Tag: Fifth Doctor

Doctor Who Series 9: The Knightmare of Immortality

The Woman who lived Series Nine Doctor Who

The Woman who lived Series Nine Doctor Who

The fourth of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine. The show kept us in the past, this time landing on the highways of the seventeenth century to pick up on the consequences of the Doctor’s actions at the end of his Viking adventure. What do the adventures of the Ashildir now the Lady Me, the latest in a long line of the undying, tell us about humanity?

It’s an immortal question. Inspired by The Woman who Lived

DID YOU FEEL ROBBED? WERE THE HOOKS OF THE GIRL WHO DIED NOT FULFILLED? Perhaps the MacGuffins and red herrings confounded expectation? But in any event, there’s no doubt that this casual two-parter was always intended to realign itself as one of Doctor Who’s occasional treatises on immortality.

The resulting 45 minutes, with its unusual structure pushing full force onto Peter Capaldi and Maisie William’s double-act, proved one of the show’s great explorations of that mighty theme. An irresistible concept that the show’s often danced around but never answered. If it ever did, there’s a good chance things would never be the same again.

Cheating Death

“People like us, we go on too long”

Immortality is built into Doctor Who, and not just in the inexhaustible fuel of the show’s format: Ideas and imagination without constraint that may outlast the Eye of Harmony. At the heart of the show is a Time Lord, almost the last one – recently given a whole new regeneration cycle when the first one might simply have allowed him to live forever. “Barring accidents” as the Fourth Doctor put it once. You can imagine the TimeWhich statistics on Gallifrey, warning year after year that most regenerations happen in the kitchen. Regeneration means every Time Lord or Lady has 12 reset buttons on his genome and mannerisms that could give them a new life as a woman, girl, Mekon, dog or sentient lamp – but has so far always landed the Doctor as a humanoid male between the Earth years of 25 and 60.

Since the show’s return, the revelation of the Great Time War has left unexplored the concept of these regenerating immortals fighting across time zones. It hasn’t touched the compelling possibility of fully piloted WAR TARDISES containing an endless domino spiral of regenerations or soaking up all the ships power just delicately juggle their dying/regenerating inhabitants in various states of temporal grace.

‘Accidents’ is the key understatement in the fourth Doctor’s unhelpful reasoning. Within two generation we saw the Doctor expire due to old age and then forcibly change (after execution we can only presume – nasty). Other times he’s been irradiated several times, poisoned, squashed and found on the wrong side of gravity. Only on occasion has the Doctor regenerated through direct selflessness (the Fifth’s self-sacrifice did more for his reputation than the Ninth’s) unless you want to argue that every regeneration is a result of the indirect selflessness of his universal intervention; a Gallifreyan who had their Type-40 TARDIS stolen would certainly disagree with that.

But as much as the Doctor and the universe combine to pit him against mortal danger, I doubt the latter will ever let him expire. Certainly, the Time Lords who’ve retreated to God-like status while their planet’s AWOL, were happy to break one of Rassilon’s directives to extend the Doctor’s life. I can’t see how that mad despot perished, but I’d be surprised if he’s calmed down.

Immortal crossings

The modern Prometheus to go with the Eyes of Hades.

In opposition to the Doctor and usually his people, Doctor Who presents a universe full of undeniable, illusionary and distorted versions of immortality. The list is a long one.

There are those not really of our time and space, who no doubt have no need word for immortality, being as it is very much in the eye of the beholder, and as a result little regard for mortals. These include the Eternals seen in 1983’s Enlightenment, elementals who live outside of time, who barely consider the transitory lives of lesser creatures. Those latter years of the Fifth Doctor’s life, coinciding with the show’s 20th anniversary, saw immortality became a focus as the Eternals were joined by returning Black and White Guardians, maintaining the balance of the universe as personifications of chaos and order. In the 21st century we’d meet a member of the Pantheon of Discord in The Sarah Jane Adventures, the immortal Trickster for one lived on the power of chaos that emerged from the Faustian pacts he dangled in front of vulnerable humans. Similar carnage was wrought by the Gods of Ragnarok in Season 25’s The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. Those rogues forced sentient beings to endlessly entertain them at point of elimination, and provided a neat tribute to an old category of the Doctor’s rogues gallery in that silver anniversary year. Those gods joined the Discord and Guardians under the title The Great Old Ones in expanded Who universe prose.

Perhaps the greatest of the Doctors foes belonging to that pantheon is the Great Intelligence who first battled the Second Doctor in the Himalayas and the London Underground before meeting an improbable death in the time streams of The Name of the Doctor. In particular the prose of Andy Lane and Craig Hinton equated the Great Intelligence with Yog-Sothoth, a Lovecraftian cosmic entity of Cthulhu Mythos.

Mythological

The Woman who Lived forwent Norse mythology to dwell on Hades…

The Doctor will always have eternal foes to undermine, tangle with and fight while there is a universe. Elsewhere, a special mention must go to Fenric, the time travelling ancient member of the Great Old Ones encountered by the Doctor in the in the last season of the Classic Series.

Fenric, as its name suggests, was tied up with Nordic heritage and mythology – something that’s made an appearance in almost every episode of Series Nine so far. But, The Woman who Lived forwent Norse mythology to dwell on Hades, the underworld of the ancient Greek world. Greek mythology is well stocked with tales of immortality, from the gods of Olympus to the punishments of Titans and mortals. This time the MacGuffin was the Eye of Hades, alien technology that inspired the ponderous observations: “Purple the colour of death… The light of immortality”.

In one of Doctor Who’s best regarded stories, Egyptian mythology fell under the microscope. The Osirans of Season 12’s Pyramids of Mars Could live thousands of years without sustenance and the most evil of their kind was only trapped by the Doctor thanks to a time tunnel pointed to infinity. Similarly long-lived, potentially immortal, and just as influential on humanity were was Azal in The Daemons and that other horned one, the Beast in The Satan Pit.

The Woman who Lived dragged alien intrigue into the mix like a cat dragging a mouse into a working lunch on everlasting life. Tying into those grand plans of aliens influencing the planet, it only seems natural that the immortal girl, the supernatural human, attracted them. After all, science fiction has taught us again and again that Arthur C. Clarke‘s third law is right: ”Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Deadly

Dedication to enduring existence is often shown to eliminate individuality…

Many species have survived from the dawn of time to what we can call the present day. They are easy to spot if they are recorded as scaring the ancient Time Lords or even worse, making it into Gallifreyan nursery rhymes or legends. The most famous recent example may be the Weeping Angels – along with their effective forbears the Fendahl, who even the Great Old Ones were said to flee – races almost viral in their persistent survival. Certainly not individualistic, that’s something Doctor Who often shows to be eliminated by dedication to enduring existence. Continue reading “Doctor Who Series 9: The Knightmare of Immortality”

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…

Continue reading “Doctor Who: The Trial of Morbius!”

Doctor Who: Five ways that Steven Moffat has remade the Fifth Doctor

Doctor Who and the 1980s

 11D 1980s

Yes, that’s right. I just suggested that Who supremo Steven Moffat is repositioning the show to repeat its 1970s heyday.  But what if he’s already recreated the 1980s with the Eleventh Doctor!? Actually, what if he’s simply recreated one specific story from 1983?

MATT SMITH’S PREMATURE EXIT LAST CHRISTMAS BROUGHT THE BIGGEST SHAKE-UP OF STEVEN MOFFAT’S TENURE AS NEW WHO SHOW RUNNER. While he’d changed companions, TARDIS interior (twice) and theme tune (twice) the incoming Twelfth Doctor (yeah, we CAN call him that) is the real deal – the chance to break or ensure his legacy as show runner after some incredible peaks and some unfortunate troughs.

Moff-Pros

A prestigious warm-up for this year’s Rebel Time Lord

On the definite plus side, some of the greatest stories of New Who have fallen under his stewardship! Even after Deep Breath, The Eleventh Hour remains the greatest regeneration story ever told. For me, Matt Smith is the greatest actor to grace the role in the modern era and whisper it, can easily throw his fez up with the classics. In 2013, the 50th anniversary year was a sparse but triumphant year. The customary special not only fused modern and classic Who, but creating the perfect warm-up for a different kind of Doctor in the process. The War Doctor, in the regal form of John Hurt, was a rather prestigious warm-up for the Rebel Time Lord hitting our screens this autumn. Continue reading “Doctor Who: Five ways that Steven Moffat has remade the Fifth Doctor”

Doctor Who: Companions’ Snakes on a Brain – “…Dreams are important” (Whovember #5)

Fifth Doctor Whovember Jokertoon

5D

The 50th birthday watch moves on to a firm wicket with the first of the sport Doctors, the well regarded Fifth.  All bouffant and brave heart, he inherited a full TARDIS which arguably pushed the Doctor’s companions to the fore more than ever.  But while there’s a notable death, a notable assassin and a notable android during his tenure there was only a hint of what was to come. 

#5: Mara Tales:  Kinda and Snakedance

WHEN IT CAME TO THIS SCALY FOE, IT WAS AN EASY CHOICE.  Not only an arc, but one that had managed to escape me until now and is generally well regarded.  In the surprisingly mixed bag that constitutes the Davison era, it’s easy to see why the Mara Tales have emerged with a rather enhanced reputation.

Christopher Bailey crafted a mythos in his serials that was both refreshing and very Doctor.  Of course, his work has been academically analysed – one of the first to have any such scrutiny in fact – but it’s easy to see what went right with just a cursory glance.  While not distinct in the canon by any means, the Mara is a wonderfully realised non-corporeal, immortal opponent.  One of the all too few monsters who are an idea, it both occupies the same dream world as Freddy Krueger while requiring the same agreement from its foe as Mephistopheles – and just as exploitative to boot.  But still, despite its totem significance, it’s totally alien.  That’s a compelling idea, that ancient root of evil sat waiting, quietly, timeless in some dark corner of the universe.  That it crosses ground with so many horror films is no accident.

As such, the Mara is one of those fiends that never directly talks to the Doctor.  Even through a possessed humanoid may have a chat, it’s never for very long.  The Doctor had to delve into other areas to realise the Mara’s snake form and defeat it.  One of the key influences, among many, is of course Buddhism.  It wasn’t the first time that Buddhist ideas had seeped into Who though.  A decade earlier, then producer Barry Letts had brought such ideas heavily to bear on the Third Doctor’s exit.  Similarly, that era-ending story had an alien force as blatant totem, albeit with slightly more Terran origins.  And more legs.  But the parallels with that tale are slim.  The Mara’s exploits are not only fresh and referential, but constitutes a story ark that reaches far and wide for its inspiration and lets them unravel like a very leisurely snake.

Kinda (Season 19, 1982)

Kinda is a quite mesmeric marvel of a story.  Featuring good and bad body swapping (it’s all a matter of perspective) as well as extraordinarily surreal sequences and culture clashes, it’s astonishing that at times it feels so stagey.  And that’s a good thing.  It foreshadows a number of later episodes, not least the similarly mesmeric Ghostlight in its abstract abandonment and development of characters.  Unfortunately the sacrifice for this captivating unworldiness is a rather complicated plot.  That has knocked points off for some viewers, but it was a delight for me to think well into the second part that I’ve no idea what the hell is going on.

Oddly, Kinda kicks off with a pelt.  Straight into the action, the thinly disguised British Expedition Force are going stir crazy.  Into the mix of the jungle planet, the TARDIS crew have already landed prior to us discovering them.  Perhaps it’s Nyssa’s rather extraordinary disappearance from the script (it was far too complicated to include her after an extra companion was noticed – typical Davison complaint) that adds a slight disconnect.  The jungle planet is less the root strewn messes seen in The DaleksPlanet of Evil or Planet of the Daleks than the Garden of Eden.  Of course, that analogy is writ large with the devious snake-like presence as we discover – but it does enhance a disorientating world.

While the ‘British’ colonial force is run by regulation, writing off the passive indigenous people, we learn that the natives aren’t the stone age tribe they appear.  They float around the sleeping Tegan like fairies as she sleeps in the wide-open paradise.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and Adric are frogmarched by the extraordinarily over the top scouting vehicle.  It’s absurd but it remains low-key.

Telepathy is key to the tale, as is madness and the effect of various factors on the players.  There may be the malevolent Mara, but there is also the stress and fatigue that drive Hindle to the edge, the threat and prophecy on the  elder tribe woman, the impending fate on her apprentice…  As a study in madness, it stands in Who as one of the better examples.  Then there’s Adric.  Ever strange with his bizarre collaboration and escape attempt.  If only the Doctor had given him one of Nyssa’s shot.

In the opening reversal of Genesis it’s an infected Tegan who throws an apple (of no knowledge-value whatsoever) onto the dumb male of the matriarchal Kinda tribe.  Before that it’s the classic dream cameo, complete with ancient and the inevitable Tegan versus Tegan stand-off.  That’s a rare slip into cliché (albeit, this is a couple of years before Nightmare on Elm Street), but it’s brief and proceeds to more than make up for it.  It’s intriguing that for all its Buddhist themes and opening Christian analogy, Kinda may offer some of the most referential horror motifsin Whodom.  Beyond the Biblical weight of evil, and the atavistic terror of the jungle there are the horror-staple twins who quickly entwine with Hindle’s and wonderfully unpredictable psychological horror.  Splitting the lines of mental disintegration is the Kinda box that may offer pain and pleasure indivisible to the invaders and predates Hellraiser’s Lament Configuration.  Of course it’s once again lower key, and when first opened following a cliff-hanger … a plant pops out, showing that Kinda has a sense of humour.  It also provides more than enough material to show that the Fifth Doctor likes a quote as much as his successor.  Talking of the Sixth Doctor, Kinda shows, with Peter Grimwade’s rather excellent direction that mirrors can provide an excellent denouement despite the silliness.  In all, it’s enough to put everyone involved, as well as the audience, off paradise.  Although it was rather elevated as a returning villain for the 20th season, it’s a tribute to how well received Kinda was a year previously that a sequel quickly slithered out of the traps.  

Snakedance (Season 20, 1983)

Snakedance is, if anything a little slower than its prequel.  That’s noticeable from its beginning where Tegan simply sleeps into the story.  Fortunately though, there’s no dream cameo here.  The Doctor’s far quicker off the bat this time, so much so you wonder if he should make promises as rash as the one he makes at the end.

That said, Snakedance is Aliens to Kinda’s Aliens in terms of its galactic reach and design.

The inhabitants of the planet the TARDIS crew are ominously led to, although meshed in history and the meshing of civilisations, is full of residents far more on a kilter than the savages and expeditionary force seen in Kinda.  Despite that, superstitions remain and they are soon brought to the fore – but not as quickly as the Doctor would like.  It all forms a net that the plot can meander around, full of mind-control and possession.  Snakedance’s unreality is tied up and around an alien bazaar sat in front of an ancient monument.  The set design is rather impressive and, yes I’m going to say it, rather New Series.

Again, it’s the little touches that disconcert.  The Federation is actually a monarchy.  Small acts of sleight of hand are noticed by the villains, when they never would be in other serials.  The Doctor, usually a commanding Time Lord is useless against the resistance of superstition – locked up when he isn’t believed.  There’s a re-enactment where the Play may very well be the Thing.  Similar to the Kinda tribe advanced knowledge of the double-helix, here there is advanced molecular engineering…  There’s also the random Punch and Judy and the constant repetition as the Doctor says, that dreams occur frequently during the day….  So the familiar, but mixed with the inevitable.  We know that the Mara exists at the background of thoughts, but in Snakedance much of the running time is spent watching people celebrate its defeat like a relic, and knowing that the Mara is using this processional facade.

Together Snakedance and Kinda the two have a loose political devolution.  Here, in place of an alien jungle with pith helmeted explorers riding the futuristic equivalent of elephants, there is a fundamental monarchy and the equivalent of a Prince Regent.  Snakedance is another rather low key affair where its mind control strands wind confusingly between the stalls of the alien bazaar.  It’s not only the design that’s very New Who but also its denouement.  The Doctor, surrounded by a crowd, seizing victory against all odds with some spiritual and mystical help before reassuring his companion…  Janet Fielding gets even more to do here than in Kinda thanks to prolonged possession.  It’s rather strange to see her accompanied at times by the one companion who slept through the last Mara adventure, but for long periods the groups are entirely separate.  Fielding get’s to chew the scenery of hidden rock rooms and let her eyes glow at cliff-hangers.  In Snakedance the companion makes a far more concerted stab at being villain.  Yes, we’ve had hypnotised assassins and we’d have blackmailed assassins… But here there’s the real risk Tegan may be lost.  It’s the power of the continuing sequel and its random nature. Can Tegan ever be free…

Still, it’s a snake that can bide its time.  Rather than take control of Ambril, it taunts and teases.

Classic Doctor Who hardly shied away from imperilling its companions, in fact it thrived on it, but here was something else.  True malevolence that could infiltrate the TARDIS and people en masse using that companion.  It’s funny that it’s Tegan.  Disgruntled and as miserable as the Third Doctor, here the reluctant companion has to confront her own vulnerability within the space that she has found itself in ever since taking that wrong turn on a motorway.  Companions would take on a new role under Davison, one rather sadly lost in the Sixth Doctor era.  It wouldn’t be until Ace that one would really start to show what they could do, and foreshadow the New Series just before the axe fell in Perivale.  After all, the Fifth was slowly whittling the TARDIS crew down when at the time the companion was still there to be saved, not to save the Doctor.

TIMEY-WIMEY:  Read on for the Sixth Doctor’s tussle with reputation in Whovember #6!

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