Tag Archives: Davison

Storytelling, sins and Terminus (1983)

Forgive me Terminus fans (yes, both of you, haha)  but I’m not quite finished with City of Death. On that DVD’s “making of” featurette, a number of Who luminati line up to talk about how great the story is, but when it comes to Douglas Adams’ stint as script editor, their reviews are decidedly mixed. The consensus seems to be that he was a prolific generator of good ideas, but didn’t understand story structure. That anyone can say this with a straight face on a documentary about City of Death is slightly bewildering. Apart from a few languid breaks for sections of travelogue footage around Paris, that story is one of the most tightly plotted the show ever produced.

And while we’re about it, think about the rest of the stories in Season 17. Despite any of their other pros or cons, they are all well structured stories, well told (save for, perhaps, The Creature from the Pit, with its odd narrative dogleg in Part Four). Sure, these were written by some of Doctor Who‘s old hands, but they’re shaped and formed by Adams. If he really is shaky on story structure, I see little evidence of it in his year as script editor.

Compare it, though, to Terminus, and there’s a story whose storytelling is all over the shop (despite its merits, of which, contrary to popular opinion, I think there are several). And because we haven’t done a listicle in while, let’s list the 7 deadly storytelling sins in Terminus.

  1. Too many characters. Most obviously illustrated by the way that companions Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) are relegated to clamber through miles of underfloor ducting for the whole story. What makes this even more annoying is that there are two surplus characters: glam rock space pirates Kari (Liza Goddard) and Olvir (Dominic Guard). Their contribution to the plot is minimal and there’s no reason their places couldn’t have been taken by Tegan and Turlough. Then we’d have had a story which involves all the regulars substantially. And in Turlough’s case, this would have kept him closer to the Doctor. Given that his character’s whole raison detre is to kill the Doctor, it might have helped to have actually been within chucking distance of him.

2. There’s no villain. The story tries to cast our suspicion on the Vanir, a group of disheveled men who act as porters for the cargo of Lazars destined for treatment on board Terminus. But as it eventually pans out, the Vanir are simply drug addicted slaves. The real bad guys are here at the Company, the Vanir’s employers and Terminus’s operators. They are the ones who process the Lazars without care or satisfactory cure, (presumably for profit) and they are the ones who keep the Vanir enslaved through the supply of glow sticks of their drug of choice, Hydromel. Problem is, we never see anyone from the Company, so we have no-one to epitomise the threat they represent. Think, for example, of the Tom Baker story The Sun Makers, where the odious Collector represented all that was corrupt in that enslaved society and gave us a villain to hate. There’s no such figure in Terminus, only a half-hearted attempt to build up the character of Vanir leader Eirak (Martin Potter) into a ruthless bully, but in reality, he’s just as big a victim as everyone else on this ship.

3. The problem Nyssa wants to solve isn’t shown. Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) contracts Lazars’ Disease which makes her pale and weak and too hot to wear anything but her underwear. She’s manhandled into the big furry paws of the Garm (RJ Bell) whom we’re led to believe will torture her. As it turns out, the Garm actually administers the treatment which cures Nyssa, but she’s not grateful. The treatment, she says, is haphazard. Some live and some die, but for those who live the treatment might lead to unforeseen secondary illnesses. The process needs refining, she says. But we’re told all this, never shown it, so it’s hard to visualise what the problem actually is. In fact, the only thing we do see is Nyssa being cured, which seems to suggest there’s no real problem here.

4. The big bang plot is unconnected to the rest of the story. Throughout the story, the Doctor (Peter Davison) is intrigued about Terminus’s position at the exact centre of the Universe. This doesn’t seem to worry anyone else, but later he deduces (somehow) that the explosion of Terminus’s engines millennia ago caused the Big Bang, and a second impending explosion may cause its destruction. Cue Part Three cliffhanger! Then the doggy Garm comes and flicks a big red switch and it’s all fixed again. Then it’s back to the main plot about the Lazars, which is completely untouched by all this flim flam. (For other, more relevant, instances of destructive, history altering events, see The Visitation, Earthshock and indeed City of Death. That can be our LINK).

5. It’s unnecessarily complicated. The sabotaged TARDIS locks on to a Lazar carrying ship. The ship is then boarded by the space raiders from funky town. The raiders’ ship then scarpers. Then the Lazar ship lands on Terminus. What ever happened to just landing the TARDIS in the place where the story’s happening? (One of the problems here, is that the set designs for the Lazar ship and for Terminus are drably similar, so there’s no sense that these are different places. Even the production team was confused. In the next story, Enlightenment, Turlough says, “I explained what happened on Terminus!” but in fact, he never boarded Terminus. To coin a phrase, “all these corridors look the same to me.”)

6. Its climax is hugely unexciting. Because there’s no real threat or villain to overcome, everyone just agrees to Nyssa’s plan to synthezise some Hydromel (in a home made meth lab, I presume) and start a hospital. Eirak is outraged a bit, but that’s all the resistance it meets. It’s a quiet, drama-less revolution.

7. It’s too long, but somehow still runs out of time. It’s quite a feat, but this story maintains a gentle languid, pace during Parts Two and Three, with much corridor wandering and aimless chatter. But suddenly, half way through Part Four, it seems to run out of time. The Vanir, including the previously belligerent and murderous Valgard (Andrew Burt) are swiftly won over. There’s no time to explain how Kari and Olvir will get back home. A quick goodbye to Nyssa and suddenly we’re back to the TARDIS for a closing snarl from the Black Guardian (Valentine Dyall, see problem 1). In short, its pace is all over the place.

Now cast your mind back to City of Death. The right amount of characters, a clear and present threat, no unnecessary subplots, a strong climax… you get the idea. It’s just a better told story than Terminus.

In fact, all of season 17’s stories are better told than Terminus. It’s just one comparative example – there are many other stories both better and worse – but when we look at story telling which is genuinely a mess, we can see that Adams wasn’t half bad at his job.

NEXT TIME: Build high for happiness. We move into Paradise Towers.

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Australia, ancestry and Four to Doomsday (1982)

ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING (INFO-TEXT EDITION): “New South Wales is just outside Sydney, in Australia”

I love that little snafu on the Four To Doomsday DVD info text with its shaky grasp of Australian geography (for the record, international readers, New South Wales is not ‘just outside Sydney’. Sydney is the capital of the state of New South Wales, one of six states and two territories which make up the Commonwealth of Australia). And it’s apt that it’s adhered indelibly to Four To Doomsday, a story which demonstrates another strange idea about Australia.

Yes, I’m talking about the bit where Tegan (Janet Fielding) reveals that she can speak an ancient Aboriginal language (one of those unusual talents sometimes displayed by companions). I’ll get to that, but let’s go back a bit to who Tegan is, and why she’s in our favourite show in the first place.

John Nathan-Turner, who took over as producer show about a year before Four To Doomsday was made, created Tegan and specified that she should be Australian. This was not a random choice. JN-T was the first producer to consider how Doctor Who could be an international show; it was he, in his role as Production Unit Manager, who suggested and facilitated the show’s first international location shoot for City of Death.

JN-T must surely have had Australia in mind as the next potential Doctor Who location shoot. In 1979, Tom Baker had undertaken a promotional tour of Australia (oh so many awkward TV interviews. The Molly Meldrum one is fun, but the killer one is with John Singleton of all people), and he’d done TV commercials here for Keep Australia Beautiful and Prime Computers. Peter Davison has joked that Tegan was created as an air hostess in order to get cheap flights from Qantas. If true, it wouldn’t have been the wackiest plan JN-T ever embarked upon. In fact, I seem to remember a Sydney Morning Herald interview, which kicked off with Nathan-Turner saying, “I have a vision of the TARDIS landing on top of the Sydney Opera House”. It’s the kind of headline grabbing thing he might have said, but surely there was a grain of truth in it.

So Australia was on Doctor Who’s radar in 1981. And the expression of it was strident sidekick, Tegan Jovanka.

*****

We all know how that name got chosen. JN-T was deciding between two names for his new companion: Tegan or Jovanka. Script Editor Christopher H Bidmead read it as one name, and so it became. Both are uncommon, but not unheard of names. I’ve met a few Tegan/Teagans around the joint and I’ve met a couple of Jovankas.

Tegan’s surname marks her as an exotic outsider among Doctor Who companions, who are generally speaking a lot of Smiths, Jones, Wrights, Grants and Browns. But here’s the thing: Jovanka’s not a surname. It’s a first name of Serbian origin. JN-T got the name from then Yugoslav first lady Jovanka Broz. So why is Tegan using it as a surname?

Which leads us to the question, just who is Tegan?

When we meet her, she’s in her early twenties and living in London. So far, so much the lived experience of many young Australians. She’s on the first day of her job as an air hostess (cabin crew, we call them these days), so we can perhaps assume she’s been living in England for a while since moving from Australia.

Whereabouts in Australia? Well, she talks occasionally of Brisbane, and certainly she has the brash, straight talking approach of a Queenslander (Queensland being just outside Brisbane, in Australia, y’know). In Castrovalva, she says that if the Doctor wanted to go somewhere cut off from the rest of the Universe, Brisbane would be the go. (It’s a nice joke, but Australians might have chuckled a bit more if she’d nominated Adelaide.)

She refers to her father’s farm, which her Aunt Vanessa says is ‘hardly the outback’. I wonder where this not-quite-the-outback-farm within cooee of Brisbane was. Toowoomba? Not far out enough maybe. Roma?

Either way, it’s the only mention of Tegan’s father. Who was he? What did he farm? Was he Serbian by birth, or was his wife, or both? Or neither? There is certainly a long history of Yugoslavs settling in Australia, particularly post World War Two. But they mainly settled in Sydney and Melbourne.

Here’s my theory. A little bit of ‘head canon’, as the Moff calls it.

Tegan’s grandfather (Andrew Verney) comes to Australia from England and marries a woman called Jovanka, a Yugoslav by birth. They have at least two children, Tegan’s Dad and her Aunty Vanessa. Tegan’s Dad buys a farm in Queensland. Somewhere along the line, Jovanka dies and Verney and Vanessa move to England.

That’s the Serbian/Australian/English heritage, but how can Tegan speak an Aboriginal language? It’s highly unlikely that a white Australian growing up in 60s and 70s Australia would learn one. So perhaps the answer is that Tegan is part Aboriginal herself, and her Dad married an Aboriginal woman.

So under this scenario, Tegan is born and given the middle name Jovanka, after her grandmother. She grows up on the farm and the Aboriginal side of her family teaches her some language. When she leaves school, she moves to Brisbane for a couple of years, before moving to London.

And at some stage, she decides to give up her surname and use Jovanka as her surname.

And on Monarch’s spaceship, she speaks confidently with Aboriginal android Kurkutji (Illarrio Bisi Pedro). Even though he hasn’t been on Earth for 35,000 years.

Though I have no idea why she says ‘rabbits’ as an expletive. I’ve never heard anyone – Australian or otherwise – say that.

*****

As for JN-T, he never got to film a story in Australia. Qantas never gave him any cash, although the ABC did, to help him make The Five Doctors.  Was his creation of an American companion to follow Tegan a second attempt to broker international support? Probably

At any rate Tegan’s inclusion in the show was a big acknowledgement that Doctor Who had an international audience. Maybe even that outside the UK, Australia was the show’s biggest market. Sure, it didn’t get many of the details right, but that’s not really the point. Tegan Jovanka, the girl with the loud voice, the oblique ancestry, the mystifying surname and the knack for long dead Indigenous languages can actually be seen as Doctor Who’s first move from being a British show to an international show.

LINK TO The Androids of Tara: more androids.

NEXT TIME: Yo ho ho! It’s The Curse of the Black Spot, ya scurvy rabbits… um, dogs.

Inside, outside and Castrovalva (1982)

castrovalva

Act 1: Part One and half of Part Two

Perhaps the oddest way to start a new Doctor’s era is with a re-tread of Inside the Spaceship. In that curious little adventure from Doctor Who’s dawn, the Doctor and his three companions are trapped in the Ship and have to deduce that the rickety old thing is careering towards the creation of a sun. In the first act of Castrovalva, much the same thing happens, and in both, the theme is of strangers getting to know and respect each other through adversity.

The Doctor (Peter Davison) is suffering from the post-regenerative tremors and Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) has been kidnapped by the Master and replaced with a mathematical model of himself (this is presumably what CGI is going to lead to. Somewhere in his TARDIS the Master must have the future equivalent of Andy Serkis in his green body sock trying to mimic Adric’s body language. “Put your hand in your pocket now, walk stumblingly forward now”. Hopefully he wouldn’t have had to mimic the young lad during his famously priapic moment suffered whilst caught in the Master’s hadron web. Yup. Totes awks, boy wonder.)

With the blokes out of action, our heroes of this segment are bold and brash Tegan (Janet Fielding) and prim and proper Nyssa (Sarah Sutton). These two become mainstays of the Davison era, but in this story’s terms, they have only just met, sharing precious few scenes together in the previous story, Logopolis. So it’s an interesting decision to put these two women – strangers to themselves and to us – at the heart of the story, and put the fate of the TARDIS and the Doctor in their hands.

Luckily, Tegan and Nyssa make for a surprisingly interesting paring. They are certainly smart, proactive characters: it’s they who steal the ambulance in Part One to rescue the Doctor, they who work out that the TARDIS is in the middle of a death plunge and they who eventually have to jettison 25% of the Ship to escape oncoming disaster. It’s refreshing for Doctor Who to so prominently place two female characters and for them to take charge while the Doctor plays a diminished role.

I love this first segment of Castrovalva and a lot of it is down to Sutton and Fielding selling the dangerous situation they’re in. Which is no small feat considering all they’ve got to help them is some ‘it’s too hot’ acting, a few TARDIS lurches and some overlaid smoke. The new Doctor wandering around the TARDIS interior and impersonating his former selves is entertaining too, but it’s the idea that the two newcomers are in charge while everything goes to hell with roundels which maintains the tension. Paddy Kingsland’s music and Fiona Cumming’s direction help to sell it as well. If only they have turned down the lights a bit we would have got a real sense of our safe, familiar spaceship truly being on the edge of destruction.

Act 2: The rest of Part Two and a bit of Part Three

Castrovalva is continually about getting lost and finding a way out. In the first act, the Doctor and his companions lose themselves in the labyrinth of TARDIS interior, the second time in as many stories for Tegan. In the third, they’re befuddled by the kaleidoscopic dimensions of Castrovalva. The second act is set in the lush, airy outdoors of the planet, but even here our heroes struggle, with their destination seemingly moving about mid journey. You can’t trust any of this story’s settings to stay stable or make sense.

This second act is the most sedate of the three, a kind of mid-story breather. It consists of an increasingly strenuous stroll through the woods for Nyssa and Tegan, while they carry the Doctor in a faux coffin. Writer Christopher H Bidmead seeks to liven things up with stumbles into creeks and misdirection about a hunting party who turn out to be gentlemen, but there’s no hiding that this is the picturesque but otherwise dull shuttle between two more interesting stops. I mean, at least have our TARDIS crew pursued by a Castrovalvan wood beast or something.

Act 3: Most of Part Three and Part Four

Once we actually get to Castrovalva, the story turns into something unique. A gentle puzzle of a story, set in a quiet, refined castle/city filled with librarians, pharmacists and washerwomen (gender stereotypes are hard to shift, clearly). Presumably there’s a milliner around somewhere too because nearly everyone wears elaborate hats. In addition, all the Castrovalvans speak in a lyrical, arcane style which means there’s a sense of poetry being interrupted whenever the regulars have some dialogue. So there’s must be a dialogue coach about the place too.

It’s here that the Doctor realizes the Master (Anthony Ainley, heh heh heh) has maneuvered him into a trap, and that trap is Castrovalva itself. As traps go, it’s elaborate: ‘on the off chance that the Doctor survives the tumble into Event One, I’ll just use space maths to create a fake city which will collapse in on itself, and lure the Doctor into it. I’ll go as far as to populate it with oddly hatted characters who speak like 19th century butlers. Hell, I’ll even dress up as a doddery old codger and wander about in it myself.’ You’ve got to give it to him, he puts some thought into these things.

The Master’s plan is undone when the Doctor realises that the accumulated history of Castrovalva is faked, because although the books appear old, they are also paradoxically up to date. It’s an oblique point to rest a plot on, but there you go. Personally I wonder what 23 volumes of fake Castrovalvan history had in them. Tegan claims unconvincingly that the history is ‘fascinating’, but what could those dusty tomes possibly say? “Day 10,003: clothes were washed, medicants were prepared, wild boar for dinner again.” Surely the Master never expected anyone to actually read those books, as he stayed up, carefully staining the pages with cold tea.

In the end, Adric is torn out of the web, Castrovalva goes to pieces and the Master has his fancy dress torn from his body by angry fake people. The Doctor mobilises his friends into a brisk jog back to the TARDIS. Hard to imagine Tom Baker agreeing to that, and indeed although this hasn’t been an action packed story, it has consigned the fourth Doctor to hazy  memory. A hungover Matthew Waterhouse looks very queasy in these scenes, and while the cameras weren’t rolling, he had a spew on some of that delightful scenery. Poor lad. An erection and gastric ejection in one story. That never happened in Inside the Spaceship.

LINK TO The Enemy of the World: in both stories, the villain keeps a small community of people in ignorance of the shocking true nature of their world.

NEXT TIME: This is a WARNing! We become companions of The Krotons. Great jumping gobstoppers!

Tegan, Turlough and Enlightenment (1983)

enlightenment1

I saw Janet Fielding at a Doctor Who convention years ago. She was asked about the way she left the series which, it was said, “was notable because companions usually leave by getting married to someone wildly inappropriate.” Quick as you like, Fielding replied, “No, that’s what I did in real life.”

Fielding spent three years on Doctor Who playing the truculent Tegan. But unlike some of her TARDIS predecessors and successors, Tegan rarely attracted any romantic attention. The one time she did garner an admirer, it was creepy ethereal being Marriner (Christopher Brown).

The aptly named Marriner is an officer on an Edwardian racing yacht. Or so we think, until it’s revealed that he is one of a race of god-like Eternals, the yacht is a spacecraft and the race is around the solar system.

He gets off on the wrong foot with Tegan when she’s alone in the darkened, disabled TARDIS console room, and he climbs up its police box exterior, peering into the scanner. First his hands appear splayed across the scanned, pulling the rest of him up. Then his big ol’ boat race fills the screen in wide eyed wonder. It’s uncomfortably like the village peeping tom is looking for an unsecured window.

Once Tegan ventures outside the TARDIS, Marriner’s fixation grows. He’s a tall, blond, handsome man in uniform. Normally, he’d exactly the sort of sort a companion would strike up a flirty rapport with. But Marriner’s preternaturally calm demeanour and his unsettling stare means he makes for uncomfortable company. “You’re a stowaway,” he declares silkily to Tegan, “and I shall put you in irons.” Down boy. It’s way too soon to start mentioning your toys.

It turns out that Eternals depend on the minds of mere mortals to keep themselves entertained. But Marriner’s focus on Tegan is particularly keen. “I find you fascinating,” he keeps telling her, to Tegan’s obvious discomfort. It soon grows into an obsession. “You’re not like any ephemeral I’ve ever met before,” he wails plaintively from outside Tegan’s bedroom door.  These days we call this sort of behaviour stalking. If she had a mobile, it would be full of freaky texts: U HAVE AMAZING MIND. UR FASCIN8ING. 😳

Unsurprisingly, Tegan doesn’t respond well to her peculiar suitor. Although it is unusual for a companion’s admirer to be rebuffed; on the whole if its not the story’s villain, then flirtations are reciprocated. Tegan, however, wants out. Half way through Part Two she asks to go back to the TARDIS, and sit the rest of the story out. “I can’t cope with Marriner,” she wails, and that’s telling enough. Alien spaceships and kidnapped humans are all in a day’s work, but too much unwanted attention from a besotted weirdo? That’s a deal breaker.

Marriner’s meant to be a platonic type of amour, only interested in Tegan for her mind. But the most time he spends with her, the more “ephemeral” his desires seem to get. “Your companion’s a very beautiful woman,” he tells the Doctor in Part Three (“Is she?” he replies offhandedly). And in Part Four he baldly tells her “I want you. Your thoughts should be my thoughts. Your feelings, my feelings.” How far would he go? Perhaps even turn human?

At the story’s end, there’s a hint that Marriner might even give up his Eternal life to be with Tegan. About to be banished back to the Eternal’s echoing void, he pleads to stay and begs Tegan for her help. Tegan’s not having a bar of it; there’s not a hint of fondness in her response: “I can’t”. Never has love for a companion been so unrequited.

But then again, perhaps we’re overlooking something. Marriner was barred entry to Tegan’s bedroom on board the yacht. Even the Doctor has to knock. But ginger ninja Turlough (Mark Strickson) bowls straight in without invitation. It’s a room he finds “quite familiar”. Perhaps he’s spent some time in it before? Ooh-er, hanky panky in the TARDIS.

*****

Turlough also gets a bit of Eternal attention, although he has to throw himself overboard to get it. He’s picked up by the crew of the Buccaneer, captained by the piratical Captain Wrack (Lynda Baron). Wrack’s entrance is a turning point for the story. Up until then, it has been a gentle, dreamy affair. When Wrack enters, via a slow pan from thigh length boots, up to flashy waistcoat barely containing ample cleavage, up to a head full of teeth and curls, we know our villain has finally shown up. With a swipe of a cutlass and a machine gun laugh, she reduces Turlough to crawling prostrate at her feet. She’s the boss, me hearties.

There’s never any hint of romance between Wrack and Turlough, although if there were, it would be of the kinky kind. “You ephemerals have such inventive ways of inflicting pain,” she coos at him at one point, having chained him to a post. Still there must be some appeal there, similar to the one Marriner feels for Tegan. She likes to read Turlough’s “devious” mind. “It’s fascinating,” she says, echoing Marriner’s sentiments. But thankfully she doesn’t repeat his whole ominous following around routine. Let’s face it, if Wrack wanted Turlough she’d simply have him, then and there.

Wrack is a vibrant splash of colour in this story, but she’s ultimately quite disposable. In fact, Enlightenment is more Turlough’s story than anyone else’s. The prize that everyone’s vying for is eventually won by him and the Doctor. The Doctor’s modest enough to turn his reward down, but Turlough’s share of the prize turns out to be the breaking of his pact with the Big Black G. “Enlightenment was not the diamond,” the Doctor explains. “Enlightenment was the choice.” Luckily it’s also a handy petrol bomb, which Turlough gets to hurl at the Black Guardian and he goes up in flames. Now that’s what I call enlightened.

THE TEGAN AND TURLOUGH DEATH WANDER: Faced with an deadly hazard mere footsteps away? Why not try the Wander of Death, like Doctor Who’s friends Tegan and Turlough? Say you’re faced with an floor grille that’s open to space, or a door being forced open by a sea monster, or an excavator driven by a cadaver. Instead of running away, adopt a dazed expression and wander gormlessly towards it! Then become ensnared in or trapped under said hazard and wait to be rescued by the Doctor. Note: this may result in the death of some innocent supporting characters.

LINK TO Robot of Sherwood. Oddly enough, Enlightenment gets named checked by the Doctor in Robot of Sherwood.

NEXT TIME… A dangerous journey… A crisis… Our next stop is a Planet of Giants. But be warned, it’s lost the urge to live!

Slow walks, cold wars and Warriors of the Deep (1984)

Warriorsdeep2

“You fire,” says Peter Davison’s dashing Doctor to gun wielding double agent Nilson (Ian McCulloch) in Warriors of the Deep, “and every Sea Devil in the area will come running.” It’s an obviously empty threat. Those Sea Devils can’t run. Haven’t you noticed, Doctor? The best they can manage is a kind of slow lumber, legs stretched out wide like they’ve all soiled themselves. It’s a typically strained moment in this uneven adventure, the production values of which constantly undermine its efforts to excite and entertain.

But you know what? Pointing out what’s wrong with Warriors of the Deep is like shooting Sea Devils in a brightly lit barrel. We’ve been doing it since 1984. We can sing it like a New Romantic pop song. In fact, let’s have a go right now. It’s “overuse of old monsters, hexachromite reveal gives away the ending, lighting’s all wrong, oh dear the Myrka, paint’s not dry, blokes from Rentaghost, continuity’s screwed, all those dead bodies, attempt to remake Earthshock, there should have been another way, Michael Grade and Room 101.” Ah yes, there’s nothing like the classics.

But Warriors is also nothing like a classic. So I’m not going to attempt a redemptive reading of this story. That, I think, would be utterly nutty. But is there anything new to say about it?

Mrs Spandrell gave it a go. She gave a cursory glance at the TV screen and said, “that set’s better than normal”. And I think she has a point; the Sea Base sets may be too white and then flooded with light, but they do have a sturdy, industrial look which isn’t half bad (if we ignore that bit at the end of Part One where a wall wobbles alarmingly during the Doctor’s fight with the guards). And look, that stunt fall into the tank is pretty cool.

It provides an exciting end to Part One, which is otherwise weirdly slow for a season opener. It’s basically an episode where we find out some background information about the Sea Base (a cold war is in full swing, a synch op’s needed to fire missiles, there are enemy agents on board), and wait for both the Doctor and the monsters to turn up. The monsters are, in this case, the lizardy Silurians and their fishy cousins the Sea Devils. The scenes with the Silurians are particularly languid, adopting a Hartnellesque pace. Every scene with them in Part One consists of them explaining the plot to each other. Slowly. While walking. Slowly.

(Incidentally, I’ve never understood why we get both Silurians and Sea Devils in this story. It doesn’t need them both; just one would do, and presumably that would be the aquatic Sea Devils seeing as this story is set, y’know, underwater. They could have saved themselves the cost of three costumes and loads of explanatory dialogue.)

But once Part One is done, the pace picks up nicely. The remaining three episodes are quite tightly scripted and move along swiftly. It’s unusual because although the four episode structure favoured by Doctor Who often means there’s an episode which lags, it’s commonly the second or third parts, or both. It’s such an odd thing, that four part format; it’s a wonder the series took so long to move to regularly producing three part stories with a clearly defined beginning, middle and end. At least Warriors shows it up in a novel way (now that’s damning with faint praise!)

(And although the last three quarters are better than the first, I have to point out this odd piece of dialogue from Chief Sea Devil, the carefully pronounced Sauvix (Christopher Farries). He’s feeling confident about how the invasion’s going, as the watery beasts break through Airlock 5. “The outcome is certain,” he whispers. In his next scene, Ichtar (Norman Comer) tells him the Myrka will soon take the bridge, and Sauvix replies, “then the outcome is doubly certain.” Have we run out of dialogue for poor Sauvix so soon that we have to recycle lines already? When will the outcome be trebly certain, I wonder? Or quadruplely certain?)

There is an interesting mingle of plot and subplot though, because there are two dastardly plans afoot on the Sea Base. The first is the Silurians’ – they plan to provoke a massive global war. The second is courtesy of infiltrators Nilson (who for Australian viewers has the distracting misfortune to be the spit of former treasurer Peter Costello) and Dr. Solow (Ingrid Pitt, who had the distracting misfortune of being in The Time Monster). Now usually these plans would intersect in some pleasingly neat way. In standard Who Nilson would be in league with the Silurians, arrange them access to the Base and then be betrayed and killed by them, rather than assisting his own evil ends.

But here, the two wicked plans never co-incide. And Nilson’s plan runs a poor second to the Silurians’. When the truth comes out, he struggles to find anyone to care; the Doctor’s the first to dismiss it as trivia compared to the greater underwater menace the Base faces. It all falls apart in Part Three anyway when both conspirators are killed; Solow when she attempts to first dance with, and then roundhouse kick the Myrka and Nilson when the Doctor burns out his eyes with a big lamp. Hashtag ignominious.

And as silly as all this is, Warriors is Doctor Who‘s most committed attempt to addressing the threat of nuclear war, a fear which survives today, but was most potent in the 1980s. In particular, it plays into the fear that war could be triggered by some computerised error. A popular Hollywood film in 1983 was WarGames, in which a young hacker almost triggers war by playing a game which turns out to be the national defense system. Warriors’ version has a worldwide computerised defense system which is permanently on edge, seemingly able to be set off by a stray piece of space debris or an unprepared synch operator. In this way, Warriors is as topical as The Green Death was in the 70s. It’s a shame its production limitations overshadow its promising premise which, just in case we’ve forgotten, is strong enough to be repeated 29 years later in Cold War (complete with scaly green monster).

But the really good news from 2084 is fashions are roughly the same as in 1984. So don’t throw out those puffy jackets and ski pants. Your grandchildren are going to want them. Oh yes. The outcome is certain.

Link to The Sensorites. Both feature humans affected by mind control.

NEXT TIME… Nottingham is not enough! We get merry with Robot of Sherwood.

Script meeting, speculation and Arc of Infinity (1983)

arc

ERIC SAWARD: Johnny! Thanks for coming in.
JOHNNY BYRNE: My pleasure, Eric. How’s the new job coming along?
SAWARD: Oh fine, fine. Just settling in, really.
BYRNE: How are you getting on with the producer?
SAWARD: Oh very well. I’m sure we’ll be the best of friends. Right now though, I’m looking for scripts for the new season.
BYRNE: Oh yes?
SAWARD: And I enjoyed that Traken one you did for Tom. And seeing as we’re paying you every time we use Nyssa, I thought might as well put you to work, eh? Eh? (Awkward silence) Anyway, did you have any ideas?
BYRNE: Well, yes as it happens. I’ve been thinking of a story about a creature from another dimension, who’s trying to force its way into our universe. Have you read The Mist?
SAWARD: No. But your idea sounds great! Before you go too far with it, there are a few bits and pieces we’d like you to… incorporate.
BYRNE: Such as?
SAWARD: Well, you did such a great job of bringing back the Master, and it is the show’s twentieth anniversary, how about bringing back Omega?
BYRNE: Who’s Omega?
SAWARD: Omega is a kind of Time Lord demi-god who exists only in a universe of anti-matter and who appeared in the tenth anniversary show.  Have you seen The Three Doctors?
BYRNE: No. But I can see how that will fit into my story. An immensely powerful being, but poison to his own kind. He’d be a kind of lonely outcast once he got into our world… Maybe he’d meet a little boy, and rather than kill him, be entranced by his innocence… have you seen Frankenstein?
SAWARD: No. But that all sounds terrific. Of course, it will need to be set in Amsterdam.
BYRNE: Right. Why exactly?
SAWARD: The producer wants to shoot overseas somewhere. And we get the cast and crew to buy their own meals and travel everywhere by bicycle we can just about afford to go to Amsterdam.
BYRNE: Hmm, OK.
SAWARD: No honestly, it’ll be great! They went to Paris a couple of years back and it was brilliant. The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower. Much better than some old country manor or disused warehouse. Have you seen City of Death?
BYRNE: No. But Amsterdam, doesn’t have those iconic fixtures like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. What has it got?
SAWARD: Legal grass?
BYRNE: Not really Doctor Who territory is it? Tulips?
SAWARD: Organs?
BYRNE: I seem to remember that it’s below sea level. Maybe that becomes important to this Omega chap because it’s somehow necessary to his plan for emerging into this universe.
SAWARD: Great! Use that! It will need a monster of course.
BYRNE: Will it? Won’t Omega do?
SAWARD: Oh no, no no! He’s just the villain. We’ll need a monster too.
IAN LEVINE (OOV): Omega can conjure up monsters simply using his own will!
BYRNE: What was that?
SAWARD: Nothing, just ignore it. But yes, Omega can create his own monster.
BYRNE: Hmm, maybe a henchman type of thing. Created from the raw matter of the universe. All flesh and sinew but covered in an exoskeleton. Have you seen Alien?
SAWARD: No. But that sounds just the ticket.
BYRNE: Can the budget manage it? We don’t want it to look like, oh I don’t know, a big rubber chicken. Ha ha.
SAWARD: Ha ha. No, that’ll never happen.
LEVINE (OOV): Gallifrey!
BYRNE: Is there someone behind that door?
SAWARD: No, of course not. But that’s the other thing – we want to set some of it on Gallifrey. That’s the planet of the Time Lords.
BYRNE: What’s that like then?
SAWARD: Oh, it’s terrific. All gothic chambers and big impressive cathedral-like spaces. Have you seen The Deadly Assassin?
BYRNE: No.
SAWARD. Just as well, because we won’t have any money for any of that after we go to Amsterdam. A few corridors, some space boardrooms and a few lounges will do.
BYRNE: Sounds lovely. Well, we can do some court intrigue stuff there. The Doctor summoned home to be executed. A traitor in their midst, that kind of thing. Have you seen I, Claudius?
SAWARD: No.
(Door bursts open)
LEVINE: Don’t forget the temporal grace!
BYRNE: Excuse me?
LEVINE: In Earthshock, guns were fired in the console room, but it’s meant to be in a state of temporal grace! We need a line to cover it!
SAWARD: No problem, we’ll do something about that.
LEVINE: And if the Doctor’s going home to be executed, we should say that’s only the second time that’s happened! ‘Cause it is y’know!
SAWARD: OK, thanks Ian.
LEVINE: And you should call one of the characters Colin! That will give you a handy LINK to the 1966/7 story The Highlanders!
BYRNE: What an odd thing to say.
LEVINE: Have you seen The Highlanders?
BYRNE: No.
LEVINE: Of course you haven’t! How could you? It was junked years ago!
SAWARD: (leading him to the door). OK, thanks Ian.
LEVINE: And mention Romana! And Leela’s wedding!
SAWARD: Yes, we’ll mention them all. Thanks again. (Closes door)
BYRNE: What an extraordinary fellow. Who is he?
SAWARD: He’s our unpaid series continuity adviser.
BYRNE: You have an unpaid series continuity adviser?
LEVINE (OOV): And bring back Tegan!
SAWARD: Oh, that’s right. We need to bring back Tegan. She’s a companion we don’t pay a regular fee to use. She’s coming back after we dropped her off in the last year’s finale. Have you seen Time-Flight?
BYRNE: No.
SAWARD: It’s, um… Well it’s really something. And the same director’s going to do your story.
BYRNE: Oh that is good news.
SAWARD: Great. Well, I’m sure you’ll do a terrific job on it. Thanks for coming in, look forward to the script and I’ll see you NEXT TIME.
BYRNE: Super. How do I get out again?
SAWARD: Straight out this door – mind our unpaid series continuity adviser – and Turn Left.

Showing, telling and The Awakening (1984)

awakening

In my head, this is how The Awakening starts: a fierce pitched battle between Cavaliers and Roundheads. Clashing swords, battle cries, whinnying horses, soldiers falling. It’s chaos, restoration style. The viewer knows straight away; we’re in the seventeenth century.

Suddenly, a car drives through the melee, lights flashing, horn beeping. It’s local stick-in-the-mud Jane Hampden. She jumps out imploring the combatants to stop. Grumpily they do, their fun spoilt. A few apparently dead soldiers get up, helped by their faux opponents. The viewer realises it was all a game, and we’re actually in the 1980s. It’s a great way to start an episode of Doctor Who, confounding expectations in a (oh, must I say it?) timey-wimey way.

Why doesn’t The Awakening start this way? Time and money, of course, Doctor Who‘s greatest enemies. Instead, it starts with Jane being mildly frightened by three men on horses.

Now I’m not here to criticise this charming but often bewildering little two-parter for what it’s not. But it’s clear from the beginning that we’re never actually going to see Little Hodcombe’s famous war games in action. And that critically undermines the story.

’cause here’s the thing: the entire plot hangs around the war games. The idea is that the mock battles between the villagers have awoken an alien being called the Malus. It’s been sleeping in an old church since the olden days, and it’s stirring because it feeds off the “psychic energy” generated by the games. The fake battles have been gradually getting more boisterous and, as the Doctor deduces, the ultimate battle will descend into actual violence where the participants will be killed, and the Malus will fully awake.

“Show, don’t tell” is a pretty good rule for screenwriters, and breaking that rule is what The Awakening does throughout. We never see the war games between the villagers, so we can’t imagine them getting out of hand. As a viewer, we don’t know (or care) what’s at stake. In fact, we only ever meet three war gamers: local loon Sir George Hutchinson, good egg Ben Wolsey and nasty piece of work Joseph Willow. They might be a bit wacky, but it’s hard to imagine them actually hacking into their neighbours with swords.

Luckily Sir George (played with relish by Denis Lill), is a delightfully barking creation. It eventually transpires that he’s possessed by the Malus, which might go some way to explaining his dedication to historical reenactment. As far as I can work out, his story goes something like this: he’s the local magistrate in Little Hodcombe. One day, village historian Andrew Verney tells him that he’s discovered a passage linking the local courthouse to the church, where, he suspects, a creature from local legend, the Malus, is buried. Sir George somehow comes in contact with the Malus and then concocts the plan (is it his own? Or is he being subconsciously influenced by the Malus?) to stage a series of war game reenactments.

So then what? Well, I can only imagine Sir George is an active member of the Little Hodcombe Amateur Dramatic society, and thus knows a good costumier. “Mrs Snodgrass, I need Roundhead and Cavalier outfits for the entire village! They must be perfect in every detail!” “Oh Sir George, I don’t think we have that many of those. What about the Wild West? I’ve got plenty of duds left over from Oklahoma! Last year.” “I want costumes, Mrs Snodgrass, not excuses!”. Anyway somehow he manages it, and finds all the weapons too, and the horses, and closes off the village into the bargain. He never takes off his costume either. It’s that sort of dedication to a cause which surely got him knighted.

It’s also got moments of unusual violence. There can’t be many Doctor Who stories where people are decapitated (off screen, thankfully) – The Reign of Terror, maybe? – but The Awakening is one of them. There’s another moment when Verney and Turlough knock two men unconscious with stone debris from the damaged church. It’s one of those moments of casual, incidental violence, depicted in a tame, knock-the-guards-unconscious-and-let’s-be-on-our-way manner, so common in Doctor Who as to be unremarkable.

But just think about that for a moment: if someone smashed your head from behind with a lump of concrete, you wouldn’t just be momentarily stunned, you’d be seriously hurt. It’s odd that a certain type of violence is “safe” for a Doctor Who audience. The Doctor doesn’t mind; he even congratulates Turlough, as he and his coterie run past the prostrate pair and get on with the story.

Which reminds me that the entire cast of The Awakening save batty old Sir George (who dies when he’s pushed over a small ledge into the Malus’s big polystyrene face – which just goes to show that for every shocking act of violence in Doctor Who there’s usually another, utterly lame one to make up for it) ends up running around with the Doctor until the story expires. The mob steadily grows throughout Part Two, until we’ve got six, then seven, people running between church and TARDIS with him. Some amusement can be gained by seeing them all try to ensure they’re in shot in the church scenes. By the time this clump of people have made it inside the TARDIS, the director gives up and does one long pan to fit them all in. I ended up daydreaming about which ones should have met a sticky end earlier in the episode to save space (Willow, I reckon. Probably Ben too.) (For similar crowded antics see Delta and the Bannermen and Journey’s End).

So the story ends with the Doctor flicking a few switches on the TARDIS console while the crowd looks on. But in my head, it ends in that final battle of the war games, much promised, but never seen. The battle rages, more frenetic and aggressive than before. Turlough is in the middle of it, shanghaied into service on one of the sides. Tegan is tied to the maypole, flames licking at her feet. The giant Malus strides across the battlefield, rejoicing in the carnage, while the Doctor struggles to destroy it, beset by phantom swordsmen. A story with everything shown, rather than told.

LINKS to The Next Doctor. Both feature an invading alien colluding with a human villain and ultimately destroying them. Which, I realise, hardly makes them unique among Doctor Who stories. But as The Awakening was released on DVD in a boxset with, of all stories, The Gunfighters based on the fact that both are set on Earth, I figure this story is probably the patron saint on tenuous links.

NEXT TIME… I can sink anywhere. It’s Death to the Daleks.