Archive for the ‘Classic’ Category

(location), (date)   Leave a comment

The following may be considered spoilery.

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SPOILER ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!

Ypres, 1914: the Christmas Armistice. In the midst of battle, soldiers lay down their arms and sing carols instead.

Fraternization between opposing troops was not unheard of at the time. Unofficial ceasefires periodically allowed soldiers to recover their dead from the battlefield, or even just take a break from the noise. Though an official Christmas truce had been considered and rejected by the powers that be, peace broke out in several places across the front that winter. It was early in the war; later, the interminable fighting and the devastation of chemical warfare put an end to fellow feeling. Nothing like the Christmas Armistice has ever happened again.

What a perfect moment for the Doctor.

It didn’t matter to him who the soldier was; everyone is, after all, important to someone. It was enough that he saw a chance to save a life, and he took it. In the end perhaps it wouldn’t matter whether the Brigadier’s grandfather lived to fight another day or not; perhaps the Doctor’s friend would be who he was no matter what. But that the life he saved should be a Lethbridge-Stewart… a gift for the Brigadier, a gift for the Doctor, and mostly, a gift for the fans.

Does the First Doctor remember, or does the crossing of the timeline prevent him from retaining anything of this encounter? Does the Second Doctor recognize the name, and thereby pay special attention to the man? Or is it the man himself? Are his actions alone enough to endear him forever?

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“It’s just possible.”

The Brigadier has been referenced in New Who before:

  • “It’s times like this I could do with the Brigadier.” In 2008, facing the Sontarans, the Tenth Doctor misses his friend. (“The Sontaran Stratagem”)
  • That same year, the Brigadier appears in The Sarah Jane Adventures, called out of retirement to help save the world again. (“Enemy of the Bane”)
  • Actor Nicholas Courtney died in 2011. Later that year, the Brigadier’s passing is acknowledged in “The Wedding of River Song.”
  • In 2012, the Eleventh Doctor meets Kate Stewart, the Brigadier’s daughter and UNIT heir. (“The Power of Three”)
  • In 2014, the Brigadier – reincarnated as a Cyberman by Missy’s evil scheme – turns the tide of battle in favor of humanity, and receives a long-overdue salute from the Twelfth Doctor. (“Death in Heaven”)

Obviously, a much-loved and much-missed character.

The Christmas Armistice is a symbol of the best of humanity. Doctor Who is a symbol of the best of humanity. By accidentally saving his friend’s grandfather, the Doctor is rewarded for his faith in us. He is reminded that there is always hope.

A reminder for us as well.

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The best of Anglicon 2017   Leave a comment

 

Sylvester McCoy playing the spoons to live accompaniment was definitely a highlight of the event. (Is it just me or does he look a bit like Mark Hamill these days?)

Two years ago, at our first Anglicon, we saw Colin Baker, Katy Manning, and Sophie Aldred. As guests these three remain unsurpassed. Our delight in them is unmarred and unrestrained and may forever remain unmatched.

This year’s guests included Sylvester above, Peter Davison, and Bentley “the poor Corgi actor,” star of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency alongside Elijah Wood and that other guy. Bentley’s performance was of course flawless: he and his little sister put on a show for fans, and were joined by friends in the community for a Corgi parade in full holiday regalia, led of course by a Dalek. You can’t go wrong with Corgis.

The human guests were enjoyable, though somewhat less flawless. McCoy is delightful, hilarious, and energetic – he carried a microphone around the audience to answer questions himself, rather than let the moderator do it. He had some good stories about his acting career, including a production of King Lear with Ian McKellan and something weird with Robert Picardo in Edinburgh. He refused to answer a child’s question about his favorite companion, on the grounds that choosing one would not only be unkind but impossible. However, he was a bit more lecherous than I would prefer, making sexual jokes about both the new Doctor and Rose. Neither Baker nor Davison so much as dropped hints in that direction. For that I am grateful to them.

I did appreciate that both classic actors value Rose properly – both as a well-rounded companion and for her contribution to the success of the modern show. Apparently Davison’s sons – then 6 and 8 or so – loved her dearly. Hearing rumors that she was to die at the end of her run, Davison sent a concerned email to showrunner Russell T. Davies. Reportedly Davies replied, “You killed Adric, what do you care?”

Davison was also a source of concern. Going into the event, I considered not attending his Q&A sessions, knowing that fans would bring up both his (questionable) reaction to the new Doctor and his (TMI) personal life. Which they did – though I’m glad I went anyway, as he was very funny (mostly at Colin Baker’s expense) and had some great insights into the JNT era – particularly, the effect of JNT’s unfamiliarity with sci fi on the quality of stories at the time. I enjoyed his description of his time on All Creatures Great and Small as “up a cow.” That show – as well as the more recent Last Detective – might be worth investigating.

He did stand by his assessment of Whittaker’s casting as a loss of a role model for boys, pointing out how rare non-violent heroes are. He also expressed disappointment in the trend of politics infiltrating television. He did not seem to consider the paucity of heroic female role models, or understand that casting another white man would be as political a choice as anything else. I considered bringing up these questions, but decided I would rather just move on from them.

He also raised what I would consider a more valid concern: what does the BBC do next? If casting a woman were a purely points-scoring, checking-the-box maneuver, and the show goes right back to another 50 years of white men, then it was all meaningless. Likewise, 50 years of women in the role might serve more as book-balancing than valid casting. He is right, I think, that either of these would be a mistake. However, he is operating on the assumption that casting Jodie was an “inorganic,” forced decision. I think Chibnall put more thought into it than Davison wants to give him credit for, and that this new casting opens the door for all kinds of actors in the role: a mix of men and women of various ethnic (but invariably British*) and social backgrounds should provide lots of interesting Doctors over the next half century.

(I did observe, and one fan mentioned, that Moffat said some things recently about this topic. I did not read whatever it was; Moffat often opens his mouth when he shouldn’t, and I have no interest in his opinions on most matters.)

Regarding the personal questions, which I also didn’t want to hear, Davison is by now so used to being asked about his fan-favorite son-in-law that he actually bulldozed a question about “The Doctor’s Daughter” casting to talk about later events. On the other hand, his stories about the budding acting career of his 18-year-old son – and his humor at himself in that regard – were both amusing and perfectly appropriate.

Overall, neither actor was as funny or as sincere as Colin Baker, and of course there’s no beating Katy Manning. ❤

The other highlight of Anglicon is of course the costumes. Female Fifth Doctors outnumbered all others. There were a couple of excellent Cybermen – one a child who entered the costume contest as “Bill Potts” – and an astounding Empress of Mars. (She should have won the contest, really, but the top prize went to an unfamiliar character presumably from Red Dwarf.) The panels this year were also of higher quality than previous. We learned about reconstruction of lost episodes, played improv games, and heard about Douglas Adams from a writer who had conducted numerous personal interviews with him over the years. (Some of that material appears in DWM #313, which I will have to try and get my hands on.)

However, I don’t know if we’ll go next year. Seattle is becoming a more and more difficult trip, and we have some wonderful local cons bringing great Doctors right to our door. But I’m not sorry we went, and another visit is certainly not out of the question.

 

 

*Yes, I know some people feel that limiting casting to British actors is as bad as limiting it to white men, but I disagree. Doctor Who is an undeniably British show, full of British jokes and Britishisms in spite of its international following. However, the UK is 50% women and as much as 40% non-white in some areas. These people are British too, and the show does well to reflect that.

Posted December 13, 2017 by Elisabeth in Classic, Conventions, Events

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The Curse of Peladon   Leave a comment

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Wang in a cape: you can’t unsee it.

My first real glimpse of “The Curse of Peladon” was this iffy alien in its (their? zir?) recent reappearance in “Empress of Mars” this past season, but I’d been hearing things about the story for ages. Jo and Sarah Jane each accompanied the Third Doctor to Peladon, where the latter uttered one of her most famous bits of dialogue:

“There’s nothing ‘only’ about being a girl, Your Majesty!”

That, however, is not the one I watched.

“Curse,” like much of its era, features a slow beginning, wobbly sets, questionable creature designs, and over-the-top acting. Also like much of its era, it still won me over in the end. The “action Doctor” gets full play here: Pertwee climbs mountains, tames monsters, and engages leather-clad gladiators in hand-to-hand combat. Jo too holds her own, wrangling politicians, climbing out of windows, and chasing away nightmares with a flaming torch, all in charming pink heels. “Dolled up,” as she says, for a date with Captain Mike Yates of UNIT, she instead plays princess of Earth and flirts with the handsome young king of Peladon.

(Jo is just ridiculously fun. I love her.)

Peladon himself is something of an interesting character: burdened by youth, torn between opposing forces, uncrowned, and perhaps in his own eyes unworthy. He wants to lead his people into the future, to be a great king as his father was. But when the mentor/regent/father figure who shares his vision is brutally and mysteriously killed, he can’t help but unthinkingly obey the other, no matter how questionable that person’s motives may be.

I don’t know if Letts and Dicks were on an anti-religion kick here, though they certainly had political intent. In today’s context, the high priest’s mindless, unchecked power is frightening. (A crime for which there is no defense and the penalty is death, for which the only evidence required is the word of an admitted enemy? Sure, it’s a device to the get the Doctor in a cage match with Conan the Barbarian, but it’s a bit too believable for comfort in this day and age.) Hepesh shouts down his opponents by force of personality alone, and the young king caves. Here I think Jo misses the questions her journalist successor would have asked: what kind of a king can do nothing in the face of injustice? What is a king for, if not to right the wrongs that threaten his people?

Of course maybe Peladon thinks he’s no king at all.

(A larger question might be why no one offered to show Peladon the tunnels which Hepesh so urgently insisted did not exist. It would be easy enough to find a way for him to decline; to have no one even mention it seems strange.)

This melancholy boy is played by then-twenty-two-year-old David Troughton, elder son of prior Doctor Patrick. David previously appeared in a handful of episodes with his father, mostly uncredited, and then much later as the more seasoned – but possibly just as ineffective – Professor Hobbes, in the Tenth Doctor story “Midnight.” (His younger brother and fellow actor Michael made his only contribution to Doctor Who in “Last Christmas,” with the Twelfth Doctor and Nick Frost.) Troughton’s blond bouffant and heavy-lidded eyes give him something of a tragic David Bowie look; one can forgive Jo for having second thoughts about leaving him behind. The effect is heightened by his costume, which features flowing sleeves, gem-studded collar, tall boots – and a slim expanse of lily-white thigh.

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a little Thin White Duke, a little Prince of Elsinore

He fits right in with these two, from “The Masque of Mandragora:”

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Classic Who, who knew. 🙂

Overall, in the way of Classic Who, the story has its ups and downs, but in the end it gets an up vote from me. In addition, now I can better appreciate the reappearance of the Delegate from Alpha Centauri  – still voiced by the original Ysanne Churchman, now 92 years old.

In spite of the wang in a cape.

 

 

Posted December 1, 2017 by Elisabeth in Classic

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Eaters of Light and other monsters   Leave a comment

Lady creators are on my mind of late. I’ve seen Wonder Woman twice, with a possible third pending later this week. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot are heroes of the hour. Rachel Talalay’s third two-part season finale blasts into space next week. And now, I’ve finally spent some time with Rona Munro.

First, “Survival.” The ironically-titled final serial of classic DW is – like much of the rest of DW – a good story marred by questionable effects and costumes. Still, its heart is there. The final line – written not by Munro but by script editor Andrew Cartmel once he learned that the show was definitely not coming back – is a lovely bittersweet conclusion to 26 years of madcap adventure. The influence of Ace on Rose is glaringly apparent. Costar Anthony Ainley and showrunner John Nathan Turner would not live to see the show’s return. Lisa Bowerman, who played furry Karra in blazing heat, returned as Bernice Summerfield for 50-plus (and counting) Big Finish audio stories – a few with Ace and the Seventh Doctor, but most on her own. Rona Munro went on to a full and fruitful career writing stage plays and radio dramas. And now she’s back.

“The Eaters of Light” features a strange segment of history with which I was not previously familiar: the disappearance of the 9th Roman Legion sometime in the second century. The episode makes fun use of the popular (if slightly out of date) theory that the 9th was annihilated by Celtic tribes in northern Britain. The tribes, in this case, had the assistance of an inter-dimensional photon vampire.

(I’m not sure about the physiology of this. There was a bit of hand-waving.)

First of all, I love the bookends of this episode. The Scottish setting (actually Wales according to guest star Rebecca Benson) is brooding and ethereal. The little girl who hears music coming out of the ground sets a creepy stage – and the truth about that music is at turns inspiring and sad.

I also really enjoyed the crows. (We replayed that one bit – it DID say “Master!”) Our neighborhood is full of crows: waking up to cries of “Kar” the following morning made me smile. I’ll certainly never listen to them the same way again. I also enjoy that the Doctor was wrong about them – “They’re not brooding, they’re remembering!”

I did wonder if the non-white Roman soldiers were going to cause a flap among that more annoying segment of fandom. I know very little of history generally, but given how widespread Rome’s impact and influence was, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that their garrisons would include people from all sorts of backgrounds. And if I’m wrong about that, I still think a show that features an inter-dimensional photon vampire can get away with a couple of black Romans. I appreciated that they weren’t both killed right away; I had my doubts after the first one.

The side characters in this episode get some wonderful depth. Of course to the Doctor all humans are children: our lives too short, our experiences too limited. But these “soldiers” are children even to Bill, young people far out of their depth and with a weight of responsibility on their untested shoulders. Together Bill and the Doctor take their hands and help them grow – and in the end, when the Doctor wants to keep holding on, to save them from the burdens of adulthood, Bill and the young people themselves demand that he let them go, to make their music under the hill for eternity.

(Again the precise logistics are mystifying – the Doctor claims his lifespan, his regenerative ability, make him the better choice to guard the gate, but somehow a handful of human soldiers can do the same job? Wave-wave.)

“I can’t promise you won’t die. But I can promise you won’t die in a hole in the ground.”

Other high points are the popcorn distraction and Nardole’s instant adaptation and acceptance into the community. I enjoyed Nardole more this episode than any since the Christmas special. The coming together of enemies as friends and partners is a trope I’ll never get tired of – and the Doctor’s speech on the topic is perfectly on point.

The denouement with Missy remains a mystery. I still don’t buy that she’s going to turn good, whatever the Doctor does. I think she’s fooling him on some level. But I also think she’s maybe going through something a little unexpected. Perhaps she’s really experiencing remorse or compassion in ways she thought herself safe from. Perhaps if not a full shift, she may still make a small one.

Husband and I expect her to sacrifice herself for the Doctor or a companion in the finale. (Will we see that regeneration – a new Master? or will it be a surprise for next time?)

Or will it be John Simm! When I first heard that he would return, I thought it unlikely; when I learned it was true, I realized we’ve had many multi-Doctor stories but never a multi-Master one, and how much fun would that be? We don’t know how the Master got from Simm to Gomez, or whether there were any versions in between, Simm’s Master having been sent back to the Time War with Rassilon in “The End of Time.”

On a related note, Derek Jacobi is returning as the Master for Big Finish. And in further speculation, there is the theory that in honor of Missy’s sacrifice the Doctor will next regenerate into a woman.

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Invasion of Gallifrey   Leave a comment

Two weeks ago we watched “The Invasion of Time” on the big screen with a roomful of other nerds. The story, featuring Four, Leela, and K-9, takes place almost entirely on Gallifrey.

The serial aired in February and March 1978. A year and a half earlier television-time, the Doctor abandoned Sarah Jane in Aberdeen, telling her that no humans were permitted on Gallifrey. This time he drags Leela along without a qualm. Does he no longer care? Was he tired of Sarah? Or did writers give little thought to the disposal of companions? The last seems most likely, given the departure of Leela at the end of this story: her relationship with Andred* lacks any foundation or expression on screen, but in the end she gives up everything to be with him. Susan’s romance with David Campbell (“Dalek Invasion of Earth”) has more substance to it, but still she is devastated to be left behind.

Gallifrey itself is an interesting place. The privileged population lives entirely indoors, encased in rules and intrigue. Outside is a place of banishment, where survival is improbable – except by a band of savages with whom Leela quickly identifies. The Doctor has come to claim his Presidency, while secretly working to thwart an invasion. Various bureaucrats battle him, and one another, for leadership and control. Pandemonium, of course, ensues.

After a slow start the story is well-paced and engaging. In spite of its length and the lateness of the hour we were never bored. Necessarily limited and repetitive locations are exploited for their humorous potential. Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor and John Arnatt’s Borusa delight with their mutual discourtesy and unlikely alliance. Overall, it’s good classic DW fun.

* In spite of ignominious beginnings, Leela’s relationship with Andred sparked a whole world of ideas exploited by Big Finish for their licensed audio stories. (See Life on Gallifrey.)

Posted December 15, 2016 by Elisabeth in Classic, Companions, Events, Guest stars

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Class and other fun   Leave a comment

Last week we watched the first episode of the new DW spinoff, Class. It was, as I had begun to suspect, more Torchwood than SJA, and also quite well written. The characters are good, the conflict is good, and the Doctor is icing on the alien cake. I look forward to the rest of the series.

Last night my meetup group saw the newly released animated version of “Power of the Daleks” in the theater. I continue to be impressed with the Troughton era. In spite of a slow start, mediocre animation, and 60s cheese, the serial was quite engaging. The story is tight and well paced, never dragging like some classics tend to. The background artwork is beautiful. The Daleks are terrifying as always, but also sneaky and underhanded and occasionally hilarious: this is the first appearance of the serving-Daleks seen in “Victory of the Daleks.” The showing was followed by a brief making-of video featuring Nick Briggs and several members of the animation team, as well as a few from the original. Just as if we’d watched at home on DVD, but bigger. 🙂

We have lots more Doctor coming up this month. Next week the meetup will watch “Boom Town” and “Bad Wolf.” I wasn’t sure about splitting up the series finale, but “Parting of the Ways” will be paired up with “The Christmas Invasion” just in time for the holidays, so I think I can live with it. Then at the end of the month, our local old-school movie theater will be showing “The Invasion of Time” complete with period commercials. We saw “Genesis of the Daleks” there last year, and it was great fun. I haven’t seen “Invasion,” and we’ve seen very little of Leela so far, so we’re definitely looking forward to it.

On the topic of Christmas specials and similar fun, I have mixed feelings about the one upcoming. I was hoping to meet Pearl this holiday, but she will not appear. I was not as thrilled with Nardole as many apparently were, and I wouldn’t have chosen him as a recurring character. I don’t like how guy-heavy the story appears to be. On the other hand I love cheesy superhero stuff, and Christmas specials are always great fun. I’ll go into it with an open mind.

(On that note, I get surveys from the BBC about upcoming events, and I gave them an earful about the testosterone ratio of the holiday special. It was after that, I note, that the nameless young woman began to appear in the promotional material.)

An added bonus, for those who watched Doctor Who: The World Tour: “Doctor Mysterio” is the Spanish name for Doctor Who, and has its own mariachi filk captured on film. 🙂

Posted November 15, 2016 by Elisabeth in Christmas Specials, Classic, Commentary, Events

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Never too late   Leave a comment

It’s been several weeks since we gathered for “Father’s Day” and “Enemy of the World,” but here I am at last.

“Father’s Day” remains a favorite. Rose learns that her father is not who she thought he was; that her mother lied; that her parents are only human. That her parents are wonderful, fallible people who love her and each other. She faces the brutal consequences of a thoughtless act of love. The Doctor’s rage, while genuine, is only momentary; he is a man who makes mistakes, who thoughtlessly loves again and again in his life. He does everything he can to save Rose’s father for her – an ordinary man, the most important thing in the universe – and though he fails, his efforts bring them closer together.

Pete himself is outstanding. He is a failure, and he knows it. His marriage is on the brink. But he quickly figures out that he is the key to everything, and selflessly gives his life for the women he loves so dearly. His speech to Rose about all the extra hours he got is one of the most moving moments ever on television.

After that emotional wringer, “The Enemy of the World” is great fun. One of the two lost stories found recently in Nigeria, this six-parter features Patrick Troughton as both hero and villain. It’s silly in places – there’s a line about a disused yeti – and deadly serious in others, and though it’s among the longer serials it never lags. Troughton is a delight, well deserving of this showcase for his substantial talent. I’m reminded of Orphan Black, where one actress plays several characters who also play each other; the characters remain distinct, even when hiding in another’s skin.

Up next we’ll pass on a classic story in favor of two-parter “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances.” As Captain Jack just got his own Torchwood series on Big Finish, it’ll be great fun to see his origin again. Mostly, though, I’m looking forward to Nancy.

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Everybody lives!