Sylvester McCoy

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!”

Under the Doctor

Just watched Sylvester McCoy making a brief guest appearance on ‘Al Murray’s Multiply Personality Disorder’. Not the highlight of his comedy career exactly, playing doctor (ha!) to Murray’s gay Nazi. Still, nice to see him on telly again.

SJA: The Day of the Clown

I love anything rooted in mythology or modern day artifacts. That’s why episodes like ‘Blink’ work, because you take something commonplace and give it a disturbing spin. Clowns don’t really need much work to make them disturbing. ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy‘ may not have been the height of the Seventh Doctor’s adventures, but the clowns made a real impact, because they’re naturally scary. Yes, sometimes they make you laugh, but you have this unsettling feeling somewhere in the back of your mind that they’d just as soon leap out on you and offer up a solid pant-wetting opportunity.

Here, Bradley Walsh (showing a quite reasonable grasp of accents) plays Spellman (and Odd Bob) with just the right measure of creepiness. Odd Bob has been trapped here for a long time and feeds on fear, and kidnapping children generates a lot of fear. When kids start disappearing, Sarah Jane gets involved… and with a little assistance from Floella Benjamin (as Professor Rivers) at the Pharos Institute (previously seen in the final episode of Series One) finds a way to put a stop to the nefarious Spellman’s plans.

Like the episodes in Series One, Series Two makes it hard for you not to like Sarah Jane. Tight, well thought out, exciting episodes, with all the running about you want from kids’ drama. The show builds up back story – Sarah Jane is scared of clowns, one of whom haunted her youth while living with her Aunt Lavinia – and gives plenty of screen time to the ensemble of child actors. There is a hint of Stephen King’s ‘It’ about Odd Bob, but in this instance the whole thing works pretty well (which is more than you can say for the movie version of the King story!).

On top of all that, the story provides a neat introduction to Rani and her family, a solid replacement for Maria.

New Earth: First Glance

boe.jpgThe new series of Doctor Who started last night with the episode New Earth. It isn’t a spoiler at all to note that this episode features the return of Lady Cassandra (the stretched piece of skin representing the last of pure blooded Humanity in the year 5,000,000) and The Face of Boe, providing a comforting link into the previous series for fans… but providing enough exposition to allow for anyone who only just started watching.

New Earth (the name of the planet) provides a home for an hospital where the resident felinesque nuns provide incredible cures for every disease. The Doctor provides a clue that something’s amiss when he highlights a certain disease – that causes petrification – won’t have a cure for another thousand years… and yet, moments later the patient has undergone a miraculous return to full health.

Both Rose and the Doctor have plenty of moments for camp acting, perhaps the only thing that might put a newcomer off. The story demands some thoroughly out-of-character moments that might leave many viewers reeling; not out of confusion, but out of an uneasy sensation that we’ve returned to the slightly uncomfortable moments at the start of the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy regenerations, when somehow the script made the Doctor a blithering idiot or an outright clown for no reason at all. You might wander whether the instability of regeneration actually amounts to nothing more than an excuse for an odd script.

Otherwise, a good story with some entertaining and engaging moments, a little rushed (rather like the Auton story of the last Doctor). The special effects work sometimes (great landscapes, huge rooms), sometimes don’t (you’ll know when you see them).

Also, I could swear at one point they reuse the set from the when the Ninth Doctor met the Nestene Consciousness to provide a backdrop to the intensive care unit of New Earth.