Dalek, by Billy Seguire (and Robert Shearman)

Happy 60th birthday, Doctor Who! This week, I’ve been blogging Doctor Who books, and here’s another one.

The first New Who episode with a Dalek was shown the Saturday before the 2005 UK election; I was blogging a lot about New Who at the time, and celebrated the Radio Times cover:

I hugely enjoyed the actual episode:

That was excellent. An existential Dalek, no less! The back-story of the Time War comes into clearer focus. The mutant inside was, as put it, “suitably squamous and rugose, not to mention dripping with mucus”. The three-way relationship between the Doctor, Rose and the Dalek. (Oh yeah, and Adam. Who is a bit pretty.)

I’ve watched it a couple of times since, including the lockdown group watch in 2020, and enjoyed it every time.

Coming back to it now, I felt that Corey Johnson as Van Statten is perhaps a little underwhelming, but the rest is still great. We know a bit more now about Eccleston’s personal demons, and it deepens my appreciation of his performance.

The second sentence of the third chapter of Robert Shearman’s novelisation of his own story is:

It might be thought that they had been paired deliberately as comic contrast. But they hadn’t. Van Statten didn’t have that sort of sense of humour. And now as he swept into the Cage operations room, they both snapped to attention and saluted. They knew that their boss wouldn’t acknowledge them, that he probably wouldn’t even notice they were there – but it was the correct form of the thing. If they were surprised that he’d brought the intruder with them they didn’t show it. They were paid not to be surprised.

When I first read it two years ago, I wrote:

Great novelisation of one of the great New Who episodes. You have seen the show, here’s the writer’s cut, as it were, giving new background to a number of the characters, smoothing out a couple of plot kinks, with combination of tight-third for Rose interspersed with notes from the omniscient narrator explaining what was happening. We lose a couple of the good lines (“He’s a bit pretty” / “I hadn’t noticed”) but we get a lot more in other areas. Well worth adding to the collection. You can get it here.

Coming to it again just after rewatching the TV episode, I noticed several significant points that I should have remarked on first time around. Goddard is actually an FBI plant, and takes over operations from Van Statten a bit earlier (which makes sense). We get a lot more about everyone’s background, including the security guards. Adam’s personal weapons cache has been built up by him in case he might need to shoot his way out. It’s very satisfactory.

I am in a mood of tracing roots of stories at the moment, so I listened again to Shearman’s earlier Big Finish play, Jubilee, which is credited on screen as the basis for Dalek. It was the 40th Big Finish audio, produced in time for the 40th anniversary of the show in 2003. When I first listened to it in 2007, I wrote:

Jubilee was of course the basis for the superb Ninth Doctor story Dalek. I was surprised, though, by how different it was. There are similarities – the first confrontation between Doctor and imprisoned Dalek, the relationship between Dalek and companion (done more convincingly on TV), the Dalek’s quest for orders (done more convincingly here); but there is a huge difference in setting, the audio play taking place in an alternate 2003 where the world is ruled from London by the villainous Mr and Mrs Martin Jarvis, thanks to the Doctor’s intervention a hundred years earlier. And yet this doesn’t fall into the category of Doctor-returns-to-the-scene-of-a-previous-adventure stories, because the earlier Sixth Doctor is still there. It’s a good one, but the TV version is I think better (not always the case; see Spare Parts).

I confess that on this listening I didn’t feel that it worked as well. The two core moments – when first the Doctor and then his companion meet the imprisoned Dalek – are both very good and ended up much less changed for the TV story. The first half is fine, as we get dug into the horror of an parallel timeline where the UK’s dictatorship maintains its position by whipping up fear of the Daleks; but I felt it lost the run of itself at the end, with too many cases of characters revealing that their real motivations are completely different to what we had been told; and I did not feel that all the plot strings were tied up. There is some great humour – especially the opening sequence which parodies the whole concept of Doctor Who – but some dark shifts of tone which seemed to me dissonant rather than masterful. It’s probably fair to say that fannish expectations were different back in 2003, when it looked like the Wilderness Years would last for ever. You can get it here.

Billy Seguire has delivered an excellent analysis of the story and everything around it in this Black Archive. It has nine chapters and an interview with Robert Shearman, so I’m afraid I will run through them fairly quickly, while still recommending the book to the interested reader.

The first chapter, “‘And Now I Know Your Name’”, looks at the significance of the epsiode’s one-word title and the way in which Daleks can be named; the Dalek of the episode is referred to subsequently as “Metaltron”.

The second chapter, “The Myth of the Great Curator”, looks at museums in Doctor Who; there are plenty of them.

The third chapter, “‘That’s What They Called It the Last Time’”, looks at the evolution of the story from Jubilee to the TV story and then to the novel. Its (long) second paragraph is:

Words like ‘adaptation’, ‘remake’, and ‘reboot’ are all used to describe a work that is drawing on a past version of itself. ‘Drawing’ is a loaded word in this context, one which can apply either to what an adaptation takes, as in drawing water from a well, or what it defaces, such as drawing a shape on a blackboard. Both meanings apply to the concept of adaptation through the way the past and future versions interact. In the case of Jubilee, becoming ‘the story that became Dalek’ breaks it down to those elements which were carried forward and removes contextual factors like the anniversary nature of the story, or public perception of the sixth Doctor, from consideration. In a sense, this applies to any progression of history. Our present circumstances come into play when interpreting the past in a way that wouldn’t have applied to contemporary analysis. History requires perspective. Yet adaptations are unique in that they allow us to bridge, and affect our understanding of, two distinct periods through direct contrast. There’s a continuing presence of the original in an adaptation that links it to the past work. There is also a way in which the original is now affected. When someone says that a revived work ‘ruined their childhood’, what they really mean is that the new work has infiltrated their perception of the original, that the elements that made it work were removed. This is particularly true in ongoing works, such as the Star Wars franchise, where new entries are made to fit into various states of canon or validity. An adaptation is different from a sequel because they tell the same story. Some elements are bound to contradict, meaning whichever version becomes the prime text often directly overwrites the original.

The fourth chapter, “‘And When I Close My Eyes’”, looks at the story as a portrayalof consflict-related trauma in the context of Abu Ghraib and the conflicts of the early 21st century.

The fifth chapter, “‘And You Made Me Better’”, looks at the character of Rose as a transformative agent for the Doctor (and the Dalek).

The sixth chapter, “Who Owns the Internet?”, looks at the portrayal of the online world in the story, which came just before the growth of social media. (Van Statten’s original name was “Will Fences”, but this is obviously too close to Bill Gates.)

The seventh chapter, “The Dalek Surprise Party”, looks at how Joe Ahearne’s direction and Murray Gold’s music maintain our attention.

The eighth and longest chapter, “In the Absence of God”, makes a convincing case that the Daleks tell us something important about religion and belief. A couple of previous Black Archives have made the mistake of banging on about theology too much, and this seems to me much better-judged.

The ninth chapter, “‘Why Don’t You Just Die?’”, looks at the tricky topic of how suicide is (and can be) portrayed in Doctor Who.

An appendix includes an interview with Robert Shearman, with some interesting reflections on the creative process.

The scene which I’m in some ways happiest with, just because I just think it’s got the best bit of writing in it, is the scene where Chris [Eccleston] gets really angry and goes off about van Statten dragging the stars down. That got very nearly cut. After being filmed, Joe Ahearne said to me, ‘You know, I don’t think we need that.’ I said, ‘Could we keep it?’ And he asked why and I said, rather painfully, ‘It’s just the bit I like the most.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, all right.’ I mean, bless his heart because that’s not his job, and you don’t need it. You don’t. But it’s still a scene which, when I watch Dalek, I remember writing that bit and being quite proud of it. I’m really pleased that it survives.

And unusually there is an online supplement, a chapter that didn’t fit into the book, looking at the online extras surrounding the 2005 relaunch in general and Dalek in particular, including a game where you actually play the Dalek trying to escape and finish by exterminating the Doctor!

A solid and interesting piece of analysis which deepened my appreciation for a favourite story. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Into the Stars

trailer:

I am hugely enjoying the Big Finish audios starring Christopher Eccleston. This is already the fifth three-play collection, released last summer, and it includes one really standout story which I must admit I listened to three times: Salvation Nine by Timothy X Atack.

Salvation Nine is about an abandoned tribe of crashed space travellers who have developed their own culture, and moved far away from their origins to the point of oblivion; they live a happy life but their singing is absolutely terrible. They are Sontarans, and the rest of the galaxy wants to destroy them. It’s really well done by everyone – Dan Starkey in particular, demonstrating that he’s so much more than just a funny voice, and Eccleston switching register from tragic to comic effortlessly. I listen to a lot of Big Finish audios (I have been very slack about recording them here), but this was one of the freshest takes on a well-established feature of the Whoniverse that I can remember for a while. Atack also wrote the earlier Ninth Doctor audio Planet of the End, which I also enjoyed.

The middle story, Last of the Zetacene by James Kettle, was less to my taste and has the same theme of unpleasant people engaged in hunting as his previous Ninth Doctor audio, Hunting Season. But there is a superb bit of stunt casting with Maureen O’Brien, who turns 80 next week, as one of the nastier characters.

The third story, Break the Ice by Tim Foley, is back up to Big Finish’s usual standards with a story of elemental peril from a deity of frost. Again, it’s closely linked to the writer’s previous Ninth Doctor story, Auld Lang Syne, but has some good twists and good performances from the two lead guest stars, Thalissa Teixeira and Amy Manson.

But anyway, the first story almost justifies the three on its own. You can get them here.

Sin Eaters, by Cavan Scott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson and Marco Lesko

Second frame of third issue:

Last in the series of Ninth Doctor comics from Titan, this has the Doctor dealing with a creature constructed from his id, a bit of Jack’s back story, Rose called on to save the day and only a small role for the promising UNIT companion Tara. There’s also a bit of commentary on social media. I thought the first story would have made a great TV episode if there had been a second Ninth Doctor series, and enjoyed the rest though it was a bit uneven in places. You can get it here.

Next up in this sequence: Revolutions of Terror, by Nick Abadzis et al.

Official Secrets, by Cavan Scott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson and Marco Lesko

Second frame from third issue of title story:

Next in the sequence of Ninth Doctor graphic novels from Titan Books. There are two stories here; the titular “Official Secrets”, which brings Nine, Rose and Jack into the middle of a UNIT investigation led by a curiously un-aged Harry Sullivan with support from Benton, and the more interesting if less fan-servicey “Slaver’s Song” then brings Team TARDIS, augmented by new UNIT character Tara Mishra, to Brazil in 1682 where there are ancient mermaid-like monsters and hints of Jack’s secret past as a Catholic priest. I especially like artist Adriana Melo’s characterisation of Tara, ad wonder who the model was.

You can get it here.

Recent Big Finish: Tenth Doctor, Fourth Doctor, Martha Jones

So, I’m rather far behind with writing up my recent Big Finish listening – last time I mentioned it was in July. Three boxed sets of audio plays to cover quickly in summary here.

My favourite of these is a set of three stories with the Tenth Doctor and Classic Companions. All three bring David Tennant together with John Leeson as K9. The first, Splinters by John Dorney, features Louise Jameson as Leela; the second, The Stuntman by Lizzie Hopley, has Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, and the third, Quantum of Axos by Roy Gill, has Sophie Aldred as Ace. All three stories have fantastic chemistry between Tennant and the others – the arrivals of Leela and K9 are the first changes to the regular cast he remembers as a young fan, and clearly everyone is thrilled to bits to be performing with each other. It was also interesting that all three stories play with themes of identity, memory and nostalgia, which always appeal to me too. Dorney, Hopley and Gill are among Big Finish’s more reliable writers, and they have delivered here. Strongly recommended. Here’s a trailer to whet your appetite.

Another New Who spinoff comes in the form of The Year of Martha Jones, set during the year that Martha travels the world while the aged-up Doctor is the Master’s prisoner. We’ve already had a print anthology set in this period; this however is better, getting off to an excellent start in The Last Diner by the always reliable James Goss, a more Western-y The Silver Medal by Tim Foley, and a well-executed climax in Deceived by Matt Fitton. Martha is joined by Adjoa Andoh playing her mother Francine, who has apparently escaped the Master, and Serin Ibrahim as old friend Holly. (Also Clare Louise Connolly plays the Toclafance in all three stories.) Guest stars include Marina Sirtis, best known as Deanna Troi in Star Trek, in the first episode.

The fifth set of Ninth Doctor adventures, Back to Earth, sees Christopher Ecclestone’s time as the Doctor on audio overtaking his record on TV. To be honest I was less wowed by this trilogy than by some of the others, but these are all decent enough stories. Station to Station by Robert Valentine has the Doctor helping a young woman (Indigo Griffiths) out of a strange predicament in a deserted railway station. The False Dimitry by Sarah Grochala brings a Whovian spin to a corner of Russian history, the title character playedby Alexander Arnold. And Auld Lang Syne, another one by Time Foley, has a spooky New Year’s Eve party where all is not what it seems; veteran Wendy Craig makes an appearance as the great-aunt. I got the sense that Big Finish is trying out younger writers and actors in this range, which is fine. Here, again is a trailer.

I’m also way behind on noting the Fourth Doctor box sets that I have been listening to, but I think I’ll save those for another post – the above three are all worth getting anyway.

Doctormania, by Cavan Scott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson, Matheus Lopes and Marco Lesko

Second frame of third story (“Transformed”):

The end of Rose, New Who’s first episode, from Mickey’s point of view

Second in the series of Titan Comics graphic novels about the Ninth Doctor, with three stories:

“Hacked”, a very short story with a reference to the Eye of Orion and the Braxiatel Collection, in which the Ninth Doctor, Jack and Rose are kidnapped by an intergalactic criminal who they duly defeat.

The title story, “Doctormania”, has the crew landing on a world where everyone is a Doctor Who fan, an immediately glorious concept. There is a fake Doctor who everyone loves and a fan who gets annoyed with Rose. But it turns out that a familar foe is behind it all. Nicely executed.

The third story, “Transformed”, brings Mickey back into the narrative (though at a point where he has already met the Tenth Doctor). The whole team ends up in San Francisco for an adventure with shape-changing gargoyles with super powers. Nicely done.

Enjoyed it. You can get it here.

Weapons of Past Destruction, by Cavan Scott, Blair Shedd, Rachel Stott and Anand Setyawan

Second frame of third part:

Continuing to work through my stash of Doctor Who comics, here’s the first of the Titan Ninth Doctor stories, set between The Doctor Dances and Boom Town, featuring the full TARDIS crew of Nine, Rose and Jack in an adventure with Time War technology looted by an alien race. The plot is nicely twisty and the characterisation of the leads (which after all is the main attraction) is bang on. Definitely good fun.

There’s an actual YouTube trailer for the story:

You can get it here.

Ninth Doctor Adventures: Old Friends

Trailer:

As previously noted, I’ve been increasingly enjoying the Big Finish audio adventures with Christopher Eccleston reprising his role as the Ninth Doctor, and this was another good set installment. Unusually the three stories are a singleton and a two-parter, so you’ll need to plan your listening accordingly.

The first story, Fond Farewell, is set in an intergalactic funeral parlour where the decedents are resurrected in replica to preside over their own memorial ceremonies. Roger Zelazny had a similar idea in his short story “Walpurgisnacht” (collected in the original and better Unicorn Variations). All is not what is seems, as the deceased archæologist who the Doctor wishes to honour has left a complex situation of romance and memory.

Heavy star power in the form of Juliet Stevenson as the grieving widow, though Emily Taaffe (a rare Irish voice) is more dominant as one-off companion Sasha. It’s by David K. Barnes, who also wrote the First Doctor/Second Doctor mashup Daughter of the Gods and one of the episodes of Doctor Who: Redacted. Good enough.

The two-parter Way of the Burrymen / The Forth Generation brings together Eccleston, Cybermen and the Brigadier (this is not a spoiler as they all feature on the cover). It is by Roy Gill who wrote the first of the Class spinoff audios and a Tenth Doctor story. The Tardis lands in Edinburgh in the present day where there is anthropology, the Forth bridge, and tragic doomed romance.

Jon Culshaw does a very good and respectful job of evoking Nicholas Courtney in his later years (and of course the very first UNIT adventure also featured the Cybermen). But there is a lovely dynamic between the two lovers at the centre of the story, played by Warren Brown and Elinor Lawless. A good cap to the first dozen Eccleston audios.

You can get the set here.

Ninth Doctor and Thirteenth Doctor audios

The end of a week of Doctor Who audio-blogging – book-blogging will return shortly, but I also will try and keep more up to date with the other media I have been consuming here.

Lost Warriors is the third volume of plays featuring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, following from the welcome first set and the excellent second set. Two are OK and one that is excellent.

The first of these is The Hunting Season by James Kettle, a new writer for me, bringing the Ninth Doctor to a posh country house in the early twentieth century, which he naturally dislikes, with aliens infesting the estate. Not all is as it seems of course. Annette Badland is great as the cook, but it doesn’t quite seem to find its soul. One reviewer comments that it is the only one of these three not rooted in historical events, which may be part of it.

We’re on an upward curve with the next one, The Curse of Lady Macbeth by Lizzie Hopley. This is largely a two-hander between Eccleston and the lovely Neve McIntosh as Gruach, the historical Lady Macbeth, with an optimistic reading of her role in Scottish history which surely nods to Dorothy Dunnett’s King Hereafter, bothered by aliens again of course but also fulfilling a progressive government role.

And it peaks with Monsters in Metropolis by John Dorney, where a lone Cyberman gets involved with Fritz Lang’s movie-making in 1920s Berlin. It has a similar plot to the TV story Dalek, with Nicholas Briggs playing the monster which is changed by its survival in a human world, but the historical setting and intersection with early sf make it very different. Helen Goldwyn, a Big Finish veteran actor, director and writer, shines here as one-off companion Anna Dreyfus, Fritz Lang’s assistant.

You can get them here.

Dorney throws in a lovely and not completely gratuitous reference to Norman Hartnell, the fashion designer whose career was just getting started at the time that Lang was making Metropolis. His cousin William, seven years younger, is also known to Doctor Who fans.

And finally, I finish this write-up of recent Doctor Who audios with one that didn’t come from Big Finish.

Doctor Who: Redacted is a ten-part audio story featuring Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, released by the BBC between April and June 2022, mostly by Juno Dawson. Although Whittaker makes frequent appearances, along with Anjli Mohindra as Rani, Jemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver as Kate Stewart and Osgood, and a recast Doon McKichan as Madam Vastra, the protagonist is Charlie Craggs starring as Cleo Proctor, supported by Lois Chimimba as Abby and Holly Quin-Ankrah as Shawna, three podcasters who are trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Doctor and her blue box – especially when people associated with the mysterious traveller start to disappear. It’s all very well done.

The whole thing is very different from a Big Finish production – much more podcasty, much less TV-on-the-radio. It’s something of a hymn to fandom, but given Dawson’s authorship and Craggs’ leading role, it’s not surprising that it’s also a salute to Who as a safe space for inclusivity. And it’s the BBC showing the way yet again: it’s difficult to imagine Big Finish running a story with a trans lead and the two most important supporting roles played by actors of colour, or at least it was until the BBC showed it could be done.

Even outside the UK I was able to download all 10 episodes (none longer than half an hour) for free from here.

Back to books. Soon.