Tagged: Daleks

John Ostrander: Think Of The Children!

Peter-Capaldi

Doctor Who, the long-running BBC TV series about a humanoid alien transversing through time and space with his companions, has wound up its current season, its tenth since it’s return following a long hiatus. The current actor playing the part, Peter Capaldi, is the fourth actor (or the fifth depending how you number it) since the show returned or the twelfth or thirteenth since the show’s inception. The numbering differential is a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey thing.

The show has sparked a discussion among the fans lately because, well, that’s what fans do, especially of a cult science-fiction show such as this one. There’s great passion and great heat as usual with these things along with the absolute conviction of one side that they are right and that those on the other side are wrong. It doesn’t matter which side of a debate you’re on, the other guy is wrong. There’s a lot of passion and maybe some thought and that’s what happens with a fan disagreement.

The current issue under debate is that Doctor Who began as a children’s show back in 1963 and it should always be a children’s show. The position of some is that the current monsters are often too scary for children, the continuity has become too complex for children, the relationships are inappropriate for children.

There’s some truth to all this, and there’s a lot of bullshit as well. The current show-runner, Stephen Moffat, also writes a number of the episodes and his fingerprints are usually all over the ones he doesn’t write. I started out as a big fan of Moffat, especially in the seasons before he became the show’s producer. At his best, Moffat writes very clever episodes with great heart. At his worst, Moffat is just being clever. I’m less impressed with those episodes than he seems to be.

Are the Doctor Who monsters too scary for children? The show has always scared children. Part of its initial burst of popularity, indeed its initial survival, rested on the Daleks, a group of alien cyborgs. They’ve been described as deranged pepper shakers, bent on conquest and the death of any species inferior to themselves which they consider all other races to be. They’re catch phrase is “Exterminate!” They scared the bejabbers out of British tykes since their first appearance. I’ve read reminiscences of Brits saying they watched the show from behind the couch or through their fingers. The world can be a scary place and all children know this. Being afraid and then seeing the monsters defeated is, I think, very healthy. Many of the classic fairy tales do this. Scaring the little bastards is a good idea. It’s part of growing up.

Should Doctor Who have remained a children’s show? I’ve worked for a long time in a medium (comics) that was considered the bastard child of children’s lit. It was off in a ghetto of its own despite the fact that elsewhere in the world, the comics medium wasn’t considered to be only for children. I’ve never considered my work to be primarily for children and, in fact, have several times steered a parent away from my work. We’ve since broken out of that artistic straightjacket with works of art such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus showing what the medium is capable of being.

That said – there haven’t been enough comics for children any more. The medium has catered to the fan and the cult without paying attention to where the next generation of readers are going to come from. That’s short-sighted. Given the multiple versions of the characters that exist, the two major publishers – DC and Marvel – should publish versions of their main characters to attract the young reader. As the kids grow into adults, you could introduce them to the more grown-up editions of the characters. That’s investing in their own characters and the future of the medium.

The question for the comics – and Doctor Who – is not just what they are but what they can be.

Doctor Who Series 9 To Premiere September 19

In a continuing torrent of news and excitement from a regional comic convention on the west coast, BBC America announced the premiere date of series nine of Doctor Who – September 19th.

Having filmed in Cardiff since January, Peter Capaldi said:

“Soaring through all of time and space, series nine sees the Doctor throw himself into life with a new hunger for adventure. The Cosmos is there for the taking, thrilling, epic and enticing, and his to play in. But he’s almost reckless in his abandon. It’s almost like he’s running from something, something that if it ever catches him will turn his life upside down.”

Michelle Gomez will return as Missy, the latest incarnation of The Master, in the season’s two-part premiere The Magician’s Assistant / The Witch’s Familiar. Highlights of the series so far revealed include the return of Kate Stewart, U.N.I.T., Osgood, and the Zygons, an episode featuring Vikings in space, a city of Daleks, and a new race of mercenaries known as The Mire.

Mark Gatiss returns to writing for the series, as well as new contributors including Sarah Dollard and Catherine Tregenna.

How Much Does It Cost To Build A Dalek?

Not a cosplay project – there’s plenty of resources for that.  Heck, the BBC used to send out official plans for one. But an actual, proper one, with the mutant and the hoverpad and the exterminatey-ready-to-go-ness?

The UK’s Horror Channel are now running classic Doctor Who episodes, and they took the opportunity to run the numbers.

Cost-of-making-a-Real-Dalek

Click to embiggenate

These numbers include all the startup costs; R&D, as well as initial set up of the factory locations. So we’re looking at the cost of rolling that first Dalek off the line – presumably the per-unit costs would decrease as time goes on.  Allowing for depreciation, once production gets up to speed, costs could drop precipitously. Though of course, even the first Dalek could get quite a bit done.

Also, with a number of nuclear plants already in existence, one might be able to cut a deal with a forward-thinking city to set up a lab in an extant plant, not to mention the various tax breaks many municipalities would offer to such a job-creating endeavour.

The cost of raw materials would drop over time as well as more areas are conquered, allowing for greater collection activities.  And since Daleks are in a sealed system capable of surviving in the vacuum of space, odds are they aren’t too worried about the effects of fracking on the environment. That would certainly reduce the costs of mining – no need to worry about EPA restrictions.

The Horror Channel’s website has more info on The Doctor, as well as a neat web game that lets you demolish Daleks at various locations  around England.

New Who Review – “Into the Dalek”

“Demons run when a Good Man goes to war,” went the ancient line.  But the problem is, The Doctor is no longer sure he’s a good man.  Further problem is, neither is Clara.  So The Doctor’s not quite sure what he’s going to do when he’s invited to go…

INTO THE DALEK
By Phil Ford and Steven Moffat
Directed by Ben Wheatley

Human rebel fighter Journey Blue is about to have her ship destroyed by a Dalek saucer when The Doctor saves her by materializing the ship around her, a move for which he expects and demands a thank you.  Returning her back to her command ship, he’s quickly arrested, until Journey tells them he’s a Doctor…which is lucky because they have a patient.  The patient is a Dalek, who is malfunctioning.  As in, it has become good – it is raving that the Daleks must be defeated.

The Doctor retrieves Clara, who is on Earth, having just met Danny Pink, new teacher at Coal Hill School.  The Doctor and his companion are miniaturized so they can physically enter the wounded Dalek and fix it.  The Dalek is suffering from a radiation leak in its power source that was causing its mind to open to new ideas.  Witnessing the birth of a star, it recognized it as beautiful and had a epiphany.  Life will win – no matter how many stars the Daleks have destroyed, new ones are born, in greater number.  The Doctor has a fleeting hope that if he could heal this Dalek and still keep it “good,” he could turn the tide of the future.

Alas, once the radiation leak is fixed, the Dalek’s systems come back on line and it reverts to form.  But Clara insists there more they can do, and with the help of a couple of clever things, they attempt to awaken the goodness this Dalek experienced for just a moment of its horrific life.

All told, and episode that came close to some great moments, but mostly. only close.  It was a story that served to illuminate the relationship between The Doctor and The Daleks in a new way, a connection that deserved a few more lines than it got.  It opened up a possibility for a couple of returning characters, and showed us more of The Doctor’s new, cold demeanor.  I enjoyed it, but it could have been so much more.

THE MONSTER FILES – It’s the Daleks.  You could walk up to any drunken Sterno bum in the UK and they could tell you who they are.  At this point, a fair amount of American bums could.  Bork on Skaro as the end result of a war of attrition between the Kaleds and the Thals, battle-scarred scientist Davros mutated sample of his people’s DNA into what he declared was their final, perfect form (a tentacled blob of flesh that hates everybody) and put them into wee, almost indestructible tanks.

The Doctor met the Daleks in his second televised adventure, and there’s little argument that Terry nation’s creation was what sent the popularity of the show into orbit.  They’ve been back too many times to try to calculate.  The show tried to stop using them twice, once in a story that somewhat paralleled this one, but the allure of such a perfect enemy (not to mention the requisite ratings) is ever too tempting.

WELL EXCUUUUUSE ME – The Daleks almost didn’t make it into the new series, and it’s all comedian Steve Martin’s fault.  He was to appear in Looney Tunes: Back in Action as the head of the Acme Corporation.  There’s a scene in a secret government base where a bunch of aliens escape and wreak havoc.  Being a big Doctor Who fan, Steve thought it would be funny if one of them was a Dalek.  Warner Bros contacted the BBC for permission, and someone at the BBC gave it.  Problem: the BBC don’t own the Daleks, the Terry Nation estate does (Insert long tirade about how much better creators’ rights are handled in other countries here).

The estate was very put out that this was done, and a couple years later when the new series was in pre-production, they considered refusing permission to use the iconic monsters.  Steve Martin wrote a letter to the executors of the estate, personally apologizing for the mess-up.  The estate relented, and The Doctor got to face his greatest enemy again. And again.

The Dalek antibodies are technically the new monster for the episode, and they serve the same purpose as ones in a human body do – stopping invading organisms from damaging anything.  We saw antibody machines in the Teselecta in Let’s Kill Hitler, serving largely the same purpose they did here – to provide an additional threat.  The City of the Exxilons created antibodies to protect itself in the Pertwee adventure Death to the Daleks.

GUEST STAR REPORT  – Phil Ford (Co-writer) has a long history with the new series. He wrote the animated adventure Dreamland, as well as the Tennant adventure Waters of Mars. When Russell T Davies began The Sarah Jane Adventures, Phil worked with him, moving up to head writer for series 2.  He’s most recently worked with RTD on Wizards vs Aliens.  He was also the main writer for the recent CGI remake of classic Supermarionation series Captain Scarlet.

Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink) like most British actors (remember, there’s only 47 of them) has an interesting Venn diagram with other Doctor Who stars.  He was on Emmerdale which also featured Jenna Coleman, and Gavin and Stacey which starred James Corden, a.k.a. Craig Owens from The Lodger and Closing Time.

Michael Smiley (Colonel Morgan Blue) has appeared in several of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s collaborations, including Spaced and two third of the Cornetto Trilogy.  He was Benny Deadhead on Luther, and was in BBC America’s series Ripper Street.

BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details

“Good idea for a movie” – Hanging a lampshade on a classic trope takes the curse off it.  Aside from the obvious, the Fantastic Voyage (and Innerspace) plot has been done on almost every science fiction show you can think of, not to mention plenty of cartoon series.  Heck, it’s been done on the show already: The Doctor was able to shrink clones of himself and Leela into his own brain to fight The Invisible Enemy, and fellow Time Lord Drax shrinks himself and The Doctor in The Armageddon Factor.  Just a little way back the Teselecta had a crew of shrunken humans  as it caught criminals through time.

“He was dead already” – This is another aspect of the more “alien” feel of the new Doctor. Gone, gone is the “I’m so sorry” mindset of Tennant who would sturm and drang over each being he couldn’t save, this Doctor is pragmatic, to point of being callous.

“I saw beauty” – in the adventure Asylum of the Daleks, we learned that the Daleks see beauty in hatred.  “Perhaps that is why we has always had trouble killing you,” the leader Dalek then theorized.  This Dalek saw what it recognized as true beauty in the birth of a star, but at the end of the episode, it sees the hatred The Doctor has for the Daleks, and his head is turned again to that which he has recognized as beauty for so long.

“The Doctor is not the Daleks” – This moment, and this scene, really needed a bit more emphasis.  As I’ve said before, The Daleks largely defined what kind of show Doctor Who was to be.  Sydney Newman had a “No bug-eyed-monsters” ban on the show, initially seeing the series as educational in nature, visiting historical moments to teach history of a sort to kids.  Once The Daleks hit as big as they did, the focus of the show shifted, away from the pure historical adventures and on to the fantastic.  It’s in this speech that that “definition” of The Doctor is applied to the character as well.  It acknowledges that before meeting the Daleks, The Doctor didn’t know what he wanted to do, or what kind of person he wanted to be.  He realized if there was an evil this great in the world, there had to be a good that great to combat it.

“You are a good Dalek” – The sheer hatred The Doctor has for the Daleks was made clear in the Eccleston episode Dalek.  In it, the lone Dalek in Henry van Statten’s collection listens to The Doctor’s wish that it “just die” and says “You would make a good Dalek.”

The parallels between that episode and this are numerous – a lone Dalek, broken and damaged, repaired by The Doctor (or Rose in the first of the two) and then being forced to combat it.  Both point out exactly how powerful a single Dalek is.

“If I can turn one Dalek, I can turn all of them. I can save the future.” –This is not the first time The Doctor has tried something like this.  In The Evil of the Daleks, The Doctor is pressed into finding the “Human Factor,” the mysterious brew of ingenuity, creativity and will to succeed that if added to the Dalek mind, would render them able to win any fight.  The Doctor, however, injects (infects, if you will) a series of Daleks with the human attributes of freedom, the desire to question authority and a grasp of justice, creating an army of  “Human Daleks” which immediately begin fighting with the “real” Daleks, a battle that The Doctor called “The final end.”  Indeed, it was supposed to be – that was supposed to be the last Dalek story, and it was for about five years, into the Pertwee years.  Genesis of the Daleks was also intended to be a “final” Dalek story, and like Evil, started a multi-year Dalek-free period, ending with Destiny of the Daleks.

“Gretchen Alison Carlisle. Do something good and name it after me.”

DWGretchen2

And henceforth, this Dalek’s name is Gretchen Alison Carlisle.

“I just wish you hadn’t been a soldier” – The Doctor’s disdain for soldiers and the military mindset was set in stone back in the Pertwee years.  He would constantly mock the small-minded literalness of soldiers, most members of UNIT, and The Brigadier in particular.  Tennant got a bunch of good digs in during The Sontaran Stratagem.  Tying into the cold nature of this new Doctor, his disdain is much more absolute.

BIG BAD WOLF REPORT – Missy is back, here meeting brave soldier Gretchen for a splosh of tea.  So the initial thought that she’s collecting The Doctor’s enemies is incorrect.  It now appears she’s collecting people who have died because of The Doctor.  While the jury is still out on whether the clockwork droid died at his own hand in last week’s adventure, Gretchen clearly sacrificed herself to make sure The Doctor’s plan worked.

Near the end of Tennant’s run, The Doctor is thinking about his life while chatting in a cafe with Wilfrid Mott (Bernard Cribbins).  “I’ve killed,” he said “But then I got clever – I convinced people to kill themselves.”  What we are seeing here are people who are the victims of The Doctor’s cleverness.  Depending on which side Missy is on, both of these people so far could be talked into believing they were responsible for saving the lives of countless people by a hero, or that they were callously killed by a madman.

“I thought you might have a rule against soldiers” – Clara clearly doesn’t, but one wonders how much this budding relationship with Danny Pink will be colored and affected by The Doctor and his mindset against soldiers.  Danny will be playing a much more active role in the proceedings in the near future; it’ll be interesting to see if he’ll be more of an Ian Chesterton type of fellow on the TARDIS… or a Turlough.

– NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO Don’t you worry, never fear –  Robot of Sherwood will soon be here, namely this weekend.

Welcoming Peter Capaldi

Peter Capaldi Doctor Who“And his name is The Doctor. He has saved your lives so many times and you never even knew he was there. He never stops. He never stays. He never asks to be thanked. But I’ve seen him, I know him… I love him… And I know what he can do.” – Freema Ageyman as companion Martha Jones

My geek is in overdrive.

Doctor Who’s premiere is on August 23rd on BBCAmerica this side of the pond (that’s the premiere date for much of the rest of the world, too) I’ve been hitting BBCAmerica’s website for news and sneak peeks. I’ve binge watched Matt Smith’s last seasons as the Time Lord. I’ve held off doing something else – like raiding the refrigerator or even going to the bathroom – during commercial breaks while watching the channel in case there’s a new teaser. And I switched my ringtone from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to the show’s opening music.

I was one of those who was sincerely pissed off and sincerely mourned the passing of the torch by David Tennant to Matt Smith – Tennant was just so superb (and sexy!) as the Time Lord; he brought so much to the role; humanizing (if you’ll excuse the expression) the alien. I wasn’t ready for him to leave – and as Tennant so brilliantly played his regeneration scene, it was obvious that his Doctor wasn’t ready to leave either. When he said, “I don’t want to go” in “The End of Time – Part 2,” I parroted (along with millions of fans, I’m sure), “I don’t want you to go, either.”

And to be honest, Smith’s premier episode, the one with the “fish and custard,” really didn’t do anything for me; Smith was so different, and the whole “going through this kid’s refrigerator” scene felt forced, not funny. But of course, Matt more than proved himself to me, so much so that I still feel that his Doctor was cheated out of a truly emotional regeneration scene – well, okay, Karen Gillian’s cameo as Amelia Pond (“Raggedy Man, good night.”) was brilliant and definitely teared me up, but overall too much time was wasted on destroying the Daleks…again *snnnnore*. Smith – and the fans he brought in, fans who made the show a truly worldwide phenomenon – deserved so much more.

But I did love Peter Capaldi’s first words (“Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?”) and Jenna Coleman’s – as companion Clara Oswald – horrified “what the fuck?!” look.

I didn’t know that much about Peter Capaldi – not that it bothered me, because I didn’t know Tennant or Smith either before their respective runs as the Time Lord. Well, let me rephrase that. It was more one of those “I know I know Peter Capaldi, but from where?” type of deals. Meaning that I didn’t recognize him as the actor who played the British Home Secretary John Forbisher in Torchwood: Children Of Earth. I didn’t realize that was he playing Caecilius in the Doctor Who season 4 episode, “The Fires of Pompei.” And it took a Google search to discover that he had been in one of my favorite films, 1983’s Local Hero, which starred Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert. But I have been watching and mucho appreciating him as Cardinal Richelieu in this summer’s The Musketeers on BBCAmerica (Sundays at 9:00 P.M). In fact I think he’s brilliant in the role, and it’s whetted my appetite for his debut as the 12th (13th?) Gallifreyan.

So I’m ready to love Peter Capaldi, if no other reason that I don’t want the show to go away, to be cancelled, to end.

But I don’t know how the younger fans, most of who came in with Matt Smith’s Doctor, will react to him. Will the show lose that part of its fan base? My niece Isabel’s first words about Mr. Capaldi after seeing him for those few moments as the end of “The Time of the Doctor” were quote “He’s so old!” unquote.

Isabel will be fourteen in August.

I remember Mike Gold saying to me once, “Everybody loves their first Doctor best.” Or something like that. And it’s true. My first Gallifreyan was Tom Baker (I thrilled and tingled when he made a cameo appearance at the end of “The Name of the Doctor.”) My first companion was Elisabeth Sladen. (I loved her return as Sarah Jane Smith during Tennant’s run, and how she immediately recognized him despite his changed appearance,) It took me a long time to “catch on” to Jon Pertwee, who, although he came before Baker, was my second Doctor. (It took me even longer to get hip to a new companion – not until Billie Piper. That’s a long time.)

So I get it, Iz. Matt Smith was your first Doctor. And he was cute and funny and resourceful. You’ll always have a special place in your Whovian heart for him. You’ll naturally feel some resentment to Capaldi for daring to take the controls of the TARDIS.

But remember, Iz, without regeneration, you and me, and a whole generation or two, would never have even met the Doctor, never would have traveled in the TARDIS, never would have known Sarah Jane Smith or Rose Tyler or Amy Pond and Rory Williams, never would have known the Daleks or the Cyberman or The Master.

And remember, Iz, like I told you that day, and as I reiterated here, I didn’t like Matt Smith at first. But I grew to love him.

So, Iz, give Peter Capaldi a chance.

I will.