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Shakedown, by Terrance Dicks

Posted by goldenplum on December 10, 2014 at 11:00 PM Comments comments (0)

From Tea with Morbius- Shakedown, by Terrance Dicks (Virgin New Adventure)


Shakedown began life as a fan made video production, featuring the Sontarans, but not the Doctor. It was scripted by Terrance Dicks, apparently for a very minimal fee. Terrance Dicks was later approached by Virgin, who wanted him to adapt it as a novel featuring the Doctor. Instead of changing the story of Shakedown to include the Doctor, Dicks did something rather more interesting. He wrote a basic novelisation of Shakedown, then included this as the middle section of a longer novel. This novel created a literary backstory for the fan movie. This involved the Doctor and his companions pursuing a Rutan spy.


Shakedown is written in that minimalistic, unfancy prose which characterised Terrance Dicks' novelisations. The middle section, based on the fan movie, is very reminiscent of his Target novels. However, it also draws on his Virgin novels too, with the playfulness and the endless references to other Doctor Who storie, especially Uncel Terry's own scripts. And with it being a Terrance Dicks, a female character inevitably gets threatened with rape.


As with some of his other novels, Dicks tends to make the Seventh Doctor seem more like Pertwee than McCoy, though he gets Bernice, Chris and Roz spot on. The Sontarans were portrayed more sympathetically here than in the Classic Series, one can see the emergence of the friendly Sontarans of the New Series. I was rather glad to see the Rutans getting a bit more attention here. I think they are a great monster.


There is some great world-buiding here, especially the planet of insectoid Oxford dons. Likewise, Dick's portrayal of the corrupt and anarchic Megacity has a cynicism to match the late Robert Holmes. The most striking character we are introdued to is the Ogron police chief, a polite and educated Ogron, who sips tea and eats cakes. Before we can applaud Dicks for breaking stereoypes, it turns out that this Ogron has been surgically altered. This is rather disappointing. Dicks just assumes Ogrons are all dumb because they conform to racially suspect stereotypes. Wouldn't it have been nice if Dicks had given us an Ogron who really did fail to conform to the cliche (without having been 'civilized' by surgery)? But we can hardly expect Uncle Terry to be progressive.


This is a fun novel with plenty of action. Readers who have grown up with Terrance Dicks' Target novels will very much enjoy this.



An Underrated Work

Posted by goldenplum on December 8, 2014 at 9:20 PM Comments comments (0)

 From The I like dr who project -

The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe


This episode is routinely trotted out as the nadir of the Moffat era. It’s a waste of guest stars, the detractors say. It has almost no plot. It’s a Christmas episode constructed of snow and lovey-dovey hugs and not much else. It’s not proper Doctor Who.



They’re right. It’s not proper Doctor Who. But it’s what Doctor Who should be.


The story starts like a typical Doctor Who Christmas special—a giant alien spaceship prepares to destroy Earth, and the Doctor’s the only one who can stop it. This sort of story fits right into Series Six. That series was an epic, full of armies and assassins, as the plot twisted through time and across worlds in the ultimate battle of good versus evil. It destroyed so many lives. Thus, in “The Wedding of River Song”, the Doctor explicitly rejects that type of story. He won’t remain in Doctor Who, as the hero whose enemies tear worlds apart in fear of him.


So before the opening credits roll, the Doctor jumps out of that epic, and falls into a very different type of story. The Eleventh Doctor’s era is known for its fairy tale atmosphere, but previous stories took fairy tale tropes into the Doctor’s world. This story throws the Doctor directly into a fairy tale.


In fairy tales, there are creatures—cranky old women or men, animals of all shapes and sizes—who meet an ordinary traveler along the road and ask for help. The traveler gives the creature food, or frees it from a trap, solves its problem or spares its life. In return, the creature pledges help. Often, the creature returns at a moment of crisis for the hero, and helps them to complete an impossible task.


Thrown from the epic action story, the Doctor transforms into one of these strange creatures. He falls at the feet of an ordinary housewife, who pities the strange man with no face, and helps him find his home. In return, the Doctor offers a reward. He could have offered his typical thanks—a step into his box and a trip through time and space—but he’s not in Doctor Who anymore. He’s in a fairy tale, and so adopts this new world’s language and system of reward. He offers Madge a wish. In her time of greatest trouble, all she need do is ask for help, and he will come.


At Christmastime in 1941, Madge makes her wish. Her husband is lost, almost certainly dead. She is wild with grief, alone in her heartbreak, but afraid to share it with her children and break their hearts, too. She calls for help, 

and the Doctor comes


He needn’t have done it. This is not what the Doctor does. He fights aliens and saves worlds, civilizations, universes. This is only one family, three people, mourning a father who’s already gone. Not worth an entire episode of Doctor Who. How lucky we are that he’s not in that story anymore.


In this new story, he has a new name and a new promise. He’s not just the Doctor, who makes a single brilliant diagnosis and prescribes the cure. He’s the Caretaker, the man who stays and sees the little problems, and fixes them as best he can. He can’t swoop in and save Madge’s husband. That’s no longer his role. But he can sneak in through the cracks of the story, and strew about tiny bits of magic—a lemonade faucet, a cockamamie Christmas tree, bumper car chairs, hammocks in the bedroom—just to make two children happy.


Madge hates it. This is not the wish she made. What use is all this junk, these crazy, useless toys, when a beloved husband and father is dead? What place does happiness have in the real, adult world, where tragedies destroy everything dear? This happiness is childish and ignorant, and has no place in the real world.


So the Doctor gives the episode’s thesis statement. “What’s the point in them being happy now when they’re going to be sad later? The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.”



so farAnother Rotten Gloomy Old Tunnel (The Underwater Menace)

Posted by goldenplum on December 4, 2014 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (0)

From TARDIS Eruditorum -

It's January 14, 1967. Tom Jones has yet to give up number one, though he will in a week when The Monkees take number one with "I'm a Believer." It is worth remarking on the nature of The Monkees as a band - an American band manufactured for popular success in an attempt to reverse-engineer the Beatles at the exact same time that the Beatles were busy exploding their own formula recording Sergeant Pepper. In fact, the top three singles when the second episode of The Underwater Menace aired are an instruction manual in 1967 - corporate pseudo-mods, Tom Jones, and The Who with "Happy Jack," complete with psychedelic cover. The Monkees retain number one for the duration of The Underwater Menace, with #2 and #3 switching to Cat Stevens in his first really big single and The Move, a Birmingham rock band, with "Night of Fear," a song that is very obviously about a bad acid trip.


Meanwhile, in news that does not sing, the US is found out for experimenting with germ warfare, the opening strains of the Summer of Love happen in San Francisco with the Human Be-In, which also introduces psychedelic culture to the masses (never mind that Doctor Who did it two months earlier. In a week or so we'll watch, astonished, as Doctor Who invents steampunk in 1967 and gets no credit for that either). The UK begins negotiating to enter the European Economic Community, pre-human fossils are discovered in Kenya... and we're so far two days into the four weeks this story ran. Thankfully things slow down, and over the rest of it the major news consists of the UK nationalizing 90% of the steel industry, the Apollo 1 disaster happens, and the US, USSR, and UK (who were apparently still expected to make it to space in 1967 - a fact that may be relevant in 1970 for our purposes) sign the Outer Space Treaty to demilitarize space.



If you have the sense that the 1960s are kicking into high gear very suddenly, you're not far off. So I am deeply amused to bring you The Underwater Menace, which, according to Doctor Who Magazine's definitive "Mighty 200" fan poll, is the worst story we've yet covered - one of the ten worst Doctor Who stories of all time, in fact. And so, even though its quality is by miles the least interesting thing about The Underwater Menace, I suppose we should start there.


The case for the prosecution is that the script makes no sense, the villain is ludicrous, and the whole thing is an effects-driven wreck of a story assembled under pressure. Wood and Miles take it to task for the fact that "it displays utter contempt for the audience. It's not so much that it isn't trying, it's that it doesn't think we care that it isn't trying." Shearman and Hadoke are kinder, both admitting that they love the story's barminess.


It's certainly the case that few of the usual reasons for writing off this story seem to hold up to scrutiny. Yes, the plot revolves around drilling a hole in the bottom of the ocean to drain it into the Earth's core and explode the planet. Need I remind you that one of the most acclaimed and "classic" Doctor Who stories of all time features hollowing out the Earth's core to drive the planet around as a spaceship? Yes, the madman wants to blow up the planet because he can. But how can we, as a fandom, praise the scene of Davros contemplating unleashing a deadly plague on the universe and then complain about Zaroff? (That would be in Genesis of the Daleks, not yet blogged, but on DVD if for some reason you've never seen it) They are, after all, the same scene.



So we're left with the fact that episode three ends with the mad scientist villain shouting "Nothing in ze world can stop me now!" Which actually comes very close to identifying the main problem with this story - episode three of it actually exists. As an orphan episode, for a long time its airings would have been at fan conventions. Nothing with so absurd a cliffhanger would have a chance of being anything other than a "so bad its good" experience in such a setting.


I'm tipping my hand here, but ultimately I side pretty strongly with Shearman and Hadoke here. To quote Shearman, "Is it entertaining? Just about, if you hold on tight, and don't resist where it takes you." Which is to say, I think anyone failing to have a good time watching The Underwater Menace has made a conscious choice not to enjoy it. It's a ridiculous story, but it's fun.


A Few Thoughts on Missy

Posted by goldenplum on November 23, 2014 at 7:40 AM Comments comments (0)

From Whovian Femanisium -

First of all, I just want to have my selfish fan moment and say that I totally called this months ago when “Deep Breath” aired. It was just so painfully obvious that Missy=Mistress=Master. In fairness to Moffat, it’s totally in-character that the Master would pick a painfully obvious name; if you did a complete survey of all of the Master’s aliases I’m pretty sure at least 99% of them would be a very obvious play on “The Master.” The Master is many things, but that Time Lord has never been particularly subtle.


Overall, I have mixed feelings about Missy being another regeneration of the Master. I’m excited by the concept but deeply disappointed by the execution.


I think it goes without saying that I’m excited to see a Time Lady on screen, and particularly excited to see a regeneration where a character that was previously portrayed by a man is now being portrayed by a woman. This makes it very, very clear that such a regeneration is a future possibility for the Doctor and eliminates one of the most pervasive arguments against such a regeneration.


And I really want to like Missy. Her regeneration is remarkable and groundbreaking, and it provides a fascinating new layer to a villain who has an extensive history with the Doctor. And you can really see that history in the way Capaldi has been playing his interactions with Missy. That look he gives her when she reveals her identity — filled with shock, grief, (maybe joy?!), and horror all at once — just about killed me.



But I can’t help but feeling like I’m in second place. I spent the entire summer before it was announced that Peter Capaldi would play the Doctor campaigning for a woman to portray the Doctor. I solicited dozens of names and compiled profiles on every single one. I spent months arguing with fans and combing through episodes to prove that this was a canon possibility. I wanted the Doctor to be portrayed by a woman, and given the timing, I can’t help feeling like Missy is a consolation prize.


And it doesn’t help that Moffat did just about everything I feared he would with Missy/The Master. I was particularly annoyed that Missy, in between threatening the Doctor and raising a Cyberman invasion, was falling all over herself to make out with the Doctor and describe how in love she was with him.


We had a few running jokes during the Doctor Who conference I attended in September, but my favorite was the “Beard of Evil” joke. It started with a presentation given earlier in the day about the use of alternate universes in science fiction TV shows. One of the visual signifiers of an alt universe is the “Beard of Evil;” a good character becomes a bad character in the alt universe, and that change is represented by the bad character having a beard. Later in the day we began discussing another type of beard: the slang expression for someone who is used to conceal someone else’s sexual orientation (ex. a woman a gay man dates to put on the appearance of being straight). In “Time Crash,” the tenth Doctor implies the Master’s wife was a “beard,” a reference to the homosexual subtext that has often been perceived between the Master and the Doctor. So, when conversation eventually turned to Series 8, I began discussing some of the theories I had about Missy’s identity, and I said that if Missy turned out to be the Master, that would make her the ultimate beard of evil.

Dear lord did I not understand how true that would be. There’s always been a flirtatious, even romantic, subtext to the relationship between the Doctor and the Master, but it’s very irritating that this only becomes explicit when the Master becomes a woman. Moffat has done this once before in the parody special “Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death,” but that was a parody of the show, and it seemed to me that it was mocking the dynamic that had previously existed in Classic Who between the Doctor and the Master. In “Dark Water” the Doctor-Master romance is played completely straight (pun intended) and without any of the satire.

Starry Night

Posted by goldenplum on November 22, 2014 at 6:10 AM Comments comments (0)

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