THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS
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Articles 21-40

On Opposition to Episodes by Rob Matthews 16/5/03

After reading Matthew Harris' recent piece on the episodic format I had to scour my own reviews to see whether it was me who'd commented somewhere on that said format is 'dated'. It rang a bell, but I couldn't remember from exactly where. That's what happens when you turn twenty-five, you know, the onset of senility. Anyhow, turns out it was me, in a review of season 22 I did. I made the comment two or three years ago, though, and I'm not really prepared to go to the gallows for it. In retrospect, my suggestion that Doctor Who could tell decent stories in just 45 minutes was a bit silly.

Still, I ought to point out that by 'dated' I wouldn't have meant simply 'old'. I'd have meant that it's a format audiences are no longer accustomed to, which is a very different thing. Believe me, apart from Justin Timberlake and The Simpsons, most of the stuff I entertain myself with is in some way dated. Okay I'll draw an analogy - I can't get any of my mates to even consider watching most of the movies in my video collection, because most of that video collection is in black and white. Now, while I personally don't give a flying crap whether something's in black and white or not, I would nevertheless not expect a new series of Doctor Who made in monochrome to do very well. So I can see why other fans would clamour for fifty-minute Who stories should the series return - not because they have any particular fondness for it, but because the 50-minute format seems to be the most popular one for current TV science fiction; in terms of pitching the series at an audience that already exists, the demographic that watches Buffy and Star Trek (sorry to refer to ya as a demographic, Joey), it would make sense for Doctor Who to adapt itself to the prevailing trend.

Ironically, it did this with season 22 - but back then the episodes were chopped in half for US broadcast!

Harris asks a very good question - 'Since no-one does something anymore, is it any reason not to do it now?' In an ideal world, no, but in the decade or so since the show went off air a whole new generation has grown up who knows nothing about the show, and audience attention spans have shrivelled like slugs in salt. Part of his problem appears to be that if this format were adopted, the stories wouldn't be long enough. But surely the niggle there is not in the length of the stories, but rather how that length is chopped up for broadcast. Doctor Who's a pretty peculiar show to the uninitiated, and I think the worry would be that if we returned to the twenty-five minute format, your average viewer would simply see half an hour of weirdness and wouldn't be particularly interested in coming back, in investing time in the show. Viewers are very lazy now - lookit, all the most popular shows like soaps and 'celebrity'/'reality' crap are on virtually seven days a week -, and though it's a great shame that that's the case, I think any new Who series would have to bear it in mind. Sacrificing an episodic format doesn't mean sacrificing story length - why not a series of ninety-minute adventures? Or two-part stories in fifty-minute episodes, which would still leave the viewer more space to understand the concepts and, more importantly, get involved with the characters?

'Is "Doctor Who Fandom" in reality a codename for a shadowy BBC-funded organisation bent on bringing it down completely?' No, I think the people making those suggestions are just being practical, and it's rather sweet that they're protective enough of our little show to want guide its ailing form gently back onto centre stage. But for myself, I don't honestly believe something as idiosyncratic as Doctor Who would succeed on screen now - not because of its format, rather because it's a show that needs special effects, and in the age of CGI there are very few of us left willing to overlook monsters made out of polystyrene and bubble wrap. I wouldn't mind being proved wrong about this, but for my money Doctor Who as a TV show can't be brought down, because it's long gone already. Instead of fretting over the show's non-continuation, why not be grateful that it lasted long enough to leave us the rich legacy it did? And that Doctor Who does continue, due to the efforts of those who genuinely love it?

No? Oh well, just a thought.


Why Most BBC Novels Come to 288 Pages by Isaac Wilcott 9/6/03

Being a regular reader of the BBC's line of Doctor Who novels (even though I'm four years behind!), I've noticed that their books always come to 256, 288, or 320 pages. Many reviews on this site also occasionally raise this issue and wonder, as I did, exactly what is going on.

First off, one wonders how they are able to create books of such regular lengths. Well, they use a wide variety of methods. They change the font size to fit into the most common 288 page format, with the result that The Taking of Planet 5 has great big mondo Target-novelization sized letters, while The Scarlet Empress has the smallest font of any book I've ever seen (apart from the microminiaturized Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, of course), and it's absolute murder on the eyeballs. 256-page books are also fairly common (Autumn Mist, Verdigris, The Turing Test), while those with 320 pages are pretty rare (Alien Bodies, Interference One and Interference Two). (These page counts include not only the text but also the title page, and so on.) Since the length of the actual text in a book, in any of the three length categories, can vary from the others in that same category by several pages, the other type of pages have to be expanded or contracted to come exactly to the desired count.

For example, the text of Autumn Mist (a 256-page book) takes up 236 pages. This includes the six-page prologue with Roman numeral page numbers and the occasional blank page after a chapter that ends on an odd-numbered page. So that leaves 14 pages for the publisher to fill up with other stuff. So you get the title page, copyright page, dedication/acknowledgments page, blank page, quote page, and a blank page at the front of the book -- with an advert page, blank page, EDA list page, blank page, PDA list page, blank page, other book list page, and a blank page at the end. Which all comes to 14 pages, making the total 256. Since the pages at the front of the book are always necessary (though sometimes crammed together to share pages), the stuff at the back is far more flexible. Therefore, this rigidly predetermined length dictates whether lists of the other EDAs/PDAs can be included in any given book, which explains why the BBC is so irregular about promoting the other books in the series.

So, now that it's been established how the BBC is able to make any book fit into the 256/288/320 page count, the question "Why?" remains. I've read many theories about this, the most common being that the 288 count (by far the most common length) is a matter of prestige, that the editor feels that if a book doesn't come to that exact length regardless of how many words the novel contains, that he's somehow lost face. And then there's the kooky possibility that maybe 288 just happens to be the lucky number of Nuala Buffini, Stephen Cole, and Justin Richards, and their superstitious leanings compel them to constrict the bulk of the books to exactly that length to ensure the prosperity of the ranges.

On the contrary, the true reason is much simpler and far more logical: money. It all has to do with book-binding. Book paper is made in large rolls, which are cut and folded over into clumps of 32 pages (16 actual sheets of paper) called "signatures." In order to minimize paper waste, the BBC uses all of these signatures. Therefore, the page count of every Doctor Who novel they print is a multiple of 32: 256 (8 signatures), 288 (9 signatures), 320 (10 signatures). It's as simple as that.

However, I have no idea what criteria they use to decide which books should be 256, 288, or 320. The Scarlet Empress should've been a 320 with a font that can be read without the assistance of an electron microscope, while The Witch Hunters should've been a 256 with something smaller than 36-point font. My (facetious) theory is that these decisions are based on how much paper the BBC has on hand at the moment, and during which months Mackays of Chatham gives bulk-purchase discounts.

Virgin was far more flexible with page counts; there was no predetermined length, and the font was always the same reasonable size. Various books came to 368 pages (Warlock), 336 (Original Sin), 304 (The Dying Days), 272 (Head Games), 256 (Zamper), 240 (Love and War), and so on. They also had a far more fixed format; I cannot recall a single Virgin book that did not include a list of the other New/Missing Adventures at the front. Since Virgin is not a bigger publisher than the BBC, I can only assume that the Mighty Beeb is still plagued with cripplingly low budgets -- the same reason they canceled the show in the first place. Either that or they're paper-friendly environmentalists, or money-grubbing bureaucrats. Whatever the case, since they're now selling these books at $7 each, I'm irked that they're not passing on their savings to us. In all honesty I'd rather they'd just grit their teeth and print all their books in a uniform readable font and be a little more flexible with their page counts, because when it comes time to read The Adventuress of Henrietta Street I'm afraid my eyeballs will shrivel up and die.

(I am indebted to Grant Thiessen, founder of Pandora's Books Ltd., for explaining signatures to me.)


Canon of Worms by Antony Tomlinson 8/7/03

Talk about the Doctor Who "canon" annoys two groups of people a great deal. For a start, those who take the idea of "the canon" seriously can become very upset if someone disagrees with their attribution of what is canonical. At the same time, more laid back fans get rather annoyed with a lot of anally retentive chatter about something that has very little to do with the actual quality of individual stories.

However, one thing that cannot be argued for is that the notion of "the canon" is in some sense meaningless. For, whether we like it or not, it is a simple fact that we must accept that certain stories are "non-canonical". For instance, no one could argue that the Peter Cushing Dalek movies or The Curse of Fatal Death are part of the canon. Even more importantly, we now see Big Finish producing the Unbound adventures, which are by their very definition not part of the Doctor Who canon. Thus, the idea of "the canon" does have some significance.

So how then do we use the concept of "the canon"? Well, it is clear to me, at least, that the idea of the canon is like the idea of "art" - namely, it is a fluid concept, with socially agreed boundaries that are always capable of shifting.

What I mean by this is that we fans create the idea of "the canon" between us. We take certain shared standards of what is "canonical" and apply these to new pieces of Doctor Who as and when we meet them. Of course in some cases it will be unclear as to whether a story fits into the canon. Indeed, the blurry edges of the concept mean that we can have equally valid, but utterly contradictory opinions as to whether something is canonical. However, we can only argue about what counts as canonical, if we agree on a central core of standards as to what this concept should apply.

So what is "the canon". Well, there are two ways of explaining a concept like this. The first is to try and define it with a description. Thus we could say that "the canon is anything that is clearly part of the single, linear history of the character that we call the Doctor (or anything that can be seen as part of his world)." Indeed, I think this is a fairly uncontroversial definition of the Doctor Who canon (and even allows for the Independent Adventures).

The second way of explaining a concept is by examining what it applies to. We can thus ask ourselves which Doctor Who stories are indubitably canonical, and which are not, and then try and identify the features that typically distinguish the canonical from the non-canonical.

In doing this, however, I believe that we should accept a single principle. This is that: "Any Doctor Who story is part of the canon, unless a compelling reason can be given for it not to be." Accepting this principle will help us to examine what reasons there ever are for rejecting stories from the canon.

So what reasons are there?:

  1. Medium - Perhaps the only uncontroversial part of the canon is the Doctor Who TV series of 1963-1989. The reasons for this are clear - the TV series is both the original, and the most well known form of Doctor Who (similarly, the Arthur Conan Doyle stories are the most uncontroversial part of the Sherlock Holmes canon, even though this now includes films and plays by other writers).

    However, there seems little reason why other mediums should not be allowed into the Doctor Who canon. Only the most uptight fan would refuse to allow novels, audio-dramas and comic strips into the canon merely because they are not produced in a TV studio - I mean, why not include them? What possible reason can their be?

    Furthermore, the shifting nature of the concept of "the canon" means that we have to accept that if another medium - for instance the novels - suddenly became more successful and well-known than the TV series, then that medium might take over as the only uncontroversial part of the canon. Thus, the time might come when the TV series is only canonical insofar as it fits in with the novels (indeed, this is just what happened with the James Bond canon - the films were such a success that they now count as "the James Bond canon", while the original Ian Fleming novels are something of a offshoot or an oddity).

    Nevertheless, the only clearly non-canonical Doctor Who medium that I can think of is the game-based structures of the Sixth Doctor Make Your Own Adventure books. For, to have several different endings to the same story means that they simply cannot be part of the single narrative that is the history of the Doctor.

  2. Continuity - This is the most well explored (though perhaps not the most important) issue in examining what counts as canonical. Some stories simply contradict events that occur in the TV series, and thus cannot be allowed into the canon.

    For instance, the Peter Cushing Dalek movies are an almost exact repeat of the Hartnell Dalek stories. Thus, for them to be part of the canon would require the Doctor to go through exactly the same adventure twice. For this to happen would, however, seem to be almost impossible. Equally, the Unbound stories are actually designed to contradict events on screen, and thus are also un-controversially outside the canon.

    With other stories it is less clear as to whether they are part of the canon. For instance, the First Doctor comic strips saw the Doctor on his own, meeting two new companions - his grandchildren, Gillian and John. Now, for this to square with onscreen events - in which the Doctor is never alone between stories - would require such a convoluted account as to be hopeless (for instance, the Doctor would have to have all his comic book adventures in the three minutes while Steven is outside the TARDIS door in The Massacre). Thus we would generally choose to remove such stories from the canon (and Steve Lyons's Conundrum actually giving us an excuse for doing so).

    Of course the problem with - and in fact part of the charm of - TV Doctor Who is that it never bothered too much with maintaining continuity within itself. On TV we see numerous continuity clashes where the Daleks have two different origins, Mars seems to be both lifeless and heavily populated and Sarah Jane is from the 1970s and the 1980s at the same time etc. What this means then is that continuity need not be too tight for a story to remain canonical. It only has to be as tight as the continuity that existed in the TV stories (for as we have said, the TV series is our paradigm).

  3. Tone - A Doctor Who story can clearly be ejected from the canon if it fails to maintain the tone of a Doctor Who story.

    This sounds rather controversial - particularly given that the tone of Doctor Who stories has deliberately been highly variable. This is, after all, the series that produced both The Romans and The Curse of Fenric.

    However some stories simply have the wrong tone. The Curse of Fatal Death, for instance, was not a funny Doctor Who tale. It is rather a blatant parody of the series itself, and is simply too deliberate a comedy to be part of the canon. The same is true of many comic strips (such as 1999's celebratory TV Action which features Beep the Meep invading the BBC's sets in 1979).

  4. The Doctor's Character - A story cannot be part of the canon if it allows the Doctor's personality to slip too far from the generally accepted characterisations.

    The clearest instance of this is the Second Doctor comic strips. These see a Doctor who remains armed at all times and kills aliens merely because they look threatening - hence his cry in one strip of "die hideous creature, die!". This violent personage simply has no relation to the Doctor (particularly the Second Doctor) and so simply cannot be allowed into the canon that represents the Doctor's ongoing story.

    A slightly more controversial instance of this is the EDA novels. The EDAs built the character of the Eighth Doctor based on his one TV appearance in the movie of 1996. However, after five years of EDAs, McGann actually returned to the role on audio.

    Now the problem is that the rather troubled and torture-prone Eighth Doctor as developed in the books is clearly a different character from the goofy, gung-ho Eighth Doctor as played by McGann in the audio adventures. Who then is the real, "canonical", Eighth Doctor?

    I would argue that according to current standards, the audio Doctor should be regarded as more "canonical". This is because the development of this character is closer to the manner in which all previous Doctors were developed on screen - ie through the process of acting and direction. (Indeed, to base a series of Eighth Doctor novels entirely on the TV Movie seems a bit like basing a range of Seventh Doctor stories entirely on McCoy's characterisation as seen in Time and the Rani, or a series of Sixth Doctor stories on The Twin Dilemma). However, this remains a matter for debate.

  5. Beyond the Pale - The fact that the nature of the canon is very much up to Doctor Who fan opinion does have certain advantages. One of these advantages is that, if enough fan opinion simply decides that it cannot accept a particular series of events as part of the Doctor's ongoing story, then the events can be ejected from the canon.

    This does not mean that a story simply being bad allows us to kick it out of the canon (I'm afraid that, however hated they are, Timelash or Falls the Shadow will have to stay where they are). But some stories attempt to do things that simply go beyond what the bulk of Doctor Who fans will accept as part of the Doctor's story. These, then, by popular assent are allowed to become shadowy entities that sit somewhere on the outer edge of the canon.

    One instance of this, I would suggest, is John Peel's War of the Daleks. War of the Daleks attempts to explain away all of the events that occurred in Remembrance of the Daleks - in particular, it tries to convince its readers that Skaro was not destroyed as previously thought, but creates an absurd and rather convoluted series of events to explain to us that the planet still exists.

    Now it is a fact that the vast majority of fans regard the destruction of Skaro in Remembrance of the Daleks as a terrific ending to a Dalek saga which had evolved gradually over five TV stories. Thus, John Peel's attempts to recast events are largely ignored - future Dalek audios and comics have forgotten about his tale, and anyone talking about the Daleks' history tends to disregard Peel's contribution. Thus, fans simply hope that if they ignore War of the Daleks, its events will simply go away. And so they do. (The Eight Doctors is often marked for similar treatment. for similar reasons).

    The fact that the assertion that a story is "beyond the pale" is so opinion-based, however, means that this is the most controversial ground on which a story can be ejected from the canon. For instance, the Interference-arc produced such chaos in the Doctor's story that it ended up destroying everything that had gone on previously (see The Ancestor Cell). Thus, some may happily regard this series of stories and their consequents as incapable of being a part of the Doctor Who canon. However, it is unclear as to which way overall fan opinion will ultimately swing.

  6. Competition - There is one more element that has a key part to play in the notion of canon. This is the issue of competition.

    As our paradigm, the events as shown in the TV series have priority over the events in other media - thus the creation of the Daleks from the humanoid Kaleds in Genesis of the Daleks has canonical priority over the account in the Dalek comic strip, where the Daleks evolve from the blue-headed Dals.

    However, outside the TV series, completely different accounts of events can also transpire. One instance of this is the departure of Ace from the TARDIS. There are three versions of this event as far as I know.

    The first is her departure in the New Adventures, in which she is left in 19th Century France with a time travelling rucksack. The second is her departure in the comic strip, in which she is killed by giant lice. The third is her departure in the web-cast, Death Comes to Time, in which the Doctor dies and she goes on to become a Time Lord herself.

    Which of these is the "correct", canonical account? Well, in such a competition, it seems that for an account to become canonical depends on two things:

    (a). Support: Nothing else in the history of the Doctor seems to depend on (or even fit with) the events in Death Comes to Time. At the same time, the events in the comic strip may fit with the ongoing comic adventures, but do not seem to have implications outside that medium.

    In contrast, events in New Adventures have important effects on events in the Missing Adventures (eg. Millennial Rites), EDAs (eg. The Shadows of Avalon), comic strips and audio-dramas. The world of the New Adventures is thus supported by events elsewhere, thus allowing it to add to the single narrative of the Doctor's life. Thus, it would seem to make sense to accept the New Adventures' account of Ace's departure as canonical.

    (b). Preference: If there is a choice to be made between two accounts of events, then - all things being equal - If one account is vastly preferred to the other by the majority of fans, then it should be accepted into the canon.

    In the case of Ace this is clear. Most fans simply prefer her exit in the New Adventures. Fans do not like the idea of her becoming a Time Lord - mainly because this makes no real sense. Nor do they like the idea of her suffering an ignoble defeat at the hands of enormous grubs. Thus, the New Adventures account could have won its place in the canon for this reason alone.

To conclude, then, I would argue that the principle for allowing stories into the Doctor Who canon runs as follows: - Any Doctor Who story is part of the canon, unless a compelling reason is given for it not to be. This reason might be that:
  1. Its medium is unacceptable.
  2. It contrasts with accepted continuity to too great an extent
  3. It has the wrong tone for a Doctor Who story
  4. It fails to capture the character of the Doctor
  5. It's events are beyond the pale for fan opinion
  6. No competitor account of events is to be preferred
I am sure that my account is incomplete. However, I hope that readers have found it useful and I look forward to further discussions of continuity on this site.


Analyzing Who, or, How I learned to relax and let my critical freak flag fly by Terrence Keenan 24/9/03

Everyone's a critic. Having passionate opinions is part and parcel of being a fan -- be it art, sports, life. And with regards to something like Doctor Who, where I don't think you can be a casual fan these days, the passionate opinions are stronger.

With me, it's because I think I know what makes good Who in either book or TV format due to watching a ton of serials and reading lots of the post-serial novels. Emphasis on the word think. One of the wondrous aspects of Who is that the show is quite flexible in terms of story type -- Hard Sci-Fi, comedy, fantasy, horror, historical -- and performances. So, there is no definitive answer as to what is right Who, unlike, say, Star Trek.

So, how have I chosen the stories I've opined about?

With the books, it's because I've read them and I have a gut reaction, which I try to get down and explain. The author's style, character use, plotting, theme, and agenda all come into play, with one aspect usually sticking out more. And I'll run with that.

A few words on Agenda. Agenda can lead you down narrow interpretation paths, and cause you to attack books based on that, instead of seeing them work as stories. You can see it in a lot of my reviews of 7th Doctor books from the Virgin Line. I went off way too much on the Time's Champion concept. I also attacked several books due to use of fanwank. My concentrating on these aspects, limited my enjoyment of the story in general and ignored the bigger picture -- is a good story being told, with style and good characters?

In the case of TV serials, the factors are numerous. An itch to watch a particular Doctor/companion/recurring monster-villain. Revisiting a story not seen in a long time. Other people's comments/reviews (Rob Matthews, Mike Morris & Tim Roll-Pickering here at the DWRG have sent me reaching for my videos on many an occasion.)

As I mentioned in my review of Remembrance, I'll watch a serial twice. Once as fanboy and the second time with a critical eye, with a couple of days apart between viewings. If it's a story I know well, I'll concentrate on characters and performances. I'll also look for themes and recurring ideas. Effects don't interest me all that much. Bad F/X in Who are part of the charm, so I don't see the need to flog a dead horse.

My current favorite thing to look for in serials are themes and agendas. Unfortunately, this has led to some overexuberant rantings on my part about fanwank and the Time's Champion idea (Gee. Big Surprise). But has also led to some fun discoveries -- the Hitchcockian themes linking death and consumption in Season 22, the deconstruction of the 5th Dcotor and his methods in an increasingly hostile universe in season 21 (Pointed out by both Mike Morris and Rob Matthews), and the corrupted Darwinism in Ghost Light and Survival.

I'm always refining my approach to my reviews. I'd hate to limit myself to one view on everything. Keeping the possibilities open has led to rediscovering The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Resurrection of the Daleks, Set Piece and a couple of others I would have dismissed (all right, slagged off) had I not expanded my horizons as I've gone along. I've even learned to keep my reactionary streak under wraps.

So, I still think what I think makes great Who is right. But I think I'm learning how to better express why. Which is far more important. Anyone can say the sky is yellow with purple stripes. Showing why is the tricky part.


Who cares? - An argument for taking a chill pill by Rob Matthews 2/10/03

Yeah yeah, Doctor Who's coming back to our TV screens in a couple of years. Big deal.

Judging by the outpourings of emotion I've glimpsed on the net, I can only assume I'm the only fan in existence who reacted to The News with a kind of irritable dread, tempered only by the knowledge that with Russell T Davies taking charge, there's not too much to worry about in terms of the probable quality of the series itself. What worries me is what the reaction will be, both from fans and audiences alike. Or rather, what the reaction has been already.

Take note, people: The last time a bunch of geeks (of which I am one) got themselves this excited, it was when a certain chinless American filmmaker decided to finally make the first three movies in his twenty year-old sci-fi fantasy saga. Then the so-so Phantom Menace was finally released and George Lucas was issued with a veritable nerd fatwah.

Just from the reaction I have seen, both from fans on the clogged-up beeb messageboard and from 'luminaries' like impressionist John Culshaw in the newspapers, I can tell you right now what the problem's going to be - If the series is in any way adapted to it's time, fans of the old fart variety and narrowminded moaners of the general public/tabloid-gobshite variety will complain that it's not like 'proper' Doctor Who anyway (Culshaw himself stated that it has to be just like it was in the Jon Pertwee/Tom Baker days - whether this means it should feature frequent snide references to 'Women's Lib', invasions of Surrey by unconvinving green things, or a patrician fop as a hero, he doesn't specify). But if the series is not brought up to date, it'll be dismissed as outdated camp and swiftly re-axed.

The things is, when we fans refer to Doctor Who we're referring to forty years of accumulated stories - a heritage that a few hours of television in 2005 is simply not going to be able to live up to. If you look at Who's history you'll note that there isn't any one single season that demonstrates every single one of the strengths we associate with Who. And no matter how good the new series could potentially be, I don't think it will stand up to comparison against the corpus of non-TV Who that's been produced over the last decade-and-a-half anyway. You can't reasonably expect it to.

Besides which, it's two sodding years away! Get a grip.

My advice is just to forget all about it. Remember it's not being made just for you, and try not to create a set template for it in your head. Just get on with enjoying the books and audios, and leave the BBC and Mr Davies alone to get on with it. In other words, just wait and see. Trust me, too much anticipation and second-guessing will only poison the well.


A year in review... by Joe Ford 8/11/03 The 2003 BBC Doctor Who books:

Fear of the Dark by Trevor Baxendale
The Domino Effect by David Bishop
Blue Box by Kate Orman
Reckless Engineering by Nick Walters
Loving the Alien by Robert Perry and Mike Tucker
The Last Resort by Paul Leonard
Colony of Lies by Colin Brake
Timeless by Stephen Cole
Wolfsbane by Jac Rayner
Emotional Chemistry by Simon A Forward
Deadly Reunion by Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts

2002 saw BBC books in terrific shape, some of the stories being the best Who fiction yet published (The Crooked World, Camera Obscura) and receiving high plaudits from all corners. It is no secret that 2003 has been a little shakier and more criticized. I can put some of the blame in the decreased distribution; instead of releasing a PDA and an EDA concurrently we now have to wait a whole month for just one book. Whilst this might work for the standalone Past Doctor Adventures, the arc heavy Eighth Doctor books have suffered; a two-month gap between each blockbuster is just too long for some fans to wait (I for one have found that gap infuriating). However despite some lacklustre work the year has still had some wonderful books published and has, on the whole, continued the Doctor's adventures successfully.

Fear of the Dark: Decidedly odd considering the first 80 pages are a complete re-hash of a hundred other Doctor Who stories, this book only really comes into its own halfway through where the enemy has started to do some real damage and the characters start to die horribly. It is notable for looking into Tegan's return appearance in season Twenty and her jealousy of Nyssa who remained on the TARDIS. The blood hunter is a truly ghoulish creation but generally this is a far better action novel than a horror despite some good psychological moments. Baxendale writes in a speedy, engaging voice and although the book is too simple and bland to standout it remains an entertaining read.
Verdict: B (No Eater of Wasps, this is still a lot of fun to read)

What the critics said:
"Fear of the Dark is by no means a dreadful book, it is however a wholly unremarkable one" Matt Michael, Doctor Who Magazine.
"A cracking start to the Doctor's 40th anniversary year" Robert Muller, Dreamwatch magazine.
"So why isn't this dark, accomplished novel an unqualified success? It's not scary" David Darlington, TV Zone magazine
"Fear of the Dark is a decent read, a well told story that evokes visual images" Jamas Enright, DWRG
"This is a quick, inoffensive read to while away a gloomy afternoon with" Lawrence Conquest, Outpost Gallifrey

The Domino Effect: Very good, a violent and scary read that paints a whole new picture of the Earth. David Bishop's blunt prose perfectly suits the quick moving plot and the book is packed to the gills with good shocks. The fact that everyone turns out to be horrible means you cannot connect with the secondary characters so much so charismatic companions Fitz and Anji shine, Fitz in particular who is put through the wringer big time. The ending, with the Earth fractured into millions of possibilities confirms the almost soap-operish nature of the EDA's this year, each one leading dramatically into the next.
Verdict: A minus (A good start to the year for the EDA's)

What the critics said:
"A pacey, punchy read that never quite manages to get to the point" Matt Michael, Doctor Who Magazine.
"Ultimately there is the sense that Time is quite literally running out - for everyone and everything, giving the book a dramatic punch" Neil Corry, TV Zone magazine.
"What went wrong?"
"This is one of the most readable and enjoyable New Adventures to date"
Paul Williams, DWRG

Blue Box: Hardly a surprise that this is one of the best PDA's of the year, Kate Orman has never written a bad book and has no intention of starting here. It is easily the most experimental of the year, a road trip novel, obsessed with computers and written grippingly in the first person narrative through the eyes of Chick Peters, a journalist. The sixth Doctor is brilliantly conceived, a master on the keyboard and winding up nasty villain Sarah Swan. Peri gets a paint job too, the book examining her painful relationship with the Doctor and finding some realistic reasons for her to stay with him. The story might be a little on the quiet side but the characters are fresh and invigorating and the prose is gorgeous.
Verdict: A (Inventive and clever and very readable)

What the critics said:
"A finely crafted character piece" Robert Muller, Dreamwatch magazine
"Rarely in Doctor Who do we get to know all our incidental characters as well as we do in Blue Box" David Darlington, TV Zone magazine
"Orman moves her slight plot along very effectively and on the whole its highly satisfying" Eddie Robson, SFX "The story is fast moving and gripping, the characters are complex and believable, the language elegant and evocative" Matt Michael, Doctor Who Magazine.
"It's really Sarah Swan who shines here" Rob Matthews, DWRG
"Avoid it if you live for trashy pulp, but I thought it was fresh and interesting" Finn Clark, DWRG

Reckless Engineering: After Dominion and The Fall of Yquatine you could be forgiven for expecting a decent EDA to come from Nick Walters but this is easily the worst of the bunch this year. The plot is actually quite interesting until the end where the answers run out and it climaxes nonsensically in some rubbishy pseudo-science. Some gripping moments involving the very scary Wildren and some fascinating ideas involving a pristine manor house in a decaying world and time skipping forward ageing everybody and dealing with the horrific results help what is a rather bland book. The Fitz/Doctor dynamic gets a look in and the results are rather touching and once again the Doctor gets to be a violent bastard (yee hee!).
Verdict: C plus (Not great, another re-write would do it some good)

What the critics said:
"Solidly written by Nick Walters although it feels like the party's been swinging all night and we've only just been invited" Shane Longman, SFX magazine
"(The ending) made me want to throw the book away" Neil Corry, TV Zone magazine.
"The first half of the book is great - gripping, action packed and highly entertaining but about halfway through the plot seems to fall apart into flabby nonsense" Matt Michael, Doctor Who Magazine.
"It certainly isn't a masterpiece but I'm glad I read it" Finn Clark, DWRG
"The novel rattles along at a fair old pace and for the most part is highly enjoyable" Lawrence, Conquest, Outpost Gallifrey.

Loving the Alien: The second substandard effort in a row, a real mish mash of horror, drama, nostalgia and more companion killing. Get off the kick BBC books! Perry and Tucker do not combine styles successfully, their prose is extremely different and it is obvious who is writing what bits. The climatic moment, the death of Ace, is undermined by the fact that it takes place halfway through the book and the ending just cannot match up. The book has too many characters and ideas and ended up giving me a right headache trying to keep track. Some good moments of visceral horror do not make a good novel.
Verdict: C minus (Heavy with themes, this book sinks)

What the critics said:
"The characterisation is great, the plot moves along at a superb pace, and most importantly there is a genuine desire to push the series in a new direction" Matt Michael, Doctor Who Magazine.
"Loving the Alien is enjoyable pulp" David Darlington, TV Zone magazine.
"The ingredients are there but with an overblown story Tucker and Perry have overreached themselves" Henry Potts, DWRG
"It sparks such a fulfilling action piece" Chad Knueppe, Outpost Gallifrey.

The Last Resort: Much, much better and proof, if it was needed, that the books are pushing the series in a more adult, more sophisticated direction. Taking the idea of the fractured realities all taking centre stage Paul Leonard cleverly writes a book where we continually cross alternative realities and see the same scenes but in vastly different ways. Fitz and Anji carry the plot mostly, realising how expendable they are in comparison with the multiverse itself and the Doctor's absence gives this a very 'New Adventures' style feel with him behind the scenes trying to patch things up. The last third of the book is excellent, with realities shifting every second and scenes of all the versions of Fitz, Anji and the Doctor converging in one area, it is the sort of experimental story that Doctor Who does so well. Sabbath is brilliant as the hero of the piece. It's a difficult book to read given it takes a lot of hard work to figure it all out but its highly rewarding if you do.
Verdict: A minus (Powerful and clever, don't listen to the idiots who didn't understand it!)

What the critics said:
"At first confusing, the patient and attentive reader is rewarded by a cleverly designed story that takes the concept of Time going hideously wrong in Time Zero and pushes it to its extreme" Neil Corry, TV Zone Magazine.
"The Last Resort is often a powerful and engaging work but it suffers from 'arc fatigue'" Robert Muller, Dreamwatch magazine.
"This is the sort of high concept story they should be telling while they have the chance" Anthony Brown, Starburst magazine.
"Leonard comes up trumps again with this mind boggling tale of time tourists, multiple universes and fluid histories" Matt Michael, Doctor Who Magazine.
"The Last Resort is a lot of Philip K Dick, with a touch of "Tom Strong" but Leonard writes it well for the most part" Henry Potts, DWRG.
"I really liked it! In fact I bloody well loved it!" Michael Mills, Outpost Gallifrey.

The Colony of Lies: An odd book that seems a lot of fun while you're reading it but I cannot for the life of me remember anything about it months later. A quick flick through reminds me of a nice cameo for the seventh Doctor, some decent work done with the cheeky 2nd Doctor, more plot than a book this length might need and some decidedly underwhelming prose. What's more the book skips merrily over some shocking deaths, deals with its Western credentials purely in cliche but still has a well thought out and surprising ending. A wee bit average in all.
Verdict: C plus (Better than Escape Velocity but distinctly unmemorable)

What the critics said:
"Poorly written and badly plotted, this is the worst novel the BBC has published in some time" Matt Michael, Doctor Who Magazine.
"Kudos to Colin Brake for giving us the kind of romp we haven't had in a while" Robert Muller, Dreamwatch magazine.
"It's actually the words that drag the whole project down, being rarely more than functional and occasionally not even that" David Darlington, TV Zone magazine.
"The Colony of Lies is perfectly readable" Finn Clark, DWRG.
"Lazy and derivative, with bog standard prose all but devoid of style" Lawrence Conquest, Outpost Gallifrey.

Timeless: The surprise hit of the year and the best book since Camera Obscura. In the Doctor's fortieth anniversary this book most exemplifies how the books are continuing his travels with such style, featuring a complex but well thought out plot, some excellent and memorable characters, a real nasty villain, Sabbath at his peak, fantastic prose, decent twists and one hell of an emotional ending. It is the end of the road for Anji and the beginning for Trix so it is just as well they are both captured beautifully and their bitchy rivalry is a real treat. The way this takes all the other books in the alt universe arc and suddenly whips them into a coherent story is genius and the cliffhanging end to the story leading into Sometime Never next year is nail biting. Revealing Sabbath's ultimate plan might reduce some of the character's mystery but by God, what an ingenious plan!
Verdict: A plus (Cole hits all the right notes this time)

What the critics said:
"Timeless is fast paced, coherent and enjoyable... an exceptional set up for a shattering climax" Matt Michael, Doctor Who Magazine.
"Cole seems to have re-discovered his joi de vivre! About being a Doctor Who fan and writer! He opts for another style: fun!" Terry Richards, TV Zone magazine.
"It's often funny and occasionally genuinely disturbing. Timeless is an unexpected delight" Eddie Robson, SFX magazine.
"Anji's story is closed in an emotionally satisfying way" Anthony Brown, Starburst magazine.
"If you're new to the books go read Timeless immediately. This is Doctor Who you'll never forget" Chad Knueppe, Outpost Gallifrey.

Wolfsbane: A very enjoyable horror pastiche in the style of the fourth Doctor's early seasons. The book is superbly written with some highly evocative passages. Harry finally gets the book he deserves, Jac Rayner is clearly as obsessed with the charming idiot as we are. He is brilliantly teamed up with the 8th Doctor during his amnesiac exile on Earth, which brings up the question whether this is a PDA or an EDA. Whatever, it is still very funny and quite discomforting in places and has an ingenious ending that rewards loyal readers to both ranges. It's shorter than average Doctor Who novel but that matters not a jot, it makes essential bedtime reading.
Verdict: A (Touching, frightening and a bit silly too, perfect Doctor Who!)

What the critics said:
"Its got some rather primal moments involving people being buried alive or trapped inside trees for centuries, no less disturbing for having some rather sweet Doctor Who trappings wrapped around them" David Darlington, TV Zone magazine.
"Wolfsbane is a hugely entertaining addition to the Who chronicles" Pat Reid, SFX magazine.
"A breathless highpoint in this year's Who output" Robert Muller, Dreamwatch magazine.
"You'll end this book as in much in love with (Harry) as Jac Rayner is" Finn Clark, DWRG.
"It's a magnificent book in every way" Richard Radcliffe, DWRG.

Emotional Chemistry: Hang on are you sure this is an EDA? No alternative realities, no Sabbath, no Anji... and for their absence this is a very refreshing novel. Simon A Forward paints a glorious picture in three different time zones and the book hops along at a fair old pace. The main theme, love, is a strikingly different avenue for the EDA's to explore and thankfully it doesn't descend into soggy mush. Nope it's all out battles, mind invasion, historical drama, subtle continuity... lots going on but never hard to follow, this book continues the EDA's run of luck in the latter half of the year. We even get some tantalising glimpses of the Doctor discovering more about himself...
Verdict: A (The continuing story takes a break for this wildly imaginative tale)

What the critics said:
"So there are too many elements but it's all very enjoyable" Neil Corry, TV Zone magazine.
"Ambitious and imaginative" Robert Muller, Dreamwatch magazine.
"Interesting, gripping and well worth your time" Finn Clark, DWRG.
"A decent, solid book, fairly enjoyable... but no classic" Lawrence Conquest, Outpost Gallifrey.

Deadly Reunion: A shock winner, writers Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts returning to their legacy and providing a book full of affection and love for its source material. I cannot think of a book that would celebrate the show better, not taking itself too seriously but remaining interesting and exciting. They use the Greek Gods superbly in a way that entertains and educates. The UNIT family (including the Master) are captured gorgeously and this outranks The Daemons as their best story together. The Brigadier is given his own story for the first half and it proves just how good these two writers are. Spellbindingly nostalgic.
Verdict: A (Hits all the right notes for the anniversary)

What the critics said:
"It's an undemanding and fun story" David Darlington, TV Zone magazine.
"It's a great effort, full of engaging situations and familiar faces" Chad Knueppe, Outpost Gallifrey.

Well it seems clear that the books have reached a much more happy medium in the second half of the year than the first, the last four each being a joy to read. The first half suffered from a lack of direction and an overdose of one idea (alternative realities for those not keeping up). But even in bad periods of Who fiction little gems emerge (Blue Box, The Domino Effect) and remind us this is only a temporary setback.

WRITERS

If I was honest only four writers amongst the bunch have written their best work this year, those being Steve Cole, Simon A Forward, Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts. The rest have all come down a notch or two, some considerably (I was expecting more from Baxendale after the superlative Eater of Wasps and Nick Walters should concentrate more on his plot in the future, his prose being quite wonderful).

Kate Orman and Jac Rayner of course wrote two wonderful books but alas even these were not as outstanding as The Year of Intelligent Tigers and The Glass Prison. Perhaps because they were PDA's they were more throwaway and less important but Blue Box and Wolfsbane were still excellent reads.

Perry and Tucker never seem to aim that high but from what I'm told Storm Harvest was a much more accomplished piece than Loving the Alien but then the critics seemed to love it so what do I know?

Certainly Cole has improved, his Ten Little Aliens was a treat but still could not hold a candle to Timeless, a shining achievement for the ex-editor this year.

Drift was a good book dragged down by overdone prose and an excess of characters and whilst Emotional Chemistry does have a large cast list the prose is much more professional and engaging.

Dicks and Letts have insulted the Who medium in the past with appalling books so it is such a relief to see their return to 'form' with Deadly Reunion.

Paul Leonard has never impressed me a great deal but his Turing Test in the Earth arc was a masterpiece, shockingly good. The Last Resort doesn't reach those heights but it is certainly his second best book, none of his others have engaged me this much.

Colin Brake has certainly improved but considering his first book was Escape Velocity that isn't saying much and discounts him from the 'best work' category.

And dear David Bishop, a terrific writer is unlucky that he produced his best ever work first and is trying hard to capture that praise again. The Domino Effect, whilst engaging as hell, doesn't quite manage it.

We'll see you all again in the future so for most of you... a little bit extra thank you!

COVERS

Blue covers seem to be a good bet this year, The Domino Effect with its brilliantly depicted 'domino effect' of multiple Earths, Timeless with its more detailed multiple Earths surrounded by glittering jewels and Wolfsbane, full of atmospheric detail like the fading moon, the hiding wolf and the sharp snow. All gorgeous covers.

Equally striking is Blue Box, with its hi-tech 'Matrix' style cover, green binary code being struck by electricity with shadowy figures emerging from the blue box. Loving the Alien makes an audacious attempt at creating a real monster movie style cover, horrible giant ants crawling over a newspaper that reveals the death of Ace (oh and the striking image of a giant ant in front of St Paul's!).

Less impressive are the least impressive novels actually, not helping their cause one bit. Troughton looking worried with a western town behind him isn't the stuff of legends (Colony of Lies) and Davison in the shadows does not create any kind of anticipation for Fear of the Dark (when a decent drawing of the bloodhunter would have been much better!). And Reckless Engineering's cover does not impress, clanking chains and a skull faced Brunel may have initially appeared quite exciting but has nothing to do with the book itself.

On the whole the covers have been good, probably better than last year. They seem to be a bit more inventive, wanting to capture somebody's eye that might just be browsing.

DOCTORS

The writers have captured their desired Doctor's pretty well on the whole. Maybe Baxendale made the fifth Doctor too snappy in Fear of the Dark but this just reminds me of Davison's excellent portrayal in Frontios.

Orman takes her time to examine the sixth Doctor through the eyes of other people and creates what I have always seen as a larger than life, exuberant character, one that fills the room and makes you pay attention to him. She also gives him a cheeky edge and never forgets he has a bit of a temper. Good job.

The seventh is more in the style of his New Adventures persona, obvious too because Loving the Alien is supposed to be set immediately prior to the Timewyrm series. He is manipulative, very clever but feels as though the weight of the world is on his shoulders. It is a more melancholic Doctor I would like to see McCoy have a stab at.

Colin Brake has a good stab at the second but the stakes have been raised too high by the Justin Richards and Mick Lewises of this world. He manages to get the mannerisms right though and the quick flaring childish temper and sudden leaps of logic are spot on.

It is with the fourth Doctor that we hit a hurdle, not because Jac Rayner fluffs him up, far from it but he just isn't around enough to make much of an impression. The Tom Baker of my memory dominated his stories and would never be pushed into the background in favour of his companions.

But the real coup this year comes with Letts and Dicks reprising their own creation, the gentlemanly, quick-witted man of action, the third Doctor. Boy, this how accurate the PDA's should be all the time. His affection for the Brigadier is one of the best things about Deadly Reunion.

So it comes as a bitter disappointment to tell you that eighth Doctor suffers the most this year. Oh yes, I'm not joking, as much as I like his books only two writers managed to capture his unique personality with any great skill. Cole and Forward in the last two EDA's of the year have returned to the romantic, hysterical and oddly violent hero who lit up like a firework last year. Scenes such as the Doctor deliberately kicking the shit out of sadistic murderer Basalt and his desperation to save the Earth AND ensure two Gods rekindle their love are the eighth Doctor at his best.

Paul Leonard takes the easy option and has the Doctor vanish for half of his book, a clever move that pushes the book into experimental territory and yet still seems strange without him.

Walters and Bishop both write McGann's Doctor as a somewhat faceless character, merely there to fulfil a role than to actively drive the plot. With writers such as Jonny Morris and Justin Richards, who have both got the eighth Doctor exactly right in the past, writing for him next year we can only hope for a continuation of Timeless and EmChem's wonderful portrayals.

PROSE

A very important factor in any book, doubly so in a Doctor Who book where the prose is essential in capturing the right time period chosen. Only one book this year has obviously poor prose (sorry Colony of Lies) and one other is far too busy with complicated plot mechanics to worry about intensive detail (The Last Resort). Loving the Alien's prose is passable, a bit hit or miss but there are some effective scenes in there. And Deadly Reunion is split in quality, the prose in the first half being detailed and frightening but switching for a lighter, breezier tone in the second half.

At the top are the lovely females, Rayner and Orman who both write with elegance I should imagine women posses. They both know how to capture a scene, visually and emotionally and sneak into their characters minds without ever compromising their quick plots.

Baxendale and Bishop are about on the same level, dialogue heavy and straight to the point. I think Bishop just takes the lead because he writes more vicously, never skimping on wince-inducing detail. However Fear of the Dark is certainly not badly written, it contains some extremely vivid scenes. Pushing ahead amongst the guys is (once again) Steve Cole and Simon A. Forward who both know how to turn a phrase and manage to bring a great deal of warmth and humour to their books despite the dramatic events.

Special mention must go to Nick Walters who has improved in leaps and bounds, there is some beautiful imagery in Reckless Engineering when all is said and done.

BADDIES

This year I think it is fair to say that all the best baddies have been the human ones. As Rob Matthews points out so eloquently Sarah Swan is one of the best things about Blue Box, a paranoid, schizophrenic even before she comes into contact with the alien device. Never before has a woman seemed so cold and remote, living in a dump of a house surrounded by pizza boxes despite her wealth. If you upset her she will be after you in the most insidious of ways. Her duels online with the sixth Doctor are so frightening because you can see how homicidal she is becoming...

Even scarier is Basalt, a lecherous, smarmy creep who was dragged through foster homes and constantly looking for love. His crimes are appalling, not just killing people but taking away their lives so somebody else can live it! His disgusting treatment of poor Stacey in Timeless is terrifying in the extreme. And finally Guaradin, the megalomaniac who enjoys slipping into the minds of men and lusting after their women. Brr...

Bishops writes good bad guys in The Domino Effect because there is nothing redeeming about them at all. The brutal Hastings clearly gets enjoyment out of watching Fitz suffer, grovel and beg. It is not always good to have characters that are so black and white but these thugs suit the story well.

Less effective are the fantastical bad guys; the Dark and Watchlar both fail to make much of an impression despite their diabolical actions. Only Hades from Deadly Reunion makes an impact and that's because he is so bloody powerful you have to pay attention!

Less dramatic but far more funnier are the villains in Wolfsbane. Harry's lost reactions to their utter insanity drives the book towards farce at times. Paul Leonard deserves a special mention for the most ingenious baddie of the year, reality itself. In some ways the endless supply of weirder realities makes that book the scariest of 2003.

How could I not mention Sabbath, present in all but two of the eighth Doctor books this year. Love him or hate him he's going to be around for a while and when you accept that he is actually a lot of fun, he crops up Master-style (except with no cheesy catchphrase unfortunately!) with his repugnant apes. The real fun with Sabbath is how he and the Doctor wind each other up, they are often at their wittiest and most insulting whilst trading barbs. And it is this year that we are finally privy to his master plan and may I say it was worth the wait. An ingenious scheme solidifying his character as the one to watch after the fallout in Timeless.

The Master shows up naturally but he's more like your best mate than your worst enemy so we won't count him.

WRAP UP

As you can see there has been some good stuff going on this year and well worth checking out. 2003 might not be the best year for Doctor Who fiction but it has certainly made the effort to be a little different and to push forward the series in intriguing new directions. If you don't like the arc heavy EDA's then buy the simpler PDA's. If dipping into old era's doesn't interest you keep yourself informed with the exciting developments with the 8th Doctor. There has been something for everyone this year, horror stories, romances, SF blockbusters, intimate character tales, dips into history and some very funny stuff too. Rather than dismissing this as the year that failed (as I fear we will next year when things are more consistent) let's remember all the fun there was to be had in 2003 with Harry fighting werewolves, the Brig falling in love, Fitz getting married, Peri bleaching her hair, Anji confronting the Doctor about Gallifrey, Sabbath saving the day and Ace snuffing it (yee-hah!).

I for one have enjoyed the ride immensely.


The Return of You Know Who by Steve Scott 15/11/03

I would like – if I may – to take you on a strange journey.

England. It’s Saturday September 10th 2005. The time is 18:30.

It’s BBC1. The news has just finished. There’s been yet another terrorist attack in the Middle East. But 10 million people don’t care.

The continuity announcer (over the image of a spinning globe, mercifully reinstated after all those crappy dancers) mentions, with tongue firmly in cheek, that perhaps we’d all like to get behind the sofa now.

The globe fades. A vortex of hypnotic colours unfolds across the screen. The theme music pulsates from the speakers.

The face of Richard O’Brien/John Cleese/Eddie Izzard/Ian McKellan/Kelsey Grammer/Donald Duck (delete as appropriate) stares out from the television.

It’s Doctor Who.

Gosh.

25 minutes later, and the Doctor’s charming assistant is tied to the railway line by the malevolent Master (or something). The closing credits crash in.

What now?

After all the waiting and speculation, Part One of the first new Who adventure for seven years is over. And what will the fan reaction be?

Disappointed.

Why? Take a cursory glance at the Who message boards. They’re rife with fan speculation about how the new series may take shape. Or, to be exact, how they think the new series should take shape.

It seems most fans are already debating (or should that be dictating?) amongst themselves about major things (the actor to play the Doctor) right down to some downright worrying aspects: which old foes should return – that old chestnut still won’t die – and best of all, how the new title sequence should pan out. Oh dear.

If fans take it upon themselves to discuss these nuts and bolts aspects of the new series, and speculate feverishly about how exactly they ought to turn out, we’ve problems.

It’s the eighties all over again. Sooner or later another Whizzkid will turn up in a future adventure.

Fans must stop believing that they’re bigger than the source. Without Who, we wouldn’t be fans in the first place.

So all I have to say to the future production team is this:

Make it adventurous. Make it witty. Make it stylish.

Make it the greatest programme ever made again.

And above all – whatever you do, don’t give a flying f**k what the fans think.

Including me.


An essay by Terrence Keenan 20/11/03

Tie me to a stake, I've committed fan heresy.

Um, sometimes in this strange land of fandom we exist in, you tend to forget that there are certain taboo areas where only orthodox views are allowed. And when you do cross said line, fatwahs are issued and the next thing you know, you're invited to a barbecue with you as the main course.

What mortal sin did I commit?

I merely mentioned that, perhaps, the Virgin Line of Doctor Who books might not be as good as the BBC line of Doctor Who books... maybe... in my opinion.

I should say how it started. I was checking out my normal Internet fan group area, when I saw the news about New TV Who, with Russell T. Davies running the show. I was in a grumpy mood and I mentioned in general that said new show would work best by not being a slave to continuity, be it book or old TV show. As I said, I was in a grumpy mood, so I took an admitted cheap shot at the Virgin Line.

Looking back, I should have kept my mouth shut.

So, one of my comrades comes back and disses the BBC line. Not wanting to back down, but also not wanting to start a flame war, I replied in order to state my main objective -- minimal to no continuity, stress the basics: Mysterious Doctor, Police Box to the universe, Hottie companion. Said comrade then takes another chance to blast the BBC line and said something to the effect that if I thought Fitz was a hottie, I needed to sue my shrink.

This pissed me off. So, I started a new thread where I gave a good representation as to why I favored the BBC line over the Virgin Line, but also pointed out that most of the books in both ranges aren't really that good if you try to look for anything beyond their TV tie in profit designations.

I should have seen it coming. Although my comrade stated why he disliked the BBC line -- not Virgin continuity, no Bernice Summerfield, etc. -- he seemed more upset that I had the temerity to even think that the BBC books might be more adventurous (in terms of style and ideas) than the Virgin line. I replied back, with some interesting counterpoints, but I doubt my comrade will respond, because the missive was prefaced with the opening phrase "last words on this subject."

The thing that got me going on this issue was not only some things I've seen at my own local internet Who hangout, but also at OG, the DWRG and other fan internet sites; a general bias against the BBC line. I compared this to general fan attitudes regarding current Who serials versus past Who serials, during the time of broadcast. Graham Williams got slammed by the fanboys for not doing serious, proper Who, like during the Pertwee years. John Nathan Turner took his fair share of abuse for similar reasons. I see the same thing with the books. The Virgin line got there first, and is considered serious, proper Book Who, while the BBC line is the bastard child which will never measure up to the glories of the past.

It's time to shatter a few myths. Both book lines have less than stellar regular characters. Both book lines had troublesome Doctors to write for. Both book lines wallowed in TV show continuity. Both book lines have their fair share of dreck within the lines. The BBC may have The Eight Doctors, Earthworld, The two John Peel Dalek books, to name some... But, the Virgin Line had Head Games, Lucifer Rising, No Future, Human Nature, Falls the Shadow and others that are just as diabolical. Where Virgin had an advantage is in a level of consistency in terms of how their Whoniverse was seen -- by the editorial staff and writers -- and the types of stories presented -- mostly future, space opera stuff. Also, all of their big concepts came directly, or indirectly from the TV series, specificially The Deadly Assassin and Seasons 25 and 26.

The BBC's advantage came from pushing the envelope and being more willing to try to invent new continuity, instead of basing everything on the past. One of the bravest things done was Justin Richards deciding to toss all old continuity when he came aboard. The BBC also allowed a far wider style of storytelling into their version of the Whoniverse. I don't believe Paul Magrs would have been allowed to put out The Scarlet Empress or The Blue Angel under the Virgin line.

Why do I think the BBC line is better? A couple of reasons. One is that I started with the BBC books first. They're my standard bearer in the same way that Tom Baker serials are for TV Who. I also enjoy the concepts the BBC is working with more than the concepts from the Virgin line. There's also a freely admitted 7th Doctor bias involved.

I can understand why people who claim the Virgin line is classic book Who. It's where they started. But, what troubles me is how opinions are wielded as facts. That they're not willing to be more open minded and admit that books like Alien Bodies, The Turing Test, The Banquo Legacy, Interference and others are damn good book Who, no matter who the publisher was.

Besides, who's to say the Virgin Line might not have gone in similar directions as the BBC line did if they still had the imprint.

Another argument I've been hit with is that the only reason the BBC line got into the publishing business was to make money on any old Who-related product. And Virgin was some sort of noble public cause? Please, don't delude yourself. The Virgin line was created after there were no more Target novelizations to put out. There was money to be made off of fanboys, so the next logical step was to write original Who stories. And, to be honest, if the BBC merchandisers had been prescient, they would have been putting out original Who books ages ago, and there would have been no Virgin line to discuss. And one more little point. The BBC was never as crass as the Virgin line as to put consumer surveys in the back of their books....

In any event, the smart thing to do would be to go ahead and admit my heresy, confess, restate the orthodox opinion, and wear a hair shirt for a few weeks as penance.....

...But I can't and won't. Minority opinions should not only be heard, but respected as well. The one thing I've always tried to do is show respect of other viewpoints, even when I vehemently disagree with them. Part of it is common courtesy, part of it is also that I might get a better understanding and maybe learn something.

It looks like I'll have to remain an unrepentant heretic for the time being.


The Book Companions, a rant by Terrence Keenan 22/12/03

In my essay about the book lines, I made a general comment about the book companions that wasn't nice, to put it mildly.

I made a cardinal error by not backing it up. It's always easy to attack things without backup. However, since I believe in putting my money where my mouth is, I'm going to spend some time explaining why the book companions haven't been much of a success. (Note: for this essay, I'm limiting the list of companions to Bernice Summerfield, New Ace, Roz, Cwej, Sam, Fitz Kreiner, Compassion and Anji.)

So, why do I think the book companions suck?

The first thing that comes up is a dearth of decent ideas. Bernice is just fanboy wish fulfillment put on the page. New Ace is Xena with a Perivale accent. Roz came on board to die a hero. Cwej was a goofball who shagged anything female. Sam is TV Ace with less charm. Fitz is Bernice with a sex change. Compassion became a 7 of 9 clone. Anji was a character out of Thirtysomething, except not white. Love and War. There was no point to bring her back. And when Ace does come back, she's turned into a supersoldier with a bad attitude who solely exists to call the Doctor a bastard at the end of each novel after racking up a death count, and the occassional shag. In at leats two novels, we are given the same exact scenario: New Ace manipulates the Doctor for her own reasons (Lucifer Rising, No Future) in order to teach him a lesson. It took Kate Orman in Set Piece (vamoose number two) for New Ace to show any signs of being a character beyond her cliche violence.

In the case of Bernice Summerfield, although set up with some interesting traits -- her love of boozing, her diary with rewritten entries, her archaeological skills -- writers tended to transmute her into versions of themselves on the page. From there Bernice could say things that would please the reader. She became a comfortable character for writers to handle, and therefore ended up being a bundle of fan-pleasing traits, instead of a real character. The sad truth is that the only novel where she is given any interesting character development is in Down. Lawrence Miles establishes all the standard Bernice qualities, then manages to slowly subvert them, so by the end of the novel, we feel we've actually learned something about her, instead of the author.

Roz Forrester is possibly the best of the Virgin Book companions. Then again, in the big scheme of things, the sole purpose of Roz was to die a hero and give the seventh Doctor more angst. The big mistake was Kate Orman having Roz and Cwej become lovers. It's fucking pointless, unless you want to suck up to fanboy wish fulfillment. Besides, there was nothing in Roz's character that ever suggested that she would be interested in her adjudicator partner. Um, the one good thing about Roz was that she was a right wing bigot in a TARDIS filled with left-wingers. But besides that, her death and her skin color, what esle was there to Roz?

Then there's Cwej, the unstoppable sex machine. Hoo boy. I've come to the unfortunate conclusion that Cwej's sole existence was to give the writers the excuse to write sex scenes. In fact the only Cwej novel I've read where he doesn't get his groove on is Christmas on a Rational Planet. The only real character development he ever received was in Dead Romance, where he was presented as a nice man doing a horrible job for not very pleasant employers.

Ahh, Samantha Angeline Jones, holder of the title of "Most Despised Companion Ever." I confess to having a soft spot for Sam, even if in most of her stories she was complete bollocks. Well, first pimp slap goes to Uncle Terrance Dicks for making her Ace with a blonde crew cut. Second pimp slap goes to Kate Orman and Jonathan Blum, for turning Sam into Agenda Girl. Then you have to smack around a lot of other writers who basically did nothing with Sam except run her on automatic pilot -- state leftist political point, pine about the Doctor sexually. The first step in an interesting direction came from Loz Miles (notice a pattern here?) with Alien Bodies, which came up with a clever rationale for Sam's existence in the books so far. Jim Mortimore came up with an interesting variation with the Sam that surfaced in Beltempest. A colossal fuckup who will help you whether or not you wanted help. The OrmanBlum revived the aging comanion gimmick used in previous novels to try and push the character forward, but the other authors never ran with it (and although she turned 21 in Seeing I, there wasn't any real character development to Sam, as she stayed the same basic character). It would take Lawrence Miles's Interference to really dive into Sam and try to make some sense of her. For the first time, an author decided to take a character defined only by her politics and make sense of them. Alas, too little, too late.

Fitz Kreiner has taken over Bernice's place as "The Companion Who Will Never Leave." He's another fanboy wish-fulfillment character that's easy to write for and easy to have fun with. He doesn't always succeed with the ladies, has James Bond fantasies, gets used for comedy bits and wry dialogue. Basically, Bernice with a schlong. And though Miles puts him through the wringer in Interference, Fitz hasn't had much character development beyond unerring loyalty to the Doctor. And, honestly, he's overstayed his welcome and should have been booted out of the TARDIS a long time ago.

My heart breaks when I think about Compassion. She gets my vote for Best Book Companion. She had the greatest character development of any companion in a very short time -- in six books, she went from villain to TARDIS. Yet, many an author either sidelined her, or turned her into a 7 of 9 clone. As someone who hates Star Trek, I found it depressing. The only authors besides Loz Miles to do anything with her were Mark Clapham and Simon Butcher-Jones, who created the awesome version in The Taking of Planet 5. Nick Walters, writer of The Fall of Yquatine, deserves props for running with the whole companion as TARDIS idea. It's just a crying shame that the other authors didn't do all that much with her.

I don't have much to say about Anji Kapoor. There isn't a whole lot to the character. She seems to be defined by her wavering trust in the Doctor and her love for her dead boyfriend. Like Tegan, Anji doesn't seem to want to see the universe and get into adventures. This is going to sound harsh, but Anji seems to have been placed in the TARDIS as a nod to diversity and multiculturalism.

I think part of the problem is that with a multi-author book series, there is less consistency in terms of characters and their development. Authors are only worrying about their deadline and telling their own story. With a monthly output designed mainly to cash in on the fanboys, there isn't much time to really define and develop characters in a consistent fashion. In fact, the only character who had a definite start to finish arc was Compassion, but even then, certain writers didn't have the time to deal with her properly, or care to deal with her, so they either ignored her, or turned her inot a character they knew and worked on autopilot. You can see this in the early Bernice Summerfield tales: Ben Aaronovitch dealt with the new companion by having her possessed and making her a de facto villain, while he developed his own psuedo companion, Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart. Gareth Roberts turns Bernice into a combination of Sarah Jane Smith and Romana for The Highest Science.

Well, I'm probably in the minority with this argument. But, if you look at the big picture, you might see where I'm coming from.


Coming out as a Doctor Who fan... by Joe Ford 17/1/04

On 27th of December I went on a drinking binge with my friends from work and I realised just how ashamed I was with my association with Doctor Who actually was. You see I had four of the girls come to my house before we headed out for the curry and the yard of ale and I spent the hour before they arrived hiding every single piece of Doctor Who merchandise I own, not an easy task considering I have every video, DVD, book, CD and magazine. I was so desperate that none of them saw how obsessed I was with the show, so scared that I would be labelled a sad, nerdy anorak. I was petrified that I would be ousted as a loser.

I had my night out. I ate curry. I got blind drunk and sung jolly Christmas songs through the streets of Eastbourne at half past one in the morning.

And I came home and cried my eyes out. I sat in my living room, suddenly devoid of DVDs, my pictures of Troughton, Tom Baker and Pertwee and my books and I realised what a complete bastard I had been. I can't think of many times in my life when I have felt THAT ashamed.

As Terrance Keenan so aptly put it, I LOVE Doctor Who. Its true, I love the series, the books, the CDs. Even if I hate a certain story I love ripping it to pieces on the Ratings Guide. There are only two things in this life that I am more passionate than Doctor Who about, Simon and Justin Timberlake. Like so many other Doctor Who fans Doctor Who has given me so much, I feel entirely justified in saying much of life is built around that silly little show. I crave the latest EDA. I spend all day at wondering which story I can inflict on Simon at the end of the day. I have written nearly 300 reviews on the subject and enjoyed every single one.

Doctor Who has opened my mind to the fantastical, the incredible, it has taught me that there is more to life than our earthly troubles. There's magic in the stars, there are a million planets to explore. History isn't a boring textbook lecture but a frightening, colourful, exciting subject, full of cultures that are as alien to my world as Alpha Centauri. There is a man out there who will always put his life on the line for others, crack a joke in the face of adversity, stand up to the bullies and whisk you away for adventures in time and space just when you need it. Who could fail to hate something that takes all these things and whisks them up on shoestring budget?

But it's not just the series but also it's fandom that I enjoy a long relationship with. One of my best ever friends I met through the Ratings Guide. I have regular correspondence with Rob Matthews, a man who never fails to point out my strengths and flaws. I feel a part of a larger audience and its warm feeling to know that so many other people out there love the same thing, that there are so many different opinions on every single piece of merchandise, that we all contribute to make the show that bit more special.

So why oh why oh why am I so bloody ashamed of something that has brought me so much joy? Acceptance into a 'cooler' crowd? Fear of being labelled? The mocking laughter? Yeah, probably all of these and more. I realised that night I was selling myself a bit short, that I was trying to convince people I was something I'm not just to spare myself the embarrassment of their reactions.

And I bet I'm not the only one. I bet there are more Joe Fords out there who hide the covers of their books on the train, who pretend they are listening to the latest hip hop when The Evil of the Daleks is chugging away in their ear, who get their partners (the shame‚^ņ¶) to go to the cash point of HMV and buy the videos.

But God isn't it MORE embarrassing to hide away something you LOVE so much? I have never been so embarrassed in my life as I was when I opened my wardrobe stuffed full of books and vids.

I went to work today and (because I am halfway through Short Trips: The Muses) put down my book on the middle of the table in the staff room and prepared myself for the onslaught. Two girls laughed at me and blushed bright red. But one lady admitted she never missed an episode when it was on telly. Another asked me what the book was about and we got into an intelligent conversation about short stories (whilst the two giggling girls went back to their conversation about David Beckham's package). Someone came into the room and asked me if I had The Three Doctors DVD with the Bessie toy! Ohmigod! There were other closet fans in the room! People I see everyday and I had no idea! Yeah so I was mocked all afternoon with the phrase "Exterminate" in an array of silly voices but for some reason I couldn't stop smiling.

The reason I am writing this is for all you fans out there who behave as I do. Don't be embarrassed about your obsession with this fabulous show. Aren't those who try and label you as sad missing out on something special and wonderful? Aren't they the sad ones by closing their eyes to something just because it isn't 'in' right now?

I have no doubt in my mind that when Russell T Davies brings back the show with a bigger budget and some grit and polish it will once again be safe to admit your love for Doctor Who in public. We are due another renaissance. I am just glad I managed to out myself before then, rather than taking the easy option. I'm finally out of the closet and have invited somebody around next week to watch a DVD or two over a bottle of wine. Oh gee, now I'll have to spend the next week deciding which one to pop in. Argh, there I go again... afraid of embarrassment. Maybe I'll just pop in Time and the Rani!

Embrace your Who-ness folks! Wear your Tom Baker underpants with pride! And don't forget; always be who you are and not what other people would like you to be. Doctor Who is fabulous and I don't care who knows it.


The Frock Coat Dogma by Andrew Wixon 27/1/04

Let me tell you about the hottest day of July 1999. It was a Saturday, part of a marvellous weekend for all my family. My sister got married. I got to sing karaoke in front of the assembled clan and our friends (my aunt, as usual, tried to upstage me, but - ha! - failed). We saw some old friends for the first time in an age...

...and I got to stride the streets of Leicester pointing dramatically, cheerfully ignoring the bemused and hostile looks of strangers, overemphasising my dialogue and generally having a wonderful time. Why was that? you ask. Well, my sister and her new husband were of a traditional-minded bent and asked me to be a groomsman at the wedding. Which I was quite honoured by, but the real clincher to the deal was this: the groom and all his supporters wore the same outfit. Yes, that's right: for one day I had the perfect excuse to wander about in a frock coat!

As far as the great British public are concerned, sartorially speaking, Doctor Who - for all its longevity and breadth - can be summed up in one word: scarf. You know what I mean. 'Tom Baker played scarf-wearing time traveller Doctor Who for seven record-breaking years', says the TV guide, 'Richard's not a proper Doctor Who, he's not even going to wear the scarf,' says a certain thespian's agent. And people quite rightly can get a bit hacked off about this. Contemptible shorthand, they mutter, proceeding to list all the stories where Tom Baker's scarf never touched his shoulders.

And yet it seems to me that many of us are just as guilty of a similar offence. It's more of a mindset, really, which I've come to refer to as the Frock Coat Dogma, which, roughly speaking, is the automatic assumption that the composite Doctor - the archetypal, aggregate character of whom all the others are but aspects - is a frock-coat wearer. I have been guilty of it myself in the past, as many residents of the Wigston suburb of Leicester will probably attest. I really only became aware of it in 1996 and the years after. Yes, 1996, year of the all-new TV movie with the Pertwee logo. Kisses to the past. Back to basics, proper Doctor Who. Old-fashioned, old-school stuff.

God, looking back, couldn't you just have predicted it was doomed from the word go?

There seems to have been some confusion in Phil Segal's mind about his new Doctor. On the one hand, fiercely dedicated to getting Paul McGann to play the part, repeatedly saying he was the first - maybe even the only - choice. On the other, he had a very fixed conception as to how the character should look, one that McGann himself had very little say into (McGann was famously not keen on the wig, but overruled by his boss). So the new Doctor would have long hair (fair enough), not be covered in question-mark-insignia (hallelujah), and - of course - wear a frock coat.

When did we all decide a frock coat was the Doctor's default item of outerwear? Because this certainly seems to be the case. 'A man in a frock coat, having adventures with monsters in space and time' was, roughly speaking, how no less an authority than Steven Moffatt boiled the series down to its irreducible core a few years back. Yes, no-one is immune to the Frock Coat Dogma and its insidious effects - even Malcolm Hulke has a twinge of it in his novelisation of ...and the Silurians.

Now it's not like me to go into a rant without doing some research and I've tracked down the following definition of a frock coat from 'The Gentleman's Page' on the super information web net. Ahem:

'The frock coat was single or double breasted, usually black, bottom hem above the knee, and distinguished by a squared shape at the bottom front. Its companion, the morning coat was single breasted and has a rounded, swallow tail shape. Both were refered to as "morning" dress, to distinguish them from evening dress.'
I will grant you that the default Hartnell and Troughton costumes fit the 'morning coat' definition pretty well, but as far as 'frock coats' go - well, it looks like McGann's starting his own tradition a la Uncle Tel, because of all the overcoats, corduroy jackets, smoking jackets, ulsters, capes and cloaks worn by the first four Doctors, none of them match that description particularly closely. The Davison and Colin Baker costumes get the shape about right, but, God knows, no sane person would ever wear either of their coats in public. Even so, this is the longest prolonged period of genuine quasi-frock coat wearing in the history of the show.

So it looks like the myth behind the Frock Coat Dogma has its roots - like so much else that is bad in the realm of Who - in the early to mid 80s, when men were men, monsters were inevitably returning, and the regulars wore costumes rather than clothes. It's one of those weird dichotomies that characterises the period - on the one hand, there's a desperate lunge towards naturalism in the presentation of the regulars (they talk about the previous week's story, eat proper meals, have tedious rows, etc), but on the other, they wear ludicrous outfits that would give Trinny and Susannah a stroke and wear them for months on end. (The TARDIS must either have had brilliant laundry facilities or stunk like an old jock strap.) They are obviously costumes, but they are also uniforms, identifiers of who they are. Presumably the production team didn't think their faces were distinctive enough by themselves.

Does any of this babbling matter? Well, maybe, or so I like to hope. Clothes maketh the man, and surely even the concept of 'a man in a frock coat' is an unnecessary limitation on the idea of the Doctor. It's a handy shorthand but it's lazy and a dangerous step along the path that leads to thinking that there is a single, proper, 'right' Doctor - when this clearly isn't so. He's not limited to a single mode of heroism any more than he's limited to a single mode of dress. Furthermore, any kind of dogma - be it over-adherence to continuity, costume, or a particular style of storytelling - is bad for Doctor Who, leading to all kinds of creative stagnation. As became apparent as the early-to-mid 80s salad days of the quasi-frock coat more than adequately demonstrate.

And the dangers inherent in the Frock Coat Dogma, along with the wonderful things that can happen when its pernicious influence is shaken off, have no clearer illustration than in the McCoy years. McCoy wears Colin Baker's old frock coat for most of his first episode (a necessary evil) but after this he has no truck with the Dogma whatsoever, opting for a nice cosy dufflecoat on one occasion and the legendary cream and brown jackets the rest of the time. He looks perfectly great, and no less Doctorish.

And behold! Freed from the Frock Coat Dogma's stranglehold on perceptions of the Doctor's wardrobe and character, we got a radical and fresh interpretation, a quantum leap forward in some of the storytelling values (admittedly a lot of the others went completely out of the window, but you can't make an omelette, etc), and a re-energised show ready to face the brave new world of 90s TV in style. Until it got cancelled, obviously.

I'm serious. The Frock Coat Dogma is nobody's friend. In its own way it's far worse than the more commonplace Scarf Misconception. It symbolises a failure of imagination of the gravest kind and, as such, strikes at the very heart of our show. I'm starting a petition to make sure Russell T Davies sticks the new guy in a kagoule, or something. Who's with me?


God, Death, and the Devil: Forays into the occult and mythological by Terrence Keenan 29/1/04

I was inspired to write this essay from a throwaway line in a review of mine:

The Curse of Fenric is a redo of The Daemons.
It's a statement that, in retrospect, isn't entirely accurate. What I should have said is that The Curse of Fenric mines familiar territories that both The Daemons and Image of the Fendahl explored. The Doctor is taking on big mythological enemies. If you want, you can add both The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and Pyramids of Mars to the mix, but I think they're fundamentally different enough in terms of style, detail and execution to exclude from this discussion.

The Daemons features the Doctor taking on God. Azal the daemon may look like a devil/demon, and may be conjured up by black masses (complete with Alistair Crowley philosophy appropriations), but his attitude is far more in line with Yahweh, the Old Testament God than with Old Scratch. The Doctor provides the link by claim that Azal is "amoral, not evil." That Azal is willing to destroy the world and start from scratch is a nod to Noah's tale and the Great Flood. By granting his powers to another, Azal is proclaiming a new messiah who can guide the others into enlightenment.

Image of the Fendahl has the Doctor facing off with Death. The Fendahl "absorb all energy from the entire spectrum." The Doctor even acknowledges the Fendahl as death: "How do you kill death itself?" That the entity consists of faceless giant slug like entities being led by a golden, pleasant-looking female form emphasizes that death is faceless, beyond morals, and indiscriminate (a list of Fendahl victims includes an unknown hitchhiker as well as members of the cult which tried to bring it into being).

The Devil is the enemy in The Curse of Fenric. Although there is an attempt to dress Fenric up in Nose mythology, the Doctor labelling Fenric "Evil from the Dawn of Time," and Fenric's method of setting traps and playing games would be more in line with the devious Satan of Christian lore. The Curse of Fenric uses the Manichean (I think that's how it's spelled) ideal of Absolute good/Absolute evil, which has its basis in Christianity.

There are common elements in all three tales: an Earthbound, small town setting; paranormal powers that affect forces; a sympathetic character that represents the "old ways". Two of the stories link the creatures mythology directly to Earth, while a different pairing goes out of their way to give "rational explanations" of events.

The earthbound, small town setting is important for all three stories. One is that it's a horror convention -- giant malevolent force arrives in a nice small town where there are no secrets and everybody knows everybody else. It's a way to balance personal stories against the greater battle.

Psionics, visions and faith are all versions of psychic powers. The Master has mind control of Bok the gargoyle and can create psychic storms with his mind, such as the one he shows to the Squire of Devil's End. Ma Tyler has had visions since she was a child and has her gift not only locate the Fendahl within Fetch Prior, but also almost cause her demise by shock. Faith is the only defence against the Haemovores, "creating a psychic barrier" as the Doctor states in Fenric.

Olive Hawthorne, Ma Tyler and Reverend Wainwright all serve similar functions. They are defined by their faith. Olive believes in White Magic, Ma Tyler in "the old ways" and Rev. Wainwright in his religion, so he thinks. Each of these characters is brought face to face with the menace (in Wainwright's case it's indirectly through the haemovores) before the Doctor meets/defines the very nature of the forces involved.

The Daemons and The Curse of Fenric link their mythology to Earth, with the Daemons affecting human race memory and Fenric through the Viking runes and families in the town graveyard and church records. Image of the Fendahl is less fluid in its link to the Earth, as the Doctor presents two theories on how the Fendahl might have influenced man, and then claims it could be just a coincidence. The stronger link is to Gallifreyan mythology, as the Doctor knew of the Fendahl from a story told him as a child, and by the Time Lords time looping the Fendahl's planet of origin.

The Daemons and Image of the Fendahl both go out of their way to ground the mystical in "rational" sci-fi terminology. Everything the Master does to summon Azal is described as "remnants of the science of the daemons." Azal himself labels people in terms of rational/not rational and claims that Earth is just another experiment. The Fendahl is described as an "evolutionary blind alley". The Fendahl skull's pentagram is referred to as a "neural relay" and can be activated by a time scanner. It's suggested that the Fendahl are the cause for Mars being lifeless. And although referred to as a creature from the Doctor's mythology, the Time Lord's looping of the fifth planet grounds the legend in the reality of the Whoniverse. And both Fendahl and The Daemons both use concepts from Quartermass and the Pit. Fenric is mentioned as "Evil from the Dawn of Time," coming into birth during the creation of the Universe, but unexplained beyond that point.

Where these stories differ is in the details, and parts of the execution.

The Daemons is more concerned about the battle between the Doctor and the Master and letting the UNIT family hang out. The interaction between the Doctor and Azal only happens in the last episode, and the Doctor seems more concerned about the Master receiving Azal's gift than defeating the daemon. That the daemon is defeated by Jo's act of self-sacrifice diverts the showdown between the Doctor and Azal we should expect. It also reduces Azal to the level of the doomsday weapon from the previous serial Colony in Space.

Image of the Fendahl is at its heart a horror story, although wearing science fiction drag. The works of H.P. Lovecraft are an influence, as well as conventional horror trapping such as the Mad Scientist, the Old Dark House, the Haunted Woods, Vision of Death, etc. The Doctor also never verbally confronts the Fendahl, unlike in both The Daemons and Fenric, which makes sense if you're showing death to be an all-powerful force without morals.

The Curse of Fenric delves in horror archetypes, but is at its heart a morality play. Good and Evil will fight, with one side winning. Since good cannot exist without evil, it is fitting that Fenric is merely trapped within the contamination chamber by the end. Evil has been banished, for the moment. That the Doctor doesn't show fear, or admit to fearing Fenric gives this serial a sense of finality in this battle of good and evil

So, what we have are three serials which cover familiar territory: The Doctor battling mythic foes. As to the degree of success they achieve, I'll let you make up your own mind.


Love, TARDIS Style... by Terrence Keenan 2/2/04

Love in the TARDIS has been a well-explored topic in the long run of Who books, with companions hooking up with each other (Roz and Cwej, Sam and Fitz), companions having crushes on the Doctor (Sam, Bernice) and even once a companion starting a booty call with our hero (Read The Dying Days to find out about that little tidbit). The books are aimed at an older audience than the TV series, so you could get away with showing the love stories that fanboys dreamed of happening in the serials.

Leaving out the TV movie (for obvious reasons), any sort of Who couplings and romances have been smuggled in through the back door. After all Who is a children's/family show, and snogging and shagging just would have corrupted minds already teetering on the edge due to ultraviolence.

Editor's note: You can read the rest of this article in Time, Unincorporated, Volume 2, published by Mad Norwegian Press. For copyright reasons, we are unable to display the online version simultaneously.


How to Introduce Us to Your Monster! by David Barnes 6/2/04

The monsters are a very integral part of Doctor Who, or at least used to be. Generally, when we think of a monster, it's a huge, slimy thing, killing off Terry Walsh as the theme music crashes in. There are lots of definitions of the word "monster." dictionary.com has a fair few ones listed, including a legendary creature that combines animal or human parts, something with a frightening appearance, something large, something with physical abnormalities, or something that inspires fear or terror. All of these fit in with what our view of a monster is, and all fit into the context of the program. The Terileptil leader is a good example of a monster from the series that combines all of these; a large, nasty looking human/lizard thing, with a scarred face who's generally pretty iffy-looking. However, there's a fact that may have slipped your notice:

Not all monsters on Doctor Who are scary.

OK, yes, you already knew that. Most of you are sitting there, knowingly pointing at a photograph of a Mandrel, or the Nucleus. However, why isn't the Mandrel scary? It's a large, humanoid dog creature, with a loud roar, and it kills people. I wouldn't like to find myself going round the shops only to be rugby-tackled by one of them. However, in the safe old world of Doctor Who (where the monster won't leap out of the telly, unless you're a character in The Exorcist), it looks silly, quite frankly. Why?

Well, most of you can come up with reasons. The headlamp eyes, for one. The fact that its arms seem way too long for their bodies. The fact that they can be tamed by a dog whistle. Etc. and so forth. However, I reckon it's because of the way it's introduced to us in Nightmare of Eden. Here's the end of episode 1, done twice:

The Doctor and the Captain, followed by K9, walk down the corridors of the dark and gloomy space-liner. Sparks emanate from seared wires, and flashes of light cast long shadows over the walls. The Doctor stops, as if trying to hear something and the music begins to take on a slow, eerie tone. As the Captain and K9 go forth, he whirls round - but there's nothing there. He moves on. Eventually, they reach a particular section of wall, in a particularly dark and particularly gloomy part of the ship, and the Doctor tells K9 to begin cutting through the wall. As K9 sets about his task, a low, guttural roar is heard in the shadows. The Doctor sees something moving about, but it darts out of his eyesight. Suddenly, a surge of energy from the flapping wires shoots out at K9, and his metal body is bathed in an electric glow. The Doctor inspects him, to find that K9 is deactivated. As the music builds up, a loud roar is heard behind him and he looks over his shoulder, trying desperately to locate the source of the noise. To his left, a large creature, its features briefly lit up in the brief spasms of light from seared wires, slivers from the darkness and brutally kills the Captain, who screams. The camera cuts rapidly from the Captain, to the Doctor and to the monster as the music increases in tension. The monster lets the body of the Captain drop to the floor and, as the music reaches a crescendo, leaps from the shadows at the Doctor as the cliffhanger sting plays.

The Doctor and the Captain, followed by K9, stroll casually down the corridors of the brightly-lit space-liner. It all looks terribly neat and tidy, really. After a bit of meaningless banter, the Doctor stops and tells K9 to cut through a section of wall. K9 does this, and we see every second of it, with no music. Eventually, he finishes his job, and the Doctor and the Captain take the small section of wall away. A monster pops forth from the hole, its ludicrous features bathed in light, and waves its arms about for a bit.

The latter is unfortunately what we got. If the Mandrel had got a proper entrance, than maybe it might not have been so maligned later. Sure, it looked hilarious, but if it'd been introduced right, it could have been great. The Mandrel isn't referred to before the cliffhanger, and doesn't appear until then, so a brief bit of tension in the final scene would have done it wonders.

So, what is a good balance? What gives the monster some impact? Listed below are a selection of different types of monster appearances, with examples to back them up.

Give your monster a cliffhanger

Example: The Daleks

Generally in Dalek stories, characters wander about wondering what could have happened to London/what could be in the space capsule/what could have dragged the TARDIS down to Earth to a small, deserted shed? Then, in the closing seconds of the episode "GASP! It's a Dalek! "EXTERMINATE!" "AHHHHHHH!" TEEEKKKOOOOOOOOO! (That's a cliffhanger noise by the way). Wonderful! The Daleks look ludicrous by today's standards, but when they first appeared they were new, and pretty damn scary. Over the course of a few episodes, they asserted themselves as some pretty bad guys, so when they next appeared the viewer automatically thought "This bin means business!" Reputation aided their impact.

The first episode of their second story, called World's End, gives no clues as to what's happening until the end, when suddenly a Dalek rises from the river in a top notch cliffhanger. It works because it's unexpected.

However, the Daleks are usually confounded by their story titles. Almost every Dalek story mentions them in the title, meaning that every episode 1 seems like 24 minutes of padding until the action starts. The first story in which this becomes a problem is The Evil of the Daleks, which has the Doctor pratting about for an episode trying to find significance in a cigarette packet and talking to shifty car mechanics, trying to work out who may have taken the TARDIS. Unfortunately, the viewer already knows from the story title - it was the Dalek, with the ray gun, in the antiques shop. This carries on through the Pertwee years, and beyond.

However, sometimes the presence of the Daleks themselves overcomes this. The cliffhanger to part 1 of Genesis of the Daleks is superbly chilling, and the first appearance of our metallic foes in Resurrection of the Daleks as they glide forth from the smoke of an explosion, though not a cliffhanger, is pretty damn decent. However, more often than not, something else thwarts them. Some Daleks make a hugely dramatic appearance as they smash through a wall... and then ruin this by hollering "DO NOT MOVE!" 7 times in a row. The Daleks glide forth from their spaceship... and then spend 6 seconds firing guns that clearly don't work. The Daleks are done in by dodgy editing as well as dodgy titles.

Verdict: More often than not, the Dalek entrance is too heavily signposted and sloppily made to really give them gravitas.

Slow build up, leading to monster appearing from shadows

Example: The Anti-Matter Monster

Possibly the only good thing about Planet of Evil is the evil red outline monster that appears throughout episode 2, floating about as extras throw themselves extravagantly from their spaceship. However, before that, during the course of episode 1, characters run around, scared out of their minds as strange sounds are heard all about them, before being killed by an unseen foe. Sarah walks through the jungle and suddenly freezes, unable to move as some force acts upon her instincts. Then, as the Doctor and Sarah escape from a hut at the end of part 1, the noises start again. Trying in vain to hide, a huge thing appears from the darkness and floats slowly over to them, as the sounds increase in volume.

Verdict: Fantastic! A dream entrance.

Give your monster too slow a build up

Example: The Rutan

We spend 80 minutes waiting to see what the creature that's been killing everyone off at the lighthouse looks like. The viewer anticipation is thus built up tremendously high. Then we see the monster, providing remarks of "Is that it???" (Actually, we do see a few brief shots of the Rutan blobbing about, but let's not worry for the moment).

Verdict: Again, not too good. If your monster looks wonderfully grotesque, then create a good build up. However, if the appearance is likely to disappoint everyone, just shove it into the episode 1 cliffhanger and have done with it.

Give your monster a slow build up, and then give up half way through

Example: The Fomasi

This is an odd one. Roughly the same as the previous entry, with a difference. The production team take good steps in keeping the monster a mystery, by having lots of brief shots of scaled hands and clawed feet and blinking eyes. However, this goes on for 2 and a half episodes, building up the viewer anticipation over too long a time. It then gets introduced in as boring a way as possible in the middle of part 3, as the camera suddenly cuts to Tom Baker merrily chatting with one sitting idly on a bench. No musical stings or anything. See also the Terileptils; two shots of a fist thumping a desk, and then the alien just wanders into camera with no tension built at all.

Verdict: Not very good. Building up anticipation for the monster only works if they unveil it in a suitable way.

Do nothing at all

Example: The Visians

Invisible monsters from The Daleks' Master Plan, these poor buggers don't even get a proper entrance because, well, they're invisible. An unconscious Sara is inspected by a mysterious force, and the Doctor fights for his life against something in the jungles of Mira, but once the Doctor casually mentions that he knows what's happening, and that the monsters are invisible, well, that's that. The viewer doesn't really care as mysterious roars start... roaring, as we'll never see them. Pretty soon, the Daleks arrive and start gunning down the lot of them anyway, so they don't even get any screen time.

Verdict: Rubbish. Actually create something for your heroes to battle against; don't just play some stock jungle animal noises and make the lead actor swish his cane about.

Surprise Twist

Example: Cybermen

Of course, I'm talking about Earthshock. Other Cyberstories introduce them in different ways, but Earthshock does it best. 24 minutes has been spent with characters wandering about as they get bumped off, one by one. Androids lurk in the shadows. The Doctor says they're being controlled. Who by? Slow close up on the Doctor from the android viewpoint - we're about to be told. Cut to Cybermen, accompanied by loud musical sting. "Destroy them! Destroy. Them. At. Once!" Cliffhanger. Wonderful. And I'm not even a fan of Earthshock.

Verdict: The opposite to a slow build up, but rather effective. Sometimes no build up at all can work.

Don't tell your viewers everything... yet

Example: The Sontarans

This lot get a taste of the surprise twist bit in The Invasion of Time. However, I'm looking at their first appearance here. This is of the "you don't know the full picture" type of monster, in The Time Warrior. Linx appears fairly early on, but appears to just be a spaceman. Then, at the end of part 1, accompanied by some eerie music that builds up to the cliffhanger sting, Linx slowly takes his helmet off, facing away from the camera. It takes a split second for the brain to register that the spaceman is a monster. Then, Linx turns round, and see the full horror of his features. Cue music. Brilliant.

They then tried this again in The Sontaran Experiment, but it didn^“t work as well, since the story is called The Sontaran Experiment (though, for viewers who hadn't heard of the alien race beforehand, like myself when I first saw it, it's still a pretty effective cliffhanger).

Verdict: Top notch.

Confound viewer expectation

Example: The Auton Policeman

You've called your story Terror of the Autons. Episode 1 has been spent with people running about talking about the Nestene sphere. The Master makes himself in charge of a plastics factory.

Yup, the Autons are here. So how do you make them seem dramatic? By preying on viewer expectations. Some policemen rescue the Doctor and Jo from the clutches of some vicious circus folk. Good, they're safe. Benton tells the Brigadier that the policemen weren't policemen. Eh, what's happening? Enemy agents? The Doctor gets suspicious of his rescuers and asks one to turn round. Right, the Doctor is going to realise they're blokes dressed up in copper's uniforms, and he's going to knock them out and dive from the car. Sorted.

Instead, the Doctor leans forward... and peels off the policeman's face. A smooth, shiny, domed head stares blankly back at him. Cliffhanger sting. Chilling. Verdict: One of the best.

Make the monster fall out of a cupboard

Example: Wirrn

Harry wanders about looking for a medical kit as the music builds up. Something's going to happen soon. Harry yanks open a cupboard, and we register the quick glimmer of fear on his face. Great!

Then an obviously empty suit topples over, whacking into the camera.

Yup.

Verdict: Dead insects don't frighten people. How many children were frightened by Barbara side-stepping a dead bee in Planet of Giants?

So, nine different ways of introducing your monster. There's doubtless a lot more. What have we learnt?

Having eaten up about 10 minutes of your time, I now leave you to ponder all this whilst I practice lurching from shadows, trying to scare the cat. Good night.


Under the Radar -- Smuggling ideas into serial Who by Terrence Keenan 7/2/04

I was clued into something very interesting the last time I watched The Masque of Mandragora. Something beyond the great Tom Baker/Lis Sladen chemistry, the excellent period costumes and another visit to the recurring Who theme of reason versus superstition.

Masque has the first gay relationship in Who -- Guliano and Marco. And what makes it really fun is that it complements the reason/superstition debate and spin it in a new direction, one of reason in human relationships. If you want the clues, check out how Marco and Guliano act around each other. Guliano refers to Marco as "my best best friend." Guliano is very upset about Marco's capture and is ready to charge off to his rescue before being halted by the Doctor and Sarah. Marco is ashamed that he "outed" Guliano as a member of the cult of Demnos under torture. And it's Marco that gives Guliano the smartest advice as to how to rule once his uncle is killed. Marco fills what would normally be a queen/princess/duchess part. Not to mention that although Guliano is polite to Sarah, there's nary a hint of a flirtation. Then there's the Doctor's final words to Guliano: "Keep an open mind. It's the only way to learn," which gives the Guliano/Marco relationship a seal of approval.

I was stunned, shocked. I thought it was brilliant. Why? Well, because it's there, but doesn't draw attention to itself. Which appeals to me more than say overt signals and signposts.

Robert Holmes did a bit of smuggling in The Ribos Operation. I know you're thinking I'm talking about old Binro the Heretic. Nope, it's with the Seeker. Who, at that point was grounded in a very "rational" universe. Hence the black magic in The Daemons is called "the remnants of the science of the Daemons." And yet, we're never given any rationale for how the Seeker does what she does. It's not explained as ESP, a common Who attribute which is common enough in many a sci-fi tale. Yet, the Seeker's abilities are given equal weight as Binro's observations. Your Who fan will relate to Binro because he's a Gallileo clone, as well as gravitate toward the rationale arguments. But maybe Holmes was thinking that there's no way I can get away with having magic in a Who tale, so let me focus a bit on Binro, and that way the Seeker can do her thing without people thinking on it too hard.

I do side with Binro. Absolutely. But, what I find interesting is that Holmes gave both the rational and the mystic equal weight, very rare for any Who prior to the McCoy years. The third one I find most intriguing is the linking of transformation, food/consumption and death during Season 22. There is an element of transformation in every season 22 tale -- The Cyber-conversion process, Peri and Areta being tranmogrified into beasts, the tree mines, the Second Doctor becoming an Androgum, Magellan becoming a human/morlox hybrid and Davros turning humans in Daleks. Food and consumption elements are also present (and like Hitchcock's Frenzy, linked to death) -- Cybermen consuming humans for Cybermen, the denizen of Varos consuming Video Nasties and cannibals in the Punishment Zone, the Rani consumes the brain fluid that promotes sleep in order to feed her own people on Miamasia Goria, Shockeye's constant desire to eat a Tellurain while on Earth and Chessene's hunger for knowledge, and control of the food supply is the key to controlling Necros as well as the humans not converted to Daleks being turned into food.

It could be coincidence if these elements were in only a couple of stories from Season 22, but their appearance in nearly all of them shows that Eric Saward planned this in some way. It gives the season another thematic whole, but in a subtle way.

So, why smuggle these ideas in? Why not have them draw surface level attention? Well the very nature of Who itself -- a family adventure series -- forces the creative teams to have limits on the overt handling of ideas. That it leans on science fiction ideas and concepts forces other ideas out being presented in all their glory.

It is a similar situation to Production Code era Hollywood. There were rules to be followed, but the real creative writers and directors found ways to sneak in controversial material in through the back door.

There are lots of other examples out there, with The Happiness Patrol a prime example. The reason I didn't include it here is that Happiness really tries to be something more than a story that allows the seventh Doctor to show his anarchist muscles and topple a government in a single night. It's a story that would be diabolical just to watch on a surface-only level. I'm not saying it isn't a valid approach, because it is. It's just that for this article, It doesn't fit in with the other examples cited here.


Thoughts on representing racial diversity in Doctor Who by Rob Matthews 8/3/04

Hopefully the above title did not give Robert Smith? a heart attack and the following has made it to your PC screens. Ladies and gentlemen, I may be about to put my foot in it big time, but what's life without a little risk...

First, to explain, this little piece has developed from a response I got to a review of Tomb of the Cybermen I wrote quite recently, more specifically to some comments I made about the casually racist treatment of Toberman in that story.

Toberman's a character who was, so far as I can recall, the first non-white person to turn up in sixties Doctor Who -† and so to turn up in Doctor Who at all, I guess. And if you're a fan who's familiar with Tomb of the Cybermen, then probably you're already just as familiar with the rumblings of discontent around the portrayal of this character already - basically he's a lumbering simpleton whose only use seems to be as muscle. Admittedly there's no clear indication that in his seeming subnormality he's somehow 'representative' of people of his racial type, but, I think worryingly, there's no direct indication to the contrary either. And in what is very much a children's Doctor Who story, where everything else is pretty much spelled out, it's bluntly anomalous that the mental capacity of this character should be the only site of ambiguity.

Toberman is also in a very real way the hero of the story, which - in the context of his being an oddly solitary appearance of a non-white character - can be seen as kind of a good thing, though working against that is the very fact that such an appearance is a solitary one, and that though the racial bias is not active or in any way considered, it is there in a mindless product-of-a-racist-society kind of way.

(note on the above: it's in fact difficult to imagine how 'considered' and 'racism' could possibly be put in the same sentence anyway, but sadly we all know plenty of dickheads have put together propaganda that tries to make their idiocy look rational)

Anyhow, in discussing this subject I made a rather silly throwaway remark along the lines of 'If you happen to like this story, more power to you - unless you happen to like the treatment of Toberman, in which case a good deal less power to you and your BNP cronies.' It was an (unfunny) joke that I had in fact meant to snip from my review before posting it off. Odd that I should have said it at all really, since usually even the mention, in any context at all, of a fascist organisation will tend to make me feel sick to my stomach, and is certainly never conducive to laughter. I guess, if anything, I was making a sidebar dismissal of something I hate and getting carried away with my own rhetoric while doing so, trying to shrug off something which actually really worries me. The point I really wanted to make before the words got away from me was that it's hard to imagine anyone actually admiring the portrayal of Toberman on its own terms. Being able to ignore it as a product of dated attitudes, yeah, but actually thinking it could be seen as good... well, I find it hard to imagine anyone seeing it that way.

But stupidly I forgot to remove the line and, quite rightly, I got pulled up on it. Mike Morris sent me an email about it, which I quote from here with his permission -

'I've got to take issue with the BNP thing. I know it was only an aside but it's uncalled for. Bluntly, Toberman doesn't bother me. If asked to comment on it, I would say that yes, it reflects a (probably unconscious) level of institutionalised racism in the BBC at the time, and in the abstract it's not very pleasant... but that doesn't mean it has to prevent one enjoying the story; until Nate Gundy's review pointed it out, I'd never even thought about Toberman being black, and when I watch Tomb... I still don't. If you analyse things in their context, it's an obviously racist attitude; the key factor being that he's the only black face you see during the first six years. But then, every story can be criticised as racist because they contain no black people. Taking the story on its merits, Toberman does end up saving the day and there's no clear implication that all blacks are subnormal. He isn't treated as a slave by anyone, but as an employed bodyguard. The story doesn't have any overtly racist messages.

In the racism bit, you didn't mention that both the Germans want to take over the world (which was far more topical at the time) and the Americans are the lower-class thickos who can only fly the rocket. Maybe you don't think that's important enough to mention, because it's just a B-movie cliche really, and it doesn't mean you're about to run off and join the NF. And nor am I, so saying I am is more than a little unfair I think'

All quite right, although - as I assured him a bit shamefacedly - I didn't really mean anything by that comment and had made it thoughtlessly. Given that one of my central criticisms of Tomb of the Cybermen was its own strong streak of thoughtlessness, however, it was more than a little stoopid of me.

So, unreservedly - I apologise.

Mind you, it really had never occured to me that Klieg and Kaftan could be seen as German either - I had their accents filed away under 'bizarre', generically 'foreign' in the way that General Carrington in Ambassadors of Death refers to a 'foreign newspaper' without feeling the need to distinguish one veriety of 'foreign' from another. Mike Morris went on to point out that it's that harsh 'K' sound in both their names that marks them out as boo-hiss German types, reflecting that - like Toberman - the characters are symptomatic of the serial taking trashy B-movies as its model.

Still, when the subject came up it brought to mind a few things that have occured to me over the years regarding the treatment of racial diversity in Doctor Who, things I'd like to address here since with that new series on the horizon, discussion of such things has become a bit pertinent again.

I should point out from the off that this isn't a pointed argument as such, just a discussion.

The one thing that's obvious looking back at Doctor Who: 'the Classic series' (which Joe informs me is how they're referring to the original 26-year TV run over on Outpost Gallifrey!) is a fairly shameful lack of ethnic diversity in the casting of central characters. I'm sure some of you out there are already rolling your eyes at my being 'right on' or 'politically correct' or whatever other bullshit phrase is being used now for people who are actually bothered about this sort of thing, but come on, let's face it - the furthest away the Doctor himself ever got from being an Anglo-Saxon-looking English-to-the-core gent was that brief period when he was an Anglo-Saxon Scottish gent. Amidst his lengthy roll-call of travelling companions, twenty-six years worth, there's nary a non-white face to be seen and in my opinion you really don't have to be some limp-wristed lefty PC pinko to think that this - like Missy Elliott's recent This Is Not a Test - is a bit of a crap record.

Even in the supporting casts I can't remember too many non-white characters of any note until the eighties. Then again, unless the portrayal of such characters is actually offensive you're not really likely to notice it anyway. And the two occasions I do remember where Doctor Who stories were at the very least open to accusations of racism are Toberman in Tomb of the Cybermen, and those 'dashed queer people the Chinese' in Talons of Weng-Chiang - a story where the central Asian character was played by - fucking hell - a white man in makeup. Played very well, I might add, but I find it questionable that the only Chinese chap given any degree of depth and humanity in that story was the one who - on an extratextual level - we recognise as being white.

Chang himself is one of Who's top characters, however, and although ultimately he's a villain, and one played by a white fella, scribe Robert Holmes and actor John Bennett imbue him with a quietly dignified attitude to the racism of the Victorian society around him. Watching Talons with the DVD commentary on, I notice Phillip Hinchcliffe chuckling slightly guiltily at Chang's 'I understand, we (Chinese) all look the same' remark. But I think he's missing the subtlety of the performance and the writing† - that's not some cheap joke, it's an expression of Chang's weary-yet-patient attitude to people he obviously regards as idiots. I've heard it all before, it implies. Later, when he's on stage and the Doctor disappears, Chang remarks 'The bird has flown! One of us is yellow', mugging for his audience. At that point I cringed to hear Hinchcliffe remark something along the lines of 'Oh dear, that's not very politically correct' - as fine an example of any of how this phrase 'politically correct'† - which I consider a phrase projected by the right and only ever used in a derogatory context anyway - has cretinised all discussion of this sorta subject matter. Not that I by any means consider Hinchcliffe a cretin (can you imagine the fan fatwahs?), but instead of seeing the line for what it is - lookit, Chang is actually satirising the racism of his audience, the predictability of it, how easily he can push their buttons and prompt their stupid laughter -, all Hinchcliffe can hear is the racist words themselves; that is, not their context or the real implications of their use. Daily Mail reader-types like to say 'Oh we're all too sensitive these days', but in fact propagandist campaigns against a phantom 'political correctness' have done more than anything to rob us of any real sensitivity or ability to distinguish† - words are looked at on a purely surface level with both context and connotation ignored, and anyone who's genuinely and horribly offensive like, say, Bernard Manning gets treated not as the loathesome bigot he is but as a champion of political incorrectness and ordinary blokes-down-the-pub. And the very real threats that racism presents are ignored because God forbid we should be in any way open to accusations of being 'politically correct' like all those gay Islington-dwelling muesli-eating Guardian readers.

(the preceding formulation, by the way, being one I have read more than once in tabloids - it must be a kind of niche stereotype among London journalists. Notice the homophobia its bound up with too - if you're 'politically incorrect' you're a practically heroic red-blooded type, if you're 'politically correct' you're a limp-wristed puff)

I suspect I'm starting to sound angrier at our little show than I really am, though, teetering off track somewhat. Point is, I consider 'political correctness' a blanket phrase used by reactionaries to rubbish liberal values of any stripe.

But back to the overview.

Okay, to illustrate my point a bit further, why not take the example of two of the central 'bodies' in Who - UNIT and the Timelords. I'm no expert on the Pertwee era, so when I say I don't recall any non-white faces among the UNIT ranks you'll have to take it with a pinch of salt. There may well have been. And for something oft described as an 'international organisation', there certainly should have.

The Time Lords, on the other hand, were presented right up until Invasion of Time as a bunch of elderly white blokes. And even then, the only change was the addition of the occasional woman into their ranks. I'm sure some would argue, well, that's not racial exclusion, maybe on Gallifrey there is only one racial type. To which I'd of course respond, yes, but Gallifrey was just something made up by people working on a television show. And it was their choice to show it as very much a fusty, dusty Planet Little England, a crusty House of Parliament in space. It never became an issue, this lack of racial diversity, it was probably never even considered. But I wonder if that doesn't say something in itself, or if Graham Williams and John Nathan-Turner unconsciously followed the precedent established by previous producers - a crinkly white dudes of Gallifrey policy, the stronger for not being a conscious one.

Then in the eighties, as I've mentioned, there was a bit more effort towards representation of racial diversity. I noticed on another DVD commentary, Resurrection of the Daleks this time, director Matthew Robinson (my namesake!) pointing out in a sort of pleased-with-himself but not really smug way that even though there were no indications as to race either way in the script, he liked to try and get a good ethnic mix in his casting. It was just an aside really, but it's nice to know that the matter was given some consideration by people working on the show.

It was only the show's latter years that the scripts themselves began to address racism per se - Ratcliffe in Remembrance of the Daleks as a fascist sympathiser, the Nazis in (splutter!) Silver Nemesis, and Ace's 'White kids firebombed it' speech in Ghost Light. All to the good, I reckon, heart in the right place and all that.

(and having watched Ghost Light for the first time in a while recently, it's worth pointing out how fresh and new and genuinely dramatic this all felt then, before years of New Adventures and accompanying debate turned this into a 'cornerstone' agenda-ish scene - note how one nice little line about burnt toast and unrequited love was adored at first then loathed ten years down the line once people started to hold it responsible for everything they didn't like in Who fiction)

Even at this point, though, we still had a white Doctor and a white companion. I don't mean that as a criticism really, but there's no reason a black actress couldn't have been cast in the Ace role. The trouble with things like this is that if it's been left too long, people are bound to cry tokenism, so it ends up a no-win situation.

I think Brigadier Winifred Bambera in Battlefield was a more obvious attempt to introduce diversity into the Who worldview - a Brigadier who's a woman, and who's black; an obvious contrast to the familiar figure of Lethbridge-Stewart. She could have become a recurring character had the show continued and more Earthbound UNIT-utilising stories been done, although Bambera herself was a bit two-dimensional and would have needed some rounding out in later scripts.

Instead the series was cancelled and we got the New Adventures book range... I guess the following quote from Antony Tomlinson's Happy Endings review encapsulates a lot of the criticisms levelled at that series:

'The early nineties ... saw political correctness grip the liberal mind. As a result, every new adventure features the line "the tall black woman entered the room", most adventures require someone to have an affair with an alien of† indeterminate gender and instead of screaming, the female companions cry out and then analyse whether their cries were the cliched product of a patriarchal society or not. Of course I have nothing against any of these occurrences in a book - but after 50 books it gets tiring. The need to sandwich politically†correct parentheses into every moment of action can make poor reading'
Yes, they were accused - with a vengeance! - of 'political correctness'. I've already made plain my thoughts on that. But I do take issue here - why should a 'tall black woman entering a room' in numerous stories be any different than the medium-build middle-aged white men who entered the room in more or less every single televised story?

Because medium-build middle-aged white men are the 'norm' for the makers of the show and a sizeable part of the audience, I guess. I'm not trying to accuse a fellow reviewer of some kind of bigotry here, and probably I'm being unfair in singling out a lone facet of his argument, but I just thought that comment in particular was questionable. And believe me, I know all about questionable comments. I make them all the bloody time. I've probably made about twelve already right here.

The implication of his criticism seems to be that a group which is a minority in the society from which the New Adventures hail is receiving a representation disproportionate to that minority status. Just judging it statistically, you could say medium-build middle aged white men get the most representation in Doctor Who because there are more of them in our society.

But sorry, I just can't get annoyed by people making an effort to more inclusive. If old Doctor Who stories like Tomb of the Cybermen and to a lesser extent Weng-Chiang can be racist through sheer carlessness, and if a good deal of the show's early run can be racially exclusive in a completely unconsidered, unconscious way, then what is really wrong with a considered and deliberate attempt to remedy something that is, after all, a real problem?

We don't like to feel we're being patronised, is probably the answer. And there's a perfect example in the NAs of just such a patronising passage - it's in Human Nature, the reference Joan makes to the n***** band. I've defended this in the past, in my own review of Human Nature, as an importantly uncomfortable detail that prevents this view of the past from becoming too rose-tinted. But then Paul Cornell claimed in his 'writer's commentary' on the BBC's online edition of the story that he'd put that bit in as an 'anti-racist message'. The offensive word was removed from the online version itself, but I'll have to put my hands up to this† - Terrence Keenan was right and I was wrong:† Paul Cornell was being a patronising sod after all.

Still, separate of such clodhopping (though well-meaning) clumsiness, the NAs and the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures have finally given us a couple of non-white companions in Roz Forrester and Anji Kapoor. Roz was overall a great character, Anji is (as was also pointed out to me by TK) more a sort of Tegan/Mel except with dark skin - a not very interesting character really. So I guess you could say some kind of balance has been achieved!

Is that was this all comes down to? Balancing things up and getting the proportions right? Sounds a bit fussy and finicky doesn't it. But if you'll pardon me for saying so, a run of ten or more screaming white girls in their twenties is just as much of a rut as that† (half-metaphorical) parade of tall black women† we supposedly saw in the NAs.

And as for the future - well, Russell T Davies has announced that 'Rose' will be a bit of a departure in not being the kind of companion who screams (erm, a few names for you Russell - Ace, Benny, Roz, Sam, Anji - you must remember them, you wrote a book with one of them in it). But as to whether she'll also be a departure from the 'home counties white chick' model... who knows. I'd just suggest he should give it some thought.

Sounds a bit crass in this context, but one of the best suggestions I've heard for the role of the Doctor was Lawrence Miles' suggestion of Don Warrington. Either that, or Alan 'Please BBC Don't Cast Him' Davies' suggestion of Annette Crosbie... but I guess that's a matter for another meandering rant : - )

(Note: Now begins the major salvage process of locating exactly where in my mouth my foot landed, and gathering together the cranes necessary to extract it)


Aimless thoughts of an excited fan... by Joe Ford 27/3/04

Okay... something has GOT to go wrong hasn't it? I mean really do you honestly expect me to believe that the BBC are going to go along with this hairbrained scheme to give Doctor Who the respect it deserves after forty years of service and revive it with class, glamour and value? Have I in the past few months been sucked into a parallel space-time continuum where everything in the world makes sense?

I have put off writing this for a while now but recent news has compelled me to act. I kind of promised me old pal Rob Matthews that I would not speculate on the new series in fear of disappointment and ridicule but considering the tidal wave of good news that has been unleashed recently it is much, much better than I could have ever predicted (and I am a born optimist!).

Let's start with the latest news... the announcement of Christopher Eccleston as the new Doctor. Jesus I would not want to be this guy right now. I realise that there will be a hundred million factors going into making the new series a success but Eccleston will be the face of the revival and I feel the person on which its success or failure will be measured. After all get the Doctor right and hopefully the rest will fall into place. Putting aside the fact that he is a ruggedly handsome guy, of all the news surrounding New Who this is by far the best. The guy is a pro and it shames me to admit that when I first heard his name I went "Who?" but then I started reading his credits and realised I had seen practically everything he had been in. Indeed I was watching the film The Others just a few days ago and we blissfully unaware that Eccleston, moody as ever, was going to be my new hero. Then I thought back to one of my favourite crime shows Cracker and his short term but memorably discomforting performance as DCI Bilborough. And 28 Days Later, another chilling performance in a decidedly unlikable role. There's no doubt about it this is a talented man and even better a controversial choice for the role, one I would never have dreamt of because of his hard-hitting CV. Like Jon Pertwee and Peter Davison before him, a strange choice but one that should prove a winner. Certainly I would love to see Eccleston hit some of those moody notes as the Doctor; this could prove to be a very thoughtful incarnation indeed. But I speculate too much...

Did anyone watch Sea of Souls on BBC1? Was it just Simon, my mother and I who enjoyed it so? I thought it was extremely atmospheric and well made; certainly it was the scariest thing we've seen from the BEEB for ages and its producer, Phil Collinson, is the producer for our beloved show. This show hit the right notes for me, clever (if clichéd) ideas, unpredictable plots, some sincere performances and a chilling music score. The money was certainly there on screen and if Doctor Who can be made with half of that skill we shall be in for a treat indeed.

Of course we all want more than the thirteen (rumoured) episodes for the first year of the show but when you think about it at 45 minutes long it will already be longer than your average McCoy year! Fans can relax when Davies says that the show will have the regular elements ("same old TARDIS, same old Doctor") but giving the show a right kick up the backside to jettison it into the millennium. 13 episodes will be enough for you to gauge the new series and for the BBC to see if it has been a success or not. Davies has also added to our relief that the BBC is looking to let the series run on and on, wonderful news for anyone fearing a one-minute wonder like the TV Movie.

But the best news of all came with the announcement of such a wonderful list of writers all of which I have long admired for their respective work. Russell T Davies is an accomplished writer, his New Adventure Damaged Goods is still one of my all time favourite Who books and his off-Who work such as Queer as Folk and The Second Coming have proved big hits and met with critical acclaim. Fans should give him a big slobbery kiss for his determination and bravery for requesting such a monumental task of creatively organising the series and be thankful that somebody with such incredible credentials is responsible for the new output.

I actually suggested to my friend Matt who I would love (or expect) to see work on the new series. Mark Gatiss and Paul Cornell were on the top of my list because of their impressive television reputation with The League of Gentlemen and Casualty. Mark should offer us something marvellously traditional with really fruity dialogue, probably earthbound and perhaps even a juicy historical which is where some of his true talent lies (the wonderful Phantasmagoria, The Roundheads) and if we're lucky Paul might give us something as good as Shadow of the Scourge or Human Nature, format-stretching stories with a genuine emotional core.

But imagine my foaming-at-the-mouth-surprise to hear that Rob Shearman, master of the stage, was to be contributing an episode too! Rob is one of Doctor Who's best finds in forty years of adventuring, his stories manage to break the mould every time and offer something for everybody. He has an ear for thoughtful dialogue, can produce laugh out loud comedy, manages to shock and emote in every script and always manages to have something fascinating to show us about our little show. I can well imagine his contribution will be the best of the year and that they will be calling upon his services very soon.

It wasn't until I heard that Stephen Moffat was chipping in with two of his own spanking episodes that I gave his hit comedy Coupling a try, a show long recommended by friends but one of those I never got around to. It is HILARIOUS, genuine witty and manages to subvert its sitcom genre with some smart plotting and narrative tricks. Watch the episode that is split in two and you will know what I mean!

Plus the show will be nestling back in its original slot of Saturday night, a sure sign that Lorraine Heggessey knows EXACTLY what she is doing. Saturday is where Doctor Who belongs; a prime time slot where it can be appreciated by all ages and gather the ratings the show will need in order to survive. Surely my dream will come true when I actually get to watch the show on a Saturday night for the first ever time.

I can understand the scepticism of some people who feel the new series will eclipse the other media that the show continues to thrive in and which we owe its continued survival to. Let's not beat around the bush; news of a new TV series has cast a shadow over the books and the audios, unfairly so. But the excitement and anticipation of having Doctor Who back in its original format has taken on a life of its own and I have rarely seen so many people talking about the show in such a positive light.

Already we have been informed of the end of the 8th Doctor books some time in 2005. Initially I was horrified by this news, as you may know I have a particular fawning affection for these books (oh alright then an obsession!) and the thought of the running story coming to a close an unhappy one. But then I started thinking about how long these books have run for now (60 plus) and how many bloody masterpieces that have been produced (Father Time, The Turing Test, Adventuress, Crooked World, Camera Obscura, Timeless... blah, blah) and maybe it is time to say goodbye. Five years is just right, much more and things get tiresome. We have the opportunity for the best ever handful of Who books as the repair work is done to make the 8th Doctor spanking new in time for the 9th. Memories, Gallifreyan ramifications... it could be a very emotional time... plus the delightful news that the 8th Doctor books will be phased into PDA's and old companions can make a return. Anji! Anji! Anji! Fleshing out Compassion! More Sam torture!!! Yeehah!

Whatever my current feeling about Big Finish (ahem) I am pleased they will continue their audios for the foreseeable future. Don't forget when the series' 13 episodes are over you will want something to satisfy your hunger for the year or so gap in between. You will need the books and audios more than ever.

With further sparkling news about a return to the 'scares' that made the show so popular in its day (you can just imagine kids going to school going "Wow did you watch Doctor Who last night it was really SCARY!") I cannot think of a single aspect of this new show that has produced a negative emotion! It's almost as if they are making the new show just for me! But such a statement is daft, we are all glad to have the show returning and that the BBC is giving it the appropriate care and attention it deserves. I know there will be people who will groan at some of the above news but let's face it what the fuck do we fans know anyway? Give fans too much control over the series and you get the latest Paul McGann season... and the less I say about that the better! The show is made for us not by us (he says, all the writers being anal fans!!!) and we should just wait and see what magic is produced.

I sit here with a big fat grin on my face knowing Doctor Who is coming home. I am sure you do too.


James Bond and Doctor Who - separated at birth? by Steve Cassidy 30/3/04

"World Domination....the same old dream..." Dr No, 1962

After nearly sixteen years another great British institution is being resurrected in 2005. We've been here before in 1995 when James Bond made his spectacular comeback. He is now going very strong due to good casting, reasonable scripts and a healthy budget, and I thought it time to compare the two great British anti-heroes. After all, they did start at the same time, have achieved longetivity with changes in lead actors and are active in the fight against universal evil. Are the two separated at birth? Could the Doctor work for MI6? Is 007 really a renegade Time Lord?

Personalitywise there is lots to compare them. Both think they know best, both think they are undefeatable, and both think they are geniuses - and one of them definitely is. It is this self-belief that sustains them through every adventure. The belief that the only person who can save he galaxy/world is them and only by their methods. They have to be in charge and direct the course of the action - that's why the Doctor never got on with his former selves. And Bond hated being matched with another "00" in his adventures, especially if they were pushy and female. Each has to do things his way or he is not happy.

Both are natural loners, wolves different from the rest of the sheep. Both would have hated domesticity and although Bond is essentially a bureaucrat, if you read the books he chaffed behind a desk, and the TARDIS gives the Doctor a new vista to enjoy everytime he lands on a new planet. Both had companions but Bond's were left behind each time the adventure ends and the audience only saw into his flat once at the beginning of 'Live and Let Die'. Bond was definitely the more damaged of the two, his friendships rarer but often more genuine. So often when his allies are killed his grief is more real. Whilst the Doctor had a good relationship with the Brigadier, 007 had an almost 'blood brother' relationship' with his CIA counterpart Felix Leiter. A relationship so strong that he goes off the rails when the villain feeds Leiter to his great white shark. The Doctor is equally as strong in the defence of his companions - his return to the Sisterhood of Karn who have sworn to destroy him is brave, but it is a chance to save Sarah Janes eyesight and help his 'best friend'.

Both started up within a year of each other. James Bond was a product of fifties writings but didn't come to truly world attention until "Dr No" in 1962. Whilst Dr Who was premiered after the Kennedy asssassination in November 1963. They are both products of the sixties. The two genres have crossed before - The Enemy of the World is a Bond film made for Dr Who. Salamander is a definite Bond villain in mannerism and ambition and Astrid is a typical Bond femme fatale. I think The Seeds of Doom has all the makings of a Bond flick - you could easily set Chase Manor on a Caribbean island, Chase himself is a chilling villain along with henchman, chases and gunplay. Probably without knowing it the two genres compliment each other.

But the most divisive subject between them is sex. James Bond is for it, the Doctor is supposedly against it. The problem the Who producers had is that it is a kids programme. It goes out at 5.30pm on a Saturday afternoon and we cannot have any 'hanky panky' at that time of day. Also, it's premise is different - the original adventure featured a Victorian grandfather and his grand-daughter exploring the universe. It had to be clean and wholesome for the kiddies. If you are a warped adult, as I am, you can try and spice it up with a little imagined salaciousness - the paternal love-affair between the third Doctor and Jo Grant, Romana II and the fourth Doctor running up the Paris Metro steps hand in hand - not to mention the only reason the Fifth Doctor put up with the whinging Aussie was that she... ahem, anyway, moving swiftly on. James Bond, however, was a sexual animal - a sex addict he would be called in Californian pyschoanalyst circles. The only women who were safe from him were Rosa Klebb, M and Irma Bunt - all over the age of 50. Can you imagine if he starred in Face of Evil - he would have had Leela's top off before they had left the Sevateem camp..

The below are topics were the two genres converge.

Unchanging format - If it ain't broke don't fix it, that was Cubby Broccoli's maxim with the Bond movies - and it could equally apply to Doctor Who. The formats adherred to were introduced in the first film/series and were never really broken. It is also interesting how similar they both are. First of all is a base, a solid bulwark from which both men issue out on adventure. The Doctor's is of course the TARDIS, and 007 is MI6 HQ in Central London. They both also have a kind of UNIT family, the Doctor's was most famous during the Pertwee years, with the Brigadier, Benton etc. James Bond has his own surrogate family headed by M as paterfamilias (or matriarch in recent years), Q, Chief of Staff Bill Tanner, Freddy Gray, Minister of Defense and the ever reliable Miss Moneypenny. And strangely enough when the adventure is completely they return to that family. Most closing titles in the fourth episode always seem to end with the TARDIS dematerialising. And the last reels of any Bond film often feature Bond and the girl recovering near a body of water. The Bond family would also reappear often accompanied by General Gogol, head of the KGB. The head of the CIA never was seen but the KGB chieftain always seemed to be in M's office. Strange that?

MI6/ Time Lords - both characters are members of the establishment who rebelled for one reason or the other, but eventually returned to its folds. 007 was thrown out of Eton for seducing a maid, while the Doctor walked out of the academy and stole a TARDIS under repair. But both went back to their respective cultures - one to become Britain's top clotheshorse agent and the other to do the occasional job for the Time Lords. And at the same time both have thrown temper tantrums against their employees and gone off on solo missions - 007 in 'Licence to Kill' and OHMSS and the Doctor in The Deadly Assassin and the rantings at the beginning of The Brain of Morbius. James Bond is more conservative He doesn't question anything - but blindly does his duty for Queen and country. In response MI6 treats him like a star - the best hotels, the best gadgets, the best expense account. 007 uses this to blunt his role as the states murderrer. To quote Alec Trevelyan 'Do all those vodka martinis blot out the screams of the girls you never saved...'. The Doctor is far more the rebel. He could never settle down and loves the freedom that the TARDIS gives him. When the Time Lords want to punish him for meddling they disable the TARDIS and keep it in one place. And his relationship with the Time Lords is pretty tenuous - the cloistered world of aged snobbery was never for him. Of the two, he is the true rebel.

Bond girl/companion comparison - probably the easiest comparison to make. Both have willing females on their arms but for different reasons. Both sets of women have progressed since the 1960's and there are some comparisons to be made. Leela can be compared with Ursula Andress' Honey Ryder in "Dr No" - both nature girls, with scanty clothing and wielding knives. But the most Bondian of all was Romana I - icily beautiful, highly intelligent and the Doctor's equal - I can think of many Bond girls who fitted that description ie Anya Amasova, Pam Bouvier and Melina Havelock. But there is a difference, whereas the Bond girls were cast for their beauty, the Doctor Who companions on whether they would fit into the TARDIS situation. Whether their character would have a nice chemistry with the Doctor. The chemistry was all important but love was never mentioned. Whether with his two hearts the Doctor was capable of such an emotion I don't know. But with both of them there does some to be an exclusion of cupid. James Bond opened up his heart in OHMSS with Mrs Bond, Teresa Di Vincenzo - and we all know what happened to her.

Obsession with scientific psychobabble

"Yes, EMP, sir - one burst over the earth could render everything from the common toaster to the most sophisticated defense computer useless. We would be at the Russians' mercy.." The aforementioned isn't taken from a 70's UNIT adventure with Jon Pertwee but from one of Roger Moore's more pedestrian adventures 'A View To A Kill' but still highlights the British obcession with psychobabble. To be fair it does give gravitas to an adventure - an exercise both sets of producers must have reasoned in the first place. When James Bond impresses his boss with his knowledge of nuclear blast EMP the Doctor does exactly the same with UNIT. Who can forget his 'reverse the polarity of the neutron flow' speeches. And Bond is a little of a scientific geek as well - he may not have a sonic screwdriver or know exactly when a star is about to go supanova - but he knows the chemical formula of a poisonous orchid and, ye gods, just how many nuclear bombs has that man been left to disable as the clock ticks down.

Brain over brawn every time

The playstation generation has embraced 007. You can now buy games where a CGI Bond runs around blasting baddies with a machine-gun. Thankfully, Dr Who never went down this road, but then he wasn't controlled by Hollywood but by a public organisation near Shepherd's Bush which was constantly strapped for cash. Actually, that's not fair James Bond always emphasised brain over brawn - especially the Roger Moore years as the octogenerian grew too old to take on his enemies. Persuading Jaws that he too would be included in Drax's cull of the 'non-perfect' in 'Moonraker', or switching the faberge eggs in 'Octopussy' so he could follow the villain to India. He is, however, nothing compared with the Doctor who is a literal pacifist. His preventing war between the Draconian empire and Earth's in Frontier in Space or his constant telling-off of Leela for her practical killings of their enemies always meant he would rather use peaceful means. Of course, when that fails he has been known to kill people - but only for the greater good of saving the universe. Exactly the same excuse that James Bond uses.

Bond villain/alien menace comparison

OK, OK, James Bond never had to take on the menace of the Daleks. He never had to face resurrected Cybermen or Mentors - and he really only had one planet to save, Earth, and this he seemed to do every other day. But his 'monsters' were the machinations of the Eastern Bloc or a crazed capitalist. And for a poor, Earthbound British salaryman he seemed to save the world repeatedly. He had his Moriaty, his 'Master' if you like in Ernst Stavro Blofeld. In fact I think we can all agree that the Delgado Master is somewhat remeniscent of Blofeld. He plays off the superpowers in a space war which would benefit a third party in Frontier in Space, and uses technology to enslave or cower others, while Blofeld had the legions of SPECTRE, the Master would rely on alliances with Ogrons or the Sea Devils. Both could fight with fists or blasters but both preferred the weapon of rapier wit. Bond versus Blofeld or the Doctor versus the Master was a battle of European charmer against European charmer.

The British sense of humour.

On a 007 website forum the other day an American teenager said he "didn't get the British sense of humour..", until someone pointed out that "James Bond was the British sense of humour.." Doh! If there is one character who takes it to the extremes it is Doctor Who. He could not have survived without it. Diffusing tense situations with a touch of wit and silliness became his style. I particularly like The Horns of Nimon as he is being led away by the guards "'Later, you will be questioned, tortured and killed' - Doctor: 'Well, I hope you get it in the right order.' - that is a comeback worthy of Groucho Marks and smacks of the wonderful Douglas Adams. The cinematic Bond was equally as witty, he had to be lightened in "Dr No" as the literary Bond was so po-faced. His lines have become iconic. Remember "Diamonds are Forever" with "Hi! I'm Plenty! Plenty O'Toole!", "Named after your father perhaps...". And that is what sets them both apart from the usual Hollywood dross. The humour is clever but never really obvious. When XXX and Van Damme come out with the one-liners you know it is forced. When the Doctor and Bond diffuse a situation with humour you know it is natural - even though it is probably a defense mechanism.

Slippery slope during eighties - All good things come to an end. In many ways the Bonds and Dr Who followed parallel routes. During the sixties they were both fresh and exciting - following Harold Wilson's 'White hot heat of technology'. There was change at the beginning of the seventies but change which seemed to work for both. Both Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee's success both preceded the very successful Roger Moore years. And when they both entered the eighties they looked unassaultable. But slowly the cracks began to show, Tom got tired and Roger simply was too old for the role - the foundation wasn't papering over the problem. And when they both left the producers both had to redefine their respective franchises. The Bonds still had Cubby Broccoli who took a massively adventurous step with Timothy Dalton. Bond purists loved him for taking them back to Fleming's sardonic anti-hero but the general public didn't flock to the cinemas. And so it was with Baker's replacement - the eighties viewer bombarded with slick American produce didn't take Baker, Davison and McCoy to their hearts as they did their predecessor. By the end of the eighties both franchises were on very shaky ground.

I've often wondered what would happen if the two met. Of course it would depend on which actor played Bond and which regeneration of the Doctor we were looking at. Can you imagine Connery's growling elegance up against William Hartnell's irascible grandfather. Or the flippancy of the Roger Moore Bond against the stiff bristling Jon Pertwee Doctor - forever protecting Jo Grant from his lecherous advances. This is a game you can have hours of fun playing.

But there is indeed hope. The Bonds took a good look at themselves. It was six years between the gritty 'Licence to Kill' to the dazzle of 'Goldeneye' - and in that time they took stock. The character needed a makeover, the Cold War was gone, his sexism was frowned upon and his boss became a woman. All the old cliches which looked tired about Bond were turned on their head. But most of all they had someone in Pierce Brosnan who brought in people and put bums on seats. That is what could happen to Doctor Who? In this Science fiction starved era there is definitely a need for our space travelling anti-hero. The public is bombarded with tedious reality TV and DIY shows. The public wants to lose itself in fantasy again.

Step forward please my good Doctor - your public needs you...


The Traitor Voice by Andrew Wixon 7/4/04

Tra-la-la, I'm so happy, Dr Who is coming back! To proper terrestrial television! On Saturdays! By an award winning writer! And as for our new Doctor, well, what a Cracker! Let us hope that (unlike McGann) televisually speaking he isn't Gone in 60 Seconds! What a great treat The Second Coming of the show could be with these omens! All our fannish mates should rejoice, Our Friends in the North, south, east, and west, whether their names are Elizabeth, Jude, or one of The Others names -

That's a cheat. I spotted that and so did everyone else.

Ssh.

Never mind, carry on, I'm curious to see how far you'll get with this.

No, I can't be bothered any more. Who are you, anyway?

Me? Oh, I'm the bit of you that's worried about the new show. The bit that, when someone said jokingly to you, 'You're bound to hate the new series, you know', thought Damn, he's got a point.

Well - yes. I suppose I am a bit concerned. I mean, it's a bit embarrassing, young Joe Ford wrote that wonderful euphoric article about how great the new series will be, and Clay off DWM made that passionate appeal to the family of fans just to chill out and see what happens, but... I can't help it! There are things I've got to get off my chest...

Well, you can tell me, no-one else will know. I'm pretty sure no-one else has got past the hugely pretentious and yet deeply stupid opening of this piece anyway. What's on your mind?

Okay, first of all the BBC is spending money on the show. I don't want to sound like one of those lunatics who's always saying 'the crap production values are intrinsic to the magic of Doctor Who', because it's plainly not true - even the Manchester Guardian pointed out how good the sets were in Robots of Death - but on the other hand being routinely cursed with crap production values meant the show had to have a sort of sense of humour about itself, and a capacity to invent, and (above all else) it had to be able to captivate through acting and ideas and wit... I mean, trying to do epic face-value SF on a BBC budget, you know what that leads to...

Blake's 7.

Blake's 7! Which is a show I'm very fond of, but it's not in Dr Who's league, nowhere close. And I'm afraid the new show might get lazy and try to coast by on spectacle, relying on big sets, zappy effects, and pointless motorcycle chases...

In Dr Who? Never! Anyway, cheer up, look at the list of writers - Rob Shearman is the star of the Big Finish range, Mark Gatiss is, well, Mark Gatiss, not just any old %@$# with an equity card, Steven Moffat wrote Continuity Errors, that rather lovely short story, and Paul Cornell... well, he's a lovely bloke. He didn't mind at all that time you spilled a pint of cider over his wife -

Sssh! Anyway, what about Rusty Davies?

We'll come back to him. You can do really good intelligent modern fantasy TV these days. Even if you live in the UK. Look at Ultraviolet...

Yes? And what else?

Er, well, I couldn't think of anything else. Last Train, Invasion Earth, Strange, Sea of Souls, none of them was really up to scratch. I suppose Randall & Hopkirk had its moments, mainly due to Tommy B...

That's another thing. 45 minute episodes. I fear the worst.

How come?

Well, look at the last poll, in the We (Heart) Doctor Who special edition. The top fifty most popular stories... and all of them three episodes long at least. The highest ranking two part story - which is effectively the same length as the new series' stories - is Black Orchid, which is nice, but not exactly prime stuff. Most Doctor Who TV stories weigh in around the 90 minute mark or longer, and this gives them so much time to explore ideas and complicate themselves and go on interesting detours... can you imagine Inferno in 45 minutes? Or City of Death? Or Earthshock? Naturally I'd like to see 26 x 25 minute episodes, but failing that I'd much rather have a 'season' of 6 x 90 minute movies.

Stories are faster paced these days, though. And Rusty hasn't actually said there won't be running themes between all the individual installments...

Hum well I suppose you may have a point. But anyway, back to Rusty...

What about him?

Well - the thing that's always separated Dr Who from the crowd for me, in SF TV circles, is that it doesn't really have a single vision shaping it. Think Star Trek, and you think Roddenberry. Think Blake's 7, and you think Nation. Think Thunderbirds, Babylon, Buffy or Twilight, and you think Anderson, Straczynski, Whedon and Serling. But Dr Who doesn't have a creator in that sense. Well, it didn't. But with Rusty writing 60%+ of the season, not to mention sorting out some sort of grand arc for all the rest of the stories, and exec producing as well... this is 'Russell T Davies' Doctor Who', more than anything else.

Now, Rusty seems like a very good writer and a decent chap (when he's not implying that anyone who disagrees with him is a self-hating homophobe), but even so, this is bound to have an impact on the show. I almost wonder...

Go on, what?

Well... Rusty's an acclaimed TV professional. The sort the BBC would love to have working for them. But he's said himself that whenever they approached him, he'd say 'what about Doctor Who, then?' and they'd go away again. I almost wonder if this isn't a case of the BBC thinking 'Let's bring back Dr Who, now - who's available to write it?', but of them thinking 'Oh, sod it - if Rusty Davies will only work with us on Dr Who, let's get him to bring the bloody series back and hopefully he'll then write something proper for us as well'. THIS IS PURE SPECULATION ON MY PART but they did turn down Mark Gatiss' proposal only a few years ago, and he's a guy with a few awards to his name... And if and when Rusty decides to move on to something else, what would it mean for the show in that instance? Bears consideration...

Hum, I can see how it might seem that way. Happy now? All those grim little musings off your chest?

Yes, thanks. Now I can relax.

Good. And haven't you forgotten something?

What?

It's April the first. You can finally look at the next page of your Dr Who and the Daleks calendar!

Wicked!


Yet Another New Who Rant: The Great Divide by Rob Matthews 8/4/04

Oh dear: I tried, Steve Scott tried, but it seems preventatives just ain't gonna work. The strain's even more virulent than expected and symptoms are already at an advanced stage. I can only try to administer a quick dose of the following solution, and I won't lie to you, the chances of it working are practically nonexistent:

There's been a regular stream of new Doctor Who for years and years. The only difference with the new series is that it'll be on TV

Feel any lessening of the trembling, the excitement, the adrenaline rushes, the flashes of 'Ooh, wouldn't it be great if they brought back the Draconians'? Stopped wetting your pants at the thought of some bird you fancy out of Hollyoaks playing Rose? No, thought not.

You know, of all the long-awaited science-fictionish spectacles featuring Christopher Eccleston due out in 2005, the new Doctor Who series isn't even top of my list. I'm looking forward to Star Wars III a lot more - that after all is a landmark movie, the completion of a finite story I've loved since childhood (Eccleston plays the young Tarkin, which is a weird coincidence because Peter Cushing who played the elder Tarkin... oh I'm such a geek). And, as with episode III, I now realise I really should have instigated a blanket no-spoiler policy right from the off, as every little scrap of info I receive about the new Who series manages to in some way wind me up. I'll explain why momentarily.

I've mentioned before, in a review I wrote of Full Circle for example, that in a way I actually prefer Doctor Who as the specialised 'cult' entertainment it is now, or has been for the last decade-and-a-half, because I think the mainstream sucks. That might sound glib, but frankly I'd hate for ?Doctor Who to be afflicted by the Harry Potter syndrome where you're sick to the back teeth of something before you've even experienced the text directly. And really ever since I rediscovered Doctor Who - both in the form of old TV serials and new books and audio plays - I've had no particular desire to see it return to television.

Of course they've now announced that it's going to, which - to coin a phrase - is nice, but I don't really see what all the fuss is about. Like I say, it's only going to be a few new Doctor Who stories, and there have been scores of new Doctor Who stories coming out in a consistent stream for yonks now anyway.

What I've obviously underestimated is the seemingly huge need Who fans have for the aura of 'legitimacy' they perceive its return to television will supply - it's not enough for us to enjoy the show, we have to believe that anyone else who happens to be switching on a television set at the same time is enjoying it too. It has to be somehow communal, countrywide; we don't want to perceive ourselves as a grubby, shameful 'cult' anymore, hiding our copies of Time Zero from public sight like they were issues of Big Jugs Monthly.

(and if you've ever been in Forbidden Planet of a weekend you'll notice that one symptom of this lowering of self-esteem amongst certain fans is the total collapse of their personal hygiene regime - Take a shower and buy some deodorant, fellas; you're the ones who give us geeks a bad name)

Why it so very important to us - I'm thinking of fans like Mark Gatiss in particular - that the general public should love the show as much as we do? Is it really such a crowning glory to be adored by the same people who make Coronation Street and Big Brother successful? Is it honestly so much more important to get back into the medium that makes stars of Charlie Dimmock and Carol Vorderman?

Perhaps I'm being a bit facetious; I'm not that down on television actually. The vast majority of what's on the box at any given time is usually absolute rubbish, but it's as capable of brilliance as any media. I'm just a bit prickled by the way fans seem to so strongly covet the idea of a mass audience, as if we need some kind of validation of our enthusiasm or something. Quite honestly, I still think Doctor Who's long-term future is in books and I don't actually believe the new series will last more than about four years. I base this intuition mainly on the fact that when Jonathan Ross commented happily on his show that Doctor Who was coming back, not one member of his audience made a single affirmative sound. Not one. The reaction was of puzzled, awkward silence. And I'm resigned to the fact that that might be the general reaction to the series itself too. It'll be good, there's almost no question of that for me, but quality is not necessarily an indicator of ratings success - season 26 was mostly excellent -, especially when you have a show that, deep down, revels in being offbeat. Had you asked me before the new series was announced whether I'd like to see Doctor Who return to TV, I'd probably have said Well, that would be nice but I'm not sure it'd be worth all the bother and the speculation and they hype and the backlash when it probably wouldn't be a hit with today's audiences anyway. And the announcement has not made me suddenly change my mind. I'd love for it to be a success, but I can't help doubting that it will be.

I must be coming across like such a pessimistic fart, but let me emphasise: I'd be delighted to be proved wrong.

And now in the general direction of the point of this rant: outlining 'The Schism'.

Andrew Wixon once commented that Doctor Who fans fall into two categories - those for whom Who stopped in 1989, and those for whom it just stopped being on TV. He plonked himself, fair enough, in the former category. I'd put myself rather stroppily in the latter. For a while there, I'd have thought about half of fandom agreed with me. Now, and quite suddenly, I suspect it'd be a far tinier fraction. Joe Ford commented that excitement over the new series is gaining its own momentum. Sadly I think that's true. I kind of have a vision of Doctor Who fans the world over sitting happily ensconced in, say, the latest Lloyd Rose Doctor Who book, thinking, 'Oo, you know, I really love these novels' before being tapped on the shoulder and told there's a new TV series on the way, then leaping out of their chairs saying "There is?! Well, the hell with this shit!", slinging the book in the bin and dancing off to set fire to their Virgin and BBC books and fling their Big Finish CDs out the window like tiny frisbees. All those people who were proud to proclaim non-TV Doctor Who 'proper' or 'canon' or however they want to put it seem happy now to be done with all that nonsense. Like they were really just fooling themselves but it's been too painful to admit it until now. And all because there's going to be a few hours of TV Who late next year.

I feel bad about saying it, but Joe Ford's recent excited fan piece obscurely saddened me me when I first read it. Not because he disobeyed my strict injunctions (hee hee) against getting excited about the new series - or because I think he's off to set fire to his massive stockpile of Who books for that matter -, but because though amidst his enthusings he tried to acknowledge the importance and quality of the books and audios, the words he chose seemed to me oddly neutral; he referred to the stories in other media as being responsible for the show's 'continued survival', which to me makes them sound like some sort of life support machine, keeping Who ticking over until it can be restored to full vigour. A... (Sideshow Bob shudder) stopgap.

I know for a stone cold fact he didn't mean it that way, though, so in the words of Homer Simpson, let's not get bogged down with semantics. No, the anomaly was actually in my own overreaction to his words. If anything I wilfully misread them. And that made me wonder; exactly why am I so irrititable about the new series when I honestly believe it's going to be really good?

Well, like I say, 'survival' just sounded so spartan, when really Doctor Who has been developed, cultivated, nourished... you know, just unbelievably enriched by the years it's spent offscreen.

Notice that all but one of the writers lined up for that oh-so-anticipated new series are people who have cut their teeth writing for Doctor Who with the books and audios. I've said it before, but what the hell - it was there that Doctor Who really grew up, in texture, complexity and attitude.

(And can I point out once again that Joe would acknowledge this probably even more passionately than me! He's not to blame for my daffy tangential mind)

This is the thing that's weird: us fans already have some idea of what to expect of the new show. This Doctor Who that's going to be completely fresh to those audiences whose most recent memory of the programme is some daft Scottish spoon-player battling Bertie Basset every week (because that's all that happened in the McCoy years you know), comes with all kinds of baggage for us - Paul Cornell in particular is one of the most established creative voices in Who, so much so that for a while he's been in semi-retirement from it and the consensus among fans until now has generally been that he's long since shot his bolt with the property; Mark Gatiss is - like Cornell - one of those 'only Pertwee and early Baker Who is proper' types who rubbishes anything post-Hinchcliffe and whose Who books never made much impact (I've never even read any of 'em myself), but whose involvement was inevitable because of the League of Gentlemen cache; Russell T Davies is IMO likely to write, if anything an anti-Damaged Goods with absolutely no coded gay characters just to prove the critics wrong (again there's that shiteola which comes with being part of mainstream pop culture - you can just imagine the Daily Mail or something digging up a copy of Damaged Goods and getting themselves in a prurient tizzy); Robert Shearman, we all know, is going to write the best story in the season, even though he doesn't get a mention in the mainstream press...

This is the nature of the big schism between fandom and 'the normals' - most likely the new show will be credited with bringing the show up to date and strengthening its storytelling style for a new generation. And most likely I'll be left spitting blood and boring you poor DWRG browsers senseless about how, no, it was the books and audios which did that over the course of more than a decade, and dammit they deserve some credit.

This, as I indicated just now, has been mostly brought home to me by reading the various snippets and tidbits we've ben getting from RTD, Gatiss, Eccleston and co. When RTD said the new companion would be more proactive and not a screaming type it annoyed me because I wondered if he remembered Ace, let alone Benny or Roz or Evelyn Smythe. When Gatiss claimed that the most important thing about the show was the scares it annoyed me because I'd been under the strange impression that the most important thing was the stories. When Eccleston suggested that his Doctor would have a bit of a dark side it annoyed me because we had two TV seasons and a whole book range practically fucking dedicated to the Doctor's dark side. When he mentioned that, in addition to being proactive, Rose would also be intelligent, it annoyed me because I wondered if anyone remembered Sarah Jane or Romana.

The clear lesson from all this is that I'm a prickly bastard. And that I should avoid hearing anything about the new series and just enjoy it when it arrives.

But the thing is, I'm planning to enjoy it for what it is - not the bloody Second Coming (er, no RTD pun intended), but a few new Doctor Who stories that for a change will be on television. The only thing that annoys me is the surrounding bullshit, the implication that this is all so new and revolutionary, and that Doctor Who needs in some way to be rescued. It's the complete lack of credit or acknowledgement being given to the past fifteen years of offscreen Doctor Who stories.

So Joe, as you've said to me before: Love ya but I've got to disagree... Doctor Who isn't 'coming home'. Far as I'm concerned, as long as it's been with us it's been home anyway. If anything it's getting scrubbed up and going out for a job interview at the BBC, which may or may not go well. But the simple fact is that if Michael Grade were to be elected president of the world and halt production of the series tomorrow, Doctor Who itself wouldn't be any the poorer for it. As far as I'm concerned the new TV series isn't something we desperately need, rather it's a nice bonus, a bit of cream in the coffee.

If it's good - and odds on it will be - we'll have all those printed pages and CD tracks of non-TV Who to thank for it. It feels really odd to me that the world at large is never going to know this, but let's face it, they wouldn't really care anyway. We do, though, which is why we should put things into proper perspective and not become indecently eager to forget it.

Doctor Who from 1989 onwards: Broader, deeper, more creative, imaginative and daring than the small screen. And despite what the rest of the world may think, the journey won't end when Davies' and Eccleston's does. I for one am very happy about that.

And, in spite of all the above, I still recommend that chill pill...

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