Doctor Who

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 practical 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 accidently 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 prosecutor, Zentos (Inigo Jackson), reveals it is irrational feeling rather than reason that leads them to this conclusion, Stephen (Peter Purves) protests the Humans’ 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 700 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 that their rising up to overthrow the Humans reveals a reactionary fear of migrants doing the same in Britain. Unfortunately, the Monoids are 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 the Monoids being mistreated. Whereas 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, accidently 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 conscious, give speeches condemning the Humans’ behaviour (“they were extremely intolerant and selfish”) and blaming them for the Monoids’ revolution.

THE DOCTOR: “they were treated like slaves! It’s no wonder when given 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 co-exist 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 practical 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 onscreen. 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 it’s 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 a 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’ve acted his multicoloured socks off. Just imagine how much more powerful that scene could’ve 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 that 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 gonna 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’ve 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’ve relished this acting opportunity, and it would’ve 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 Tarkis, 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 cliff-hanger and that dodgy polystyrene statue falling on the Doctor. Is there anyone who likes that? What’s the point in it? Davros says it is 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, even 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 cliff-hanger 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 the episode could have ended with the Doctor faced with the dilemma of whether to kill his old friend and end his suffering. Classic cliff-hanger 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 undeveloped ideas (I’m looking at you Earthshock and Resurrection of the Daleks), and the concept deserves more than just a dodgy cliff-hanger. Moffat did three series’ about it, didn’t he?

Cliffhanger

Which one do you think makes a more terrifying cliff-hanger?

Uzi

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

Uzi2

Do I have the Right? (Genesis of the Daleks)

Genesis

INT. CORRIDOR – NIGHT

The Doctor bursts out of the incubation room gripping a Dalek mutant that is wrapped around his throat suffocating him.

SARAH: Get it off! Get it off!

Sarah and Harry pull at the mutant, tearing it apart. The severed pieces are thrown back into the incubation room, and the Doctor slams the door.

They move down the corridor, and Harry passes the Doctor two wires that lead to the explosives inside the incubation room. The Doctor holds the wires but hesitates putting them together to close the circuit and detonate the explosives.

SARAH: What are you waiting for?

DOCTOR: Just touch these two strands together and the Daleks are finished. Have I that right?

SARAH: To destroy the Daleks? You can’t doubt it.

DOCTOR: Well, I do. You see, some things could be better with the Daleks. Many future worlds will become allies just because of their fear of the Daleks.

SARAH: But it isn’t like that.

DOCTOR: But the final responsibility is mine, and mine alone. Listen, if someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?

SARAH: We’re talking about the Daleks, the most evil creatures ever invented. You must destroy them. You must complete your mission for the Time Lords.

DOCTOR: Do I have the right? Simply touch one wire against the other and that’s it. The Daleks cease to exist. Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations can live without fear, in peace, and never even know the word Dalek.

SARAH: Then why wait? If it was a disease or some sort of bacteria you were destroying, you wouldn’t hesitate.

DOCTOR: But If I kill, wipe out a whole intelligent life form, then I become like them. I’d be no better than the Daleks.

SARAH: Think of all the suffering there’ll be if you don’t do it.

GHARMAN: Doctor! Doctor, I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Davros has agreed to our terms.

HARRY: He submitted?

GHARMAN: He did, but he asked only one thing. That he might be allowed to address a meeting of all the Elite, scientific and military.

DOCTOR: He’s going to put a case?

GHARMAN: Yes, but a vote will be taken. It’s a foregone conclusion. There’ll be a complete landslide against any further development of the Daleks. We’ve won.

DOCTOR: I’m grateful to you, Gharman. More grateful than I can tell you.

GHARMAN: The meeting’s about to begin. Will you come?

DOCTOR: Yes.

With one sharp tug, the Doctor pulls the wires out of the incubation room.

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

It is clearly intentional 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 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, but he wishes this life-form to be the only in existence, for all of creation to fit his single vision, believing his will is more important that 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 other people, and the right of one man to decide the fate of others. 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 a pacifist philosophy.

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 the true intention of the scene. Firstly, the scene 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, the scene 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 creations’, who is willing to conspire to wipe out his own race so his sole 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 and Monsters)

Love and 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 and 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 and Monsters is what the production team titled ‘a Doctor-lite episode’, an episode that featured only a limited appearance from the Doctor (David Tennant) due to overlapping filming schedules. The uninitiated may immediately latch onto that 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 he’s been driven to discover what purpose the mysterious time-traveller had for being there. One of the episodes 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, child-like 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 criticisms the episode receives from fans, who don’t seem to understand that we’re viewing Elton’s personalised version of events. 2

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 song-writing, Mr. Skinner’s (Simon Greenall) novel, Bridget’s (Moya Brady) cooking – and the whole group play as a band together. As they bond as friends, 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 are 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 the deeper complexities of Love and Monsters. 3

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. Victor 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, 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 can not only be attributed to 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 Victor acts as teacher, sitting behind a large desk at the head of the class, surrounded by filing cabinets, atlases, and shelves covered with folders. Victor assigns the class homework, they are made to raise their hand and ask permission before voicing an opinion, and when Ursula (Shirley Henderson) rebels against Victor, 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 any form of dissent is not 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 capitalist 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 their 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 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 is 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, that she maintains despite the selfish cruelty she has been victim to, is truly inspiring, life-affirming stuff, and hits hard on a real emotional level. 5

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 LINDA headquarters 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. The Abzorbaloff 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 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 Elton submits. It is at this point that the Doctor finally appears. Although all seems lost, the Doctor 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 Elton peace and allowing him to move on from his mother’s death, the Doctor has one more final gift for Elton. Using his sonic screwdriver, he is able to extract bio-data from the earth so that Ursula’s face and her conscience are preserved on a paving stone. This is revealed in Elton’s final vlog post 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 early 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 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’s 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 multi-layered 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 tracking device, 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, the Cybermen 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. This shows the superficiality of Earthshock’s plundering of Alien’s 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 capitalist industry, 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 as a double agent 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 the Cybermen’s 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 Briggs is unwittingly doing when she refuses to believe the Doctor 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 all about.

 Earthshock-2

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 (Peter Davison) 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, this 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 onboard 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 65 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 freighter travelling back in time is absolute gobbledygook, which has no set up at all (the freighter jumps time warps because it has an alien machine overriding its computer). Earthshock fails to develop any of its ideas satisfactorily or provide effective payoffs for its suggested themes. Recurrent issues with Saward’s writing, that I plan to cover further in future posts.

Insect-Like Conformity (The Ark in Space)

The Ark in Space is a Doctor Who serial from 1975. Although never acknowledged as an influence, it has a great deal in common with Alien (dir. Scott, 1979), despite being broadcast four years earlier. Whereas Alien focuses on issues of gender equality, The Ark in Space’s central theme is of non-conformism; a favourite of mine. This post will analyse the serial, focusing on the depth and effectiveness of its central theme and its similarities with Alien.

The Ark in Space sees the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his two companions, Sarah (Elizabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian  Marter), arrive on board a space station in the far future named the Ark. Here the last remnants of humanity have escaped Earth to avoid an apocalyptic catastrophe. As in Alien, the humans rest in cryogenic chambers. Sarah accidentally gets caught in the Ark’s automated indoctrination process and joins the crew in stasis. During the process, a recorded message is played, which refers to Sarah as “sister”. This use of family titles draws comparisons with the ship’s computer from Alien named ‘Mother’. In Alien, this implies a future genderless society, where human merger with technology has led to the termination of traditional gender roles. In The Ark in Space, it implies assimilation into an artificial family unit and loss of identity. The Doctor and Harry stumble upon a room where a record of human knowledge has been catalogued and stored on microfilm. The explorers then discover the sleeping humans filed and stacked together in their cryogenic chambers resembling the stored data. This indicates that the human race has now become no more than an assemblage of accepted knowledge and lacks any free thought. The Doctor gives a speech in which he seems to praise the human race’s aptitude for survival, but both his delivery and the incidental music bear an ominous tone. This suggests, as much as the Doctor respects the human race, he fears the lengths they will go to in the name of survival.

With the arrival of the Doctor and his companions, the Ark’s systems are activated and the sleeping crew begin to awake. First to awake is Vira (Wendy Williams), she uses disciplined, characterless language – showing her loss of identity – and is immediately abrasive towards the Doctor and Harry. She is critical of the Doctor’s flamboyant speech, claiming it proves he is a regressive, and evaluates people in a machine-like manner, indicating that conformity results in a lack of creativity and personality. When she is notified that Sarah has been trapped in a cryogenic chamber and her life is at risk, she asks, “is she of value?”. Indicating that humanity’s conformity has also robbed it of its compassion and ability to appreciate anyone beyond what practical use they may have in their established system. Vira has a prejudiced attitude towards the adventurers, seeing them as unsophisticated, inferior, and not to be trusted. The crew’s leader, Noah (Kenton Moore), who is referred to as “prime unit”, again showing the crew’s machine-like conformity, has an, even more, severe attitude. He sees them as being a threat to the human race’s genetic pool and orders them destroyed. Like the Ark, Noah takes his name from the Biblical tale in which God murders all humans he deems undesirable. The talk of regressive elements being eliminated to maintain the purity of the human race also evokes a historical case of eugenics, namely, the Nazis’ ‘final solution’. The Nazis exterminated approximately ten million people they judged ‘inferior races’ to prevent them mixing with what they deemed the ‘master-race’. The Doctor references such holocausts in his earlier speech and his fears about the lengths humans will go to in the name of survival are also connected to ‘the final solution’, as the Nazis used Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theory to justify their atrocities. The Ark’s crew have adopted similar principles. Noah is said to have been “pair-bonded” with Vira, and although they do show limited affection for each other, the term ‘pair-bonding’ suggests this future society’s mates are selected for them to keep the genetic pool pure, and love is no longer a factor to consider. The crew’s desire to become the master-race is also suggested as the body prints on their capsules resemble the fascist statues that decorated Hitler’s Germany, which were meant to depict the perfect physical form.

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The Doctor must not only face the threat of the hostile crew but also a far greater enemy lurking in the shadows of the Ark. The Wirrn, a species that, like the Alien, presents a monstrous vision of what humanity’s sin will result in, a gruesome embodiment of the horror of conformity. The Wirrn is a species of identical giant insects that has infiltrated the Ark. Like the Alien, they also impregnate a human host, gestate inside them, and go through various distinct stages of development. A larval stage, in which they resemble giant maggots, a mutation stage, in which they are crossed with their human host, and their final insect form. Also, like the Alien, they absorb human attributes and intelligence, but unlike the Alien, they’re able to share thoughts. When Noah is impregnated by the Wirrn and begins to mutate, his mind becomes one with the Wirrn and a previously infected crew member, Dune, professing, “I am Dune”. The Wirrn’s hive-mind presents them as being symbolic of conformity, not only are they physically identical, but they all think as one. The Ark crew’s loss of identity and desire to function as a single entity shows they aspire to a similar insect-like conformity. Other comparisons are drawn between the humans and the Wirrn, showing the Wirrn represent a vision of what humanity will become if it cannot break free of conformity. The humans live by their accepted knowledge while the Wirrn all think as one. The humans have systematically selected sexual partners without considering affection, in an attempt to create a master-race. Affection is definitely not a consideration for the Wirrn, who reproduce by forcibly impregnating their unwilling victims, using sex to advance their species. The Wirrn have a queen while the humans also have a female ruler; the Earth High Minister. The humans display insect-like discipline, organisation and impassiveness, and their cryogenic chamber resembles a giant insect hive. Furthermore, Noah, the crew’s most stringent conformist, literally becomes a Wirrn. The Wirrn plan to infect the entire crew, transforming them all into insects. The crew’s battle with the Wirrn represents a symbolic struggle with conformity. Noah is at the centre of this struggle, as he fights to break free from the Wirrn’s control, as it eats away at his humanity both physically and mentally.   Ark_in_Space

The crew must literally overcome conformity to defeat the Wirrn. Crew member Libri (Christopher Masters) is able to recognise Noah as being infected by the Wirrn before he mutates because of a subconscious impression, an illogical instinct that breaks from his strict programming. Although the Ark has kept vast records of human knowledge, it only contains intelligence that has been deemed useful by their conformist regime. The Doctor uses knowledge based on gipsy superstition, namely, the belief that the eye retains its final image after death, to carry out an experiment that gives him useful knowledge of the Wirrn. This is not the kind of information that would be stored in the Ark’s records, as it would most likely be considered the imaginings of regressives, yet it helps the Doctor and the crew of the Ark fight the Wirrn, proving the usefulness of imagination and independent thought. The Doctor hatches a plot to lure the Wirrn into a shuttle and transport them off the Ark. Once the Wirrn are lured inside, the Doctor must unlock the shuttle manually from the docking port, meaning that when it launches, he will be killed in the blast. At this point, crew member Roegan (Richardson Morgan) sacrifices his life, staying behind instead of the Doctor. Roegan giving up his life for the Doctor seems a little far-fetched, but it does have some set-up and fits with the serial’s overall theme. With his first line of dialogue, “it’s a stitch up”, Roegan conveys an idiosyncratic personality, showing his willingness to break free from conformity. His last line, “we don’t want trouble with the space technicians union”,  indicates a left-wing political stance that is at odds with the crew’s fascist ideology. His illogical self-sacrifice is a sign of strong independent thought, a heroic deed that could only be possible by breaking free from the restrictions of conformity.

The Ark In Space

As the Wirrn escape in the shuttle, the Doctor theorises that even though he was fully mutated, a vestige of Noah’s human spirit remained and he helped lead the Wirrn onto the shuttle. The Ark receives a communication from Noah. He bids Vira a mournful goodbye, suggesting he held a love for her that was unable to be expressed under their conformist regime, and the shuttle blows up, destroying the Wirrn. Noah’s message confirms he has broken free from the Wirrn’s control. Like Roegan, Noah’s rejection of conformity has allowed him to sacrifice himself, a sacrifice carried out for the woman he loved and the good of all humanity. The Doctor and his companions say goodbye to Vira, who laughs and smiles for the first time, now that she and the rest of the Ark have been freed from the oppression of conformity.

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Doctor Who

Doctor Who is my biggest ‘on-screen’ inspiration. As a child, I was an ardent viewer of science fiction television, being thrilled by the idea of exploring the bizarre and unexplained. I remain a fan, but while my enthusiasm for other shows has dwindled, my love for Doctor Who has flourished. Star Trek’s premise of a crew of identically dressed cosmonauts, exploring the universe in their heavily-armed ship, assimilating other species into their federation to adopt the same way of living and thinking, has understandably lost its appeal to me over time. While Doctor Who’s premise of a rebellious, extravagantly dressed outsider, who fled the conformism of his society to explore the galaxy and combat corrupt regimes, remains infinitely appealing.

The show has greatly influenced my work, with stories such as The Evil of the Daleks, in which the Doctor incites a group of Daleks to rebel against their conformist regime, preaching the lesson, ‘question everything and think for yourself’. And characters such as Ace, a rebellious outsider, who the Doctor helps to come of age. And its focus on ethics has undoubtedly inspired my desire to promote moral messages. I plan to evaluate stories from every era of the show.