Month: October 2015

Doctor Who Series 9: A Change of Bootstraps

Doctor Who Series 9 Under the Lake and Before the Flood
Doctor Who Series 9 Under the Lake and Before the Flood

“Well on the plus side, at least he doesn’t need those sonic sunglasses any more…”

The second of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine, it’s time to take on the waters of time with Under the Lake and Before the Flood. Headache inducing, but reassuringly unexhaustive in this timeline.

“There’s nothing more ironic than an unfinished requiem”

AFTER THE LEGACY-SERVING ROMP OF STEVEN MOFFAT’S TWO-PART DALEK PREMIERE THE RELIABLE HANDS OF TOBY WHITHOUSE BROUGHT US A CLASSIC STORY THAT MANAGED TO MARRY CLAUSTROPHOBIA WITH THE EXPANSE OF TIME. It was almost a story of two parts, but not quite. Below the Lake and Before the Flood were linked by an internal logic in almost as distinctive in New Who as the episodes’ striking locations. Depending on how you looked at it, Before the Flood could be set in the past with flash-forwards or the other way round. But while cause and effect was at the forefront of the episode, and crucial to the resolution, the mystery of the first part was only pushed a little further back rather than pushed out he way.

As is always the risk, the least surprising part of this story was that things weren’t quite what they seemed. But how could it be when the Doctor had been so certain that he was dealing with ghosts? His previous younger and more excitable selves hadn’t been blown away in Army of Ghosts or Hide.

It was a jam packed story. The Jörmungandr Norse mural was writing on the wall in its true sense. A portent as the affectionately Star Trek uniformed characters set sea against a storm of a big dragon like, red faced monster. Norse mythology will continue its running theme throughout this series next week… And while there were franchise scrambling references to Star Wars as well as Star Trek on the way, the real paradox was classical and physical.

Yes, In this case the bootstraps were pulled from the feet of the Doctor, Clara, us, and poor old Ludwig Van Beethoven. We weren’t expecting that at the end of Under the Lake. Nor maybe a talking to…

Physics lesson

Of course those bootstraps belong to a paradox, as we were immediately informed in the second part’s opening lecture… I suppose it started with Listen. The Doctor popping up ambiguously address the audience directly, like good old Bob Ballard showing up at the end of an episode of SeaQuest DSV. If only Tom Baker had thought of that instead of a talking cabbage for a companion in the mid-1970s. Then again, while it’s effective it’s a horrible short-cut of an expository plot device that can’t help undermine what’s otherwise a clever little story. We may not have to worry about over indulgent catchphrases at the moment, but that will hopefully be kept on a short leash. Or we’ll find that all this time there’s been someone else aboard the TARDIS…

The collective noun for paradoxes

Familiar to Doctor Who fans…

So what was the Doctor explaining? One among a number of different posited temporal paradoxes. A familiar one is the grandfather paradox, postulated by writer Nathaniel Schachner in Ancestral Voices in 1933. There the easy logic is that a time traveller cannot venture back in time and kill his grandfather at a point before the time traveller’s existence is guaranteed. To do so would eliminate the possibility of the time traveller existing in the first place, so would eliminate his actions in the past… Only to ensure the grandfather existed so the time traveller could in fact attempt it. And so that spirals on. It can’t help but appear a rather banally biological and very human approach to temporal physics.  It also conjures up other issues. Even if the time traveller attempted the same after his bloodline was secure, he wouldn’t be able to alter anything that would prevent his travelling back in the future. For instance a badly injured grandfather with years of in-built aggression against a homicidal grandson – or one who withdraws his science funding. All grandfathers should be prepared to do that. See Ray Bradbury’s marvellous Sound of Thunder for an alteration that leaves a time traveller acutely aware of the horrifically minor changes resulting from his mistakes in the past. Continue reading “Doctor Who Series 9: A Change of Bootstraps”

Doctor Who: The Master in the 2000s – “Dear me, how tiresome” (A Tale of Two Jacobis)

The Master in Scream of the Shalka and Utopia

The Master in Scream of the Shalka and Utopia

You will still continue to obey me! The Marchester takeover reaches a new century with a typically contrary attitude. The Master had made the most of the Doctor’s enforced hiatus by getting himself exterminated by the Daleks. But when he returned things would be different. Not only did he have to overcome death, again, he also had to confront parallel realities while retaining an eerily similar appearance… Unlike his best frenemy.

Still, after the schism created not by the Great Time War, but the Great Managerial Decisions of the BBC, neither reality found him as quite the man he used to be. The Third Marchster… A select tale of two Jacobis…

IN SHOW BUSINESS DEATH HAS OFTEN PROVED GOOD FOR A CAREER, AND THAT’S CERTAINLY TRUE FOR ONE DISPICABLE CHILD OF GALLIFREY. After seeing out the Doctor with a roaring role in the Classic series 1989 finale, not only did the Master take main villain duties for the 1996 TV Movie, but also assumed an unprecedented spot in BBCi’s 40th anniversary webcast.

‘Sadly’, this retrospective jumps that erratic, vermicular and fatal holiday of the summer of ‘96 and heads straight to the 21st century he was so anxious to stop, when he wasn’t chewing the scenery. Jokerside glanced at that film for the show’s 2013 anniversary, with all the oddities that arose from the Master’s ‘final days’. However, his demise at the film’s close, an inescapable ‘curse of fatal’ type death, was subsequently picked up by two very different returns that resolved in two parallel universes. And of course, thanks to the ever-eccentric machinery of the BBC, they’re as co-dependent as they are incompatible. Yeah, and people wonder why fans are pre-occupied with canonicity… To make matters even more confusing, across the two realities there are some notable similarities to mull.

Scream of the Shalka (40th anniversary special, 2003)

“No, it’s not where we’re supposed to be”

Scream of the Shalka is a quite extraordinary sub-note in the Who pantheon. A brilliant gap-in-the‑market notion in the early years of the century from the ambitious and expanding Interactive side of the BBC. RIP. There’s lots to thank that ambition and vision for. This well documented production may even have been a significant catalyst in the 2005 reboot, helpfully allowing the BBC to realise that they did indeed have a full set of rights to revive the show. Light bulbs were quick to blink on.

But in acting so chivalrously, Shalka did itself out of a job and risked banished itself as a footnote. Fortunately, it’s the story’s quality rather than its oddity that’s earned it longevity – even a novelisation and home media release. Yes, the most difficult thing about this uneasy relation is that it really is very good.

Masterful set-up

“I seem to attract the military”

Producer James Goss drove the passion of the project, over some challenging landscape. And he got an awful lot right, especially in hiring the ever-reliable and inspired Paul Cornell. Goss also packed the production out with a high punching cast. Over the years, Richard E. Grant’s performance has come in for some stick, but it’s really not as phoned in or lazy as has been suggested. His arch Doctor sits nicely in the centre of a fine cast that included Diane Quick and Sophie Okonedo. Cornell crafted a classic and creepy tale in the Quatermass-mould, an innovative invasion that was in many ways a lighter precursor of the process Russell T Davies would undertake for the television reboot. It’s no surprise they came up with some similar solutions in the changed media landscape of the new century. Rightly ignoring regeneration, as Rose would, Shalka introduced a new Doctor with a notably sharper and fluctuating personality, coping with in-built angst as he struggled to shake off the grief of losing an unseen and un-named female companion. In this continuity, much to his chagrin and resentment he’s continually dispatched to problem areas by those unseen and unnamed… We can only assume that the Time Lords had a new PR team in.

On the ground, some familiarity is dismissed. There’s no Brigadier here, but a hotline to the Secretary General (of the UN) and a new set of military ‘allies’. It’s a clear and successful attempt to nod to the past and set the agenda for a potential future, as befitted the first BBC commissioned Doctor Who since 1989. And amid the changes, an intriguing skeleton in the closet was the greatest nod of all. A mysterious presence lurking around the dark console of the TARDIS. An affable ally of a Master. Or so it seemed…
Continue reading “Doctor Who: The Master in the 2000s – “Dear me, how tiresome” (A Tale of Two Jacobis)”

%d bloggers like this: