Mission to Magnus novelisation
Big Finish Productions
Mission to Magnus
|Written by||Philip Martin|
|Starring Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant|
|Synopsis: The Doctor and Peri face enemies at every turn on the planet Magnus. There's the Time Lord bully Anzor, who made the Doctor's life hell during his time at the Academy. There's also Rana Zandusia, the matriarchal ruler of the planet, who seeks to prise the secret of time travel from these alien visitors. Also on Magnus is the slug-like Sil, still bitter from his defeat on the planet Varos and seeking to make his fortune from the most potentially destructive ends. And, deep within the planet, there is something else. Another old enemy of the Doctor's. And the future is looking decidedly colder...|
"The Beautiful Ones" by Thomas Cookson 24/7/14
So, every fan knows, this is, if not the worst of the Lost Stories, then certainly the most morally repulsive. Some have said that, had this story been made, it would have been worse than Timelash and possibly would've ended their connection with the show forever. I understand why, even if I think the assertion 'we dodged a bullet' became redundant after Warriors of the Deep aired.
So why do I find this story strangely attractive?
I confess, I was initially snooty about the Lost Stories, like I am about most existing 80s Who. But eventually I succumbed to curiosity, and bought The Nightmare Fair and Mission to Magnus, and listened to them together. And I loved them. I loved the experience of being transported to an alternate 1986, discovering the Colin Baker era's missing pieces. Experiencing a fan dream where the show wasn't derailed and maybe even regained the family audience that Season 18 had left behind, charming the kids with trips to Blackpool and the Ice Warriors stomping on snow planets. Where Michael Grade's dictates against the show were disproven as completely redundant, as the show was already naturally returning to light-hearted fare whilst leaving behind Season 22's gruesome nastiness.
That's conveniently selective of course. If Resurrection of the Daleks had concluded Season 20 as planned, Saward's moral rot would have begun a year early. Likewise, if Season 21 or 22 were cancelled, and a Lost Stories range could only accurately adapt The Awakening, Frontios or Mark of the Rani and Timelash, we'd have no clue we were in for anything but the same family show as usual.
Furthermore, this and The Nightmare Fair are probably untreated scripts. Who knows what they'd be like after Saward worked on them? They could have been made far uglier.
Basically, most fans will hate this story, but for the exhilarating experience of the lost season, it's kind of essential listening. Yes, The Nightmare Fair, Paradise 5, Song of the Megaptera and Point of Entry are far, far better. Even masterpieces. But this still makes the lost season experience feel more authentic. It's the truest to JNT's tick-box, navelgazing vision.
The story itself is pretty bad, but it has little moments and patches of delight and fan comfort food that almost save it, making it occasionally worth a relisten. Maybe it's because of its CD form where you can zone out to its filler and its more reprehensible tracks, and perk up at your favourite bits, like any subversive album, where like all Rock n' Roll, you accept the contradictions and forgive the misogyny. On TV, this probably would be more unforgivable.
I find a great deal of charm in the premise and the characters here. But the way it all plays out becomes quickly boring, and continually loses my interest until a really good bit happens. I like Anzor and how Malcolm Rennie gets such a kick out of him, and I would have really welcomed him over the Rani as a recurring new Time Lord villain.
The main selling point is obviously Sil. Still the slimy reprobate he always was. Ever hungry for more like an insatiably tantrumous maladjusted child, willing to swap sides and obsequiously brownnose to his own gain, and even pray to his God for a bargain to save his own skin in a moment that's almost worth the CD price alone. This is almost a nice calmer middle point of the Sil trilogy, where we see Sil in a slightly more charming and light side. Divorced of the horrors of Varos and Mindwarp that made his maladjustment a little too uncomfortable to enjoy.
But light-hearted seems an odd description for a story with such downright pernicious, malevolent sexual politics.
I've followed Philip Sandifer's blog with both interest and irritation. Irritation, particularly at his sanctimonious vilifying of fans who enjoy Earthshock and The Five Doctors' apolitical, unsentimental monster parades. Recently he expressed horror at an EDA where the Doctor nearly used Compassion, the living TARDIS, as a living incubator against her will, and suggested that anorak/geek culture is a breeding ground for 'rapey' attitudes born of male rage over being spurned by women. Frankly it was a nasty, hurtful assertion to make.
Sandifer's ultimately a student of Cornell-ism and has seemingly bought into Cornell's self-hating misandry bullshit about how undesirable 'anorak' fans embody more deplorable, creepy masculinity. I suspect this was Cornell's con-trick to maintain his place in the pecking order.
An easy shot to make, given some male geeks are prone to social autism and misreading situations and personal boundaries, and possibly would renounce how feminism propagates the very human geography and tyranny of etiquette that keeps some men marginalized and rejected. And sometimes rejection, isolation and geek nostalgia create a troubling allure to more 'rapey' outlaw figures of cult 70s/80s 'alienation' cinema like Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, Purple Rain and even Blade Runner.
But some fans, particularly NA writers, do extrapolate the worst interpretation of Doctor Who's 'tolerance' message, to include accommodating inhuman behaviour. Would Mission to Magnus likewise leave fans so happy at the Ice Warriors' return that they'd unconsciously end up accepting and condoning Mission to Magnus' poisonous belief of martial rape being a male right? Even a right of conquest? And that women who say 'no' really mean 'yes'?
It's hard not to wonder how this story's attitudes culturally came about. I've a hard time envisioning Philip Martin as a genuinely ill-meaning man. He certainly never strikes me in interviews as being at all depraved or maladjusted, and certainly not a sexual psychopath.
I once wrote a Sociology assignment discussing the crisis of masculinity and I always felt ashamed of the quote I chose, which claimed that in the 1970's post-feminist times, men were being 'criminalized' by new marital rape laws. Of course it's bad form to give your own opinion in an essay. You're meant to quote more 'qualified' views instead. So I'd put forward a troubling and dangerous statement I knew I couldn't condone. I knew prosecuting marital rape so that women were no longer abused by their husbands was a good thing.
Significantly, criminalization of masculinity was a theme in Vengeance on Varos too, which reflected an 80s Britain where justice and economy had failed, breeding moral and spiritual depravity. It was also about the farce of the prison system and just how antithetical the prison environment is to rehabilitation. Where even its guards and wardens become brutalized by the environment, and how the story takes this to its logical conclusion with the same culture existing generations later by nurture in that brutalizing environment.
And that's a laudable sentiment, but one that inescapeably excludes the fairer sex. The fact is that the 80s' zeitgeist was one of an anti-feminist backlash taken to extremes. Most notably in Fatal Attraction and Rap music. And perhaps Martin was simply tapping into this obnoxious cultural trend, and, like many Doctor Who writers of the era, being completely gonzo about it and ultimately blind to where the line is drawn. The forging of such attitudes is less the presence of personal rage and more the absence of personal empathy, which is what makes the excusing and even the Victorian validation of victimization of women possible. Much of this anti-feminist rhetoric seems written less from an individual male perspective and more from the mindset of men as a gang.
It was also possibly a misjudged, frivolous attempt to homage the ending of Taming of the Shrew (given 80s Who's fixation with contriving moments of pretentious homage), but whilst having the 'shrew' characters prove more 'modern' by still protesting and being not yet groomed to their husbands' ways of thinking. The result almost makes the ending's marital rape implications more honest, yet simultaneously more ugly.
It is of course possible, but depressingly unlikely, that, in the script-editing process, Eric Saward might have realized the ending was unacceptably objectionable and needed to be changed. And it's a shame it wasn't, because take that ending out, and you could just about believe that Mission to Magnus is an intentional satire on chauvinistic attitudes in which we're meant to know that the males are coming off as the bigger idiots here. That Anzor is supposed to be making an Alf Garnett of himself.
The key reasons why this story drags are that Anzor is the most fun character here, and yet he disappears early on completely. The Ice Warriors don't actually appear until the cliffhanger, which, as with Season 22's format, is 45 minutes in, and in the second half they are required to be lumbering and awkward in the climate of Magnus; as Philip Martin confesses, he saw this as the only way to use these lumbering monsters he was tasked with including. Worst of all though are the child actors, whose deliveries pretty much kill any scene they're in, especially Vion.
There's a vague sense that this was done, much like The Ultimate Adventure, more out of obligation and to get it out of the way quickly than any great love for the source material. And this is of course the guiltless nature of the production. Made by a company that knows this material doesn't reflect their own attitudes. It's simply something they've inherited and translated as a cultural artifact. By fans who know better. Hence why Lisa Bowerman didn't run a mile from this directing job.
Strangely, the apathy on display almost helps salvage the story, making it feel dated and creaky, thus robbing the ending of its serious punch. Lightening the blow almost. But it's oddly played, particularly by a female director. The music almost plays it as a moment of nirvana, a new dawn or sexual awakening. Nick Briggs plays it as a naughty Carry On comedy but can't help come off as slimy as Kirk sometimes did in old Trek, and the women play it with understandable genuine horror, realizing what's going to happen to them. The actresses make the moment 'hurt', as it should. But it's a sour mix.
Some departments are bringing their full game to this story. Certainly Maggie Steed, Malcolm Rennie and Nabil Shaban are getting real meat out of this script and really seem to relish their parts. Likewise, Colin and Nicola seamlessly recreate their old dynamic.
Had this story been made, it unfortunately would have tainted Colin's Doctor even more. Not for his engineering the destruction of the Ice Warriors. More his allowing the women to be conquered.
There's a moment in Revelation of the Daleks that hints at Colin's redemptive journey. When he's trying to hypnotize and calm the savage deranged mutant. With Pertwee or Davison, it would have seemed like he was being condescending. But Colin's Doctor comes across like he's helping a kindred spirit, from a position of himself having once lost his mind and been volatile and unstable, and knowing what a dark, confused place the mutant must be in. It almost retroactively justifies The Twin Dilemma.
Sadly Revelation also has a scene where the Doctor insists Peri endures Jobel's 'safe' company, despite his 'wandering hands' syndrome and sexually harassing behavior. Yes, it emphasizes the Doctor being preoccupied by greater evils, and his alien-ness. But his condoning the Sisterhood's fate would have retroactively made that moment in Revelation far more malevolent.
However, I can see ways this story could have been salvaged. The premise and society here charm me. I can't help think this world Martin imagined, nurtured and clearly loved could have been the basing of a better, more wholesome story, if reworked. The sound design and music is therapeutically enchanting. This is ultimately a world and sisterhood I want to live amongst. A soothing yonic comfort zone. Ultimately, much like Planet of the Daleks, even unbearably sexist Doctor Who can benefit enormously from a woman's touch.
The conclusion is horrible. Marking the death of Magnus' innocence. But a beautiful innocence that dominated the story and was comforting to experience while it lasted.
Greed is Evil, Sexism is Bad by Jacob Licklider 28/4/22
After The Nightmare Fair, Big Finish had the initial plan of adapting Waly K. Daly's The Ultimate Evil in the second slot for the Lost Stories. It was an obvious choice, as like The Nightmare Fair, it was novelized and the original scripts exist and Big Finish did hold one of their copies. Sadly, negotiations with Daly fell through, as he asked far too much money for the rights to use the one story. So the original plans of doing the original Season 23 had to be changed, with of course the exception of Yellow Fever and How to Cure It as Holmes never got far enough to create even a storyline before his death. They would of course rely on Point of Entry and The Macros to fill in the gaps left, but they decided to then move Mission to Magnus up in the release schedule. This is really where the Lost Stories hype lost momentum for a bit, as it was the only other story to be novelized.
Mission to Magnus's plot sees the Doctor and Peri trapped by a bully of the Doctor's, Anzor, played by Malcolm Rennie, in the orbit of the planet Magnus. On Magnus, there are five real plots going on. Yes, Philip Martin writes five plots into his story. First, Anzor is on the titular mission for the Time Lords to try and investigate if the inhabitants of Magnus are getting out of hand. Second, Sil, again played by the brilliant Nabil Shaban, is trying to establish trade relations, which is wrong, because greed is evil, you guys. Third, the young males who are treated as sex slaves for the female population of Magnus are trying to start a revolution, even though they are just children, as they fear the sun. Fourth, the female inhabitants led by the Rana played by Maggie Steed, are trying their hardest to discover the secrets of time travel because men are pigs and women deserve to rule, or so they believe. Fifth and finally, the Ice Warriors, who now in the fortieth century, are dying out from the collapsing Federation and are on Magnus trying to find a new home. Martin fails to flesh out any of these plots except for two. The third plot about the young boys trying to have the revolution is fleshed out, as it is the one that the Doctor and Peri follow for the first part of the story, and the final plot about the Ice Warriors, as their return was the gimmick of the story.
The three other plots, while full of quite a few good things - especially the Doctor and Anzor's banter and the Doctor cowering in fear from Anzor, as well as Sil as Nabil Shaban, who is always great - really fail in about everything else. A big complaint about the plot is how sexist it is and, well, it is sexist, but that is balanced out as everyone is discriminated against at one point. Anzor represents the old order of men being dominant while women are submissive, while the Rana has that statistic flipped. Everyone discriminates, and it really feels that Martin is trying to say that sexism is actually dead and is slowly flipping against men, but it really doesn't come through in the story.
Colin Baker as the Doctor, Nicola Bryant as Peri and Nabil Shaban as Sil are all great here. Sil especially, considering after Part One he has extremely little to do. The Ice Warriors also get to have a good presence in Part Two, which is great, as the Ice Warriors until this point were still very underrated and not seen since The Monster of Peladon when the story was going to be in production. Nicholas Briggs is great in the story doing the Ice Warrior voices, as he always does. People often complain about the child actors in this story, and to be honest yes they are both really awkward, and I am taking points off for that problem, but they aren't the worst actors in Doctor Who. Maggie Steed is also great as the Rana. Really the acting in this story is top notch; it's just the overstuffing of the story that really lets it down.
To summarize, Mission to Magnus has a lot going for it, but it is a definite step down from Vengeance on Varos and Mindwarp. It isn't a bad story, but the plot is extremely overstuffed completely and totally, so that any message it was trying to convey is completely mixed up in the five total plots. Anzor is at least an interesting idea, as it sees Colin Baker cowering in fear, which is just entertaining. 65/100