GUEST POST – The Trial of Doctor Who (2/2)

by Z.P. Moo


[Previous part]

Terror of the Vervoids” is an odd story. With a totally different tone to “Mindwarp” before it (thank heavens) and the return of Doctor Who’s only husband and wife writing team Pip & Jane Baker (no relation to Colin) from one of the previous season’s few not-awful stories “The Mark of the Rani“, making them a pair you’d trust with introducing a new character given the success of their previous effort’s titular villain, it’s safe to say that this story has got a lot going for it on paper. And indeed it does a lot right and very little wrong, but what handful of things it does get wrong are unfortunately utterly crucial to get right! Frustrating.

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GUEST POST – The Trial of Doctor Who (1/2)

by Z.P. Moo


It’s safe to say that the mid-to-late 1980s were a low point for Doctor Who. The Sixth Doctor was seen as off-putting to viewers and with ratings and popularity both on the decline it ended up on hiatus after the show’s 22nd season.

When it finally returned in 1986 it was with a new format: Fourteen episodes forming a single serial split into four distinct stories. The decision had been made that, just as the show itself was fighting for its life, the Doctor would find himself in that same kind of situation within the show’s narrative. Doctor Who was on trial, and so was the show that bears his name.

Thing is, this whole idea is flawed from the beginning. If your show is on trial then why would you want to draw attention to it? The only possible answer is because you’re going to knock it out the park. The Trial storyline didn’t, and that’s an understatement.

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Welcome to a very special edition of DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress: that’s where we assess … stress. Or, more accurately, in that special, yearly edition, reward the best stories of the year – there’s no need for a top of our favourite TV stories (mostly because that already exists, head that way), but, in the wild, savage jungle of Big Finish, maybe taking a step back and coming back to some releases is in order – some we covered here already (and who knows, we might have changed our mind on those!), and some that passed by because we hadn’t the time or the means to talk about them at the time. It’s not a ranked list, just some of our favourites.

Also, since this is intended in part intended as a buying guide for those that only want to enjoy the best of the year, we’ll keep our thoughts general and spoiler-free. Links to the detailed conversations, if they exist, will be provided.

But no more chatter – the curtain rises on the prestigious 2017 “Oh, Brilliant!” Awards …

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Catalysts: Choice in Doctor Who and Mass Effect

The Cornelian Dilemma is one of the best and easiest ways to create drama. If you’re into the etymology, the name comes from French Renaissance playwright Pierre Corneille, whose tragedies often revolved around a character having to decide between two equally unsatisfying options. In Le Cid, his masterpiece, the main character, manly man Rodrigue, has to decide whether he wants to kill his fiancée’s father, who has committed a terrible offence against his family – if he does, he loses the woman he loves; if he doesn’t, he becomes a honorless pariah. Which, all in all, is an interesting evolution from a former model of tragedy, where the Fatal Flaw(s) of the main character leads them to an inexorable doom: putting the stakes out of the metaphysical realm and into the messy reality of human interaction; tales of Men instead of tales of Gods. Not that the choice is deprived of a moral and spiritual dimension, mind you, but the context in which it is presented, a state of flux and uncertainty, has a deeper sense of verisimilitude to it – look at the Trolley Problem, which is such a good encapsulation of humdrum moral conundrums a TV show recently used it to explain ethics to the Devil (side note: The Good Place is great, watch it).

Unsurprisingly, the sadistic choice is very much part of our current media landscape, be it only because said media landscape is deeply sadistic. Game of Thrones is the biggest show on the planet, after all – pain sells. And while Doctor Who holds itself to a higher moral standard – thank God –, choice can still very much be the coin of its realm. There’s an episode titled “Amy’s Choice”. “Fires of Pompeii”, “Waters of Mars” – should I save people or let history follow its course? “Kill the Moon” – an innocent life versus the future of all mankind, and I’m quoting the text here. And so on.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – The First Doctor Adventures, volume I

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 go back to the beginning – their Destination being the new First Doctor Adventures audios, starring David Bradley & the cast from An Adventure in Space and Time. Spoilers after the ‘read more’ tag, as per usual.


Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: The question, really, is what you’re looking for. This is not a faithful recreation of the Hartnell era, not completely. It takes structural and thematic cues from it, as well as characters in basic spirit and name, but it is not a return to the era. With new characters comes a new approach, infinitely informed by the present day. And I’ve gotta say, I think that’s the right thing to do. I’ve been rather hard on the Early Adventures as of late because I think there’s been a tendency to push too hard toward fitting into the past, rather than adapting it in loving new ways. This hits the right balance. I don’t quite adore everything about these two stories, but these two stories signify a fantastic new approach for Big Finish to go in in representing one of my favorite eras. The Hartnell era was never a stagnant thing. It was always full of new life pushing in different directions, building the show that we now know and love and exploring avenues that both created that and ones that were fascinating but unsustainable experiments. Though this isn’t a faithful recreation, it recaptures a lot of the raw energy that I love about the time.

TIBERE: Well, it’s really rather lovely. I think the best way to approach it is to follow Big Finish’s own patterns of classification and consider this to be firmly part of the New Series, at least in spirit. The stories are very much, aesthetically and thematically, part of the Hartnell era, but it’s a modern reinterpretation of it, informed by politics, a cheeky metatextual streak, and a progressive edge. As two pieces of storytelling, these have their flaws – the second far more than the first -, and the actors’ new takes on the iconic performances of the original crew might take some getting used to, but I’d call that set some of the most enjoyable audio Who of the year, for me at least. More than that, they’re a perfect example of what Big Finish can bring to Who storytelling, finding new and very interesting conceptual spaces to explore and analyse.

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THE TRUTH SNAKE – Democracy of Chaos (5/16): “Beachhead”

Previous entry in series.

“Happily,” ended Doctor Who in 2015. And so Doom Coalition 2 begins with a simple story about a holiday.

“Beachhead” is a story that almost feels designed to be overlooked. It’s small, it’s sweet, it’s soft. It exists to set up bigger things and ease listeners in to a new set. There’s foreshadowing of the destruction of planets, foreshadowing of future decisions Helen will make in “Absent Friends,” foreshadowing of River Song’s inevitable arrival… so much of the path is laid out here. But before all that, we get to take a breath with the Voord and some lesbians. It’s a story the Doctor literally sleeps through.

And it’s wonderful.

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GUEST POST – The Impossible Doctor: My Journey with the Moffat Era

by Ruth Long


This has not, by any means, been an easy article to write. It has involved a lot of (at times uncomfortable) introspection, unpacking and examining so many emotions, fears, regrets and hopes from the past five years. But as we enter a new year, a new chapter in my life and Doctor Who’s, and say farewell to another, it feels like the right time to do this, before moving forward.

In casting a woman in the titular role, Doctor Who has done something truly amazing. For a character portrayed by male actors for over half a century, it’s a bold, brilliant and monumental step forward that is rightly being celebrated by many as a progressive new direction in which to take this landmark of science fiction and British television. Chris Chibnall’s vision in this regard is one to be applauded, and I eagerly look forward to experiencing the next era of the show alongside a generation of children who will grow up knowing, and being inspired by, a female Doctor.

But in the jubilation following this becoming a reality, it would be remiss to overlook how we got here; we came the long way round, after all. The significance of the past few series in particular, under the stewardship of Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi, cannot and should not be dismissed. And so as a part of that I would like to share with you one fan’s story and relationship with this fictional universe, more specifically my own. Because Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth incarnation of the Time Lord, though a remarkable milestone for the franchise, will not be my first female Doctor.

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