"But you are one of us! You look like us, you sound like us..."

Education Carolyn Coil for CNN dispels ten myths about gifted children:
"Some believe that a good teacher can easily teach any student. If this were the case, good teaching with no special training would be all that is needed to teach gifted students. However, in my many years of teaching graduate-level courses in gifted education, I have found that good teachers add to their skills and learn new strategies and techniques targeted particularly to meeting the needs of the gifted. Most teachers of the gifted tell me this is the hardest, most challenging, most exhausting and most rewarding teaching they have ever done."

WHO 50: 1963:
The Pilot Episode.

TV When the first mounting of An Unearthly Child emerged as part of The Lime Grove Story themed weekend on BBC Two in 1991, it seemed like a message from across time, especially since I’d never seen Doctor Who’s real first episode.

This was the first time I’d seen the character’s origins and despite the obvious production problems this was mysterious, shadowy, sinister and in places genuinely scary and looking again recently on beginning a project to watch the whole of Doctor Who from the beginning I could see that part of that reaction was because of the production problems.

The shaky camera work means that we’re not always with the characters at key moments leaving us to imagine what they’re seeing and more spectacularly the faulty placing of a light leads to Barbara creating shadows on Ian’s face that sometimes look as through the darkness of the night could engulf him at any moment, just as the time vortex will later.

Sydney Newman was right to request a remake, of course he was.

The Doctor is too mercurial in attitude to sustain a series and Susan’s proclamation that they're from the 49th century is too solid a piece of exposition, even if the two teachers are supposed to be the protagonists at this early stage.

But nevertheless, this is a rare example (along with Midnight and Scherzo) of Doctor Who at its wrongest, in a form that is indisputably worrying.

And they're off ...

WHO 50: Introduction

TARDIS paint job

TV  Tomorrow sees the forty-ninth birthday of Doctor Who and the day a new project begins on the blog.

Every Friday, for the next year, I’m going to write about my favourite story from each calendar year of the show, from 1963 to 2013, write about what I think makes it special and what it means to me.

Each will be accompanied by a new titlebar for the blog.

As you may have gathered this will be slightly more than fifty stories, but Doctor Who Magazine is already doing the seasons, so I had to think of something else.

But I'll keep WHO 50 as the title, because WHO 50(ish) looks a bit silly.

Let's see if I can keep up, shall we?

Sometime Never….

Books  Knowing somewhat the content of Justin Richards’s Sometime Never… after years of spoilers, I've been considering what defined an Eighth Doctor novel, why there they so, or rather the authors, so desperately ran away from any kind of particular formula and realised that they were always informed by the parallel Past Doctors novels. In other words, the Eighth never has a simple historical adventure because it might as well be written as a First Doctor book. Why have an out and out monster invasion when the Second and Third Doctors exist? No gothic horror or jokey pure science thanks to the Fourth Doctor and so on.  How often did an author propose a story idea for this line but found themselves pointed in the direction of the other because it seemed to fit better there. Or vice versa.

Different types of stories are supposed to be tied to their respective television eras and Doctors. But imagine if, for whatever reason, BBC Books had decided to not publish past Doctor novels but fans had still wanted those kinds of stories, then Eighth would have to have been plunged into them anyway, trapped in a pastiche of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible perhaps or battling Chronovores in the time vortex. Would he be the same character or a kind of generic amalgam, readily transforming himself depending on the requirements of the adventure? The Eighth Doctor novels have been about what they’re not, rather than what they are, the reader buffeted about like the TARDIS in the time stream as the authors desperately grasp towards a answer that doesn’t exist.

Which is presumably why it’s interesting that, when challenging himself to pull together narrative strands and story arcs running all the way from the beginning of the line, Richards decides to offer something that’s both in some respects as traditional a piece of Doctor Who as is authorialy possible in these circumstances but also about as part of the Eighth Doctor strand as is achievable whilst still remaining entirely accessible and also in a strange way looking forward to possible official futures for other versions of the franchise. And I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. Which is I know the kind of thing you write at the top of a paragraph, but from the moment I began reading on the bus into town (just after my Chrissie Hynde moment), the only time I could spare to put it down was while I was in Chester.

The opening actually has some similarities to the Sarah Jane Adventures story Lost In Time. The Doctor and his companions split off into different time zones to investigate historic events which are giving off huge amounts of temporal energy. There’s Fitz in 2004 attempting to gatecrash an exhibition opening (I know the feeling). There’s the Doctor watching someone not making an important scientific breakthrough. There’s Trix visiting the princes in Richard III’s tower (cf, Rani meeting Lady Jane Grey another ill-fated historical royal) and keeping them amused with a modified version of Cinderella in what’s probably one of my favourite scenes in all of these books. Doctor Who always seems to be at its best when it’s about the nature of fairy tales (“Aren’t we all?”).

Meanwhile we’re introduced to the Council of Eight who we’re to presume are the Time Lord replacements created when the diamonds were introduced to the big bang at the close of Timeless. Richards plays another blinder here by making them all something of one of the Doctor’s incarnations and writes each in the style of Hartnell, Troughton and the rest. That stops them from becoming too much like their local governmental counterparts on Gallifrey, though the scenes seem designed to deliberately ape the endless discussions in The Deadly Assassin, The Five Doctors and the like. Nevertheless, these are product of the Eighth Doctor line and Richards injecting some irony that for all the various races and time machines we’ve “seen” in the line all attempting to fill the gap left by the Time Lords, the Council was already in place.

Before long, everything culminates or seems to at the exhibition opening, which is being held at a Museum of Archaeology and the section which most resemble nuWho. You could imagine these scenes being partially shot at the National Museum of Wales, with Matthew Macfadyen cast as Professor Fleetward, the academic who aids the Doctor in assembling a crystal skeleton from pieces found across time and Mark Heap as the stuffy museum director. Or the other way around. Just like The Lazarus Experiment, the Doctor and his friends spend ages being chased by a monstrosity but like The Big Bang, their world has (somewhat) diminished to just outside the walls of the building. There are moments here, as the Doctor attempts to take charge of a public rabble, which are just the stuff of his Tenth edition.

Then the real coup as the novel doesn’t just begin to tie-up loose ends from the Eighth Doctor line but also the Past Doctor novels. Past Doctor novels which I haven’t read. Apart from Wolfsbane. But I’ve enough of an inkling of what happens in Bullet Time and elsewhere to know that that the Doctor’s companions were being offed and its here we find out why. One member of the Council, the figure analogous to Eight, Sabbath’s associate, has been pulling them from time because of the uncertainty they cause due to their association with the Doctor. The methodology is a mixture of murderous and mysterious but the solution, played out across several chapters is ingenious (even if I did manage to predict its main pillar) (not that it spoiled things at all).

It’s the EDA’s equivalent of Journey’s End or Neverland, probably entirely incomprehensible to newbees but satisfying payback to readers who’ve been following the novels from the start. Which isn’t to say it was adored on publication. Matt Michael in Doctor Who Magazine suggested it lacked a wow factor and sense of occasion.  I disagree. In one section, Trix and the Professor are beamed into the far future to poignantly witness the big crunch with the keepers of the final museum in the universe (cf, The End of the World and Douglas Adams) something even the television series hasn’t tackled yet (though it's come perilously close on a few occasions). Plus there are a few significant deaths, permanent deaths, both horrible for different reasons.

Richards’s characterisation of the regulars is of a high standard too. In a rarity for this line, he happily has the three of them chatting away in the TARDIS console room, gently taking the piss out of each other, Trix having become a solid member of the crew despite her better nature. If Fitz spends most of the novel in Mickey/Rory-like bewilderment, Trix continues to quietly become one of the franchises most impressive companions, almost metafictionally aware that her disguise capabilities are not the norm, oscillating between being entirely confident of those abilities and waiting for someone to see through her mask. At the climax she’s afforded a punch the air moment as potent as Martha Jones’s giggle in The Last of the Time Lords. As it stands, it’s a tragedy that she’ll only be around for another six novels.

Sometime Never… was published at a strange moment for the franchise which is reflected within. The contents suggest that when he wrote it, the official future of Doctor Who was with the Richard E Grant vampiric version of the Ninth Doctor and there are scenes which are meant to tie-in with the simultaneously published novelisation of Scream of the Shalka, a point Richards underscores in a contemporary interview for DWM. Except in that same issue’s Gallifrey Guardian is an early chat with Russell T Davies on his plans for the series and so it’s also possible to conjecture that Richards wanted to clear out as many continuity cobwebs as possible to give the Eighth Doctor line more of a stand alone feel just in case new readers happen upon them in the bookshop.  He was hedging his bets.

Except not everything is completely tied-up, still plenty for Lance Parkin to deal with in The Gallifrey Chronicles as and when. The Doctor is still an amnesiac even if he has a better understanding of himself and his potential past than before. Fitz is also still in flux, not quite sure of his own history. Gallifrey is still gone and Richards introduces a few new questions about that in Sometime Never… without making it too clear if they’re rhetorical or not, especially in relation to one of the deaths which I’ve been desperate to comment on but I don’t know who reads these reviews (or why) so I thought it best to keep on the left hand side of caution. But it will be good to get back to something akin to a more typical Who format, self contained stories which just happen to feature this TARDIS team, even if just briefly.

This Year's Christmas Moment.

Life  Every year, at around this time, I have a Christmas moment, or the moment when I physically realise that Christmas is coming.  Sometimes someone says something, or I see something, or hear something, and the intellectual understanding of the upcoming date becomes fused with the rest of my body and I can't help smiling.  Sometimes it lasts seconds, sometimes minutes, sometimes as was the case a couple of years ago on a visit to Manchester, a whole day.

This year it's been late.  Despite present buying, despite watching for news of Christmas television, despite walking through Liverpool One at night the other Sunday through the giant sparkly reindeers and past the massive decorated trees, nothing.  I was with a friend who'd challenged me to list my top five favourite Doctor Who stories so I was probably distracted.  He wouldn't let me have Marco Polo because I hadn't "seen it" and I was fishing around for an alternative.  Nevertheless, the usual triggers weren't working.

Then, thankfully, this morning, it happened.  I was waiting for the bus into town and Chrissie Hynde's 2000 Miles began on my mp3 player.  I knew it was there, I'd added it and the rest of Christmas Hits 2007 last night.  But as soon as the opening guitar riffs hit my eardrums, well, reader, I weeped tears of joy.  It's rare the reaction is quite that intense, but it's not been the best of years (are they ever?) and perhaps Christmas means more, but for these three and a half minute duration, I was transported.  Thanks Chrissie.

Emotional Chemistry.

Books  And so to Tolstoy.  If the Eighth Doctor Adventures are anything, they’re eclectic and so now that the middling alt.universe arc has been wrapped up in an enjoyable contemporary Earth story, we’re thrust straight into something akin to one of those Quirk Books mash-ups in which a public domain classic is rewritten to include some fantasy elements.  They brought us Android Karenina.  Here’s War & Peace & Doctor Who, as lovers across time are caught up war zones and only the Time Lord can reunite them (as well as zero in on a locket which may offer some clue as to what Sabbath’s end game might be).

Obviously, Simon A. Forward’s Emotional Chemistry’s only influenced by Russian literature rather than simply quoting from it, but he makes a good stab at offering epic sweep across the novel's much shorter duration than those old literary doorsteps and to an extent that does make it somewhat as difficult to read.  With dozens of characters introduced (just as those old novels do) and across three or four time zones (as you might expect in science fiction) it’s not always possible initially to get a fix on whose landscape is whose (and I will admit to having to refer to a synopsis from the Wikipedia) (sorry Simon).

But after about eighty pages, the story begins to settle down and it slowly becomes clear that the keeper of the locket, Dusha, a  girl in the 1812s is somehow being replicated across time as late as 5000 and that a general from that time is desperate to become united with this earlier version.  The Doctor, having investigated a painting of the girl with magical properties and stumbling into to these vortex crossed lovers finds himself agreeing to aid the couple because somehow he’s known to them, though is memory, senses and their recollections suggest its not the current version of him that was involved (too young apparently).

Fitz, finds himself subconsciously frogmarched into the offices of dodgy businessman Garudin, who has technology with the properties of the door at the back of the filing cabinet on Floor 7½ in Being John Malkovich to allow a person to astrally project themselves back in time and inhabit the body of some historical figure, which he’s using to stalk Dusha via a friend of the family.  He’s the book’s main antagonist, a viscous puppet master attempting to control the past for his own lustful ends and there’s perhaps some thematic interest here about how some historians have the same tendency, vicariously twisting the past to suit their own thesis.

Meanwhile Trix, whose becoming an increasingly attractive creation is on the trail of the locket in various time zones, utilising her abilities to slip into a variety of situations from art dealer to ambassadorial assistant.  It’s through her we’re introduced to Aphrodite, a goddess with the grace of Galadriel, and my favourite sequences in the book as Trix experiences the world of said goddess, the kind of hyperglycemic paradise that might appear in a Tarsem Singh or Vincent Ward film with its endless pools and views of the whole of creation.  As you might imagine Fitz is quite taken with her.  I was too.

There's some fun continuity in here.  The war in the future is actually the conflict described by Magnus Greel in The Talons of Weng-Chiang  and although this isn't a direct sequel, it's a rare occasion for the EDAs, particular post-amnesia of specifically placing the story within a recognisable Whoniverse.  As the Doctor Who Guide notes also, "though she is not referred to in this novel, one of the refugees from Napoleon’s forces is a merchant’s daughter who will become Ileana de Santos, leader of a werewolf clan which the Fifth Doctor encounters in (the audio) Loups-Garoux."

All of which dovetails nicely into the kind of love conquers all conclusion sometimes beloved of the televised revival (cf, Evolution of the Daleks) in which the Doctor bends creation to keep a couple together (partly because creation will itself bend if they’re kept apart).  If nothing else, the book’s spurned me towards finally reading some Tolstoy once this and other projects are completed.  Apparently reading these great books on a Kindle seems like less of a challenge.  Presumably because a volume which is typically a foot thick is reduced to a slab of light plastic, not quite as graceful, but lighter in the hand.


Books In the last couple of days, I’ve been reading through the various review of this Eighth Doctor series published in Doctor Who Magazine. Vanessa Bishop covered them for years when she was the sole writer on Shelf Life, then Matthew (Matt) Michael took over when labour on the section was diversified starting with Lance Parkin’s Father Time. As is often the case with distance from publication, the reviews say more about their authors than the books themselves, with Bishop ranking as something of a fan and Michael, not so much. While hers are generally positive, his are generally negative. But in any case it was useful to see how often my own opinion dovetailed and divided with there’s which is roughly with equal measure.

One of the results is I’ve also been able to see the covers for the first time in ages and see the moment when the new series was announced and how that correlates with the publishing of these novels. The reviews for The Last Resort and Timeless went out in the October 2003 issue which would have been published in September I suppose. By January 2004 with its horrendous picture of Colin, there’s a stop press circle on the cover indicating that a new series is in the offering. The reason this is interesting is we, meaning me, or I, can now look out for the moment when it became apparent that the EDAs would soon be finishing and it’s clear the editors and writers are working towards a conclusion.

There’s no evidence of it in Stephen Cole’s book which seems mainly to exist to clarify and provide some kind of climax to the mess that has been the alternative universe story arc and offer some form of forward direction towards the overall narrative which began with The Adventuress of Henrietta Street. The result is pretty brilliant, a definite return to form for a series which tends to be pretty directionless at the best of times even if in jettisoning the alt.universe thing, it literally jettisons it, offering a resolution within a couple of chapters of the start of the novel in a way which makes, with the exception perhaps of the boat explanation, the last three books feel entirely superfluous.

The book opens with a “previously on…” section in which Fitz, Anji and Trix are making a documentary (yes, really) about their exploits in these alternative universes. Having entirely regained their sense of character, they’re also spectacularly jaded and there’s a general feeling of there having been at least six more novels that have been missed out one of which would presumably have included a moment when the Doctor and everyone found Trix in the TARDIS. There have been few subtler companion introductions. She’s just sort of already in the group and it’s almost like Season 20 opening with Turlough already on board. The Doctor turning up on her shoulder in The Last Resort is apparently as close as we’ll be coming.

After that, there’s a Fanthorpian moment when the Doctor realises how he can resolve everything and with the help of a mysterious child he does. It’s actually pretty staggering and a less avid reader might be disgruntled but somehow Cole makes it work because actually, in the end, we're just happy that it’s over even if its conclusion is purposefully anticlimactic and as a slightly sticky flashback structure works itself through we’re back in Anji’s time, 2003 conveniently thanks to the year or so added on in Time Zero, and mysteriously on the tail of a serial killer whose work doesn’t just seem as “simple” as a killing spree, that there are intergalactic implications.

The rest of Timeless has what is often described in film as an “elevator” story, in which the goal of the protagonist shifts as the stakes are raised or/and the antagonist changes. There’s always a bigger fish. As the story works itself out, we’re able to appreciate Cole’s brilliance in presenting quite complex science fiction ideas in an accessible manner featuring realistic human beings in way this series hasn’t always been able to accomplish. We’re quickly on notice that the serial killer is a means to an end and there are enemies with much greater plans and that those plans have cosmic significance. Their ultimate prize is nifty and sets up everything which will presumably occur in upcoming novels.

It’s just the sort of thing the Eighth Doctor novels have been good at. Sending a human back in time so that his DNA becomes part of the make-up of the universe destroying diversity and making it so that every species which develops is human is mind boggling. It’s somewhat a precursor to the Immortality Gate from The End of Time, but in the Star Trek The Next Generation episode The Chase, it’s almost a rationalisation for why the aliens in that universe are mainly humanoid; they all share a common ancestor which sent its genetic make-up across the stars (an metaphorical retelling of our own evolution, nomadically spreading out as we have from somewhere in Iraq) (thanks Michael Wood).

But also like nuWho, it’s real human beings caught up in it. There’s Guy Adams, apparently the most important man on Earth, but whose own relatives want to kill. The scenes when his boss, girlfriend and even his own mother turn on him with various ad-hoc weapons are generally played for laughs but they seek to round out his character in a way which is rare for these books. There’s also Stacy Philips, the forthright American chasing the serial killer whose been keeping her updates on his actions. She’s introduced to the story by the Doctor and the sexual tension in their scenes echo those with Grace in the TV movie during sections in which, if we didn’t know better, it’s as though she’s being set up as a new companion.

Speaking of which, in the meantime Fitz and Trix have been set up as a married couple so that they can investigate the serial killer themselves. These are the scenes in which Trix is properly introduced and the various preview moments in the last few novels are as nothing to what she resolves herself as here. A mimic with a facility for disguises, she’s like a refugee from Impossible Mission and does indeed have the sparky personality generally pioneered by Steven Moffat. At moments, though she’s clearly supposed to be a Miranda Raison type at rest, you can hear Karen Gillan or Jenna-Louise Coleman wrapping her lines around her speech patterns.

Which is probably why I've taken to her at such an early stage. Matt Michael suggests she’s a concept companion in the style of Leela, and while that might be true, she’s a good contrast to Anji whose resolutely been written as realistically as possible no matter which alien world she’s found herself on. It’ll be good to have a companion whose basis is resolutely fantastical again ala Compassion, whose slightly skewed opinion of the universe was always entertaining. With a few exceptions we mostly see her through Fitz’s eyes and he doesn’t trust her, or rather doesn’t trust that when she’s being nice to him, it’s not simply so that she can reach some other goal.

Cole also has the job of writing out Anji and for once in this series, she doesn’t die or turned into some other thing. Rather like a companion being parked in case the actress decides to return to the series, she simply goes on with her life. What interesting of course is that she’s presumably being written out because the writers feel like they’ve done everything they can with her in contrast to the television series where often an actor decides to leave because they feel the writers have done everything they can with it, or more accurately haven’t and don’t seem to want to change.

Her resolution seems like a set-up for a Sarah Jane Adventures style spin-off series. Who are the mysterious child Chloe, her animal Jamais? The implication is that they’re supposed to be refugees from Gallifrey (the references to the Doctor as the destroyer) and I eventually decided they must be like the Time Lord equivalent of orphan Annie, her guardian Erasmus a kind of Daddy Warbucks figure with now Anji as her adoptive mother. Actually that’s just like the Sarah Jane Adventures. All Anji needs now are some meddling kids from the apartment opposite and she’ll be chasing Slitheen across London within a few years. Big Finish needs to get on this right now. What’s Amita Dhiri been doing since The Bill finished?

I’ll admit to being quite emotional about her leaving. Funny. A contemporary review online has suggested she was the best companion ever and though I don’t think she was that, you can see her DNA in of nuWho’s television companions especially Amy Pond with their desperate grasping towards normality within whatever time period or dimension they find themselves even if the writers could never quite agree on her back story with her wandering ethnic origin which is expounded on at some length here (with a nice explanation). The highlights have clearly been her screwball comedy-like interactions with Fitz, with him building towards becoming respectable so as not to disappoint her.

But it’s not quite the end of the story arc. That seems to be upcoming in Sometime Never … with Emotional Chemistry in between. After that? Well, I have a vague hope that having realised the new series is coming back we’ll return to something more akin to a stand alone series with less angst for the Doctor and more of a sense of pure adventure, of the literary Eighth Doctor in slightly more traditional settings. At this point I’ve little clue what’s coming but in a way, these novels because of the rapidity with which I’m working through them feel just as present and exciting as the Moffat era which is probably fitting since for nearly a decade they were one of the official continuations.

The Dinner Party.