Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Original Doctor Who: The Chase (Story 16, 1965)

The Daleks are on to the Doctor! In their previous two encounters, the Doctor thwarted the villainous, genocidal Daleks at the end of time on their home planet of Skaro, finally winning the timeless war between them and the Thals, and in 2150 when they invaded the Earth. Though the Daleks did not recognize the Doctor when he arrived on their own world, they had him figured out at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

In The Chase, we see the emergence of the Daleks of the Time War. Equipped with a time machine of their very own, they have begun a hunt across the fourth dimension for their nemesis. The irony is that this beginning for the trajectory of armadas of Dalek ships bearing down on Gallifrey, screaming "exterminate!" and delivering on the threat is that The Chase is rather light-hearted fare.

Flubs are all over the place throughout, with missed lines, visible stage hands and other missteps. The oddest moments are the comic relief from the Daleks themselves. The pepper-pots of death might have a time machine and a means of tracking the Doctor down across eternity, but what they lack is the competence to see it through. One of the Daleks even has trouble doing simple math!

Nevermind the issue that if the Daleks can track the Doctor down anywhere in time, how did they find and fixate on his first incarnation so easily? That, perhaps, we ought to just chalk up to the fact that writers themselves didn't know that he could regenerate. For the Daleks, this interlude happens immediately in the wake of their foiled invasion of Earth, and that's the Doctor they're looking for.

Fresh from the Space Museum, the quartet of the Doctor, Vicki, Ian and Barbara are watching a device they absconded with: a television that can look in with an objective eye on any point in history. After watching such historic personages as Lincoln, Shakespeare and The Beatles, the viewer catches a glimpse of the Daleks preparing to embark on their mission to destroy the Doctor.

The case begins on the desert planet of Aridus, where twin suns have burned up a global ocean, leaving only a race of floundering mermen and the "mire beasts" that live in the sludge of what were once grand underwater cities. This opening act is straightforward enough, as the people are given the ultimatum of handing over the TARDIS crew or being exterminated. The more comedic elements come when the crew arrive atop the Empire State Building, to the slack-jawed guffaws of a tourist from Arkansas (played by Peter Purves, who would later come into the same serial as space pilot Steven Taylor). Next they arrive for a bit of slapstick on the infamous Mary Celeste, and we learn that it was Daleks who caused the ship to become mysteriously abandoned.

The Daleks are closing in on the TARDIS and the Doctor ominously observes that the next time they land may be the last time. However, neither he nor the Daleks contend with where they land. Both ships materialize in the midst of a foreboding Gothic mansion complete with spiderwebs, flashes of lightening and, somehow, Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster! Though leaving Vicki behind and forcing her to stow away on the Dalek ship, the TARDIS escapes this nightmare landscape which the Doctor thinks may be an immaterial plane somewhere in the dark recesses of humanity's collective consciousness... That or a funhouse in the 1996 Ghanna exhibition.

One suspects that there might be some experimentation going on here. The Chase is only two serials removed from the disastrous Web Planet, where British civilization expressed its collective sigh of progress beyond the Doctor Who fad. The ratings tanked and even the Daleks couldn't quite give it the same gloss. Something new had to be tried, and that evidently included playing up the Doctor's gravest enemies for some quirky laughs.

In that case, one can't blame William Russell and Jacqueline Hill for using the Daleks' time machine for beating a retreat from the series. The previous Dalek serial lost them Susan, and this one loses Ian and Barbara. Once overcoming the Doctor's protective reluctance, the two school teachers learn how to operate the time machine at the end of the last episode and make for Coal Hill in 1965. Like Susan before them, gallivanting with the Time Lord version of Peter Pan is fine for a time, but eventually one wants to live a life with a purpose, responsibilities, small joys and slightly fewer threats of death. The episode ends with a still montage of the duo happily cavorting in the streets of London, checking out police boxes to make sure their captor hasn't returned, and trying to figure out how they are going to explain a two year absence.

The ending is a bit of a tear-jerker insofar as one is happy to see the teachers returned home safely, but also as sad as the Doctor that they are now gone from the show. This story, also the penultimate episode of the second season, brings to an official close that first delightful era of Doctor Who. William Hartnell would hang on for another season and a half, fighting Daleks and rogue Time Lords, going to faraway galaxies and the Old West. The original band has broken up, however. Perhaps the show loses a little direction after this, and it begins a rotating door of companions for the irascible grandfather.

Ian and Barbara's replacement is a human astronaut played by Peter Purves. They meet Steven Taylor on the last leg of the chase, where he has been captive on Mechanus for two years. The TARDIS' crew is taken prisoner by the Mechonoids themselves and Steven explains that this planet was pre-colonized by a group of robots from earth, only to be forgotten by their masters in the course of an interstellar war in which Steven was a pilot. He crashed on the planet, now ruled by the machines.

The Daleks follow them to Mechanus, of course, where they provoke a war of mutual destruction with the Mechonoids. In the chaos the four humans and one Time Lord escape. Steven goes missing, appearing to fall at the hands of the native fungal monsters of Mechanus, yet things are not what they seem, as we'll learn in the next story... an encounter with the Time Meddler.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Original Doctor Who: The Space Museum (Story 15, 1965)

After journeying back in time to see the living museum pieces of the Crusades - Richard the Lionheart and Saladin - the crew of the TARDIS arrive on a mysterious planet where they risk becoming very not-living museum pieces themselves. This exercise in eschatological dread is the fifteenth story of the original Doctor Who, The Space Museum.

The mystery hits them from the very beginning, when something jars the TARDIS mid-flight and land on a silent planet. More mysteriously, they have inexplicably changed from their 13th century outfits to their normal wardrobes. In the process of retrieving a glass of water for the Doctor, Vicki drops it to the floor where it smashes... and immediately reforms and leaps back into her hand. Somehow, Ian, Barbara, Vicki and the Doctor are being preserved.

Leaving the TARDIS to investigate the collection of antique spaceships surrounding them, they discover a dead world covered in a thick layer of dust. Furthermore, it is a layer of dust into which they can leave no footprints. Even more disturbing, they find that they are incapable of touching the artifacts. Not because of a pane of glass or force field, but because their hands phase right through them. This is truly the stereotypical museum from Hell: not only are they surrounded by boring case after boring case of untouchable artifacts, but the museum is so hostile to visitors that even the layer is dust is protected against them.

This ambivalence towards the preservation of history in museums reaches a fever pitch of horror when the crew discover the TARDIS amongst the collection. Looking around the display, they finally see themselves, in perfect preservation, as specimens locked away under glass. The Space Museum is not only a screed on museums, but an acting out of the angst that we ourselves will one day become history. Just as we gaze upon the pottery and arrowheads of antiquity, so too shall someone sometime in the future be looking upon our own laptop computers and cellular phones as the artifacts of a primitive culture. Not only do we groan at boring old history but, if we dare contemplate it, we will ourselves becomes some other poor soul's boring old history.

The assault on museology continues as the quartet try to escape the Space Museum and the fate awaiting them, only to get hopelessly lost in the winding corridors. Meanwhile, the hunt is on as the agents of the Morok Empire and the native Xerons each try to enlist the aid of the visitors. When the good Doctor is captured, he receives a speech from the curator that reflects the imperial plunder of England's own museums. The Space Museum exists to showcase the glories of Morok conquest, though in the waning days of their empire few care to bother with such dusty cases of artifacts. The museum is a rather empty place.

This dread over the inevitable encroachment of history segues into a meditation on fate. Having seen their future selves locked up as museum exhibits, the Doctor, Barbara, Ian and Vicki are stuck questioning their every move in the effort to avoid their own destinies. It is fine enough for the Doctor to harangue Barbara over trying to change the distant past of the Aztecs... it suddenly takes on much more immediate interest when one has seen their own future. Throughout, they must agonize in second-guessing themselves, and in the end wonder whether or not they actually did change their futures.

In the course of investigating the Space Museum, the crew also comes across the shell of a Dalek preserved as an exhibit. This delights Vicki no end, as she's only read in history books about the Dalek invasion of Earth some 300 years in her past. The Doctor, Barbara and Ian remark that they were there and that she wouldn't be so delighted if they ever meet up with the Daleks again. Unfortunately, that encounter comes sooner than they could ever expect.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

The Original Doctor Who: The Crusade (Story 14, 1965)

Watching the DVD version of The Crusade, as seen on the Lost in Time anthology, fans of the original Doctor Who are privileged with a special treat. Prior to the advent of Big Finish Productions' Companion Chronicles, it was rare to learn of a companion's fate after they left the Doctor. A few returned for adventures of three, five and two Doctors, but otherwise, not much.

As a bonus, this 14th story featured the return of Ian Chesterton - an aged William Russell - in specially filmed introductions to each episode. We don't learn much about the intervening years, though he does throw out untelevised mentions of the "Talking Stones of Tyron" and the Salem Witch Trials, but it is enjoyable to hear from the elder storyteller as he walks around his mansion. Welcoming us in amidst his collection of antiques and suits of armour, he begins his story about when he was declared Sir Ian of Jaffa by none other than Richard the Lionheart...

The TARDIS materializes in a forest on the outskirts of Jaffa. Emerging from the big blue box, The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki stumble into a Saracen raid on a party of English knights that includes the king himself. After the true monarch is knocked out, William de Preaux masquerades as Richard to fool the attackers. They take him and Barbara captive, returning them to the clutches of the mighty Saladin. Meanwhile, The Doctor, Ian and Vicki return with the king and earn his favour. In order to deliver a peace proposal to Saladin and to look for Barbara, Ian is dubbed Sir Ian, Knight of Jaffa, and sent to the Muslim encampment.

One of the most immediately notable novelties of The Crusade is how it portrays the great English monarch against his Islamic adversary. For it is Saladin who exhibits wisdom, grace and calm shrewdness. Richard, on the other hand, is increasingly petulant, given to mood swings and generally boorish. He is a tired king, weary of warfare and nerves frayed by news of his brother John's attempts to usurp the crown.

Richard's plan is to marry his sister Joanna to the brother of Saladin, in the hopes that the union will bring about peace. It is all the Doctor and Vicki can do to avoid court intrigue and make their way back to the TARDIS. Meanwhile, Ian is trapped in the desert by a thief who tortures him with ants and Barbara is taken repeatedly captive by the villainous Al Akir to join his harem. Thankfully the B-plot is rectified in time for the pair to rescue The Doctor from a group of knights who have him pegged for a traitor and a sorcerer. That they spirit Sir Ian away in their disappearing blue box does little to dissuade them.

The Crusade is an enjoyable historical that suffers from having two of the four episodes missing, save for the audio track and a photonovel on the official BBC website. In the end, the crew of the TARDIS are all having a jolly laugh at Ian's expense ("You need a good knight's sleep") when they are suddenly frozen stiff. Dark forces are preparing them to go on exhibit in the Space Museum.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Original Doctor Who: The Web Planet (Story 13, 1965)

The 13th Doctor Who story, The Web Planet, is an admittedly guilty pleasure. From the beginning, this 1965 story has been panned by critics and the public alike. In fact, viewership of the series was at its peak at the beginning of this six episode story and dropped halfway through, from which it wouldn't recover for another 10 years!

The truth is, though, that its greatest faults can also be considered its greatest blessings, depending on one's point of view. The story itself is ambitious retread of the previous story The Daleks (1963/64), this time involving overgrown moths and ants rather than Daleks and Thals. A mysterious force has pulled the TARDIS down to the planet Vortis, which is embroiled in a war between the mothman Menoptera and the antcattle Zarbi who are under control of the malevolent Animus. Coming to Vortis from somewhere out of space, the Animus took control of the mindless Zarbi, stripped the planet of its lush vegetation, built its ever-growing web city, and enslaved the Menoptera by tearing off their wings. Thrown once more into the civil war of an obscure planet, the Doctor and his companions Ian, Barbara and Susan's replacement Vicki spend equal amounts of time being captives of the Animus or underground resistance fighters with the Menoptera before leading the final, covert assault on the enemy citadel.

The guilty pleasure of it is that I enjoyed this story a great deal more than The Daleks, which follows essentially the same story structure. While watching The Daleks, one does get the sense of watching history unfold as one of Science Fiction's greatest villains sent countless British schoolchildren hiding behind the couch. The truth is, though, that as a story, The Daleks tends to drag around the middle to the point where it almost loses my waning attention for modulated talk about radiation or bushwhacking through alien swamps.

The Web Planet, on the other hand, is utterly insane, captivating fun. It is Sci-Fi cheese on a monumental scale... Not quite as magnificently disastrous as Ed Wood's immortal Plan Nine From Outer Space, but almost as sheerly entertaining for it. The gaffs and flubs are multitudinous: The Doctor forgets his lines, a running Zarbi bumps into the camera, Ian has a constant look of detached amusement with the proceedings, styrofoam rocks abound, the ceiling rigging is occasionally visible, and on it goes. Those in themselves would make it a perfectly fine romp into B-movie (or Z-movie) territory.

Those are matched, however, by some otherwise quite competent filmmaking. The world of Vortis is well-visualized as an expansive, starlit desert from which crystalline spires shoot up (even if the actors' shadows are occasionally cast on the flat sets of these wide open spaces, or the crystals are obviously Styrofoam). Vaseline smeared on a camera filter makes a rather effective psychedelic, hazy atmosphere. Even the bug costumes are surprisingly good. Well, maybe not so much for the Zarbi, who are ants with oversized, human back legs. The Menoptera, on the other hand, are quite stylish even as they look quite artificial.

There some quite adept scenes as well. The best is the Menoptera's air raid on the Zarbi's slave pit (the Crater of Needles). There are only a few Menoptra, but as they swoop in and land with a dramatic flourish, you can't even see the wires. It is almost graceful and even a little exciting. While the ultimate reveal of the Animus is anticlimactic, she works marvellously as a haunting, seductive disembodied voice commanding and cajoling The Doctor into helping her discover the coordinates of the Menoptera attack.

The story of Vortis didn't end with The Web Planet, however. The DVD release of this story includes, as a bonus feature, William "Ian Chesterton" Russell reading the story The Lair of the Zarbi Supremo from the 1965 Doctor Who Annual. In this tale - the full text of which is also reproduced on the DVD as a PDF file - a mighty Zarbi intelligence has evolved in the millions of years since The Doctor last visited the planet. This Zarbi Supremo has outfitted Vortis with planetary engines and driven it to the Solar System in the hope of conquering the lush, green, damp world of late 20th century Earth. First The Doctor must defeat the Supremo and rescue a lost band of human spacefarers, and then deal with those same humans who have a sudden ambition to use the destructive power of the planetary engines for themselves. The planetary engines, of course, recall yet another Dalek story.

If you have grown into being a fan of Doctor Who - or more particularly, the First Doctor - then you will see The Web Planet, one way or another, some time or another. Otherwise, you'd have no particular reason to see it. When and if you do, however, the trick is to approach it an enjoy it as some classic so-bad-it's-good Sci-Fi appropriate for stardust drive-ins. Having that noble gift of finding the best in the worst will help you to enjoy The Web Planet immeasurably.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Original Doctor Who: The Romans (Story 12, 1964)

The Romans, twelfth story of the First Doctor, provides the new crew with a chance to get adjusted to one another. After losing Susan to 22nd century London in The Dalek Invasion of Earth and gaining Vicki in The Rescue, the new crew of the TARDIS is ready to embark on their next mission. This time, it is to experience first hand the age of Caesar Nero.

Ingeniously written, The Romans is many things at once. It takes us from romantic myths of the past to its unseemly reality, from the courts of intrigue to the plight of slaves, from chilling drama to ridiculous comedy. It begins with the TARDIS materializing precipitously on a cliffside, falling into the chasm, and the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki relaxing themselves in the villa of a Roman general off on campaign. Here we see the romantic ideal of the past, all togas and grape-eating amidst marble fountains.

These weeks of idyllic splendor come to an abrupt end when the Doctor decides to take a sojourn to Rome, joined by his new surrogate granddaughter. Without him, Ian and Barbara lounge shiftlessly about the house in what The Discontinuity Guide describes as a "very post-coital fashion"... That is until they are raided by slavers, who see in the Gaelic duo some easy money. Later separated by different buyers, the enslavement of the schoolteachers gives the viewer pause to consider the hardships of the past. Though there is as much slavery going on in the world today as there ever was, in the democratic West it seems absolutely unreal that one could just be walking down the street and suddenly, horrifically find themselves kidnapped and sold into a life of servitude without the slightest legal recourse. It is a moment of reflection on the blessings we have.

While Ian is sent to a slave galley and Barbara to the court of Nero as the Empress' handmaiden, the Doctor and Vicki accidentally find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy. Finding a corpse lying by the side of the road, the Doctor picks up the deceased's lyre and is promptly mistaken for him by the centurion charged to bring the musician to Nero's court. Nero, it seems, wants Maximus Pettulian dead for being a better lyre player than the Emperor. A sad irony for the Doctor, who cannot play the lyre to save his life. As the worm turns, Pettulian himself was part of a plot to undo Nero anyways.

The play between the sharp-witted Doctor and oafish Nero provides William Hartnell with his best comedic material to date. The two most memorable scenes include him taking advantage of the aristocracy's pride and unleashing a merciless barrage of puns. In the former case, the Doctor gets through a recital by stating that the tune is so delicate that only the most sophisticated can hear it, and then playing nothing at all. The assembled noblepeople are too embarrassed to admit to each other that they do not hear him, and so give him a rousing applause at the end of his "performance". In the latter, Nero is secretly plotting to have the Doctor thrown to the lions, leading to this excerpt:
Nero: "I have a little surprise for you. Guess what it is."
The Doctor: "Now, let me think... You want me to play in the arena?"
Nero: [Deadpan] "You guessed."
The Doctor: "It's no problem at all. After all, you want to do your very best for your fellow artists: why not the arena?"
Nero: "Yes, yes, of course. That is exactly right."
The Doctor: "Well, I promise you, I will try to make it a roaring success."
Nero: "You'll have to play something special, you know."
The Doctor: "Of course, of course. Something serious, yes... Something they can really get their teeth into."
Nero: [Muttering] "You can't know, you can't. I've told no-one."
The Doctor: "Caesar Nero. I've always wanted to put on a good show; to give a great performance. After all, who knows, if I go down well, I might even make it my farewell performance. You see, I've always wanted to be considered as an artist of some taste, generally considered as palatable, hmm?"

The Romans is another example of excellence in the First Doctor's historical adventures. It is a shame that they somehow never caught on like the Science Fiction stories, given the dramatic, conceptual and comedic strength of stories like this, Marco Polo and The Aztecs. Leave it to a forthcoming Sci-Fi story about giant bugs to nearly bring the series crashing down, but it's the historicals that suffered.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The Original Doctor Who: The Rescue (Story 11, 1965)

The TARDIS is absent one crewperson when it touches down on the planet Dido. At the conclusion of the previous story The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the Doctor's granddaughter Susan embarked on a new stage of life, settling down and having the roots and love and family that she never had galavanting around time and space. Though he locked her out of the TARDIS and compelled her to stay on 22nd century earth, the First Doctor keenly misses her, which sets up the main purpose of this story.

The Rescue is a short number, counting only two episodes. In it, the Doctor revisits the planet Dido, where he had come before prior to the start of the series. Here he, Ian and Barbara meet the 25th century teenager Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) and her crewmate, the handicapped Bennett, who have crash landed on the planet. They are eagerly awaiting the coming rescue ship, but also find themselves tormented by the mysterious Koquillion, a native of Dido. He insists that he is protecting the humans from the vengeance of the people of Dido, who have killed the rest of the crew. However, this Koquillion makes an attempt on the lives of Barbara and Ian when he first meets them, and the Doctor remembers that the people of Dido were a peaceloving race sworn off of violence.

There isn't much going on in this story. The plot essentially telegraphs itself and we're left with the fact that this exists to introduce us to Susan's replacement and the Doctor's surrogate granddaughter Vicki. Vicki would remain with the crew for the remainder of the second season and into the third season until her departure. She was a good start as a really interesting choice in replacement companions, with her being a 25th century human contrasting nicely with the 20th century Ian and Barbara, leading to sometimes amusing and insightful dialogue between the three.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Original Doctor Who: Here There Be Monsters (2008)

Whatever happened to Susan Foreman? The BBC's own DVD for The Dalek Invasion of Earth had a tongue-in-cheek answer in the special features, but for a more serious answer we turn to Big Finish Productions and their fantastic Companion Chronicles series of audio-dramas.

For many years, Big Finish has been supplying Doctor Who fans... or Whovians, or whatever... with new audio-dramas featuring Doctors past. Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Syvester McCoy have reprised their roles as Doctors five through seven, allowing fans to revisit their Doctor. The greatest play made by Big Finish was scoring Paul McGann to perform the adventures of the eighth Doctor, whose only televised appearance was the Fox television movie of 1996. Almost the entirety of his run has been on compact disk. There is no doubt that David Tennant, fresh out of the TARDIS as of Christmas, will join the ranks, as he has already stared in a number of other Big Finish productions including The Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

These audio-drams leaves something of a gap in Doctor Who history, however. What of Tom Baker, who does not wish to revisit his incarnation of the Doctor, who was the most popular until Tennant? And what of Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton and the original Doctor himself, William Hartnell, each of whom have passed on? Thankfully, their innumerable companions remain and are more than willing to share previously untold tales of their time with the Doctor.

The third of the Companion Chronicles to feature one of the first Doctor's companions, Here There Be Monsters stars Carole Ann Ford as Susan, the Doctor's only known blood-relative. We meet her on Earth in the wake of its liberation from the Daleks and her marriage to the human resistance fighter David. Yet her life remains a mystery. She notes how she was older than schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright combined, and that David still thinks of her as being human. So instead, she talks to us, the faithful fans.

The story she tells nestles in between seasons one and two, that is, between The Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants. It is well placed, as one of the ongoing themes is Susan's growing up and increasing ambition to leave her grandfather, which she would two chronological episodes later. From the outset, it also addresses many of those pet issues that plague fans of the original: why did the Doctor leave Gallifrey? Was the TARDIS faulty or did the Doctor not know how to drive it? Did Ian and Barbara ever end up together?

Here There Be Monsters follows the notes of the early Science Fiction stories very closely. One has to grant that Carole Ann Ford does a terrible impression of William Hartnell, but one could easily imagine this story being televised in 1964. The TARDIS is forced to land on an Earth ship piloted by a massive, intelligent plant genetically engineered to survive the vast boring blackness of the cosmos. This ship, the Nevermore, is a "benchmarking" vessel used to punch holes in the fabric of space to create wormholes for the passage of later Great and Plentiful Human Empire craft. These holes, in turn, open to that space on the other side of the Void, from which Lovecraftian anti-matter monsters spill out... Though the usual bait and switch happens.

It is effective. The vegetable captain, named Rostrum, can be seen in the mind's eye in all its paper mache and cellophane glory. Aspects of him... it... recall the screaming forest of The Keys of Marinus. There is even a low budget at work, especially with the mysterious "First Mate" who spends the majority of the show in human form, which is entirely unnecessary in an audio-drama. This is a nice touch.

The Companion Chronicles are a fantastic concept and we look forward to many more. Fans of each Doctor hunger for new adventures of their favorite, which is difficult when they have gone to that great blue box in the sky. Big Finish figured out a way to deliver and we thank them for it.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Original Doctor Who: Life Before Totter's Lane

While we the viewers make the acquaintence of the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan at the same time and place as the schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, down in a scrapyard in Totter's Lane in 1963, all sorts of hints are dropped throughout the first three seasons that they had their share of adventures before then.

For example, during The Edge of Destruction, the TARDIS' viewscreen shows the planet they visited immediately prior to Totter's Lane: Quinnis. Somewhere out in the 4th universe, the duo nearly lost the timeship that they permanently and illegally borrowed from the dockyards on Gallifrey. Other planets included Venus, where they had seen its molten metal oceans, and a planet with a telepathic screaming jungle like that on Esto in The Keys of Marinus.

On a few ocassions, they ended up revisting places they had been to before. The Doctor had been to Rome before arriving again in The Romans. In The Reign of Terror, we learn that the French Revolution is one of his favorite eras. While still a student at Coal Hill, Susan even corrected a history textbook on it. Nor was The Rescue the Doctor's first visit to the planet Dido. He enjoyed the company of those peace-loving people a century before.

They had visited England in the future - hence Susan forgetting that 1963 England was not yet using metric - and during World War I, during which they witnessed a Zeppelin raid. Strangely, they couldn't be kept out of the country. Henry the VIII sentenced the Doctor to the Tower of London, and Gillbert and Sullivan gave him his coat. In Regency London he received a fashion compliment from Beau Brummell. Joining the British, they were present at the Seige of Mafeking during the Boer War.

It was not only the places that were notable, but the historical figures. The Doctor taught skepticism to Pyrrho the Greek, the application of steam to James Watt, the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes" to Hans Christian Andersen, and wrestling to "The Mountain Mauler of Montana". All this from someone who would go on to chastize Barbara and condemn the Monk for trying to change history! However, the Doctor also had a first and very brief encounter with a future villain, the Celestial Toymaker.

And this is just between the Doctor and Susan's flight from Gallifrey and their taking on passengers in the scrapyard! What happened before then? Who did the Doctor marry? Who were his children? What kind of relationship did he have with his granddaughter that would cause them to abscond with a TARDIS together? Was it his idea or her's? And what the heck is his real name?!

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Top Ten of 2000-2010

Allow me to join the fanfare of decade's-best lists with my own submission. The following are ten of my favorite entrees into the genre of Scientific Romances from the last ten years. It is, I admit, slightly skewed by the fact that I don't read a lot of modern literature, and leaves out quite a lot that I would have liked to include. It can also be hard to recall what was actually from this past decade and not what I simply discovered for myself, otherwise this list would be full of films from the 1930's. So in roughly chronological order...

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volumes I and II (1999-2003)
Technically the first volume began publication in 1999, but thanks to ongoing delays ran well into 2000. Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill Invigorated and popularized the current wave of Scientific Romance pastiche by both uniting and dismembering their corps of classic characters as they faced off against Fu Manchu, Moriarty, and the Martians.
Read-or-Die anime OVA (2001)
Completely insane. That is the only way to describe this work of furious genius. Superpowered secret agents of the British Library Special Forces try to stop a gang of genetically engineered and steam-powered historical figures from tracking down a lost manuscript of Beethoven's which will help them take over the world.
Tokyo Disneysea theme park (Opened 2001)
Couched within the confines of the Tokyo Disneysea theme park, in the shadow of it's great Mount Prometheus, is Mysterious Island. Within its secret recesses, Disney's Captain Nemo invites visitors to travel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and to Journey to the Center of the Earth in two of the most amazing theme park attractions in the world.
Treasure Planet film (2002)
An unsung Disney classic. Almost universally panned for having a story that was no worse than any other Disney film, the stunning and inventive setting is more than enough to compensate. It proposes a swashbuckling, romantic aesthetic for the Hubble Age that prefigured the popularity of Disney's pirate band and silhouettes them against beautiful novae and nebulae.
The Amazing Screw-On Head comic (2002) and TV pilot (2006)
Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, distills all those strange ideas that didn't quite work for his other stories into a completely off-kilter one-shot about America's most amazing Civil War-era secret agent. Then some maniacs decide that this would be great fodder for a TV show. The animated series never made it past the pilot, an adaptation of the comic, but it and its source material are, indeed, amazing.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow film (2004)
A high Pulp adventure cramming every single trope of the two-fisted genre into a single knowing film. Ridiculed by critics who didn't "get" it, Sky Captain was exactly the sort of movie they would have made in the 1930's if they had CGI, right down to the dialogue and acting.
Doctor Who TV series (2005-Present)
Undoubtedly this strains the credibility of this list, but one truly cannot get far in the genre without coming across the TARDIS materializing out of time and space. Several episodes did deal with specifically Victorian-Edwardian settings, like The Next Doctor's steam-powered Cyber-King, Tooth and Claw's lycanthropic threat to Queen Victoria and the Doctor's Edwardian professor's life in Human Nature/Family of Blood. Moreover, it brought back the Doctor from oblivion.
The Prestige film (2006)
Quite likely the most... prestigious... genre film since Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Christopher Nolan, betwixt Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, directs Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale in a tour de force of slight-of-hand and scientific abomination. The Prestige is very much in the top echelon of Scientific Romances on film.
La Mécanique du Cœur album (2007)
This album by the French band Dionysos, based on a book of the same name by band founder Mathias Malzieu, tells the story of Jack, a boy born in Edinburgh in 1874 on the coldest night in history. Because of the cold, his heart stalls, forcing the midwife to replace it with clockworks. The catch is that it is so delicate that he must never even left himself fall in love... which, of course, he does. A wildly gyrating album, it is beautifully accompanied by the illustrations and the Burtonesque video for the single "Tais Toi Mon Cœur".
Simoun anime series (2007)
This anime series takes place on a fantastic world where everyone is born female and only those who have not yet chosen a gender are entitled to become the priestess-pilots of the mysterious "Simoun" airships. Though ostensibly a yuri series, far more interesting fodder is found in the theme of an enlightened theocracy holistically integrating religion and technology, and how that society deals with the wars they are forced into with one secular, industrial nation and another zealously fundamentalist one.

Very honorable mentions go out to the Bang! Howdy (2006) and Bang! Heroes (2009) online video games, Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), The Celestial Railroad planetarium show (2006), Sarah Brightman's La Luna album (2000), The Call of Cthulhu modern silent film (2005), Studio Ghibli's Iblard Jikan (2007) short and the whole Studio Ghibli Museum (Opened 2001).