Sunday, December 21, 2008


Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 1978 Brilliant?

More Time Lords than ever this year, with one even joining the Doctor on his travels as he begins his quest for the Key To Time. There’s wit, playfulness and a kind of magic as the series hits its most fairy-tale and fun. There are false gods and fabulous female villains, and the best story could easily be Bob Holmes’ Copernican caper The Ribos Operation or Douglas Adams’ first television, the witty, inventive, brilliantly structured The Pirate Planet, but for me it’s this swashbuckling tale from David Fisher:

The Androids of Tara
“Next time, I shall not be so lenient!”
Imagine a Doctor Who summer holiday, with fabulous frocks, fishing and fencing with electric swords, where the big, serious quest is dealt with in a five-minute joke. Add a moustache-twirlingly wicked Count, a bargained-down bribe and a dash of sex, then sit back and enjoy.

As usual, there’s an out-of-print Target novelisation – as well as, in the short story collection Decalog 2, Paul Cornell’s sublime, hilarious sequel The Trials of Tara – and a deleted VHS to be sought, but if you can find last year’s extras-packed The Key To Time DVD box set, you really should, you know. A complete season of Doctor Who, it’s probably the best release so far, with this story (for example) boasting a rather lovely ‘making of’, a commentary, a location feature, a featurette on doubles… I’m holding out for a toy Count Grendel and Taran Wood Beast, though.

If you’re up when I’m actually posting this, or if you happen to read it in the next week, you should tune in at midnight tonight to Radio 2 (not a phrase I’ve ever before consciously typed) or at your convenience to BBC iPlayer to catch Christopher Eccleston reading the first of four horror stories (The Devil’s Christmas, across the next four midnights) – Charles Dickens’ The Signalman which, at another Christmas, Mr Eccleston described as the Doctor
“Terrifying! The best short story ever written!”
Though I prefer the much less terrifying and much more camp The Trials of Tara myself, I mention this here because, on the final disc in The Key To Time DVD set, you can find very much the same idea: Tom Baker reading short horror stories for Christmas in BBC2’s Late Night Story from thirty years ago this very week (though I recommend Saki’s Sredni Vashtar, which was never actually broadcast)…

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MR James wrote The Signalman. And if you're not familiar with old Monty's works, you can usually pick up a copy of his collected short stories for very little money and I demand that you do so immediately. The Casting of the Runes is the famous one, but my favourite (which still tightens my throat and makes me all sweaty when I read it) is Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad - the only story I have ever read which makes the sheets on your own bed portentously terrifying.
He didn't, you know. ;-)

As celebrated in The Unquiet Dead, it was definitely Dickens - but, with several of M.R. James' stories, it was adapted as a ghost story for Christmas; it may be the only one in that series that isn't a James, so it's no wonder you bundled it in...

You're right, though, that I really ought to read some of the originals rather than just watching the BBC2 adaptations (of which my favourite's the icky The Treasure of Abbot Thomas) or Night of the Demon (Casting the Runes)... I've turned round and, in a stack within reach of books I've been meaning to read, there's a collection of his I borrowed from my Dad last Christmas! Oops.
LOL silly me!

You should still read some MR James, though. He's comfort-reading on a level with Poe for me.
I feel a bit unworthy though as this was the first Dr Who season I actually remember watching. Not sure what I was doing in the previous years.

I can still remember the words to the Kroll song though :-)
The Key to Time series was a real mixed bag!

The DVD box set is brilliant though - packed with extras.
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