Universal theories of Doctor who? #1

TV Let's re-interpret this scene from Utopia in PC terms ...

The universe is a hard drive. The Doctor is disk defragmentation software. Captain Jack is creating bad sectors.

the mass of companions and stories and just general stuff

TV As erstwhile Doctor Who writer Robert Shearman tweeted earlier “Looking forward to seeing Doctor Who tonight. Oh, hang on, it's finished. Well, bugger.” Well yes, indeed. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a Doctor Who night, even if it’s just in the form of a list of content culled from a different website and so here we are.

Some of you will have noticed that when writing about the series, I tend to let the TARDIS Index File provide the expositionary background to stories of the past. It’s also a useful aid-memoir whenever I’m pointing out just how derivative a given new episode is or crew details when I’m being lazy (unless it’s got them wrong).

But the TARDIS Index File isn’t just about the odd synopsis and biography. It also offers entertainingly thorough articles about various aspects of Who arcania and I thought it would be worth gathering a number of these entertainingly thorough articles about various aspects of Who arcania in some sort of list. Five of them. Here they are.

(1) UNIT Dating Controversy

Might as well start with the big cahoona. The controversy surrounding exactly when the stories featuring UNIT are actually set has gained prominence again recently thanks to an in-joke during The Sontaran Stratagem ("the 1970s, or was it the 80s?") and a whole documentary with Toby Hadoke in the added value material on the Day of the Daleks dvd (material from which has subsequently been added to this very entry). Quite rightly, the TIF simply offers the “facts” though the section marked “minor dating problems” has anything but. So messy is this discussion, chronologist Lance Parkin agnostically gave it a whole other section in his book Ahistory. Personally I go with the view that they’re set at roughly the time when they were broadcast and any inconsistencies can be put down to this being a fictional universe with a whole set of its own problems. You can hardly complain about video phones in the 70s if the planet is also being invaded by Cybermen.

(2) River Song

Fittingly this entry’s been in a constant flux since the character’s debut in The Silence in the Library, with whole chunks being shifted about on a weekly basis (you can imagine what happened when it was revealed she was a Time Lord), but has finally settled down a bit thanks to the montage below from Doctor Who Confidential and a similar timeline in Doctor Who Magazine. If you need the order of events sorted out in your head, these are the places to look.

(3) Aliases of the Doctor

One of the questions which is still being asked is about when the Doctor will tell River his real name. Clearly it means the characters going to be back again next year. She’s the wacky nu-nu-Who equivalent of the Brigadier (or the Master). But what this article demonstrates is that even across the spin-off media, the franchise has been surprisingly consistent in the Doctor not using his real name. He’s told other companions before, but they’ve not been able to pronounce it. My favourite nugget is: “when the Doctor spoke his real name aloud in the novel Vanderdeken's Children it was not written in the prose, but represented by "—" instead.” The article also includes every time he’s used his other regular nom-de-plum “John Smith” and goes some way to explaining the Theta Sigma business (the nickname he was given at school).

(4) Eighth Doctor

Anyone who thought the life of the McGann version began and ended with his hour on television in 1996 is likely to look at this entry and boggle at the mass of companions and stories and just general stuff, but there were nine years between the tv movie with the Pertween logo and at least three different licensees generating stories. The best way to deal with the Eighth Doctor stories is to treat each media as self contained chunks which for me is the BBC Books, the comics and then the audios, a topic I’ve inevitably already covered in some depth here. One point of interest is that it assumes that when the Time Lords are talking about the Doctor in The End of Time, he’s in his Eighth incarnation.  Although it’s implied in Rose he’s recently regenerated I’ve never been entirely convinced Eighth would be capable. My assumption has always been it’s the Ninth Doctor who was in the Time War. Ah, Mr RTD Russell Davies person and your ambiguous writing …

(5) Regeneration

One of the reasons to love Doctor Who is that even one of its hard core bits of mythology happened due to the requirements for a change in casting and has never been inconsistent from year three. Can someone decided to regenerate or do they need to be in mortal danger? What’s with all the volcanic light these days? This entry offers few proper answers other than whatever makes for a good story. Not much more to add other than to suggest you seek out the section about I.M. Foreman which is pretty mind blowing thanks to the imagination of author Lawrence Miles who should definitely be coaxed back for another one in the anniversary year.  It wouldn't be the same without him.

More soon.

Philaster (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Suzanne Gossett.

Here is the story of Philaster. Look away now if you don’t want to know the result. The titular young Sicilian prince has usurped from the throne by “the king of Calabria” but continues to abide in court where he resists the urge to retake the crown. Arethusa is in love with him, and a page acts as a go-between, but Philaster through misunderstanding and distrust decides she’s being unfaithful with the page and stabs the both of them. But this being a tragicomedy, they both live and it’s revealed that the page was a girl all along and marriage and geographical recovery ensue.

I can’t believe it’s not Shakespeare, which it isn’t. It’s John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont, writing at the same time as the Bard and it’s suspected giving the crowd what they want in the Jacobian period when the master’s work flow had slowed to a couple of plays a year. The blurb on the back of this Arden Early Modern Drama suggests this is a “Hamlet rewrite” but as its editor Suzanne Gossett identified, “the play is built from plot elements familiar from Hamlet, Othello, Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona and Pericles” as well as a number of plays by the same authors.

A modern comparison would be Miami Rhapsody or Far From Heaven which attempt to mimic the film-making styles of Woody Allen and Douglas Sirk respectively. But the approach is also positively post-modern even at the level of speeches, some of which are so suggestive of Cymbeline that there’s been some chatter over the years of which play influenced which, a chicken and egg scenario which can never be entirely resolved. Nevertheless it’s another work which ignorance has left sorely neglected, despite the participation of a Shakespeare collaborator.

Gossett employs a four pronged attack in attempting to rescue the play from obscurity. First there’s the usual contextual business and this case parallels with the politics of King James’s court. James’s rule over England and Scotland is paralleled in the Calbrian King and though the writers are generally thought of as royalists, it’s impossible not to see them suggesting that their new king was something of the usurper. Another strand of Philaster shows the king attempting to find strategic marriages for his children and that also reflects James seeking a union and so alliance in Spain.

Next there’s a short investigation into the form and style of the play. Fletcher claimed that tragicomedy “wants deaths, which is inough to make it no tragedie, yet brings some neere it, which is inough to make it no comedie”, which is a fair description of some of Shakespeare’s “problem” plays, especially Measure for Measure, which should also demonstrate the difficult of keeping within that tone. In Philaster, that’s communicated through pathos and melancholy, that life’s too short (even shorter then) and that happiness is relative.

This (too) soon this gives way to the usual production history, the transformation of Philaster into a ladies play during the restoration period due to the unusual number of female roles (making the page’s role a twist in plain sight), its three adaptations undertook at a time when these authors were better thought of than Shakespeare and most interestingly its single broadcast performance in the US as part of a public radio series created by directors and writers blacklisted by UnAmerican Activities Committee of the House of Representatives.

The final sections deal with the play's wayward textual history. Ironically, like Hamlet, the play has a substantially corrupted Q1 and more substantial Q2 (which forms the basis of this edition) and a Folio (although that was printed fifty years after the play was written) and debate rages about how the first printed quite got into that state (censors? rewrites?) and yet why it contains better stage directions than Q2 (readers copy?). Side by side passages of both are included in the appendices so we can to make up our own minds. Or at least have a go.

Philaster (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Suzanne Gossett. Methuen Drama. 2010. RRP: £11.99. ISBN: 978-1904271734. Review copy supplied.

On another: 'Tales of the Unexpected'.

TV As you can see, this is where the rot really began to take hold in regards to Torchwood's season one. There would be a few semi-positive reviews to come, including, unbelievably, Cyberwoman, but this was the moment when I realised the show's potential to go off the rails leading to this evisceration during that year's annual review on this blog.

As I said then: "it's possible to suggest that this format simply doesn't satisfy because predominantly the secondary goal is far less interesting than the proposed original. In Ghost Machine the alien dongle's power is explained in the opening ten minutes as is the initial mystery of who is in Gwen's vision and the secondary goals of where it came from and Owen wanting to avenge the rapist are not strong enough to carry the rest of the episode"

But it's true.  I did watch the thing.  Then watch it again shortly afterwards.  I was deranged.

Last night I did something that I've never done before.

After watching The Ghost Machine, I sat down to write a review and as usual checked Outpost Gallifrey [which is now called Gallifrey Base -- future Stu] just to see what the general fan reaction had been, especially since I'd the closing minutes with my head hidden under a pillow trying to block out all sound and vision. I clicked across to the ratings forum and began to read overwhelmingly positive reviews. Third time lucky, some said, better late than never said others. The little bar charts were showing high ratings and I began to wonder what I'd missed. I turned off my computer, and watched the episode again. And although I could see the second time around that there were things to admire it was still a fundamentally disappointing experience.

Tonight I sat down for the fourth time trying and write a review and found myself looking at the screen, and the little curser blinking in and out. As the minutes passed by, something dawned on me. I didn't know what to write. I actually have writers block. I'm so indifferent about the episode that I simply can't craft that indifference into words. I actually wrote down some notes on viewing the episode the second time around and considered simply posting them, but they're really not that interesting. On one line I've written enigmatically 'director Colin Teague'. Yes, and? On another: 'Tales of the Unexpected'. And finally Jack's closing dialogue: 'A million shadows of human emotion - we've just got to live with them...' which looks good on paper but didn't quite work on screen.

The search for Bernie worked quite well. And I continue to enjoy the performances and some of the writing was very good indeed. But eventually I realised that this was the most exciting moment....

And there's not much more you can say about that really ...

PS ... other than that Jack's line was the worse piece of dialogue on television that year ...

"other people's thinking"

That Day
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
Thanks Steve. For everything. Now I know what to do.

"was never displayed in a single English tube station"

Commerce The Awl has a massive post charting the copyright snarl up surrounding "Keep Calm and Carry On". That's all worth reading, but in typical style they've also included a section explaining the origin of the original poster:
"The Keep Calm and Carry On poster was designed and produced by the British government in 1939 in advance of the war, but it was never displayed in a single English tube station or tobacconists or newsagents. Not one ordinary citizen ever saw it in the street before or during the war.

Of the 2.5 million posters originally printed, only a handful survived the war; all the rest were pulped. Exactly two copies are known to have made it into private hands. One of these is owned by Wartime Posters of Warrington, Cheshire. The other is Stuart Manley's."
The examples on the post of posters that were actually utilised demonstrates that sometimes someone can create something and not see its potential value.

exhausted children and their squalid living conditions

Fashion This afternoon I visited the International Slavery Museum at the Albert Dock for their new exhibition, White Gold: the true cost of cotton, which investigates the "abuse of labour rights in the cotton industry, primarily in Uzbekistan, one of the largest cotton exporters in the world".  As the exhibition partner Environmental Justice Foundation explains on their website, the country achieves its industriousness by making cotton picking a compulsory activity, with a third of the country's population indentured into farming the crop.  That includes children who from a young age are brought into the fields by teachers to work long hours with little food and essentially no pay. These are very much the conditions Dickens was highlighting a century ago in this country, still existing elsewhere in the modern world.

The exhibition itself is brief, filling just a small display area at the back of the museum and mostly consists of giant photographs of the children at work and an award winning film (which is embedded above for anyone who isn't in the area).  But nothing else is required.  The shots of empty classrooms, exhausted children and their squalid living conditions are more than enough for me to question the very clothes I'm walking around in, wondering where the cotton in my t-shirt has been sourced.  The problem is, as a flow diagram in the exhibition demonstrates, although the country of origin is still on the cotton when it is being traded, the yarn spinners source from a range of countries so by the time it reaches the shops and then us it is almost impossible for us to find out.

"And no one said something."

Film Sometimes, just sometimes. Kirsten Dunst gives an unexpectedly unvarnished interview about the Cannes incident in which she registers her surprise at the reaction of her fellow cast members:
"The way she sees it, the incident was a perfect storm of unstable elements, with her caught haplessly in the middle. She blames the journalist, the British film critic Kate Muir, who opened the floodgate – and the floodgate itself for opening so readily ("Lars always likes to stir things up"). But she also seems narked with her other cast members, who simply sat by. "That's what I don't understand. There were a lot of us sitting there. There was Stellan [SkarsgĂ„rd], John [Hurt], Charlotte [Gainsbourg]. And no one said something. No one wanted to help. I was the only one to lean in to Lars and get him to stop." She rolls her eyes. "And, of course, I'm the one person that people would love to rope into that situation. They'd love to mess with me."
Here it again in case you missed it. Just keep watching her face. I think we've all been in that moment when you're desperate to say something to a friend as their mouth is engaging more than their brain but know that it would just make matters worse.  We all just sit there smiling but in way that attempts to be supportive without looking as though we're actually agreeing with whatever nonsense they're spewing ...

She's right when she says "So then I become the story. It becomes, 'Oooh, look at Kirsten's reaction!'"


TV Deep breath. The final three stories, final six episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures were always going to be a difficult watch simply because it’s impossible to quite believe that the vital, vibrant star running about on screen, still saving a fictional universe, can’t any more. A perfect tribute, they’re gifted to us through a quirk of budget and scheduling and should have been part of a typical length season and would have done if Lis hadn’t been taken from the real universe so soon.

Phil Ford’s Sky is doubly melancholic because it's pinioned around the introduction of its titular tweenager to the gang, a sign of the production team realising that with the show entering its sixth year and its young cast ageing, the bottom end of its target audience is starting to lack a character to identify with.  To that end, Sky is well thought through, an alien child who, like Luke way back when, and like the clever children watching, only has a superficial understanding of the world and a questioning nature.

Parents will no doubt smile at just how many questions Sky asks. Everything is new to her, even pizza, which also makes her the cunning new addition to Sarah Jane’s gang who’re now somewhat versed in the kinds of excitement that can fall to Earth. She’s excellent companion material because her entire existence built on the five Ws, an exposition sponge who genuinely doesn’t know anything rather than seeming so for the benefit of the audience (even though that’s exactly what she’s for).

Sinead Michael is very good as Sky, catching the wild-eyed innocence of someone who's burst up to the age of twelve within the space of a couple of hours. She's very reminiscent of similar figures in all the kids dramas I grew up with in the 80s, even with a hint of the Why Don't Yous during the Davies era of that show. Some have already signalled their annoyance which seems a bit heartless given her limited screen time. Her rawness is part of her charm, surely?

It would have been nice to see how Sky might developed over the longer term with the Ranipedia as her big sister. When Trojan companion Katarina was fatefully brought in as a successor to Vicki and Susan on 60s Who as a change from those two futuristic girls it rapidly became apparent that because she was so lacking in understanding of the basic essentials of modern life that she was impossible to realistically write for. Everything had to be explained to her. Hopefully Sky will be a faster learner.

Sky's introductory story was a superior example of SJA, with pantomime villains, massive wars occurring elsewhere in the galaxy and the Chandras representing Earth’s bewildered if very human reaction. In my experience of having worked in a local authority call centre, there do seem two types of people. Those who’ll phone at the first hint of trouble and those who simply put everything down to being just one of those things, or that someone else has phoned already or just assume the council won’t do anything anyway.  Or is that four types?

Aptly, given Sarah Jane’s address, Sky was like a free jazz cover version of Delta and the Bannermen, but with a baby bio whose nature was to die and destroy a civilisation rather than save her own people simply by living. There’s also an inadvertent similarity with Melody Pond who was equally bred to kill and also aged through a comparable burst of energy which also saved poor Sinead from being covered in green splatter or some such.

Of the two episodes, the first was perhaps the more enjoyable simply because of the reactions of the regulars to the baby. For all the spin-off fiction written about Sarah Jane, only a single short story (Lily in this anthology) even hints that she might have a grandchild and so otherwise this is the first time we’ve seen Ms. Smith with a baby and quite rightly she’s not sure how to handle it. As I think has already been said, before Luke came along she’d not thought of having a family; now she’s fostering another one.

Ford’s writing of Clyde and Daniel Anthony neatly observed the difficulty of keep a baby happy, especially a baby you’ve suddenly been given the mission of keeping occupied and who you don’t really know. We always resort to humour though in my case it never works, so intimidating are my unfortunate features. Fortunately his mime routine was hilarious, even if jokes went over the poor little thing’s head. We all thought it was funny though. Russell. Ha!

Incidental pleasures also included Floella Benjamin giving her best performance as the familialy named Professor Rivers, now mildly channelling Lee Evans in Ford's co-written Planet of the Dead and Peter-Hugo Daly as the fan of The Archers turning what could have been a one note character into a tour-de-force, a Pigbin Josh for a new generation. That’s something I will miss about The Sarah Jane Adventures, the layering it often gives to characters that other kids series might otherwise bland out or stereotype.

Then we have the sub-Rani (the other one) majesty of Miss Myers, another in SJA’s list of arch-milfers along with Mrs. Wormwood and Ruby White. As is usually the case with these villainesses, Christine Stephen-Daly gave it some real shoulder pad and was entirely in the spirit of the piece even if hers was not the kind of character for whom its entirely possible to communicate emotional depth, just one moment of vulnerability hinted at a motherly connection.

Researching that paragraph, I was astonished to learn that before appearing in most of the UK’s sort of soap operas like The Bill, Holby, Cutting It and Casualty, Stephen-Daly was in one of my favourite films, indeed the film about film school students which was one of the reasons I studied my post-grad in film, Love and Other Catastophes along with Radha Mitchell. That information’s by-the-by but it does give me a reason to watch that again, if only so I can try and spot her.

The climax was pure Classic Who, companions shutting down nuclear reactors without any technical knowledge whatsoever (I’d be worried if colour coded fuel rods really how it works especially given the lack of interest from other government authorities) and a stand off between the Sarah Jane and the villain. Notice that Sky has the choice as to whether she should fulfil her utility made for her. Before that moment hadn’t she decided to become a suicide bomber?

Whatever weighty themes that might suggest are probably unintentional but with The Sarah Jane Adventures we can never be sure.  What we can be sure of is that the final scene offered another example of the show looking to the future with a reappearance of The Shopkeeper, hinting perhaps at an arc plot that's now another loose end that may never be resolved.  In my imagination he's a renegade from The Trickster's lot in the same way the Doctor ran away from the Time Lords.  But now we'll never know. Sniff.

This was a strong opening for this short series and a great introduction to a new character.  Writer Phil Ford's work on the series has gone from strength to strength and his script for next week's episode looks like another belter on the Bannerman too (sorry) (I’ve been trying to work that since the start of writing this).  Just one more story after that and it's gone.  But we'll always be fond memories, which Sky has now added to.

Writing The Lion King.

Animated Views has an interview with the directors of The Lion King, Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, on the occasion of the film's 3D rerelease and has this titbit on the subject of its Hamlet similarities:
"RI: Many people have noticed similarities to Hamlet in the story of The Lion King. Was that something you were conscious of when making the movie?

RM: Because The Lion King was considered an original story there was always the need to anchor it with something familiar. When we first pitched the revised outline of the movie to Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Schneider and Tom Schumacher, someone in the room announced that Hamlet was similar in its themes and relationships. Everyone responded favorably to the idea that we were doing something Shakespearean and so we continued to look for ways to model our film on that all time classic. Shakespeare is the greatest dramatist in history. His works have stood the test of time like no other. But it takes time to learn to appreciate Shakespeare and I was fortunate enough to grow up in Palo Alto California, in a time and place where arts education was supported."
So the film wasn't originally pitched as a Hamlet remix but those elements were brought in later [previously].

The Taming of the Shrew (Arden Shakespeare. Third Series). Edited by Barbara Hodgdon.

The Arden Shakespeare third series edition of The Taming of the Shrew offers two plays for the price of one. As well as the text printed in the First Folio edited to Arden’s usual standards, Appendix 3 features an unedited facsimile of The Taming of a Shrew, the anonymous play, often mentioned in critical studies but rarely published. It’s the ur-Hamlet or Hamlet Q1 of Shrew, a work which simultaneously aids and infuriates our understanding of the Folio text, and a prop which has recently helped the play’s feminist credentials as it eases into the modern world.

Perhaps recognising the weight of feminist criticism which already exists in relation to the play, Hodgson instead spends much the pagination investigating both plays as part of a tradition of Shrew narratives. Jan Harold Brunvand recently carried out a study of these tales (similar to Vladimir Propp’s classification of fairy tales) listing a wide range of “motif complexes” and “free floating narrative elements” of which The Shrew matches at least eleven, suggesting Shakespeare was calcifying a story which already had a strong oral tradition.

Like the Hamlet texts, critics have become very exercised over the years as to whether one is a rewrite of the other, the extent of Shakespeare’s involvement in A Shrew and the implications that in terms of attribution in contemporary written records. The mention in Henslow’s diary could relate to either play, which has implications when dating The Shrew whose writing has variously been put somewhere across over two decades, only recently having settled somewhere in the late 1880s thanks to textual similarities with the earlier histories.

As is often the case in this Arden third series, editor Barbara Hodgdon is reluctant to make sweeping decisions simply there isn’t enough evidence either way. The easy option is that it’s an earlier play, which a young Shakespeare still learning the ropes as a kind of script doctor gutted, improved and readied for his new company. There’s certainly enough textual similarities to suggest that. Another suggestion is that it’s an early play by Shakespeare which he later extensively rewrote. The rather more murkier idea is that it’s a memorial reconstruction.

But like the various iterations of Hamlet, the theatrical history of The Shrew is intertwined with A Shrew, because of the implications it has on the famous final scene in which the shrew, Katherina, apparently does an unheralded about face and falls in line withthe tamer, Petruccio. For some feminists that makes the play as misogynistic as The Merchant of Venice is anti-semetic and for decades has created fundamental issues for some directors and actors on how to portray that speech as part of the character’s logical trajectory.

Which is where A Shrew comes in. The Shrew’s folio edition already includes an “induction” in which a drunk, Christopher Sly is tricked into believing himself nobility and The Shrew becomes a theatrical fantasy being performed for him after his indiscretions with a hostess. A Shrew extends Sly’s contribution across the play, the drunk and attendant lords commenting on the action, the final scene giving way to a coda that concludes this parallel narrative, the Pyramus and Thisbe conceit from A Midsummer Night’s Dream spread across a whole play.

These framing scenes are now often included in modern productions, in effect of nullifying Katherina’s about face as the fantasies of Sly or at least the slightly nefarious writer of this play within a play. This has the effect of, as Guardian critic Michael Billington suggests, transforming “(a brutally sexist polemic) totally offensive to our age and society” into “just a play”. You could also argue that it ruins the verisimilitude of the characters but since Shakespeare’s characters perennially address the audience, that’s less of a concern than it might be.

But in illuminating these issues, Hodgdon underlines that Shakespeare’s plays, far from being static entities, become transformed through interpretation and that even The Shrew which has received acres of negative criticism across the years, can become a feminist symbol and even critical of the male psyche depending on the staging. What Shakespeare himself was implying we’ll never know, but considering his facility with writing strong female roles (including Katherina for the most part), thanks to the induction, it seems to be men who are the butt of this joke.

The Taming of the Shrew (Arden Shakespeare. Third Series). Edited by Barbara Hodgdon. Methuen Drama. 2010. RRP: £9.99. ISBN: 978-1903436936. Review copy supplied.