I Move So Fast, I Don't Exist Any More (Storm Warning)

(51 comments)

It’s still January of 2001, so I suppose I’m kind of stuck not having much of an intro here. This marks the point in the McGann era where we jump tracks. Thus far we’ve focused primarily on the Eighth Doctor Adventures. We’re still going to cover another six of those (well, five, technically), but for the next month and a half or so we’re going to focus on the other McGann era: the Big Finish audios. This means a couple of things. First, these posts won't have the "I'll Explain Later" headers, for the simple reason that all of the Big Finish material can easily be bought on their website, making it less necessary to get people up to speed. Go buy these, basically. They're cool. Second, it means that we have something today that we haven’t seen, or, rather, heard since the TV Movie itself: Paul McGann’s Doctor as played by Paul McGann.

This is a strange thing. McGann at once has a nearly blank slate and years of expectations and assumptions that he has to contend with.. The script does McGann few favors here, making him talk to himself for almost a full episode in the most “and now I will explain the plot to nobody” manner imaginable. It’s unfortunate, and more than a bit amateur hour. Yes, this story is meant to introduce a new companion, but the natural consequence of that should have been a start in which the Doctor arrives and gets into the action, not an episode of solo TARDIS scenes. It butchers the episode’s momentum, but worse, it butchers McGann, who rings in the sixth year of his tenure as the Doctor still trying to figure out how to play the part.

Already, though, some cross purposes are arising. McGann is in the deeply awkward position of stepping into a role that’s been defined in his absence. Momentarily, at least, the flaws of the Eighth Doctor Adventures are helping him slightly: his role may have been defined, but not with any consistency. And while it’s absurd to suggest that Big Finish wasn’t influenced by the BBC Books portrayals, they’re also reacting against BBC Books and creating their own version of the Eighth Doctor. Still, there’s a tension between what the script wants, which is for the Doctor to be the proper Edwardian Adventurer that allows Charlie to be the Edwardian Adventuress she proclaims herself to be, and what McGann seems to want, which is to play the Doctor as Ford Prefect: blasé and a bit snarky, rolling his eyes a bit at the plot around him.

If one wants to try to classify Doctors, one could do worse than dividing between leading man Doctors and reactive Doctors. The leading man Doctors are the ones who are played as active figures at the center of things: Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Colin Baker, and David Tennant. The reactive Doctors, on the other hand, are the ones who flit about the edges of the story and tend to react to what’s going on. This isn’t, to be clear, a comment on charisma so much as one of the ways in which a Doctor acts. Sylvester McCoy is a reactive Doctor for all his manipulations and power simply because he tends to manipulate by letting the person he’s talking to think they’re in control of the conversation. Patrick Troughton, Peter Davison, and Matt Smith are among the other reactive Doctors.

And McGann ends up in an odd place. Because his debut came out of the American cult television model he got cast firmly as a leading man Doctor to start. And that’s not what McGann seems interested in. Back in the TV Movie post we talked about how he’s visibly more engaged in the audition tapes than he is in the TV Movie. Yes, the audition tapes were off of the dreadful Leekley script with its father issues, but in those scenes he’s getting to be reactive. The scenes are about him being told information, and while they’re fundamentally about his character, they’re about his character’s reactions as things happen, not about his character taking charge and doing things. It’s when he’s put in the straight leading man role of the TV Movie that he visibly gets bored, because he doesn’t seem to want to flounce around being the hero. This makes sense. The reactive approach is the larger acting challenge, and is one of the things that makes the Doctor unique as a role: the fact that he's reactive and the hero. Unfortunately, McGann is mostly on his own in wanting to play the part that way.

But in Storm Warning he starts to find a way to subvert that, continually underplaying lines or adding a sort of bemused detachment to them that plays more towards a reactive approach. The script, again, doesn’t quite know what to do with him here. Nor could it - Alan Barnes is necessarily writing for generic Doctor here. (It’s telling that two of the first four Eighth Doctor audios are simply adaptations of stories written for another Doctor entirely, but we’ll talk more about that on Wednesday.) But it’s an interesting aspect to McGann’s Doctor, and reveals vividly how little of what we think of as the Eighth Doctor actually stems from the man who plays him.

But the context of this story is strange in other ways. Back in the Virgin era I considered and ultimately rejected a division of Doctor Who that was commonly cited at the time - the famed and foolish “rad/trad” debate. My argument which I still stand by in the general case, was that there’s an illusion at the heart of the distinction given that every classic era of Doctor Who was, at the time it was being made, terribly radical. But as we reach the Big Finish/Eighth Doctor Adventures fork it becomes impossible to ignore this issue, simply because it is, in practice, the fundamental divide between the two lines. The Eighth Doctor Adventures were weird and written by Lawrence Miles, whereas Big Finish was proper Doctor who with actors.

More to the point, the Big Finish personnel were sober, safe pair of hands types. The fact that they were able to work up Big Finish and get the rights to make Doctor Who in the first place is a testament to their considerable professionalism - as is the fact that they’ve mildly improbably held the rights and continued their line with no end in sight as the new series kicked up. Equally telling is the number of people involved with Big Finish who have been gifted jobs on the new series. Barnaby Edwards and Nicholas Pegg, who both provide stirringly mediocre voice acting on Storm Warning can be unseen in any Dalek story. Alan Barnes and Gary Russell got the plum of doing The Infinite Quest, and Gary Russell was script editor for the new series (a far more menial and paper pushing position than on the classic series) on the last few Tennant specials, as well as on a few episodes of Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. And, of course, Nicholas Briggs voices all of the monsters.

So, we hit one of these points where I need to be clear that I don’t mean something as an insult: with the exception of Nicholas Briggs (who really does do some phenomenal voice work with his monsters), none of these people were hired on the new series for their talent. They’re mostly sinecures given to people for faithful service to Doctor Who over the years. And they’re deserved. It’s absolutely wonderful that Doctor Who hires Barnaby Edwards and Nicholas Pegg to be Dalek operators. But they got the jobs by being reliable and professional. Which sums up the nature of Big Finish pretty well: they can get a cast together to produce professional quality Doctor Who on a monthly basis.

When compared to the gibbering shambles that the Eighth Doctor Adventures often are as a line, the difference is striking. It’s not that the two lines have a ton of differences in their creative staff. There are a few writers who did work for the Eighth Doctor Adventures and not Big Finish, and visa versa, but they’re mostly the same crowd. It’s not as though Big Finish and the Eighth Doctor Adventures represent a massive schism in Doctor Who’s creative staff. Heck, the third and fourth Big Finish audios were written by Stephen Cole and Justin Richards: clearly there’s not some intractable factionalization involved here. But where the Eighth Doctor Adventures constantly strove and angsted over a desire to find the future of Doctor Who, Big Finish just got on with the task of making it.

Which is the other facet of the rad/trad division. If the so-called rads could defend their inherent superiority on the grounds that every classic era of Doctor Who was radical, the so-called trads had an equally good defense.Because the overwhelming ethos of Doctor Who on television was “shut up and get the thing made with a reasonable level of professionalism.” Robert Holmes may have been a genius, but the bulk of his classic scripts in the Hinchcliffe era came out of him throwing his hands up and rewriting an unworkable script from scratch. He didn’t aspire to creating televisual classics that would be beloved for generations. He aspired to not missing the deadline. It is, in other words, not that the rads are clearly correct whereas the trads are boring. It’s that the entire distinction is absurd: Doctor Who at its best has always been innovative, and it’s always been driven by an unpretentious desire to make pretty good television.

In the early part of the Wilderness Years, specifically in the Virgin era, it was the latter desire that threatened to get out of control. The prospect of Doctor Who as a series of bland but competent tie-in novels loomed large until writers like Paul Cornell, Jim Mortimore, Kate Orman, and Ben Aaronovitch pulled the line towards something more ambitious. But by 2001 the pendulum swung the opposite way: the last thing Doctor Who needed, as we said, were more people being bloody clever about it. And so in early 2001 the steady hand of Big Finish was in many ways exactly what the series needed.

Certainly in terms of experiencing the history in hindsight there is a sense of relief that one gets upon reaching the Big Finish material. From the vantage point of the guy behind the keyboard, there’s something a bit frustrating about the stretches of the series’ history where the historical context alone can eat up two thousand words. I go stir crazy for the sorts of entries where I can get into the weeds on details of stories instead of framing general case issues and history and production. Which is, perhaps, an ironic thing to say 1600 words into an entry in which I’ve mostly done just that, and its not as though there aren’t other aspects of the production history of Big Finish to sort out over the next three entries, but the transition is still there.

So what we have here is a familiar set of Doctor Who tropes. Angst over changing history, the idea that humanity ruins everything it touches through greed, alien species with distinct sub-factions. But crucially, they are put together in a way we’ve never quite seen before. The R101 disaster is obscure enough that we’re back in the territory of The Massacre - a terrible thing that the audience is unlikely to know the details of. (Indeed, even the writer seems not to know the details, deciding that everyone on board died instead of having six survivors.)

Furthermore, we’ve never had the “you can’t rewrite history, not one line” idea joined up with the companion before - the idea of a companion who is intrinsically wrong and against the Doctor’s ethics is clever, and manages to find a way to make the whole changing history idea actually have some consequences that don’t feel theoretical. When it’s just a bunch of supporting characters who the web of time says have to die we pretty much know how it’s going to play out - some angst and then them dying. But the idea of a companion who history says should have died is an interesting unknown. It’s in many ways surprising that it’s taken until 2001 to actually explore the whole fixed points in time business as anything other than a tragedy founded on an abstract ethical point. Even So Vile a Sin, the incumbent best dealing with these issues to date, had an element of the abstraction to it. Roz’s death is part of a larger philosophical point about the nature of history.

But that’s not what’s going on with Charley. Indeed, the philosophical aspects of it are absolutely threadbare. There’s nothing to this beyond the basic trope of “angst over rewriting history.” It’s self-justifying - the only reason the Doctor can’t change history is that the idea of the Doctor being unable to change history is an established bit of Doctor Who. There’s no idea to it. But in an odd way that makes it more fascinating, simply because the “you can’t change history” idea was never that good to begin with, reflecting as it does a bafflingly ethnocentric view of the world. It’s an idea that’s usually played as a big sci-fi idea, that here gets played for its narrative consequences instead.

There are two things to note here. The first is that there’s a surprising maturity to that. It’s characteristic of the new series, where the point isn’t whether or not you have a cool sci-fi idea but whether you have an interesting story around it. The companion the Doctor knows he isn’t supposed to save. That’s a story in a way “the Doctor can’t save an airship” isn’t. But second, and perhaps more interestingly, this jump in the sorts of stories Doctor Who does comes purely out of the decision to go back and play with the old tropes of the series without feeling obliged to in some tacit fashion apologize for the use of the tropes. It’s classic Doctor Who, but not quite as it’s ever been done before.

Storm Warning is, of course, imperfect. The voice acting is spotty, the writing doesn’t always know how best to accomplish its goals, and the aliens are terribly unoriginal. But it’s enough to show the potential of this as a future for Doctor Who, and more than a bit refreshing after the fruitlessly overambitious antics of the Eighth Doctor Adventures.

Comments

Stuart Ian Burns 4 years, 6 months ago

Storm Warning is the bit of Doctor Who which made me a fan again after not really paying much attention after 1989. Listening the preview of episode one from Doctor Who Magazine one morning, to Paul messing about in the TARDIS library and his first meeting with Charley, I was hooked and I've never looked (or heard back). When I say McGann's my favourite Doctor, which they do, quite a lot, it's because of this.

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jonathan inge 4 years, 6 months ago

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Commander Maxil 4 years, 6 months ago

Great article as always, agree with pretty much all of it. The whole trad vs rad thing seems nonsensical now, but back in the nineties I confess I was a drawn in as anybody else (which led to me avoiding the NAs at the time, something I have now happily made up for). I always considered myself on the trad side. I completely agree that every era of Doctor Who was radical at the point it was made, and of course the flipside is also true, every era of Doctor who ceases to seem so radical over time (currently re-reading the New Adventures shows that what was considered radical in 93/94 now seems anything but). My view now is that there is good Doctor Who and less good Doctor Who. There are a (very) few stories I hate (Warriors of the Deep, Divided Loyalties, Fear Her) and there is lots of middle of the road Doctor Who which I enjoy but is largely forgettable (The Visitation, Closing Time) and then there is the punch in the air fantastic stuff that makes the rest of it so worthwhile (Curse of Fenric, Spare Parts, The Big Bang/Pandorica Opens).

The Eighth Doctor Audios definitely tend towards the punch in the air stuff. They are fantastic, although Storm Warning is admittedly a bit of a slow start. However for me McGann is always brilliant, from the first moment in this audio, all the way through to Black Eyes last year. The way he underplays lines is one of the things that makes him so great (something Matt Smith does brilliantly as well), He is up there as one of my favourites doctors of all. He is also recognisably the same character from the TVM, the enthusiasm and slight absent-mindedness. Over time I have come to realise that the fact the TVM didn’t go to series was probably a lucky escape as the New Series is much better than any co-produced series made in the nineties would have been. Nonetheless not getting a whole TV series with McGann in it was a great loss. He is a great actor and a great Doctor and some of the audios coming up prove that. Storm warning is solid and fun, and India Fisher as Charley Pollard was an inspired bit of casting (and in so many ways the forerunner of the modern companions in terms of the journey and her emotional attachment to the Doctor). The only criticism I could possibly level at this one is the appalling South African accent that Barnaby Edwards deploys as Rathbone, but Big Finish do have a bit of form here when it comes to atrocious accents (especially French ones). A good start to a wonderful series though.

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Ed Jolley 4 years, 6 months ago

I saw the Doctor talking to himself as:
1) Normal behavior. More so when he goes solo (e.g., Deadly Assassin).
2) A simple narrative device used in radio drama (a bygone form of entertainment for most Americans).


IMO, the problem here is the poor quality of the 'Doctor talking to himself' material, rather than the fact of its existence. This became a whole lot clearer to me after the release of Excelis Decays the following year: while ED is largely appalling, there's an excellent bit at the end with the Doctor alone in the TARDIS, talking to himself. If the first scene of Storm Warning had been written even half as well as the similar one in ED, it wouldn't get anywhere near the amount of flak it does.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

So this is my introduction to Eighth Doctor material, and Big Finish audios -- I just picked up a bunch last week, and with the exception of the few novels left to cover I'll be up to speed as far as Phil's blog goes.

So, yeah, these are a lot of fun! And they really fit in with a lot of what Doctor Who has done well and not-so-well. I like McGann and Fisher, just in terms of their performances, and I wish I could see their faces as well as hear their voices, 'cause I'd be getting more of their emotions. When I first heard Charley I thought she sounded an awful lot like Ace, which was disconcerting but also kind of nice. I like Ace. I wish the music was more cued to character rather than setting or plot, that would help, but in general I'm impressed with the Doctor/Charley dynamic.

On the other hand, I haven't been getting much out of the supporting characters. In Storm Warning they're not terribly fleshed out, are they? I mean, and having heard several of the following stories, this is kind of the primary weakness I've discerned in the audios so far, is that I rarely find myself caring for any of the characters, our principals notwithstanding.

I haven't been spoiled as far as how Charley's character arc plays out (I'm into her third season now) but given the premise of it I believe she should die. Well, everyone should die eventually, that's kind of the point to living life, but I love how she gets to be alive and dead at the same time, it's an interesting perspective on living life, and makes for a neat metaphor as far as engaging Doctor Who is concerned -- travel with the Doctor as a sort of afterlife. I like it, and I think that basic alchemy, the fusion of these particular opposites, drives the more interesting aspects of the better upcoming stories.





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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

I figured the Doctor talking to himself was pretty much a narrative convention of an audio play, and went right along with it. And in this instance (material aside as Ed suggests) I think it was the right choice, insofar as it provides a re-introduction to this Doctor, getting inside his head.

Even better, it's lampshaded at the end! I loves me a self-aware text. And in general, I've been thrilled with how the audios play with the nature of the medium, pushing at the boundaries and making them tick in unexpected ways.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

For me, this Doctor starts to hit his stride in Stones of Venice, an appropriately frockish story for a frockish Doctor. Good stuff! And great observation about how Charley's character arc sets up the companion dynamics of the Revival, though it seems to me a natural outgrowth of what we got from Ace back in the late Eighties.

I don't really mind the appalling accents, yet, as they make it easier for me to discern the characters, and who's who. Though honestly I thought Rathbone's accent was French until it was pointed out he was South African.

Also, don't hate Fear Her! It's a sweet little story, especially for the young 'uns. It's heart is in the right place, something we can't say about Warriors.

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Contumacy Singh 4 years, 6 months ago

I was uncertain if the mistake regarding the number of survivors wasn't part of the ongoing "Time is screwed up because Charlie lived" plot thread. There are similar errors in subsequent stories (e.g. Ben Franklin is the first US President according to Minuet in Hell). They are mentioned together in Neverland, I believe.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

That would be dodgy in its own right, since the survivor count is how the Doctor realizes Charlie should have died.

Though I do like that as an explanation of Minuet in Hell, my impression was that the historical errors plot was confined to the second McGann series.

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Commander Maxil 4 years, 6 months ago

You are right, ‘hate’ is far too strong a word for how I feel about Fear Her. It was more that I wanted to think of both classic and new series examples of stories I had not enjoyed and, after racking my brains, I concluded that Fear Her is far and away my least favourite of the new series episodes. I agree its heart is in the right place though and perhaps younger fans would enjoy it (though to be fair, I loved Warriors when I watched it on broadcast as an eight year old, as it involved laser battles in corridors like my two favourite things in the world at that time, Star Wars and Earthshock, so it shows how opinions can change over time).

I also agree that Ace is really the prototype modern companion as well, I love Seasons 25 and 26 and the way her relationship develops with the 7th Doctor. In many ways Charley (and Evelyn with the 6th Doctor) bridges the gap between how things were done in the classic series and the one series. She is fantastic, so well acted and it makes a nice change to have a character who is not contemporary and a bit posh (neither of which we are likely; to get in the new series).

Finally I’ve spotted a mistake in my earlier posting. I did of course mean Paul McGann was fantastic in Dark Eyes (Big Finishes excellent box set) last year, rather than Black Eyes (a 20 year old Dennis Potter series!)

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

This kind of plays off of Moffat's "Continuity Errors" in a fun way -- I mean, "deliberate mistakes" are used to mark the entailments of time-travel, and as a byproduct it's a convenient device for retroactive continuity, handwaving away all the mistakes that got in there by "accident."

I continue to insist that this was a feature of LOST.

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Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

One thing I liked about the issue with Charley And The (Chocolate) Web of Time is that, even though it did not get explicit, it felt like a solid movement in the direction of the more sophisticated understanding of time they have in the new series, where there isn't this hamfisted and patently untrue "You can't change history, not one word!" thing we inherited from The Aztecs toward the new-series idea of "some things can be changed, some things can't, and time lords have an inherent ability to tell the difference." It's not just the survivor count that tells the Doctor that he oughtn't to save Charley. It seemed very much to me like it's something he can just intrinsically feel about her)

Of course, I could be misreading it. This early in BF's history, they really hadn't gotten a handle on how to convey things non-verbally in the medium of audio yet. THat was a big problem for me listening to the early Big Finish stuff. It got a lot better as time went on.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

I think the problems with Fear Her have more to do with aspects of production than with the story itself. It kind of highlights one of my contentions that "discourse" as opposed to "story" matters far more to Who fans than is generally considered to be the case.

First is the choice to have Agbaje whisper loudly when she's talking as the Isolus. It's difficult to hear, and it's a grating sound -- points of contention I have with some of the audios I've heard so far -- which is also a problem with the Father's voice. The whole "look" of the episode is lackluster and washed out, though Euros Lyn (whose competent work I generally like) does get some interesting shots inside the Webber residence. And yeah, the whole business with the torch is a bit on the button in its sentimentality.

But it's got a lot going for it, too! Rose stepping into a properly Doctorish role for one, an ongoing development in Series 2. The interesting conceit of being trapped in pictures, which is meta -- after all, the show is simply a series of pictures itself. Mostly, though, is how it exposes the central conceit of the Revival, which is how the monsters and situations are so much metaphors for the underlying issues the characters are dealing with, and by extension the kinds of issues we have to deal with in our own lives.

According the AI figures, Fear Her is one of the highest-rated serials of the Revival when looking at the demographic of children, which is what the production team said it was going for. And the "monster" issues in this story are right in their wheelhouse -- the need for friends, and scary fathers. So, I dunno, this is one of those stories that, for me at least, improves knowing some of the behind-the-scenes intentions on the production end.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

There's also the bit with the Vortisaur, right?

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Commander Maxil 4 years, 6 months ago

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Commander Maxil 4 years, 6 months ago

Hmm, interesting points about Fear Her. Perhaps I have been too harsh on it. If it was aimed primarily at younger viewers and they really enjoyed it then it was a success in terms of what it was going for, and that’s good enough in my book. I don’t expect the TV show to really be aimed at me as an older fan and am constantly delighted how much of it I do love. I suppose I find it comes at the end of the very uneven (IMO) Series 2, which is my least favourite of the new seasons. Perhaps once this blog reaches the new series I will rewatch it and see how I find it this time

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

You're not alone. I didn't like Fear Her or Love and Monsters (now one of my faves) the first time around! But that was more to do with what I'd been expecting to get out of the series in the first place (back then I had a much more "classic" mindset) rather than the stories themselves.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 6 months ago

Not the hugest fan of the McGann/Charlie years, which I think suffers a bit from the Charlie story being started before they found their feet. She's a character which has far reaching effects and with instant Continuity Problems which eventually fall into the mire of Gallifrey politics from which there is no real escape.

They seem to be playing with the idea of McGann as the romantic lead of his stories, giving him a companion who is overtly in love with him... before retreating from the idea with some difficulty. A later companion will eventually be added who (according to the actor) was only there to throw cold water on the relationship.

My biggest problems come later on when the politics of Gallifrey become attached and the whole thing gets shunted off into the Divergent Universe, which feel too much like trying to create interest with major shake-ups to the status quo for my tastes.

Charlie would eventually go on to be a very enjoyable companion to Colin Baker, where Continuity dictated she have a proper exit (despite no one really wanting to stop said adventures) and even preventing a sarcastic detective from joining the TARDIS crew because of her knowledge of Charlie.

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Commander Maxil 4 years, 6 months ago

I certainly had a 'classic' series mindset when the new seriers started and it took a while to adjust to, and really enjoy, the new series (though i agree that Love and Monsters is fantastic). Now ironically I find it jarring when Big FInish produce plays with 4 distinct parts and cliffhangers after 24 minutes!

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Archeology of the Future 4 years, 6 months ago

I think there's a few things that makes 'Fear Her' hard for many to love is that The Doctor and Rose enter the story at the wrong place and that the story itself isn't where it would need to be to make it work. In essence it's really a very small story about a horror befalling a family, but it suffers from not having a solid enough boundary around the action to give a clear idea of how small it actually is. It would have worked fabulously had it been set in a single large building (the old standby of a base under siege or a stately home) because then there would have been a defined group at risk. Idiot's Lantern has the same problem. We just don't believe that no one would have noticed or that The Doctor and Rose shouldn't be doing something else apart from what they actually do in the story.

As to The Doctor and Rose entering the story, they enter what is basically a whodunnit but where we know exactly whodunnit and, more than that, we're supposed to identify with whodunnit. This makes it hard to deal with the diffuse group to whom things are supposed to be done. The Doctor and Rose are, in short, caught between two different kinds of Doctor Who story.

It's worth thinking about how the SaraH Jane Adventures would have made 'Fear Her' work: they would have drawn parallels between the Isolus kid and the Sarah Jane gang's experience. In 'Fear Her' as it stands it gets all confused about whether we're meant to identify with the kid or the parent and eventually makes us try to draw parallel between the sad lonely Isolus and the sad lonely Doctor. They would have started from getting to know the kid, then gone for the reveal much later.

As the episode stands it feels like what adults think kids shows are like: lacking a subtext to hang on to because it's terribly hard to key the Doctor and Rose to the characters, which is why they come across here (and The Idiot's Lantern) as so smug and invasive. Forced into this story they are just marking time until the set pieces. In the structure they aren't allowed to get to know the other characters, they're the Scooby Gang, and because of that adults find it difficult to identify with the story of the child because we don't get to know the child through them. Kid's don't have the same gap.

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sorrywehurtyourfield 4 years, 6 months ago

There's a weird parallel with the EDAs - the arc gets steadily more convoluted, climaxing with a bloated, continuity-heavy Gallifrey story that nobody likes very much, before everything is (over-)dramatically swept aside in favour of a "new" version of the universe where there's no continuity at all. Odd that this impulse kept recurring, though at least Big Finish were able to recover from it.

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Commander Maxil 4 years, 6 months ago

I agree partly with this, but i feel that Zagreus offers a lot more enjoyment than The Ancestor Cell. That may be because we have four doctors (five if you include the indecipherable Pertwee stuff) and a load of companions involved though. In fact more generally Big Finish probably gets away with stuff because McGann is so good, and can improve occasionally dodgy scripts, something the books could not fall back on.

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Alan 4 years, 6 months ago

Ditto. When I hear a character in an audio drama talking to himself, I just sort assume we're hearing his internal monologue (his "thought bubbles" to use the comics term) and move on without noticing it.

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jonathan inge 4 years, 6 months ago

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

Okay, some meta on Storm Warning...

First, I like the whole bit with the R101 getting swallowed up by the Triskele saucer. It's an apt metaphor for how the "historical" genre gets eaten alive by the SF elements of the show, but more in a Russian Nesting Doll sort of way. And it's rather apt for this story as a whole, as the whole alien thing ends up dominating the rest of the tale... to its detriment, I think.

The conception of the Triskele is telling, I think. They have three "classes" -- which could very well be Freudian. The Engineers are the Ego, the Uncreators the Id, and the Lawgivers the Superego. Not only is this a false representation of consciousness, it ends up giving us yet another iteration of the Sensorites/Silurians, an attempt to make aliens more "dimensional" without actually treating the individuals as characters. They're all too archetypal. And none of them apparently stands for "relationship," while the "emotional" side of this race gets lumped in with being destructive. So, I really didn't like that at all.

When we get to part four, it looks like it's going to turn into a properly psychological piece, with the Doctor getting the crew to approach the Triskelions with roaring and gesturing, but then it just falls back to gunplay as the boring Rathbone and Uncreator Prime bluster their way to their deaths. Again, it's like the flying saucer has subsumed the romantic airship at a narrative level, but for all the wrong reasons.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

I really liked Zagreus. It was wickedly funny, and it had heart.

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Daibhid C 4 years, 6 months ago

I haven't heard this since it was broadcast on BBC 7 (as it was then) in ... (checks Wikipedia) 2005, but based on my recollections of that, I'm intrigued by this:

Still, there’s a tension between what the script wants, which is for the Doctor to be the proper Edwardian Adventurer that allows Charlie to be the Edwardian Adventuress she proclaims herself to be, and what McGann seems to want, which is to play the Doctor as Ford Prefect: blasé and a bit snarky, rolling his eyes a bit at the plot around him.

Because I'm pretty sure I was left with the impression that McGann's snarkiness was the point, and that Charley casting herself as an Edwardian Adventuress was meant to be what TV Tropes would call Wrong Genre Savvy. IOW, as far as I was concerned, the script so effectively warped around McGann's conception of the Doctor, that I didn't even realise it had warped.

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J Mairs 4 years, 6 months ago

I always thought that monologue at the beginning was Big Finish going "We've got Paul McGann! Look at us!! We've got Paul McGann! And we're going to give you twenty minutes of him talking so you are fully aware that We've got Paul McGann. Did I mention, we have Paul McGann...?"

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J Mairs 4 years, 6 months ago

Well, I think Minuet in Hell is basically seeding the second series with those errors.

To be honest, I like the idea of historical errors - the breaking of the Web of Time seems like a proto-Time War/Time Crack as a way to handwave errors in across the ranges. Unit Dating Problem - Charley Pollad broke the Web of Time!

I think I'd have to rate it a close second favourite after the Cracks.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

I am very hesitant to give Minuet in Hell that much credit.

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J Mairs 4 years, 6 months ago

Plus Zagreus has a lot of mirrors, eh, Jane? ;)


I think Zagreus is fantastically good fun - I just really don't like the way the Divergent Universe saga was handled: It could have been really good and there are nice things in there, but the fact that they ended up cutting it short to come back in line with TV series (and still producing half a dozen obviously intended for the DU arc stories afterwards) and doing it in such a ham-fisted way as The Next Life - which is pretty much Big Finish's Ancestor Cell... well...

It wasn't Big Finish's finest hour...

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J Mairs 4 years, 6 months ago

I've always thought it's quite neat that at the start of an arc which concludes with layers and layers of 'creations' smashing into each other - whether it's the Neverpeople, the TARDIS' dreamscape plotting, Rassilon's "Author of the Timeline" or even Zagreus himself - that it should begin with a villain who is the subconscious impulse to destroy. In fact, it almost directly prefigures the character of Zagreus.

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elvwood 4 years, 6 months ago

The Eruditorum provides the context for this story, in terms of (relevant) televisual landscape, the EDAs, and Doctor Who Magazine's reaction; but I'd like to point up where it fits within Big Finish's output, because that's quite interesting too.

Storm Warning was their 16th Doctor Who release, 18 months after the line started. In a sense that's not quite as early as it sounds, because they'd already been producing other audios for a while (both as Big Finish and in previous incarnations), but it's still significant. In comparison to later years things were still a little rough around the edges, but they were beginning to hit their stride. To my mind, there's only one really good story in the first ten - Jacqueline Rayner's The Marian Conspiracy - but (ignoring the Dalek Empire stories) we've just had Steve Lyons' The Fires of Vulcan, Paul Cornell's The Shadow of the Scourge and Robert Shearman's The Holy Terror, all winners.

Things have happened the opposite way round to the order of events during the Virgin era, though. What we've had so far is the audio equivalent of the Missing Adventures/Past Doctor Adventures, and only now do we get the ongoing adventures of the current Doctor. While unplanned (I believe), this has worked out to the good because there has been a chance to work out some of the kinks before beginning on a stretch of stories that is seen as more than just "plugging gaps". Oh, we've had three each of the Nyssa and Evelyn stories, but they've been pretty independent; Storm Warning is the start of the first definite ongoing narrative.

If I have time tomorrow I'll make some more comments on the entry itself, but I thought this was worth pointing out.

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theonlyspiral 4 years, 6 months ago

I've heard this about fear her before. My god son loves it. It might very well be an excellent episode for children.

That being said it's the only piece of televised Doctor Who I won't go through again. My dislike of it is so intense that it turns my stomach. I'll happily play it for an young un's I'm introducing to the show, or anyone else for that matter.

I'll just excuse myself and listen to Storm Warning...

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Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

This is an excellent bit of analysis!

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 6 months ago

There's only a few Divergent Universe stories which really do something with the concept. Quite a few of them are standard tales where they insist "time does not exist" but don't seem to have any idea what that means.

I was rather glad to see the back of it.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

Historical continuity is the least of Minuet's hell.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

"Plus Zagreus has a lot of mirrors, eh, Jane?"

By this point in the series, it was practically perfunctory. The constant asking of The Question -- Who are you? -- demanded it!

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jonathan inge 4 years, 6 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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elvwood 4 years, 6 months ago

I also thought the start was a nod to the movie, opening with a McGann monologue. And it gave us an opportunity to get used to him straight away. As J Mairs says, "We've got Paul McGann!"

I do think it was slightly clumsily written though (compared to later efforts - not knocking Alan Barnes), and we had too much of it before he finally meets Charley. But it's very far from a disaster.

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elvwood 4 years, 6 months ago

Meant to add, that's not my personal context though. The first Big Finish story I heard was The Chimes of Midnight - I was dipping my toe in, and it was one of the best regarded - after which I tried some more cherrypicked releases from various Doctors. It wasn't long before I decided I wanted to listen to the McGann ones in order. Ever since I have had more eighth Doctor audios than any other. So I'm looking forward to this stretch of the Eruditorum...

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Spacewarp 4 years, 6 months ago

One of the most interesting (and unique) points about Doctor Who is that it's often all things to all people. Not that it consciously tries to be though. Over the decades it has changed it's focus and who it's aimed at several times, and personally I think this is because it's such a flexible programme that sometimes even the production team don't know who it's aimed it. In fact Doctor Who has never really had a "default" audience, not even from Day 1. Compare "Unearthly Child" with "Dalek Invasion of Earth". There's different things for different people in even those two stories.

About the most consistent (and successful) thing you can do (IMHO) with Doctor Who is to make it scary for between 7 and 10 year olds. You can then put whatever you want in the rest of the plot – romance, surrealism, allegory, to satisfy viewers older than 10 and adults, and you've cracked it.

Although when Doctor Who gets it right, it's fantastic, the downside with such a versatile format is that it's difficult to manage it 100% of the time. “Fear Her” and “Love & Monsters” hit the “scary for kids” button but fall short on the “teens and adults” part of the recipe. “Blink” on the other hand, “Genesis of the Daleks”, “Pyramids of Mars” and probably “Web of Fear” seem to have ticked all the boxes.

Of course this also explains why “Warriors of the Deep” and “Revenge of the Cybermen” is so good when you're young, but not so good twenty or thirty years later. Or in my case, “Tomb of the Cybermen”.

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theonlyspiral 4 years, 6 months ago

I'm hesitant to give Minuet any credit...other than Courtney, McGann and Fisher seem determined to do their best with a script that makes the Twin Dilemma look watchable.

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theonlyspiral 4 years, 6 months ago

And this was when I knew Paul McGann was my Doctor.

I love the way he snarks around, having a cutting remark for basically every secondary character. I love the way he turns Lord Tamworth into a pseudo Brigadier when he finds out that he's not really such a bad bloke. I love the way he rails against the universe and flits around his library. In later adventures he goes from cutting someone down in one breath, to praising them in the next, to finish off with a typical Doctorish loaded question.

He's passionate and independant, a Doctor that is quite happy to do his own thing. He loves the wonders of the universe in a way the only Matt Smith ever really captures again. I love how he can step aside and allow other characters narritive space and be in the edges (Troughten, Smith) or when the story calls for it to be right front and center (Baker or Tennant). A Doctor who truly loves adventuring for the sake of it. Truly mecurial.

I know that Storm Warning isn't perfect, just like the Lucie audios aren't. The Movie has some problems, but it's how I got into Doctor Who. I had a fever of 102 and this strange show came on...and like the Doctor and Amy, McGann was seared onto my hearts. Whenever I hear the grinding of the Tardis engines and see those doors open, I'm always hoping for Paul McGann.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

@Spacewarp: You've kind of summarized the basic premise of the blog, that Doctor Who smashes together different stories or genres, then drops in Mercury himself. But I'm not so sure it's as simple as you've put it.

First, the kids respond not just to scares -- i.e. monsters -- but also to humor, of varying kinds. Even here, there's a lack of consistency and success, as not every kid is scared or humored by the same things. My nephews, 9 and 11, had completely different and opposite reactions to Fear Her and L&M, for example. (Neither, by the way, can tolerate any of the Classic stories, much to my chagrin; they've been too influenced by modern televisual methods. So there's also the factor of discourse and direction to consider, too.)

It's even more complicated for adults. Love and Monsters, for example, hits the sweet spot for many adults, and misses for many others. But it's even the same for stories like Genesis. I adore the former, and find the latter particularly tedious, in the lower percentiles for the Hinchcliffe era alone, not to mention the show as a whole. (Nor do Pyramids let alone Web tickle my fancy; give me Paradise Towers and Mind Robber, thank you very much. Or the Krotons for that matter.)

But then, my adult sweet spot is surely metaphor, with heaping doses of humor and romance.

Nor is it as simple as throwing everything into the pot, like Blink seemed to do. Blink is loaded with scares, with allegory, romance and humor, but there are fans out there who don't like certain things in their Who -- romance, it seems, in particular (and by "romance" I don't mean kissing, but all the ways drama can scale towards sadness and loss as well as love, stories oriented around relationships.) Others can't abide stories with circular time, or surrealism, or where narrative and metaphorical logic take precedence over physics.

In other words, it's impossible for Doctor Who to hit 100% in the first place. On the other hand, simply by exercising the principle of "fusion" (smashing things together until something new emerges) it's got a greater chance of hitting more sweet spots in the first place. The only ones left out in the cold are those with "exclusionary" preferences in the first place. Which, in a way, is not inappropriate, insofar as the show acts as an alchemical mirror in the first place. Or last place. Whatever.

:)

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encyclops 4 years, 6 months ago

I'd agree that "Fear Her" is underrated (I have, in fact: http://encyclops.com/new-who-season-2/). I think you underrate "Genesis," but I'm with you in that I find it more admirable than enjoyable. The older I get, the less I find I want to sit through something harrowing (if meaningful) about pain and misery and brutality (especially if it's 6 episodes long) and the more I cherish the fun, colorful, beautiful, textured stuff. I'm rarely in the mood to throw it on (and frankly I feel the same way about "Androzani"), but you'll always get me to sit down for "City of Death" or "Enlightenment." Then again, I'm rewatching "Ambassadors of Death" for the first time since I was a kid and digging it, so there are definitely times I'll do what you call "grimdark" with no complaints.

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Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

The only thing about 'Fear Her' that I *really* hate is the whiplash at the end where the Isolus practically switches from "I love Chloe Weber and will NEVER EVER LEAVE HER" to "Sweet, ship's fixed, I'm outta here!" in the space of a single breath.

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jane 4 years, 6 months ago

@encyclops: I can appreciate Genesis and the impact it had on the series going forward, but it's a story I can watch only every ten years or so. But it's not like I'm not a fan of that era -- Ark in Space is one of my favorite stories ever, and it doesn't even offer that much in the way of metaphor (which I get in spades with Morbius and Face of Evil.) But I wouldn't declare this slice of Who the be-all end-all of the series, and I might have even developed some antipathy towards it simply because of those who uphold it as such while denigrating every other approach since.

Ew, that was kind of an ugly sentence. I need some sleep.

@Ross: yeah, the Isolus had a pretty immature conception of "love" now that you mention it!

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Abigail Brady 4 years, 6 months ago

Yes, it seems like the Vortisaur accepting Charley is what made the Doctor decide to just go with it, rather than worrying about whether she belonged dead.

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encyclops 4 years, 6 months ago

jane: I have a pretty severe hype allergy myself, so I know where you're coming from. I had something of the same reaction to the veneration of the latter McCoy seasons and the NAs as the pinnacle of Who (though more recently I'm slowly warming to both).

I'm still in the Letts/Hinchcliffe camp myself, but I think it's hard to recapture because so much of the appeal of those years was about the texture of the show rather than the plots themselves. And while that's the era that consistently gives me the most pleasure, it's interesting that of the stories I think of as my top five, only one is Hinchcliffe-era (one is Williams, and three are JNT!). One of the pleasures of 70s Who (for me) is that it's so consistent, and as a result it's harder for individual stories to stand out in my mind.

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Galadriel 3 years, 5 months ago

Oh, now I want to re-write Fear Hear with the SJA gang. Or perhaps, on second thought, that's what "Mad Women in the Attic" did.

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