Thursday 27 February 2020

What's Wrong With... The Space Museum

Let's get the old joke out of the way first. You know the one. There are only three things wrong with this story, and they're Episodes 2, 3 and 4.
Like all the best jokes it's based on a kernel of truth. The Space Museum has a very good first episode, setting up a real mystery. Some incidental characters appear only briefly, so for the most part we concentrate on just the Doctor and his companions, trying to work out what is going on.
As soon as we start to get an idea about what this mystery is about, and the guest characters are properly introduced, it all goes to hell in a handcart.
Episode 1 is by no means perfect. There are some dodgy production values. Everything goes okay up until the time travellers leave the TARDIS. The planet set is far too small, with the background too close to the actors, meaning their shadows fall on what are supposed to be distant mountains. The walls of the museum are supposed to be multifaceted, as seen in the model shots, but viewed on modern TVs up close this has clearly been done with paint effects on flat surfaces when it comes to the studio set.
As they explore the museum interior, Vicki decides to ignore the Doctor's order not to touch anything, and we see her hand pass right through a piece of equipment. All the supposedly insubstantial items look transparent before people go to touch them. This was one of the problems with the Overlay technique. An object would be filmed by another camera elsewhere in the studio, brightly lit against a black background. That image would then be overlaid on top of the main image with the actors. We've seen it before in the series, such as when the TARDIS crew view the dead Farrow in Planet of Giants (where the secondary image is a blown up photograph), or in The Web Planet, when the Doctor and Ian view the pyramid. One of the reasons both actors were dressed in white costumes for that scene was because, had they been wearing dark colours, they would have become invisible against the black backdrop. 
As the overlaid item isn't actually present in the part of the studio where the actors are, you get line-up problems. William Hartnell ventures too close to the "not there" TARDIS and stands on top of it before reaching out. Much is made of the travellers being unable to touch objects, or leave footprints, yet they feel the floor under their feet, and lean against walls without falling through them.
The wallpaper, badly hung, behind the four exhibit cases also deserves a mention.
Fluff-wise, Hartnell struggles with the word "fluorescent".
You can tell that it's Barbara who's the history teacher, as Ian earlier mentions that they had been wearing 13th Century costumes, despite having just come from 1191.
There is also the discontinuity between the supposed size and labyrinthine nature of the museum and the relatively small building when shown as a model. Hard to see how anyone could get lost in it.
Some of the major problems with Episodes 2 to 4 might lie in a confusion about the tone of the story. We know that writer Glyn Jones, intended a lot more humour, which story editor Dennis Spooner cut out - surprising when you remember that he was the person who introduced more humour into the programme.
Jones called his villains Moroks, as in morons, and their leader is called Lobos, as in lobotomised. They were deliberately intended as being rather stupid, and everything they say and do tends to support this, yet the actors have been advised to play it straight. Had it been played more as Jones intended, this story might have had a better reputation.
After Episode 1 we know things are on a downward tread as we are introduced to Lobos, who is required to deliver some truly awful exposition. He's a Morok, talking to another Morok, yet he tells him things about Moroks that Moroks must surely already know. He talks about how this museum, where they both work, came into being, and even how long one of their years lasts. It doesn't matter how long a Xeron day is, a Morok year is still a Morok year.
Yes, this planet conforms to the Terry Nation school of planetary naming. It is an arid world, so just happens to have a name derived from the Greek word for dry - xiros.
If the planet is dry, then its inhabitants are most assuredly wet. They are all teenage boys, who dress in black skinny jeans and roll-neck sweaters, so look as if they should be at a youth club organising a skiffle concert rather than a revolution. If they are Mods then the Moroks must be Rockers, as they all sport enormous quiffs.
It is clear that lack of interest in this museum has been a problem for a long time, so you have to wonder why the Morok authorities have kept it going this long. We also have to question Lobos's belief that capturing the TARDIS crew will somehow revive its fortunes. Are the people of Morok really going to flock to Xeros to see a battered old Police Box, an old man, two schoolteachers and a schoolgirl?
In order to capture the travellers Lobos floods the museum with gas. This leads to Barbara being sidelined for almost an entire episode, struggling along a very short corridor with one of the Xeron youths. Ian, meanwhile, discovers that the Moroks aren't terribly good soldiers (unless they deliberately assign museum duties to their worst troops), and Vicki discovers that the Xerons aren't terribly bright revolutionaries. The Morok arsenal is protected by a computer sentinel, but she overcomes it in a matter of seconds. Seems the questions the machine asks don't actually have to be answered before moving on to the next one, and if you reprogram it to say you want the guns for a revolution then it is quite happy to oblige. The release of the guns leads to the terrible line "Have any arms fallen into Xeron hands?" from the Morok commander, who also struggles with the pronunciation of "guerrillas".
There's a lot of discussion about the missing button from Ian's blazer, with regards to them changing their possible fate, and yet no-one mentions the fact that Barbara's entire cardigan, which she was wearing in the display case, has been unravelled.
The revolution takes place, and the Moroks are defeated. No mention is made of possible reprisals from the Moroks, like reinvading the planet or nuking it from space. The Xerons then appear to empty this supposedly vast museum of its contents in a matter of minutes. The museum wall can be glimpsed through the TARDIS door in this scene.
We then get a very lame excuse for the mystery of Episode 1. It was just another stuck switch in the TARDIS, just like we had in the equally mundane conclusion to The Edge of Destruction.
At the end we have a lead-in to the next story, as a Dalek appears - reporting on the TARDIS's whereabouts. Bizarrely, all of the controls it's using are high up off the ground, rather than at plunger level.

Tuesday 25 February 2020

Is it still a spoiler if it's in the trailer?

A number of images released today for The Timeless Children, plus the people at have taken the time to freeze-frame the BBC America trailer, which throws up what might well be a spoiler. A lot of the images relate to Gallifrey and the Doctor / Master, with Ashad present. Other images show Ryan and Ko Sharmus back on the Boundary planet with the Cybermen arriving.

We get a glimpse of a Time Lord in the traditional robes, collar and skullcap. Commentator Runcible described them, way back in The Deadly Assassin where they were first introduced, as "seldom worn", but they've come to define what Gallifrey-based Time Lords wear all the time.

The Master is seen with Ashad and operating his Tissue Compression Eliminator...

But a very significant 'blink and you'll miss it' scene is this one:

A woman dressed in the same uniform as Gat, who featured in Fugitive of the Judoon, sitting with two other figures - one in red, the other in yellow. The latter might even be the Time Lord seen above. What is significant about this image is the one immediately before it - a dissolve from another scene...

A scene set in the Garda office dissolves into the scene on Gallifrey. The Gat-like lady is sitting where the senior police officer was sitting, whilst Brendan is where the person in red is, and his dad where the person in yellow is. Now this might just be a directorial flourish, juxtaposing similar looking scenes, but another explanation is apparent. We know that the Irish sequence has to have some bearing on this episode, and we know that something very odd is going on which makes that sequence look like it can't be real. If it's all an illusion, was Brendan really the person in red, sitting in an office on Gallifrey the whole time? Someone appears to be standing to the left as the two scenes dissolve together - the hint of grey suggesting that it might be the Doctor. If it is, then this might just be images the Master is showing her - stuff he found about about the Time Lords' great deceit.
In the Doctor / Master images, Gallifrey is clearly in ruins, yet in this office image there is no sign of that damage, suggesting it's a glimpse of the past - possibly the very distant past. Of course this throws up all sorts of other questions - like how could Gat, originating on ancient Gallifrey, have been around in 21st Century Gloucester? What does this have to do with Dr Ruth? If the person in red really is the Brendan character, why the whole unreal existence in rural Ireland?
This series might have a had a few clunkers, but it's indicative of the general improvement this season that we are speculating at all. I don't think anyone had any real interest in what the Series 11 finale might have contained.

Monday 24 February 2020

Ascension of the Cybermen - Review

A very good episode. I do believe this is the first time I've ever described a Chibnall era episode as such. I'll state my usual caveat that this is the first half of a two part story, so we can't really judge it properly until we've seen the conclusion. A lot of promising first episodes have been followed by poor second ones. From the 'Next Time' teaser we can see that there will be a shift in emphasis to the Doctor, the Master and Gallifrey, though there will be more Ashad and new Cybermen as well. There's something rather epic about a Cyberman saying "Set course for Gallifrey".
One thing we really want to see explained is the whole rural Ireland thing, which the episode kept gong back to. A baby gets left on a country road in early 20th Century Ireland, and is adopted by the man who finds it. We see him grow up and join the Garda, and at one point he gets shot and falls off a cliff. A few minutes later he gets up, as though nothing had happened. We then see him grow to old age and retire, yet his father and his superior officer look exactly the same as when he was a baby, and they take him into a back room and zap him with electricity to wipe his memories - the electrodes attached to the sides of his head reminiscent of Cyberman earmuffs.
The actor playing Ashad is Irish, so does this have something to do with him? Or is this another unknown Doctor - the retirement clock being part of a Chameleon Arch? I think the gift of a clock is significant. Or is this something to do with the old monk-like man, Ko Sharmus, who appears towards the end of the main narrative, and who is also played by an Irish actor - Ian McElhinney? The whole speeded-up life was reminiscent of something not really happening in real time at all, like it was some kind of artificial construct - like Donna Noble's life inside the Library in Forest of the Dead.
It will be interesting to see what this whole Irish flashback sequence was all about. I note that there was no sign of this sub-plot in the teaser trailer, though.
As for that main narrative, which follows on from the events at the Villa Diodati, Ashad worked a lot better this time. He felt a bit shoehorned into last week's episode, and I still think I would rather that the Byron / Shelley episode had been a stand-alone one. More was made of the fact that he is an incomplete Cyberman, who retains his human emotions. He sees himself as some sort of messiah who will bring about the Cyberman Second Coming. I wasn't entirely sure what he did to the first couple of Cybermen he brought out of hibernation - I'm going to assume that he was disabling their emotional inhibitors - but that then begs the question of why he didn't do it to all of them? Why just a couple of them? The new design - referred to as a Warrior Class - looked very impressive, though I don't know why Cybermen would need a Warrior Class.
As far as Cyber-history goes, this obviously has nothing to do with the Cyber-War mentioned in Revenge of the Cybermen. This story seemed to be set much further into the future, with only a handful of humans and Cybermen left (which contradicts a lot of earlier stories which dealt with the far future of the human race, unless these events are confined to just one galaxy). One big question I have to ask is: if the Cybermen are wiping out all the humans, who are they going to convert into new Cybermen? I'm in two minds about the Cyber-Drones - basically flying heads. They looked slightly stupid.
I don't think it takes a genius to work out where Chibnall might be going with the "Boundary" through which many other humans have escaped, leading to Gallifrey. Is it that the fleeing humans arrived in the planet's pre-history, and eventually became the Time Lords? Depends when they arrived. From a couple of photos already released from The Timeless Children, the action next week moves to the Gallifrey that has already been destroyed by the Master. Is Brendan the Timeless Child, and not the little girl we keep glimpsing? Did the early, human, Gallifreyan settlers make use of his immortality to regenerate themselves?
So many questions, and the problem is that we aren't going to get them all answered this series. Chibnall has pretty much said so. There will be some answers in the final episode, but not all.
I've said before that I prefer this Doctor when she is on the back foot, when things aren't going to plan and there is a real sense of danger to herself and her companions. We got that again here. Yaz was once again well served, but Ryan needn't have bothered turning up for this episode. I'm afraid Graham has become a bit of a walking Cockney cliche, which is annoying. He was one of the best things in Series 11, but he's been neglected this year. By far the standout performance of the episode is Patrick O'Kane's Ashad, though I suspect that Sacha Dhawan will give him a run for his money next week.

Thursday 20 February 2020

Unseen Stories (5)

The Fourth Doctor - Part 2.
On visiting the lighthouse on Fang Rock, the Doctor speaks of the Pharos Lighthouse in Alexandria as though he had seen it. This might have been when he became acquainted with the captain of Cleopatra's bodyguard, although it actually stood for several hundred years before being destroyed by a string of earthquakes.
On Pluto the Doctor claims to have a bounty on his head, of an entire star system, from the Droge of the Gabrielides, whilst discussing the topic of rock types with Leela later he suggests that he has visited both Aberdeen and Blackpool.
On his return to Gallifrey in The Invasion of Time, we see that the Doctor has picked up a copy of The Daily Sketch on his travels, dated to 1912 as it covers the sinking of the Titanic, which he claims not to have had anything to do with. Before this story starts he must have encountered the Vardans, in order for them to have co-opted him into their invasion plans.
As well as learning tricks from Harry Houdini, the Doctor also claims to have been taught some sleight-of-hand tricks by Maskalyne. he doesn't say which, and there were three generations of Maskelyne who performed magic tricks. The earliest was John Nevil Maskelyne (1839 - 1917). If it was he whom the Doctor met, then this might tie in with Houdini, as both men sought to unmask fraudulent mediums. His son Nevil (1863 - 1924) also became a magician as well as an inventor, and he was succeeded by his son, Jasper (1902 - 1979). Jasper is best known for his work during World War II, when he was employed to build large scale illusions to fool German aerial reconnaissance - creating fake tanks and aircraft and camouflaging real military equipment and installations. As we already know that the Doctor has some familiarity with Victorian Music Hall, we can assume that it was the senior Maskelyne, John Nevil, who taught the Doctor his tricks. He published a book on card tricks, so was not averse to sharing magical secrets.
In The Pirate Planet, Romana claims that the Doctor has piloted the TARDIS for 523 years, which leaves scope for a great many of these unseen adventures. The Doctor is said to be 759 here, meaning he was nearly 240 when he left Gallifrey. He was nearly 750 in The Pyramids of Mars, and only 450 in Tomb of the Cybermen (but on that occasion he had to think about it for a moment, and may have been translating it from Gallifreyan years into Earth ones for the benefit of Jamie and Victoria).
He claims to have given Newton his ideas about gravity, by dropping an apple on his head, but this sounds too much like a tall story, as he says he explained the theory to Newton later over dinner. This would have meant he was seriously tampering with human scientific development, so highly unlikely.
The Doctor finally gets round to mentioning having met Einstein in The Stones of Blood. Again, he claims to have helped him with his work, so another tall tale probably. He speaks of both John Aubrey, the antiquarian, and Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of Troy, as though he knew them personally.
Oddly, the unfilmed birthday scene for this 100th story would have seen the Doctor celebrating his 751st birthday - despite being 759 only two stories earlier.
On the planet Tara, the Doctor claims to have seen Capablanca play Alekhine at chess in 1927, and claims to have fished with Izaak Walton (1593 - 1683), author of The Compleat Angler. The latter sounds like more name-dropping. Talking of fishing, I neglected to mention last time the Doctor's claim to have caught a massive salmon in the River Fleet, which he shared with the Venerable Bede (672 - 735). As Bede never left the North East of England, the Doctor couldn't have had Bede with him at the time he caught the fish, but must have travelled to Tyneside with it in the TARDIS soon after.
The Doctor escapes execution on the Third Moon of Delta Magna by singing in so high a pitch that it shatters glass, which suggests he might have met Dame Nellie Melba (1861 - 1931). On Atrios he saves K9 from a furnace using skills he learned from Balinese Fire Walkers.
Destiny of the Daleks sees the Doctor return to Skaro. He seems very familiar with the layout of the Kaled city, even though it bears no resemblance to what we saw in Genesis of the Daleks. He seemed to know more about the city in Evil of the Daleks than he saw in The Daleks, so there may have been other visits to the planet (perhaps when he got the Freedom of the City scroll seen in Robot). He also talks of the Daleks being purely robotic, and only once having organic components - so may have met some future version of the creatures when they were purely robotic. Reading Oolon Coluphid's book on the origins of the universe, he seems to hint that he witnessed the event.
We've already covered The City of Death, with its unseen meetings with Leonardo and Shakespeare. The story actually suggests at least two meetings with the Bard, as he describes him as a "taciturn boy" as well as when he helped him out when he strained his wrist at the time of the writing of Hamlet.
Certain skills must obviously need to be reacquired when the Doctor regenerates. Prior to his Fourth incarnation, the Doctor is familiar with Tibetan, yet in The Creature from the Pit he needs to refer to a "Teach Yourself Tibetan" book to translate another volume about Mountain Climbing. Douglas Adams is script editing, so we won't ask why the mountaineering book has an English title if it's written in Tibetan, or why the TARDIS isn't doing its usual translation.
The Doctor claims in this story to have helped Theseus in his battle with the Minotaur, having been given a large ball of string as a gift from the Corinthian hero and Ariadne. Odd to have gotten a gift from Theseus, when the Doctor forgot to remind him to change his sails on reaching home (leading to his father committing suicide, thinking him dead). He also has the jawbone of an ass in the TARDIS, and sort of implies it is the one Samson used to slay the Philistines.
In Nightmare of Eden, the Doctor claims to have met Professor Stein, Tryst's old mentor, and to have attended one of his lectures. He speaks of the damage the drug Vraxoin does to whole planets as if from personal experience.
The Doctor claims to have been to the planet Aneth - "but not yet".
The unbroadcast story Shada tells of multiple visits by the Doctor to St Cedd's College, Cambridge, to see Professor Chronotis - in 1955, 1958, 1960 and 1964. He was in a different incarnation for the 1958 visit. These are just the visits remembered by porter Wilkins, so he may have been there other times prior to 1955. The Doctor claims to have learned "vortex-walking" from a space/time mystic in the Quantocks. Possibly another reference to K'anpo, although his meditation centre wasn't in Somerset. (In Planet of the Spiders, Sarah is picked up from Mortimer railway station, which is in Berkshire).
When JNT took over the programme he was determined to stamp out a lot of the jokiness which had crept in - something which script editor Chris Bidmead and executive producer Barry Letts agreed with. It's noticeable that the Fourth Doctor does a lot less name-dropping from this point on. In fact there are very few references to unseen stories in Tom Baker's final season.
The Doctor has been to the planet Tigella before - not that long ago in its history as he knows the current leader Zastor, and it was in this incarnation. Meglos ends with an unseen trip to Earth to drop off the abducted human. The Doctor isn't sure if he's been to Traken, but thinks not, though he does seem to know quite a bit about it and recognises the planetary system from space by sight. The Keeper of Traken tells us that the Doctor did used to keep "Time Logs" - diaries of sorts - but they seem to be very unreliable and confusing.
Finally, the Doctor has been to Logopolis before - within the Monitor's lifetime. He also claims biologist and anthropologist Thomas Huxley (1825 - 1895) as an old friend. And just to go full circle, we return to the Pharos lighthouse, as the Doctor recognises the Pharos Project replica created by the Logopolitans.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

"James Stoker"

A spoiler of sorts, but not a terribly well hidden one. I think everyone is assuming that the Master will be back anyway for the finale of the current series. Well, apparently The Timeless Children has a character named Fakout, played by an actor named Barack Stemis, who apparently hasn't acted in anything before as his name fails to show up in any on-line search. I'm assuming Fakout is pronounced Fake-Out, and that's not the most subtle of anagrams...

Unseen Stories (4)

The Fourth Doctor - Part 1.
Once we get to the reign of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, we have many references to unseen stories - but the problem is that he is so flippant in his references that we really can't tell if he's being serious or not.
In his very first story we have the scene where he infiltrates the hall where the Scientific Reform Society are holding their meeting. He pulls out a huge wallet which contains a number of cards and other documents. One of these is a pilot's licence for the Mars-Venus run - or so he says. Then we have the Freedom of the City of Skaro. This must have been bestowed by the Thals, if that's what the document really states, as the Daleks would never offer such an honour. We've only seen the Doctor encounter the Thals once on Skaro up until this point, and the nomadic group he encountered way back in The Daleks didn't look the sort to issue honorary scrolls. Then there's his membership of the Alpha Centauri table-tennis club. He mentions them having six bats to go with their six arms - but the human game sees two-armed players armed with only one bat each, so they must play it differently there. Earlier, he thinks the Brigadier might be either Hannibal or Alexander the Great - suggesting that, like the Brigadier, he has met them before.
he claim his scarf was knitted for him by the wife of Nostradamus - a witty little knitter. This does sound as if it might be true. Could the Doctor in some way have been responsible for the prophesies? Was he investigating to make sure some alien interference wasn't going on? Sounds like something the Meddling Monk might have got involved with.
In trying to tie the Hand of Omega into continuity, some fans have posited that the Doctor already knew all about the Daleks before the events of The Daleks - that he must have set up the trap for them before encountering Ian and Barbara and departing hurriedly from Coal Hill, Shoreditch. However, he definitely hasn't heard of Davros until he meets him in Genesis of the Daleks. When captured by the Kaled scientist, the Doctor is forced to recount a number of Dalek defeats. One of these sounds similar to the events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, or its movie version, whilst the others are all new to us. This doesn't necessarily mean the Doctor was present - he may simply have heard about them during the course of his travels. He is linked to a truth detector, but there is every reason to believe that someone who can fool a mind probe can also dupe a lie-detector.
The Doctor's knowledge of the Cyber-War could also be something he read about, or heard about. Once again the Doctor mentions having learned some rope tricks from Harry Houdini whilst captive on Nerva Beacon - having previously claimed to have met him in Planet of the Spiders.
We know the Doctor spent some time in Scotland when he studied for his medical degree, and this might be how he comes to know a specific piece of bagpipe music in Terror of the Zygons. That, or Jamie taught it to him. He claims to have learned the trick of going into a breathless trance from a Tibetan monk. This could have been during his first visit to Det-Sen Monastery, or it might be another reference to his old Time Lord guru K'anpo.
Planet of Evil sees the Doctor's first mention of having met Shakespeare, whom he will later claim to have met in The City of Death. On that later occasion, he says that it was he who wrote out the First Folio version of Hamlet, Shakespeare having strained his wrist writing sonnets. In The Shakespeare Code, the Bard definitely hasn't met the Doctor by this point in is life, so these other encounters must have come after that meeting. Oddly, though, the Tenth Doctor behaves as if he's meeting Shakespeare for the first time as well - so these Fourth Doctor references might all just be made up.
The Doctor is known to have a passion for the period of the French Revolution, so it comes as no surprise that his lock-pick once belonged to Marie Antoinette. Perhaps if she hadn't given it to the Doctor then she might have escaped prison and not gone to her death on the guillotine. The Doctor's comment about previously being blamed for the Great Fire of London definitely comes across as a joke.
The Android Invasion sees the Doctor name-drop both the Duke of Marlborough and Alexander Graham Bell. The latter he advised not to use wires for his new telephone invention. Presumably the Duke he is referring to is the first of that title - John Churchill (1650 - 1722), the hero of the Battle of Blenheim.
In The Seeds of Death, the Doctor claims to be the President of the Intergalactic Flora Society. If such a body does exist, it is difficult to know how the Doctor could hold down such a role. Again, this sounds like a joke to make Sir Colin take his credentials seriously.
In San Martino, the Doctor tells Sarah that he is looking forward to meeting Leonardo da Vinci - suggesting that he hasn't had that honour so far. The City of Death, again, posits that the two have definitely met by this time, though we again fail to see the two meet onscreen.
Also in The Masque of Mandragora, the Doctor claims that the best swordsman he ever saw was a captain in Cleopatra's bodyguard.
The Deadly Assassin doesn't give us any references to unseen stories - instead giving us some of the Doctor's backstory whilst still living on Gallifrey, especially his Academy days. He claims not to have ever met the outgoing President, and yet he implied that Morbius was around during his lifetime - and he might even have met him.
The Face of Evil specifically deals with the aftermath of an unseen adventure - one of the very few occasions this happens in the series. At some point, in this current incarnation, the Doctor had visited this primordial planet, just after the Mordee Expedition had landed. He had repaired their computer using part of his own personality, unaware that the machine was developing a personality of its own - inadvertently giving rise to the unbalanced Xoanon. Unless he's been travelling on his own for a very long time since leaving Gallifrey, this must have taken place when he was still with Sarah, though there aren't many gaps where the story might fit, and it's odd that he seems not to have remembered it so easily. One fan theory is that he slipped away from UNIT HQ whilst still suffering post-regenerative shock, fixed the computer, then slipped back again. This might explain why he made such a hash of the job, but doesn't fit with what we saw in Robot, where he only discovers the hiding place of the TARDIS key prior to joining the Brigadier's investigations. His stated age in Pyramids of Mars and stories after this one also go against a very long period of travel between The Deadly Assassin and The Face of Evil. This story also has the Doctor claim to have learned how to shoot a crossbow from William Tell. Like Robin Hood, he's a folk hero who probably never existed - and yet the Doctor would later encounter Robin Hood, never having believed him to be a real person.
The Doctor has seen vehicles similar to the Sandminer on Korlano Beta - specifically stating he has seen them rather than just knowing about them, so he has been to that planet at some point.
The Talons of Weng-Chiang mentions a few unseen adventures. The Doctor says he hasn't been to China for 400 years. That can't be a reference to Marco Polo, as he is a couple of centuries out. He seems to know a lot about Victorian Music Hall performers, suggesting a previous visit. The Doctor later informs Magnus Greel that he was with the Filipino Army during its final assault on Reykjavik, in the early 51st Century.

Monday 17 February 2020

The Haunting of Villa Diodati - Review

One thing Doctor Who has always been successful at is the "mash-up" of two or more genres in a single story. A science fiction series, about a time traveller, offers ample opportunities for this, and it's what has made Doctor Who unique as a TV series. EastEnders can't have a UFO arriving in the middle of Albert Square one night. Coronation Street can't have a vampire prowling the cobbles of Weatherfield. But Evil of the Daleks was like The Forsyte Saga, but with Daleks. Love & Monsters was a rom-com with aliens. The Unquiet Dead was a ghost story, with aliens. We've also had pirate movies, westerns, war films and more over the decades, all with alien elements.
Last night's story - The Haunting of Villa Diodati - was another example of this mash-up - period drama, literary biography, ghost story, and Cybermen.
The problem was, it didn't quite mash.
I actually quite enjoyed it as I watched it, Gothic Horror being a particular passion of mine, and I was well acquainted with the real story behind these events. Byron I can take or leave, but I do like Shelley. Apart from the whole haunted house, spatial warping, and Cyberman, there were some historical inaccuracies. For a start, the story-telling competition took place over the course of three nights - not just the one. Byron was presented as a bit of a coward, hiding behind Claire Clairmont's dress at one point. This is a man who elected to go fight in Greece against the Ottoman Empire, not because he had to - because he wanted to. We heard about Polidori's insomnia and sleep-walking, but no mention of the fact that it was actually a discussion between him and Shelley which sparked Mary Godwin's imagination and inspired her to write her story.
It was only afterwards as I thought about the episode that reservations began to creep in. I think the problem is that there were two good stories here, that ought to have been told separately.
The whole Villa Diodati thing could have sustained a story in its own right, with an alien more suited to the ghost / haunted house theme.
The Cyberman felt rather tacked on, as though it had to be there just to set up the next two episodes, and for no other reason. Yes, there is the connection between the stitched together Cyberman and the Frankenstein Monster, though that connection was only briefly touched upon in the scene set in the cellars, by which time it was clear that this story existed only to set something else up.
My other problem was the Cyberman himself. The whole point about the Cybermen is that they have no emotions whatsoever. Ashad could have been any other sadistic alien, travelling back through time to find something. He didn't need to be a Cyberman apart from the set up for future episodes. Imagine this story, if you will, where it was a purely non-emotional Cyberman hunting for the Guardian / Cyberium - pursuing its prey with the same relentless purpose. It would have worked just as well. An emotional Cyberman isn't a Cyberman.
It was another good episode for Yaz, but Graham hasn't been served as well this series. He seems to have been reduced to pure comic relief, with nothing but the odd one-liner.
Jodie Whittaker was better served, for a change. No lectures or bland homilies about the theme of the week this time. We've seen her be a bit short with the companions a couple of times this year, and last night saw her firmly put them in their place. At the end of the day, she is the boss and she calls the shots.
I noticed this morning that there was a very slight rise in the ratings - of around 60,000 - on last week's instalment. Perhaps if they'd actually advertised the return of the Cybermen (we all knew it was coming) this might have done better. Roll on the finale.

Saturday 15 February 2020

"You've been a lovely audience..."

Take a look at Twitter or YouTube at the moment and you'll see lots of arguments about the ratings. I've written about this before - with Series 11 - and won't say much more on the matter, as both sides of the debate are right, and both sides are wrong. Those who say viewing figures are falling are perfectly right. Final figures (the +4-Screen ones, including all the various catch-up opportunities) show Spyfall Part 1 with 6.89 million, whilst Praxeus, the most recent episode with this figure, has 5.22 million. Only Fugitive of the Judoon has shown a slight increase on the previous week. The trend overall is downward. Overnight figures for the series to date started at 4.88 million, and last week's episode had 3.81 million.
Over in the USA, the only figures I've got are for overnights - Spyfall Part 1 launched with 0.79 million. Can You Hear Me? got 0.40 million watching, so almost half the viewership lost. Another significant figure as far as the US is concerned is the 18 - 49 demographic. 18 to 49 year-olds spend the most money, and this demographic is the one which the TV networks want to capture as it's the one which interests advertisers, merchandisers etc. Spyfall Part 1 had 0.19 million viewers in this age range, which has fallen to 0.10 million with Can You Hear Me?. Were Doctor Who to have been produced by a US network it would have been cancelled mid-season, let alone not picked up for a further series.
The counter argument to all this is always the percentages, or the placings in a week's or month's viewing tables. Doctor Who is still one of the most watched shows on British TV, getting just over 20% of the viewing public, and it remains in the top 30 shows for the month. The problem with this is that we are talking about reduced viewing for conventional television across the board. People are turning to streaming services, preferring to binge-watch box sets etc, or they're playing games instead of watching TV. It doesn't matter how big a percentage of the viewing public watches Doctor Who. A big percentage of a small number is still a small number. The 7th or 11th or 20th most watched programme of the night is a meaningless statistic, if hardly anyone is watching TV.
No matter what way you spin things, Doctor Who's viewing figures are going down. Hardly surprising for a re-booted programme that's been on the air for 12 series.
Of more interest to me - and of more concern to me - are the AI figures - the Audience Appreciation Index as was. You can argue about ratings until you are blue in the face. There is only ever one AI figure per episode, and it tells us how much viewers actually liked the thing. Sadly, this isn't good for the current iteration of the show at all.
The AI is a score out of 100. 91 or more is regarded as exceptional. 85 - 90 is excellent. Between 65 and 85 is good. Under 65 is considered poor.
The best we've had so far this series is an 83 for Fugitive of the Judoon. Both parts of Spyfall got 82. The worst to date, unsurprisingly, has been Orphan 55 with 77. The last two broadcast stories got 78, with the Tesla story getting 79.
Series 11 began with a score of 83, but had gone down to 79 by the series finale, with Resolution pushing it back up slightly to 80. The finale and The Tsuranga Conundrum were both on 79, whilst all the other stories were at 80 or 81.
This means that three of the current series episodes have fared worse than the lowest of the previous season - and we're only at Episode 7.
Going back to ratings for a moment, one of the things people argue is that they were falling under Moffat / Capaldi. As I've said, this can be debated. However, one thing which you cannot argue is that the stories have been better received since Series 11.
The lowest AI figure for Series 10 was an 81 for The Eaters of Light. World Enough And Time got an excellent 85.
The lowest AI figure for Series 9 was a 78 for Sleep No More. This was the only figure below 80, and four of the episodes had an 84.
The lowest AI figure for Series 8 was 82, for four episodes. Three episodes got an excellent 85.
Go back to Series 7 and ten of the episodes are 85 or above. In fact, Sleep No More is the only Moffat era story to go below 80 (and Russell T Davies never gave us anything that low), whilst Chibnall has so far managed to deliver six episodes in the 70's, out of eighteen broadcast to date, with not one considered excellent.
People need to stop this senseless bickering over ratings and concentrate on the AI figures.
Quality needs to count over quantity.

Wednesday 12 February 2020

Inspirations - Snakedance

As you are no doubt fully aware, sequels were as rare as hens' teeth back in the Classic Era of the programme. Snakedance is one of those rarities. Kinda had concluded with Tegan apparently free of the Mara which had inhabited her body - first passing it on to the Kinda native Aris, before it was seemingly sent back to the dark places of the inside. Tegan was noticeably still troubled in the scene which opens the following story, which might just be an indication that there was more of this story to tell. Snakedance opens with the dormant Mara reawakening in her and causing her to unconsciously pilot the TARDIS to the planet of Manussa, where the Mara was first created. An ancient civilisation here experimented with their minds, focusing them through special blue crystals, which resulted in the unintentional creation of the creatures. In trying to develop inner peace, calm and harmony, all the negative emotions were shunted off to become the Mara.

Despite having a dreadful time with the development of his first story, Chris Bailey was encouraged to produce a second Mara story for the following season. The production team had liked the first effort, having more of a psychological menace (even if it did eventually materialise as a big pink snake). Bailey went into Snakedance much happier, being familiar now with how the scripting process for a show like Doctor Who worked. He was more comfortable working with Eric Saward, and felt with his new story that he could shape it more as he wanted it - better understanding the limitations of what could be realised.
Once again, his story was to be entirely studio-bound, with just a small amount of filming (the scenes in the wilderness featuring Dojjen). The director chosen was Fiona Cumming, who had helmed the metaphysical Castrovalva in Season 19. She had specifically asked JNT not to be offered any hard Sci-Fi robot / monster stories.
Mention to any fan a story with strong Buddhist inspirations, blue crystals with strange mental properties, and monsters based on common terrestrial creatures which people were particularly phobic about, and they might think you were talking about Planet of the Spiders. Saward would probably have been familiar with that story, but we can't say if Bailey was.

Snakedance continues the Buddhist theme, but adds some other religions into the mix. The Snakedancers sound like they might be Hindu or Jain sadhu, who have turned their back on worldly ways to live an ascetic lifestyle, and there are fundamentalist Christian sects which involve snake wrangling (subject of The X-Files Season 7 episode 'Signs and Wonders').
The whole notion of the Mara being born of the mind, and of how focusing the mind could then relegate them back into the dark dimensions seems to derive from Buddhist fables. The Doctor basically meditates them into defeat.
Buddhist references abound in the names once again - Tanha meaning "thirst, craving or desire" for instance. This is a little odd, as Tanha is Lon's mother, who shows no indication of such cravings, preferring instead to just show up and do her duty as the Federator's wife. It's Lon himself who is best described by these desires, greedy for anything which will relieve his boredom. Dojjen derives from Dogen - who was a 13th Century Zen Master.

Colonialism is another inspiration for this story - especially that of Raj-era India. Cumming seems to have picked this up for the look of Manussa and its inhabitants. The Federator is an off-worlder - a colonial governor. Tanha and Lon are obliged to visit and show an interest, which the Federator apparently lacks, in this place and its people and their quaint superstitions. EM Forster's A Passage to India features a trip by colonials to visit some caves, in which a young woman has a nightmarish experience.
Looking at the relationship between Lon and his mother, I'm also reminded of that between the Roman emperor Nero and his mother Agrippina. Hopefully his experiences on Manussa will cause Lon to become a better person, and thus a better Federator when his time comes, but you can imagine - had he experienced no life-changing event - he would have been plotting some bizarre fatal accident for his mum once as soon as he was in power.
Another inspiration is TS Eliot's Four Quartets poems. There are direct quotes from these - the repeated mention of the "still point" for instance - and aspects of the ritual Lon has to perform in the cavern. Eliot also liked to mix Christian imagery with that of other religions - borrowing ideas from Hindu texts such as the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad-Gita.
On a design point, we also have to look to the Star Trek episode 'The Apple'. That's the one which is also very similar to elements of Kinda, with a seemingly peace-loving tribe (one of whom is played by a young David Soul) on an idyllic planet. The tribe get everything from their god Vaal - who resides in a cave fashioned like the head of a snake, similar to what we see in this story.
Next time: the operatic start of another trilogy. A new companion tries to murder the Doctor, the Black Guardian adopts dead carrion as a fashion accessory, and we get two Brigadiers for the price of one...

Monday 10 February 2020

Can You Hear Me? - Review

Not with your finger jammed in my ear'ole I can't...
I liked this episode for the most part, though there were some aspects which didn't work for me at all. I was particularly happy with the set-up, which is also what Praxeus had going for it last week. We were presented with a mystery and had to try to work out what was going on, and how seemingly unconnected things might be linked. It all fell apart with last week's story when the mystery was finally explained, but here the resolution to the mystery worked out okay.
Negatives out of the way first. The whole Aleppo thing was a pointless diversion. There was absolutely no reason for part of the story to be set there. The god-like immortals were attacking people in present day Sheffield, and that's where they eventually decided to go once the female one had been freed. Why also attack people in 14th Century Syria? The Doctor's section of the set-up could just as easily have been somewhere else in the city in the present day. Also, I very strongly doubt that the phrase "mental well-being" was ever uttered by anyone in 14th Century Aleppo, no matter how advanced the attitudes of medieval Syrian physicians were to public health.
Initially, the finger thing was weird and creepy, but the more you thought about it the more stupid it looked - especially when you see racks of fingers on the space platform. Surely there was a better way of getting this across. There are going to be helluva lot of "fingering" jokes about this episode, which it could well have done without.
Something else which annoyed was the use of the sonic screwdriver to first of all free Rakaya, and then to trap her and Zellin. The people of the two planets had to crash their worlds together to trap her, yet the Doctor did a quick wave of the magic wand to break her out, then put her back in again.
Good things included the focus on the companions and some much needed character development, though I feel this is all very late in the day. We should have had something like this last series. I did feel at times that Chibnall was stealing from one of his own stories here - The Power of Three. That focused more on the companions, and the people they had left behind, and featured the companions beginning to question their lifestyle and how much longer it might last. Back then, this was immediately followed by their departure. Could something like this be about to happen? Won't be next week - but probably in Episode 10. Whilst Whittaker has been talking of late about this not being her last season, Cole and Gill have been talking as if they are looking for other work recently. Either both are leaving, or there is another long gap between seasons planned.
Other positives were the villains themselves. Ian Gelder was excellent as Zellin, and even Clare Hope-Ashitey impressed despite only appearing towards the end. It was nice to hear the Eternals, the Guardians and the Toymaker mentioned. And no, Zellin and Rakaya aren't Eternals themselves, as some fans are claiming. He clearly talks about them as if he isn't one of them.
I also liked the use of animation to show their history (even if it was inspired by the Deathly Hallows). This could have been a rather dull bit of exposition.
Nice to see the Doctor being duped again, thinking she's on a rescue mission when she's actually helping a villain break out of jail.
I've noticed that one particular vlogger has started referring to Lectures instead of Episodes. (One of those who really hates the series in its current incarnation, but will insist on watching it just so he can publish negative reviews of it). This week's theme was obviously mental health, and it's not the first time the programme has tackled this subject. Nearly 10 years ago Vincent and the Doctor tackled depression, and also included a message about help-lines during the end credits, so I don't feel that this story should be attacked for covering similar areas. On the whole I think it was handled sensitively.

Saturday 8 February 2020

What's Wrong With... The Crusades

There really isn't very much to say about this story, regarded by many as the best of the historical stories. Performances are fine across the board - even Hartnell managing to steer clear of noticeable fluffs. It has been argued that, when playing against a strong stage or screen guest artist, Hartnell always managed to raise his game. Here, he has Julian Glover to play against. Apart from some business with a cloth merchant, the script is also firmly on the heavy side - both in tone and in content. There's not much larking about in this episode. All the guest cast play this like it's Shakespeare, and writer David Whitaker has looked to the Bard when scripting his dialogue for them.
We could mention the blacking-up of some of the characters - like Bernard Kay portraying Saladin - but this was par for the course in 1965, and so only appears reprehensible when viewed from the present. Things only really changed in this respect in the 1980's, as more opportunities arose for actors from diverse ethnicities to gain more prominence in British drama.
If there is anything wrong with The Crusades, then it's in its historical accuracy, but even here Whitaker has got most of his facts right. Like Eric Morecambe's piano-playing, he has all the right notes - just not necessarily in the right order. For instance, Sir William des Preaux really was abducted and held hostage by Saladin's forces, but here Richard comes up with his plan to marry his sister to Saladin's brother Saphadin after this event, whereas he had already decided on this plan two months prior to the events of this story (said to take place in November 1191).
The version of Richard we see here is the romanticised one, such as seen in some of the adaptations of Robin Hood. He comes across as a man who longs only for peace, contrasted with the belligerent Earl of Leicester, and he longs to return to England. The Doctor fails to mention that when Richard recently captured Acre he slaughtered thousands of Muslim prisoners of war. Richard didn't speak English, and actually loathed the place - much preferring his French kingdom. He spoke French, and chose to be buried in France, and hardly set foot in England. There is no sign either in this story of Richard's ill health - he had been suffering from crippling scurvy for months.

Friday 7 February 2020

Ascension Cybermen!

In an unusual move the BBC have issued images of the new look Cybermen which are due to appear in the Series 12 finale a couple of weeks early. We only get face and head / shoulder shots, but they are enough to let us see what's new about them, and what might have stayed the same. The bodies don't look like they've changed all that much, but you'll notice in the image below that some little spikes have been added to the shoulders, and the shoulder sections are bigger. The main change is with the helmet, which now has a face very similar to the Cybermen which appeared in The Invasion and Revenge of the Cybermen. What's more - the ear muffs are back. I think they look great, but we do need to see the whole costume to get the full look.

What is hugely significant about these images is that they bear no resemblance to the damaged Cyberman seen previously in the series trailer...

As you can see from this close-up shot, there is definitely a human left eye visible - suggesting that someone is wearing this like armour, or it is some kind of half-human / half-Cyberman construct (as in more hybrid than they usually are). If the latter, then this might still tie in with the Frankenstein / Mary Shelley story (Episode 8). The full version of this Cyberman glimpsed in the same trailer did show a body made up of different Cyberman versions, such as a Mondasian arm - so the alternative is that this relates to the fact that this Cybermen originates with the end of the Cyber-War (Episode 9) when they are simply using whatever parts they can get hold of.
It has also been announced that Ian McElhinney (Game of Thrones, Krypton) is in the finale, along with Steve Toussaint.

Thursday 6 February 2020

Series 12 Update & The Faceless Ones DVD (updated!)

The last Doctor Who Magazine before the series ends hit the shops today, and it gives us some scraps of information about the remaining four episodes.
We already know a bit about this week's episode - Can You Hear Me? The synopsis states that it involves something from beyond space invading people's dreams, and some of the action takes place in 14th Century Aleppo. According to DWM this might be a Doctor-lite story, concentrating more on how the nightmare being affects the companions, who each get their own sub-story. No mention of Grace, but Ryan's friend Tibo (seen in Spyfall Part 1) appears, as does Yaz's sister. I can't help but be reminded of the Sarah Jane Adventures story The Nightmare Man.
The main guest actor, Ian Gelder, plays who I assume to be the villain of the piece - a character named Zellin. Despite Gelder voicing the Remnants in Series 11, who first mentioned the Timeless Child, it's claimed that this character has nothing to do with them.
The 8th episode is The Haunting of the Villa Diodati. Anyone who knows anything about the origins of Frankenstein will know that this confirmed the long-rumoured Mary Shelley story. DWM implies that this is a creepy ghost story, with no mention of Cybermen. The rumour had always been that the Mary Shelley story would feature at least one Cyberman - the parallels between the Cybermen and Frankenstein's creation being obvious. It might still be that there is a Cyberman in this story - possibly that "Lone Cyberman" Captain Jack referred to - leading into the two part finale.
Lili Miller is Mary Shelley, Maxim Baldry is Dr John Polidori, and Lewis Rainer is Percy Bysshe Shelley. Jacob Collins Levy is also in the cast - presumably he's Lord Byron.
The last two episodes have separate titles, despite being another two-parter - Ascension of the Cybermen and The Timeless Children.
The first part promises the closing days of a long-running war between humans and Cybermen. Julie Graham, previously seen as villain Ruby White in The Sarah Jane Adventures, guests. The title is odd - being just another way of saying the already used The Rise of the Cybermen - and it's set at the end of a Cyber-War rather than the beginning. Presumably this is all to do with Jack's warning about a dying empire being reborn.
We are promised that the final episode will answer at least some of the questions surrounding the Timeless Child. It promises some space opera and lots of Cybermen.
For fans of the Classic Series, the new DMW also has a couple of items on the late 60's script editor Donald Tosh, and the first half of a Timothy Combe interview.

Tucked away in the forthcoming releases column is the release date for The Faceless Ones DVD / Blu-ray, which Amazon and Zoom haven't got yet. It said Monday 9th March, but today (7th Feb) it has now been confirmed as the 16th March. Typical BBC - it's been delayed before they've even published the release date. The cover has also been released. The next issue of DWM will have a feature on the animation for its missing episodes.

Tuesday 4 February 2020

Season 26 Blu-Ray Box Set - Review

I received this the day it was due - Monday 27th January. The reason I'm reviewing it now, 8 days later, is because I've only just finished working my way through it. Considering this season consisted of only four stories - 14 episodes in total - there is a heck of a lot of material on this set.
We'll get to the Extras shortly, but first a word or two about the stories themselves. Everyone knows that Season 26 is when Doctor Who finally got its groove back, after a rather disastrous few years - only to be cruelly scrapped by a BBC that had fallen totally out of love with it. We'd already had a failed attempt at cancellation between Seasons 22 and 23. The latter, and Sylvester McCoy's first season were not terribly good. Things started to look up with Remembrance of the Daleks and the arrival of companion Ace. This final season of the Classic Era is very much her season - with three of the four stories forming a sort of character arc for her. Things kick off with the one that isn't really part of that arc - Battlefield. It's a so-so story, which even its writer doesn't think much of. This was mainly because he was forced to expand it to four parts when it had originally been intended only to be a three-parter. I should say at this point that the only story I watched of this set in the format in which it was broadcast was the last one (Survival). Give me a Special Edition and I will generally choose that over the broadcast version every time (due to new VFX or additional scenes reincorporated). This box set offers you the chance to see up to three different versions of some stories, and Survival was the only one that didn't offer that choice. These Special Editions aren't always tidied up for HD, so I will revisit the set soon to watch the upscaled broadcast versions.
I won't pretend that I fully understood Ghost Light on first transmission. Even today, after reading so much about it and just having watched an extended cut of it, there are still some elements which aren't ever properly explained (e.g how can stuffed and eviscerated animals make noises, and why do their eyes glow? Why does the candle suddenly flare?).
Best of the bunch for me is The Curse of Fenric (the story that gets three different versions). Probably the best of the McCoy era. Survival lays a lot of the groundwork for what what was to come with Rose in 2005. Writer Rona Munro intended it to be set in a run down urban landscape, which would have been so much better than the rather leafy suburban setting she was given.
Even with the rather weak Battlefield (which at least has Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier in a prominent role) it's a good, solid set of stories.

Onto the Extras, of which there are many. The original DVD release of Survival had a second disc of material on its own - including the documentary "Endgame" which tells the story of the demise of the series and the immediate aftermath, with contributions from some of the people who had killed the show. This, and all the other VAM from the original DVD releases, is all present and correct in this set. The Seventh Doctor's "Tomorrow's Times" and "Stripped For Action" features have been moved to this set, seeing as how it sums up his era. As this rounds off the whole Classic Series, the Blue Peter documentary ("Who Peter") is included as well.
All stories get a "Behind the Sofa" feature. In the past this has been split between two groups on the sofa - the main set being people who were there at the time, and a second set of people representing other eras of the show. Here the action is split over three sofas. On Sofa 1 we have McCoy and Sophie Aldred, on Sofa 2 we get new writers Pete McTighe and Joy Wilkinson, and on Sofa 3 we get companion actresses Anneke Wills, Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding. Either 2 or 3 we could have done away with, as it means we don't actually get to hear much from McCoy and Aldred.
The Curse of Fenric is another original DVD release which had a whole extra disc of bonus material - but no Making-Of documentary. This is remedied by a new doc, directed by McTighe. McCoy, Aldred and Tomek Bork (Commander Sorin) revisit the locations from the story, interspersed with some talking heads. On visiting the church they are reunited with Nicholas Parsons, who had played the Rev Wainwright. This was rather poignant, as Parsons had just passed away a day or two before I watched this.
There's quite a lot of location and behind the scenes footage for all four stories, plus we get two Convention panels - the one for Fenric, previously released, and one with just McCoy and Aldred from 1993.
The final disc has two main new features. Matthew Sweet conducts a lovely interview with Aldred, recorded when she made the Blu-Ray trailer. For me, the highlight is "Showman" a feature length biography of John Nathan-Turner. It's worth buying this set for this alone. He was a very divisive figure, and could be particularly nasty at times - themes not glossed over in the documentary - but you cannot help but feel sorry for him by the end of this. His was ultimately a tragic life, after so much promise. We hear about his childhood and schooldays, move into theatre and then to the BBC. Things build towards his annus mirabilis - the 20th Anniversary year, with The Five Doctors and the Longleat event. Everyone agrees - including himself in an archive interview - that this is when he should have walked away from the programme into something else, soap opera or light entertainment. By allowing himself to be talked into staying on Doctor Who, because he was doing so well with it and he was still enjoying it, the seeds of his downfall were sown. His treatment by the BBC after the series was cancelled really makes you angry at them, and heartbroken for him.
Lots of photos from his life, and loads of archive footage, including convention appearances, illustrate this sad tale. It's an excellent piece.
Next up we have Season 14, due in April (so expect it in June)...

Monday 3 February 2020

Praxeus - Review

Frankly, I'm not entirely sure why it took two writers to deliver us Praxeus. Chibnall's inclusion in the opening credits did make me think that we might get a little bit more story arc development. As of last night I was sure a lot of people tuned in because of the big revelations of last week - and would have been disappointed to see no mention of them whatsoever. However, on seeing the overnight ratings for Praxeus I don't understand what went wrong. 240,000 less people tuned in.
This was a perfectly okay story, but hardly a classic. There are obvious comparisons with Orphan 55 which I should get out of the way right from the start. As with that earlier episode, there were rather too many people cluttering things up. We could easily have done away with the Peruvian ladies, or the astronaut and his husband, without damaging the main plot - probably the former, as the inclusion of the astronaut at least kept us guessing for a while that he might have brought the alien infection down with him when he crashed. As with Spyfall, we had a lot of globetrotting - which again wasn't totally necessary. Back in 1970, The Silurians managed to convey the potential dangers of a global pandemic without setting foot outside Marylebone Station. We also had the big environmental issue - this time specifically plastics in the world's oceans. At least this time the story didn't preach to quite the same extent that Orphan 55 did. Two stories in the same short season, so close together, on the same theme was a mistake. In my review of Orphan 55 I mentioned that I believed that we fans are a generally enlightened lot, who already care about such things - so it was merely preaching to the converted. Defenders might argue that Doctor Who is a family show, watched by a lot of children, but I'm afraid under 4 million viewership probably means it is primarily fans who are watching - not a sizeable general TV audience. (If you want an environmental message to reach the widest possible audience, then you have to somehow get it into Love Island or I'm A Celebrity... Good luck with that...).
I could say a lot of nice things about the various exotic locations and sets - but if you're looking at the scenery then the story has big problems. I could comment on how nasty the deaths were, as people became petrified before exploding - except Quatermass did it far more shockingly back in 1979 (the John Mills one).
We didn't even get any decent aliens - just human-looking / human-sounding ones.
If you really wanted to do a story about the pollution of the Earth's oceans, then that should have been a job for the Sea Devils. They live there, after all, and we could have heard about the problem from their perspective, rather than listen to another lecture from the Doctor.
One of the best things about last week's episode was seeing the Doctor put on the back foot - not knowing what was going on for a change. Last night, we were back in know-it-all mode, which I find increasingly annoying.
Looking at some comments on-line today about this story, I see some people seem to think that having a married same sex couple is enough to render this story some kind of elevated status. Lesbian and gay couples get married all the time. It happens. Get over it. If you think that people should get a special pat on the back for including this then you aren't paying very much attention to the real world, or to dozens of other TV programmes, including soaps, which are already showing this.
I can just picture the writers sitting back when they had finished, smugly thinking how enlightened they were...
If all this sounds as if I hated Praxeus, that's not the case at all. Honest! I just found it ordinary.

Saturday 1 February 2020

Doctor Ruth - idle speculation

So... Chris Chibnall says that Dr Ruth is categorically a Doctor. RTD lied. Moffat lied.
Ergo, we can't necessarily read anything into what Chibs says.
The press has been trumpeting the first black female Doctor, so for Chibnall to backtrack on this would be a huge mistake.
Ergo, she is a Doctor.
The big questions is: what kind of a Doctor?
Before we look into this, let's look at the story so far:
  • The First Doctor is the First Doctor. The Time Lords said so in The Three Doctors, and subsequent stories confirmed this (such as the Eleventh believing he was the last, but getting a new regeneration cycle at the conclusion to Time of the Doctor).
  • The Second Doctor.
  • The Third Doctor.
  • The Fourth Doctor. Things go slightly awry here, as The Brain of Morbius seems to imply that there were other, male, Doctors prior to the First Doctor - but only 8 faces are seen. This might be the first clue as to Dr Ruth's origins.
  • The Fifth Doctor.
  • The Sixth Doctor.
  • The Seventh Doctor.
  • The Eighth Doctor.
  • The War Doctor - so actually the Ninth Doctor.
  • The Ninth Doctor - who's technically the Tenth Doctor.
  • The Tenth Doctor - who's technically the Eleventh Doctor.
  • The Metacrisis Doctor - who's technically the Twelfth Doctor.
  • The Valeyard - who is said to come between the twelfth "and final" incarnation of the Doctor (in this regeneration cycle?). That "and final" opens a whole can of worms, as he could come from anywhere after the twelfth - which is actually the Metacrisis Doctor - so another possibility for Dr Ruth's origins.
  • The Eleventh Doctor - who has now become the Thirteenth Doctor.
And relax...
  • The Twelfth Doctor is actually the first of the new Doctors - or the Fourteenth Doctor,
  • And the Thirteenth Doctor is the second of the new Doctors - or the Fifteenth Doctor in old money.
Three possibilities are apparent from what is already canon. The first is what we have been hearing about lately, rumour-wise, and there really were Doctors before the First. Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes certainly wanted to imply this, and everyone adores them, but present day fans might not be so accepting...

The Cardiff DWAS local group request a meeting with Chris Chibnall...
Now Hinchcliffe and Holmes at that time weren't arguing for a whole new regeneration cycle - that only came later when they were running out of Doctors thanks to Holmes' own self imposed "12 Regenerations" limit. They simply thought that the Doctor could have lived a lot longer than we had seen on TV, and there were some prior to William Hartnell.
If Chibnall is going to go down this road to damnation, then he could argue that he is merely following in the footsteps of giants - just as he has been doing for all of this series so far with its blatant RTD and Moffat steals... (God forbid anyone should ever accuse Chris Chibnall of originality).
The second opportunity to slip Dr Ruth in comes with the Valeyard. What if she is what used to be he? The Valeyard is an intermediate Doctor, but a Doctor nonetheless - and potentially one that can regenerate. Dr Ruth is rather aggressive and violent, which is more fitting for someone like the Valeyard. 
The third opportunity is the Metacrisis Doctor. What if he wasn't as human as everyone thought, and regenerated into Dr Ruth? This would tie in with the other main speculation that Dr Ruth derives from an alternative universe, as we know that the Metacrisis Doctor was sent off to Pete's World with Rose. In The Rise of the Cybermen, the Doctor seemed to be saying that the Time Lords transcended these dimensional barriers - so weren't bound by them, and the Doctor is the only UNIT member not to have an evil doppelganger in Inferno. An alternative universe Doctor is still a Doctor.

There is still one further option, which is a little bit "out there" - so naturally I think it might be possible...
What if it isn't Dr Ruth who's the alternative one? What if it's Thirteen herself?
What if, when the Doctor regenerated at some point, the Doctor(s) we saw were the alternative universe ones, split off in some way, and the real Doctor who started with the First, as played by William Hartnell, went on to become Dr Ruth?...
People commented at the time that there didn't seem to be much character development between Missy and the Sacha Dhawan Master - so maybe this is an alternative Master. Gallifrey might still exist in our universe and only be destroyed in the alternative one - or vice versa.
Who knows, the Doctor's next regeneration might be a realignment, when we get the Doctor we were supposed to get - rather than the one we got...