THE MIND PROBE

It's a Doctor Who blog.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Realising the Time War

In the latest Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, Scott Gray writes the Twelfth Doctor describing an incident in the Time War.

I've previously mentioned that I've found Big Finish's and BBC Books attempts at portraying the time war to be dissatisfying based on their lack of imagination, that they all tell the same story and at no point does it feel distinctive from non-Time-War Doctor Who.

Gray, on the other hand, writes Doctor Who like he owns it. Also, luckily for him, his medium is comics, which are vastly more suited to the temporal chaos implied by Russell T. Davies' brief descriptions of the war on television. You can simply show an image which tells and implies the story, rather than have to write a paragraph of exposition. You don't have the budgetary limitations of television, and so outlandish visuals are more easily achievable. Thus, Part Four of The Clockwise War is, for me, the most satisfying depiction of the Time War partly for these reasons.

Another - arguably more important - factor is the characterisation and context. Having the events narrated by a future Doctor, using a younger version of the War Doctor than Big Finish were ever able to do, and placing a long established comics character in the companion role allow Gray to bypass the standard 'Old War Doctor meets young female who dies and is sad about war' plot that appeared to have been mandatory previously.

Firstly, the young War Doctor is uncharted territory for licensed fan-fiction. Gray has free reign to characterise him as he wants, and uses this to present a Doctor who is gleeful in the face of war. It isn't til the end we see Gray write something more typical in terms of War Doctor angst, but prior to this we see a Doctor not dissimilar to the one we see in Tooth and Claw - still recognisably the Doctor, but emotionally distant and glib in the face of death.

Secondly, and possibly more importantly: there are absolutely no Daleks in this comic.

Whether that's because of licensing or simply because Terry Nation's estate prohibited it, it makes the story more interesting by virtue of forcing upon us something new. Gray also resists the temptation to realise one of the names RTD came up with for the screen, something that had previously always been tepidly done, and devises entirely new creatures.

The Time Lords are also notable by their absence beyond a group of soldiers - there are no dirty tricks or amoral gambits here, just fighting on a front line. True, Gray brings in the Sisterhood of Karn to tick off a fan-pleasing box, but they were there at the beginning of this incarnation, so it's not such a contortion to fit them in.

Overall it's a take on the Time War that drives home the War Doctor's differences, manages to hint at the chaos of temporal combat without actually involving any time travel, and doesn't outstay its welcome. I was very impressed by it, but the main thing this comic has confirmed for me is this:

I really never want to see another Time War story.

Part of this is simply that it's a story that's impossible to realise in a way that does justice to the idea; a brief interlude in the Time War is about as far as you can dip your toe in. Conceptually, it's not actually meant to be a story we visit on an ongoing basis, and so a spin-off series has to tweak the Time War into something that resembles a story, despite its very essence fighting against this method of depiction.

Mainly, though, it's that I don't watch Doctor Who for the horrors of war. The Time War necessitates a version of the Doctor who not only allows these and is culpable, but can revel in them. Seeing this done reasonably well for the first time is enough to demonstrate to me that it's definitely not what I want from Doctor Who.

The Caves of Androzani is brilliant. Genesis of the Daleks is brilliant. However, if you tried to make Doctor Who like those stories every week, it wouldn't be Doctor Who anymore. Things that aren't Doctor Who aren't intrinsically bad, of course, but this is why delving into New Earth is a much better idea than delving into the Time War will ever be.





Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Twitch

This whole Twitch thing has turned out pretty well, so I thought I'd write about it.

Then I wrote about it.

Then Cultbox published it.


Saturday, 19 May 2018

Big Finish, Small Return

A new Doctor Who range standard release by Big Finish costs between £12.99 and £14.99. Box sets start at £20. To keep up to date with the range of audioplays featuring previous Doctors and companions is an expensive business.

Big Finish's audience is therefore self-selecting. You have to have disposable income and enough spare time to listen to the stories before we take into account the niche within a niche that is they occupy within Doctor Who fandom.

I have never been able to afford to regularly buy Big Finish plays, and probably won’t be able to for at least a decade. I would wait for good reviews, friends and word of mouth to convince me to buy the occasional story if it came down in price.

Recently, I've been trying to play catch up with their boxsets, listening to Dark Eyes and the War Doctor series. I'd also heard the Sixth Doctor's regeneration story last year in a friend’s car.

Today, I saw the announcement that two actors who played Cybermen in the Eighties had played Cybermen for a Big Finish play, and an enthusiastic tweet in response that read '@bigfinish have been producing so much innovative and exciting work lately ... but this is something special. It feels like an era of 1980s television has returned!'

I'd already decided that Big Finish's plays weren't for me anymore, but if there had been any lingering doubts that would have confirmed it.

If work can be regarded as innovative for bringing back some actors who used to do the job thirty years ago, then clearly Attack of the Cybermen is a lot more innovative than we gave it credit for.

Big Finish occasionally do something stunning. Spare Parts, The Chimes of Midnight, and Jubilee are rightly acclaimed to this day. Protect & Survive and A Death in the Family are - I thought - more recent successes, but they were released in 2012 and 2010.

This was when Big Finish had a restricted playset, and they had to focus on what they could do with limited resources. Now they have a licence to explore the old and new series' continuity and with this comes irresistible temptation.

If John Hurt is interested in working with you, then you can see why it's tempting to do a Time War series. Unfortunately reading and listening to Time War stories confirms that it’s a terrible idea. Russell T. Davies' version allowed so much interpretation in the mind's eye of the viewer, that the Time War was something unimaginable that didn’t always follow a conventional narrative.

It has to because Big Finish have a roster of writers working hard on the increasing number of ranges. Their output is considerable. Their writers spread thin. The Time War's greatest enemy is a writer with multiple deadlines who doesn't have time to make this exposition seem natural.

Also it would really help if the first three War Doctor stories (including George Mann's book) didn't all follow the same pattern:

  • The War Doctor – who it turns out is just the Doctor behaving as normal but OMG he's in a war – meets a young woman who fulfils the companion role.
  • The Time Lords are up to something.
  • Underwhelming fanwank (the debate about whether this is a tautology will have to happen some other time).
  • The young woman dies at the end because of war and the War Doctor is upset because of war and it transpires that war is actually bad.

I'm not confident about never seeing this story again. If we have to hear a conventional narrative depicting events that shouldn’t have one, it would be lovely if it wasn’t the same one over and over again.

However, as you can see from the Cybermen quote above, Big Finish have an audience who are being entertained, and it's clear to me that what I want from Doctor Who is not the same as what they want.

Also, I have been trying not to read/listen to books by straight cis white men (for reasons mentioned here), and so if I want to listen to Big Finish then I've got a limited choice. Looking at the monthly main range releases from 2014 – 2018, five stories have female authors. Five out of seventy-eight. It's about as good as on television, really, with a similarly white writing pool.

Another major problem, is that because he's the Executive Producer, it's very unlikely that Nick Briggs will be stopped from writing scripts ever again. This is a shame, because at best he's the Eric Saward to Terry Nation's Robert Holmes.

There’s a paragraph in El Sandifer’s article on Time Heist - a story my wife could not remember even as I reiterated the plot to her - which has a delightfully pithy description courtesy of Jack Graham:

There’s a pleasantly devastating phrase that I think Jack originated—visual Big Finish—that applies to stories like this. And it’s easy to imagine Big Finish making many of the storytelling decisions here. Psi and Saibra, in particular, are crap in almost the exact way Big Finish usually is. But for the most part, this is the rare story that probably would have been improved if it had come out of Big Finish. They can at least be bothered to do a basic Chekov’s Gun setup, and they are mercifully minimalist in their use of lighting gels. And more to the point, as a Big Finish release it could have just been politely forgotten in the way that Fiesta of the Damned, Moonflesh, and City of Spires are.

And it’s entirely true that Big Finish produce disposable and forgettable stories, which is a given in any long running series, but on telly this doesn’t work out at a £12 loss.

The War Doctor Boxsets, Dark Eyes and the Sixth Doctor regeneration boxset all felt like Time Heist - TV episodes that are mid-season filler. They pass the time, they have their ups and downs, and once they’re finished you don’t really remember them. The difference with Big Finish is that there can be a lot of continuity to pick up along the way, so they feel like your first attempt at baking scones - they’re not bad but they are far too dense to actually enjoy.

However, these are Big Finish’s boxsets, their events and blockbusters. They pull focus. They’re £20 each when they’re not on sale.

As I said, Big Finish’s audience is self-selecting based on price. They’re also self-selecting based on content.

This is Doctor Who for a specific fan audience, and a valid one to target, who are happy enough seeing these concepts realised in the first place, who are excited by the mere presence of David Banks in a new Cyberman story, as if the character of Cyberleader is one with masses of untapped potential.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

A History of Doctor Who through its Script Editors

I am writing a series of articles for Cultbox, attempting to put together a history of Doctor Who by writing about its Story/Script Editors.
Image result for donald tosh doctor who
'No, I don't recognise me either.'
I pitched this series under the title of 'Standing on the Shoulder of Bryants', which I mention in the first article and mention again here because frankly it's my greatest achievement.

I'll add the links to each article as they go up.

  1. David Whitaker
  2. Dennis Spooner
  3. Donald Tosh
  4. Gerry Davis
  5. Peter Bryant
  6. Victor Pemberton
  7. Derrick Sherwin
  8. Terrance Dicks
  9. Robert Holmes
  10. Anthony Read
  11. Douglas Adams
  12. Christopher H. Bidmead
  13. Anthony Root
  14. Eric Saward
  15. Andrew Cartmel
  16. Russell T. Davies
  17. Steve Moffat

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Guns

I'm writing a lot of Doctor Who stuff for Cultbox now, so may I present an article about guns which is probably making a point of some kind.



Wednesday, 11 October 2017

wiv da angles now

cw/ Contains a hot take. Also mentions Harvey Weinstein.

You may have seen this tweet going around.

So I prepared a quote retweet, started thinking about which stories I'd choose (and which ones I'd watched with Ali) when it occurred to me that The Caves of Androzani's gender politics feel like they're increasingly relevant.

It's been noted that only the female characters survive, and all the male characters die. Also worth noting, and what leapt out at me in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein news is that the Fifth Doctor's heroism is in sharp contrast to the fact that he's been kinda useless recently. It reminded me of male celebrities 'Now I have a daughter'-ing in the wake of sexual assault charges against friends or colleagues.

The Fifth Doctor is a nice man, probably. It doesn't really work out for him, though, and he's actually consistently sarcastic and rude to his friends and politer to strangers. Then he wonders why nothing goes his way. The Fifth Doctor is Scott Pilgrim.

Then, once hundreds of people have died and he's been left with Peri - who quickly describes him as a pain - he gets to finally be a hero. He saves her life, although as with many tales of heroism a huge part of the obstacle is caused by the hero themselves (see: every movie with Iron Man in it).

The impact of this on screen is that the heroism looks very much like HEROISM, the contrast and determination to get out of this situation marked. It's not an invasion from some stoned underwater lizards, just some backwater planet where some horrible people are fighting over a wonder drug that isn't really that impressive anyway. Everything that went before is contrasted here, but the angle that struck me just now is how this echoes being rewarded for failure.

You know that thing where white male directors get given huge blockbuster movies after making one moderately successful indie drama, tank a few franchises but then make an acclaimed mid-price movie that is 'my most personal project'? That, basically.

Back to the original tweet, I'm still going to put The Caves of Androzani in my list of five. After all, I am a straight white cis guy. It is kinda reflective of me.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

a brief flurry of headcanon

So Sutekth the Destroyer and The Beast have a very similar voice. The Doctor ponders all these images of Satanic entities looking similar, that they perhaps come from one focal point of influence. Possibly this includes the voice, but I have decided that its because the TARDIS translation circuits have a huge but limited number of voices to give to the people the Doctor meets. Thus, the voices of Sutekh and the Beast are modelled on a Gallifreyan super shit from the Dark Times, one who was massively into the Death Zone and may have Runcibled over a few commentaries. His voice print will be kicking about in the Matrix somewhere, and the TARDIS defaults to him whenever it encounters some huge bassy looking radge.

This does rely on the Beast only being able to communicate once the TARDIS arrives, meaning the Doctor has yet again killed people by virtue of just turning up.

Just thought I'd share that.