Monday, 25 July 2011

Re-Watching The 5th Doctor - Kinda

A 37 year old man and an 8 year old boy set out on a journey 29 years apart...

July 2011. Whoever would have thought while watching those embarrassing low-budget ‘pantomimes’ that littered Season Seventeen like a minefield back in 1979, that just two and a half years later the programme would be gloriously transformed, and we’d be treated to such sumptuous, intelligent, and powerful stories such as Kinda?

Just about everyone loves Kinda; fans, critics, the cast and crew - hell, even Eric Saward likes it, so it has to be good, right?

As I slip the DVD into the machine I suddenly realise I’ve always had strangely mixed feelings about this story, which dates back to its original transmission. Back then my 8 year old self had a very tough decision to make, deciding between two of my most favourite things in the whole world. And it all started the day I missed an episode of Doctor Who…

February 1982. I am so upset. I missed the first episode of the new Doctor Who story and now I wish I hadn‘t. Yesterday my mum told me that I really couldn’t miss any more cub scout meetings, as I’d already skipped the last four weeks, so I should really start going again, that or give up cubs altogether.

It was a really difficult decision to make - I love going to cubs, but going means missing Doctor Who. I really didn’t know what to do, so I asked my mum and she said that I should try giving cubs a go, and she’ll watch Doctor Who and tell me all about it when I get home, in time for today’s episode. That way I can still go to cubs and watch the programme on Tuesdays.

So I went to cubs, but all the time I was thinking about Doctor Who and how I was missing it.

When I got home I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of my mum’s chair and she told me all about it; how the TARDIS landed on this planet that was all green, with trees and grass and big plants, and there were these men, army men she thought they were, who didn’t want to be there and were really unhappy, then Tegan fell asleep and woke up in a room that was completely black where she met these strange people who had snakes on their arms and wouldn’t let Tegan wake up, not until she let them ‘borrow’ her body, and the Doctor and Adric became prisoners of the army men in their base, and it ended with one of the men pointing a gun at the Doctor and threatening to shoot him.

The episode sounded good. Really good. Really really good. And now I’m really upset that I missed it. I hope they repeat the story again later in the year, or I’ll never get to see that episode again, ever.

Missing Doctor Who has helped me decide. I’m going to give up going to cubs. When I’m at the meetings all I do is think about Doctor Who and get upset when I realise I’ve missed it. I never think of cubs when I’m watching Doctor Who, and I’m never sorry that I’ve missed a meeting afterwards. Sometimes I wonder what the other boys have been getting up to, but I’m never sad afterwards, not like I was yesterday.

I told my mum that I was going to give up cubs. She was very sad but said if that was want I wanted to do, then it was up to me.

Now I’m happy, because I’ll never miss another episode of Doctor Who again.

Luckily, I find that today I’m just about able to get past those traumatic events of nearly 30 years ago, and enjoy Kinda for what it is, an imaginative, intelligent and thoroughly engaging piece of SF telly, that works remarkably well despite it being completely studio-bound. Doctor Who has been a little hit-and-miss with its realisation of alien paradise planets in the past; Planet of Evil’s wonderful filmic jungle and Planet of the Daleks’ somewhat disappointing alien landscape being just two examples at opposite ends of the success scale. But the landscape of Deva Loka is realised surprising well, and by the end of episode 1 the audience has just about managed to forget that two floors above that alien planet the latest series of The Two Ronnies is being filmed.

Kinda continues a run of consistently high quality stories, that is only broken by…well, I’m not saying for now, but we’ll get there soon - making Season 19 my favourite in classic Who’s 26 year run (with Seasons 7, 12, 14 and 23, just a gnat’s whisker behind it).

Oh, and…I didn’t miss a single episode of Doctor Who again for 5 whole years, when, in 1987, I wasn’t aware that Doctor Who was back on our tellys, and I ended up missing episode 1 of Time & The Rani.

I was very annoyed.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Re-Watching The 5th Doctor - Four To Doomsday

A 37 year old man and an 8 year old boy set out on a journey 29 years apart...

July 2011. Four To Doomsday is a story that I’ve always had a problem with…well, as an adult at any rate. It’s not so much that there is no real story (or rather a lack of any real explanation as to why Monarch is doing the things he’s doing, such as; spending the last 35,000 years travelling backwards and forwards between Earth and Urbanka and picking up humans from various time periods, or why he’s going to all this trouble just to wipe out the population of Earth and replace it with an android population, or why, half way through the story, it’s suddenly revealed that he has a desire to travel back in time to the Big Bang where he is convinced he’ll meet himself), nor is it that the companions insist on behaving throughout the story like a bunch of unpleasant, recalcitrant children, constantly bickering and fighting amongst themselves (literally, at one point, when Tegan and Adric tussle over the TARDIS key), it’s not even that Tegan suddenly acts completely out of character in Parts Three and Four and, after panicking and running off to the TARDIS, totally abandons her friends to their own fates (in this case either robotisation or beheading) without a seconds thought, in an attempt to escape the spaceship and get back to Earth.

No. What I have a problem with in this story is the character of the Doctor himself.

OK, so this was the first of the Fifth Doctor stories to go before the cameras and, as such, certain allowances have to be made. The actor needs to become comfortable with the role, ease himself into the show, and discover his place. But even with this in mind, sometimes in the first two episodes he comes across more like the Fourth Doctor than the Fifth, and, as such, it can be a little difficult to watch in places (particularly noteworthy offenders being, the Doctor’s exaggerated hand gestures when appreciating the Urbankan technology at the beginning of Part One, or referring to a particular character as “Our friend Percy Persuasion over there”, or even the petulant thumbing of the ears at Monarch in a childishly “ner ner ner ner ner!” way). It’s not until the beginning of Part Three when the character of the Fifth Doctor appears properly, seemingly from nowhere, metaphorically panting with exhaustion, bent double with his hands resting on his knees and apologising to everyone for turning up late and asking what he’s missed.

From then on the adult me likes this story very much.

The picture begins to blur and wobble, someone drags a finger through the strings of a harp, again and again…

January 1982. I love this story. It’s brilliant and exciting and set on board a huge spaceship, just like proper science fiction is supposed to be, just like my favourite film The Empire Strikes Back*1. And there’s a brilliant alien who looks like a frog and a really cool looking man and a pretty lady. I think this new Doctor is the best one ever and Adric, Nyssa and Tegan are my favourite companions - even better than Romana and K9.

Doctor Who just keeps getting better and better. Last year was great with loads of monsters who came out of a swamp and tried to eat you*2 , and there was vampires*3
and the Doctor went all spiky*4 , but this year we’ve seen loads of rooms inside the TARDIS and the Master has tried to kill the Doctor twice and we’ve had big spaceships and the Doctor floating around in space and robots that look like foreign men and the Doctor saving the entire Earth from the frogman.

I turn to my mum. It’s cold and dark outside and the house still smells of the tea she cooked for us an hour ago. There’s only me and my mum and my dad watching Doctor Who. My brother is at cubs (where I should be) and my sister is round her friends house.

“I like him.” I say. “He’s my favourite Doctor.”

“Yes.” She replies. “He is very good, isn’t he.”

We smile at each other. I can’t wait for next week’s adventure.

Unfortunately Four To Doomsday is an oft forgotten adventure. It’s not that its bad, the script is actually quite good (if you ignore the distinct lack of plot); it’s not that its poorly realised (space-walk aside, it boasts some very impressive sets, and Monarch looks great); it’s not even that the acting is below standard (everyone involved is doing a fine job, thrusting themselves into their parts with great gusto). No, the problem is that Four To Doomsday just isn’t particularly memorable - which is an enormous shame, as it happens to be great fun. It just happens to be sitting in a season surrounded by some of the best stories Doctor Who has ever produced.

But there’s even greater excitement ahead, and one or two shocks too. For both the adult and the child, Doctor Who is about to reach dizzying new heights.


- 1: Back then I'd only seen The Empire Strikes Back on it's original theatrical release. I saw Return of the Jedi in cinemas in 1983, but didn't get around to watching Star Wars until a year or two later.

- 2: Full Circle - although the Marshmen weren't trying to 'eat people'.

- 3: State of Decay

- 4: Meglos - although the Doctor never 'went all spiky', this was Meglos disguised as the Doctor.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Re-Watching The 5th Doctor - Castrovalva

It is July 2011. I am 37 years old and I’m about to sit down and re-watch my favourite programme. It’s my favourite era too, where it suddenly became strange and dangerous, no longer the comfy pantomime it had become under producer Graham Williams, and only the second year of its exciting ‘reboot’, bathed in the warm glow of childish nostalgia.

I slip the DVD in and…

It is January 1982. I am 8 years old and this is the first time that my favourite programme has gone all strange and scary. I am confused and a little frightened. I’m not big enough to remember when Tom Baker took over from that white haired man. My first memory is of sitting in my Auntie June’s house when I was littler at teatime on a Saturday watching Part Four of Robots of Death. That was a great story, full of deadly robots and people in fancy costumes and Leela’s voice sounding funny, all squeaky because of the gas. The Fourth Doctor was my Doctor, I don’t want him to go. Don’t want anyone else being the Doctor.

“That’s not the Doctor!” I say, turning to my mum as Logopolis ends and that man who plays the vet sits up in the Doctor’s clothes. “I don’t want to watch this anymore.” But I don‘t mean it. Not really.

I see the trailer for Part One of Castrovalva and I’m all excited again. I can’t wait for the new series to begin.

But I’m worried too. You see, since Doctor Who finished I’ve joined the cub scouts, and the meetings are on Monday evenings, that‘s the same day as the new series of Doctor Who.

I’ve decided to not go to cubs, not while Doctor who is on. I don’t want to miss it. I’ve missed four weeks of cubs already and now my mum is saying that I have to choose - Doctor Who or cubs?

It's so difficult. I love them both. Which one do I choose?

As a child I warmed to this new Fifth Doctor immediately and, before the closing credits of Part One had even begun to roll, I was proclaiming him to be my most favourite Doctor ever…a position he’s held to this day, some 29 years later. I still love Castrovalva, more so with each and every viewing, it’s my second favourite Fifth Doctor story after The Visitation.

As we settle down to watch it for the 400th time, my fiancĂ©e sums up my feelings about the story perfectly. She says “I was going to ask you if you were in the mood to watch Castrovalva tonight, but that’s a silly question. You’re always in the mood to watch Castrovalva."

Oh yes!

Oh, and…in the end I chose Doctor Who over the cubs, but not before missing an entire episode of...well, we’ll come to that all in good time.

Needless to say I was devastated, and vowed never to miss another episode again.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The 'To Read' Pile

Sometimes it truly frightens me how much my ‘To Read’ pile is growing out of control nowadays. True, when I look at that teetering pile of books sitting on my bookshelves I also get a rush of excitement thinking about the time when I’ll finally get around to diving into them, but it’s usually mixed with a healthy dose of frustration too, frustration that I’m not managing my time well enough at the moment to put aside enough time for reading.

I’ve still not even finished reading Johnny Mains’ short story collection With Deepest Sympathy yet, and I promised him I would months ago. I’m even embarrassed to say that I’ve not gotten around to reading the other stories in the Faction Paradox anthology I was published in recently

So, from now on, it’s time to pull my finger out and schedule some quality reading time into each and every day, after all, I have some wonderful reading material waiting for me - mostly in the SF genre, oddly.

I’m particularly excited by Philip Palmer’s latest SF novel Hellship, Tim Lebbon’s fantasy epic Echo City, Charles Stross’ Rule 34 and James S. A. Corey’s debut space opera Leviathan Wakes, book 1 in The Expanse series, which all sound like books that were aimed directly at me. I’m also about to plunge headlong into the world of Warhammer for the first time in my life (shocking, I know) with the latest in Gav Thorpe’s Path of the Eldar series, Path of the Seer, not to mention his first non-Black Library novel The Crown of the Blood. I had the good fortune to spend an unhealthy amount of time drinking, eating and chatting with Gav at the recent Alt.Fiction weekend and was delighted to find him a thoroughly nice bloke. As we swapped email addresses I vowed then and there to dig out a few of his books and give them a bit of a read.

I still have two beautiful short story collections from Obverse Books to make my way through - Book of Ghosts and Iris: Abroad - as well as Paul Magrs’ latest Iris Wildthyme novel Enter Wildthyme, which have been sitting patiently on my shelf now for a number of weeks. The former two are littered with some of the most exciting and talented writers working in the SF, fantasy and horror genres at the moment, while Paul Magrs is a comedy novelist on a par with P.G Wodehouse, Tom Sharp and David Nobbs, and whose Brenda & Effie books should, by rights, be more popular, respected and widely read than any of Pratchett’s Discworld novels .

Jeff Somers keeps ‘em coming with his very Blade Runner-esque Avery Cates novels (The Final Evolution is his fifth book now, and they are still lots of fun) as does Jim Butcher, who has reached the staggering thirteenth volume in his Dresden Files saga. To be honest with you, I’m not really into novels that are set on a parallel Earth where magic, vampires, werewolves and zombies (yawn) live furry cheek by rotting jowl in uneasy co-existence, but his latest hardback, Ghost Story, sounds rather good, so I’ll be giving him a go.

But I’m probably most excited by Kevin J. Anderson’s recent Terra Incognita fantasy trilogy, The Edge of the World, The Map of All Things and The Key to Creation, which not only sound great but have some of the most fabulous covers I’ve ever seen.

I’ll try and sprinkle a few reviews on this blog as I make my way through the pile.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Comic Book Anthology

Back in April Stacey Whittle (one half of Small Press Big Mouth ) began accepting pitches from writers and artists for a new comic book anthology she was putting together based on folklore and fairytale.

Over the last couple of days a few, tantalising details have finally been released on official blogs, and a title for the collection has now been announced: Into The Woods: A Fairytale Anthology.

The collection will include my script The Madness From The Sea, a strange, grizzly little horror tale set in a small coastal town in the late 1800s, with artwork by the brilliant artist Lee Grice. Here’s the list of contributors in full:

Into The Woods: A Fairytale Anthology
edited by Stacey Whittle

1 - Matt Gibbs and Alice Duke

2 - Alexi Conman and Dunk Nimmo

3 - Nick Papaconstantinou and Bevis Musson

4 - Richard McAuliffe and Sara Dunkerton

5 - Scott Harrison and Lee Grice

6 - Daniel Clifford and David Wynne

7 - Lee Robson and Simon Wyatt

8 - Ollie Masters and Valia Kapadai

9 - Stuart Tipple

The collection will be released in paperback later this year, and we all have our fingers crossed that it'll be out in time for Thought Bubble 2011 comic con in November. Obviously I will give you more details, plus a teaser of the artwork for my story, as soon as I can.

Visit Stacey's blog here.