Time Can Be Rewritten 38 (The Girl Who Never Was)

(49 comments)

It’s a fair question why this exists. The continuing adventures of the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard, long after their quasi-era had ended. Really, the entire existence of Big Finish as the last man standing from the wilderness years is strange. As we’ve pointed out before, almost all of the creative debates of the wilderness years are settled. Russell T Davies, by making Doctor Who an unequivocal part of the mainstream again, settled them. The future of Doctor Who was secured. What use can we have for the calx of the wilderness years? And this is, of course, the hardest to understand one. Nostalgia for the Davison or McCoy eras makes sense. Even nostalgia for the Colin Baker years makes sense as a sort of redemption. But nostalgia for the culturally irrelevant speck that is the McGann era? Why would we miss it? Why would we want to sustain it?

And so many of the familiar tics are present. The Cybermen on the cover make a “surprise” appearance at the end of the second episode. The first episode spends all of its effort setting up the surprise revelation of the story’s premise (also essentially emblazoned on the cover). These are small, niggling things, but nevertheless, eight years into the Big Finish era they’re still going on. There’s a stubbornness to this that borders on the sweet. Big Finish could have entirely thrown in the towel in the wake of the new series. Sure, they don’t have Eccleston or Tennant, but they could have turned overtly into new series clones. Instead here they are, cranking out 4x25 minute stories with the same pesky flaws they’ve always had. It’s almost romantic, in a way. Almost.

Elsewhere, however, the influence of the new series is more tangible. The structure of the episode is in effect a shell game, furiously moving the audience’s focus around in the hopes that they’ll lose sight of the foreknowledge that Charley is leaving this story and will thus be surprised by it in spite of themselves. This is standard practice for new series finales, but Big Finish had never really done it before. Of course, equally, by this point in Doctor Who “new series finale” and “departure of a major character” were essentially synonymous, especially when you consider that The Girl Who Never Was was, in practice, recorded in the wake of Doomsday. 

Indeed, it’s difficult not to see the two stories as causally related. Televised Doctor Who - by this point well established as legitimate and proper Doctor Who in a way that Big Finish never was nor could be - did a big companion departure in a story with Cybermen, so Big Finish followed suit, recording it almost exactly a year later. And it’s worth stresing that this is actually the first time Big Finish ever did a companion departure. They’d previously established how Evelyn parts company with the Sixth Doctor, but she didn’t actually get a departure story as such: the Doctor just shows up with Mel after Evelyn has departed and we find out why Evelyn departed. 

This is, in other words, a different sort of “season finale” than what Big Finish had done in the past. Much like the new series, where, under Davies at least, season finales were first and foremost character pieces, The Girl Who Never Was is mainly about Charley. There are no new revelations about the web of time, no extensions to the interminable battle between Rassilon and Zagreus, and no major shifts to any Doctor Who icons. The Cybermen show up, yes, but they’re just some decaying half-rate Cybermen who exist to give the story a monster and keep the balls in the air for another episode or two. They’re not a serious attempt at a big monster story.

It has to be said, however, that Big Finish just aren’t as good at this as BBC Wales is. I’m not even talking in the general case of whether this is a good thing to do in the first place - we can save the consideration of the new series’ aesthetic decisions in the general case for later. I’m just talking on a basic level of technique here. The Girl Who Never Was doesn’t quite work. Its final twist - the revelation that Byron had stowed away on the TARDIS - is too obviously telegraphed. The decision to have the Doctor forget the entire adventure and to have Charley’s letter to him from the first episode be the terms on which they depart is too reductive, rendering the entire adventure somewhat pointless. The cop-out on the nature of the older Charley is too easy and the least interesting of the possibilities. And, of course, it cheats, albeit charmingly, in that it makes no effort at all to resolve Charley’s emotional arc, instead sidelining her into the Sixth Doctor line for a while. 

None of these things work, and most of them are ones that it’s difficult to imagine how could have survived a notes-giving process by a reasonably serious executive. They’re not amateur mistakes, but they’re b-list mistakes, if you will: the sorts of things that separate the sorts of writers the BBC entrusts million pound episode budgets to and the sort they don’t. They’re the sorts of mistakes a high-end writer is expected to catch for themselves. And more to the point, they’re mistakes that a good editor should catch and make sure to get rewrites on. I don’t for a moment believe that every script to cross Russell T Davies’s desk avoided basic storytelling mistakes of these sorts. But I do think he, whether through sending writers notes or rewriting things himself, made sure the shooting scripts fixed things. Sure, bits of his storytelling fall flat from time to time, but you’d never see an emotional character departure story where the Doctor doesn’t remember it and the companion doesn’t get an emotional payoff one way or the other.

I don’t even mean this to say that the new series is consistently better than The Girl Who Never Was. I’d listen to the audio again in a heartbeat before I trudged through Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel again, given the choice. Rather it’s that The Girl Who Never Was isn’t making particularly interesting errors. When the new series fails - and it often does - it at least fails in reasonably complex and nuanced ways, as opposed to ones that are easily diagnosed. And there is a sense in which this is preferable. New mistakes are more exciting than old ones. In many ways, progress, whether material social or otherwise, is a matter of making new mistakes.

But all of this catches The Girl Who Never Was in a strange sort of nether-space that can’t quite be pinned down. On the one hand it is a tacit admission of the supremacy of the new series. For all that it’s stubbornly clinging to what might be described as the Big Finish approach, it’s also profoundly influenced by the new series in its basic goals. It has one foot in each world. Which is a little bit of a strange thing to do in 2007 when one world has fairly decisively become a massive pop culture phenomenon while the other is still firmly a marginal cult pursuit. The approach here is too blended to call it a rebuke to the new series - this is nothing like the relationship between Zagreus and the Eighth Doctor Adventures, for instance. But there’s still an odd hesitation - an insistence on the old-fashioned.

To some extent, and especially from the vantage point of 2013, this seems right and proper. Simply put, it’s nice to have someone watching over the history of Doctor Who. It’s nice to know that someone, if the Doctor were to invent a quadracycle, would ensure that a Day of the Daleks reference came up, that if the Doctor were to dress as a monk then the Meddling Monk would get namechecked, and that if there were to be monsters in the wi-fi they’d be the Vardans. It’s not that any of these things are particularly important in any sort of inherent sense. Rather it’s that in the face of the new series exploding in popularity there’s something to respecting the old series as more than that ropey old thing that the new series is based off of. 

In an odd way, in other words, the flaws of Big Finish were perfectly suited to become advantages once the new series was a thing that existed. All of the reasons why Big Finish wasn’t sufficient to carry on the cultural legacy of Doctor Who became valuable things to have once Doctor Who’s cultural legacy became secured. Suddenly treating the series as a museum piece stopped being a bad thing and started being the one thing that Doctor Who as something that was alive in the present couldn’t do. The problem, for over twenty years of Doctor Who now, has been the insistence on treating Doctor Who as an active museum. But that’s not an objection to the prospect of a museum of Doctor Who’s past: it’s just an objection to confusing that with the present.

This is, once again, something that was obscured during the wilderness years themselves. With all the asinine fan politics over the wilderness years themselves it’s easy to forget both that none of the contenders of the late 90s/early 00s were actually viable futures for Doctor Who, concerned as they were over capturing a dwindling fanbase that was attracting little new blood. In hindsight the important question of the wilderness years, once the issue of what influences and ideas germinated there is settled, isn’t the one we could see at the time - which vision of Doctor Who would become the “proper” one - but a wholly invisible one: which vision of Doctor Who would best fit as a part of the then unknown future.

And the answer, in practice, is Big Finish. The reasons for this are several. On the most basic level, they had the better medium. Novels take longer and require concentration, whereas audios, particularly in the post-iPod era, love nothing more than a nice commute to work. It’s not, obviously, that books are a dead medium - that would be phenomenally silly. But as a serialized secondary line to an existing television series audios have some clear advantages. On top of that, Big Finish had a more pleasant balance between line-wide storytelling and individual stories. Even if you hated the Divergent Universe arc there were still audios with three other Doctors going. These days Big Finish puts out almost too much to follow it all, making it even easier to select the line that appeals to you. The trilogy structure of releases works well in this regard, giving several mini-seasons a year alongside Companion Chronicles, Fourth Doctor Adventures, Eighth Doctor releases, and various other plums like Jago and Lightfoot, Benny, Gallifrey, etc. Compare to BBC Books, where if you disliked the amnesia plot you were basically out of luck, since you were otherwise going to get a more or less random selection of Past Doctor Adventures over a year. Big Finish releases a ton, but they release it in well-defined and reasonably varied lines.

But more than that, Big Finish secured the value of Doctor Who’s history. We can talk about this in terms of continuity - and we will next Friday - but the real content here is structural. And it’s something that we do have something of a rapidly closing window to talk about. As Doctor Who becomes a tremendously successful modern television production that didn’t just become very contemporary but became so utterly of-the-moment that it crafted its cultural moment it’s easy to lose the material past of the program. Throughout this blog we’ve reconstructed bits of it - the way in which the Hartnell era was based around not just the TV technology of the mid-1960s but around a specific rhythm of television that was related to the two-channel setup whereby one watched what was on, generally as a family, and for a prolonged period of time, or the way in which the Davison era was in part an attempt to rework Doctor Who according to the structural logic of Coronation Street. 

These moments are, of course, past. There’s no way to do Hartnell-style Doctor Who anymore, although as we’ll see, the new series makes stabs at updating the logic of that and other eras. But Big Finish, by virtue of continuing to do Doctor Who in the present according to a bafflingly ornate production logic - an odd (and in many ways under-precedented) medium with a peculiar target audience, at least keeps the spirit of structural flexibility and problem solving alive. Their mandate to be based in Doctor Who’s pre-2005 past and to keep that past alive not just in terms of continuity but in terms of the character of the eras and the structure of stories provides a small but vital counterweight to the dominance of the new series. Not in spite of its odd flaws but because of them - because of the way in which it is a holdover with arbitrary bits of material history preserved in amber. Its strangeness makes the material history of the program and its development visible, reminding us constantly that 2005 was not some miraculous moment of creation in which something emerged from nothing, but a particularly important step in a story that had been going on for forty-two years previously. 

And even after we’ve subtracted all of the innovations from the wilderness years that directly influenced the new series, the years still have value for being, in many ways, the most sustained and incongruous exploration of the basic question that animates every era of Doctor Who: how do we make this format work for today? The fact that the wilderness years, for all their moments of brilliance, never quite solved it in the general case (though they came close at times), in an odd way, sets the tone of their legacy. And so they continue today.

Comments

goatie 4 years ago

When Big Finish made their own Eighth Doctor Adventures line, those were made as single-episode adventures of around 50 minutes (with the occasional 2-parter) specifically to align with the format of the new television series.

Since they did it through 4 seasons, I can't say it was a failed experiment. They must have reasoned that each Doctor was locked into a format, and sometime between McCoy and Eccleston the format changed, so that change happens with McGann.

The new Fourth Doctor Adventures, however, consist of two 30-minute episodes, so that's a kind of hybrid of the two formats.

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Daibhid C 4 years ago

"but you’d never see an emotional character departure story where the Doctor doesn’t remember it and the companion doesn’t get an emotional payoff one way or the other."

I'm not sure I agree that "restored to factory settings" was an acceptable emotional payoff to Donna's journey.

And I'm not sure why making the monster in the WiFi the Vardans would be curating the series's past, but making it the [SPOILER!] isn't.

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Phil 4 years ago

Did that format last the full 4 seasons of the Big Finish EDAs? I know they started out that way, but I was fairly sure they switched back again at some point. Or possibly adopted the two parts of 30 minutes format.

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Ross 4 years ago

Instead here they are, cranking out 4x25 minute stories with the same pesky flaws they’ve always had. It’s almost romantic, in a way. Almost.

This was always a big problem I had with Big Finish. Even at their best, there seemed to be a lot in their style which was there for no better reason than "Because that's how the classic series did it," aping a bunch of things that were originally done for often pragmatic reasons that no longer apply as if a 4x25 episode structure with forced cliffhangers was some kind of platonic ideal of how Doctor Who ought to be (I'm reminded of one of the rec.arts.drwho threads leading up to the new series that insisted that "No one has ever done good successful science fiction with single 45-minute episodes; the 25-minute weekly serial is the only structure that lends itself to a successful science fiction family adventure show!", which is wrong in possibly every way it is possible for a sentence to be wrong).

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Steven Clubb 4 years ago

For better or worse, Big Finish is pitched to the Nostalgia Circuit. I remember getting a chuckle out of the editor's mission statement in the first New Adventure novel, because they really seemed to think these novels would appeal outside of the niche of Doctor Who fans. And I'm sure there's the random soul out there which came into Doctor Who through the novels, but I don't think anyone would suggest they're anything but the exception.

Big Finish seemed to know which side the bread was buttered from the start. They know the vast majority of people who pick up their stuff are fairly hardcore fans and they make the product nicely friendly to them.

I came in through the new series so I don't have any childhood memories four part serials, but even I can't help but feel the tempo of the new hour-long Fourth Doctor Adventures just seems off. When they started the Lost Stories line, even reverting to Colin Baker's two 45 minute episodes seemed a bit off. There's a cadence to the story telling that's no longer there. And if I feel it, then it would likely be even more glaring to most of their target audience.

Plus, I think there's something to be said for giving a listener on the go a bite-size chapter. If I have a half-hour commute to work, that's time for an episode of Doctor Who and the next episode will quickly get me back up to speed on the way back home.

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elvwood 4 years ago

They have experimented with other things, even in the 2-disk main range releases (and not counting the ones where the 25-minute 'ideal' has simply gone out of the window): there's 3x25 + 1x25, 6x24 (The Game), and the ones with four separate episodes. The fact that only the last still happens at all regularly (and only about once a year) suggests it's probably more to do with customer response or (less likely) production issues than unwillingness to change.

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Ross 4 years ago

I've been a fan as long as I can remember, but I came to it from the American side, so my nostalgia is largely tied into content, not, for want of a better term, "structure". (for example, the Doctor WHo that lives in my memories isn't serialized. It's a collection of ~2 hour movies)

I have no problem with Big Finish siding with nostalgia, but nostalgia doesn't have to mean "slavishly imitate the irrelevant details of the original, even when it's detrimental to presenting the best story you can."

Because they're not trying to recreate Doctor-Who-As-It-Was -- if our host has taught us nothing else, we should get by now that Doctor-Who-As-It-Was only makes sense in The-World-As-It-Was. Really what they are trying to create is "More of the imaginary Doctor Who our audience has in their minds that never *quite* existed." That's a Doctor Who where Colin Baker gets some decent material, where the visual effects budget wasn't paid in bottle caps, where Nyssa isn't contractually required to tear her skirt to help the ratings, and where the pacing is a deliberate decision rather than shameless padding to get a 3-episode plot to fill four episodes of screen time.

In a lot of ways, they hit the mark on this, but you've still got these places where they think it's "about" ticking off checkboxes and making sure that what they produce will tabularize neatly into those interminable lists that fanboys like to make (Not long ago, I was cleaning up the den to make it a bit safer when my son follows me in there, and I found an ancient spiral-bound notebook wherein, at the age of seven or so, I had meticulously made a little spreadsheet of information about various Doctor Who serials, and then at the bottom were some notes for some Doctor Who fanfic, arranged in the same tabular format, very careful to make sure that the fanfic wouldn't leave out anything that the table required, nor include anything that would make it difficult to fit into the table.)

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Steven Clubb 4 years ago

"I have no problem with Big Finish siding with nostalgia, but nostalgia doesn't have to mean 'slavishly imitate the irrelevant details of the original, even when it's detrimental to presenting the best story you can.'"

I think there's a "why rock the boat?" mentality in Big Finish's decision to work it this way. They do play around with it a bit, as there's some random 2x50 stories mixed in the monthly range and there's at least one which breaks it down into five episodes of shorter length.

The earliest Big Finish stories were released on cassette, so there was once a good reason for the half-hour format being used. Beyond that, it's inertia. There's no particularly compelling reason to change it. Yeah, some writers would make better use of a 2x450 structure, but some writers make better use of a 4x25 structure.

And as someone who listens to a lot of these plays on the go, I happen to like the half-hour breaks because it makes managing my listening easier. Like playing Angry Birds on our phones, this is something being done in the cracks of our lives.

Which is me saying if I was in the room when they discussed changing it to a 2x45 format, I'd not care overly much one way or the other. I'd probably suggest they leave it up to the writers whether they want to do 2x50 or 4x25... then the writers will probably deliver a 4x25 story because that's the form they're most familiar with from the show.

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Abigail Brady 4 years ago

Yeah, they switched to 2x30 for season 3 and 4 of the BFEDAs. (with the exception of Lucie Miller/To The Death which is then 2x60).

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Theonlyspiral 4 years ago

Season Two and onward is hypothetically 2 30 Minute episodes...but often only with the most facile of cliffhangers. Often times it's just the sort of thing you'd see before a commercial break. I look at it as a concession to the people who need Who in 25 minute chunks because they can't deal with it otherwise.

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David Anderson 4 years ago

Season Three was broadcast on Radio 7 as 2x30 mins IIRC; Season Four as 60 mins, for what it's worth.

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David Anderson 4 years ago

They're selling at least some of their stories to the BBC for Radio 7; that must motivate having a standard format. (One of my friends, who is a new series fan, recently came across the McGann / Lucie Miller stories that way.)
They're in the middle of the Elizabeth Klein trilogy at the moment. (The first episode is available on iplayer until late tonight.) That's not something they could do on television, really. A Thousand Tiny Wings is interesting: I think it falls on the side of critique and subversion of the Base Under Siege, as opposed to unconsciously racist endorsement of the British Empire.

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Matthew Celestis 4 years ago

A Thousand Tiny Wings is one of the best stories Big Finish have done in my opinion, even if the political theme is a bit heavy-handed in places.

It would be nice to see the adorable Klein on television though. Showing an attractive and elegant mature female character would make a refreshing change after Amy and Clara. River Song might have made up the deficiency if she had a bit of elegance and was a bit less flirty.

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Ununnilium 4 years ago

A perfect essay to come after the last one - I was afraid that one was consigning BF to the "failed experiment" hole.

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Phil 4 years ago

"I think it falls on the side of critique and subversion of the Base Under Siege, as opposed to unconsciously racist endorsement of the British Empire"

It sort of manages that up until the last episode, but ultimately I couldn't get past the fact it was a story where a racist imperialist and an actual Nazi get far more time and development than the single native Kenyan character, who is revealed to be a villain and then dies off-stage.

I wouldn't say it was bad; it was a pleasant enough distraction while I cooked. But I think it hits exactly the same problems as Lane's earlier work, where he's quick to condemn imperialism, but is way more interested in writing about the experiences of the oppressors than the oppressed.

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David Anderson 4 years ago

I think the heavy-handed political bits are less there to hammer home a political message, and more to explore how does Klein think, and how does the Doctor react? I think the story assumes that the audience will agree that Nazis are wrong.

If the single native Kenyan were revealed to be a 'good guy', that raise a whole host of other problems. You can't really call the character a villain when there are actual Nazis wandering around. I think the defence against the criticisms would be that you're supposed to notice them. And that an ironic expression of the oppressors' ideology may be more honest than a straight attempt to express the oppressed point of view when that point of view isn't yours.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years ago

I was about to say the same thing; is it possible Phil wrote this before the episode aired?

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Philip Sandifer 4 years ago

No, but wireless transmissions weren't previously a part of his repertoire, and at this point he's a callback to The Snowmen more than anything.

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Adam Riggio 4 years ago

See, that's what I like about what Moffat's done with this villain: It'd be equivalent to the Vardans if he'd brought back the Yeti. Instead, he's updating and doing something new and interesting with this particular classic villain. I think the modern version of the GI works better than it ever did in the 60s. He's more flexible, discreet, manipulative, and creepy. Especially in Bells of St John, he doesn't rely on traditional monsters, just weird robot signal towers. As well, you see the psychological effects of what the GI does in a very disturbing fashion.

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goatie 4 years ago

Ah, I stand corrected - thanks, everyone. I haven't listened to all of them yet, but I have them, and I checked the last two of the fourth season as confirmation that the format we kept throughout. Haha.

I only have a few of the second season, but they are all single episodes. So maybe that season was a mix and match, and season three started the 2x30 in earnest?

But putting my blunder aside, the heart of the comment still holds, in that Big Finish changed up the format under the 8th Doctor. Perhaps they felt they could with him, since the only precedent was a 90-minute movie.

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David Ainsworth 4 years ago

It's actually a brilliant idea. The Vardans become a reflection of the Sontaran opinion of human beings, their feebleness a mask for what they actually are. Now we just need to find out the GI is related to the Land of Fiction and call it good!

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jane 4 years ago

@Adam: The monsters are "mirror-monsters" -- they reflect the subconscious mind. Which is very much a Jungian perspective. But in Bells they're more than that: they demonstrate a kind of "fusion," especially in the shot where SpoonDoctor has Clara on the brain, yet is a manifestation of her. Kind of like the OldLady/YoungLady picture that can be seen in two different ways, a matter of perspective.

@David: The e-book "Summer Falls" by "Amelia Williams" -- featured in hardcopy in the episode -- suggests but doesn't flat out say that the GI comes from the Land of Art.

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Josiah Rowe 4 years ago

"And it’s worth stresing that this is actually the first time Big Finish ever did a companion departure." I know that C'rizz is eminently forgettable, and perhaps best forgotten, but surely Big Finish's first companion departure was C'rizz's death in "Absolution", released two months before this story?

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Galadriel 4 years ago

I finished A Thousand Tiny Wings today and am waiting for the final segment of "Survival of the Fittest" to be uploaded. Maybe it's just a matter of how I listen to them--either on BBC Radio online or via livestreams--but I find it easier to follow shorter, multi-part serials than lengthy dramas. 1 hour is fine--anything longer than that works better when divided into chunks, especially for keeping track of where you are.

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Steven Clubb 4 years ago

I was going to mention him, but then I realized I couldn't be bothered to count him as a proper companion :)

And it beat the exit of Erimem by a single month.

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jane 4 years ago

Didn't he leave with some carnival freak show or something? I'm sure that's the last I heard of him...

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Jonathan Craig 4 years ago

I think, as Phil rightly pointed out, BF know, and play to their audience. And that's ok. But what hasn't yet been discussed is its potential to fulfil a second task, which is perhaps equally important to that target audience. Which is, I believe, to do Doctor Who with a complexity which would be excessive and irrelevant in the new series. That is, to produce something like Jubilee instead of Dalek, or Sppare Parts instead of Rise of the Cybermen. In each of those cases, both stories are good enough to exist, because one provides a conceptual depth which the other doesn't. That doesn't make one better than the other, but it is that choice, to present, or at least attempt, that conceptual depth, which adult fans such as myself might consider a reward for my fandom. This relies ot on my desire for nostalgia, but on my adulthood, and my adult desire for DW to deal with more obscure ideas and tropes, which are not exclusive to Doctor Who fandom, but are maybe too exclusive for the new series. Take, for example, The Kingmaker, and the Shakespeare Code. Two very different approaches to DW, but I would argue that The Kingmaker engages in Shakespearian and real history in a way that The Shakespeare Code just shouldn't do, Some of the best things BF have done since the new series came along are not aping it but responding to it. This is where I disagree with you on "The Girl Who Never Was". I think Charley's departure is a subversion of new series tropes, rather than an error. The question then becomes, is that subversion a productive contribution to what is a small but on-going philosophical debate, or just distructive trolling of DW, in the way that Interfeerance was. But that's a question for another entry.

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Alan 4 years ago

"Suddenly treating the series as a museum piece stopped being a bad thing and started being the one thing that Doctor Who as something that was alive in the present couldn’t do."

I find this statement hilarious in light of the fact that they've brought back the Great Intelligence and, if the trailer is accurate, are about to bring back the Ice Warriors, to say nothing of the wacky recurring "Odd Couple" remake featuring a sexy Silurian and a dim-witted Sontaran. Moffatt and Gattiss (among others in the current production crew) seem to be big fans of museum piece Doctor Who.

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Alan 4 years ago

"No one has ever done good successful science fiction with single 45-minute episodes; the 25-minute weekly serial is the only structure that lends itself to a successful science fiction family adventure show!"

That comment left me utterly speechless. I can only assume that whoever said that has never seen a science fiction show that he considers "successful" other than DW. And possibly "Quark." I literally cannot think of another science fiction show (not counting Twilight Zone, which was an anthology) that wasn't done in single 45-minute episodes. Star Trek (every iteration), Six Million Dollar Man, Buck Rogers, BSG (both versions), B5, Firefly, Buffy, etc to infinity.

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elvwood 4 years ago

I'm not particularly keen on The Girl Who Never Was, but I agree that Charley's departure is a subversion. Philip mentions cop-outs here, and one of the complaints about RTD's finales is that they were almost all cop-outs in one sense or other, cheating just as much as TGWNW does, and in ways that feel similar. It also tackles an aspect of the new series that hadn't happened at time of production - the companion who won't stay gone.

Because the twist isn't that this is a Cyberman story (as Philip says, that's emblazoned on the cover in true museum fashion). It's that this isn't a departure story.

One of the things BF can do that the TV series can't is to tell stories out of order from the Doctor's perspective (well, at least not across different incarnations, The X Doctors notwithstanding). And the Charley/Sixie run is designed to be heard after Charley with eighth. It's another reason they are not just museum pieces, along with the things Jonathan mentions - and there are others. Slow, character-driven pure historicals(e.g., Son of the Dragon) which take a different approach to a long-dead subgenre. Or wacky stories that rely on too much knowledge of the past (Brotherhood of the Daleks). Both have that whiff of dusty display cases, but present them in a new way.

I'm likely to be away from the Internet until the 15th - have fun, all!

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years ago

They are, indeed, bringing back the Ice Warriors.

They are also bringing back

[SPOILERS]

[SPOILERS]

[SPOILERS]


the Zygons.

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Lee Mansfield 4 years ago

'I think the story assumes that the audience will agree that Nazis are wrong.'

Wen I was writing 'Klein's Story' I certainly assumed that the audience would in general agree that the Nazi's were wrong.

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Scott 4 years ago

On the flip-side of the 'oh, the irony' coin, though, it should be remembered that, well, this is the fiftieth anniversary year we're dealing with here. I don't think the fact that the show is looking back over it's history in the year that it turns fifty a bit more than usual should necessarily be taken as an explicit rejection of Phil's overall point, as it's kind of an exceptional case.

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jane 4 years ago

@Alan: Bringing back a "classic" monster does not, in of itself, automatically put the show in the position of museum curator. Vastra and Strax are perfect examples: they are not beholden to the classic conceptions of these monsters; they don't exist to feed our nostalgia. If anything, they are rebukes.

But it goes well beyond monsters, and even beyond running length. What kinds of stories are they telling? I think the difference between Charley and Lucie is quite telling. Lucie's stories are truly character-driven, in ways that Charley's are not (though at times they strive to be) and that's what the Revival brought to the table.

What's neat and unique about BF is that it's a long-running stable entity in its own right. To get to that position they have to be adaptable, they have to change with the times, and it's practically alchemical that they can do this while curating the past at the same time.

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Ross 4 years ago

@Alan: I think a big part of their argument was based on the assumption that they could just wave their hand and dismiss every single american science fiction show as worthless rubbish.

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Dad Jeans 4 years ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Dad Jeans 4 years ago

I'm sorry that my first comment on this blog has to be a bit negative - but I'm surprised that nobody has responded to the assertion that audios are de facto a better medium than novels:

"On the most basic level, they had the better medium."

This seems a little contentious to me. I know a lot of people like audiobooks, but print books are still pretty popular, and I'm pretty sure the various Doctor Who book lines sold a lot more than the Big Finish audios. My enthusiasm for Doctor Who in the 90s was revived by the discovery that some of the Virgin books were proper novels. If they had just been typical spin-off merchandise (which is how I perceive Big Finish productions in general) I would never have taken an interest.

Whereas I've never been able to listen to an entire episode of a Doctor Who audio. My attention almost immediately starts to wander, and the artificiality of audio-only productions (not to mention the general shittiness of the writers in the majority of cases) makes it impossible for me to get involved in the story. The idea of getting to hear a new Colin Baker or Tom Baker story seems appealing in the abstract, but I find I just can't concentrate. I've never had this problem with the books, even the many terrible ones, and I would rather read just about any Doctor Who novel, however mediocre, than sit through a Big Finish audio (ideally, of course, one would do neither). This goes for a Gary Russell audio or a Faction Paradox audio - quality is not really the issue.

Now that's just me, and maybe I'm weird. But I assumed that some other commenter would have the same reaction as me and make more or less the point I wanted to make (which is why I almost never bother to post anything anywhere), and that hasn't happened this time. So I'm curious to know what others make of it. Obviously mine is an extremely book-oriented bias, and I haven't made much of an argument other than "well, my experience is different" - but uncharacteristically, Phil hasn't really dug into it very deeply either. It seems to me there's a lot more to the subject.

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Ununnilium 4 years ago

[...]to say nothing of the wacky recurring "Odd Couple" remake featuring a sexy Silurian and a dim-witted Sontaran.

The words "Silurian" and "Sontaran" are the only things that link this to the museum piece approach.

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Ununnilium 4 years ago

While I prefer novels to audios as a medium, I can understand why Doctor Who works better in audios. I didn't really understand what an actor-based series was until I started seriously engaging with Who.

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Daibhid C 4 years ago

No, but wireless transmissions weren't previously a part of his repertoire, and at this point he's a callback to The Snowmen more than anything.

Fair point. (Actually, if I was doing a museum curator approach to "Mysterious intelligence connected to the information network, based in the New And Exciting London Skyscraper, I'd probably make it WOTAN.)

But then, having him in The Snowmen, with references not just to the Yeti as "Snowmen", but an interest in the Underground...

(Someone who's seen or read Downtime will have to decide if "Great Intelligence controlling people over the internet" might be a callback to that. Going by the online synopses, it does seem similar.)

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Ross 4 years ago

The Intelligence in these past two stories seems less like the return of an enemy from the 60s, and more like "Attempt at bringing back an enemy from the 60s, as interpreted by a person whose only knowledge of the original character is some snippets of conversation he overheard in a noisy bar." As if the character brief was "Something something snowmen, something something web something UNIT, meow meow Great Intelligence robble robble "Minimize". Pika."

Come to think of it, it'd be pretty cool if it turned out to not be the return of the original Intelligence, but a manifestation of some force or other that is dredging stuff up from little fragments of knowledge about the Doctor's adventures. Might explain why we're getting something as seemingly random as the Zygons for the Big Anniversary Event. (And now that I've thought of that, it would be AMAZING if they brought the Quarks back for just that reason.)

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jane 4 years ago

The other thing the audios have that novels just don't is a collaborative process. The writers get together, they chart a course for a "season" and along with the performers (and the emotional resonance they provide, which is very difficult for good writers to achieve, let alone novelists getting their first breaks) you get a consistency throughout the line that just didn't happen with the book lines.

Now, maybe if the Editor on the EDAs was able to corral that bunch of cats, a more cohesive vision for the series could have emerged. Maybe. I dunno, what with the great differences in prose style, and the huge chasms in philosophy towards Doctor Who. BF, by virtue of having a stable production team that could call the shots how they wanted, was able to sidestep such problems.

Now, of course, if you prefer novels to audios, or audios to videos, what have you, well, that's individual preference. But for a larger audience with all kinds of options to choose from, I can see why the Big Finish model continues to flourish.

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jane 4 years ago

Zygons provide great opportunities for mirroring.

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Steven Clubb 4 years ago

The audios have a few advantages, such as an actor saving a dodgy scene either through performance or getting a quick re-write. Same with sound design. There's plenty of okayish stories in the Big Finish canon which are made quite entertaining through the production process.

It's also much closer in structure to the TV show, so it keys into the comfort food portion of the brain on a fairly primal level.

A novel has a harder time getting away with being okayish. If it's not on the page, nothing else can save it. Paul McGann isn't going to elevate your mess of a novel into something marginally entertaining.

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Mark Patterson 4 years ago

@Matthew - "It would be nice to see the adorable Klein on television though. Showing an attractive and elegant mature female character would make a refreshing change after Amy and Clara."
Am I missing some vital piece of context that would make sense of this comment? Klein is a very interesting character, and I'd absolutely enjoy it were the TV series to attempt something similar, although I understand and largely agree with the reasons it probably shouldn't. But "adorable"? What makes Klein interesting is that she's monstrous. Superficially charming in the way that monsters sometimes can be, and a fascinating, well-developed character, but not, to put it mildly, an exemplar of mature femininity at its finest....

There are many reasons one might be interested in exploring the concept of the Doctor being forced by circumstance to travel with an avowed Nazi. Said Nazi's adorability doesn't rank high among them, to my mind.

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Aaron 4 years ago

I liked C'rizz. Why does everyone always have to be so down on him? If nothing else, Conrad Westermaas did a great job acting him, even if he was often not given great material to work with. I'm just saying, there is no reason to make C'rizz Big Finish's Adric.

That title obviously goes to Brewster.

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Ross 4 years ago

Incidentally, over in rec.arts.drwho, at least two different people have claimed that the weaknesses of this past week's story stem primarily from "the inherent weakness of the 45-minute stand-alone

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Daru 4 years ago

Good essay - thanks Philip. Just spotted your 'Kickstarter' page and will be supporting you as much as I can - great venture and good to be travelling with you.

Yes - appreciate the point where you help us see the current place and position that BF holds. Currently I am really enjoying with internal glee the mining of the 'Space Museum' of the shows past, the place where Doctor's 9 and 11 visit and 'keep count' of their conquests. Not in obvious, but is subtle and also subversive ways. David Warner's slightly bumbling Hartnell-like performance and his being called 'Professor' too! And I adore the Great Inlelligence now being played by a previous online Doctor - appropriate for an entity who via compute networks and 'Servers' tried to capture our minds, but did not quite succeed...

Oh and there is so much more sprinkled through the recent - quite a lovely game finding them all. Alchemy indeed.

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Daru 4 years ago

Oh - Meant to add one more thought based on:

Jane: "@David: The e-book "Summer Falls" by "Amelia Williams" -- featured in hardcopy in the episode -- suggests but doesn't flat out say that the GI comes from the Land of Art."


David Ainsworth: "Now we just need to find out the GI is related to the Land of Fiction and call it good!"

Been thinking about this for quite a while - I think since around Series 5 with the whole cracks in time and the 'Time Can Be Rewritten' tagline, plots woven around storytelling, the creating of stories (memory, etc) and the idea of Fiction affecting reality (River's diary even appearing with Tennant), we have had in a way the Land of Fiction affecting many of our current Doctor Who tales.

As above I suggest that the show's history is being rewritten by the current series (see 'Warriors of the Deep' redone in a way in 'Cold War - set in 1983) - well, Moffat has been treading this ground for some time sine he rewrote much of RTD's excesses and even cheekily chucked the Cyber King into a crack in time.

So I think in some way all of the tales for some time have been alchemically reworking Doctor Who and using the Land of Fiction as a conceptual landscape. Not in the sense of the actual setting from the 'Mind Robber' but as an Otherworld such as the Celtic Land of Faerie, which has its own laws of operating and offers a route-map to Initiation - this perhaps being the 'fall' at the 50th Anniversary?



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