Lull

Even in Lego, this scene makes me sniffle.

Even in Lego, this scene makes me sniffle.

Life’s been a little low on the Doctor Who quotient the past few days. After watching “The Day of the Doctor”, I completely forgot about “The Time of the Doctor” (because I’m not very fond of it) and my husband, while he likes it, didn’t feel like subjecting me to it, apparently. I’ve been wanting to watch some Third Doctor episodes, to finally get a good feel for him and to watch the Roger Delgado Master for the first time, but we’ve been busy with a number of other things. Now that we have a bit more time, we started watching the Harry Potter movies again, so that’s kind of gotten me off track again.

We have watched “City of Death” and “The Happiness Patrol,” and I’ve listened to the Fifth Doctor audio “Loups-Garoux,” but I haven’t felt like sitting down and writing a review on them. I’m not sure I’ll get there, so here are some short statements on them.

  • “City of Death” (Fourth Doctor/Romana II) was fantastic. The story is great – one of the best ever – but what really floored me in this episode was the dialogue: snappy, brilliant, and eccentric.
  • “The Happiness Patrol” (Seventh Doctor/Ace) was surreal, as in, “What was the writer on and where can I get me some of that?” But I enjoyed it quite a bit, possibly because it was so out there. I think the point of it (the main character forcing everyone into her vision of “happiness”) has been rehashed a lot in other works since this one and has become a bit banal, but it still works even viewing it now.
  • “Loups-Garoux” (Fifth Doctor/Turlough) was a good enough audio, though I’m really not fond of spiritual/animalistic themes in Doctor Who, which I view as a science-based sci-fi. (The science is incredibly dodgy, but a lot of the point of the universe is that it’s based on science, even when the science looks like magic). I very much enjoyed getting to see more of Turlough, and was pleased to see him exhibiting his usual self-preservation, but putting his life on the line when someone he cared about was endangered.

Next up in the audio queue are some Charley Pollard audios – her introduction, as well as the two audios about the fallout from her being saved from death by the Doctor.

I leave you now with a fantastic video by bookshelfproductions on YouTube: a recreation of “The Day of the Doctor” in Legos. Watch it: you won’t be disappointed.

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“The Butcher of Brisbane”

161_The_Butcher_of_Brisbane“The Butcher of Brisbane” is the 161st audio in Big Finish’s main range, and features the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan, and Turlough. This is one of the best audios I’ve heard so far.

Spoilers ahead! I’m not writing out the whole plot because it’s too complicated and would really ruin some of the surprises.

While traveling, a mysterious force hits the TARDIS and pulls Nyssa and Turlough out. When the Doctor and Tegan trace back to where it happened, they land in 51st century Brisbane, but Nyssa and Turlough are nowhere to be found. They discover that the area has been destroyed and is considered extremely dangerous, and the people they meet up – a group of journalists with know them. They become embroiled in the problem that the journalists are investigating – what seems to be unethical experiments in time travel – that are occurring just as the world factions are coming together to form a globe-spanning alliance. As they find out more about this new alliance, they discover that the man who is leading the faction known as the Eastern States, Magnus Greel, is also about to get married – to Nyssa. The story is then all about figuring out what Nyssa is doing there, what’s going on with the time travel experiments, and trying to get the alliance to not dissolve into war.

Like I said, I’m not going to give many more details about the story, but if you’re familiar with the classic show, you probably recognize the name Magnus Greel: he was the villain in the Fourth Doctor episode “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” In that episode, the Doctor encounters Greel in Victorian London, where he’s been deformed and is dying from his travel in his time cabinet, which uses a destructive form of time travel called zygma energy. Assisted by a duped minion and a doll-like animated object called the Peking homunculus, he was draining the life force of kidnapped women to stay alive and power his experiments to heal himself using the time cabinet. The Doctor, of course, stopped him by forcing him into his own life-drain chamber.

This audio, then, explores Greel’s life before the events of “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” He’s a high government official in the Eastern States and wants to have his faction take over the world (even if it means World War Six), but he’s also dabbling in time travel on the side, through the efforts of an alien named Findecker, who insists that zygma energy is the way to do it. Findecker is dying from zygma energy exposure, so Greel also starts experimenting with draining life force from people, earning him the nickname “the Butcher of Brisbane.” The TARDIS crew become involved because of the zygma beam hitting the TARDIS in mid-flight, and the Doctor finds himself having to figure out what’s going on and try to help the victims of Greel’s and Findecker’s experiments without changing the history he’s already experienced with Greel in his previous incarnation.

Thus, the story has to work on two levels: it has to be a good story in its own right, and it has to fit itself into the history already established in “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” It does both of these beautifully, and it’s quite a thrill to hear about how all of the things in that episode came to be. The origin of the time cabinet and the Peking homunculus are explained, and the Doctor mentions that he exists elsewhere on the planet, working with the Filipino army in a previous incarnation. The Doctor even introduces himself to Greel as a Time Agent, explaining why Greel is so afraid of them in the TV episode.

Greel himself is a fascinating character. He’s ambitious and amoral, but he is still a likable person (unlike Findecker), and even though you can’t believe it at first, he really does love Nyssa. And, after all that happens, you can see why he’s become what he is in “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” The Doctor wins and everything is happy again in the end, but the story feels like a tragedy because of Greel and what you know of his fate.

This story is also unique because the Doctor has to constantly dance around the fact that he knows Greel’s future and has to make sure that things happen correctly for him. For example, there are a few instances in which people have to chance to kill Greel or take him prisoner, but the Doctor knows he has to live and has to escape in his time cabinet. There’s no external, hand-wavy reason for what the Doctor has to ensure, like “it’s a fixed point in time.” This time the reasoning is very solid: the Doctor must save everyone while allowing Greel to escape, because not doing so will change his (the Doctor’s) personal timeline.

All in all, this is a great audio, especially if you’re familiar with “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” I leave you today with the best quote from story, courtesy of Tegan, speaking to the Doctor. “Stop holding time’s hand! It’s bigger than you are. It can take care of itself.”

 

A full TARDIS

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!)

Playing favorites

doctor-who-companions-63-13My husband asked me today to list my three favorite companions. Now, number one should come as no surprise to anyone who’s read what I’ve written before: Donna Noble is definitely the best. No question. No hesitation. Just the best. But the top three? That took a bit more thought, and I realized that I could probably name my top five, but I had a lot of problems with top three. So, here are my top five companions, not listed in order, except of course with Donna at the top. (I’m counting only traveling companions, not one-shots and few-shots like Jackson Lake, Wilfred Mott, and Craig Owens. Also please note that I’m not very familiar with the companions of the first three Doctors and a few of the other classic companions.)

Five Favorite Companions

Donna Noble: Donna was the perfect support for the Tenth Doctor. She acted as his conscience, and was the friend that he needed. She was always willing to defend her beliefs and was strong enough to stand up for herself, even against the Doctor. Both she and the Doctor grew while they were together.

Sarah Jane Smith: A strong, confident, fearless  woman, she was always willing to get right into the heart of the problem. She also worked well with all of the Doctors she met. I think a lot of Sarah Jane’s appeal had to do with her actress, Elisabeth Sladen, a woman who just sparkled on screen.

Vislor Turlough: One of the things I really like about Turlough is that he had secrets. His introductory stories were about his deal with the Black Guardian, which bound him to trying to kill the Doctor. The only other episode of his I have seen so far is “Planet of Fire,” and again, in that, we find out about his history on Trion, which he has guarded up until this time. He’s a survivalist, which makes him look a bit cowardly, but this makes him more realistic, as well as rounds out his character.

Ace McShane: Ace was a rough-and-ready street urchin, a great complement for the educated, sophisticated, and cunning Seventh Doctor. She was straightforward and unapologetic, and sometimes her decisions would cause more trouble than they would solve, but that’s how she was.

Rory Williams: Rory was loyal to the Eleventh Doctor without being obsessed with him, an important contrast to Amy. Thus, his motivations were far more complex, and it also allowed him to be a less than perfect companion: he was fearful of danger, worried for Amy, and distrusting of the Doctor.

Honorable Mentions

Tegan Jovanka: I haven’t seen enough Tegan, I think. She’s brash, blunt, and obnoxious – in short, a lot of fun.

Barbara Wright: I’ve only seen two First Doctor episodes, but I really loved Barbara in both of them. She’s not a sympathetic character, but she’s confident and takes charge when she needs to.

Companions I Don’t Like

Rose Tyler: Not a popular opinion, I know. I liked her a lot more in series 1, but in series 2, during the show’s “let’s see how silly the Doctor can be when he’s in love” stage, she’s insufferable. She’s whiny and selfish, manipulates the Doctor when she can, and treats everyone else like crap (especially Mickey, but also Jackie). Her writing was also erratic, portrayed as a strong, take-charge person in one episode and a cringing coward in the next. During the Darlig Ulv Stranden scene, I cried for the Doctor, but was glad to see Rose go.

Melanie Bush: I’ve only seen her in “Time and the Rani,” which was a terrible episode, but Mel made it so much worse. I am hoping she turns out to be better when she’s in a non-terrible episode.

Clara Oswald: The “Impossible Girl” arc was interesting, but Clara herself has no character. She simply seems to exist as a deus ex machina for stories in which the Doctor doesn’t win. And then suddenly we find out that she fancies him, with no previous, in-character clues. I’m hoping she’s treated better in the new series.

 

“Planet of Fire”

It’s just been one of those weeks. Meetings to go to, errands to run, tasks to be done. So many demands on my time, I didn’t even visit WordPress at all yesterday. Hopefully it will all go back to normal on Monday. I’ve even not had the time to watch much Doctor Who, and so this discussion of “Planet of Fire” is from watching it three nights ago. I hope I remember everything I wanted to say.

As usual, spoilers ho!

There are some images you find that you just have to post.

There are some images you find that you just have to post.

“Planet of Fire” is the penultimate Fifth Doctor episode, in which Vislor Turlough and Kamelion depart and Peri Brown joins up. I’m going to start with the shallow statement that this episode has something for everyone, as Peri, who spends much of her time in the TARDIS wearing deep-plunging blouses, is introduced in her bikini, while the Doctor, on this desert planet, spends the entire episode in his dress shirt and suspenders. I never realized before how good those tailored high-waisted trousers can look on a man. Ok, back to the actual intelligent discussion of this episode.

The bulk of the episode is set on a planet called Sarn, inhabited by a tribe of people who worship the fire god Logar, but have odd bits of technology that they revere as gifts from the god. The Doctor, Turlough, and Peri (who Turlough had brought into the TARDIS after saving her from drowning; the Doctor didn’t know she was there)  arrive there when the TARDIS is sent there by Kamelion. The Doctor and Turlough get embroiled in the affairs of the tribe, who believe that the prophecies of the volcano erupting and the mysterious “Outsider” arriving as a gift from Logar are coming true, while Kamelion, controlled by and looking like the Master, forces Peri to work against the Doctor. Meanwhile, Turlough is getting far more involved in and concerned about the tribe’s welfare than he normally does, and it turns out that the god Logar and his gifts of technology are the tribe’s misinterpretation of the crash of a spaceship from Turlough’s home planet of Trion, and in fact, the “Chosen One” who directs the tribe is Turlough’s brother. Eventually, the Master’s plan is revealed: he’s been shrunk to about four inches tall due to an accident while working on his TCE (Tissue Compression Eliminator), and came to Sarn because the volcano emits numismaton gas, which will restore him, though it requires the volcano to erupt, which would destroy the tribe.

So, that summary isn’t the most coherent thing in the world, because the episode is far more complex. First, it portrays a religious society and the problems they have with heretics and loss of faith. While Timanov, the head priest, is completely faithful to his god and follows what he believes is the god’s words, the Chosen One, Malkon, questions the god’s apparent orders to execute the unbelievers, and refuses to sentence anyone to death. Meanwhile, there are unbelievers who seek out evidence that the god doesn’t exist and after finding such evidence, have to decide on whether or not to denounce the god, knowing they’d be put to death. Then later, when the “Outsider” appears at the foretold time, they begin to question their own conclusions about the existence of the god.

The arrival of the two Time Lords on the planet also tests their faith. The Master immediately and happily accepts the title of the “Outsider” to make the tribe do what he wants and turn on the Doctor. In contrast, the Doctor refuses to claim that he comes from the god, and in order to save the tribe, explains exactly what’s going on to them, so that they will make the decision to evacuate the planet. In all, it was a very interesting exploration of faith and how it can be twisted and exploited.

I think, though, the best part of the entire episode was Turlough. This was his swan song and his story. He was the one who figured out what was going on – that the spaceship that had crashed was his father’s and the Chosen One was his brother – since he recognized the symbols and the technology he was seeing, and then figured out how to use it to unify the tribe. Malkon, the Chosen One had been shot and was near death, so Turlough, who had the same symbol on his arm as Malkon, stepped up and claimed that he, too, was a Chosen One, then took command of the tribe. He also made the sacrifice to save them: he was a political exile on Trion, and the only way to save them was to call for a rescue ship from there. In doing so, he would be arrested for violating his exile. Luckily for him, general amnesty had been granted and he was free to finally return home.

One last interesting part of this episode was the final interaction between the Doctor and the Master. The four-inch Master finally got the numismaton gas to work and he grew to full size, but he didn’t know that the Doctor had changed the controls, and he became stuck in the flames when the numismaton gas stopped flowing. He begged the Doctor to turn off the flame, first threatening him, then offering him anything, then finally, begging for mercy, before he finally disintegrated. Throughout it all, the Doctor watched him with a stony expression – a very uncharacteristic decision, perhaps spurred by the fact that the Master tried to kill both the Doctor and the whole tribe in his quest for restoration. The other interesting thing about this exchange was the Master’s final words: “Won’t you show mercy to your own -”  The sentence is never completed, and I’m sure there have been multitudes of discussions about how it was going to end.

All in all, it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking episode, and though I haven’t seen all of the episodes in the Peter Davison’s final season, if this is any indication, I can see why he thought that if he had known how good this season was going to be, he would have stayed on for another year. The only thing I think they did poorly in this episode was the scenes of Peri wandering the desert – very obvious filler. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this season, as much as I am looking forward to seeing more Seventh Doctor.