My plan to post Doctor-by-Doctor compilations of my better stuff from Timelash II has gone a bit squinky, mostly because what I tapped in about Seasons 18-20 needs expansion before I’m happy to post it. So, I’m going to skip them for now and proceed to post stuff from later. Here is… well, the clue’s in the title. Season 22. The Nasty Season. Not much new stuff here… but some great quotes from excellent Gallibase contributors, who said what (I think) needed to be said. Enjoy, Constant Reader, enjoy…
‘Attack of the Cybermen’
Objectively, this is bad. Padded, garish, unstructured, naff, continuity-porn. Subjectively, there’s something interesting starting to happen. The perverse, off-colour, queasy, brutal, resolutely uncool vibe that runs through Season 22 is already in evidence… and it’s kind of fascinating.
The hand-crushing scene, for instance, has real balls. Unsuitable for kids? Well, I remember watching it as a kid and loving it. Not because I was bloodthirsty (if anything, I was – and still am – rather wussy about gore and violence) but because it suddenly seemed to raise the dramatic stakes (not that I could’ve articulated that at the time).
The story also scores big points for remembering something that most other Cyberman stories forget: the Cybermen are technologically reanimated zombies. Amidst all the stuff they get wrong, they remember that the defrosting cybertombs would smell.
‘Vengeance on Varos’
A bit like an episode of Fame Academy directed by General Pinochet.
More topical than prophetic. More interested in the at-the-time current “video nasties” thing than in investigating the territory of The Year of the Sex Olympics, upon which it draws and which turned out to be more prophetic.
Still, it’s hard not watch this and see foreshadowings of the way we live now. Reality TV of increasing nastiness keeps the impoverished and sweated workers of an austere ‘Big Society’ preoccupied with schadenfreude. Meanwhile, democracy is a media sideshow that entails a succession of men being briefly trusted and then spurned by disillusioned masses… and no matter how well intentioned such men may be, they’re all drawn from one class and all find themselves trapped in an insane system that allows them no room for manoeuvre.
Moreover, Varos is a client state of a huge corporation. Sil could be one of those oil company execs who ends up as a politico in Washington and visits the dictatorships that are important to American imperial interests, shaking hands with the Justice Minister and praising the enterprise and initiative of the local exporters.
Sadly, there’s little sense of public resistance. We hear a reference to unionisation, but the public are personified in the useless, reactionary and passive Arak and Etta.
And can the Varosians really expect things to be okay now, simply because they’ve got a better deal and a good, reformist leader?
Actually, there’s a hint of reactionary sneering at the square-eyed, apathetic drudges lurking beneath the apparently angry satire.
‘Mark of the Rani’
Oh dear. I hate this one.
Firstly, it’s a departure from the perverse feel of the rest of the season. It’s weak and watery compared to everything around it.
Secondly, it gets the Industrial Revolution completely wrong in about the crassest, stupidest, most reactionary terms imaginable.
Apparently, it was all about the GENIUS of a few GENIUSES who used their GENIUS to change history. That’s all. No economics, no social movements, no historical context. Just a sudden mysterious emergence of some clever people who changed everything. Take them out and the modern world wouldn’t have happened. This chimes with the biological determinism inherent in the idea that you can turn ordinary people into rampaging lunatics by simply taking a chemical out of their brains. This sort of balls is part-and-parcel of much sci-fi and much Doctor Who, but the context of this story makes it extra annoying to me.
It’s a story set in a period in which massive and dreadful social divisions opened up between the classes… but, if you follow the ‘logic’ on display here, you can see that some people are able to rise and earn the coveted respect of Lord Whatsisface by their innate GENIUS… and enterprise and initiative. Meanwhile, the drudges stay where they belong. How very Thatcherite.
(Oh, by the way… most of these people who are usually vaunted as the GENIUSES of the Industrial Revolution were actually pretty rubbish.)
Of course, the only possible rebellion against the system that sweats them is the insane aggression of the “Luddites”. Yes, the story has a disclaimer about them not being *real* Luddites, but still the elision is clear. And the Luddites weren’t vicious maniacs or mindless vandals. They were a progressive movement of oppressed people against a ruling class that wanted to squeeze every last drop of profit out of them and then throw them on the scrapheap. But the implication here is that rebellion is a matter of savagery and lunacy. You can view this lunacy as being created by the Rani’s exploitation of the workers… but the approving way that Lord Thingummyjig is depicted stops any radical analogy in its tracks.
The workers are depicted as playthings of the real people, like the patronising Lord ThatblokeoutofBergerac, the patronising Doctor and the cynical Rani… with the Doctor’s complaint about her behaviour basically taking the form of a plea for benevolence towards the beasts.
Whatever he may say about the Rani treating people like bundles of chemicals, the Doctor is the hero of a story that essentially shares this view… which the writers seem to realise late and so, in an attempt to subvert it, they insert the ridiculous business with the tree and the Doctor’s obligatory bit of Shakespeare abuse… which is supposed to suggest the existence of the soul or some such bollocks.
Oh, just go away.
‘The Two Doctors’
As I’ve said before, this is proof that even geniuses can make terrible mistakes. This tale smuggles in a rather wonderful and satirical anti-meat subtext… while depicting the second Doctor as a reactionary genetic determinist who thinks in terms of inferior and superior races. “Really Doctor,” says Dastari, “I expected something more progressive from you.” So did I. In the end, the Doctor’s disapproval of tinkering with Androgum DNA is proved justified, with even Dastari realizing that the Androgums are just inherently inferior. And how are the Androgums depicted? As heavy-browed, warty, big-nosed, red-haired people incapable of controlling their lower urges… i.e. in terms of racist stereotypes used, at one time or another, against Jews, the Irish, you name it. Utterly unforgivable.
To expand, I can’t do better than to quote the excellent Richard Pilbeam on this one:
Immediately after a story where the “rebels” are brutish, ignorant reactionaries opposed to the “progress” being made by an intellectually and morally superior caste of posh rich people, and the Doctor’s attempt to stand up for them basically boils down to “Be nice because it’s not their fault they’re too stupid to have money”… We find out that Androgums are genetically predestined to savagery, and any attempt to “elevate” them is doomed to failure. Even if you’re changing their basic biological makeup. However that works.
It’s not a case of “you gave a creature powers it doesn’t understand and can’t control properly” – which the 2nd Doctor’s analogy of teaching an earwig nuclear physics suggests – because Chessene does understand her powers, and has been able to control them to the point of being even more scientifically brilliant than Dastari. She’s at “mega-genius level”, and far more calm and rational than anyone else in the story. But none of this matters in the end, because she’s an Androgum, and therefore can’t leave her “place” in society, which is to be – oh God – a brutish, savage, lustful “servitor”. Absolutely repellent.
All this in a story where – Hey! – it turns out that the Time Lords aren’t predestined to be time-travellers, but artificially grafted on some genes that make them time-proof. But they’re not “beasts”, so it’s OK. Even though, you know, The Master, Omega, The Rani and Morbius wouldn’t have been able to kill – between them – potentially billions of people had they never got hold of time travel. Like in the story that comes immediately before this one. That’s apparently fine, because the Time Lords are a proper species with the capacity for good and evil… whereas an Androgum is just an Androgum.
I could accept this as a deliberate commentary on the Time Lords’ hypocrisy, which the first episode seems to be leading toward (“Your experiments will be allowed to continue” “Allowed?”), but the plot ends up validating it. Chessene really is a monster who can’t control herself, the High Council’s intervention was justified in stopping Dastari’s experiments, and the Doctor shoots off in the TARDIS without worrying about the consequences of “unleashing” himself on time. In a story where he crossed his own timeline.
By the way, meat is murder.
Mind you, I’ll say one thing for this story… it contains one of my favourite ever Doctor moments. The computer on the space station speaks up and the Doctor responds with “I will not be threatened by a computer!”. Peri asks nervously “how do you know it’s a computer?” and the Doctor replies, with a wonderful air of weary, seen-it-all/done-it-all condescension: “My dear girl, I know a computer when I talk to one.” That’s the best of Sixie in a nutshell and Colin aces it.
I laughed derisively at this when I was 9. Mind you, remake this on a big budget and put Matt Smith in it and a fair few people would be prepared to call it a masterpiece.
It’s sad to watch Paul Darrow ham it up so archly, especially when you remember what a promising actor he’d been back before four seasons of Blakes’ 7. Mind you, he at least manages to be fun – unlike just about everything else here.
Once again, I will quote Mr Pilbeam:
It devalues – no, ignores – the idea that speculative fiction, like any form of fiction, can have social relevance and act as a commentary on the world around it. The War of the Worlds isn’t about Martians, it’s about imperialism. The Time Machine is about Marxism colliding with Darwinism. Wells didn’t use aliens and time travel as set-pieces because he “had an idea” and thought they’d be cool, he was inspired to use them as rhetorical devices to make a point about the world he lived in, and every half-decent SF author works on the same principle. “Timelash” doesn’t care, doesn’t notice and doesn’t have any ambition beyond being A Space Story… and it seems to think that all SF works this way, too. Especially Doctor Who.
This is the most important criticism to be made of this story, in my opinion.
‘Revelation of the Daleks’
I’ve blithered on about ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ at great length, here… and there is more blather to come, at some point. It’s easily one of the most rich and strange Doctor Who stories ever made.
In addition to my own views, here are some from my longstanding forum-buddy, the awesome vgrattidge-1:
[M]ortality – Colin seizes on this element, playing the Doc as a reflective old man until he confronts Davros, when all the bombast and attitude returns. When he’s not bantering/bitching with Peri or facing the enemy, this is a meloncholy Doctor aware of his age and feeling the weight of his personal history.
The suspended animation stuff is hilarious – the elites make provision to live again, not knowing that they will either make it into Davros’ idea of the ultimate elite (the Dalek), or into the bellies of those who will join that elite at a later date. Wonderful satire.
The famine issue is germane in the wake of Ethiopia…the solution is the kind of macabre ickiness Bob Holmes would have come up with. After years of mediocre or frankly crap script, Saward finally looks to the Master and works damn hard to emulate him. And he gets it right!
Davros the corporate villain is a brilliant evolution of the character. He’s learnt. He continues to grow and adapt. Kara’s attempt at a hostile takeover is out done by his old brand coming in to halt him developing Dalek Version 2.0. Brilliant and deeply funny!
The Doctor, once again, is provider of knowledge – re: the weed plant, how to disable the incubator room (echoing ‘Genesis’ it’s a Dalek that accidentally sabotages it), how to get Peri to warn off Vargas, how to earn time so that Orcini can attack Davros – oh, he’s certainly not incidental to requirements. Plus, Orcini is used to reflect him – two men of action at difficult points in their lives, contemplating their mortality and standing outside of the market system to attain similar goals – the honour of vanquishing tyrants. Orcini’s fee goes to charity. The Doctor never takes money. They are both strange anachronisms on Necros.
Sublime. Novel-like. Gorgeous. Unsettling. Radical. One of the best ever.
Overall, Season 22 is more than the sum of its (sometimes shambolic) parts. I loved it as a kid. And no wonder – given how much like a nasty, ambiguous fairytale so much of it is.
The Doctor floats around in a universe that seems dirtier and creepier and messier than it ever was before. Cannibalism, sadism, blood and Freudian implications all over the place. And there’s this guy who is so far from cool he’s actually melting. He’s got a big blonde mop of hair, a tubby bulge and ludicrous clothes… and he’s totally unapologetic, totally confident, loud and proud, sarcastic, rude, grumpy, overtly emotional… and ruthless, when he needs to be. He’s a passionate, intellectual avenger in clothes that make the stupid and the mean think he’s just a harmless pratt. There is a definite appeal.
And Colin is great, delivering a performance that is engagingly modulated between outward bluster, big passions, ruthless pragmatism and an ever-working mind.
Just look at that bit in ‘Revelation’ after Peri kills the mutant. As vgrattidge-1 has pointed out, many another actor might’ve tried to drown the line “You had no choice” in sympathy and pathos and consolation. Peri is, after all, very upset. But Colin doesn’t do that. Nor does he cuddle Peri, or even pat her on the shoulder. He does something better. He uses simple, direct, loaded words to make moral sense of what just happened. The way he says the line is “You had no choice”. He hits the word “You”. In other words, Peri isn’t responsible for the death of the mutant… but some fucker is. In the end, the Doctor engages in none of the wannabe-badass nonsense of the type we now expect from #11… but if you look at Colin’s eyes when he delivers that line – and see the Doctor’s icy rage – you’re very glad that the fucker in question isn’t you.
April 25, 2011 @ 12:38 pm
Aww, I got my own tag.
I agree there's some great stuff in The Two Doctors. It's one of Holmes' wittiest scripts and the sluggishness is largely down to Peter Moffatt's "direction". What I think's interesting about the racist elements is that unlike "Tomb" or "Meglos", where it's largely semiotic, here they're actually part of the script.
I also feel like "Revelation" is Saward's own "Carnival of Monsters", where he finally found himself as a writer and started ignoring all the genre rules in favour of what interested him. Pity he left so shortly after, and under such awful circumstances, because I'd love to have seen what Saward 2.0 would crank out.