TV When I returned to university in the mid-noughties for my film studies degree, one the courses investigated adaptations of fantastical texts and for the final credit we were tasked with adapting part of one of those fantastical texts and writing a report to explain our choices.
I chose Lance Parkin’s The Dying Days.
Partly this was because I’d just recently read it as part of my project to read my way through the Eighth Doctor novels, and partly because I wanted to see if there was a different approach to the one taken on television, to eschew computer effects for practical images completely.
Since it’s a while since I completed the course, I think I’m fine in republishing the contents of that report now with a warning that there are obviously loads of spoilers if you haven't read the thing.
[With a interjection note to say that yes, I do know about it saying "The" Doctor in the middle of sentences. I have no idea why. I suspect a "find/replace" error back in the day and too many to go back and fix now... anyway...]
Firstly, here’s the adaptation itself, a script based on Lance Parkin’s original text:
The Dying Days
Stuart Ian Burns
the novel by
EXT – ROAD OUTSIDE VILLAGE - ADISHAM.
Bessie motors into view and breaks suddenly to a stop. The Doctor puts the handbrake on. The air surrounding the car fills with the sound of hailstones. Bernice cups her hands out in that way that people do when there’s a hailstorm to see how large the stones are. They fill with all kinds of dead insects. She grimaces and shakes her hands to get them away. She looks up to see a grim expression on the face of the Doctor. He fixes her with a piercing gaze.
Subtly the daylight is disappearing too, as though dusk is happening earlier than usual. The Brigadier tips his head to the sky.
Bernice looks up too, shielding her face with her hand from the steady pelting of tiny bug carcasses.
A strange storm cloud is drifting over. It’s actually the deep crimson of The Red Death, growing larger and moving faster with every instant.
It's some sort of poisonous gas.
We can't hang about.
The Red Death quickly drifts towards the rooftops of the nearby village of Adisham.
All those people.
All those poor people.
The Doctor vaults over the door of Bessie. He walks forward running his fingers across the edge of the bonnet.
Doctor! What are you doing?
I have to save them if I can.
The Doctor steps in front of the car and stands opposite the windscreen.
Whatever you do, don't follow me.
Alistair, get Bernice to safety.
The Brigadier nods. The Doctor turns and begins to jog towards the village.
Doctor! Come back!
You'll be killed!
The Doctor continues jogging forward. Bernice is trying to get the car door open. She’s hampered by the antiquated design. The Doctor holds his hand up briefly in a backwards wave . . .
. . . then breaks into a run, determined to get to the village before the cloud can do any damage. The road to either side of him is strewn with dead birds, large and small.
I wanted to run after him,
implore him to come back.
Not to leave me again.
But I didn’t because I knew he couldn’t.
What was it he said sometimes? ‘Brave heart.’
The Brigadier leans backwards and grabs Bernice’s shoulder, preventing her from leaving the car.
You heard what he said.
Do you agree with him?
The Brigadier slides across into the driver’s seat.
But I trust him. Come on!
The Brigadier starts the car and it speeds up the hill away from the village their friend.
Bernice turns back concerned and watches The Doctor disappearing into the distance.
By the now The Red Death has descended into the village, engulfing the place like a fog.
Bernice’s face turns to horror as she hears the first collective audible scream of the villagers, dying with one voice.
INT – DISPERSION CHAMBER – ICE WARRIOR SHIP.
Vrgnur is at the hologlobe at the centre of the cramped chamber, hunched over a series of controls which are mostly incomprehensible to the human eye. The image in the globe is an animated representation of The Red Death engulfing the village.
Xznaal approaches and stands at his officer’s shoulder. Sitting around the edge of the hologlobe, Staines is trying to comprehend what he is seeing. Greyhaven is sanguine but alert. Both are unconsidered by the Ice Warriors.
VRGNUR does not turn to answer his superior officer.
My Lord, the Red Death is reacting
with the increased levels of oxygen and
biological activity in the Terran atmosphere.
It has entered a feeding frenzy and
is multiplying at an astonishing rate.
Unnoticed by the Ice Warriors, Greyhaven stands.
It's attacking that village.
Can't you control it?
Xznaal narrows his eyes but ignores Greyhaven. Instead he continues to look at the hologlobe.
It is operating on instinct, sir, I can't restrain it.
Show me what it sees.
Light dances across Xznaal’s visor and face and the chamber is filled with the sound of the screams of men and women, the cries of children, the barking of dogs. Xznaal’s face remains entirely impassive.
Staines jumps to his feet.
This is horrible!
For the first time XZNAAL addresses the humans.
It is unavoidable.
EXT – VILLAGE GREEN - ADISHAM.
The screams continue all around. The Doctor is dashing across the green. On either side, pockets of The Red Death collect around The Bull’s Head Pub and the Police Station. He does not appear out of breath. He passes a duck pond were some ducks have inexplicably survived.
Shoo . . . come on, move! Fly away!
The ducks dash out of his way but stay firmly on the ground.
I’m sorry I’ve have to . . .
The ducks watch The Doctor dash away from them, before they too are engulfed by a wave of The Red Death.
EXT – DONKEY LANE - ADISHAM.
A car has smashed into the row of cottages. Through a gap in The Red Death we see The Doctor run over. The driver is still. The Doctor checks his pulse and finds he is dead.
The Doctor looks across the bonnet of the car, through the living room window of the nearest cottage to see the corpses of a man and woman snuggled together on the couch, their dead faces lit by the flickering of their television screen. He starts running again.
INT – DISPERSION CHAMBER – ICE WARRIOR SHIP.
The images from the hologlobe reflect on Greyhaven’s face. For the briefest of moments his eyes are moved by the destruction of life. Then his eyes widen with surprise.
There's the Doctor.
Greyhaven points to one of the images.
Vrgnur punches a control and the picture ripples, filling with an aerial view of the Doctor half-running, half-stumbling along Donkey Lane, which is littered with human corpses. He is running towards The Red Death, waving his arms. His mouth is wide open, shouting inaudibly …
Take me! Take me!
Staines shakes his head.
It's almost as though he wants to be found.
Xznaal leans forward his pincers chattering excitedly.
You can feel its hatred of him.
Kill him! Kill the Doctor!
EXT - DONKEY LANE - ADISHAM.
The Doctor is still running. All around him humans are wailing, grieving loved ones or simply cursing the thing that had brought death.
Then, abruptly, silence. Nothing is left alive.
EXT - O/S MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
The Doctor stops dead, ashen faced. He stares up at the sky, at The Red Death and beyond that the dark silhouette of the Ice Warrior warship which by now is hovering above the village.
EXT - ROOF OF MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
Like an army regrouping, The Red Death is drawing itself together into one place.
EXT - O/S MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
The Doctor looks around and sees that the village is clear of The Red Death except for this place above the shop.
He looks up, his clenching his hands into fists, determined.
There is a crash from inside the building. It sounds as though there is someone in the shop.
The Doctor jumps.
EXT - ROOF OF MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
The Red Death seems surprised too. It pauses then begins to scuttle across the roof. It is as though it has decided it can have some sport with whoever is in the building, and then return to its primary target.
EXT - O/S MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE.
The Doctor shakes his head then peers through the window of the shop. He skips swiftly to the door. He tries the handle but it is locked. Instinctively he takes his sonic screwdriver from his inside pocket and begins to pick the lock.
INT – MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
Low anonymous POV from the opposite corner of the shop.
The Doctor pushes the door open, turns and swiftly closes it behind him, bolting it at the top and bottom. This seems to happen within seconds.
EXT - ROOF OF DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
The Red Death has separated again into a series of tendrils searching the roof for a gap it can sneak through into the shop.
INT – MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
The Doctor darts about frantically looking for the source of the crash. From close by there is a miaow.
It’s coming from the POV. It’s revealed to be Stevie, Mrs Darling’s big white cat. He is blocked in on all sides by shelves weighed down and heavy tin cans. A couple of the cans are on the floor, the probable source of the crash.
Shaking his head with disbelief, the Doctor moves a couple of the fallen tins aside. Stevie looks dopily up at him.
EXT - O/S MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
The Red Death is slowly wrapping itself around the whole shop.
INT – MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
The Doctor tries to tempt Stevie out of the hole by smacking his lips and rubbing his fingers together. Stevie tries to move but is still trapped. The Doctor attempts to ease the shelving unit back, but it is wedged against the wall.
EXT - O/S MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
A sickly red mist creeps past the shop window, pausing there.
INT – MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
The Doctor has to work around the cat, dislodging one shelf rather than the whole unit. He begins to quickly removing tins tossing them over his shoulder to the floor.
EXT - O/S MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
The Red Death discovers the letterbox on the door.
INT – MRS DARLINGS GENERAL STORE - ADISHAM.
The cat looks up, its eyes wide, its ears swept back.
Get out. Save yourself!
The cat looks at him, cocking its head to one side, acknowledging the Doctor's help for the first time.
I won't leave you
Behind The Doctor, The Red Death is drifting through the clattering letterbox.
The Doctor eases the shelf up, opening an escape route. Almost before he has finished, the cat has scurried underneath and away, then, up, on and over the counter. For an instant it pauses, glaring at The Doctor. Then it is gone, out through a cat flap in the back door.
The Doctor grins then turns, his smile quickly turning to a frown.
The Red Death is almost completely into the shop now, covering the whole of the front window area. It dwarfs him.
He stands his ground and shakes imaginary dirt from his frock coat.
The Red Death moves tentatively forward.
The Doctor prepares himself.
The Red Death spins into a red circle around him, finally filling the whole of the shop.
The Doctor smiles. From behind his back he produces a small object. He holds it forward, and it stands to attention between his thumb and forefinger like a tiny, resolute soldier.
Would you like a jelly baby?
The jelly baby is blue.
Then, darkness, and silence, as the Doctor dies.
EXT – DONKEY LANE - ADISHAM.
Stevie the cat runs as fast has he can up Donkey Lane, safe and sound.
And now the essay. Footnotes are presented in square brackets after the relevant paragraphs. The synopsis is right at the bottom after the bibliography.
The Dying Days (1997) by Lance Parkin, is a novel based on the long running BBC television series Doctor Who (1963-) that also broadly re-imagines elements of the HG Wells book, War of the Worlds (1898). This is the story of how the Doctor and his sometime companion Professor Bernice Summerfield repel an invasion on Earth from Mars by a race of Ice Warriors, initiated in collusion with a politician in the hopes of rekindling Britain as a world power. ‘The Dying Days encapsulates everything that Doctor Who should be. It’s clever, funny fast moving and, occasionally sublimely ridiculous.’ (Morris, 2002: 15) The report will the adaptation of the novel into a film, examining the steps taken to create an accessible piece of work that at the same time maintains something of the uniqueness of the material.
Before creative decisions could be taken regarding this adaptation various assumptions were made. The film is to be produced for a mainstream audience that may have some awareness of the original programme and its iconography but not necessarily the details. Expected to have budget less than that of a Hollywood blockbuster but still higher than a television production, this movie is a largely European co-production with money supplied by companies such BBC Films, France’s Studio Canal, the Australian Broadcasting Company and Working Title. The length of the piece will be approximately two hours.
The film will feature no digital effects, with spaceships, aliens and toxic gases created in frame, either on set or location. This restriction is absolutely a reaction against the tendency in recent years for film and television productions to immediately assume that elements of the marvelous, fantastic and uncanny must only be created convincingly in a computer assuming an expectation that the audience will be unable to suspend their disbelief unless this is the case. It could be argued that audience has become so cine-literate that the majority of these effects become to subject of the audience’s relish, marveling at the wizardry of the creatives in generating seemingly impossible at the expense of a sense of wonder related to the story itself. ‘Simply put, these films, more than any others, reflect the technology that makes them possible. As a result, our ability to reproduce things through computer animation becomes just as central to and even implicated in the narrative of a film like Jurassic Park as its focal plot device of reproduction by genetic cloning.’ (Telotte, 1989: 25) Arguably many of the much less interesting scenes in Steven Speilberg’s adaptation of War of the Worlds (2005) occur when tripods or aliens are on-screen. The creepier and more exciting moments happen in the presentation of events surrounding the invasion, for example when the protagonist Ray’s daughter Rachel stands at the river’s edge and watches the bodies of victims of the invasion drift into view.
[Edward Jay Epstein offers a further excellent rationale for the de-emphasis of digital effects, at least in production terms: ‘Fewer and fewer directors have the clout with the studios—or the budget flexibility—to control, even if it means redoing, the CGI side of the production. If this new economy of illusion allows the CGI side of a production to overwhelm the director's ability to tell a coherent story in his live-action side, digital effects may prove to be the ruination of movies.’ (Epstein, 2005)]
Some ingenuity would be required in the production of the effects for this film of The Dying Days, with techniques set aside for decades being re-introduced. The decision to create the effects, ‘in-camera’ is a return to the facilities used during the origins of Doctor Who on television when episodes when videotaped in a very short space of time and effects had to be produced relatively quickly and cheaply (at the time the BBC did not have a special effects department). The assumption is that since this production would have a relatively large budget and greater time to set up and film these elements, the results should be more convincing. In addition since the awareness of many of these techniques is now lower in an audience that has grown accustomed to the digital, they may be more likely to be surprised by the images they are seeing.
Relating this to the extract, in the Ice Warrior’s ship, the hologlobes might be created using a camera obscura projecting the narrative image onto a screen that is part of the set. The Red Death, which would otherwise undoubtedly be a candidate for computer generation using ‘particle simulators’ (using techniques similar to those used in Stephen Sommer’s The Mummy (1999) for the presentation and movement and displacement of sand) might carefully, using camera angles, frame skipping and rapid montage, find life through smoke blowers and red dye. The exterior of the space ship could be achieved with remote control vehicles (of the kind used so well in the BBC adaptation of The Box of Delights (1984)) and forced perspective. In both cases because the actors are able to interact directly with the elements, the believability should be heightened.
This de-emphasis of special effects increases the importance of sound design. In some of the scenes which feature the Ice Warriors spaceship, sound will give the craft greater tangibility – when the remote control version flies into frame the boom of the engines rattling through an auditorium would help to enhance the reality. Anthony Davies describes how a similar technique was used in Orson Welles’ Macbeth (1948): ‘The cheap cardboard décor suddenly takes on an arresting and thematically integrated realism when water is not only seen, but heard dripping from the walls. Papier-mâché immediately becomes rock.’ (Davies, 1998:24) In theory, the sheer size and shape of the noise would replace fibreglass with metal and bulbs with fire in the imagination of the viewer.
Although in general the film luxuriates in a traditional orchestral score, no music appears during the main body of the extract and at two key points, non-diegetic sound design enhances the viewer’s unease at intrusion of the ‘other’. As Bessie parks outside the village, although nothing is apparent on screen, the audience hears the sound of hailstones – it is only in the close-up of Bernice’s cupped hands that it is clear that in fact dead insects are falling from the sky, replicating visually and orally a moment in the novel; ‘There was hail too, or so Benny thought at first. Then she realised that the droplets were dead insects of every kind.’ (Parkin, 1997)
This brief use of ‘ambiguous sound’, of presenting that which can be heard but not seen and then revealed to be inconsistent is influenced by the work of Andrei Tarkovsky: ‘His sounds destabilize; they make the coherent and comfortable seem suddenly strange and disorientating […] Tarkovsky engages us in a process that the characters in the diegesis must negotiate: cynicism, incredulity, search for explanation, and finally, perhaps, acceptance of that which we cannot explain.’ (Truppin, 1992: 237). In Solaris (1972), the resurrection of the Hari figure after an attempted is suicide is underscored with glass-like sounds with no apparent origin other than as part of, the viewer assumes, the regeneration process as witnessed by Kris. Unlike Tarkovsky's characters, however, the Doctor and The Brigadier are on hand to instantly provide a theory on what is causing the deaths since this genre of film dictates that the audience must be aware of the jeopardy at hand.
Another example of sound driving the narrative forward occurs during the Doctor’s dash through the village. As a lateral tracking shot proceeds, he and the audience are assaulted by the sound of cries and human suffering as The Red Death slowly kills every living thing there. This moment is unsettling because in a change from the novel, none of the deaths appear – it is left to the audience’s imagination as to what they are hearing, following Robert Bresson’s assertion that ‘when a sound can replace an image, cut the image or neutralize it. The ear goes more towards the within, the eye toward the other.’ (Bresson, 1985:149). Unlike the wails which greet the astronauts in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) as they interface with the Monolith for the first time, underlining the alienness of the encounter, these are utterly human. The Doctor is completely helpless and the ruthlessness of the Ice Warriors is underlined, making them an even greater threat for those in the audience who up until this point might have seen them as being camp.
[The scene is designed to offer the kind of scares Doctor Who is famous for, striving to produce similar emotional effects to that which Steven Moffat wanted to achieve in writing his new series episode The Empty Child (2005): ‘Well my memory of Doctor Who … isn’t of it being funny or camp or any of those things, or silly. I remember watching it as a child, terrified, absolutely terrified of it. It was a scary, scary dark show in which lots and lots of nice people died without mercy or reprieve, and that’s what I remembered and wanted it to be. Y’know when you start watching it later and you realize that actually it wasn’t as scary as you remembered it, that’s not important. What mattered when I was eight it was the scariest thing out there and that’s what I wanted to write.’ (Moffat, 2005)]
Since none of the death or suffering is being presented, the moment when the population in the village is lost is exposed when the screams abruptly disappear, replaced by total silence. The change is instant and jarring, the lack of sound a release. ‘The presentation of silence is one of the most specific dramatic effects of the sound film.’ (Balzas, 1985: 117) The effect of the sudden absence of sound to punctuate the action is another device often used by Tarkovsky. In Stalker (1979), during a fire fight there is a moment when gunfire should ring out and extinguish all other noise but the director drops the volume completely.
The doomed village of Adisham is a real place, in Kent, with a farm attached and The Bulls Head, a perfect example of the traditional English pub. Such villages have appeared in Doctor Who before (see Devil’s End in The Daemons (1971)) and have the facility of creating an immediate sense of place, a kind of Englishness which separates the programme from other franchises within the science fiction genre. Britton and Barker argue that ‘the ideological underpinnings of Doctor Who, its gender stereotypes, and evocation of myths of Englishness that made it popular at home and abroad are essentially the values of British colonialism. The Doctor, a leisured gentleman-traveler, represents the sort of self-important moral arbiter so familiar from the era when “the sun never set” on the British Empire.’ (Britton and Barker, 2003:144) The difficulty with applying this assertion to The Dying Days is that many of those traits listed are equally applicable to Lord Greyhaven, the enemy.
In seeking to deter this criticism the film embraces a mise-en-scène that takes the expected cultural markers to their most extreme levels then allows Lord Greyhaven to act detrimentally upon them. From the opening moments, the film should look and feel like a contemporary British film, to the extent that if a helicopter didn’t crash within the first fifteen minutes a casual viewer might wonder if they were watching the kind of Working Title film sometimes written and directed by Richard Curtis, particularly as the relationship between the Doctor and Bernice has the hint of an ex-couple uncomfortably reunited. For once the appearance of the Doctor in his frock coat would not appear entirely alien within the frame.
[Although, one of the critical errors of the television movie was that it took Britishness and the traditions of the programme as being one in the same. There is even a moment when Grace, The Doctor’s companion in trying to explain his eccentricities says: ‘He's . . .um . . .he's British.’, to which The Doctor agrees: ‘Yes. Yes, I suppose I am.’]
Throughout this sequence of films from Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) onwards, characters have fallen in and out of love on the banks of the River Thames, in stately homes, small villages, Leicester Square, The Ritz, at Wimbledon and even inside Number 10 Downing Street. It is a vision of Britain and London attuned to an international or specifically American view of what the country is like and co-incidentally fits within the iconography present within The Dying Days. As Tullock and Alvarado indicate this iconography is also well in keeping with the Doctor Who franchise, and a phenomena which they equate to an earlier source close to this novel.
'Equally in the ‘hard’ science fiction period which some claim (Jon) Pertwee’s to be, Doctor Who now drew on the SF discourse of the empirical present interrupted suddenly and fearfully by alien invaders: the ‘sleepy villages and cities of England attacked by alien virus and was machines’ syndrome of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds which had recently achieved wide public currency through the BBC television series Quatermass. […] In Doctor Who had already been seen invading the ‘realistic’ terrain of Westminster Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral.’ (Tullock and Alvarado, 1983: 105)
The new series also embraces these elements when the Doctor and his companion Rose Tyler gallop ahead of a red London Routemaster bus in the opening episode and much like The Dying Days, The Tower of London plays a major role in The Christmas Invasion (2005). Although this is exactly the kind of landmark tourism parodied in Team America: World Police (2004), it allows for an instant sense of place and also a reference to the gleeful destruction of institutions found during Independence Day (1996). Here, none of the heritage is physically destroyed.
Which makes the presence of Lord Greyhaven all the more subversive because after embracing this iconography a character is introduced who seeks to, if not wreck those institutions, distort them for his own ends. His assassination of the Prime Minister and the coronation of an Ice Warrior as monarch are shocking images, particularly if considered in relation to his motivation, a return of Britain as a prominent world power using the alien technology to quell the opposition. Importantly, the extract presents the first time that Greyhaven is genuinely moved; in the novel he is described as ‘clearly affected by the carnage he was watching’ (Parkin, 1997) without further explanation. Here, the character realises that it is impossible to effectively imprint his own understanding of Britishness onto another with the help of the Ice Warriors because they are only concerned with their own interests and may be impossible to control. He becomes a more sympathetic and naïve character.
[In the author’s notes which feature with a reproduction of the novel on the BBC’s official Doctor Who website, Lance Parkin hints that the character is based on Francis Urquhart as played by Iain Richardson in the television adaptation of Michael Dobb’s book, House of Cards (1990) who had a ‘ruthlessness … but his wit, coolness, preening intelligence and conspiratorial asides to camera combine to make this minister a strangely charismatic monster.’ (Collinson, 2005). Though Greyhaven may have lost the collusion with the audience, all of these elements of the ‘Establishment Englishman’ (Zucker, 1999:157) are present.]
The alien race originally appeared in a late 60s story, The Ice Warriors (1967) and offer an unusual example of Darko Suvin’s ‘novum’ or ‘new thing’ (Roberts, 2000: 6) in relation to the alien invasion subgenre because they are given a voice and characterisation, something absent from Independence Day and War of the Worlds were the culture is presented through technology and costume only, and equally unlike those invaders they have been effectively invited to the planet by a human influence. Their disregard for humanity is presented in the novel during scenes written from their point of view, particularly by spelling the names of the human characters in their language. When filmed, those scenes would feature the Ice Warriors in the most prominent position with the humans behind them or out of frame, only appearing in the scene as a “voice-off” element, ‘the film establishes, by means of previous shots or other contextual determinants, the characters “presence” in the space of the scene in the diegesis.’ (Doane, 1985: 165) This increases the potency of the Ice Warriors as a threat – the humans are an irrelevancy to them, a means to an end.
The expectation would be for a total redesign of the Ice Warrior costume that appeared in the series during the sixties (a green armour slotting over the main torso, head and shoulders of the actor). Unlike the knights in John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) whose faces and often intentions are hidden entirely by a helmet covering the whole head, this costume has a gap for the mouth but still offers various advantages in creating a sense of menace, because the eyes are hidden with a visor. Retaining this element seeks to produce in prosthesis, the effect that cinematographer Gordon Willis achieved when lighting Marlon Brando’s eyes in The Godfather (1972): ‘People say, “You couldn’t see his eyes.” Well, you weren’t supposed to see his eyes. […] As you would watch Brando talk, my thought was, “I don’t want people to see what he’s thinking right now, they will in a minute.”’ (Lobrutto, 1999: 24)
In the extract, as the village dies the film should offer a close-up of Xznaal’s face impassively watching the devastation so that it is up to the spectator to consider what his reaction is to his creation at work. When directing Greta Garbo for the climax of his film Queen Christina (1933), Rouben Mamoulian reportedly advised the actress: ‘I want you face to be a blank sheet of paper. I want the writing to be done by everyone in the audience.’ (Sturridge, 2005:21) This ought to be the effect here, contrasting with Xznaal’s relish later as he chatters his pincers together when the Doctor runs into view and counter-pointing Lord Greyhaven, whose eyes can be seen and is for the first time moved by the carnage his greed has brought.
The presence of the Ice Warriors fulfils one of the main expectations of a general Doctor Who audience for a challenging alien foe for the hero to vanquish. As an adaptation of a book that is based on a long running and well respected television series, there needs to be an understanding of the expectations of the general public as well as admirers of the programme. One of the difficulties that must overcome is how much of the existing mythology is required to tell the story at hand. Films based on comic book characters are often a direct adaptation of the origin adventure. Television adaptations attempt a discrete new plot based on existing characters. The more problematical films are those which continue a story arc begun on television; Joss Whedon’s Serenity (2005) completed the journey begun in the earlier Firefly television series and although some exposition was included at the beginning of the film to explain who the characters were and what they were up against, arguably the emotional resonance of the story simply could not work for anyone without prior knowledge.
As has already been mentioned, the Doctor Who television series and the preceding New Adventure novels have a complex mythology surrounding the Doctor, his time machine, their origins and their place in the universe. There have been previous films based on the series and each has followed a different process without much success. In the two films created in the mid-sixties beginning with Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965) the issue is ignored by turning the character into an Earthman who in the tradition of the HG Wells novel, had created his own time machine. The films were really a showcase for the Daleks and their appearance seems to be paramount, the Doctor and his companions a means to an end. The 1996 television movie embraces the mythology to a fetishistic level, opening with a voice over which mentions Time Lords and Daleks and other elements that have no bearing on the ensuing story. Like the novel and this adaptation, it is a direct sequel to the television series but drops in exposition which might have been of interest had this been the precursor to a new series but in execution is intrusive and at times confusing for the viewer.
The organization of the programme’s mythology in The Dying Days adaptation finds its roots in the new television series. Speaking years before the new series entered production, new series head writer Russell T Davies suggested that ‘all you need is the Doctor, the TARDIS, a companion, and an ever-present danger of death. I think. To be realistic I’d chuck away half the background – the moment the Doctor started talking about Gallifrey (the Doctor’s home world) and the Time Lords, I’d just cut it. Excess baggage. I mean, dramatically something’s going wrong with a scene if he has to start spouting back-story like that – where’s the drama?’ (Gillatt, 1999: 9) This approach manifests itself in the extract with the appearance of The Brigadier. Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge Stewart, portrayed by Nicholas Courtney, has appeared throughout the programme since his debut in The Web of Fear (1968). The character’s presence offers the opportunity to begin the subplot regarding Christian without the Doctor, and a shorthand into the introduction of the military into the story. Conversely, the removal of back-story is perhaps best demonstrated in relation to the Doctor’s companion.
Despite the name above the title, the main protagonist of the novel is Professor Bernice Summerfield created by author (and new television series writer) Paul Cornell his work Love and War (1992). An archaeologist from the 26th century, she traveled with the Doctor in his seventh incarnation (as portrayed on screen by Sylvester McCoy) through the New Adventure novels and would later spin-off into her own series of books and audio plays. Unlike The Brigadier, she is a character who is only entirely familiar to the readership of the books and did not appear on screen so the obvious reaction would be to replace her character with someone closer to the expected model of a companion, the young teenager which the Doctor can take under his wing and would get into scrapes whenever jeopardy is required (see Rose Tyler in the new series).
The decision was taken, however, to keep the character almost entirely intact with some transformation of her back-story as a way of introducing a broadly new dynamic between herself and the Doctor. In the novel she has agreed to meet the time lord on Earth in the late nineties and has been dropped off by some other time travelers from the New Adventures continuity. In the adaptation, her reasons for being on Earth have changed. Having been a long-term companion of the Doctor she has become tired of the adventure and so is in retreat. She is slightly jaded, and emphasising some of the back story from the novels, a divorcee nursing a drink problem thereby making her emotionally accessible to the audience even though she is an archaeologist from the future. So when the Doctor appears, her peace is shattered and she is very reluctant to get involved again. It is only as the invasion escalates that Bernice embraces the adventure, the extent that when (as far as she can tell) the Doctor dies she steps up almost to take his place in the defense of the world.
The novel offers a further advantageous device to make Bernice a more identifiable character to the audience – some sections of the action are written as diary entries by the archaeologist and in the diegesis of the film these would be presented as voice over. As Mary Ann Doane describes, in the interior monologue ‘the voice and the body are represented simultaneously, but the voice, far from being an extension of the body, manifests its inner lining. The voice displays what is inaccessible to the image, what exceeds the visible: the “inner life” of the character. The voice here is the privileged mark of interiority, turning the body “inside out”.’(Doane, 1985:168) This narrative technique would inevitably be influenced by Sharon Maguire’s adaptation of Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001), returning again to the Working Title aesthetic.
[A radical technique for the franchise. Very few television Doctor Who stories have used this device; in an early story Marco Polo (1964), the titular explorer charts his journey and that of his captive The Doctor across the Gobi desert, with voice over diary entries bridging an adventure occuring over several weeks.]
None of which should deny the importance of the Doctor in the story. The novel features the Eighth incarnation of the time lord as played briefly on television by Paul McGann. Ina Rae Hark’s suggests that is would be essential for an actor recognizable from the television series to return because the appeal ‘lies less in its narratives than in its continuing characters and general situation. The appeal of the characters is to a greater or lesser extent constituted also by the actors who embody those characters. Therefore, an ideal filmic adaptation of a television series would retain the characters and actors but insert them into a diegesis enhanced by the various advantages that film possesses over television as a medium’ (Hark, 1999: 14). This would be true of Serenity and the various manifestations of the Star Trek (1966-2004) franchise, but uniquely in Doctor Who, the audience’s attachment is in general connected with the character and narrative rather than necessarily individual actors. To this end, the script has been written without the assumption that McGann would return to the role.
[This is the only Virgin Books New Adventure novel to feature the character, the previous books based around the Seventh Doctor, a darker figure often resorting to the methods of his enemies to get during the course of an adventure: 'Where the Seventh Doctor had been described as Time's Champion, dutifully keeping history intact at great cost, the Eighth Doctor had shifted allegiance to champion life - any life he could find even at the cost of established history. The Dying Days had him face a technological representation of Death itself, and offer it a jelly baby.’ (Blum, 2005: 39)]
The main redevelopment of the character as part of the adaptation process, is in the introduction of some elements of a trickster figure inspired by the following descriptions of a different, no less potent mythic character, Merlin. Bloch describes the wizard as ‘a shifter, trickster, joker, arbiter of value and of meaning’ (Bloch, 1983: 2) and ‘a military strategist and master manipulator and yet a mediator and peacemaker – a paradox’ (Kellogg, 1993: 57). Throughout the narrative, the Doctor exhibits many of these traits, some adapted from the novel but others invented. Rather than having an invitation, he manipulates Eve Waugh, the reporter into helping him and Bernice gatecrash the Mars landing reception and allows his friends and foes to believe he is dead so that he has time to strategise his game plan for defeating the Ice Warriors and popping in the sky above the scene with a grand speech. He is a shadowy figure – the film only rarely presents the action from his point of view, at times of extreme crisis such as when the population of the village dies. Elsewhere he is singularly perceived through other characters and intelligences, be they Bernice, The Red Death or Stevie the cat.
The jelly baby that the Doctor holds forth in defiance of The Red Death in the closing moments before his demise is important because it underscores many of the elements of this adaptation. Jelly Babies were originally introduced by their manufacturer Bassetts to mark the close of World War I, under the name ‘Peace Baby’ (Various, 2005). Their introduction into the programme during the Tom Baker era was as a symbol of the Doctor defiance of violent methods, particularly guns in solving a problem, they are another icon of the programme as well as being a strong aspect of British culture. The sweet is blue, a colour viewed as being symbolic of power; there is also some significance to the fact that Bassetts are not currently manufacturing blue jelly babies – the colour selection subliminally underscores the mystery of the character as some might wonder where he purchased it from – the future?
The overall attitude of this adaptation has been to enhance the human elements and to expand this feeling of the unknown. So whilst Bernice describes to the viewer what she is thinking and feeling, the emotions of the Ice Warriors are generally hidden. Similarly, the characterisation and storyline have been given a much more prominent status ahead of the visual, with the sound design giving the audience the facility to imagine. That this is a story for Doctor Who has not been forgotten and any non-traditional elements have been designed to allow for the telling of a good story.
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And finally, in one long paragraph to save space, the ...
Professor Bernice Summerfield lives in a cottage in the village of Adisham in the late 1990s. A radio news presenter explains that a British mission to Mars is landing that day. The TARDIS arrives and her old friend The Doctor appears. She isn’t happy to see him. Their reunion is interrupted as a military helicopter crashes nearby. They investigate and find an officer close to death, who they convince to tell them what has happened – that the prisoner, an Alexander Christian has escaped. They search the crash site and find some mysterious test tubes. They flee the scene, back into the TARDIS as police enter the area. Inside they discover that the test tube contains real soil from Mars. Bernice suggests that it might be connected to the Mars landing. The Doctor sets the TARDIS for London and moments later they are stepping out of the ship in Trafalgar Square, opposite the National Space Museum were a reception is being held. They don’t have invitations but manage to flatter an American television news reporter, Eve Waugh, into helping them inside. In a museum gallery whilst Bernice keeps watch, The Doctor analyses some of the Martian soil on display and comparing it with the other sample realise that this is fake. They also notice Christian’s face on display with information to the effect that he murdered his crewmates on a previous mission. Back in Adisham, Christian is sneaking about and steps into a red telephone box to makes a call. In the reception room of the Space Centre, as Staines, the Home Secretary describes the events which have led up to the landing, before introducing a video message from the Prime Minister. The Doctor mingles, recognises and introduces himself to a Lord Greyhaven. The mission proceeds, projected live on screen. As the capsule lands, The Doctor distractedly realises that someone has dropped a note in his pocket asking him to meet them at a flat in Chesterton Road. The live feed ends but The Doctor and Bernice sneak into mission control. Outside the museum Eve Waugh prepares to interview Greyhaven, who flirts with her. Back in mission control, watching the live feed The Doctor and Bernice see the astronauts approaching an alien artefact. The pair are spotted but aren’t caught as they disappear out of the room, security in pursuit. There is a scream from the loudspeakers and the image on the screen turns to white noise. Back in Adisham, Bessie the car, pulls up outside the phone box in which Christian is hiding, driven by Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge Stewart, an old friend. The Doctor and Bernice reach Chesterton Road and break into the property. They find the body of the man who left the note, Timothy Todd, a worker from mission control. The Doctor pulls a knife from his torso, and finds a set of data discs in his pocket. Police arrive outside. They make a dash for it again, escaping through a waste disposal chute. Back in the TARDIS, The Doctor finds that the discs contains directives for the Mars mission but also information about alien artefacts there, which Bernice is able to identify as a tomb. A largely indistinct photo flashes up – of an Ice Warrior. The Doctor decides that its time to contact his friend, The Brigadier. Eve Waugh meets Lord Greyhaven in his apartment on the edge of the Thames. They begin kissing but they’re interrupted by a telephone that Greyhaven answers in the bedroom. Eve is suspicious about his conversation but is placated when he gives her a gold necklace. In the back of a limousine the Prime Minister is shot dead by his bodyguard. The Doctor and Bernice meet The Brigadier at Hyde Park. Christian is with him. The Brigadier already knows about the Ice Warriors, and Christian says he was framed. They agree that its time they visited UNIT. Bessie drives into a car park underneath Whitehall. The Doctor, Bernice, The Brigadier and Christian are inside the UNIT control room. Rylands, the new commander, is outlining the situation, that the astronauts have found an artefact on Mars and that Mission Control has been locked down. The Doctor grimly reports that the astronauts will be dead and that invasion will be imminent because they’ve desecrated a tomb. He hands over the data discs, which are accessed and the Ice Warrior picture is displayed. They begin to formulate plans. Bernice mentions that this is just one of the clans on Mars. Rylands says that she needs proof of an invasion before UNIT troops can be deployed. An alarm signals that the rocket is already within range of Earth. The group discuss the next move as Rylands calls the Home-Secretary to request immediate action but it is denied. Eve Waugh awakens and joins Greyhaven at the window the apartment as the Ice Warrior ship drops ominously into view and heads up The Thames parking outside The Tower of London. Later, The Doctor and Bernice dash through London towards the ship. Eve Waugh is outside Scotland Yard reporting on its appearance. Outside the ship, Greyhaven is explaining to Staines that he triggered this affair. All three scenes are broken by a thundering announcement from the ship, that because of the violation of the tomb all of the United Kingdom is forfeit and has become their territory. Greyhaven and Staines are transmatted inside the ship. Inside they’re greeted by Lord Xznaal, an Ice Warror. Greyhaven knows him, and explains that they have been in contact for years, covering up their existence (hence the fake soil). They are interrupted by a hatch swinging open and in clamber The Doctor and Bernice. The Doctor deduces that a deal has been made between Greyhaven and the Ice Warriors, resources for technology. Xznaal threatens him. They escape back through a hatch, then conveniently onto the roof of the UNIT building, were they find The Brigadier waiting for them. The following morning, a news programme reports that with the death of the prime minister new a provisional government is being set up with Lord Greyhaven. At a television station, Greyhaven is with Eve and has just completed the recording of a national address, they discuss The Doctor, that royalty is indisposed and that Zxnaal will be replacing them. Eve is appalled. The Doctor leaves Mrs Darling’s shop in Adisham with groceries. He takes Bessie back through village which is bustling with life. Back at Number 10, Greyhaven and Staines discuss the mood of the country and a reception for the Ice Warriors. At The Tower of London, a grand ceremony proceeds and Xznaal becomes King. At the cottage in Adisham, Eve Waugh arrives for a meeting and during the discussion she acts suspiciously and they realise that it is a trap. A group of Ice Warriors attack the house. They fight them off, then take Bessie and leave the village. On the ship the Ice Warriors prepare their next weapon, The Red Death, a predatory cloud. They unleash it on the village. Realising the implications, The Doctor jumps out of Bessie and runs for the village whilst The Brigadeer takes Bernice to safety. Before the timelord can stop it, The Red Death kills everyone in Adisham, except for a cat in Mrs Darling’s shop which he is able to save before the cloud engulfs him, presumably killing him. A week later, Bernice wakes up in a UNIT camp, part of a resistance being built against the Provisional Government. At The National Gallery selecting art for his palace, Xznaal speaks of the rebellion with Staines and the implications. At the UNIT camp they discuss the next step and The Brigadier decides to leave so that he can get more detailed maps. Bernice goes for a walk and is in an altercation with Raymond Heath, who works at one of Greyhaven’s factories. In Windsor, The Brigadier is tailed by MI5 agents, but manages to buy some maps from WH Smiths. At his Thames apartment, Greyhaven is packing but is interrupted when Christian arrives, who after fighting with an ministerial aid, sets a gun on Greyhaven and hands him a videotape. At the UNIT base, Heath explains that it is his factory that helped create The Red Death. At the apartment, Greyhaven watches as a seemingly random group of people are being taken onto a small spacecraft. The Brigadier arrives at UNIT to hear that they’ve been testing it on innocent people. He suggests that this is how they will be wiping out the human race. Greyhaven is shocked find that the Ice Warriors have been working without his knowledge, but says that he can fight back. Christian is sceptical. Back at UNIT, The Brigadier says that he too has a plan. A radio broadcast is made in which The Brigadier tells the world about their plan to liberate London. In the ensuing montage UNIT forces are shown fighting back against Ice Warrior and human forces alike. Bernice sneaks into Xznaal’s ship and sends a message to another clan of Ice Warriors on Mars to tell them what’s been happening. Greyhaven bursts into the Science Museum to find Staines and Xznaal. He approaches a computer but is blocked by Staines whom he shoots. He drops a data disc into a computer and it autoruns. Xznaal hits him across the room. It is revealed that the software will drop the Earth craft onto the Ice Warrior’s city. Xznaal kills Greyhaven. Meanwhile, the other clan contacts Bernice to advise that they are with Earth against this clan but the line goes dead. Xznaal appears from the Science Museum causing panic within a crowd being protected by The Brigadier and UNIT before being transmatted into the shuttle craft. At the Tower of London, Bernice is a prisoner – Xznaal appears and they discuss her execution and how the invasion will proceed using The Red Death. Back at Trafalgar Square, an Ice Warrior ship swoops in and starts firing at the crowd. The Brigadier orders an air strike on the ship. Bernice is on the execution block. A voice is heard from a public address system, and a shape appears projected over London. It’s The Doctor. Alive! Xznaal leaves for his ship and with the Ice Warriors distracted, Eve Waugh helps Bernice escape explaining how The Doctor lived, that he’s been in hiding since Adisham planning his next move. Onboard his ship, Xznaal is preparing to release The Red Death into London but is enraged because the ship has stopped firing. The Doctor enters carrying part of the gunnery accessory. A struggle ensues in which The Doctor pretends to be subdued and Xznaal says he has won and that all life on Earth will be destroyed, not noticing that his words are being broadcast to the populace. The air strike hits the ship, knocking Xznaal to the ground. The Doctor renders the lever inoperable. The room is on fire. In a fit of anger Xznaal attacks The Doctor, who opens the hatch in the floor. In the ensuing struggle The Doctor falls through the hole. Xznaal catches fire, but dies laughing. On the ground, Bernice, The Brigadier and Christian watch as the Ice Warrior ship explodes. Using her binoculars she sees The Doctor, who has managed to throw together a parachute using some curtain rings and a bin bag. A few weeks later during the second coronation of the Queen, The Brigadier is inside Westminster Abbey but The Doctor and Bernice are outside watching on a big screen in Hyde Park. The Doctor offers to give her a lift somewhere else and Bernice accepts, she’s decided to take up a job at a university in space. They toast the future.