Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mel Smith RIP

As the tears of laughter dry
All the clowns have gone aw-ay
As the curtain starts to fall
Goodnight, god bless you one and all
As laughter turns to tears
Half an hour can seem like years
Here's a list of cast and crew
Christ alone knows what they do

That's it, there'll be no funny bits
After this is the end of it,
No tiny tidbits after this bit
This is the end, the end, the end!


And so the chubby-faced cheekie chappie is no more.

I am sad. He was a childhood icon of mine, and one of his songs when sung by me, gave my mum the courage and emotional strength to beat cancer. I owe you, dude.

That song, in glorious praise to another M. Smith...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Winds of Change...

Well, it certainly has been an intense week. Poor Finn from Glee finally escaped the atrocious plot and story arcs they only way he could; Big Finish have revealed they're going to regenerate Romana into Drusilla from Buffy; the epoch-makingly awful Song for 50 has been revealed and is single-handedly making people consider not tuning in to the next episode if that godawful noise pollution (which actually features a choir singing "Happy Birthday" at points) might be invovled; Mr. Kelly from Hey Dad is up on sexual assault charges, but you have to hand it to the bloke that he's facing this with so much reasonableness and dignity he might actually be innocent; the Royal baby is already missing deadlines and frustrating proles before it's out of the birth canal; and the Oh That Chatham quarantine section has been shut down forever following the revelations that sparacus is NOT some wierd bloke with a Rickett obsession but quite possibly the greatest internet troll that mankind has unwittingly produced. So, the last eight years haven't QUITE been for nothing.

So, the forefront of my mind is
a) poor Corey from Glee, now no doubt facing judgment over the "grilled Chesus" debacle
b) that The Massacre really, properly sucks.

If only I could somehow combine these in some kind of pseudosatirical multimedia format...

Friday, July 12, 2013

101 Reasons "The Massacre" Sucks

Circa 2000, The Massacre was released on audio to a raptuous reception from the existing fandom and DWm at the time. It was lauded as being sophisticated, adult, unusual, dramatic and offering no concession to its audience which, when you think about it, doesn't mean it's any good. The John Wiles era - which, lest we forget, consisted of four-and-a-bit stories, one-and-a-bit Wiles never really worked on and another that he refused to have anything to do with because he thought Daleks were crude - was hailed as the epitome of proper Doctor Who, something we should aim for and this story, the greatest of all historicals, was championed as a baseline for quality from now on.

Like sheep, we all fell for it - and I include myself in that regard. I fell for it hook, line and sinker. I tried to read the scripts but all that adult religious conflict was too much for me. In 2007 I actually got my hands on the audio and listened to it properly for the first time.

It was utter crap. Everything I'd heard was a full-blown lie.

But the lies keep coming. Just yesterday it was referred to as "one of the finest stories ever to be put out under the Doctor Who logo."

So here is a guide to why this story should be swapped for The Monster of Peladon the next time you want something to stimulate your mind.

1) The title. What a stupid title. Now, I'm of the personal belief that it's called "The Massacre" because the events of the story actually coined the word massacre in the first place. Calling it "The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve" is bizarre as it's like saying "The Day Before WW2 Broke Out". Either way, it does ruin the plot, rather, does it not? It's like the climax of the previous twelve episodes being the shock reveal the Daleks are involved in some kind of plan after all! This is a story where the Massacre doesn't occur on screen, or even in the narrative. The plot ends before it happens. "The Assassin of Paris" would be a more truthful title, but then "The Assassin of Paris Who Can't Shoot Straight And Is Utterly Useless" would be even more truthful. Calling it "The War of God" is rich too, given there is no war, God doesn't appear and the only person claiming otherwise gets four lines of dialogue in the last episode.

2) Each episode starts with a sketch of Paris. Not a model shot. A very crude drawing of some buildings no one in the audience would even recognize as Paris. Long seconds pass every week as we see a rubbish picture that has next to no relevance to anything and, by all reports, was ugly as well.

3) The Doctor and Steven just witnessed the annihilation of Kembel and watched their friend Sara age to death before their eyes, leaving them shellshocked, broken and tearful. This very next episode has them cheerful as ever and they never mention the nightmare they've just been through, even when you think it might have some kind of dramatic or narrative weight. Steven's been through hell, but the only thing he says is that he's been to Egypt lately.

4) The Doctor instantly knows they're in France by the thrilling clues - a sign in French and seeing someone in French clothes knocking on someone's door. My god, he's a genius! This is amazing!

5) Now, the last adventure had the Doctor on the run for his life across time and space being pursued by the Daleks in their quest to annihilate everything. This week, the Doctor wants to talk to an apothecary and tells Steven and us that this is going to be completely and utterly boring.

6) And Steven agrees that spending the rest of the episode in a pub getting drunk will be more entertaining that anything that could be scientific or educational.

7) Steven dresses up in period costume, including a sword that he NEVER uses even when, you know, it might be useful to save his own life, but doesn't extend this period detail to any kind of research into where he is or even how the currency works - reasonable given his plan is to get wasted at a pub.

8) Here we meet the Hugenots. Now, the Hugenots are Protestants. So, why aren't they called that? They're speaking 16th Century French, but we hear English with the Scottish Anne and the Cornish landlord. If we can accept that is just down to TARDIS translators, why leave that piddling detail?

9) Meet Gaston, quite possibly one of the stupidest people you will meet in Doctor Who. He's the bodyguard of the new Prince of France, yes? So... he spends the entire story not spending a single moment with his employer, but instead getting drunk and picking fights with Catholics even though he knows that the Catholics are on the verge of murdering all Hugenots and need only an excuse. He even goes out of his way to shout abuse about Catholicism at the slightest provocation, aproros of nothing. He also, being a sophisticated adult character, spits wine across the room whenever anyone mentions Catholics, even when it's a high-ranking Catholic official he is required to kowtow to. His hilarious "no, sire, I wasn't spitting wine everywhere because I hate your Catholic guts" routine is the closest the first episode has to drama.

10) The Doctor is identical to the Abbot of Amboise. Gaston and Simon Duvall recognize him across the street in poor lighting in a darkened room in episode two, but the Doctor strides into the pub in a huge hat and cane shouting for the Landlord to get him a freaking drink right in front of him - but not one of them thinks anything about it.

11) Niether does head Catholic Simon Duvall, who is in the pub when the Doctor arrives.

12) Now, what's this? Colbert walks into the tavern - apparently the only tavern in Paris - and bumps into the Doctor. And recognizes him as the Abbot. He actually goes to follow the Doctor. Then, he goes to the Abbot but does not mention "Hey, I saw a bloke just like you hanging around with Hugenots!" So, the one character to realize there is a double ignores it completely.

13) Except he doesn't. He very shiftily hurries out, following the Doctor and Steven spots this. Steven thus knows the Doctor can turn a head in this place, and since he's doing that BEFORE Steven sees what the Abbot looks like, this ruins the plot twist. Is it the Doctor in disguise? Well, probably not, because je now knows that the Abbot looks just like him enough for even his PA to spot the likeness and react. Yet Steven forgets this in the next episode because in adult drama, people have the attention span of gnats.

14) Last week, the Daleks were going to destroy time. This week, Steven can't pay for his drink. Thrill a bloody minute. And Steven is so worried about the Doctor he doesn't just pull out his sword and tell the landlord to bugger off but instead politely argues with him like a tourist with traveler checks.

15) Charles Preslin is in fear of his life. So he answers the door to his shop to total strangers and admits to them that he is Charles Preslin with only a few seconds of doubt.

16) He also calls the Doctor an old man. Charles Preslin is played by Eric Chitty. That's like Bernard Cribbins calling Matt Smith a geriatric.

17) The Doctor makes it clear in this story he dare not affect the course of history. He also tells Preslin within two minutes of meeting him all the latest German microscope developments for the next few years, thus doing a lot more damage to established events than saving Anne Chaplet.

18) Charles Preslin is the first person to talk about the Abbot of Amboise and how dangerous he is, but doesn't seem to think the man who's burst into the shop demanding to see him is the exact doppelganger of the evil bastard.

19) John Lucarrotti demanded his name be taken off this story as the scripts were not only completely rewritten from his originals, but also rewritten incredibly poorly. He points out that in HIS narrative, Preslin recognized the Doctor as the Abbot, kidnapped him and then tried to use him as a spy to sabotage the real Abbot's schemes. In the produced version, the Doctor disappears off screen for absolutely no explanation and Preslin is last seen saying "I only hope the old man succeeds... good luck old man!"
 20) So, just to restate that, Preslin - a key figure in the narrative - only appears for three scenes in the first episode, then vanishes without explanation. His only real contribution is to make the plot more confusing. If the Doctor ISN'T infiltrating the Catholics as the Abbot, then what the hell is he doing? Why is Preslin so desperate he succeeds? Where did he go that he needed a guide that could not be witnessed? See number 60 for the answer to this truly intriguing mystery.

21) Gaston, a man charged with protecting a royal in a city out for his blood, finds the anti-Catholic forces going overkill to find a servant girl in the middle of a royal wedding and public holiday. He does not think this is anything of any importance, and simply insults a bunch of heavily-armed troopers. The moron.

22) What has Anne heard? Actually, the script isn't clear on that. We know she panicked because Colbert and his pals were walking around, laughing evilly and saying that there will be another Hugenot purging in Paris... but why would they say that? The whole story turns on the massacre being a last-minute decision three days from now, so how did Colbert know about it? Why was he talking about it anyway? And if the Abbot's household is so anti-Catholic, why do they let Anne - a proud protestant - work there?

23) Just to restate, the very next story will have Monoid Two laugh evilly and cryptically threaten humanity whereupon Dodo shouts "Are you up to something?" and he says, "Er... no." This is THE EXACT SAME PLOT DEVICE. Only not as funny or even logical, given one is a dutiful French secretary trying not to draw attention and the other is an arrogant generations-old alien slaveowner. Mature plotting my arse!

24) Anne is asked to repeat everything Coblert said. She does. Off screen. We never find out what was said, despite the fact she said it to the face of Steven, Nicholas and Gaston.

25) If we're supposed to think the Doctor is pretending to be the Abbot... then how has he managed to sneak into the Abbot's place without Colbert and Duvall noticing as they were already at the house with him? The Abbot has clearly been established there for a while, and his two close companions are not surprised to see William Hartnell in a monk's robe. So, it's not a mystery, is it? There's nothing to suggest that this is not merely some old bloke who looks like the Doctor.

26) The epic cliffhanger is the Abbot deciding not to do anything until tomorrow, giving Anne all the time to warn the Hugenots of his evil plans. What a moron.

27) People at the time did not like this episode. All the adult sophistication and deep themes bored the shit out of most of the audience, and The Massacre practically killed the ratings of Season 3 of Doctor Who overnight. The viewers switched off in droves and many didn't come back until Patrick Troughton came on. So, thanks for that, Mr. Wiles, it's good to see someone knows how to do this show.

28) This story doesn't have a cliffhanger reprise for any of the episodes, which, when added to the fact each episode covers one day, means it all-out states that long stretches of plot have absolutely nothing happen during them at all and suggests that whenever an episode ends, all the characters have to stop having an adventure and go back home. How exciting.

29) After War of God which featured no war and no gods, we have The Sea Beggar which features no seas or beggars. Now, the Catholics want to assassinate the Sea Beggar. Sea Beggar is a racist nickname for the Dutch. The Catholics call Admiral de Coligny the Sea Beggar because he talks about the Dutch a lot. And this episode is all about trying to find out who the Catholics call "Sea Beggar" but also want to kill. Despite the fact that there's only one possible candidate, plus only one Hugenot official in Paris at the time that needs protecting, and also only one such character played in the episode. Yet, the twist of the episode is that COLIGNY IS THE SEA BEGGAR!! Yes, a character we have not seen last week, barely see this week, have no reason to care about in any way, shape or form, is in danger of being killed. Who cares?

30) Also. The Sea Beggar. The Catholics not only rub their hands and laugh evilly about ethnic cleansing, they say they're going to kill the Sea Beggar. "Why do think we've chosen code names so very carefully?" Duvall shouts. I'm sorry, they call de Coligny the Sea Beggar because the King nicknamed him so. This is like an assassin out to kill Margaret Thatcher but only referring to her as "the Iron Lady" and hoping that no one will spot any connection. Blimey, these Catholics are stupid!

31) Gaston is as brilliant a liar as everyone else as he says, and I quote verbatim: "Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. You really must be mistaken. That girl is called, um, er, um, Genevieve, and she's been working here ever since the Admiral came to Paris." And he expects to be believed.

32) Gaston and Nicholas actually think that Steven is a Catholic spy, who cunningly infiltrates their group by claiming not to know anything that is going on and then goes on and on about his friend the Doctor before pointing to the Abbot after they've identified him and say "That's my pal!" Steven cannot believe these people are so stupid. And neither can I. Gaston also goes from being certain Paris is a tinder box to pooh-poohing the idea of ethnic cleansing by the Abbot to being convinced Steven is trying to trap them.

33) And Muss believes that Steven would not only give himself away, he would personally lead Muss to a dead end that doesn't confirm his story, but instead of killing him with his sword, he would run away instead after casting even more doubt on the Abbot's identity?

34) Speaking of the Abbot, both Tevvanes and Duvall spend time in this episode remarking that they don't actually know that much about the guy and whether or not he is reliable. Given that this is the real Abbot they're talking about, it's a freaky concidence that he's so suspicious and inefficient, isn't he? Yet William Hartnell appears for five seconds in a non-speaking cameo. They couldn't work out some material for him to be in this week? John Lucarotti sure could...

35) In episode one, Anne hears a nonsensical claim that Hugenots are going to die. She tells Gaston and Nicholas and they don't believe her. In episode two, Steven hears that an important Hugenot whose itinery perfectly matches de Coligny is going to die. He tells Gaston and Nicholas and they don't believe him. So the plot really is advancing in leaps and bounces, isn't it?

36) "You show too much kindness to these nothings," says Gaston of Anne, who while she is a peasant is also a Hugenot whose life is in danger and is doing everything she can to help them protect their employers. What an asshole he is, eh? Who cares if this little shit gets massacred? Everyone in France is either evil or stupid or both! Why do a tragedy about a historical genocide and make every single one of them so unlikeable? So much for Donald Tosh's brilliant characterization...

37) Steven bursts in and says he has news. Gaston seems to believe that Steven telling him things will allow Steven to spy on him for the Abbot. And then, even when Steven refuses to engage in mindless violence, Gaston orders him out, refusing to listen to what he says even though there's huge evidence SOME kind of conspiracy is taking place and it would be quicker to hear it than have a fight.

38) So... the episode ends with de Coligny one day away from being assassinated. So? He's barely had any screentime, there's nothing to suggest he's nice and the only people to be upset by his death are Nicholas and the Moron Without A Brain Gaston who needs to be reminded where he actually lives. There's no threat to Steven, the Doctor or even Anne. So why should the audience give a rat's arse? Oh wait, they didn't, which is why the ratings fell further after this episode.

39) The Priest of Death! Well, he's actually an Abbot and he doesn't actually kill anyone, but these titles are getting vaguely to the point. I dare say people tuned in to see an evil vicar stabbing and poisoning people, presumably after last week's homeless beggar trying to bum a sixpence off the ocean, or even the Thor versus Zeus in episode one. But no, we get this instead. How amazing.

40) And so, the Doctor, Preslin and the landlord have vanished from the plot entirely and we get this cut-price knock-off Blackadder II royal court down to the loopy monarch who spends the entire thing bored out of his skull talking about politics. Here's a trip for anyone doing drama: never, ever, under any circumstances, ever have a character go on about how bored they are. It is the equivalent of holding up a flashing neon sign saying "THIS IS CRAP, ISN'T IT?" If fictional characters can't be interested by what's happening, what chance do real people have?

41) So, de Coligny says to the King that France is too knackered by the Catholic/Protestant divide to go on, so he says they should join with the Dutch and the English and wage war with Spain. Because no price is too great to pay for peace, especially when some deigo wop is the one being killed for it. In Lucarotti's version, the Doctor infiltrates court and suggests a peaceful alternative. In this version, the Doctor never meets them. Neither does Steven. This scene, therefore, has no real reason to exist except making us despise these bloodthirsty morons for their lack of wit, imagination or basic humanity.

42) King Charles thinks that preventing the people of Paris slaughtering each other is "tedious business" that doesn't matter to him personally. He is also "bored with Spain" because "war is so tedious" but refuses to try any other approach. This is the King of France, for crying out loud. King Geodfry, inbred psychopath of House Lanister, would be more efficient than this. He basically gets told "If we're not careful, there's going to be a massacre!" and he doesn't give a flying fuck. All this does is make us yearn for the day when such clueless aristos are taken out and brutally guillotined for such stupidity.

 43) Anne is worried that she'll be recognized at the Abbot's house despite them being unable to recognize Steven in a stupid hat when he goes to the front door and the whole "see the exact double of the Abbot of Amboise in a Hugenot drinking den and think nothing of it" Duvall displays.

44) Last episode, Anne said there were hundreds of places she could hide without any Catholics looking for her. Here, she apparently can't even hide in Preslin's Shop. Is she just making this up to stick with Steven?

45) Oh look, there are only two Hugenots at court and they're called Coligny and Toligny. FFS!!

46) Coligny decides the best way to get King Charles to sit up and take notice is to insult his rabid genocidal mother who is looking for an excuse to start a jihad. Even Toligny thinks that's a stupid idea that will never work and what does Coligny say? "Let's hope not." What a genius. It's amazing no one took him seriously, and his "let's hope neither England or the Dutch betray us" plot to wipe out the Spanish never took off.

47) Given that the Abbot isn't the Doctor, it's borderline miraculous that he manages to accidentally fulfill all the requirements of being the Doctor in disguise? He gives Steven a free pass, warns him that Coligny is the Sea Beggar, then allows him and Anne to escape and bluffs Tavannes until the assassination is failed. It works brilliantly if the Doctor is sabotaging the conspiracy... but he isn't. No, not only is the Abbot miraculously identical to the Doctor, he's also so utterly stupid and pathetic he actually looks like a cunning saboteur instead of the total ineffective moron he must ergo be.

48) Oh, the number of people banging on about William Hartnell being "chilling" as the Abbot. WHEN? The fact is, the character doesn't do anything chilling or frightening or even threatening. His main thing is to be gently upbeat about bad news. He never says anything nasty or threatens to kill anyone. And while he doesn't fluff any lines, he doesn't perform any different to how he plays the Doctor. Watch him deduce the Refusians in three episodes time and he is playing the Abbot. There is no difference.

49) And the thing is, this makes and breaks the story. We're supposed to think the Abbot is the Doctor, ergo, the Abbot must sound and act like the Doctor. But since he isn't, we're denied the chance for Hartnell to play a vicious dogmatic villain (which Lucarotti wanted him to be). They might as well have made the Aboot the Doctor for real after all, it would have saved the ridiculous contrivance and put in some peril.

50) But oh wait, the idea is that the Abbot gets killed and we think the Doctor will be killed. Really? They really thought anyone was going to buy a show called Doctor Who would write out the Doctor in a squalid little historical rather than a twelve-part Dalek epic? Had anyone still been watching at their point, were they worried that from now on there would be no Doctor? Or would they just think "Oh, it WAS the Abbot after all..." and then wait impatiently for something interesting to happen.

51) The big clue is that the Abbot doesn't get a death scene. He tries to sneak out and is murdered off screen. No last words, no final proclamation, he doesn't even pull out a knife and start stabbing folk. Imagine if he'd been revealed as a genuine sabateur, a Hugenot spy. It would explain a hell of a lot and STILL suggest to the audience this was the Doctor, if the Abbot got a final speech defending his actions. But no.

52) Either way, you'd think the death of the Doctor would be the big draw for this episode. But no, it's a bloke with a false name hiding in the Paris book despository or somesuch with a gun. This character has no dialogue, appears only in one sequence, and is utterly superfluous. Steven does not burst in, wrestle with the guy and try to save the Admiral's life. No, he just misses. And then runs away.

53) So we have a very long, boring sequence of Coligny walking down an empty street very slowly, unaware of any danger, not talking or doing anything. It gives us plenty of time to reflect that this character, who hasn't even met Steven, has absolutely no reason to engender our sympathy. In fact, with his "exterminate the Spanish" logic, he is no better than the Queen Mum he despises. Why do we want this stupid, overconfident genocidal maniac to live?

54) And he survives... because he dropped a paper and was picking it up. No one saved his life. Steven might as well have not done a single damn thing, and, ergo, the last three episodes are completely pointless. We've sat through three weeks finding out there's a conspiracy to kill this jerk and it fails entirely on its own. It would have been more powerful had the assassination succeeded, but that would contradict historical fact. Yes, we'll come back to that with number 56.

55) King Charles considers de Coligny a close personal friend. But even hearing people are trying to assassinate him isn't good enough excuse to drag him away from playing tennis, because Charlie is more interested in winning Wimbledon against the Andromedan blacmanges than uniting Paris. What a jerk.

56) And here is when it all goes wrong. Historically-speaking, this story has been well within acceptable limits until Catherine de Merci reveals she wants to slaughter the Hugenots and is willing to go behind the King's back to get rid of all his enemies. This is about as wrong as Hitler invading Poland because Churchill pinky-promised to let it happen. In the real world, the Queen Mum was out to remove the powerful Hugenots like Coligny for the reasons she said, to keep the Protestants suppressed. King Charles, even more of a cunt in real life, decided to let her do it and then, on a whim, ordered the massacre because he didn't want to hear any Hugenots complaining, so he preferred to wipe them all out. Catherine was horrified and even tried to prevent it. So, in terms of historical accuracy, this story is a bucket of steaming after-enema. No wonder the audience didn't know what was going to happen - Donald Tosh literally made it up!

57) Colbert continues to be a moron as he stands over the Abbot's corpse in the middle of the street, surrounded by people and gossips that he deliberately had the body put there.

58) Tune in next week to see Steven escape a rioting mob out for his blood, lead by Colbert... oh wait, he just shook them off in lots of chase sequences that occured off-screen.

59) Steven thinks his last surviving friend is dead. He's marooned in France without any protection and Catholic gangsters out for his blood. You'd think he'd get some kind of emotional moment as despair threatens to claim him and he tries to come to term with these facts. But no, instead the first half of this episode is entirely taken up with Steven yelling at Anne to sort through some laundry. You'd almost think he didn't care about the Doctor, but then he's not weeping about Sara either, is he?

60) Still, never worry. With a predictability verging on soul-crushing inevitability, the Doctor turns out not to be dead. It was the Abbot after all and the Doctor hasn't been in the story for three and a half episodes, last seen undertaking a dangerous mission for Preslin. Now at last we can learn what's going on: "Yes, well, I was unavoidably delayed, never mind that now." Lucarotti reportedly threw things at the TV.

61) By the way, this episode is called The Bell of Doom, surely the most Gothic-sounding of Lovecraftian tales. But actually, it's just a curfew bell that does not signify doom any more than the sun coming up or a guard knocking on the door. "The Early-Morning Door-Knocker of Doom" would be a better title, but "Wasting Twenty Minutes Before Dodo Turns Up" would be more honest.

62) The Doctor has spent four days in Paris and not learned the date. Or the year. Not only does this make his chat with Preslin all the more ridiculously anachronistic, it means the Doctor knows about the massacre but has not once noticed the city-wide celebration of the royal wedding which occurs less than a week before the massacre begins. It makes all the Catholics look borderline insightful in comparison!

63) Steven has, on TV, seen three historicals so far. He visited England in 1066 and of course it was on the verge of the Norman Invasion. He visited Troy and of course it was the afternoon a decade-long-war ended. And now he's in Paris, a city about to explode into religious violence, and the Doctor's suddenly very worried about the date. Steven thinks nothing of this. Idiots.

64) And then the Doctor tells Anne to sod off. This is no cunning Sylvester McCoy manipulation, he basically shouts at her to get out of Hugenot territory and travel alone to one of the places she can hide, then stay indoors on St. Bartholomew's Day. Now, I'd take this as a bloody big hint some deep shit is about to go down, but as everyone's been taking stupid pills, there's no guarantee that Anne spotted this. Steven certainly hasn't, as he doesn't - as one would expect - grab the Doctor by the lapels, shake him and scream in his face, "START TALKING YOU OLD BASTARD!!"

65) Steven doesn't even stand up to the Doctor bullying Anne to go back into danger (and as Anne has been screaming "the guards will kill me!" throughout the scene, it's no secret). Why doesn't he tell the Doctor to shut his damn mouth and stick with Anne? It's not as if it's inconcievable to plot out the rest of the episode, because they could easily get split up, or Anne could learn what's going to happen and try to stop it... but now, the Doctor throws her out of the shop and screams they have to haul arse out of Paris. And the audience is supposed to be surprised at the next scene?

66) Oh, and Anne doesn't even mention that the Doctor looks like the Abbot. You think she'd at least mumble "Wow, that's an incredible likeness to the guy I've been working for the last month or so..." wouldn't you? But as if a proper drama would waste time on little details like that.

67) The Queen Mother strides into Tavannes and waves the scroll of ethnic cleansing. Apparently the King Charles has given in to his insane mother, but we don't see this on screen. The King isn't in this episode, so the chance to see him make a choice, defend his actions, give an insight into his decision, none of that happens. Especially as it seems he doesn't know he's authorized it anyway. Any potential for drama in that? Not in my name, sunshine!

68) Maybe Catherine de Merci is batshit crazy, because she can't keep her mind straight. She seems to think that Parisian Catholics can instinctively tell their enemies, but that she can't actually control them and she seems to think that "collatoral damage" won't work even after her attempt to assassinate a single person failed spectacularly. She also thinks that a city full of a few thousand bloody corpses will improve the health conditions of the French capitol. If she was any more loopy she'd be sitting in a wheelchair with one arm screaming "THIS IS MY ULTIMATE VICTORY! THE DESTRUCTION OF PROTESTANTISM ITSELF! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

69) Tavannes objects to the idea of mob justice. But can't be arsed to argue with the Queen Mother. He acts like authorizing mass slaughter is like working a weekend, something undesirable but not that bad. No amount of pretentious "at dawn tomorrow this city will weep tears of blood" undoes that. And does he cod solliloquize like that when he's alone in his office? Nutter.

70) So Simon Duvall gets sent to save the new Prince of France from being killed. That's got to be worth some drama and comedy seeing them together, right? Can you imagine the stink Gaston is going to raise when he finds that? The conflict? Oh wait, we never see the Prince. Or Gaston after he calls it a night. Well, that's a pay off to the last four weeks of them having alley cat like spats, huh?

71) Instead of getting any precious screentime on the King, Gaston, Anne or even the landlord or Preslin, we get a long dialogue by two bored guards whining about how bored they are being guard. Sweet merciful Christ, what have I told you? Boring!

72) Oh, and that Massacre that's the big deal? We never get to see it. Less than a month ago we got to see the armed forces of Egypt take on a Dalek army and we can't get any carnage? Not even the guards starting their purge by tackling the Hugenots in Coligny's house. We don't see any fighting at all, and so the violence remains completely and utterly abstract. Some guards walk down a street and we're later told they kill everyone - so fucking what? None of them bar Anne have been nice, and have dug their own graves by being stupid, stubborn gits who refused to take the slightest notice of Steven. Let them burn. RTD tried a similar plot in The Waters of Mars, but by making us care about these characters. We never meet any of these average French Hugenots or average French Catholics. They're just some unseen characters doing unspecified things to each other off-screen which was destined anyway.

73) Lawrence Miles says that this episode is the scariest episode of Doctor Who. Mind you, he says no one is scared by Weeping Angels. But would the pittance of viewers watching this really be frightened? "Yes, little Johnny hid behind the sofa when the Queen Mum began her intolerant diatribe! He couldn't sleep a wink, he kept thinking about there being no innocent heretics! Oh, the littlest was terrified when the Avon lady knocked on the door, she was sure it was Colbert out to kill all Hugenots... Doctor Who is far too frightening. Some of my best friends are 16th Century French Protestant activists."

74) Now, I'm admittedly basing this on the LC recon (which is very good, it must be said) but the massacre is shown via more shoddy drawings. Basically, it's stick figures being mean to other stick figures. The infamous death of Coligny - shot to pieces and thrown naked out of his second-floor bedroom window - is not shown. Anonymous drawings tamer than the average Calvin and Hobbes comic. It is the equivalent of the climax of The Fires of Pompeii being the end titles of Roger Ramjet.

75) Although this story has primarily been a vehicle to show off Peter Purves' acting skills and the character of Steven, it seems there was absolutely no potential in a scene where Steven finds out about the wholesale slaughter of up to FIVE speaking castmembers (the entire Hugenot population of Paris in this story, don't you forget). Because, like morning the Doctor, apparently this reaction isn't worth our time, so we cut to ten minutes after when Steven is in the sulky "Hang on, are you saying EVERYBODY'S dead?" phase.

76) Steven asks if there was something they could have done to prevent the massacre, and you can't really see where he was going with this. Just how, exactly, would he and geriatric abbot-impersonator have prevented a city-wide death squad under orders from the highest authority with the mob on their side? Especially given the cleansing began at dawn which was three seconds or so before they left? I know he's clutching at straws here, but come on...

77) The moral argument in this story - apparently meant to establish beyond doubt the "rules" of historicals - doesn't quite make any sense. The Doctor says he cannot change the course of history, and this story wholeheartedly comes down on his side. Steven spends four episodes unwittingly trying to alter events and fails completely. This story would go exactly the same if the TARDIS crew never arrives. Ergo, the Doctor is saying it is not possible for them to change history. Thus, morality doesn't come into it. The Doctor could have interfered to his hearts' content, but nothing would have changed. It's the equivalent of calling time of death and abandoning CBR on a dead body. But then we get this "I was right to do that" thing which serves nothing but to piss off Steven. If Anne was destined to die, and the Doctor cannot change history, why send her to her fate anyway? How is her being slaughtered by the Catholics BETTER than keeping her with them? At the best he's saying "Yes, sending her back to witness that horific carnage and probably be psychologically-scarred for life was the right thing to do!" Yet he's also saying it's the only thing to do.

78) Now, just minimizing things to the John Wiles era, the Doctor has "not" changed the course of history by inventing the Trojan Horse and bringing his companions to enter local mythology, taken a Trojan priestess from her pre-ordained fate, left a 25th Century genius with a clear mandate to rebuild Troy, exposed a conspiracy to take over the universe, led the Daleks to slaughter innocent Visians, ruined a test match at Lords, caused the Sphinx to be built, and also destroyed an entire planet with the Guardian of a Solar System and a Dalek invasion force that - according to this story - should have been allowed to do their own thing because also there was nothing that could stop them. So, we have two stories before this, one saying that history can be changed because history itself is an unreliable record of events, the other ignoring it all and providing entertainment that anyone actually wanted to watch. And suddenly both of those are wrong.

79) Of course, the entire argument could have been boiled down to "Steven, we tried taking a historical companion with Katarina and look how that ended up! No, never again!" and made more sense, acknowledged the story arc as well as the basic point that no one cares about five hundred year old religious genocide unless you have characters we give a rat's arse about and only Anne fitted that. Even crap disaster films like 2012 are aware of this rule!

80) The Doctor shouted at Anne until she went back, against her will, into a dangerous situation an hour before TEN THOUSAND PEOPLE were mindlessly slaughtered. "I was not responsible," huffs the Doctor, but then says "I was right to do as I did, yes, that I firmly believe." MAKE YOUR MIND UP!

81) And, when you think about it, why the hell couldn't Anne have been a companion? The "Katarina was useless" idea doesn't hold water as Anne was five centuries more advanced than she was. In The Ark, the companion merely needs to know the story of Noah's Ark, be stupid enough to fall for the Toymaker's tricks in the story after that... Only in The Gunfighters is a 20th Century companion needed, and Anne often shows much more intelligence and self-preservation than Dodo.

82) Steven rants that the Doctor's "researches have little regard for human life". What researches? And this is the Doctor who just saved the universe from the Daleks, and rescued the Rills from certain death, not to mention going through hell to save Steven's life after he got skewered in Troy. Yes, the Doctor seems ridiculously insensitive here, but it comes out of the blue. He was willing to die to save Sara, and not rescuing a peasant girl he'd never met suddenly means he is morally bankrupt? I might say that Steven is overwrought with grief, but, oh yes - see number 75.

83) Steven screams he wants no part of the Doctor's researches and decides to leave the TARDIS wherever it lands next. Given in his experience it has landed - at the bottom of cliff as the tide comes on, on a planet about to explode, in the middle of the Trojan War, on the most dangerous planet in the universe, on a planet of molten lava, the sacred ground of the Pyramids and then in the street where the Massacre starts - this is suicidal. You might say he's overcome with grief, but it's not played that way, and if he's not thinking straight why isn't the Doctor just locking the TARDIS doors until he calms down?

84) The Doctor gives a pretty speech about not judging history. But Steven never tried to judge history, he judged the Doctor's callous actions. And the Doctor's defense of his actions - "we're all too small to realize its final pattern" - ultimately means "I have no idea what I'm doing". Then he starts ranting that he did what was right. The Doctor is then surprised when Steven walks out, shaking his head. The only way the Time Lord could have lost any more credibility were if his trousers had fallen down during the speech.

85) The Doctor then whines that none of his companions could understand. Understand what? That history cannot be changed? OK, Barbara had issues with it, but Susan and Ian got behind that angle pretty quickly. Vicki stayed behind in Troy precisely because she understood she couldn't prevent the disaster, only help rebuild. And Steven has left because the Doctor is an unfeeling bastard. Thus, the Doctor's moaning self-pity verges on the Chathamesque. "Oh, none of them understood! They all left me the bastards! They are unworthy of my love! I have a degree!" It is clearly the Doctor's inability to relate to human beings that's causing problems, not that historicals sometimes have downer endings.

86) Now, let's take a pause and try to look into the mind of the production team. They've epically pissed about with John Lucarotti, turning down two of his accepted submissions at the last second, then completely rewritten his script without a by-your-leave. And for what? "Well, this will give some good stuff for Pete to play." "Yeah, it'll also get Bill out of her hair for a week." "Plus, this is so totally historically accurate as long as you don't know the faintest thing about the real facts." "I know! This is so mature!" "Right, so, at the end, Steven chews out the Doctor for being a git and storms out and the Doctor gets all sad!" "Brilliant! What happens next?" "Ummmmmm...."

87) What kind of writer-producers are these idiots? Well, the clue is one of their surnames is "tosh". But if you're going to have a huge dramatic argument between the two leads and have one of them storm out forever while the other collapses in self pity, you either end the series there (ala Time Gentlemen Please) or you have them reconcile. Are we supposed to expect that this pinnacle of scriptwriting couldn't concieve of, say, the Doctor finding Steven in a pub and saying sorry - in a nice counterpoint to the first episode where he dumped Steven in a pub and basically called him stupid and immature to his face? No, obviously there was a far greater approach to resolving the emotional plotline to the satisfaction of everyone...

88) Dodo. A companion with a name that is either the colloquialism for "moron" or a reference to an ugly and long-extinct bird. And I think the first definition is right because while not every companion does the "ZOMG! Bigger on the inside!" shtick (see Leela, for example), not one other character in the whole of Doctor Who - or fiction itself come to that - has run through the police box doors, found a large, brightly-lit futuristic control room with a strangely-dressed man at the console and... not noticed anything odd about it at all. Her first words in the show are a breathless, impatient "Where's the telephone?" Because, she never actually notices that it's bigger on the inside. Even when she's told it's a time-space machine.

89) Yet, it could have worked - to a degree - if they'd done the same dialogue on location, with the exchange with the Doctor happening OUTSIDE the TARDIS. If then she had followed the Doctor into the TARDIS after being fobbed off, her deadpan "There's something odd going on here!" would be up there with Chang Lee's "oh no, not falling for this one again!" reaction to different dimensions. Instead, she comes across as being clinically insane, an impression that will never quite fade. And, ladies and gents, THIS is the character deemed a worthy replacement to Vicki, Katarina, Sara Kingdom and Anne Chaplet? A character who, you'd be interested to know, didn't even have an outline written? Her whole character arc was "actress has a different haircut each week" AND EVEN THAT WAS ABANDONED! Sweet merciful mother of sweet onion chutney, this is the most pathetic, slap-dashed companion arrival ever! Even Mel got a better introduction and the show was falling apart with its own script editor trying to get the show axed at the time!

90) The Doctor continues to show what a bastard he is. After being tormented about accusations that he is callous, he refuses to in any way assist a child who has suffered an accident on Wimbledon Common and requires immediate medical assistance. Does he not want to interfere? So why does he introduce himself and all the functions of the TARDIS to a schoolgirl he's known for less than a second?

91) Hey, what about Steven? Oh, well, he's decided that he's changed his mind. He'll never say why or acknowledged his no-fist backdown, because apparently travelling with a man whose morality he despises is more important than two policemen in the general area. ZOMG! It's the pigs! And the Doctor's terrified too, because the policemen might want to use a telephone... to contact policemen like themselves... and apparently that while Daleks and Chumbleys cannot penetrate the TARDIS, the average bobby can.

92) And so, Dodo joins the show. These brilliant writers decided the best way for an audience identification character to join the series was to appear in a single scene at the end of the episode where, after showing she could be outwitted by Baldrick at basic observation, she blurts out that she doesn't care if she's removed from Earth forever because her parents are dead and her aunt is a bitch - rather bold statements to make given she doesn't believe in the time-space stuff even then. And thus her past is never mentioned again, we learn nothing else about her and - oddly enough - the first chance Wiles' replacement gets, he ditches her in the middle of a story because she's so utterly rubbish.

93) This is a story full of adult sophisticated human politics, noting that war is an inevitable function of human interaction and there is often no way to suspend hostilities unless they are diverted onto a third party. And the Doctor justifies randomly kidnapping a complete stranger from her perfectly-normal 1960s life over forcing a wanted Hugenot to go back to a jihad because... she looks a bit like Susan. That's creepy. Oh and when Steven complains, he gets told "you're the most inconsistant young man! Just now you were telling me off for not having that Chaplet girl aboard!" showing HE HAS NOT UNDERSTOOD A BLOODY WORD!

94) Oh, Dodo's last name is Chap-lett, which sounds a bit like Shap-lay, obviously Anne survived! Now, I'll admit, this could be a good dramatic peak and, as was often assumed, what convinces Steven to stay with the Doctor. Alas, this plot twist comes after he's rejoined the TARDIS. We're getting effect before cause, which means that Steven's departure is shown to be nothing more than a childish huff which he chickened out of right away. And is never mentioned again. For the love of sanity.

95) This brings up the awkward question of how Anne could possibly have sired a child without them taking the father's name. Fandom has, on the whole, come up with a rather cunning explanation: Steven knocked Anne up and her illegitimate sprog thus kept his mother's name and eventually sired Dodo. (Cue Moffat gag that Taylor DNA must cry itself to sleep every night.) This makes the TARDIS arriving on Wimbledon Common just when Dodo is passing more credible, since its established the ship can home in on time travelers (especially given point number 99). But this entire plot thread, and the philosophical implication that Steven and the Doctor have by their presence not only saved Anne but helped create life in a story all about people killing each other, has been pooh-poohed by Donald Tosh.

96) Yes, Tosh explains that Steven in no way took advantage of a serving wench who clearly fancied him something rotten. In fact, by the customs of 16th Century France she... married her own cousin and thus sired a Chaplet heir that way. Now, while this inbreeding certainly explains Dodo's congenital stupidity, I have to wonder... if Tosh had planned all this in his head, why not, I dunno, mention it on screen? He couldn't have been expecting the audience to be aware of such arcane practices, given the plot twists on us not knowing about what happens in France five centuries ago (but us apparently caring). So Anne survives the massacre across ALL OF FRANCE that slaughtered OVER TEN MILLION PEOPLE but finds her HUGENOT FAMILY intact and is able to live and have INBRED HICK CHILDREN that last for OVER FIVE HUNDRED YEARS. At this point being killed by the mob is sounding a better fate.

97) Yet on screen, the Doctor says it's "possible" Dodo and Anne are related. Which means it's "possible" it's just a coincidence of names as Chaplet was a common French name (which is why Lucarotti chose it) and Anne actually died. We also know she has an aunt, so there's absolutely no evidence that Anne survived the massacre at all. Which means, therefore, that Steven is right: Anne Chaplet died meaninglessly and Dodo is still related to her. This is meant to be an uplifting ending?

98) As the TARDIS takes off, we get the old "local boggles in amazement" gag which just doesn't get old. In this case, we have a woman walking a dog - also unaware of the police, the car accident, or the high number of passers-by running into the box.

99) Yet, the worst thing was she was the last-second replacement for Ian and Barbara. Yes, they wanted to bring back Ian and Barbara for a five-second sight gag with no dialogue and nothing else. I am gripped by rage at the mere idea of it. Having an emotionally-destroyed Doctor meeting up with Ian and Babs and them reconciling the Doctor and Steven is exactly the sort of mature sophistication that Wiles was apparently championing, and since we've had whole episodes of "Steven in the pub", devoting a whole episode to "the Doctor and Steven are friends again" while also giving the new companion a better debut must surely have been the sort of thing they should have been considering. But no. We get The Ark instead.

100) The last shot of the episode is that picture of Paris again. WHY?!?

101) So, we have a historical that is historically accurate, the Doctor and Steven not meeting the main cast, a plot that resolves itself without them having any influence on them at all, a wealth of wasted plotlines, characters, missed opportunities ground under the heal of the most turgid, boring, uneventful and unsympathetic set of characters, none of whom die on screen and no one cares about anyway. It's boring to sit through, unpleasant to think about, unrewarding to analyze and has absolutely no point to it at all. Avoid it, because, seriously, we're better off without.

Listen to Peter Purves in The Fist Wave. Same plot, done better, with monsters - because even the Vardans are scarier than the French royal family.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My odds on Missing Adventures

As some might have gathered from previous blogposts, the thought of missing episodes has been preying on my mind of late. Now, in the Space Year 1998 Ian "Blubberguts" Levine made a clear statement that the missing episode count would forever rank around the 110 mark.

Less than six months later, the first episode of The Crusade turned up. Yes, even God Himself was pissed off, and to pour salt into the wound, we've had another three episodes turn up in decade or so to follow.

Now, the count rests at 106... or, to be completely accurate 105 missing episodes and one episode that will never, ever be found. The Feast of Steven was shown only once, then quietly taken out the back of BBC Broadcasting House, shot execution-style through the back of the head, hacked to pieces, then fed to phirana, the phirana feces was then cremated, fused into glass, broken again and then fired into the heart of the sun in a projectile of liquid metal.

It ain't coming back.

The 90 episode hoax was credible precisely because it DIDN'T claim to have that episode. At all.

So, the topic of animating the episodes comes up. After all, The Invasion, The Reign of Terror, The Tenth Planet, The Ice Warriors and The Moonbase have all suffered this treatment and are out on DVD. Of all those reconstructed episodes, I think only TP4 is still wanted back in the archive after we can now watch the damn thing properly - and, arguably, better than the original.

But what next for the animation project to reconstruct?

Now, on first glance this seems a good bet. We have telesnaps for 6/7 episodes, the audio, the scripts, and enough on-set photos for this to actually be done in COLOUR! True, the remaining episode would be harder to put together, but not impossible if the other six have been done. Also, sprites for the first TARDIS crew are in existence from The Reign of Terror.

Alas, this is a seven episode story. And you'll notice that the recons so far have aimed for two episodes or less. Plus, it is incredibly talky - maybe not a bad thing from a dramatic point of view, but when it comes to animating and lip synch... let's just say The Stolen Earth is a piece of pinch to animate compared to Midnight. Also, the fact is Marco Polo doesn't have the pulling power with the public eye no matter what the drooling fanboys at Kaldor City think.

Two episodes in existence, two episodes to animate, with telesnaps and photos? A shoe-in, and I'm surprise it's not been confirmed already. Even so, the Doctor doing sod all in King Richard's court while Ian and Vicki wear stupid hats isn't going to appeal to many punters, unless they're Olden Days fans.

Well, this is an intriguing one. We have one and a half episodes which give us all we need to see in terms of sets and characters, not to mention this story's sudden notoriety and its new thumbnail review as "looking way more awesome than it sounds". Given how arty the animators are, and such a clear idea of what the episodes are for, I'd say this is the best bet for animation if it weren't for Ian Levine's fanmade recon, which has pushed the demand for more Rill/Drahvin XXX action down to zero. Thanks a bunch, Ian.

No telesnaps, hardly any photos, but the recent comic book adaptation(s) show this isn't impossible to do. Daleks are piss-easy to animate, as will most of the freaky aliens. Though unless someone's going to do the whole of the Masterplan, it's doubtful we'd get it. On the other hand, there's the movie version of youtube with a Chris Hale lookalike as Marc Cory, which is as faithful as can be.

Tragically, this is likely to be one of the last they'll tackle as we have 9/10ths of fuck all in terms of video or picture material about this story. No telesnaps, hardly any photos (though we do have snapshots of Vicki acting like a dirty slut even by NuWho's standards) not to mention a cliffhanger ending. Maybe they'll base their animation on the Loose Canon recon? It's not that bad, but...

Well. On the obvious negatives, this is asking for ten episodes to animate. On the plus side, Daleks! And the existing episodes provide the visuals you'd need for roughly eight of those episodes, plus we have Douglas Camfield's scripts with all the fiddly details (like Mavic Chen being exterminated in longshot) so the odds of reconstructing a decent version of the story is quite possible. But this will be a MASSIVE thing, even if they turn to the comic book adaptions for help.

A story that makes The Mythmakers look over-photographed and analyzed. Ironically, only Dodo's entry scene stands a chance of being anything like what was on TV, but the LC recon shows you can pretty much visualize it as Blackadder II only unfunny as sin and tedious as shit. When the dramatic impetus of episode one is Steven arguing with a bartender about loose change, who'd give a shit enough to animate it?

Hrmmm. While there's only one episode and no telesnaps, there's more than enough picture (colour ones too) stuff to do it justice. Though there are two questions: a) why bother? and b) should we censor the line about "niggers" for modern sensibilities or stick true to Doctor Who as a historical document, good and bad? But seriously. Why bother?

Low priority, requiring four episodes with no monsters. On the plus side, it is a very interesting story with all the telesnaps you could ask for.

Low priority, requiring four episodes with no monsters. On the plus side, it is a very interesting story with all the telesnaps you could ask for. I know I said this earlier, but it's true of this story as well. Plus - the sprites for the TARDIS crew are around.

If you're going to animate the death of the First Doctor, why not the dawn of the Second? Six episodes to animate is a lot, but this is a story even Steven Moffat has publically asked for. Plus, Daleks, telesnaps, Ben and Polly sprites, all the scripts and photos... the only real impediment is Troughton's improv, but I dare say Anneke Wills can remember the important bits. The best bet of the "totally missing" bunch.

A story tragically held in low regard by the mouthbreathers who mistake boredom for maturity (see fans of The Massacre), this story is no better than The Smugglers or The Savages in chances of being animated. This is a tragedy.

I think so. With only two episodes to do, with the telesnaps and the existing episodes showing this story is more fun that a barrel full of rage-virus-infected monkeys, I'd say this is a dead cert. I could do a "nuzzing in ze vorld can shtop me narw" gag but I won't.

Like so many stories of this era, we've got all the ingredients except an existing episode. OTOH, the Macra would provide the animators with awesome fun and, having done The Moonbase, they have most of the ingredients. Certainly worth keeping an eye out for this one.

Meh. True, 1/3rd of the story exists, we have telesnaps and footage but... really? So much of it occurs standing silently in rooms not doing much, I can't see it appealing to either the public or the private.

True, six episodes, but Daleks, telesnaps, an existing episode and the civil war on Skaro exists as footage on its own. Another one I expect to be done.

Nope, I don't see this one happening for a while. One episode and telesnaps versus long bits of nothing and very little Yeti action.

Even less chance, especially as we don't even have telesnaps of episode 4. It's a visually boring story anyway, being 90% talking heads and the rest stock footage. Is anyone clamoring for this one? Also, rumors are they've found the whole lot anyway.

Actually, I'd say this one is a good bet. Episode one exists and shows us all the sets, all bar two of the main characters, the limited variety of sets will save animation, plus Yetis and fungus will be easily animated. If they can turn this into a stage play, animating it can't be too hard. Add to that UNIT, nostalgia, the Great Intelligence, I think there's enough public demand to get this done.

A low priority, especially as all the scary bits exist.

A pity there are so little Cybermen in this one, because it could easily tip the scales. Four episodes needed, but we have telesnaps and there's a kickass CGI trailer. Might happen, especially as this story categorically was NOT part of the 90 found.

Lowest of the low. I doubt they'd release it even if they found all the episodes. It probably wouldn't be too difficult to animate, even though we have no telesnaps or even photos for most of it, but I doubt anyone has enough love for this one. The cast certainly didn't.

Well, that's MY two cents.