Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Through An Endless Shifting Maze (The Horns of Nimon)


Steve Dahl eats horn lasers.
It's December 22nd, 1979. Pink Floyd are at number one with "Another Brick in the Wall." This lasts for three more weeks before The Pretenders, the most British band ever to have a vocalist from Akron, Ohio, take number one with "Brass in Pocket." ABBA, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Paul McCartney also chart. The latter, it should be noted, charts with "Wonderful Christmastime," which is one of the single worst Christmas songs ever written - a piece of mawkish offal that makes me long for dogs barking Jingle Bells within seconds of it coming on. It is a song so bad that it was held off from the Christmas #1 by six separate songs including The Sugarhill Gang "Rapper's Delight." A song, in other words, so bad that the Brits preferred rap music to it in 1979 for Christmas. And yet Paul McCartney gets half a million dollars a year from royalties on it. Thatcher wasn't the worst thing to happen in 1979. Just saying.

In real news, a ceasefire is signed for Rhodesia. The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, which makes a lot of people angry and causes no end of problems, many of them for the United States. Speaking of the United States, they give Chrysler a $1.5 billion bailout, because that's just how we roll. And the GPS epoch begins. Shortly thereafter, the President of Sicily is killed by the Mafia. Coincidence? Well, it's tough to figure out how it wouldn't be.

While on television, it's The Horns of Nimon! Here even the staunchest defenders of the Williams era are given pause. This is not a story that anybody tries to defend the production of as such. The defense of the story, such as it is, amounts to "well it's supposed to be funny."

Fair enough, it often is. Certainly someone took an active decision here to just let Tom Baker have comedy larking for the entire story while turning the actual "Doctor" role of the story over to Lalla Ward. And certainly Graham Crowden is far too good an actor to treat his performance as anything other than deliberate. The erstwhile WGPJosh suggested that the story is a "Ham Singularity," and if I am to disagree it is only because I think that it may simply seize the entire world's cured meat supply in general. Crowden's performance has a sufficient amount of ham involved that it borders on the anti-semitic. The design of the Nimon, on the other hand, may be inadvertent, but if so it's an accident that at least fits seamlessly with the rest of the episode. (Also apparently inadvertent is the degree to which the opening TARDIS scene almost exactly parallels The Time of Angels. The Doctor knows less about flying the TARDIS than his female companion, instead of materializing on the ship the TARDIS materializes alongside and creates a corridor to the ship... even the switches that get hit to keep the TARDIS from exploding are blue.)

Is it actually funny? That, of course, is a matter of pure subjectivity. And it forms the basis of the traditional Miles and Wood dispute here. Miles's objection boils down to "it's not funny." Wood's defense, to its credit, attempts to sail past that debate towards "actually it's quite serious," but in doing so runs afoul of the point underlying both of their arguments that really accounts for what's going on here. It is, in essence, the exact opposite of what was going on in Creature From the Pit, where we had a very good script that was marred by the fact that the production team couldn't execute it to save their lives. This time we have the production team executing the best possible rescue plan for a script that it is simply impossible to save.

Absolutely everything about this script is wrong. Miles identifies the worst of it in terms of its conception of Greek myth. The value of myths in genre storytelling are that they're an opportunity to make things bigger. Myths are stories of gods and demons and fundamental forces of the universe. Even if you go for more modern mythic constructions like Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan you're dealing with stories that work because they are based around extremes of human experiences - the idea of the smartest man there can possibly be or of a primal state of nature that still exists in the world.

So when you just do myth as literary pastiche where the sole purpose of the mythic content is to show how clever you are - as is happening here, as happened in Underworld, and as happened, to a more limited extent, in The Armageddon Factor - well, it's more than a bit flat. Especially when it comes in the post-Star Wars "mythic science fiction" tradition. There's a clear belief on the part of the script that just because this looks like a Greek myth it must be meaningfully epic. And not only isn't it, it's embarrassingly not. To give Lawrence Miles, who has done a few spells as a punching bag lately, his real due, the original myth of the minotaur is "a tale of everything animalistic and Freudian in human consciousness, about a journey into the darkest, guiltiest tunnels of our collective psyche" whereas this is "about a bull-headed alien who fires energy bolts from its horns and lives in the middle of some space-corridors."

And therein lies the problem. This is once again Doctor Who trying to do Star Wars not only without the budget but without any understanding of what doing Star Wars means in the first place. The script seems to genuinely believe that if you have spaceships and allusions to myth then nothing else is required. If you've got a world class special effects team backing you up then you can maybe get away with this, though frankly that trick only worked once. After that even Star Wars had to come up with something more clever. (And to its credit, The Empire Strikes Back is more clever. After that it tried Ewoks as its next trick, and it's all been downhill since.)

So with no ability to execute it competently and nothing to execute competently anyway the series fell back on the last resort of the screwed over: comedy. To blame the story for having enough ham to kill the entire Cass family is to ignore the fact that every single other option would have been worse. The real question is why the hell this script was even being made in the first place.

Tat Wood suggests that this story amounts to "clearing the decks" and trying to kill off every single cliche imaginable so that nobody would try this sort of crap again, with the idea being that the series would then be born anew with Shada. Several problems arise with this theory. First of all, Graham Williams had, by all appearances, already decided to quit during the production of Nightmare of Eden, so treating this as a deliberate effort to clear the deck is a stretch. Second of all, the basic idea of accepting a script just to show how bad all of its ideas are and to get people to stop doing scripts like that is moronic. "Let's deliberately make a crap episode of Doctor Who?" That's Tat Wood's defense of the story? That they consciously made it crap? I mean, Christ.

No, this was a commission of desperation - it was in less bad shape than the other five stories being considered, none of which Christopher Bidmead saw fit to try to rescue the next season either. (Admittedly Bidmead had a fairly unusual vision of what the series was, but the fact that neither Douglas Adams nor Christopher Bidmead saw the scripts as workable is... not a good sign for them. As interesting as some of them sound, it's tough to believe they were workable scripts.) And, given that it's the end of the Williams era, at least in one sense, we may as well use this fact to start our postmortem.

In many ways it's the next story that provides the most complete and perfect metaphor for the Williams era - a story comprised of brilliant ideas that completely fell apart for reasons largely beyond everyone's control. But let's give the late Mr. Williams Shada as a victory lap and use this one to discuss, in essence, where it all went wrong for this era. Because the overall sense of things after seventeen stories is that this is the most colossal waste of potential in the history of the series.

So much of what is going on in the Williams era is scintillatingly good. It's largely the smartest the series has ever been, which is impressive coming off of the Hinchcliffe era. All but eight stories of it are script-edited by two of the best writers the classic series has ever had, both of them contenders for the outright title of "best writer of Doctor Who ever." It has one of the greatest Doctors in it, and when Mary Tamm is your weakest link in the supporting cast you're clearly in phenomenal shape there too. Everything should be on track for a legendarily good era.

Except it isn't. I mean, it's good. Out of seventeen stories it has three stories that nobody ought think less of you for declaring to be the best Doctor Who story of all time (The Ribos Operation, City of Death, and Horror of Fang Rock). A solid majority of the stories are at the very least quite good. Its horrific low points are indeed horrific and low, but few producers make it through seventeen stories without some utter crap. We can weigh Underworld and The Invisible Enemy against The Time Monster and Monster of Peladon if we really want to, but really, what's the point? We're going to condemn the whole Williams era because it hit "utter and irredeemable shit about which there is nothing good whatsoever to say" twice instead of once? Just because Innes Lloyd only had one Celestial Toymaker and Peter Bryant only did The Dominators the once? (And to answer a point about Underworld, which I noted that I kind of liked before finding nothing good to say about it... it's a story that benefits greatly from the fact that it's viewed as being miles worse than everything else around it when in fact it's at most a kilometer worse.)

No, as I said previously, most of the real loathing towards the Williams era was badly exacerbated by the fan-industrial complex. And it was utterly shameful. John Nathan-Turner got the producers job on Graham Williams's recommendation alone. He wasn't viewed as having enough experience (hence Barry Letts being brought back as executive producer for Season Eighteen) and it was purely because Williams vouched for him that he got the job. So for him to throw Williams under a bus as thoroughly as he did is redeemed only by his noble decision in 1985 to oversee an era of the program so bad as to immediately replace the Williams era in everyone's mind as the nadir of the series.

Gareth Roberts, in his essay "Tom the Second," mounts an impassioned defense of the Williams era that centers roughly on the fact that it's very, very fun and that it has better characters than other eras. On both counts he's on target. Not since the anarchic glee of Patrick Troughton have we had this clear a sense that the Doctor does what he does for the sheer love of it. And there's something very powerful to that. However compelling his moral sense and tortured psyche may be - and I love both aspects - at the end of the day the Doctor is always a better character if the audience buys how much he loves what he's doing.

And the characters in this era have been quite good. Attention is reliably paid to things like motivation. The villains aren't bad just because that's how they are. The worst villains are consistently bad not because they're raving psychopaths but because they're boring and closed-minded. Even the Daleks, for better or for worse, get reinvented away from being raw and seething evil and find themselves stuck in an existential crisis about the limitations of their nature of the sort nobody has bothered with since David Whitaker was writing them.

And perhaps most importantly, more often than not it's been funny. So why does it feel like such a disappointment?

I suggested back with The Armageddon Factor that the problem was that it was rare that everyone involved seemed to be on the same page. And that, I think, is the crux of it. There are three solid classics in the Williams era, but only two of them feel as though they're the actual aesthetic of the Williams era being executed. We can add to that The Sun Makers, which gives every appearance of being what it meant to be but doesn't quite have the sparkling brilliance of The Ribos Operation or City of Death. Out of seventeen stories this is an era that only manages to show up and do what it means to three times.

The rest of the time it runs smack into the same problem this story does: the script can't support what the production team is trying to do. Faced with perpetual and searing budget crises and a mandate to stop doing what was working Graham Williams was, in fact, able to develop a brilliant approach to Doctor Who that combined punk sensibilities, postmodern storytelling, and intelligent but broadly accessible humor. It's just that he didn't find a stable of writers who could execute it.

This, actually, is going to be the biggest problem for Doctor Who from now until the Cartmel era. Nobody is going to be able to actually find a large enough pool of writers to consistently turn out quality material. Say what you like about the Pertwee era, but Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks could count to five. Almost every season they acted sensibly and put a Malcolm Hulke story in, a Robert Holmes story in, the obligatory Sloman/Letts script (for better or for worse), and a Baker and Martin story. That put them at four stories that would almost certainly range from serviceable to quite good every year. Even when Baker and Martin or Holmes skipped a year or someone coughed up a bad script there was enough depth in the bench that no season turned embarrassing. Similarly, the Hinchcliffe era had a deep enough pool of writers (and a script editor suicidal enough to do two scripts a season) that it very rarely found itself in catastrophe territory.

But the Williams era? They almost immediately lost one A-List writer to Blake's 7 when Chris Boucher was (quite rightly) grabbed for script editor there. Then they lost Robert Holmes. Their successful additions were good - David Fisher is a solid, reliable writer and Douglas Adams is a genius. But at their high point they had three writers who could deliver a script that worked in the mould they were shooting for. Most of the time they had two. It's tough to make a six story season that way.

You can blame things like the way in which they drove Holmes off, but every era has lost good writers to frustration. Complaining about how Holmes shouldn't have been put on a brief as wretched as Power of Kroll because they needed him makes as much sense as complaining about driving Hulke off. It happens. The problem was simply that by all appearances there just weren't enough writers in the UK who could do a script as complex as the Williams era required. And that started every single season of the Williams era off at a massive handicap. It was usually a challenge to get past three good scripts.

And when that's true you're in a very, very vulnerable position when other things go wrong. When Chris Boucher turns in a weak effort or David Fisher's script gets mauled by the director on top of everything it's now a crisis instead of a run of the mill problem. But really, what were they going to do? It's not like Bidmead or Saward had more straightforward times getting enough competent writers on the program. It's not like they were hiring writers turned out a good script and then not hiring them for more. The writers who were good got more commissions. It's just that doing that never got you out to six good scripts. Yeah, it would have been nice if Boucher had been script editor of Doctor Who instead of being wasted on Blake's 7. Let Anthony Read, who is apparently a weak writer himself, go work for Terry Nation. They deserved each other.

But when all is said and done the real problem is that there just weren't the writers out there. Sure, one can think of a couple of options from British TV of the same era who it would have been great to see on Doctor Who. But frankly, most of them were good enough to run their own shows. I mean, yes, PJ Hammond would have written a fantastic Doctor Who story. But why would he when he had Sapphire and Steel? Sure, Tanith Lee would have been far better on Doctor Who than Blake's 7, but was she going to be a good fit under Adams? (Well, actually, probably yes. So that's one lost opportunity. But on the other hand, they had the good sense to try Christopher Priest, so let's not ding them too hard.)

But for the most part one suspects that, no, there probably weren't enough writers who could do what Douglas Adams did. That the biggest problem with the Williams era was simply that there weren't enough writers who could do it. But on the other hand, we return to the initial problem the era faced. With Mary Whitehouse closing down one angle for the show and the budget cratering to where you needed to make science fiction adventure that consisted of people sitting around talking to each other a lot if you wanted it to look good there weren't a lot of good options on the table. Graham Williams found a model that could work. No, he found a model that did work. He just didn't find enough other people who could do it.

Still, this may be the last televised Graham Williams story, but I've got two more entries before I'm through with his era. So let's leave it at this - the Graham Williams era was a crushing disappointment through and through, yes. But it disappoints far more because of how good it could have been than how bad it was. So let's take two entries and celebrate the alternative. The Williams era that could have been and almost was. The one that deserves to be celebrated and praised, whether it happened or not.

81 comments:

  1. Having been reading your very insightful and thought-provoking comments on Doctor Who for a month now, I can't believe my first contribution to proceedings is going to be this, but...

    Good Christ on a Crutch, I cannot agree more about "Wonderful Christmastime." Paul McCartney is officially worse than the Grinch when it comes to ruining the atmosphere of Christmas.

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  2. Wasted on Blake's 7? Wasted?! Trying to think of one-half decent drugs story in TV or film, I did come up with Shadow. Surely that was at least quite good? The main thing wrong with B7 was the BBC's poverty of ambition when it came to sci-fi. Or SF. Or whatever.

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    1. I was thinking the same thing, it was clunky but I loved it, not quite as much as I loved Doctor Who, but still.

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  3. I'm always surprised how many people critique the Horns of Nimon without ever mentioning pantomime. Everything about it seems designed to be intended within the British panto tradition - it was even broadcast over Christmas and has the lead male role played by a young woman in boy's clothes. I think to criticise it for failing to hit 'epic' in its deployment of myth is a mistake: it's not aiming for the tone or quality of Star Wars, it's aiming for Aladdin down the local theatre with Tom Baker as the 'star name'. Terrible dialogue, unfunny jokes and performances so hammy they could lead a revolution on an Orwellian farm are all part of what that entails. I'm not saying an end-of-season dose of Tom-Baker-in-panto-masquerading-as-Doctor-Who was necessarily a good idea, but I do think there's a fair case to be made that they did it on purpose.

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  4. If Season 17 was the out-of-control party, now comes the hangover. Doctor Who suddenly stops being fun.

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  5. Once again I'm the voice of controversy: I quite like 'Wonderful Christmastime'. I assume there's no chance of a separate entry for it so we can discuss it more thoroughly?

    And I like Horns of Nimon and the Williams era too. Wm Keith's response that Who stops being fun is correct. Still good... But not as daft. It's not The Avengers In Space any more.

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  6. Your notes on the lack of writers capable of achieving the ambition of the era are astoundingly insightful.

    I think it's also worth noting, though, that it had a lack of strong directors who could make something of the lack of money. The Letts and Hinchcliffe eras get a lot of mileage out of having not only two brilliant directors in Camfield and Maloney, but a series of really good ones who understand how to put the show together -- Barry Letts, Paddy Russell, Michael Briant, Christopher Barry (who really does do a great job on everything except Creature), and Lennie Mayne. Like with the writing, they could almost always make sure all their scripts are well-executed, regardless of quality.

    But all of them dry up in the Williams era. Maloney also goes to Blake's 7, Camfield is too ill, Mayne dies in a freak boating accident, Russell and Briant decide to move on, and Barry drops the ball the one time he shows up. The Williams era has George Spenton-Foster and Michael Hayes, and maybe Pennent Roberts, though Roberts has some real flaws as a director.

    I think a lot of the frustration of the era as compared to the two previous eras does come from the incredibly uneven execution. I mean, in the Hinchcliffe era, even the lousy scripts were directed well enough to earn them some defenders.

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  7. The problem with Wonderful Christmastime is that Philip is making the cardinal mistake of taking it as a pop song, which of course it isn't. It's a piece of experimental electronic music that happens to have someone singing a half-worked-out melody over the top. The point of the song isn't the song, it's the sound of the Prophet 5 synth. Note how no traditional rock instruments are present (there might be a real bass on there, I don't have a copy to hand to check, but definitely no guitar, drums, or other 'normal' rock instruments). It's the sound of someone experimenting with layering multiple strange electronic sounds on top of each other and seeing what happens.
    In that respect, it actually has quite a lot in common with Rapper's Delight. It's the audio equivalent of one of those Letts-era stories that just goes for pure visual *strangeness* at the expense of coherence - and those kind of things are of course the things that date the most badly. But to think of the risible vocal line - the least important element - as being what matters is to miss the point.

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  8. The problem, of course, is that the risible vocal line is in fact what everyone pays attention to and why the song is still played.

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  9. Most importantly, I agree with Andrew Hickey about Wonderful Christmastime. If you like you can see its combination of bright-edged electronic weirdness with an unsatisfying attempt to center it on something comforting as a perfect precursor to Season 18.

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  10. @ Andrew Hickey:

    Problem there, though, is that if Paul wanted us to focus on the electronic music part (which still isn't THAT great, IMO; experimental it may be, but there's better experiments out there from the same time even), he probably shouldn't have slapped the almost satanically horrific and twee lyrics on the top in the first place. Or, at very least, made himself be bothered to write better ones.

    Without them it's a mildly interesting (if IMO rather plodding) piece of electronic music; with them, it's just awful.

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  11. And here I thought one of the things this blog did so well was to be able to see when something is a combination of the godawful and the inspired and acknowledge both equally. Just because 'everyone pays attention to' the vocal line doesn't mean that's what they *should* pay attention to ;)

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  12. And JJ beat me to the punch on the directors being more of a problem than the writers. Really, in the Williams era, the script is the main problem only for I think five stories: The Invisible Enemy, The Sun Makers (though tastes differ on this one), Underworld, The Invasion of Time, The Power of Kroll, and maybe this one. You could also add Androids of Tara and Destiny of the Daleks, but those are reasonably successful stories anyway. And getting quality scripts is more complicated than you say: David Fisher is capable of turning out two scripts a season and having neither of them be rubbish; all of the scripts above were written by people who were meant to be reliable.

    The problem is the direction. Especially in this case. The direction hides the script's attempts to use the mythical elements interestingly. Unlike Underworld, which just changes names with no real thought about the underlying myth, this is a Jonathan Carroll-like rethinking: what if the king was a sucker and the Minotaur wasn't just a dumb monster? The close mapping in names and other trappings is justified because the point of the story is to set up the twist.

    I mean, I don't mean to wholly defend the script. It's very uneven. The panto elements that Janjy Giggins points out (with "Weakling scum!" as the "Oh no it isn't!") undermine the horror. The basic idea itself isn't that great -- it's Claws of Axos with a bit of Inferno... IN SPACE. There's a lot of wasted time. But overall, Kenny McBain screwed up this one a lot more than Anthony Read did.

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  13. The problem, of course, is that the risible vocal line is in fact what everyone pays attention to and why the song is still played.

    But (to echo Andrew's other comment) this is actually the genius of it: by sticking that vocal line on, Paul McCartney has managed to trick everyone into listening to weird, off-kilter, jagged, crazily syncopated electronic music FOR THIRTY YEARS.

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  14. The problem is that Christmas music does not constitute an aesthetic end in itself. It contributes to the larger aesthetic experience of Christmas and exists only as a subset of that. And so when you have something as soul-shatteringly awful as that vocal line playing it screws up the entire holiday. It's like Keff McCulloch blaring over Shada... IN CHRISTMAS. (Like in space, only with more tinsel. Wait, no, that's just Boney M.)

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  15. @Scott: I don't think the right criterion is whether there is better electronic music, I think it's whether there's better electronic music *at number one*. The Beatles didn't break ground in experimental music, but they did break ground in making experimental music mainstream (in lots of different ways, Elanor Rigby and She's Leaving Home as much as Revolution 9 and I Am The Walrus).

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  16. And so when you have something as soul-shatteringly awful as that vocal line playing it screws up the entire holiday.

    "I got an iPhone 4S and a car, but there was this one close-up of Matt Smith's teeth that really threw me off and I had to spend January in bed."

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  17. Paul McCartney's talent is a double-edged sword - he's an arch technical innovator, but is usually unable to apply it to anything especially meaningful in regards to songwriting. That's not to say that his songwriting is not by and large excellent, but the two disciplines don't usually match up. Paul's most radical technical contributions to the Beatles canon almost all apply to John Lennon songs - the tape-loops, drum pattern and general production on Tomorrow Never Knows, the use of mellotron on Strawberry Fields Forever, the orchestral swells in A Day In The Life - whereas generally his own songs tended to be too structurally rigid for him to really feel free enough to try that kind of thing, or they lacked the emotional and spiritual depth. I think only the hard rock of Helter Skelter, possibly the earliest example from proper out-and-out heavy metal, is the one occasion the two married up.

    The electronic album McCartney II is simultaneously one of the oddest and tweest albums of the era.

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  18. more thoughts on "wonderful christmastime," which is awful. But I agree with William that it's also brilliant in its sneaking in jagged electronic music into the blahness of contemporary Xmas music (that said, it's not all electro--i'm pretty sure there's a guitar solo in there). this is the curse of McCartney, a secret avant-gardist who routinely sabotages his work with dreadful lyrics/vocals.

    no, what makes "Xmastime" so truly Satanic is its punishing repetitions. Not one but two go-throughs of that damned "ding dong" bridge. Another brutalizing repeat verse following a solo that you pray was winding the song out. a minute-long outro that benevolent DJs tended to fade out and talk over. For a 4-minute song, it can feel eternal, a Dantean punishment.

    & marvelous summary of the flaws of Williams-era Who, Phil.

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  19. And anyway Wonderful Christmastime still isn't as bad as Harrison's Ding Dong Ding Dong.

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  20. I don't know that that's true. What You're Doing, for example, is a clear precursor to the sound of Tomorrow Never Knows (and the first appearance of the drum pattern that later appears in both that track and Ticket To Ride), the strings on Yesterday were completely outside the normal use of orchestration on pop/rock records, and it's hardly fair to call A Day In The Life a "John Lennon song" - both wrote big chunks of the song.

    Even a song like For No One, which sounds fairly straightforward these days, is utterly unlike anything else in popular music up until that point. The basic form sounds like that of a waltz, even though it's not in waltz time - I can't think of a single example prior to that of a 4/4 song in popular music where only one beat in the bar is stressed (and I wish I'd thought of that distinction when I wrote my own book on the Beatles, actually). It's a really strange thing to do, but obvious once you hear it - Harry Nilsson practically built a career on that rhythmic pattern - and I think no-one would argue that For No One has no emotional depth.

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  21. I think no-one would argue that For No One has no emotional depth.

    Doesn't Ian McDonald argue precisely that? I don't have Revolution in the Head to hand but I remember some fantastically well-turned phrase like "The puzzled actuarial reckoning of 'A love that should have lasted years'".

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  22. Clearly what is needed is a large post devoted entirely to Philip's taste in music, wherein we can all harmoniously gather together in the comments and rip him new ones talking about whatever euphonious niche we feels needs a staunch offensive defense.

    "First of all, Graham Williams had, by all appearances, already decided to quit during the production of Nightmare of Eden"

    I think nothing proves this better than the fact that I only just finished reading your review of it yesterday, and not only do I remember nothing about plot or characters, but my brain keeps insisting there's no such thing as a Doctor Who story with such a title.

    For the record, the worst Christmas song even is fucking Chrismas Shoes. Having once before recorded an eleven minute auotuned 'cover' of that song, i am uniquely qualified to dismiss it as the worst. Period.

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  24. @Andrew - That's true. I suppose what I really meant, "C" said better than me - he could never marry his love of the avant garde up with his songwriting. His darker or weirder innovations tended to be on John Lennon songs / the John Lennon section of songs. When he didn't have that darker type of songwriter around to hang those darker types of innovations on, that's when the juxtaposition jarred more.

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  25. And when I meant by "emotional depth" was really "appropriate emotional depth" - there are very few McCartney compositions which could have shouldered something like the Tomorrow Never Knows tape loops.

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  26. I'm more than a little horrified that this comment section is dominated by chatter about a trifle of a Xmas song by the erstwhile Sir Paul.

    Anyway, I want to thank Phil for beginning to wrap up the multi-faceted Williams era with this post. I am quite looking forward to increased attacks on the fan-industrial complex in the eras to come (and I say that as someone who loves much of Peter Davison's run, and even enjoy Season 18 quite a bit as well).

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  27. "Pipes of Peace". "Mull of Kintyre". "We all stand together."

    "Simply having a wonderful Christmastime" is not even the worst Paul McCartney Christmas single.

    I am, however, pleased that "Christmas Shoes" never made it across the Atlantic. As a song, at any rate.

    I did, however, encounter it recently in an extended remix as a purported news story. In this version, another customer in the shoe shop is a brain surgeon who could cure the mother's illness but, instead, lobotomises himself there and then because he just can't take any more mawkishness.

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  28. @Adam - I think he's the current Sir Paul.

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  29. Outstanding.

    I’ve been listening in the last few days to three McCartney albums from around two decades ago and being startled by how good they are all over again, but I’d never have thought to defend Wonderful Christmastime.

    Andrew’s managed to turn my head about it, though. Incredible. You should buy Andrew’s Beatles book – though not many of the songs featured there present such an uphill struggle, reading it pointed out all sorts of exciting details I’d not spotted before, so it’s well worth it.

    I recommend his Doctor Watson story, too.

    I was going to go on about The Horns of Nimon, defend the Williams writers – particularly Anthony Read, who script-edited brilliantly what was clearly Williams’ best season and one of Who’s best – while putting the blame partly on the directors, but more on other production contributors and mainly just on BBC high-ups and on the Callaghan Labour Government’s runaway inflation, and talk about why the ‘panto’ comparison (for good or ill) is baloney, but how can I follow that? Maybe tomorrow. You can read a bit of what I think about The Horns of Nimon here in the meantime, but, sorry, Andrew’s Won Teh Internets for today.

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  30. I watched this story once. I never thought of it as anything other than a massive misfire. I always felt bad for Crowden, whom I've seen in other things, and who is blisteringly OTT in this. The idea that this is somehow meant as a comedy-and Crowden's role/performance should indicate that it was-does not eliminate the fact that this is among the worst Doctor Who stories ever.

    That said, I will thank you, Phil, for verifying that it was indeed meant as a comedy. Problem is, that doesn't help me sleep any better at night. Maybe they could have named this one "The Nightmare" instead?

    As for Paul's Christmas song, I will have to agree with Phil. My ears bleed when it comes on the radio. Give me dogs, the Macarena or even Hey Ya. Just not THAT.

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  31. while it is no secret that i dislike the williams era, i think that philip is right on the lack of decent writers, and i also am starting to think that a lack of experienced directors as well means that the program was stuck going in any number of directions at once, almost none of them forward.

    all this critical analysis points out that williams seems to not really had a solid idea at all of what his show was about. Letts, love it or leave, knew what sort of show he was trying to make. so did hinchcliffe. and JNT certainly, for better or worse, knows what sort of show he wants to make in season 18.

    I'm sorry, but i don't think that williams was a brilliant punk influcenced post-modernist, i think that he was a scrambler hoping in vain that things would stick against the wall as he was prodded in all directions. and it shows.

    the show was left in utterly inexperienced hands, which is why you have the daleks become machines who are robotic and computer-like instead of nasty xenophobes like they had always been. There is no sense that anyone KNEW the programme. And when Adams tried to use his usual brilliant tongue-in-cheek magic, it resulted in a class (city) and a lot of misfires (pirate planet).

    in regards to the fan-mafia: while its organization expanded Who's reach in the usa, laying the groundwork for more PBS stations, it also started letting the audience become more aware of continuity and the show's own mythology. And as the fans became more aware, and conversed more, it was a lot easier to see the smoke and mirrors. I was there in '81 and on, and it wasn't that hard to see what JNT was up to. I'll be interested to see how you interpret that mid'80's fandom swing and the increased communication between the show and the fans and JNT.

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  32. I think Bidmead knew what kind of show he wanted to make. JNT knew what kind of show he didn't want and how much he wanted it to cost. Cartmel is very kind about JNT in his book, but it's clear that at the early stages JNT didn't have much of a creative vision.

    The "inexperience" thing is interesting. Bidmead wasn't experienced. Cartmel wasn't experienced. If anything I think the problem was that Williams was too used to the institutional constraints of the BBC and didn't have the force of personality to do as Hinchcliffe did and just bust the budget regardless of what the accountants said.

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  33. Absolutely with William on his last point.

    Plus, the concept that - of all Williams stories - Destiny was a failure because the author had insufficient experience with Dalek stories is a novel and challenging one.

    There's also strong evidence from the time and later that the other 'continuity problem' from that story - the regeneration - was a deliberate attempt to shake up an aspect of the programme the producer and script editor felt had become too safe and expected. Whether that was a good idea or not is open for debate, but it seems something that arose out of knowledge of the programme, not lack of it.

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  34. May I also say that I'm glad we're moving into an era of the program where the word "Williams" will be used less? If we had a regular commenter called "Nathan" I'd recommend he braced himself for a lot of egoscan-based confusion.

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  35. I live every day with the depressing fact that Tiddlesbury-Frump will never be an era of Doctor Who.

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  36. "May I also say that I'm glad we're moving into an era of the program where the word "Williams" will be used less? If we had a regular commenter called "Nathan" I'd recommend he braced himself for a lot of egoscan-based confusion."

    Adam B and I have the same issue with the above script editor.

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  37. Also, as a half-decent science fiction screenwriter, you don't know how frustrated I am by the idea that Doctor Who of the late 70s lacked half-decent science fiction screenwriters.

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  38. Exploding Eye -- would we know your work?

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  39. When I'm all the way decent you will. ;)

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  40. We're getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but my sense is that JNT didn't have much of a creative vision, at least as far as storytelling and character is concerned, leaving him very much reliant on his script editors. This isn't necessarily a grave fault, provided the script editor has a strong vision. With Bidmead and Cartmel, that vision was there. With Saward... not so much.

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  41. Saward had a vision. It just boiled down to "whatever old monster Ian Levine wants bringing back this week, with a double-act in a feeble imitation of Bob Holmes, and GUNS!"

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  42. It's clearer in retrospect, but Romana's taking on the Doctor's usual role in this story is the most significant development here.

    In story terms, it is the moment when Romana decisively graduates from apprentice to full-fledged saviour of peoples, leading up to her eventual break with the Doctor in Warrior's Gate - a rare case of a companion's exit being part of a long term development.

    In terms of the bigger picture, it is a conclusive demonstration that a female Doctor can work very well. After this, there's no reason (except perhaps for availability and fees) that, say, the Fifth Doctor couldn't have been played by Joanna Lumley, and no reason why the Twelfth Doctor couldn't be... ooh... Gillian Anderson?

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  43. Wow, a WHOLE lot of good discussion going on here! That's what I get for having my laptop die and coming in late...

    First of all Phil, I appreciate the shout-out and your extended cured meat metaphor made me smile, which I needed today. That being said, and since I've already outlined my thoughts on this serial other places, I'd just like to clarify my opinion a bit:

    "Horns of Nimon" is by no measures we can ascertain particularly good. Even I, a frequent self-professed fan of the Graham Williams era, would never go so far as to say that. It is, however, profoundly entertaining. It is hysterically funny from start to finish, and in some places it's even supposed to be. However, for the vast majority of the time it's enjoyable in the same way Plan 9 From Outer Space or Santa Claus Conquers The Martians in enjoyable: This is the point at which Doctor Who becomes "So Bad It's Good".

    However more than that, and more importantly, is the point Phil touched on in is article. "Horns of Nimon" does embody the Graham Williams era and not only the bad parts. Like those two movies I mentioned, what's so intriguing about this era is all the tremendous ideas it had and the ambition clearly on display. Watching the Graham Williams era is watching Tim Burton's biopic of Ed Wood: It wasn't always successful at bringing its ideas to fruition, but you have to admire the teams for doing the best they could to do the best possible show they could against impossible odds. For those with the filmmaking bug (like me), it's actually a pretty inspirational story.

    This era had a lot of potential, often delivered (but failed just as much), but most of all its an unfairly maligned era of the show with some good ideas that I wish I could see pursued more. And hey, with so much creativity left on the cutting room floor (as I presume we'll hear more about on Friday) there's still hope someone (like, say Big Finish) will take all those unused ideas and finally help them see the light of day. Any aspiring writers listening? (I mean, besides me?)

    Just a few parting thoughts: Definitely want to second Iain (and Phil touched on this too): Aside from the aforementioned ham singularity, which is amazing, Lalla Ward is the main attraction here. She runs rings around Tom Baker at being The Doctor and is the concluding argument to the testimony Katy Manning introduced that a female Doctor is not only possible, but a really, really good idea. Joanna Lumley and Gillian Anderson are good picks-I'd also add Jennifer Saunders, who I've been silently hoping will get the part for a long time now (her name was actually rumoured when David Tennant announced his resignation). There was even an interview recently with Dame Helen Mirren, who said she would like to play The Doctor. I say call them up.

    Finally I also have to unfortunately second WM Keith's comment about Season 18, whom I must also applaud for using an excellent and very appropriate simile. After "Shada" we're rapidly approaching the only era of Doctor Who I'm actually really not fond of any which way. There is almost nothing about the next six seasons or so that works for me on any level, and I can't say that about any other era of the show. I will of course be looking forward to seeing how Phil, and my other esteemed commenters not absolutely incensed by the early John Nathan-Turner years, move to reconceptualize it and formulate a new way of reading it.

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  44. Huh. Forty-three comments and no one has mentioned the only two things I find at all interesting about this unfortunate episode: (1) the fact that Graham Crowden was apparently up for the part of the Fourth Doctor so this episode gives us a taste of what might have been, and (2) this past season's "God Complex" in which Moffatt and Toby Whitehouse actually try to rehabilitate the Nimon (somewhat successfully, IMO).

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  45. To be fair, the post title was consciously taken from The God Complex for exactly that reason.

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  46. Touche'. Also, there is a brief Youtube clip of Crowden here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRUqJSCOyZ4 and it's just ... awful. I mean, Crowden can act, he just chose not to! On the bright side, watching the episode again, I was struck by how good Lalla Ward was. I remember really wishing we'd get to see the further adventures of Romana and K9 in E-space, but that never happened.

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  47. I'd love to see a female Doctor, but I don't think Moffat is going to do it (he seems uncomfortable witth the idea, saying that he doesn't think audiences would feel it was the same character); and while I love Moffat, I'm not sure he's the right person to do it, given his discomfort.

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    1. I think the female Doctor idea is kind of silly (and I'm not being sexist. As a woman I would love there to be more strong female roles in the media, I do think it's getting a lot better, but the more the merrier), We've gone a pretty long time without anyone changing sexes if they had done that early on in the story you could believe it, at this point I think there would have to be a really good explanation for why that would happen. Now if you just mean Female Time Lord with a show of their own, that's a great idea.

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  48. I just re-watched God Complex not too long a go, and I'm finding more greek myth references I never got the first time through, so at least I know they did their homework. This is unrelated to Horns of Nimon, but as much as loved the episode, the line about "Amy Williams" always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I know what the author was going for, he just... missed. And landed in sexism instead.

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  49. @BerserkRL

    I think you're right for not only those reasons, but the fact Moffat has recorded issues handling his female characters, as we've discussed in the past. Maybe the showrunner after Moffat? I just hope it happens sometime.

    That comment of his about his discomfort in casting a female Doctor really irks me: Sure Steven, we won't accept The Doctor as a woman. There's no way they could be the same character. It's not like there's a precedent for The Doctor becoming a wildly different person every four years or so. Why, that'd be as daft as, say, swapping William Hartnell for Patrick Troughton or Jon Pertwee for Tom Baker. That's just silly...

    As for "The God Complex", the Nimon reference is probably the only thing I liked about that particular episode.

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  50. Why didn't you like any else, Josh? I thought the purpose behind the Minotaur was absolutely brilliant; it preys on belief systems, which is a notable human weakness. Nothing wrong with that concept, to my eyes...

    Also, to address Iain Coleman's point from several hours ago, Saward DID have a creative vision... but it wasn't one for strong stomachs. :-P

    He liked his gratuitous sex and violence, he did. Bidmead, for all his faults, at least didn't indulge in that.

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  51. @Matthew Blanchette

    You're right, the concept behind the Minotaur is a good one, and it was just as good when Andrew Cartmel used it in "The Curse of Fenric"...

    Snide comments aside, my biggest problem with "God Complex" is its treatment of The Doctor and its the same one I have with Series 6 as a whole. It seems to me like Moffat tried to do a 21st Century non-racist, non-colonialist and non-youth hating version of the John Wiles era: Going out of its way to show how dangerous The Doctor is and how his mere presence ruins peoples lives. It has a better ending then, say, "The Daleks' Master Plan", "The Massacre" or "The Ark", but the message is just as clear. In my opinion though, it's impossible to separate the themes and motifs of the Wiles era from its ugly connotations and implications and it was wildly irresponsible of Moffat to try. Nowhere is this more self-evident than in "The God Complex".

    Also, that "Mrs. Williams" line is just flat-out horrifically offensive and Moffat should be ashamed of himself for letting it get through.

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  52. Also, that "Mrs. Williams" line is just flat-out horrifically offensive and Moffat should be ashamed of himself for letting it get through.

    I thought it was supposed to be horrific - the plot required the Doctor to actively seek to shatter Amy's faith in him in order to save her life. Was "Mrs. Williams" really that much worse than the Seventh Doctor calling Ace an emotional cripple and saying he didn't care whether she lived or died back in "Curse of Fenric"? That said, I am growing ... uncomfortable with Moffatt's apparent issues with female characters. Up to now, I thought a big part of it was my lack of affection for Amy. I was a huge Donna Noble fan, in large part because she was the first companion of the new era who wasn't somehow romantically fixated on the Doctor and who was just in it for the thrill of seeing the whole of time and space.

    Honestly, I'm less offended about "Mrs. Williams" (the overwhelming majority of married women do take their husband's names, after all) than about learning in Closing Time that her career trajectory went from "kissagram" to "perfume model." Sarah Jane, Romana, Donna and even Martha all went out looking for adventures of their own after leaving the TARDIS. Amy apparently settled down to take a bunch of glamor shots and keep Rory's house.

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  53. The Wiles era was good before "The Ark", though; it'd be like saying the Hinchcliffe era is a failure due to the yellow peril-ism of "The Talons of Weng-Chiang".

    "Mrs. Williams", I think, had better intent behind it than that; it's like the Doctor giving away his daughter to her husband, and to the life she might've had had he not returned on June 26, 2010... it was sweet, and I liked it.

    If you think it was offensive despite the intent, explain to me why you give more courtesy as such to the pitfalls of the Graham Williams era.

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  54. @Matthew Blanchette

    The problem with that, as Phil points out very well, is that the specific reasons for which "The Ark" fails so spectacularly cast a bad shadow over the rest of the era. We see Wiles for what he believes: Don't trust foreigners, especially dark-skinned ones. Don't trust the youth: They're stupid and don't know anything and any movement they start is doomed to failure. Revolution is bad. Hoping for change is wrong. Literally everything The Doctor represents is evil, untrustworthy, unsustainable and dangerous. It's offensive and series-derailing and once you pick up on it it's impossible to read the Wiles era any differently. As for your argument comparing it to "Talons" (an equally careless bit of scripting, I might add), I'd be more inclined to buy it if this wasn't a major, central theme of Series 6. And think about it: Do you really want a show that goes out of its way to show how careless and wrongheaded its central protagonist is? Why would anyone watch to watch Doctor Who if The Doctor is such a walking disaster area?

    "Mrs. Williams" is, as many people before me have said, an attempt by Moffat to say something benign that came out horribly wrong and sexist. However, the good intentions do not make it any *less* sexist. Sexism is sexism whether you intended it or not and Moffat should realise that and own up to it. Comparing it to the Graham Williams era seems illogical to me because that era's failures (among which there are admittedly many) were purely organisational and external: No matter how often it stumbled it never really landed in "offensive". It was campy at times, sure, just look at this serial. However, it was never racist, sexist or anti-youth. I suppose you could *maybe* make a case for "Image of the Fendahl" (which I don't think is especially bad all things considered" or "Power of Kroll" (which I think is just the expected once-an-era "Robert Holmes Trolls Everyone" script), but other than that I think you'd be hard pressed to find any moment in the Williams era that's as series-derailing as the Wiles tenure or Series 6. The Williams era is fun to watch precisely because of what they were able to accomplish and the big ideas they had despite the fact the production was shafted. Stuff like "The Ark" is just carelessness and spite.

    @Alan

    The reason Smith's line to Amy is worse than McCoy's line to Ace is because Smith's Doctor obviously believes what he's saying, while McCoy's remains calm and guarded. McCoy comes across as a clever manipulator who is not above shocking the audience with sudden swerves that are still part of his greater plan. He's unpredictable, mysterious and alien, which is how The Doctor *should* be in my view. Smith's just comes across as an emotional wreck himself. Not to mention this scene is another thing Moffat lifted wholecloth from "Curse of Fenric".

    And yes, Amy's career path is also troubling, but that's just another example of Moffat's problematic relationship with his female characters.

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  55. Alan,

    her career trajectory went from "kissagram" to "perfume model."

    Well, in fairness she's more than just a perfume model. It's her line of perfume, and named by her.

    worse than the Seventh Doctor calling Ace an emotional cripple

    Face it, Janet -- Brad's an emotional cripple!

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  56. @WGPJosh: the theme of the Doctor being dangerous and ruining people's lives does have a counterargument given in "The Wedding of River Song" - when River sends the message out to the Universe asking for help for the Doctor and gets loads of messages back. You might think that it was incredibly cheesy, but it's there - and the fact that the Doctor finds a way to avoid dying shows that he hasn't completely given into self-loathing. (His return to Rory and Amy in the Christmas special follows this too.)

    RTD played about with the same themes with the Doctor but never really resolved them - the Doctor doesn't have an answer to Davros' taunts about getting his friends to die for him, and the theme of the Doctor's hubris in "the Waters of Mars" is completely ignored in "the End of Time". Moffat has given some kind of resolution to the questions about the Doctor's worth.

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  57. Can anyone explain to me why the 'Mrs Williams' line is sexist? It's about Amy needing to grow up, and stop being the little girl waiting for the Doctor to save her. One of the ways in which she's still that little girl is that she's clinging to her maiden name. The Doctor calls her 'Mrs Williams' to force her to recognise that she's moved on, she doesn't need him any more because she's she's grown up, and part of her growing up is that she got married and had a family of her own (a family that was theyn cruelly ripped apart because of him, but hey, I'm only wondering why it's sexist, let's not bring all the other problems into it as well).

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    1. It's sexist because the very idea that in order to grow up a woman must take a man's name is utterly sexist.

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    2. I am very intrigued that you say women who don't change their names when they get married are "little girls."

      That women are expected to change their name to that of their husband's when they marry is a throwback to the time when women were the property of men. They went from belonging to their father to belonging to their husband, and the name change was to indicate that change in ownership. It's a custom that belongs in the era of when women could not vote, be very well educated, work in many jobs, or own property. Many things were denied them, including independence and autonomy.

      Amy Pond doesn't strike me as the type of person who'd happily put up with that shit.

      And I fancy I am not either, though the reasons I didn't change my name when I got married are as much practical (needing my passport soon after, I didn't want to worry about changing names), cerebral (everybody laughs when they hear how ridiculous my name would've been, and that's not the kind of first impression I want to make on everyone I introduce myself to) and emotional (moving far away from my family when I got married, I liked the idea of keeping something near me). But they all boil down to I kept my name because I wanted to and I am grateful to live in an era where what I want matters even though I am a woman.

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  58. Mainly because Amy isn't "clinging" to her middle name - she was overtly told by the Doctor in The Big Bang (or, rather, Rory was) that he was taking her name. And Rory agreed. And it was a genuinely quality moment of feminism. Rory objects that men taking women's names isn't how it works, the Doctor points out that it works that way when the woman is Amy at least, and he agrees. It's a moment a lot of people got genuine vindication from.

    So to have the Doctor himself take that away from her is hella-shitty.

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  59. Mainly because Amy isn't "clinging" to her middle name - she was overtly told by the Doctor in The Big Bang (or, rather, Rory was) that he was taking her name. And Rory agreed. And it was a genuinely quality moment of feminism.

    Um, no. Watch it. It's not a 'genuinely quality moment of feminism', it's clearly a joke. It has the structure of a joke: there's the set-up, where the comedian (the Doctor) says something apparently nonsensical; then the straight man (Rory) points out the nonsense; and then the comedian delivers the punchline, subverting expectations by pointing out he as talking about something different to what he seemed to be talking about (instead of making a comment about how name-changing works in marriage, which he knows perfectly well (the twinkle in his eye tells us), he was pointing out who wears the trousers in the relationship.

    The first time anybody sees that exchange, what's the reaction? A chuckle. Or maybe a mild smile.

    It's not a manifesto. It's a joke. Not quite a throwaway joke, because it's clearly a joke meant to capture something of the essential truth of the characters and their relationships (as all good sit-com jokes should, and Moffatt knows his sit-com jokes) but it is, very definitely, in structure, placing and effect, a joke.

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  60. Your idea that jokes and quality moments of feminism are in some fashion antagonistic is puzzling.

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  61. (And in fact I don't think there's any reason, in the series, to believe that on Earth they are living as 'Mr and Mrs Pond'; we never see any post addressed to 'Mr Pond' or 'Rory Pond', we never hear any character on Earth refer to Rory that way -- we don't even see her name on the perfume poster, which would at least tell us whether she kept he maiden name for professional purposes. So given the one time we hear 'Rory Pond' it's not only a joke but a diegetic joke -- the Doctor knows he's being funny -- I don't see why people think they are living, in the gap between The Big Bang and The Impossible Astronaut or after The God Complex -- under the name Pond. Or indeed under the name 'Williams' -- we simply have no textual evidence one way or the other, and so to claim that 'Rory took Amy's name' is totally without textual foundation.)

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  62. (I mean, I have some friends I referred to half-jokingly by the wife's maiden name until not long after that joke wore out its welcome, as it was generally agreed that she was the one with the screwed-on head who made the decisions. But she still took her husband's name for all documentation, my joke notwithstanding.)

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  63. Oh no, duh, I'm being stupid -- Amy must have kept her maiden name as it would otherwise have been really weird to give it to her daughter, wouldn't it? What he have no evidence for is whether Rory took her name (I like the way 'took her name' makes it sound like he stole it).

    Still though, I'm not sure how it's sexist for the Doctor to force her to let go of her childhood by reminding her that she is married and therefore grown-up.

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  64. One of the ways in which she's still that little girl is that she's clinging to her maiden name.

    Would it be childish on a man's part to cling to his own last name?

    In my line of work it's increasingly unusual, thank goodness, for women to take their husband's name, so much so that when I do see it I'm always briefly disconcerted.

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  65. To come back to SK's point, even "Melody Williams" is briefly addressed as a joke -- "Melody Williams" is a geography teacher, but "Melody Pond" is a superhero.

    The Doctor calls them "the Ponds" -- he knew Amy first, and Rory, being the naturally declining type, doesn't object.

    Rory's a very interesting character, and I'd like to see how he's addressed when we eventually get to the Moffat-Smith era... and now the surname is giving me a very strange image of ol' Graham. :-P

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  66. By the way, if "Shada"'s to be addressed on this blog, in what form will it be addressed?

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  67. Is it just me, or is this the year everyone started complaining really loudly about "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time"?

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  68. I've been complaining about it for several years.

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  69. I always liked it, sorry; nowhere near as good as "Happy X-mas (War Is Over)", of course, but then, what is?

    It's a zippy little thing, and I appreciate it for what it is. :-)

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  70. Philip Sandifer:
    "the TARDIS materializes alongside and creates a corridor to the ship"

    Well... the TARDIS materialized in the middle of nowhere. It was drawn to the other ship by the black hole gravity field. I thought the "extruded" force field energy corridor was one of the cleverst things anyone ever did with the TARDIS.



    Scott:
    "Paul McCartney is officially worse than the Grinch when it comes to ruining the atmosphere of Christmas."

    I still love BAND ON THE RUN, but for too much of the 70's (and beyond), Paul had the unbelievable ability to take the worst song from any new album and put it out as the single. Except when he was doing even worse stand-alone singles ("Mull Of Kintyre" excluded, of course). If only Denny Laine's "Time To Hide" had been a single in '76... my God, what a GREAT song that is.


    Tom Watts:
    "Wasted on Blake's 7? Wasted?!"

    I watched BLAKE'S 7 once (and taped all 52 episodes of it). I found it unrelentingly downbeat, pessimistic, erratic in its characterizations, and in the end, pointless. I tried to watch it again some years later. I got exactly 3 episodes in... and had to stop. Had to. It was THAT BAD. I mean... it took me 25 years to finally dig out my tapes of ST:TNG and watch them again. And I doubt if I hadn't been deeply depressed, if I would have made it through the entire run a 2nd-ever time. (Probably, never again.) I still haven't managed a 2nd time with BLAKE'S 7. (But now my tapes of episodes 5-12 are mis-filed. No point in getting started if 2/3rds of the 1st season are missing.) I may never forgive Terry Nation for making "season ending cliffhangers" popular. IDIOT.


    John Callaghan:
    "It's not The Avengers In Space any more."

    Good one. The "re-writing dialogue during rehearsals" is shared by both shows. Who would you compare Lalla Ward's Romana to the most? Emma? Cathy? Purdey? The funny thing is, these days, Sarah mostly reminds me of the OTHER "Smith"-- Venus. Crazy. Only 6 episodes, but SHE's become my favorite AVENGERS girl-- and by that I mean, the one I'd most like to take home with me. (I do have a thing for singers.)



    Andrew Hickey:
    "It's the sound of someone experimenting with layering multiple strange electronic sounds on top of each other and seeing what happens."

    I think that describes the entire McCARTNEY II album.

    For perrennial English Christmas pop songs, I'll take Roy Wood's "I Wish I Could Be Christmas Everyday", thank you!!!

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  71. William Whyte:
    "The panto elements that Janjy Giggins points out (with "Weakling scum!" as the "Oh no it isn't!") undermine the horror. The basic idea itself isn't that great -- it's Claws of Axos with a bit of Inferno... IN SPACE."

    Don't forget, "Noooo, REALLY!!!!!" (just before the co-pilot is killed). I did notice the "INFERNO" bit, when Romana's on the other planet. It's like, a whole planet's destroyed, too late to save it, but she can still warn the other one. (Of course, Sconnos wasn't really worth saving, but still...)


    Wm.Keith:
    ""Simply having a wonderful Christmastime" is not even the worst Paul McCartney Christmas single."

    My hall of shame would include, "Listen To What The Man Said", "Silly Love Songs", "Let 'Em In", "With A Little Luck", "Coming Up", "Arrow Through Me"... my God, it really puts Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now" to shame, doesn't it? (Or Paul Simon's "Slip Slidin' Away"-- the late 70's could be so AWFUL on the radio, couldn't it?)

    The comments about directors killing potentially good stories applies to Paul, too. Starting with "VENUS AND MARS" and expanding horribly on "SPEED OF SOUND" Paul let his sense of production go to HELL, to where even potentially great songs came out sounding awful, with even worse singing on his part. That's just careless and sloppy. So you get things like "Bewrae My Love" and "Warm And Beautiful" which should have sounded great (and would have if George Martin had produced) while "Time To Hide" is the single best-sounding thing on the LP, but then Denny Laine's voice ALWAYS sounds rough and unfinished-- that's HIS style! It's no accident "TUG OF WAR" was Paul's best albumn after "BAND ON THE RUN"-- George Martin pulled it together. (This doesn't explain how the next 2 that Martin did with Paul were both so AWFUL, though.)

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  72. William Whyte:
    "I think Bidmead knew what kind of show he wanted to make. JNT knew what kind of show he didn't want and how much he wanted it to cost. Cartmel is very kind about JNT in his book, but it's clear that at the early stages JNT didn't have much of a creative vision.

    The "inexperience" thing is interesting. Bidmead wasn't experienced. Cartmel wasn't experienced. If anything I think the problem was that Williams was too used to the institutional constraints of the BBC and didn't have the force of personality to do as Hinchcliffe did and just bust the budget regardless of what the accountants said."

    BEST comments on this page. Too much of JNT's run is defined by what's NOT there-- humor, sonic screwdriver, 6-parters, K-9, Romana, likable characters, and then... Tom Baker. I find it hard to believe Williams ever wanted to get rid of Baker. It's so difficult to create a good show, and find a good actor playing a good character. You don't want to blow that. Audiences wish they'd stay forever. Actors move on-- ESPECIALLY in England. Knowing actors move on, you don't want to kick out a good one too early. But it's clear, if JNT didn't kick out Tom Baker, he sure as hell "inspired" him to leave.

    I think it's sad, as I learn more about all this, that Graham Williams was minding his own business, happily doing his own TV show, when suddenly, because of a situation that had nothing to do with him, and an insane nutcase like Mary Whitehouse, he was forced to SWAP tv programs with Philip Hinchcliffe, and found himself doing an immensely challenging show he probably had no real interest in in the first place. That I was able to enjoy so much of his run so much over all these years, well, it's almost miraculous.

    As for JNT, well, see "EXECUTIVE SUITE". It's just never, ever a good idea to let an accountant start running things. EVER. They make every decision for all the wrong reasons. And this is before you even get into JNT's particular mess of a psychological profile.


    Alan:
    "the fact that Graham Crowden was apparently up for the part of the Fourth Doctor so this episode gives us a taste of what might have been"

    I thought I read he was up for the 3rd Doctor?? I still find it immensely ironic that such a great character actor, Patrick Troughton, was so good at comedy, that they decided to deliberately cast a comic actor next, but when they got Pertwee, he went completely the other way-- deadly serious, and with a horrible chip on his shoulder. (Now, if some mad fool had cast Roger Delgado instead... imagine the results.)

    Of course, we had 2 "almost" Doctors this season-- the other being Geoffrey Bayldon.

    I noted the other day that except for "DESTINY", every story this season had ONE actor who treated it like the 60's BATMAN show. Kerensky in "CITY", Lady Adrasta in "CREATURE", Tryst in "NIGHTMARE", Soldeed in "NIMON". (I don't count the thieves in "CREATURE"-- they're more like straight out of "MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL".)

    Did anyone see Crowden in "JABBERWOCKY"? He's a total loon in there, too!

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  73. Matthew Blanchette:
    "I always liked it, sorry; nowhere near as good as "Happy X-mas (War Is Over)", of course, but then, what is?"

    "It's Christmas Time" by The Boss Martians (that Evan Foster, what a guy!).

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