Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Original Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet (Story 29, 1966)

We've reached the end of our journey with the original Doctor Who. This 29th serial marks the final ongoing appearance of William Hartnell as the Doctor and an overall changing of the order.

It's been a long time since Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright followed an unearthly child to a junkyard in Totter's Lane, a long time since Coal Hill, Skaro, Cathay and Marinus. It was three years worth of television and five years of reviews on this weblog. In that time, we were introduced not only to the gruff, grandfatherly Doctor and his granddaughter Susan, but also to the villainous Daleks whose arrival always seemed to herald the loss of one companion or another. Susan stayed behind on Earth in 2165 after the crew of the TARDIS foiled the Dalek invasion. When the Daleks tried to chase them down across the fourth dimension, Ian and Barbara commandeered their ship and made back for London. In the course of unravelling the Daleks' masterplan, two companions - the Trojan Katerina and special agent from the future, Sara Kingdom - were killed.

In The Tenth Planet, we get better acquainted with the Doctor's newest companions, the flavourless and generic Ben and Polly. We also meet for the first time another of the Doctor's most enduring villains, the Cybermen. We also briefly meet a whole new Doctor, as the Time Lord regenerates for the first time. It is just so unfortunate that, besides being one of the serials purged from the BBC archives, it is more of a swan song than the kind of triumphal and heroic climax that practically every Doctor has enjoyed since. We are indeed a long way from the wonderful historical pieces and inventive Science Fiction of those first seasons.

Following their encounter with 17th century smugglers, the Doctor, Ben and Polly land in the middle of Antarctica in 1986. There they happen across a United Nations base charting the course of an orbiting rocket. Something goes awry, as something always does, and the rocket is pulled off course by the arrival of a new planet to the solar system... A planet that appears to be an carbon copy of the Earth. Not only that, but the strange new planet is draining energy from our own planet, which further endangers the life of the son of the base general, who has been sent up to the stratosphere to rescue the previous mission.

Only the Doctor knows what is up, and he is in fine form through the first episode of this four-episode serial. He is well aware that this new world is Earth's twin planet of Mondas and that it is home to an invading army of cybernetically-enhanced beings known as the Cybermen. The base discover this for themselves when the machine men land and take over the complex. Talking with an unnerving robotic sing-song voice, these faceless monsters are devoid of emotion and coolly discuss their plans to render the Earth a lifeless husk and its citizens into beings like themselves.

However, in this first episode we already see the Doctor falling into the background. The real actors on the stage are Ben, Polly and the soldiers and scientists of the UN. At the outset of the second episode, the Doctor falls suddenly and mysteriously ill and is persona non grata through the middle of still-missing fourth episode. He only revives for long enough to be captured by the Cybermen and rendered ineffectual once more.

Hartnell gives what little he has been given his full attention. Compared to the drab characters and the new style of Sci-Fi that is inaugurated with this serial, he practically leaps off the screen. He is so boisterous and authoritative that incapacitating him with a "worn out" body is practically the only way to prevent him from stealing the show. Given that it is his own show, though, one would have preferred it.

It is quite unfortunate that he is sidelined so quickly and thoroughly. He does not even get to play a meaningful part in the downfall of the Cybermen. Rather than doing anything to halt their apocalyptic invasion, he merely utters that Mondas will explode of itself by overloading on Earth's energy, leaving the rest of the cast to prevent the launch of a Z-Bomb that could potentially destroy both planets. Otherwise, everyone waits. Certainly the Doctor is right, but that is all. The new villains don't even get an opportunity to claim his life as a notch in their belt: he dies of old age. In the end, Ben runs along to the Cybermen ship and rescues the Doctor and Polly in enough time for the Time Lord to stumble back to the TARDIS. Collapsing on the floor, he begins regenerating into his new body.

By this fourth season, perhaps a new Doctor really was necessary. Gone is the surly, aged figure who matched wits with cavemen, Aztec priests, Robespierre, Kublai Kahn, Caesar Nero, the Time Meddler, Celestial Toymaker and the Daleks, an artifact of a different time. In his place is a recorder-playing space pixie more suited to the different sort of Science Fiction that the Cybermen brought with them (and would again in numerous serials). Patrick Troughton gives a run at a straightforward historical in the 32nd story, The Highlanders, but it's just not his cup of tea. From then on it's Cybermen, Yetis, more Cybermen, moonbases, Krotons, Space Pirates, the Void, and finally the admission that the Doctor is a member of a race known as the Time Lords. It is really here that modern Doctor Who begins.

Nevertheless, the original Doctor Who, his companions and his unique brand of adventure will always remain in my heart as the quintessential version of the Time Lord from Gallifrey.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Being Idle No More

Though I have used my blog of Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances, history and aesthetics as a bully pulpit for religion and science, I have deliberately attempted to steer clear of partisan politics. Though my Romanticism and my religion are intimately intertwined, I felt that politics was of a sufficiently personal and divisive nature that it was better to let it alone.

Resist as I might, the reality is that the truth is political and to speak truth has become a political act. In a more ideal world, all citizens would have a fair say in appointing representatives on the basis of whose policies offer the best solutions for organizing our societies, based in the best factual evidence and the common good. Unfortunately, the reality is that in West we have come to be casting votes for competing truth claims in systems where the vote of individual is marginalized and politicians are public relations functionaries committed to the interests of specialized lobbies. Whereas the media could once have been construed as working in the public interest (after all, exposing those dirty dogs is good for ratings) now the media is an instrument of deliberate misinformation (after all, telling people what they want to hear is good for ratings). That comes before the fact that governments are exerting ever greater controls not only over the production side of their message – what face they want to put to you – but the consumption side as well, being what information you are even able to receive.

In short, a love for nature, history, science and tradition obligates us to bring those things to bear in the public discourse. Those of us with an understanding of history and science have an obligation to inform in an age of misinformation. Those of us with a love of nature and tradition have a duty to protect them in the path of ever greater encroachments. These are values that transcend partisan politics, for these are things to which all parties should be beholden.

This is why, as a Canadian and writer of this weblog, I am coming out in support of the Idle No More movement.

As only a fraction of my audience is Canadian, allow a moment of explanation. This past October, the government of Canada began pushing through an omnibus bill with the nondescript title Bill C-45. This massive document roughly comparable in size to a Hugo, Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky novel outlines voluminous proposed alterations of Canadian law which promise to alter our society in subtle but far reaching ways. Amongst the most controversial are changes to environmental and Aboriginal policies that are clearly intended to streamline the processes of natural resource exploitation by private corporations. Specifically, it reduces the requirement for corporations to run environmental impact assessments on their operations, eliminates assessments on waterways except for a shortlist provided by the government, and allows for greater government power in dispossessing Aboriginal communities of their treaty lands in favour of corporations.

The manner in which Canada’s parliamentary system runs, Bill C-45 was processed, approved and given royal assent (for Canada is a constitutional monarchy under Queen Elizabeth II) with little debate either inside or outside the House of Commons. When a party is elected to the majority of seats in the Parliament, as is the case today, they form an effective dictatorship that is able to pass bills without opposition. Nevertheless, the First Nations community took obvious note of these changes and began a series of nationwide protests under the banner "Idle No More." Originally designed to redress injustices in Bill C-45, the movement has in turn exposed deep rifts between First Nations and the government, within First Nations communities, and in Canadian society as a whole.

Some of my reasons for supporting Idle No More are as follows…

The need for electoral reform. No political party should be able to form a government that can make policy without the consent of the people and the Parliament. Canada is one of a dwindling number of democracies utilizing the first-past-the-post electoral system, which has resulted in dynasties of false majority governments interspersed with nearly unworkable parliamentary chaos. In 1993, when I was in high school, the Liberal Party won a majority government of 177 out of 295 seats on 41.24% of the popular vote, proceeding to rule Canada for the next 13 years. In 1997, a recent right-wing economics graduate named Stephen Harper co-wrote a defense of proportional representation and political alliance called Our Benign Dictatorship:
In today’s democratic societies, organizations share power. Corporations, churches, universities, hospitals, even public sector bureaucracies make decisions through consultation, committees and consensus-building techniques. Only in politics do we still entrust power to a single faction expected to prevail every time over the opposition by sheer force of numbers. Even more anachronistically, we persist in structuring the governing team like a military regiment under a single commander with almost total power to appoint, discipline and expel subordinates.
I would agree with this Stephen Harper. However, when the opportunity presented itself in 2011, the Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper rode to a majority government of 166 of 308 seats on a popular vote of 39.6%. Since that time, Prime Minister Harper has leveraged his majority to railroad bills like C-45.

Quite simply, the political processes which allowed a far-reaching omnibus bill to pass unopposed by a government ruling without the majority consent of the citizenry never should have been allowed to begin with. Bill C-45 is a perfect example of Canada’s desperate need for electoral reform.

The need for cultural and historical understanding. Canada’s mainstream media is currently engaged in what can only be described as a deliberate smear campaign against Idle No More and the First Nations community. At every apparent opportunity, these peddlers denigrate Native persons, traditions and the race as a whole. One potent example of the cultural misunderstanding fuelling the media’s campaign is the demand by Native organizers to have the Governor General present during their talks with the government.

Though meeting with Idle No More and Native leaders in a ceremonial capacity at separate events, Governor General David Johnston has maintained that he should not be present at these talks because the Governor General is not a political policy maker. Opinion peddlers have attacked this demand by the First Nations as pithy and politically bankrupt, thus demonstrating a fundamental lack (willfully or otherwise) of understanding of First Nations traditions and Canadian history.

There are two sets of legal documents that form the foundation of First Peoples with the Canadian government. The first is the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the second are the Numbered Treaties signed between 1871 and 1921. Cultural misunderstandings could not exist without historical misunderstandings, and one that is sometimes voiced by opponents of the First Nations is that, as a conquered people, they should not be "entitled" to any "special rights." However, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 specifically forbade the conquest of Aboriginal territories. Instead, it mandated that no Native lands should be settled by British subjects until the land was legally acquired by the Crown through agreement with the First Nations. This principle of moderation and repudiation of conquest was arguably one of the proximate causes of the American Revolution.

After the Royal Proclamation of 1763 came the Numbered Treaties. These treaties cover the vast expanse of the Canadian northwest once monopolized by the Hudson's Bay Company and were signed by chiefs of the tribes in each region to which they apply. For example, I live in Calgary, Canada, which falls under the lands of Treaty Seven, signed in 1877 by chiefs of the Blackfoot, Tsuu T'ina and Nakoda First Nations. These treaties established the reserve lands designated to each nation as well as the compensatory obligations of the government. Another historical misunderstanding, entwined with our deification of the "hardworking taxpayer" over the "responsible citizen," is that Native peoples are "getting taxpayer handouts" rather than the relatively more accurate recognition that Native peoples are getting paid rent. Germane to my point right now is that these still-binding treaties were signed between the First Nations and the Crown.

The fact that they were signed with the Crown – Queen Victoria and all her heirs and successors – is key to the legal status of the treaties. These were intended to be enduring documents, bearing the signature of the perpetual monarchy and not with any one sitting government. They are fixed in authority to our Head of State, not the Parliament. Furthermore, in First Nations societies, authority is traditionally conceived in relational terms. One is considered accountable to persons, from whom rights and responsibilities are transferred. To this day the First Nations honour these treaties as a relationship between themselves and the Crown.

Therefore it is critically important that the Governor General be present at talks between the government and the First Nations. Even if the Governor General, as the representative of the Crown in Canada, is not in a position to create policy he still represents the relationship established in the treaties. The Numbered Treaties were not signed with Stephen Harper, they were signed with the Crown. It is time for David Johnston to step forward and do his job.

That these sorts of things are not known or publicized is a deplorable level of ignorance in the very history, institutions and peoples of our society. That in itself is shameful enough.

The need for basic human compassion. More shameful yet is the state of First Nations people in Canada. Reaction to Idle No More in mainstream Canadian society has bubbled a dark undercurrent of racism to the surface... A snide parochial paternalism that looks down on the poverty and degradation of Native people as a symptom of racial degeneracy rather than the result of 150 years of cultural genocide. Epidemic poverty, physical and sexual and substance abuse, suicide, crime, and countless forms of disadvantage are not a blight on the First Nations. They are a blight on Canada.

More than that, more than racial politics or historical obligations or any such things is the simple fact that these are fellow human beings. First Peoples are people first and foremost. They are people made to live in horrible conditions both on and off reserve, living out the consequences of systemic oppression and racism. To look into the faces of these people and not be moved by such tragedy is unconscionable.

It should not be our goal, as members of the dominant society of Canada, to "fix" Native people. Such attitudes are what led to many of these tragedies to begin with. Many of us also attempt to retort that our ancestors only got off the boat 50 years ago and we didn't personally do anything to Native people so it's not our responsibility. That is not the point. The point is that there is a genuine human need that we can help to redress, using the advantages we have enjoyed to lend support to people working to help themselves.

The need to protect the landscape that has shaped who we are. Canada is not a society united by a common race, religion, or creed. We are not defined by a constitution or a revolution, and our being subjects of the Crown is a relationship that makes us no wiser as to who we are as a people. Canada is a multicultural society composed of many distinct nations occupying the second largest country in the world. Gazing into the navel of our identity has been a national pastime for generations, as our diversity prevents us from developing a unilateral cultural narrative or strong national mythology. Often the only thing that seems to unite us where we live.

That fact is the key to understanding our identity. Taking all else into consideration, I think it can be argued that what makes us Canadian is the common struggle of diverse peoples to survive together in one of the harshest and most sublime environments on earth. All those inexplicable nuances of our culture become explicable in light of this fact. Why are we able to manage a successful universal health care system that consistently evades our neighbours to the south? Because individualism is the luxury of people who aren't going to freeze to death in winter if they don't work together. Why are we so infuriatingly apologetic all the time? Because it is more important to our survival to get along than to be righteously indignant.

The story of Canada, from the First Nations who have occupied this land since there have been people in North America through our robust resource-based economy, is the story of the landscape. It is the story of three coastlines between which are stretched the vast prairies, mighty northwoods, frigid tundra, pastoral farmlands and picturesque mountains. Our hearts pulse with the seasons and water, whether we canoe on it or skate on it or simply gaze in awe of it as cascades over craggy cliffs, is our lifeblood.

I do not mean that it is our lifeblood in an existential, esoteric sort of way. As I mentioned, the strength of our economy rests in natural resources. These natural resources include lumber, pulp and paper, farming and ranching, aquaculture, mining, and tourism (the landscape itself) in addition to oil and gas. Despite the inherent wisdom of a diversified economy based in sustainable resources, the government appears committed to oil and gas extraction, which many of the Bill C-45 provisions benefit. These provisions run the risk of damaging the long-term health of our sustainable resources in the interests of the short-term gains from one non-renewable resource. Best estimates place our point of peak oil production sometime between 2005 and 2015, with about a 30 year supply left if demand increases as projected. To risk damaging Canada’s environment and therefore our sustainable resource economy in the interests of a non-renewable resource that will no longer exist by the time I reach retirement is not just idiocy. It is suicide.

Protecting the environment is an act of protecting who we are as Canadians.

The need to be authentic to ourselves. Across too many studies and surveys to bother recounting, Canada has been awarded status as one of the best countries in the world to live. According to the Economic Intelligence Unit's top-ten list, I live in the fifth most livable city in the world, preceded by two more Canadian cities. The Economist placed us ninth on their list of top countries to be born in, OECD ranked us the fifth best country in the world to live and the UN has placed us at sixth on the Human Development Index. It's been a long time since we've fit the stereotype of being insecure and envious, and perhaps we might too-well fit the new stereotype of being a bit smug.

That we rank so highly in quality of life by so many measures only sheds a stronger spotlight on the issues raised by Idle No More. We are justifiably proud of the society that we have built for ourselves, but we cannot be complacent. Our work is not done. It is not even close to done, and will not be until every Canadian enjoys the benefits of a healthy and sustainable society.

These are some of the reasons why I support Idle No More. For the small percentage of my readers who are Canadian, I would simply ask you to consider the issues if you have not already. For those beyond the Great White North, I hope this movement and this article gives you pause to consider the pressing issues of your own societies and what you can do to improve life for everything and everyone in this great adventure we all share.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Original Doctor Who: The Smugglers (Story 28, 1966)

Having found himself saddled with a new set of companions, the Doctor introduces his fourth season with an adventure on the shores of 17th century Cornwall. The Smugglers took its inspiration from classic tales of daring do, like Treasure Island and Dr. Syn, pitting our Time Lord from Gallifrey against a filthy band of seafaring bilge rats.

The new format of Doctor Who was slowly being worked out, with two last pieces of business to take care of. The first were the historicals. Though not generally worse than the Science Fiction stories – and some of those were just as wanting for quality – the historicals were still selling poorly enough to the public for quote-mining producers to find their excuse for cancelling this type of episode. The Smugglers was filmed in the same block as the end of season three, juxtaposing it against the new style of contemporary Sci-Fi in Swinging London initiated by The War Machines. Like The War Machines, this serial featured a great deal of location shooting along the coast of Cornwall.

The second piece of business was the Doctor himself. It became apparent during the filming of The Smugglers that William Hartnell was in declining health. Producers faced a difficult decision in figuring out what to do about it. By all apparent reckonings, releasing Hartnell would end the series. After all, how could it continue without the title character? An inventive solution to this problem was found and Hartnell would appear in but one more serial, The Tenth Planet. This serial was itself in the new style of Sci-Fi that the BBC was itching for and would become the standard for the reign of the next six Doctors.

While not as grand in scope as the early historicals, The Smugglers are nevertheless a high note to finish on. Location shooting added immeasurably to a tale of piracy rich in intrigue. When our new trio arrive on the coast, their first stop is a church with a harried vicar. After he imparts a mysterious poem on the Doctor and sends them on their way to an inn, the vicar has a fatal visit with a swarthy conspirator. When the body is discovered, suspicion falls on Ben and Polly for the murder. It would fall on the Doctor too, if he hadn't been kidnapped himself by the pirates and taken to their ship, The Black Albatross. Polly convinces the jailhouse guards that she is a witch, enabling her and Ben to escape, but they must still track down their new boss.

Like most stories of the time, The Smugglers is lost, save for a few clips to be found on the Lost in Time DVD. Audio tracks still remain and have been narrated for CD by Anneke Wills, the actress who portrayed Polly. The BBC's Classic Doctor Who website also features a photonovel of the story illustrated with telesnaps taken by fans.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Happy 125th Anniversary to National Geographic

This year, the National Geographic Society reaches a milestone 125th anniversary. As you are doubtlessly aware, Voyages Extraordinaires is a supporter of National Geographic, featuring them in our annual year-in-reviews for the five years of our existence. For increasing our love and knowledge of the world around us with images of incredible beauty and stories of human pathos, we congratulate the National Geographic Society.

When it was established in 1888, the National Geographic Society was part of the great wave of exploration, curiousity and conservation that permeated the late Victorian Era. The power of steam opened up vast new lands around the planet for exploration and commercial exploitation, increasing both our knowledge of these wild spaces and threatening their very survival. The North American “Wild West” was no longer so wild after the completion of the USA's transcontinental railroad in 1869. The world's first national park – Yellowstone – was created in 1872, followed in the United States by Sequoia and Yosemite in 1890 and in Canada by Banff in 1885 and Glacier and Yoho in 1886. John Muir established the Sierra Club in 1892, after 30 years of wilderness exploration and conservation work. During the 1850's, 60's and 70's, the “Hudson River School” of painters captured the sublime beauty of nature on canvas, to critical acclaim. Albert Bierstadt became famous for his luminous images of Muir's beloved Sierra-Nevada Mountains while Frederick Edwin Church received the acclaim reserved for motion pictures today by unveiling his massive paintings of South America and the Arctic. These paintings visualized the transcendental experience of nature shared by men like Ralph Waldo Emerson, who passed away only six years before the creation of the National Geographic Society.

The society continues this tradition in a modern age of scientific enterprise and high technology:

The National Geographic Society has been inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888. It is one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world. Its interests include geography, archaeology and natural science, and the promotion of environmental and historical conservation.
In addition to the special 125th anniversary magazines hitting the newsstands this month and upcoming television specials, National Geographic has also inaugurated an anniversary website that features facts, stories and photographs from the society's creation in 1888 through today. As romantic as images of Victorian adventurers in their pith helmets charting the unmapped corners of the world are, the age of exploration has never ended. With the amazing technological tools of today, National Geographic's work continues. In an time when one can virtually walk down the streets of the greatest cities in the world and take in the furthest vistas of our protected spaces with little more than a click, how can any of us spare time to be bored?

I can't. This is still on my "to-read" pile.

One of the opportunities National Geographic is offering to celebrate their 125th anniversary is an online forum with some of their most renowned Explorers. Tomorrow, January 13, 2013, they will be hosting a Google+ Hangout with Jane Goodall, Robert Ballard, James Cameron and their army of Explorers around the world at 1:00pm EST. You can join via their Explorer's Journal weblog and official Google+ site.

National Geographic's mission is not merely to inform the public, but to involve them. Pursuant to that, they have created several opportunities for people to contribute by using modern communications technologies. Such powerful tools as the Internet and cell phones can't only be used for sharing cat photos after all! One of the more fun ones is #framewhatmatters, which invites people to print off a copy of National Geographic's famous logo, with which they can frame the things that matter most to them about our wondrous world and upload those photos to Twitter and Instagram. If you happen to be in New York, they are handing out thousands of free frames in Times Square tomorrow. Be sure to pick one up!

National Geographic also offers a regular feature that allows you to submit your own photos of the world for prospective publication in the pages of National Geographic Magazine. Read more about this, and submit your adventures, at Your Shot.

Photos are lovely, but there is also a way to use them that actually helps scientific research. Project Noah is an online crowdsourcing application that allows users to upload photos via website or iPhone and Android app, identify species, chat with fellow citizen scientists, and document biodiversity around the globe.

Project Noah is a fun way to explore and document wildlife. The technology platform and community we’ve built also provide a powerful way for research groups to collect important ecological data. The purpose of the project is to mobilize and inspire a new generation of nature lovers. It began as an experiment to see if we could build an app for people to share their nature encounters and has evolved into a powerful global movement for both amateurs and experts. The name “Noah” is an acronym that stands for networked organisms and habitats.
Project Noah is operated with support by National Geographic, and worthy support it is.

If you haven't already, be sure to follow National Geographic on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Here's to the next 125 years!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Original Doctor Who: The War Machines (Story 27, 1966)

As the finale of the third season of Doctor Who, this 27th story sets up the divergent track that the series would take in its fourth season. A new titling sequence which included listing episodes by a number instead of a title (i.e.: The War Machines Episode 1) had begun in the previous serial, The Savages, which also took Steven Taylor away from the TARDIS. The War Machines dispenses with Dodo Chaplet, introduces two hip, young swingers as the Doctor's new companions, and sets its very Science Fictional story in then-modern London.

Rather than historicals, the key to this and future seasons of Doctor Who would be to keep it up to date. The central feature of The War Machines was the still new Post Office Tower, a gleaming shaft of steel and glass completed in 1964. A number of the bonus features on the DVD release of the serial discuss and depict the Post Office Tower and its place in British culture of the time. Commissioned by the General Post Office, the tower was a hub of English telecommunications and therefore a symbol of England's post-war emergence into the Space Age. Though cut off to visitors today, it was a major tourist attraction with a revolving restaurant and as the tallest building then in the UK, it had one of the best possible views of London.

The idea for The War Machines came out of Kit Pedler's interview for the position of scientific advisor to the series. He was asked what would happen if the Post Office Tower was not only a hub of telecommunications, but actually took them over. The BBC liked his idea so much that gave him the job and televised it. Pedler's idea was actually a very simple one that is a tried standard of Science Fiction today: inside the Post Office Tower is a computer system called WOTAN, a thinking machine soon to be connected to all the major mainframes around the world. This thinking machine, however, gains a sentience of its own and determines that human progress has reached its end and henceforth the world should be ruled by machines. Its pedigree goes back at least to Frankenstein and our terror at the creation of humanity that ultimately displaces its creator. It was practically lifted verbatim to form the scenario of the Terminator franchise.

WOTAN even supplied itself with War Machines to prepare its takeover of the world, though these were not quite as elegant as T-800's. If there is any major downfall of the serial, it is the rather silly design of these automated tanks. One can detect a certain air of the Dalek about them, an intuition which the Doctor has in the first few minutes of the first episode, but they are even more useless without the redeeming sense of alien malevolence. In this scene, the Doctor remarks to Dodo that he senses something similar to that which he sensed with the Daleks, and then praises her for never having had to fight them. It's a sneaky bait-and-switch that might have been more rewarding had there been a more developed sense that WOTAN was heading down the same road as the creators of the Daleks. WOTAN even went so far as to control human minds with electromagnetic hypnosis, which is not too far a cry from the Robomen of The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

This contention of a computer controlling human minds and building a machine army would have also lent itself to setting up the eventual emergence of the Cybermen in season four. Without much effort, Kit Pedler – who did write the script for The Tenth Planet - could have dropped in a line about how WOTAN did take over the parallel Earth called Mondas and created its perfect machine world. For whatever reason this did not happen and we're left taking things as they are, including Pedler's fetish for the concept of computers destroying humanity.

For what these things are, The War Machines is not the most inspiring of the First Doctor's serials. Weirdly enough, it is the only serial to refer to the character as “Doctor Who” (which was later regenerated by Steven Moffat as a pun... A pun that became a major plot point, in turn causing me to bang my head against various available walls). The implicit ideas that could have been addressed by the story, like potential of creating something like Daleks and Cybermen or the value of humanity versus machine logic, are barely brought up if at all. It's all a fairly dry run at stopping the evil thing from taking over the world. Dodo got so bored of it that she split halfway through and couldn't be bothered to give her resignation in person. In the last scene, new companions Ben and Polly accidentally stumble into the TARDIS and we're off once again.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Original Doctor Who: The Lost Stories (2010)

One of the great what-if's of Doctor Who lore are those seasons that would have been had television been nicer to that famed British TV series. Colin Baker, as the Sixth Doctor, suffered for some of the poorest scripts and had his run curtailed. Great ideas were in store for his replacement, Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy, but the series was cancelled. Big Finish Audio, to supplement their ongoing series of Doctor Who audio-dramas and Companion Chronicles, took many of those scripts and adapted them into a successful series of “Lost Stories.”

The second grouping of The Lost Stories dug deeper in time to produce two boxsets, one of the First Doctor and another of the Second. Doctor Who: The Lost Stories: The First Doctor Boxset (phew) features two stories read and ably dramatized by William “Chesterton” Russell and Carole Ann “Susan” Ford. The first is a six-episode historical epic entitled Farewell, Great Macedon, and the second a Sci-Fi short called The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance.

Farewell, Great Macedon takes place just after The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara's misadventures during the French Revolution, landing them within the walls of the Hanging Garden of Babylon. They quickly learn that they have not visited Babylon at the height of its imperial glory, but rather, during the peak of Alexander's conquests. Enjoying his company, our heroes find themselves at the heart of a conspiracy as members of Alexander's entourage begin to die off one-by-one. When the emperor himself starts to fall ill, attention turns to these interlopers who worked their way so well into the trust of his majesty.

The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance is one of those Doctor Who stories that best exemplifies the weirdness that British Science Fiction can get up to. Having bid farewell to Great Macedon, the TARDIS lands on the alien world of Fragrance, where the Doctor convinces the natives to help him build a special membrane which will improve the operations of his ship. Whiling away the time on Fragrance, Barbara makes the acquaintance of Rhythm, an amorous young man. Barbara can't claim to feel about him the way he feels about her, which is further complicated by the fact that the people of Fragrance bond to the object of their affections for life. So deep is this bond that should the object of their affections not reciprocate, the ill-fated lover must take their own life.

The biggest question of the set, which is posed in the supplementary round-table interviews, is why these stories were not actually produced for the show. Farewell, Great Macedon itself could have easily been the equal of the famed Marco Polo, which was made but later lost in the video purges of the BBC archives. At least the boxset makes for quality audio-drama. Big Finish has since gone on to dig up two more First Doctor adventures: The Masters of Luxor, about a machine trying to gain a soul, and The Dark Planet.