Doctor Who: Multiplicity – “He can wear whatever face he likes!” (Whovember #2)

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A glorious end to the classic Whovember viewings as the anniversary hat is put on for a selection of six stories.  Multi-Doctor stories are woven into the fabric of the show and when it comes to Doctors plural, there’s one common link – the Time Lord who made regeneration possible – the Second Doctor. 

#2: Six Multi-Doctor Specials… The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors (with special cameos by Dimensions in Time, The Light at the End and The Day of the Doctor.

UNTIL SOME LATER FELLOWS CAME ALONG, THIS YEAR’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY WAS ALL ABOUT THE SECOND DOCTOR.  The timely rediscovery of missing episodes put him firmly at the centre of the build-up – And why not?  He’s the man who made it possible, who introduced the Time Lords, who banished straightforward historical romps, who meant that there could be undeniably, more than one Doctor.

Beyond the “before history” of the First Doctor, he’s the Doctor who gave us the first real continuity conundrum, with the potential of a missing season dreamt up based on countless paradoxical references and continuity blips.  As the only iteration to bring his mop top to every multi-Doctor story so far he’s had had plenty of chances.

It was an accident at first of course, that tradition of the multi-Doctor story.  The Three Doctors may have started the tenth season of the show, but it was broadcast almost a year before the tin anniversary itself.  It was dreamt up as more of an attempt to out-do Day of the Daleks, the season opener a year before.  Somehow though, it set a trend that would see multi-Doctor tales and anniversary years intertwine.

The Three Doctors (Season 10, 1972/1973)

The Three Doctors was certainly one way to start a season with a bang.  An episodic serial sat within the tenth season, it’s been described as a pantomime and for all intents and purposes, yes it is.  From the bright colours, squabbling, humour and shouty pantomime dame, sorry, Omega.

Perversely, it set a number of odd patterns within multi-Doctor stories.  In barely any do viewers get the number of Doctors that they were expecting.  Here it’s far more the Two Doctors than The Three Doctors.  Due to William Hartnell’s ill health he appears briefly but memorably and only ever on a video screen having been trapped in a time eddy in the adventure.

These The Three Doctors are not only the three originals, but also the most bickering of the Doctors incarnations.  We never see that level of inter-Doctor rivalry between any other Doctors, although each of them display their various levels of disdain and dismissal.  It almost necessitated a splintering of the original three, something that would become a tradition in its own right from The Five Doctors all the way along to Big Finish’s 50th anniversary adventure The Light at the End.

Another curious tradition is the reverence the First Doctor carries from his successors.  They may grumble, but he borders on having a greater knowledge or certainly rationale than his older versions. Certainly his problem solving is carried off with great authority.  Perhaps this is a primacy rule in Time Lord society, perhaps because the First Doctor had the longest life…

It’s not made clear that previous Doctor’s forget this story, although that idea would be loosely suggested later – with the exception of the Doctor seemingly on a concurrent time stream (the latest – Fifth in The Five Doctors, Sixth in The Two Doctors and 11th in Day of the Doctor).

The Time Lords presented here are certainly an extension of those seen earlier, but not totally at odds to the over-bureaucratic race of prudes that Robert Holmes would create in The Deadly Assassin. Predating Day of the Doctor, it’s not the High Council of Time Lords that dictate play here.  Instead they’re floundering amid their strict, un-bending roles and it takes a maverick hope to get them out of a total black out.

In the story itself, the Doctor is chucked into it before the Time Lords triple his efficacy – the old coincidence meets message to the Time Lords.  While the First Doctor is picked up in some form of time capsule, the Second Doctor rather interestingly fades into the Third Doctor’s TARDIS (“I’m just a temporal anomaly).  Presumably this appearance and the capsule are equivocal with a TARDIS dematerialisation but it’s not a trick that’s seen again.  Similarly, the “Connection” head-shaking method the Doctors use for rapid telepathic conflab is never seen again – although it does have a successor in the Eleventh Doctor’s method of quick information discharge.  The method of the Second Doctor’s arrival also precludes companions, although that’s something that UNIT personnel can more than make up for.

Of course, the scale of the adventure had to be huge and warranted a huge rule to break: The First Law of Time.  That’s the rule that forbids a Time Lord from meeting his earlier self.  Of course while I say Time Lord, it’s a rule imparted by the Time Lords that applies to anything and anyone, for the very good of the universe.  It’s not linked to generations, but any temporal difference.  Robert Holmes would have some fun dismissing Doctor meets over a decade later with a casual “it’s inevitable”.  It is strange that one exact season on from Day of the Daleks the far more devastating Blinovitch Limitation Effect is over-written by a law that sounds far more legal than physical.

Special mention must also go to Omega himself.  It’s only fitting.  In a world of rather weary and staid Time Lords, he’s a breath of fresh air – just look at the poor beardy-Lord in need of a good regeneration at the control panel on Gallifrey.  The wannabe tyrant’s costume isn’t quite explained away, but leads to a neat and rather off-structure reveal.  Omega clearly is far heavier in the Time Lord mental stakes than the Doctor(s). Madness is only to be expected and his random scenery stomping shouts of “What is this!?” is later matched by the Ali Baba Rassilon of The Five Doctors.  Those Ancient Gallifreyans certainly had far more fun.

Omega has a prescience that’s rather necessary for the plot.  While he may well have developed a way to observe the Time Lords in the millennia following his disappearance, he seems all to conscious of the fact that he’s become a bit of a legend.  Perhaps most perplexing is his quick comprehension of regeneration and crucially, the First Law of Time.  It’s quite possible that regeneration and the Rassilon Imprimatur was developed concurrently with Omega’s stealer engineering, but had the Time Lords developed the Laws of Time prior to gaining time travel?  That sits uneasily with other tales, including The Five Doctors. You may have thought that alongside having a great deal of fun and spoiling Minyans, the Ancient Time Lords made quite a few mistakes first.

The Three Doctors bring big concepts that befit such an adventure.  The brilliantly bizarre transportation of UNIT HQ after the strange invasion sits alongside the subtler set-pieces like the Brigadier’s long overdue arrival in the TARDIS.  But then there’s the story itself.  Full of black-plot-holes it may be, but the concept of travel beyond the event horizon, relativity, faster than light-speed travel and anti-matter matched with a core-concept denouement make for strong sci-fi stuff.

It’s impressive that what could easily become another Frankenstein homage is left alone.  Omega’s in much more of a mood for laying out his victory feast than creating creatures he can have a chat with.  Jelly’s rather crucial here.  It’s not only the personification, rather oddly, of antimatter – but at one point the Second Doctor offers round a jelly baby!  He really was a trend-setter.

By the end, two brilliant things have happened.  The villain’s been defeated by his own hubris and the Brigadier’s gone almost the whole adventure thinking that the Doctor simply changed his face to a previous model.

A pelting little homage to 10 years, there’s even a bit of time for dream-scape Venusian Akido, and you can’t say fairer than that. (though quite what the Second Doctor was doing during that section is anybody’s guess…)  And when it comes to creating a super-deranged Time Lord villain in the show’s tenth year, omega’s not a bad stab at it.  A villain of pure will, a Time Lord myth not involving vampires – it’s just a shame that Omega never quite reached his potential.  Although there’s always the new series…

The Five Doctors (Special, 1983)

One of my first DVD purchases, how over-used that clip from The Dalek Invasion of Earth looks now… But still, it is very good.  Similar to its use on the recent An Adventure in Time and Space though, I can see the token reference but it does slightly diminish the other actor(s) playing The First Doctor.

The Five Doctors had a rather tortured production with Robert Holmes’ initial The Six Doctors script eventually getting the better of him.  Some of those ideas would be picked up in his script for The Two Doctors a few years later, but in 1983 it was left to the inimitable Terrance Dicks to step into the breach.  Casting ‘issues’ further tortured the production – with one Doctor deceased and one declined, the team were back in The Three Doctors territory.  With the First Doctor recast (rather well), further companion shuffles mean that the Second Doctor is once again rather hard done-by in terms of assistance, although he at least gets some banter with the Brigadier.

The canon part?  Well, when are these Doctor’s from?  The Second Doctor is clearly doing slightly more than bending the First Law of Time when he visits a Brigadier clearly established to be in the Fifth Doctor’s time stream a few stories earlier.

Much has been made of the Third Doctor having some apparent pre-cognition of his future beyond his regeneration.  While some theories about regenerative memories are confusing (This is a post-regeneration Third Doctor!?) it’s far more likely that… Sarah’s hand signals are enough to prompt him.  That in itself is astonishing considering that she survived that terrible cliff fall…  The Third Doctor is wonderfully casual about his next self (surely two iterations who wouldn’t have got on).  But if he’s not a post-regenerative version (as Day of the Doctor’s Great Curator may very well be), when are these Doctors from?  They look far older than when they regenerated (pick, pick, pick – it’s the time differential you know…).  In the case of the Second Doctor, we know that there’s an adventure involving The Terrible Zodin taking place in the Brigadier’s future, likely with multiple Doctors and that’s significant – She must be the premier never seen Who villain… But maybe there are further clues to that in the Second Doctor’s next appearance…

With no Omega (he’d popped up a few stories before) it’s left to a rather sad reversal of a known character.  The idea of regeneration lying behind Borusa’s devilish turn is an interesting one, although must make for a very paranoid society (“You never know what you’re gonna get!”).  Perhaps it’s more likely in a Time Lord like Borusa, who speeds through his regenerations like fish fingers dissolving in custard (that would happen)..

Having established a new Time Lord elite just the season before, it seems a bit wasteful to squander it all.  It wouldn’t be corrected either.  When the Time Lords next returned they’d be anonymous jurors…

Another tradition is continued in this Time Lord biopic.  It’s implicit that the Death Zone was active when after the Time Lord’s mastery of time travel.  They were certainly a nasty bunch at the beginning of that, despite their care in establishing Laws… And re-establishes that the Doctor/ Time Lord’s involvement with Cybermen massively predates that of the Daleks.  Still, the Game of Rassilon (Rassy himself, settling into being a nicely ambiguous figure in Gallifreyan-lore) is a simple device to get as many companions, Doctors and monsters together as possible.

Perhaps the worst miss?  The light greeting Susan receives from the Fifth Doctor is pretty much all the acknowledgement she gets from the other Doctors!  While recognising the Dark Tower is the most overtly Time Lord (or Gallifreyan) thing she’s ever done the Doctor’s granddaughter soon settles into the role of simpering companion.  Perhaps she’s used up all her regenerative juices and there’s just none left for her ankle…

With the demands of such an endeavour and the problems that it encountered during its production, it’s rather unsurprisingly that the end result is a bit of a bloody shambles.  In many ways, it’s pretty damned awful actually.  Compared with some of the finer moments of Who – recent and soon to happen plots included – it’s frothy, plot-holed nonsense, far ropier than The Three Doctors.  But then again, it’s The Five Doctors and it’s a feature-length 20th anniversary special.  And for that reason it’s fantastic.  But the flip-side of that celebration is that such acceptance forces awkward inconsistencies into Doctor Who canon.  I won’t touch on the fact that it premiered in the United States first…

The Two Doctors (Season 22, 1985)

At last a multi-Doctor story where the Time Lords don’t appear.  Or do they?  They may just be a little more ominous about their absence than the story suggests (Holmes would pull of a similarly effective trick with Ravalox in The Trial of a Time Lord the following season all you The Deadly Assassin haters…)

For once we do get the right number of Doctors – not a Doctor more, not a Doctor less.  Not that it isn’t left until the final part for them to meet…

The broadcast structure at the time hides the fact that this is Colin Baker’s only six-part story.  While much of it is padding, it’s effective – particularly the stomping around the future space station.  While his creations, the Sontarans, may have been forced on writer Robert Holmes, he still manages to rinse out some lovely science fiction and time related points, some picked up from his aborted Six Doctors script.

In fact, in many ways, The Two Doctors feels like the jumping off point for the Virgin New Adventures and Missing Adventures ranges.

Even with the casual dismissal of the First Law of Time and similarly sketchy disposal of temporal displacement, the Second Doctor’s appearance here is one of his most interesting.  What a wonderful thing that Patrick Troughton enjoyed The Five Doctors so much that he volunteered to come back.  While his character does look noticeably greyer than he did in The Five Doctors, a timing for the adventure is almost given.  The TARDIS crew have dropped Victoria off, so in season terms it would clearly takes place during the first portion of Season Five.

The horribly confusing element comes from the fact that the Doctor has been dispatched, with companion no less, on a mission for the Time Lords. It’s this total contradiction of the The War Games that led to speculation that there was a Season 6b – a suggestion now taken to be as near as possible to canon. Of course, this builds on his presence in front of Time Lords in both The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors (The First Doctor too). It also helps explain – or doesn’t at all if you think about it – how the Second Doctor knows that Jamie’s memories were wiped when the Dark Tower tried to deceive him in The Five Doctors.  There’s also the small fact that the Second Doctor’s TARDIS looks a lot different in this adventure.  (There’s one of the oddest things – that the adventure starts off with the Second Doctor in flight, in black and white – not the greatest reflection on the Sixth Doctor).  As a recruit of the Time Lord’s Celestial Intervention Agency, it seems a fair enough explanation for the Second Doctor getting his hands on a Stattenheim remote control device that the Sixth Doctor can’t remember.

Surely the only feasible explanation is that following the War Games (or just before the end), the Second Doctor and Jamie are used as agents by the Time Lords, during which they pick up Victoria again and all the Second Doctor’s multi-Doctor stories take place.  Phew.  Presumably they knew that a sentence would be carried out at the end of this, but were happy to become agents anyway.

It does raise a few neat points – that, while part of the civil service establishment, the first Doctor undertook various diplomatic missions for the Time Lords.  There can’t have been that many.  And it’s not worth considering how that Gallifreyan timeline fits in with these advanced non-humans of the third Zone.  While it’s imperative that little is revealed about the Doctor, Holmes continues to build up Time Lord civilisation– this time bringing the Rassilon imprimatur and murky levels of observation and control to temporal intrigue.  It wouldn’t be a multi-Doctor story, nor an anniversary nod, without a little addition to the myths of Rassilon, Omega and the Ancient Gallifreyans.  As usual, and as would be picked up in his next and final script for the series, there are few Who writers who can dig out such dark aspects from the Time Lords.

Sure, the Jamie as marooned and feral beast plot may be overlooked, but Holmes doesn’t overcook it.  It makes for a mean and neat line running through the piece, accompanied by the staple computer versus intruders and simulated deaths.  The Androgums are a wonderfully sketched primitive species, mainly down to casting, but Shockeye also highlights some of the series’ faults.  The death of Oscar is all very well and Hamlet, but it’s also shockingly violent.  Unfortunately, Holmes and Saward’s agenda just fed the show’s critics.

On the whole, the Two Doctors is considered favourably in the Sixth Doctor’s short run.  It’s a solid and fascinating story, even if it could have made an easy four-parter and the Seville filming is rather unnecessary.  It’s a shame that the Doctors don’t see more of each other, but that allows for companion swapping and an easy sense of menace.  No fading out of existence here, it’s all down to Colin Baker’s performance.   And when the Doctors do meet it’s a bit of a delight.  Few Doctors lend themselves to mangling tenses and pronouns like the Sixth Doctor and in that initial “snap” meeting – just catch the quick glance that the Second Doctor flashes over his successor’s coat.  Patrick Troughton, a delight as ever.  In fact we’re rather lucky to have The Two Doctors at all – and at least it claimed a prize figure when Holmes, rarely, adapted it to be the 100th TARGET novelisation.

Dimensions in Time (Special, 1993)

Special or, maybe, travesty.  But, there is a lot to forgive in John Nathan Tuner’s only Doctor Who script.  Sadly, one of those is not the plasticine heads used to cover the passing of Messrs Hartnell and Troughton.  The most explicable thing is the time hole that the Rani traps the first two iterations in… But best not look at that logic too carefully.  The canon of Eastenders and Doctor Who co-existing in the same universes has been subsequently ruined by the fact that many on the Square watch Doctor Who on Christmas day.  That’s a shame – because surely the Doctor’s one of the few people who could deduce what Mitchells and Brannings watch on Christmas Day when Eastenders is on…

The Light at the End (Big Finish 50th Anniversary Special, 2013)

Big Finish’s 50th stab actually brought all the Doctors (up to their last, the Eighth) together.  As such, the polished and finely produced production extolled the best and the worst of Big Finish’s take on the Time Lord, particularly since the series returned to television.  A combination of fiction-physics and time rams, hyped far beyond the classic television series’ remit, it’s not really the most inclusive tale.  The first three Doctors are present and correct and in a surprisingly effective homage to The Three Doctors, they’re kept rather at arm’s length, boxed up and packed off to bicker and squabble between themselves.  It’s not surprising that it’s the range’s flagship Doctors Four and Eight are thrown together in the first instance, but they certainly don’t get straight down to insults, even when Five, Seven and – particularly Six – turn up.  Lovely stuff, but we had to leave a simpler take on The Five Doctors to Peter Davison and the BBC Red button after the 50th anniversary’s main event…

The Day of the Doctor (Special, 2013)

Alas, the Second Doctors only appearance in this year’s biggest special is near the end, from stock footage… But what a scene, what a ‘Moment’.  All 13 Doctors working together, wilfully allowed to dodge the Time Locked fate of Gallifrey, breaking every possible Law of time and setting their final self (until The Time of the Doctor) and his successors a pleasing  conundrum.  Day more than ever gets to grips with two inherent puzzles around multiple-Doctor stories.  It is the past Doctors who have no or muddled memory of multi-Doctor stories, while the current time stream Doctor (latest – although Capaldi’s interference muddles it slightly, who’s complaining!) retains (records) the memory.  In Day it’s more interesting as the guilt we’ve seen the Doctor carry since the Time War (John Hurt’s War Doctor clearly regenerating into Christopher Eccleston’s) was simply assumed.  He remembered the moment, but had no idea that he’d chosen not to – there’s no suggestion that Day is writing a reversal of that original decision.  It’s takes slightly too much assumption on the side of the audience, but then that’s a Moffat standard.

The appearance of the Great Curator at the end must sit squarely with the infamous Morbius flashbacks – wonderful fan fodder.  There’s every suggestion that it’s a future Doctor, although I find the idea of a alternate Fourth slightly more engrossing – that a personality could retire, rather than a far distant Doctor who’d returned to an “old favourite”.  As Russell T Davies may say, that’s he’s the 508th Doctor…

And so the Second Doctor is even further removed from the current – although, thankful for small mercies, his cameo is much better than The Five Doctors grab seen in The Name of the Doctor.

As time spirals on and over 50 years and the Doctors suddenly reach 14… There’s little chance that the Second Doctor’s future appearances will be more than those brief cameos.  So much hope must lie with the quest to rediscover his missing serials.  Still, with so many classic adventures lost and following his near-takeover of the 50th anniversary with The Web of Fear, there’s certainly life left in the Cosmic Hobo yet.  He always carried more hope than most.

TIMEY-WIMEY:  Read on for the Third Doctor’s era-ending tangle with the Daleks in Whovember #3!

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Doctor Who: Ace – “…I always leave these things to the last moment” (Whovember #7)

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The 50th birthday watch reaches a sad end… Or is it a beginning? After 26 continuous years, the Seventh Doctor may have seen the classic series off, but he did it with style. In fact,  those last few serials brought the focus back to the Doctor’s companion, and in doing so it laid noticeable roots for a later regeneration… “The end – but the moment has been prepared for” indeed.

#7: The Ace Trilogy: Ghostlight, The Curse of Fenric and Survival

“SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST”. IT’S ONE OF THE BETTER THINGS TO DRAW FROM THOSE, THE LAST DARK DAYS OF DOCTOR WHO. The three final stories of the classic series, forming a loose ark around companion Ace, are preoccupied with that key Darwinian thought. That the last of the serials is Survival is only part of the irony.  It’s far more satisfactory than the theme of entropy that accompanied latter Tom Baker stories simply for being more positive. But of course, while that prophecy of entropy in the early 80s took a few years to come true, the Darwinian rule that came at the end of the 1980s was proved wrong immediately.

Ghostlight (Season 26, 1989)

While it was Survival that ended the run via a hastily recorded voice over, it was Ghostlight that was last to be filmed. A fitting end, with Darwinian Theory part of the plot and not just an analogy, it delved into some of the show’s darkest corners.

Writer Marc Platt lays on classic tropes thick and fast. The body-horror. The Victorian domestic tragedy. The big game hunter. Pygmalion. Deification of more advanced civilisations. Vampirism. Nocturnalism. The evil in the basement. A Royal assassination. An inspector Calls. Taxidermy with glowing eyes… And mixed in there is a bit of biography for Ace. It’s a doomed house, she’s already destroyed it in the future, but how do we get there?

Anyone claiming this isn’t a classic slice of classic Doctor Who – yes, classic – needs to be sent to Java. But like any classic, it has flaws.  There’s has to be a sacrifice.  It’s not immediately comprehensible and indeed, if any serial should have had the run of four episodes, it was Ghostlight.  But that said, in a tale governed by cause and effect, three parts seems oddly balanced.

Ghostlight is deliriously and wilfully surreal within its stagey, set-bound surroundings. Almost every scene carries foreboding as character switch and change from villain to victim. Devastating plot revelations are quickly revealed and then cut short by, literal petrification or reversion to primordial soup.   And by the end, the two main aliens have swapped their roles, and set out into the unknown with a Neanderthal and a big game hunter. At the speed of light.

Then there’s the game-playing Doctor. At points, his motivation is obscured, there’s a real sense he may get to any length to uncover the truth but also that he knows everything all along. As would be repeated in the next two stories, this Doctor not crippled by the myth of The Other that surfaced in Season 25, as the show teetered on the edge of revealing too much about his origin. He’s simply and darkly Time’s Champion – an alien uncovering and solving problems to get to the truth, where everything and nothing is significant. It’s a shame this Doctor is only seen for one season, four stories.

I’m deliberately excluding Battlefield to concentrate on this Ace-centered trilogy, but it was in that serial, that this Doctor was established.  The future, potential, (ginger) Merlin Doctor is more compelling than the Doctor’s ancient routes and has persisted to this day (ginger). Not for the last time, Ace is at the heart of this story, a conduit for the Doctor to solve his mysteries.

Not for the last time, there are moments when it looks like he’d go to any lengths to get the end-game. The denouement is one of the strangest in Wholore, the Doctor versus an Angel. Light can wander at a whim, and its alien nature is one of the most effective realisations seen in Doctor Who, oblivious, confused and silly. For the first time in years the Doctor captures the presence to stand up to such a being with believability, McCoy’s pratfalls used sparingly for effect. Of the serials I saw live as a kid, parts of Ghostlight have stayed the longest.

It’s a walking metaphor where Doctor Who can run riot. In some ways a fitting end for a show that would not be filmed again in Britain for many years.  But then, this trilogy is full of different endings…

Ghostlight brought the house of Blink, Ghostlight brought the secret life of Amy Pond.

The Curse of Fenric (Season 26, 1989)

The stories that follow the set-bound Ghostlight have the distinction of being two of only three classic serials completely filmed on location. In terms of effectiveness, The Curse of Fenric steals it.

Fenric is quite possibly the greatest Doctor Who serial of the 1980s. Its scope and realisation is incredible, from the atmospheric opening with the Russian troops landing at Whitby. Like Marc Platt’s Ghostlight, the number of ideas that Ian Briggs condenses into these four parts is stupendous. But unlike Ghostlight, the plot is, ironically for much of it, relatively watertight. It not only creates a powerful Doctor figure (both time’s Champion, but also dessert – sitting, sculpting chess-player) but even fits in some time paradox.

Ace is very much at the forefront, not here because of Perivale antics seen in the serials either side, but by a genetic, pre-determined route that brought her into the Doctor’s path.  The huge personal issues brought to bear on the companion are only rendered larger by the fact she is simply a small pawn in a game of millennia.

And then there comes one of the strangest moves in Companion history, one of the boldest: the blatant sexualisation of a companion. This isn’t Leela or Romana showing off their wardrobe, this is Ace deliberately luring a soldier for distraction.  There were other ways, but neither the Doctor nor the companion discuss it.  “Professor, I’m not a little girl” – that’s not somewhere that Doctor Who goes very often, even as the current series attracts criticism for its over-sexualization …  It’s a sharp change in the TARDIS crew relationship, and one that’s a little lost in the following serial.

That scene sits against a backdrop of the unravelling relationship of Ace and her mother. There’s no Blinovitch Limitation Effect here, that would just serve to undermine what is easily a forced storyline. There is that neat idea that Ace is subliminally examining her parental issues.  But that’s soon swept over by the fact that she is a Wolf of Fenric.  She creates herself, and much of what she hates.

It’s fitting and understandable that Ace has her strongest development in the hands of Ian Briggs.  He created her in Dragonfire two seasons before, and here is a dramatic and fitting resolution.  When he first invited her, the Doctor was left with an unwritten rule: “And the third… Well, I’ll think up the third (rule) by the time we get back to Perivale.”  Somewhere along the way, it seems to have been written.

Elsewhere, the pacing is on the most part great, propelled by the location filming with only a few random edits showing that at one point it was considered as a five part serial.  One unfortunate scene includes the reference to Gabriel Chase, a dark memory of Aces that in the event of broadcast, was explained one serial earlier.  , It’s a reminder how surprisingly strong the entire final season is, considering rescheduling and reshoots, lost footage and location filming.  Briggs had significantly less time to complete the serial than he was expecting.  Perhaps most surprising in this sharp and compelling serial is the uncredited directing nod that John Nathan Turner earned for this classic.

It’s an indication of the perception that affected all of Who in the late 1990s that Nicholas Parsons is unfairly dismissed for his role here. This is no gimmicky turn and forms a large part of the exploration of faith, obsession and ideology.  A brilliantly realised character, he is just one of the strong characters who earn our sympathies. A special mention must go to the historical parenthesis that Fenric sits between.

The Viking history – ever an atavistic pull for the British – is incredibly evocative, carried through script and a montage of the underwater longboat wreck rather than flashbacks. The journey of Fenric from the East with the Ancient Haemovore in constant pursuit is also effective. That creation brings with it, the flip side. The paradox of the Ancient One creating its own future may be a little too much, but the mysterious vampires of humanity’s future are brilliantly realised in their period garb. It’s an old trope, the dead rising from the waves, but not for the first time in Doctor Who they are ghosts of the future as much as the past.

That the Great Serpent and his master forms a basis for Norse mythology while drawing Whitby and Dracula into the web is masterful. The fact that it takes the liberty of reversing some coincidences you find in Who serials is incredible. It’s far more than just another waster role for Anne Reid in Doctor Who.

For a number of reasons, Fenric is about as removed from Doctor Who as children’s programme as it can be.  And still, it manages to avoid the far more gratuitous violence of the Colin Baker years.  How it does it is brilliant: having strong motivation and scripting.

Fenric brought the horrors of war and the art of paradox back to Doctor Who, Fenric brought Time Lord walking in eternity to the New Series, Fenric brought the consequence of Sex to the TARDIS that would one day threaten the Doctor’s life.

Survival (Season 26, 1989)

Survival returns Ace and her Professor to Perivale, but not the stage show of Ghostlight. The weakest of the final three, it still contains moments of mystery and a strong and alien story that even rather patchy video effects can’t destroy Writer Rona Munro has bemoaned the Cheetah people costumes – a decision that robbed the script of its lesbian subtext.

True, they look a tad too costumey for what are a wonderfully literal race, robbing the actors of everything except very broad moves.  Still, they aren’t completely ineffective.  Three in a row, Survival dishes up yet another form of tension.  The horse mounted cheetahs and the vulture-like kitlings with their vast teleportation abilities.  Of course, one kitling spends most of its time as an animatronics puppet.  It’s obvious, but adds an unsettling element to the Master’s stalking.

It’s no worse than some Hollywood effects of the 1990s, that’s for sure. But the real joy comes from the blunt nature over nurture sci-fi trope.  The idea of the civilisation destroyed by their planet is riveting.  It would always be ambitious to realise that on screen, but provides.  The rhythm of transformation may be off kilter, but at last brings us a Holmes and Moriarty like clash to the Doctor and his main Time Lord nemesis.  And it must be said, the Seventh iteration of the Doctor really can’t stand the Master.  In turn, the goateed Time Lord is more than happy to acknowledge the Doctor’s superiority in escape, before lapsing back into pure malice.

There are little moments of joy here.  The bored Doctor, the Master darker than he had been for some time.  But overall, it really shows how close the series was to getting it right.  Within two decades, a future Doctor would be similarly stalking an estate in London while tackling humanoid cats.

Yes, Survival brought the cement of the Powell Estate, Ghostlight brought the soap opera family of the Tylers.

Endgame…

The final three serials of Doctor Who’s classic years offer up moments that can sit happily next to the best in the show’s history.  True, McCoy never fully loses his clown, and he never reaches the same balance as Patrick Troughton but this was the year that secured him a place in Doctor Who history.  Not only that, McCoy’s Doctor seems far more alien than the character had been for years.  Actually, he wouldn’t be beaten until matt Smith.  As such, it was also the year that had the grace to make Virgin’s New Adventures an inevitability.

While there are pratfalls at the wrong time, but not all of them are. The Haemovores, a vampiric, amphibious – and crucially – potential evolutionary dead-end of humanity in the chemical wasteland of the far future. The alien, control-based survey team overwhelmed by evolution. The ultimate vision of nature over nurture.

In each of these serials, the writers aren’t shy of chucking in the kitchen sink.  But somehow it remains more effective than that modern version.

Unfortunately, the rot had set in long before and the scripts of Ian Briggs, Marc Platt and Rona Munro among others, under the editorship of Andrew Cartmel could never shout loud enough. After a far too prolonged period of entropy, Doctor Who wasn’t the fittest anymore. Those who wielded the axe were those who ripped the rug from the console room floor. Inevitable in a show with such a long shelf life, those in charge had increasingly been separated from it and its glory days.

One thing is clear though. Turning the show back to a focus on the companions was crucial.  On one hand it enables the Doctor to remain an enigma, enhances the mystery when done well.  On the other hand, it draws the audience in.  The Doctor’s story stays the same, it is the run of companions that bring change to the show and new stories to tell.  The greatest storytelling use the companions to investigate the Doctor and his universe…

But just when the show remembered its strength, it was put on hold.  But with its time trickery, biographical redemption and even skulking around after the puppet cats of Perivale, the Doctor had already laid in a timey-wimey way, the roots of its return when the TARDIS doors closed on 6th December 1989. Rose wasn’t such a leap. Doctor Who remained Ace. Doctor Who remained fantastic.

TIMEY-WIMEY:  Read on for the, mope, complete Eighth Doctor in Whovember #8!

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

Hmm, which ssssssuit...

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

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

Scales of history

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

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

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

I’ll stop hissing now.

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

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

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

Red-coloured spectacles

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

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

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

The Big Thaw

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

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

Carnival of Reunions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Ice Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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