Friday, June 28, 2013

A Thematic Chronology of the New Adventures

(Originally posted to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide on April 23, 2003)

I've been going on about this on Jade Pagoda for a while, so I do think it's time to set down my personal ideas of how the NAs wound up working in terms of their structure -- that is to say, even though it wasn't intended to have a unified, 61-book arc, it does seem that you can pin down various phases of characterization, theme, and so forth that exist in addition to and superseding the various different "story arcs" we see. There are, no doubt, a number of sub-phases this could be broken down into further, but I feel that simplicity is a virtue, so three it is.

Phase One: Birth Pangs
Timewyrm: Genesys-No Future

This first arc dealt with the baggage left behind by the TV series, with its new and radically different portrayal both of the Doctor (a more manipulative, "darker" Doctor who played bigger games with higher stakes) and of the relationship between the Doctor and his companion (trust and friendship, as with previous companions, but an undercurrent of manipulation and resentment that was entirely new.) Ace underwent significant change, turning from an angsty teenager to a violent and angsty adult, and we saw a new companion introduced in Bernice, who entered the series aware of the Doctor's manipulative nature, but very wary of it. As the series progressed through several "false resolutions" of the issue (Timewyrm: Revelation, Love and War, Lucifer Rising), tension levels rose among the TARDIS crew, finally culminating in the Alternate Universe Cycle, where an outside opponent used these tensions as a weapon against the Doctor. Defeating the enemy meant reconciling with his friends, and breaking the tension once and for all.

Phase Two: Smelling the Roses Tragedy Day-Happy Endings

After No Future, the Doctor and his companions finally and definitively reconciled with each other. The Doctor became somewhat less manipulative, but just as importantly, his companions grew to understand the pressures he was under, and come to accept their roles as occasional pawns. It even became something of a running joke (lines like "needs must when the Doctor drives" in SLEEPY, or the wonderful interchange between Chris and Roz in Death and Diplomacy). Every once in a while, hints of that tension rose up again (as in Head Games, where Melanie compares the Doctor she sees quite unfavorably with the Doctor she knew), but for the most part, the danger and tension came from outside of the TARDIS here, rather than inside. Even when Ace left, it was to take up the Doctor's role as protector of time, not because she hated him -- symbolically, at least, she'd become his daughter taking on the family profession. Her later appearances confirm and heighten this impression; witness Happy Endings, where she and the Doctor talk about the impending death of Danny Pain like two true professionals. Two new companions replace her, Chris and Roz, but they get assimilated into the TARDIS crew quickly, easily, and with the barest minimum of angst. All of this joy, happiness, and more straightforward adventures culminates in Happy Endings, Bernice's wedding and essentially a celebration and summation of the 49 previous New Adventures. It ends with the Doctor trying to leave his friends behind, only to be told, "Nobody should be alone."

Phase Three: Grave Reservations GodEngine-The Dying Days

By this point in real life, the television movie had already come out -- the Seventh Doctor, after gaining an extension to his life in print, suddenly found himself obsolete. From this point on, the New Adventures begin concentrating on connecting their stories to the FOX movie, and that meant preparing the Doctor for his own impending demise. Suitably for Time's Champion, the Doctor knew of his regeneration, and books like The Room With No Doors and Lungbarrow focused on his decision to face his future, and his own possible death, head-on. (It's important to note that the Doctor only knew of his future existence up through his seventh self -- as he puts it, he's the original Eighth Man Bound.) The Doctor wasn't the only person to face death, though; with So Vile A Sin, the series gave us the first companion death since Kamelion's in Planet of Fire, and the first meaningful companion death since Adric's in Earthshock. Like the Doctor, Roz knew that she faced death; her wonderful line, "This isn't history, it's family," could almost foreshadow the Doctor's trip to Lungbarrow. Ultimately, the books suggested that they were culminating this mortality trip the only way they could, as The Dying Days killed off the Eighth Doctor mid-way through the novel -- however, Lance Parkin saved the Doctor and ended the final phase of the New Adventures, an exploration of death, with a celebration of life. Regenerated and renewed, the Doctor continued on to a new series of adventures, if not to a series of New Adventures.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: Endgame (Graphic Novel)

(Originally posted May 31, 2006 at the Doctor Who Ratings Guide.)

"Why, yes," he said afterwards. "That was quite fun."

The first collection of Eighth Doctor adventures from DWM (Endgame, The Keep, Fire and Brimstone, Tooth and Claw, The Final Chapter, and Wormwood, with bonus strips A Life of Matter and Death and By Hook or By Crook) are basically, in sum, a mad romp of action-oriented stories that go for scope over substance, never letting the chance to pull off a big cliffhanger or huge visual concept pass them by. This is a lot more fun than it sounds on paper, primarily because this is what comics work best at: "And then space turned all white," doesn't sound great on paper, but when you can actually see it happening as the leader of the Threshold gestures to it, it's pretty freaking cool.

And Endgame is full of these moments. Reading these strips, for the first time I actually understood why someone thought Alan Barnes could write Doctor Who stories (something I'll admit I never got from Storm Warning, Neverland or Zagreus): these are stories suited to his style, big huge concepts that splash out over the page and make you want to gasp. Plus, he writes a heroic Doctor who does heroic things and is the prime motivator of the story (and wins at the end), which I have to give him props for, having ripped previous DWM comic writers for not doing so in the past (and previous other Doctor Who writers as well). But the name-dropping thing has to go. Please.

Izzy is... unfortunate. I think she worked better in concept than she ever did in the strip, the idea of someone climbing onto the TARDIS who's an actual sci-fi fan and familiar with all the tropes of the worlds the Doctor will encounter... in practice, she just seems to be a sci-fi quote generator stuck onto Generic Companion Template #1, The Plucky Young Lass Who Tries To Help. Fey is interesting, but gets substantially more so by the end of the story.

About which I honestly don't want to say too much, other than to say, if you've come at this through the graphic novels, you'll be really surprised at how far the stories have come since The Iron Legion in terms of integrating their storylines together into a coherent, planned work. Stories like The Keep deliberately set up things in Fire and Brimstone, elements dropped into Fire and Brimstone set up important plot points in Wormwood, and there's a huge twist in The Final Chapter that then gets another huge twist added onto it in Wormwood to great effect. (Although it would have been even better if they'd not put it on a right-hand page. It's something you should have to turn the page to see. But oh well. Layout is too complex for me to quibble over.) The Tides of Time did some stuff like this, but this book really does take it to a whole other level. (Plus, the Threshold get their comeuppance, which is nice for me because I really, really, really hated the story where they killed Ace.)

The art, by the by, is nice: not flashy, but clear and simple, a definite virtue for these stories.

On the whole, possibly my favorite collection yet, and I'm certainly looking forward to The Glorious Dead.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

This Is What Happens When I Miss a Post

So apparently, in the five days since my last post, we went from "Missing episodes...well, we can dream, can't we?" to "An eccentric African engineer kept a whole bunch of tapes from his career in broadcasting and we're getting all the missing Hartnell and Troughton stories!" back to "Missing episodes...well, we can dream, can't we?" Which means I missed my chance to be either precognitive or foolish.

In practical terms, I was probably a bit of both. The story sounded patently unbelievable, and I didn't for a moment buy that there was an eccentric African engineer out there who had been hoarding episodes. I also didn't believe that he had everything. There's some stuff out there that just will never be recovered, like the missing Episode Seven of "The Dalek Masterplan", which we will not see through anything short of time travel. And frankly, there've been enough "ZOMOG a Seekrit Benefactor has found all Teh Missings and will give them to us and we will have ALL TEH WHOS!" rumors out there that I take all of them with at least a shaker of salt until the BBC makes an official announcement.

But that said, I wanted to believe. Who wouldn't? I wanted to imagine that some third-hand game of telephone had turned a plausible-but-exciting truth, like "Someone has found the missing episodes of 'Evil of the Daleks'!" into a wild, unbelievable exaggeration, and there was a grain of truth to it. And the person who reported it was stating that they had multiple sources, which seemed promising. So yeah, I was at least fooled enough to be hopeful, which is probably enough to encourage the type of person who makes this shit up to yank Who fans' chains.

But ultimately, I think that the BBC is doing the next best thing. The animated reconstructions are great, and they make those old episodes accessible to a new generation of fans. Will we ever see another missing episode? I wouldn't say "no", not after we found 'Airlock' and 'Underwater Menace Part Two', but I'll say I'm resigned to "probably not". Resigned enough to play the doubting Thomas to the next hoax, at least.

But not so resigned that I'll ever stop wanting to believe them.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Susan's Shadow

(Originally posted at on 7 May 2010.)

Oh, dear. They’re at it again, aren’t they?

Sorry, that probably requires a bit of explanation. Um, and I’m going to deliver that explanation in a nice, long paragraph, so that those of you who don’t want spoilers for the new Doctor Who episode, “Flesh and Stone”, which has aired in Britain but not in America, can skip this entry if you like.

Basically, for those of you not familiar with the series (or at least, not over-familiar with the series) the Doctor, an enigmatic wanderer in time and space, tends to have a traveling companion with him on his journeys. (Primarily as a way of solving a lot of writing problems–the Doctor tends to already know a lot of things the audience needs to know, so having an inexperienced traveling companion is an easy way of delivering expository dialogue that doesn’t sound forced.) These companions tend, very frequently, to be pretty young women. (Again, this is done for rather mundane reasons; the series wants to appeal to a very broad audience, and there are certain elements of the viewing public that respond strongly to pretty young women…for one reason or another.) Thus, it’s become something of a running gag among viewers that we never actually do see what the Doctor does in the TARDIS with those pretty young women between adventures.

And in the relaunched series (we are now trending towards the spoilery bits, here) that element has become more explicit. Rose, the Doctor’s companion, has a very obvious crush on the Doctor, and while the Doctor can’t ever bring himself to actually say the words, “I love you,” at any point, David Tennant is clearly playing the part as a man in love. Martha, the next companion, has her own crush on the Doctor, but since he’s still mooning over the departed Rose, she’s got no chance (an element that’s rather overplayed in Season Three, but that’s another story.) The romance angle goes into full retreat for Season Four and the 2009 specials (excepting for the season finale to Season Four, where Rose comes back and we practically get swooping strings when the two of them see each other)…but now it’s rearing its head again. Current companion Amy Pond just about jumps the Doctor’s bones at the end of “Flesh and Stone”. But the Doctor doesn’t reciprocate…despite Karen Gillan being just about the prettiest of the pretty young women ever to join the Doctor in his travels. Why?

The question is actually pretty contentious, in Doctor Who circles. (It says something about Doctor Who that it is actually less contentious than the question of what year the Third Doctor stories took place in.) There are a lot of people who believe that sex is off-limits in Doctor Who, at least in regards to the Doctor himself. They feel the Doctor should be above that sort of thing, even if they can’t necessarily articulate why. (Or if they can’t agree on a reason why. Doctor Who has possibly the strongest gay fan following of any science-fiction series, precisely because he’s a male sci-fi hero who doesn’t lust after women. To a lot of fans, the reason he doesn’t hit on his female companions is the same reason Will doesn’t hit on Grace.)

There are a lot of people who make the counter-argument that the Doctor most certainly does have a sexual relationship with many, if not most of his companions over the years. They insist that the people who insist “sex shouldn’t be allowed in Doctor Who” are prudes at best, Puritans at worst, who never noticed the sexual subtext of the older stories and now get angry when they spot it in the newer ones. (A sub-set of these people feel that there’s a sexual subtext to some, but not all stories, and that the Doctor has a “true love”, who is {INSERT COMPANION HERE} and that this is the perfect pairing and the series hasn’t been any good since that true love left and he’s been forced to make do with pale substitutes. All of these people are twelve-year-old girls. Even the ones who aren’t.)

Me? I fall at least a little into the former camp. I feel that there’s a reason why Russell T Davies and Stephen Moffat, the people who’ve been in charge of the relaunched series, haven’t pushed the boundaries of the Doctor’s sexuality too far. (And they really, really haven’t. For all that the Tenth Doctor is much more lovey-dovey than his predecessor, he still won’t even say the words, “I love you.” Not even once. My standing joke is that all the times he says, “Rose…I need to tell you…” and trails off, he’s trying to find a way to explain that traveling in the TARDIS makes you sterile.) It really isn’t in the Doctor’s character to have a sexual relationship with his companions, and Amy Pond provides the key to why. (Well, half the key.)

When Amy makes her rather blatant come-on to the Doctor, his response (played magnificently by Matt Smith) is absolute horror. He can’t imagine sleeping with Amelia Pond, because Amelia Pond is the seven-year-old girl he was just talking to a few days ago. Sure, she had a rather inconvenient case of growing up, but as the Doctor said to her, “Don’t worry; we’ll soon sort that out.” He’s not looking for a lover. He’s looking for a daughter. Or, if we’re to provide the other half of the key to the Doctor’s character, a grand-daughter.

Because the first pretty young woman the Doctor traveled with, back when he was an old man played by William Hartnell, was his grand-daughter Susan. (Also more contentious than sex: Whether William Hartnell was the actual first incarnation of the Doctor, or just the first we’ve seen.) The two were inseparable, each one the only reminder the other had of their home, and the original stories tended to focus on the differences between them and the humans that shared the TARDIS with the Doctor. (When Carole Ann Ford, the actress who played Susan, left the series, some speculated it wouldn’t survive her departure.) Susan’s departure was a watershed moment, a coming of age as the Doctor finally realized that staying with him was preventing her from living her own life. He forced her to stay behind with the man she’d come to love in one of the most bittersweet moments of the show’s history.

And the subsequent episode makes explicit what all the subsequent stories would leave as subtext. Ian and Barbara, the Doctor’s human friends, convince him to adopt a young orphan woman they’ve rescued from a crashed starship as their new traveling companion. Vicki becomes a surrogate grand-daughter to the Doctor, someone who makes him feel young and alive as they share the wonders of exploring the universe together…until she also falls in love with a boy and leaves. And the Doctor found another surrogate for Susan, and another, and another…at heart, Doctor Who is a series about a lonely old man who’s lost his family, and who finds it again with an orphaned girl. (This is the one really big mistake the new series makes with Rose, I think; not that she loves the Doctor, but that she only travels with the Doctor by choice. All the best companions of the old series were running away from something.)

Not every companion is living in Susan’s shadow, of course; Romana, for instance, seems to be pretty blatantly shagging the Doctor off-screen. (Mainly because Lalla Ward and Tom Baker pretty much were blatantly shagging each other off-screen. But now is not the time to delve into the vast store of gossip about who was having sex with who on the set.) But that’s the model of Doctor Who. That’s the reason why all the jokes about “What is the Doctor doing with those pretty young girls between adventures?” miss the point. The Doctor has a father’s love for his companions, not a romantic passion. There is most definitely a difference.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Retrospective: David Bishop

There are some writers out there that are only as good as their ideas. When they come up with a good concept, all they need to do is get out of its way and let the story shine through. These writers tend not to be remembered as great wordsmiths, but that doesn't matter so much; their prose is nothing to write home about, but they've got such inventive, puzzle-box minds that you have to admire the purity of their plots even if none of the individual moments stand out.

In some ways, David Bishop (Who Killed Kennedy, Amorality Tale, The Domino Effect, Empire of Death) is the exact opposite of that kind of writer. He does come up with great ideas--in fact, I'd say that if you reduced every Doctor Who novel to a one-sentence synopsis, there'd be no question that these four would rank among the highest. "An outside-in view of the UNIT era, as told by an investigative reporter who believes them to be a sinister conspiracy!" "The Doctor teams up with the Krays to fight aliens in the East End in the 50s!" "Sinister aliens prevent the computer from being invented, and the Doctor has to free Alan Turing from the Tower of London to save humanity!" "Queen Victoria colonizes the afterlife!" All great stuff, but he doesn't seem to be able to develop them properly. It feels like he rushes through the follow-up work needed to turn a great idea into a great novel, and as a result books that should soar feel like they slog along.

'Empire of Death' is the perfect example. With the spiritualism craze going full-bore in the Victorian era, it seems like the perfect place to set a novel about the afterlife. (Arguably, it seems like a mistake to set it in 'Doctor Who', where you know you're going to have to undermine your own concept by hedging your bets on the exact nature of the Other Side, but let's grant him a bit of leeway on that because it's so easy to think that the Doctor can fit into any story concept and make it better.) Having a physical portal to the afterlife is also a great idea, because it allows you to contrast Victoria's obsession with spiritualism with her role as one of history's biggest imperialists. The scene where troops invade Heaven in order to conquer it for the British Empire is a fine piece of social satire.

But having come up with the idea, Bishop never seems to refine it. Long stretches of the novel linger on incidental characters and minor dramas, there's a strange anti-abortion sub-theme that's awkwardly shoehorned in and not allowed to develop logically (presumably due to concerns about controversy, but it seems odd to include the topic in the first place if you're going to remove any exploration of it) and the interesting parts of the plot don't really feature until the end, and then only tangentially. The characters are all stock Victorian archetypes who never inhabit their roles convincingly, the plot runs along on rails to a predefined conclusion, and at the end, the ghosts have to turn out to be aliens because it's a 'Doctor Who' novel. (As predicted at the beginning of the previous paragraph.) Ultimately none of it lives up to its potential.

A similar analysis could be performed for any of Bishop's novels (with the possible exception of 'Who Killed Kennedy', which succeeds primarily because it's a pastiche of a cheesy "true conspiracy" book and so the flaws in its prose and characterization feel like little marks of authenticity.) His characters always feel like they stepped whole out of holding their Idiot Balls firmly with both hands, his actual plots run on forced coincidence and authorial fiat, and there's never any sense of surprise to any of his endings. (Admittedly, that's unfair in the case of 'The Domino Effect', which suffers from being part of an arc where none of the authors' books ever feel like they're part of the same storyline, but 'The Domino Effect' has other problems.) It's hard to escape the idea that Bishop is capable of writing a much better book than he has so far, simply because his ideas are so good; but that only exacerbates the frustration involved in reading them, because you're simultaneously rewriting them in your head to make the concepts involved work.

On the whole, I wouldn't say no to another novel by David Bishop, if for no other reason than 'Who Killed Kennedy' showed so much promise that I'd like to see him fulfill it someday. But I don't think his best work will ever be his 'Doctor Who' books, simply because I think he needs an editor who will challenge him to work harder on making his ideas click on the page, and I don't think that authors get that kind of personal attention from the editors in the 'Doctor Who' line. The deadlines are too stringent and the workload too great to force someone to go back for draft after draft after draft...and after reading all of David Bishop's output, I think the clearest impression I got was that his books had a draft too few.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Long, Sad Story of Penny Blake (Part One)

My name is Penny Blake, and I'm about to tell you the story of the saddest day of my life. Maybe you won't think it was sad, of course. Maybe you'll read it and at the end you'll think, "That was the worst thing that ever happened to you? You didn't die. You didn't lose a limb. You didn't even stub your toe on the front step. Nothing even really happened to you, but you're acting like the world ended. Now I've got real problems."

And I'm sure you do. We've all got problems. And no, I didn't die, or lose a limb, or stub my toe on the front step. But I did see the end of the world. All the worlds. Everywhere. Ever. I should tell it in the order I experienced it, or it won't make any sense, but I'm a journalist. And the first thing a journalist learns is, 'Don't bury the lede.' So yes, at some point in this story, the universe is going to end. And no, it's not a metaphor.

I should start with the journalism, because that turned out to be more important than it seemed when I woke up this morning. Because I say, 'journalist', but it's not like I'm a hard-hitting investigative reporter. I write up local events for the Blackwell Journal. It's eight pages on a good week, and that's with plenty of pictures. Put it this way: The morning started with me visiting a touring funfair and getting my fortune told by a gypsy lady, and that was front-page material.

(You're probably wondering what the gypsy lady told me, seeing as how this was the morning of the worst day of my life. But all she said to me was, "Your future, love? All your future is, is what's going to happen to you next." There's cryptic, and then there's bloody shite, you know?)

Then I went back to the office, and did boring journalist stuff for the next four hours. That's not the bad part. That's the boring bits. Every day is full of them, you know? I didn't really notice, before today, but there is boredom everywhere. It's like, even on Christmas Day, there's that dull bit around teatime when all of the presents are out of the box, and Christmas dinner isn't for another hour, and the telly's just full of boring stuff they've chucked on there because they figure we'll all just have it on in the background anyway, and...dull bits. The bits of life we can't skip.

But then there are the other bits. The good bits. I knew what tonight's good bit was going to be--Robin, he's my bloke, he has a birthday today. (Sorry, that should be in the past tense. That's the problem with today, it's mucked all my tenses up. Probably be weeks before I get back to talking about past, present and future like they always happen in that order.) Anyway, I spent weeks setting up a surprise party, came up with a whole bit about being stuck at a conference in Birmingham for the night, and instead I got all his friends over to the flat with a cake and balloons and presents and enough beer to sink a raft. I thought we'd give him the shock of a lifetime.

I suppose we did. Him and Martine. Bloody bitch. You know I didn't even finish shouting 'Surprise!'? Turned on the lights, saw the two of them snogging, and it was more like, 'Surwhatthebloodyfuck?' That ended the party pretty quickly. And not just the party, if you know what I mean. After that, I decided to take a walk. A long, sad, angry walk, because I wanted to give my now-ex-boyfriend time to gracefully see his boss off and pack up his shit. Or mine. Didn't much care at that point, really. Didn't much care about anything. If I'd been in the mood to care, I'd have noticed that it got dark awful early for a summer night. Or that there were no stars. No moon, either. There were some people looking up, but I walked until I didn't see people anymore. I wasn't in the mood for people.

Maybe that's why I found him. Maybe that was the instinct that led me down the back alley around the side corner back behind the pizza place in what passes for the shopping district in Blackwell. Maybe that was why I found the blue box. Because I wasn't looking for people...and the Doctor was anything but.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

So, Clara Then

(originally posted at on 3 April 2013.)

Yes, I’m posting about the new Doctor Who. Because if I do have a “thing” on this website, which I’m quite prepared to entertain arguments that I don’t, it’s that I’m the “Doctor Who guy”. And there’s a new half-season on, because the BBC is too cheap to fund more than about six episodes a year right now (I wouldn’t be so annoyed by this if the show wasn’t profitable as well as entertaining and popular and well-made–yes, it has a high production budget, but it makes it back and then some in merchandising.) And the first episode, ‘The Bells of St. John’s', aired last Saturday. So let’s chat about it after the cut.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Top Ten Missing Episodes

(Originally posted to my blog Fraggmented on December 11, 2011.)

For those of you who haven't heard the wonderful news, two more episodes of 1960s-era Doctor Who were recovered today ('Galaxy Four' Episode Three and 'The Underwater Menace' Episode Two), bringing the total of recovered episodes to 36 and reducing the number of missing episodes down to 106. As always, this is a day of rejoicing for Doctor Who fans; as I mentioned in my post over at, no other fandom can really understand what it's like to not be able to sit down and watch every episode of their favorite series.

Interestingly enough, one article on the TARDIS Erudotorum cited these episodes as "not on anyone's Top Ten list of episodes to be recovered." Which led me to the interesting question, what exactly would the Top Ten list be? So, I thought, why not give mine? Keeping in mind, of course, that we have to keep it to individual episodes (so no "All of 'Marco Polo'") and also that, suckily enough, we can wish as hard as we want but that won't make it happen. So here are my picks for the most desired recoveries, should a benevolent deity grant our wishes.

10-9. The Invasion, Episodes 1 and 4. This one is the most interesting, even though it's at the bottom of the list, because it's the most likely. Rumors have persisted for years, started by none other than the late Nicholas Courtney, that a private collector has copies of the two missing episodes of this classic late-Troughton story, but that they're holding the BBC over a barrel and demanding an exorbitant fee before they allow the Beeb to "recover" them officially. (Courtney claimed to have actually seen copies of the film, which had picture but no sound. The BBC, as with all missing episodes, has sound but no picture. Any A/V club geek could resolve that problem.) Of course, this one is already "restored", in the form of Doctor Who's only (canonical) animated episodes, but it'd be nice to be able to watch the story as interpreted by the actors and not the creators of "Danger Mouse".

8-6. Power of the Daleks, Episodes 1-3. This is actually one I'd love to have in its entirety, but I'm trying to stick to the "individual episodes only" rule, and I just don't have the space for the full serial. And from the sound of things, to be honest, all the good stuff really happens before the Daleks give up on being cunning manipulators and just start killing people; the first few episodes are filled with tense political intrigue and the Daleks actually being clever and subtle, which is such a twist for them that I'd love to see it. Couple that with Troughton's first three episodes in the role, and I would love to see it come back home.

5. The Tenth Planet, Episode 4. And speaking of "regeneration stories", this is probably a lot of people's Number One missing episode. It's certainly of tremendous symbolic significance; the final appearance of William Hartnell, the first actor to take the role, is a major cultural touchstone among fans of the series. But I suspect, having seen the first three episodes, that it's more interesting as a "religious relic" than as an actual story, which bumps it a bit below everything else on the list.

4. The Massacre, Episode 4. Yes, I know. It does seem a bit odd that I'm actually prioritizing the first appearance of Dodo over the final appearance of Hartnell, but I really want it for all the bits prior to that. This is, by all accounts, a remarkably intense episode, with a shocking and devastating climax to the events in France followed up by a genuinely emotional confrontation between Steven and the Doctor. It would be well worth the small price of Dodo's near-nonsensical introductory sequence to get the scenes preceding it.

3. Mission to the Unknown. This has always sounded like one of the truly fascinating, quirky episodes of the series; a one-part story in an era where six and seven-parters weren't at all unusual, a story that features absolutely nothing of the Doctor, not even a mention, and a story that ends with the nominal hero dying at the hands of the Daleks, the Doctor's arch-enemies, with his dying message lost. I don't think it'll ever have the impact that the original story had (especially when it was followed up on with a four-parter that had nothing to do with 'Mission'...for almost five weeks, fans watched the show with the lurking knowledge in the back of their heads that the Daleks were out there, getting ready to conquer the universe, and the Doctor didn't even know about it.) But I would dearly love to see it.

2. Evil of the Daleks, Episode 7. This is another "Dang, I want every one of the missing episodes of this one!" story. But if you can only have one on the list, then it's got to be Episode 7. Absolutely got to. The Doctor's final gambit against the Dalek Emperor, the revolt of the humanised Daleks, the civil war on Skaro...this was epic stuff, and we've been denied it.

1. The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode 12. And speaking of "epic", this was a freaking twelve-parter. That's almost a whole season, one of the grandest and most ambitious stories ever done in the history of 'Doctor Who'...and the climax, involving the death of a companion (well, possibly, depending on how you count these things) and the destruction of worlds and Daleks melting from existence and great big huge exciting stuff, is gone. Possibly forever. **sniff** Could we have it back, please?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Alien Bodies Revisited

(Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list on January 9th, 2003.)

I recently decided to re-read Alien Bodies, more or less entirely on a whim; I hadn't read the book since its original release back in 1997, in no small part because I had enjoyed it so much when I first read it. Having come, as it did, after a stretch of books that included 'The Eight Doctors', 'The Bodysnatchers', and 'War of the Daleks', it really single-handedly revitalized my hope for the range, making me believe that there was really something interesting and exciting going on, something that would make the BBC Books just as good as their predecessors. Given that weight, could it really be as good as I remembered it being after years of War-related books and the detonation of the entire plotline after 'The Ancestor Cell'?

The answer was yes. Very much so.

In a lot of ways, I think my enjoyment of the novel was enhanced by the knowledge of the arc. A few bits stood out as being "promises unfulfilled"...the tidbits we did get about the Enemy don't jibe with TAC at all, and we never did find out the full story about the Doctor's body...or about Trask (and isn't it interesting that Trask, an agent for the Celestis, remembers drowning while the Doctor watched...and years later in the range, not one but two characters have drowned while the Doctor watched--Rasputin and Roger Nepath? The fanboy in me geeks out at the thoughts in this...) A few other threads did get followed up, even if I wasn't totally satisfied with the way they finished off. The War, in the end, just got hacked off like a gangrenous limb, which was something of a shame--however, I think an ending was needed by that point, even if I wish it had been handled somewhat differently. Faction Paradox has never been handled as well by anyone else. Qixotl vanished into the ether (and hopefully, please god hopefully so did the review in which I suggested he was Captain Cook from 'Greatest Show In the Galaxy'. Look, he mentioned Golobus...and the Evil From Before the Dawn of Time...Drax was my second guess, honest! I got Tobias Vaughn right in 'Original Sin', by something like 50 pages in! I even figured out that Maggie Walsh was the head of the Initiative! :) )

Still, what stands out in 'Alien Bodies' for me is the way that it wears the Doctor Who universe so well. We get the Krotons showing up, and showing up in such a way that they're actually cleverly used. We get name-checks of planets from the TV series, but so casually, so deftly that they really seem more natural than fanwank, like mentioning Cleveland when doing a TV show set in Pittsburgh. Fanwank is always a dangerous proposition, but Miles uses it as just another tool in his toolbox.

And the language...oh sweet mercy. Marie, the humanoid TARDIS that gets stuck in the form of a 1960s policewoman. The Shift, popping up in the TV listings and the crossword puzzles. The Doctor's line about "Talking with your dementias is the first sign of madness". Jaguar urine as a surveillance device. Dark Sam being "the only person in her class who didn't think homosexuals should be shot". The Raston cybernetic lap-dancers, the "finest dancing machines ever created." So many more...

I know there's been a critical backlash against this book since it was published. I'd like to backlash against the backlash...this book deserves all the praise it got, and should really have been the template of the BBC series even more than it was--and it was the template for a lot of the BBC series. Truly a fine, fine novel.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

My Reactions To Matt Smith's Announcement

1. I am, I freely confess, a bit sad. The Wilderness Years have spoiled me more than a little; when a Doctor from the Classic Series leaves the part, it means they do audios instead of videos and we get a couple dozen paperback books about them. When an actor from the New Series leaves, we don't see them anymore. Even for the 50th Anniversary Special, we're only getting two out of three. (Or three out of four, as it turns out.) Things like this make me miss the Missing Adventures even more.

2. That said, it's not too surprising--I was actually a tiny bit surprised to hear that we were getting Smith for Season Eight. Three years has been a pretty standard tenure for the part, with only two actors doing more and two doing less (and one of them involuntarily.) Three years is long enough to show everyone what you can do, let them get used to you, but not so long that they get sick of your mannerisms and feel like the show should end with you. (I do think that Tom Baker stayed too long, to the detriment of the series, despite loving the stories he did while staying too long.)

3. And I think Moffat has one more Doctor in him, but no more. It's a working theory of mine that any showrunner can come up with an idea for the Doctor by emphasizing what hasn't been emphasized in the previous Doctor's Davison was vulnerable and young to counter Baker's omnipotent smugness, and Tennant was confident to contrast with Eccleston's survivor guilt. But trying to reverse it again leads to bad results...Colin Baker went against Davison, but in trying to not just make him another Tom, JNT emphasized exactly the wrong things. (McCoy, I think, was mostly a creation of Andrew Cartmel. And he agrees.) So if Moffat stays more than another two to three seasons, I think we're in trouble.

4. I was hoping that we'd get Smith's replacement mid-season this time, at the next Christmas special. But I suppose there are contractual reasons for that. (There might actually be some contractual reasons for his departure, period. Everything up until now has been pointing to him staying for a fourth season. But we'll probably never know.)

5. I really think that the various "who will it be?" speculations are all going to be wrong. Everyone tends to pick "hot" actors right now, especially people that Moffat has just been working with (so this time it's Benedict Cumberbatch, last time it was Darren Nesbitt.) But those people don't want a part like the Doctor; they've just been elevated to the point of big-name Hollywood actor by their previous roles, they're not going to take a part that primarily serves the career purpose of getting you in front of a large audience and letting you show your range. They've done that.

6. So we'll get a relative unknown (as much as I'd like to see them cast a non-white male in the role, I suspect it won't happen under Moffat) and another year or two of Moffat, at least. And frankly, I'm happy about the change. One constant about Doctor Who is that it's always a good time for a change, even if you've been entertained by what's gone before. Exeunt Matt Smith, come back for the Big Finish audios when the license gets rewritten to allow it, and roll on Doctor Twelve. As a lifelong Who fan, I wouldn't have it any other way.