Friday, April 13, 2012

The Ground's Attacking Us (Frontios)

The skies of November turn gloomy.
It’s January 26th, 1984. Frankie Goes to Hollywood finally get around to being at number one, and stays there all story. By the end of it, Cyndi Lauper has made it to right below them with “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” with The Eurythmics, Queen, and Echo & The Bunnymen also charting, the latter with the sublimely good “The Killing Moon.” So the pop charts have gone and restored order, which is often a good sign for what’s on television.

The news, on the other hand, is wholly mediocre. The big one is that the Winter Olympics kick off the day after this story airs its final installment, but that has relevance for the next story, not really this one. Nissan announces plans to open a plant in Great Britain, which will be the first time that non-British cars will be built in the UK. The first embryo transfer resulting in a live birth is announced? An untethered space walk? It’s not thrilling news.

It is, however, thrilling television, as we’ve got Frontios on tap, and as it happens, Frontios is quite good. Perhaps the easiest thing to say about Frontios is that it is not at all the script you would expect from Christopher H. Bidmead. Not merely based on Logopolis or Castrovalva, although it’s very much unlike either of those, but based on the entirety of Season 18, one does not expect to see Bidmead going for body horror and grimy militarism. Nevertheless, this is unmistakably a Bidmead script. His stocks in trade - lost knowledge of the ancients, eccentric spaces - are all here. It’s just that they’re serving a story about slugs using human corpses for labor instead of some fugue on Escher or computers.

There is an almost ritual element to the progression of Season 21. After so long mining every part of Doctor Who’s history save for its alchemical spark the series unexpectedly brings back two of its last three alchemists in Bidmead and, later, Holmes. On top of that, there is an odd focus on the buried. Story after story in this season focuses on imagery of caves, tunnels, or the deep. With the miners’ strike looming, there is in hindsight something slightly uncanny about this. It is not quite a thematic link - the issues of the strike are not well reflected across Season 21, although there are moments that come close. But it remains striking, as Doctor Who finally stirs, even if temporarily, from its season-long torpor of museum pieces, and has a resurgence of alchemy to see it obliquely reflect the looming politics of the day.

But there is something troubling and unsettling about the alchemy in these stories, and Frontios is a prime example. Bidmead has always had a love of eccentric spaces, but here the unfathomable depths of Frontios and the outer reaches of time do not hide a sense of wonder but a sense of raw horror. And not just any horror, but good old-fashioned body horror. The planet literally consumes people and uses them as meat. On top of that there’s Turlough’s race memory of the Tractators, which is played strikingly by Mark Strickson, who decides to play the terror by just gobbling scenery. It’s a sharper choice than it sounds, as it’s such an unusual position to have a companion put in that we really do get a strong sense of how fundamentally wrong and scary the Tractators must be.

There’s a chilling callousness to this conception of the world - one where the earth itself is hostile to us. But it seems, in a real sense, like the appropriate midpoint between Bidmead’s conception of Doctor Who and Saward’s. Bidmead’s conception of Doctor Who is something we understand fairly well at this point, but Saward’s is a trickier matter. His four scripts demonstrate a tendency towards action-based scripts and a tendency towards the militaristic, but equally, and this is too often ignored, Saward is not straightforwardly pro-military. Earthshock can be accused of that, certainly, but come the next story Saward is far more ambivalent about the military and violence. Still, brutality is a major theme, both of his work and of the scripts in his tenure he takes the most pride in.

So here we get Bidmead reinterpreting Saward’s fascination with the brutal through his own love of eccentric spaces. And it’s worth noting, Frontios is not merely eccentric because of its interior geometries but because of its position as the absolute edge of where the TARDIS can travel. Notably, Frontios is not set at the end of the universe. There is no sense of looming heat death or the destruction of all things. Instead, it seems, there is simply a point in history beyond which the Time Lords simply cannot go. (And given that Frontios is positioned as one of the last dying outposts of humanity, it seems that the scope of Time Lord society is coextensive with human society. This is not uncommon - it is oddly difficult to construct any explanations of Time Lords that do not require the centrality of humanity.) And so the lurking horror of the Tractators is positioned as the horror at the end of civilization - the literal end of history.

But equally, then, it’s telling that we get one of the most straightforward “leave everybody to rebuild civilization” endings that we’ve seen in years. For all the meditations on the possibility of this brutal, visceral horror as the natural endpoint of history, we can’t ignore the fact that the Doctor wins, civilization is restored, and everybody gets to go on. Equally, though, it’s reiterated over and over again that the Doctor has to hide this from the Time Lords.

It is nearly impossible to wind a way through this set of ideas without returning to our old conception of the Time Lords as guardians of the arc of history. More even than Curse of Peladon, the story that caused us to first formulate this idea, this is a story that just fails to make sense without that idea well in place. It is only when you have a concrete idea of the endpoint of history that the liminality of Frontios makes sense in the first place.

Given this, we oughtn’t just make hay about the Tractators and the body horror. We should also look at the type of society that is the natural endpoint of civilization before it crumbles to dirt and meat. Miles and Wood make much of the fact that this, unlike most Bidmead worlds, is one in which the people defending scientific inquiry are thinly described whereas considerable amounts of time are spent on the authoritarians. But what they don’t comment on is the underlying issue of why. What has to be stressed isn’t that the authoritarians are unusually well-entrenched here, it’s that their entrenchment is tacitly positioned as the natural order of the universe - the inevitable end. This is a society where the barbarians aren’t just at the gate, the people inside the gate are giving up and joining the barbarians. This is the endpoint of humanity - what the whole of human history is leading inexorably towards. And, of course, it's a very Sawardian society as well - full of dour military men.

The scale of this, of course, can’t be sold purely by having the Doctor telling us that he shouldn’t be meddling here. The TARDIS itself is ripped apart here. The script is not entirely clear on why, but nothing about Gravis and the Tractators suggests that they’re a-list enough to be able to engage in that sort of narrative collapse. Thematically, if not literally, the culprit is unambiguously the nature of Frontios itself as a place the TARDIS shouldn’t be in the first place. Frontios is simply not a place the Doctor is supposed to be in the first place.

But if this is the case then the Doctor’s meddling here has to be taken as one of the most significant acts he’s ever taken - one on par with his rendering of the Daleks as subject to history at their origin point. We don’t really notice it here because the overt mythicism of the Daleks is absent, but thematically, this is huge. The Doctor has changed what it is that the arc of history bends towards. He’s not just altered history, he’s, in a very real sense, altered the very nature of time itself.

There is a longstanding and not particularly interesting debate over what the killing blow for the classic series was. I say it is uninteresting because it is, quite frankly, supremely easy to answer: Warriors of the Deep finally gave a story so bad that not even the fans could defend it (it’s telling that Doctor Who Magazine didn’t even bother running a review of the story) that gave open ammunition to MIchael Grade. The Twin Dilemma cripples the incoming Doctor so that he is essentially never, ever going to be able to win the public over. And then Trial of a Time Lord botches the last throw of the dice, failing to bring a restored show that anybody can be excited about and tout as the triumphant relaunch of Doctor Who.

No, all of that is terribly simple. The difficult and interesting question is not what killed Doctor Who, but what saved it. It’s not difficult to imagine that the show would have come back eventually - television production is far too remake happy to let a property like Doctor Who sit abandoned forever. But what is unusual is that Doctor Who returned as a continuation of itself - and more than that, as a continuation that embraced large swaths of spin-off material. That’s essentially unheard of. Even though Star Trek maintained a unified continuity over five series, it wildly altered the premise and lead characters. But we’re going to go into the 50th Anniversary with a character who, as is repeatedly stressed, the exact same one that Ian and Barbara met in Totters Lane. That’s kind of weird. There’s no real way to cut it so that it wouldn’t have just been easier, in both 1996 and 2005, to reboot the series from scratch.

So what about the series enabled that? This is a surprisingly tricky question, because much of what we are looking for is slightly buried. The bulk of the series during the Saward era is visibly making catastrophic decisions that lead to cancellation. But every once in a while there is a gem. Not just a good story - an Enlightenment or a Snakedance - but one that lays a bit of framework that provides a vision of the show that can be picked up on. Because that, in the end, is at the heart of the question of how the series survived: what you can find within the dying embers that constitutes a way forward.

And here one of the great alchemists of the series slips it in. He writes a story that is on the one hand unmistakably a part of the concerns of this era, but that on the other hand features the Doctor shamelessly cheating and altering the nature of time itself. And again, this is surprisingly topical. The Saward era, if only in hindsight, is almost overtly an attempt to figure out what Doctor Who should be like in the wake of the Falklands and Thatcher. It gets it dreadfully wrong much of the time, however. In part this is because it concedes the point and tries to be Doctor Who in a Thatcherite world. Whereas here Bidmead just won’t have it. He starts in a world of militaristic institutions holding back the tide of chaos, then has the Doctor just kick the premise to the curb and change the world into one in which good old-fashioned “tear down the structures of society and leave smart, good people behind to rebuild it” is the order of the universe once again.

It’s a small thing, isolated on the trailing end of an era of unfulfilled potential. But it’s significant - a spiritual escape act. Instead of bending towards Thatcherite hell the universe now takes a last minute swerve into rebirth.

As above, so below.

51 comments:

  1. Originally fascinated by both "LOGOPOLIS" and "CASTROVALVA", I was initially very put off by "FRONTIOS". All of Season 21 is so downbeat, nasty, violent & depressing. "FRONTIOS" is mostly just depressing. At least, until the 2nd half. Then it gets surprising.

    In retrospect, Bidmead's 2 earlier stories make almost no sense at all. It's not that I didn't "get" them, they're just BAD across the board. But this is somethinhg else. It's weird-- but in a way, coherent. I like the observation that Bidmead is doing a "Saward" type of story (just as a few stories later, Holmes did a "Saward" type of story, and did it far, far better than Saward was ever, ever capable of doing himself).

    Peter Davison has proven to me he's a capable actor. Just NOT on DOCTOR WHO. And it's obviously not his fault. His fans defend him for being a "nice guy", totally failing to realize that each regeneration of The Doctor is NOT supposed to be completely different in every way from all the others, but rather, a consistent character who simply looks and acts a bit different on the outside. Davison, for most of his run, seems like whoever the Doctor is or is supposed to be, has somehow gone into a 3-year-long coma and doesn't return until he's poisoned to death and takes 4 entire weeks to die painfully. But in "FRONTIOS", at least briefly, we finally see hints of the "real" Doctor. It's fitting that it happens in a story where things are so hopeless, that he finally rises to a challenge and has perhaps his biggest victory, in part, in DEFIANCE of the Time Lords (though that, like many things, is never quite explained in detail).

    I couldn't even begin to comprehend what happened to the TARDIS the first time I saw this. I later realized it had to do with the fact that the TARDIS itself is, as stressed in "LOGOPOLIS", mathetmatically constructed to put the control room in a dimension separate from its outer shell. Lucky thing the control room was knocked back into the "real" world when that shell was destroyed. Otherwise, how could the shell ever have been re-created?

    Among the insane things here, the Tractators actually hit on the SAME idea The Daleks had in their 2nd appearance-- turning a planet into a giant spaceship. I wonder if there's any significance to the similarity between them and Nestor in "THE TWIN DILEMMA"?

    My very favorite Peter Davison scene is in this story. It's when he has to save Tegan's life. And it's one of the only times one feels the "real" Doctor is alive in that underaged exterior of his. "I got this one cheap because the walk's not quite right. And then of course there's the accent..." The look on Tegan's face is priceless. She wants to KILL him! He's put up with her big mouth and constant abuse for 2-1/2 years now, and FINALLY, he's giving it back, in a laid-back, seemingly polite, and genuinely FUNNY way. One could easily picture any other Doctor doing that scene. It's shocking to see Peter Davison do it. Why, WHY couldn't he have been written this way for the whole of his tenure? It's NO WONDER I was overjoyed when Colin Baker arrived. HE took crap from NOBODY.

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  2. If he was always like that wouldn't it rob the moments of desperation of meaning?

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    1. I've never understood the Nathan-Turner fallacy that good qualities of the show and its hero had to be deducted and removed if they were to mean anything when they did pop up all too rarely. All that leaves you with is a show and a hero without substance except in fits and starts that adds up to about 10% of what it once was when it rightly defined the show.

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  3. I note your point of how seeds had to be sowed for the show's endurance and resurrection before it could end- tempting as it is to say Logopolis is where the show should have ended whilst it's still generally remembered well, before it accumulated a retroactively corrosive critical mass of bad work.

    It's frustrating because we know the cancellation was always due to happen, so it seems it'd make no odds to have it end on an earlier, more dignified note. After all the show being ended on Logopolis makes sense. The shocking, rapid way it declined afterwards doesn't.

    If the show ended during the first three Doctor's eras, (say on Reign of Terror or Evil of the Daleks or The Green Death), then it'd have had its natural lifespan. It might continue in comics, but that relegates it to the same status as Planet of the Apes- something that is 'remade' rather than 'continued' (hell, if it ended in 1965, maybe Peter Cushing's movies, or indeed Terry's Dalek spin-off would have usurped the show).

    You highlighted how Frontios builds a solid framework for the show. I think this was first done in Genesis of the Daleks with its established timeline and a fixed point in the show from which everything follows and is set in stone. But this block universe notion only really became the rule with Season 18.

    It's said that the NAs endured as novels due to the hints of a more alien, scheming, darker Doctor, and a well developed companion who came to the forefront on equal terms, and provide intrigue. And yet these were qualities and elements of the later Tom Baker era too, and then taken away during the Davison era as the companions became ciphers and the Doctor became ineffectual.

    So I tend to feel that had the series ended on Season 14 or 17, then the Doctor's dynamic with Leela or Romana would have similarly endured in a novels range continuation, and infact we would probably have had new mythologies brought in if we'd gotten the novelisations of the unmade State of Decay and Christopher Priest's Sealed Orders.

    But late 70's Who did begin to feel complacent so perhaps it'd have looked like it had its time, if it ended when the 70's ended. So would the demand for the novels be there?

    The prospect of ending it on Logopolis seems to work round that by ending on such an uncertain note that fans would have to know what happened next and what this new Doctor's like. So here a novels range (with novelisations of the unmade Castrovalva, and Christopher Priest's Enemy Within) would probably have endured. However it's an awkward point for the New Series to pick up on (the thing is Logopolis demands an *immediate* continuation), and given Tom Baker's reluctance to return to the role with Big Finish, we could say goodbye to Big Finish happening (which partly ensured the show's return, and produced some of the best Doctor Who in any medium).

    Ending it on Time-Flight perhaps gets around the above issues- it's an easy point to pick up from, and gives an opening for the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa audios, and establishes that future Doctor Who can be done without Tom Baker. However, it's the same problem as ending it on Season 17. It's so neat an ending that the demand for a novels range continuation simply mightn't be there, and we'd have lost Christopher Priest's story.

    Perhaps The Five Doctors is the right end-point where the show can have a future without Warriors of the Deep or Twin Dilemma existing, whilst the Awakening and Frontios would probably be novelised. There's darker psychological companion business in Snakedance and this new Doctor being a developing hero. Mawdryn Undead is the prototype former companion revisit novel, and sets up a new morally shady companion. Enlightenment opens up new avenues of storytelling. And The Five Doctors is a microcosm for the show's universe and its delicious history. And with Longleat, many seeds for future fan projects would be sowed there.

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    1. If Doctor Who had ended with Tom Baker, I would have hated it: I loathe T. Baker's performance, and so would never have been motivated to seek out the Hartnell or Pertwee episodes.

      So I am rather glad it continued and got to give us the gems of 'Remembrance of the Daleks', 'The Happiness Patrol' (out on DVD soon! buy it!) and 'The Curse of Fenric' which piqued my interest.

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    2. And I would hate to lose McCoy's last two seasons.

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    3. As would I. Losing McCoy would be a terrible crime.

      Also, I think the lurking, imperious Doctor we would be looking for is far more present in Lalla Ward then it is in Tom Baker. But that's just me of course.

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    4. In reading through this blog, I have disagreed with almost everything SK has said.

      However, I sincerely believed I was the only person in the world who considered Happiness Patrol on par with Remembrance or Fenric, and I am tremendously pleased to learn otherwise.

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  4. A Freudian interpretation of this story is hardly, shall we say, far from the surface. Things hidden and buried cause stress and instability in the colony, such that it starts to lose cohesion and break down. The response to this stress is to double-down on repression of what lies beneath the surface, causing a downward spiral of repression and fragmentation. Only by delving down into the deeps, revealing what lay hidden and neutralising it, can harmony be restored and the colony go on in good health to an optimistic future.

    With this is mind, the final leaving scene on Frontios missed an important detail. Cockerill should have been shown alongside Plantagenet and Range, taking the place of the late Brazen. Naturalistically, this would make political sense: Cockerill is a potential leadership rival with a strong support base, and so should be given a senior position. But it would also be symbolically apt, showing the reintegration of the formerly divided community.

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  5. Bidmead the Alchemist! I love it.

    Having delved into the history of the show, it finally begins to Remember. The race memory becomes manifest. Invoking the body horror of the Hinchcliffe era is only the beginning.

    We first had the notion of hollowing out a planet and using it as a chariot back in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. So the Tractators aren't just a flash of Turlough's race memory, but the Doctor's. As the blog pointed out so long ago, this marked an apotheosis of the Doctor's character, when he finally comes into his own.

    And then there's the business of invoking the Time Lords, coming on the heels of defeating the monsters and leaving a ruined civilization to rebuild itself -- this is straight out of Troughton. It's even a base under siege story, but the siege is mistaken as coming from above and outside, rather than from below and within. Here, the Doctor answers in full the challenge issued by The War Games: he doesn't destroy the monsters. He simply disables the thought processes of its leader, and relocates the harmless buggers to someplace more suitable.

    And then there's the parallels to the Pertwee era. The society of Frontios is well aware of aliens, though they have no idea what they're up against. Brazen is your unflappable Brigadier, Range is the scientific advisor, and Norna is his assistant/daughter. And it's an obviously British colony in space, given that there's a hereditary leader named Plantagenet.

    In alchemy, names are important. "Brazen" is a brazen man. "Norna" means fate, and we get a picture of the fate of mankind. "Range" is a word with multiple meanings, but as a stand-in for the Doctor, it suggests seeing the whole continuum of Doctor Who stories. The actual character of Mister Range is a caricature of the epithets hurled at Davison's portrayal.

    And then there's the matter of Captain Revere, who goes largely unseen in this story, until his big Reveal. As I pointed out in The Awakening, there's an alchemical reading of Chairs -- they symbolize Ascension, taking the Divine Throne. Bidmead cleverly reverses the polarity of this symbolism. Captain Revere (a stand-in for God) will give the monsters the ability to move planets through the use of a moving chair, but he's ultimately a dead man, a husk. The whole problem with Frontios is that it's an Ascension Story gone wrong.

    So what does Bidmead do with his symbols? How does he resolve the alchemical problem? He throws the military man under the bus. It's the sacrifice of militarism that saves the day, allowing the colonists to get on with their work.

    Story after story in this season takes us into caves and tunnels, but this isn't a reflection of miners or contemporary issues. It's a reflection of the nature of Myth, that it is fundamentally metaphor (which alchemists know full well.) Underground places are reflections of the subconscious mind, and Frontios mines the subconscious mind of Doctor Who. Turlough's invocation of the Dark Mirror -- shown in the production design of the Underworld -- helps bring this metaphor to light.

    Again, we see an understanding of the difference between Myth and History. Frontios does not go out of its way to highlight the historical elements of Doctor Who -- it does not fetishize the history of the show, but rather delves into the subconscious mind of the Doctor himself, trotting out his *fears* and putting them on display. And his greatest fear -- which is synonymous with the signifier of narrative collapse -- is the destruction of the TARDIS.

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    1. This is a really interesting take on it. It makes me wish for a remake within the new series, on the new series' budget and with the new series' ability to handle the emotional moments. Because when I watch the Frontios they made, instead of seeing this fluid, organic, interior horror story, I see a blocky, literal-minded story, where the TARDIS is literally destroyed because it's hit by something and then pulled back together by trickery. I don't know if it's a failure more on the part of the script or the direction to sell what's happening as a breaking of the normal rules, but until I read this post and this comment, my reaction to the first episode cliffhanger was not "we have gone beyond the usual world of Doctor Who to a place where the old rules don't apply" but "that's stupid, you can't destroy the TARDIS like that." Maybe a simple change to the last line like "The TARDIS has been destroyed. We're out of our normal universe" would have sold it better. Maybe even Peter Davison delivering it like he's intrigued rather than stunned.

      Anyway, as I say this review has catapulted Frontios somewhat unexpectedly to the top of the list of stories I'd like to see the new series remake (next to Evil of the Daleks). They got the end-of-the-universe feel with Utopia much more than Frontios managed so it'd be interesting to see them try. (Having said that, the remake of Power of the Daleks as Victory of the Daleks was unfortunate, so maybe they should stay well away).

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    2. I watched it recently and I think the problem with that cliffhanger is that what is needed is the Doctor's reaction to the TARDIS being destroyed, to sell the fact that yes, this is real and yes, they're stuck.

      But instead because of the limitations of production, the line has to inform the audience what has actually happened, because without that line it is utterly unclear what has happened.

      Thing is, I'm not even sure that the new series can do it, because I'm not sure how you could visually represent the TARDIS being destroyed, without cheapening it.

      On the other hand, I'm the kind of person who gets annoyed any time they show the TARDIS 'flying' because I think it demystifies the magic-box nature of it to have it move in such a mundane way. It's supposed to transcend narrative reality, which is why it can seamlessly insert itself into whatever genre or milieu it is visiting this week, and leave at the end 'like a summer breeze'. It's a narrative function made diegetically concrete. It's not a mode of transport, it's a means of shifting from one story to another.

      To throw that away by showing it whipping along a motorway, or tumbling over London, for the sake of an action sequence, I find very very annoying.

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    3. @William Whyte

      "This is a really interesting take on it. It makes me wish for a remake within the new series, on the new series' budget and with the new series' ability to handle the emotional moments. Because when I watch the Frontios they made, instead of seeing this fluid, organic, interior horror story, I see a blocky, literal-minded story, where the TARDIS is literally destroyed because it's hit by something and then pulled back together by trickery. "

      This kind of gets at the heart of the disconnect of JNT's era. They don't really know how to pull off the emotional beats for what is supposed to be an examination of the psychological beats of the characters. In part, this is a failing of the Bidmead approach: thinking that psychology is about ideas rather than emotions.

      As it turns out, the new series does do a remake of this story. The Hungry Earth is clearly influenced by Frontios. We have the earth consuming bodies, the return of The Silurians, and fragments of a TARDIS that's fated to explode. It plays out through The Big Bang, where all is restored through trickery. As Philip has gone on at some length, both in Frontios and The Big Pang, this plays exactly into the mercurial nature of the Doctor.

      BTW, I never had the impression that the TARDIS was destroyed by a falling meteor. Earlier in the episode, the interior of the TARDIS has already been affected by the gravity of the situation, with the whole bit of the door that won't open. So the destruction of the TARDIS doesn't come from above, but from below.

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    4. @SK

      "But instead because of the limitations of production, the line has to inform the audience what has actually happened, because without that line it is utterly unclear what has happened. Thing is, I'm not even sure that the new series can do it, because I'm not sure how you could visually represent the TARDIS being destroyed, without cheapening it."

      Well, like I said, I think the Revival has done it, and it wasn't cheap at all. When the Doctor reveals the shard of TARDIS at the end of Cold Blood, everything about the production -- from Smith's reaction to the musical cues -- plays it as something horrible. And visually it works, it's just a shard of burnt TARDIS. Later, the destruction of the TARDIS is synonymous with the destruction of the Universe, all the lights going out. Again, the use of metaphor is hugely relevant to showing what can't be shown.

      Getting back to Frontios, there was a great opportunity in the second episode to advance the Doctor's horror of the situation. Turlough pretends to use the hatstand as a weapon, and this I think confirms my reading, because to use a part of the TARDIS as a weapon (especially a prop where you hang your hat) has got be another of the Doctor's fears. That the hatrack "appears" to have such power is another example of "narrative collapse" -- but also how the mundane can function as something Mythic. (As you can imagine, I love the wobbly flying TARDIS visual, especially when the CGI is used to mimic a "failing" of yesteryear's model work.)

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    5. The blasé way that they treat the destruction of the TARDIS is one of the things that irritates me hugely. The TARDIS is a massive part of their lives, it enables them to live their lives, yet they totally dismiss it's destruction and mention it once off hand. It should have been a thread through the story. For all they know they'll have to make their home on Frontios.

      It's never occurred to me before but I wonder if the TARDIS defences were weakened by going so far into the future, it was out of it's safety zone..?

      As tempting as it is to blame Warriors of the Deep for the aborted cancellation of Doctor Who in 1985, Michael Grade had always hated the show (citing The Deadly Assassin and Spearhead from Space as examples for his hatred). It was just one show in a long list of shows that Grade and Powell considered dead weight. The only difference for Doctor Who was the fans kicked up such a fuss that it came back.

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    6. Miles and Wood, in About Time, have an interesting commentary on this. Apparently Nathan-Turner had been successfully leaking rumors of a big format change for Doctor Who such that the blase TARDIS destruction was, at the time, effective - by destroying the TARDIS and then carrying on as normal the show, in their argument, managed to give a real sense that maybe it was just casually changing format and premise.

      I'm dubious, but it seemed worth noting.

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    7. Well, like I said, I think the Revival has done it, and it wasn't cheap at all. When the Doctor reveals the shard of TARDIS at the end of Cold Blood, everything about the production -- from Smith's reaction to the musical cues -- plays it as something horrible. And visually it works, it's just a shard of burnt TARDIS. Later, the destruction of the TARDIS is synonymous with the destruction of the Universe, all the lights going out.

      But doesn't that just prove my point? Even when the new series does destroy the TARDIS, it can't work out how to represent that destruction visually. There's a shard of already-destroyed TARDIS, but when it comes time for the actual moment of destruction, either it's so far away it looks like a sun or the moment is seen from inside the TARDIS.

      There's no way, that I can imagine (maybe someone else can) to visually represent, from the outside and at close quarters, the TARDIS actually being destroyed, as happens in 'Frontios'.

      You can visually represent that the TARDIS has been destroyed, or you can show the inside falling apart, or you can step back and say it gives off the light of a star, but what would it actually look like it you were to stand there and see the police box shell be destroyed? I have no idea how you could represent that, whatever the budget, without it being utterly utterly lame.

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    8. @Phil: We were post-Adric and post-sonic screwdriver, so it was plausible that anything could be destroyed, and that cliffhanger did work in setting up a mystery. On first watching I expected the resolution to be that the Doctor was simply wrong and it had been stolen or misplaced ("Look! It's over here next to this little dog!") or sucked whole under the ground, and the more time went on without it being found the more disturbing it was. But it still didn't seem quite plausible that they would have written the TARDIS out as an episode 1 cliffhanger (especially since the first episode 1 cliffhanger of the season, "The Doctor's drowned very quickly!", was clearly not meant to be taken seriously) or in such a relatively non-epic setting, and the fact that the characters didn't talk about what this meant for them made it seem like it wasn't changing premise so much as throwing one more thing away -- a thing JNT was better at than adding things.

      Again, I think this was a problem fundamentally with the execution. The Tractators don't just pull things around -- they distort things (a very Bidmeadian concept), and the literal-minded direction doesn't get that over very well. Peter Grimwade could maybe have got it to work much better.

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    9. There's no way, that I can imagine (maybe someone else can) to visually represent, from the outside and at close quarters, the TARDIS actually being destroyed

      Why doesn't the opening of "The Mind Robber" count?

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    10. Michael Grade had always hated the show (citing The Deadly Assassin and Spearhead from Space as examples for his hatred).

      What was his beef with those two (rather good) episodes?

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    11. I agree. I think the opening of "The Mind Robber" DOES count and is exactly what you're talking about.

      Call me wacky, but I really don't want to see the New Series attempt something like this. I have zero confidence in its ability to pull it off satisfactorily, at least right now.

      I've never heard Grade had a problem with "Spearhead from Space" and "The Deadly Assassin". If he did he was almost as out of touch as Mary Whitehouse.

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    12. I may be a bit late with this, but Victory of the Daleks wasn't really a remake of Power of the Daleks at all. It was a way for Gatiss to play with fans' expectations, while simultaneously building a weird starting premise for casual and new series only viewers. I thought, when I first saw Victory, that it was going to be a retread of Power: all the beats about the Daleks pretending to be servants were there. But then the Daleks reveal that it was all a trick, and the actual story about the redesign kicks off.

      It was almost as if the Daleks watched Power, and knew the Doctor would remember them having pulled that gag before. Then the Doctor fell right into his story beats. The "victory" of the Daleks in that story was tricking the Doctor into letting the Daleks write an episode of the show. Thinking about it this way makes the story, which was on the surface a diegetic way to launch a Dalek redesign, much weightier and more meaningful.

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    13. I overlooked the opening of The Mind Robber, I admit. But now it's been brought to my attention I find it very interesting, because yes that is a good way to represent the TARDIS's disintegration... but I think it's one that would be impossible to do now, because it relies on an ability to do TV in a non-representational mode that was possible in the sixties but simply doesn't seem to be today.

      It's the same theatricality as, say, The Web Planet: the idea that you can put aliens on TV that are blatantly men in suits or hunched under rugs, and that is okay and complaining about them not looking like real venom grubs (or whatever) would be like walking out of War Horse because all the animals are puppets and you expected them to look real.

      I don't know when it switched, but certainly it was the dominant mode in the sixties: watch the old ITC or ATV programmes and there is absolutely zero effort put into making the sets look like anything but sets. If John Steed walks into an office, it's an almost-empty room with freshly-painted walls containing a desk with a typewriter and maybe a filing cabinet -- but if he doesn't need to rifle through the filing cabinet, there might not even be one of those. The room is not meant in any way to look like a real office that people actually might work in, with all the papers and personal items and whatnot that you would find there; rather, it's meant to convey 'office' to the viewer as quickly and simply as possible, and then get out of the way so the actors can act.

      This was of course the mode of all sixties Doctor Who, some more than others ('The Gunfighters', obviously) but the brilliance of 'The Mind Robber' is that it actually draws attention to this artificiality by stranding the characters in a world of such theatrical devices. To us now I don't think we can quite get just how the dissonance works in that story.

      Whereas now, there is an assumption that TV must absolutely must be made as if the fictional world were 'real' and the camera was a fly on the wall observing it. An office set must not simply clue the audience in that this scene takes place in an office; it must really look like an office, as if people came there to work yesterday and spilt their coffee on the floor. The set gets its own, totally unnecessary, fictional backstory.

      It's utterly mad, and contributes, I think, to the way the 'gossip about imaginary people' understanding of fiction has become so difficult to shift from the minds of the dullards who populate the world nowadays. But it seems we're stuck with it.

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    14. ('Frontios' itself, actually, is at the tail-end of this and still uses some non-representational tricks: for example, people who are drawn into the ground are not actually drawn through the surface, they are roll-back-and-mixed out of the picture to convey that they have been drawn under the surface. Contrast with, say, 'The Hungry Earth': there's no way Amy's being sucked through the Earth could have been done in such a non-representative way. If they could afford to do the actual special effect, they would have cut around it rather than have the balls to, as 'Frontios' did, keep the camera directly pointed at something that nobody could ever think even vaguely looked like someone being sucked through the Earth and ask the audience to accept that that just is what happened. In fact perhaps this is a good way to date the end of the possibility of such non-representational storytelling, because 'Frontios' occasionally resorts to it, but by the time of the cliffhanger to 'Trial of a Time Lord' eisode 13, the exact same effect of someone being dragged underground must be done in a representational way so that a reaction cutaway covers the place where 'Frontios' could use non-representational storytelling. but that's an aside.)

      So to return to the point, 'The Mind Robber' does show the TARDIS being destroyed, but it doesn't do so in a way that is meant to represent the TARDIS being destroyed: it does so in a way which is meant to symbolically convey the TARDIS's disintegration (and does so brilliantly).

      But these days, such a thing would not fly. If you're going to put something on screen these days it is not allowed to be symbolic: it must be done as if it were really happening and the camera were observing a real thing really happening. And that's the context in which I don't think you could have something which is actually meant to represent the TARDIS being destroyed, as opposed to something which conveys the TARDIS being destroyed.

      (and note again that this is all about the TARDIS being destroyed; of course it's perfectly possible to use representational storytelling to represent the TARDIS having been destroyed, which is what happens with the panel fragment at the end of 'Cold Blood').

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  6. it is oddly difficult to construct any explanations of Time Lords that do not require the centrality of humanity

    Especially given that human retinas are needed to activate the Eye of Harmony! How convenient that the Doctor was half-human, for 90 minutes anyway. I'm looking forward to seeing what you make of that.

    there is simply a point in history beyond which the Time Lords simply cannot go

    Is it nearer or farther than the time point in "Utopia"?

    So what about the series enabled that?

    Surely the fact that the Doctor can, diegetically, change appearance without changing identity is one factor. It weakens the natural progression from recasting to rebooting. (Obviously a series can have extradiegetic changes in actors while maintaining the fiction that he hasn't changed diegetically -- the James Bond franchise, prior to the Daniel Craig reboot, being the obvious example -- but it's more of a strain.)

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    1. "Is it nearer or farther than the time point in "Utopia"?"

      The Doctor says "Not even the Time Lords ever went this far!" at the beginning of the episode.

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  7. @ SK

    There's no way, that I can imagine (maybe someone else can) to visually represent, from the outside and at close quarters, the TARDIS actually being destroyed, as happens in 'Frontios'.

    You can visually represent that the TARDIS has been destroyed, or you can show the inside falling apart, or you can step back and say it gives off the light of a star, but what would it actually look like it you were to stand there and see the police box shell be destroyed? I have no idea how you could represent that, whatever the budget, without it being utterly utterly lame.


    The thing, with the narrative weight that the TARDIS carries, it would be disastrous to only show its destruction in a literal sort of way. In this sense the Revival knows exactly what it's doing, using a variety of techniques to show not just what's happening, but what it means.

    The first is showing the after-effects, which is what we get in Frontios. A shard of the shell is just the same as a roundel from the interior, shorn from the whole. And given the production techniques available in Frontios, that's about as good as it gets.

    In the Revival, there are many other visual techniques which then serve as metaphors -- and frankly, I find metaphor much more interesting and artistic than straight-up representation -- starting with Vincent's painting, which isn't literal but impressionistic. Then we get all the galaxies of the Universe exploding. Finally, that shot of the TARDIS playing the role of the sun, juxtaposed with lighting to make it look like a giant flaming Eye in the sky -- in other words, the TARDIS as God. All of these create a lot more "meaning" than putting some explosives in a blue box and watching the shards fly.

    However, if we're going to go the route of literal representation, I'd point you Philip K Dick's, "Lies, Inc." That has a wonderful description of a simulacrum exploding, which is where I get this idea: Imagine, if you will, that when the shell of the TARDIS shatters, flying off in bits and pieces, that the interior comes pouring out of it like it's just been disemboweled. Chunks of console, room architecture, and engine parts vomited into reality, taking up much more space than they deserve, like an endless parade of clowns emerging from a tiny circus car, or rabbits from a hat. Until it stops, and suddenly what was once a peaceful empty field is now a massive junkyard, not unlike the TARDIS junkyard of The Doctor's Wife.

    Maybe that's why it's better to show through metaphor.

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    1. We also get the breakdown of the medium, with River Song's time loop playing on endless repeat like a skipping DVD.

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    2. Like a chronic hysteresis, there's a memory of the loop -- we get the Doctor and River quipping about the time when the loop is interrupted. Is this what you'd call "borrowing the grammar" of the bit from Meglos?

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    3. Okay, to deal with the points in reverse order: Philip K. Dick is a master of coming up with descriptions which are wonderfully evocative in prose, but simply couldn't work if done visually (in some ways, this is the mark of the best prose, as it means that you are using the medium to its fullest extent). I suggest, strongly that your description of the 'interior pouring out' is something which only works in the imagination, and could not be visually done in a way which does not look stupid.

      Similar to when Marie opens her doors in Alien Bodies (and, later, Compassion does the same): the reader is invited to imagine a scene which works only in the imagination, which would look either stupid or prosaic if attempted on screen (again, this is a mark of great prose writing).

      So then we get back to the TARDIS's destruction in 'The Big Bang' and, again, you're proving my point that the new series couldn't visually represent the TARDIS being destroyed by listing all the things it does to convey the destruction of the TARDIS without ever representing it visually. And I agree that this is the right decision, indeed the only decision, because the TARDIS's destruction can only be conveyed, not represented visually (it could be represented in prose, of course, as you so ably demonstrated, but in talking about the new series we're talking about a contemporary visual medium).

      But while that worked for 'The Big Bang' because it was built up to, it wouldn't work for the sudden-shock destruction of the TARDIS at the end of episode one of 'Frontios'. That cliffhanger as transmitted is limp, and it's limp because what it should have been is the Doctor's reaction to the TARDIS's destruction. But in order for the cliffhanger to be the Doctor's reaction to the TARDIS's destruction, the audience has to know the TARDIs has been destroyed: in the actual transmitted version, the final line, which ought to be the Dodtor reaction, is stolen by the necessity to make sure the audience understand what has actually happened, because it's utterly unclear.

      However in order for it to be clear, and without completely rewriting the whole story, the audience has to immediately understand that the TARDIS has been destroyed; and, in order to fit in with today's mores, that has to be done representationally; and therefore I don't think it's possible.

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    4. SK is spot on about the TARDIS. By making it operate on and subject to the laws of physics the new series is constraining it with very mundane rules. It becomes less of an "eccentric" object, to use Sandifer's term.

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  8. SK:
    "I'm the kind of person who gets annoyed any time they show the TARDIS 'flying'"

    In my latest watching, I noticed the first time this turned up (unless it was earlier in stories I don't have) was "PLANET OF EVIL" (what I count as the beginning of Season 14-- it should have been!).



    Warren Andrews:
    "Michael Grade had always hated the show (citing The Deadly Assassin and Spearhead from Space as examples for his hatred). It was just one show in a long list of shows that Grade and Powell considered dead weight."

    Two IDIOTS. They should both have been FIRED for even wanting the BBC's BIGGEST MONEY-MAKER WORLDWIDE off the air. Especially when it had suddenly, finally, exploded in the US.




    Philip Sandifer:
    "Apparently Nathan-Turner had been successfully leaking rumors of a big format change for Doctor Who such that the blase TARDIS destruction was, at the time, effective - by destroying the TARDIS and then carrying on as normal the show, in their argument, managed to give a real sense that maybe it was just casually changing format and premise."

    I can see him doing that. Just like when he kept feeding the rumors about a female Doctor. Or, when "ATTACK OF THE CYBERMEN" was unveiled at a convention, he smiled and said, "We... PLAY with the TARDIS in this one."




    BerserkRL:
    "Why doesn't the opening of "The Mind Robber" count?"

    The Hartnell & Troughton episodes didn't make it to the US until Season 22 (so US fans got to HATE both Hartnell AND Colin baker at the SAME TIME). The instant I saw the TARDIS fly apart in "THE TIME ROBBER", I realized where the idea for the scene in "FRONTIOS" came from. Similarly, the white void in "THE MIND ROBBER" was also mirrored (heh) in "WARRIOR'S GATE". Seems like JNT spent a LOT of time on the show bringing back old ideas.

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    1. Again, though, the nature of US/worldwide profitability is murky at best. The BBC's mission as a public broadcaster paid for not by advertising but by what amounts to a tax means that the normal logic of TV production doesn't apply straightforwardly. There's at the very least a genuine ethical question about using license-payer money for a show with visibly plummeting popularity in the UK on the grounds that it's popular with Americans. Indeed, I recall reading somewhere that the BBC was, in fact, legally prohibited from considering the international ratings in programming decisions.

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    2. Also, as Jon Blum recently pointed out on Gallifrey Base, Doctor Who was bringing in lots of money overseas through sales of the back catalogue. Once that was used up, the revenue stream would collapse, and the BBC weren't making enough new episodes per year to keep it going. If they had wanted to maintain foreign sales long-term, they would have had to spend a lot more money on Doctor Who in order to make a lot more episodes per year. Which sounds good for us fans, but you can see why the BBC at the time might have been less than keen on massively increasing their investment in the programme.

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    3. Interestingly, this points out (to me anyway) another reason for the new show's success in America. Specifically, changes in the viewing patterns of Americans in response to the diversification of cable stations in the last fifteen years or so. In the 1980's, a show that only aired thirteen 45-minute episodes would never have made it, but by 2006, that format was considered perfectly acceptable for a cable series. Eureka and Burn Notice, for example, had truncated seasons like that.

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    4. I haven't seen 'Planet of Evil' and probably never will (it's a Tom Baker story and have I mentioned how much I hate Tom Baker's portrayal of the Doctor enough yet?).

      However, I can put up with scene of the TARDIS hovering in space: it seems reasonable that if it has no other destination the TARDIS might materialise in empty space and just hang there.

      But I do object to scenes of it actually moving, even in space.

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  9. "Warriors of the Deep finally gave a story so bad that not even the fans could defend it (it’s telling that Doctor Who Magazine didn’t even bother running a review of the story) that gave open ammunition to MIchael Grade. The Twin Dilemma cripples the incoming Doctor so that he is essentially never, ever going to be able to win the public over. And then Trial of a Time Lord botches the last throw of the dice, failing to bring a restored show that anybody can be excited about and tout as the triumphant relaunch of Doctor Who."

    I think I'm beginning to see where the narrative is going: the McCoy years providing the framework for the actual continuation of Doctor Who, rather than a remake. Having ended in the Hartnell era, there wouldn't even have been a diegetic mechanism for its continuation. If Letts hadn't been successful in winning back the audience that had slowly left over the Troughton years, it would have died after a reasonable lifespan. Ending the show with Logopolis, as Phil said, would have ended the show outright. Tom Baker was too powerful a personality to have overpowered the end of his Doctor being the end of the show.

    The Davison era had many mistakes, but some high points, and indications of future positive directions. The end of Frontios does capture the spirit of Doctor Who, and the Doctor, well: he destroys oppressive structures and forces, leaving good people to rebuild in their own way. He opens a place to create.

    The triple fumble of Warriors of the Deep, Twin Dilemma, and Trial of a Time Lord gave Michael Grade all the reason he needed to shut down Doctor Who. And a show that was cancelled after the C. Baker era wouldn't have had the narrative or character resources to continue with a novel range focussing on Colin's Doctor, given that all the writers would have had to work with was his very flawed television portrayal. The Sixth Doctor wasn't redeemed, in my view, until Big Finish.

    The McCoy era gives a more congenial Doctor, but also a more mysterious, secretive Doctor whose character constitutes an enormous and complex field to explore in the novels. And the exploration started in the TV series, so there were already trajectories in the canonical material of the show. And because that trajectory was never completed in the TV series, thanks to Michael Grade finally remembering to cancel the show after four more years, they could drag it on for as long as they could. They could go, as Phil said in Logopolis section 1, until the conditions were finally right to re-enter the world. The world being BBC1, that is.

    I guess the question I'm most looking forward to Phil exploring when we get there is: Why was the show not cancelled after Trial of a Time Lord bombed?

    PS to Henry. Could you please stop shouting in all-caps for emphasis? It's really rather crude.

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    1. "Ending the show with Logopolis, as Phil said, would have ended the show outright."

      I still don't buy that. If there's ever a point prior to Season 26 where interest in what happens next would be strong, Logopolis is it. We had interesting new mythologies in State of Decay, Warrior's Gate. Season 18 gave a glimpse of a show that could transcend the 70's and exist in its own timeless realm, and with Christopher Priest being lined up to write for the show and almost certainly writing for the novels range, it'd give the show a boost in sci-fi credibility.

      Logopolis' ending is almost a cliffhanger. With a new unknown Doctor, the question of what becomes of orphaned Nyssa, and a more deadly Master on the loose, all demands a novels followup. We'd seen glimpses of the darker Doctor in Deadly Assassin and Warrior's Gate- infact the darker 7th Doctor was near inevitable given the 80's comics' zeitgeist, so it probably would still happen in the novels.

      "And a show that was cancelled after the C. Baker era wouldn't have had the narrative or character resources to continue with a novel range focussing on Colin's Doctor"

      I think Season 22 has potential groundwork. Hints of the Time Lords's covert interference in Attack of the Cybermen and Two Doctors. The Doctor's foes, the Rani and Davros ganed more dimension and shades of grey to them in Mark of the Rani and Revelation of the Daleks, which the novels could build on. Indeed Vengeance on Varos and Revelation of the Daleks were points in the 80's where the show became adult, satirical, political and forward-looking- so there'd be possibilities there.

      I'm with Henry in thinking Colin's Doctor was the Doctor's true nature finally awakening after three years of catatonic withdrawl during Davison's incarnation (Snakedance seemed to touch on this as the Doctor has to find his buried centre to draw inner strength from). The novels could draw on the Kantian, darker, ruthlessly pragmatic side of the Sixth Doctor's nature in the same way they did with the Seventh. But even in 85 there's a sense the Sixth Doctor has room to develop and that there's a long game plan to mellow him and unpeel his layers, which again the novels could do, and also draw on the more compassionate moments of his Doctor in Revelation of the Daleks, and the DWM comics where he was more like his Big Finish persona. Indeed we were already getting spin-off material in the Audio Visuals stories- the precursor to Big Finish.

      "Why was the show not cancelled after Trial of a Time Lord bombed?"

      Good question. It's tempting to say Grade just wanted to rub it in Colin's face and make the act of firing him from the role far more personal than it would be if the show had simply stopped- yes the show's continuing but you're not going to be part of it anymore.

      Apparently Michael Grade had said something about how he'd seen signs of improvement in it. Maybe he meant the decrease in violence or the improved special effects and lack of any actual production disasters. But it does sound more like he was toeing some kind of line.

      Which suggests to me he and the BBC were wary of the outcry that cancelling the show had caused and so they knew they had to be careful. JNT's strength had been givng the show heavy promotion and a high profile visibility, and at that point even the cancellation crisis itself got the show in newspapers.

      Michael Grade was brought in to downsize the BBC after they got themselves into financial trouble (if not, then Grade probably wouldn't even have gotten the job), and so capping the show's budget and airtime was a workable compromise. It was only when the show's profile was quietly diminished that they could end it discreetly, in obscure schedules, and fear no reprisals of protests. By this time Grade had left the BBC but he'd been responsible for puting it against Coronation Street.

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    2. As a writer, I'd say... no it's not.

      If I can tolerate excessive long-windedness and near-impenetrable high-fallutin'-ness, a bit of all-caps EMPHASIS shouldn't bother anybody.

      : D

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    3. Kantian, darker, ruthlessly pragmatic side

      I dont understand this phrase. Doesn't "Kantian" contradict "ruthlessly pragmatic"?

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    4. Re. why Who returned after Trial. The answer is simply that they knew they couldn't get rid of Doctor Who considering the grief they got in 1985 so the solution was shortened the seasons and bury it slowly - hence moving it opposite Coronation Street. Fans did complain in 1989 but it was nowhere near what happened in 1985. Doctor Who was a trifling concern they had other priorities. As fans we think they spent all their time devising ways to destroy the show, they just didn't care and they didn't know what to do with JNT, one of only two bbc drama producers left - everyone else was freelance.

      Grade left the BBC in 1987 - but he did write to Sylvester McCoy complimenting him on his performance.

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  10. Another thing I find striking about Frontios is the empathy the Doctor has for his monsters, which is another answer to the War Games challenge. And it's not that the Doctor doesn't slaughter them (which was nice) but that he comes to have a deep understanding of their motives, and uses that understanding to resolve the situation -- a hallmark of the Revival.

    As I noted before, the notion of using a planet as a spaceship goes all the way back to Hartnell and The Dalek Invasion of Earth. This is a mirror to the Doctor, of course, the man who wants to travel among the stars. This is the dark side of his own wanderlust. So he knows exactly how to tempt the Gravis into making his own prison, while restoring the Doctor's mobility at the same time.

    This is purely alchemical, this fusion of opposites in the same moment. The TARDIS is a simultaneously freedom and imprisonment; two sides that should never have touched, pressed together. Note that after the Gravis is rendered unconscious, he's abandoned on a planet with no other sentient life. What this says is that to live without a real relationship that isn't based on power over others -- to be truly alone -- is a prison. It's relationship that sets us free. (Think about this in context with The God Complex.)

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  11. Tommy:
    "It's tempting to say Grade just wanted to rub it in Colin's face and make the act of firing him from the role far more personal than it would be if the show had simply stopped- yes the show's continuing but you're not going to be part of it anymore."

    From all I've read about him, that sounds like the sort of thing his sort of personality would do.


    "But it does sound more like he was toeing some kind of line.....Which suggests to me he and the BBC were wary of the outcry that cancelling the show had caused and so they knew they had to be careful......and so capping the show's budget and airtime was a workable compromise. It was only when the show's profile was quietly diminished that they could end it discreetly, in obscure schedules, and fear no reprisals of protests."

    It's like CBS moving "WKRP" around the schedule so much, even the fans couldn't find it, so, the ratings dropped-- TA DA!!-- now they had an EXCUSE to cancel it. Which is what they wanted all along.

    It's notable that despite being a huge WHO fan (videotaping the show since early 1980), even I kept missing season openers later on. I walked in halfway thru "The Mysterious Planet", and again with "Time And The Rani". (And this was PBS!) When the people who really, really WANT to see it start missing it, there's a problem.


    "By this time Grade had left the BBC but he'd been responsible for puting it against Coronation Street."

    Sure-- put a success up against the most popular thing on the other channel-- just like when ABC in America moved THE AVENGERS from Fridays @ 10 to Mondays @ 7:30. Took me half a year to realize it was on again. No wonder I saw so few Tara Kings.

    Maybe if the people in charge had come up from the ranks of "crative" personnel, they might have more sympathy and understanding for just how really difficult it is to CREATE a successful show n the first place, and not be so eager to sabotage so many of them with glee. (But that goes for all corporations, in all industries. Total disconnect between the higher-ups and those actually doing the work.)

    William Holden was right in "EXECUTIVE SUITE" when he said, "You can't expect people work work only for money." Let me add. Accountants should NOT be running things. Ever. They may be important, but put them in charge, and all they can do is run things-- into the ground. that's why, in the movie, it was so important for William Holden to take over running the furniture company-- instead of Frederic March. It was a wonderful moment when, after Holden had given his speech, even March voted for him! IWhen I saw that film, I found iwhat it had to say was so important, and so rare in the modern world, that i came away feeling everyone in this country should HAVE to sit down and watch it. It might open some of their eyes.

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    1. "It's tempting to say Grade just wanted to rub it in Colin's face and make the act of firing him from the role far more personal than it would be if the show had simply stopped- yes the show's continuing but you're not going to be part of it anymore."

      "From all I've read about him, that sounds like the sort of thing his sort of personality would do."

      Yes, his bit about Doctor Who on Room 101 was actually very enlightening. His sneering dismissal of all Doctor Who fans as 'all NHS glasses and Hush Puppies' sounded very school bully. As did his 'I don't like this, so I'm gonna take it away from you and never give it back, because I CAN!' attitude...

      Don't think he ever realised that's how he looked, either.

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    2. It's like CBS moving "WKRP" around the schedule so much, even the fans couldn't find it, so, the ratings dropped-- TA DA!!-- now they had an EXCUSE to cancel it. Which is what they wanted all along.

      Wait, do you mean to say that WKRP, one of most brilliant sitcoms of its day, was driven into bad ratings by design?!? Whose idiotic scheme was that?!?

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  12. Lots to think about, as always, but I'm afraid to say that Warriors of the Deep finally gave a story so bad that not even the fans could defend it (it’s telling that Doctor Who Magazine didn’t even bother running a review of the story) is incorrect. It was reviewed in Issue 88 by Gary Russell (concluding with "As a Silurian/Sea Devil story Warriors of the Deep is unlikely to be hailed as a classic, but as a straightforward, exciting action/adventure story, it gave us an enjoyable and interesting four episodes of Doctor Who."

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    1. Why so they did. They just failed to put the review in the table of contents for that issue, and I, in looking for it, didn't do a page-by-page search. Thanks for the correction.

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    2. And that review was a rewrite after JNT ordered it. Gary Russell has said that his original was too scathing so JNT asked for a more positive one.

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  13. I love Frontios - I think it's one of the very best stories of the 1980s.

    I especially love the ending, which relies on the fifth Doctor's wit and humanity - rather than blowing lots of things up, he tricks the monsters into defeating themselves - as with the Weeping Angels in Blink. But because this is the fifth Doctor we're talking about, he lets them live.

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  14. Alan:
    "Wait, do you mean to say that WKRP, one of most brilliant sitcoms of its day, was driven into bad ratings by design?!? Whose idiotic scheme was that?!?"

    I don't have a who, but I somewhat have a why. When Reagen got in offfice, there was suddenly the feeling that "topical" or "political" shows were no longer wanted, as they made people think too much. "THREE'S COMPANY" became the #1 rated show several years running. "LOU GRANT" stepped on too many people's toes. The fact is, "WKRP" was made by the same studio, "MTM", and also liked to sprinkle "important" topics in with its character humor. Like the episode about the radio preacher who used to be a pro wrestler, where CBS got so weorried people might be offeneded they held it back until the middle of the rerun season (even though, if you look at the characters-- Bailey in particular-- you can see it was supposed to be run 3rd out of 24).

    They kept moving WKRP around the schedule. But during the 4th season, it was in 4 different time-slots!! The last time they moved it, they confused and left behind just enough viewers who couldn't find it, that the ratings finally fell far enough to give them the excuse to can it. Whereupon, it went into the TOP 10 and stayed there ther rest of the season. But too late-- they cancelled it, and they weren't gonna change their minds.

    Just watched "FRONTIOS" again tonight. As always, the 2nd half just keeps getting better. There's a point where Mr. Range suddenly becomes likable (though no less cranky, and some of his dialogue even then seems contradictory from sentence to sentence). The moment the Tractators appear, suddenly, it's as if this is no longer a JNT imitation of DOCTOR WHO, but a "real" DOCTOR WHO story. And I just noticed after all this time-- Peter Davison spends the entire 2nd half DOING Patrick Troughton!!! How did I not see that before?

    Re-assembling the TARDIS is crazy-- but mezmerizing. And The Gravis defeated himself. He could never have taken the TARDIS, because the moment he steppoed into it, he would have gone comatose, as he did when he (somehow??) managed to reassemble it. I love how The Doctor pats him on the head like a beloved pet.

    What's shocking is, all 3 of the leads are better and more watchable than usual in this. (Yes, even Tegan!) If they'd gotten writing this good in Season 20, maybe all 3 of them wouldn't have announced to JNT they were gonna quit at the same time!

    Lesley Dunlop, who someone must have gone to incredible lengths to make look unattractive in this, would return in "THE HAPPINESS PATROL".

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