purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
I have vague memories of starting to watch The Daleks once and then giving up because I felt it was too dull and slow-paced. This rather surprises me now. I'm not sure if that is age, or watching it much more episodically, or simply that I'm now more used to the pacing of 1960s Doctor Who. At any rate, I thought it went along at a pretty decent pace all told and while the plot wasn't exactly full of twists, it did keep progressing from Dalek city, to the forest, to the lake and the caves and then back to the city again.

Much has been written about the design of the Daleks and its contribution to their success. It's difficult not to be impressed. Even today most Doctor Who monsters definitely adhere to the "man in a suit" model, so seeing something from so early in the show that really doesn't look remotely like a man in a suit. The fact that the fundamental design of the Daleks has altered so little since then is probably a testament to its longevity. Even the sink plunger which ought to tip them over into the ridiculous seems to work, and to continue to work. While the design of the Daleks has been much praised, the design of their City is also pretty impressive, both in terms of the exterior shots of the whole city and the internal corridors. There isn't anything in this story that looks risible and a great deal of it looks very good indeed.

Some of the dialogue is also surprisingly nuanced for Doctor Who and a reminder that, at this point in time, its writers viewed it as an ensemble show. I'm particularly thinking of the discussion in the forest over the morality of pressurising the Thals to help them, though I'm not quite sure (even in 1963) why the dynamic of this is the Doctor and Barbara attempting to persuade Ian to persuade the Thals, as if the Doctor and Barbara can't have a go at a bit of persuading themselves. In fact, I'm not at all sure what this story's attitude is to the concept of Ian as the leader. It seems to be implicit in quite a lot that happens, but then the script also undermines him - particularly in the sequence when it becomes clear that only Susan can venture back to the Tardis to fetch the anti-radiation drugs where Ian is basically a bit of a tit about the whole situation.

On the down side, the Thals are rather bland, more so than I remembered from the novelisation - though they do avoid the 1970s mistake of looking like a bunch of actors who have never done a day's physical labour in their lives. They are almost uniformly kind, thoughtful and a little bewildered looking - the only excepion really being Antodus who's cowardly and bewildered looking. My memory from the novelisation is that they were better differentiated than this, but the novelisation is a slightly different beast. I was aware that there was supposed to be a potential romance between Ganatus and Barbara and so spotted the various hints of this, but Tame Layman was a bit taken aback at the end when it was made more explicit in their farewell. Susan is also fairly ill-served by the story although I'm beginning to feel that Susan is often ill-served. While the Randomiser re-watches have improved my opinion of many of the 60s era "screamer" companions, I think my opinion of Susan has dropped. Sadly, the most interesting thing about her is her background. Otherwise, an awful lot of the time, her role in any story just to scream hysterically and panic. Here she is given a moment to shine, when she fetches the anti-radiation drugs, but the script undermines her even then by focusing mostly on her fear and not on her bravery.

I don't know why I formed such a low opinion of this story the first time I came across it. It is mostly intelligently written, well-designed and pretty pacey to watch. As the story that first introduced the Daleks its significance in the history of Doctor Who is clear and it is a story which I think a moderately tolerant modern viewer could easily enjoy.
purplecat: (lego robots)


At the University Open House during Liverpool Light Night


For context, John Higgins was giving a talk to go with an exhibition of his art in the Victoria Gallery and Museum, where the Open House was taking place.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Reading: Still labouring my way through Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. I've had this problem with single author anthologies before that, no matter how good the individual stories, their similarity gradually makes each one seem more of a chore to get through. I gave up half way through a Jeeves and Wooster anthology for this reason. I am, at least, through the novellas now and back into a run of shorter stories.

Listening: Just finished listening to The Writers' Room podcast on Chris Boucher. I am not at all sure Boucher is pronounced the way they are pronouncing it (Bow as in "he took a bow") but I'm not entirely sure it's pronounced the way I've always pronounced it (Boo). Other than that, I've agreed with most of what they've said ("Robots of Death" is the strongest of his three stories and "Image of the Fendahl" the weakest - there are some plot oddities, particularly in Fendahl and Robots isn't really a Whodunnit much as it apes the form. It is odd that Boucher goes from an interest in AI and Robots in his first two stories to something much more traditionally in the gothic horror model in his last).

Watching: This week it has been most new Doctor Who (Oxygen) and old Doctor Who (Planet of the Daleks).
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
I feel curiously underwhelmed by Knock, Knock since its an extremely well-crafted story, that holds together nicely, keeps it's pacing and even manages to be about something in a quiet sort of way ((grand)parents and children, growing up and independence). I'm not sure if this is because it is so clearly stand alone and designed to be such, or because a lot of the story is basically running up and down corridors or, I don't know, something else.

Doctor Who classically, is at its best when presenting horror-lite in this fashion but this didn't feel to me quite like a Doctor Who story. Mysterious tower, notwithstanding, it isn't quite as full-blown gothic in its horror as a lot of the Hinchcliffe era since it clearly has more DNA in the teen slasher movies of the 1980s than it does in Hammer Horror. Similarly Doctor Who has only really had the option of telling stories in which the Doctor impinges upon his companion's lives in this way since the advent of the "part time" companion with the Ponds and has, perhaps wisely, used this device relatively sparingly. Both The Power of Three and The Caretaker were successful in their own ways, but they are definitely also clearly something left of field in a way this isn't.

All that said, I watched this with my mother (not a regular watcher of NuWho) and she clearly felt she had been shown something pleasantly familiar - all the better for the inclusion of David Suchet as the Landlord.

It is also hard to feel particularly churlish about the re-use of the "wooden person" effect since it looked so good. The curled wooden hair, in particular, looked stunning. However one does have a feeling that a lot of effects are being reused this season and while, as a cost saving exercise, I would prefer they re-used good effects that work than attempt to create new effects on the cheap that don't, they do seem to be re-using a lot of effects.

There's nothing wrong with this episode and a lot to like, particularly the central performances from Capaldi, Mackie and Suchet but somehow there wasn't anything here that actually made me excited.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)




You can't quite appreciate the full effect since I wasn't pointing the phone at the bird in question!
purplecat: (books)
Reading: Her Smoke Rises up Forever, a collection of James Tiptree Jr short stories. It must be said, while I appreciate the prose I'm finding a lot of them quite dated and weirdly gender essentialist (which may just be dated attitudes made more obvious since so many of them have female protagonists or are specifically about male violence against women). It's also kind of depressing that in the vast majority of them the main protagonist dies at the end.

Listening: The [community profile] otpodcast episode on Fusion AUs. The podcast was recommended to me by [personal profile] dunderklumpen and it gets definite points for being a mostly interesting discussion of fanfic. But I do get a bit of a disconnect every time they refer to shows from the 1990s as "really old" fandoms.

Watching: We've abruptly come to the end of seasons1 of both Killjoys and The Expanse on Netflix. So we're back with Doctor Who and The Avengers.

Thin Ice

May. 9th, 2017 08:56 pm
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
I'd say Thin Ice was easily the best story so far this season. It possibly benefits from the fact that, even though it is "introduce Bill to history" episode a lot of the basics of her introduction to the Doctor and his life have been covered. The episode does not need to spend its first third focussed primarily on interactions between the leads and can launch into the plot much more directly.

It possibly benefits from this, that said it is the "introduce Bill to history" episode and it is the episode that gets to grapple directly with the issue of people dying and the Doctor's culpability for people's death, so there is still a lot of emphasis on Bill and the Doctor. Somehow this episode seemed to be able to make their interactions feel much more a part of the general story as opposed to having an opening "Bill and the Doctor" act followed by the rest. I thought Bill grappling with the Doctor's responsibility for people's deaths was particularly well done. It was acknowledged and moved past without being ignored - and a lot of that is probably due to Pearl Mackie's performance because there wasn't a lot of dialogue on the subject.

I have, at various times in Moffat's Who, felt he was making a deliberate commentary upon Russell T. Davies' tenure. Rory often came across as an analogue of Mickey; there has been a lot of fairly explicit criticism of Donna's mind-wipe; and a lot of this felt like engagement with fan criticism of the treatment of Martha's colour as a non-issue in The Shakespeare Code. I'm not sure if that was deliberate or just a natural consequence of a different writer tackling the question of how a modern black woman might react to finding herself in Regency England and the things she might, in particular, notice about it. Obviously this wasn't a Moffat-penned episode so it is hard to know how much of this came from Sarah Dollard and how much was Moffat. I hope it wasn't Moffat, in a way, because six years in is way past time to be making Doctor Who in reaction to what went before.

I'm liking Bill a lot. I was initially pretty dubious about her. While, yes, it's great to have a black lesbian companion, I did worry that the writers would spend far too much using her as a vehicle to make worthy points rather than letting her be a character in her own right. In the introductory short she also seemed very broadly comic which didn't really endear her to me, but she undeniably works well with this less abrasive version of the twelfth Doctor. While there have been lots of comparisons with Rose, in some ways she actually reminds me more of Donna - someone who is very direct, not too over-awed by the Doctor and who often approaches things from a very individual angle.

Now the explicitly introductory episodes are over, I'll be interested to see how this season shapes up and gets into its stride.

Smile

May. 8th, 2017 08:57 pm
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
I was really enjoying Smile right up until the final 10 minutes or so. I actually enjoyed the Doctor and Bill exploring the empty colony and figuring out the threat more than I had the previous weeks' depicition of them initially getting to know each other.

Like In the Forest of the Night this had bags of atmosphere, but it was less overt than Forest with its explicit evocation of fairy tales and I thought, gorgeous as Forest was, that Smile benefitted from a more realist tone and less intense evocation of place.

Where In the Forest of the Night fell apart for me, and for most viewers, I think, was in its explanation for the trees. In my review of The Pilot I touched on the difficulty of pinpointing where a pseudo-scientific explanation in a show like Doctor Who fails to convince. After all, in a show about someone who travels through time and space in a police box, what is so inherently ridiculous about the concept of magic space trees? any yet for a large segment of the audience they clearly pushed suspension of disbelief too far.

I don't think the resolution of Smile works any better than In the Forest of the Night but I think it is easier to figure out what went wrong with it. At the level of the in show explanation, we have been told that the problem here is that the Emojibots have learned that they can eliminate unhappiness by eliminating the people who are unhappy - the solution we are presented with emphasises the concept of equal rights for robots which does not really seem to follow from the problem. To compound the issue, only the previous week the show has emphasised the potential amorality of mind-wipes. So here we have the Doctor first mind-wipe the robots as a solution to the immediate problem but then assert that they are sentient creatures deserving of respect. On a thematic level, in a story which has been about the impossibility of permanent happiness and the effect of grief a solution which not only side-lines but downplays the colonists grief at the end seems jarringly out of place. Smile doesn't feel as insulting to basic intelligence as In the Forest of the Night did, but its ending still feels incredibly clumsy to me, particularly in contrast to the story that had preceded it.

I think Frank Cotterell-Boyce is excellent at invoking a sense of place, creating atmosphere and introducing interesting themes. However I think he's really bad at then bringing all these elements together into resolutions that make sense. In Smile the problem is that the resolution is almost actively working against both his themes and the problem he has presented. I'm still not quite sure why the resolution to In the Forest of the Night doesn't work beyond that the appearance of Maeve's lost sister comes from nowhere and follows from nothing previously established about the magic space trees, but I suspect part of the problem is that Cotterell-Boyce doesn't really seem to have grasped the essence of the scientific concepts he is attempting to use, so that they appear as set dressing on a story that is magic realist without the guts to actually admit as such. I think part of the problem with Smile is that he's equating any solution related to Artificial Intelligence with any problem related to Artificial Intelligence without realising that AI is far from some monolithic thing within which any solution solves any problem.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
"What is she wearing?" Tame Layman asked incredulously when Liz first appeared.

"I don't know," says I, "whatever Cambridge dons tended to wear in the 1970s".

"Oh, yes! I've seen the photos."

Not quite how I was expecting that exchange to end, though it's nice to know "she's a Cambridge don" absolves one of all bizarre fashion choices. Liz changes into something much more boring later on, but initially she is resplendent in a pink mini-dress, white boots and a sort of sleeveless brown jacket type thing. The Internet is failing miserably to serve me up an image of this in its full glory, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

More under the cut )

All that said we were repeatedly reduced to giggles by the title sequence which presented the story title in two parts. "Ambassadors" it would say before suddenly adding "of Death".
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)




As usual I am doing this entirely for my own enjoyment. I'm therefore in two minds about setting up a fund-raising page. People do tend to ask about it, and I've done so in the past but it was quite nice not to be fund-raising when I did the Great North 10K last summer. On the other hand, I've raised in the region of £80 to £100 quid each time I've done this which is not to be sneezed at.

I don't know. I'm half minded to fund raise for All Out to continue evacuating people from Chechnya, but I can't do that through Just Giving and I get the impression people like Just Giving as a donation platform more than just randomly giving money to charity *dithers*.

I have also entered the ballot for the London marathon. There is, as I understand matters, about a 1 in 10 chance of getting a place, so this effectively puts the "are you going to do something crazy like run a marathon?" question into the hands of the gods.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)




Doctor Who annuals, necessarily constrained to telling very short stories aimed primarily at 10 year olds often written by people who have never seen the show, have a tendency towards the bland and a bit rubbish, occasionally enlivened with stuff that is a bit bonkers. The annuals in the late 1970s went for the bonkers end of the spectrum with enthusiasm which these days makes them far more interesting than many of the others. As a child I recall just being very bemused by both the story-telling and the artwork which seemed to bear relatively little relation to the show I loved.

I recall the above panel clearly. The Doctor has helped a group of apparently very nice men escape from a planet on which they were trapped, only for it to be revealed that once outside the special atmosphere of the planet they revert to psychotic monsters. This panel reveals them in their monstrous state (their psychosis is never actually shown to us, were are simply told they are also psychotic). The Doctor tricks them back down onto the planet by pretending to be stranded and, despite being (allegedly) psychotically evil, they return because of the debt they owe him. They are not happy to find themselves trapped once more and the Doctor (in a detail I missed as a child) weeps as he abandons them.

It's a difficult story. Even as a child I was concerned that the Doctor accepted so easily that these creatures must be evil and I do wonder if its trying to say something about assumptions that to be ugly is the same as to be evil (a message Doctor Who occasionally strays into, much as it also has stories that assert the opposite). Given the Doctor's tears at the end I wonder if the artist also had doubts about the message the story seemed to be conveying.

All that said, it has the merit of not being remotely bland.

The Pilot

Apr. 25th, 2017 09:08 pm
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Season openers and companion introductions are always a little insubstantial. They generally have a lot of ground to cover, in introducing (or re-introducing) characters while at the same time wanting to keep things fairly fast-paced and not too serious. In general I would say that Doctor Who has erred on the side of "light and fast-paced" with a focus on the companion's reaction to adventure. The Pilot clearly chose to go a little slower than usual in its introduction of Bill. It spends a lot of time establishing her relationship to the Doctor in the absence of any peril or adventure and only then brings the sci-fi plot of the episode forward.

On the whole I thought it did a good job of introducing Bill. I'm not as super-excited about her as a lot of people are, I got a sense of the script trying a little too hard to be funny in places. An "Educating Rita" relationship between Doctor and companion is an excellent idea but there is a fine line between portraying someone as bright, but uneducated, and being a little condescending towards your character and I'm not sure the script always got this right. That said I thought it was interesting that, while the show made much of how like the Doctor Clara was, in manner Bill is much more like the Doctor - in particular her tendency to gabble when either she is trying to deflect a line of questioning or she is simply nervous. She also has some of Capaldi's awkwardness of manner. I thought the monologue about serving her crush chips was great and very Doctorish in a lot of ways*.

A big deal was made in the pre-publicity for The Pilot that Bill would be a lesbian and, paradoxically, that big deal would not be made of this in the show. I was a little bemused in advance about how this could be achieved. Let's face it, Doctor Who is not the kind of show in which people discuss their sexuality a great deal (albeit this has been more common in NuWho than in Classic Who). How, I wondered, does one casually throw a mention of sexuality into a Doctor Who story? The answer, in retrospect, was obvious. I liked that the plot was driven by Bill's romantic interest.

That said the plot itself felt like it had some glaring holes in it. It is always difficult with a science fantastical show like Doctor Who to discuss what is, and isn't, realistic within the world of the show. However Heather, as the Pilot's, ability to cross time and space in sequence with the order of events as experienced by Bill and not in strict temporal order seemed... unlikely. The plot was also, as "Deb from Philadelphia" in the Verity podcast pointed out, something of a "greatest hits" of a number of things we have seen several times before in NuWho - all the more so when you throw "Educating Rita" into the mix. There were some lovely moments but on a story level, I wasn't particularly excited by this.

The set up shown, of the Doctor semi-fixed in a contemporary university is, hopefully, a chance for the show to be a little different this season. This is certainly a very different Doctor in lots of ways from the one we saw in seasons 8 and 9. One of my favourite moments in the story was the realisation that he had gone back in time to provide Bill with missing photos of her mother. This is a very different person from the one who had to read out cue cards, supplied by Clara, in order to interact appropriately with distressed humans. Nardole may have commented on his obliviousness to Bill's distress at the end, but this still seemed like a Doctor who had come a long way in his understanding of, or at least his willingness to deal with (I was never entirely convinced that the Doctor was oblivious to the feelings of those around him) the emotions of everyone else.

I've no strong feelings about Nardole. I like his dynamic with the Doctor which is so different to the typical Doctor Companion dynamic, but he was very much in the background here.

Overall I liked this. I thought it was a little slow at the start, but the new Tardis team and the university setting (albeit, as Tame Layman pointed out, university's don't work like that - though universities remain quixotic enough that it's not beyond the realms of possibility) have promise. As a long time fan, I'm rarely particularly excited by season openers, especially when they are designed (as this one clearly was) as a jumping on point, I'm too keen to get on with the story, but this one did its job.

*and yes there was a fat joke, but surely Bill as a character is allowed to be awkward about her attitude to weight - it's not like most people don't have an awkward relationship to weight.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)




My second venture into the fanzine world was The Tides of Time. I can't find my copy of issue 1, fortunately [personal profile] sir_guinglain has has archived them all. It surprises me that of all the fanzines that have come, and mostly gone, since the 1980s The Tides of Time is one of the few that still produces issues, albeit on an irregular basis.

I've not been involved with it since issue 7, but [personal profile] sir_guinglain is the currently editor and, I believe, possibly looking for contributions...
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Tame Layman had sufficiently fond memories of The Talons of Weng Chiang that the Teenager was summoned to watch it with us. She indulged us, but I don't think she was really sold on it. She quite liked Leela and could take or leave the rest.

She prefers The Avengers, I think, which is possibly fair enough.

More under the cut )

Tame Layman and I had a lot of fun watching Talons and felt we were reminded what a great companion Leela was, but the Teenager's relative indifference makes me think that this is not a classic with real staying power. It is a bit too long for the material to sustain, it relies a little too much on tropes from stories that are no longer in vogue, and Leela (out of context) is not as refreshing and different as she appears to older eyes.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
"Oh dear, this looks cheap," Tame Layman said as the opening shot swept along the corridors of Terra Alpha.

I acknowledge the truth of this under the cut )

"That was really rather good," Tame Layman said at the end, showing that a good script and fine performances can lift Doctor Who well above what you might expect its budget to allow.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)


The first batch of Star Wars crochet figures.


B. somehow managed to mistake C3PO for Chewbacca. He claims it was incorrect choice of yarn colour on my part (TBH, it isn't really golden enough, but choosing yarn colours on the internet is non-trivial and it was called "gold").
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)




Survival has always felt like a thoughtful story that the show, at the time, didn't have the resources to do justice to.

I'll be interested to see in a few (10?) weeks' time how, nearly 30 years later, Rona Munro's next script fares.

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