Doctor Who – Dragonfire

Doctor Who Story 151 – Dragonfire

Written by

Ian Briggs

What’s It About?

On the planet Svartos the Doctor and Mel reunite with Sabalom Glitz and embark on a quest to find the treasure of a mythical dragon.


Ace, The Doctor, Sabalom, and MelMy semester has begun so, as with the previous post, expect me to make occasional connections between what I am studying and what I am watching. And as it happens, I am currently studying Marshall McLuhan in my Religion in Media class, which is relevant to Dragonfire because McLuhan is namedropped. Specifically, one character is named after him. As it turns out, quite a few characters are named after film and media theorists, and I am tempted to find what Briggs was trying to say by referencing them. Here is a quick overview:

  • Béla Balázs, Hungarian-Jewish film critic
  • Siegfried Kracauer, German theorist who studied the effect of technology on memory
  • Marshall McLuhan, Canadian theorist who coined the phrase “the medium is the message,” meaning that medium dictates more to our understanding and cognition than the message communicated
  • André Bazin, French film theorist/critic who argued for films portraying “objective reality” rather than the manipulation of reality
  • Rudolf Arnheim, German film theorist and psychologist who believed meaning could be perceived through patterns, shapes, and colors and that art, then, was not merely aesthetic but a perception of meaning and the world
  • Vsevolod Pudovkin, Russian director

Of these theorists, McLuhan is the one I am most familiar with.

With these pieces in play, it is tempting to find a connection between them, a pattern which links them, in an attempt to discern a larger idea in Dragonfire. Unfortunately, such a connection eludes me. Perhaps Kracauer is a reference to the fleeting memory of what constitutes a Doctor Who story, much as JNT said that the memory cheats. Perhaps McLuhan’s ideas of hot and cold media relate somehow to the dual nature of Svartos with its dark, polar region and hot, sunny region. Or maybe it is all a suggestion to not look too deeply since this is light entertainment, which I doubt because Briggs makes frequent references to film theory, philosophy, and Doctor Who studies. I’m inclined to think that the pieces never quite come together from a critical standpoint.

On the other hand, the story is a fun adventure with references to fantasy epics and adventure. Ace’s introduction has quite a few references to The Wizard of Oz, perhaps another clue to decoding the story. So, even if there is no greater message here, or even if the message fails to manifest, there is plenty to engage with. In all, a fine ending to an enjoyable season. Season 24 is a promising start to a re-working of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who – Delta and the Bannermen

Doctor Who Story 150 – Delta and the Bannermen

Written by

Malcolm Kohll

What’s It About?

The last-surviving Chimeron is pursued by the Bannermen. Stowing away on a time-travelling nostalgia tour, she ends up at a holiday camp in South Wales in 1959. But the Bannermen are pursuing Delta, and they do not care who they kill to find her.

I can’t condone this foolishness.

The Doctor holds a guitar.The opening lecture of my “Religions of China and Asia” class included a distillation that seemed obvious once stated but, like all brilliant statements, could not be recognized until stated: “History is not the same thing as the past.”

History is the study of what happened in the past, but inherent in the study of the past is the interpretation of the past. The present always shapes how we view the past; the present influences how we study the past. Historians strive to hold their own biases in check, but a completely objective analysis of history is not possible. Historians studies trends, movements, and events, emphasizing some over others, in an attempt to discern the patters that gave birth to the present. The past is not objectively observable. We cannot walk into the past and see it and understand it as those living in it would see it and understand it.

And in “Delta and the Bannermen,” we have nostalgia tours, the past as a profitable market. The past has become the focus of commerce and tourism. It becomes a facsimile that just happens to take place in the past. Rather than a construct of artificial space in which tourists walk (such as a theme park), the tourists go into the past itself. But make no mistake, the past is dangerous. People live and die. This is perhaps why the nostalgia tour sets its sights on Disney Land, a safe space in a bubble of past events. Going back in time to visiting Disney Land, then, is an experience of history—it has the interpretive framework of tourism, but it may not qualify as experiencing the past because the tourist is not fully present in the moment but in his or her perception of events, a perception which is defined by leisure, marketing, the present reality of the era travelled from.

How interesting, then, that the tourists in “Delta and the Bannermen” die. The people who survive are those who do not operate from the tourism interpretive framework, but are those who live fully present in the present (which happens to be, in this case, the past). The Doctor, Mel, Delta, the Bannermen, and even the named workers at the Shangri-La resort (because a recurring theme in Doctor Who is missing the target, whether in the TARDIS, a time-travelling tourist bus, or visual effects) survive because they recognize the artifice of tourism in the context of the present dangers of unfolding events. And if the past is composed of events as they unfold and history is study and analysis of the past, then “Delta and the Bannermen” makes the critique that the past is more authoritative than history. What happened shaped us and can destroy our interpretations. While history as a field can influence the present, it does not influence the past, and rediscovering events can challenge our work as historians.

And Doctor Who is now a niche field of study in the realm of media history. It is open to a variety of interpretations about perspectives, developing and evolving media, and social commentary. And it reinterprets itself. JNT let that genie out of the bottle and it can never be put back in. Even in its current form under Steven Moffat, Doctor Who is about the Doctor, which indirectly makes the show about itself as deconstructing and reinterpreting the Doctor as a character requires deconstructing and reinterpreting the show. Moffat just does this with more panache and JNT and Saward did in the 80s.

And in “Delta” we see the continuing reinterpretation of Doctor Who at the hands of Andrew Cartmel. Already the show has adopted a striking and effective visual style. Sylvester McCoy has largely emerged as the Doctor, though without some of the nuance he will soon develop. The occasional three-episode format is a nice change of pace. And in this story it is never quite clear what will happen next. Yes, we know the good guys will win (we have emerged from the Saward vision of the show), but it is not quite evident how they will win or even how all the pieces fit together. In some ways, they don’t fit together terribly well, but the tone of the story is the essence of a shrug and a wink, not in a dismissive and patronizing way but in a “yeah, we’re working on it” way.

The show is optimistic again. Yes, it is silly, but it is silly intentionally not through accident. It shows that, if nothing else, the people now running the show are in control of what they are doing from a storytelling standpoint but also from a production standpoint. “Delta and the Bannermen,” like all of this season, is an event; it is Doctor Who being reborn before our eyes. The danger is that we will miss it due our interpretations of Doctor Who. The modern era of Doctor Who is being born.

At least, that’s my interpretation.

Doctor Who – Paradise Towers

Doctor Who Story 149 – Paradise Towers

Written by

Stephen Wyatt

What’s It About?

The Doctor and Mel arrive at Paradise Towers, a high rise building which has fallen into disrepair. They are captured by the Red Kangs, a group of youths fighting for their survival against the Caretakers. As the Doctor and Mel explore more fully, they discover a dystopian society enclosed within the high rise, the vision of a mysterious figure known as the Great Architect.

Well, you never can tell.

The High Caretaker and a cleaning machine.“Paradise Towers” was inspired, according to a cursory internet search, by J.G. Ballard’s novel Highrise. I admit that I want to read this book and do a comparison, analyzing the similarities and differences, but my desire to charge on toward the completion of this project is stronger. The basic premise of Ballard’s novel is a high rise as a battleground. Check.

In this second story of the Seventh Doctor/Andrew Cartmel era we begin to see interesting things take shape. We move in to new territory (no returning villain or monsters). We have the barest hint of social commentary. And it is here where “Paradise Towers” both succeeds and fails. Good sci-fi blends imaginative world-building with social commentary. “Towers” attempts this but doesn’t fully embrace it. The first two episodes are intriguing and engaging, but things start to fall apart in episode three as revelations come, performances break down, and the commentary loses its poignancy. It is as if the story realized, halfway through, that it had silly designs and monsters, so why take any of it too seriously. The 1984 meets Clockwork Orange subtext breaks down and we no longer know if we should be thoughtful or if we should laugh. It’s a shame, really, as the greatest crime against this story is not living up to its own potential.

But the success is that it does, on some level, try. Doctor Who is once more trying to say something about society, if ineffectually, not merely celebrate itself or pat itself on the back. You could make the argument that Cartmel is trying to rebuild the show but hasn’t quite figured out how yet. But the indications are there: social commentary, manipulation, the Doctor being mistaken for a god-like being. It is only a matter of time before he puts all the pieces together.

For my part, I enjoyed the story. It was engaging and fun, which I needed after the struggle I had with Saward’s vision of Doctor Who. To watch in sequence, “Paradise Towers” was satisfying enough. It wasn’t great, but it genuinely tried, which gave it no small amount of charm.

My Rating



Doctor Who – Time and the Rani

Doctor Who Story 148 – Time and the Rani

Written by

Pip and Jane Baker

What’s It About?

The TARDIS is attacked by the Rani, and the Doctor regenerates due to physical damages sustained in the assault. As he tries to remember who he is, the Rani manipulates the Doctor in to helping her with an experiment which would give the Rani control over time itself.

The more I know me, the less I like me.

Promo picture with the Rani, the Doctor, and MelBefore I started this project I had only seen clips from “Time and the Rani.” I was horrified. Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor behaved like a buffoon. It lacked the darker, nuanced performance I had seen in “Remembrance of the Daleks” and “The Curse of Fenric.” As a result, I have been dreading “Time and the Rani” for quite some time. But . . . I enjoyed it.

This doesn’t mean I think “Time and the Rani” is a mal-treated classic. But I think the loathing heaped on this story is disproportionate to what it is. Throughout the story I felt like I was watching a story by Terry Nation, only with a quicker pace and less leg injuries. Watched in context, “Time and the Rani” is a decent story and one that is almost a refreshing tone after the previous two seasons. There is no hint of Eric Saward in this story, and I think that is one of “Time’s” greatest strengths.

That said, “Time and the Rani” falls into the same trap that many introduce-the-new-Doctor stories from the classic era fall in to—no one quite knows what to do with the new paradigm. In fact, the new paradigm hasn’t even been established yet. This story sees a new Doctor, a new script editor, and a new mandate for the show from the BBC (make it lighter in tone). There doesn’t seem to be a strong direction of vision here. They are still trying to forge a path.

But, as the new story after an era that I wasn’t completely enthusiastic for, this story satisfies as a palette-cleanser. It is a decent starting point but not an overly impressive one.

My Rating