TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “All Your Base Are Belong To Us”: how Who murdered one of its own subgenres

Who is an extraordinary show in that it basically has spawned its own little galaxy of varied subgenres. You can narrow down what a typical episode of a given show look like; and, across the televisual landscape, there are plenty of recurring patterns – but Who is unique, since it possesses a kaleidoscope of variants that are uniquely its. The Hartnell Historical; the Davies Space Romp; the Hinchcliffe gothic rewriting.

And of course, the Base under Siege. It even has its own acronym – the BuS. It’s generally considered to have been spawned and codified by the Troughton era, its use alongside iconic monsters like the Great Intelligence, the Ice Warriors and the Cybermen solidifying the formula.

It’s also not all that good. Or rather, it’s incredibly limiting – there’s only so much variety you can introduce in a set-up that basically boils down to “humans inside, monsters outside, monsters kill human”. At the same time, it’s deeply tied to the memory of some of the show’s most glorious hours, and it’s a tried and tested formula – think, I don’t know, slasher movies. At one point, it becomes straight up impossible to make a workable product out of them if you take the premise straight – because the codes have been so integrated by the audience (to the point where the parody or metatextual reinterpretation of the codes themselves, as seen in the 1990s with Wes Craven’s Scream, or Freddy’s New Nightmare, were clichés in and on themselves – the link with Freddy isn’t all that far-fetched when you consider one of the main figures of genre subversion in contemporary Who is Rachel Talalay, who got her start working on the franchise, and this aside is getting way, way too long), but, eh, be it only by the force of habit, you’re pretty sure that it’s going to draw in a certain kind of audience.

So it’s not surprising that the creative powers that be ended up having a sort of love-hate relationship with bases under siege. Well, not until the old guard of writers pretty definitely left the show, which puts us around the McCoy years – which carry to the Virgin Publishing era, which itself, as Scribs outlined with considerable talent, was the soil in which the New Series itself grew. But when, finally, you’ve reached the point where political self-aware writing is, if not the norm, at least a major part of the Who ethos, you end up with a tricky relationship to the genre. I mean, just look at the Davies era – the purest example of a base under siege story you’ll find there is probably “The Waters of Mars”. It’s a textbook case – beyond textbook, even. And it ends up with the morality of the Doctor being shattered, and the viewer being forced to reconsider the philosophical dynamics anchoring the show as you ponder the implications of a woman shooting herself in the head in fear of the Doctor. That … That is not neutral.

So, how did we get to that point? Let’s have a look.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – A statement regarding Chris Hardwick

Disclaimer (added 6/17/18): This post is written entirely under the assumption that all allegations are entirely true. Given the oblique nature of Chloe Dykstra’s comments, the promise of evidence and witnesses, the rarity of false rape accusations, and the actions of the accused’s peers, that seems reasonable to this writer, though due process has yet to occur. Should anything be proven inaccurate, this post will be edited to match.

I’m a geek. I’m from San Diego. You can probably infer where this is going. Though it hasn’t quite been an annual thing (tickets are hard), I’ve always treated going to Comic Con as something of a tradition.

And as a Doctor Who fan above all else, my favorite part of that tradition? The Doctor Who panel in Hall H. I’ve camped out overnight Satudays on a number of different years for that brilliant Sunday morning. I wrote about the experience for this site last year, about just how much this crazy labor of love entails (sometimes, you’ve just gotta suffer no sleep and get sent off into the day with a donut courtesy of some heartthrob off Supernatural). And every time, it’s been worth it. 2011. 2012. 2013. 2014. 2017. Again and again, to see my favorite show on earth on the biggest pop culture stage.

Enter Chris Hardwick.

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GUEST POST – Chris Chibnall, Lizard People, and the reversal of narrative dead-ends

by Z. P. Moo

 

We’re getting a new showrunner in the form of Chris Chibnall!

Old news, I know, but one thing I recently noticed on a big marathon rewatch of the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who was that in all his pre-showrunner contributions there is only one classic series monster that we have seen Chibnall’s vision for.

That being the Silurians. In a total of four stories he has written for them in two. That’s half his portfolio of Doctor Who scripts, which means it is a good idea to take a closer look at these reptiles and see what new perspective he could bring to them.

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GUEST POST – Halfway Out Of the Dark, or why “A Christmas Carol” is so damn good

by Jonne Bartelds

 

It’s pretty much impossible to pick the best Doctor Who episode. After all, there’s 50+ years of televised content, not to mention the Expanded Universe, which, like our own actual universe, just keeps on expanding. Then there’s the fact that Doctor Who is so varied, spanning so many different genres, writers, directors, styles. Doctor Who, as a whole, is essentially a whole bunch of different shows, which all attract different kinds of people. So I don’t think you can objectively pick a best episode, and I won’t. What I can do, is make a case for my favourite episode.

Picking a favourite episode is still hard, though. There are so many I love, and which one I love the most tends to shift depending on my mood. But the one I always end up coming back to is A Christmas Carol. It is without a doubt the best Christmas special New Who has had (and with this much smaller pool, I think I can say that objectively). It is the rare episode of Doctor Who that I would actually consider nearly flawless. Everything comes together in such a beautiful way. It is funny and heartbreaking, it is dark and yet full of hope, and it is gorgeous.

The phrase ‘halfway out of the dark’ pops up a few times. Let’s talk about that, because it is really the core essence of this episode.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Moffarchitecture: Time and Space defined by a Grumpy Scot (#2)

Elevator Trouble

Once we have set up the idea of an imaginary selfscape that one needs to access and modify to reach some sort of transcendence, central in the imagery of the Moffat era, there’s yet another interesting motif that comes up – elevators. There are a lot of elevators in sci-fi, generally speaking, and there are some nice ones in the Davies era, but Moffat’s tend to have a special sort of meaning. I mean, look at the second episode of his era, “The Beast Below”, which, despite some obvious rough edges, very much is an impressively forwards-looking program for his tenure – the pre-credits scene’s tension pretty much entirely rests on a child trapped in an elevator that threatens to plunge him into the depths of a mysterious underworld.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Jago & Litefoot Forever

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things. Beware of spoilers after the “read more” tag, old chap!

And today, Tibère and Scribbles say goodbye to Jago and Litefoot, discussing their last adventure, a tribute to the late Trevor Baxter.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: Oh, gosh, this is a sensitive story to discuss in general. It’s an audio that’s impossible, of course, to listen to without knowledge of the real world context that surrounds it. It’s a series finale of necessity rather than narrative design. It’s an affecting tribute act, really, that knows its limitations. As such, it’s difficult to say this is the ideal production to end a range on, but equally, it’s about the best thing one could hope for, and it makes the emotions land where it matters most in paying homage to adventures that will never end, even though they have. You know if you’re going to buy this audio, really. It’s for if you’ve followed all the adventures prior and want one last bit of closure, not for standing on its own as a story. I, for one, felt the closure. And I think that’s the quality that matters most.

TIBERE: I mean, there’s only so much rational analysis can do here. There are flaws to this story – quite a few – and qualities – quite a few as well -, but it just is secondary to the big question of whether it provides emotional closure, if not necessarily to the characters, at least to the viewer who has followed them for over fifty hours. I think it does – it’s a suitably touching celebration of these characters, a bit sombre but never less than hopeful, with some delightfuls call-backs (a shame so many were spoiled by the trailers, but oh well). It’s a good testament for the range, I feel – just like it Jago & Litefoot wasn’t always great but always was this warm, lovely comfort food you could rely on; “Forever” isn’t the best story of all time, but it doesn’t need to be, considering its warmth. Could it have been more? Maybe, but I got what I wanted and expected, and I feel at peace with the loss of the amazing actor that was Trevor Baxter.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Moffarchitecture: Time and Space defined by a Grumpy Scot (#1)

What’s interesting about adventures in space and time is that they always will create, eventually, a certain definition of space. Every fictional universe ends up having its own peculiar geography – and I’m not just talking about a political landscape with factions and planets and systems. In the very ways the action and plot proceed, the edges of a system of thought, of a unique architecture, are revealed. Take, I don’t know, Star Trek. The patterns that eventually emerge – down from the ship to a planet, up from a planet to a ship, from a ship to a starbase, up and down the familiar corridors of the vessel – are part of the identity of the show, of its rhythm, just as much as the plot elements, the Borgs or Klingon or whatever.

Who is no exception. Of course, it’s always more complicated with Who – because it’s not so much one show as several equally important visions both following each other and existing concurrently, in a sort of sloppy narrative gangbang. So it’s pretty much necessary, if you want to write a superficial overview of the architectural tropes of the series, to limit yourself to only one of these … areas, I guess, sectors of the Land of Fiction. Let’s do Moffat’s. Because obviously – I’m a fanboy, in case you didn’t get it earlier.

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GUEST POST – All around me are familiar faces: The Return of Old Characters

by Z. P. Moo

 

There’s a lot to be said for bringing back characters from the past to Doctor Who and with rumours of major characters set to return for series eleven it seemed good to take a look at how this has been done by Doctor Who before.

Because while bringing someone back is always good for fanservice purposes and it can work wonders for promotion, this in and of itself is not a good enough reason to do it. If you’ve only got X Character back because you can and only because you can then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. General favourites in this category include but are not limited to Captain Jack Harkness, the Rani, and Jenny. Often Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor will make an appearance (even though he already came back five years ago).

The way I see it, when it comes to bringing back characters it only needs to be done if there’s a reason this character needs to be in that story or some way their presence enhances the story or themes. Otherwise it risks getting in the way of a show that really should be trying to forge ahead into new territory instead of clinging to a vision of the past that arguably never really existed.

That’s not to say bringing back old characters hasn’t worked. Let’s look at four examples of when the show’s revival has got this right.

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GUEST POST – Objectification in “Mona Lisa’s Revenge”

by Ricky Starr

 

The final worthwhile serial in the 2009 run of The Sarah Jane Adventures explores predominantly ideas about art, which is unsurprising, given that it is set almost entirely in an art gallery, and its antagonist (such as she is) is none other than the Mona Lisa, come to life. Perhaps more interestingly, it also examines objectification, primarily (though not exclusively) of women, and sexual politics more generally.

The most obvious starting point in regard to this is Lionel Harding, the curator of the International Museum and a general misogynist. His behaviour is deeply problematic, and he is called out for it at every stage in the episode, as the main perpetrator of direct objectification and sexist behaviour. Prior to the events of the episode, it is revealed that, noticed by the Mona Lisa, he would be prone to staring at her for an unduly long period of time (here quantified as twenty seconds, but the number is simply an analogue for the penetration of a gaze which is disrespectful to the point of objectification). He refused to view the Mona Lisa on her own terms (represented at this point by the rules of the Louvre, but again, it works as an analogue), instead looking at her as an object, whilst refusing to consider that she could be a person on her own terms, with thoughts of her own on the matter of the male gaze. Having been treated as an exhibit rather than a person, it is no wonder that Mona Lisa is interested in “revenge”.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Monthly Range: “The Lure of the Nomad”

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest Monthly story from Big Finish! It has tentacles, music, and the Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch. Hang tight (and avoid the spoilers after the “read more” tag!).

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: Well, that rather was an excellent surprise. Matthew J. Elliott has had a rather uneven output so far, feeling kind of restricted by the structure of the Monthly Range, but this is honestly one of the best monthly stories this year. It’s certainly not bereft of the flaws he has exposed before – but he managed to bring a real freshness to the proceedings, and to make the story about some truly original and interesting conceits. This feels like a story that has never been told before – and, on top of that, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had with the range in ages. It’s maybe better at being a quotable comedy than “Kingdom of Lies”, and that was hilarious already. No, it’s just a really good two hours of drama, that keep the hot streak of 2018 absolutely intact and make me really excited where Elliott goes from there. I feel like with this, he might have developed into a really original and compelling voice in the world of Who and I hope he makes the most of it.

SCRIBBLES: I’m not going to pretend there isn’t a lot that’s clunky about this story. The dialogue is frequently expository, on-the-nose, and far too didactic, when it isn’t playing into archetypes. But this story largely makes that into a virtue. Elliot’s stilted verbosity sounds natural when Colin Baker is the star, becoming quite infectiously fun and quotable, and the script on a conceptual level is very savvy, awash with ideas and with clever subversions to brush aside the more archetypal characters. This isn’t a masterpiece, and yet I really half want to call it one, because it’s a story I just feel fonder of as time passes. For the story so far this year I was most apprehensive about at first, I think this has rather become something of a favorite of mine already. It’s just a damn good and very witty time with an effective emotional punchline, and Colin Baker sinks his teeth into it with gusto.

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