Saturday 28 November 2015

Planet of the Rani

Planet of the Rani, by Marc Platt, had the function of telling two potentially quite interesting stories. As it's title suggests, it takes us to the Rani's little empire on the planet Miasimi Goria. Yet it also needs to tell us what happens to the Rani after she is caught and sent down to the clink at the end of The Rani Elite.

Marc Platt chooses to concentrate on the former and concludes the latter very quickly. He has the Rani being frogmarched to her cell at the beginning, then when the Doctor and his new companion, Constance Clarke arrive for her parole hearing, 47 years too late, she not only has the run of the prison, but has made herself the governor. Her final departure from Teccaurora Penitentiary is concluded at the end of the first quarter episode. I felt just a little cheated by this. The Rani being in prison is such an interesting idea that one feels one would like to see a bit more of it. The problem with The Rani Elite was that it had our favorite evil Time Lady basically doing what she had been trying to do in Time and the Rani. It was fun, but slightly stale. It was just another evil renegade Time Lord plot. A story about the Rani trying to break out of jail is exactly the kind of original and fresh story Big Finish needed to do to breath some life into their new incarnation of the Rani. Sadly, they blew the chance.

Has anybody forgotten that the late Kate O'Mara played an ex-con in Dynasty? It would have been a lovely tribute for Big Finish to have given us a Doctor Who prison drama. Over the years, Doctor Who has done James Bond, westerns, Star Trek parodies and Hammer horror. Why not Prisoner Cell-Block H or Bad Girls? It would have been so much more interesting to have seen the Rani interacting with cellmates and bitchy prison guards. With the invisibility of audio, they could do strip searches and shower scenes without any difficulties. Admittedly, the level of camp involved would have suited O'Mara's Rani rather better than the more restrained Redmond Rani, but Redmond shows the occasional camp flourish here and there.

Related to the brevity of the prison part of this story, is the problem of pace. The Rani's jailbreak occurs at a breathless pace. Once that part of the story is done and we go to Miasmi Goria, the pace of the story slows right down and we end up feeling like the story is an episode too long.

I'm not a fan of Marc Platt, yet he does have a strength which suits the story of Miasmi Goria. He is great at creating an interesting alien landscape to imagine when listening to an audio story, as he showed with Quinnis. The world of Miasmi Goria is a striking and interesting place; it has a real sense of location, with its dinner plate tree-statues and polluted air. Platt gives this something of the quality of an Hartnell story, with a peculiar and unknown world being explored. Interestingly, he says in the production interview that he tried to give it an exotic Indian vibe, going with the origin of Ushas' alias. This raises some interesting thoughts about the Rani, being a white woman with an Indian name. It makes her a sort of colonial memsahib. I think this takes away the potential racial awkwardness of the name.

There are some great things about this audio. Siobhan Redmond has really taken to the role and has made it her own. Colin Baker gives yet another fantastic performance as the Rani. I loved the moment when he imitated the Rani's Scottish accent. I do like the way that Dr. Who feels a sense of tragedy about the moral corruption of Ushas. I love the fact that the two characters have a history from their school days. We learn here about a crazy experiment that the two young Gallifreyans had attempted in their youth. Constance Clark, the Sixth Doctor's new companion is also fun. Oddly, she almost becomes a sort of companion to the Rani in this story.

I think this was a fairly enjoyable offering, but I can't get over my disappointment that more was not done with the prison aspect of the story. The Rani is a camp character. We need just a bit more fun in a story with her. Hence, it was a really bad choice to get Marc Platt to write this. Platt's stories are always serious and heavy going, which is entirely the wrong tone for a story about the Rani busting out of jail.

Saturday 21 November 2015

Gods and Monsters

I'm not sure we really needed a sequel to The Curse of Fenric. The really interesting thing about The Curse of Fenric is that we were faced with the Doctor's greatest ever enemy, a character that we had never even heard of before that story. We were being given a glimpse of a strange unseen backstory to Doctor Who. It seems rather appropriate that after that episode, Fenric was never mentioned again, apart from the revelation that he was the Great Old One Hastur. Bringing him back makes this entity a lot less mysterious and therefore a lot less interesting.

I found it a bit difficult to appreciate this story, as it is the conclusion of a trilogy and draws heavily from the Ace and Hex range of Big Finish audios. Nevertheless, it was interesting and had some great drama. The audio was reasonably well paced and structured.

The Haemovores are definitely a problem. In Curse of Fenric, these were silent monsters and so lacked a lot of potential for translation to audio. In this audio, they are made to wail, moan and gurgle, which does not come across as nearly as terrifying as it ought to. They are a very ineffective menace here.

My biggest problem is the way that this story changes the nature of the Doctor's contest with Fenric. In Curse, this was a mythic battle between two gods. Here, the Doctor is reduced to just a helpless pawn of Fenric. Big Finish has little time for the Virgin New Adventures notion of the Doctor as a god-like elemental figure. It is hard not to feel that Big Finish is in a number of ways working to undo the legacy of the New Adventure era.

Saturday 7 November 2015

The Witch Hunters, by Steve Lyons (BBC Novel)

The Witch Hunters was one of the original line of BBC Past Doctor novels, but was recently released in a series of reprints. Unlike the majority of Doctor Who novels, it is a pure historical; the only Sci-Fi elements being those relating to the regular cast.

This novel is about the famous witch trials that occurred in Salem in late 17th century America. It is open about its inspiration, referencing Arthur Miller's Crucible several times. While Steve Lyons has clearly put in a lot of research, as a theology graduate, I winced at some of his mistakes about Puritan theology. The characters refer quite frequently to Purgatory. The people of Salem would most definitely have abhorred the 'Popish' doctrine of Purgatory. He also has Rebecca Nurse believing she is damned as a result of her excommunication. That is not how the Puritans understood excommunication. While Rebecca Nurse would hardly have been happy at the disgrace of excommunication, she would not have believed that the minister had the infallible power to consign her to hell. I also thought it was a bit odd that the Ian and Barbara had not attended church meetings in Salem until the outbreak of the witch trials. There is no way that they would have been able to absent themselves for months in a community in which non-attendance was punishable by law.

The Witch Hunters is very heavy on high emotional drama, perhaps a little too much so. It does feel like Lyons is trying too hard to get an emotional reaction. The scene with Dr. Who taking Rebecca Nurse to see the future and her own memorial reminded me a lot of Vincent and the Doctor, a similarly emotion-heavy story. This novel is unusual for a Lyons story in its lack of humour (The Final Sanction being another exception); he is possibly better at working with a more comic tone.

I'm one of Susan's few fans, so I liked the attention given to her in this novel. It made good use of her developing telepathic abilities, as seen in The Sensorites. I also very much appreciated the chance to see Susan interacting with other young people, which she did not get to do very much on screen. However, I am unsure that she would have been so ready to try to change history and in her feeble efforts, she does come across as a little bit daft.

The First Doctor in this novel is very reminiscent of the Seventh Doctor in the New Adventures. The idea of him preventing Rebecca Nurse from being pardoned and returning her to be executed is a bit grim. I very much liked the fact that we have the Doctor making a solo voyage in the TARDIS following the events of The Five Doctors. This creates a gap in continuity which allows such stories as the First Doctor's solo travels in the World Distributor annuals, his TV Comic adventures with John and Gillian and his contest with Fenric and subsequent travels with Zeleekah.

This is certainly not the best Doctor Who novel, but it is an interesting work from one of the finest writers to work in the expanded universe of Doctor Who.

Saturday 24 October 2015

Gallifrey VI

The cover of this audio shows the bronze 'Time War' Daleks from the BBC Wales Series. This was one of the first in a series steps toward the inclusion of the New Series in Big Finish Doctor Who. With the new UNIT series coming out and the River Song audios, this process seems almost complete. I'm not sure I'm altogether comfortable with Big Finish doing the New Series, as I regard it as a last haven of New Series-free Doctor Who.

This follows on from previous seasons of Gallifrey, but can be just about enjoyed without prior knowledge, just as long as you know who Leela and Romana are and what a Dalek sounds like. At the end of the day, the Gallifrey series is about the cast, not about the story. It's about the joy of hearing Lousise Jameson and Lalla Ward together. The story is ultimately rather confusing, driven by technobabble and not especially memorable. The ending in particularly satisfying. I'm not altogether sure I like the idea that one can reset Gallifrey like a computer game and download the minds of her inhabitants.

We get an absurd piece of continuity fetishism thrown into this towards the end that is really typical of Gary Russell. In a bid to save Romana from the Daleks, Coordinator Narvin orders the Celestial Internvention Agency to prevent the creation of the Daleks or alter their nature, thus firing the first shot of the Time War (at least according to RT Davies). He then finds out that Romana is safe and realises he just risked the entire fabric of time needlessly. This feels slightly silly and seems to have been thrown in the end, almost as an after-thought.

Having the Daleks in this series was a real treat. The Daleks work just as well on audio as they do on television, if not better. You have to love the way they sound so excitable in their shrill voices, like hyperactive children. Their presence means that Leela gets to do what she likes best, lots of fighting. The warrior of the Sevateem seems pretty impressed when her Lady President decides to grab a weapon and join in.

As could only be expected, Lalla Ward does not fail to delight as Romana. She shows a steelly maternal care towards Gallifrey, while at the same time betraying a strong sense of weariness. I love the part where she is about to be sent into exile in a Type 40 TARDIS, speculating that after 'stopping a few alien invasions' she will spend more and more time in the library and eventually go mad.

This audio also introduces a future incarnation of Romana, called 'Trey' for convenience. She is played by Juliet Landau, better known as Drusila in Buff the Vampire Slayer. This Romana appeared more recently in the audio Gallifrey: Intervention Earth. In my review of that story, I discussed whether she is the same as the Romana III in the BBC novels, so I won't go into that here. The new Romana is very striking and enjoyable. She hugs her old self and comes across as very extrovert and girlish, yet is also far more ruthless and manipulative than her earlier incarnaton. The two Romanas attempt to get each other exiled, and the new Romana succeed.

This audio has its faults, like most of Big Finish's output, but it is well worth a listen.

Saturday 29 August 2015

The Masters of Luxor

The Masters of Luxor is arguably, the ultimate lost story, as it was intended to be the second Doctor Who serial, until it was dropped in favour of Terry Nation's Dalek story. The rest is history. It would be interesting to imagine how the show might have developed differently had Verity Lambert stuck with this story instead of The Daleks, though one might doubt that it would have experienced the same runaway success. This serial has been adapted by Nigel Robinson, author of a number of Target novelisations, as a narrated audio story by Big Finish. The Doctor and Ian Chestertong are voiced by William Russell, while Carol Ann Ford voices both Susan and Barbara. The other characters are voiced by guest actor, Joseph Kloska. I was very keen to listen to this, as the original script was penned by Antony Coburn, the author of the first Doctor Who serial, known to us as An Unearthly Child.

The show was in an embryonic stage when this was originally written and this serial has some religious elements to it, with a lot of discussion about God, souls and the afterlife. Nigel Robinson felt it was necessary to trim them down a bit, but they are still present. The Doctor's final line mentions God, which feels quite striking.

There is action in this story, but it tends to spend more time in conversation and dialogue. This suits the audio medium well. It is quite a cerebral, intellectual story that asks interesting questions. Yet it also has some beautiful descriptions, along with that slightly dreamlike fairytale quality that many Hartnell stories have.

This is a very long story which feels awkward when it has so few characters. It does feel rather padded. I suppose Big Finish felt it was necessary to keep the length for the sake of authenticity, but one is likely to get weary listening to it all in one go. One difficulty I had at times was telling apart the characters. Russell and Ford work hard at distinguishing the voices of the Doctor and Ian and Barbara and Susan, but I still got a little confused occasionally. I also felt uncomfortable with the way the characters came across at times. Ian is really angry and aggressive for much of this. It also felt a little painful, the way Barbara seems to bully the Perfect One. Nevertheless, this is still an audio that is very much worth listening to.

Saturday 22 August 2015

Counter-Measures Series 4

** Spoiler Alert **

I complained in a previous review about the lack of extraterrestrials in Counter-Measures. This is sort of remedied with the return of the Light from The Assassination Games, though I would have liked to have seen the sort of slimy seaweed-like aliens that you might expect in a series influenced by Quatermass. British Rockets Group make an appearance, however.

Unlike the previous series of Counter-Measures, the individual episodes are not proper stories, but blend into one big series arc. I felt this made for a somewhat less interesting ride. It also meant problems of pacing, as some of the episodes could not carry the arc forward as well as other parts.

There are a few nice moments in this series. I like the use of a monorail in the first episode. Monorails are very Sixties and evoke the spirit of all those Gerry Anderson shows and their spin-off comics. There is also a nice line from Gilmour about destroying the world from Hertfordshire. There is also a clever use of the audio medium, with Gilmour and Sir Toby being played with the wrong voices, without this being commented on until later in the story. Nevertheless, my feelings about this are the same as the previous series. Too much darkness and too little humour (as well as too few monsters). All the intrigue and betrayal becomes just a bit too much. What the Counter-Measures series has so badly needed is a few more light-hearted stories that simply enjoy the nostalgia of this era. A slightly lighter tone at times would really give the listeners a break.

Shockingly, it appears that Counter-Measures ends here. The series ends with Gilmour, Rachel and Alison all getting killed in a series of explosions while Sir Toby denies that the group ever existed. Does it really end like this? Quite possibly it is, given that there is no announcement of a new series. If this is the end of Counter-Measures, this is an horrible and lazy way to end the series. It would also contradict a number of Doctor Who novels, such as Millennial Rites, in which we learn Rachel Jensen became scientific adviser to the Cabinet.

Sunday 19 July 2015

"Heroin Screws You Up": Nightmare of Eden

When I was at University, I showed two Doctor Who videos to my housemate and best mate, who had never watched Doctor Who in his life (he was a Trekkie). They were The War Machines and The Nightmare of Eden. These probably seem a weird choice of first stories to show a non-fan. They just happened to be the two VHS tapes I had bought from the Virgin Megastore (remember those?)that day. He laughed out loud when Nightmare of Eden opened with the model shot of the spacecraft. He suggested it looked like a washing up liquid bottle. Actually, that is one of the best model shots in Seventies Doctor Who. After watching the two serials, he concluded that Nightmare of Eden was the more interesting story, but he preferred the 'kindly grandfather' of William Hartnell's Doctor to Tom Baker (a shame he didn't watch An Unearthly Child). I think watching that VHS of Nightmare of Eden was a profoundly negative experience for me. I had loved the novelisation of Nightmare of Eden as a child and watching the actual serial just seemed so disappointing. Everything looked so depressingly cheap. After, that I never bought a Doctor Who VHS again.

The Eden jungle set looks good and it might have been a better story, had we spent more time there, but unfortunately, most of the time we are on a spaceship set that is very flat and dull looking, as well as far too brightly lit. The Mandrell costumes are no worse than most other Doctor Who monster costumes, but the way they filmed lets them down. We see so much of them and under such bright lights, they inevitably look hilarious. Equally hilarious are the uniforms of Officers Fisk and Costa. They look very... Village People.

It is not just the sets and the costumes that are bad, we also get some uninspiring acting. The worst offender is Lewis Fiander, playing Tryst. He completely sends up the character he is playing, refusing to take the story seriously. Even the regulars don't help much. The scene with Tom Baker getting roughed up by Mandrells is embarassing. Romana comes across as just a little too smug. If there is any story to give ammunition to JNT's argument that the TARDIS crew had become too clever, this is it.

A lot of fans praise Nightmare of Eden for offering an 'intelligent' story about drugs. As a professional drugs worker, I find it really annoying. It offers a very cliched Daily Mail idea of drug addiction. It follows the common assumption that you only need to try drugs once and you will be addicted forever. This really is not true. Heroin can be very addictive, but I have known users who only use heroin occasionally without becoming opiate dependent. It also offers the rather extreme scenario of a drug that is certain to kill you. Did the writers really imagine that people would actually use a drug that causes certain death? This is a horribly patronizing and insulting view of drug users. Drug users may make choices that are unwise, but they are not stupid. Maintaining an habit with inherent risks is a bit different from using a substance that kills you.

There are a few good lines in this story, but otherwise, there is not much to love here.

Saturday 18 July 2015

Doctor Who beyond the BBC

Our government is presently pushing for much needed reforms to the BBC. It is clear that the BBC is bloated and over-extended and needs to be cut down to the essence of what public broadcasting should be.

At some point, the question is likely to be raised as to whether the BBC should continue to produce a program as commercially viable as Doctor Who.

I think it would be in the interests of the public, as well as for fans for the rights to Doctor Who to be sold to a commercial production company.

Some of the best Doctor Who has been produced outside the BBC. Under Marvel and others, the comic strips have included some fantastic material. Virgin provided a genuine and natural continuation of the Seventh Doctor era in its novels. Big Finish are continuing to give us great Doctor Who.

One of the problems with BBC Wales Doctor Who is its obsession with the status of Doctor Who as a national treasure. The BBC considers itself to be a iconic national treasure and it treats Doctor Who as its fictional avatar. A lot of BBC Wales Doctor Who seems to take an horrible triumphalist nationalist tone. This goes hand in hand with the fetishization of the Doctor as its central character. I think if Doctor Who were to move into commercial hands, it would no longer be able to propagandize itself as a national treasure and would have to sell itself on the strength of its stories. This would mean a much fresher Doctor Who than we have seen.

I suspect also that a commercially run Doctor Who would be more targeted at us fans. As a public property, the producers of Doctor Who seem to feel that they have to make Doctor Who for everybody, trying to please everyone, throwing in lots of laughs, a monster for the kids, soap opera emotions and the odd throwaway continuity reference for the fans. While this is in many ways in the spirit of the classic series, it tends to make the tone of the episodes a little too wobbly. The episodes feel more like spectacles and events rather than stories. A Doctor Who that was targeted at fans (who will spend money buying merchandise) and the young adult Sci-Fi watching audience (who will also potentially spend money buying merchandise) would work harder to write better and more interesting stories.

I think the time has come for the BBC to finally take its hands off Doctor Who.

Monday 15 June 2015

Revenge of the Swarm

I doubt many fans were campaigning Big Finish to bring back the Swarm from Invisible Enemy. It's not the most memorable monster, but it was not an uninteresting one. As laughable as the Nucleus shrimp-like appearance was, there was something appropriate about it. Some crustaceans may be good to eat, but there are a lot of crustaceans which are nasty parasitic creatures, which fits quite well with the Swarm. Could it be that the Swarm is not actually a virus, but a microscopic crustacean, a mini-Macra? I think there was a real potential for Big Finish to make the Swarm a terrifying adversary. Unfortunately, Jonathan Morris chose to send it up, continually mocking its Napoleon complex. It does appear that the origin of the Swarm has been changed. The Invisible Enemy told us that the Swarm had been floating in space for millennia. According to this audio, the Swarm was created in a laboratory. I find this new origin banal. The idea of a virus mutating in a test tube is not nearly as interesting as the very Quatermassy notion that space is filled with terrible things just waiting to infect us.

Revenge of the Swarm does not just send up the Nucleus. It does not seem like anybody involved is taking this story very seriously. We get an awful lot of silly voices here, like this is being made for young children. It does seem like the worst aspects of the Graham Williams era are being invoked in this.

I haven't followed the Hex arc, as I don't like the way that these stories fail to fit wwith the Virgin New Adventures development of Ace. I therefore have no idea how Hex came to have his personality replaced by Hector. It seems a bit odd to have a new character become replaced for much of his first story proper, though the New Adventures did exactly the same thing with Bernice n Transit. Which leads me to another interesting point about this audio. Although the plot of Revenge of the Swarm is disappointingly close to being a remake of The Invisible Enemy (as well as a prequel and sequel combined), it is also a plot that was done quite a few times in the Virgin New Adventures. An alien entity attempts to take control of cyberspace. This is basically a Virgin New Adventure story with the tone of a Graham Williams story.

Revenge of the Swarm manages to be fun, but it rather fails to do anything interesting with its source material.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Romana III and K9

I asked Inspector97 to draw this picture of Romana III with K9.

There is disagreement among fans about whether the Romana III voiced by Juliet Landau in the Big Fish audios is the same character as the ruthless Romana III in the BBC books. I would argue that they are the same incarnation. Hence, I asked the artist to give her an outfit inspired by the BBC books.

Sunday 7 June 2015

"I will be needing your frilly shirt and yellow motor car"- Day of the Daleks

What I love most about this story is just how similar it is to the Terminator films. Rebels going back in time to prevent nightmare future and evil robots trying to stop them. I'd definitely rather watch Day of the Daleks and I think this serial is actually more believable than the Terminator movies. The idea of machines taking over the world is nonsense. Computers don't have minds. A robot, no matter how advanced is no more likely to take over the world than an electric kettle.

On the other hand, while the superficial Terminator similarity is fun, one is painfully aware that not everything is great about this story. For everything that is good about it, there is something that is not so great. It is very much in the middle rank of Doctor Who stories.

Most obviously, the use of the Daleks is not so great. The story was not originally intended to be a Dalek story, but a decision was made at a late stage to write them in. It has been a few years since the Daleks had been used in Doctor Who and the story does not quite seem able to get them right. Their voices are off and they lack menace. We are also denied a scene in which Dr. Who confronts the Daleks. Admittedly, this might be for the better. Pertwee was not the strongest actor to play the Doctor and he felt awkward interacting with the Daleks. It is hard to imagine Pertwee doing an job of confronting the Daleks. The final battle between UNIT and the Daleks is simply awful to watch. Few fights in Doctor Who have been as disappointing.

There are also a few problems with the plot. The whole time travel plot makes little sense. It also seems bizarre that the rebels would blame Reginald Styles for the explosion and not a terrorist group. Was terrorism not the problem that it was for us in the Doctor Who universe?

The Ogrons are an interesting addition as allies of the Daleks, but it is hard not to be uncomfortable with the Doctor dropping his usual pacifist stance and shooting down Ogrons. It's presumed okay to kill them because they are a big, stupid and dark-skinned.

What is great about the story is the moral complexity. The Controller is a villain with genuine reasons for being a villain and is quite understandable. The rebels on the other hand, come across as pretty thuggish. I imagine being right-wing and pro-establishment, I would easily be taken in by the Controller's lies just like Jo.

This is also a serial in which Pertwee is at his best. While he does not get to confront the Daleks, he does have so many brilliant scenes, such as his argument with the Controller and his weary, exhausted interrogation. I'm not much of a Pertwee fan, but in this story, we really see him at his best.

Day of the Daleks is a story with some bold ideas and a radically different approach, even if its execution seems a little poor at times.

Monday 25 May 2015

The Rani Elite

It is perhaps a little surprising that it took Big Finish this long to bring back the Rani, especially given her popularity among a significant segment of Doctor Who fandom. This story was originally written for Kate O'Mara. The great actress sadly passed away before she could make her glorious return and so the story was hastily re-written to allow a regenerated Rani. Big Finish wisely decided to be upfront with the Rani's return and to make it a selling point rather than a surprise.

The new Rani is a post-Kate O'Mara Rani meeting the Sixth Doctor out of sequence. While the script makes mention of the Rani's knowledge of the Sixth Doctor's regeneration, it does not deal with the oddity of an out of sequence Time Lord encounter. The history of the classic series seems quite consistent in always having Time Lord's meet in chronological sequence. It has been suggested that the very nature of TARDISes ensures this. I really wanted to know if there is a special reason why this should happen here. There are of course two ways that they could have avoided an out of sequence Rani story. They could have had Peter Davison meet a pre-Kate O'Mara Rani. I always imagine the pre-Kate Rani/ Ushas looking Indian, but I suppose it would be racially problematic to have an Indian actress playing the Rani. Or is it actually a form of blacking up to have a European actress calling herself the Rani? Which is worse? Alternatively, they could have had the Seventh Doctor encounter the newly regenerated Rani. Evidently, they felt that the Sixth Doctor would work best with the Rani. I think the results show they are right, as the Sixth Doctor and the new Rani spar quite nicely together. She is cool and cold, he is loud and bombastic.

Siobhan Redmond seems a little too in awe of Kate O'Mara to be quite comfortable in the role, but hopefully this will change should she return for future audios. What she brings to the role, other than her Scottish accent, is a cool detachment which probably fits better with the core of what the Rani represents than Kate O'Mara's campiness. Not that I don't love watching Kate being camp and dressing up as Mel, but I think Redmond brings a nice seriousness to the role. Of course, she loses her cool once she is defeated and starts ranting about getting revenge.

I think perhaps Redmond suffers a little from this story being very much meant for Kate O'Mara. The plot is not that far away from Time and the Rani. To introduce a new Rani, it would have made more sense to have her involved in a more radically different plot than what we have seen from her before. However, you can understand Big Finish working with what they had. Like so much of what Big Finish does, the big fault of this story is its unwillingness to do anything adventurous. This is yet another story where Peri gets threatened with somebody trying to possess her body, with lots of running around and getting captured. However, in spite of this, I still found it genuinely enjoyable.

To my delight this turned out to be a continuity feast that would have impressed even the late Craig Hinton. Along with Speelsnapes, we even get the Deca stuff from Divided Loyalties (so that stuff is canon now!). I punched the air when Dr. Who addressed the Rani as Ushas!

It looks like the Rani gets hauled off to prison at the end. I hope she enjoys having her mugshot taken and getting strip-searched. Hopefully, when she gets tired of being alpha bitch in Stormcage, she can escape and come back for some more misadventures with the Doctor. I genuinely hope we do see more of the Redmond Rani.

Sunday 24 May 2015

The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Despite its title, this serial concerns the Dalek occupation of Earth, rather than the Dalek invasion. In this, it strikes an original note, as there are plenty of films about flying saucer invasions, but very few films about what the flying saucer people do after they've turned up and knocked down the Statue of Liberty and burned down the White House.

There is a very effective sense of bleakness about Dalek Invasion. The characters find themselves in an utterly hostile, yet not unfamiliar environment, harassed at every turn by Robomen, Daleks, flying saucers, hungry dogs, collaborators, crocodiles and spivs. The scenes of a silent London remind me of the 80s Day of the Triffids series. Indeed, the scene where Barbara drives her truck into a group of Daleks is remarkably similar to a scene in Day of the Triffids, where a truck runs over a bunch of triffids. I actually found myself looking at the credits to see if David Maloney had any involvement.

There are two things that are not so effective. The long, lumbering plot with it's grab bag of Terry Nation action sequences and the rather weak direction of Richard Martin. In the rather unworldly atmosphere of the first Dalek serial, Richard Martin worked alright. However, he was much less adept at the more realistic action drama of this story. The fight scenes are simply terrible. This is a story that simply cries out for Douglas Camfield.

The final scene of the departure of Susan is moving, especially for me, as I am one of the few fans of Susan. However, it is hard not to feel Dr. Who's actions were a bit drastic and heavy handed.

The Daleks are perhaps less interesting than they were in the first Dalek sequel. They have become a generic space conquering race, the likes of which we would see rather a lot of in Doctor Who. The obvious difference from later Daleks, however, is their reliance on satellite dishes to move about in the open (in contrast to the city-bound Daleks of the first serial). Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood offer a good explanation for this, arguing that the more familiar space Daleks adapted a number of Skaro city Daleks to boost their forces.

What do we make of the Daleks bizarre plan to turn the Earth into a spaceship? When we considered Inferno, we connected that to that story to the theory that the planet Earth is constructed on a hole in the universe and that beneath lies an entrace into the hellish Yssgaroth universe. I pointed out that in Inferno, the Primord mutants appeared to be under some kind of psychic direction. The Yssgaroth vampires were trying to break out into this universe. I would suggest that something similar is happening in this story. The Daleks are being telepathically manipulated by the Yssgaroth into drilling into the Earth's core. Their Dalek minds are being fooled into thinking that they can turn the Earth into a spaceship, when actually they are breaking out a far more terrible enemy.

Saturday 16 May 2015

Seeds of Doom

I am one of the few Doctor Who fans who is not keen on the Philip Hinchcliffe era. To be honest, given that horror is not everybody's cup of tea, I am surprised there are not more of us. I really struggle with the Hinchcliffe/ Holmes delight in gruesome painful deaths. They really pushed the show too far in a violent direction. Philip Sandifer, who often says things I agree with, ends up being a very uncritical defender of this period of the show. Yet when it comes to Seeds of Doom, he admits that the critics of Hinchcliffe have a point here. He points out that in this story, the producer cannot plead that the horror is fantasy and not realistic violence, with Dr. Who brandishing a gun, beating somebody up so badly he ends up in hospital and instructing a mercenary to make a Molotov cocktail. This is Doctor Who doing a big dumb action thriller. It does feel quite right, with Dr. Who at the beck and call of government agencies, investigating clues like a detective and the final resolution coming from an air strike.

Yet for all that I detest the excessive of violence of this story, I still can't bring myself to dislike it. I certainly enjoy a lot more than anything in the season that follows it. On the most basic level, it's got a big tentacled vegetable monster in it. I like man-eating plants and I like big tentacled monsters. The concept of an alien monster being dug up out of the Antarctic ice and menacing an isolated base (yeah, The Thing) always works. The direction and effects are superb, as you would expect with Douglas Camfield at the helm. We also get memorable characters like Harrison Chase, Scorby and Amelia Ducat. Although it is a six-part story, it does not feel too long or padded. It maintains a much better sense of pace than Genesis of the Daleks or Talons of Weng-Chiang. So I just can't dislike this. Seeds of Doom is a guilty pleasure of a Doctor Who story.

Sunday 10 May 2015

Planet of the Daleks

I watched the re-run of Planet of the Daleks on BBC1 in 1993. I was twelve years old at the time. I think at the time I was disappointed that it was not the original Dalek story. I was a huge Doctor Who fan at the time, but even then I found myself getting bore of the story as I watched the last two or three episodes. It just seemed so long and drawn out. This seems to challenge the argument(an argument I have sometimes used)that the overlong and padded stories can be more easily enjoyed and appreciated when watched over a course of weeks. Planet of the Daleks really is as padded out and tedious as any Doctor Who serial can get.

Planet of the Daleks is basically a re-working of The Daleks, with every one Terry Nation's favorite tropes thrown in for good measure. This is the ultimate cliched Dan Dare space adventure. Carnivorous plants, explosions and the inevitable virus.

Yet it does benefit from the superb direction of David Maloney, who was doing everything he can to make this a decent production. Admittedly, some of the effects are a bit weak, such as the Dalek army model shot. I don't think these detract too much overall from its overall visual strength.

Like so much of the Pertwee era, this story is colourful. I used to like the early gritty Season 7 Third Doctor material best. However, I have come to appreciate the colourful Glam Rock Third Doctor stories that don't really fit with the common perception of the Pertwee years as realistic TV action.

I love Phil Sandifer's essay on Planet of the Daleks. He does a great job of re-assessing it in a positive light. Sandifer points out that Nation does not quite get how to use the Third Doctor and so has him spending much of his time making speeches about the nature of courage:

"So Pertwee does not get to run around and be ostentatiously imperious as he prefers. Nor does he get to be ignored and occasionally tortured, as he's best at. Instead he stands around and gives speeches about the meaning of courage. Pertwee certainly isn't bad at this, but it's neither in his wheelhouse nor something he visibly enjoys."

Yet he argues that Pertwee finds the way to make this work:

"The solution he settles on, however, is perfect: he plays the story with a cool detachment. The result is a perfect postmodern commentary on the episode- as if the Doctor recognizes that he's in an unusually easy adventure of far less complexity than he routinely deals with, and that it does not actually require his full attention. The tendency to make speeches about fear instead of doing what are now the core elements of "Doctory" behaviour becomes not a mischaracterization but a case of the Doctor taking it easy and figuring he doesen't have to work, he can just sit back and encourage everybody else."

I think this is such a beautiful insight from Sandifer. I love the idea of Dr. Who having outgrown this sort of story.

By no means a great story, but I love the fab black and gold Dalek Supreme.

Sunday 3 May 2015

The Glorious Revolution

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 has always been a significant event for me. When I was a Protestant, I celebrated it. Now that I have converted to Catholicism, I regard the Glorious Revolution as a disaster. I do find it distressing though, that so many people are unaware of this event. The writer admits that before researching for the story, he had not heard of it, having not been taught about it at school. The Stuart dynasty used to be a staple part of the British history curriculum, but it seems that modern schools avoid the Stuarts. Popular culture seems more interested in the Tudors, presenting a sanitized image of the Elizabethan 'Golden Age,' ignoring all of the achievements of the Stuart era. Thankfully, Big Finish have paid tribute to this most fascinating era with this Companion Chronicle.

Jamie's background as a Jacobite had not really been explored prior to this audio. It was nice to see Jamie in a situation where he understood what was going on and was less of a fish out of water. Yet he soon gets into trouble and has his own Aztecs moment, attempting to change history. This is brought to us via Frazer Hines who is on top form. He not only reprises Jamie brilliantly, but gives an uncanny impression of Troughton. Frazer is assisted by Andrew Fettes, who plays too roles extremely well; the tortured and embittered James II/VII and the cynical civil servant-like Celestial Intervention Agent.

On the whole, I enjoyed this story and thought it was well done. It was great hear the Second Doctor dragging up again and disguising himself and Jamie as washer women. However, it does suffer from a problem with pacing and feels rather rushed. The interesting idea of a change in timelines is not really developed. More importantly, I felt Jamie was far too quick to accept that history could not be changed. There was no sense of conflict or discomfort in his betrayal of James II/VII.

According to this audio, Jamie lived a very happy and contented life Post-War Games (+ Season 6B). This definitely conflicts with what we saw in the comic strip, The World Shapers, but I doubt anybody will complain about that.

Saturday 25 April 2015

Gallifrey: Intervention Earth

I listened to the first series of Big Finish's Gallifrey spin-off, but after that I had not followed this range. However, when I saw the incredible cover of this audio, with the new Romana, Ace and Omega in his original costume, I had to buy it. As it turned out, I had no problem enjoying it having heard only one Gallifrey season. I'm sure Doctor Who fans could have enjoyed it without having heard any previous releases.

In this story, we see Ace with her own TARDIS, working for the Celestial Intervention Agency. I have always like the idea of Ace becoming a Time Lord; it made sense of the way the Seventh Doctor seemed to be testing and preparing Ace for some unknown task. Ace is not a Time Lord here, but she is obviously moving in that direction. I'm not sure Sophie Aldred pulls of this massive character development, but I'm glad she's here.

The big treat here is the return of Stephen Thorne as Omega. I simply adore his bombastic vocal performance as Omega in The Three Doctors. Sadly, we don't get to here him as much as we might have hoped and he does not get quite as angry as he did the first time around (You have angered me!)

The story follows The Three Doctors quite closely in plot. This actually makes it the second attempt to re-write the Three Doctors after The Infinity Doctors. One problem is that though we go into the anti-matter universe, the sound effects do not really convey any sense of what this place is like. They could at least have given us Omega's wibbly-wobbly Gell Guards!

I really do like the new incarnation of Romana. Juliet Landau really does bring something new to the character with a much more seductive and understated performance than we got under Lalla Ward. I'm very much forward to hearing more of her. There seems to be quite a bit of debate among fans as to whether the Juliet Landau Romana, known as 'Trey' is the same as the Romana III in the BBC books. Her creator seemed to suggest she was not, despite other voices in Big Finish to the contrary. I am very much of the opinion that she is the same Romana III who becomes War Queen of Gallifrey. Her appearance clearly resembles descriptions of the character, even down to the outfit she wears on the cover. Furthermore, she has the ruthlessness and seductiveness of the novels' Romana III. Her interest in the future of Gallifrey reflects the interest of Romana III in the coming War of Heaven, though I doubt Big Finish will be exploring that continuity minefield, even if Lawrence Miles did give them permission.

I don't think this audio quite lives up to the explosive cinematic looking cover, but it is enjoyable and promises exciting things ahead. The upbeat musical score, included as a separate track, as usual, is impressive too.

Friday 10 April 2015

Frontier in Space

Frontier in Space is by no means the greatest of Doctor Who stories, or even the greatest of Pertwee era stories. Yet it certainly feels unique. In large part this is because it pursues the genre of epic planet-hopping Space Opera far more than any other serial. In this story we visit no less than three planets, as well as the moon and various spaceships. In this modern era, when Doctor Who stories are set on Earth, particularly in Twenty-First Century England, this stands out a lot. The mood of this story also feels different, with the rich political intrigue and the heavy political overtones, even if these are a little heavy-handed.

Most significantly, more than any other story, Frontier in Space makes the future feel like a real place. So many things contribute to this, such as the news reports, with their accounts of Finland and Japan. We get the delightful scene with the female president getting a massage. We get buildings that are seen from outside and which therefore do not feel like television sets. We get some nice costume designs, most notably the decision to put Jon Pertwee's Doctor in a prison uniform. This small costume change is such a massive dose of realism. We see the Doctor locked up all the time. We are used to seeing him threatened and in danger. Yet we seldom see him stripped of his visual identity as the Doctor.

The story has other things going for it; a visually interesting set of aliens in the Draconians, a script that plays to Pertwee's strengths and some fantastic performances. Chief of all of these is the superb last appearance of the Delgado Master. Sadly, Delgado would pass away in an automobile accident not long after this was made, but he had saved his best for last. Here we see the Master as the ultimate cosmic manipulator, trying to control events on a galactic stage, but doing it with an ever present sense of humour.

Unfortunately, Frontier in Space does have some significant weaknesses, particularly relating to its plot. Most obviously is the common complaint that Jo and the Doctor spend so much time in this story locked up in one jail cell after another. This feels almost parody of the Doctor Who staple of capture and escape routines. This would probably have been less obvious to the original viewers who saw the seven episodes over a considerable period of time, but it is irritating to those watching the DVD in one sitting. The conclusion is also disappointing and fails to give the Master the send-off he deserves. Yet despite these and other small faults, Frontier has a tremendous sense of grandeur that sets it above many other Doctor Who stories.

This is a story that tends to get overlooked in assessments and overviews of the Pertwee era. Phil Sandifer has pointed out at least once that most people who talk about the Pertwee era don't really appreciate its richness. People tend to view this era through the lens of Season 7 and forget how often the Third Doctor left the Earth. The BBC Wales Doctors have all spent far more time in England then Pertwee ever did.

Saturday 21 February 2015

The Silent Stars Go By, by Dan Abnett (BBC novel)

This novel by popular science fiction tie-in writer Dan Abnett, was originally published as a deluxe hardcover volume, then republished as a paperback in a series of Doctor Who reprints.

This was actually the first New Series novel that I have read. I don't care for the New Series, so I was hardly likely to take an interest in its spin-off novels. However, this being the first appearance of the Ice Warriors in a BBC Wales Doctor story and it also being a Dan Abnett novel, I definitely wanted to read it.

Silent Stars is a novel that very much wears its influences on its literary sleeve. With the Christmas feel, it very much feels like a Moffat Christmas episode (though it is better than all of those dreadful affairs). On the other hand, it is not only the presence of the Ice Warriors that makes this feel like a classic four or six part Doctor Who serial; it is also set on a planet that appears to be inhabited by about ten people and has a council consisting of an elder hostile to the Doctor and an elder sympathetic to the Doctor. The simple and effective storytelling puts one in mind of a Terrance Dicks Target novelisation. The playful use of language, such as 'Guide E-manual' and 'Unguidely' also reminds me of Paradise Towers. Rather less fortunately, the novel seems to borrow from the New Series in giving a rather too easy resolution to the story. In the end, the Doctor finds a solution just by tinkering around with machinery, which feels a little uninspiring.

Dan Abnett is experienced in writing franchise fiction, so it should be no surprise that he crafts a very enjoyable and exciting tale here. It is very effective and efficiently told and captures the actors voices very well. Dan Abnett could easily be a Terrance Dicks for the Twenty-first century. What I felt was missing was Dan Abnett himself. When the BBC hires a writer of his reputation, you expect to get something special. I didn't really see that here. Perhaps if he had given us a darker and more militaristic novel, we would have felt more of the writer's individual style.

Saturday 14 February 2015

TARDIS Eruditorum Volume 5: Tom Baker and the Williams Years, by Phil Sandifer

When I discuss Phil Sandifer or link to posts on his blog here, I often get comments expressing disdain and contempt for Sandifer. I suspect a lot of the people who like my blog are the sort of people who can't stand Sandifer and the views he represents. I do not share such feelings at all. I very much enjoy reading his writing. Yes, I often disagree with him, but I actually agree with him just as often. I don't share his politics, but is that important? I get frustrated by the way he comes across as so angry and bitter, but I have plenty of my own faults.

Sandifer wisely decided to split the massive Fourth Doctor era in half. This book therefore covers the less well appreciated Graham Williams era, along with the brief period of Season 18, in which Tom Baker worked under John Nathan-Turner.

I criticised the previous volume on the Hinchcliffe era because I felt Sandifer allowed his love of Seasons 12-14 to cloud his judgement and overlook some of the faults of those stories. It lacked the more objective critical perspective of volume 3 on the Pertwee era. In this volume, he gets his critical perspective back. He shows a real awareness of the faults of the Williams material, yet he also shows a genuine appreciation of what is great about it. There were definite flaws to the Williams era, it's low production values, its occasional tendency to silliness and the way it became dominated by Baker as an out of control lead man, yet it was also immensely fun. I don't think Sandifer regards Season 18 as quite the high point of Doctor Who that I consider it, but he is also well aware of its depth and creativity.

Sandifer begins the book with contemporary culture, looking at the Sex Pistols and the Punk movement. He later relates this to The Sunmakers, seeing that serial as the strongest expression of the Punk aesthetic in Doctor Who. I remember in the blog comments when he was covering this period, Sandifer got quite a bit of criticism for his use of Punk as a paradigm for understanding the Williams era. I think the criticism is to some extent fair. One can perhaps vaguely see something punkish about that story, but otherwise, Punk does not register at all in Doctor Who until the Seventh Doctor stories. I remember somebody arguing that intellectuals and writers tend to overemphasise the importance of Punk as a cultural movement. Heavy Metal was much more popular with the working classes in the late Seventies and early Eighties and intellectuals generally despise Metal.

Coming into the first story of the Williams era, The Horror of Fang Rock, Sandifer discusses the common view that this is essentially a Hinchliffe type story. Sandifer points out that Horror of Fang Rock lacks the grandeur of Hinchcliffe stories, offering a far more mundane setting. Where an Hincliffe adversary would be a cosmic threat, the adversary here is just a lone alien scout. The stakes are lower. There is also the suggestion of the story as being in some way a critique of the Hinchliffe era, with the enormous body count and the sheer callousness of the Doctor's reaction to the carnage.

Unsurprisingly, our author identifies The Invisible Enemy as the first bad story of the Williams era. He sees it as being let down primarily by its poor designs, as well as the more general faults of Bob Baker and David Martin. Sandifer is not overly impressed by Image of the Fendahl, arguing that it's use of Von Daniken's ideas are clumsy and problematic.

Leaving Doctor Who to address the appearance of Star Wars on the scene, Sandifer takes a well deserved swipe at Joseph Campbell. He also points out that the new trick of George Lucas was to tell fantastic adventure stories using the visual trappings of science fiction, without the hard Sci-Fi concepts that had previously been the bread and butter of science fiction. Inevitably, discussion of Star Wars leads on to an examination of the Underworld, which like almost everybody else, he regards as a failure. He points out that Bob Baker and Dave Martin's work is effective when backed up impressive visuals from the production team and in this story, the visual effects are a massive letdown. The author praises The Invasion of Time for treating the viewers as intelligent people, with its apparent subversion of the Doctor as moral centre of the story. He sees the story falling down in the way it treats the Sontarans as another race of pointlessly returning monsters and the Time Lords as utterly pathetic.

In contrast to Underworld, Sandifer sees The Ribos Operation as the story that truly gets the new paradigm of Star Wars right in Doctor Who. The grand cosmic drama is shifted to a rather more small scale story about inter-planetary fraud, yet is used to frame this narrative. Graham Williams' bonkers idea about cosmic dualism is subverted by Robert Holmes with the portrayal of the White Guardian as just another colonial master and the Doctor visibly rejecting the notion of subordination to him. Answering Lawrence Miles criticism that Mary Tamm does not take her role seriously, Sandifer argues that she is not supposed to; Romana is there to mock and ridicule the Doctor and the very premise of the story. In a separate essay on whether the Guardians can be regarded as a legitimate part of the Doctor Who canon, he points out some inconsistencies between the Guardians in Season 16 and in the Davison era.

Regarding Pirate Planet, Sandifer defends this story, arguing that its genius lies in fooling the viewer into complacency. It seems like a light-hearted story, but it turns out to be a tale of genocide on a monstrous scale. I was overjoyed by his positive evaluation of The Stones of Blood, as this rather maligned serial is one of my favorites. He writes:

"It's a genuinely enjoyable subversion of the by now standbys of the Hinchcliffe era that goes into some of the most fun Doctor Who has ever had at being anti-authoritarian, and with a new sort of authority figure. We haven#t seen the Doctor do the legal system in a while. It's also another nice step in the larger anti-epic, thanks to the Megara. The Megara are, after all, keepers of justice, and what is justice if not maintaining fairness and balance? And of course, the Megara are shown to be ridiculously blinkered and silly, striking another blow against the basic assumptions of the Key to Time."

He also acknowledges The Androids of Tara as a well made and enjoyable story, if lacking the coneptual depth of The Ribos Operation. Power of Kroll he views as a cynical hack-job, handed in by the usually brilliant Robert Holmes because he was fed up with the show. He also unsurprisingly treats the Key to Time finale, Armageddon Factor as a disappointment, while recognising that at its conclusion, it brings itself in line with Robert Holmes in subverting the premise of the story arc. He takes a brief look at The Auntie Matter, viewing it as a sad, but enjoyable piece of nostalgia, like much of Big Finish's output.

Sandifer moves from Season 16 to talking about Margaret Thatcher and the Winter of Discontent. I'm afraid our author comes across as quite hysterical when he talks about Thatcher, viewing her as the 'raw embodiment of all evil.' He says this description was initially a joke, but he seems to seriously paint Margaret Thatcher as the politial equivalent of Voldemort. I find his attitude rather disappointing. One might expect that it is the mark of an intelligent adult that they can disagree with the policies and view of a political leader while according them some basic respect. I'm not quite sure, however, that Sandifer really understands the concept of respectful disagreement, at least not when it touches anything vaguely political. His attacks on the late Baroness Thatcher, along with his comparing the late Mary Whitehouse to a school bully he once encountered show something of a lack of maturity and perspective.

Fans have endlessly criticised Romana's regeneration scene in Destiny of the Daleks, including Lawrence Miles in About Time. Sandifer offers a great response to this:

"I mean what, does Miles just want Lalla Ward to put on a Mary Tamm wig and roll over before Davros enters and shouts 'Leave the man, it's the girl I want?' Say what you want about the opening scene, and I'm certainly not going to pretend it's the shows finest hour, but there is a job to be done and it gets it done with a minimum fuss."

Personally, I quite like that scene and it is positive prove that Time Lords don't have to have white skin after regenerating. Moffat should have remembered that scene and given us a black or Asian Doctor after Matt Smith. Sandifer appreciates the sheer glee that Lalla Ward brought to the show. Mary Tamm's difficulty taking the stories seriously worked in its own way in the Key to Time, but Lalla's insistence on taking the stories deadly seriously is quite welcome. As might be expected, Sandifer is unimpressed on the whole with Destiny and it's return to Dan Dare style space adventure.

You don't need me to tell you that Sandifer thinks City of Death is a good story. The Creature from the Pit, however, is more contested ground. Sandifer sees a strong political message in this story (which was perhaps lost in the direction), with Lady Adrasta representing the same ruthless capitalism as Thatcher. Moving on to Nightmare of Eden, our author brings up an interesting fact; that Bob Baker has written three Oscar-winning films, namely the Wallace and Gromit animated features. He sees in this the fact that Bob Baker (and his former writing partner, Dave Martin) were at their best when producing stories that were structured around visual events rather than dialogue. This means that the writing duo were quite ill-suited to the William years, with the centrality of Tom Baker's comic dialogue and the generally unpolished visuals. Sandifer agrees with Lawrence Miles that Horns of Nimon is, like Underworld, a failure to understand how to use the epic scope of mythology in science fiction. A large part of this is the budgetary constraints and the disappointing visual aspects of the production. He argues that this accounts for Robert Holmes demoralisation and disenchantment with the program. On the lost story Shada, Sandifer comments "So Shada is at once better than the manifestations of it that we have and clearly inferior to the heavenly ideal that some have made of it." He offers some very interesting discussion of the different variations of Shada, including among them, Douglas Adam's DIRK Gently's Holisitc Detective Agency, which was essentially a reworking of the story. After a discussion of Gareth Roberts' novel The Well Mannered War, we get an interview with the man himself, which offers some insights into Williams-era appreciation.

In a commissioned essay, Sandifer addresses the question of whether it makes sense to talk about a 'JNT era.' Given the considerable differences in style between the script editors employed by John Nathan-Turner, it is difficult to identify a unifying theme for 80s Doctor Who. He finds a paradox in JNT's desire to tone down the humour of the Williams years, while seeing Doctor Who primarily in the paradigm of light entertainment. He finds something of a resemblance between the work of JNT and RT Davies, in that both men treated Doctor Who as 'event television' working the stories into the broader picture of television broadcasting.

Taking a look at other science fiction shows of the late 70s/ early 80s, our author is unimpressed by Quatermass (1979), sadly describing it as 'one hundred minutes of Nigel Kneale yelling at the damn kids to get off his lawn." On the other hand, he admires David Maloney's adaptation of Day of the Triffids. He also has much praise for Sapphire and Steel and suggests David McCallum's performance as Steel was an inspiration for McCoy's Doctor.

The Leisure Hive is viewed as the start of JNT's new 'event television' approach. Sandifer points out that in every way, the serial broadcasts the fact that Doctor Who has re-branded and reinvented itself. He connects this to the new relationship between JNT and fandom, what he cleverly calls 'the fan-industrial complex.' On Meglos, his most interesting comments relate to the way that the Chronic Hysteresis works as a kind of magic. He views the introduction of Waterhouse's Adric in Full Circle as a spectacularly bad casting decision. Nevertheless, he acknowledges both the dramatic strength of Full Circle and Bidmead's new aesthetic vision for the show. He feels that State of Decay has some great ideas, particularly its reinvention of Time Lord mythology, but it is let down by a less than impressive production. Personally, I think State of Decay reaches a pretty high standard, but perhaps I'm not the best television critic.

We get an enjoyable diversion by way of a look at 2000 AD, one of the better known British comics. At the heart of this comic was Judge Dredd, the future law-enforcer with his perpetually humourless expression and huge gun. Sandifer says of it:

"But what's interesting about Judge Dredd is that underneath the extravagant violence there is a rather wicked bit of intelligent satire. The entire premise of it rapidly becomes that the audience is rooting for a character who is obviously a bad guy, while the villains are often perfectly sympathetic characters. In the first major storyline, Dredd violently puts down a rebellion of robots who are shown to have free will, and who are rebelling against conditions that are clearly slavery- a rebellion that would, in any normal sci-fi story, treat them as the good guys."

Examining Warriors' Gate, Sandifer asks what Bidmead really understood by magic and science. He suggests that what Bidmead objected to was plots in which the Doctor wins simply because he's the Doctor. Instead, he wanted to see the Doctor winning the day through the rules and structure of the narrative worlds he enters. This essentially fitted with the original vision of David Whittaker and with the first two Doctors. However, the brash and bold showmen Doctors of the Seventies were incompatible with this paradigm, hence the need for Tom Baker's departure. In the departure of Romana, Sandifer sees the resolution of his 'Problem of Susan;' we finally have a companion who outgrows her role and becomes a potential protagonist on her own. Sandifer argues that The Keeper of the Traken is structured like a Shakespearean comedy, but subverted into a tragedy at the end by the death of Tremas. When we finally get to Logopolis, our author gives us one of his experimental pieces. The Logopolis essay is written as a 'choose your own adventure.' It is written in beautiful poetic language, but it's one of those occasions when I largely fail to understand exactly what he is trying to say.

Finally, in his overall summary, Sandifer praises the sense of fun in the Graham Williams era. For all that he appreciates the dark and epic stories, he cannot fail to enjoy City of Death or Androids of Tara. He suggests that even the weakest stories of this period, such as Nightmare of Eden are enjoyable to watch with friends and snack food.

Sunday 11 January 2015

Counter-Measures Series 3

I was quite slow buying this box set. I suppose my enthusiasm for Counter-Measures was dampened a little by the last series. I really love the characters, especially as Remembrance of the Daleks is my favorite Doctor Who story, but I find it hard to get enthusiastic about the sort of stories they have run since Series 2. I suppose I just don't care for the science fiction lite medium. I really want aliens and monsters and they just give me gangsters with alien technology, top secret weapons and Communist plots. The stories are a little like 'monster of the week' X-Files stories, but with a more rationalist worldview. X-Files kept us watching the more mundane stories because we knew behind it all was an amazing story arc about aliens. Counter-Measures has story arcs, but nothing of the grandeur of the X-Files mythos. This is particularly seen in the final story, Unto the Breach. The initial premise, an alien in the custody of the Communist powers is really exciting and then it turns out to be just a trick. I felt a bit cheated.

It is difficult to see Counter-Measures as a Quatermass homage, as it was in its first series. The Concrete Cage certainly owes a lot to Nigel Kneale, but otherwise there is not much Quatermass going on. Quatermass was always about the cosmic 'other,' about the inhuman intelligences beyond the borders of our world, about slimy tentacled beings. Without aliens, you can't really have anything close to Quatermass.

I wish Counter-Measures would do some stories about space travel and exploration, after all Rachel Jensen references British Rocket Groups in her very first appearance. If you take the common view of UNIT dating (which I disagree with), Britain is going to send spaceships to Mars in about ten years from when Counter-Measures is set. Space travel ought to be a hot issues in this time period.

Templeton, who had taken over from Sir Toby at the end of the previous series is kicked out at the end of the first story. Although he makes a return in the final story, I was still disappointed. What was great in the previous series was his interaction with Sir Toby. They were great together; too similar characters who are still quite different. Unfortunately, they do not interact at all in this series.

Gilmore seems to have gained a few more men, which is a good thing. In the previous two seasons, he was rather reduced to being a chauffeur for Rachel. On the other hand, as a senior military officer, he ought to have a few more staff officers around him (not that UNIT never had that problem in Doctor Who).

It was nice to see Alison's backstory being developed in The Forgotten Village. It was also great the way they dealt with the subject of dementia. However, Alison does come across as a bit whiny in much of this series. In fact, Ian and Rachel come across the same way. The problem is that the first story establishes that the team really want Sir Toby back. Then, after they get him back, they go on about how dreadful and untrustworthy he is. It really makes them look rather fickle. I don't see how Counter-Measures can go on with continual suspicion of Sir Toby's motives. Sooner or later (and it is surprising they have not already done so), the team are going to have to get used to Sir Toby.

The theme music has changed for Series 3. The new theme seems to reflect the generally dark tone. The original theme seemed to suggest that Counter-Measures was a light-hearted pastiche of Sixties spy drama. I almost wish it was. I do find myself wishing we could have a bit more humour. It would also be nice to have a few more references to the wider Doctor Who world. Obviously, you can't have Zygons or Daemons appearing in every story, but it is Doctor Who fans buying these audios and sometimes they deserve rewarding with a bit of continuity fodder.

I like this series for the great characters, and generally the writers serve them well, but Counter-Measures is not quite the spin-off I would like it to have been.