Thursday, September 10, 2009

Delayed Reaction - The Doctor Who Project

You ever get that feeling "Why the hell didn't this happen earlier?" at times? I know I do. Had I seen The Time Monster and Colony in Space young enough I might have enjoyed them the way I did Frontier in Space or Planet of Spiders. Alas, the moment passed and I can never really appreciate what I wanted to experience when I was younger. It's lucky I saw B7: Warlord when I was ten and thus still impressionable enough for me to love the avante-garde-drug-nightmare when I finally bought the DVD.

OK. Back in the misty, swirly time of the mid-to-late nineties, there was the Trenchcoat effect. In short, fandom was sick of one-offs (or lack of same) such as the TV Movie, The Dark Dimension, Dimensions in Time, etc. And who can blame us? We didn't want Doctor Who back as a one-night-stand, no matter how brilliant it may be. We wanted a series, seasons, like The X-Files of Babylon 5. Since fan vids could never be reliably produced on that schedule (or even audios - Jeff Coburn's four seasons took nine years to complete for crying out loud), fan fiction rose to the challenge. The first was Trenchcoat, anthologies of stories chronicling Doctor Who's 27th season onwards without any hassle from the BBC. The idea caught on - Steppenwolf Productions, Bullsye Books, Season 27, even DWM got in on the act.

And then, one day in Computer Studies class, I idly Asked Jeeves what he knew about "Doctor Who" and "Season 27" but instead of some paragraph about Ace, Ice Warriors and Kate Tollinger I was directed to a painfully simple webpage telling me of a bunch of stories as part of "the Doctor Who project". Basically, it was a kind of hotch-potch of all the others: fan fic stories, arranged in seasons, killing off the Seventh Doctor ASAP for a non-McGann Eighth, brand new companion, ongoing mystery over what the hell happened to Ace...

I was intrigued, but not enough to try posting mail orders for the bloody thing and waited for some kind soul to upload them onto the net.

Years passed.

Eventually TDWP started turning their tales into PDFs for web access, but the format and layout put me off. It seemed to be endless angst about the Eighth Doctor (Jeremy Banks-Walkers - as made up an actor as Edward Peel-Smith but not as interesting), some Romana wannabe called Grae, and Tamara Scott, a black secret agent who had issues making Ace look well-adjusted. The more I discovered of it, the less I liked, especially the bitchy superiority complex it began to boast, trashing out all other fan productions, Big Finish, the BBC revival... none of it was good enough. And when you have a story beginning with the companion wracked with guilt she shot a bullet into a Voord (yes, a fucking Voord gets angst in this series), you wonder if it's getting all out of hand. Their last season finale was called Journey's End (sound familiar?) and was full of references to the RTD era which, um, never happened. I might have forgiven it if it was something obvious like their Ninth Doctor (Basil Rathbone under an unconvincing pseudonym, and an unpleasant git to boot) fighting the Slitheen but it's little, irritating touches like someone going, "What in the name of the Untempered Schism?"

I finally lost it when the long-awaited TDWP Programme Guide was released. At last, thought I, a glimpse of those stories I read about in my youth but could never read... but it turns out the program guide was just their website in plain text format, the "full synopsis and cast lists" just the blurbs from the PDFs. If you needed a reference guide for the 2007 series, would it be helpful if it tried to disguise that the Macra, Daleks and Master were involved? No, it wouldn't. Simply noting this disatisfaction lead to Commander Bob going ape at me, accusing me of being myself (which made sense at the time, alternate UserIDs, you dig?) as if it was utterly impossible for NORMAL people to feel cheated by being told to download the (unhelpful) contents from a website you had to visit to download it in the first place!

But what's this, I don't hear anyone cry. Why not just read the stories you want to instead of getting worked up about a programme guide? What the hell is wrong with you?

Don't ask! The point is Season 27 of the TDWP was corrupted years ago on their diskettes and seemingly would never be released. The stories unread, the plots unknown. So when I get sold to download a PDF on the grounds it will tell me what happens in them, I expected something more than a paragraph apiece LESS detailed than that first crude webpage in 1998!

But that changes tonight, mon brave, as they've finally uploaded all three of their Seventh Doctor stories and I at last stand a chance of reading them.

Yes. I too weep.


Boasting a rather painful photoshop cover (with the Season 24 Doctor, seemingly a midget, standing in the shadow of a giant TARDIS and Silurian as lens flares flare across a quarry), The Final Sunset I know is something of... fanwank. Unless you have a different term for "LOL! The 7th Doctor and Liz Shaw team up with UNIT to fight the Master and Silurians! Squee!" which is pretty much all I know about this one.

From the vaguely adult prose ("Shit!" screams a UNIT soldier on the second page), I begin to wonder if this is the miraculously-restored original story or perhaps rewritten from notes. Not that I can criticize, seeing as what one of my blogs is about (Baysan Tulu likes my Twin Dilemma rewrite! I don't want to be there when he finds out I've made Mestor a Tractator...), but it has to be said the awkward, uneasy-on-the-eye formatting is a bigger turn off than the actual material itself, though having a whole page of dialogue and each line ending in an exclamaition mark doesn't even work as an idea for ramping up tension.

What tension, I hear you ask? Like Battlefield, it kicks off with a UNIT base getting frazzled by an alien EMP which causes it to vanish off the face of the Earth like that Outer Limits episode A Feasibility Study while dark and terrible things occur under the ocean nearby. Dark flashbacks to Tangent: Earth occur as we see the Master - well, a "mysterious figure" with a "mysterious smile" so I assume it's him - wades through Pip and Jane style fourth person prose ("Bodies? This deep below the ocean bed? There couldn't be. But there was.") and starts reviving Homo Reptilis like there's no tomorrow. When the Silurians get a tad annoyed at a dirty stinking ape in their pristine underground base, the Master kills two birds with one stone and exposits like crazy about the history of the Earth Reptiles and their place in Doctor Who mythos. Our villain then calls himself Angelus for some reason... mind you, Buffy was on back then. It's a pity it's not the genuine Angelus, as he's generally far more enjoyable and violent than the Anthony Ainley Master. Surely the Silurians must find it a bit creepy their new ally keeps laughing uncontrollably to himself?

The first chapter ends with another Battlefield montage as a military helicopter is blown out of the sky by demonic... well Sea Devilish... forces, and we cut to hot, sticky female archaeologist Rosin Doherty on her dig at a Canadian lake in a heat wave and generally feeling sorry for herself. With the most multicultural crew outside of a 1960s Cyberman story and a homemade time scanner in place of geophys, the only thing missing is an evil manipulator to be running the dig. Oh wait, her comes one: Professor Angelus, wearing his Survival outfit and some bitching shades, looking in short totally ridiculous.

After making small talk about how he likes his landscapes utterly destroyed by natural disasters, the Master (seriously, is anyone fooled by that moniker?) is charmingly sexist and Rosin falls utterly in love with him when he DOESN'T call her a mad bat wasting her time on archaeology. Perhaps freaked out by this, the Master legs it, leaving behind his not-at-all-sinister cobweb-covered suitcase. While Rosin gets prank phone calls from Milo Clancey (yeah... I'm not exactly sure how that works either, is this his illustrious ancestor or something?), the cobwebs turn lethal and the rest of the dig team all die horribly from invisible poisons, bringing the second chapter to a close.

The third chapter begins with the Canada branch of UNIT having a little get together with Rosin and Liz Shaw who, for some reason, despite being retired and having no further interest in her preternatural research bureau, is sent to investigate. Why? Coz she was in The Silurians and plagues and stuff! Realizing it has nothing more to say, the chapter ends after two pages. I haven't seen installments this short since Delta and the Bannermen hit the shelves (or should that be "peed over" the shelves? Sad typo joke for fans #56).

Onto the fourth chapter now, as Liz, Rosin and UNIT return to the plague pit (except there's no plague) and find amazing footprints of no earthly animal! Liz rather kills the mood by shrugging, "Yep, they're Silurians all right." UNIT, of course, has chosen for this crack team a bunch of soldiers who don't actually believe in alien life, or Silurians even though they've all been given the reports and stuff about Season 7. The very Earth itself can't quite cope with this unbelievable bit of contrivance and begins to split asunder and everyone runs away, before realizing that while they were distracted by steam vents, Silurians have been kidnapping them while they're talking. Dear God, these idiots make me yearn for Paul Farrady and Corrine Shaw! Even the Silurians seem to double take before third-eyeing these morons into the mud.

Chapter five now and, only sixteen pages from the end of the story, the Doctor finally makes an appearance. "Isn't that great?" asks the Seventh Doctor in the way he always did on TV. Oh wait, no he didn't. After two pages explaining who the hell he is, what he looks like, where he comes from, what the TARDIS is, what it looks like, who Ace is, why she's not here (no details on that one though and unlike the BF Seventh Doctor, this one hasn't been arsed to get himself a new companion) the Doctor decides... to read a book and go to bed.

Very helpful.

Anyway, back to Earth where one lone UNIT soldier has escaped to warn civilization while Liz and the others recover from their attack. Luckily, in her entire life, Liz was once given anaesthetic and is able to wake up quicker than all the others who have never had a medical operation performed on them, or given basic training to deal with alien brainwashing. The moment she's awake, the Silurians immediately run in and start probing her mind.

Chapter SIX now, where Liz waits until the probing is over before using the funky TARDIS pager she stole from the Doctor and - pausing only to mock how Terry Nation kept coming up with stupid planet names that she doesn't find funny like Aridius or Marinus - she activates the macguffin while making it quite clear she hates the Doctor with a burning passion and never wanted to see him again lest he discover how she'd been stealing bits of the TARDIS and reverse engineering it for her own personal gain. Well, yes, Liz, I agree. I'd want to bloody deck you if you did that to me, but the fact is UNIT never bothered to use their own temporal beacon to contact the Doctor even after he himself threw it at them and told them to give him a bell when they needed help. Basically in one page I've lost respect for absolutely everyone involved in this plot.

Back aboard the TARDIS, in only his second appearance in 34 long pages, the Doctor is sitting around, drinking tea and considering redecorating the console room. Like the beginning of the TV Movie only irritating. Getting Liz's tickertape message, the Doctor finally prepares to join the plot - but what's this? Liz and her pals have already escaped as her TARDIS pager also acts as a rape alarm on the exact frequency that cripples Silurians, allowing them to free themselves! How convenient! Annoyed with this plot hole as I am, the TARDIS cunningly materializes in the perfect place to block the path of the escaping prisoners. Good on you, old girl.

The Seventh Doctor finally leaves his sodding time machine and is rather unimpressed with the dire emergency he's been summoned here ("Silurians. They should be quite friendly.") nor is he overwhelmed by the ingratitude of the people he's here to save, particularly Liz who shouts at him a lot and isn't remotely interested in his friendship or new appearance. When the Doctor suggests they try and talk to the reptile people, he is forced to beat the shit out of a UNIT soldier who tries to kill him and steal the TARDIS. For the love of Led Zeppelin, these ingrates deserve to die! The Silurians finally catch up and the Doctor treats this momentous occasion with all the passion of myself telling a pest exterminator that, no, no termites in this house, sorry, take your wares somewhere else ("Hello, I hear you are having some problems with some humans. Perhaps you could fill me in on the situation and I can play my usual role as peacekeeper between the races." - yeah, that won't insult their intelligence and make them torture and kill you, will it?)

The Silurians take this baffling request perfectly seriously - no probing for the Time Lord - and reveal they fear humanity's weapons of mass destruction. Not that they've seen any such things, but the weapons inspectors have been looking rather grim of late and it's best to be safe rather than sorry. The Doctor finally starts to treat this serious as he and the-not-bothering-to-actually-say-anything Liz are dragged off to meet the Angelus who the Silurians still haven't found remotely suspicious in any way, shape or form.

Chapter Seven begins as our "heroes" are dragged into the secret underground lair full of lava and 'mag-ma' where the Doctor makes a rather pathetic appeal to the Silurian's honor - they shouldn't annihilate humanity because it's morally wrong. And anyway, they'd lose! The Silurians are impressed with that half-assed, illogical 'it's-kind-of-what-they-say-in-these-Silurian-stories-so-why-waste-brain-cells-making-it-make-any-sense' manner you often get in short stories by first-time authors, and use a wierd kind of liquid-rock-video-phone to contact Angelus. Who... and maybe you should brace yourself people... is the Master!

The Doctor recognized it instantly. There could be only one voice like that in the entire universe, only one voice that so encapsulated an insane lust for power and desire for destruction. It was the voice that had destroyed Traken, the voice that had tormented the exiled Doctor, the voice that had killed a Lord-President of Gallifrey, the voice that had killed and tortured millions, the voice that was unmistakable, unbearable voice of Evil incarnate. It was the voice of the Master.

Am I the only one who notes that there are at least four separate voices for the Master, and actually the one he's listening to is actually Tremas's nicked vocal chords?

Anyway, time for the traditional So We Meet At Last/You Escaped From That Death Trap I Last Saw You In/Oh Doctor You Have Been Niave/And Now You're Being Evil - Again!/I know/So Uh Are You Gonna Explain Your Evil Plan To Me?/Oh All Right Just Because You Asked Nicely scene that, dammit, we NEEDED once more time. It's not a particuarly good variation on the theme, especially as the Silurians are watching this and haven't notice their ally is disgusted at an enemy who shows compassion and mercy and actually admits he has an agenda. Frankly, I can't see why the Doctor's wasting his time with humans or the Silurians. Or even the Master now, who stupid starts shouting "I am the Master of the Silurians" which oddly enough annoys his lizard pals immensely.

Finally, after telling the Silurians about five times that the Master is a genocidal maniac, they abruptly decide to agree with the Doctor. The Master has a temper-tantrum and then tells the Second-in-Command Silurian to stage a coup when the Nice Boss Silurians go to deal with UNIT as it prepares to storm the Silurian base in typical Greek Tragedy which is traditional in any and every cave monster tale.

Thus, things are even more predictable than ever as we move onto the next chapter. I predict: brutal slaughter of all Silurians at their own hands, the humans and the Master, the Master escaping scott free, the underground base blowing up and the Doctor doing a speech. Now, let us see what's next...

Brother against brother fought, some with fists, some with the power of the third eye.
DING! Internal Silurian conflict!

"Then so be it," said the Master. "If I press this button the entire caves will be flooded with lava in less than five minutes."
DING! DING! Master turns on Silurians and blows up their base!

The Doctor looked back through the rear window of the jeep, back at the destroyed Silurian base still billowing smoke into the air. His mind jumped back to the scene at Wenley Moor all those years ago. The same scene.
DING! Depressing Doctor homily!

But what's this? In a surprising twist, the humans and Silurians didn't massacre each other, a Silurian survived and diplomatic relations have begun! Amazing, I hadn't seen that since The Scales of Injustice, two years before this story was released...

The chapter ends with Liz, appropos of absolutely nothing, suddenly demanding to know if the Doctor ever wondered why she quit. The Doctor admits he gave her absolutely no thought whatsoever. True, it wrecks the brilliant Change of Mind comic strip where the Doctor and Brigadier find out the true answer to that question, but I love the Doctor giving Liz the smackdown she has so richly earned out of her own six pages or so of bitchiness she's had in this story.

The End.

Well... not immensely brilliant, it must be said. A kind of "If *I* Had Written Season 7", the earthy detail of the first chapter goes out the window once the Doctor turns up and it devolved backwards from a Target Novelization. There's no closure, no farewell to Rosina, no clue as to what will happen to this single good Silurian, no one even finds out that the Master was involved in the Silurian and the dig - hell, why did he destroy the dig anyway? What was the point of that? What caused that whole chunk of countryside to vanish BEFORE the Silurians to wake up? Did no one remember the helicopter the Sea Devils shot down?

It's like the first few chapters were welded onto the original short story, but they forgot to weld on more to balance it out - the whole story's lopsided and falls face first into the mud. It's like the authors (for there be more than one) totally lost interest and enthusiasm the moment Liz contacts the Doctor and just wanted the whole thing over as soon as humanly possible. I do hope this whole "get it all out of the way" vibe isn't on the next story, the finale of the Seventh Doctor...

No comments: