Doctor Who Story 35: The Faceless Ones

Written by David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke
Directed by Gerry Mill

The Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie find themselves in one of the most soulless places known to man: an airport.  Polly soon discovers a dead Scotland Yard investigator, and The Doctor must uncover the mystery of Chameleon Youth Tours.

“It’s a flying beastie!”
What a great start.  Mystery, murder, brainwash, a conspiracy on an airline, and a mysterious creature being hidden by a private tour group.  Honestly, Chameleon Youth Tours seems to have chosen a poor hiding place if every lost person seems capable of stumbling in to their hanger.  Perhaps they should relocate.  That said, this episode is a great start with good amounts of menace.

“Jamie, I don’t think we’re very welcome here.  When I say run, run.”
Brainwash and betrayal seems to be a loose theme this season.  First Ben was brainwashed by The Macra, now Polly has been replaced by faceless aliens.  Hints of Invasion of the Body Snatchers permeate this story.  Is this another Cold War tale?

We also see that Patrick Troughton and Frazier Hines have begun to really hit their stride in working together, and the writers and directors are putting them together more.  Ben and Polly are on their way out.  Too bad they didn’t get more of a chance to work on their own.  I enjoyed Ben in the Hartnell stories.

It has taken me until this story to realize how much darker Doctor Who has become.  Sure, compared to Moffat-Who, it is still pretty light, but compared to The Hartnell Era, the last few stories have been conceptually dark and significantly less whimsical.

“All right, stay here!  After all, they can only murder me!”
It is rather funny to think that the first two episodes, which consisted of quite a bit of set up, were spent running around Gatwick Airport, avoiding the police while The Doctor attempted to convince the commandant that he had found a dead body in the Chameleon Tours hanger.  This is just the sort of situation that the psychic paper was created for.  In a way, I can see The Doctor either developing or adapting some other race’s technology out of frustration.  “I could get so much more accomplished if I could just convince people of my good intentions earlier.”  Although, sometimes the run-around adds more tension.  This story is rather drenched in it.  It has a very leisurely pace, but if I had been told to take six episodes to tell this story, I would probably take my time as well.  But we do get confirmation that Chameleon Tours is involved with kidnaping youths, abducting them, one might say.  And let me just throw some praise on Captain Blade’s performance.  He is wonderfully sinister.  Honestly, he reminds me of when Mark Gatiss plays villains, only without humanity or humor.  So basically, chilling.

I should probably also mention the new character Samantha Briggs.  She is quite obviously being tried out as potential companion material.  She is brash, sarcastic, mouthy, and cute (in a 1960s way).  Honestly, as I typed that sentence, all I could think of was Moffat Era.  I think that one day, if I can be bothered, there would be enough material to draw parallels between the RTD and First Doctor Eras, as well as the Moffat and Second Doctor Eras.  Just a thought.  But back to Samantha Briggs.  She’s fun for this story, but I don’t know that I want her hanging around.  Thankfully, Innes Lloyd must have felt the same way.

“That Doctor is a menace to our plans.”
I can’t think of someone being menaced by a laser without thinking of Goldfinger.  The Faceless Ones must be Bond fans.

Some of the action in this episode only confirms explicitly what we had already intuited.  The passengers on Chameleon Tours are being abducted by aliens.  The first aid post in the airport has been taken over by the aliens.  About the only thing of significance to occur in episode four is that Jamie sneaks about a Chameleon flight and Detective Inspector Crossland was abducted by the aliens.  These things probably needed to happen to lead toward the endgame (still two episodes away), but since we had already seen a mid-flight abduction in the previous episode, it felt redundant.

“Flippin’ ‘eck!”
The aliens are from a dead planet.  They had been scarred by an explosion and they are dying.  But their scientists have developed a process by which they can change their appearance to that of the humans they abduct.  The Doctor gains this information after outing Faceless Meadows, one of the air traffic controllers.  With the reluctant aid of Meadows, The Doctor exposes the nurse, rescues Samantha from being abducted, and learns that Jamie is on the satellite.

The Doctor creates a ruse.  The final flight of Chameleon Tours is to take the remaining Chameleons back to the satellite.  The Doctor, with the aid of the newly freed nurse, attempts to convince the Chameleons that he is a re-processed Meadows.  The Doctor sets the commandant to find the original humans in the meantime.  The Doctor hopes to negotiate with The Chameleons by holding the original humans as a threat.  If the originals are resuscitated, The Chameleons will lose their form.  It’s all getting quite exciting now.

Unfortunately, Chameleon Blade is not fooled.  After arriving on the satellite, Blade goes to the Chameleon director, who has just finished creating a copy of Jamie, and asks for permission to kill The Doctor and the nurse.  The director decides it would be better to capture The Doctor and make a copy of him.  What valuable knowledge must exist in The Doctor’s mind, he reasons.  Blade thinks this plan is foolishness, and we, the audience, know that he is correct.  The seeds of the director’s destruction have just been planted.  It seems this is almost always how masterminds are destroyed.  Rather than kill the hero outright when they have a chance, they decide to use or break the hero.  Always a bad idea.

“We won’t leave, Doctor, if you really need us.”
After the search party in Gatwick finds the original humans, The Doctor is able to successfully negotiate a peace, albeit one over the metaphorical gunpoint.  He turns the tables quite masterfully as he plants seeds of paranoia and distrust in Blade.  He points out to Blade that the director and his friends have stored their originals on the satellite, which is about to return to the Chameleon planet.  But everyone else, Blade included, have their originals stored in Gatwick.  They could be destroyed before the copying process is completed.  Blade sees The Doctor’s point.  They negotiate a peace.  The abducted teens are to be returned to Earth and all the Chameleons with copies must return to their original state.  The Doctor offers to help the Chameleon scientists find a way to stabilize the Chameleon form so they won’t need to use copies any longer.  All’s well that ends well.

Except that Ben and Polly decided to stay on Earth.  It is their home and their time.  Ben offers to stay if The Doctor needs them, but this adventure proves that he and Jamie are fine without them.  Ben and Polly have been absent much of the story.  Honestly, not a fitting ending for them, and almost an afterthought to give them a farewell.  Better than Dodo, but not much.  It’s a shame, really, as I think Ben could have been an interesting character.  He had shades of a young Steven, loyal, action-oriented, and fun.  Unfortunately, the addition of Jamie made him redundant.  And Polly didn’t work well with Jamie.  It isn’t that they had difficulties, they just didn’t click.  It was always Ben and Polly.  They entered together, they leave together.

The Faceless Ones was a great story.  It had a certain darkness to it with the abduction of young people and the idea of being replaced by duplicates.  But as horrifying as this idea could seem, the body count was relatively low, and the aliens accepted defeat and reproof in the end.  The Doctor gave them a second chance, and they took it.  The story was probably an episode or two too long, and Ben and Polly vanished for a large chunk of it, but it was well-paced and Blade was a great villain.  Patrick Troughton seems to have settled in to the role, and he and Frazier Hines have started to really work well in their double-act.  The groundwork has been set and I would say that The Troughton Era is officially beginning.

Doctor Who 6×11 – The God Complex

Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Nick Hurran

The Doctor, Amy, and Rory become trapped in a 1980s-style hotel with rooms full of fears and a minotaur stalking all inhabitants.

“He saved me and now he’s going to save you.  But don’t tell him that because the smugness would be terrifying.”

A few months ago I was loving The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People, until that story was marred by a cliffhanger that was dictated by the story arc.  Matthew Graham was told to write a story about avatars, and I believe he delivered some excellent material.  Unfortunately, the ideas and concepts raised by that story were undone by the need to reveal that Amy was a Flesh.  So I repeat, an excellent story, ruined by the arc.  In The God Complex, I can see a similar mandate, a need to further the character arc of Amy, Rory, and The Doctor (and by extension, the overall plot-arc).  In The Girl Who Waited, The Doctor effectively destroyed any faith Rory would have had in him, and now The Doctor destroys Amy’s faith in him.  I felt that the end of The Girl Who Waited signposted the end of the Amy and Rory as companions.  Then The God Complex does the same, and even takes things a step farther by having The Doctor drop Amy and Rory back on Earth.  The was another story with a mandate to support the arc, a mandate to provide a reason for Amy and Rory to leave the TARDIS.  Honestly, The God Complex, and otherwise mediocre story, sold the ending.  It effectively set-up the final scenes between The Doctor and Amy.  It seems a shame to me that the more interesting Rebel Flesh/Almost People was ruined by the ending, while so-so God Complex so thoroughly enhanced the ending.  Is it possible that Matthew Graham did too good a job?

But the problem is that I don’t buy it.  As moving as I found Amy and Rory’s departure, I don’t buy for a moment that we won’t see them again.  The script even supports it with The Doctor saying he is a “bad penny.”  So this either means Amy and/or Rory will appear in one-off adventures as necessary (but not as companions) or we are being emotionally manipulated for some series finale (or series seven) revelation.  There is a difference from not knowing what to expect from episode to episode (because the show can go anywhere in time and space) and not trusting the show to be telling us the truth.  Steven Moffat seems to glory in showing the audience something, then revealing that we didn’t see what we thought we saw, which is fine in and of itself, but at the moment I don’t trust the show very much at all.  I feel like I need to keep any excitement or emotion in check for fear that what I just saw will be undone one or two weeks later.  The episode provided a good exit for Amy and Rory, if not rather abrupt.  But I don’t trust that it was an exit.  It wouldn’t be the first time Cymru-Who did this.

I want to come up with some positives about the episode.  Honestly, the standout moment for me was when The Doctor was talking to the minotaur, who just wanted the routine of hunting and killing to end.  The actor in the suit, combined with the effects of the monster, really conveyed a feeling of weariness and pain.  I was truly impressed and felt sad for this monster.  But apart from this moment, I found The God Complex to be quite mediocre, an episode formed from incomplete concepts and botched attempts to convey humor.  An episode meant to do nothing more than sell the ending.  Matt Smith’s dialogue when The Doctor, Amy, and Rory meet the other prisoners in the hotel seemed forced, as if there was a need for random Doctor-speak.  Often it seems Smith can find humor in normal dialogue, but when the dialogue is deliberately attempting to be humorous or random, it comes across as forced.  It is irritating because all the leads are good actors and they are capable of rising to good material, but it rarely seems they are given that material.  I like Matt Smith, and I think his Doctor has a lot of potential, but The Eleventh Doctor has only really worked for me in a couple of episodes (and a handful of scenes besides) and both of these episodes had excellent scripts with challenging material.  Sadly, apart from its closing moments, I can’t say the same for The God Complex.

Person of Interest Season 1, Episode 1 – Pilot

Written by Jonathan Nolan
Directed by David Semel

Some people speak of J.J. Abrams with as much reverence as some speak of Joss Whedon.  Truth be told, I’m not a fan of either.  By fan, I mean that I don’t follow them incessantly.  Whedon has done things I like (Firefly, Serenity), and so has Abrams.  But just because these men have their names attached to a project, it doesn’t guarantee that I will follow.  I hadn’t even heard of Person of Interest until a friend asked if I was going to watch it.  Honestly, I didn’t even know the premise.  I just visited the CBS website the day after airing and checked it out with no knowledge going in.

First, some background information.  While J.J. Abrams has his name attached to Person of Interest, he serves as executive producer.  Yes, he is helping shape the series, but it was created by Jonathan Nolan, brother of Dark Knight and Memento director Christopher Nolan.  Jonathan also co-wrote both of these movies.  He isn’t a stranger to the crime-thriller genre, and make no mistake, that is what Person of Interest is.  The two leads on this show are Michael Emerson (Benjamin Linus from LOST) and Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ, The Count of Monte Cristo).  This has led to many jokes about Ben Linus and Jesus teaming up to fight crime, which is an interesting premise in itself.  The actual premise of the show sees John Reese (Caviezel), an ex-CIA agent who is presumed dead, targeted by Mr. Finch (Emerson), a mysterious billionaire.  Reese was trained well in his government job and is an efficient investigator and killer.  Finch recruits Reese to help him investigate “persons of interest” to prevent crimes before they happen.  The only information they have are Social Security numbers of one person involved in the crime, either victim or perpetrator.

At this point you may be asking, “What?”  We learn in the pilot that Mr. Finch was hired by the U.S. government in the days after 9/11 to develop software that can sort through all the electronic monitoring in the nation.  Mr. Finch succeeded in creating a machine that analyzes phone conversations, internet traffic, security surveillance, etc. and determines dangerous or suspicious activities.  The machine compiles this data and any information that doesn’t match certain criteria (in this case, high numbers of victims which would indicate terrorist activity) is deleted.  Mr. Finch was tortured by the fact that his machine could recognize non-terrorist criminal activities, but the government didn’t want this information.  Finch, as these stories go, built in a backdoor to the software, which gives him the Social Security numbers of people likely to be involved in crimes.  Any more information would draw too much attention to the security hole.  Finch and Reese must then spend the episode trying to solve a crime before it happens.

Reese and Finch discuss something terribly important.

Personally, I love the concept.  Granted, this show comes from the borderline paranoia that exists in post-9/11 America, a paranoia that is suspicious of any type of government surveillance, but the idea presents the good that can come from a society that is monitored so closely.  I love the twist on the traditional “whodunnit”, and the idea of preventing crime, whether violently or by offering people a second chance.  We see the investigator in Reese, his tech guy in Finch, and it looks like over the course of the next few episodes we may see a team develop. It’s The A-Team, it’s The Rockford Files.  As my wife says, it sounds a bit like Batman, only Reese wears a suit instead of dressing as a bat.

The show has great potential, and I think it has the chance to live up to it with the cast and the creative team behind it.  At the moment, the show doesn’t look arc-driven like other shows developed by Abrams (such as Alias, Lost, and Fringe).  Sure, there are storylines that we could visit down the line, but storylines are not the same as story-arcs.  It looks to be a show that can deliver well-crafted mysteries and I look forward to seeing where they take it.

Now if only it was available on iTunes so I could get a season pass.  Person of Interest can be viewed Thursday nights on CBS or via the CBS website here.

Doctor Who Story 34 – The Macra Terror

Written by Ian Stuart Black
Directed by John Davis

The Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie arrive in a colony where rejection of the status quo and the insistence on the existence of a creature called “The Macra” can lead to devastating consequences.

“Hey, mister!  Could ye call off the girls?   I’m afraid of what they might do to me.”

I think I like The Macra Terror more than I should.  I think what draws me to The Macra Terror is the same thing that draws me to shows like The Prisoner.  For some reason, I enjoy stories that question the happy status quo, stories that show a dark, sinister core to existence.  Or maybe I’m fascinated with mind control and brainwashing.  I even enjoy that the main villain in this story is a race of super-intelligent, giant crabs.  I enjoy this version of The Macra more than the version that appears in the RTD story Gridlock (but don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy Gridlock.  More on that much later.)  If I had one (well, two) complaints, they would be that this story seems to be padded in the middle, and we still seem to have difficulty balancing the action between three companions.  This won’t be a problem for much longer, however.

Of all the companions, I think I enjoy the developments with Ben the most.  Early in the story, as The Doctor and companions take advantage of the colony’s hospitality, Ben becomes subjected to mind-controlling gasses.  In truth, it was the intention of The Macra to gas all the companions, but The Doctor interfered before everyone succumbed.  Thus, Ben suddenly turns against his friends, and until the gas wears off, he is a continual threat.  In some ways, this reminds me of Dodo, but rather than shunt Ben off at the end of the story, he recovers and is welcomed back with warmth and joy.  (You are lucky, I almost joked that Ben didn’t go the way of the Dodo.  That would have been completely uncalled for.)

While this story was most-likely conceived as an analogy for Soviet propaganda, it still has some relevance in the 21st century.  I think most governments are happier when their citizens are more focused on the day-to-day activities of living than on the actions of the government.  A subdued populace is preferred.  In The Macra Terror, the populace mined for the gasses that The Macra needed to live.  Sometimes governments want the populace to work so they can pay taxes.  Often, in our post-Nixon world, we want to believe that the injustice or controlling actions of governments are the actions of a small, dark group at the core of the government.  Sadly, that is not always true.  Bureaucracy often becomes a self-sustaining beast, devised by humans but not necessarily controlled by them.  In this way, a government, once set up and active, can continue to exist by people merely performing their jobs without question.  It can control without any malice or intention.  At that point, those who shape policy become the controllers, they become the pilots.  The Macra Terror is vague enough to become an analogy for whatever criticism you wish to level at the government.  Truly, you can even interpret it as a criticism of any type of system that demands allegiance, from corporations to economic systems, even to an entertainment franchise that would give consumers shallow yet exciting, visual and emotional stimuli, for continual patronage of merchandise and ratings.  (Oh, let’s not go there, shall we.)  The hero, as is frequently the case in Doctor Who, is the individual who questions, who doesn’t just accept things.  It is the person who thinks.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I love the “We are happy to work” song.  I wish I had that on a CD because I would love to play it as I shelve at the bookshop.

Doctor Who Series 6×10 – The Girl Who Waited

Written by Tom MacRae
Directed by Nick Hurran

Arriving on the planet Apalapucia for a brief holiday, The Doctor and Rory become separated from Amy, who finds herself in a different time stream.

"Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere . . . "

After a couple of weeks with episodes that made me feel underwhelmed with the current direction of Doctor Who, The Girl Who Waited was an episode that made me say “Finally.”  We finally got off Earth, even if it was inhabited by temporally displaced people who only appeared as blurred figures in one shot.  Amy finally got some much needed character development.  And I was finally able to sit and enjoy an episode without feeling irritated or disappointed.  The initial trailer for The Girl Who Waited filled me with concern that it would be a re-hash of Amy’s Choice (Rory’s Choice?) with visual references made to The Mind Robber.  That wasn’t entirely the case.

In a way, I feel that The Girl Who Waited revisited an idea from The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords and did it better, namely the idea of paradox and alternate time-lines.  The scale was much smaller in Girl, but the emotional consequences much more effective.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Amy and Rory’s eventual exit from the show has been set up here, and if it isn’t, it should be.  It is hard to see how Rory will be able to recover from what he faced here, hard to see how he will be able to trust The Doctor after being made to kill an alternate version of his wife.  In truth, if The Doctor had made the choice for him, the divide between these two male leads would have been worse, but there was really no way for the relationship between these two characters to recover.

If I had any criticism of the episode, it would be that the setting was largely inconsequential.  This entire episode was a character piece.  The setting existed solely to instigate the characterization.  While this isn’t a bad thing, per se, it is a further reinforcement to me that setting is becoming less important in Doctor Who.  World-building is less important.  As I discussed this episode with my wife, we realized that our favorite episodes from the Moffat Era are character-driven.  These seem to be the most-effective episodes.  I believe this is the limitation of the 45 minute running time.  It is difficult to do effective world-building and strong plot in 45 minutes.  It is much easier to do escapist spectacle or character development.  Or, I suppose, overly-preachy, shallow social commentary as Star Trek has often proven.  While I enjoy that Doctor Who has done some wonderful character-driven pieces since the revival, my biggest concern is that the show cannot be sustained on character alone.  We cannot have major revelations about Amy or Rory each week, nor are we able to insist that The Doctor is mysterious when the focus of the show is character (although I rather think we should admit that the “mysterious” nature of The Doctor has been long abandoned).

As it stands, however, I am perfectly happy adding The Girl Who Waited to my list of Moffat-era successes.

Target 003 – The Edge of Destruction

Written by Nigel Robinson
From the Back: In a final bid to regain control of the Tardis’s faulty control system the Doctor is driven to experiment with a dangerous untried combination.  With a violent explosion the TARDIS blacks out and the crew find themselves trapped inside.  A simple technical fault? Sabotage? Or something even more sinister?  Tensions mount as the Doctor and his companions begin to suspect one another.  What has happened to the TARDIS?  Slowly a terrifying suspicion dawns.  Has the TARDIS become the prisoner of some powerful fifth intelligence which is even now haunting the time-machine’s dark and gloomy corridors?

First line (not counting the introduction, which is just a recap): “The tall glass column in the centre of the six-sided central control console rose and fell with a stately elegance, indicating that the TARDIS was in full flight.”

An uninteresting start to a rather uninteresting book.  I must confess, that my primary reaction to Nigel Robinson’s novels has been one of boredom.  This is rather astounding as he was the author who adapted Moris Farhi’s outstanding Farewell Great Macedon.  Honestly, I believe Robinson did a stupendous job with Macedon.  Unfortunately, I still found his work on The Edge of Destruction to be dull.  Perhaps it isn’t his fault.  Edge of Destruction isn’t one of the more engaging stories.  It has an intriguing premise, but I’m not entirely sure David Whitaker delivered on this in his original script.  This leaves Robinson with the unpleasant task of novelizing a story that didn’t really deliver.

Part of what made the televised version Edge of Destruction interesting was the direction.  Many of the shots were arranged to heighten the inherent suspense in the story.  Scenes with Susan and the scissors or Ian choking The Doctor were handled quite well, even if the actors didn’t quite know what was happening.  Robinson understandably focuses on these suspenseful elements.  He expounds upon them.  At some points it is hard to tell if a new intelligence has invaded the TARDIS or if The Doctor is deliberately playing with Ian and Barbara.  Of course, in the end we know that neither is truly the case.  Honestly, this is one are where Robinson excels.  Occasionally the televised version of the story was unclear or difficult to make out.  Robinson more fully conveys both the terror and the explanation.  Unfortunately, is was tedium getting to that point.

Another thing Robinson does well, something that is implicit in the original script, is showing us what Barbara sees after she regains consciousness on the TARDIS.  She is in Coal Hill School, something that was only conveyed in dialogue in the episode.  In the novel, with no special effects constraints, Robinson can more fully deliver the ideas that Whitaker was unable to.  In truth, if I had to choose between the two, I would be torn between the hour it would take to watch Edge of Destruction or the realization of the concepts and effects in the novel.  Each version has its strengths and weaknesses.

Prescient chapter title: The End of Time

Final Verdict: If you are a fan of Nigel Robinson or the televised version of The Edge of Destruction, then you will probably find plenty to enjoy here.

Target Review 014 – Doctor Who and the Crusaders

Written by David Whitaker

Note: This review is based on the AudioGo release Doctor Who and the Crusaders as read by William Russell.

From the Box: Back on Earth again, the TARDIS lands Doctor Who and his friends into the midst of the harsh, cruel world of the twelfth-century Crusades.  Soon the adventurers are embroiled in the conflict between Richard the Lionheart and the Sultan Saladin, ruler of the warlike Saracens.

Opening Line: “As swiftly and as silently as a shadow, Doctor Who’s Space and Time ship, Tardis, appeared on a succession of planets each as different as the pebbles on a beach, stayed awhile and then vanished, as mysteriously as it had come.”

Admittedly, I skipped ahead a bit.  I have had a lot to read lately and wasn’t able to sit down with the Target version of The Crusaders.  I did, however, have plenty of time for an audiobook while working some late hours of work or cleaning at home.  I was a bit apprehensive about launching into another First Doctor story, especially one that was a novelization rather than original, but now that I’m well in to the Troughton Era and watching Matt Smith again on the laptop, I figured a revisit of Hartnell could be managed, even if it is Wiliam Hartnell as written by David Whitaker and performed by William Russell.

The Crusaders follows the beats of the televised stories pretty well, but what I love about this version is that we get into the heads of the secondary characters more.  Saladin is fleshed out more as are El Akir and Haroun.  El Akir, in particular, is a nasty piece of work in this version of the story.  He is evidence that Doctor Who doesn’t always need aliens to be monsters because humans can suffice.  Additional character changes involve Ian and Barbara, who are undeniably in love, an element that is at odds with the televised version Doctor Who, but follows on from Whitaker’s adaptation of The Daleks.  Romance between the teachers may have been forbidden by the BBC when filming, but with no such restriction here, Whitaker seems to take delight in fleshing out Ian and Barbara’s predicament at being in exiles in time and space, and explores the natural attraction that two people might have in this situation.

While the story is well-written, engaging, and an exciting historical adventure, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this novelization is the prologue in which David Whitaker almost explicitly lays out his view of time travel and, by implication, how Doctor Who should work.  In the prologue, Ian and The Doctor engage in a philosophical discussion on the nature of time travel and the impact the adventurers have on the various worlds they visit.  Ian basically points out a major hole in the premise of the show.  “Why is it that when we land on earth, with all the pre-knowledge of history at our disposal, we can’t right one single wrong, make good the bad or change one tiny evil?  Why are we able to do these things on other planets and not on Earth?”  In response, The Doctor espouses a view that Time moves regardless of what the adventurers do.  He likens Earth history to a landslide and once the TARDIS lands, the adventurers are a part of the landslide, “roped completely to Time and must be led by it.”  Time would seem, in Whitaker’s view, to be a controlling force.  I’m not entirely sure this answers Ian’s question as to why Time invalidates their actions on Earth but not other planets, but it is an attempt.  It would seem, according to The Doctor, that the best thing to do is learn from history, to use pre-knowledge of events as a way to study the period and motivations of the players in history.  Only with this knowledge can the adventurers understand themselves and their place in humanity, only then can they learn to find an antidote to greed, selfish ambition, and war.

Final verdict: This is an excellent novelization of an excellent story.  Highly recommended.

Impeccable Logic (from Ibrahim, a thief who has subdued Ian):  “You arrive beside the water pool, and I can see you are a rich Lord, so I am tempted to knock you out and search your clothes.  The temptation was your fault, for you are obviously rich and I am obviously poor.  So I search through your clothes and I find nothing.  Again, My Lord, am I at fault?  I must earn my living and Allah has decided that my profession is to be a thief.  I can tell you I was very frustrated, My Lord, very frustrated indeed.”

Doctor Who Series 6.9 – Night Terrors

Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Richard Clark

The Doctor attempts to sort out the nightmares of a young child.

“Well, I suppose it can’t all be planets and history and stuff.”

Supposedly the selling pitch for this story was the premise “What is the scariest place in the universe?  A child’s bedroom.”  But in reality, I wonder if the premise could be re-worked in to “What is the scariest place in the universe?  Sitting on the couch and watching a rehash of Fear Her.”

After watching this episode, my wife and I immediately began talking about Curse of the Black Spot because, as we agreed, both Curse and Night Terrors are perfectly decent stories.  Not amazing, decent.  And while I think Curse had a few plot holes and some real inattention continuity details, it seemed to be a more compelling story.  Night Terrors may have been a tighter plot, but it never really grabbed me.  It never really compelled me to be interested in the mystery or to care about the characters.  I tried, but as I started guessing the plot (and more on that in a minute) I found that the only truly compelling aspect of the episode was Richard Clark’s direction.  He had quite a few great shots and really sold the suspense and made the dollhouse look good.  Whether he directed the actors well, that is another question.  In truth, I felt that none of the performances in this episode rose above that of caricature, and that applies to both secondary and primary characters.  Sure, Matt, Karen, and Arthur do their best with their lines, but they seem to lack any sort of depth in this episode.  Amy and Rory are relegated to nothing more than victims, and while they have played this part in the past, we would still get character moments despite their situation.  I’m thinking most-strongly of The Doctor’s Wife, in which Amy and Rory are victimized by House, but the tortures reigned upon them are specifically designed to play on their insecurities.  Here, they are chased by dolls for half an hour until The Doctor shows up and convinces the child to save the day.

My wife says this episode is a revisiting of ideas in Fear Her and Girl in the Fireplace.  The Fear Her comparison is quite apt because we once more have a child who is haunted by something frightening, who actually controls and makes manifest the fears.  The danger can only be overcome by the empowerment of the child and the re-uniting of the child and emotionally detached parent.  The primary difference between the two stories would be that Gatiss switched the genders.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this was intentional.  But the similarities exist.  It makes me wonder if New Who is spinning its wheels a bit.  In addition to revisiting Fear Hear, Night Terrors also seems to tick the boxes of Moffat-era stories.  A child plays a prominent role.  The child seems to know more about the situation than anyone else.  The child must save the day to some degree.  Creepy looking monsters.  Sneaking through dark corridors rather than running through them.  At least we didn’t revisit the “timey-wimey” concept this time around.  It makes me a little sad that the show doesn’t really seem to be reaching much at the moment.  Almost self-consciously, this episode references that the TARDIS can go anywhere in time and space, but instead they visit a child on what is presumably present-day Earth.  And in a few episodes we revisit Craig from The Lodger.  We seem to be regressing here.  Although, present day Earth is probably cheaper to realize.

More on guessing the plot.  Part of this is due to the parallels to Fear Her.  Part of this is also due to Gatiss as a mystery writer.  Some of my favorite scripts by Mark Gatiss have been for Marple or his script for Sherlock last year.  However, I have found his Doctor Who scripts (with the exception of The Unquiet Dead) to be varying degrees of “meh”.  More accurately, they seem to be descending degrees of “meh”.  I would go so far as to say that I think Gatiss is a better mystery writer (or at the very least, dramatizer) than Doctor Who writer.  Perhaps it would be fun to see him write something more “whodunnit” than “a mystery with an alien” as Night Terrors seems to be.  At times, this episode was mystery, at times horror, but almost never adventure and Doctor Who needs the latter in great abundance.

Doctor Who Story 33 – The Moonbase

Written by Kit Pedler
Directed by Morris Barry

After being pulled off course by a strong gravity well, The Doctor and companions find themselves on the moon.  And obviously, there is a base on it.  A moonbase.

Time to pay the piper, Jamie.

 “It’s the phantom piper!”

Moffat-Who has raised the horror element of Doctor Who, which would make many people assume that Steven Moffat has been inspired by the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era with it’s Hammer-horror style.  I can’t remember where I read this, but Moffat disputes this, citing The Moonbase as the inspiration for the frightening elements of his era of Doctor Who.  I have not known The Troughton Era to be regarded for its horror, but when you think about it, it is there.  The basic conceit of the “base under siege” is that a group of disparate people are attempting to survive at all costs.  Likewise, season five has been dubbed “the monster season”.  The first time I experienced The Moonbase, it was through audio.  But this time around, I watched the two surviving episodes, and I think I can see Moffat’s point.  The first time I saw a Cyberman walk into the medical bay and wrestle an ill, struggling man off his bed, then carry him out of the room, I felt chills.  For whatever reason, I grew up with childhood fears of being kidnapped and this image resonated with me.  The image of someone larger and stronger physically subduing and taking a weaker person away is horrifying.

We have the return of The Cybermen, a bit more metallic and much more robotic in voice.  In truth, I miss the voices from The Tenth Planet because I found them genuinely inhuman and creepy.  That, and you could understand what they said, which is more of a struggle with the vocal distortions used here.  This complaint aside, The Cybermen are still being used well.  I can see why they were so striking in the early days, and I think I am still waiting for an amazing Cyberman story in Cymru-Who.  The return of these villains in The Moonbase is never adequately explained (how did Cybermen survive the destruction of Mondas), but it hardly matters.  The Moonbase takes place a couple of centuries after The Tenth Planet.  Sure, people remember The Cybermen, but they have almost faded into a type of verifiable mythology.  There is something mythic in the return, much like the return of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, The Others in A Song of Ice and Fire, The Sith in Star Wars, or some ancient, inhuman Lovecraftian evil.  Even The Doctor invokes this mythic idea when he tells his companions that evil is bred in the dark corners of the universe and these evils must be stopped.  And I guess The Cybermen are evil, they want to destroy all life on Earth after all, but they don’t seem quite as evil and unnatural as the examples above.  In comparison, they seem quite petty and driven toward revenge.  Still evil, just a bit less evil.  Uninspired evil.  Regardless, they are still creepy and their plan isn’t on the same level of absurd that later plots would achieve.