A Word on Target…

When I was rediscovering Doctor Who while in my second year of college, I was quite surprised to find a novel entitled The Talons of Weng-Chiang in a local comic shop.  I was aware that Doctor Who novels existed, having seen some of the New Adventures while in high school, but this novel had an older design and lacked the white spine I had associated with the Doctor Who novels.

“Perhaps,” I thought to myself as I prepared to purchase the book, “there were older novels that were released earlier in the show’s history.”  You see, I had not heard of the Target Novelizations and, since I was just beginning to renew my interest in Who, I believed at the time that I had found an original story.

If there is one thing I have learned in my casual research of Doctor Who and its impact on British society, it is that the Target novelizations were absolutely essential to the spread and understanding of Doctor Who.  In the early days of the show, these books were the only way to relive past episodes.  They were the only way to experience previous Doctors.  Being a child of the 80s, this is something foreign to me.  The idea that television existed prior to videocassettes and VCRs is something that it took many years for me to comprehend.  Like many Americans, my experience with novelizations came in the form of movie adaptations.  I consumed these regularly since I wasn’t able to go to the movies often when I was young.  Thus, the allure of the Target books made sense to me when I finally figured out what I had bought.

There is an opinion among those who regularly read books that novelizations and “tie-ins” are largely escapist drivel.  Sure, there may be a well-written book in this sub-genre, but the majority are looked down upon by the literary elite.  And make no mistake, there are some that are simply dreadful, but I grew up reading Star Wars novels by Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole (among others).  Tie-ins and novelizations get an unfair reputation.  The idea that an entire genre of novels exists for the sole reason of re-experiencing characters and situation from television and movies is rather fascinating, when you think about it.  Not only is it a testament to the power of the original creations, but it shows the extent to which television and films have influence our literature.  We live in an era when many authors write novels with the possibility of film-optioning firmly in mind.  How many people read The Da Vinci Code and came away thinking it would make a great movie?  Novels have become more cinematic, so it is only fitting that tie-ins and novelizations find more acceptance.  At least they are being more honest about it.

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I have read very few of the Target books.  They can be hard to find in Mid-Western America.  Of those I have read, I find my preference falling more toward those that don’t merely re-tell the story, but expand upon it and really embrace the format.  We all know Doctor Who had a poor budget most of the time.  Novels don’t have this problem.  They are not bound by special effects, acting, or flubbed lines.  They can clarify where the visual form of the story may have obscured.  This can be especially advantageous in the historical stories, filling in the gaps of history present in the reader’s mind.  This is the potential of the Target books.  Not all of them accomplished them.  In truth, not all the authors saw this potential or opportunity.  And I can see why.  If this is the only way the reader will ever experience The Keys of Marinus, then why not just adapt straight from the shooting script and be as faithful as possible to what was seen in 1964?  In this case, the advent of VCRs and DVD players have hurt many of the Target books.  The ones that would thrive would be those that expounded and differentiated themselves from the source material.  For me, those are the better books.

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So, as I await the release of The Gunfighters so I can resume reviewing the show, I turn my attention to this alternate form of Doctor Who.  Originally, I had intended to read the Target books in order of release, but only focus on the stories I had already watched.  This means I would only be able to review three books between now and July.  I’ve decided this is a stupid requirement, so instead I will start with Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child and make my way in “broadcast” order.  This gives me a larger pool to draw from, and it also allows me to cover novels whose respective stories are still fresh in my memory.  Read along at home if you wish.  We may turn this into a book club!  Up first, Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child by Terrance Dicks.

Plan B

It seems we have a bit of a problem.

I made the decision, somewhere in my coverage of the second season, that I would only review episodes that had been officially released.  Thus far, this hasn’t been a problem.  In fact, the release of The Ark was extremely well-timed.  The same cannot be said for The Gunfighters.  So, I am stuck for a bit.  Yes, I know that the wonders of the internet can bring me said story quickly and even without downloads, but I would prefer to not go this route due to personal convictions.  I wish to support 2Entertain and what they are doing, and to acquire these episodes via alternate means would make it that much more tempting to skip the eventual release of The Gunfighters.  The good news is that The Gunfighters is probably going to be released this year, but the exact date has not (as of this writing) been determined.  Unfortunately, it does rather kill my momentum.

Does this mean I am abandoning the blog until the DVD is released?  By no means!  It may be updated less-frequently, however.  My backup plan is to start on the Target novelizations.  I have always wanted to read through them.  I also want to read through them before starting the New Adventures.  Here are the self-imposed rules for the Target books.  First, I will read them in as close to release order as possible.  I realize that they were released out of story order, but that won’t initially be much of a problem. Second, I will not read any book that is based on an episode I haven’t reviewed.  There’s no particular reason for this other than my desire to experience the show first, then see the print interpretation.  This means I could hit another impasse after The Crusaders, but I’m hoping that The Gunfighters will be released (or at least scheduled) by then.  If not, then I’ll figure out a plan C.

The good news, and this is more personal than anything, is that this not only frees me up to work on a couple of non-Who projects, but it also allows me to save up money for when we eventually get back on track because DVDs are not cheap, especially Doctor Who DVDs.

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Addendum:  Looks like The Gunfighters is coming out in July!  Thanks, 2Entertain, for looking out for me.

114 – The Final Test (The Celestial Toymaker Part 4)

Written by Brian Hayles
Directed by Bill Sellers

Steven and Dodo play their final game, but can they win before The Doctor completes the trilogic game?  And will the Toymaker truly let them go?

Perhaps it is because I was able to watch this episode rather than listen to it, but Cyril seemed to be the creepiest of the Toymaker’s dolls.  I think this is due in part to Cyril being the only doll that didn’t seem to care about being trapped in the Toymaker’s realm.  Cyril just wants to win games, he has no interest in being free.  At least, that’s how he comes across in the episode.  Cyril is also one of those annoying people that teaches you how to play a game, but withholds certain rules until you make a mistake, then tells you, “Oh, you can’t do that.  It’s against the rules.  You have to take a penalty now.”  In other words, irritating.

Steven and Dodo have to play hopscotch against Cyril, but he later succumbs to his own attempts to cheat.  Cyril coated one of the triangles with a slippery powder, causing whoever landed on the triangle to lose balance and fall onto the electrified floor.  In his excitement over winning the game, Cyril accidentally kills himself, making Steven and Dodo winners by default.  And what luck, they find the real TARDIS.  And The Doctor only has one move left in the trilogic game, the winning move!  But all is not well that ends well.

The Toymaker has rigged everything.  If The Doctor makes the final move, The Toymaker’s realm will be destroyed, The TARDIS, Steven, Dodo, and The Doctor with it.  Their only hope is to dematerialize, something they cannot do while the final move is not made.  Thankfully, the game responds to The Toymaker’s voice, and The Doctor is able to make his final move from The TARDIS by imitating The Toymaker and quickly dematerializing The TARDIS.  But we are told The Toymaker is not destroyed, only his realm.  Truthfully, he is an interesting villain, one that I would like to see again and handled better.  My opinion of the story, expressed in the previous review, still stands.  Great concept, poor execution.

I’m more than ready to move on.

113 – The Dancing Floor (The Celestial Toymaker 3)

Written by Brian Hayles
Directed by Bill Sellars

Steven and Dodo continue to make their way through The Toymaker’s games.  Really.  That’s it.  Nothing more to see here.

When you look at the basic plot of The Celestial Toymaker, it seems brilliant in an extremely macabre way.  The Doctor must match wits against a god-like entity while his companions play a series of increasingly murderous games.  Even the opponents of the companions are trapped in this game and both sides are playing for freedom.  This is actually a rather chilling concept.  This is how some people see the concept of God and Satan, two entities playing games against each other with humans as the pieces, winner take all, winner deciding the fate of the pieces.  If this idea were to be pursued in the current incarnation of the show, The Doctor would arrive in the midst of the pieces and help them to throw off the shackles of the players, shaming the God and Satan figure in the process.  And while this would be a perfectly entertaining story in its own right, how much more interesting is the concept that the Satan figure challenges The Doctor to a game, thus making The Doctor a God-figure.  It truly is no wonder that the New Adventures line pitted The Doctor against celestial gods.  It is an idea that recurs in the classic series time and time again.

This is essentially what we have in The Celestial Toymaker, and yet the execution is extremely underwhelming and rather uninteresting.  Michael Gough is great as the Toymaker, make no mistake, but the games lack any real feel of menace, and the opponents (to this point) don’t feel very dangerous, with the possible exception of the clowns, but that’s just because clowns are inherently creepy.  Granted, Doctor Who was still seen as family fare and it needed to hold some lines so as not to frighten the youngsters (lines that Philip Hinchcliffe would later move and ignore outright), but I rather think this story demands much more.  The Toymaker is a villain the Steven Moffatt could sink his horror-loving teeth into, and he wouldn’t need to include any of the time travel elements he loves so much.  (Unless, that is, the silence and second TARDIS are a part of The Toymaker’s revenge against The Doctor.  But I think it somewhat unlikely since, apart from the occasional appearance of Hartnell’s face, Moffatt has show little influence from the Hartnell era.  No, it was RTD who drew from the Hartnell era.  But I digress).

So, having completed three episodes thus far, I can honestly say that what The Celestial Toymaker is trying to do is interesting, but what it is actually doing is a bit dull.  Thankfully, there is only one episode left, and it is not a reconstruction or audio version.  I can watch it and at least see the performances and settings and be under-whelmed visually as well as aurally.

112 – The Hall of Dolls (The Celestial Toymaker Part 2)

Written by Brian Hayles
Directed by Bill Sellars

As The Doctor continues to play The Toymaker in Trilogic, Steven and Dodo must solve their next riddle while menaced by living playing cards.

There’s something about the name The Hall of Dolls that I quite like.  Sadly, this story isn’t nearly as creepy as I would like it to be.

The next game Steven and Dodo face is one where they must choose the one chair out of seven that is not deadly.  To accomplish this task, they have dolls which they can place into the chairs.  True to form, The Toymaker has given them challengers in the form of The King of Hearts, Queen of Hearts and the accompanying Jack and Joker.  The stakes are somewhat higher now because everyone is playing for freedom.  Steven and Dodo must win their game before The Doctor wins his so they can all return to The TARDIS.  The Hearts want to win so they can be freed from playing card form.  This really puts Steven and Dodo into a questionable position, for by winning their game, they condemn others to eternal subjugation to The Toymaker.  Unfortunately, this idea isn’t lingered upon as Steven continually insists that it is “us or them”, and Dodo reluctantly goes along with him.

Naturally, Steven and Dodo win.  The Toymaker gives them the clue to their next game, and the Doctor’s companions travel on.  As they leave, however, the remaining dolls from the previous game come to life and follow them.  Again, I’m sure that is not nearly as creepy as it sounds.

Not much else happens in this episode with one exception.  The Doctor, after warning Steven and Dodo about the game, is made mute.  So he now has no physical form, apart from his hand, and no voice.  Even though the production team went in a different direction for replacing Hartnell, even at this point you can see how they were setting the groundwork.

In other news, if you haven’t heard, Michael Gough, who played The Toymaker, die last week on St. Patrick’s Day.  I think I first saw him as Alfred in the 1989 version of Batman.  It would be nice to see more of his performance as The Toymaker, but at least episode four is still in the archives, so we have something.

111 – The Celestial Toy Room (The Celestial Toymaker Part One)

Written by Brian Hayles
Directed by Bill Sellers

The Tardis becomes trapped in the domain of the Celestial Toymaker, an immortal being already known to the Doctor.

Never trust a clown. Especially a sad one.

Following on from the previous episode, The Doctor has been made invisible.  Dodo wonders if The Doctor is affected like The Refusians, but he insists that this is really an attack.  This is rather troubling since we have established before that The TARDIS is safe.  An attack that can penetrate The TARDIS defenses must be from a powerful foe indeed.

And so it is.  This story introduces The Celestial Toymaker, a mysterious entity with almost god-like powers.  He has the power to make The Doctor invisible.  He can lure and capture the TARDIS (something we have only seen The Animus do).  He is able to bring two clown dolls to life.  The Toymaker is an entity that likes to play games with his victims.  Truthfully, he is a bit like an insect, like a spider that hypnotizes his victims.  If the victim loses, they belong to him forever to play games until he grows bored with them.  It seems The Doctor has met the creature before, but they did not play games.  Now he has captured The Doctor.  He hides The TARDIS and forces the travelers to play his games.  The Doctor must play the Tri-Logic game against The Toymaker.  Steven and Dodo must play a type of obstacle course against the two clowns.

Sadly, this is a missing episode, which works to this story’s disadvantage.  The games, especially the one against the clowns, are quite visual.  While Peter Purves does a good job narrating the story, it would be better to see what is happening.  The story suffers as a result.  This is probably its biggest weakness at this point.  Making up for this is the concept.  While not quite so mind-bending as the time travel in The Ark, this story is somewhat experimental, attempting something very different.  As stated earlier, the implication is that The Toymaker is god-like, certainly more powerful than The Doctor.  He is a Trickster.  As such, our characters must play his games, but they cannot truly win.  A creature like The Toymaker, while leaving the possibility of personal failure, would not engage anyone unless he truly felt he could win, through skill or deceit.  Thus, The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo will have to outwit him.  We get some indication of this with the game against the clowns.  The clowns cheat.  When confronted with their deception, they become less agile and more doll like until they finally lose the game.  This causes the game to vanish and a TARDIS to replace it.  But the TARDIS is a fake.  Again, our heroes cannot win.  The Toymaker won’t allow it.  Much like the old fairytale where two wizards continue to shape shift until one changes into a mouse and the other a cat, The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo will need to match wits with and trick a god.

The Doctor is made intangible in this episode.  Well, he is allowed a hand so he can play the game.  A small amount of research into the story’s history reveals that this was an attempt to see how Doctor Who could work without William Hartnell.  There was even talk of having The Doctor reappear at the end, but as a different actor!  We are approaching change, and it is a bit sad.

110 – The Bomb (The Ark Part 4)

Written by Paul Erickson and Lesley Scott
Directed by Michael Imison

The Monoids disembark to Refusis as the humans on board The Ark frantically search for the bomb.

Ignoring the danger implied in the sudden end of Two’s transmission, One decides to go ahead with moving The Monoids to the planet Refusis.  Not all Monoids are happy with this plan.  Four begins sewing dissention, questioning One’s decisions.  I can’t help but wonder if this is where rebellion sometimes lead.  The Monoids rebelled against the humans, citing bad leadership and treatment.  In truth, the first two episodes didn’t seem to portray The Monoids as beaten and forcibly submissive.  The humans seemed quite pleasant.  Unless it was the mutated virus which caused the humans to take a less involved approach to daily work.  Perhaps, when One says the virus “sapped the energy” of the humans, what he really means is they grew lazy and demanding.  Maybe the oppression occurred off-screen during the 700 year gap.  This isn’t entirely clear from the script.  Regardless, having overthrown one group of leaders who were not worthy, a group of Monoids prepare to subvert another.  Is this constantly a threat from a society that rebels?  Further rebellion?

Living in America, we learn at a young age that our national identity is tied to the throwing-off of the British rule.  In truth, the American Revolution is much more complex than this, but this is how children come away from the history.  This is how many Americans see the history.  Revolution is a part of our identity.  And, truth be told, we love stories about underdogs and rebels.  Star Wars and Stargate are both films that involve oppression and rebellion.  We have movies about the common man taking on corporations or even a corrupt government.  We like our rebels.  But given our particular history and the strong patriotization of the rebel story, the threat of rebellion lurks among certain groups, should the government prove too corrupt.  Thankfully, this has only happened on other time in American history (The American Civil War).  Such a “revolution” at this stage in our history would prove devastating.  Yet, as the political rhetoric grows more divisive, I sometimes wonder.  We did it once, we can do it again.

This is ultimately what happens to the Monoids, and they become a diminished people.  Four, rather than lead a bloody revolution, merely opts to take his group back to The Ark.  One refuses to let them go, opting to kill the group instead.  It is devastating.  It is in this commotion that The Doctor learns the location of the bomb, and contacts Steven.  By this time, the humans have escaped the kitchen and are searching for the bomb.  A group of humans land on Refusis to rescue The Doctor and Dodo, and everything goes as you would expect.  The bomb is found and disposed of, thanks to a Refusian who is as good a deus ex machina as any.  The Monoids slaughter each other, leaving a handful of survivors.  The humans reassert control.  In the end, The Refusians allow the humans to colonize upon the condition that the humans make peace with the Monoids.  The humans readily agree.  It also helps that the miniaturized Monoids would not have been exposed to the seditious ideas propagated by One and his followers.  No, all the humans and Monoids that had been miniaturized, so long as we assume a type of cryogenic storage, would be of the same mentality of those who originally left Earth:  Innocent and peaceful.  We can hope for this, at least.

The Ark isn’t perfect, but it certainly isn’t the worst of the Hartnell era.  There are some great ideas present, even if the narrative cuts some corners or has a few mis-steps.  I think the Monoids look good, but they certainly could use a bit of tweaking in the design, particularly where maneuverability is concerned.  But this is a fun story and if you can suspend disbelief and modern sensibilities, watching the show with the eyes of a seven year old child, this is a great story.