080 – A Battle of Wits (The Time Meddler Part 3)

Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Douglas Camfield

The Doctor confronts The Monk and his intentions start to become clear.  Meanwhile, two survivors of the Viking scout party decide to take the inhabitants of the monastery hostage.

Step 9: ??? Step 10: Profit

“No more visitors!  It’s getting so you can’t call a monastery your own.”

The Doctor, it turns out, has escaped through a secret passage in the cell.  Vicki and Steven follow.  There is a lot of moving around in this episode, from monastery to beach, to village, to forest.  Everyone is moving toward the endgame in the next episode.  However, the important thing is that we discover two things about The Monk.  First, we get an idea of his intentions.  He is meddling in history.  We get a convenient look at his seven-point plan.  Vicki and Steven find cannons mounted along the cliffs overlooking the beach.  He seems to want the villagers to light beacon fires, which will draw the Viking fleet to land in Northumbria rather than its historic landing place.  Drawn to the fires, The Monk plans to destroy the fleet.  This is just one step in his plan, something which is still a bit vague.

The second thing we learn is that he has a TARDIS.  Vicki and Steven follow a cord to a sarcophagus, and through a door in the side, they enter a room with roundels and a console.  We can draw the conclusion that The Monk is one of The Doctor’s own people, at this point in the show’s history, yet unnamed.  This is something The Doctor has already figured out, and he captures The Monk at stick-point, pretending he has a gun.  Unfortunately, before he can get The Monk to confess, Sven and Ulf arrive at the monastery and take The Doctor prisoner, locking him in the same cell with the secret passage.  Both The Doctor and The Monk make short work of the two incompetent Vikings.  The Monk continues his plan, asking the now suspicious Wulnoth (the village leader) to ensure the fires are lit.

We are marching to the conclusion.  This episode was a bit weaker since it mainly involved marching the characters from here to there to service plot revelations.  Certainly not the strongest of the four, but not the weakest thing we’ve seen in the series up to this point.  The confrontation of The Monk and The Doctor is long overdue and I hope for a glorious battle of words.

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079 – The Meddling Monk (The Time Meddler Part 2)

Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Douglas Camfield

Vicki and Steven search for The Doctor, who is now imprisoned by The Monk.  Meanwhile, Vikings have arrived on English shores, scouting and doing dastardly Viking things.

Obligatory Led Zeppelin "Immigrant Song" reference

“I don’t think we’ve been as clever as we think we are.”

Despite the monk having mysterious, possibly ill, motives, he isn’t completely evil and heartless.  He makes a rather nice breakfast for his prisoner, The Doctor.  Sadly, William Hartnell is on holiday for this episode, so he doesn’t get to partake.

There are two things that really strike me about this episode.  First, there is a distinct Troughton vibe to The Monk.  Or perhaps, Troughton’s Doctor has a distinct Monk vibe.  There is a theory about The Doctor’s regeneration process which claims that the personality or form that Doctor takes after regeneration is related in some way to a companion with which he traveled or a person he met.  Therefore, the mischief-making Monk was the mold for The Second Doctor.  The Eighth Doctor traveled with Lucy Miller, who had a distinct northern accent, and the Ninth Doctor had a northern accent.  The Ninth Doctor traveled with Rose, a companion that was extremely important to him overcoming survivor’s guilt.  Thus, The Tenth Doctor was more human than any previous incarnation.  And so it goes.  Fan retcon at its finest.

The second thing that struck me about this episode is that we have an implied rape.  This is possibly the most disturbing moment since The Snows of Terror, where the trapper was about to try to rape Barbara.  The act really didn’t get started back then, but the implications were clear.  This time, Edith in the Saxon village is raped by a Viking scout party.  The orders for the scouting party were to get the lay of the land, placement of villages and potential resistance.  They were to keep as low a profile as possible so the king could have the element of surprise when the invasion began.  The leader of the scouting party, however, was an idiot, and they attacked the village, which did not have men in it at the time (still in the fields, perhaps?).  We see Edith attacked and carried away.  The scene cuts to Vicki and Steven at the monastery.  When we see the village again, the men have returned home and Edith is lying in bed, staring into nothing, almost comatose.  This seems an extreme reaction if she was just roughed up a bit.  The words are never used, so younger viewers can just get by being told she was merely hurt, but the implication is clear and extremely dark.  I wonder if the BBC equivalent of standards and practices came down on Verity Lambert for allowing this.

The identity of The Monk has not yet been revealed.  We know he has a toaster and electric skillet.  We know that the wrist-watch Steven is now wearing belonged to him.  We know he is alone in the monastery.  He has been waiting for The Vikings and is happy they have arrived.  He has imprisoned The Doctor, and plans to do the same to Vicki and Steven.  He puts the phonograph in a cell and plays it just as he did with The Doctor.  However, his plan is altered when injured men from the village arrive.  They went after The Vikings that attacked Edith.  The Monk must let them in to maintain his illusion.  Vicki and Steven discover the trap The Monk set for them and avoid it.  They also find The Doctor’s cell.  It is empty.  Perhaps The Doctor really did go on holiday.

Spooner has crafted a nice little, albeit dark, mystery here.  It is truly a highlight of the era, and quite the intriguing one.

Just a note before I close today.  This will be the last Saturday post.  Due to increased demands at work, and increased demands from other writing projects, I was forced to cut one day from the schedule.  The plan is to still update Monday thru Friday.  I can’t stand the thought of updating less than that since there are so many episodes left to get through.  I haven’t even hit 100 yet.  However, having made it this far, I have no intention of quitting anytime soon.

078 – The Watcher (The Time Meddler Part 1)

Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Douglas Camfield

The Doctor and Vicki discover a stowaway on the TARDIS.  They also arrive in 11th century England and are observed by an odd monk.

It's a cow. He's looking for his space helmet.

“That is the dematerializing control, that over yonder is the horizontal hold.   Up there is the scanner and over there are the doors and that is a chair with a panda on it.”

I like this story.  It is probably my favorite by Spooner.

There is a tender moment in the opening of the episode.  The Doctor and Vicki discuss the departed Ian and Barbara.  It serves to remind the casual viewer of the cast change, but also leads to exploring how The Doctor is processing this change.  He misses them already, but his fear is that Vicki is only staying with him out of some sense of obligation.  If she wants to leave, he wants to take her home.  He doesn’t want her to hold back.  Vicki insists that she has no where to go and is happy with The Doctor.  It is a great scene with The Doctor showing more vulnerability than he will in later incarnations, possibly until the 2005 revival.  Honestly, re-watching and analyzing the Hartnell era has really made me see how it was used as a model for the RTD era (with mixed results).  I’ll explain this in later detail when I get to the RTD era.  If I remember.

The scene is interrupted by a noise from the living quarters.  The Doctor and Vicki discover a stowaway:  Steven and Hi-Fi.  He faints.  After he recovers, The Doctor and Vicki quickly accept him as part of the crew, despite his disbelief that The TARDIS is a time machine.  In these few moments we are introduced to his personality:  a bit skeptical, laid-back, gently antagonistic, but friendly and likeable.  In truth, I think Steven is a great follow-up to Ian.  Plus, he and Vicki get along quite well together, almost like a brother and sister.  This is actually my preferred dynamic for the TARDIS crew:  The Doctor, one man, one woman.  The personalities should be distinct, not so similar as to be carbon copies, and they should not fawn over The Doctor.  There should be room for disagreement between the characters, even against The Doctor if necessary because I do not believe The Doctor should be portrayed as perfect.

Anyway, the TARDIS arrives in England in 1066, before the Battle of Hastings.  We know this because The Doctor will give a history lesson partway through the episode.  However, this is no ordinary historical.  Or, more accurately, it will become the model for the Doctor Who historical.  This is the first historical to feature a threat to a period of time, to an historical event.  Up until this point (and in a few more stories to follow), The Doctor and his companions are witness to events in history.  They watch, possibly become involved.  But The Time Meddler sets up the historicals which will start in The Troughton era and run through the present.  It involves a period of history, possibly an event or historical celebrity is featured, and an alien or time traveler threatens the progression of history.  Here, we have the first story to ever try this, and it sets the mold.  There are even clues to the true nature of the threat in the form of the discussion of how the TARDIS can change form to fit its surroundings and the ring that the Monk wears, which is oddly familiar….

The Doctor accepts the hospitality of a woman in a village.  He fishes for information about the time period (the history lesson I mentioned earlier takes place here).  They make notice of monks singing from the nearby monastery.  The singing plays throughout the scene, and as The Doctor stokes the fire, the singing distorts and slows like a record.  The Doctor changes from giddy to serious before even the audience can process what has just happened.  He heads off to the monastery.  I love how Harnell plays this.

Meanwhile, Steven and Vicki accost a hunter who has found a wrist watch in the forest.

The Doctor arrives at the monastery, explores, and finds a phonograph in a small room.  Bars quickly slam down, and the monk that was seen earlier on the beach steps into the shot and laughs.

Really, this is a great episode.  It re-establishes the format, introduces a new character, and starts a mystery and a new adventure.  Truly, this will be a ground breaking story as we discover more of what is going on.  It is excellently written and paced.  High marks to both Spooner and Camfield.

077 – The Planet of Decision (The Chase Part 6)

Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Richard Martin

The Doctor and his companions are imprisoned in the Mechanoid city and find fellow prisoner Steven Taylor.  Cheated of their prize, The Daleks invade the city.

Elevators are always awkward.

“To defy Daleks is death!”

I must admit that using the subtitles helped me discover what The Mechanoids were saying, but they still spoke in the manner that 1960s writers thought machines would speak, so there were many odd phrases filled with numbers.  Truth be told, the Mechanoids are not terribly vocal.  That isn’t their function, however.  They arrived on Mechanus to try to terraform parts of the world to be suitable to human life.  They are waiting for colonists.  However, the colonists must have a specific pass-code, something The Doctor and the others don’t have.  They, like their new friend Steven Taylor, are prisoners of The Mechanoids.

Steven Taylor is played by Peter Purves, who played the hick American a few episodes back.  This performance is much better.  What we have here is a chance to become a regular on the show, a part that requires more depth and attention.  The previous role was a one-off, and didn’t require much more than comedy.  Purves more than makes up for the portrayal of an American with Steven Taylor.  Taylor has been imprisoned by The Mechanoids after his ship crashed on Mechanus.  Being the only human on the planet for so long has made him just a bit mad.  He even has a toy panda named Hi-Fi.  It’s the mascot.  He is thrilled to see The Doctor and the others.  He is at first resigned to their fates in the city, but Ian and The Doctor devise a plan to lower themselves from the roof of the city, a mere 1500 foot drop.  They will use the power cables they found on the roof.  This plan appeals to everyone but Vicki, who is afraid of heights.

When the Dalek attack comes, the prisoners take their chance to escape.  However, Steven rushes back into the city for Hi-Fi.  At the end of the episode, his fate remains unknown, although we do see him staggering through the jungle.

The battle between The Daleks and The Mechanoids is the core of the episode.  I have to admit that I was impressed.  It is well done for the standards at the time, with large, bulky spheres shooting flames at slightly more maneuverable but equally bulky robots trying to destroy one another.  Animated explosions are edited in, and flames are super-imposed over the action.  We even see some Daleks and Mechanoids destroyed in the process.  It is all very chaotic, and I think it works for the story.

Having escaped the carnage, The Doctor takes the opportunity to check out The Dalek time machine, something that he finds highly impressive.  Ian and Barbara decide this is their chance to go home.  Apparently Terry Nation stories take their tolls on people.  First Susan, now Ian and Barbara.  The Doctor is furious, so much so that he has difficulty communicating, warning Ian and Barbara that they will end up as embers floating around Spain if they go.  Yes, I realize it was Hartnell fluffing his line.  But the fluff works with The Doctor’s anger and hurt.  We haven’t seen him this angry at Ian and Barbara since The Sensorites.  It all feels very nostalgic already, recreating the original tension these characters once shared.  In the end, it is Vicki that calms him down and convinces him to help them figure out the machine.  All the characters enter the Dalek Time Machine, and we jump ahead to some time later.  The Doctor and Vicki exit, and watch as the machine dematerializes.  They don’t say a word to each other, and walk away in sadness.  We don’t hear any farewell speeches this time.  We don’t see any hugs or tears.  But we do feel the sorrow, we feel the hurt.

Ian and Barbara arrive in London in 1965, two years after they had left.  This will obviously take some explaining.  However, they don’t care.  They are home and we are treated to a photo-montage of them frolicking in places that we had last seen occupied by Daleks.  Back on Mechanus, The Doctor and Vicki watch them on the Time and Space Visualizer, realizing that their two friends are home and happy.

“I shall miss them,” says The Doctor.  “Yes, I shall miss them very much.”  Hartnell’s deliver of this line reduces me to tears.  Despite what the nay-sayers claim, William Hartnell could act.

With that, we see the departure of the final members of the original TARDIS crew.  We still have The Doctor, yes, but he has changed a great deal in the last two years.  He has ceased being the grumpy, self-centered mischief maker and started to become the self-sacrificing hero.  Even in the previous episode he attempted to imitate his robot duplicate to throw off The Daleks.  He did this while Ian and Barbara argued whether or not he should.  He took on this action of his own free-will, without prompting.  That is quite the change in character.  Ian and Barbara helped The Doctor to grow.  They helped him become a better person.  How different from what we have in New Who, where it is The Doctor that makes people better, that prompts them to change and live better lives.  Here, it is the companions that change The Doctor, to help him be more heroic, more gentle and kind.  And the two people, the two humans, that initiated that change are gone.  The Doctor is hurt.

So, what is next?  We still have Vicki, who was originally a Susan-type character, but she has proven more strong-willed than Susan.  Vicki is a very different character.  The Doctor is free of all the opinions of him that came before.  Vicki admires him and doesn’t see him as antagonistic.  A bit moody, perhaps, but she hasn’t had the history with him that Ian and Barbara had.  Yes, The Doctor is now free of any person that he owes anything to.  He doesn’t need to protect Susan, and he doesn’t need to feel guilt or shame from his treatment of Ian and Barbara.  He is free to be who he wants to be, traveling with someone who wants to be with him.  We shall see where this takes us.

The Death of Doctor Who (The Chase Part 5)

Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Richard Martin

All sides converge on the planet Mechanus and must avoid the hostile fungal forest, while The Doctor must confront his robot duplicate.

Oh, come on, Vicki. You'll like me. I'm a fun guy!

“Hmmm.  I must get a doctor.”

I’ll start by talking about the music.  For the most part, the music in this story has felt quite inappropriate, too lighthearted and not at all suspenseful.  Although, I guess the story has the same tone.  However, this was the first episode where I felt the pieces of it really worked.  There were even a few sections where I thought I heard the unmistakable marks of Dudley Simpson.  And I was right.  I think I read somewhere that he was brought on to this story to replace someone else.  Regardless, I was thrilled that I recognized the music.  He provided the sounds that I grew up with while watching the show.

This episode is an improvement over the previous two.  Granted, it still isn’t great, but it is a step in the right direction.  We have a new planet with enough time to get a good look around and establish some threats (the fungus creatures) and some mysteries.  The primary mystery is the corridor of light that runs through the otherwise dark jungle, and the occasional bursts of light whenever the fungus creatures attack.  The characters follow the light path to a cave, and hide there, waiting for The Daleks.  The Doctor claims they can’t use the weapon he has developed due to the confined space.

Meanwhile, both Vicki and the robot are making their own ways through the jungle.  Vicki has difficulty avoiding the fungus creatures, and Ian and The Doctor hear her screams and come to her rescue.  The Robot Doctor takes advantage of this to find Barbara and trick her back into the jungle so he can kill her.  We have the typical scene of our heroes trying to figure out which is The Doctor and which is the robot, the identity being solidified when the robot calls Vicki “Susan”.  Good thing this wasn’t an instance where Hartnell fluffed his lines.  We would have had a very different ending.

Many people seem to criticize the robot, which is played by Edmund Warwick.  I don’t mind this so much.  I think it is handled well enough, and I find myself able to suspend enough disbelief.  What I struggle with is the voice-over that William Hartnell has prerecorded, which is played over the studio speakers, requiring Warwick to mime speaking and gesturing in a Doctor-sh fashion.  It is a bit clumsy and doesn’t quite work.  So, it isn’t so much the look that bothers me, but the sound.  I think I would have preferred it if they didn’t use the voice-over in the wide shots and used close-ups of Hartnell delivering the dialogue.  There may have been practical reasons for doing it the way they did, but I think it would have worked better.

Finally, we have The Mechanoids, the creatures we will see quite a bit of in the next episode.  They look rather good, unlike anything we’ve seen before.  They sound atrocious.  When I first saw this story, I didn’t have the luxury of subtitles.  As a result, I missed the vast majority of the Mechanoid dialogue.  This time, I plan on watching the episode with subtitles.

Oh, and when did The Doctor start referring to Barbara as “Barb”?  And is it just me, or is Jacqueline Hill having a bit of fun with the props now that she is wrapping up her next-to-last story?

Not bad. Not bad at all.

075 – Journey into Terror (The Chase Part 4)

Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Richard Martin

The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki are pursued by the Daleks to a mysterious house filled with horror cliches.  In the pursuit, they lose Vicki.

Bleeeehhhh!

“This game of hide and seek through time is wearing a bit thin, don’t you think?”

Yes, Ian, I would say it is.  While the previous episode seemed to be composed of vignettes that asked “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”, this episode sets up a large, groan-worthy joke.  The TARDIS materializes in a gothic mansion straight out of a Hammer Horror film.  There are creaking steps, bats, skeletons, underground laboratories, and even Count Dracula himself.  Everyone is quite frightened.  As Ian says “One thing about this place, it certainly stimulates the phagocytes.”  In the course of exploration, The Doctor concludes they have materialized in the human mind, in a nightmare.  As such, The Daleks cannot follow them.  Naturally, The Daleks appear moments later.

The entire scenario is played as a long joke.  The Doctor becomes convinced that they were in the human mind, but as the camera later shows, it is an abandoned haunted house from a carnival.  For some reason, it is still operational and the robots that portray Frankenstein, Dracula, and a banshee are immune to Dalek weaponry.  It seems odd that The Doctor would immediately assume such a complex explanation.  Anyway, in the chaos that ensues when The Daleks appear, The TARDIS leaves without Vicki.  Left with no alternative, she sneaks aboard The Dalek time machine.  She is eventually privy to a plan where The Daleks create a robot copy of The Doctor.  The Daleks stand amazed at the accuracy of their creation, proving that all humanoids must look the same to Dalek eyes.

Faced with the realization they have lost Vicki, The Doctor, Ian, and Barbara decide to have a final confrontation with The Daleks so they can steal the Dalek ship and return to the haunted house to recover their missing friend.  The TARDIS cannot return to the haunted house because, we are told, the time mechanism is broken.  It seems we cannot return to the same time and place twice.  Why, exactly, they have spent so much time exploring time and space, lounging in Rome, etc. and not fixing what would seem to be a vital component to the ship is beyond me.  The Doctor says it could take months or years to repair the mechanism, and yes they are being chased by The Daleks, but shouldn’t this repair be a priority?  Shouldn’t there have been work done on it before now?

Although, by the time of the 2005 series, the time mechanism must be in perfect working order.

074 – A Flight Through Eternity (The Chase Part 3)

Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Richard Martin

The Daleks chase The TARDIS through time, making brief stops at The Empire State Building in 1966 and a sailing ship called The Mary Celeste.

The TARDIS changing appearance is really no big deal. Back in the Hartnell era, it sometimes changed every week.

“Put on your battle dress again?”

Ah.  This is where the plot starts wearing a bit thin for me.  As the title suggests (with the help of a line about being chased through eternity), The TARDIS and The Dalek Timeship fly through time, materializing in two different periods where The TARDIS must collate more data before continuing, or something.  Each stop enables The Daleks to close the lead The TARDIS has.  This episode is really a couple of vignettes where we visit two periods of time, primarily for comic effect.  From what I understand of the production of this story, Terry Nation really contributed more of an outline than a full script.  It was then up to Dennis Spooner to fill the gaps.  Thus, I wonder if this episode has more of Spooner’s fingerprints than Nation’s.  I think it is rather telling that season three will have the bloated Dalek Masterplan serial (also by Nation and Spooner), and it will contain episodes that have a similar feel to this one.

Each period the TARDIS lands in has a comic interaction.  First is The Empire State Building in 1966 where we see a tour guide that obviously hates his job, a group of overweight Americans, and Peter Purves.  What is astounding to me is that Purves not only gives a bad performance (in my opinion), it is thoroughly consistent.  He doesn’t give knowing winks to the camera or any other actions that would indicate he is hamming it up.  He fully embodies the part, and I can see why Verity Lambert would find the performance striking.  It is horrible, yet endearing.  There is an earnestness that makes you accept it.  Granted, it is hard to understand why The Dalek doesn’t exterminate this man, but the light-hearted tone is consistently held, even if The Dalek portrayal isn’t.

The second landing takes place on the Mary Celeste, which I have always found to be a bit of a waste.  Here we have one of the most unusual and chilling stories in maritime history, and we waste it on a throwaway scene in a comic episode.  We could have had a really good story with a good writer and an adventure of high adventure and horror as The Doctor explored what really happened with the ship.  Instead, we have the crew abandon ship because they see Daleks.  No extermination, no threats.  The Daleks just want information, and the humans abandon ship.  The best I can say of this scene is the ending atmosphere Richard Martin creates.  It goes on a bit too long, but it effectively evokes abandonment and an eerie tone.  I haven’t been too complimentary of Martin in the past, but I do think he creates good atmosphere.  Part one of The Dalek Invasion of Earth is very creepy.

At episode end, we still have no progress made.  The Daleks are closer, giving the entire episode the feel of padding.  The way stories were commissioned back in this era of Doctor Who didn’t allow for the writers to choose how many episodes they felt were effective.  Some stories really should have been shorter, and after this episode, I feel The Chase is one such story.  But they needed to fill six episodes.  Can’t do much about that.

And in defense of Peter Purves, he will reappear in a few episodes’ time, and he will be much better.

When The Daleks visit Manhattan, they always seem to encounter country hicks.

073 – The Death of Time (The Chase Part 2)

Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Richard Martin

Ian and Vicki find themselves at the mercy of Mire Beasts.  The Doctor and Barbara find themselves at the mercy of the Aridians.  The Daleks find themselves at the mercy of sand.

Barbara gets all Blair Witch in the background.

Ian to Vicki:
Stop screaming, you little fool, and run!
Vicki to Ian
Don’t stand there gaping, you nit!  Run!

Second episode in and the story titles are still a bit obscure.  I guess The Executioners of part one could refer to The Dalek squad sent to capture The Doctor and company.  The Death of Time could refer to the time at which The Aridians must turn over The Doctor and company to The Daleks.  Maybe this is why the entire serial is given the most obvious title of all:  The Chase!  What’s it about?  A chase.

We learn that the beasts menacing Ian and Vicki are called Mire Beasts.  They are vaguely octopoid in shape, and yes I had to turn off autocorrect on Microsoft Works just so I could type octopoid.  Microsoft doesn’t like that word, it seems.  We learn from the fish-like Aridians that Aridius was once a water world (the non-Kevin Costner kind), but now it is desert.  The only survivors from this time are the Aridians and The Mire Beasts, which the Aridians are currently trying to exterminate.  The eco-system of Aridius is already screwed up, so why not cause another species to go extinct?  One of my biggest problems with this episode is that I have difficulty seeing how the Aridians are able to survive, going from water to desert.  There must be something more to the underground caverns of this planet to enable their continued survival.  However, that survival is soon threatened when The Daleks issue The Aridians an ultimatum.  They either turn over The Doctor and his companions or the Aridian city will be destroyed.  In a somewhat surprising turn, The Aridians agree to this.  Perhaps if Ian had been with the group instead of being unconscious in a cave he would have been able to stir up the fish people the same way he stirred up The Thals.  However, given that fish gender is somewhat difficult to figure out without some invasive searching, he probably wouldn’t have been as successful.

We learn in this episode that The Daleks cannot destroy The TARDIS through conventional means.  They attempt to use their guns against the machine, and fail.  So, they set guards to The TARDIS to ensure The Doctor and the humans cannot escape, a plan that works well until Ian and The Doctor lure a guard to a hastily-made tiger trap, composed of cave debris and Barbara’s cardigan, marking the second time Ian has destroyed her clothing in as many serials.  Thinking back on it, The Doctor destroyed Ian’s tie in The Web Planet and Ian lost a button in The Space Museum.  The second series is just hard on clothing in general, it seems.

Regardless, The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki escape just as an extermination squad arrives.  The Chase continues.

"You seen that new VT-16?" "Yeah. Some of the other guys were telling me about it. They say it's quite a thing to see."

Some Words on Lawrence Miles and The Book of the World

Again, here is another entry that I had been planning for later.  Hopefully this thing called “real life” will settle down and I can resume the reviews.

There are many controversial figures in the world of Doctor Who, but few more controversial than Lawrence Miles.  For those not already familiar with Mr. Miles, he is a writer who has written a handful of Doctor Who novels.  In my personal opinion, they are quite brilliant.   For Miles, Doctor Who is limited only by the imaginations of the writers, and Miles is not deficient in this area.  He breathed necessary life into the Eighth Doctor novels, created the visually and conceptually striking Faction Paradox, and writes extremely insightful reviews on the new show.  He is also quite frank with his opinion, which has led to the controversy.  While many fans of Doctor Who try to find the positives among even the worst episodes, Miles is not so generous.  He will even pick apart fan favorites.  From what I can tell, he does this for two primary reasons and one secondary reason.  First, he thinks that Doctor Who can do better.  Second, he views Doctor Who as capable of great vision and is, in turn, quite put-off when it doesn’t live up to his vision.  The third view is bitterness.  Miles desperately wants to write for Doctor Who but is unwilling to compromise his personal ideals to work for the show, one of these ideals is his dislike of kissing up to anyone, least of all Steven Moffat.  While this is somewhat admirable, he often uses insulting rhetoric for humorous effect, which further isolates everyone, including those who hold influence over the show.  This is a shame because I think new Who would benefit greatly from a mind as creative as Miles.

Faction Paradox is big on wearing skulls of non-existent creatures.

In 2007, Lawrence Miles wrote a screenplay for Doctor Who.  He did it as a personal challenge to himself, but also the powers that be at the new production.  This script was written to show a new direction to the show, a reboot, if I remember correctly.  Miles didn’t leave the script up for very long, but thankfully I got a copy from Dan Harma at the Series 4b site.  I am a huge fan of Miles’ writing, both his fiction and his reviews.  I have no problem separating the vitriol from the criticism.  He has some incredibly insightful and profound things to say if you can get past his anger.  Sure, he sounds like he may be difficult to work with, but he truly is a mad genius.  His nickname is Mad Larry, which has possible meanings: he is angry or he is quite insane where his ideas are concerned.  I prefer the second interpretation because his ideas truly are mad.

The screenplay is called The Book of The World, and starts in a planetary library.  A junior librarian named Calum is reading a book, which is forbidden for the librarians.  The book is about Earth, which it turns out vanished a very long time ago.  No one knows what happened to it.  Calum is full of curiosity about the Earth, which is a bit of a problem where his job is concerned.  Appearing this day at the library is The Quiescence, a group looking for books on The Earth.  The Quiescence party is composed of many hundreds of Drudges who are led by Cardinal Ossavar.  The Drudges are robed, humanoid creatures who, as we later find, are quite lumpy and misshapen.  Their eyes are sealed by locks and their mouths are sewn shut.  The Quiescence are intolerant of ideas and beliefs that they deem heretical.  Because of this, The Drudges cannot see The Doctor when he finally shows up in the story.  They don’t believe in him.

A library planet as seen in "Silence of the Library", and before that, "The Book of the World", and before that "Continuity Errors".
Calum meets The Doctor, who is looking for The TARDIS.  The Doctor has been in the library a very long time because he managed to lose The TARDIS.  Well, more accurately, the Chief Librarians moved it.  Apparently The Doctor had repaired the Chameleon Circuit (somewhat), and The TARDIS hid itself as a set of encyclopedias and The Chief Librarians, sensing its value, moved it to a more secure location.  There is a lot of character maneuvering and presentation of concepts, but the upshot of the story is that The Quiescence are looking for The Planet Earth, which The Doctor has hidden in a book using the same type of technology that makes The TARDIS dimensionally transcendental.  The Doctor removed The Earth from a certain point in our future.  Thus, Earth exists up until that point but no longer after that point.  He hid the planet for reasons unknown, but this was most-likely an arc set-up that would be explained later.  Unfortunately, when the planet was removed, it messed with the order of things, and many ghosts of the human race were created.  These are the possible creatures that humans would evolve in to at some point.  With Earth gone, all potentialities are plausible.  The Quiescence are one such possibility, but to ensure their continued existence, they must find the Book of The World (Earth) and remove all pages that would prevent their evolution.  In the end, The Quiescence are defeated and The Doctor takes The Book of The World into The TARDIS for safekeeping.  He also takes Calum as a companion, along with fellow junior librarian Marissa.  Calum is a human, so he has a claim to The Book.  Marissa has an odd bio-signature, which intrigues The Doctor.  This is how our story ends.  This is how Miles set up his re-launch of the show.

 

 

First, this script would be virtually impossible on a television budget.  The amount of FX shots are massive.  We have shots of a library that goes on for infinity in all directions.  We have gondolas that travel through the air.  The Drudge army and Cardinal Ossavar’s fire breath, the effects of opening The Book would all require massive amount of CG.

The characters are very well portrayed.  Apart from The Doctor, who seems to be in his David Tennant incarnation, we have no returning characters.  Calum is interesting.  He is smart, curious, but still likeable.  Marissa is sarcastic and a bit biting.  While I enjoy them, I’m not sure they would make good companions on the show because I’m not sure it would work to have children as companions.  While Miles doesn’t give an exact age, they seem to be pre-teens, possibly pushing thirteen at the most.  Sci-fi audiences generally don’t seem friendly toward children as leads.  I cite Adric and Wesley Crusher.  Although, both of those characters were know-it-all, uber-children.  There is no indication that Calum or Marissa would be used this way, so they may work.  With both their fates tied up in the arc, it is hard to get a clear picture of them.  Any character can be unlikable or even enjoyable, but a good character arc can change how we feel about them.  I have no doubt that Miles had this in mind, especially for Marissa.  Ossavar is quite the chilling character and I’m sure he and The Drudges would give children nightmares on the level of the Deadly Assassin Master or The Weeping Angels, if not more.  Upon further thought, I would say The Drudges have the potential to be too scary, which could cause this story to be nixed.   This wouldn’t be the first time content issues had assailed Doctor Who.

The concepts are so much fun.  This is Miles’ strength, these unbound, insane ideas that are at once brilliant and absurd.  Miles writes firmly in science fantasy and it is so much fun.  He establishes the rules for his fiction throughout the script with a precision that reminds one of Moffat, although it almost feels effortless and more subtle.  The idea of potential evolutionary incarnations of humanity gives an obvious recurring antagonist that isn’t so much a recurring character as a recurring idea.  The unstated reason for the removal of Earth fires the imagination in much the same way as The Last Great Time War, and it may even be related.  It is almost sad to me that Lawrence Miles’ script has more imagination and creativity than anything we’ve seen on the new show, and yet it may be completely unworkable for a television show even if we weren’t in uncertain economic times.  It could work as a movie franchise.  It would certainly work as a novel, sparking a new series of adventures for a “season” or even as a comic book.  I would love to see this story manifest because I want to know what is happening.   I want to know where it will go.  Alas, I will probably never know, and even if I had the chance to ask Miles over a pint, it would be significantly less satisfying than the journey it takes to get there.

Sabbath from the defunct "Faction Paradox" comics.

Yet, this is one of Miles’ strengths and greatest frustrations.  He comes up with so many ideas stuffed to bursting with possibilities.  Sadly, they never seem to pan out well because other people don’t approach his work the same way.  Case in point, the character of Sabbath.  Sabbath was a secondary character in his novel The Adventuress of Henrietta Street.  Miles had originally intended this character to be turned into a Doctor-type, possibly causing The Doctor to be regenerated into Sabbath’s body to give The Doctor a new lease on life, side-stepping the regeneration limit established by Robert Holmes.  When Sabbath reappeared in subsequent novels, he was portrayed as a fill-in for The Master, which robbed him of his uniqueness and intrigue.  These are the pitfalls of working in a shared universe, and Doctor Who is most-definitely a shared universe.  I don’t really fault the writers that changed Sabbath, I just think it is sad that he didn’t really go anywhere interesting.

I would love to see Lawrence Miles work in Doctor Who once more.  However, with his current attitude this seems unlikely.  I hope he can one day learn to let go of his anger.  Truly, Doctor Who is not important enough to nurse this type of grudge.  But what is?

Intermission: My History With Who

I had originally planned to post this between season two and three, but due to scheduling issues at work and some illness, I have had to re-arrange my posting schedule.  I will resume my review of The Chase as soon as I can.  Until then, here is a brief account of my history with Doctor Who.

A picture of a Dalek that I drew when I was three.

I realized that I am now two seasons in to The Hartnell Era and haven’t even given you much indication of who I am or how I came to become a fan of Doctor Who.  So, I’ll remedy that now.

I was born in 1980, and some of my earliest memories are of watching Doctor Who with my mom.  This isn’t an exaggeration.  Of the memories I have that pre-date the age of five, there is being chased by a humongous dog and watching Doctor Who.  The dog was significantly less enjoyable.

This is one of my earliest memories.

I estimate that I was three or four, and as such, details are a bit sketchy.  I arrive at this estimate primarily based on the images I remember.  There was The Doctor, who wore a long scarf and eventually regenerated into a younger, less interesting character.  I remember Daleks with red and yellow tubes strapped to them (which I remember as bombs).  There was a giant robot, which I attempted to draw in my old copy of The Doctor Who Technical Manual (which I still have, amazingly).  The drawing consists of a pair of legs that stretches to the top of the page.  I also drew a TARDIS and a Dalek.  I remember Davros covered in cob-webs.  It wasn’t until years later that I found episode titles and plot synopses to go with these memories.  However, the most vivid memory, the one that gave me more details to work with, was The Five Doctors.  This one was my favorite because it had every Doctor.  My young mind was also convinced the one with the scarf was on the show, although I now know that to be false.  When my local PBS affiliate stopped airing Doctor Who, it was a VHS tape of The Five Doctors/The Kings Demons that reintroduced me to the show.  I would like to say this hooked me, but it didn’t.  I found it hard to believe that this cheap and cheesy, slightly dull story sparked my attention when I was so young.  I thought I was finished.

While visiting a friend one weekend, we went to the local shopping mall to look for a movie to watch.  I found a Doctor Who tape and thought he would appreciate it since he had a love of robots.  So I purchased The Sontaran Experiement/Genesis of the Daleks.  The was a much better reintroduction.  I was hooked.  Not only that, I hooked one of my college roommates.  Tom Baker’s eccentricity and the double act of Davros and Nyder illustrated the greatness this show could achieve.  I didn’t even mind the giant clam.  From this point on I was hooked as only an American college student with too much disposable income and a tendency to obsess could be.  I went after New Adventures novels and tried my hardest to find VHS copies, a difficult thing living in Springfield, Missouri.  Outpost Gallifrey became a haven, although I didn’t really do much with the forums as forums were scary things to me.

Ah, the favorite.

Every fan usually has two questions to answer:  Who was your first Doctor and Who is your favorite Doctor?   My first Doctor, as you could probably guess, was Tom Baker.  However, it may have been Jon Pertwee as some of my memories are from Pertwee episodes.  My three year old mind was unable to differentiate between Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, a fact that I find rather amusing now.  My favorite Doctor has become Patrick Troughton.  To me, he took the part that William Hartnell created and breathed dynamic new life into it in a way that ensured its longevity.  I love his quirkiness.  I love his ability to change from fun to menacing in a split second.  Finally, I love how he always seems to be one step ahead of everyone, the buffoon act being nothing more than an act.  This isn’t to downplay William Hartnell in any way.  To me, all performances of The Doctor must, in some way, have an aspect of Hartnell and Troughton.  I feel they are the essence of the character, and while I think every Doctor has something to enjoy and has some cracking stories, I do not believe every actor has nailed the part.

For many Americans, the reason Doctor Who works is because of the “Britishness” of the show.  While I am a fan of much British television, Doctor Who is more about transporting me back to those magical years of innocence where I would sit with my mom and watch a funny man fighting aliens with his robot dog.  The sound of the Tom Baker era theme, and the Peter Howell theme in particular, still make me feel like a child and I can almost close my eyes and be transported back to those times when I didn’t have to worry about bills or car repairs or house payments.  As an adult, I have learned to appreciate the stories and the concepts that the show dealt with, often with more subtlety than American television seems capable of.  Perhaps that is the difference, for me, between American television and British television: the subtlety, the lack of spectacle.  The classic series of Who couldn’t rely on special effects spectacle due to budgetary concerns (although I believe that they would have used every effect they could afford, given the chance).  Acting and storytelling had to be of utmost importance, and given the show began during an era where television operated as recorded theatre, storytelling became a huge factor.  No, the show hasn’t always been successful on these fronts, but the guiding hands of Verity Lambert, David Whitaker, and Dennis Spooner really set the show on the track to where it is now.  In many ways the show has gone far from where it began, and I have felt that the new series occasionally delves too much into spectacle and big events (if I want that, I can watch the shows my own nation produces), but there are many moments where it pushes and challenges and still tries to tell thrilling adventures in time and space.  One day I hope to pass this show along to my own child.  I think I’ll start him on the Troughton era.

How many American children drew police boxes? Probably quite a few, but how many that grew up in Arkansas?