Doctor Who: The Master in the 2000s – “No beard this time… well, a wife”

Master The Master John Simm

When it came to the 21st century, we should have known we were in for a helluva ride. Far removed from the tin-pot schemes of the 1980s and the side-notes of the previous decade, the time of the Master was upon us. Having escaped the Time War by the skin of his overstretched regenerations, even the Master couldn’t have guessed how big he was going to get. A select journey from homicidal Prime Ministers to paradox machines…

The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords (Series 3, 2007)

IF COINCIDENCE HAS A FIELD DAY ANYWHERE, IT’S IN THE VAST AND CONTRADICTORY EXPANSE OF THE TIME VORTEX. And so the third series of the refreshed, renewed and lightly rebooted Doctor Who found at the end of time and the last stand of humanity when a chance encounter with an old but doddery genius, a forgetful but kind, old professor left the TARDIS crew stranded and the Doctor, in the best and worst way, not the last of his race.

Hindsight of subsequent six series can’t dull the freshness of Russell T Davies gratuitous dystopian trick in the antepenultimate episode of Series 3, just about kicking off the show’s first three-parter since 1989. In 2005’s first series, Davies had returned the Daleks to the small screen, navigating the intricacies of the Terry Nation estate to bring some Pepper-Pot classics back to the show. In the second year came the not so imperious return of the Cybermen, this time opting for a parallel universe origin tale. Following hotly behind the unexpected Macra cameo in Series 3’s Gridlock, the Master was the next obvious candidate to make a return, and so completing a set of classic villains and monsters, who’d rocked up in the New Series in the same order as they had during the 1960s and 1970s. The Master was a big scalp of course, as the production team had as much fun hinting about his return as fanboys had speculating. Take the guest starring appearance of Anthony Head in Series 2’s School Reunion, carefully flashing up in the series trailer next to partially obscured sign “…Master”. Of course, he was the “… Headmaster”, and despite enjoying the Western stand-off he had with the Doctor, fans retreated to their lairs waiting for the inevitable. And so it came. The first new Time Lord in a world very much built around the idea that the Doctor was alone, the last of his kind.

Was that really six series ago?

Straight to the Point

“Oh, a nice little game of hide and seek, I love that”

Following the events of Utopia, surprisingly resilient tension-filled momentum that remains unbeaten in the show, the resulting two-part finale has no intention of hanging about. There’s a fresh Master, force regenerated to match a bounding incarnation of the Doctor (and no doubt taking advantage of a fresh regeneration cycle bestowed on him by the Time Lords before cowardice took over), hijacking the Doctor’s TARDIS and heading into the unknown of space and time. Fortunately, with the traditional vortex effect, Captain Jack’s old vortex manipulator, which would stay with the show for some time to come, hurls the Doctor, Jack and Martha into our present day to set about discovering what became of the rogue Time Lord.

Absolute Power

“The Master is Prime Minister of Great Britain”

The Master, stable and secure as a majority-backed, popular and time-rich Prime Minister is a great conceit. Not only does it let Russell T Davies turn his scripts back to pointed politicism but also saves the usual skulduggerous slow reveal of the Master’s plot that had on more than one occasion reduced him to pantomime. It also gives us a glimpse of the Master at full power, a considerable challenge for the Doctor to overcome but also height of great distance for a defeated Master to fall. The Master had never been so outlandish and sadistic. And that’s saying something. Although there is more in common with his original suave, indifferent, amoral and confident appearance in a sequel four decades before than had been seen for years, what would unravel from these heightened stakes is true marmite for Whovians.

We are allowed plenty of time to watch this incarnation in action, from teasing and murdering at will to sending very specific messages to the Doctor and crucially, his companions. John Simm’s incarnation may be a little strained, just as the Tennant version of the Doctor was, but in many ways is also picks up traits from the Ainley incarnation who’d happily sneer at the lesser mortals. Far removed from the 1980s however, he’s dispensed with his faux-suave nature as he’s rediscovered his taste for large-scale plots (it helps to have real taste buds back) and finally, an appreciation of companions. Both the Doctors and of his own. Of course, the taste for larger scale plotting had really returned during the 1996 TV Movie, along with the wet shave. But who would have put any space currency on both remaining with him after meeting the Eye of Harmony.

After the future Earth smashing of the Series One finale and the monster mash-up, London bash-up of Series Two, the third series needed to be as large as this international, universe threatening romp and he was the Time Lord for the job.

Filling the TARDIS

“Mr Saxon does like a pretty face”

Perhaps the strangest change for this Master is, much to multiple Doctor’s amusement in the succeeding short Time Crash, is… His wife. The rather strange first lady of Britain is later revealed to be very much The Master’s companion – the first time we’ve seen him adopt one as the Doctor might. Aside from broadening the drama, it’s hard not to see this as a reflection of the fact that a partner-less leader is simply not electable in this day and age, psychic boost or not.

Despite having the time to manipulate events at source, the Master’s Harold Saxon’s has invented his past to gain the top job as the effective cameo from Nichola McAuliffe’s journalist highlights. And best of all, the real icing on the cake: his rise to power was possible thanks to the power void left by the actions of a very angry Tenth Doctor, dispatching Prime Minister Harriet Jones at the end of The Runaway Bride. Yes, this is a plot well laid. And while Utopia was a novelty, a fairy-tale glimpse into what could have been with a kindly and skilled, ‘better’ version of the Edwardian Doctor, it’s clear that these last two sons of Gallifrey, the Doctor and the Master, are fully entwined. Read more…

Back to the Future – When the Future Zoomed Past

Back to the Future Day

It’s already two weeks since Back to the Future went the way of so many science fiction prophecies tied to a set date in the future… We sailed past it. The baffling exposure Back to the Future Day achieved makes Judgment Day’s continued slide in the Terminator franchise look like an act of mercy. At least there’s still a dystopia waiting, while those ‘proper’ hover boards are nowhere in sight. Jokerside takes a look at that definitive series…

“Marty, you’re not thinking four dimensionally”

THERE ARE MANY REASONS FOR BACK TO THE FUTURE’S SUCCESS. THERE’S THE CONFIDENT ORIGINAL THAT MARRIED A GREAT AND HIGHLY QUOTABLE SET OF SPARKLING SCRIPTS WITH SOME OF HOLLYWOOD’S BRIGHTEST AND BEST. There’s the bold film-making that enabled the second and third instalments to be produced back-to-back bringing and brought an unprecedented approach to continuity. There’s Huey Lewis and the News. But perhaps most importantly, there’s the genuinely amusing, good natured and cartoonish fun of it all. And that’s powered by superb comedic performances, particularly from one of the finest physical comedians Hollywood has every produced in the central role of Marty McFly.

Still, it’s remarkable that a trilogy that fell short of $1billion takings, inflation unadjusted, inspired such strong devotion from the youth of the 1980s come 21st October 2015. As every social network reminded us, that was Back to the Future Day.

That’s when in the ancient year of 1989, we first saw the DeLorean arrive in the skies of 2015 and exactly how the 21st century would pan out. Almost. It was the furthest point forward in the trilogy’s springed jump of 30 years that had started in 1985 and already taken us back to 1955 before an extra boost of energy carried us back 100 years to 1885 at the finale.

Back to the Past

“I finally invent something that works!”

It’s always fascinating to watch the original Back to the Future’s opening. In a film of remarkably well directed, with exquisitely framed shots from Robert Zemeckis, it’s a masterclass. So many story points are laid down in that pan through Doc Brown’s studio – from the central conceit of time carried bluntly through the many clocks on the wall, past the subtle foreshadowing of the press cuttings of the Brown mansion and fortune, to the box marked plutonium stashed on the floor. Before Marty’s legs and skateboard appear at the door, before the punchline of the overcharged amp and we see Marty McFly’s face or heard the Doc’s voice, we’ve seen so much of what’s in store. The tone is perfectly set and we know this is going to be a hell of a ride – starting with the Huey Lewis powered skate dash to Marty’s school.

In the film that unravels there are countless mysteries and half suggestions of something more. The recurring importance of Wednesdays, the guns that jam on several occasions… Those may suggest a pre-ordained edge to the paradoxes that unfold, seemingly hermetically sealed in the franchise and often in the brilliant visual conceit of photographs. In the first instance, it’s certainly a jammed gun that sets off the three films chain of events.

It’s crucial that those films follow the cause and effect set by that chain of events. Unfortunately the only link that doesn’t quite make the grade falls at the close of the first film, the one that takes us to Back to the Future day. Not only does the spiral of despair waiting to kick-start for the McFly family on that day not quite cut the grade for pulling Marty (and his girlfriend) Jennifer into the future, it doesn’t quite fit that the time-conscious Doc would to take such desperate measures to deflect the future. Especially, as the films spend a considerable amount of time drawing out the personalities, including Marty’s mysterious uncle “Jailbird” Joey Baines, it seems to be wilful distortion of nature. By dint of happening in the future, any of those events could be remedied in the present. That points spelled out by surely the most serious, when Marty dodges his ‘chicken accident’ in the final act of the trilogy. And once that change had been made, it probably reset the future chain of events in the first place. Read more…

Doctor Who Series 9: A Change of Bootstraps

Doctor Who Series 9 Under the Lake and Before the Flood
“Well on the plus side, at least he doesn’t need those sonic sunglasses any more…”

The second of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine, it’s time to take on the waters of time with Under the Lake and Before the Flood. Headache inducing, but reassuringly unexhaustive in this timeline.

“There’s nothing more ironic than an unfinished requiem”

AFTER THE LEGACY-SERVING ROMP OF STEVEN MOFFAT’S TWO-PART DALEK PREMIERE THE RELIABLE HANDS OF TOBY WHITHOUSE BROUGHT US A CLASSIC STORY THAT MANAGED TO MARRY CLAUSTROPHOBIA WITH THE EXPANSE OF TIME. It was almost a story of two parts, but not quite. Below the Lake and Before the Flood were linked by an internal logic in almost as distinctive in New Who as the episodes’ striking locations. Depending on how you looked at it, Before the Flood could be set in the past with flash-forwards or the other way round. But while cause and effect was at the forefront of the episode, and crucial to the resolution, the mystery of the first part was only pushed a little further back rather than pushed out he way.

As is always the risk, the least surprising part of this story was that things weren’t quite what they seemed. But how could it be when the Doctor had been so certain that he was dealing with ghosts? His previous younger and more excitable selves hadn’t been blown away in Army of Ghosts or Hide.

It was a jam packed story. The Jörmungandr Norse mural was writing on the wall in its true sense. A portent as the affectionately Star Trek uniformed characters set sea against a storm of a big dragon like, red faced monster. Norse mythology will continue its running theme throughout this series next week… And while there were franchise scrambling references to Star Wars as well as Star Trek on the way, the real paradox was classical and physical.

Yes, In this case the bootstraps were pulled from the feet of the Doctor, Clara, us, and poor old Ludwig Van Beethoven. We weren’t expecting that at the end of Under the Lake. Nor maybe a talking to…

Physics lesson

Of course those bootstraps belong to a paradox, as we were immediately informed in the second part’s opening lecture… I suppose it started with Listen. The Doctor popping up ambiguously address the audience directly, like good old Bob Ballard showing up at the end of an episode of SeaQuest DSV. If only Tom Baker had thought of that instead of a talking cabbage for a companion in the mid-1970s. Then again, while it’s effective it’s a horrible short-cut of an expository plot device that can’t help undermine what’s otherwise a clever little story. We may not have to worry about over indulgent catchphrases at the moment, but that will hopefully be kept on a short leash. Or we’ll find that all this time there’s been someone else aboard the TARDIS…

The collective noun for paradoxes

Familiar to Doctor Who fans…

So what was the Doctor explaining? One among a number of different posited temporal paradoxes. A familiar one is the grandfather paradox, postulated by writer Nathaniel Schachner in Ancestral Voices in 1933. There the easy logic is that a time traveller cannot venture back in time and kill his grandfather at a point before the time traveller’s existence is guaranteed. To do so would eliminate the possibility of the time traveller existing in the first place, so would eliminate his actions in the past… Only to ensure the grandfather existed so the time traveller could in fact attempt it. And so that spirals on. It can’t help but appear a rather banally biological and very human approach to temporal physics.  It also conjures up other issues. Even if the time traveller attempted the same after his bloodline was secure, he wouldn’t be able to alter anything that would prevent his travelling back in the future. For instance a badly injured grandfather with years of in-built aggression against a homicidal grandson – or one who withdraws his science funding. All grandfathers should be prepared to do that. See Ray Bradbury’s marvellous Sound of Thunder for an alteration that leaves a time traveller acutely aware of the horrifically minor changes resulting from his mistakes in the past. Read more…

Terminator: Twisted Timelines and the Horror Within! 2007 – 2032 (and beyond…)

Terminator twisting time lines

The final part of a Terminator retrospective that mixes its twisting timeline with some of the horror roots behind each instalment. Jokerside’s looked back at 1964 to 2004, but now the twist gets harder, from The Sarah Connor Chronicles to Terminator Genisys. Spoilers abound…

THE CHANCES OF THE TERMINATOR FRANCHISE REGAINING THE CRITICAL APPRECIATION OF ITS EARLY DAYS ARE AS REMOTE AS SKYNET AGREEING A TRUCE WITH HUMANITY’S LAST UNDERGROUND CITY OF ZION. Still, The Terminator remains intriguing; relatively distinct from and self-assured compared to young pretenders like The Matrix. After years in the ether, the Terminator film rights are due to revert to T-Master James Cameron in 2019. But amid terrible marketing, reviews and release, the latest attempt to reboot, a film superior to its immediate two predecessors in many ways, has somehow managed to gross over $400 million at the international box office. Impressive work, showing that there’s still fuel left in the endoskeleton. Arnie wasn’t lying about T-800s lasting 120 years.

Against expectation, The Sarah Connor Chronicles appeared late last decade and wowed a small but influential audience. As it’s the most consistent and longest running Terminator story it makes the cut here, in a franchise that happily rides roughshod over previous instalments. And following the seminal first two parts, and the major time split caused by Judgment Day’s arrival in the third film, that’s where this glance at the horror of The Terminator series begins…

Terminator Time lines Clock

2007 – 2008 (via 1999) – Key series: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Released 2008 – 2009)

Where we are: Sarah and John Connor emerge on a freeway in San Francisco, swapping 1999 for 2008 with their guardian Terminator Cameron (not as beardy as the franchise creator who gifted her name). Judgement Day has been deferred, but as much as the Connors have bought some time with their disappearance, resistance and Skynet forces are growing in a past increasingly forming a temporal civil war. Sarah and John set about stopping the armageddon once and for all, leaping twists and turns as they go.

“Come with me if you want to live”: Several times, courtesy of the delightful and mysterious new Terminator model – the T-900 series Cameron.

Skynet mechanism: Military. Via AI, chess machines and temporal sabotage. Or is it?

Horror: Psychological / And Then There Were None

“The future’s ours and it begins now.”

Splitting the timeline, and deliberately ignoring the events of Terminator 3 (the clue’s in the title), the two short seasons of The Sarah Connor Chronicles may be Terminator’s finest hour(s).

“Great, it looks like a robot serial killer lives here”

Where to start. Praising The Sarah Connor Chronicles could take volumes, and perhaps it will take over Jokerside one day… But let’s get it over with succinctly here. For all the trauma of the material, fan expectation and behind the scenes machination, possibly no other series has carved an original and captivating narrative from a simple pitch, while retaining the essence and maintaining the sanctity of two seminal blockbuster films. No, not even Timecop. But, there are inherent problems with taking that one line pitch from the first film and fixing it to an ongoing narrative.

Read more…

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