Saturday, 27 December 2008

The Next Doctor

That was a lot of fun, wasn't it? Exactly what you need for Christmas Day. I know there are a lot of fans for whom Russel Davies's take on the series is too lightweight and childish. I'm not one of them. Doctor Who should be fun and adventurous. That's not to say I'm averse to something grave and serious on occasion, but you need balance. There was plenty of deep emotional drama on display here, as the story of Jackson Lake unfolded. (Let's face it, despite all the hype, he was never going to turn out to be the Doctor, was he?)

Once the mystery of Jackson was out of the way, there were very continuity issues in this story. Indeed, by removing the originally planned cliffhanger ending of Journey's End, Russell Davies has effectively de-linked the story from the tv episodes either side of it, meaning we've got a fairly nebulous spaces into which some of the spin-off material can be easily inserted. There are plenty of comic strip adventures, and even a solo-Doctor novel now (The Eyeless) that can go into a gap before the Christmas special - so thank goodness that hasn't been as problematic as in previous years!

Speaking of comic strips, I've been thrilled by the latest issue of IDW's current series The Forgotten. What had seemed to be yet another series 3 tale with Martha has turned completely on its head, and it now looks like it's set post-series 4. Great twist! As yet, I'm not certain if the story occurs before or after The Next Doctor. I guess I'll be able to make a better decision after the last two episodes have come out... Similarly, DWM have started on a new arc of comic strips with a new companion. It's looking like the "gap year" is going to prove interesting in terms of how diverse story strands are going to fit together, especially as we have no idea yet how things are going to pan out in the tv specials themselves. So we could well see the tenth Doctor adventure listings fluctuating wildly as I try to keep up with new developments...

Saturday, 19 July 2008

In Your Facebook!

Just a short note to announce my latest innovation: The Complete Adventures Facebook group. I'm hoping this will become a place for discussion and argument about the Doctor's chronology. Feel free to drop by and have your say...

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

A Fete Worse Than Death

On Saturday, I went to the Summer fete at St Andrew's church in Caversham. The vicar there, Nigel Jones, is an old friend of mine, and he asked me and another of our friends, Matthew Brookes, to come and help open the event. Why? Because more than twenty years ago, Matthew built a Dalek in the school woodwork shop. We used to take it out to conventions, Longleat events and the like. It always required a two man team to operate it, simply because it was bloody hard work and taking it in turns enabled the other guy to have a rest. (It also helped to have someone following the Dalek around to stop over-inquisitive kids pulling bits off it.)

But that was then. Now, we're on the verge of middle age with responsible jobs and bills to pay. So when Nigel asked if the Dalek could open the fete, I wasn't really sure what to expect. (From Nigel's point of view, the draw of a Dalek would ensure a good attendance for the event. He merely hinted that a "special guest alien from Doctor Who" would be appearing - but the local press got wind of it and announced it would be a Dalek. Well, it did the trick, as apparently the fete was one of the best attended ever in the parish.) For Matthew and me, it was a journey into madness! The Dalek has been in storage for the best part of a decade, gathering dust and dirt and cobwebs in the back of a garage. Since we only got it out of storage the night before the fete, there followed several hours of cleaning it up and repairing minor damage. Remarkably, all the electrics still seemed to work - most importantly, the voice modulator. Nevertheless, we needed to visit Halfords as soon as they opened, and ask if we could buy a motorcycle battery (any make, any size, it didn't matter as long as it was 12V) and some wire and crocodile clips. It was only afterwards that Matthew realized they must have thought we were bomb-makers!

Next, we loaded the Dalek into a van and drove to Caversham - we put the Dalek together inside the church (a odd juxtaposition in itself!) and discovered that the voice no longer worked. Talk about frustrating. Matthew is something of a perfectionist and wanted to take the electrics apart to find the fault, but as Nigel pointed out, the kids had come to see a Dalek and it wouldn't be fair to disappoint them. There were also press photographers, and even a cameraman from Meridian TV - I don't know if we made it onto the news however. What I do know is, the inside of the Dalek seemed a lot more cramped than I remembered - and it was a damned sight harder to move the thing than I recalled. I had one go, but in the end I was content to let Matthew get on with it. As I observed the Dalek working the crowd, it was interesting to compare the reactions of the kids now to those of ten years ago. It's quite clear that they all know what a Dalek is, and they followed it around like it was the Pied Piper. Especially once Matthew got the voice working again - he was engaging with them, answering their questions, threatening to enslave them and conquer the Earth, and so on. I don't think any of them thought for a moment that there was a person sweating away inside it. Because it's a black Dalek, several of the kids automatically called him Dalek Sec as well. And another thing that happened - as I was following the Dalek about with a sonic screwdriver in my hand, more than one kid asked me if I was the Doctor. OK, I've got sideburns, but I don't look anything like David Tennant. I was able to improvise a bit of business where I said I'd deactivated the Dalek's gun, and handed the kids the screwdriver so that they could (temporarily) shut down its motive power - enabling it to pose for photographs with them! What that suggested to me though, was that those people who think Doctor Who depends on David Tennant's personal popularity and that the bubble will burst once he's gone, are very probably wrong. My experience is that kids will accept anyone with a sonic screwdriver!

I haven't said much about the new series so far this year. Don't worry, I still like Doctor Who, and I'll be talking about it very soon. Watch this space...

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Coming soon...

So the new series is almost upon us, and I find myself becoming quite excited. Not exceedingly so - after all, this is the fourth year in a row and some of the novelty has worn off now. (I'm reliably informed that I texted my girlfriend during the afternoon of 26th March 2005 that I thought I was going to explode! Still, there was a lot of anticipation hanging on that first episode - not to mention the worry that it was all going to be crap...) At least I seem to have got over some of the disenchantment wrought by the horror that was Last of the Time Lords. The new trailers have been exciting and enthralling, and have even gone some way towards alleviating some of my concerns about Catherine Tate.

Mention of Last of the Time Lords brings me back to one of those burning issues from almost a year ago: did the episodes Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords constitute a "three-parter" or two linked but separate stories? I don't think any consensus was ever reached - but after some discussion and debate, I've decided to go with a completely different answer. My friend Nick suggested the other day that Russell T Davies doesn't really write two-part stories in the same way as other writers do - he writes two linked but self-contained episodes, often with a major change of setting, mood or tone. Looking back, I can see that this is true (to a greater or lesser extent) of all his two-part stories - but it's at its most pronounced and obvious in the third series finale. What we really have here is a trilogy of self-contained stories that together form an overall saga. Utopia is the prologue to reintroduce the character of the Master; The Sound of Drums the story of the Master's great triumph; and Last of the Time Lords is the "one year later" story of his final defeat. The "evidence" to the contrary is comparatively slight: a couple of to be continued captions, Phil Collinson calling it "a three-parter" in a podcast - I don't think those can be taken literally. Indeed, to do so is almost to deny the nature of modern television series: the "arc plot" model common to US series, where individual episodes contribute to an overall series storyline, which current Doctor Who has clearly adopted. (You know, sometimes, it seems that fandom still wants to pigeonhole everything according to the way things were in the seventies.) So, as of now, those episodes are listed in The Complete Adventures as three separate stories.

This modern style is starting to extend itself to the spin-off media as well - especially the comic strips. The new comic book from IDW, for instance: so far, each issue has been a self-contained story, although there are clearly things going on in the background that are going to build into an overall arc. To a certain extent, this is also true of the strips in Battles in Time, each instalment being self-contained and rarely ending on an actual cliffhanger - but there, each story sequence tends to be a bit more focused and continuous, the Doctor pursuing each villain or plot to its conclusion. So, I'm still listing each multi-part strip as a single story. (They're my rules, I don't have to apply them consistently...)

Just one more thing I need to mention about the new series - the timeslot! The announcement that it would start at 6:20 has sent massive seismic shocks through fandom, with terrible predictions of disastrous ratings. I love the way that fans suddenly become experts in tv scheduling at times like this! You know, I'm sure the schedulers know what they're doing. They probably expect ratings to be lower in a 6:20 slot - so they're not about to cancel the show if it gets a few million less. What they want is the best possible performance in that slot, and I think they'll probably get it. From my own historical perspective, 6:20 sounds like a fine timeslot for Doctor Who - it's the sort of time I remember it going out when I was a kid. In fact, I can recall thinking three years ago that 7:00 seemed a bit late for Doctor Who - so I've really got no problem with it at all. Roll on Saturday...

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Ticking over

It's always gratifying to know that someone might be reading my witterings here - so when I'm asked, "Andrew, why haven't you written anything for your blog recently?" I think it must be time to do so. Of course, part of the reason I've not posted anything is that I've had very little to say. It's a slow period for Doctor Who at the moment. There's been a Christmas special, which I really enjoyed. Probably the best of the specials so far (although I do retain a bit of a soft spot for The Christmas Invasion) - but there was very little there to give rise to any serious continuity questions. It's pretty obvious where it fits!

There are a few interesting developments in the spin-off media however. I remember this time last year, we were getting lots of companion-less adventures in the comic strips, to fill the gap between Rose's departure and the start of the third series. This year, they seem to have gone for a more staggered approach. So whereas Doctor Who Adventures and Battles in Time are now running solo Doctor stories, DWM have retained Martha for the time being - as indeed have the next set of novels due in the Spring, and the new American comic book. So presumably, those will have to be slotted in to the course of the third series at some point. In fact, pretty soon, Martha will have had more adventures than Rose. There's a thought...