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.