Spoken over a starscape of a sun, planet, and two bodies floating towards us, thus begins the latest episode of that classic 60’s sci-fi series, Doctor Who. Expanding on it’s Star Trek allusion however, it goes on to explain that space is “Final, because it wants to kill us.”
Also echoing 2001: A Space Odyssey and Wallace & Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers, “Oxygen” sees the Doctor taking new companion Bill on her first trip to outerspace as opposed to another planet, answering a distress call coming from a mining station owned by Ganymede Systems. With Nardole in tow, they find themselves in yet another life or death situation – only her fifth episode and yet Bill has already learned all she needs to know about the Doctor’s reactions to imminent death – and one which is broadcast at time which couldn’t be more apt.
For me, season 10 has come as a pleasant surprise. After what I considered to be a dreadful Superman rehash in “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”, “The Pilot” offered a glimmer of hope that maybe all wasn’t lost before Steven Moffat’s overdue handing over of the showrunner reins. Despite news of his own decision to leave the show which prompted speculation of his replacement, for the first time Peter Capaldi felt like the established Doctor rather than just the new Doctor who had only recently taken over from his predecessor.
As much as I have admired his performance as the 12th Doctor, I feel as though he has been let down by too many episodes which didn’t give him enough to make the most of his time in the role. Yes there have been some stand out moments, the Doctor’s “sit down and talk” speech is an absolute highlight of Doctor Who as a whole, but these have by far been the exception rather than the rule.
Bill’s questioning of everything from the Doctor’s Tardis to his morality is a welcome addition from a more than worthy new companion and has lead to some of the season’s most comical, and also most dramatic moments. The inclusion of Nardole as the Doctor’s very own Jiminy Cricket also adds to the show, albeit at the expense of Matt Lucas who – like Catherine Tate before him – plays a character with a great concept almost exactly the same as every other character throughout his career.
Although I must admit I have been iplayering them rather than making a Saturday night appointment like previous years, even Lucas and the small blip that was the second half of “Knock Knock” haven’t stopped season 10 from being a collection of great episodes.
“Oxygen” is no different, and perhaps the best to date. Far from the only time Doctor Who has placed emphasis on compassion, respect, and the value of a human (or alien) life, it is perhaps the most pertinent. In the run up to the UK’s general election, it is also perhaps the most widely reaching anti-Conservative party political broadcast of all time.
The episode is written as an unashamed morality play against the excesses of capitalism, depicting a futuristic dystopian vision where even the air we breathe is considered a commodity to be marketed: making the whole metric/imperial argument somewhat redundant, units of distance on a map are shown in average breaths.
While most dystopian futures are written as an allegory for contemporary societies, “Oxygen” has the unfortunate honour of being broadcast at a time when the targets of its metaphors are in fact already reality. The inevitable point of the episode when the Doctor realises the true nature of the threat comes when, faced with imminent death quite literally by the trappings of capitalism, Bill comments on the absurdity of being “fined for dying”.
Rather than the fully automated space suits killing their occupants due to being hacked as initially believed (another remarkable quirk of timing in regards to the recent cyber attacks on the NHS), it readily becomes apparent that their current threat, not to mention the previous cause of death for 36 miners, is in fact a conscious decision made by the corporation that considers workers who aren’t meeting work quotas as a waste of resources.
It would seem that the present here and now is as much an ideal setting for “the endpoint of capitalism, a bottom line where human life has no value at all” as any imagined far future.
Even were this not the case over here, the fact that “Oxygen” was written before businessman Donald Trump’s US election victory but broadcast after his repeal of Obamacare is equally as alarming. Something which considers pregnancy and even domestic violence as pre-existing conditions which insurers all to often refuse to cover, surely even writer Jamie Mathieson cannot deny that the future always comes upon us quicker than we realise.
Having saved the lives of two survivors however, the Doctor drops them off at their “Head Office”, afterwards informing Bill that “six months later, corporate dominance in space is history, and that about wraps it for capitalists … then the human race finds a whole new mistake”: with the benefit of hindsight, something which could also be taken as an analogy for Labour’s constant infighting hardly making them a perfect choice for government either.
But whether it’s from space miners facing the ultimate redundancy, or an impassioned plea based on real life experience entitled “This is how the Tory disability assessments are killing people“, if we take one thing from “Oxygen” regardless of when it is set or even when it was written then it’s surely the Doctor’s thoughts on answering a distress call:
“The universe shows its true face when it asks for help, we show ours by how we respond.”
Something for the UK to think about on the 8th June….
Of all the recent Doctor Who episodes, “Into The Dalek” is one that I personally want to see the most, perhaps even more than 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor” itself. Rather than the anticipation that has been built up around current episodes, the War Doctor, regeneration, etc, “Into The Dalek” instead has me curious.
Last week was the broadcast of “Deep Breath”, the first full episode to feature Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. Like many (make that all) fans I had been looking forward to this as I was eager to see exactly how Capaldi would portray the Doctor. Even though we have all now seen this portrayal however, there is still the fact that we don’t know who Capaldi’s Doctor is.
Although well read audiences are used to the idea of regeneration and several actors all playing the same character, a new Doctor is still something that takes getting used to. Many fans, particularly those new to the series, will also need convincing that this new character is the same one they know and love. As such “Deep Breath” follows a similar template to “The Christmas Invasion” and “The Eleventh Hour”, the first appearances of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors respectively.
Whilst fending off an alien invasion these are episodes which see a companion trying to figure out who this new/same man is. Throughout the run of the series it has always been the companion who is the point of view character, through whose eyes the audience discovers time and space. In this situation they are more important than ever, and amnesia or not, the failure of the 1996 TV-movie is often blamed on introducing two incarnations of the Doctor before his companion.
For those post-regeneration episodes of the revived series however, we first get to see the comical but crude side of the Doctor. Capaldi comparing Strax to the seven dwarves is no different from Matt Smith telling Amelia Pond to fry something because she’s Scottish. It may be harsh, but it’s that funny element of being alien and not quite understanding that is the initial reassurance that there is nothing to worry about. So far, so very Doctor.
Throughout the episode the companion is puzzled by the Doctor saving the Earth by asking seemingly ridiculous questions, but come the end of his investigation he will save the day through his ‘I am the Doctor’ moment. David Tennant called the Sycorax’s blood control bluff and pressed their big red button for them, and Smith stared down the Atraxi with his history of saving the Earth. Capaldi on the other hand …. didn’t.
The confirmation phone call from Number 11 wasn’t for Clara’s benefit, it was for ours.
In interviews and previews leading up to Capaldi’s episodes, one word which was often used was “dark”, and here we are given a Doctor who may, or may not, have pushed a (half) man to his death. Regardless of whether it was push or jump, it is hardly the first time the Doctor has had to oversee the death of the antagonist, but here he does so with a look of almost indifference.
Dark indeed, and something which harks back to the days of Sylvester McCoy (apparently) destroying Skaro and committing Dalek genocide. It came at the point in the show’s history that script editor Andrew Cartmel wanted to add some more mystery to the character after years of accumulated drip-fed information. Twenty-plus series after the question had first been asked by Ian and Barbara, “Doctor Who?” had essentially become “the Doctor’s life story”.
And after the broadcast of “The Time of the Doctor”, this was exactly where we found ourselves again. Not only have we had revelations regarding the Time War, an element that Russell T. Davies used to renew the character and wanted to leave untouched, but along with Smith’s tenure, “The Time of the Doctor” also saw the end of the question.
This time it was quite literal in fact, as it was even used diegetically within the show itself; “on the Fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked — a question that must never ever be answered”. To be fair it wasn’t exactly answered properly, but it did at least give a substantial conclusion to an arc that had run throughout Smith’s entire portrayal, if not the series as a whole.
And so now we find ourselves ready to continue/renew the adventures of a character we have known for 50 years. After the climax of “Deep Breath”, we are eagerly awaiting the next appearance of a Doctor who has every indication of being as dark as it gets, and it doesn’t get much darker than when facing the Daleks.
Throughout years of mystery, answers, and revelations, we are once again asking ourselves that central question which brings us back to our television sets Saturday night, after Saturday night: Doctor Who?
So begins what is perhaps the longest wait for television fans across the globe. Forget Locutus of Borg’s cliffhanger, that was so twenty years ago (twenty-three to be exact, scary how long ago The Next Generation was, but hey, it’s held up remarkably well).
But let’s take a step back for a minute, and first take a look back at how we got to this point. Series 7 started back last autumn, with the final five outings for the Amy and Rory. With casting often hard to keep secret in this day and age, there was no surprise that they would be leaving, and the announcement that Jenna-Louise Coleman would be replacing them was made before episode one was broadcast. Episode one, better known as Asylum of the Daleks to you and me, didn’t disappoint, as it featured Daleks new and old aplenty (even the special weapons Dalek if you squinted hard enough), a nice reference to the shows history where Daleks who had survived his defeats were kept in intensive care, and Jenna-Louise Coleman popped up as well.
Clara boards the TARDIS earlier than expected?, they’ve kept that hidden from us, well done BBC. Nope, wait. She’s a Dalek. And now she’s dead. Touche Steven Moffat, touche!
This rather unexpected turn of events was kept on the back burner while we enjoyed Amy and Rory’s three penultimate outings before their eventual leaving the TARDIS in The Angels Take Manhattan. A teary affair for many in which, for her final act of onscreen heroism, Amy finally redeems herself by choosing Rory over the Doctor, no going backsies.
Well, narratively anyway, considering whatever was stopping the Doctor from returning was localised only to New York, and both Ponds got rather experienced at travelling across the States in Day of the Moon, but as fun as they were, I can’t argue with the fact their particular stories had been told.
Next came the mid-season Christmas special, and another appearance from Jenna-Lousie Coleman. With the Ponds well and truly departed, it seemed we weren’t going to get any classic series style juxtaposition of companions from different parts of time and space (well, 21st century Britain at least). But we did get Clara back, at least for a while, before she too left us with the mystery of what exactly is going on here?
It has to be said however, Clara’s second death left us with a better beginning for the part two opener The Bells of Saint John. As much as I would have loved a companion that wasn’t from the 21st century (even if she was still from London), the (re)introduction of modern Clara added more mystery to the character that would keep us guessing through the rest of the series, than continuing from where The Snowmen would have left off, would have done.
And whilst I enjoyed the rest of the series, I have to say not as much as I was expecting. Considering it has been eighteen months since the end of season six, you’d think there would have been more time to polish it up a bit. Yes I know they’ve been busy planning for the show 50th in November, but surely the extra effort could have been spread throughout the whole year of the anniversary, not just the day itself. What with writing the BBC’s celebratory drama An Adventure in Space and Time, you’d think that Gatiss could have settled for just the one Doctor Who episode, but instead wrote both Cold War, and The Crimson Horror. Likewise new to Who writer Neil Cross who penned both The Rings of Akhaten and Hide. Protests as to the lack of female writers aside, it has to be said that one benefit the 13 episode seasons have over twentysomething American shows is the extra time they have to get the details right, something negated by having twice as many scripts to complete. The big let downs that got to us though, were the fact that the episodes were given a sense of epic proportions that they just didn’t have.
With such a great title, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS seemed like it could have been so much more than just running through lots of corridors, and for a Neil Gaiman episode, Nightmare in Silver didn’t seem that nightmarish, but was perhaps aimed more at children scared of being abducted by newer and sleeker cybermen in the middle of the night.
Not that the second half was all bad, there were some interesting stories and great actors, not least in the aformentioned Hide. A genre twisting ghost story which, in true Doctor Who colours, was actually about something else all along, and featured a remarkable performance from Dougray Scott as a charming yet shy ghost hunter. Richard E. Grant, as always, is another great addition to the cast.
Where the series shined though, was in Saturday’s final episode, The Name of the Doctor. With a titillating title that had fans everywhere speculating, it was one that didn’t let down on the hype, and was the best Moffat season finale since he took responsibility for them (perhaps in part due to the fact that it hasn’t been an alternate timeline that gets wiped afterwards anyway). Minor quibbles would be left aside (we haven’t quite known Clara long enough for what seems like such a major part throughout the Doctor’s history) right from the beginning of the episode, and indeed the series, starting as we did on “Gallifrey a very long time ago”. Clara telling William Hartnell himself that he’s making a mistake by stealing the TARDIS was one of the two boldest moves made by the show since it’s return, the second coming right at the end with that introduction.
Perhaps the biggest troll to fans everywhere, but also the biggest relief for many who were dreading the loss of mystery, the Doctor told both Clara and the audience at home that “my name, my real name, that is not the point”. More than just the revelation however, there were also some nice little details, what could have easily been reminiscent of Malkovich Malkovich, the Doctor being inside his own timestream which contained shadowy graves in the background was a nice touch.
Introducing the omninous figure who apparently both is, and isn’t quite the Doctor, show runner Steven Moffat has here made a brave move that unlike his previous “alliance” storyline of every alien race ever joining forces, has to evoke the same sense of awe and anticipation from Doctor Who fans of all ages, new and old fans alike.
Even if you didn’t recognise that deep rich voice declaring that “what I did, I did without choice”, let alone know of his upcoming appearance in the 50th anniversary special, whether your jaw dropped due to the arrival of John Hurt as either actor or character (or both), it was nothing less than spectacular, and will ensure that the internet chat rooms and forums will be bursting with theories and ideas for the next six months.
And so we await the 50th anniversary with perhaps more questions than answers. Although we discovered the answer to Clara’s being impossible, her story can be far from over (I’m still waiting to find out who the woman in the shop was). More than this however, just who is John Hurt??
Adding to his list of iconic science fiction moments that go do in history, he is credited by the BBC as playing the Doctor, despite Matt Smiths insistence that he is isn’t, even though they are both in a place where “there’s only me here, that’s the point”. Only the Doctor, “the one who broke the promise”, and Clara as well actually, but that could be looking too much into it.
So who exactly is he? Fans have already been keen to point several things seen (or not) throughout the episode that may or may not be important. Firsty, despite being referenced previously in the series, Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor was missing from the clips of his past incarnations, although his only on-screen appearance is still stuck in a sticky web of joint ownership with FOX. The fact that Hurt’s costume bears a resemblance to McGann’s newer image for his latest audio releases has also been mentioned.
Was the naming of the Valeyard just something to put an extra smile on the face of classic fans, or was it introducing an older concept that newer fans will need to be aware of in the future? Or is he something new altogether, a missing incarnation made possible by the fact we’ve never actually seen a McGann/Eccleston regeneration??
Over the past several years modern television has come to embrace longer and longer and longer story arcs, something which has made Doctor Who perhaps the last bastion of what is an icon of science fiction and fantastical television, “To Be Continued…”
Taking it to whole new levels however, with no-planets or galaxies in need of rescue, no one on the brink of death, but with the history of a character loved by generations about to be re-written on the eve of his 50th birthday, “To Be Continued … November 23rd” is perhaps the cruelest trick ever to be played on TV audiences, past, present, and probably even future…
Following onsomewhat from my last post (don’t worry if you haven’t read it, but you can find it here if you want to), allow me to discuss the latest announcement for Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary, and why it’s not actually that much of a big deal. Since my last post, the BBC have announced that:
“Chris [Eccleston] met with Steven Moffat a couple of times to talk about Steven’s plans for the Doctor Who50th anniversary episode. After careful thought, Chris decided not to be in the episode. He wishes the team all the best.”
The main reason this isn’t a big deal, it has to be said, is that it’s hardly surprising. Since his departure Christopher Eccleston hasn’t always had the best of things to say about those he worked with (even though most have now also moved on), and like any actor taking any role, to him Doctor Who was just a job. The most high profile and prolific perhaps, but even enthusiastic fandom can’t compete with his statement that “it’s more important to be your own man than be successful”.
More than this however, Eccleston didn’t quite achieve the popularity of his immediate successor David Tennant, who will be returning, therefore placating the majority who provide the over-enthusiasmin the first place.
Without knowing the story of the forthcoming anniversary, it has to be said that despite Tom Baker’s decision to not take part in the 20th anniversary special, “The Five Doctors” suffered mainly from the producers’ use of old unbroadcast footage. Explained elsewhere as being caught in the Time Vortex, the lack of the Doctor and Romana appearing throughout the main narrative actually helped the four remaining Doctors and their companions to get a more even share of the congested screentime. Unlike Tom Baker however, Eccleston’s relationship with Doctor Who is somewhat unique.
Whilst I’m young enough to have to rely on the judgement of history to assess all the previous Doctors’ careers, it would seem as though many have since been typecast, their names synonymous with the Doctor. While David Tennant and Matt Smith haven’t had enough time to carve out careers of their own, Worzel Gummidge and All Creatures Great and Small may still be recognisable names to a certain degree, but even without the revival would hardly be fighting for the spotlight. I’m also sure that many of the younger generation who saw Sylvester McCoy’s appearance in The Hobbit films will now be wanting to see his portrayal of the Doctor (and this is nothing but a good thing).
At least to those of us who didn’t grow up with Doctor Who the first time round, Eccleston, and to a certain degree Eighth Doctor Paul McGann, has a somewhat unique relationship to Doctor Who, in that typecasting doesn’t necessarily apply, and not just because of limited screen time.
Eccleston has appeared in a variety of films, and has gone from being directed by the likes of David Cronenberg in eXistenZ, and Danny Boyle in 28 Days Later, to starring in Gone in 60 Secondsalongside Nicolas Cage, and even this summer’s Marvel offering of Thor: The Dark World. And this is not to mention his TV work, from the regional Our Friends in the North to the international Heroes, with even an episode of The League of Gentlemen somewhere in between.
Although perhaps not as recognisable abroad (not even as the Doctor) McGann has supplemented his roles in films like Withnail and I and Alien3 by consistently making guest appearances in TV shows such as Hornblower, Jonathan Creek, and more recently, Ripper Street.
Although it’s fair to say that Eccleston’s single series as the Doctor also played a part in his not being typecast, it’s more to do with its content, rather than short length. Despite achieving the great leap forward of bringing Doctor Who back to our screens, it also took a few steps back in terms of creativity. Pilot episode ‘Rose’ made the right choice of not confusing an uninitiated audience with concepts such as regeneration, which was one mistake made by the US co-produced one-off special starring McGann, but season 1 as a whole began its new slate by simultaneously changing, ignoring, and following on from what made Classic-Who a classic.
Although it did tread new ground with the development of Rose and the Doctor/Companion relationship, this was still just extending the footprints already started by the Doctor and Ace back in the 80’s.
Like Ace, Rose was a London teenager with little direction in life, but with the courage to stand by and protect those she cared about (apart from her boyfriend Mickey at least, but TV’s view of miscegenation is best saved for another post).
Also unlike other companions who left their previous lives to have countless adventures, the Doctor formed a closer bond with both Ace and Rose, and often took them to times and places which left little separation between their former, and current adventurous lives. Just as Rose kept flitting between some of time and space, and contemporary Britain, Ace held her baby mother in her arms, and was taken to a stately home back in the days before she had burned it down.
This is not to say the concept of a new Doctor having just committed genocide in order to end the last great time war wasn’t new, but again carried on from McCoy’s darker portrayal of the Doctor. Indeed, it fit so well, that many seemed to believe the BBC had selectively forgotten about McGann’s incarnation, and that it could just as easily have been McCoy’s seventh Doctor who had (supposedly) destroyed both the Time Lords and the Daleks, considering he showed no hesitation in destroying the Dalek home planet of Skaro in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’.
Perhaps the biggest change brought about however, was its structure. At least partly to appeal more to international markets (by following US conventions), Doctor Who left the four 25 minute episode serials behind, and adopted the series structure of thirteen 45 minute episodes. Despite a greater number of individual stories, Bad Wolf and the “Adherents of the Repeated meme” notwithstanding, Eccleston’s season 1 offered surprisingly little variety.
All of the 13 episodes took place either on or in orbit of the Earth, and all but one of those set in the past or present took place in British Capitals. Episodes such as ‘Dalek’ and ‘Father’s Day’ proved that the show still had what it takes to be top quality drama, but the series overall suffered for being too cautious with what makes Doctor Who, Doctor Who: “adventures in time and space”.
Had Ecclestone givenDoctor Who more continuity by not departing at the end of season 1, surely it would be remembered as less of an individual step of the show’s constant evolution. Although every new show has to find it’s place, you only have to compare most pilots with the rest of their series to figure this one out, it seems a shame that New-Who did so with more of a safe crawl, leaving it to season 2 to properly find it’s rightful footsteps amongst the universe.
As exciting as it would have been to see the Ninth Doctor gracing Television screens again, it seems that with a level head Eccleston has chosen to leave his individual chapter of Doctor Who‘s 50 year history as it is, and at least won’t be returning just for the sake of it.
Steven Moffat has already stated that the anniversary “has got some serious fanboy-pleasing going on in it“, which to my mind sounds reminiscent of the ‘so too good to be true I’m afraid it’s actually ridiculous’ alliance of “The Pandorica Opens”, which was one of those ideas that sounds great on paper, but doesn’t necessarily work on screen.
All in all, season 1 of New-Who, the only time Eccleston is seen on-screen as the ninth Doctor, is something of an anomaly; hardly something to be embarrassed about, but at the same time something that is perhaps not indispensable either, and I doubt the 50th anniversary will suffer too much from Eccleston’s absence.
As much as I’ve been busy over the bank holiday weekend, my diary seems nothing compared to that of the Doctor’s. Not content with spreading his schedule throughout time and space, this weekend just gone has been something of a bumper celebration for Doctor Who, past, present and future.
Let’s go through this in a wibbly wobbly timey wimey fashion, and start with what fans had been waiting for; the long awaited beginning/continuation of the new season, and the (re)introduction of Clara/Oswin/Oswald, in an episode that did not disappoint.
Although perhaps a bit too similar to season 4’s opener Partners In Crime (evil business woman leads evil corporation as a front to alien manipulation of contemporary London), The Bells of Saint John was all that you could want in a contemporary-set Who episode; an exciting episode full of danger, one liners, surprise twists, and gave fans more questions than answers (does the Doctor himself not wonder who the “woman in the shop” is?). the end result was only the start of what promises to be a great rest of the season.
Rather than simply review the episode however, (I’d only be quoting the best bits and spoil it for you, so I’ll just say head over to iplayer and watch it here), I’m instead going to talk about how I watched it.
For the first time in too long, I watched this particular episode of Doctor Who amongst a group of friends, all of whom were as equally as I was. This hasn’t happened since my first stint at uni, and even then possibly not in as big a group as this. Not only do you get to share in the suspense and the laughter with others, but Moffat seems to write new-Who in a way that just can’t be watched on its own. Each of us picked up on a variety of the myriad of details, and were desperate to share our thoughts, theories and questions once it had finished.
This is how I now want to watch all of Doctor Who.
Going back earlier that day however, before people arrived and I had only the internet to share my thoughts with, there was a cast announcement for November’s forthcoming 50th anniversary special. David Tennant fans everywhere delighted at the news he would be back, but speculated as to who he would be playing; regular, or meta Doctor. Billie Piper fans were also delighted at her return, although it’s fair to say a number of Who fans in general weren’t. A group in which I have to say that I am included.
Don’t get me wrong, I thought Piper was fine in her portrayal of Rose, who was also a fantastic character. Admittedly I still haven’t decided whether her stringing Mickey along was worse than Amy’s trying to sleep with the Doctor the night before her wedding (actually, Amy’s decision was worse, Rose was just naive), but my problem is with her return, not Piper or Rose.
Doomsday, the finale of season 2 was a landmark episode. Catherine Tate aside, it not only introduced modern Torchwood, but featured the Daleks and Cybermen in a Monster vs Monster battle that Aliens and Predators could only dream of, and also a companion’s leaving that beats all others hands down in terms of emotional farewells.
Following on from Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred’s Ace, those who travel with the Doctor in New-Who have generally been more than just companions, each having a specific relationship with the Doctor, and experiencing a personal journey as much as an intergalactic one. It is because of this relationship that, worse than Adric dying without ever knowing if he was right, Rose was abandoned, forced to live without the Doctor, and knowing how he felt about her. He was never even able to finish his sentence. As I said, an emotional farewell.
A farewell that was ruined two years later in season 4, by the only possible thing that could ruin the emotional moment of knowing they’ll never see each other again: them seeing each other again. Needless to say, I’m hoping Billie Piper’s 50th return is more The End Of Time than Journey’s End.
One piece of casting that cheered me up immensely after this news however, was that the 50th anniversary would also star British acting legend himself, John Hurt. Like Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen, and David Warner who will appear later on in this current season, Hurt is the latest in a line of veteran (no, I don’t just mean old) actors to grace the show with not just their presence and reputation, but also immense talent. No stranger to sci-fi, having previously appeared in the scene in Alien, V for Vendetta, and everything in between, the association of Hurt’s name with Doctor Who is even more exciting than that of Peter Jackson’s, and most fans seem to be in agreement that no one more fitting could have been cast in the shows 50th anniversary.
Cut again to some time later, and the internet was ablast with snippets of a photographic nature. First came two pics of Tennant and Matt Smith (and the tip of a Dalek Gunstick?) together at the scripts read through, and once those had gone viral, the BBC also tweeted an image of a 21st century Zygon, complete with #DoctoWho50th hashtag.
But while fans are eagerly awaiting for November’s celebrations to grace their screens, showrunner Steven Moffat is no doubt waiting for September, and the announcement of who has won the prestigious Hugo Awards. Celebrating the best in last years sci-fi & fantasy, and with a shortlist of just five TV episodes in the running for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category, three of last years episodes, Asylum of the Daleks, The Angels take Manhattan, and The Snowmen, have been nominated.
Yes, not only is he celebrating as Doctor Who showrunner, but those three episodes were written by Steven ‘Juggernaut’ Moffat himself as a writer. The writer who ten years ago was entertaining TV viewers with Jeffrey Murdock and the Visual Access Angle, is this year celebrating the fact that his stories alone have earned a total of eleven nominations in only eight years, and is no doubt hoping for his fifth win.
Between writing and helming the 50th anniversary episode, working with John Hurt, and adding “buy bigger display cabinet?” to his to-do list, it would seem that 2013 is already a fantastic year for Doctor Who, and Moffat truly has the key to the gates of paradise, regardless of having too many legs.
Having been around almost as long as cult film and television itself, tie-in media is now serious business. Star Wars alone includes over 20,000 years of “Expanded Universe” history to support only six (so far) canonical feature films. But how do you go about creating such a detailed background, and what exactly is this background in the first place?
Firstly, you don’t have to. Tie-in media is generally anything that takes an already established story, usually a TV show, and tells another story using those characters, settings, etc, and it doesn’t have to be part of an epic sci-fi saga. Something as simple as the novelisation of Snakes on a Plane, or even the Dad’s Army stage adaptations could also fall under this category.
Starting at the beginning, perhaps one of the earliest pieces of original tie-in fiction was 1968’s Mission to Horatius, a young adult Star Trek novel by Mack Reynolds. Like the episodes of the series itself, the novel told the story of the Enterprise crew on an outer space adventure, thrills and danger were experienced, before everything is heroically, and not to forget neatly, concluded. Returning everything to the status quo meant that viewers and readers could dip in and out of adventures and not get lost. Everyone knew the central relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, knew that Uhura would be there to take the messages, and the Klingons were the badguys. As time went on however, things changed.
Klingon peace treaties and the civil rights movement aside, Star Trek evolved, and its tie-in fiction along with it. The episodic TV series’ led to feature films with an ongoing story arc. The Voyage Home remains one of the most popular Trek films to date, but without a recap of The Search For Spock, those who haven’t seen it may be a little confused as to why there’s no Enterprise. Likewise novels were joined by comics that contained stories that could often have cliffhanger endings, leaving readers waiting with baited breath for next month’s issue.
Ten years after it’s initial cancellation, the other long running science-fiction series Doctor Who regenerated into audio adventures, reuniting cast members to portray their charcters, even if by only voicing them. With the series once again gracing TV screens, these classic Doctor tales are still going strong.
Following this, the new millennium began with The Matrix gifting the world with a new breed of tie-in, containing almost as much new storytelling as slow motion CGI. More than just new adventures however, The “Wachowski Warship” as the Wachowski ‘Brothers’ are now known, utilised comics, short animation films, and even a computer game, in order to tell the same narrative story, only from different perspectives; While the audience watching The Matrix Reloaded would witness Niobe imparting news of how a ship called The Osiris discovered a Sentinel threat, those who have seen the aptly named Final Flight of the Osiris would witness that discovery first hand, but only Enter The Matrix players would know how the story, and indeed the intel would be picked up and delivered by Niobe after Osiris’ drop off.
While The Matrix fleshed out a story that fans already knew, the TV series Lost would take this one step forwards (or possibly backwards?) throughout the show’s six season run. Although maybe not producing as many tie-ins as other series, what was produced put a twist on traditional elements, such the ‘in-universe’ tie-in novel Bad Twin (whose ‘author’ was also on flight 815, and the manuscript to which was read on-screen by Sawyer), and merged storytelling with mere merchandising, thanks to a collection of four “Mystery of the Island” Jigsaw Puzzles that advertised “exclusive new insight into TV’s most puzzling drama series.”
Even worse than Bad Twin‘s duplicity however, semi-canonical storylines set on the island itself, Lost: The Video Game for example, only served to complicate ideas even further by leaving players wondering what should be separated as Lost ‘fact’ from Lost ‘fiction’. Frustrations aside however, you can’t help but admire the planning that went into such a tie-in effort, orchestrated by writers and producers of the show itself.
With the advent of serial-arc based TV drama however, a concept that even Star Trek adopted, tie-in media encountered new problems, but which were relatively easy to overcome. With such a vast universe to explore, Star Trek: New Frontier was created to boldly go where no tie-in had gone before, featuring a completely new ship and crew. A short lived series of novels also looked at how the exploration that epitomised Star Trek was conducted by Starfleet’s Klingon counterparts. Needless to say, conquering was involved.
But the main problem came when the series ended. Often tie-in media was the place to go for fans who were hungry for more, but with the number of television programs adopting story arc’s now being the vast majority, there are more than one in which the final episode concludes its story through what would be a major game change in the characters lives. With tie-in authors unable to make any significant contributions to the development of character’s audiences loved, this was often the last they ever heard from them.
Whether boosted by the example set by Lost, or by their own enthusiasm as fans, producers of cult shows have begun to take transmedia storytelling more and more seriously, and continue to tell their stories themselves, after the shows have been cancelled. Something which comic publishers have been keen to capitalise on, releasing stories that not just continue a TV show’s narrative, but do so to the point where they are considered canonical, and even released in mini-series corresponding to the original show’s seasons. Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight is an early example of this, and it has just been announced that The X Files will be the latest, with “Season 10” due to be published over a decade since “Season 9” was broadcast. Obviously great news for fans of cult franchises whose cast and crew could not be reunited, but more importantly, those that studio executives are no longer willing to risk money on.
But in the current climate of “Brand Recognition” (the idea that particularly in a recession, audiences are less likely to take risks with unknowns, and spend their money more on franchises they already know), this also comes at a price. As Buffy was a popular money maker throughout it’s seven season run, I’m sure Fox have no problem in allowing Dark Horse to license it’s intellectual property for as long as the royalties will keep on coming in.
Firefly on the other hand, also written and produced by Whedon, is a series that Fox doesn’t generally like or understand, and so was cancelled during it’s first and only season. Unable to establish the widespread fanbase it deserves, what the show lacks in quantity of fans it more than makes up for in quality, and with only fourteen episodes and one feature film produced, they are always eager for more. Joss Whedon’s time management aside, surely I’m not the only one who considers Fox’s dismissal and consequentially the the series’ lack of money making ability to be an important factor in it’s lack of comic production, a mere fraction of the titles set in the already heavily established ‘Buffyverse’.
Although transmedia has gained popularity and acclaim throughout it’s lifetime, I can think of only one instance in which a piece of tie-in fiction has influenced the TV show which had born it. When writing a comicbook mini-series, Whedon (I know I keep mentioning him, but do so not through choice, but simply due to the prolific and various natures of his work) assumed people would only want more slayers from him, and so obliged accordingly.
Even when considering this is just a very brief overview of its history, it is no wonder that tie-in media is increasingly now referred to as ‘transmedia’ storytelling. These new stories are no longer being written to tie-in with bigger storylines, they now often are the bigger storylines.
Before commenting on the current emerging trends of where it is taking us next, it is important to remember that new developments of transmedia do not always mean the end of the traditional, which are still important in their own right. Whilst Star Trek‘s on-screen adventures may have returned to an alternative view of Kirk & co, with the films writers and producers involved with the parallel and prequel comic series, brand new adventures of Picard, Sisko, and Archer (not so much Janeway) are still recalled through a plethora of novels. Novels which do not just keep characters alive, but which allow newer and previously unpublished writers to be read.
Una McCormack for example, has gone from writing internet fan-fiction, to pretty much holding the fate of Cardassia itself in her hands. More than just Hollow Men and The Never-Ending Sacrifice being two of the best Star Trek novels I have read (and I’ve read more than a few) writing tie-in fiction has given a writer the opportunity to not only contribute to series she loves (she has also written books for Doctor Who), but this has also lead to her own original fiction being publisd as well.
But just as with all evolutions, it seems the tree of transmedia is again spliting into two separate branches. Whereas previous divergences occured from prose to comic to audio however, this one is at the heart of on-screen media itself.
One thing it seems, is that with a rise of adaptations and series such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, transmedia has come full circle. Whereas tie-in material published through books were previously used to supplement on-screen adventures, now it seems that what we see on screens, is more and more filing in the gaps and producing it’s own additional narratives to supplement books and comics. Somehow creating three longer than average movies from a single children’s paperback, The Hobbit immediately springs to mind.
More than this however, is the new tradition that has developed in which feature films now seem to be produced at a rate to rival TV episodes, something seen particularly with the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is well worth noting here, as what is being described as “Phase Two”, the continuation of films that culminated in Joss Whedon’s (told you, prolific) recent blockbuster The Avengers (Assemble), will constitute not just Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World et al, but also a S.H.I.E.L.D. Television series.
While it remains to be seen exactly how much this new series will link in with the films, with the inclusion of Agent Coulson who was seen dying in The Avengers (Assemble), filling in the backstory of how the S.H.I.E.L.D. organistation was created cannot be ruled out.
But regardless of the stories the TV series will tell, it seems that where TV has traditionally been the primary narrative with tie-in stories from ‘lesser’ media supplementing them, the twentyteens have not just followed Star Wars’ lead and promoted the primary narrative to cinematic heights, but with S.H.I.E.L.D. alongside The Clone Wars, promoted the supplementary stories to the ‘lesser’ medium of Television.
Although these phases of transmedia are still emerging, it is interesting to speculate who will take them up, and where they might go with them. Not forgetting of course, in the years to come, what other changes might come next…
Yesterday I watched the final episode of season 3 (29 if you’re being picky, 34 if you’re really picky) of Doctor Who.
Yesterday was also the first time I have been really disappointed by the series.
When the season first started, I have to admit I didn’t think it was as good as what had come before it. ‘The Shakespeare Code’ seemed more like it was trying to jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon than celebrate a famous historical figure, and having the shows most loved enemy in an average story in ‘Daleks In Manhattan’/’Evolution Of The Daleks’ did seem a tad wasteful. Minor quibbles aside, it was still essential Saturday night viewing.
And then came the second half of the season, which was fantastic. ‘Human Nature’/’The Family of Blood’ gave us a real insight into the Doctors character, as well as showing off David Tennant’s talent. ‘Blink’ was everything Doctor Who should be, funny, dramatic, and taking full advantage of the “big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff”.
‘Utopia’ was a great introduction for the season finale, and although the Master’s appearance didn’t come as the biggest surprise to me (it happens if you discuss rumours on the internet), I still thought it was well conceived, and a great cliffhanger leading to ‘The Sound Of Drums’, quite possibly one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who ever. Not only was John Simm perfect as the Master, bringing the right elements of humour to the role without overdoing it and still keeping his aura of absolute evil, but the tension between him and the Doctor was great, as were the glimpses of Gallifrey itself. But ‘The Last Of The Time Lords’ just tended to spoil things for me.
Maybe the end of season hype and greatness of ‘The Sound Of Drums’ just gave me unrealistic expectations for the finale, but it was probably more that I, never in five trillion years, would have expected Russel T Davies to turn the Doctor into Dobby, The House Elf!! Bandwagon jumping again, perhaps??
Right from the start we are told that it is now “One year later”, which just gave me the impression I might have been watching Battlestar Gallactica by mistake. Whilst spreading the word of the Doctor was certainly a different way of saving the world, and hailing a big cheer from pacifists everywhere, it still seems like a bit of a cop out and certainly far fetched. Almost as far fetched as the result of everyone in the world chanting his name would magically transform him to exactly how he looked before (including wearing the clothes he had previously grown too small for), and being able to levitate, unaffected by laser fire, whilst at the same time bask in an all glowing aura.
Basically, everything up to “I forgive you” could have done with a few rewrites. And then a few more, but luckily things seemed to pick up afterwards. The Doctors crying at the death of his arch-nemesis was a great touch (even though he was probably crying because it meant he was the last of his kind. Again.), and the funeral pyre was blatantly a Return Of The Jedi rip-off. The picking up of the ring was a nice way to explain how the Master might come back again, rather than going with the traditional magically reappearing with no logical explanation, which normally happens.
And Captain Jack Harkness as the Face Of Boe?? Nice idea, but does beg the question of how he goes from bi-pedal human to big head in a jar in a matter of 198,000 years, whilst spending the next 5 billion(ish) years unchanged. And it does make you wonder how far in advance they planned it all. Even if they haven’t answered the dangling cause of his missing memories, but they’re probably just saving that for Torchwood.
Which leaves us with the Titanic. Somehow creating an enormous hole in the interior of the TARDIS twice the size of the exterior, unless of course the chameleon circuit just happened to fix itself and disguise the TARDIS as an iceberg. And are the producers planning another multi-Doctor story, or have they forgotten that the Doctor has been there and then before?
Russel T Davies, please let Steven Moffat write next years finale. PLEASE!!!!