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Doctor Who Reflections: Spearhead from Space

I’ve previously live-tweeted my thoughts while watching classic Doctor Who but as I’m trying to cut down on social media and also so I can provide a more cohesive body of thought, I figured I’d switch tracks and post longer essays. Today’s episode is the start of Pertwee’s era. (For a really great article about this serial, read this.)

General Thoughts:

I love Liz Shaw. She’s the first female companion since the departure of Ian and Barbara who is an adult and who comes to the show with her own fully developed personality. There are things I like about all the other companions, but the previous few seasons have been mostly young companions who end up being “adopted” by the Doctor. Nothing wrong with that kind of relationship, but it’s nice to have a mix of companions and one reasons I loved Donna in the new series.

The wheelchair chase scene is delightful.

The color titles are gorgeous.

The dollmaking sequence comes out of nowhere, and you don’t really know what is going on, but that makes the scene unexplicably creepy…or maybe it’s just generally creepy to see dolls being assembled.

The Autons really do have a high creep factor, even more than those from the new series because the plastic masks for the actors are much less smooth and perfect, so each one is unique and misshapen…like the face is partially melted.

Pertwee makes the part his from the start, bringing a sense of humor but also a keen intelligence and energy that feels more focused that Troughton’s version. His is a more direct Doctor.

Sad Auton is sad.

The back and forth between the Doctor and Liz is lovely and even when explaining things beyond Liz’s experience. Sure, he calls her “my dear,” but he is not at all condescending or insulting, clearly accepting her as a colleague.

The tentacled Nestene conciousness is really silly.

First instances:

  • First mention of two hearts
  • Seeing the Doctor create his new outfit
  • the Autons

Favorite lines:

  • Liz (to the Brigidier): No need to get tetchy.
  • Doctor (referring to the Time Lords): They’ve trapped me here…the mean, despicable, underhanded lot.
  • Doctor: Money? My dear chap I don’t want money. Got no use for the stuff.
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Doctor Who – the Troughton Era

The Second Doctor: “It’s a fact…I do get involved”

Patrick Troughton as the Doctor

I just finished watching the final serial of Patrick Troughton’s time in Doctor Who, “The War Games.” If you don’t know, this is a massive, ten-episode serial that concludes with the introduction of the Time Lords, the very first time they are mentioned or shown. While we have previously met one of the Doctor’s people before, (The Monk from “The Time Meddler”), the concept of the Time Lords is first introduced in this story, as well as making clear that the Doctor stole the TARDIS and is breaking the rules of his whole people by interfering in the lives and times of others. Clearly, this is a major revelation that still reverberates throughout the series. Sometimes it is hard to remember that this important an element to the whole mythos of the show wasn’t introduced until the end of series six.

Clocking in at over three and a half hours, “The War Games” is a major accomplishment and a fitting end to Troughton’s time as the Doctor. The action is, for the most part, brisk. There are some surprisingly good hand-to-hand fight sequences (though of course there is also the obligatory magical hand-chop to the back of the neck that knock’s someone out immediately). The Time Lords come across as far more menacing and mysterious and powerful than they do in subsequent years. Philip Madoc plays the hell out of the War Lord, presenting a calm, cool, collected villain who is one of the most compelling enemies the Doctor has faced, before or since. All in all, this serial is a fitting send-off the second Doctor and his companions. Indeed, this is the first time that such a complete blank slate was attempted: with the first regeneration, at least the audience had Ben and Polly for continuity. “The War Games” ends with Jaime and Zoe being returned to their own times and the Doctor changing into a new face. Then a fade to black and I can only imagine the trepidation and anticipation and excitement that Doctor Who fans must have felt as they waited for return of the series. I very nearly started John Pertwee’s first serial tonight because there is a palpable sense of change at the end of “The War Games” that is different from the move from Hartnell to Troughton.

What struck me upon this viewing of “The War Games” was the sadness at Jaime’s and Zoe’s leaving. With the Time Lords returning them to their own times before they left to travel with the Doctor, they will never remember becoming friends, never remember their time with the Doctor beyond their first encounter with him. This presages what will happen to Donna Noble in the new series, but is accepted without much care by the Doctor. When told that they will forget most of their time with him, the Doctor doesn’t seem much concerned. The show itself doesn’t stop to ponder this and I don’t think the implications stood out to me when I last watched this serial years ago. But after the heartbreak of Donna forgetting her time with the Doctor and of who she became through those travels, the loss that Jaime and Zoe will not know that they suffered struck me as particularly distressing. Especially as Troughton was generally a more concerned and caring Doctor than his previous incarnation.

Indeed, what I most like about Troughton’s Doctor is his expressiveness, the way his face displays joy and sorrow, sadness and ferocity, concern and anger. Where Hartnell was contained, Troughton is expansive. In fact, while each Doctor has any number of traits that are both in common and different from the other Doctors, there does seem to be a fairly regular back and forth between the physical/emotional expansiveness of the character: Hartnell (contained), Troughton (expansive), Pertwee (contained), Baker (expansive), Davison (contained), Baker (expansive)…while McCoy isn’t necessarily contained in the same way as previous versions, his Doctor is much more focused and quietly manipulative than Colin Baker’s. Then we have the movie with Paul McGann – who is much more emotionally expansive and outward followed by Christopher Eccleston’s more tightly controlled sadness and anger. Tennant is, of course Tennant, all “allons-y” and big heart. Moffat kind of screws up this pattern when he takes over the show with Matt Smith who is gangly and bouncy and big. But we have currently come back to the more contained performance of Peter Capaldi.

But I digress (and don’t want to let myself get started on Moffat’s tenure as the show-runner…).

Series 3-6 are also marked, sadly, by far too many missing episodes. Even with the recently recovered “The Enemy of the People” and “The Web of Fear” (both of which are fabulous: the first for Troughton’s playing of duel roles and the second for the introduction of then Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart), so much of Troughton’s work has been lost. This is a shame in general, of course. But I also think it’s a shame that we are missing so much of his performance as the Doctor because the show’s continued existence is due, directly, to the fact that Troughton stepped in and took over another actor’s character with such joy and aplomb and commitment that every other regeneration was made possible. He showed everyone that the Doctor’s regeneration could, in fact, be done and done well.

(I know, I know, I’m slighting the writers and directors here. Truth is, the continued success had as much to do with them as it did with Troughton.)

A few observations:

  • I do sorely miss the emotional maturity that Ian and Barbara, and to a lesser extent Steven, brought to the program. While the chemistry between the Doctor and Jaimie is very good, and Zoe was a decent companion with a level of scientific knowledge, it seems like the pattern of young people following the Doctor around is codified during the second Doctor’s time. There are certainly exceptions to this, of course, including Liz Shaw, Romana, Donna Noble, and Wilfred, but overall, I wish there were some more companions who were more mature and who would, like both Ian and Barbara did, challenge the Doctor on ethical and moral grounds without the hero worship that seeps into the characterizations.
  • The introduction of Lethbridge-Stewart, played by the wonderful Nicholas Courtney was a much more exciting moment that I expected. Seeing him in “The Web of Fear” before his promotion to Brigidier and the creation of UNIT was a delight and it made me realize just how vital the character is to the Doctor Who universe. I am looking forward to spending considerable time in his company during the Pertwee years.
  • I very much prefered the sonic screwdriver when it was, you know, a sonic screwdriver instead of a magic wand. Still, I had never seen the serial in which it made its first appearence (“Fury from the Deep”) so that was fun.

Tom Baker will always be “my” Doctor, but working my way through the Hartnell and Troughton years over the past year has given me a greater appreciation for their work and for some great stories that were told during those first six years. Furthermore (and sadly), they have given me a respite from the sexism that has become endemic during the recent years under Moffat’s control. My affection for the first two Doctors has also grown over the past year. I’m truly glad to have spent the time going through these episodes.

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New York City and Me

Closing in on the end of my two week trip to NYC on a New York Public Library Short Term Research Fellowship where I’ve been going through the Living Theatre archive that is housed in the Billy Rose Theatre Division. For some reason, as I walked through the Highline Park this morning before heading to Lincoln Center (the Performing Arts Library doesn’t open until noon), I had the urge to blog for the first time in a long, long time. Not sure I’ll even go through with it, but if you are reading these words, I have obviously posted.

The archive has been interesting and tedious. To be honest, nothing I have found has set my dissertation afire with new ideas or new evidence, but that is the nature of doing this kind of work. Considering that the archive was donated by Judith Malina, and considering that I’m interested in dismantling parts of the myth that surrounds the company, it’s not a huge surprise that I didn’t find the proverbial “smoking gun” in amongst the many, many letters and documents that I have been going through day after day after day. I am about to start my last day as a Fellow and my last day working in NYC on this trip. Tomorrow morning I board a train bound for Pittsburgh and home.

As I type these words, I am sitting in the little park in the center of Lincoln Center, shaded by trees, surrounded by small birds (sparrows?) hopping about and large, fat pigeons strolling like they completely own the place. Percussionists are ranged around the Paul Milstein Pool and practicing for a concert being held here tonight at 6pm. They are spaced throughout the center and so the sound moves about, coming from bass drums in one corner, cymbals from another. It looks like there will be a number of vocalist for the actual concert and I’m planning on sticking around for it after I finish my time inside. This little park has been lovely the past few days and provides a cool and restful space for writing or reading or just watching people move about the space.

Making these various trips to New York have been interesting, especially this one considering how long I’ve been in the city (I did take a weekend to visit folks and friends in RI). I was so desperately unhappy here during the three years I lived in Brooklyn, spending so much of my time defending myself from the city emotionally and mentally that every day felt like an assault. Yet now, I can visit this city and shrug off the noise of the streets and the subways, navigate the crowds with a level of ease and confidence, and in general accept the city on its own terms rather than trying to shut it out. Is it simply because I don’t live here and know that I’ll be leaving? Am I more centered in myself and my life? Probably both of those things have something to do with the change in how I relate to this city, and there are probably other reasons and changes as well. I find it interesting and a bit sad because I still regret that I spent so much of my time here with Joya in such an unhappy state because she deserved better from me during that time.

One last realization about my time here:

The city, especially when it is hot (and it was quite hot the other day), makes it impossible to forget just how embodied our lives our. I think that’s one of the elements of NYC in general that is a product of a great many people living in an urban space: your body is always present whether it is the heat and oppression of the subway platform, or the press of bodies in a subway car, or the awareness of space and bodies as you walk through mid-town (an awareness of space that most tourists don’t have which is why they are so damned annoying to New Yorkers—and while I am not a New Yorker, I am certainly, and proudly, not a tourist!), or the smell of the rotting garbage along the streets. Your body and its senses are brought to the fore in ways that cannot be avoided.

(The percussionists are currently playing sandpaper, creating a sshhhh-sshhhhh-ssshhhhhhsshhing sound that is revolving around and around the square.)

Honestly, I don’t want to go into the library in 20 minutes when it opens. I want to sit out here, enjoy the breeze and the shade and the susurrations of conversations and the squealing joy of children and the relative stillness in the midst of continual motion. I have a feeling that I won’t last too long in there today. I have one box on reserve and may not do more than that before leaving. Truth is, I’ve made my way through ream and reams of documents, taking over 1000 pictures of letters and box office reports and bills, getting through probably 3/4 of a 60 box collection—and most of that 1/4 that I haven’t looked at consists of documentation outside the period I’m looking at for my dissertation. I do feel like I have a responsibility to be here every day since I was given a fellowship for that purpose, but I’m close to diminishing returns here. This last box has production programs which I’ve seen a bunch of previously at UC Davis, but which I will make sure I document again and then, I think, I’ll come back outside, grab some lunch and just be and thank. Maybe write a little more. Maybe read. Maybe go for a walk in Central Park or maybe just come back out here and sit and watch and listen.

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My Favorite PodCastle Stories of 2013

My Favorite PodCastle Stories of 2013

These are by no means an assessment of talent or value, merely my personal favorites of the stories we’ve run this year. If you don’t know about my involvement with PodCastle, you can read this Medium post to find out just what this organization means to me.

This year was the year of really long titles, as my first favorite is episode 248, a story by Claire Humphrey titled “Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot”. Coincidently, my second favorite story is also by Claire Humphrey, “Nightfall in the Scent Garden” which we ran as episode 271. You can probably start to get a sense of the type of fantasy I lean toward by these choices. Both of these stories have only the slightest hint toward the fantastic and depend more on character and poetry to carry the reader into the stories. This style is also evident in Kenneth Schneyer’s story—the second really long title of the year—,“Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer”. I do not pick this story because I narrated it, but because I love its subtlety and the way Schneyer blends joy and pain together in his descriptions of Latimer’s paintings.

In September we ran a lovely story by Amal El-Mohtar with a perfectly matched narrator, Tina Connolly. “A Hollow Play” not only has a John Cage joke, but is an understated and terrific meditation on love, friendship, and desire. Finally, with only a couple of weeks left in the year, we ran a haunting story by Ken Liu called “Maxwell’s Demon”.

So there you have it: my personal favorite stories from this year. I hope you will give them a listen if you haven’t already. Of course, we have plenty of other great stories at PodCastle, from Conan to L. Frank Baum, to kick-ass, warrior teddy-bears for you to enjoy.

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Today I Made This

**Red Shift**

I keep waiting for a CLICK
then all will fall into place.
Just one CLICK and I will know
what to do, just one CLICK and
everything will make perfect sense.

But

for every one CLICK there is
a hundred more fears
a thousand more desires
a million more questions unasked

and

nothing ever falls entirely into place
because no place is
ever
entirely

still

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