Tag: Daleks

The Curse of Fatal Death at 20 – Setting up the Moffat era in 20 moves

Doctor Who The Curse of Fatal Death at 20

Doctor Who The Curse of Fatal Death at 20

Can it really be 10 Comic Reliefs since Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death? The sketch showpiece of the 1999 fundraiser that amused, reminded and affected 10 years after the classic series ended. A further 20 years on, it’s proved to be more than a novelty.

It told us pretty much all we needed to know about writer Steven Moffat’s time in charge of Doctor Who

“Die Doctor, Die!”

WHEN STEVEN MOFFAT TOOK ON SCRIBING A 20 MINUTE SKIT FOR CHARITY IN THE LATE ‘90S, HE NO DOUBT HAD ONE THOUGHT ON HIS MIND: THIS IS THE ONLY SHOT I’LL EVER GET AT WRITING DOCTOR WHO. Who cared if it was a short, standalone, or defiantly comedic… It was Doctor Who! A decade before he was asked it had limped to a ignobly-funded, underwatched end on BBC One. Three years before, it had failed to spark on an American network.

It wasn’t coming back anytime soon, right?

Of course, Who would return six years to the month after The Curse of Fatal Death’s broadcast. Triumphantly so, and with Moffat among its writers. Twenty years on from broadcast, Moffat stands as the most prolific writer of on-screen Doctor Who, contributing to 12 years of the rebooted show and steering seven of those, arguably providing the greatest single influence in its history – new villains, monsters, ideas, humour and… Head scratching. Perhaps then, it’s not surprising that a microcosm of those 12 years is found in the third of an hour broadcast on a  Friday night in March 1999.

“936 years in a sewer”

If you wrote a concise summary of the show under his guidance, you’d struggle to beat The Curse of Fatal Death, the last action Doctor Who realised in the twentieth century. In that unmissable chance, Moffat packs in not just great and knowing witticisms, but everything he loved about the show. He’d achieve a similar – although more serious feat – in 2010 with The Eleventh Hour – the regeneration story that had been running around his mind for decades. But with the astutely named Fatal Death, it was a punchy jab at respecting the past and predicting the future, telling us far more about what Moffat would do with the series proper than seems possible. Here we count an absurd 20 of them…

“Say hello to the spikes of doom”

1. A sense of humour

Fatal Death is a parody of Doctor Who, yes, but it’s a knowing one, written by someone who knew the show inside out. All those ‘knows’ mean someone who, er, knows the show is above parody. There was no continuing television franchise to scupper, no threat to be undermined or seriousness to break. There was just nostalgia for a show that had inherent comedy and was supported by huge goodwill. That’s what three or so decades will do for you.

Still, it runs a fine line, wringing comedy out of the thin plot at speed, rather than stapling plot onto comedy. The beats are all there, even the middle cliffhanger that stars a wonderfully obvious set of flashing toy Daleks.

The 50-odd episodes Moffat has penned for the show since its return retained that fine line of comedy and drama, as well as a willful mischievous with continuity. Moffat stories were happy to contradict each other and canon if it made for a better story (remind us, is regeneration more like death or a cold?), sometimes for a joke, sometimes in smart scripting that undermined a scene or character. It wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but overall Moffat balanced comedic and scary highs during his time. Perhaps we should count ourselves lucky that he had got lines like, “It will be the deadly vengeance… Of deadly revenge!” out of his system.

The name itself is a preposterous, hifalutin parody that played on people’s memory. But it’s also a tribute to the show’s high point and a bona fide franchise legend. 1976’s The Deadly Assassin got there earlier, from the pen of legendary Who writer Robert Holmes. Moffat’s script was always witty, something played on by his actors. Comedy an essential part of the show – Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith is among one of the greatest comedic actors to have taken the role and Capaldi wasn’t bad bad either!

But in Fatal Death, he had some comedy greats to delivery lines with exquisite timing. There’s barely a zinger that goes wasted in a skit with a higher joke scatter fire than many other Comic Relief sketches, astonishing considering how broad many are. Crucial to its success is the way Rowan Atkinson and Julia Swahala play everything wonderfully straight.

2. The timey-wimey

It’s a show about time travel  – that’s a phrase Moffat batted back to interviewers a lot during his early days as showrunner. Sure, the classic series had hardly let up on that, but seldom over-played the concept within serials (City of Death, The Time Monster, Day of the Daleks were key serials that did). Moffat’s era would play fast and loose between stories, in stories, and use it as a central plot propellent that created headaches the size of Professor River Song’s temporal footprint along the way. Fatal Death is probably only matched in its time-trickery-per-minute ratio by Moffat’s stunning contribution to Series 2, Blink.

3. Temporal paradox

It’s a big point, so we’ll take it a step further. It’s what some may call the meat and bones of the Moffat era. With the line, “You forgot I too have a TARDIS” we have the schematic for cheating all manner of mysteries around death and imprisonment during the Moffat years.

4. The Master Distortion

Series 3, Russell T Davies had freshened up the Master, returning Doctor and his foe to the Sherlock and Moriarty dynamic last seen at his arrival in the early-1970s. Moffat developed that further, finally bringing a redemptive female version to see off the Twelfth Doctor.

The friend and foe dynamic emerged as familiarity breeding contempt in 1999. The Master is a humiliated figure, always outfoxed, destined to fail, often insecure. Fatal Death’s version, is ramped up in wonderfully desperate fashion by Jonathan Pryce. While Fatal Death brought back the eternal loser, it also reminded us of how closely the character’s tied to his Time Lord foe. See how upset he is with the idea of the Doctor retiring – surely on many levels. The villain was ready to take a more prominent role than the 1980s or 1990s had allowed him, even if Moffat’s era could never agree on who the Doctor’s greatest foe is, or achieve quite the happy ending Fatal Death did.

That ending is a tiny bit The Doctor Falls though, isn’t it? Only with less death and deception.

5. Dalek cameo

Those were the days: When Daleks were a given in any Doctor Who. This time, brought in by the Master in a rather neat flip of the fingers to the events of 1996’s TV movie. They tick boxes (an overpowering cliffhanger and dramatic entrance) but struggle to ratchet up the threat level. They would continue to be similarly untroubling during Moffat’s tenure – a bit of a failing after Russell T Davies brought them back to planet-stomping glory.

The Moff would develop Dalek Technology with a fervour of the 1960s creators. “Augmented by superior Dalek technology” in Fatal Death emerges as a wonderful hand plunger and comedy bumps.

The Pepperpots do provide the cliffhanger as a lovely fleet of toy Daleks. While Moffat’s been known to question the repeat of the last few minutes of the previous episode during the classic era, the two-part version of Fatal Death is Doctor Who’s first summary – such a ‘90s conceit, and brilliantly reduced to the Master continually falling into the sewer system

6. A female Doctor

It was in Fatal Death – notably pre-social media – that we saw the first female Doctor. Up until that point, the idea had been restricted to sensational tabloid rumours (and possibly the odd mischievous office leak). As such, it was more a glorious in-joke than anything else. The Doctor’s rapid regenerations cycled through a tabloid’s dream list before the Lumley-Lord gave us the punch-line.

The Davies’ era may have played around with gender, but it was under Moffat that the true seeds of a female Doctor were set. That’s when we saw Time Lords change gender during regeneration, although he missed his shot to make the show’s definitive change himself.

7. The female companion

Oh, you’d be hard pushed to forget female companions in the TARDIS console room during the Classic Series’ 26 years. But memories of the Doctor and single female companion always exceed the reality of a busier Type 40  – thanks to icons like Leela, Sarah-Jane and the final companion of the era, Ace.

Moffat always professed to be a fan of the fuller TARDIS and certain stories depended on it during his era (River Song would have struggled to come into existence), but both his Doctors were defined by singular female companions  – Amy for the Eleventh and Clara for the Twelfth. They were so important, each appeared at their respective Doctor’s death.

On top of the succession of brilliant solo companions who’d travelled with Davies’ Ninth and Tenth Doctors, Moffat’s decision to go that extra mile and put them in a relationship in Fatal Death was a bit of a tawdry joke has only gained credence over the last two decades. Still, Julia Sawalha, inheriting the mantle in less enlightened times, shines in her naive ‘60s stylings.

8. Being reverential

Parody can’t work without reference, and as much as Moffat stove to create new monsters, mythology and time loops, his was the most reverential of all. Davies had eased into the show’s rich mythology, taking the subtle but satisfying route of the odd Macra or introducing the Doctor’s main foes in their original chronological order. But the Moffat era was happy to head back to the very beginning, and change our perception of the Doctor on Gallifrey.

9. The casting

Yes, that succession of dream Doctors is both a joke and curse.

Casting would be never more scrutinised than during the Moffat era, as names like Hugh Grant became strangely more possible as the gap between small and big screen lessened. Richard E.Grant, two decades on an Oscar nominee, would play the alternative Ninth Doctor in the anniversary webcast Scream of the Shalka (2003). The television revival would sadly wipe that from canon, although many elements (the TARDIS-bound Master particularly) would be echoed – quite rightly, as they were great ideas. Incidentally Shalka was written by Paul Cornell, who brought Moffat closest to Virgin’s New Adventures range, including him as a character in his original Human Nature.

10. The Planet Terserus

It’s an ominous planet, signalling destiny for the Doctor. It may be condensed parody, but it sure has a feel of Trenzalore, the planet that promised the end of the Doctor’s Eleventh incarnation in Series Seven, and delivered it in Time of the Doctor.

The inverted pyramid left by the doomed Tersurons population couldn’t help but remind us of the  pyramids that would help morph the Twelfth Doctor into an odd and unnecessary hybrid of Dracula and Sherlock during his final series (The Lie of the Land), but that’s more personal disgust.

In fact, Tersurus has a long and distinguished history in the wider Doctor Who universe of books, comics and audio, tying back to the plight of the worse for wear Master in none other than The Deadly Assassin. Even that incarnation, bug-eyed but menacing in 1976, didn’t fall in the sewer.

Moffat Davies New Doctor Who

11. TARDIS tampering

The Master’s TARDIS, cosy, and a lovely shade of green, is strobed by lightning when its owner cackles. He needs to get those lights fixed – much like the Eleventh Doctor who really should have looked into the “Silence will Fall” presence that cracked his TARDIS console screen at the conclusion of Series Five. Perhaps he never knew…

12. An alien twist

The Terserons unusual communication is pivotal to Fatal Death’s plot, but it would be Davies who brought bodily functions into canon for some light relief six years later (Aliens of London). The way Moffat took the effort to tie this into the resolution (Chekov’s – oh, never mind), and his predilection to search out imaginative hooks for his alien species does stick out.

13. Ageing fast

Again, this is nothing new in Doctor Who. Alister Pearson’s spectacular rendition of an aged Fourth Doctor on the paperback of The Leisure Hive sticks in the mind. But seldom has the lengthened time span and enduring patience of a Time Lord been been clearer than in Fatal Death. This would be taken to the extreme near the close of both the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor eras.

14. Legend of the Doctor

“I recently calculated that I have saved every planet in the known universe a minimum of 27 times” says the Doctor in Fatal Death, a prologue to announcing his retirement.

During his Eleventh Doctor run, Moffat would blow up this legend, before removing it entirely as that incarnation wiped himself from universal history. In Nightmare in Silver (2013), Neil Gaiman would gleefully rip that concept for pieces (You’d just have to look for the gaps). Coincidentally, he never wrote for the show again.

15. Cliffhanger

With three cliffhangers, Fatal Death almost rivals the whole of the Moffat run. We’re being facetious, but that may be true in terms of satisfyingly resolved ‘hangers. All-too-often, the Moffat era jumped them – even during the excellent opener of Series Six. That said, there was gold enough to wilt a Cyberman. The breaks that that met the end of The Empty Child and The Time of Angels are about as good as Doctor Who ever served up.  In Fatal Death, the first is a narrative follow-through, the second a leap to capture, the third the first ever regeneration cliffhanger. Not groundbreaking – but as the central one sets up a change of scene and tone for the special’s second half, there’s the hint that he saw differently to many other writers.

16. Starting the Mill

Founded in 1990, Post prod and visual effects company The Mill followed up work on 2000’s Gladiator with a huge contribution to the BBC’s fantasy output in the early 21st century. From the RTD-era title sequence to Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Merlin. They parted ways with Who in 2013 – mid-Moffat. Quite the shame when their first involvement with the show was providing special effects for Fatal Death.

17. Richard Curtis

Steven Moffat’s wife Sue Vertue produced Fatal Death, but he was invited to script it by Red Nose Day honcho Richard Curtis. 11 years later, Moffat would return the favour, with Curtis contributing the rather brilliant Vincent and the Doctor to 2010’s Series 5.

18. “I’ll explain later”

Less a judgement on exposition than explaining away some of the stranger parts of Who lore. It’s a joke that almost creates itself, Bad Wolf-style. That said, explanation would never be so relevant, or lacking, depending on your perspective, than during his time running the show.

19. “He was never cruel and never cowardly”

Well, goes without saying. Astonishingly it took until the 50th anniversary for this to become the shortened CV of the Doctor. Sod canon, you heard it here first people of the universe!

20. Retirement of the Doctor

Fed up with his tremendous success rate, this Doctor plans to “settle down and get married”.

Moffat’s Doctor slunk off more than once, in spite of companions’ best efforts to keep him in the game (most irritatingly in the middle of Series 7 when he didn’t pay any attention to what Amelia Pond told him). The impossible idea of the Doctor’s retirement was there at the start.

“Your mother’s going to get a surprise at the wedding”-  almost as though 2019’s Red Nose Day Four Weddings and a Funeral update was a 20th anniversary tribute to Fatal Death.

“Say Hello to the sofa of reasonable comfort”

Read more about Moffat’s time driving the TARDIS – starting with Five ways he set about remaking the Fifth Doctor era.

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Fictionside 104: Heroes & Villains

001 Frankenstein's Monster

Fictionside Heroes and villains

This half-birthday we pick out 10 of our favourite heroes and villains …

IT’S JOKERSIDE’S FOURTH AND A HALF BIRTHDAY, AND SO HERE’S ANOTHER OF OUR BI-ANNUAL FICTIONSIDES AS WE CAREER TO THE CLOSE OF JOKERSIDE’S FIVE YEAR MISSION! This time round, we’re picking out some of our favourite fictional heroes and villains. And wouldn’t you know, some of them are a bit misunderstood…

Actually, wouldn’t you know that with a Fictionside, things are a little more complicated than that. We’re going to pick out four and a half heroes and four and a half villains. There’s lots of Brits, and lots of hoods, a surprising amount who first appeared in comics, but bear with us…  Because it’s a Hell of a dinner party!

Heroes & Villains

Hero: Captain Britain

First appearance: Captain Britain Weekly #1, 1976

001 Captain BritainA champion in the great and noble line of great British heroes, and of course, measured against the quality of his foes…

Brian Braddock. Bloody brilliant. Originated created by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe in 1976, it’s when Alan Davis and Alan Moore stepped aboard to ‘learn their craft’ that the Marvel universe’s premier British hero earned his finest hour. And by Merlin, did he earn it.

The story that kicked off with a trip to A Crooked World didn’t simply define the British equivalent of Captain America, who’d been sauntering around for the best part of half a decade. It played a huge role in unfurling the Marvel multiverse, naming the main super-powered universe as Earth-616 under Moore’s predecessor David Thorpe, and introducing two barely stoppable Marvel supervillains. In the dapper form of Terry Thomas came Mad Jim Jaspers. And at the hand of Sir James’ megalomania, The Fury. Unsettling and unnerving.

In his first stab at a mainstream Marvel book, Moore took on Thorpe’s storyline mid-way through and proceeded to hone a champion in the great and noble line of great British heroes, and of course, one measured against the quality of his foes left at the writers disposal. Jaspers’ is one of the Marvel universe’s great mutants, and by achieving the position of British Prime Minister yet another warning to George Osborne about taking on too much work. Jasper’s reality altering mutant skills were vast, and once used on a large scale triggered inevitable madness. His creation, the Fury, was a cyborg killing machine so perfect it could survive the collapse of reality and traverse the multiverse in pursuit of its single-minded aim. Within issues Moore had killed off the hero on the failing, warning Earth-238 before resurrecting him on 616, ready for the same, unstoppable events to threaten that reality.

Braddock’s powers were the parallel of Captain America’s, reflecting Albion. Instead of the truth, justice and American Way, Braddock was invested by the ancient, mystical powers of the British Isles by Merlin, destined to uphold the laws of Britain and by implication, become a chief guardian of the multiverse. Who knew that the role thrust upon this Brit would prove so influential. Starting with the wonderful Silver Age conceit of rubbing his sacred amulet, Britain’s comfort in his role changed as his abilities and weapons were refined and his distinctive, patriotic suit pared down just before he first encountered mad Jim.

Excalibur and Arthurian legend continues to wind around Captain Britain’s story, in storyline and pun. He’s inextricably linked to the wider Marvel-verse as the twin of mutant Psylocke. While she was last seen on the big screen in X-Men: Apocalypse, resolutely not with an Essex accent, Brian fans are still questioning whether Marvel’s simply forgotten to announce their Captain Britain film… Like any great British hero, he’s hardly a one trick wonder, mystic or otherwise. Informed by Holmes, Bond and the best of Blighty, the Braddock story has not only dragged in childhood trauma, the secret service, and huge wad of British society, but also granted him a Ph.D. in physics. Bloody brilliant. Continue reading “Fictionside 104: Heroes & Villains”

Jokerside’s Top 10 Posts of the Year: 2016

jokerside's Top Posts of 2016

jokerside's Top Posts of 2016

The results are in – which posts from the Jokerside were the most read in 2016? From A New Hope to much-missed Bowie, Psychotic comic book stars to 1966, there was something for everyone… And a mere five visits between the fist and second spot!

  1. “The Frankenstein Murders” – Frankenstein on TV and Film AD 2016 (January 2016)

Victor Frankenstein 2016 ADA romantic start, well, Jokerside’s version of it. It had been two years since our look at how Mary Shelley’s most famous creation was faring on screen, from the Munster‘s one-off come-back to the I Frankenstein‘s collapse. So for the leap Month’s  Valentine’s Day we galvanised ourselves into an update. The creature is going stronger than ever from big-spending ITV’s curious The Frankenstein Chronicles (surely the one series that even a Sean Bean would struggle to kill his character off in) to the bold, hugely anticipated but hugely flawed Victor Frankenstein

“The major let-downs are so destructive to this Frankenstein adaptation that it’s unbelievable they got through. Just as Frankenstein’s early claim about Igor’s hands seems misplaced, the film never displays Frankenstein’s genius. There’s the sketching, but little hands on work that previous adaptations have managed so well. That’s an unnecessary difficulty, but the real horror comes on the far too ‘logical’ solution to creating life. In creating a literal superhuman with two hearts, two lungs, super-strength and a gigantic physique, Frankenstein may be tapping into the supernaturally Promethean aspect, but the film completely misses the point, particular when framing it around the Doctor’s need to reanimate the idea of his lost brother. The point is that he creates man, not a superman.”

Yes, Frankenstein, as ever, has parts of various quality… Read more

If you liked that in 2016: Where there’s Jokerside there’s horror – stay tuned for the return of science-fiction’s most infamous scientist in a slightly different guise in 2017

  1. David Bowie: The Man Who Fell to Earth – Station to Station at 40 (January 2016)

David Bowie Station to Station at 402016 was riddled with confusion, shock and horrid irony from the start. Having kicked off the year with a light-hearted look at two muppet-powered movie classics, one inevitably featuring David Bowie himself, it was as horrific to find the great man had fallen away from the planet just days after the release of his sublime Blackstar album as that it came just days before the 40th anniversary of one of his finest years. It was with a heavy heart in a month dominated by the one-time Thin White Duke that Jokerside took a two-part glimpse at The Man who Fell to Earth and then the extraordinary album that surfaced that same year. Legendarily one that Bowie couldn’t remember recording…

“The Thin White Duke is as difficult to analyse as the album he apparently narrates, sometimes argues. It’s easy to dismiss the character as Bowie’s most ruthless, even evil – yes, even more than the Goblin King – but any analysis is difficult because of the amount of distraction built into the Duke. Unlike Ziggy Stardust, he’s less prevalent in a shorter album. He also appears more “normal” than those early ‘70s glam avatars. Impeccably stylish, simply cabaret, emotionful and emotionless in equal measure. The Duke may actually be Bowie’s most eroding character. And at times, there’s seems to be a real conversation taking place between the searching Bowie and the Duke – particularly in the title track that mixes first, second and third person perspectives.

The Man who Fell to Earth had sowed the seeds of a character that could carry a knowing and necessary transition and complete some of the greatest music of Bowie’s career. Not bad for a film that, as he said, “he didn’t really know what was being made at all”. But what’s crucial is the speed with which this character came to dominate his mind, just a catalyst of the clashing components in his mind and the Station to Station LP, and a character that took up less than year of Bowie’s incredibly prolific mid-1970s period.” Read more

If you liked that in 2016: Stay tuned for more David Bowie as Jokerside celebrates another of the chameleon’s incredible works as it passes a significant landmark this January…

  1. 1966: Invasion Earth 2150 – Movie Daleks at 50 (August 2016)

1966 Dalek Invasion Earth 2150 at 50“Changes (to the original television serial) are to a certain extent inconsequential in a condensed story that works almost beat for beat to the original template. It’s a heady mix of The Time Machine, 50s B-movies and the intrinsically British television show it adapted.

“The real change came in the spectacle. And of course, that was in the full employ, for the first time of colour. It would be seven years before the Daleks broke into colour on the small screen, and they’ve never looked better than in their big screen outings. The Daleks are utterly transformed as technicolour beasts…

“Sadly, this was to be the last live appearance of Peter Cushing’s alternate Doctor. On television, the character was to regenerate in a few short months, only to face the Daleks in his first adventure, away from the pen of Terry Nation. On screen, Dr Who leaves on a high. His first cell-break aboard the Dalek saucer is wonderful,. As he immediately fails, unlike Dortmun’s inability to cope with his frustrated situation, Cushing opens his eyes to Dalek eye-stalks with a meek “Back in the cell?” Read more

If you liked that in 2016: It’s time for the creator… In 2017 Jokerside will turn the microscope on the most fascinating Doctor Who villain, Davros…
Continue reading “Jokerside’s Top 10 Posts of the Year: 2016”

Doctor Who: The Master through the decades – The New Series Compression Eliminated

The New Series Masters - 21st century

Bringing the Master’s journey up to the current day. For the past two years, Jokerside has tracked the Doctor’s arch-nemesis through time… Well, through the past five decades. From his suave arrival in the 1970s to her tussles with the Twelfth Doctor, Jokerside presents the summary… The 21st century: The Master throughout the New Series!

ARRIVING EIGHT YEARS INTO THE SHOW’S RUN, THE MASTER QUICKLY ESTABLISHED HIMSELF AT THE TOP TABLE OF DOCTOR WHO VILLAINS. The 18 years that followed saw mixed fortunes for the dastardly Time Lord, from volte faces to crispy husk, from zombie smarmy to a complete lack of priorities.

The suggestion remained however, that the foe would always return for the big moments. While the Daleks and Cybermen stole a spot in the show’s 25th anniversary season, it was the Master who backed the final story of the Classic Series. On many levels, brilliantly named Survival. Seven years later, it was the Master who took the role of antagonist in the Doctor’s short-lived foray into American television.

So surely it was a done deal that the show’s glorious return to British screens in 2005 was counting down to the greatest death-dodger’s next resurrection… It just took a couple of years. And when this Jokerside retrospective of the Master through the decades reached the 21st century, a few rules needed to be broken.

The schism caused by the Great Time War on screen and the machinations of the BBC behind it, led to two parallel glances for the first decade of the new century. The Who canon had split and the trail of the Master with it. Although it hadn’t appeared likely at the beginning of the decade, the 2000s would prove to be a pivotal decade for the despicable Time Lord. He was to take on three distinct forms, breaking out of his survivalist years with a bang, before plummeting back to them and helping to take out yet another of the Doctor’s incarnations on the way. And then things were really going to change.

But the confusion started, as Jokerside observed, with the villain’s demise at the close of the 1996 TV Movie, “an inescapable ‘curse of fatal’ type death, was subsequently picked up by two very different returns that resolved in two parallel universes. And of course, thanks to the ever-eccentric machinery of the BBC, they’re as co-dependent as they are incompatible. Yeah, and people wonder why fans are pre-occupied with canonicity… To make matters even more confusing, across the two realities there are some notable similarities to mull.”

So, let’s split the universe.

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

Scream of the Shalka, online anniversary special (2003)

The Master in Scream of the Shalka and UtopiaNovember 2003 marked Doctor Who’s 40th anniversary, but there wasn’t to be much of a celebration or televised special as there had been around the show’s 10th, 20th or 30th birthdays. At least, not in the usual sense. Doctor Who was no longer a beast of television, but continued through an extended universe of audio plays, books official and unauthorised, comics, reprints, merchandise and in the of-their-time web pages of BBC Interactive.

The dream project of James Goss, then BBC producer now Who author, had to steer the production over rocky terrain to bring a new kind of special to dial-up internet across the world. Gs pulled a number of great decisions from the jaws of adversity, such as hiring Paul Cornell to pen the script. And Cornell’s take was no slavish continuation:

“Cornell crafted a classic and creepy tale in the Quatermass-mould, an innovative invasion that was in many ways a lighter precursor of the process Russell T Davies would undertake for the television reboot. It’s no surprise they came up with some similar solutions in the changed media landscape of the new century. Rightly ignoring regeneration, as Rose would, Shalka introduced a new Doctor with a notably sharper and fluctuating personality, coping with in-built angst as he struggled to shake off the grief of losing an unseen and un-named female companion. In this continuity, much to his chagrin and resentment he’s continually dispatched to problem areas by those unseen and unnamed… We can only assume that the Time Lords had a new PR team in.”

And alongside Richard E Grant’s new Doctor came was a refreshing if deceptively familiar Master in tow.

“In a series of short scenes, this Master cuts a memorable figure. Superbly voiced by Derek Jacobi, his is an incarnation very much in the Delgado mould. In many ways, this is Cornell’s love letter to that Master. But the trick here is that he’s never a major threat. As if he’s trapped in a time loop of the last few minutes of almost every one of the Delgado incarnation’s plots – forced into joining forces with the Doctor.”

Cornell managed the difficult feat of wringing classic menace and humour from the villain, enhanced by the flash-based but effective animation that often keeps, “this android Master’s silhouette in shadow amid stunningly shadowy imagery, as if to compound his mysterious constraint.” The links were never tied up, but there are clear assumptions to be drawn from this and his fate at the climax of the TV Movie. Best of all, it brought a ready-made new dynamic for the show’s leading Time Lords: Continue reading “Doctor Who: The Master through the decades – The New Series Compression Eliminated”

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