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[sticky post] Doctor Who and Me

My mother was 12 years old in 1963, when Doctor Who aired for the very first time. She watched the show, enjoyed it, and became a lifelong fan – maybe not the kind of fan who obsesses and writes fanfiction and memorises every detail, but the kind of fan who has now been watching the show for 50 years and counting, rarely missing an episode, so that Doctor Who was part of my consciousness from my earliest babyhood, because it was always on in our house. When Doctor Who stories began to be released on VHS, Mum invested in them – not many, because they were expensive and money was scarce, but over the years we built up a bank of maybe two dozen adventures, which were my introduction to the earlier Doctors, the ones who'd already ended their run before I was even born. Rather more affordable were the Target novelisations, and we built up a huge library of over 100 books, which I read over and over as a child. The videos gave me a voice and character for each Doctor, but the novelisations were my window to their adventures, and I loved them.

Introduction continued behind the cutCollapse )

The Review ProjectCollapse )

archive of older reviewsCollapse )

Coming soon - The War Machines, The Smugglers, Tenth Planet!

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The Planet at the End of the Universe

Summary: All together aboard the TARDIS once more, Sarah's feeling complacent about life as a time traveller, Harry's in denial, and the Doctor is only too glad of an excuse not to return to Earth when a distress call takes the trio to a remote planet at the far edge of the universe, where an isolated survey team has fallen prey to a mysterious malevolent force.

Title: The Planet at the End of the Universe
Show: Classic Doctor Who
Characters: Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan
Rating: PG
Wordcount: 48,888 - 8/8 chapters, complete
Disclaimer: Not so much alternate universe as universe alteration, this story is (very) loosely based on the season 13 serial Planet of Evil, written by Louis Marks – a re-imagining of what it might have been like if Harry had returned to the TARDIS instead of staying on Earth at the end of the previous adventure. All characters herein belong to the BBC, along with the original concept and anything else that seems familiar. I have borrowed them for this story and am making no profit from this.
Author's Note: Although loosely based on Planet of Evil, this is not actually a re-telling of that story, partly because adding another companion alters both the dynamic and the flow of events, but mainly because although the Doctor and Sarah are as cute as all heck in Planet of Evil, I've never been overly fond of the story itself, so here I've simply taken the core concept and constructed a new plot on top of it.

The story can be read at AO3 or at Whofic.com

The Interview

Title: The Interview
Author: llywela13
Show: Classic Doctor Who, Sarah Jane Adventures
Characters: Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan, Luke Smith, Rani Chandra
Rating: PG
Word count: 2,173
Summary: Sarah asks Harry for a favour; a meandering bit of fluff with a sting in its tail
Disclaimer: All characters herein belong to the BBC. I have borrowed them for this story and am making no profit from this.

Click to readCollapse )

This story can also be read at Ao3 and Whofic.

Doctor Who 3.09 The Savages

First Doctor with Steven and Dodo
Follows on from Season One, Season Two, Galaxy Four, Mission to the Unknown, The Myth Makers, The Daleks' Master Plan, The Massacre, The Ark, The Celestial Toymaker and The Gunfighters

309TS-1


DOCTOR: The sacrifice of even one soul is far too great!

Overview

Alas and alack, we're back to the reconstructions for this serial, as all four episodes are missing from the archive, bar a few tiny fragments recorded off-air by fans pointing cameras at the TV for a few seconds. It's the last recon of the season, though, so that's something.

After two comedy serials in a row, everyone is back on form here. This is a story about exploitation and oppression, the title a clever subversion, as the unfolding adventure makes explicit that the titular savages are not, in fact, the spear- and club-wielding folk living in rags and skins in the wilderness, but the opulent, educated city-dwellers who subjugate them, literally sucking the life force from their victims. This is a story of how the rich behave toward the poor, of how the powerful behave toward the weak, of the lies a civilisation will tell itself to justify its treatment of those coded as 'outsiders', and the horrors that otherwise perfectly decent people are capable of perpetrating without thought or question simply because that's the way things are. It's just a shame the story doesn't exist anymore. The Loose Cannon reconstruction I watched was excellent, but no recon can ever make up for actually being able to see the actors' performances.

This story sees the departure of space pilot Steven Taylor, who has been a stalwart figure at the Doctor's side throughout the season, Peter Purves an absolute rock through some turbulent times for the show. When I first started watching this era of the show, I knew Steven only as 'the companion played by that Blue Peter presenter', so Purves has been something of a revelation for me and I'm really sorry to see him go, although glad to see Steven leaving on a high note, having found a new purpose. This is also a comparatively strong outing for Dodo, who is at last permitted to show us who she is when freed from the constraints of comedy – albeit too little too late, alas – while the Doctor has some truly powerful scenes which demonstrate just how far the character has come through the three years of the show so far.

The plot, in a nutshell, is this: when the Doctor and his companions land on an unnamed planet in the distant future, they soon find that the beauty and luxury of the advanced civilisation living there is bought at a terrible cost. As they fight to end the injustice they have uncovered, Steven finds himself at a crossroads and leaves the TARDIS behind to take on a new challenge.

This was the first Doctor Who serial ever to have an umbrella title with numbered episodes within it, instead of individual episode titles that were only later grouped together under an umbrella name. I miss the individual episode titles already!

Writer – Ian Stuart Black
Director – Christopher Barry
Script editor – Gerry Davis
Producer – Innes Lloyd
Aired – 28 May-18 June 1966

Observations

Random thoughts while watching:

Episode OneCollapse )

Episode TwoCollapse )

Episode ThreeCollapse )

Episode FourCollapse )

Quotable QuotesCollapse )

The Verdict

Overall and taken as a whole…yeah. This is rather a lovely little story and I thoroughly enjoyed it – one that's definitely undervalued by fandom at large. A bit dry, perhaps, and not the most exciting adventure ever, so it might not seem all that engaging to someone looking for monsters and explosions, and the concept may not be original, but it's intelligently written, tightly structured and atmospheric, drawing on real world issues to deliver a strong ethical message that may be delivered '60s-style but resonates nonetheless, and allows all three regulars to shine in their different ways.

This is also one of the best companion exits in the show's history, in my opinion, as the story really showcases just how much Steven has matured during his time with the Doctor, building up to his ultimate decision to stay and full of emotional resonance when the time comes to say goodbye.

3.08 The Gunfighters

First Doctor with Steven and Dodo
Follows on from Season One, Season Two, Galaxy Four, Mission to the Unknown, The Myth Makers, The Daleks' Master Plan, The Massacre, The Ark and The Celestial Toymaker

308TG-1


MASTERSON: Doctor who?
DOCTOR: Yes, quite right.

Overview

The Gunfighters still exists and can be watched in full, all four episodes. Hallelujah and glory be.

This is a very slight story, really, with a paper thin plot and uneven characterisation – definitely one of the weaker spots in an experimental, transitional season fraught with off-screen difficulties…and yet. It's far livelier and a lot more fun to watch than the serial preceding it, The Celestial Toymaker, and is highly entertaining if you accept it for what it is, which is farce, and very knowingly so. Doctor Who does the Wild West, deliberately employing every cliché in the book for comedic purposes – this is a pure historical of the mockabilly variety, and while the writing may be a bit clunky and the faux-American accents painfully bad, the regulars little more than guests in someone else's story and woefully lacking in meaningful characterisation or development, it is nonetheless a character story. It's just a shame it isn't a character story about the regulars!

The plot, in a nutshell, is this: when the TARDIS lands in the American West, the Doctor, Steven and Dodo find themselves caught up in the gun-toting affairs of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp in the days leading up to the infamous shoot-out at the O.K. Corral.

This was the very last Doctor Who serial ever to have individual episode titles; hereafter, each episode will simply be numbered as part of the overarching story.

Writer – Donald Cotton
Director – Rex Tucker
Script editor – Gerry Davis
Producer – Innes Lloyd
Aired – 30 April – 21 May 1966

Observations

Random thoughts while watching:

Episode one: "A Holiday for the Doctor"Collapse )

Episode two: "Don"t Shoot the Pianist"Collapse )

Episode three: "Johnny Ringo"Collapse )

Episode four: "The O.K. Corral"Collapse )

The Verdict

Written as a parody of the westerns that were fairly ubiquitous at the time, The Gunfighters is a lot of fun. It's lightweight, insubstantial fluff, to be sure, but entertaining to watch anyway. The sets are great and the direction is excellent, full of creative shots and angles. The main weakness of the story is its…well, weakness. There is some lovely visual comedy and some hilarious jokes, but much of the remaining dialogue is flat and pedestrian, too clichéd to sound natural, especially coming from guest actors unable to master an American accent, while much of the characterisation is dictated by comedic necessity rather than offering any meaningful insight into the characters. It's fun, but there's not a lot to get your teeth into.

So I have the same problem here that I always have with any comedic episode of any show that isn't an actual comedy: do I just jump on the fun train and enjoy the humour for its own sake, or do I attempt to analyse it anyway for whatever little it can tell us about the characters and their ongoing story? After all, comedic or not, the story still exists within the same universe as the more serious dramatic episodes, so anything that happens here is still part of the ongoing story and part of the established characterisation – which is a problem when that characterisation is undermined and twisted for the sake of a joke. It is Dodo, once again, who really suffers from the demands of comedy here; although the characterisation of the Doctor and Steven is also weak, both are already well-established, so any distortion of their character for comedic effect may be sifted out through our greater understanding of them, but Dodo is still very new, two out of her three adventures now have been pure comedy, and unfortunately her personality simply isn't well enough established to withstand it – and yet she does have a few really good scenes here. So, overall and taken as a whole, this one is a bit of a mixed bag!

3.07 The Celestial Toymaker

First Doctor with Steven and Dodo
Follows on from Season One, Season Two, Galaxy Four, Mission to the Unknown, The Myth Makers, The Daleks' Master Plan, The Massacre and The Ark

307TCT-1


DOCTOR: We must proceed with cunning.

Overview

The Celestial Toymaker is another of those mostly missing Doctor Who adventures, with only one of its four episodes surviving to be watched as originally intended. So, it's back to the recons for this review. The background to this story was rather tumultuous, with the script re-written several times by different people, at very short notice, before going into production. William Hartnell was on holiday for the middle two episodes, leaving companion actors Peter Purves and Jackie Lane to carry the action, and the story was made at a time when his relationship with the production team had become acrimonious, which must have made for a difficult atmosphere on set.

The plot, in a nutshell, is this: the TARDIS travellers find themselves pawns of an extremely powerful and very bored being called the Toymaker, who forces them to play twisted versions of childhood games – for the prize of their own lives and freedom.

This story is absolutely bonkers. It's an extremely imaginative, surreal concept, reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, with Michael Gough's Toymaker making a strong antagonist for the Doctor…it's just a shame about the execution of the idea. It is impossible now, of course, with only one orphaned episode and three soundtracks to go on, to appreciate what this serial actually looked like when it was completed and aired, reconstructions cannot hope to do justice to such a visual story, but given the difficult circumstances, low budget, outlandish yet undeveloped concept, and weak character writing, I'm not sure how successful the production would ever have been.

Writer – Brian Hayles / Donald Tosh
Director – Bill Sellars
Script editor – Gerry Davis
Producer – Innes Lloyd
Aired – 2-23 April 1966

Episode one: "The Celestial Toyroom"Collapse )

Episode two: "Hall of Dolls"Collapse )

Episode three: "The Dancing Floor"Collapse )

Episode four: "The Final Test"Collapse )

The Verdict

Overall and taken as a whole, I've got to be honest and admit that this is probably my least favourite First Doctor story – the only thing I really enjoyed was Steven's sarcasm, but it wasn't enough. Of course, with three-quarters of the serial missing, it is impossible to really judge it, the loss of visuals being especially damaging for such an intensely visual story, but – especially given the sparse set dressing and pedestrian direction on display in the extant final episode – even if all four episodes did still exist to be viewed, I'm afraid the painfully thin plot and woefully weak characterisation would still be a fatal flaw. It is the combination of the two that is the real problem – I don't usually have a problem with thin plots if the characters are well written, while weak character work can often be forgiven in an otherwise really well-drawn story, but the two combined is almost impossible to recover from. The concept is potentially intriguing, but is not successfully sustained across four episodes, and nothing is ever actually explained or truly resolved. How did the travellers end up in the Toymaker's realm? Where is it? Who is he? Where does he come from? What is the source of his power? None of these questions are ever actually answered. This is more of an exercise in treading water than a story – nothing that happens comes out of what went before, the characters don't learn anything that they can draw on to help them succeed, and they don't really do anything to earn their victory. They just play childish games, very slowly, until the story is over.

The Doctor is missing for most of the adventure, and although the companions do their best to carry the story, there is precious little for the actors to get their teeth into. The story does at least succeed in showcasing the contrast between the new pairing of Steven and Dodo, who balance one another well – his cynicism versus her naivety, her sunny nature tempering his impatience and irritability, his resourcefulness offsetting her gullibility, her compassion leavening his sometimes ruthless pragmatism. It's just a shame there's so little depth to the writing for them here, and that Dodo in particular is so poorly served by an atrocious script and even worse characterisation. Both actors do their best with poor material, however – Peter Purves in particular always brings great conviction to his performance as Steven, able to sell even the most stilted of dialogue. He deserved better than this!

3.06 The Ark

First Doctor with Steven and Dodo
Follows on from Season One, Season Two, Galaxy Four, Mission to the Unknown, The Myth Makers, The Daleks' Master Plan and The Massacre

306TA-1

DOCTOR: Yes, I know I'm a bit of a quack.

Overview

This serial still exists, hallelujah, all four episodes! Coming after such a long string of missing episodes – five serials of which only four out of 25 episodes are in the archives to be viewed – being able to watch a complete adventure again is a real treat. It is also, after a spell of rapid companion turnover, the start of a slightly more settled period, as the pairing of Steven and Dodo will now see out most of the remainder of the season.

The Ark marks a turning point in the show's development, the point in a highly experimental season where the influence of a new creative team really begins to translate into a different approach on-screen. Up till now, for two and a half seasons, there has been a strong emphasis placed on character and continuity – 1960s style, to be sure, but there nonetheless. The characters and their reactions to their experiences have always been more or less at the heart of the show, driving the movement of plot, but this is where the emphasis begins to change, the point where characters begin to lose the definition they'd once had and simply follow the plot where they once drove it, the point where stories start to become more formulaic and flimsy. The Ark is a lot of fun and comes as light relief after the darker tone of The Daleks' Master Plan and The Massacre, but the tonal shift makes it feel rather lightweight in comparison, and the intriguing concepts it throws up are clunkily handled. The characterisation does play better when the story is watched in order, as part of a season three marathon, rather than viewed as a standalone adventure, but still it is a shame to see Steven's relationship with the Doctor largely reset for this adventure, instead of building on the ups and downs of their recent traumas in a more meaningful way.

The plot, in a nutshell, is this: a common cold proves deadly when the TARDIS lands on a colony spaceship in the distant future. The travellers strive to resolve the crisis and move on…only to find that the TARDIS has landed on the same ship again, further in the future – but the voyage has not gone as planned. Can our intrepid heroes save not one but two peoples, two times over?

Like The Space Museum before it, this story is an early attempt at playing with 'timey-wimey' themes and is very much focused on consequences, exploring the impact our heroes can have on the societies they visit, whether for good or ill, however inadvertent that influence may be – they rarely get to see the long-term consequences of their visits, as they do here, which makes this a really interesting concept to explore.

Writer – Paul Erickson / Lesley Scott
Director – Michael Imison
Script editor – Gerry Davis
Producer – John Wiles
Aired – 5-26 March 1966

Episode one: The Steel SkyCollapse )

Episode two: The PlagueCollapse )

Episode three: The ReturnCollapse )

Episod four: The BombCollapse )

The Verdict

Hmm. Overall and taken as a whole, I'm in two minds about this one. The storytelling is clunky, dealing with intriguing concepts in a largely superficial manner, this is definitely one of the weakest stories of the season so far, and yet it is entertaining nonetheless and raises some really interesting ideas. The characters are rather clumsily handled, especially considering that this is the introductory adventure for a new companion, who is given no real grounding to build on, but the actors all put in excellent performances regardless. Jackie Lane brings great charm and energy to Dodo despite not having much material to work with, while Peter Purves is excellent again as Steven and William Hartnell's Doctor is simply a delight at this stage of his development.

The Ark is flawed, but I enjoy it as simple light-hearted fun anyway.

Stranded

Title: Stranded
Author: llywela13
Show: Classic Doctor Who
Characters: Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan, Fourth Doctor
Summary: If we can't always rescue ourselves, perhaps we can still find ways of helping ourselves
Wordcount: 7,811
Disclaimer: All characters herein belong to the BBC. I have borrowed them for this story and am making no profit from this.
Author's Note: I decided to play with a cliché and let it run

The story is behind the cutCollapse )

3.05 The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve

First Doctor with Steven
Follows on from Season One, Season Two, Galaxy Four, Mission to the Unknown, The Myth Makers and The Daleks' Master Plan

305TM-3


DOCTOR: "History sometimes gives us a terrible shock, and that is because we don't quite fully understand. Why should we? After all, we're too small to realise its final pattern. Therefore don't try and judge it from where you stand."

Overview

Following in the wake of The Daleks' Master Plan, nine out of twelve episodes of which are missing from the archives, The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve (also known as The Massacre) is completely missing, all four episodes existing only as an audio recording. It is one of only three stories – the other two being Marco Polo and Mission to the Unknown – of which not a single frame of footage survives, not even the tiniest of clips. So, recon it is once again.

Another of the pure historicals that litter the First Doctor era, this story is significant as it marks the first occasion on which the Doctor comes through an entire adventure with only a single companion at his side – a solo male companion, moreover, something that has happened only rarely in the show's history. Although a new companion, Dodo Chaplet, does come on board to join the Doctor and Steven at the very end of this story, this is not until the final scene, after the TARDIS has already moved on to a new time and place, and she plays no part in the adventure itself. It wasn't until much later that a solo female companion would become the regular pattern, this era of the show was mainly structured as an ensemble, so the break from tradition here is noteworthy – and more noteworthy still as, with the Doctor absent for two episodes, Steven is required to carry the bulk of the action alone, supported by the guest characters, whose story this is.

There were two distinct types of historical in this era of the show: the straight historical and the comedy historical. The last historical adventure was The Myth Makers, which was played very much for humour, but The Massacre, in contrast, follows more in the vein of Marco Polo or The Crusade by presenting the story completely straight. This is costume drama, rather than comedy or sci fi adventure. The story also picks up a recurring theme in historical adventures of this era: the fixed nature of history and whether or not it is ever right or indeed possible to interfere with the course of events.

The plot, in a nutshell, is this: landing in 16th century Paris on the eve of a particularly bloody episode in history, the Doctor and Steven find themselves caught up in the devastating sequence of events. Still reeling from the painful losses of their recent battle against the Daleks, Steven reaches breaking point and loses faith in the Doctor.

Writer - John Lucarotti / Donald Tosh
Director - Paddy Russell
Script editor - Donald Tosh / Gerry Davies
Producer - John Wiles
Aired - 5-26 February 1966

Continued behind the cutCollapse )

The Verdict

Overall and taken as a whole, The Massacre is an interesting one. It is an excellent character story for Steven, who really does carry the whole thing and is allowed a powerful emotional reaction to his experiences, bringing his often thorny relationship with the Doctor to a natural head. Peter Purves does a splendid job – even just with the audio, I'm right there with him, feeling Steven's fear and doubt and anxiety and anger and grief.

On the other hand, the last minute re-write to remove the Doctor's sub-plot did no favours to the story, which is significantly structurally weakened by it, and I can see that this kind of dry, weighty costume drama – lacking the sparkle and polish of many previous historicals – probably wouldn't have gone down well with the children watching. It's an elegant story, extremely informative about a page in history that isn't well known, but there isn't much action and we spend a lot of time with characters we don't know. It's also extremely male-heavy, in what has sadly become a continuing trend since Barbara left the show.

Still, I really enjoyed this serial anyway, character-centric as it is.

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