Next: Time and Relative

Time and Relative was the novella that kicked off Telos’ Doctor Who novella project. In total, Telos published 15 novellas. Each book had an introduction and a frontispiece. I remember when the novellas were first announced; they seemed exclusive and prestigious. Due to this, I was under the impression that these books would be of higher quality than some of those I had read in the BBC Books range. Thus far, I have only read Frayed, and I quickly learned that my earlier impression was not accurate. However, an entire range cannot be judged by a single book, and while Stephen Cole (under the pseudonym Tara Samms) may have turned in a mediocre entry, I have higher hopes for Kim Newman.

Newman is a writer who has had a successful writing career outside of the Doctor Who world. He is a film and television critic, but also a novelist who has written the well-received Anno Dracula books, a series that takes place in an alternate history in which Dracula has become the ruler of England. Similar to Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this novel incorporates fictional heroes of the Victorian Era, and becomes a game of spot-the-character. All this wrapped up in a horror/history novel. Sounds rather intriguing.

Since he is an established writer, I have somewhat high expectations for Newman. Time and Relative stars the First Doctor and Susan and takes place in London in 1963, mere months before two inquisitive school teachers wander into a dark scrap yard. The story has, as its backdrop, The Big Freeze of 1963, something I will be researching and sharing background on a bit later.

I’m looking forward to getting back to Doctor Who, and as an added bonus, the book is by an author I have wanted to read.

 Any thoughts on Time and Relative? Should I check out more works by Newman?

(Image: Catriona Sparks. WikiCommons.)

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Time for Some Feedback

Based on my preliminary research, I may have a problem.  Spearhead from Space and The Silurians are both on DVD, but Ambassadors of Death has not yet been scheduled for release.  This wouldn’t be the first time I have been forced to wait for a DVD release (this happened with The Gunfighters), but this is the first time it would occur so early in the season.  I don’t personally relish the idea of forging ahead for about two weeks, then going on indefinite hiatus.  I prefer to experience the show in unbroken chunks as much as possible.  As we are currently between seasons, I think I will just wait until I have a better idea of when to expect Ambassadors of Death to be released.

But what to do in the mean time?  School and work have kept me quite busy and I haven’t been able to brainstorm much.  So, I’m opening things up a bit.  What should I write about during this interim?

The Second Doctor in Review

Patrick Troughton did something amazing with Doctor Who:  he replaced the former lead actor, and sold viewers on the replacement.  This is absolutely astounding, yet I think we (Doctor Who fans) often take this for granted.  How many shows have successfully replaced the lead actor?  Watching Patrick Troughton, however, I never once doubted that he was The Doctor.  Granted, some of the clowning around in later episodes (splashing in the water in The Enemy of the World, for example) seemed decidedly un-Hartnell, but for the most part, I accepted Troughton.  He was a good follow-up to William Hartnell and I shall miss them both.

Prior to starting the Second Doctor era I would have listed Jamie McCrimmon as my favorite companion every time I was asked.  Having viewed this era sequentially, I’m not uncertain.  I enjoyed Jamie early in his run, particularly in Evil of the Daleks, where he would question and challenge The Doctor.  By the sixth season, however, I felt he was more of a joke and less of a character.  Jamie seemed to have stayed with The Doctor too long.  Honestly, appearing opposite Zoe and The Doctor, the juxtaposition leant itself easily to comedy.  But this seemed the easy option.  I would have preferred to see Jamie struggle with insecurity beside these two geniuses, or perhaps help make Zoe more human and less computer-like.  In this final year, however, character development seems to have been less important.

Based on how I feel at the moment, I would say that, despite enjoying The Second Doctor, I preferred the Hartnell Era.  The previous era was unpredictable and innovative, even when it failed to realize its ambition.  The Troughton era, however, was often too formulaic, especially in season five.  It became a struggle to finish the fifth season.  I may revisit the occasional stories from that season, but I doubt I will watch it sequentially any time soon.

Favorite Story:  This is actually quite hard, but in the end I will choose The War Games.  I had never seen this story prior to this experiment, but upon finishing it I feel it was one of the most amazing episodes of Doctor Who thus far.  The introduction of the Time Lords fired my imagination in ways that the show hasn’t done since The Hartnell years.  Yet, the awe I felt in this story is probably due to having spent six seasons with the Time Lords never seen, never named.  In a season of episodes that I didn’t always feel engaged by, The War Games left me wanting another year of The Second Doctor.

Least Favorite Story:  This one is also hard as I feel so many episodes were of comparable quality.  In the end, I may just go with The Ice Warriors, although I still love the world-building and acting in this story.  It just lacked in engaging plot.

Favorite Companion Enemy:  I’ll mention The War Chief and The War Lord in passing, but I feel that I must give full credit to The Cybermen.  As far as I am concerned, The Cybermen were best in the Troughton era.  They have never been as chilling and disconcerting as they were in The Moonbase or Tomb of the Cybermen.  I will miss this portrayal.

Doctor Who Story Number 050 – The War Games

Written by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke
Directed by David Malone

From the Back: The TARDIS has materialized in a world of trench warfare, barbed wire and poison gas: the Western Front, 1917. In the chaos and paranoia of the First World War, the Doctor and his companions are separated from their ship, captured and court-martialed. The death sentence is swiftly pronounced. But all is not as it seems. As the Doctor finds himself increasingly out of his depth and facing impossible odds, the only solution is the truly unthinkable. He must seek help from those he most fears—his own people, the Time Lords.

It is an unusual feeling to be ready for a regeneration one week, only to miss The Doctor when it actually happens. While I haven’t found myself loathing The Krotons, The Dominators, or The Space Pirates as some fans have, I was beginning to desire change. Perhaps this was due to season five being repetitive. Regardless, over the past month I have found myself eager to start the Pertwee Era.

Now that I have closed out the Troughton Years, I don’t feel nearly so eager. I already miss the cosmic hobo much like I missed William Hartnell as his face morphed into that of Troughton. What accounts for this change of heart? I attribute it directly to The War Games, which may be my favorite episode of the series thus far.

The War Games is fast-paced, well-acted, and very compelling. Early on we are given the implication that The War Chief is from the same race as The Doctor, only this time The Doctor’s fellow isn’t a bumbler or trickster. He is cruel. He is chilling. The only character more sinister than The War Chief is The War Lord (yes, these names can get confusing if one doesn’t pay attention), only the latter is marked not by being a Time Lord, but by being a brilliant strategist and manipulator. His ultimate goal is to conquer the universe and unify it under his leadership. Given his skill in dealing with The War Chief, The Doctor, and various other characters in this story, his goal seems just plausible. Philip Madoc brings this character to life extremely well.

For the previous six seasons, The Time Lords (unnamed until now) have remained a mysterious presence, characterized only by The Doctor’s insistence that he cannot go home. They seem dangerous only because of his refusal to return to them. Their presence in this story is not disappointing. They seem an intriguing blend of high technology and supernatural ability. Indeed, perhaps that line is blurred. Once they have gotten a bead on The Doctor, he is unable to escape. I have seen some of the later portrayals of The Time Lords, and at the moment, this one is my favorite. These Time Lords are not stuffy bureaucrats, they are distant observers, the kind of gods a diest could live with; they maintain the balance and function of the universe. The Doctor, on the other hand, is an intervening god, one who sees the power (or technology) of The Time Lords as a responsibility. The mythology established in this story is quite fascinating.

If Kylie Minogue counts as a companion, then I posit Lt. Carstairs is a companion.

But not to overshadow the other nine episodes, the eponymous War Games give us a fun concept of different historical armies fighting in sectioned-off regions of a planet. The aliens seem to be conducting an experiment to determine which era of human warriors is the strongest. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe, aided by Lady Jennifer and Lt. Carstairs, must stay one step ahead of the aliens. This story hardly ever slows down. For a ten part story, there really isn’t much padding.

Final Verdict: I think this is my favorite story thus far. And yet, I can’t help but feel that the impact is due, in part, to having watched everything up to this point. Having spent six seasons with The Time Lords only present as a threat, to finally see them is a huge deal. This story is probably best watched after a period of watching nothing but Hartnell and Troughton.

Coming up: The Troughton Era in review.

Alcatraz: A Review

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Image by Christian Mehlführer.

J.J. Abrams is a man who I have grown to appreciate despite initial dislike. Yes, I’m one of those people for whom buzz is something to view with suspicion and my initial reaction to Alias—without ever having watched the show, mind you—was cynicism. To this day I have only seen one season of the show, and while I now understand why it captured the viewers it did, I still find it less than enthralling.  My problem was with the lead, Jennifer Garner’s Sydney Bristow. I never connected with her, despite the character being well-written and performed. The bottom line was that I never cared about her personal struggles and felt the show was wasting time delving into her personal life. This was, however, the very thing which drew people to the show. It was unique and I could intellectually appreciate that.

Abrams finally won me over with Lost, which was—in its first season—an English major’s dream. It was a short-story cycle on television; it was a series of character pieces set in an over-arching narrative about survival and mystery. I was hooked faster than you could say “John Locke”. Despite my personal opinion about the show falling apart in the end, it was a brilliant piece of television and was compelling for six years. How many shows have done this?

Mr. Abrams and Fox have given us a mid-season replacement in the form of Alcatraz, and on the surface, this seems to be a slam dunk. Just like many Abrams-produced shows, there is a mystery at the core of this show. Here we have the revelation that all the prisoners of the infamous Alcatraz were not transferred when the prison was closed . . . they vanished. Now, in present day, they are returning. Young detective Rebecca Madsen (played by Sarah Jones) and Doctor Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia) must track down the returning inmates and hopefully get answers as to what happened to these men and why they are returning. Their supervisor is Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), who seems to have more information than they do, but is just as eager for answers as his team. This show is a no-brainer. It must be amazing.

Yet, there is one major problem. I don’t connect with any of the lead characters. They seem to be nothing more than stock characters at the moment. They lack the depth that I grew accustomed to with Lost. The irony here is that the flashbacks of the inmates portray well-rounded, fully realized characters. The audience is exposed to them in all their unfortunate struggles and gruesome details, but our lead cast is bland and uninteresting. In the end, the villains are more sympathetic than the heroes, and this is a horrible mistake in a show such as this, for if we ever get to the inevitable prison-break (in present day), who will we root for?

Doctor Who Story Number 049 – The Space Pirates

Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Michael Hart

“Jamie, I think you don’t appreciate all I do for you.”

From The Reference GuideFar into the future and far out into the black depth of the galaxy, the TARDIS materializes. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe discover the space pioneers of the future, the adventurers and guardians of planets. But lurking also in the emptiness of space is the evil—the evil of The Space Pirates!”

There are many ways to portray space adventures.  Often we get stories of wonder as our protagonists visit one alien location after another. In this type of story, we are exposed to landscapes and creatures we can never see on Earth. Another type of space story is to show how frightening and dangerous the cosmos can be. In these stories, space is cold, distant, and lonely; the only life which exists is that which cares nothing for you and would kill you with little thought or reason. Then there is space as frontier, not for scientific exploration, but for gathering resources or founding new settlements. In this type of story we find outlaws, miners, sheriffs, and claim-jumpers—even pirates!

Yes, The Space Pirates is a space-frontier story, having more in common, thematically, with Firefly than Star Trek. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe materialize on a space beacon that has been targeted by pirates who wish to blow it apart to salvage the scrap for argonite—one of the most precious materials in the galaxy and whatnot. Along the way, they encounter a space miner by the name of Milo Clancey. Clancey is eccentric, due to spending many years alone as he travelled through space, and a bit over-the-top due to Robert Holmes still developing his style for Doctor Who characters. But Clancey proves to be a valuable ally as The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe attempt to find the mastermind who is funding the pirate operation. While I found this particular revelation to be predictable, I did appreciate the nuanced motivations of the individual who funded the pirates.

Essentially, this story was a romp. A slow romp, admittedly, but a romp nonetheless.

Unfortunately, I cannot comment much on the look of the story. Episode two still exists, but I don’t have access to it. However, this will no longer be a problem as I have finally completed all the missing stories. From this point on, every episode exists! Likewise, from this point on the endeavor becomes more expensive as I will now have to buy DVDs rather than audiobook downloads. And there is a new Doctor just around the corner. . . .

Final Verdict: The Space Pirates is a decent entry by Robert Holmes. It is a bit slow in places, but is an enjoyable story if you don’t mind audio adventures and one over-the-top performance. Besides, it is interesting to see Robert Holmes before he hits his stride.

Coming Up Next on Doctor Who: The ten part Patrick Troughton finale The War Games! This one may take a bit of time to watch. After that, a Second Doctor wrap-up, then a much-needed update to the site’s look.  Thanks for reading.

The Space Pirates Conquer My Computer

It started rather inauspiciously Monday evening as my computer’s responsiveness began to mirror mine if you addressed me prior to my first cup of coffee. Any task just seemed too much for its poor processor and by Tuesday morning it was shot. I have yet to figure out what is wrong with it, but my untrained mind fears the problem is related to the hard drive which Windows 7 refuses to communicate with any longer.  I am beyond my computer-repair knowledge.  For the immediate future my computer access will be restricted to my wife’s computer–which she uses for her work–and the computer labs at Missouri State University.  I am not sure what affect this will have on the blog.

As for The Space Pirates, I am half-way through the story and it has picked up quite a bit from the first episode. I actually think the introduction of Milo Clancey has helped my enjoyment.  Robert Holmes is really playing up the idea of space being a frontier (not unlike Joss Whedon in Firefly) and Clancey is a crazy prospector straight out of the stock character box. I love that you can see, in Clancey, an early version of later larger-than-life Holmes characters such as Henry Gordon Jago and Unstoffe. While it seems many fans dislike Clancey, I find him amusing. He reminds me of my first boss:  a bit goofy, largely comic relief, but competent in his own way.

Any fans of Clancey?