Friday, November 22, 2013

One Last Time

The proposition: that all Doctor Who is ridiculous, hackneyed, and saa-aad...

...unless you're interested in the time in which it was made. Every story ever told, every work of culture ever cultured, has to be judged in the context of its era: Our Thing goes further. A narrative spread across decades, stealing from the rest of human creation by its very nature, magpie-collecting from all of history and from all the storytelling devices we've used to make sense of that history. Watch virtually any other television made in 1963, and you're looking at something that only makes sense if you're first-generation Homo '60s, something you can mock for its scenery-flat cowboys or its egregious use of the word "transistor". Watch the very earliest Doctor Who, and you're watching something about 1963 as much as something that happened to be made there. The ability of the TARDIS to step outside the here-and-now means that every episode is a commentary on its own place in time.

Now we've arrived at the great jubilee, every blogger and broadsheet is listing its Ten Best Stories, or Best Stories of Each Doctor, or All Stories Ranked According to Personal Prejudice. But the final verdict has to be this: Doctor Who has bound itself into every year in which it's been made. I couldn't care about "An Unearthly Child" without being curious about early '60s radiophonics and early '60s war-baby thinking. I couldn't care about "Carnival of Monsters" without taking an interest in '50s SF literature, and the way it affected the people who wrote for TV twenty years later. I couldn't care about "Weng-Chiang" without wondering how the Hammer-gothic tradition shaped British pop-culture in the years that followed. I cculdn't care about "Caves of Androzani" unless I cared about I, Claudius as well, though admittedly that's a bit of a weird one on my part.

Which is why the need to rank and review Doctor Who stories, usually according to spurious rules of sci-fi telly devised years after those stories were made, is a curse on all of us. Lists have always been our downfall. Consider Doctor Who as a mass of TV-making, ethic-defining principles hurtling forwards in time, smacking against the what-we-now-call-tropes of every age and making fabulous, unpredictable shrapnel. Endless pages of About Time - by myself and Tat Wood, and you can often see the bloodstains on the pages where we're ripped chunks out of each other - were wasted in arguing about whether we liked any given story. But the internet is already made of reviews, and besides, Doctor Who covers so much territory that none of us will ever agree with anybody else re: what it really "is". I can only say what I think it is...'s like nothing else on Earth. Nobody else in 1963 was making anything that looked like "The Daleks". Nobody else in 1982 was making anything that told the same kind of story as "Kinda". Nobody else in 2005 was making anything that resembled "Rose" at all.

So there it is. All Doctor Who is ridiculous, hackneyed, and saa-aad - let's say it, unwatchable - unless you're primed to understand its place in history. This is, and will be, just as true of the present series as it was of the past: future generations, should they be able to neuro-experience their complete set of iPsych engrams before complete global meltdown, won't be able to appreciate the Matt Smith era unless they also appreciate superhero movies, the cinema version of Harry Potter, XBox-age video gaming, or the early twenty-first-century version of slash-fic. I don't appreciate any of these things, which is why I find it unwatchable now, and also why I hate the modern world. Natch.

But am I right...? Yes, of course I am! Don't be silly. The ad for "The Day of the Doctor" looks as if it should have "not actual game footage" at the bottom of the screen. I'm also entirely wrong, according to people who were eleven-ish in the early '70s and think Doctor Who is all about alien invasion stories, or people who were born just after "Survival" and have no problem with that f***ing fez.

I have nothing else to say, but I don't want "fez" to be the last word.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wimbledon interrupted by Skagra's mind-sphere: full story, page 3.

Friday, April 19, 2013

"Does Lord Azaxyr look like a bitch?" Perhaps my favourite thing about the Ice Warriors is that despite their frosty reptilian exteriors, one of them was always played by Sonny Caldinez, a name more suggestive of a sleazy Cuban hitman with a late-'70s moustache and a medallion tangled in his chest-hair. (Actually, Caldinez is from Trinidad, and thus about as far from frosty and reptilian as you can get. But he was known for his late-'70s moustache.) Here, though, we see proof that Mars' own criminal faction has been influencing the human underworld for decades. Tarantino would go on to work with the Sontarans in his movie "Glourious Deth".

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"What is This?"

I've learned three things from / about Google Images. Firstly, Doctor Who's remit is so vast that if you search for any term which even marginally impinges on history, science, or popular culture, sooner or later you'll get a picture of Katy Manning posing with a Dalek. Lesson two is that the reverse applies, and that if you enter the name of any non-monster-related story, you'll find yourself wondering what the Hell right-wing American conspiracy theory has to do with "The Hand of Fear". The third point is that Google Images really needs some sort of "New Who Filter", so that when I search for pictures of Silurians, I don't have to look at that repellent half-human abomination from 2009. Or any of the Silurians he met in "The Hungry Earth". Sticking with the first two lessons, however, here's my Google Images scrapbook for the last month.

No, it's not "our" one, and nor was Robert Banks Stuart attempting to warn us. Scarily, though, it fits the timeline of the Doctor Who universe for HIV to have been dug out of the Antarctic permafrost in 1976-80. In case you think this sounds fatuous, bear in mind that the New Adventures did the plant-like-alien-parasite-as-AIDS-metaphor in 1992 ("Love and War"), and it worked brilliantly.

Bellal was the most notorious photobomber on the planet of the Exxilons.

I like this partly for its nostalgia value (the very sight of it evokes the primal smell of tea-time, then the despair I felt when I realised I'd missed episode two of "The Krotons" in an age when we had no reason to think we'd ever have the chance to see it again), and partly because it demonstrates the difference between BBC-Then and BBC-Now. Computer-driven design means that even the PR material for "The Power of Three" looked like an ad for "The Bourne Ultimatum". Which may be apt, given that recent
Doctor Who sees the big-budget action movie as aspirational, but in 1981? "Yeah, we need a caption-card for that Five Faces thing. Here are some back-issues of Doctor Who Magazine and a pair of scissors. Oh, and they've just invented this thing called Pritt-Stick, have you tried it?"

This is from 1924, although the description of "a White Man - lost in the wild - who turns native" suggests that it's What Cliff Jones Does Next. Then we have...

...originally published in 1938. I refuse to believe that Barry Letts / Robert Sloman didn't read at least one of these when they were young. Also, if Doc Savage is "The Man of Bronze", then his version of the Green Death is probably just verdigris.

In the 1970s, all
Doctor Who jigsaws were based on a nine-year-old's fan-fic.

We're so used to thinking of Roger Delgado as the Sexy Older Man that we forget what he was like when he was younger: the sort of character actor who, were he around today, would be second-in-command to a terrorist leader grudgingly played by Art Malik. But what we really learn from this photo is where Derren Brown got his powers of hypnosis. Clearly from his father, a mysterious ex-army man called General Sam (Ret). Oh, Derren Brown was born in 1971...? What a coincidence.

After six months, the Transtemporal Stare-Out Championship still had no clear winner.

Not actually
Doctor Who, but another nostalgia trigger for anyone who happened to read DWM or Starburst in the early '80s, since it was on the back cover as often as Orca: Killer Whale was on the back cover of all Marvel comics in the late '70s. Yet see how the '80s-speak "Mutants" are clearly "Zombies" in modern terminology, the Z-word still having voodoo (rather than radiation-based) connotations in those days. I'm giving you a lesson in geek-linguistics here, and it's only slightly complicated by the memory of Doctor Who Monthly referring to the antibodies in the City of the Exxilons as "zombies" before the word was common playground-currency. Much to the confusion of we nine-year-olds, who had problems with anything more outré than Giant Robots with laser-guns.