Confession #105: I Don't Believe in Looming


Recently I stumbled across some old episodes of the TV show "Who Do You Think You Are?" Here in the US, the show has been running for eight seasons; the UK original is going on thirteen. Among the celebrities who have traced their roots on the UK version are David Tennant and several other actors associated with the program in one way or another (e.g., John Hurt, Mark Gatiss).

When I got to the US episode on actress Ashley Judd, I was startled to discover that she and I share a 10-great grandfather (making us 11th cousins). That triggered my genealogy bug again, and for the last few days I've been poking around to see if there are any new records to be found online since last I looked.

This was all in the back of my head, then, when I sat down to think about what to blog about next. Was there a way to bring genealogy into a discussion of the Whoniverse (spoiler: there's always a way)? Having discarded ideas about discussing characters like Kate Stewart (daughter of Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart) or our favorite UNIT scientist Osgood (some relation to the UNIT sergeant of the same surname?), I decided to focus on the Doctor himself.

Enter looming. For those of you who may not have read (or possibly even heard of) the Virgin New Adventures (NA) series of novels, these books continued the Seventh Doctor's story after the final televised adventure Survival. Two of these novels (Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible and Lungbarrow) included revelations about Time Lord history and how their biology was altered so that they could not reproduce sexually. Instead, new Time Lords are "loomed," or reproduced on special bio-engineering machines from extant genetic material, and "born" as adults.


An Air of Casual Horror


Review of Horror of Fang Rock (#92)
DVD Release Date: 04 May 10
Original Air Date: 03 - 24 Sep 1977
Doctor/Companion: Four, Leela
Stars: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson
Preceding Story: The Talons of Weng-Chiang (Four, Leela)
Succeeding Story: The Invisible Enemy (Four, Leela, K-9)

By the opening of his fourth season (Season 15), Tom Baker was well entrenched in his role as the Doctor. The Fourth Doctor's first two Companions (Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan) had left him nearly one and two years before, respectively (The Hand of Fear, Sarah Jane's final story, aired in October 1976; Harry left the TARDIS at the end of Terror of the Zygons in September 1975), and for the second half of Season 14 he had been traveling with his latest Companion Leela.

One could thus reasonably expect Horror of Fang Rock to be rather standard fare—par for the course, as it were. In some ways it is (it's got some quintessential Who-y elements), but it others it is superior (especially compared to the rest of the season, which has several unfortunately weak stories). I have not watched Fang Rock as often as many other serials, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much more enjoyable I found it than I'd remembered.

Of particular note was the relationship between the Doctor and Leela. It is commonly known that Baker was rather nasty to his co-star Louise Jameson while they were working together (though they have since smoothed things over, and I've heard Jameson herself say that they are great friends now); however, whatever was going on behind the scenes doesn't appear to have bled over onto the screen (at least not in a way that is out of character). Granted, there is still tension between the Doctor and Leela about her being a "savage," but it has become somewhat more of an old saw or inside joke between them. The characters obviously respect and depend on each other as well as caring about each other a great deal.


Confession #104: I Love Seeing Double


No matter what else brings fans to Who, the Doctor (in his many incarnations) and his Companions are the backbone—the major components that keep us coming back. While not every character or actor is every fan's cup of tea, some seem to be ones we (or at least the production team) can't get enough of. They appear multiple times, either within the same story (doppelgängers) or at some later date (suspiciously familiar), more often than not without explanation.

Doppelgängers are a familiar concept in the modern era, even discounting Clara's split-across-time personae. The Zygons alone are responsible for an unseemly number of them. Perhaps most famously, the Osgoods—one human, one Zygon (and eventually another Zygon)—appeared side by side, working to maintain a tenuous peace. Of course, any time the Zygons crop up, they keep the audience guessing about which individual is the original and which the doppelgänger. It's good mental exercise.

Similarly, we've seen the Flesh. Not specifically sentient by itself, the Flesh was a more technological take on Zygon bio-duplication. (And now I'm wondering if it didn't start as a script work-around before usage rights for the Zygons could be secured...) Before we saw the larger-arc implications of the Flesh, though, we got full-on doppelgänger action with the Eleventh Doctor and his Ganger (the term for a Flesh duplicate directly referencing the German root word).

In both of these cases—Zygons and Gangers—the doppelgänger is patterned off an original, and needs that reference material in order to maintain its shape and the knowledge base (sometimes including personality) of said original. However, sometimes we've had full-on doppelgängers that exist completely separately from each other.


The Beauty Beneath the Masque


Review of The Masque of Mandragora (#85)
DVD Release Date: 04 May 10
Original Air Date: 04 - 25 Sep 1976
Doctor/Companion: Four, Sarah Jane Smith
Stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen
Preceding Story: The Seeds of Doom (Four, Sarah Jane)
Succeeding Story: The Hand of Fear (Four, Sarah Jane)

Last month I started my new series of reviews of Tom Baker's season openers with his inaugural adventure Robot. His second season started with Terror of the Zygons, but as mentioned last month, I've already reviewed it. Therefore, I'm moving on to the Fourth Doctor's third season, which begins with The Masque of Mandragora.

By this point, Lis Sladen had been in the role of Sarah Jane Smith (SJS) for three years, and Baker had been portraying the Doctor for two. They are so wonderfully comfortable with both their own characters and each other, they make for fabulous, cozy watching.

It was also the third and final season of the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era, so often touted as the "golden age" of Doctor Who. Sladen would leave at the end of the following story and the second half of the season would see Baker unwillingly paired with another Companion (it's well known that he was rather horrible to Louise Jameson during her time as Leela, though by all accounts they are fast friends now). As Season 14 opens, though, Baker is clearly at the height of his powers and happy as a clam.

The story opens with SJS and the Doctor wandering the halls of the TARDIS, apparently just for kicks. They happen across a secondary control room, wood-paneled and covered with dust after long disuse. (It was used as the primary for most stories in the following year-and-a-bit.) From here they discover they are being drawn to a strange place by the Mandragora Helix before escaping and ending up in 15th-century Italy.

Helix energy (alternatively "Mandragora energy"—they don't seem to have been overly concerned with consistency there) has hitched a ride in the TARDIS, and now adds to the political havoc in process in the principality of San Martino, in which the Doctor and SJS find themselves (surprise!) embroiled.


Confession #103: I Like Doctor Who Tropes


Despite the common claim that Doctor Who can "do anything" because of its premise—the setting could be anywhere in the universe, at any time in its past or future—the show is also well known to do much the same thing over and over again, for various reasons. These plot, set, and character ideas have appeared so often that they've become tropes. And I love me a well-executed trope.

For example, a tried and true way to save money on a show that often suffers from its imagination being larger than its budget is either to set a story in a single location or to set several stories in a filming block in the same location. If the production team can simply re-dress the set and shoot from a different angle to make it look just different enough, the audience (aside from a certain subset of nerds who look for that stuff) won't even notice.

In the pre-Hiatus/Classic era, this trick was so frequently used as to become almost a joke. Viewers all knew that an alien planet would be set in a quarry (very often the same one), and that interior scenes of the Doctor and his Companion(s) getting chased through a ship's interior or alien citadel would go past the exact same, re-dressed chunk of corridor a dozen times. (In fact, this trope is so well known it became part of the title of a 2010 commentary book.)

More recently, we've seen a number of Welsh locations re-used: the National Museum of Wales and the Temple of Peace in Cardiff, Dyffryn Gardens in the Vale of Glamorgan, Llansannor Court in Cowbridge, etc. The production teams are clever enough that a casual viewer won't necessarily figure out how often these spots have appeared, but for behind-the-scenes aficionados, some of these favorite locations could slip into trope territory.



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