Doctor Who: The Master in the 2000s – “No beard this time… well, a wife”

Master The Master John Simm

When it came to the 21st century, we should have known we were in for a helluva ride. Far removed from the tin-pot schemes of the 1980s and the side-notes of the previous decade, the time of the Master was upon us. Having escaped the Time War by the skin of his overstretched regenerations, even the Master couldn’t have guessed how big he was going to get. A select journey from homicidal Prime Ministers to paradox machines…

The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords (Series 3, 2007)

IF COINCIDENCE HAS A FIELD DAY ANYWHERE, IT’S IN THE VAST AND CONTRADICTORY EXPANSE OF THE TIME VORTEX. And so the third series of the refreshed, renewed and lightly rebooted Doctor Who found at the end of time and the last stand of humanity when a chance encounter with an old but doddery genius, a forgetful but kind, old professor left the TARDIS crew stranded and the Doctor, in the best and worst way, not the last of his race.

Hindsight of subsequent six series can’t dull the freshness of Russell T Davies gratuitous dystopian trick in the antepenultimate episode of Series 3, just about kicking off the show’s first three-parter since 1989. In 2005’s first series, Davies had returned the Daleks to the small screen, navigating the intricacies of the Terry Nation estate to bring some Pepper-Pot classics back to the show. In the second year came the not so imperious return of the Cybermen, this time opting for a parallel universe origin tale. Following hotly behind the unexpected Macra cameo in Series 3’s Gridlock, the Master was the next obvious candidate to make a return, and so completing a set of classic villains and monsters, who’d rocked up in the New Series in the same order as they had during the 1960s and 1970s. The Master was a big scalp of course, as the production team had as much fun hinting about his return as fanboys had speculating. Take the guest starring appearance of Anthony Head in Series 2’s School Reunion, carefully flashing up in the series trailer next to partially obscured sign “…Master”. Of course, he was the “… Headmaster”, and despite enjoying the Western stand-off he had with the Doctor, fans retreated to their lairs waiting for the inevitable. And so it came. The first new Time Lord in a world very much built around the idea that the Doctor was alone, the last of his kind.

Was that really six series ago?

Straight to the Point

“Oh, a nice little game of hide and seek, I love that”

Following the events of Utopia, surprisingly resilient tension-filled momentum that remains unbeaten in the show, the resulting two-part finale has no intention of hanging about. There’s a fresh Master, force regenerated to match a bounding incarnation of the Doctor (and no doubt taking advantage of a fresh regeneration cycle bestowed on him by the Time Lords before cowardice took over), hijacking the Doctor’s TARDIS and heading into the unknown of space and time. Fortunately, with the traditional vortex effect, Captain Jack’s old vortex manipulator, which would stay with the show for some time to come, hurls the Doctor, Jack and Martha into our present day to set about discovering what became of the rogue Time Lord.

Absolute Power

“The Master is Prime Minister of Great Britain”

The Master, stable and secure as a majority-backed, popular and time-rich Prime Minister is a great conceit. Not only does it let Russell T Davies turn his scripts back to pointed politicism but also saves the usual skulduggerous slow reveal of the Master’s plot that had on more than one occasion reduced him to pantomime. It also gives us a glimpse of the Master at full power, a considerable challenge for the Doctor to overcome but also height of great distance for a defeated Master to fall. The Master had never been so outlandish and sadistic. And that’s saying something. Although there is more in common with his original suave, indifferent, amoral and confident appearance in a sequel four decades before than had been seen for years, what would unravel from these heightened stakes is true marmite for Whovians.

We are allowed plenty of time to watch this incarnation in action, from teasing and murdering at will to sending very specific messages to the Doctor and crucially, his companions. John Simm’s incarnation may be a little strained, just as the Tennant version of the Doctor was, but in many ways is also picks up traits from the Ainley incarnation who’d happily sneer at the lesser mortals. Far removed from the 1980s however, he’s dispensed with his faux-suave nature as he’s rediscovered his taste for large-scale plots (it helps to have real taste buds back) and finally, an appreciation of companions. Both the Doctors and of his own. Of course, the taste for larger scale plotting had really returned during the 1996 TV Movie, along with the wet shave. But who would have put any space currency on both remaining with him after meeting the Eye of Harmony.

After the future Earth smashing of the Series One finale and the monster mash-up, London bash-up of Series Two, the third series needed to be as large as this international, universe threatening romp and he was the Time Lord for the job.

Filling the TARDIS

“Mr Saxon does like a pretty face”

Perhaps the strangest change for this Master is, much to multiple Doctor’s amusement in the succeeding short Time Crash, is… His wife. The rather strange first lady of Britain is later revealed to be very much The Master’s companion – the first time we’ve seen him adopt one as the Doctor might. Aside from broadening the drama, it’s hard not to see this as a reflection of the fact that a partner-less leader is simply not electable in this day and age, psychic boost or not.

Despite having the time to manipulate events at source, the Master’s Harold Saxon’s has invented his past to gain the top job as the effective cameo from Nichola McAuliffe’s journalist highlights. And best of all, the real icing on the cake: his rise to power was possible thanks to the power void left by the actions of a very angry Tenth Doctor, dispatching Prime Minister Harriet Jones at the end of The Runaway Bride. Yes, this is a plot well laid. And while Utopia was a novelty, a fairy-tale glimpse into what could have been with a kindly and skilled, ‘better’ version of the Edwardian Doctor, it’s clear that these last two sons of Gallifrey, the Doctor and the Master, are fully entwined. Read more…

Doctor Who: Moff v RTD – When Steven Moffat made History (New Who special)

Moffat Davies New Doctor Who

A special glimpse at Doctor Who for Doctor Who New Series Day! FOUR stories where Steven Moffat became the show’s most important figure.

IT’S 26TH MARCH, 11 YEARS SINCE ROSE FIRST SCREENED ON BBC ONE AND SO DESIGNATED NEW WHO DAY ON JOKERSIDE. We loves an anniversary and so does the Doctor but following last year’s look at how the New Series measures up to the Classic Series, what to look at this time?

Well, as usual with the good Doctor, these are interesting times. Off the back of Series Nine, quite plausibly the best series for many a year although hamstrung by a weak pay off, things could have been rosy for the confirmed tenth series. But things are seldom such plain sailing. The New Series, having contributed over 40% of the show’s stories in just the past 11 years, was seemingly going nowhere. And then came the show entering what Jokerside considers to be its third worst ever hiatus.  2016 will see a measly single episode of the show, recalling the dark emptiness of years like, well, 2014. Still, it’s another indication of the odd difficulty that a series obsessed with change has with production changes as Moffat makes way for Chris Chibnall in 2018.

But, with a year up his sleeve, the last year has proved a momentous one for Steven Moffat. Already holding the record for writing for the most incarnations of the Doctor onscreen since he advented the twelfth incarnation, he’s now Who’s most prolific writer and most senior figure of all time. So for this anniversary, Jokerside’s taking a look at… WHEN MOFF TOOK OVER!

Classic track back

Hulke and Whitaker have sole dibs on the legend off writing for each of the first three Doctors

During the classic era, the legendary Robert Holmes lead the writing field having contributed 16 stories across five Doctors, starting with the Second Doctor adventure The Krotons in 1969. It was his record of writing cross-generationally onscreen that Moffat broke in 2013 with the casting of Peter Capaldi and the sly minisode Night of the Doctor which gave Paul McGann’s Eight Doctor a fine belated send off.

Dalek JokertoonDuring those classic years, only Terry Nation (with 10), David Whitaker (eight) and Malcolm Hulke (seven) came close to Holmes. Those three were part of the old guard, with Nation masterminding mostly Dalek Stories all the way up to 1979’s less than imperious Destiny of the Daleks. In the meantime he had introduced the first arcs of sorts (The Keys of Marinus and The Dalek Masterplan crossed serials like never before), took the Daleks to Hollywood and founded Blake’s Seven and other classic shows. David Whitaker was Who’s original script editor, setting up the template amid the show’s wonderful early democracy and overseeing the introduction of those Daleks when he pushed Nation’s script to screen. Hulke and Whitaker have sole dibs on the legend off writing for each of the first three Doctors, even though Whitaker had suspicions that the show would never be renewed in 1964. While Nation wrote for the Fourth Doctor, he missed out on Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor while he took the Pepper pots to America. Intriguingly, it was Whitaker who stepped into the Skaro breach to pen two adventures for Troughton’s first year under script editors Gerry Davis and Peter Bryant that are justifiably filed under definite, if lost, classics.

New acceleration

When the New Series roared back under the excellent stewardship of Russell T Davies, it was no strain for the new model lead writer to surpass those classic benchmarks. Stripped back to 13 x 45 minute episodes a year, the American styled showrunner role wasn’t barred from commissioning themselves to write stories like the old model script editor had been, but would instead take point in plotting the seasons, arcs and key episodes. The lost stats would go to episodes, with a primary focus on sewing up stories in a single run of 45 minutes, some records were left to the Classic years.

By the time of his departure in 2009, Davies had penned 25 episodes to Holmes 16, although the eminent Classic writer’s 64 episode contributions are almost double Davies’. And that’s not comparing the various rewrites Holmes nor indeed Davies carried out on stories that fell under their production tenures as script editor and lead writer respectively. Speculation suggests that rewrites and advanced script editing were more common under Davies than Moffat’s era despite the co-written episode that popped up throughout the enhanced Missy arc of 2014’s Series Eight and into Series Nine – recalling the collaborative approach that Davies took to 2009’s year of Specials.

Head to Head

Steven Moffat’s time in charge will stand gigantic in Who’s immense history

With Series Nine taking the number of years under Moffat’s control to five, he clearly surpassed Davies Four Series and Specials. With one series to wrap thing sup, splitting his tenure almost neatly between three series of two Doctors, there’s no doubt that Steven Moffat’s time in charge will stand gigantic in Who’s immense history. It’s possible, but surely unlikely to be beaten for a very long time.

To measure how considerable his presence has been, look at him in the context of the show’s 52 and half year history.

Of the whole show’s 52 and a bit years of 826 episodes, 263 stories and 35 seasons/series, Moffat has overseen 7%, 22% and 15% respectively. So far. And to rub it in, he’s introduced two memorable Time Lords who will both sit highly in story rankings while quite plausibly introducing the show’s greatest count of new monsters (and reintroducing two second tier classics in the Silurians and Ice Warriors).

So when did Moffat succeeded RTD as the show’s most significant figure?  

Sound of Drumroll…

The rules have been kept very simple in this tussle of the Time Lord Herding Titans. Only series and full length specials count towards episodes or stories. No specials like Time Crash, minisodes or extra scenes. And definitely not Moffat’s Curse of Fatal Death from 1999. Read more…

#Batman: Which Villain Are You?

Which Batman villain are you TITLE

C’mon, you know you’ve always wanted a long weekend in Arkham…

BATMAN’S BEGUN, DARKENED AND RISEN. Timely then, that this Easter finds a new Dark Knight heading to the Big Screen, facing off against that red and blue DC Comic character far more usually caught up in a Messiah analogy. In 2016, audiences will confront a Bat in his most gnarled and world-weary live action guise yet, having no doubt worn down many if not all of the best rogues gallery in the superhero business over a long and painful career.

So the real question is which of those arch nemeses are you?

Wonder no more Bat-fans – at long last Jokerside presents a guide to discovering which resident of Blackgate Penitentiary or Arkham Asylum you are! Which super scoundrel fits your bill.

Cat, bird or clown? Step right this way… Read more…

Marvel: “Go to Hell Castle” – The Punisher on Film

Punisher on Film

The Punisher’s back, skull, firearms and singular purpose complete and with its longest ride yet. Could the small screen at last give one of Marvel’s most adapted, and still most difficult character’s a break?

DAREDEVIL SERIES 2 HAS JUST UNLEASHED AN ALL NEW PUNISHER ON THE MASSES, THIS TIME FINDING A WAY FOR FRANK CASTLE TO BREAK INTO THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE AS HE DEBUTS IN SMALL SCREEN LIVE ACTION. That Netflix contained Hell’s Kitchen, so far shaped by the first closed seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, looks perfect for him. And in taking on the patch patrolled by the often more brutal Man without Fear, it looks like his anti-hero/villain status will have just the bridge he needs.

A square peg. With a skull on it

The Punisher is and has always been a difficult fit for the Marvel Universe, but typically, that’s exactly where the huge appeal the character springs from, continuing to attract creators no matter the Marvel imprint or scale of crossover event.

The Punisher doesn’t just have the potential to bring death and extreme violence into the comic book universe, darker and blunter than the various homicidal villains and amoral antiheroes in that huge universe, but also a complete lack of redemption. As countless films remind us, this is not vengeance or revenge as much as various storylines have found ways to drag up the tragic past that broke policeman Frank Castle. This is punishment. And as soon as the Punisher was born from that broken shell, as soon as the skull shirt was put on and the wicked punished, all hope of redemption was off the table. There sits on his shoulders the weight of many deaths, no matter how avenging or moral they seem. Rumour has it that’s a key part of him entering Daredevil’s universe…

Still, that’s a remit that makes the Punisher all the more difficult to slot into a film. You have all manner of three act and tragic precursors to drag this difficult slant into the mundane. One of the nearest comparators in comic books, with a career shaped by tragedy is of course Batman. But the Dark Knight quickly became a metaphor within his fictional city, and creators have had great fun playing with the idea of escalation that chucks increasing layers of the grotesque at him. The Punisher’s encountered his fair share of grotesques, but in the hard reality of his America, the two shadowy figures are entirely separated by the use of fatal force.

Issues. With a skull on them

Still, as with the Dark Knight, Punisher stories and particularly adaptations find it difficult to stop reminding us about Castle’s stark tragedy, albeit only one of the three film adaptations so far have wandered onto that difficult canvas of trying to solve it.

Batman represents the loss of childhood innocence. He was steered into a life where he sought to protect following a savage murder that he could not have stopped as a child. In comic book lore, Frank Castle was an adult, a highly experienced soldier who failed to protect his wife and two children. He was forged in the heart of Manhattan, in Central Park. While both may lurk in dark hideouts, unlike Batman Castle doesn’t have an incredible array of technology that can mimic and counter his grotesques. His brand of justice requires huge firepower, ultra-violence death and action. He employs every tool of the villain to make that happen. And many, many of his victims are minor mafia attached criminals.

Spider-Man may have jumped into the Marvel Cinematic Universe just in time to take up a valuable role in Marvel’s tent-pole film of 2017, Civil War, but there’s no chance the Punisher will. Frank Castle first appeared in the pages of a 1974 Spider-Man comic and wold go on to play a considerable role in Mark Millar’s original Civil War comic event. However, once again, the irreconcilable, utterly irredeemable qualities of what’s left of Frank Castle mean that even in moments of extreme Marvel crisis he’s no easy fit with the rest of the Marvel elite.

Peak Punisher. With a skull on it

There are three films starring Marvel’s awkward antihero to look at, but it would be impossible to ignore the work of the Punisher’s definitive contributor on the page. Above everybody else is Garth Ennis. As ever a writer who prefers to steer clear of superheroes, but unfortunately writes them brilliantly.

His ongoing series cancelled in the mid-90s, Castle spent some time clinging onto in mini-series before Garth Ennis’ 12-part run at the beginning of the 21st century returned his popularity. The Punisher’s look was pared down (farewell those Mickey Mouse gloves) and soon Ennis had moved across to the adult MAX imprint, legendarily given an unlimited run on the character; one that produced heavy, realistic and wonderfully dark tales for 66 issues. That series would continue tackling modern world events, having established a universe where Vietnam-veteran Punisher had been active for 30 years and taken over 2,000 lives, until the character’s own death. Other comic series would drag Castle into superhuman scraps, mutant meltdowns and even transform him into the undead like of FrankenCastle during the publisher’s Dark Reign event.

There’s nothing like a good antihero, and he’s one of the psychologically damaged originals. So it’s no surprise that aside from his devastating runs on animated series and his huge homecoming on Netflix, he’s fronted three feature length films. But none of these have sustained a franchise, each picking up a different actor for a different portrayal of Castle. Perhaps the prolonged serial story of the new Daredevil adaptation will finally be able to piece together a compelling persona for one of the most damaged Marvel has to offer. Read more…

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