Saturday 30 November 2013

Genesis of the Cybermen (yes, you read the title right)

Genesis of the Cybermen was a script written by Gerry Davis, creator of the Cybermen and submitted to Eric Saward, script writer for Doctor Who. It was rejected, yet was included as a short story in David Banks' (clenching fist) excellent Cybermen book. It is regrettable that this short story is written more as an outline or an extended synopsis, featuring no actual dialogue.

Poor Gerry Davis seems to have been a bit confused by all the comings and goings among the TARDIS crew. Having lost track of exactly who Dr. Who was supposed to be travelling with, he has her accompanied by a pretty but light-headed blonde girl called Felicity.

Genesis of the Cybermen, as its title suggests, gives us a glimpse of the origin of the Mondasian Cybermen as Gerry Davis conceived it. As much as Eric Saward liked stories about Cybermen and lots of continuity, it is pretty easy to see why he rejected this. It is very much an old fashioned space adventure in a pseudo-Tolkienesque society in which everybody has a Latinized name. This sort of story would have looked dated if it had been done in the Pertwee era, let alone in the 80s with Peter Davison or Colin Baker. It is also structured like an over-padded Doctor Who story, with lots of capture and escape routines.

Yet this story would have fitted very neatly into the Hartnell era, despite the presence of the Cybermen. With his forgetfulness, the Doctor in this story comes across as very much more like Hartnell than Davison or Colin Baker. Genesis of the Cybermen has that fairy tale quality that is often found in First Doctor space adventures. It feels like it could have been a Wagnerian, particularly as it features a Valkyrie-like blonde queen who has been partially cybernised. Steven Moffat talks about wanting to give Doctor Who a 'fairy tale' quality, but I rather doubt he has ever read the Brothers Grimm or the Blue Fairy Book. His awareness of the fairy tale genre does not seem to stretch beyond Disney adaptations and I imagine he thinks Mary Poppins was in the Brothers Grimm. He really should read this story to find out how Doctor Who can have a fairy tale quality.

The story compounds its datedness by offering a nod to Von Daniken. We learn that some of the Mondasians fled to Earth after Mondas drifted from its orbit. They apparently left many artifacts for archaelogists to puzzle over. This naked Von Dankienism is certainly implied in The Tenth Planet, with the talk about Mondas being an ancient name for Earth.

Is Genesis of the Cybermen canon? We cannot treat every unmade story as canon, but certainly those reproduced by Big Finish are candidates. The Cybermen book was published by arrangement with the BBC, so it might be said to be a licensed product. True, it is difficult to harmonize some aspects of this story with Spare Parts, but no more so than the difficulties in harmonizing Spare Parts with The World Shapers.

So if this is a story that 'really happened,' when is it set? Although this was submitted to Eric Saward, I really don't think this is a Fifth or Sixth Doctor story. The Doctor seems to have little recollection about Mondas and the Cybermen, while those 80s Doctors had a pretty good grip on continuity. It seems likely therefore, that the Genesis of the Cybermen Doctor is the First Doctor. So when did he travel with Felicity? This must have been one of those mysterious gaps in the television stories during which the World Distributors annuals and TV Comic First Doctor stories are set. This could be in between The Dalek Masterplan and The Massacre, or it could be before the end of The War Machines, before Dr. Who returns for Dodo. We might well wonder whatever adventures Dr. Who might have had with Felicity.

Sunday 24 November 2013

The Day of the Doctor

I wish this had been written by Terrance Dicks. The big problem with The Five Doctors was that it was essentially a showcase of set pieces, classic monsters and classic companions. Yet that story was held together by Terrance Dicks skillful plotting. It had more coherence than it deserved. Only Terrance Dicks could have made The Five Doctors work.

Strong coherent plotting is what The Day of the Doctor badly needed. It rambled from one mismatched sequence to another with no real sense of where the story was going. It was made up from a number of story strands, the UNIT stuff with the Zygons, the daft bits with Queen Elizabeth I and of course the stuff about the War Doctor and the destruction of Gallifrey. These all felt like they belonged in different stories and they seemed rather poorly held together in this. As is so often the case, two much comedy is allowed to weaken a serious storyline. The New Series has consistently, and particularly under Moffat, failed to understand that to tell a serious story, some of the laughs have to be trimmed. What made Season 18 so great was that the comic excesses of Tom Baker had been curbed and prevented from intruding on proper storytelling. The New Series has never really achieved that consistency of tone. It presumes that viewers can't cope for two minutes without a comic line being thrown in.

Pacing was also a problem. The New Series format of short forty-five minutes episodes has big limitations, but Moffat seems to struggle with stories with a fuller length. The Day of the Doctor rambled on for quite a while before any kind of story felt like it was in motion. As with much that Moffat has written, I found myself feeling bored. Doctor Who is always at its worse when it starts to feel boring. Nothing felt particularly original; shape-changing aliens, weapons of mass destruction, historical romps, these are all things that Doctor Who has done in different ways before. I know this is supposed to celebrate the series' past, but simply regurgitating old themes makes for a uninteresting story.

As a multi-Doctor story, I don't think it was a great success. There was hardly any real chemistry between the Doctors. They argue a bit, but there is no sense of a conflict between contrasting personalities who are actually the same person. Part of the problem is that David Tennant is such a leading man actor. He seems to struggle to know how to play his role in tandem with Smith. Not having seen Hurt as the Doctor before this, it was also difficult to really regard him as a Doctor alongside the other two.

There was some nice dramatic tension toward the end with the question of whether the Doctors would press the button, and thankfully this got resolved almost satisfactorily, provided one completely forgets about The End of Time. We had better hope that the Doctor finds Gallifrey soon, otherwise freezing children in time seems no better than killing them.

I'm surprised this story has gone down so well with viewers and fans. I'm sure nobody who follows this blog expected me to like this, but I had expected a bit more of a critical reaction from some writers. For all its faults, I think An Adventure in Space and Time is the real 50th anniversary special, not The Day of the Doctor.

Saturday 23 November 2013

An Adventure in Space and Time

I think we can all accept that this is not a factual documentary. There are things in this drama that are not accurate or realistic. For instance, I'm pretty sure that Verity Lambert was a lot more confident and not nearly as timid as she appears in this, as Lawrence Miles pointed out the other day. This is a tender and affectionate tribute and celebration of the birth of Doctor Who.

I was a bit worried about this, as I regard Mark Gatiss as one of the less impressive Doctor Who writers. He has written some very second-rate stories. However, it turned out to be both moving and enjoyable. This is probably the best thing Gatiss has written. It tells the story that all of us Who fans know by heart, but brings it to life in a way that is accessible for the newer viewer.

David Bradley is incredible in the role of Hartnell. He seems so true to the part, much more so than Richard Hurndall was in The Five Doctors. The other cast do a great job too, though the stand-in for Troughton does not look much like the man at all. He looked more like somebody doing a cosplay of the Second Doctor at a convention.

Long term readers of this blog will know I obsess over Received Pronunciation and lament the inability of many modern actors to speak in proper RP. I was dreadfully worried that Verity Lambert was going to sound like Tony Blair or a BBC newsreader, but thankfully Jessica Raine sounded RP most of the time. Some of the actors ought to have sounded a little posher, but never mind.

While at times there was a touch of sentimentality in An Adventure, it succeeded in being moving. Some of the tenderest moments were when we saw Hartnell with his family. It was so lovely when Hartnell was crying over the fireplace on knowing his time when the show was over, that Heather Hartnell said "I'll make a nice cup of tea."

The drama was not, however, perfect. A lot of the people most involved in the early success of the show were glossed over, such as Terry Nation, Ray Cusick, Delia Derybshire and the Radiophonic Workshop. Unsurprisingly, Gatiss made the decision to play safe and barely acknowledge Hartnell's tendency to bigoted opinions, something that genuinely impacted his relationship with others, including Waris Hussein. The appearance at the end of Matt Smith was quite unnecessary, as were some of the in-jokes, most especially the reference to one of Gatiss' novels.

Wouldn't you like to think?

Wouldn't you like to think that every single human being who appears in Doctor Who is descended from the tribe of cave people we meet in An Unearthly Child? That in that first story, Dr. Who creates the very future of the human race?

Of course, if the Doctor is half-human, that would mean he himself is descended from the Tribe of Gum.

Sunday 17 November 2013

The Night of the Doctor

I was in two minds about whether to review The Night of the Doctor. After all, at just over seven minutes, it is essentially an extended trailer for the anniversary special. It's rather hard to review something this short.

Visually, it has lots of special effects, indicating that the BBC is spending lots of money on the anniversary episode. It would be nice to hope that the same effort goes into the writing, but I very much doubt it given what we have seen in the last couple of years.

This mini-episode is clearly geared toward appealing to fans. Not only do we get the return of Paul McGann, but also the Sisterhood of Karn. Nevertheless, despite the fantastic visual affects, I' very disappointed by the dull costumes worn by the sisters, They have nothing on the exotic outfits they wore in The Brain of Morbius. What is the point of putting loads of effort into CGI when something basic like costumes ends up looking shoddy in comparison with a Seventies serial?

I'm not altogether happy with the decision to show the Time War. I think some things within Doctor Who are best left to the imagination. The Time War shown on television will just end up being a lot of spaceships and explosions, when it should be something much more complex and difficult to visualize. Remember that great line from The End of Time?

You weren't there. In the final days of the war. You never saw what was born. But if the time lock's broken then everything is coming through. Not just the Daleks, but the Star of Degradations. The Horde of Travesties. The Nightmare Child. The Could-Have-Been King with his army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres. The war turned into hell! And that's what you’ve opened. Right above the Earth. Hell is descending.

How do you portray something as surreal and intriguing as all that?

Saturday 16 November 2013


I asked the excellent French artist Claire Lyxa to draw Patience as she appears in Lance Parkin's novel The Infinity Doctors.

Patience was the Doctor's long lost wife and Susan's grandmother. She first appeared in Cold Fusion.

Friday 8 November 2013

Introducing the Real Doctor's Wife: Cold Fusion, by Lance Parkin

"Turning her over onto her front, kissing the back of her neck, his hand running down her body. His thoughts dipping into hers, tasting her emotions. She was propping herself up on her elbows. Her body was familiar, he'd known it for centuries, seen it for centuries, seen it age ever so slowly. The birthmark on her ankle, the pattern of freckles on her shoulderblades. Only he had ever had those thoughts."

The above is one of the rather racy memories that Dr. Who experiences when he mindmelds with "Patience" a mysterious woman from ancient Gallifrey who turns out to (probably) be his wife. That the Virgin novels would include sex scenes involving, or at least appearing to involve, Dr. Who is an example of just how radical they were. Of course, the introduction of the lost Doctor's wife is not the only ambitious thing about this Missing Adventure. It is multi-Doctor story involving two Doctors, two sets of companions, includes an encounter by the Doctor with Adric after his death, as well as a complex plot involving another universe and dealing with themes of political conflict and a clash between magic and science. More than any other Missing Adventure, Cold Fusion pursues the New Adventures path of radically reshaping what Doctor Who can do. Lance Parkin is one of the few Doctor Who writers who could write a novel like this and he truly makes it work.

Lance Parkin pursues a somewhat ambivalent course with Patience. In some parts of the book, it is implied that she is the Doctor's wife. Yet he also implies, equally strongly, that she is the wife of the Other, an ancient Gallifreyan who was an associate of Rassilon and Omega. Since Remembrance of the Daleks, the Seventh Doctor material has hinted at a connection between the Other and Dr. Who. This myth arc was concluded with Lungbarrow by Marc Platt. This revealed that Dr. Who was an reincarnation of the Other. It also made the monstrous and abominable suggestion that Susan was not the Doctor's granddaughter, but the granddaughter of the Other. This is a terrible idea. Not only does it pander to the preference of some fans for an asexual Doctor, but it seems to diminish the genuine bond between the Hartnell Doctor and Susan. Lance Parkin seems to play a double game in Cold Fusion; on the one hand implying that the Doctor is a reincarnation of the Other and on the other hand implying that the Doctor was really married to Patience in some time in the past. He also stronly implies that the Doctor (or Other) married to Patience was one of the Morbius faces, specifically the Douglas Camfield face. I have said before that I do not care for the idea of pre-Hartnell Doctors. However, as the Doctor's experiences are only revealed through recovered memories when he mindmelds with Patience, the reader is left free to figure it out themselves. The Infinity Doctors seems to contradict this. The Infinity Doctor tells Patience that he is in his old body, while she has regenerated. This would imply that the Infinity Doctor has not regenerated, that he is a younger Hartnell Doctor and that there are no pre-Hartnell incarnations.

Freed from the constraints of the Virgin editorship, Parkin would go on to write Gallifrey Chronicles and The Infinity Doctors. While neither book is exactly intended as a retcon of Lungbarrow, Parkin drives a few nails into the coffin of the Virgin novel, by giving the Doctor biological parents and implying even more strongly in The Infinity Doctors than in Cold Fusion that the Doctor is the husband of Patience and the biological grandfather of Susan. Many fans have wrongly assumed that The Infinity Doctors is an apocryphal Unbound Adventure that does not take place in real continuity. This is a mistake; Lance Parkin incorporates it into his AHistory chronology, while acknowledging the conflict with Lungbarrow. Other fans have treated Infinity Doctors as an 8th Doctor story, taking place on a reconstructed Gallifrey. Parkin has stated this was not his intention and it is contradicted by the fact the Infinity Doctor is surprised by Patience's regeneration. It is clearly set in the Doctor's past, but Patience's future.

In trying to make sense of how Patience fits into Doctor Who continuity, I not only consulted Parkin's own AHistory, but I also bravely attempted to study the perplexing and bewildering chronology of the Doctor on Curufea.Com. Curufea offers a fascinating attempt to tie up disparate sources about the life of Dr. Who and the history of Gallifrey. It is difficult to read because of the multi-coloured text and like most fan chronologies, it completely ignores the TV Comics and World Distributors annuals (as does AHistory sadly). According to Curufea, Patience was in a love triangle with Omega and the Other in the Dark Times of Gallifrey. She went on to marry one of the Morbius Doctors. When the Time Lords began to kill their children for being womb-born, she travelled back to the Dark Times to ensure Susan's safety, possibly in the company of her son. She then attempted to leave ancient Gallifrey in a proto-type TARDIS, only to be discovered in Cold Fusion.

The attempt to re-sexualize the Doctor that we see in Cold Fusion (and in Infinity Doctors) has been done very differently from the New Series. While the Tennant Doctor kisses one woman after another, the Fifth Doctor in Cold Fusion recovers tender and bittersweet memories of a love we have never been allowed to see. Contrast Patience with the horrible attempts to create a "Doctor's wife" in the New Series. We get the pathetic notion of a man wishing his car was a sexy woman in The Doctor's Wife and elsewhere, we get River Song, a character who tastelessly flirts and who exists primarily to serve Moffat's banal and mechanical plot-writing. Patience, on the other hand, is a beautiful and mysterious figure, elegant and almost goddess-like. Somebody we can imagine being married to the Doctor. Like him, we never know her real name (of course, he is called Who, but this may be a pseudonym). In a DVD commentary, Andrew Cartmel suggested that it was a mistake that the Doctor was given a granddaughter at the birth of the show. In his opinion, the Doctor should not have a family. Cartmel did a great job as script writer in the 80s and he did write the hauntingly brilliant Cat's Cradle: Warhead, but a lot of his ideas about Doctor Who are very wrong. That is certainly one of them. That Dr. Who has a granddaughter actually makes him more mysterious. It means that he had children of which we know nothing. What happened to them? It also implies he had a partner of whom we know nothing. What happened to her? Cold Fusion offers us a glimpse of the answers to these questions, but still leaves the Doctor and his past as mysterious as before.

Forgive me if I am talking a lot about Patience and forgetting the novel. The introduction of this character is such a bit development that it does almost overshadow the brilliance of the novel itself. Cold Fusion is extremely well written. Lance Parkin does a great job of portraying two Doctors, the Fifth and the Seventh, along with their companions, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric, and Chris and Roz. Parkin's prose has a strong flavour of Terrance Dicks. One thing that he particularly excels at is writing action scenes, never allowing the reader to be bored by his prose. It is very much in the style of a Seventh Doctor adventure, but it manages to fit the very different Fifth Doctor era characters into it.

Friday 1 November 2013

Revenge of the Cybermen

Revenge of the Cybermen was the first Target novel I ever read. It was my first experience of Doctor Who after reading the 1966 Dr Who Annual (how weird is that as an introduction to Doctor Who?), before watching any televised stories. I immediately followed it by reading the novelisation of Moonbase, purchased at the Doctor Who Exhibition at Longleat Safari. A few months later, I watched Revenge of the Cybermen on VHS and loved it as much as I had loved the novel. Over thirty years later, I am confronted by the fact that fan orthodoxy holds this story to be rubbish.

It is interesting how this story has become the classic example of the rubbish returning monster story. Remarkably so, given how there seem to be far worse candidates, such as The Sontaran Experiment in the same season and Death to the Daleks in the previous season. Phil Sandifer offers the interesting notion that the story is meant to be rubbish, making way for the more original returning monster-free serials of the next season. Of course, I doubt fans watching it at the time saw it that way. I'm pretty sure most viewers enjoyed watching Dr Who do battle with the Cybermen again. I'm also pretty sure people watching the it when it was the first ever VHS release must have loved it too. When considering the faults, it is worthwhile considering the fact that the celebrated Hinchliffe era was perhaps not always as perfect as fans like to think. Every Hinchliffe story has problems and weaknesses, with the possible exception of Brain of Morbius, which is the closest the era came to perfection. Ark in Space has unconvincing monsters and lacks atmosphere due to an overlit set, Genesis of the Daleks is horribly padded, Terror of the Zygons is an unoriginal working of earlier stories, Planet of Evil has a terrible script, Pyramids of Mars has a dreadful final episode and The Android Invasion is unwatchable.

The Cybermen are probably not at their best here, but they are fun. While they suffer for being in colour for the first time, they look effective in the darkness of the cave scenes. Why complain about the Cybermen's apparent anger and hands on the hip gestures? The claim that the Cybermen have no emotion at all has always been a little dubious. The creation of yet another weakness for the Cybermen seems unnecessary, but it seems a small one. We have not yet reached the point where a gold coin will kill a Cyberman; the Vogans' presumably gold bullets just bounce off their armour.

The script for this story is weak, with some really awful lines ('I sometimes think your friend is not quite right in the head' Sometimes? He's only just met him!). Yet there are still things to like about Revenge of the Cybermen. The location shooting in the caves of Wookie Hole with the use of underground river is very effective. The set designs are fantastic too. The Beacon set looks great, as do the ornate chambers of the Vogans. The special effect of the Beacon hurtling toward Voga is not great by today's standards, but I was impressed when I saw it on video in 1990. The Cybermat is clumsy, but it looks more menacing than the original Cybermat in the Sixties. While there are things in the plot that do not make a lot of sense, this is a fast paced story with plenty of tension and excitement.

I love the Vogan designs. They look distinctly non-human, yet still capture individual personalities. Kevin Stoney and David Collings do a splendid job in their roles. Michael Wisher is also good, despite being underused. His use of an handkerchief is a very nice touch.

Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles say in About Time that Vorus and Tyrum are basically another version of the Nice Sensorite and the Nasty Sensorite, or the Old Silurian and Young Silurian. This is not really true, as they are much more complex than this. Tyrum is afraid of outsiders like the Nasty Sensorite, yet he is friendly to humans when he meets them and is appalled by Kellman's murders. Vorus wants to make alliances with the outside world, yet he is hostile to humans who do not fit into his plans and has no qualms about murdering them. These are characters who are not defined by their factional politics. Despite being non-human aliens from 'the planet Zog' they feel like real people. Kellman, the human double agent also makes a great villain. I love the way he smiles as Tyrum describes how wicked he is.

Tom Baker is still settling into his new role at this point. Once or twice here he comes across as though he is not taking the story seriously, something that would become a problem in later years. Thankfully, Hinchcliffe managed to keep Tom in check most of the time after this story.

You have to love Harry Sullivan. He is so at ease with everything. The way he says 'Steady on, old chap' as a Vogan manhandles him is infinitely lovable. As somebody afflicted with dyspraxia, I can't help thinking that Harry also has 'Clumsy Child Syndrome.' It is horrible to see the Doctor being so mean to him. Sarah Jane Smith is also pretty horrible to him too. Sarah is not at her best here, mostly being used as a damsel in distress, though she is pretty resourceful, crossing the underground river in the Vogan boat. She is wearing nice pink socks too.

Revenge of the Cybermen is not the greatest of Doctor Who stories, but it is not nearly as bad as some fans make out.