Doctor Who – Meglos

Doctor Who Story 110 – Meglos

Written By

John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch

What’s It About

While trying to repair K-9, the Doctor and Romana arrive in the Prion Planetary System, and the Doctor decides to call on his old friend Zastor. It turns out Zastor needs the Doctor’s help in mediating a conflict between the Deons and the Savants over the mysterious Dodecahedron. But someone else has his eyes on the Dodecahedron—Meglos, the last of the Zolfa-Thurans. He wants to use the Dodecahedron for his own, malicious purposes.

A screen capture of Meglos the cactus.
Source: DVD Active.

There are a couple of very interesting things at play in “Meglos,” both of which are tied up in Jonathan Nathan Turner’s attempt to revive the show. First, the character of the Doctor is being tied to a nostalgic idea. Zastor waxes eloquently about the Doctor in the first episode. He praises the Doctor’s wisdom, insight, and morality. He expresses his confidence in the Doctor’s ability to mediate the division between the Deons and the Savants. His speech almost makes the episode self-aware in its attempt to define the Doctor. It encapsulates qualities that many fans, both old and new, would attribute to the Doctor. It also plants the idea that the Doctor has been and will continue to be; he exists as he once existed, as he will continue to exist.

The second thing at play is the undermining of the Tom Baker as the Doctor image, played out quite literally when Meglos takes on the Doctor’s image. He becomes the evil opposite, at once providing Tom Baker the chance to do something different, but also subtly de-associating him from the Doctor. It is a reminder that Tom Baker is merely an actor, not the Doctor himself. If he is an actor, he can be replaced, as Pertwee before him was replaced. It is also interesting that the Doctor and Romana become trapped in a chronic hysteresis, forcing them to relive the same two minutes over and over again. Metaphorically, this implies that the Doctor is in a rut, an outworking of a formula that repeats over and over again. The suggestion here is that Doctor Who has been repeating the same formula over and over and the only way to succeed is to change. The Doctor and Romana break the hysteresis by going pretending to go through the motions. Similarly, “Meglos” seems like it could be a story from the previous season, making this story one that goes through the previous Doctor Who formula, enabling the show to break free and shift toward something new (which we will see in The E-Space Trilogy).

Beyond this, “Meglos” is pretty forgettable. I was thrilled to see Jacqueline Hill again, but would have preferred to see her reprise her role as Barbara. (Admittedly, this was not part of this story’s scope.) I also love the sentient, malevolent, shape-shifting cactus. It’s silly, yes, but what other show would give us a sentient, malevolent, shape-shifting cactus. I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode, but didn’t find enough to connect with throughout the rest of the serial. The Deons and Savants are not fleshed out beyond the basic characteristic of religion versus science; there is no nuance between them, no interesting exploration of the theme.

In the end, “Meglos” is enjoyable enough. It feels like a remnant from the Graham Williams era in tone and pacing, but lacking the humor.

My Rating

2/5

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Story Review: The Great God Pan

My treasures from California.
My treasures from California.

Earlier this year I finished reading H.P. Lovecraft: The Fiction. Inspired by Lovecraft’s essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” I decided to search out stories which inspired and were inspired by Lovecraft. I didn’t find much help in the local used bookstores in my hometown, but on a trip to California last month I hit the jackpot. I was able to find The House on the Borderlands by William Hope Hodgson, The Last Incantation by Clark Ashton Smith, The Cthulhu Mythos anthology which collects August Derleth’s mythos work, Mysteries of the Worm which collect’s Robert Bloch’s mythos work, and Tales of Horror and the Supernatural Volume 1 by Arthur Machen. And since I am a huge fan of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, I subscribed to their premium feed (which I highly recommend once you work your way through their coverage of Lovecraft) and have been reading along with them.

This week I completed Arthur Machen’s novella The Great God Pan. This is a fascinating story. It was written in the 1890s. Lovecraft praised it in “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” and many Lovecraft scholars and fans have noted the influence Pan had on his own story “The Dunwich Horror.”

The Great God Pan is told in eight chapters. It moves jarringly across a handful of years and characters, making the story a bit difficult to follow at times. Machen wrote it early in his career, and it is unpolished. There are a few places where the story is unclear or where the reader has to work a bit to figure out what, exactly, is being said. But what balances Machen’s often clunky prose is his grasp of untold horrors. In some places, Machen only gives us enough details to start the imagination, then stops and lets us fill in the rest of the scene. The unmentionable, indescribable atrocities that occur behind closed bedroom doors, in secret whisperings in high-society dinners, or in Welsh meadows near ancient Roman markers are only as chilling as the reader’s imagination. In fact, the story was denounced at the time because it was considered scandalous and sexually disturbing. By modern standards, the sexual content is so subtle that it can be missed. But this lack of concrete detail serves to emphasize Machen’s personal worldview: a suspicion of naturalism and a love of mysticism. Although a skeptic of the supernatural, Machen did try out some of the mystic orders that existed at the time (including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), but Machen never entirely turned away from his Christian beliefs. He favored the mysteries and unknown in the spiritual world rather than the strict adherence to a physical, material existence. But where Lovecraft emphasizes cosmic indifference to humanity, Machen emphasizes the dangers to humanity when it acts without wisdom and respect to the spirit world. The ultimate villain of this piece, the one who allows evil to enter the world, is a scientist who is trying to prove a theory. He is cold and clinical, a truly despicable character who views his subject, Mary, as his to experiment on as he pleases. He exposes her to an unfiltered view of reality, which destroys her mind and let’s something evil step into our world.

While The Great God Pan certainly has problems with its prose, the story is still a masterwork of horror and dread. In many places it is very subtle (perhaps too subtle) but it rewards close reading, and I believe it is well-suited for analysis. There is a timelessness to this story that enables it to endure, even if it only endures just beneath the surface of the mainstream.

The Great God Pan can be read online for free at Project Gutenberg. It can also be purchased at Amazon.com. You can subscribe to the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast’s premium feed here and hear all four parts of their coverage of The Great God Pan.

 

Doctor Who – The Leisure Hive

Doctor Who Story 109 – The Leisure Hive

Written by

David Fisher

What’s It About

The Doctor and Romana go on vacation to The Leisure Hive, a recreation facility on the dying planet Argolis. The Argolans, after being nearly wiped out during a twenty-minute war with the Foamasi, have dedicated themselves to a study of tachyonics and recreation. The Hive, however, is on the verge of bankruptcy and the only monetary backers willing to purchase the planet are the Foamasi. The situation grows worse when a tourist is killed during one of the tachyonic demonstrations. The Doctor and Romana must figure out what went wrong during the experiment while Mena, leader of the Argolins, must determine the path for her people.

Don’t cross your bridges before their hatched
I don't like this new Doctor. He's too old.
I don’t like this new Doctor. He’s too old.

The Graham Williams’s era was a struggle; it was an attempt to keep life in a show that looked to be dying. And while there were some jewels in Williams’s run, the era ended on a rather depressing note: a shoddy production followed by a strike. JNT didn’t need to do much to breathe new life into the show. And when “The Leisure Hive” begins, it is clear that Doctor Who’s aesthetics have changed. The camera work is different. The music is different. The Doctor’s costume is different. The humor has, by and large, been toned down. I recommend reading Philip Sandifer’s analysis of “The Leisure Hive” because he discusses how, with JNT, understanding of Doctor Who became paratextual—Doctor Who was influenced by the critical analysis of fans. The show became the focus. Doctor Who was less about adventures in time and space, it was about Doctor Who itself. This is a trait which never left the show.

One of my new-Who friends wants to watch more of the classic show. (Hooray!) She enjoys talking about Doctor Who with one of her co-workers, but since he is a fan of both eras, she occasionally feels lost in his references. She wants to borrow DVDs to help her understand some of what he talks about. But herein is a problem: watching “The Horns of Nimon” and then “The Leisure Hive” doesn’t tell the viewer a thing about what happened to the show. It doesn’t tell the viewer why these stories contrast with one another, nor does it tell the viewer this contrast was a big deal. And so, the commentary of Doctor Who, by which I mean the paratext, becomes important to the understanding of the show. There are layers upon layers upon layers of fan understanding of Doctor Who, which can seem virtually impenetrable to the fan of new-Who. In many ways, it is like debating theology. There isn’t any one right way to interpret Doctor Who. The text (the show) is important, but it isn’t conclusive. Our hero’s name is either the Doctor, or he is Doctor Who. You can use the text to support either view. The UNIT stories took place in the 1970s or the 1980s. Again, the text supports both. And the debate goes on and on through many issues: how many regenerations do Time Lords have; who came up with the name TARDIS, and what does it actually stand for; was Hartnell the First Doctor or just the first Doctor that we have seen; how old is the Doctor; and so on. So, as in theology, the commentary on the text is as influential (often more influential) than the text itself.

Looking at “The Leisure Hive” as a text, it really isn’t anything too different from what we’ve seen before. David Fisher is always a good writer for taking real-world events and translating them to a science fiction setting. In this story, we have nuclear holocaust combined with shady Mafia dealings. It isn’t a space epic on the scale of Star Wars or even on the scale of Underworld, but it attempts to tell an interesting story while taking a few shots at how our political climate is shaping up. Fisher has done this before, but without Douglas Adams to script edit, many of the jokes were removed.

But while the last year of Graham Williams’s involvement on the show was marked by struggle and growth, this first story of JNT’s era took a huge step forward. There is only one problem left, and it is a big one: Tom Baker. This story sees the Doctor ripped apart in the tachyon chamber and later aged a few hundred years. He spends quite a few scenes just sitting off to the side, not taking part in the action. In the final episode, tachyon clones are made of the Doctor, but they quickly vanish. The Doctor is not saving others, he is becoming the victim. He saves the day, not by being Tom Baker, but by being the Doctor. In many ways, the character is being put back into his place. It isn’t about Tom Baker, it is about the Doctor. And who better to rein this in than JNT—who is focused on Doctor Who as paratext, Doctor Who as a show—and executive producer Barry Letts—who directed Patrick Troughton, produced much of Jon Pertwee’s stories, and cast Tom Baker. Both men looked at Doctor Who’s success over the years, not just at what was currently working.

My Rating

4/5