Tag Archive for daleks

This ‘n’ that

Two quick things. First, as Doctor Who bloggers, we are contractually obligated to give opinions on the casting of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. Mine is that Capaldi is a marvelous actor–which is, like, two or three of my top five qualifications right there–and that casting such a respected and accomplished figure (seriously–dude has an Oscar[1]) is a serious coup for the rubbish-looking kids’ program that Michael Grade axed. (Suck it, MG!) That Capaldi is a lifelong fan is just icing on a pretty spectacular cake.

He’s also the twelfth white guy in a row.

This does not mean he’s a bad choice or that I’m unhappy with his selection. I just would have preferred a riskier, less “safe” choice, and I’m disappointed that the legions of non-white-guys who are also stunningly good actors were apparently never even considered. My own personal pet pick for Doctor is Paterson Joseph; if you don’t know why, go rent Neverwhere [2] and watch his remarkably Doctor-like portrayal of the Marquis de Carabas.

Update: Or, having just caught up on my podcasts, “what Chip at the Two Minute Time Lord said.”
 

Second, your life is not complete without this picture of John Barrowman being exterminated by what I can only describe as a Dalek fairy princess.

On a convention floor, actor John Barrowman is collapsed against a TARDIS after having been "exterminated" by a small girl wearing a homemade Dalek costume that incorporates a tuile skirt and a halter top.

On a convention floor, actor John Barrowman is collapsed against a TARDIS after having been "exterminated" by a small girl wearing a homemade Dalek costume that incorporates a tuile skirt and a halter top.

You’re welcome. (Via Tor.com)

[1]Albeit not for acting. His multiple BAFTAs, however, are for acting.
[2] Which also has, in a supporting role, Peter Capaldi!

Time Lord’s Road To Global Domination – Anticipation Of Year 49

I opened my mailbox and found the Doctor inside….Well, on a magazine actually BUT it’s a wonderful article in EW.

My beloved Doctor, this amazing creature I share with millions around the world, is ready to return.

The article, and some of the comments made there in,  started my wheels turning. The impact if the Whoniverse and The Tao of Who on popular culture. Especially the impact this very Brit style of thinking/ ideals has on American Culture.

How do these questions impact this blog and the ideals, outlook and discussions we provoke?

I don’t know as of yet……I can’t wait to find out. 

We face the loss of old companions and the introduction of new. There are rumors flying about the return of River Song AND my beloved Captain Jack Harkness.

I’m excited, the anticipation of new adventures, new characters and brilliant writing have me twitching like a chihuahua after a meth cookie. I hope the rest of you are as ”GIDDY” as I am, and we happily dissect each episode and have spirited witty debates over every nuance of amazing writing.

 

EXTERMINATE: Are the Daleks Scary? (Part 2)

Wow! It’s been a long time since part one! Sorry about that! I’ve been getting new jobs, moving, finding homes for my now-stray kitties. But enough excuses, let’s get to the Daleks.

In part one, I talked about fan art seems to indicate that many fans find the Daleks cute, silly, and ridiculous as often as they find them scary. In part two, I talk about why I think the Daleks are supposed to be scary: namely, that they are modeled after the terrifying Martians from H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds.

Cross-posted at From Austin to A&M.

While science fiction is often posited as a kind of “what if” genre—What if aliens landed? What if we had interplanetary spaceships? What if we could genetically engineer people?—I don’t think that’s a great definition for the genre. After all, not all “what if” questions have anything to do with science, technology, or ray guns. My own definition of science fiction, based on my time as a fan and scholar of it, is pretty broad. I consider something science fiction if it has all or most of the following characteristics:

1. It is about sci­ence or the prac­tice of science.

2. It stays within the bounds of mate­r­ial reality/natural laws orit is con­cerned with appear­ing within the bounds of mate­r­ial reality/natural laws. This means that if it tries to explain its real­ity within the con­fines of our own nat­ural world, even if this is tech­nob­a­b­ble or lamp­shad­ing (á la Doc­tor Who’s “magic door” in The Girl in the Fire­place), then it could be sci­ence fic­tion. I don’t agree with def­i­n­i­tions that say sci­ence fic­tion must be strictly pos­si­ble in the real world or accord­ing to con­tem­po­rary sci­ence, because that is a ridicu­lously lim­it­ing def­i­n­i­tion, and would exclude sci­ence fic­tion like Star Trek, H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine, Doc­tor Who (actu­ally, pretty much any sci­ence fic­tion that uses time travel), Armaged­don, Char­lotte Perkins Gilman’s Her­land, and Red Dwarf. What these nar­ra­tives have in com­mon is not that they are sci­en­tif­i­cally fea­si­ble, but that they are con­cerned with mate­r­ial real­ity, and explain their real­i­ties as the same as ours. Of course, the extent to which they are concerned with this explanation will vary.

3. It forces the reader to leave the famil­iar world of here-and-now. This is the char­ac­ter­is­tic that is most often absent, but I think, when it appears, it is extra­or­di­nar­ily impor­tant. When this char­ac­ter­is­tic is present, it becomes imper­a­tive that the nar­ra­tive adhere to the second characteristic listed above, because this means the narrative can make the famil­iar unfa­mil­iar, which can func­tion in a num­ber of ways. By mak­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of our cul­ture, for exam­ple, dis­ap­pear (like gen­der or racism), sci­ence fic­tion can denat­u­ral­ize those con­cepts within our real­ity. By paint­ing a utopia (like Star Trek), it can make that utopia seem not so out of our reach. It can take a neg­a­tive human behav­ior, and com­pletely exag­ger­ate or trans­form it; Dis­trict 9 por­trays how racism dehu­man­izes peo­ple, in a really stark and lit­eral (and thus unfa­mil­iar) way. With­out exist­ing within our own real­ity, how­ever, that lit­eral dehu­man­iza­tion loses some of its power.

If a narrative has this characteristic, but does not adhere to the second, it is very likely fantasy.

4. It is con­cerned with the mate­r­ial nature of human­ity or human society.*

Because science fiction is a literature about science, about the material condition of humanity, it is a well-suited space for authors to explore the anxieties and concerns we feel about our relationship with science and technology. To say science fiction is a “what if” genre ignores this relationship it has with the cultural identity of science; it suggests that science fiction is about prediction, caution, prescription. (“Don’t create a society based on genetic manipulation and bodily fitness!” warns Gattica, while 1984 cautions us on the dangers of the police state. Star Trekshows us a utopian future, which somehow came about with a government run by the military.) This is a shallow way to look at science fiction, which is very rarely any good at predicting the future. What science fiction does do well is give us a glimpse into our cultures’ view of science: what scares us about it, what makes us anxious about it, what excites us about it, what role we think it should play in our society.

***

H. G. Wells’s War of the Worldswas published in 1898, the tail-end of the Victorian era. The 19th century saw a transformation in the culture of science in Britain. Science went from being a gentleman’s hobby, with the “dirty work” done by underappreciated and uncredited middle- and lower-class laborers, to an institutionalized profession, with researchers who got their hands dirty for money, funded by universities and the government. Science fiction of the era was often concerned with the corporeality and dirtiness of science, distrusting the body and the material, as opposed to the cleaner and more rational mind and spirit. The fact that the material of science is detritus (flesh, organs, blood, brains, plant matter, insect corpses, dirt, rock) made science a problematic institution, made more acceptable by removing the gentleman scholar from the material practice of science and limiting him to theoretical work. The fact that observational science relied on the imperfect instruments of the human body (eyes, fingers, skin, eardrums) was also of concern, made more acceptable by supplementing them with machines like microscopes, telescopes, chronometers, daguerreotypes, and scales.

This distrust of the material and the body carried over into anxieties about evolution, which was something much of Wells’s fiction is concerned with, including War, The Time Machine, and The Island of Doctor Moreau. In War of the Worlds and a related piece he published in 1893, “The Man of the Year Million,” Wells suggests that our suspicion of the physical and glorification of the mental could actually lead to the end of humanity as we know it. In “The Man of the Year Million,” a tongue-in-cheek prediction, he argues that

man is the creature of the brain; he will live by intelligence, and not by physical strength, if he live at all. So that much that is purely animal about him is being, and must be, beyond all question, suppressed in his ultimate development.

In the article, he outlines a course of eventual evolution, in which humans will lose much of their bodies, and will end up mere brains, in helpless, useless bodies that consist only of heads and hands.

We notice this decay of the animal part around us now, in the loss of teeth and hair, in the dwindling hands and feet of men, in their smaller jaws, and slighter mouth and ears. Man now does by wit and machinery and verbal agreement what he once did by bodily toil; for once he had to catch his dinner, capture his wife, run away from his enemies, and continually exercise himself, for love of himself, to perform these duties well. But now all this is changed. Cabs, trains, trams, render speed unnecessary, the pursuit of food becomes easier; his wife is no longer hunted, but rather, in view of the crowded matrimonial market, seeks him out. One needs wits now to live, and physical activity is a drug, a snare even; it seeks artificial outlets and overflows in games.

He argues that technological innovation will guide our evolution, and that as we create more ingenious devices to take care of our bodily functions, those functions will cease to be possible in our bodies.

[Man] has a new organ, a mandible not of irreparable tissue, but of bone and steel—a knife and fork. There is no reason why things should stop at partial artificial division thus afforded; there is every reason, on the contrary, to believe my statement that some cunning exterior mechanism will presently masticate and insalivate his dinner, relieve his diminishing salivary glands and teeth, and at last altogether abolish them.

All that will be left of the future human is his brain and his hands, since Wells believed the hands to be “the teacher and interpreter of the brain.” Because Victorians believed that emotions were seated in the body, not the mind, since they were far too messy and not intellectual, Wells also pictured these future humans as emotionless and cruelly self-serving.

And so at last comes a vision of earthly cherubim, hopping heads, great unemotional intelligences, and little hearts, fighting together perforce and fiercely against the cold that grips them tighter and tighter.

It’s a horrifying vision, in which technology and intellect have, through the processes of evolution, done entirely away with the body, empathy, and emotion. It reminds me a bit of the way modern science fiction will romanticize about people becoming pure consciousness in computers or online; we haven’t lost our desire to be rid of the bodies that tie us to the material world, that cry and shit and piss and digest and orgasm and bleed. Our bodies make us uncomfortable, make us feel dirty and vulnerable. But Wells didn’t think that transcending our bodies through evolution was a good thing at all; the vision in “The Man of the Year Million” is purposefully horrifying. And if it wasn’t obvious enough, that vision came back to haunt us in his The War of the Worlds.

All the things that were scary about the future man are what is scary about the Martians in War. They are also great brains, with only eyes and hand-like tentacles. They are vastly intelligent and emotionless. But what is far more terrifying than their inability to feel is their technological prowess. Like the future human, they have replaced their bodies with machines. While Wells only explicitly imagined eating machines in “The Man of the Year Million,” he imagined the Martians as a people with machines instead of bodies, which they can change for the purpose like so many changes of clothes. The machine body we actually see is the spider-like tripod:

A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder.

In these machines, the Martians literally eat human bodies; they drain them of their blood for sustenance, like vampires. And Wells draws a direct connection between the lack of a material body and the lack of emotions. Their reliance on technological bodies makes them capable of escaping emotions altogether. By pairing War with “The Man of the Year Million,” we can see that Wells is trying to flesh out a fear that the end-point of human evolution is the destruction of the human body and thus of emotion, compassion, and morality. By valuing intellect, science, and technology, we could lose our humanity. Corporeality, Wells suggests, is a constitutive part of humanity, and the use of the machine to overcome the limits of the body could lead to a loss of our compassionate natures. Wells values the human body and its material nature, the way that our bodies cause us to depend on one another, the way that our bodies tie us to the world we live in.

***

Okay! So why am I talking so much about Wells’s Martians? Because I think the Daleks were modeled after the Martians.** After all, they’re bodiless brains who lack all emotion and compassion, and they have replaced organic bodies with machine ones. They even look like the Martians: gray, gross, and full of tentacles.

Kaled_mutant

The machine body comes apart to reveal the organic body of a Dalek, from the “Dalek” episode of Doctor Who. The Dalek is a mucous-covered, gray mass, with a brain at the top and multiple tentacles at the bottom. He has one eye. Source.

Unlike the Martians, the Daleks are genocidal, but their inability to feel compassion, coupled with their cyborg nature, makes them dead ringers. (The Martians were actually kind of scary in part because they didn’t hate humans. We were merely in their way as they colonized a new planet. Cold fuckers, those Martians.)

But, I still don’t think the Daleks are scary, because I think they are poorly executed versions of the Martians. A lot of the things that made the Martians frightening are missing from the Daleks, in particular their machine bodies. Like the Dalekanium body of the Daleks, the Martians are hard to kill or disable. But that’s where the comparison seems to end. The small Dalek machines are slow and clunky, whereas the Martian machines are terrifyingly huge, fast, and efficient.

  Woking_tripod

A shiny 23-foot statue of the Martian tripod machine from Wells’s War of the Worlds. This sculpture was designed by Michael Condron and is located in Woking, Surrey in England. The design is true to the source, with a small body, two metal tentacles, and three long, flexible, mobile jointed legs. This thing would own the Daleks. Source.

The Martians were also quite alien and removed; for all the hate the Daleks seem to spend on the Doctor and the rest of the universe, they sure do talk to them a lot. The Martians never bothered to communicate with the humans, because the humans were food. It’d be like if we started having conversations with cows. The Daleks spend so much wasted time and energy on talking to the Doctor and his companions. The Daleks obviously don’t think they’re thatsuperior to us, or they wouldn’t bother communicating. Communication necessitates seeing another being as something on (about) the same level as you; it creates a connection between the communicators. And the excessive amount of communication between the Doctor/humans and the Daleks makes the Daleks feel less threatening.

And as a viewer of only NuWho, I’m starting to wonder how the Daleks got powerful in the first place. The advantages of being a brain in a machine is supposed to be that you’re smart. But the Daleks seem pretty stupid a lot of the time. They waste time talking and scheming. They get fooled by jammie dodgers. They get captured by rich morons. They spend more time yelling EXTERMINATE than they do actually killing people.

The Daleks just don’t do it for me the way the Martians do. They don’t have the cruel, heartless grace, the efficient killing and maneuvering power. They don’t feel alien and utterly unintelligible.

The Martian model makes it clear that the Daleks could have been frightening. But they simply weren’t well-executed, and lack the terror of Wells’s Martians.

______________

* (This definition, altered slightly, originally appeared in my post on Eli.) You’ll notice I don’t have any­thing about tech­nol­ogy in this def­i­n­i­tion, and that is for a rea­son. While most people’s con­cep­tions of sci­ence fic­tion have a big focus on tech­nol­ogy, I find that focus prob­lem­atic. This kind of def­i­n­i­tion is invested in the idea that old tech­nolo­gies are not tech­nolo­gies that mat­ter (in the sense that we no longer think of them as tech­nolo­gies) or count in sci­ence fic­tion. But it is wrong to sug­gest that books, pens, print­ing presses, chairs, cars, scis­sors, cameras, alarm clocks, DVD play­ers, elec­tric lights, laun­dry deter­gent, air­planes, ad nau­seum are not tech­nolo­gies that sig­nif­i­cantly shape the human con­di­tion in many parts of the world.

** Thanks to Amy Montz for originating this idea!

______________

Works Cited

Wells, H. G. “The Man of the Year Million.” Pall Mall Gazette6 November 1893: 3.

Wells, H. G. The War of the Worlds. 1898. Ed. Martin A. Danahay. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2003.

If you’re a linkspam, how come you sound like you’re from the north?

From A Broad Abroad, an essay on how transformative works (like fanfic and other fan productions) are not, as commonly believed, void of creativity and harmful to the original source. Rather, it is a re-reading and a re-interpretation, on top of being “awesome.”

An article at Feminist Whoniverse discusses the homosexuality of Canton Everett Delaware III and how it compares to the ways in which Russell T. Davies normalized queerness:

Well, if we compare this to the reveals of queer characters from RTD’s era there is a very clear difference. Whilst RTD’s queer characters really normalised non-normative sexualities, Moffat sensationalises Canton’s identity. This is harmful because, although it’s not outwardly hostile, it serves to other queer folk. What this means is the marginalised group, in this case GSM [gay and sexual minorities], is seen as separate. This, in turn, reinforces the attitude that members of the GSM community are not normal and it is this kind of attitude which is frequently used to justify oppressive behavior.

 

Speaking of cute Dalek fan art, The Organization for Transformative Works posted this picture of a Dalek from a coffee shop.

Happy Hour, May 4-13. 1/2 price frapps!”"]

A chalkboard at a coffee shop depicts a drawing of an Army-green Dalek holding a frappuccino. He also has a green frappuccino on his head. Above him reads "Caffeinate!" Next to him reads, "3-5 pm, Frappucino [sic

Perhaps you’ve heard of the New York Times article claiming that men invented the internet? Xeni Jardin has a great response to it:

You guys, ladies suck at technology and the New York Times is ON IT.

Radia “Mother of the Internet” Perlman and the ghosts of RADM Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace and every woman who worked in technology for the past 150 years frown upon you, sir. Women may have been invisible, but the work we did laid the groundwork for more visible advancements now credited to more famous men.

“Men are credited with inventing the internet.” There. Fixed it for you.

At The Border House, Cuppycake calls out E3 for continuing to allow booth babes. The Escapist chimes in with “let’s just stop pretending E3 is a professional event,” since they refuse to stop this practice.

Via the Doctor Who Information Network, the first production picture of Matt Smith and the new companion:

The Doctor and his newest companion stand close together in front some trees and the stone corner of a building. The Doctor is wearing a darker brown jacket than normal, a dark checked bowtie, and a brown waistcoat. His companion is smiling with her hand close to her mouth, and is wearing a grey jacket over navy sweater and dress, with a red purse slung over her chest.

As some people on Tumblr have pointed out, this shot is nearly identical to a production shot of the first Doctor and his first companion, his granddaughter Susan Foreman.

Have you ever wished you could own a feminist science fiction/fantasy t-shirt? Now you can! (Via Infotropism.)

A dark muted green t-shirt with bold white text reading, "Russ & Butler & Tiptree & Le Guin."

Via The Mary Sue and Geek Feminism, Feminist Frequency has a Kickstarter project to analyze sexism in gaming and the gaming community. Said gaming community has started a harassment campaign against her, engaging in threats and vandalism of her Wikipedia page with racial slurs and pornography. Way to prove her project necessary, assholes!

From Alex Dally MacFarlane, “SF anthologies: The (almost) unrelenting sausagefest“:

And, you know, I wouldn’t be so fucking angry about this if it wasn’t that almost every damn time I open a Mammoth Book of SF Stuff or an anthology edited by these two or Mike Ashley or any other big editor over here, I find this kind of ratio. (The one that’s just a Mammoth version of the Dozois Year’s Best does better. If we’re counting Sean Wallace’s Mammoth Book of Steampunk as SF, then that’s got a great ToC. But this should not be fucking exceptional.) Mike Ashley even managed to get an anthology of SF Stuff that’s 0% women, because apparently no woman has ever written a mindblowing SF story or something.

Protest this state of affairs by supporting anthologies that are committed to publishing science fiction by women, people of color, and GSMs, like Dark Matter, Beyond Binary, and Fat Girl in a Strange Land.

On the same subject, Kate Elliott at A Dribble of Ink writes about how calls for more diversity in science fiction and fantasy assume a default of Whiteness, heteronormativity, and the West:

Attempts to add “diversity” into such a scenario then remain trapped in the same box, regardless of the axis of diversity: The “diversity” becomes an ornamental or utilitarian element being forced onto the “real” underpinnings of the world (which remain in such a case as the default male, white, Western, straight, whatever), rather than being an intrinsic part of the creation.

If you have a suggestion for our linkspam, please email it to: courtney (at) doctorher (dot) com.

The Daleks Have a Face for Radio

 

While growing up in Columbia, Missouri my parents became deeply involved with community radio.  KOPN was one of those rare stations in America producing radio theatre in the early eighties.  When they couldn’t get a sitter on recording days I would sit silently on a threadbare sofa whose cushions emitted that intoxicating cocktail of so many performance spaces: spilt coffee and stale cigarettes.  Sometimes I would play the odd role if a child was required, but most of my memories are of listening to the magic happen around me.

My early love of Radio Theatre followed me into adult life.  I wrote, directed and performed in many audio programs.  As an actor the challenge of Radio Theatre is that you must use only your voice to communicate with your audience.  One of the actor’s most expressive tools is removed.  No body means no facial expressions, gesture or movement.  I consider this challenge a gift.  In the auditory world I am not bound by the culturally encoded restrictions of my appearance.  I can be anyone—ANYONE in a radio theatre performance.  It’s better than masked Cosplay or auditioning for The Voice.   Age and size mean nothing—only my ability to manipulate my vocal instrument matters.

As an audience member I feel similarly liberated from another’s vision of the story and its characters.  Nothing intrudes on my imagination when listening to an auditory performance.   It is a truly emancipating art form, a feminist performer’s dream and an important contribution to the world of Doctor Who.

Dalek Empire is an ambitious undertaking by Big Finish.  The story is massive, the cast of characters in the hundreds and I haven’t even listened to half of it.  What drew me right away to this audio performance is the idea of a Whoniverse Dalek story minus The Doctor.  The Daleks with no Doctor?  How could it work?  Wouldn’t it be rather short?  Exterminate.  Exterminate.  End of.  What sort of hero might step up to thwart them?

In Invasion of the Daleks, the first instalment of Dalek Empire, it turns out it takes three heroes to fill the Time Lord void.  This trio has no particular genius, no Tardis, no real clue what they are doing and few tools with which to carry out their plans.  They are wonderfully flawed and completely out of their depth.  The galaxy is utterly screwed.  It’s brilliant!

At the heart of Invasion lurks a weird but very sweet love story, while in its head churns a thought-provoking exploration of the methods and morality of political resistance.  Susan “you can call me Suz” Mendes is a human geologist working on Vega 6 for the Rhinesberg Institute, a faceless corporation, when an army of Daleks attack.  She is quickly separated from her “taxi driver” and almost lover Alby Brook as he escapes the war torn Vega System.  The Daleks imprison Suz, along with the remaining Vega 6 survivors, in a slave labour mining camp.  There she befriends fellow prisoner Kalendorf.

While Alby drowns his guilt over abandoning the woman he might have loved if given half a chance, Suz becomes the Dalek’s poster girl.  Her role begins benignly enough.  She co-ordinates with the Daleks to create work schedules for the human slave miners which include breaks for rest and food.  So far so Labour Union.  But Suz finds herself trapped in a vicious cycle of helping the war machine become so efficient the Daleks soon occupy almost the entire galaxy.  Suz struggles with her conscience for most of the story—torn between her desire to survive and preserve humanity whilst realising she has betrayed her race and made it possible for the Daleks to subjugate billions. 

Kaledorf assists Suz as much as the Daleks allow.  To her he reveals he is a key member of the ancient order of noble warriors known as the Knights of Velyshaa.  Kalendorf’s training in telepathy allows him to plot with Suz against the Daleks and nurture a very slow burning resistance movement.  Just as Suz struggles with her conscience, Kalendorf’s position as her right-hand man tortures him.  From birth he is trained to fight and die for the honour of Velyshaa, but his current situation makes this impossible.

Meanwhile, Alby wanders almost aimlessly in an effort to avoid the Daleks and his spy mission for the Earth Alliance.  Once he discovers Suz is not dead and is, in fact, a valued ambassador for the Daleks, his only real goal is to find her and tell her he loves her.  This alone is not enough to sustain a four-part epic narrative of course.  There are many other characters, conflicts and sub-plots shaping the destiny of these three people.  At the end of their road lies the mysterious Project Infinity which provides the mother of all plot twists in the cliff hanger ending to the first chapter.

But the story does not draw me in nearly as much as the philosophical questions posed by the characters.  What is the most effective way to over-throw a repressive regime?  Is it possible to bring a system down from the inside?  How far would you go and how much would it change you?  These are questions I have asked myself many times during my activist life.

Anyone who has ever worked as part of a grass roots political group can identify with Susan Mendes.  Anyone who has ever found themselves in a position of facing down a tyrant (or group of tyrants) can sympathise with her difficult situation.  Few of us will face an enemy as powerful as a Dalek army but as feminists we are all resistance fighters against patriarchy.  I know in my own life I have had to forge uneasy alliances and have often felt like a traitor to my own values and the people to whom I owe loyalty for the sake of political survival.

Good science fiction should always strike a balance between adventurous storytelling and insightful social commentary.  Dalek Empire: Invasion of the Daleks does both.  The characters stay with you and the complex philosophical questions haunt you.

Best of all: the Daleks are freaking terrifying!  These monsters truly have a face for radio.  In this dramatic format, the most frightening thing about them—their voices—reigns supreme.

 

Crafty Doctor Who: Subversion through Patchwork

One of the great joys I have taken from modern Doctor Who fandom (post 2005) is the crafty goodness that has exploded across the internet. This was still around in the old days, of course – my mother used to take me along to her Doctor Who fan club in the 80′s and I remember a beautiful oil painting one of the women in the group had made based on a still image of The Abominable Snowman, with Jamie and the Doctor (in his fuzzy coat) in the foreground and the TARDIS resting on a Tibetan mountain.

The same fan club used to distribute homemade badges, and my Mum still wears some of the: a silver K9, or a flock of Daleks on the lapel of her tweed jacket. I wonder if she’s still got the TARDIS badge that changes colours like a mood ring…

Then there was the Doctor Who Pattern Book, released in the flush of early Fifth Doctor merch, which included patterns to make your own cybermat (my mum did this!), TARDIS console cushion, Tegan’s boob tube, the Doctor’s celery brooch, and the piece de resistance, Classic Doctor Who costumes to fit a Ken doll collection.

It’s enough to make you want to collect Ken dolls, isn’t it?

These days, however, Doctor Who craft is a booming industry. You can see marvels and wonders displayed across Etsy, Spoonflower and Pinterest. All manner of Doctor Who fans are expressing their creativity by knitting Adipose, screen printing t-shirts, moulding jewellery and of course (one of my favourites) decorating the most extraordinary cakes.

Meanwhile, the BBC and their merchandise don’t seem to be able to keep up. They briefly flirted with the idea early on, but you’ve only recently been able to buy Doctor Who cookie cutters – I’ve been serving gingerbread daleks to my family for years because my honey made me a cutter by reshaping one that used to be a teddy bear, not because I bought the cutter in a shop. But surely they’re missing out on a trick here. Where is our TARDIS yarn, our make-your-own-pyjamas Dalek flannel, and our TARDIS console cake tins?

Look at the number of Doctor Who non-fiction or tie-in books that concentrate on the monsters, the machines, the aliens and, okay, the characters. Look at how many books there are about the show. Now look at how many books have been released which look at, say, the costumes of the show? The crafts you can make that tie into the show?

WHERE IS OUR DOCTOR WHO PATTERN BOOK FOR THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY?

I’m more than happy with the creativity shown by the fans who love the show, and it’s particularly exciting to me because so much of this craft is in areas that are traditionally seen as female or feminine. Knitting, dollmaking, cake decorating, jewellery making and quilting (my own craft of choice) are firmly coded female regardless of who practises them, and much though I’d like to claim otherwise, there is something deeply subversive about combining those underrated “feminine” artistic skills with the kind of hardcore science fiction geekery that many fans still think is (or should be, grrr) largely a male domain.

Quilting has always been a subversive act. Sure, the story is that women of pioneer America and pre-industrial England had to piece together patchwork to save every scrap, but COME ON. Patchwork isn’t remotely efficient, and it tends to create almost as many scraps as it uses. What patchwork and quilting have always provided is an excuse for women to gather together and make art, to appear industrious and frugal because their lives weren’t supposed to be about anything else. The beauty of the quilts found through history are there because women wanted to take time to make something beautiful, and yet the same practical function that allowed them guilt-free time to play with colours and fabrics has meant that their work has not traditionally been considered an ‘art’ akin to the expensive oil paintings and marble statues traditionally made by male artists.

As a quilter, I’m well aware that there are few men who have any interest in that particular craft. All my quilting friends are female, the quilt shows we go to are maybe 90% attended by women, and many guys who will happily listen to me talking about Doctor Who or urban fantasy or pdocasting or even feminism may glaze over with boredom if I start talking about patchwork templates or seam allowances. Including my own partner – whose lack of interest in my sewing activities meant I was able to work on his birthday present completely under his nose. As it turns out, he thinks quilts are AWESOME when they are finished, especially robot quilts.

Quilts don’t have to be about floral patterns and applique bows – not that there’s anything wrong with that, if it’s your cup of tea. But I’ve never been the kind of quilter who, well, follows rules. I’m far more excited with taking the boundaries of the craft in question, and then seeing how far I can push them. I’m pretty excited that I can get hold of, say, TARDIS fabric now, thanks to the creativity of fandom. Or, using the print-your-own-fabric technology, I can even design my own… and that’s what I’m planning to do!

I’ve been collecting a bunch of sparkly silver roundel fabric for a while now, because it reminded me of Daleks, and as it turns out I have a lot of 60′s ish black and white and grey fabric, which works out well, because THIS WEEKEND I am totally piecing together a Black and White 1960′s Doctor Who Hexagon Quilt.

The theme of this year’s Australian National Science Fiction Convention is ‘Craftonomicon’ so where better to piece my silvers and blacks and mod stripes with photographic fabric depicting Daleks, Ben and Polly, the First and Second Doctors, Jamie and Zoe, Victoria Waterfield, Cybermen, Sara Kingdom, Katarina, Steven, Dodo and of course Barbara, Ian and Susan. And Quarks. I’ve tacked down nearly a hundred pieces and I plan to start sewing the quilt together at the convention, and to see how much I get done over the course of the weekend, while having some fabulous conversations.

Wish me luck!

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]