Archive for March, 2011

Levine La Vida Loca

Friday, March 25th, 2011


 Any fan who lived through Doctor Who‘s Wilderness years (that’s everyone who reads Zeus Blog for a start -Ed.) will recall a time when seeing the Doctor on screen was a desperate search and trawl through the mundane, the ridiculous, and the frankly bizarre. The series as we knew it was dead, and trawling out old (and even the current) Doctors to feature on other shows, advertise various everyday objects and foods on the strength of their nostalgia factor, became an exercise so obvious it began to look rather pitiful by the mid-Nineties.












We’d already come to a pretty pass when video fandom took on. Slow to start with the likes of Sgt Benton’s Wartime, the Stranger videos and 1993′s non-canon, out of character reunion The Airzone Solution, after another five years things got decidedly more earnest with some more daring spin-off media featuring Yetis, Sontarans, the Brgadier and Sarah Jane Smith – Shakedown, Downtime and the Mindgame and  Auton trilogies became the new benchmarks for fan enterprise.



After another five years fans had a PC game, Destiny of the Doctors, to struggle through, with what became Anthony Ainley’s last ever recorded role as the Master. With the game play being at best sticky, most agreed that Ainley’s contributions were the highlight of a reliably duff product. And in any case there wasn’t much else to celebrate – the TV Movie had flopped where it mattered, and our next big hope was a Comic Relief skit featuring Rowan Atkinson. 






 You’d be forgiven for thinking that with the new series now firmly part of the TV establishment the rough likes of the Nineties could be quietly retired and filed alongside the New Adventures under ‘Worthy, but really – Watch This Space’. Only now they’re coming back, weirder than ever. This month on the eve of his trip down to Enzed for the biggest movie role of his career, Sylvester McCoy let slip news of some other old business he’d been sharing with superfan Ian Levine:

Ian Levine’s putting together a piece of work that didn’t get completed over the years, and I was there as The Doctor to kind of ‘Doctor Who’ them up. There are pieces that have been done too for The Brigadier and The Master that were never quite completed, so that work will make them a rounded whole. Also there’s the 30th anniversary show of Doctor Who that was never made, and we’re going to do a cartoon version of that. I was doing my role in that as well.

…there were a couple of projects that we were doing. One was actually filming to beef up a piece that’s already been done, and the other was recording voices with camera so they can do a lip-sync for the cartoon.

Later, pictures of McCoy in costume during the green screen filming surfaced on the same site. You can find them here. The resulting news, rumour and innuendo is a heady mix of money, opportunity and fanboy dreaming – a re-edited Downtime (to which Levine scored the DVD rights as part of his producer’s fee) featuring the Doctor. An animation of Adrian Rigelsfor’d notorious would-be anniversary story The Dark Dimension. A strange mash-up of bits of Destiny, McCoy’s parts in Search Out Space, possily also Mindgame and what looks to be new footage with a recast Celestial Toymaker, Padmasambhava (likely for Downtime 2.0) and (somehow) a Voc Robot. The mind boggles.

Levine’s past dream projects have been mixed in their success – a reconstruction of Power of the Daleks is yet to appear, his attempt to fund a recolourisation of Ambassadors of Death also disappeared, allegedly after the project became too taxing on resources. This scattergun apprach to the current projects – Levine has an animation of Shada on the boil as well – does little to waylay concerns one might have over their ever being fully realised. But it’s a hell of a dream to chase, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out, if it does.

In the mean-time though, questions. So many questions…

Seven, Eighty-Nine…

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Hard to believe that there was a time when Sylvester McCoy could jump on a stage with Sophie Aldred in tow, thump out a version of the series tune on spoons (accompanied by some very late Eighties synth), and Do No Wrong

You try telling the kids these days with their Doctor Who Experiences, their Red Nose Day special ‘canon’ sketches and their endless character options and they just wouldn’t give you the credit.

Something for the Dads

Monday, March 14th, 2011


There was a time in Doctor Who when companions came in two general ages: young to middle-aged adults and adolescents. The young adults were homogenous, defined by their jobs (teacher, scientist, astronaut), while the adolescents were variations on the motif of what might be called the ‘space orphan’. Adults were monogamous or celibate, the children pre-adolescent in emotional development and maturity. There was no hanky panky in the TARDIS, and when the opportunity threatened to appear, their landlord would ask for his key back.

Time passed, and things changed. The landlord acquired a new, younger body, no longer needing other grown men to carry out the work he couldn’t manage. His attitude towards his young companions was less grandfatherly and more along the lines of a mischievous uncle. The children grew up, but weren’t yet adults, because adults as they had been were quietly vanishing from the show. Instead these new older adolescents were caught in the twilight world of teen-to-‘tween late maturity. Just as youth culture in the outside world had emerged, blossomed and found expression in such movements as free love and pop music, and just as the new Doctor arrived sporting a culture-addressing mop top, so too the role of the companion evolved. The age of the Doctor Who beauty was born.

Early publicity photographs tell the story in themselves. The Doctor stands grim-faced, or pensive, mysterious, authoritarian. With his companions beside him, the group stare off into the distance, regarding some alien wonder or peril. Solo shots of companions are often static, less dramatic, and more self-conscious. Smiling, perhaps staring straight down the lens toward the reader, maybe (in the case of female companions) exposing an arm or leg. The exception to this is the ‘story teaser’ photograph, where a (usually female) solo companion is menaced by that week’s monster. Taking its cue from the first classic cliff-hanger to The Daleks are such variations as Vicki and Koquillion in The Rescue, Dodo and something unseen in The Savages, Victoria and an Ice Warrior in their debut, and Zoe and a Cyberman in The Wheel in Space. In each example the companion is young, female, alone and in danger. Iconic, arresting, perhaps titillating, the image is a slice of action permanently captured, voyeuristic with the helpless young woman on the brink of calamity. The last example of Wendy Padbury as Zoe is notable for not actually depicting a scene from her story. Instead it is deliberately contrived, indicating what would be in store for viewers in the immediate future: some familiar monsters, a new young companion in shapely form.

Zoe is a watershed companion, as unlikely as this may seem. While Polly’s ‘miniskirt and legs’ publicity shot is evocative of the times she is from and its icons (Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton), her on-screen costume is a fair summation of her career uniform and, like Tegan’s air stewardess outfit, is a reasonable approximation of real life attire as much as it fits a common male erotic fantasy (the secretary and the air hostess). She is a desirable modern woman, pure and simple. Zoe on the other hand comes from an imagined future – an unobtainable and sterile scientific one, with vitamin pills and electronic newspapers; it is itself a sort of fantasy fulfilment. Perhaps befitting a science fiction staple, her figure-hugging outfit is something of a wish fulfilment too – the costume designers would have had carte blanche in providing the much-vaunted ‘silhouette’ of her character. What they created was something that promised the future, but spoke very much visually of the present day. While her predecessor Victoria would have few changes of costume, and most of these of the sensible, practical kind – short skirts are seen rarely, Zoe’s outfits are invariably PVC skirts, a glittery full-body catsuit, a frilly miniskirt. Her petite frame, large eyes and (then fashionable) bob hairstyle provide visually an uneasy merging of the space orphan and the sexual woman. The companion matured into an object of desire. Returning to the initial costume, it reappears in another image, presumably from the same session – the actor shot from front on and above, looked down on but looking up smiling, coquettish, and dwarfed by the vinyl sofa she sits on. There are full length shots too, where Padbury’s character is shown closely grouped with her male co-stars; conventionally shorter than both of them, but again, never dressed so as to appear totally childlike – if not for the body suit and mini-skirts, the cut of some garments appear intended to show off the body in a very different way to Susan’s schoolgirl attire, or Vicki’s quasi-mediaeval garb. To some male fans the most memorable shot from The Mind Robber is not greatly plot related, but nevertheless finds itself replicated with some frequency in the series’ ‘clip shows’: the TARDIS fragmented, its console spinning in space, offering generous views of the new female companion’s curves as it slowly moves around.

In the series Zoe is paired with the ‘mischievous uncle’ of the Second Doctor, and also with the brave but unsophisticated Jamie – one is an intellectual match for her, the other about her age, but neither is appropriate in a romantic or sexual sense. Paired with Isobel Watkins in The Invasion, both girls enjoy an extended scene of ‘dress up’, taking photographs of each other (potentially another male fantasy, realised in the 1966 film Blow Up) before resuming the espionage action of the story. Times indeed were changing as the series responded to audience feedback and its audience itself was reaching young adulthood. Dalekmania had overturned Sydney Newman’s ‘no BEMs’ policy to deliver more monsters, more science fiction and fewer historical stories. A younger Doctor meant more action, more drama, more physical comedy, and more flash. Did more flash lead to more flesh? By the next Doctor’s era this seemed certainly the case, as even Liz Shaw’s hem lines rose within her tenure, and the crescendo was surely reached in Jo Grant, a virtual ‘Bond-babe’ by then in popular culture the required accessory dolly bid for the man of action. By the end of the Pertwee era, Women’s Lib apparently confounded things, and while it didn’t directly make its mark on the series, the choice of costume for Sarah Jane Smith, headstrong female reporter, did. Perhaps as a consequence of this bold new direction and reinvention, there are few publicity shots of Sarah Jane befitting the ‘TARDIS sexpot’ type.

In the world outside the TARDIS and the series, the female companions and their actor counterparts would eventually have to make their own mark as the latter sought to pursue roles distancing themselves from the double-edged sword that is being a Doctor Who girl. This world would be far different than anything imagined in the young years of the series – one instead where mature adult sexual relationships are the norm, if not the story of the day. It would be some time before aspects of this world would make their way into contemporary Doctor Who; for the mean-time then it remained by large a children’s series. With something extra for the Dads.

A History of Violence

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

To mark the triumphant return of the Season 22 classic Venegance on Varos as a special edition DVD (due some time in 2012), we present the feature article from Zeus Plug issue 3.

zp3webThe earliest association between the Doctor and acts of violence may well occur in An Unearthly Child where, notoriously, the first Doctor contemplates using a rock to euthanise a mortally-wounded caveman. Though he is ultimately interrupted, there is still something shocking to the scene; but not so much that the Doctor intends to kill a dying man, it’s that he sees it as an option. The Doctor Who universe has always been a dangerous place, and scarcely ten years after this scene the perils of his livelihood became a lot more visceral on-screen. ‘Body horror’ featured on a semi regular basis as a motif during the Philip Hinchcliffe-produced stories of the early Tom Baker years, as the tortuous effects of bodily transformation, mutation, and alien possession all formed part of the spectacle. Protests by Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association led much of the outright violence in Doctor Who to be curtailed, but it crept back – why? And why in the era of a Doctor whom many fans might consider the least aggressive of all, Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor?

Preceding Davison was a fourth Doctor reborn large and self-confident after Hinchcliffe’s departure and the arrival of new producer Graham Williams. This Doctor strode the universe like a colossus overthrowing evil with little more than a laugh and a robot dog. It is arguable that the series’ then comic tone diminished many of the show’s menaces – Williams’ replacement John Nathan-Turner brought the Doctor down to earth (quite literally). In contrast, the fifth Doctor was once more a vulnerable individual in a hostile universe. His adventures were fraught – indeed some met with disaster, including the death of a companion; and his final run was in every sense breathless and very nearly futile. Davison’s Doctor was a desperate man living in increasingly desperate times, with serious and real limitations, because his enemies were suddenly prepared to employ brute intimidation and traumatic physical abuse to bring about his downfall. Season 21 is where this begins to feature most strikingly, and its chief architect upon whose shoulders responsibility is most often laid is Script Editor Eric Saward.

This is also where the show’s return to violence invited criticism in the Eighties, but not for the reasons identified ten years earlier, where the violent image and its suspension between episodes as a cliffhanger drew the most objection. There is no convincing evidence the Saward Era glorified violence nor depicted it as a means to an end – indeed, violence was still the mainstay of the coward, the inhuman, the professional killer. The Doctor’s participation in it however was up for question. When employed by the Doctor it was almost always as a last resort, when the odds were against him, and with little premeditation. More often than not it is ‘reactive’ rather than ‘proactive’, addressing a clear and present danger. This may not be the best response, nor the most satisfactory one, but it is worth bearing in mind that Saward also ensured his hero held a sense of self-belief that was itself somewhat shaky: “there should have been a better way”, “I misjudged Lytton”. Regret follows drastic decisions, and this contributed to the motif of the fallible and sometimes un-heroic Time Lord of the Eighties. Viewers see this concept extended further in the screen era of the Ninth Doctor, where his reluctance to act and shape events produced mixed and sometimes dangerous results. For the sixth Doctor, whose ‘character arc’ was in effect incomplete, it is this image which has stuck firmly, while his predecessor, having charted similar waters gradually over two years beforehand, is generally offered the benefit of the doubt, given some ‘gentler’ stories to buffer his reputation. Outside of fan circles it was business as usual, with few publicised protests at the level of violence in the series.

One might infer this was indicative of smaller audiences; that such behaviour was being overlooked or, indeed, that it was deemed more acceptable by viewers of the day. After all, the pop culture world outside of Doctor Who had plenty of examples of ‘men of action’ who were handy with their fists and quick with a punning dispatch line – witness The Terminator and The A Team. Popular heroes outside the series also alternatively became grittier and more physical, although interestingly, under another script editor, the era of the seventh Doctor became noted for its hero’s metamorphosis into a ‘cosmic chess player’, whose manipulation of time replaces the act of urgent resistance (and, one might argue, some of the necessary dramatic tension). One might argue that Sylvester McCoy and Andrew Cartmel’s version of the Doctor was a reaction against the prevailing Eighties obsessions, and yet not ten years later on the seventh Doctor’s swansong was itself censored in the UK for its scenes of handguns and shootings.

Today the pendulum has returned – the alien threats remain, but violence as depicted in the new series is bloodless: cybernisation is suggested, infection with ‘every disease’ occurs in a two-second special effect and swiftly passed by, Ood are dispatched offscreen. Perhaps a lesson has been re-learned, that family audiences require measured doses of fright rather than graphic horror. But while the camera script appears more merciful to the viewer, the question remains – is the Doctor similarly aligned toward his enemies now? What should we make of a Doctor who observes his own diminished ‘mercy’ in School Reunion – is it symptomatic of a forty-three year old series that we will no longer accept a hero who leaves the door open for his enemies to return and cause more suffering? Or was the gap between season 26 and Eccleston large enough that time had really moved on for the Time Lord?

The Doctor as confident trickster or violent man of action is alternately frustrated. The Saward experiment with a fallible and impulsive Doctor may have been at times ill-advised, but perhaps for that it was all the more courageous.

49 Ways to Kill a Dalek

Sunday, March 6th, 2011


If you’re bothered by Skarosian menaces and/or have little better to do on a grubby, wet Sunday morning, then you could do worse than seek help online. The history of Dalek destruction is long and noble, and everyone has a favourite from the classic and new series (baseball bat- no, Rock and Roll!- no, Milk Float!!) But, you ask, is there not a place listing some of the most effective means of Dal despatch, not to mention some of the most up-to-date and original? Reader, I’m happy to say, yes there is. Presenting  Something Awful’s 49 Ways to Kill a Dalek, accompanied by some of the most horrific fan art (actually I’m still hoping it’s faked) you ever might see. We had some scary things in Eighties fandom, but we never had a Furry Matt Smith. But I digress, and re-present to you SA’s list. My favourite? The distinctly non-lethal number 48.

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.