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Doctor Not-Who And The Not-Silurians

July 14th, 2008 No comments

This weekend, while waiting for Vic to return home, I caught up on some recently-purchased Doctor Who DVDs from a boxed-set of linked stories given the umbrella title “Beneath the Surface.”

First up was “Doctor Who and the Silurians,” the only story in the 45-year history of the series to utilize the “Doctor Who and the…” naming convention for its title. It’s one in the continuing adventures of a bloke whose name is absolutely NOT “Doctor Who,” so just get that right out of your head. Never mind those twenty years’ worth of end credits to the contrary. Or the episode titled “The Death of Doctor Who.” Or the one in which the evil computer WOTAN demanded Doctor Who’s presence. Or that the Doctor gave his antique car the license plate WHO 1. Just forget all that. It’s just “The Doctor,” so there.

Similarly, the Silurians are not really Silurians at all, even though that’s what the Doctor dubs them on the basis of some exceedingly flimsy evidence: a globe of the Earth in which the continents appear as they allegedly did in the Silurian period of prehistory. In a later episode, he suggests that whomever named them Silurians should have more properly called them Eocenes instead, never mind that he himself was that person. And never mind that the first time he meets one face to face, he says “Hello, are you a Silurian?” and the creature nods. But perhaps, like the Doctor, they’re used to people calling them the wrong thing.

These Silurians are not at all related to the New York society of the same name even though one is a group of veteran print journalists and the other is a race of ancient, underground reptiles who intend to retake the Earth they once dominated. Though I can see where one might make that mistake.

Anyhow, “The Doctor and the Eocenes” is an excellent four-part story in seven parts. And yes, it takes four full episodes to get to the same point in the plot that a later four-parter would have reached at its first cliffhanger. (Reduce that to 12 minutes for modern day Who.)

This is one of the episodes in which the Doctor’s companion is Dr. Liz Shaw. She’s smart, sexy, and a more legitimate example of a “liberated woman” than those later companions who went out of their way to identify themselves as such. And that’s despite a wardrobe of ridiculously short skirts that surely would have undermined her credibility at the lab even as they increased her ability to attract research grants. Liz appears to have a doctorate in “Science,” as she’s equally adept at medical biology and running a nuclear reactor.

Word to the wise: do NOT watch the special features of this DVD, as they interview a former actress named Caroline John who claims to be the woman who played the very leggy Liz Shaw, even though this Caroline John is clearly just a crone people hired to scare kids away from bowls of candy. I made the mistake, and afterward I COULD NOT HELP superimposing one over the other. It totally ruined the miniskirt thing.

The story, by the way, should more properly be called “Doctor Who and the Belligerent Sons-of-Bitches,” as most of the characters (at least, those whose hemlines are below the knee) are arrogant jerks who will not listen to anything anyone says even in the face of multiple eyewitnesses, mountains of evidence and people dropping dead like giant maggots that got into Professor Jones’ fungus powder. The only one who does listen is the nameless Silurian leader, who is pretty much the Doctor with scales, and he’s promptly shot dead by the overzealous, spastic “Young Silurian.”

On the other hand, it’s okay because most of the assholes die, except for the Doctor’s associate Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who, soon after blowing the Silurian species into bite-sized chunks, becomes one of the most beloved characters of the franchise. (And, no joke, has recently been seen shooting a scene for season two of spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures. Yes, the show specifically for kids.) Granted that the Brig really does put off mass murder until after the Silurians invade the nuclear reactor complex twice, and attempt to kill the entire human race (again, twice) first by pandemic and later by destroying the Earth’s protective belt of (er…) radiation. So, honestly, when the Doctor starts talking about waking up the hibernating Silurians AGAIN to talk reason into them–only one a time, mind you, so there’s nothing that could go wrong–the Brig is pretty well justified is nuking the works.

Next up was “The Sea Devils,” which isn’t so much a sequel of “…And The Silurians” as it is a remake. This time, the prehistoric reptiles emerge from the bottom of the ocean instead of a cave complex, but otherwise it’s pretty much once again the Doctor unsuccessfully attempting to broker peace between humans and monsters, neither of which are having any of it.

This time the rush to war is led by an especially odious bureaucrat named Walker, who blandly munches on a plate of food even while he’s provoking all-out conflict. He really might be one of the worst villains in the entire series, not because of the intent or scope of his crimes, but because he just doesn’t give a shit.

Clocking in at a mere six parts, “The Sea Devils” moves more quickly than its predecessor, and the production works in jetskis, a hovercraft, location filming at an abandoned sea fort and even a reasonably convincing battle between British naval troops and attacking reptiles. It also has the benefit of Roger Delgado as the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master, whose basic plot function here is to stir up the black ants and the red ants and watch the carnage.

I’m too lazy to go back and research whether these two stories were the first instances of Doctor Who overtly moralizing the pettiness and waste of war, but certainly they’re among the most notable. By the time the Silurians and Sea Devils made a reappearance in “Warriors of the Deep” 12 years later, it’s pretty much a given that it’s all going to be a tragic tale of misunderstandings leading to massive death on both sides. “There should’ve been another way,” the Fifth Doctor famously states. But as long as mankind clings to its hatred of people in dodgy lizard suits, there never will be.

Good Wolf

June 30th, 2008 No comments

It took a few days, but I appear to have isolated and contained the “Bad Wolf” meme that overwrote my blog last week.

I realize that some of my friends are a couple of episodes behind me in the latest series of Doctor Who, but as that’s surely their fault, I’m pressing on with major spoilers for last Saturday’s show, “The Stolen Earth.”

Turn aside! Thar be spoilers ahead!

Nope, not buying it. Even if there wasn’t fairly good intel that David Tennant has already been seen working on this year’s Christmas special, I don’t believe for a moment that in this spoiler-happy world the BBC could get away with a surprise regeneration. Speculation is that the Doctor’s severed hand (seen, once again, happily bubbling in its jar at the start of the episode) may somehow allow him to override the regeneration process and remain Tennant. Which, as far as I’m concerned, would be a very good thing. I’m not ready to let go of him just yet.

As for the rest of the show: well, it was a bit of a mess. A big, loopy, over-the-top mess. It really was Russell Davies throwing as much shit at the wall as he possibly could, but I was willing to indulge him. A couple of posts back, I referred to it as “Crisis on Infinite Whos,” and that wasn’t far from the mark. It did feel like one of DC Comics’ cyclical house-clearings, in which a legion of heroes come together under a planet-filled sky to keep reality from breaking down.

And I do fear just how much of a house-clearing may be in order. All the arrows are pointing at Catherine Tate’s Donna as being the companion to come to a tragic end, but I dearly hope that isn’t the case. Rose and Martha may have obvious charms, but Donna has become my favorite new-Who co-star.

Besides, Dalek Caan’s prophecy was that death would come to the “most faithful companion,” and that’s open to many possibilities. For one, K-9 hasn’t made an appearance yet. And it could certainly be argued that the TARDIS herself has been the Doctor’s most faithful co-traveler, though if Davies really is clearing house before the new producer takes over, it seems unlikely he’d do away with the show’s central plot device. Besides, Caan didn’t say it was the Doctor’s companion…

And how marvelous was the supporting villainy this week? The new Davros, Julian Bleach, did an excellent job of channeling the late Michael Wisher. (I wonder if the rumor about Ben Kingsley playing the part was ever true?) I loved Sarah Jane’s reaction when she heard his voice; she’s the only one of the current cast who’s ever encountered him before, and she was there during his first appearance.

Even more fun was the mad Dalek Caan himself, gibbering and singing away in his demolished casing. I’ll bet he generated some nightmares.

If there was one bit that struck me as a bit too gratuitous (yes, even more than hundreds of Dalek saucers overrunning the Earth), it was the way that Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister, was shoehorned in. While I was happy to see her again and glad that she was allowed her redemptive moment–though I do wish that she could’ve talked to the Doctor one last time–her contribution to the plot struck me as implausible at best.

And from here it’s full speed ahead to the big finale next Saturday! Worlds will die! Heroes will fall! Captain Jack and Sarah Jane will get it on! Woo!

Crisis on Infinite Whos

June 22nd, 2008 No comments

The fourth series of the revitalized Doctor Who has been arguably the best yet. With the sole exception of one stinker (“The Doctor’s Daughter”), this has been a truly enjoyable run of stories. And while one expects brilliance from writer Steven Moffat’s annual entry (this time he brought us a sentient library and darkness that eats people alive), this year he was topped by show runner Russell T. Davies, who demonstrated why he just received a knighthood by knocking out back-to-back homers.

Spoilers!

First was “Midnight,” in which Doctor Who did The Twilight Zone by stranding the Doctor in a truly helpless situation: aboard a passenger bus on an alien world whose solar radiation is instantly lethal. With windows sealed for protection, the vacationers had no idea what was outside when the vehicle broke down and something began hammering on the outside, desperate to get in. It was a truly terrifying piece of psychological horror as the once-friendly passengers gradually turned into a frightened, murderous mob. The best thing was that it offered few explanations and no easy answers. We knew little more about the malicious alien presence by episode’s end than we did at the start. Prior to “Midnight,” the last time Doctor Who had me wanting to assume the traditional viewing position “behind the sofa” was sometime back in the mid-’70s.

More spoilers!

That was followed by this weekend’s entry, “Turn Left,” in which current companion Donna Noble (who is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine) tasted an alternate reality in which she literally chose a different path and never met the Doctor. In turn, the Doctor was killed, kicking off a horrible It’s a Wonderful Life-style chain of events in which the last two seasons of the show played out with disastrous consequences, including the destruction of London, the deaths of several of the Doctor’s friends, and ultimately (for reasons we don’t yet understand) the end of not only the entire universe but all parallel realities.

Massive, massive spoilers!

All of that leads us to next week’s episode, the first of a two-parter in which Russell T. Davies begins to hand off the reins of the show to a new executive producer, the aforementioned Steven Moffat. And it’s obvious that Davies plans a real blowout.

Two years ago, Davies pulled off what seemed the ultimate fanwank by bringing together armies of the Doctor’s two most implacable foes, the Daleks and the Cybermen, for their first-ever meeting, then making them fight. But that’s nothing compared to what’s in store this time.

Former companions Rose and Martha are coming back, along with the soldiers of U.N.I.T. and the casts of spin-off series Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. Even Harriet freakin’ Jones (M.P., Flydale North) is returning. Throw in the rhinoceros-like Judoon aliens (another favorite of mine), a staggering fleet of Dalek ships, and the first appearance of the Daleks’ creator Davros since 1988!

I don’t know how it’ll all wind up, but suffice to say that I. CANNOT. WAIT.

See for yourself!

Battlestar Wholactica!

April 4th, 2008 No comments

Battlestar Galactica Season Four: tonight!
Doctor Who Season Four: tomorrow!
(Not that any of us over in the U.S. have any way of seeing the latter, no sir.)

Another Who Trailer

March 30th, 2008 No comments

Here’s another trailer for series four of Doctor Who. It doesn’t show anything, but it’s pretty nifty nonetheless. “Poof…we’ll be gone!”

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Yippie!

March 23rd, 2008 No comments

The trailer for season four of Doctor Who, coming in a little less than two weeks!

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Guess Who’s Back?

January 27th, 2008 No comments

Here’s another old video clip I found while dubbing my old VHS to DVD: a Doctor Who promo I produced for WILL-TV back in the ’90s. I had cherry-picked a “Best of Doctor Who” package featuring classic stories with all seven then-current Doctors. The big question-mark graphic is cheesy, but I think that the combination of clips and narration is fun.

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Doctor Who!

March 10th, 2005 No comments

This week saw the unofficial release of the first episode of the new Doctor Who television series. By “unofficial,” I mean that someone leaked a copy onto the ‘net two full weeks before it was set to premiere in the U.K. While I can’t officially condone that action, I can certainly understand the impatience to see it now.

Reading some of the British press reviews, I was struck by the phrase, “first new episode in 16 years.” I went straight to my guide book, and sure enough, the last original episode, “Survival,” aired in 1989. It made me feel very old.

From most accounts, this continuation is something old and something new. (The TARDIS is, of course, both borrowed and blue.) It goes back to its roots as a show designed to scare the kids into hiding behind the sofa. There are nods to the past, including the resurrection of the Autons, animated department store dummies introduced during the ’70s. However, it does away with the wobbly, cardboard sets and introduces a lightning-fast pace. Most noticeably, it does away with the old format of four half-hour episodes per story, in favor of 45-minute, stand-alone installments.

It sounds good to me. While I’m certainly enough of a traditionalist to think fondly of the serialized, cliffhanging classic Doctor Who, I acknowledge that the third episode of a four-parter was usually just a bunch of pointless running around.

The show was created in the early ’60s, when audiences were accustomed to a slow build. But times change, and nostalgia for its own sake can be self-defeating. Furthermore, half-hour dramas are hard to sell in syndication, and serialized half-hours nearly impossible. Television is still a business.

I suspect that some old-time fans will hate the new show. That’s not especially surprising. It’s been my experience that a sci-fi series’ diehard followers are also its harshest critics when it inevitably fails to hold true to the idealized version they hold in their heads.

I think they’ll dislike it precisely because it sticks to its kids’ show origins. For the past 15 years, many of the spin-off novels and audio plays have built on a darker theme introduced during the original TV series’ last few years. They’ve tried to reposition Doctor Who as science-fiction for adults.

My feeling is that fans realize that they’ve grown up since they fell in love with the Doctor, and they demand that the show grow with them. After all, it’s bad enough to be branded a sci-fi geek, even worse to be seen as an adult obsessed with a kids’ show. And so, in the long hiatus between televised adventures, Doctor Who became a franchise weighed down by adult themes.

The funny thing is that despite this desire for maturity, Who fandom has traditionally rejected the introduction of a sexual interest on the part of the title character. Instead, they’ve created a vast backstory to make it painfully clear that Time Lords do not, not, not ever have sex, despite plenty of contrary evidence. The Doctor’s original companion was his granddaughter Susan, yet many fans choose to ignore this repeatedly stated familial relationship, because it assumes that at some point the Doctor got it on.

Ironically, this attitude can be directly attributed to Doctor Who‘s kids’ show origins. The Doctor had a tendency to take pretty, young women as his travelling companions, and therefore the producers had to insist to concerned parents that there was “no hanky-panky in the TARDIS.” Somehow, this got mistranslated into the notion that the entire Time Lord race was asexual. (I assumed that they simply didn’t go in for humans and/or that the Doctor preferred to keep things on a professional level.)

For my part, I look forward to the opportunity for new adventures with the good ol’ Doctor, sex or no sex. After all, even a Time Lord shouldn’t have much time for hanky-panky when he’s busy saving the universe. As he famously said, “Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea is getting cold.” Save us, Doctor!