Archive for September, 2013

The McGann Era

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

  In 2005 the Doctor changed. For Doctor Who‘s new audience this meant little to nothing, while for a likely majority of the old series’ fans the casting of Christopher Eccleston merely meant the continuation of what had always been – the inexorable restoration and reinvention of the series’ lead character. And yet,  even a year on, there were fans who clearly saw the seeds of this bold, new direction for Doctor Who and its hero in the brief TV tenure and its extended multimedia afterlife of the Eighth Doctor.

It’s not a bad achievement, really. Consider how the series and Doctor might have been interpreted had it lived on as novels and comic strips only after Spearhead from Space [no Master, no name Gallifrey, no Sontarans, no Sarah Jane] or Robot [no Davros, Leela, K9, Romanas or Hinchcliffe/Holmes or Williams/Adams eras ], let alone The Twin Dilemma or Time and the Rani in their respective portrayals of the Doctor. Doctor Who the TV Movie may in its eighty-nine minutes say little new about the series beyond a hastily papered-over half-human parentage and a squirmed-at Doctor-companion kiss, but few would argue that its version of the Doctor, and particularly its choice of leading man, was absolutely perfect.

This perhaps ought to be surprising; Doctor Who the TV movie is itself the product of mixed parentage, being a US production with UK and US names behind it. Its pitch at the renegade Time Lord is the closest the series had come to casting the Doctor as an Englishman Abroad – novelty factor included, Remington Steele in a TARDIS. Add to that the Doctor’s own ensemble being a collision of sartorial nods to archetypes from both countries [the Byronic antihero, the Wild West gunslinger] and the resulting impact and the longevity of its half-life is quite remarkable.

The Eighth Doctor was, more than any other incarnation, designed and extended by committee. Beyond the TV Movie the fan writers who took up the baton for the most part (some older hands – Dicks and Peel, excepted) invested a lot of their impressions of Paul McGann’s Doctor, rather than his predecessors, into their continuations; and so we know that in preparing their BBC Book Vampire Science Jon Blum and Kate Orman watched as many McGann films and programmes as they could to retain his mannerisms in their prose, while in Endgame on Alan Barnes seeded his comic strip Eighth Doctor with nods to the likes of Withnail & I. The success of the TV Movie in the UK is well enough known (it wasn’t actually a flop in the US, either, it simply wasn’t the remarkable success needed to become a series), but it’s as much a sign of good faith in Paul McGann’s role in the movie that his caretaker creators from 1996 to 2005 took great pains to keep his interpretation of the Doctor intact.

And yet, 2005 is not where the Eighth Doctor’s story ends; the Eighth Doctor’s story is still being written. We know that it does of course have an end somewhere, and that this may involve the Time War. Thanks to Big Finish and the continued involvement of Paul McGann himself we have an audio and visual acknowledgement of the Eighth Doctor’s evolution  leading up to that catastrophe, the stripping away of his carefree, Romantic exterior to reveal a more desperate, death-haunted loner – perhaps an early indicator of the Ninth incarnation to come. And there’s more to tell and not be told, because the Eighth Doctor is still a largely unfilled page, available to be read and added to by new custodian creators while his legacy, the revived series, forges on.

“Humans,” the Doctor explains, are “always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.” And so it is that the vivid impression cast by Paul McGann and his co-creators have allowed the ‘not there’ post-TV Movie life of the Eighth Doctor to continue, faithful indeed to the pattern set by eighty-nine miraculous minutes broadcast in 1996.

Zeus Plug retrospective: The Disappearing Doctor

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

In anticipation of the next ‘Eras’ feature, we present a reprint of the feature article of ‘Zeus Plug’ issue 7, ‘The Disappearing Doctor’, first published mid-2006...

   In November this year the Eighth Doctor will embark on a new series of adventures. Two, in fact, as around this time it’s anticipated that BBC Books will resume their run of Past Doctor Adventures, the Eighth Doctor being one of these now, of course. What does this mean? What could the potential impact be to the series and fandom in general? The answer to both questions is most likely and very sadly, ‘very little’. Ten years on from his debut, it is becoming increasingly evident that the Eighth Doctor is somewhat less than the sum of his many parts.

There are a few reasons for this. The series itself and fandom with it are in rude health – which is by no means a bad thing – we not only have a new series but two new Doctors, new stories and, bless them, new and young fans enjoying the show and giving it lovely lovely ratings. We’ve never had it so good – well, not for quite while. This ought to be good news for the old show as well as old Doctors. A further reason is that in its wilderness years the series may have been idle but fandom wasn’t. Licensed novels, the comic strips of DWM and Big Finish’s audio adventure series ensured and contributed severally to an ongoing chronology for many (and in some cases all) of the Doctor’s previous incarnations that not only broadened but to some degree challenged the traditional canon of Doctor Who. The series no longer had to be defined by the TV series first because while TV was no longer an option for new stories the new media was, and to some fans they were much more than mere adequate ‘make-dos’ – they were superior, worth following in their own right.

Here’s where the problem really started, because behind each of these new endeavours lay the impetus for profit – to follow the story you had to pay for its instalments, unlike the TV series which was, to all intents and purposes, freely available. In this way the series in its alternative media both grew and, curiously, shrank despite all efforts to remain in the public consciousness. Gary Russell interviewed in TSV in 1993 predicted a future for the series that involved a small Prisoner-sized hardcore fan base, and little else. The Eighth Doctor’s extended life came at the behest of these fans and their world. Written for fans, produced by fans, and tailored to the fan market, nobody could fault the dedication of the Doctor’s champions to keep the legend alive – but any marketer could tell you that such ‘cult’ audiences are not sustainable. Is there anything fans loathe more than ‘fan creators’? Here are the peccadilloes of the ‘enthusiast’ made flesh: contemporary pastiche and vaguely-obscured tie-ins, pop culture references, multi-Doctor stories, story arcs, companion-angst, the so-called ‘crack baby’ syndrome of preachy watered-down social comment shoe-horned into an alien invasion story. The most excessive fan fiction works itself into niches within niches, and as it did so it became subject to the whims of fandom – a select audience who had their own relationship with the series and their own understanding of it – a sophisticated one, so that following anything new required the same understanding of canon and continuity. The result that spin-off media saw was that instead of reaching a new and wider audience, it merely served to alienate a lot of fans, and tighten the net around the faithful few.

Indeed, prior to the new series it is likely that fandom had shrunk. The fact that all three media presented the Eighth Doctor’s adventures as a detailed continuum meant that these new adventures were even less accessible to the casual buyer. They were all in their own way a pretty expensive way of following the Doctor’s adventures. In the front line of this new push for the fan dollar, the Eighth Doctor’s own continuity wasn’t consistent across the comic, the books and the audios – there was no need for there to be because there was no one body to regulate it. Even fandom warmed to the idea of divergent continuity, although it took them long enough. In all, these variant life spans for the Eighth Doctor would involve up to ten different companions, several ‘story arcs’ and a steady supply of fan dollars in order to be followed with any success outside of internet-based synopses – hardly a decent compromise but at least it was sort of free). The result is that the Eighth Doctor was kept alive but not whole. He is bound to several self-enclosed and separate continuities running parallel, and for the audios and books at least, these stories aren’t over yet.

Onscreen the Eighth Doctor is assuredly a growing irrelevance. In TV continuity he is isolated, marooned somewhere between Season 26 and the pre-Eccleston era ‘Time War’, of which we may or may not see anything. A good number of fans would believe that it is this event which remains the last hope of actually seeing the Eighth Doctor as portrayed in the TV movie in action on screen ever again. It could be a fitting and last hurrah for Paul McGann, and appears frequently on fan wish lists, but for the moment RTD has ruled out multi-Doctor stories, and there seems no need to realise the Time War in visual form for the moment if at all. With a mixed TV movie as his television legacy (ironically bound with best intentions to pre-existing continuity, half-humanness notwithstanding) this could be it for an incarnation that fandom largely took to heart and unwittingly ran into a series of cul de sacs. It’s a sad legacy, the one defined by and contained in merchandising. There’s every chance that Paul McGann’s return to radio (at least it’s free!) has been secured on the strength of it being of interest mainly to the series’ ‘old’ audience and therefore wouldn’t be the career-threatener its star was reluctant to attach himself to for a while. But the history of Doctor Who on radio is not a happy one, and it remains to be seen whether the efforts, expertise and talents of Big Finish (a star in descent itself, surely, against the new TV series) will help it on its way. Of all the TV Doctors I feel the Eighth got short-changed the most – even more so than the Sixth Doctor. Put simply, he was killed by best intentions. All promise, no closure for the daily press or documentary special. He remains something of a footnote to the non-fan; barely documented, briefly noted. Little wonder then that to many this incarnation has become in the words of the actor himself, the ‘George Lazenby’ of Doctor Who.


Fast Return – August 2013

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013











…We can finally play this video. Woo!


Yeah. Well, here’s the thing. Right about now we did have plans to upload yet another enlightening video from the new generation of Doctor Who enthusiasts (are supposed to call them ‘enth-Who-viasts’ now? Search me) explaining the issue around Peter Capaldi’s casting and the dilemma it presents to what the series is supposed to be about – an exotic stranger who whisks viewer identification figures (i.e. age twenty-ish Western women) away for a romantic life in time and also space. It was a great video, possibly for some good reasons, but now we can’t upload it at all because wouldn’t you know it? said fangirl set the video to private shortly afterwards. And it could have explained So Much, as well. Boo!


You know, they say that everyone has a book in them. Some people have libraries in them, or multi-volume series in variant cover designs with individual dedication plates. I might have a pamphlet or two in me; it would explain my posture at least. But seeing as it’s the Anniversary Year it seems that everyone and, yes, their dog, has a Who-related book out to cash-in on mark this year of mass media communication. Why, not a month goes by on Gallifrey News Base without two things; yet another installment of the deathless jawcracker that is An Unending Series- sorry, that’s An Unearthly Series – the Origins of a TV Legend and the heart-stopping news that someone out there has just published part one of a new look at the history of Doctor Who in collectible teaspoons. Or another volume of recycled fan reviews. Or a behind-the-scenes glimpse at something. Or the massed opinions of people whose mass opinions you should read. Or a book about how Doctor Who isn’t just for ‘normal’ TV viewers anymore, it’s also picked up a significant following among the recently-deceased. Now, some of these books are, it must be said, very very good, and some are genuinely worth your eyeball leather. But in this year of 2013 the seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of new and revised title releases just has this man and his dog feeling like this:

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Or “erased from Doctor Who!!“, if you will. Last month in a breathtaking change from Stuff’s breathless coverage of PeterJacksondirectingWho!, the NZ Herald did some journalism ran an online poll asking readers who their favourite incarnation of the Doctor is/was (if you’re old). They even had an accompanying Photoshop filterisation of various publicity photos graphic for the textually-challenged, too. And of course, being a scientific survey, the resulting data omits Old Sixie from its Top Doctors score sheet. True, he fared an intergalactic ‘Nil Points’ in Eurovision style, but dammit  Zero is still a score, you heartless sods!!

The Missing Episodes thread is up to its twenty-fourth part now on Outpost Gallifrey, doggedly lumbering on like a Who-storical internet series in the face of disavowals and denials from the Beeb and episode hunters and restorers alike. Every week, the same faces, the same names, the same parsing of official statements and the same mad theories. We read this stuff so you don’t have to, you know.

Finally, a good sort.


The Lake of Mutations? A Force for Good? It may be closer than you think. Recently prime time identity-challenged social media affairs infotainment show Seven Sharp ran a story on Taupo’s Raoul Lealand, a man who, inspired by childhood memories and the chance find of a distinctive vacuum clearer part went and made his own operating Dalek , complete with water pistol and Cushing-styled dry powder fire extinguisher blaster functions. Uncynical, matter-of-fact, respectful and generous in its airtime to the charitable gentleman himself, this article tickled our ribs, warmed our hearts and made us proud to be Kiwi fans again. Reporter Hayden Jones even used Blam Blam Blam’s version of the Ron Grainer theme tune. Bravo Seven Sharp, and you legend, Mister Lealand!

And that’s our people last month.