Thursday, June 04, 2020


Doctor Who – The Savages: SJW Since 1966 #Fragments

Doctor Who has always been political. From the very start, the Doctor has fought fascism and stood up for freedom. But you wouldn’t know it from the periodic explosions from some fans or media headlines that the series has been ‘ruined’ by ‘suddenly’ turning Social Justice Warrior.

It’s not new. Fifty-four years ago tonight, the SJW Doctor upset a bunch of fans who just didn’t get it, condemned an unequal society, and gave the villain a piece of his mind.
“The sacrifice of even one soul is far too great! You must put an end to this inhuman practice.”

To Begin With…

Doctor Who – The Savages Episode 2 was first broadcast on June 4th, 1966. The Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions Steven and Dodo have landed in what’s claimed to be an age of great peace and prosperity, but not everyone seems to be enjoying it. In the ‘civilised’, technologically advanced City, people profit from great vitality with no cost, contented as long as they ask no questions. In the wilderness outside, cave-dwellers age before their time. What could be the City’s terrible secret? …Yes, the twist came in Episode 1 of four. But there are two interesting things left (and one awkward one), and, surprisingly, Episode 2 is the exciting part.

The Savages is not an especially well-known story. It might be the most forgotten of Doctor Who’s largely forgotten third season – perhaps because it has no ‘monsters’ (at least, not to look it; keep The Dark Crystal in the back of your mind), perhaps because it was novelised very late in the range, perhaps because it was one of too many Doctor Who stories the BBC transmitted in the 1960s and then burnt (yes, I know). All of them survive as soundtracks recorded at home, usually with an assortment of photos to give a taste of what they may have looked like, but aside from a handful which have recently been animated to give them a new lease of life, they’re not as accessible as stories that move about a bit. And speaking personally, it was the Classic Who story I came to ‘see’ last and have probably watched least.

Particularly in these future times that don’t even pretend to great peace and prosperity, I try to find something cheering to Tweet each day. And not being one for uplifting mottos, the easiest prompt for me is to find the anniversary of a Doctor Who story or something else I enjoy and Tweet something interesting about it. Last week I had a look through some old notes from when I last watched The Savages in search of inspiration, and (slightly to my surprise) I found it. So this piece started off as a Twitter thread this time last week, which I’ve collated and polished and expanded here into something not quite an article, but which is now appallingly topical…

For many years, all I knew about The Savages was what I’d read in one-paragraph summaries in programme guides – and, a bit like Galaxy 4 at the top end of the same season, it’s a simple story with bold moral (but a complicated way of showing it) which when I eventually came to watch it, I found out there’s not a lot more to it than the one-paragraph pitch. But there is a bit more. The first thing about it is that it’s got several Doctor Who ‘firsts’ (even though most of them are more memorably done later).

A Few Doctor Who ‘Firsts’

This is the tail end of Doctor Who’s third season, a hefty way in for most series, but this Episode 2 is the first not to have a new title of its own. Up until now, modern viewers would recognise the way it’s been: from 1963 on, every episode had had its own title, no matter how long or short the story it’s part of. The Savages Episode 2 sets the pattern right up until the end of Classic Who: ‘Story Title + Episode X’.

Not an absolutely fascinating fact? Well, how about this: The Savages is the first Doctor Who story to have location filming at a quarry somewhere in England which, by the magic of television, becomes an alien world (and, by the magic of critics, becomes a cliché).

It’s the first Doctor Who script by Ian Stuart Black, a major TV writer who only contributes three Who stories, but all within a year. While his first here is a bit middling, his second is considerably more exciting (and influential in its own ways), while his third, The Macra Terror, is one of my all-time favourites (and one of those burnt stories now thrillingly recreated by animation).

And perhaps most significantly for the series’ continuing moral development, while it may not be a huge leap from what’s gone before, this is firmly the first story where the Doctor could leave but chooses instead to stay, save people and fight ‘human’ oppressors as he does Daleks. It’s also in its own way the show’s first vampire story (spoiler, but that’s already obvious in last week’s episode), though like most of Doctor Who’s many vampiric tales, it avoids using the V-word.

Where Fans Miss the Point

I feel bad for criticising “fans”. I love Doctor Who fans. I am one. I married one. And Doctor Who made such an impact on my life that one of my best-known articles remains How Doctor Who Made Me A Liberal. But there are some fans who seem to have watched Doctor Who without ever thinking about it for a single second, and who shout hateful politics that are the utter antithesis of the Doctor’s. I wonder if this story made a deliberate point as far back as 1966 – perhaps not about Doctor Who, but about how people watch ‘message’ TV and even when it makes its message so blatant that critics roll their eyes, some viewers still just don’t get it.

When I first watched Babylon 5 (another deliberately, institutionally liberal science fiction series) back in the ’90s, one early episode was the butt of criticism. Infection had a bad reputation as preachy, unsubtle and generic. It has several morals of the week (one at the end almost direct to camera), but the central one was so very heavy-handed that I remembered it with eye-rolls of my own. As if we needed to be told racial supremacists are bad! Rewatching it in the last couple of years, I thought, ‘No! It was too subtle! Louder! With diagrams! Neon letters ten metres tall!’ Because we haven’t learned a bloody thing! And The Savages has a very obvious moral that it seems could do with diagrams and neon letters ten metres tall even after the Doctor explains it pretty much direct to camera.

In earlier drafts, this story started as a racial allegory, which changed to became more generally applicable… But the make-up on the City-dwellers is awkward (it’s not exactly black-face for ‘role reversal’, but it’s not quite not; their leader seems to have by far the heaviest make-up, so it might imply a ‘tanned’, super-healthy look, like Dracula’s ruddy glow after feeding). I grew up knowing this sort of information from those one-paragraph synopses which told me pretty much everything. Except they all made the same crass mistakes.

The City-dwellers are not named “the Elders”.

Yes, some of the City-dwellers are indeed titled that. The rest of them aren’t called anything in particular. But… A clue: if you didn’t know the name of the city where I live, but you knew Sadiq Khan’s title, the people who live here would still not be called ‘the Mayors’.

That’s not the crass bit.

This is a story of rough-looking cave-dwellers exploited by ‘civilised’ City people. It’s an allegory. You see, I explain patronisingly, the ones who appear ‘civilised’ are, if you think about it, in a shock twist…
You might think I’m hammering the point home way too heavily. But despite neither peoples being named, leaving it to the viewer / listener to find the answer for themselves who the title of the story fits, ‘Who are the real “Savages” here?’ (it was the Sixties)…
In neon letters ten metres tall, for the avoidance of doubt: the conclusion this serial is subtly guiding viewers towards is that brutally draining the life-essence from people conveniently defined as not really people is savagery. Trying to live despite long violence and exploitation crushing your culture is not.

The City people are the real “Savages” here.
[Take a breather, rub your nose after I was too on it]

Yet in a triumph for unthinking literalism, every fan and book synopsis – even the soundtrack CD narration – labels the cave-dwellers “the savages”.

All of which made it a thing of utter joy when I looked at this adventure and realised that the story’s villains who fail to see the problem here are the first in-universe Doctor Who fans. The City people have followed the Doctor’s travels and think he’s brilliant! They’ve even given him their own fan-fic title: “The Traveller From Beyond Time”. But they’ve never wondered if, just maybe, the things he says might apply to them.

The City’s Elders are nice, comfortable, polite people who put their robes on the Doctor and expect our hero to praise their way of life. They think he’ll literally fit in. They’re appalled when, instead of protecting their feelings, the Doctor first asks awkward questions and then compares them to the Daleks. The Savages might be better-remembered had the Elders looked like the Skeksis, but then they’d be much less uncomfortable for the viewer. If it were made today, an affronted Jano would be asking, ‘But, Doctor, don’t you think #CityLivesMatter?’

I love William Hartnell’s blazing righteous anger. You can see why some don’t.
No utopia can tolerate people asking difficult questions.
It’s always far worse to hurt people’s feelings by calling them out than it is for them to actually hurt, exploit and murder others.
From a certain point of view.

“We do not understand you, Doctor… How can you condemn this great artistic and scientific civilisation because of a few wretched barbarians?”
“So your rewards are only for the people that agree with you?”
“No! No, of course not… But if you are going to oppose us—”
“Oppose you? Indeed I am going to oppose you – just in the same way that I opposed the Daleks or any other menace to common humanity.”
“I’m sorry you take this attitude, Doctor. It is most unscientific. You are standing in the way of human progress.”
“Human progress, sir! How dare you call your treatment of these people ‘progress’?”
“They are hardly people, Doctor. They are not like us.”
“I fail to see the difference.”
“Do you not realise that all progress is based on exploitation?”
Exploitation, indeed! This, sir, is protracted murder!”
“We have achieved a very great deal merely by the sacrifice of a few savages.”
“The sacrifice of even one soul is far too great! You must put an end to this inhuman practice.”

Nobody likes being called a monster, but in this story, the Daleks look just like us, and when he makes them uncomfortable they immediately turn on their hero, the Doctor. So by the end, the only answer it to smash it all up.

Doctor Who: being ruined for some fans by the Doctor being an SJW since 1966.

Bigger On the Inside

After this terrific impassioned moment, the story has a certain amount of trouble filling its second half, but it has one more great idea: the City-dwellers have long been draining and living off the energy, creativity, intelligence and life-force of the wilderness people. City leader Jano orders the Doctor to the vampiric lab and consumes his essence. But the Doctor is especially vivid…

Jano failed to get the point of Doctor Who as a viewer and fan, but on absorbing the Doctor directly he finally starts to think ‘What would the Doctor do?’ Because the Doctor’s essence is bigger on the inside. Though we don’t get nearly enough Hartnell later, we do get brilliant flashes of Hartnell from Frederick Jaeger as the Doctor’s life and morals struggle with his own (in a reverse-Buffy, the victim possessing the vampire). And that makes you feel what Doctor Who is about.

Plus, the Doctor carries his “reacting vibrator”, which is always entertaining.

If you’re intrigued, later stories engaging with similar ideas range from The Tenth Planet just a few months later (which expands from a vampire society to a whole vampire planet, and with mummy-wrapped zombies to make it memorable) to 1977’s The Face of Evil (two peoples split in a more interesting way though this time not really either of their faults, with the opposite ending where, rather than the Doctor leaving a natural leader to help from outside, leaves with the natural leader because she doesn’t want to be the chosen one) and then to 2011’s The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People (where some people count as human while those they exploit don’t, and the process makes another Doctor who makes life uncomfortable).

This is the third of what might be a series of Fragments – not-quite-finished, not-quite-polished, from ideas I’ve written up over time and maybe I’ll share some of them anyway. If you’d like more, please let me know, and if you’d like to help, please ask me, ‘Have you at some point written something intriguing about Story / Series X, and could you find it, consider it and post it?’ You might suggest one that I can (TS;RM [Too Short; Read More]? Here). This one was partially inspired by Iain Coleman, who asked for comedy historical Hartnells, and while I’ve not exactly got there, one out of three’s a start.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020


The Avengers – The Lost Episodes: The Springers #Fragments

Julian Wadham is John Steed. Anthony Howell is Dr Keel. It’s not The Avengers as you know it. The Springers was broadcast on May 13th 1961 and no longer exists to watch – but as an audio drama, it’s now very satisfying. To break a prison-breaking gang, one Avenger goes undercover deadly seriously while the other goes undercover outrageously. You can guess which. And you can see (or hear) just how The Avengers was on its way…

To Begin With…

The Avengers is about a man in a bowler hat and a woman who flings men over her shoulders.”
…said Patrick Macnee, John Steed. Except that right at the start, it took Mr Macnee a little while to find his bowler, and the lead was another man – Ian Hendry as Dr David Keel. Steed is a shady arm’s-length government agent. Keel is a doctor whose fiancée was murdered by a drugs gang, and who joined up with Steed to avenge her. Together, they fight increasingly weird crime. Early publicity photos, before they’d got the hang of the weirdness, sell the show as mean, moody and chain smoking. This probably didn’t last long, but it’s hard to tell; only three and a third of the first year’s twenty-six episodes survive. For the second year, Ian Hendry leaves, Honor Blackman arrives and television gains a woman lead like no-one ever before, so it’s easy to forget the originals. But now Big Finish have completely remade the first season as audio dramas, so I was able to find out what I was missing: adapted by John Dorney, The Springers opens The Avengers – The Lost Episodes Volume 3), and this is what I thought of it…

“If you are going to handcuff me to a chair, is it too much to ask that it’s a comfortable one? These wicker seats are murder on the back.”

Seeing The Avengers When Hearing The Lost Episodes

You know those perception trick pictures, where some people see a vase and others two faces? I’d always imagined The Avengers’ first year as a completely different show. Gritty, macho, and rather mundane (at least by comparison to what came after). Protection rackets, vice rings, drug deals? All a bit grubby. And sometimes it is. Even on audio, the publicity photos didn’t lie: this story is wreathed in smoke. Several of these Big Finish versions have featured smoking, but here it’s everywhere – from snout inside the nick, to Steed’s fictitious seaman’s pipe being a plot point, to a packet of cigarettes for ‘Dr Fenton’ (in truth Dr Keel) now he’s out, but still locked up and gasping. And yet, the more of Big Finish Lost Episodes I hear, the more I glimpse The Avengers as it will be instead. Patrick Macnee was always the constant through the series on TV, and Julian Wadham is Steed, too. Slightly dull plots are enlivened by sparkling dialogue and suddenly offbeat characters like, say, an undertaker-taxidermist introduced when all you need is anyone with a phone. Some stories leap into technicolour as you listen: Ashes of Roses with its gossip, single entendres and Steed going way beyond louche; Kill the King’s intricate assassination plot and very Avengers creations; most of all, Dead of Winter. I gasped hearing that one – opening on frozen beef, it accelerates into a plot that had it been done at the height of colour Mrs Peel, you’d say, ‘Well, that was pretty ambitious to get away with.’

The Springers is right on the borderline here: the picture keeps changing shape in my head. Serious criminals are being spring from prison, and Dr Keel is put inside as a ringer for crooked Dr Fenton, to be sent down the escape line. The cells are quite gritty, but this end is mostly a bit pedestrian (no kidding). You can sort of see the seeds of Escape In Time (one of the most fabulous Avengers of all), but the actual escape plan isn’t all that exciting or interesting despite Dan Starkey’s One-Ten trying to make it seem important – and does the same screw ‘get clobbered’ every time? Or are they all on the take? One of several shoes that doesn’t drop (like the real Fenton never turning up, an idea followed through later with Mrs Gale in Intercrime).

Then half-way through it does something many later Avengers will (The Hidden Tiger springs to mind) and, having established guest characters and setting, abruptly drops them all for a complete change of faces, places and pace. It’s well-balanced for both the leads – focusing on Keel early on, then having much more fun with more Steed. The plot springs from vicious crooks and Keel threatening each other in their cell to Steed not taking remotely seriously his attempt to infiltrate the Belport College for Young Ladies with a suddenly striking pre-echo of The Avengers to come.

Julian Wadham Is John Steed. Anthony Howell Is A Very Different Dr Keel

I absolutely love Julian Wadham’s John Steed. I never thought anyone else could be the character, but he won me over in his very first episode. This is absolutely the same person as Patrick Macnee, and yet definitively his own take, too, which is remarkably hard to do. Suave (you might say louche), witty, slightly harder yet rather naughty, he’s a charismatic star lead. Anthony Howell’s Dr Keel has a very different approach, but is just as successful. I’m not sure whether Keel is a harder or an easier role? Steed gets all the best lines but has over a decade of fabulous Mr Macnee to be measured against; Keel is less showy but with Ian Hendry’s part much less well-known, there’s more of an opportunity to make it your own. And unlike Wadham, Howell seems to have made a deliberate choice to do that with an interpretation that’s little like the screen version. Keel has a lot in common with Cathy Gale, especially – unsurprising, given that several of her early scripts were initially written for him and the production team made the magnificent decision not to write them down to a ‘woman’s role – something of her rectitude; Steed is playful and mischievous, but the only rule Cathy breaks is gender. As scripted, Keel is moral to the point of priggish, evolves camaraderie with Steed but doesn’t quite trust him and is rigid where Steed’s mercurial. From what we can see, Hendry plays against the lines with an unexpectedly relaxed performance shot with occasional bursts of anger. Howell leans into the lines instead, not just upright but uptight, intense, even obsessive. He relaxes a bit when doctoring, but with this Keel, despite pangs that he may not be being entirely ethical and resentment that Steed enjoys it, there’s always a kernel at the core of his playing that never lets go of, ‘Bastards like these killed the woman I love’, and he’s driven to keep Avenging her.

There’s a lovely moment for both of them where an exceedingly grumpy convict Keel is called to the prison governor’s office, only to find Steed lounging there swapping old school tie stories. When the doctor snipes to Steed that it’s all right for him because he’s never been inside, he’s airily contradicted and, audibly shocked, tells Steed that one day they’ll have to tell each other about their pasts.

If you think of this as an Avengers story from the point of view of the future series, the prison escapes and the crooks involved in them seem very small-time. But from the point of view of Dr Keel’s Avenging, it really clicks into place. Fenton isn’t just a doctor gone wrong, appealing to Keel’s moral sense, but a drug dealer – which sparked the outrage that set Keel on his mission to begin with. Though he’s given much more to do in the first half, Keel’s most electric moment here is close to the end. Having gone through the pipeline, he’s kept locked up again while the Springers wait to verify his identity: when the doctor channels his actual pissed-off-ness with the situation into naturalistically grabbing a gun and threatening the escape-enablers who’ve become his second-jailers, he gains a very dangerous edge.

Steed, on the other hand, is at his best with a comedy scene, a risk that doesn’t quite come off, and an unexpected woman.

It’s not full-on Avengerland camp, but when Steed arrives at a College For Young Ladies, I held my breath at just how awkwardly 1961 this was going to be only to get something much funnier. Thank goodness! It’s between terms, so rather than perving over ‘kinky’ schoolgirls all but one of the young ladies are out of season (a bit at Matron, inevitably) and the episode’s real eye-opener – while Keel’s banged up, Steed’s brought along a young woman agent for the first time. Melanie gets less agency than I’d like (she seems to enter without introduction and leave without sendoff), but it’s a pretty good part raised to a vivid guest star by Miranda Raison, and her proto-Tara is very much a sign of things to come. She even gets champagne. But, best of all, Steed turns up as a Navy man, hilariously overplaying his cover story of needing somewhere to look after his ‘daughter’ while he’s away, like putting his hound into kennels. Then he introduces himself as “Commander Kennelworthy” and I laughed more than was strictly decent. That’s very Steed. So, later, is his dialogue when tied up, baiting Neame first as “diabolically clever” then taunting him for being a third-rate opponent, trying any angle to get his captor off-guard much as you picture him physically wriggling while he does it.

This is the second of what might be a series of Fragments – not-quite-finished, not-quite-polished (I polished it a bit, but the end dangles), from ideas I’ve written up over time and maybe I’ll share some of them anyway. If you’d like more, please let me know, and if you’d like to help, please ask me, ‘Have you at some point written something intriguing about Story / Series X, and could you post it?’ You might pick one that I can (TS;RM [Too Short; Read More]? Here).

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Thursday, May 07, 2020


Why I Want to Publish Fragmentary Ideas, and Asking For Your Help #Fragments

TL;DR – I’ve published something. It’s hard. I’d like to do it again. I’m scared. You can help by suggesting what next. If you’re occasionally interested in my writing, please consider it.

Today’s the fifteenth anniversary of the Doctor Who story The Long Game, and I’ve said something about it.

Two other anniversaries of sorts have just flown by. I noticed today that it’s now just over a year since I set up a Patreon, which up until now I have been too ashamed even to mention in public, and it’s more than a month since I tried to prod myself into activity by posting a Twitter thread asking whether anyone might be interested in reading peculiar side-fragments when I’m not up to proper reviews.

For all too many reasons I don’t publish much. In my head I love writing huge, sprawling, fabulously comprehensive and toweringly ambitious articles. In actuality the very prospect of them fills me with terror of failure, while writing anything less fills me with acute actual failure (this is a very abbreviated precis and I have to fight the urge to commit to a deep-dive comprehensive article examining all my self-defeating instincts and behaviours that I will reassuringly never finish rather than publishing this). But I can’t stop myself writing. And sometimes, just occasionally, I accidentally manage to finish something by fooling my brain into thinking that it will never see the light of day and then, horror! Stealing itself from my echoing vaults of notes and publishing before I can stop it. But my brain gets wise to this, and even things I write just for myself are rarely quite finished… Just in case.

Last month I had an idea and plunged it into Twitter, shivering and splashing and trying not to drown. My ambition is to write fantastic long articles again. My practical possibility is that I do actually write peculiar side-fragments when I spot something in, say, a Doctor Who episode and examine it far more closely than sensible. These are extraordinarily unlikely ever to become proper articles, still less coherent parts of the reviews that might justify their existence, but, I thought – and then, intimidatingly, asked – should I blog some of them as fragmentary asides? To which a dozen people encouragingly replied, yes! I should (and as many again pressed ‘Like’). Which was lovely. And utterly terrifying, and I hid, and came up with all sorts of things I should just do first. Though, to give myself an excuse that stands up better than most, right now I am coping rather less well with life in general even than usual.

Today it’s the anniversary of The Long Game, and I found myself reading through some of my notes on it over the years, and I thought, you know, it’s really rather good, and some of my notes aren’t bad, and perhaps rather than my usual single cheering On This Day Tweet I might turn them into a thread?

And after I published it, I realised to my surprise that I’d accidentally done what I’d suggested doing a month ago. Not quite, obviously – my thought was to just grab something slightly interesting and publish it without adding context or polishing it up (laudable ideals that would make it more readable in theory while making it never happen in practice). I couldn’t make myself do that this time (gestures helplessly upwards). But – astoundingly – despite all these delaying ‘improvements’, I still wrote the thread, then published here too.

What Next?

I know! The usual answer is: panicked by the idea of having actually published something, I will curl into a ball gibbering while my brain works out new strategies to prevent this happening again.

But it might just be something different this time.

If you’d like me to share more of these – I’m tempted to call them ‘Lost Toast’, but I’m tagging them ‘Fragments’ for now – there is a way you can help.

I’ve written a lot of this stuff, in countless files. No, really. You have no idea. And one of the most paralysing things for me is just choosing which to go next. What’s any good? What’s almost nearly potentially oh no not really very ready to publish? What might people like to read? What is least likely to make me feeling exposed and stupid when none of it’s any good? And so on. When people say, ‘Don’t second-guess yourself’, I think, second? Who are the lucky people whose reasons for outvoting themselves are only in single (or double, or quintuple) figures?

So, look. I know that you don’t actually know what I’ve written sort-of interesting things about. But take it from me, that makes it much easier for you to choose, not less.

Please – Suggest the Next One

Ask me. Do I have anything worth saying about—? And I just might.

To prompt you in prompting me, I’ve written an awful lot of observations from an awful lot of angles about an awful lot of Doctor Who.

Pick a story. Could be anything from 1963 to 2020. Definitely won’t be everything from 1963 to 2020. The newer it is the more unlikely I’ll have something thought-provoking written down. This is not for lack of enthusiasm (though my deteriorating mental health doesn’t help there) but because the more I’ve watched, read or listened to a story, the more I’ve read other reviews and bounced off them in completely contrary directions, and simply the more decades I’ve had for an idea to simmer, the more likely it is that I’ll have something insightful or entertaining to say. But like all generalisations, that’s only roughly true. So test your luck.

You’re also quite likely to find I’ve gone into depth on aspects of – off the top of my head (and by ha ha ha no means comprehensive) – other TV, films and books I know I’ve written observations about, from only a couple to very many, including:

And far, more than I can mention right now. Even, occasionally, Miss Marple, Shakespeare and other greats of which, frankly, I know very little but which won’t stop me. Oh. Help. I’ve suddenly fallen into masculinity.

Seriously, I am petrified and I know that it will be hard for me to push myself, but this is the most likely way to get myself to publish anything. Suggestions, requests and a bit of hand-holding really might help. Please comment, email or tweet and I will try to appreciate it.

And if you’re wondering how I managed to write this? I was turning the Twitter thread on The Long Game into an article, and this is the couple of paragraphs of brief explanatory notes. No, it is.

The Next Ones – Published #Fragments

I carried on writing more of them, after all. Here they are (so far):

Doctor Who – The Long Game and Why It’s Better Than You Remember
In the future, fascists and media hostility to immigrants have turned society on itself, crushed asking questions and made life crap. Imagine. It’s funny, scary, clever, political. And yet no-one loves it very much. How ‘the best’ gets in the way.

The Avengers – The Lost Episodes: The Springers
Steed has such an appalling cover name I laughed like a hyena, how early Avengers can seem like an optical illusion, and the biggest difference between TV and Big Finish Dr Keels (it’s not the beard).

Doctor Who – The Savages: SJW Since 1966
Doctor Who has always been political, yet media and some fans explode it’s now ‘ruined’ by ‘suddenly’ turning Social Justice Warrior. Back in 1966, the Doctor upset a bunch of fans who just didn’t get it, condemned an unequal society, and gave the villain a piece of his mind.

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Doctor Who – The Long Game and Why It’s Better Than You Remember #Fragments

Doctor Who – The Long Game was first broadcast fifteen years ago tonight. In the future, fascists and media hostility to immigrants have turned society on itself, crushed asking questions and made life crap. Imagine. Russell T Davies writes; Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper star; Simon Pegg, Anna Maxwell-Martin, Christine Adams and Tamsin Greig guest. It’s funny, scary, clever, political. And no-one loves it very much.

This started off as a Twitter thread earlier today, which I’ve collated and polished and expanded here into something not quite an article, more than a set of Tweets, but it’s much the same idea: why I love a story that isn’t ‘the best’, and what’s got in the way of loving this story, including ‘the best’.

Doctor Who in 2005 was the great return to TV. It was fresh and new and different. But it was much more than that – Series One, Season Twenty-Seven, The Trip of a Lifetime, whatever you want to call it – was absolutely fantastic. For me, it’s one of the greatest Doctor Who seasons ever made. If I were to rank all thirty-eight in order, it would be very near the top (I say ‘If’ to distance myself from the fact that that’s what I do, and I love to do it, and for the record, it’s at number three). Heralded by the most fantastic trailer I’ve ever seen, opening with the perfect introduction, brightly optimistic yet steeped in death, I adore it.

The Long Game is part of that season, so why doesn’t it get more love? This is the least-loved story in one of Doctor Who’s most marvellous years.

…Which answers itself, really. We make lists, and relative positions don’t do it any favours. Ranking ‘the best’ means there must be a worst!

There doesn’t.

I confess I tend to rank it lower than the rest of the season, too. But this season is fantastic. It’s not just that the pressure of making a list forces us to think of the least as much less than it deserves; for me, this Doctor Who season is terrific for its joy, for its thematic power, for its look, for its leads – for so many reasons, but one reason is its (ahem, relative) rarity in having many highs yet no lows at all. Looking at my really, really big list of all 297 TV Doctor Who adventures, this one still makes the top half, and for me stories well below the top half are brilliant, too. So the habit of thinking ‘But which story this year is the designated crap one?’ has long warped people’s view of The Long Game.
I’ve got another theory as well.

Every other Ninth Doctor story glows gorgeously. Beyond even the design and the travels in time and space, the whole season looks like nothing else on TV. For just this one story, the director turns down the filter on the lens and it looks a bit ordinary. Is that why, subconsciously, people don’t warm to it?

This takes a risk with being a deliberate let-down (and even having the Doctor say so): the off-the-Pegg familiar clothes, the burgers, the everyone-only-humans… After glamorous, glorious The End of the World, it’s disappointing to go into the future and find it’s only like now. But it’s too easy to be too busy saying ‘This is a bit rubbish’ to realise that’s the clue.

I love how the episode outright has people say ‘This is a clue!’ several times – most strikingly when Rose, like Arthur Dent, spots something crucial in the temperature that the blasé long-time traveller didn’t list – to distract us from the whole story being just that. It’s a story in itself, but it’s one big clue.
The unseen villains hate aliens; they can alter time; the moral is ‘ask questions’. Once, a Doctor Who story called asking questions “The Human Factor” – in contrast to…

For me one of the biggest questions for the Liberal Democrats [keep reading, this is less of a swerve than it seems] is where to put the emphasis between two often complimentary, sometimes rival ideals when the party needs both but can only lead on one – call them moderate and Liberal, kindness and fighter, love and liberty, ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ and ‘Stand up to bullies.’

Doctor Who inspired my politics, as so much else of my life, so I tend to think of Doctor Who’s politics in a similar way. Pretty much the series’ founding moral is to pit itself against fascism, but even when stories raise difficult questions, its default tends more towards ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ 2005 Doctor Who is striking in that it often looks the audience uncomfortably in the face instead. Perhaps it’s braver in this year than once it knows it’s a success because knowing this might be your only chance to make a difference makes you burn brighter than when you’re doing comfortably and don’t want to lose what you have.

The Long Game starkly tells us that blaming immigrants, enforcing conformity and asking no questions moulds a meaner, smaller, stagnant society.

So this message is sharper – and it’s not just a message, but a clue: who in the whole series is most famous for hating aliens?

This is very much part 2 of Dalek: Adam becomes Van Statten In Space, exploiting rather than exploring wonders; beginning and ending, to the point, with the TARDIS; the very rich are very bad.
Though of course, this week, the Daleks aren’t behind it all.
[Looks to camera]

This is also Russell T Davies’s answer to Genesis. No – not ‘of the Daleks’. The other one.
Eve has been offered knowledge, then with it she’s discovered things for herself and generously wants to share.
Adam wants to steal everything, won’t take responsibility and blames someone else when it all goes wrong.
Adam is thrown out of paradise.
Eve stays.
And the gods above don’t want you asking questions, which is why they’re wrong.

The Doctor’s companions really didn’t use to faint all the time, but I enjoy the shorthand:
‘This is not the Doctor Who you expected’ – the only one who faints is a man;
‘Adam’s fall’ – before viewers can ask ‘Shouldn’t his name be in the titles?’, with brutal economy Russell’s already shown us why not.

A dystopian future with Anna Maxwell-Martin as one of “The Freedom Fifteen”!
Which makes me smile, because now I imagine her starring in ‘Enid Blyton’s Blake’s 7’.

Plus Simon Pegg and the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrajassic Maxaraddenfoe (but you can call him Max).

I’d loved every episode of this fresh new series (still do, and possibly even more than I did in 2005). I didn’t need it to be old-style Doctor Who… But this enormously entertaining week I found out I was still a sucker for a cackling, scenery-chewing villain with a beard.

The Doctor’s pointed
“Don’t you even ask?”
“Why should I?”
“You’re a journalist!”
will never date in a story which, in its broader swipes at the media with ‘Max’ in charge, couldn’t be any more ’80s if there was a giant blancmange, living on the ceiling.
…I’ll get my coat.

One of the crucial themes here is that you shouldn’t just trust what you’ve been told; go out and find the answers for yourself. Almost the first line sets up in three words the story’s moral, the clue to what’s gone wrong, and even the closing gag: “Open your mind.” Even the Doctor comes a cropper with history he ‘knows’ – he assumes this period will have intellectual curiosity, fine cuisine and different cultures. He’s expecting BBC4, and gets Bad Fox.

A final thought on Season Twenty-Seven, and something a shock-reveal on Floor 500 made me realise first time round: from Autons as plastic cadavers to Gelth wraiths to Slitheen wearing literal body-suits to a Dalek coming back from the greatest slaughter in history, this season’s been full of the living dead – and this time, dead men do nothing but tell tales (and pull your leg). No wonder the Doctor’s got massive survivor’s guilt.

This is the first of what might be a series of Fragments – not-quite-finished, not-quite-polished, but I’ve written up ideas over time and maybe I’ll share some of them anyway. If you’d like more, please let me know, and if you’d like to help, please ask me, ‘Have you at some point written something intriguing about Story X, and could you post it?’ You might pick one that I can (TS;RM [Too Short; Read More]? Here).

And a small thank you to the lovely Brendan @brandybongos, who is making Fifteen Years Later YouTube videos for this season and – as well as their being delightful and insightful – by asking for people to write in with comments, inspired me to go back and look at what I’d thought over the years about The Long Game.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020


Baking Bourbon Creams – A Recipe Easy Enough For Me To Bake It

I like Bourbon Creams. I’d not baked since school. In 2015 someone sent me a recipe for home-made bourbons. I don’t know where they found it, but it worked for me. I’ve baked them four times, and not only were none of them disasters, I thought they all tasted great (presentation could be better).

If you want to try them, here is the recipe for your baking / eating pleasure.

[Blasted Blogger is still not letting me upload pictures from my PC and I’ve had to faff around with my phone again. Grrr]

I’ve not baked these biscuits for a couple of years and, while enjoying polishing off some ASDA home-brand, regretted that I could do with some of the more special bourbon creams, but lacked the ingredients, willpower, ingredients, time, sweat and swearing to hand. Actually, no, I have enough of the swearing in stock, but despite TV chefs that’s not enough to create food on its own. But I mentioned this on Twitter this afternoon, and a friend asked about the recipe, so I thought – why not share it? That’s how I got it. I briefly considered a Twitter thread, but decided that if I were attempting to follow a recipe on a Twitter thread I would rapidly become frustrated and ask, ‘Why didn’t the silly sod just put it in a blog post?’

I very rarely cook from recipes, which is probably one of the reasons I don’t bake, because I’m aware enough that bodging something up with meat and veg to taste is qualitatively different from shoving ingredients in the oven and trusting to magic. But five years ago, in one of the periodic national baking fervours, I slightly regretted not being a baker but lacked the confidence to start. One kindly friend asked what sort of biscuits I liked, and sent me a fairly simple bourbons recipe. I’ve not baked it much, and I’ve not baked anything else, but these biscuits suited me.

A friend sent me this recipe, having found it somewhere else, so I can take no credit even on their behalf. That means this is not a story of a brilliant invention inspired by a life-changing event or an old family secret. There are no more anecdotes to get in the way of getting to the recipe. The only things of mine are a few notes you’ll see as you go along, because although whoever the recipe’s original author was wrote fairly straightforward instructions, I am the definition of an inexperienced baker and made several mistakes and discoveries which I hope will be useful to share.

Now to the useful bits!

Alex Note: This makes 20ish biscuits, depending on your rolling and slicing.

Top tips – I found that the whole process always took at least twice as long as I expected, and that the biscuits had to be rolled thinner and cut narrower than I expected. Every time. You will also find that your kitchen and potentially entire home will be covered in a delicious but choking patina of icing sugar.

Ingredients For the Bourbon Biscuits

Ingredients For the Bourbon [Butter-]Cream

Preparing and Baking the Bourbon Biscuits

Preheat the oven to 170C/335F/Gas Mark 3.

Line two baking trays with baking parchment.

Cream together the butter and the muscovado and caster sugars for 2-3 minutes, until pale and fluffy.

Beat in the golden syrup.

Then sift in the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt, and beat together.

Add the milk, a little at a time, to make a smooth dough.

Place the dough between two large pieces of clingfilm and roll out to a large rectangle, 3-4mm thick.

Cut into 6x3cm rectangles.

Alex Note: I recommend closer to 6cm by 2cm for the ‘proper Bourbon’ proportions. They expand, so find your preference by trial and error.

If you’re after neat, ideal bourbons with a biscuit snap, always roll them thinner and cut them narrower than you expect, then put them on the trays with plenty of space about them.

If you prefer a thicker, less shaped, more cookie style of biscuit, roll them slightly thicker and cut them slightly wider (or prepare with a little more bicarb), and don’t worry about them rising into one another.

Then transfer to the baking trays.

Use a wooden skewer to mark out rows of dots along the length of each biscuit.

Alex Note: This is of course only for presentation. But just so you know, the ‘proper Bourbon’ is two neat rows of five dots. If you’ve cut them shorter, the five will cram together and merge on baking, so do four dots and no-one will notice even if you’re aiming for super-regular bourbon creams.

I used the round base of the wooden skewer, as that makes nice regular dots like Lego, which keeps the shape much better than a sharp pin-prick.

Also sprinkle sugar – bigger crystals look better – lightly across the top, as the embedded crystals look impressive when cooked in.

If, on the other hand, you’re just going to eat them rather than them show them, don’t bother as it’s a bit of a faff. And – full disclosure – I’ve never bothered carving “BOURBON” into the surface of each one, so all my biscuits will have been failed as proper Bourbons.

Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven.

Leave to cool on the tray for five minutes.

Alex Note: I recommend carefully sliding them – still on the parchment so as not to disturb them – onto a cooler surface, as the tray will still be very hot and if you start moving them onto the wire rack while they’re still too warm and soft they often tear apart.

Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Preparing the Bourbon [Butter-]Cream Filling

Cream the butter for two minutes until fluffy.

Sift in the icing sugar and cocoa and beat slowly until combined.

Add the vanilla extract and beat until smooth.

The Miraculous Alchemy that is the Complete Bourbon Cream Biscuit

Spoon or pipe a thick line of buttercream down the middle of one biscuit.

Alex Note: Or just spread a load with a knife. I’m no good at neat thick lines, so this gives more control.

The quantities specified make quite a bit of buttercream, so you can be quite generous with it. Sometimes I’ve worried I might run out and been left with lots of buttercream at the end. Re-opening the biscuits to add more tends to break them (whatever filling is in there will be quite an effective adhesive once set), so what to do if you have too much spare buttercream and someone might walk into the kitchen and catch you just eating it by the spoonful?

My recommendation is to roll the spare buttercream into little balls, roll your balls in the muscovado sugar to cover them lightly, and tell everyone you absolutely meant to make little truffles too and it was in no way a mistake.

Sandwich together with a second biscuit.

Repeat until all the biscuits are filled.

The biscuits will keep in an airtight container for 3-4 days.

Alex Note: Yeah, right. Only if you padlock it and give someone else the key.

I hope you enjoy the biscuits, and if you wish to know where to send me some in an airtight container for express delivery within 2-3 days, please use the email address in the sidebar.

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Thursday, March 26, 2020


Loving Doctor Who – Rose #TripOfALifetime

This is a very lovely moment for what’s written most deeply on my hearts.

My beloved and I have been together for twenty-five years and five months – today!

So he’s working from home and I’m out on the balcony.

Don’t worry – I’m only one metre outside our flat and there’s no-one else about. The party boats have stopped running, and even if they did want to do The Masque of the Red Death on Thames, we were already distancing because the river charts have dangers marked on them like wrecks, whirlpools, Ben Aaronovitch’s goddesses and steer away from the naked gays.

But today it’s another anniversary that’s almost as wonderful, and that’s exactly fifteen years since Doctor Who came back with Rose.

The very first Doctor Who story I ever saw was a fantastic new beginning that started with “Ro”, and I still love Robot and Rose so much that when last week I published a binge-watch Doctor Who playlist, those two were right up at the beginning, because I can’t imagine better introductions to the show.

A few years ago I wrote Ten Reasons To Watch Rose to share my enthusiasm and encourage you to see it.

I mean, I even wrote my Reasons To Watch The Trip of a Lifetime Trailer for it, partly because it’s the most thrilling trailer ever made and partly because I thought it was funny to have an article that took longer to read than the things it was recommending.

Today is a fantastic day to watch Rose again and realise just how outstanding it really is, or to watch it for the first time and see what all the fuss is about for Doctor Who. Thousands of people will be watching all over the world and will welcome you in.

Because that’s something I adore about Rose.

In my reasons to watch it, well, it was more simply reasons I love it, and I went from the most obvious things like Rose, and the Doctor, and introducing the TARDIS, and if you don’t know what they are just watch the story, to getting passionate and political and just a bit angry and how Rose is not just welcoming but defiant in championing a life of change and strangeness and danger, but the tenth and last reason I want to share with you, even though it’s a bit of a spoiler.

With anything you love you can get jealous and possessive instead of saying, Wow, how awesome, and being delighted when someone else sees this the way you do.

And fifteen years ago it was tempting to say, but what about me?! Never mind ten million new viewers, I was here first! And to remember not fifteen years but sixteen years, sixteen long years where there was no spring of a new Doctor Who series on TV.

But Rose is open and welcoming and isn’t just a brilliant introduction but has one inspired moment, right at the end, where it answers that question and makes it absolutely clear that Doctor Who can be for you. We’ve seen a new world open up through Rose’s eyes and fallen in love with the idea, and then at the end – Doctor Who goes away again.

And Rose has made the Doctor’s world so utterly compelling that the endless wait of the next sixteen seconds feels like the yearning of sixteen years.

And then everyone shares the joy – when Doctor Who comes back.

I bloody love Rose, and I’m watching it tonight.

I thought of this all in one go this afternoon.

I got out of the bath and wrote it down.

I realised it would be better to camera.

I realised I couldn’t print it or learn it.

I did one take.

I was lucky not to trip over and make it the #TripOfALifetime…

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Friday, March 20, 2020


Doctor Who Playlists – How Doctor Who and Self-Isolation Can Inspire Completely Sensible Plans (ish)

Do you want to watch some Doctor Who? Aliens from the past; wonders from the future; all of time and space. It’s the trip of a lifetime…

But where to start? Which Doctors? What style? Monsters, villains, scary horror? Wit, weirdness, wild ideas? Adventures in history, alien worlds, a bit of politics? Or sheer fun?

On the off-chance that to start at the beginning and watch all 296 stories in order is a little daunting, I’ve made a self-isolation playlist for you to dip in and out of different Doctors and experience the show’s variety much more quickly. Intrigued? Read on.

I’m not going to explain who or what Doctor Who is this time – I’ve done that before (here’s my So Who is The Doctor Anyway? All You Need To Know About Doctor Who if you want that) and, besides, it’s all becoming more complicated. For now, the Doctor is a traveller in time and space who goes anywhere, from Earth’s past, present and future to alien worlds and stranger places still. The Doctor respects life rather than authority, obeys no-one else’s rules but has a clear moral sense, preferring to use intelligence rather than violence, and takes joy in taking friends to explore the wonders of the Universe.

If you’re stuck at home and want to watch some Doctor Who for a week or three, with more than half a century’s-worth – what you need is a playlist, a ‘box set’. Here’s one (and more) I prepared earlier to make it easy. Almost as importantly, one of the things that’s made Doctor Who last so long is variety – if you don’t like one story, something completely different will probably be along in a couple of weeks; if you don’t like one Doctor or creative team, something completely different will probably be along in a couple of years. I just speed that up a bit by suggesting a list that leaps all over the place. A binge-watching buffet! Here goes…

53 Doctor Who Stories For a Week or Three

I’ve identified each story by the actor playing the Doctor because names are easier to read than a blizzard of numbers (even for media where the actor wasn’t directly involved). And because numbers get increasingly complicated…

Why 53 Stories?

Well, it’s a lot more manageable than nearly 300 so far, isn’t it? If you have to self-isolate for a month, you can probably manage a couple a day.

The original idea was inspired by Doctor Who’s 52nd anniversary (November 23rd, 2015). It’s an important and popular fact that there are 52 weeks in a year, which seemingly leads to 52 stories. I picked one Doctor Who story for every week – then, if you start with a story at the beginning of your first week and finish with one at the end of your last week, you’ll watch 53 stories in a year. There’s another reason, too, which will make you groan. So keep reading!

Why This Sequence?

Variety. And the odd pattern. The main thing you’ll notice as you watch is that I’ve grouped stories thematically – so the first three, for example, are introductions to the series, then three for Christmas (ish. Enjoy the Nativity). I’ll leave the rest for you to work out, and to see if you can guess how each story links in turn to the next, because some of them even I can’t quite remember.

Many other fans have picked their own essential to-watch choices. Most such Doctor Who playlists I’ve seen select stories in chronological order; others in order of preference. I wanted a list that offered a lot more of a mix than that. So I jump around as many Doctors as possible (with a few for each) and choose different types of adventure to keep you interested. I’m not writing a history of Doctor Who, but trying to tempt and divert you with a constantly changing assortment. They’re not my own ‘top 53’, either – almost all the list are stories I like, but to stick to only my own preferences might have been too narrow. Besides, you wouldn’t believe how agonisingly long it took me to cut it down from well over a hundred. I love a lot of Doctor Who.

You can watch anything at any time, but just to give you an idea, my original ‘year’ of weekly Doctor Who didn’t begin in January. If you were to start watching as I’d initially planned on Doctor Who’s birthday of November 23rd and, at one a week, finish on November 20th, that would be the anniversary of the final episode of The Deadly Assassin. But that’s not the real reason it closes the box set – it’s because it’s my favourite story, so I made it the climax. And also because, if I’d kept to my original plan and blogged one story a week, readers would’ve expected it to stop at 52 and then been surprised. The Deadly Assassin has the line “A mere 53 storeys high”.

I told you you’d groan.

Why No Jodie Whittaker?

Only time. I constructed this list in 2015. The antepenultimate story in the sequence is Survival, which was the last story broadcast in Doctor Who’s original 26-year run, then the penultimate story was chosen to be from the latest Doctor Who: it fitted at the time that The Girl Who Died was both part of the most recent season and that, like Survival, it pointedly says, ‘So, is this the end…? No! The story continues.’

First time round, it took me weeks of putting stories in and taking them out to settle on the original list. When I opened the file again this week, I found that even between starting publishing weekly choices and tailing off I’d definitely, probably, decided that I had to include The Curse of Peladon (1972) and The Robots of Death (1977) too. But I’d been completely unable to decide which two stories to cut out (try watching Peladon as about 7b and Robots about 28b if you feel like it). So the thought of weeks of indecision as I tried to rejig the whole thing and cut out half a dozen stories so as to include the current Doctor filled me with horror. It would never get done.

Yet she is the Doctor, she’s brilliant and I don’t want to leave her out, so here, for a start, are half a dozen particularly interesting stories you might watch for the current and Thirteenth* (*you wonder why I didn’t number them) Doctor:

Then I spent a couple of days making a different list to do Jodie justice after all, which you’ll find if you scroll down.

I also recommend Gatecrashers, Joy Wilkinson’s Thirteenth Doctor short story which opens last year’s anthology Doctor Who – The Target Storybook (and which is probably my favourite in there). I love Doctor Who in other media, too…

Half A Dozen Stories I Actually Published Reasons To Watch (plus another five. WTF?)

Ten Reasons to Watch Robot

Five Reasons to Read Doctor Who and the Cybermen

Ten Reasons to Watch An Unearthly Child

Five Reasons to Read Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With the Daleks

Five Reasons to Watch The Trip of a Lifetime Trailer

Ten Reasons to Watch Rose

Five Reasons to Read Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion

Ten Reasons to Watch Ghost Light

Five Reasons to Listen To Home Truths

Ten Reasons to Watch Last Christmas

Ten Reasons to Watch The Rescue

If you just read one, try the Ten Reasons… for Rose. That’s one of my better (and more heartfelt) pieces of writing.

Anyway… My original idea was to write about one Doctor Who story every week, giving ten reasons to watch each in turn. What could possibly go wrong? Several mental and physical health catastrophes played a fairly major part in bringing my writing to a grinding halt, but I also have an unerring ability to overcomplicate things.

I’d deliberately chosen 53 stories that were broadcast on TV and which still exist – the most accessible form of Doctor Who. But why not, I thought, make it up to a full hundred by also fitting in and around them many other forms of Doctor Who that I love just as much? Novelisations, novels, audio dramas, comic strips, even a trailer (by far the shortest choice in here). And a few are even brilliant Doctor Who stories the BBC transmitted in the 1960s and then burnt (yes, I know), all of which survive as soundtracks recorded at home, some of which have some surviving episodes, and others which have since been animated to give them a new lease of life.

Obviously adding this extra layer of work was a brilliant ploy to make absolutely sure my schedule would come crashing down.

But if Doctor Who on television alone isn’t enough for you, either – and why should it be? – then here is the expanded list on the same themes.

53 Doctor Who TV Stories plus 47 More Complicated Choices To Experience

I hope that whets your appetite. Or makes you binge. One thing that especially delights me is that, since I made this list four and a half years ago, The Macra Terror has changed from being just a soundtrack with a few surviving pictures and film clips to a full animation, making one of my favourite stories very much easier to watch (and, on the Steelbook, you get the almost as marvellous Gridlock as a bonus). You might also realise that there are four there in dual formats, but they’re probably the best Target books and great television too (can you guess which one I think is even better on TV than on the page?).

This monster of strange diversity is my favourite list. Of course it is. It’s just a little bit too much, but I love Doctor Who more than a little too much. But if you want something less absurd, I have one more list of 53 to go. And it’s free!

This is the easiest to watch (at least, if you’re in the UK). I took the 21st Century TV stories I’d already chosen above and took the last two days adding more to make them up to a full 53 (well, mostly adding too many then cutting them back) and trying to make the order interesting – starting, again, with adventures that make the best introductions, and finishing, again, with the very latest and then my favourite. But what makes this the simplest to watch is that every single story is on BBC iPlayer, officially, for free, so all you need do is sit on your sofa and click.

Doctor Who – The iPlayer Menu

Doctor Who – The Classic Buffet

Having spent two days working out a ‘new Who’ list I thought, well, why not do the same for ‘classic Who’? So I made a shortlist of the stories that weren’t on the original list but were absolutely necessary, counted them up, realised that 57 extra stories would be just a few too many to fit into the slots left by taking 17 from 53, hummed and hawed, tried making a shorter short list, and decided that the only way to cut the list short was to stop immediately or I would never, ever, finish and publish.


Oh, Go On, Then: The Extras

Half a dozen brilliant Doctor Who box sets on Blu-ray if you want to watch sequentially after all

I’ll make a confession. Had I written my Ten Reasons To Watch Logopolis as planned, then six of the reasons (well, five, at least) would have been the other stories in Season Eighteen, because it’s not just a superb collection of stories but Doctor Who’s most thematically consistent season, and I’d encourage you to watch them as well. Logopolis is at its best as the summation and explosion of those, the finale to the concept album. So now you can add some more stories to the lists above after all.

Even More Doctor Who from Big Finish

While the unfolding story of Doctor Who continues to expand on TV every year or two, Doctor Who on audio is growing at a far faster rate. Another confession: there’s so much of it, and I’m so often not up to enjoying things, that I’m way, way behind with Big Finish’s Doctor Who productions, but in the last couple of years I’ve made an effort to catch up with at least some of them. So I’ve listened to quite a lot of their Sylvester McCoy adventures, Lost Stories, other Doctors (and Masters) in the Time War, and a few of their series starring other characters such as Jago & Litefoot, the Counter-Measures team and River Song, many of all of which are terrific. If you get a taste for them, here are an extra half a dozen:

I love particularly two of their ongoing teams alongside Sylvester McCoy:
With Ace and Hex, starting with The Harvest (set in 2021, so almost now) and reaching a peak with A Death in the Family;
With a very different companion in Klein, for whom I’d recommend the trilogy of four A Thousand Tiny Wings, Klein’s Story, Survival of the Fittest and The Architects of History, as well as UNIT: Dominion, where Klein’s not the only character not to be who you expect.

It’s hard to choose just one of their Master stories, because so many of them are so good (well, not good, exactly, but…). I’d rush to listen to any Derek Jacobi, because he gets to do so much more on audio and is not just amazing in the part but delightful (and disturbing) in the added interviews. Or Michelle Gomez, for much the same reasons.
Perhaps the best choice is The Diary of River Song Volume Five – the stories are excellent, and you get four superb Masters to play with (despite no Alex Macqueen). Next year they unleash Masterful, or The Eight Masters (without Sacha Dhawan as yet, though as he’s done other roles for them and clearly adores being utterly fantastic in the part, surely he will before long).
The Diary of River Song Volume One – Signs is another favourite for Sam West (which reminds me: he’s fabulous as an entire family in Serpent in the Silver Mask).

Also on audio – and on the page, which is marvellous, but read by Tom Baker with charisma and ad-libs is more marvellous still:

Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who’s most prolific novelist died last year. I noticed with a bit of a pang that, though I started my list with the TV story he wrote that got me into Doctor Who in the first place, in my determination for variety I’d only chosen two of his books for the expanded version. So here, as is now traditional, are an extra half a dozen. All are good reads, and the first has the greatest opening line in Doctor Who:

I Hope You Enjoyed All That

Well, some of it, at least.

Did you find a list that was to your taste? If they were all too intimidating, just pick any story, from any list, and give it a go.

Very little me watched Robot quite by accident, forty-five years ago, and I had no idea what I was getting into. Thanks to that experience, I’m still into it.

Irritatingly, Blogger won’t upload any new photos from my PC right now. After ages of fiddling last night, I managed to upload some from my phone. This morning, it’s as if Blogger spotted the functionality and won’t let me do even that now. It’s really not helping me get back into blogging after so long away, however determined.

I also couldn’t find a way to space out the credits from the titles above, so they look rather cramped and a bit of a mess. But I took some screenshots from my draft and pasted them in from my phone at about 2am. That’s only one of the reasons I’m very knackered. As an experiment, the lists pasted as images below may be easier to read for some; if you’re partially sighted and are using some form of text reader, the lists above have identical content as the versions below.

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