Gallifrey One, 2023

Those who don’t know or don’t especially like Doctor Who may well query why a middle-aged Brussels lobbyist should devote any time at all to a family TV show which started the day after the Kennedy assassination. Query all you like; I have never made any excuse for seeking escapism. Brian Aldiss once said that good sf is not about asking “What if…?” but about saying, “My God, what if…!?” and Doctor Who at its best does that – whether it’s about schoolteachers trapped in the Stone Age or youths being kidnapped to be turned into cheetahs or a cosmic villain dancing to Boney M in the Winter Palace in 1916. It unites the consistent formula of the hero who is just a little more than human with the companions who represent the reactions of us, the viewers, to what is going on.

I’ve spent this weekend at Gallifrey One in Los Angeles, the biggest annual Doctor Who convention anywhere in the world. It was my fourth time there, and somehow I enjoyed it even more than the previous three occasions. Part of it was surely the presence of recently departed star of the show Jodie Whittaker, whose charm and enthusiasm captured everyone. I had a brief chat with her where I mentioned her role in the great Belfast film, Good Vibrations. “I love that film!” she exclaimed, and I noted the present tense. “But the accent was a bit hard.”

Let’s be honest, this was the point of the trip.

Having just flown in from Sydney, where she has been filming a new series after a year off, she did two interviews on stage, which were of course packed; and then charmed us at the closing ceremony by showing off her badge ribbons, a strip which must have been 15 metres long. A particular highlight which I missed, though my friend H was there, was her performing the script from her own last episode, taking on different roles.

There were some very good panel discussions and other interviews as well. Sophie Aldred (Ace) and Janet Fielding (Tegan), who both made reappearances last year, decades after they had been written out, did a hilarious double act on stage and then also provided commentary for the latest episode, which they are in, along with Chris Chibnall, the outgoing showrunner who wrote it.

Both are quite short so they insisted that fans getting photographed with them use a chair.

One particularly moving event was the screening of the film Doctor Who Am I by Matthew Jacobs. He wrote the script for the 1996 TV Movie, which turned out to be a false start, but had been into Doctor Who as a child – his actor father played Doc Holliday in The Gunfighters, a 1966 story which climaxes at the OK Corral. The film is about his personal reconciliation with Doctor Who through fandom, and particularly through an earlier Gallifrey One convention; so I had the weird experience of watching it while sitting in the room where several scene were actually filled (see eg 1:44 in the trailer). I had the pleasure of chatting to Jacobs a couple of times in the bar.

The other nice small event I did was a Kaffeeklatsch with Frazer Hines, who played the Second Doctor’s companion Jamie in 1967-69, and Michael Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton who played the Second Doctor. They have known each other since Michael was fifteen (“..and I was seventeen!” Hines quipped) and both in fact have performed as the Second Doctor in audio plays. They talked a lot about acting and a bit about Doctor Who. Hines also did photo shoots with his fellow companion Wendy Padbury, who played Zoe.

My other celebrity photoshoot was with Katy Manning who played Jo Grant in 1971-73, literally fifty years ago. Immediately in front of me in the queue was a small child dressed as the alien Alpha Centauri which appeared in two of her stories. I said to her, ‘That was awfully sweet, wasn’t it?’ Her eyes welled with emotion and she grabbed me for a hug.

Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor, was also there, looking better than the last time I saw him in 2020, as was his companion Bonnie Langford – I did not go for a picture as I have one with both of them from a previous convention.

The Old Who team, somewhat blurry: Colin Baker, Bonnie Langford, Katie Manning, Sophie Aldred, Janet Fielding, Wendy Padbury, Frazer Hines.

That’s enough about me. The other big big thing about Gallfrey One is the cosplay. Some of the ones that caught my eye:

Loads of people dressed as the Thirteenth Doctor
There is more than one way to cosplay a Dalek.
A Drashig and Vorg, from the 1973 story Carnival of monsters
Three Tenth Doctors, or as someone put it on Twitter, the 0.3 Doctors
Martha Jones and the Fugitive Doctor
Third Doctor, Seventh Doctor, Fourth Doctor

And finally, H and I, who had travelled over together, were charmed to meet with S, a fellow fan and emigrant who lives in Gent. S and I turned out to have a lot of people in common, and we did a fair bit of hanging out together. It’s not just the old friends you meet, it’s the new friends you make.

An Irishman, an Englishman and a Scotswoman walk into a convention

I had a blast, and I will hope to go again.

Listen, by Dewi Small

Listen, from the first series of Doctor Who episodes starring Peter Capaldi, is one of my favourite stories of the era. Not a lot actually happens. We get the opening of the relationship between Clara and Danny Pink; we get an encounter from the far future and a descendant of Danny’s; we get the Doctor investigating a phantom in everyone’s psyche; and we get Clara intervening at a key point in the Doctor’s own childhood. It’s not crammed with action. But perhaps, by not trying too hard, we end up with a better outcome.

One of its successes is the very last scene, which sets up a sort of recursion, with the Doctor’s future personality explained to him by Clara, using words originally crafted by Terrace Dicks. It contrasts with a lot of the other revelations we have had about the Doctor’s origins over the years (most recently the Timeless Child) in its subtlety and ambiguity – almost answering a question with another question. It’s also noteworthy that we don’t actually find an answer to the Doctor’s question, and yet the story is satisfactorily closed.

I also think it’s worth noting that the disastrous date between Clara and Danny riffs off one of Moffat’s most consistent and successful themes, of people miscommunicating. My personal favourite example of this is the Coupling episode, The Girl With Two Breasts, followed by the scene with the twins and the pickpocket in the Tintin movie. But here this situation is played not for laughs but as a deadly serious case of PTSD, and it is done very well.

Dewi Small has written one of the shorter but punchier Black Archives about this story. In a brief introduction, he sets out his stall: this story is based on psychology and he will use a Freudian lens to look at it. It works a lot better than the similarly psychological Black Archive on The Face of Evil.

The first chapter, “What if the Big Bad Time Lord doesn’t want to admit he’s afraid of the dark?”, which takes up more than 40% of the whole text, explains the Freudian concepts of the Uncanny and repression with reference to Who and Henry James, and looks at the significance of the barn.

The second chapter, “I Don’t Take Orders, Clara”, looks at the role of Clara and how it transcends the usual role of the companion in Who.

The third chapter, “A Soldier So Brave He Doesn’t Need a Gun”, unpacks the character and importance of Danny/ Rupert. Its second paragraph is:

 The new Doctor sets out the revised terms of his and Clara’s relationship when he addresses his ‘many mistakes’ and tells her that he’s ‘not [her] boyfriend’ at the end of his first episode Deep Breath (2014). However, Clara was almost immediately repositioned into a new romantic coupling, providing another layer of impediment to the continuance of the previous relationship between her and the Time Lord.

The brief fourth chapter, “This is It, The End of Everything, The Last Planet” looks at the end of the world as presented in Listen and Utopia, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Fredric Brown’s “Knock”.

And there is a brief conclusion saying again how good the story is, which I agree with.

This is a brief review of one of the briefer Black archives, but I recommend it. You can get it here (NB the picture on the page is for a different book).

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | 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) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
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) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Kerblam! (37)

Timelash, by Phil Pascoe (and Glen McCoy)

Before I start – Colin Baker is here at Gallifrey One this weekend, and looking well – last time I saw him was in Brussels in 2020 and he seemed a bit frail, but it looks like the last few years have been good to him.

I remember catching the second episode of Timelash, but not the first, when it was first broadcast in 1985, the month before my 18th birthday. My main memory is that it was pretty obvious who Herbert was meant to be, and otherwise it did not make a lot of sense.

When I rewatched it in 2008, I was apocalyptic:

Timelash comes very close to The Twin Dilemma as being the worst Who story ever. Paul Darrow is just awful. Really awful. The glove-puppet aliens are just awful. Really awful. The pointless continuity with an unbroadcast Third Doctor story is just pointless. The inclusion of HG Wells is just stupid. The climbing wall scene is especially unconvincing. And what happens to all the people exiled to the twelfth century? Are they just left there? The only saving grace is that Colin Baker’s Doctor is a little less annoying here than elsewhere. But that is not saying much.

When I came back to it a couple of years later for my Great Rewatch, I was more forgiving:

One of the things I didn’t like about Timelash was the same essentialism [as with the aliens in The Two Doctors] – the Borad being evil at least in part because he looks evil. Another is the fact that the time travel part of the plot is rather botched (I am a fan of the twelfth century and would have liked to see some action there). But actually the story as a whole, and Paul Darrow, annoyed me much less on this viewing. Most of the plot makes sense, and is in keeping with the spirit of Who. While the production values are rather poor, everyone does seem to be aware of this and carries on as best they can in the circumstances. And having had almost 19 years with no real historical figures portrayed as a speaking role, now, with H.G. Wells, we have two in the same season. But I think he is the last in Old Who. (The Queen and Courtney Pine in Silver Nemesis don’t count, as neither speaks and the latter is not portrayed by an actor but by himself.)

I have to confess that this time around, I swung back to my earlier opinion. I found the script so annoying, the momsters so amateurish and the treatment of Peri so offensive that I was rather distracted from the actual plot. It is certainly in my bottom ten Old Who stories, maybe in my bottom three. I can only really recommend it to completists and to fans of Paul Darrow. 

Pennant Roberts directed some very good Blake’s 7 episodes, and also The Face of Evil and several other Who stories. But somehow the magic did not work here; a number of scenes seem very under-rehearsed, and the lead actors don’t seem to be under control. Clearly a lot of energy and money had been used up in earlier stories in the season, and in the pantomime which JNT was also directing Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.

Author Glen McCoy, who at the time was working as an ambulance driver, had never written for television before, and has since developed a career as a motivational speaker. Incidentally he was the first person of colour to write a Doctor Who script – he describes himself to me as Anglo-Indian. (The first non-white director was Waris Hussein, way back at the start.)

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

Peri was more than delighted, and left her position by the central console, assuming the problem had been solved. Yet her approach received an unfriendly glare from the Time Lord. Peri stopped in her tracks. ‘It is okay now, isn’t it?’

When I first read I it in 2008, I wrote:

It’s not a fantastic book, but it is at least at the level of quality of the average Who novelisation, unlike the original series; it makes you realise just how much the TV original suffered from a) Paul Darrow’s overacting as Tekker and b) the pathetic hand-puppet monsters. One of those cases where the reader’s imagination is better at supplying the effects.

As I already said, this time around I was so annoyed by the TV story’s flaws that I rather forgot that there was a plot when watching it, and reading the novelisation was a useful reminder that there was some purpose to all the running around. Some (but not all) of the sillier lines are cut. A surprising amount of the action is reported indirectly rather than in dialogue.

Given that McCoy wrote the book as well as the series, this is the first Doctor Who novel by a non-white writer. You can get it here.

Phil Pascoe reveals at the end of his Black Archive monograph that he actually loves this story, and it is intimately tied to very pleasant very personal childhood memories. It’s not the first Black Archive about a story which the writer loves but fandom generally doesn’t, so it’s always interesting to see what approach is taken. As he explains in the first chapter, “The Waves of Time”, Pascoe has decided to look at the story through the lens of H.G. Wells, and the extent to which he “haunts” the text. As I have myself been working through Wells’ novels (next up: The World Set Free), I found it an interesting approach.

The second chapter, “Working for the Benefit of All Karfelons”, looks at the economic set-up of the planet Karfel and applies a Wellsian critique to it.

The third chapter, “Don’t I Have a Say in All This?”, looks at just how badly Peri is treated in the story nd links that rather weakly to H.G. Wells’ feminism in theory and practice. The second paragraph of this chapter is:

I want to emphasise that I do not believe that anyone involved in making the story deliberately and maliciously set out to make a work which discriminates against women. However, there is much in Timelash that, to 21st-century audiences, would appear sexist. Does our unhaunting of the text require this Black Archive to become an apologia, or are some of the more egregious aspects of the story beyond reasonable defence? We encounter the problem, in reconsidering a piece of popular culture from decades past, of it no longer meeting today’s standards or expectations. Timelash can also be haunted from its future, our present, distorting the picture of how the story did what it did in its historical moment of 1985.

The fourth chapter, “Can’t You Speak, Dumbbell?”, looks at voices: interruptions, Paul Darrow’s performance, the Old Man as ventriloquist’s dummy, and the number of times people speak out of shot (to which I would have added the novelisation’s frequent use of reported speech).

The fifth chapter, “Science… Fiction” looks for Wells’ direct influence on Doctor Who and finds some, though not especially in Timelash.

The sixth chapter, “Food Which is Rightfully Ours”, looks at human meat in Who and Wells, and veganism and vegetarianism in Doctor Who.

The seventh chapter, “I Didn’t Realise Dying Heroically Was Such a Strain on the Nerves”, looks at two scenes near the end (in the Tardis console room) written by Eric Saward because the original script under-ran, suggesting that they subtly critique the entire story.

The eighth chapter, “Strange How You Can Forget What You Used to Look Like”, looks at the furniture, asks what the title actually means, and then leads into the ninth chapter, “Wish I Could Have That on Tape”, which attempts to reconstruct the Third Doctor’s adventure on Karfel.

The tenth chapter, “…Wash Us All Clean”, disarmingly admits the writer’s fond childhood memories of the story, separated from fan criticism.

The whole thing is interesting, though not all of the interesting parts are about Timelash. Perhaps that is just as well. 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 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) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
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) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Kerblam! (37)

Lucy Wilson & the Bledoe Cadets, by Tim Gambrell

Second paragraph of third chapter:

James shot to his feet. ‘Smugglers? Quick, everyone! Split up! Hide!’

Next in the series of novels exploring the timeline of Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart, this one has a solid enough story with our hero incarnated into an ally of his own granddaughter and zooming back in time to investigate alien doings at a stone circle on the moor near the Brig’s childhood home. It’s a decent enough reheat of several well-worn themes. I’m afraid I almost tossed it aside after an excruciating yokel pub conversation in the first chapter, but it was just about worth persisting with. You can get it here.

I see that another version of the story has been published from Lucy’s point of view. Not sure that I will bother.

Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light, by Rona Munro

Rona Munro is the only person to have written stories for both Old Who and New Who, having scripted the very last Seventh Doctor story before the cancellation, and then this story for the last Peter Capaldi season. I also saw one of her other plays at the Web Theatre in Newtownards in 2013, a single-actor piece with the only member of the cast playing three parts. I can’t remember the name of the piece, but research suggests it may have been “Women Behaving Madly”.

The Eaters of Light is a rare Doctor Who story set in Scotland (though filmed of course ni Wales) – especially considering that Capaldi and Moffatt are both Scottish, it’s a little surprising that they did not go there more often. It’s less surprising that they got a Scottish writer of the calibre of Munro to take them there. I rewatched the story before reading the new novelisation, and as I had expected, I enjoyed it a lot. (Here’s the BBC page if you want to refresh yourself quickly.)

The Twelfth Doctor, Bill and Nardole arrive in Scotland and decide to investigate the disappearance of the Ninth Legion. They travel back to the first century AD and get involved in the local conflict between Picts and Romans, but manage to persuade both to unite in the face of a Cthulhoid alien enemy attempting to breach the boundaries of the universe. It’s a very simple plot, but it’s very nicely done, with some nice reveals when, for instance, Bill becomes aware of the TARDIS translation circuits, or the two factions realise just how young each other are. At the end of the episode there’s a coda with Missy being released from imprisonment by the Doctor. Season Thirteen is my favourite of the Capaldi seasons and this story is one of the reasons why.

The novelisation of the story, also by Rona Munro, was one of the few Doctor Who books released last year. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Inside Nardole looked around in appreciation. Every surface was painted and decorated: every bowl, every bit of wall, every stool, every piece of cloth. Everything carried geometric patterns in red and blue, green and brown, yellow and purple, the designs echoing the tattoos and the knitted clothes the fierce little people around them were wearing.

The book, as with the best Who novelisations, brings more joyous detail to the plot and fills out the author’s intentions. (174 pages for 45 minutes is pretty generous by the historical standards of novelisations – compare the 143 pages that Terrance Dicks got for ten 25-minute episodes of The War Games.) It turns very much into a story of Picts and Romans, with the Doctor and friends intervening in a local story. This makes the ending, where they reject the Doctor’s help and take responsibility for guarding the Gate themselves, all the stronger. Some of the nicer one-liners are lost, but this is a differently shaped story and in some ways it is stronger for it. The scene with Missy at the end is omitted. Strongly recommended. You can get it here.

Agent Provocateur, by Gary Russell et al

Second frame of part three:

This was the first in the IDW series of Tenth Doctor comics, published in 2008. I realised that I have read most of the others in this sequence – The Forgotten, Through Time and Space, Fugitive, Tesseract, and Final Sacrifice. The others are all by Tony Lee and all, to be honest, better. This has six loosely linked stories which don’t really cohere internally and with art which, while very nicely executed, doesn’t always end up looking much like the Tenth Doctor or Martha Jones as we know them. Though I did appreciate the reappearance ot the Cat People from Russell’s long-ago novel, and smiled at this in-joke in a brief discussion of E.R.:

Doctor Corday is of course played by Alex Kingston, whose run as River Song started while these were being published.

Still, it’s enjoyable enough popcorn for the fannish mind. You can get it here.

Next post in this series will be the Titan Comics album Revolutions of Terror.

Battlefield, by Philip Purser-Hallard (and Ben Aaronovitch, and Marc Platt)

When I first watched Battlefield in 2007 I was not at all impressed.

Battlefield must have been the killer blow which led to the cancellation. It is simply awful. The story is incomprehensible, the direction (particularly of the all-important action scenes) both uninspiring and incoherent, the supposed killer-end-of-the-universe monster is atrocious, and the background music some of the worst of all time. I haven’t seen much late-eighties Doctor Who, but I shall be very surprised if I find another story as bad as this. I am among that minority (even among the small number who have watched it) who thought Ben Aaronovitch’s other story, Remembrance of the Daleks, was bad too, so it comes as little surprise to me.

Surely the programme’s makers must have realised what a risk they were taking with an uneven writer for the opening story of a season where the entire programme faced cancellation? [In retrospect this was very unfair of me, and I have enjoyed a lot of Aaronovitch’s other work.] Ye who complain about Torchwood, or about how not quite every story of new Who comes up to the standards you have come to expect of Buffy or Battlestar Galactica, some time please sit down and watch Battlefield, and marvel.

Anyway, I should not be wholly negative. [Indeed.] Nicholas Courtney puts in one of his best performances as the Brigadier, and has a great confrontation scene with Jean Marsh playing the chief villain. (The two of them had appeared together in Doctor Who 23 years earlier, playing brother and sister galactic agents in The Daleks’ Master Plan.) But that’s about it; even McCoy and Aldred seem to have little idea of what is going on.

Curiously I was much more forgiving when I reached it in my Great Rewatch:

In my last post I recanted my previous disdain for Remembrance of the Daleks, and uneasily anticipated that I might have to do the same for Battlefield. And so it proved to be; I take it all back, or almost all. Even if the precise background to the intrusion into our world of the Arthurian mythos as interplanetary battle is not really spelled out, it is generally pleasing, and especially pleasing to see the Doctor made to play the role of Merlin in someone else’s drama. (He is definitely more of a Merlin than a Prospero.) The many effects all work to enhance the story, and we have the excellent Bambera / Ancelyn subplot (it was nice to be watching this so soon after Bambera’s return in Tony Lee’s play Rat Trap for Big Finish) and the Ace / Shou Yuing spark too.

Most importantly for us longterm fans, we also have the final return (for Old Who) of Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier. It allows him to return to military heroism as he did when we first saw him stalking Yeti in the Underground, rather than the blimpish buffoon of the later Pertwee years; even better, we have Courtney sparking against Jean Marsh as they did, briefly, in 1965 in The Daleks’ Master Plan. The moment when the Brigadier chops the Doctor in order to take the final confrontation himself is fantastic, as is the Doctor’s reaction when he thinks the Brigadier is dead (as had been the original intention of the script). It’s a strong enough start to a strong season.

Rewatching it now, I confess I have swung back again to my first take. It seemed to me incomprehensible and badly made. The direction is dull and the music intrusive and inappropriate. Nicholas Courtney is still very good, but (having been reading some military memoirs recently) I wondered about the nature of UNIT hierarchy, and who precisely was giving him orders to go to Carbury and why these were not communicated to Bambera. The final scene is terrifically stupid, though at least it established that the Seventh Doctor can cook.

The novelisation is a different matter. The second paragraph of the third chapter of Part 1 is:

The roads were slippery with the wet green leaves stripped from the trees by the storm. Zbrigniev’s training took each obstacle of debris in its stride, but although the onslaught had died, the UNIT car never topped fifteen miles an hour.

I wrote in 2008:

I’m not the greatest fan of Ben Aaronovitch, who wrote the original script, but Platt has taken the story and makes it work really well on paper. It makes you realise just how much of the TV version’s problems were down to poor direction, bad music and lousy acting. We get some lovely back-story for the Brigadier and Doris; we get just enough explanation for the Doctor being Merlin to leave room for further speculation without just being stupid; we get the Bambera/Ancelyn relationship decently treated as well. Interestingly Platt has broken the story up into four parts which more or less coincide with the episodes as broadcast, the only novelisation where I remember this being done. [Actually not the only one; see also: Galaxy Four]

An easy pass for the Bechdel test, with Ace and Shou Youing defending each other against the forces of darkness (in the book, we are not distracted by their awful acting).

I still agree with all of that. The middle and end of the story still don’t make much sense, but the beginning is very well developed and that gives you enough momentum to keep going. Intriguingly, Platt’s future Doctor has red hair. You can get it here.

I was very curious as to how Philip Purser-Hallard would approach this story for the Black Archives. In his earlier monograph on Dark Water / Death in Heaven, he persuaded me of some of the redeeming features of a story that I still don’t like very much. Other Black Archive writers have tried the same – thinking here of L.M. Myles on The Ambassadors of Death. But there are other possibilities – James Cooray Smith, writing on The Ultimate Foe, my least favourite of all the stories so far covered by the Black Archive, analyses in forensic detail just how it came to be such a mess.

Purser-Hallard disarmingly admits in a prologue that many of the criticisms of Battlefield are valid, but “despite the story’s various missteps and mishaps, it succeeds in certain important respects, and it is this tension in which this book is most interested.”

The first chapter, “One Painstaking Layer at a Time”, looks at the first two versions of the storyline, both of which made better sense, and the changes made to the script at the last moment. He makes the point that the armour worn by Morgaine and her knights should have been obviously high-tech, as described in the script, and the decision to just use ordinary armour instead had a serious impact on the quality of the story as broadcast.

The second chapter, “Daleks, Master-Plans”, starts by comparing and contrasting Battlefield with Remembrance of the Daleks, and then looks at the Cartmel Master Plan, and the (slim) possibility that Bambera might have returned in future seasons if Old Who had not been cancelled.

The second paragraph of the third chapter, “This Thing About King Arthur”, is:

One method is to construct a science-fiction story with parallels to a myth – more often than not a classical myth – and usually to flag the fact in dialogue. This is the approach taken to, for instance, the myths of Jason and the Golden Fleece in Underworld (1978), the Minotaur in The Horns of Nimon (1979-80) and the Minotaur again in The God Complex (2011). Another is to suggest that elements of various mythologies are real, but explicable through science fiction tropes, generally ancient visitations by aliens – the view taken of the Titan Kronos (and the Minotaur again) in The Time Monster (1972), the Egyptian god Set in Pyramids of Mars (1975), and the apocalypse-heralding Norse monster Fenrir in The Curse of Fenric. (This is also a common approach to invented alien religions, for instance in The Face of Evil (1977) and Planet of Fire (1984).) A third variant consists of stories where, rather than inspiring a myth, the alien takes advantage of an existing one to deceive the superstitious locals. In the earliest example of this, The Myth Makers (1965), the alien masquerading as Zeus is the Doctor himself; a more recent one is the Mire warlord who impersonates Odin in The Girl Who Died (2015).

The chapter looks at sources for Arthuriana: Roger Lancelyn Green, Boorman’s Excalibur, The Mists of Avalon, the comic series Camelot 3000 and the BBC series Knights of God which starred Patrick Troughton but was not shown until after he had died. (I am surprised not to see T.H. White or Monty Python on that list.)

The fourth chapter, “The Legendary Arthur, Yes”, looks in detail at the Arthurian roots of various characters and concepts in Battlefield, running into problems with Bambera who is not a brilliant match for Guinevere. This chapter alone takes up a quarter of the book. I think this is trying a little too hard.

The fifth chapter, “Builder of Worlds”, points out that Battlefield is set not in 1989 when broadcast but in an unspecified near future where the UK has a king and various other things have happened. (God be with the days when you could get a vodka and coke, a lemonade and a glass of water for much less than a fiver.)

The sixth chapter, “Is This War?”, examines the story’s depiction of the military and the Doctor’s relationship with them, and the concepts of “honour” and “shame”, the latter of which is used euphemistically by Bambera as a swear word.

The seventh chapter, “Sufficiently Advanced Magic”, points out that the 1988 and 1989 stories had more overtly magical content, and that Morgaine’s witchcraft is in the end her undoing.

The eighth chapter, “Britishness, and Other Identities”, looks at how the story’s heterogenous concept of Britishness is developed further in Aaronovitch’s (excellent) Rivers of London books, and also looks at just why that last scene is so bad.

The ninth chapter, “It’s Only a Trap”, comes back to the Bambera/Guinevere question, and also looks at how future incarnations of the Doctor might appear in the current Doctor’s story. As noted above, Platt’s future Doctor in the novelisation has red hair.

In the conclusion, Purser-Hallard rather disarmingly confesses that “for many years – 16, to be precise – [Battlefield] was my favourite story.” (Sixteen years from 1989 takes us to the dawn of New Who.) I’m really charmed that he managed to resist the temptation to go full-on apologetic for a youthful enthusiasm, and instead provided a thoughtful analysis.

But I still wonder about a few things, notably, why are the direction and the music so awful? It’s a book that answers a lot of questions, but not all of them are the ones I would have asked.

Anyway, 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 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) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
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) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Kerblam! (37)

Horror of Fang Rock, by Matthew Guerrieri (and Terrance Dicks)

It’s Gallifrey One this weekend, and I’m travelling to Los Angeles today; the next few reviews here will accordingly be of my recent Doctor Who reading, starting with an old favourite seen through new eyes.

I remember vividly watching Horror of Fang Rock when it was first broadcast, kicking off the 1977-78 season of Doctor Who, keeping us entranced for the four weeks that it was on. I really enjoyed it then. On rewatching in 2008, I wrote:

Horror of Fang Rock is a very bleak and horrific story. Indeed, it made me reflect that for all his cuddly public personality, Terrance Dicks’ actual writing is often rooted in pretty horrific stuff – vampires, Frankenstein, King Kong, and his first ever story, co-written with Malcolm Hulke, was The War Games which surely has the bleakest ending of any classic Who.

This is the one with the Rutan, the electrical alien foe of the Sontarans which can change shape and indeed does so as it picks off the inhabitants of the light-house one by one. There is one actor of dubious talents, but fortunately his character is the first to die and the others all give it their best.

This is the last story in which we just have the Doctor/Leela Tardis crew, and it’s worth pausing to reflect that this was surely one of the greatest ever combinations, with a consistent run of four good stories (Face of Evil, Robots of Death, Talons of Weng-Chiang and this one). Leela could so easily have been a one-joke character, but in Louise Jameson’s portrayal she is completely credible, always earthed in her own identity, able to clash and spark with the Doctor, playing the dramatic role of a companion as the one who gets things explained to her not because she is stupid but because she is different. She is the one companion who we see the Doctor trying to change and educate, and that somehow makes it all work much better. After watching the Troughton stories over the last year or so I decided I was a huge fan of Wendy Padbury’s Zoe; but now I see things in Leela that passed me by as a ten-year-old. (Meaning the integrity of her performance, of course.)

When I came back to it for my Great Rewatch in 2011, I wrote:

Horror of Fang Rock is a strong start to Season 15, with Terrance Dicks proving once again that he can actually write. Sure, it’s a base-under-siege story; but it’s one of the better ones, with everyone being killed off except our crew in the end.

It is a particularly good story for Leela, who is utterly exasperated by the screamy Adelaide (she does a brilliant eye-roll when Adelaide faints) and stuns the other Edwardians with her relaxed attitude to death; it makes her horror when Reuben-the-Rutan is unharmed by her knife all the more striking. It’s a bit un-Doctorish to wipe out the entire Rutan mothership as they land, but gives a satisfying bang at the end of the story.

I stand by all of that. A few more things struck me this time. We never actually find out the details of Palmerdale’s nefarious plan, except that it’s clearly indicated that it is dishonorable, and it’s also clearly indicated that Adelaide is more than a secretary. There’s an interesting untold story there. Also, the music is very good. Also, unfortunately, the Rutan is not all that well realised, a weak point in what is otherwise a strong story. Still, I realliy enjoyed rewatching it.

For those of us in the Worldcon community, one of the Doctor’s lines in particular has a strong resonance:

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

‘That’s what happened, according to the Doctor. Massive electric shock, he said.’

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock is a case of Terrance Dicks adapting one of his own TV scripts, which gives him even more than his usual degree of confidence with the material, and he uses the opportunity to fill out the Edwardian background of the story rather satisfactorily.

I don’t completely stand by that judgement now. One point where the novelisation is consistently out of step with the TV version is that the Doctor is cheerful, funny and charming, whereas Tom Baker’s portrayal on screen is moody and Olympian. Baker apparently did not like Dicks’ script, and his bad mood carries over into his performance, but it makes it all the more watchable; this is not a funny story and a funny Doctor would have been jarring. Perhaps this is Dicks, again belying his cuddly reputation, getting obscure revenge on Baker. If you want to judge for yourself, you can get it here.

I keep on saying this about the books in this series, but with occasional exceptions it keeps being true: Matthew Guerreri’s Black Archive monograph is really good, taking us deep into the roots of the story. I have two minor complaints, and I’ll mention the first now: I wish it had been longer.

A prologue references the infamous Max Headroom incident of 1987, which Guerreri witnessed at first hand, and reflects on the manifestations of intrusion and discontinuity in the story. Like all of the chapters, it is prefaced with a literary quotation.

The first of four long chapters, dubbed “Part 1”, has the title “Technology and Character”. It starts with Robert Louis Stevenson’s credentials in lighthouse construction, goes on to E.G. Jerrome’s 1966 Lighthouses, Lightships and Buoys, compares the lighthouse crew and the production team to the Three Body Problem, looks at Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday’s contributions to lighthouse lamps, examines diamonds as a focus, explains Marconi, comes back to Robert Louis Stevenson on island life, and finishes on the timing of the Doctor’s presence on Fang Rock.

“Part 2: Time and Class” starts with Virginia Woolf’s lighthouse, quotes John Stuart Mill and Ronald Coase on lighthouse economics, ponders the fate of Palmerdale’s sailors and Skinsale’s ethics, returns to Virginia Woolf and her father Leslie Stephen and the letters Q and R, sticks with Woolf’s take on Einstein and her Orlando, detours a little to Roger Fry and the obscure late nineteenth century writer Grant Allen, and briefly considers the diamond again.

The second paragraph of “Part 3: Time and Terror” is:

In 1847, after taking up residence in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, mansion that had been George Washington’s headquarters during the war’s Boston campaign, Longfellow returned to Portland. He took a holiday at the Verandah, a new hotel that would help create Maine’s reputation as a vacation playground for well-off New Englanders. During that sojourn, the poet did not visit the Portland Head Light, but he did see the ‘Two Lights,’ twin towers at the southern end of Cape Elizabeth. Longfellow climbed to the top of the western tower to take in the views.

It starts with Longfellow’s poem, “The Lighthouse”, looks at the Rutan’s roots in Lovecraft and Verne, goes in detail into Lovecraft’s “The White Ship” and “The Color Out of Space”, considers why green should be so awful anyway, and briefly reflects on the Flannan Isles.

“Part 4: Fact and Fiction” looks in detail at Peter Maxwell Davies’ opera The Lighthouse, considers The War of the Worlds, reminds us about Dudley Simpson’s music, mentions the Tarot, looks at William Wilfred Gibson’s poem “Flannan Isle” which is (mis)quotred by the Doctor at the end, and finishes with a note about narrative.

A brief epilogue considers the story about a lighthouse left unfinished by Edgar Allan Poe at the time of his mysterious death.

There’s a lot here, and it expanded my list of books that I want to read (or re-read) much more than I really need right now. You can get it here.

My only other complaint, and it’s a small one, is that I’d have liked to see a nod to the Andy Frankham-Allen novel in the Lethbridge-Stewart sequence, Beast of Fang Rock, which is well worth a look (and 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 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) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
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) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Kerblam! (37)

Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii, by James Moran

When the TV story The Fires of Pompeii was first shown in 2008, I wrote:

I must have been one of the few kids of my generation who voluntarily did Latin O-level. There were two of us in the class; our teacher was from Achill Island, and had studied classics in Galway through the medium of Irish (which she also taught at our school). However we used the Ecce Romani books, not the Cambridge Latin Course, so missed out on that particular set of in-jokes.

But I loved the Doctor’s shifty acknowledgement of responsibility for the Great Fire of Rome, and my Big Finish sympathies were satisfied with the fact that there was no explicit contradiction with what Seven and Mel were up to on the other side of town. I also liked the new take on the Tardis translation effect – “Look you!” – and the way in which the Doctor accepts responsibility for causing the eruption. There was that one moment reminiscent of the “You lucky bastard!” scene from Life of Brian, and I am aware that volcanoes on the whole do not contain such conveniently located corridors, but I was willing to take the ride.

It was also one of the lockdown rewatches organised by Emily Cook (who deserves a medal from the wider Who community).

Also during the 2020 lockdown, James Moran wrote a webcast sequel with descendants of the Pompeiians in today’s Britain:

It was great fun to rewatch it for this post, especially now that we know we’ll see Peter Capaldi and Karen Gillan again. (Karen Gillan is the first of the soothsayers to appear, in an episode filmed ten weeks before her 20th birthday.) The Tenth Doctor / Donna dynamic is fantastic – they are just friends, but very good friends even though this is only their third adventure together.

(Though Anne said, after I showed her an episode of Galaxy Four soon after rewatching The Fires of Pompeii, “Wasn’t it great when they didn’t feel that they had to emote all the time?”)

The second paragraph of the third chapter of James Moran’s novelisation is:

The villa was a big, open-plan design, with a large atrium and living area leading off to smaller alcoves. Four large hypocaust grilles in the floor constantly pumped out thick gusts of hot steam. There were vases, plants, busts, statues and gaudy chunks of decorative marble everywhere. Caecilius was a man who liked art, the fancier the better. But there was something about this blue box that intrigued him more than anything. He’d always admired modern art, especially the way it was occasionally hard to tell what was actually art and what was just a weird lump of material. It was a matter of will, sometimes. If you said something was art, and said it loudly enough, people would believe it, even if it looked like a child had made it; especially so in some cases. Plenty of modern art was undeniably beautiful, of course, but it was all subjective in the end. As long as you liked something, and it gave you pleasure, then it was art, and nobody could tell you otherwise.

This is great fun, with the episode script faithfully delivered to the page and more detail added, including that Caecilius and Metella’s son Quintus is gay and the following jewel about Donna’s life:

In the Temple of Sibyl, Donna was not in a good mood. It was fair to say this was probably the worst mood she’d been in all year.

And she’d had a pretty spectacularly bad few months, even before reconnecting with the Doctor. In any other year, being hunted down by a lunatic alien nanny and lumps of living fat would have been the worst thing ever – but this year, that barely scraped the top five. There was the disastrous night out chasing a taxi driver she thought was an alien in disguise, which resulted in her online taxi app somehow dropping her passenger rating to below zero. That was quite an achievement; the company actually sent her a certificate. Cancelled her account, of course, but they were still impressed. Then there was the Bad Haircut Incident of February, which her friends and family were ordered to NEVER mention again, even though it had grown out since and she had deleted all photos of the offending barnet. And then there was the speed-dating evening her mum had forced her to go on, during which she had slapped three men, punched two, and been barred from an entire street. And those were just the top three bad things to happen. There were so many others she wished she could forget, too, including the event everyone simply referred to in hushed tones as KebabGate.

But none of them had ended with her tied to a sacrificial altar, in a creepy secret temple, with some sort of spooky druids standing around chanting and waving knives. So this pipped them all to the top spot. By some considerable distance. She just hoped she would live to tell the tale.

I complimented the author on this and he was good enough to reply.

It’s exactly what you want from a novelisation – captures the fun of the original TV episode and adds a bit more characterisation and background. (Except for the Pyroviles.) You can get it 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.

Alternating Current, by Jody Houser, Roberta Ingranata and Enrica Eren Angiolini

Second frame of third issue:

I’ve seen some rather negative reviews of this online, but I really enjoyed it – another story of the Tenth and Thirteenth Doctors coming together, with a parallel timeline where Rose Tyler is leading human resistance to the Sea Devils, and also a return to the more recent story Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror. Houser catches a lovely dynamic between the two Doctors, in general it’s well realised by the artists, and I thought it was a lot of fun. You can get it here.

This was my top unread comic in English. Next on that pile is The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel.

Galaxy Four – the new(ish) DVD

My loving spouse got me the three most recent Doctor Who animated DVDs for Christmas, and I have started working through them. First up is the first story of the original Season 3, Galaxy Four, which as with many other stories I first watched in 2007. I wrote then:

Galaxy Four was the opening story for the original third season of Doctor Who back in September 1965. No new or departing companions, just the First Doctor, Steven and Vicki landing on a doomed planet and finding themselves forced to decide whether to help the beautiful but militaristic Drahvins or the repulsive Rills with their robotic Chumbly servants. I thought it was rather good, and I say this as one who doesn’t normally like reconstructions (I will probably get hold of the narrated audio as well to compare). [Note: I didn’t.]

There is great violence done to astrophysics in the set-up – as so often, there seems a basic confusion between the concepts of “galaxy” and “solar system”, and I can’t quite believe the idea of a planet in orbit around several suns simultaneously, which is about to be destroyed by the gravitational stresses, and nonetheless is habitable with a breathable atmosphere. But hey, this is a story where a police box with an impossibly large interior travels through time and space, so we shouldn’t complain too much.

Anyway, I thought the idea of two completely inhuman races in the story, and appearances being deceptive, made a very nice tale.

When I came back to it in my Great Rewatch a couple of years later, I wrote:

The only completely missing story of this run is Galaxy 4, which means we are in a slightly chalk-and-cheese situation. From surviving clips, the look and sound of the alien planet was pretty impressive – I see it is Geoffrey Hodgson who gets the credit for the background noises, which really deserve to be described as incidental music. It’s also a rather interesting reintroduction of the Doctor, now shorn of his original companions, as an ethical hero – the Rills recognise his moral superiority, to the point that they are prepared to sacrifice themselves for him if necessary. And the story itself has a more explicit moral message (“don’t judge by appearances”) than most Who stories. This third season starts with far future allegory and ends with contemporary political commentary, by way of epic and slapstick. Having said all that, unfortunately the actual plot details of Galaxy Four are pretty silly – why on earth would the Drahvins send the Doctor and Vicki to capture the Rills’ ship? What possible scientific basis can there be for the planet exploding? Poor Steven, as Peter Purves bitterly points out, ends up playing a part originally written for Barbara. It is a somewhat wobbly start to the new season.

I’m taking my reminiscences slightly out of order. Galaxy Four was one of the rare stories which I first encountered through reading the novelisation in New Who era – I happened to pick it up as a freebie given away with a magazine in June 2007. This was the month of Blink and Utopia, two of the best episodes of the Tenth Doctor era (or indeed any era). Unusually, the book just has four chapters, one covering each of the televised episodes (most novelisations break up the narrative into multiple chapters). The second paragraph of the third chapter, briefly, is:

‘What is it?’ Vicki gasped.

When I first read the book, I wrote:

Galaxy Four was the first story from the third season, shown in 1966 (odd to think of it as the Classic Who equivalent of Smith and Jones). It’s the only one from that year I haven’t yet seen/heard, but I got the novel for free yesterday with the SFX Doctor Who special and read it pretty quickly. It’s actually rather good, up there with the average Missing Adventure of the Virgin series [note: I had read very few Missing Adventures at this stage] with Emms (who wrote nothing else for Doctor Who) letting us inside the mind of the Doctor very convincingly, and also attempting to flesh out his rather one-dimensional villain, Maaga, leader of the female Drahvin warriors. Must try and catch up with the actual series now, though I have a suspicion this may be one of the cases where the novel is better than the story.

Coming back to it fifteen years on, I remain favourably impressed. Emms was clearly a fan, and fills out the narrative not only with scenes that he would have liked to include in the actual show, but also with subsequent Who lore – most of the references to the TARDIS crew being from Earth are removed, and there are several mentions of the Doctor having two hearts, which of course wouldn’t become TV canon for another five years. We also find out that the Rills don’t share our concept of time. It’s well done, and you can get it here.

(By the way, this is the first blog post here about a book I read in 2023; otherwise I’m still working through a substantial 2022 backlog.)

Emms apparently pitched three more stories to Doctor Who without success, one for Patrick Troughton and two for Peter Davison, and the first of these was repurposed into a Make Your Own Adventure game book starring the Sixth Doctor in 1986. I read it in 2014 and was not impressed:

This was apparently based on ideas that Emms (who wrote Galaxy 4) had put together for a Second Doctor story to be called The Imps. I fear it may be one of those cases where we should be rather glad it wasn’t made. The plot, such as it is, is about a rather tedious effort to manage dangerous plants on a vital spaceship run. The next sentence of this paragraph is not an opinion I shall often have cause to express, but in this case it is true. Terror of the Vervoids did it better.

The structure of the book is much the laziest of any of the six: at every turn, you are presented with three choices, of which in every single case the first two lead to failure and the third to success. From both section 14 and section 23, the two wrong options are section 8 and section 16, while sections 12 and 22 are fatal snippets which are not attached to any preceding text. I couldn’t actually be bothered to work out which ending was meant to go with which previous section. The one mildly saving grace is that a couple of the false turns are so silly as to verge on gonzo surrealism: one option, for instance, has “you” gobbled up by Dracula and his brides (who are somehow occupying a cabin in a spaceship to Venus), and another leaves “you” trying to emulate the Scarlet Pimpernel in revolutionary France. But this is lazy stuff, contemptuous of the reader.

You can get it here.

Emms wrote no other books, but he wrote 80 TV scripts between 1963 and 1980, including twelve episodes of The Newcomers, the now forgotten soap that was Verity Lambert’s next assignment – Galaxy Four was her last complete credited story as producer.

Anyway. In 2011, one of the missing episodes of Galaxy Four was found, and the new (well, 2021) DVD includes it and a colour animation of all four episodes. I had previously watched the Loose Canon animations, which give a decent sense of the scale of the ambition of the production. But there is nothing quite like seeing the original. Here (for the time being at least) is a side by side comparison of the two.

I think Galaxy Four has some great concepts. I’ve mentioned several above: the appearances-can-be-deceptive approach to the two races of aliens, the Doctor as ethical hero, the grand sweep of the planetary setting, Geoffrey Hodgson’s electronic sounds. Stephanie Bidmead (a Kidderminster girl) is great as Maaga, leader of the Drahvins. The music is stock music rather than specially composed, but very well chosen. Peter Purves famously complained about the script, but actually I think Stephen gets as much to do as anyone. And I think it’s the first but not the last time that the TARDIS itself is used as an external energy source.

The downside is that these great concepts are united by a plot that doesn’t make much sense. There’s confusion about how long there is until the planet will explode, and no clarity about why. The plot consists entirely of the Doctor and companions running from the TARDIS, to the Drahvins’ ship, to the Rills’ ship and back again, for no very good reason. The “Trap of Steel” which is the title of the third episode doesn’t actually appear until the fourth episode. The regulars and guests carry it off well, and if you switch your forebrain off and enjoy the concepts, you’ll like it. It’s a very agreeable early case of Doctor Who engaging with classic science fiction tropes.

The new colour animation will now become the standard that fans think of as the “real” Galaxy Four. As usual, it’s good but I feel not quite as good as the real thing would have been. Some decent tweaks are made to the action, and the planetscape is beautifully realised as well. And the info text is, as usual, interesting and informative. I have not yet rewatched it with the audio commentaries by cast and others. Here’s the trailer:

Extras include the Loose Canon reconstructions for the first, second and fourth episodes – I think there would have been no harm in including the third episode as well. There is n extended interview with Peter Purves, featuring a few other people involved with the production (including Clive Doig, who I always remember for his work on Vision On), and also an interview with Terry Burnett, the man who turned out to have had the missing third episode stashed away for decades. It also has the camera scripts. A fine investment for the serious Doctor Who collector. You can get it here.

The Romans, by Jacob Edwards (and Dennis Spooner, and Donald Cotton)

When I first watched the story we now call The Romans in 2006, I wrote:

The Romans has a considerable, and surprisingly effective, comedy element, carried almost entirely by Hartnell’s Doctor. On a whim, he decides to leave their holiday villa and go to Rome (taking Vicki with him) pretending to be a murdered musician, and succeeds in fending off Nero’s jealous attempots to have him killed. There is a much less funny sub-plot involving Ian and Barbara, kidnapped by slavers, who also end up in Rome – Ian as a gladiator, Barbara as palace slave, pursued by the lustful Emperor – before making their escape. (Somewhere there must be a definitive list of the characters who have lusted after Barbara: Ganatus in a very gentlemanly way in The Daleks, the much nastier Vasor in The Keys of Marinus, the equally nasty El Akir in The Crusade, and now Nero.) The Ian/Barbara chemistry is very sweet – they have a nice joke between them about looking in the fridge. The script rather neatly resists bringing the travellers together, so that neither the Doctor and Vicki nor Ian and Barbara ever discovers what the other pair of characters is up to in Rome. Hartnell is simply superb, utterly watchable, imperious, funny, devious. It’s a shame that Maureen O’Brien can’t quite rise to the challenge of being his straight man, but this was only her second story, so I suppose one must make allowances.

When I came back to it three years later for my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

I’ve watched The Romans a couple of times, which may be once or twice too many. There are a lot of good things about it – the costumes, sets and background sound are totally convincing; the Ian/Barbara relationship is at its sweetest and snuggliest; Maureen O’Brien is carving out a quite different Vicki persona to Carole Ann Ford’s Susan, less frightened and more curious. The plot of course takes in all the cliches – lecherous emperor, slavers, the threat of the arena, and even culminating in the Great Fire. The two interlocking plot strands are deftly contrived. The problem is, unusually, with Hartnell himself who is way over the top, smirking, chortling and giggling manically; it matches quite well with Derek Francis’ portrayal of Nero but is otherwise a bit much.

I gave it another go two years later, and wrote:

Last time I watched The Romans, just over two years ago, it left me rather cold. On F’s suggestion we watched the first two episodes last night and the other two this evening, and I found I loved it (and so did he). Last time round I was watching while waking up early and jetlagged on a particularly arduous field trip; shows how the mood you are in can make a difference to your appreciation of, well, anything.

Watching it again, this time with the DVD info text, I enjoyed it again. Hartnell is still a wee bit over the top, and the plot doesn’t really hold together once you start poking at it, but I particularly appreciated Jacqueline Hill keeping in character.

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

I hope you are as well as habitual, and as it leaves me also, I am pleased to say.

When I first read it in 2008, I wrote:

I had been looking forward to this one, famed as one of the best Doctor Who novelisations, and I was not disappointed. Cotton has recast the narrative of Dennis Spooner’s TV script into epistolary/diary form: letters from Ian Chesterton to his headmaster, the Doctor’s own diary, letters from Ascalis the assassin and Locusta the poisoner, and contributions also from Barbara, the Emperor Nero, and Nero’s wife Poppæa (but not Vicki); the whole thing framed in a covering note by Tacitus (obviously written several decades later). Eye of Heaven, the best of the spinoff novels featuring Leela, also featured multiple first-person viewpoints, and I’ve read first-person narratives in other First Doctor stories, but this is the only case of the whole thing being ostensibly done from written records (the Doctor having compiled everything and then left it behind in the villa for the archivists to discover).

Admittedly, as an actual story it’s no great shakes, and purists will be disappointed that we lose a lot of the funny lines from the TV version and one of its major comic elements (the two pairs of time travellers not actually meeting each other in their wanderings). But the whole thing is done for language and laughs; it’s meant to be fun, and it is fun, and that’s all you can really ask.

Now that I’ve read almost all of the Doctor Who novelisations (apart from the very latest ones), I appreciate even more the imaginative flexibility that Cotton was allowed to bring to the story. But it’s interesting that the Ian Chesterton of the novel is clearly a teacher at a minor public school, rather than the secondary modern or comprehensive Coal Hill that we see on screen. It’s also regrettable that the women characters don’t get as much bandwidth on the page as they did on screen. Anyway, you can get it here.

Jacob Edwards has written a substantial monograph on The Romans, not quite as long as Frank Collins on Warriors’ Gate but still, I think, one of the longer Black Archives. It’s good chunky stuff, which I think would be useful for anyone interested in mid-sixties UK television in general as well as us Whovians.

A short introduction points out that at time of broadcast, nobody ever expected to see The Romans again; yet we are still analysing it almost six decades later.

The first chapter, “Why Comedy?”, looks at Dennis Spooner’s conscious decision to make Doctor Who funnier than Sydney Newman had imagined it, and points out that The Romans was the first story which was intended to be humorous.

The second chapter, “Humour in The Romans – Is It Funny?” looks at the roots of the humour in the TV story, admits that audience feedback for the fourth episode was negative but challenges the (mostly long-dead) viewers on their reactions; and then looks at the novelisation (“mostly the same type of funny”) and the reception of the later releases of the TV story, the DVD coming out at roughly the same time as the Tenth Doctor’s The Fires of Pompeii.

The third chapter’s title is “Comedy After The Romans“. The second paragraph (with equally long footnote) is:

After The Romans, season 2 continued with three very serious stories – The Web Planet; then The Crusade and The Space Museum (both 1965) – before lightening up with The Chase (1965), a six-part Terry Nation runaround intended to make the Daleks more fun. The humour here is rather patchy, and none-too-subtle, the nadir coming atop the Empire State Building with Peter Purves’ prolonged and cringeworthy appearance as sent-up hillbilly Morton Dill¹. Purves later proved himself a fine actor, returning in ‘The Planet of Decision’ (episode 6) as new companion Steven Taylor. As Dill, however, he was terribly ill-used.
¹ ‘Flight Through Eternity’ (The Chase episode 3). Dennis Spooner by this time was script-editing Doctor Who, and must bear some responsibility. In the audio commentary to ‘Flight Through Eternity’, director Richard Martin says of Dill’s incredulous, irreverent inspection of a Dalek: ‘That’s a Dennis Spoonerism. Dennis invented this. It wasn’t at all a Terry Nation thing.’ But here we see a key difference between The Romans and The Chase. Spooner may have dictated a more comedic approach, and in the former case, with Christopher Barry’s direction, was able to carry it through successfully; yet, humour was a tricky business, and the ham-fistedness with which Morton Dill was written (and directed; Martin heaps praise upon the performance) in large part bears the hallmarks of Terry Nation.

The chapter looks at the humour of later Who stories, pointing out that while the show became funnier in the rest of the black and white era, neither Letts / Dicks nor Hinchcliffe / Holmes wanted there to be many laughs and it was only for the couple of years of Douglas Adams’ influence that comedy re-emerged – to retreat again under John Nathan Turner, with occasional sorties of varying success.

The fourth chapter, “What Else was New in The Romans?” argues that it was the first real four-part story, earlier four-parters having ended up at that length by accident rather than by design; that Derek Francis was the first big name guest star; and that it marked the end of any pretensions to historicity from the historical stories, with the Doctor actually causing history rather than refusing to intervene. On that last point, I note that two of the three previous Hartnell-era Black Archives also deal with historical stories, and contra Edwards, Dene October argues that the earlier Marco Polo lacks historical detail and James Cooray Smith argues that The Massacre, made after The Romans, has much more historical accuracy than may at first be apparent.

The fifth chapter, “What is History?” attempts to untangle the concept of time in the Whoniverse, but does not get very far.

The sixth chapter, “Where Did The Romans Come From?”, briefly looks at the debt the story owes to Carry On Cleo and more particularly A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.

The seventh chapter, “How Historically Accurate Is The Romans?”, details a number of inaccuracies before concluding (correctly, in my view) that it doesn’t matter very much.

The eighth chapter, “The Romans and Counterculture – Rewriting the Margins”, briefly unpacks the approach of the story to class, race, sexuality, gender, religion and disability, in the context of wider societal trends and later Doctor Who.

The ninth and final chapter, “A Viewer’s Response to The Romans”, goes through the story episode by episode, and practically scene by scene, listing the successes of the format (and one or two lapses). It’s difficult not to be charmed by Edwards’ enthusiasm here.

As I said earlier, this is a good contribution to the Black Archives series, combining in-depth analysis with enthusiasm, and I recommend it. 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 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) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
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) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Kerblam! (37)

Warriors’ Gate, by Frank Collins (and John Lydecker / Stephen Gallagher)

I vividly remember watching Warriors’ Gate when it was first broadcast back in the cold January of 1981. I was thirteen, and knew that this was Tom Baker’s last season; but much of the actual story sailed over my head. My family were not the only fans in Northern Ireland. In Newry, a thirteen-year-old girl missed the last episode:

But her younger brother caught it.

That evening I too remember watching the “stupid Finnish film”, The Year of the Hare, and unlike NornIronGirl (but like her father) I loved it. (It must have been that evening, because that seems to be the only time it was shown on British TV when I was a teenager.)

When I rewatched Warriors’ Gate in 2008, I wrote:

I was surprised that I did enjoy Warrior’s Gate. A somewhat surreal plot line, with reflections on colonialism, empire and slavery, and also Romana’s extended farewell to the Tardis (for once, decently signalled in advance, more perhaps than for any companion since Victoria). Even Adric, for once, seemed to fit in reasonably well. Definitely worth watching again.

Coming back to it three years later for my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

Warrior’s Gate is truly weird and wonderful. The slavery of the Tharils is pretty horrifying, but we understand that there’s an element of cosmic karma in that they were once the enslavers (and Rorvik in turn gets his cosmic come-uppance at the end). For a story which is mostly filmed in a blank studio, there is an amazing sense of place about it. I still don’t completely understand the plot but I somehow feel confident that the author did, and wasn’t just making it up as he went along. K9 and Adric get reduced to mere observers here – again, it’s a strong story for Romana, but of course it is her last.

This time around, I came to it having seen the whole of Secret Army and its spinoff Kessler, in which Clifford Rose, who is the chief antagonist Rorvik here, plays the vicious SS officer in charge of Brussels. (Rose died just over a year ago in Denville Hall.) He seemed to me to be turning in a very strong performance: like Kessler, Rorvik is stuck with a mission that many would find ethically unpalatable, in an environment that he doesn’t really understand, and his reaction to new factors tends to be suspicious and violent. But it’s different as well to see him as the head of a team; Kessler tended to have the SS adjutant of the week.

I was also struck by the parallel with the other Doctor Who story mainly filmed in a blank studio, the first episode of The Mind Robber, where the production team successfully made something out of literally nothing. The same trick is pulled off here, with a few more props. You wouldn’t want to do this all the time, but it’s interesting to see it done twice.

Rereading the original novelisation in 2008, I wrote:

This is really good, the best book of this run; Romana II departing in style. Lydecker / Gallagher seems almost to be writing a standard genre sf book that the Doctor, Romana and Adric happen to have wandered into – Romana wanting to wander off on her own, of course. (And K9 gets perhaps his best characterisation in any of the novels, even if he is out of order for much of the story.) Of course, with it being the printed page rather than the screen, the story has to be told in a rather different way; but the author, whatever his name is, really rises to the challenge.

Since then I’ve read Gallagher’s early hit, Valley of Lights, and actually passed him by a couple of times in the corridors at the February 2022 Gallifrey One convention; I wish I had stopped for a chat. The book still holds up, giving a bit more meat to the bones of the show-don’t-tell TV story, especially on the background of the slavers. You can get it here.

But but but… it turns out that in 2019 the BBC released a considerably expanded audiobook of the novelisation, so much altered that it is basically a different book. Read by Jon Culshaw, with John Leeson contributing the voice of K9, it gives us a lot more background and characterisation of the slavers and the Tharils, and mixes up the plot quite substantially. Culshaw is very good at the characterisation of the voices, though I think his Rorvik is actually a bit closer to Kessler than Clifford Rose’s was.

It’s not the only or even the strongest case where the novelisation departs from the TV script, but it’s the most recent, I think, and certainly the one with the biggest broadcast-to-publication gap. It’s well worth getting to shed a new light on the intentions behind the story, and gives new depth to the narrative. You can get it here.

I still don’t completely understand every aspect of the story, but I felt I had a much better grasp of it this time around, especially thanks to the expanded novelisation.

Frank Collins’ monograph on Warriors’ Gate is one of the longer and denser works in the Black Archive series. There are eight chunky chapters, preceded by an introduction that explores the problems of assigning authorship of the story to writer Steve Gallagher, script editor Christopher Bidmead, director Paul Joyce (who becomes a major figure in the narrative) and even John Nathan-Turner and Graeme Harper.

The first chapter, ‘A Medieval Mystery Play’, looks at the appointment of Christopher Bidmead as script editor, touches on the Christopher Priest affair (which I’ve heard from the other side) and then looks at the early career of Steve Gallagher as a radio script writer.

The second chapter, ‘The Dream Time’, looks at the origin and early versions of Gallagher’s scripts, shaped also by the Christopher Priest affair, and its roots in Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête and the TV mini-series Roots. It also turns out that Gallagher’s original scripts were funnier.

The second paragraph of the third chapter, ‘Aldo and Waldo’, with the quotation that it introduces, is:

Well known for his documentaries on filmmakers, actors and artists made by his company Lucida Productions, Joyce’s wider career spanned theatre, film, television drama, documentary, photography, painting and writing. In 1965, after two terms at The London School of Film Technique, he had used his final grant cheque to fund his first film The Goad, an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s short mime play Act Without Words II, which he’d seen during an experimental programme of five short plays, Expeditions One, at the Aldwych Theatre in July 1964. He saw the play as a meditation on the relentless rituals of modern life, the empty passage of time ‘from birth to death presented in the simplest of terms. (Two sacks, each containing first, a dozy human, and secondly, a spruce, athletic one, are prodded progressively across the stage by a sharp metal object on wheels, “The Goad”).’2 Perhaps he saw that sense of relentlessness when he encountered the world of Rorvik and his crew in Warriors’ Gate. He also fastened onto one of Beckett’s recurring themes: rubbish. ‘Beckett’s identification of miscellaneous rubbish with the world, minds and bodies of his characters indicates its importance in his writing,’ and itwas a signifier of mortality and the modern world in many of his novels, theatre and radio plays. The tramps in his breakthrough play Waiting for Godot (1953) also inhabit a world of ‘hand-me downs, cast-offs and detritus’ where ritual and habit are bound up with change brought about by uncertainty3. Again, the rundown privateer is a tangible evocation of Beckett. Joyce’s work continued to incorporate elements of the absurd and surreal, a sensibility that he would detect in Gallagher’s scripts for Warriors’ Gate. This could perhaps be traced back to a formative moment in his childhood, when he saw a black-and-white film that was:
‘…a bit like that Laurel and Hardy one where they have difficulty getting a piano up the stairs […] only it was the delivery of a stereo or a radiogram, of enormous proportions, which was taken upstairs and delivered to a bachelor in his apartment. It was what he’d always been wanting, he plugs it in, twiddles around with it, listens to the music. Magnificent. Then he thinks it’s time for a bite and he goes to switch it off. Switches it off and the music continues. Hits the thing. And the fucking thing won’t stop. In the end, he smashes it to a pulp. How about that for a surreal situation? That gave me film and a Beckett kind of situation.’4
2 Joyce, ‘Guinness with Godot’, unpublished essay emailed to author, 20 April 2018.
3 Bates, Julie, Beckett’s Art of Salvage: Writing and Material Imagination, 1932-1987, pp6-9.
4 Joyce, interview with author. Our efforts to identify this film have been unsuccessful.

The third chapter looks at the career of director Paul Joyce, his work with the plays of Tom Stoppard and Samuel Beckett, and his first TV drama, Keep Smiling. It then goes in detail into the changes made by Bidmead and Joyce to Gallagher’s scripts, and explains how we have ended up with two very different novelisations – John Nathan-Turner having forced Gallagher to rewrite the original version (now the audiobook) to be closer to the story as broadcast for publication in 1982.

The fourth chapter, ‘Fade to Grey’, goes into as much detail as is possible given the fading of memories and lack of records about the difficulties faced by Joyce in directing the story. This was his first (and as it turned out only) multi-episode TV assignment (indeed most of his subsequent IMDB credits are documentaries). It’s clear that he was unprepared for the demanding time scales required of Doctor Who story production; it’s less clear to what extent others had to step in to help him out; it’s very clear that John Nathan-Turner never wanted to see him again.

The fifth chapter, ‘Cinematic and Videographic’, looks at the extent to which Joyce brought film productions values to Warriors’ Gate, including the costuming as well as the cinematography, and the extent to which it fitted within the New Romantic Zeitgeist.

The sixth chapter, ‘Going Against the Grain’, looks at the impact of the films Last Year in Marienbad, Dark Star, Orphée and 2001: A Space Odyssey in the cinematography of Warriors’ Gate. An interesting quote from Clifford Rose indicates that he saw Rorvik as much closer to Dad’s Army‘s Captain Mainwaring (Secret Army is not mentioned).

The seventh chapter, ‘The Impeccable Realism of Unreality’, looks more deeply at the two Cocteau films, La Belle et la Bête and Orphée, and at their impact on the plot concepts in Warriors’ Gate. (It is also noted that La Belle et la Bête experienced similar production difficulties in post-war France.)

The eighth chapter, ‘The Individual Confronted by the Desolate Universe’, looks briefly at the design of the story by David H. Smith, especially the eponymous Gate, and what it symbolises and is derived from.

A brief conclusion reflects again on the question of authorship, and applies it to New Who, especially Neil Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver.

As I said, this is one of the longer, richer books in the Black Archive series, and will certainly help those of us who are still trying to get our heads around Warriors’ gate, forty-two years after it was first broadcast. 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 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) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
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) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Kerblam! (37)

Doctor Who: Origin Stories (ed. ?Dave Rudden?)

Second paragraph of third story (“The Myriapod Mutiny”, by Emma Norry):

When the Great Freeze descended, they buried themselves deeper still and made a pact – to ensure, above all else, their mutual survival. Come what may. Yet neither foresaw the Great Collision which obliterated not only their planet, but their plans for survival too …

An anthology of eleven short stories about Doctor Who characters before their first appearances on TV Doctor Who. No editor’s name is given, but I am assuming it was Dave Rudden because three of the stories are by him (featuring Kate Stewart, Castra and Jenny, and the Master/Missy); whoever did edit it, it is a shame that they are not given credit.

Two of the other stories are by the actors who actually played the respective companions on screen – Sophie Aldred (Ace) and Katy Manning (Jo Grant), both rather interesting takes on their own characters’ back-stories, Sophie Aldred’s being a good start to the collection as a whole (and available here).

Five of the other six are by women of colour who haven’t previously written for the Whoniverse but have strong writing credentials elsewhere – oh, OK, I’ll name them: Emma Norry (Yaz and Ryan meet the Second Doctor); Temi Oh (Davros); Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (Martha Jones meets the Ninth Doctor); Nikita Gill (Amy and Rory as kids); and Jasbinder Bilan (Clara pre-meets the Eleventh Doctor). The other is by Mark Griffiths (Sarah Jane Smith meeting the Fourth Doctor as a schoolgirl). One of them is not very good, but the rest are all excellent, and I can recommend this to anyone with a vague awareness of the series. You can get it here.

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.

The Clockwise War, by Scott Gray

Second frame of third story (“A Religious Experience”, by Tim Quinn and John Ridgeway):

I had bought this in hard copy ages ago, and had not appreciated that the title story, a Twelfth Doctor / Bill Potts adventure, is a direct follow-on from the previous Twelfth Doctor volume, The Phantom Piper, which I have not read yet. The arc also depends quite heavily on continuity from earlier stories in Doctor Who magazine, most of which I had read but long ago.

But I got over it and very much enjoyed the title story and the collection as a whole. There is a whole arc about Cybermen, which comes close to making them interesting. There is a First Doctor story, a couple of Fourth Doctor stories, and a Fifth Doctor story by Paul Cornell. There are some interesting endnotes by the writers and artists, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t, and why. I still wish I had got the previous volume but I don’t regret reading this. You can get it here.

This was my top unread English-language comic. Next in that pile is Alternating Current by Jody Houser et al, a Thirteenth Doctor volume, but I may have to reassess my approach.

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.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Jonathan Morris (and Terry Nation, Terrance Dicks and “Alan Smithee”)

When I first watched The Dalek Invasion of Earth in 2006, I wrote:

Bought this in London last week. Excellent value – six Hartnell epsiodes of classic story, plus various mini-documentaries, including a short silent film shot by Carole Ann Ford on her last day as Susan (featuring William Hartnell with no wig and looking ten years younger).

The Dalek Invasion of Earth is good – in fact, the first three episodes are excellent, with the Dalek coming out of the river at the end of episode one, and episode three a real high point, with the scenes of the Daleks in London, wandering past Westminster, congregating in Trafalgar Square, and patrolling the Albert Memorial (having obviously somehow got up the steps) particularly effective. That is also the episode where Susan tells David of her feeling of dislocation: “I never felt that there was any time or place that I belonged to. I’ve never had any real identity.” And the incidental music is great – I hadn’t heard of the composer Francis Chagrin before but he was apparently a well known film composer; shall look out for his other work. There is a real feeling of occupied Europe resisting the Nazis (and I write this in a village which experienced that directly rather than just in the cinema).

It is a bit let down by episode four, with no Doctor in sight and the rather rubber-suited Slyther, and the Daleks’ actual plan when revealed stretches our suspension of disbelief. But the pace is kept up (especially by Jacqueline Hill as Barbara).

And finally the departure of Susan. Beautifully done, the first time that a member of the regular cast had left the show. “Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine,” says the Doctor, promising to return, but we know he never will.

When I rewatched it in sequence four years later, I wrote:

After a couple of frankly ropey sf stories (The Keys of Marinus and The Sensorites) we have a very marked improvement with The Dalek Invasion of Earth. As with Planet of Giants, we are on familiar English territory, but this time warped by the passage of time rather than perspectives of scale. There are lots of brilliant moments here, and the whole is for once equal to the sum of its parts. The impact of the Dalek emerging from the Thames at the end of the first episode is slightly lost if we know what the name of the whole story is, but several people who saw it first time round in 1964 have picked this as the most memorable moment in all of Old Who. Myself, I just love the sequence of Barbara, Jenny and Dortmun dodging Daleks across London to Chagrin’s haunting tortured incidental music in the middle of episode 3; I could watch that again and again. And at long last, as she leaves, Carole Ann Ford is called upon to do some acting, and rises to the challenge. Susan’s departure scene is really rather moving, especially watching it (as I now have done, and as original viewers had to do) as the 51st episode in sequence rather than the last of a vintage 6-part DVD. One point lost on 1964’s viewers that strikes one forcibly today is Peter Fraser’s eerie resemblance, as David Campbell, to David Tennant (who of course was not born until 1971).

Since then of course I’ve also watched the great 1970s TV series Secret Army, which is about the German occupation of Belgium; it’s possible that Gerald Glaister watched Doctor Who in 1964, but both stories are drawing from a common well of war narratives. I enjoyed watching it again, and the scene of evading the Daleks in the third episode is thrilling every time.

Terrance Dicks’ novelisation was, I think, the very first Doctor Who book I bought for myself, shortly after it came out in 1977, at the Blackpool exhibition. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

When he’d grabbed Barbara at the steps, he’d released her almost at once, saying he’d just wanted to make sure she didn’t scream. ‘They’ had their patrols everywhere, and he’d already carried Susan to shelter so she wouldn’t be spotted.

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth leans a bit on the Peter Cushing film as well as on the originally broadcast story. Its most remarkable innovation, and improvement on the screen version, is the Daleks’ pet monster, the Slyther, which is much more terrifying on the page. But unfortunately a lot of the good bits of the TV story – the desperate chase across a deserted London in episode 3, and even the Doctor’s farewell to Susan at the end – are truncated and lose their effect. It’s still a good story but this comes across rather in spite of than because of Dicks’ efforts.

I was not entirely fair here. The opening paragraph is one of Dicks’ real crackers:

Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man. His clothes were tattered and grimy, his skin blotched and diseased over wasted flesh. On his head was a gleaming metal helmet. He walked with the stiff, jerky movements of a robot—which was exactly what he had become.

And the prose is taut as 150 minutes of screen time are condensed into 142 pages. The cover is fantastic too (and unrealistically raised my ten-year-old expectations for the look of the original TV series). You can get it here.

This is one of only two Doctor Who stories to have been converted to the big screen, as a film starring Peter Cushing as the human scientist Doctor Who, Bernard Cribbins as policeman Tom Campbell, and Roberta Tovey and Jill Curzon as Dr Who’s granddaughter Susan and niece Louise. I had seen it on TV as a kid; when I rewatched it in 2010, I wrote:

It is much inferior both to the original six-part TV Dalek Invasion of Earth and to its own predecessor which I reviewed earlier. Somehow where the TV series succeeded in making the sets appear a realistic future occupied England, the big screen fails to do so; the sequences around the mines are particularly striking, where the original show achieved five times the effect for perhaps a tenth of the money. The music is often terrible, though of course the TV version had some of the best incidental music ever to feature in Who. Peter Cushing and Roberta Tovey, returning from the previous film, are much less effective; the more striking performances are Jill Curzon as Dr. Who’s niece Louise, Philip Madoc as a short-lived black marketeer, Andrew Keir as a Scottish freedom fighter, and particularly Bernard Cribbins as Tom Campbell, a 1960s policeman who accidentally enters Tardis thinking it is a police box and gets swept forward to 2150.

I have some suggestions as to why this film manifestly fails where its predecessor did not, and where the TV story succeeded. First off, the TV series has an ensemble of regular characters with established relationships; the film loses time and momentum setting that up (and also has no particularly good reason for it). Second, the switching round of the narrative strands fails to work in the film’s favour. Here, Tom and Louise, rather than Ian and a local, head up to Derbyshire in the Dalek saucer; and Dr. Who and granddaughter Susie travel by land separately rather than together. (Susie follows roughly the route of Barbara on TV, accompanied by Weir’s Scottish resistance fighter.) Opportunities are missed to generate much spark between Tom and Louise, let along their terrestrially travelling friends. Of the good scenes from the TV story, only Dortmun’s last stand and the treacherous women in the woods survive, and are done less well. (The women are played by Eileen Way and Sheila Steafel.) Finally, the geology of the Daleks’ plan actually – and this is difficult to believe – makes less sense than the original TV version.

Rewatching again, the changes to the narrative annoyed me even more. But on the other hand I appreciated the thrill of seeing Doctor Who in colour, years before the TV show got there (in 1970).

Along with the Black Archive sequence, Obverse Books have produced four “novelisations” of films starring the Peter Cushing Doctor, only two of which were actually made of course. The author is the pseudonymous Alan Smithee. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

‘Run,’ Dr Who whispered under his breath. ‘Run!’ he said again, far more forcibly this time.

The mysterious “Smithee” has done well here, adding quite a lot of background detail about a number of the human characters and how their lives were affected by the Dalek invasion – something that I now realise is missing from the Dicks novelisation (unlike his books with more contemporary settings). You can get it and the other three here.

Before I get to the main business, I’m also going to mention the recent Big Finish play, After the Daleks, which I listened to recently and will write up properly Real Soon Now. It’s set in the aftermath of the Dalek defeat, and features Susan and friends attempting to reconstruct society. Some monsters are human in shape. You can get it here. Edited to add: Silly me! I had already written it up.

LibraryThing tells me that I have 42 books and audio plays by Jonathan Morris, and I know I have not been diligent about logging my audio collection there, so the real total is a bit higher. I really loved his early Big Finish play Bloodtide and his Fourth Doctor novel Festival of Death, but this Black Archive monograph on The Dalek Invasion of Earth is the first non-fiction that I have read by him.

Unlike most of the other Black Archives, this concentrates largely on the development of the script and the story in its various iterations. Morris does enlarge on something I had learned from the DVD commentary. Originally the character of Jenny, played by Ann Davies (whose husband was Richard Briers), was to be a much younger Anglo-Indian girl, played by Pamela Franklin, who was then only 14, and would have ended the story replacing Susan by stowing away on the TARDIS. But the BBC bureaucracy screwed up on the contracts, and it didn’t work out.

On the one hand, it would have been great to have a non-white companion forty years before Martha Jones. On the other, we may have dodged a bullet: my impression is that Pamela Franklin, though born in Japan, has exclusively European ancestry, so she would have needed make-up for the role, which would have been very dubious indeed. She hit the big time a few years later as one of the pupils in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The books has the following chapters, all fairly short:

  • An introduction where, like me, Morris reveals that the novelisation was the first Doctor Who book he ever bought (he was seven, I was ten)
  • Chapter 1, “The Return of the Daleks”, looking at the instability around the show and its place in the BBC in mid-1964, and the role of the Daleks in securing its future;
  • Chapter 2, “Doctor Who and the Daleks’, looks at the roots of the story in war stories, H.G. Wells and Earth vs the Flying Saucers;
  • Chapter 3, “The Invaders”, looks in detail at Terry Nation’s original script. The second paragraph, and the quote it introduces, are:

Nation’s delivery date for his draft scripts was 19 June. The existing paperwork doesn’t record when he delivered them, but it seems reasonable to assume that he didn’t deliver them before that date. Interviewed in 1973 2, Nation recalled:
‘I was in demand from all sides, besieged by offers to write comedies, plays, science fiction. We worked out that there was some work of mine shown on television for 40 weeks out of 52 that year. Fortunately I work very fast, and work best under pressure. The [Doctor Who] scripts became my Saturday job. They were written one a week, each Saturday.
2 For the Radio Times Special celebrating the series’ 10th anniversary.

  • Chapter 4, “Serial K”, looks in detail at the changes made by David Whitaker to the script;
  • Chapter 5, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, looks at the changes to Whitaker’s script made by director Richard Martin and others as it was being filmed;
  • Chapter 6, “The Daleks are here!”, briefly looks at the way the story was marketed;
  • Chapter 7, “Daleks Invade Earth”, looks at Milton Subotsky’s original draft of the film script;
  • Chapter 8, “Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD“, looks at how the shooting script differed from Subotsky’s original draft;
  • Chapter 9, “Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth“, looks at Terrance Dicks’ novelisation;
  • and Chapter 10, “Legacy of the Daleks”, looks at how this story more than almost any other has been referenced explicitly and implicitly in later Doctor Who stories, both on and off screen. The book was written before the 2021 Big Finish play After the Daleks, but references among others Whatever Happened to Susan Foreman?, a BBC play in which she returns to our time and becomes a European Commissioner.

So, all meaty stuff, and 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 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) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
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) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Kerblam! (37)

The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon, by John Toon

As my regular reader knows, I like to preface my write-ups of the Black Archive series of monographs on Doctor Who stories with my previous writings on each story. In this case, the two-parter that opened Matt Smith’s second season as the Doctor in 2011, I seem to have failed to write anything much about it previously. I watched it on first broadcast and again before reading the Black Archive.

If you saw it, you’ll remember that The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon is the story that starts with the Doctor apparently being killed by a mysterious astronaut, and then reappearing as a younger self; it turns out that a mysterious alien race called the Silents have been infesting humanity for a very long time, but people forget that the Silents exist as soon as they stop looking at them. The TARDIS team (Eleven, Amy, Rory, River Song) discover this while visiting Richard Nixon as president in 1969.

The Doctor embeds a subliminal message in the broadcast of the first moon landing encouraging humanity to rise up and destroy the Silents, and meanwhile a little girl who has been phoning the Oval Office regenerates a la Time Lord.

I’ll be frank. Series 6 is my least favourite of the three Matt Smith seasons, and my second least favourite of New Who as a whole (after last year’s Flux), and the opening two-parter is a large part of that. It’s difficult to take the supposed shock of the Doctor being killed too seriously; we know he’s going to be bouncing around again for more adventures after it’s all resolved. Too many threads are left hanging after the second episode (and resolved in haste months later at the end of the series). Steven Moffat is working so hard on trying to make us interested in the complex scenario that he has dreamed up that he forgets to be funny.

And to be honest, the Silents don’t actually seem to be very evil; sure, they look scary, and one of them vaporises a White House staffer, but if we decide that we’re going to exterminate any species where one of them has vaporised a White House staffer, where will we stop?

One casting comment – we’ve been watching Firefly, from a few years earlier, and it’s been amusing to see Mark Sheppard as Badger there; here he is the 1969 version of FBI agent Canton Everett Delaware (the 2011 version being played by his father, William Morgan Sheppard).

The story came in at a respectable 85th in last year’s rankings of all Doctor Who stories, run by Twitter user @Heraldofcreatio, below Robot and ahead of The Seeds of Death, but I’d put it lower myself.

John Toon had previously written the Black Archive volume on the Tom Baker story Full Circle; I commented then that it was largely about the intellectual ideas behind the story rather than on how the story was actually made, and why certain things were done or not done in the course of production, and the same is true this time. There are indeed a lot of ideas in this story, but they are not as well executed as they might have been; Toon does a good job of pulling them into the light, without going into too much agony about the story’s disappointments.

A short introduction talks about withholding key information from the audience, and conspiracy theories.

The first chapter, “Who World Order”, briefly looks at conspiracy theories around the Moon landings, Men in Black, Area 51, fake celebrity deaths, secret underground tunnels, government mind control, subliminal advertising, the Templars and Freemasons, and (at more length) Watergate.

The second chapter, “A Conspiracy of Silents”, looks at the general phenomenon of conspiracy theories, and in particular how they have fed into and been presented in Doctor Who over the years.

The second paragraph of the third chapter, “Killing in the Name of the Doctor”, is:

The term ‘genocide’ has been in circulation for less than a century. It was created in 1944 by Raphäel Lemkin in a book describing the murderous social policies of the Nazi regime that would later come to be known collectively as the Holocaust; genocide was first recognised as a crime under international law in 1946 and codified as such by the United Nations in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Article II of that convention specifies that genocide is an act ‘committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such’ and lists five behaviours that could be defined as genocidal:
‘a. Killing members of the group;
b. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical
destruction in whole or in part;
d. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.’3
3  ‘Definitions: Genocide’.

The chapter looks at the dubious ethics of the Doctor’s instruction to humanity to kill the Silents, and whether or not the audience is intended to question the Doctor’s morality. He doesn’t go on about it for fifty pages, at least.

The fourth chapter’s title is “‘Waste No More Time Arguing What a Good Man Should Be. Be One.'” It attempts to find a justification in plot terms for the Doctor’s actions against the Silents, looking also at other similar plot twists in the Moffat era. The discussion is interesting but the justification is not really found.

The fifth chapter, “Controlling the Narrative”, looks at the Moffat-era shift to the Doctor finding more aggressive solutions in general, and also speculates that the Silents are a metaphor for a particular type of fan, closing the main thread of discussion in the book.

The sixth chapter, “When the President Does It, It’s Not a Celebrity Historical”, switches tracks completely and asks if the story can be considered a “celebrity historical” story in the same was as The Unquiet Dead (Dickens), Tooth and Claw (Queen Victoria), The Shakespeare Code (I needn’t say) and Victory of the Daleks (Churchill), if we grant that The Girl in the Fireplace (Madame de Pompadour) may not fit that category. The answer is, probably yes.

So, I felt that the book is a valiant attempt to look at themes of interest in a story that doesn’t quite deliver. 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 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) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
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) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Kerblam! (37)

The Danger Men, by Nick Walters

Second paragraph of third chapter:

‘Sorry? Sorry?’ The other man looked at him as if he were insane. ‘Say what?’

Next in the sequence of Lethbridge-Stewart books, though this one barely features the Brigadier. Lethbridge-Stewart’s chum Bill Bishop is swept back in time to the distant days of 1999 and finds himself in the body of a British spy on a mission which may or may not be officially sanctioned. It’s well enough told, but has practically no connection with the Whoniverse, apart from references to concepts such as the beryllium clock (from The Movie). You can get it here.

Moon Boots and Dinner Suits, by Jon Pertwee

Second paragraph of third chapter:

On leaving Miss Maxwell’s ‘Academy’, I followed [his brother] Michael to Aldro, a boarding school in Eastbourne. I was about seven and a half and not at all happy at the idea of being so far from home. There was a kind old master there called Mr Craft, who closely resembled Rudyard Kipling; well, he seemed old, but as I received Christmas cards from him for twenty years afterwards, he was probably only about thirty-five at the time. To me he represented kindness. Mr Hill, the Headmaster, on the other hand represented unkindness, for I was often to be caned by him. ‘Go and change into gym shorts and wait for me in the gymnasium,’ he would order. That wait was more terrible than the thrashing. Even at seven and a half, I could take the beating, but the waiting made me sick with apprehension.

First volume of Jon Pertwee’s autobiography, though he did not write much more apart from an out-of-print account of his time on Doctor Who. It’s an entertaining set of anecdotes about his early life, difficult relations with parents (he did not actually know that his father‘s friend was his biological mother), his wartime service in the navy (which takes up almost half of the book), his love of girls and cars. If I had been editing it, I might have taken out some of the exclamation marks.

Lots of names are dropped, many of them of showbiz figures now long forgotten, though a couple stood out; visiting his father’s friend A.A. Milne as a child, Milne’s son “was good enough to introduce me to his toy animal friends, Piglet, Owl, Kanga, Kanga’s son Roo, and best of all, his teddy bear, Winnie the Pooh.” At the other end of the book, when he is assigned to Naval Intelligence, one of his office-mates is future prime minister James Callaghan. (Callaghan, who lost the 1979 election, is the most recent prime minister to have served in the armed forces and the only one to have been in the Navy.)

But Doctor Who fans like me won’t find much to chew on here. Pertwee did not really have hidden depths; what you saw was what you got, and that personality is on display in his book. You can get it here.

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.

Love & Monsters, by Niki Haringsma

For my Black Archive write-ups I like to give heavily documented notes of my previous comments on each story and novelisation. This works well for Old Who, but less so for New Who where there are fewer novelisations and I didn’t always write up the stories on first broadcast. So for Love & Monsters, I have only the following note from my Great Rewatch in 2013:

Love and Monsters [sic] is one of the most daring episodes of Who ever. Paul Cornell has written a spirited defence of the story as an episode about fandom, about the show Doctor Who rather than its central character, and he makes a good case. But the fact is that this had not been done before in New Who, and only really in passing in Old Who (most notably in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, though talk of fans of the Doctor goes back to The Savages). The episode is doubly daring in that it is the first of the Doctor-lite episodes that we now accept as a regular event in New Who. It is a bit bizarre, and it doesn’t fit with the previous run of the programme at all, but I think it’s OK for Who to be experimental occasionally and that it more or less works.

Watching it again, almost a decade later, we’ve had a lot more Who stories, both on TV and off, that were self-referential and reflexive; Paul Cornell’s The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who is a particular high point for me, but a lot of the Moffat era treated the Doctor as a figure of intergalactically mythic importance. And the Doctor-lite episodes also became the norm for the rest of the Davies era, including my favourite episode of the whole of New Who, Blink. So Love & Monsters now seems less disruptive and more trend-setting. But it’s still unusual.

It’s also striking in that it gets a tremendous performance from Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler. At first the story mocks her obsession with Elton, but it rapidly shifts to heart-breaking as he betrays her. It is very good writing to take a character you have been laughing at, and turn them into an object of sympathy, without missing a beat. Davies actually tries to do this fairly often, but is not always as successful as he is here.

The world of Who is sometimes quite small. In 1988-89, I was the External Officer of what was then the Clare College Students Association in Cambridge. The Welfare Officer was a more arty chap, who moved in generally different circles to me. About five years later, I caught a very well-made short film on TV called That Sunday, starring Minnie Driver and Alan Cumming. I enjoyed the 16 minutes hugely – I’m a Minnie Driver fan anyway – and then my jaw dropped when the credits revealed that it had been both written and directed by my old comrade from the JCR Committee.

That was as nothing to my surprise when the credits rolled at the end of Love and Monsters, a dozen years after that, and I saw the director’s name. Dan Zeff has gone on to be a medium-to-big name in the UK film industry, but Love and Monsters is his only venture into the Whoniverse. (Incidentally the credits sequence on my DVD copy cuts off before the director’s name is displayed; I hope he’s getting compensated for that. I haven’t checked extensively but it seems to be the case for several other episodes from that season.)

So, let’s go forward another eight years, to one of the first Belgian conventions I attended, the 2014 Antwerp Convention, where guests included Colin Baker. As I made myself comfortable for his presentation, I got into conversation with the fan sitting beside me; we found that our tastes were aligned on a number of points regarding Doctor Who, and have stayed in touch ever since, though I think that is the only time we have actually met. I was delighted when he got the commission to write this book, drawing on his literary studies and fan-writing experience.

Here’s Niki’s own blogpost introduction to the book. He says up front that he loved the episode from the first time he saw it, but also recognises that this is not a universal view. Writing the book helped to work through the reasons for both love and hate, but especially love.

I found a wonderful community while writing this Black Archive. So many people came up to me to say how much they loved the episode. Sure, they could all see the awkwardness and camp, the disgusting rubber-suit monster, the fan characters becoming creepy stalkers, but they still adored the whole thing because it spoke to them. I made so many new friends who helped me with my investigation ‘n’ detection, and my book became a love letter to the comradery of Doctor Who fandom itself.

The first chapter, “I had to invent this rudimentary pulley system”, looks at the production reasons why the story was made in the first place, and why it had such a tight budget. It identifies “The Zeppo”, one of my favourite Buffy episodes, as partial inspiration.

The second chapter, “Spaceships and lasers and everything”, looks at how the viewer is estranged from the action by the way the story is told, invoking Viktor Shklovsky’s concept of oстраннение (often translated as “defamiliarisation”, but here as “estrangement”) and its implementation in the works of Bertold Brecht, especially The Threepenny Opera. I am not familiar with either, but I found this tremendously interesting. He also looks at the queerness of Elton’s relationship with Ursula after her transformation, and how the dynamics of fandom are portrayed in LINDA.

The third chapter’s title is “This isn’t, you know, my whole life”. Its second paragraph, and the quote it introduces, are:

It was decided that the comic pitch would make a good TV episode instead. The female protagonist became a male one. The reason for this change, according to Davies, was that there had already been too many female characters who fancied the Doctor. He explains:
‘Very soon after drawing this up, I looked at the amount of women in Series 2, especially those arguably in love with the 10th Doctor – Sarah Jane, Madame de Pompadour, not to mention Rose – and I decided that he’d broken too many female hearts! Time for a man! And so Elton was born.’3
3 Davies, ‘Second Sight’, p9.

The chapter looks briefly at Elton as a character, and the unreliability of his narration.

The fourth chapter, “Great big absorbing creature from Outer Space”, looks at the Absorbaloff, about the role of fans in creativity around Doctor Who (including the fact that Davies and Tennant were both long-term fans themselves), culminating in the idea for the monster coming from a nine-year-old fan, and finishes with more analysis of what the Absorbaloff really stands for.

The fifth chapter, “We’ve got the place to ourselves”, looks in depth at Jackie, but reminds us that there are two other mothers in the story as well – Elton’s own mother, whose death is linked with the Doctor, and Bridget, the LINDA member who is looking for her own daughter and is one of the first to be absorbed.

The sixth chapter, “Fetch a Spade!”, examines how the story hints at the darker side of the Doctor’s personality, and quotes Jon Arnold on Amy Pond, before going back to Shklovsky’s oстраннение and also Itō Gō’s concept of キャラ (kyara), instantly recognisable archetypes. as manifested in the characters of Love & Monsters and then meditating on the nature of fandom and the character of the Tenth Doctor.

The seventh chapter, “What he never won’t represent”, starts by asking the reader, “Am I a good fan?” But we are reassured. “If you’re reading this book, chances are you’re not satisfied with just taking Doctor Who at face value. You probably want to dive in a little, poke it, look at it from different angles and see what’s hidden inside. Luckily, there are endless ways to do so.” Haringsma invokes Barthes’ Death of the Author, and goes on to unpack Ursula as a paving slab and romantic partner, taking us in some surprising directions.

A brief conclusion invokes Brecht again, and leaves us with these thoughts:

Maybe as you’re reading this, a text-only Target Love & Monsters novelisation will have seen the light of day as well. And maybe Ursula’s transformation will be obviously queer this time around, or maybe the Abzorbaloff will remind us a bit more of some particularly obnoxious fan. Or maybe not. Because the world is changing and transforming too, making room for new lessons that can be taught, new fannish circles of new geeks hungry to seize the reins. Maybe this strange adventure that’s been absorbed into fandom’s consciousness can be re-imagined to tell another story altogether. But it will always have been this wonderful little side-step in the Doctor’s life. And as fans, we have the opportunity to look beyond the episode’s awkwardness and camp – and to celebrate Love & Monsters for all that it is. Because it’s so much darker…
…and so much madder…
…and, y’know, it’s got a blowjob joke and everything.

It’s always nice when someone I like writes a book I like about a subject I like. Niki is a friend, the book took me to some very interesting places that I had not really considered, and while I’m still not completely sure if I like Love & Monsters, I love Doctor Who. You can get the book here.

The Face of Evil, by Thomas L Rodebaugh (and Terrance Dicks)

Next in the excellent sequence of Black Archive books on Doctor Who.

I remember vividly watching The Face of Evil when it was first broadcast at the start of 1977 (the first episode was shown on New Year’s Day). I loved it then and I still like it now. When I rewatched it in 2007, I wrote:

The Face of Evil was broadcast in 1977 between two other excellent Fourth Doctor stories, The Deadly Assassin and The Robots of Death. It features the introduction of new companion Leela, played by Louise Jameson, a warrior woman of a primitive far-future clan descended from the crew of a crashed spaceship. She had a difficult act to follow, and perhaps it’s as well that we had the companionless Deadly Assassin and a month’s break to help us get over the departure of Sarah Jane Smith (and more about her in a coming post). But she really does seem right for the part from the word go, as a new kind of foil for Baker’s Doctor, a woman confident in her own culture and not afraid to engage with the new and unknown.

The story itself is good rollicking stuff: hinges on one of my least favourite devices, an untelevised earlier adventure, but that aspect is brought unashamedly into the story at the end of the first episode and done well and unapologetically. The name of the other tribe who are enemies of Leela’s people causes some amusement in this household. (I must stop playing the litany when the in-laws are visiting.)

When I got to it in my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

And, even if Sarah Jane is the greatest of Old Who companions, we then hit Leela’s introduction in The Face of Evil. This is the first time we have had a new companion who does not arrive in the the first story in the season since The Wheel In Space; indeed the first time we have had a new companion other than in the first or last story of the season since The Highlanders, so it’s a disruption to the normal cycle of these things, just as Leela herself is a disruption – primitive, instinctual, sexy and violent. Just watch the clash of characters between Jameson the professional method actor and Baker the accidental instinctive actor, as the relationship develops. Last month’s Doctor Who Magazine ran an interview with Louise Jameson, where she reflected that she hadn’t quite realised that Leela was a sexy character at the time. We’ll hold over discussion of that point until next month.

The other thing to notice about The Face of Evil, viewed in the sequence of fourteen years of Old Who, is that it seems rather a riposte to The Savages from eleven years before (a story which was incidentally also followed by a story written by the same author about homicidal machines). I haven’t seen any serious questioning of Chris Boucher on this point, but it seems to me that the parallels of Elders/Savages vs Tesh/Sevateem, the playing around with absorption of the Doctor’s personality, and even the use of a hand-held mirror to reflect a death ray at a critical plot moment are a set of references to the older story. They are both jolly good scripts, and both repay the casual viewer (or, sadly, listener in the case of The Savages) even now.

I am ambivalent about references to unseen adventures; Terrance Dicks dealt with this in the novelisation by explaining that the Doctor went for a spin during the events of Robot and ended up dealing with Xoanon, which isn’t perfectly satisfactory but is better than we get from the screen version. My other reflection, more personally, is that as it happens my wife’s maiden name was Tesh, so certain lines from this story have extra entertainment value in our household. At least for me.

Rewatching it again, I still like it. In these days when people have been getting all upset about Doctor Who continuity (much more so than in 2010 when I last commented), it’s worth bearing in mind that there is a whole unseen adventure here that the story depends on, and the franchise moved happily on.

Though this time I wondered where all the other women are; we see only male Tesh, and the Sevateem have one woman warrior whose voice can be heard in the group chants, played by Barbara Bermel but uncredited. (She also plays the younger of the German women in the famous Fawlty Towers episode, again uncredited.) One of the voices of Xoanon is Pamela Salem, who had a more visible role in the following story.

Speaking of the voices of Xoanon, here is one of my own very few contributions to Doctor Who research. Spurred by reading a now-deleted story that the youngest of the voices was provided by “seven year-old Anthony Frieze, who had won a Design-A-Monster competition administered through the BBC exhibitions at Blackpool and Longleat”, I got in touch with someone called Anthony Frieze who confirmed that it was him and that otherwise almost every part of my source was wrong:

…as you have worked out I was older than the website records. In fact I was almost 11 in September 1976 (or “1876” as T[om] B[aker] dated a poster of his he asked me to sign). I have also seen references to winning a competition which may have been the way the director of the Face of Evil series explained my selection. In fact the explanation is somewhat more “young boys’ club”, as it were. The director, a chap called Pennant Roberts – if I recall correctly – had a wife who was a teacher at my school (Belmont Primary School, Chiswick) and she suggested my name having heard me read at assembly. No competition, as such that I was aware of. I had to re-record the the “Who am I” as I had the wrong emphasis.

I hope this has corrected some of the Dr Who lore.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Terrance Dicks’ novelisation of the story is:

Leela looked at the box in awe. ‘That keeps away the phantoms?’

When I most recently reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Face of Evil has a couple of interesting differences: Leela is actually portrayed as young, vulnerable and, well, girly in a way that is inconsistent both with the TV story as shown and with the other books. Also, of course, we have the explanation of how the Doctor’s face became the Face of Evil, as the result of a solo adventure shortly after his regeneration.

Not much to add apart from that; it’s one of Dicks’ less adventurous novelisations.

Thomas L Rodebaugh has written one of the more adventurous Black Archive books, however. He is a Professor and Clinical Training, Psychological and Brain Sciences at a mid-western American university, and has brought all of his professional expertise to bear on the story. The result is not really the book I wanted to read about The Face of Evil, but it’s clearly the book that Rodebaugh wanted to write, so I enjoyed it more as a gateway into someone else’s passion than as a stimulus for my own thoughts.

The first chapter, “The Face of Evil and the breakdown of the bicameral mind”, argues that the setup of the story strongly reflects the theories in Julian Jaynes’ 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Some plausible points are made before he admits that there is simply no way that the writers and production team could have read and absorbed Jaynes’s book before making the story (the scripts were commissioned in January 1976 and delivered before the summer). He then argues for his own preferred personality model (the OCEAN aka Big Five model) and insists that by applying psychological theory to Doctor Who, we learn more about both. It is an interesting argument, but I am not completely convinced.

The second chapter, “Why psychology and why The Face of Evil“, briefly develops this further, calling attention to Christopher Boucher’s other work.

The third chapter has the title, “Ideas of madness”. Its second paragraph is:

If we start with whether Xoanon’s ‘madness’ is accurate, we have an immediate problem of determining what is meant here by ‘mad’. There are at last two different ways that the word is used in popular fiction. It is often used to signal that the person being labelled is beyond reason in a moral sense. This usage is aligned with what used to be called ‘moral insanity’: an affliction in which a person understands morality and the world, but makes choices without concern either for how those choices will affect others or the self1. The very term ‘moral insanity’ suggests that it is not the same as insanity without a qualifier, which historically referred to the condition of having a severe lack of understanding of reality. Thus, a person who kills because it seems fun is morally insane, whereas a person who kills due to a false belief that he or she is being attacked is simply insane.

It goes into some depth in an effort to diagnose Xoanon’s psychological afflictions, concluding that in fact Doctor Who in general is not very good at depicting mental illness and tends to go straight to stereotypes. (Vincent and the Doctor is consigned to a footnote.)

The fourth chapter, “Implicit bias and production design”, turns (thank goodness) away from psychology and looks instead at Leela. Was she based on Leila Khaled? Why did they insist that Louise Jameson wear contact lenses to change her eye colour to brown? Was her skin colour in fact deliberately darkened by make-up so that she would look more savage? To what extent is the story deliberately based on Harry Harrison’s Captive Universe? And where are all the Tesh and Sevateem women? None of these interesting questions is really answered, apart from the Captive Universe one where the answer is “not much”.

The fifth chapter looks a bit more at potential sources for and influences on the story; the films Forbidden Planet and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Harry Harrison’s Deathworld trilogy. Rodebaugh speculates that Brian Aldiss told the BBC about Harry Harrison, though I think BBC executives would have found plenty of his work in any nearby bookshop. Once again, he turns around at the end and says that looking for specific sources (other than Captive Universe) is a waste of time. This rhetorical device annoys me. I would rather be told up front what the author is trying to prove, rather than try and follow an argument for a dozen pages only to be told that the point is something completely different.

An appendix attempts to apply the OCEAN personality analysis to the different Doctors and to other Whoniverse characters.

A second appendix consists of an interview with Chris Boucher, which is really interesting though the key points have already been covered in the main text.

And finally, a third appendix looks at the massive continuity problems within the story. What about the Doctor’s previous visit? What’s the weather like on Leela’s home planet? And, again, where are the women?

It will be apparent that this is not my favourite of the Black Archive books, but I want to be fair and it will likely appeal to others more than me. 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 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) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
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) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Kerblam! (37)

Lineage, ed. Shaun Russell

Second paragraph of third story (“What’s Past is Prologue”, by David A. McIntee):

‘Are the girls ready?’ Alistair asked.

A collection of short stories in the timeline of Candy Jar Books’ Lethbridge-Stewart sequence, this time looking at the Brigadier’s ancestors and relatives from the seventeenth century to the present day (2018). All good fun, nothing that especially stood out (maybe the Quarks in the last of the stories). You can get it here.

Doctor Who: A British Alien?, by Danny Nicol

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The United Kingdom is also characterised by English domination, insofar as England is by far the most populous of the four nations, accounting for some 55 million of the Kingdom’s 65 million people. As a result, governments tend to be English dominated. This English preponderance contains the seeds of Scottish and Welsh discontents. At the same time, whether those who grow up and live in England choose to self-identify as English or British remains very much a question for the individual. Aside from certain sports, there is scant social necessity for an English person to identify as English rather than British. Though probably most choose to define themselves as English, some identify primarily as British while many others may express different identities in different contexts. There is also ambiguity over whether Englishness constitutes a nationality or an ethnicity, a haziness which impacts on whether non-whites in England favour a British identity over an English one. These sensitivities and nuances may create difficulties within Doctor Who studies, particularly for scholars not imbued with the lived experience of England. For example, in a chapter entitled “Rose is England”, Tanja Nathanael argues that Doctor Who companion Rose Tyler represents England and that indeed “the body of Rose is conflated with England”.3 Yet Nathanael’s account does not explain why Rose represents England rather than Britain and, on occasion, she uses the terms “England” and “Britain” interchangeably. There is, in fact, some evidence that Rose’s narrative aligns her more closely with Britishness than with Englishness.4
3 Tanja Nathanael, “Rose is England”, in Who Travels with the Doctor? eds. Gillian I. Leitch and Sherry Ginn (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016), 79-90.
4 For example, Rose is the only companion to have adventures with the Doctor in England, Scotland and Wales, and she is closely connected to the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom, in “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” (2005) and “The Idiot’s Lantern” (2006). If she were representing England she would be aligned with England’s own flag, the Saint George’s Cross.

I was alerted to this book by Paul Driscoll’s criticism of it in his Black Archive on The Movie, and then realised that I already had it on the shelves, having acquired it in February but having forgotten to log it in my system. The author is an academic lawyer, and he spends the first three chapters analysing Doctor Who and Britishness, as you would expect from the book’s title; but then he looks at broader questions of law and politics for the remaining four chapters, constituting more than half of the book, so it is slightly mis-sold.

There are interesting thoughts here, but some gaps and slips as well. As Driscoll points out, The Movie, which is remarkable for the extent to which it highlights the Doctor’s Englishness, is barely mentioned (likewise The Dæmons, which we’ve just covered). It’s true that there’s not much to say about either part of Ireland in the show pre-2020, but there is a bit more than Nicol has found. And just a minor point, but it’s not true that everyone except the TARDIS crew has been killed by the end of Warriors of the Deep.

I got the most out of the exploration of wider political ideas in Doctor Who, about the shift from British to international governance (not only UNIT) and the fairly consistent challenging of corporate authority (until 2018’s Kerblam!). ON the other hand, I really didn’t think it was worth spending fifty pages analysing whether or not the Doctor can be considered a war criminal.

So, an interesting enough addition to the shelves, with flaws. You can get it here.

Farewell Jodie (and a family note on Rasputin)

So, the Thirteenth Doctor era came to an end last Sunday, with the slightly unexpected return of David Tennant to the title role. Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall, the showrunner, were the subject of a lot of toxic commentary from the more entitled end of the fan base, much of which was undeserved. The worst of their thirty episodes were not as bad as, say, Kill the Moon, or Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks, let alone The Twin Dilemma. But I am not alone in wishing that the high points had been higher and more numerous.

I have previously written up the first season, the second season, Revolution of the Daleks, and briefly noted Legend of the Sea Devils here. In terms of other media, there’s a great BBC audio story here, I’ve really enjoyed the Thirteenth Doctor comics that I have read (here, here, and here) and liked the books (The Witchfinders, The Wonderful Doctor of Oz, The Good Doctor, Molten Heart, Combat Magicks, Sophie Aldred’s At Childhood’s End); on the other hand the recent annuals have been very poor indeed (2019, 2020 and 2022).

So. The 2021 six-part story, Flux, was a mess. There’s no kind way of putting it. I actually like John Bishop as new companion Dan Lewis; I love Barbara Flynn, whatever she is in; I was really thrilled by Thaddea Graham as Bel, the first semi-regular Irish character in almost sixty years; and there were some good spine-chilling moments, such as the destruction of Dan’s house and the Doctor being transformed into a Weeping Angel.

But unfortunately the plot made very little sense, and the climax took place largely offscreen. Of course it was filmed under serious constraints due to the pandemic, but that doesn’t excuse the writers from sitting back and thinking about what they were really trying to convey. For all their faults, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffatt generally remembered that they needed to please their audience as well as indulging their own inner impulses. I felt that Chibnall had lost the run of himself.

This year’s New Year special, Eve of the Daleks, was a lot better. (And not just because it had not one but two Irish characters, played by Aisling Bea and Pauline McLynn.) The basic time loop story, where you get the chance to get it right next time, is a long-standing sf trope, as seen for instance in Groundhog Day and in Steven Moffat’s first published Who fiction, “Continuity Errors”.

I thought it worked well, it was not self-indulgent and showed what Chibnall could actually do on a good day. As previously noted, I also enjoyed the Easter special, Legend of the Sea Devils – I cannot claim it was Great Art but it was at least entertaining, and the cast were clearly having fun; Whittaker being allowed to be the kind of Doctor she wanted to be, perhaps.

And so to the end, with The Power of the Doctor and its mildly unexpected denouement.

Actually, no, before we get there, here’s a brief note about Rasputin, his murderer Dr Lazovert, and my grandmother.

Rasputin was a sinister monk who worked his way into the affections of the Tsarina/Empress of Russia. The Power of the Doctor featured Sacha Dhawan as the Master posing as Rasputin and playing Boney M. Those of us with older memories recall that one of Tom Baker’s biggest pre-Doctor Who film roles was in Nicholas and Alexandra as Rasputin.

Rasputin was murdered in December 1916 by a group of Russian nobles who resented his influence. The doctor who they recruited to administer poison to him was Stanislaus de Lazovert. (In fact the poison didn’t work and in the end they shot Rasputin.)

Four and a half years later, in summer 1921, my American grandmother (aged 22) was sharing an apartment in Paris with Colette Blanc, daughter of Irina Procopiu, a lady in waiting to Queen Marie of Romania.

My grandmother and Colette went on holiday in July 1921 to Sinaia, the Romanian royal family summer retreat, by train from Paris. Madam Procopiu asked an old friend of hers to keep an eye on the girls on the train.

My grandmother wrote, “Col and I were exhausted when we caught the 5.30 Orient Express at the Gare de Lyons on July 12th. Madame Procopiu had asked Dr Lazovert to keep an eye on us, and I think it was at dinner that first evening that he told us, with some pride, that he was one of the murderers of Rasputin. It sounds as though I were very stupid and ignorant, but I had no idea who Rasputin was; it seemed to me rather odd, though, that a murderer should have been asked to look after us.”

Dr Lazovert was of course a completely respectable member of the Russian exile community in Paris, involved in the Romanian oil trade. He lived to 1976 and is buried in Père-Lachaise. I doubt if my grandmother ever saw him again.

Anyway, putting all that aside, I really enjoyed The Power of the Doctor. The plot was still a bit rambling, but mostly it hung together well, and a lot was packed into it. The Master’s desire to transform himself into the Doctor is completely understandable, and knowing as we did that this was Jodie Whittaker’s last episode, there were all kinds of options for how the hero might escape; and I was satisfied by the ride.

We old school fans were of course watching it for the return of old favourites; we had been well prepared for Janet Fielding and Sophie Aldred as Tegan and Ace…

…and it wasn’t a massive surprise to see McGann, McCoy, Colin Baker, Davison and Bradley back again, or some of the other old companions. But I think there was a collective gasp from many of us as we realised that the chap sitting on the right in the final scene was none other than Russell Enoch, William Russell for stage purposes, Ian Chesterton in the very first episode in November 1963, and turning 98 next month (96 when the scene was filmed last year), beating Ysanne Churchman’s record as the oldest actor ever to be on the show and beating the world record for the gap between first and last appearances in the same role in any TV series.

I confess I was a little sorry that the Doctor and Yazz didn’t end up a bit more overtly sapphic, after the hints dropped in previous stories, but you can do a lot without saying a lot.

And the Fourteenth Doctor’s shock at the end paradoxically reassures us that we are in good hands again with Russell T. Davies, and indeed Disney, who can be expected to bring a lot more in terms of resources to the show. Roll on 2023.

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.

The Dæmons, by Matt Barber (and Barry Letts)

The next in the Black Archive sequence of commentary on Doctor Who is on The Dæmons, which rounded off the eighth season of Old Who in 1971. As usual, I went back and rewatched the original story, and then reread the novelisation, published in 1974, before getting to the Black Archive analysis.

When I first watched it in 2007, I wrote:

The Dæmons, first shown in 1971, is presumably the only Doctor Who story featuring a character in the title outside the standard 26 letters of the alphabet (plus numbers and punctuation). I’m a bit stunned that it is remembered as the peak of the Pertwee era by some. It’s not very good; it’s not very bad either; perhaps that makes it an archetypal Pertwee story, and so those who like that sort of thing will like this sort of thing. Delgado is good; Benton and Yates are good (and this story has clearly provided much inspiration for slash writers); both the Third Doctor and Jo are bad, as usual; and the monster is just awful, as is the final twist (it is destroyed when Jo offers her life instead of the Doctor’s as such self-sacrifice CANNOT COMPUTE).

My brother in 2010 wrote up The Daemons in the style of New Who:

JO: Don’t kill the Doctor, he’s fantastic! Kill me instead!
AZAL: Good point. I was just realizing how stupid it would be to kill the Doctor. (KILLS JO).
DOCTOR: Tut tut.
AZAL: I’m the last of my kind, you know.
DOCTOR: Really?

When I got to it again myself later in 2010, in my Great Rewatch, I liked it a lot more than first time around:

The Dæmons is surely the greatest of the UNIT stories, and one of the most English stories of this very English show. Evil morris dancers! A white witch! The Master is your local vicar! The first time I watched this I didn’t like it much, but taken in context, and an episode at a time, I can see why this Barry Letts script is seen as a high point of the Barry Letts years; it is the first time, apart from The War Games, that we have had a season finale as such, pulling all the characters together and ending with the Master’s disgrace and capture.

The Brigadier is off the main field of action for most of the story, which actually gives him a chance to shine on his own rather than be snarled at by Pertwee, and generates a nice the-boss-is-away dynamic among the other UNIT folks, augmented by Delgado on top form and by Damaris Hayman’s wonderfully batty performance as Miss Hawthorne (who we assume had a jolly good fertility dance with Benton throughout the following night). Apart from Richard Franklin, who is clearly the weakest of the regulars, everyone is excellent. (I enjoyed also watching the Return to Devil’s End documentary, bringing Pertwee, Courtney, Franklin and Levene back to the village along with director Christopher Barry.)

commented back in The Abominable Snowmen that Who has four ways of treating religion: squabbling sectarians, deluded cultists, religious buildings used for nefarious purposes, or true believers. The Dæmons includes both the second and third categories. As far as I remember it is also the first time religion has been portrayed on the show since The Abominable Snowmen, and the only time apart from Steven’s profession of faith (or at least denomination) in The Massacre and the unecclesiastical antics of The Smugglers that we have had anything explicit about the Church of England. More on this in the story after next.

Once again, I liked it a bit more on rewatching. Sometimes one enjoys performances that little bit more because the performers are clearly having a good time, and this is one of those. The spooky line between science and magic is nicely explored as well; we’ll get to that later.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of the novelisation, by Barry Letts, is:

Across the churchyard flitted a shadow a little more dense than the shadows of the gravestones in the moonlight. Seeking the sanctuary of the church wall, it paused momentarily as if to make sure it was unobserved and then vanished through the vestry door.

The Master talks to a young man in the vestry

When I re-read the novelisation in 2008, I wrote:

This was one of those books which, on rereading, very much lived up to my fond childhood memories. It is funny, witty, adds bags of backstory to both minor and major characters (the account of the Doctor and the Master growing up together on Gallifrey ought to be canon for all interested fanfic writers), substitutes far better special effects on the page for the end-of-budget ones we got on-screen, and is generally a good read. My favourite Third Doctor book so far.

Again, I still think this is the best Third Doctor novelisation, with Doctor Who and the Green Death by Malcolm Hulke being its only serious rival; it’s the only classic series novelisation by Barry Letts, the producer throughout the Pertwee years. One aspect that I feel deserves a bit more attention: the dramatic internal illustrations by Alan Willow, this being the first of seven novelisations that he illustrated between 1974 and 1975. (Though his take on Jo isn’t brilliant, and “creature” is misspelt in the second caption – not his fault, I guess.)

You can get it here.

Matt Barber’s Black Archive on The Dæmons is of average length for this sequence, but has very long chapters, so this review will probably be unfairly short.

The introduction sets out Barber’s stall: The Dæmons is actually a very atypical and unusual Doctor Who story, “without time travel, with little science fiction and, debatably, an ambiguous approach to the existence of magic; a story in which the TARDIS does not appear and is not even mentioned.” Barber himself has an MA in the History and Literature of Witchcraft, and his PhD focused on the mythologising of American politics in film and television, so he brings an unusual set of analytical filters to the task.

The first chapter, “The Unholy Power of Olive Hawthorne”, looks at witchcraft lore through Margaret Alice Murray, Gerald Gardner, and James Frazer of course, before turning to the role of Miss Hawthorne in the narrative; he makes the interesting point that although she is presented initially as a somewhat batty busybody, in fact she is right about what is really going on and all the men she argues with, including the Doctor, are wrong.

(I must add also that Damaris Hayman, who plays Miss Hawthorne, appears in the very last episode of Here Come the Double Deckers! which also dates from 1971.)

The second chapter, “Satanism, Devilish Pacts and Scientists”, starts with a real-life West Country vicar who was accused of involvement with black magic in 1969; then looks at Faust and the Master (and to an extent the Doctor as well); then at the influence of Aleister Crowley and Dennis Wheatley in general; and finally at the similarities and differences between The Dæmons and The Devil Rides Out.

The third chapter’s title is “A Tour of Devil’s End”. Its second paragraph is:

There is something about the English village that made it an enticing location for particular genres of popular culture in the 1970s. But why should such a parochial and picturesque location become such a standard for horror and dark fantasy? In the previous chapter, I inferred that the writers of Doctor Who were, like fan creators, ‘textual poachers’. In this chapter, I want to press this idea further by looking at how the series adapts the work of genre writers including John Wyndham and Nigel Kneale, MR James and HP Lovecraft to create a new, gestalt narrative. Through this, I want to explore how the English countryside and pastoral mythology has been adopted and reshaped by popular culture before, during and after the production of The Dæmons. In this way I will unpack what the English village brought as a location for this story and others in the 1970s and 1980s, and what Aldbourne in particular contributes to the character and popularity of The Dæmons. This will be a whistle-stop tour through subjects ranging from folk horror and pseudo-archaeology to psychogeography, hauntology and religion.

The opening paragraph of the chapter points out that Aldbourne, the village where The Dæmons was filmed, is very close to Silbury Hill, the ancient artificial mound which was the subject of a televised dig in 1969. (My old friend Jonathan Last has things to say about Silbury Hill.) Barber then looks at the real geography of Aldbourne, the connections between The Dæmons and the Fifth Doctor story The Awakening, the subgenre of Folk Horror, Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit, John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, the role of the Church (both institution and building), M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft and the role of the pub.

A brief conclusion reflects on Barber’s personal reaction to visiting Aldbourne over the years, and an appendix gives a plot summary of The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley, which is clearly a taproot text for this story.

In general I prefer the Black Archive books that reflect a bit more than this does on the production, plot and performances in the stories that they are looking at. But this was a very interesting and well-informed exploration of the cultural roots of The Dæmons. Recommended. 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 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) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
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) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Kerblam! (37)