LOOKING FOR TELOS – “Planet of Giants”

τέλος • (télosn (genitive τέλεος or τέλους); third declension

completion, accomplishment, fulfillment, perfection, consummation

The Whoniverse is wide, and rich, and crazy.

And sometimes, bits of it go overlooked. There’s no way around it, we, at DoWntime, are children of the New Series. Our cultural sensibilities and our tastes in Who have been shaped by it. And of course, when we’re embarking in the big task of producing Discourse, we naturally tend to tackle recent events, controversies and stories. But that doesn’t mean the twenty-six seasons of Classic Who are undeserving of some in-depth coverage – and what better way to deliver said coverage than to watch it.

ALL of it. In order. Without skipping anything.

We’re looking for our telos, and it starts now.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Tales of Metal Men

Warning: this article countains heavy spoilers for the Big Finish audios “Legend of the Cybermen” and “The Crystal of Cantus“. Proceed at your own risks.


You belong to us.

You shall be like us.

A great Doctor Who monster is not defined by its catchphrase, by its design, or by its ideological persuasion. Nor by the number of people it kills, or how efficiently it drives children to hide behind the sofa.

No – the best of the best, the most memorable antagonists the show are produced, are defined by how well they fit the very nature of the show. That’s part of the problem with the Daleks, really – they are embodying precisely everything that is alien to Who. They are an unknowable other. Which is why they’ve been increasingly retconned, as time went on, into symbols of the show’s history and past, a test that the Doctor must past, more than actual long-term opponents.

Who is a show about stories. It’s an infinite libraries of tales, stretching as far as the eye can see, across every dimension you can imagine. And the monsters it spawns are monsters that dwell within the storytelling itself. The Weeping Angels rewrite the life of their victims, and the narrative of the show. The Silence wants to erase the Doctor Who narrative altogether.

And of course, we have the Cybermen. A force of narrative corruption. That’s not the most original of observations – Phil Sandifer did some of his best work on the topic. But it remains true. Their mantra of transformation and replacement is not only applying to the humans they want to unify and cure – it’s also a threat addressed directly to the show. Who is plural – a whirlwind of ideas clashing against each other. To quote the Doctor, it is “forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond”. Unity and order are the death of a show that thrives on chaos: they destroy this strange space of storytelling, this dreamscape created by hundreds, thousands of different individualities.

That’s what defines a good Cyberman story. It has them going against the show itself.

Let’s go, then. Here are some tales of metal men.

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OUT OF WHO EXPERIENCE – Star Trek TNG: Code of Honor

Because sometimes, it’s important to tackle non-Who subjects, we also talk about some of the cultural events of the year, past and present. These are Out of Who Experiences.

Today, it’s not because of any cultural news – just because Scribbles had committed himself to endure a piece of media of Tibère’s chosing after each series of our Classic Who Marathon, “Looking for Telos”. And this time, fate picked a terrible episode from another sci-fi franchise. They expected awfulness, they were just left confused.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Bernice Summerfield: True Stories (audiobook)

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: So this is something a bit different, isn’t it? Not an audio drama, but an audiobook. There of course has been a long, long tradition of Bernice Summerfield books in Big Finish, sometimes criss-crossing with the Main Range – and they have gone back to it this year, as a sort of fun aside, going beyond the main plot of sets III and IV.

SCRIBBLES: The main thing, really, is that this book exists for people like me who are griping that Benny hasn’t gotten quite enough to do in the Unbound universe arc, which, in the most recent set in particular, has favored the Doctor’s perspective. It’s something, really, you’ll know from that whether you want to get. It’s not the most world-changing set of stories ever, though there is one piece in here I’d go to bat for and say is one of the finest explorations of the Unbound universe setting ever and is worth digging into for that alone, but really, it exists to satiate a very specific appetite. There’s limitations in how far it can go with that: I rather wish the Benny relating past stories format was taken beyond just the Unbound time period so we could see more of her with her old gang, which I dearly miss. The New Adventures reboot, good as it has been, has felt like a bit of a distraction from that world. But in the meantime, this will do, and that seems to be exactly what it was made for. It scratches one particular itch not everybody will have, but I personally am very glad to have it scratched.

TIBERE: It basically exists only as comfort food for hardcore Benny fans. Which, thankfully, we both are. It’s not something you’re necessarily going to want to check out if you’ve discovered her through the New Adventures range and aren’t interested in something else – but if you’re nostalgic for the original Benny range, this is a good way to recapture the feel of it all. Regardless of the quality – consistent, but not especially high – of the stories, this really exists to have a set of Benny stories that are pure, classic, unadulterated Benny stories. Down to bringing back Kate Orman to pen the opening tale – her last contribution to the range being the original text of “Walking to Babylon”, adapted as an audio by Jac Rayner in 1999. That’s … That’s some Rona Munro shit right there. But eh! It’s nice fanservice. I felt appropriately catered to. Not going to say it’s the best thing under the sun, but it’s an excellent way to spend a few hours (and, at around five hours for ten pounds, it’s a nice deal, too).

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Short Trip: “All Hands on Deck”

Spoiler-free thoughts

TIBERE: So, this is a sequel of sorts to last month’s Short Trip, “A Heart on Both Sides”. We reviewed it, we really loved it, you can check it out here. Well, I say sequel. More like, another little thematic vignette on the horror of the Time War. It’s … Interesting, I guess? And … Yeah, really not as good as the first.

SCRIBBLES: I find this story pretty hard to react to as a story, because it isn’t, really, It’s more twenty minutes of nostalgia and loosely connected incident that isn’t particularly interesting, building to an astonishing scene that feels more like the beginning to a greater story. And that scene is very, very worth hearing, particularly for the low cost this story is available for. But in comparison to the highs A Heart on Both Sidesachieved with plot, theme, and character, this feels a little lackluster. Not reprehensible, actually very enjoyable, but a bit quieter and less eventful than it needs to be.

TIBERE: Basically. I do find the beginning of the story interesting, though, if not especially good. In part because this is a post-“To the Death” audio written by Eddie Robson. Now, very much was – or so it felt – the brain between the Eighth Doctor Adventures range.

SCRIBBLES: Moreso, I’d call him the heart. He’s engaged with the fallout of the range once before in spectacular fashion with The Secret History,” and it’s lovely to just hear the mundane moments that fill Susan’s life after all that transpired. It’s less aggressively raw than I’d have hoped, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without merit.

TIBERE: It feels like him almost reclaiming the range, in a way. That range always felt conflicted, between the very trad efforts offered by Nicholas Briggs and some other writers (“To the Death”, or “Vengeance of Morbius”, being prime examples of that ethos), and the care-free, fun, character-driven version Robson offered. I do agree that these initial bits feel a bit aimless in the context of the story, but they do take some degree of additional meaning when placed within the context of the EDAs. And if you’re a fan of the EDAs, I think that’s a really indispensable purchase – it kind of finds some thematic resolution that the actual finale didn’t offer. So yeah – it’s definitely not the best thing under the sun, but it offers interesting commentary on the past and opens new prospects for later on. Not great, but interesting, that’s the assessment.

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LOOKING FOR TELOS: “The Reign of Terror”

τέλος • (télosn (genitive τέλεος or τέλους); third declension

completion, accomplishment, fulfillment, perfection, consummation

The Whoniverse is wide, and rich, and crazy.

And sometimes, bits of it go overlooked. There’s no way around it, we, at DoWntime, are children of the New Series. Our cultural sensibilities and our tastes in Who have been shaped by it. And of course, when we’re embarking in the big task of producing Discourse, we naturally tend to tackle recent events, controversies and stories. But that doesn’t mean the twenty-six seasons of Classic Who are undeserving of some in-depth coverage – and what better way to deliver said coverage than to watch it.

ALL of it. In order. Without skipping anything.

We’re looking for our telos, and it starts now.

Continue reading

TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – The Fall of the House of Ness: notes on “Class” (3/3)

[This is the third and last part of a collection of short pieces looking at Class through the very subjective point of view of someone both fascinated and left unsatisfied by the show – it goes without saying that reading the first and the second before touching that one is advised. That final entry looks at “Detained“, “The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did” and “The Lost“]

[If you prefer reading all the retrospective in one go, you can do it here]

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Short Trip – “A Heart on Both Sides”

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. Spoilers after the “read more” tag.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle Big Finish’ latest short trip, following Nyssa at the heart of the Time War. Beware terrorists, and keep on reading.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts

TIBERE: Big Finish has started, of late, to use its Short Trips range (which are, in case you reader are not aware, short thirty-minutes stories with one or two actors) to tackle some New Who themes and characters – we got Ten and Eleven meeting Jago & Litefoot earlier this year, and it happens that today, just as we were starting to write this talk, they announced that Jackie Tyler would star along the Metacrisis Doctor in two stories by Joseph Lidster next year. So, well, we had to get on that train and start reviewing those, hadn’t we? Because seeing how Big Finish tackles and problematizes the New Series, well, that’s kind of our job, I suppose. So here we go, writing about the two Time War stories they are releasing: one with Nyssa this month, and another with Susan in October.

SCRIBBLES: I must admit, I was pretty cynical about the idea. In general, I don’t think third person narration is the strongest angle Big Finish has in its wheelhouse, and I tend to worry that the shorter stories give less space to develop. And while there are a few aspects of this story I’d have liked more time to expand on, it surpasses all expectations and really, really works. It finds some fantastic moments of meaning in juxtaposing its lead characters, all to shine a light on an aspect of the Time War that has generally not been developed despite being a vital piece. It works. Very well.

TIBERE: I think the background BF has in short story anthologies (like the Bernice Summerfield ones they use to release as tie-ins to the audios) really help them to create really short, but effective little stories. A strong concept that doesn’t overstay its welcome and explores some really fascinating thematic ground – really, the interaction of Old and New is something Big Finish tends to do very well (look at Doom Coalition), and this is no exception. It’s a gripping, political, extremely-well written little tale, and I think it’s fair to say it has put newcomer Rob Nisbet (who has so far only penned a Companion Chronicle and this) on our watchlist of writers to watch out for. Strongly recommended (plus, it’s cheap!).

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield, volume IV – Ruler of the Universe

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. Spoilers are tagged accordingly.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles sink into a therapist’s couch to talk about the latest entry in everyone’s favourite time-travelling archelogist’s adventures (well, maybe not if you prefer River).

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: This … This is interesting. It’s also very good, but above all, it’s interesting. We both love Bernice Summerfield and her audios, and I think it’s fair to say we both have enjoyed the New Adventures range quite a lot (volume I, especially, being one of the best Big Finish releases of all time). But they have had their problems – throwing the Doctor, be it the Seventh Incarnation, or the Unbound, David Warner-played one, wasn’t without certain problems. The focus on Benny’s own personal life, and the struggles she had to face as a single mother and the leader of a vast ragtag bunch of misfits were largely gone, replaced by strong, but much typically Doctor Who-ish narratives (down to the theme song, which has shifted to the Who theme since 2014).

SCRIBBLES: This set is a pretty finely-crafted character arc, and I really have to give a lot of kudos to the fine writing on that. And yet, and I hate to say this, it doesn’t really have all that much Benny in it. This is David Warner’s showcase, and he excels, but it’s hard not to miss the title character, all the same.

TIBERE: I’m probably a bit more positive than you on it – because yes, while it doesn’t change the problems the range has had before and still has, it at least draws attention upon them. The Doctor’s presence is relevant here in a way it wasn’t necessarily before – and the whole set felt like a very pointed, very relevant, and oh so very James Goss-esque interrogation on the relationship between Benny and the Doctor, and between the Classic and modern versions of the show.

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