Crash log of the Singularity

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Carey
    March 30, 2012 @ 12:45 am

    Season Twenty was, for me, so lacklustre that I seriously questioned being a Doctor Who fan, and started to miss episodes. Of course, I was thirteen at the time, and discovering other things such as the opposite gender, literature, arthouse cinema and classic tv repeats on Channel 4. The last of which, in a way, is something that should be be covered in an essay: around 1982 the fourth channel launched on British tv, and because (as with most new tv channels) lacking the funds to have all new productions, yet still had to fill all the broadcasting hours allotted to them, they chose to repeat the best of genre tv available from the ITV archives from the last twenty years or so. And so, contemporaneously to the broadcast of much of the Davison era genre fans could watch repeats of the Diana Rigg era Avengers or, more importantly, The Prisoner.

    And John Nathan Turner's maxim that the memory cheats was proved wrong, and these tv programmes were not just as good, but better than the Doctor Who then being made. And, more importantly, they were fun.

    Which was the main problem with season 20, in my opinion, both as an adult thirty years after the fact, and at the time. All the life and energy had been sucked out of the show and it was, quite frankly, boring. Something I've always believed to be the worst accusation you could hurl at Doctor Who. Criticise it all you like for failing to reach its ambitions, but at least in the past much of Doctor Who had disguised that with energy and fun (or Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker, both of who exemplified that description). And when it didn't we had to sit through the Monster of Peladon or Underworld, but these were exceptions to the rule. Season 20, with the exceptions of Snakedance and Enlightenment, was a season constructed entirely out of Monster of Peladons and Underworlds. And was thus, in the main, unwatchable.

    As a postscript, my adolescent ennui with Doctor Who lasted until November, when the sheer fun of the Five Doctors reawakened my love for the show. Unfortunately, the production team took all the wrong lessons out of that story (didn't they always by this point?), but I'm sure that will be addressed next week.


  2. Spacewarp
    March 30, 2012 @ 2:17 am

    I think you encapsulate The Problem With The Master very well, and very succinctly. Russell T Davies has said much the same thing, during his early "I'm not bringing back the Master 'cos he's pantomime and crap" interviews, and his eventual U-turn (which wasn't actually a U-turn, more an admission that he was lying until he felt he could do the Master justice) didn't invalidate his position.

    Part of The Problem With The Master is that although all you've said about him during the Ainley period is true, most of that never mattered to a large proportion of Doctor Who's juvenile viewers, for whom the Master was a perfectly serviceable villain, twirling his moustache and being generally evil within perfectly serviceable stories. The kids didn't care that his plots were rubbish. He was The Master, and he was a Baddie, and as far as characters go, he wears his motivation pretty much on his sleeve.

    This is why it is so difficult to get fandom to accept that what you've said about the Master here is pretty much spot on, because fans of a certain age will continually defend him, because at the age they were when they watched him, he was scary! And since Ainley's Master spans damn near a decade, from Logopolis to Survival, that's a lot of fans who can't see through the nostalgia barrier.

    Like me. I'll defend anything from the Pertwee years, not because I believe it was all perfect, but because my inner child makes it very difficult to do otherwise. But of course I'm right to defend the Pertwee Era's Master, because he was never at his best after Delgado. Everyone knows that.


  3. Matthew Blanchette
    March 30, 2012 @ 6:04 am

    Oh, come on; EVERYONE knows that the best Master was the original: The War Chief! 😛

    Davies admitted, yes, that the Master was "pantomime and crap"… but what does he do as SOON as he brings him back? Turns him from an awesomely creepy, evil villain into… Daffy fuckin' Duck. Ugh.

    Something tells me he learned the wrong lessons, too… :-/


  4. Spacewarp
    March 30, 2012 @ 6:15 am

    Yeh, but my point being that the Master was never an awesomely creepy evil villain…unless you were 9.


  5. John Callaghan
    March 30, 2012 @ 6:25 am

    I like the idea of the Doctor being a defector from the Land of Fiction, and stories like King's Demons and Black Orchid are fun for me because the TARDIS crew are genre tourists. It's not real history that's being visited so much as Doctor Who Does Mediaeval.

    It's a bonus if the stories are good too, I'll admit!

    As for Kamelion, I was surprised that the non-functioning prop should prove a problem. After all, it was a shape-shifter! And the story possibilities (and especially cameos in Five Doctors!) were plentiful.


  6. Matthew Blanchette
    March 30, 2012 @ 7:19 am

    Jacobi's Master certainly was, in the brief glimpses we saw of him (in spite of some of the bizarre dialogue he had to deal with); Simm, on the other hand…


  7. Anton B
    March 30, 2012 @ 8:48 am

    Yes indeed. You've nailed the Problem of the Master most succinctly but I think it's even simpler. The Master within The show is a redundant character from the start. The Doctor doesn't need an arch villian because he isn't Flash Gordon or Roadrunner. Delgado just about worked because he was a charismatic actor. Ainley not so much. The reason that every time the Master turns up we groan is not because we hate the character but because of what it forces the Doctor to become. Rather than the Master being the Doctor's dark and charmingly perverted parody the Doctor is called on to act out the bright but awkward geeky inversion of a villian. Which is pretty much what Davison does all the time hence the Master's redundancy in this season. Oh and no mention of Kamelion? There's gotta be some mileage in discussing a lute playing shape shifting robot that is invited aboard the Tardis and never seen again. My guess is he's still in there somewhere, in a trunk. Only a matter of time before Moffat ressurects him.


  8. Alex Wilcock
    March 30, 2012 @ 9:49 am

    I wish I could disagree with you and Carey about the drabness of the year, but I felt the same way at the time – it all feels so… Beige.

    And, for me, this is the silliest plan the Master ever comes up with – despite a lot of competition – if not yet the most absurd poor Ainley will become (though in my view he has two terrific performances still to give).

    If you want to appreciate The King’s Demons, as I’ve argued in my own Kamelion Tales review, the DVD gives us a way. The script is feeble; the performances variable; but both the real castle and the sets look impressive, and I’ve always liked Jonathan Gibbs’ incidental music, too. So for The King’s Demons’ critical stock to soar, just follow my advice and select the “Audio Option: Isolated Score” from the Special Features menu so that you can watch the pretty medieval pictures and just listen to the pretty medieval synthesizer.

    If, on the other hand, you want to realise just how poor the script is, I can’t think of any other story which just comes to a stop in such a bathetic way, where they run out of time and so everyone just goes away. I’m not sorry this is Terence Dudley’s last.

    One more thing; after I doubted your gay reading of Turlough, I have to admit that my own review dwells at length on the crackling sexual tension between him and Hugh. But even here, Kamelion is much more coded (and played) as the tradition Evil Gay – so arch and oily that he seems for all the world like C3PO’s untrustworthy and even gayer brother.


  9. Alan
    March 30, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

    I got what they were going for with Simm. Instead of the Master being Moriarty to the Doctor's Holmes, he was the Joker to the Doctor's Batman, which is perhaps more topical. It's just that I find the Joker … tiresome, and was disappointed to see the Master recast in that archetype.


  10. Alan
    March 30, 2012 @ 12:24 pm

    Yeah, I was always baffled that supposed marketing genius JNT failed to capitalize on the endless possibilities of a shape-shifting companion. Every episode could have featured Kamelion trying on a new form which would just happen to look like that story's "special guest star." In The Awakening, Kamelion is sexing it up in the form of Joanna Lumley, and two weeks later, he's running around cracking jokes while looking like Ronnie Corbett.

    OTOH, I do think it's funny that the people who got rid of both K-9 and the sonic screwdriver because they made things "too easy" were okay with the tremendous asset a shapeshifting companion might be if used halfway intelligently.


  11. Alan
    March 30, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

    JNT made a point of having Davison mercy-kill him with the Master's tissue compression eliminator.


  12. Alan
    March 30, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

    The only way C3POs brother could be any gayer than C3PO himself is if he sang show tunes. In Bacce. Otherwise, I agree.


  13. 5tephe
    March 30, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

    This is actually the point where I fell off from Doctor Who.

    After it having been the one consistent background narrative in my life till that point, at age ten or so, this series lost me.

    I liked Davison as a Doctor, but the stories themselves began to bore me more and more. I tuned in for the 5 Doctors, of course, and thought that was brilliant, but over the next season I just drifted further and further away. I was reading the Hitch Hiker's series, and listening to it on the radio when I could find it, and wandered more into novels as my escapes from this point: building out of Narnia and into Ursula K. le Guin's Earthesea books, and up to Tolkien of course. There were just better stories to hold me there.

    I watched erratically throughout the next season, and even gave Colin Baker a try when he came on, but found him so un-likable as a Doctor, and his stories so garbled that I officially gave up.

    So this is the last story that I know I watched as it went to air, till the modern series. It seems such a shame to me, because I was a devoted watcher, with a deep fondness for the series, and I wanted to stay interested. I even went back and watched these stories again five years later when the ABC in Australia went through a period of airing them as single story blocks on Saturday. Still, when it can to this part of the series, I found my attention waning, and I would forget to set the video recorder.

    Even in 2003, when the ABC aired every extant story of Doctor Who in order, over a couple of years in the lead up to the launch of the new series, I diligently taped and watched all of them up until… yeah. This point. It lost me AGAIN.

    So I will be interested to see if you can drag me past this point, Phil.


  14. Tommy
    March 30, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

    I've been following this blog with great interest and fascination this past week.

    I'm vey down on this period of the show (I'm very much of the opinion that it would have been better to have ended the show on Logopolis after all- the show might have had a good afterlife from there as a novels range, especially if Christopher Priest was still onboard and interested in writing for the show- and so many problems with the era such as poor characterisation and motivation, and struggling to manage the many companions might have been solved in prose form) but I find reading this to help put a lot of it into perspective.

    One thing I've been wondering lately is whether Season 20 might have been better as a whole if Resurrection of the Daleks had closed the season after all (and likewise would Resurrection of the Daleks have been improved by its connection to the rest of the season). The problem with Season 20 is that it feels directionless in an unprecedented way, but if it was all building up to that Dalek story (in the same way as I think Earthshock in showing the disparate humans fighting together against the Cybermen almost seems to culminate the recurring theme that season of 'we're all in the same tribe' as we saw in Kinda and Castrovalva), would it have felt like it was going somewhere after all? Would we be able to dismiss the season's weak villains if they were simply warming us up for the Daleks at their most deadly?

    The Doctor having to kill Omega reluctantly and his inability to kill Davros might have felt like bookends. Likewise by revisiting the idea in Terminus of an isolated lawless outpost, it might have felt like a thematic echo. Questions about the nature of life and existence asked in Mawdryn Undead and Enlightenment, as with Turlough's choice, likewise could have felt like they'd carried through into that confrontation with Davros and how the scene between the two enemies shows morality to simply be a point of view and a state of mind.

    There's theories abounding that Kamelion was meant to take on Stien's role instead, so maybe had all gone to plan, The Kings Demons wouldn't have felt quite as pointless as it ended up. And like Snakedance it could have felt like the and the moment where the Doctor is being mind scanned to his infancy and decides to 'undo' his mistake in Genesis of the Daleks, could have felt like going for the idea that this more frail and fertive incarnation of the Doctor needs to get in touch with his buried withdrawn essence and strength before he can be like the Doctor of old.

    Just pontifications of mine, and it'd be cool if you touched on this 'what if' when you get to reviewing Resurrection (can't wait!!!)


  15. Anton B
    March 31, 2012 @ 3:49 am

    That wouldn't stop the Moff. Come to think of it what a perfect finale reveal. "Oh but…(insert regular character here)…didn't really die and it wasn't a Tesselector or a Ganger or an Auton this time it was Kamelion! You remember Kamelion? The shape shifting lute playing robot! Course you do!"


  16. Dan
    April 1, 2012 @ 11:47 am

    Couldn't agree with this more, really. I was eleven at the time, so not missing episodes. I wish I had. It clashed with The Tube which would be a much cooler thing to have been watching. I loved The Prisoner.


  17. timber-munki
    April 5, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

    My issue with Anthony Ainley's Master was that it feels like DC comic's repeated unsuccessful attempts to do something with Kirby's Fourth World material – the lack of satisfactory resolution of the original stories allows their successors licence to not really do anything with the character(s) apart from having him/them turn up and use nostalgia as a short cut to ramp up the 'importance' of a story.

    When they are used in an 'actually important' story such as The End Of Time or Final Crisis they end up at a point where they can't be used again for a long time – time locked with Gallifrey & the Time Lords and killed by Batman in a once-in-a lifetime exception to his no firearms rule (the cover of Batman #15 not withstanding) are situations that you can't glibly write yourself out of if you respect your audience.

    Needless to say I look forward to the Final Crisis Pop Between Realities post.


  18. Robert Ferik
    May 26, 2016 @ 6:26 am

    Delgado just about worked because he was a charismatic actor. Ainley not so much. The reason that every time the Master turns up we groan is not because we hate the character but because of what it forces the Doctor to become. Rather than the Master being the Doctor’s dark and charmingly perverted parody the Doctor is called on to act out the bright but awkward geeky inversion of a villian.


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