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Halloween III: Difficult Middle Children

Halloween III Season of the Witch

Halloween III Season of the Witch - the Difficult Middle Child

The third of Jokerside’s surveys of the Halloween franchise. All hopes of an anthology series had gone and the franchise was set on building a new continuity that paid close attention to the past. As it stretched into the late 1980s and mid-1990s, Halloween struggled to keep the Shape in his favourite pastime in a changing world of horror.

MICHAEL MYERS’ THIRD APPEARANCE IN HALLOWEEN 4 HAD ACHIEVED SOMETHING INCREDIBLE. A NEW BLOODLINE AND THE SERIES’ GREATEST TWIST. Spurred on by the return of buoyant box office, there was little chance the Shape could stay off the screen. A fifth instalment was quickly pushed into pre-production. But Myers was rivalled in threat by events away from the camera as the franchise strolled on. It’s impressive that a constantly the revolving teams of talent behind each instalment stuck to Halloween’s important continuity. It’s not surprising that the Shape couldn’t stave off the horror of diminishing returns.

Halloween 5: The Return of Michael Myers (1989)

“In my heart I knew that Hell would not have him”

Donald Pleasance rightly gets top billing at the start of the fifth Halloween film, before an effective if inexplicable pumpkin slashing exercise backs the main credits. After part four jumped straight into the action, Halloween 5 takes time to recap the ending of that previous film and show an unlikely escape for the masked killer; to the bottom of the mine shaft and then a fast running river. Who knew? Of course Myers survived, and with the slightest of nods to Frankenstein finds some respite at the house of an old man he dispatches… When he emerges from his coma a year later. It’s the same kind of continuation that the first two films relied on, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the following 97 minutes always seems to have keep an eye on Halloween 2. Here more than ever we’re watching this silent, homicidal anti-hero survive rather than his victims.

One year on

“She has something to tell us”

Moving on one calendar year has mixed results. The idea that Myers wakes up on Halloween may be a growing and compelling element, but loses a bit of power when the film flits through the year he spent undisturbed and physically unaffected in someone’s house. It’s more important that this missing year allows his bloodline to move on. After the twist of the last film, Jamie’s year in hell has left her mute like her uncle, under constant supervision in Haddonfield Children’s Clinic. It was no dream, but also she’s no murderer. Her foster mother survived and she is being treated rather than pilloried.

The fifth film explores the evident link between niece and uncle that the previous film established. She dreams of Myers as he wakes from his coma and we see a strange Norse symbol tattooed on his inner wrist for the first time. Even before the nod to earlier films, as she sees her uncle standing under a tree in the clinic gardens, she scrawls ‘He’s coming for me” as she assumes her role as a Myers detector and a tool in Loomis’ crusade to locate the murderer he knows is not dead.

“Have you come back home Michael? I know what you want from her…”

The treatment and sympathy of the town sit at odds with Loomis’s usual role as a lunatic outsider. Fortunately this time, although the audience can see the link, the Children’s Clinic is uninterested and the eminent Doctor of Myers is more desperate than ever. But as the killer circles once again, Loomis struggles to pull his plan into gear in a typically uncooperative town. The format needs to stretch around the Jamie developments, but it ensures that he remains the outsider with a view that no one will buy into too much. And his derangement only increases with his conviction. It’s almost a relief when early on he stumbles into the old Myers house, now derelict and overgrown, and manages to smile when he’s surprised by a dead rat. But rather oddly convinced that he has the answer to Myers, Loomis will now take unprecedented risks to stop the killer once and for all, and that early trip just serves to set up the finale. He might not be altogether with it if he thinks the original Halloween events took place “12 years” before but amid this unscrupulous desperation comes the oddest of things. After three films that painted him into a catalogue of errors, the indefatigable doctor actually gets some things right in Halloween 5.

Continuity

“They should ban Halloween in this town”

Banning Halloween. What a good suggestion that is, one of the best Haddonfield’s ever heard. But still, it hasn’t happened. After the misstep of calling a curfew in the fourth film, one thing Loomis does get right is listening to Jamie’s warning and quickly trying to save Jamie’s foster sister Rachel. But for all that warning and the continuity with the previous instalment, she is cruelly dispatched early on after a strangely gratuitous dressing sequence.

“Why, why are your protecting him? …There’s a reason why he has this power over you”

Without Rachel, much sisterly connection falls to Tina Williams, although the connection isn’t drawn out. She’s certainly very close friend of Rachel and particularly fond of Jamie, and a lot hangs on that connection come the mid-point of the film. Continue reading “Halloween III: Difficult Middle Children”

Doctor Who Series 9: A Siege Too Far?

Doctor Who Sleep No More
Doctor Who Sleep No More

“Okay guys – may we should just sleep on it?”

The Sixth of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine. Sleep No More could lay claim to being the series’ first single-parter proper. It was the regular outing for recurrent writer Mark Gatiss who dwelt on one of those concepts in the best Doctor Who tradition… But was it a mistake to pick on the grand old base under siege story once again this series?

Trapped, as well as inspired, by Sleep No More.

“Don’t watch this!”
“It’s like a story!”
“I did try to make it exciting”

SLEEP NO MORE SURE SET ITSELF A STEEP CHALLENGE WITH A FOUND FOOTAGE CONCEPT THAT RELIED ON SCARING VIEWERS OFF. IF YOU THOUGHT THE SERIES NINE MARKETING THAT HINGED AROUND THE UTTERLY GIPPING CONCEPT OF “SAME OLD, SAME OLD” WAS DRIPPING WITH HUBRIS, THIS ISN’T GOING TO SWAY YOU. Sleep No More has duly sunk to the lowest point of the series in terms of audience appreciation, but that’s not too surprising. It was a throw-away single-parter for all the talk of a sequel being in the works, amid many two-parters that lacked names among guest star packed casts. Reese Shearsmith seemed more of an inevitability. After Daleks, ghosts and Zygons its threat was an unknown quantity. However, it was siezing the nearest thing to the Blink spot in this restructured series and certainly wasn’t as derivative as some of Mark Gatiss’ concepts – the third of these essays dwelt on the horrid historical froth of last year’s Robot of Sherwood.

Amid the blunt Shakespeare it really grabbed hold of a key staple of Doctor Who: The Base under Siege story. But unfortunately, in settling quickly into that classic mould, it wasn’t unique this series. And set an even steeper challenge for itself considering how well Under the Lake had managed it.

Look the doors

Base under siege stories dawned with a Doctor whose name they become synonymous with…

It’ll be easier to reluctantly refer to the base under siege format as BUS for the sake of this essay. Try not to think about busses, but taut and dangerous tales that have been with Doctor Who since near the beginning. In fact, the BUS concept has become a very familiar part of the show’s heritage, dawning with a Doctor whose name it’s become more synonymous with than any other: The Second Doctor. After three long years the show hadn’t wandered into a siege of note, but then in one fell swoop, the swansong of the First Doctor introduced Cybermen, regeneration and the BUS structure. If the regeneration hadn’t worked out, the show would have ended on a high.

The Tenth Planet was broadcast between 8 and 29 October 1966 and established the confines of a BUS for the Second Doctor’s tenure to fine-tune. For a successful BUS, the TARDIS must arrive in or near a small or isolated area, populated by a small group of characters, usually facing an indirectly related crisis. Whether a space-liner, facility, outpost or any enclosed area meeting that criteria, it will come under or already be subject to attack from an enemy force. And if they haven’t already gained entry, they soon will. There’s normally a control room, or one and two rooms in which the Doctor is usually a great help in helping some of the crew escape. While any companions often prove excellent at speeding up the siege or placing themselves in extreme danger, it wouldn’t be a classic of the genre if the small crew already on the base weren’t picked off one by one.

In The Tenth Planet the TARDIS crew arrive in the South Pole in the near future of what we now call 1986. There’s an Antarctic base manned by a distracted band… And outside a group of robotic humanoids suddenly appear.

Doctor under Siege

The show’s first post-regeneration story threw the Doctor into another base under siege story

The trick is how the episode tilts from the crisis preoccupying the core group to the realisation that it’s connected to or far less threatening than the opposing force. In The Tenth Planet the Doctor fell into the mystery of the Zeus IV probe before the introduction of the Cybermen both solved the puzzle and became the pressing concern. The First Doctor didn’t make it out of that story alive, and curiously the next serial, which would become the show’s first post-regeneration story, would throw the Doctor into another BUS story. This time the TARDIS landed on an Earth colony on the planet Vulcan in the far future where the crew were confronted by… Daleks. Power of the Daleks, which thanks to a strong story and mostly the first scenes of Patrick Troughton undertaking the most difficult job in the show’s history, remains one of the most sought of the show’s horribly lost serials. Despite the immediate challenge posed by the Doctor’s greatest monsters, the new metallic pretenders would return with extraordinary speed to make BUS stories their own. The established Who trope, cliché to some, of a base under siege may have the Cybermen to thank.

Silver Sieges

Cybermen enact the BUS idea more than any other monster…

This anniversary Jokerside will look at the Golden Age of Cybermen that had them cross paths with the Second Doctor four times over three seasons. Many of those stories, gifted extra posterity by taking the brunt of the BBC’s episode cull in early 1970s, saw the constantly modifying cyborgs enact the BUS idea more than any other monster. The Moonbase found them assault the very same on the moon in 2070 – in televisual terms just four months after their first appearance. In that adventure, Hobson even describes the time displaced Doctor as “a proper Rip Van Winkle”. The Cyber’s record recall time for one of Doctor Who‘s finest BUS adventures was compounded when they appeared seven months later in season opening tour-de-force The Tomb of the Cybermen. This time, the small core group and TARDIS crew were trapped on the other side, in the stirring tombs of the Cybermen on Telos. Lost for many years, that story had achieved a huge amount of attention before its discovery revealed it to be slightly less atmospheric than fond memories had it. That same promise in absentia, but sadly not its reappearance, were matched by the Season Five finale: The Wheel in Space, where the Cybermen invade a deep space Earth space station. Fortunately, their next and final turn against the Second Doctor saw the upgraded Mondasians break the mould and eventually settle on a direct invasion in central London – in fact, chronologically the Invasion was the first time that humans encountered the Cybermen. After four rapid BUS stories, one of the catches attached to these claustrophobic stories was beginning to show. Repetition. And the Cybermen took the brunt.

The Mondasians had been burnt out by their quick and repeated schemes. When they returned, they would return to their base invading ways in 1975’s Revenge of the Cybermen, but following their greatest hour in 1968 they would only make three more appearances in the next 21 years of the Classic Series.

Classic Doctors in distress

Every Doctor has found themselves in a BUS story…

Since the shortened Second Doctor’s tenure ended every Doctor has found themselves in a BUS story or scenario. The template wasn’t set between the Cybermen and cosmic cobo Time Lord alone. The Fourth Doctor found himself facing The Horror of Fang Rock on the southern coast of Edwardian England during his middle years. The Fifth Doctor found himself facing the combined might of the Silurians and the Sea Devils in an undersea base of the late 21st century in Warriors of the Deep. The Sixth Doctor would confront humanoid and homicidal plant life on a luxury space liner of the 30th century in his final adventure Terror of the Vervoids. The Doctor’s third and seventh incarnations probably strayed the most, although elements reoccur throughout classics of their respective eras, like Day of the Daleks and Ghostlight. Another catch emerged during the remaining Classic years: BUS stories lend themselves exceptionally to dystopian or distant futures or atmospheric Victoriana. As if to prove the rule with an exception, the second Doctor’s finest BUS story was quite possibly The Web of Fear, set in the London underground. The roots of that story would be set in the Victorian set The Snowman starring the Second Doctor’s spiritual successor, the Eleventh Doctor.

The New Series Sieges

Base under siege are easier to spot in the New Series

Come the New Series, BUS stories became more prominent, or certainly easier to spot. A slight twist on the BUS staged the show’s big monster return in Dalek, this time underground in the near future of 2012. The Ninth Doctor would also tackle time disturbance in a contemporary BUS story during Paul Cornell’s Father’s Day. The Tenth Doctor didn’t waste much time in the town hall of The Christmas Invasion to the hospital of New Earth, but it was the wonderfully dark and crucially Victorian Tooth and Claw in his third story that paid the best tribute. He’d take it to the end of humanity in Utopia, onto a luxury space liner in Voyage of the Damned and the smallest under siege story of all time in Midnight.

Perhaps unsurprisingly considering how much the incarnation fed from his second, the Eleventh Doctor had a particular predilection for base under siege stories. Indeed, the final account of his centuries at Trenzalore might be considered the show’s ultimate BUS story. He didn’t have the greatest number of multi-part episodes, but they were almost exclusively BUS stories. The Weeping Angel two-parter, the return of the Silurians and finale The Big Bang in Series Five and then the Gangers story of The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People that stopped two-parters in their tracks during Series Six. Still, he could still tackle a good BUS within 45 minutes. While some of them soared, like Hide and Nightmare in Silver, others aboard the Black Spot or a Russian nuclear submarine (Cold War was Gatiss’ second stab at a BUS story following Series One’s The Unquiet Dead) quickly reminded the audience of their formulaic approach.

Hollywood pile up

Give us some good old-fashioned monsters the world cried…

A quick segue on the Hollywood pile up. That’s the awkward situation where two or more Robin Hood, Hannibal or Asteroid films come along at the same time. Much like a London red bus, it’s a combination of a small part studio intrigue and mostly human bloody mindedness seen through the cosmic joker’s magnifying glass. It happens in many walks of life, and Doctor Who is no exception. Gatiss’ Series Eight story Robot of Sherwood was unlucky to kick off a horrid run of robot stories that dented the middle of that year. Give us some good old-fashioned monsters the world cried. Likewise, it’s not unusual for several BUS stories to fall in one series as the earlier New Series list suggests. But come Series Nine, it’s unfortunate that Sleep No More has come so soon after a truly superior two-part BUS story. In good Doctor Who tradition, one of Series Nine’s BUS adventures took place underwater and the other in the far future.

Under the Lake

A welcome addition to the tradition…

The second story and second two-parter of Series Nine took Fifth Doctor’s underwater BUS story Warriors from the Deep and Second Doctor BUS Fury from the Deep as easy references. This time the TARDIS Crew arrived in the near future, manned by a small crew, isolated by the gallons above them. We see that crew first, this time engaged in the crisis of the mysterious spacecraft they recovered from the lakebed and the fact that their commander has been killed and reappeared as one of two hostile ghosts. Yes, Under the Lake really hit the water swimming.

As the generally thrilling Rebel Flesh two-parter during Series Six showed, it’s difficult to maintain a two part story using the base under siege concept. Even then, where the duplicated Doctor and that series’ heavy arc took up a lot of room, the second episode struggled to distinguish itself.

Toby Whithouse’s Under the Lake tackled this challenge in a couple of ways. Firstly by splitting the aggressor’s MO. The ghosts only attacked people who had laid eyes on a mysterious series of runes in the spacecraft, meaning that on first arrival the TARDIS crew weren’t victims. Secondly, the final part split the story onto another canvas. Before the Flood was half set in the past, as it title suggested. In one way that was a twist on the standard BUS story, in another the threat of incoming timelines acted as a more effective aggressor than the ever-present ghosts as it wove ontological paradox around the adventure.

This turned out to be the true root of the story, that neat conceit of ghosts underwater just the simple opening pitch. Still, it was an effective and fresh two-parter with more than enough corridor chasing and two key areas for the characters to run between. The base’s mess hall, with prophetical Norse mural on the wall, and Faraday Cage which could either trap the ghosts or the survivors. It’s a welcome addition to the fine tradition of BUS.

Sleep No More

Doctor Who’s first found footage episode

Four stories and five episodes later, the Doctor and Clara found themselves similarly arriving in a dimly lit sequence of corridors. This time, they didn’t meet inquisitive, inactive ghosts but a quad rescue mission. This time it was the 38th century, the far future and the crisis that had summoned the rescue mission is the space station Le Verrier’s cessation in communication. They are orbiting Neptune, that’s the isolation, and how the space station earned its name.

It’s not long before this group discovered mysterious, lumbering sand men stalking the ship and their complement were whittled down one by one. On the way they came across Reese Shearsmith’s brilliantly monikered Gagan Rassmussen, lead researcher and inventor of the Morpheus machine that’s condensed sleep with some nasty side-effects. The sandmen.

While the limitations of the BUS stories are clear to see, there are many benefits. You can easily slide into a story in medias res, shortcutting to danger with a format that audiences are familiar with. And with a limited cast and need for sets there are significant budget advantages. To flesh out the scares, almost every BUS adventure adds in some texture, something there’s plenty of room for. Under the Lake brought a UNIT dimension to an industrial team and an emotional exploration of the Doctor and Clara’s relationship. Gatiss went further with Sleep No More, setting it after The Great Catastrophe first mentioned in Season 21’s Frontios, when tectonic plate shifts had led to the indo-Japanese alliance, reflected in crew and design. This even brings a unified multi-theistic religion that almost every character references, and an apparent disregard for humanity where low intelligence grunts are cloned for the sole purpose of combat. Throughout, we discover more about the Morpheus programme, bubbling to the surface from early mistrust to main plot point. Gatiss even chucked in a bit more Shakespeare than the title. Without these elements, the story would certainly be a lot hollower, but it all feels a little token. And that’s mainly down to the distracting presentation. Sleep No More was Doctor Who’s first found footage episode. That’s a format ready made to inject some spice into the BUS format, but the poor decision to tie the twist into the footage rather than let it stand on its own robbed it of some necessary hermetic plotting.

Sleep proved an interesting concept – one of those classic Doctor Who conceits along with statues and trap streets – but when boiled down to the giving sentience to the rheum in your eye, it failed on the comprehensions takes as well. As good as the design of the Sandmen was, the lack of clear motivation or reason. Quite possibly, it would have stood far more strongly in the series had it not pursued the found footage format.

Most importantly, the end twist was intent on rendering the build-up pointless. In Before the Flood, the Doctor had cheated using an ontological paradox. Whithouse even took time for the Doctor to break the fourth wall and lecture the audience on this, an audacious move. This time round the series most noted cast member was soon revealed as a villain, and almost every incident of drama boiled down to an extravagant sleight of hand. And when your lead character tells you that it none of it makes sense, you really have an issue. Come the reveal of Rassmussen and the Patient Zero ruse, after the latter’s steady and eerie silent running throughout the ship, the found footage presentation was a distinct disadvantage. In its reach to fill out the BUS with a lot, and as enjoyably throwaway as it all was, much of Sleep No More proved to be mostly dust.

Perchance to dream…

If Sleep No More proves anything…

BUS stories have risen above their production benefits and dramatic shortcuts to become an expected story format in Doctor Who. This poses a challenge, as every one of them has to bring new elements to bear alongside the expected scares, murder and threat. This series Toby Whithouse served up a twist that slots very well into the grand tradition. Sadly, come the eye ripping close of Sleep No More, things were just a little too close to the dark socketed and disconcertingly effective ghosts of Under the Lake. That was the real, if only perhaps, misstep in its placement during Series Nine. In story terms, Under the Lake fell only two after the show’s last BUS story: The Alien tinged Last Christmas, but Sleep No More carried the can. BUS stories are heading nowhere. If anything, Sleep No More proves not they should be rationed out, but that they need not try so hard.

A sidestep in siege

One of Sleep No More’s greatest additions was Rassmussen’s eyewear…

Pleasingly odd considering the eye extracting ending, one of Sleep No More’s greatest additions was Rassmussen’s eyewear. A direct reference to brilliantly misguided scientist Dastari in 1985’s Two Doctors, these obvious glasses either have incredibly sticking power or prove how slow human development is… Having carried through from the Third Zone circa 1985 through to the Solar System in the 38th Century. The Two Doctors proves to be an excellent point of reference, not showing a BUS directly, but the potential after effects of a BUS story where the Doctor loses. The chilling first episode has the Sixth Doctor and companion Peri arrive on the deserted Space Station Camera, to find it riddled with signs of fighting and gunfire. They see the recording of the Second Doctor’s torture and then find his companion Jamie in a feral state, abandoned in the aftermath of the Doctor’s abduction…

That’s what can happen. An idea… “Just in the corner of your eye”

Jokerside’s Series Nine’s essays will continue with an end of an era. The Raven is coming…

Read the complete set of Doctor Who Series Nine essays.

Halloween II: New Masks Please

Halloween Season of the Witch and the Return of Michael Myers

Halloween Season of the Witch and the Return of Michael Myers

The second in Jokerside’s glimpse at the Halloween franchise. The first two Halloween films had not only established a franchise, but created the slasher monster. But the series turned out to lack the method and formula of Michael Myers’ MO as the films stretched to the mid-1990s. But then, he could never have returned on the 10th anniversary if Halloween 3 hadn’t written him off…

FOLLOWING THE SUCCESS AND FINITE CONCLUSION OF THAT SINGLE NIGHT STORY OF HALLOWEEN IN THE FILMS OF 1978 AND 1981, JOHN CARPENTER AND PRODUCTION PARTNER DEBRA HILL HAD THE ADMIRABLE INTENTION OF CARVING AN ANTHOLOGY SERIES FROM THAT AUTUMNAL GIFT OF A NAME. It seemed an inexplicable power was determined to keep Michael Myers alive off-screen as much as on. Latching on to an anniversary, as only this franchise can, the fourth film arrived on the tenth anniversary of the first, and started a new cycle of three films, helmed by different directors, each delving into Myers’ origins as much as they nodded their decapitated heads at different parts of the originals. In this spotlight:

Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982)

“The night no one came home”

Michael Myers was dead, so where next? The tradition of the ever-returning slasher boogeyman had not yet been set, although there was a fine precedent from gothic godfathers in the Frankenstein and Dracula mould. Still, when it came to this third film, the anthology approach that the producer’s chose was a mighty and noble aim.

And history records that it failed.

Season of the Witch generated far lower box office than its predecessors. But on the way, in its strange position as the only film of the franchise not to follow its defining main character or slasher horror template, the brilliance of the story and approach is clear among the clashing oddity of it all.

The main problem, especially from hindsight gifted by a full nine films featuring Michal Myers, is that Season of the Witch is always going to suffer in comparison. The odds are stacked against it. Instead of a slasher template, the definition of film repetition, comes a mystery packed with psychological shocks. To craft the tale, returning producer John Carpenter turned to legendary British scribe and Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale. Unfortunately, rumour has it that distributor Dino de Laurentiis wasn’t convinced by the sharp move away from gore, which resulted in the shoehorning of grizzly shocks and Kneale requesting the removal of his credit.

That’s a shame for many reasons, not least because Season of the Witch is Neale the core, mashing a somewhat intrinsically British Isles plot with a Californian setting. Yes, we’re not in Ohio anymore and as lead Dr Challis says, “In California… You never know”.

After the slow and strangely digital pumpkin titles, a classic set-up presents a mysterious man escaping pursuers, only to end up in a hospital where his condition and quick end at the hands of an assassin draw others into in a web of curiosity. The film’s definitive moment, the root of the question that irresistibly pushes Challis to join forces with the daughter of the victim, is set when the assassin calmly sets himself alight in a parked car, his mission complete. Director Tommy Lee Wallace makes a good and chilling stab of this – undoubtedly the iconic scene of the film.

The slight meta-lines of the first film are redrawn here, as a disturbed Dr Challis later sees an advert for a Halloween screening of the original Halloween film – perhaps indicative of the franchise’s lofty observation of itself – sponsored by the highly irritating jingle of the Silver Shamrock. That advert counts down to Halloween – with the world’s premier supplier of Halloween masks omnipresent. It’s the dead man’s erratic final journey that draws Challis and Ellie Grimbridge to the small Irish community in California dominated by the Silver Shamrock factory. An eclectic group duly descends on the town motel, to serve up the body count in a classic village of the damned way. The couple swiftly finds themselves in an alien community where somethings is clearly rotten. There’s a dark secret in that place, an old staple in horror and many other genres. Like Summer Isle in The Wicker Man or a softer version of the New England explored by Lovecraft and King.

Horror balance

“It’s the last Halloween for that factory of his”

Season of the Witch is not an unsuccessful film on screen. It provides a haunting force of opposition all the way up to its abrupt ending. It adds and builds on the strong science-fiction conceit that had fuelled many genre plots, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the Autons serials of Doctor Who. And perhaps most surprisingly, it actually shares a link to the preceding Halloween film it was a deliberate departure from (and entries to come).  The villain’s plot is more than inspired by Samhain festival, the ancient Celtic ritual superseded by Halloween that was previously tacked on as a guiding force behind Myers in Halloween II. It’s a reference that would once again surface like Michael Myers later in the franchise. But first, there was this story that lent itself to creeping realisation, rather than the gore and effects that pushed Kneale away. But while that extreme isn’t necessary, it also isn’t to the detriment of the story. Although the characters remain rather hollow, even the hollow love plot that quickly develops between the two leads serves its purpose in one of the final acts multiple twists. Continue reading “Halloween II: New Masks Please”

Doctor Who Series 9: Have companions become more important than the Doctor?

Invasion of the Zygons Doctor Who
Invasion of the Zygons Doctor Who

Didn’t I say, if we hang around long enough we’ll get another show…


The fifth of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine. The return of the Earth invasion, politics and the last brilliant multi-Doctor story. But something wasn’t quite right. The Doctor wasn’t in total control. His companions were.

A question brewing for 10 years. Inspired by the The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion

IT’S NOT TOO SOON, IS IT? WHEN COMES TO DOCTOR WHO IT MAY AS WELL BE TOO LATE, SO LET’S JUST SETTLE ON THE TIMEING BEING EXACTLY RIGHT. From where I sit in the far future Clara’s been gone for centuries and I’ve managed to get over it… Yes, this might be a little strong. Episodes of Series Nine are increasingly piling up the doom and gloom surrounding Clara’s imminent departure. It could be any time now, but even if it falls before the series finale, the repercussions will reach to the end and beyond. It’s certainly going to be a wrench. As the recent two-parter proved, she’s not only the modern era’s longest serving companion, but quite possibly the most important companion in the show’s history…

But Clara’s colleague companions have been important for many years. If the New Series can be marked out from the classic years in any terms, it’s not the missing Time Lords but the increased role of who the Doctor calls his “friends”.

The Classic Years

Far beyond… “The nightmare scenario…”

Companions had a simple purpose in many of the padded stories of the classic era. Classic companions like Leela, who accompanied the Fourth Doctor, had foibles and qualities that fed into the tone of the stories that followed their introduction. In further adventures they often used these to find new and very personal ways to get into trouble. Leela brought an Eliza Doolittle model to the TARDIS. Harry Sullivan was an imbecile, but also a doctor. Sarah Jane Smith was a reporter. Nyssa was a scientist, specialising in bioelectronics. Tegan was an air stewardess who was constantly trying to get back to Heathrow airport and once did. Mel Bush had an eidetic memory and a spectacular scream. But often, despite their unique characteristics, companions served their greatest narrative function within the confines of their origin story. None of their characters defined subsequent stories.

Perhaps the nearest the series came to that was the delirious Brigadier in Series 20’s Mawdryn Undead, a Blinovitch loaded time bomb wandering around an alien ship until he created a scene. That same season Tegan fell under the spell of the Mara for a second time, although she was the bridge rather than the focus for these stories. Then came Mel in Trial of a Time Lord. Having seen her in Matrix projections of the future, the Doctor retrieved the companion he’s never met to form part of his defence, only for her to take a role in foiling the fiendish plot of the Valeyard inside the Matrix of the Timelords itself. Earlier came precocious Adric, whose sacrifice to mathematics enabled his friends to escape. It was his last act, but he certainly never found out if he was right.

Original crew

When she left, she left for love …

Even original companion Susan was as removed from adventures as her offish un-Doctorly grandfather. Indirectly, it was her elevated extrovertness and poor subtlety that brought two humans, Barbara and Ian, on board the TARDIS to kick-start the two exiles’ involvement in the universe. Susan and the Doctor didn’t leave Gallifrey to gallivant around the universe after all. With so little of the show’s fabric stitched by the time she left the TARDIS crew a year later, she was never attached to being a Time Lady or given their key abilities. She even had the sauce to claim the acronym of TARDIS as her own, as the Doctor presumably fondly remembered in The Zygon Inversion. That said, she did display telepathic abilities, saving Barbara in The Sensorites, that might just have exceeded her grandfather’s. When she left, she left for love. She didn’t play a part in any arc, presumably the Time Lords never caught up with her to put her on trial. Maybe she wasn’t pursued – but could she have escaped the Time War?  Continue reading “Doctor Who Series 9: Have companions become more important than the Doctor?”

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