RogerBW's Blog

Doctor Who Re-Watch, series 3 23 January 2014

(First written in April 2012)

As before, spoilers abound. See Wikipedia for production details)

Doctor Who (sic) - William Hartnell
Vicki - Maureen O'Brien
Steven Taylor - Peter Purves
Katarina - Adrienne Hill
Sara Kingdom - Jean Marsh
Dodo Chaplet - Jackie Lane
Ben Jackson - Michael Craze
Polly - Anneke Wills

Galaxy 4

I'm back to older reconstructions, and the sound quality on this one really isn't of the best, so it requires rather more effort than usual. There's also a tendency on the part of Loose Cannon to force motion into a shot rather than using still photographs, which I find distracting given that they don't do this for the actors, only for the props.

After the Daleks and the Mechonoids, the Chumblies look awfully familiar, with the same invisible-wheeled locomotion, the same lack of useful manipulators, the same bulbous bodies... I assume they're another Ray Cusick design, like those two.

There's a huge plothole, of course: why doesn't anyone ever think of the Drahvins being carried away aboard the TARDIS?

Perhaps it's partly the poor quality of the version that I'm watching, but this story certainly drags. It might well have fit better as a three-parter, or even a two. (But a comment by Peter Purves suggests that this script was originally intended for Ian and Barbara, and was hacked about in a hurry, so clearly they didn't have a lot of time for scriptwriting. Steven's having received many of Barbara's lines also explains his sudden capture-monkey status in later episodes.)

This Doctor who "never kills anyone" is a far cry from the one who committed Dalek genocide, much more in the trickster-hero mould that the show's been slowly settling into. But this story is really marking time rather than saying anything distinctive or original; the only innovative thing distinguishing it from The Daleks or The Web Planet is that, for the first time, the light-coloured and sympathetic-looking aliens are the bad guys. Doctor Who is phoning it in.

Shifting to the production level, we have a story in which the incoming male producer showed a matriarchal/clone-based society as intrinsically and irredeemably evil, while sacking the actress (O'Brien) who pointed out the holes in the plot. Pass the gin...

Mission to the Unknown (aka Dalek Cutaway)

Another Loose Cannon job with ropey sound. And the first (and so far only) episode with none of the regulars -- a brave move, and something that's only been approached again in the new series with the "budget" episodes (filmed mostly when the main cast are busy doing other things). More interesting to me is how it might have seemed to viewers of the era: were they left waiting for the Doctor to turn up? Certainly the opening is consistent with that, but as time drags on and the TARDIS doesn't appear, while everyone we're meant to root for gets gunned down, well... what's left?

The episode was made to cover the gap left when Planet of Giants was cut to three episodes, and Terry Nation apparently intended it to be the backdoor pilot for his Daleks-without-Doctor-Who series to be sold to American TV. Well, pilots were different in those days...

Apart from the production oddities, what's the story like? Well, very old-fashioned -- a small bunch of space soldiers have crashed on a jungle world, and are trying to fix their ship or get a message out. For a bunch of professionals, they certainly seem to bicker a lot. Fortunately the Daleks show up before it can get too generic, but even then they're basically a standard sort of menace. This could be, as Terry intended, an episode of a non-Who series... but unfortunately, as a result of that, it feels bland and uninspired in the extreme. It would fit about as well into Star Trek (replacing Daleks with some other menace) as it fits into Doctor Who.

It's a shame that nobody really seems to know the difference between a galaxy and a solar system, but what can one expect of media folks? Even media folks who wrote science fiction...

It's all a bit bleak, which is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't really offer anything in the long term except a twenty-five-minute establishing shot of the lost tape. Perhaps when I've seen The Daleks' Master Plan I'll feel differently about it.

At this point Verity Lambert left the show. Perhaps she felt it had done all it could? Not much of a note to go out on, though...

The Myth Makers

Another fairly lacklustre opening. New producer finding his feet, or just run out of ideas? Or saving them up for the twelve-parter? But unfortunately the plot follows much the same pattern as the earliest historicals: it starts off as a generic adventure in Trojan-War-Land, perversely close considering that the new script editor had brought in a new writer friend and therefore most of the senior production team was relatively new to the series.

On the other hand, this is the first time that the show has attempted humour that's actually worked for me. The idea of mythical heroes having feet of clay -- the reluctant warrior Paris, the idiot Menelaus, the termagant Cassandra -- is thoroughly standard to us now, but was relatively new in 1965, and Cotton at least knows something of the source material -- where earlier historicals felt as though they were taken from a school primer.

The second episode sets up a Chekov's Gun that's never fired, which is a bit of a shame -- the idea of the Greek army coming into Troy inside the TARDIS could have been quite fun. But the first three episodes form a decent comic piece, which is also a fine setup for the final episode in which the whole construct is smashed when it meets the violence of the real ancient age. It's still unusual for the Doctor to be simply trying to escape, rather than save the day, and it's a powerful sequence even in reconstruction.

Vicki's the first companion to be completely deprived of a farewell scene, perhaps related to O'Brien being sacked rather than choosing to leave -- and it's a shame, because I think O'Brien could have knocked this one past the boundary, on a level with Ford's performance in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. In fact, it looks from what we see as though she's departed in the TARDIS with the others -- perhaps her extra scenes back in Troy were pasted on late in the day once she'd been fired? Vicki definitely had her moments as a character, and wasn't as annoying as I'd been led to expect -- growing from her origins as Replacement Susan, she was the first companion actually to enjoy the adventurous side of things.

The Daleks' Master Plan

Doesn't start promisingly, but at least we have the first appearance in the series of Nicholas Courtney. And the bickering future people are quite fun; I quite like these sequences of "normal life" before the monsters turn up. The least interesting people here so far are the Doctor, Steven and Katarina...

This time, as in The Chase, there's no attempt to conceal the nature of the story's main villain, even from the protagonists after the initial tease. Even Mavic Chen's treachery is laid bare in his second scene. It feels as though there's an effort to bring the show back to its original brief as a children's programme, where under Lambert it's been drifting in more interesting directions. Daleks, traitors, uneasy allies, betrayal, more traitors, more betrayal.

Clearly no Dalek has learned lessons from military history. "Operation Inferno" indeed! And just why are they burning down the jungle, anyway? But there's a surprising amount of actual fire involved, considering the obvious budgetary limitations -- presumably the money went to the costumes of the various delegates to the Dalek conference. It's a little surprising that none of them has the presence of mind to pick up the McGuffin -- sorry, the Taranium -- when the alarms go off, though. (You can tell it's a McGuffin, because nobody in the TARDIS ever suggests that it might simply be destroyed.)

In fact, the plot continues to rely on people saying "we must do X", while never considering any of the more sensible alternatives. We must all flee in the spinny spaceship, rather than landing back at the vastly more capable TARDIS. "I will return to Earth", says Mavic Chen -- in a Dalek vessel "similar" to his missing Spar. But there's an early example of the prison planet archetype that would later be worn very thin in other series -- if barely used here, except to set up the next bit of plot: the end of Katarina. She wasn't around long enough to develop much in the way of a distinctive character, so while I'll add her to the list she'll be pretty much the definition of "neutral"; anyone who ends up below her on the list will be a companion I actively disliked.

She's more interesting, I think, for her symbolism: if the companion is the representative of the audience, as one approach has it, her death means that the audience is not safe. (And it's suggested that this death was originally intended for Vicki, had O'Brien not been suddenly fired.) My own view is more that the companions provide skills and perspective not available to the Doctor alone -- meaning that they don't need to be contemporary Earth-dwellers of the era in which the programme is broadcast, as the modern remake holds, as long as they are interesting. The series since the end of The Chase demonstrates that: there haven't been any contemporary Earth-people in the TARDIS crew since then, and there won't be until Dodo shows up at the end of the next story, but it doesn't make these stories any harder to follow or reduce the level of identification, any more than Star Trek is harder to enjoy because it doesn't have someone from 1967 in the crew. What's more, "being from contemporary Earth" is usually enough to define a companion -- those from other times and places often need just a bit more interest ("space pilot", "highland warrior") and the better writers even allow them to demonstrate their own skills. On this basis, the death of a companion has less impact on the scare-the-audience scale, but more on the narrative scale; I see the overall story, at its best, as being about a variety of people, rather than "Doctor Who and the interchangeable audience-projection-figure supporting cast".

The way Sara Kingdom is introduced, it sounds like a fifties-style setup ("A woman!") -- but, because this is The Future, there's nobody in a position to provide the prompting for the expected audience reaction. This is something I have difficulty judging, not having been around at the time when this was broadcast, but to my mind the subsequent completely flat treatment of her sex is about the only one that wouldn't look horribly dated in any later era.

The tone shifts with episode 5, with an initial virtueless escape (though the experiment room is a beautiful piece of set design), though at least the experiment makes some sense -- and the Daleks bravely slaughter a pair of mice. Invisible creatures are a bit of a cop-out, and I think this is the first time this show has used them -- though the footprints aren't bad. Stealing the Dalek ship is a pleasing touch, and this story seems to be going for as many means of transport as possible, though it's a bit of a shame that the one character explicitly established as a space pilot doesn't have any part in flying this one.

The hand-over of the fake McGuffin seems a bit forced -- particularly once Chen knows Kingdom is aware of his treachery, he shouldn't be letting her get away to warn Earth, by the rules already established in this episode (all that talk about human curiosity). The Doctor's shift back to his stubborn and cantankerous mode is quite surprising, given the way he's been going recently -- we might for a moment be back with Ian and Barbara.

The Christmas episode is, to my mind, a mistake that the show wouldn't make again until the remake. It has little or nothing to do with the ongoing story, being basically a pair of comic vignettes that could have been dropped in just about anywhere, or indeed left out completely. The quick piece to camera at the end was apparently a reasonably usual thing for the BBC to do at the time, though it does break the mood a bit to modern sensibilities.

When the Dalek time machine turns up, it feels like a flashback to The Chase -- though I don't like the exterior design of this one as much. (And that it's immediately followed by the same old stock footage of volcanic eruptions that was all over the sixties and seventies doesn't help.) Still, it's good to see the Monk back, even if he has no particular reason to be wearing that garb any more. Apart from that, with this episode of not-much-happening coming after the Christmas episode, it's starting to feel rather like padding, going round and round in circles with innocents getting slaughtered (even more like The Chase) until it's time for something to happen. And all of a sudden everyone forgets the Daleks' time travel capability, because it would break the plot if they were adequately wary.

I think the difficulty here is that the story is trying to balance between being about the Daleks and being about the settings in which things are happening. The brief sojourn in Egyptland is barely an introduction to the setting, but as a passing event it ought perhaps to be even quicker -- as it is, it lasts just long enough that we start to recognise some of the indigenes, in time for them to be cast under. Mind you, the sudden appearance of a Dalek from off-screen, where it would have been clearly visible to the people "surprised" by it, is rather fine.

Mavic Chen is, in the end, a troublesome character: he's originally painted as a reasonably smart (if megalomaniacal) fellow, betraying his fellow council members to the Daleks, but in the end he seems entirely surprised when both the council and the Daleks turn on him, and he hasn't taken any steps to deal with this thoroughly predictable situation. His major job seems to be the humanisation of the Dalek scenes. His plotting underling has promise for a while, but gets completely forgotten in the second half of the story (the Dennis Spooner part -- though at least the general humour works a bit better there).

I'd have liked to have seen more of Kingdom; she was a potentially interesting character, for all that her obvious major arc was rather immediately completed in the story we got. And her death was even more meaningless than Katarina's: had she stayed in the TARDIS, everything else would have come out the same way. (And if the Time Destructor had a reverse switch, why didn't the Doctor use it?) But that's part of this new Doctor under a new producer: he is an unchangeable plot device, so it's everyone else around him who has to do the changing and suffering.

(Oh, and it seems very likely that Douglas Adams watched this as a child.)

The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve

After all the doom and gloom we've been going through this series, time for a bit of light relief with an historical... erm, no. It's unremittingly grim from step one, and frankly I found this a pretty tough story to get through. Rather than the previous amusement-park approach of the historicals -- Romanland, Crusadeland, and so on -- this is aiming to be history with mud on its face, albeit with a decent amount of educational content (mostly in the form of as-you-know-Bob speeches from the locals to each other). And then we get the sudden "Doctor's double", not quite the first time this has happened but the first time it's been presented as a coincidence rather than a ploy.

It might well have worked better as three or even two parts; after a reasonably taut first episode, the second one runs very flabbily before the pace picks up again a little in the last two. And the whole thing would fall apart if any of them had the sense to meet at the TARDIS rather than the abandoned shop. (Or indeed to have more than one TARDIS key.)

(And what was going on with that shop? The Doctor found someone there who was clearly expecting (problematic) visitors, but Steven and Anne found a place that was known to have been abandoned for some time...)

Mummerzet Anne Chaplet is a distracting touch, but in the end this turns into another "we cannot change anything" historical with the Doctor mostly absent and Steven blundering around not making any difference - and, as with The Myth Makers, the adventure ends with another panicked flight as soon as everyone finds each other again. And then the introduction of Dodo is... not the most promising, particularly with that accent. Still, she's clearly being introduced as New Vicky -- wanting excitement and adventure -- more than anything else. (New Vicky more than New New Susan, in fact.)

The Ark

Perhaps it's just me, but I don't see a humanoid figure with a shaggy wig and one eye as "menacing", the way the producer clearly meant me to in this opening shot. I do applaud the BBC for using actual exotic animals, rather than stock footage, and the now-almost-standard introduction of a new companion goes more smoothly than it has before. (Though to me as a role-player it does raise shades of "hello, chance-met stranger, would you like to join our band of murdering hobos?")

I'm sure I've seen that buggy in an episode of The Avengers, or perhaps a James Bond film. Perhaps more to the point, there are a few plot problems here -- if nobody's loss can be accommodated, then not only do they not have accidents, how do they cope with the imprisonment of that chap at the beginning? And if a single valve-setting error is dangerous enough to be grounds for life imprisonment, why not recycle dead bodies rather than eject them?

Alas, we rapidly descend to courtroom drama -- always a risky business, and not much more fun here than it was in The Keys of Marinus. With no sense of the legal traditions that apply here, there's no real tension, because we don't know what can easily be reversed and what might take more effort.

As for the second half of the story: "security kitchen."

The Monoids become a distressingly conventional threat; I wonder whether they might have worked better as the already-established Sensorites, further into Earth's future -- then we might have regarded them as good guys in the first half rather than weird mute menaces, and the resolution wouldn't have to be yet another iteration of "kill the ugly aliens (then make peace with them when there are too few left to be a threat), humanity ueber alles". Admittedly, there's a very cunning trick, one that would have helped with the Sensorites too: the collars with numbers, so that you can tell the aliens apart from each other. And, all right, since much of this story is basically The Sensorites crammed down into fewer episodes it might have made things a bit too blatant. The Refusians are the second lot of invisible aliens we've had (and it's not too long since The Daleks' Master Plan gave us the first), and they feel frankly lazy here -- though at least their invisibility is something of a plot point, not just a way of making the menace more menacing.

The last episode gets a bit unfocused, with all the chasing up and down between Ark and planet. The landing pods are a surprisingly effective piece of design, even if they do end up being more or less lift cars. More plotholes: if the Monoid storage banks could be shipped down to the planet in a single flight, why not take at least some of the human storage banks down in the first flight, so that if the ship does still get blown up there'd be millions more survivors?

Altogether, the first two parts are a fairly straight story in what's now recognisable as the classic Who mould: the TARDIS turns up somewhere, there's a problem which the crew fix modulo a few minor distractions, and they go on their way. The latter two parts are much the same, really. What's distinctive here is in the use of time travel - the first time the show's really done that, other than simply dumping our heroes into a particular setting. It allows two separate stories to be told with broadly the same hardware (sets, costumes, etc.), and a bit less setup for the second part, while also loosely linking actions to their consequences. It's surprisingly how rarely this sort of thing was done in the show: the hardware trick was repeated in early Tom Baker stories (The Ark in Space, The Sontaran Experiment, Revenge of the Cybermen) but with less linking between the stories; conversely, The Face of Evil dealt with the aftereffects of a typical Who intervention, but didn't tell the first half.

The Celestial Toymaker

Another example of the TARDIS not being at all a safe haven. But also one of the first examples of the Doctor actually knowing something more than his companions -- unlike the Doctor who'd never before met Daleks or Sensorites, this one has at least heard of the Toymaker.

But while the conceit of a super-powerful game-player would be used at very great length in Star Trek: The Next Generation, that doesn't stop it from being essentially pretty tedious when it's actually played out. The conclusion, after all, is pretty much inevitable; the only way these things ever work is that it's all marking time up to the end, when the game-player cheats...

"Marking time" is certainly the emphasis of the middle two episodes, which could have their order reversed or be omitted entirely for all the difference they make. (And a gaping plothole: if it weren't for the two spoilers sent in to allow the dancers to escape, there'd be no way out of that puzzle.) Hartnell is away again, quite blatantly.

And of course the Towers of Hanoi, sorry, "trilogic game", isn't now considered as complex as it may have been in the 1960s -- off the top of my head I know two perfect solutions, one iterative and one recursive, and I'm not even particularly a fan of puzzles like this.

Overall it's a placeholder. Nobody has much to do, though Steven and Dodo grow on me as their actors bravely attempt to make stone soup. Dodo tries to raise the question of the Toymaker's other victims / playing pieces, but this never goes anywhere.

Gunfighters

When an American show does this -- as Star Trek did two years later -- it's because the studio has a standing Western set. But presumably the BBC didn't; indeed, records suggest that this was the first Western shot for British television. As one might expect, the accents are all over the place, but they stop standing out soon enough -- except for Steven's, which is as strange as it was in his earlier role in The Chase. All the "Last Chance Saloon" snippets make the thing feel even more stagey than the usual background-free studio sets, which doesn't help matters.

The first episode seems to be pure Westernland, but soon enough it turns grim as so many of the recent stories have -- perhaps reaching its nadir in the middle of the third episode with the shooting of Charlie the barman. While this wasn't quite the lowest-rated story to date, it did show a significant decrease from previous levels of viewing, something that lasted for Hartnell's remaining four stories -- and I'm wondering whether this persistent darkness in what was still regarded primarily as a children's programme may have been one of the causes. (Mind you, there's a lovely moment at the start of the fourth episode where the Doctor begins to lean on Charlie's corpse, then pulls his hand back; possibly I'm reading too much into it, but it feels to me as though he's shocked at how readily he's falling into casual acceptance of dead bodies being around the place.)

As well as the grimness, though, there's an interesting current of subversion; the Doctor is turning more into the Doctor and reacting against the setting, drinking milk, continually disparaging violence, and always more interested in talking his way out of a problem than any other solution. There's also a pleasing contrast between the "bad outlaw" Clanton brothers and the really bad Johnny Ringo. But things are back to the legend by the gunfight itself, where one bullet is always enough to kill and nobody ever needs to reload. (But what happened to all that "can't change history", eh? Why does the Doctor even try to stop the gunfight?) The Doctor's off stage a lot of the time, and Dodo and Steven have less to do than usual, mostly being captured -- though Dodo gets one excellent scene with Holliday that makes up for most of it. But all in all it's a surprisingly fun little story.

The Savages

The initial sniping between Dodo and Steven is rather out of character with the fun they've recently been having together, one of the perils of a serial story by multiple hands that doesn't have a closely-controlling editor. (A fanwank explanation would say that Steven finally got Dodo into bed after the last adventure, and was a bit of a disappointment.)

The story is a pretty basic one -- we meet the planet and its factions, there's a slow buildup of the Big Horror, the Doctor is put into the machine, Jano gets taken over by the Doctor's "life force", and then everything gets fixed. All the running around between these major story events feels even more like padding than usual; if I were re-cutting this, I'd squash it down to three episodes at most, perhaps even two. On the other hand, in spite of the nastiness involved in the draining of the savages, we do at least get a bit of a relief from the grimdark that's been prevailing for most of this series; compared with some of the other things we've seen, this is nothing.

The defeatist savages are very reminiscent of the student revolutionaries of The Space Museum, being essentially useless until the Great White Heroes turn up to organise them. And it's never quite clear why one guy with a gun that can paralyse one person at a time should be so terrifying to a bunch of people who can split up.

This is the first story to have an explicit sub-series title rather than per-episode titles. The shape of the show is changing in other ways too; Hartnell is still a trouper, but clearly not up to it the way he was when things got started, and we're gradually falling more and more into the classic Who trope of "creatures who look like humans are morally better than creatures who don't". (Compare this story with The Ark: aliens are unfit to rule themselves, different sorts of human are fit.)

Farewell to Steven. As with Vicki, he didn't get much chance to develop as a character, largely because his background was almost totally unexplored, and in part because he had to keep shifting wildly in tone to hold the show together by handling whatever Hartnell wasn't doing that week; his departure seems rather sudden and unexpected, but that's the way things have been going this series. As the first of the explicitly "action man" companions, taking this rather further than Ian, he's in a role we're not used to from later series, but I think he handled it rather well.

The War Machines

I will admit I'm immediately biased in favour of this one -- we open with a very recognisable overview shot of London (possibly taken from the new Centre Point?), closing in on a section I know well (Bedford Square) - and the filming on the ground was clearly done on location too. Location shooting for me adds a sense of atmosphere that's been rather lacking in the studio-bound stories that we've mostly had of late. And while this isn't the first story to shoot on location in London, it's the first one to make more than passing use of its contemporary setting (well, all right, possibly excepting Planet of Giants.

In any case, the pervasive sense of DOOM has lifted a bit, and we're back where we started this series: the Doctor turns up, finds a problem that just happens to be getting going at this point, fixes it, and leaves.

This is certainly not the first, but at least a relatively early example of the "computer takes over" story -- 2001: A Space Odyssey wouldn't be out for another two years, and Colossus The Forbin Project not for two after that. And of course the destruction of the computer by its own subverted servitors -- perhaps by what we'd now call a virus, perhaps simply by shooting, it's never quite clear -- wouldn't become popular until rather later. Even so, the plot isn't up to much and it's a bit action-heavy. In a modern version, of course, WOTAN would be available in black or white plastic, with a large glass face and rounded edges...

This might have worked well as an episode or two of The Avengers -- the first story since Planet of Giants that hasn't had the scientifictional trappings that would have prevented this. On the other hand it's a huge change from what we've seen on this programme so far...

It's unfortunate that it's the two female companions who get hypnotised, but not Ben. Why isn't he also subverted when he's captured in episode 3? There's no suggestion that the hypnotic capacity of WOTAN is limited.

The sound design, something I don't normally notice until the free jazz obtrudes itself, is remarkably good -- not only are people's voices audible in the nightclub, the background noises of WOTAN change to suit the action and mood while remaining recognisably "computer" noises.

I'm less impressed with the shape of the War Machines themselves -- as with so many of Ray Cusick's designs (of which I assume this is another), they're entirely unable to performal normal manipulations or cope with standard human obstacles such as stairs or doors. They're all very well as mini-tanks (though a turret would have been awfully handy), but as the general utility robots that seemed to be the initial plan they're as bad as or worse than the Mechonoids.

Ben and Polly's introduction is surprisingly effective -- they're people who already have their own stories, not just projection screens for the Doctor to coruscate against. This is something I'm very much enjoying during my re-watch: the revamped series has a tendency to dwell on the coolness of the Doctor to the exclusion of all else, and some of this series' companions have barely expanded beyond their one-sentence descriptions ("space pilot", "contemporary girl").

It's interesting to see how Earth response to invasion in the days before the invention of UNIT. It seems about as effective as UNIT's soldiers usually were... and in terms of continuity, this is still what one might call the "A story", in which the Doctor is still treated as a human from the far future.

Dodo didn't last long, and didn't get much to do; like Vicki and Katarina, she didn't have enough screen time to develop any interesting personality traits. And no farewell scene for her either...

Departed companions to date, ranked by how much I like them:

  1. Barbara
  2. Susan
  3. Ian
  4. Steven
  5. Sara Kingdom
  6. Vicki
  7. Dodo
  8. Katarina

Overall impressions

The third series has been a time of huge changes, with the loss of five companions and the replacement of pretty much all the original production crew and many of the script-writers too. In the last show, we get something that looks very like a "classic" Who story. I've found this series less enthralling than the first two, but it's still been fun overall. Key phrase: "would have been better as a three-parter, perhaps even two".


  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 05:18pm on 23 January 2014

    The third series comes in for a lot of complaints online, and your review re-inforces that. Too much change in the staff off screen and on all at the same time I suspect.

    On the subject of contemporary companions in New Who, there is one notable exception: Captain Jack. A strong enough character that an entire new series was created around him (and lets ignore for now that Torchwood was pointlessly flushed down the toilet). Also an Action Man, as you say not a common role for Who companions.

    Actually there is another non contemporary companion, if you count River Song as a companion. Both she and Jack have more about them than just being a person from the viewer's present, as you note in your reviews being not contemporary requires more background and purpose to the companions. Which is a good thing. Shame New Who can't see that. Madam Vestra as a travelling companion perhaps? But without the Strax and Jenny light relief, please.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 05:46pm on 23 January 2014

    I think the show has been at its best when the person in charge has had a specific idea of what sort of show it ought to be (preferably one that I find interesting). This series rattles about in tone and style, but quality is all over the place.

    I'll admit that when I wrote that bit about audience identification figures I was thinking of the early days of the modern remake, since it started seriously annoying me around s4 and I've paid less attention since. Looking at the people who were present in every adventure rather than guest stars like Captain Jack, we got Rose, Martha and Donna: all "normal" people, and only Martha really had any notable skills.

    I think that there was someone who could be dropped into the Action Man slot pretty much constantly through Hartnell and Troughton's tenure: Ian, Steven, Ben, Jamie, all the male companions could fill that role if the situation demanded it, though obviously some did it more than others (and Troughton didn't need the backup as much as Hartnell had). Pertwee very clearly wanted that job for himself. Harry Sullivan took it in the early days of Tom Baker, but once Baker had found his feet there was no more need for him. K-9 fills it in a way, but after that I don't think there is one in the rest of the original series. (All right, there aren't that many male companions either.)

    Other people have already said most of what I'd have to say about my massive disappointment with River Song, most notably T. F. Charlton and Emily Asher-Perrin.

    Torchwood on the other hand may get its own post at some point.

  3. Posted by Michael Cule at 08:01pm on 23 January 2014

    If we start discussing TORCHWOOD you may want to put up some guidelines for what we're allowed to post here...

    Flushing was too good for it.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 08:27pm on 23 January 2014

    My usual guidelines for systems on which I give people accounts are "don't come to my attention". That's not quite the perfect model here, but close.

  5. Posted by Michael Cule at 11:11pm on 23 January 2014

    Fair enough.

    I remember the death of Sarah Kingdom (aged to a skeleton and then down to dust: is that right?) and it affected me rather deeply as a kid. But I'd forgotten all about another companion (however brief their tenure) dying.

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 11:14pm on 23 January 2014

    Katarina was around for too short a time to leave any sort of impression, really. In terms of the progress of the narrative, her death doesn't serve any purpose. That's why I'm inclined to believe the suggestions that the airlocking was originally meant for Vicki; it would have had a lot more weight if it had happened to an established character.

  7. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:59pm on 24 January 2014

    It's interesting you mention Martha as having some level of skills. She's definitely my favourite companion of New Who, but apparently not the producers or who they think the audience liked.

  8. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:16pm on 24 January 2014

    Both of your River Song links go to the same article, was this intended?

    I agree with the massive dissapointment about how she was used. I choose to just remember the great character she started as.

  9. Posted by RogerBW at 02:54pm on 24 January 2014

    I think the writers didn't really know what to do with Martha -- most clearly summed up in The End of Time where she's married to Mickey Smith apparently for no better reason than that they're the only two non-white characters in the cast.

    Fixed the link to the Emily Asher-Perrin article. I am this blog's God, I can do that. Mua-ha-ha, etc.

  10. Posted by Owen Smith at 09:00pm on 28 January 2014

    The marriage of Martha to Mickey Smith was definitely a "what the hell are you guys on?" moment for me.

    As for the writers not knowing what to do with Martha. Well, do what you'd do for a white character, her skin colour really doesn't change her personalty.

  11. Posted by RogerBW at 11:37am on 29 January 2014

    I don't do the whole Social Justice Warrior thing (because I don't have to, har har) but I very often find myself agreeing with the general tenor of STFU Moffat.

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