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Posts Tagged ‘Doctor Who’

The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter (2010)
Russell T Davies & Benjamin Cook
BBC Books, 704pp

There are many hundreds of books about writing – some of them are very good indeed. When I taught creative writing at university, I used to wax lyrical about Stephen King’s On Writing, but also about E.M Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer. To that inestimable list I can now add The Writer’s Tale by Doctor Who head Russell T Davies.

When this book first appeared in 2008, it was hailed as a masterpiece. Included in top ten lists at the end of the year, appearing on Richard and Judy’s Book Club list and read by millions of Doctor Who fans, I was a little wary that it would be too populist, contain not nearly enough about the actual writing process. I did not buy it then. When Russell T Davies completed his final episodes for David Tennant, they updated the book, and it was declared even richer in content. Now I had to have a look.

Constructed around an email correspondence between RTD (as he’s known) and Doctor Who Monthly editor Benjamin Cook – he requested RTD to deconstruct his writing process over the course of one episode that became a two year analysis in writing, living and thinking. That this is a book about Doctor Who is almost incidental: the lessons one can learn from this invaluable tome can be applied to any form of TV writing. As someone looking to begin a career in the BBC very soon, it has been an eye-opener and primer for what I can expect.

It is also very, very funny. This was the biggest surprise – though it shouldn’t have been, for RTD’s scripts have always been funny (a small aside: I’ve followed RTD’s writing career since 1999 when Queer as Folk showed me that there was more to TV than the serial killer dramas and dull action movies my family thoroughly enjoyed. I think I enjoyed that show all the more as I had to watch it in secret, at two in the morning, and couldn’t talk to anybody about it as all my friends and family were/are homophobic and so I related to Nathan Malone and his journey, and boy did I laugh with them too) and this book is just as funny: his lift journey at the NT Awards with Liz Sladen and the rest made me buckle over with splitting sides.

If one has even the slightest interest in writing, Doctor Who, the television industry, then The Writer’s Tale is an absolute must. I’d recommend you watch the finished products of David Tennant’s final episodes as The Doctor, as it illuminates those moments wonderfully: and made me keen to sit through them all again.

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Doctor Who: Juggernauts (2005)
Scott Alan Woodard
Big Finish #65
Starring: Colin Baker, Bonnie Langford

It’s been a while since Big Finish did a Sixth Doctor and Mel adventure, nineteen stories back with Flip Flop. Mel, one of the least popular television companions, is proving more interesting in audio form than on the idiot box.

The Sixth Doctor and Mel are fleeing an exploding ship. Mel has to flee in an escape pod, but the Doctor tells her he will rescue her soon. Months pass, and Mel is working for a mining company, under Dr Vaso. He is designing a new robot that can work the mines. The Doctor, meanwhile, is captive. Soon his captors reveal themselves, they are Daleks, but they do not want to kill The Doctor. They need his help. Dr Vaso is Davros, and he is up to something… but what?

The last story in Big Finish’s monthly range ended on a cliff-hanger: The Eighth Doctor and companions newly arrived from the Divergent Universe meeting a bunch of Daleks. So to follow that story with a different Doctor and a different set of Daleks seems a little odd. In Juggernauts, however, it is not just The Daleks from the TV series that make an appearance: The Mechanoids are back: their first appearance since The Chase, way back in 1965. The Mechanoids entered into a battle with The Daleks in that story, and here the fight continues.

Juggernauts is a fun little romp of a story. It doesn’t do anything dramatically exciting, and moves forward Davros’s story only a little. Mel is perhaps the best served here, being allowed to reveal a romantic side towards fellow colonist Geoff. This romance highlights one significant problem the writers must have: we know, from the television show, that Mel isn’t with anybody named Geoff, so we know we cannot travel in the TARDIS: so his fate is sealed from the first moment Mel kisses him. The mention of Evelyn only solidifies this realisation, for with Evelyn we have a companion to whom anything can happen: and The Doctor’s mournful comment on her deepens the fear we have for the character’s health, following her last appearance in Arrangements for War (which also showed a romantic life for the character, and a romance we can invest in, because it can happen).

With an absence of Who on British screens again (at least until Christmas), it’s good to continue hearing these Big Finish adventures. Long may they run!

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Doctor Who The New Adventures #1- Timewyrm: Genesys (1991)
John Peel
Virgin Books, 230pp

When Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989, it seemed the end for The Doctor. Virgin Books, whom had bought out Target Books (which had produced novelizations of the TV Series), were keen to continue the Doctor Who range, but with new tales. They approached the BBC who authorised these new adventures. For the first story they approached John Peel (not the radio host of the same name) who had written for Target, and together they worked out the beginning of a four part novel sequence featuring the Timewyrm. The instant success of these novels saw Virgin releasing a novel a month and a sideline in Past Doctor Adventures. Reading these novels now, with Doctor Who revived on television, it is difficult to assess how vital these books must have felt to deprived Doctor Who fans.

These books tell the continuing adventures of The Seventh Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy, and Ace, played by Sophie Aldred. The two had proved popular with fans, even if the stories they starred in were not, and these writers of the novels were allowed freedoms not given on television: this allowed for a fleshing out of the characters, and a more adult tone. John Peel, in the debut novel, takes the second point as his starting point. Following a prologue in which the Timewyrm is unwittingly unleashed in Mesopotamia in 2100BC, Ace awakens on the TARDIS not knowing who she is or why she is naked. The lengthy descriptions of her finding her clothes and her body read like the drooling of a teenage boy (though it does allow the new reader a chance to become familiar with the environs and working of the TARDIS and The Doctor), but this is only the beginning: soon we have nubile teenagers, with exposed bodies, described in lascivious prose. These descriptions, as well as being somewhat stomach-churning in their detail and banality, veer towards the paedophiliac, these girls being only fourteen. This teenage attitude continues with the aggressive and bloodthirsty violence shown by Gilgamesh. Here we have heads and other bodies parts flying through the air, and a high slaughter rate.

The villain of the piece, the supposedly devilish Timewyrm, feels rather unthreatening. For the course of the novel she remains in one temple, able to control the minds of only a few people, and though she is building a device to take over the minds of the peoples of the world, she is far from completing it by the novels end. There is of course a twist at the end: it is only through The Doctor’s interfering that the Timewyrm is created; if he had left her alone Ishtar would not have become this more aggressive creature, and the whole of history and the life of the universe would not come under threat. Sadly John Peel’s story does not focus on this far-more interesting dilemma, but instead returns to the puerile teenage jokes.

It is also a novel full of many gaping plot holes: if the aliens hiding in the volcano have craft which can fly hundreds of miles, why do they need a boat? Why do they so readily help when moments before they were plotting destruction of their own? And these are just some of the plot holes I picked up in one chapter! Timewyrm: Gensys then (with that horrible and unnecessary misspelling of Genesis) is a deeply flawed and poor beginning for what is, I am told, a much more successful range of novels. Having read the first fifty pages of the next novel I can already see a marked improvement. Reading them I am not expecting great literature or depth of thought, but I am expecting a story well told, and though Gensys has flashes of thought and flashes of a well told story, it is overall a weak beginning.

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Sarah Jane Smith: Test of Nerve (2002)
Series 1, Episode 3
David Bishop
Starring: Elizabeth Sladen, Jeremy James

Sarah Jane receives a mysterious gift that contains a cryptic message: The London Underground will suffer a terrorist attack during rush hour, unless she can stop those responsible. As rush hour approaches, a friend is murdered and another abducted. She must now choose between saving her friend or saving the city…

From that synopsis you would think Sarah Jane Smith had found her feet as a series. There is much dramatic potential here, and though David Bishop does mine much out of it, one is still left feeling rather underwhelmed by it all. What the story needed was a sense of claustrophobia, but instead it spends too much time running around, time in which whatever tension was being built is undermined. This is a shame, as Test of Nerve could have been a great story; it is nevertheless a much more solid story than the previous two, and one begins to understand something of the relationship Sarah Jane has with her gang.

This series from Big Finish is turning out to be, if not a disappointment, amongst the poorer efforts of their production. A shame, as I really like Elizabeth Sladen and the character. What she needs is better stories, with more dramatic tension and higher stakes. Test of Nerve almost got there… maybe next time will be different.

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Sarah Jane Smith: The TAO Connection (2002)
Series 1, Episode 2
Barry Letts
Starring: Elizabeth Sladen, Jeremy James

The Sarah Jane Smith Big Finish first season continued with The TAO Connection.

Two policemen, on routine patrol on the Thames, spot a body floating in the murky waters. After retrieving the corpse, they discover it is the body of an old man, probably a wino who either fell in or took his own life. An easy case. However the ID of the man is anything but easy: This is Toby Davenport. And he is only eighteen years old.

Sarah Jane and her new gang begin to investigate this case of what surely must be mistaken identity. They need to prove it is not Toby Davenport, or the whole fingerprinting system would become obsolete. Their investigations lead them to the Huang Ti Clinic, where they admit it is possible to slow the ageing process.

The second story in this series features a guest appearance from Maggie Stables, who plays Evelyn Smythe in the main Doctor Who range, and Toby Longworth, whose name will be familiar to many science fiction fans.

This is not an overly strong story, though it is solid in its construction. As I think I said in my review of the pilot episode, I think Sarah Jane fans coming to this after the CBBC TV Series, will find the audio stories weaker. The story generates little tension, and I must admit to drifting off during my listening.

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Sarah Jane Smith: Comeback (2002)
Series 1, Episode 1
Terrance Dicks
Starring: Elizabeth Sladen, Jeremy James

On CBBC, the children’s division of the BBC, there is a Doctor Who spin-off show called The Sarah Jane Adventures. It’s good fun, with Elizabeth Sladen reprising her role as Sarah Jane Smith, the companion who travelled with The Third and Fourth Doctors between 1973 – 1976. In 1981 she appeared in another TV spin off, K9 and Company, which was pretty poor. Between K9 and Company and her current CBBC success, she reprised her role for Big Finish, in two seasons of Sarah Jane Smith.

Comeback, the first in the Big Finish range, does away with the guest cast of K9 and Company quickly – Sarah Jane is standing over the grave of Aunt Lavinia. Sarah Jane seems to be working for a bank, and is soon embroiled in a robbery, where she is saved by Josh Townsend, a reformed criminal, who is arrested for the crime. The resulting police questions unearth Sarah Jane’s true identity, which alerts the bank, who have been involved in some very dodgy dealings. Perhaps Sarah Jane’s job at the bank is more than mere coincidence. Very soon they are deep in the English countryside, investigating mysterious goings-on at Cloots Combe.

Apart from some racier language than we get in Big Finish’s Doctor Who range, this feels very much like business as usual. The story, written by Doctor Who legend Terrance Dicks, sets up the characters and situation with solid ability, but is nothing truly special. What it put me most in mind of was Elizabeth Sladen’s latest project with the character – The Sarah Jane Adventures. This is the prototype, without the kids, but with a ragtag team of fellow investigators, and it is difficult to listen to it without thinking of that better show.

This is not to say that Sarah Jane Smith is poor – there is potential here, mostly unrealised – and the acting is first rate from the main cast (some of the supporting cast do fall into silly voices). What it is missing is a home – Sarah Jane Smith on TV has Bannerman Road, The Doctor has his TARDIS, but Sarah Jane is itinerant in this incarnation, and it makes you wonder how she keeps becoming embroiled in nefarious plots when she can’t even seem to keep a house or even a car safe.

That this series only last two seasons four years apart, and nine episodes, should probably tell me something about its reception, but I enjoy Elizabeth Sladen’s performance and like the character, so I will listen to the rest, and report back as usual.

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Doctor Who: The Next Life (2004)
Gary Russell & Alan Barnes
Big Finish #64
Starring: Paul McGann, India Fisher & Conrad Westmaas

The end of the Divergent Universe saga is here. Through the last two-part season we have seen The Doctor and Charley Pollard, and their new friend C’rizz, being pushed through The Interzone by a malevolent creature known as The Kro’ka. At times The Kro’ka’s actions seemed to be borne out of malice, at others there seemed to be curiosity. In the last story The Doctor got as close to the Divergents, but they fled before he had chance to confront them. In this story, then, we expect that meeting, and the reunion with Rassilon, who we know is up to no good in this Divergent Universe too. But this is a season finale written by Gary Russell and Alan Barnes, and like Neverland and Zagreus, it is an epic one. And a strange one.

After the TARDIS crashes into a planet, Charley awakes, back at the R101 and standing with her mother. The boy she duped to steal his identity and gain access to her adventure aboard the airship sees her and stops her, and resumes his place onboard, only to die in France, in the disaster. Meanwhile, C’rizz awakes and it is wedding day, the day of the Kromon attack, and L’da is alive. It doesn’t take long for the listener, nor Charley, to realise they are being lied to, manipulated by a higher power. The Kro’ka takes responsibility, but we know it is Rassilon.

The Doctor, meanwhile, wakes on a planet. After being attacked by a giant crab and its children – leading to the wonderful for pun of ‘shellfish’ for selfish – he meets a strange woman known as Perfection. The island turns out to be the foundry for C’rizz’s faith, Foundation, and his father is there. Before long The Doctor and Perfection are being hunted for murder, Charley is stuck in quicksand, and Rassilon’s long game is coming to fruition.

The Next Life packs and awful lot in – its action is fast, shifting between places and memories, and connecting all the disparate dots that have been scattered throughout the Divergent Universe season. Even Scherzo, Robert Shearman’s wonderfully bizarre debut for Divergent Universe begins to make sense. Big Finish had been sowing the seeds for this finale, we just missed their planting. Of course, they’ve done this before, and done it better, for this time round the trick doesn’t quite work; it goes up in a puff of smoke, but there is no bang. We needed a bang. A big bang. (Yes, I’ve just seen the finale of Matt Smith’s first season as The Eleventh Doctor, and it shows you how to sow the seeds and create a memorable bang.)

Amongst the guest cast, we have Don Warrington as Rassilon, and Daphne Ashbrook as Perfection – her casting is more interesting, as it reunites the Paul McGann with his companion from the TV Movie, Grace Holloway. Good to hear her again and she plays the mystery of Perfection well.

The Next Life is a good ending to the Divergent Saga, a season-long arc that has not been played as well as might have been liked – too many of the stories could have taken place in our universe, when I think more strangeness was necessary – and its resolution leaves a few threads hanging. Not a neat ending, but at least we’re back in familiar territory – and how do we know? I figured out the cliff-hanger of an ending a few episodes before we got there: how do we know, well we’ll know by having a major villain reappear, and who else, but The Daleks….

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