Mar, 2010

Fighting for Survival

“Life’s not a game son. I’m teaching you the art of survival…”

Survival… I’ve had this sat on top of the video pile for a while. Sunday afternoon seemed as good a time as any to watch it again.

I love the Doctor’s characterisation here, keen to find a mystery at the bottom of a cat food tin. Perivale seems over-grown and near derelict, bereft of inhabitants except a few scant ‘survivors’. However, the analogies and comments all seem too heavily laced with references to survival; and action, and acting, a little too wooden compared to the Who of today. Sylvester and Sophie act, but it feels like the plot’s so leaden they can’t drive much energy into it. The Doctor, fascinated by the black cat, spends the whole first episode chasing it and basically failing miserably, before engaging in a spot of pointless wall-crawling reminiscent of the pointless ice wall abseiling from ‘Dragonfire’. Ace pursues her friends, many missing for weeks, but doesn’t really seem to care either about what might have happened to them or what the Doctor might be up to.

In many ways, Episode 1 feels like a role-playing game adventure run badly. The gamemaster seems to have lost control of the players, uncertain how to guide them towards the plot while they wander hither and yon doing whatever they want to do. Mid-way through Episode 2, with cats feasting and fighting, we get a vague hint of a purpose – but nothing much. The Master appears to have become trapped on the Cheetah Planet and infected with some feline DNA, separated from his TARDIS; but, quite why The Doctor might find a solution The Master could not doesn’t make sense. Couldn’t The Master trap one of the prey teleported from Earth and infect it, then use it to head there? Surely he could then use resources left behind from his previous visits to Earth to either get back to his TARDIS or trick someone into helping him get to wherever he left it.

The idea of a living planet that enjoys a symbiotic existence with it’s inhabitants has potential. The world can only survive while the Cheetah People live on, but their feline instincts mean they live to fight, live to feast. When people engage in battle with the inhabitants, they become part of the chain of existence, an element of the relationship. Midge and Ace do battle – the former more violently than the latter – and both become infected with the Cheetah People DNA.

Anyway… I can’t feel too mean towards this story, the final episodes of the old series. Littered with things to fault, driven by a plot full of holes like Swiss cheese and filled with pantomime cat people, Survival spells the end of an era. I loved Ace and the Seventh Doctor – and they’ll always occupy a soft spot in my fan boy heart.

“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold! Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!”

Short Shrift

I waited with baited breath for the sneak peak of the start of ‘The Eleventh Hour’. Alas, the clip proved a little on the underwhelming side. I don’t know… I got it into my head that we’d be getting a minute, so I must have read that on the site somewhere. However, in the end we got 35 seconds, of which only the last half seemed to feature the Doctor and only hanging off the lip of the TARDIS door, struggling to get back inside. I like a bit of CGI excitement as much as the next fan, but this didn’t really get my juices flowing.

Anyway… I suppose we only have a week left to wait.

We have a healthy dose of time travel to come, with ‘Ashes to Ashes’ series 3 starting on Friday and ‘Who’ on Saturday. We finally have a time – 6.20PM – but that very detail worries me, because twenty past any hour feels like a time likely to change. The BBC did it with ‘Merlin’ – and I could have sworn that series does quite well, like ‘Who’. I hate it when you can’t predict the air time of a series from one week to the next. You don’t have to worry about ‘Newsnight’ or ‘The One Show’… unless there’s some charity or key sports event on, you know they’ll be on 10.30PM or 7PM, respectively. So, why treat Saturday evening prime time family entertainment with so little respect? I don’t see ‘Newsnight’ providing much of a revenue stream through character merchandising or spin-off media!

Shouldn’t you treat your cash cows with a little more reverence?

Make The End Sing

‘Tooth and Claw’ provides an excellent story, packed full of excitement, energy and classic elements aplenty. Heroism and deceit, violence and innovation, fear and elation. We know that Queen Victoria can’t die, mustn’t die, and yet we see the peril she faces and the people who give up their lives in her name.

However, the incredible episode really shines in the conclusion. If you want to have a model for your adventures, look here for how to handle your ending. Yes, you want resolution, the chance to set the world right again and put an end to the plans of the villain – and yet… There should be more. The ending of an adventure should provide threads to continue on beyond the bounds of the current story.

In ‘Tooth and Claw’, we have the obvious introduction of the Torchwood Institute and the implications of a British Empire aware of aliens threat. Also, Queen Victoria suffers an injury at the hands of the Lupine Wavelength Haemavariform, leading to the possibility that down through time the cells of the werewolf might surface again within the Royal bloodline. Further, what repercussions might Victoria’s banishing of the Doctor have. While we know that Torchwood will later seek him out, what impact might it have on later adventures – as any time spent in Victorian England after 1879 might attract the attention of people aware of Victoria’s edict.

Less obvious perhaps, but we also have the thread that Prince Albert and Sir Robert’s father clearly had their own understanding and theories about the werewolf. Given Prince Albert’s meticulous preparation of the Koh-i-Noor diamond it would not be too much of a stretch to suggest something like an occult gentlemen’s club might exist, patronised by the Prince. Similar to the London-based Ghost Club, of which Charles Darwin was a member, such an organisation might seek to gather knowledge about matters of the Unknown and look to arm itself against it.

It’s a great episode – and by following it’s example you can create adventures that provide a great gateway to future encounters.

Easter Egg

What chance do you have of getting something at Easter time that isn’t either cheap chocolate or otherwise bereft of any real meaning associated with the event? I mean, these days Easter has become yet another focus for commercialisation that simply means ‘another occasion when you should go out and get a gift for all those people who will give you a funny and slightly hurt look if you don’t’. What hope for rejoicing in new beginnings, new hope, rebirth?

Well, funny you should mention that! I mean, I’m sure the timing isn’t meant to have Doctor Who coincide with another famous return from the dead… However, Matt Smith and Steve Moffat will be spearheading a new beginning for the renegade Time Lord. More than just new actors and crew, I daresay we will also thrill to the new logo and a variant theme tune, as well as a somewhat altered TARDIS. What better way to spend Easter than this (aside from spending a little time in church should your personal beliefs lean you in that direction)?