Doctor Who – Warriors’ Gate

Doctor Who Story 113 – Warriors’ Gate

Written By

Steve Gallagher

What’s It About

The Doctor, Romana, and Adric materialize at zero co-ordinates—the void between E-Space and N-Space. Believing this may be the gateway back to the Doctor and Romana’s universe, they begin investigating and soon discover a ship of slavers and their time-sensitive captives.

Do nothing, if it’s the right sort of nothing
The Doctor is captured by Rorvik and his crew.
Source: Wikipedia

Ah, and here we have one of those controversial stories. It isn’t controversial because it questions loosely established canon. It is controversial because it is so unusual. Viewers seem to love or hate this story, often the dividing line being how well the viewer seems to understand it (or profess to understand it). For my part, I think this is very atypical Doctor Who. It is a story that exhibits a successful blend of televisual language. The story is divided between scripting, directing, and symbolism. It is told through visual association. It is only by engaging with “Warriors’ Gate” as a unified whole that the story begins to make sense, and even then, at times it is almost like a vague impression. “Warriors’ Gate” is Doctor Who doing high-concept art, and largely succeeding.

Normally I avoid synopses because those are plentiful on the internet. In this case, I will go ahead and give my perception of the story being told, exploring different themes that are broached along the way. The entire story takes place at zero co-ordinates. This void is the space between universes, the space between spaces. But as the TARDIS also moves through time, it is reasonable to conclude the void is also the space between time. Romana directly addresses this when talking to Rorvik and Packard about “timelines” and “striations in the continuum.” Because of this, time has less meaning here. Time sensitives, especially those who have been burned by the time winds, may move through gateways to other timelines. This is expressed in the Tharil castle with the mirror (more on the mirror shortly). The only problem, however, is that time is altered by mass, which means the slavers’ spaceship, with its dwarf-star alloy (read “super-dense metal”) hull, is altering the space-time stability of the void. The ship is a time bomb due to its very presence in the void. But so is the captain, who is desperate to get out of the void.

So, the mirrors. The mirrors are handy as a visual gateway (Through the Looking Glass, anyone?), but they also match the thematic concept of reflection. The Tharils have been enslaved by humans who use them for their time ships. In the past, however, the Tharils were a great race who enslaved others. Biroc says, “The weak enslave themselves.” But the strong may one day become weak, and the robot uprising in the Tharil castle eliminated their strength. So, not only are the mirrors a gateway to the past, they are also a direct connection to it. They reflect the past to the present, and vice-versa. The story of the Tharils is the story of the slavers: the arrogantly powerful being overthrown by the weaker slaves.

At this point, we have a fairly interesting commentary on power and its abuse. The present is an outworking of the past. “Warriors’ Gate” tells this in a rather unconventional way, but it tells it in a fascinating and compelling way. The story required ambitious and visionary directing by Paul Joyce, and that was certainly achieved. But I think there is far more present in this story than the plot.

Who, ultimately, is manipulating events here? Is it the Tharils? I don’t think so. In episode four, the Doctor confronts Biroc, asking him (in the present) what he is doing here. Biroc replies, “Nothing.” Then further expounds, “And you, too. Do nothing.” This is a theme: doing nothing. And when looking at the story closely, nothing the Doctor, Romana, and Adric do ultimately makes any difference in the freeing of the slaves and the defeat of the slavers. There is very little agency for the characters in the story. This sequence of events story is preordained; the events have been planned. Just as the slaves overthrew the Tharil masters in the past, the Tharil slaves in the present will overthrow the human masters. The Doctor investigates and observes, but his actions ultimately make no difference. Biroc tells him outright to do nothing. In a way, the Doctor is fulfilling a very Time Lord role here: observe, do not interfere. Romana makes a decision in the end to stay and help free other Tharils (presumably in N-Space). She makes this decision after gaining wisdom about the Tharil experience (although a reluctance to return to Gallifrey is certainly part of her decision). But Adric also makes decisions by flipping a coin. After a brief explanation of the I Ching in the first episode, Adric takes the concept of random chance in decision making to heart. All his choices lead him to be in a strategic position to save the Doctor and Romana in episode four. Coincidence or guidance? But decisions made due to character agency are very rare. Ultimately, Rorvik decides to fire the engines of the ship in the hope of finding escape from the void. His battle cry: “I’m finally getting something done.” In truth, Rorvik and his crew were puppets performing according to pre-written dictates. Or, more literally, actors performing their pieces. They had no agency because prior to this story, they did not exist. For four episodes they do, but they could only act according to their scripts. Rorvik, by firing the engines and causing his death, exercises his agency—to no effect.

Finally, I love what this story does for my pet theory of season 18 as Tom Baker deconstruction. In episode one, the Doctor enters the ruins of the Tharil castle. He finds the banquet table, which is covered with cobwebs, as are the corpses seated at the table. Metaphorically, the Doctor has entered a tomb. Additionally, the Doctor is told to do nothing in this story. He is at his most useless and ineffective; he has been relegated to observer. The story moves on without him, and Romana symbolically becomes the Doctor and leaves. The companion has more agency than the hero. And now the last hold-over has been eliminated—except for the Doctor himself.

This entire season has impressed me and renewed my interest in Doctor Who and continuing this project. I can’t wait to see what remains of the season, and to see how the regeneration compares to what I remember.

My Rating

5/5

Doctor Who – State of Decay

Doctor Who Story 112 – State of Decay

Written By

Terrance Dicks

What’s It About

Still in E-Space, the Doctor, Romana, and the stowaway Adric arrive on a feudal planet with a solitary castle, the domain of the Three Who Rule. These rulers have suppressed all technology and kept their subjects in a medieval civilization. These rulers also follow an ancient evil, one that once called the Time Lords rivals.

Reconfigured in aggression mode, Master
The Three Who Rule prepare to sacrifice Romana.
Source: Wikipedia

I don’t remember a thing about this story from my childhood. This is strange, because I remember knowing that Doctor Who had vampires. One of the earliest memories I have of Doctor Who is of the Doctor being cautious because vampires are on Earth. Connected to this is a man dressed in black. He runs away from the Doctor.

As I have renewed my acquaintance with eras that I watched as a child, I know that this early memory is flawed. I don’t believe the Doctor ever encountered vampires on Earth. I do, however, know that the man dressed in black who is running from the Doctor is the Master from “The Five Doctors.” So either I thought the Anthony Ainley Master was a vampire based on costume and performance, or I saw “State of Decay” and inferred a connection, forgetting about the episode in the process. It’s fun trying to match up memories with the show. (For instance, I remember—as a three-year-old—hoping to one day see the human race that the Doctor kept referring to. I wasn’t sure if this was a footrace or a space race, but it was important enough to be mentioned on the show quite a bit, so it had to be good.)

I’ve seen “State of Decay” a few times since then. Each time I seem to have a different opinion. Initially, I loved it, then I was embarrassed by it (the Three Who Rule, in particular, are over-acting), then I thought it was watchable but slow, and this time I thought it was great. The special effects let it down a bit, but it is quite a good story, and Dicks sketches some more history to the Time Lords, an ancient war between Rassilon and ancient vampires.

Watching this story, I remembered a discussion I heard once about how “Logopolis” is a good story, but a strange story for a regeneration. In general, I think we’ve come to expect regeneration stories to be a retrospective of sorts. We remember all the good times we had with this version of the Doctor, and get to mourn him. “Logopolis” is a bit of an oddity as it has little reminiscence on Tom Baker’s era as a whole. But in a way, this entire season is the Fourth Doctor’s final story. With “Meglos” we revisit Graham Williams sensibilities, and with “State of Decay,” we revisit Hinchcliffe sensibilities. Much of the rest of the season is redefining the show, recreating it with an eye to the past. And so I think I will start to look on season eighteen as the true final story; a long one, yes, but the final story all the same. “State of Decay” is the final look at the Fourth Doctor’s era. From this point on, the Doctor is a marked man.

Addendum

I was searching “State of Decay” for a specific screen capture. (Ultimately, I just found something on the internet). I had the video on mute because I was listening to a lecture as I searched. Having “State of Decay” without sound, engaging only with the images, really caught my attention. Peter Moffatt’s directing was fascinating. He blends theater staging with television framing. Watching the movements of the camera and the actors was extremely interesting, and if I had more time in my life, I would love to do a deeper analysis of Doctor Who stories, accounting for both the overall story, but also the visual narrative. If I wasn’t a full-time student, I might actually attempt this. Maybe one day I will do my own version of Doctor Who Revisitations, and re-evaluate stories by giving a deeper analysis.

My Rating

4.5/5

Doctor Who – Full Circle

Doctor Who Story 111 – Full Circle

Written By

Andrew Smith

What’s It About

The Doctor and Romana accidentally travel through a CVE and fall into E-Space, a realm that exists at inverse co-ordinates to our own. As they attempt to return Romana to Gallifrey, they arrive on a planet with an Edenic society which lives in fear of Mistfall.

Of Course I’m Better Than You. I’m Elite.
Source: Wikipedia.
Source: Wikipedia.

I’m not sure where it originated, but analyses of season eighteen tend to center around entropy. Without a doubt, this theme is present. And since I have spent the last few reviews pondering the re-definition of Doctor Who that Jonathan Nathan Turner has been creating, I can’t help but view entropy through the lens of Doctor Who as a program. Essentially, the thematic entropy is a criticism of the Graham Williams era of Doctor Who, something I slightly disagree with, but given the output of Williams’s era and the propagandistic historical revisionism JNT engaged in, the argument can be made. JNT wished to return Doctor Who to its pre-Tom Baker glory. This is the difficulty when a single actor portrays the Doctor for nearly a decade in an age when VCRs were not the norm—viewers forget what came before.

In this way, “Full Circle” becomes an interesting critique of fandom . . . or at the very least, viewers. The older people on Terradon remember Mistfall. The younger people don’t. Or, in this case, the older viewers remember Pertwee, Troughton, and maybe even Hartnell. The younger viewers do not. How much more the gap between fans of the new series and fans of the old? By and large new series fans do not need to watch Doctors 1 – 8. If they choose not to, they can easily check Wikipedia for Doctor Who mythos, or they can ask a friend who may be a fan of the old series. But Doctor Who mythos (for this is a better word than “canon”) is a tricky thing, and explanation of it is filtered through fan opinion. And, like the people of Terradon, fans of the new series must take the word of those who have access to the archives (DVDs, in this case). Thus, the old series becomes mythology, and the new series fan may take it or leave it as they wish.

And, to return to “Full Circle,” something similar is happening here. This story marks as much of the redefinition of Doctor Who as is possible without bringing in a new Doctor. This is the first story to fall firmly under script editor Christopher Bidmead’s control (previous stories having been left-overs). This is a story written by a fan, and a young one at that. This is a story that sees a fan actually hired to play a lead in the show. With “Full Circle,” Doctor Who is evolving into a show that is firmly aware of its legacy, and the mythologizing of Doctor Who begins here. In “Meglos,” Zastor shared a gospel of the Doctor. In “Full Circle,” fans are vindicated in Andrew Smith and Matthew Waterhouse (with admittedly mixed results). And it is somewhat telling to me that at the very end of JNT’s long era, the Doctor achieves implied apotheosis. (And then, in the new series, the Doctor is actually called a “lonely god.”)

None of this matters, however, as “Full Circle” is a great story that is only marred by a few bad performances (well, one in particular). And I’m glad, because my interest in the classic series was waning. Much as I enjoy Tom Baker, I’m ready for him to leave. In a few more stories, I get my wish.

My Rating

4/5

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

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

Doctor Who: The Horns of Nimon

Doctor Who Story 108 – The Horns of Nimon

Written By

Anthony Read

What’s It About

Pilots from the Skonnan Empire experience technical difficulties as they transport captives from Aneth. These captives are to be sacrificed to the Nimon, a creature who promises scientific knowledge which will restore the Skonnan Empire to its former glory. Unfortunately, Romana is condemned to join the Aneth captives as tribute to the Nimon.

Come on, old girl. There’s quite a few millennia left in you yet.
The Nimon grandstands.
Source: The Digital Fix Films.

In many ways, a television is a TARDIS—it is a small box, but it has the potential to transport the viewer to new worlds; it can help the viewer to experience new ideas and perspectives. Doctor Who, therefore, is a metaphor for television. Not only has the show existed long enough to trace the development of television production, it plays in numerous genres: science fiction, action/adventures, mystery, horror, romance, and historical drama. Sometimes the show is aware of its meta-fictional potential: The Savages gives us a race that has watched The Doctor’s adventures and been inspired by them, Vengeance on Varos and Bad Wolf comment on reality shows. And so, this line from the final exchange between the Doctor and Romana becomes a meta-commentary when one follows the metaphor: Come on, old girl. There’s quite a few millennia left in you yet. Don’t lose hope; this show still has a lot of life in it.

And what a line to close out The Horns of Nimon, one of the lesser-regarded stories in the Doctor Who canon. The production quality is not good. The acting is extremely hammy, Tom Baker and Graham Crowden seeming to see who can go further over the top. The Horns of Nimon is the Graham Williams era’s second attempt at retelling a Greek myth, and it is the better attempt, in my opinion, because this story is hilarious. That was probably not Anthony Read’s intention, but if you watch Nimon as you would one of those horrible Syfy channel movies, it provides good entertainment.

But I also think that Nimon hint at some interesting ideas—unfortunately, it only hints. At the end of the story, The Doctor implies that the events of this story, which are based on the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, had happened before, specifically, that history has repeated itself. Given that this is the second Greek myth to be reinterpreted by the Williams era, a theme of the cyclical nature of history is developing. This episode marks the final statement on that, however, as this is the final episode of Graham Williams tenure. A strike halted the filming of Shada, the intended finale to the era, leaving Nimon as the premature finale. In a way, this is a fitting ending to Williams’ era—circumstances beyond his control trumped his plans and what aired is thrown together as competently as possible. But with the exception of Lalla Ward, none of the leads seem to be taking the story seriously. The era fades away, maligned and ridiculed; the saving grace is a few moments of humor.

I like The Horns of Nimon. Unlike Underworld, this story is watchable. It is entertaining, even if it isn’t entertaining for the reasons Anthony Read intended. But the story also makes me sad. It epitomizes the Williams era—the best of intentions, but ultimate failure because those who cared about the show were not supported.

My Rating

3/5

Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden

Doctor Who Story 107 – Nightmare of Eden

Written By

Bob Baker

What’s It About

When two spaceships materialize in the same airspace, they become fused. This causes a drug smuggling ring to be exposed, but where are the drugs coming from, and who is responsible for their transfer?

Their worse than idiots, they’re bureaucrats
This image foreshadows that Doctor Who is about to enter the 80s.
This image foreshadows that Doctor Who is about to enter the 80s.

After a few seasons of scripts by Bob Baker and Dave Martin that didn’t work, it is pleasant to see one of them turn in a script which does, by and large work. Baker’s “Nightmare of Eden” is probably his strongest effort since “The Claws of Axos.” From the start, he creates a concept that is realized fairly well on a BBC budget: two ships, a luxury liner and a transport ship, become fused when they attempt to materialize at the same coordinates in space. And it is from this crisis that the drama unfolds. The drug smugglers in this story had a good racket, but this one mistake was the catalyst that revealed their actions and led to their downfall. This is what I enjoy about the story, it is a fairly good mystery (although, it isn’t too hard to work out who the smugglers are), and the accident is what shed light on the mystery. Like many mysteries, it is the one mistake which trips everyone up. So, Baker has crafted a story which blends the sci-fi, monster aspect of Doctor Who with a mystery (drug running rather than murder). And his big, conceptual ideas become the backdrop rather than the main idea of the show. While there are a number of big ideas in this story, they all service the mystery and fit together, interlocking quite well. Even the Continual Event Transmuter fits the idea of spaces fused together, and creates three interlocking locations: the Empress, the Hectate, and Eden. In a way, this foreshadows the conclusion of the story.

This is a confident script, and, overall, it works. It is a solid effort. The production lets it down in a few places, but that is hardly Baker’s fault (well, unless you criticize him for not realizing the ability of the production to service his ideas). But there is a completeness and competence to “Nightmare” that other stories in this season lacked. “City of Death” is still the highlight of the season, but “Nightmare” is clearly the second-place story. And, as I said, this is probably Baker’s best work since “Axos.”

My Rating

3.5/5

Doctor Who: The Creature from the Pit

Doctor Who Story 106 – The Creature from the Pit

Written By

David Fisher

What’s It About

The Doctor and Romana arrive on the planet Chloris. It does not take them long to be captured by the power-hungry Lady Adrastra, who controls the metal-mining industry on the planet. A mysterious shell in the forest has captured her attention, and she demands the Doctor’s help in studying it. But the Doctor soon discovers that the shell is connected to a creature that is in a pit, a creature that eats those who cross Lady Adrastra.

She tipped the ambassador into a pit and threw astrologers at him

creature I’ll go ahead and state outright that I don’t really care for this story, and, apart from a few funny lines of dialogue, I was largely bored by it. It is obvious Lala Ward is trying to refine her portrayal of Romana (as this was her first filmed story). Eratu, while getting points for not being a humanoid creation, is rather odd and hard to take seriously in some of its more phallic moments. And the pace is a bit of a mish-mash. Christopher Barry, while generally a good director (at least, I like him in the First and Second Doctor eras), doesn’t seem to find a good pace for this one. Part four especially seems uneven.

These things aside, there is an interesting idea at the center of this story. The first time I watched it, I largely read it as a “the monster is really quite civilized and the humans are really not” story. We’ve had this in Doctor Who in the past, “Galaxy 4” being a notable example. But what struck me about the story this time around was that the savages, characters who the Doctor would often ally himself with in other stories, were no better than the oppressive regime of Adrastra. Fisher is subverting a Doctor Who trope here, and when the obvious villain has been defeated, the savages and an advisor quickly attempt to fill the power vacuum. And so, this story isn’t really about a misunderstood monster; it is about power structures—in this case, economic since the entire conflict was initiated by an attempted trade agreement. Eratu was attempting to offer the people of Chloris a mutually-beneficial trade agreement that would bring prosperity to both planets. It just happens to upset the balance of power on Chloris. So, “The Creature from the Pit” is actually high-concept science fiction, and it is certainly a theme worth exploring.

And yet, for me, it is hard to watch. The story certainly looks good in many places: the costumes are great, the sets are well-realized. But the pace and directing don’t really emphasize the ideas in this script, and much of the silliness, while helping to maintain interest in the story, doesn’t really bring attention to the ideas lurking beneath the surface of the story. For me, this story was an ambitious failure, which is a shame because I normally enjoy David Fisher stories. But while I may not enjoy the execution, I admire the ambition.

On the whole, and I may have more to say about this in a future post, I feel sorry for the Graham Williams era. Sure, there are some great stories in it, but I feel that this era of the show is one of identity crisis. Doctor Who is trying to find its place in a post-Star Wars world. Williams had the unenviable position of producer when these films came out. He was producer when Doctor Who had to move from gothic horror to light-hearted science fiction. Season seventeen is the season where this identity crisis comes to a head—the very first scene is Romana trying on different regenerations, searching for a new identity. And “Creature” fails to find its voice, unable to find the balance between the high concepts in Fisher’s script, the silliness of Tom Baker and Douglas Adams, and the directing of Christopher Barry.

My Rating

1.5/5

Is There Such a Thing as “Proper” Doctor Who?

Doctor Who Story 105 – City of Death

Written By

David Agnew (Douglas Adams)

What’s It About

After noticing a series of time jumps while on holiday in Paris, The Doctor and Romana discover a plot to steal the Mona Lisa. But the theft of the famous painting is only one part of a centuries-long plan by Count Scarlioni to make contact with a damaged spaceship 400 million years in Earth’s past.

My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems.
The Doctor, Romana, and the Eiffel Tower
Did we mention we filmed this on location . . . in Paris? (Source: BBC Doctor Who web site. Copyright by the BBC.)

If I had to level one criticism at “City of Death,” it would be the establishing shots. Many scenes were shot on location, and I would be surprised if any of them ended up on the cutting room floor. But admittedly, this is nitpicking. “City of Death” is a Doctor Who story in which everything works. The story is clever and complex. The performances are top-notch. The visual effects are good. The dialogue is sharp. Julian Glover has always been a boon to Doctor Who, and watching him trade witticisms with Tom Baker is a joy. The only real flaw is that the characters spend a great deal of time running through the streets of Paris, but if you are going to film characters running through the streets of any city, Paris is probably the best choice. It’s padding, but it is visually interesting padding.

But I want to move to one of the themes of this story. The Doctor and Romana discuss art in part one, Romana believing a computer is just as good at creating art as a living creature, the Doctor disagreeing. Later, a discussion ensues about which Mona Lisa is the real one. Sure, there is the original, but by the end of the story there are six others, each painted by Da Vinci. They are authentic Da Vinci reproductions of the same painting. So, are they real or are they fake? Philip Sandifier goes in to great detail on the real vs. fake discussion on his blog. Here, however, I want to talk about authentic and fake as it relates to Doctor Who as a concept. Specifically, is there such a thing as a proper Doctor Who story?

Source: Tardis Data Core. Copyright by the BBC.
Source: Tardis Data Core. Copyright by the BBC.

As I have been making my way through Doctor Who, I have fallen in love with the stories done in the 1960s. Part of this was due to my reading about the historical context of this decade’s stories. I love historical criticism, and it makes sense that I would apply this lens to Doctor Who. What other show has been around long enough? As I watched these stories, I fell in love with the concepts. I love the Doctors, and I love the attitude of the show. Hartnell and Troughton are my favorite Doctors, and it grieves me that their runs on the show are incomplete. The Pertwee era was a jarring experience for me. The show I had fallen in love with redefined itself. While I enjoyed the first Pertwee season, the rest of his era produced far more misses for me than hits. The Tom Baker years have been similar. I feel like an enigma, as far as Doctor Who fans go: I am more tolerant of Hartnell and Troughton stories than Pertwee or Baker stories. If I like stories from these latter two Doctors (and I do, indeed, like many of them), it is because I think the stories are good—but not because I consider them good Doctor Who stories. I like “The Green Death” because it reminds me of Fringe or The X-Files. I like “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” and quite a few other Hinchcliffe/Holmes stories because they remind me of Weird Fiction. From Pertwee on, I evaluate the show based on how well the stories are told, and how interesting the concepts are. I don’t necessarily think of them as Doctor Who. And let me be clear, this is a personal thing. I don’t for a minute think that my view is the only correct view. I acknowledge that my view is defined by what I love about seasons 1-6, and how Hartnell and Troughton played the part. But I cannot hold other fans to my standard.

The diversity of stories in this show is evidence that Doctor Who regenerates with its lead (or, more accurately, with its producer and script editor). And because of this diversity and constant renewal, it is hard to get at a definition of what a “proper” Doctor Who story is. For every attempt to define “proper” Doctor Who, there is an exception: The Doctor fights against injustice, except when he doesn’t. The Doctor travels with an assistant, except when he doesn’t. The Doctor can travel anywhere in time and space, except when he can’t. The Doctor fights monsters, except when there are no monsters. The Doctor loves humans, except when he doesn’t. Doctor Who is about the Doctor, except when it isn’t. Perhaps the only real qualifier for a “proper” Doctor Who story is “a story produced or licensed by the BBC with the name Doctor Who attached.” It isn’t what any one person feels Doctor Who should be, with the possible exception of whoever is running the show at any given time—with the acknowledgement that the next show runner may completely disagree.

There have been a lot of discussions among fans as we approach the 50th Anniversary, as Matt Smith’s departure has been announced, about what is next for the show. And in these discussions, the Doctor as icon is discussed. The Doctor is supposed to represent certain traits or attitudes. But my problem is that I have never viewed the Doctor in this way. Sure, certain versions of the Doctor fit certain traits or attitudes, but for me, the Doctor is more interesting as a character, not as a character-type. If we can so easily define the Doctor as (insert quality here), don’t we essentially take away the central premise of the show, the question in plain sight: Doctor who? In recent weeks I have started to think that the biggest threat to Doctor Who is an over-familiarity with the Doctor as a character. The show is weighed down with 50 years’ worth of fan interpretation (dare I say, fan theology), and all the mystery surrounding the central character has been drained from the show. The Doctor is our puppet, who dances however we want him to, nevermind that he is an alien and is under no obligation to respond how we want. I have always enjoyed a flawed Doctor, one who makes mistakes; one who doesn’t know everything about the universe, a Doctor who has his own agenda, which may not match what the companions want, or what the audience wants. That is what I love so much about the Hartnell era: The Doctor has his own agenda; it drives his actions. It creates conflict between himself, Ian, Barbara, and Susan. This conflict creates growth for all the characters, and they change. For me, at its most uninteresting, the show gives us a Doctor whose motivation is general do-goodery. He no longer has a personality. He is an icon. He is a representation of ideals. He is a trope.

A photo montage of the 11 Doctors.
We’re stuck with these chaps. All of them. (Source: Digital Spy. Copyright by the BBC.)

This has been a long digression, but I want to make clear that it is only my interpretation, my understanding of character as it applies to the Doctor and what makes Doctor Who interesting to me. Many fans enjoy the Doctor as an icon for good, as an icon for justice and equality. And I certainly respect that view. The Doctor has been an embodiment for justice, equality, and peace for much of the show’s run, new and old. Unfortunately, it makes Doctor Who less interesting for me; this is why I start finding enjoyment based on plot, concepts, and general storytelling, because the main character just isn’t that interesting to me anymore. And this makes me sad.

But, as in “City of Death,” does this make any other Doctor Who story less authentic, less Doctor Who? Absolutely not! All eras of Doctor Who are truly Doctor Who, whether we like them or not. That goes for my favorite seasons and my least favorite seasons. That goes for what has come before, and what may yet come. Since there is no single creator of Doctor Who, beyond the BBC—which isn’t really a creative force in this instance, but a source of production—there is no truly unifying vision of Doctor Who. It can, and should, change. A show doesn’t reach 50 years without changing, sometimes drastically.

And as much as I wish I could view the show objectively, as a dispassionate viewer, I can’t. I spent a lot of time watching and writing about 1960s Doctor Who. I used to watch this show with my mom when I was very, very young. When it comes to being a fan of the show, I do have criteria for what I love, for “proper” Doctor Who is. But if my criteria doesn’t match yours, that’s perfectly fine. We can disagree; conflict creates growth, so long as it is healthy and respectful. I may not be happy with the current form of the show, but I know a lot of people who are; I am thrilled for them, and just a bit jealous. I’m jealous because I can’t quite enjoy the show in the same way they can (and I live in hope that certain rumors floating around the internet are true so I can enjoy the show in a way that I feared I would never enjoy it again). In the end, all Doctor Who produced and licensed by the BBC is authentic; it is all proper Doctor Who.

My Rating

5/5

Doctor Who – Destiny of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 104 – Destiny of the Daleks

Written By

Terry Nation

What’s It About

Romana, bored with her current form, regenerates. Afterward, she and The Doctor get caught between The Daleks and the Movellans, who are at a stalemate in their long war.

Seek, Locate, Do Not Deviate
Romana 2
Another positive for this story is the clever costume for Romana, which is a play on The Doctor’s costume. (Source: BBC Doctor Who web site. Copyright 2013 by BBC.)

Fan opinion, with a few exceptions, considers “Destiny of the Daleks” to be a poor story. And while I am always happy to go against fan opinion, in this case I would have to agree. “Destiny” has a lot of problems. While it has a few things that I enjoyed, they are not enough to redeem the story for me. Strikes against this story, the regeneration scene (which was a necessary plot point since Mary Tamm had left, but it was played for humor—to mixed results), the recasting of Daleks as logic-based robots rather than anger-based mutants, an overly-simplistic attempt to convey a Cold War stalemate, and a production that was at times extremely half-hearted. The last two items on this list are mixed for me. I like what Terry Nation was trying to do. The Daleks and the Movellans were at an impasse, neither able to gain an advantage against the other since both sides used logic in their strategies. Granted, this would have worked better with the Cybermen, not the Daleks, but overlooking this, it creates an interesting twist on the Cold War: neither side can attack due to nuclear armaments, the only way to gain an advantage is to embrace self-destruction. It is an idea that has been explored in different stories (in film: War Games, Star Trek VI, and in the horrendous Superman IV). It is natural that Doctor Who would give it a shot. In fact, they had just one story earlier in “The Armageddon Factor.” And while I didn’t enjoy that story, it did explore the metaphor better.

As for the half-hearted production, there were a number of things at work here. The sets were a mixed bag, many of the background performers obviously didn’t take the story seriously, Tom Baker varied wildly in his performance, and the money just didn’t seem to stretch as far. But what impressed me is the direction. It wasn’t perfect, but Ken Grieve made great use of the steadicam. This resulted in some great panning shots and Grieve made good use of frame-in-frame. He seems to have done the best he could with what he had to work with. Grieve’s efforts help this story, but not enough to make it a success, as far as I am concerned.

My Rating

1.5/5