Blake’s 7: The Way Forward, and The Classic Adventures Series 01

Housekeeping point: I spent the last two weeks mainly commuting to work by car rather than by train, so my blogging has caught up with my reading backlog. This week I’m going to write up my recent audio listening instead of bookblogging. Normal service will resume at some point.

Absolutely ages back I listened to a few of the Big Finish Blake’s 7 audios (here, here and here). Around the start of this year I got a couple of full cast stories: the 40th anniversary The Way Forward, from 2018, and the first series in BF’s sequence of Classic Adventures of B7, released in 2014.

I probably listened to them in the wrong order: the absence of Gareth Thomas, who died in 2016, from the first half of the 2018 The Way Ahead is palpable. It’s a two parter centring around the character Avalon (from the episode Project: Avalon), the first part set during Series A and the second during Series C. Avalon herself and Dayna have been recast (Olivia Poulet and Yasmin Bannerman), and Glynis Barber plays Soolin’s daughter rather than Soolin for rights-related reasons, but everyone else is there – Paul Darrow as Avon, Michael Keating as Vila Restal, Sally Knyvette as Jenna, Jan Chappell as Cally, Steven Pacey as Tarrant, Jacqueline Pearce as Servalan and Stephen Greif as Travis. It’s a cracking script by Mark Wright and a great nostalgia fest. You can get it here.

Series One of the Classic Adventures certainly gave me the appetite for more. It starts with an excellent psychodrama, Fractures by the ever reliable Justin Richards (who has written more Doctor Who books and stories than anyone else alive, I think); and then goes into a sequence of five tightly linked stories by different writers, Andres Smith, Mark Platt, Peter Anghelides and the last two by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright. Gareth Thomas was still alive in 2014 and gives his best here, along with the aforementioned Paul Darrow, Michael Keating (who gets a particularly good Vila plotline), Jan Chappell and Sally Knyvette, with Brian Croucher as Travis this time, and Hugh Fraser coming in at the end as the tremendously nasty President of the Federation. This is six hours of top-notch drama for (in my country) €25, incredible value. You can get it here.

Full Circle, by John Toon (and Andrew Smith)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I first reread it in 2008, I wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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