Here’s Gary Gillatt’s review of the curious Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story The Ambassadors of Death, newly restored on DVD.

Great review which immediately impressed me by telling me something I didn’t know I knew about Season Seven. Confined to Earth, each seven-parter has the Doctor explore ” all three dimensions still available to him.” Almost shamanic dimensions – first down into the underworld to meet the Silurians, and now the Ambassadors lead him “straight up into the sky”.

I’m not sure Gary is correct that Episode 5 would be pulled today in the light of Apollo 13 – it had splashed down the previous day. Wife in Space commented on this during their watch of the story

And while the emotions of the finale are understated, I used to feel them especially in the aftermath of the emotive end of the Silurians, in which the Doctor fails to prevent his human associates from ‘wiping out’ their intelligent reptilian forebears. His success in saving the aliens of this story acts as a reflective counter-point to his earlier failure, and as a building of tension in the arc towards the season’s explosive, tense conclusion in the Inferno.

That’s my recall anyway. It’s a while since I saw the story, but look forward to watching the new DVD with friends some time this year. Gary’s review has certainly made me even more keen to make that soon.

Squabbling Rubber

A review of the DVD for Doctor Who Magazine, from 2012

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dvd-ambasadors‘Exile’ is too grand a description for the sentence handed down to the Doctor at the end of his original trial. Aside from changing his face – which admittedly could be argued to be a form of capital punishment – all the Time Lords really do is wheelclamp the Doctor’s ship and so deny him access to his favourite of his usual four dimensions. However, while our hero can no longer trip through time, his new incarnation still thrusts out unceasingly in every remaining direction. The first thing he does is to take a vehicle without the owner’s consent – a crime for which he has form, to say the least – after which he barely sits still for a moment. And in the seven-episode adventures that dominate his first year on Earth, we see him explore, in…

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God Complexities

Do you believe in God?

Augustine
Augustine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
God's Vaginal Liquid Omnipresence baptized us ...
God’s Vaginal Liquid Omnipresence baptized us with Her Eternal Divinity tonight (Photo credit: nayrb7)

I have never really understood this question, though it gets asked fairly frequently. There seem to be at least two questions wrapped up inside it, two interpretations. Do you have faith in God? And, do you affirm the existence of God?

I don’t propose to spend much time on the first interpretation. The second question, however, I find impossible to answer.

Here’s why.  Limitations of any kind are not supposed to pertain to the God. A story I once heard told in the House of Lords a few years ago has stuck with me. The story goes that during the English colonial intervention in India, the chiefs of the Anglican Church met with representatives of the Hindu religion at an equivalent level and said, basically, we don’t want any trouble right?  But we just can’t get our heads round one point about your religion, so need you to answer one simple question before we can guarantee that. Do you believe in one god or many?

The Hindus could not answer, because they said, we cannot limit god to singularity or multiplicity. The separation between them is part of illusion. To say god is one limits god, who can never be many. Similarly, to say god is many means he can never be one. Who are we to limit god to one side or the other of the one/many divide?

Similarly, it seems to me equally ridiculous to limit any god to just one side of the dichotomy between existence and oblivion, presence and lack, matter and void. Like Schrodinger’s cat, gods exist beyond such rationalist dichotomies.

I  cannot affirm the existence of god, for to do so would limit god to a kind of prison.

Christmas Countdown

In review: Doctor Who 2012 Christmas Prequels

Ah, the Doctor Who Christmas Special, instant tradition invented in 2005 with The brilliant Christmas Invasion, followed each year with variations on traditional Christmas film styles: a midwinter’s journey, from screw-ball comedy via blockbuster disaster and mock epic, to the current mode of romantic and literate sf-fantasy with hints of steam-punk and paganism.

This year, the Doctor Who team revisit Victorian values, in The Snowmen, due for broadcast on Christmas Day at 5.15pm. If two years ago the Doctor played ghost to Scrooge, it seems this time the Doctor himself is cast as an uncommon Scrooge.

Back in November Cardiff revived an aspect of the tradition going back to 2005: the Children in Need prequel to the Christmas special.

The Great Detective.

TX: 16 November 2012

My main problem with this was the arch, knowing humour which plays incongruities for laughs. How Mark Gatiss plays the narrator’s line about the Victorian detective! Inter-textually, this refers to Sherlock of course, thus setting up the punchline: ‘I refer of course – to Madame Vaastraa’. A moderately clever gag lampshaded and rendered excruciating by Gatiss’s unfortunate delivery. A rocky start led to another over egged gag about the henchman Strax

‘whose countenance was too horrible to be photo-graphed’,

which when revealed as a not particularly horrible Sontaran accompanies one of Murray Gold’s musical exclamation marks.

Fortunately this air of beautifully produced but rather forced humour is punctured by the arrival of the ‘fourth member’, the ‘shadowy figure’ of Matt Smith.

Tom Baker in Shada
Cool

I have to say I adore his new Xmas costume, I feel the Doctor looks genuinely ‘cool’, perhaps for the first time since 1979. So I was pleased to read recently Moffat’s comments on costuming the Doctor, signalling a move towards varying the actual clothes while retaining some ineffable essence of this Doctor’s look or style, a reading of the 1970s ‘version of it’.

The Doctor’s melancholy rejection of the gang is well played, and mysteriously finished off by the Doctor disappearing into thin air as he walks off, as if walking through dimensions. Disregarding that, the format and hook of the special is set up in Jenny’s final ‘Merry Christmas’ to him, reminding us that, as has been noted by the Tenth Doctor in 2007, Christmas always seems to be a busy time for the Doctor these days. Something is bound to come up.

Ending on a repeat of the joke about Strax threatening the moon is I presume the rebel in Moffat producing an anti-cliffhanger to rival Barry Lett’s finest.

Pleasingly, there’s a part two.

Vastra Investigates

TX online: 17 December http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p012q4yl

I loved this sketch’s combination of info-dump and comedy, giving us useful back story, reminding the audience who exactly Jenny, Vastra and Strax are. I watched this with a mate the other day and he loved all the jokes, as did I. TBH the trailer shown an hour or so after the first ‘minisode’ in November didn’t excite me, but I remain intrigued. The Doctor the Widow and the Wardrobe has had an airing to general like this year. Two very different friends of mine watched it recently and both reassessed their formerly low opinion. It’s a grower. Maybe they’ll pull off something even better this year.

But, evil snowmen? Maybe this one’s best watched with child-like eyes. Leave your cynicism at the door, but please don’t forget Strax’s grenade!

Merry Pagan Feast Day everyone.

The Shiniest of Two Turds

I’m not into politicians, but I did enjoy feeling sorry for Mitt Romney this week. Obama appeared very clever, but Romney’s performance appeared so stupid. Asked what makes him different from George W Bush, Romney gave an answer that sounded exactly like Bush, in both verbal inflection and policy content, while Obama took the opportunity to paint Romney as more right-wing than his predecessor.

Meanwhile, amongst all the fuss over ‘binders full of women’, it went unnoticed that Romney drew attention to a previous gaffe, claiming he visited London to ‘set the Olympics on track’.

I was watching the debate on Ustream, who after it finished asked people to ‘summarize’ the debate on Twitter. This was my response:

Beyond that, I can’t add much more than has been said by ZeFrank’s Notes on the Debate:

Epic Rap Battles of History took the opportunity to release their Obama/Romney battle earlier the same day, and seemed to catch the mood:

Loving Angels Instead

In review: Doctor Who The Angels Take Manhattan

TX: 29 September 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01n70f3

Some died. Not them, Brian. Never them – the Doctor, The Power Of Three

I wasn’t thinking of anything quite so…long term – Amy, Flesh and Stone

SO the big news this week, as covered by the Guardian, was the release of a deleted scene in storyboard and audio form, from this episode. The Chibnall written scene gave Rory a chance to let his Dad know what happened to them, by letter delivered by an adopted son, resolving rather prosaically the thread of Amy’s infertility, in a scene clearly inspired by a similar event in Blink. The scene picks up on certain fan desires for resolutions somewhat underwhelmed by elements of this episode. I think there was an intense fan reading generated for this episode, but it seems to talk about alternatives. A desire for more resolution to the River Song/Amy aspect of the story, for instance, has people assuming Amy and Rory somehow meet up with young Melody in New York, filling in the gap between her 1969 New York regeneration and arrival in 90’s Leadworth.

This companion departure was always going to be strained, deriving narratively from the Doctor’s feelings for Amy, and Rory, feelings whose motivations were made explicit for the first time last week, but have always been there. In review I mentioned The Power of Three‘s play with the format of the show, an experimentation enabled now the characters have been positioned to this point. The set up of Rory and Amy as, dare I say it, lame duck companions, by the coda of The God Complex proved both logical and potentially format-busting, raising the question of the whole status of a ‘companion’ in modern Dr Who. In some ways a consequence of the Doctor’s more perfect control over the Tardis, as much as any subtext that the Doctor must grow up, if you have a Doctor who is able to visit ‘companions’ at will, it disrupts the tradition of the companion role, into something more akin to another meaning of the word – an occasional traveller.

As far back as the departures of both Captain Jack (The Parting of the Ways) and more especially Martha (Last of the Time Lords), the possibility has been raised of a companion leaving the Tardis, but not necessarily leaving the show. I always thought this was a great idea, and the use of the Ponds since The God Complex has satisfied this viewer’s desire for a more realistic and involved treatment of the format implied, but never realised, by how RTD re-imagined the Doctor-companion relationship in terms of an attachment to home and hearth.

It lays possible groundwork I think for a more extended run of stories with occasional companions, perhaps those the Doctor has less of an emotional attachment to, so you don’t need to ‘write them out’ so artificially. Maintaining their base, these nu-companions can grab some agency in the series. With Amy however he has made his feelings clear, finally: Pond will be there till ‘the end of me – or vice versa’. A constant companion. So a combination of that emotional thread, and the realities of life in TV land, mean an ending which ensures that somehow the Doctor cannot visit these people again is required. Some reviews have suggested this episode plays out like a series of plot devices to get us to that point, both emotionally and mechanically, with Moffat exercising his plotting muscles and interest in exploring time travel within Dr Who, rather than telling a story. Yet Moffat said  the ending of this story – ‘the most important part of any story’ – was written and rewritten many times, to get it right. In public, this has been a mutable story with many possible paths not taken, a story with a public face of having multiple versions in the culture around it.

Not that I didn’t enjoy the episode. I wasn’t expecting any further resolution to the Amy/Melody story, and I enjoyed appreciating it on its own terms. Pacing this year has been interesting.  I loved the opening sequence. Much as I disliked A Town Called Mercy, I admired the pacing, a sense of the story slowing down at key points, for character to unfold. Here to me, the pre-credits sequence felt pleasingly like the beginning of a play. Some found the sequence wasted on a scene-setting mini-story whose characters proved entirely incidental after the credits, but I admire the unusual pacing going on here.

To be honest I feel put in a difficult position by my inability to resist spoilers. Off the top of my head, I was aware in advance of the following elements:

  • the statue of liberty as weeping angel
  • Rory sent back in time by the angels
  • to a 30s/40s setting
  • they filmed in a Welsh cemetery

And so, when considering if these elements were well used, I’m finding it hard to know if my judgement is clouded by knowing in advance, lacking the surprise necessary to judge them on their own dramatic terms. I shouldn’t read spoilers. I think I’ll stop now. I can’t help however in joining the chorus of disappointment towards the use of the Liberty Angel for pure ‘marquee’ effect. the statute of liberty angelThe appeal of the idea I think lies already in it’s audacious popular appeal, but to plonk it into the story without any visible means of support at all? Reminiscent of RTD’s Cyberking in London incident, which Moffat himself took the opportunity of his ‘crack in time’, swallowing both things and the memories of things, storyline to cover for. How is it not quantum locked?

The episode proper presents a classic Moffat time puzzler  The drama’s initial gambit, the kidnapping of Rory and his instant appearance in the book the Doctor is reading to Amy, certainly arrests and intrigues, but, as people are beginning to argue, Moffat’s distinctive use of time travel in Dr Who has a price when the basic rules in the show are so slapdash. The drama’s credibility suffers. While the incident in which Amy reads ahead succeeded for me in heightening the drama of the time paradox the Doctor and Amy had to negotiate. The drama of River’s wrist however, played out as a key emotional  moment in that negotiation, played out poorly because of how poorly it fitted what Amy did read in the book.

How did the Angels fare as a Dr Who monster here? Certainly creepy in a story which returns to their time-active abilities, it took me some time to realise there was no particular plan at work here, just an unfolding of Weeping Angel culture. There was no plot involving the Mike McShane character, no mystery behind who he was or his connection with the Angels and somehow I feel this was a weakness. Once we understand that, we can focus on the angels, the Doctor and co happening to cross paths with them in a city they frequent, and the tension of knowing Rory and Amy will not survive the story, according to contract, serving as the foregrounded plot. This took time to play out unlikely possibilities: Rory being the locus.

So, an angel people farm. Again, great idea but the specifics didn’t bear examination. In an alternative story called The Angels Take Manhatten posited by some fans, the same ideas are rejuggled.  The Statue as a permanently imprisoned Angel, always gazed at by someone in the insomniac city, with the angels out to free her was a Chinese whisper of a ‘spoiler’ trailed before the episode. The only sensible way to bring this about would be blinding everyone, Day of the Triffids style. Another alternative constructed after the episode prefers the Ponds final farewell to occur back in time, say 1969, with the Doctor (from earlier in his timestream, for timey-wimey fans), or perhaps River Song herself, guiding them to toddler Melody, to raise her before sending her on her way to Leadworth.

Yes, there are still people who don’t get it. Melody survived New York because she was programmed to do so. She sought out the young Rory and Amy to be raised by them (in a way), because she was programmed to kill the Doctor, and to give at least some resolution to the whole storyline of Amy having her new born baby kidnapped. That timey-wimey sort of resolution was all we were ever meant to to get. That, along with Amy’s sub-Eastenders declaration to Madame Kovarian in The Wedding of River Song that “Melody’s all grown up now and she’s fine – but I’ll never see my baby again,” resolves the issue as far as the screen is concerned.

The ending came down once more to the theme of Amy’s choice. It’s simplicity and suddenness appealed, her choice inevitable the moment Rory disappeared. She chose the angel, the route to live with Rory, over life with the Doctor. The Doctor was predictably gutted by this, and unfortunately River, who apparently is free to go sort out a publishing contract with Amy, isn’t much consolation. I really don’t understand why she says ‘one psychopath per TARDIS’ as a reason for not joining up with him full time: if it is a joke I don’t get it. Interpersonal relations in Moffat’s Who are…unusual.

Of course, the ending is beautiful, and clever, rewriting the past and resolving a loosethread fans haven’t generally paid attention to: an emotional thread connected with young Amy’s audition of yer classic Brian Hodgson Tardis, all the way back in the Eleventh Hour, on the first night she waited.

This post’s featured image is a detail from a photo in Greenwood, NYC by Tor Johansson