|Posted by goldenplum on January 13, 2015 at 10:30 AM||comments (0)|
The Cryons are the indigenous people of the frozen world of Telos. They almost seem to be ice people themselves, feathery and delicate. They also are believed to be extinct - so much so that the first expedition to the tombs of the Cybermen found no trace of them (not that they got very far, admittedly).
The Cybermen settled Telos in their search for a new homeworld after the destruction of Mondas, and because the natural cold was convenient for hibernating while they waited for people to spring their Smart People Trap. And naturally they wiped out the people already living there, the fragile Cryons. What few survived are now waging guerilla warfare against the Cybermen, with limited success because they can’t handle warmer temperatures.
The Cryons are interesting because they think of themselves as an extinct race. They’re not trying to retake their planet per se - they’re just trying to thwart the Cybermen. In fact, they’re intent on preventing the Cybermen from leaving and spreading out into time and space. It’s too late for Telos, but at least they can help save the rest of the galaxy. They’re incredibly willing to sacrifice themselves if it will accomplish something, but are not reckless or death-seeking. They seem to see themselves as already dead. And you would think this kind of…hopelessness, living only to oppose the Cybermen, would make them hateful and vindictive, but if anything the opposite is true. The Cryons are kind to Peri, and stoic about their own fate, even knowing that if the Cybermen succeed, Mondas will never be destroyed and the Cybermen will never have come to Telos in the first place. Flast is similarly kind to the Doctor, and similarly self-sacrificial, subjecting herself to killing heat to ignite a room full of explosives and take out the entire complex. Flast is a BAMF. And has this wonderful exchange with the Doctor.
Doctor: the Time Lords will never stand for it!
Flast: perhaps their agent is already at work
Doctor: *dawning realization* Oohhh no. Oh no you don’t!
Flast: are you a Time Lord?
Doctor: yes… and at the moment a rather angry one
ehehehehe. Because the Cryons are smart. They know about the universe at large. They know about Time Lords. They know meddling in history is Wrong, even though it could save their civilization. They can’t go up to the higher levels because of temperature, so they hire someone who can (and they choose their agent extremely well). They’re actually extremely good at inspiring sympathy for their cause - everyone they meet wants to help them. Perhaps because they’re kind, ask nicely, and offer to pay handsomely in diamonds. Or because their cause is killing Cybermen, which is something most people can get behind. They seem to have managed to tamper with most of the tombs so that the Cybermen emerge insane and feral, and they themselves do not seem to be targets for cyberconversion, perhaps by being too alien (and, honestly, melting at room temperature). They’re actually quite good at what they do, there just aren’t very many of them.
They also appear to all be women, perhaps by deliberate contrast to the Cybermen who all have the appearance of being men. It’s unclear whether this is intended as a single-gender race, whether all their men have been killed, or whether they’re just aliens and don’t display human sexual dimorphism. In any event, they’ve got very sing-songy voices and long delicate fingers and are just… cool looking. In an admittedly very 80s sort of way. They are very clearly more alien than anyone else in the episode - there are by my counts probably four or five (if you count the cybermen) different species of humanoids represented who all look basically human - and then the Cryons who just aren’t. And their apparent fragility of body contrasts nicely with their strength and robustness of character.
This is a story that starts as one thing and then opens up layer after layer, changing the playing field completely each time, and the reveal of the Cryons is one of those layers. There’s always slightly more going on than you think, and it adds to the richness and complexity of the universe, even on an apparently barren Planet of the Quarry like Telos. But when we dig a little deeper we find people - beautiful and fragile and here to kick ass.
|Posted by goldenplum on January 2, 2015 at 8:50 PM||comments (0)|
From Adventures in Imaganary Worlds -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.” Comedy is not inferior to tragedy. Tragedy is not more “real” or more “mature” than comedy. Happiness not silly or childish or sentimental. Joy and sorrow exist side by side, and both are equally valid parts of life. How ridiculous of Madge to think otherwise.
Madge isn’t quite convinced. The Doctor may be a fairy tale creature, but she’s still in the real world, and her problems have not been solved by wishing. Thankfully, fairyland is on the other side of the wall, and the Doctor has built a door, through which the whole family will find a happy ending.
The youngest, Cyril opens the door first, and tumbles into a world of talking trees, pristine snows, and giants that hatch from Christmas ornaments. Like his predecessors—Lucy Pevensie, Alice, Wendy Darling—he explores this world with wide-eyed wonder.
His sister follows, and though Lily is amazed, the real world has a stronger hold on her. The snow is lovely, the woods are peaceful, but they are impossible. “Is this place real, or is it fairyland?” she wonders. Fortunately, the Doctor is with her, a Professor Kirke to teach her that logic and magic are not mutually exclusive. “Oh, grow up, Lily. Fairyland looks completely different.” But it is real. “What do they teach you in schools these days?” Fairyland or reality—it’s a false choice. A place can be both.
Last through the door is Madge, a mother, who has no place in fairy tales or children’s stories. Fairyland is nothing but a danger to her children. She wants to get out of this dangerous, childish nonsense and into the real, mature, sensible world.
All four characters reach the same destination, and learn of this world’s dilemma. The trees have souls, the giants can speak for them, and they search for a hero who can save them. The three characters most suited to fairy tales—children and a mad, magical man—are explicitly rejected. Instead, Madge, the mother—the character usually killed off before these stories even begin—is chosen as the hero. This is a new sort of story, where motherhood and femininity are not weaknesses to be overcome, but strengths to be celebrated. No one but a mother can save the day.
The Doctor does not begrudge Madge her role. He’s not in Doctor Who at the moment, and the Caretaker is not the hero of this tale. He offers advice and guidance, but others can save the day.
Madge saves the folk of fairyland, but when she brings her children back to the real world, she fears the magic is gone. She saved a world, but her husband is still dead, and her children need to know. But, unbeknownst to her, fairyland has worked its magic upon her. She can grant her own wishes now. In saving a world, she saved her husband. He isn’t dead. He never was dead. He was only flying home for Christmas.
With a promise kept and a happy ending achieved, the Doctor’s role in the story is over. He prepares to step back into Doctor Who, the story of a dangerous hero who fights monsters and saves worlds, and who has no room for anything as simple as a family at Christmas time. But Madge stops him. Fairyland has changed her, and she sees the Doctor more clearly than he sees himself. This mad old man forgot to learn the lesson that he taught Madge. Reality or fairyland, comedy or tragedy, big action epic or family Christmas tale—there’s no choice. There never was a choice. Life can have all these things…and so can the Doctor.
So our quiet little tale ends with the Doctor reclaiming his name, returning to his story, and coming home to his family. His time in a fairy tale has changed him. He can care about the little things and still be part of Doctor Who.
“The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” should not be swept aside in favor of “proper” Doctor Who. This fluffy little episode, where not much happens and no one dies, hits upon truths not seen in the most complex episodes. The comedy is not inferior to the tragedy, the family story inferior to the epic. A life should have all of these. How lovely that Doctor Who does, too.
|Posted by goldenplum on December 29, 2014 at 6:45 PM||comments (0)|
From Tea With Morbius-
I reviewed Galaxy Four quite a long time ago, but having watched the rediscovered episode three and the new reconstrution on the Aztecs DVD, I thought I ought to write something about it.
The reconstruction on the DVD is very impressive, despite the scarcity of material. It's better than the Loose Canon recon and better than many other recons with far more available photographic material.
I am struck how much this is a story aimed at the kids. Not in the way that today's show aims stuff at children, with dumb laughs and non-stop action, but with a simple plot and simple morals. As I said in my previous review, there is an element of fairytale (not the Disney or Moffat style) in these Hartnell stories.
The recovered episode demonstrates that Stephanie Bidmead's performance as Maaga is less than impressive. As Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood say, she comes across as a "slightly irked school dinner lady," rather than a villain with true menace.
I think the Drahvins are a future offshoot of humanity. Maaga strongly imples that she (unlike her soldiers) is human. That means that this story, like a number of other Hartnell stories is set far into the future. For some reason, the First Doctor seems to end up in the far, far future far more often than his later incarnations.
I think this story would have worked well as a Graham Williams era story. Romana would have been able to fight Maaga, K9 could make Computer Love to the Chumblies and Tom Baker's Doctor would have been completely dismissive of the whole story. Quite a few Graham Williams stories feel like send-ups of the Hartnell era.
I still feel very sorry for the Drahvins who are left to perish with the dying planet. I wish Dr. Who could have found a way to save them.