Rewrite History, Not One Line (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy)

(50 comments)

I'm happy. Hope you're happy too.
On Sunday, July 8th, 2012, I finally ended my childhood. It was January 4th, 1989. Kylie and Jason were at number one - that being Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue, of course - with "Especially For You." The three weeks previous had been "Mistletoe and Wine" by Cliff Richard. Erasure, U2, and Phil Collins also charted. The album charts were dominated by Now That's What I Call Music 13, a collection notable for putting Duran Duran and Transvision in direct debate on consecutive tracks and then concluding the dialectic with The Human League's "Love Is All That Matters," a sequencing that I assume somebody had quite a bit of fun with.

In real news, Lyndon LaRouche, perpetual US Presidential candidate/huckster and source of some delightful early Wikipedia drama (Seriously, his followers actually stalked me to a Wikipedia meet-up once. It was fantastic.), was convicted of mail fraud. Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Scotland. And two days prior to the story in question's airing thirty-five people were killed in a three-train collision in Clapham.

While on television was The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. It's not the last Doctor Who story I'd never seen - that was Warrior's Gate. But past Warrior's Gate were scattered stories I'd only seen once, nearly twenty years ago, or ones that I had seen in the sense of "they were on a television while I was in the room, but I got distracted after five minutes and stopped paying attention." The latter describes The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, a story I've liked the idea of for years, but somehow never got around to paying attention to. And so it is functionally the last new piece of classic Doctor Who to me - the last unchecked box of my favorite era of the series.

Of course, twenty-nine isn't the worst age for childhood to end at. There's a case to be made that I'm past due. And another still that one never ends it - that one's life is circumscribed forever by the ghosts and echoes of childhood, the ever-expanding vista of the adult world mapped endlessly in fractal geometries within the private nations of our childhood homes. The latter case is, in the end, the one I'm more interested in.

As narratives pre-ordained to reach their appointed conclusion go, my childhood is apparently solid. There are few better places to end it than The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, itself a story about the slow and declining aftermath of youthful idealism. Stephen Wyatt, who shares the crown of "Cartmel-era writers with an axe to grind" with Ben Aaronovich, is taking dead aim at 60s idealism here: a bunch of "weirdos" (as the local businesswoman insists) with names like Flowerchild and Peacepipe have sold out, gotten themselves some evil corporate sponsors, and are recreationally killing people.

This message is overlaid on a strange dreamscape of images. The quarry planet is perfectly, gorgeously wrong for the circus setting, a fact that Wyatt's script is happy to play on, reveling in the image of a lone creepy circus out in the wasteland. The circumstances that forced production out of the studio and into a literal tent were pure fortune, and the internal geographies of the Psychic Circus are like no set of corridors to run through that we've ever seen before. Fabric billows and encircles the world, with characters cutting through walls and stepping through them, a glorious landscape of total and complete constructedness.

Lurking throughout these folds is an unsettling piece of parallelism. The Psychic Circus is explicitly paralleled to Doctor Who itself, most famously through Whizz Kid. This is a puzzling character - most commentators focus on the way in which he is a parody of the stereotypical Doctor Who fan, which he certainly is. But look at his story arc. He doesn't get his comeuppance for how annoying he is - he's starkly betrayed and manipulated by Captain Cook and sent to a tragic and inevitable death. He's a figure of pity, a man whose childhood loves have been turned against him. If we take seriously his role to be that of a Doctor Who fan, and by extension the Psychic Circus's role as the series then it is fairly clear where the tip of this particular stiletto is wedged.

Let us consider the choice of Captain Cook as the name for our blithering establishment figure. A washed-up sham of an adventurer he is, on the one hand, a straightforward dark mirror of the Doctor. On the other, he is both visually styled and named so as to directly invoke Britain's colonial past. This is another sharp barb, particularly given that colonialism and the leftist politics of the Cartmel era go together… poorly. For the fourth time this season the show is calling into question some of its own ideological and historical foundations, suggesting that the basic image of the Doctor - the wise British man sashaying his way through the cosmos and fixing people's problems for them - might be a little bit broken.

But Captain Cook carries a third resonance as well. In Australian Aboriginal mythology Captain Cook has a symbolic resonance in excess of the historical impact of James Cook himself, serving as a transformational figure that destroyed the old order of things and inaugurated a new, fallen order characterized by Western imperialism. Structurally speaking, Australian Aboriginal mythology is an interesting topic. A central idea of the mythology is what is called the Dreamtime, a mythical time in which all things, from all time, exist in their primal form. The other thing to note about Aboriginal mythology is that it is intensely geographically focused - the spirits of the Dreamtime manifest as the physical land.

So the dark mirror of the Doctor (and of Doctor Who) is a figure who led to a schismatic break between an all-encompassing time in which history and geography were a unified entity into the present fallen world, and this division takes place in the last unexplored nook of the era of Doctor Who I most thoroughly embraced as a child. There is a fitting narrative logic here that exceeds sense: a story written in 1988 can hardly have consciously shaped the interplay between 2012 and 1993 for my life. And yet the links are in their own way perfect, if fictional.

This is oddly fitting state of affairs for The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, a story that, more than really any other before it, works unabashedly according to a logic of fantasy and magic. Mags is the most obvious case: she's unabashedly a werewolf. Her planet - Vulpana - is clearly named after the fact that its inhabitants are werewolves. There's no explanation for how she works, nor even the vaguest pretext that she is anything other than a straightforward werewolf who works like werewolves of mythology. There's no von Dannikenesque explanation of how our myths of werewolves came from space. They're just… space werewolves.

The culmination of this line of thought comes at the end of the story, when the Doctor confronts the Gods of Ragnarok. This was, in many ways, the reason I never got through the story. The idea of the Gods of Ragnarok - what a name, even - was so cool seeming that I mostly got irritated with three whole episodes of messing around with an irritating rapping ringmaster before we got to them. What was striking actually going into the story, then, was just how disconnected the Gods of Ragnarok section is from the rest. I mean, yes, their human avatars are present throughout the story, but the coda in which the Doctor confronts them really does feel like a departure from the rest of the story.

What's interesting about this sequence is twofold. First, everybody seems to be acting out a pre-ordained script. The Doctor is seemingly aware of the exact moment the eye medallion is going to teleport across to him, despite the fact that there is no early reason why he should be able to know that. The Gods of Ragnarok keep firing upon the Doctor even when this is clearly not working out for them. Everyone seems, in other words, to be filling roles in a structure that is already wholly determined.

This links with the second aspect, which is that for the second story in a row a story ends with the Doctor having seemingly been planning this all along when it flagrantly begins without that. At the start of the story the Doctor is in this on a lark having been lured in by junk mail. By the end it's been his show all along and he's been fighting the Gods of Ragnarok all through time. This time it makes even less sense than it did in Silver Nemesis, which is a relatively impressive bar to miss. And that's before you get to questions like "why does he happen to have a bit of metal from that gladiator's sword handy?"

But in the overall structure of Greatest Show in the Galaxy, a story in which the world works purely according to the logic of magic and symbols, this is just about justifiable. The Gods of Ragnarok exist within some sort of separate "time space," in which they maintain a different form. Is it such a surprise that the Doctor would also take a different formal role in this space? That when the Doctor is transported to their time space he would slot into a slightly different formal role, playing out a more iconic and fundamental version of himself. That, in other words, he has entered a sort Dreamtime where he and the nameless gladiator are not separate entities but different echoes of some larger logic.

The Doctor, then, moves from the fallen world where Flowerchild and Peacepipe were eventually killed by a once-great clown who sold out his ideals to a transcendent one. Or, to put it another way, from the world where Captain Cook exists to the Dreamtime itself. This is almost crassly simplistic, of course - a common enough issue in the Cartmel era. For all of its fondness for moral complexity, at the end of the day the Cartmel era favors  a straightforward conception of good and evil. The failures of modernism? Work together. The vast complexities of systemic racism? Don't be racist. Oppressive governments? Refuse their propaganda. And now the solution to the crushing failures of 60s utopianism is little more than dreaming anew and trying not to screw it up this time.

But why not? What more, really, is required? For one thing, surely one of the advantages of the strange hybrid of children's television and counterculture rabble rousing that Doctor Who has settled into is that it's a format that allows for moral simplicity. And for all the complexity and nuance that the adult world reveals to us, there is much to be said for a level of moral simplicity. At the end of the day the question of how to deal with the selling out of utopian visions for sociopathic profit is, in fact, straightforward: don't do that.

But equally, this moral simplicity is not nostalgia for some lost golden age. There is never any sense that the Psychic Circus could go backwards. The Dreamtime is a past moment, yes, but it's just as much the future. That's what eternity means. The Dreamtime isn't the rolling back of the interminable detail-filling of our childhoods that marks adult life. It's not a return to ignorance. Rather, it's the realization that filling in the details need not change the basics of the picture. It's the realization that you can, in fact, keep wandering forever without giving up any ground in terms of wisdom and sophistication.

So the last unseen Doctor Who story fills a symbolic space more perfectly carved for it than it ever could have had in childhood. Of course it does. This imaginary landscape was always shaped to this higher order. Things don't always need to make more than symbolic sense. Childhoods, in fact, ought never do so.

Comments

JRSM 4 years, 9 months ago

Another fine essay, and you don't even mention how effective and creepy the chief clown is. That little repeated gesture of his hand got into my nightmares when I first saw this episode as a 12-year-old in 1988.

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Jack Graham 4 years, 9 months ago

"for all the complexity and nuance that the adult world reveals to us, there is much to be said for a level of moral simplicity. At the end of the day the question of how to deal with the selling out of utopian visions for sociopathic profit is, in fact, straightforward: don't do that."

I shall be smiling about this all day. Lovely essay.

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Adeodatus 4 years, 9 months ago

When I first saw this story (when it was first broadcast) the 'Gods of Ragnarok' sequence was *so* disconnected from the rest of the narrative that I honestly thought the BBC had forgotten to broadcast an episode. If Chekhov's Gun can be taken to be a sound narrative device, then this lot didn't even get a heads-up by means of a Chekhov's Water Pistol. Unless, of course, you count the creepy family - but for me the logic of their narrative points in all sorts of possible directions before it points to an alt-reality of 'Gods' in an arena, whom the Doctor casually announces he's been fighting all through time - *What*?? Did I miss those stories, then?

No, I'm afraid this sequence of the story was a deal-breaker for me, and why for me this resembled the dreadful Silver Nemesis more than the rest of the pretty good Cartmel era.

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C. 4 years, 9 months ago

It obviously wasn't intentional, but the Circus' rows of empty seats and the show playing to an audience of six people seemed to sadly reflect Who's viewership at the time.

"Greatest Show" is one of the best McCoy's for me, though agree the Gods of Ragnarok stuff seems jarringly inserted. Also thought it would've made more sense if the Circus actors had been in their 40s or 50s---that would have better portrayed the sell-out aging Boomer scenario apparently intended.

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daibhid-c 4 years, 9 months ago

When I saw it at the age of 13, I think I decided the Doctor had been fighting the Gods of Ragnarok *metaphorically*; they were an underlying figure of ultimate evil, like the man with the bird on his head, and therefore whenever the Doctor fought the Daleks, or the Master, or the Great Architect, he was battling the forces of Ragnarok.

This is the sort of completely unsupported fan theory you come up with when you're 13, and determined that Doctor Who should make sense.

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Matt Sharp 4 years, 9 months ago

Now That's What I Call Music 13, a collection notable for putting Duran Duran and Transvision in direct debate on consecutive tracks

That's Transvision Vamp - another part of the British zeitgeist of the eighties that doesn't appear to have made any impact in the States. They were a sort of alternative pop act (well, alternative to the likes of Kylie and Jason, anyway) consisting of some geeky types with a pouty, breathy voiced blonde in denim shorts as a spokesperson.

The charts don't really represent quite how ubiquitous they were - really, they were everywhere. Probably for pouty, breathy voiced blonde in denim shorts reasons, but there you go.

They're kind of interconnected, too - they did a song called 'Hangin' out with Halo Jones' on their first album.

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Henry R. Kujawa 4 years, 9 months ago

Philip Sandifer:
"I'm happy. Hope you're happy too."

HAH! In 1992, the movie "BAD CHANNELS" (think "WKRP invaded by space aliens") featured 2 songs by a really weird group called "Sykotik Sinfoney", who all wore outrageous masks when they performed. One of the songs, which they had a video of in the film, was "Manic Depresso". The chorus reads as follows...

"I'm so happy, they're so happy, we're so happy
Are you happy too?
I'm so happy, they're happy,
Wouldn't you like to be happy too?"

Meanwhile (heh) in 1998, Kiss did an album and a song titled "Psycho-Circus", with a video that strongly reminded me of some of the ones done by "The Banana Splits" in the late 60's, only "on acid". (Or, more acid.)



"stories I'd only seen once, nearly twenty years ago"

No kidding. And here I've seen every one of these at least a dozen times. Which I guess shows how much I like 'em (and have thought about them in depth).


"At the end of the day the question of how to deal with the selling out of utopian visions for sociopathic profit is, in fact, straightforward: don't do that."

An important lesson the entire world desperately needs to learn right now if any of us are to survive much longer.


Daibhid-c:
"I think I decided the Doctor had been fighting the Gods of Ragnarok *metaphorically*"

After many years of being frustrated that the script did not explain things properly, only recently did I come to the exact same conclusion!


C:
"It obviously wasn't intentional, but the Circus' rows of empty seats and the show playing to an audience of six people seemed to sadly reflect Who's viewership at the time."

I kinda got that. The "family" to me seemed to represent a "ratings family" who decide for many what's popular or not based on what they watch, while the whole situation reflects an endless procession of TV shows that (as a Mike Nesmith songs once put it), "start just to end". The Doctor even says as much. "You're not interested in beginnings-- only in endings!"

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Jesse 4 years, 9 months ago

This is it for me. The best serial of the original program, a story the series would not outdo until a guy named Moffat came along with a two-parter in 2005. Thanks for a smart post about it.

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SK 4 years, 9 months ago

I don't care.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 9 months ago

I'm at a loss for why you found it necessary or worthwhile to post that, SK.

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Matt Sharp 4 years, 9 months ago

Don't worry, SK, I got it!

Of course, the correct response is 'WAAAAARGH! I don't care!'

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 9 months ago

Oh, there was an germane joke there? I'm glad to hear it. Sorry for doubting, SK. :)

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Ununnilium 4 years, 9 months ago

See, at first I was going to be all "the whole 'hippies sell out' is itself a narrative that people subscribed to when they shouldn't have" and blah blah blah, and then:

"For all of its fondness for moral complexity, at the end of the day the Cartmel era favors a straightforward conception of good and evil. The failures of modernism? Work together. The vast complexities of systemic racism? Don't be racist. Oppressive governments? Refuse their propaganda. And now the solution to the crushing failures of 60s utopianism is little more than dreaming anew and trying not to screw it up this time.

But why not? What more, really, is required?"

Yes. <3

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jane 4 years, 9 months ago

Lurking throughout these folds is an unsettling piece of parallelism. The Psychic Circus is explicitly paralleled to Doctor Who itself, most famously through Whizz Kid. This is a puzzling character - most commentators focus on the way in which he is a parody of the stereotypical Doctor Who fan, which he certainly is.

The Whizz Kid isn't the only "fan" of the show who's got a part to play in this small opera -- if anything, he's let off the hook, absolved for his role in the demise of the Show. The continuity fetishism of the fan-industrial complex has been properly incorporated and slain.

Rather, as Henry suggests, it's the Gods of Ragnarok who threaten to destroy the circus, and indeed the world -- but these are not just avatars of the general public, no, they're the critics who deride playfulness and revel in horror, death, destruction. They're like Saward fans of the worst sort -- they live on cynicism and misanthropy, but unlike your typical Doctor Who fans they actually have power.

Or perhaps they are cynicism and misanthropy, the forces the Doctor has fought time and time again. The Gods are thought-forms, and the Doctor fights them by turning the mirror of the all-seeing Eye to face them, a magic spell through which they consume themselves, rather than the world.

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 9 months ago

I have an entirely different set of perspectives on this story than you both do, although I loved it from the start, and when I watched it again a couple of weeks ago. When I was 7 watching Greatest Show, the whole story seemed to fit together perfectly. It was never a problem for me that the rock gods were secretly controlling the circus for their own ends. Whether the Gods of Ragnarok were recurring characters, I didn't know, and didn't really care. I was 7, watching McCoy stories on Canadian basic cable as my first exposure to Doctor Who; maybe they had appeared before, maybe not. But the purpose of the hidden realm under the circus was clear: the Doctor went to where the boss villains lived and defeated them.

When I watched it again this July, I saw even more subtlety to the story, now that I know all the cultural references to colonialism, the hippie movement, 80s hip-hop, and obsessive sci-fi fan culture. The only thing I found underwhelming was that the Chief Clown didn't really get as big a speech before his death as I felt he deserved, given that he was probably the best humanoid villain of the piece.

Adeodatus: Seriously, though, how could you not pick up on the weird, otherworldly nature of the creepy family in the stands that the whole circus staff seems to be playing to. The family are clearly the only patrons of the circus who matter to the staff, and they're weird enough that they probably have some hidden nature linked to the pit with the giant glowing eyeball in the catacombs underneath the tent. The stone arena is a clear parallel to the surface circus: you entertain the bosses, or die. You say you didn't even see Chekov's Water Pistol? This was all Chekov's B52!

And why would it matter that the Gods of Ragnarok had never been seen before on Doctor Who, even though the Doctor mentioned fighting them before? It's not a real complaint about the story that the Doctor would have experiences that happened off screen. It smacks of reductive continuity fetishism in the style of Ian Levine. Expect the show to have some mysteries.

Aside from all this, a wonderful post, Phil. I particularly loved the comments about Dreamtime: That aspect of the story had never been clear to me before, but it seems so obvious now that you've said it. You've done good by one of my favourite McCoy stories.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 9 months ago

Yeah, I didn't find the setup of the Gods of Ragnarok problematic at all. How the Doctor defeats them is a bit wibbly, but the setup is fine. Honestly, my only problem with them in general is that their name prevented Curse of Fenric from using the word Ragnarok to talk about, you know, actual Ragnarok. And really, that's as much a problematic decision with Fenric, which was willing to make vague allusions to how other stories fit in with it, but for some reason didn't want to do a handwavy callback about how the Doctor has already defeated Fenric's underlings.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 9 months ago

Given your interpretation of this story through the lens of the Dreamtime of indigenous Australians, I'm very curious to know what you made of the Big Finish McCoy-era story entitled, well, "Dreamtime", which deals with the concept at an overt, textual level and that I must confess I've never been able to make heads or tails of, despite it starring my favourite Doctor and dealing with one of my favourite concepts.

And beautiful essay on "Greatest Show": Don't do that indeed. There's something very refreshing about that.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 9 months ago

I've not listened to it, actually. I always meant to. Maybe for the book version. It probably would fit in thematically quite well.

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Matt Sharp 4 years, 9 months ago

I hope so, anyway, otherwise I'll be forced to cock a snook and blow a raspberry general direction of SK...

I think, at least, that it proves my point that Americans have no idea who Transvision Vamp are!

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inkdestroyedmybrush 4 years, 9 months ago

as an american plugged into the pop scene, i had a transvision vamp on vinyl, partly for fun, trashy pop reasons and partly for pouty breathy blonde reasons.

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encyclops 4 years, 9 months ago

Surely the Seventh Doctor is the very image of "the wise British man sashaying his way through the cosmos and fixing people's problems for them"? If the Cartmel era saw this as such a problematic persona, why amplify in this incarnation the characteristics that fit it best? We're allowed to question his decisions mildly in "Remembrance," and "Fenric" will encourage us to believe he's emotionally ruthless, but my overall impression was that this Doctor was meant to be heroic verging on godlike, not an autocritique. It seems to me that the new series questions its leading man more deeply and maturely, but I'd love to know what it is I'm missing.

I do like your identification of Cook as another ersatz Doctor figure, though -- I didn't notice that as a teenager. I just remember being deeply uncomfortable with the dynamic between him and Mags and not able to put my finger on why.

This story made such an impression on me that I had a nightmare about it that distorted the characters so much that I later wrote a short story based on the nightmare and didn't figure out where all of it had come from until much later after that. Kind of ruined the story for me -- since even if no one else could trace the influence, I can't forget it -- but it speaks to the vividness of what's happening here. I like your treatment of it, above.

I generally curl my lip at franchises that bite the hand that feeds by making fun of their fans, but in a story like this one, how could you not have a character like Whizz Kid? It was a trip seeing Daniel Peacock (Nord) here as well, at about the time I was watching him play spoiled slimeballs on the Comic Strip Presents.

Finally: I'm totally with Adam Riggio on the Gods of Ragnarok. It never even occurred to me to think of them as something tacked-on or out of place; this show is at its best when alluding to events and places that we haven't seen. The name "Ragnarok" was the only thing that seemed a little lazy and arbitrary to me, but maybe there was something I didn't know about Norse mythology that made it a good match. Don't they remind you a bit of the family in Human Nature?

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encyclops 4 years, 9 months ago

You better tell that SK to shut up. You better tell that SK I'm gonna beat her up.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 9 months ago

Godlike perhaps, but certainly not heroic. I still maintain the core thrust of this era is a return to the roots of the show in such a way we haven't seen since the Troughton era: The Doctor here, as he was there is not at all "the wise British man sashaying his way through the cosmos and fixing people's problems for them" in my view (that describes Tom Baker the best, surely?) but an unreadable and unpredictable emanation of fiction itself whose primary role is to facilitate the writing of stories. He's not a hero; making him so would certainly run the show into problems. The heroes of these stories are the people who inhabit the worlds The Doctor visits (and Ace in a broader, more general sense) and it's his intrusion into the setting that gives them the opportunity to rise up and live their story.

What "Greatest Show' does then, as Phil pointed out and much of the Cartmel era does, is remind us that no matter how clever this conception of The Doctor is, he's still wedded in a sense to Victoriana because of how he was originally conceived. As a result, in order for Doctor Who to realise its full metafictional alchemical potential, this era argues, it must disconnect from them. Thus, the various serials about The Doctor upending the history and iconography of Doctor Who. Although that said, I also maintain Robert Holmes and Douglas Adams first got this ball rolling; it's just that the Graham Williams era wasn't always up to the task of following through with it.

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encyclops 4 years, 9 months ago

This is an interesting idea, but I think I'm too dense to see what elements of the actual televised stories support it. Maybe you can help me there.

I think that description works reasonably well for Tom Baker but much more so, to my mind, for Pertwee. It's downplayed considerably for Davison and Colin Baker, who are not unreasonably stereotyped more as "the passive one" and "the arrogant, irresponsible one." But then we have "Remembrance," where you might argue that McCoy is doing aikido more than karate but is clearly implied to be executing an intricately-laid plot of his own design rather than facilitating the actions of others; we have this story, where he's our knight in a long-running battle with a trio of demons, complete with sword and magic amulet; we have "Fenric," where he's the one playing the white pieces (while Ace is just a pawn).

I mean, clearly he's not acting alone, and you could argue that the "master manipulator" he's made out to be is not "living the story" himself, and even that being "more than just a Time Lord" actually means that "the Other" is really just a kind of universal force, a catalyst of events (I still cling to the view that he's just a very clever, old, privileged, and lucky alien, and maybe that's my blind spot) but to me it always looked as though Cartmel and company wanted us to admire this figure, to be curious about his nature, to LIKE him again in contrast to Colin Baker's Doctor, and part of that seemed to be putting him back in control and making his plans go right for a change. In this respect he seemed to me to reinforce the paternalist more than Colin or Peter had, both of whom seemed to fail far more often and more spectacularly than any Doctors before or since.

But I like your conception as an alternative, and I'd be quicker to embrace it if it weren't for the fact that, perhaps mostly for ideological reasons, I'd rather watch a show about a fallible, mortal, improvisational Gallifreyan than one about Morpheus In Time and Space. I love Doctor Who and Sandman; I'm just not quite ready to combine them into a single series. Maybe my preferences here are irrelevant, though.

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elvwood 4 years, 9 months ago

I should warn you that Dreamtime isn't a particularly well-liked story - 12th worst (out of 316) in this year's Gallifrey Base audio rankings, for example. On the other hand, it's not written by Steve Lyons. ;-)

Not heard it meself, but just got it in a job lot for my birthday, so I may do soon. Greatest Show, on the other hand, will have to wait for its DVD release...

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 9 months ago

I think you put it very well: Our different conceptions of and experience with the show are causing us to interpret it different ways. The "very clever, old, privileged and lucky alien" or "fallible, mortal, improvisational Gallifreyan" views are precisely the ones I personally *don't* hold to and in fact actively reject. I would point to the almost-horror of Troughton's emergence in "Power of the Daleks" and his shocking seeming-betrayal of Jamie in "Evil of the Daleks" that turns into a double feint. In fact, the whole middle part of the latter story seems constructed to show Jamie being cast in a candy-coated Victorian Romance version of epic poetry with The Doctor observing it from the outside, where it's all revealed to be an alchemy experiment. And of course, there's "The Mind Robber".

I agree the "wise British man sashaying his way through the cosmos and fixing people's problems for them" interpretation certainly holds for Pertwee too-It's that era of the show that really introduced the concept in my view. However, I still think it's Tom Baker who embodies it the best, because even from the start Pertwee's patrician role was being deconstructed and problematized, either from Liz's professionalism or The Brigadier's early uncomfortableness with him. And of course later on, most successfully, with Jo coming in and stealing The Doctor role away from him so deftly and embodying it so well he never notices. The Glam/Drag Action Man reading of the character ties into this as well. That tells me that people like Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts, Malcolm Hulke and Robert Holmes were always aware of the way Pertwee was threatening to derail the character and were regularly, consistently and overtly working against this.

With Tom Baker on the other hand, his overwhelming charisma and titanic ego easily subsumed the rest of the show and made it difficult for it to do anything else then watch him be wonderful and clever. He was far too domineering a presence and too many people loved him for it, including the BBC at the time who famously wouldn't let Graham Williams fire him. This becomes problematic the minute he appears on screen on "Robot" and, in my opinion anyway, the show does little to deal with it head on until Robert Holmes penned "The Ribos Operation" and really until Williams hired Lalla Ward.

As for McCoy, I think this angle of him returning Doctor Who to the Whitakerian and Holmesian ethos of the Trougton era would have been more clear had it been allowed Season 27-The Raine arc in particular shows this off very overtly. Given that, I feel this reading becomes easier to substantiate with seasons 24-6 now showing The Doctor returning to shake Doctor Who out of the creative stagnation it had collapsed into and returning to his metafictional ways by finding a new hero to mentor. Furthermore, just look at "Ghost Light", "Survival" and the opening of "Happiness Patrol": There it seems clear the show is now explicitly about Ace and her story. I will admit the serial that really shows this angle of the McCoy era off the best is, unfortunately, the Big Finish play "Robophobia", but I still think given just a little more time the show as televised would have easily gotten there.

Sadly for me, the writers of Virgin and the New Series took Doctor Who in a completely different direction that leaves my preferred reading a bit of an anachronistic dead end.

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encyclops 4 years, 9 months ago

I'm not familiar with much of the Troughton era (yet) and had to look up the "Raine era" so you have more context than I do. Man, I've never wished more fervently that more of both existed in viewable form. I need to find a good source of recons so I can educate myself.

Jon and Tom are still my favorite classic Doctors (though three of my favorite stories occur during Peter's tenure, and I'm not talking about "Androzani"), despite all the flak they get these days, and it's probably partly because they hew most closely to my conception than yours. But I can see the appeal of yours, particularly as the credibility of mine stretches more and more thin with every passing season. I half-expect Moffat to snap it completely sometime next year. One of Tom's virtues (which Chris and David shared and Matt arguably outdoes him at) was making even the worst scripts enjoyable with that charisma -- even the worst stories almost always have some bits that work just because of Tom. Under Saward you get the occasional incredible story that's probably better for having the lead actor's ego in check, but then you also get a bunch of awful stories that the lead actor can't save. So I think that charisma was usually good for us, even if it was a trial behind the scenes.

I'm biased again about Ace, whom I've never found remotely as interesting as Cartmel's writers or fans wanted her to seem (the idea of her as an intergalactic military badass is just remotely plausible to me; the idea of her as an "apprentice Time Lord" is impossible to swallow), but though I see where the focus is supposed to be on her for those stories, I just don't find it that compelling. In "Ghost Light," what changes for Ace except discovering that the haunted house she burned down really was haunted? In "Survival," she has a brush with savagery and mostly recovers, which would mean a lot more if she'd been getting progressively more violent over the course of the intervening stories rather than less. I'll have to watch "Happiness Patrol" again to see what you're referring to. I don't deny this is what they'd aimed for, though -- clearly we're meant to see Ace as experiencing some sort of journey her kind alien/god/Endless father figure is guiding her through.

I haven't read all the Virgin novels, but I thought they'd carried on the deification and of course ended up at Lungbarrow. Was that not in line with what you had in mind (after all, the Doctor ostensibly began by being woven, like a story)? As for the New Series: it's riding the line, and for all the protestations that he's "just a madman in a box," there's a lot (the ends of "The Big Bang" and "The Wedding of River Song," to name two key examples) to suggest otherwise.

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Josh Marsfelder 4 years, 9 months ago

And that problem you raised about Ace is exactly why it's such a tragedy we lost Season 27, a tragedy that is, in my opinion, far worse than even losing "Shada", because that would have been the payoff and resolution all of Ace's character development was hinting towards. "Thin Ice", I think, would have seen her transform into something greater: Not just a Time Lord, but a renegade Time Lord in the spirit of The Doctor himself. In doing so, it reiterates and invokes him and all of his associations with revolution and liminality, which brings us back to The Doctor's core metafictional nature. In other words, Ace would have a metaphor and microcosm of the show's own revival. How fitting then, that Ace was, at least in part, a streetwise representation of contemporary youth.

The character we now call Raine Creevy then, would have been a new protege for The Doctor with her own special destiny, perhaps (and probably) without quite the same metafictional symbolism, as befitting The Doctor's new/old role as the trickster mentor spirit of fiction. Although we got a simulacrum of Season 27 last year from Big Finish and we got to see a little of the fascinating McCoy!Doctor/Cat-burglar with mysterious hidden depths dynamic it was hinting towards, I don't think the audio adaptations really did that season's potential too much justice.

The thing about Virgin (and, by association the New Series due to the shared talent) I feel, and I'm sure we'll talk more about this as the blog moves inevitably towards it, is those writers really played up the manipulative chessmaster aspect of The Doctor's character and the the consequence of his distance and calculating nature on those around him. That goes against my reading because it still puts The Doctor at the centre of the narrative: Now it's just about how his poor decisions affect others instead of him cheerfully coming in to save everyone in very clever ways.

I too like the Pertwee and Tom Baker eras a lot: They were my childhood Doctors and there's a lot to love about those runs. But that magnetic charisma you so rightly praised Baker for is a double-edged sword: He's so good at it that we can be so busy being enchanted by him we don't notice when show itself is really just going through the motions and has gone badly off the rails, and the fact he's ultimately the one who's responsible (although yes, the Pertwee era didn't exactly help here either). The fact that one actor can so decisively dominate and control an entire television production and method of telling stories is more than a little unnerving to me.

What I like about the Troughton and Cartmel eras, and to a lesser extent the Williams one, is that they *aren't* about The Doctor, but rather what happens to the settings he invades, the mystery that goes along with that (and in particular *why* he chose to invade these in particular; let's not forget the show is called "Doctor Who", not "The Doctor's Adventures in Time and Space") and how his presence causes the heroes/protagonists to take action and reshape them. I think the New Series, especially under Moffat, is just starting to come to grips with this concept again, but I'm not sure I agree with the way they're doing it. They seem to be attempting, as Cartmel, Holmes and Adams did, to use the Doctor's transgressive nature to comment on and reshape Doctor Who but, for a number of reasons, it's not as clear to me here as it was in the Cartmel and Williams eras and under David Whitaker. Maybe my opinion will change with the next season, we'll see.

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Iain Coleman 4 years, 9 months ago

"The fact that one actor can so decisively dominate and control an entire television production and method of telling stories is more than a little unnerving to me."

It was the way Saturday teatime telly was in the 70s - a Variety Club bill of personality-driven shows. You had the explicit ones like the Morecambe and Wise Show or the Basil Brush Show, and also the implicit ones, like whatever gameshow happened to be the Bruce Forsyth Show this year. In that milieu, Doctor Who regenerating into the Tom Baker Show makes perfect sense.

The problem comes when the 70s end and the Tom Baker show suddenly has a looming sell-by date. That's the problem John Nathan-Turner struggled with from the day he was appointed producer, and arguably he never found a satisfactory answer - though not for want of trying. The Surreal and Sinister Adventures of Sylvester and Sophie were the best stab he had at finding a sequel to the Tom Baker Show. If only he'd managed it around 1982.

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Alan 4 years, 9 months ago

Just rewatched TGSitG last night. Good Lord what a creepy story. Possibly one of the scariest of the classic series. Bellboy's death would have been disturbing enough but when the Chief Clown, who had been aghast at Bellboy's suicide-by-clown, slipped back into character and made that gesture...[brrr].

I didn't mind the bit with the Gods of Ragnarok for the most part. I didn't care for the name because absolutely nothing about the story suggested Norse mythology. And I thought the bit with the sword was kind of weird. But ultimately I thought the whole set-up with extradimensional godlike aliens "inserting" themselves into our reality to manifest as a 1950's middle class family was so darn Lovecraftian that I didn't care. It's not really Lovecraftian if you understand what's happening.:)

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ferret 4 years, 9 months ago

My only criticism of the pre-existence of the Doctors battles of the Gods of Ragnarok is it seems to give the Gods an extra sense of danger that they haven't earned.

Not only have we seen no evidence of their deadly presence before, neither do we see any difference in the Doctors subsequent adventures for their having been vanquished.

Rather than establish them as a danger within their own episodes of this story, it seems lazy at best to forgo that in favour of doing it entirely as exposition - worse still, exposition that says the Doctor had some really cool adventures with the Gods of Ragnarok as deadly dangerous foes, but ehhh you missed them.

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 9 months ago

Like how The Brain of Morbius was ruined because we never saw what a massive threat Morbius was at the height of his powers, or why The Talons of Weng-Chiang wasn't worth watching because we never saw Magnus Greel's vast armies and secret police, only the pathetic madman who had already been defeated. We're only ever told that Morbius was dangerous by all the other characters talking lazy exposition about how deadly he was long ago. And we don't even find out Greel's history as a war criminal until the very end of the story. So neither of these villains earned the characters' fear of them, according to what I take as your point.

My point with this sarcasm is that established classics of Doctor Who feature villains who have long histories of villainy regarding the Doctor or the universe generally, that we never see before their first and only appearance. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy was more subtle about the origins of the Gods of Ragnarok, but through their family avatars and what they did to the circus, its people, and its guests, we still saw their power. Doctor Who has done these kinds of villains — the return of an ancient foe — since the Hinchcliffe years. If you're going to use this reason why the villains are rubbish — because we'd never seen any of the prior epic battles that would have set up their current appearance — you'd have to say the most celebrated villains of the Hinchcliffe era are similarly inadequate.

The only difference is that Cartmel's version of these villains is more radical to the narrative of the show. Morbius and Sutekh's most epic and terrifying villainy pre-dates the life of the Doctor and Doctor Who, so the Doctor's role is to prevent the return of these ancient figures to their full force. Cartmel inserted these epic battles into previously unknown spaces in the history of the Doctor and Doctor Who itself. Arguably, Hinchcliffe started it in Talons ("I was with the Phillippino army at the final advance on Reykjavik"). But it was the centrepiece of Cartmel's vision of the Doctor.

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Henry R. Kujawa 4 years, 9 months ago

Encyclops:
"I do like your identification of Cook as another ersatz Doctor figure, though -- I didn't notice that as a teenager. I just remember being deeply uncomfortable with the dynamic between him and Mags and not able to put my finger on why."

With so much allegory apparently going on in ths story, think of Captain Cook & Mags as "Colin Baker & Peri". The overweight blowhard who never stops talking abut himself, and his always-nervous companion.

By the way, T.P. McKenna also played a real rat in THE AVENGERS episode "Death At Bargain Prices", about a sinister department store.

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ferret 4 years, 9 months ago

You have missed my point, my issue is with the reputation of characters relying on unseen adventures, not that the adventures themselves are unseen.

Greel isn't threatening because of his backstory, he's viciously slaughtering young women to stay alive. Morbius isn't threatening because of his backstory, he's an insane monster that wants the Doctors head and seems capable of getting it.

The Gods of Ragnarok sit around passing judgment on variety performances, while the writer has the other characters talk up the Gods reputation rather than have them earn one within the story.

Worse still, their backstory actively involves the Doctor repeatedly failing to defeat them, making them the badassest ever villains in the whole history of Doctor Who! Only now, finally, does the Doctor manage to defeat them after so many years of struggle!

This huge backstory-reputation only serves to make them seem even less impressive in the actual story - they can't help but be an anticlimatic.

Show, don't tell.

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Laurence Price 4 years, 9 months ago

It's funny that Greatest Show is often overlooked. I have no recollection of seeing it on first broadcast (alright, I had other things to worry about like my milk teeth falling out and taking the stabilisers off my bicycle), and it falls between the extremes of fan adulation and execration exemplified by Remembrance and Silver Nemesis. And Whizzkid seems to have touched the same nerves as LINDA. But it's so original and so good at the same time- a rare combination. And possibly the most frightening scene in the whole show (you know the one), as the Chief Clown shows us that he has a tiny spark of humanity- which he stamps on voluntarily.

And the end with the Gods of Ragnarok works. Well, it works with a little bit of play, which is what this blog is all about. It's possible to see it as a literal shift of dimensions. Usually “dimension shift” in Doctor Who means the TARDIS on a very white and reassuringly cheap background. But I mean it in the sense of one my favourite books- Flatland, by Edwin Abbott (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatland). Here we have the story of a two-dimensional world and its tragic occupant, A Square, who meets a sphere and realises that actually there is a whole third dimension- that “upwards” is not the same as Northwards on the map. For a moment, he realises that he can leave his two-dimensional plane, flying and seeing the whole world in three dimensions as never before. He returns to his former two-dimensional life and is declared a heretic and a madman.

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Laurence Price 4 years, 9 months ago

Now if we see the interlude with the Gods of Ragnarok as a step from the x-dimensional narrative world to an x+1 -dimensional world, suddenly the illogicality makes more sense, as does the broadbrush nature of the conflict. At the Psychic Circus, we were only seeing an extrusion of the multi-dimensional gods- rather like A Square could only see one slice of the Sphere at a time or the constructors of Earth manifesting as white mice in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. By slipping up a dimension, we can see the Gods' true nature a little more fully. We can also see the fundamental themes big picture of the Doctor's playful fight against them- swaying, juggling, hopping across the boundaries of causality, occasionally resorting to deadly weapons.

But obviously the dimensional shift isn't a simple matter of adding an extra geometric dimension, like in Flatland. I'd suggest that it's more about slipping up a narrative level; that is we're moving up from a story told within an overarching frame story to the frame story itself. The frame story is simpler, less subtle; Doctor Who (yes, I do mean the programme Doctor Who) fights evil gods. And what the Doctor does is the story told by Doctor Who.

This fits with our picture of the Doctor as the Master of the Land of Fiction. Only the Master of the Land of Fiction can pull himself from one narrative level to another. All other characters are prisoners of their stories that are being told about them in the Land of Fiction. But the Doctor sometimes slips down a level and becomes fiction in his own world, as we see in the “Doc-” in Remembrance of the Daleks. Or he might see fiction, slip down a level, and dance there, as when he meets Sherlock Holmes or the EastEnders cast. And occasionally he reaches up another level beyond the arena of the Gods of Ragnarok and subsumes part of the BBC production team, as Dr Phil brilliantly pointed out in his Brain of Morbius analysis!

So I'd suggest that for a few scenes in Episode 4, we are actually seeing the story of Doctor Who, the real Greatest Show in the Galaxy, dance and play and live and fight. Of course the Doctor takes the role of Doctor Who- who else could do it? But what we are seeing is Doctor Who literally and really fighting against the great real metaphysical gods of cynicism and boredom, a fight we all love and are part of and will be part of until we die, even if we forget all about Doctor Who. Never mind Andrew Cartmel bringing down the government. Doctor Who fights the mind-forged manacles that are eternally oppressing the human race.

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Laurence Price 4 years, 9 months ago

It's funny that Greatest Show is often overlooked. I have no recollection of seeing it on first broadcast (alright, I had other things to worry about like my milk teeth falling out and taking the stabilisers off my bicycle), and it falls between the extremes of fan adulation and execration exemplified by Remembrance and Silver Nemesis. And Whizzkid seems to have touched the same nerves as LINDA. But it's so original and so good at the same time- a rare combination. And possibly the most frightening scene in the whole show (you know the one), as the Chief Clown shows us that he has a tiny spark of humanity- which he stamps on voluntarily.

And the end with the Gods of Ragnarok works. Well, it works with a little bit of play, which is what this blog is all about. It's possible to see it as a literal shift of dimensions. Usually “dimension shift” in Doctor Who means the TARDIS on a very white and reassuringly cheap background. But I mean it in the sense of one my favourite books- Flatland, by Edwin Abbott (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatland). Here we have the story of a two-dimensional world and its tragic occupant, A Square, who meets a sphere and realises that actually there is a whole third dimension- that “upwards” is not the same as Northwards on the map. For a moment, he realises that he can leave his two-dimensional plane, flying and seeing the whole world in three dimensions as never before. He returns to his former two-dimensional life and is declared a heretic and a madman.
(I think I'll have to continue in another post!)

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Laurence Price 4 years, 9 months ago

Now if we see the interlude with the Gods of Ragnarok as a step from the x-dimensional narrative world to an x+1 -dimensional world, suddenly the illogicality makes more sense, as does the broadbrush nature of the conflict. At the Psychic Circus, we were only seeing an extrusion of the multi-dimensional gods- rather like A Square could only see one slice of the Sphere at a time or the constructors of Earth manifesting as white mice in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. By slipping up a dimension, we can see the Gods' true nature a little more fully. We can also see the fundamental themes big picture of the Doctor's playful fight against them- swaying, juggling, hopping across the boundaries of causality, occasionally resorting to deadly weapons.

But obviously the dimensional shift isn't a simple matter of adding an extra geometric dimension, like in Flatland. I'd suggest that it's more about slipping up a narrative level; that is we're moving up from a story told within an overarching frame story to the frame story itself. The frame story is simpler, less subtle; Doctor Who (yes, I do mean the programme Doctor Who) fights evil gods. And what the Doctor does is the story told by Doctor Who.

This fits with our picture of the Doctor as the Master of the Land of Fiction. Only the Master of the Land of Fiction can pull himself from one narrative level to another. All other characters are prisoners of their stories that are being told about them in the Land of Fiction. But the Doctor sometimes slips down a level and becomes fiction in his own world, as we see in the “Doc-” in Remembrance of the Daleks. Or he might see fiction, slip down a level, and dance there, as when he meets Sherlock Holmes or the EastEnders cast. And occasionally he reaches up another level beyond the arena of the Gods of Ragnarok and subsumes part of the BBC production team, as Dr Phil brilliantly pointed out in his Brain of Morbius analysis!

So I'd suggest that for a few scenes in Episode 4, we are actually seeing the story of Doctor Who, the real Greatest Show in the Galaxy, dance and play and live and fight. Of course the Doctor takes the role of Doctor Who- who else could do it? But what we are seeing is Doctor Who literally and really fighting against the great real metaphysical gods of cynicism and boredom, a fight we all love and are part of and will be part of until we die, even if we forget all about Doctor Who. Never mind Andrew Cartmel bringing down the government. Doctor Who fights the mind-forged manacles that are eternally oppressing the human race.

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 9 months ago

I saw them showing a great deal: Like murdering actors from across the galaxy while corrupting the ideals of the hippie generation and movement. They're impressive because of what they've done to the Circus: a beacon of idealism and joy has become a slaughterhouse.

And just because the Doctor has fought the Gods of Ragnarok off-screen throughout various parts of his life doesn't mean that he's failed to defeat them every time. He's fought the Daleks and the Cybermen across time and space too. Nothing about them constantly coming back detracts from his previous victories. He tells the rock gods, "And each time, I have defeated you!" just like all his on-screen recurring villains.

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Aaron 4 years, 9 months ago

It's very hard to follow is the main problem with it. There's a lot of bangs and booms without description, and things just sort of happen without explanation. Maybe if I knew what the heck Dreamtime was before listening to it, that may have helped, but it's one I have not revisited.

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ferret 4 years, 9 months ago

Well, we're just going to have to disagree on this - I find them completely underwhelming, which unfortunately jars terribly with their stated reputation.

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William Whyte 4 years, 9 months ago

This has been a great comments thread. Again I think Laurence nails it best with So I'd suggest that for a few scenes in Episode 4, we are actually seeing the story of Doctor Who, the real Greatest Show in the Galaxy, dance and play and live and fight. Of course the Doctor takes the role of Doctor Who- who else could do it? But what we are seeing is Doctor Who literally and really fighting against the great real metaphysical gods of cynicism and boredom, a fight we all love and are part of and will be part of until we die.

This whole season takes a step through into the metafictive in a game-changing way. This is the third of four stories where the Doctor is fighting something he's always fought, but every time it's a different thing. Put this together with the overtly metafictive parts of Remembrance and it takes on a different cast: it's as if the whole season is stories told by the Doctor in a retirement home, uncertain about the details, but sure that he was the hero. Yes, he insists, I did always fight them, I just don't quite remember if they were the Gods of Ragnarok or the Daleks, and which particular artifact I used to defeat them. I was on the telly once you know! Of course, that was back when sunny evenings in November stretched on and on.

This makes him even more like Captain Cook than Phil's take above. If you take this season as Doctor Who, the quasi sentient metafiction, finally becoming sentient, only to realise it's too old to do anything other than tell stories about itself, the Captain is the perfect dark Doctor. His real problem is simply bad execution: his stories are boring. As you pointed out, Phil, in an earlier post, Cartmel has finally given us back a show that can do execution, so they can finally take the piss out of old clunky Doctor Who -- just as Russell T Davies gave us back a show we could love and in Midnight could give us a Doctor-image who was simply unlovable.

But there is the sense here of the show feeding off itself in an unsustainable way. The three stories this season where the Doctor fights someone he's been fighting forever are followed by two in the next. Like the Davison era stories where in the fourth episode it turns out that there's a threat to the! entire! universe!, it can't go on.

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Jesse 4 years, 9 months ago

it's as if the whole season is stories told by the Doctor in a retirement home, uncertain about the details, but sure that he was the hero

There's a great Doctor Who/Singing Detective mashup in here somewhere...

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William Whyte 4 years, 9 months ago

That struck me too, but I haven't seen the Singing Detective so I couldn't really push it. I think the connection is real, though.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 9 months ago

But what we are seeing is Doctor Who literally and really fighting against the great real metaphysical gods of cynicism and boredom

You refer, of course, to the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism ....

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Tommy 4 years, 9 months ago

"For all of its fondness for moral complexity, at the end of the day the Cartmel era favors a straightforward conception of good and evil. The failures of modernism? Work together. The vast complexities of systemic racism? Don't be racist. Oppressive governments? Refuse their propaganda. And now the solution to the crushing failures of 60s utopianism is little more than dreaming anew and trying not to screw it up this time.

But why not? What more, really, is required? For one thing, surely one of the advantages of the strange hybrid of children's television and counterculture rabble rousing that Doctor Who has settled into is that it's a format that allows for moral simplicity. And for all the complexity and nuance that the adult world reveals to us, there is much to be said for a level of moral simplicity. At the end of the day the question of how to deal with the selling out of utopian visions for sociopathic profit is, in fact, straightforward: don't do that."

Yes but in the Warriors of the Deep entry you highlighted the dangers of a story that's unable to offer anything insightful on the parable of nuclear war other than 'tut-tut-tut', and in that ended up tacitly endorsing the very thing it was condemning.

This to me is a huge problem with the 80's anti-authority attitude in the wake of the Brixton and Toxteth riots, as the perception became that distrusting the police and the state became an excuse for people and families to think themselves a law unto themselves and to think that in a world without justice it was acceptable now to be as horrible to each other and our community as we liked. As though the riots narrative was squarely about our right to be violent and destructive and being against the state and the police that were trying to stop it. Or worse still that exercising the male authority of violence had become a way of holding broken families and communities together like glue.

The disturbing thing about Doctor Who from Warriors of the Deep onwards is how Eric Saward begins to tap into that mindset. And a part of me suspects it was simply because the makers had realised from the riots that actually wilful aggression and violence and tapping into the country's 'constant state of rage' could be attractive and addictive to people and could galvanise irrational loyalty and cameraderie in and of itself. Warriors of the Deep is in a way about the riots, and about the Doctor almost letting the rioters win and destroy everything just to spite the state. Resurrection of the Daleks and Attack of the Cybermen both seem to be about demonising the police and praising criminality for its own sake.

Vengeance on Varos at least seems to brain things up by actually critiquing criminality and the detrimental influence of prison culture on both criminals and guards, as well as the influence of media breeding violence and contempt. And that's the key thing. Doctor Who has a responsibility to say more than just 'the state is bad'.

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SpaceSquid 4 years, 8 months ago

Wouldn't Vulpana imply a planet of werefoxes? This also explains the crescent moon aspect: still dark enough to skulk around in without being caught, but just casting enough light to let them nose around in my bins.

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Lewis Christian 4 years, 5 months ago

One of the best and most interesting thread of comments I've ever read with regards to the entire show. Round of applause.

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eternaly relyneat 4 years, 2 months ago

Weirded out that I've see no mention here of THE GODS OF RAGNAROK symbolizing "the powers that beeb" which they clearly do - and which makes much clearer the meaning of the Doctor's line about past conflicts with them...

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Scott 2 years, 12 months ago

"This links with the second aspect, which is that for the second story in a row a story ends with the Doctor having seemingly been planning this all along when it flagrantly begins without that. At the start of the story the Doctor is in this on a lark having been lured in by junk mail. By the end it's been his show all along and he's been fighting the Gods of Ragnarok all through time. This time it makes even less sense than it did in Silver Nemesis, which is a relatively impressive bar to miss."

A bit of a late response, but I was just watching episode one of this story today and it occurs to me that this is perhaps not entirely accurate. It seems (to me, at least) to be subtly hinted that the Doctor actually is getting ready for something, even if he's not entirely certain what it is; when we first see him he's practicing his juggling for no apparent reason (quite convenient considering how it comes in handy in his confrontation with the Gods of Ragnarok), he comments that the junk mail satellite shouldn't have been able to get onto the TARDIS (unless he arranged it that way perhaps?), he's very knowing when it manages to goad Ace into agreeing to the Circus (by playing on her insecurities no less -- almost as if it was targeted for her), and he's curiously nagging and hectoring about getting her into the Circus despite her obvious discomfort about it.

It seems to me that the Doctor was doing his "Ghost Light" thing of confronting Ace with her fears, only to discover that this particular Circus had even nastier things going on than just clowns.

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