Sunday, June 22, 2008

Musings At The Abyss

"I don't care what you believe in!" - Kerr Avon, Powerplay

Avon there sums up so much of my recent opinion of Alan "Nyder" Stevens as I trawl through the backwaters of the OG archive to find amusing misquotes to put in my Series Two spoofs. For those perhaps unable/unwilling/unknown, Stevens and his partner Fiona Moore are the leading authorities on Blake's 7, having not only penned the definitive reference work Liberation, but also two Blake's 7 audios with the right actors and everything, and their own spin-off-cross-over series Kaldor City. Their Magic Bullet website contains interesting, well-thought out analysis of various Doctor Who stories, and season reviews of 18 and 27. Their reviews are always well-written, easy to understand and oft entertaining, especially their willingness to defer to The Completely Useless Encyclopedia in pointing out the inherent absurdities of the show.

They are also complete killjoys who over analyze things and become frighteningly cynical.

I can, however, only really criticize Alan Stevens who rivals my own relationship with Sparacus in "let it go dude" stakes. His review of B7: Time Squad, where he notes that the plot is completely nonsensical unless you know it was rewritten to make Gan an impotent Jack-the-Ripper sexual sadist, is fine. However, his claims that Gan's behaviour in Project Avalon continues this theme is rubbish - it was simply a case of bad writing on Nation's part. While he's clearly not the mindless hack some detractors would have us believe, he is not the renaissance man of science fiction either (suffer Planet of the Daleks and The Android Invasion and still tell yourself otherwise). The huge Blake's 7 genesis that is supposed to occur in The Dalek's Masterplan is simply bullshit - Terry Nation had as much to do with it as RTD had with Dalek. There's usually a nasty taste to the claims he dropped by in a taxi and threw the script at the production team, but it's true - it's just he literally was unable to do any more at the time.

Their deconstruction of Season Two, which I have often taken digs at, is quite right in places. Defining what went wrong with 28 as the show pulling its punches, not being so ground breaking and deliberately focussing on children was a great relief to those like myself struggling to work out WHY it sucked so badly. However, parts of their critique are quite simply bollocks. Their bitchy remarks that it's turning into a kid show, and that their own conspiracy theories about moons, birds and shadows were not actualized, the whole thing ends up as spitting at RTD and calling him an arsehole for not satisfying them personally.

Stevens has since got himself banned from OG. It seems that his rants were what did it. I read one the other night that the Daleks are the heroes of Doctor Who as they never compromise their morals like the Doctor, and only kill "evil" people. He notes, for example, that Daleks often watch each others backs - ignoring all the times the Daleks go 'YOU HAVE FAILED! EXTERMINATE!' to each other, and sacrifice whole armies. He says that they spare Victoria because she is not evil, but their cold and cruel slaughter of Lynda-with-a-Y is excuseable on the grounds she was a casualty of war. Despite the fact they stopped the war and went to a whole heap of trouble to scare the shit out of her before blasting her. Of course, the most infamous rant (and one that got mentioned in Back to the Vortex: Second Flight) is his rant that the Doctor is an Ood-murderer.

His logic is this: the Doctor gets back to the TARDIS and rescues Ida. Since he has no reason to believe that Rose left with the rocket (and reason to think she'd stay), he must therefore travel to the base to find out where she is. Thus, therefore, he must meet the Ood and have them explain the situation. Since the Ood are not possessed, the Doctor then abandons them to their fate, effectively murdering them to save the rocket and the dialogue that indicates otherwise is just a lie. He then went on to denounce all of humanity for its Ood-enslaving mentality and genuinely, honest-to-God, demanded that all those reading his thread of hate should rise up and sue the BBC. He then noted that it would be thrown out of court, and the rant became one against the entire British legal system.

The thread was locked at that point.

Now, the point is that Alan's rant misses huge points. For a start, the TARDIS is defined as 'queasy' so the Doctor's claims he could only make one trip are plausible. Secondly, twice on TV we see the TARDIS home in on Rose (Aliens of London and Parting of the Ways), so obviously there is something of a 'Rose Detector' on the console. Therefore, it would tell the Doctor Rose was alive and on the shuttle. Since he has only one trip, and he KNOWS Ida is suffocating, he saves her. Also, even if those two points are invalid, if the Doctor DID go to talk to the Ood... they wouldn't know where she was. They were all brainstormed and possessed at the time, and unlikely to tell him what happened.

So yeah, Alan. You're full of shit. And the fact you've apparently been banned from Behind the Sofa forums after calling someone "an ignorant fucktard" for not agreeing with your "Steven Moffat is saying the whole series is a dream of Donna's" subtext manifesto says a lot.

(ETA: No, he's back, drooling like the RTD fan bitch of 2005. "At last, he's taking risks!" Yeah. Risking putting off anyone who doesn't buy all the boxsets and live on wikipedia... JNT'd be crucified for this. In fact, I think he was...)

Now, as I looked over the OG review thread for Alan's Season 28 review (if you get my drift), the main complaint against it was this point. Nyder notes that Season 28 does not seem to revel in unusual interpersonal relationships as before, showing a higher degree of heterosexuals and nuclear families, etc. He/They rounds this off with a dollop of vitriol at Rose's fate: she gets a rich family with two parents, a sibling and a boyfriend which is automatically assumed better than living in a flat with her single mother.

Well, for a start, 'automatically assumed'? By who? By Alan bloody Stevens, that's who. He misses the whole point that, when offered this dream lifestyle... Rose refuses it. She chooses the Doctor instead. And when Pete makes the decision for her, she refuses again. The whole scene on the beach is the realization that the Doctor has not come to take her away again, but to properly say goodbye. It's a happy ending for Jackie and Pete, true, but not automatically for Rose and Mickey. He further criticizes the Doctor's cheerful acceptance of Rose working for Torchwood, saying that it's a corrupt organization - ignoring the fact it was closed down and rebuilt, that Rose won't let it get that way, and that the Doctor doesn't actually HAVE the hour needed to give Rose a tedious lecture about not trusting President Harriet Jones despite her living a completely different life and not blowing up the Sycorax.

Alan becomes shocking similar to Sparacus at this point, demanding that Doctor Who should focus on the grim reality of life and that you shouldn't get second chances and you must get over your past. It is ridiculous, according to them, that Rose magically gets her perfect family and a fortune. Not because of alternate universes, but because they really liked the sad ending of Father's Day. They also seem to be chronically unable to accept that Jackie Tyler is 40, despite all the dialogue and Camille herself only hitting that decade in 2006. Why? Cause she didn't look 20 in Father's Day. Well, bugger me sideways, that ruins EVERYTHING, doesn't it? I know that I am unable to cope with 99% of all Doctor Who where visual mistakes are made, things don't look proper and the Doctor suddenly transforms into Terry Walsh for fight scenes.

What really boggles me is their utter amazement at the concept that Rose just happens to visit an alternate universe with the perfect family (skip over the disease, poverty, and sterility on Pete's World), then just happens to get into a fix that allows her to go there. This is from the same people who scream "THE FENDAHL IS BEHIND EVERYTHING!" in their own stories, when it's not "CARNELL IS BEHIND EVERYTHING AND OH BY THE WAY HE IS POSSESSED BY THE FENDAHL!" Crucially, they note that if there was a scene where Rose revealed that, as the Bad Wolf, she was automatically behind it all, they'd accept it.

Conspiracy theories or nothing!

That's Alan Stevens for you. Haven't heard from Fiona Moore in while, though...

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"Didn't you see that scene on the beach? That was a goodbye. Goodbye forever. The whole reason we did that scene was because if we ended with the Doctor walking away, it would have looked like a cliffhanger. And it isn't. It's an ending. Because she's not coming back." - RTD on CBBC TV.

Speaking of Rose's farewell, she's back this week. Oh, RTD, does ANYONE trust what you say nowadays? I'm still not convinced you're leaving. But bringing her back is, to me, something of a bad move. Certainly, I was 'sledgehammer-in-the-jaw' when she popped up in Partners In Crime, but looking back, that was surprise. Surprise that she was in the episode at all rather than being saved up. I'm not actually sure I was pleased. For a start, she's not the Rose we knew - she's the broken, uncommunicative, tired woman on Bad Wolf Bay. Like Martha, she'd grown beyond audience identification. And considering Season 28 retconned her like mad, this is something massive. Plus, the Doctor was finally over her. In Midnight he can talk lightly about her to strangers, and in Utopia both he and Jack aren't so much fussed that Rose is in an altnernate universe, but that she's trapped there against her will.

And why's she trapped there? Because RTD realized the bitch wouldn't go anywhere otherwise. She turns down the "disgustingly pampered and bourgois" (Alan StevensTM) lifestyle with both parents and the bravest human she ever met. If she can get back into this universe, then wake up, she ain't leaving if she can help it.

So she's not going to be able to help it. Either Davros is going to blow her head off (or something) or the Doctor will blow up a console or something and the universes will separate, taking Rose with it. And we pretty much know this because the Christmas special has the Doctor visiting Ballykissangel and fighting Cybermen ALONE. Not with Miss Piper, who is probably far too busy filming sex scenes for Diary of a Call Girl before a stunt stomach is needed (or a script editor). So yeah. Bleak ending is on the cards.

And bleak endings, RTD specializes in. Even when Nyder trashes the happiest ending RTD provides - New Earth - we still see someone die knowing their life is pointless, another's young life ruined because of other's mistakes, plus the realization that a lot more people are going to die from diseases. It's hard to be cheerful about The Parting of the Ways now we KNOW the Bad Wolf didn't save everyone and fix the Earth, and even Jack's survival ultimately causes him even more suffering. Yet, conversely, in a story called Doomsday only two speaking characters perish. And one of them is off-screen! A huge factor in Doomsday's failings is that we do not see the world after the Cybermen and Daleks vanish, merely the Doctor's implication that the world has survived. Now, this isn't bad in and of itself, but the next story we saw was Torchwood: Everything Changes where everything manifestly did not. Although we know now that Torchwood 1 is less canonical than Rob Stitch as the Doctor, it's notable that The Runaway Bride all but agreed with it's "everything's the same".

Thankfully, Season Three has shown a slightly more convincing version of a post-alien-invasion world. Alien life is like terrorism - undeniably a fact, but yet unlikely to bother the man in the street. The humans in Smith and Jones are worried, scared and amazed by the events. But not completely surprised. They accept the Space Rhinos with the horrified acknowledgement of the delivery man turning out to be a suicide bomber. The Master, whose disgust at humanity is evident, notes even they have noticed all the alien spaceships and monsters, even if there is no official word on it. In Partners in Crime, no one goes "Bloody hell! UFOs are real!" but "Oh, god, not AGAIN!"

Is it any wonder that the worst episode of Torchwood 2 is Something Borrowed? Where NOONE believes in aliens at all? I mean, it wouldn't be difficult to change it would it? A simple exchange like, "She says the baby's an alien!" "Really?" "Hope not. She's probably just stressed out." would work. But no, Gwen has to tell the character played by the ONE man who has been in Classic Who, New Who and Torchwood that aliens are real.


Fleetingly returning to my point, the season finales are shockingly bleak. First off we have humanity reduced to a handful of stone age survivors in a radioactive wasteland trying to get off their fat arses and find life beyond TV, we have Captain Jack left for dead, Micky and Jackie assuming Rose is dead, and finally the Doctor perishes in front of an amnesiac Rose. Next off, we have Earth devastated, the Cult of Skaro at liberty, and the Tylers gone forever-ever-ever, leaving the Doctor alone and weeping in the TARDIS. And at last count we see the Doctor, all his friends and enemies gone, left alone in the TARDIS.

And then there'll be that bloody stupid "utterly ludicrous replacement " scene in the TARDIS. With Jack gone, the Ninth Doctor is replaced by the Tenth, who gurns. With Rose gone, Donna Noble appears and the Tenth Doctor gurns. With Martha and Jack gone, the Titanic smashes through the wall and the Tenth Doctor gurns. Once can only wonder what amazing thing will appear in the TARDIS when Donna leaves. I have the impression a sinister Gelth-like spirit will appear in the time rotor as the Tenth Doctor gurns.

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"And overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out." - The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C Clarke

In three weeks time, Season Four of Doctor Who will be over. Then there'll be the wait for The Christmas Upgrade or whatever it's called. And then... well, there'll be no Torchwood. It seems to take two years to produce a season of the thing, and the next one will only be five episodes long and shown throughout one week. WHY THE FUCK IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO MAKE?! WHY IS JOHN BARROWMAN SO BLOODY BUSY?! WHY KEEP HIM ON IF HE'S SO BLOODY UNRELIABLE?@!?!? The Sarah-Jane Adventures are unlikely to turn up in the gap, and production still hasn't even started on The K9 Adventures, and that was announced in mid-2006!

The Drought will occur.

Like the last ones. I honestly dunno how I'll cope.

How did they manage it in the past? There was only a six week gap between The Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants. There was no gap between The Wheel in Space and The Dominators, since there was a repeat of Evil of the Daleks, which was written into the plot, so the Second Doctor and Zoe introduce the episode in the TARDIS. TV Comic plugged the gap between The War Games and Spearhead from Space, but I've rambled enough about that...

So what season finales HAVE I had to deal with?


The War Games
I love this story. It's a brilliant story. Spearhead from Space depends on this so much to feel even remotely new (remember, it was filmed in 1969, seen in black and white and everyone carried over from the Troughton era, so there was a lot less culture shock than there is now). But the thing is, with ten episodes, the BBC made The War Games a two-tape VHS release. And the video shop only had tape 1. Episodes 1-5. Not 6-10. Where all the cool stuff happened. But, since the video store with its Cybermen: The Early Years, Tomb of the Cybermen, The Dominators, The Mind Robber, The Krotons and The Seeds of Death had coupled with my own love for the Troughton era (those wacky World Distributor Annuals!), could a seven-year-old really deprive themselves of five episodes of Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe apocalyptic chaos?

So, maybe, one day, see it as I saw it. Watch the first five episodes. No more. Cause that was me until 2003. That cliffhanger, that Blake's 7 cliffhanger, as Jamie and his pals are emerge from the SIDRAT and are blasted to the ground with weapons already proved to be utterly, utterly fatal. Jamie, last of all, collapsing and dropping his gun and hitting the floor. The enslaught ending, leaving the background hum of the SIDRAT. Jamie lying there, definitely dead, just metres from the Doctor and Zoe. And nothing else...

For ten years, that was me.

I had the novelization, but anyone who's read it will know it's not so big a help. (For a start, the increasingly-feeble Malcolm Hulke had to strip the plot, the biggest casualty being the whole escape-from-a-shrinking-SIDRAT plot, and episode ten was based on his original script with the Doctor and pals breaking through force fields, running from a landmind of spotlights, and of course the omnipotent voice of the Unseen Ruler of the Time Lords who watches the Second Doctor's death scene and muses, "Pity. He would have livened the place up no end...")

The Invisible Enemy
Due to the odd scheduling of the ABC and James Valentine's The Afternoon Show, I knew seasons different to how they were made. Tom Baker's first season went from Robot to The Brain of Morbius and I missed all bar the cliffhangers to episode three of the former and episode four of the latter. And I missed much of The Seeds of Death part one. And a faulty tape meant the last half of part one of The Masque of Mandragora was unwatchable (but audible) just before the cliffhanger. Everything after part one of The Deadly Assassin vansihed in a blur of jungle warfare and exploding Panopticons. I never saw the end of part three of The Face of Evil, only recently watching the first two parts. The Talons of Weng-Chiang was scarce after part one, invisible after part five. Horror of Fang Rock too lost its opening installment. And everything since Uvanov shouted, "And what are YOU doing here?" was in black and white...

Due to odd coincidences, thus, The Invisible Enemy was the last story The Afternoon Show screened for a while, during the bit Batman craze of 1989. Each scratchy, staticy black and white installment was preceded by a five minute cut of a Dangermouse episode. Curiously, it showed the evil Baron Silas Greenback shrinking himself tiny and invading the brain of Colonel K, making him evil. So Dangermouse and Penfold shrunk down as well and went into his brain, finding wierd and wonderful things on the way. When you see the inside of the brain shown as bank faults populated by insane characters like The Funny Bone, the dodgy brain surgery of The Invisible Enemy makes a lot of sense. And so the final ending as the Doctor and Leela take K9, Titan explodes and the increasingly insane Fourth Doctor finally settles down (remember, I had just seen him go psycho against the Krynoid, pretend to be an evil villain, brainwashed into ditching Sarah, murdering the President of the Time Lords, be evil called Xoanon, dress up as Sherlock Holmes, go angry with everything against the Rutan, and now be possesssed...) James told us the end was nigh.

Still, at least I had a colour TV to tape the next "season"...

The Invasion of Time
Even I could tell this was a season finale. Mainly because it was the last story before The Key to Time. I only recently saw episode two, with its brilliant idea to have the Doctor turn into an evil megalomaniac and K9 into a hell-beast of lethal death! Reduced to watching the last three episodes, I was shocked by the nastiness in the first two parts where they bully and threaten Leela when they were such good friends. Storr scares me. Still does. The cliffhanger to part four kicks ass and creates the character of the Seventh Doctor all in one go. But I didn't have to worry about this because a) I already knew what happened next and had it on tape and b) they were showing it anyway. Rock and roll! And isn't Leela "He'll go somewhere else" an unacknowledged catchphrase of Doctor Who in regards to where the main character is headed?

The Armageddon Factor
Or The Key To Time Part Six as we called it. Oh, my first six-parter, my only complete six-parter, and it doesn't get half the credit it deserves. It's dark. The Doctor forced to watch as the Shadow tortures Romana. Romana really losing it and calling the Doctor a murderer. Astra left to rot in a locked, dark room soaked in radiation. K9 turning evil. Again. The skull behind the mirror. Those trippy bits where the Doctor moves through the shadow-station and sees hallucinations. Merak falling into oblivion and being taunted by Astra. Shapp and the Mutes having a shoot-out. The Doctor shattering the core. All this effortlessly counterbalanced by Drax. He should have got his own spin off, he really should...

The Creature from the Pit
Another ABC-induced ending, which was a pity as I never watched it, left with a vague impression of the Doctor and Romana creeping out of the TARDIS into mist, the Doctor chatting with Organon, K9 blowing things up and the acid-trip sequence with the neutron star. I love it, but I think my mum vetoed it - not because of any complaints about Erato's prong, but she was horrified by Adrasta throwing people down the pit and being crushed. It really upset her for some reason. So instead we'd watch some nice wholesome Servalan-stabbing-guys-in-the-neck-while-making-out-with-them episodes of Blake's 7...

The Afternoon Show brought back Doctor Who in 1993 to public demand, before going off air almost immediately, leaving the show on its own after the tennis, from Nightmare of Eden onwards. I was gripped by utter excitement throughout, presumably a kind of psychological defense mechanism to cope with what I was going to see. I watched Logopolis in the belief I wasn't watching the death of the Fourth Doctor, but the Fourth played for an episode or two by Peter Davison. It became clear that Logopolis was the last one they'd show for a while, leaving me with Red Dwarf for company for many years, and I remember the sinking realization as the Fifth Doctor sat up... and it ended! People today are still baffled by Logopolis, but I was left with the universe seemingly doomed, the Master on the loose and the sinking realization - as I watched the end credits without Tom Baker's face - that maybe I could have coped with a few more stories of the Fourth Doctor before his tragic end. The next time the ABC screened it, it was just before The Parting of the Ways, the same week I got Spiral Scratch. It was heartbreaking regenerations week and and I was truly traumatized.

It doesn't really count but by this point I had learned about 'seasons' and, after the death of the sonic screwdriver and Adric I was convinced things could only get nastier and gloomily expected my daily ritual of waking up with a brand new episode of the Fifth Doctor would be about to end. Turned out to be wrong, as Arc of Infinity came on next. Looking back at it, I'm amazed I didn't think that this WAS a bad turn of events... But Time-Flight was good, brainless oatmeal after the devastating shock of, er, Earthshock. It was comforting... AND THEN THEY LEFT TEGAN BEHIND! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Revelation of the Daleks
Doctor Who went off the ABC after this repeat. I even asked my mum to write to Backchat to find out what was what, and got treated to a 'voiceover over relevent TV scenes' showing a youtube-style clipshow from Blake and Revelation of the Daleks. Oh, the irony. They never actually answered the question, but luckily Trial of a Time Lord went on sale that Christmas, so I got a better deal than the original viewers. HAH! Later, they repeated the series again at 4 in the morning in double-episodes, and I managed to get couples of most of Season 21 and 22, but after Revelation there was The Ark of Light. Which became The Ark. Then The Ark in Space. Darn. Still, that lead to me getting more Tom Baker stories at long last, but it died out around Invasion of Time...

Rememberance of the Daleks
Rewind to 1988 where James Valentine (a real gent) convinced the ABC to screen this story early to be part of celebration, so it followed directly after Dragonfire. I loved it, even though I only got the first episode and it ended with the utterly impossible sight of a Dalek FLYING UPSTAIRS and the Doctor trapped with no way out, and we see its bulls-eye digital view of the Doctor's terrified face... awesome. I remembered nothing of the rest of the story, un-taped, bar a Dalek turning out to be Davros in disguise and another Dalek who went postal and blew up every single Dalek it met (perhaps inspiring Rob Shearman in Jubilee...)

Thanks to my first copy of DWM, I had a sneaking suspicion that this was the end. And I was proved right.

The TV Movie
Ditto. Oh, the come down. The crushing realization all our fears it would be a one-off were right. The days stretching to weeks and months as Gallifrey Guardian stopped talking about movies... sigh.

The Parting of the Ways
Interesting this one. Not having discovered the wonders of download, I couldn't wait for the ABC to catch up (and be fair, it usually manages to within a month, though Season 28 had a three month gap...) and went looking for spoilers. Any critique, any discussion, anything I could find. I went to a caption competition site just to see screengrabs. It was this desperation that lead to me first encountering Sparacus. And when it finally showed and the season ended... for good... I sagged. Even though there was Classic Doctor Who on weekdays. RAGE did its tribute with Dr'n the Tardis and Orbital's theme tune, and ominously the very next night James Nesbitt seduced a bored and unfulfilled Billie Piper by suggesting they travel together to the tune of Tainted Love, the world seemed a much bleaker and unfriendlier and lonelier place.

Hoo boy. Watched that for the first time with a horde of Doctor Who fans which created such a buzz I was completely blind to any flaws in the story. I mean ANY. I could have been quizzed and said it was the best story ever, I was riding the adrenaline. Nowadays I struggle to defend the positives. It was so cool I didn't even notice the usual angst and misery of going to work. It was only six months later that a combination of having to rewatch it six times, plus speed-reading Billie Piper's autobiography, that broke me and I wept. Ladies and gentlemen. I lost it. I sobbed. After a whole season idly suspecting that Rose was still possessed by Cassandra the Bitch, I cried at the cruelty of her fate, deprived of the one thing she wanted. Plus, the fact it lead to Torchwood was a bit of a blow...

The Last of the Time Lords
I reacted badly to this. Eagerly watching it in broken minutes on the download, a pal called George the Drummer dropped by to brag about his brilliant and non-existent drumming career (his big break was working with Tripod, and their big break was losing the drummer), and smoked something not fit for human consumption. By passive exposure to the smoke two rooms away, I felt completely drained of all emotion and silently and blandly watched the Master die, Jack and Martha leave, and the Titanic arrive. Nothing matters. All was beige. There was only a nagging disappointment that it was a downer episode to end the series. The next day I suffered a mini nervous breakdown, gripped by a psychotic fury where I tried to kill someone (really tried to kill them... with an axe...), before realizing what I was doing and collapsed in tears wailing I was going to go to hell. A couple of days later, I was back to normal and no one was said. And the episode was much better. The moral of the story, is don't do other people's drugs.

I wonder what will happen when I see Journey's End?

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