An empty TARDIS

Midnight-(Doctor-Who)-picIn contrast to the full TARDIS that seems to be coming up in series 8, I would love to see a bit more empty TARDIS scenarios. It’s not a common thing for the Doctor to not have companions: it only happened once during the classic series (in “The Deadly Assassin”), and once during the modern series (in “Midnight”). I’m not counting any episodes in which the Doctor didn’t have a regular companion but picked up another character that he bonded with closely enough to count as a one-off companion (such as most of the Christmas specials and “Planet of the Dead,” “The Waters of Mars,” The End of Time, “The Lodger,” and “Closing Time.”). 

If the Doctor doesn’t have a companion, the episode must focus directly on him or on the situation at hand. In “The Deadly Assassin,” this allowed us to view Time Lord society from the point of view of the Doctor, rather than any alien (to Gallifrey) companion (Sarah Jane, in this case). The script was more streamlined than usual, because the Doctor did not have to explain everything to Sarah Jane, and in the process, the audience got to experience everything, rather than being told what they were seeing. It also allowed the Doctor to get trapped for nearly two episodes in the Matrix without requiring them to keep cutting back to reality to show what Sarah Jane was doing or getting her trapped somewhere so that they could ignore her. The Master also could concentrate on the Doctor, instead of getting distracted by having to deal with her.

The lack of a companion was even more effective in “Midnight.” A story about what happens when humans are afraid of the unknown, “Midnight” would have played out very differently if Donna had been there to try to calm them down and convince them that the Doctor wasn’t the threat. Even if the humans didn’t listen to her (which they probably wouldn’t), the tension of the tight story would have been broken by Donna’s pleas; part of the strength of the final moments of Sky’s possession came from the various characters starting to doubt that the Doctor was the threat and trying to decide if they should intercede.

Both of these episodes came into being under unusual circumstances. For “The Deadly Assassin,” when Elisabeth Sladen left the show, Tom Baker asked for an episode in which the Doctor didn’t have a companion. “Midnight” was series 4’s “companion-light” episode. Back in series 2, in order to expand the series to fourteen episodes instead of thirteen, they created a “Doctor-light” episode, “Love and Monsters,” in which the Doctor and companion appeared only sparingly so that they could be filming another episode at the same time. In series 3, the “Doctor-light” episode was “Blink.” For series 4, they expanded this idea by filming a “companion-light” episode, “Midnight,” with Mr. Tennant appearing in almost every scene, while Ms. Tate was simultaneously filming a “Doctor-light” episode, “Turn Left.” Take a look at this list of episodes: they were all fantastic, with the exception of “Love and Monsters,” which was a fantastic episode until the Abzorbaloff appeared. (Think about how good that episode could have been if a reasonable monster had been the antagonist.) Doctor Who is a great show, but it excels when it steps outside of its usual boundaries.

In my opinion, empty TARDIS or companion-light episodes should be explored more often, to tighten the storytelling a bit, occasionally give the Doctor more spotlight, and take the show in different directions. It’s not difficult to set up – the companion has to go home for some reason, for example – which makes me wonder if it’s a contract thing, saying that the companion must appear in X episodes per series. It isn’t something that should happen often, though – probably not even once a series – but certainly more than twice in fifty years. Perhaps there aren’t many data points, but it seems to be a successful formula for the show, given that the actors who have played the Doctor have all been dynamic performers who could easily carry an episode on their own.


Back when the TARDIS was full

Back when the TARDIS was full

I’ve been avoiding Series 8 spoilers like the plague, but it’s very difficult to not gain at least some information from headlines, not to mention the occasional discussions with friends. Luckily, I’ve managed to stay pretty clean about foreknowledge. A discussion that did come up this week was that it’s looking like they’re trying to draw parallels between the Capaldi Doctor and the Hartnell Doctor, specifically by filling out the TARDIS with a similar group of companions: a male teacher, a female teacher, and a female student.

If this really is intentional, I’m not really sure how I feel about this. First, there’s the obsessive fan in me that says that all parallels should be drawn to Troughton’s Doctor, since Capaldi’s Doctor is the second Doctor in the new regeneration sequence, not the first (Smith’s Doctor is the first). Ok, I just needed to write that and you can slap me for being way too silly now. Second, something just bugs me about drawing such obvious parallels, narrative-wise. Either there’s some big hand of fate causing events to repeat, which simply bugs me, or the Doctor is building his team the same way, which to me seems very un-Doctor-like. Ah well, either way, it really doesn’t matter what I think along those lines, does it?

On the other hand, it’s very exciting to have a completely new dynamic in the TARDIS, a full TARDIS, something we haven’t seen since Davison’s Doctor with Tegan, Turlough, and Kamelion (and really before that, Nyssa, Tegan, and Turlough, since due to technical difficulties, Kamelion didn’t get to appear very often). The Doctor started with a full TARDIS and more or less had three companions until Ben and Polly left and Victoria joined Jamie. From that point, there were one or two companions until Tegan and Nyssa joined Adric in Logopolis, and Davison’s Doctor always had three until Peri arrived.

A full TARDIS gives a lot more opportunity for developing companion relationships, something that was almost completely absent for Eccleston’s and Tennant’s Doctor’s runs. While their companions had fantastic stories, in all cases, the conflict was brought in from their families, and thus those stories had to be confined to Earth. Clara, of course, really doesn’t have a story other than how she’s tied to the Doctor’s timestream. We got to see what can be done with companions with Amy and Rory (and River), but what I’m really looking forward to are companions that don’t get along. One of the best companion pairings, in my opinion, was Tegan and Turlough. Turlough arrived with the intention of killing the Doctor (wow, for once, a companion who starts out not allied with the Doctor!), and Tegan was the only person who didn’t trust him outright. After he rejected the Black Guardian and really became a member of the crew, he and Tegan still were at odds. The relationship developed into more of a brother/sister dynamic, when they finally became friends but still sniped at each other.  This is the kind of thing I’d like to see with the new crew, a group of people who have to work out their relationships with one another.

I like Rory. He needed more air time.

I like Rory. He needed more air time.

There is one problem that can be introduced with a full TARDIS: what do you do with all of the characters each episode? It’s a lot easier to write a tight story if you only have two characters (the Doctor and his sole companion) to work with. Add in another full-time character and it gets difficult to find something for him to do every week, resulting in a character that seems to be only a hanger-on much of time (hello, Rory!). Add in another one, and now you’ve got four characters to keep occupied. An example of how this can go really wrong is “Terminus,” a Davison Doctor episode with Nyssa, Tegan, and Turlough. This was Nyssa’s final episode, so the story was focused on her, leaving Tegan and Turlough as more or less irrelevant. They spend the entirety of the second of the four episodes trapped in a crawlspace, and the show felt the need to cut back to them every few minutes to show them crawling five feet. They get out in the third episode, but for the rest of the story, they do very little other than Turlough getting yelled at by the Black Guardian every so often (probably to remind you that he’s supposed to be killing the Doctor). The writing and directing of Doctor Who has really changed over the last thirty years, so I doubt we’ll see Clara trapped in a crawlspace for forty minutes, but it’ll take very clever writers to keep all of the characters relevant in every episode.

(Ok, so a British friend of mine told me that they refer to the Doctors by their actors’ names. I’ve tried it here, and wow, that’s annoying. Back to ordinal numbers for me!)

“Destination: Nerva”

Destination_NervaDestination: Nerva, to my understanding, is the first Big Finish audio to feature the Fourth Doctor. It was in 2012, and featured Leela as the Doctor’s companion.

Spoilers ahead!

It begins just after the Doctor and Leela leave London at the end of “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” with Leela wondering if they’ll ever meet up with Jago and Litefoot again. The Doctor sends the TARDIS following a beacon, and lands only about ten years later, to find a dying alien called a Drelleran who claims that some humans stole his spaceship and have flown off. Chasing after that ship, the TARDIS takes them into the future, to a ship bearing constructions workers to a space dock called Nerva orbiting Jupiter. It’s a new station and its facilities don’t quite work right yet, but ships from intersystem flights can dock here after its passengers pass decontamination.

The Doctor discovers that something seems to be infecting the occupants of the space station, turning them into an alien lifeform that collects all of its newly-transformed individuals into itself, making one big mass of alien. The alien lifeform is led by Lord Jack Corrigan, the original person who, over two hundred years before, had stolen the spaceship from the Drelleran. The Doctor and Leela escape with the only human left uninfected, Doctor Alison Foster, back to the construction worker ship, and discover a new Drelleran ship, which they travel to, to talk to the Drelleran to figure out what’s going on.

Originally, the Drelleran ship had landed on Earth to make contact with the humans and offer them new technology, but Lord Jack, determining that the Drelleran were corrupt because they didn’t adhere to human (mostly Christian) practices, denounced them, killed them, and stole their ship in order to go into space and teach them “better” ways. When the humans reached the Drelleran homeworld, the Drelleran, disgusted with the primitive humans, infected them with the alien lifeform and indoctrinated them with the desire to absorb all humans into the alien mass. Thus, centuries in the future, the ship returned to destroy humanity, first landing at Nerva on its way to Earth.

The Doctor, Leela, and Dr. Foster pleaded with the Drelleran to reconsider the doom they had pronounced on the humans, explaining that the humans were simply not advanced enough at the time to handle the gifts or the new philosophies the Drelleran had offered and making the case that the entire race should be punished for the actions of a few. The Drellerans relented and administered an antidote to the infection, freeing all of the individuals subsumed into the alien mass.

Simply as a story, this was an adequate episode. The dialogue at the end, when the three are pleading with the Drelleran to stop, is a bit preachy. The story was nothing exciting, though it had a very classic show feel: the Doctor’s role here was to gather the evidence to figure out what had happened and to get the characters out of trouble, as opposed to taking a direct role in defeating the menace. One thing I did notice in this piece was how effective the sound effects can be for painting a picture of what’s happening. The alien lifeform that the humans were becoming was never adequately described, but the squelching noises they made as they transformed were very evocative, allowing me to paint my own picture of what it looked like in my head. And let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty. These audios really allow you to exercise your imagination while you listen to them.

It was fantastic to hear Tom Baker take up the mantle of the Doctor again, though his performance in this one was nowhere near as good as it was in The Light at the End, the most recent audio he has been in. In this one, his voice was nowhere near as strident and commanding as we are used to. I would chalk that up to this being his first time back, so he hadn’t yet hit his stride with the character he hadn’t played for over thirty years. Similarly, Louise Jameson wasn’t quite Leela, though she was better than Mr. Baker. I am looking forward to the rest of the audios in this series, as I expect that they will both just get better and better.


Wordy shenanigans

SusanTheEscapeIn the episode “An Unearthly Child,” Susan claims to have created the name “TARDIS” from the initials of the craft’s proper name, Time and Relative Dimension in Space. There’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not this is true, because the term is used by all of the Time Lords and it’s highly unlikely they would have adopted the term from Susan.

It doesn’t seem to be a problem in my mind, if you consider that we’re speaking English when we call the craft a TARDIS but its real name is Gallifreyan. Susan could have created the acronym from the English translation of the Gallifreyan name (possibly to make it pronounceable for humans), while the Time Lords use a completely different word to refer to it. When a Time Lord says its Gallifreyan name, either through the TARDIS’ translation circuit or through the translation we get by being the audience of the show, we hear the word “TARDIS.” Thus, there’s no contradiction: the Time Lords have their own word for it, and Susan created the acronym.

This is the kind of thing that occurs to you at two in the morning.

Doctor Who: Legacy – the Toclafane

Toclafane-sphereWith Season Five in Doctor Who: Legacy, the difficulty of the game ramps quite a bit, with enemies with new powers, high attack, and large amounts of HP. However, the first roadblock level appears third, titled “A Very Sontaran Christmas.” With a name like that, you expect a normal level with a bunch of Sontaran to defeat, and maybe some Christmas trees and robot Santas, but instead, you have 90 seconds to defeat a single black Toclafane. I encountered it immediately after the update and I paid a Time Crystal to get past it, because I could not beat it and I wanted to get on with seeing the rest of the content. Since the release of the season, the developers have toned down the difficulty of this level, but you might still find it to be difficult or impossible, and the Toclafane continue to reappear throughout Season Five. So, here’s an explanation of how they work and some tips on how to defeat them.

(Check out my other guides.)

The reason that the Toclafane are so difficult is that they take damage differently from every other enemy. Do you remember them in “The Sound of Drums” / “Last of the Time Lords?” They had nearly impenetrable armor, and the only way Martha could kill one was to electrocute it. The Toclafane in the game reflect this quality, and sadly, there is no electrocution that you can use to kill one easily. Here’s how they work.

  • Each hit on a Toclafane does 1 point of damage.
  • The Toclafane in “A Very Sontaran Christmas” has 20 HP.
  • The Toclafane in “A Very  Sontaran Christmas” has a damage attack and a lock move that locks a row or column on the edge of the board.
  • You have 90 seconds to defeat this Toclafane.

Considering these qualities, these are the concepts and strategies you need to consider while building your team and playing “A Very Sontaran Christmas.”

  • Since everyone does 1 point of damage, attack is not important. Choose team members for HP and/or healing.
  • In most cases, you won’t be using your characters’ powers. Time ticks down while you look at them, so you don’t have the time to think about them.
  • You will defeat the level in about 6-7 turns (that’s all the time you have), so powers that take more turns than that to turn on are useless.
  • Diversify colors. Have one of each color on your team, so that every match you make will do damage.
  • Make combos. Time ticks down while all the animations are playing, so you don’t want to make single-match moves and waste the time waiting for their animations to play.
  • Make combos, but not of matches of the same color. If you match two sets of 3 reds, that only adds extra damage to your red characters who are already attacking, and that extra damage doesn’t count (it always only does 1 point). You could have kept that second set of red for the next round.
  • You will have two characters of one color – that’s your staple color. A match of your staple color does two damage, since you have two characters attacking. Concentrate on making that color attack as often as possible.
  • If the Toclafane is going to use a Lock move, don’t leave good moves on the edge of the screen for the next turn. It might lock that edge.
  • “Resist lock 1 turn for team” is a good perk to use if you have it.

Once you get the hang of “A Very Sontaran Christmas,” it’s actually pretty easy, and is not a bad power-leveling level. It gives a little over 10,000 experience points every 90 seconds, which is a pretty good rate, and since every character deals the same damage and the Toclafane doesn’t hit all that hard or very often, you can defeat the level with characters in their teens or 20s.

The Toclafane reappear in many levels during Season Five, and they get progressively harder, even though none of the later ones are timed (as far as I’ve gotten anyway). I just defeated “Rise of the Master part 3” and it took me at least twenty tries, with a lot of tweaking of my team and perks. Without the time limit, the difficulty of this level stemmed from having to defeat three Toclafane directly. The two on the outside simply attacked every round, while the one in the middle had a damage attack (two rounds), a heal, and something else I can’t remember – I’ll try to remember to come back and edit this post if I ever try that level again. The problem, of course, is that the Toclafane are just doing more damage than you can reliably heal, while you’re trying to whittle down one of them faster than the center enemy can heal it. Here are the strategies I used (repeating ones from the top list if they’re relevant).

  • Since everyone does 1 point of damage, attack is not important. Choose team members for HP and/or healing.
  • Diversify colors. Have one of each color on your team, so that every match you make will do damage.
  • You will have two characters of one color – that’s your staple color. A match of your staple color does two damage, since you have two characters attacking. Concentrate on making that color attack as often as possible.
  • The most important thing is to kill one of the Toclafane. Once one is dead, the other two are pretty much pushovers. But all three together is deadly. Choose one and concentrate on it.
  • Given the point above, the early game is all that matters, and thus, choose characters that gain their powers in 4-5 turns if possible.
  • Make combos, as much as possible. You don’t have a time limit, so animation time is not important. However, the Doctor’s power becomes available based on the number of combos you make, so the more and the bigger the combos you make, the sooner he can fire off his power.
  • Choose good perks. More discussion about this below.
  • Choose good powers. More discussion about this below, too.

Here is the team and strategies I used.

  • Doctor: Third Doctor or War Doctor – 30% damage to all enemies can’t be beat – that’s 6 damage to each Toclafane.
  • Red: Clara – healer
  • Gold: I used Amy because I got her mixed up with Special Agent Amy Pond, a red healer. Amy is the wrong person to use. You can either go with someone who will do 1 damage to all enemies, like Madame Vastra, or the only gold healer, Old Canton Everett Delaware III. (Well, as far as the characters that I have go, anyway.)
  • Green: Rory
  • Black: K-9 Mk 2 – stunner. He gets his stun pretty early, as far as stunners go.
  • Blue: Bitey the Cybermat – every four turns, he can make some pink gems to help you heal. This is crucial. There are other characters that do this, and I’d replace other characters with them if their power-up count is low enough.
  • Perks:
    • Set Basic Attribute 1 and Basic Attribute 2 to either “Increase HP” or “Increase Healing.” Ignored all the other perks on the Perk 1 tab.
    • Debuff Resistance: After playing the level, I set this to either Resist Lock or Resist Stun. I don’t remember if there’s stunning on any of the Toclafane levels.
    • Doctor Enhance: Set to “Doctor’s skill gets 3 charges after taking DMG.” You’ll be taking damage every turn, so this is a fantastic way to power up the Doctor.
    • Death Resist: Set to “Anytime HP under 40%, heal 10% HP for team.” Or you can use the one that gives you 10% damage resistance.
  • Powers:
    • Choose powers with fast turn counts. You want to be able to use them early as you’re trying to defeat the first Toclafane.
    • “Damage all enemies” powers are ok, not bad but not great. You’ll do 1 damage to each enemy. There are better ones, but this isn’t bad.
    • Heals are important. You can choose direct heal, increase to pink gem powers, conversion of gems to pink. All of these will help.
    • Don’t choose turning one color to another color (other than pink): You want to diversify your gems, not make them all the same color.
    • A stun is nice, but they take so long to turn on, don’t use more than one.
  • Once the team and perks were in place, I selected a Toclafane and concentrated on it. I think I finally won while targeting the one on the left, but I haven’t decided if targeting the one in the middle would be better.
  • I kept a close eye on my HP and made sure to heal efficiently. Make sure that you do not overheal: don’t use pink gems you don’t need, in case you need them the next turn.
  • If all of the Toclafane are attacking on the same turn, make sure you’re at full HP. The center one hits very hard.
  • I will admit that my victory in “The Rise of the Master, part 3” took a bit of luck, with a fortuitous set of enemy attack choices and boards with good healing.

And that’s the Toclafane. If I come up with any more ideas on how to fight them, I’ll modify this post. I’ll also do that if I come up with a better way to organize this information – man this post is ugly.  Anyway, they were incredibly fun to fight, because they made me think about this game in a completely different way. I’m looking forward to the next innovative enemy type.


“The Deadly Assassin”

A few nights ago, we watched “The Deadly Assassin,” a Fourth Doctor episode that is unique among the classic show for having no companion. Sarah Jane had departed the episode before because the Doctor had been summoned to Gallifrey and at the time, humans weren’t allowed on the planet. The next episode is “The Face of Evil,” which is Leela’s introduction.

Spoilers, ho!

Time Lords in funny hats!

Time Lords in funny hats!

If you couldn’t tell from the title, this episode centers around an assassination attempt and the Doctor’s efforts to find the assassin. The plot is a bit complex, so here’s a synopsis. While the Doctor is returning to Gallifrey, he has a premonition of himself assassinating the Time Lord President just before the President is about to resign and name his successor. When he arrives at Gallifrey, he starts to try to prevent the assassination, but ends up in the place he saw in the vision, holding a gun just as the President is assassinated. Chancellor Goth calls for the Doctor’s immediate trial and execution, but the Doctor submits himself as a candidate for the Presidency, which causes the trial and execution to be put on hold. He uses the time to try to figure out what’s going on.

The Doctor is able to prove his innocence to the Castellan Spandrell, then they find one of the Gallifreyans miniaturized, which points directly to the Master (if you didn’t know, his preferred method of killing people was miniaturizing them with his Tissue Compression Eliminator). He determines that the premonition had be placed in his mind by the Master by using the Matrix, a network of past and present Time Lord minds. He enters the Matrix psychically to find out the Master, and is subsequently chased and attacked by an assassin in the Matrix, through a variety of means (fighting, guns, poison, etc.). He manages to turn the tables on the assassin, and discovers it’s Chancellor Goth, who had been serving the Master. Returning to the real world, they find Goth dying, but are unable to get any real information from him. They find the Master’s body, burnt and shriveled, and the Doctor realizes that he had been after the President’s relics of office, which together with the Eye of Harmony, could grant him new regenerations at the cost of destroying Gallifrey. Then he discovers the Master faked his death and is able to stop him before he could use the relics with the Eye.

This episode, with all of its plot twists and its focus on the Doctor, was very riveting, and we actually stayed up well past bedtime so that we could see the end of it. Both in the premonition and at the moment of the assassination, we see the Doctor holding the gun, and so the first compelling point was to see how it could possibly not be the Doctor killing the President. Then, there’s the puzzle of who the assassin is and what the Master’s intention really is.

The one thing that really dragged the episode down, though, was the time in the Matrix. I suspect that at the time, in the 1970s, this sequence was thrilling and surreal, but looking back now, it was boring and too drawn-out: it starts near the end of episode 2 and ends at the beginning of episode 3. During that time, the assassin attacks the Doctor using very dream-like attacks (one was shooting at him from a biplane; I think there were others with animals chasing him), but for the modern audience, they aren’t innovative, and there was too much footage of the Doctor running through a quarry and sliding down gravelly slopes.

This episode could also be interesting for its glimpse into Time Lord society, but again, it fell short of the mark, as it wasn’t innovative. The Time Lords were all old doddery men, and while they wore the gorgeous Time Lord robes and collars, that was about as non-humanlike as it got. No alien attitudes or ceremonies, and there was even a Time Lord reporter covering the resignation of the President on their version of TV. I would have definitely liked to have seen the Time Lords be alien, but I think that they did as best as they could at the time to make an alien society that was still understandable to us.

The last thing that I wish they had done was address the problem of assassinating a President who should be able regenerate. There was no mention of the President being out of regenerations, or the special gun preventing regenerations, or anything that would indicate to the audience that actually managing to kill a Time Lord is a very big deal. However, even with all of these failings, this episode is actually very good, and we enjoyed it a lot. And it was nice to have an episode without a companion, to let the Doctor roam on his own for once.

Slightly sidetracked

I think part of my problem in writing daily here is that we’re still in the doldrums waiting for series 8 with the Twelfth Doctor to come out, so there’s nothing new to talk about. It’s actually pretty funny seeing this effect on the major Doctor Who sites: they’ll write an article about anything, no matter how dumb. That’s why things like Billie Piper telling a fan that she’d do a spinoff show is makes headlines. Oh, and Steven Moffat’s recent comment that the Doctor has never been played by a conventionally handsome actor, and that he should always be played by an alien, quirky-looking person. This is news? Really?

My Tenth Doctor in his long brown coat

My Tenth Doctor in his long brown coat

Luckily, I’m just a blog writer. What I write isn’t news. I just write what I feel like writing about. And today, I feel like bragging. Doctor Who: Legacy just introduced a new costume for the Tenth Doctor, in his long brown coat. They had a contest for it with Tennant News, awarding unlock codes to the first 500 people who wrote to the website. Guess what? I won! Woo hoo! I am very impressed with the character art in this game, and am very pleased to get this new costume so early.

And on another tangent, BBC Worldwide is having a David Tennant celebration with Fathom Events, featuring “Rise of the Cybermen”/”Age of Steel” and the documentary Wings, narrated by Mr. Tennant, showing in theaters across America (not sure about the UK). There will be two showings, on June 16 and June 17.

Now, I saw “The Day of the Doctor” in the theater, and it was fantastic (though I know it was directed and filmed with the theater in mind), and I’m excited to see Doctor Who on the big screen again. It’s not going to be nearly as good, simply because the regular show is not meant to be shown in theaters, but it’ll be fun. I’m not really sure why they chose those two episodes for the celebration, as they’re not the most popular by a long shot. I’m thinking that they wanted episodes that were more action-y and cinematic, and with that in mind, they aren’t a bad choice. I think I would have preferred seeing “The Sound of Drums”/”Last of the Time Lords” or “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” instead. I wonder if “Blink” would work well on the big screen?