Monday, June 08, 2009

 

Doctor Who Magazine’s Golden Treasure

If you’re like me, you’ll probably need cheering up after the European Elections (though the locals were pretty good). If you’re even more like me, one way is to dip into Doctor Who Magazine’s latest special, 200 Golden Moments, featuring absolutely wonderful scenes from every single Doctor Who story. It is, quite simply, a joy. It answers the question I wish fans would ask more often – ‘Why is this brilliant?’ – across the whole TV series from 1963 to this Easter, and rivals the Radio Times’ legendary Tenth Anniversary Special as the most marvellous Doctor Who magazine ever printed.


Strike a pose!
 
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Back in 1973, years before Doctor Who Magazine began, before any of the mass of guidebooks (still less websites) naming every Doctor Who story were published, the Radio Times celebrated ten years of the series with a special glossy full-colour magazine, back when the Radio Times itself was printed on loo-roll. It boasted a mini-guide to every story (sometimes accurate), plans to build your own Dalek (with the measurements wrong), a Dalek story by Terry Nation (who decided it didn’t count, so used the same idea for a Blake’s 7 episode) and, above all, it was packed with thrilling photos, both from the stories themselves and specially staged ones with many of the actors who’d played the Doctor’s companions. I probably wasn’t walking yet by then, still less watching Doctor Who or arguing with other fans, but a few years later a family friend gave me the slightly battered copy he’d bought at the time, and it instantly became (and has remained) one of my most treasured possessions. For many years, it was a window into the series’ prehistory – anything from before I started watching was, of course, ancient, and anything from before I was born practically mythological – that you simply couldn’t get in any other way. It still looks terrific today, and is so iconic that drawing a variation of the cover (starring the two of us) was the natural choice for Richard and my tenth anniversary.

So in terms of affection and excitement, and with well over 400 Doctor Who Magazines since then, the bar is set pretty high. Well, 200 Golden Moments pretty much clears it. It’s the ideal celebration, and if I were you I’d go out and buy a copy before they all sell out. Though I’m half-American I’m incapable of a convincing American accent, so it’s a good job I’m only writing a booming advertiser’s voice: ‘If you only buy one Doctor Who magazine, make it this one’.


My scanner doesn’t like the gold foil, but it’s prettier in real life
 
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I love reading – and writing – in-depth articles on Doctor Who, something thought-provoking and with a bit of punch. I love laughing at the bits that don’t work (though – as with any tribe – only with another Who-lover, defending the series against all comers from ‘outside’). And I love watching some stories an awful lot more than I love watching certain others. But, above all, I love Doctor Who, and sometimes it’s a little wearing when all a particular fan or book or site seems to do is be negative. Four or five years ago, Richard and I were reading a particularly in-depth, insightful and comprehensive book on the series and greatly enjoying its ideas, its turns of phrase, and ganging up on it together when we thought it had got something hilariously wrong. But although it and its companions are probably the best set of books ever written on the series, we often felt that at times they lost sight of why they were into Doctor Who in the first place. So from then on, when Richard and I watch Who together, even a story we really don’t think much of, we’ve always tried to ask that question that was missing from these books – why is this story brilliant? Whether it’s a chorus of praise or just a saving grace, the idea of the series is so magnificent that every part of it has something worth treasuring. And that’s why I love this new special: at last, someone’s produced the very thing I want to read to cheer myself up about any of Doctor Who you care to name.

Why Is This Brilliant?

It’s immensely readable. It’s made up of a couple of hundred little nuggets, all beautifully illustrated, by dozens of different authors in dozens of different styles and finding something memorable for many dozens of different reasons. It focuses on great drama, funny one-liners, special effects wonders, scary cliffhangers, gorgeous music, fantastic acting, long, short, sad, happy, old, new… Like the series itself, each piece is something new. If you know every story, you can look at it through someone else’s eyes; if you’re a more casual watcher, it’s like 200 trailers or bite-sized insights, something that might make you think, ‘Ooh, I’d like to try that one’. You can read it from cover to cover, or back to front, or pop in and out at your leisure – it’s ideal to dip into, and like a particularly good chocolate selection box, you can just take one at a time, or you can swallow 200 at a sitting.

Now, obviously I’m a Doctor Who fan, so naturally I could pick at this. I could point out that, as some stories get more than one “golden moment,” there are actually not 200 but 222 of them here. But what sort of pedant would you have to be not to see that as a bonus? I could complain that when I picked out 46 stories to illustrate Why Doctor Who Is Brilliant last year I roamed across the whole glorious panoply of Doctor Who, from TV to novels to comics to radio plays, and this sets its sights too narrowly to do the whole marvellous concept. But then, I only picked one story from each year, and they’re doing the lot – just how many pages would it take to cover “A Few Thousand Golden Moments”? So, you know, they’ve got it as near to just right as it could ever be. And, like that fabled Tenth Anniversary Special, open it up and it looks gorgeous.

A Peek Inside…

I’m not going to offer a critique of every single piece in there, because – well, obviously, because I don’t want to take up 146 pages (and probably 146 days to write). But I’d like to pull out a little of the best of it, and raise the odd eyebrow. The first thing, of course, is that they haven’t – they can’t have – chosen all the same moments that I would. So with some stories you turn the page to find exactly the famous scene that’s always praised, while with others there’s an iconoclastic focus on something you wouldn’t expect at all, with the one everyone raves about suddenly missing. I set myself to scribble down the half a dozen scenes from the entire series that I thought were the most indispensable, and when I flipped through to check, they had three of them. But, you know, most of the time it’s just as joyous to find yourself looking at a little-thought-of scene in a new light as it is to bask in the comforting glow of something you’ve always ‘known’ was magnificent. And if you’re too upset about your favourite being ignored, Philip MacDonald’s evocative introductions for each Doctor pick out a brace of brilliant moments each sketched in a few words, just a selection of some of the bits they didn’t choose, and chances are you might find it mentioned there anyway.

I’ll take you on a trip through my favourite Doctor, then skip more swiftly through the others. The magazine starts perfectly – the first choice, for the first story, is exactly the one I’d have made, as Ian, Barbara and all of us first enter the TARDIS. I look at my scrawled six and, yes, that’s just about the most indispensable of the lot. And when I wrote the other week about why The Edge of Destruction was brilliant, the moment quoted here is one of the scenes that gripped me, too. We come to the earliest-broadcast story I don’t think too much of and, hurrah, Jonny Morris has gone for exactly the nightmarish moment I always think of as its finest. Matt Michael picks a scene that I wouldn’t for The Sensorites, but captures it beautifully, and links the marvellous William Hartnell all the way to Christopher Eccleston in a flick of a phrase – then his next choice includes the lines I used when, ten years into making political speeches, I first flourished a quotation from Doctor Who to a packed room. Andrew Pixley, known for his learned, detailed archive work, is a revelation, making me smile throughout with sheer, infectious joy, then Gareth Roberts – known for his fine comic writing – leaps in with one of the most searingly dramatic arguments the series has ever known, even if he falls for the Earl of Leicester’s spin-doctoring. Jonny Morris reveals Billy’s lolcats; Nev Fountain thanks the stars that Doctor Who always managed to avoid (sometimes by a whisker) such ghastly sci-fi clichés as the Planet of Women. Paul Cornell shares the “sheer magic” of Billy’s most moving soliloquy; Mark Wright picks out what, if Bill Hartnell was the star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – what a marvellous, marvellous idea – would be his ‘hero moment’ for the titles. And Patrick Mulkern picks out some eye candy, then later on plays what I’m certain is a Hampstead euphemism. I know where he’s coming from.

Rob Shearman, ah, the lovely Rob Shearman, superb writer, incisive critic, swoops in on just how utterly brave and brilliant was the way they changed the Doctor for the first time. Stuart Manning takes a minor scene from one of my favourite little-known stories to illustrate in a couple of hundred words exactly the ideological point I made in several thousand. Philip MacDonald, in The Tomb of the Cybermen, hits on another of those magic six I’d scribbled down, and makes a lovely case for The Abominable Snowmen – and he’s right, you know. Between them, on one of those stories that get two golden moments, Keith Topping and Jonathan Morris capture exactly the most horribly memorable scenes… Though I’d have been torn in making it three, and added the terrible, fearful, hideous glee that comes in torturing a Cyberman.

Probably the biggest shock in the entire magazine is that a scene so memorable it’s been remade three times in Doctor Who TV, for pop videos and even for Pringles, killer shop window dummies smashing through the high street in Spearhead From Space, is ostentatiously missing as a scene I’d never have thought of takes what everyone would assume was its place. Which is why it’s so perfect that the pull-out quote for the scene which every fan will frown at for being the wrong one is, “Is this someone’s idea of a joke?” Priceless! Then, for the sequel, Scott Handcock makes me see the brilliance in a cliffhanger that, I’ll confess, I’d always thought a bit rubbish. And Dave Owen nails the relationship at the heart of The Three Doctors, while Philip MacDonald treasures a tiny, exquisite moment from the next story along.

After an ad for Big Finish’s Short Trips books, now at the end of the line and flying off at half-price – you know you want to – there’s Tom Baker. Gosh. What a lot of Tom. And every little bit marvellous. There’s a lovely little moment by Paul Vyse from The Sontaran Experiment, then Gary Russell and David A McIntee between them zero in on the central drama of Genesis of the Daleks (even without the scenes I’d have picked – the Doctor and Davros’ philosophical debate for sheer electricity, and Ronson’s screaming death for memories of boyhood bloodlust). But while Gary’s piece nails Davros’ fatal flaw, I have a problem with David’s. Even though (thanks, Jennie) he did vote Lib Dem in the Euros. You see, he’s both absolutely right and dead wrong on the Doctor’s moral quandary over whether to destroy the Daleks. Where David goes wrong is in his shortcut to answering the Doctor’s question, where he rephrases Sarah’s comparison of the Daleks to a virus into “a genetically modified mould in a dodgem car” and that, because of the dehumanising words “genetically modified,” it’s fine to kill them… Which, rather than listening to the Doctor’s argument that this is an intelligent species, ironically takes the Daleks’ side that you can say another form of life isn’t like us, and so destroy it. Where he’s right, and impeccably liberal, is in seeing what’s so important about a hero that asks questions:
“This is a hero, a role model, who, when faced with a difficult decision and unpleasant options thinks about them… The nature of the question, or the answer, doesn’t matter; it’s the concept of asking that’s so fabulous.”
Nev Fountain then earns incredible brownie points for pointing out just what an incredible cliffhanger Part One of The Deadly Assassin has – yep, it’s my favourite cliffhanger, and my favourite story. So I’ll ignore the choice he makes for one later story of one of the few scenes in the special I still think’s rotten… Love to Philip MacDonald again, too, for finding a moment in The Face of Evil that says exactly how vitally important Tom Baker could be. Readers who know The Robots of Death well will understand just why it’s disturbing that “David Bailey” writes about it, and hooray for Marcus Hearn, who spots one of the most marvellous things about Robert Holmes’ writing, as well as Kate Orman, who knows exactly why the last Doctor Who story to really, really scare me was so scary.

You can tell I love this period, can’t you? Because I’ll never finish at this rate. I’d better skip most of Tom and tell you just to get the magazine itself, which is much more fun to read, after all. Look out, along the way, for top Gary Russellness on The Invasion of Time, Peter Anghelides hitting one of the tiniest, most perfectly crafted things about The Androids of Tara (albeit making the mistake that everyone makes about the story, and not picking the line I borrowed for a certain blog), Gareth Roberts filling me with enthusiasm for The Power of Kroll, which is no mean feat, and Dave Owen, hurrah, knowing that the music is the most gorgeous thing in City of Death. Plus lots and lots of Jonny Morris (and more for free), who always comes up with something new – even if I don’t think he gives enough credit to the brilliantly talented David Fisher.

Rob Shearman doesn’t write many of the pieces here, but they’re some of the best. He’s spot-on – and, unexpectedly, very funny – for Full Circle, and supplies two brilliant moments for the early Peter Davison era. Also unexpectedly, that period gets perhaps the most impressive run of nuggets in the magazine; if you want quality writing, the middle’s a good place to start. Scott Handcock again sees right into the Master in Castrovalva, Gareth Roberts finds a premonition of death, and Rob, again, takes an opening scene I’d always thought of as perfunctory and shows the unsettling effect it’s there to create. It’s probably the most memorable moment in the magazine for making me see a scene from an entirely new angle. Jonathan Morris gets it right again and again on Snakedance and Frontios, Ian Farrington summons up Sgt Pepper, and Matt Michael has a marvellous moment of childhood terror – a piece of personal memory that even beats Gareth Roberts and Bonnie Langford.

I know David Darlington, but I can assure you he’s not bribed me to say that I loved his celebration of Colin Baker in The Twin Dilemma. Oh, it made me smile. And at the other end of Colin, Cavan Scott picks something way cool. New Grand Mekon of All Doctor Who Steven Moffat writes about Dragonfire; you know, I don’t really agree with him, but he writes it jolly well. And Mark Wright’s dead right on Paradise Towers. I know Joe Lidster a bit, too, and when I saw him on Saturday I really should have told him how perfectly he conjures a moment of The Curse of Fenric. I don’t know James Moran, but I also met him on Saturday and he seemed terribly nice; I should have told him, too, that he was lovely on Survival. Because I knew, of course, it had to be that scene, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone evoke it so well. Bless Kate Orman, next, for what she says about kissing, and Dave Owen on just how funny the Master is. He is, you know.

Gosh, only nine paragraphs into the three I meant to write about the magazine itself, and I’m into this century. Yay for Matt Michael on The End of the World; I love it too. There’s Jonathan Blum on Doctor Who making you cry – the story he writes about did for me, as well – and Scott Handcock, on it scaring you all over again. Then David Tennant thunders into Doctorness with a fabulous scene brought to us by Peter Anghelides, and it’s that Jonathan Morris again, not making the choice I’d have made but drawing me into his view of New Earth. And what scene’s a Dalek’s favourite? I’ll let you read it and find out, but it’s brilliant, too. And thank you, Gary, for hitting what might just be my favourite David Tennant moment in one of his finest little stories, while Jason Arnopp picks probably the mesmerising “moment” I’ve watched more than any other from this century’s Who. Though he lifts out seven minutes, and I just can’t stop before I’ve watched the episode’s whole last sixteen. And what could be a better end – to the beginning – than Andrew Pixley making me utterly thrilled when reading about Planet of the Dead?

Go on, go on. Buy it. Their snippets are much better than my snippets about their snippets.

Other Marvellous Moments

The lovely Tom Spilsbury’s Editorial opening the magazine mentions the inspiration for it all, DWM’s 1996 article 20 Moments When You Know You’re Watching the Greatest Television Series Ever Made. That evocation of Doctor Who’s That Certain Something stirred a lot of imaginations at the time, followed by ten more suggested by readers, another ten of the best cliffhangers – bizarrely excluded from the ‘main’ set – and one ‘best moment’ each for the Master and the Cybermen. That’ll be 42, then. Strangely, given that those were DWM’s indispensable moments for the series thirteen years ago, only 19 of them made it into the 222 (the ‘extras’ suggested by readers turn out to be the most successful). Then the flurry of favourite snippets died down until DWM published its list of the series’ greatest deaths last year, and even the top one of those doesn’t make it here. Inspired like many people back in 1996, though, and by my childhood marvelling at clips and comment documentary Whose Doctor Who, I edited together my own 50 favourite scenes – don’t worry, I won’t list them all – of which 20 appear in 200 Golden Moments.

I’m going to finish by writing about just one scene I’d like to pick as a magic moment. In the spirit of the special magazine, it’s finding something absolutely glorious nestling in a story that’s perhaps not one of the best. 40 years ago yesterday, a BBC press conference presented Jon Pertwee as the new Doctor. My feelings about his Doctor have been complicated over the years, and I’d say now that, while I love him, he’s the Doctor I find it most difficult to like. [Slight update: I was getting rather sleepy by this point in the article (having had just two hours’ sleep amidst grumbling at the election results the night before) and entirely forgot that this was the point at which I meant to unmask the identity of the outstanding but aggravating book series about Doctor Who alluded to above, one volume of which inspired my whole ‘Why is this brilliant?’ concept through being detailed, thought-provoking but persistently sour. It is, of course, Lawrence Miles’ and Tat Wood’s About Time collection. By a stroke of serendipity, Tat’s vastly expanded second edition of Volume 3 (covering the Third Doctor, though that’s less of a given than you might think) has just been published, and I started reading it yesterday. I had no idea until I read in that very book, 40 years to the day later, of the date on which Mr Pertwee’s casting had been announced. Then, irresistibly, another anniversary presents itself today, this time serendipitously chiming in with the blue giant spider on the cover of About Time 3…]

Skip forward, and 35 years ago today his Doctor suffered fatal radiation poisoning and regenerated into Tom Baker, at the end of a story that was something of a Pertwee megamix, flourishing many of the era’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. Planet of the Spiders is even one of those few Doctor Who stories which I have major ideological arguments with. With all that, you wouldn’t think I love it, but I do – and a large part of my love for that story, and the love I have for Pertwee’s Doctor too, comes with the climactic scene from 35 years ago today.

Back when I was five years old, I wasn’t allowed to stay up for Melvyn Bragg’s Arena arts special Whose Doctor Who, so my Dad recorded the sound from it on open-reel tape. Though now the whole thing’s easily available on the marvellous The Talons of Weng-Chiang DVD, for several decades I pored over the soundtrack, taking years to identify where some of the clips came from. Among them, though, there were three scenes that I could always identify and which I absolutely adored and always held me spellbound. The one which I hadn’t seen on TV on first transmission (and didn’t until the story was released on VHS in the early ’90s, with a fantastic cover based on this very scene) was taken from the final episode of Planet of the Spiders, a story where the action centres on – as you might guess – giant spiders seeking a blue crystal with the power to expand your mind to an incredible degree. Yes, it was made in 1974, since you ask.
“Now listen to me. Listen. I haven’t got much time left. What you’re trying to do is impossible – if you complete that circuit, the energy will build up and up until it cannot be contained. You will destroy yourself.”
At the story’s climax, the Doctor walks into the heart of the Spiders’ domain, facing his fear and the Great One, the huge, demented god-empress of the Spiders. Knowing that even to walk into her crystal-powered cave will kill him, he still goes in and offers her the final crystal in the hope that she’ll leave the humans alone. Maureen Morris voices the Great One in a tour de force of power and madness, confronted by Pertwee’s bravery and desperation. The blazing blue of it all, and the giant spider, socks you in the eyes, but the most striking ‘effect’ aiding this extraordinary face-off is the huge, eerie music. It might just be composer Dudley Simpson’s finest moment, and probably Jon Pertwee’s, too.

What’s so magnificent about this scene isn’t just the performances, or the music underscoring them. It’s that the Doctor sacrifices himself to bring the ultimate villain the crystal – but still begs her not to take it. His desperation isn’t for himself, and his pleading isn’t for himself; it’s initially for the people he’s dying to save, but during this scene it changes to a desperate pleading to save the villain. He holds off actually giving her the crystal out of fear for her – and she uses her mind to snatch it out of her hand, thirsting and aching to impose her will on the entire Universe, believing that the last crystal will give her limitless power. He’s aghast not for the Universe, but because he knows she won’t be able to contain it. He pleads, he protests, and is quite frantic to save her even as she’s crying her triumph. The Doctor with the biggest ego confronts the very personification of ego and, dying, tries desperately to save even an evil megalomaniac. He fails. The Great One’s terrific gloating power becomes agonized screams, and they’re the most chilling sound ever heard in the series.

The giant spider thrills the boy in me, the awesome music makes my spine tingle and the dying screams make the hairs on my neck rise, but what really makes this a golden moment for me is the sheer Doctorishness of Pertwee risking his last minutes of life to save his enemy. He’s heartbreaking.


Cross-posted to Next Time, I Shall Not Be So Lenient, my Doctor Who reviews blog.

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Comments:
Surely David Bailey is a real person, veteran fan, former editor at Titan (many years ago now) and someone I used to work alongside... it's 'Philip MacDonald' whose name usually appears in inverted commas!

This point of pedantry should not obscure what is otherwise an excellent review which is eloquent on why this magazine is perhaps the best special DWM have produced.
 
Awwhh, thank you very much, Matthew. I hadn't meant to query Mr Bailey's existence – merely to raise a smile for those familiar with one of the actors in the story.

I'm intrigued by "Philip MacDonald" now ;-)
 
I had not yet pegged your sense of humour... or so it appears.
 
I'm afraid it was just a puntastic play on words, so "humour" may be doing me a kindness.
 
Great article.

I have also been upcheering myself by reading this special since my defeat on Thursday.

The fantastic thing is that they couldprobably have done the 1,000 best moments and still not run out.
 
Thanks for all the kind comments. It was all Tom's idea - he has this mad idea that 'all Doctor Who is good and should be celebrated'. I didn't expect to end up writing quite so many entries - but I volunteered for even more! I wanted to write about Jamie switching the lights off in 'The Seeds Of Death'...
 
Hee hee. I see the key word in "genetically modified mould" as being "mould" rather than "genetically modified". And, to be fair, the Daleks' intelligence isn't necessarily living - it's more computer-based, and they're expressly referred to as being programmed several times in Genesis.

Then again, everyone knows I love those metal bastards, and the point of the moment is to spark debate. Or throw a metaphorical hand grenade into it...

I'm amazed at how fantastic this magazine is - it's beautiful, funny, perfect bathroom material (in a good way - I mean something to dip into to keep the mind occupied!) and with some great pics I've never seen before. For example, I've never actually seen a Chameleon from The Faceless Ones before, and always imagined them as being smooth-faced, like the faceless guy in Sapphire And Steel...
 
Lovely article.

I was amused at the inference you made from my comment about Hampstead Heath. I can assure you that I do indeed walk my dog on the Heath - in daylight hours - most Sunday mornings. The bench dedicated to William Squire is on the path just south of the playing fields, before you get to the picturesque Viaduct Pond. It's nowhere near the West Heath, which is famous for two things: nocturnal prowling and the filming of The Seeds of Death. ;)
 
Apologies, all, for having been so slow in replying to all your comments – persistent connection problems. But, one new router later, I seem to be more consistently online again. Phew.

Glad to assist with upcheering, Neil, and sorry you were defeated. And, yes, I suspect each of us could do a thousand moments on our own :)
 
You’re very welcome, Jonny. I meant it (hence the moment of criticism, too)! Tom’s quite right – I’ve loved the polishing of moments I’d never previously seen as golden, as well as the obvious ones on their plinths. Though I’ve yet to steel myself to watch The Seeds Of Death to find out where Jamie switches the lights off.

Glad you took my argument in good part, David – though I’m still far from convinced about your “computer-based” defence (surely the climax of the story is based in part on the idea that, like other living beings, they grow beyond that?). But I enjoyed tossing back your hand grenade and, as I said, the other part of that article was brilliant, and my pull-out quote. I think ‘my’ photo that I’d never seen before and particularly grabbed my attention was the one of Tom and the Fendahl skull; there was just something about the framing that tingled. But then, that story always has that effect on me.

And sorry, Patrick, for the innuendo. Well, a little bit sorry. I just couldn’t resist it, having been primed by your being one of the few people to comment on various companions’ sex appeal (quite right, too). But thank you very much for being so kind, and I bow to your superior familiarity with the Heath ;-)
 
Jon Blum here (from a shared blog). Just wanted to say I adore this whole posting -- there's something wonderfully recursive about commenting on the golden moments from 200 Golden Moments! You've really shone a light on how many different lovely perspectives the fans have been bringing to the stories, on top of the stories themselves being so delightful...
 
Awwhh, thank you, Jon!

I’m happy to be recursive, though I hope not occluding – well, I suspect the section reviewing the reviews themselves might be a little impenetrable if you don’t have the magazine itself to hand, but as I said above, that bit went on a little longer than I’d intended, as I was just enjoying it too much. The whole thing really was delightful.
 
What a lovely, lovely review. Great work, Alex!
 
Gosh, thank you, Gary. I'm very pleased you enjoyed it - I just felt that this was something that'll be almost as treasured and sought-after in years to come as that 1973 special was, and I should draw people's attention to it before it's selling for £50 on eBay.

Now... Are you the Gary I mention above, another Gary I know, or a different one I don't? Hello, anyway ;-)
 
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