purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
[personal profile] purplecat
I loved the novelisation of this story when I was younger and have long considered the TV episodes to be lesser, more garbled versions of the tale. Interestingly I was discussing it with someone, possibly [livejournal.com profile] daniel_saunders?, who felt almost exactly the same way but with the two media reversed.

I was interested to see what tame layman would make of it.

Warrior's Gate is one of Doctor Who's rare attempts at outright and slightly surreal timey-wimeyness. It is far more convoluted than a little bit of temporal hopping within a story. Warrior's Gate is set in a location where the timelines overlap, where you can move a hundred years in the blink of an eye. It stubbornly refuses to explain how this works but hints at an entire framework of Time Winds and creatures that navigate time organically and effortlessly. Someone, I suspect a combination of writer and director, has a lot of fun in drawing visual parallels between timelines. It starts when both Adric and the jobsworths of the Starliner crew toss a coin at the same moment. But if you are looking for it there are multiple instances where two groups of characters are doing similar things at the same time. The most noticeable is when the Doctor and Biroc confront each other across a splendid feast in the banqueting hall, while the Starliner crew settle down to their packed lunch in the same hall many years later - and the writer must have had something to do with that even if the other touches are the director's.

The writer was Stephen Gallagher (also known as John Lydecker - and, apparently Stephen Couper and Lisa Todd) and I recall hearing him speak at a convention in the 1980s. While he was, in many ways, an unashamed hack in the mould of Terrance Dicks - he recounted writing a Kids from Fame novel that had to compress 22 episodes into 120 pages* - he also had a side career as a horror novelist and I think this wider experience shows. He's having fun with the story, a sense I don't often get from the writing in Doctor Who. For instance, the villains of the piece, are the crew of the Starliner - a bunch of slavers, it is gradually revealed, who are stuck in this nowhere and nowhen. However, with the exception of Captain Rorvick (who is a typical Doctor Who villain - a man out of his depth and compensating for the fact by a need to demonstrate action however ill-conceived), they are not particularly villainous. In fact, they are mundane people, doing what they perceive as a mundane job and a lot of quiet humour is derived from their lack of enthusiasm for, pretty much, anything.

In some ways, the air of mildly put-upon boredom with which they go about their tasks - most notably brain-frying their "cargo" in the name of attempting to revive one to work for them - acts both an element of realism and an extra element of horror to their villainy. The most developed of these characters are Aldo and Royce, the ship's dogs' bodies, and at times one is almost tempted to sympathise with them until you realise how complicit they are in the whole business. For most of these characters, theirs is the evil of turning a blind-eye and accepting the world as it is, but unlike Who's typical approach to such people, they are not redeemed by exposure to the Doctor. When the chips are down, they chose to support the status quo, largely, you get the impression, because to do otherwise would be too much like hard work but also because to do otherwise would affect their bottom line.

But Gallagher isn't just enjoying the characters, he's enjoying presenting a puzzle and foreshadowing the outcome in a way that is far less obvious than Moffat. For Gallagher, I think, the puzzle was in the service of the story, but once it was there he's seeding the solution from early on both in Biroc's cryptic pronouncements, K9's babbling and even the complaints of the Starliner crew. The novelisation makes much of the fact that Biroc foresees the unfolding of events from the moment the Tardis first impinges on his senses. This is less obvious, I think, in the televised version but the direction nevertheless has an air of inevitability about it. The sense of inevitabilty is enhanced by the fact that everything in the story is falling apart - from the Tardis team, through K9, and the gateway, to the environment itself - (the atmosphere is probably helped by the fact that Tom Baker at this point was, if memory serves, both ill and weary of the role) and the point of the tale is really only to wait for the ultimate collapse.

I personally think Warriors' Gate is one of the shows triumphs, where the time-travel premise, characters, plot, setting and themes all come together into a satisfying whole. However its not a particularly easy story and I think it is fair to say that it relies heavily on the audience joining the dots and their goodwill in looking past the minimal sets, the air of decay, and the undynamic characters. I've seen it too many times, and read the novelisation too many times, to really judge how well it works on first viewing. Tame layman appeared mildly nonplussed, though not particularly put off. It's probably one for aficionados.

*I am making up the numbers.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-04 10:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] parrot-knight.livejournal.com
The Bodleian catalogue gives the length of Lisa Todd's The Kids from Fame as 186 pages, but that's not much more space than 120 when trying to deal with twenty-two scripts.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-05 01:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] louisedennis.livejournal.com
I can't believe you looked that up!! Did you confirm whether it was 22 episodes. I picked that number purely because it is standard nowadays, but I've no idea how long your typical Kids from Fame season was. IIRC Gallagher said in the end he dropped most of the episode individual plots but instead looked for long running stories that went through the whole season. We'd call them arcs these days, but I don't suppose they were particularly developed in Kids from Fame, though it's soap opera tendencies probably helped.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-05 01:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] parrot-knight.livejournal.com
I didn't look up the length of a Fame season, no... And I could have gone one step further and ordered the book!

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-05 01:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] louisedennis.livejournal.com
If I were inclined to be completist about reading novels by Doctor Who script writers, I think I would be inclined to order up his novels first, rather than his other tie-in fiction :)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-05 08:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] londonkds.livejournal.com
"Warriors' Gate" always seems to me to be a premonition of the later Eric Saward stories, while being much better than them: the Doctor as a largely passive observer, punch-clock villains, casual torture, horrible facial injury, and a closing mega-massacre.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-05 01:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] louisedennis.livejournal.com
That's an interesting thought. Saward is over a year away however and I think Bidmead's "High Concept" tendencies are a clear influence here. Terminus IIRC was a lot more straightforward than this tale was.

I'd be inclined to suggest it was a JNT influence, except it's much more prevalent during Saward's tenure than under the other script editors who worked with him.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-05 01:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] parrot-knight.livejournal.com
I'd tend to agree with you. JNT was looking for a less assertive Doctor this season, and Bidmead does view the Doctor as an Everyman to whom things happen rather than a perpetually proactive hero.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-05 11:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] daniel-saunders.livejournal.com
Interestingly I was discussing it with someone, possibly daniel_saunders ?, who felt almost exactly the same way but with the two media reversed

Guilty as charged! And I'm impressed you remembered! I'm too indecisive and catholic in my tastes to have a favourite story, but if I did, this would be a strong candidate. Curiously, the same has happened with Terminus, but slower: hated the novelization, but the TV story has slowly grown on me until now I think it's pretty good, if not nearly as good as Warriors' Gate

Otherwise I mostly agree with what you wrote here. I wrote a review years and years ago, which I'm too tired to search out now, where I think I wrote a bit about the banality of evil in this story - not a phrase I'm fond of now, but appropriate here, where people do terrible things through habit and greed for (what I assume are) relatively small sums of money.

The fourth Doctor is definitely being worn down here, as hinted in the comments, both through Baker's stilted performance and the script's insistence on keeping him confused and powerless, eventually being beaten up in a way that had not been seen for years. These days this would be part of a deliberate arc leading up to a regeneration, but IIRC it was during this story that Baker resigned. More like a plot to get rid of him, then, or at least redesign the character in a way he was unlikely to agree with...

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-06 10:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] louisedennis.livejournal.com
I recall JNT perceived Tom Baker as a problem and, of course, this season can be viewed as a tussle between the two of them for control, with JNT quickly winning. It's hard to tell whether or not it was a pyrrhic victory, but I suspect you are right that JNT was happier with the "clean slate" he effectively created.


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