Tag: BBC

Doctor Who Series 9: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Skaro and the End of the Acid Reign

Doctor Who Series 9 The Magician's Apprentice
Doctor Who Series 9 The Magician's Apprentice

“Guys! Guys! I think I’ve landed a walk on part…”

The first of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine, starting with a trip to a mysterious planet in The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar.

HOW WILL HISTORY RECORD THE MOFFAT ERA? THAT’S NOT A QUESTION FOR NOW OF COURSE, AND ONE UNLIKELY TO BE ANSWERED FOR A LONG TIME. WHEN THE SONIC GLASSES HAVE GATHERED DUST, WHEN THE TWELFTH DOCTOR’S MYSTERIOUS, HAWKISH, STRANGELY FAMILIAR FACE IS LONG GONE. Steven Moffat has written for more Doctors than anyone else, and you can’t even say with any confidence that he’s on his final one as showrunner… Having crossed confidentially onto his second Doctor and nearing the end of his second major companion, it’s not clear Who will go down as Moffat’s ‘definitive’ Doctor. And that joyfully creative mess sets out a simple stall…

Thanks for all the fish

Douglas Adams was surely Graham Williams’ ideal ally…

Moffat’s remarked on his regard for one time script editor Douglas Adams, not just for his small but extraordinary body of personal work (who doesn’t?), but for the legendary writer’s rather more divisive tenure on Doctor Who. In the mid-1970s, Adams had made a living out from writing comedy for radio, even forming a writing partnership with Monty Python’s Graham Chapman and being only one of two people outside the troupe to gain a writing credit on a sketch for the Flying Circus. Not fully on board with the likes of deadlines and delivery, it’s still surprising that he took the script editing seat for Season 17 in 1979 alongside producer Graham Williams. It didn’t help that the laws of the universe ensured that his little radio series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was commissioned for broadcast at the same time. Still, for the producer unlucky to follow Philip Hinchcliffe, tasked with fencing the show off from the heavy criticism that met his predecessor while retaining the viewing figures, Adams was surely an ideal ally.

The result is one of Who’s real mixed bags. Sadly, having already contributed a mind-bogglingly budget-straining script to the show the year before, Adams generally takes the credit for the highs of that time, while the lows are rather unfairly brushed under Graham Williams’ production seat. Adam’s The Pirate Planet from Season 16 is seen as a doughty attempt push ambition onto a screen that can barely contain it, The City of Death (co-written by a strained Williams and Adams from David Fisher’s idea under the David Agnew pseudonym) is a beautiful mess of sharp scripting, superb casting, foreign location and hard science fiction that managed to claim the classic show’s highest ratings. Shada had the foresight to never complete its production and shot swiftly for mythical status.

The rest of season 17 retains a fair few detractors, although there remains a few ardent fans for that loose and difficult time before the strident science of script editor Christopher H. Bidmead swept in, while Tom Baker took an arbitrary approach to whether the material bored him of filled him with sizzling physical comedy. If you like your Who served as comedy this is the place to find it.

Don’t Blink

To paraphrase 10cc, it’s just a phase Who’s going through.

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Doctor Who: The Trial of Morbius!

Doctor Who and the Trial of Morbius!

Doctor Who and the Trial of Morbius!

A special post to celebrate the single calendar month until Doctor Who’s return! As the Doctor’s new adventures will once again visit the Sisterhood of Karn – first seen in a Tom Baker classic and last seen propelling the Eighth Doctor into the Time War – it’s the ideal time to look at the random rogue whose history is entwined with theirs. That insufferable and eternally unlucky Time Lord dictator Morbius. He remains shrouded in mystery despite occasional return visits to him over the years – visits that have varied markedly in quality. So, time to cast the verdict on the temporal despot – From The Brain of Morbius to novel Warmonger to Big Finish’s Vengeance of Morbius.

Let the Trial of Morbius commence!

SERIES NINE OF NEW DOCTOR WHO IS NEARLY UPON US, AND THE TRAILERS HAVE BEEN UNLEASHED TO SWIRL EXCITEMENT LIKE THE FIERY SKIES OF KARN. Ah yes, Karn. Beyond the maybe-Tharils, multi-generational Daleks, guitar solos and hmm, trips to Skaro showcased by the trailer, a few things escaped the web of secrecy early. And one was the intriguing return of that neglected planet and its famous Sisterhood!

Early Submissions: A trip to Karn

“It’s so rare that anyone arrives here on Karn…”

The Sisterhood of Karn, the mystic, matriarchal coven that fastidiously and sometimes fatally guards the Sacred Flame first appeared in the classic Fourth Doctor Frankenstein riff, The Brain of Morbius. What a name and what a story – one that features as Exhibit A. Two decades later, Virgin’s New Adventures, the series that did many things for Who not least allow many of today’s show-shapers have their first stab at the Time Lord, took a closer look at the Sisterhood. Within the first few books Marc Platt had uncovered their history, something he would return to at the end of the range in the Gallifrey illuminating Lungbarrow. Before Karn, they were the former matriarchal over lords of the Doctor’s home planet only to be driven from the planet by Rassilon. There would later come oblique glances to this Gallifreyan old religion over at Big Finish, particularly in the 50th release Zagreus. Overall, it’s proved a satisfying backstory, one that’s enhanced their position in The Brain of Morbius, building on the predominantly patriarchal Time Lords of science, the Sisterhood’s rum deal on the nearby backwater planet of Karn and the peculiar, yet light, symbiotic and untrusting deals between the two telepathic civilisations.

40 years after their television debut, the Sisterhood turned up to provide the catalyst for the unexpected. Not only did they facilitate a directional regeneration for the Eighth Doctor, but finally brought the errant Time Lord into the Time War. It was an act that, from hindsight, would define new Who and particularly the 50th anniversary. Expect big Time Lord revelations whenever they appear, but this court hasn’t been convened for the Sisters of the Flame. It’s to address the treatment of their sometime neighbour, the Time Lord dictator who wouldn’t leave them alone, and who their fate is often entangled with. One of Gallifrey’s most evil sons. Morbius. And with a name like that…

Character Reference: Morbius

“You see nothing was ever beyond my genius.”

Morbius is bad, really bad. We know that as he was the first of their own kind that the Time Lords sentenced to death. We also saw the bust of his most imperious face, which couldn’t be cast more like a warlord of ancient Earth civilisation. But then, one nation’s warlord is another’s glorious leader. Unless it’s a society dulled through millennia of stagnation and entropy. He inspired followers when alive, and acolytes in his death. He was a phenomenal tactician, charismatic leader and a virtually unstoppable force – a force that could only be halted by an immense alliance and fatal measures. Even the Time Lord prison Shada couldn’t contain this bad guy. Yes, on Gallifrey we’ve seen skulduggery and political machination ever since Robert Holmes’ The Deadly Assassin. But when Morbius appeared a season before that he was already a different type of Time Lord, albeit one we could only view through the slightly more God-like Time Lords the audience had so far seen in the show. Morbius is unlike most of the Doctor’s bi-hearted, time-traversing antagonists. Neither a figure form Gallifrey’s distant past like Omega nor one of the Doctor’s teachers as we’d later find with Borusa, nor one of his classmates at the Academy in the mould of the Monk, master or Rani. Morbius was a contemporary war criminal. A rise and quashing that quite plausibly happened after the Doctor’s flight from his home planet. The Doctor and Morbius didn’t know each other and the Doctor hadn’t been involved in that particular Time Lord crisis. Or so we thought…

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Thunderbirds: Are… Really… Early… Go!

Thunderbirds Are Go

Thunderbirds Are Go

Easter weekend, 10 Easters on from Doctor Who… ITV played another 1960s card. But has it proved to be a Hood-like ruse?

BRITISH TELEVISION’S HAD A TOUGH DECADE STRUGGLING TO REPEAT DOCTOR WHO’S TREMENDOUS SUCCESS. That show didn’t have a Vortex-given right to reclaim its Saturday family crowd, let alone continually prove through its continued and growing popularity and proof that weekend evenings could sustain drama. It’s not mean feat, and in the 10 years that have passed since 2005’s Rose only Merlin has come close, after Robin Hood had first fizzled in BBC One’s evening slot. ITV had worse of it, with Primeval trying hard, only to face extinction within five staggered years, while Demons failed miserably in one. And to make things worse, Who’s wake wasn’t limited to Saturday evenings. It immediately triggered a fresh torrent of new fantasy and science-fiction to British television across many timeslots, from Being Human to In the Flesh to the rather unfortunate Outcasts.

But in April 2015, as Atlantis reaches its solemn final half-season, times are quite different from those deadly mid-zeroes. Who remains at a sublime peak of course, alive and urgent as ever, with the rather woolly and pointless promise of another five years recently made. Unfortunately and crucially such a promise may have some weight, as the BBC is in far different shape than it was a decade ago. Although its budget didn’t rival that afforded an equivalent American 45 minutes at the time, Doctor Who’s return was a risky and considerable investment that could only have been made by a rather flush and secure organization. The same is true of its diminutive online precursor and canon-mate, the 40th anniversary webcast Scream of the Shalka, an outrageous undertaking for a website at any time. Ten years on, scandal, mishandles, poor defences, resignations and a right-leaning government mean the present day BBC most likely couldn’t consider either of those things.

Five Years

That five year promise may have a hidden truth, and Whovians should be ready for a very different BBC come 2020. Fellow mega-brand Top Gear’s plight might have a slight impact, as will the spilling out of BBC Studios and the success of BBC Worldwide. It’s likely that a form of license fee will remain in five years, but it may be as radically different as the UK’s state broadcaster is herself at the end of the next parliament. All things considered, it can’t be dismissed that the Doctor Who brand could be sold for a pretty psychic penny…

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Doctor Who: The Doctor, the BBC and the Unstoppable Leaks #Who-ly

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A rather sad and unexpected first post in the #Who-ly series…. On the leaked Doctor Who Series 8 scripts and THAT question… Clue: It has to be a no. Why is that Doctor..?

“There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things, things which act against everything that we believe in. They must be fought. “ – The Moonbase

A QUICK POST WRITTEN IN ANGER WITH AN OLD ‘TOON – WISTFUL AS EVER AND THE SEVENTH TO BOOT.  CRUCIALLY, PERHAPS HE WAS THE LAST DOCTOR IN A FULL, OR EVEN MINI-ADVENTURE, WHO DIDN’T HAVE TO ENDURE THIS… THE INTERNET.

There is absolutely no excuse…

Today saw the BBC apologise for the biggest lapse of ‘New Doctor Who’ era. Yes, more than that American DVD release last year, more than the premiere plot point reveals in 2011, more than any ill-thought out appearances by Graham Norton, deliberate or otherwise… This time the scripts of five episodes of the new series have been leaked to the masses. The BBC’s response was contrite regret. Mea culpa was all they could cry, kicking themselves with a giant and very public shoe.

It seems that in the sprawling growth of one of the Corporation’s big brands, it once again came a cropper of its own success, and the need of its constantly static/constantly beleaguered sole owner to wring the most from its own properties across the globe. The lapse lies with the BBC, the apology was correct, but yet again fans and television lovers alike are left with the same conundrum: Not ‘should the scripts be tracked down on the web?’ or not, but ‘how do we spend a good run in until late September avoiding spoilers?’

Because of course, there is absolutely no excuse to read the scripts.

A Poisoned Chalice

Wasn’t it worth it?

I have known BBC whistle-blowers I believe, heard of financial whistleblowers, but this is more destructive than revealing the Beeb’s idiosyncrasies. It’s all small-fry compared to the ongoing Yewtree investigation of course, and not to the detriment of that, I’ll keep matters closely defined to this intellectual property leak.

If it’s an act of love, it’s a misguided one, if it had good intentions, they laid down a path to The Satan Pit.  Of course, once they’re out there, why not, eh..?

Well… It’s been almost two years since the last nominal series debuted, this is the most anticipated Doctor, and it’s a full five episodes. With a feature length opener that’s feasibly 250 minutes of storyline to complete the spectacle. Could there be a more anticipated time? Or to twist it around, a time when the storyline should remain the greatest kept Who surprise of all time?

Of course, that’s why these scripts should be avoided at all costs, who’d want to ruin that? Steven Moffat will no doubt be apoplectic once again. Let alone the craft, graft, the hard work, the perseverance to get these episodes to screen – from him and hundreds of others – it’s the effort in maintaining those secrets. Maintaining those secrets in a show where secrets are crucial.

Remember the look on Moffat’s face last 23rd November, utterly petrified before the world simulcast. I was lucky enough to ask him a question that day, the answer playfully batted back under the towering auspices of BBC PR. And then there was the relief that the faith in fans and press everyone else had kept those secrets. And then the telling truism: ‘wasn’t it worth it?’

Surely, after the events of last November’s secret operation  it wasn’t overconfidence that led to this leak. But whatever the cause, what’s the excuse for reading those scripts that find themselves lost and cold in the public domain? Love? Starvation? Love and starvation of the show? Believe me, I along with many others believe this is a fundamental show, one that’s been a crucial part of this country’s make-up, played an active part in my existence as a person, an Englishman, a writer – it’s potentially morally affected me growing up as I’ve gone to some lengths to explain. I’m not alone. And that’s why there is no excuse.

Praise for the Beeb

She is unique.

I have railed against the BBC splitting episodes, splitting seasons, creating the illusion of continuity with specials and season breaks obscuring budget and other issues. All the while American networks, writer strikes aside have easily pushed out 13 episodes a year of genre TV, often 26. But then, this is the BBC. Very few broadcasters match them in scope and even then, with not nearly as many debilitating fronts of defence. For all the faults that come with the organisation, a civil service organisation despised by the ‘ruling’ party it is crucial to add, they are unique and a jewel not just in this country’s crown but the world’s. What the BBC represents is precious, as a Brit, and even – if incomprehensible to many – as a human in the 20th or 21st century. Of course there are bigger issues, crippling, destructive issues, for the BBC and humanity. There are many humans, and many billions more who will never know the name.

But she is unique.

And for all the effort she’d put into retaining a commodity she crafted by accident, she will never and should never give it up for want of all the baying capitalists who poke and prod.

Blame for the Geek

Anathema to what Doctor Who’s fundamentally about

Perhaps there’s something worse than the uncontrollable need to give into this temptation; the inevitable fan snidery that comes with it. There’s no science-fiction fan who shouldn’t feel that they could write and create better than the crafters of their favourite shows, novels and properties. That’s part of the deal. But go out there and do it. For all the friends I have who delve and snob between Wells, Asimov, Lem or Gibson to Trek, Who, V or goddamit even Andromeda, there will always be a tipping point where you can choose to give into this.

And often for unfortunate reasons I find. The arrogance and pseudo-intellectualism may be self-confessed. But why does it always seem to simply be so that you can pass judgement first?  While, as in this case you may have a unique chance to see the script prior to premiere, I fail to see how that’s different from looking back at the well distributed scripts of past adventures, especially of the RTD era. To reach for what I pretentiously tried to call out to day as ‘Eliotian transformation’ seems  anathema to what Doctor Who’s fundamentally about.

Television First

“I just hope that guy never watches my show again” – Steven Moffat, 2011

True, it’s spun across the time vortex, using literature, scripts and journalism as its iron lung at points, but it’s no Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. There, one-time Doctor Who script editor Douglas Adams created a different copy for radio, television, book and by proxy film. Doctor Who is, and ever was an immovably televisual phenomenon. It should be watched and judged first and primarily on the small screen.  I think that’s fundamental. Quick, responsive unpretentious. Reading filming scripts just doesn’t count. And to read those scripts seems mean and self-satisfying at the very least.

Not that I’ve ever resisted turning a novel a few pages further on, but I’ve never jumped to the final page. This script leak for me is not about recapturing that band at a point before they’re mainstream. The ‘I knew them’ first and ‘I’ll know this first’ culture is the entropy of fandom as I see it. Or as Moffat rather pointedly summed up ‘slighter’ plot leaks in 2011:

“It’s heartbreaking in a way because you’re trying to tell stories, and stories depend on surprise. Stories depend on shocking people. Stories are the moments that you didn’t see coming, that are what live in you and burn in you forever. If you are denied those, it’s vandalism. So to have some twit who came to a press launch, write up a story in the worst, most ham-fisted English you can imagine, and put it on the internet, I just hope that guy never watches my show again, because that’s a horrific thing to do.”

And true, what a shame it is. For all the bile poured at the BBC for letting paying customers in America see footage of the 50th anniversary special last year, before us ‘license fee payers’, BBC One has uncharacteristically set down a near-two month campaign of promotion. This leak is no publicity stunt, for a few it is really heartbreaking.

Patience Most

“In years to come, you might find yourself revisiting a few. But just the old favourites, eh?” – The Great Curator, The Day of the Doctor, 2013

For context: This year is the 40th anniversary of Tom Baker. The greatest Doctor (certified once again in Doctor Who magazine #474), now the curator infinitum. For all the years I’ve been a fan, for all the chance I’ve had, I’ve put myself in the position of never seeing two Baker stories.  Two left: one that’s gleefully ridiculed, the other an apparent bona fide classic. I’ll have to reserve judgement as that classic, though it’s sat on my shelf for a great while, will not be watched until the 40th anniversary of Robot comes around. To find out what that is, tune in this December – if you can wait. I can’t mention it, because obviously someone will feel fit to rather pointlessly spoil it.

Being a fan isn’t about gorging, even with content 30, 40 or 50 years old. It’s hard to choose a quote about moderation, there are so many. But “Moderation is the silken string running through the pearl-chain of all virtues” works as good as any.

Try it, the benefit’s there.  It really is.

In paraphrasing Robert Louis Stevenson in The Sensorites, perhaps the Doctor’s Granddaughter summed it up best:

“Isn’t it a better thing to travel hopefully than arrive?”

 

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