Doctor Who – The Twin Dilemma

Doctor Who Story 136 – The Twin Dilemma

Written by

Anthony Stevens

What’s It About?

The Doctor has regenerated. And a couple of kids have been kidnapped. And a mollusk wants to take over the universe or something.

I Am The Doctor Whether You Like It Or Not.
The Doctor lounges. Peri looks on in confusion.
This Doctor doesn’t give a tinker’s damn what you think. And neither does Eric Saward.

In my writing class this semester we were told that it is best to not antagonize your readers from the outset. Essentially, do not tell your readers “This is what it is and just deal with it if you don’t like it.” Or something along those lines. While there may be instances where this is used to establish tone, it must be used very strategically and wisely or else it will turn readers off to your work.

It seems that Anthony Stevens or Eric Saward or JNT should have followed this advice. While I understand the desire to create a darker Doctor to contrast with the previous Doctor, while I understand the desire to get back to a Hartnell-esque Doctor, “The Twin Dilemma” does not present such a Doctor. There does not seem to be any consistency in the opening episodes to convey a Doctor who truly has an alien outlook and morality (as the Doctor claims in episode four). To enact egregious violence against a female companion is troubling and claiming that the regeneration-went-wrong-and-anyway-I’m-an-alien-and-I-do-my-own-thing is no way to truly explain this. In order to convey an alien worldview and morality there needs to be deliberate planning and consistent portrayal. What we have in “The Twin Dilemma” is shock as pseudo-character contrast. Five would never assault a companion, therefore Six will. And given that most of this story (and subsequent stories) portrays Peri and the Doctor bickering like a hateful married couple (lacking the charm and humor of Basil and Sybil Fawlty), the assault feels more like domestic abuse than bad regeneration. To cap the story with “I am an alien” and “I am the Doctor whether you like it or not” is truly disturbing and antithetical to what the show has developed as its core outlook. Even the Hartnell era never put the Doctor in position of domestic abuser. Quite the contrary, he was overprotective to a fault.

This is a shocking and horrifying first step in the Colin Baker era.

My Rating

0/5

 

Doctor Who – Shadow of Death (Destiny of the Doctor)

Where Can I Find It?

Big Finish

Written by

Simon Guerrier

Directed by

John Ainsworth

What’s It About?

Ad copy: Following an emergency landing, the TARDIS arrives on a remote world orbiting a peculiar star – a pulsar which exerts an enormous gravitational force, strong enough to warp time.

On further exploration the Doctor and his friends, Jamie and Zoe, discover a human outpost on the planet surface, inhabited by scientists who are there to study an ancient city. The city is apparently abandoned, but the scientists are at a loss to explain what happened to its sophisticated alien architects.

The Doctor discovers that something dark, silent and deadly is also present on the world – and it is slowly closing in on the human intruders…

Shadow of Death cover
Size Isn’t Everything, Zoe

Shadow of Death is set in the sixth season of Doctor Who. Frazer Hines is always a great narrator of Second Doctor stories. His Patrick Troughton impersonation is astounding. The story is a nice mixture of Second Doctor tropes, from a base under siege (somewhat), to white foam, to mild innuendo, to space-age adventure. Honestly, the latter is one of my favorite things about the Troughton Era: the space age. In a way, the Troughton Era is a type historical preservation of what writer in the 1960s thought space travel would be like. It captures a perspective that has changed significantly, and yet the attitude and charm still exist. I love these details in old Doctor Who. I love mining stories for contextual meaning. And it is fascinating how current writers attempt to reproduce those types of stories, but filtered through a contemporary context. Hence, in Shadow of Death we get parallel time streams due to a pulsar. But at its core, Shadows of Death is straight out of a space-age, Second Doctor playbook.

I love how this story reproduces its Doctor’s era (something I felt Hunters of Earth didn’t quite accomplish), but at the same time, I never quite engaged with it. Sure, there was an interesting core concept. The appearance of the Eleventh Doctor encouraged the Second Doctor to solve the problem, but he didn’t provide the answer. I think my main disconnect was with the aliens in the story. They didn’t quite become real to me. I think this is due, in part, to not having anything from their perspective. Sure, the Doctor relayed a message from them, but they never really became an autonomous entity in their own right. This is admittedly difficult to portray due to the core concept, but I still want to know more about them. They never rose above generic alien threat to me.

That said, it’s not a bad story by any means. It is enjoyable and Frazer Hines is always a treat to listen to. But in the end, this second entry into Destiny of the Doctor is still somewhat forgettable.

My Favorite (and Least Favorite) Televised Fifth Doctor Stories

The Doctor, Tegan, Adric, and Nyssa

Until this year I had never really appreciated the Fifth Doctor. But I had never watched his era in sequence. I have a greater appreciation for this era of the show, even though I think it could have been so much better. In some of my earlier posts I posited that the Fifth Doctor era was a struggle between two visions of Doctor Who: a revisionist vision which attempted to distill Doctor Who to the core ethos of the show (represented by Christopher H. Bidmead) and a recreationist vision which attempted to duplicate the types of stories that Doctor Who had done in the past, this time with a better production values (represented by Eric Saward). I don’t believe this was a conscious struggle. (Although it could have been; I haven’t studied it in depth.) But this era was pulled back and forth between highs and lows.

The Doctor, Turlough, and TeganAt the same time, this era of Doctor Who attempted to inject a type of domesticity to the show, one which hadn’t been seen since the very first season with the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan. This largely failed. Of the companions of this era, Turlough has the strongest and most compelling character arc. He was my favorite companion of the season, even though Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric each had histories and events which should have led to compelling drama.

So while the era itself is mixed, I come away from the era appreciative of what they were trying to do, and I appreciate Peter Davison’s Doctor more than ever before. I await my journey through his Big Finish catalogue.

Looking back over the era, here are my personal picks for favorite and least favorite stories.

Favorite Stories
  • Kinda/Snakedance. Christopher Bailey’s two Mara stories are brilliant pieces of religious symbolism. By and large the directors of each story were able to convey his concepts, and while these stories can be a bit confusing, they reward thought and analysis. I appreciate the religious aspect of these stories, and I love that Bailey created multiple civilizations that feel old and lived in rather than quickly conceptualized for the story.
  • The Black Guardian Trilogy (Mawdryn Undead/Terminus/Enlightenment). I didn’t feel I could take these individually because, while I enjoy each story, what I particularly enjoy is the character arc of Turlough. Mark Strickson’s character is introduced as an untrustworthy character and he journeys through temptation toward redemption. While he never completely becomes trustworthy, his journey of self-discovery is fascinating to watch and is extremely satisfying in the end.
  • Caves of Androzani. This multi-faceted story is gripping and thrilling. While I don’t feel that it is strictly a Fifth Doctor story (it is merely a story where the Fifth Doctor happens to appear), it is an emotionally wrenching destruction of the era that preceded it, and it sets the ground for what is to follow—for better or for worse.
Least Favorite
  • Time-Flight. A promising first episode quickly becomes baffling as the Master embarks on one of the dullest plots he has conceived yet. While the supporting cast is wonderful in this (Peter Grimwade is much better at writing character interactions than compelling plots), the story just drags from one incomprehensible scene to another. There are so many plot leaps it is exhausting.
  • The Kings Demons. Speaking of baffling Master plots, the prevention of Magna Carta may be the weirdest yet. Even the Meddling Monk made more sense than this.
  • Warriors of the Deep. I almost think this is the story where Saward won the struggle. The Silurian plot doesn’t go anywhere new. The ending is a massacre. I can’t see what was accomplished in this story. The Myrka is the least of this story’s problems.

Let me know what you think. What are your favorite stories from the Davison years?

The Doctor and Peri

An Adventure in Space and Time

Written by

Mark Gatiss

What’s It About?

BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman has hired Verity Lambert to produce a family-oriented sci-fi drama called Doctor Who. Actor William Harnell, hoping this part would break him out of type-casting and put him on the road to more legitimate artistic work, is cast in the title role. This is the origin of Doctor Who before it was a world-wide phenomenon, when it was just a tiny show fighting against the odds to become a success.

I Don’t Want to Go

Doctor_Who_-_An_Adventure_in_Space_and_Time_PosterThat was the point where I lost it completely. These words which caused inward groaning when uttered by the incumbent Doctor in 2010 caused out-and-out bawling when uttered by David Bradley as William Hartnell in 2013. “I don’t want to go.” And the emotion still floats behind my eyes.

This wasn’t the only tear-inducing moment for me. I estimate that I cried by varying degrees every ten minutes or so. I blame this blog for that. If I had never set out to watch and write about every Doctor Who serial, I would have never spent the time to go beyond passively viewing Doctor Who. I never would have tried to understand context. I never would have searched for information about the people behind the characters. In short, I never would have developed an appreciation for the Hartnell Era of Doctor Who. I love this era, particularly the years Verity Lambert ran the show. The stories produced during her tenure were diverse, ambitious, and surprising. They were intelligent and compelling. They succeeded beyond any expectation when one learns what they were working with. And if An Adventure in Space and Time is accurate in this capacity, they were successful because they were industry outsiders fighting to prove themselves. Lambert was a woman fighting for respect and success in a male-dominated BBC. Waris Hussein was of Middle Eastern descent fighting for respect in a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant [although I cannot entirely verify the “Protestant” aspect in this case]) culture. William Hartnell was fighting to show he, and elderly actor, could be successful despite being type-cast as grumpy, humorless sergeant majors or gangsters in an industry that would be increasingly driven by youth (although that may not have been as much of a hindrance in 1963). The struggle of the outsider is encoded into Doctor Who’s DNA, and it started here, in 1963, driven by a group of creative people who needed to prove themselves to the insiders.

And this is what became clear in Gatiss’s telling of this story. Doctor Who became the success story whereby the outsiders won and gained victory.

It is funny to me that when it comes to his Doctor Who stories, Mark Gatiss is very hit or miss for me. But I have seen stories he has done for Marple and Sherlock and I have loved them. An Adventure in Space and Time is at once a Doctor Who story and not a Doctor Who story. Symbolically, there is a struggle, albeit a real-world struggle. The Doctor, as represented by the show rather than the character, helps them to succeed and overcome. But it is also a docu-drama, part documentary, part fiction. And Gatiss masterfully teases out the insider/outsider story to great effect. At its core, An Adventure in Space and Time is William Hartnell’s story, but it intersects with Verity Lambert’s story and Waris Hussein’s story. And while I would have liked to see David Whitaker (my favorite of the early writers and a down-right influential script editor), I understand the need to focus on the people who best bring out the theme of the story. Gatiss does this beautifully. This is probably my favorite of his work.

I can’t say enough about David Bradley. This man is amazing. In recent performances he has played grumpy or down-right villainous characters (Red Wedding anyone?). In Adventure he performs wonderfully as William Hartnell, showing the cantankerousness of the man, but also the sensitivity, the brokenness, the spark of hope, and the humanity. By all accounts Hartnell could be difficult to work with, but he could also be sensitive and caring. Humans are hard to peg down; we are contradictions. Hartnell was no different, and while he may have been polished up a bit nicer in Adventure (depending on which accounts you read), the complexity of the man comes through. I love that they portrayed the story of Hartnell’s apology to Carol Ann Ford after chastising her.

While it was never likely to happen, I wish William Hartnell could have seen his legacy. In a way, he saw a glimpse of it. He died in 1975, at which time Tom Baker was at the beginning of his tenure. But to me, a fifty-year celebration needs to acknowledge the role of this man who became the first embodiment of the Doctor. William Hartnell founded this character. He provided the grumpiness. He played the trickster. He out-smarted the villains. He struggled with the loss of companions. Every Doctor since him has been an exaggeration of one or more of the traits established in this first era of the show. And while visiting past Doctors is fun, I wish we could see him one last time, providing the voice of authority on what it means to be the Doctor.

Thanks to Mark Gatiss and David Bradley for recognizing and sounding that voice.

My Rating

5/5

bradley-hartnell

Doctor Who – Caves of Androzani

Doctor Who Story 135 – Caves of Androzani

Written by

Robert Holmes

What’s It About?

The Doctor and Peri materialize on Androzani minor, a planet with an intricate network of caves where the immensely valuable Spectrox is mined. But they soon get trapped in a power struggle between the rebel Sharaz Jek, gunrunners, military soldiers, and corporate interests.

Is This Death?

Sharaz Jek, The Doctor, and PeriWhat makes this story work so well?

Is it Robert Holmes? This is the first Robert Holmes script for Doctor Who since “The Power of Kroll,” an admittedly uninspired story. But some elements of “Kroll” reappear here, namely gunrunners. But “Caves of Androzani” is in a whole other league when compared to “Kroll.” This is a tragedy. Some of the Holmes tropes are there. Sharaz Jek is a play on Phantom of the Opera, referring back to the horror stories which inspired Hinchcliffe and Holmes when they ran Doctor Who. Many of Holmes’s scripts would target sectors of society that Holmes had little patience for: stuffy bureaucrats (The Deadly Assassin), tax codes and tax collectors (The Sun Makers). Here, the target is aimed at corporations who play two sides against one another for profit, immoral economics. And, of course, there is the lava monster. Holmes was from the era when Doctor Who had to have monsters. Excise this monster from the story, and you don’t lose much. But as I watched the story, I began to question how much of this was by Robert Holmes and how much was by Eric Saward. This is a tragic story. It is bleak. Once more, we have no survivors. More than any story so far, the Doctor is virtually useless here. He is in way over his head and the only thing he manages to accomplish is to save Peri’s life. Apart from this, he does not solve the problems in the story. He does not call people to a higher calling or morality. This is another story where everyone kills each other, and the Doctor and companion get away—only this time, the Doctor is killed as well.

But most striking is the lack of humor. Humor is a Robert Holmes staple, and there is none here. Now, it isn’t unheard of for writers to try different things or to occasionally break type, but the lack of humor stands out in this story. It is dark, ominous, and tragic. So I return to my question, what makes this story work so well? Is it Saward’s script editing?

Is it Graeme Harper? Hands down, this is one of the best-directed stories in classic Who, and most-certainly the best of the Davison era, which is quite a statement because Peter Grimwade and Fiona Cumming set the bar pretty high. That Harper was able to surpass them speaks volumes to his talent and to why he was invited to direct for new Who. This is a visceral story. It is an emotional story. The scene where Jek is first unmasked (and the viewer doesn’t see it) is probably the most emotionally and viscerally intense scene in Doctor Who since Vasor threatened to prey upon Barbara in The Keys of Marinus (the subtext in that story was rape but it was never actually stated). Even the power struggle between the gun runners is framed perfectly with the positioning of the actors conveying strength and authority. “Caves of Androzani” is a masterpiece of direction.

Is it Peter Davison? I had never warmed to Davison’s era before, but this time through (my first time through in sequence) I got it. He was always a great Doctor, but he was a different Doctor. He was more down-to-earth, more polite and sweet. He was a human Doctor. And because of that portrayal, this story kills him. This story breaks him. From the moment the Doctor gets involved, he is in a position of weakness and he never recovers. And yet he struggles on in an attempt to save Peri. Even Sharaz Jek helps him in the end, showing his humanity rather than playing the villain completely.

Honestly, no one person is responsible for the success of this story. Everything came together to send Peter Davison off. For me, this was the most emotional regeneration story since The Tenth Planet. I’m rather sad to see him go because for the next couple seasons I will be witnessing more Saward bleakness, but now with a Doctor who isn’t afraid to do the hard things to stay in control. I don’t have a problem with a Machiavellian Doctor, but I’m a little concerned about the darkness of Saward’s vision of the show.

My Rating

5/5

Doctor Who – Planet of Fire

Doctor Who Story 134 – Planet of Fire

Written by

Peter Grimwade

What’s It About?

A strange artifact discovered on Earth has ties to Turlough’s past.

Would You Show No Mercy to Your Own

The Master accuses the Doctor of being dangerous to the people of SarnOf the four companions to get a send-off during the Davison era, I think Turlough comes off the best. Peter Grimwade, more than Saward (who was responsible for writing two of these send-offs) is able to handle the character drama better than most. Even though we had been toyed with where Turlough’s past is concerned, Grimwade provides a moderately satisfying conclusion and a believable exit to the character. This makes me happy since Turlough was probably the best-realized companion of the era.

But there is a contrast here with Peri, who I’m tempted to see as a scathing portrayal as an American but in reality just see as a poorly developed character. This isn’t down to Nicola Bryant, per se. It is hard to judge her acting chops with this character because the character seems so ill-conceived. From episode one it seems clear that Peri’s main role is titillation. The blocking of certain shots make this painfully clear. Once more, I’m grateful for Big Finish’s redemption of certain characters in Doctor Who.

But impressive is Grimwade’s handling of a checklist of ideas. No, “Planet of Fire” isn’t a bona fide classic, but Grimwade does seem adept at taking the checklist and doing his best with it. Much like Terrance Dicks with “The Five Doctors,” although I think “Planet of Fire” has more satisfying character moments. Grimwade’s challenge here is to reveal Turlough’s past and subsequently write him out of the show, introduce the Peri, and resolve the Kamelion (non)arc. It isn’t a long list, but each item on its own would be enough emotional and plot drama for an entire story. That Grimwade is able to put all of these in while at the same time scripting a passable main plot is admirable. And that this script actually feels more like an end of an era is fascinating, especially as Davison has one more story left. “Planet of Fire” shakes off everything that had been a part of Doctor Who since “Castrovalva.” On some level, you can make a case that the Davison era ended here because “Caves of Androzani” (the final Fifth Doctor story) is a different beast entirely. This is the final story where the Fifth Doctor can be the Fifth Doctor. This is the final story where the Fifth Doctor faces the Master. This is the final story with a Fifth Doctor companion. And while Davison is still there in the end, you can tell that the Doctor is not quite sure where things are going to go from here. He almost seems to sense that the end is around the corner, and Peri is an indication that his time is over.

And given its tone, “Planet of Fire” is a wonderful break from the darkness that Saward has been spreading over his vision of Doctor Who.

My Rating

3/5

Doctor Who – Resurrection of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 133 – Resurrection of the Daleks

Written by

Eric Saward

What’s It About?

An army from another time is gunned down by police on an abandoned industrial block in London. When the TARDIS crew arrives, they discover the British military has set up a camp in one of the buildings—a building where Daleks occasionally appear via time portal.

You Are Soft

The Doctor aims a gun at DavrosTo me, the most important development in “Resurrection of the Daleks” is not the establishment of Davros vs. Daleks factions but the toll this story takes on Tegan and, thus, on the Doctor. This story is a turning point in the Fifth Doctor’s development, one that sees him shifting to a darker personality. I’m stealing a bit from Ben Herman here, but I really like his theory, which (as I adopt it) goes like this:

During this past season, the Doctor has increasingly been exposed to a bleak and cruel universe. “Warriors of the Deep ended in a massacre. “Resurrection” sees the Doctor trying to decide if he should assassinate Davros. The moral choices he faces are becoming more difficult, and the Fifth Doctor, who started energetic and more domestic (he took part in an Edwardian costume party after all, something other Doctors would have found uninteresting) cannot handle these situations. He is the wrong Doctor for these stories, the wrong Doctor for a Saward universe. That’s not to say Davison is a bad Doctor or that the stories are all bad. But the Doctor increasingly realizes that he is taking emotional blow after emotional blow. He lacks the elitism or sense of superiority of earlier Doctors. He has been around humans for a long time and is become one of them in temperament. The Sixth Doctor, who is only two stories away now, is a darker, more brutally realist Doctor. He is the hard heartedness that the Fifth Doctor needs but can’t manifest. “Resurrection of the Daleks,” to my reading, is Fifth’s first realization that he cannot handle this universe. Tegan, the last remnant of a simpler time, has abandons him for a normal, quiet life. As she said, “It’s not fun anymore.” (Something Saward didn’t observe about his own conception of Doctor Who.) This comes as a blow to the Doctor, and this dynamic will play out over the next two stories as he tries to adopt a harsher attitude, fails, and is forced to regenerate into a Doctor who can handle the Saward universe. (This is quite similar, I think, to the recently released mini-episode Night of the Doctor.) So, essentially, thank you, Mr. Herman, for your fascinating perspective.

It is hard for me to not read the new series Time War into this story. There is a Doctor Who confidential episode in which Russell T. Davies marks “Genesis of the Daleks” as the origin of the Time War. To review, a member of the Celestial Intervention Agency (according to one fan retcon, a generic Time Lord otherwise) forces the Doctor to go to Skaro during the Davros’s creation of the Daleks. The Doctor is supposed to stop the Daleks from ever being created. He fails, but he does (depending on your perspective) alter Dalek history (maybe). But the key piece of information here is that the Time Lords chose to interfere in history by preventing a race from existing. Said race would, understandably, hold a grudge. (Not that the Daleks needed the excuse.) Along the way, the Daleks got involved in many other wars (specifically the Movellan War), but by the time of “Resurrection,” their focus was on the Time Lords. They had suffered great losses during the Movellan War, but that didn’t stop them from wanting to take on the Time Lords by creating a duplicate of the Doctor who could assassinate the Time Lord high council. By this point, formal declarations of war are only a matter of time.

“Resurrection of the Daleks,” then, fits into to broader narratives: one developing the Doctor into a darker personality and one which sees the escalation of Time Lord/Dalek conflict. This escalation can be seen in many early Big Finish audios. (Which, interestingly, were made prior to the new series, leading me to wonder if the Time Lord/ Dalek war was floating in the collective consciousness of Doctor Who fans, or was a strong theory at the time that Davies wove into the new series. I was not a part of fandom in those late 90s/early 00s years [arguably, I’m in my own corner of fandom right now, but not a part of larger fandom movements], so I’m not sure what ideas were floating in the ether. Also, I live in America, which is a slight insulator from larger DW movements.)

All this said, “Resurrection of the Daleks” is an interesting approach to the Daleks. It is a pivotal piece of Doctor Who’s on-going mythology. Despite all this, however, I am somewhat indifferent toward it.

My Rating

3/5