purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Vengeance on Varos was my favourite Colin Baker story back in the day which, to be honest, is damning with faint praise. It embodies many of the excesses of the era and redeems itself mostly through a consistency of tone and presentation, Martin Jarvis and an interesting and well-executed framing device.

Let's face it, a story set inside a "punishment dome" complete with acid baths, cannibals and a sadistic alien that leers and exults over any prospect of death and cruelty is a very Colin Baker kind of premise. I strongly suspect the story was influenced by Running Man though I don't know for sure. It's at the edge of the sort of setting any era of Doctor Who might have chosen, but it gives the appearance of relishing its more horrific moments for the spectacle rather than for the purpose they serve in telling the tale. Moreover, it lacks the lightness of touch in delivering moments of relief that other eras might have achieved. I have a feeling that Saward's vision for the show was as a black comedy. Vengeance on Varos succeeds in being dark and nasty but never really achieves (or perhaps even attempts) to be comic. It's possibly the nastiest story in this season, though at least it appears to know what it wants to do tonally which isn't always the case.

It's easy to point at what is going wrong here. Unlike a lot of the era the director isn't trying to flood the set with vast amounts of light, but even so it somehow manages to look gaudy rather than atmospheric a lot of the time. The characters with whom we are supposed to sympathise, the rebels Jondar and Areta (who are sufficiently forgettable I've just had to look up their names) are, frankly bland, dull and woodenly acted. A lot of it doesn't make sense at the "world-building" level (for instance the perils and traps of the punishment dome mostly turn out to be a) a bit rubbish and b) well-known to the audience and thus, theoretically, the prisoners). This is mostly possible to overlook, but less so the moment at the end where the price of Zeiton Seven ore rises because an alternative source has been found (my grasp of economics is shakey but I'm fairly sure the price normally drops if supply increases - assuming demand remains the same*).

On the other hand Martin Jarvis delivers an excellent performance as the Governor, invoking our sympathy while nevertheless suggesting that this is a man who has only really found the ability to show compassion and a desire to change the system now he is in a position where the system is more or less actively trying to kill him. Where Vengeance on Varos really succeeds is in the framing device. It takes the concept that the punishment dome is a form of entertainment and gives us the couple, Arak and Etta, who watch events unfolding, bicker about them, yet never take part in the action except for the obligatory votes on Governor policy. In the light of recent political upheavals some of it seems remarkably prescient. Arak desires to vote against the Governor no matter what. "What will the next one do differently?" Etta asks. "Anything, Everything," Arak more or less shrugs in return. He's voting for change without any particular interest in what the change is to. Of course it's prescient too, given that this was produced before the Internet and Reality TV, about our new ability to provide instantaneous feedback on anything and everything.

There are one or two other moments where Vengeance on Varos uses the conceit that all is for entertainment well. Most notably the episode 1 cliff-hanger that ends, not with the Doctor apparently dying, but the camera feed focused on his corpse and the Governor, in the role of director, saying "and cut it, now" as the feed goes blank. The final moments are also a triumph, if a somewhat nihilistic one. As Arak and Etta observe the blank screen that is supposed to symbolise their new freedom they ponder vacantly over what they are to do now.

When I was a teenager I think I was probably as fond of dystopias as the modern teenager, though with a rather sparser supply since YA fiction, as a marketing niche, was yet to be invented. I thought very highly of Vengeance on Varos at the time and I can see now that its tone and tropes match up nicely with with those particular preferences. These days I like my Doctor Who to have more of a focus on humour and entertainment and less of a desire to imagine the unpleasant and grim. As such Vengeance on Varos looks pretty flawed (though, as I say, these are the flaws of the era). Even so it is hard to ignore that there are some things it does extremely well (where so much Colin Baker Doctor Who manages to fumble its good ideas) and somewhat reluctantly I think it remains my favourite Colin Baker story.

*Obviously the price has been kept artificially low but even so it's hard to see how discovery of an alternative source strengthens the Varosian bargainning hand.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Way way back in 1981 the BBC ran a "Five Faces of Doctor Who" season in which they showed one story from each of the first four Doctors (ending with a repeat of Logopolis and Tom Baker regenerating into Peter Davison), except for the third Doctor who got two stories. It's difficult to say how incredibly exciting this was to a young Doctor Who fan at the time. The two stories picked for the third Doctor were The Three Doctors and Carnival of Monsters. I assume they wanted to show both the anniversary multi-doctor story as part of the "five faces" theme but also a more typical story. I never really understood the inclusion of Carnival of Monsters which did not (insofar as one could judge from Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks' The Making of Doctor Who) seem to be a particularly significant Pertwee story, even if one assumes they were restricting themselves to four parters.

I was a little surprised by Tame Layman's enthusiasm for this however. He also had memories of seeing it at some point (possibly also as part of the Five Faces season) and recalled it as being a particularly good Pertwee story. The Teenager was summoned so that she could experience it as well.

I don't know. The story is generally pretty pacey, so it doesn't suffer from the longueurs of some early Doctor Who but I'd say that almost everything happening outside the miniscope on Inter Minor is done in a rather broad and heavy-handed fashion. The CSO, while not the worst Doctor Who has ever committed, is among the dodgier the show has inflicted upon the audience and it seems more obvious than usual that the budget wasn't really stretching to many sets.

The parts of the story set on the SS Bernice are among the best ,in part I would say because both the actors and the producers of sets and costumes were far more comfortable with portraying the 1920s than fantastical machines or aliens. The reveal that actually the first parts of the story are taking place inside some kind of peep show is clever and handled well. Still I'd argue that one good idea doesn't make a solid story.

It's fun but I don't really get the enthusiasm. Still, Tame Layman and Teenager enjoyed it so who am I to judge?

The Lost

Jan. 3rd, 2017 03:16 pm
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Class)
It's sufficiently long since I saw The Lost that the details have somewhat blurred in my memory. However, if memory serves, it contains most of the strengths and the flaws of the series as a whole. On the plus side it is not afraid to explicitly move the status quo along by redefining Miss Quill's role and status, clearing away the antagonists from this series and rearranging the relationships of the core cast without allowing them to settle into any kind of cosy friendship. It also manages a good exploration of the episode's theme of loss which ties into the series themes of growing up and afterlives all framed in terms that focus on the characters while making the SF elements central to the action. The sacrificial love interest bucked all expectations by not being a sacrificial love interest, but this does make one wonder even more why he doesn't receive equal billing to the rest of the cast in the opening credits.

Spoilers and so forth )

I don't love this series, but I'll happily watch another season. It has a distinct identity from Doctor Who and the potential, and I think ability, to do different and interesting things with that identity. I hope it receives a second season.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Class)
Oh, of course, one of Class's themes is interpretations of Heaven and Hell across cultures. In some ways I was surprised I hadn't spotted this earlier, both with the set-up of the Cabinet of Souls, and some of the conversation April and Ram had in the realm of the Shadow Kin, but it wasn't until this episode that I really cottoned onto the fact, perhaps because it is a less obvious theme to explore in a drama aimed squarely at teenagers which is otherwise mostly about growing up.

More, including spoilers for both this episode and next, under the cut )

I think it benefits Class as a whole to demonstrate that its stories need not necessarily revolve around the school and the teenagers. Given Katherine Kelly's Quill is one of the best characters in the series it was good to have something that explicitly centred upon her and developed the character. There are a lot of nice moments in The Metaphysical Engine but at the end of the day it felt a little more contrived than many of the other stories.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
The King's Demons is an odd little story. It's always felt like something of an afterthought to me, though I've never been able to pin down why. I think it may be that, even at only two parts, it feels somewhat padded as if there isn't really enough material to fill even 50 minutes.

One of the most interesting things about what story we have is that this is one where the Doctor never really does succeed in convincing the nominal good guys (in the form of the Fitzwilliam family) that he is on their side. Everyso often he appears to have the situation under control only for them to spiral back into suspicion and belief in the Master's lies.

Speaking of the Master, I knew he was in the story and thought Sir Gilles Estram was fairly recognisable as Anthony Ainley. However, Tame Layman was genuinely surprised by his appearance which, I suppose, just goes to show the power of a fake beard and wig.

It's not a good companion story. Poor old Turlough is side-lined for most of it and locked up in a dungeon, while Tegan just follows the Doctor around while whining about the whole situation. This did not improve Tame Layman's low opinion of her.

I think ultimately this feels like a tale that is just not really that interested in the Doctor's companions or in its supporting characters. It is really only interested in delivering a little bit of, I would say fairly heavily interpreted history about King John (while I'm aware that there is considerable historical debate about the extent to which John was incompetent and/or evil, I think it is stretching it to claim he was "enthusiastic" about Magna Carta), and introducing Kamelion the shape-shifting robot. Everything else pretty much just blurs into people running around a castle being confused about things.

This is he least successful of the Davison "historical" two-parters (using the term loosely enough to cover The Awakening as well as Black Orchid). It doesn't have the BBC's normal lavish delight in creating a period setting, and feels underwritten. It's not bad exactly, there's nothing particularly cringe-worthy going on and it keeps moving, but it's mostly very forgettable.

Detained

Dec. 13th, 2016 09:15 pm
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Class)
Class seems to be at its best in tighty focused episodes which are as much about the characters' emotional lives as they are about the science fiction. I would rate Night-visiting and Detained as the two best episodes of the first season and they both share this structure.

Locking all your characters in a room with no outside interaction is a device that can work well in a story. It is tempting to compare this to Edge of Destruction (having watched that recently) where the original Tardis crew find themselves trapped inside the Tardis. One of the clever things, arguably, about Edge of Destruction is that there is no alien threat, though the flipside of that is that the story fails to explain the characters' somewhat histrionic behaviour. Detained on the other hand has a clear external threat which, moreover, makes them feel angry and requires them to speak the truth in order to escape. As a device to scrape away the veneer of friendship in the group and expose the underlying tensions it is somewhat heavy-handed, but effective for all that.

Detained's position in the season is very obvious. Having, up until this point, built fragile alliances among its teenage protagonists, Class now shatters them just in time for the looming series finale. It's a strong episode but possibly a little heavy-handed in its execution.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Class)
Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart and Brave-ish Heart lack the compactness and clear focus of the preceding two episodes. This allows them to attempt a structurally more complex story but I'm not sure that entirely works in their favour.

Spoilers under the cut )

All in all, another strong pair of episodes. The greater length gave the story more room for maneuver and let it attempt to tackle several interlinked events and ideas but the price was that it lacked the clarity of focus of Night-visiting and, I have to admit, if you were going to pick an actress from the core cast to carry a two-parter, I would have opted for Vivian Oparah.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
"What's happening?" The Teenager asked, walking in on us watching Edge of Destruction.

"Over-acting," Tame Layman said.

The Edge of Destruction came about when a script fell through and the Doctor Who production team were left with two episodes to fill and a minuscule budget. The result is a story set entirely in the Tardis which is attempting to be a cross between a haunted house mystery and psychological horror.

It is the stagiest Doctor Who story I think I've seen. I think is partly because, well it's 1964, and partly because everything is focused upon the interactions of the characters. With little else of visual interest, David Whitaker frequently places the actors in tableau where they speak their lines facing away from each other and/or oblique to the audience.

Fan opinion of the story seems to be divided between those who consider it a bizarre oddity arising out of desperate circumstances and those who consider it something approaching a mini-masterpiece arising from its constraints. They speak of the drama and tension as Susan stabs her bed with a pair of scissors. Sadly, I think Tame Layman and I are in the bizarre oddity category and Susan's tantrum with the scissors struck us more as over-acting than a moment of intense drama. Tame Layman did get a laugh however, when it was revealed that the whole problem related to a single jammed switch. He was puzzled about why everyone had been behaving so oddly throughout. I had always understood that this was the Tardis influencing their behaviour in an attempt to communicate the situation to them, but that doesn't seem to be on the page. The crew just seem to spend two episodes panicking in a particularly bizarre fashion before the Doctor and Barbara jointly manage to figure out the problem and the Doctor works the relevant switch loose.

Because of the generally strange behaviour of most of the cast, it is difficult even to see this story as character development. The most successful part is the relationship between the Doctor and Barbara. She stands up to him. She refuses to be mollified at the end by anything short of a proper apology for his behaviour and ultimately it is Barbara who saves the day with the insight that the strange events inside the Tardis are not an indication of some hostile force but an attempt by the Tardis to communicate.

However, in the end, Edge of Destruction is two episodes of padding without even the dubious benefit of a monster and a corridor to run down. It's impressive given the circumstances under which it was produced, but that doesn't actually make it good.

By the end of episode 1 the Teenager was declaiming loudly on the morality of Video Game companies who produce misleading trailers for games. She did not come back for episode 2.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
The Space Pirates has a reputation for being very slow. I seem to recall, once upon a time, reading that this was because it was attempting to realistically depict travel times in space, though this isn't actually a point that is made anywhere in the episode (and doesn't really make sense if you think about episode length anyway). I suspect more of a problem, from the point of view of some fans, is that the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe have relatively little to do. In the first episode they arrive on a space beacon, get mistaken for the eponymous space pirates and then lock themselves in a room. They spend the entirety of the second episode floating through space in said room, the space beacon having been broken up by the aforementioned space pirates.

We were actually quite surprised therefore to find ourselves enjoying the story, and this in spite of the fact only one episode of it exists outside of telesnaps. [livejournal.com profile] daniel_saunders mentioned in my review of The Massacre that early Doctor Who historicals tended to treat the Tardis crew as witnesses to, as opposed to participants in, events. The latest DWM makes a, possibly contradictory, point that a number of changes in production practices meant that more effort was put into creating interesting secondary casts for 2nd Doctor stories. I rather chafed, while watching The Massacre, that Steven (and the largely absent Doctor) had so little to do, but I think that was because the secondary cast was failing to engage. I'd argue that the secondary cast of The Space Pirates is considerably more successful. There are four main groups interacting; the Space Police, the Space Pirates (who are genuinely pretty nasty, ne'er a swash nor buckle in sight here), Milo Clancy the aging miner on a mission of his own to defeat the pirates, and Madeline Issigri and her mining company, the pirates' unwilling accomplice. You don't really need the Tardis crew to tell an interesting story with these characters and give or take a few plot handwaves (could Caven really have kept Madeline's father secretly trapped in his own library all that time) the story manages this pretty well as the pirates seek to frame Milo and the Doctor for their crimes, Madeline tries to conceal her involvement from General Hermack who is clearly very keen to direct matters from the comfort of her office rather than his own space ship and Milo blunders around being cantankerous and difficult.

That said, Milo Clancy, who gets significant screen time as the story progresses is pretty irritating and his fake American frontier accent is risible and makes it hard to follow his dialogue. Mind you, when I commented to Tame Layman, that I thought the accent was unfortunate, he vigorously demanded how I knew that spacefarers in the future wouldn't speak like that, especially if they had been off on their own for a long time and become a little strange in the process.

The Space Pirates was covered in the DWM recurring archives feature in the very first issue of the magazine that I purchased and I remember reading and re-reading that article, even though I actually remembered very few of the details once I was watching. But I rediscovered a fondness for the story. That and the fact that we went into it with pretty low expectations, meant it was actually pretty fun to watch.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Nightvisiting is another confident and assured episode from Class. The comparisons with Buffy are beginning to appear increasingly apt, since Buffy liked to make its Monster-of-the-Week an embodiment of the personal crises and dramas of its protagonists.

Spoiler Cut )

I feel about Nightvisiting much as I do about The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo. I can objectively appreciate its quality but I'm still waiting for the show to actually grab me. It may be that while its ideas and execution are pretty solid, it lacks much of a sense of fun (Miss Quill getting all the best lines). I think maybe its point-of-view is much more that of the teenager embroiled in the process of growing up than Buffy's (obvious point of comparison) which was always much more that of the adult looking back on their teenage years with compassion, but also with wry amusement at teenage obsessions and behaviour.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Class)
The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo is a much more assured episode than For Tonight we Might Die. It feels like, without the burden of introducing the set-up, the characters and including the Doctor, the show actually has the space to tell the sorts of stories it wants to.

Mild Spoiler Cut )

I feel somewhat remote from this show, and particularly from this episode. It is, I think, objectively better than For Tonight we Might Die but engaged me less. I appreciate what it is doing and can see that it is doing it well, but I'm not yet excited by it.

*of course he may not be sacrificial love interest but there has to be something up because, were it not for his billing as a recurring rather than main character, he'd be indistinguishable in significance from the rest of the team.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Class)
Class has been eagerly anticipated in our household since Patrick Ness is one of the Teenager's favourite authors. This episode certainly appeared to hit its target demographic pretty squarely (judging by an n of 1 + reported views of friends). I liked it, but less than the Teenager herself, who I think engaged very strongly with a vision of what might be like for herself in a couple of years' time.

Cut for mild Spoilers since I gather this has yet to materialise legally in the US )

There are a lot worse pilot episodes out there in the history of genre television, and indeed within the history of Doctor Who spinoffery. For all I felt For Tonight we Might Die struggled to fit everything that was needed into its 50 minutes, it did manage to establish a clear and distinct tone for the show: something clearly post-watershed in its use of violence and horror while at the same time focused around the viewpoint and concerns of modern teenagers. Something, in fact, distinctly YA which is unsurprising given the showrunner. While I did not feel entirely engaged by it, I wasn't irritated in the manner I often am by YA novels. I certainly have liked what I've seen so far better than both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
The Massacre, I think, highlights the difficulty of attempting to tell a Doctor Who story centred upon a major historical event. Broadly speaking the outcome of the story is known and the major characters are not the Tardis crew. Mostly Doctor Who avoids these obvious problems by focusing on history as a setting or, when its purpose was more didactic, by focusing on the aftermath of major events.

The Massacre works hard to build a story around a group of protestants doomed to be caught up in France's St. Bartholemhew's Day Massacre but it is difficult to hide the fact that most of the narrative centres around Steven wondering about Paris, achieving next to nothing. The fact that the story only exists as telesnaps doesn't help the situation. I found it hard to distinguish one doomed protestant nobleman from another and ultimately didn't really care about any of them. The servant girl, Anne Chaplette, is more distinctive and sympathetic, but ultimately her role, much like Steven's is to wander about Paris achieving very little and one can't avoid the awkward feeling that she only exist to motivate the introduction of new companion Dodo Chaplet at the end of the story.

Meanwhile the Doctor vanishes from the plot at the end of episode 1 at which point it transpires that he has a double in Paris, the Abbot of Amboise. I was vaguely expecting us to get a lot of William Hartnell enjoying playing a double character but, in reality, we hardly see the Abbot either (I assume Hartnell was, in fact, on holiday) to the extent that the whole sub-plot feels like padding to allow Steven to spend episodes 2 and 3 trying to figure out what game the Doctor is playing.

All that said tame layman was more engaged than I was, but then I studied this bit of history at A level and he didn't, so he was genuinely interested in the religious politics of Paris in the 16th century and felt it was a refreshing departure for the show. I think even he, though, was beginning to lose interest as we moved into the later episodes which mostly seemed to be serving up more of the same of what we had in the first.

It's an oddity of a story, and one in some ways I'd particularly like to see recovered because that might well have a transformative effect on my engagement with the characters. But in general I think it is a lesson in why Doctor Who should not attempt to tell historical stories that focus upon famous people engaged in a famous event.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Claws of Axos is practicality the essence of UNIT era Doctor Who. It has the Master in league with alien invaders, an incompetent government official, plenty of soldiers running about the place and a Nuclear Power station (sorry a Power Complex housing a Particle Accelerator that just happens to look like Dungeness). I was surprised, therefore, that it felt unusual maybe because I've watched relatively little Jon Pertwee, in comparison to other Doctors. In particular I was struck by the dominating presence of the military in the first episode. It's possible this was intended as a deliberate contrast by the production team, since these are the regular military, as opposed to UNIT, but I suspect that there may actually be fewer Pertwee episodes than one might think which actually try to feature troop movements at any scale. There is also quite a lot of outdoor filming here, rendered more obvious by the switch between film and video when the action moves between outdoor locations and an indoor set. Somehow the story feels much larger in scope than it actually is.

Beyond that I found the tale fun but rather muddled. The opposition between UNIT and the UK forces seems, ultimately, unnecessary to the tale and both arises and is overcome far too easily to really justify its presence in the story. This is neither the first nor the last time Doctor Who decides to play with our tendency to assume beauty implies good intentions and, as is often the case, the moral is clumsy in its delivery - in particular the story comes close to implying that the true ugly form of the Axons is indicative of their genuine nature. The last episode feels rather surplus to requirements, the Axon nutrition cycle having been stopped in its first few minutes and the world alerted to the threat - everything after that point feels a bit like padding.

All that said, the combination of the Doctor, Jo, the Brigadier and the Master are very watchable. The story itself isn't bad, per se, its just a lot more of a runaround sequence of, if not capture-escape at least peril-escape moments than I was expecting. The psychedelia of the Axon ship is fun from a 1970s style perspective and the production and effects in general stand up pretty well.

I feel this is the sort of story that works well viewed as its separate episodes in a mind set of simply enjoying the ride. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but one feels that there is a lot of Doctor Who out there with more going for it.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
We've never had much luck with The Monster of Peladon. At some point in the 1990s I was seized with the urge to watch it and we ordered it from Amazon on VHS. The first time we tried this, we were sent a Seven of Nine boxset, which we much enjoyed watching and wondered idly if whoever had received our Monster of Peladon video had enjoyed it as much. We then re-ordered Monster of Peladon and this time received the right VHS tape only to discover that it was blank after episode 2. Having found the first two episodes rather dull we, at that point, gave up on the attempt.

It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I purchased the DVD from Amazon at the behest of the Randomiser. This time all the episodes were present and correct.

So was it dull? )

Monster of Peladon is interesting in lots of ways, not the least its status as sequel to the earlier Curse of Peladon. I have always been of the impression that it is the lesser of the two stories, but the longuers of the first couple of episodes aside, I enjoyed this considerably.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Revenge of the Cybermen lies at the tail end of Tom Baker's first season. This is before the fourth Doctor truly got into his stride (or at least while Baker is still giving a, for him, very subdued performance) but with a Tardis crew (using the term loosely, considering how little actual travelling in the Tardis they do) that was already nearing the end of its time together.

Harry Sullivan was always somewhat overlooked as a companion (as I recall) in the DWMs of my youth. He was considered an unwanted extra, I think, to the dream team of the Doctor and Sarah. Someone who was "only" there on the possibility that the actor cast to play the fourth Doctor would prove unable to handle the more physical demands of the scripts. I think it can be argued that Harry is a lot more than that. He tends to give the impression of often being a step or two behind the Doctor and Sarah, but he's also dependable, good-natured and, well, thoroughly decent. Ian Marter does a pretty good job with a part that was written more or less as an archetypal English Gentleman just as the archetypal English gentleman was becoming a figure of ridicule. He treads a fine line between sending the character up and demonstrating his good qualities. Harry's had a bit of a renaissance in fan opinions as his stories have appeared on video and DVD and while I wouldn't say I was one of his fans, there have been worse companions and less appealing Tardis teams. This isn't a bad story for him, he's comfortably established in the part and interacting well with both the Doctor and Sarah.

Tame layman liked the Vogan costumes and make-up. It must be said I was a little disappointed that a weapon that appears in the middle of the 1970s and is called a "glitter gun" wasn't a bit more disco. We were both rather puzzled, as the Cybermen effectively dispatched Vogan after Vogan about why more glitter guns weren't being deployed. In fact the story in general looks pretty good. Filming at Wooky Hole supplied a better class of cave set than is normal in Doctor Who.

Revenge of the Cybermen is a fairly twisty tale with several factions at work: the Cybermen, two Vogan groups, the crew of the space station (though they don't have an agenda as such beyond staying alive) and Kellman (who I pegged as a baddie as soon as I saw him since I was familiar with the actor from Blakes' 7). I'm not sure any group really gets more than the most superficial attention paid to it, but that may be just as well. Doctor Who is often not at its best when actors in silly masks (even if Tame Layman liked them, I'm not sure the Vogan costumes were good for facial expressions) sit around talking to each other. The padding in this story consists, therefore, not only of the traditional capture-escape cycles but also a fair amount plan and counter-plan.

I'm struggling to have a strong opinion about this story however. It's a good solid Tom Baker story, that avoids any egregious production or acting problems. On the other hand, I don't find I'm particularly excited about it. I suspect the narrative was a little too rambling with too many groups having to change their plans too often to really hold together. It's easy to say, of any Doctor Who story from this era, that it would have benefited from one less episode, but I feel that is truer of this story than it is of many.
purplecat: (books)
When I first stumbled across The Story of Fester Cat, on Amazon I think, I was equal parts interested and dubious. I'm very fond of cats; I have mixed feelings about Pauls Magrs' work; and I was concerned about the twee potential of a memoir written from a cat's point of view. The book opens with a critique of another cat memoir in which the protagonist looks down upon its owners from heaven, so this last point was clearly a danger Magrs was well aware of.

The story starts with the final week of Fester's life, an artefact I think, of the way the book was written. I got the impression those first chapters were written in the immediate aftermath of his death as a coping mechanism and only after that did Magrs go back to write the rest of story. It shouldn't work, but somehow it does, in part because the book is meant to be a celebration of Fester Cat and dealing with his last week at the beginning means it does not have to be the end of the book itself.

It is very much the story of Fester Cat as imagined by Paul Magrs. You get the impression that Magrs was very much a watcher of the local cats even before Fester took up residence in his house. The opening sections give names and characters to many of them and, within reason, flesh out Fester's life as a stray. Later on Fester often discusses Magrs' own thoughts and feelings but, necessarily, Magrs' partner Jeremy remains a more shadowy character.

It is, essentially, a cat's eye view of two men settling down properly for the first time. There are ups and downs but it is coloured by lazy summer days spent in the garden or curled up on someone's lap. It is full of the details and rituals that surround Fester and infused with their love for him and the central place he assumes in their life. At the end of the book, I had to go and do a bit of concerned stalking to establish that they now appear to have been adopted by another cat, Bernard Socks. So someone feline is still keeping an eye on them.

It is, frankly, often twee in places but somehow it works, possibly because it is written from the heart.
purplecat: (books)
I've always struggled a bit with Paul Magrs' Doctor Who novels, though I liked the one original novel of his that I read. Magrs has always been something of a champion of the "silly" in Doctor Who and, while I don't like my Doctor Who particularly grim and serious, I've always had a feeling that the silliness I like about it is rather different from the silliness that Magrs likes and I've generally come away from his novels and short stories obscurely dissatisfied.

More recently (by which, inspection reveals, I mean in the past decade) Magrs has produced a series of original novels, the Brenda and Effie series, that by all accounts rested somewhere in between the magic realist tone of his early novels and the affectionate and explicit "silliness" of his Dr Who work. Somewhat belatedly I decided to give them a try and Never the Bride is the first.

Brenda runs a B&B in Whitby and lives next door to her best friend, Effie. Over the course of the novel it gradually emerges that Brenda is, in fact, the Bride of Frankenstein while Effie is the descendent of a long line of white witches. The both have a penchant for adventure and meddling. The novel is more a collection of four loosely linked novellas in which Brenda and Effie become involved with a range of characters, often drawn from the milieu of late 19th and early 20th century scientific romances and gothic horror stories (though they also meet a thinly disguised version of the Most Haunted TV team). At the core of the stories is their friendship, which is often prickly and difficult, beset with disagreements and misunderstandings. Since I currently have a daughter grappling with how to manage friendships with people who she frequently considers to be WRONG or BADLY BEHAVED, it was interesting to read this nuanced and affectionate portrayal of just such a friendship.

That said the stories themselves, that surround Brenda and Effie, left me with the same sense of encountering a style of whimsey that didn't quite gell with my own preferences, as reading Magrs' Doctor Who stories gave me. Possibly this is because I have no especial affection for either scientific romance nor gothic horror (and I've never watched Most Haunted) and suspect I was missing a lot of in-jokes as a result, I don't know.

It's a well written book and if you have a taste for whimsey, an affection for gothic horror and/or early SF, and an interest in books that examine the nature of friendship, then I would recommend it, but I don't really think it's for me.
purplecat: (books)
One the whole I would rate The Eyeless as an above average NuWho novel, but it makes quite a strange read, particularly since I recall the author discussing it on Doctor Who book mailing lists as he was writing. If I remember correctly, Parkin deliberately set out to show that the NuWho tie-in novels could tackle the same kind of material that the Virgin New Adventures and BBC Eighth Doctor novels had tackled. The result is a wierd hybrid - something that takes the themes of NuWho rather more seriously than most of the tie-in novels but, at the same time, includes material that genuinely does feel out of place in a novel at least partially aimed at children.

More under the Cut )

All in all, this is a strange hybrid between the Doctor Who novels of the 1990s and the NuWho novels. I'm glad I read it, and its certainly interesting, but in the end I think it is a failed experiment that demonstrates that, in fact, the NuWho novels can't do the same kinds of things that the New Adventures and Eighth Doctor Adventures did.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
The Keeper of Traken is a strange story in several ways. While it exists at the tail end of Tom Baker's reign, like Logopolis it feels in style a lot more like a Peter Davison story than a Tom Baker story. This might be a reflection of John Nathan Turner's hand at the helm, but the earlier stories this season (or at least Full Circle and Warriors' Gate both of which I have seen comparatively recently) have less of this feel to them.

More Under the Cut )

As I said, it is a strange story. It looks gorgeous and the acting throughout is competent to good. I think it could have been a great story if it had been prepared to grapple more explicitly with the problems created when goodness is artificially imposed upon a society. But it seems unsure not only of what position it wants to take on that, but whether it wants to discuss it at all.

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