Tuesday 28 May 2013

Doctor Who - The Complete Adventures

Doctor Who- The Complete Adventures

This is one of my favorite Doctor Who websites. It simply is fantastic!

Andrew Kearley provides a complete and exhaustive chronology of where each Doctor Who story takes place in the life of the Doctor. He does not limit himself to televised stories, but includes not only the novels and audios, but the comics, annuals and even such obscure spin-offs as the Give-A-Show Projector stories and the Sky Ray Ice Lolly cards! He makes a great defence of his canon inclusivism:

'My basic rule of thumb was to treat every story equally, regardless of its source. Why, I asked myself, should we regard an annual story as somehow less real than a Missing Adventure novel? The former, written by an hack author with little concern for the overall continuity of the show, just working to complete his commission and move on to his next project, is probably a damned sight more "traditional" Doctor Who than a novel written by a fan author and scrupulously cross-referenced to the series continuity. We should also remember that for the Doctor Who fan growing up in the sixties and seventies, before the continuity police took over, those comic strips and annual stories were just as much a part of the series as the television episodes - and indeed more accessible than a once-only tv broadcast - and just as eagerly devoured. So who are we to suddenly declare that they no longer exist?'

Andrew Kearley uses a lot of creativity in considering where to set stories. He places the Dr. Who and the Dalek sweet cigarette story early in the Doctor's life and offers some interesting speculation about that story:

'The notion of the Doctor serving as an ambassador has precedent in the series - it is presumably in this capacity that he first met Dastari. In the two missions presented here, the Tardis is nowhere to be seen - presumably the Doctor travels by Time Ring. In the first mission, he is dressed in some sort of spacesuit. The second assignment could be some considerable time later - the Doctor has now adopted an Edwardian costume. The fact that he encounters the Daleks here, and indeed makes peace with them, is forgotten later on.'

A number of stories in the annuals feature adventures with both Harry Sullivan and Sarah Jane Smith. Kearley sees no problem in setting these in between Robot and Ark in Space. While most fans assume that Robot is immediately followed by Ark in Space, he rightly concludes that there is no reason to think that the TARDIS departure at the end of Robot is any more than a short hop.

The First Doctor TV Comic stories featuring John and Gillian have always been difficult to place, though there are a number of possibilities. Kearley places these in a period in between The Dalek Masterplan and The Massacre. He argues that The Massacre suggests some passage of time, with no reference to the previous traumatic story. He makes no guesses as to where Steven was left during this period. A number of solo Hartnell stories are placed within this gap.

There are not many chronologies of the Doctor's life that don't include a Season 6B and this one is no exception. The simple truth is that if one takes continuity seriously, there is no alternative but to see the necessary of this gap. The Second Doctor TV Comic stories are placed in 6B, which is pretty much the only place they can go.

A huge number of comic stories are fitted in between The Green Death and The Time Warrior. This answers the ludicrous criticism of those who complain that the Third Doctor is still on Earth working with UNIT after Jo's departure. For all we know, Dr. Who might have been travelling for centuries in between those two stories.

Remarkably, both A Fix with Sontarans and Dimensions in Time included in this chronology. Kearley treats the former as an insidious attempt to turn the Doctor into a fictional character. He suggests that the appearances of the past Doctors in Dimensions in Time are probably manifestations of the Doctor's subconscious. I was also surprised by the inclusion of Death Comes to Time, which most fans consider to be apocryphal. I would have appreciated a note to address some of the difficulties of relating that story to Doctor Who continuity.

I was a little disappointed that The Infinity Doctors is treated as a genuinely apocryphal story. I consider that novel to be canon and would argue that it is an early First Doctor story. I was also disappointed that the author makes no attempt to place the Doctor's first contest against Fenric. I actually emailed him about that. He replied that as we don't know which Doctor was involved, any attempt to place it would be speculation. That is true, but it's not like he does not do a lot of speculation with other stories. It would have been interesting to see his guess on that.

What is wonderful about this chronology is to see the sheer volume of adventures that the Doctor has had. It is mind boggling. It is especially nice to see how many Fourth Doctor and 1st Romana stories there are. Mary Tamm's Romana was such a lovely companion that it would be awful to think the Doctor only travelled with her during the quest for the Key to Time.

Sunday 19 May 2013

The Name of the Doctor

Moffat offers yet more fuel for the claim that he is ripping off Lawrence Miles. In this episode he evokes both Alien Bodies with the future death of Dr. Who and Interference, with Dr. Who's past being rewritten. Ironically, it seems likely that the new John Hurt Doctor will be a very similar character to the Grandfather Paradox Doctor in The Ancestor Cell, but we will have to wait and see.

After this episode, Moffat deserves every accusation of sexism that STFU Moffat can throw at him. His objectification of women sinks to new lows as we discover that Clara was created for the sole purpose of saving the Doctor. She actually has no real independent existence in her own right but exists only to meet the needs of the male protagonist. It is as though Moffat thought to himself, "Those people who write STFU Moffat think I'm sexist, do they? Well they ain't seen nothing yet!" It seriously stinks.

As far as the story goes, there is not a lot to it. One of the worst things about current Doctor Who is that it is boring. I found myself continually pausing Iplayer to check my emails. Aside from the revelation about the Hurt Doctor, there is nothing of any real interest. The revelation about Clara is more depressing than interesting.

The Name of the Doctor makes much of the idea that the Doctor has lots of secrets that he is guarding. It seems an odd idea really. We have always known that the Doctor has lots of mysteries that he seldom shares. Nevertheless, he has never shown much concern about guarding them or that they have any cosmic consequence. When Lady Peinforte threatened to reveal his name, he did not seem to care. We all know that his name is Dr. Who anyway.

I have said before that these big epic season finales which threaten cosmic doom are getting mundane. There is nothing exciting about the very fabric of time and space being threatened if it happens at every season finale.

This episode echoes Lawrence Miles on a superficial level, but ultimately it demonstrates how Miles understood what Doctor Who is about and Moffat does not. Miles has criticised the tendency of the show to fetishise the Doctor. This episode is possibly the most glaring example of this tendency, along with the other Moffat season finales. We are shown the universe being in terrible peril and the only thing that stands between the destruction of everything is Dr. Who and his flirty pixie girl sidekick. The universe begins and ends with the demented bloke in the bowtie. The result of this is to make the universe seem small, pathetic and ultimately dull. This is exactly the opposite of what Doctor Who should be about. This is what 'Mad Larry' understood and what the people writing Doctor Who fail to understand. Doctor Who should be about exploring how big and wonderful and amazing the universe is, not turning it into a tiny fragile thing that depends on the Doctor to save it. That is why I stand by my opinion that The Rings of Akhaten, for all its faults, is the best and the only really decent Doctor Who story this season.

Monday 13 May 2013

The Scorchies (Big Finish Companion Chronicle)

Given the importance of Doctor Who as a children's television program, it is very appropriate that Big Finish did a story about classic children's television.

The titular fictional show, The Scorchies, is a sort of amalgam of the Muppets, Bagpuss, Blue Peter and The Clangers. However, the Scorchies are not merely puppets, but an alien intelligence bent on taking over the world. In a bid to stop their evil plans, Jo becomes trapped in their colourful television studio.

I must confess, I actually found this story very frightening and disturbing. The idea of cute puppets on a children's show being murderous and evil was really unsettling. Yet despite this sense of eeriness, I still found it hugely fun and enjoyable. I loved the use of music. The song 'Jo is making a thing' is really catchy and 'The Doctor's Dead,' with its references to enemies of Dr. Who, is hilarious. I also loved the reference to Delia Smith being a celebrity guest on the Scorchies Show.

Jo is one of my least favorite companions, but this is a story that really suits her. Being quite a childish character, she fits into the world of the Scorchies, a world that is very much in the background of the Pertwee era. Katy Manning does a great job of evoking Pertwee's voice, an impersonation that is resonant with her personal affection for the late actor.

My only complaint about the story is that Jo never sings a song. We are told that guests on the Scorchies Show have to tell a story, make a thing and sing a song, yet Jo only does the first two things. The absence of Jo singing a song feels conspicuous and disappointing. We know Katy Manning can sing, because she sang (as Iris Wildthyme) in The Wormery. Nevertheless, The Scorchies is definitely one of the best Big Finish audios I have heard.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Nightmare in Silver

This story got a negative review from the usually faithful Radio Times. Not a good sign. Indeed, it truly was a rotten story.

Having hated The Doctor's Wife, I was really dreading another story by Neil Gaiman. I have read only a few of his writings, but he comes across as just a bit too cool. Like Gaiman's previous Doctor Who story, Nightmare in Silver tries to combine seemingly original ideas with a strong sense of nostalgia, yet ends up falling very flat.

Nightmare in Silver feels very much like a mishmash of several different stories from the classic series. We have the obvious Tomb of the Cybermen reference, future soldiers (Earthshock), Dr. Who playing chess (Curse of Fenric), children being turned into battle computers (Remembrance of the Daleks), the Cyber-planner (The Invasion) and a mental contest (Brain of Morbius). I'm sure I have missed one or two others. Even the Cyberman playing chess was plundered from a Big Finish story.

Central to the story was Dr. Who being turned into the Cyber-Planner and forced into an internal conflict. This felt very tedious. It also did not quite feel quite right for a Cyberman story. A Cybernised Dr. Who ought to be cold and logical, but Matt Smith played the part as demented as he usually does. He came across more like another version of the Master. The Cybermen themselves were just clunky robots and used only as drones. I quite like the Cybermites, but they were underused.

A lot of people have complained about Clara. She switches very easily to the role of military leaders in this story. Her characterisation seems to be whatever a particular script demands of her. She showed little emotional engagement with anything in this story. I'm also not the only one disappointed by how quickly Tamzin Outhwaite's captain was killed off.

The story resolution felt a little too easy- blow up the planet, transmat to the spaceship, then safely home.

I really do hope Moffat, or whoever is producing Doctor Who next time does not hire Neil Gaiman again.

Friday 10 May 2013

The Auntie Matter (Big Finish audio)

The pleasure of hearing Mary Tamm reunited with Tom Baker for this audio drama was tinged with the sadness of her recent passing. I really loved Mary Tamm's Romana who was a pleasure to watch in every moment of her stories.

As a pastiche of the work of PG Wodehouse, this story is very good fun. It has all the elements that made those works great; light-headed young men, country houses, wily butlers and menacing aunts. Yet as a Doctor Who story it is not that interesting. It's plot is predictable and unoriginal. The idea of an alien villain stealing human bodies to prolong her life has been done rather a few times before.

I didn't feel very inspired by Tom Baker's performance. I didn't feel the crazed eccentricity for which his television performances are remembered. This may be down to the fact that he is not given any memorable dialogue. It seems to be Reginald that got the best lines in the story. As the Doctor and Romana are split up for most of the story, we end up mostly missing out on what was best about their team, their interaction.

I really hate to complain about the late Mary Tamm, but what happened to her accent? She used more Estuary vowel sounds in this than a BBC news reader. The state of the Received Pronunciation is in a really bad shape when the poshest companion no longer sounds posh.

It's a fun story that is worth a listen, but don't expect too much. But the choice of title was great.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

TARDIS Eruditorum Volume 2: Patrick Troughton, by Philip Sandifer

I hope you have enjoyed reading Dr. Phil Sandifer's fascinating Doctor Who blog, because I certainly have. When it comes to buying his second volume on the Troughton era, the question is, why buy the book when you can read the blog for free? As with the previous volume, there is plenty of extra material to justify the purchase. Sandifer offers essays on several spin-off products that are not covered on the blog, such as Baxter's Wheel of Ice. He also provides bonus essays on topics such as UNIT dating and the unfortunate presence of mute black strong men in some stories.

The Troughton era is not my favorite period in the history of the show. I like Season 4 and find some of Season 6 fun, but I find Season 5 monotonous. As ever with Sandifer, sometimes I agree with him and sometimes I disagree with him. Thankfully, this we haven't got to the Thatcher era in the books yet, so his left-wing politics come across as a little less obnoxious than they have been on the blog.

A key paradigm in Sandifer's discussion of the Second Doctor is the notion of his 'Mercuriality,' that is his connection with the mystical properties of metals within the alchemical tradition. This concept is vital in making sense of The Wheel in Space.

As regards the last true Doctor Who historical (leaving aside Black Orchid, which is barely an historical), Sandifer argues that the story is primarily about convincing viewers that the Hartnell era was over and the new regime was going to be a lot more fun. The Highlanders is thus a wicked send-up of the Spooner historicals. I was pleased to see that Sandifer has some positive things to say about the undeservedly despised Underwater Menace. On Moonbase, he argues that this story is about the Doctor facing up to the evil that destroyed his previous incarnation.

Sandifer seems unable to praise Evil of the Daleks highly enough. I'm not sure I agree with his assesment. This story feels somewhat overlong and tedious to me. Given the absence of so many episodes, I'd rather reserve judgment on it. He argues that this was the first Steampunk story. If so, it deserves a lot of blame for originating this tedious and overused genre.

Sandifer is negative in his assessment of Tomb of the Cybermen. I have praised that story myself, but I have largely come to agree with his view of it. His essay on that story is preceded by an interesting piece on race in Troughton era Doctor Who. A lot of readers may feel that he is a little too forgiving toward Evil of the Daleks and Web of Fear, despite their use of racial stereotypes. He is uncomfortable, however, with The Abominable Snowman on account of its Orientalism.

As with Evil of the Daleks, Sandifer cannot stop praising The Enemy of the World. He makes some strong points that incline me to be favorable to it, though it's hard to evaluate a lost story like this one. He looks at The Web of Fear primarily in terms of its role in shaping fan expectations of what Doctor Who should be about.

Sandifer is very harsh in his criticism of The Dominators, which he views as an 'attack on the ethical foundations of Doctor Who.' I was disappointed because I rather like that story. I don't know what that says about me. His next essay on The Mind Robber is quite fascinating. He offers the remarkable theory that the Doctor is from the Land of Fiction and its creators are his own people. I don't find this theory altogether convincing and it seems a distraction from the fact that The Mind Robber is poorly conceived and tedious story. His take on The War Games is particularly fascinating. He views it as a kind of narrative critique of the entire Troughton era, which makes it an appropriate conclusion to that period of the show.

On the Season 6B question, he is rather dismissive of the idea, viewing it as an example of ludicrous continuity obsession. May he be forgiven. He also unfortunately favours dating the UNIT stories to the period when they were broadcast.

I don't think one can argue with his assertion that Prison in Space was a piece of appalling sexism that should never have been revisited by Big Finish.

I would highly recommend TARDIS Eruditorum vol.2 to all Doctor Who fans. You won't agree with everything, but it's all insightful stuff.

Sunday 5 May 2013

The Crimson Horror

I really don't like Mark Gatiss' writing. I also really don't like Steampunk and Victorian fantasy tropes. I was thus rather dreading this story. I am not sure exactly what I dislike so much about Victorian fantasy, but as I expected, it very much left me cold.

I have seen very little negative feedback in reviews. This ought to suggest that it is a good episode that I just don't like. In fairness, this story does seem to be superior to some of Gatiss' other offerings. Nevertheless, it is not free from some of Gatiss' faults.

Most significantly, like other Gatiss stories, it tries to do far more than the time limit allows. He follows his usual approach of throwing everything in, including the bathroom sink. We have a disease from the Eocene era, Steampunk technology, more stuff about Clara, the return of those Vastra et al, satire about Victorian religion and values and Ada's relationship with her 'monster.' None of these ideas are given significant time for them to have any impact.

The second Gatiss weakness, is his tendency toward silliness. I can take some silliness some times. Delta and the Bannermen is silly in a way that works, as is Robot. But there is a restraint to these stories that enables it to work. The Crimson Horror just feels stupid. Rocket technology in the Victorian era? Come on, that's crazy.

Personally, I can't stand the trio of Vastra, Jenny and Strax. They are supposed to be funny, but are actually just annoying. Yet I did find that it was refreshing for them to take the lead at the start of the episode. Too much of the time, everything is centred on Dr. Who. It was also refreshing to see the Doctor in pain and vulnerable for once.

I am sure STFU Moffat will bring up the horrible ableism seen in the way Ada was portrayed. Her blindness was shown as a source of horror and creepiness, along with the language of being in 'darkness.'

Saturday 4 May 2013

The Selachian Gambit, by Steve Lyons (Big Finish Companion Chronicle)

Being written by Steve Lyons, one could be pretty confident that The Selachian Gambit would turn out to be good story. It is also about the Selachians, which is a treat. The Selachians are such a brilliant monster. They have a strong visual image, combined with distinctive voices that work very well on audio. They also have an interesting similarity to the Daleks; being fish, they are small pathetic creatures that dress up in armoured suits to make themselves intimidating.

Like so many Second Doctor stories, The Selachian Gambit is a base-under-siege. However, it is an interesting one because the base in question is a bank. This is a story about a bank robbery, with all the tension and drama that goes with that. It must be said that this is a brilliant re-creation of Season 4, with the fun and creativity that went with that season, a creativity that seemed to dry up in the more generic Season 5. This audio combines action and humour very well, as well as a little social critique.

The Selachian Gambit was performed by Frazer Hines, with additional voice acting and extra narration from Anneke Wills. Hines does a wonderful job of re-creating Troughton's voice. He also captures Michael Craze's vocal mannerisms quite well; though I actually enjoyed Anneke Will's impersonation of Ben rather more. I like the fact that Hines, rather than Wills provides the voice for Lady Sylvia. This is appropriate given that Season 4 was the one in which Troughton went in drag (as also seen in Lyons Second Doctor novel The Murder Game).

The Selachian Gambit is blessed with a lively score that captures both the sense of menace and the fun and nostalgia for the early Second Doctor era. I would highly recommend this audio.