Ten Silly Fan Criticisms by Mike Morris 26/5/00
We like to criticise stories, us fans. Usually we criticise them because they're rubbish/badly acted/boring etc. But then there are the other criticisms... the silly ones, the dull ones, the fannish ones. These are my favourites.
THIRTY THINGS I WOULDN'T KNOW IF I DIDN'T WATCH DOCTOR
WHO by Mike Morris
1. The Mona Lisa is a fake, as a simple X-ray would prove beyond all doubt.
2. All green life-forms are evil.
3. Anyone dressed in black is evil but charismatic.
4. Anyone dressed in white is nice but dull.
5. Arrogant, dictatorial leaders with a short temper will always go insane under stressful conditions.
6. Aim for the eyepiece.
7. French people are all surly, don't talk to each other, understand English but don't speak it, and have a curious predeliction for watching English news in cafes.
8. Contrary to medical opinion, keeping feverish patients warm is essential.
9. Life on earth began 400 million years ago, not 3.5 billion years ago as is commonly claimed.
10. Alien life forms are every bit as civilised as we are, and you can't simply assume them to be hostile. However, they will nearly always try to take over the earth sooner or later.
11. The eyepiece. The stalk at the top of the dome.
12. All forms of intelligent plant life will try to kill everything and should be destroyed immediately.
13. All that stuff about them not being able to go up stairs is just wishful thinking.
14. Shooting at alien lifeforms with a conventional handgun is a pointless exercise; just run.
15. If an alien is chasing you it doesn't matter how fast they appear to be moving, they'll catch you sooner or later.
16. You can twist your ankle anywhere, even on completely smooth and untreacherous surfaces.
17. Spanners can do more damage than you think.
18. Purple horses with yellow spots are excellent interplanetary ambassadors.
18. Giving your child a name that is anagrammatical of 'master' is an unwise temptation of fate.
19. Anyone/anything whose body has been cybernetically enhanced is evil.
20. Plastic is evil.
21. I said, AIM FOR THE EYEPIECE!!!
22. Tea-trays are far stronger than is commonly imagined.
23. For some people small, beautiful events is what life is all about.
24. Continental drift is a completely bogus theory; the continents looked just the same 65 million years ago.
25. Laying on a jeep/some coffee is a complex military exercise, and not in the least bit risque.
26. Anyone who invents a machine that is decades ahead of its time is either a) evil or b) being used as an unwitting pawn by an alien menace.
27. All-powerful evil aliens since the dawn of time are easily detained by board games and can be trapped in an old bottle without undue difficulty.
28. About 90% of colony ships crash and most will lose all their technology in the process.
29. If you thought the O.J. Simpson trial was dull, far too long, totally incomprehensible unless you were following it from day one, and had all sorts of questions left unresolved at its resolution, trust me; it's like that on other planets too.
30. Alien menaces have made man into a technologically advanced species, and without them we'd still be a bunch of neandertals living in caves. So, on the whole, they've been rather good to us, haven't they?
The Best of the 1990s: Doctor Who by Graeme Burk 23/6/00
I decided I wasn't going to be tedious and try and rank the best Who by category. Without the TV series, we've been forced to enjoy Doctor Who in a multiplicity of forms: video releases, fiction and non-fiction books, audios, etc. I've decided that a "best of" list would better reflect the diversity of the market if I lumped it all into one big amorphous mass.
20. AUTON (Spin-Off Video) There were a lot of Spin-off videos made in the 1990s and most of them are terrible. This one is good -- a double rarity since it comes from the auspices of BBV. The problem with most spin-offs is that they hinge on a ludicrously complex premise (have you ever tried explaining the plot of Downtime out loud?) that would have stretched the resources of Doctor Who as a BBC TV series, much less a cash-strapped direct-to-video effort. Auton borrows a page from Gerry Davis and did a base-under-seige story and, wonder of wonders, it works. It also works because when Nick Courtney bowed out, Nick Briggs had the good sense to create characters from scratch and not cast anyone from Doctor Who to play them. Thus we got Lockwood, who, thanks to Michael Wade's incredible performance, is one of the coolest characters to appear in anything Who-releated this decade. As I'm somewhat-accurately quoted on the box: The best direct-to-video Doctor Who yet.
19. STEPHEN COLE-ERA VIDEO RELEASES While his book editing went from great to promising to downright risible, the part of his remit which Cole clearly loved best was the BBC Video releases. Not only did he pick some great stories -- The Ice Warriors, The Mind of Evil, The Face of Evil -- but he also saw that some of the badly truncated earlier releases were re-released. Best of all, he used the skills of the Doctor Who Restoration Team to an extent not achieved previously and produced a lot of special video releases. Not only are the releases cleaner overall, but previously excised footage, like the extra scenes in Battlefield, were restored, and there were nolstalgic bonuses, like the Blue Peter clip on The War Machines, or Louise Jameson's Swap Shop interview on The Face of Evil. All this care and attention peaked with the spectacular 35th Anniversary release of The Ice Warriors, with exquisite bridging material, a CD with the soundtrack of the missing episodes, a book and the "Missing Years" documentary. Collector heaven.
18. THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN, THE LION and SHADA Technically, these aren't "new" Doctor Who, but they are for all intents and purposes for fans. Tomb may well be the best Troughton story presently extant, The Lion is gorgeous, and Shada, particularly the more intact episodes, reminded me why Tom Baker is my very favourite Doctor.
17. THE FACE-EATER (EDA Novel) The Eighth Doctor adventures haven't really gelled as a range like the New Adventures that preceded it. I've chosen this somewhat nominally as the best EDA (Seeing I was the other candidate). What I love about this adventure is that Simon Messingham tries to write a Robert Holmes-like story -- complete with horror and deliciously horrible administrators-cum-villains. The novel's careful plotting and structure during the first half is a joy to behold.
16. PLAYERS (PDA Novel) Who says that Terrance Dicks can't write anymore? He may be a hack, but he's our hack. When he's told to stay away from the other toys he can spin a yarn better than anyone writing for the books. And that's what he's just done here. It's not just a novelisation of a TV story from Season 22. It is a Season 22 story, a 3 45-minute episode affair complete with lengthy cameo by Patrick Troughton. And what's more it's bloody marvellous.
15. MORE THAN 30 YEARS IN THE TARDIS (Documentary) It's aged a bit seven years hence now that Jon Pertwee is no longer with us, and Paul McGann made his debut, but it's ability to emotionally connect with its audience via nolstalgia, great visuals, and Mark Ayers' sublime score is undiminished. I still tear up when the kid walks inside the TARDIS.
14. DECALOG (Short Story Anthology) Another book whose impact is now lost in this Missing Adventured, Past Doctor Adventured, Short Tripped universe. When it first came out in 1994, it was like a breath of fresh air, and was the first time Doctor Who readers were able to read adventures of non-Sylvester McCoy Doctors in an imprint published by Virgin. The lack of a decent Fourth Doctor story does disappoint, and "Fascination" may be the most excerable piece of writing David Howe has ever done, but "Fallen Angel" and "The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back" are two of the best pieces of Who fiction ever done. And "Lackaday Express" may be the best prose Paul Cornell has ever produced.
13. GILLAT-ERA DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE I used to slag this off mercilessly because Gary Gillat really does have a chip on his shoulder when it comes to the books, but in spite of becoming increasingly "Hamlet without the Prince", DWM has managed to thrive due to superb design, thoughtful and quirky opinion pieces, and hiring two of the best reviewers in the UK to do Shelf Life. Mostly, it all works because of Gillat's canny understanding of British pop culture (and British Doctor Who fans' pop culture too) and his willingness to connect the TV series with this.
12. THE DISCONTINUITY GUIDE (Series Guide Book) A book which has fallen in favour among fans, probably because The Completely Useless Encyclopaedia has better gags. But again, a historically significant book in Doctor Who fandom, for it boldly asserted that unlike so many stale fandoms (cf. Star Trek, Buffy, X-Files, even the Who Handbooks), that opinion on stories is a dynamic thing. The Disco guide offered irreverent opinions that you could accept or reject wholeheartedly, but you engaged with those opinions nevertheless. It provided a touchstone for debate, and that's not bad for a book that forgot to list "The World's Most Dangerous Game" as a source for The Deadly Assassin.
11. DOCTOR WHO: AN A TO Z (Essay Collection). This takes the idea behind The Discontinuity Guide to the next level. A series of 26 of the most intelligent and thoughtful essays on Doctor Who ever written (if only Unfolding Text could have been this good). Star Trek would never produce a book like this, which challenges people's thoughts on the series and provides the basis for some very worthwhile debates on the series. It's a shame this book hasn't been distributed in North America. rec.arts.drwho would be ablaze within ten minutes of its arrival.
10. WHO ON EARTH IS TOM BAKER (Autobiography) Who'd have thought the best Doctor Who book of 1997 wouldn't be a novel, but rather Tom Baker's barmy, absurd, grotesque and constantly fascinating autobiography? In what is the biggest revelation of the decade, Tom Baker is an incredibly good writer, and I hope that this book launches a lengthy career exploring the absurd and the gross, because damn if he isn't brilliant at it.
9. THE COMPLETELY USELESS ENCYCLOPAEDIA (Humour book) The jokes are so obvious and the authors opinions even more so, but for some reason I find this book just as funny three years after its publication as I did when I first bought it. Some of the remarks are scathing, and it's satire is sometimes (admittedly, when Peri's breasts are not involved) far more precisient and far more subtle than the authors' laddish Mancunian nature has you believe.
8. THE DYING DAYS (NA Novel) The best Eighth Doctor novel written to date. Rather like Alan Moore's current comic book work, Lance Parkin takes from the best traditions of the TV series while subtly expanding on them and subverting them. Not so much deconstructive, like the works of Miles, Aaronovitch and others, as reconstructive. The Doctor's last bow with Virgin publishing is simply glorious.
7. SET PIECE (NA Novel) We often forget that what made Doctor Who fiction so great was that it cares about prose -- it cares about the actual craft of writing. Kate Orman's second novel demonstrates this and features some of the finest writing in any Doctor Who fiction. Kate denigrates this novel to no end on her web site, a practice I wish she would stop, because the prose and overall construction of the narrative shows more maturity and care than any other author in the range. (and, sadly, more maturity and care than any of her later work has demonstrated). This was the first Doctor Who novel that read more like mainstream fiction than anything else in the line before, and with one exception, since. The fact that Ace's departure is beautifully handled is just icing on the cake.
6. DOCTOR WHO (TV Movie) It would be boorish not to include it. Re-viewings have made its flaws (the general lack of a plot during the last 45 minutes, the lack of ambition overall) and its strengths (Geoffrey Sax's direction, the Doctor's characterisation, Paul McGann) all the more evident. It's incredible to me that McGann can establish so much in such a little space, but he does it all the same. And that smile -- it could have been even better than Tom Baker's, given time.
5. THE ENGLISH WAY OF DEATH (MA Novel) I should really expand that to all of Gareth Roberts' Missing Adventures, but this novel in particular stands out. Marrying a near-perfect evocation of the Season 17 lineup with 1930's farce, this novel manages to define how to write a perfect Missing Adventure: keep the core true to the TV series, but use genres and ideas not explored on TV. The result is perfect pastiche.
4. THE CURSE OF THE FATAL DEATH (Comedy Sketch) Paul McGann is a better Doctor than Rowan Atkinson (although he's pretty good), but this was hands-down closer to the actual spirit of the TV series than the TV Movie -- and this is bearing in mind that the TVM is an hour longer, and Curse is a spoof!
3. NIGHTSHADE (NA novel) Mark Gatiss' love-letter to Doctor Who will always be my favourite New Adventure. Haunting and evocative, it defined the emotional depths a novel version of Doctor Who could explore without the messy angst other authors have brought to it.
2. HUMAN NATURE (NA novel) Paul Cornell's meditiation on heroes and why the Doctor is one and how we can be one too. The concept isn't that original -- it was best demonstrated in The Last Temptation of Christ -- but the execution is. Dr Smith is the haunted character Sylvester McCoy was born to play, and the ending is heartbreaking.
1. DAMAGED GOODS (NA Novel) I thought long and hard about what was the best Doctor Who of the 1990s, and I couldn't get past this. Doctor Who has always brought something of its decade to its interpretation on TV and this is the story that best embodies the 1990s, in spite of being set in the 1980s. This is the first Doctor Who story to employ the techniques of modern horror fiction, and as such is gritty, unrelenting and pushes the boundaries to its fullest limits. And that's what made Doctor Who so great when it was being done by Lambert and Whitaker, by Wiles and Tosh, by Sherwin and Bryant, by Hinchcliffe and Holmes and by Cartmel. At the same time, it doesn't forget the essential "magic" of Doctor Who: good storytelling, imaginative ideas, evocation of mood and setting. And that's why it's the best story of the '90s in my view. And that's why it's a great crukking shame that Russell Davies isn't being allowed to bring Doctor Who into the 21st Century.
Worst of the 1990s: Doctor Who by Graeme Burk 4/7/00
Of course, once I did the Best Doctor Who of the Nineties, I realized that I had given an incomplete assessment. For there is light and shade, yin and yang, Robert Holmes and Glen McCoy. So what follows is 20 of the worst aspects of what we knew as Doctor Who in the last decade. Like the Best list, it takes liberally from all media.
20. VAMPIRE SCIENCE (EDA Novel) The immediate predecessor in the nascent BBC Books line of Eighth Doctor adventures, The Eight Doctors, was a continuity-fest which had saddled the Eighth Doctor with poor characterization and an even poorer companion, but it at least had a story that was, if nothing else, entertaining and fast-moving. The first 'proper' EDA doesn't even have these elements. Every other chapter the action stops for touchy-feely, cloying and saccharine character-moments which don't even advance the characterization, let alone the plot. The Eighth Doctor is seemingly written to fulfil the authors own gratuitous fantasies, which is perhaps the worst indictment one can give of a book.
19. HAPPY ENDINGS (NA Novel) The idea of cutting loose in the 50th NA for a bit of a knees-up is a nice one, and it's a shame that the normally Paul Cornell felt the need to make it into a giant manifesto on how Doctor Who can be camp and lovely entertainment. The need to tie up every loose end in the previous 49 books and introduce characters from most of them doesn't help, and just about everyone in the book comes off as 100% pure cardboard. It's eminently preferable for the reader to arrive at their own conclusions of what the author is achieving, rather than the author posting it on a 50 foot billboard. A disastrously irrelevant book from the NA range's most relevant author.
18. DOCTOR WHO: THE EIGHTIES (Reference Book) Okay, admittedly Howe, Stammers and Walker were hamstrung by trying to cram eight seasons and three Doctors, and by John Nathan-Turner pulling a no-show in the interview department. But The Eighties is a slap-dash affair that cuts-and-pastes from H-S-W's other books. The sidebars provide tons of useless information (did we really need to know who played the Doctors disremembered limbs in The Leisure Hive?) whilst ignoring other important things (a biography of Barbara Clegg, the series' first woman writer, would have been nice). The Sixties and The Seventies were important works that told us new things about the series; The Eighties told us, bar a couple of odd tidbits, things we already knew, and did it in the dullest fashion possible.
17. GILLAT-ERA DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE That's right, I've placed this in both the best and worst list. While DWM gained considerable credibility with its format and content, it was one of the leading progenitors of a fragmenting of Doctor Who fandom that began in the mid-nineties. Before Gary Gillat, people were happy with the idea of a shared post-TV universe made up of comics and books. The comics followed book continuity (more or less) the books used comic characters (more or less). The books were well hyped. But Gillat, with the "Ground Zero" storyline cut off the comic strip from the books and fragmented the canon (whatever that may be) and reinforced this by relegating the books to a few stock features throughout the year as opposed to the ongoing coverage they were receiving (rather like the audios are now, curiously). The result was rather than a shared family of licensees, competing interests in a hostile consumer universe. Fandom was never the same. Thanks heaps, Gary.
16. RESISTANCE IS USELESS (Documentary) If (More Than) Thirty Years was the way to show how a documentary on Who should be done (build on the pillars of nolstalgia, good natured humour, interesting clips and an entertaining script) then Resistance is how not to do it: Look down on the fans, ridicule the series, include that which most of us have seen time and again, and do it in the most leaden way possible.
15. THE BOOK OF LISTS (Humour book) Well. Um. It's a book. Of lists. Lots of lists. Lots of lists full of painstaking details that even hard-bitten sad fans would be hard pressed to want to know. Yeah. Um. Er...
14. SAMANTHA JONES (EDA companion) How to make a really terrible companion in four easy steps: 1) Create a horrible character (noisy vegetarian PC stereotype with reactionary causes), 2) Recreate a horrible character (noisy vegetarian PC stereotype with more interesting causes), 3) Reconstruct a horrible character (let the character grow up a few years so she's now an older noisy vegetarian PC stereotype with a messiah complex) and then 4) Abandon a horrible character altogether (by claiming that the reason she's a noisy vegetarian PC stereotype is that the Doctor unintentionally changed her timelines). Now wasn't this so much better for the readers than simply replacing her at the first sign of trouble?
13. HEAD GAMES (NA novel) More manifesto writing, this time from Steve Lyons about how broader and deeper than the small screen the NA's seventh Doctor is. It's a mean-spirited little tractate that seeks to alienate fans of both the TV series and the books, and puts its standard down with a mean-spirited interpretation of the Doctor which lacks wit, charm or, indeed, heroism.
12. BLOOD HARVEST (NA novel) The rot sets in with Terrance Dicks. At first you think it's going to be a fun novel with vampires set in 1930s Chicago. Wrong. It's not so much a sequel as much as it is a bus tour of the sets of State of Decay and The Five Doctors with uninteresting reconstructions of the events therein. The more you read this book, the more cheated you feel.
11. FIVE ROUNDS RAPID! (Biography) Virgin Publishing's third and last biography of a Doctor Who actor, and this "autobiography" of Nicholas Courtney makes their previous potboilers about Jon Pertwee and William Hartnell seem like Hemingway in comparison. From the really dull prose that quashes any interesting moments to the "editing" by John Nathan-Turner which seemed to consist of putting an actor's Doctor Who credits in their name parenthetically (eg. Elanor "Revelation of the Daleks" Bron) regardless of whether Courtney's connection to them was through the programme or not, this book is the dullest thing ever written under the Doctor Who banner. Possibly even duller than a biography of the BBC accountant who kept the books during season 11.
10. DIMENSIONS IN TIME (Charity special) The first time you watch it, you think "This is a mess, it has no plot but it's nice to see the old boys back in costume". The second time you watch it, you think "this is just a mess". If you watch it with any basic knowledge of EastEnders, you're left to wonder how they could reduce one of the BBC's longest running series to a really really bad joke.
9. THE NTH DOCTOR (Reference book) A ghastly guide to the unmade film and TV versions of the programme. Jean-Marc Lofficier doesn't just satisfy himself by providing the reader with a really boring and terribly written recounting of some very embarrassingly bad interpretations of the TV series. Lofficier then feels the need to tie all these miscegenations into established TV continuity. Note to Jean-Marc: The Spider Daleks were a really dumb idea to begin with. It doesn't improve any by speculating on its possible connections to Genesis of the Daleks.
8. DIVIDED LOYALTIES (PDA novel) Gary Russell must have blackmail information on then-series editor Steve Cole. This is the only way I can figure that a book which features at least two continuity references per sentence, a book which defiles the English language with badly written metaphors and cliches, and a book which destroys the central character's mystery by having a lengthy flashback to him as a misadventuring college student, got published. A sign, if any was needed, of the level of indifference and apathy which was reigning supreme at BBC Books in 1999.
7. AUTUMN MIST (EDA novel) This and Unnatural History suffer from the need to spend its pages as a forum for answering rec.arts.drwho on subjects as trivial as the Doctor's vegetarianism and as vast as The eighth Doctor's half-humanity. There's a simpler method for this, people: it's called e-mail. Don't waste the reader's time by putting it into a fictional bully pulpit. Autumn Mist gets the nod for worst offender though because David McIntee has been consistently, throughout the past decade, Doctor Who's worst prose writer.
6. THE COMPANIONS (Reference book) This book will be a millstone around the neck of anyone who tries to redress the blatant sexism of the TV series. It's written with all the maturity of a sweaty palmed fifteen year old -- any strengths demonstrated by a companion is written off by the loutish, laddish assessments of their ability to scream or not and how they looked. Even taken on it's own merits as a self-abasement aid, the book falters with some terrible choices of photo reproductions. And that picture of Nicola Bryant at the front is completely unforgivable. David Howe should be completely and utterly ashamed of himself. I know I'm ashamed of being a fan of a series that would produce such a book.
5. WAR OF THE DALEKS (EDA novel) The first Doctor Who novel I returned to the bookstore (for my sins, I bought The Book of Lists instead; at least that one was worth keeping). It's not just the fact that the whole point of the book is to retcon an incident in Doctor Who chronology that only Terry Nation and John Peel were concerned about, nor is it that in order to do that Peel retcons not only Remembrance of the Daleks and the previous three stories. It's that all these feats are accomplished with prose best suited to a children's Dalek Annual from the 1970s that compelled me to exchange it for something slightly less excerable.
4. DOWNTIME (Spin-off video) I suggested this game earlier in my Best-of list, but now let's play it. Describe the plot of Downtime: "Well, there's this university campus which is setting up a global computer system. And there's a whole subculture of people who are addicted to it. And the Great Intelligence from the Troughton serials wants to take control of it. And UNIT troops led by the Brigadier -- who is having bizarre dream sequences of a dead person -- have to stop this army of Yetis. And Sarah Jane is in it for some reason." Now try to put all these disparate ideas on screen with a budget of less than the TV series in its prime (not even adjusted for inflation). Do you see the problem? Add to this the need to add superfluous guest appearances of companions and personalities from the series and a plot that makes Ghost Light seem positively linear, and not even Christopher Barry can save this train wreck of a video.
3. NEW ACE (NA Companion) Hands down, the single dumbest idea that ever came out of Doctor Who fiction publishing. Replace an intriguing, three-dimensional companion with a two dimensional gun-toting rip off from the Predator movies. Yeah, that's how to add character depth. There isn't a better expression of what was wrong with the hard SF and guns approach to the NAs in 1993 than this. To make matters worse, after creating the sublime Bernice Summerfield they insisted on pairing her off with this miserable parody of a companion for the bulk of Benny's time in the TARDIS. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
2. DESTINY OF THE DOCTORS (CD-Rom Videogame) It was about time that the series got its own videogame. It's a shame that the gameplay for it went out of style about eight years before Destiny was released. I don't think any aspect of Doctor Who has created more frustration for me than having to replay a level of this game 35 consecutive times because there isn't an adequate save function. It's appropriate for the series, really, when you think about it.
1. REC.ARTS.DRWHO (internet newsgroup) In theory this should be the best thing about Doctor Who and Doctor Who fandom, but the experiment has gone wrong somehow. It isn't just that it's turned out to be a fractious place where the brightest people inevitably get chased out by the silliest and stupidest. No, what merits this place of pride on this list is how its existence has influenced so many of the other worst things on this list either directly (through books written by authors in contact with it) or indirectly (in terms of the attitudes that allow some of these things to exist). Fandom, thanks to r.a.dw, has more power to directly influence the output of Doctor Who (while the TV series is in abeyance) than ever before. It would be nice if this could be used for more beneficial purposes than it seemed during the past decade.
Top Twenty Worst Doctor Who Books by Tammy Potash Updated 1/11/00
Between 1991 and 2000, we've had some spectacular Who books, of which I may soon post a list. Unfortunately, we've also been afflicted by...
20. Doctor Who: From A to Z. Overpriced twaddle that insults the reader. The only nonfiction book listed, but consider it a public service warning. See my review for an in-depth explanation. (My apologies to Robert Smith? for this and Blue Angel.)
19. Transit. You can see my review on this one, but I'd like to point out here that it's badly-written even as cyberpunk. Pat Cadigan delivers better. Like Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, this one's only important for what it brings to other books.
18. The entire Cat's Cradle Trilogy. The worst offender is Witchmark. Warhead should have been issued separately, as it makes its own trilogy with Warlock and Warchild.
17. Toy Soldiers. Paul Leonard works well with depicting alien societies. He doesn't have one here. My friend likes the mechs. But to point out that war is bad, and make you care, try Just War or The Final Sanction. I just don't think Leonard had a handle on the 7th doctor.
16. The Eight Doctors. This ought to be a important book, kicking off the entire BBC line. But it reads like Terrance Dicks wrote it in about an hour and a half, breaking his own speed record. It also (badly) introduces Sam.
15. Autumn Mist and Sanctuary. Two McIntee books that make you say, "What's the point?"
14. The Janus Conjunction. Cyborg spiders and wonky science. And Sam doesn't die! The Doctor shatters the laws of time to save her, as he did in Genocide. WHY? Thank God Baxendale improved with Coldheart, or he'd be awarded the Neil Penswick Award for (Comic Book Guy Voice) "Worst Doctor Who Author, Ever."
13. The Devil Goblins of Neptune. Special honors for the stupidest title I've ever heard, beating out The Deadly Assassin. (As my friend pointed out, there are other kinds of assassin, such as a character assassin, so it's not the tautology it appears at first glance.) Plus, in a book that's to be the new Goth Opera, shouldn't you get an author who knows how to write for the third Doctor?
12. War of the Daleks. Note that Legacy of the Daleks is actually mildly interesting, and so does not appear on this list. Was it really necessary to retcon the superb Remembrance of the Daleks with this piece of tripe? And surely someone noticed something on Gallifrey? The Doctor is not this big an idiot, especially the 7th Doctor. Hell, not even the 8th Doctor is so dumb as to fall for this.
11. Corpse Marker. Put one on this book! An unneeded, abysmally written sequel to The Robots of Death.
10. Interference. The first book could have been reduced to a chapter, that's how bloated this "book" is. Did we really need another book with an utterly useless 8th doctor? And one that set up the biggest waste of time and unfulfilled expectations as the War and The Enemy and Compassion and Faction Paradox? No one knew what to do with any of them.
9. Anything by Michael Collier. It's called Dullest Day by fandom for a reason, guys.
8. This space reserved for The Ancestor Cell when it arrives on American shores...
7. Divided Loyalties. Take good material (the 5th Dr, the Celestial Toymaker) and waste it completely. Gary Russell, a capable writer (Legacy, The Novel of The Film), is out of control here as Steve Cole tosses fitfully in his self-induced coma. The only thing I can remember about it now is being told that Adric wouldn't bathe.
6. Eternity Weeps. I weep at the thought of ever having to reread it. When Jim Mortimore's good, he's great; Eye of Heaven, Parasite. When he's off his game, you get this or Beltempest. Make me dislike Benny, (a difficult task) and when the Doctor does show, he contributes nothing to the book's resolution. Do I even have to mention what happens to a certain companion? The only one who cares is Cwej, and he barely knew her! The Doctor ought to have been devastated.
5. The Pit. When looking at the list of books no one had reviewed, I was glad to see I wouldn't have to tackle this.
4. The Space Age. What's happened to Steve Lyons lately? This should be called The Space Filler. No Compassion, and a plot incomprehensible to an American reader. The mods hate the rockers, and the rockers hate the mods, that is all ye know, and all ye need to know. Sorry Robert Thomas, but it isn't. Characters made from, not cardboard, but tissue paper. If I wanted West Side Story, I'd rent it; at least I'd get some good songs. And the back cover blurb belongs to another plane of reality altogether.
3. The Blue Angel. I like Paul Magrs, but this book is what someone dubbed radwank. And it's poorly positioned. We needed a break after the apocalyptic Interference, not another mindf*ck book. There are isolated moments that are decent enough, but it's like searching for diamond chips in a mountain of cowshit. (My thanks to Harlan Ellison for this image.) I'm not keen on the new Iris, the Trek parody is inept, and then there's the ending. The only way this book could be worse would be if Sam had come back for it.
2. Dominion. My friend gave up on this after the first five pages. That's unprecedented. Nick Walters admits he had trouble with the Doctor, and boy does it show. If you're still conscious by the time he appears on the scene, that is. You can skip every scene in which the Doctor doesn't appear and not lose anything. Better yet, skip this book, as there's nothing that has an impact on later books.
1. Imperial Moon. Awful as it was, Divided Loyalties at least got the regulars right, even if it made them oddly antagonistic towards each other... My friend gave up on this one just after the love interest was abducted by the UFO. See my review to fully appreciate the horror of what was inflicted on us.
My Ten Favourite Guns by Mike Morris 9/7/00
The lead character's a pacifist. He never picks up a gun. So the people he fights make up for it by having loads of really cool guns. Here are my favourites.
Top Ten Reviews On This Site by Rob Matthews 11/7/00
Thanks to the advent of free internet access, I've finally scoured my way through all the reviews on the site. What better way to celebrate than a top ten list with a postmodern premise? From apposite epithets to impudent increments, here's my own personal cream of the Ratings Guide crop. Not necessarily those I agree with, but certainly those which I find most intriguing... (reviews of televised stories only, mind you. Well, that's what Doctor Who is, really)
10 - Revenge of the Cybermen - A Review - By
'The Cyberleader shakes the Doctor to the ground with a particularly ferocious Swedish massage' - I love it! Here's one of the many reviews on the site which wittily re-evaluate those stories we tend to shrug off as awful (an intellectual sleight-of-hand known as 'The Mike Morris'). Dave makes a good point about the show's energetic, improvisational feel, and of course he's right. Doctor Who was a show set across all of space and all of eternity, but produced weekly on a miniscule budget in Shepherd's Bush. And I laughed so much at his decription of the story that I wanted to see it again.
9 - The Enemy of the World - Why I Think The Enemy
of the World would be a Good Story - By Robert Smith?
Well, of course it's easy to write a good review of Curse of Fenric or The Daemons. But what about a great review of an overlooked story no longer in full existence? Our venerable editor-in-chief nicely puts things in context and makes the good point that this was the only non-monster story in Doctor Who's 'Monster Season'.
8 - Pyramids of Mars - A Review - By Greg Cook
It starts off with the rather strange idea that you would want to 'convert' someone 'from Star Wars and its ilk' (is this some kind of sf-area prejudice?), but goes on to offer a cogent list of reasons why Pyramids is a great introduction to Who for a casual viewer.
7 - The Twin Dilemma - Doctor Who Mythology - By Ari
I'm sorry, but anyone with the balls to defend one of the most beloathed stories in the show's history is tops in my book. I hate The Twin Dilemma, mind you, and I'm glad it was the last -- rather than the first -- Colin Baker story I ever saw. Its awfulness seems to have biased people against Colin Baker, who, at his best (in Two Doctors, Revelation or Ultimate Foe), was everything the Doctor should be. As Ari points out, the idea of making the Doctor unstable and a bit frightening was a good one. I've been known to defend Eric Saward myself, and it's rightly pointed out in this review that the beleagured script editor was ahead of his time in his approach to the show. The 'dangerous Doctor' thing is pathetically executed in Twin Dilemma (Ari disgarees), but the same basic notion was behind the brilliant developments in the McCoy Doctor we saw from Remembrance of the Daleks onwards. A review that shakes things up a bit.
6 - The Ribos Operation - A Review - By Dr. Terry
'The best Doctor Who story, bar none' with the writer's 'all-time favourite character from any Doctor Who story ever'. Who could have seen that coming? An unexpected, passionate, well-argued review. And I haven't even seen The Ribos Operation.
5 - Timelash - Hit and Myth - By Robert Smith?
Such superior diagnostic talents! A perfect, erudite dissection of Timelash. Rather than simply reminding us that it's rubbish, the review points out why it is so frustrating - a would-be monumental story full of interesting ideas, but that does not engage on any level. Paradoxes aplenty are uncovered here. Because it has a similar theme, this just pushes Michael Hickerson's review of Greatest Show in the Galaxy off my list.
4 - Delta and the Bannermen - Why I Like Cheese - By
As implied above, I had to include one of Mike's superb pieces on my list. His affection for this daft kid's show - indeed, for it's daftest, kiddiest elements - is infectious. Perhaps a more representative example of his style would be his Power of Kroll review ('It's Terrible... And Yet..'), but this one has a just a little more bite in its conclusion.
3 - The Keys of Marinus - Fusion - By Daniel
Another cunning retro-review. Like with the Enemy of the World review, the story is expertly put in context. With scalpel-like precision, Daniel isolates this as one of the 'key' (pun not intended, I swear!) Doctor Who stories. It's all so obvious now...
2 - Genesis of the Daleks - I'd Take 'The Seeds of Doom'
Any Day - By Eric Strand
Another daring piece, the gist of which should be obvious from its title. Eric convincingly points out the large amounts of hack work between Genesis's good bits. Can we really call this story a classic when it's so carelessly made that Sarah's lethal radiation poisoning is entirely forgotten about between one episode and the next? Plus, I always suspected there was something a bit washy-washy about the Doctor's reasoning in not destroying the Daleks, and Eric gets right to the core of his muddled rhetoric.
1 - The Tomb of the Cybermen - The Definitive Doctor Who
Story - By Gerry Hume
A magnificent Jungian-type look at all the timeless elements of western storytelling woven into the adventure. Gerry, in my opinion, ends all dispute over whether Tomb is really a bona fide classic, or just a fondly-remembered comic strip. Plus he provides a great insight into what Doctor Who was really all about -- fear of science/reassurance about science. Absolutely masterly. I pity anyone who wants to post a bad review of Tomb of the Cybermen underneath that!
The Top Guards and Soldiers of Doctor Who by Anthony Haynes 22/7/00
In the worlds of Doctor Who, many of the television adventures have shown loads of Guards and Soldiers. The Guards or Soldiers would either be for...or against the Doctor. From Unit Soldiers to Dalek Troopers, Doctor Who was made that much richer by their presence.
The above list is a ranting of a fan that appreciates some of the more obscure point of Who fandomship, thank you.....
10 things I want to say about the Graham Williams era (taking in 'Why various other shows are rubbish' on the way) by Mike Morris 17/8/00
1: Well, clarity is the soul of knowing what the other chap's going to do...
I should warn everyone from the kick-off that this is going to be a bit of a rant. And it always seems fair to start off a rant with a bit of a 'well-this-is-where-I-stand' spiel, so here goes.
I'm loathe to pick a particular era I as my favourite. I'm loathe to say that old line 'Dr Who is all about...', and then use it to align myself with a particular era. You see, my acquaintance with the show is primarily through the magic of the video. As such I didn't grow up with Pertwee or Tom or Peter, but watched them all together. And liked them all, because they were all the Doctor, and all I really wanted from the show was the character of the Doctor, on account of how great he was. Whoever he was.
So comparing eras of the show seems odd, to me. The eras of Pertwee, Hinchcliffe, Williams, Davison etc. are just too difficult to compare. How can you say that Ghost Light is better/worse than The Androids of Tara? How can you compare the social, passionate allegory of the McCoy years with the camp horror of Hinchcliffe? They simply aren't in the same world. You like them or you don't. But the arguments of one being better than the other seems odd, because the emphasis is so vastly different.
With that in my mind, I'm now going to say why I like the Williams era so much and what makes it so great. Why, although I have oh-so-much time for Caves or Fenric, nothing quite reduces me to gleeful childhood like The Androids of Tara. And why the Williams era, more than any other, is simply beyond comparison - not only with other eras of Doctor Who, but with any piece of television in history.
2: You must have something in mind...
Plotting. It's said a lot that the strength of Doctor Who is in its logical plotting and concise, simple storytelling. Hmm. This, of course, wipes out an awful lot of mid-eighties Who immediately, which is often the point of the statement. I'm not sure of the truth of that statement, but it's probably true that there's nothing quite as annoying to a Doctor Who fan as a plot vacuum.
What is strange is that the Williams era is frequently held up as an example of perfect storytelling... more because of the change of emphasis that followed it than anything else. Which is what I mean about comparisons - sure the Williams era places emphasis on plotting if it's compared with Season 18, but in comparison with earlier eras it's not such a big factor. In fact, the Williams era moved away from simple plot-based stories, towards something much more fun.
The real heyday of the logical, well-thought out plot was proabably under Barry Letts. Seasons 7 to 11 barely have a plot vacuum between them. But the Williams era frequently didn't bother with plotting. Perhaps the best examples are the rickety 'two invasions' structure of The Invasion of Time, and The Stones of Blood which happily glosses over every question raised in the first two episodes.
And there's more. The leading lights of the era aren't examples of plotting in the strictest sense of the term. Fang Rock doesn't really have a plot at all. The Ribos Operation gets the main plot out of the way in the first two episodes, and then takes flight. The Pirate Planet isn't so much a plot as a series of ideas. The Androids of Tara has a plot, sort of, but it's really just an excuse for a bit of swashbuckling.
Terror of the Autons is the perfect plot-based story. And, as such, it's pretty unsatisfying. During the Williams era the show realised that, although plots are all very well and good, they're not wildly exciting. The Williams era magic came from elsewhere.
3. Good looks are no substitute for a sound character...
It's the characters, innit.
Well, it is. Quite how much influence Graham Williams had on the show during his tenure as producer is, well, uncertain... it wasn't nicknamed The Tom Baker Show for nothing. But what Williams did do was insist on good humanoid villains on 'an equal footing' with the Doctor, rather than the madmen and B-movie monsters of the Hinchcliffe years. The hallmark of seasons 15 to 17 is the memorable characters with strong, logical motivation. There's no need for a figure like the Master to give something nasty, green and impervious to bullets a human face. Most Williams-era scripts aren't monster-based at all, especially when you discount the early portion of season 15. All the main protagonists have their motives discussed; not only do we know what Scaroth or The Pirate Captain or or Tryst or The Graf Vynda K are up to, but we understand why they're doing it. Which leads to a genuine empathy with the 'bad' guys, instead of the standard "cor, he's a nutter" response.
In spite of unconvincing accents and dodgy spaghetti-masks, all four of the characters I mentioned above achieve some sort of desperate, twisted nobility. This is because they aren't evil, they aren't mad, and they aren't power-hungry maniacs. The only thoroughly evil villain of the Williams era is the Shadow, and has there ever been a worse (and more out-of-place) bad guy?
For those three years, Doctor Who became a genuine human drama. It got called 'silly', but that's because it stopped hiding behind the cliches of ranting madmen and papier mache masks. It created proper characters, and began to experiment with wit and tragedy and humour. It exposed the inherent silliness of the program as a whole, but still had an underlying quality... which is why Doctor Who fans who dismiss the Williams era seem to me to be missing the point of being Doctor Who fans at all.
4: Now that's an idea...
'Silly' is a word which I'm guilty of bandying around a lot, and I use it in a positive rather than negative sense. Which is wrong of me. Because, although I frequently say that Doctor Who is a daft kid's show I just happen to like, that's only half-true. If you only look hard enough, deep enough at the Williams era, You begin understand that it's not silly at all. Not really.
The Williams era is full of ideas, you see. Which should be the staple of en escapist fantasy, but sometimes aren't. And escapism by definition is ludicrous. But it implies imagination, and imagination is something I like. It's also something which doesn't date. And it's a quality that is deeply, deeply silly and pointless, but it's still the most wonderfully liberating thing in the world.
Williams-era stories create worlds. I don't mean planets, I mean worlds. Hollow worlds that jump through space, or labyrinthine worlds that work like printed circuits, or subterranean worlds ruled by jumped-up computers. They're wonderful worlds where anything's possible; inertia can be neutralized, time can be dammed or looped, magnifactoids can be eccentricolometed. And when someone tells me that's just stupid, I generally grin smugly in the knowledge that it's not.
I don't have to justify it by saying it's allegory, or serious drama. I don't pretend there's a point to it. It simply taps in to the part of me that doodled walking trees in my schoolbooks when I should have been paying attention, that made up crazy fantasy-games with my friends, or played football in my back garden and imagined I was in Old Trafford and I'd set up Mark Hughes' last minute winner.
The Williams era presents ludicrous situations as if they were the most natural thing in the world, it 'makes the impossible possible' by using badly-painted cardboard boxes and dodgy sets, and it never loses sight of itself by taking itself too seriously. It doesn't bother with myriad appendices dealing with the history of Middle-Earth. Neither do we get unending politics with 'The Federation' and 'Cardassia' and neutral zones and treaties with Bajor, because that really is terminably, clunkingly, boringly daft. Certainly it's far dafter than seaweed taxmen, robot parrots and animals made of an addictive drug.
The era glorifies a pair of layabout dreamers who gad about being witty, intelligent, brave, happy, badly-dressed, well-dressed, and who always retain the ability to laugh at themselves. It villainises self-interested yuppy types (Scaroth), humourless arrogant royalty who think they own the universe (The Graf Vynda-K), and fanatics who take their own little worlds too seriously and lose sight of what's important (Tryst). People with no imagination. No ideas. The Williams era does have a moral message; it's that dreaming is the most wonderful thing of all, as long as you don't forget you're actually dreaming.
5: I'm just having fun...
The other night, after a pint or eight, I brought some mates home... but I'd forgotten to carefully hide my Doctor Who videos away. "What's that?" one of them said, and before I knew it they were demanding to watch a Doctor Who video. Which is when I felt as though I was in an aeroplane with one wing missing and a merrily burning engine.
It could have been worse. I gauged the mood of the crowd, I thought about it carefully, and I gave them The Pirate Planet. They laughed at all the right bits, they hooted at K-9's battle with the Polyphase Avatron, and they stayed up until half-four in the morning watching all four episodes.
But I was still defensive. Because, although I'll happily tell most people that the Williams era was a bit of a laugh, I suddenly wasn't happy with people laughing at my show. Somehow I felt that they'd missed the point.
The Williams era wasn't a bit of a laugh. Well, it was, but... only sometimes. Both Tom Baker and Graham Williams took the show desperately seriously, even if some other influences didn't (hello, Douglas Adams). And for all the stand-up comedy of seasons 16 and 17, the show is still serious when it matters. On the occasions that the balance goes wrong, the result is the trashy "I can say something funny with every line" extravaganza of smart-arsery that is The Creature from the Pit. Most of the time, the laughs are never inappropriate.
And so we got a lot of laughs while running around Paris, or wondering where a dull icy planet has got to, or seeing a balding bloke from Somerset doing a terrible impersonation of a guard. But when confronted with the notion of planets being crushed to the size of a football, suddenly the laughs stopped. That's not funny, because people died.
My mates laughed. Planets being crushed to the size of footballs is as daft as it gets. And that was when I knew that they didn't get it, not really. People dying - even in the most ludicrous way imaginable - is hardly something to laugh at.
The era is seen as Doctor Who's light, funny phase, but that's only half-true. It also encompasses some of Doctor Who's best-ever moral scenes, starting as early as the Doctor-Rutan confrontation in Horror of Fang Rock. But even when you leave those Hinchcliffe-era hangovers behind they're there. There's the Graf's final soliloquy in The Ribos Operation, the aforementioned Doctor-Captain scene The Pirate Planet, and the magnificent finale of Nightmare of Eden.
So the belief that the era's great because it was only light-hearted family fun is only half true. The series glorified humour, and it spent a lot of its time being superbly flippant. But that flippancy was taken incredibly seriously. As seriously as it should be.
6: If you'd been down there with me, you wouldn't find it so amusing...
In the 'great moral scenes' I listed above, I missed one out. It's in City of Death, and it's a little overlooked. It's probably my favourite of the lot.
The Doctor strolls into Scarlioni's cellar, where Romana's been busy making a 'field interface stabiliser' for Scarlioni. He takes in the scene at a glance, tells her to stop, and informs the Count that he's going to stop him. The Count laughs, and with a wonderful villain line tries to blackmail the Doctor into helping him ("if you don't it'll be so much the worse for you, this young lady here, and thousands of other people I could mention if I happened to have the Paris telephone directory on my person"). The Doctor refuses.
Why's that so great? Because it's one of those moments when the Doctor throws off his witty exterior, revealing his inner presence as a world-saving hero. And yet there's more. In his refusal to trade witticisms with the Count, he illuminates the difference between them. The Doctor is witty. But he knows when to stop. The Count is smarmy and cynical, and wrong.
We all know how witty the Williams-era dialogue was. But witty dialogue is ten-a-penny, there's thousands of shows that manage that. Even writers of poor-to-average sitcoms manage a bit of wit.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is witty. It might well be the wittiest show in television. But I just don't find it funny, really, because it laughs at the wrong things. Where the Williams era is written from the perspective of a couple of layabouts, Buffy is written from the perspective of shiny happy middle-class genetically-modified fashion-obsessed white bitchy teenagers with perfect teeth. The Williams era villainises people with no sense of humour; Buffy villainises pale, antisocial people who wear biker jackets and don't interact with the society of the pretty people. Dropouts. The Doctor and Romana, essentially. Although the Giles-Buffy relationship is more or less a Doctor-companion one (eerily, the stuffy bookworm/pretty teenager combination is everything the Sixth Doctor-Peri relationship could have been with better writing) it somehow accentuates the difference between the two shows. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is Count Scarlioni; clever, mocking, intelligent. And smarmy, hollow, trashy, mean-spirited. And ultimately I just don't like it.
7: Bafflegab, my dear...
My earlier mention of a field interface stabiliser leads me on to one of the most wonderful attributes of the Willias era. Technobabble. No era has better technobabble than this. What on earth is an ambicyclic photon bridge? A dimensional osmosis damper? Most wonderful of all, a magnifactoid eccentricolometer?
Technobabble's normally a bad thing, but not here. This isn't a science-fiction era. The technobabble's just thrown in to remind us that we're in space, and therefore anything's possible. They're just words thrown together to sound all cool and space-agey and yet at the same time ridiculous. And they do, they do. So here's to the technobabble of the Williams era; the pinnacle of the art of spouting nonsense.
8: He's the one you should be talking to...
What's Doctor Who about, anyway?
It's not surprising the way the show follows the character of the incumbent Doctor. The Pertwee era is gentlemanly, civilised. The Davison era is fast-paced, not quite as eccentric as what went before, and looks pretty, but is still surprisingly thoughtful. The McCoy era has its moments of cuteness, but there's always an underlying menace.
The Doctor of the Williams era is magnificent. That's maybe the most obvious statement in the world. But he is, he just is. He runs around, he confronts the baddies, he's witty, he reads books like Peter Rabbit, he's silly, he has a higher self-opinion than one might think, he's deceptively stupid but really incredibly intelligent, he throws us all off guard with his silliness and then in a flash he produces something amazing. He doesn't care how he looks, because he knows that the only people who really matter won't care either. He's at once daft, playful, thoughtful, and heroic. And he won't change himself because he knows he's right. In short, the Doctor is the Williams era.
And maybe that's why a lot of the era feels so right. Because the show follows the Doctor's character, and the two are so perfectly in sync. There's no moments that don't feel right (as per Davison and Colin Baker), and no moments when we wonder what he's up to and who he is (McCoy). Crucially, he's never even dislikeable, as Pertwee's Doctor could be from time to time - The Daemons being a good example.
So the criticism of the show at the time, when it became known as The Tom Baker Show, at once missed the point and were unerringly accurate. It was the Doctor's show, it was a show dominated by the Doctor. It abandoned reality for a series of crazy worlds that could only exist in the Doctor's mind, and made him a central feature. The early tenet of the series - realistic and well-thought out environments, be they future worlds or historical - was totally abandoned. The Tom Baker Show indeed.
But the Williams-era universe - with its surfeit of pleasantly middle-class characters, its vaguely silly Guardians, and its killer gorse-bush thingies - never seemed anything other than real, mainly because it was so perfectly in keeping with the Doctor himself. And a world that was based largely on a character as great as the Doctor is, quite simply, the best world possible.
9: I read a lot...
There's a lot that's been said about the show's post-modern cleverness during this era, the intertextual referencing, all that stuff. I'm not entirely sure what it all means, but it's something about the show recognising its own limitations and revelling in its own cliches. I think.
Well, yeah, it does sometimes. But I'm yet to be convinced that it's a major part of the magic, with the exception of the odd one-liner. That kind of stuff never grabbed me as all that clever. I didn't like 'Scream', for example. It was just a crappy horror movie, and just because it acknowledged all its sources (more crappy horror movies) wasn't enough to make it any good. 'Scream' was a film where self-referencing was the main feature. The main features of the Williams era were ideas and characters, both of which were conspicuous by their absence there.
There is the odd bit of self-referential humour in the Williams era, such as the Doctor's wondering at why people "always ask you to go alone when you're walking into a trap". But these really aren't anything more than incidental touches - they certainly aren't the main feature. Okay, so maybe the Complex in The Horns of Nimon - with its array of corridors that all look the same - was a clever acknowledgement of Doctor Who's visual limitations. And, when the Doctor starts sticking paper stars on the walls, maybe it's part of the same joke. But it works much better on the level of a sci-fi realisation of the minotaur myth, and as for paper stars... well, they're just funny objects, those weird little things that only teachers carry suddenly being seen in the middle of a science fiction story. The notion of a benevolent alien hero carrying paper stars about is much funnier than any amount of self-referential humour. Similarly, the one overt allegory of the era (The Sunmakers) works much better as a drama than as a satire.
What's great about the Williams era is its lack of obvious precedents. If you want knowing nods to other bits of film and television, go watch seasons twelve to fourteen. That was the real era of intertextuality, when every B-movie horror under the sun was adapted, rewritten and parodied. And yes, there was self-referential humour too, as in the Doctor's "won't the world be a bit large for six of you" comment in Terror of the Zygons.
By contrast, Nightmare of Eden comes straight from Bob Baker's imagination. And, when the Williams era does borrow, it borrows from myths and fables - which gives the stories something of a mythic quality themselves. Talk of post-modern tongue-in-cheek humour, whatever that is, detracts from the era for me. Williams-era Doctor Who was unlike anything else on television, and the more influences and acknowledgements that are spotted, the less magical it becomes. So this isn't an area I like to stress, because I don't think it's what made the stories great.
10: And you don't know where we're going!
And so I finally wobble to my conclusion. Such as it is.
The Williams era stands alone. It wasn't science fiction, in fact it wasn't even television. It was escapism. It was the creation of another world. Yeah, that's what it was; the creation of another world, or even another universe. A wonderful universe. A universe where a character like the Doctor was completely plausible, and where he could do just about anything, and where he always won.
And, basically, that world made no apologies for itself. You can either like it or lump it. But as far as I'm concerned, it was infinitely better than the real one. And - for me - that world, and the way it was created, sums up everything that's great about Doctor Who.
It's the definitive era. And I love it to pieces.
Why I like Doctor Who by Stuart Gutteridge 29/8/00
10) The Merchandise-Official or otherwise; some of it is actually worth a bit.
9) Doctor Who fans are often the victims of undeserved "labels" - it's the chance to disprove that. You can actually enjoy a TV show and be a fan.
8) It isn`t Star Trek; besides we had the Cybermen long before they had the Borg.
7) It isn`t The X-Files; eg. Mulder and Scully continually investigate something strange. True, The Doctor visited different planets, but at least this was every four weeks, instead of every week like the X-Files.
6) Despite not being on TV, it is still as enjoyable. The continual release of videos and The Curse Of Fatal Death is proof of this.
5) Companions and villains. For every bad regular, there is at least one decent adversary.
4) There is always something good to find in Doctor Who, however bad it might be.
3) The format. Historical or sci-fi, TV or audio, in print or in comic strip form, Doctor Who still works and works well.
2) It appeals to people of all ages.
1)The Doctor is a hero without special powers. He`s someone we all wish we could be, but ultimately aren`t.
Top Ten Best Book Covers, Virgin and BBC by Tammy Potash 24/9/00
Well, they say don't judge a book by its cover, but it's a part of the book which after all, attracts the eye first and contributes to the overall feel of the thing. Sometimes a bad cover warns you of the bad book inside; look at The Pit, and Timewyrm: Apocalypse. Word of warning; no Benny books as I never got into that series at all.
I've also noticed a real difference between the Virgin releases and the BBC books. The BBC ones typically feature some swirly stuff and a small picture in the middle which may or may not have anything to do with the inner contents. The Scarlet Empress is an example of the phenomenon at its worst. Even the MAs feature worse artwork. Compare the cover of Devil Goblins From Neptune with Goth Opera. Also, the Virgin books had one consistent background and spine for each run, which made them easy to spot on the shelf. On the downside, they had frequent problems drawing the Doctor. They usually gave a nice picture of the companions, in contrast to the BBC which has yet to feature a companion on any cover. They don't even list an artist on the copyright page anymore. So, keeping firmly in mind that these reflect solely on the outside and NOT on the contents, (some of the better books have naff covers, ala Highest Science and Falls the Shadow) here we go:
10. Happy Endings. Featuring a majority of the original characters, companions, and old friends from 50 novels. And not one but two Doctors, both drawn fairly decently. Just the fact that they attempted this at all is astonishing, and that they succeeded so well in drawing the people (mostly) even more so. It had the added bonus of giving you a little game to play (ok, I recognise so and so, but who is that standing next to them?) before plunging into the book proper. And they even offered it as a poster!
9. Revolution Man. It's simple yet somehow elegant: an Om-Tsor flower and a very sleek, glossy, menacing looking gun.
8. The Crystal Bucephalus: The Doctor in a gorgeous looking costume, a decent picture of Kamelion, and that magnificent statue itself.
7. Deceit. Very striking, with the sculpted asteroids.
6. Interference, both books. I like all the images swirling across the second book. Put side by side, the books form not one but two different images of the Doctors. Extraordinary!
5. Timewyrm: Revelation. The Doctor (drawn superbly) quite literally waltzing with Death, on the Moon. Gorgeous and chilling.
4. Venusian Lullaby. Like Revolution Man, uncomplicated, graceful design. The Venusian is a thing of beauty.
3. Cold Fusion. I thought somehow the eras of the doctors had become fused, perhaps even the doctors themselves, accounting for Adric in Adjudicator armor, looking absolutely awesome, especially since I'm not a big fan of his. They even managed to make him look a little more serious and less goony than usual. And the seventh Dr. wearing the 5th's panama hat.
2. Vanderdeken's Children: A wraparound cover, and a gorgeous, Babylon-5 looking ship.
Special Award: Love and War and Original Sin. Both books offer gorgeous portrayals of the new companions. Why can't the BBC show us Sam, Fitz, or Compassion? Maybe Sam would have been liked slightly better if she had a photo. Show her looking scared, or determined, or gazing longingly at the doctor. Something... of course, in Fitz' case it took fifteen books to describe him physically IN the books, let alone outside...
1. Millenial Rites: Colin Baker in the Valeyard's suit, looking extremely menacing. And Mel, looking absolutely insane. I couldn't wait to dive into this one to find out how this had happened.
Ten Things fans always forget... by Ian Cawood 28/9/00
Top 10 Stories I Wish Could Have Beeen A Part Of The TV Series by Robert Thomas 9/10/00
Every so often a story crops up that catches the feel of the particular era so well it forces you to hum the theme tune at the end. Here we go, starting in reverse order:-
|10.||The Ultimate Treasure||Perfectly recreates the feel of the fifth Doctor's era.|
|9.||Vampire Science||A great story that oozes that eighth doctor mood of the film. Also the scene with the Doctor defending himself with the pole is crying out to be filmed.|
|8.||Business Unusual||Not the best story, but a side to the sixth Doctor that we needed to see more of.|
|7.||Eye Of The Giant||This book has Pertwee and UNIT written all over it, a classic.|
|6.||Evolution||A perfect interpretation of the regulars and a great story. Also a good excuse to pull out the fish people costumes again.|
|5.||The Dark Path||Without doubt a classic tale, with the regulars in fine form. If only this could have been the Master's first story.|
|4.||Illegal Alien||An all round classic with lines begging to be spoken. The Cybermen at their scariest, perfect for nineties children.|
|3.||The Plotters||This has the Hartnell era stamped all over it, enough said.|
|2.||The Genocide Machine||Its like the Doctor and Ace have never been away. Perfect for the season 27 that never was.|
|1.||Alien Bodies||This story has to be adapted if Doctor Who ever returns to our screens. That said, I'll be happy if Big Finish do it.|
Just missing out are the following - Cold Fusion, The Murder Game, Winter For The Adept, Legacy and Killing Ground.
Ranking the First 12 Big Finish Audio Productions by Peter Niemeyer 15/10/00
The following is a list of the first 12 Big Finish audio productions, from best to worst. I have written reviews about each production separately, so I won't elaborate on the reasons behind my rankings here. But none of the indiviual reviews seemed an appropriate place to rank all the stories on a single list, hence this review.
If I assign 12 points to the top story and 1 to the bottom, here is how each of the Doctors and companions do:
7th Doctor averages 8.3 points
6th Doctor averages 6.4 points
5th Doctor averages 3.8 points
(Interesting. This is the exact opposite ranking from how much I liked the respective Doctor's televised stories.)
Mel averages 11.0 points
Ace averages 9.5 points
Peri averages 7.0 points
Evelyn averages 6.3 points
Turlough averages 5.0 points
Nyssa averages 3.5 points
(This is really less meaningful. Mel appears in only one story so far, which happened to be one of the best. Peri does better than Evelyn, which is because Evelyn was in one low-ranking story, even though the other two stories were high on the list. Poor Nyssa. When the above companions were on screen, she was at the top of the list.)
The Ten Funniest moments in the Williams' era by Robert Smith? 19/10/00
10. The Doctor covering K9's 'eyes' when they encounter the bodies of De Vries and his wife in The Stones of Blood.
9. Chronotis's jokes about undergraduates in Shada ("When I was on the river I heard the strange babble of inhuman voices, didn't you, Romana?" "Oh, probably undergraduates talking to each other I expect. I'm trying to have it banned.")
8. All the tax jokes in The Sunmakers ("Perhaps everyone runs from the taxman.")
7. Tom Baker grabbing Erato's protuberance and blowing on it in Creature from the Pit.
6. The Doctor: "I'm going alone. Ask me why." Romana and Tyssan: "Why?" The Doctor: "Because they're unconscious". Destiny of the Daleks.
5. The Doctor pulling out a book on mountain climbing in Tibetan and then pulling out a book to teach yourself Tibetan in The Creature from the Pit.
4. "Later you will be tortured, questioned and killed." "Well, I hope you get it in the right order." Horns of Nimon
3. The entire exchange between Tom Maker and Graham Crowden when they first meet in Horns of Nimon and try and out-act each other ("My gravitic anomaliser!")
2. The Doctor defending himself about his work for Galactic insurance when Rigg discovers it went out of business 20 years ago in Nightmare of Eden ("I wondered why I hadn't been paid." "That's not good enough." That's what I said!")
1. The entirety of City of Death.
Top Ten Disappearing Hats in Doctor Who by Tim Rouse 27/10/00
SUMMARY: Was the BBC tied into a contract with a milliner's shop? Or was it the case that costume designers loved to include colour-coordinated hats in the outfits they designed for characters, which then proved to be impractical when the stories came to be filmed? After all, we don't want shadows cast across the faces of our heroes and heroines - unless it's Sylvester McCoy and then this is called "characterisation".
Top Ten Stories by Harry Simmons 31/10/00
10. Black Orchid
9. City of Death
8. The Romans
7. The Two Doctors
5. The Ice Warriors
4. The Daleks
3. Robots of Death
2. Spearhead from Space
1. The Aztecs
My Ten Favourite 8DA's (so far) by Mike Morris
They're pretty bad, and nowhere near as good as the Virgin NA's; that's pretty much the received wisdom on the BBC Books range. Do I agree? Well, partially. The 8DA's have produced some poor fare, and they also have an unhappy knack of coming in runs - five months of decent books followed by another five months of dross. But some have been simply wonderful, and many more have been pretty damn good. These are my ten favouites so far.
Alien Bodies: Obviously. The early 8DA's were dumbed down to subterranean levels, but Alien Bodies single-handedly kept my interest in an otherwise terrible run of early books (Vampire Science and Genocide being honourable exceptions). Alien Bodies answers one of the shows biggest questions, and promptly replaces it with scores of others. Big, mythic, full of new ideas and great new races, Alien Bodies was the keystone of so much that followed and gave the range a new sense of purpose. It also boasts great characters and dialogue, which more than make up for a less-than-enthralling denoument.
Seeing I: The SF plot is dull, the big corporation is stereotyped, and the everybody's-dead-nice-really portrayal of a homeless shelter is cornball socialism at its worst. The book tries to show Sam and the Doctor as paranoid and endlessly seeking out monsters when there aren't any... and then rather chickens out by having monsters there anyway. None of this matters. Seeing I takes the two faceless, cliched lead characters and makes them real. The portrayal of the Doctor is magnificent, and Samantha Angeline Jones finally grows up. All this, a lovely SF backdrop in the shape of H'aolam, and a simply gorgeous interlude.
Vanderdeken's Children: Eerie, well-paced SF, packed with ideas, horror and marvellous descriptive passages (honest!). The characters are trademark Bulis stereotypes, the dialogue is plodding and the interplanetary politics are too moronic even for Star Trek. But Vanderdeken's Children (the best book title ever, ever, ever) isn't about that: it's about a ghost ship where anything is possible and everything is deadly, where time plays games and the future haunts the present. The "relic" is one of the most threatening environments the books have ever produced, and makes this book linger long in the memory.
The Scarlet Empress: A book I suspect has dated badly; I read it after The Blue Angel (a quirk of having-no-money-at-the-time) and it made less of an impression than I'd expected. It's a simple fantasy-quest novel, rather lacking in structure, and not long enough to be the epic it wants to be. At times the lack of direction makes it pretty damn boring. But at the time it was truly revolutionary, and immersed the Doctor in a magical world of wonders, some of which were simply incredible in all the right ways. Some nice characters, too, and Paul Magrs can write like a dream, so it just edges out Revolution Man for inclusion in this list.
The Infinity Doctors: Another touch-and-go entry, not least because it's not strictly an 8DA. It also has a pretty dull plot, is thirty pages too long, and shows a truly terrible grasp of thermodynamics. The prose oscillates from magnificent to mind-numbing ("the liquid had a slightly acidic taste, but this was counterpointed by the milk"... what?), and the nature of the book as a fugue is spoiled by too many continuity references. But the Doctor is lovely, Gallifrey is marvellously evoked, and the way the book grows from a simple murder-mystery to high octane drama is a marvellously-crafted piece of storytelling. Great climax, too. Memorable, if not quite as good as it might have been.
Beltempest: Oddly neglected, Beltempest strolls into my top ten of every piece of Who fiction I've ever read, let alone this list. What can you say about this book? Sam is principled, annoying and lethal; the Doctor is a clown who has no idea of the consequences of his actions. An energetic disaster novel darkens into a contemplative work where big things happen and characters have philosophical conversations at the drop of a hat. The book is frequently pompous and always self-important, but it's big and baffling and the sheer scale of events takes the breath away. Then there's the finish; beautiful, obscene, enigmatic, thought-provoking, disturbing... if you read Who fiction for the next thousand years you'll see nothing else like it.
Interference: A rot-stopping epic that (temporarily) gave the books a strong direction, and one that has been praised and vilified in equal measure. I'm definitely in the former category - in fact, I rate it much higher than Alien Bodies. Even if you set aside its obvious strengths (the repulsive Llewis, the beautifully-written Sam, the effortless return of Sarah and K-9) you have to admire its ambition; socially relevant Who, attacking the DTI and creating an alien race that has uncomfortable things to say about our moral values and where we derive them from. Universes are kept in bottles, Ogrons stroll around London with impunity, Rassillon is played by Brian Blessed, and worlds of dust host weird circuses. It's also been accused of being spiteful, by having the Doctor held prisoner by the Saudis. For me, Head Games is a far more spiteful work; Interference, by contrast, simply shows us the flaws in our hero's character and then demands that we love him anyway. It worked; I've never loved the Eighth Doctor more than at the end of What Happened on Earth. And I love Interference as well.
The Blue Angel: Another loved-and-hated book, The Blue Angel has some obvious and irritating flaws - a bad Star Trek parody and some very silly revelations (Blandish is... well I never!). But The Blue Angel is the obvious - and superior - successor to The Scarlet Empress, embracing the same themes with far more sophistication and a lot less flabbiness. It gives us a universe of wonders, not on a planet far-far away, but colliding on our own doorstep. But the most important thing about The Blue Angel is that it's fun. It's also challenging, never boring, packed with marvellous images and vignettes... it's a mish-mash of things strange and beautiful and mythic, and it's full of the best prose that Who fiction will ever see. "Gleaming gimcrack, crazed with veins of light"... it doesn't get any better than this.
The Shadows of Avalon: It has its faults. The inclusion of magic doesn't really work, the Compassion stuff isn't wildly well-handled, and some of the attempted links to other books are woeful (especially Parallel 59). So why did I rave about this one when I reviewed it? The answer is that it's happy; it's the book that gives us that passage where the Brigadier saves a soldier's life, and that passage with the Doctor flying above the streets of London, clinging to a rope ladder and deciding to save the world. The Shadows of Avalon feeds off all those preceding themes of the Doctor's impotence and turns them around, producing one of the most satisfying and affirming books in the range. It also pulls off that trick of making you think the worst thing will happen, and then proving you wrong at the last minute. So what if it peaks too early and all that stuff with the Gallifrey agents isn't wildly convincing? At one point I nearly cried... although obviously I didn't, 'cos I'm a double-hard bloke who doesn't do that sort of thing... honest...
The Turing Test: Genocide and Revolution Man were both frustratingly close to being great. The Turing Test is. Simplicity itself, an epic in two hundred and forty pages, gorgeously written. Three flawed and fascinating characters, all of whom are likeable, all of whom are different, and none of whom trusts the other. A marvellous Doctor, too. But there's not much more I feel I have to say, because The Turing Test is one of those books that says everything itself, far better than I could. I'll just say that it's an absolute belter; and maybe, just maybe, the fact that the most recent book I've read is also one of the best bodes well for the future. Here's hoping...
Top Ten Companions by Cainim Truax 9/11/00
I'm in shock, twenty years as a Doctor Who fan and I've just been informed that Sarah Jane is the best companion ever. Time to differ.
This is just a token gesture for my father who's always had a crush on her.
I'd like to thank the wardrobe folks for some of those outfits.
8 Romana 2
Chemistry with the Doctor is the key here.
The closest thing the series ever had to a real teenager(still pretty far off though)
Just for the look on Who fans who don't read the novels when you tell them. "The Doctor travels around inside his companion now"
5 Chris Cwej
I've just discovered him but every book I've read he shines in especially Cold Fusion and The Room With No Doors.
4 Jo Grant
For bringing a tear to the Doctor's eye and breaking my heart too.
Mostly for Gareth Roberts use of him but also because he was the only way I could ever get my sister to watch the show with me.
A likeable scoundrel with too much heart for his own good. The only thing I miss from the current EDA's. Get to St Louis soon, Doctor but not too soon.
I'm a sucker for tales of redemption. He's a great whiner too. Bitter, Snide and Mischevious. He came so close to being a real person.
Top Ten Questions about "The Ancestor Cell" that people send to Peter Anghelides by Peter Anghelides 20/11/00
I have received more e-mail correspondence about The Ancestor Cell than about all the other DW stuff I've written combined. Most of the e-mail is very positive, and most notes also contain questions about the contents of the book, its writing, and the reaction to it since publication
Because I feel that recently-published books should stand or fall on the published version, I've been reluctant to provide a kind of "Cole's Notes" (no pun intended) for the book by answering specific questions. However, for your delectation and delight, and allowing for some conflation of similar ones, here is my list of "Top Ten Questions about The Ancestor Cell that people send to Peter Anghelides".
10. When are you going to update your web site to include the book?
9. Who was the Enemy/Grandfather Paradox/Romana/Father Kreiner originally?
8. What do you think of Lawrence Miles's review/interview/Interference/Alien Bodies/writing, and what has he told you personally about the book?
7. Where was K-9/ Leela/ Andred/ Rassilon/ Engin/ Eye of Harmony/ BabyDoc/ Looms/ Master/ Dark Tower/ Rassilon/ ...?
6. Is the book's plot impossible because it's based on a paradox?
5. Your book's wonderful/terrible/mediocre -- how did it get commissioned?
4. Why did/didn't you use/ripoff/avoid/traduce/obliterate Miles's/ Platt's/ Cornell's/ Russell's/ Parkin's/ MIB's/ CE3K's/ STNG's/ B5's ideas for closing/ opening/ resolving/ avoiding/ confusing/ ignoring the arc instead of devising your own?
3. Which parts did Steve Cole write and which did you write?
2. I've written a DW novel for the BBC -- will you read it and tell me how to get it published?
1. Who survives?
Top Ten Writers by Alex Keaton Updated 2/10/01
A writer's reputation is usually based on quality and quantity hence both have been considered equally in the compilation of this list to determine Doctor Who's most influential writers.
As Doctor Who is a series that bases scripts over effects, all writers should be credited for making it so successful. To narrow this down further, here are some writers who deserve special mention for either creating some very memorable monsters or characters, or contributing memorable scripts; Henry Lincoln, Mervyn Haisman, Brian Hayles, Robert Banks Stewart, Ian Stuart Black, Chris Boucher, David Fisher, Robert Sloman, John Lucarotti, Dennis Spooner and the mythical David Agnew (whose is in reality a name frequently used by the BBC as a pseudonym for different productions).
Top 10 Reasons Why Derek Jacobi Would Make a Fine Doctor by Nate Gundy 1/12/00
Visiting the Derek Jacobi forum, I heard it suggested that the actor would do a good job as the Doctor. I balked at the brilliance of the idea. It was just so perfect. Here are my reasons as to why:
10. The energy. Playing the great classical roles for forty years requires a sustained fitness. Even in his sixties Jacobi can believably face the physical rigors of saving the Universe.
9. The voice. Perhaps a superficial, but nonetheless contributing factor to Tom Baker's charm was his rich, resonant voice. Jacobi also has impressive pipes that assist him admirably from light comedy to intense brooding.
8. The pain. Jacobi is a master at conveying different types of pain, be they physical or emotional. A monster's grip, a telepathic attack, the death of a companion could all be carried off with great panache and sincerity.
7. The accessibility. He's famous, but not really a celebrity. Not like those Hollywood actors, not even like Ian McKellen. I doubt that his presence as the Doctor would detract from one's emersion in the Universe, especially for American viewers.
6. The affability. All Doctors need charm in some form or other, and at present Jacobi's got the low-key charm of a mellow, yet incredibly virile grandfather. Companions would be beating down the TARDIS door to travel with him.
5. The timing. The man's just got killer comic timing, even when playing tragic roles. Cyrano, Hamlet, Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, etc. I never saw him play Benedick, but its one of his most famous roles. You would get a very playful humour from this Doctor.
4. Intelligence. No question that Jacobi could carry off the technobabble and futuristic theories with ease. No question that you could believe this guy out witting all the evil geniuses in the Universe.
3. The flair. Classically trained actors are often the best at handling the stylized drama of science fiction/ fantasy. If Jacobi's fighting to save the Universe from extinction, you need not worry about him getting overwhelmed. Dude performed Hamlet 397 times.
2. The wisdom. The Doctor's been around for over a thousand years. Whoever plays him needs the chops to portray a millenium's worth of experience. Jacobi often has a look of world-weariness about him combined with a child-like joy in what he does. Sound like anyone you know?
1. The conviction. Perhaps the best thing an actor playing the Doctor can offer is a belief and respect for what he's doing. The wobbly sets and silly monsters aren't distracting so long as the Doctor convinces you they're real. Jacobi has acknowledged that an actor's duty is not to impress people, but to help tell a great story. And isn't that what most people want from Doctor Who?
Ten Shameful Confessions by Mike Morris 5/12/00
Ten things I want to get off my chest. Here goes. The judgmental ones among you, please turn back now.
Which is a big fat lie. Isn't it?
My top 10 Dr Who TV stories by Paul Heslin 8/1/01
This is in order of appearance:
yes, I did love the 26th season.