Little Green Blobs in Bonded Polycarbite Armour (Resurrection of the Daleks)
|Of all of the silly set design elements of the Nathan-Turner|
years, the tendency to make surfaces more “spacey” by
covering them in bubble wrap is, in fact, my favorite.
It’s February 8th, 1984. Frankie continues to relax in Hollywood, with Queen lurking just below. Duran Duran and The Eurythmics also chart, and The Smiths have one of their biggest hits during their actual career with “What Difference Does it Make” just barely missing the top ten and peaking at #12. But perhaps most significant is Madonna making her chart debut with “Holiday,” which peaks at #6.
The Winter Olympics run through this story, necessitating the merging of episodes into two 45-minute episodes, an experiment that becomes the norm in the next season. Konstantin Chernenko becomes the head of the Soviet Union.
While on television, Davison gets his obligatory Dalek story. There is no such thing as a great era of Doctor Who that has ended without a great Dalek story. The Pertwee era’s inability to quite stick the landing on any of its Dalek stories is emblematic of the nagging doubts plaguing that era. The fact that the Williams era went to pieces on its Dalek story is almost a perfect metaphor for its failings. And on the other extreme, however good – and indeed better – stories like The Brain of Morbius are, it will always be Genesis of the Daleks that is the defining moment of the Hinchcliffe era, and all the various weak spots of the Troughton era can be forgiven in a heartbeat in the face of his two Dalek stories. But perhaps no stories exemplify the way in which Dalek stories serve as the defining metaphors of their eras as the two Saward-penned Dalek stories.
For all the stick I’ve given him, John Nathan-Turner was not untalented. The quality of work at the beginning and end of his tenure makes it very clear that he was capable of producing some phenomenally good television. But it is equally telling that he is by miles the least writerly Doctor Who producer. He is the only post-Innes Lloyd producer of the series to have no significant writing credits to his name. Bryant and Sherwin both served as script editor, Letts wrote several scripts, Hinchcliffe started as a writer, wrote three novelizations, and submitted scripts after his departure, and Williams stepped in on scripts in his era and was set to write one for Season 23. Nathan-Turner, however, was not a writer.
This is not an insult, I should stress. The producer’s job is not first and foremost a writing job, and writing is only one path to the chair. Nathan-Turner has a strong sense of publicity, is savvy about stretching the budget, and is attentive to the visuals even if his aesthetic is at times exceedingly dodgy. But it does explain a fairly basic truth about Nathan-Turner’s tenure, which is that he is more dependent on the quality of his script editor than almost anyone else. (Of course, with a nine season tenure and three script editors, there’s considerably more data available for Nathan-Turner) When he’s paired with a writer who has a strong creative vision for the show he’s able to get that vision to execute successfully and compellingly week in and week out.
Unfortunately, for the better part of five seasons Nathan-Turner was paired instead with Eric Saward. Saward, as we discussed on his first appearance, is a writer with a profound gap between his ability and his taste. And in Resurrection of the Daleks we get a very pure Saward script – one that is has a lot to say, is profoundly concerned with the series history, is constructed as an ambitious, exciting script, and doesn’t quite come off.
Let’s start with what Resurrection of the Daleks isn’t, which is an indiscriminate festival of violence. It is violent, yes, but to read the violence as the point of the exercise requires almost completely ignoring the fact that the story ends with Tegan appalled at the level of violence and leaving the Doctor with the declaration that it’s not fun any more. Given that Tegan has fairly reliably been used as a moral mouthpiece in the series, and given that the Doctor is shown to be very much shaken by her departure, it’s clear that we have to take this seriously as part of the point of the story.
Given this, the structure that Saward is going for is clearly one of a sucker punch. After a lengthy story in which it appears that the story is about the pleasure of fast-paced action and space adventure the rug is suddenly pulled out and the story critiques what we’ve been ostensibly enjoying for the past eighty minutes or so.
Not only is this a perfectly valid structure and approach, it’s a damn good one that’s considerably savvier and more interesting, structurally, than Doctor Who has been in years. On top of that, there’s actually a savvy and interesting engagement with the past. Not only is this story drenched in Dalek continuity – gratuitously picking up from the Movellan war exactly as absolutely nobody wanted – but the story’s iconography is a loyal execution of the Terry Nation style. By situating itself loyally as the extension of Nation’s style of storytelling and then pulling the rug out, we finally have what all of these engagements with the past should have been from the start – an actual commentary on the past that’s interested in it as something more than cheap nostalgia.
It also marks a maturing in Saward’s use of action set pieces, of course. Earthshock was easy to criticize, not because of its violence but because of the complete lack of any engagement with it and its clear belief that men in uniforms shooting things were just plain cool. And Warriors of the Deep repeated the error, treating massive casualties as an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of the need to have cool men in uniforms who shoot things. But here we get something that actually holds its action heroes up to some inquiry. And not just in the end. The whole of Resurrection of the Daleks plays an ongoing game with its mercenaries and soldiers, making them just a bit too ruthless and psychopathic to enjoy. The main example, of course, is Lytton, who plays a clear villain role, but who the story is visibly fascinated with.
Lest we assume because of the more problematic aspects of his tenure that Saward was not a savvy enough writer to attempt something like this, let’s not forget that the writers Saward was most visibly fond of while working on Doctor Who were Philip Martin and Robert Holmes. That Saward had tremendous respect for social satire and structural complexity is evident. The idea that he would attempt it himself is surely uncontroversial. It seems to me difficult to argue seriously that this isn’t what Resurrection of the Daleks is trying for.
And many aspects of it are quite solid. The direction is quite strong (no surprise that the director was tapped to launch Eastenders), and the action sequences come off better than they ever have before in the series. The acting is solid, and there’s several moments where the violence really does successfully tick over to troubling – the sequences with the face-melting gas are really quite disturbing. All of the brutality is pitched exactly where it needs to be so that it’s just troubling enough that we should be able to buy the sucker punch at the end.
So why doesn’t it work? Part of it is, ironically, that this is the one bit of the series’ past that you can’t take this approach with. If you’d just swapped the monsters of Earthshock and Resurrection of the Daleks, both would have been dramatically improved. But the return of the Daleks after four and a half years is one of the few bits of continuity that carried enough inherent weight that it was difficult to undermine. Even if the final sequence hadn’t looked for all the world like Davros and the Daleks ejaculating themselves to death, the idea of Tegan being horrified by a bunch of Daleks exploding just doesn’t quite wash. There’s just too much history of enjoying Daleks slaughtering everybody to use them as the basis of this critique. No matter how solid the critique is – and I think Saward does, in fact, effectively skewer the flaws with Terry Nation-style plotting – actually using the Daleks for it is just a bridge too far, simply because they’ve long been more than just Terry Nation villains.
Lawrence Miles speaks admiringly of the way in which this story was the last time that Doctor Who felt like an event, and he’s surely right. But that’s the problem – this is one of two times in the Davison era when the show is right and the weight of the returning continuity is genuine and big. There’s a lot of room to play within that – as Remembrance of the Daleks will eventually show, you can do a lot, even within the classic series, with the Daleks. But the sucker punch isn’t one of the things you can get to work here.
But there are also just some sloppy and unforced errors here indicative of the larger problem with Saward’s work, which is that he’s just not good enough to do the ambitious scripts he’s shooting for. The decision to kill Laird in the third episode, for instance, is indefensible. As the one character Tegan is actually close to in the story, her death is an obvious opportunity to actually provide a motivation for Tegan’s departure. She should have survived through to the end and died in the final battle so that Tegan actually had a proximate cause for her departure. Instead she gets killed almost as an afterthought, with the big dramatic supporting character death being Stein. Who is a well-acted character, but the struggle of a pleasantly cowardly man to overcome Dalek conditioning is not the best opportunity for dramatic impact.
Indeed, this scene gets at the crux of the problem that Saward has. Stein goes down with a snarky one-liner about the Daleks being just in time for the fun before he suicides to destroy them all. Miles and Wood describe it as “adolescent,” but that’s not the real problem. The problem is that it’s macho action movie posturing of the most stereotypical kind. In other words, it’s exactly the sort of thing the story is supposedly critiquing. And yet in this scene it’s played as a big, cathartic moment. Never mind that the catharsis is unearned and that Stein is completely the wrong character to be using here given that his only settings in the story are “wet” and “traitor,” it’s just the wrong catharsis for the story.
And this is the problem. Saward is writing a critique of violent storytelling, but he has a very muddy sense of where the line is. To constantly push the line as setup to a big about face and moral point requires a meticulous sense of what that line is. And Saward doesn’t have it. He enjoys giggling like a schoolboy at the violence of it all too much. The dead giveaway is the opening, with its “evil cops” routine that’s a blatant homage to the Terror of the Autons scene with the Auton police officers that proved controversial. He’s got a critique of violence going here, but he can’t keep from, in places, engaging in exactly what he’s trying to critique.
Still, it’s easy to like this story – considerably easier than people would have you believe, in fact. In context it’s far from, as Miles would have it, cheap and lightweight. It’s an attempt at a great story, and while it falls short, that’s worth something. In an era where the program has had trouble when striving for mediocrity at times, in fact, it’s worth a great deal.
The problem is that this is by the script editor, and that points to more systemic problems. Especially when you have a producer whose blind spot is writing, when the writer can’t quite deliver the goods you have a big problem. Saward is almost, but not quite, up to the task of greatness. And Nathan-Turner’s production, to work, requires actual greatness. As ever, Dalek stories have an uncanny knack for summing up their eras.
April 16, 2012 @ 12:41 am
The problems crystallise for me in the part when the Doctor sets off to kill Davros and can't do it. It's not that he sets off to kill Davros and then changes his mind. The Doctor's failure to kill Davros is a matter of weakness of will. So that the Doctor has capitulated to the dominance of violence twice over: he's bought into Davros' worldview in which moral principles are really the cover for cowardice.
I suppose you could justify that as a critique of the way in which the Doctor is prepared to use any means to destroy his enemies so long as it's not conventional weaponry. But there isn't anybody in the story as a contrast that you could use to hang that critique from.
April 16, 2012 @ 12:46 am
I'm not sure I'd agree that Tegan's horrified departure can be seen to represent the story's anti-message, when the departure scene itself was never in mind when the story was first written and scheduled to close Season 20, and was going to end with Tegan staying onboard for The Five Doctors and the folowing season. Far from the heart of the exercise, I'd say Tegan's moral mouthpiece moment is an afterthought.
I think the Daleks are very misused in this story. The first reveal of them is done brilliantly, and they are given a chance to be more formiddable and deadly than last time. And indeed the reveal of Davros actually manages to feel like a well hid surprise, with the oft used euphemism 'the prisoner' preserving his anonymity quite well. At first the story has so much going on that you don't have time to predict what hapens next. But in time that excessiveness becomes a problem. Somehow the Daleks actually end up being surplus to requirements in their own story, and victims of a lack of focus. And in showing us the wholesale destruction of the Daleks at the end, it just cheapens their robust, invincible image somehow, to the point where they seemed to have more of their mystique intact after The Five Doctors.
I can see a general theme running through your reviews of late, particularly Frontios, which hints that what might have saved the show in the 80's is if Bidmead had stayed on as script-editor. I can certainly see the show being in better hands with him, but then again most of the bad calls during this period are JNT's own- the decision to do so much continuity navelgazing, render the Fifth Doctor's character impotent and prone to failure, and keep the old writers off the show.
Obviously Eric Saward is to blame for a lot, but I do get the sense he had potential to be far better under a more easygoing producer who wasn't such a control freak and who allowed him to select the very experienced writers the show needed.
I just get the sense here, and in Eric's Warriors of the Deep rewrites that he's stuck with an overwhelming and limiting authority which he simultaneously resents and yet their hooks are in him, and he's at once rigidly toeing the line and doing it the navelgazing, reductionist histrionic way that JNT and Ian Levine want, whilst simultaneously rebelling and acting out by crossing the line, indulging in wrongheaded nihilism and making it all end in disatser- hence the passive-aggressive characterisation of the Doctor, and the hysterical moral hectoring amidst the kind of mean-spiritedness and downbeat endings that leave the audience who remembered Doctor Who as a show about a hero who triumphs over evil, feeling almost like the victim of some sick practical joke.
This season, I think represents where Eric goes from his initial enthusiasm in The Visitation and Earthshock, to drift between being completely cowed and just going completely off the rails. I think the end result of Resurrection of the Daleks is occasionally something where Eric is trying to reckon with personal demons, but overall, like a lot of Terrance Dicks' novelisations, to him 'it's just a job'. The trouble is, it's clearly a job he hates right now.
April 16, 2012 @ 2:10 am
The set design becomes disturbing once you realise that they're using dead Wirrn larvae as construction material.
April 16, 2012 @ 2:15 am
The problem I have with the attitude that blames JNT for the failings of the 1980s and not Saward are that the problems are so perfectly aligned with Saward's tenure. None of the most notable issues with the era are really evident under Bidmead, Root, or Cartmel. Many of JNT's quirks are evident under their respective script editorships, as well, but they seem far less damning. When we engage in continuity navelgazing under Saward, we wind up with this, or with "Attack of the Cybermen" (which I admit to enjoying, albeit in a very "guilty pleasure" sort of way). But "Remembrance of the Daleks" engages with the show's history just as blatantly, and is rightly regarded as a classic.
But, more to the point, I still think there's a real tendency in fandom (and I don't mean to single you out in particular) to blame JNT for every real and imagined problem facing the show during this period. It's not that it's implausible that Eric Saward was stuck in a state of psychological ambivalence where the worst excesses of his style are the result of his acting out against a domineering producer, it's just, well, I don't see a great deal of evidence for it, either. The easier, and on its face more logical, explanation is that Saward was just not very good at the job, and that his writing talents, while not necessarily bad in and of themselves, were ill-suited to this show. And I don't think there's any reason to think that would have been different under Williams, or Hinchcliffe, or Letts. At most, as Phil suggests, its possible that a more writerly producer could have papered over the shortcomings of the script editor, although I'm not fully convinced of that. Ultimately, I think it's much more important to have a producer with visual flair and administrative talent than all of the writing skill in the world. And JNT fulfilled that role adequately enough, IMO.
April 16, 2012 @ 2:37 am
I'm glad you gave RotD a redemptive reading (or as redemptive as possible), because it is so often roundly panned – yet this is something of a guilty pleasure for me.
I think Lawrence Miles is right, this is the last of the original series to feel like an event. I'm very fond of Revelation Of The Daleks now, but at the time it was disappointing, especially since I was expecting something as claustrophobically brutal as Resurrection.
In fact, Resurrection is the very final Doctor Who of my childhood. Not literally – I was only 9 when this went out – but this is the last one I remember feeling any gut connection with, this is the last one which was part of my childhood. Planet Of Fire didn't have anything to say to me; I still find Androzani overrated; and the Baker and McCoy seasons, even at that age, just felt cheap and awkwardly-constructed.
Resurrection's power was its grimness. Other stories were scary because the Doctor or a companion might be in danger, or because spooky things happened; other stories might be exciting because of their action set-pieces and shoot-outs – but Resurrection was different.
Even to a 9-year-old, the mass killing in Resurrection wasn't fun, the way it had been in Earthshock, Warriors of the Deep or (of cybermen) The Five Doctors. It was still exhilarating, sure, but just not necessarily in a nice way.
The normal Doctor Who arrangement was 'threat = scary / violence = fun'. The anticipation of danger was the scary part, but when it all kicked off into action, that's when the tension was released and you could enjoy it.
In Resurrection, and the anticipation and the action were both scary. Death lurked around every corner and was meted out with nightmarishly awkward slowness (see the scene in which Mercer is killed – probably a case of bad stage direction, but its awkwardness is partly what makes it work); bodies littered the corridors; flesh melted, not just on faces, but hands too, causing friends to kill friends; at least two non-participants were murdered (the old man at the start, and the man with the metal detector), which always gave violence a nauseating edge as a child; even the screams – and there were a lot of them – weren't by and large the usual cathartic Hammer Horror shrieking, but sickened groans or agonised yells. And, to top it off, a Playschool presenter, a comforting presence from your early childhood, was machine-gunned in the back by British soldiers. It was a roller-coaster of almost non-stop death. It should have been fun, too, but it was so brutal and so grim that it transcended clean Star Wars-esque excitement, and became something very grimy.
Almost all of my most evocative Doctor Who memories are of mind-bending eeriness: Logopolis, Castrovalva, Enlightenment, Mawdryn Undead; even the cast relaxing at a party in Black Orchid seemed odd in context. Resurrection is the one where the violence had a longer-lasting effect than just superficial thrills. And it made the Daleks really scary.
April 16, 2012 @ 4:19 am
Both this story and Warriors suffer from a lack of alchemy.
Ever since Earthshock, there's been a string of Ascension motifs coming out to play — Professor Haytor sacrificing himself to "know everything"; the Doctor's out-of-body experience in Arc of Infinity (nice meta title, btw) and Turlough's near-death experience in Mawdryn, only to end up floating in space before he reaches the City of Lights in the end; Five Doctors' meditation on immortality & death, and the meditations of the Snakedance; and of course Terminus with its origin myth and a zombie leper's disease named after a biblical character who was resurrected.
With a story that features "resurrection" in its title, I was hoping for a bit more.
April 16, 2012 @ 4:41 am
Yes, this is the glaring omission from Resurrection. We're beaten over the head with the opinion that failure to execute an imprisoned enemy is cowardice and weakness – but this is all said by Davros, so we've no reason to accept it. The problem is that no opposing case is ever made, either in dialogue or in action. The Doctor's ultimate refusal to shoot Davros should have been presented as a positive moral choice: instead it's just depicted as the Doctor shilly-shallying then chickening out, in an apparent vindication of Davros's argument. That's the bit that most needs a rewrite, even more so than all the rapid-fire betrayals, counter-betrayals and counter-counter-betrayals that make the final action sequences such an unengaging mess.
April 16, 2012 @ 5:00 am
At most, as Phil suggests, its possible that a more writerly producer could have papered over the shortcomings of the script editor, although I'm not fully convinced of that. Ultimately, I think it's much more important to have a producer with visual flair and administrative talent than all of the writing skill in the world. And JNT fulfilled that role adequately enough, IMO.
The problem with a producer lacking the writers' craft is that he's almost feeling around in the dark when it comes to the story-telling. You can say that all JNT needs is a better script editor, but not being a writer himself he lacks the essential discernment to identify a top-notch candidate.
April 16, 2012 @ 5:03 am
Couldn't you say the Doctor being forced go back through his past selves and companions was an Ascension motif if you really wanted to, though (and let's face it, many of these interpretations are ones we're choosing to read into Doctor Who, rather than things deliberately placed there by the writers)? His life is literally flashing before his eyes, foreshadowing his impending regeneration
April 16, 2012 @ 5:07 am
Remember what Phil said about The Chase? The Daleks have the power to upend the narrative itself. While the production of The Chase pales greatly in comparison to Resurrection, its understanding of the narrative logic of its situation seems a bit more grounded.
Interesting that both stories feature Dalek duplication technology. In a sense, the Doctor becomes a poor copy of himself when he goes to assassinate Davros. It's as if the Doctor has been programmed (or infected) by the Daleks' values. Their narrative logic holds sway.
April 16, 2012 @ 5:08 am
Yes! Yes, of course, it's still in full force. Thank you thank you, I was a bit tired when I watched this one last night, didn't see what was staring me in the face.
April 16, 2012 @ 5:57 am
To my mind the way to have a positive alchemy in Warriors of the Deep would be if by the time the Doctor saves the day, it's too late to stop the nukes from firing, unless one of the base personell synchs up with the computer to force them to detonate on the base itself. This will mean an act of self-sacrifice, and so Vorshak decides to do it- a former agent of the war machine that threatened humanity now giving up their life to save it and ensure the destruction of their own military base.
Perhaps to make it a more poetic representation of mutually assured destruction, lets say the Doctor actually does manage to find a gas that will paralyse the Sea Devils but not kill them (lets take the Hexacromite out of the story from the start), only with the base about to explode he ultimately can't save them. He can only get Preston and Bulec to safety in the Tardis.
As for Resurrection of the Daleks, I get the feeling Stien's transformation from traitor to saviour might have meant far more if it was actually Kamelion in the role (which some fan rumours have suggested since Resurrection was originally meant to take place after The King's Demons and Kamelion's absence afterwards goes largely unaccounted for until Planet of Fire- maybe Kamelion wasn't a Dalek agent but was simply susceptible to their radio control when in proximity with them, hence the cliffhanger where he only turns evil when brought on the Dalek ship). Then we might imagine the alchemy meaning something more by being based on their friendship with the Doctor overcoming their programming.
April 16, 2012 @ 6:18 am
A fantastic twist would have been the actual programming and release of the Doctor's duplicate. That's the one who could go on to "exterminate" Davros before turning away from it and sacrificing himself at the altar of self-destruction. Meanwhile, Stein (a name connoting the Holy Grail?) helps the real Doctor to escape and save Earth.
April 16, 2012 @ 6:58 am
Whichever way you cut it, having a big machine all set up to make evil duplicates of the Doctor and his companions, and then not actually making evil duplicates of the Doctor and his companions, is a hell of a missed storytelling opportunity.
April 16, 2012 @ 7:27 am
Yes, we should have had evil duplicates of our characters running around. This, perhaps, is what fandom actually loves about Inferno. It's not the plot, which Philip rightly points out missing its own opportunities, but the character study. We get to see all these people we know, but we don't know them as well as we thought.
If anything, it gives us a look at the monster who resides in everyone. In which case, the whole premise of Inferno is a delicious metaphor — drilling into the depths of the planet is just cover for drilling into the depths of the subconscious mind.
That kind of character study has consistently eluded JNT's reign, or maybe it just sticks out like a sore thumb for taking a "soap" approach to storytelling. Much like Nyssa and Tegan forgetting the personal stakes of their encounter with the Master, the follow-up to Resurrection really glosses over any character development for the Doctor. I like to think that Frontios should come after Resurrection, because it shows a very different approach to dealing with monsters.
April 16, 2012 @ 7:50 am
Speaking of Tegan's departure, that scene, along with the last scenes between Jo and the Third Doctor and between Mel and the Seventh Doctor, were why "School Reunion" infuriated me. Because that story presented the idea that the Doctor always leaves his companions behind to boring, hum-drum lives in which they pine constantly for the chance to return to the TARDIS. Whereas in the actual series that aired as opposed to the one that played in RTD's head, the overwhelming majority of companions CHOSE to leave the Doctor's company, often under circumstances that left him distraught or even angry. (Compare Sarah Jane being forced to leave with the First Doctor nearly refusing to allow Ian and Barbara to go home when they finally get the chance to do so.)
April 16, 2012 @ 7:51 am
Also, for all the grimness and violence which made this story unpalatable for so many people, did anyone besides me actually laugh out loud when Lytton and his men showed up in Dalek helmets that had eyestalks sticking out of their foreheads? Way to ruin the mood, design staff!
April 16, 2012 @ 8:02 am
"The problem I have with the attitude that blames JNT for the failings of the 1980s and not Saward are that the problems are so perfectly aligned with Saward's tenure. None of the most notable issues with the era are really evident under Bidmead, Root, or Cartmel."
There are other factors beyond who was script editor during that time however. In Bidmead's season, JNT was being overseen by Barry Letts so this allowed things to run more smoothly and it meant that JNT was not in full control. Someone was there to reign him in.
In Cartmel's era, again there are strict limitations put on JNT by the BBC, forbidding the kind of nihilistic violence that was indulged during Saward's era (and bearing in mind JNT favoured the shock violence approach for the sake of tabloid publicity, and it was certainly JNT's idea that the Fifth Doctor should lose occasionally and end the story on a downbeat note, and that the Sixth Doctor should emerge unstable and violent). The result is the team were forced to get creative instead.
And what's often overlooked is that Cartmel's era only required four scripts to be commissioned a year. So Cartmel only had half Eric's workload as it is- and that still didn't stop Season 24 from being a disaster – which Eric Saward had nothing to do with, but certainly blame can be directed at JNT- over his tenure he had rejected plenty of good writers, so it's little wonder the show was left then with the runt of the litter.
Eric however had seven scripts to commission per season. Which should be easy enough, except that JNT forbid certain older writers from being used. Eric was not allowed to use the writers he wanted to. I doubt any prior Who producer would have made it that hard for him. It's a bit hard to see how both of them deserve equal blame when the best story of the era is Caves of Androzani, which is the one that Eric Saward had to fight for, against JNT's wishes.
Evidently Andrew Cartmel challenged JNT harder in terms of wanting a stronger, more complex take on the Doctor. Whereas Eric Saward was simply given by JNT the two most unworkable characterisations of the Doctor. Firstly that the Fifth Doctor be ineffectual and prone to failure, thus he would have to go against everything that the role of a hero demands, and secondly that the Sixth Doctor be unlikeable and mean-spirited. Neither Bidmead or Cartmel had to follow that kind of wrong-headed chracterisation of the show's lead.
There are other accounts that support Eric's side of events. PJ Hammond said how he was commissioned by Saward to write for the Trial season, and then when he came in to write, he found himself being spotted and looked at suspiciously by JNT and then sometime after getting a call from a reluctant Eric who had to say that he had liked his script but that for some reason JNT decided he didn't want him onboard. This coming in the middle of a crisis season, and where Eric's work to get the show together and ready was being sabotaged by the producer for seemingly petty and arbitary reasons.
Much of the evidence suggests to me that the main reason we didn't see enough evidence of Eric Saward's better work in fiding the best writers was because JNT ensured those scripts never made it to screen.
April 16, 2012 @ 8:06 am
I have two problems with this reading.
1) It requires embracing only Saward's account of the Colin Baker era and ignoring the many contrary versions. For instance, Graham Harper has, as was pointed out in a comment thread a ways back, said that Nathan-Turner was tremendously helpful in making Caves. And it was Saward who dropped Christopher Priest and Pat Mills, the latter remaining a particularly strange decision to me given how much Saward seemed to aspire towards Judge Dredd in his own scripts.
2) Season 24 was fantastic.
April 16, 2012 @ 8:08 am
To be fair, Sarah is the one with issues about being left behind. It's natural for her to consider her experience universal. You're mistaking Sarah's narration with the story proper.
There's some real thought here about the impact of traveling with the Doctor and returning to the Ordinary World, whether by choice or not. Having tasted that glory, to go back is not an easy thing — especially when there's no one to share that experience with. Ian and Barbara have each other, and most of our other companions don't return to the lives they once had, but to something new.
More to the point: traveling with the Doctor creates a strong emotional relationship with the man. Yet we never see the Doctor return to a companion! This is in line with his character — he's always running away. So to have Sarah call him out on this is very apropos, because her situation is so unique, yet highlights the universal truth, that the Doctor fails in his relationships.
April 16, 2012 @ 8:42 am
"That kind of character study has consistently eluded JNT's reign, or maybe it just sticks out like a sore thumb for taking a "soap" approach to storytelling. Much like Nyssa and Tegan forgetting the personal stakes of their encounter with the Master, the follow-up to Resurrection really glosses over any character development for the Doctor."
It really comes across that JNT's conceptions of the main characters were based on reductio ad absurdums. The idea that each Doctor be a contrast to the last, seems less about making them contrast poetically, but in 'fashion' terms. Spun from an opposing colour of cloth. In Spare Parts we actually hear Nyssa properly grieving Adric, and the poetic touch is how in Tegan's absence, despite Nyssa being the meek and quiet one in contrast to Tegan, she too must scream and shout about Adric's death in the same way Tegan did. The poetic point being how symptoms of grief are universal. We'd never see Nyssa break her rigid character in the TV show.
The transition from the heroic 4th Doctor to the ineffectual and near pathologically incompetent 5th Doctor is frustratingly regressive and unworkable. Yet if done with a bit of heart and effort, and less superficial bluister or soulless histrionics, it could've worked.
The idea that the 5th Doctor was an incarnation where the very strength and essence of the Doctor had gone into withdrawl in a body that was little more than a meek and vulnerable courier is potentially thrilling and poignant. Suddenly the Doctor's very much in danger, trapped in a body and personality type that's unsuited to surviving in this universe.
Unfortunately the only writers who seemed to even halfway 'get' this were Robert Holmes and Christopher Bailey, and indeed the Doctor's meeting with the Snakedancer draws on this idea that the Doctor must find his buried essence and inner strength. Unfortunately Bailey has said how neglected he was as a writer, so his idea never becomes any kind of writer's table consensus. So in the next story, that character growth for the Doctor is forgotten and undone.
The Warriors of the Deep fiasco demonstrates this. Johnny Byrne still persisted to portray the Doctor as someone we were meant to look up to and trust in his word, as if he was as right now as he was in the 70's. But then Saward ensured JNT's mandate was done and that the Doctor gets it catastrophically wrong instead, via seeming blinkered self-righteous arrogance. No actual heart or insight behind it.
Strangely the scene in Resurrection where the Daleks' mind scan forces the Doctor to relive his memories and takes him back to the beginning almost suggests that Eric shared the same idea as Bailey. After the Doctor undergoes this regression through his past, he briefly regains Hartnel's caveman-bludgeoning sense of ruthless direct action and decides to kill Davros, even citing how he's doing so to make up for the 'mistake' his previous fourth incarnation made in hesitating to destroy the Daleks. but of course it doesn't last. The Fifth Doctor's personality reasserts itself.
"I like to think that Frontios should come after Resurrection, because it shows a very different approach to dealing with monsters."
With just a bit of rescheduling, the era could have worked so much better and so much more piquantly couldn't it? Funnily enough though, it very nearly did happen that way since Resurrection was meant to close out Season 20, so originally it would've preceeded Frontios.
April 16, 2012 @ 9:03 am
As a four year old I loved this story, all running around, laser fights and Daleks. Now I find it totally unsatisfying.
I get the sense that Saward doesn't so much have a plot as have a series of nasty events. There's no sense of direction or peak. It's a day in the life of a Dalek office. I've always jokingly said that Saward's guiding principle for who was "Life's crap and then you die". It's a very soulless story. There's no lightness to it. It's unremittingly grim.
I'd be interested to see if Lytton gets more screen time than the Doctor as Saward clearly loves the character more than the Doctor who in his own show is hugely pointless (he'll shoot dead a Dalek mutant with a gun but not Davros). The Doctor spends no time at all interacting with Lytton which makes the Attack of the Cybermen relationship totally ridiculous.
Not a fan of this story at all – it vies with Time-Flight, Arc of Infinity and Warriors of the Deep for which is the worst.
April 16, 2012 @ 9:05 am
I actually like this particular design choice. The Eyestalk is very iconic. It immediately identifies these people as working for the Daleks… and more than that, it shows that they have been made in the image of the Daleks. They show no compassion, no remorse, complete obedience, their sole function to fire their weapons. Given that this isn't just an allegiance but a mindset, using the helmets in this way is much more apt than, say, having Dalek roundels on their uniforms. It's perfect that the eyestalk comes out of the forehead, making it a "third eye" referent that's been corrupted.
And, like you say, it adds a bit of sorely needed levity.
April 16, 2012 @ 9:09 am
I'm not sure The Doctor is always running away and fails in his relationships with companions as much as he, like Phil suggested way back in "The Time Travellers", is forced to move forward because the universe and narrative change every serial and he's the only constant. I think attributing this to carelessness and cowardice is perhaps misreading the soul of the thing. As soon as a companion leaves, they essentially die to him.
Incidentally, I hated "School Reunion" too, but not for that reason.
April 16, 2012 @ 9:40 am
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April 16, 2012 @ 9:44 am
To be fair, Sarah is the one with issues about being left behind. It's natural for her to consider her experience universal. You're mistaking Sarah's narration with the story proper.
If so, so is the Doctor himself. He explicit accepts Sarah Jane's criticism of him and later flat-out tells Rose that he leaves his companions behind because he can't bear to watch them grow old. That might explain why he so rarely comes back to visit them, but according to the history of the show, that's certainly not what they leave in the first place.
April 16, 2012 @ 9:46 am
Maybe so, but until I saw an eyestalk sprouting out of Lytton's forehead, I'd honestly never noticed how … phallic they were.
April 16, 2012 @ 9:48 am
So the helmets served as a brilliant bit of foreshadowing for the ending.
April 16, 2012 @ 9:53 am
That thing you did there. I saw that.:)
April 16, 2012 @ 10:09 am
Yes, the narrative demands a continual moving on, but this is handled diegetically with his character being one of adventure and exploration, not to mention his fear of standing over the broken bodies of people he loves (the Problem of Susan has been with us from the beginning.) This is a man who's always on the run.
However, I would temper that characterization — it's not out of carelessness or cowardice, but rather a fundamental misunderstanding of relationship. For all that the Doctor can empathize with monsters, he's not so good at putting himself in the shoes of those who've traveled with him. And because he's never gone back for anyone, he's never gotten any feedback on what it means — the Brigadier excepting, which is queer because the Brig's whole role in the Doctor's life has always been about fighting monsters, not exploring the stars.
After Sarah Jane lets him know what the real score is, the Doctor does come to call on those who've been with him. The farewell tour is as much a reward for his friends as it is for him (and just to point out the Alchemy of the situation, this is a Homecoming, reunion with loved ones on the Other Side, which is what makes death heavenly.) Anyways, what Sarah ends up pining for is not another spin in the TARDIS, but closure in her relationship.
I wonder if this is this something the Doctor has to learn over again in each incarnation. He never thinks to drop in on Amy and Rory until Madge dresses him down at Christmas.
Maybe it's an extra-diegetic comment, too. The Doctor left us alone in the wilderness for so many years — we were the companions left behind. After seeing the magic and majesty of the Doctor's life, to go back to the mundane narratives of the ordinary world, well, I think it tore a lot people apart. 🙂
This is what it means to be The Girl Who Waited.
April 16, 2012 @ 10:24 am
The transition from the heroic 4th Doctor to the ineffectual and near pathologically incompetent 5th Doctor is frustratingly regressive and unworkable
You know, I've been trying for ages to work out what it is that's causing this massive disconnection between the commenters who think that the fifth Doctor (and thank you for using the correct terminology; it is appreciated) is a terrible betrayal of the character and, well, me. And I think this has finally nailed it:
I don't think the Doctor should be a hero. And what's more, I don't think that the essence of the character includes being a hero.
Those who are raging against the fifth Doctor seem to be doing so because they think that the Doctor ought to be heroic, and the fifth Doctor, well, isn't. And that they think this is some kind of betrayal.
But actually, of all the Doctors in the original run of the series, only two — the third and fourth — are anything like heroes. Hartnell isn't, Troughton isn't, the fifth Doctor as we're discussing isn't, the sixth certainly isn't and neither is the seventh.
(The tenth definitely is, which is why that era vies with T. Baker's as my least favourite; the eleventh kind of is and kind of isn't, there's something more complicated going on there which this margin is to small to contain.)
And what I think is fascinating about Doctor Who when done properly is that it's an adventure programme of the type that would normally have a leading-man-hero at the centre… but it doesn't. Instead of the 'hero' archetype at the centre it has the 'trickster' archetype. The little man who flits around manipulating people and events, defeating the baddies by misdirection rather than by any kind of heroic action.
I find that conception of the Doctor much more interesting than when he's in one of his heroic incarnations, because, let's face it, TV is not short of heroes.
So yes: anyone who thinks the fifth Doctor is a retrograde step, you are quite simply wrong. It was the third Doctor who was the retrograde step, taking the programme about the fascinating trickster-wanderer-prestidigitator and making it about a boring hero instead (yes, this may have been necessary to keep the programme on the air; but all that shows is that sometimes you have to go in the wrong direction in order to avoid an obstacle and stay on the road, and the sooner you get back on the right direction the btter). The fourth Doctor continues the wrongheaded heroic trend,and the fifth Doctor is when it finally starts to get back on track: the problem being that the right kind of Doctor keeps getting put in the wrong kind of stories, stories that are about heroes and so he is ill-suited for and so looks feeble.
But in stories where he gets to be a trickster, winning by guile and trickery instead of trying to be a big damn hero, like 'Frontios' (the Doctor's brer rabbit trick with the Gravis is exactly what Doctor Who should be about and exactly what the fourth Doctor wouldn't do because Tom Baker could never let it look like his Doctor couldn't just force the Gravis to put the TARDIS back together through sheer boggly-eyed-ness), he shows exactly where the programme should be going — even if it won't reach it until the seventh Doctor takes over and defeats nearly every enemy in that way.
April 16, 2012 @ 10:24 am
(The sixth Doctor, in case you're interested, re-establishes another element of the trickster: the fact you can't trust him. The Doctor, as well as being on the sidelines and not in the centre, should be scary. Like a certain other fictional character, he should be good, but not safe — never, ever safe. You should never quite know if you can trust him: again, something that ran through the first and second Doctors but was abandoned with the wrong turn in 1970 when the Doctor became, instead of the mischievous powerful imp who was fascinating precisely because you never quite knew what he was going to do, the comforting hero-figure who you could hide behind and know he would sort out all the problems.
Of course, the sixth Doctor went rather too far in that direction and it was, again, not until the seventh Doctor that we got a properly integrated trickster-figure who again combined manipulation rather than heroics as his weapon with an unpredictability and not knowing exactly what he might do or who he might have to sacrifice to do it.)
April 16, 2012 @ 10:27 am
I understand your reading, I'm just not entirely sure I agree with it, at least as a template for all the Doctors across the whole series. McCoy's Doctor kept a very close eye on Ace and Raine throughout their whole lives, for example, because he saw great potential in them and wanted to help them grow. They're not destined for the mundane, and it's meeting The Doctor that kickstarts their path.
Depending on how you conceptualize them, Tom Baker's character was perfectly willing to let Romana go because he had the utmost confidence in and respect for her and she still keeps popping in and out of stories depending on your personal canon. Same is true, I feel, with Bernice Summerfield and River Song.
IMO Smith's Doctor stayed away from Amy and Rory because Series 6 was explicitly about showing how The Doctor was a dangerous menace who ruined the lives of everyone he ever met and came in contact with and by the Christmas Special he'd finally internalized it.
I get the extra-diegetic commentary too and I think that's a really fitting and accepted way to view the narrative at this point, but then again the wilderness was so very long ago…
April 16, 2012 @ 10:40 am
I agree The Doctor shouldn't be a hero. Wholeheartedly. I can't speak for the other commenters, but my biggest problem with Davison isn't that he's not a hero, but that he's overly human. I think making The Doctor vulnerable, ineffectual and easy to relate to is just as problematic as making him a superhero. This is the same problem I have with McGann and the New Series Doctors too: IMO The Doctor should always be Lovecraftian, unreadable and alien in addition to being a marginal trickster.
I like your take on Colin Baker, but I still think his era is disastrous because the team went for unpredictable and hit contemptible instead.
Though I basically agree with your take on Pertwee and Tom Baker, I wouldn't go quite so far myself. I can still enjoy the stories, the acting and the ideas and it's a really fun experiment to watch those eras while picturing Katy Manning and Lalla Ward as The Doctor instead! Also, I'll admit I have a nostalgia bias here too.
I'll wager we can both agree the McCoy era nails is just right though.
April 16, 2012 @ 10:59 am
Excellent — we can blame Resurrection for Dalek Sec's design.
April 16, 2012 @ 11:01 am
Well, with both the fifth and sixth Doctors they were feeling their way back to what the Doctor should be after Tom Baker had derailed the programme by making it orbit his ego for several years. So both get some elements right, but also they get some elements wrong; and of course it doesn't help that the characterisation, and the writing in general, is so inconsistent.
And I would be wary of making the Doctor too alien as well. He needs a little humanity or you end up with the Dave Stone Doctor who is an eldrich horror wearing a human shell in order that we (and his companions) not be driven instantly insane by beholding his terrible true self.
Nevertheless, I think that when the fifth Doctor works — 'Frontios', 'The Awakening', 'Enlightenment' — he, like the seventh, nails the trickster-lead perfectly. The problems come when the stories are constructed to need a hero, and of course the fifth Doctor isn't a hero, so he ends up looking ineffectual. But in 'Frontios', for example, he's anything but ineffectual, and in 'Enlightenment' he spaces an Eternal and steals her ship before winning the biggest race in history! 'Ineffectual' is not the word.
And I don't have a problem with making the Doctor vulnerable anyway, at least if the alternative is making him invulnerable. He certainly shouldn't be invulnerable.
April 16, 2012 @ 11:07 am
One bit of McCoy I don't like is the scene in Survival where he disables the drill instructor with his finger. That's too far from human. The Doctor shouldn't, I think, have any special powers, respiratory bypass systems, or whatnot: physically, I think he ought to be close to a human (with the obvious exception of being able to regenerate and that should only be referred to in actual regeneration stories).
The Doctor's only weapons should be his knowledge and his cleverness: his ability to think quickly and to trick people into doing what he wants them to do.
April 16, 2012 @ 11:24 am
Right, I think there needs to be some kind of balance. I think the show has a frustrating history of vacillating between extremes. I'd rather not think the choice is complete vulnerability vs. invincible, I'd like to hope there was some middle ground possible. I'd still prefer a Doctor who trends closer to the "alien" side of the spectrum, but of course he still needs a spark of humanity because he creates very human stories. But that doesn't mean he has to be a Boy's Own character or, say, a 21st Century pop culture-quipping Geek Chic lead.
That said, I think you make some great points about Davison. Like anything, a lot of his tenure depends on the writing and production being in the right place for his portrayal to get the best showcase. In much the same way Troughton can be painfully squandered on Bases Under Siege and even Tom Baker can be forced into a mercurial turn every once in awhile (before Graham Williams gave up and made him redundant anyway) Davison can do a trickster lead nicely. Sadly, I think a lot of subsequent critics and creative team personnel fixated on the wrong aspects of this era, just as the original team frequently did.
April 16, 2012 @ 3:03 pm
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April 16, 2012 @ 3:12 pm
SK, you've make me ponder a lot.
But with Pertwee there were still transitionary hints of shadiness that made him slightly suspect, like he didn't entirely have humanity's interests at heart- like in Spearhead from Space, The Silurians and Terror of the Autons. He tries to flee rather than help UNIT in his first story, and seems positively glad that the Master's gotten away and will strike again. Even Tom's not exactly the hero of the hour in Genesis of the Daleks (rather a Hartnellian throwback)and there's definitely a shadiness to him in Planet of Evil and Pyramids of Mars.
But Tat Wood put it best "the Doctor conform to our ethical and moral expectations for reasons of his own but not so often as to be boring or end the show." which gets to the issue of the show's longevity, and how if the show ended in the 70's it would not have endured- if the Doctor's an overreliable hero then it gets too complacent, it needs no followup. So the Doctor must change.
The NAs endured since authors had far more freedom to use the 7th Doctor like no other hero. They probably could do the same with the 6th Doctor. But the 5th Doctor I'd say in the main was far too limited. You could tell any kind of story with him, but he'd be inherently the most redundant, disposable part of it.
It bothers me that there's no transition or reason why the Doctor regresses. Under JNT it happens because the producer wishes it so. It's author's fiat, someone pressed a reset switch and undid all that deveopment, and as the regression is artificial, it's unbreakable. The Fifth Doctor isn't self-willed or devious, he's utterly puppeteered.
Now the obvious course is that the Doctor's confidence in his own heroism leads to his downfall, so he must learn more subtle, covert ways to deal with adversity. But the 5th Doctor doesn't seem clever. In Kinda/Snakedance he must relearn everything again. Warriors of the Deep shows him as incapable of even basic common sense, or of learning from his mistakes. An antihero has to be worth rooting for, but there he's just a loser. Going from an intelligent hero to an intelligent antihero makes sense, but not to a hopeless idiot. And unless he represents something life affirming, there's nothing admirable about that anti-hero at all. So I see Davison as a regression from even the 1st Doctor.
Of course there's exceptions like Enlightenment, Frontios, Caves. But they illustrate how the 5th Doctor must be written against type to work. Even Enlightenment has a scene where the Doctor, on his way to save Turlough from imminent death, stops to toss a coin.
One's left not thinking 'he's an anti-hero', or 'he's not someone you can trust'… but rather 'is something wrong with him?'. That's almost a microcosm of the Doctor's lack of cognitive reasoning in Warriors and Twin Dilemma, confusing antiheroics with mindless lunacy. No method in the madness.
There were other problems with the era. The ugly histrionics prevented anything cathartic from coming through. Also Davison was too straight laced and sanitised to come off as a trickster. He was made Mr Nanny to a bunch of brats, and the Master's recurring presence always ends up making the Doctor seem too straight laced.
The big problem is Saward's lack of subtlety. Instead of imagining clever trickster methods for the Doctor to use, he simply resorts to weapons of mass destruction and has the Doctor procrastinate on using them on moral grounds until everyone's dead, as if he had no other idea.
Eric eventually learned that the Doctor's strength is more in the power of persuasion and doing 'the right kind of a little', as in Genesis. But that's not till Revelation of the Daleks.
April 16, 2012 @ 6:33 pm
having a big machine all set up to make evil duplicates of the Doctor and his companions, and then not actually making evil duplicates of the Doctor and his companions, is a hell of a missed storytelling opportunity
Like in Star Trek: Nemesis, when they introduce a younger clone of Picard, tell us that he's programmed to accelerate in growth to look like Picard, and then … never do it.
Instead of the 'hero' archetype at the centre it has the 'trickster' archetype.
But we can still distinguish, can't we, between a successful or effective trickster and one who isn't it? That seems like a difference between Two and Five, and I think that's what people are complaining about with Five. Maybe that's, as you say, a flaw with the stories Davison got, but it's still a flaw.
April 16, 2012 @ 6:47 pm
but then again the wilderness was so very long ago…
But then we get a mini-wilderness every year ….
April 16, 2012 @ 7:34 pm
The Fifth Doctor is supposed to be a trickster — you certainly don't dress up your "hero" as Harlequin otherwise. He uses trickery to fool the Master in Castrovalva, plays the "wise idiot" in Kinda — everything is set up for him to step into this archetype. Even the loss of the Sonic is supposed to move him in this direction.
But then his tricks seem to dry up. Sure, he fakes out some androids in Caves, and pwns the Gravis in Frontios, but is there really anything else?
April 16, 2012 @ 11:23 pm
My personal "fan theory" is that the fourth Doctor was so tied in to the destruction of large parts of the universe in Logopolis, with the shockwave of the event still echoing through the cosmos as he died, that the regeneration was flawed. The final effect of this is seen in the following regeneration, when the pendulum swings too far the other way.
It's a bit of a stretch, but it does for me in explaining away JNT's pendulum idea.
April 16, 2012 @ 11:59 pm
It bothers me that there's no transition or reason why the Doctor regresses
Again, fundamentally I don't see it as a regression: as far as I'm confused, any movement away from the nadir that was Tom Baker is by definition progress.
We have a production team that has to effectively re-learn how to make Doctor Who, a programme that was cancelled in the mid-seventies and replaced in the schedules with tom Tom Baker Show, from scratch. They go in the right direction but they go that way in a rather faltering and unsteady way: they know what Doctor Who is supposed to look like but they don't quite understand how to get there.
Quite often what they do is ape the external trappings of real Doctor Who without quite understanding why they worked — like people cashing in on a successful film or TV programme by making another one that is superficially similar, but fails because it doesn't quite understand the infrastructure that held up the first one under the surface.
So they populate the TARDIS with a larger crew than before, giving the Doctor two female companions and one male, just like the original cast. So far so superficial — but they miss the point that the original cast was carefully constructed, so that the trickster was complemented by a hero, a maiden, and a mother. The original cast isn't just 'two women, two men', it's a very carefully-constructed set of rôles, each with a specific function. and the original Davison crew totally misses that: there's not a hero among them.
Of course, it quickly became apparent that the 'mother' rôle was superfluous and so Barbara was never replaced. But throughout the sixties, there was still a hero and a maiden.
See I've been thinking about this more and realised that Doctor Who does actually need a hero: it doesn't shouldn't, ever, be the Doctor. Ian, Steven, Ben or Jamie, yes: but not the Doctor.
The fifth Doctor isn't an ineffectual trickster: just in the serial which is the topic of this page he dos things like break Stein's conditioning, which defeats Davros's escape. If there'd been a companion to take the hero rôle and hold Davros at gunpoint only to be prevented from killing him by the arrival of the Dalek agents, so the Doctor didn't have to do it (and so the Doctor's manipulation is shown to succeed where the hero's brute force failed, as opposed to the Doctor's manipulation succeeding where the Doctor's attempt at brute force failed), then perhaps people would realise that he is an effective trickster instead of focusing on those moments where he's put into playing the hero because there's no more suitable member of the main cast available and is uncomfortable — as the Doctor should be uncomfortable when forced to play the hero.
If any regeneration was flawed, it's the one that produced Tom Baker.
And this is why the seventh Doctor's era is the one that finally clicks, because they realise this but they put it back with a twist: they add a heroine to take the action bits, thus freeing the Doctor up to fully embrace the trickster rôle.
April 17, 2012 @ 1:33 am
I think Tom Baker is the most inhuman alien of the Doctors. See Horror of Fang Rock, throughout. It's not just HoFR though: the essence of his characterisation is that he's put in horrifying situations and then refuses to take them seriously unless they're of sufficient magnitude to threaten at least earth's biosphere.
McCoy's Doctor is alien in a way but not inhuman. Seeing him as inhuman is a misreading of the character. He's perhaps the most compassionate of the classic Doctors. He feels the moral dilemma of what he says to Fenric about Ace. I suppose I fundamentally disagree with any interpretation on which he ought to basically approve of Commander Millington.
April 17, 2012 @ 1:38 am
John Nathan-Turner clearly could identify top-notch candidates for script editor since his next script editor was brilliant (if you allow for a shaky start given that he had no experience writing for television).
So many times Davison or his companions make decisions by tossing a coin. It's like they're imitating the producer: heads, the Doctor will be a carnival huckster with a companion who does nothing but (justifiably) whine a lot; tails, the Doctor will be an avuncular trickster with a companion who is a troubled adolescent who cooks up explosive when she's not meant to.
April 17, 2012 @ 1:47 am
The difference between someone who was a Doctor Who fan prior to 1990 and a post-2005 fan is that only the former individual has this gaping wilderness in his or her soul. For the post-2005 fan, the sun will rise every morning. The dark days of winter will be illuminated by the Christmas Special. As for fans weaned on the Interruption, they grew up in seemingly eternal darkness. Unlike other fans, they are not primarily interested in a broadcast television programme. Who knows what strange thoughts lurk behind their pallid foreheads?
April 17, 2012 @ 2:17 am
I'm sorry, you completely lost me there. What?
April 17, 2012 @ 2:45 am
David and Iain above nail the biggest of many big problems for this story for me, and one of several which – to disagree with you, Phil – makes it far more of a failure than Earthshock. In that, the Doctor doesn’t get a proper comeback to the Cyberleader; here, there’s a whole extended debate in which Saward understands and can eloquently expound Davros’ point of view, but simply has no clue whatever about what makes the Doctor tick. And it’s difficult for me not to see that as an absolute and critical failure of no-one else but Eric Saward, however much people try to put the blame elsewhere, because no other writer (including the many under JNT) ever makes such a horrible mess of it. Well, until Russell inexplicably copies the scene in Journey’s End, but it seems like a way-off day for him, and entirely in character for his ’80s predecessor…
Added to that, no-one seems to notice the aside in the middle of it: “Outside. Deal with them.” Yes, the Doctor, distracted by agonizing about whether to kill Davros or not, just orders his mates to go and shoot a couple of extras.
April 17, 2012 @ 3:13 am
“There is no such thing as a great era of Doctor Who that has ended without a great Dalek story.”
I’d very strongly disagree with that – and though many would rule my disagreement out of order, given that you often write about the books, I’d say the words “New Adventures”.
I think you make a good case that Resurrection has something interesting to say about violence, and much as I often dislike Saward’s work and attitude, some of it does work (though notably he’s not yet discovered his two favourite writers yet, and is yet to become the one-man Bob Holmes Tribute Band). I agree with him in interviews where he says violence has to be shown to hurt, to be damaging; yet, as you say, he still glories in it here even as he criticises it (much like The Seeds of Doom), and the story is just far too morally compromised to work – most blatantly in Saward understanding and being able to write for Davros and Lytton but thinking the Doctor’s just a weedy wimp. While JNT does an excellent producer’s job here in making the story a ‘mid-season launch’ in the style later re-popularised with Dalek.
Though I usually get your point even when I disagree with it, there’s one claim you casually throw out that I just can’t understand. I’d agree that “The direction is quite strong”, but “the action sequences come off better than they ever have before in the series”? I’m just bemused. I’d be interested to think what you’re getting at here, because while the direction is mostly good, with some notable failings, I can think of more than a few previous action sequences from The Invasion to Earthshock that are far more successful. For me, the opening sequence is moody, atmospheric – though distractingly bloodless – but as much driven by the music (terrific throughout) as the direction, but most of the later action is very flawed. How can two sets of buzzing light-bulb guns be the best thing ever? Even when I was a boy, I looked at those and thought, ‘When we do that in the playground, we put more energy into it’. Has anyone ever spotted the point where Tegan gets knocked by a Dalek in the first couple of minutes without rewinding? And the warehouse fight at the ‘climax’, which is an incoherent mess in long shot, in the dark, in the smoke. All I can think of is that you’ve fallen for your own theory that all television must progress, and therefore this must necessarily be better-made than previous stories. Much of it remains good, but it’s never looked that good to me.
Mind you, the script is just as incoherent – the first episode (four-part version) is still rather thrilling, but then it just falls to pieces, and particularly in that Saward’s just not interested in any of the regulars and lets them wander about aimlessly while the guest actors do the important bits. The Doctor doesn’t even meet most of the characters, let alone have an impact on their plots. Most notably, Turlough wanders off unseen, then some more, then the Daleks say their plan is to let him wander about some more…! After which he bumps into some other people who are wandering about, and they wander aimlessly together. And though Rula Lenska’s death packs a wallop, by the end of the story Saward’s even lost interest in his own characters, and Mercer’s killed somewhere in the background, move along, nothing to see here (though, again, that’s partly the director messing up yet another action scene).
The whole Gallifrey plot comes in and goes out without anyone doing anything with it; one of the ‘climaxes’ appears to consist of the Doctor and the Supreme sending each other insulting text messages (‘OMG I have duplic8s in ur face’ / ‘Ur duplic8s rnt stable LOL!’); and as Tegan’s leaving is just stuck on the end of an existing script, surely rather than the ‘point’ being Tegan’s alienation, it’s more the case that Saward just didn’t bother to write anything for her to do and then thought, ‘Aha! I bet she feels alienated, so that’s why she’s leaving!’
Henry R. Kujawa
April 17, 2012 @ 3:55 am
The classic "train wreck" story. I actually pulled this out a few times over the years to watch, completely separate from the rest of the series (which I can say with authority, since I HAVE the entire series as shown on PBS on videotape– every single bit of it). It's like… you KNOW it AWFUL, but you can't take your eyes off it. But I think, after awhile, instead of trying to figure it out, you reach a point where you realize, you have figured it out. And it's just BAD. (sigh)
Making it worse: MY copy (the one circulating on PBS for at least a decade!!!) has NO MUSIC and NO SOUND EFFECTS in the entire 2nd half. I mean– WTF!!! I rented it once, and, yes, it was MUCH better. But my VCRs weren't quite working right at the time, so I wasn't able to make a copy for myself. (Cheap B******, I know…)
I can see how this really would have been better as the 20th season finale. That way, at the end of an entire season of returning monsters, you'd have the ultimate WHO monsters returning, only, "It's not fun anymore!" And if Peter Davison F***** up the way Peter Davison DID F*** up, maybe starting with the next story he'd finally get his S*** together, come out of that damned COMA he's been in since "LOGOPOLIS" and start acting like "THE DOCTOR" again. If "THE FIVE DOCTORS" had come right after this, it might have been able to signal the start of a whole new direction, unlike being a maddening "blip" into between tales of pointless ineffectiveness.
When even Eric Saward says in interviews that he "hates" this story, you can't help but shake your head in dismay. If it's so bad, WHY the hell did he WRITE it like that??? Idiot.
April 17, 2012 @ 5:22 am
By inhuman I mean capable of understanding and engaging with human concerns and emotions. The most obvious example of Tom Baker's inhumanity is the bit in Horror of Fang Rock where Tom Baker announces that they may well all be dead by morning with a toothy grin, as if it's the most fun he's had for ages. But his Doctor seldom makes much of an emotional connection with the events of a story. He can do terror at cosmic or worldshaking destruction, and up to a point concern for a companion, but often he's just pleased with how clever he is or faffing around being enigmatic.
McCoy's Doctor does engage with human concerns. If he does something apparently unfeeling it's not because he doesn't feel; it's because he's acting on some larger and more important perspective.
Neither would be shaken by the habit of New Series villains of rubbing the Doctor's face in his morally questionable acts: McCoy because he'd taken all that into account already when he made the decision, and Baker because he just wouldn't be able to see the problem.
April 17, 2012 @ 5:27 am
Right. Yes. I agree totally.
April 17, 2012 @ 5:33 am
To be fair, though, McCoy is wounded by his own morally questionable acts. This is the thing that makes Curse of Fenric brilliant (where its other option would have been unwatchable) – the fact that McCoy plays the Doctor as genuinely shaken by what he had to do when he comforts Ace at the end.
April 17, 2012 @ 6:00 am
Isn't that what 'engaging with human concerns' means?
April 17, 2012 @ 9:26 am
Yes. It's not that it hadn't occurred to the Doctor what he'd done to Ace until Ace confronted him with it. He knows and feels what he's doing as he does it.
April 17, 2012 @ 9:58 am
Still, he doesn't show the emotion until confronted with it. I mean, I think it's a fairly uncharitable reading of the new series to suggest that their rubbing the Doctor's face in his moral failings constitutes the Doctor thinking about those failings for the first time. To suggest that McCoy's Doctor wouldn't be shaken by a villain who pointed out to his face that he's a manipulative bastard who hurts the people around him seems to me to be quite a stretch.
April 17, 2012 @ 10:28 am
I think the difference is that yes, McCoy's Doctor would feel bad about hurting people close to him, but he'd do it anyway because he would know it would be the right thing to do if it was the only way to resolve the situation. He'd accept the critique and apologise as best he could, but would counter he had no other alternative and would have no regrets about it if it was something he had been forced to do. It's just like Troughton telling Jamie and the Waterfields flatly to their face that he'd let them all die in a heartbeat if it meant stopping the Daleks. He doesn't want to and would feel horrible about it, but he has larger concerns than the individual. Eccelston, Tennant and Smith, however (particularly the latter two), would be thrown into a self-destructive spiral of mopey existential angst and would end up balking and running away, making the situation infinitely worse. And then they'd do it again. And again, and again and again until we all get completely fed up.
And I also agree with Dave on his second point: Tom Baker really wouldn't see the problem. Romana probably would, but then that's why she's Romana, right?
April 17, 2012 @ 10:56 am
He doesn't show the emotion because there isn't an opportunity.
A villain has the moral authority to point out to the Doctor that the Doctor is not as morally superior as the Doctor thinks he is. The power of a moral reproach from Davros or the Master comes from the fact that Davros and the Master are under no illusions about their behaviour. And to that it's acceptable for the Doctor to respond that he's under no illusions about his behaviour either. They don't have any power to shock the Doctor in what they say.
Ace's moral authority in this respect is quite different. It's not sufficient there for the Doctor to say simply that he's under no illusions.
(Also, I think it's possible to overstate the degree to which McCoy, on screen, is a manipulative bastard who hurts the people around him. I think I'd argue that interpretation is in many ways a back-projection from the Virgin New Adventures. My interpretation would depend on readings of the television stories, and it's true I haven't seen a number of them, including Silver Nemesis, since first broadcast.)
April 17, 2012 @ 11:11 am
eta: I don't think it's an uncharitable reading of the new series to think that Tennant's Doctor has a tendency to moral hubris, so that there's genuinely something there for Davros to puncture. I think that's a fairly explicit theme of his character.
Likewise, I don't think Eccleston's Doctor was thinking about whether he'd make a good dalek until the dalek told him so.
Smith's Doctor is more self-aware I think: it's telling that the villain who gives him the hardest dressing down is the Dream Lord. And that the River Song plotline that leads up to the dressing down in A Good Man Goes to War started under Tennant.
April 17, 2012 @ 11:23 am
I definitely agree that McCoy's manipulative nature runs the risk of being misread and I certainly would claim that the callous, uncaring chessmaster interpretation most assuredly comes more from Virgin. It's also very much worth remembering that RTD and numerous New Series writers got their start writing for Virgin, so it may actually be more accurate to compare the New Adventures to that instead of the Cartmel era.
On TV and on Big Finish, McCoy typically plays the manipulator as a form of teaching, because he's trying to help Ace (and later Raine) grow as a person (see in particular "Ghost Light", "Thin Ice" and "Crime of the Century"). He's not grooming her to be a pawn in his fight against ancient cosmic evil, she's just someone he sees a lot of potential in and wants to see become the hero of her own story. There's a good reason this era has been dubbed by some "The Sorcerer's Apprentice".
McCoy's really good at this and has even begun doing this with one-off guest casts in recent serials, reaffirming not only his ability to inspire people to blossom and tell their unique stories but also his capability to handle a story with no other regulars. It's because of him I really see The Doctor as a muse and an engine of creativity and not a leading man or an avenging angel.
Now "Curse of Fenric" is a bit of a different story because it's the climax of an epic story arc about the apocalyptic reawakening of cataclysmic forces. Even then though there's only one scene at the very end, The Doctor's hand is forced and he makes up for it immediately afterward. Had the series continued past "Survival" I am 100% positive this thread about The Doctor being a mysterious elusive muse would have continued, especially seeing as how "Thin Ice" and "Crime of the Century", stories overtly about the final exam of one apprentice and the debut of another, were pegged as the openers for Season 27.
April 17, 2012 @ 11:30 am
The seventh Doctor on screen is clearly willing to manipulate and hurt those around him in the name of defeating evil (the climax of 'The Curse of Fenric' alone proves that); what changes in the novels is the extent to which he plans to hurt people, rather than is forced into it by circumstance.
In 'The Curse of Fenric', he clearly doesn't want to hurt Ace, and tries to keep her out of things as much as possible: it's she who keeps putting herself in harm's way and,eventually, who makes his deception necessary even as she thinks she is protecting the Doctor (it's a wonderful piece of plotting).
Generally in the televised stories the seventh Doctor either shows up with a vague inkling of what's going on but no real concrete plan (he suspects the involvement of the Gods of Ragnarok in the demise of the Psychic Circus, for example, but he needs to find them to confirm his suspicions; he knows people go missing on Terra Alpha but he isn't expecting the Happiness Patrol or the exact form Helen A's rule takes) or he arrives with a foolproof plan to deal with everything such that nobody gets hurt, that is quickly derailed (the Nazis have stolen the bow; Fenric has prepared an escape plan; two lots of Daleks). And then he improvises wildly and sometimes as part of that improvisation he has to hurt people to destroy the threat.
The only time he really does actually seem to plan to hurt Ace, or at least to put her in a situation where her being hurt (more than normal, I mean) is a distinct possibility, is 'Ghost Light' and even then you could claim that he's doing it for her good and she needs to face her fear. Certainly that seems to be his justification.
But then there's the novels and suddenly he's calmly and premeditatively building Justine and Vincent into a weapon or turning Jan into a human incendiary device, both plans that are not improvised but involve careful groundwork and preparation and the deliberate inflicting of harm for the greater good.
Now that's not absent from the television stories, what with the revelation that he knew Ace was a Wolf. But on the other hand it is a step farther than the TV stories, because as mentioned he doesn't plan to use Ace against Fenric in a way that would hurt her: it just ends up that way. And it shakes him, but not only does he not regret it — he'd do the same again — the ending suggests that Ace recognises he had to do it, too.
So yes. The Doctor feels bad about what he had to do to Ace; but he knows he had to do it, and Ace accepts that too (in the way she won't accept, later, what he does to Jan).
I don't think the eleventh Doctor is written with quite as much angst as the tenth, at least on the surface:contrast their different attitudes to their impending deaths. The tenth Doctor knows he's going to regenerate, and gets all mopey for a bunch of specials; the eleventh Doctor thinks he's going to die for real, and looks a bit more thoughtful than normal but mostly carries on as usual until the encounter with the minotaur confronts him with both himself and the stunting effect he's had on Amy (she, indeed, needs to leave him in order that she can go forward in all her beliefs and prove to him that he is not mistaken in his).
And what's more, Tennant pulls off the most annoying moments of his Doctor's life when he whines about how he doesn't want to die; whereas the eleventh Doctor doesn't whine, he just first goes to meet his fate head-on, and then finds a way to worm out of it. But even before he worms out of it he isn't screaming, 'I don't want to go!' like the tenth (really, surely, the most contemptible last words of any Doctor ever?).
April 17, 2012 @ 11:31 am
Oh, and I think David nailed the New Series characters in his edit, by the way.
Also, I should have replaced some instances of "apprentice" with "hero" because I'm not entirely convinced McCoy's Doctor was trying to turn his companions into people just like him either.
April 17, 2012 @ 11:36 am
I think "Ghost Light" was primarily an exercise in mentoring Ace and helping her grow and "Fenric" was a unique case with special circumstances, but I think you did a great job piecing down what those special circumstances were.
Like I said, the Virgin books had The Doctor grooming people into weapons and pawns, which I don't think was the case on TV on the whole and doesn't seem to be in Big Finish either.
April 17, 2012 @ 11:36 am
It's also very much worth remembering that RTD and numerous New Series writers got their start writing for Virgin
Actually I believe that's only Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss and Matt Jones. Davies most definitely did not get his start writing for Virgin (he was asked to write for Virgin as he was already making a name for himself in TV).
I don't know anything about Big Finish on account of them all (or near as makes no difference) being too rubbish for words.
Now "Curse of Fenric" is a bit of a different story because it's the climax of an epic story arc about the apocalyptic reawakening of cataclysmic forces
No, it's not. It happens to have a line which tries to make the post-hoc suggestion that there was some cross-time chess game going on since 'Dragonfire', but that was, as far as I'm aware, in no way planned in advance.
April 17, 2012 @ 11:43 am
Well, I primarily meant writing for Doctor Who because yeah, Davies had a career beforehand. My point remains: Virgin is more similar to the New Series than it is the Cartmel era.
I'm not entirely sure how much of that arc was planned in advance (as far as I can tell records are a bit muddy near the end of the Classic Series), but I maintain "Fenric" was a special case because, at the very least, it deals with a very large threat and The Doctor is forced by circumstance to be deceptive, much as you said.
I firmly, though politely, disagree with you about Big Finish, but that's all I'll say about that.
April 17, 2012 @ 1:39 pm
I was actually going off PJ Hammond's account of how he was received with hostility by JNT, which seems to back up Eric's account quite worryingly (and bears similarity to what Philip Martin has said), and even suggests why JNT's rejection of the original Trial ending was the final straw for Eric.
From all that I know of Pat Mills' script, it was rejected because of the anti-Williams backlash that was being enforced, and there was a resistance to any story with an eccentric comedy lean (stupid reasoning all round).
What happened with Christopher Priest was that both times he was comissioned, the story had to be either scrapped or reworked because of the change of companion line-up. "Sealed Orders" being a story where the Doctor was ordered to kill Romana, but then Romana was got rid of in Warrior's Gate.
And then "The Enemy Within" was meant to feature the full Season 19 Tardis line-up, apparently this was originally going tobe the story that killed off Adric, but then Eric Saward beat him to it in Earthshock. Priest demanded an extra fee for having to do extensive rewrites to accomodate Adric's absence, and this is where things got ugly over the phone between Priest and JNT (if there's a possible reason why JNT decided not to have high-profile writers on the show, it might have stemmed from this). So the responsibility there seems to be the man in charge of the casting and actor's contracts, and that would be JNT again. Although I'll grant harsh economics had played a part as well.
As for Season 24, I'll have to agree to disagree there. But I am very keen to see how you review it when you get to it.
April 17, 2012 @ 2:16 pm
Tommy: I find it really interesting to trace the relationships between the production staff and its writers. That was one of the most intriguing aspects of Russell T Davies' book. Do the Miles & Wood books, which I haven't read, examine that? Are there other resources that go into more production detail, or focus on different aspects?
Phil: I cannot wait to see what you will do with Season 24. I haven't seen any of the stories as a whole since I was 6, but it was my first exposure to Doctor Who, and cemented my love for the show right there. Granted, I love pretty much everything you've done with this entire blog.
That reminds me: When is the Troughton era ebook coming out? Because you're reading a guaranteed customer right here.
April 17, 2012 @ 2:23 pm
"Added to that, no-one seems to notice the aside in the middle of it: “Outside. Deal with them.” Yes, the Doctor, distracted by agonizing about whether to kill Davros or not, just orders his mates to go and shoot a couple of extras."
I always got the impression the Doctor was telling them to bluff the guards outside into thinking nothing was amiss here and persuading them to move on. However I could live with the Doctor sending them out to kill given that the Dalek troopers are armed killers (and the Doctor knows that they're most likely duplicates), whereas the Doctor's moral predicament is whether he can bring himself to execute an unarmed, defenseless disabled person.
On that score it makes far more sense than in Warriors of the Deep where the Doctor actually did seem to see a predicament in killing armed forces who were massacring humans whilst he procrastinated, and even forbade anyone else from using deadly force to defend themselves (to be fair it was mainly Eric's script edits that emphasised the procrastination). By those standards, I'd say Resurrection is an improvement.
However that's not exactly saying much, and the fact is that Mercer could have escaped alive had he stayed with Tegan and Turlough in the Tardis, but he and Stein volunteered to go help the Doctor when he announced his intentions to kill Davros. As a result Mercer gets himself killed for nothing and the Doctor's chickening out ensures that he dies in vain based on a false promise.
April 17, 2012 @ 2:39 pm
Really Davison's Doctor should have been brought out of the coma by the events and rituals of Snakedance. Yes, Resurrection of the Daleks should have been the turnaround point for the Doctor, but I'm almost certain if Resurrection had closed out Season 20, it would still have been back to pointless ineffectiveness in Season 21 begining in earnest with Warriors.
Yes by character logic it should have been his breakthrough moment, but the dictates of the producer and script-editor would always overrule that and keep the Doctor's character neutered and chastised. The only way The Five Doctors could have been the point where the Fifth Doctor comes out of his shell from thereon, would again be if the show had ended there, and we then got a new novels range continuation that would be spearheaded by the novelisations of the unmade The Awakening and Frontios, which would become the model for how to write the Fifth Doctor in print. Bearing in mind Warriors of the Deep and Resurrection of the Daleks were never novelised by their original authors, I feel sure that we'd never even know of their existence.
I think I've figured out the in-universe explanation for the Doctor going into a coma. We'd seen in Keeper of Traken how the power of the source had increased the Master's powers of hypnotic control and telepathy. In Logopolis the Doctor even hints that the Master can now read his mind wherever he goes, and anticipate his every move. The Doctor's defence mechanism then is to shield his mind, but in doing so, the rational, decisive part of his mind gos into retreat too hence his rather disastrous turn in that story. Perhaps he needs the Watcher's influence to help him do this.
So when he regenerates into the Fifth Doctor, he has the same withdrawn nature now built into him. When Borusa too uses mind control to overwhelm him in The Five Doctors, the Doctor goes further into retreat, resulting in his insensibility in the Warriors of the Deep fiasco. Significantly however, the point where he comes out of the coma is in Planet of Fire, which is when the Doctor finally believes the Master is dead. From there he comes out of his coma for good.
April 17, 2012 @ 2:55 pm
"Tommy: I find it really interesting to trace the relationships between the production staff and its writers. That was one of the most intriguing aspects of Russell T Davies' book. Do the Miles & Wood books, which I haven't read, examine that? Are there other resources that go into more production detail, or focus on different aspects?"
The Miles and Wood books hint at what goes on behind the scenes. Certainly their review on Shada includes a side essay about other unmade stories, of which quite a lot is said about why The Enemy Within fell apart and how a chance to have a respected sci-fi novelist write for the show was soured.
Overall Eric's account of the period is treated with much suspicion by both reviewers, but Tat Wood particularly is down on JNT's early period as well as his notorious later decisions, and goes along with the argument that Caves of Androzani was the one JNT didn't care for from the start and had little to do with. There is a marked division between the two reviewers when it comes to both the Williams era, and the early JNT era. Lawrence Miles sneers at the Williams years (although singles out City of Deat for praise) and heralds the JNT era as a return to glory, until Twin Dilemma ruins everything. Tat Wood however holds up the Willims era and declares the JNT era a disastrous comedown from day one, and says how the show only really comes right again with Season 25 and 26.
April 17, 2012 @ 7:32 pm
I think, though, that the New Adventures follow very naturally from the series. I mean, McCoy's Doctor is the one who finally decides he does have that right when it comes do the Daleks. His era would have been lacking had it never interrogated the character's ethics following that.
April 17, 2012 @ 9:03 pm
Baker because he just wouldn't be able to see the problem.
Given that Baker is the one who agonised about whether he had the right to wipe out the Daleks, and worried about "something nasty I did" on Leela's world, I have a hard time seeing him as immune to moral self-doubt.
April 17, 2012 @ 11:21 pm
I note that we're all using the term 'coma' as an extra-diagetic excuse for the Fifth Doctor's lack of character/energy/…anything really. It's not clear however how much of this is inherent in the story arc or is rooted in Davison's acting style. He's not a bad actor he just doesn't have, or failed to find within himself, that gestus which is required for the role. Like it or not (and I know a lot of you dislike T. Baker's scenery chewing and Pertwee's pompous hubris) but the role of the Doctor is unique in drama in being very much determined by the choices of the actor playing him. This feeds back over time to the writers who then write to that character which then informs the actor's performance further and so it goes on. This is a role that demands to be fully inhabited. Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee and Baker were all undeniably the Doctor. Davison is the first actor to take the role who looks like he's acting. He isn't the Doctor he's an actor who's been cast in the role and doesn't know what to do with it. Consequently the writers had no idea what to do with him either. It's interesting how JNT's decision to 'character costume' the Doctor in clothes that you would never see anyone else wearing actually drains him of his personality.
April 17, 2012 @ 11:25 pm
Drama is often about fighting against, or triumph over, adversity. Whether this be a bad situation that has to be overcome or, far more interestingly, flaws in one's own character. Although I'm not as familiar with Davison's era as with Tom and Jon, it does look to me as if Davison's Doctor as written is ill-equipped to deal with a lot of situations that his predecessors would have no trouble with. He can't be the action-hero that Pertwee was, but he also doesn't have the ego that Baker had, so when he's put in stories that require either of these responses, he struggles. Looking at it that way, he's essentially the first of the "flawed" Doctors (the others to my mind being Colin and Chris). In an ideal world those flaws would be taken on board by writers, who would put him into stories where he steadily realises his limitations and learns to overcome them.
Chris Eccleston's war-weary Doctor was written very much in this mould, with his battle-scarred psyche contributing to the plot of each of his stories, until his ultimate sacrifice and redemption via his regeneration. Unfortunately in the 1980s this kind of character progression was never really written into programmes like Doctor Who, so we just got the same Doctor stumbling his way from Castrovalva to Caves of Androzani, never appearing to learn from his mistakes, until he dies and comes back as someone even worse (and again with even more untapped potential, if only writers wrote that way back then).
April 17, 2012 @ 11:43 pm
Agree totally. Very good points. I suppose Colin Baker's strong personality should have produced a strong Doctor which in turn produced strong drama, much in the way of Davison's predecessors. Unfortunately they went a bit too far and produced a strongly unlikeable Doctor who was as difficult to write for as Davison's weaker-personality Doctor was.
April 17, 2012 @ 11:52 pm
As mentioned: the seeds of McCoy's manipulativeness are definitely laid in the TV stories, but the New Adventures go much, much farther down that road. Much farther, indeed, than probably would have ever been possible on TV (imagine the outcry over the end of Love and War on TV: the acid base times ten!)
April 18, 2012 @ 12:01 am
The fourth Doctor, though, when he asks if he has the right, isn't asking a question about whether it's okay to do something bad for a good reason; he's asking if he has the right to make such a big decision when he doesn't know all the consequences, so he doesn't know whether it will be for the best or not.
The fourth Doctor is clear that if the Daleks were an unmitigated force for evil he'd destroy them: his problem isn't whether it's wrong to kill to end evil, it's whether actually their evil outweighs the good they inadvertently do (many races that would be enemies becoming friends for fear of the Daleks).
To put it in Hitlerian terms, he's not saying 'maybe I shouldn't kill Hitler because maybe killing is wrong even if it's Hitler', he's saying 'killing Hitler is fine if it serves the greater good, but maybe actually killing Hitler wouldn't serve the greater good because without Hitler and the second world war we wouldn't have had the United Nations, and nuclear weapons would have been invented in a more fractured, unstable world, and maybe the whole of humanity would have been destroyed by a collapse of interlocking alliances like happened in 1914 but with nukes.'
It's a question of unknowability of consequences and the responsibility to make sure that if you're making a big decision you really know what the consequences of your end will be that the fourth Doctor is asking (which is why it comes up again in the 'sugar' scene in 'Remembrance of the Daleks'), not one about the ends justifying the means.
Oh, and it's not 'McCoy's Doctor […]who finally decides he does have that right when it comes do the Daleks': that's Baker's Doctor, in episode 6 of 'Genesis of the Daleks', who decides he does have that right when he goes back to destroy the incubation chamber.
April 18, 2012 @ 12:36 am
"Doctor Who", the television programme/extended fictional universe, may indeed be more distinctive when its central character is more Trickster than Hero, but there is no set of Rules to require that he has to be a Trickster rather than a Hero, just as there is nothing to say that he has to be a white male.
And, I think it is over-simplistic to view the Fourth Doctor as a hero pure and simple. Yes, he is a hero, once he has tricked his way into situations. As for the Third Doctor, he's rarely in a situation that requires guile. And when he is, he can dress as a washerwoman.
Like SK, it crossed my mind that the Fourth Doctor actually did go back and destroy the Dalek incubation chamber but, having watched episode 6 of "Genesis of the Daleks" over breakfast this morning (as one does), it is clear that destroying the incubation chamber at that stage will not destroy the Daleks, many of whom are motoring about exterminating Kaleds. Indeed, though the Doctor has certainly returned to the incubation chamber with the intention of destroying it, it is the action of a Dalek that detonates the bomb.
Henry R. Kujawa
April 18, 2012 @ 2:25 am
"I note that we're all using the term 'coma' as an extra-diagetic excuse for the Fifth Doctor's lack of character/energy/…anything really."
My fault I think. The latest example of my longtime habit of trying to "write between the lines" because the actual writers haven't bothered to.
"He's not a bad actor he just doesn't have, or failed to find within himself, that gestus which is required for the role."
After 2 years, he decided to take Patrick Troughton's advice and leave after 3 years. But on making "ANDROZANI", he said (in an interview) that he'd FINALLY figured out how to play The Doctor, and then, regretted his decision to leave. I'm not sure what's more pathetic there, that, or the writing up to that point.
"but the role of the Doctor is unique in drama in being very much determined by the choices of the actor playing him. This feeds back over time to the writers who then write to that character which then informs the actor's performance further and so it goes on. This is a role that demands to be fully inhabited."
NOT unique. It goes back at least to Cathy Gale on THE AVENGERS. Honor Blackman has said in interviews that when she was cast on the show, the early scripts kept writing her like a woman. Her husband suggested, "Why don't you just play it like a MAN?" She did, they saw what she was doing, and suddenly, "Oh, YEAH!" The writers then followed her lead. Patrick Macnee also said repeatedly that he & his co-stars usually liked to improvise during rehearsals, the result being much better characterizations and performances, and so much of the wittiness that, according to him, was "NEVER" in the scripts. Tom Baker & Lis Sladen did the same thing. And now I've been hearing that for decades, Sladen "hated" the character of Sarah-Jane, because there was almost nothing in the scripts. (And that, presumably, was with GOOD writers– something JNT seemed hell-bent on avoiding at all costs.)
"It's interesting how JNT's decision to 'character costume' the Doctor in clothes that you would never see anyone else wearing actually drains him of his personality."
That pretty much goes for Adric, Nyssa, The Master, Tegan, the 5th Doctor, Turlough, and the 6th Doctor. Somehow Peri, Mel, and Ace escaped this… though at least the 7th Doctor's outfits were more believable. I suppose it goes back to Leela, who really should have had more varied wardrobe than she did as well.
"we just got the same Doctor stumbling his way from Castrovalva to Caves of Androzani, never appearing to learn from his mistakes, until he dies and comes back as someone even worse (and again with even more untapped potential, if only writers wrote that way back then)."
YES. (Mind, I enjoyed Colin far more, despite everything.)
I've had fun in recent years "casting" some of these actors in stories of my own (which have nothing to do with DOCTOR WHO) and I take delight in finding and expanding on previously-untapped potential.
"Never learning" reminds me of SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH, where, due to the writing "formula", has her spend the entire run of the series seeming to get dumber and dumber, because she never seems to learn anything. In a comic-book or cartoon show where continuity is virtually non-existent, this wouldn't be a problem, but in a live-action show where time is shown to be passing and the actors are aging before your eyes, it is. It's why I always preferred the character of "Clarissa Darling" to "Sabrina Spellman".
April 18, 2012 @ 2:33 am
I don't want to argue that Tom Baker's Doctor is unaware of moral problems. What I want to argue is that his perspective on moral problems is not a human perspective. The decision about whether he has the right to destroy the daleks before they're created is the kind of moral dilemma you're only likely to face if you're a Time Lord walking the paths of eternity. (I think it's fair to take Sarah Jane telling the Doctor to destroy them now as the reaction from a purely human perspective.)
April 18, 2012 @ 2:36 am
It doesn't really fit anywhere, emotionally. I mean isn't this about five minutes after burning the Master and losing Martha? Never mind, it's me! It's the best me!
I think the fourth wall does tumble, but partly because we all know that Davison's a favourite and that last speech is a fanboy talking. It wouldn't be there otherwise, it has no actual purpose beyond that. For those that have a problem with that sort of thing it's almost impossible to "make it fit the story" as the Watsonian tries to.
April 18, 2012 @ 3:37 am
"Drama is often about fighting against, or triumph over, adversity. Whether this be a bad situation that has to be overcome or, far more interestingly, flaws in one's own character. Although I'm not as familiar with Davison's era as with Tom and Jon, it does look to me as if Davison's Doctor as written is ill-equipped to deal with a lot of situations that his predecessors would have no trouble with."
This is why I'd venture that at its worst, the Davison era was a corrosive anti-drama. One in which the plot device to overcome the adversity and destroy the invaders is available in abundance in episode one (the Hexacromite gas in Warriors of the Deep, or the Movellan plague cannisters in Resurrection of the Daleks) and somehow the plot depends on making the Doctor refuse to use them until everyone's been massacred and there's no-one left to save. It's dependent upon the hero not reacting to anything that's happening around him, and thus if nothing happening affects the hero or makes him react sensibly or at all, it might as well not be happening.
Frankly once the Doctor fails to do anything, he ceases to matter or stand for anything and you simply don't have a show anymore. A hero or even an anti-hero can be fallible, but you still have to be able to root for them. They can't be delusional, and they certainly can't be a loser.
Tom Baker's Doctor could occasionally get it wrong, as in Genesis of the Daleks, Horor of Fang Rock or Logopolis, but in each occasion there was a realisation of his own folly and an effort at the end to redeem himself and get it right. That way there wasn't a need to show him learn from his mistakes in a later story because he clearly learned in that story.
With Davison his inadequacy seemed to be built in, and even when a writer like Christopher Bailey made an effort to show him going through a spiritual ritual in both Kinda and Snakedance to bring his inner strength to the surface so that he could eventually succeed and become the hero the story needed, by the next story this was all undone.
April 18, 2012 @ 4:09 am
Right, but it's precisely that boggle-eyed 'I walk in eternity and therefore I don't have to act a character I can just perform as an exaggerated version of myself and steal scenes and that'll be okay' perspective that I object to in Tom Baker.
'Genesis of the Daleks' is before he goes completely off the deep end, it's true, but the thought of what is to come rather colours my reaction to it.
April 18, 2012 @ 5:36 am
All actors bring something of themselves to a role. There have been as many Hamlets as there are actors. My point is that the role of The Doctor is unique inasmuch as the different approaches brought to it by the actors become integral to and remain part of the character. There have been a number of James Bonds but none of them acknowledge the previous ones. The Doctor does and this is what makes the character dramatically unique; both from a writer's and an actor's perspective. Also I like your 'coma' theory (and I don't usually care to subscribe to 'fanfic' style musings)It fits and makes perfect sense. I will watch Davison's stories in a new light now. As a postscript Henry, may I ask you, as others have, to refrain from using CAPITALS quite so much. It makes your interesting contributions a little irritating to read.
April 18, 2012 @ 5:38 am
If I may politely insert, I similarly find the use of capitals for emphasis jarring.
April 18, 2012 @ 8:44 am
his problem isn't whether it's wrong to kill to end evil, it's whether actually their evil outweighs the good they inadvertently do
I'm not sure that's true. When Baker's Doctor is agonising he does raise the issue of inadvertent good, but he also says "if I kill, wipe out a whole intelligent lifeform, then I become like them. I'd be no better than the Daleks" — which seems like a different issue.
April 18, 2012 @ 8:54 am
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April 18, 2012 @ 8:56 am
In a comic-book or cartoon show where continuity is virtually non-existent
These days that's far less often true.
April 18, 2012 @ 8:58 am
Was this comment supposed to be under the "Time Crash" entry?
Henry R. Kujawa
April 18, 2012 @ 12:00 pm
("In a comic-book or cartoon show where continuity is virtually non-existent")
"These days that's far less often true."
I was speaking specifically of the ARCHIE comics.
April 19, 2012 @ 12:35 am
Hm, yes. That speech is a bit of a mess, isn't it? 'What are all the reasons I can think of not to end the plot right here, right now?'
April 19, 2012 @ 7:42 am
I don't know that it's such a mess. Most moral dilemmas have both a consequentialist and a deontological aspect.
April 19, 2012 @ 7:43 am
I prefer ANARCHIE comics. 🙂
April 19, 2012 @ 9:04 pm
Would that be the Archie Comics that have recently introduced gay characters and an interracial romance between Archie and Valerie (from Josie and the Pussycats)?
February 26, 2017 @ 9:51 am
Having just watched this for (as far as I know) the first time, and having quite enjoyed it, and having seen that The Wife in Space also enjoyed it… I’m genuinely surprised to discover that the long-term “fans” seem to have consistently had problems with it, to the point of identifying this as a key point where everything went wrong.
I just can’t see it. For one thing, if people liked Earthshock I would have thought that they liked this, and often it’s better than Earthshock. The direction is extremely good (something that really stands out against some other recent episodes), and the majority of the acting is good.
The script is not deeply impressive but it isn’t bad either. Far too often in this period of Doctor Who I’m left feeling that characters are dashing around for no reason, but Resurrection largely manages to give them legitimate purpose in their movement.
And while it’s not perfect, I quite enjoyed the chaos towards the end as alliances could no longer be simplified to Daleks vs humans. Not only were there humans on the side of the Daleks, there were Daleks who were enemies of the Daleks. That’s a quite interesting development.
So on the whole I think this one holds up pretty well.