|I have no need for a gun, my dear boy. One look|
at my plaid pants will slay even the most vile
|Me Chinese. Me play joke. Me trap you in a nightmarish|
shadow dimension and force you to play sadistic games
for all eternity.
It’s April 2nd, 1966. The sun continues not to shine. In two weeks, The Spencer David Group will require someone to save them. So the singles chart isn’t that interesting. Flipping to current events, then, we have… not a heck of a lot. Artificial heart installed in Texas. That’s a bit funny, actually, given that the story we’re talking about today was almost Harnell’s regeneration story, whereas his actual regeneration story features a villain based on paranoia about things like artificial heart.
So this story and the next one are a bit interesting. I mean, Doctor Who is always interesting. Even when it gives a complete turkey of a story, it’s still usually interesting. But these stories are interesting because they are a consecutive pair of stories that have both had dramatic and significant re-evaluations within fandom. We’ll talk about the actual process of re-evaluation on Monday with The Gunfighters, but for now, let’s note that this was, for a long time, considered one of the great lost classics of Doctor Who.
It’s understandable on paper. You’ve got an unusual setting, a first rate actor in Michael Gough, and a bizarre and terrifying villain. Everything looks like we’re set for a story that works well. So in the absence of anyone actually taking a look at the thing, of course everyone thought it was good. Episode 4 wasn’t found until 1984, which is after the cut-off for initial impressions, and didn’t get a mass release until 1991. Loose Cannon didn’t get to it until 1999. So there was plenty of time for everyone to make assumptions about the story before anyone saw it.
Sometimes this process masks a hidden gem. Nobody quite knew how good The Massacre was for a very long time, because on paper it didn’t look like much. Here, however, that process led us to assume that this story was brilliant. After all – a nightmarish realm of toys ruled over by an insane demigod that forces the Doctor and his companions to play a bunch of nefarious games with odd titles like the Trilogic Game. That sounds great. Clearly a departure for Doctor Who into something new and exciting, and an ambitious idea that introduced new kinds of threats for the Doctor.
Then people actually saw the thing. And that’s the problem. Because in practice, this story is a complete trainwreck. The pacing is excruciating. Even if you make the standard accommodations of remembering that it’s not supposed to be watched in one shot, it’s tough to get over the fact that there is no emotional content to this story. It’s just the Doctor playing the Trilogic Game for four episodes while Steven and Dodo meander through a series of arbitrary deadly challenges. The reason it’s four episodes long is… that’s how long it is. It could have been one. It could have been three hundred.…
|Oh, and to top it off, the Monoids are dark skinned. So we|
have the dark-skinned savage of a monster kidnapping
the cute white girl. Nothing amiss here. No sir.
|Don’t worry, my dear boy. I leave women I sleep with|
behind to die all the time. Some day, I’ll learn to dump
them in parallel universes, but for now bloody historical
tragedies will have to do for us both, hmmm?
It’s February 5, 1966. The number one single is The Overlanders with “Michelle,” which will be unseated by Nancy Sinatra with “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” which, actually, I’ll be able to make something out of later on in this blog post, so that’s nice. The Spencer Davis Group, Cilla Black, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones all also chart.
News-wise, the most interesting things going on are that the Russians landed a thingy on the moon and a bunch of governments go up in flames and military coups. Oh, and the Naval Minister of the UK resigns. Which I suppose is worth mentioning, if only because Christopher Mayhew holds the wonderful distinction of being (I think) the only major politician overseeing a military force to be filmed tripping balls on mescaline. Which, and this is the really good bit, has nothing whatsoever to do with why he resigned. He was just cranky about a change in military policy towards land-based aircraft launches instead of aircraft carriers.
Doctor Who is not going to get around to becoming a full-out drug trip for another 8 weeks, though, and it’s not even going to be a very good trip. Instead, well, let’s recap. Twelve week Dalek epic, massive death toll, Doctor at the lowest point we’ve ever seen him and completely frail and mortal, so things must be looking up this week, eh?
Well, OK, perhaps not if you read the title of the story. But as has been pointed out by others, this, more than any other story, is one that visibly loses something when you turn it into a movie with its own title. The official title – The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve – is rubbish. For one thing, the massacre in question is on St. Bartholomew’s Day. The usual defense of this teensy problem – that the story ends the day before the massacre, and that the story is thus about the eve of the massacre – opens the far larger problem that the title of the story now turns the slaughter of thousands of people into a holiday. For comparison, this would be like setting a story in Nazi Germany on November 8, 1938, and calling it “Kristallnacht Eve.” (Oh boy, I hope Father Gestapo comes!)
The alternative title – The Massacre – does considerably better, but is still a deeply flawed title in that it gives away the end. It would be like renaming The Rescue “The Guy Who’s Disguised As A Monster.”
Because the thing is, this story hinges on the fact that it’s a historical that isn’t about a well-known historical event. As has been frequently pointed out, the audience, watching this, would not have a clear idea of how this is all going to play out.…
|The Daleks stare incredulously at each other as the big blue|
dude keeps talking.
It’s November 13, 1965. The Rolling Stones are still on top. They’ll be replaced by The Seekers. The Beatles will take the Christmas number one, hold it for five weeks, then turn it over to The Spencer Davis Group, followed by, finally, on January 27, The Overlanders.
|From futuristic Scouse space girl to Shakespearean|
title character. You go, girl.
It’s October 16, 1965. Ken Dodd’s Tears continue to rule the chart. It will continue for the next three weeks. For once, let’s start with the opening shot of Doctor Who again, because last week left us in such a strange place. And we open with… Achilles and Hector fighting in the fields of Troy, with Achilles killing Hector when the materialization of the TARDIS distracts him. So immediately, we know that we are not in Dalek country.
|It’s a fun Doctor Who fan parlor game to try to match names|
to the alien delegates in this story. Here’s a clue – the gal in
the super stylish dress? She’s Verity Lambert. She’s the
one who actually runs the universe.
It’s October 9, 1965. Ken Dodd’s “Tears” is still at the top of the charts. Post Office Tower, the tallest building built in London in the 1960s, opened yesterday, the biggest visible monument to the cultural capitol that is London. And Doctor Who is doing something unusual – the only single-episode and Doctor-free story of the classic run, Mission to the Unknown.
I’ve talked about the way in which the stories are, right now, building towards something. More than any story under the script editorship of Donald Tosh or John Wiles (who was producer in all but official name of the whole of this season), this episode exists first and foremost in service to that something. One of the things that was settled on quickly after The Chase was that instead of doing two Dalek six-parters on either end of the season, they’d do a massive twelve-part Dalek epic in the third season. However, due to a quirk of accounting stretching back to having to refilm the first episodes of both An Unearthly Child and The Daleks, as well as condensing the last two epsiodes of Planet of Giants into one, it became necessary to produce an extra episode at the end of the recording block that started with The Rescue, and, ideally, to give the entire cast a break at the same time. So a one episode TARDIS-free prelude to the Dalek epic got put on the schedule.
That’s the lens through which this story is normally approached. And it is, factually speaking, true – tat is why this episode exists. But it has the unfortunate side-effect of turning a very interesting episode of television into a lesson on the intricacies of BBC budgeting in the 1960s. And, I mean, I say this as a ridiculous pedant who actually finds BBC budgeting in the 1960s interesting, but that does a real disservice to the episode.
For one thing, it’s a flagrant retcon. Nobody watching this story in 1965 was thinking about it in anything like these terms. And nobody making the story was primarily making a historical document to illustrate BBC funding. This is purely an invention of hyper-knowledgeable Doctor Who fans trying to develop a history of the show. While this is usually a wonderful thing – the fact that Doctor Who’s production is so well-documented is part of the show’s importance, frankly – here it’s a bit of an irritation. Part of it is no doubt that, being yet another missing episode, for most fans the received wisdom and history of the story is all we’ve got – especially because Mission to the Unknown, along with The Daleks Master Plan, were not novelized until 1989, among the absolute last stories to get an adaptation. So prior to 1989, detailed information on this story just wasn’t there.…
|Quick. Guess which of the two species in this photo is|
the monster name-checked in The Pandorica Opens.
It’s September 11th, 1965. The Rolling Stones are at number one with a more Rolling Stonesy recording than they’ve charted with previously, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” They’ll give way to some less interesting stuff, namely The Walker Brothers for one week and Ken Dodd for a staggering five weeks with a song I have never heard of. A quick listen suggests I was not missing anything. In fact, hearing it, I think I might be missing the blissful unawareness I had before. (But we’ll give Ken Dodd a slight break for appearing in Delta and the Bannermen in 1987.)
|The thing in front is not David the|
Gnome. It’s the Doctor. Or did you mean
You Were Expecting Someone Else is a recurring feature covering non-televised Doctor Who from classic eras, generally more or less in the period where they came out. Today we look at the 1966 Doctor Who Annual (published in late 1965), The Dalek Book, and The Dalek World, the three earliest examples of Doctor Who spin-off fiction.
So, I’m getting a late start to the blog entry today, kind of have a sinus/allergy headache, and am in a strangely bad mood. Let’s dive right in and tackle the question of canonicity and Doctor Who, shall we? (What? I mean, what do you do when you have a headache?)
I mean, it’s not actually that tough a topic. The sadly defunct blog Teatime Brutality sorted out all the possible issues in Doctor Who canon over here. The piece is as good a take on the matter as I could possibly do, and reveals the rather surprising truth that the single most important episode of Doctor Who in explaining its canon is Gareth Roberts’s The Unicorn and the Wasp. From this data, he works up the extremely handy map of Doctor Who continuity you see somewhere on the right side of your screen.
But a broader question is what that means. I mean, it’s all well and good to do some hand waving and proclaim that Doctor Who has no canon and all works of fiction are equally valid in the Doctor Who mythos, but it comes awfully close to the literary criticism equivalent of technobabble. I mean, yes, it’s trivial to show that Doctor Who does not have a canon in the traditional Star Wars tiered sense of things. (Though it’s worth doing so, as Teatime Brutality demonstrates. If only so you can quote that hilarious line from the Transformers Wiki, “Indeed so little attention is paid to it that the franchise is riddled with countless irreconcilable continuity clashes despite being presented as a single continuous story, even in the TV movie and continuing television series that were made many years after the original series was cancelled.” If only for the hilarious implication that we poor Doctor Who fans are somehow living with a terrible affliction in this regard. Hey Transformers fans. We just have a lack of canon. You have two Michael Bay movies. We win.)
So let’s look at it with some historical perspective. Such as via these three books, the earliest instances of something that may or may not be Doctor Who canon. First off, what are they? Well, they’re three books, each about 100 pages.…
|I wonder what the major selling point of this movie was.|
You Were Expecting Someone Else is a recurring feature covering non-televised Doctor Who from classic eras, generally more or less in the period where they came out. Today we look at the 1965 film Dr. Who and the Daleks, staring Peter Cushing.
It is August 23, 1965. A month after Doctor Who left television for its summer break, and a little under three weeks until it returns. As it should be, The Beatles have #1 with “Help!” And, in order to fill the sad gap in our lives between July 24th and September 11th, AARU Productions have helpfully released Dr. Who and the Daleks.
More than anything, to understand this we need to back up and look at British culture in the summer of 1965. We’ve done this to some extent already – we know about Swinging London and the rise of mod and post-mod youth cultures. We know that we’re in the midst of a Labor government, and that there’s a strong sense of overthrowing the old and putting in the new. We know that the Beatles are big, and that they brought with them a wealth of other bands that, at least temporarily, put the fallen industrial power of Liverpool at the center of the cultural map, second only to London.
We know perhaps less well that the Daleks are massively popular. But they are. The term “Dalekmania” that describes this era is perhaps overstated, if only because it obviously attempts to equate the Daleks with the Beatles. But on the other hand, there is a mass of Dalek merchandise. Little rolly action figures, Dalek play costumes (which are ludicrously valuable today), Dalek board games, and far weirder things like Dalek White Boards to draw on, or Dalek Viewmasters.
The Daleks, then, up to this point sat exactly on the line between Doctor Who’s public service duties as a good and proper BBC series and its status as a commercial hit. On one level, Doctor Who was like air. For almost two years straight, it aired faithfully on Saturday evenings as part of a family programming block. You watched it whether you liked it or not. (In fact, the steadily climbing AI figures for the program over its classic run are probably less a product of the show getting better and more a product of the fact that the changing nature of television meant people who didn’t like it stopped watching it.) It was clear that a secondary market of people who really liked it existed, because the toys sold, but the show was not “for” that market.
And so the first thing to realize about Dr. Who and the Daleks is that it is the first time Doctor Who was made entirely for fans. Because this was Doctor Who for people who cared about it enough to pay for it. This, more than any other fact about the movie, including that it was in color, is the most important thing about it.…