Full Circle, by John Toon (and Andrew Smith)

Gradually working through the excellent Black Archive series of short monographs on Doctor Who stories, I have reached another Old Who story which I watched on first broadcast. When I rewatched Full Circle in 2008, I wrote:

Imagine if you were a 19-year-old fan and submitted your script idea to Doctor Who and it actually got accepted… again, I was surprised by how good Full Circle actually is, bar Matthew Waterhouse. Quite a sophisticated plot, both in terms of rebels vs establishment and in terms of the scientific hand-waving; and lots of nasty tension involving threats to Romana and the Tardis. The Gallifrey stuff at the beginning does seem a bit bolted on, and it’s one of the drawbacks of this season that it is dealt with a bit inconsistently.

When I came back to it in 2011 for my great Old Who rewatch, I wrote:

I think this may be a recurring theme in this post, but Full Circle was also much better than I remembered. This month’s DWM ran an interview with author Andrew Smith, who was only 18 at the time the story was made, and thus a cause of immense envy to all Who-watching teenagers such as myself (both then and also now, though I am no longer a teenager). Smith admits that the story underwent considerable massage by script editor Christopher Bidmead, but of course that actually helps to give it a certain unity of style with the rest of the season.

Rewatching it this time, I was not quite as satisfied in some ways – the science behind the plot doesn’t really make a lot of sense even in its own terms, and for a supposedly hard science script it draws on horror movie tropes to an extent that I found uncomfortable. However I particularly enjoyed Paddy Kingsland’s incidental music, and it was also interesting to see James Bree, recently escaped from Secret Army, in one of his three Doctor Who roles, as well as George Baker, who was Tiberius in I CLAVDIVS.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of the novelisation is:

Amid all the relieved, frightened, and numbed faces, Nefred and Garif, overseeing the boarding operation, perceived Halrin Login, Keara’s father. Login was a respected man, a wise man destined perhaps one day to be a Decider.

When I first reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Hmm. Smith is of course determined to give his own script a fair wind, but the end result is not very special; it is one of those rare occasions when the book doesn’t quite do justice to the special effects of the original series. Of course he gives us a bit more background to the Alzarians and their origin – or not – on Terradon, but if anything it rather confuses the picture.

Coming back to it now, I think this was a bit harsh of me. Smith does the descriptive bits perfectly adequately, and does his best to add colour to the background, without spoiling it by trying to add realism to the pseudoscience. You can get it here (for a price).

John Toon’s Black Archive essay on Full Circle is largely about the intellectual ideas behind the story. I’m coming to realise that while this is a perfectly valid approach, I find the Black Archive volumes giving the inside scoop on the creative choices made in the production of the story much more interesting. This is partly because I have previously dealt with the history of ideas in my own career, and moved on, and partly because often (as in this case) Doctor Who slightly muffs the landing for big philosophical debates.

Anyway, it’s a perfectly decent book as this very good series goes, and it won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Professional Production/Publication in 2019.

The first chapter makes the intriguing argument that rather than thinking of the Nathan-Turner era of Old Who, we should think of the Bidmead, Saward and Cartmel eras, the script editors being much more important than the producer in terms of content; and that Full Circle is the point where the Bidmead era really begins, after two stories at the start of the season which were leftovers from the previous regime.

The second chapter takes us through theories of evolution, which as previously mentioned is something I have done before; my Ph D supervisor was Peter Bowler. So I did not learn much from it.

The third chapter explains the Gaia hypothesis at some length, and reflects on its impact – or lack thereof – on the story line. I had forgotten that Lovelock’s book came out only the previous year, 1979. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Lovelock used the name ‘Gaia’47 to refer to this system of chemical feedback loops, partly because it had all of the convenience and none of the ugliness of an acronym, and partly to make the idea more relatable for his readers. The downside of this is that the reader might too easily suppose Lovelock was depicting the Earth itself as an intelligent being, personifying it by naming it in this way. In his preface to the 2000 edition of the book, Lovelock insists that he was simply exercising poetic licence for the benefit of his non-scientist readers, but not all of his readers drew a distinction between the poetry and the science. In the decades that followed its publication, Gaia was scorned by the orthodox scientific community and hailed as a visionary text by the New Age contingent of the environmental movement.
47 The name of an ancient Greek goddess personifying the Earth; as Lovelock admits in his opening chapter, the name was suggested to him by his neighbour William Golding (Lovelock, James, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth p10).

The fourth chapter points out that most of the “science” in Full Circle is pretty magical.

The fifth chapter tries (largely unsuccessfully) to find a social critique in the story’s presentation of progress, both evolutionary and scientific.

The sixth chapter looks at the importance of Adric being a teenager, and the presentation of teens and kids in Who at the time, while omitting any assessment of Waterhouse’s performance in the role.

The seventh chapter, one of the best, looks at the Marshmen in the context of cinematic monsters and finds much inspiration from the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

An appendix makes the slight point that it’s interesting when fans start to get involved with the production of the show.

Full Circle will never be one of my favourite stories, and I’m afraid this isn’t one of my favourite Black Archives either; I wanted more info on how the story was actually made, and way certain things were done or not done in the course of production. But John Toon is entitled to write the book he wants, which may not be the book I want. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)

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