Doctor Who: Paradise Towers (take two)

This morning, something unexpected happened. I’d planned for us to watch Spike Jonze’s 2009 adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, and the kid just absolutely tuned out twenty-odd minutes in. The film’s intense depiction of loneliness was just overpowering to him, he was radiating misery through every pore, and I stopped the movie. If it’s worth anything, I did tell him last night that it’s not at all like any children’s film he’s ever seen, and that many parents and families were disappointed or annoyed with it when it was released. I’ve always figured parents were expecting the same ingredients as every other dumb kiddie movie of the 2000s: kung fu anteaters, a “show me the money” gag, and a centuries-old white woman dancing to “Single Ladies,” when what Jonze gave them was a meditation on imagination and sadness. Our kid would have preferred the anteaters.

So I told him to pick something else, and he wandered to the Doctor Who shelf, announced that he was considering one of the Key to Time adventures, then thought about “Enlightenment”, and then surprised me by picking “Paradise Towers”, which we first watched about two years ago, instead of something with Daleks in it. He really enjoyed it again, probably more than he did when he watched it at age eight, and even wondered whether the Great Architect in this story might be the same one that was mentioned in “Time Heist”. Funny how he remembered the name, but not the revelation that it was the Doctor himself who built that story’s bank. Anyway, this was a story from season 24 with Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford, written by Stephen Wyatt after he and the show’s new script editor, Andrew Cartmel, bonded over a shared appreciation for Alan Moore’s Halo Jones and J.G. Ballard’s High Rise. Richard Briers overacts to the point of cringe in part four, but it’s a very good script.

I thought this was very cute timing, because this is almost certainly the last time I’ll dust off this DVD before selling it on. The season 24 Blu-ray set containing this adventure will be out this week in the UK; the American release is about three months down the line. In September and October, we’re also going to get to upgrade a couple of other things we’ve enjoyed for the blog, because Kino Lorber is releasing the Kolchak: the Night Stalker TV series to accompany their splendid releases of the two films, as well as, to my considerable surprise, the Pufnstuf film. We may be able to preorder the completely remastered MacGyver from Koch Media by the end of the year as well. Who sez physical media’s dead? Not this boy!

Doctor Who: Dragonfire (part three)

“Dragonfire” is an uncommon example of a story that bridges two companions. It’s Bonnie Langford’s final serial and Sophie Aldred’s first. Watching these again, I’m forced to concede that Melanie never did really work as a character. The program never told us who she was or why she was traveling with the Doctor, and while Langford’s effervescence and sense of optimism makes her a really watchable person, especially compared to some of the misery-pants who preceded her, it’s not surprising that people tend to forget her.

But Ace is unforgettable. I think she has a great start here, with lots of terrific moments to come. She’s unlike most Doctor Who companions because she’s clearly a badly broken person full of anger who keeps people at arms’ length through rage and very weird insults. She keeps calling Mel “Doughnut,” which might mean she’s disdainful of how sweet Mel is, I guess!

Aldred plays the introspective character stuff incredibly well for an actress new to television, and she really sells Ace trying to be nonchalant when she’s really sad and worried. To be fair, when she’s given a mouthful of ungainly Doctor Who dialogue, she’s about as successful as you or I would be. At one point, her writer makes her ask something like “Do you want to have an argument with a can of deodorant that registers nine on the Richter scale?” That’s the sort of line commercial producers gave Orson Welles when they wanted to piss him off.

We know a remote farm in Lincolnshire, where Mrs. Buckley lives. In July, Nitro-Nine explodes there…

Anyway, around these parts, this season went over miles better than “The Trial of a Time Lord.” Our son was blown away by the new title sequence and arrangement of the feem toon, and wouldn’t let me skip through it even once. He says that he can’t decide which of the four stories is his favorite because he liked them all, and his favorite part in this story was surprisingly not the climax, where Edward Peel does his Ronald Lacey impression, but a moment about halfway through part three, where two of Kane’s guards set off a booby trap inside the dead dragon’s head and are electrocuted. And despite the grumble I have about the catacombs and caverns being too close to Iceworld’s surface to believably hide any kind of secret for three thousand years, this was a very good story that’s aged really well. And since the next season is one of my favorites from the entire run of the show, liking this even more than I remembered makes me wonder how much more fun I’ll have this time around.

We’re going to take a break and savor the anticipation for a few weeks though. We’ll watch season twenty-five of Doctor Who in June, but first we’ll have fun looking at something from Who that’s both old and new in just a couple of days, and we’ve got some other great new-to-the-blog programs in the weeks to come, including one I’ve never seen before, so stay tuned!

Doctor Who: Dragonfire (parts one and two)

“Dragonfire” has aged very well. Until I suddenly found myself loving “Delta and the Bannermen,” it had been my favorite story from this season. The script is the first for the show by Ian Briggs, and it’s a really entertaining story about a treasure hunt on a frozen planet, with Tony Selby returning as the criminal Sabalom Glitz, and Sophie Aldred making her debut as Ace. Aldred’s the last example of the series casting actors who are visibly much older than their characters. Ace is sixteen and Aldred was about twenty-five. I’ll talk more about Ace another time. Also joining the regulars this week, there’s Patricia Quinn from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Edward Peel, who was always playing detective chief superintendents in cop shows.

Design-wise, “Dragonfire” is like a lot of Doctor Who in that it aims way past the program’s limitations. I still think the lower levels of Iceworld needed a couple more sets to really sell the place being enormous and twisty and the sort of place that nobody would ever go. Like Peladon, the famous planet that Jon Pertwee’s Doctor visited a couple of times, it really feels these allegedly distant places are just a few feet from the surface. I have trouble believing that it’s so difficult to get to these hidden caverns when all the action seems to take place in a single afternoon and you can access the upper chambers of the catacombs through a side door in the soda shop.

Everybody enjoyed “Dragonfire” tonight. Marie said that she likes McCoy much more than the previous Doctor, and our son chirruped “Yeah, he was so rude!” He thought the dragon was incredibly cool, especially when it’s revealed to be a robot or a cyborg at the end of the second episode.

Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermen (part three)

Sylvester McCoy may have come in to Who on the end of its run, but he benefited from something that the program should have done many years before: shorter stories. Half of his serials are a lean three episodes each. They’re not all as trim and well-designed as this one – “Ghost Light” in particular could have used another half-hour – but there’s no flab or padding, and for a brisk and light romp in the pretty Welsh summer of 1987, it’s the perfect length.

Our son really enjoyed this one, and I couldn’t agree more. Don Henderson, who is best known for playing a cop called George Bulman across three separate programs over a dozen years, plays the ugly and mean villain, and comedian Hugh Lloyd is a local beekeeper who observes everything with a quiet and kind detachment. Along with Stubby Kaye, who had played Marryin’ Sam in Li’l Abner and was in the UK filming Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it’s a great guest cast. (Bulman, incidentally, started out as a kind of equivalent to Inspector Zenigata in the Lupin III franchise. He was the antagonist to a heroic master criminal called Spider Scott. I’d like to see that someday.)

There’s a scene where the bad guys break into a shed outside the beekeeper’s house while a cover of that dopey old song “Lollipop” plays on an old clock radio and set off a trap. Shelves full of jars of honey crash down on them and they slip and slide on the floor, then get stung by hundreds of bees. “This is hilarious!” our son shouted. I wouldn’t quite go that far, but it’s definitely fun, which is what Doctor Who should be, and which it hadn’t been for such a long time. The story ends with a sweet little doo-wop song with the vocalist singing “Here’s to the future,” and you’d have to be a real sourpuss to disagree.

Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermen (parts one and two)

Sometimes, kids offer the oddest observations. I was certain that the character of Jesse Colton, who we met in a couple of MacGyver episodes, was described as a bounty hunter, but our son, who turned eight yesterday, exclusively associates the term with Star Wars, just like he might with “Jedi Knight” or “Sith Lord.” Fantasy is that much bigger than reality. Real bounty hunters are nowhere as glamorous as IG-88 or Boba Fett.

There is, briefly, a bounty hunter in the first two parts of the absolutely wonderful “Delta and the Bannermen.” It’s a story that I originally considered the weakest of the four in season twenty-four but later came to love. It’s a huggingly wonderful and silly story full of great dialogue, broken hearts, and rock and roll. But in 1987-88, when Who fandom had so many loud voices demanding SRS BSNSS from this show, “silly” was not what the Hive Mind wanted. I never really noticed, then, the delightful moment in part one when the lovestruck Ray, realizing her fella only has eyes for a girl from space, hugs the Doctor and buries her tears in his shoulder, and the Doctor responds with an awkward “there, there,” utterly unsure what he’s supposed to do about this.

So much of this story is unsaid, but it moves at such a brisk pace that it never seems to matter. It appears that the Doctor and Mel arrive at the Tollbooth without travelling in time. They seem to have just met the evil and ruthless Bannermen; the unfortunate aliens who just wanted a time-travel tour of 1959 Disneyland also know who they are. So they’re all leaving a time when these villains are known to everybody around them, and the explanations that would slow down the narrative are unnecessary. The audience doesn’t need to know. They’re the guys with black hats; we get it.

Then there are the two aging American agents bumbling around the Welsh countryside looking for a satellite with a telescope in the middle of the afternoon. One of them’s played by Stubby Kaye, who gets to impotently protest “Hey, that’s the property of Uncle Sam…” after the villains blow up his radio. I love how these well-meaning clowns just happen to be in the right place at the right time. They must have done something right, once, but very little since, and so their bosses, who are probably much younger and much more competent, just send them as far away from the action as possible because for some reason they can’t fire them. Thus Wales, and a telescope.

I’m glad that our son has developed an understanding of the comedy of anticipation. He had some chuckles and some thrills as the story progressed, but his favorite moment was when the Bannermen’s spaceship lands behind the two agents as they look for their missing satellite. He knew these two fellows’ day was about to get a lot worse. He later protested that the Bannermen aren’t only doing the wrong thing, but doing it the wrong way. He knew that the villains should have searched the tour bus for the woman that they’re hunting before blowing it up. We’ll see whether these bad guys can do something right tomorrow.

Doctor Who: Paradise Towers (parts three and four)

From the beginning of 1984 through the end of 1987, I was as wild and enthusiastic a fan as you’ve ever seen. I absorbed just about every bit of information and ephemera that I could find, drew hundreds of pages of woeful Doctor Who comics, attempted to follow a couple of the walking tours of London in the poorly-edited Travels Without the TARDIS, got snooty because a well-intentioned relative bought me the Target Web of Fear novelisation with the Andrew Skilleter cover instead of an earlier edition with massively superior Chris Achilleos art, and even ran a British TV fan club that, by the beginning of 1988, had a lot more articles about the Smiths and George Harrison than about television.

During this period, one of the biggest and best cons in the Atlanta area was Dixie Trek, which was run by a great fellow called Owen Ogletree and his pals, and which you should read about at my best friend Dave’s site here. Dig around the rest of the site when you finish; it’s a super look at what Atlanta fandom was like when we were in high school. Dixie Trek was typically held in May at a pretty big hotel. Every November, they put together a much smaller one-day show, with no guests, at the Oglethorpe University student center, where Dixie Trek had first begun. The small show was called Britcon, and it had panels and trivia contests and a small dealers room and two video rooms.

In November 1987, my pal Shelby and I went to Britcon, and I met up with some other friends and had a good time and spent a little money, and we watched the most recent seven episodes of Doctor Who: all of “Time and the Rani” and the first three parts of “Paradise Towers.” We’d had part one of “Rani” for a few weeks; mine was a third or fourth gen from that original camcorder copy that I mentioned. It was great to see the rest of that one, and “Paradise Towers” was even better.

At that time, I was a fifteen year-old long-haired hippie weirdo completely obsessed with Who and Monty Python and 2000 AD and “Towers” was written specifically to appeal to me. Obviously from the cold eyes of adulthood, the silly voices and overacting of the Caretakers are an obstacle, but I loved it at the time. And the Kangs? I didn’t need a guidebook to explain that these girls were talking the same language as Halo Jones, Rodice, and the Different Drummers. I had my Increased Leisure Citizen T-shirt, unlike you thrillsucking non-scrots.

I left Britcon punching the air, wondering when I’d see the conclusion. And several weeks later, I found myself not caring.

I never fell out of love with Who, and I certainly thrilled to just about everything that came next, but sometime between Britcon and actually getting copies of the episodes, I hit that wall that boys hit when guitars suddenly make more sense than Doctor Who. And this was never more true than when the issue of Doctor Who Magazine shown above (source: The Grand Comics Database) made it to shops. My interest in the magazine had been waning a little bit because the artwork in the comic wasn’t appealing like it did. (I liked John Ridgway’s art, but not when Tim Perkins inked him, sadly.) Then they cut eight pages and put the American price up to $3.50. I could buy a used Depeche Mode LP for that.

And that issue was the first one I didn’t buy after about three straight years. I could get a Banshees twelve-inch single or I could get Sylvester McCoy and Richard Briers lit like a pair of old pumpkins.

Ages later, it seemed, I finally saw part four of this story. Sure, the first three parts are badly flawed in retrospect, but it really is a good script with some great ideas and good characters. Then part four features Richard Briers’ absolutely unbelievable performance, just hands down the worst acting in the entire run of Who.

Taking girls to concerts seemed like a much, much better use of my teenage time after that.

Doctor Who: Paradise Towers (parts one and two)

There’s always a disconnect between the aims and ideas of a screenplay and how these can be achieved onscreen. On a low-budget program like Doctor Who, the gap was often wide. But I’m not sure there’s a more unique case in the original run of the show where you had a script this terrific and a production this lousy. The tone is often very wrong – the sub-Monty Python stylings of the Caretakers and their funny voices being the nadir of the first two parts – and the casting is so breathtakingly wrong that it still amazes me. The actresses playing the Kangs are too old and the actors playing the Caretakers are far, far too young.

And then there’s Pex, who should have been played by a bodybuilder, somebody who looks like he could dismantle a truck with his bare hands, and most importantly somebody who looks stupid. When the guy wrenches a light fixture off the wall to show off, he should have absolutely no awareness that he did anything wrong. It’s not just that the actor who plays Pex is too small, it’s that he looks capable of learning.

Our son said that if this was a comic book, then there would be little question marks appearing over his head because some of this was so confusing. Some of it was also really frightening for him: the big robotic Cleaners had him hiding in worry, and his favorite part was the Doctor tricking his two jailers into believing there’s a dopey rule in their never-mistaken rule book that allows him the freedom to escape. So there are highs along with the lows.

Behind the scenes, something incredibly interesting happens starting with this story: Doctor Who cuts its ties with the past. The new script editor, Andrew Cartmel, succeeds where neither of his predecessors, Douglas Adams and Eric Saward, could, and never once commissions a story from anybody who had written for the show before. Of course there are some old monsters and villains to fight again in stories to come, along with two old friends, but this story is such a break from the past that there isn’t a single reference to any previous adventure in it, which hasn’t happened in years.

This serial was written by Stephen Wyatt, and Cartmel himself didn’t commission it. The producer got a copy of a pilot script that was making its way around the BBC to general enthusiasm, and asked him in to pitch. Critics who know a little bit about what they’re talking about will often compare this story to something from 2000 AD, usually citing Judge Dredd or Alan Moore’s Ballad of Halo Jones, especially when the Kangs are speaking. The garbled grammar of A Clockwork Orange is certainly an influence on both of them, but the Kangs’ slang is incredibly like the Hoopspeak in Halo Jones Book One. “Paradise Towers” as a whole feels like one of Moore’s Future Shocks from around 1983, except that Moore could have told this story in five pages, with a much better ending.

Doctor Who: Time and the Rani (parts three and four)

Doctor Who tends to start out pretty strong and peter out as it goes, and boy, is the next adventure going to be proof of that. But “Time and the Rani” is one of the very small number of Who serials that leads with its weakest installment and gets progressively better. My favorite example of this is “Mawdryn Undead,” which opens with twenty-five of the stupidest minutes in the program’s history before turning into something incredibly imaginative and entertaining. “Time and the Rani” doesn’t manage that level of turnaround, but it definitely finishes stronger than it starts, with the broad slapstick replaced by a nearly convincing race against time, thanks largely to a new-to-the-series director, Andrew Morgan, who gives all this silliness an honest sense of urgency. It still suffers from too much Doctor Who dialogue – “don’t play the innocent,” “have a care” and so on – and Bonnie Langford screams way, way too much, but it’s a better story than its reputation suggests.

And, as usual, our son came around in the end. His initial fear of the Rani’s monsters gave way to fascination – “they have an eye on each side of their head!” – and he agreed with me that one of the Doctor’s tricks, tripping a circuit with a length of wire, was worthy of MacGyver. This Doctor even carries a Swiss army knife like MacGyver does! Unfortunately, I don’t believe we ever see the knife again. Like the Doctor’s mangled quotations and aphorisms (“Time and tide melt the snowman”), which were quickly phased out, I think the knife was dropped after this appearance, which is a shame. I like Swiss army knives much more than sonic screwdrivers.

A couple of notable memories about this story: I knew a guy in Atlanta who flew to London, got himself a hotel room on September 7, 1987, set up a VHS camcorder on a tripod, and flew home the next day with a camera copy of episode one of this story. I think everybody pretended to like it more than they really did.

But before that, either the last week of February or the first week of March, 1987, I taped something that I thought would be really memorable and would make the rounds of a million tape traders: Sylvester McCoy’s debut appearance after being cast in the role, on WXIA’s Noonday show. I want to say it was a Friday, and a school holiday, and I was home in time to catch it.

This happened because at the time, BBC Enterprises had a big trailer touring the United States, showing off costumes and props and promoting the program in whatever market had a PBS station showing Who. McCoy got the part and flew to Atlanta with the producer, John Nathan-Turner, with a little Sylvester & Tweety lunchbox in tow, because the trailer was in Atlanta that week, on the grounds of Mercer University’s Doraville campus. Jon Pertwee was touring with the trailer at the time, which is probably why WXIA, which is Atlanta’s NBC affiliate, was sent a clip from Pertwee’s story “Colony in Space” to accompany the interview, but Pertwee got bumped for the new guy at the last minute.

I remember that the presenter was completely unfamiliar with Who, but she didn’t seem dismissive or condescending at all, but really interested. McCoy was charming and funny and Nathan-Turner was engaging and professional and cool, explaining their odd twenty-four year-old show to Noonday‘s audience. McCoy didn’t have very many anecdotes to share, because this was a seat of his pants thing if ever there was one. He was cast, flown to Atlanta, and then learning lines and getting a costume fitted. They were in a quarry pretending to be an alien planet the first week of April.

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I used to trade VHS tapes. I made many dozens of swaps with people all over the US and a couple in the UK. I kept up a trade list with microscopic print that got to be about twenty pages, two columns, front and back, and about a thousand tapes over the decade-plus I swapped. That appearance by McCoy and JN-T was probably on the very first version of that list, hammered out on my folks’ typewriter, because it was on tape # 15 – the things you remember! – and every subsequent update.

I never copied it for anybody in a trade. Not once. Nobody asked for it. And eventually, of course, I threw out almost all of my VHS tapes, so it’s long gone. I wish I’d kept it. It would have made a fine bonus feature on the DVD, but even if the BBC couldn’t arrange clearance with WXIA to use it, it should be on YouTube and it doesn’t appear that it’s ever been uploaded there. So, sorry, world. If they do put out season 24 on Blu-ray and there’s a hole in the special features where that interview should be, shake your fist at me… and all those other traders in Who ephemera who shoulda asked me for a copy!

Doctor Who: Time and the Rani (parts one and two)

It occurred to me this morning that in better circumstances, the Doctor and Mel and their two guest star friends could have captured the Rani as she returned to her lab at the end of part two, said their goodbyes, and got on with another story entirely. Everybody would have agreed that it was a remarkably lousy forty-five minutes of Doctor Who, but at least it would have only been forty-five minutes and not ninety.

“Time and the Rani” hasn’t lost any of its power to bewilder and amaze audiences who just can’t believe this mess ever got made, but it did at least have the excuse of being born under very weird circumstances. The producer had resigned and was metaphorically cleaning out his desk waiting for his next assignment somewhere else at the BBC when the higher-ups told him no, to go make fourteen more episodes of Doctor Who instead, with no staff, no scripts, and no lead actor. So he quickly asked the writing duo of Pip and Jane Baker, who could be relied upon when deadlines loomed to turn in something, no matter how unlistenable, to give him four episodes while he cast the new Doctor and then got a new script editor. His name is Andrew Cartmel, and I’ll come back to him in a few days.

Earlier, in Los Angeles, Kate O’Mara’s year as a regular on Dynasty was coming to its conclusion, and the actress sensibly sent postcards to contacts with whom she’d worked recently to let them know she’d be back home and available soon. So Pip and Jane Baker got to write for their villainous character the Rani again, and continue to have everybody onscreen tell the audience how amazing she is. The script had to go through several drafts; the higher-ups reluctantly agreed to give Colin Baker one last story. He declined the offer, probably a lot more professionally than I would have done, meaning the story had to be rebuilt around a new Doctor’s debut, with all the attendant post-regeneration goofiness.

And as a debut, it’s not promising. Sylvester McCoy was then best known for some very weird fringe theater and some outrageous physical comedy on a children’s variety show called Tiswas. (Okay, “variety show” isn’t strictly accurate, but darned if I know what else to call it.) To my mind, he remains the most unlikely candidate to ever play the Doctor, but he’s always been among my favorites. McCoy does “quiet” brilliantly, and he does “funny” very, very well, but unfortunately most of what he does in “Time and the Rani” is vomit out the writers’ paragraphs of adjectives and synonyms. I think you can make a case that even by the end of the show’s run, the actor was still having trouble expressing real anger and fury, which contributes to his really unusual and off-kilter feel. The overall effect will become, if you’re willing to tilt your head a little, one of the most decidedly and successfully alien Doctors in the series, a character unsure of what emotions actually are, and how to express himself.

But that’s getting ahead of myself. At the start of things, “Time and the Rani” goes for wacky comedy for some dumb reason, which didn’t even resonate with our son. He liked this somewhat, but he wasn’t thrilled. He didn’t like the Rani at all, and when a big chunk of this story is built around Kate O’Mara dressed as Bonnie Langford, which doesn’t work for grownups and doesn’t entertain the seven year-old in the audience, something’s not clicking. He thought the Rani’s new monsters were “too scary,” but he did enjoy the bit where the Doctor picks out some new clothes – “He wore that already!” – and the physical comedy where the Doctor and Mel don’t know who each other are.

If our son did recognize Donald Pickering after seeing him a week ago, he didn’t let on. He also didn’t recognize Wanda Ventham, either, of course. He last saw her in Doctor Who almost a year ago, but her skin was golden in that story and yellow in this one. I wonder whether actors and agents have conversations that sound like “Doctor Who again? Will I be green this time?”

Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord (parts thirteen and fourteen)

“There’s a lesson here,” our son opined. “If you’re a bad, bad person, don’t stand so close to your crazy, crazy high-tech machine!” Well, you said it, kid.

So at last this troubled season and absolute mess of a story comes crashing into its barely watchable end. It should have been a much more satisfying conclusion than this. The problem is that the final two parts were meant to have been written by Robert Holmes, in close collaboration with the script editor Eric Saward. But Holmes was dying, and Saward is said to have completed the final draft of part thirteen before writing the concluding half-hour himself. Then Saward elected to leave the show and took his script with him. With deadlines looming, the producer turned to Pip and Jane Baker, who’d written parts nine through twelve, to finish from the half-hour that Holmes had set up, while a grave BBC attorney ensured that not one word of Saward’s script was used.

I contend that the more sensible solution would have been to dump the script of part thirteen as well. I know that’s heretical – Holmes was the grand master of classic Who, the writer everyone loves – but the Bakers shouldn’t have been hamstrung with all that setup to bring the epic to their rushed conclusion. I can’t imagine what they would have come up with, and since I dislike very nearly all their Who writing, I wouldn’t bet that I’d have enjoyed it, but I do believe that they could have developed something much more coherent than all the guff about Victorian bureaucracy, wherever that was going. Perhaps it was considered, and perhaps they told the producer that they had barely enough time to write one half-hour, let alone two.

One thing these parts badly needed was a proper conclusion to the huge revelation that Peri had been killed. There’s an all-smiles moment where the Time Lords tell the Doctor that she’s alive and well and living with Yrcanos as a “warrior queen.” So how’d that work? Did they reverse time so that the mad scientist never transplanted Kiv’s brain into her body? Did Yrcanos still storm into the room shooting people? What happened to everybody else in the room, and the scientist the Time Lords were so afraid of? Even more insanely, the Doctor accepts that this is a satisfactory happy ending for Peri and leaves her to life in the 24th Century, departing with Bonnie Langford’s character Mel, presumably to transport her back to her timeline.

Naturally, this hasn’t set well with anybody. There are novels and audio dramas that pick up Peri’s story and, in different ways, resolve this properly. But to be honest, I like the first way this was resolved. In the late eighties, Philip Martin, who wrote the Yrcanos episodes of the story, novelized it for Target Books and explained that Peri and Yrcanos did not go back to his planet where she could live with him, but they returned to Earth in the 1980s and Yrcanos entered the world of professional wrestling in California, with Peri as his manager. I have never been interested in wrestling, but I can get behind Yrcanos putting Hulk Hogan and the Iron Sheik in choke holds. With or without the wrestling part, Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant should have had a farewell scene together, and the Doctor should have gone immediately to his companion to see that she was all right rather than just taking some random woman’s word for it. Nobody thought this through.

But that’s kind of the Colin Baker era in a nutshell. Everything should have been better. Colin Baker’s a good actor and certainly seems to be a great guy. He could have been a great Doctor in better circumstances, without the lousy scripts that Saward had developed for him, and without the interference of the higher muckity-mucks at the BBC screwing with the show. Twisting the knife one last time, they accepted the producer John Nathan-Turner’s resignation on the understanding that he fire the star before he went. Then they unaccepted his resignation and told him the only show they wanted him to produce was more Who. But with Saward gone, this is the end of what I call “the swamp.” There are a couple more turkeys to come, but overall, things are about to get a lot better.

We’ll take a short break from Doctor Who to resume a couple of shows that we’d shelved for a breather, but we’ll start Sylvester McCoy’s first season in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord (parts eleven and twelve)

In the scene above, Honor Blackman’s character proves that she has never seen a horror film where the mad scientist thinks the monsters won’t attack her. Her character is seen reading Murder on the Orient Express earlier, so it’s not like the tropes of fiction are unknown to her. Then again, Orient Express is not a particularly long book, and the props department seems to have wrapped a dust jacket around one of those mammoth thousand-page James Michener novels, so maybe 20th Century fiction has mutated wildly by the year 2986 and she’s expecting the monsters to embrace their creator?

Last night, after our son condemned this whole adventure as lousy, he started playing one of the video games on his tablet, and something or other went wrong and he lost it completely, crying uncontrollably. He was exhausted, and hadn’t slept well the night before. On Sunday evening, we had come home late from a trip to the local observatory, and heaven only knows when he fell asleep. So by the time we watched Doctor Who on Monday, he was a mess, grouchy, and overtired.

Tanned, rested, and ready, he was more in the mood for the show tonight. He enjoyed seeing the recap of the end of part ten, when the Doctor sets off a fire alarm and sends a guard running so he could get past him, and told us “that’s my favorite part of this whole story!” Some of this was still a little over his head. He had trouble understanding why the scientist decided to destroy everybody (to keep the plant-monster Vervoids from reaching Earth), he grumbled that the bright red part of the Vervoid mask looked like a wool sweater, and the cliffhanger ending to part twelve landed with a thud. The Time Lords realize that by killing all the grown-in-a-lab Vervoids, the Doctor may have committed genocide, but I forgot to check to see whether our kid knew what that meant first. Well, he’s learned a new word.

I asked whether he enjoyed these two parts more than the previous two, and he agreed, but with a shrug. “It’s tolerable,” he decided, before going on at the lengths that a seven year-old can enjoy about how if he was going to either watch other Doctor Who stories or take money to watch ones he doesn’t want to see, he’d probably take the money, because he doesn’t like this one very much.