Tag Archive for big finish

Seven (or More) Queens That The Doctor Met Before Nefertiti…

[crossposted from my blog at tansyrr.com]

Forgive the frivolity of this post but it occupied my attention on a long drive on Monday afternoon, knowing that Dinosaurs on a Spaceship awaited me at the end of the journey.

Historical queens! Oddly enough, while the historical was an essential staple of very early 1960′s Who, and continued to be a feature in quite a few later stories even though the ‘true’ historical went the way of the Dodo (written out halfway through never to be seen again) very quickly, it’s only in New Who that the Celebrity Historical episode has become a true tradition.

Classic Who does have a few gratuitous historical figures, it must be said, and even more are name-dropped by the Doctor in his more grandiose moments, but many of its historicals are more about the time period than the famous faces.

But I wanted to write about Queens in particular, because I’m rather fond of them as a species, and it certainly seems from New Who that they have opinions about the Doctor too… though, spoilers, not as many want to snog him as you may think!

[Spoilers for assorted TV stories and Big Finish plays below, but not for the very recent Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, unless you didn't want to know that Queen Nefertiti is in it, in which case... oops? It was in the trailer?]

» Read more..

Radical Inclusiveness 2: or, Dear Mister Moffat

Now, the point to all this blustering about qualifications is to get at something the Grand Moff said a while ago:

“It’s just a question of who credibly is going to agree to go in the TARDIS? Who’s going to do it? Is it going to be a mother of 15 children? No. Is it going to be someone in their 60s? No. Is there going to be a particular age range? I mean… who’s going to have a crush on the Doctor? You know, come on! It’s more than a format. It’s evolved from good, dramatic reasons.”

With respect to Moffat, and with pains to point out that he is an award-winning screenwriter and I am not: bullshit. For one, the Sixth Doctor’s run with sixtyish history professor Evelyn Smythe is one of Big Finish’s real triumphs, a perfectly tuned relationship that works precisely because of Dr Smythe’s age and rich life experience.

And why not a mother of 15 children? Because she has responsibilities towards them? The Doctor has a time machine! She can kiss them goodnight, be off adventuring for as long as she likes, and be back before any of them so much as turn over in bed! Martha Jones’ arc explored this! For heaven’s sake, Moffat himself spent large swaths of series 5 doing the same!

I’m not really sure how to parse Moffat’s comment about companions having crushes on the Doctor, but I do want to stipulate that this trend of everybody falling in love with the Doctor is one of my least favorite aspects of the new series.

In short, I think that the very best thing Moffat could do for the show would be to write down all the requirements he thinks a companion should have, and then deliberately scribble them out and write a companion that violates as many of his requirements as possible. Because fuck “the rules”. Because adventures are for everybody, or they should be, and it breaks my heart to see the Doctor, of all people–a trickster figure uniquely qualified to break rules–endlessly select from the tiny subset of society that is young, well-off, abled, cisgender, pretty white British women.

Kingdom and Katarina

"The whole plot? In that tiny box, Doctor?" "Mmm, yes, my boy..."

The Daleks’ Masterplan is one of the most sprawling, epic, flawed, fascinating and utterly space opera-y Doctor Who stories of all time. It was the fourth ever Dalek story, screening as part of the third season of the show in 1965-6, and it marks the end of Doctor Who being a safe kids show.

I had heard so much about it in my years as a Doctor Who fan – I knew that it was the first story that killed the companion (and it did it twice), that it was twelve (and an extra) episodes long, not only a record at the time but for many decades to follow, I knew about the weird Christmas episode, and Nicholas Courtney playing a character called Bret Vyon, and all manner of plot details.

If you feel knowing all the plot twists & who dies in The Daleks Masterplan would spoil enjoyment of the story (it doesn’t, honestly, it can only help) then please look away now.

Jean Marsh now, with current Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan

It wasn’t until I actually listened to the story (available as an audio recording as most of the original TV serial was wiped) that I saw all of those facts in context, however, and began to fall in love with it as a story. Yes, even (especially) the silly Christmas episode.

I was reminded of that love again recently when listening to The Anachronauts, a great Sara-and-Steven Big Finish Companion Chronicle, set in between a few acts of The Daleks’ Masterplan, and featuring the greatly talented voices of Jean Marsh and Peter Purves. (as those of you who tuned in for my Upstairs Downstairs post know, I’m on a Jean Marsh kick at the moment)

In the behind the scenes bits of the Anachronauts, they mentioned the audiobook of the novelisation of The Daleks’ Masterplan, read by both Peter and Jean, and I was interested because they are both so very good at audio work – Peter Purves does a killer Hartnell impression which really brings the story alive. Also, it occurred to me, while the audio-only version of TDM did drag on a bit at times, making me wish I could see the televised version, the good old Target novelisation, which I’d never read, might prove otherwise.

Luckily for me, both volumes of the audio book: Daleks: Mission To the Unknown and Daleks: The Mutation of Time, were available at my local library. I’ve just finished listening to the first of these, which brings me up to the middleish of the Great Doctor Who Space Opera.

I’ll start by saying that the performances are, as I had expected, brilliant. But the format of the audiobook really brought home to me how excellent the work by Big Finish is, because this BBC production was far more by-the-numbers. Peter Purves and Jean Marsh take turns reading large sections of the book, which means they end up at times reading each other’s parts – a Big Finish audio book or two-hander narrative play, like The Suffering starring Peter Purves as Steven and Maureen O’Brien as Vicki, would always edit in the actual actor playing his or her own voice. A lot more work, but far greater effect to the reader!

I definitely felt like Sara Kingdom was given a disservice by the audiobook at times by this method – Peter Purves does not do as good a Jean Marsh impression as he does William Hartnell, and by necessity he is busily trying to make his voice sound less male in those scenes and thus ends up making Sara sound a lot more wet and passive than she actually is – our kickass Emma Peel in space.

Then there’s the book itself (or themselves) – both volumes were written by John Peel and it’s important to remember that authors tended to take quite a lot of liberty when writing the novelisations – that’s part of the fun of a Target, you don’t quite know what you’re going to get, whether it’s sudden scenes in the Doctor’s POV, plot developments being switched around, authors explaining motives that weren’t quite clear in the story, or on one memorable occasion, the Doctor’s entire Trojan adventure being told as if through the eyes of Homer, who was mysteriously not present in any of those scenes during the televised version.

But I can’t help noticing that Peel’s version of the story, while it rattles along with great pace and invests the villains with some marvellous motivation and character work, isn’t very kind to two rather important characters in the story: Sara Kingdom, and Katarina.

Poor Katarina. Possibly the companion least remembered by fandom as a whole – except for her death, which makes her the first Doctor Who companion to be sacrificed to lazy writing. I was quite intrigued by her on my first listen to The Daleks’ Masterplan, and found her to be a much more interesting character than that book I have by Peter Haining made out. (there’s a nice lament for the mishandling of Katarina here)

But oh, John Peel’s novelisation puts paid to any hint of that. While Katarina acts no differently in the book than it sounded like she did on screen, the other characters are constantly thinking about how stupid she is. I don’t mean once or twice. CONSTANTLY. The three men around her: the Doctor and Steven and then Bret Vyon (who joins the TARDIS crew by holding them at gunpoint, but falls instantly in love with them and joins their merry band, only occasionally remembering to point guns at them again at regular intervals) simply cannot shut up their inner commentary about the dumbness of Katarina. At one point, the author is particularly meta, having the Doctor think what a mistake it is to travel with a companion from a pre-technological era, which was the offical production reason for jettisoning the character almost as soon as she had arrived.

"If you won't be BFFs with me, Doctor, I can give you the address of my ancestor the Brig."

Vicki, played by Maureen O’Brien, had been let go at very short notice (we never hear an explanation given for that one!) and as they wrote her out in the story set during the Trojan War, they replaced her with a handmaiden who was in the right place at the wrong time, and had barely featured in the story.

The story goes that the production crew realised their mistake instantly, that a companion from pre-industrial time who saw time travel and space ships as evidence of gods and magic, would never work. So they wrote her out early on in the Daleks’ Masterplan, “replacing” her with Sara Kingdom.

None of which is, as it happens, reflective of the story we see. For a start, there is no way Sara is a replacement for Katarina, except as being the token female character, because they are so deeply different, and serve the story in different ways. Also it was only a couple of years later that the Second Doctor was running around time and space with the bekilted Highlander Jamie, who also saw space stations and Cybermen as evidence of magic, and was an adored fan favourite as well as an extremely well-matched-to-his-Doctor companion.

"Trojan handmaidening is not unskilled labour!"

Katarina’s death, while problematic in many ways, is handled remarkably well in the story, and indeed the novelisation (as audiobook). After several episodes trying to wrap her head around an enormous cultural shift, mostly believing herself to already be dead and certainly believing the Doctor to be Zeus, she is beginning to ground herself in this bizarre science fictional world of flashing lights and gear sticks when she is taken captive by a Plot Extender Maniac who holds her at gunpoint and forces the TARDIS crew (not actually flying the TARDIS at this second but a different space ship) to go to a planet full of Daleks instead of the Earth, where they were heading to warn humanity about the impending invasion. The men are all stuck in a moral quandary, and indeed Bret is the only one who seriously considers sacrificing Katarina’s life for the greater good.

Katarina takes control. She has been shown rudimentary controls of the ship and she knows what the big button does. For the sake of the mission and saving the galaxy from evil (concepts she grasps, coming from a time of great war, even if she can’t quite take in the scale) she sends herself and her captor out of an airlock.

It’s a shocking, brutal moment. My favourite bit is that Steven says immediately ‘she got the wrong button’ and the Doctor knows otherwise. Katarina the handmaiden was a lot of things, but she sure as hell wasn’t stupid. I was pleased that this scene and the emotional followup to her death was respectful to the character in the novelisation, and that the author managed to convey the meaning of her sacrifice rather than falling back on the unpleasant character sabotage of previous chapters.

Much though I defend Katarina, and I am deeply attached to Bret and his ridiculously cuddly relationship with the Doctor and Steven (they work as a unit for several episodes) the moment that Bret Vyon’s body hits the floor is the moment that, for me, the story really gets its groove on.

Kingdom, Sara Kingdom.

The actual plot of the story (yes there is one) is that the Daleks are about to invade the solar system, and Earth’s glorious, best-beloved, deeply trusted Bloke in Charge has sold out his own people to said Daleks, because he’s evil. That’s pretty much it. Oh, and there’s a Terranium Core (magic rock) which is super rare and hard to put together, which fuels the Dalek Doomsday Plot and the Doctor accidentally gets hold of it quite early on, leaving Mavic Chen and the Daleks to run around like headless chickens trying to get it back off him. Only instead of slapstick comedy (that comes later) this first half of the story is grim, unrelentingly grim, with shootings and political conniving and only occasional bits of banter.

This is the first time that I have really put together in my head that yes, the Terry Nation who “always” wrote the same Dalek story, really is the same Terry Nation who wrote the first season of Blake’s 7. It’s space opera, shoot-you-in-the-back style.

"Even my gun belongs in Blake's 7... Avon stole his sinister smile from ME"

I love the fact that the novelisation teases out Kingdom’s reputation as Mavic Chen’s top agent, ruthless, smart, dependable. I don’t remember how much her gender was deliberately unreferenced before her appearance in the show itself, but it’s very effective here.

Of course, most people who go out of their way to listen to an audiobook of a novelisation of a 1965 Dalek story are probably the sort of people who read Programme Guides back when there were still two mm’s and an e in ‘program’ and thus already know that Kingdom is a woman. But still, it’s a nice little anachronistic touch – this is a future in which women are equal, GET THIS, 1965 TV WATCHERS, SHE’S GONNA SHOOT HER BROTHER WITHOUT BLINKING. AND THEN SHE’S GOING AFTER THE DOCTOR. SHE’S THE FUCKING TERMINATOR.

Have I mentioned how much I love Sara Kingdom?

Check out this post with screencaps of one of her extra-curricular appearances as a kickass comics character.

I was greatly disappointed that the key emotional scene in which Sara Kingdom discovers that the brother she shot was telling the truth and that it’s her employer, not her brother, who betrayed the solar system to the Daleks, and makes the painful transition from ‘person who wants to kill the Doctor’ to ‘person who asks, what’s happening, Doctor’ is read by Peter Purves and not Jean Marsh. As I mentioned earlier, his Sara Kingdom is not a patch on Jean’s (for obvious reasons), and while I really enjoy his reading, it would have had greater emotional punch in her voice. Also, returning to the author rather than the voice artist… really? I get that you’re trying to make Sara Kingdom a more likeable character, but did she REALLY cry that much in the televised version? There’s a lot of crying upon crying and wobbling lips and wailing in these scenes, and it did make me cranky.

"Did I mention I have an Emmy for stoic restraint? Just sayin."

Yes, she’s devastated. We know that. So she should be. But she’s SARA “MY MIDDLE NAME IS STOIC” KINGDOM, and it’s really noticeable that it’s the narrative, not the dialogue, that utterly depowers her, and turns her into a quivering heap of feelings.

To my great pleasure, though, after these uneven moments, the story kicked into another gear, and I ran out of things to complain about. Steven and Sara together make a great team, working with the prickly Hartnell Doctor. The Peel narrative does feel the need to repeat how handsome/pretty they both are, and how hot they are for each other, which doesn’t seem entirely necessary, but this passed the point of being mildly irritating all the way into funny for me.

I have greatly enjoyed the many hours listening to Daleks: Mission to the Unknown, especially the way that the novel format accentuates the dystopian space opera feel of the story, and makes all the planet-hopping feel more epic that it probably ever looked on the small scratchy black and white scene. I love how the whole thing has this amazing Blake’s 7 vibe, fifteen years before the Liberator turned up. The characterisation, even of minor characters, is very effective, and I feel I’m getting a much better grip on the story than I did before (though of course it’s not entirely the same story in some places). Peel’s real brilliance is in the way he puts scenes in the point of view of the Daleks, making them feel like individuals, which serves to make them more effective villains (especially in the transition to the page). He is a very good at effective adaptation.

"Stick with me, kid. We'll ditch Dodo and pick you up just in time for The Gunfighters."

Peter Purves and Jean Marsh do a fabulous job – and while an audio book in which she gets to say all of Sara’s lines and he gets to say all of Steven’s and the Doctor’s lines would have been a zillion times better, there is something to be said for the single voice doing big chunks technique, and at least we do have proper Dalek voices edited in, they’re not total barbarians. I’m looking forward to the second half of the story, not least because I’ve been reading recently about how the second half was almost completely written by NOT Terry Nation at all but Dennis Spooner, and I want to spot the seams where Blake’s 7 sneakily transforms into Red Dwarf. I’m even looking forward to the Christmas episode because COME ON, pyramids and policemen and random vaudeville! I’m totally voting that we save that one first when we really get time machines and are allowed to go back and find all the missing episodes.

I do think, however, that it was important to note the way that the novelisation imposed a few problematic gender issues on to the story that simply weren’t there in the original. I remember coming away from listening to the sound recording of the 1965 The Daleks’ Masterplan delighted at how feminist it felt, particularly the futuristic equality vibe between Steven and Sara, but also that Katarina’s death was less of a throwaway moment than I had always been led to believe. Sara Kingdom is the first female companion since the original Barbara to be a grown woman rather than a teenage girl, and she got to act as if that was the case most of the time. I will enjoy the second novelisation far more if it refrains from making her sob uncontrollably, moon romantically over Steven, or sprain an ankle.

Most importantly, when Sara dies at the end, trying to save and protect the Doctor, I want very much it to be portrayed as the epic end to her own story, not simply a plot detail used to make Steven and the Doctor sad. So no pressure at all there, Mr Peel.

*takes deep breath*
*goes in*

Doctor Who: Daleks: Mission to the Unknown
An audiobook of a TARGET novelisation (by John Peel)
of half of a lost Doctor Who story (The Daleks’ Masterplan) from 1965-66.
Read by Jean Marsh, Peter Purves, with Dalek warblings by Nicholas Briggs
BBC Audio

[cross-posted from tansyrr.com]

Two Women in the TARDIS

So the TARDIS is a lady. We’ve always known that, right?

The Doctor’s Wife, which made concrete the Doctor’s characterisation of the TARDIS as female, and a living being with her own thoughts and feelings, makes re-watching older episodes a fascinating exercise. It brings an extra layer of meaning to almost every story since 1963.

But crucially, it shakes up the Doctor Who “formula” which, to so many people, sums up what the show is about: One Doctor, One Female Companion.

If you actually watch the show for any length of time, you know that this formula isn’t actually essential at all – but it’s amazing how often the media surrounding the show, official or otherwise, prioritises this depiction of how Doctor Who works. We all know that Jack, Mickey, Rory and River count companions (there hasn’t been a single full season of New Who in which the Doctor has one lone female companion at his side) and yet somehow they disappear in the way the show is pitched to the audience, in the newspaper and blog coverage, and even the merchandise (Arthur Darvill, after one year as occasional companion and a second year as a billed co-star, is only just receiving his first action figure).

[Ritch discusses why this might be the case in one of his Ritch and Space YouTube vids: New Companion, Old Companions]

It happened in the old days, too. JNT, a previous generation’s RTD, famously set up all manner of sexy photo shoots for the Doctor’s co-stars, to the point that you would easily believe that Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa or Janet Fielding’s Tegan travelled with him alone. Most non-diehard-fans remember a Doctor-companion combination that is singular. There’s a kind of mythic resonance to the concept of the “Doctor Who girl” and yet for huge chunks of the show from 1963 all the way through to the present, the Doctor travelled with more than one companion, often a man and woman together, but sometimes as many as three.

In fact, only the Third, Sixth and Seventh Doctors followed the ‘one Doctor Who girl’ format for their whole TV run, and considering that the Third Doctor had an ensemble cast as well as his female companion, it’s really only the late 80’s (and a few chunks of the Fourth Doctor’s era, depending on whether or not you count the robot dog) which completely support the ‘crew of two’ concept.

Now, of course, we know that the TARDIS *always* made three.

But I thought it was worth talking about one of my favourite companion combinations: when the Doctor has two women in his life at at time. (Well, okay, three.) Having more than one woman in the regular cast allows for multiple “types” of female character (yay diversity) plus we get to see them gang up on him, and when is that not fun?

So here are the best examples:

SUSAN AND BARBARA:
The Doctor’s grand-daughter and her history teacher, worlds apart in so many ways. It was Barbara’s curiosity about (and concern for) Susan which got she and Ian into this mess in the first place, and she often takes on a motherly (or at least, cool auntie) role with the alien teenager. I particularly like that they both have such different spheres of expertise, and often have something to learn from each other.
From The Unearthly Child (1963) to The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1965)

BARBARA AND VICKI: Just as Vicki was the substitute granddaughter figure for the Doctor, she had a similar relationship with Barbara as had Susan, though perhaps they erred closer to be being friends rather than teacher-student. It didn’t hurt that Vicki was human, if from the far future, which meant she had extra reason to think that Barbara (and Ian) were like, SO OLD, MAN. When the crew split up (as often happened back then) it often meant we had the Doctor and Vicki going one way and Ian and Barbara going the other, but we still get plenty of great scenes with these two very different women working together.
From The Rescue (1965) to The Chase (1965).

TEGAN AND NYSSA: After a very long gap including the entire Troughton and Pertwee years (and most of Tom Baker) the Fourth Doctor accidentally took on a random assortment of urchins and orphans in his last stories, including two women: Tegan, a mouthy Australian air stewardess and Nyssa, a demure alien aristocrat with mad science skills, along with alien boy genius Adric. While the scripts didn’t always give them the best material to work with (often the writers dealt with the three companion dilemma by making one fall mysteriously asleep for a whole story or otherwise disappear) we did get to see the forging of a strong friendship between these two young women, which was further developed after Adric left and we got to see them working together as the Doctor’s companions. More recently, in Big Finish, their friendship has been further explored with a series of adventures based on the premise that a much older Nyssa has returned to the TARDIS crew – fifty years have passed for her, while only a few weeks for Tegan.
From Logopolis (1981) to Terminus (1983) [TV]
From Cradle of the Snake [Big Finish Audio]

PERI AND ERIMEM: Not only does Big Finish provide us with a bunch of new stories for Doctor-companion combinations that didn’t get much time in the TV show (like Five-Peri) they also create new ones! Erimem, the feisty female Pharaoh who chose a different destiny for herself by leaping into the TARDIS, makes a great offsider for Peri, and their stories involve a lot of girl talk as well as culture clashes between them – for the most part it’s a warm, supportive friendship. I haven’t listened all the way through to Erimem’s end, though!
From: The Eye of the Scorpion [Big Finish Audio]

DONNA AND MARTHA: After two years of Rose, it felt like Martha Jones left too soon, and so it was lovely to have a story in which the Doctor returned at her summons to help with a UNIT mission that turned out to be a Sontaran attack. Even better, we got to see new companion Donna join forces with her predecessor without a hint of jealousy between them. The scene in which the Doctor watches, baffled, as they hug and shriek and mock him, is pure Doctor Who gold. It’s particularly nice because Martha’s era had been overshadowed by her cranky jealousy of her own predecessor Rose, and it’s the first time we get to see a Martha who isn’t in love with the Doctor any more. The Doctor and Donna then manage to kidnap Martha for at least one more spin in the TARDIS.
From The Sontaran Stratagem to The Doctor’s Daughter, plus Journey’s End

AMY AND RIVER
While River’s travels in the TARDIS are rarely chronological, she does manage to pop in quite often when Amy is there – and as we realise in Season 6, it’s not all about the Doctor’s charisma. Even before we learned that Amy and River were mother and daughter, we saw them as friends. The lack of jealousy (so crucial) between them was evident from the start, and Amy is delighted at the weird possibility that River might be the Doctor’s future wife. We also see River work to save Amy by her own methods, proving the Doctor wrong and showing her own capability. The two of them come into their own as a team many times over, across several adventures, often overriding or challenging the Doctor.
From The Time of Angels on and off until The Wedding of River Song.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

MEL AND ACE: In the story Dragonfire, we get a rare overlap/handover from old companion to new, but most of the story actually has Mel and Ace working together as a team while the Doctor does his own thing. At the end, it’s Mel who nudges the Doctor to take Ace along on his adventures.

ROSE AND SARAH-JANE: In the episode School Reunion, New and Old Who collided, and Rose discovered she wasn’t the first young woman to be important to the Doctor. Sadly, jealousy was a big issue in this story, though Rose and Sarah-Jane did work through their issues and boy, wasn’t the Doctor worried when they started laughing at him together?

ROSE AND JACKIE: Obviously this mother-daughter team had been hanging out for a long time, but it wasn’t until Army of Ghosts and Doomsday that Jackie actually hopped aboard the TARDIS and came for a ride. Only across the city, but still… it was very cute to see the Doctor claim Jackie as an aged Rose, and while the mother-daughter team were mostly separated (as they were also in Journey’s End) it was enough evidence for me to claim Jackie as a companion.

DONNA AND ROSE: In Turn Left, Rose became the Mysterious Enabler of Donna’s adventures – with the Doctor nowhere in sight! Lovely to have two companions get a story entirely to themselves. Donna was always a bit of a Doctor/Rose shipper, and while they didn’t get to recreate their Turn Left relationship in Journey’s End, we do get to see the two of them (and Jackie and Martha and Sarah-Jane) all jammed into the TARDIS together. Five women in the TARDIS!

ACE AND BENNY: While Bernice Summerfield was introduced in the Virgin New Adventures novel that wrote Ace out, the two of them didn’t stay strangers. Ace returned several times, the two of them wrangling over all kinds of issues (including I think some rivalry over Jason Kane – boo for jealousy but yay for it not being the Doctor in the pointy end of the triangle for once). Big Finish recreated the Seven-Ace-Benny team a few times, and will be bringing them back together again for the anniversary of that first story, Love and War, later in 2012.

EVELYN AND MEL: in the Big Finish audio Thicker Than Water, the Sixth Doctor brings Mel back to meet Evelyn, the companion who has had the most effect on how he lives his life. And the two of them get into all kinds of trouble together!

LUCIE AND SUSAN: Rose wasn’t the first companion to be faced with the Doctor’s distant past – in Big Finish audio Relative Dimensions, she cooked Christmas Doctor for the Eighth Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and great-grandson Alex! Together, Lucie and Susan discussed what it meant to travel at the Doctor’s side… and whether it was something either of them wanted to do now.

SARAH-JANE AND JO: In the Sarah Jane Adventures episode Death of the Doctor, these two iconic 70’s companions met and were delighted to do so, even if it was at the funeral of the man they both thought of as their best friend. There was a hint of jealousy here and there, but not of the romantic kind – plenty of wistfulness too, especially when Jo discovered that the Doctor’s current companion got to bring her hubby along on the adventures. But mostly it was two awesome women who had fabulous lives, with fond memories of that crazy bloke they both knew in their youth. And I would have watched whole seasons of them together!

LEELA & ROMANA II: in another spin off series, Big Finish’s Gallifrey, two of the Fourth Doctor’s companions work together in war, death and politics, and barely even mention that crazy bloke they both knew in their youth. Luckily for us, there are whole seasons of them together!


HARDLY WORTH MENTIONING:

But for completion’s sake…

VICKI AND KATARINA – a hand-maiden introduced late into the Trojan story The Myth-Makers was sent on her way to the TARDIS by Vicki, who had a better offer.
DODO AND POLLY – They got along quite well in the opening episodes of The War Machines but Dodo was sent “to the country” halfway through, leaving Polly to carry on with Ben instead.
ROMANA I AND PRINCESS ASTRA – liked each other so much in The Armageddon Factor that Romana stole her body – well, the intellectual property surrounding her body, anyway. She wore it better, too.
ROMANA II and CHARLEY – Disapproved of each other mightily in Big Finish’s Neverland mostly because Romana II had a problem with Charley’s status as a time paradox. How awesome that they didn’t conflict over their feelings for the Doctor, though!

That Other Time The Doctor Was a Lady: Unbound Exile

The Doctor Who Unbound series of audio plays at Big Finish were one of their earlier experimental series – you can tell it’s early because a) the plays are all the in the ‘Big Finish for Under a Fiver’ grab bin on their website and b) David Tennant is in it.

David Tennant actually turns up a lot in early (pre-2005) Big Finish plays because he was taking any opportunity he could to be involved with the franchise – previously I’ve heard him as an unrepentant Nazi in Colditz (with the Seventh Doctor and Ace) and as an outrageous Scottish hard-ass UNIT commander in UNIT: The Wasting.

This time around, in Unbound: Exile, Tennant is a bumbling, second string Gallifreyan CIA agent (that’s Celestial Intervention Agency, yes really) trying to hunt down the Doctor on that planet where you usually find the Doctor.

The trick of course being that the Doctor has managed to regenerate, rather sneakily, into a woman, and thus is even harder than usual to track down.

The Unbound series provided some seriously batty premises, the idea being that the production crew could play around with the very idea of what a Doctor Who story was, canon bedamned. The stories are mostly stand alone (though a few have sequels) and include such premises as: the Valeyard killed the Doctor and now Mel is trying to redeem and/or kill him; the Doctor and Susan never left Earth; and my personal favourite, what happened to the Brigadier if the Doctor was never exiled to Earth in the 70′s?

Taking such a bold step to the left allowed them to cast all manner of alternative Doctors, including Derek Jacobi, David Collings, Geoffrey Bayldon and David Warner, and to explore a variety of alternate time streams. At the time, it probably seemed fairly controversial to make one of those Other Doctors into a woman – these days, I suspect we’d wonder why they only picked one.

All I knew about this play coming in was that it was widely regarded as being a bit crap – and my feminist spidey senses had sparked up, wondering whether it was truly bad or if the listeners were just trying to justify why they felt uncomfortable listening to a woman play the iconic “male” role. But I still hadn’t got around to listening to it until recently when the actress in question, Arabella Weir, appeared in DWM talking about her recent experience performing in the Christmas special.

Among other things in the interview, she talked about how she was close friends with David Tennant, and how he had been part of her previous Who experience when she played the Doctor (long before he got to on TV). So I had to check it out!

And… oh. Right. Um.

It’s not a great play, not by Big Finish standards, and certainly not by the standards I expect of the writer, Nicholas Briggs, who turns out stellar material these days. It’s not as bad as I expected, but I can see why people turned away in droves as the first twenty minutes of the story is basically the (female) Doctor getting repeatedly drunk off her face, belching and throwing up with all the sound effects you would expect from such a thing.

Once the story settles down and there’s a bit less vomiting to listen to, it’s actually pretty good. Arabella Weir herself does an excellent performance, though I prefer it when she’s playing the part straight than all the comedy stuff – as would be the case, I think, of any male Doctor too.

I wonder at their choices, long before the script was written. Why is it that the only female Doctor in this series of cool, alternative Doctor Who stories is also the only one that’s a slapstick gross out comedy? Did they think that the listeners wouldn’t accept a serious story with a female lead? Why, if one of the Doctors had to work in a supermarket, was it the woman?

On the other hand, women are often derided as ‘unfunny’ because we’re not used to respecting them as comedians in our culture. Am I the one with the problem, by thinking the female Doctor SHOULDN’T get to be funny? Would I feel differently if it was Tina Fey or Dawn French in the role?

I think, in the end, it’s a bit of all those things. I actually really enjoyed the play when I wasn’t having to listen to burping and vomiting – I thought the plot twist as to why the Doctor was female and how she had got that way was interesting, I liked the friendships she had made on earth, and I thought it did some interesting things to interrogate the role of the Doctor in a domestic setting. Even the issue of characters drinking all the time on weekends to balance out their crappy lives (this was written at the height of “ladette” culture as a media buzzword) was discussed with a certain degree of gravitas. Plus, David Tennant.

I actually REALLY liked Arabella Weir as the Doctor. When she (and that script she’d been lumbered with) wasn’t grossing me out.

Ultimately I suspect that they didn’t quite think through the ramifications of depicting gross-out humour in audio (directly into your ears rather than on TV/film screen at a nice safe distance) and that it sets the play up to fail (or at least scramble to recover from the awful introduction). It’s a shame because if played far more straight, a noirish mystery about the female Doctor, why she was that way, and her attempts to stay under the radar, could have been a far more powerful piece of drama than the mixed bag we ended up with.

And maybe by now, nearly ten years later, Big Finish might have had enough encouragement from fans to portray a female Doctor more than once.

I’d love to hear other opinions on this one, if anyone else has downloaded this play.

The Many Futures of Ace McShane

I almost tacked this on the bottom of my review of Curse of Fenric, but decided it would work better as a separate post.

Ace was the last “Classic Who” companion, still at the Doctor’s side when the show was cancelled in 1989, though there were plans afoot to write her out in the following season. The Doctor’s last line as they walk off into the sunset of Survival is “Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do.”

In many ways, she never left him.

Ace’s character and her post-TV-adventures future have been explored every which way in the New Adventures novels of the 90′s, in the audio plays of the 00′s, and all over the place. She has transformed into a leather-clad Dalek killer, a time travelling biker, from glamorous Dorothea to the bad-ass, cranky “McShane.” She is one of the very few companions who is shown to grow up around the Doctor during her impossibly long time at his side, and sometimes has grown in several different directions. (There have been new Ace stories pretty much every year since the late 80’s – that’s 25 years of character development!)

My favourites are the Ace-and-Hex line of audio plays from Big Finish, where Hex Schofield, a Liverpudlian male nurse (before Rory!) and absolute beta hero, is the younger, more innocent recruit compared to Ace as a cynical, battle-blooded woman. Their chemistry is brilliant, and though they haven’t gotten it together romantically (YET, SAYS THE SHIPPER) their relationship is reminiscent of the relationship between Amy and Rory. Hex is the one who stays to help people, while Ace is the one who runs headlong towards someone screaming or under attack and they also have an interesting relationship as a unit with the Doctor, often ganging up on him to tease or challenge him about that habit he has of manipulating people, history and worlds. There’s a lovely feminist vibe about the way that, as Sophie Aldred herself put it, Ace is tough and independent while Hex is full of “squishy feelings.”

In Forty-Five, a collection of 4 mini-plays (featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin from Press Gang if either of those details are of interest) we see a follow up story to Curse of Fenric, in which Ace once again gets a chance to make peace with the child who will someday be her mother, and find out a little bit more about how Kathleen coped in the latter years of the war. While it isn’t entirely clear how much of the Virgin New Adventures book history has been incorporated into this older, Big Finish Ace, but it’s really nice that the character has been allowed to grow and develop along with the actress who plays her (who is now now a forty-something suburban Mum).

I also really enjoy the character team-up of Ace with Bernice Summerfield, though theirs is more of a hit-and-miss relationship with me because writers (especially in the books) often chose to position them as being competitive rather than friendly. Big Finish has erred on the side of friendly in their occasional representations of that pairing though, and I like The Dark Flame in particular for the way they show them together. I’m also really excited that we get to hear Sophie Aldred’s Ace and Lisa Bowerman’s Benny recreating the first story they appeared in together, when Paul Cornell’s original Benny novel Love and War is released as a full cast audio later this year.

Quite recently, in the “Lost Stories” range, the Big Finish team attempted to recreate the original plans for the Seventh Doctor TV season that would have been produced if Doctor Who had not been cancelled in 1989, and while I am not a huge fan of the Raine Creevey companion introduced in those stories to partner with Ace (for me the posh cat burglar companion works as awkwardly in practice here as it did in New Who story Planet of the Dead), I like that they put the two companions together rather than recreating what would have actually happened in that season, with Ace written out from the show.

The idea that Ace would end up going to Time Lord Academy always seemed to me profoundly stupid and annoying, and something entirely designed to fulfil the Doctor’s wishes rather than coming from her own character. So I love the fact that in these Lost Stories audios (particularly the excellent Thin Ice), instead of following the original plan for that story, we get to see Ace and the Doctor addressing the fact that him trying to create such a future for her would be ridiculously patronising and inappropriate.

A friend of mine has a wish (okay, possibly mild obsession) to see Sophie Aldred bring the character back to the show as UNIT’s current Brigadier, and I think that would be an extraordinary way to honour this game-changing classic companion, and the actress who did such a great job with her.

Steven Moffat reads this blog, right? MAKE IT HAPPEN PLEASE!

Domesticating the Doctor I: Cocoa, Test-tubes and the Classic Years

Domesticity and Doctor Who don’t seem to fit together, as concepts. There’s something about this show, and its fandom, and possibly the hero himself, that rails against the ordinary and the everyday.

You could argue (as I think I might, in future posts) that a major theme of New Who is the uncomfortable and at times antagonistic relationship that the Doctor has with domesticity – he rails against it, runs from it, fails to see it when it smacks him in the nose, and on several occasions, has to compete with it for the attention of his companions.

Feminism often struggles to deal with the same issue. There’s a long tradition in feminist history of dismissing or disassociating itself from anything that smacks of the domestic, and while that’s an understandable side effect of trying to increase the options of female (and indeed, male) roles, it’s important to accept that domesticity can be a perfectly valid life choice. Even for superheroes.

Choice is key, though. There’s a big difference between characters who choose to embrace domesticity and those who are pushed into it against their nature. It doesn’t seem likely that the Doctor would ever willingly choose a domestic path… or does it? Before discussing the uses of domesticity in New Who, I want to look at the (far fewer) instances in the Classic series where domesticity is remotely relevant to the Doctor’s aimless, epic lifestyle in the TARDIS.

As it happens, this is the theme of the very first episode, “An Unearthly Child.” The First Doctor has ceased his wanderings in time and space in order to give his granddaughter Susan a “normal” life in one place for a while, and it’s driving him nuts. Susan is enjoying school, but not very good at faking normality, and when her teachers investigate, the Doctor takes the first opportunity he can to cut them all loose from 1963 London, and hurl them into the unknown.

We never learn the truth of how and why the Doctor ended up being Susan’s carer, but it’s very clear that the parental role is not one he inhabits comfortably. The addition of Ian and Barbara to the crew, however, gives Susan a semblance of “normal” family life in amongst all their mad adventures, at the expense of Ian and Barbara themselves, who have been ripped from their own life.

The contrast between mad adventuring and domesticity is actually rife through the First Doctor’s era. For a start, we get to see where they all eat and sleep, something happily ignored for decades at a time in the show. The Doctor accidentally goes through a cocoa-related betrothal ceremony with Cameca in The Aztecs, and responds to this discovery with utter bemusement (but isn’t above using the relationship for his own benefit). He abandons Susan so she can make the most of a fledgling romance in a war-ravaged future Earth (REALLY not a good parent) and promptly takes on a replacement in Vicki, who serves as his surrogate granddaughter up until she also falls in love, and the Doctor cuts her adrift in a war-ravaged Troy. Are we sensing a pattern here? The Doctor is willing to emulate family life on his own terms, travelling around randomly in his intergalactic house, but never considers allowing Susan or Vicki to bring her new boyfriend/future husband into the TARDIS.

(Obviously production decisions have a lot to do with this choice, but I didn’t say this article was going to be fair!)

It’s not until the Third Doctor that we see something close to domestication imposed upon him. The Time Lords may have ensured he is stuck on earth in one time stream, but it’s the Brigadier who provides the Doctor with a job and a laboratory, making sure he stays in one place. And boy, doesn’t the Doctor settle in? Luckily there are plenty of alien invasions to keep him amused, but in between all the adventuring and military politics, his life is almost cozy, with female assistants to pass him his test tubes and tell him how brilliant he is. The TARDIS, meanwhile, acts as a glorified cupboard in the corner.

Don’t get me wrong – the Third Doctor is constantly railing and complaining about being stuck on Earth, and never entirely accepts his confinement. But it’s telling that even when the Time Lords free him from his exile, he doesn’t quit his job – in between travelling in time and space he keeps returning to the laboratory and his UNIT family, drinking Sgt Benton’s excellent cuppas, bickering with the Brig, and tinkering with his cars on the weekend. Likewise, Jo’s time as companion never involves cutting herself of from everyday life – she goes on dates, earns a pay check, goes home to change her boots, and still gets to flit off to alien planets during work hours. Liz never even got to leave Earth!

This Third incarnation of the Doctor, then, is fully house-trained. But as soon as he regenerates into his Fourth identity, he and the TARDIS are off again, without looking back. Whenever the Doctor returns to UNIT you can see that he doesn’t quite fit, and isn’t tempted to stay with them. He is a domestic tourist again, occasionally turning up in the suburbs or someone’s home, but only when there’s something nasty in the woodwork.

The Fifth Doctor Years transform the TARDIS into something more home-like than had been seen since the early 60′s, with his companions’ bedrooms as regular sets, but eventually they all leave him to go home, or to find a new one. The Seventh Doctor examines domesticity through something of a scientific lens as he sorts out Ace’s back story, but family and home life in that era of Classic Who are portrayed very much as sources of gothic and suburban horror rather than somewhere safe and warm.

In the New Adventures novels, there’s only one really clear instance I recall where the Doctor was completely immersed in domesticity – the novel Human Nature by Paul Cornell, which I’ll talk about when I get to the David Tennant years rather than deal with the same plot twice. It’s one I highly recommend, though, if only to compare to the TV version!

In the Big Finish audio adventures, which occupy a headcanonspace for me between the classic and new series, even though there is substantial overlap with New Who, there’s only one relationship that I felt really pulled the Doctor against his nature into something like a domestic sphere. This was the pairing of the Sixth Doctor and Dr Evelyn Smythe, who is also the first ‘old lady’ companion the Doctor has ever had, though she was only 55 (a spring chicken!) when she first ran away with him.

Evelyn is a fabulous character, and managed to soften the blunter edges of the Sixth Doctor, not complaining about his pompousness as Peri did, but actively training him out of such behaviour. In “Thicker Than Water,” when he takes Mel to meet Evelyn, it’s clear that he credits Evelyn with having substantially improved his manners and temperament in dealing with people.

That word ‘cozy’ comes up again – while there is no romantic spark at all between the Doctor and Evelyn, they settle easily into the dynamic of an old married couple, and their adventures are dotted with nice chats, cups of cocoa (of the non-marital variety), and gentle holidays in between the madness and the Daleks. Evelyn leaves for love, but that’s not the end of her adventures, nor the end of her relationship with the Doctor, who COMES BACK TO SEE HOW SHE’S DOING ON PURPOSE, something which I don’t think has happened in his history before. This relationship was very much a hint towards how the 21st Century Doctor (both in audio and on TV) was going to develop differently.

For the most part, the Doctors of the classic series and their associated (pre-2005) spin offs not only avoid domesticity, and long term family or relationship ties, but seem to look straightthrough them, ignoring their existence. No, not even ignoring their existence, because he’s so rarely put in a situation where they impinge upon his reality.

The endless traveller is constantly moving forward. He never stops to pick out furniture, or to drop in to any former companions’ homes for tea, biscuits and baby photos. Even his beloved TARDIS is constantly changing (or being changed) by him, often at times of emotional crisis – the jettisoning of Romana’s room, for example, or the restoration that happens just before The Five Doctors.

But something does change for him, and it’s possible that the turning point can be seen in the portrayal of the elderly Seventh Doctor at the beginning of the TV Movie, which also marks close to the halfway point of the Wilderness Years between Classic and New Who – instead of the stark white console room, we see flying buttresses and a sitting room that resembles a Victorian parlour – the Doctor sips his cup of tea and reads a book, surrounded by the music from his record player, a dish of jelly babies and a cluttered (one might almost say, cozy) assortment of possessions.

It’s a calm, utterly domestic scene between a Time Lord and his TARDIS. Who else, after all, was he ever going to settle down with?

The Eighth Doctor we see in the TV Movie was every bit the undomesticated adventurer of most of his predecessors, but for the first time in that story we see a companion’s home, and a friend for the Doctor who is willing to not only turn down his invitation to travel in the TARDIS, but to counter it with an invitation of her own: to stay with her, and fit into her life.

Of course he didn’t say yes – barely even took the question seriously. But the fact that it had been asked was a turning point for the series. Not since Cameca in The Aztecs and Susan before An Unearthly Child had someone suggested to the Doctor that he stop moving for personal reasons, and choose to settle down in one time and place.

When Doctor Who came back in 2005, that question was going to get larger, and louder, and domesticity would no longer be something the Doctor would have the luxury to ignore, as the show itself began to pay greater attention to the needs of the humans around him.

But this post is long enough already. Tune in soon for Part II of Domesticating the Doctor!