Archive for the In Defence Of… Category

In Defence Of…”I don’t want to go.”

Posted in Articles, In Defence Of... with tags , , , , on October 11, 2014 by Review The Who

In Defence Of 4

A lot of people hated the final lines of the Tenth Doctor, saying they were out of character or too melodramatic. In this edition of “In Defence Of…” guest writer Ben McCarthy presents an intriguing counterargument.

After watching Matt Smith’s brilliant departure in “The Time Of The Doctor” last Christmas, I’ve been thinking about David Tennant’s exit from the role of The Doctor. Comments across the web often cite Tennant’s exit as being inferior by comparison to Smith’s; after all, Doc 10 went out crying that he didn’t want to go whilst Doc 11 went out accepting the change, even being excited by it. And while I have never really liked the Tenth Doctor’s final line, I’ve concluded that it was actually the perfect way for that incarnation to go, and made sense for The Doctor’s character as a whole.

It all goes back to the Eighth Doctor’s choice to become the War Doctor, throwing aside everything he had always believed in and chosen to be. As the War Doctor, he hated himself; hated that he couldn’t seem to save everyone, hated the things he had to do during the Time War and hated that he was no longer The Doctor. So desperate was he for that the war to be over, he was prepared to wipe out all of Gallifrey to do it. Although we now know that he didn’t succeed, as far as the Ninth Doctor was concerned…he did.

We meet the Ninth Doctor at probably the lowest point ever in the Doctor’s long life. He’s fresh from the War, fresh from an incarnation he despised and, more than anything, he’s disgusted with himself for what he had to do to end the conflict. However, the War was finally over and, for the first time in probably hundreds of years, he could finally travel the universe again. He could finally start helping again, save lives and, with the help of Rose, he began to get better. On Satellite 5 he was prepared to die to finally wipe out the Daleks and was prepared to sacrifice himself to save Rose. But in the end he refuses to kill the Daleks if it means destroying Earth, basically the same decision he had to make on Gallifrey. The Ninth Doctor was an incarnation who was still recovering when he met Rose but, right at the very end, he realised that he was still The Doctor after all and that he didn’t have to spend the rest of his lives carrying so much guilt.

And thus, along came the Tenth Doctor. Now less burdened by the Time War, Doc 10 threw himself into his adventures. He was The Doctor again, the man he’d always wanted to be. In this new incarnation, he felt something that he’d not felt in years; he genuinely loved being himself. The Eleventh Doctor states in “The Time Of The Doctor” that he had “vanity issues” during his tenth incarnation and that’s certainly true, but it’s not because Doc 10 was handsome and didn’t want to change physically. It was because he was happier than he had been in years during that incarnation. The guilt carried over from the war was still there, but he was able to look past it and try to move on.

So, when Doc 10 was faced with a regeneration, he really didn’t want to go. After so long, he was finally the man he had always strived to be once again. That’s why, more than any other incarnation, the Tenth Doctor is so gung-ho heroic and swashbucklingly charming. He’s relishing the fact that he’s The Doctor again. To loose the incarnation where he finally felt he could face himself in the mirror, the incarnation in which he properly recovered? It terrified him. He had no idea what he would turn into. Would his new persona see things the same way he did? What if the crushing guilt of the war came back? Or worse, what if the new incarnation was more like the War Doctor and he ended up doing something even more terrible than he had done before? So desperate was the Tenth Doctor to cling on to the better man he’d become, he chose not to change in “Journey’s End”, basically wasting a regeneration.

However, in “The End Of Time”, there was nothing to stop it. He was going to change no matter what he did. And he didn’t want to. He couldn’t abide the thought of it. He couldn’t become a “new man that goes sauntering away,” not after he’d come so far as the Tenth Doctor. But change he did…

Doc 10’s final moments make even more sense when you look at the journey of the Eleventh Doctor. In that incarnation, The Doctor realised that change was not a bad thing. He had an even better time than his predecessor in most cases, always choosing a scenario or adventure that kept him intrigued and smiling. In “The Day Of The Doctor”, the Eleventh Doctor had a bit of a sarcastic reaction to Doc 10 saying “I don’t want to go.” Maybe that’s because he remembered just how afraid he was when he regenerated and how, on reflection, he really needn’t have been so worried. After hundreds of years as the Eleventh Doctor, after saving Gallifrey and after having decided he was going to truly die on Trenzalore, Doc 11 welcomes his regeneration. He’s grown up, realised that change isn’t a bad thing but a welcome one. He’s no idea who he’s about to be but, for the first time since his regeneration into the Eighth Doctor, he’s not petrified at the thought of it.

So, there you have it. My ramblings on a massive character arc for The Doctor, started by RTD and properly completed by The Moff. On reflection, I think it was beautifully done; Eccleston, Tennant and Smith played The Doctor so differently yet, because of this, it’s easy to remember that all three Doctors are, fundamentally, the same man. A wounded man going on a journey and finding himself once more.

And it’s been a treat to follow that journey. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the Twelfth Doctor.

Written and edited by Ben McCarthy

In Defence Of…Murray Gold

Posted in Articles, In Defence Of... with tags , , , on October 8, 2014 by Review The Who

In Defence Of 3

During the 9 years since Doctor Who returned to our screens, you may have stumbled across a thread or comment on various fan sites and forums that went a little something like this; “Murray Gold’s music is too loud.” Or perhaps; “Gold’s music is intrusive.” Or maybe even;”I hate how Murray Gold’s music takes me out of the moment.” Aside from one or two individuals who just don’t have very good taste in music, the majority of those who make these sort of comments are talking about the volume of the incidental music used in an episode of the show. So before I go any further into this article, let me clear something up for those people.

There is a job on any television series that involves an individual being responsible for the sound mixing. Usually this person is refered to as “Sound Editor” or “Sound Mixer”. There job is to ensure that all of the audio elements of a television show are mixed appropriately, in order that no one element of sound becomes overbearing and drowns out the other elements.

Murray Gold has never filled this role on Doctor Who.

It’s absolutely, undeniably true that in the first series of New Who the music was unbearably loud. It really was noticeable, even to those who don’t have an ear for these things, and it became a continual distraction week after week. But that’s not the fault of Murray Gold. That’s the fault of the sound editor. And the fact that, 9 years in, I still see people complaining about Gold’s music because it “doesn’t sit well in the mix” really pisses me off. Why? Because the people making those complaints don’t seem to have any interest in the quality of his music, only that the sound editor has done a bad job. So if you have a problem with the volume, please, stop blaming Murray Gold.

With most TV shows I could never tell you the names of the pieces of incidental music used. For the most part, they are generic filler tracks or else they just aren’t that memorable. The same goes for Classic Who; sure, there are pieces of music from certain episodes that always stick in my mind, but I could never tell you who composed them or what the pieces in question were called. That’s not the case with Murray Gold. His music is so good that, even when listened to in isolation, it is a joy to experience. I have favourite pieces from the New Who soundtracks and I can name them all. That alone, in my opinion, is testament to the quality of the music he produces. You remember it. You can conjure up particular scenes in your mind just by remembering the music. If you have the soundtracks, like I do, you could even hum the tune of a certain piece if someone were to say to you “How does All The Strange, Strange Creatures go, then?”

But leaving that aside, Gold’s music elevates the show’s content. Yes, the synth-driven scores of Classic Who do have their own charm and there’s a whole section of the fanbase who long for that kind of music to return in New Who. But the fact is, those old scores sounded like what they were; cheaply made bits of music to stick into an episode. Murray Gold creates music so evocative, so beautifully composed, that not only does it add weight and gravitas to an episode of Doctor Who, but it’s also wonderful to just listen to on my headphones on the bus to work. And it clearly isn’t just me who thinks so; the music of New Who is often performed at the BBC Proms. That too speaks to the appeal of Gold as a composer.

Another common complaint that I’ve seen levelled at Murray Gold is that he re-uses pieces of his music rather than composing new ones. Again – Murray Gold is the composer, the man who writes the music. He is not the man who selects which pieces of his music are going to be used where. He is asked to compose and whatever he composes will then be recorded and used as and where the showrunner and episode directors see fit. Besides which, what’s the problem with using a piece of music again?

Sometimes a piece will end up being used in an episode and it won’t work. Perhaps the tone is wrong, perhaps the mood of the scene doesn’t fit the mood of the music. It happens all the time in TV shows. The beauty of Doctor Who using older pieces of music again is that it gives those pieces the chance to shine in a new, sometimes more fitting context. I’ll give you two examples off the top of my head;

1. “The Dark and Endless Dalek Night”. Originally used in the two-part series 4 finale, this piece is an excellent orchestral march that suitably summons up the impending doom that will arrive with a fully developed Dalek fleet. And yet when it was originally used, it seemed too big for the episode. It didn’t quite fit. Cut to a few years later, when the piece was used again in the 50th anniversary special “The Day Of The Doctor”, and now it becomes the haunting soundtrack to the destruction being wrought upon Arcadia during the last day of the Time War. And it works BRILLIANTLY.

2. “Always The Doctor”. This beautiful piece, that so perfectly underscored the Eleventh Doctor’s emotional farewell, is actually made up of three separate pieces from other episodes of the show. “Trenzalore” comes from “The Name Of The Doctor”. “Infinite Potential” was originally used in “The Rings Of Akhaten” and “My Husband’s Home” originated in Amy & Rory’s departing episode “The Angels Take Manhattan”. All three of them worked just fine in their respective episodes but, when put together back to back and used to add suitable emotional weight to Eleven’s regeneration, they become one complete piece. And a classic one at that. Even listening to “Always The Doctor” in isolation is enough to move me to tears.

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t think that music matters in a show or a film, or perhaps someone who doesn’t understand how music elevates the visual material, try watching the original Star Wars without the music of John Williams. Suddenly everything feels very bland and nowhere near as gripping as it did before. The same is true of New Who and we have Murray Gold to thank for creating such brilliant pieces of music – both loud and bombastic and quiet and heartbreaking – that give our favourite show the gravitas it needs and, more importantly, deserves.

Written and edited by Richey Hackett

In Defence Of…Corridors

Posted in Articles, In Defence Of... with tags , , , on April 2, 2014 by Review The Who

 

In Defence Of 2

When Lenny Henry parodied Doctor Who in the 1980’s, after telling a Peri-esque assistant to stop screaming and shut up, he and the assistant then proceeded to run up and down lots of corridors. Not quite as much a cliché as men in rubber suits, running up and down corridors is still a considerable hallmark of the cheap naffness of Classic Who.

When the story is going nowhere and you’ve got to drag it out in order to reach the cliffhanger, have The Doc and/or his chums get caught, then escape (by running down a corridor) and then get caught (after running up a corridor) again. It fills out the runtime. It’s cheap; the same stretch of walls can be relit and dressed to make the city/caves/space station/etc  seem so much larger and more epic. And it’s an excuse for action too, people actually moving from one place to another is far better than people sat in one location and talking.

But the corridor, and the action happening within it, is much maligned. It’s a sign of poor plotting and desperate story-telling; a sign of limited resources stretched to and beyond breaking point.

Take the Troughton/Ice Warriors thriller “The Seeds of Death”. It isn’t a bad story; the Ice Warriors, now joined by an “Ice Lord”, are suitably villainous but the moonbase where the bulk of the story takes place is a sterile and uninspired piece of design. Can you get a more generic “base” than this? A lot of the story takes place while our heroes and heroines are getting chased around it.

However, good design doesn’t necessarily save poor corridor work. Take “Warriors of the Deep” (no please, take Warriors of the Deep). This IS a bad story (I don’t care what my chum from the last “In Defence Of…” piece says) but the underwater base does look pretty good. However, it’s what you do with it that counts. Making the base interiors glow like Tom Cruise’s teeth does not help the Myrka look any less like some kind of mutated pantomime horse.

Then there is poor design and poor story charging in together to create such horrors as “The Invasion Of Time” – even Tom Baker can’t resist taking the piss. The production team (with time and money pushed far beyond breaking point) seemed to find the world’s largest public toilet complex to stand in for the labyrinth of corridors within the TARDIS. It reminds me of a recurring bad dream I have where I really need a pee and find myself running round and around just finding toilets that can’t be used. Add a pursuing Sontaran tripping over a sun lounger and that’s what Episode 6 of “The Invasion Of Time” is exactly like.

But all of Classic Who was subject to the same constraints of time, resources and money. Yet the creative geniuses behind the world’s greatest science fiction show overcame the restrictions to pull off masterpieces of pop culture. And the corridors weren’t simply part of these masterpieces – they ARE the making of these masterpieces. There are examples in all periods of Classic Who. As JNT’s flashy hand made its mark on the show we get “Full Circle”. The interiors of the Starliner are solid and real, yet have their own style and not just another set of Starship Enterprise workspaces. The story is about the slow attack of the Marshmen on the Starliner, any running around IS the story, not padding.

Jump back seven or eight years to the planet and Citadel of Peladon – pretty much two whole stories set in nothing but corridors and caves! Dark, atmospheric corridors and caves, rich with torches, statues, tapestries and the same cowardly weasel from “The Seeds Of Death” being less cowardly but more weasely. Back again to almost the infancy of Doctor Who with the Dalek city on Skaro we see in “The Daleks” – surely the corridors that sealed the show’s success? Yes, the Nazi mutant pepperpot things were sort of interesting, but Cusick’s city is a classic of design. To my mind the supreme Corridor story is, of course, “Warrior’s Gate”. There are space-ship corridors, medieval castle corridors, stately-home garden corridors… Hell, the story is called “Warrior’s Gate”, in effect the whole thing is about a corridor. A corridor between universes, no less! Surely, the biggest, most fundamental corridor of them all?

New Who is less notable for its corridors. The overly hurried pace and restricted running time means that while The Doc and his chums are frequently running down corridors, they rarely run back up them.

Do not join the easy mockery of Classic Who corridors. Sure, there are times they are just a cheap way to fill up the empty minutes but, more often than not, the genius writers, designers and accountants use the humble corridor to expand the story’s setting beyond a limited collection of rooms, to imply rich, diverse worlds. Celebrate the running up and down – where else can a terrifying monster chase you so slowly, yet so terrifyingly? The corridor is why we love Classic Who. There are times when they are embarrassing but, when the Corridor is used well, we see imaginations at work, running like The Doctor and his companions through the narrow confines of tiny budgets, tiny timeframes and tiny special effects. Often, they are caught and confined. But so more often they will escape again.

 

Written and edited by Richard Barnes

In Defence Of…Warriors Of The Deep

Posted in Articles, In Defence Of... with tags , , , , , , , on January 15, 2014 by Review The Who

In Defence Of 1

In the first edition of an ongoing series of articles, guest writer Keith Baker offers up a defence for one of the most unloved stories from Peter Davison’s era.

You’ve Got It All Wrong
Conventional fan wisdom would have us believe that “Warriors Of The Deep” is a story with complete failure stamped all over it; an unmitigated disaster of epic, laughable proportions, that left the only decent Silurian and Sea Devil stories of Classic Who firmly in the Pertwee era and the early 1970’s. What I’m here to tell you you is that, well, conventional fan wisdom is wrong. In fact I’d go so far as to say that “Warriors Of The Deep” is the best Silurian/Sea Devil story of the classic series. Feel free to read that sentence again in case you think that you might have read it wrong. It’s alright, I’ll wait.

See? You didn’t read it wrong. I’ll say it again though, slowly. “Warriors Of The Deep” is the best Silurian/Sea Devil story of Classic Who.

Now that’s not to say that the original two stories are really that bad. I mean, the first one has a really good idea. Sadly it’s a really good idea that’s been told to sit there while being force fed cake and ice cream until it’s so incredibly bloated that it can’t even stand up under its own weight properly. Sure, it has some great ideas but, man, “The Silurians” is such a slog and there’s just not enough meat on the bone of the story to keep you satisfied. Then the second story, “The Sea Devils”, takes the same idea, sticks it on a treadmill and force feeds it salad for a few weeks. Add in some extra sparkles like The Master and the bureaucrat from the Home Office and it’s a marked improvement. But then it should be; they’d had the chance to learn from the first outing and as it’s essentially a retelling with some new elements. It’s tighter, it’s snappier, it fizzes better, but it’s just not as good as “Warriors Of The Deep”.

Okay, let me start my defence properly. First of all, let’s confront the pantomime elephant in the room.

Warriors On The Cheap
This story is often referred to as “Warriors on the cheap” because it had pretty much no budget to speak of and the director, rather than working with that and using dim lighting to hide any cosmetic sins, pretty much floodlit the whole thing. Result? All the costume seams show. The fact that the Myrka is essentially a rent-a-ghost pantomime horse is as clear as day, most of the costumes look a bit shonky, the make-up is a disaster and let’s not even mention the gun battles.

And we all know this. The story is famous for it! People just see the bad effects, bad direction, some slightly suspect acting and write it off as rubbish, much like “Invasion Of The Dinosaurs”. But given that this is classic Doctor Who isn’t that a bit…silly? Was Doctor Who ever about the execution? Wasn’t it instead about firing the imagination? And as a 10 year old who was into science fiction, this story really fired me up. I saw straight through the terrible effects and the terrible battles but I didn’t care. All my 10 year old mind was concerned with was two things; that was clearly a big monster and there were gun battles! That’s great! And of course it was all white and lit up – it’s the future, isn’t it?!

Motivating Factors
In the 1980’s it was perfectly reasonable to imagine that the world was still on the brink of nuclear destruction. With a still escalating cold war involving two sides with their fingers poised on the button, annihilation could come at a seconds notice. And in this case it was even worse. Missiles that leave the buildings intact but kill all life. A deeply cynical idea that would strike a chord with governments and corporations alike as they flowed in to take control of everything that was left. This is the harsh and grim world that the TARDIS lands in at the beginning of “Warriors Of The Deep”.

Let’s take the example of Maddox, the sync operator. Here we have a man who is deemed psychologically unsuitable for his job because he has too much empathy. The idea of killing all those people is way too much for him to bare and the pressure breaks him. In this harsh and cold world it is deemed a reasonable alternative to use a mental programming technique so he can return to operational effectiveness. Yes, this is the kind of world these people are living in. Only the emotionally cold survive and individual human rights are reduced to an almost zero point. Think about it; a world where the mental slavery of a human being, not even an enemy combatant but one of your own officers, is dismissed in the most blasé fashion.

That’s a dark, dark world. Now isn’t it so much easier, with that idea in your head, to see this world as one that the Silurians would be scared of and would want to destroy? Doesn’t it make their motives so much more understandable? Contrast it to their previous motives of “Well, we were here first!” in what was little more than the planetary equivalent of “I had bagsy’s”. Suddenly the Silurians have an almost righteous agenda when compared with the horrors of the human society they witness in this story.

The Silurians As A Species
For the first time The Silurians and Sea Devils seem like creatures that credibly could have been rulers of the planet as opposed to a couple of people in green suits in a cave or a bunch of fish people dressed in nets.

They’re organized, they have a battle cruiser, they have a caste system that survives retconning. The kind of retconning that would be lauded in the new series. The Sea Devils being a warrior caste and the Silurians being a leader caste makes perfect sense within the confines of the original stories and their motivations in them. In the original stories The Silurians make dastardly plans and squabble about leadership whereas the Sea Devils are of one mind under a commander. One is political, one is military. It makes perfect sense. They’re a real society and in “Warriors Of The Deep” they get real characters.

“What Have You Been Eating?”
We’ll take the “aliens” first. If we look at the Sea Devils in their first story, none of them have any character at all. Admittedly, they’re not dealt with much better in this, simply fulfilling their role as the military arm, but the Silurians are so much better here. The Silurians in the original story are the friendly one (who, if he were human, could have been conceivably played by Bernard Horsfall) and the bad one who wants to kill everyone. Basically the same archetypes that you get in so much of 70’s Doctor Who – you could pretty much ctrl-c, ctrl-v them into any other story at the time and it would only require changing the costumes.

But “Warriors Of The Deep” gives us the character of Icthar, last of the Silurian Triad, a once noble leader who has become broken and sickened by the death of his people. His motivations are incredibly similar to Captain Ahab from Moby Dick with a little of the John Hurt Doctor thrown in; “revenge” and “No More”. He’s been waking up his people, gathering equipment, planning, preparing, until he’s finally ready to go hunt his whale; mankind.

The base commander, while being fairly generic, is able to pull off the unlikely triumvirate of authoritative, morally bankrupt and likeable at the same time. His strength after being shot and reacting as little as possible so he doesn’t knock The Doctor off his concentration is both admirable and impressive. Even the enemy agents are clear in their plans and work perfectly well, using the alien invasion for their own ends. And of course there’s Maddox; pathetic and pitiable, the man who was engineered to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“They’re All Dead You Know…”
The key to a good plot is simplicity. That’s clear in “City Of Death” and it’s clear in “Warriors Of The Deep”;

1. The Chekhov’s Gun of Hexachromite is set up not 15 minutes into the episode. Whether you personally like the idea of Hexachromite being the eventual solution, it’s difficult to deny the elegance of the setup.

2. The motivations of the Silurians are clear. The human race have proven themselves untrustworthy and must be destroyed but Silurian law means they cannot kill everyone outright, so they invade the base and fire the missiles that start the final world war. Then they can claim “Not our fault!”

3. The enemy agents are still implementing their plans. The alien invasion doesn’t affect their country, but it’s a brilliant diversion so they can carry their plans out. If anything, sabotaging the base would have been the best thing they could possibly have done for the human race.

4. I mean, look at it! It’s a classic Troughton base-under-siege story. It’s brilliant, it’s “The Moonbase”, it’s “The Ice Warriors”, it’s all those great near-future base under siege stories but made in the 1980’s. You’ve just got a few more sub-plots and it also all makes sense.

5. Pacing. “Warriors Of The Deep” does not have the chance to get boring. It runs at a breakneck speed, especially when compared to the sludgey, slow pacing of “The Silurians” or “The Sea Devils”.

6. A twist in the standard Silurian/Sea Devil plot shape. This time, instead of The Doctor negotiating peace, he is forced to play the part of The Brigadier (much to his utter distaste). With no other options he is forced to use the Hexachromite in order to save the day. This time it’s The Doctor’s fault as he stands amongst the bodies of the humans and reptiles alike, which makes his final line “There should have been another way.” all the more poignant. Much like “The Horror of Fang Rock”, the only people to survive this encounter are the TARDIS team.

7. You could even argue that The Sea Devils being such bad shots in all of the gun battles is a result of them only being recently woken up. The Silurians mention there may have been issues due to the long hibernation!

“There Should Have Been Another Way.”
I firmly believe that had this been given to a more competent director like Graham Harper and had the budget received an injection of more funds, this story would be in the pantheon of Doctor Who classics. It takes a race that already exists and adds meat to the bones of their mythology. It takes the Troughton era base-under-siege plot and updates it for a more modern era. The plot is clear, concise and well crafted and everyone’s motivations and actions work for their characters. Nobody seems to ever go off and do something nonsensical…karate kick aside…

If you try and see through all the muck of a troubled production there’s a diamond underneath. I have watched “Warriors Of The Deep” many times and have never failed to enjoy it whereas the other two have sometimes been a tough watch and an endurance trial. “Warriors Of The Deep” is the best Sea Devil/Silurian story. Give it another try with fresh eyes. You might even agree with me.

Written and edited by Keith Baker