Doctor Who

Do I Have The Right? ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ Analysis

My first vlog. It’s based on an earlier post, but I’ve greatly expanded it, going into much more detail, adding more points and providing more evidence to support my claims. I wanted to try vlogging about Doctor Who, doing in-depth analyses of episodes, as it’s something I’ve often searched YouTube for but only found reviews and rankings. Hopefully, I’ve discovered a gap in the market, and my videos will become popular. If so, there’ll likely be many more to come.

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Do I Still Agree With Myself?

INTRO

Since creating this website in 2013, my writing and analytical ability have developed past that displayed in many early posts, and my views and understanding of the world and many of the works I’ve covered have changed. This often niggles me, and I’ve considered deleting some posts, leaving what I consider my best, but as they’re still popular and serve as a testament to how much I’ve accomplished over the years, I’ve instead decided to create this post. I’ll be reviewing my past posts, seeing what I still agree with and what I don’t, and clarifying my current views. Who knows, maybe this will turn into an ongoing series as my perspectives are constantly evolving, and there may be other posts I discover I have issue with!

EAT THE GUN

The motivation behind this post was to praise economical writing and the song’s use of it. However, due to the lyrical content I’m examining, it could come across like I’m critical of the armed forces. I’m not, but at the time, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about going along with someone who was. I have no great knowledge or strong opinions about the military, but I’m greatly admiring of anyone willing to make a sacrifice in aid of others.

ALIEN EQUALITY (THE ALIEN FRANCHISE)

I don’t believe now the creators of Alien (dir. Scott, 1979) intended to criticise female empowerment, and I don’t think I believed it at the time. There’s actually a stronger argument for exactly the opposite, and aspects of the film I focus on can all be reinterpreted to support this. We do indeed see a future society without gender divides, and it works out pretty well as the strong female character, Ripley, ends up saving the day; it’s only because the male crew ignored her quarantine command that they got into trouble in the first place. The alien, symbolic of man’s bestial sexual nature, turns the male crew into victims of sexual violence, in ways previously beyond their comprehension; one even experiencing a painful childbirth as a result. The porno mag scene is clearly designed to be critical of female exploitation and sexual violence; the rabid Ash, spewing white goo, forcing the phallic magazine down Ripley’s throat. And although we do see Ripley strip to her skimpy undies for the climax, it’s revealed it’s shot from the perspective of the alien, forcing the male audience ogling Ripley to realise their connection with the beast.

As mentioned in the post, this analysis was inspired by my recent discovery of viewing films through the lens of feminism, and I believe I was motivated more by my desire to explore this exciting new way of looking at films than I was with making a genuine exposé. This is also a symptom of university essay writing, which encourages analysis based on interpretation rather than fact. If you can justify it via your own interpretation of the screen language, it’s acceptable, whether you believe it was the filmmakers’ true intention or not. I don’t have a problem with this, in fact, I’m all for it! Finding connections and meanings in films that weren’t necessarily the filmmakers’ intention is half the fun of analysis. You can get into trouble, though, if you’re stringently critical of filmmakers for meanings in their films you’ve created yourself. I’d like to avoid ever coming across like this in future.

Aliens (dir. Cameron, 1986) does indeed reward Ripley with a family, symbolically returning her to the role of loving wife and mother. I don’t believe now, though, that this has to be viewed negatively. She’s never once depicted as weak in comparison to her male counterparts or shown she doesn’t belong in the heat of the action; quite the opposite. She draws strength from her maternal instincts, as male action heroes often have from their paternal ones (protecting family, being rewarded with one; common action movie tropes: see Mad Max), and this is to be commended. You maybe wouldn’t want ‘independent woman becomes wife and mother’ to be the plot of every action movie, but I don’t think there’s anything sexist about it here.

I think I make some good points in my analysis of Alien 3 (dir. Fincher, 1992) – an underrated film – in particular, recognising its depiction of a patriarchal society and rape culture; there’s depth to this film that’s often overlooked. There are a few points that were maybe just my own interpretation, tying together the overall point of the post, and not the director’s intention (the symbolism of Ripley’s sacrifice for example), but as I said earlier, that’s half the fun of analysis!

STRANGER, DARKER, MADDER… (LOVE & MONSTERS)

My analysis of how Love & Monsters criticises fans who have a very inflexible view of what Doctor Who should be comes across a bit hypocritically intolerant. That was not my intent. I would never want to suggest people aren’t entitled to an opinion, more that people who are unwilling to accept the greater possibilities of what Doctor Who (and life) can be are missing out on a lot of strangeness, darkness, and madness!

JUST ONE MAN CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR)

In the first of my Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) posts, I posited that, despite their misleading appearance, the Marauders have more in common with traditional society, and the Settlers have more in common with the counterculture, but it is their more traditional beliefs that are their weakness. I think now, rather than representing any particular group, more simply, the Marauders represent what Miller considers the evil of humanity, and the Settlers, the good. The Marauders rape, war, pillage, they operate via a dictatorship, and they’re stuck in a cycle of selfish consumption. They lack a higher purpose and a desire to better themselves, which the Settlers have, along with democracy and a sense of community, family, and loyalty. The Settlers’ connection to self-sufficiency ties them with the counterculture (Pappagallo is a bit of an old hippie) but that’s more to do with the film’s criticism of fossil fuels (such an ironic theme) than an attempt to connect them with a particular group, and they possess many traditional qualities. Max is tempted over to their side and away from the marauding lifestyle once he’s given a purpose and a chance to better himself. The fact he’s betrayed – although he doesn’t seem too bothered about this – does add some ambiguity to the Settlers, but I don’t believe it’s their traditional beliefs that are being called into question. Perhaps, instead, it acts as a warning that although we require purpose in life, devotion to a cause can sometimes cloud one’s morality. I posited that the Settlers’ traditional community values give them a distrust of outsiders that prevents them from truly accepting the marauder-like Max and that their religious conviction leads to their act of betrayal. I no longer believe this. Their initial distrust of Max is just a logical reaction, and their belief in paradise and Max’s martyrdom does not act as a criticism of religion, rather an endorsement of purpose and sacrifice and the spiritual power of storytelling.

GEORGE MILLER: there’s something that compels us collectively as human beings to find meaning in the universe. I mean, we can’t exist without that. And we do it through stories and narratives in order to explain the universe to ourselves. Or life to ourselves. And in all cultures across all time and space as humankind, we do that. We do that spontaneously. And I think that’s the function of storytelling, and some stories are so compelling, they become mythologies and indeed religions.”

IF WE CAN’T STICK TOGETHER (MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME)

In my Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller & Ogilvie, 1985) post, I posited that it ‘also’ acts as a criticism of traditional (Western) society. I was closer to the truth in this case as it does offer a blatant critique of capitalism and seemingly supports a Marxist philosophy. However, knowing little of economics or politics at the time (I’m still far from an expert), but having done a little research into Marxism, I was quick to side with this critique without pinpointing any possible flaws. For example, we see those at the bottom of the hierarchy offered no payment for their services and no opportunity to climb the ladder. Not really reflective of capitalism. This lack of opportunity for social mobility, and the fact Pig Killer and his ilk are working solely in service of the state, arguably aligns Bartertown more closely with communism. Either way, as I’ve mentioned, economics and politics are not my expertise, so I’ll keep away from siding with political ideologies, as I did here and in other posts, in future (certainly not before doing more research). The film also offers a more pointed criticism of religion, suggesting it can halt social progress. However, Savannah’s final monologue, again, endorses the spiritual power of storytelling, and the fact the Lost Tribe reach ‘paradise’ by plane, hints that there may have been some truth in their prophecies.

HOMOPHOBIC HORROR

This was a piece of coursework written in the final year of my degree that I later posted on my website. It again suffers from the university essay ‘interpretation over fact’ philosophy. It’s unquestionable that Strangers on a Train (dir. Hitchcock, 1951) and Psycho (dir. Hitchcock, 1960) used homosexuality and transvestism to enhance their killers’ perversion, that Strangers’ protagonist, Guy, was a prototype final girl, and that these films, as well as real-life killers, had a huge influence on the slasher genre and its continuing characterisation of homosexuals and transvestites as deranged deviants. However, I don’t believe for one second and didn’t at the time that every final girl is symbolically a male in the midst of a sexual crisis. The concept just allowed for a new spin on the material that would make an interesting essay; much like my Alien analysis.

HOPE & FURY (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

As they were based on interpretations of the earlier movies that I now disagree with, my hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015) now, on the whole, don’t reflect what I’d be hoping for from a new Mad Max movie. I’m not particularly interested in the series giving direct criticisms of capitalism (or the rock industry. Where did that one come from?), more human ills in general. I’m not sure why I was hoping for a clearer critique of the military, having no strong opinions about it (see Eat the Gun). I suspect I’d just foreseen the possibility of this happening and felt I should include it. I was hoping for feminist themes (my obsession at the time), criticising female oppression, and again I unfairly criticise heroines with maternal instincts (see Alien Equality). Again, a more rounded view of humanity’s ills would be appreciated today. I enjoy the religious symbolism of the series and its contemplations on the spiritual power of storytelling and would always hope for their inclusion. However, while criticism of religious extremism and manipulation are alright with me, I would not hope for a negative depiction of religion in general. Ponderings on the afterlife are, again, alright with me, but I’m not sure why I was seeking a definitive statement on Miller’s belief in the existence of Heaven or Hell; I’d prefer a little more ambiguity these days. Today I’d give a big ‘no’ to the possibility of any romantic relationship for Max. Giving him a partner or a family would undermine the self-sacrificing nature of his character; unless they were planning on ending the series. Lastly, I’m still in total agreement with myself that CGI and an overly talky Max have no place in the franchise!

MAD MAX

In my Mad Max (dir. Miller, 1979) post, I describe it as my least favourite of the original trilogy due to its morally questionable material. I suggest its depiction of Toecutter’s gang vilifies the counterculture, while Max’s job as a cop suggests support for the establishment. I now disagree with this. The gang, like the Marauders, more likely represent the evils of humanity, with their lawlessness and purposeless self-indulgence. While Max and his job represent moral duty, and law and order; hardly things to be criticised. The gang’s homosexual characterisation is questionable as it bears similarities to the previously mentioned slasher killers, being used to heighten their perversion. However, there is the argument that the use of gay characters is meant to represent a sexually liberated future, with Max’s commanding officer, Fifi, also characterised as gay. I label Fifi’s characterisation as stereotypical, but he is a unique and memorable character, in a respected position, traditionally held by straight, masculine males, so that was perhaps a little unfair. I also cite Max’s traditional family life being presented as the ideal in comparison to the homosexual gang as being problematic. This argument is weakened when we consider the defence of the gang’s homosexual characterisation and the true themes of the trilogy, purpose and betterment. Max’s family are representative of this as are the surrogate families in the sequels he’s given the chance to help and protect (as he failed to do with his), showing the series is rightly supportive of families and the protective nature of the parental figure (see Alien Equality). I was also critical of the film’s grim ending, but as this is clearly presented as a tragedy, it is in no way morally corrupt, and actually makes the message harder hitting, as seeing our hero (and identification figure) losing his purpose in life, and giving into the gang culture and survival of the fittest philosophy, makes it easier for us to empathise with the film’s themes. Far from being morally bankrupt, Mad Max contains many admirable moral messages and has gone up in my estimations to become my second favourite of the series (nothing can top Mad Max 2).

A further note on the fridging of Max’s wife, Jessie, and fridging in general. I referred to Jessie’s death as an example of fridging at odds with the feminism of the sequels. Fridging is used to describe instances in which a female character close to a male one is killed to further his arc. I now believe to describe Jessie’s death and every instance of this trope as sexist is a little ridiculous. Characters (male and female) close to protagonists are killed off all the time to symbolise themes and further the protagonist’s arc; Goose, Max’s dog, Mufasa, Newt, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. It doesn’t automatically make it sexist every time it happens to a female one. After all, it’s not their story, it’s the protagonist’s, and good economical writing dictates it’s they who should be the main focus. Not every support character can have agency, be a hero, and have a happy ending; that would just be a mess. It may be the case that more female characters are fridged than males (but thinking off the top of my head, I mostly came up with males), but rather than being a symptom of inherently sexist writing, that’s probably more to do with the majority of writers being male and creating male heroes, which I don’t think they should be criticised for (good writers write what they know). More female filmmakers and writers would probably reverse this trend (if indeed it exists; I haven’t seen the stats). Jessie, and Max’s love for her, are symbolic of purpose and betterment, and the lose of the positive influence of a woman in Max’s life is presented as a complete tragedy. Male writers should be praised for viewing women in such a way, not criticised.

ONLY FURY (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

Much I disagree with here. My central argument is that Furiosa should have been the only wife of Immortan Joe as the Five Wives are superfluous, lacking character and agency, which reduces them to figures of objectification; contradicting the feminist themes of the film. This thinking is based on the rules of economical writing – don’t use any more characters than you need to – but I now see why the Wives are needed and where their agency lies. While Furiosa possesses a lot of agency, if she were the only wife, she’d resemble little more than your stereotypical rape-revenge heroine, and while the Wives don’t do any of the kick-ass fighting, their agency is that of endurance. They have survived abuse through endurance and had the bravery to decide to seek help and flee their captor; it is they who set the whole plot in motion, not Furiosa. The implication being, abused women shouldn’t have to be kick-ass fighters to be seen as heroes; there’s bravery in endurance and having the will to escape oppression. It’s true they wear skimpy clothing, opening them up for objectification, but the scene I cite where they’re washing each other with the hose is shot from Max’s perspective, inviting the male audience to ogle them, connecting them with the oppressive male characters of the film (it’s the same trick from Alien), and arguably this is done for the whole film. I still think as characters they’re underdeveloped and doing more than just giving one of them a weak love story would probably have been a good idea. Speaking of which, I still totally agree that Nux’s sacrifice is uninteresting and we would have connected with it more if it were given to Max. I’m not sure about cutting Max altogether and making this a Furiosa film, it probably could have worked, but having male and female characters learn to work together is a more positive way to go.

My statement that the film doesn’t expand much on what we learnt from interviews and trailers is utterly vacant. There’s a great deal going on in the film under the surface, but I think my overall disappointment with it on first viewing meant I just wasn’t looking. Everything we need to know about the world and the characters is shown to us, instead of repeatedly told, which is how it should be. I’ll give a brief summary, but it’d take a whole new post to get everything. It’s another amplification of humanity’s ills. It depicts society as a perpetual war machine, kept going by a power-hungry man (that’s who killed the world) just so he can cling onto power. Women are employed as baby making machines, while the men don’t fare much better, being bred and brainwashed solely for war; willing to die for the glory of their divine leader. Like the Marauders, they’re stuck in a cycle, with no higher purpose or chance for betterment, which is what they’re given via the altruistic actions of our heroes. It’s not on the whole how I view society, but it’s a credible exaggeration of the worst of humanity and certainly a layered depiction. I still prefer the original trilogy with its zero use of CGI and better use of Max, but I’ll gladly admit I was unfairly critical of this first time around.

MISSING MEL (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

Never thought this actually could or should’ve happened – I wasn’t campaigning for it – but it would’ve made a cool (possibly better) movie, and if they got the go-ahead ten years earlier, this could be quite close to how it would’ve turned out. As it is, I still think it’s a nice bit of fanwank.

THE MAN WHO CAME FROM THE SKY (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR)

This post continued the assumptions (I now believe to be incorrect) made in my first Mad Max 2 post about the film’s themes and what Max, the Settlers, and the Marauders represent. I also suggest the Gyro Captain’s ownership of a snake connects him with Satan and reveals him as the true villain of the piece. An interesting but far-fetched analysis, his snake more likely representing his cunning nature, and his minor deceptions hardly paint him as the ultimate evil.

THE LIGHT AND THE DARK (STAR WARS: THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY)

I cited its subversion of the ‘women as reward’ trope as something I like about Star Wars (dir. Lucas, 1977), and I still very much like this. However, it’s probably its subversion of the damsel in distress character that’s more appealing. No one likes the whiny damsel in distress, always stumbling into trouble, which makes Leia’s feisty, pistol-packing princess a really enjoyable innovation. The fact she’s not given to one of the male characters as a reward for their heroism is a bonus as it allows for a more unconventional story. It also showed excellent foresight as placing her in a relationship would have dulled the character for the sequel, which is eventually what happened (Leia doesn’t act like Leia in Jedi). I would like to point out, though, that, like fridging (see Mad Max), describing every instance of this trope as sexist would be ridiculous (not that I was doing that). Of course you want strong female characters, but the guy getting the girl doesn’t always equate to sexism. A female love interest may not always be as developed as a male protagonist but, again, it’s not their story, and she may be symbolic of very positive views of women (see Mad Max). Furthermore, female protagonists are given men as reward just as often. Some might consider this sexist, though, as it places them in a traditional gender role (you can’t win sometimes). Viewing films through the lens of feminism can be interesting and is definitely worthwhile, pushing writers to consider subversions of stereotypical characterisations and worn out old tropes. However, it can also be very restrictive, to both creativity and enjoyment, if you are too extreme in your readings.

I offered Han and Leia’s relationship as something I don’t like about The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980). I asked why does she fall for him as all he seems to do is act in a sexist manner and she seems quite adamant she’s not interested in him? I rewatched Empire before starting this post in a deliberate attempt to find material to counteract this argument but sadly didn’t find much. The first time we see Leia, she’s staring across the room at Han, suggesting feelings for him, but it’s subtle and easily missed or interpreted differently. Han expresses his feelings more openly, being rather sweet and sincere when he goes to say goodbye to her. Leia is very harsh in her response, and in subsequent arguments, Han suggests she is concealing her feelings. However, not much is done to suggest this is true, as she constantly refutes his claims. It also begs the question, why would she do this? Fear of undermining her position, or of falling in love in such difficult times? Possibly, but again, it’s not suggested, as she’s constantly depicted as resistant to Han’s advances. When Han shows concern for her, she pushes him away, and when they finally kiss, he comes across like a real sleaze, forcing himself on her, and she escapes the situation as quick as she can. It’s true she is a bit stuck up and rude and could maybe learn to relax a bit, like Han, but this suggests the theme of the love story is ‘she really wants it, she just needs to loosen up a bit’, and I can’t really defend that. I also criticise Han not telling her he loves her, but more because it shows he hasn’t really changed or done anything to deserve her. The line is definitely better than the alternative, suggesting character and avoiding being mawkish, and the feelings are all expressed visually anyway.

I still don’t like Leia being revealed as Luke’s sister in Return of the Jedi (dir. Marquand, 1983). It’s a ridiculous coincidence, mainly done for shock value, and doesn’t fit with what we’ve seen and been told so far. However, my criticism that she doesn’t react to the fact Darth Vader is also revealed as her father could be argued against. Her emotional interaction with Han after the revelation suggests distress, and her inability to divulge the truth suggests fear it could endanger her friends. I also state it doesn’t affect the story. This is a major oversight, as it sets up the most crucial moment of the climax; Vader using it against Luke, inciting him to embrace his anger and the dark side. It’s still a very silly twist, though. It would have been better if the other hope for the Jedi that Yoda refers to in Empire was Vader. It is, after all, Vader who kills the Emperor and destroys the dark side. This would show Yoda’s wisdom and strong connection to the Force, knowing there is still hope for Vader, and reveal he was training Luke to turn his father back to good all along (like all his teachings suggest). This is even suggested in the mise-en-scene in Empire as Yoda is surrounded by black and bathed in red (the colours of Vader) just as he delivers the line, “No, there is another.”

CONCLUSION

Well, that, along with finally putting The Darning Needle behind me, was a satisfying purging experience. Now I can get on with bringing you brand new analyses, films, scripts, and other projects in the coming year!

Fear of the Unknown (The Ark)

Is The Ark racist? It’s become a popular opinion in recent years, with various bloggers championing it, but is it true? Let’s take a rational look at the story and see what we discover. The Humans are travelling on the Ark with their seemingly willing servants, the Monoids. Their destination, Refusis II. They are aware Refusis II is inhabited but know nothing about the Refusians. When the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions arrive on the Ark, they accidentally bring a deadly illness and are put on trial for their lives; accused by the Humans of being Refusian spies, out to destroy them! When the judge, Zentos (Inigo Jackson), reveals it is irrational feeling rather than reason that leads them to this conclusion, Stephen (Peter Purves) protests their intolerance.

STEPHEN: the nature of man, even in this day and age, hasn’t altered at all. You still fear the unknown, like everyone else before you.”  

Only when the Humans overcome their prejudice against the newcomers to their world and let the travellers free is the situation resolved, as the Doctor is able to cure the illness. The Doctor leaves them with a parting message, “travel with understanding as well as hope”. So far, the story’s intention seems clear; to encourage acceptance of difference, not fear and hatred. However, it is the second half of the story that has provided the most evidence for the accusations of racism. The travellers return to the Ark seven hundred years later to discover the Monoids have now enslaved the Humans. It’s been suggested that the Monoids represent migrants, as they came to Earth to live with the Humans when their planet was destroyed, and their rising up to overthrow the Humans reveals a fear of migrants doing the same in Britain. Unfortunately, they’re depicted as crueller masters than the Humans, as although the Humans were seen to consider Human life more important than Monoid, and the Monoids served them, it seemed to be an amicable relationship, with no evidence of them being mistreated. In contrast, the Monoids use weapons to inflict pain on the Humans and keep them in order and plan to destroy them once they get to Refusis II. But is this intentional racism? No, not at all, just ill-considered, unsophisticated writing, accidentally contradicting the message of the story. Yes, this could have been avoided if the Monoids were depicted as more sympathetic creatures, but to label it as deliberate racism is to be completely ignorant of how scriptwriting works. Both Stephen and the Doctor, the show’s moral conscience, give speeches condemning the Humans’ behaviour (“they were extremely intolerant and selfish”) and blame them for the Monoids’ revolution.

THE DOCTOR: “They (the Monoids) were treated like slaves. So no wonder when they got the chance, they repaid you in kind.”

Unawareness that a writer who wishes to send a prejudice message against migrants doesn’t write this kind of dialogue is baffling. However, the most glaring oversight that is always made by The Ark’s attackers is that the Humans are migrants too! Earth, the Humans’ home, has been destroyed, and they are travelling to Refusis II to make a new one. This is the whole thrust of the story! When they arrive at Refusis II, the Refusians insist that they must settle their differences with the Monoids. Once they do, they welcome the migrants to their planet in peace rather than enslaving them like the Humans did the Monoids. Again, the Doctor offers his message of hope and understanding, clearly signposting it as the story’s central moral.

It’s sad that a story that’s tried to promote the need for races to peacefully coexist together has been labelled as racist by people putting two and two together and making five. But also blame must be put on the writer for not fully thinking through the connotations of his work. An example of how rational deliberation must always be employed by both writers and critics.

The Ark

Monoids and Humans, happy together.

Additional Note: One recurring piece of evidence given by those accusing The Ark of racism is that Dodo (Jackie Lane) calls the Monoids savages. THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN. She hears the sound of drums from her cell when THE HUMANS are conducting a funeral and says, “sounds like savages”. A no longer politically correct word, but it’s never used as a slur against the Monoids.

YOU Had No Choice (Revelation of the Daleks)

There are so many great aspects of Revelation of the Daleks I could write about. Davros’ (Terry Molloy) evolution from fascist dictator to corporate tycoon. The grotesque exploration of sex and the body (covered here in expert detail by Jack Graham). And how, through the DJ (Alexei Sayle), the Doctor’s (Colin Baker) adventures are viewed and evaluated on-screen; a recurring theme (Vengeance on Varos, Timelash, The Trial of a Time Lord) in an era when the show was under continual scrutiny, and pressure to prove its worth as television entertainment. But instead, I’m going to cover what I think are the script’s shortcomings and point out how they could be fixed, because that’s the kind of thing I like to do.

Firstly, the Doctor features far too little. I know this is an oft-repeated complaint, but it’s true, and especially irksome as the solution seems so evident (to me anyway). Revelation features many great characters, but there are a few too many, and they rob the Doctor of valuable screen time. One of them is a doctor himself, which makes it all the more bizarre that it didn’t seem obvious that the Doctor could have been given many of this character’s duties within the story. The character who most easily could have been cut is Natasha (Bridget Lynch-Blosse). Her sole function within the story is to infiltrate Tranquil Repose and find out what has become of her father, Arthur Stengos (Alec Linstead). When she discovers his mutilated head inside a Dalek casing, she is given the big emotional scene of the story, as she faces the horrific results of Davros’ experimentation, and is forced to surrender to her father’s demands as he begs her to take his life. The scene is very affecting due to the performances and grisly special effects. We’re able to sympathise with Natasha, even though we haven’t really got to know her, and can imagine the horror and injustice of witnessing a loved one being robbed of all they are; their body reduced to a grotesque parody of the human form. Even so, this scene should have really been the Doctor’s. He is at Tranquil Repose for the exact same reason as Natasha, to discover what has become of his old, dear friend, Arthur Stengos, and we’re far more invested in him as a character. We would feel far more for the Doctor than Natasha if he was given this big emotional moment, and I’m certain Colin Baker would have acted his multicoloured socks off. Imagine how much more powerful that scene could have been with the Doctor being forced to kill his old friend rather than let him suffer the fate of being turned into a Dalek. I’m certain it would be talked about for years to come as one of the great moments in the show’s history. We’ve already seen the Doctor’s moral outrage over Davros’ experiments and his desire for justice after he encounters the Mutant (Ken Barker). A darker, more vengeful Doctor is hinted at when Peri (Nicola Bryant) mourns the fact she was forced to kill the mutant in defence. The Doctor gives an angered look and replies, “YOU had no choice”, with the emphasis on “YOU” indicating that the person who is responsible is in a whole heap of trouble when the Doctor gets hold of him. Witnessing an even grislier fate befall his friend would have only increased the Doctor’s fury. The Doctor is the script’s protagonist (or should be), and if you’re going to send your protagonist on an adventure to discover the fate of his friend, and end with him being outraged at the horrors he’s uncovered, he has to be there when his friend’s fate is revealed. It could have served as a key emotional beat in a story about a morally outraged Doctor setting out to avenge the deaths of innocent people and friends. Again, I’m sure Colin would have relished this acting opportunity, and it would have fitted perfectly with his unique, darker, more emotionally unstable interpretation of the character.

YOU had no choice

So if we cut Natasha, don’t we have to cut Grigory (Stephen Flynn), Natasha’s alcoholic, medically minded, grave-robbing accomplice? Would that not mean we’d also be robbed of such gloriously grotesque lines as, “When they slice me open, I’ll know the name and function of each organ that plops out”? Again, there is an easy solution to this. Another character that really bothers me is Lilt (Colin Spaull). Lilt is a sadistic maniac who tortures people for fun. He is best friends with Takis (Trevor Cooper); a more sympathetic character, who loves flowers, and secretly plots to depose Davros from his position as the head of Tranquil Repose by reporting his location to the Daleks loyal to the Supreme, and thus returning Tranquil Repose to the happy workplace it once was. At the end of the story, the Doctor, after revealing that the flowers that grow in abundance on the planet, when refined, produce protein, leaves Takis and Lilt in charge to farm the planet and help alleviate famine in the galaxy. Wait a minute. He leaves who in charge? Takis and…Lilt? Lilt the sadistic maniac? Yes, that’s right, the Doctor leaves a man in charge whom we’ve previously seen begging for permission to cut open a woman’s face. I’d like to see someone argue that this isn’t a bit of an issue with the script. My solution? How about give Lilt, Grigory’s characteristics? Tranquil Repose is a mortuary, yes? So why can’t Lilt be an attendant who is friends with Takis, knows of his plans to depose Davros, and is fearful for their safety? His fearfulness would give him the same nervous disposition as Grigory, justifying his drinking habit, and his position would explain his medical knowledge, allowing him to spout the same colourful dialogue.

Davros, the head of Tranquil Repose. Head, get it?

Davros, the head of Tranquil Repose. Head. Get it?

Lastly, that episode one cliffhanger and that dodgy polystyrene statue falling on the Doctor. Is there anyone who likes that? What’s the point in it? Davros says it’s another part of his scheme to lure the Doctor to Tranquil Repose. But he was coming anyway, wasn’t he? Because he was suspicious about Stengos? I think that’s incentive enough, Davros ole buddy. You should have saved your money; the Doctor says that thing must have cost a packet (perhaps the galaxy has a shortage of polystyrene as well as food). Okay, so they needed a cliffhanger to episode one. Well, if the episode had been rewritten so the Doctor and Peri sneak into the catacombs to discover Stengos, instead of Natasha and Grigory, which makes perfect sense as they’re there to investigate his death, and snooping around catacombs seems a very Doctory thing to do, then it could have ended with the Doctor faced with the dilemma of whether to kill his old friend and end his suffering or let him live as a Dalek. Classic cliffhanger material, surely? Don’t get me wrong, the Doctor discovering the planet where he dies and having to face his own mortality is a great idea, but it’s another case of Eric Saward stuffing his scripts with too many underdeveloped ideas (I’m looking at you Earthshock and Resurrection of the Daleks); the concept deserves more than just a dodgy cliffhanger. Moffat did three series about it, didn’t he?

Cliffhanger

Which one do you think makes a more terrifying cliffhanger?

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An extra note. Why didn’t Graeme Harper cut to a shot of this from a better angle? If you’re going to have the Doctor administering some ballistic therapy to a Dalek, Arnie-style, you wanna get a good angle. Missed out on a great shot there, Grae.

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Do I Have The Right? (Genesis of the Daleks)

This is probably the most misinterpreted scene in Doctor Who history. Many consider it an endorsement of pacifism, i.e. all disputes should be settled by peaceful means, and if one kills a killer, they become as bad as the killer (even though they are not the aggressor). If we were to ignore the rest of the serial and just view the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah’s (Elisabeth Sladen) debate, then this is perhaps understandable. To fully appreciate the scene, it must be contrasted with this earlier debate between the Doctor and the Daleks’ creator, Davros (Michael Wisher).

It is clearly intended that these two scenes be contrasted to display Davros’ and the Doctor’s conflicting philosophies; Sarah even compares the Daleks to a disease in reference to the previous debate. Once we do this, it becomes apparent that it is not simply the taking of life that the Doctor is rejecting, but the power to take away people’s free will, to take their lives in his hands, to give them no choice but to obey his will. Davros has not only created life in his image, he wishes this life to be the only one in existence, for all creation to fit his single vision, believing his will is more important than anyone else’s. If the Doctor were to change history to fit his vision, he would be accepting Davros’ philosophy, giving himself the power to ‘play God’ and control people’s destinies. It is this ‘right’ that the Doctor is questioning.

If we look at the Doctor’s dialogue during the debate with Sarah, he is constantly considering the bigger picture, the effect his actions will have on others, and the right of one man to decide the fate of the universe. Eventually, he decides he would be as bad as the Daleks – the creatures that consider mastery over all races their right – if he were to decide another race’s fate. He talks of future worlds becoming allies because of their fear of the Daleks as a positive. Presumably, these worlds will form rebel fighting forces, much as he encourages the Thals and the Mutos to do when he instructs them to destroy the bunker: actions and words at odds with pacifism.

Through Sarah’s dialogue, we are reminded that the Doctor is on a mission for the Time Lords, and it is they who have guided him to carry out these actions. Robert Holmes, script editor for this serial, who it is suspected was responsible for much of the dialogue, is greatly responsible for the series’ depiction of the Time Lords as an oligarchy of self-appointed custodians of time and space. Moreover, as underhanded manipulators who are happy to exploit others – including the Doctor on multiple occasions – to serve their own interests. In this way, their philosophy is much akin to Davros’, and the Doctor’s failure to complete their mission adds weight to the argument that it is this philosophy he is rejecting. The beginning and end of the scene, which are often cut when it is discussed on clip shows, documentaries and Doctor Who nights, reveal a great deal about its true intention. Firstly, it begins with the companions killing a Dalek mutant that is attacking the Doctor. An odd way to start a scene if you intend to portray a pacifist message. Secondly, and even more importantly, it ends with the Doctor being saved from having to make his decision by Gharman (Dennis Chinnery), who has found a ‘democratic’ solution by calling a meeting, in which the remnants of the Kaled race will decide their own destiny.

Genesis of the Daleks depicts a horrific world ruled by a strict dictatorship, by a man with “a fanatical desire to perpetuate himself in his creation”, who is willing to conspire to wipe out his own race so his single vision can be fulfilled. The rejection of this world and Davros’ way of thinking, in favour of real democracy, is the true purpose of this scene and the entire serial. Sadly, the Kaleds’ meeting is disrupted by a group of Daleks that Davros has already activated, who kill all those who oppose them. The Doctor is then forced to return to the incubation room and destroy the remaining mutants. So much for pacifism.

Stranger, Darker, Madder… (Love & Monsters)

Love & Monsters, in my opinion, is one of, if not the single best, episode of Doctor Who since its triumphant revival in 2005. A lot of readers will stop there and not bother with the rest of this post, for that statement will undoubtedly elicit a plethora of angered derision from outraged fans. Love & Monsters, to put it mildly, is not popular. It was ranked 220th out of 241 in the latest official Doctor Who Magazine poll; the fifth lowest ranked episode of the revived series. Positioned, as it is, at the end of David Tennant’s hugely popular second season, in an era when the show had reached new heights of popularity, with almost every episode receiving unconditional praise from fandom, its low esteem is decidedly anomalous. This post will analyse the episode, probing into why it’s so unpopular with fandom, and providing evidence to support my claim that it is one of the greatest scripts ever presented under the banner of Doctor Who.

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Love & Monsters is what the production team titled a ‘Doctor-lite episode’: episodes that featured only a limited appearance from the Doctor (David Tennant) due to overlapping filming schedules. The uninitiated may immediately latch onto this as an explanation for the episode’s unpopularity, but the answer is not that easy, as the other two Doctor-lite episodes, Blink and Turn Left, are two of the show’s most popular. With the Doctor only being able to take a small part in the action, the episode instead invents a new protagonist, Elton (Marc Warren). Elton is an average guy, apart from the fact that as a child he briefly encountered the Doctor one late night in his family home, and ever since he’s been driven to discover what purpose the mysterious time traveller had for being there. One of the episode’s greatest innovations is that the story is being retold by Elton via a video blog. Immediately, we see that Elton is an ‘untrustworthy narrator’, as he tells the story from his perspective, in his zany, childlike manner. Examples of this include him witnessing the Doctor and Rose (Billie Piper) chase a monster back and forth down the same corridor (a reference to an often mocked budgetary restraint of the series) and his computer exploding as the Internet goes into meltdown with rumours about the Doctor. This over the top manner of storytelling is one of the main targets of criticism from fans, who don’t seem to understand that we’re viewing Elton’s personalised version of events. 

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The fact that narrow-minded fans are unable to appreciate Elton’s individual take on the Doctor’s adventures is not surprising, as it is exactly these fans that the episode sets out to expose and criticise. In his search to discover the identity of the Doctor, Elton encounters others on a similar journey, and together they form LINDA; a group dedicated to this cause. LINDA’s fascination with the Doctor draws a clear comparison with Doctor Who fandom and their devotion to the show. Elton’s Doctor Who fan club has a hugely positive effect, bringing a selection of diverse characters together to share their individual opinions of the Doctor without fear of malicious criticism. It encourages their talents – Bliss’ (Kathryn Drysdale) sculpture and songwriting, Mr Skinner’s (Simon Greenall) novel, Bridget’s (Moya Brady) cooking – and the whole group play as a band together. As they bond, they are also able to support each other during emotional ordeals, such as when Bridget confides in the group about her drug-addicted daughter, who is missing in London. LINDA is a beautiful representation of what a shared love of Doctor Who can inspire, and an ideal example of what fandom can achieve if it is respectful of individual opinions and just allows itself to celebrate its mutual love of the show. Elton’s preferred style of Doctor Who and his democratic version of fandom would not be tolerated by some who’re unable to accept anything that doesn’t conform to their strict outlook. Sadly, in this case, life has imitated art, as it is exactly this sort of fan the episode goes on to criticise, and exactly this sort of fan who has been unable to understand and appreciate its deeper complexities. 

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It is with the arrival of Victor Kennedy (Peter Kay) that everything starts to go wrong for LINDA. Victor embodies the kind of cruel, opinionated, overbearing personality that is prevalent throughout Doctor Who fandom. He quickly takes charge of LINDA, enforcing his views and his law upon the group. The group meetings become no longer about sharing individual opinions, talents and troubles, and having fun, and are transformed into strict, regimented classes, dedicated solely to fulfilling Victor’s vision and seeking out the Doctor. This criticism of conformity is not only directed at overbearing Doctor Who fans but other forms of conformity. There are clear comparisons made between Victor’s running of LINDA and the strict conformity of school life. Victor reshapes LINDA’s headquarters into a regimented classroom, with each member sitting at a school desk littered with maps, calculators and books, while he acts as teacher, sitting behind a large desk at the head of the class, surrounded by filing cabinets, atlases, and shelves covered with folders. He assigns the class homework, they are made to raise their hand and ask his permission before voicing an opinion, and when Ursula (Shirley Henderson) rebels against him, he labels her, “most likely to fight back”. Once set their assignments by Victor, Elton declares, “Better get to work. Lots to do” and Ursula responds, “I never thought of it as work”. What was once a fun, educational environment, a place to develop talents and interests, that promoted equality and individuality, is transformed into a cruel dictatorship, where one law is taught, and no form of dissent is tolerated. Also, at this point, members of the group begin to mysteriously disappear, including Bliss, and also Bridget, despite her previously developing a romantic relationship with Mr Skinner.

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Comparisons are also drawn between Victor’s takeover of the previously independent LINDA and the tyranny of greedy organisations and corrupt governments. Victor’s attire, including pinstriped suit and suitcase, resembles that of a high-class businessman or politician, and he is heard to yell slogans at the group, such as, “complete your targets”. With Victor in charge, the group is pushed to exploit the poor and vulnerable, lying to and manipulating them for their own selfish gain. Elton is sent undercover to gather information from Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri). Jackie is characterised as lonely, emotional and vulnerable. Left behind by her daughter, Rose, she utters dialogue such as, “(I) can’t bear it silent”, “It’s just me these days, rattling about” and “She’s so far away. I get left here sometimes and I don’t know where she is. Anything could be happening to her, anything. And I just go a bit mad.” Elton, witnessing Jackie’s distress after receiving a ‘phone call from Rose, has an epiphany and realises, as he puts it, what’s “really important”. He puts a stop to his exploitation of Jackie, realising where LINDA has gone wrong with its selfish pursuits, and also his love for Ursula. This leads to what I believe is one of the most emotionally affecting scenes Doctor Who has ever produced. Discovering Elton has been using her, Jackie professes the lengths she will go to to protect her daughter and the Doctor, and her disgust at being exploited by Elton. The revived series is often lauded for its emotional content, but I feel often the wrong instances are given credit. Girls falling for mysterious heroes, such as depicted in the popular relationship between Rose and the Tenth Doctor, are standard fare on the big and small screen, but Jackie’s emotional outburst offers something altogether different. Jackie represents the oppressed and underprivileged fighting back against the selfish tyrants who seek to exploit them. Jackie displaying her selfless loyalty and devotion to protecting others’ well-being, which she maintains despite the selfish cruelty she’s been victim to, is truly inspiring, life-affirming stuff, and it hits hard on a real emotional level. 

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An angered Elton returns to LINDA headquarters and simultaneously declares his love for Ursula and leads the group in rebellion against Victor. As the group walk out in anger, Mr Skinner is persuaded to stay, as Victor offers to help him track down Bridget. At this point, the cause of the mysterious disappearances is revealed. Ursula realises she has left her phone behind, and she and Elton return to discover the true identity of Victor Kennedy. He is, in fact, an alien creature known as an Abzorbaloff. The Abzorbaloff is a personification of conformism; a creature that absorbs individuals into himself, feeding off them and forcing them to be one with him. He has been absorbing the members of LINDA: their faces still visible on the surface of his slimy green flesh. His ultimate goal, to track down the Doctor and absorb him; stealing all his knowledge of space and time. The Abzorbaloff is one of the best representations of evil that Doctor Who has ever presented; far superior to the clichéd representation of Satan, seen in the preceding, far more popular episodes, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. Here we see a truer and more disturbing representation of evil as the Abzorbaloff manipulates people into obeying his will by exploiting their good nature, and provides them with a fate far worse than death, as they are robbed of their free will and identity. He absorbs Mr Skinner by using his love for Bridget against him, and when Ursula attacks him, declaring, “Let those people go!” (echoing Moses’ declaration to the Pharaoh to let the Jewish slaves free; again connecting Victor’s regime to a corrupt government), he plays on her caring nature, acting weak and defenceless, and when she lowers her guard, he absorbs her too.

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With Ursula absorbed, Elton confesses that he has lost everything he ever wanted. Ursula pleads with him not to say that, but the Abzorbaloff coaxes him into sacrificing himself, tempting him with everlasting peace, and he submits. It is at this point that the Doctor finally appears. Although all seems lost, he cajoles LINDA into fighting back! The absorbed members start working together as a team, pulling the Abzorbaloff apart from the inside, giving Elton the opportunity to smash his cane, which it is revealed holds him together, and he is absorbed into the earth. The Doctor reveals why he was in Elton’s house all those years ago and what motivated Elton’s obsession with him. It was on that night that Elton’s mother died: killed by one of the Doctor’s foes. The Doctor defeated the monster but was unable to save Elton’s mother. As well as finally giving him peace and allowing him to move on from his mother’s death, the Doctor has a final gift for Elton. Using his sonic screwdriver, he is able to extract biodata from the earth so that Ursula’s face and conscious are preserved on a paving stone. This is revealed in Elton’s final vlog and is another source of criticism for the episode. Many fans protest that living a life without the use of a body would be no sort of life at all for Ursula, and they’re disgusted by Elton’s confession that they still have a love life. It has been suggested by some, that as we’re seeing Elton’s version of events, perhaps Ursula was not saved, and it is all in Elton’s mind: his way of coping with the trauma. This ambiguity adds another dimension to the episode, but I prefer to believe she did survive. Many people have been through traumatic events like Ursula, losing the use of their bodies, but do not see it as a reason to give up, and it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be entitled to a love life. Ursula’s survival, LINDA not giving up and battling against the odds, and the heroic actions of Jackie, support the episode’s theme of staying strong in the face of adversity and fighting for what you know is right. It is with Elton’s final speech to camera that much of the episode’s other themes are summed up.

ELTON: “when you’re a kid, they tell you that it’s all grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker and so much madder. And so much better.”

Elton explains that in life we must not conform to what is expected of us or pushed on us by other people. There is so much more to the world than one single vision, and although we will face bad times and uncertainty, this is part of life, and we must rise above it, take pride in our achievements, and find happiness with others and with ourselves. I hope that I have given people who have dismissed this episode a new perspective, and shown that a script can be multilayered without being overcrowded or resorting to the plot puzzles of popular Doctor Who episodes such as Blink. This isn’t disposable television; this is a scriptwriting masterclass, filled with important life lessons and technical innovations. An engaging, moving, witty, alarming, enjoyable story, which in comparison to more popular episodes is so much stranger, so much darker, so much madder. And so much better.

Devoid of Thought or Emotion (Earthshock)

Earthshock is a Doctor Who serial from 1982. I have chosen to write about it to conclude my Alien (dir. Scott, 1979) related posts. Like The Ark in Space, Earthshock is another Doctor Who serial with similarities to Alien. However, unlike The Ark in Space, its similarities are merely superficial, and it was broadcast after the release of Alien, meaning there is nothing exceptional about them. Earthshock mainly takes stylistic inspiration from Alien and tackles none of its deeper themes.

Like AlienEarthshock features a spaceship with a downtrodden industrial look; common in post-Alien sci-fi. There is also a tense scene using a motion tracker, and an isolated crew under siege from an alien menace, namely, the Cybermen. The Cybermen are a race of cyborgs who convert humans into their kind; melding man with machine, violating their flesh and stripping them of their emotions. This aspect of the Cybermen, which some consider their most terrifying, is oddly overlooked in Earthshock. With barely a reference made to their cyborg nature, they could easily be mistaken for nothing more than powerful robots. This is especially strange considering Alien’s focus on the dangerous effects of technology superseding nature and violation of the human body; proving the superficiality of Earthshock’s plundering of its ideas.

In early scenes, the ship’s crew, like that of Alien, is seen to bicker and worry about their wages. In Alien, this is part of a larger theme, a criticism of capitalism, as the crew is betrayed by the company they work for, who consider them expendable commodities. Earthshock seems to be setting out to criticise humanity’s greed, with Captain Briggs (Beryl Reid) being more concerned with her bonus than the crew’s safety, and Security Officer Ringway (Alec Sabin) being revealed as a traitor, working for the Cybermen for financial reward. Sadly, there is no effective payoff to these criticisms. The Cybermen could act as the perfect monstrous embodiment of capitalism, with their goals of expansion and replication, but no connection is drawn thanks to the lack of reference to their conversion of humans. There are many ways an imaginative writer could develop these criticisms. Perhaps the Cybermen could turn out to be in league with the crew’s company superiors, who hope to profit from a deal with them. The Cybermen could have offered to convert the crew for the company, making them stronger and more efficient cogs in the machinery of capitalism. This scenario would see Briggs face being used as a commodity by her superiors – just as she used her crew – superiors who are willing to sacrifice the Earth for their profits, just as she is unwittingly doing when she refuses to believe the Doctor (Peter Davison) and stop the ship. But no, this possible critique of capitalism is set up and quickly forgotten about, making these early scenes appear like a result of Earthshock’s writer, Eric Saward, copying Alien without putting any thought into what it’s actually about.

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Earthshock is often lauded for its emotional maturity, as at its conclusion, one of the Doctor’s companions, Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), dies. However, this is merely cheap soap opera dramatics, as there is no thematic weight or purpose behind his death. The Cyber-Leader (David Banks) threatening Tegan (Janet Fielding) to gain control over the Doctor and criticise his emotional attachments seems to be set up as a crucial scene, but again, there is no payoff. Perhaps if Adric saved the day due to his emotions, the story would have something to say, but he doesn’t, so the Cyber-Leader isn’t proven wrong.

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Adric dies for no reason, other than his arrogant desire to prove his intelligence, as he stays on board to attempt to unlock the ship’s computer; his final words being, “Now I’ll never know if I was right”. Instead, the day is saved by the ship randomly travelling back in time sixty-five million years, crashing into Earth, and destroying the dinosaurs. This is an attempt at clever plotting by Saward, another sci-fi explanation for a historical event, repeating the formula he used in an earlier script, The Visitation, which saw the Doctor accidentally starting the Great Fire of London. However, it’s not clever at all; it’s a ridiculous plot convenience. The explanation for the ship travelling back in time is absolute gobbledygook, which has no setup at all (it jumps time warps because it has an alien machine overriding its computer. What?). Earthshock fails to develop any of its ideas satisfactorily or provide effective payoffs for its suggested themes; recurrent issues with Saward’s writing, which I plan to cover further in future posts.