Doctor Who Story #051 – Spearhead from Space part 1

Story written by Robert Holmes

Directed by Derek Martinus

Introductions (Source: Screen capture from Spearhead from Space DVD. Copyright 1970 by British Broadcasting Corporation.)

Typically, I have tried to review stories in their entirety (especially once the individual episode titles were dropped from Doctor Who’s format). With this serial, however, it seems more conducive to break things up a bit. Part one is doing quite a few things and it can be a bit jarring.

In recent months I have been watching a lot of modern television: Fringe, Once Upon a Time, Community, to name a few. Jumping back into a 1970s style was initially difficult. This is particularly ironic since Spearhead from Space was quite a step up in production quality for Doctor Who. The show is now in color! The difficulty, for me, was the pace and editing. With the former, serialized stories unfold slower. With the latter, the jump from one scene to another could be jarring. In the decades that have passed, television editors have found effective ways to signal transitions: a shocking line of dialogue, a slow zoom as a character realizes something, a lingering shot that allows the action to wind down. In this era of Doctor Who, these transitions often don’t exist. It can feel clumsy to the modern viewer, which is a shame because Spearhead is a great production.

Spearhead part 1 is essentially a Doctor-lite story. In fact, it could almost be the pilot of a spin-off series based on the adventures of UNIT. Because of this feel, Doctor Who has taken on a different feel at the beginning of this season. It is hard to get a good read on The Doctor since he spends most of his time in a hospital bed. No, this episode belongs to The Brigadier and Liz Shaw. I enjoy both of these characters. We know The Brigadier from The Invasion and Web of Fear, and it is refreshing to see him again. It is odd to think that he is the character that has to sell the audience on The Doctor. Liz Shaw is interesting as a skeptic; she is a sarcastic, antagonistic character, very much a Scully type. Or is Scully a Liz Shaw type?

So with the bulk of the material given to UNIT and some mysterious meteors, we will have to wait for part 2 for a good look at the new Doctor.

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The John Pertwee (aka Third Doctor) Era: An Introduction

This seems to be a fairly decent encapsulation. (Source: Den of Geek website. Copyright 2012 by BBC.)

It is entirely possible that Jon Pertwee is my first Doctor. Then again, it may be Tom Baker. The memories of a three year old are tough to crack.

The Pertwee era is marked by ruffled shirts and velvet jackets. The Doctor is no longer traversing time and space (for now, anyway), having been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords after a forced regeneration. The Pertwee era, as I have read, is an era that owes inspiration to James Bond and Quatermass. We will see derring-do, gadgets, and alien invasions.

Season seven, the first Pertwee season, is a big deal for multiple reasons.

  1. ColorizationSpearhead from Space (the first serial of season seven) is the first episode of Doctor Who to be broadcast in color.
  2. Shorter Seasons – Gone are the 44-48 episode seasons. Season seven has only 25 episodes. I have to admit that it seems I may start flying through the serials from here on out. Money pending, of course.
  3. Renewal – In this case, I don’t mean regeneration; I am referring to the new direction for the show.  We have spent the past six years watching The Doctor traverse from one planet to another, from one time period to another. For the next few years, we will be confined to Earth. This will allow Doctor Who to do something new: develop a recurring cast. Sure, we will still have the leads in The Doctor and a companion, but now we have recurring characters such as UNIT stalwarts The Brigadier, Mike Yates, Sgt. Benton, and so on. This will lead to endless debate among fans as to what constitutes a companion, specifically as refers to The Brigadier. I personally have little interest in this debate. I’m in it for the story.

Of course, this is a regeneration story and we have a new face and personality for The Doctor. I’ll deal with the personality in a later post (likely after I start writing about Spearhead specifically).

Jon Pertwee was a comic actor who had made a name doing quite a bit of radio work. His pre-Doctor Who work included Dad’s Army and The Navy Lark, neither of which I have heard, but both of which, I am assured, are funny.

Any Pertwee fans reading the blog? What do I have to look forward to?

Meanwhile, Across the Web….

For context, I graduated from high school in 1998.

Cover for The Freedon Nadd Uprising #1. (Source: Wookieepedia. Copyright by Dark Horse Comics.

I was a Star Wars nerd in high school. I liken my Star Wars fandom to keeping the Doctor Who flame burning during the gap years. A handful of writers and artists kept the story alive. Timothy Zahn wrote his wonderful Thrawn trilogy. Dark Horse Comics released Dark Empire and Tales of the Jedi, both written by Tom Veitch and illustrated by Cam Kennedy (former) and Chris Gosset (and a handful of other artists for the latter). Between Zahn and Veitch, both sides of the Star Wars coin were explored: military science fiction and mythology. In their own way, each author was completely faithful to the spirit of Star Wars while still providing their unique take on the universe. They set the groundwork for the expanded universe.

In 1999, the prequels were unleashed and everything changed. The richness of Star Wars was crushed for me. I don’t wish to spit on anyone’s prequel fandom; I just don’t like the prequels. I have occasionally revisited the original trilogy, and I cannot purge Episodes I,II, and III from my mind. There was a better way to tell the story.

Aaron Diaz, creator of the marvelous Dresden Codak web comic, would seem to feel the same way. He is an extremely busy man, but one of his pet projects is something he has christened Star Wars 1999. The premise is to tell the story of Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker using the source material available in 1997. This is primarily the original trilogy of films, but secondary material would be from Dark Empire and Tales of the Jedi. I would love to see this concept come to fruition in the form of a comic.

Daniel Knauf’s Haunted

Sadly, I have never seen Carnivale, despite being fascinated with the cinematography. I have just never got around to watching the show. For some reason, I have done a bit of research on it and have learned two things: 1) Ronald D. Moore produced it, and I loved his work on Battlestar Galactica; 2) Carnivale has an incredibly complex mythology.

All this to say, I have peripherally kept an eye on Carnivale creator Daniel Knauf. I like his imagination. I admire his mind. And with his most-recent project, the web-film Haunted, he does not disappoint.

Primary screen for Haunted. (Source: The Verge website. Copyright 2012 by BXX LLC.

On the surface, Haunted seems to blend Ghost Hunters and the Paranormal Activity movies. The story follows a group of scientists who are investigating a haunted house. The house is due for demolition, so they only have 36 hours to conduct their investigation. They have cameras set up in all the rooms, some rooms have multiple angles. In a storytelling style reminiscent of Paranormal Activity, this is where most of the plot happens. Unlike Paranormal Activity, however, the viewer controls the images. Through the interface on the website, the viewer can select any camera at any point in the 36 hour story. Those who sign up on the website get the option of syncing the cameras so, as characters move from one room to another, you can follow them. Haunted can also be played as a game, with unlockable evidence that fills in background details on characters and events.

While lacking the depth of mythology of Carnivale, Haunted is a grand experiment. I love the creativity and the content. I applaud the cast and crew that had to work on this 36-hour, real-time film. Haunted is a proto-type for an interactive movie, and I look forward to seeing the response and evolution of this storytelling medium.

It is not perfect, however. The audio can be hard to hear. The story is not tight, due to having to wade through more than 36 hours of footage (when you add every camera angle). It isn’t feasible to have something interesting happening on every camera for every minute of the shoot. But again, this is an experiment. It is free. So if you like innovative storytelling; if you are a fan of the horror genre; if you are a fan of Daniel Knauf, check it out.

Modular Storytelling

Vincent from Final Fantasy VII. (Source: Wikipedia. Copyright by Square-Enix.)

Anyone with half an eye on the publishing industry can see that people are afraid. Will books cease to exist? Will our canon of literature go digital and never look back? Will e-publishing become the standard? Some of these questions are absurd and pointless. Books are not under threat; business models are under threat. However, technology does bring up the potential for new modes of storytelling. Enter: modular or interactive storytelling.

I first encountered modular storytelling as it was referenced in passing by comic writer Grant Morrison. I did some digging. Modular storytelling developed from analysis of narrative as it applies to video games. Since I love the Final Fantasy series, I’ll start there. The Final Fantasy series is renowned for great plots and compelling characters. However, being video games, these stories have an aspect of interactivity to them. There is a linear plot, but some installments in the series (VI, VII) have optional characters. These characters don’t advance the main plot, but they may add background information; they may add insight. To me, this is the real threat to books: interactive stories.

It is difficult to tell a story with paper and ink while making it interactive. Some forays have been done with the Choose Your Own Adventure series (and its imitators). Video games are probably the best model for what one can do with modular storytelling. A player’s actions can dictate the path (good or evil in Fables, light or dark side in Knights of the Old Republic) or unlock information that explains certain details (Vincent in Final Fantasy VIII). What I find fascinating is the idea of a book, or more specifically, text as interactive. Would it be possible to write a prose story that is fully interactive?

The main difficulty with such a prospect is time. A single writer would have to account for every possible path the story could take (or at the very least, chose pivot points for the story). The amount of writing necessary would be immense. Perhaps it would be best done with a team of writers with a lead writer, much like a television show or video game. The story would definitely need a director, someone to make sure all the pieces are together and accounted for. Due to the complexity, it may be some time before we see this attempted in a way that is compelling and paradigm-shifting.

While we may not see it in prose for some time, modular storytelling is finding its way into film. Thanks to Daniel Knauf (creator of HBO’s Carnivale), modular storytelling has debuted on the web in a big way. Tomorrow I will give my initial thoughts on Haunted.

Ghosts

A screen capture from Daniel Knauf's Haunted, which I hope to review soon. (Source: The Verge website. Copyright 2012 by The BXX, LLC.)

Of late I have found myself fascinated by ghosts.

I will admit that I am skeptical about the existence of ghosts, but I like to maintain an open mind. Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe; unlike Fox Mulder, I don’t automatically assume. But when I throw myself into a passion, I pursue it as if I do believe. I want to understand the mind of someone who does. I want to understand any topic from the point of view of an adherent. I want to understand.

In my extremely brief pursuit of a paranormal experience, I have found that stories are often more interesting than the actual experience. Stories of the Joplin, MO spook light are exhilarating and exciting. Sitting in a car on a county road, debating with friends over whether or not that light in the distance is a tower or a supernatural being, is not exciting. This summer I hope to engage in another investigation, although this is more for research purposes. I have an idea for a fresh perspective on ghosts, and by way of research I hope to visit a reportedly haunted hotel. If something interesting happens, fantastic! If not, the story is still interesting, I think.

Ghosts fascinate me from a narrative perspective because they symbolically illustrate the connection of the present to the past. History shapes everything, whether we see it or not, and ghosts are an interesting way to metaphorically show this. Typically, ghosts are used to show supernatural vengeance: the ghost seeks revenge for wrongs done to it; the ghost exists because the actions of someone caused it to be trapped in a supernatural existence; the ghost attempts to prevent (or perpetuates) a cycle of tragedy. Horror stories that utilize ghosts tend to be morality tales which show the consequences of actions. These actions may occur in the present day, but often have historical antecedents.

One of my projects this year—school and collaboration willing—is to do research for the aforementioned novel. I guarantee that if I encounter some sort of supernatural or inexplicable phenomena, I will share it with you. In the meantime, does anyone have a good ghost story?