Tag Archives: turlough

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 if 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 were 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.

Dialogue, Sawardese and Resurrection of the Daleks (1984)

Could you pick a Doctor Who story’s writer from watching it with its credits lopped off? Well, you and I could of course, because we’ve got honorary PhDs in Who from Murwillumbah TAFE. But if for some reason, a new, unseen script fell through a vent in the space-time continuum, without its writers credit, could you pick the author?

I think I could do it with Eric Saward, script editor and writer throughout the 1980s. And his 1984 action fest, Resurrection of the Daleks is written in pure Sawardese. I thought I’d pull out a few examples, as part of my post Doctoral research at Wagga Wagga Institute of Technology. So here are:

Seven Saward Signature Dialogue Tells.

  1. The short, heavily laden question.

Saward has a particular prose style which can be brutally efficient, the grammar of which is so at pains to be correct, it’s awkward.  (Not unlike that last sentence.)

Consider his habit of giving characters concise, frank questions to elicit a response from another character. Often these questions try to fit in both a descriptive noun and and active verb. “The escape was prevented?” is an example. The line could be, “everything worked out fine” or “no harm was done”. But in Saward’s style, we find out two things: there was an escape and it failed. In one super efficient question!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like something anyone would actually say. See also, “you have the Doctor?” And “you fear an attack?”. And my personal favourite, from The Mark of the Rani, “you suspect another motive?”

  1. Answer one question with another.

Resurrection starts this way.

STEIN: Which way?

GALLOWAY: Does it matter?

It’s particularly useful when you want to avoid giving an answer.

STEIN: Where’ve they gone?

GALLOWAY: Where’d you think?

But it’s more likely to be used as a kind of sarcastic rejoinder.

STEIN: Is it dead?

DOCTOR: Would you care to take another look?

Here’s a famous example from The Caves of Androzani.

PERI: Doctor?

DOCTOR: You were expecting someone else?

Is this naturalistic dialogue? (You’d venture another opinion?!)

  1. Neither fever.

This one actually doesn’t turn up in Resurrection, which is remarkable because it’s widespread among stories written or script edited by Saward. It’s the habit of characters presenting the two sides a dilemma, with the second line starting with ‘neither’. Again, grammatically correct, but very clunky. The classic one’s in Revelation of the Daleks.

GRIGORY: You can’t rush this sort of thing.

NATASHA: Neither can we hang around here.

Here’s one from Earthshock.

DOCTOR: You must withdraw your men, they don’t stand a chance.

BRIGGS: Neither will we if those things get up here.

Eventually, Saward seems to be narkily correcting the grammar in other people’s scripts. From Planet of Fire:

FOSTER: Sure isn’t Greek.

CURT: Neither is it Roman.

From The Mysterious Planet:

BALAZAR: It would be murder to kill them.

MERDEEN: Neither can I free them.

From Mindwarp:

DOCTOR: They weren’t hanging about.

PERI: Neither did they look very pleased.

I’d written this off as one of Saward’s idiosyncrasies. So imagine my delight when an corker example of Neither Fever turned up in Doomsday.

ROSE: You didn’t need to kill him!

DALEK: Neither did we need him alive!

Who would have thought it? Russell T Davies channeling Eric Saward!

  1. Something, isn’t it?

The go to line of dialogue when a character really has nothing to say. “Big, isn’t it?” is the gem of a line Turlough got to say in The Five Doctors. In Resurrection he gets the equally thrilling, “Dark, isn’t it?” And “Impulsive, aren’t they?”

Lines which mean and add nothing. Pointless, aren’t they?

  1. The awkward way of saying something.

DOCTOR: I must have played truant that day. (Doctor, no one who ever wagged school would say they ‘played truant’.)

TEGAN: He didn’t intend to return. (Or, ‘he knew he wasn’t coming back’. Your choice, Tegan.)

TEGAN: Some other opportunity may arise. (Or, ‘we may find another way to help’. C’mon Teegs, you’re just not trying!)

DOCTOR: However you respond is seen as an act of provocation. (‘Everything provokes them’ would have done.)

STIEN: The Doctor without his companions would be rather incongruous. (Doctor! You’ve abandoned your companions? Incongruous, aren’t you?)

MERCER: Your bile would be better directed against the enemy, Doctor! (Eeeww.)

DOCTOR (mostly the Sixth): I am known as the Doctor. (Don’t get me started.)

  1. Expressing a laboured preference.

In which one person makes an innocent remark and another turns it into a whinge about what they want.

CALDER: Anyone want some tea?

TEGAN: I’d much rather have the Colonel back.

In Earthshock:

BRIGGS: You’ve done well, Mister. You’ll get an extra bonus.

RINGWAY: I’d rather have Vance and Carson alive.

A slight twist in Attack of the Cybermen:

DOCTOR: Merely slips of the tongue.

PERI: I rather think they’re slips of the mind.

Before the most wooden example of all in Revelation:

KARA: Please, accept my apologies.

DAVROS: I would sooner accept your money!

At which point everyone laughs awkwardly, and the big mutant head in a jar trying to crack the funnies.

  1. Lines which conjure peculiarly vivid imagery.

LYTTON: The original plan was to snatch Davros and leave, not dance to his every whim. (Oh no, I much prefer this revised plan. Go on, dance to Davros’s whims! I want to see what they are and see how elegantly these troopers can bust a move in their big Daleky helmets.)

STEIN: With the Bomb Disposal Squad duplicated, the Daleks had people to guard the warehouse who wouldn’t arouse suspicion. (That’s right, because a Bomb Disposal Squad never causes any undue attention! In fact, an old warehouse without a Bomb Disposal Squad would be rather incongruous.)

STYLES: Don’t you get funny ideas? I’d give anything for a glass of cool spring mountain water. (You’ve really thought about that, haven’t you Styles? Between running for your life and taking pot shots at Daleks. Not just water. Not just cool water. Not just cool spring water. But cool spring mountain water. I’m surprised she doesn’t specify which mountain.)

STEIN: I can’t stand the confusion in my mind! (Wow. That’s so strange, ’cause I can’t stand the confusion in my elbow.)

DOCTOR: You’re like a deranged child, all this talk of killing, revenge and destruction. (Look, I’m not here to give out parenting advice, but if you have a child, deranged or otherwise, talking about killing, revenge and destruction, you might want to cut off the red cordial and check their internet history.)

(Or check your DVD collection. They may just be binge watching Saward’s Doctor Who stories.)

LINK TO: The End of Time. Both have flashback sequences! De rigeur for both the Davison and Tennant eras.

NEXT TIME: Geronimo, allons y and Gallifrey stands, it’s The Day of the Doctor.

 

 

 

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.

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.