His Almost Gleeful Pleasure (Mindwarp)
Part 4: How to Stage an Intervention
But if this explains the real reason for hastily convening a trial to dispose of the Doctor it does little to make sense of the ostensible reason for the trial. The Doctor is, as usual, accused of meddling and interfering – and it’s explicitly stated that the accusation is the same as the one from The War Games. But we have to ask, at this point, what the hell the Time Lords actually mean by this.
Obviously some level of hypocrisy is in play in the course of the trial given the Time Lord’s own actions, especially in this and the next story. Mindwarp is actually a particularly telling example, in that it clearly establishes that the Time Lords are still very much concerned with the natural order of things. Indeed, they seem more horrified by the fact that Crozier’s experiments derail the course of evolution than they are by the prospect of an explosion that might destroy the entire universe. This is telling. The idea that the universe might be destroyed, fine. That had to happen eventually anyway, one figures. But the idea of evolution being disrupted – and Doctor Who has more than once dabbled in the idea that evolutionary and historical processes are related – that’s a huge issue.
(It is of course worth discussing what the Time Lords do or don’t actually do about Crozier, but that’s another entry.)
But more broadly, obviously the Time Lords are broadly in favor of intervention in a number of circumstances. They intervene and interfere with Crozier’s experiments, which seem to have happened with no help from them. (The Doctor’s contributions to them seem minor at best, so we have to assume that Crozier gets there on his own) And, more obviously, they interfere like mad with Earth. There is hypocrisy and corruption at play here, but it’s more complex than “they say they oppose interference while doing it anyway.”
Indeed, even in their condemnation of the Doctor they seem to object more to the cavalierness of his interference than to the basic existence of it. The Valeyard faults him on Ravalox because people died, even though he saved the universe. (Though obviously, due to the nature of Ravalox, he does stress the idea that the Doctor should never have been there more than quite makes superficial sense, and this is meant to be a clue to something or other.) In other words, it’s not that he interfered, but that he did so in a dangerous and careless manner.
There is, in other words, a cruel tautology at the heart of Time Lord law. Interference is defined as intervention outside of the rules – as intervention that is not careful. In other words, it’s only interference when it’s not done from within the existing structures of authority. The morality of this is of course abhorrent – hence the belief that moving Earth is somehow an acceptable interference. But equally, there’s a consistency to it. It’s part and parcel of the idea of lords of time – the combination of the Time Lords’ conception as the guardians of the arc of history and the cynicism that history is written by the victors. This is exceedingly Robert Holmesy, of course. In the end, it almost doesn’t matter what the Doctor does. His real problem is that he’s not one of the people who’s in authority, and this alone puts him in perpetual danger. (In this regard it’s telling that one of the disjunctions between the Holmes and the Baker halves of The Ultimate Foe is that Holmes plays up the Valeyard’s obsession with rules and bureaucracy in the form of Mr. Popplewick, a thematic thread that the Bakers drop.) The biggest problem, Holmes seems to suggest, is the fact that the Doctor can never escape the existence of authority and rules. Taken in the context of the Trial being a metaphor for the program’s tribulations within the BBC the implication is clear and chilling.
|Good Lord, what is this, a Wonder Woman comic?|
Part 1: Bad Doctor, No Cookie!
It’s October 4th, 1986. The Communards are still alarmed about being left this way, but are unseated one week later by Madonna with “True Blue.” The next week is Nick Berry with “Every Loser Wins,” and he actually manages to stay there for two weeks. Paul Simon, A-Ha, The Pet Shop Boys, The Bangles, and Midnight Star also chart.
While in real news, Phantom of the Opera opens on the West End. The Independent begins publication. 1500 people die in an earthquake in El Salvador. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Reykjavik for disarmament talks, which end in failure. The Metrocentre, the largest shopping center in the UK and at the time the largest in Europe, opens in Gateshead. The president of Mozambique, Samora Machel, dies in a plane crash. And the day after this story concludes bus deregulation goes into effect in most of the UK.
Mindwarp poses an interesting problem in the context of Trial of a Time Lord. We’ll deal with its overt narrative eccentricities later in the entry, but for now I want to look at its most basic issue, the question of whether or not the Doctor, or at least Colin Baker’s version of him, is any good. This is, after all, the story in which the Doctor most obviously errs and in which the Valeyard’s criticism seems most applicable.
We are, of course, told that many of the events that we see are partially fraudulent. But as Tat Wood points out, there’s not actually that much of the Doctor’s behavior here that needs to be explained away. The explanation he gives – that it was all a ruse – largely holds. The usual story told about this story – that Baker couldn’t get an answer out of anybody on what parts of the script were real and what parts were fabrication – speaks volumes simply because it is, in fact, so ambiguous. But in a story that’s set up to establish how disastrous the Doctor’s actions are this raises some significant problems (even if the nature of the disaster is… confused).
All of this raises a question that has been elided throughout this era – how much of the problem is just this version of the Doctor? To what extent is it just that Baker’s Doctor is fatally flawed or miscast? As mentioned, the audios do suggest that Baker is, in fact a skilled actor and that his Doctor can work, but then again, audio is a different medium. And it is, after all, Baker who was seemingly the biggest proponent of the Mr. Darcy/peel back the onion approach.
And in the end, that approach is what lies behind Mindwarp’s portrayal of the Doctor as potentially fatally flawed. So much effort was put into making Baker’s Doctor unlikable that, well, it succeeded to a real extent. Even if the eventual redemption had played out the fact remains that Baker’s Doctor was always designed as being a bit dodgy and flawed. No amount of redemption, it should be noted, would have undone this. The idea that this Doctor was fatally flawed was written into the basic concept of the character. Even after a seven season arc of redemption Baker’s Doctor would still be defined as the one that might have been bad.
It’s revealing, in this regard, to compare the flawed nature of Baker’s Doctor with the flawed nature of Davison’s Doctor – something that was also stressed to tragic consequences, and, indeed, to tragic consequences that actually happened as opposed to ones that were retconned out a few episodes later. In the case of Davison’s Doctor, though, the death of Adric was never pinned on his version of the Doctor. It was a critique of the Doctor in the general case that happened on Davison’s watch, not a critique of Davison specifically. Indeed, Davison’s Doctor is consistently treated as an unambiguous good guy no matter how much he screws up. Whatever critiques one might make of him as the ineffective Doctor the narrative sides with him consistently.
Whereas here the apparent death of Peri serves as a completion of an arc begun with The Twin Dilemma. Baker’s Doctor’s flaw was first defined by his utter callousness towards Peri. It’s not merely that Baker’s Doctor is shown to be flawed, it’s that he’s shown to be flawed first and foremost in terms of Peri. And so the idea that his flaws lead to Peri’s demise is particularly stinging. It’s a critique that cuts very deep, hitting the whole of his tenure.
But it also gets at another way in which the untrustworthy conception of the Doctor was a bad idea in practice. Simply put, it’s difficult to imagine any Doctor other than Baker’s in this situation to begin with. It’s telling that throughout the trial the Doctor’s sole defense tends to be to yell about the injustice of it all. He never actually goes about saying any of the sensible things like “you do realize that if I hadn’t gone to Ravalox we’d probably all be dead” or “well if you wanted Crozier’s experiments stopped why, exactly, did you pull me from Thoros Bea when I was about to stop them and get my companion killed?” Instead he just blusters on about the Matrix being tampered with (on the quite tentative grounds that he wouldn’t do that) and objects to the entire idea of his being on trial. His reaction is defined by is egotism, and this sort of egotism is a trait unique to Baker’s Doctor.
The cliche is that Baker’s Doctor is in many ways a self-portrait of John Nathan-Turner. This is, I think, a bit strong, but there’s a strong sense in which, in Trial, he’s an inadvertent stand-in for the series itself. Conceived in the afterglow of Longleat, he is a fatally flawed idea too arrogant to admit to the possibility of his failings even enough to defend himself. That only Baker’s Doctor could be in this story is, in some sense, the point.
Part 4: Genocide and How to Cure It
But if this theory explains most of the idiosyncrasies of the Trial, one stubbornly remains, namely the wobbly ethos of Genocide. This goes well beyond the already discussed problems of intervention and of what the supposed goals of the Trial are. It’s made clear that the accusation of genocide is considered more or less absolute by the Time Lords. Indeed, even the fact that the genocide of the Vervoids was necessary to prevent a genocide of humanity is deemed wholly irrelevant to the judgment. And then a wholly unrelated matter – the Doctor chasing his own evil self into the Matrix – is deemed reason to just dismiss the charges. (And not, as one might think, reasons to just have him executed on the grounds that he was, after all, also the one who tried to kill them all – so much for his defense of “I improve in the future,” clearly.)
I am, in this case, not particularly interested in explaining away the moral reasoning behind this. We have, after all, already concluded that the court has no moral reasoning as such beyond a fealty to the regime that gets overthrown by the end of the story. (Though the fact that the Doctor just casually turns Gallifrey over to the Inquisitor is puzzling, given this assumption. One supposes that she showed more independence than anyone else involved in the trial, but surely someone who was actually involved in the popular uprising on Gallifrey would be preferable. Then again, perhaps the Doctor doesn’t seriously think that his off-Gallifrey endorsement is going to carry any weight and is simply trying to appease the Inquisitor’s obvious lust for power before slipping away from this nuthouse.) Rather, I’m interested in sorting out the larger question of what the show’s ethics on this subject are.
Obviously the show broadly sides with the Doctor. So the fact that he wiped out the Vervoids is clearly intended to be acceptable. But this stands in contrast with, really, almost everything else the Doctor has ever done. The most obvious thing to contrast it with is the legendary “have I the right” speech from Genesis of the Daleks. But here the Doctor seems to not even consider the question, both at the time and in presenting the evidence, where he seems blindsided by the accusation of genocide.
There are moments throughout the Saward-edited era in which the Doctor seems to tip over into ethical danger zones. But for the most part these are isolated moments in which the series takes the wrong tone – the inappropriate banter at the deaths of Shockeye or the guards in Vengeance on Varos, for instance. So it’s ironic that the moment after Saward’s departure is the point where the Doctor finally does just plow over the line.
Admittedly, buried deep in the script is something approaching a reasoning for why the Doctor is in the right. It’s stressed that both the Vervoids and the crew are acting on instinct, and before hatching his plan the Doctor suggests that this consists of a breaking of the cycle – that the Doctor’s plan constitutes not raw instinct but a different approach. His plan is explicitly positioned as giving the Vervoids their entire life cycle at top speed. In other words, it’s better than killing them because it’s a natural process. (This gels well with the Bakers’ love of the “science gone mad” theme.)
But even if the script seems to think this, the fact remains that it’s out of line with the reasoning of the rest of the series. Especially given how much the Doctor stresses his empathy for the Vervoids and how they’re only following instinct. Casual genocide is bad enough, but for him to engage in casual genocide a few lines after mounting a defense of the Vervoids is one of the most callous and distressing moments of the series.
Then again, let’s remember what future these events seem to come from – one where the Doctor does, in fact, become the Valeyard. Given that we don’t want to discard free will, we have to take this as a possible future for the Doctor. In which case there’s a compelling, if inadvertent sense to all of this. The Doctor is, going into the Trial, on track to become the Valeyard, as evidenced by his failure to realize the horror of what he does in Terror of the Vervoids. And the rewriting of time that occurs at the end of all of this constitutes a turning away from this future towards something better. This is, at last, the moment of exorcism.
Part 3: The First Law of Time
The First Law of Time is, we have been told, the prohibition on crossing your own timestream. Back in the Mysterious Planet the Valeyard accused the Doctor of transgressing this law. That line, as delivered, seemed to imply a different first law – the usual “meddling” accusation – but the line as written gives just enough wiggle room that it is worth entertaining the possibility of consistency with the past.
Certainly the irony of the Valeyard delivering that accusation is immense. Especially if we posit the First Law in the broader sense of being about the alteration of one’s personal history (that being the first law of time that was ever revealed to the audience). The Valeyard’s plan, after all, is nothing more than a massive rewriting of his own personal history. And we’ve already seen in reasonable detail how this can be spun as the seeming future of the show as it existed after Season 22 attempting to cannibalize the present to ensure its existence.
But to what extent is the Valeyard a meaningful future of the Doctor? This question becomes particularly vexed when he’s taken in concert with the Master, who is already defined as an evil version of the Doctor and who largely makes much more sense. The Valeyard, a creature of rules, is a harder fit with the Doctor simply because the mercurial and anarchic nature of the Doctor is so strongly defined. The Valeyard outright hates who the Doctor is, seeming to view every aspect of the Doctor as an affront. It’s difficult, throughout the story, to actually identify any common ground between the two or aspects of the Doctor that could be said to become the Valeyard.
Fan lore typically has it as the Doctor’s pride and anger that leads to the creation of the Valeyard in a very tiresome “we’ve been watching too much Star Wars” way, but there’s no sign of this whatsoever in the course of Trial of a Time Lord itself. The claim that the Valeyard is a composite of the Doctor’s every dark thought mostly seems to speak towards a terrible genericness in the Doctor’s dark thoughts. And anyway – that’s the Bakers’ neutering of the Valeyard. Holmes’s Valeyard – the creature of pure law – does not seem to extend from anything that can reasonably be described as the Doctor’s dark thoughts.
The series’ dark thoughts, on the other hand, might just work. The Valeyard is, as we’ve already discussed, the logical consequence of continuity fetishism. And if we treat him not as the Doctor’s dark side in a psychological sense but in a meta-fictional sense he does make a lot more sense. But we still run into a big problem – if we do embrace this rules-based vision of the Valeyard, why on Earth is he so cavalierly breaking the First Law of Time himself?
The usual interpretation is that he fears death, but that’s actively contradicted by the story itself. The Valeyard worships death as the ultimate reality. The Valeyard talks about obtaining his freedom, but there is no reason, for a Time Lord, that this freedom must be forward looking. It makes just as much sense for him to obtain his freedom by rewriting the past and existing not as a mere historical endpoint of the Doctor but as the Doctor as a living being. In other words, instead of becoming the teleology of the Doctor he wants to become the very historical process of the Doctor.
It is here that we should ask what the purpose of the First Law of Time is anyway. Is it anxiety over changing the past? Perhaps, but the law seems to be that one cannot even cross one’s timestream – not that one cannot change it. But there is a distinct change that happens when one crosses one’s own timestream. Let’s think about it in terms of The Two Doctors. Nowhere in the entire course of Patrick Troughton’s tenure on Doctor Who does it make sense to interpret the episode in light of the fact that Troughton will someday become Colin Baker. Troughton’s Doctor – like all Doctors – are unaffected by the weight of the series’ future. As all things are in the past. It is a fallacy to treat the present as a teleology that organizes the past.
But when one crosses one’s own timestream that gets violated. No matter what one does with The Two Doctors, no matter how faithful one tries to make it to the Troughton era, the one thing you cannot get away from is that it reconceives Troughton as an antecedent to the present – the one thing he could never possibly be in the 1960s themselves. A line from The Mind Robber is instructive here. “When someone writes about an incident after it’s happened, that’s history. But when the writing comes first, that’s fiction.” The First Law of Time, then, exists to prevent history from becoming fiction – to prevent history from simply writing the future. This is the freedom that the Valeyard seeks and is willing to break the First Law of Time for – to make all of Doctor Who lead to him. In a narrative such as Doctor Who, after all, this is what becoming real has to mean. The danger of the Valeyard isn’t his existence, its his potential fictionality.
June 8, 2012 @ 4:17 am
What's wrong with Colin's Doctor? Having watched a lot of his stories recently, I think it comes down to one word.
Other Doctors can be arrogant, snappish, moody or domineering, but we enjoy watching them anyway because they do it with a degree of charm. Hartnell's charm was in part because he always had a warm relationship with Susan and Vicki. Troughton injects so much humour and charisma into his portrayal that we can't help but be charmed. Pertwee understood this factor explicitly, hence his demand that the scriptwriters give him a "moment of charm" in every story. Tom Baker's on-screen charm is in the gigawatt range. Davison's pleasant demeanour and old-school heroism easily win over an audience. McCoy's tenderness and self-reflection make him likeable even at his most scheming.
But Colin Baker just can't find a way to make his Doctor charming.
The scripts don't exactly help, of course, but even so I can't help feeling that any of the other Doctors could have injected more likeability into the same material.
I'm sure this is a significant part of the reason why his era doesn't work. We can forgive a lot of faults in Doctor Who and enjoy it as long as the lead characters are fun to be with. In Colin Baker's time, this crucial factor isn't there.
What I don't understand is why this happened. Colin Baker is a fine actor, and there's no doubting his energy and commitment to the role every second he's on screen. Furthermore, off-screen, Colin is an absolutely lovely chap, utterly charming and likeable.
Yet somehow his performance as the Doctor is one that the audience just can't warm to.
June 8, 2012 @ 5:26 am
"In this regard it's telling that one of the disjunctions between the Holmes and the Baker halves of The Ultimate Foe is that Holmes plays up the Valeyard's obsession with rules and bureaucracy in the form of Mr. Popplewick, a thematic thread that the Bakers drop.)"
What's also telling is that with Gallifrey's involvement in committing an atrocity to prevent information theft, and the Doctor's outrage at this, Holmes' angle seems to be that 'information should be free to all, and not withheld to benefit the people at the top, and preserve the pecking order'. In Pip and Jane's episode, the Master and Glitz' hunt for the Matrix records is played as criminality in which they get their comeuppance for their act of information theft.
"It's revealing, in this regard, to compare the flawed nature of Baker's Doctor with the flawed nature of Davison's Doctor – something that was also stressed to tragic consequences….. Indeed, Davison's Doctor is consistently treated as an unambiguous good guy no matter how much he screws up. Whatever critiques one might make of him as the ineffective Doctor the narrative sides with him consistently."
Personally I'd say that's a far worse problem. When a show is trying to make the audience see a protagonist who is such a liability and more than once ends up surrounded with dead bodies of people he could have saved at any point, as the one to side with and look up to, then something has definitely gone wrong. It's a case of forcing a square peg into a round hole.
Such a figure can't work as a hero. And as a result the show has to convince the audience otherwise and force the idea down the viewer's throat by giving him horrid preachy speeches, and repeatedly using old foes and flashbacks to try and prove he is the same character of old we always looked up to. Despite his frequent inability to do anything sensible or competent, let alone inspiring.
What's worse is that the show thinks this is some kind of substitute for actually having the character show any signs of growth or improvement. The 'this works so why change it?' attitude. So he not only is a liability, he is a liability in permanence. At least Colin, by being questionable, but far more willng to actually try, opens the door to some kind of journey of redemption, rather than Davison's spiralling, unending cycle of 'let a massacre happen just so I can look guilty and remorseful about it afterwards whilst fandom is fooled into seeing it all as iconic'.
But when Colin feels guilty at the end of Mindwarp (in a story which at certain points emphasises the beauty and worth of the Doctor's good nature through its absence), it actually feels like a genuine turning point. A genuine 'never again', from which we might have been able to put his redemption afterwards into context, rather than just an insincere character trademark box-ticking.
The show can say repeatedly the Fifth Doctor was the one to side with, whilst his actions and failures and catastrophic misjudgements disprove it. Fans may apologise for his Doctor, by making out he was just 'different', and that the show 'needed' a more vulnerable Doctor, but at some point the audience must have realised something's not right here, and the show's angry overcompensating only makes it a more unpleasant viewing experience (usually with a moronically contrived downbeat pay-off that feels like some sick joke at the audience's expense), and so that for me is why the show and its hero became almost unconsciously rejected by the mainstream.
I'd venture that getting the audience to consistently side with Davison's Doctor didn't keep the audience from feeling betrayed, it just made the betrayal a bit more difficult to process or acknowledge.
June 8, 2012 @ 6:24 am
I agree. I think you've nailed it, and I've just done a CB marathon tying in with Phil's blog myself. However, I can no longer distinguish between what I think, how I react, and how I am supposed to think and react. I understand your point, but fear my agreement may be a socially mediated reaction to hanging out at the Eruditorum. Truth to tell, I enjoyed the Season 22 experience overall, but when I consider my reservations, they are so much a product of the Standard Total View, that I don't feel I can separate myself from the bias.
As a side point, I don't understand what the fans of Seasons 5 and 6 (New Series) see in it. To me, all Moff Who is an obvious train wreck. I find it unbearable, like a spade across concrete, but of course being a fan I have to watch it. The thing that puzzles me is why I feel unable to believe in the experience and the pleasure of those who do enjoy it. Mostly with art, when I dislike it, I can, at least intellectually, grasp what others might see in it. Season 6, in particular, feels like something outside my limits. I'm not asking to be persuaded; there's no possibility of me engaging in a discussion and coming to understand the virtues of the new show. What I don't know is whether I lack something or "they" lack something, or whether this something is ethical, aesthetic or a matter of age or life-experience. I have the horrible feeling that Moffat writes for transhumans, and that the Future arrived two or three years ago.
So the thought of my own critical limitations has been nagging away at me for a while. Moff Who feels like a conspiracy against me. And maybe when the critical consensus examines the C Baker years, and the producership of JNT, there's a danger of a collective closing-off, a shuttering of the mind. I feel that Tat Wood, for example, has actively deafened himself to its pleasures. And yet perhaps there was never any potential for understanding at all. When when resorts to ideas like "charm" in searching for an explanation, maybe critical discussion has become futile.
June 8, 2012 @ 7:06 am
"Let's think about it in terms of The Two Doctors. Nowhere in the entire course of Patrick Troughton's tenure on Doctor Who does it make sense to interpret the episode in light of the fact that Troughton will someday become Colin Baker. Troughton's Doctor – like all Doctors – are unaffected by the weight of the series' future. As all things are in the past. It is a fallacy to treat the present as a teleology that organizes the past."
I'd say this is still a unique problem with the poisoned soil of the 80's where nothing seems to grow or progress anymore.
The Doctor of An Unearthly Child bears no clues that he might become the heroic figure of the 70's. But in retrospect it feels like a journey the character was always destined to take from the moment Ian and Barbara begin to bring out his better nature. It also feels like in retrospect the Educating Leela arc, and City of Death were always going to be the natural outgrowth of that first adventure with the cavemen.
The War Games feels like the true answer to the Doctor's origins that An Unearthly Child made us ask. Likewise the mission to prevent the Daleks' creation, and the Doctor converting Romana, one of the Time Lords' own, towards his ways, all feel like the inevitable followon from the speech Troughton made to his people.
It's like that ongoing story was always going to happen that way, as if the writers just discovered the pieces of the ongoing story that had always existed.
State of Decay is the last story to feel this way. Not least because its a Hinchcliffe leftover. But then JNT's regime sets upon blacklisting past writers and backlashing against the late 70's, and bringing all manner of arbitrary changes. It feels like whatever was supposed to happen next has been sabotaged and derailed. Firstly Romana leaves so spuriously in Warrior's Gate with her character journey still half-finished. Then the Master reverts from the terrifying mad dog he was in Deadly Assassin back to the Delgado version, and the Doctor loses all his accumulated wisdom and makes many bad calls that leads to Logopolis' demise, and then regenerates into a Doctor who has none of the accumulated wisdom he should have. He's unlearned everything he learned, and suddenly it feels like the mythology of the hero's idealistic and intellectual journey has died.
The show regresses. Between promising elements that were got rid of, or redundant bits of continuity forcibly dug up again, there's no sense of natural evolution or progress anymore. Occasionally a Five Doctors or Revelation or Remembrance of the Daleks gives some glimpse of what might have naturally followed the late 70's. Elsewhere it's a show fixated with the letter of the show's history but not the spirit(and using that authority to rewrite said history in Orwellian fashion so 'this new version is the past and always has been' as in Warriors of the Deep and The Two Doctors' deranged characterisation of the hero).
Attempts to make Colin's Doctor more like Hartnel and get back to the Doctor's darker side, feel like a good idea (that might have returned the show to its roots and got it back on track after the missteps of the early 80's) that was horribly miscommunicated and misinterpreted.
Much of it is to do with the branding of the show, as trademarks and reductio ad absurdums can't really evolve or be reinterpreted in any way other than reduced. The Valeyard isn't the amalgamation of glimpses of the dark side of the Doctor we might have seen in An Unearthly Child, Brain of Morbius, or The Deadly Assassin, or even The Armageddon Factor. The Valeyard is simply a trademark inverted- colourful coated petulant rebel versus black suited jobsworth.
June 8, 2012 @ 7:33 am
Interesting take, because in my mind, I always compared CB's Doctor to another character whom I had loved and who in many ways resembled the Sixth Doctor in terms of both appearance and attitude: Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester from MAS*H. For those who don't recall this 40-year-old American sit-com. Winchester was brought in as a quasi-antagonist character in the 5th season. Whereas his predecessor (Maj. Frank Burns) had been a whinging, petulant Babbitt obsessed with rules and regulations, Winchester was an erudite patrician from Boston who made it plain that he thought he was better than everybody else due to his natural brilliance and his impeccable breeding, but he also brought enormous class, wit and, yes, charm to back it up.
He also had exactly the sort of long-term character that CB had wanted: the layers of Winchester's unrepentant snobbery and selfishness were peeled back gradually over several seasons to reveal a much more complicated and likeable character within. One of my favorite Winchester-centric stories was a Christmas episode in which he goes to extraordinary lengths to make everyone in the camp think he's a selfish Scrooge and then sneaks out at night to make a sizeable donation to a local Korean orphanage, all because his family has a long and cherished tradition of giving anonymously at Christmas, the one time of the year when you should give without getting anything in return, not even a thank you. Put David Ogden Stiers in an ugly plaid coat, and he could have been the Sixth Doctor. Better yet, let Larry Gelbart write Colin Baker and the show would have sang.
Henry R. Kujawa
June 8, 2012 @ 7:49 am
"Colin Baker is a fine actor, and there's no doubting his energy and commitment to the role every second he's on screen. Furthermore, off-screen, Colin is an absolutely lovely chap, utterly charming and likeable. Yet somehow his performance as the Doctor is one that the audience just can't warm to."
At the IMDB, I recently listed my Doctors in order of preference. Colin Baker was ABOVE 4 or 5 others (Peter Davison was at the BOTTOM– so sue me). And yet, I can't help but agree with your assessment. "THE MYSTERIOUS PLANET" is Colin at his very best ("VERVOIDS" is probably 2nd). The rest? AAUGH!
However, it's not just Colin. Having seen quite a few actors from the show in person at conventions, I've come to feel this happened with many of the regulars during JNT's run of the show. Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding, Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, Nicola Bryant, Bonnie Langford– all of them just did not get enough good material, all of them are much nicer and more likable people in real life than onscreen. Sophie Aldred probably is, too, but in her case, she DID get better writing (once you get past her absolutely horrid intro story).
Well, you know how I feel. Well said. I'm probably gonna dig out CAMPION again soon. Peter Davison is much more like "The Doctor" in that than he ever was in 3 years on DOCTOR WHO.
June 8, 2012 @ 8:28 am
Incidentally, I always thought the Valeyard's line was "His almost lethal pleasure."
June 8, 2012 @ 8:29 am
I did my Sixth Doctor marathon a short while back, and found I liked it more than my initial readings. I could "see" why it didn't go over so well, but time has a way of being forgiving. I found, for lack of a better word, "charm" in these stories.
But as much as time can be forgiving, it can also be condemning, and reading Sandifer has just as sharply turned my nose away from this era of Who. Way back when, I didn't like the Sixth for the obvious aspects; now, the obvious aspects pass muster; it's the moral rot at the center of this period of the show I can't abide, a moral rot I couldn't quite put my eyes to.
Yes, moral rot. And no, I don't think it's at the feet of JNT and his continuity fetishism, or even the appeasement of the fan-industrial complex. It's the cynicism of Saward's pen, and it's most clearly visible in the writing of Peri and the Doctor's relationship to her. Neither the Doctor nor the show has any regard for this woman, and it's this desire to erase her as a human being that's truly cancerous, undermining any kind of moral authority to be claimed by the Doctor or his show.
June 8, 2012 @ 8:40 am
"I've just done a CB marathon tying in with Phil's blog myself. However, I can no longer distinguish between what I think, how I react, and how I am supposed to think and react. I understand your point, but fear my agreement may be a socially mediated reaction to hanging out at the Eruditorum. Truth to tell, I enjoyed the Season 22 experience overall, but when I consider my reservations, they are so much a product of the Standard Total View, that I don't feel I can separate myself from the bias."
When I think back on Season 22, I think of it as actually being a very colourful, dynamic and biting season, in all the ways that the sterile Davison era cried out for.
But when I rewatch many of the stories they just tend to leave a very hollow and nasty aftertaste. Revelation of the Daleks is the one triumph of the season, and actually makes me pause to wonder if maybe in concert with The Nightmare Fair the following season, the show might finally have gotten back to being fun again.
Aside from that, Attack of the Cybermen starts off feeling quite dynamic and witty but goes quickly stale and pointless in its second half, Vengeance on Varos has some real political punch, but plotwise there's almost nothing there but nasty violence. On both occasions there's just not enough heart there. Mark of the Rani is for me the point where Colin finally begins to feel like the Doctor, but overall its a boring story. The Two Doctors feels like the second most engaging story of the season, mainly because of the stronger emphasis on characterisation, but again it just overall feels sour and nasty. Timelash is worth a laugh once or twice, but for the most part is just cringeworthy.
June 8, 2012 @ 9:29 am
Colin Baker makes the Doctor charming on audio. The difference is that on television he's smugly pleased with himself all the time, while on audio he's smugly pleased with himself when he's just done something clever. Being pleased with yourself all the time is a character flaw; being pleased with yourself when you've just done something clever is a comic foible. Also, and perhaps audio forces this or maybe as Phil says, the writers are just better, the Doctor engages with his companions and shows concern for them.
The result is that he ends up not too far away from Troughton's Doctor.
June 8, 2012 @ 9:44 am
There's a theory (unfortunately I cannot remember the author) floating around the internet that I find quite appealing. It takes the new Who program as an attempt to redo the three 80s Doctors much better than JNT was capable of.
Thus, Christopher Eccleston's 9th is Colin Baker done correctly: a moody, dark, haunted guy who often burst into bipolar exclamations of joy. But unlike Baker's character, Eccleston's had a VERY good reason to be depressed and offended: he was suffering from PTSD as a result of the Great Time War, rather than simply disliking Peter Davison.
Similarly, David Tennant's 10th, a lonely fellow with almost god-like powers he can't use properly, who keeps screwing up situations he's tossed into or accidentally stumbles upon, and who truly seems to care about every companion he travels with? He's Davison with the serial numbers filled off (a fact Tennant basically admits in "Time Crash" opposite his future father-in-law).
And a grinning buffoon capable of wonderful pratfalls, general silliness, bizarre dress accessories, and interstellar genocide, paired with a tough as nails young woman from Earth who's going to do whatever she wants and continually give the Doctor shit for not explaining things? Am I describing Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred or Matt Smith and Karen Gillian?
And taking this as a jumping off point, I can easily imagine Peter Davison accidentally starting the Time War and waking up years later as Christopher Eccleston (As much as a positively adore McCoy in the role)…
June 8, 2012 @ 9:48 am
As a side point, I don't understand what the fans of Seasons 5 and 6 (New Series) see in it…
The thing that puzzles me is why I feel unable to believe in the experience and the pleasure of those who do enjoy it. Mostly with art, when I dislike it, I can, at least intellectually, grasp what others might see in it. Season 6, in particular, feels like something outside my limits…
What I don't know is whether I lack something or "they" lack something, or whether this something is ethical, aesthetic or a matter of age or life-experience. I have the horrible feeling that Moffat writes for transhumans, and that the Future arrived two or three years ago.
So the thought of my own critical limitations has been nagging away at me for a while. Moff Who feels like a conspiracy against me.
I'm on the other side — I have the feeling that Moffat — and much of current television, for that matter; ah conspiracy theory! — has been written specifically for me.
Of course, it's much easier to turn our intellectual faculties towards something irresistible than it is something repugnant. But what is that "something" that attracts some and repels others? If you're so repulsed you can't even look at it, you'll surely not discover what it, in fact, is.
(Not to say I'm exactly sure what "it" is either, despite all my attention. You may be right that it's a kind of transhumanism.)
Does this tie back into the concept of the Valeyard? There's this whole business of rewriting time — and by extension, rewriting people; hence, rewriting ourselves.
Now, the Valeyard is like The Doctor as rewritten by The Master, and he's trying to make a "fixed point" by having the Valeyard cross his own timestream and rewrite himself. Like all of the Master's plans, this is doomed to failure, because the Doctor is utterly repulsed by The Valeyard. Seeing the future doesn't make it happen, it prevents it from happening.
And this is what's happening with Moffat's Who, but now the Doctor's taking an active role in rewriting himself. So is River, and, to some extent, Amy.
More than anything, Moffat's Who reminds me of Whedon's Dollhouse.
June 8, 2012 @ 10:14 am
i like this theory. and if it holds, that would mean the 12th Doctor should be a version of McGann-done-correctly.
June 8, 2012 @ 10:23 am
"Yes, moral rot. And no, I don't think it's at the feet of JNT and his continuity fetishism, or even the appeasement of the fan-industrial complex. It's the cynicism of Saward's pen,"
I have some sympathy for Eric though, and I do think his worst input was a direct result of how both JNT and Ian Levine decided to call the shots over him. I get the sense that working under JNT's producership was like working under Gene Roddenberry's on the early seasons of Star Trek: Next Generation. Like JNT, Gene's authority was unyielding, stifling, neurotic and utterly wrongheaded, and borderline paranoid. So as a result, there was a lot of anger and frustration among the writers who had to work to his dictates and crushing limitations, and were losing hope and giving up on trying, knowing their good work might likely be rejected out of hand.
Infact I see so many similarities between the two eras of the two shows, particularly in terms of being so pretentious and sterile. And both have a tendency for contrary extremes- misogynistic treatment of female characters as sex objects, and yet a very antiseptic treatment of any sexuality itself. And likewise the protagonists are prone to frustrated paralysed passivity, and heavy handed moralising peacenik speeches. But then you have out of the blue moments of forced, incoherent, senseless violent actions (mostly from Tasha Yar) that show the complete opposite philosophy. It's a case of the writer's anger bleeding through the sterile fictional landscape.
With The Two Doctors, it was clear that both Saward and Holmes were just becoming increasingly frustrated with the producer's spurious and arbitrary dictates, leading to much more angry writing and a mean-spirited tone. Likewise the nasty, twisted tone of Warriors of the Deep seemed down to Eric's frustrations with being told to appease Ian Levine's petulant demands.
When I compare The Visitation to Resurrection of the Daleks I really do feel that Saward entered the job with a lot of enthusiasm and gradually from being cowed by an overwhelming authority that became more and more impossible as time went on, he compusively utilised and preached bad decisions and ideals out of confused ideas of what he was supposed to do, and accumulated bitterness, anger and a sense of helplessness that saw him go off the rails, and dragging the show with him. I get the sense he was driven to breaking point and went so wrong because the unyielding authority he was under, compelled him to.
"and it's most clearly visible in the writing of Peri and the Doctor's relationship to her. Neither the Doctor nor the show has any regard for this woman, and it's this desire to erase her as a human being that's truly cancerous, undermining any kind of moral authority to be claimed by the Doctor or his show."
Certainly the Doctor of Season 13 is no less violent than the Doctor of Season 22, particularly in Terror of the Zygons, Brain of Morbius and Seeds of Doom. But this is also the period where the bond between the Fourth Doctor and Sarah is so strong and endearing. And this tends to mean that we can accept Tom's violence and ruthlessness because we're reassured that he does this strictly in the protection of his companion and of the world she inhabits. But the sour, antagonistic relationship between Peri and the Sixth Doctor makes it almost impossible to quite see his violence and ruthlessness in the same light. We can argue and maybe try to see it that way, but that's not the same thing as truly 'feeling' it.
June 8, 2012 @ 11:31 am
I have sympathy for Saward, too. Yes, his position is compromised, and like Holmes we see his frustrations leak into his writing. That's not what bothers me about his work.
Holmes is a cynic, but his cynicism is a reaction to authority, not to the value of human experience. We see this in his writing — his characters are consistently multidimensional, even the villains, and when his writing fails in its humanism (making fun of Sarah's feminism, or not giving a whit about Orientalism) I get the sense it's not out of a basic lack of concern or understanding for such problems, but rather his lack of faith in institutions and political movements as being vehicles for effecting positive social change. There's still, at the core of his work, a sense that people have inherent value, that they are good.
I don't get this sense with Saward. Rather, I get the sense that deep down he despises people themselves, not just their institutions. He's not interested in exploring the human experience, because he's a misanthropist. I can still sympathize, because if this position it means he carries an awful lot of self-hatred, but in the meantime we get disposable people in an indifferent Universe. This is not, I think, where Holmes is coming from.
Henry R. Kujawa
June 8, 2012 @ 12:01 pm
"There's a theory (unfortunately I cannot remember the author) floating around the internet that I find quite appealing. It takes the new Who program as an attempt to redo the three 80s Doctors much better than JNT was capable of."
I can dig it. I never got the feeling Eccleston was Colin– he reminded me more of a YOUNG Hartnell, before he got old and senile. The first 13 episode of the entire series aside, I don't believe every time The Doctor "name drops" that he's making it all up. He did have adventures before we met him, but something changed and he went into hiding with Susan. (Perhaps stealing The Hand Of Omega to keep it out of certain Time Lords' hands was involved.) He just has too much knowledge and experience to pass it off that way. And it was when I realized Eccleston was dressed in black, and that the shape of his head reminded me of Hartnell that it clicked in. Once again, he's cut off from his own people– possibly forever this time. No wonder it hurt so much.
Much as I came to like him, and think it was monstrously stupid for him to depart so soon (what on Earth could have been at the bottom of such an abrupt and "permanent" falling out???), I very quickly got to like Tennant even more. And within 1 or 2 stories, I began referring to him as "Peter Davison–DONE RIGHT" (it was years before I ever heard other people felt the same way). It just proved I was right– Davison was a good actor, but he got almost nothing but lousy, totally wrong-headed scripts. (As had Colin.)
Sadly I've never seen Matt Smith yet, though there's something about his face that just bothers me. Strange thing to say, but there it is. Hearing that he's "doing" McCoy (or Troughton, as much of McCoy was doing Troughton) is interesting. But what bugs me the most is, McCoy WAS done right, and in a saner world, would have done the show for around 10 years before ever considering giving it up. After all, if the scripts are good enough, how much of a schedule problem can it be when they're only doing 14 weeks a year? (STUPID BBC…)
June 8, 2012 @ 12:29 pm
I think the concept of "charm" if vital, and shouldn't be seen as a counsel of critical despair.
For one thing, it is impossible to understand the result of this year's London Mayoral election without it.
June 8, 2012 @ 12:34 pm
Your MASH example really illustrates why Colin's portrayal is such a problem. Yes, Winchester is a prick who later becomes more likeable, but he is not the lead character. You can do that kind of thing more readily with supporting characters, because the public will keep tuning in to see lovable rogue Hawkeye. Now, if Alan Alda had played Hawkeye in the first season as an unlikeable prick, with the intention of showing other facets in the following seasons… there wouldn't have been any following seasons.
June 8, 2012 @ 12:39 pm
The etymology of "charm" comes from the Latin "carmen," and before that "canare" — at its root, to sing.
June 8, 2012 @ 12:40 pm
"I don't get this sense with Saward. Rather, I get the sense that deep down he despises people themselves, not just their institutions. He's not interested in exploring the human experience, because he's a misanthropist."
I do know what you mean here. He occasionally can pen a good character, but he does have a rather nauseating tendency to think that characters' deaths are more important than anything else about them or what they do in the story.
We don't really get a sense that Lytton was misjudged or was any kind of rounded or consistent character, we gust get a sense that his death is supposed to be tragic in and of itself. To the point where characters will often do something utterly stupid and unrealistically suicidal in order to contrive their own death. Like Professor Laird making a run for it in Resurrection of the Daleks despite knowing she's completely outnumbered and outgunned. Or indeed Eric's rewrites to ensure Preston dies, taking a bullet to save the Doctor in Warriors of the Deep, despite his utter contempt for her and her having no reason to trust his allegiances given his sucking up to the enemy.
And it does rather point to him having an undeveloped, adolescent understanding of the world- a point in life where I think the dominant philosophy or myth is sin, violence and revenge, and little enlightenment or understanding of people and their reasoning beyond that. So whilst there's a degree of belligerent, pretentious moralising in his stories or in his edits, it comes off as an angry teenager trying desperately to prove a point and be taken seriously. And killing a load of people to try and prove that point.
There's occasionally bits of idealism in his stories. The Visitation and Earthshock conjure Season 19's recurring theme of 'we're all in the same tribe'. Revelation of the Daleks might be one of the most forward-looking futuristic stories to come out of the 80's. But considering his other, more ugly, nihilistic moments, it begins to feel like window dressing.
And as Phil hints, Eric seemed only as good as his inspiration. And for some reason the kind of nihilism and angry misanthropy that Eric dealt in, seemed to have found its way into the zeitgeist during the 80's, particularly in films like Scarface.
I think Revelation of the Daleks is his best story, and that it's a direct by-product of finally having writers like Robert Holmes as part of the current writing team that he could emulate and be inspired by.
I sometimes get the vaguest hint of 'daddy issues' in his failure to resolve his issues with his boss, and it might even go some way towards explaining why Bidmead and Cartmel operated on a better level with JNT. Perhaps they were better able to stand their ground more maturely, and gain the man's respect.
June 8, 2012 @ 5:45 pm
I always thought of Tennant as a 'Pertwee-done-right' kind of deal. It's not a perfect parallel, but given the amount of Earth-based stories, the relationship between the Doctor and his companions, and the fact the Pertwee years were what RTD grew up with, they definitely feel like how the Pertwee years might have worked were they done today and with a younger Doctor.
And personally, I think Eccleston and Smith bear more resemblance to the First and Second Doctors, respectively. Eccleston because he's very much a dark mysterious man with an unknown backstory (who is softened by his companion), and Smith mostly because of his own adoration of Troughton and the set-up of the TARDIS crew (though I can see a dash of Davison also coming in, given Moffat's adoration of that tenure).
June 8, 2012 @ 7:23 pm
…what? How have you not seen Matt Smith? :-/
June 8, 2012 @ 7:57 pm
…suppose I should re-iterate this, then; I'm assuming you've already written all four parts, Phil, but will you mention the original Part 14, by Eric Saward? It's actually available online; I've read it, and… well, thought it has its moments, it's quite dire: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/thebatgranny/pdf/Time%20Inc.pdf
It and the Shannon Sullivan site are quite useful in reconstructing (to the best of my abilities) the original Part 13, though (i.e., before JNT added brief mentions of the other stories while serving as script editor).
June 8, 2012 @ 8:20 pm
I hadn't found a copy until after I'd written everything, but it doesn't really change much – the thing I'd be interested in it for is any insight into what Holmes saw the ending of the story as being, and it drops the main threads of Holmes's approach as much as the Bakers' version does. I don't think there's all that much of a difference besides a dumb cliffhanger Nathan-Turner was right to insist on removing.
June 8, 2012 @ 10:40 pm
there's no possibility of me engaging in a discussion and coming to understand the virtues of the new show
That's a strange thing to declare a priori.
June 8, 2012 @ 10:45 pm
Tommy, that's a great description of the flaws of TNG.
June 8, 2012 @ 10:48 pm
Yes, Winchester is a prick who later becomes more likeable, but he is not the lead character.
And yet there's Sherlock. Why does it work there and not with Colin Baker?
Well, Watson pushes back more than Peri does, and in so doing manages to peel back some of Sherlock's shell. That's part of it.
June 8, 2012 @ 10:54 pm
Yes, Winchester is a prick who later becomes more likeable, but he is not the lead character. You can do that kind of thing more readily with supporting characters, because the public will keep tuning in to see lovable rogue Hawkeye. Now, if Alan Alda had played Hawkeye in the first season as an unlikeable prick, with the intention of showing other facets in the following seasons… there wouldn't have been any following seasons.
Quite a few people would say that Hawkeye was an unlikeable prick for most of the series' run.:) And no, Winchester was not the lead in MASH as it was an ensemble dramedy that largely focused on Hawkeye but which made thorough use of a relatively large cast. That said, I can quite easily envision a show in which a character not unlike Winchester was a viable lead, such as a brilliant but sarcastic detective in a mystery series or a brilliant but unlikeable doctor learning to get in touch with his humanity. I mean, honestly, neither Winchester nor even the Sixth Doctor were ever as unlikeable as Gregory House and that show has been around for ever. (If anything, House has gotten worse over the life of the series.) Honestly, I would have watched a show about Winchester coming back to Boston to be a civilian doctor while trying to reconcile his personal arrogance and the cultural elitism ingrained in him by his background with (a) his life-changing experiences among the proles of the 4077 and (b) the fact that as a doctor, he would have to interact with actual human beings.
My point is this: a prickly, pompous, sarcastic, overbearing Doctor is perfectly viable, but only if you acknowledge that those are character flaws and write the character as actively grappling with them in some way. Regrettably, the production staff completely dropped the ball on the second part of that, with disastrous results.
June 8, 2012 @ 10:56 pm
PS: What BerserkRL said.
June 8, 2012 @ 10:57 pm
PS: What BerserkRL said.
June 8, 2012 @ 11:02 pm
Off topic, but may I just say that Captcha is now officially absurd. It was bad enough when we had to decipher nonsense words written in a distorted font designed to make the letters blur together. Now, we have to input numbers from Zapruder-like photos of random people's mailboxes and front doors?!? Soon, we'll have to prove we're not robots by identifying grainy pictures of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster!
June 8, 2012 @ 11:03 pm
Sadly I've never seen Matt Smith yet
C'mon, at least give "The Eleventh Hour" a try …
June 8, 2012 @ 11:05 pm
Now, we have to input numbers from Zapruder-like photos of random people's mailboxes and front doors?!?
Random? Random?? Oh, you are so naive ….
June 8, 2012 @ 11:11 pm
Paul Simon, A-Ha, The Pet Shop Boys, The Bangles, and Midnight Star also chart.
While in real news, Phantom of the Opera opens on the West End.
In the last entry, "While on television" was used to imply that Doctor Who is on television in a way that Oprah Winfrey isn't. Now in this entry, "While in real news" is used to imply that music in the West End is more real than music on the MTV. Very mysterious.
Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Reykjavik for disarmament talks, which end in failure.
But they didn't agree to unite in case of an extraterrestrial threat? Surely this reflects UNIT's influence.
Baker who was seemingly the biggest proponent of the Mr. Darcy/peel back the onion approach
Oh yeah, I love that scene in Pride and Prejudice at the party where Darcy dresses like an insane clown and tries to strangle Elizabeth Bennett.
The First Law of Time is, we have been told, the prohibition on crossing your own timestream.
I seem to recall that the first time we saw the Doctor crossing his own timestream, it was at the instigation of the Time Lord themselves.
Good Lord, what is this, a Wonder Woman comic?
You mean there's a bondage theme in Wonder Woman comics? Gee, someone should write a book about that.
Henry R. Kujawa
June 9, 2012 @ 12:23 am
"…what? How have you not seen Matt Smith? :-/"
NO CABLE for 4 years. Not counting my last job which I managed to hold onto for 2 years (and which never paid all the bills), been looking for a steady job for 5 years now.
June 9, 2012 @ 1:12 am
But you clearly do have internet access …
June 9, 2012 @ 2:14 am
With regard to BerserkRL's point about Dr Watson pushing back more than Peri, you're right but we're at a stage in the show where the production team simply didn't regard that as part of the companion's job. At this point, Peri is there to show cleavage and get into trouble.
As for Winchester (and House) you can write misanthropic leads and they can work, but the writing has to be both good and consistently good. Also, I'm not sure of the extent to which Saward regarded the 6th Doctor's unpleasant side as an actual character FLAW, rather than just something that would be interesting to write!
June 9, 2012 @ 3:45 am
Might not be broadband…
Henry R. Kujawa
June 9, 2012 @ 7:17 am
TVs are for watching TV shows and movies.
Computers are NOT. (At least, not in my house. GET OVER IT.)
June 9, 2012 @ 7:29 am
What? What did I do? Nothing to do with me, guv! 😉
June 9, 2012 @ 10:51 am
The conventions of a Sherlock Holmes story require that everyone tries to be clever and then Sherlock Holmes tells them all why they're stupid.
It's clear in the Moffat series that if Sherlock and John are morally (not pragmatically) at odds we are morally supposed to side with John. Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock may be arrogant but he's not smug. And finally and rather importantly, Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock is funny.
When Colin's Doctor and Peri are at odds it's not obvious that we're supposed to side with Peri. It appears that Peri is there to be looked at not sided with. But yes, a companion who pushed back at Colin's Doctor is one of the things that Colin's Doctor needed.
June 9, 2012 @ 11:24 am
It may be too deep in this comment thread for me to be even noticeable, but I'm interested to know just what in the Moffatt era Tom Watts finds so terrible. It does strike me as having some flaws: a tendency for the plots of individual stories and arcs to become overloaded with detail, or trying to accomplish too much in one episode (Let's Kill Hitler was probably the most egregious example, A Good Man Goes to War just barely pulled it off); suggestions that are intended to be portentous made to subtly or without sufficient grounds in the story to notice (I'm thinking of Amy's 'big empty house'), and some uncomfortable moments of unintentional sexism (Mrs Amy Williams).
But all eras of the show have their flaws. Some reach a tipping point and become disastrous or otherwise problematic for the future of the show (the Colin Baker era, the repetitive plots of Troughton season two). But there are rarely true train wrecks. What awfulness do you see in the show, Watts, that the rest of us don't?
June 9, 2012 @ 11:24 am
I think that both House and Sherlock fairly explicitly use an antihero model, which can work just fine. That said, first of all, the rise of the antihero is just a little too late to be of use to Baker. Second, the problem is that Baker is slotting into a role that's already well-defined as "the hero" and being forced to play him unlikeable. And that, I think, is the problem – that the audience has already been taught to find the Doctor likeable and heroic and is suddenly expected to embrace a heel turn for no discernible dramatic reason other than really wanting to do a heel turn.
June 9, 2012 @ 11:26 am
…but this brings me to my next point; the Valeyard as "worshipper of death" was the Bakers' revision of his character, and not what Holmes/Saward had planned — he/they/whoever wrote him as something of a pitiable old man who's afraid of dying.
In this light, the Valeyard's revelling in bureacracy is so because it stops the natural progress of life, which, inevitably, leads to death, and without that order that bureacracy mantains, life in all its disorder can freely kill the Valeyard. Thus, having no conscience makes a coward out of him. 😛
(Also… going by Shannon Sullivan, I'm pretty sure Holmes was writing entirely independently and without any knowledge of what the other writers had planned; he went straight into "Time, Inc.", as it was called, after submitting "The Mysterious Planet" for approval.
The whole fiasco involving four separate writers submitting scripts for the third block, then all of them getting rejected (it's detailed in all its stupid glory on Shannon Sullivan) really shows that JNT and Saward had even LESS of an inkling as to what they were doing than what you put in your entries — as such, when Holmes/Saward wrote Parts 13 and 14, he/they focused on Ravalox, with not a mention of either Peri or the genocide charge (which was very obviously added in later by JNT), but when the Bakers wrote their own Part 14, seeing as they had just finished the Vervoid story, they naturally focused on their own story to help conclude the "flawed Matrix" plotline, to the detriment of any rational conclusion to that bizarre Popplewick sequence (which, to be fair, neither Holmes nor Saward had a clue how to properly conclude, either).
…I can't recall where the hell I was heading with this parenthetical, but the point is, the Trial writing and production was even shadier and sloppier behind-the-scenes than I'd previously even imagined.)
June 9, 2012 @ 11:37 am
continues to stare at Henry R. Kujawa's weirdness
June 9, 2012 @ 11:58 am
(I'm thinking of Amy's 'big empty house')
I loved that twist! In hindsight, it seems blindingly obvious that young Amelia who lives in an enormous house by herself and pointedly says "I don't have a mom or dad" but never mentions exactly what happened to them is significant. But because we bought into the fairy tale aspect of the little girl who is all alone when her imaginary friend comes to call, no one except the Doctor picked up on it until "The Big Bang." Well, I didn't, anyway. YMMV.
June 9, 2012 @ 1:57 pm
I absolutely agree with you on McCoy. If 1989 – 1995 were all him, I'd be a very happy man. Without a doubt he's one of my favorite doctors. But alas, it was not to be, so I must content myself with what is available, both fun new show and reruns on DVD…
But I must echo the sentiment, give Eleventh Hour a shot. It's pretty good!
June 9, 2012 @ 3:56 pm
Adam – I don't know why it's not working for me, which is something I find extremely unsettling. Or rather, I don't know why it is working for others, and what precisely is locking me out. I mentioned this because I suspect that the Moffat era (more so, or at least more interestingly so than the CB era) may be uniquely polarising, as a consequence of its marking a radical generational shift in terms of the way stories are told and processed by the viewer. I'm just looking forward to Phil shedding some light on this. What I can't stress enough is my complete incomprehension as to what I'm expected to get out of every story (pretty much) since the Beast Below, and I can't help concluding that either I've had some kind of cerebral degenerative episode, or there's something quite remarkable going on, which I haven't yet been able to get a handle on. Sorry not to be more helpful in terms of an explanation, but it's like when my mother tried to get me to eat tomatoes by telling me that I should "try" to like them. How to explain the essence of the nastiness of a raw tomato? I don't want to derail the thread but take Matt and Karen's performances: to me, neither speak or react as recognisable human beings; I can't process their characters. Two dimensional characters I'm used to. This…. feels different. The way the plots move leave me unable to engage with them – it's like when a car drives past sounding its horn as you walk along the pavement, and the people inside expect you to recognise them, but the car's going too fast and you can't see through the window anyway. And as for the new show's moral and ethical stance – well, what did Hitler mean, him in the cupboard? What does it mean for Rory to say "Shut up Hitler"? That seemed to make people laugh. I feel completely clueless what to make of it.
June 9, 2012 @ 4:13 pm
Why don't you hook up your computer so that you can use the TV as a secondary display? Then you're technically watching it on a TV. Best of both worlds, really.
June 9, 2012 @ 5:37 pm
I don't know what to make of Hitler in the cupboard, either. I do know the new series has been playing with "cupboards" quite a lot — boy George puts all his scary toys in the cupboard, the Doctor takes young Sardick to the cupboard to go fishing, the alien Gibbis hides in a cupboard in the Minotaur hotel, and so on. Heck, even the TARDIS is a kind of cupboard. And it's not just a Moffat thing — there's even mention of a cupboard at the beginning of Impossible Planet.
The only obvious thing I can say about Hitler in the cupboard is that we put scary things in cupboards — we put monsters in cupboards.
The cupboard is a metaphor, and as such it asks the viewer to make something of it. This is definitely where Moffat's work on Who's been going — almost everything that happens happens for metaphorical reasons, and those are not spelled out.
Moffat's Who isn't a tomato, it's a watermelon.
June 9, 2012 @ 6:32 pm
"When Colin's Doctor and Peri are at odds it's not obvious that we're supposed to side with Peri. It appears that Peri is there to be looked at not sided with. But yes, a companion who pushed back at Colin's Doctor is one of the things that Colin's Doctor needed."
I think in The Two Doctors, when the Doctor's being unpleasant to Peri, it's clear we're meant to sympathise with Peri. Infact usually it's played as a case of Peri making the right suggestion, only for the Doctor to become irritated with her or dismiss her out of hand. Like when after he first collapses in the Tardis, she suggests he sees a doctor, and then later he forgets she suggested it and acts like it was his brilliant idea all along. Or in the service ducts where he keeps ignoring her warnings about someone following them. The emphasis throughout the story is the gulf between how the Doctor sees the universe and how Peri does.
But a lot of the time it's frustratingly ambiguous. Mainly because it's often so clearly padding. Without point except to fill time, but in the process making one or both of them come across like a pain and a stick in the mud. The scene in Timelash where he literally picks her up and tries to throw her out of the Tardis, I think is pretty clearly presenting Peri as a pest and an irritant who's getting in the way of the Doctor being heroic and seems too stupid to realise it. Then there's the scene in Vengeance on Varos where he's sulking in the Tardis and is being downright horrid to Peri as she tries to cheer him up, which comes off as so blase and moronic, there's no feeling to get from the scene other than irritation, and 'let's please move on'.
It does come across as though, with the exception of Robert Holmes, no thought really went into what this dynamic between the two was meant to convey. Much like the Fifth Doctor's moralising speeches, it comes across like it was written as though the protagonists' angry dialogue is supposed to mean and prove something in and of itself.
When it begins in The Twin Dilemma, with Peri being shocked by this new Doctor's cavalier trashing of his previous self's 'feckless charm', it feels like what the scene is meant to convey is that this Doctor is different and cold and is going to take some getting used to. But we'd feel led to expect that during the course of the story he will actually win us over and prove to have a good heart in him after all. But it never happens. We get quite the opposite in sheer overkill. It's just yet more of the JNT/Saward era's televisual illiteracy at work.
"And as for the new show's moral and ethical stance – well, what did Hitler mean, him in the cupboard? What does it mean for Rory to say "Shut up Hitler"? That seemed to make people laugh. I feel completely clueless what to make of it."
I must say I was also surprised at the way fandom was so amused by the 'put Hitler in the cupboard' routine. I mean it was hardly an example of Moffat's wittiest dialogue. Then again I did find that story to be an absolute nightmare of a viewing experience. And I say that as a fan who was totally team-Moffat, before that story. I mean I am used to Moffat's fanboyish tendency towards flippancy (although RTD's similar flippancy always annoyed me), but here it just felt unrelentingly tasteless.
I think a lot of it though is down to it provoking laughter of relief, since up until then it had been becoming a very excessive, very dark season, and that story inparticular was very excessive indeed. So the laughs it gave people were all the more appreciated, because they were a relief from what I think was becoming a quite stressful viewing experience. And also because of the sense of triumph of someone once as timid and inassertive as Rory, managing to overpower and threaten one of the most ruthless and murderous tyrants in history.
June 9, 2012 @ 7:47 pm
What Flynn said.
As it happens, the most powerful computer in my house is the one for which our TV is the primary display. Why not? Means we can watch streaming stuff, DVDs (Bluerays if I buy a BR drive for the computer), files etc. Means we don't have to have a separate DVD player or recorder for TV (the computer has a TV card in it, and can record TV on the hard drive), or a music system (the TV outputs optically through a home theatre system).
So I'm not disputing your preference for not watching TV and movies on a computer. I'm just pointing out that you're setting up a false binary. And I write as the sort of luddite who carries an 8-year-old mobile phone and refuses to go anywhere near Facebook and Twitter.
June 10, 2012 @ 5:45 am
We're certainly meant to notice that the Doctor is being arrogant and insensitive in the Two Doctors. And Peri's there to point that up. But she doesn't provide any positive alternative. She doesn't stand up for herself enough to be a side.
June 10, 2012 @ 7:41 am
What's funny about "shut up, Hitler" (IMO) is that it's the moment the audience realizes that Hitler is a shaggy dog. The Doctor finally meets history's greatest real life monster face-to-face only to toss him into a closet so they can get on with the real story. Because let's face it, there are no Doctor Who stories you can actually tell about Adolf Hitler that wouldn't be tasteless disasters. Even the Tesselecta, which was there expressly to kill Hitler, completely forgot about him in favor of Melody Pond.
It was funny (to me anyway) because AGMGTW ended with a big cliffhanger, a shocking twist (for those who didn't figure out River's secret weeks earlier), and then, BAM, a mind-blowing, refuge-in-audacity trailer for "Let's Kill Hitler." And then, when we finally get to the next episode, the whole Hitler thing is disposed of almost immediately as it is irrelevant to the more important issues of "Who is River?" and "What happened to Amy's baby?"
One either finds that to be terribly hilarious or else just another example of Moffat being too cute for his own good. I favor the former interpretation because I laughed out loud once I realized what was going on, but I understand why the other response is valid for some people.
June 10, 2012 @ 8:22 am
I must say I was also surprised at the way fandom was so amused by the 'put Hitler in the cupboard' routine
I thought it might be a reference to "put Hitler in the funny pages!" in His Girl Friday — incidentally (apropos of the 6th Doctor) another story where the protagonist is a complete asshole, but likable, and it works.
June 10, 2012 @ 8:32 am
Well, I agree with you about tomatoes.
Re the Moffat era — did you have the same reaction to Moffat's RTD-era scripts?
June 10, 2012 @ 9:56 am
Yes; listen to the Luddite, Henry…
June 10, 2012 @ 10:25 am
Alan: "Because let's face it, there are no Doctor Who stories you can actually tell about Adolf Hitler that wouldn't be tasteless disasters."
Tell that to Terrance Dicks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timewyrm:_Exodus 😉
June 10, 2012 @ 12:16 pm
Colin has said for many years in regards to his Mindwarp motivation – "I asked Saward he didn't know, I asked Ron Jones he didn't know, I asked Philip Martin he didn't know". But on the DVD commentary he and Martin meet for the first time. And Martin told him that the Doctor's actions were very clear to him writing the script.
The Doctor was affected by the Mindwarp machine, as Yrcanos was the previous recipient then some of his mind lingered on the machine so it influenced the Doctor's actions.
Colin was overwhelmed with finally knowing the answer – and aghast that the writer was kept away from the actors so they couldn't ask questions.
Martin also said that he wanted to confuse the audience by the Doctor behaving totally out of character and betraying Peri. But then Colin pointed out that it wasn't out of character for the Sixth Doctor – cue awkward moment.:)
June 12, 2012 @ 9:39 pm
"His almost gleeful pleasure" – I notice the quotes have suddenly started coming from the episode itself, does this indicate you see Trial as a midpoint of sorts?
June 13, 2012 @ 5:09 am
Actually, the key rule isn't what story the quote is from but what Doctor the quote is from – no story uses a quote from its own Doctor as its title. On top of that, regeneration stories use lines from their counterpart story – so The Caves of Androzani took its title from The Twin Dilemma, and visa versa. Both The Three and The Five Doctors used quotes from within themselves. (Shada, on the other hand, cheated in a different direction – it used a quote from Tom Baker, but one of the ones that appeared in both it and The Five Doctors.)
So in this case every quote came from the story in question, but there's a larger theme in play: all four quotes are Valeyard lines. I figured all four should either be from the segment they're about or all four from a different segment, but that it should be consistent either way. And since I didn't think the title of The Ultimate Foe could be anything but what it was, I decided on same segment.
There will, however, be a change to the naming convention for the entries on the novels and audios in the wilderness years.
(In response to the obvious questions: Baker, lacking a regeneration story, will not get one drawn from Time and the Rani, but Time and the Rani will draw from Trial. And I haven't decided what I'll do for the TV Movie yet.)
June 15, 2012 @ 1:05 am
Obviously the show broadly sides with the Doctor. So the fact that he wiped out the Vervoids is clearly intended to be acceptable. But this stands in contrast with, really, almost everything else the Doctor has ever done. The most obvious thing to contrast it with is the legendary "have I the right" speech from Genesis of the Daleks. But here the Doctor seems to not even consider the question, both at the time and in presenting the evidence, where he seems blindsided by the accusation of genocide.
I suspect I feel about Terror of the Vervoids rather as you feel about The Ark. It just sickens me. Pip and Jane’s homilies direct to kids here: ‘Carrots are full of Vitamin A’; ‘Exercise is good for you’; ‘Let’s learn about Autumn’; and ‘Don’t play with fire extinguishers’ (pretty much in those words). Then the final moral is ‘Ethnic cleansing is necessary and unavoidable’.
In line with your view of the Valeyard as a creature of rules, though, if the future Doctor here is indeed on his way to being the Valeyard, it’s telling that his defence is that he was obeying authority (wrong on so many, many levels).
The Doctor is, going into the Trial, on track to become the Valeyard, as evidenced by his failure to realize the horror of what he does in Terror of the Vervoids. And the rewriting of time that occurs at the end of all of this constitutes a turning away from this future towards something better. This is, at last, the moment of exorcism.
I wish I could agree, but doesn’t the Doctor’s bigger, more calculating pre-emptive genocide two years later prove exactly the opposite?
June 15, 2012 @ 1:18 am
I have to disagree with Iain; I frequently find Colin’s Doctor charming on screen, not just in the audios, though I think Iain does have a point about the scripts not helping. It’s the sniping with Peri that’s so wearisome, and no other Doctor’s put through so much of that (the only real example I can think of is the Doctor and Adric’s tiff in Earthshock, and Peter comes across as petulant, snooty and far less charming than Colin). But when he’s given something better, I’ve always found him very winning – The Two Doctors (“I am interested in everything, Mr Botcherby”) and The Mysterious Planet (endearing explaining Ravalox’s rotation) come instantly to mind.
OK, I think what I’m saying is that Colin is charming when Bob Holmes is writing for him. But I always find him very watchable.
I’ll stay out of the argument over Moffat-era Who, except to say that, perhaps undermining my defence of Colin, I find Matt Smith’s Doctor immensely charming – but not the scripts…
June 20, 2012 @ 9:45 am
what on Earth could have been at the bottom of such an abrupt and "permanent" falling out???
As I understand it, based on no precise source but a sort of internet osmosis, they wanted Tennant all along, but he was busy with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so they brought in Eccleston as a (super) temp.
November 27, 2012 @ 6:40 pm
Your narrative re: Roddenberry on TNG is a bit incorrect, as some of the real villains have emerged over the years. For example:
-Tracy Torme and Gates McFadden had extremely negative dealings with Maurice Hurley, with Torme implying that he wasn't alone in the regard (Torme even went so far as to declare on a DVD commentary for Sliders that Roddenberry had named him his heir apparent). McFadden's notorious absence from TNG Season 2 was due to being harassed by Hurley, and her return a result of Hurley's departure.
-Richard Arnold, Roddenberry's "errand boy" (to quote David Gerrold), was given the title of "archivist", and subsequently went power mad, and passed along a ton of often contradictory edicts under GR's authority, particularly to licensees, but also to TNG staff. He's single-handedly responsible for starting the drive to de-canonize the Filmation cartoon, as Paramount legal declared the show and its characters off-limits while the lawyers figured out who owned the show after Filmation closed its doors in 1989, as Arnold claimed that Roddenberry hated it (which is not true, as Lou Scheimer states in his autobiography that Roddenberry was even open to a TNG animated series, but that he died soon after that conversation). And Arnold was not alone, as another Roddenberry toadie/hanger-on was apparently escorted off the Paramount lot the very day that Gene died.
-And, my favorite, Gene Roddenberry's own health: Besides having an aversion to confrontation (which is why his assistants tended to have the amount of responsibility they did), there seem to be signs that Roddenberry's declining health included decreased mental faculties, if I've correctly read between the lines of some of the modern interviews with people like Gerrold and Torme.
September 27, 2013 @ 7:44 am
The Doctor's decision to view and present a story from his own future in his defence is interesting given your rationale for the First Law. The Doctor, Inquisitor, and Valeyard seem to take the view that this is acceptable and that the Doctor can be punished for his future actions by being executed, which presumably prevents them from happening. This is all of course impossible. So perhaps the point is that the Valeyard represents the ultimate threat of the Doctor writing himself into fiction? This might resonate with his apparently becoming the Keeper of the Matrix (the Time Lords' ultimate repository of stories, real and unreal, logical and illogical), as well as a cut bit from The Mysterious Planet where it turns out he did stay on Ravolox and write a thesis (as Dr Waris Bossard), which is where he gets his knowledge of Ravolox from and the reason he went there in the first place.
October 4, 2022 @ 12:32 pm
It’s interesting that Crozier’s discovery (of a way to transfer consciousness from one body to another indefinitely) is one of the very few examples we know of where the Time Lords feel able (compelled) to interfere. Isn’t it broadly the same thing Solon was up to on Karn, before the Doctor was sent there?