Poll: Should Readers Care About Characters?

I had an interesting encounter on Reddit’s /r/books subreddit this week. The topic of discussion was Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (which, incidentally, we’ll eventually be covering in the Great Reddit Reading List). This book famously–or perhaps infamously–saw publication in two different forms; in the UK, it was published complete, but the American version omitted the final chapter. That chapter (21, if we’re keeping track) represents a crucial difference, because it is in that chapter that protagonist Alex chooses redemption from his previously terrible ways. The well-known Stanley Kubrick film adaptation follows the American version, leaving Alex unrepentant and unchanged after his experiences. (This issue is famously divisive; even Burgess himself was on record as saying that he wished he had not written the book, largely because of the version that made it to film.)

 

In the comments, the issue was raised of whether it’s possible to care about Alex if he experiences no growth, no change. This quickly devolved into an argument as to whether a character–and for our purposes, we’ll specify the protagonist–should be cared about. One individual made the claim that characters aren’t there for us to care about:

The ‘point’ of a character is not necessarily to be ‘cared about’.

Or, put another way:

The point of literature as a “whole” is not to produce sympathetic characters for you.

This makes for an interesting question, and I’m curious what you, as readers, think. I think it’s a given that not every character–not even every protagonist–is or should be sympathetic; the history of film, for example, is littered with protagonists that are evil and despicable (though, perversely, they seem to gain sympathy as they become more iconic–think Norman Bates, for example–but that’s a topic for another time). But it’s not a question of whether they are sympathetic, so much as a question of whether we should care about what happens to them. Darth Vader was intended to be a dark, evil, and merciless villain, but we cared very much about what happened to him, even back to his first appearances in A New Hope. (He’s since received a redemption scene, of course, and also benefits from a history of badassery, but my point predates all of that.)

I think we can agree that the production of characters we care about is not the ‘point’ of literature; but is that care necessary? My argument is that care, in this sense, is a necessary part of interest in the character. If we don’t care what happens to this person, why are we reading about/watching/playing him or her?

I’m tempted to look at this from the perspective of a writer; but this isn’t about me as a writer, it’s about us as readers. Therefore, I’m doing something I haven’t done on this blog before: I’m posting a poll. Cast your votes below! Should protagonist characters be someone we can care about, or does it not matter at all?

Thanks for voting, and as always, thanks for reading!

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How to Save Twin Peaks in Five Easy Steps

Today I concluded a long, long journey:

That’s right, I finally finished watching Twin Peaks!

 

You’d think it wouldn’t be a long trip. It’s only 48 episodes. Three seasons of varying lengths. Soap operas get that much in a year. Game shows do it in a few months. We’re not talking The Simpsons here (629 episodes) or my old friend Doctor Who (826) or even Breaking Bad (62). Go without sleep, and you could binge this series in two days. I’ve been working on it off and on since 2014, and that’s not counting any episodes I might have caught as an eleven-year-old back in 1990. Why so long, I hear you ask?

The answer is that Twin Peaks is not your average television series. That’s a bold claim in today’s entertainment world; but I’d argue that David Lynch’s Twin Peaks has a level of complexity that is usually reserved for science fiction, coupled with a level of pure, bizarre trippiness that is usually reserved for…well, for David Lynch’s films, actually. What can I say, the man has a type.

A quick recap, for those unfamiliar with this classic: The story begins with the mysterious murder of high school senior Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, Washington. When Laura’s body is found, the oddities begin to add up, until Sheriff Harry S. Truman (yes, really) calls in the FBI. The bureau sends one Special Agent Dale Cooper to Twin Peaks. Cooper, in the midst of lavishing praise on the town’s coffee and pie selections, quickly finds a connection between Laura’s murder and a series of other murders which he has investigated.  As more and more townspeople are found to be connected to the crime, a supernatural connection is revealed: an evil being called BOB, from a supernatural location called the Black Lodge, is revealed to be the ultimate source of the terrible happenings in town. In the end, Cooper is drawn into the Black Lodge in an attempt to stop Bob…and he fails, spectacularly. When Cooper returns at the end of season two, it’s not the real Cooper; it’s a strange and evil doppelganger, inhabited by BOB’s spirit.

That’s where things stood, for a quarter century. Cue the current decade, in which everything is new again; I blame Battlestar Galactica, whose highly successful adaptation last decade proved that remakes can be extremely successful and lucrative. Those remakes quickly transformed into revivals, in which the new seasons aren’t a reboot of the original, but a continuation, many years removed.  Curiously, Twin Peaks seemed to have planned for this a long time ago; in the final episode, Laura Palmer’s spirit tells Dale Cooper that she “will see you again in twenty-five years”. That would be 2016; but one year off ain’t so bad, my friends. After all, in 1992, a revival series would have been a laughable thought.

So, in 2017, we got Twin Peaks: The Return, or alternately just Twin Peaks. This eighteen-episode event was produced by Showtime; and to save you the suspense, I’ll go ahead and say it: This series is an absolute train wreck. If the classic seasons were trippy, the revival is an overdose. The best metaphor I can think of is a rope that is fraying at the end: all the same threads are there, but they become more disconnected as we progress. The classic series was sometimes hard to follow; by the end of the revival, I was obligated to watch with the wiki at hand, just to keep track.

Where did we go wrong? I’d argue that the first and greatest problem is that no clear resolution was given in the original series; but that ship sailed so long ago that it’s tough to blame it for what’s happening now. I considered trying to review the current series as it stands, but I’m sure I couldn’t put it together in any coherent manner (considering that the show itself doesn’t manage that). Therefore, I’ll give you my thoughts on how to save Twin Peaks: The Return in five easy steps.

I. Give the series a narrative goal.

Just what are we getting at here? What do we want to accomplish in this series? I don’t know. You don’t know. Special Agent Dale Cooper doesn’t know. David Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost probably don’t know. Or perhaps they do know; they want to accomplish EVERYTHING! (More on that in the next step.) But you can’t accomplish everything. In that case, you need to accomplish one thing and accomplish it well.

My suggestion: This season had a lot of plot lines, but only one was truly compelling: The story of Cooper’s doppelganger. Focus on that plot–namely, Cooper’s quest to return the doppelganger to the Black Lodge, and escape the Black Lodge himself. We don’t get to see what the doppelganger has been up to for the past quarter century–although we get some hints–and that’s just as well; very little of it matters. Suffice it to say he’s been sowing chaos like a good villain. However, we learn very early that he will be automatically summoned back to the Black Lodge on a certain date, and we get to see his preparations for thwarting that event. From Buckhorn, South Dakota, to Las Vegas, to Twin Peaks itself, it’s a wild and bloody ride; let it take center stage. However, that isn’t what happens; although we cover that ground, it’s only one thread in the series.

That’s not to say we should throw out all the other characters; just that they should be here because they’re a part of that plot. And on that note…

II. Cut out the leftover subplots.

One of the strengths of classic Twin Peaks was its large ensemble cast. The town of Twin Peaks felt both real and eminently knowable. We got to see the many intrigues taking place in the lives of the inhabitants, from the Palmer family, to the love triangle of Big Ed Hurley, his mentally ill wife Nadine, and his high school sweetheart Norma, to the insanity of Leo and Shelly Johnson and Shelly’s affair with Bobby Briggs, to the mystery of Major Garland Briggs and his work with Project Blue Book. It all seemed to be leading up to something; unfortunately, we never got the payoff we needed on most of those plot threads. Perhaps we would have done so in season three, had it happened at the time; but we didn’t, and now the ship has sailed.

The 2017 season tried to pick up as many of these threads as possible; and as a result, the show meanders far more than it should. While it was fun to check up on Big Ed and Norma (who finally get their happy ending here), it felt disconnected from the rest of the series. In addition, numerous actors have passed away in the interim (or in a few cases, between filming and release!), and a few were unable to return for other reasons. This in turn led to the introduction of new plotlines, often only tangentially related, such as the sordid details of the family life of Bobby and Shelly’s daughter, Becky. As entertaining as these things could have been in their own shows, they come across as filler here.

My suggestion: Retain only those subplots which have a direct and useful connection to the main plot, that of Cooper and the doppelganger. That in no way means that the ensemble cast has to go; keep what plots you like, but tie them in. Big Ed, for example, was a member of the classic series’ Bookhouse Boys, Sheriff Truman’s clandestine group of men who kept tabs on the strange events in town. That would have been a perfect way to bring Ed back into the plot; but the Bookhouse Boys–not to mention the Bookhouse itself–aren’t even mentioned. I would suggest removing several subplots, if they can’t be tied in: Audrey Horne’s story; Richard Horne’s drug issues and the death of a child at his hands; Dr. Jacoby’s radio show; Becky’s trouble with her husband and his affair; anything involving James Hurley (who is especially out of place in the absence of Donna Hayward); and–and this may be controversial–the entire Las Vegas subplot involving Dougie Jones. On that note, it’s quite possible to make it necessary to the matter of the doppelganger; but as it stands, most of it is extraneous.

III. Cut out episode eight entirely.

Episode eight is unique among the episodes of the 2017 season. Leaving the regular cast entirely, it’s a trippy, surreal excursion into the past of the Black Lodge, BOB, and other supernatural entities–which, apparently, date back to the 1945 Trinity nuclear test explosion. The episode is structured in the same manner as the visions that various characters experience throughout the season–lots of clouds, vortexes, slow-motion speech, and smoke–and lacks any cohesive plot. It serves to introduce several plot elements that show up again in the second half of the season, such as the convenience store, the Fireman’s theater, and the Woodsmen (it won’t make much more sense even with context, so just go with it). Although the episode is  hard to follow, it’s not entirely without purpose; much of its imagery will be revisited in the final episodes. The biggest issue is that it is an immersion-breaker. (Personal anecdote: this is the point at which my wife, who had stuck with me through a rewatch of everything heretofore, decided to bow out.) The episode is so starkly different from everything around it, and so apparently disconnected (at that time anyway), that it pulls the viewer out of the series completely. As well, it’s very much in the vein of telling rather than showing, by which I mean that it’s interjecting its new contributions without any substantial lead-up or context; it is what we would call, in a novel, an info-dump. That’s doubly impressive, as it is almost completely without dialogue.

My suggestion: I agree that some of the concepts here are needed, although some are unnecessary. Instead of devoting an episode to it, work it into previous episodes. Use more visions if necessary–the series hasn’t shied away from them so far, so go ahead. Overall, shorten the amount of material by cutting the filler, and then work the remaining bits in elsewhere, so that this episode can be removed entirely.

Before I go on, let me point out that there will be spoilers for the season finale from this point forward. If you haven’t yet watched, and intend to…well, I suppose I’ve already ruined a few things for you. Still, if you want the ending to remain unspoiled, turn back now!

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Still with me?

Alright. On to number four:

IV. Give BOB a better ending.

Late in the season, we meet Freddie Sykes, played by Jake Wardle. Freddy is an oddity; a young security guard at the Great Northern Hotel, he works alongside James Hurley, and wears a green rubber glove at all times. I do mean at all times; he relates to James the story of how he was supernaturally led to put on the glove, and now can’t remove it without injury. Freddie has had supernatural direction, leading him to come to Twin Peaks from his native UK so that he can face his destiny. That destiny, as it turns out, is to destroy BOB.

The glove, you see, gives young Freddie supernatural strength, in one arm at least. He’s very good at punching, and uses that ability to devastating effect a few times in the last episodes of the season. This doesn’t sit well with the sheriff’s department, and lands him in the holding cells–which in turn allows him to be on hand when Cooper’s doppelganger meets his end. BOB, now encased in a large crystalline sphere, is released from the doppelganger’s body, and attacks Cooper. Freddie realizes that this is the destiny he was promise, and punches the sphere until it shatters, dispersing BOB once and for all–as far as we know, anyway.

Look, I like Freddie. Had he been there from the beginning, he’d be a great character. He’s affable and pleasant, and interesting. He is also the greatest deus ex machina in a series that is already flooded with them. While he doesn’t appear at the literal last minute, he’s only introduced–substantially, anyway–a few episodes earlier. He has no backstory or context within the established scope of the series. He’s there for one purpose only: to punch BOB.

This is the villain of the entire series. The murderer of Laura Palmer. The driving force behind the doppelganger. The source of years of trouble in Twin Peaks. He deserves better than to be punched out by a character from left field.

And finally–and I do mean finally:

V. Land the plane already!

I suppose I’m saying this to myself as well, as I’m up to 2150 words right now. I’ll try to make it quick.

David Lynch is a fantastic writer, director, producer, and actor. He suffers, however, from one fatal flaw: An insatiable thirst for another season. It’s a lifelong ailment; otherwise, Twin Peaks would have ended with season two, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I fear that the disease has progressed, in the interim, unfortunately.

Season two’s finale gave us four major threads to hold onto in anticipation of the third season (that is, the third season that never happened). We had Audrey Horne’s unresolved fate with the explosion in the bank vault; Laura’s spirit’s promise to see Cooper again in twenty-five years; the fate of Annie Blackburn, the winner of the Miss Twin Peaks contest, who was taken to the Black Lodge by Windom Earle; and Cooper’s doppelganger, last seen laughing into a bloody mirror as we see that BOB inhabits him. (I would include the fate of the real Cooper, but at the time we didn’t know that the Cooper who exited the Lodge was a doppelganger; it looked as though it was the real Cooper, now possessed as Leland Palmer had previously been.) The revival season upped the ante; the entire final episode consists of groundwork for a potential 2018 season.

All the major conflicts and plot threads are resolved in episode seventeen. Episode eighteen is forced to insert new plots, develop them, and then somehow leave the season at a cliffhanger–all in an attempt to ensure another season. Mr. Lynch, I’m saying this as your friend: It’s time to land the plane. I know this isn’t your strong suit, but bear with me.

Twin Peaks  works best as an event. You know this; you billed the 2017 series as Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series when you released it to video. It doesn’t need–and never needed–to be a continuing series. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have brought it back in the first place; you and Dale Cooper had unfinished business. You didn’t know, after all, that there would never be a Season Three in the 1990s. Perhaps you planned to end it then, and were taken off guard by the cancellation. Either way, the business is finished now; BOB is gone, and Cooper is back, and Twin Peaks is at last safe and at peace.

I know Twin Peaks is your baby. It’s been a part of your life for three decades. But let’s be honest: This season should have ended with episode seventeen. Cooper should have had his reunion with his long-lost friends, and the red curtains should have come down, and the credits should have rolled. Personally, I think that should have been the end of the series, but you don’t have to agree with me on that; maybe you have more stories to tell. If that’s the case, they should be next season’s stories. They shouldn’t have had an episode at the end of this season. End well, and start fresh. Or, if you agree with me, end well, and don’t start again at all. It wouldn’t be a failure; it would be a dignified and accomplished conclusion. Go out with a bang, and do justice to your creation.

This plane has been circling for a quarter century. It’s time to come in for a landing.

 

And there you have it! Five easy suggestions for saving Twin Peaks. But, what do you think? This series is nothing if not complex, and there’s far more ground than I can ever cover. What would you suggest? And if you don’t have suggestions, then what did you think of the series? Your answers are always welcome! As always, thanks for reading.

Alien Worlds Abound: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Six

Medusa Cascade

For a show that purports to be about “all of space and time”, Doctor Who spends a hugely disproportionate amount of time on Earth (a phenomenon which will dominate the seasons ahead of us under the Third Doctor). That’s not the case, though, in Season Six; we see more alien worlds than in any previous season.  Let’s get started!

The Dominators

The Dominators, seen here at the height of 1960s fashion.

 

The season opens with The Dominators, an alien invasion story with a twist:  the world getting invaded is not Earth.  Rather, it’s the planet Dulkis.  For the first time since I started tracking the dates of the serials, I was unable to find any; this story has the unusual combination of being set on another world and being a mostly self-contained story, and nothing inside the evidence indicates the date.  I’m guessing from the technology that it’s the relatively near future, but I have no evidence to back up that claim.  There’s an interesting moment in episode two, where the Dominators examine Jamie and conclude that he is vulnerable because he has only one heart.  They don’t examine the Doctor, assuming he is the same.  Later, the Dulcians are revealed to have two hearts.  I can’t help wondering if this scene inspired the later revelation that the Time Lords also have two hearts.  The Sonic Screwdriver makes a second appearance here, and in dramatic fashion, burning through the wall like a large torch (but remember, it’s a scientific instrument, not a water gun!).  The Dominators struck me as particularly calloused villains.  They really have no interest in the planet or its people, and enslaving them is an afterthought; they only want to blow up the planet for fuel.  We don’t often see that degree of callousness in the series.  This is also our first good look at Zoe as a member of the crew; she’s disconcertingly childlike in appearance, and seeing her spout advanced technical knowledge is jarring.  I like her as a character though.

The Mind Robber

Jamie and Zoe vs. the White Robots

 

I had seen serial two, The Mind Robber, before, but with no context.  It doesn’t occur on Earth, but rather, in the mysterious Land of Fiction, which may or may not be a planet at all.  I remember being confused at first by the references to “the Master”, as the Time Lord by that name doesn’t appear until the Third Doctor’s era; of course they are referring to the master of the land of fiction instead.  This serial shares similar themes, in my opinion, with The Celestial Toymaker and the much later Amy’s Choice.  Like the preceding serial, I could find no projected dates; the only clue we have is that it includes a circa-2000s comic book character, the Karkus, but that is little help in placing the story.  The Minotaur seen here becomes something of a motif, with variations showing up later under the third, fourth, and eleventh Doctors.  As well, there’s a “Captain Jack Harkaway” in the stories written by the Master; maybe a partial inspiration for Captain Jack Harkness?  I had to laugh at one point; the Doctor gets thrown around in a fight with the Karkus, who then gets manhandled by tiny little Zoe.  No Venusian Aikido yet!

The Invasion

Cybermen in London.  Why does no one ever remember these invasions?!

 

The Invasion is a partial reconstruction, which is increasingly rare this season, and will soon end altogether.  The quality of the version I saw was particularly bad, but fortunately it had subtitles.  It’s a Cybermen story, with a new appearance that will remain unchanged for a few years.  We don’t know much about these Cybermen; they are presumably descendants of the Mondasian Cybermen, but they claim to originate from “Planet 14”, presumably the fourteenth planet of the Solar System (Mondas was tenth).  I suspect the original intent was that Planet 14 be synonymous with Telos, but internal chronology and later media contradict this.  The Doctor has met them on that planet at some point, but this is never seen, and must have happened off camera.  The Cybermen meet UNIT in this episode—the agency’s proper introduction in the series—and Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart returns, this time with his familiar rank of Brigadier.  (“It’s Brigadier now, I’ve gone up in the world.”)  The best date I could locate is summer of 1979 (incidentally, the year I was born), which seems fairly consistent with the technology in view.  The Cybermen have a Cybercontroller here, but it is a stationary unit, not a mobile Cyberman.  Zoe knows ALGOL, which must have been a positively ancient computer language by her time.  The TARDIS is seen to be able to turn invisible; I would have thought that was a function of the broken chameleon circuit, but apparently not.  The suspense in the story is excellent; the Cybermen don’t appear onscreen until the end of episode four (of eight).  Notably, this was Terrance Dicks’ first credit on the show.

Krotons_title

The Krotons

 

Yet another undateable story appears with The Krotons.  It occurs on the unnamed planet of the Gonds, and seems to be in the future, but without any verifying context.  I like the crystalline Krotons, and would like to see them get a new and updated appearance in NuWho.  They look primitive here, in keeping with the production values of the time, but that could be explained away by the primitive circumstances under which they revive themselves on the Gond planet; it could be said that at the height of their power, they look and sound different.  The story exemplifies something I love about Doctor Who:  stories that aren’t just black and white, good and evil, but rather, involve conflict among various factions with conflicting interests.  Here you have the Doctor and his companions, several factions among the Gonds (who agree on the threat of the Krotons, but not on what to do about it) and the Krotons themselves.  They aren’t all good or evil; they just disagree.  It’s so much more believable this way.  The ending reminds me of the scenes in Rose with the Nestene Consciousness.  Also, the concept of the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System) in the TARDIS is introduced, and is later used by the Eleventh Doctor.  Such a simple and elegant solution to attacks.

the seeds of death

“Them?  Oh, they’re with me.”

 

We return to Earth for The Seeds of Death (not to be confused with the later The Seeds of Doom).  We can’t be precise about the date, but there is enough evidence to place it in the mid-21st Century, before the year 2050. A History of the Universe places it somewhat arbitrarily in 2044, and I find that to be a fair guess.  It introduces the concept of T Mat (“Travel Mat”, later transmat) teleportation, which is more common in NuWho, especially as used by the Daleks.  It’s been in existence for a few years on Earth, just long enough to be both common and regulated.  This is the second appearance of the Ice Warriors of Mars and their sonic weapons…sure would be nice if the Doctor had a sonic—wait, sorry, I can’t make that joke anymore.  Anyway.  This story occurs before The Ice Warriors, therefore they are not familiar with the Doctor.  However, it appears that these Ice Warriors are contemporary, whereas the previous group were ancient, having been frozen in the ice for millennia.  There’s a space museum (another minor recurring theme by now?) on the moon, and a staff member named Osgood, whom I would like to think is a relative of the Osgood of NuWho.  It’s not made clear whether the moon base here is the same as the one from the serial of that name.  In a rare moment of deviation from character, the Doctor directly kills one Ice Warrior and is responsible for the death of at least one more.  The moon landing seen in episode three is a bit farfetched, but then, the serial was broadcast some months before the real moon landing.

The Space Pirates

A face not even a mother could love

I had difficulty getting into The Space Pirates, which is a pity, because it was actually a great story; I just felt it was poorly done.  Date is hard to establish, but it appears to be in the very early days of Earth’s colonization of space (an onscreen reference indicates 1992, but that is contradicted by dialog indicating at least fifty years of deep space travel). A History places it in 2119, 150 years after the broadcast date.  This is the final reconstruction!  All further serials are available in their entirety.  It goes out with a bang, though; only episode two (of six) is complete.  To me, this is a clear early example of the TARDIS taking the Doctor where he needs to go rather than where he wants to go; after all, it’s pretty unlikely that the TARDIS would randomly materialize on a tiny, unmanned beacon in space.

The War Games

A Time Lord’s last adventure

 

 

We end with The War Games.  This is it:  The final serial of the Second Doctor’s era.  It’s difficult but not impossible to date; it appears at first to date to WWI, but of course that is an illusion.  A History says this, which I think is best quoted rather than paraphrased:  “It is stated that humanity has been killing itself for ‘half a million years’ before this story takes place, which (coincidentally) ties up with the date 309,906 established for the [Fourth] Doctor’s first Trial (or “Malfeasance Tribunal”) in The Deadly Assassin [which, in my opinion, looks to be a VERY good serial indeed!].  There are a lot of firsts and lasts here:  First appearance of the Time Lords en masse and under that name; first appearance of Time Lord hypercubes (telepathic communication cubes, as later seen in The Doctor’s Wife); first appearance of the SIDRAT time travel machines, which are much like scaled-down TARDISES; first appearance of Gallifrey, though not with that name.  It’s also the last appearance of Jamie and Zoe (with the exception of reunion episodes); last adventure of the Second Doctor; and last black and white episode.

Tardis docking bay

Our first view of Gallifrey–the TARDIS docking bay.  Note the open TARDISes on the right wall.

 

This serial is weighty in the canon of Doctor Who, and it’s hard to do it justice. A few observations presented themselves, though.  The SIDRATs provide an explanation for the long-perplexing problem of why the Doctor can’t control the TARDIS remotely:  any time ship that has a malleable interior (as the TARDIS does) and remote control capabilities will be inherently unstable.  No explanation is given as to why that should be, but there you have it.  Also, the Time Lords seem to be able to (mostly!) recognize each other on site in spite of regenerations; the Doctor had not been to Gallifrey since his first body, but he is instantly recognized by the War Chief.  We see some uncamouflaged TARDISes in the docking bay on Gallifrey, and it’s worth noting that they are rectangular rather than spherical as seen in The Name of the Doctor; probably a later model, as the Doctor’s TARDIS was found in a maintenance bay and outdated.  I didn’t realize that it was established this early that Time Lords can control the appearance of their regenerating bodies; it seems odd that it’s such a crapshoot for the Doctor later on, but then, that probably is because of the absence of the Time Lords.

Second Doctor the war games

The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton (RIP)

 

I find the Second Doctor’s tenure to be fascinating, because by definition it must be the shortest era of any Doctor with the possible exception of Nine. Jamie is with the Doctor consistently throughout his entire era, start to finish, and ages only a very little.  Therefore even if there are a few unseen adventures, there cannot be vast swaths of time unaccounted for. And yet, so much foundational material was delivered in that short time!  All in all, I’ve enjoyed the second Doctor’s run much more than the first (who wasn’t bad himself).

Second Doctor Regeneration

Regeneration

Next time: The Third Doctor arrives on Earth!  These entries should become shorter, as well, as the upcoming seasons contain fewer stories.  See you there!

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.  Due to the BBC’s early policy of junking tapes, some episodes exist only as reconstructions.

The Dominators

The Mind Robber

The Invasion

The Krotons

The Seeds of Death

The Space Pirates

The War Games

Cybermen Everywhere: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Five

Cybermen Party

Ain’t no party like a Cyber party

 

It took longer than I expected, but here we are, at the end of Season Five in my Classic Doctor Who rewatch. Let’s get right to it, with another appearance of the Cybermen!

Tomb of the Cybermen

Cybermen exiting the tomb.  This would have terrified me as a child.

As with Season Four, we get a Cybermen double feature this season. We open with The Tomb of the Cybermen, which introduces the Cybermen of the planet Telos.  From their perspective, this is quite some time after their previous appearances; they originated on the planet Mondas, but that world is nothing but a memory now.  To my knowledge, all of Doctor Who contains four variations on the Cybermen (and if I’ve missed any, feel free to let me know):  The Mondasian Cybermen, the first edition, if you will; the Telosian Cybermen, the descendants of the Mondasian; the Cybus Industries Cybermen of NuWho, as first seen in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel; and the Cybermen seen in several later NuWho episodes, who are purportedly a hybridization of the original Cybermen and the surviving Cybus Cybermen.  This serial is estimated to take place in the year 2486, on Earth.  (From this point forward, I intend to date each serial as well as possible; I’m primarily using Lance Parkin’s A History of the Universe, but checking other sources for consensus where I can, as the book is somewhat out of date.)  Assuming that the Cybermen don’t have time travel, that places this story a few centuries after the destruction of Mondas and the events of The Moonbase.  Until now the Cybermen didn’t really seem like much of a threat, in my opinion, at least not on an individual level; but the melee inside the tomb in episode 2 shows us that they are both stronger and more physically capable than most humans, and more than willing to kill.

Cybermat_Tomb

Early Cybermat.  Not quite “bitey” yet, but we’ll take it.

A few things in this serial stuck out to me. First, Cybermats!  Those little monsters make their first appearance here, looking very different from their modern counterparts.  This is also the first introduction of the concept of a Cybercontroller.  Victoria gets roofied in episode 2, if not by a man; pretty edgy for a 1960s serial (and on a related note, I hated Kaftan, the perpetrator, at that point already).  The Doctor makes a rare, and very sad, reference to his family here, and says that he has to really want to remember them.  He also claims to be about 450 Earth years old; given that this is an early statement with no motivation to lie, I like to think it is more reliable than most of his later estimates.  Also, it was nice after season four to see a completely intact serial, as opposed to a reconstruction.  Overall, this is absolutely my favorite serial of the first five seasons, and what a way to begin!

abominable snowmen

Robotic Yeti

The Abominable Snowmen takes us to Tibet in 1935/36 (coincidentally, the year of Ian Chesterton’s birth).  It was a bit of a slow starter, especially given that it introduces the Great Intelligence.  Certainly not a bad serial, but it spent a lot of time just sitting around talking early on.  I would have liked to see the Doctor’s earlier visit to the Detsen Monastery, which is referenced but not shown; it brings up the interesting question of how long the Doctor and Susan travelled after fleeing Gallifrey and before meeting Ian and Barara.  Spinoff media have filled in some gaps, but there’s a lot we just don’t know, and may never see addressed.

Ice-Warriors

Ancient and Angry:  The Ice Warriors

With The Ice Warriors, we get the introduction of another great villain, the titular Ice Warriors from Mars.  This serial appears to occur in the approximate year 3000 AD, although there is some debate about this.  It takes place at Brittanicus Base on Earth, during the new Ice Age.  The Ice Warrior Varga is a relic of an ancient time, having been frozen in the ice with his ship and crew; but this brings us to the major discrepancy with the date, as some supplemental materials indicate that a revived Martian culture is part of the galactic community at this time.  If that is the case, Earth certainly seems ignorant of it.  I noted that the Ice Warriors use sonic guns as their primary weapons; sure would be nice if the Doctor had some kind of sonic device to counter that…nah, that’s just crazy talk.

The Enemy of the World

Behold, the power of parting your hair!

And now for something completely different: The Enemy of the World is in a class by itself this season.  It’s the only serial not to follow the “base under siege” format; and it gives us Patrick Troughton playing two roles, as the Doctor and also as Salamander, the villain (seen above).  I have new appreciation for his acting chops; allowing for just a bit of period-normal cliché, I could easily have believed he was really of Mexican origin in the second role.  He wasn’t a subtle villain, but he was a skilled one, which seems to be a bit uncommon with human adversaries in these early seasons.  Also of note was the allied character of Astrid (no last name given); judging by her hairstyle and behavior, I wonder if maybe Astrid provided some inspiration from Kylie Minogue’s one-off companion character in NuWho, Astrid Peth.  The serial is set in the year 2018.  Of course that was fifty years away at the original broadcast, so the optimism in view is perhaps forgiveable.  But now, much closer to the time, it seems comical; the idea that we would have “given up national concerns” and altruistically traded in our governments and wars for collaborative “management zones” all over the world is naïve.  Still, that kind of optimism wasn’t uncommon in science fiction of the day.

The Web of Fear

Introducing Briga…I mean, Colonel Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart

The Web of Fear revisits the Great Intelligence and the Yeti, this time placing them in the London Underground of the 1970s.  It is stated to be “more than forty years” after the events of The Abominable Snowmen, and four years before next season’s The Invasion, which makes it approximately 1975 (and I would even guess late in the year).  However, there’s some contradiction; the subway maps seen onscreen are accurate for 1968, but don’t display the Victoria Line, which opened in 1969.  Understandable, of course, but not accurate.  The Brigadier makes his first appearance here, though as a Colonel; while UNIT is not introduced yet, there’s not enough evidence to say that the military detachment we see is definitely not from UNIT.  He is a droll, sometimes witty, perceptive, pragmatic, and shrewd man, and one of my favorite characters.  RIP Nicholas Courtney.  It’s worth pointing out that we owe the continued existence of the Intelligence—and thus, much later, The Name of the Doctor—to Jamie; if he hadn’t pulled the Doctor from the device in episode 5, the Intelligence would have been annihilated.  Still, after continued introspection, I really like the combination of Second Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria; they’re my favorite TARDIS crew since the original.  It’s a shame Victoria won’t be with us much longer.

first sonic

Try as I might, I could not find a picture of the sonic screwdriver from this (very incomplete) serial.  You’ll have to settle for one from its next appearance, in The War Games.

In Fury From The Deep, at long last, we get the first appearance of the sonic screwdriver.  (Jamie:  “What’s that?”  Doctor:  “It’s a sonic screwdriver.  It never fails.”  And so it begins!  Actually used for driving a screw, as well.)  This story of sentient seaweed is set in approximately 1975, as with The Web of Fear—not the only lateral move for the TARDIS, but certainly such things are rare.  It’s a bit anachronistic for 1975, with videophones and other advancements.  Coincidentally, Episode 3 is the 200th episode of the series (already!).  We say goodbye to Victoria here, as she chooses to stay behind, finding TARDIS life to be too much.  She won’t be the last to make that choice; it becomes something of a recurring theme, still happening recently with Martha Jones and, to a lesser degree, Rory Williams.  We get another recurring motif here, as well—plants that convert or control humans, first seen in Mission to the Unknown in season two.

VictoriaTTotC

Goodbye, Victoria; Hello, Zoe

We conclude with The Wheel in Space, the second Cybermen adventure.  I found that a fair bit of debate exists as to the placement of this episode, but most sources place it in the second half of the 21st century.  I’ve opted to go with the latest date given, 2079 AD, as the events of The Moonbase occur in 2070 AD, and the Cybermen here recognize the Doctor from that occasion.  The timing makes these Cybermen of Mondasian origin, not Telosian.  The Doctor claims at one point to disengage the time vector generator from the TARDIS, meaning it is no longer bigger on the inside.  We’ve seen something similar with the Monk’s TARDIS, but it seems odd here, as Jamie and the Doctor are still inside when it happens.  This device is an oddity anyway; it seems to have some abilities that the writing staff will later roll over into the sonic screwdriver.  Cybermats appear here, looking very different from their Telosian counterparts (which makes sense, as this is technically their first appearance).  The Doctor first uses his famous “John Smith” alias here, given to him by Jamie, which is ironic given that the tenth Doctor later uses Jamie’s name as an alias.  (Vampires of Venice later implies that the first Doctor also used the John Smith alias, but as it’s a common name, that is forgiveable.)  The serial ends with the Doctor showing Zoe a view of the Daleks from his memory.  In the original broadcast, this led straight into a rerun of The Evil of the Daleks, but with a little added narration to demonstrate that it wasn’t just a rerun, it was the Doctor literally reviewing the events with Zoe (therefore the broadcast, if not the story, actually fits into continuity here, though I don’t intend to review it again).

wheel in space

Cybermen and Zoe aboard the Wheel

Not a bad season overall. Next time, we’ll be nearly free of reconstructions, as only two more remain—the next season is nearly intact.  On to Season Six, and the last season with the Second Doctor!  See you there.

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.  Due to the BBC’s early policy of junking tapes, some episodes exist only as reconstructions.

The Tomb of the Cybermen

The Abominable Snowmen

The Ice Warriors

The Enemy of the World

The Web of Fear

Fury From the Deep

The Wheel In Space

A Brand New Man: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Four

We’re back, and with a brand-new Doctor! Not to mention some new companions.  But first, a bit of long-overdue explanation:  As I make these rewatch posts, I often mention comparisons between the classic series and the revived series (or as I sometimes call it, NuWho).  To keep things clear, I’m using the same terminology favored by the show itself; that is, classic series seasons are termed “seasons”, while NuWho seasons are termed “Series One, Series Two”, etc.  Now, down to business!

Brand new doctor

A Brand-New Doctor!

We begin with the third serial of Season Four, having just said goodbye to the first Doctor. (For the first two serials, see my last post.)  He wakes up a new man—literally—in The Power of the Daleks, much to the consternation of Ben and Polly.  The version I watched was a total reconstruction, as none of its six episodes remain intact.  That’s a common—and annoying—theme for this and the next two seasons, but it’s at its worst here in Season Four; not a single complete serial is available.  It was interesting to see the Doctor’s own reaction to his regeneration; after all, it’s his first time.  He seemed to have a little trouble adjusting, something that happens often with him—you’d think he’d get better with experience, but no.  I’m not sure if regeneration is just hard, or if he’s just terrible at it.  As I watch these serials, I usually keep the wiki open, just to keep track of notable items; here, it notes that “his head is filled with the sound of drumming.”  Just a throwaway line, not necessarily even noted in the episode, but so interesting given the Master’s sound of drums in NuWho.

Daleks Assembly Line

No, I don’t suppose you would like some tea, after all.

If you’ve been following, you’ll note that I often see parallels between Classic Who and NuWho episodes. This one strongly reminds me of Victory of the Daleks, as you have Daleks ostensibly serving humans and trying to accrue advantages so that they will be in a position to attack, with humans buying into it against the Doctor’s urging to destroy the Daleks.  (Later they even serve drinks; all I could think was “WOULD-YOU-LIKE-SOME-TEA?”) You also have the Doctor in both instances trying to provoke the Daleks or otherwise make them lose control.  I can’t blame the writers for trying to break new ground with the Daleks; this is the first Dalek story not written or co-written by creator Terry Nation.  It will still be some time before they really move on, though; for example, they still require static electricity (stored instead of external, but still), indicating that these are early Daleks, from prior to Season Two’s The Chase.

Not a screwdriver

Not a screwdriver.

I’ve often heard comparisons between the Second Doctor and the Eleventh (Matt Smith has been noted to have drawn inspiration from Troughton’s performance). We’re already getting that in little ways; most notably, the now-famous bowties (they were already cool!).  Unfortunately, some things prominent in NuWho just aren’t there yet—in episode five, the Doctor tries to reproduce a sonic signal (by rubbing his finger on a glass) to unlock a door.  Sure would be useful if he had some kind of sonic device…nah, that’s just crazy talk.

Jamie M

Welcome aboard, Jamie

The Highlanders gives us Scottish clansman Jamie McCrimmon, the longest-running male companion in the show’s history.  He gets off to a rough start, but I can’t blame him; it’s a lot to take in for anyone, and he was under strain before the serial ever started.  He grows on me in later serials, though; Frazer Hines was a talented actor, at least in this role.  This is the final historical until 1982’s Fifth Doctor serial, Black Orchid; it’s also the final historical in Classic Who to use real events, namely, the Battle of Culloden.  It’s a sound story, but not very remarkable; but to be fair, I’ve often been bored with the historicals.  We can definitely begin to see the Doctor being a more active participant here, as opposed to the First Doctor, and more cunning as well; in particular, there’s the scene where he disguises himself as an old woman to rescue Kirsty MacLaren and Polly.  His famous abhorrence of weapons is mentioned here, as well, in one of the earliest (if not the earliest) times it is actually noted aloud.

the underwater menace

Okay, it was a weird serial.

Jamie’s first complete serial as a companion arrives with The Underwater Menace.  It’s set in Atlantis (one of three appearances in Classic Who, along with Season 8’s The Daemons and Season 9’s The Time Monster, though all three contradict each other) but with a twist:  it’s Atlantis’s rediscovery, set in the 1980s.  I started to like Ben in this episode, after a considerable period of just tolerating him; he seems much more pragmatic and useful than Steven, whom he replaced, and who never seemed to find a niche.  He and Jamie are a good team, but they are unfortunately and unfairly very condescending to Polly.  We get to see the Doctor be a bit more humane here; he wants to rescue the mad scientist Zaroff, even though he can’t.  By contrast, the First Doctor might well have left him to die.  There’s a theory (available on Reddit, see link at the end) that the Doctor didn’t adopt that name until Ian gave it to him in An Unearthly Child, but that the Doctor drew inspiration from it and wants to live up to it.  If that is the case, we can see it developing here.  One last note:  Though the Doctor never calls himself Doctor Who, he does skirt close to it sometimes, and that happens again here; he signs his note to Zaroff as “Doctor W.”.

cybermen-moonbase-doctor-who

Cybermen just wanna dance!

I watched the animated partial reconstruction for The Moonbase, for which two episodes are intact.  It wasn’t bad; it’s a weird mix of animation-appropriate comedy mixed with the level of seriousness that would have been evident in the original, and as a result, sometimes it’s hard to get an idea of which elements are faithful to the original.  This serial is hardly the first, but is perhaps my favorite example of the “base defense” plot that has since become so popular; it reminds me of NuWho’s 42, despite the slower pace.  The serial is a bit primitive in its view of what the moon is like, but not by much; that’s appropriate, given that it was made a year or two before the moon landing.  It’s also the first of many stories that involve the moon—by coincidence I had watched The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon the night before watching this serial, so the contrast was interesting.  The plague on the moonbase staff is reminiscent of the black oil infection from The X-Files.  The story is set in 2070, and that’s not entirely unbelievable, as it appears now that we may have the ability to put a base on the moon by that time.  The Cybermen have progressed from their last appearance; they can now transmit electricity to stun or kill, and they also take a page from the Daleks’ book (The Dalek Invasion of Earth) in controlling human workers.  The Doctor theorizes that the human workers are being controlled by some kind of sonic signal…sure would be useful if he had some kind of sonic device.  Nah, that’s just crazy talk.

The Macra Terror

Aww, how cute!

I had been looking forward to The Macra Terror ever since I saw its far-removed sequel, Gridlock.  It has a new title sequence, thus beginning the long tradition of title sequences that include the Doctor’s face.  Many Doctor Who stories are dystopias, but this one is a prime example; there’s the element of a society that seems idyllic on the surface, but underneath it’s a form of tyranny and slavery.  I would compare it to The Long Game/Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways in Series One, set on Satellite 5.  I don’t recall if it was mentioned in Gridlock, but these intelligent Macra appear to be considerably smaller than the brutish Macra of that episode.  It’s clear here, as well, that being a companion is a dangerous life; in addition to the obvious physical dangers, here we see Ben get thoroughly brainwashed, which could easily have been permanent.

The Faceless Ones

Goodbye, Ben and Polly

The Faceless Ones felt out of place to me—it was a very Third Doctor episode, in my opinion.  Totally speculation, but I like to think it may have inspired some of his stories.  This story of alien identity theft (how progressive!) is very physical compared to most, and very modern (or contemporary, I should say).  Ben and Polly leave us here, choosing to go home on the same day they left with the Doctor, but that doesn’t slow the story down.  It’s just a fun story, with no big new concepts introduced (even where they would be useful!).  Notably, at one point the Doctor and Jamie get held up due to lack of passports…sure would be a good time for some paper that makes people see what they want to see.  Nah, that’s just crazy talk.

Evil of the Daleks

An Emperor Arises

A second Dalek serial in the same season? Sign me up!  Better enjoy it though; The Evil of the Daleks is the last major appearance of the Daleks for the next five years.  They appear to have finally escaped their dependence on static electricity…no, wait, I was wrong; it’s the static electricity research that drew them to Earth in the first place.  Oh well.  Truly there’s nothing new under the sun:  After the wild recent popularity of the “hybrid” storyline in Series 9, and the red herring of the Dalek hybrids, it’s interesting to see that the Daleks were trying to hybridize themselves (with humans in this case) as far back as Season 4.  It’s also interesting that they choose Jamie for their experiment because, as they say, his travels with the Doctor make him the most intrinsically human…um, human…in the universe.  Forgetting for a moment that that makes no sense at all, it’s also contradicted in NuWho, where travel in the TARDIS changes humans to one degree or another.  At any rate, they’ll continue experimenting with hybrids for years—note the Cult of Skaro, and the Dalekised humans in The Time of the Doctor.  Maybe it’s a product of their adoption of a Dalek Emperor, who first appears here, and will continue to recur.  Interestingly as well, the Daleks can successfully threaten to destroy the TARDIS here, despite being from well before the Time War, which the Tenth Doctor credits for their skill at fighting TARDISes.  Usually the TARDIS is well-nigh impregnable, or so we’ve seen thus far.  But I think we can handwave this by saying that the Doctor at this point isn’t “in tune” with the TARDIS enough to use all its functions—he’s still learning—and that may include its defenses.

Victoria Waterfield

Welcome Aboard, Victoria!

We close out the season with the introduction of new companion Victoria Waterfield. What?  A female companion with a canon last name?  That doesn’t happen often!  Victoria doesn’t get much screen time, so it remains to be seen how much potential she has.  We’ll look forward to it in Season Five.  I’ll see you there!

Interested in the theory I mentioned regarding the Doctor’s title?  Check it out here!

(Nearly) all episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.  Due to the BBC’s early policy of junking tapes, some episodes exist only as reconstructions.

The Power of the Daleks

The Highlanders

The Underwater Menace (YouTube; does not include episode three, which appears to be unavailable online.)

The Moonbase

The Macra Terror

The Faceless Ones

The Evil of the Daleks

The Death of the First Doctor: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Three (Part 2 of 2)

We’re back, with part two of Doctor Who, Season Three! I’ve already established that this season has me at my most longwinded, so let’s get right to it.  Last time, we left off with the sixth serial of the season, The Ark; this time, we begin with The Celestial Toymaker.

toymaker

The Doctor and the Toymaker

 

My experience with these early seasons (prior to this rewatch, at any rate) has been minimal; but all the same, this serial reminded me strongly of a Second Doctor serial, The Mind Robber.  In both serials, you have a villain who, though not definitively malicious, is self-centered and capricious; as well, both villains display an unearthly degree of control over their world and the things that happen in it.  It’s truly a battle of wits, as the Doctor can’t use the TARDIS or any other advantages—all those things are stripped away.  Instead, he must purely outthink his opponents.  He does so, of course, and in spectacular fashion, turning the villain’s own tools against him; we are beginning to see that the Doctor is much more than simply intelligent—he’s cunning as well.  From what I understand, we’ll see much more of that under the Second Doctor.  As for the Toymaker, I couldn’t help wondering what he really is.  He’s very much a Time Lord-type villain (reminiscent of the Monk, but much more intelligent), but his actual origins aren’t discussed.  I am aware that several spinoff works exist, which establish him as some sort of higher being from a different or earlier universe; if that is the case, it could put him on a level with the Animus from The Web Planet, or the Great Intelligence, who have also been stated in prose and audio sources to be Great Old Ones from a previous universe.  It’s worth noting that the original intent of the writers was that he be the same race as the Doctor and the Monk, but this was never spelled out onscreen.

Gunfighters_title

Welcome to  the old West!

 

I haven’t done well with the historicals, but I found The Gunfighters interesting, because I had just watched the film Tombstone, which covers the same events.  I persuaded my girlfriend, who is not generally a classic Who fan (though we are watching the new series together), to watch this one with me, as Tombstone is her favorite movie.  She called it “goofy”, and I can’t argue with that, as it’s clearly intended to be comedic.  It is the final First Doctor historical, and nearly the final historical of the decade (we get one more in next season’s The Highlanders, and then no more until Black Orchid in 1982).  It takes some drastic liberties with the historical facts; for example, Doc Holliday was much younger than portrayed (and also dying of tuberculosis), and Bat Masterson was not actually present in the town of Tombstone, although he did later have some unrelated involvement with Holliday.  You can start to see some discord between Steven and Dodo here, as well; they were never really a pair the way Ian and Barbara were (or even Steven and Vicky), and I felt as though they would not have gotten along well under any circumstances, let alone traveling with the Doctor.  I know they part ways in the next serial; I wish they had stayed longer, as that semi-adversarial relationship could have made for good television—it was almost a kind of sibling rivalry.  One final note on this serial:  If I have to hear “The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon” ONE MORE TIME…

The Savages

Not Dodo’s finest moment.

With the next serial, The Savages, we get another minor change to the show’s format; individual episodes no longer get titles of their own.  It’s just as well; can you imagine 26 seasons of trying to title every episode?  This serial gives us at least the second time that the Doctor’s lifespan/life force has been tampered with (the first was his premature aging in The Daleks’ Master Plan).  This time, he recovers thanks to the D403 medicine on the TARDIS.  It begs the question of how his regeneration energy plays into this; and though the concept hadn’t been finalized yet, the production team had started to play with the idea, as they nearly changed actors during The Celestial Toymaker.  We also see echoes of this issue in Series 9’s The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, when Davros takes some of the Doctor’s regeneration energy and creates hybridized Daleks; here in The Savages, it’s already clear that absorbing some of the Doctor’s energy also means taking on some of his traits.  Here we also get Steven’s exit from the show, as he becomes the new leader of the combined group.  I get that, behind the scenes, this assumption of leadership is the device that allows him to leave the show; but from a plot standpoint, it makes no sense to me.  They want him to lead them because of his rational head and wise decisions…it’s like they don’t even know him at all.

benpolly

The Doctor, Ben, and Polly

 

 

With Steven out of the picture, we soon meet the next companions, Ben Jackson and Polly Wright, in The War Machines. (Like several other companions, Polly received no onscreen last name, but the audition materials listed her as “Polly Wright”, and the name has stuck in the spinoff media.)  I went into this serial knowing nothing about them other than that they existed.  I wasn’t sure what I expected.  However, Ben’s very first appearance involves a fistfight; I’m testing my recall, but I don’t think we’ve seen that level of physicality in a companion since Ian.  Of greater interest is the villain, the supercomputer WOTAN.  WOTAN can think (AI in the 1960s?); its chief claims to fame are that it can think faster than humans, and type faster, feats which are incredibly basic by modern standards.  Interestingly, they played down the fact that WOTAN is hypnotic; it seems to me that that ability would be much more remarkable in any era.  As well, it knows the meaning of the word TARDIS, which seems unlikely even within the show.  Infamously, WOTAN directly refers to the Doctor as “Doctor Who”; this is the only time it ever occurs in the series’ history, though the phrase is often used as a bit of an inside joke in NuWho, most famously as the oldest question in the universe.  I had heard of this use by WOTAN prior to watching, and thought it was a one-off incident; but as it turns out, it happens several times in the serial, both by WOTAN and by the humans under his control.  One last thing:  I was especially fond of the scene in part 4 in which the Doctor stares down the War Machine.  It was fantastic; reminiscent of so many scenes in the new series where the Doctor stares down his enemies (“I. Am. TALKING!”).  Perhaps this is a glimpse of the Oncoming Storm in embryo here?  Even though the machine backs down because of failed programming rather than intimidation, it’s very dramatic.

facing war machine.PNG

The Doctor facing down the War Machine

 

I’ll admit: I had trouble with The Smugglers.  To be honest, it bored me.  It’s worth noting that much later, it becomes an unofficial sequel to the Eleventh Doctor/Series 6 episode, The Curse of the Black Spot.  That episode is concerned with the fate of James Avery and his crew; this serial reveals the fate of his remaining crew members, who are searching for his lost gold.  I recall not being particularly impressed with Curse, either; it was perhaps the low point of Series 6 for me. The Smugglers is known for its low ratings, so perhaps it’s not just me.

polly

Not Polly’s finest moment.

 

We end with The Tenth Planet. Along with The Smugglers, it actually occurs in Season 4; as I mentioned previously, this is the rare instance where a regeneration didn’t coincide with the end of a season or series, and I wanted to include the First Doctor’s final two adventures with Season 3.  I had been looking forward to this serial for a long time, just as I had with The Daleks’ Master Plan:  The Cybermen!  The first regeneration!  What’s not to love?  The original Cybermen look hokey by today’s standards, and of course their appearance changes often throughout the original series; still, they are scary by any measure, if for no other reason than their outlandishness (tell me you wouldn’t run if you met one in a dark alley!).  It stretches credibility quite a bit that their homeworld of Mondas would like just like the Earth (although flipped north-south!).  The idea of a twin planet is plausible, but it would certainly not have the same landmasses.  The Z-bomb that the humans intend to use to destroy Mondas consists of several bombs to be places at intervals on Mondas’s surface; it presages the Osterhagen Key from The Stolen Earth.  Mondas is eventually destroyed on its own when it absorbs too much energy from Earth; that seems odd, if the planets are true twins—shouldn’t it have been capable of holding the same energy as Earth?  Also, there are no observable ill effects of this energy loss on Earth, which seems questionable at best.

cybermen first appearance.PNG

The first appearance of the Cybermen.

 

I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the first audiences to see the Doctor regenerate. I think it’s appropriate that this first instance didn’t occur at a season break; I could imagine fans saying “What was THAT all about?” and wandering off, muttering about how the show has gone downhill.  With only a week until the Second Doctor makes his first full appearance, I imagine there was a sense of suspense that we, today, can never quite duplicate, especially in the world of spoilers and leaks.  Personally, I have seen very few of the Second Doctor’s serials (only two, The Mind Robber and, much later, The Three Doctors), so I’m fortunate enough to have some of that suspense to look forward to.  The Doctor will truly be a different man next time I see him.  The famous line about “wearing a bit thin” would be later reused by the War Doctor, which I find fitting; he truly was, but I can’t think of a better ending for either of them.

first regeneration

The First Doctor regenerates

 

On to what I consider the true beginning of season four, and the Second Doctor!

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.  Due to the BBC’s early policy of junking tapes, some episodes exist only as reconstructions.

The Celestial Toymaker

The Gunfighters

The Savages

The War Machines

The Smugglers

The Tenth Planet

The Long March: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Three (Part 1 of 2)

I’ve decided to do something that I hope will only occur once during this rewatch: I’m splitting this review into two parts.  The reason for this is simple:  Season Three is enormous.  This season contains 45 episodes, the most of any season so far; as well, it contains The Daleks’ Master Plan, the longest single serial in Doctor Who history (yes, I know, Trial of a Time Lord is longer, but until I get there and watch it, I’m going to stick with the view that it’s actually four linked serials instead of one long one).  I’m also taking this step because something unusual lies ahead:  the First Doctor’s regeneration.  The Doctor regenerates a few serials into Season Four, instead of at the end of Season Three; nothing of the sort ever happens again (the closest we come is Season 21’s The Twin Dilemma, the Sixth Doctor’s first serial).  I want to include the First Doctor’s final appearances here, with Season Three, which brings us to 53 episodes for the season; therefore I think it’s best to split this lengthy review up.  I’m breaking it close to the halfway mark, with The Ark (serial six for the season).  So, on to part one!

 

The season gets off to a good start with Galaxy 4.  It’s a story that has been criticized by Peter Purves, the actor who played relatively new companion Steven Taylor; he points out that the story was written for the recently-departed Ian and Barbara, then altered.  As he ended up with most of the lines intended for Barbara, he comes off fairly weak.  Doctor Who being a product of its time, Barbara was usually portrayed that way, though it would never fly today, and rightly so.  Steven becomes a stronger and more assertive character after this serial, but I feel as though his character always wanders a bit, never really distinguishing himself.  He’s a reliable everyman, but he lacks direction.

The serial’s villains, the Drahvin, fascinated me. They’re beautiful (at least by 1960s British standards), but not what they seem.  We get that sort of thing today, but far more heavy-handed; when a modern villain is revealed for what it really is, it usually looks the part.  The Drahvin don’t change; they’re still beautiful and human in appearance.  I liked them; I continually had the feeling that they were hiding something.  I feel as though they have more stories to tell, but so far, they’ve only appeared in NuWho as background villains in The Pandorica Opens.  On a related note, there is a subtle anti-racist (or at least anti-prejudice) message here; the Drahvin are fair and beautiful, and the Rill are so ugly that they won’t allow anyone to look at them, but guess who are the villains?  I’m not sure if it was intended that way at the time of production, but it certainly comes across now.

Drahvin

Deadly beauty, seen in the Drahvin

 

Doctor Who began experimenting with the order of episodes with Mission to the Unknown.  It’s a single-episode serial, something that had never been done, and that never occurs again until The Five Doctors. You could say it’s the first “Doctor lite” episode, as it doesn’t include the Doctor (or the TARDIS, or the companions) at all—and in fact, it remains the only episode to feature neither Doctor nor companions.  Verity Lambert’s last episode as producer, it serves as a detached prologue to The Daleks’ Master Plan, two serials later.  I like that; in NuWho we get season-long story arcs frequently, but at this point in Classic Who it was unheard of.  This arc doesn’t last the whole season, but it laid the groundwork for later attempts at longer continuity.  Unfortunately it was never broadcast abroad, as the BBC was unable to sell it; that means its footage will likely never be recovered, as there are no foreign broadcast copies to be found.  (If only we had a time machine…)  The plot is brief and quick, and doesn’t accomplish much by itself; it’s not bad, just not enough.  However, it did include plants which turn people into plants, which stuck out to me; the first episode I can remember watching as a child is Season 13’s The Seeds of Doom, which featured the Krynoids, plants with a similar power.

varga

Becoming a Varga plant

 

I found the third serial, The Myth Makers, to be a little boring.  Maybe that’s just me; I don’t seem to enjoy the pure historicals as much.  This retelling of the end of the Trojan War was well made, but flat.  We trade Vicky, whose performance I enjoyed, for Katarina (no last name given, even in spinoff material as far as I can tell), whom I can hardly remember even now. Although she was with the Doctor for the equivalent of a full season, it didn’t feel that way, and her exact felt abrupt and forced.  This is appropriate, as her actress was not informed of her departure prior to filming the serial.  Steven comes across as moody and arrogant in this serial; generally I respect him (despite my earlier comment), but I didn’t like him here.  Worth noting is the ontological paradox with the Trojan Horse; it’s the Doctor’s comments about it that lead to its creation, but he himself only knew about it from history.

Cressida

Goodbye Vicky, aka Cressida

 

The Daleks’ Master Plan, as I said, is the longest single serial in the show’s history.  The show is  really burning through companions at this point; Katarina, who arrived in the preceding serial, dies halfway through this one, and Sara Kingdom joins the crew and dies in the space of a few episodes.  I liked Sara; she reminds me of Liz Shaw’s character under the Third Doctor.  I felt as though her death was a waste of the character (which could also be said of Katarina, whose death was obviously set up for dramatic effect, but without enough prior screen time to build up to that).  Incidentally, Sara is the first companion to begin as an adversary of the Doctor; we’ll get this again with Vislor Turlough (Fifth Doctor) and possibly others of whom I am not yet aware.

Katarina

Goodbye, Katarina

 

I’m fascinated with the history of the human race, and also of the Daleks. This serial takes place in the year 4000, and clearly the Daleks are very advanced and widespread already.  The Doctor refers back to the Dalek invasion of Earth in the 2100s; and we know that within a millennium, a number of other significant events will happen, including the birth of Jack Harkness.

kingdom

Goodbye, Sara

 

Episode 7, The Feast of Steven, was definitely intended to be comedic, with encounters with Charlie Chaplin and Bing Crosby.  I find it interesting, because those kind of comical encounters with historical figures becomes normal canon in the new series; notably, you have Vincent Van Gogh (Vincent and the Doctor), Elizabeth I (Day of the Doctor), Queen Victoria (Tooth and Claw), William Shakespeare (The Shakespeare Code), and Winston Churchill (Victory of the Daleks, et al).  It’s a Christmas episode—the first Christmas special!—and was omitted from all international broadcasts.  Like Mission to the Unknown, it is most likely lost forever due to no copies being sold.  It also contains the only overt onscreen breaking of the fourth wall, with the Doctor’s Christmas toast to the viewers.

the feast of steven 4

Merry Christmas!

The Monk makes his return in this serial, and does better for himself than in his previous appearance. He’s clearly intelligent, but so very clearly outmatched by the Doctor, who runs circles around him every time they meet.  He’s also very naïve about the Daleks, which I take as clear evidence that despite being time travellers, the Time Lords were ignorant of the Time War before it started.  Time Lord views on linear time are a funny thing.  The Monk plays second fiddle here to Mavic Chen, the ostensible leader of Earth and its possessions; Chen is a truly despicable character, and I recall comparing him to the bastard offspring of Jabba the Hutt and a used-car salesman (an analogy that’s insulting to everyone involved).

Mavic Chen

Mavic Chen, The Monk, and the Daleks

 

 

One last thing: This is the first occurrence of the Daleks’ penchant for superweapons, especially those that deal with the passage of time.  Here they have created—and later they employ—the Time Destructor, which ages everything within its radius to the point of destruction.  It’s responsible for the deaths of Sara Kingdom and everyone else on the planet Kembel, including the Daleks who deployed it; the Doctor himself suffers its effects, but survives due to his Time Lord physiology.  It does seem to have no effect on the TARDIS, or on Steven, who is safely inside.  We see this penchant for superweapons again in the atrocities of the Time War, and in the Reality Bomb (The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End).

time destructor

The Time Destructor

 

I’m not very familiar with the history visited in The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve, and much of it was lost on me.  It was interesting to see that the Doctor’s knowledge base was still in its infancy here; in the new series, he seems to know nearly everything needed in any given situation, but here, he’s still learning, as evidenced by his excitement at learning germ theory from the apothecary, Charles Preslin.  It helps to reiterate that by Time Lord standards, he’s really young here.  The TARDIS crew changes again in this story—Dorothea “Dodo” Chaplet joins the crew under unlikely circumstances, in which we had just left her great-grandmother to die (although clearly she survived).  But thanks to the TARDIS’s intelligence, which won’t fully be explored until NuWho, the coincidence can be handwaved.  Also notably, the Doctor here says that he can’t go back to his own planet, but doesn’t say why; and of course, we STILL don’t have a full answer to that question.  It’s the first vague hint that relations between him and his people are troubled.

Dodo Chaplet

Hello, Dodo

 

Finally, there’s The Ark, in which humans have fled the destruction of Earth on a large spacegoing ark; along the way, they’ve encountered another race, the Monoids, who now travel with them.  Right from the start, Dodo shows that she is an active and impulsive companion; she disregards any possibility of environmental hazards, and rushes out of the TARDIS against Steven’s objections—ironic, since this is the first time anyone ever expressed any concern in that direction.  Later, the crew uses the TARDIS to jump forward to a later time in the Ark’s history, and deal with a second generation of humans and monoids.  For a show about time travel, surprisingly few episodes use it as a plot mechanism—usually the TARDIS arrives, the crew does their thing, and they leave.  We’ll see time travel used again, though to a lesser degree, in Pyramids of Mars, where the Fourth Doctor uses it to investigate the results of Sutekh’s actions.  For now, though, the Monoids stuck out to me; they’re deeper than the average villain, as they’re relatively  small-time characters who let a little power go to their heads—but they’re not inherently evil.  In addition, they experience a minor civil war even while dealing with the Doctor—not your standard villainy at all.

Monoids

The Monoids

 

Whew, that’s a lot of ground to cover. To Be Continued in Part II!

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.  Due to the BBC’s early policy of junking tapes, some episodes exist only as reconstructions.

Galaxy 4

Mission to the Unknown

The Myth Makers

The Daleks’ Master Plan

The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve

The Ark

Daleks Everywhere: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Two

I’m releasing this post a little earlier than expected; I was halfway through Season 2 of Classic Doctor Who when I made my first rewatch post, so it didn’t take long to catch up. I enjoyed Season 2 considerably more than Season 1 (although neither were bad; rather, the original cast seems to be hitting their stride with Season 2).  Here were some of the highlights for me.  (Caution:  This is not short.  I’ll be trying to rein it in with future posts, but there was a lot of ground to cover this time.)

 

This season was dominated by the Daleks, who, with the second and second-to-last serials, neatly bookended the season. First we have The Dalek Invasion of Earth, set sometime in the 22nd century (theories vary; evidence visible in the episode could place it as early as 2157, but there are reasons to think it’s some years later as well).  The Dalek invasion and subsequent resistance, as far as I know, have not been contradicted by any later episodes; and if that is the case, the invasion is hugely important to the future history of the Earth, as it would shape the course of things to come for centuries at least.  Perhaps without it, there would be no Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, spanning several galaxies, as seen by the Ninth Doctor; certainly humans would not have flourished and spread in the same way without this struggle to overcome.  Also noteworthy:  This serial sees Susan’s exit from the TARDIS crew.  No doubt it was shocking to audiences at the time, who had no reason to think the cast would ever change.  Now, we know that the Doctor (quite literally) changes companions more often than he changes clothes; but Susan was the first to go, just as she was the first companion of all.  It was emotional even for me, though I knew it was coming.  I liked Susan; she was the victim of bad writing, as the producers famously wouldn’t allow her character much development, but I found her to be likeable enough and to have a lot of unused potential.  It will be interesting to see her return in (I think) The Five Doctors when I get there.

Daleks in London

Daleks in London!

Not insignificantly, the Daleks are also responsible for Ian and Barbara’s departures in the penultimate serial, The Chase, if indirectly.  Their time machine allows the duo to depart the TARDIS and return home, albeit a few years removed from their original disappearance.  I wasn’t expecting this one—I thought they stayed on into the third season—but I was satisfied with their departure.  Not many companions get a happy ending, and it was nice to see that these two did.  A little research tells me that in the comics, they later marry, and encounter the Eleventh Doctor some time later on; it seems they are still happy and successful.  And of course there’s the later reference to an I. Chesterton on the Coal Hill School board of governors (The Day of the Doctor), showing that at least Ian is still with us decades later.  (I’ve always liked Ian as a companion, and felt that he sums up all the admirable traits of male companions.  He never hesitates to do what’s necessary, regardless of his own concerns; he looks out for his crewmates; he throws himself one hundred percent into everything he has to do; and so on.  I wish he and Barbara had stayed longer.)

Ian and Barbara

Ian and Barbara

 

One more thing about the Daleks: I remember an interview with Tom Baker some years back, where he spoke about the Daleks.  He said that it was comical on set, because they always had to pretend that the Daleks were frightening, when you could escape them by simply going upstairs.  (Now, how they navigate on sand, as in The Chase…) Of course we know now that Daleks can fly, and at any rate stairs never seemed to stop them, as they appear on multiple floors of the same house even in The Chase.  That was never my big question about them; mine was (and still is), how do they build things? They love giant machines, they build cities, they fly spaceships…but how do they get those things in the first place?  They are supremely unsuited for the physical activity of construction!  It will always be a mystery, I think.

Aridians

Legend of Zelda meets Doctor Who?  Are those Zoras?  No, they’re Aridians.  (The Chase)

Moving on. The series learned to play with perspective this season, in the season opener, Planet of Giants.  Here, the TARDIS lands on contemporary Earth, but with a twist:  The TARDIS has shrunk!  The serial was cleverly done for its time, despite its unremarkable story (it was the first serial to have an environmentalist message, particularly concerning pesticide use).  It’s noteworthy to me because the idea of a shrinking TARDIS was revisited (with some variation) in NuWho Series 8’s Flatline.  It’s not a concept that should be used often, but it’s fun on occasion.

The third serial, The Rescue, gives us the first of two new companions, Vicki Pallister.  (Steven Taylor would make his debut in The Chase.  I’ll hold off on voicing an opinion of him until I have a little more experience with him.)  Or at least, we believe that’s her last name, based on spin-off media; it’s never mentioned onscreen.  Vicki is…perhaps not older (Time Lord lifespans!) but the equivalent of older than Susan, whom she replaces.  She’s a little more mature, a little more level-headed, a little more resourceful, but overall fills the same niche as Susan, from the audience perspective.  I was a little disappointed as the season wears on—she comes on scene in The Rescue as highly intelligent, being from a point well into Earth’s future, but as the series proceeds she seems to be dumbed down somewhat.

Vicki Pallister

Vicki

 

The Romans, another pure historical serial, was a curiosity to me.  It covers a longer span of time than most, a total of almost four months, most of which the characters spend on what amounts to a vacation.  It’s completely unnecessary, and I can’t help thinking that it was done strictly to show that yes, the adventures the crew are having take an extended period of time (enough to match the year and a half of broadcast time, I assume).  That’s acceptable, though, as several earlier serials flow directly from one to the next.  One would otherwise think that they had only been traveling for days.  At any rate, the serial was decent; it covers the burning of Rome under Nero, an event that Ten would later claim was “not exactly” his responsibility (Series 4, The Fires of Pompeii).  Spoiler alert:  It totally was.

The Web Planet gives us the Zarbi, possibly the most joked-about villains in Doctor Who history.  These ant creatures do look ridiculous; it’s hard to believe they were conceived as a possible rival to the Daleks with regard to audience popularity.  It’s safe to say that that plan failed.  I can’t help but think, though, that there’s a lot of promise in the storyline; it’s a story of slavery and oppression, with elements of resistance and rebellion and racism all mixed in.  If it had come into existence in the new series, we might not think of it as such a joke.  (I’m not holding my breath for a Zarbi reappearance, though…)

Zarbi

The Zarbi.  Try to overlook the very human legs, please.

 

The Crusade, another pure historical, has the distinction of being the only incomplete serial in Season 2, although of course reconstructions exist.  It was a good but unremarkable story, and I found little worth commenting on.  It is notable for Ian’s knighthood by King Richard, which (according to spinoff media) still stands, making him Sir Ian of Jaffa.

I was particularly fond of The Space Museum.  To me it felt more like a modern Who story, though it’s hard to put my finger on why.  There’s the excellent scene of the Doctor having his mind read on a scanner, and manipulating the images to conceal the truth—something I could easily see Nine or Eleven doing.  And there’s the manipulation of time at the beginning, with the TARDIS—again, through a fault—landing out of sync with the planet it’s on.  The Doctor continues the fine tradition of hiding inside a Dalek casing at one point, a feat that I find more comical every time I see it for some reason.  And then, of course, there’s the Time/Space Visualizer, which sets up for the events of The Chase.  Season-long arcs aren’t a thing in the First Doctor era, so any continuity I can get is always welcome.

Doctor Dalek

That look says it all!

 

The season ended with The Time Meddler, a serial noteworthy for introducing the first Time Lord (though that name will not be used for some time yet) other than the Doctor.  The Monk (or the Meddling Monk, as he is sometimes referred to) is aware of the Doctor, though the Doctor doesn’t seem to know him.  Interestingly, the Doctor chides the monk for not holding to their race’s non-interference policy; the irony was strong, as we all know the Doctor meddles like no one else.  I was excited to see another TARDIS, even if it was a redress of the regular TARDIS set.  This serial also was the first to play with the relationship between the TARDIS interior and exterior dimensions; it ends with the Doctor having sabotaged the Monk’s TARDIS such that the interior (or at least the console room) shrinks to something close to the dimensions of the exterior, thus preventing the Monk from getting in the TARDIS to leave.  (Though, to be fair, he could have fit, if awkwardly!)  It is reminiscent of what happens in the opposite direction in The Name of the Doctor, where the dying TARDIS’s outer dimensions expand to approximately match the inner dimensions.  A pretty advanced concept for a show that is still, for most purposes, in its infancy…and a hint of things to come, possibly.

The_Meddling_Monk

The Monk

 

So, that’s it for Season 2. Favorite serial this season?  I’d have to go with The Space Museum.  Not a bad season, overall.  Now, on to Season Three, which will be a different experience completely; only three of its ten serials survive in their entirety, meaning a lot of reconstructions lie ahead.  It’s a trend that will last until the end of Season 5.  See you there!

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.  Due to the BBC’s early policy of junking tapes, some episodes exist only as reconstructions.

Planet of Giants

The Dalek Invasion of Earth

The Rescue

The Romans

The Web Planet

The Crusade

The Space Museum

The Chase

The Time Meddler

A Temporary Diversion: Doctor Who Rewatch

I’ve been away for a long time.  For various reasons, it’s been hard to write lately; and since I’m not driving myself toward publication at this time, I chose to stop for a while instead of agonizing over it.  It’s still difficult, and you’ll see that this post and the ones that follow in the near future are not fiction.  I’ll get back to it at some point, but I’m not sure when that will be.

In the meantime, here’s something new; or rather, in a sense, something very old.  Older than me, in fact.  For the sake of keeping my mind and my writing “muscles” in tune, I’m starting a series of review posts for–and if you know me, you should have guessed–Doctor Who.  I’ve started a rewatch of the classic series (1963-1989), and I want to share my thoughts on it as I go along, season by season.  I realize this may not be everyone’s area of interest; feel free to check out of this experience if you like, as I’m doing it for myself anyway.  But I hope you’ll stick around, and I hope–I really hope–you may find something interesting here.  And soon, if all goes as planned, I’ll return to the short stories and the posts on writing as in the past.

Happy reading!

~~~

I’m a fan of Doctor Who.  A Whovian, if you will.  There, I admitted it!  And that’s the first step to recovery, right?  Admitting you have a problem?  Well, I hope not, because I LIKE this problem.  It may be an addiction, but it costs less than heroin, and has yet to destroy my life, so…I think I’ll keep it.

Recently I began…well, what should I call it?  A rewatch?  Not exactly, because my experience to this point includes only a smattering of episodes, at least from the earlier seasons.  At the same time, I’ve seen considerable portions of the Fourth and Fifth Doctors’ runs, and so I can’t really say I’m seeing this for the first time, either.  But, for lack of a better word, I’ll go with “rewatch”; and I began at the very beginning, 11/23/63, with the First Doctor’s first adventure.

First Doctor

My intention here is to make a post for each season as I complete it.  I considered just making a post for each Doctor, as some others have done; but then it occurred to me that some Doctors have seasons that are very thematically distinct from their surroundings (The Key To Time and Trial Of A Time Lord come to mind at once).  Those story arcs will deserve separate treatment; and I don’t know at this point if I may find anything else like that along the way.  Therefore, every season it is!

Easily the most famous episode of Classic Who—by merit of being the one that started it all—An Unearthly Child was an exciting watch for me.  I had seen it before, a few years ago, on Youtube; I’m not sure if it’s still available there.  For a program that was intended to be educational, it was a wise choice.  The prehistoric setting of the TARDIS crew’s first destination would have captivated me as a child, and though I was watching it late at night, after my own children had gone to bed, I have a feeling it would have done the same with them (once they got over the black-and-white, that is).  With Ian, Barbara, and Susan, we have something for everyone—audience surrogates for man, woman, and child.  And then there’s the Doctor.

Totters Lane

76 Totter’s Lane–Where it all began

 

 

Many people have commented over the years on the Doctor’s overall development as a character—even the Doctor himself (as Ten) says it in the Time Crash short:

“Back when I first started at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important, like you do when you’re young.”

What I didn’t anticipate was just how young the Doctor comes across (especially given William Hartnell’s age at the time!).  He’s both pompous and petty, embodying the idea that a little knowledge is dangerous—and he clearly only has a little knowledge at this point; far more than we mere mortals, but only a little by the standards that the series later establishes.  He makes mistakes, not of the “this was a miscalculation” variety, but of the “this was really stupid” variety.  Of course I’m looking at this through the eyes of a modern viewer, knowing that the Doctor is in fact very young by Time Lord standards; I see these things in him now, but had I been watching it in the 60’s, I probably would have just considered him to be a capricious and arrogant old man.  Still, with either interpretation, those qualities are evident all the way back to An Unearthly Child, in the way the Doctor treats Ian and Barbara—he kidnapped them, let’s not forget!—and even Susan.

first tardis crew

The first TARDIS crew, from An Unearthly Child

 

It didn’t take any time at all to introduce the series’ most iconic villains, the Daleks (in a serial named, shockingly, The Daleks).  I thought the serial was a well-rounded, fair introduction to the Daleks; all the basics are in place, and none of the weirdness we get in later appearances.  I was surprised to see that Davros didn’t appear; for some reason I had it in my head that his character appeared this far back, and I never thought to question it, even though the correct information is easy to find.  I’ll come back to it in a later post, but after watching The Daleks, I made a point of watching the Fourth Doctor serial, Genesis of the Daleks, just to get my history straight.  All in all, this introductory series was fair, but unremarkable; it’s noteworthy for introducing a science-fiction focus to the show, after the first serial’s historical emphasis.

I should note that, while I’m watching these classic seasons, I’m also in the middle of a rewatch of New Who with my girlfriend.  She’s not interested in the classic series, except where it intersects with the new and requires some explanation, so I’m going it alone on the classic series.  Still, it’s interesting to see the parallels between the two, even as far back as season one.  The third serial, The Edge of Destruction, introduces the idea of a “bottle episode”, where the cast never leave the TARDIS; this appears again in New Who Series 5’s Amy’s Choice, although with some clever variation.  I suppose that when a series has been around this long, new episode concepts are hard to come by; still, it was exciting to see this one being done so long ago.

First Tardis Interior

Ready to take off!  The first TARDIS interior

 

Skipping ahead (for the sake of brevity, not because of any commentary on the quality of the episodes), I noticed the first appearance of another New Who concept: Fixed points in time.  In the season’s partially-reconstructed final serial, The Reign of Terror (my personal favorite this season), Ian attempts to stop the imprisonment of Robespierre; Barbara comments on the futility of this attempt to change time, a theme which the Doctor has drilled into his companions at this point.  However, this is the first time that a particular event is portrayed as not subject to change; in earlier scenes—most notably in The Aztecs, where Barbara is the recipient of the lecture—the Doctor implies that the general course of history cannot be altered.  While the term “fixed point” is not used here, it seems that Robespierre’s imprisonment (and subsequent death) is such a point.

Reign of Terror

The Doctor going native in The Reign of Terror

 

One more:  The Ood.  Those aliens from the Tenth Doctor’s run don’t appear here, but their neighbors do; The Sensorites takes place on a planet in the same solar system, and its inhabitants bear some similarities with the Ood (with less hindbrain).  I like finding these references in New Who; it’s an easter egg hunt, I suppose, and I never get tired of it.  Other than the obvious—the major characters, the TARDIS, the Daleks, Skaro—this is the earliest example I’ve yet found.  Or rather, it was, until Clara Oswald went to work at Coal Hill School.

Susan Foreman

Susan, unhappy with the curriculum at Coal Hill

 

Overall, I liked the first season.  Occasionally I found it hard to follow, not because its plots were difficult, but because I’m immersed in modern television, which of course is much flashier.  Still, Doctor Who had to begin somewhere, and I’m glad it was here.  If only its creators had known what lay ahead!  But no one ever does.  Nevertheless, I’m supremely happy that it’s still going.

On to Season Two!

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.  Due to the BBC’s early policy of junking tapes, some episodes exist only as reconstructions.

An Unearthly Child

The Daleks

The Edge of Destruction

Marco Polo

The Keys of Marinus

The Aztecs

The Sensorites

The Reign of Terror

The Dreaded Question

question mark block

I’m about to show you my weakness.

Please try not to exploit it, if you can help yourself.  You see, it’s kind of a big deal.  I like doing what I do, and I really want to keep doing it.  But this one weakness has the power to stop me—and any writer—in my tracks.  And it’s deceptively simple, too; you’ll find it hard to resist, once you know what it is.  Go easy on me!

It’s…it’s…a question.  THE question.  The Dreaded Question.  This question is the one that every writer must face eventually—the dragon we must slay—the end boss of this video game.  It’s…wait a second while I work up my courage here…okay.  I can do this.  The question is:

“Where do you get your ideas?”

I feel so vulnerable now!  Asking the question is like breaking through the armor.  It’s like exposing the soft tissue inside, letting the world see—and maybe attack—the real me.  It’s kind of awkward, is what I’m saying.

kpbs.org

Like this, but with words instead of swords

There’s no defense against the question.  It can be anticipated, but not denied.  Oh, some of us try to deflect it, with a mumbled “I don’t really know”, but we know the truth—you really want to know, and you won’t let it rest until you do!

I understand, my friends, I really do.  To someone who is a reader and not a writer—and believe me, I mean no insult; readers are the ones with the power here, because without you, why would I bother writing?—to a reader, the writing process must seem a little like magic.  A perfectly mundane person, living a perfectly mundane life, and coming up with stories that are anything but perfectly mundane (or so we hope!)—of course it seems like magic!  So why would the question intimidate us?

The answer is that every magician is afraid of being the Wizard of Oz.  Deep down, we all believe that we’re really the little humbug behind the curtain, not the sorcerer we want to be.  All magic is ultimately sleight-of-hand; all the tricks are just that—tricks.  And we feel embarrassed by that.

It embarrasses me to admit that my ideas don’t come from some mystical source.  I don’t go into the desert and meditate for a month, seeking visions, and then come back with three hundred pages in my head.  I don’t seek the fountain of youth ideas, and I don’t go on pilgrimages.  My ideas come from much simpler sources:  You.  The people around me.  The world we live in.

photo from austindetails.me

Believe it or not, I wrote the phrase “fountain of ideas” BEFORE finding this weirdly appropriate picture. Also, Brenda Ueland, whoever you are…I’m gonna have to disagree with you on this one.

My current novel, The Last Shot, was inspired by several things.  I drew on my own work history—jail and prison and mental health and, yes, even writing—to create the main character.  I pulled the secondary protagonists from people that are close to me, and their situations.  I pulled my villains from a friend’s terrible experience with a stalker (with her permission, of course).  I found a place in it for some of my experiences in dealing with my ex-wife’s mental illness.  My children—fulfilling a promise I made them—make a cameo.  I pulled scenes from things that went on around me while I was writing it; from places I have visited; from conversations with friends and family.  I drew inspiration from books I’ve read and movies and television shows that I’ve watched.  Headlines in the news influenced my portrayal of events.  In short, I drew from every conceivable source.

Spelling it out that way, you may be tempted to say, “but what’s so bad about that?”  And you’re both right and wrong.  Those are perfectly honorable sources.  They are also very mundane, and that’s where the embarrassment comes in.  You see, we want it to be magical just as much as you do.  We want to be able to say there is a sacred, mystical source for our stories.  We love the mystique, the aura.  The truth is much less glamorous than that.  We don’t want to admit that a lot of it is chance—the encounters we have, the things we see and hear—and that the rest is just simply living life and seeing what shakes out of it.  But that is the truth.

So, next time you talk to a writer, go easy.  Ask the question if you must—I would—but when you get the inevitable wince, the nervous chuckle, the loosening of the collar, don’t flinch.  And don’t, above all, be offended at the answer!  We’re human too.    We want you to know what it’s like, but we also want you to understand when the answer isn’t what you expect.  After all, the guy behind the curtain may be a humbug…but he wants to be the wizard.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.