New content soon for Doctor Who: Legacy

Yes, I still play this game. I think it’s absolutely a marvelous game. This weekend, the levels in the Fan Area are awarding 150% experience, and next week, they’re releasing a big content release, with the wrap-up of Season 6 and the addition of Captain Jack Harkness to the companion list. In March, they will be releasing:

  • Season 5, with new enemies with new abilities
  • New allies and Doctors, of course
  • Support for colorblind players
  • Other UI support, like sorting for characters and more team slots.

Why do I like this game so much? Well, first, if you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that I used to be a huge computer game fanatic, playing computer games all the time, until I got hooked on Doctor Who, at which point I lost my interest in computer games and spend most of my time doing things like writing, music, and crafts that are usually related to the show. I’ve tried to pick up games that I used to play (in specific, Civilization V), but haven’t really been pulled back into them – they take up so much time that I’d rather be spending doing other things. But I do still love games, and DW:L is a fine distraction game. Individual levels last 5-10 minutes, so it’s a great game to carry around on my iPad (which I carry around anyway) and play for relaxation or when I’m waiting for something.

But beyond that, the game is very well-crafted, and they kept the fan in mind. They took an already-proven gameplay mechanic (the one used in the hugely successful Puzzles and Dragons), removed the extremely complicated leveling system, added more strategy, and integrated it tightly into the Doctor Who mythos. They chose a puzzle game, so there isn’t overt violence, which keeps the game in line with the show’s overall philosophy. For the fans, they added a lot of characters to collect (6 Doctors and over 50 companions so far), and made it so that you can get all of them for free – you just have to play a lot. If you want to support the game by paying money, you can buy the characters, but you don’t have to. There is one area of the game that you can’t get into without paying, the Fan Area, but it only costs a couple of dollars and isn’t required to enjoy the game.

The team makes sure there’s always something new for the players every week: usually a new companion, but sometimes an extra experience event and occasionally a new Doctor. And they keep the fans informed, telling us what’s coming up and when, and even letting us know if there are major bugs and when we can expect them to be fixed (this has happened twice, I believe). They’ve also intimated that while the original plan was to work backwards through the seasons, starting from the modern show’s Series 7, they’ve come up with a plan to introduce content from the classic show earlier, since the original plan would take them over a year to get through just modern show’s seven series.

Basically, this is a fun game at its most basic, with plenty to appeal to fans of the show and lots of support from the team. I doubt a non-fan would find this game fun, since part of the appeal is collecting the familiar characters, but then if you’re reading this, you’re probably a fan. I think this game is good enough that I will repeatedly advertise it on my blog. I’ve bought in-game currency, first to open the Fan Area and then later simply to support the game. It’s worth it. Check it out.

Doctor Who: Legacy is currently available on iOS and Android, and will be released to the Amazon app store for the Kindle next week. It is also supposedly coming out on Facebook next month (not sure if it will share databases with the other versions).

Eye candy

No, not that kind of eye candy. I don’t have a chance to really write anything today, so here are a few images from my “cool Doctor Who images” folder. Enjoy!

A cool photoshop of the modern female companions (except Clara and the one-shots Astrid, Adelaide, and Rosita) . Amy wasn’t added well, but it’s still cool.

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A message that appeared on the London Underground on the 50th anniversary.

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Cool art. Attribution is in the image.

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I just love this little clip. I think I really love it when the Doctor is taken over and loses control – probably the most terrifying thing to ever see. Which is why I love “42” and “Midnight.”

burn-with-me-martha-o

Poor Martha

The Doctor and Martha Jones

The Doctor and Martha Jones

It’s kind of sad: I really like Martha Jones as a companion, but upon rewatching series 3 from start to finish, I really see why she’s unpopular. She was a great companion: very intelligent, strong-willed, faithful. She was willing to get right into the heart of the situation and do whatever she needed to do. She was also called on to sacrifice far more than Rose or Donna: She spent two months as a maid in 1913, ridiculed for her station and race; she worked as a shop girl for an unspecified (but implied long) time in 1969 to support that deadbeat Doctor; and she traveled the world for a full year, on foot, while the Toclafane were hunting her, to spread the legend of the Doctor.

The thing that really ruined her character was that she fell in love with the Doctor. And it wasn’t just that she fell in love, because a storyline about a companion who loves a Doctor who doesn’t love her back could be interesting. It was that she fell in love immediately. The Doctor kissed her in “Smith and Jones,” and she was already moony-eyed in the next episode, “THe Shakespeare Code.” The first two episodes are tightly tied together – the Doctor insisted on “one trip only,” making it impossible to insert novel or comic book adventures between them – so she really did fall in love as soon as she met him. She knew him for about 8 hours in “Smith and Jones” (she enters the TARDIS after Leo’s party), then, then they land in London, watch “Love’s Labours Lost,” meet Shakespeare, and then they’re lying in the bed and she’s upset he’s talking about Rose – perhaps 6 hours. That’s a total of 14 hours and she’s already sighing about how she loves him and he isn’t seeing her.

This was the writers’ fault. After the reciprocated romantic involvement between the Doctor and Rose, they wanted a story of unrequited love, and I’m sure they also saw the opportunity to use Martha’s love to motivate her (to give her a reason for making the sacrifices she did in “Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood” and “The Sound of Drums”/”The Last of the Time Lords,” though I would argue that Martha’s walking of the earth is far more heroic if she’s doing it to save the world from the Master and not out of love for the Doctor). They just started Martha too early. As it was, she fell in love with the Doctor way too fast, which wasn’t realistic, and then her occasional expressions of that love weren’t worked into the episodes well, and therefore came off as her just mooning stupidly for him. It didn’t help that the Doctor’s mourning the loss of Rose was also poorly handled sometimes, such as the bed scene in “The Shakespeare Code,” making Martha look even worse.

Martha does return as a much better character later, in “The Sontaran Strategem”/”The Poison Sky” and “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End,” but by then, either we were more interested in Donna or we’d already formed a poor opinion of Martha and didn’t care to see her again. In my “if they could do it all over again” world, after “one more series of the Tenth Doctor and Donna,” I’d ask for Martha’s series to be redone with her romantic feelings starting somewhere around “The Lazarus Experiment.” In fact, that’s the best place for it: up until then, she’s just a loyal companion, but when her mother starts to question the Doctor, Martha starts realizing she’s in love. It’s actually still too early in her real timeline – it’s only been a couple of days since she met the Doctor – but to the audience, five episodes into the series is enough time.

When I watch her episodes now, the romantic storyline bugs me, so I just sort of ignore it, and I still prefer Martha over second-series Rose (Donna ftw!). I find her to be a lot better in the novels, which tend to not address that aspect of her, and that’s the Martha that I picture to myself.

An interesting thought about companions

One of the best things about being married to a fellow Doctor Who fan is that we talk about the show all the time and sometimes come up with interesting insights out of seemingly banal conversations. Here is one from today.

Tegan, the token human

Tegan, the token human

Last night, we were watching “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” and were surprised when the Doctor mentioned that Leela was human. We had always thought that her people, the Sevateem, were human-looking humanoids from a different planet, but instead, they’re a regressed tribe of humans from the future. In discussing this, I realized something very interesting about the Doctor’s companions: the Fifth Doctor is the only Doctor that traveled primarily with non-humans. His companions were Tegan (human), Nyssa (Trakenite), Adric (Alzarian), Turlough (Trion), Kamelion (android), and Peri (human) (and Peri was only his companion for two episodes). The Doctor that comes closest to this is the Fourth Doctor, who traveled with the humans Sarah Jane, Harry, and Leela, and with the non-humans Romana, K-9, and Adric (for four episodes). All of the Fourth Doctor non-humans were in the latter half of his run: there were no humans in the TARDIS between the departure of Leela and the arrival of Tegan.

It almost feels like someone decided the Doctor needed to have non-human companions and went overboard with it, and then someone decided to punt them all from the TARDIS at the end of the Fifth Doctor’s run.  Beyond these, the only other non-human companions were Astrid Peth (Tenth Doctor) and River Song (who was human with some Time Lord characteristics).

After seven seasons of the modern show, it would be nice to have a non-human companion. It wouldn’t have to be a non-human-looking companion. A humanoid companion with an alien personality would be really nice, especially if there’s also a human in the TARDIS for us to identify with. Turlough and Romana especially were very interesting companions, and I’d love to see the show do something similar again.

When the Doctor is not the Doctor

The Doctor is such a complex character, coming from a race that created the time vortex and oversaw the entire universe to make sure that it proceeded as it should, but ultimately disagreeing with his people about what their responsibility really entails. He thus has to make decisions based on weighing the good of the universe and the importance of its overall structure against the disasters and sufferings of individuals and civilizations in the here and now. He fights the ultimate struggle of law versus chaos every day, and has to decide which is more important in each situation. This is one of the main things that draws me to the character: it’s not the individual Doctors’ personalities (though that influences my choice of favorite incarnation) or his exploration of time and space, but instead his approach to moral struggles and the different ways in which he resolves them.

In most cases, the Doctor adheres to the Laws of Time and works within them to help people where he can.  Even when it breaks his hearts to let horrible events proceed, he does not attempt to change fixed points in time (and tries to fix them if they’re broken, as in “The Fires of Pompeii”) and avoids going back on personal timelines and established events. He resists giving himself and others glimpses of the future. And then, of course, he has his own personal code, the one that makes him stand against the Time Lords and strive to help people across the universe. But though he’s a Time Lord and the hero of our story, he’s just a man and he makes mistakes. When he does break the rules, either the Laws of Time or his own, it’s either an accident (“Father’s Day”) or an enormous personal failing that has grave consequences (“The Waters of Mars”).

There are, though, a couple of instances in which the Doctor does very un-Doctorish things that are hidden by the greater story, but when you look at them closely, can really ruin the character or the story. I’m listing two of them here, one of which most people will agree with and the other of which no one will agree with.

The first instance is in “Love and Monsters.” Now, this is my single most hated episode of the modern series: I have only seen it once, and I don’t plan on ever viewing it again. The first part of it, dealing with the development of LINDA, was great, and then, well, the Abzorbaloff appeared. I realize that it was the product of a Blue Peter competition and was designed by a child, but it was pretty stupid. (Sorry! It’s horrible to say that about a child’s creation, but…) But that isn’t what turned me off of the episode. The thing that ruined it for me was the ending, where the Doctor locked Ursula into the stone slab. Ignoring the horrible fate of spending your life (and eternity?) as a stone face, the action was completely out of character for the Doctor. While he tries to save every life that he can, he also knows the difference between a life and an existence, and should never have even considered what he did to Ursula as an option. In plain terms, it was cruel. It is so contrary to the nature of the Doctor that I refuse to acknowledge that it ever happened.

The single most subtle and effective use of the Doctor's tactile telepathy.

The single most subtle and effective use of the Doctor’s tactile telepathy.

The second instance is in “Vincent and the Doctor.” Yes, we’re going from one of the most hated episodes to one of the most beloved. This was a beautiful episode, with the Doctor and Amy helping Vincent appreciate his work and his vision, Vincent helping them hunt down the monster, and their realization that the monster was simply lost, blind, and terrified. Then, in order to help Vincent, and probably to appease Amy, who wanted Vincent to not commit suicide and die young, the Doctor took Vincent to the future to see the legacy he would leave. This is another out-of-character action: the Doctor does not reveal a person’s future. I’m not sure if this is a personal rule or if it’s part of the Laws of Time, but it comes up every so often and the Doctor always refuses to do so. (Except in the TV movie, but so much in that goes against the entire rest of the show that I think it should be ignored.)

I’m of the opinion it’s part of the Laws of Time, because knowing your own future can change it, and the Doctor is incapable of knowing how it’s going to be changed. The Doctor didn’t know what had changed when they returned to the Musee d’Orsay. Amy had hoped that showing Vincent his legacy would overcome his depression and prevent his suicide, but it could easily have gone the other way, putting so much pressure on him to deserve that legacy that he destroyed himself even earlier than he should have. The Doctor had previously refused to show people their personal futures, so this was an out-of-character action for him, added to the story simply for emotional effect. I still love the rest of the episode, but the ending appalls me every time.

I do wonder if I’m just being too obsessive, requiring that the Doctor remain consistent (or at least pay the price when he breaks the rules). I think that’s one of the hazards of being a fan, honestly. The writers are not always going to see things the way I do, and so I just have to take the story for what it is. Oh, but I do love to kibitz.

 

 

 

The Doctor with friends

There she is! Can you see her?

There she is! Can you see her?

My best friend and her husband have finally gotten into Doctor Who. She started watching it at my insistence, one episode every so often, and her husband would catch a couple of scenes here and there. Then she hit series 3, and he got completely hooked. Last night, I went over to their house so that I could watch my favorite episode, “Human Nature” / “Family of Blood,” with them as they saw it for the very first time.

It was a wonderful experience. I, of course, know the story backward and forwards, but it’s been a very long time since I saw it for the first time, and it’s difficult to reacquire that first-time wonder.  I got to re-experience some of that through my friends. Here are some of the cool things that happened (using the completely fictional names Sandy and Carl for my friends).

  • During the opening scenes, the Doctor and Martha flee the Family and the Doctor says, “I’ve got to do it,” then John Smith wakes up from his dream. Carl remarked, “Oh, so the Doctor does sleep!” A few moments later, Martha the maid entered the room, and both my friends went, “Uh…?”
  • When John rearranges the scarecrow and Joan asks where he learned to draw, he reflexively answers, “Gallifrey.” Carl gasped, “Oh!”
  • Sandy almost cheered when the Doctor revealed himself in the spaceship.
  • When the Doctor meted out his punishments, Carl muttered, “Oh. My. God.”

I had been telling them it was my favorite episode for a week now (without telling them anything about it), so I was very much afraid they’d find it to be nowhere near as wonderful as I do. Luckily, they loved it, and Sandy said she felt it needed to be watched a few times so that she could catch all of its complexities. Sandy and I then watched “Blink” (Carl had to go to sleep), which she also loved because of its thrill factor, though she felt that HN/FoB was better. I am very excited for them to hit series four, which is the one I feel is the best of the modern show.

That was such a great experience that I’m hoping to do that again with them with other important episodes, such as “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead,” “Midnight,” The End of Time, and “Vincent and the Doctor.” And, of course, “The Day of the Doctor.”

Fates worse than death

One of the current favorite memes is how Steven Moffat loves to kill his characters. Now, I’m not talking about Sherlock here, because though I’ve watched all of it except the current season, I am not conversant enough with the show to discuss it. I’m just looking at Doctor Who. According to this article, Rory and Amy have each died eleven times (this number is arguable). Then there are other major character deaths:

  • Jenny in “The Name of the Doctor”
  • Strax in “A Good Man Goes to War” and “The Snowmen”
  • River in “Silence in the Library” and “The Name of the Doctor”
  • Clara in “The Snowmen” and “The Name of the Doctor”

I got this list from the web, and removed the Doctor from it because we always know when the Doctor will actually die, so he isn’t relevant to what I’m talking about here. So, yes, it looks like Moffat kills off the major characters quite often. And the meme goes on to compare Moffat with George R. R. Martin, who is known for killing off characters in Game of Thrones. There’s a big difference between the two, though: characters in Game of Thrones stay dead. (At least as far as I know. So far none of the characters I’ve seen die have come back.)

Moffat’s characters don’t stay dead, and thus, I don’t feel that the meme is really deserved for him. So far, we haven’t seen a major character actually die; you could argue for Amy and Rory in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” but their exit removed them permanently from the show specifically without killing them: they were pulled back in time where the Doctor could not ever encounter them (due to paradox) and lived the rest of their lives together. In all of the other cases, the deaths were erased in some way or the death was an alternate version of the character.

There are a lot reasons why you might want to kill off a character: shock value, to deal with themes of grief and love, to deal with themes of loss, for example. In many cases, the deaths in these past series were very emotional, but in others, they were cheapened by the frequency and the meta knowledge that it’s just going to be erased anyway. “Oh, no, Rory’s dead again” is a very popular meme, to the point of not taking the character seriously any more. I think the phrase is “toying with the heartstrings” – kind of a cheap way to evoke emotions. The ultimate in cheapened deaths was Clara’s in “The Name of the Doctor,” in which she made the ultimate sacrifice to save the Doctor, only to have him jump into his own timestream (major paradox?) to pull her out. What would have been a beautiful and heroic death became, well, boring.

The best Moffat death.

The best Moffat death.

I’m going to add one more death to Moffat’s total here, because he wrote the episode: River’s death in “Forest of the Dead.” After a wonderful episode in which we’re tantalized with hints about the Doctor’s relationship with River and an ending in which River sacrifices herself to save the Doctor, the Doctor finds a way to resurrect her within CAL. In this particular case, the resurrection adds to the beauty of the episode and River’s storyline: the Doctor, moving in the opposite time direction as River, realizes that he, in the future, gives her (and therefore him) the means to effect the resurrection, and thus he saves her. River only gets this one death, ever, and it’s fantastic.

Russell T. Davies’ time at the helm didn’t have many character deaths. There’s Captain Jack’s first death, from which he was resurrected by the Bad Wolf and made immortal – this was more of a plot point than anything else, as it set up his character for future appearances and for Torchwood. None of the other main companions die, and of minor companions, there’s Astrid Peth, who dies sacrificing herself for the Doctor, and Adelaide Brooke, who kills herself to teach the Doctor that the Time Lord Victorious is wrong. One other notable death was Jenny, who was resurrected by the Source: another beautiful death that was cheapened by a pointless resurrection.

The thing that Mr. Davies did in his era was establish tragic storylines without deaths. Let’s look at how his companions depart (other than Astrid and Adelaide, mentioned above).

  • Captain Jack is left behind because the Doctor can’t bear to be with him, due to him being an anomaly.
  • Sarah Jane Smith realizes that she has to move on with her life.
  • Mickey realizes that Rose will never love him and that he could really make a difference by staying in Pete’s World.
  • Rose is torn from the Doctor into Pete’s World. When they reunite, the Doctor gives her up because he knows he can’t keep her forever, and she departs with the Meta-Crisis Doctor. (Tragic for him, maybe not so much for her.)
  • Martha realizes her love for the Doctor will never be requited and leaves him.
  • Donna’s memories of the Doctor are torn from her by the Doctor so that she doesn’t die.
  • Jackson Lake parts amicably with the Doctor, but he’s just lost his wife.
  • Lady Christina is rejected by the Doctor because he doesn’t want to ruin another companion’s life.
  • The Doctor sacrifices himself for Wilf.

So many different kinds partings, tragic on one side or the other. Death isn’t the only tragedy: there are fates that are in some ways worse than death. I’m not saying that the deaths in the Eleventh Doctor’s run are banal. I’m saying that there are other ways to tell a story, to make your point, and that having characters die over and over again makes less of an impact each time it happens.

Suspension of disbelief (or lack thereof)

It's coming to get you!

It’s coming to get you!

If you’re going to watch Doctor Who, one thing that you definitely have to do is suspend your disbelief. This is especially important when watching the classic series, because you will need to convince yourself that the actor swathed in a sheath of green-colored bubblewrap writhing on the floor is actually a scary slimy alien insectoid pupa (in “The Ark in Space,” which, despite the terrible bubblewrap pupa, is one of the best classic episodes). However, you also have to do this for the modern show, too.

There have been a few unbelievable special effects in the show. I remember watching “Aliens of London” for the first time and cringing at the Raxacoricofallapatorians. The alien costumes have gotten a lot better since then. However, there are other things you have to take with a grain of salt. Doctor Who exists in its own little world and as such, doesn’t have much affinity with the realities of our world. Other sci-fi shows stay as much within the realities of real-life physics as they can, but Doctor Who doesn’t. It doesn’t even try. It sacrifices “reality” for its story, and asks you to suspend your disbelief to enjoy that story. And, in most cases, for us fans, that’s ok. We’re willing to immerse ourselves in this completely alien universe. But sometimes it’s a bit difficult.

No one was hurt in the burning of this atmosphere.

No one was hurt in the burning of this atmosphere.

Here’s an example that had me ranting after the episode was over. In “The Poison Sky,” the entire Earth’s atmosphere is contaminated with Sontaran clone feed gas, and the Doctor has to get rid of it somehow before it kills everyone. He fires a ball of flame up into the atmosphere that ignites the gas, and the fire wave travels over the globe, purifying the air. Even though the Sontaran gas is down at ground level, the flame wave that starts and travels horizontally around 2000 feet up cleanses the air at ground level. There’s no problems with low oxygen levels after the fire is gone, and the sky is shown to have clouds in it, though you’d expect that a wave of flame would evaporate them off. Then, of course, you could point out that the Earth is a not a smooth sphere and the wave must have hit hills and mountains, but there’s no reports of any fires started by it. There are a lot more I could point out, but I think the point is clear: to enjoy the show, you just have to go with it. (Don’t get me started on the location of the moon after the Earth brought back from the Medusa Cascade in “Journey’s End.”)

The thing that Doctor Who must do, then, is stay faithful internally. It has a huge, varied history and there are a lot of things that can’t be reconciled (the UNIT dating controversy, referenced in “The Day of the Doctor,” is a good example), but when especially the modern show can’t stay faithful to itself, the viewer starts to question what he’s seeing and it can very much ruin the experience. A minor example of this comes from “The Beast Below.” Near the beginning of the episode, the Doctor tells Amy, “An important thing. In fact, Thing One. We are observers only. That’s the one rule I’ve always stuck to in all my travels. I never get involved in the affairs of other peoples or planets.” Now, this line turns out to be important to the narrative, because later Amy must have the idea of non-interference in mind for her to figure out that the Doctor, like the star whale, will choose to interfere for the sake of children, but it is completely out of character for the Doctor: he always interferes when he believes it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the reason he doesn’t get along with the rest of the Time Lords, throughout the fifty years of the show. There was no reason at that point for him to lie to Amy about it, other than the narrative reason. It never comes up again, and she never questions his interference. My reaction to the line when I first saw the episode was, “What?” and I missed the next part of the scene because my husband and I had stopped to discuss it. (Ok, we looked at each other and said, “Why the hell would he say that?”)

I’m able to approach the show with the ability to overlook / ignore some contradictions (like the one above) and enjoy the episodes as they are meant to be, but there’s one that completely ruins episodes for me: the Weeping Angels. We watched “Time of the Angels” / “Flesh and Stone” last night. I know this story is considered one of the best of the modern show and I tried so hard to enjoy it, but, like the first time I watched it, by the end I was angry and frustrated. I could tell that the story was good, but the Angels were so ruined in the episode that I simply could not suspend my disbelief.

The Weeping Angels were introduced in “Blink” and were very well-defined. Here are the rules they operated by, as stated by the Tenth Doctor.

  • “They are quantum-locked. They don’t exist when they’re being observed. The moment they are seen by any other living creature, they freeze into rock.”
  • “They can’t risk looking at each other. Their greatest asset is their greatest curse. They can never be seen. The loneliest creatures in the universe.”
  • “They are fast, faster than you can believe.”
  • “In the present they consume the energy of all the days you might have had. All your stolen moments. They’re creatures of the abstract. They live off potential energy.”
  • “There is a world of time energy in there they could feast on forever, but the damage they could do could switch off the sun.”

When I first watched “Blink,” I found the concept of the Weeping Angels hard to believe (how does a creature who gets frozen when anything looks at it get created in the first place?), but the magnitude of the disbelief was not large and the quality of the episode far overweighed any problems I had with them. Then they were re-used for “Time of the Angels” / “Flesh and Stone”. The brilliance of “Blink” came from the mixture of Sally Sparrow trying to pull together all of the pieces of the time puzzle and the stop-motion threat of the Angels, but Mr. Moffat couldn’t do that with these new episodes. You can’t just do the same thing and expect it to work again. This time, it had to be more of a traditional monster converging on the Doctor and his companions, so he gave the Angels more powers, and succeeded in retconning everything that was stated about them in “Blink.”

  • The Angels now kill by snapping your neck.
  • They fed off the energy of the Byzantium engines, not potential energy or time energy.
  • Eleventh Doctor to the Angels: “That’s pure time energy. You can’t feed on that.” – Contradicts the reason why they were trying to get into the TARDIS originally.
  • Anything that takes the image of an Angel becomes an Angel.
  • An army of Angels surrounding a victim somehow do not see and quantum lock each other.
  • Angels are stuck as rock if they think someone is looking at them, and don’t know that a human with her eyes closed can’t see them.
  • Angels that are not quantum locked (and therefore are not rock) move slowly and make stone-scraping noises when they turn their heads.
  • Angels are willing to grab characters, rather than killing them/sending them back into the past, so that they have enough time to discuss their imminent deaths with the Doctor.
No, really, Angels, you have to know?

No, really, Angels, you have to know?

After a certain amount of “that’s not how they work!” and “they’re really stuck because they think Amy can see them?” you lose track of the story. Are you able to suspend your disbelief? I couldn’t. The Angels felt so contrived, just to try to make exciting scenes. And once you start doubting what’s going on, you start doubting everything. Why did they leave Amy in the forest when Octavian could have simply carried her with them? Of course, it was a narrative thing – in addition to having someone observe the opening the big crack, they needed a moment when the Doctor and Amy weren’t together so that the future Doctor could come and talk to her – but the point is that once you’re no longer immersed in the story, you start to see other problems with the story that you wouldn’t notice otherwise.

While I’m particularly vocal about the Weeping Angels (and it only gets worse: you’re telling me that the Statue of Liberty can walk across Manhattan without a single New Yorker seeing it?), they aren’t the only things that are getting hard to stomach, but I won’t start on the Daleks today. I’m not saying that they can’t add to existing concepts, just that there’s a limit to what they can change about them without sacrificing believability.

Propriety

I read an article this weekend that discussed an issue that the early Doctor Who showrunners had to deal with, the propriety of having a woman traveling alone with a man. It’s something that we don’t even think about nowadays. We had no problems with Rose, a 19-year-old girl, running off with the Doctor, who looked to be in his forties. Of course, early on in series one, there was no indication of a romantic relationship between the two characters, and by the end of series 1, we were comfortable with the two characters traveling together, so it wasn’t an issue. But back in 1963, this would have raised eyebrows. Considering that Doctor Who was considered a children’s show, that kind of thing was forbidden.

Susan and her chaperones

Susan and her chaperones

When the show was first conceived, Susan was created as a teenager but wasn’t the Doctor’s granddaughter, and even with the presence of Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright in the TARDIS to act as chaperones, the propriety was questionable enough that they changed the character to be his granddaughter. This way, no one could suggest that there was anything going on between the Doctor and his young companion. Of course, it worked out well for the show, since the familial relationship between the Doctor and Susan was such a big part of the show’s early days.

Since the article made me wonder how well they kept to this ideal, I plotted out the tenures of all of the companions to see how they overlapped, and someday I’ll convert it into an image to show it all comes out. But in the meantime, I’ll point out a few salient points.  Throughout the entire classic series, the Doctor has at least one female companion at all times, except during the Fourth Doctor episode “The Deadly Assassin,” which is set between the departure of Sarah Jane Smith and the arrival of Leela. Throughout the tenures of the First and Second Doctors, there was always at least one other male in the TARDIS with the Doctor and his female companion: first Ian and Barbara, then Steven Taylor, then Ben Jackson, and finally Jamie McCrimmon.

The Third Doctor never had a male companion: Liz Shaw, then Jo Grant, then Sarah Jane all were his sole companion, though Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and to a lesser extent Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates, also appeared during much of these episodes. I think that the reason the women were allowed to be alone here was that for much of the Third Doctor’s tenure, he was trapped on Earth and wasn’t actually traveling. Thus, though the women were companions, they didn’t live in the TARDIS and therefore didn’t live with the Doctor. By the time the Doctor gets his TARDIS back, two years had passed and the concept of the Doctor having a platonic relationship with a single companion was acceptable enough.

When the Fourth Doctor appeared, Sarah Jane had a chaperone in Harry Sullivan, but he left at the beginning of season 13, and from then on, the Doctor wasn’t forced to take on extra companions. Sarah Jane, Leela, and Romana didn’t have a chaperone for most of their time (I don’t consider K-9 to be an appropriate chaperone). The Fifth Doctor’s run gets a little interesting. For the first time since the Second Doctor, the Doctor had a full TARDIS – three companions – for almost two seasons (again, I’m not counting Kamelion because though he’s technically in the TARDIS and rounding out that third spot, he really only acts like a full companion in his first and last episodes). I know that it’s been mentioned that Peter Davison was forbidden from putting his arm around Nyssa’s or Tegan’s shoulders specifically to prevent people from thinking that the Doctor might have any familiarity with them, so the propriety ideal is still there. However, Peri was then introduced specifically for her sex appeal. Very interesting dichotomy of thought there.

From Peri on through Ace, the Doctor always only had one companion, so again it was ok for the Doctor to be traveling with a single female. And of course, in the new series, that’s not even an issue anymore – the issue of the Doctor’s relationship with his companion(s) is now dealt with through the story, rather than ignored, which is probably what caused the problem in the first place. If the show doesn’t tell the audience what’s happening, that’s when they start making up their own theories about it.

“The Caves of Androzani”

tcoa“The Caves of Androzani” (henceforth abbreviated TCoA) is the last episode of Peter Davison’s era of Doctor Who, and it’s considered the best episode of Doctor Who ever. That might be hard to believe for people who are primarily familiar with the modern series, that the best episode comes from the classic series (that it’s considered better than, say, “Blink”) and that it’s a Fifth Doctor episode (and not from Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, or William Hartnell), but it seems to be the general opinion among those who are fans of both the classic and modern eras that if “The Caves of Androzani” isn’t the #1 episode, it’s in the top three.

I watched it back in October or so with no idea that the episode rated so highly, with only the knowledge that it was the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration episode, and as such, I was mostly watching it to see the Doctor get embroiled in some situation, win the day, and sacrifice himself (I knew the circumstances of his death beforehand). As such, I was immensely disappointed and the episode didn’t make much of an impression on me at all. Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about the show and decided to give it another go.

Before I continue, here’s a link to an article that I’ll reference at least once. It’s from a blog called Classical Gallifrey, which did in-depth analysis of all Doctor Who classic episodes. Its treatment of TCoA is a little down the page, behind the “Read More” link at the bottom of the entry. The analysis is extremely long and I only skimmed it very lightly.

Classical Gallifrey

Now, onwards! Spoilers ahead.

I think my second viewing of TCoA was very well-informed by my recent viewing of “The Robots of Death.” I noticed during that episode that a major part of it had to do with the personalities and relationships of the people working on the mining vehicle. In the modern show, the episodes mostly focus on the Doctor and his companions, with the guest characters forming a backdrop against which they play, but in the classic show, it seems that often the guest characters are the meat of the story, with the Doctor and companions being almost completely incidental. This is the case with TCoA. The Doctor and Peri arrive on the planet Androzani Minor and get embroiled in a political war between multiple sides. The planet produces a substance called spectrox that prevents aging, making it “the most valuable substance in the universe,” and everyone wants to control it. The main players in the war at the start of the episode are

  • Morgus: The man who owns the spectrox mining operation and lives on Androzani Major
  • Sharaz Jek: A strange masked man who lives down in the caves and, with an army of androids, steals the spectrox and kills off the miners
  • The President: The president of the government on Androzani Major, who nominally has control but is beholden to Morgus to keep himself young and knows Morgus has bought most of the government
  • Chellak: The general of the army tasked  by Morgus with cleaning Sharaz Jek out of the caves
  • Stotz: A mercenary who supples Sharaz Jek with weapons, but is loyal to whoever pays him

This is just at the beginning of the episode, and only the most important people each faction; there are a couple of other characters that have major effects on the story as it goes along. When we first enter the caves, Sharaz Jek has established his operation in the caves and has been holding off Chellak’s forces for six months, pretty much running circles around the army. With the spectrox mining being hampered, Morgus is not making the profits he’s used to and is getting desperate to get rid of Sharaz Jek. The episode is a tale of political and military maneuvers, as different factions learn what’s going on, stage attacks and schemes, and change allegiances.

Where does the Doctor fit into all of this? He and Peri land on Androzani Minor and enter the caves to explore. They fall into a growth of raw spectrox before being found by Chellak’s men, who accuse them of being gun runners for Sharaz Jek. They spend most of the episodes bouncing back and forth between the different factions, who each believe they are spies for some other faction. Meanwhile, they discover that raw spectrox is toxic to humans (the sickness is called spectrox toxaemia) and that from their brief contact with it, they are both dying. There’s only one antidote for it, the milk of a queen bat that lives far down in the caves where there is no oxygen. None of the factions have the equipment to go down there, and are certainly willing to let the supposed spies die.

Thus, the episode is a complex web of intrigue, some of which is due to the already tense situation in the caves, and some of which is due to the introduction of the Doctor and his companion, as each faction who finds them assumes they’re enemies and adjusts their plans based on what they think the Doctor and Peri have learned and are going to do. Meanwhile, throughout the episode, the Doctor is completely powerless, at the mercies of whoever has captured him at the moment, but his only concern is to figure out how to save Peri. From the moment he finds out that Peri is sick, all he wants to do is cure her, and when he finds out the sickness is fatal, it becomes his driving force. This desire gives him the impetus to break out of his chains (while he’s in a spaceship and captured by the mercenaries) and commandeer the spacecraft to return to the planet and acquire the milk of the queen bat for the antidote.

There are a couple of other things worth mentioning about this episode. I will note that both of these I got both of these ideas from the Classical Gallifrey link I posted above. First, the direction. This was the first episode Graeme Harper directed for Doctor Who. If you don’t recognize his name, he directed ten episodes during David Tennant’s run as the Doctor, including “Army of Ghosts”/”Doomsday”, “Time Crash”, “Turn Left”, “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End”, and “The Waters of Mars”.

sharazperi2Now, I will tell you plainly that I don’t know a single thing about directing in a show. I can’t tell you if a specific director is good or bad. I can only tell you what I see when I watch something, and to me, it looks like in TCoA, Mr. Harper took Doctor Who in a completely different directorial direction. One of the things that I sometimes have a problem with while watching the classic episodes is the feeling of unreality: the cheap sets, the brightly-lit interiors, the stodgy characters standing in a row delivering their lines to each other, the long shots of slow monsters plodding across a desolate landscape, that kind of thing. Quarries looked like quarries, and caves looked like, well, cheap sets made of papier mache. Mr. Harper turned that on end for TCoA. He used the lighting to darken everything except the most important things in the scene. He positioned the actors in natural poses and arrangements. For some shots, especially the incredibly creepy scenes of Sharaz Jek with Peri, he positioned the camera low and intimate, to draw you closer to the characters. Sure, the sets were still cheap, but he focused you on the characters and the action, and thus you don’t notice the rest. He concentrated on depicting the story, rather than shooting the script, to considerable effect.

The second thing I wanted to mention was a very short bit (probably only two seconds) that has wider implications on the story and the lore of the show. I wouldn’t have noticed this if Classical Gallifrey hadn’t pointed it out. When the Doctor has commandeered the spaceship and is returning to Androzani Minor, he’s already well into the late phases of spectrox toxaemia and, like Peri, is going to die soon. He’s sitting in the pilot’s chair staring at the viewscreen and hallucinates for a moment, seeing vertical lines covering the viewscreen screen. He concentrates and they go away. As it only lasts for a second or two, it just looks like something that was thrown in to emphasize that he’s really sick.

What Classical Gallifrey points out is that the vertical lines weren’t on the screen – they were over his entire field of vision, and if you pay attention to them and to the end of the episode, you’ll see that they’re exactly the same lines that appear in his vision when he starts to regenerate. The point of the scene was not that he was sick, but that he was dying at that moment and willed himself to delay his regeneration until he could save Peri. Up until this point, I had thought that the concept that the Doctor could delay regeneration was invented for the Tenth Doctor’s story in The End of Time, but no, the Fifth Doctor did it first. Also, his stopping his regeneration in order to continue trying to save Peri only underscores his tenacity and his devotion to this companion who he barely knows. (Read Classical Gallifrey’s discussion of this point: it’s far better than anything I could ever write about it.)

I have to admit, on second viewing, I’m still not sure about everything that happened in those caves. There were so many tricks and turnarounds that I’m not sure who ended up on top. But I was completely engaged in the story – all of the characters were intricately designed and interesting to watch, even the ones you end up hating – and I do think that this was a fantastic episode. #1? Not sure. I’d have to watch it a few more times to really grok it. But top 20, at least. I’d put this episode up against the best that the modern show has to offer, and it’ll beat out a lot of them.