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Marco Polo   Leave a comment

The fourth-ever Doctor Who story is also its most famous loss. Rumors spring up from time to time that the BBC is only waiting for the opportune moment to reveal it, but so far no part of “Marco Polo” has officially been found. A 30-minute reconstruction, pasted together from surviving audio and telesnaps, was released on The Beginning DVD set.

30 minutes out of 7 episodes doesn’t seem like much. Fortunately there’s Loose Cannon.

This highly skilled “amateur” production company did more than painstakingly reconstruct all 7 missing episodes (and many more stories besides). They started with color telesnaps, depicting lush sets and vibrant costumes far beyond the budget of most Doctor Who. Where needed, they colorized, hand-painting individual photographs to match. They added a frame story, featuring original actor Mark Eden as an older Marco Polo looking back on his most unlikely of travels. Eden also provides a charming introduction.

The result is exceptional. The images are gorgeous, vivid, dense with detail. The story is compelling – even at 7 episodes, it never drags. Every character – and there are many – gets a chance to shine. Children of the time must have been fascinated by their heroes’ visit to the exotic court of Kublai Khan. The colonialist perspective and abundant yellowface* make for a harder watch today – but still, I feel, worthwhile.

I once heard a short debate on the merits of telesnap reconstruction versus animation of lost stories. At the time, I fell firmly in the animation camp: I preferred the flow of animation to the stilted awkwardness of snap recons. However, no animator could have captured the lavish detail of Loose Cannon’s “Marco Polo.” Their work has changed my mind.

Loose Cannon can be found online on YouTube, and also here.

* Actress Zienia Merton is half Burmese and was raised in Singapore and Borneo among other places. No other cast member is anything but white white white.

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The Edge of Destruction   Leave a comment

This is a strange one.

The third-ever story of Doctor Who is only two episodes long. It features only the main cast and the TARDIS interior. It’s a kind of psychological thriller, a closed-room mystery in which the heroes turn on each other, missing memories and paranoia fueling distrust to the point of violence. There’s little action, no history, no adventure; the cinematography and character development are cool, but I wonder if children in particular found it sufficient to engage their interest.

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This is actually one of the creepier shots, as the instant before Ian was slumped unconscious in a chair.

The simplicity was likely necessitated by the budgetary demands of the following story, “Marco Polo,” which reputedly broke the bank with lush costumes, lavish sets, and a massive cast. Still, “The Edge of Destruction” is not without merit; that merit being mostly Barbara Wright.

Where Ian played the hero in the previous story, this time it’s Barbara’s turn. She faces down the Doctor’s terrible accusations courageously. She cares for Susan even after Susan turns on her. And in the end it’s she, not the Doctor, who understands what the TARDIS is trying to tell them. Barbara, not the Doctor, puts the pieces together and saves all their lives. Ian, on the other hand, spends much of the story half-naked, unconscious, or both. I can’t help feeling some balance restored to the universe.

The Doctor, for his part, fails to apologize, takes credit for Barbara’s success, and still charms her into forgiving him. He’s very much an alien in this story – his alignment unknown, his intent a mystery – but also, already very much the Doctor.

The Mind Robber   Leave a comment

Fictional characters confronting fictionality is one of my favorite tropes – and this time it wasn’t even Moffat!

For once my husband was in the mood for DW, and the Second Doctor is one of his faves – hence my veering from the Classic timeline. There aren’t many extant Troughton stories left that we haven’t seen, but this was one of them. I remembered it as the story where Frazier Hines got sick and Jamie was played by someone else. (That did happen for one episode – and fortunately in the Land of Fiction you can make that work.)

Overall this is a cracking story. It moves fast for its era with no especially notable padding. The interactions with Gulliver and Rapunzel are great fun – Rapunzel is adorable, and I don’t understand why this is her only television role. I also particularly enjoyed the comic-book superhero from the future: grounding Zoe as a character and legitimizing comics as literature in one fake-muscle-bound stroke. However, neither Jamie nor Zoe is at their best in this story, each having little use for their strengths and both being repeatedly and too easily fooled.

A couple of things confused me as well. The title didn’t click for me at first, though after some thought I managed to put it together – the Doctor’s mind was needed to continue creating the fiction, and could not be got by legitimate means. The intent of the primary villain – to empty the earth via stories? never quite made sense. (The secondary villain’s motivation of looking for a replacement so he could retire worked much better.) And then there was that credit at the end of episode 1: The Master, though no new character had been introduced and the Master himself does not appear until the Third Doctor’s era.

I have never even heard another Master mentioned. In story, the character is more accurately called “the Master brain” or something like that – the alien intelligence that kidnapped the human “Master” for its inexplicable purpose. There is no (apparent) relationship between this Master and the Master. Still, I can’t imagine that fandom hasn’t tried to create one.

The story picks up right where the previous story – “The Dominators,” which I haven’t seen – leaves off. It also ends on a cliffhanger, but as far as I can tell that one does not resolve: the following story, “The Invasion,” begins on the moon, and I recall no reference to a prior story. However I haven’t seen it in some time; perhaps in a few years when I get to this spot in my Classic Who (re)watch, I’ll learn better.

On another note, I don’t usually swing that way but I adore this shot:

Zoe

In the #MeToo era it doesn’t look good. There’s no story value in Zoe’s bum no matter how glorious. We get no corroborating up-skirt shot of Jamie. (A disappointment to be sure.) And truthfully, had this been most any other companion – any modern companion for sure, or any more helpless companion such as Victoria, or more thoroughly sexualized character like Leela – it would be nothing less than crass. But something about Zoe makes it work. One, she is rarely sexualized in the series, and rarely less than fully clothed from chin to sole. And two, according to the stories at least, Wendy Padbury was more than able to hold her own on set. The boys’ club of Troughton and Hines was known for practical joking, generally at the expense of their younger female co-stars. (Deborah Watling reportedly had a difficult time on the show for this reason.) But it’s been said that Padbury could give as good as she got, and was undeterred by any juvenile antics.

 

I don’t know what Padbury thinks of the shot, or what her young fans at the time felt. For me, I’m reminded that sexuality can also be empowering for women.* I’m reminded, in spite of her detractors and of course Moffat, of Amy Pond.

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Your mileage may vary.

 

*This is a complex arena, but I have acquaintances who are strippers and burlesque dancers, and they are anything but disempowered by a glorious bum.

The Daleks, at last   Leave a comment

Announce a new project: it’s a sure way not to have any time to put into the project. :-/

Almost a month has gone by since “An Unearthly Child.” Travel, overbooked weekends, nights at home that got hijacked for other events… with one thing and another, it still took two separate attempts to get through all 7 episodes of “The Daleks.” That’s not even a comment on the quality of the story; it really just takes a long time.

“The Daleks” was the second ever aired Doctor Who story. The concept was originally rejected by Sydney Newman, who famously opposed any “bug-eyed monsters” in his show. However, as it was the only script ready to shoot at the time, Newman was stuck with it.

In spite of Newman’s assessment, something about the strange pepper-pot aliens captured the national imagination. By the end of the story, the number of viewers per episode had topped 10 million, and Doctor Who was a television success. I like to imagine that the scene from “An Adventure in Space and Time” in which Verity Lambert witnesses children on a public bus shouting “Exterminate!” literally happened. Without the Daleks, Doctor Who as we know it today would probably never have existed.

The story opens exactly where the prior story ends: the TARDIS arrives on a new, unknown planet and the radiation dial quietly creeps into the red. Typically of early DW, each episode plays directly into the next, whether they’re part of the same story or not. In fact, “The Daleks” was not known by that name at the time: instead, each episode was provided its own title, its own mini-arc, and its own cliffhanger – even the last one, which sets up the following story.

Ian is unmistakably the hero of the show. He leads the action and looks after his fellow travelers. Barbara, a good character in most ways, gets heavily damseled in this story: hiking through swamps and under mountains in open-toed sandals, clinging to the hand of a male admirer throughout the “scary parts,” and then nearly getting him killed. Susan has a moment or two to shine, but mostly she’s an overplayed stereotype of a horror-movie girl. (I can relate to Carole Ann Ford’s disappointment.) The Doctor is self-centered and callous: he damages the TARDIS himself so the others are forced to let him visit the city that interests him; declines to help the pacifist Thals face their mortal enemy; and then, when he can’t abandon them, tries to force the Thals to help his party. Ian is the good guy of the group: he apologizes to Susan for disbelieving her, drops everything to rush to Barbara’s side when she cries out in fear, and refuses to manipulate the Thals to put themselves in danger for his party. He also has a thing or two to teach the Thals – and the Doctor – about courage.

Overall, the pacing of the story is typical for its time. Episode 1, titled “The Dead Planet,” is edge-of-your-seat intense, with a creepy stone forest, mysterious faraway city, and no sign of life – until someone lays a hand on Susan. The final two episodes, featuring the assault on the Dalek city, are similarly gripping. In between, we spend a lot of time running down corridors, attempting escapes, making terrible plans, having redundant arguments, and generally wandering back and forth over and over again. Not to mention being threatened with extermination!

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Does not occur in this story.

A few highlights:

  • Chestright: The Ian/Barbara ship is well sailed in this story, in spite of the momentary infatuation of one Thal whose name I do not recall.
  • Susan and the Doctor also make a delightful pair on their own: the giggly pre-teen and her indulgent grandfather gleefully sabotage a city.
  • The settings are pretty good for the budget. The petrified forest looks amazing; the swamp is convincing; the “city” is more a collection of odd-shaped bits of junk and a string of endless corridors than a city, but it works well enough.
  • The Daleks are valid characters with valid motivation! You even feel sorry for them as the anti-radiation medicine that was supposed to help them live outside begins to kill them instead. (A Dalek screaming in pain is terrifying.)
  • The final cliffhanger: The Doctor runs around the console, banging switches and buttons from every angle, until it explodes – a familiar sight to any fan of 10.

In the end the Daleks lose, of course. The Thals’ hope of cooperation is shattered, but with the visitors’ help they defeat their enemy utterly. The Daleks’ fear of anything different from themselves is established, and it destroys them.

Of course the extermination of his incredibly successful creation did not prevent writer Terry Nation* from shopping them around. Within a year they returned to DW in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” and shortly afterward in an alternate version of the story featuring Peter Cushing as the human Dr. Who. Since then they have featured in at least 20 televised stories and remain the most popular DW villain of all time.

Not bad for a bunch of bug-eyed monsters.

 

*Rhyming is entirely unintentional on my part. Not sure about Mr. Nation.

Le Guin crossover the 2nd   Leave a comment

Some time ago I observed a commonality between Le Guin’s “Omelas” and “The Beast Below.” Now, having just finished “Tehanu,” #4 in Le Guin’s Earthsea series, I’ve got another one.

In “Tehanu,” the wizard Ged is a secondary character. He arrives in the story fresh from losing his magic – magic he’s possessed since childhood, magic that has defined him all his life – in a battle to save his world and all its people. Without it, he no longer knows who he is, or what purpose remains for him. Wizard was everything to him; now, he has nothing.

I was reminded of the Metacrisis Doctor, sent off to live with Rose in Pete’s World – particularly, in a series of stories I wrote when the official version ran out.

The Metacrisis Doctor is a secondary character. He appears in the story having been split off from his Time Lord self – a self he’s been for 900 years, a heritage that has defined him – in a battle to save the multiverse and all its people. Human, he no longer knows who he is, or what purpose remains for him. Time Lord was everything to him; now, he has nothing.

But the man’s idea of himself is limited. Ged learns, as the Doctor must, that he is more than his magic. He still has his heart: his passion for teaching and learning, his goodness, his love for his people. Though the Metacrisis Doctor’s story stopped when he was left behind on Pete’s World, fans know that he too must come to terms with his new reality. He must find that he is more than his TARDIS and his extra heart. He still has his brilliance, his curiosity, his drive. Like Ged, he laments his loss – but in the end discovers a whole new life he never imagined before.

Like Ged, the Doctor is brought back to himself by the grounded, sensible, passionate love of a woman, and the real world in which she needs him.

They stand together on the beach
their last link with the old world
the old life
fading into mist
into nothing
gone.
She stares, empty
at a loss
her heart torn
he takes her hand.

Who is this man?
this man, this living man
not a dream or a spirit or a fantasy
not the one you pined for, the one that could never be
but solid and real
and loving you.
She looks into his eyes, questing
is this who you are?
do you love me
and can I love you?
Can we leave behind that old life
create something new here together?
can it be done?
He pulls her close, clutching, desperate
gods I hope so.

What now? they ask
as hand in hand they leave the empty shore behind
the old life, the past but a memory
a fantasy
as unreal as if it had never happened.
A new existence breaks in through their daze
a world of taxis and trains
cities
miles across the continent
home.
Can this be right?
The years since she met him
since she lost him
a blur
She casts a glance
again and again
each time startled to find him there
beside her
distant and sad but there
real
bittersweet.
Can this really be?
She leads him, gingerly
uncertain
into her family home
the family and the home so different
from the one she knew for nearly twenty years
yet somehow right.
Now strange again
with this new man beside her
clinging to her hand.
Safe inside she turns to him.
Can this be real?
Can you be?
Is it true, the words you said
the words I so wanted to hear
as if wishing made them so
did you mean them?
were they real?
The truth afire in his eyes
the love he had so long denied
the passion, newly aroused
his blood ablaze as blood ne’er burned in him before.

Too much to adjust to
this sudden need for sleep
and food
and you.
A whole new world
emotions
sensations
a body so alien, so strange.
Slowly I learn
what it must be like
to be you
how hard it is
to feel so much
by this body
betrayed
victim to all its whims.
Is this what it is
to be human?
a constant struggle
a fight for dominance
control
of my own self
letting go, a challenge
impossibly difficult
so much more than I ever imagined
so much more than I can take.
I watch you sleep
envy you your peacefulness
your ignorance of any other way
pining for my own lethe
begone, the memory of immortality
the constance of that extra heart.
But then you turn to me
with your deep brown eyes and smile
gloriously
a world of sensation overcomes
drowns me
I am lost
the joy of your smile
the intoxication of your touch.
Is this what it is
to be human?
new heights of pleasure
to balance the pain
Is this how you endure
day by day, so gray
so brief and all alone
and then, all of a sudden
resplendent color
beyond description.
No wonder you loved that life so much!
No wonder you grieve
I grieve for you
your loss as well as mine
your brief and minute world exploded
and then shrunk again to nothing.
I think finally I may know
what that is
how it feels
color, and then blackness
vision, blindness
love and loss

humanity.

Transition, https://elisabethflaum.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/transition/, 2/16/2012

Posted May 9, 2018 by Elisabeth in Piffle

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Fans for Fans   1 comment

For those joining us from Paul’s newsletter – hello and welcome!

I’ve been stalking Paul Cornell via interwebs for some time. From his engaging blogs and intriguing podcasts, to his friendship with the inestimable Verities – he even commented here once, when I got confused about his comics. As a creator, he’s prolific and wide-ranging, from Wilderness Years novels and the invention of Benny Summerfield to a nerd-tastic superhero-themed episode of Elementary, comics about aliens in American politics, and novellas about the three witches of rural Britain – and that doesn’t even scratch the surface! His friendly online interactions and personable blogging tone make it easy to feel like I know the guy – one of the nicest, most accessible creators from the Doctor Who world.

Lately, as if to up the ante on niceness, Paul has chosen in his weekly newsletter to feature previously unpublished creators, to signal-boost other artists at the start of their careers – particularly those artists who don’t benefit from membership in the club of straight white male. Last week, in the first of these features, he introduced Heather Berberet, psychologist, mom, and keeper of Doctor Who on the Couch, a blog about our favorite Time Lord from a psychological perspective. (Her professional blog features Wonder Woman, always a good sign!) I’m glad to have found Heather and thankful to Paul for sharing her.

It gets better, though, because this week he featured me.

Paul’s newsletter for 4th May

(does that mean they don’t have Star Wars Day in Europe?)

The part with me in it is awesome, of course. But the feature about his own beginnings in the Doctor Who universe could prove even more valuable to my long-term success. It’s great to have the support of successful creators; it’s also great to see what it took them to get to where they are.

Thanks Paul! I look forward to your future newsletters!

 

ETA I can’t help sharing this photo from a prior newsletter:

I once described RTD’s interactions with fans as “lunatic, co-conspiratorial delight.” I think this image captures that.

And of course there’s the Moff working away in the background, grinning his little troll grin. (I say that with affection, I promise.)

The photo was taken just before a book signing at a London comic book shop by a whole host of creators, including the above, Paul Cornell, Jenny Colgan, and others. I would have loved to be there, in spite of the line. If only London were a little more convenient to the PNW… 🙂

Go check out Paul’s newsletter and all the geeky goodness contained within!!

Posted May 4, 2018 by Elisabeth in Cool Stuff, Squee!

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Martha’s Moments   1 comment

Scrolling through my old posts, I came across Top Ten Moments of Rose Tyler, and wondered if anyone had ever done something similar for Martha. The first Black woman to travel in the TARDIS has suffered all manner of under-appreciation: even her fans spend their time bemoaning her treatment by RTD or the Doctor, or complaining about Rose. It’s rare she’s valued for her own merits. But Martha is the most grown-up of the modern companions. As a medical student, she far exceeds her fellow travelers in education and book-smarts. As the parent-figure of her own family, she is the most responsible adult among them. Also, she’s a bad-ass who learns to take care of herself while taking care of everyone around her.

In fact, the Radio Times did a Top Ten for Martha much as they did for Rose. However, as I disagree with almost every one of their choices, here instead is my own selection of Martha’s best moments – to the best of my recollection, as I haven’t watched her series in a while. In order of appearance:

#1. We Might Not Die

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Finding herself on the Moon, Martha doesn’t worry about running out of air. Instead, she appreciates the wonder of the moment – in spite of the risks.

 

#2. Expelliarmus!

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Put on the spot, Martha provides the magic necessary to seal Shakespeare’s witches away forever. Incidentally, this is not the only reference to her literary choices: in Eleven Doctors, Eleven Stories, Martha acknowledges the breadth of her reading – up to and including Twilight.

 

#3. In Heels, No Less!

If I could do screen caps, I’d have a better picture for you. In “The Lazarus Experiment,” wearing THAT DRESS and THOSE SHOES, Martha Jones jumps over a table to shut down a machine to free partygoers trapped in a burning building. This is the kind of woman we’re dealing with: quick-thinking, fast-acting, and steady on her pins.

 

#4. Would You Like Some Tea?

Another example of Martha’s quick thinking is this conversation from “Human Nature” by Paul Cornell:

MARTHA: Would you like some tea?
JENNY: Yes, thanks.
MARTHA: I could put a nice bit of gravy in the pot. And some mutton. Or sardines and jam. How about that?
JENNY: I like the sound of that.
MARTHA: Right. Hold on a tick.

The Doctor has forgotten her. Aliens are invading. Her one friend in this world is acting a bit odd – and Martha doesn’t miss a trick.

 

#5. So, So Sorry

Again, if I could do screencaps, you’d have the moment I mean.

From Professor Yana’s lab, Martha overhears a conversation between the Doctor and Jack, two old friends separated by metal and death, and united by a woman:

DOCTOR She’s gone, Jack. She’s not just living on a parallel world, she’s trapped there. The walls have closed.
JACK: I’m sorry.

In this moment, Martha gets the truth about the Doctor and Rose, and the depth of his grief. In this moment she finds her compassion.

 

#6. I’ll Do What I Like

Back on Earth, Prime Minister Saxon has just blown up her home. Her family is in danger. The Doctor tries telling her what to do.

It doesn’t go well.

 

#7. I’ll See You Again, Mister

Her family needs her. Her planet needs her. Her time with the Doctor was fun, but it’s time to be the doctor herself.

She leaves him by choice, and in friendship, and she leaves him with orders:

“If that rings, when that rings, you’d better come running. Got it?”

Good thing too, because…

 

#8. I Thought We Needed An Expert

Martha has finished her medical degree and gone to work for UNIT, the one employer she can find who knows about aliens. Now they’re in over their heads – and like Mickey at Deffry Vale, Martha knows just who to call.

 

#9. I’ve Got You

marthahath

She didn’t want to go to Messaline, and now she’s separated from her friends and her ride home. But instead of an armed alien, she sees someone who needs her help – and she won’t be stopped from helping.

 

#10. Dat Hair

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Martha Jones can save the world, snag a man, and rock her hair game. Yas queen.

Posted April 11, 2018 by Elisabeth in Companions

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