Tuesday, August 31, 2010

That's OK, We're All Stories in the End.

Or, 'Why It Took Almost All of "Series 5" for me to love Matt Smith's Doctor.'

(If you want to see a Doctor incarnation I loved unconditionally from almost the instant he started talking, read about Doctor the Tenth here.)

So... Doctor Who Series 5 (Series 31 if you don't want a boring lie, or Series Fnarg according to Steven Moffat).  It's very good. Writing, effects, stories, it's all top-notch stuff.  Really, it is.  There's no question: I want to own this on DVD.  At the earliest opportunity.  Or before.

But the lead actor was not winning me over. Sorry, but he wasn't.  I found many moments of amusement with the writing but I couldn't feel much for this Doctor.  Matt Smith seemed like a bit of a flake.  I found myself weirdly dismissive of him.  Could not see what Moffat and Co saw in the guy.

My current theory: they needed me to love his companions Amy and Rory so much (Which I did. At once.) that they didn't give the eleventh Doctor much chance to make his mark with me.  He doesn't get to DO that much!  Fast talking I couldn't follow.  Or very withdrawn and quiet then suddenly 'Shut up' would pop out.  It was becoming his catch phrase and I was taking it personally.  HOW in hell could the Doctor say he LOVES the reptilian 'Mengele' who nearly sliced poor Amy open minutes earlier, but they cut the line from the same story where he says he LIKES Rory?  

He's too meek. He's too goofy. 

He's too young.

I hit upon the Sad Truth today: he's the first Doctor I can't look up to Age-Wise.  Apparently respecting the Doctor required I think of him as Older Than Me, and this time it was damn difficult to believe he's 905 (And why do the writers persist with that?  McCoy's incarnation was 953 back in 1987.  Still, when I can stop nitpicking, I prefer to believe he's lying about his age or he just has no idea anymore.)

I was noticing all this episode after episode. Why don't I like him?  I was trying to find something other than a bit of clever written business. Trying really hard to like him for HIM, if that makes sense, and I know it doesn't.  How do some people just never click?  When 'The Lodger' came along I was nearly there.  The football playing seemed to be more about Matt than about the Doctor.  But I did enjoy his efforts at being a matchmaker, even though I still identified better with Craig than with Doc 11.

Then, in the very last episode... (to avoid spoilers, skip four sentences) 

...the universe ended.  Complete and total Game Over.  No way out.

And the Doctor popped up anyway.

I was flabbergasted.  I was entranced again, watching the story unfold with childlike joy, and there he was in the middle of it. 

My prejudices lifted.  He.. Is.. THE DOCTOR.  He's weird and mad and impossible.  He's goofy: like 2 was goofy.  He's meek: like 5 was meek.  He's a good footy player, he's a bit flakey, he's too young, and he's UNSTOPPABLE.  The end of the universe barely slowed him down and I sure as hell can't stop him and thank the stars for that.

"It's a thing in progress," Eleven once gibbered, "Respect the thing!" and also admitted sheepishly "Do I have a face nobody listens to... Again?"

So, currently, I like him about as well as 5.  10,7,4,9,2,11,5,8,6,3,1, that's my order of affection, which Doctor I'd rather be (or be friends with), you'll think differently, I guarantee it, and thank the stars for that, too.   

'Doctor Who' deserves to run forever, and I believe in one way or another, it always will.
But for now it's time to say good-bye.

FAVORITE ELEVENTH DOCTOR STORY (SO FAR): The Big Bang (For winning me over at the last minute and, as far as I know, the biggest personal win the Doctor's ever had.)

LEAST FAVORITE ELEVENTH DOCTOR STORY (SO FAR): That overcooked Silurian hash in the middle (The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood).  

FAVORITE ELEVENTH DOCTOR QUOTEs: "If something can be remembered, it can come back."  "The Universe is huge and ridiculous and sometimes there are miracles."

Monday, August 30, 2010

You were absolutely Fantastic... and... So Was I.

A few words on the subject of 'Doctor Who' 2005 to present (or NuWho as I pretentiously refer to it).  Zowie!...  I just... wow... it's... pluvarb... there's stuff... and it's awesome!

Mostly I just mean borrow it from somebody and watch it, or shell out yourself and catch up on TV or DVD.  It is better than you imagine, and if it isn't you should be writing your own sci-fi comedy adventure for the whole family that wins awards for being THE BEST year after year.

Credit deservedly goes to head writer and show-runner Russell T. Davies,  and to the BBC for throwing lots of pounds at everyone they saw. Full in the face.  Murray Gold- write us some music (smashing sound of pounds sterling striking Murray Gold right in the kisser).  Effects goblins- ditto for you guys (smash, tinkle tinkle).  Billie Piper- ah, yes, well, we'll need your face later.  Do you take cheques?

Making the 9th doctor everything he was to me and you was Russell, yes, and also somewhat the chap with the ears doing all the yammering.

Christopher Eccleston (born 1964) wanted to play  football for Manchester United when he grew up, and instead he's a brilliant actor.  So, win.  He's got the range to play the son of god or Destro from G.I. Joe and the last thing he needs to worry about is typecasting.

What the Ninth Doctor brought to the table was something apparently nobody thought of before. What if the Doctor was COOL?  He's got a working class accent and a leather jacket, he never holds still and he's a thousand times more likely to be seen 'down the pub' than, say, the 6th Doctor.  Granted, this series made every effort to stand on its own with zero direct classic series crossovers (yes, the new TARDIS, the new Daleks, but if necessary this series could have called itself a total reboot if that would have made people happy).  In this case, I'm glad they later admitted it was still the same old thing, still going strong.

Nine is fine.  He ticks every box- loved by kids, girls, guys, and oldies.  He's very into his companion, loves Rose obviously. But he's even more universally cosmopolitan of taste: he's not specifically just straight or gay: very early on he's flirting with humanoid trees.  He really is all things to all people: simultaneously a part and apart from humanity.  The sight of him in a council flat living room watching TV seems bonkers because he's so easy to believe as an alien.  

The Doctor's a war veteran now, the last of the Time Lords thanks to the Time War that burned the heavens.  And he's taking those first painful steps toward finding a new world to call his own.  I enjoy that Eccleston is an atheist playing a very messianic figure.  A healer and a saviour of worlds, a time-traveling demi-god with PTSD.

Nine is fun.  Cutting a rug during the London Blitz, defending the value of his sonic screwdriver on those long nights when you've got a lot of shelves to put up, grinning and urging Rose (and us) to 'Run for your life!' It may have been a short life, but there were no moments wasted. 

FAVORITE NINTH DOCTOR STORY: 'The End of the World'  The first proper time-traveling adventure of NuWho, with effects and aliens and all.  Six seconds with the Moxx of Balhoun and the Face of Bo (outshining hours of Alpha Centauri's dithering), a space station where the use of weapons or religion were outlawed, and the fate of the planet balanced against eating chips.

LEAST FAVORITE NINTH DOCTOR STORY: I DON'T HAVE ONE.  Among other things, his run was too short for clunkers.  The other things being: THERE SIMPLY AREN'T ANY CLUNKERS. Series one (or series 28 if you prefer) is, as advertised, FANTASTIC.

FAVORITE NINTH DOCTOR QUOTE: "You lot- you spend all your time thinking about dying.  Like you're gonna get killed by eggs or beef or global warming or asteroids.  But you never take time to imagine the impossible- that maybe you survive."

Friday, August 27, 2010

One Tiny Little Gap in the Universe Left

You ever see the Doctor Who episode 'Turn Left'?  Or indeed, other less amazing parallel universe stories of the TV world?  'Sliders' later draggy seasons, for example?

Well, too bad, because today I'm here in praise of the Doctors who never were.

But they were, you know. Every possibility is played out in parallel worlds, or so states the quantum theory of existence (or something I vaguely remember hearing about on 'Futurama').

There's the fun Peter Cushing Doctor of the 1960's movies (glowering at you on the left there).

Richard Hurndall played a alternate version of the first Doctor in 'The Five Doctors'.  (I like to think that when past incarnations meet present incarnations the time differential sometimes ages them by centuries, (as indicated in Steven Moffat's 'Time Crash')  which normally has some little effects like adding wrinkles and chubbiness, but in the first Doctor's case, a whole new regeneration was the result (albeit with about the same personality)).  Sometimes time differential adds extra unnecessary brackets.)

There are those who played the Doctor on stage.  Truly a rarified experience: decades in the past and a continent away, they were the Doctor to their specific audience only.  Truly unique.

There's an alternate third regeneration of the Doctor in the 'Doctor Who Unbound' audio adventures.  
It's only FREAKIN' David Warner!!!  That was a little geek moment. He was Dillenger and SARK in 'TRON' and several great Star Trek aliens.  He's just DAVID WARNER!

There are other great Doctors in that series. Some people speak highly of Sir Derek Jacobi. But for my money he made a better MASTER than a Doctor.  His Master was a towering achievement in such a short time, dripping with pure malevolence.  Yeeurrgh!  I'm shuddering just thinking about it... But I'm getting away from the topic.

There are at least two separate but equal parallel realities where Richard E. Grant was the Doctor. The internet cartoon podcast 'Scream of the Shalka' and it's sequels were set in the relatively serious-minded one. 

This was the other.  'The Curse of Fatal Death' was the comic epitaph for the classic series and appropriately enough written by 2010 series showrunner Steven Moffat.  

Do you have twenty minutes to spare?

Then watch it.  It defines classic 'Doctor Who' better than I have in twenty days or ever could. 

But it was fun trying.  Must dash.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Only Logic is There Isn't Any Logic

When 'Doctor Who' went off the air in 1989, it didn't go completely away.  Fans kept it alive: a labour of love that continues to this day.  

From 1991 to 1997, for example, Virgin Publishing made over 50 New Adventures novels.  Since then, the BBC has made with the novels themselves.  Also, from 1979 to now, there's been Doctor Who magazine, dutifully writing several pages of comics adventures per month.  Some of these books and comics are dreadful.  Many are awesome.  Probably.  I've barely scratched the surface of what's out there.

But today I sing in praise of the Audio Adventures. Thankfully, you can't hear me from there, 'cause it's kind of an improvised singing.  Big Finish Audio has been making 'Doctor Who' audio plays since the nineties and with generally much better writing than the TV series had at times.  

The 5th through 8th Doctors have been adding to the breadth and depth of their onscreen journeys, whose only budgetary limits are YOUR imagination.

In my humble (but correct) opinion, the best BFA adventures are:

FOR THE 5TH DOCTOR: 'Circular Time': a tale of his life in four parts, not coincidentally by my beloved Paul Cornell.  My ranking lists follow it closely with Marc Platt's 'Spare Parts': a tale of creeping global death by Cybernization, which earned Platt onscreen credit for the Cybermen's return in NuWho.  My LEAST favorite 5th Doc story was 'Creature of Beauty': with some uninspired mutant business.  And Nyssa is a treat as a companion on her own, which the TV series didn't have enough of.

FOR THE 6TH DOCTOR: 'The One Doctor': a hilarious showcase of six's ego coupled with his towering talent. My runner-up is 'The Maltese Penguin' for featuring the penguin-shaped private eye Frobisher (a former comic strip companion).  Yes, a talking penguin.  No, I don't think that's stupid. I think that's exactly what comics, novels and radio is FOR-  being as outlandish as you like. Still, 'Catch-1782' was my least favorite, for having rather too much Melanie and making rather too little sense.

FOR THE 7TH DOCTOR: 'Bang-Bang-A-Boom': It's another funny one, a catastrophic combination of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the Eurovision song contest. When Seven meets the busty, operatic, space amazon I think I may have had kittens.  From laughing. 'Shadow of the Scourge' was also really good. (Cornell, the best two companions of the decade, and what look like N'Grath from 'Babylon 5' attacking them on the cover. 'Frozen Time' was not so great, Maryam d'Abo notwithstanding.

FOR THE 8TH DOCTOR: Second to 'Zagreus' which has everybody, I ranked 'Shada', the retelling of Douglas Adams' unfinished story.  It has Romana and K-9 in it, and Professor Chronotis is a splendid fellow.  I didn't especially enjoy 'Something Inside', though, India Fisher notwithstanding.

India is a great example of all the companions you'd miss out on if you only think TV is "real" Doc Who.  As Edwardian adventuress Charley Pollard she beat TV's River Song to the 'met the Doctor out of order' punch.  And the 'keeping big secrets from him' punch.

And beating River Song to everything else: Bernice Surpise Summerfield.  'Benny' was the companion created by Paul Cornell to supplement/replace Ace in the New Adventures novels. Feisty archeologist, thirty years old in 2570, quick wit, liked the drink, liked the lads, and has become more insanely popular in novels and audio adventures than any TV companion.  Sarah Jane? Audio adventures for several seasons.  Very respectable (wish they hadn't ended with a cliffhanger...). Benny? STILL GOING.  At 11 audio seasons, Benny has a shot not only at longest-running Doctor Who companion, but at longest-running spin-off character in western culture.  Suck it, Frasier Crane!

Lisa Bowerman, the voice and essence of Bernice, had a role alongside Ace in 'Survival' as Karra the Cheetah Person, and as Benny she travelled with Ace and the Seventh Doctor for a long time in these off screen 'realities'.  And they're ALL as real as you like.  What you lose in visuals is gained in NOT having visuals: there's no limits.  Not in violence, nor mature content, nor what-have-you.  Nor WHO have you, in Benny's case...

I haven't scratched Benny's surface yet, either. (Unlike the EIGHTH DOCTOR!!! WHOOOO!  No, seriously, Bernice and 8, sitting in a tree, etc. and so on, they totally had sex.)  

My favorite Benny solo story so far was the pantomime extra-dimensional romp 'Oh No It Isn't' with Nicholas 'The Brigadier' Courtney stealing the show as Wolsey the Cat.  You CAN'T make stuff like this on TV.  

Not in my lifetime, anyway, I'll wager.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Held Back Death

In summer 1996, I saw the 'Doctor Who' TV movie, a pilot collaborated on by the BBC, Universal, and Fox.  

Well, I say pilot, but that would have required people to like it enough in America to make it 'go to series'. The Brits and Aussies liked it fine.  So did I.  But that was not sufficient.  Still, you have to give it credit: it held the door open.

We got to meet a new Doctor incarnation- for one night only. 

Paul McGann, born in Liverpool in 1959, was the guy they picked.  He came from a big family with three actor brothers, also the four of them were a pop group!  McGann is a father, famous for such roles as the 'I' in 'Withnail and I' and the mass-murderer Golic in 'Alien 3'.  He hated the Eighth Doctor's wig, and never wants to appear in it again, so... if you're ever listening to the audio adventures imagine that the Doctor probably got a haircut like this:

But he probably still dresses sort of Goth.  Maybe. If you like that sort of thing.

The Eighth Doctor regenerated in a morgue drawer in 1999 San Fransisco, and the hair and suit (it's really somebody's stolen New Year's eve cowboy costume) were the best he could throw together on the fly while saving the world.  So... well, never mind. It's that way in all the promotional stuff so it's that way in all the comics and CD covers and the new action figure (an action figure of the EIGHTH doctor! Who woulda thought!) and that's all there is to say about that.

The POINT is: it was 'Doctor Who' again!  There he was, drinking tea, flying around the galaxy in his old Type 40 TARDIS (with a re-formatted interior looking very swank and cathedral-y and expensive).  And there was Syl back as 7!  A class act, that one.  Popping out of his blue box for the last time.

The Seventh Doctor died at the hands of Dr. Grace Holloway, doing the best she could without the knowledge that she was treating an alien.  As a reward, or forgiveness, or just 'cause, she is the first onscreen kiss for the Doctor.  And WHAT a Doctor!  Eight is exuberant, passionate, wildly optimistic, fairly muddled, but he likes the ladies. He even claims his mother was human.  Was that a joke?  Probably. 

While all this dying, rebirth, getting dressed, and kissing is underway, however, the Master's ashes (he was tried and disintegrated by the Daleks) have slipped out of their box in the TARDIS, wiggled away as a translucent snake called a morphant, and popped down the throat of an Eric Roberts doppelganger EMT called Bruce.  
As you do.

The Master's got himself a brand new body and a new stooge and he's out to steal the Doctor's lives if he has to collapse reality to do it!  Or also because collapsing reality might be keen.  Oh, that Master!

To find out if the Master succeeded in destroying us all on the eve of the millennium, tune in to YouTube, or buy a friggin' expensive Region Two DVD player and a UK version of the darn thing.  

Also, the eighth doctor lives on.  Like Ace, his final curtain has yet to be drawn.  Yes, he regenerated into 9, yes, it was probably right before NuWho began (9 still isn't used to his ears yet), and yeah, it was probably due to the Time War we've heard so much about.  But, as with Two's offscreen death, if we didn't see it he can have as many adventures as the market will bear.  He can even partner up with Mary Shelley or live for centuries with kindly jellyfish.  
As you do.

FAVORITE EIGHTH DOCTOR STORY: The Enemy Within (That's what they call the 1996 TV movie.  It is good and I want it.  On Region One DVD.)

REAL FAVORITE EIGHTH DOCTOR STORY: Zagreus (The Big Finish Audio Adventure featuring EVERY possible voice actor, and only McGann is playing THE Doctor. The brilliant episode, with the funny name.)

LEAST FAVORITE EIGHTH DOCTOR AUDIO ADVENTURE: Time of the Daleks (I go through bouts of... I dunno, madness? when I am bloody sick to death of Daleks.  Maybe it wasn't that bad...)

FAVORITE EIGHTH DOCTOR QUOTE: "I can't make your dream come true forever, but I can make it come true today."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Perivale- 600 Million, Rest of the Universe- Nil

The story of the best 'Doctor Who' companion of the 1980's is (like Ace herself) cute, complicated, and straightforward all at once.

The Doctor chanced across a girl in the distant future, working at an ice themed restaurant on the ice-y ice planet Svartos. 

Calling herself only 'Ace', Dorothy Gale McShane had arrived on Ice World due to an unpredictable 'time storm' following an  experiment with her home-made explosives in the London suburb of Perivale in the year 1987.  In other words, she arrived with a bang.

She was mouthy, spunky, quick to action, and didn't give a toss if her room was neat or her armpits were shaved.  At 13 years old, I took quite a shine to Ace.  She was 16 but she told everybody she was 18, and she was TOUGH.  Maybe TOO tough for the likes of me, but hey, it was my fantasy, right?  (Sophie Aldred may or may not have taken out a restraining order prohibiting me from setting foot on her continent.  What of it?)  She called the people she didn't like 'toerags' and hit Daleks with a bat and she had a giant tapedeck and a knapsack full of fricking grenades!  Find me a teen boy who thinks ANY of that is a bad idea.

Ace took up with the Doctor, but I would venture to say she was his last onscreen female companion where there unequivocally ISN'T anything romantic happening.  At least, they aren't kissing!  (He's too old for her anyways, Ace would be better off with someone younger... skinnier... Canadian.)

They are in CAHOOTS, though.  It's a mentor/student thing for "The Professor" and his friend "Ace", which grows closer over time until they are more like surrogate family.  With all the emotional turmoil that entails.  He needed a daughter and she needed a daddy. 
So what if they're not the same species? 

He's got the brains, and she's got the bombs, and they've both got issues like tissues.

Leaping for cover, snarling in frustration, cruising for boys, leading a rebellion, or holding aloft the sword Excalibur, Ace is always on the move. "Sometimes I travel so fast I don't exist." she once observed.

Two TV years together and Ace is the single companion with no televised departure.  In many ways, she never left.  In many other ways, she's left a lot:

Paul Cornell wrote a heated argument into the novel 'Love and War' where Ace finally storms out of the Doctor's life at age 26.  She spends three years as a Space Marine, having wanton affairs and killing Daleks by her lonesome, then storms back into the TARDIS at 29 along with his new companion, Benny.  (More on HER later.) 

There's a comic where Ace dies. (Ask me if I think it's canonical... don't bother, I haven't read it, but it ISN'T.  Or she got better.  Or it was a parallel universe.  Quit asking!)  

There's a cool audio adventure (Death Comes To Time) where Ace's in training to become a Time Lord because their race is nearing extinction.  I am very fond of it and it has Stephen Fry & Anthony Head in it, too.  Which is even cooler!

There's a novel by Kate Orman (Set Piece) where at the end an Ace in her (thirties?) becomes a solo adventurer guarding a dimensional Rift near Paris on a time-travelling motorcycle.  (This is supported on-screen during 'Silver Nemesis' by a painting young Ace discovered. See, she'd pose for it in 1880's France in her own personal future.)  The rift guardian bit is kind of 'Torchwoody', but I like it anyway.

I hear in Cornell's 'Happy Endings' Ace might get married.  (It was written 14 years ago, but it takes place in 2010.  I better see how THAT turned out!)

You kids with your baggy pants and your tongue studs can keep your Roses and your Marthas.  As the 7th Doctor once said: 'Exotic alien swords are hard to come by... Aces are RARE.'

If I have been too effusive in my praise of a fictional punk 80's kid from a cancelled TV show no one else was watching then so be it: Ace is wicked!

(And for the record, yes, I enjoy it when my wife wears a ponytail and calls me a 'toerag'.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

I Just Do The Best I Can.

It's week three of my all 'Doctor Who' month, and in the words of Dr. Denis Leary YER ALL COMIN' WITH ME!

It's 1980's companions day, and you're welcome.  By which I mean welcome to skim and move on.  Let's begin with the final companions of the fourth Doctor, those three lovable scamps who  showed up just in time to witness his regeneration and ride the fifth Doctor's beige coattails to the stars:

ADRIC- 'Oliver Twit' A brainy swamp urchin from the bogs of Alzarius in E-Space, Adric seems to have been a hyper-evolving marsh boy with a gift for math, quick healing, and body odour.  The precursor to Wesley Crusher was even more irritating in retrospect, but at the time: I found it very easy to identify with the clumsy teen stowaway.  His death when I watch it now seems deeply contrived and tacked on, but at the time- it was like they tore my damn heart out.  OH, my GOD, they killed ADRIC!  You BASTARDS!  And so on.  It's a time machine, Doctor, can we go back for him? Sadly, no, he's gone forever, dead with the dinos, part of history.  Why?  Don't ask questions, let's see if the next schoolboy will be a red-head...

NYSSA- 'Lab Assistant Barbie' Clever biologist-slash-fairy-princess from the planet Traken, a world held together 'by everyone just being terribly NICE to each other'.  And Nyssa is nice, too, if unfortunately suffering from quiet middle child syndrome.  Stuck between whining Adric and whinging Tegan, this poor lass who lost her father, her home planet, and everything AROUND her home planet for light-years to the machinations of THE MASTER, and thus actually HAS something to whine about, is just happy to gad peacefully about with the Doctor.  Coming from tragedy and leaving in tragedy, Nyssa is brave, helpful, and wonderful, becoming a doctor herself on station Terminus.  A delight as a solo companion in the audio adventures.

TEGAN JOVANKA- "Just a Mouth on Legs" Air hostess from Brisbane, Australia, stumbled aboard the TARDIS in 1981 and clung on like a tick all the while complaining about how she wanted to leave.  OK, so it was a rough time, the Master killed her aunt, Adric died, and she got possessed by the Mara twice.  This was not a barrel of koalas, or whatever they say down under.  Plus, making her an Aussie did not pan out in viewing figures or in getting to visit Tegan's homeland like they'd hoped. Oh, well.  I liked Tegan well enough and was sad to hear that by 2006 when the 5th Doctor bumped into her again she had contracted a terminal brain tumor.  Brave Heart, Tegan.

VISLOR TURLOUGH- 'Schoolboy Assassin' Sly ginger-haired exile from the planet Trion masquerading as a Brit in the mid-80s.  Ingratiated himself to the Doctor at the behest of the chaotic Black Guardian, who promised Turlough power and adventure and... uh, I dunno, girls, maybe, if only he would bump off the Doctor.  Will the young lad in the very tight shorts become a man?  And is knifing somebody in the back the best way to BE a man?  He's looking out for number one.  He's hiding something.  Is that a Black Guardian transmission crystal in your shorts, or are you just plotting my downfall?

KAMELION 'Robots Should Be Neither Seen Nor Heard'- A shape-shifting android built by the Gelsandorans to invade Xeriphas, hijacked by the Master for some ludicrous scheme to replace England's King John and NOT sign Magna Carta! Ha!  Take that, HISTORY!  Anyway, the Doctor wrested Kamelion away from the Master and promptly shoved him in a TARDIS broom closet for a couple of seasons or something because the (real robot) prop didn't work all that well. And then the Master stole him back, and, well, the Doctor had to put Kamelion out of his misery.  Too bad, in a lot of ways, because on the face of it, they had Commander Data & Constable Odo rolled into one right there.  But he was NO K-9!  

PERPUGILLIAM 'PERI' BROWN 'A Mouth Above Boobs'- If the Aussie girl didn't do it for ya, how's about a California girl?  In a bikini!  And when Turlough hauls her aboard (I saved her life, she nearly drowned!  He showed off, splashin' around!), she's STILL in a bikini!  And, uh, her American accent is totally radical!  DAK-Tir! DAK-Tir!  Kent Ya See AYm Bernin' Bernin'!  OK, it's bizarro.  She's a botany student, but her skills find no application here.  Poor Peri is usually there to be the object of some grotesque freak-balls' lusts (remember Sil? Well, there's plenty of horny space-goblins hoping for a smooch with Perpugilliam.)  She meets a terrible fate on Thoros Beta.  Either you believe the Doctor's (probably faulty and implanted) memory of her death by botched brain surgery, or the (dubious) official Time Lord version in which she escaped somehow and married King Yrcanos (Brian Blessed!!!) of the Krontep.  Which begs the question: which would YOU rather?  

MELANIE BUSH "As boring as they come!"- Hey, that's the line they put in her mouth, not me.  Mel is a computer programmer from Sussex whose skills find no application here.  She's peppy, she's obsessed with aerobics, she's a quintessential eighties girl except she's not actually snorting crack on screen.  I'm joshing you.  Mel gets a lot of put-downs from fans, and I'm one of them.  She's TOO chipmunk cheerful. (And this from a guy who thinks Squirrel Girl is the Bee's Knees!)  Her arrival is never shown: Mel just shows up knowing the Doctor before the Sixth Doctor ever meets her, and then leaves with him (presumably so he can deliver her into the care of his own future self, then quickly leave and go meet her for the first time somewhere else... or... something...).  Miss Bush has very little screen time with the Seventh Doctor: he arrives with her on a new planet, sends her on an errand, hangs out with some other spunky local girl, then meets up with Mel again when it's time to leave. It seems she took the hint, and takes the standard way out: she falls for some unlikely wastrel and toddles off into the sunset.  In Mel's case, the wastrel was...

SABALOM GLITZ 'These Sideburns Cost Me 5 Grotzis!'  A pirate some two million years in the future, probably one of those ICE PIRATES I've heard so much about.  Glitz is a self-serving mercenary whose tall tales are as colorful as his wardrobe, and whose swash is firmly buckled in his own best interest.  Not exactly a companion, but he seemed to show up a lot, or the Doctor showed up in his vicinity.  A character witness at the Doctor's 'Trial of a Time Lord'.  Think slobby space rogue Captain Jack Nuthatch. I like to think he and Mel deserve each other.

BEST 1980'S COMPANION: None of the above!  Join me tomorrow in the year 2,001,987 to find out!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Flipping Cats!

This week I finally chanced upon the method by which to watch Classic 'Doctor Who' with my wife (she only enjoys the modern series).  When she (exhausted from her theatrical exertions at the Fringe festival) passed into slumber beside me on the couch, I popped 'Survival' in the DVD player and we had a wonderful time!

She was awakened by the synthesized theme music long enough to see one of the villains of the piece: a teleporting alien feline scavenger called a Kitling.  To her, of course, it was 'Basement Cat'.  I lookeded that up here.  Soon she was in dreamland once more.  
And, albeit still conscious, so was I!

'Survival' was the final aired story of classic 'Doctor Who' in 1989. Written by Rona Munro, directed by Alan Wareing, it has a poetic, dream-logic quality and could rightly be called a fairy tale as much as a science fiction story.  Here are some of the things that make it wonderful, despite its (mostly budgetary) limitations.

Here we soon see the Doctor's long-serving companion, Ace, on the run as usual. In three short episodes, she goes on the offense, on the defense, helps someone in need, needs help herself, and leaves her old home behind for her new home.  Always a survivor.

"Don't you know any nice people?  Not power crazed nutters trying to take over the galaxy?"

We see the Master again in his 1980's body.  He's on the prowl here, slave to a strange maddening malady turning him more feral.  Hunting, cutting, putting a young man called Midge on a leash, putting Midge under his control, putting Midge to death.  The Master leads his pack, culls the herd, finally gets his claws around the Doctor's throat once more.  And he is seemingly destroyed, but by now we can be sure of his survival.  

"We shall become animals." he snarls, in one of this incarnations' most menacing turns ever.

We see the Doctor trying to catch a cat.  Setting up elaborate traps, but only falling into them himself.  We see him scared and poised to run, but standing his ground.  We see him solve a mystery and pose further questions.  He juggles cat toys and rides a deadly motorcycle chicken race with equal bravery.  
At one point in the final episode he is up-ended and looking foolish on the rubbish heap (where he started long ago), but he saves the day by refusing to give in to his own aggression, and strides off arm in arm with his companion.  

"Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, somewhere else the tea's getting cold.  Come on, Ace, we've got work to do."

It's all here.  The song, even diminished, even humbled by a crescendo of American sci-fi, still remains.  This was a good show and getting better, but all things end.

I praise it here as a personal favorite, not only because August 20th is MY birthday (1976), but the birthday of all three leads in 'Survival', the final classic story.  Sylvester 'The Doctor' McCoy (1943), Anthony 'The Master' Ainley (1932), and Sophie 'Ace' Aldred (1962) are all August 20th Leos in a story about cats!

So 'run beyond the horizon and catch your hunger', but keep your head: 'if we live like animals, we die like animals'!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Anybody Remotely Interesting is Mad in Some Way.

The Doctor: I don't suppose you've completely ignored my instructions and secretly prepared any Nitro-9, have you?
Ace: What if I had?
The Doctor: And naturally, you wouldn't do anything so
 insanely dangerous as to carry it around with you, would you?
Ace: Of course not. I'm a good girl and do what I'm told.
The Doctor: Excellent. Blow up that vehicle.

On 'Doctor Who' the Seventh version of the Doctor had 14 televised stories.  Unless 'Ghost Light' doesn't, every one of them has an explosion!  

Also, I ENJOYED every one of them, unless I later remember I didn't.

The Seventh Doctor had a lot on his to-do list in such a short time.

Outfoxing the Rani.  Besting the petty despots of Paradise Towers.  Helping true love win the day at a holiday camp.  Saving Ice World from a dragon.  A final conflagration with the Daleks.  Toppling an empire of deadly candy and phony smiles.  A showdown  with the Cybermen.  Playing the spoons for the Gods of Ragnarok. Tipping his hat at knights and witches. Unraveling the mystery of a haunted mansion. Chess games with demons.  A hissy fit with the Master for the fate of Perivale. 

He's not as nice as 5.  He's not as loud as 6.  He liked both jazz and classical music.  Sometimes he was manic, and sometimes a little depressive. He might have drawn the 'short' plank, but he's always got something up his sleeve.

Sylvester McCoy (Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith) born August 20, 1943, is a Scottish actor raised in Dublin by his Irish mother.  His father died in World War 2 a month before his birth. Young PJP trained for the priesthood, liked girls too much to stay, and got a job in insurance.  The stage beckoned.  He got his stage name from a comedy act where he famously put ferrets in his trousers.  He played Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton in one-man shows.  More recently he auditioned for Peter Jackson's Bilbo Baggins (as Tom Baker had tried out for Gandalf.  The Ians did just fine, but imagine a parallel world with an ALL-WHO Lord of the Rings!  Colin as Denethor! Peter as Strider! Sophie Aldred as Arwen!  Fifi the Stygorax as Gollum!  But I gibber...) In 2007, Syl played the Fool in 'King Lear' opposite the tall Ian (Sir McKellan).  McCoy has portrayed the Mikado and Mr. Mushnik, too. Talk about range!

He was the first to play the Doctor with a Scottish accent.  His own, but with a bit more 'rrrr' in it now and then.  Between 1987 and 1996 he was the seventh Doctor, and he's been so kind as to never go completely away.

The Seventh Doctor is not an easy kettle of fish to put before the cart.  He liked to mix-up his aphorisms now and again:  "Ahh, well, every dogma has its day." "Time and Tide melts the snowman." or "There's many a slap 'twixt the cup and the lap."  At times he seemed like a pantomime version of the Doctor, but he could be many things, not all of them silly. He might act like a vaudevillian, but he's a manipulative schemer, seemingly one step ahead of everyone, or like Daphne Moon "a bit psychic".  It has been suggested that he is so experienced a time-traveller that he prepares for every contingency, leaving himself messages in his own past.  IE: he cheats. 

He was 953 when he started out, dressing and behaving rather like a quirky college professor, with a question marked sweater, and a question mark umbrella.  For MYSTERY was his game!  Subtlety, thy name is Theta Sigma (the Seventh Doctor flippantly said this was his 'college nickname').  He carried embossed cards with those symbols, a gold question mark, and the presidential seal of Gallifrey (a presidential position he earned as the 4th Doctor, fled as the 5th, abdicated as the 6th, and tried to use for clout as the 7th).  For with less than average height, less than average looks, and a quiet, thoughtful demeanor, Seven needed all the clout he could muster.  He had to struggle to seem intimidating, but he had his moments.  He once joined in sarcastically with Davros' megalomaniacal rant:


And followed it up with a cunning plan, tricking the Daleks into making a particularly devastating use of the Hand of Omega super-weapon.  The Br'er Rabbit maneuver, I believe.

He rarely needed to take direct action against villainy.  He had a companion for that.  More on that subject anon.

The Seventh is my favorite Doctor of the 80's and 90's.  Steven Moffat described his own difficulty liking this Doctor's era at first, saying the show was looking 'cheap' and 'embarrassed'.  But he admits McCoy eventually found his voice: "Cos clowns are meaningless, clowns are boring- but a SAD clown, that's the story of EVERYONE."

FAVORITE SEVENTH DOCTOR STORY: The Happiness Patrol (Alternately, everything in season 26.  Or 'Delta and the Bannermen'! I can't eat just one!)

LEAST FAVORITE SEVENTH DOCTOR STORY: Time and The Rani (That's the one I'd eat least.   But it's got a giant pulsing brain and the Rani screeching about 'the loyhargil', so there's that.  And he plays the spoons.)

FAVORITE SEVENTH DOCTOR QUOTE: 'I can't stand burnt toast.  I loathe bus stations.  Terrible places, full of lost luggage and lost souls... and then there's unrequited love, and tyranny, and cruelty..."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Shall Beat it into Submission... With My Charm.

Into every life, even that of an immortal alien vagabond, a little rain must fall.  Therefore, let a scowl, an arched eyebrow, or an overblown, pompous tantrum be your umbrella.

In all of 'Doctor Who' fandom, The Sixth Doctor is known far and wide as the Doctor with the thickest, meatiest, PURPLEST... prose.  Call him smug, glib, oratorical, officious, persnickety, confrontational, and above all, wordy.  

There will never be another like him and many wonder how in the holy hell there was one like him in the first place.

Colin Baker (born 1943) was the Doctor ('whether you like it or not') from 1984's 'The Twin Dilemma' (recently voted 200th out of 200 stories, the worst of all time) to 1986's 'The Trial of a Time Lord' (which is better than you remember and a was a heck of a good present from my wife and movie buddies in recent years! Squee!).  Mr. Baker began his studies as a solicitor, but switched to acting.  He had a significant role in the BBC's serial 'War and Peace', more importantly he was Bayban the Butcher on 'Blake's 7', and still yet more importantly, played Commander Maxil of Gallifrey in 1983's 'Arc of Infinity' where he blasted the 5th Doctor with a staser gun.  Some sources say that's how he got the job as Doctor Six, others say it's because he made John Nathan-Turner laugh at a party.  Both, no doubt.
Also, and I don't know how to say this any clearer: it's because he. is. a. good. actor.  
Despite this, during his tenure the programme went into 18 month hiatus, and he was dismissed after only 11 stories.  Thankfully, he has never gone away.  He reprises his role in 'Doctor Who' videogame, stage play, DVD commentaries, and audio adventures.  
Also, uniquely, the only Doctor actor with published 'Doctor Who' stories, including a comic.  Additionally, he has a blog (good show!) at www.colinbakeronline.com He has a family, loves animals, and seems like a good egg.  Or, is starting to resemble an egg.

Six had neither an auspicious arrival or departure.  When 5 died by poisoning, 6's regeneration went badly, warping his mind so much that he soon attacked his innocent companion during a paranoid hallucination.  Talk about starting a guy off on the wrong foot!  (He got better.)  Once sacked, with animosity on both sides, Colin did not return to film 6's death scene.  It is implied to have occurred in an attack by the Rani, but all they did was put his replacement in a clown wig and clown clothes (sorry, 6's costume) and blur his face a bit. Unsatisfying, but more than they gave us for 8!

Most of the time between his coming and his going, the sixth Doctor is filibustering for his life, much as the TV show was doing. (There was an awful music video created at this time. Watch for as long as you can endure, but bear in mind somehow they thought this would HELP?!?) Undaunted, Six lives forever thanks to his non-canonical(?) off-screen adventures.  Still and always bombastic, affectionate toward animals and all helpless things, 900 years young, ingenious and flamboyant, full of boundless spirit and enthusiasm.  He is truly a Gallifreyan Buccaneer. (Unlike that other link, this one is WORTH hearing all of!)

In tabletop Role-Playing Game terms (and my personal philosophy of the nature of regeneration) the Doctor may always be the same man, but his form and character are randomly re-rolled by the whim of the dice.  Strengths, stamina, intelligence, charm, even height and hair color are acquired by chance alone.  For example, if the Fifth Doctor was the meekest, with the LEAST arrogance to date (like, he rolled snake eyes), then the Sixth probably rolled arrogance double sixes (for a boxcar full of himself)! 

The Doctor is still a man of conviction, with great capacity for kindness, and indulgent of his companions.  But 6 is a Doctor in love with arguments, perhaps taking the unpopular view just for the sake of the conflicts, the contrasts, the clash.

And we love him.  But we have seizures looking at his coat. (When you stare into the coat, the coat also stares into YOU.)

FAVORITE SIXTH DOCTOR STORY: The Two Doctors (Colin and Pat Troughton can be appreciated nicely there, methinks.)
LEAST FAVORITE SIXTH DOCTOR STORY: The Twin Dilemma (I hated it before the poll.  But if you prefer, I dislike 'Timelash' almost as much, but at least it had Paul Darrow chewing the be-tinseled scenery.)

FAVORITE SIXTH DOCTOR QUOTE: "A little gratitude wouldn't irretrievably damage my ego."