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Doctor Who: The Two Doctors (part three)

Other than his usual dislike of seeing his heroes getting captured, our son really enjoyed this runaround. Of course, I did as well, with the story’s only flaw being the unbelievably pedestrian and thoughtless direction by Peter Moffatt. It’s not just that he failed to rein in some of John Stratton’s excesses and let him shout at the rafters for comedy, but he even brought along that flaw that kept happening in “The Five Doctors” where characters don’t respond to information that is clearly in their sight line. I love the script and the humor and having the villains turn on each other so malevolently, but another director could have made this story a masterpiece.

But the general feeling in 1985 was that masterpieces were all in Doctor Who‘s past. It was during the three weeks that this story was broadcast that the newspapers got wind of a story that Doctor Who was finally being “axed in a BBC plot.” It really was the right decision at entirely the wrong time. In early 1985, Doctor Who‘s American audience was really growing and most of the country’s PBS stations were picking up the show. With sweet merchandising money coming in from the USA for the first time, there was a really good opportunity to push and grow the program here, but the higher muckity-mucks at the BBC have never understood what to do with a good opportunity, ever.

Richard Marson’s biography of the show’s producer, Totally Tasteless: The Life of John Nathan-Turner, is out of print and only being offered for insane sums right now, but it’s a captivating and incredibly detailed look at the chaos and crisis when Who was cancelled, and then un-cancelled and postponed for nine months instead. These days, we’re so used to the BBC’s inability to put a show on the air for thirteen weeks a year that we just shrug at it, but the delay of season twenty-three from January to September 1986 felt like the end of the world at the time. I honestly felt like somebody had lied to me. I’d been sold this amazing, indestructible program that had gone on and would continue to go on for years, and within four weeks of that great moment where I could read and marvel at what was to come, I was reading that the show was being “rested.”

Then everybody in Britain who tuned into the Doctor’s next adventure, “Timelash,” wondered why this dumb show hadn’t been axed in a BBC plot years ago.

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Doctor Who: The Two Doctors (part two)

The great news to report is that our son is loving this one. Between the Sixth Doctor being arrogant and rude and the Second Doctor doing his “Oh my giddy aunt”s and yelling at the Sontarans, he’d be having a ball already, but Shockeye’s constant talk of food just seals the deal. “They’re talking so much about food that it’s making me hungry!” he said, and I’d forgotten the incredibly funny moment where Shockeye asks Dastari whether he’d ever eaten Sontaran flesh before. “Certainly not,” Dastari says, baffled that even an Androgum would consider anything so weird. This remains my favorite Colin Baker story by a thousand miles, although there are a few very good moments in “Revelation” as well.

When Russell T. Davies steered Doctor Who back to television, he was very careful about using old villains. He brought back the Daleks in series one, the Cybermen in series two, the Master in series three, and the Sontarans in series four. Colin Baker got to battle ’em all in a single season, and we didn’t think that was odd at the time. I remember reading about this season in the pages of Marvel’s American-sized comic book, which reprinted all the Fourth Doctor strips, and most of the Fifth Doctor ones, from the pages of the British magazine, colorized, resized, and with new covers by Dave Gibbons. The comic ran for 23 issues and had a news column which kept us appraised of what was airing in the UK and this sounded like the most exciting run of stories ever, because when you’re fourteen, recurring villains are the most important ones.

I then started buying the British magazine, which showed up here nine or ten weeks late – this would have been around issue 102, I suppose – and falling in love with the original black and white comic. More on that in a post next week. It was a really exciting few weeks to be a fan. The Starlog reprint of the Radio Times 20th Anniversary magazine gave us all the details of the original stories, the Marvel comic was giving us news about this amazing run of promising new adventures with this new Doctor (which Atlanta wouldn’t see for a good while yet), I’d found Pinnacle Books’ reprints of ten of the Target novelizations, and I actually had several friends who started watching the show with me. In time, I’d actually see these stories and be mostly really disappointed with them, but for those few weeks in 1985, the program seemed like it was at the top of its game and completely indestructible.

And then I’d buy the next issue of that Marvel comic.

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Doctor Who: The Two Doctors (part one)

I had fun presenting tonight’s story to our son. I cued it up partway through the credits, pausing on “By Robert Holmes.” That way, he was very surprised to see the show begin in black and white and with an older Doctor at the TARDIS console.

So, a couple of huge points about “The Two Doctors.” First, obviously, it features the return of Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines as the second Doctor and Jamie, but they’re not quite the same as when we last saw them traveling together sixteen years ago. They’re visibly older – Hines was in his early forties when this was made – they’re on a mission for the Time Lords, of whom Jamie had never heard until his final appearance (“The War Games”), and they mention that Victoria, who had left the duo about a year prior to Jamie’s final appearance, is not with them on this mission because they dropped her off somewhere to study graphology.

So this doesn’t actually fit into the show’s established continuity very neatly at all. Nor does that one bit in “The Five Doctors” where we learn the second Doctor came from a point in time after the events of his and Jamie’s final story. So all of this sparked a terrific fan theory called “season 6B,” which Terrance Dicks, who wrote both “The War Games” and “The Five Doctors,” and script edited the show for the period before and after “Games,” later confirmed in a novel for the BBC called Players. Immediately after the Doctor went tumbling into a void at the end of “The War Games,” some other Time Lords interrupted things and told our hero that before his exile would begin, they would be requiring his services for some very discreet and very sensitive situations where the Time Lords could not act openly. The Doctor would be available to step in and do their dirty work for them, maintaining some plausible deniability.

So in Players, the Doctor has a solo mission for his new superiors, and it ends with him saying that he works better with an assistant and would like them to pick up Jamie and restore his memory. From there the pair work together for several years and reunite with Victoria at some point, and then have this adventure, crossing paths with the sixth Doctor and Peri.

I’ve always thought this was a blindingly fun retcon. It’s pear-shaped and not the smoothest one you could invent, but since it was beaten into shape by Terrance Dicks himself in a novel for the BBC, it’s as close to authority as it can be. But more about this in the comments, because I spend a lot of words on it.

The second huge point is that this introduces a character who Teenage Me thought was just about the greatest and most fun character in all of fiction: Shockeye o’the Qwancing Grig. (Teenage Me was prone to hyperbole.)

Shockeye is an Androgum, which is a very strong humanoid that lives on base instincts, shouldn’t have the capacity for intellectual reasoning, absolutely loves food, and has really been looking forward to eating a human for the first time. He’s played by John Stratton and he gets all the best dialogue. “Religion? I am not interested in the beliefs of primitives, only in what they taste like,” he bellows at one point, which isn’t the best line delivery ever, in retrospect, but I sure did love it in high school. I also overquoted one of the Sontarans in the story as often as possible, snapping “I do not take orders from civilians” whenever I could.

We had this semester-long creative writing exercise when I was in the tenth grade and had to keep using the same characters in our own stories, and use the characters that other people in our team had created. I just cheated and stole Shockeye for mine and didn’t tell anybody. I remember everybody else’s take on my version of Shockeye being very amusing. I was also friends with a fellow at another school and played GURPS for several months with his mates. I just rolled up Shockeye, and entertained myself with my character wanting to eat all the other members of the party.

And I’d have done exactly the same thing with the Kandyman had he been around at that time. Oh, that would have been fun. I can’t wait for my son to meet him in the summer…

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RIP Jacqueline Pearce, 1943-2018

I read that the actress Jacqueline Pearce passed away this morning. Best known as the villain Servalan in the BBC’s Blake’s 7, she had guest starred in sixties adventure shows and was the unfortunate Reptile-woman in a terrific, silly Hammer film. She killed Sontarans in Doctor Who and was the criminal Miss Pendragon in Dark Season, an early writing credit for Russell T. Davies. Our condolences to her friends and family.

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Young Indiana Jones 2.4 – Paris, 1916

The episode where Indy has a brief romance with Mata Hari was one of my favorites from the show’s original run. ABC originally screened it in July of 1993, one of the eight they burned off that summer after canceling the program. The hour was written by Carrie Fisher and directed by Nicholas Roeg, and guest stars the unbelievably beautiful Italian actress Domiziana Giordano as Mata Hari.

Our son was largely indifferent to the episode, when he wasn’t hiding his eyes from all the smooching. Indy handles this affair very, very badly, which is not unexpected. A seventeen year-old boy isn’t going to have his first physical relationship with a woman who is twenty-three years his senior and it end well. So we found some amusing common ground in discussing how Indy’s jealousy and envy led him to act stupidly and rashly. Not that Mata treats him all that well. After all, she’s romancing various old politicians and generals when she’s not with him.

Somewhat lost in the main story is the interesting casting of the Levis, old friends of Indy’s father, who pull strings and arrange Indy and Remy’s leave. I wouldn’t say that I’m really a fan of either Ian McDiarmid or Jacqueline Pearce, but it is kind of neat to have Senator Palpatine and Supreme Commander Servalan at the same table. (Perhaps even more interesting, there’s an episode of The Zoo Gang where Pearce’s husband is played by Peter Cushing. I guess she likes the Empire…)

And also overshadowed is the interesting note that Indy’s father has sent, suggesting that he will abandon his insistence that Indy study at Princeton if he’ll just come home. This is a little quandary. There’s absolutely nothing keeping Indy from going AWOL. “Corporal Henri Defense” doesn’t exist. As soon as he takes off the uniform and the dogtags, he could just be the American Henry Jones Jr. again and catch the next steamship for New York. But he doesn’t. He has a duty and an obligation. Home is still a long way away.

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The Avengers 4.24 – A Sense of History

“Some of that was kind of hard to understand,” our son told us. I agreed; British colleges and universities are pretty strange for us, too! I still can’t get over the downright palatial residence of fourth-year students in places like this. Patrick Mower’s character, who’s a really nasty piece of work, lives in a space that would have fit six or eight of us from my time at dear old Reed Hall.

I took a break from reading 2000 AD when I went to college; at least one of the students at St. Bode’s has kept up his subscription to the venerable Lion. Mrs. Peel’s checking out the latest adventure for Robot Archie in the issue in the lecture room. Archie was the spiritual antecedent for the Vision and Jocasta in those other, lesser Avengers.

But even if our son had been more familiar with the ins and outs of colleges like this, I think the central thesis of this adventure might have been a little over his head. I like the way that Martin Woodhouse’s script is very subtle about the issue between one set of economists who envision a future of “Europia” and the anonymous author of a paper called Economics and a Sense of History. Steed immediately sees something in the paper that brings the word “jackboots” to mind, and many of the students at St. Bode’s, including Mower and future star Jacqueline Pearce, are thugs-in-training. They’re downright awful to one of their lecturers, played by John Barron, who contends that no one person can alter the inevitable course of history.

The show was much more his speed when the students’ Rag Week festivities got violent. At one point, Steed and Nigel Stock’s character have to take refuge under a caravan in the woods while masked ruffians fire arrows at them. One flaming arrow pierces Steed’s bowler hat; that was the high point of the episode for him!

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