Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One Tiny Little Gap in the Universe Left, Just About To Close (Kinda)

A snake! A snake! Ooooooh! A Snake! (Badger badger...)
It’s February 1st, 1982. Kraftwerk! They’re at number one! With “The Model/Computer Love!” It only lasts a week, but they’re overtaken by The Jam, also a fabulous band, with “A Town Called Malice/Precious.” The rest of the top ten isn’t hugely interesting, although some mention needs to go to the rather fabulously named Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, who chart with the equally fabulously named “Maid of Orleans (The Waltz of Joan of Arc.” Meat Loaf and Christopher Cross also chart, taking the positions on either side of OMD. Oh well.

In real news, Hafez al-Assad, father of current Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, conducts a scorched earth campaign in Hamathat kills between seventeen and forty thousand people, mostly civilians. Like father like son, clearly. And British airline Laker Airlines abruptly goes out of business, stranding six thousand passengers when their flights are cancelled due to lack of airline. Putting the creativity into creative destruction, then.

And then on television, Kinda. As such things go, Kinda is one of the most overdetermined Doctor Who stories in existence. So we’ll start with a book that I’m kind of largely going to avoid, namely Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text. There is, to be clear, nothing particularly wrong with this book. It’s a fabulous example of early 1980s media studies. Unfortunately, the 1980s were basically the earliest days of media studies. And so reading The Unfolding Text in 2012 one gets the sense of a clever book where the only bits that would be at all new to someone who is reading this blog are basically the bits where some mildly arcane bit of literary theory is being evoked. I mean, I don’t think most of my readers are necessarily going to be solid on Greimasian oppositions and their relationship to The Krotons, but even there I think they’d do fine on the actual analysis.

But The Unfolding Text has a particularly detailed reading of Kinda due to the fact that the authors were allowed to hang around the set during filming, and so among we academic types Kinda has a bit of a reputation simply because its been analyzed in particular depth. All of which said, the reading is a bit flat - various codes of meaning overlap and partially cancel each other out and the end result reinforces established social codes based around a BBC image of “professionalism.” It’s a fair enough approach and hard to argue with, but it falls a bit too neatly into the general tendency of early cultural studies work to find oppressive cultural hegemony everywhere.

I, somewhat obviously, prefer a different approach. Not to break out the theory excessively, but I tend to favor an approach where it’s assumed that nothing is ever fully erased and that overlapping codes of meaning - which obviously happen in any collaboratively authored text, and, frankly, in most single-author ones - do just that - overlap, leaving each meaning intact as one of a number of routes through the text.

To put it in less heady terms, The Unfolding Text belongs to a school of thought where a lot of effort goes into showing how mass media is a tool of the established social order. In 2012 hardly anyone needs to be told that anymore. It can safely be taken for granted, and I largely do here, finding myself instead interested in the odd contours of the world as depicted in a piece of mass media aimed at the general population that nevertheless consistently works as a rabbit hole to a world of strange concepts and avant garde techniques and ideology. I’m interested in the way in which the strange survives in mass media, in other words, not in the rather banal fact that mass media is by default an apparatus of existing power. I understand why, in 1983, at the dawn of media studies the observation of how mass media worked to reinforce structures of power was important, but the result is that The Unfolding Text is, as I said to start, a bit basic.

So where The Unfolding Text sees a Buddhist allegory that has been Christianized (or, if we want to be blunter, an exotic allegory that has been normalized - The Unfolding Text does precious little to work through the Buddhist nature of the story, focusing almost entirely on the way that it got mainstreamed into a Christian allegory instead of on what it might have said or done on its own) I am inclined to see a story in which the signifiers of both overlap in interesting and compelling ways.

Or, at least, I would if this were particularly Buddhist. As Miles and Wood point out, the degree to which Bailey can actually be said to be particularly Buddhist is kind of minimal. The Buddhism of the story exists more on the level of character naming as a sort of crass symbolism than on the level of actual content. Had Kinda been a particularly Buddhist story then the Mara wouldn’t simply be removed from Tegan’s mind but accepted as a part of her own internal landscape - a representation of her own demons that she cannot simply erase. That’s kind of pointedly not where the story actually goes, and that’s on the level of scripting, not on the level of Christianizing that The Unfolding Text goes for.

A more interesting issue of Christianization comes in the “serpent in paradise” aspects of the story - aspects that are very clearly drawn from the book of Genesis and not from a Buddhist source. Were we interested in sloppy readings we’d go with some sort of Joseph Campbell monomyth bullshit, but I’ve expressed my utter disdain for Campbell already, so clearly that’s not what we’re going to pick. Instead let’s embrace the postmodern and simply accept that the Christian imagery of the Garden of Eden and the more Buddhist concept of the Mara as Tegan’s internal libidinous desires are being juxtaposed, with the Mara being couched in the more culturally familiar concept of original sin and primal evil. This isn’t Christianity overwriting Buddhism, but an active hybrid concept that simultaneously evokes both.

But all of this is presupposing that a sort of symbolic deciphering of this story is the most interesting way to go about it. And it’s not. The merging of the image of primal temptation with Tegan’s obviously libidinal possession with the childlike logic of her dreamspace is the most symbolically rich part of this story, sure, but if we’re being honest we’re not holding a candle to the symbolic rabbit holes of Logopolis or The Deadly Assassin here, and frankly, thank God because I don’t have anything like the time to write another one of those posts. It’s a potent little knot of symbols, yes, but it’s thus worth taking seriously on precisely those grounds: it is both potent and compact. That is, it resonates strongly without being all that difficult to grasp. Without any mucking about with Buddhist terminology it’s relatively clear what’s going on with the Mara and temptation. It may hit a bit old for a given viewer - the degree to which it’s immediately familiar is, as Miles notes in About Time, kind of directly related to the degree to which the viewer has gone through puberty. But even for a “too young” viewer there’s a familiar sense of the inaccessible here. The Mara feels like a part of the world you’re not old enough for, and retains its primal power. Indeed, for an audience slightly too young to grasp the sexual overtones of the Mara the creature is in many ways even more potent.

This gets us closer to what’s really interesting about Kinda, which is not the density of its symbolism but the quality of its storytelling. Because quietly and without overly excessive fanfare this story is the first one to basically work like modern Doctor Who. It’s a genuine character-based science fiction story. It’s still a flawed story - the series has a ways to go before it can do this elegantly - but it’s the first time we can recognizably see this sort of Doctor Who story being told.

We’ve largely gotten at what Tegan’s character does here. She is, of course, particularly well-suited to this - her rashness, impulsiveness, and anger make her the character most suited to this sort of libidinous transformation. Similarly, Adric’s teenage rebelliousness make him the obvious person to put in the dome under Hindle’s cruel and arbitrary authority. And the young and fresh-faced Doctor is perfectly positioned to be the Idiot who, free of preconceptions, who is able to piece together what the world is and respond to it.

But this commitment to character goes beyond just the TARDIS crew. Character traits also provide much of the sense of danger in this story, with Hindle being a sort of madman that we haven’t seen before. For all the scenery chewing of the episode one cliffhanger, with Hindle screaming that he has the power of life and death over everybody, there’s something unnerving about it. Hindle isn’t an insane villain in the Master sense of just being insanely evil, he’s a villain whose makes him wholly unpredictable. For all the excess of Simon Rouse’s performance it remains a deeply, deeply unsettling one simply because at no point are Hindle’s actions predictable. Equally deft is the way in which Bailey sketches out his other characters so that there appear to be character motivations for what they’re doing as well. For instance, Karuna’s actions are clearly motivated in part by her relationship with Aris, even though the details of this relationship are never quite spelled out.

The result is a world in which everybody appears to be acting as characters, but the interactions of their characters tell a larger story about the philosophical and imaginative concepts of the story. Which are not simply an allegory but are instead thematic. At the heart of this story is a series of stories about the destructive relationship between desire and power, with every given interaction being defined by that relationship. So Hindle is driven mad by his anxiety over power, Aris is tempted and destroys his people because of his desire for power to take revenge on the colonists, et cetera.

There are problems - given all of this, the resolution of just trapping the Mara in a bunch of mirrors is, frankly, lame and underwhelming. After building an entire complex network of character traits and thematic implications all the story can find to do with them is to blow them all up. Except that Bailey is working actively to avoid being so overtly violent, going instead for a functional zero-death story, so instead we get a giant snake.

Ah yes, the snake. One of the legendary bad effects of Doctor Who - one so bad that they redid it in CGI for the DVD. This is silly in several regards. First, the anti-historical nature of it simply jars. Surely by 2011, when the DVD came out, we can simply be at peace with the fact that Doctor Who had some crap effects in its time. Beyond that, surely there’s not that much benefit to fixing just one dumb thing in the story. I mean, let’s CGI out Matthew Waterhouse while we’re at it. Or Aris’s fillings. Or any number of other things. The idea that Doctor Who’s past is somehow fixable is ridiculous. For that matter, the idea that it’s possible to make Kinda look less like it was made in early 1982 is ridiculous. Kinda is absolutely part and parcel of television in 1982 ill-advised giant pink snakes and all. Kinda was a television program, transmitted in a real context. To treat Kinda as something other than the transmitted version is simply inaccurate.

Which gets at the second and rather more significant issue, which is that, as I said, it doesn’t matter how well-done the snake is given that it’s a fundamentally unsatisfying ending in terms of what comes before it. The visual quality of the snake isn’t what’s wrong with the ending. What’s wrong with the ending is that it doesn’t extend from any of its characters. It’s not about Hindle, restored by the Box of Jhana, taking a sane decisive action to save everybody. It’s not about Tegan facing down her demons. It’s not about Adric facing his fear. It’s marginally about Karuna’s growing up and taking on the role of wise woman, but Karuna hardly had the most compelling character arc. It’s mostly just about the Doctor finally getting around to having a clever idea when, in order to be an adequate denouement to everything that’s come before, it needed to be character-based.

But if we gave Four to Doomsday some leeway for being the first story to try soap opera style storytelling and getting the characters wrong we need to give Kinda some more leeway for attempting to try character-based storytelling that was wedded firmly to the science fiction concepts. This is an extremely mature story, technically speaking. And in the end, it’s still 1982 and Doctor Who doesn’t hit the point of doing this sort of thing elegantly for a while yet. All of which said, it’s not even like the new series hasn’t flubbed the ending on a story here and there. Victory of the Daleks happened, and Kinda’s weak ending is no worse than that one. So forgiving the ending - essentially the story’s only major lapse - is relatively easy.

There is, however, one rather ominous fact on the horizon. In hindsight, of course, everybody recognizes that Kinda is a classic piece of Doctor Who. And yet in the Doctor Who Monthly poll on Season 19 it ranked dead last - as the absolute worst story of the season. This is particularly notable because the season finale, Time-Flight, is one of the most reviled stories in all of Doctor Who - the fifth worst ever in the Mighty 200 poll. And yet Time-Flight was nicely middle of the pack in the season poll whereas Kinda was absolutely hated at the time. I'm going to be relatively kind to Time-Flight when we get to it, but let's make this perfectly clear - if you prefer either Time-Flight or Four to Doomsday to Kinda, there's something seriously wrong with you. And unfortunately, apparently the Doctor Who Monthly readers, or at least those that answered the season poll, did.

The usual cautions about the tastes of Doctor Who Magazine readers apply, but what we have to remember is that this was also an era where John Nathan-Turner was overtly courting fandom through the magazine. And here, quite frankly, we see where this becomes really, really toxic. Because by most metrics, even in 1982, it would have been clear that there are really interesting and praiseworthy things going on here and that this is a model story for how to do Doctor Who. Instead, though, the whims of fandom had sway. In hindsight it’s blatantly clear that this is the most sophisticated and aesthetically successful story Doctor Who has done yet. But it’s not the model going forward at all, and it’s not until five years from here that this begins to be what the program shoots for by default. Instead the program tries to cater overtly to the Doctor Who Magazine audience.

It’s not as though there’s an immediate downturn in the quality of the show after this. There’s not, and the Davison era remains, on the whole, quite good. But on the other hand, if you want to point at the wrong turn that kills Doctor Who, I think it would be hard to find a better one than this. Because the ratings for Season Nineteen were generally fantastic - short of the ITV-strike bolstered Season Seventeen they’re the best that Doctor Who has done since the Hinchcliffe era. And ratings-wise, it’s all downhill from here. Kinda was, by a trivial margin, the lowest-rated story of Season Nineteen, and it still beats every single story from Seasons 20-26. This season is the last season of Doctor Who that can validly claim to be massively popular. The directions it goes after this are, at least in the short and medium term, the wrong ones.

And if you want to identify a specific error, it’s difficult to come up with a more compelling example than making actively listening to people who thought Time-Flight was a better story than this a matter of active policy for the show. Never mind the absurd stupidity of some fan comments, never mind the discussions of fanwank and continuity porn. Doctor Who made a point of taking seriously people who preferred Time-Flight to this.

No wonder it died.

50 comments:

  1. The reason it came last was "that snake". I don't think there was any other reason, and children are like that I guess – hairtrigger critics, especially when substandard effects have to be justified in the playground. One duff model and the whole story is dogmeat. But JNT and the team did commission Snakedance (the equal of Kinda IMO) and another story from the writer of Warrior's Gate and Enlightenment. And Frontios. If the policy for the show is also represented by those stories, that's not too bad. I don't believe that supposed remark by JNT that art should soothe. Or if I do, I remember Brian Ferneyhough saying that he wanted his compositions to be like a comfortable armchair. I mean, comfortable for what manner of Cronenbergian nightmare?!

    Also, a shout out to John in The Sensorites, the only (am I right?) adult and sensitive portrayal of mental illness in DW, and a performance a quiet match for that of Simon Rouse.

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  2. I don't know how familiar you are with OMD, but they're hugely Kraftwerk-influenced and veer strangely between cheery synth pop and peculiar soundscapes. Dazzle Ships and Architecture & Morality are the two to begin with, in my opinion.

    In DWM, it was suggested that it's appropriate that the Mara manifests itself as a rubber snake with painted fangs because it's an incarnation of false fears. I think this is quite a neat idea, especially if it had been taken further. "It's just a rubber snake!" says Tegan, and thus completes the character-based aspect of the finale as everyone simply laughs the Mara out of existence rather than treating it as a menace.

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    1. Seconding this! I'm a huge fan of both OMD and Kraftwerk. "Radio-Activity", "Trans-Europe Express" and "Dazzle Ships" are three of my all-time favourite albums. The fact that both them *and* The Jam are charting this week makes me feel unbelievably proud and excited!

      I quite like this theory about the Mara, by the way. It certainly would have made for an interesting conclusion.

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  3. Phil, you talk a wise and good talk about appreciating multiple overlapping codes of meaning opposed to monomyth etc and then you go and get all hardline fundamentalist on any appreciation for the wonderful CGI snake of the DVD. By your own measure surely both versions are valid and can be appreciated? I was a teenager at the time of Kinda and loved the story but was absolutely embarrassed by that plastic snake. As a fan it really was something others would hold up as a reason to ridicule the show and it was hard to defend. So seeing the lovely new CGI snake all these years later is actually quite a profound healing process for many of us who were there at the time. A kind of CGI psychotherapy!

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  4. Great analysis. Kinda is one of my top four Davison stories (possibly top three but I'm leaving a slot open for Frontios, which I haven't seen but have hopes for), whereas Time-Flight is in my bottom three; so I share your pain regarding the whims of fandom. But that's not what I want to talk about right now. Let's look at snakes.

    First, given your reaction to one piece of CGI (which is optional - the default is to watch the original sock puppet) I shall be interested to see what you have to say about "special editions" when we get to Enlightenment. Though I can guess, to an extent. I don't remember you commenting on the CGI spaceship in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, so either your opinion has changed or this is a bigger deal somehow. Which is odd, when you go on to say that it's the wrong ending anyway.

    I'm led to focus on your statement, "To treat Kinda as something other than the transmitted version is simply inaccurate." To which I respond, sure - if you're doing something like the TARDIS Eruditorum. If you just want to sit down and enjoy a story, then anything that makes that story more enjoyable is valid. I would be gutted if the "love conquers all" version of Brazil was the only one that existed, just because it was transmitted first.

    If there were only to be one version I'd say it really should be the original. But that's not the case here, and I see no harm in having the option to cover up one particular mood-spoiling failure.

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    1. It's more a puzzlement over why you'd bother making a CGI snake. I mean, sure, once the thing exists I can understand watching it, but the basic idea of making it is just bewildering to me. Especially when the budget doesn't stretch enough to do a full and proper recoloring of Invasion of the Dinosaurs 1 and when there are still missing episodes to animate. Especially because the CGI snake still looks odd - it's visibly not a 1982 effect, which is just as mood-breaking as a crappy 1982 effect.

      As for The Dalek Invasion of Earth, I was unaware they added a CGI spaceship. That is also very silly of them.

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    2. The retroactive CGI-ifying of historical products is one of my pet hates. The worst offender for me is Red Dwarf... the original Red Dwarf was one of the most impressive pieces of model work in British sci-fi history, and looks solid, real and large. The arrogant assertion that CGI is new and therefore better really grates, especially when you end with an obviously computer-generated Red Dwarf. (I have similar complaints about them replacing the mournful and perfectly-judged opening theme of the mournful and perfectly-judged first series with the standard-issue "this is going to be a romp" rock version. It'd be like going back and replacing the original Doctor Who arrangement - historical complaints aside, it wouldn't fit with the mood of the show).

      And I agree, it looks wrong context-wise. These are historical documents; like the 1997 version of Star Wars, the modern effects jarring against the 1977 filming techniques and model work pull you out of the moment... moreso 15 years later when the digital effects have dated more than those in the original movie.

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    3. I enjoy Phil's notion of the meta-fictional semi-sentient phenomenon for Doctor Who which is why I am surprised at this rather reactionary attitude to CGI enhancements. Surely this is an example of the series reaching forward through time and building improvements to itself as technology and budget becomes available for us weary travellers stuck on the slow path. Is there ever a point where one can absolutely stamp THE END on a piece of work?
      Surely KInda is allowed to continue to evolve as a visual work over time? Why treat it (or any text) as stuck in amber in 1982 and untouchable? Certainly the CGI on Daleks Invasion Of Earth, Kinda, Invasion Of Time and a few others has been tastefully rendered and for my part adds to the overall aesthetic and enjoyment. Some CGI isn't as well executed (Time Warrior?) but generally I think most cases are positive improvements.

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    4. As a result of censorship and time-slot cuts, multiple revisions of Doctor Who stories have been, and still are, transmitted.

      There's even an am-dram remake of "Mission to the Unknown" on youtube, the watching of which is a quite indescribable pleasure.

      The addition of CGI animation (or re-dubbing Dalek voices on "Day") does imply that there is something inferior about the original.

      How much would we object if the default option for the DVD of "The Celestial Toymaker" changed the lyrics to That Rhyme? What if the magic of CGI was used to replace Michael Gough's mandarin costume with a Santa Claus outfit?

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    5. I don't nominally dislike CGI touchups in older works, I think it comes down to how subtle they are about it. The first time I saw the CGI in red dwarf resulted in lots of angry words - also, changing that cool, stately opening into something up-temp and hip just defeated the whole damn joke, you idiots! IDIOTS I SAY!

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    6. I think dubbing out offensive language is a different matter. There's nothing inherently offensive about seeing a mandarin costume, though, so replacing it would be silly, and I doubt the BBC would have access to the resources to make it work in a way that wasn't completely distracting throughout.

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    7. On the reasoning behind the CGI snake, what they have or haven't done on other releases is largely irrelevant. Each release has a budget, and that budget can't be transferred to other releases. If it's affordable to replace some notoriously poor effects with some decent CGI, then it's a perfectly understandable decision to make - it will improve the viewing experience for those who really don't like the effect in question. As long as you aren't cutting some better extras from the disc as a result, why wouldn't you use up the budget in that way.

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    8. Exploding Eye captures the crux of my issue here - the resulting CGI-enhanced Kinda looks neither like a 1982 production nor like a modern production. The snake is still jarring. It's just jarring in a "Oh, they CGIed a new snake in" way instead of a "well that's a rubbish snake" way. The result is pointless - you've not fixed the original, nor have you made a credible or coherent new version. I feel similarly about The Celestial Toymaker in Wm's thought experiment - the result would be less offensive than The Celestial Toymaker, but would not undo the original. (And the archivist in me would be mortified by replacing the original, just as I'm mortified that no version of Fantasia with Sunflower exists.)

      Mind you, if you wanted to go whole hog and do, for the 50th anniversary, a quick set of five or six classic series scripts remade with modern filming techniques and directing and a light rewrite to suit the current cast? That would be positively delightful. It's the idea of repairing the original that bothers me, particularly when the repair is so visibly not the original.

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    9. It would seem only fitting, given Winston Smith's day job, to re-release the Peter Cushing TV play of "1984" with CGI rats.

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    10. But why does NuSnake have to fall into either 'modern' or '1982' boxes? Surely it just looks 'better'? And the original version is there as default for those that want it. I usually agree with Phil on most things but scratch my head at this. As I said above, Kinda continues to evolve before our eyes in its own mercurial majesty - why constrict it?

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    11. Well, does the CGI snake actually look "better"? Not to me. The 1982 version is a crap rubber snake. The new one is a crap CGI snake. Given a choice, I prefer crap rubber. CGI is too often bland and forgettable, while at least physical props have texture. The worst thing that can possibly happen to a Doctor Who story is that someone makes it look bland or generic.

      I have nothing against sprucing effects up in general *if* it genuinely is an improvement, but in my opinion it's almost never an improvement worth the effort. Obviously opinions will differ here. If I were that bothered by crap rubber monsters, I feel like I'd have a lot of difficulty enjoying classic Who at all. A lot of the time, watching older Who, part of the fun is seeing how they handled effects with the techniques of the time; going back and "fixing" things would ruin that whole aspect. These are cultural products of another time, and I'm loathe to lose that another-timeyness quality in most cases...

      I'd be a hypocrite if I said I was against "special editions" in all cases though, because for example even before CGI the special edition of "Curse of Fenric" was unquestionably better than the televised version.

      One case where I can see it as a definite improvement is the special edition of "Day of the Daleks": the new voices and the spruced-up battle at the end really do add to it, and help the spectacle live up to the script. The original Dalek voices there are just so...flat that it's hard to convince myself anything is really being lost.

      Now if someone wanted to go in and re-edit "The Celestial Toymaker" to make it not-racist and also not-boring, that could be a very interesting project, along the lines of "The Phantom Edit" of Star Wars Episode I...but that would go way beyond a few effects tweaks or just redubbing that one bit.

      I have a hard time thinking of many examples where the effects are such a letdown that they'd be worth tweaking at all: usually when an effect is crap enough to disappoint me at all, the surrounding story is so weak that there's very little anyone could ever do to fix it. For example, CGI'ing a new Mestor into "The Twin Dilemma" still wouldn't leave you with a watchable story unless you also change literally every other aspect of the visuals and dialogue, preferably with fire and acid. One that definitely jumps out at me though is "Battlefield". My God, if someone could figure out how to fix the fight scenes in there...Great script, great ideas, terrible execution. I'm not sure if that would even be possible without restaging the whole thing though...

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    12. The thing with replacing bad monsters/effects with CGI is it just serves to highlight the bad monster/effect. I don't think, "Ahh, that's better", I think, "That's where the rubber snake used to be", rather than just taking it as part of the whole.

      By the way, could we replace the CG cats in Let The Right One In with badly-animated puppet cats? That would definitely be an improvement.

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    13. Guys - seriously? - The CG snake is 'crap'? In comparison to that sub panto rubber thing? I just can't buy that. Didn't Barry Letts himself almost beg the DVD guys to attempt CG dinos for Invasion? Would you have felt the same way about that had it been done? As I have already pointed out - you can still enjoy your original rubber monsters as the default is unaltered.

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    14. Seriously, yes, it is.

      As far as Invasion of the Dinosaurs goes, Lawrence Miles has a much better idea: replace the crap dinosaur puppets with good dinosaur puppets. Modern rubber monster technology is *amazing* and reasonably-good physical effects stand up better to time than computer-generated ones tend to. It's like comparing the gorgeous Dalek Sec prop in "Doomsday" to the underwhelmingly animated flying Dalek horde, just no competition at all.

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    15. I like Lawrence's idea - that made me smile. I would not be opposed to a 'better looking' rubber snake either if it were possible to insert. But I am fine with the CG version, I honestly don't see whats so terrible about it personally. I guess we will have to be Tegan and Turlough at the start of 'Terminus' here and 'Agree to disagree agreeably!' I'll be Tegan! ;)

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    16. "I would not be opposed to a 'better looking' rubber snake either if it were possible to insert."

      I hear you can work wonders with Crisco.

      "I'll be Tegan!"

      Thank you for taking one for the team!

      It's not that it's "crap" in the sense of technically incompetent: it's a very reasonable CGI snake by current standards. But that's the crux of my problem: to me, it looks like a pretty standard contemporary effect and doesn't particularly stick in my mind. Say what you will about the original, but by gum, it was memorable. Now, if the CGI one had been hot pink...Or more blatantly phallic...Or ideally both...

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    17. I'm usually supportive of changes if they improve something that was obviously a mistake in the original. For example, in the new Blu-ray restoration of Star Trek: The Next Generation, they're changing a scene in the pilot where Captain Picard orders an energy transfer through the phaser banks and it came from the Captain's yacht in the shot. The designer of the Enterprise was very unhappy with this so they re-did the scene for the new HD transfer. The difference is that, due to the way TNG was shot, the effects are on different reels from the other scenes so the all the restoration team had to do was recomposit the shot because they had access to all the original effects work. They didn't have to do any new CG. I think that was fine because it was done the exact same way as the original effects, using the original effects, and was an admitted mistake.

      If you're fixing a mistake, or otherwise trying to do something that would help realise the vision of the original filmmakers in a way they were unable to do, then I think it's justified.

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    18. The TNG example is unfortunately becoming poor, as some of the "before" and "after" shots being posted to the TNG page on Facebook clearly illustrate that things aren't being re-composited, but outright changed. For instance, one comparison has the Enterprise orbiting a planet, and the "after" planet was clearly a new CG model as it didn't even come *close* to matching the original planet. Another shot from "elementary, My Dear Data" had the framing affect of the Enterprise interior shifted, *and* the lighting altered.

      And let's not even get into the "restorations" of G.I. Joe and The Transformers (not exactly high art, I know) that used incomplete film prints as the basis of the restorations, and used bad video effects, highly obvious footage from the old '80s transfers, and a big batch of *nothing* to get episodes of that show to match the originally transmitted versions (and that's before the alterations and even censorship applied to G.I. Joe to "fix" that show).

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    19. I know there are one or two new CGI effects, but I think they're only for some of the shots with high particulate counts, like transporter beams. I do believe the planet shots are all original-The Okudas have explicitly said a number of times that's all they're changing.

      It really does look *that* different and *that* much better when recomposited.

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  5. I was ten when Kinda was first broadcast, and I remember vividly why I voted to put it bottom in that season poll – though today it would be one of several that might be my favourite from that season (it’s easier just to pick The Tides of Time above the lot of them). It wasn’t just the snake, though that put the tin hat on it and was one of only three Doctor Who effects I remember everyone scorning the next day at school, and by far the most despised (the others being the Myrka and a kitling. I strongly defended Survival, at least…). I’d also found the story very unengaging up until that point, at least for the most part (and its leading role in The Unfolding Text appeared to confirm my prejudices), so I was ready to react to something turning up on screen that invited lashing out – and I suspect that was shared by a lot of kids at the time. So you’re right that changing the snake probably wouldn’t save it with pre-pubescent viewers; even so, if a young Davison fan asked to watch it without having been forewarned, it’s probably the only Who DVD I’d automatically switch to the CGI version, because if a single effect apparently took so many people out of appreciating a story, why treat it like spinach they have to swallow? Besides, surely most fans have always treated Doctor Who as “something other than the transmitted version”, however “inaccurate”; I’m not the only one who grew up seeing the books as more vital than the TV series, at least for many stories (and if all you talked about on your blog was exactly what was on screen, that’d be 90% of your entries gone).

    Having said that, even Terrance Dicks’ novel was peculiarly poor – for me, it’s probably his weakest, and gives the impression he hadn’t engaged with it at all, either. It was only when the story was repeated a year or so later and a woman at our local church enthused about it that, after first asking really?, that I started to give it another chance. And, yes, after that and starting to think about it, I’d agree with your suggestion that it’s a hybrid rather than a steamroller, and the more interesting for that. Perhaps it also helped that within a couple of years I was into my teens and the Dark Places of the Inside suddenly seemed gripping and stylish, and well-suited to adolescent existential crises as well as being a sudden leap into pop video-land. I still feel embarrassed about that vote, but I can still understand it.

    Good analysis of the use of the TARDIS crew as characters, rather than merely plot functions, and it’s remarkable to compare them to the superficial notes used in the previous story; I can’t resist the obvious, though, and point out that in a character-based drama, Nyssa has to be completely absent.

    I’m with Tom Watts, though. Season 20 was at least as much like Kinda as it was like Earthshock, though Season 21 charged very much in a Sawardian direction and Colin’s first season more so; at least for a while, it seemed to me that the better Davison stories had found one of two clear directions, either ‘arthouse’ or ‘macho’ (before finally uniting both in Caves).

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    1. I totally agree about Kinda's popularity - though I was too young to appreciate the snake being particularly bad, I did simply find the story boring. I didn't get the psychological insights, so for me not very much happened. No laser guns, no spaceships, no aliens, the plot was no kind of romp, and I didn't really follow the story. Worst of all - because I enjoyed Logopolis and Castrovalva just fine (and was a fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey from a very young age) - it didn't take me anywhere mysterious, it didn't bend my mind, I didn't go on a journey. It seemed stuck in two or three quite claustrophobic locations, with a bunch of people talking. The dream sequences were quite evocative but otherwise, yawn.

      Now, of course, I think it's one of the compelling greats. I just don't think it's children's TV.

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    2. Was the bulk of the poll-voting audience children, though? I mean, if so I suppose that does explain it, but I'd have assumed the audience who was buying a monthly magazine and sending back a poll vote would mostly have skewed a bit older - that we'd be talking more about the teenaged Doctor Who fan here than the childhood one.

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    3. "...one of only three Doctor Who effects I remember everyone scorning the next day at school, and by far the most despised (the others being the Myrka and a kitling. I strongly defended Survival, at least…)."

      Heh. My children hadn't been impressed by Remembrance of the Daleks, the first McCoy I got, and didn't watch as I gradually picked up more, despite my recommendation. I happened to mention one day that Survival had a really rubbish special effects cat; and with only this information they asked to watch it there and then. I still don't know why! They've seen plenty more since, but Survival remains my daughter's favourite Mccoy story. What this says about anything I have no idea...

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    4. Was the bulk of the poll-voting audience children, though?

      I wondered exactly the same thing as I typed, but I don't know if there are any demographics. It began as a children's comic (albeit surely with a large injection of older fans) and at this stage is still certainly aimed at a lower age range than it later grew into, suggesting an audience ageing with it, but I'm wary of conflating observation of the magazine with knowledge of its audience. My early copies are a bit inaccessible, so I can't check to see how much the vote might, alternatively, have been steered by DWM itself: did the previews promise only to disappoint? Did the reviews praise one and kick the other?

      And great anecdote, Elwood. I remember being relieved that I could say so many good things about the story, as (like a snake, come to think of it) the problem with the "cat" wasn't the 'that's a rubbish alien' but the much more distracting to the casual viewer 'I know what that's meant to look like, I see it every day, and it doesn't'. I've not seen any work done on such images, but my instinct is that 'real' things done so 'unrealistically' have unusually little tolerance in terms of suspension of disbelief.

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    5. I showed my wife Four To Doomsday, saying, "You won't like this". She loved it and has been a Doctor Who fan ever since. Work that one out!

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    6. Oh, I can believe that - there are so many different tastes out there.

      My prime memory like that is from the early '90s, living with a young couple and their little boy; I'd get him breakfast in the morning and show him an episode of Doctor Who, and always wanted to terrify him as much as I'd been (because I loved being frightened by Who when I was tiny). I was careful not to scare him too much, but built up to the likes of Pyramids of Mars... He liked them, but none of them ever bothered him.

      Then one day I put on The Seeds of Death, which I thought of as a bit plodding, and it was the scariest thing he'd ever seen. He hid behind my legs. So you never can tell!

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  6. But back to the snake, and while I agree with you about the ending, for me the problems with the story – though I’d still rate it very highly – come in earlier than that. The first half is much more successful than the second: perhaps the existential crises still appeal; perhaps the director becomes more at odds with the script; perhaps I like the second half’s ideas less. As a result, it’s a relatively unusual story that I feel works much better watched in one go than episodically, which leaves more of an impression of the better whole than the sharp decline. And while analysis ever since That Book has centred on the religious mixes, I’ve read some Ursula Le Guin, too, and while Doctor Who’s always borrowed cheerfully from everything in sight, it’s more effective when it translates its theft into something different rather than just nicking much of The Word for World is Forest for a similar setting but doing it considerably less well.

    I compare the two in some depth in my own detailed Kinda review, so I won’t go into it all on here (though the villain of the novel being “Captain Davidson” becomes funny in retrospect), but the really striking difference is that the “primitives” are genuinely sophisticated in one, but we’re only told they are in the other, acting like sheep and told off whenever they display any kind of individual thought. Are they called “Kinda” because they’re kept as children? It seems to talk down to the audience and sneer at enquiry, which really doesn’t appeal to me as a philosophy (and, ironically, appears to fall into exactly the same preaching that Ms Le Guin warns against in the Introductions to her book).

    Oh, and surely Richard Todd, while certainly star casting, is the very reverse of “stunt casting” – who else but the star of one of the Sanders of the River films would be better placed to subvert them? Many viewers would have appreciated the semiotic thickness of that very active performance code.

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  7. On the matter of who those mysterious fans were who liked Time Flight more than Kinda (Part One). I have a theory about this, which is linked to an admission. One of them was me.

    With some caveats, of course.

    Background: I'm a year younger than Phil, but came to Doctor Who in 1988 when I was five. Growing up in Canada, when the youth programming channel YTV was first launched around then, they bought a lot of their content from the UK, and foremost was Doctor Who. So I saw Sylvester McCoy's seasons less than a year after their UK broadcast (though I had no idea at the time what the UK broadcast situation was; I only know this was British and awesome). YTV also bought the entire Doctor Who back catalogue, so I could see all the episodes as they survived in the late 1980s.

    But my viewing habits were utterly unsophisticated. My favourite Master was Antony Ainley’s precisely because of his grinning supervillain OTT performance. I loved stories when Daleks appeared simply because I reacted to them like this: “Whoa!!! Daleks!!!” The same goes for Cybermen. Similarly to my Star Trek obsession at the time, I was obsessed with details of continuity, trying to figure out how which stories matched up with what I knew of Earth’s history and tried to reconcile them into one consistent whole.

    I hated the black and white stories because I didn’t think black and white stories were worth watching. Besides, I couldn’t figure out why the stories seemed so disconnected from each other. I hated a lot of the Davison era because he didn’t have the flash of Pertwee or Tom Baker, or the emotional connection I had made with McCoy. Because of that, I didn’t even see Caves of Androzani until I bought the dvd in 2004, probably having thought, “Oh, Blandy,” and changed the channel. My favourite story was The Greatest Show in the Galaxy because there were evil clowns in it.

    In other words, I watched the show like I was Ian Levine more than a decade before I knew who that parasite was. (Music sting, closing credits)

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    1. Part Two.

      A year or so after YTV stopped running Doctor Who, I was 12, and I saw a Doctor Who novel in a bookstore. It had a bright pink cover with a manic McCoy jousting at me with his umbrella, and I was ecstatic. My mom bought it for me. It was Sky Pirates. I read the whole thing, but the story was too slow, I couldn’t follow any of the subtleties, I didn’t know who any of the companions were, and I never bought another Doctor Who novel again, thinking it had all gone wrong.

      When I was 13, I got the internet. And I found real knowledge about Doctor Who online throughout my teenage years. Shaun Sullivan’s Doctor Who Reference Guide was a key resource for me, because I could read summaries of all the Doctor Who stories ever. I could now gain the knowledge to become a sophisticated viewer. I learned for the first time that there were missing episodes, and about the production details of the show. I was still a continuity junkie, but reading reviews of New Adventures novels at Outpost Gallifrey from age 17 onward made me realize was a bad attitude to the show (and to creativity in general) to take. My biggest regret as an adult Doctor Who fan is that I never gave the New Adventures a chance when they were in print and I could acquire them fairly easily.

      When I first started watching Doctor Who, all I had were the images on the screen. So it was the images alone that hooked and excited me. I didn’t even know how superficial my knowledge was, because no one else of my age group in my city knew anything more than me. My understanding of Doctor Who couldn’t become sophisticated until I knew anything about its history. Until I read about Caves of Androzani, I didn’t even know it was worth watching.

      The Logopolis entry described exactly this phenomenon: a show that exists for its viewers only as superficial images will ignore the sources of its genuine substance. Even facts about continuity and in-show history become superficial when they don’t have deeper meaning than the simple propositional truth value of a statement like “Skaro is the Dalek homeworld.” That’s what made the 1996 movie so bad, though I couldn’t articulate it this way at the time: it was superficial imagery and continuity with no deeper organizing purpose.

      The 21st century series is so good because the current producers have comprehensive knowledge of the show’s past, the ability to create striking images, and deep thematic understanding. That’s what you need to create great art and great life.

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    2. Epilogue.

      When I was 5-13, I may have been a superficial television viewer compared to myself at 29, but that's no indication that the only viewers JNT was paying attention to literally were children. I was reading Kurt Vonnegut when I was 12 years old and loving it (not getting all the subtle aspects of it, but still loving it when everyone around me was into young adult novels about monsters [boys] and horses [girls]).

      Superficial viewing habits could exist among people of any age. The only prerequisite is that they lack the sufficient depth of knowledge to understand the multiple meanings and thematic interplays of a television show, its production, and its history. Many of the adult Doctor Who fans of the early 1980s, at the time, had little knowledge of the history of the show aside from hazy memories. And there were no online communities that could quickly update people on the knowledge they lacked. For those who knew the history (like Ian Levine), the superficial aspects mattered more than the thematic.

      This is just a common attitude among sci-fi fans, unfortunately. It was the training in multiple genres and sophisticated storytelling skills that developed among Davies and Moffatt's generation at the BBC which let them create the deep and complex Doctor Who we (and the world) love today.

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    3. I'm feeling a bit sorry for The Visitation already!

      Superficial appreciation can be deeper than one realises of course. I mean, in Confessions of a Mask the young Mishima feels a superficial appreciation of a painting of a martyred saint, but it either scars his mind permanently or acts as a foreshadowing. Say one has a profound interest in rubber – no surprise then if as a child one had poured over photographs of Voord.

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    4. @Adam. This is exactly the attitude young viewers of Doctor Who have always had, and always will. My daughter's 9 now, and she's been watching for about 2 years. That's all she was interested in - the Daleks! The Cybermen! The Angels! - and nothing wrong with that at all. Her older brother before her (he's now 14) was exactly the same - Gas Mask Zombies! Daleks! Angels!

      I suspect my son will drift away from Doctor Who in a year or so, and I think that's always how it is. For some people Doctor Who is a weekly dose of wonderful childhood terror that they grow out of and move on from, in the same way as older generations grew out of Battle of the Planets, He-Man, Scooby Doo. However those once-were-fans will always have a soft spot for the Doctor of their youth (my son will always remember David Tennant, whereas I suspect my daughter is more attached to Matt Smith). These people become the Not-We.

      However other viewers keep watching, and grow with the programme, successfully navigating the awkward transition between Doctors, and replacing the now-not-so-scarieness with an appreciation of the subtleties of the storyline and an increasing enjoyment of the rich tapestry of continuity. These are what are knowns as "The Fans", and both they and the Not-We should always remember that all of us started out exactly the same - 7 years old thinking that Time Flight is better then Kinda, or "Revenge" is better than "Genesis" (because there's lots more Cybermen in it). Hell if I was 7 I'm sure I'd prefer "Evolution of the Daleks" over the boring "no monsters" trudge that is "Blink". In fact I'd probably never have watched Blink because it was too scary (my daughter has yet to watch "Waters of Mars" all the way through!).

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    5. Adam, Spacewarp:

      Have to say my story is similar to yours in some ways, as are, I presume, the stories of many of us here! Don't have children, but my much-younger sister is watching Doctor Who for the first time and I can definitely already tell she'll be one of us. I'm not sure how many other kids watch the show this way, especially with the New Series. Most people I know watch it like any other drama and dutifully turn in every week and if that Saturday morning/afternoon tradition you spoke of is going to live on.

      Incidentally, I grew back *in* to Scooby-Doo myself, but that's another story...

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  8. '"It's just a rubber snake!" says Tegan, and thus completes the character-based aspect of the finale as everyone simply laughs the Mara out of existence rather than treating it as a menace.'

    This.

    In my mind the 'real' ending of Kinda has always been something like that. The rubber snake works precisely because it's pathetic. Like a balinese shadow puppet. Isn't that the point of it in Snakedance or am I remembering selectively? It's a while since I watched that story. Anyway If they were gonna CGI anything I'd suggest making the big robot exosuit thing more like Ripley's one in Aliens.

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  9. Is it the case that the CGIed snake on the DVD is optional?

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    2. According to the Restoration Team website, it is:

      "Optional CGI Effects Sequence – option to view episode four with the original giant puppet snake replaced by a CGI snake"

      My two cents: the optional extra is great to show "non-we's" who might otherwise get dragged out of the story by the giant pink puppet. We hardcore fans who were there at the time can remember the original puppet, and it is still there as the default option on DVD if we want to relive it, but my wife has never seen Kinda, and, when we reach it in out marathon, I will have no hesitation in showing her the CGI version as her introduction to the story.

      I have to say, though, that if they had gone for an actual Balinese Shadow Puppet, and Tegan saying "But it isn't even a real snake!", that would have been utterly brilliant. In my mind, that is now the "real" ending of Kinda. Great call, John Callaghan and Anton B!

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    3. I believe all the new CG effects are optional; I know everything is optional on the new "Day of the Daleks". My copy of "The Ark in Space" has new CG effects for the exterior shots, and my copy of "Destiny of the Daleks" has it for the city models and both of them are fully optional. I agree-it's definitely a good way to tantalize the "Not-We's" who might be turned off by the...I'll be kind and say "dated" effects of some of these serials. And hey, for purists who hate them they don't have to watch it that way. Problem solved IMO.

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  10. I'm guessing that the majority of voters in that poll were not adolescent girls.

    Because to the adolescent girl that was me when I first saw Kinda, it was one of the most awesome Doctor Who stories EVER. Indeed, it's really rather embarrassing to me now to look back on just how well the Not At All Subtle psychodrama of this story played to me at that age.

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  11. Turning aside from the rubber snake, I just rewatched Kinda and I noticed something I'd totally forgotten -- the fact that the Doctor is a complete jerk to Adric in this episode! Rewatch the first episode, specifically the scene where the Doctor very harshly chews out Adric for accidentally activating the mech simply by closing its door ("There is a difference between serious scientific investigation and meddling, ISN'T THERE!?!?"). And all the while, the Doctor has been solely and directly responsible for freeing the Mara due to his carelessly mucking about with the wind chimes, a fact that he never acknowledges even after Paruna expresses shock that anyone with an unshared mind would be so foolish as to sleep near the chimes.

    Adric should have tried to leave for E-Space earlier, IMO.

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  12. About the benefits of inserting new effects to old stories, personally I'd like to see the Tombs Cybermen voices replacing the audio for their other appearances, especially the new series.

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  13. WHAT rubber snake? (Obviously, I'm watching the story, not the effects.)

    If they wanted to re-do it, why not use a REAL snake? Or have someone do some stop-motion animation?

    This was my intro to Richard Todd. I've seen him in a number of other things since, including "ASYLUM" (which also features "Doctor Who" in it, but not in the same story).

    Nerys Hughes was wonderful. Why didn't they dump Tegan into a black hole and drag "Todd" around instead?


    Philip Sandifer:
    "let's make this perfectly clear - if you prefer either Time-Flight or Four to Doomsday to Kinda, there's something seriously wrong with you"

    I tend to feel that way toward anyone who prefers Peter Davison over... well, ANY of the other Doctors!

    Let ME put it this way-- a "REAL" Doctoe would NOT have tolerated Panna's unbearable rudeness of repeatedly calling him "Idiot!" It was nice after she died and reincarnated that she quickly pegged that he wasn't, and suddenly, Todd was the odd one out instead of The Doctor for the rest of the story.

    Mary Morris, sadly, did NOT age well. I always remember her as one of the most insidious "Number Two"s on THE PRISONER, in the episode "DANCE OF THE DEAD". (Did anyone besides me notice that all of the female Number Twos were the most DEVIOUS by a mile?) And something always told me from watching that, that when she was younger, she must have been one HOT number! I was surprised (but not too much) when I learned she'd been in a production of PETER PAN. That explained her party costume. Ah well, that voice didn't change! (Or if it did, it must have happened long before 1967.)

    I've read the theory about "It's just a rubber snake!" long ago. I like it.

    As for the DALEK INVASION spaceship... well, I always remember the IMMENSELY HUGE one from "INVASION EARTH: 2150 A.D." I suspect saome of Gerry Anderson's people were moonlighting. (Barry Gray certainly was.)

    Regarding the cat in "SURVIVAL"-- these days it reminds me of Salem from SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH.

    Oh yeah-- and "REVENGE" is my favorite Cybermen story. It moves so fast, it's so much fun to watch. And nothing can replace that voice... "The planet will be fragmentized!"

    I just realized. Hindle's "character arc" in this story could be compared to Willie Loomis on DARK SHADOWS. He went thru 3 stages... nasty, REALLY screwed up, and finally, a better person than he'd ever been.

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  14. A two-years-too-late comment seems a good place to exorcise 31 years of hurt (and slight smugness TBH): age 9, I voted Kinda top in that DWM poll, and was horrified when I saw the results.

    I suspect I was quite a Milesian kid, voting mostly on tone/oddness/cleverness – and scariness, frankly – so the uncanny Kinda was an easy favourite. My claims on being a critical savant end there, though – I put Time-Flight second.

    Re. Who voted in the DWM polls – DWM had had a huge publicity push a little before this poll, moving to photo covers and IIRC glossier stock for Davison’s arrival, and may even have changed distributors, so even if young fans weren’t the majority of its readers it would have been very accessible to them and probably a bunch would have got on board with the new Doctor. As for the voting, every kids’ comic and cereal box was festooned with coupons – for competitions, fan club sign-ups, etc. 2000AD and other comics had “favourite story” feedback coupons every issue. So I don’t think there would have been any barriers at all to filling in the poll among the younger readers.

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  15. Something for your proofreader, when you get to the Davison book(s): Karuna does spell out that Aris is one of her seven fathers. Whether that's the whole story or not depends on how much of a skeptic one is, I suppose. :)

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  16. adult and sensitive portrayal of mental illness in DW, and a ... clowncostumemen.blogspot.com

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