Tag Archives: the great intelligence

Teasing, traumatising and The Web of Fear (1968)

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Prior to the miraculous discovery of nearly all of The Web of Fear in 2013, this story was a teasing, tantalising experience. Unique among all Doctor Who stories, we had only its first episode and that instalment is a taut, intriguing affair. (Well, I say “taut”. It does have several explanation-free minutes of  padding about the TARDIS being immobilised by web in space). 

Still, it does what all first episodes are meant to do – hook us and leave us eager for the next chapter. But it was a promise which couldn’t be fulfilled, so more so than any other missing story, it felt like The Web of Fear kept us hanging.

With the recovery of four of its five missing episodes, the picture has changed again. There’s much to love in this story, but with Episodes 2, 4, 5 and 6 now back for us to lap up, it’s now clear they have a different tone to that opening segment we knew so well. We shouldn’t be surprised – first episodes are meant to entice and ensnare. If the remaining episodes feel more talky, more stagey, more filled with running in and out of rooms, that’s fine because that’s what episodes two to six are always for.

The continuing absence of Episode 3 (fallen into the hands of some Bondian super villain, I like to think. “How do you like my film print of The Web of Fear Episode 3? Exquisite, don’t you think? I keep it with my six Mona Lisas and four Detective Comics Issue 1s, because it’s important to surround oneself with beauty in this cruel world. But I’m afraid you’ve seen too much. Gerald, take him to the shark-infested dungeon….”

Sorry, I got carried away there. The continuing absence of Episode 3 reshapes the story again. It divides it into two, quite distinct portions; almost like we’ve had two separate missing stories returned to us. Episodes 1 and 2 form a precursor to the story proper. There’s scene setting galore, but without the catalytic presence of the Doctor (a galvanised Patrick Troughton), the second episode is really only gently elaborating on material offered in the first. Really, if we had to be robbed of any episode of this story, 2 is the standout candidate.

Instead, the search for Episode 3 goes on in car boot sales, Mormon church halls and remote African relay stations everywhere. It’s a pity it’s missing because it’s where the story kicks into gear. 

It’s where, with the arrival of Col. Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), the ensemble cast is finally complete.  From here on in, it’s all inter-character suspicion, sporadic attacks from the Yeti and trips forward and back between Fortress and platform, with a few peeps getting knocked off as they go. Ep 3 is the bridge between the more sedate opening instalments and the action runaround of the second half.

You can see this shift in gear most clearly be comparing episodes 2 and 4. Ep 4 is outstanding, helped no end by a bumper battle sequence shot on film. It’s a contender for the best single episode of the sixties, and one of the best of the whole classic series. 2 is a little office bound plodder by comparison. Without Episode 3 to link them, it almost seems like they’re from different stories.

So Episodes 4 to 6, cut off from the rest of the story, feel like a standalone three-parter. 5 and 6 aren’t quite as glorious as 4; the constant game of to and fro between locations starts to wear, Professor Travers’ (Jack Watling) possessed acting is a little too eye-rolling and there’s an unnecessarily large coterie of characters hanging around in that climax in the Intelligence’s lair. But it does have that pervading sense of menace that characterises the best Doctor Who, and that’s largely down to director Douglas Camfield.

In fact, it’s Camfield, with his pinpoint accurate casting and his ability to ramp up the tension, who is key to this story’s success. Far more so than writers Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln, whose script is a standard monstery runabout with some added “who’s the traitor” intrigue and some conspicuous trappings of mysticism thrown in. Pyramidal structures become important and voodoo-like totems of the Yeti spell doom for those who carry them. Possession, which we now think of as standard Doctor Who fodder, was pioneered by Haisman and Lincoln in The Abominable Snowmen and is repeated here.

But even putting aside its fascination with the supernatural , the script is not outstanding. The dialogue is pretty basic and the premise itself is shaky. London underground at a standstill would be a major national crisis, so why is the whole place not teeming with soldiers? Is the rest of the world just looking on helplessly, not stepping in? What is the web and what is the fungus? Are they the same thing? How does this all work?

What Camfield manages to do, is to divert our attention from the script’s shortcomings. As always, he pushes his cast further than any other Doctor Who director does. John Rollason, as oily journalist Chorley is particularly good in Episode 6, driven to near hysteria after running around unseen in the tunnels for an episode or two. Another terrific moment is given by Nicholas Courtney at the end of Episode 4, as he returns to the fortress having lost a number of his men in the fight with the Yeti. He looks genuinely traumatised. It’s the sort of visceral reaction that Camfield gets out of his actors and which raises the dramatic stakes.

People often point out that this story set the template for Seventies Doctor Who, and they’re right. But we don’t often credit Camfield as one of the architects of that, even though he directed this and its close cousin The Invasion. By directing the progamme as action adventure so well, he shows the way for others to follow. He’s as much an instigator of that new version of Who as producers Bryant and Sherwin.

All this is clear from having most of The Web of Fear back. It used to be the story that teased us with a single episode. Now it’s teasing us by missing a single episode, being tantalisingly close to completion. And when that Blofeld decides to release the episode back to us, and we can see the whole thing, the story’s shape will change again. May that day come swiftly. I’ll be sitting cross legged under my pyramid, holding my little Yeti totem close until it does.

LINK TO Empress of Mars: again, returning Season Five monsters.

NEXT TIME: Fingers on lips! Pick up your Olympic torch, we’re off to Fear Her.

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Towers, telephones and The Bells of Saint John (2013)

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They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an X-wing fighter, they gave him a call box from which you can call for help. Steven Moffat.

The little Spandrells are watching a show at the moment called Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures. In it, an odd looking man (all teeth and curls, like a young Tom Baker) who works in a museum, travels back to the time of the dinosaurs to have some mildly educative adventures. He travels in time via a grandfather clock, which sits incongruously on whichever ancient landscape it arrives in. A TARDIS rip off, if I ever saw one.

Except, it works in a different thematic way to the blue police box exterior of the TARDIS. The grandfather clock very clearly says, it’s about time, kids. But when they made Doctor Who, they didn’t give him a clock, they gave him a police box – an everyday sight, a public object, an outpost of authority and a very British innovation. It symbolised lots of things, but what it didn’t do was baldly state, this is a time machine.

So, no clock. And crucially, no telephone either. It had no communications link back to 1960s England, or indeed any of its destinations. This police box was cut off from everything. Classic Who was made in the days when to conceive of a telephone was to imagine your handset connected to every other one by a complex array of cables. No such cable stretched to Skaro or Marinus. In fact, it takes until Logopolis for the show to visually acknowledge that police boxes even had phones. The TARDIS certainly didn’t.

By the 21st Century, things have changed, and the TARDIS is as connected as any other aspect of our modern lives by telephony. By the phone in the police box’s little exterior cupboard, by the one on the console, by various companions’ mobiles and even by the Doctor’s. The Bells of Saint John takes its title from the TARDIS’s phone (the little cupboardy one) and from the life-changing call which comes through on it, from impossible girl Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) to the Doctor in medieval seclusion (Matt Smith).

This seems like a particularly Steven Moffaty trait. After all, he first used this conceit of the exterior phone unexpectedly ringing in The Empty Childand returned to it inThe Time of the Doctor. But it was his predecessor Russell T Davies who first put a phone in the TARDIS in World War Three. And his supercharging of Rose’s Nokia 3801 in The End of the World confirmed that in this new version of Who, our heroes were not as cut off from their homes and loved ones as their 20th century counterparts were. They could call across space and even time. Like E.T., they could phone home.

This makes sense. The Doctor has a machine which can traverse the universe and its entire history. Technology way beyond our grasp. Of course, he’d have a phone. It would be kind of weird if he didn’t.

But that’s not why the TARDIS is a phone box; it’s not a symbol of communication. It’s not a lifeline between us and the Doctor. It wasn’t, in its original conception, a place you could call to or from for help. In fact, because it was explicitly disconnected from everything else in the universe, the fact that the police box had a useless phone reinforced how isolated our heroes were. The one thing they couldn’t do was call for help.

It may seem like a small detail, but giving the TARDIS telecommunications changes the show. Once you can, ahem, call the Doctor, he becomes the hero you can summon when needed. Winston Churchill, for instance, calls directly through to the console. Clara calls when she needs help cooking a turkey. It’s the show’s equivalent of Batman’s bat signal. Phone him up and our hero comes running. Add this to our modern Doctors’ ability to steer the TARDIS with pinpoint accuracy, and we really are a long way from the show’s beginnings, where the police box was a cosmic lifeboat, tossed on the waves of time and space, directionless, contactless and utterly isolated.

****

Telephones and computers, and what they might do to us, was the source of much concern in 1966’s The War Machinesand it’s nice to see how little has changed by The Bells of Saint John. There’s always mileage for Doctor Who in technophobia, it’s just that by 2013, that fear is centred on wifi. There’s still a big tower though, from which the bad guys can broadcast their evil, brain harvesting scheme.

The Shard, like the Post Office Tower back in ‘66, represents another concern of modernity. In The War Machines, it was technology itself which grew a mind of its own and got ideas above its base station. Here, it’s technology wielded by a corporation, from within a monolith celebrating capitalism. It’s the stuff of conspiracy theories; shadowy suits manipulating us with a casual swipe up or down on an iPad. They can even make aeroplanes fall from the sky. This is playing on very contemporary fears.

It makes sense that here is where the Great Intelligence should make its return. Being a formless yet sentient spirit, it seems right that it now should lurk within the Cloud, like some particularly malignant piece of code. Certainly, it seems more fitting than in The Snowmen, where it represented the Victorian fascination with the paranormal (if you squint). Funnily enough, though, that’s what the Intelligence was in its 60s conception – a mystic supernatural presence from beyond the astral plane, not a ghost hiding in the machine. But – spoiler alert – we’ll get there is a couple of posts’ time.

For now, let’s just reflect on another of this episode’s big flashy statements. Never mind a telephone, this Doctor’s got serious technology and a motorbike! He rides up the side of the Shard with only a perfunctory line about anti-gravs to cover the implausibly of it all, running straight over the shiny surface of capitalism with those big rubber tyres. “Can he actually do that?” asks an astonished supporting character. Dude, this guy’s an ancient alien superhero with a time machine, a magic wand and a direct line through to his snog box. What can’t he actually do?

Yup, times have really changed.

LINK TO Amy’s Choice. Both Matt Smith stories, and hooray for an easy link.

NEXT TIME…God save the Queen, it’s Empress of Mars.

Quips, questions and The Name of the Doctor (2013)

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River Song (Alex Kingston) has a succinct assessment of the Doctor (Matt Smith), which she delivers in The Name of the Doctor: “He doesn’t like endings.” We might adapt it for showrunner Steven Moffat by saying “he doesn’t like explanations.” His style is to not explain everything to the audience and to not let exposition slow down a story. I think explanations bore him, and if they are only going to be meaningless bafflegab anyway, why bother?

This tendency to under explain is all over The Name of the Doctor and it starts at the very beginning. In 1893, a prisoner, Clarence de Marco (Michael Jenn), is manically reciting a rhyme. As Vastra (Neve McIntosh) discovers, this man has knowledge about the Doctor and co-ordinates to his final resting place on Trenzalore.

But how does he know these things? We’re never told. At least not in this episode.

To find out how he acquired this knowledge, we need to turn to a special feature on the DVD release, Clarence and the Whispermen. In it, it’s revealed that de Marco was visited by the spectral Whispermen, who implanted the knowledge within him. To me, that’s not inessential background information. That’s important to the plot. And so we have an episode where you need to watch the DVD extras to get the full story.

Next, the conference call. Moffat wants to bring five key protagonists together to brief them on the plot, but they’re separated by time and space. Solution: they all enter a drug induced sleep. Because, we’re told, “time travel has always been possible in dreams”. Explanation enough, it seems.

And so Vastra, Jenny (Catrin Stewart), Strax (Dan Starkey), Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and River are able to meet up and discuss the plot. This is particularly impressive in River’s case, because by this stage she exists only as a digital copy of herself. Quite how Vastra delivers a message to her, or how she imbibes the soporific drug or indeed sleeps is left unexplained. As unexplained as how River can conjure up a bottle of champagne in this dream world. Laugh it off with a quip, and move on.

While our heroes are all tripped out, the Great Intelligence (Richard E Grant) strikes. He transports Vastra, Strax and Jenny’s corpse (she was recently killed by the Whispermen while she slept. But to paraphrase the Eighth Doctor, death never meant much to Moffat. She and Strax will be killed and resurrected once more by the time this episode’s out) to the Doctor’s final resting place on Trenzalore. Um, how exactly? He’s a ghostly formless entity floating around the cosmos and can probably travel there at the speed of thought, but what about those three corporeal beings? Did he carry them? Again, don’t ask, let’s move on.

The Doctor and Clara crash land on Trenzalore and Clara realises she can still see and hear River. “The conference call,” River offers, “I kept the line open.” But wasn’t the point of the conference call that you had to be unconscious to dial in? Clara’s definitely awake and acting her boots off. But then River can’t just be in Clara’s mind, because although no-one else can see or hear her, when she speaks the Doctor’s name, the tomb opens. No doubt the TARDIS can hear her. Even though she’s a shadow of herself. And herself is a back up. On a computer no doubt light years away. And centuries too.

(Ah yes, the TARDIS. Once Clara and the Doctor get in, suddenly it is time for explanations, but not from this episode, but from three episodes previously. In Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, Clara heard about her various “impossible girl” personas and the Doctor’s fixation with them. But the events of that story were reversed by a massive plot contrivance. So now it’s time for all those memories to come flooding back. How odd, to go from a conspicuous absence of explanation to ODing on them in order to get to the climax the episode needs.)

That climax is similarly vague on selected points. It transpires that the Doctor can also hear River, but touch and kiss her too. “How are you even doing that?,” asks an incredulous River, but her question goes unanswered. She should know better, really.

By this stage, the Great Intelligence has entered the Doctor’s time stream to poison all his days, and Clara has followed him in as the antidote. All predictions were that this would prove fatal, but in the way of these things, she survives by some zillion to one chance.

She lands, um… where exactly? The Doctor’s timestream seems to have some physical space where various Doctors run about mid-adventure. What is this place? How come it can be physically penetrated? Even the Doctor can enter it, and use a magical leaf he’s summoned up from somewhere to meet up with Clara. Is this a practical or theoretical space? What is happening?

Then, in the dying seconds of the episode, we meet a grim, foreboding figure that exists in this strange, in between world. The Doctor is plainly terrified of him. The mystery man turns to face us… And we don’t recognise him. Onscreen captions have to finish the job for us. “Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor”.

And I think, with all the love in the world for Doctor Who,  this has to count as an epic storytelling flub. If you need captions to make sense of what’s happening on screen, surely you’ve failed to tell the story well enough. Sure, circumstances were not as the Moff may have liked. Had it been Christopher Eccleston who turned around to face the camera, there would have been no need for a caption to say who this actor is and who he’s playing. So the irony is that this episode, which has so far avoided all those pesky explanations, finally has to put one in big white letters on the screen.

But let’s not stop there. How do the Doctor and Clara escape from within the time stream? How do the Paternoster gang get home? And the big one, given the future changing events of The Time of the Doctor did any of this story actually happen?

This endless stream of questions. It sounds like I’m having a go at the Moff for not bothering enough to fully explain the events on screen. And I suppose I am in a way, but mostly I’m just pointing out that this is a characteristic of Moffat’s Who. He’s not that interested in explanations. It’s not that he doesn’t have them, or that he’s incapable of included them in his episodes; far from it. It’s that he makes a conscious decision to leave them out. Sure, you might be mystified. That’s fine with him.

Recently, there was an even more brazen example of this approach at work. It’s in The Witch’s Familiar. The Doctor is sitting in Davros’s chair, force field in place to survive the inevitable blasts from a miscellany of Daleks. He sips calmly from a cup of tea and says serenely, “of course the real question is ‘where did I get the cup of tea? Answer: I’m the Doctor. Accept it.”

Try writing that in a script at film school and it’ll quickly be struck out as indefensible. But here, it is the work of a supremely confident writer, setting out a modus operandi, if not a manifesto. He’s saying: any explanation I give you is going to be bollocks. So let’s not tarnish the spectacle of the Doctor in Davros’ chair sipping tea. Let’s not let explanations spoil the fun.

LINK to The Five Doctors. The Name of the Doctor actually has bits of The Five Doctors in it!

NEXT TIME… Right! Cut it open! We finally break the Season Seven drought with The Ambassadors of Death.

 

Henry, Mervyn and The Abominable Snowmen (1967)

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HAISMAN: Henry, you mad old bugger!

LINCOLN: Why Mervyn, you objectionable old boor!

HAISMAN: Quite ridiculous to see you, old man. Tell me, what are we going to write next?

LINCOLN: Well, funny you should ask. The other day I bumped into Pat Troughton.

HAISMAN: Who?

LINCOLN: Who?! Doctor Who, that’s who!

HAISMAN & LINCOLN: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

LINCOLN: So…. anyway, Pat lives around the corner from me.

HAISMAN: That’s funny, I thought he lived around the corner from me.

LINCOLN: I think he does sometimes. Anyway, he was saying he’d love us to write him a Doctor Who. He says they never do any shows set on planet Earth!

HAISMAN: What about the one set in the battle of Culloden?

LINCOLN: Apart from that one.

HAISMAN: And the one set in Gatwick Airport.

LINCOLN: And that one.

HAISMAN: And the one set in a Victorian manor house.

LINCOLN: Anyway, we should write one. What do you think?

HAISMAN: I don’t know… Science-fiction. Could be tricky.

LINCOLN: No, no. That’s the beauty of it. Apparently the producers have reduced it down to a formula. You get a small number of characters, set it in a military base or a space station or somewhere isolated, think up some monsters to menace them, Pat turns the table on them in the final reel, and you’re done! Apparently it’s all they do these days.

HAISMAN: Well, that doesn’t sound too hard. Let’s start with the monsters. Maybe Doctor Who discovers some strange and mysterious creatures from myth and legend.

LINCOLN: Oh yes? Doctor Who meets the Loch Ness Monster, for instance?

HAISMAN: Good idea. But they wouldn’t have the budget to do the Loch Ness Monster convincingly.

LINCOLN: Doctor Who and the Egyptian Mummies?

HAISMAN: Good lord, you don’t want to petrify the kiddies!

LINCOLN: Hmm, what about the Abominable Snowman?

HAISMAN: Not bad, thought might be a bit hard to sustain six episodes with just one monster.

LINCOLN: Doctor Who meets the Abominable Snowmen.

HAISMAN: I thought there was just one?

LINCOLN: Mervyn, we’re writing a show about a man who flies through space and time in a police box. We can increase the number of Yeti.

HAISMAN: True. But aren’t they supposed to be shy, elusive creatures?

LINCOLN: Well, maybe they’re not real Yeti. Maybe they’re nasty, brutish robots disguised as Yeti.

HAISMAN: Right. So. Robots disguised as Yeti wandering round… The Himalayas, I suppose. How will they do that on a BBC budget?

LINCOLN: Not to worry. We went to Wales last holidays. Very picturesque. Lots of hills.

HAISMAN: OK, so robots disguised as Yeti, in Wales. What are they up to? Taking over the world I suppose?

LINCOLN:  Yes, that’ll do. Hang on, who built these robots?

HAISMAN: And who disguised them as Yeti?

LINCOLN: And are they going to talk, so they can spell out their evil plan?

HAISMAN: Hang on, maybe there’s a controlling influence of some kind. Like a Yeti King or something.

LINCOLN:  Or maybe a controlling intelligence. Formless, invisible and best of all, cheap!

HAISMAN: The Intelligence. Doesn’t sound very menacing.

LINCOLN: Call it the Great Intelligence!

HAISMAN: Much better. So is this all set on the side of a mountain somewhere.

LINCOLN: That sounds cold. No, let’s set it in a Buddhist monastery. The Intelligence can possess one of the lamas there and he can be King of the Yeti.

HAISMAN: Is there something a bit iffy about suggesting that a non-Western house of religion is exactly the sort of place where a formless evil might fester and take over humans for evil?

LINCOLN: No, I don’t think so.

HAISMAN: I mean, could we set it in a Christian monastery instead?

LINCOLN: Out of the question. I’ve got to save that for my book about the Holy Grail.

HAISMAN: OK, so monastery, possessed lamas, Yeti robots. Is it enough for six episodes?

LINCOLN: Sure it is! And if not, we’ll have a Yeti cave on the mountain that people will have to keep traversing between. And various people can get possessed and have to capture Yeti and so on. And Pat can put on a big coat and be mistaken for a Yeti. It’ll be a hoot.

HAISMAN: Perhaps there should be glowing pyramids of power!

LINCOLN: Sure, why not?

HAISMAN: What year should we set it in?

LINCOLN: 1935?

HAISMAN: Any reason?

LINCOLN: Not particularly.

HAISMAN: Well, this is just writing itself!

LINCOLN: OK, let’s flip for the typing. Heads or tails?

HAISMAN: Heads. (Coin flips)

LINCOLN: Tails! Suck it, Haisman!

HAISMAN: (sighs) OK, give me the names of the characters.

LINCOLN: Right, so there’s Thonmi.

HAISMAN: Hang on, is that Thonmi or Thomni?

LINCOLN: Songsten.

HAISMAN: Wait a minute – Songsten or Songtsen?

LINCOLN: Padmasambhava

HAISMAN: Oh sod this, I’ll end up with carpal tunnel syndrome at this rate!

LINCOLN:  Here’s a thought, should we have any female characters?

HAISMAN: Do they allow lassies into monasteries?

LINCOLN: Christian ones, no. But who knows what those heathen Buddhists get up to! Don’t give me that face Mervyn, it was a joke.

HAISMAN: Well, Doctor Who travels with a young girl. Won’t she do?

LINCOLN: Fine by me. She can get into trouble and squeal and stuff.

HAISMAN: Yes, just the ticket. Now, can we copyright the word Yeti?

LINCOLN: I don’t think so. That’s a shame, they could be the next Daleks!

HAISMAN: Yetimania! We could be rich. Must make sure we retain the merchandising rights if we can.

LINCOLN: Agreed. Well, that’s a good day’s work, Mervyn, I think we’re onto a good thing here.

HAISMAN: Yes indeed. Is it too early to start thinking about a sequel?

LINCOLN: Never too early for that! But surely the Yeti only work thematically in the Himalayas?

HAISMAN: Oh yes, I suppose so. Couldn’t have them marching around modern day London, I suppose.

LINCOLN: Oh no. Far too silly. That would never happen.

*****

ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING. Victoria gets labeled ‘Polly’ at one point.

LINK to The Sontaran Experiment:  Both sets of monsters like globes!

NEXT TIME… May the Gods look favourably upon you while we Sleep No More.

Vastra, Jenny and The Snowmen (2012)

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Doctor Who as written by Steven Moffat is peppered with jokes. Pretty good ones on the whole. And occasionally, some are surprisingly filthy. Take this one, from A Good Man Goes to War featuring Silurian detective Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and warrior maid Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart).

VASTRA: Mammals. They all look alike.

JENNY: Oh, thank you.

(One of two tied up prisoners is looking to unlock the door)

VASTRA: Was I being insensitive again, dear? I don’t know why you put up with me.

(And she whips out her enormous tongue and lashes the prisoner’s neck. Cue knowing glances between Vastra and Jenny).

It’s the moment we find out that Vastra and Jenny are more than just friends. And probably Doctor Who’s most blatant joke about female orgasm (though oddly enough, there’s one in our next random story too. Now that’s a teaser!). Two women doing it, and one’s a lizard. As some wag on Twitter recently said, it’s great that Doctor Who brings gay bestiality to family television.

But Vastra and Jenny have gone on to make several return appearances and that lifts them above the status of a throwaway gag about lesbianism. They are the first Doctor Who regulars who are a same sex couple and by their second appearance in The Snowmen, they are married, which is presented as a signal of legitimacy. When Dr Simeon (a glowering Richard E Grant), remarks on their suspiciously intimate companionship, Vastra retorts “I resent your implication of impropriety”. They are the real deal. And unapologetic about it.

They make a perfectly charming couple: Jenny the spunky adventure seeker, Vastra the flirty sleuth. They are clearly devoted to each other, despite Vastra’s occasional sideways glances. The only worrying aspect of it, as noted by Jenny herself in Deep Breath, is despite being in a marriage of equals, she is still the maid to Vastra’s lady of the house (it is difficult to imagine the same situation applying to Amy and Rory and being acceptable to modern viewers). Nonetheless, Doctor Who, in presenting them as a same sex couple as nuanced and as legitimate as any other, is doing what it has often done over the years, and celebrating difference.

It doesn’t hurt that there’s a sci-fi twist to this relationship. It is easier for Doctor Who to tell their story because Vastra is a “lizard woman from the dawn of time”. This makes it more palatable, hides the sex behind a sci-fi veil. Again, it is Doctor Who’s long held practice. Last random’s The Mutants told the story of racial intolerance from the safety of a space station in the future. Real life issues, hidden in plain sight. Would the series be able to show a married human gay couple, male or female, for more than a fleeting glance? I think that Vastra’s very nature shows that actually, the series is not there yet.

But still, it has come a long way. If Vastra and Jenny have a Who ancestor, it’s Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman. Jack is famously omnisexual, though in Doctor Who this extended only to some ribald comments, and flirty exchanges with members of both sexes and the occasional alien.

By the time he gets to Torchwood though, Jack is more gay than bisexual. He enters into an intense relationship with colleague Ianto Jones, which never makes its way into Doctor Who although both appear in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. Jack might be every-kind-of-sexual in Doctor Who, but he’s never queer in the way that Vastra and Jenny are. But his presence, both in Doctor Who and in Torchwood at least shows that a non-straight character can play a prominent role. I don’t think you could jump straight to the series’ first gay marriage without a trail blazing character like Jack.

Since The Snowmen, we’ve seen Vastra and Jenny (do they have a Brangelina style name conflation? Jenstra? Vasny?) in The Crimson Horror and The Name of the Doctor, and their presence was barely noted by the not-we press. But in Deep Breath we saw them kiss, and that caught some attention. Even then it was under the narrative excuse of sharing oxygen reserves, but chicks kissing is usually enough to get you in the papers. Of course the actual impact of the smooch was over inflated by the media. Apparently six viewers complained, which is negligible.

Of more interest is that the episode was edited for some international territories, the first of two interesting editing decisions in Series 8, the second being the decapitation in Robot of Sherwood. I digress, but leaving the kiss on the cutting room floor shows how international tastes influence the show. Not that editing for international broadcast is new – plenty of classic series stories were snipped for Australian broadcast for instance – but they were always because of violence, not moral concern, if we might generously (if not sarcastically) call it that.

What it shows is that queerness still has only a tenuous place in Doctor Who. It’s highly codified; that lesbian’s not a lesbian, she’s a Silurian. That kiss isn’t a kiss, it’s an oxygen transfer. He’s not gay, he’s omnisexual. It can be excised too; you can watch a version of Deep Breath with or without its girl on lizard kiss. But despite this, we can see the series taking steps to address queer culture. We are surely not that far away from an openly gay companion… Perhaps even a Doctor who fancies blokes?

And I seem to have reached the end of this post without mentioning Vajenny’s (Oh no. Just no.) role in the episode itself. Hmm, how about this… How does cold blooded Vastra cope with the icy winters of London? I’ll leave you with that to ponder.

LINK to The Mutants. I don’t have much, but each does have a spaceship hovering above the action on the planet’s surface.

NEXT TIME… I was going to snog him! We conduct The Lazarus Experiment.