Thursday, May 30, 2013

Top Ten Suggestions For the New Assistant

(Originally posted to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide on May 3rd, 2004. Someone had just posted "Top Ten Outside-the-Box Casting Suggestions for the New Assistant", which I think was shortened for "New Review" link to "Top Ten Suggestions for the New Assistant". I thought this sounded more like actual advice, and so I wrote my top ten suggestions for whoever Rose would turn out to be...)

Although Rose Tyler has not been cast, and as yet remains just an insubstantial wisp in our imaginations, already one person has suggested no less than ten people who could play the part of companion to the new Doctor. Which is nice of him, and all, but I can't help but think it'd be far more valuable to our putative Rose to have a list of suggestions on how to better prepare herself to be the Doctor's assistant. So...

1. Invest in a pair of sensible running shoes. Wear them whenever you leave the TARDIS. It'd probably also be a good idea to take up jogging as a hobby.

2. Talk to a physical therapist about exercises that strengthen the ankle muscles.

3. Practice your delivery of the lines, "But why, Doctor?", "I don't understand, Doctor," and optionally, "I can't believe you've betrayed us to the evil aliens, Doctor!" For the latter, it is recommended that you work with Sophie Aldred to get the exact pitch of shocked indignation.

4. Get some training on resisting hypnosis.

5. Learn how to pick locks. You'll be spending a lot of time in jail cells, and it'll only be longer if you don't know how.

6. In the unlikely event that you possess a stash of Janis thorns, hide them. High explosives are perfectly all right, as he will only express mock indignation at your ownership of them, but Janis thorns are right out.

7. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to kiss him. He probably won't mind, but fans everywhere will try to kill you.

8. If it is at all feasible, purchase a pair of walkie-talkies, splitting them up between the two of you. This simple precaution will pay for itself within the first twenty minutes of your traveling with the Doctor.

9. Do not laugh at the appearance of the Daleks. Yes, we all know they look like salt-shakers. They're also very ill-tempered. In addition, despite their appearance, they can climb stairs... if the budget is high enough. Always check to see how much money the producers have spent on the TARDIS set before running up stairs to escape them. (If they've spent a sufficiently large sum, you may only hear their voices.)

10. Always remember, you are perfectly safe... unless you persist in trying to prove you're better at maths than a race of perfectly logical computer intelligences, to the point of passing up a perfectly good "get out of fiery horrible death" free card in the form of an escape shuttle just so that you can go play with the bomb attached to the steering mechanism. If you do this, you're going to die, and he's not going to come save you.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review: Mad Dogs and Englishmen

(Sorry for the delay--the long weekend played merry hell with my posting schedule in general. This is being drawn from July 23rd, 2002, on the Doctor Who Ratings Guide, and I have to admit that my opinion of the book has softened considerably since then. I actually liked it much better on re-reading; I think I probably braced for a terrible novel after my frustrations with 'The Blue Angel' and 'Verdigris', and wasn't quite sure how to cope when I got an utterly hilarious romp. And the Doctor's line, "You've got 'lackey' written all over you' is one of the best insults he's ever come up with.)

Well, it was bad... but I certainly can say it was never boring. In point of fact, it was awful, but awful in one of those peculiarly entertaining ways that had me breezing through the novel, all the while entirely certain that the author wasn't pulling off what he thought he was. On the other hand, one thing was fingernails-on-blackboard, chewing-on-tinfoil, slamming-fingers-in-car-door level irritating...

Gallifrey is gone. Wiped from history. The Time Lords are no more. Only four remain of their race.

So why, oh sweet suffering FUCK, why did one of them have to be fucking Iris fucking Wildthyme? Why couldn't she have been retroactively erased from existence? Even if she wasn't, did we have to see her? Wasn't there a "no continuity" rule? Shouldn't Justin have said, "No, no old characters"? Or at least, "no, no gratingly annoying pastiches/parodies of the Doctor who've been in every fucking book you've written for the range"? I know that there will be some who say that her appearance in the book is short. To them, I say: NOT SHORT ENOUGH.

Other than that, the book is cheerfully, enjoyably awful. When the villains of the piece are Noel Coward and his Magical Pinking Shears, the Evil Poodle Empress, and a pastiche of what I can only assume is H.P. Lovecraft on LSD with a bestiality fetish, you can tell you are not dealing with a book that is meant to be taken as anything other than a joke. This is fine, so far as it goes, and so far as you basically then package it up, put it in a nice separate universe well away from the bleak, serious, deep, thought-provoking books on either side of it, and forget it ever happened to the characters you know and love. On that level, I really, really enjoyed Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Except for the bits with Iris Wildthyme in them.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Faction Paradox and Doctor Who

(Originally posted on Christmas Day 2002, to Jade Pagoda. The book really got into my head, what can I say?)

So, with the Book of the War firmly in my head, I have to wonder how it fits in with Doctor Who? I mean, after all, the Great Houses are the Time Lords, and the timeships are TARDISes...but yet, we don't hear from the Doctor at all. (Except in the entry on Siloportem...)

So, after a spoiler warning, here are my best guesses on where it all fits in.


Well, first, it's pretty clear that the whole thing ignores "The Ancestor Cell". Grandfather Paradox is not the Doctor, the Enemy is not the super-evolved ancestor cells of every life form in the universe, the Doctor's TARDIS is still dead, and Gallifrey has not gone boom. Oh, and Faction Paradox isn't a bunch of evil, cackling madmen that want to invade Gallifrey and make it into their new home. (In fact, it's pretty clear that FP have no interest in Gallifrey at all, and are awaiting the end of the War to move in on the winner.) This doesn't mean the two can't be reconciled...well, OK, yes, it does. But if you assume that the Doctor changed the course of future history and unhappened the War completely, it becomes easier to reconcile the two. Still impossible, but easier.

It's equally evident that Lawrence Miles takes his own books (Christmas on a Rational Planet, Alien Bodies, and Interference Books 1 and 2) as canon, and most of the storyarcs after them. Shadows of Avalon is canonical to BotW, as is Taking of Planet 5 (the Shift describes the destruction of Mictlan, claiming that while it hasn't happened yet, it will.) Ordifica is mentioned, and so are a few other things that come straight out of Doctor Who with no disguises needed (Chris Cwej, the Yssgaroth, Compassion, etc). A few more needed cosmetic disguises, but little more (the Caldera is the Eye of Harmony, and Casts are Shaydes...I think.) These things can be picked up on pretty easily.

Other than that...the War King is pretty obviously the Master. I don't think anyone's going to dispute that one. His inaugural address alone, in which he says "I once embraced the bombastic titles I just mentioned, considering myself the ruler of everything that any intelligent creature can comprehend", seems to blatantly hint at it. So apparently, the Master has reformed, and is now spearheading the Gallifreyan war effort. Bizarre.

"Grandfather Halfling", the head of House Halfling, appears to be the City of the Saved's resurrected Doctor. He's half-human, half-"Great House member" (ie, Time Lord), and spends his time passionately crusading for the rights of the downtrodden and trampled. Since we know the Doctor died on Dronid (again mentioned in the appendix, though not by name), it would make sense that, as a half-human, he'd be resurrected in the City of the Saved. Of course, questions still remain about the manner of his death. I think he's also the person who
hallucinated under the influence of Praxis in the Rivera Manuscript, but I have no basis for that in fact. It just seems right. Then again, pretty much anything "seems" right when it comes to placing the Doctor in the center of events, even making him Grandfather Paradox, so that doesn't mean much.

The Imperator Presidency seems to be a reference to Morbius, with his crusade, defeat, and execution, but I wouldn't want to wager money on it. Still, though, it does seem likely.

Other than that, nothing staggering leaps out...of course, I'd love to hear others' conjectures on this.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: Decalog 4

Decalog 4 was the kind of project that was almost indescribable to anyone
outside of the fan community of Doctor Who, and scarcely describable to anyone
inside it: "It's a short story collection about the ancestors of one of the
Seventh Doctor's companions." OK, not exactly indescribable, but the question
that follows was inevitably, "Why her?" and the answer, I suppose, must have
been, "Why not?" The collection that followed is good--several stories are
readable, but unspectacular, a few are quite clever, and one or two are very
good indeed. Given the uneveness of other Decalogs, that's quite an achievement.


In general, I did think that the theme of the story--ancestors of Roz
Forrester--could have been a bit more developed. As it was, it kind of seemed
that the theme of the collection was "people with the last name Forrester",
instead of a coherent meta-narrative. (The previous Decalog, Consequences,
worked its meta-narrative quite well, with each story leading into the next in
subtle ways.) However, the stories themselves were good...although after reading
most of them, I had the urge to wonder how the Forrester family made it to the
30th century after most of them died horribly. :)

'Second Chances', by Alex Stewart, falls into the "readable" category--it's kind
of a cyberpunk "old standard", about a man who dies while jacked into the Net
and his computer self has to find his killer. However, it doesn't fall victim to
most of the cliches that attend that plot, and has kind of a sweet ending, so I
could deal with it. :)

"No One Goes To Halfway There", by Kate Orman, has one of the best titles of any
short stories I've read. The story itself is pretty good, too, although there's
a sort of a sense of...I dunno, been there done that. Woman sacrifices herself
heroically to save humankind, yes, seen it. :) Still quite good, though.

"Shopping For Eternity", by Gus Smith, is just strange. Really's
about a grifter who's being tapped to be a corporate messiah, and they're
following his every move, and everything he does to try to escape just leads him
back into their clutches,'s very strange. Not necessarily bad, but just
really, really odd.

"Heritage", by Ben Jeapes, is one of the few stories in the book that actually
ties in with one of the other stories--and hence, deserves credit for that
alone. It's about a woman on a cryogenic sleeper ship awoken by one of her own
descendants (and again, that's a pretty hoary old sci-fi plot), but again, it
does something interesting with it. Also again, it ends with the Forresters in
question biting the dust. Maybe Roz had a rare genetic disorder that compelled

"Burning Bright", by Liz Holliday, is very good so long as you ignore the fact
that it makes absolutely no sense. :) It's about people being telepathically
stimulated to riot and destroy, which is a fine start to your an
insane telepathic weather control satellite that thinks it's a god, which as far
as I'm concerned needs a lot more explication before you can just drop it in as
a plot element. :) Really well-written, but I still want to know a bit more
about what caused the weather control satellite to go insane and think it was
God before I buy the plot.

"C9H13NO3", by Peter Anghelides (that's actually chemical notation, but I don't
have the font for it) is an interesting story that probably needs to be read
twice to understand it fully. It all involves synthetic people and downloaded
memories, and didn't really drive me wild, but again, I think if I re-read it
I'd find it a lot better.

"Approximate Time of Death", by Richard Salter, is a very clever murder mystery
with a fascinating twist that I won't reveal, even here. There's a bit of a
cheat involving the twist--things that you think are happening turn out to be
just a clever narrative trick, but I can't go into further detail--but I'm
willing to forgive it because it's a very clever murder mystery.

"Secrets of the Black Planet", by Lance Parkin, reminds me a lot of
'EarthWorld', and I mean that in a good way. It's all about the ways we rewrite
history, has some horrendously good puns, and a nice twist ending. Probably the
best of the collection.

"Rescue Mission", by Paul Leonard, is dark, twisted, and strangely poetic.
Again, another story that left me questioning the longevity of the Forrester
line, but still a very good story--albeit very depressing.

"Dependence Day", by Andy Lane and Justin Richards, asks more questions than it
answers, but does serve as a sequel of sorts to 'So Vile A Sin'. Still, though,
given the way it ends, it almost seems as though it's paving the way for a
sequel. An interesting choice of final stories, and although I liked it, I'm
still not sure if I liked it. :)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Thursday, May 16, 2013

When 'Doctor Who' Fans Veer Off-Topic

(Originally posted January 8th, 2003 to the Jade Pagoda mailing list. And a shout out to excellent writer Mags Halliday for prompting the post!)

----- Original Message -----
From: "Mags L Halliday" <moosifer_jones@...>

> ObWho: which book companions could knot cherry stems with their tongues?

Roz can do it, but wouldn't ever admit to it.

Chris can't do it, and would at first wonder why it was such a big deal...then have the realization hit him a few seconds after everyone else had started sniggering.

TV Ace couldn't do it; NA Ace picked up the skill somewhere in Spacefleet.

And she probably used it to kill a Dalek somehow.

Grant Markham couldn't do it and even if he could, nobody would care.

Evelyn Smythe could do it, could do it much better than any other companion, and was the best at it back at college, and the Doctor really misses her skills at it, because she was such a great companion and a wonderful person.

Frobisher could do it, but would be cheating by growing little fingers out of his tongue.

Sam couldn't do it, and would be deeply offended if you asked her to try.

Dark Sam could do it, and would delight in demonstrating it to attractive men.

Fitz couldn't do it, but would be very interested in any woman that could.

Compassion would just eat the sodding cherry. Obviously.

Anji would probably slap you if you asked...but eventually, after much poking and prodding and sly looks, would admit that yes, yes she can. But never tell anyone.

Benny would claim to be able to while at a bar and fairly seriously drunk; she'd then spend the rest of the evening with a jar of cherries in the corner of the bar, getting increasingly drunk and frustrated, until she finally ties a knot in a cherry stem with her hands, puts it into her mouth, takes another cherry, tells everyone loudly that she can do it, puts the other cherry into her mouth, then inadvertently swallows both of them and has a coughing fit before they put her to bed. She wakes up the next morning swearing never to watch Twin Peaks again.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book of the War: The Face of the Enemy

(Originally posted on Christmas Day, 2002, to the Jade Pagoda mailing list. Yes, I posted elaborate and unprovable fan theories on Christmas Day. Your point?)

OK, so I've now finished the book, and I think that my theory on who the Enemy is has been somewhat cemented. However, questions remain...


OK, my full theory is this. Posthumanity experiments with praxis, a time-active drug of some sorts that can actually cause changes to reality. Under the influence of praxis, they hallucinate an Enemy, a potential force that can actually defeat the Great Houses/Time Lords. (Note that it might also have been a Time Lord who first hallucinated the Enemy--the Rivera Manuscript points to the idea that praxis-induced hallucinations were among the first War Predictions.) Either way, this explains why the Time Lords in Interference believed that Earth was responsible for the Enemy--without the praxis, this couldn't have happened.

The praxis actually causes changes to time and space, bringing a putative Enemy into being--not a specific race or entity, but the very concept of "enemy-ness", of opposition. The Great Houses begin to suspect that something is wrong with the Spiral Politic, and by so doing, give greater shape and form to the Enemy. As their paranoia grows, the Enemy gains greater shape, form, and power, until it finally is able to affect the Spiral Politic directly. Hence, the War becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The big hole in this theory comes from three entries. (Well, it's not a "hole", per se. It's something that the theory can't and doesn't explain.) One, the entry for Umbaste. He apparently visited the Caldera/Eye of Harmony, and opened himself up to it, hoping for insights. Afterward, all he could say was the word, "One," over and over and over until he committed suicide. Two, the entry for Zo La Domini. Before being killed by a Violent Unknown Event (which, it's suggested, was initiated by the Enemy), Chatelaine Thessalia ordered the Ruling Houses to conduct a thorough spectroscopic analysis of the Homeworld's sun. Three, the Rivera Manuscript (Appendix IV). It has several references to a person apparently called "One", and to something "Inside the skin of the sun", and to "keeping the sun in a bottle". All three of these entries seem connected, both to each other and to the Enemy, but I'll be damned if I know how. (Except to think of Omega, who also had connections to Gallifrey's sun and to the Eye of Harmony, and who could be considered to be the first Time Lord, but I don't think that's where Miles would be taking this.)

So, any thoughts?

Oh--for those of you who've read the book and noticed that the entry on "The Enemy" references several entries in the book that don't exist, here's where they are.

Churchill Index--referenced on p. 51, under Earth Chronology. Seems to suggest that the Enemy had a hand in the destruction of the Star Chamber.

Immaculata Formosii--Grandfather's Arm, pp. 76-77; Kaiwar, pp. 106-107; Lesser Species, pp. 111-112 (includes a picture); posthumanity, pp. 154-155. She appears to be a double or even triple agent, currently allied with the Enemy.

Gods of the Ainu--Gauntlet, pp. 70-71; Mt. Usu Duel, pp. 128-130. Suggests that the Ainu (a tribe of Japanese aboriginals) worship the Enemy in some form; also suggests that the Enemy were responsible for the death of Michael Brookhaven. Includes a lot of interesting, if cryptic, information.

"Miss Hiroshima"--Production Hell, p. 158; "Through the Eye of Eternity", pp. 190-191; Vandemeer, Chad, pp. 207-208. A lost episode of a science-fiction TV series that inspired the Remote (the TV series, not the episode), and which was produced using technology that Michael Brookhaven later used to stage the Mount Usu Duel. Suggests that the Mt. Usu Duel was a trap.

Mohandassa--Thousand-Year Battles, pp. 189-190. One of the great battles of the war, yet one about which no information exists at all. Connection to Enemy unknown.

Sixth Wave Defections--Sixth Wave, p. 220, under Waves of the House Military, pp. 219-221. There was no Sixth Wave according to recorded history--ergo, the implication is that they defected to the Enemy and were unhappened. This, in turn, implies that the Enemy got to the House Breeding engines and corrupted an entire generation of troops.

S'tanim--Poenari Relic, pp. 153-154. S'tanim is an ancient word meaning "adversary", and the entry appears to refer to the Head of the Presidency being stored on Earth for part of its existence (the head was kept in a semi-living state for the entire duration of the universe, then returned to the Great Houses as a message from the Enemy.)

Violent Unknown Events--Thessalia, Chatelaine, pp. 187-188; War Predictions: Chatelaine Thessalia, pp. 217-218; Zo La Domini, p. 230. Violent Unknown Events are unpredictable disasters that defy analysis even after they occur; the Enemy can apparently induce them, and used one to kill Chatelaine Thessalia after she apparently discovered something important about them.

Again, any thoughts would be welcome...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why We Watch

I'm watching 'The Time Monster' tonight. It's the first time I've ever actually seen the story, which has been described as "like watching paint dry while being flogged with barbed wire--immensely dull and painful at the same time" by the Discontinuity Guide. About Time wasn't particularly charitable to it either, nor was Who's Next, nor were any of the other episode guides I've read. The fan consensus is that this is an embarrassment at best and a travesty at worst, the sort of thing that must be hidden from the Not-We lest they forever flee Doctor Who.

In actuality, it's not bad at all. It's a typical Pertwee story, overlong and relying rather heavily on the personalities of its leads (particularly Delgado, who can carry just about any load of old tosh simply by being himself, and who is allowed to have that rarest of all commodities in Doctor Who villains, a sense of humor) and with special effects that can't carry the story one whit. But in practical terms, it's no worse than 'The Silurians', and it's at least shorter.

Likewise, last week I watched 'Timelash', another contender for "Worst Story Ever", and was surprised at how entertaining it actually is. It's insanely overambitious for its production budget--the Timelash itself, particularly its interior, probably couldn't be realized on today's Who budget, let alone the cash-strapped mid-80s series--but the script more or less holds together, Herbert and the Doctor have magnificent chemistry together ("I hadn't realized that all this dying heroically would be so hard on the nerves") and for all the complaints about being OTT, Paul Darrow plays his part exactly as he needs to. Playing Tekker as "subtle malice" would have resulted in him being blown off the screen by Colin Baker's coat, let alone the man himself; this was a character that needed to revel in his own malice, glorying in his triumphs and the reflected glory of being the Borad's right-hand man. Tekker is a man on top of the world and loving it. That works for this story.

But the point of all this is, if you'd asked me what I thought of these stories beforehand, I'd probably have told you they were both awful. I'd have been honest, and clarified that I was repeating received wisdom in the case of the former, but the brutal fact of the matter is that it is human nature to find our memories and opinions gradually shifting and adjusting themselves to fit with consensus. Psychological experiments have proven it; when we are wildly at odds with the group opinion, it's hard to retain your own feelings. You convince yourself that maybe you just didn't notice the things everyone else did, that you were being uncritical (or overly critical) about something new. Fan consensus ossifies and hardens, becoming a permanent part of the lore (like "Empire is the best Star Wars movie", or "The even-numbered Trek films are great and the odd-numbered Trek films suck".)

And that's why it's worth watching these old episodes again, even though we've seen them before (multiple times, in some cases.) Because the text stands alone, apart from fan consensus and received wisdom and all that other stuff that we bring to it. When you watch 'Timelash', everyone's opinions of it suddenly become magnificently irrelevant, because you're seeing the actual story. Maybe in a few months' time, I'll lose that revelation, because it'll be hard to withstand the repeated slings and arrows of people who were expecting 'Star Wars' on a 'Doctor Who' budget, but that's what the story is there for. To break up that bony shell of "what we know" with "what we see", and rediscover the stories all over again fresh.

Friday, May 10, 2013

So You Want To Get Into Doctor Who

Originally posted in September 2010 for the website It's an introduction to the series, but seeing as how everyone has their own ideas on how to do that, I present it for evaluation to you now.)

Frankly, I don’t blame you. It’s the longest running science-fiction series in the history of television, having gone on longer than every single Star Trek series put together. It’s featured the writing of Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, and television luminary Steven Moffat (who looked like he was going to corner the market on Hugo awards for a few years there.) It’s smart, witty, fun, inventive, fearlessly silly and gobsmackingly terrifying all at the same time, and generally the best thing since sliced bread. But with a TV show that’s coming close to celebrating its 50th anniversary, where do you start?

Really, the wonderful thing about the series is that there are any number of jumping-on points. The show is not a “Lost”-type experience where you have to pay deep attention to the mythos and every story builds on the story before it. (In fact, it’s almost the opposite; with so many changes to the show’s creative personnel, it was pretty frequent for series writers to have to rely on second- or third-hand descriptions of older stories when they brought back recurring enemies. This is why compiling timelines of Doctor Who is a fan cottage industry.)

But probably the best jumping-on point, right now, is Season One of the new series. The first episode, “Rose”, shows the Doctor from the perspective of someone meeting him for the first time, and gives you a nice initiation into the basic concept of the series (although the best description of the basic concept comes later, in Steven Moffat’s introductory episode “The Eleventh Hour”: “Amy Pond, there’s something you’d better understand about me, because it’s important, and one day your life may depend upon it. I am definitely a madman with a box.”) From there, it’s pretty easy to find yourself moving on to Seasons 2, 3, 4, the 2009 specials, and 5…although honestly, I think that big chunks of 3 and 4 are skippable if you don’t feel like watching everything. (Make sure to watch “Blink”, though. Everyone should watch “Blink”, if for nothing else than to see Carey Mulligan in one of her early TV appearances. She’s gonna be huge.)

But the thing is, as much as I like it, the new series is only the tip of the Doctor Who iceberg. There’s twenty-six seasons and a whopping 286 novels out there, not to mention the comics, audio plays and movies. (The movies are just adaptations of two early TV stories. You can skip them if you want, although it’s neat to see Peter Cushing playing the Doctor.) While you certainly don’t have to see it all…and in fact, you can’t, thanks to the BBC’s short-sighted decision to erase several early stories from their archives…there are a few good places to start in. I’ll list eleven, in honor of the eleven Doctors (although not necessarily featuring them all.) One thing, though. It’s worth noting that the classic series was filmed a long time ago, and usually on a shoestring budget. If you have a low tolerance for terrible special effects, run don’t walk in the other direction.

1. Genesis of the Daleks. The origin of the Daleks (although not their first appearance) and the first appearance of Davros, their mad creator. Also features the most popular (and arguably the best) Doctor, Tom Baker, whose floppy hat and long scarf provide some of the iconic images of the series.

2. An Unearthly Child. The very first episode; it actually holds up pretty well as a piece of drama, although you’ll find yourself wondering exactly who Susan’s grandmother was and why we never hear about the Doctor’s family ever again. This is normal, and part of your initiation into the world of Doctor Who fandom.

3. Spearhead From Space. This story doesn’t actually introduce UNIT, the military organization that helps the Doctor frequently over the course of his travels, but it does introduce the era of the series where they were most prominent (and the era where the Doctor was trapped on Earth.) It also introduces the Autons, occasional recurring enemies of the Doctor.

4. The Deadly Assassin. Likewise, this story doesn’t actually introduce the Master, the Doctor’s arch-nemesis and fellow renegade Time Lord, but it’s easily the best story with the character and introduces his rationale for most of the later era of the series (he’s used up all his regenerations and is trying to find a way to prolong his existence.)

5. The War Games. Basically, it’s the origin story for the Doctor, but it’s also a clever story in its own right. The Doctor seems to materialize in World War One, but at every twist, the story grows in scope until he has no choice but to reveal his past and go to his own people, the Time Lords, for help in restoring order. (Pack a lunch…it’s a ten-parter.)

6. The Chimes of Midnight. This is one of the better stories in the audio spin-off line from Big Finish, and also one of the stories that’s emblematic of the Eighth Doctor’s run in the audios. His impulsive decision to rescue “Edwardian adventuress” Charley from certain death aboard the R-101 has catastrophic consequences to history, and this story is a perfect example. Plus, it’s chillingly clever and a mix of humor and horror that sticks with you for a long time after the story ends. “Edward Grove is alive.”

7. Human Nature. At last, a chance to use links! This classic Doctor Who novel is also available as a free ebook at the BBC’s website, and it’s one of the best things Paul Cornell (who you might have heard of from the Pete Wisdom or Captain Britain comics) has ever written. It was later adapted for TV, but the book is better. Also features one of the stronger appearances of Cornell-created companions Bernice Summerfield, who wound up with her own spin-off series of some thirty novels and a similar number of audio plays. (River Song, from the new series, is basically a slightly-less awesome version of Bernice.)

8. Spare Parts. Another audio play, this one featuring TV’s Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. It’s also the origin of the Cybermen, who comprise, alongside the Daleks and the Master, the Doctor’s main Rogue’s Gallery. (In general, the Doctor’s Rogue’s Gallery consists of entire species, not individuals. Individual bad guys who fight the Doctor have a tendency to wind up dead.)

9. The Two Doctors. This is one of the more watchable adventures of the Sixth Doctor, but it gives you a pretty good idea of the kinds of excesses and problems that were afflicting the series around then. Colin Baker tries hard, but script editor Eric Saward undercuts everything with his vision of the series, and producer John Nathan-Turner viewed his job more as drumming up publicity for the series than actually making it watchable. Oh, and it’s got the Sontarans in it. See one Sontaran, you’ve seen ‘em all (literally, they’re a race of clones.)

10. City of Death. The Doctor Who episode every Doctor Who fan shows to non-Doctor Who fans, this is the one written by Douglas Adams, with Julian Glover as the villain (you know Julian Glover, even if you don’t remember the name; he’s been a villain for James Bond, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Harry Potter) and the cameo by John Cleese. If you can only watch one of the stories on this list, this is probably the one.

11. Remembrance of the Daleks. The last Dalek appearance in the classic series, and probably the best; this features three of the all-time classic headfucks of Doctor Who. The first is the Dalek chasing the Doctor up the flight of stairs for the first time in series history, the second is the appearance of the “Special Weapons Dalek” (which must be seen to be believed), and the third…but that would be telling.

So there you go, a potted guide to Doctor Who! It’s by no means complete, but I hope I’ve given you a good place to start.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: Arrangements for War

(Originally posted on the Doctor Who Ratings Guide in April 2006. And, um...well, remember how I said I'd try to be positive? I said I'd try. I didn't say how hard...)

Well, I didn't think it was possible, but it's finally happened. Big Finish has finally produced an audio that could contend with Minuet In Hell for their coveted title of "Worst Doctor Who Audio Ever". This is a work of staggering stupidity, breathtaking inanity, and such complete idiocy that the author has to simply stop at points and fill in the plot gaps with narrative, as I'm sure the actors took one look at the script and said, "I'm not reading that crap." (And when you believe that a man who performed in Timelash said, "I'm not reading that crap," you're talking about some seriously dim-witted stuff.)

The plot revolves around the two kingdoms of Sillyname and Stupidname, which are about to end centuries of tension with an arranged marriage between Prince Hi-I'm-Not-Actually-In-This and Princess Kristina, who's all worried that she won't be able to be with her love, Marcus, once she's in a loveless marriage. (Those of you bringing up all of European history to counter this assertion are already way ahead of the plot.) The marriage is opposed by transparently evil villain Suskind, played by Philip Bretherton with all the subtlety of Snidely Whiplash, who's the leader of Prince Doesn't-Have-Any-Dialogue's country. Suskind is planting bombs, sneaking in assassins, arranging demonstrations, and generally trying to sow chaos and discord... in Princess Kristina's capital. Amazingly, nobody seems to ever think of restricting the foreign leader's movements or communications in any way.

The Doctor and Evelyn get involved, each in their own way because they're not talking to each other because Evelyn's turned unspeakably whiny, and manage to turn the situation into an outright war. The Doctor tries to help Kristina and Marcus by passing along letters, but Suskind's thug, Pokol (played by Lewis Rae, who appears to be trying to outdo Bretherton in the Snidely Whiplash-a-thon), steals the letters from Kristina's bedroom, which he is allowed access to because of his status as bodyguard of the leader of another country, and uses them to dissolve the alliance and start a war.

The Doctor gets locked up, for no sane and sensible reason, and is visited in prison by Suskind, who appears to not only have not been deported from the country he's just declared war on, but is allowed freedom of movement within the capital, the right to wander in and talk to political prisoners, and to continue to have his private staff of bodyguards to wander around fully armed. This isn't just a plot hole, it's a plot singularity -- Suskind's actions drive the entire second half of the audio, and at every moment, you wonder if the writer wasn't just a bit confused about what nations at war traditionally do. It'd be like setting a play during World War II, and having Hitler live in London for the duration with his SS in tow. Anyhow, Suskind twirls his moustache a bit, Pokol gets threatening, the Doctor escapes, and, oh yes, Evelyn is off somewhere falling in love with the leader of a third nation in a subplot that never actually threatens to become important.

Then aliens invade, Suskind has an instant change of heart and becomes a good guy, the two nations ally and defeat the aliens, various people die, and the Doctor gets all mopey, which gives Evelyn the opportunity to have a painfully poorly-written chat with him about grief, which ends the audio on the classic line of dialogue, "Your boots need cleaning." A work of thorough incompetence on every possible level.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Annoying Obligatory Autobiographical Part

My name is John Seavey. One of my first memories, from when I was no older than two or three years old, was of a TV set showing a man wearing a long coat and a tremendously long scarf, and his friend walking down a white corridor. I'm reasonably certain it was from 'The Ark In Space', but as we all know, the memory cheats. I do remember, though, that I called out to my mother, "Mom! Doctor Who's back!" Even then, I knew exactly who he was.

Ever since then, I've been a fan of the show. My fandom has waxed and waned--when the series went off the air in 1989, I had a long period where it was just something I fondly remembered. Then I discovered the novels, and my fandom hit new peaks (leading ultimately to every fan's dream at the time, a namecheck in a proper Doctor Who book.) In the last half-decade or so, my inability to collect to my heart's content has made my fandom go slightly dormant, but it's never stopped. And all that time, I've been writing about the series, in one form or another, for one reason or another, in one place or another.

Perhaps it's egotism (okay, no perhaps--it's rampant egotism) but I'd like my Doctor Who writing all together where everyone can see it. I think it's good writing, I think it entertains Who fans, and I think it's worth reading. And I think it would draw more attention if it wasn't scattered across three mailing lists, four websites, and at least one forum. So I'm going to post to this blog with a mix of my old material, culled from various places across the Internoun, and new stuff that I'm writing just for here. That way if you like my writing, you'll get more of it. If you like Doctor Who, you'll get to read about it. And if you like old posts about why the amnesia was a dreadful mistake, you'll get that too., if you don't know what the amnesia is, that'll be part of this too. I like to consider myself a holistic Doctor Who fan, equally enthused by the TV series (new and old), the books, the audios, the movies, the comics, and the non-fiction works about the Doctor. I love to tell people how awesome the stuff they're missing is, because I hope that once they read it/watch it/listen to it/iron it on their shirts, they'll be happy they did.

I'm going to try not to be too down on any of the series, old, new or in between. I'm a big believer in Lynne Thomas' slogan, "Don't Harsh The Squee", and I'm going to try to practice it here, so if your favorite companion was Martha or your favorite story was 'Timelash', don't feel bad about either one. That said, I have opinions and I enjoy silly hyperbole, so don't be surprised if I crack wise about your favorite story at some point. Just know that it's all in love, and feel free to smack me if I'm too mean. One of the things that I think separates Doctor Who fans from some other series is that we even love the bits we hate...and frequently vice versa.

So, since this is a blog and this is only going to be the first thing you read once, I'd just like to say one thing. To the person who kept clicking back and back and back, reading through each and every last one of my posts until you got to the last one because you really enjoyed it....thanks. Hope you stick around.