Tag Archive for brigadier lethbridge-stewart

The First Face This Face Saw

[crossposted at tansyrr.com]

I know that most of us are thinking REALLY HARD about The Angels Take Manhattan right now, but I wanted to step back for a moment and talk instead about a thought that emerged from the previous episode, The Power of Three.

“The first face this face saw,” the Eleventh Doctor said to Amy, explaining why it is that he has been so very emotionally attached to her, and by extension, Rory, over the last several hundred years. Much like “I always took you where you needed to be” from The Doctor’s Wife, this one line throws the whole history of Doctor Who into a new light.

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that the Ninth Doctor was freshly regenerated in “Rose,” and that he went off to have a bunch of adventures in that instant before he and the TARDIS came back for her and he upped his offer: “Did I mention it also travels in time?” Not only is this a nice thought because it means he got to have a bunch of adventures on his own, but it allows him to appear at various points through history in his leather jacket, thereby catching the attention of Clive.

But Rose could well have been the first face that his Ninth face saw. At least, the first non-Auton, non-dead face. The first person he talked to, the first person he told to “Run.” Extending this thought further, this could be why he came back for her at the end of the episode, once he thought of something new to tempt her with. And maybe even that “run” was the first word he said, also imprinting itself upon the destiny of his incarnation of the Doctor.

Yes, I’m arguing that the Doctors set their own themes in the first moments of life. Bear with me.

I know that many fans are annoyed by the perceived “specialness” of Rose, while others love her best and most above all others. Well, she is special. Because she may well be the only person whom the Doctor saw first in two incarnations. With the Ninth, it’s arguable, but it’s definite with the Tenth. He regenerated in the TARDIS, and the first face his face saw was Rose, crying and angry and bouncing emotions off the walls. Rose, who loved him.

Yep, this explains a lot about the Tenth Doctor.

But does the theory hold up into the Classic series? I had a long walk this morning, which always does ferocious things to my brain, and I’m here to tell you that maybe it DOES.

Some are drawing a longer bow than others, I’ll admit. The first face the Eighth Doctor saw was that of a morgue technician screaming at him for being alive. But the surgeon who killed him, Grace Holloway, certainly can have had an effect on who he was as a Doctor. Did he see her through the anaesthesia? Does his grogginess explain the weird hallucination about being half human?

The Seventh Doctor is a way better example. The first face his face saw was his old enemy the Rani, pretending to be his companion Mel. No wonder he spent his whole incarnation as a sneaky, suspicious and manipulative dark version of himself! Apart from the whole spoon-playing phase which was obviously caused by the strobing effect from Mel’s psychelic apricot striped outfit.

The Sixth Doctor tried to kill the first face his face saw, the argumentative Peri, and his incarnation was certainly characterised by bickering and violence.

The Fifth Doctor saw three young people he barely knew: Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, and spent the rest of his regenerative crisis freaking out and impersonating his former selves. I have no idea what effect this had on his personality. But it does explain why he and/or the TARDIS failed so utterly to return Tegan to her workplace over and over again, despite her stated wishes.

The first faces the Fourth Doctor saw were Sarah Jane Smith and the Brig. Interesting then that he set out to distance himself quickly from UNIT and his previous life on earth. A born contrarian? Still, there’s no denying that he remained more closely attached to them both than almost any other companions of the classic era. He sent Sarah a K9, after all, and he always came back for Alistair Gordon.

The first face that the Third Doctor’s face saw was a random squaddie who shot him. He then spent five years living with and working for the military, despite the fact that this was dramatically against anything established for the character previously.

And finally, the Second Doctor. His very first regeneration, and the first people he saw were Ben and Polly. There was nothing particularly special about them, though it is worth noting that he spent his entire incarnation with companion pairs of a boy and a girl, except for the one time that Jamie stowed away.

The first faces that the first regenerated Doctor saw were human, though. And in fact, apart from Nyssa, Adric and the Rani, every first face his faces have seen have been human. No wonder he’s so attached to us all, to the humans who live on Earth. The First Doctor despised humans, and if he had any control over the TARDIS, would not have chosen to land on Earth nearly as often as he did. But the later Doctors… every one of them called Earth his home away from home.

And there we are, proof that I think about this stuff way too much.

“Battlefield” and the Woman Warrior

Shou Yuing, Brigadier Bambera, the Seventh Doctor, and Ace pose with the Whomobile.
A Black woman of middle years, wearing camouflage and a beret with the UNIT insignia, gazes forthrightly at the camera.

This is Brigadier Winifred Bambera. Your argument is invalid. (A Black woman of middle years, wearing camouflage and a beret with the UNIT insignia, gazes forthrightly at the camera.)

What happens when two great British institutions–Doctor Who and King Arthur–finally meet?

Why, you get a darn good late-80s serial (first serial of the IMHO criminally-underrated season 26), with heaping helpings of mytharc for both sides, AND simply loads of women. Two of them are even women of color!

Some aspects of the story are problematic, true. As wonderful as it is to see Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart again, UNIT’s decision to recall him to active duty in order to deal with the events of this story feels like a slap in the face to his successor, Brigadier Winifred Bambera. (Yes, she threw the Doctor and Ace out on their asses. That was the correct decision given what she knew at the time.) Now, you may argue that Lethbridge-Stewart was the person best equipped to deal with the person claiming to be the Doctor, given their shared history, but it’s still a usurpation of Bambera’s command. She did not ask for him, or even for help; she asks only for information on the Doctor. Both in-universe and in terms of the story, having Lethbridge-Stewart around puts Bambera in the uncomfortable position of being technically in command but being expected to defer to someone else. Nor is it really warranted–there being no indication that Bambera poofed into existence ex nihilo on Lethbridge-Stewart’s retirement, she presumably got to her position by rising through the UNIT ranks, which means she’s been a few rounds at the Rodeo of Weird that is UNIT life, and shown herself equal to it. UNIT should have realized that Lethbridge-Stewart won’t always be around to run interference between UNIT and the Doctor, and trusted Bambera to work out a solution. UNIT’s treatment of Bambera, IMHO, edges uncomfortably close to what TV Tropes calls “Quickly Demoted Woman“.

Interestingly, the story’s villain is also a woman: Morgaine. Despite, y’know, the evil, she’s a surprisingly nuanced character. Her titles–The Sunkiller, Dominator of the Thirteen Worlds, and Battle Queen of the S’rax–establish her as a formidable warrior, and that’s the role she occupies for most of the serial. But she’s also a mother; and her breakdown in part 4 when she learns of Arthur’s death makes it clear that she loved him deeply.

Morgaine also has her own notions of honor and honorable combat. That connects her to Ancelyn, the knight… and, not coincidentally, to the UNIT soldiers as well, all of whom embody the highest chivalric traditions of honor and duty. (Compare that to their much more ambiguous portrayal in the new series.) The serial even advances the idea that UNIT is superior to Ancelyn’s forces: Ancelyn has an important lesson to learn in humility (another important chivalric virtue) when he brushes Bambera off as a “peasant” and promptly gets his ass kicked; Bambera needs no such lesson herself.

Finally, there’s Ace and Shou Yuing, the footsoldiers. Ace gets a lot to do in this serial–including, awesomely, emerging from the lake bearing Excalibur aloft–and it’s her self-awareness that saves both herself and Shou Yuing from Morgaine’s trap. But Shou Yuing, as a character, is barely sketched in. We know she and Ace share an interest in explosives. We can see that she’s smart and brave. But that’s about it.

Really, though, there are too many secondary characters around to really flesh out any of them. The rest of the supporting cast–crusty archaeologist Peter Warmsly, psychic innkeeper Elizabeth Rowlinson and her husband Pat Rowlinson–get evacuated halfway through and are never heard from again. And it’s a shame, because all of them (and especially Shou Yuing) are fun characters, and we could have gotten to know them a lot better.

But there are moments of great win, as well. The Doctor’s declaration that Ace is much more important than any old alien artifact is breathtakingly sweet. It’ll be undermined over the course of season 26 (and even further in the New Adventures), but it’s lovely to hear the Doctor say something he needs to say a lot more often, and Sylvester McCoy’s performance is perfect.

It’s also terrific to see Bambera and Ancelyn’s relationship evolve. Ancelyn tries to write off Bambera when he first shows up, but after Bambera kicks his ass in combat… Ancelyn, to his great credit, responds with maturity and grace, and thereafter the relationship between the two warriors is one of deep mutual respect.

Shou Yuing, Brigadier Bambera, the Seventh Doctor, and Ace pose with the Whomobile.

Shou Yuing, Brigadier Bambera, the Seventh Doctor, and Ace pose with the Whomobile.

Finally, there’s a little grace note at the very end: the Doctor, the Brig, and Ancelyn are staying at the Lethbridge-Stewart house to clean up and cook supper, and none of them seem particularly bothered by this; meanwhile Bambera, Mrs. Lethbridge-Stewart, Shou Yuing, and Ace are going into town to have some fun. It’s nice to see the “men get to play after the adventure’s done, but women still have to do chores”  thing subverted– especially fitting in a serial that has a lot of great women.

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!

“Not Just a Journalist But a Woman Journalist!” [Review: Planet of the Spiders]

I once tried to convince Raeli to cosplay this outfit for a party - she had the stripy top but refused to add the spider!

“Planet of the Spiders” (1974)
Season 11: Production Code ZZZ

Written by: Robert Sloman & (uncredited) Barry Letts
Directed by: Barry Letts
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks

Starring:
THE DOCTOR: Jon Pertwee & (uncredited) Tom Baker
SARAH JANE SMITH: Elisabeth Sladen
BRIGADIER LETHBRIDGE-STEWART: Nicholas Courtney
SGT. BENTON: John Levene
MIKE YATES: Richard Franklin
LUPTON: John Dearth

crossposted from my blog, tansyrr.com

I didn’t mean to rewatch Planet of the Spiders this weekend, but when your seven-year-old daughter voluntarily suggests a touch of Jon Pertwee, you don’t turn her down!

This final story of the Third Doctor’s run is one of my absolute favourites, and has been since… wow. Probably since I was about the age my daughter Raeli is now. It’s a complete love letter to Jon Pertwee and the UNIT Years, with callbacks to previous stories. We even get a letter and a parcel from Jo Grant, a year after she left the show – a very rare example of a companion getting a chance to ‘call in’ after making her farewell, even if we don’t hear Katy Manning’s actual voice. We also get some cute character moments from each of the UNIT regulars, including Benton being adorably domestic, and the Brigadier unexpectedly (against his will!) revealing a snippet of his romantic history with a young lady called Doris.

I’ve been surprised in recent years to hear quite scathing criticisms of this story, especially the indulgent but completely awesome many-vehicles chase sequence, and the not-so-great acting among the Metebelis Three colonists. None of which bothers me at all, because I was raised with an Ignoring the Bad Bits lens through which to view classic Doctor Who stories. If you don’t have one, bet you wish you did. I try never to use this power for evil.

» Read more..