Category: TV

The growing power of the Idiot’s Lantern…

Merlin: Swords and Sorcery Part I – For the Love of Camelot!

Merlin for the Love of Camelot

Merlin chuck

The first of a series looking at Arthurian legend on the small and big screens.  First up is the throwtastic family fayre of Merlin.  Massive spoilers guaranteed for those who are yet to take the trip to Camelot.

CONCLUDING FIVE TERRIBLY SUCCESSFUL YEARS, MERLIN’S FINAL SEASON COMMENCED A YEAR AGO THIS WEEKEND.  As 2013 sees Albion traded for Atlantis on the long Autumn evenings, it feels a good time to look back at a show that proved many wrong, and also that Arthurian legend is still ripe for repossession.

 “In a land of myth, and a time of magic… the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young boy. His name… Merlin.”

So began each episode, firmly setting the tone for The Adventures of Young Merlin.  In his review of the first episode of Atlantis, The Guardian’s Sam Wollaston wryly commented that the show has the same boy’s public school vibe as Merlin – and it does.  Aside from myth, the show cuts into a similar vein as Harry Potter, conjuring up a class obsessed buddy show – although Atlantis could really do with a similar intro spiel.  With special effects limited by its television budget, a lot of the series’ appeal had to come from its interplay.  That put a focus on a script that received criticism for its modern English when it first started (all but gone by the end of its run) but that proved to be eminently sensible.  After all, what language would be historically accurate?  Unfortunately however, not many shows have an inbuilt universal translator or telepathic circuit and people take that badly.

Atlantis has taken the opposite approach to Merlin, starting in the modern day that Merlin briefly finished in. The camera could have easily cut from the South West country road that Merlin endlessly walks to the boat from which Jason surveys the ocean depths.

Different Fish

But Atlantis is a different fish to Merlin, despite its surface similarities.  The new show has a wealth of myths to draw on, and not necessarily all Greek (Jason is palling up with Hercules rather than Heracles after all).  In the first episode the main hero landed in an Atlantis that sounded a lot like Crete, took on the mantle of Theseus and defeated the minotaur.  There isn’t a golden fleece in sight, but it will surely come.  Atlantis may have significant crossovers with Merlin cast and crew, but it’s come with significant new blood – not least Howard Overman elevated to co-creator.

Following loosely in the boy wizard’s footsteps, Atlantis has immediately eased itself of Merlin’s early constraints.  Despite a singular base in one city, presumably in the Mediterranean, that may as well be Camelot in Albion, its setting brings an easier route to adventure and story.  The show’s intrepid trio have thousands of tales to draw on.  Although Merlin brought in various British and Celtic myths, from its various fantastic creatures to the aes sídhe, it was always set in the stone of Arthurian legend.

‘The Future of Camelot, Albion, and the United Kingdoms’

But as John Hurt’s Great Dragon intonated in the opening of every episode, this Merlin was a young boy, and a servant, for the whole run of the show.   No matter how many nods and references there were to the legends of Arthur, the audience knew that this was just laying the groundwork for the famous myths to come….  Well, that was the ruse that remained for a considerable time, in fact, pretty much up to the time that its cancellation was announced.  With every nod and appearance of an element of the myth, Merlin wasn’t hinting at what was to come after all – it was interpreting them just as Spenser, White, Malory and countless others had before.  In these days of old and bloated knights, it’s refreshing to see Arthur locked as a young king, because when Merlin ended, the whole legend had been told.

Most parts of Arthurian lore were acknowledged from the love triangle of the throne, the lady of the lake, Uther Pendragon, Excalibur, the sword in the stone and round table as well as bringing in the likes of Tristan, Isolde and the Fisher King.  By the final season many parts were in place, overshadowed by the road to Camlann.  In five years it covered pretty much the whole caboodle, not necessarily in the expected way or order, but it got away with it all rather brilliantly.

There’s a number of reasons why.  Perhaps most importantly, Merlin got its casting spot on.  The mix of the characters and chemistry more than overcame plots that frequently fell into the old ‘Oh we’re off for a quest because one of us has fallen ill’ mould.  While some of the characters remained a little underused, even wasted for long stretches, such as Sir Gwain and Guinevere, others flourished in leisurely story arcs.   In the case of Morgana, seldom has a character been allowed such time to develop from light to dark.  Katie McGrath had precious little to do for two seasons, but more than made up for it (well, went manically over the top) when the character’s power was realised.

The Great Purge

Merlin’s real strength was using and abusing the myths as it saw fit.  With such a successful chemistry and easy reliance on its strict formula, with its deus ex machina dragons, it eeked out parts of the myth throughout the series.  It laid simple, never over the top, plot strands with the confident and correct opinion that it really didn’t need to worry about being slavish to any version of the myth.  The quest, a medieval-going-on-modern castle set-up and the consistent suppression of magic were kept at the show’s core.  With a fixed base, the show could explore its established geography of kingships across Albion, laying down bases to return to and build on without being slavish.

The Changing Seasons

A quick summary of the five seasons shows the neat and steady unfolding of the myths.

  • Season one took a while to get swinging, despite introducing Lancelot, Excalibur and finished with a cameo from the Cup of Life.
  • Season two brought a twist on the Lady of the Lake and ended on the dragon lore with the last Great Dragon released (physical, not metaphorical here), a literal representation of magic that other adaptations have used a little more opaquely.
  • Season three played a longer game, with excursions to the Fisher King seeding the way for a finale where everything stepped up a gear.  With the addition of Sirs Gwain, Percival and Elyan, it sees Morgana seizing Camelot, the quest for the cup of Life, the formation of the Round Table, the return of the Lady of the Lake and the recovery of Excalibur.
  • Season four doesn’t keep Uther around for long and has soon deepened the myth with Morgana fully rogue and Arthur on the throne.  Nathaniel Parker adds a superb touch of class as the dastardly Agravaine de Bois (a character confused throughout myth).  Lancelot sacrifices himself, it turns out permanently, and by the finale Arthur is drawing the sword from the stone.
  • Season five jumps forward three years into an age of prosperity where Guinevere sits on the throne next to Arthur.  But the gathering doom of Camlann grows closer as Mordred resurfaces to earn his knighthood.

Despite its leisurely pace and skilful nods, it’s a shame that there wasn’t one more season, perhaps with Merlin taking on the mantle of Camelot physician and hand of the king from Gaius.  Many wanted it, but the format of the show would have been utterly broken by Arthur discovering and accepting Merlin had powers for any length of time.  The fact they never adapted Gwain and the Green Knight though, that’s almost unforgivable.

Since Doctor Who reclaimed Saturday nights for family drama, many shows have failed.  The most notable casualty was Demons, but even Primeval and Robin Hood were limited successes.  Merlin managed it with ease, taking support and leads from its far older brother and eventually breaking into a later peak slot that crossing the watershed without sacrificing its family fun.  By the series’ end, while Doctor Who struggled with over complications and split seasons, Merlin remained one of the most consistent shows ever seeking to entertain on a Saturday night.  No wonder it took a bite out of the X-Factor.  Against all odds, Atlantis is surely in good stead.

More Merlin? In Part 2: For the Hate of Camlann! – I take a look at the closing ‘Mordred trilogy

Batman: Rebooting Batmen – The Brave and the Bold

Brave and the batmen

It’s easy to dismiss as another in the constant roster of DC animated series, but Batman: The Brave and the Bold plays a pivotal role in picking up the past and sowing the seeds of the Dark Knight’s future.

SATURDAY MORNING CHILDREN CARTOONS CAN BE A BIT OF A SURPRISE.  Whether that’s nostalgia, something tolerable your kids have found or simply viewed through the fug of a hangover – or all three – some of them stick.

Batman: the Brave and the Bold (TBATB) wasn’t one of those.  On its UK run, I caught it maybe twice – the same episode both times of course – and dismissed it as the latest kid friendly iteration of the Dark Knight’s day time adventures.  Slight and packaged in easy Technicolor with the boisterous campery of its title sequence, I didn’t give it much credit having just watched a two series of the ambitious Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS).  TBATB was far removed from that, with The Batman and Batman Beyond in between, not counting other DC Universe off-shoots.  But then, a week ago I stumbled across TBATB and…  Soon kapowed through the first season.  I discovered it’s rather brilliantly done. As a throw-back to the Silver Age of comic books, If can’t think of better praise than saying that definitive animated Batman Kevin Conroy isn’t missed.  If you don’t expect the dark drama and profound storylines of other Batman series, TBATB holds many surprises.  More than just its consistency and sense of humour, I’m a bit in awe of the level of the show’s confidence and what that creative team managed to pull off.  …


BTAS is rightly regarded as classic television, animated or not.  It had dark, redemptive themes, wonderful art deco stylings and brilliant casting (and voice direction to bat-boot).  It took confident and driven creators to change the perception of the Dark Knight in cartoon – a format where Superfriends and Scooby-Doo still cast some camp shadows.  It was the early 1990s, and Batman was dominant at the cinema, but Tim Burton’s realisation couldn’t simply be transferred to the small screen.  It would only become apparent afterwards that the Burton Batman ended as BTAS started.   But by drawing on the success and the style little seen in big screen superheroics, BTAS could use the cinema as a springboard.  The gothic stylings and Danny Elfman’s superb score were identified as translatable elements and they worked brilliantly.  The title wasn’t only accurate, it was aspirational. While the film series ran on the big screen, these animated tales would be every bit their equal.  The pathos of the Two face tale, the tragedy of Clayface’s origin, the superbly dark Mark Hamill iteration of the Joker, confirmed that BTAS reached the same artistic level as the best of the Bat films.

In doing so, it laid down a large gauntlet – increasingly so as its quality fed into the New Batman Adventures and Superman: The Animated Series while the Batman films stuttered in the late 1990s.  BTAS wasn’t exactly a fresh direction for the Dark Knight, 60 years into his career, but its legacy would live on.   David Warner’s portrayal of Ra’s Al Ghul may be more comic book, but the construction of Two Face formed part of a renaissance in the character that would push Harvey Dent to being, pre- and post-transformation, the integral figure of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.

When it came to the Lego: Batman videogame in 2008, it was the still heavy legacy of Burton’s Batman that led to the decision to use Danny Elfman’s score, but by that time BTAS itself surely played a matching part.  The highly successful Arkham videogame series hasn’t had to look further than Kevin Conroy as their Batman for the most part.  Though defined by change, shreds of each of the Batmen permeate the others.  As almost the ideal example of that, TBATB premiered in late 2008 – the same year as The Dark Knight reclaimed Batman’s crown at the cinema – and lasted three seasons.

Animators have long had to react against the film reiterations of Batman on screen.   The Batman, the tale of a young Bruce Wayne taking on the mantle of the Bat surfaced in 2004, a year before Batman Begins.  In its way, it took a similar tack to the BTAS. You couldn’t translate Christian Bale’s Batman directly into cartoon, but took the youthful approach as a launch point.  When it finished around the time of the The Dark Knight, that difficulty in translation was confirmed.  The film series was set onscreen for at least one more instalment, which left a nice void for TBATB – for the first time, a complete divergence.   The Batman wasn’t un-innovative – their feral Joker is proof of that, but TBATB didn’t have to react as much as do what it wanted.  If it was intended to be particularly kid friendly, it had the luck to have a serious set of personnel to develop it.

TBATB doesn’t paw the same ground as BTAS, but there are references to its illustrious forbear just as there are to many parts of the Caped Crusader’s history.  Batman, and his non-supernatural opponents, don satisfyingly physical knuckle dusters when the need arises – but any violence soon ends in a still frame as close to the ‘kapow’ of the 1960s Batman as it could be without using the word.  Even the death trap makes a glorious reappearance.


TBATB is a title used intermittently by DC Comics since 1955, in each iteration pairing superheroes who may not normally hang out together.  In the early ‘60s it had moved on from Robin Hood to incorporate the first sightings of The Suicide Squad and in 1960 itself, the first appearance of the Justice League (followed three years later by the Teen Titans).

Following the success of the ‘60s TV series, issues 74 to 200 of TBATB were exclusively Batman team-ups and that’s where, decades later, the animated show picks up.  One of the most fascinating parts of comic lore is how new creative teams and overseers interpret and reinterpret decades of acquisitions, team-ups and trademarks.  The TBATB brand name has staying power, despite its archaic title.  It was after all was envisaged for those early knights, gladiators and Hoods, not the capes and cowls it now encompasses.  While it may be prefaced with Batman, that silver age innocence remains. In the later episode Night of the Huntress, both Huntress and Blue Beetle transform in pure throwbacks to that time.


TBATB the cartoon takes Batman as the starting point, but this is an easier Dark Knight.  He may be a workaholic, but he takes the Silver Age in his stride – especially when he’s surrounded by foils.  The format is simple, two team-ups across the pre- and post-titles.  The first episode captures a neat dynamic with a younger and competitive Green Arrow – with Batman grudgingly naming him his preferred defender of justice.

Within episodes, the framework of superheroes around Batman had been set, with firm references to the past and future.  Accruing the most appearances, The Green Arrow and Blue Beetle are modernised versions – rebooted in the former, literally in the latter.  But by the end of the first season, the Green Arrow has landed his Black Canary and there’s event been time to explore the late Ted Kord, the original Charlton Comic Blue Beetle.

Alongside Red Tornado and Jack Kirby classics Kamandi the Last Boy on Earth and OMAC, TBATB promotes lesser heroes – including Metamorpho – a character who first appeared in the pages of TBATB but is now a young member of The Outsiders (DC’s X Men).  Green Arrow is as high profile as Batman’s allies get – with Black Canary, Black Lightning and Red Tornado near and rivals on the spectrum.  Arrow’s dominance in this league came at a time the young arrow was discovering green in Smallville and far before the success of the Arrow TV series.  Still, it’s a shame it clashed with Man of Steel and Dark Knight scripter, David Goyer’s late 2000s film pitch, Green Arrow: Escape from Super Max.  That was a film that would highlight the lesser known hero and villains much as TBATB did.  The outsider of the DC film universe.

That framework’s established so quickly that by mid-season , a two-parter could visit the alternative, reversed Earth-2, where the Red Hood fights in futility against Owlman and the Crime Syndicate of America he belongs to.  Without Superman and Wonder Woman, these characters had to be drawn well.  The Red Hood was immaculate.


Talking of that Red Hooded rogue, TBATB wasn’t just a showcase for Superheroes in their Silver Age (and later) splendour, but also the villains.  Major Disaster, the Weather Wizard, Calculator, the Clock King all had their moments, as did the Blackgate Penitentiary and inevitably, Arkham Asylum.  As it should, the show plays lightly with the well known and pushes the lesser known and new to the fore.  Catwoman is refreshingly a villain (cat burglar) once more.  Still, the love interest aspect remains and leads to and surely the subject of the open-ended finale in Inside the Outsiders (“Women are a tricky, tricky business”).

Then there’s the new ones.

New villains are difficult to introduce.  The Animated Series lucked out by introducing the rarest of foes – one who was adopted into the comics.  But then, for every Harlequin, there’s a Sewer King and Tygrus.  TBATB gives it a good stab.  The Babyface Gang may seem pretty generic, but with the addition of Mrs Man Face, take a twist for the bizarre (“The hammer of justice is unisex”).  The closest the first series gets to the gangs of Gotham, Babyface is a criminal taking the same leaf out of Dick Tracy’s book as the 60’s series sometimes did.  The main attempt however, is at the other end of the scale, the mystical realm of Dr Fate.  Equinox, a supernatural figure obsessed with balance ties Batman as skilfully into the magical realm of the DC universe as John DiMaggio’s ebullient Aquaman does to the gates of Atlantis and the surly Guy Gardener to space.

The DC Universe is vast, encompassing the real gods of Olympus with the biblical (from Lucifer to Zauriel) and the magic that extends from Pandora and the Phantom Stranger and even pre-time.   TBATB wears all of it on it cowl, allowing time travel access to Jason Blood and Etrigan the Demon in the time of Merlin as well as 19th century London where the world’s greatest detective must team-up with Sherlock Holmes.  That mixture of the real and fantastic has posed challenges to many writers, but TBATB allows him to prowl the rooftops of Gotham as easily as the outer reaches of space. From Gotham to Star City, to the Green Lantern home base of the Planet Oa or Adam Strange’s Rann, TBATB covers the lot.


There are many highlights in the series, including singing, miting and Robins.

The murky Colour of Revenge features a team-up between Batman and Robin, for the most part in his older Nightwing, guardian of Blüdhaven guise – though for ease he remains Robin (multiple iterations of Robin would rather ruin TBATB format).  But while their relationship plays on different Robins over the years, the prologue flashback is pure 60s TV series.

Referencing the history of the Dark Knight reached a peak in the 19th episode, Legends of the Bat Mite.  Scripted by legendary BTAS alumni Paul Dini, it plays as fast and loose with the Knight’s history.  Far more than a punning title it fits in multiple DC Comic Elseworlds references and even Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, crossing barriers that you’d normally expect in a Warren Ellis  Planetary crossover.  During the episode, perpetual pain Batmite crosses the fourth wall to voice the show’s statement of intent:

“Batman’s rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways. To be sure, this is a lighter incarnation, but it’s certainly no less valid and true to the character’s roots than the tortured avenger crying out for mommy and daddy.”

The imp from the 5th dimension, much like the creators, had a point.

Batman takes the mantle of the series, but as Batmite points out on behalf of those creators, he doesn’t necessarily carry the characteristics you might expect.  Anguish and gruffness has been replaced by a wry sense of humour and a fondness for a catchphrase – often including a reference to justice like the many variations on “Crime doesn’t take a holiday, and neither do I”.  As I’ve written before, the Dark Knight is a character defined by movement from and within his narrow, mythical confines.  Barely touching on Wayne’s past or Alfred, hardly revealing the Batcave and neatly, whenever sans mask, Bruce Wayne’s face is hidden (first series at least).  So long defined by the dual persona, this is pure Dark Knight.

At the end of the series, an episode introducing the Musical Maestro shows that the series could change its format.  Virtually entirely musical, its fits a tale of global crime into a repurposing of the Phantom of the Opera.  It’s evidently a storytelling format full of confidence that makes the earlier The Batman series fade in the gloom.


TBATB is not only a neat showcase for Batman and lesser known DC superheroes and villains, but also neat launching point into the whole DC universe.  That’s Batman’s key worth.  TBATB earned its own part of the DC multiverse after the Infinite Crisis storyline: Earth 23.

It’s no surprise given Man of Steel’s success in its own right, that it’s Superman’s cowled compatriot who will come on board to open up the DC Universe for everybody else.  The literally mythic Wonder Woman is the last of DC’s trinity and the last easy to translate – but then that’s the same challenge as Marvel faced bringing in Thor to Iron Man’s world.  The Caped Crusader in Batman versus Superman will be darker, older and gnarlier than has appeared in film before, not the workaholic blue and grey quipster of TBATB, but his cohesive role will be the same.  Reach into the utility belt for the Unifying DC Universe Batspray.

Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors and the End of an Ice Age

Return of the Ice Warriors and end of an era

Hmm, which ssssssuit...

On the day the Cybermen might just get the upgrade they deserve, a celebration of recovered Martians and look at the difficulties of reintroducing monsters.

IT’S BEEN A FEW WEEKS SINCE THE ICE WARRIORS ENDED THEIR LONG ABSENCE AND RETURNED TO THE DOCTOR WHO UNIVERSE IN ITS 50TH YEAR. I was stoked to see their return as a long-term fan, although oddly, never having seen them on screen.

Scales of history

The Ice Warriors hit a little bit above their weight in the Whoniverse, perhaps it’s their clamp like exo-gloves that just chip the chin.  Reptilian, cold blooded, hailing from Mars; theirs is a militaristic society based on honour and hierarchy – even though it’s long since been scattered throughout the stars by their home planet’s death.

My fascination with the Ice Warriors unfolded through classic Doctor Who TARGET novelisations, where their sibilance was even more pronounced and their appearance un-dulled by some hard-to-walk-in costumes.  So, having finally no choice but to see them on screen in Cold War I embarked on not so much a retrospective as an introduction. The complete Ice Warrior TV stories, after what felt like an Ice Age.

Thussss did I ready the sonic device (speakers attached to a TV) and dived a good few furlongs in.  First was the Ice Warrior’s second appearance in the Seeds of Death, the siege and invasion story that pitted them for the second time against the Second Doctor.  Then there was the Peladon saga, The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon, political and satirical tales of intrigue with the Third Doctor.  Their ‘triumphant ‘return in Cold War was a given and then – in anticipation of the freshly part-animated DVD release of their first story The Ice Warriors this Summer  – I just re-thumb through of the TARGET novelisation of their tale for good meassssure.

I’ll stop hissing now.

I was hooked on the green scaly ones since I first read The Monster of Peladon – that may even have been my first Doctor Who book – well, perhaps just beaten by The Carnival of Monsters.  It informed in me, although I didn’t appreciate it then, a fondness for the Third Doctor (aided by strategic broadcasts of The Daemons and Planet of the Daleks in the early 1990s of course) – but also a fascination with the ice Warriors that was only confirmed later by reading The Ice Warriors, and pawing over Adrian Rigelsford and Andrew Skilleter’s 1990 tome, Doctor Who: The Monsters. I was clawed in.

The Martians’ rather inexplicable hiatus helped stem any need to see them on ‘video’ so it took me until now to see them in cold blood.  While they’d popped up in the Doctor’s printed adventures, they hadn’t appeared on television in any meaningful way since 1974. 27th April 1974 in fact – 39 years last month.

I was in no rush: they were held vivid, green and suspended in my imagination.  But why such a fascination with the armoured aggressors?

Red-coloured spectacles

I was of course, a combination of things. It was the fact that they were reptiles, it was the hissing sibilance that worked well on the page. And then there was always the Target novelisation front covers – so definitive, fixed, static and importantly, drawn. The Ice Warrior stuck there on cover of their eponymous first tale, with its rather inhuman shape and that Lego hand sticking out of the page. I had been a massive Lego fiend since before I knew what opposable thumbs were, so that surely didn’t hurt.  Of course there’s also the rather jaw dropping front cover to Gary Russell’s Peladon sequel New Adventure, Legacy (1994) – perhaps one of the best.  There was also the idea of the exo-skeleton armour – their ear devices were the first thing the Doctor noticed about them – as well as the Ice giant mythological element and some heavy cultural reference points I’ll come on to later.

Importantly, there was also the fascinating class factor, though that surely crept in subconsciously. It’s ridiculous to consider any planet doesn’t have the diversity of Earth – although conceding that a multicultural alien race is almost impossible to convey on screen.  It’s an interesting part of Who that while the Doctor often finds himself in hierarchical struggles with authority that hinder him as much as his foes, many of the his most notorious nemeses have deliberately and zealously removed diversity from their species through genetics, augmentation or cloning.  The Ice Warriors however, have contended with mass environmental change while hanging on to their civilisation fairly intact.  While they pose yet another not entirely organic foe for the Doctor, hierarchy is constantly an effective way to show their civilisation and of course, create dramatic threat.

But the Ice Warriors seemed far more subtle than simply having a Cyber-leader or a Supreme Dalek. There were ranks among the Ice Warriors, with differing armour denoting status and then soon enough there were the less armoured Ice Lords.  Ice Warriors were generally awfully obedient and polite to their Lords. I found them quite the fascinating creation before I was sucked in by the horrific origins of the Cybermen.

The Big Thaw

There are two crucial parts of Ice Warriors being great.  Unique among the main Who monsters, they were singularly written by one writer: Bryan Hayles.  He took them on their own journey through four adventures.  As part of this journey, the Martians are also distinct in the Who pantheon – until Moffat’s rather odd handling of the Sontarans – as being portrayed as both aggressors and allies of the Doctor – a concession to time, tolerance and in-discriminatory aliens that predated Star Trek:The Next Generation by a good 15 years.

About that punching above their weight: In the scheme of things, the Ice Warriors are generally considered one of the Big Four of Who Foes – a little kindly considering they’ve only appeared a handful of times.  While they recurred twice with two Doctors, the Ice Warriors comeback in the new series took longer than expected and brought its fair share of challenges. They are not alone in that, many of these were the same challenges that the new Who crew faced when bringing other monsters back to the successful revival.

Carnival of Reunions

For the return of the Daleks, New Who wisely turned to the marvellous resource of Big Finish Audios. Show-runner Russell T Davies even drafted in Robert Shearman, well regarded writer of audio adventure Jubilee, which he reworked for the show.  It was a wise step to introduce just one Dalek – focussing as much on the Doctor in the wake of the Time War as the pepper pot’s array of powers.  The reintroduction of the Daleks was effective, especially in the context of their appearance at the Series’ end.

The Cybermen was a different kind of reboot.  Considering we had never seen the actual origin of the Cybermen on their home planet of Mondas, it was an extra step to watch the birth of the Cyber race on a  modern, if  parallel, Earth.  This gave us unfettered Earth Cybermen as opposed to the Mondas Cybermen of the original Who universe who were indicated to still be pottering around. Unfortunately, this had a rather unfortunate result. It’s presumably The Next Doctor when we see the real universe’s Mondas Cybermen – but these had somehow evolved from the Revenge Cybers seen in Dalek to match their parallel universe cousins.  For a race that generally evolved in each appearance, their static development has stuck out like handlebar ears.  Tonight may change that with a redesign and writer Neil Gaiman tasked with making the steel army scary again.  As anyone who’s read Gaiman’s prologue to the reissued TARGET novelisation Doctor Who and the Cybermen will know, this bodes well.

In Series four, the Sontarans resurfaced in a rather random two-parter that stole healthily from the classic Ice Warrior adventure The Seeds of Death. It set up the war mongers nicely though, putting their ethos and fighting at the frontline and making up for some of the shortfalls that technology and budget had let slip in the classic series; while it didn’t exactly establish height parity, it set a look appropriate for a clone race. As show runner, Steven Moffat would later diversify the Sontarran culture somewhat – but perhaps that monster’s reduction to comic relief can wait for another time.

So, it’s tricky and needs thought this reintroducing malarkey – perhaps a little more than when these monsters were created.  While the Cybermen emerged with an origin story in 1966, it took the Daleks over a decade.  So, perhaps it’s not surprising that our planet’s own Silurian’s rose above the Ice Warriors in the pecking order of returnees.  And the re-establishing of Homo Reptilia posed its own challenges which would have a marked effect on the Ice Warriors.

Both species are of course solar system originating reptilians and in some kind of Who mirror, they are neighbouring planet cousins similar to Humans and the Mondasians who would go on to become the Cybermen.  The Martian timeline is a little unclear though.  While they are not shown as existing in the present day until Cold War, they have been shown to be active in Earth’s vicinity thousands of years ago and in the far future.  They’ve then spread out in the cosmos and generally discovered a new way of life in the even further future.  The Silurians by comparison were building space arcs and badly positioned cryogenic cities millions of years ago.  With a generally lengthy evolutionary cycle it’s possible that the two know each other, and if so, I doubt they’re on the best of terms.  The prospect of their (inevitable) run-in is perhaps more tantalising than Daleks versus Cybermen.

Clearly the two species had different approaches to dealing with environmental changes: building snug armour versus millions of years of cryogenic suspension (hang on, they really are the reptile equivalent of Mondasians versus Humans in the Who universe!)

Back to Ice Picks

The Ice Warriors originally emerged into Doctor Who in a totally obvious reptilian way – or so it seemed. They were cold blooded creatures literally frozen in time – and long sleeps are ideas constantly reinforced by science-fiction and culture. Perhaps this meets every gene carrier’s fascination with immortality in a similar vein(sic) to vampirism – see the Amber encased mosquitoes that provided a time machine for dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.  In addition, the frozen, slumbering giants of Mars had many cultural connotations.  There are the Ice Giants of Norse legend, the warmongering son of the Roman God Mars – and also bring the snow-bound parenthesis of Frankenstein creeping into play.

Rigelsford and Skilleter’s The Monsters added enormously to the myth of the Ice Warriors, enhancing the Ice Warrior tales with various flourishes.  The front section, before eye-witness accounts of the Ice Warrior tales are reproduced, is set out neatly by a letter detailing explorer Frederick William Wells and his teams’ encounter with an Ice Warrior in 1896 inspired his cousin HG’s writing on Mars…

The Ice Warriors were instantly both monster and Alien, with a genealogy and history that made them ready made to be released from an icy tomb. The fact they are Martian is almost arbitrary; that the name ‘Ice Warrior’ has stuck from one glib scientist’s observation is an idiosyncrasy, but a powerful one. There’s an inherent and inescapable danger from the moment an Ice Warrior is discovered. While California Man may be an exception, millennia of Genies in bottles and Pandora’s box has shown that many things that are locked up should never be released. But where would science-fiction be without human arrogance?  Where would Doctor Who be?   The Silurians were similarly entombed,  albeit in a tomb of their own making.

Perhaps it’s the similarities that led to the fairly similar approach the Who Team took to the two species reintroductions in The Hungry Earth and Cold War respectively.   Personally, the Silurian’s re-entry into the cannon posed the most problems as it‘s the first time the new series has produced a remake of a classic series adventure.

Of course, originality can be a very subjective thing, especially in science fiction and especially in Doctor Who.  With some monsters there may be a fresh story, but constant re-use of familiar elements, for instance in most Dalek episodes. Then there’s occasional bonkers stark raving brilliant originality that knocks the wings off Weeping Angels .  Sadly there’s also the recycling of new found originality, often in quick succession – particularly under the current creative team.   The lowest point occurred in the latter half of a re-ordered Series 6 when the mid-run of stories was disappointingly repetitive.

In Series 5 however, the return of the Silurian’s was a straight up remake, retreading the same themes as the original show Doctor Who and the Silurians. All that was missing was the Brigadier blowing the whole bally lot up. Technically, there’s still many Silurian cities in slumber underground (and arcs in space) – and whole series of Doctor Who could be spent with the Time Lord visiting these thousands of sleeping cities under the crust.  The tale was fairly perfunctory other than the plot points it rehashed, and rather flat in the less than mind-blowing production values of series 5.  I wasn’t a fan of the complete remodelling of the Silurians.  While cousins of the originals they may be, this was a step too far – and the removed telekinetic  third eye would have livened things up no end.

That was one thing that was addressed a little more successfully with the returning Ice Warriors, although their return was still mixed. The method of the Warrior’s appearance is more a homage to the original story than a remake, but necessarily uses a lot of the same ideas again as the Warrior is released from its ice sleep near a tremendous power source.  This time however, we stepped back from Aliens to Alien as we observe just one Warrior in the confines of a submarine – similar to the original Dalek in the bunker.  Again, as does the Dalek, Skaldak drops his armour, but this time with more catastrophic results.

The armour redesign was brilliant and well promoted in pre-publicity.  Swift and deadly compared to their lumbering cousins (De Niro from Karloff), it looked the part while respecting the past, unlike the Silurians.  Skaldak was a Warrior as opposed to a Lord, though his reputation may have suggested otherwise, and some neat redesign incorporated Lords into the stylings of the armour, particularly above the chin from certain angles.    In this reboot, the Lords may not even exist of course – I’ve a feeling that we may find out soon.  It was the moving jaw of the Ice Warriors that had always been their most effective part.  Particularly in the black and white Troughton tales, they were tremendously effective.  But then Cold War’s attempts to expand the race came a bit unstuck.

As discussed in my review of the Pond’s swansong here, it’s only right that species and monsters should be explored in Doctor Who.  Perhaps with the Ice Warriors, this is more true than most.  They share common elements with the militaristic Sontarans and cybernetically enhanced Mondasians after all.  Interestingly, the Ice Warriors last appearance came in the same season that the potato heads first appeared.  While the Warriors had generally mellowed by that point, this time around it is the Sontarans who have been forcibly toned down while the Martians are introduced.  When Hayles originally hit upon the idea of the Martians wearing cybernetic armour, it was the design need to make the different from the Cybermen that resulted in the distinctive Reptilians we have today.

Therefore a simple and quick way to advance the species on their reappearance was to lose their armour.  All the surprise the Doctor registered couldn’t make up for the fact that this was implausible.  The Ice Warriors deserved a bit more than rubber hands during the Alien segments of the show.  But most crucially of all, they should have left the jaw alone.  Again, that jaw was the one hard and fast brilliant part of the original design.  So, when you see their face for the first time it’s completely different and, shudder, CGI… Something’s lost. A shame, a missed opportunity and frankly unnecessary.

That said, I’m not sure this is the last time we will see the Ice Warriors this year.  They are Who’s version of the Klingons, a martial but honour bound race.  While a force of absolute destruction, the ending rightly suggested that the Martians aren’t one-dimensionally evil – completely in line with their Who history.  When they pop up again, they may well not be villains, but in the efforts of diversity among the monsters, it might just be time for that scrap with the Silurians.

To another glorious return of the Martians.  Before the next Ice Age anyway.

Doctor Who: In the thrilling adventure of the Twilight of the Ponds

Doctor Who and the Twilight of the Ponds

On the occasion of the most loyal companions Rory and Amelia Williams departure (with coda) from the television programme Doctor Who for as long as they both shall live.

A look at the latest companion exit…  Guaranteed to feature Spoilers.

THE PONDS’ STORY ENDED EARLIER THIS MONTH.  And it was finite.  It had to be because we’d read it.

But even before one of their descendents could issue a DVD bonus feature to their final tale, The Angels take Manhattan (TATM), the BBC released ananimatic film called PS – a ‘coda’ to the Ponds’ farewell.  Maybe things weren’t quite as finite as all that.  While PS didn’t unravel the companions’ fate, in tying up some loose ends – even without the commitment to film it – it did disturb the Pond water a little.  Have we really seen the last of them?  Doubts may be an inevitable result of the most trailed companion exit in Who history – but has that publicity actually done Amy and Rory and the great Who event of 2012 a disservice?

Companions are now also far more entwined in the fabric of the Doctor’s adventures

Companion exits fall far behind regenerations in the scheme of Who – slightly after season openers but ahead of Silurian come-backs.  That’s for good reason: they’ve had a past as chequered as Jamie McCrimmon’s kilt.  There have been insensible exits (Adric), nonsensical departures (Tegan, then Tegan again) and most unforgivable the squandered farewells of the most popular companions: Jamie himself and Sarah-Jane Smith in particular.  2005 changed this.  The standing of companions had grown.  They didn’t simply imperil themselves and test their lungs anymore – that had to tail off with the demise of the cliff-hanger.  Once again they fulfilled the role that Ian and Barbara first performed in 1963: they were a conduit for the viewer to meet and experience the enigmatic Doctor.  Companions are now also far more entwined in the fabric of the Doctor’s adventures, constantly causing and resolving adventures.  An inevitable result is that there is now far more at stake when they leave.

And which companions deserved a fitting send-off more than the Ponds?  Few have travelled with the Doctor so long – two and a half years off-screen, 10 years on – or had their lives so very entangled with the Time Lord’s?  And after all, they’re his in‑laws.

This is not a review of their final episode per se.  That would go a little more timey‑wimey.  When a story is rooted in an internal logic, and its resolution is a paradox based on that logic, it’s even easier than usual to latch onto plot holes.  There were certainly a few up for debate in TATM.  There were random room names, the sincerity of a time-scrambled 1938 New York, and the Angel’s code of conduct – but as always with a work of fiction there needs to be some leeway.  Some are solved in unseen events, some can be explained by the story in the round and some just lazy rely on the audience to accept them.  Though I may touch on that, it isn’t a plot-abyss dissection.  In any event, my review would go something like: it was a great episode, the first half more than the second.  So that is that.  TATM was a vehicle for the Ponds exit and as such it should be judged on whether it satisfactorily performed that action across three criteria: The threat, the journey and the fate.

The Threat: Smiling Angels

The Angels earned a title billing in the Ponds final episode – the second in their short history.  And why not?  They’re a great monster – generally held up as the strongest since the series returned.  They are given to suspense and directorial flourishes, they test story-logic and they’re also simple: blink and you’re dead.  No speech, no machinations are really necessary: nothing beyond simple bloody instinctive evilness.

Additionally, they’re creatures of time.  Evolution since the ‘dawn of the universe’ has led to them being innately time-linked – not the acquirers of time-abilities like the Daleks or Cybermen.  This lends them in fairly direct way to a story about a time traveller.  Also, they are the lonely assassins, a title which lends itself to suspense and fear in the best Dr Who tradition.

As Aliens to Blink’s Alien, the Time of Angels needed to be an expansion of the Angels’ remit

The Angels’ first appearance is heralded as one of the greatest in the Who pantheon and deservedly so: structurally Blink was a blinder (sorry).  With its origins in a short story, it was the best doctor-less story seen in the Tennant years.  Well cast, well pitched and rooted in a real and contemporary world.  With that success, there was never a chance that Steven Moffat could leave his greatest creation alone.  They duly returned in his first season as show runner in the two-part The Time of Angels (TTOA) and Flesh and Stone (FAS).  It was an enjoyable return and arguably the highlight of that season, with a particularly good cliff-hanger and great science‑fiction tropes.  But, it’s that difficult second story where the problems creep in.  As Aliens to Blink’s Alien there needed to be an expansion of the Angels’ remit as they straddled that two‑parter like the Colossus of Rhodes.  The Angels powers were developed, the means of escaping them were stretched and their defeat proved rather impossible…

With each appearance there is not only a temptation to expand a monster’s culture or modus operandi but a duty

Of course, with each appearance there is not only a temptation to expand a monster’s culture or modus operandi but a duty.  It not only helps dramatically but also encourages interest in the monster itself.  The doctor’s nemeses may be creatures or civilisations millions of years old, capable of interstellar or time flight and as such, they deserve a little exploration.  The trick is how you do it.  At various points there may well have been Draconian civil rights movements or Zygon pickets when they switched from analogue to digital transmission.  But mercifully, we never had time for these even in the seven part serials of the classic series.

While expansion is fine, and a dedicated fan-base can fill in many gaps, villain reuse comes with a responsibility.  This has come a cropper in Who in the past, leading to lengthy absences for Silurians, their devilish cousins and other races.  When it’s your own creation, the responsibility must be particularly keenly felt.  There are few useful ways to expand something marked ’villain’ and with the Angels it has shouted POWER.  Genre fiction will constantly tell us that
great – or more –power comes with great responsibility, but with the Angels it hasn’t all been web slinging.

In TTOA we saw the Angels’ ability to remotely affect lights/electricity, to the extent of crashing a very large spaceship singlehandedly and also to rearrange the brains of dead humanoids to communicate in a kind of third person.  They didn’t bother with any time zaps, as story-logically they were too weak.  In fact, as time-zapping could lead to the very paradoxes that thwarts them, it seems sensible to use it sparingly.  Chillingly we also saw the promise of Angels as extradigetic foes: one physically broke through the fourth wall to possess a watching Amy.  That’s one hell of a power line to add to a monster.  However, it’s also a nice thematic enhancement of their primal fear.  Blink rather mischievously ended with shots of everyday statues to make sure kids in the real world really had something to be scared of.  Now, those same kids could be scared of even watching them on TV.  It didn’t seem to hurt the ratings, they only dropped about 0.3 million the following week.

By TATM the Nagel’s powers were further enhanced.  They could infect other native statues – effectively giving them facelifts and mobility.  As this included the Statue of Liberty, this ability clearly isn’t limited to stone, but then as the Angels presumably aren’t stone themselves, that’s fine.  They also travel with, or adopt en route, Angel babies.  These really need another name, as cherubically unsettling as they are.

So, now we can expect a power inflation each time we meet the Angels, which seems fairly typical of this era of the show.  With the Eleventh Doctor we’ve seen civilisations we thought that we already knew widen more than before: Silurian space arcs, a Dalek parliament with a Prime Minister heading a coalition of bronze and New Paradigm Daleks and Sontaran punishment sentences.  However, the Angels pose two problems.

First, while you needed to expand their universe you don’t want to lose their original simple appeal.  As of TATM there are generations added and strategies formed – far removed from their initial pure and thrilling debut where they were practically creatures of instinct hatching ad hoc plans to nick a TARDIS as their timometers hit red.

The second problem wanders in the direction of timey-wimey-plot-holes via story logic: If, as the Doctor says, the Angels are ‘the deadliest, most powerful, most malevolent life form evolution has ever produced’ wouldn’t the Time Lords have dealt with them when the Daleks were still in their humanoid house music phase?  It’s the old ‘who can beat Superman debate’.  But for arguments sake, I’d assume that in the post-Time Lord universe – once they’d got over their inevitable time-war hangover – they decided to diversify, possibly breeding Reapers as guard dogs while they’re at it.

The main jump the shark moment came during a moment of otherwise superb tension in FAS and surprisingly it related to their primary feature.  It makes sense that the Angels are innately aware of suspense; it’s a very probable result of their time abilities and if they understand it then why not use it to scare pesky vermin for their own amusement.  But it’s while they’re busy using it in FAS, that the stretching escape comes in…

Forced to close her eyes by a fourth-wall jumping Angel, Amy evades other Angels by… Pretending that she can see.

This really challenged my perception of quantum-locked.  It feasibly meant that someone could just stick a couple of ping-pong balls to the back of their heads with pupils drawn on them, exude an air of confidence and they would never have to fear Angels again! Surely there are some creatures in the universe that look just like this – sitting in their cosy communities, waking up every morning and wondering why there are so many hooooo-man statues being left around over night.

Leveraged against them like a giant quantum super-weapon with additional weeping

That said, in FAS, the Angel’s gained their real status as predators, even if Amy’s ruse diminished them a little (well, potentially devastatingly).  In Blink they had been the lone assassins, hiding, stalking until they pounced.  In FAS they were in pursuit.  While Blink saw them tricked into freezing themselves, FAS reallyshowed their inherent problem (strength): they were unstoppable.  Indestructible, rejuvenating and with an ever expanding host of new powers – how in space could anyone defeat them?  Of course they were inevitably defeated, but not by the Doctor – by the still inexplicable cracks in time of Season Five.  Intoxicating but deadly, the Angels couldn’t resist these time tears – and just as the Daleks have hate, the Angels certainly have greed.  Effectively TATM used the same ‘paradox’ resolution, but there a paradox was leveraged against them like a giant quantum super-weapon with additional weeping.

The girl who waited and the Centurion who waited were finished off by the Angel who waited

So, as of TATM the Angels have greed, malevolence, strategy but also a quite irresistible vindictiveness.  I mentioned Angel amusement earlier, because it’s been firmly established that they have a mean sense of humour.  We’d seen it before with FAS’ Angel Bob but in TATM it worked particularly well.  There was somehow a winged survivor of the paradox implosion for whatever reason – perhaps it had been the original Angel before they entered paradox-prone real estate.  The Doctor had earlier said that the Angels would hound Rory forever if he escaped and sure enough here one was doing just that.  It had waited presumably some 80 years, tracing the TARDIS causal nexus or perhaps just hanging in the graveyard with an ironic time awareness, biding its time.  Its plan worked well.  Suddenly the Angel’s victim appeared and it zapped him good.  It worked so well, I’m not certain the Doctor or River dispensed of it afterwards.  The Angel had corrected the paradox that didn’t exist out of pure revenge: the girl who waited and the Centurion who waited were finished off by the Angel who waited.

Throughout, the episode was riddled with real and compelling threat, on a theoretical and physical level.  The Angels do both well.  We actually saw Rory die of old age.  Again.  To be menaced and time skewered is certainly enough for a companion exit, even a pair.  With an oblique history welded onto the Ponds, the fit was just close enough to make the Angel’s a fine villain for the demise of the chronological challenged couple.  The agents of time versus the victims of time.

The Threat: Fixed Time

In recent years Who has increasingly stressed that there are fixed points of time.  Time Lords, as time innate (although also acquired) creatures, are aware of time and its flexibility at various points.  Different points of the universe in the distant past or far future are fixed and that is that.  We’ve seen David Tennant’s Time Lord Victorious try to change this and fail.  We also saw him shudder when near good old fixed point Captain Jack.  Earlier in the series we saw Rose create a paradox and the Reapers of the time vortex who come to correct this.  Time of course flows in any episode, normally in a linear direction, but occasionally it sticks its head through the para(dox)pet.

Everything in TATM shouted fate.  Time, we were repeatedly told was written in this story.  The narrative was constantly framed by an omnipotent typewriter: River recording and relating the action simultaneously.  As the characters followed this typing in parallel, so did the viewer.  It’s quite an involving trick and a neat echo of the Doctor’s Easter egg messaging in Blink.  But then, that was really the major story point in a very plot-lite tale.  River’s presence was simply to record things and then in two key scenes, reinforce the Doctor’s time diagnosis: once with her wrist and then with her final words to her mother.  At least with River’s story, one of constant time-meddling, there has been some drama attached to it.  Here, those fixed points of time were a drama out of nothing.  The crux of it was also reminiscent of Series Six’s The God Complex where similar hotel rooms were filled with fears that residents would inevitably encounter –both had similar good room service, but with fears it was a little more effective.  It may be a spot of fixed-point fatigue.  While Water of Mars probably established the principle most effectively they still seem arbitrary rather than mysterious when they pop up.  Fundamentally, neither fixed nor flexible time are principally linked to the Angels.  If they were, the Angels would be asking for paradoxes all over the place.

The Journey: Lower Leadworth to New York

We know that the Ponds stories ended in America presumably in the early 21st century as an old and still married couple, proud parents of an adopted son.  It had been quite a journey and unique in the Who pantheon.

It was two and a half – or possibly 16 – years ago that we met the young Amelia Pond, an enigma of a girl and the Doctor’s and our new companion.  From the start, dates and years were rather unimportant.  The Doctor’s regenerative TARDISastrophe took him north, west and a decade back, crashing in Leadworth in 1996.  His subsequent and tardy return was in 2008 – to find a 19 year old Amy who promptly smashed him over the head.  By the time of Series Seven’s Power of the Three (POTT), Amy notes to a blissfully unaware Doctor that it has been 10 years since their second meeting.  As she’s informing him – unless he’s mind-blowingly blasé – this is not time spent directly travelling with him, but in Earth years – or rather, her Earth years.  If she had amassed 10 years by what is presumably 2012, she may be a little more concerned about her aging.  This timing places POTT around about 2018, when it’s reassuring to note that Brian Cox still has a contract with the BBC and series 16 of the Apprentice has not messed with a successful formula.

For a Doctor seemingly more time sensitive and savvy than his previous selves, time and universes are both more flexible and more rigid than ever before

But then again, the year doesn’t really matter.  The Ninth and Tenth Doctor eras respected a fairly consistent chronology, helpfully indexed through contemporary Christmas visits.  As of 2010 however, time was irrelevant.  Strangely, for a Doctor seemingly more time sensitive and savvy than his previous selves, time and universes are both more flexible and more rigid than ever before.  And just as time was to be treated differently, so Amy was a deliberate rejection of Rose Tyler.  She was a fish out of water, in the village with a duck pond without ducks.  Rose had craved to escape, Amy was already lost – out of time and out of place.  Leadworth was quaint, it was green, it was middle-England, it was… Not the Powell Estate.  Its residents were also a far cry from the Powell Estate’s dysfunctional family or even Martha or Donna’s London lives.

We were introduced to an array of characters In The Eleventh Hour (TEH) – an erstwhile family, but one we never saw again.  Later in Series Five, an alt-future Amy and Rory lived in Upper Leadworth, which hardly looked the same place.  Far later, following a few universe resets and a pang of conscience the Doctor bought the Williams’ a house in town… For us, their life was defined not by their personal story, but through the Doctor.  But this changed when the end-game swung into play.  Rather abruptly in the seventh series, the Ponds’ personal life burst onto the screen.  We saw the effect of time travel on the two, their observations on aging and worry at its appearance to their friends.  The prequel web‑series Pond Life (PL), a stylistic and thematic prequel to POTT, established strain in the relationship.  This is perfectly believable after leaving the TARDIS, let alone with what happened to them during their ‘adventures’.  An abandoned companion’s fate has been explored before, most notably through Sarah-Jane, but here the estrangement only served to provide a slight sub-plot to the season opener.  Once mentioned, it was soon forgotten and quite inconsequential to the narrative of Series Seven; almost an unnecessary reintroduction to companions who could have quite simply faded away on Earth.

Brian – an emotional hook in the vein of Bernard Cribbins’ Alfred

That relationship drama was replaced with Rory’s dad Brian – an emotional hook in the vein of Bernard Cribbins’ Alfred – someone who could have those chats with the Doctor that no one else could.  Now the ongoing back-plot was a twee ‘should they/shouldn’t they pop off in the TARDIS for adventure?’ While they constantly addressed their life in the real world, the dangers of their occasional travels were being heightened.  In all, this shift was a little sudden and not entirely successful.  A year and a half ago Amy (re)gained her parents, and when you think about it, it’s strange we never saw them again.  The new addition of Rory’s dad filled the gap – a sense of impending guilt while also a free ticket – but the threat always seemed intangible when compared to previous parents and the consequences of the Doctor’s actions.

There is the suggestion that the intention was to dwell on the Doctor’s naivety and the effect of his companions’ ‘death’ on him.  This is rather neatly tied up in his offer to River to travel with him.  Travelling with a woman he has already seen die – let alone who’s his wife – is pretty much purgatory.  But for all his promises, there’s no sense that the Doctor would ever face his late-companions’ families like he had Donna’s mum.  And that analogy is rather apt.  While the doctor couldn’t prevent Donna returning to her old pre-travel self, he was generally successful in returning the wonder of Amelia to Amy.  It’s also worth noting that from a Doctorly perspective, while it may indeed have been 10 years of the Ponds’ life – here I suppose the audience should gasp – the Doctor has suggested throughout the last two series that it’s been over 200 years of his.

It’s hard to see quite where PS would fit into the half-season

To some degree, in building up to an episode where time was the enemy, the Ponds’ sudden homeliness served to undermine the danger of TATM and their dislocated ‘retirement’.  Perhaps the short animatic PS sums it up.  It successfully resolved a few plot ends.  It gave Rory his sign off, in true writerly fashion.  It pretty much confirms that the Doctor never visited Brian while rather cynically resolving the sub-plot of family from Asylum of the Daleks – a plot that had not been picked up since Brian was introduced – by showing us a grandson.  Despite the links, it’s hard to see quite where PS would fit into the half-season.  While PS writer Chris Chibnall has produced some of his best Who work setting up the extended Pond Life that formed that emotional background of the first half of series seven (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, POTT), it was show runner Steven Moffat who finished his companion creations off.  While that may explain why it wasn’t filmed, it’s strange it was written in the first place and then as it was, why it wasn’t just filmed as full missing scene.  The production seems a little muddled about placement, and so am I.

The Ponds’ fate was identical to that of the first Angel victim we saw way back in 2007

The real killer comes in the act of Angel-zapping itself.  Nicely low key in many ways, especially with Rory being denied a farewell – until that animatic.  But still, after all this, the Ponds’ fate was identical to that of the first Angel victim we saw way back in 2007.  We’d seen a journey end this way before.  With PS, we even saw a relative turn up in the present day with a letter.  I’d say the Blink Angel kill stoked emotions in exactly the same, if not a little more.  And damningly, that was a character we’d just met – which means that either that Blink was incredibly well written or this was very undercooked.  Hmm.  Blink was well written…

The Journey: From Page to Page

While Amy’s exit had to be finite, it also had to be literary.

When we first met her we saw the roots of her Raggedy Man, a creation as literary as he was visual; an imaginary friend soon reduced to a child’s stories.  A Grimm Dickens.  Subsequently, the climax of each of Amy’s full series has shared a few common elements: a daughter, a parallel world and a resolution latched into a real or supposedly real rhyme…

When the universe was reset, the Doctor was recalled by Amy remembering a rhyme almost built for the series: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.  A year later, Amy found herself again in a parallel universe where an old children’s rhyme gave strong hints, tick-tock goes the clock… When it came to her departure, it wasn’t a poem but a time straddling Chandelersquepulp paperback that dictated her fate, published by herself some 80 years previously.  There was no escape.  But when it came to TATM, it was refreshing how pulp it was.

In the end, Amelia Pond’s story ended where it began: a seven year old on a suitcase waiting for a man who never came – or maybe returned frequently.  Years ago we saw her as a girl, being carried in, reassured and then remembering her dreams.  Considering the number of times that house in Leadworth has been visited by the TARDIS, let alone the unknown scouts of the Pandorica plan, I would have thought lower-Leadworth was at least as time-scrambled as 1938 New York.  Again, that’s a little muddled, for what was initially such a pure idea.

From that pure idea, we had seen Amy grow in many ways, not least professionally.  So, mainly I wonder why the Afterward of the Melody Malone book wasn’t written by the just-established professional writer Amy.  It would have been perhaps the most fitting end for her character, rather than at the typewriter of her erstwhile daughter.

The Destiny of the Ponds

I’m going to clumsily entangle fate and destiny here, and blame the heightened role of the companion.  With each companion, however temporary since 2005, their fate within the show has to some extent reflected the toils of their travels.  Rose was exiled as an inter‑dimensional warrior with a human doctor, resolving her steadily amassed unrequited love.  Martha outgrew the TARDIS and joined UNIT to take her action science out to the enemy.  Donna changed the most during her travels and was then duly zapped straight back.  There’s always a repercussion of travelling in the TARDIS these days and while they may have a destiny to fulfil in it, that is often reflected by their fate outside it.

It’s tempting to think of destiny in Dr Who, but it seldom works, even in episode titles.  Name a character or species and while you may recall their fate, none have easily definable destinies.  There was talk of the Ponds being fated to meet the Angels in New York, which was a little strange as they weren’t inextricably linked.  Sure, it was hype for the most part, but why them rather than the Silence?  True the Silence are typically tied up in plots far larger than a Bond villain’s volcano, but the Angels weren’t a given.  They first arrived in a generally companionless episode.  Rory’s never met the Angels on screen, Amy only once.  (Admittedly they appeared in last season’s The God Complex, but as a hallucination and most likely as a representation of the the Doctor’s foes than Amy’s worst nightmare…).  That first encounter with Amy, the 2010 two-parter, TTOA/ FAS was certainly a highlight of the fifth season but what else tied the winged monsters to the married companions?

Well, crucially it was also Amy’s first meeting with River.  Indeed, it was immediately following those events on The Byzantium that River visited her parents (at the end of Series Six) to suggest the Doctor wasn’t dead at all – effectively tying the Ponds to their fate.  The Angels are wrapped up in River’s time stream and as such the links to Amy and Rory are doubled.  But is that enough?

While they had made a choice regarding their travels with the Doctor, and seemed very happy with their lot, trapping Amy and Rory in 20th Century New York didn’t feel terribly satisfactory.  Rory’s dad would be devastated sure, the Doctor’s mortified, but the Ponds were together; their choice made for them.  I’ve got to say I was a little mystified what was so upsetting.  True in hindsight, it didn’t seem a good end to the journey, but it’s well documented that it wasn’t the easiest thing to think up.  Moffat has said that it took many rewrites, only linking back to TEH at the last minute.  These were the most heightened companions yet, but perhaps perversely – and I may have had my sentimentality surgically removed here – why was their post-TARDIS life not be a happy one?

It saved her from travelling with a psychopath even Rory’s dad had accused of reckless abandon.  It could have been far worse

With an effort to develop the character over 10 years, certain character points were massively under-developed.  Amy had moved from kiss‑o‑gram to model to writer but then an Angel saved her from travelling with a psychopath who Amy, Rory and even Rory’s dad had previously accused of reckless abandon.  It could have been far worse.

One man who knows that is Rory.  One significant indicator of how fast the Pond story has rocketed along through all sorts of tonal shifts is that I’d forgotten how much Rory had died.  It happened even more than he waited.  To be fair, he hadn’t died for a while and I doubt he’s recounted those stories to his dad.  Still, he represents one triumph of the new heightened companion: the escalation in danger.  Companions always used to get into danger and be rescued, so why not kill them off and resurrect them instead.  Same difference and it works far better on TV, as indeed it does in comics.  Clearly there’s no lasting dilution of the character.  I may have laughed at it a year ago, but this time I was surprised.

But their destiny was to be Angel zapped?  That doesn’t feel quite right… Should they have packed all this in years ago, against Brian’s advice?  It could be said that Amy’s destiny was resolved in Season Five.  She was the key to the Doctor’s entrapment in the Pandorica and so was she the saviour of the universe, or certainly the last Time Lord of the universe.  Once resolved, was there any further function for the character?  Well yes, then we had the River saga and the seeding of Doctor Who?  … All that couldn’t have been achieved without her, even if the answer to the latter will not include her.

Despite the antithesis of Amy’s genesis, her fate was rather similar to Rose Tyler’s

In season Two, the same problem faced Rose Tyler.  In fact, despite the antithesis of Amy’s genesis, her fate was rather similar to Rose’s.  Rose had a role thrust upon her at the end of her first season, a destiny that was a direct result of her travels with the Doctor.  Rose had a sad, sorrowful farewell narrated in voice over when she was trapped – for a while – in a parallel universe the Doctor couldn’t reach.  So, effectively is Amy, just with time as a barrier.

And what of the Pond’s main link to the Doctor.  Did River know of her parent’s fate before?  It seems unlikely as she’s a professor and seemingly very near the Doctor’s first meeting with her.  It would have made a complicated backdrop to the Impossible Astronaut if Amy, Rory and River had known the doctor’s fate while River knew that of her parents and the Doctor knew River’s fate.  That would be the other silence: the awkward kind.

But TATM was about River’s reaction almost as much as the Doctor’s.  She knows the Time Lord better than anyone and was ready when the time was right to prompt Amy’s decision.  And who else was there for Amy to listen to but her daughter?  During a life dogged by strange events, hidden doors, alien robberies, changing family situation and occasional travels with the doctor, it was Rory who remained her only stable element.  Since 2010 she’s married, lost her husband, got him back several times, made him wait a long time, become a mother, near divorced and so after 10 years reached the point where she and her husband had to decide what wanted to do with their lives.  Amy and Rory were destined to be with each other.  But without their long lost daughter, and that’s really where the bleakness creeps in.  The strongest guilt came from Rory’s dad’s encouragement to travel and also the Doctor’s awareness that Amy made her choice in part because of his difficulty in watching his companions age.  In that context, his and Rivers mirrored regenerative power exchange is a little awkward.

In the Pond family foursome, the first death we saw was River’s – an immortal death inside a computer.  There, she had children, a boy and a girl.  For the assassin who grew up as childhood friends with her parents, I always thought hose children may have some significance to Amy and Rory, but actually no – not that we ever learned their names…

But far before this, River posted a book to her mother for easy publication.  Amy’s afterword poses a fresh legacy, but it doesn’t seem that substantial: The Doctor now has a remit never to travel alone.

The Doctor now has a remit never to travel alone…

As the longest serving of recent companions, the Doctor’s in-laws perhaps deserved a stronger ending to their raggedy journey.  It’s almost like they were running out of time, with the Final Destiny they overshot catching up with them.  They faced a brilliant villain for sure, possibly the ultimate Who monster (even if you watch them behind a sofa, they still might get in your eye!) and at least the Angels didn’t appear like the Ood in Pond Life: in the toilet.  Only knowing the Eleventh Doctor, they witnessed a life that was mostly a maelstrom.  His existence is a complicated, twisted, intangible, bigamous and yes, timey-wimey one and TATM was no exception.  In the blockbuster setting of Series Seven it rammed Angels, Chandleresque riffs and a companion exit into 45 minutes.  Other stories, such as Let’s Kill Hitler have laid on a similar clutter in 45 minutes so perhaps of complications the Ponds a mid 20th century life may have suited them.  At least this time they knew that they had nothing to wait for.  And they had, as ever, each other.

So, as the Angel stopped weeping, the audience started.

And what happened next?  the Impossible girl of course…

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