folks that created Big Finish are smart people; they realise how much we fans love these 'has-been character actors' and they are making capital of this pool of human resources. Just yesterday I went into ecstasy with excitement on hearing about the forthcoming Big Finish spin-off, Counter-Measures. Just the thought of hearing Pamela Salem reprising her role as the delightful Rachel Jensen made me giddy. It is incredible that there are people like me who will shell out fifty quid just to hear a bunch of obscure actors reprising roles from just one story broadcast over twenty years ago.

So it's got Louise Jameson and Lalla Ward in it, but is it actually any good?

A series about Time Lords on Gallifrey is an obvious option for a Doctor Who spin-off series, but that does not mean it is a good idea. In 2004, Doctor Who writers really ought to have learned to move past this sort of thing. Stories like Invasion of Time (as story for which I have a degree of fondness) and Arc of Infinity killed the Time Lords. The idea of the Time Lords as gods of history is a fascinating one, but it is an idea that cannot easily be presented on television. Hence stories about the Time Lords ended up being about a rather mundane society of bureaucrats and technologically advanced Oxford dons. The BBC books and our beloved Lawrence Miles helped to correct this and restored a sense of awe and wonder to the Time Lords. The writers of the Gallifrey series have not learned from this development in the slightest and what we get in Weapon of Choice is a political thriller set in a technologically advanced society. Potentially entertaining, but yet another nail in the coffin of the idea of the Time Lords as an ethereal race of beings who uphold the universe.

The intrigue of Weapon of Choice revolves around a weapon called a Timonic Fusion Device. It's basically just a big bomb that blows up time, barely a step away from the Daleks' 'Time Destructor.' The Book of the War in the Faction Paradox range revealed all kinds of surreal conceptual weapons used by the Time Lords, sorry Great Houses, and their opponents. The Timonic Fusion Device just feels like any old Doctor Who McGuffin.

The plot of Weapon of Choice is quite complex. I listened to Weapon of Choice late in the evening before going to bed. This did not help me to make sense of the complex plot, but I found it extraordinarily relaxing to have it on and just let the atmosphere wash over me. I listened to the rest of the Gallifrey Season 1 this way. These audios are absolutely great for nodding off to.

One obvious question is how old Leela is at this time. Taking into account other aspects of Doctor Who continuity, considerable time must have passed between Invasion of Time and Romana's presidency. Is she being kept alive artificially using Time Lord technology? This question becomes even more pressing in the next story when Leela becomes an exotic dancer!

For all the deficiencies of this story, the cast are absolutely great and make it worth listening to. I had not heard Irving Braxiatel in the Bernice Summerfield audios, but he certainly is great here, mysterious, a bit self-serving and manipulative but quite decent at heart(s).

Weapon of Choice has contemporary relevance in its concern for issues of refugees and asylum seekers. The Enclave of Gryben captures the misery of places inhabited by people stuck in transition. I also love the Gallifrey theme tune. This story may have similarities to American science fiction shows like Star Trek, but the cool, industrial-sounding theme tune indicates that we are in a different league.

If you want something relaxing to listen to before you go to sleep, Weapon of Choice and the rest of the first season of Gallifrey is worth buying.

Sunday 16 October 2011

The Savages

Animated recon courtesy of DrWhoAnimator.

It would not be unfair to call The Savages a rather obscure story. No episodes exist in the archive and unlike some missing stories, such as Marco Polo or The Massacre, it has no great reputation. Perhaps its lack of a monster has caused it to drop from the collective memory of fandom. Its main significance is seen to lie in the departure of Steven.

Doctor Who began in An Unearthly Child with a story about cavemen. Here we get another First Doctor story featuring cave people, yet the change in the Doctor's attitude and values is enormous. Back in his first adventure, he showed complete contempt for the lives of the primitive humans he encountered. Here he values the savage humans as equals and is outraged by the injustices perpetrated against them. It is great to listen to the Doctor's condemnation of Jano's regime.

This is the First Doctor's third visit to the very far future, the others being The Web Planet (humanity has made its presence known in another galaxy) and The Ark. The Hartnell era seems particularly suited to dealing with the very far future, as it gave these stories a somewhat ethereal, dreamy atmosphere. We are no longer in the era of spaceships and robots, but an era in which humanity is living on an altogether, higher almost mythic plane of existence.

Delightfully, this is a story in which nobody dies. Sadly, there are altogether too many Doctor Who stories with high body counts. There is something ugly about the way writers would inject large numbers of onscreen deaths into stories. Despite the sadness of Steven's departure, the ending of The Savages is very upbeat and positive. There is the promise of peace and new hopes. Like The Ark, two groups previously hostile are forced to come together and live with each other. other. It is remarkable how little we see of this in later stories. In future, the villains would tend to die grisly deaths and the monsters would all be blown up. This Doctor is not fighting against terrible things that have bred in dark corners, but is knocking together the heads of warring parties and teaching them a better way.

For the first time, we see the Doctor acquiring a reputation outside of his own people. The inhabitants of the city know of the Doctor's travels, though not his name. This is quite interesting in terms of background. The Elders seem unaware that the Doctor would be against their activities, so it suggests that the Doctor had been travelling in this time before he was joined by Susan, before he called himself the Doctor and before his attitude mellowed in Season 1. Contrary to this notion, we are told in Carnival of Monsters that the Doctor had campaigned against miniscopes before his travels, a fact that sits awkwardly with the coolness of the Doctor in Season 1. I like to imagine that the youthful Doctor went on his crusade against miniscopes to impress a girl.

One thing that makes little sense is the lack of concern by the Elders about the welfare of the Savages. I know that the Elders think the Savages are subhuman scum, but they do depend on them to propel their civilization. Given the way the Savages are treated, their is the possibility that these people could end up dying out in the wilderness. I would have expected the Elders to show more concern about maintaining their feeding stock.

As with An Unearthly Child, we get a cave girl skipping about in her bare feet. As I have suggested before, it would have been more realistic for Leela to have gone barefoot. Even in the Middle Ages, Leela's boots would have stood out as exceptionally well made.

It's hard to judge the quality of The Savages by what is left of it, but I would have been happier had Doctor Who writers had stuck more closely to the values and spirit of this story. You don't need a scary monster to make a beautiful science fantasy story.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Faction Paradox: Of the City of the Saved..., by Philip Purser-Hallard

The City of the Saved is a vast city the size of a spiral galaxy. It exists in a pocket universe situated after the destruction of this universe. Its vast population is made up of the resurrected bodies of every human being that has ever lived. Obviously, this is massive high concept science fiction.

A lot of fans who read Faction Paradox: The Book of the War hated the idea of the City of the Saved, as it smacked of a religious notion of an afterlife. This is actually deceptive. As somebody points out in an introductory chapter to Of the City of the Saved..., the word 'saved' can have the meaning of data being restored onto a computer. It is a delicious play on words. Their is an ambiguity as to whether the resurrected humans are the genuine persons they pertain to be or manufactured facsimiles.

I am an evangelical Christian who believes in the resurrection of believers to eternal life and the unbelieving to eternal destruction, so naturally a novel about life after a sort of secular resurrection was of great interest to me. I have heard preachers say that if God were to let sinners into heaven, they would spoil the place. Reading Of the City of the Saved... certainly confirmed this idea in my mind. The City of the Saved might be inhabited by immortal resurrected humans, but it is certainly not the heavenly New Jerusalem. On the contrary, it is a hive of scum and villainy. The resurrected humans have brought with them every shade of depravity and nastiness of this life with them. The City of the Saved is a dystopia, with poverty, organised crime, prostitution, drug addiction and every thing else that makes life miserable, with the only difference being the inability of the city's inhabitants to harm or kill each other.

Having enjoyed This Town will Never Let Us Go enormously, I found myself wishing that Of the City of the Saved... was a Lawrence Miles book. Purser-Hallard does not quite have Miles' talent for entertaining high concept madness. I found it a little dense and a bit too violent for my taste in places. Compassion did not come across as that interesting a character, being another one of those moody, 'don't mess with me on a bad day' detective types. As with the 8th Doctor books, Compassion never quite lives up to her potential. At least in the 8th Doctor books, her abrasiveness was contrasted with the mild-mannered Doctor and the easy going Fitz. Without them she seems just a little uninteresting.

Nevertheless, this novel is not without some nice touches. Purser-Hallard's complex prose does a wonderful job of juxtaposing a surreal, dream-like atmosphere with the harshness and gritty realism of an urban environment. Of the City of the Saved... is an incredible experiment in world-building and the writer definitely manages to pull it off. The author wisely avoids the cliche of populating his afterlife with famous historical figures. Instead we get a cast that is far more varied. We are given the impression that the majority of the inhabitants of the city are quite different people to you and I. This is a humanity that has diverged in countless different evolutionary directions. If humanity is to last for millions of years into the future, as is clear in the Doctor Who universe, we can expect those from distant eons into the future to outnumber those from the past.

I was a little disappointed by the explanation for the city's origins when it was revealed towards the end. Without giving it away, it is not that different to some things we have seen in the Virgin New Adventure books. It came across as just a little unoriginal. The talking statue was cool, however.

A Time Lord, sorry Houseworlder, appears in this novel. One of the great ideas of Lawrence Miles was to inject mystery into the Time Lords by keeping them at a distance. That worked so well that when we get a Time Lord in this book, there is a real sense of a nature that is alien and remote from humanity. We are far away from Invasion of Time/ Arc of Infinity territory. There are other references to Doctor Who in this book, the half-Androgum character is an especially nice touch.

Of the City of the Saved... is not the easiest of books to read and is a little grim in parts, but is not without some great ideas.

Monday 10 October 2011

The Myth Makers

"If you take notice of them, I think you'll find they're doing more talking than fighting."

Animated reconstruction courtesy of DrWhoAnimator.

To say that The Myth Makers is irreverent would be a bit of an understatement. This serial is a complete send-up of the ancient story of the fall of Troy. The heroes of the ancient legend are made into a laughing stock and to cap it all, it has the Doctor providing Odysseus with the plan of building a wooden horse. The Myth Makers is hilariously funny. It is blessed with one of the wittiest scripts in Doctor Who, with almost every line getting a laugh from me, especially the continued ridicule of Cassandra ("Oh go and feed the sacred snakes or something"). Comedy stories in Doctor Who are always a little problematic because you have to believe in the fictional world you are watching. If you can't take it seriously, you can't believe in it. Perhaps it is difficult to imagine both The Myth Makers and The Massacre taking place in the same universe, even if the two stories are separated by over two thousand years. Nevertheless, there is enough violence and brutality in this story to remind one that this is history, even if it is being handled in a less than serious fashion.

Cassandra, by Evelyn De Morgan

The non-regulars give some very enjoyable performances in this story, of particularly note is the cynical King Priam and the thuggish Odysseus. Everyone seems to be really enjoying the story. Perhaps the big letdown is Adrienne Hill as Katarina. For somebody who is about to be introduced as a companion, she makes no impact whatsoever.

The Doctor is used highly effectively in this story. Here he is ensnared by his own cleverness, pretending to be Zeus, then finding himself unable to prove his own credentials. His protracted rage against his captor and tormentor Odysseus is quite amusing. Steven also gets a few good moments, particularly his hilarious interplay with Paris.

Maureen O'Brien is especially strong in this story. I have never really liked her performances; there was always a sense that she was not taking the stories all that seriously. That this is a comedy enables her to offer a characteristically knowing performance. Her relationship with Troilus is not at all convincing and is a typically rushed Doctor Who romance, but I don't think it is meant to be taken all that seriously.

Interestingly, the Doctor has no concern that Vicky will be unable to communicate with Troilus after the departure of the TARDIS. This would indicate that, contrary to the BBC Wales series, the ability of the Doctor and companions to communicate with non-English speakers has nothing to do with any 'TARDIS translation circuit." It would seem that it is an almost supernatural ability that the Doctor bestows on his companions and is acquired permanently, not temporarily.

It is quite tragic that so little footage of The Myth Makers is available.

Sunday 9 October 2011

The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve

"And now, they're all gone. All gone. None of them could understand. Not even my little Susan. Or Vicki. And as for Barbara and Chatterton - Chesterton - they were all too impatient to get back to their own time. And now, Steven. Perhaps I should go home. Back to my own planet. But I can't... I can't..."

As with The Highlanders, I used the YouTube recon of DrWhoAnimator. These animations are not very good quality, but this person has gone to the trouble of animating all the lost stories, which deserves respect. So far 2Entertain have only given us one DVD featuring animated lost episodes, with one forthcoming.

If the producers of Doctor Who had continued to make serials like The Massacre into the Troughton era and beyond it is safe to say that the public image and reputation of Doctor Who would be completely different. It would not be thought of as a show about tinfoil or bubblewrap monsters, but a much more sophisticated and intelligent show. The Massacre is utterly removed from the silliness of the last two seasons, so far that it is practically a different show. In the unlikely event that Moffat or a future producer decided to make a proper historical, it would be very different to The Massacre. It would no doubt be set in a well known historical setting like the reign of Henry VIII and it would be a comedy.

The Massacre was made for a more historically literate generation than ours. Back then, a lot of school children would have been taught about the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve at school, instead of sitting through endless pointless lessons about the Third Reich. The Massacre assumes that its viewers have a certain basic knowledge of history and also presumes that they are willing to learn a good deal more. History is presented in its full depth and not treated as a Bill and Ted style theme park in the manner of the BBC Wales series. Of course, this means that the viewer has to make a bit of effort and concentrate when watching this serial. It is not easy to keep up to speed with the large cast of characters and the intricacies of the political machinations that are discussed in the dialogue. Clearly the writer of this story expected just a bit more from his audience.

The Huguenot on the Eve of St. Bartholomew, by Millais

The Massacre offers some serious historical drama with a lot of tension and excitement. It is also a Doctor-lite story. The Doctor remains absent for much of the story and we are left to wonder what he is up to. Could the Abbot of Amboise really be the Doctor in disguise? Often removing the Doctor from the action reinforces the power of the Doctor as a force. With the absence of the Doctor, Steven is driven to the centre of the action as a man bewildered, out of his time and hopelessly entangled in the complexities of a society he does not really understand. Peter Purves delivers a really powerful performance. While this is Peter Purves' story, Hartnell does not fail to impress. By taking on the extra role as the Abbot, he proves that he really could act. Perhaps it is a little disappointing that the Abbot did not get a few more scenes. What is interesting is how both the Doctor and the Abbot both make themselves absent from their associates and work behind the scenes. They are similar not only in their appearance, but in their mysterious roles in this serial.

This is one of the bleaker Doctor Who stories. Not only do we see the inescapable climax with the start of a massacre, but the unwillingness of the Doctor to interfere and to save one life. Yet Doctor Who should always offer some sense of hope or optimism, as with Curse of Fenric, where Ace's mother is saved from death as a baby. One of the failings, in my judgment, of Pyramids of Mars is the lack of any upbeat element in that story. In this story, we get the introduction of a bright and cheerful new companion (I know some fans dislike Dodo, but I think she is lovely) who offers the hope that she is descended from Anne Chaplet. There is the fan theory that Steven and Anne made love during this story and Dodo is in fact a descendant of Steven. This has a certain romantic appeal and should not be discarded, despite the obstacles that Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood point out in the About Time guide.

Like the cruelly maligned Warriors of the Deep, The Massacre is one of those stories that makes you curse the Doctor. The Hartnell Doctor was always a good deal less cuddly than other Doctors, but here the viewer is disturbed by his callous disregard for the safety of Anne. The Doctor is alien to us; it is always a mistake to get too comfortable with his character. The Doctor has seen many horrible and violent events in history; the death of one young woman will not trouble him in the way it troubles Steven. Yet after Steven's angry departure we are made to sympathize with the Doctor, left alone for the first time in the series.

The Massacre is significant in terms of continuity. As improbable as it might seem, the First Doctor stories in the TV Comic most likely take place during Steven's brief departure from the TARDIS. The Doctor tells us that he cannot go back to his own planet, so where does he go? I believe he goes to find his two other grandchildren, John and Gillian and before returning for Steven has a number of adventures with him, including battling Kleptons and meeting the Pied Piper and Santa Claus. Well I think they're canon, even if nobody else does.

As a Protestant Christian I see the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve as an important part of my heritage and am glad that Doctor Who used this as a source of inspiration. This is story is a brilliant example of just how sophisticated and intelligent Doctor Who could get.

Saturday 8 October 2011

The Highlanders

I watched this animated recon of The Highlanders on YouTube. It's pretty poor animation, but it's better than staring at still photographs. The similarity to the Captain Pugwash cartoons is rather appropriate given that this is a pirate story.

I fondly remember reading the novelisation of The Highlanders when I was nine years old. Unlike Jamie, I liked Redcoats a lot, so it had natural appeal. A year later, I persuaded my parents to take me on holiday to Inverness, so I could see Culloden and Loch Ness (for Terror of the Zygons). I had a copy of Travel Without the TARDIS at the time (remember that book?).

It is unfortunate that so much Season 4 was lost because it is a much more interesting season than Seasons 5 and 6. At this point, the Troughton era had not yet turned into a routine of monsters and bases under siege. There is a diversity to this season that was entirely missing from the next, made up for only partially by the James Bond experiment of Enemy of the World. Making some more historicals in Seasons 5 and 6 would have injected some much needed variety into the Troughton era.

Rather than giving us a story about the battle of Culloden itself (which would have looked pretty awful with four Redcoats and four Highland rebels), The Highlanders serves up a good old-fashioned pirate story with swashbuckling and keelhauling. Everybody loves a jolly pirate story; it's perfect for light entertainment. The Highlanders delivers exactly the right mix of historical adventure and comedy. It is also a perfect story to showcase Troughton's broad range of acting ability by having him put on various disguises. It is rather a shame that the Doctor so rarely gets to operate like this, because it is quite hilarious. Of course, this is early Troughton, with him not quite settling on the persona that would see him through the next seasons, but he is a wild and anarchic figure who never fails to bewilder his opponents and entertain the viewer.

Both Ben and Polly are served well by this story. Ben is highly entertaining doing his cockney sailor routine amongst a bunch of Scots. This is perhaps Polly's strongest story, with her showing initiative and daring in capturing and blackmailing Ffinch. It is unfortunate that in other stories she is left to whimper at monsters or serve coffee. She has a great rapport with Kirsty. Kirsty is hilariously dumb and one actually sympathizes with Polly when she calls the girl a 'stupid peasant.' Polly's received pronunciation is quite delightful to listen to. Wouldn't it be nice if middle class girls spoke properly like her these days? According to a transcript, Polly has trouble running in her heeled shoes and kicks them off to go barefoot, like Romana 1 in Stones of Blood. You can't tell this from the audio or the photographs, so it might not be correct, though she did the same thing in the novel The Murder Game. Polly and Romana 1 are unusual companions in having footwear trouble. Tegan, Peri and Jo never had any trouble running or climbing in heels. The BBC Wales costume designers seem to be sensitive to this and always put female companions in sensible footwear (as well as some of the most boring and unimaginative costumes ever).

A lot of the guest cast slip into standard historical tropes and stereotypes, but that is what you expect in a light-hearted historical drama. With a pirate story, you need a wretched scurvy seadog captain like Trask and a gentlemanly officer figure like Ffinch. The production values for this story on the whole appear pretty high, with some enchanting location filming and studio sets that look pretty decent. It is tragic that this was the last proper historical, as it is a great example of the strengths of the genre.

Friday 7 October 2011

Ice Cream with Howard, by Matthew Clarke (fan fiction)

In the novel, The Taking of Planet 5, we learned that the Doctor had been friends with H.P. Lovecraft and had shared a mutual love of ice cream.

I decided that our Howard would have been friends with the Seventh Doctor, as he was the most American of the Doctors, with his fondness for jazz music, not to mention his habit of tangling with cosmic evil...

The origin of the Great Old Ones is taken from the novels Millennial Rites and All- Consuming Fire.

New York, 1917

The Doctor and Howard sat in an ice cream parlor, enjoying their frozen delights. The Doctor had left Mel on her own to go and explore New York. The young woman had been so excited at the prospect of seeing the city in the early twentieth century. The Doctor knew that his time with Mel was drawing to a close. He had fearful plans that needed to be set in motion and terrible evils to face. He would need to do these things without Mel. The red-haired young woman could never be a part of the darkness that was to engulf him in this regeneration.

Like Mel, Howard also seemed to be excited to be in the city. Who would have guessed that in later years he would come to despise New York so passionately?

The war was raging fiercely in Europe, but here in New York, life was giddy, gay and energetic, with the fruits of prosperity still in much abundance.

Howard was clearly loving his ice cream. The Doctor had introduced him to the delights of ice cream on his last visit. In this time, ice cream was not a domestic product, but a rare treat to be enjoyed on special occasions. It seemed ironic to the Doctor that the man loved a frozen delicacy so much given his hatred and terror of cold weather.

Howard scooped up another spoonful of vanilla ice cream, drenched in toffee sauce.

"Doctor, on your last visit, you spoke of beings called the Great Old Ones. Would you care to tell me a bit more about them?"

The Doctor looked thoughtful. So yet again history was taking it's shape around him. Time was so like a waterfall; once one entered into history, one was carried along with it's course. Howard was just beginning his writing career and now he was about to receive inspiration for so many of his writings. The Doctor had entered the history of American literature and now he was called to play his part in that history, shaping the direction of Howard's writing. He could tell Howard all about the Great Old Ones and inspire the man to write a whole series of stories. Alternatively, he could change the subject and talk about cats. Howard loved cats and so did the Doctor. It did not matter; Howard would go on to write Call of Cthulhu and At the Mountains of Madness whatever the Doctor said to him. You can't change history, not one line.

The Doctor decided to enlighten Howard.

"Howard, imagine, if you will, that somewhere in this universe that there are an whole race of gods. Not gods as you will read about in religions like Christianity, nor the kind of gods in ancient mythology, though the gods of Greek or Norse myth might be a little closer. Somewhere in this universe are a race who are true lords of time. These Time Lords were one of the first races to emerge in this universe. They were here when the universe was young, when it was filled with chaos."

"History owes it's birth to the Time Lords. They decided how the universe should work, what kind of life forms could be permitted to evolve and in what direction history should go. They are the true centre of time; it flows around them like water flowing around a great rock."

Howard interrupted. "Creatures that are mortal like us, yet which have achieved mastery over the cosmos?"

"Indeed," affirmed the Doctor. "You can compare them with Prometheus if you like, or Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost. But suppose that this race encountered a race who had a better claim to be gods?"

The Doctor continued.

"You may think that the cosmos is everything, that the universe is the full extent of reality, yet in truth there are many universes. There are a multitude of cosmoses floating in the colossal sea of Ur-Cosmos. Before the birth of time and space, there was another cosmos. This universe was very different to ours, with physical laws utterly opposed to those of this one. Yet it had one similarity to ours; this universe had a race of beings who had lifted themselves to godhood and had gained mastery of time and space. The time lords of this universe were able to survive the death of their universe and enter into our cosmos at its very birth."

"Such beings would be seen as gods!" exclaimed Howard.

"As these beings were more ancient than our universe, they came to be called the Great Old Ones, beings older than the dawn of time. As you said, in this universe, they were like gods, with tremendous powers. As you might imagine, they came to be worshiped on countless worlds by mortals who understood little about their nature."

"Now the Time Lords were determined to be masters of this universe. History had to be ordered to their design. They believed that the cosmos needed to operate by fixed laws. The Old Ones, being from another universe and possessing powers not governed by physical laws were utterly abhorrent to the Time Lords. The Old Ones could be seen as nothing but a force of chaos and an obstacle to their ascendancy over time."

"The Time Lords and the Old Ones fought a terrible war, a war that lasted so long that it became known as the Eternal War. The Time Lords won this war, but after it was over they were utterly sickened by violence. They were determined never to fight again. They sealed and fortified their homeworld against the outside universe, making themselves an impregnable bulwark against the forces of change. In defeating the Old Ones, the Time Lords had enthroned themselves as the true gods of the universe."

Howard seemed absolutely fascinated.

"It reminds me of the myth of the Greek gods fighting their primordial war against the Titans," said Howard.

"Yes," agreed the Doctor. "Perhaps it is the origin of that myth. You could make the comparison in two different ways. You could view the Time Lords as the forces of order fighting against the Titans of chaos. Alternatively, you could view the Time Lords as upstart Titans fighting against the gods. Only these Titans won against the gods. It is all a lot like Wagner, the Supermen and the Giants and so forth."

"You must understand, Howard, that it was not just the Old Ones who fought against the Time Lords. There were other forces of chaos at work in the universe. The Time Lords had carried out incredible experiments in order to gain control of time. They created holes in the very fabric of the cosmos, allowing other things to enter in. The Yssgaroth were the most terrible of these, hideous winged serpent-like creatures from another universe. They swarmed through the universe creating vast armies of terrible giant bats and vampires. They bled whole worlds dry."

Howard shivered as the Doctor spoke of the horrors of the Great Vampires that the Time Lords had fought in the Eternal War.

"There was also the Hoothi, super-intelligent fungus that was able to animate whole armies of walking corpses. There was also the spider-like Racnoss. Never forget the Racnoss.."

Howard was clearly most fascinated by the Old Ones.

"Doctor, what happened to the Old Ones? Were they destroyed by the Time Lords?"

The Doctor's eyes narrowed.

"Oh no, they could not be destroyed so easily. They escaped into the darker places of the universe, biding their time for a return. The most terrible of them lies in the time-vortex, the barrier between dimensions. He is Nylarthotep, the crawling chaos. I have never faced him before and I dread the day that I do."

"There was also Yog-Sothoth, known as the Great Intelligence. He was the Old Ones' strategist. He used the most bizarre and complicated plots. I fought against him twice, though that's a couple of decades away."

Howard looked puzzled. The concept of time travel was still unfamiliar to him.

"Shub-Niggurath is dead. She died giving birth to a Thousand Young. This offspring became known as the Nestene Consciousness. They rule a great empire in the stars. The one called Cthulhu is already here on this planet, imprisoned in its depths. He was worshiped by the reptilian race that once ruled the Earth."

"Mankind was not the first intelligence in this world?" asked an amazed Howard.

"By no means, but that story is for another time," replied the Doctor. "Through time and space I have battled these entities. Entities like the Gods of Ragnorak, who delight in nothing so much as the destruction of life. They watched countless beings go to their deaths for their entertainment." The Doctor snarled with anger at the thought.

"Among the most evil of the Old Ones was Hastur the Unspeakable. Some people call him Fenric. I defeated him a long time ago and imprisoned him. I know that one day I will have to face him again. Hastur did some terrible things..."

At the mention of Hastur, the Doctor seemed to become even angrier, yet this receded into what appeared to be sadness. Howard realised that the Doctor had ventured onto a subject deeply personal to him, as though Hastur was connected to some tragedy in his past. Howard knew that it would be futile to question the Doctor regarding it. He had his secrets.

"There are many cults, even on this world, that adore the Old Ones," said the Doctor. "There have always been foolish men who would try to gain power through things they do not understand. Evil from before the dawn of time is not to be trifled with."

"Doctor, you speak of the Old Ones as being evil. Yet I wonder if such categories of good and evil are appropriate," said Howard. "I would imagine that such an ancient being, from another cosmos would be so powerful that it would be indifferent to human beings and be beyond morality."

"You think that ultimately morality has no cosmic significance?" asked the Doctor.

"No, I do not. I believe that there is no real meaning to this cosmos. Good and evil are merely human trifles. Humanity will pass away into nothingness as is the way of all things. There is no grand purpose in the universe," said Howard.

"I understand your belief, but I have travelled in time and space and I have come to see that a higher purpose can be found when you seek it out. Perhaps in time you will see that," said the Doctor.

"I rather doubt it," said Howard. "I must thank you , Doctor for this treat. It is wonderful to talk about the wonders of the universe over ice cream. The universe is becoming a larger place for me."

The Doctor smiled at Howard. He was saddened by his pessimistic attitude, but he understood perfectly why Howard felt that way. He had seen how dark and savage the cosmos really was. With such unfeasibly monstrous beings as the Old Ones and the Yssgaroth, who could fail to be horrified at the apparent chaos and bleakness? Yet while there was evil from before the dawn of time, there was also a power of good. For all the darkness of his pilgrimage, the Doctor had seen that power at work amongst those he travelled with and in the lives of those he helped. The universe was not so lacking in purpose as Howard believed.

Sunday 2 October 2011

The Wedding of River Song

The First Doctor: You can't change history, my dear.

Barbara: Why not?

The First Doctor: Because this is a fixed point. If you change this, the entire universe will descend into chaos, with Romans frolicking with Pteradons and that irritating twit Churchill running everything.

Barbara: How can you know that?

The First Doctor: Because I'm the Doctor and I know everything. Do you need to ask?

(Taken from the unmade story "The Incas," written by Charles Dickens)

I was expecting this episode to be absolute garbage. It was, but my big surprise was how few surprises were thrown in and how predictable the whole thing was. It had all the banal trappings of a Moffat season finale, a roller-coaster ride of action, special effects wizardry, alternate timeline nonsense, an old monster thrown in for good measure and lots of references to previous Moffat stories to remind everyone that the man thinks he's George Lucas. More than this, the key puzzle elements that everyone was wrapped up in turned out to be rather obvious. It was a Teselecta robot that got killed. It was either going to be that or a Ganger. No surprise there. Even if you haven't watched the episode you don't need me to tell you what the big question was.

As for the big bad villainness, Lady Kovarian with the eyepatch, we still have no motivation or explanation about who she is or what she was up to. She is rather easily disposed of. Admittedly, this happens in an erased timeline, so perhaps we will see her again. I'm a little in two minds about Amy killing Kovarian in cold blood. It is frustrating when characters find it impossible to kill the villain, when in real life the truth is that people find it all too easy to kill in the heat of the moment. I have no problem with the Fourth Doctor blowing up the Graf Vynda-K or killing Solon with poison gas when necessity demanded it. It made a nice contrast with other heroes who would endanger everybody by refusing to kill at a crucial moment. But seeing Amy kill Kovarian when she was helpless was a bit nasty. Maybe I feel strongly because Kovarian is a woman. I am always disturbed by violence against women. At least she felt remorse over it later.

This whole thing about a fixed point in time is just silly. Why is one point in time fixed but not another? Given all the alterations to the timeline we have seen since decided to abandon the Hartnell era notion that history is fixed, it is odd that one small moment of the Doctor getting killed should throw all reality into chaos. It's like the whole universe revolves around the Doctor. As for a world in which all history happens at the same time, this is an impossible and absurd notion that has been used simply to justify impressive but ultimately unimaginative visuals. I'm really tired of these supercosmic stories in which the entire universe is re-booted. Having the entire universe destroyed and then re-created in The Big Bang was bad enough. The destruction of the universe has now become a rather banal concept.

What has happened to Alex Kingston's acting? Her performances were one of the few strong points of this series, but in this finale her performance was really lacklustre and unconvincing. I did predict that River Song would be killed off a while ago. I was wrong. I'm sure we will see some more of her. Perhaps the writers will get the chance to give her a personality, but I won't get my hopes up.

A lot of reviewers have heaped praise on the reference to the death of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, describing it as a 'beautiful tribute' to Nicholas Courtney. I thought it was painfully sentimental. Nicholas Courtney was a great actor and all of us fans have mourned his passing. However, a throwaway piece of dialogue to justify a stupid plot manoeuvre does not make for a fitting tribute. Besides the Doctor has lived for centuries. As alien as it may be for us, the death of one human being, no matter how close to him is probably not going to affect him so strongly. He may well have had news of the death of other people close to him such as Jo Grant, Dodo or Ben and Polly, or he at least knows they will die.

As for the question of who the Doctor is, just re-watch Silver Nemesis. Lady Peinforte made a big deal out of what an astounding secret the Doctor's name was, but was the Doctor bothered?

The Wedding of River Song is a predictably bad conclusion to really awful season. Who knows what will come next.