Doctor Who and Gothic Fiction – Part 1

For a piece of fiction to be Gothic, what criteria, if any, must be met?

When one thinks of Gothic, often our thoughts go to one of two things – Gothic Horror, and Gothic Architecture. But whilst both of those things derive from the essence of what the nature of Gothic is, neither fully explore or explain what truly makes something Gothic, because there is no clear method of distinguishing one way or another. Gothic architecture is Gothic because it conforms to a set of styles commonly associated with the architectural style, a Gothic Horror is a Gothic Horror because it uses one or more Gothic elements in it to define what it is and how it appears to the audience. But getting to the root of the topic, defining what Gothic actually is, can be difficult.

It is because of this that many pieces of fiction can be described as Gothic even if the work itself contains none of the stereotypical Gothic tropes such as gargoyles, castles, ghosts or graveyards. For something to be ‘Gothic’, it must inspire a particular feeling in the viewer, as Gothic fiction creates an atmosphere of unease, tension and even paranoia, and deal with dark themes with deep psychological undertones that aim to give the audience something to think about. Often Gothic stories will feature a monster, usually male, pitted against some form of Gothic heroine – but even this is not clear-cut, as heroines in Gothic fiction can be anything from a damsel-in-distress to a sociopath.

So how does this link to Doctor Who? Well, in more ways than you might expect.

Doctor Who is a very Gothic work of fiction. It has used Gothic elements almost since its first episode, and there have been periods in Doctor Who’s history where the show seemed to turn from whimsical science-fiction adventure to haunting Gothic-horror style tales of monsters, dark deeds, terror, and betrayal. As is the nature of Doctor Who as a show with a perpetually changing identity, Gothic elements haven’t always been at the forefront of how the show presents itself, and there have also been periods in the show’s history where it seems as if it couldn’t be any less Gothic. But deep-rooted in the show’s collective consciousness there is a drive to constantly return to a ‘neutral-state’ of Gothic horror, to the point that episodes that are less Gothic feel that little bit less like ‘true’ Doctor Who.

To map out the evolution of the relationship between Doctor Who and Gothic fiction, it is necessary to isolate three distinct phases in the show’s history in which Gothic elements are at their most obvious. The first phase began when the show was in its infancy, and only appeared sporadically in the turbulent times of Seasons 1 and 2 when the show was first finding its feet. Despite being a program designed specifically for children at the time, William Hartnell’s era of Doctor Who dabbled a fair amount in the genre of Gothic Horror. This may come as a surprise to modern viewers, many of whom have come to consider Hartnell’s era boring, outdated, or at the very worst, irrelevant. And yet here, in the show’s earliest days, there are examples of a genuine Gothic feel to Doctor Who that began here and spanned over 50 years.

Of all Hartnell’s episodes, one in particular stands out as truly Gothic. The first is The Rescue, a short but shocking two-part story in which companion-to-be Vicki, having crashed on a hostile planet rife with danger, must care for the only surviving crewman whilst simultaneously tolerating the constant demands of a local alien warrior. Vicki fits the profile for a Gothic heroine – she is an orphan, trapped in unfamiliar territory by a monster who appears half-man, half-monster, and she appears helpless to resolve the situation and so must constantly sit by the radio of the ship and hope for rescue. The ship itself also embodies many elements of a Gothic setting. The warped hull, rotting and torn-down panels coupled with collapsed beams and a claustrophobic interior make it an ideal Gothic setting. The final act of the story sees the Doctor facing off against the alien in a cavernous underground occult church and, for the native aliens and the humans, the reveal at the end of the episode cast doubt over who is really man and who is monster.

This is only one example of many early Doctor Who stories that are driven by unmistakable Gothic elements, with other examples including The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Crusade, The Tomb of the Cybermen, The War Games, and of course The Dæmons. In its early days, however, Doctor Who still for the most part adhered to the pretense of being a show for children but, during the transition between the Third and Fourth Doctors in 1974, the writing team decided to take the show down a different route. Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes began an era of Doctor Who that is most certainly Gothic, and is often considered to be the first Golden Age of Doctor Who for its quality of scripts, actors, sets, but most importantly, atmosphere.

In Part 2 of this article, I will discuss in depth the Gothic elements present in Seasons 12, 13 and 14 of Doctor Who and discuss what it is about the Gothic nature of this era that makes it so well-remembered, well-loved and well-respected even now, over 40 years later.

 

Russell T. Davies vs Steven Moffat – Who saved Who?

Russell T. Davies vs Steven Moffat – one of the most common debates in the Doctor Who fandom, particularly the NuWho sect of the community. Whether or not this necessarily needs to be debated is a question for another day – the question we are debating here today is, who was the true saviour of Doctor Who?

Russell T. Davies deserves a lot of credit for the revival of Doctor Who. Whether you like his era or not, it is totally undeniable that without Russell T. Davies, there probably wouldn’t have been a Doctor Who revival, and there certainly wouldn’t have been a revival as soon as 2005. Davies was essential in rebooting the franchise, NuWho was his vision, and he carried the show for 4 (and a bit) successful series’ that received critical acclaim, were universally accepted by fans of Classic Who and elevated the show from an archaic relic to one of the most treasured franchises of the BBC – and indeed of science fiction in general. When Doctor Who came back, it came back big, and Russell was the man who made that happen.

But he wasn’t the best writer. At least in my opinion. And to clarify – Russell T. Davies was, and is, a fantastic writer – he wrote some of the best episodes in all of NuWho: The Parting of the Ways, The Christmas Invasion, Utopia, Midnight, Turn Left, The Waters of Mars – and these are just the ones that I personally find exceptional. Many other fan favourites were written by Davies, including New Earth, Tooth and Claw, Partners in Crime and The Next Doctor. Undeniably, Russell T. Davies is a fantastic writer and Docotr Who would be lesser without him. But when I say that Russell T. Davies wasn’t the best writer, I mean that literally – the best writer in his era was Steven Moffat, as the vast majority of the truly fantastic episodes in Russell’s era were written by Moffat.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the writing credits Steven Moffat has in Russell’s era, and decide for yourself which writer has the better set of episodes. Moffat wrote 6 and a half episodes of Doctor Who during Russell T. Davies’ era – The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, Silence in the Library, Forest of the Dead and, finally, Time Crash – the 2007 Children in Need minisode about the Tenth Doctor meeting the Fifth Doctor. Of these episodes, there is not one that is not considered a classic, and it is hard to argue that Moffat’s spooky selection of Magnum Opuses is better as a group of episodes than even the best of what Russell penned during his time as showrunner. So does that settle it then? Is Moffat objectively better than Davies?

Well, in 2010, when it was announced the Moffat was taking over from Davies as showrunner, fans certainly seemed to think so. The lackluster reception to the end of The End of Time showcased to many the shortcomings of Russell T. Davies’ writing style – a pandering to soppy NuWho fans who were pining over David Tennant and little regard for Classic fans, or, indeed, fans who just wanted to watch science fiction about adventure and wonder rather than 25 minutes of David Tennant staring at characters who hadn’t been in the show for nearly 2 years and making people cry. For many, Moffat taking over was a dream come true, since he had written some truly award-winning episodes and had shown his dedication to the Classic series with Time Crash.

And now, at the conclusion of Moffat’s era, his reception can be described as… mixed. In truth, Moffat can not be called a ‘bad’ showrunner, as he has kept the show afloat in an era where TV shows as a medium are dying rapidly, and regardless of what anyone says, Doctor Who is still popular now and will continue to be so for many years to come. Moffat hasn’t ‘killed the show’, far from it, and his era has seen some of the best episodes of Doctor Who to ever air, such as Heaven Sent, World Enough and Time, The God Complex, Amy’s Choice, Oxygen, The Doctor’s Wife, The Eleventh Hour, The Day of the Doctor, and Cold War (yes, I like Cold War, what of it?) but of these, only a few are actually written by Moffat himself – Heaven Sent, World Enough and Time, The Eleventh Hour and The Day of the Doctor, to be precise. And Moffat has written some of the worst episodes in his era – Let’s Kill Hitler, The Angels Take Manhattan, The Name of the Doctor, Hell Bent – and the less said about Asylum of the Daleks, the better.

So the question remains – who is the better writer? The true answer is, its impossible to tell – because Russell T. Davies wasn’t around for Moffat’s era, and so we didn’t get to see what he could do without the burden of ‘being the showrunner’. If the stresses of the job of showrunner turned the writer of The Girl in the Fireplace into the writer of Asylum of the Daleks, then it could well be that if Russell wrote a standalone episode of Doctor Who on the side, it could be the next City of Death. But, Moffat still wrote Heaven Sent nearly 6 years into his time as showrunner. So maybe the truth is that the two of them are just writers, each with their individual talents and shortcomings, and comparing them to one another is as futile a task as comparing Doctors, since they both contributed in their own way to a show we all love, and for every Love and Monsters we got a Turn Left, and for every The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe we got a Blink.

But don’t get me started on John Nathan-Turner.

 

 

Xenophobia – Halo, the Covenant, and the Fear of the Unknown

The Aliens are the bad guys. Everyone knows that. There’s a film called Alien, in which the villain is an alien, and it kills people because its an alien and that’s what aliens do, right? Think of any sci-fi franchise and undoubtedly you’ll think about a whole host of evil alien bad-guys who want to destroy Earth and kill all the Humans. Predator. Independence Day. Cloverfield. Even Star Trek. And Halo is no exception. The Covenant are an evil gang of aliens who want to destroy the Earth, kill all the humans and basically be bad guys. Or are they?

You don’t expect anything particularly deep in terms of story from a first-person shooter game, but Halo is definitely an exception. There is no doubt that Halo has a story that is both complex and interesting, and the reason for this is that the characters in Halo are themselves complex and interesting. Halo isn’t just a game about blasting aliens – it can be, if you want it to be, but if you pay attention to even 10 minutes of the cutscenes from any game past Halo: Combat Evolved and you’ll see that there is far more to the Covenant than simply a gang of evil roaring laser aliens. They have an entire religion, a way of life and a code of conduct that is just as complex and rigid as any human code of self-discipline, and it is because of their faith that they do the things that they do, even if individuals within the Covenant don’t want to.

At face value, however, the Covenant do appear to be simply a barbaric cult of zealots who want to destroy humanity – they fulfill their role in the game for this very reason. But the Covenant are designed to represent any real-world extremist religious organisation. In a sense, a player of Halo being indifferent to the inner workings of the Covenant is comparable to any real-world person being indifferent to the inner workings of any society or country that they are currently fighting. If people in the real world payed as much attention to the inner workings of genuine fanatical organisations as Halo fans did to the inner workings of the Covenant, then there might just be a greater general knowledge of why modern-era wars are being fought and what the motivations for the real-life ‘bad guys’ really are.

In a sense, the indifference to the psychology of ones enemy stems from a fear of the unknown. We don’t want to know why the people we are fighting are doing the things that they are doing, because every so often there comes a time when we might just realise that we’re not as much in the right as we thought we were, and vice versa. Who are the real ‘bad guys’ in the world? If we stick to the Halo analogy, we know that the UNSC – humanity’s commanding force – are secretly at the beck and call of ONI, a sinister HYDRA-esque organisation that are undeniably evil. And it is from the Covenant that we derive the character of the Arbiter, a fan-favourite who is driven by his desire to bring justice and do good in repentance for the evil things he did during his time in service of the Covenant. So who are the real villains?

In any good story, just as in real life, there are no true ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ – there are simply factions, each fighting for a distinct reason, and it is up to the individual to assess each one and decide for themselves which is the best. It is comparable to sports, in a sense – in the grand scheme of things, is there really any tangible difference between different countries fighting each other and different sports teams competing in a championship? They are all self-interested, independent actors in a great global game – a game in which we are the players.

Choose your team wisely.

 

 

Very Good at Opening Doors – In Defence of the Sonic Screwdriver

‘Sonic Screwdriver’ is about to be added to the Oxford English Dictionary as an official phrase in the English language, joining fellow Doctor Who-related entries such as Dalek, TARDIS and Cyberman. This demonstrates how ingrained the sonic screwdriver is in the consciousness of Doctor Who fans and, by extension, the country as a whole, but why is this the case? The sonic screwdriver is constantly criticised for its overuse in the show, and what was once a multi-functional scientific instrument designed to open doors and turn screws has now become a catch-all deus-ex-machina maker in the eyes of many fans. But the sonic persists in the show as it always has… or has it?

The truth is that the writers of Classic Who were just as conscious of the shortcomings of the sonic as modern writers and fans are today, to the extent that the sonic was ‘killed off’ in the Fifth Doctor serial The Visitation, and was never brought back for the entire of the Classic series. Colin Baker briefly used a temporary replacement in the sonic lance but this was short-lived and he appeared to show little regard for the device, a stark contrast to Peter Davison’s reaction to the destruction of the sonic as the loss of an ‘old friend’. The first reappearance of a true sonic screwdriver was in the 1996 TV Movie, in which the Seventh Doctor inexplicably carried one (despite never doing so at any point during his era) but this was almost certainly due to the fact that Doctor Who was being ‘rebooted’ and the writers were working on the assumption that you can’t have Doctor Who without the Doctor’s sonic.

This was the same logic behind resurrecting the sonic again for the 2005 revival, with Christopher Eccleston’s sonic being the beginning of the ‘weaponised’ sonics – held more like a weapon than a tool, pointed ‘at’ the monster rather than ‘towards’ it. David Tennant was further criticised for his overuse of the sonic – for an example of this, watch the opening of The Impossible Planet. When the Ood emerge from the doorways to menace the Doctor and Rose, watch Tennant’s reaction. Rather than surrender or attempt to run like his previous incarnations did, Tennant draws the sonic and points it at the Ood. What is he hoping to achieve? This is even referenced in the 50th Anniversary episode Day of the Doctor. When the three Doctors are surrounded by soldiers, Ten and Eleven draw their sonics and wave them around at the guards, to which Hurt’s incarnation states: “They’re screwdrivers! What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?”. To put this into context, John Hurt was playing the War Doctor – an incarnation of the Doctor that is supposed to be aggressive and trigger-happy. And even he doesn’t wave his sonic around like a weapon.

So is there any point to the sonic anymore? If it can be used to solve any problem, even to the extent of being seen by the Doctor as a weapon, then does it still have a place in the show? The fans seem to think so, as when the sonic was temporarily replaced with the ‘sonic sunglasses’ in Series 9, there was an instant backlash, with some fans even claiming that the sonic was ‘integral’ to the show itself. It is laughable to think that a device that didn’t even exist either at the beginning or the end of Classic Who is as ‘integral’ to the show as the TARDIS, the companion, or even the Doctor himself.

However, there is an element of context to take into account when it comes to comparing NuWho and Classic Who, and it all comes down to time. For a Time Lord, the Doctor certainly doesn’t seem to have as much time on his hands nowadays as he did back in the 20th century, with most episodes now being restricted to a mere 45 minutes – and only double that in the rare instance that we get a two-parter. This is far less time to tell a coherent story than the 100-minute 4-part stories that were commonplace in the Classic era, with some even being up to 200 minutes long. In NuWho, there simply isn’t the time to spend an entire 25-minute serial watching the Doctor figure out how to escape a prison cell with an umbrella and a stick of celery. Times have changed, and so has television.

As a result of this, the sonic screwdriver basically performs any task that the Classic show would have taken an entire episode to carry out – thereby cutting down the time needed for each story and vastly improving the pacing. If the sonic was removed from NuWho, we wouldn’t see an increase in inventive and ingenious methods of escaping from deadly traps – all we would see is a series of conveniences and more deus-ex-machinas. It is, in many ways, the lesser of two evils.

That being said, it would be nice to see Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor going sonic-free for at least a while in her new series – for the simple reason of having something to hold back for the audience. The sonic should be unveiled when it is needed most, and its use as a makeshift weapon should certainly decrease. The sonic is a useful tool, not a weapon, and it should always remain so. For the sonic to work with the Doctor’s character, it should be used sparingly, and when it is used, it should stay true to the Doctor’s nature of giving a helping hand rather than doing the job itself.

Death to the Daleks! – Are the Daleks still relevant in the 21st century?

When listing monsters from Doctor Who that are considered ‘scary’, there are dozens of examples of original monsters that are specifically designed to invoke fear in the viewer. Monsters like the Silence, the Weeping Angels, the Haemovores, even the Cybermen in their original form (although I’ve already done an entire article about that). However rarely will you ever hear anyone in the modern era list the Daleks among their picks for scary Doctor Who monsters. It is true that the Daleks used to be scary: the infamous ‘hiding behind the sofa’ catchphrase that is often seen in the papers when referring to Doctor Who is said to have come about due to 1960s children and their fear of the Daleks. This seems almost comical by today’s terms: the Daleks don’t look scary, but even something as ridiculous looking as the Stormtroopers from Star Wars can appear menacing if they are used correctly, and the Daleks have been menacing in the past, even in NuWho. But scary? Not really. But why is that the case?

One of the most important things to consider when assessing any villain is what kind of message the writer of the story is trying to relay to the audience through their villains. A villain can be used to demonstrate the worst of a political or religious ideology, they can be used to critique society through their actions, or they can be used as a means of forcing the audience to face the mirror, to see how humans affect the environment, animals, or indeed each other. When Doctor Who first aired in 1963, Britain was a very different place from what it is today. The Second World War was a recent memory; for many it was an experience that affected them personally in some way or another. The aftermath of the war lingered over the heads of the citizens of the nation for decades, and the Daleks perfectly captured a very specific fear that had begun to root itself in the hearts and minds of the British people: a fear of Nazism.

The creator of the Daleks, Terry Nation, was very specific about the exact nature of Dalek psychology and philosophy. The Daleks are driven by a pure, unadulterated hatred of all living things that are not Dalek. Their hatred of all other life parallels the classic representation of the Nazis, and Terry Nation harnessed the national fear of Nazism that erupted as a result of World War 2 to essentially create a fictional representation of the ultimate form of Nazism – and in so doing made the Daleks perfectly terrifying for audiences of the day. The Daleks were scary because they killed people – without mercy and without cessation. The Dalekmania that gripped the nation in the 1970s seems almost obscene to those in the know, since the Daleks essentially represent the ultimate in racial cleansing – their doctrine does, after all, involve total extermination of all life.

But times change. And as times have changed, the Daleks have not. Their physical design has been updated, the effects are better, the voices sound clearer and more menacing, and they have appeared in NuWho almost as much as in the Classic series – but they have adhered to the same ideology that Terry Nation wrote for them in 1963, and for whatever reason, people being mercilessly killed doesn’t seem to scare people the way it used to. So as a result of this, the Daleks – and their menace – faded from the public consciousness. To a 21st century child, the Daleks are not scary – and that in itself is pretty scary. You can argue that a child in the modern era will never be scared of a bulbous, practically immobile talking wheelie bin, but the physical appearance of the Daleks is irrelevant. They could just as easily be black-clad armoured troopers, or axe-wielding psychotic maniacs, or take the form of the Easter Bunny: it is their motives that makes them scary. Like the Blackshirts, the Nazis, the Klan or the Stormtroopers, the Daleks don’t care that people think they look stupid – one even says so in Doomsday. They just want to kill you. Whoever you are, wherever you live, no matter your race, gender, appearance, religion – they just want to kill you. How is that not scary?

The answer is apathy. People today – particularly children – have lost the fear of Nazism that was so quintessential to the British way of thinking in the 20th century. We see this all the time, with Nazis and other fearsome 20th century factions being seen today as a comedic device. Even Doctor Who itself is guilty of this. Anyone remember that episode where they crashed the TARDIS in 1930s Berlin and stuffed Hitler into a cupboard? The fear factor is gone, and in a way it’s our own fault. We laughed at the Nazis during the war out of fear; we laughed at the Nazis after the war out of relief. We laugh at the Nazis now out of apathy, a sheer ignorance to their true nature. And the same can be said for the Daleks.

So how can this be reversed? And more importantly – why should it? Surely its a good thing that the world has moved on, and that we have reached a point in time where we can live free of fear, free to point and laugh at those evil, stupid-looking fools from a century long departed. Perhaps. But we must also be cautious that fascism doesn’t take advantage of our lapse in fear and take the opportunity to sneak back into a society that firmly rejected it nearly 100 years ago. At the beginning of this article I spoke briefly about how if a good villain is used right then it can plant seeds of ideas in the minds of the audience, and the Daleks should be used in this way once again. They have proven they can be menacing, but we need them to be truly scary again, now more than ever, and that is where the relevance of the Daleks in the 21st century lies. They exist as a cautionary tale, regardless of what era you watch them in, but what is required now is for the writers of Doctor Who to take responsibility for this, to amp up the fear factor of the Daleks using any means necessary so that they can truly fulfill their function of making people fear Nazism, and indeed any extremist ideology – as Terry Nation intended, and as our society today desperately needs them to.

Doctor Who – Lost Episode Animations & Saving the Patrick Troughton era

It’s time to confess. I haven’t seen The Evil of the Daleks.

But can you blame me? After all, very few people alive today have seen The Evil of the Daleks. According to legend, on May 20th, 1967, Part One of Evil of the Daleks aired on BBC One, and the story concluded with its seventh part on July 1st, 1967. But after that, it was never seen again. The Evil of the Daleks is just one of many Doctor Who episodes that are, for all intents and purposes, lost forever. Aside from a few scraps of visuals, the audio track in its original form and a handful of pictures, most classic Doctor Who episodes that are lost are truly lost.

It’s a real shame too – The Evil of the Daleks sees not only the debut of a great companion in Victoria, but also sees the first appearance of the Dalek Emperor, as well as the first in what would become a long list of Dalek Civil Wars. We see the true Evil of the Daleks as they attempt to infect the human population with the Dalek factor, a plot that was essentially recycled by Russel T. Davies in Series 3 of NuWho. That seems to be a recurring theme with lost episodes as a matter of fact – often their plots or plot elements will be reused in newer episodes. Think about it. The Evil of the Daleks and Evolution of the Daleks seem quite similar, don’t they?

But The Evil of the Daleks is comparatively lucky. It’s audio track is in fairly good condition, and it even has one of the seven episodes fully intact (for the most part) – episode 2, the first appearance of soon-to-be companion Victoria Waterfield, survives and can be viewed to this day. But there are some episodes that are not so lucky – one of them is 1966’s The Power of the Daleks which, despite being Patrick Troughton’s debut as the Second Doctor, as well as being the first post-regeneration story ever and being many fan’s top pick for best Dalek episode ever, is officially lost with all hands. All six episodes were wiped with only scattered fragments, pictures and of course the audio track giving us an idea of what the episode was like.

Sadly, like Evil, Power has also fallen victim to a posthumous plot autopsy by NuWho writers – but this time Mark Gatiss is the culprit. Fans have noticed a striking similarity between Power and the infamous Series 5 Dalek episode Victory of the Daleks, with the “I am your servant”/”I am your soldier” parallel being the most overt. With both Power and Evil wiped, two of Troughton’s strongest stories are lost with with them dies the impact and the menace that Terry Nation’s creations had in their early years. In a sense, it is not just simply The Evil of the Daleks and The Power of the Daleks that are lost – an essential chapter in the history of the Daleks is lost, and the Daleks themselves are less as a result.

However, there is hope. Thanks to the BBC’s amazing dedication to preserving the long history of Doctor Who, The Power of the Daleks has now been restored to its former glory thanks to a full-blown remake of the episode, using the original audio coupled with new professional animation. The concept of animating old lost Doctor Who episodes is not a new one – but The Power of the Daleks is the first time that a full story has been animated in this way – traditionally this technique has only been used to fill ‘gaps’ in mostly surviving stories – The Tenth Planet springs immediately to mind, since in the official release of that story episode 4 had to be completely animated by Planet 55 since the original is missing.

BBC studios has done a fantastic job with Power, and although it is possible to nitpick this reconstruction for several issues that it does have (most notably the style of animation itself, which works for the Daleks but makes the human characters look like jittery puppets) it would be downright blasphemous to attempt to write this project off as a failure, or even as a disappointment – it proved enormously popular and gives Classic fans, particularly Troughton fans, hope for the future – it could be that one day, we get to see the likes of The Evil of the Daleks, The Daleks Master Plan and The Moonbase fully animated (or with animated versions of the episodes that are lost) to finally fill those decades-old gaps on the shelves of Doctor Who DVD collectors, as well as resurrecting some beloved pieces of television history.

Day of the Daleks Special Edition – Hope for the Future of the Past

I first watched Day of the Daleks when I was about 14, although I don’t remember that it actually was Day of the Daleks at the time, since I’d been told that Day of the Daleks was a story about time travel, political intrigue, manipulation, betrayal, sacrifice and explosive battles. The short action sequence from Day of the Daleks that I saw as a child depicted no more than three Daleks wobbling along over a grassy field being halfheartedly flanked by reject stock from Planet of the Apes. What a young fool I was.

It is a simple fact of life that the special effects in Classic Doctor Who have, for the most part, not aged well at all. Oddly enough, this isn’t a continuous process – it isn’t as simple as ‘the further back you go, the worse the effects are’ – that is an ignorant standpoint. If you watch The Daleks from 1963, you will see that the effects are good. If you watch Remembrance of the Daleks from 1988, you will see that the effects are good. If you watch Terror of the Autons from 1971, another episode that involves large gunfight-style action sequences made a whole year before Day, you will see that the effects are good. So why, I hear you ask, does Day of the Daleks and episodes like it have such bad effects?

One of the simplest answers is money. Doctor Who has been consistently made on a low budget typical of shows from the BBC. But there must be more to it than that – allocation of funding can explain why some episodes of Doctor Who look better than others, but this is a Dalek episode – the first Dalek episode in five years, no less. Surely the BBC could have funneled more money into this?

The short answer is no. Day of the Daleks has an Achilles heel, and that is that there were only three Dalek props available for the filming of this story, and no amount of BBC budget was going to create new, functional Dalek props in the time between the final decision to go ahead with the episode and the filming date it was scheduled for. As such, the BBC were forced to round up all their surviving Dalek props, dust them off, paint them up and do the best that they could with what they had.

This leaves us with a Dalek episode that has a fantastic plot, great acting, superlative pacing and yet the one thing that everyone notices now when watching Classic Doctor Who is the ‘wobbly sets’ and the terrible effects. So maybe it’s time to change that.

Day of the Daleks: Special Edition replaces all the technical effects with new, updated CGI lasers and sounds, Nicholas Briggs replaces the original Dalek voices with his instantly recognisable NuWho-style Dalek performance, and the team even went so far as to shoot entirely new scenes with the same cameras that would have been used to film back in the early 1970s, adding in new death scenes for soldiers and, thankfully, swelling the Dalek army from a miserable three to a much more respectable 10, at least.

Now, thanks to the Special Edition, Day of the Daleks takes on a whole new lease of life, with added CGI shots of the future Dalek city to point out to viewers when a time-shift has taken place, more engaging action sequences that better demonstrate the high stakes of this episode, and a fantastic and visually stunning new effect for the blaster weapons that are used regularly throughout the episode. Watching Day of the Daleks now makes it seem less like an episode made in 1972 and more like a modern episode written, produced and filmed in the style of a 1970s-serial, and that is definitely a good thing.

For Dalek fans, Pertwee fans and 70’s fans alike, the Day of the Daleks Special Edition is a welcome addition to the ever growing Doctor Who DVD collection, and represents a beacon of hope for the future of classic stories and how they can stay relevant in the 21st century.

Doctor Who – Ranking every Series of New Who

Ranking the 10 New Who seasons (or ‘series’ here in the UK) is difficult, particularly because there is no ‘right’ answer. Each and every series has its good episodes and bad episodes, and there is no universally accepted ranking of the series that will please everybody. As such, this list will be my opinion only, and will (for the sake of simplicity), include both the 2010 specials and the 2013 specials as separate entries. Be sure not to take this list too seriously, after all, it is only one writer’s view, and I’d love to read your version of this list in the comments below, and I’ll try and make this list as unpredictable as possible.

13: Series 7

Okay, well perhaps this was a bit predictable.

Series 7 only makes the bottom because its unlike any other series of NewWho, in that there are hardly any truly memorable episodes. I genuinely struggled to remember them all, and that’s probably something to do with the terrible formatting of this series. From what I remember, the best episode in the series is probably Cold War, with A Town Called Mercy and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship in close second. And that’s really about it for good episodes – Series 7 has such godawful episodes as Asylum of the Daleks, The Power of Three and The Name of the Doctor, a finale that achieved nothing and, according to some, throws the entire canonicity of the Classic series into doubt. So yeah, Series 7 misses badly.

12: Series 6

Again, I struggled to put Series 6 anywhere but here because even though it has three of my favourite episodes of all time (The Doctor’s Wife, The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex,) the split into two parts really damages Series 6. Despite having what is arguably one of the biggest ‘reveals’ in recent Doctor Who history, Series 6’s truncated nature makes this seem undeserved and could have benefited from more build-up. The stories are messy, there’s too much focus on Doctor Who ‘going American’ and Night Terrors is not scary regardless of what anyone says. Plus, there isn’t a single dedicated Dalek episode, and the only Cyberman episode it gets is Closing Time. The less said about that the better.

11: Series 11

Despite the storm surrounding the casting of the first female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker’s first series as the Thirteenth Doctor was underwhelming. A lack of returning monsters, no clear character arc or development, a lack of a strong series arc in general, and a few too many lacklustre episodes meant that Series 11 felt less like a reboot of the show and more like a high-budget yet poorly-made fan production. The fault doesn’t lie with Jodie Whittaker, who is sharing the limelight with three other companions (an arrangement that rarely went well in Classic Who) and each companion has the potential to be great in their own right – there just isn’t enough time with 10 episodes of 50 minutes each. In my opinion, the best thing Series 11 has going for it is Resolution, but that’s only because its a Dalek story.

10: 2013 Specials

Almost forgot about these, didn’t you?

Technically this hardly counts as a series since it’s barely 3 episodes, but the 2013 specials are packaged differently from Series 7 by the BBC and as such as considered a separate entity. This is very convenient for me because it means I can distinguish between these episodes that are, for the most part, decent episodes in their own right, from the shambles that was Series 7.

That being said, the 2013 specials are only really higher than Series 7 because of the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, and the 8-minute long minisode Night of the Doctor starring Paul McGann as his first on-screen reprisal of the role of the Eight Doctor since 1996. Unfortunately, this series is dragged down by the confusing mess that is The Time of the Doctor, which offers some truly awesome moments but little more other than that in terms of actual plot.

9: Series 2

It is undoubtable that David Tennant’s first series has some fantastic episodes, not least the superlative The Girl in the Fireplace and the chilling two-parter The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. However, this series has an achilles heel – Peter Kay. Love and Monsters stands as one of the worst episodes in Doctor Who history, and despite a recent resurgence of alternative interpretations of the episode that attempt to explain away the goofy comedy and terrible monster design, this episode will always remain one of my least favourite episodes of Doctor Who that, coupled with Fear Her and The Idiot’s Lantern, makes Series 2 one of the lower tier entries in my opinion. I still love Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel though, and if it weren’t for the recent World Enough and Time I’d put them at the top of my best Cyberman stories list

8: Series 8

Peter Capaldi’s opening series is so close to being fantastic, the only reason why it ranks low on this list is because of one major drawback. Clara. Why on earth Clara didn’t leave after the Name of the Doctor is anybody’s guess, and whilst she is more of a character in this series rather than a plot device, the character she has developed into in this series almost makes me miss the cardboard cutout Clara we got in Series 7. She is bossy, self-righteous and tries too hard to be the Doctor. Is she the worst companion of all time? No. But if it was just this series to go off of, she would be in the top 3 worst companions easily. So despite there being a few true gems in this series, like Mummy on the Orient Express, Flatline, Into the Dalek and Death in Heaven, the presence of Clara brings the whole series down in my opinion.

7: 2010 Specials

David Tennant’s final run of episodes barely stands as a series in its own right, but unlike the 2013 specials that are boxed separately from Series 7 (despite only having a whopping 2 and a half episodes), the 2010 specials were all we got from Doctor Who in 2010, since Series 4 ended with Tennant still in the role and yet it would still be 5 more episodes before he regenerates and Matt Smith takes over for Series 5. Because it was to be Tennant’s final run and the writers believed we needed something a bit more ‘epic’, we ended up with a run of episodes that are comparable in many ways to Marmite – you either love them or you hate them. This is perfectly demonstrated by fan reaction to The End of Time, with both parts seeming too drawn out and overblown, and yet this series also gives us The Waters of Mars, one of the best horror episodes in recent memory. Also, “I don’t want to go?” will forever remain the most unlikeable ‘last words’ for a Doctor incarnation since the Sixth Doctor’s “Carrot Juice”.

6: Series 9

As we get closer to the top spot it is hard to actually rank the top 5 or 6 in any order, since I love most of the new series of Doctor Who so much. However, Series 9 is certainly placed here as the official ‘least favourite of my favourite Doctor Who series’. Series 9 has some amazing episodes, and the fact that most of them are two-parters helps enormously – in fact, I would argue that there is no single two-part episode in this series that is anything less than good overall. However, an aspect of this series that falls flat is that a lot of the opening halves of the two-part episodes are a lot worse than their conclusions. The Magician’s Apprentice, The Girl Who Died and The Zygon Invasion are all vastly inferior to their concluding episodes in a strange inversion of the norm for Doctor Who two-parters. The one obvious exception to this rule is the masterpiece that is Heaven Sent, arguably the greatest episode of Doctor Who of all time, being followed by the poorly-received Hell Bent. Overall, Series 9 should have been a strong middle-act for the Twelfth Doctor’s era, but was bogged down by Clara’s fake-out death and the infamous Sleep No More.

5: Series 4

I like Series 4 a lot, which is why it makes high on this list, but apparently I don’t like Series 4 as much as most other people seem to like Series 4. It constantly makes the top spot of fan polls on favourite series, and for good reason: It is the final proper series of the Tenth Doctor, who to a lot of people is the best Doctor of the decade, or even of all time. Also, Series 4 has Donna, who is one of my personal favourite companions, and yet Series 4 doesn’t make any higher on this list for me because it also represents what some have dubbed ‘the beginning of the end for Doctor Who’, and a lot of people seem to think that Series 4 is ‘as good as it gets’. These people often also seem to be the same sort of people who would tell you to ‘skip nine’, and that the classic series is ‘boring and doesn’t matter anyway’. So to those people I say, Series 4 is good, yes, but its not that good. Planet of the Ood and Midnight aside, it’s arguably quite mediocre, and if it weren’t for the duo of the Doctor and Donna, it wouldn’t poll anywhere nearly as high. Sorry.

4: Series 1

Speaking of Nine, Christopher Eccleston’s only series to date as the Ninth Doctor brought back Doctor Who in a big way, and set up the show to be one of the most popular BBC shows of the decade. With explosive epics like World War Three and The Parting of the Ways coupled with some great psychological horror in The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances its hard not to love this series, even if it did have three episodes dedicated to farting green aliens. Also, it has Dalek. That alone is enough to propel this series to the top 4. The only downside to this entire series for me is the unnecessary kiss at the end of the finale, which I have spent the rest of my life attempting to unsee. And no, I’m not talking about when Captain Jack kisses the Doctor. You know the bit I’m talking about. “Come here… I think you need a Doctor.” Curse you, Russell.

3: Series 3

So at number 3 we have Series 3, which also seems to be a divisive series among fans. On the one hand, people who love Martha argue that this series didn’t do her justice, and the constant pining for Rose that dominates the Doctor’s character for most of this series is a major drawback on it for me, and is what prevents this series from reaching the top spot. However, the best episodes in this series, Family of Blood/Human Nature, focus almost entirely on Martha and how she deals with situations without the Doctor, which obviously sets her up for her departure at the end of the series, making Martha the only New Who companion to leave the Doctor on her own terms. No tears, no sudden death, no potentially problematic forced mind-erasure, just a simple “See ya Doctor”.  Also, this series has Blink, which has become hugely overrated but is still a fantastic episode. It’s just a shame that the finale was so… wacky.

2: Series 10

Peter Capaldi’s final series of Doctor Who is, undoubtedly, one of the best of the New Series. Bill and the Doctor have a relationship unlike anything we’ve seen in New Who before, which mirrors the Grandfather/Granddaughter relationship that the original pairing of the First Doctor and Susan obviously had, and yet it also has an element of a Teacher/Student dynamic, which makes Bill akin to a new Ace, thus elevating her into the pantheon of my top 3 favourite companions, at least. Also, Series 10 sees the return of John Simm as the Master, with arguably his best performance as the character to date, there’s the redemption arc for Missy that truly brings the character full circle, a great Dalek cameo in the first episode, and the return of the Mondasian Cybermen. And that’s not even scratching the surface of some of the episodes. Extremis, Oxygen, The Eaters of Light, World Enough and Time, The Doctor Falls, and even Knock Knock all rank as some of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who of all time. And, at last, after trying for what must be over 10 years, we finally get a half-decent, dare I say ‘good’ episode written by Mark Gatiss with The Empress of Mars. Bravo.

1: Series 5

And so, we reach the top spot, and it was difficult to decide what to place here, since I could just as easily have argued the case for any of the past 3 or 4 entries being number one themselves. However, I have to put Series 5 in the top spot due to what it represents, how it performs as a standalone series, and how it contributed to keeping Doctor Who stable in what was, all things considered, a very unstable time for the show.

Series 5 successfully pulled off the transition from Russel T. Davies to Steven Moffat, and replaced David Tennant with Matt Smith. Although this wasn’t the first time the Doctor had changed actors in New Who, this was the first radical shift in the show’s identity post-2005. And despite all the naysayers claiming that Doctor Who would die with Tennant’s departure, Series 5 went on to be one of the most critically acclaimed series of Doctor Who, with fantastic episodes such as Amy’s Choice, Vincent and the Doctor and The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. The opener, The Eleventh Hour, stands to this day as one of the best opening episodes for a new Doctor in the history of the show, beaten only by Troughton’s The Power of the Daleks. And the finale represents a significant shift from the Davies-style ‘epic finale’ to a more reserved and simple setup of the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River being chased around a museum by a Dalek with the fate of the universe at stake. It screams Classic Who in so many ways.

And despite what they would later become, the trio of the Doctor, Amy and Rory stands at its strongest in this series. Series 5 predates the sickening soap-opera antics of Series 6 and 7 and we get the trio’s dynamic in its purest form, with Matt Smith playing a fantastic Doctor with his ability to appear ancient and otherworldly despite being only 26 at the time. Amy is a fantastic companion in this series, and arguably overall if we ignore Series 7. But the best thing about Series 5 by far is the character development of Rory, which is handled far better than Russel’s take on Mickey Smith in my opinion, since in the space on one series we see Rory go from a timid, nervous nurse to a strong and capable member of the TARDIS team who makes a huge sacrifice in the name of love and gets the girl in the end as icing on the cake. Aww.

Do you agree with this list?

Probably not, I’d wager. But regardless, be sure to leave your thoughts on this list (and perhaps your own version of this ranking) in the comments, It’s always interesting to read about why people love or hate particular Doctors, Seasons or Episodes, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you favourite or least favourite series of Doctor Who is.

The Master – Simm to Delgado Theory

Ever since the Series 10 finale The Doctor Falls dropped, fans have been attempting to piece together evidence to attempt to solve several unanswered riddles left in the wake of this epic, explosive episode. Arguably one of the biggest impacts this episode has had on wider Doctor Who lore is the death of not one but two incarnations of the Master, with John Simm’s incarnation being mortally wounded by his female counterpart only to shoot her in the back in a desperate act to prevent Missy from standing with the Doctor. As a result, both Masters die at the hands of the other, but whilst Missy appears to die for good, John Simm’s incarnation escapes, presumably to regenerate into Missy and begin the cycle again. Or does he?

The interesting thing about this finale is that many of the events that take place are left open-ended, presumably so that upcoming showrunner Chris Chibnall can revisit the character of the Master later in his tenure. As a result, we don’t see John Simm actually regenerate into Missy, and so fan speculation has inevitably brought up one of the biggest questions of all that could turn the entire chronology of the Master totally on its head. What if the Simm Master, having been mortally wounded by Missy, goes back to his TARDIS and regenerates… into Roger Delgado’s incarnation?

Let’s look at the facts. We know that John Simm’s Master has been tormented by the Sound of Drums his entire life, and whilst the drumming became louder and stronger than ever before during Simm’s run as the Master, it is implied that the Master has had this drum beat in his head his entire life. Derek Jacobi’s incarnation certainly has it, and Russel T. Davies would have us believe that, by extension, all previous incarnations of the Master in the classic series had the drums as well… they just never mentioned it at all.

Alternatively, this new theory offers a different interpretation. The reason why the Masters in the classic series didn’t mention having the drums is because, at that point in their timeline, it had already been cured. Simm’s second appearance as the Master in The End of Time saw the drums cured once the Doctor destroyed the machine holding Gallifrey in orbit over Earth, and when we see Simm again in The Doctor Falls, he appears much more reserved, less manic, and generally more akin to a classic Master incarnation like Delgado. He even dresses similarly, with a long black coat and goatee-style beard.

It would seem then that this theory holds some weight to it – after all, it explains an otherwise difficult to ignore plot hole regarding the Master’s character, and it even seems to line up in terms of Simm’s continuity. However, upon closer inspection, it appears that this theory simply isn’t true. Lines of dialogue said by Simm’s incarnation in The Sound of Drums makes reference to ‘Axons and Daleks’, clearly referencing the events that take place during Roger Delgado’s tenure as the Master, implying that Simm’s incarnation remembers them from his past. Likewise, Simm also talks about being resurrected for the Time War, implying that the events of State of Decay all the way up to the 1996 TV Movie all happened in his past, which essentially derails this theory.

However, one might argue that it could be that Simm’s incarnation is aware of the events he is discussing but not from his personal history – after all, the Master is completely deranged, and unlike the Doctor would probably have no qualms about sifting through UNIT’s documents to get a glimpse of what his personal future on Earth would be like, especially since he was Prime Minister at the time, and could have easily accessed UNIT’s files. Perhaps due to the paradoxical nature of such an act, his memories of the exact details of each encounter are erased, explaining why he can’t remember exactly how he gets beaten in each encounter – but he still remembers something to do with Axons and Daleks. A tenuous explanation, yes, but a possible one.

Speaking of memory, there is another aspect of this theory that causes problems the more you look into it. If Delgado’s incarnation comes after Simm’s, and Simm’s follows Jacobi’s who fought in the Time War according to Big Finish’s new War Master audio series, why doesn’t Delgado’s incarnation know or care about the Time War? He never mentions it to the Doctor at all, and although he might simply not care enough to discuss it, Ainley’s incarnation (which presumably follows Delgado’s) goes to Gallifrey several times and yet makes no mention of a Time War.

Unless – and this is an even crazier theory – the entire chronology of the Master as we know it is totally wrong, and the order of the Master’s regenerations does not follow a chronological order based on year of appearance like the Doctor’s does, and rather the Master as we know him/her is constantly moving around in time, and not even the Doctor knows exactly which incarnations follow or precede each other.

All we know as fans is what we can glean from what we see on-screen – which isn’t much. The Master is rarely shown to regenerate on-screen, and the only true regeneration that we get to see is the Jacobi-Simm regeneration in Utopia. In the classic series, we witness Geoffrey Beever’s decayed incarnation hijack Tremas’ body and become the Anthony Ainley incarnation in The Keeper of Traken, and we presumably witness the death of this incarnation at the start of the 1996 TV Movie as the Master depicted there, although not played by Ainley himself, clearly has the catlike eyes he possesses in Survival, a trait that carries over to his next incarnation. As such, all we know for certain is like Beevers becomes Ainley, Ainley becomes Roberts and, in NuWho, Jacobi becomes Simm. We don’t even know what order these events occur in!

As such, this opens up a whole new can of worms regarding the Master’s chronology. Is Missy an incarnation from the far future? Was Delgado the chronological first Master incarnation, or was it Jacobi? Is the decayed Master seen in State of Decay and The Keeper of Traken meant to be the remains of the Delgado incarnation, or a totally different version of the Master? Indeed, do these two separate decayed Masters, who are played by different actors, represent two separate versions themselves? Will the Master return again or did Missy’s death represent a final end for the character?

We can only hope that between Big Finish’s new War Master audio series and the potential for the character to return in the future of televised Doctor Who that some of these questions will be answered. However, if the past history of the character of the Master is anything to go by, we shouldn’t get out hopes up.

Cameo of the Daleks – Do Dalek Cameos work?

It’s become a well-known fact that you can’t have a series of New Who that doesn’t have the Daleks in it, one way or another. But has having the Daleks appear in the show so often become damaging to the character of the Daleks? Since they get beaten so often, are they even a threat anymore? These were the kind of questions Steven Moffat must have been asking himself as he took over as showrunner, and he appeared to attempt to solve this Dalek problem by having them appear fairly infrequently when compared to Russel T. Davies’ series, and filling out season finales with short Dalek cameos. But did this strategy work?

There is one thing that can be said about Moffat’s Dalek cameos – they aren’t a new thing. Daleks having a cameo appearance in episodes of Doctor Who in which they aren’t the primary villain has been going on since the classic era. A single Dalek appears as a cameo in The Five Doctors, and kills itself by accident. The Daleks also make short appearances as cameos in several Russel T. Davies episodes, such as The Waters of Mars. So Steven Moffat certainly didn’t invent the idea of the Dalek cameo, but he did appear to overuse it. If you tally up all the ‘Dalek episodes’ for Davies’s era compared to Moffat’s, it’s the  Moffat era that gets the most. But the only ones where the Daleks are the primary focus are Victory of the Daleks, Asylum of the Daleks and Into the Dalek. A Stone Dalek is considered the primary villain of The Big Bang and one might argue that The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witches’ Familiar heavily featured the Daleks, but these are not specifically Dalek episodes.

And then there are the cameo appearances – the absolute worst being in The Wedding of River Song, in which a Supreme Dalek appears as a dying survivor of a ship crash only to be ripped apart by the Doctor for information about the Silence. If it weren’t for the finale of The Time of the Doctor that establishes that the Daleks were the real threat to the Silence all along, it would seem as if this was the final nail in the coffin for the Daleks of Matt Smith’s era, as the Silence had truly taken the position of primary villain of the show by this point. A Dalek cameo should attempt to showcase the Daleks as a threat, not devalue the character of the Daleks to the extent that their role in the cameo could be filled by a broken yellowed Acorn Archimedes.

However, just as all hope seemed lost for Dalek cameos in Doctor Who, Series 10 finally gave us a Dalek cameo that works – and in the very first episode, no less. A perfect Dalek cameo, if such a thing exists, involves the Doctor taking his companion to a war zone in the middle of a Dalek attack on an innocent colony ship, dodging and weaving through Dalek blaster fire and attempting to avoid the carnage and destruction – and that is exactly what The Pilot gives us. In an attempt to avoid Heather and her trans-temporal teleportation powers, the Doctor takes Bill and Nardole into what he describes as one of the most dangerous places in the universe – a battle between the Daleks and the Movellans, which Classic fans will remember from 1979’s Destiny of the Daleks. Regardless of your feelings on that episode, having the Movellans appear again – and having them be completely annihilated by the Daleks – does wonders to tying their timeline together and perfectly demonstrates the Dalek’s power. We finally get to see a glimpse of what the ‘Dalek Wars’ of the early 1970s stories would have been like if they had the budget at the time to properly showcase them, and most importantly, it makes the Daleks seem like a real threat again.

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