Archive for the ‘EDITORIALS’ Category

‘Night’ Fever

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

It’s very difficult as a fan brought up on the old series to remain objective about Night of the Doctor, simply because it delivered so much with such economy. To date, the Paul McGann iteration of the Doctor marks the longest-ever break in a televised role for the series’ lead character yet. Furthermore, the paucity of McGann’s in-character appearance outside the TV Movie lends it extra significance. For a publicity-shy, costume-dodging actor any reappearance would be a boon; a return to round out his own “mayfly” TV role is nothing short of a wonder – for me easily one of the three most exciting, unexpected and utterly brilliant revelations of Doctor Who‘s 50th year.

And it fits so well; that aforementioned economy tells us so much about the Eighth Doctor that props (a sonic screwdriver, novelty headgear) often don’t. His heroism, his doomed reluctance to take sides in an escalating Time War, the battered exterior of his TARDIS (though no interior shot – my only compliant!). When it arrived, his death, resurrection and regeneration were aptly Messianic, book ending with references with which the character was introduced. His final words are an echoing from the New Testament book of Luke, but for him no grand cruciform pose or Roman candle regeneration, but something more understated, something (dare I say it) redolent of the ‘classic’ series, bar all that lying down. “Is this death?”, his Fifth predecessor asked before his regeneration; for the Eighth Doctor it most definitely was, and it’s remarkable to observe now how the most marginal of previous Doctors has been planted at the heart of the new series’ world-building and of the Eleventh Doctor’s last days.

From this fan, then, to Steven Moffat heartfelt appreciation. The Eighth Doctor is now ended, in an act of self-sacrifice that in its non-epic, personal context immediately recalls the old series’ most celebrated regeneration story (Androzani), and in doing so hits the spot Moffat’s immediate predecessor himself vied for (the Doctor spending his last moments saving the life of one of “the little people”) but was unable to hit.

On his blog Al draws attention further to the Eight Doctor’s new costume, an approval I must echo. Past posts tell too well that I’m no fan of the WETA/Big Finish ensemble; Night‘s rendition – nodding to the Partisan, the brigand, the Romantic hero, retains the kernel of McGann’s US costume, while deftly pushing it along to something truly ‘lived in’. True to McGann’s naturalistic performance, you hardly notice the outfit at all – it’s a master stroke.

The rest is just wonderful fan service – Karn (the Eighth Doctor has a history here already thanks to Big Finish), audio companions name-checked, and some knowing Moffat lines pitched perfectly, that show that the current show runner has a good ear for the timbre of the McGann version, and I for one would welcome another appearance by this pair.

In all, Night was a magnificent surprise, and a brilliant gift for McGann fans as well as fans of the previous series. Rumour has it that higher heads at BBC Worldwide have taken note of the minisode’s success – we can only hope. Could the Eighth Doctor return again for another brief adventure yet? It’s a question I’d stopped asking a long time ago; how strange to be revisiting it now with such optimism!


A New Age

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

And so, a new Doctor. In less than six months, another incarnation will spring from the amber flames of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, and our favourite Time Lord will be physically and emotionally reborn.

The casting of Peter Capaldi the past weekend has certainly provided a lot of press, a lot of fan conversation. By far it seems the greatest issue fandom is currently wrestling over is the perceived age of the Doctor – that is to say (if it ever needed saying), Capaldi’s actual age, 55. Capaldi is, as has been pointed out variously, the same age as William Hartnell was when he assumed the mantle of Doctor and defined the character in doing so. The Doctor has always been an old man, but we live in a time when age – youth in particular, is power, and the advancement of age is treated with suspicion and, in some quarters, derision.

I wish Capaldi a smooth ride. Criticisms of an actor’s age and their ability to portray a lead are for the most part blinkered and simply unfair – Sir Ian McKellen is 74, played Richard III at the same age as Capaldi is now, a title role which would kick-start his Hollywood viability with tremendous force. Clint Eastwood was playing action roles well into his fifties, while Capaldi’s fellow Scot Sean Connery (the same age as Eastwood) was, at Capaldi’s current vintage, shooting Highlander – and this is to number a few male actors of a generation back, Capaldi’s critics might well note that Liam Neeson is 61, and Sean Bean and Paul McGann are not far from Capaldi’s age at 53. What matters to new Who‘s more recent fans is perhaps that since 2006 the role has been filled by young men, and the character has shifted with this perception. Vitality, virility and vivacity are all hallmarks of the Doctor in his latter years – so where does a leading man confidently striding his way past middle age take such a role, and where also does Steven Moffat, the man who cast him and steers the character in equal measure?

It’s an intriguing prospect, hinting at some significant gear-changes to the character of the Doctor and the nature of the show. A more seasoned-looking Time Lord might carry a new authority where he previously had to punch above his weight (an aspect teased at with the first of the Young Doctors, Peter Davison), and presumably presents new challenges and nuances. Are we to make of this that the Doctor will be once again an outwardly older soul, like his earlier incarnations? Can we expect that the physical demands of the role will be reduced out of necessity (both Tennant and Smith played on through back injuries, it should be noted) or passed to a younger – maybe male, companion as under Hartnell? Will the companion-Doctor dynamic, remodelled and ret-conned post-2005 to something akin to romance – requited or not, change again? And to that end, would the through-line of this relationship – for some fans the essence of the series and their identification with its leads, be removed or dramatically changed, and in having been changed become a storyline in its own right?

For the first time in a long time I’m eager to find out, and if online chat and conversations with friends and workmates indicates for the moment, Peter Capaldi’s casting seems to have woken a new interest in the series and the character. Doctor Who is a show about change, with the character’s Protean nature at its heart; under Steven Moffat the Universe seems to have been subjected to increasing change, revision and reinvention.  Would it be too much to ask of those among the Doctor’s fans mourning the departure of a ‘young’ Time Lord embrace this latest change as well?


And Relax…

Monday, April 1st, 2013

By the time this editorial is out The Bells of St John will have aired in the UK and possibly in parts not terrestrial elsewhere. The series is back, and peace can break out once more.

The weeks leading up to the return of Doctor Who are weird times for fandom, marked by bad behaviour as fears and concerns and values bubble over and manifest themselves in friction across the forums. Outpost Gallifrey, that ring-fenced pen of usual good behaviour, went more than a little feral recently and descened across several boards into its own version of Godwin’s Law, where nearly every thread, no matter how closely related to the new series, decsended into absurd absolute camps of ‘Moff Rules’ and ‘Moff Must Go’. Ridiculous, and yet, it’s just fandom letting off steam. Hopefully nobody got hurt…

For now, then, the anticipation is a different thing. With he first episode hurdle vaulted, those who have started watching the series can look forward to the weeks ahead with some knowledge of wha 2013′s make-up will be like; the rest of us watching terrestrially can fill the gaps in later. Beyond that of course the seri return marks another stepping on point for the 50th Anniversary celebrations – and here the rumours and disclosures are flying, even if one latest weekend announcement was a rush job. (If you don’t what to know about the 50th anniversary episode’s casting then thanks for reading!)



Wednesday, May 11th, 2011


I’ve seen spoilers. Sigh.

Some of you – some of you named Al in particular, will be laughing at me in dismay for the fool’s errand I set myself for series Six in not courting disaster by seeking out spoilers, browsing the areas where they’re kept or even (shudder) straying to the margins of that laughably-perilous realm called ‘speculation’. For Bod’s sake, there’s no such thing as speculation in fandom – it all gets the brain working and before you can say “there’s an interesting twist in The Sixth Sense but I won’t ruin it for you” it’s probably too late!!

I strayed too close to an area I thought the new series wouldn’t be discussed (the audio board on GallyBase) and was undone by a numpty with over nine thousand posts to his name and the social responsibility of a dog on a croquet lawn. I’ve seen spoilers for The Impossible Astronaut. Where to from here?

Well, if you’ve not already seen that episode courtesy of a kindly relative (I have a maiden aunt in Bournemouth who loves the new series and tapes it all on her top-loading VHS, bless her) I’m not going to go any further. As for me I was outraged for three seconds, said “eh” and moved on.

But you know what? I’ve also decided something. I’m not going to review this series. I came into 2011 wanting to experience it as a ‘casual viewer’ with an outside life and responsibilities, and spack it all that’s what I’m going to do. Consider this the way ahead, and sorry to anyone who was looking forward to reviews here (er, was that anyone anyway?)

No reviews this year! And no spoilers because of it.


March to the Finish

Friday, March 4th, 2011

crackeditLess than a year ago the Eleventh Doctor made his debut, in a season-spanning arc that dealt with devouring fractures and spaces, a swallowing earth, memory, loss of life and time itself. Being the Doctor, our hero overcame all of these things, holding back fate and turning the Universe into his plaything, beating death. The events of last month remind us that, unlike our fictional idol, we can only achieve these sort of miracles (if at all) on small scale and under very special circumstances. Large catastrophic events are things we must instead live among, occasionally overshadowed by their awful immediacy. February was a hellish month for New Zealand, and even the world of Doctor Who fandom took blows as well – we lost friends and fellow fans in the Christchurch earthquake, and beyond these shores the series lost one of its most beloved actors. 

In the last fortnight of last month Zeus Blog was going to be put to bed permanently, retired quietly before the new series arrived, allowing me to concentrate on more non-DW projects, and maybe participate more in the broader online DW community here in NZ. After the 22nd it didn’t seem to matter, and so while nothing was updated, the idea of signing off amidst of bigger and more tragic events seemed distracting and pointless, especially as I’d intended to post a few items before doing so. Instead Zeus Blog has been granted another short reprieve while I gather my stuff together. But it will close.

The blog lost February, but there’s February-related content in draft form waiting to be finished and posted. Look out for it in the side column of this page, and we’ll catch you later on for the last hooray someday soon.


It’s just a flesh wound!

Thursday, December 30th, 2010


Zeus Blog will be quiet for a while due to holidays/illness/busy-ness/lethargy (or all four). The usual abnormal service will resume in 2011. Probably.

Physician, dress thyself?

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

mcgeditFor its sins there has been one good thing to come out of Paul McGann’s gifted costume at the recent Armageddon event in Auckland: it has generated new (albeit brief) interest and discussion surrounding the Eighth Doctor. The timing could scarcely have been better, given that the TV Movie has recently enjoyed a re-release, putting McGann’s also brief and otherwise off-camera incarnation back into the limelight. It’s just unfortunate that the ensemble made for him has proved so uninspiring.

This criticism likely won’t go down well with those involved in its creation. Certainly by all accounts McGann seemed very happy with the new leather jacket, sonic screwdriver and satchel made especially for him by WETA Workshop. I say ‘made especially’, but have some real reservations with its design and even its fit. It’s comfortable, allegedly, and gives the Eighth Doctor a NuWho-styled sonic-handling stance, and maybe that’s all that matters. But even with the full costume not yet being showcased, I feel uneasy about this set-up.

We’ve been here before, in some way. The most famous early example of a Doctor Who lead wanting his own hand in the Time Lord uniform is Colin Baker, to no surprise given the “deliberately tasteless” brief of his costume. I never minded it, really, and even Big Finish’s expedient blue variation has some appeal. Pertwee and McCoy both had aspects of their audition attire incorporated in their ensembles, but Baker (like McGann) had no input whatsoever and later expressed a desire for a ‘black’ version – even updating his preference more recently to something akin to Ecclestone’s U-Boat jacket or a Matrix-style leather coat. In Baker’s defence it should be added that there was also very little designer control over his costume, the brief coming from (and being revised by) John Nathan-Turner. McGann’s idealised costume on the other hand appears to be the product of inspiration from the actor’s late father (a man who has been a great influence on the actor, as evidenced by McGann’s Q&A session in Wellington this year) and the appearance of the Ninth Doctor’s costume. As such it’s an unfortunate visual coincidence looking at worst like wardrobe-envy, and tempered only by fan association of the still-untouched-and-likely-never-to-be area of the Time War. It’s an easy compromise, but far from a satisfying one because as a rule we like our incarnations to be visually distinct. The fact that McGann also hated his wig and for some time opted for a crew cut might have hampered things more if he had not been grown his hair out recently for another role.

Yet, when your ‘official’ look has dated and become a parody of itself, what can you do?


The McGann/WETA costume is clever in many ways though, incorporating aspects of the actor’s aesthetic and personal identity, and referencing the character’s future in a battle motif. But for now the jacket looks new and therefore unlived-in, and that’s a major fault I find with it. It looks ‘off the peg’ and lacks the sense of individuality that a ‘Doctorish’ costume might otherwise have. Cat badges, celery or flying duck badges might not be your cup of tea, but they helpt to individualise a character’s look and therefore the character themself. Wear and tear, or patina give clothing and props provenance and tell their own story – something the show’s last creative force understood quite clearly:

“It’s a great costume. Russel gave a stage direction about when the cape – the gown or whatever you call it – is opened, revealing a battered flak-jacket: the script says, ‘This man is a warrior.’ I know nothing about the Time Lords, but there’s a uniform, isn’t there? With the big collars? Uniform is about losing individuality. The robes were always done up, but the minute  you open them, showing what’s underneath, you’re revealing something of the personal life, the kind of person that this Lord President is. Now, I’m not wearing a flack-jacket as such, but it is redolent of… I mean, it’s got texture, and feeling, and a history to it. Yeah, he’s a soldier.”
(Timothy Dalton interviewed in DWM, December 2009)

In this sense the ‘new costume’ is very much an unfinished piece. Small details offer great opportunities to expand or further personalise wardrrobe – buttons incorporating the Seal of Rassilon (a cliche, but an inescapable motif of the TV Movie), other colours to either provide continuity with the Wild Bill Hickock fancy dress the Eighth Doctor has more often worse, or contrast with the leather jacket to come.

The sonic screwdriver? It’s grown on me. Initial blurry photos weren’t promising, looking like a make-do ‘steampunk’ than anything researchd and designed. Persumably it’s supposed to fit in with the ‘Jules Verne’ TARDIS interior, but if this is the case it falls a little ashort with the crystal end and wood panelling. The more recent in focus shot helps define it more, but like the jacket in the way it’s now held (like a torch, end forward) it’s a shout to the new series and its chunkiness is a dead giveaway, Capitulation!

As for the satchel – what’s the point of this? Really?

There’s an irony that the TV Movie was criticised so greatly for its adherence to the series past in look and feel. It’s natural that fifteen years in public with little change has aged that look. Change is inevitable, change is good – I just hoped for something a little better than this.

Resistance is Useless!

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

As you may know a recent Fast Return committed an act that outraged and fumigated a regular reader and nearly blinded another. Outraged because apparently this is Zeus Blog’s ‘form’, this blog’s offence – ‘spoiling’ a detail of an upcoming story, as happened back in 2007. Actually the blinding thing is a bit of a worry because we apparently nearly did for the same reader’s vision back then, too. But flippancy aside, we’re back to the subject of fan etiquette and the reality of spoilers. Last week TV reviewer Fiona Rae commented on her very occasional Public Address blog, saying of the just-screened Lost finale:

Next week, the internet will not be safe.

The fact of the matter is, spoilers are a modern reality, and we have to live with them. Its not even that they exist and can be easily avoided – they are an essential part of fandom embedded in gossip, pub chat, emails, magazine articles, covers and illustrations, TV listings and of course internet bulletin boards. To make matters worse, we’re really not that good on the self-control stakes here; is it because part of our makeup is an attraction to bragger’s rights that means knowledge of That Which Is To Be gives Those Who Saw It Coming something extra to crow over? When Who fandom’s Big Daddy Ian Levine dropped in a distinct mal mot about this year’s series finale on Gallifrey Base a month or so back amidst a discussion on (of all things) the recolourisation of The Mind of Evil it finally hit me that some people for good or ill have no self control, and in fact Nowhere Is Safe.

And that’s nowhere – GallifreyBase generously has a spoiler-free board for discussion of the new series, but you’ll still find subject lines in the form of questions about this year’s finale, and as the above example shows, even the non-TV boards are not free of rumour-mongering or indeed speculation which, frankly, can be just as dangerous as actual spoilers.

So what’s to be done?

The obvious answer is for one to disengage from fandom – at least online fandom, but be wary of the online realms of non-fans or indeed online non-fan realms which increasingly seem to have a publish-and-be-damned approach to spoilers. News headlines on the Web, screen and page are constructed to tease and draw the attention – ‘entertainment’ editors don’t think as we do – stay well clear! And of course idle chatter and overheard conversations in public spaces – potentially disastrous. A hermit might be able to cope with the new paradigm of an attempted spoiler-free life, but that’s about it. Fandom: you’re in, spoilers and all, or you’re out. And Zeus Blog very much intends to be in.

But we’ll be playing safer from here on. Promise.


Crunch Time

Thursday, March 19th, 2009


Over the next twelve months the life of the Doctor is about to become increasingly turbulent and uncertain. Out here in the real world and as a global society we too are entering what that old Chinese curse would call ‘interesting times’. Ignoring the whys and wherefores that have led to and contributed to the global financial meltdown, there’s opportunity to look into the near future and see how macroeconomics affect the little (or big) things in life like fandom. In fact, the effects are already in place, as anyone who has ordered books, comics or DVDs from overseas will tell you. At the heart of the programme the purse strings are being tightened too, as the Beeb has ordered its flagship programmes to work smarter and cheaper. Doctor Who is among these, and while 2009′s gap year (not to mention reduced Torchwood series) might be cause for relief in some quarters, the wisdom of filming in Dubai could be questioned. Doctor Who as a series has never enjoyed a reputation for being lavish and expensive – not until recently, perhaps, but leaner times lie ahead. We may yet be grateful that the show’s new producer has an admirable reputation for creating great stories and memorable aliens out of the mundane and affordable.

So then, we could say that there’s a good chance the Who of the near future (assuming it will still be made!) will be a slimmer, more slender beast. Merchandising is sure to take a king hit, as fewer manufacturers join the race for a dwindling fan dollar, and some quarters retrench to save some pounds – think fewer Big Finish audios and maybe a culling of DWM‘s sister ‘zines. If that means fewer tatty cash-ins like bottom-range wall clocks and stock photo greeting cards then perhaps it’s a small mercy. Fewer old series DVDs (or fewer extras on them) might be harder to swallow for some, when the likelihood of going out of an evening diminishes.

All of this is not intended to cast a pall over the coming months – we’ll read and hear enough as things continue to unfold. What should give us some heart in light of this is the community that fandom can offer. These days it’s online – slightly anonymous, but it’s immediate, affordable and exists in a way that is tangible and effective and Who fans, by and large, are good to one another. Communities, like cult television, can’t be bought or made but grow naturally. They are resilient, and perhaps the greatest hope we can have moving into such uncertain times, is that this community as it is will endure as it has for forty-five years.

“Yes, One Day…”

Friday, September 12th, 2008

On the cover of the latest DWM Catherine Tate is quoted as saying “Could Donna come back? In sci-fi, anything is possible”, and with the rumours buzzing around now about next year’s specials, you could quite easily believe that anything indeed could be possible. Even something as familiar and, well, as expected as just that.

I may not be alone in thinking last series’ return of Rose Tyler a pretty unnecesary distraction, prompting a resolution to a story arc that we’d likely all thought was already neatly finished, for better or worse. As one discussion thread on Tolkein fan site about the forthcoming Hobbit movie/s suggests, many reunions and familiar faces end up making universes once bursting with potential smaller with each return visit – the Star Wars prequels may be a case in point. So with Who I think there’s a fine path to be treaded. It might be a winner with the present audience (and that may be the bottom line for the show’s producers), but it’s not helping the ‘go-anywhere-do-anything’ promise the original series was built on, and which the new series’ first episode reaffirmed. New things, new faces, new places are as vital to the series as the changing of the lead actor- they’re all in themselves mini-regenerations. That said, there’s always room for some personal double-standarding, so with the buzz of this week’s rumour still in my ears, may I say to no-one’s surprise that this character’s return would be most welcome.  

But it’s also a certaintly in life that not everyone gets a certain return ticket, and your faithful editor is no different. Over the last year ZeusBlog has farewelled Jono, original co-editor of Zeus Plug, and now I feel it’s my turn to say “goodbye… soonish”. There’s a world beyond the blog that offers a chance to flex my sketching muscles a little more, spring and summer will inevtiably demand the DIY routine, and as some of you already know, there’s the issue of a third family member’s arrival in January to address, all going well. 

So it’s not quite goodbye from me, but ZeusBlog is likely to be a quieter place in the months to come, especially with no new episodes to review or further monstrous matches to contest. Fast Return will stick around – it writes itself. And then there’s the Christmas Special. And after that? Well, anything’s possible, isn’t it?