July 17, 2016

Fan Myth RIP #2 - William Hartnell Was Playing Himself

For years, moreso from word or mouth than printed reviews, fans had heard the refrain - mainly from critics of William Hartnell - that his Doctor was basically the actor playing himself in the scripts - irascible, absent-minded professor, prone to gaffes, irritable, grand-fatherly but bad-tempered. It was even claimed that some of the scripted gaffes (where the Doctor gets Ian’s last name wrong) were not actually scripted. This view of Hartnell’s performance took somewhat of a beating when the soundtrack to The Massacre was released on CD for public purchase in 1999. At that point fans far and wide could hear for themselves the very different role that Hartnell plays in the story, that of the Abbot of Amboise. It should have proved to people Hartnell was a good actor who simply chose to perform the Doctor the way he did because it suited the character he was helping to create with his performance - however the view that he was essentially playing himself on screen persisted in certain quarters.

However, it was arguably the discovery and release in the past few years of two interviews with William Hartnell taken from the 1960’s which pretty much nailed the coffin lid shut on this fan myth. First there was the only known-to-still-exist video interview with Hartnell after (or even during) his time on Doctor Who which was released on The Tenth Planet DVD in 2013. Now, you can certainly argue that Hartnell sounded irritable in the interview, but that argument has to be countered by pointing out that just about any actor would have found those (in some cases insulting) questions posed to him (or her) as being very irritating, particularly in a dressing room. The main thing that strikes the viewer is just how different Hartnell’s mannerisms and vocal patterns are - he sounds much gruffer here when he is legitimately irritated than when he plays irritation as the Doctor. Gone is any trace of sounding or acting like a professor or a learned man of science. That’s clearly an act, as it should be given that this is required as part of the role.

Perhaps more startling is the 2nd Hartnell interview to be discovered, which dates from about a year and a half earlier, in 1965 when he is still playing the role. This interview is from an episode of Desert Island Discs, a popular radio programme where celebrities pick what records they would choose to have if they were stuck on a desert island. The first time I heard this I had to re-check the link about three times to make sure it was the correct one. It just didn’t sound like Hartnell at all - or at least, the version of Hartnell that I was familiar with, which was, for decades, the 1st Doctor. He sounds so incredibly different that it took me some time to realize it was the same man I’d been watching and listening to episodes of since the mid 1980’s.There’s no trace whatsoever of his first Doctor character in this interview, of which we hear far more of his speaking voice (and in much less-trying circumstances) than we do in the film interview that is on The Tenth Planet DVD. Even more than the other interview and his performance in other roles, this interview demonstrates that his first Doctor was a character he created and wasn’t merely an extension of himself.

For those that haven’t heard it (and we’ve posted a link to this before on this blog but frankly it’s worth a re-listen), you can find the clip on youtube here. 

June 12, 2016

Fan Myth RIP #1 - Continuity Kills

As we wait for the news of the next episodes to be made, it seems a good time to reflect back on the history of the now-53 year-old television phenomenon, Doctor Who. In particular, it seemed an ideal opportunity to lay to rest several fan theories which had been repeated and gained wide enough acceptance over the years that people began to accept such theories as historical fact and part of fan “received wisdom”, despite seemingly having no factual basis to support these theories. The passage of time (and in some cases, new information that has come to light about the show’s past) has helped to consign these theories into the realm of fan myths that hopefully have died once and for all. One just hopes that one isn’t resurrecting them by writing about them now. In any event, here is the first of five such fan theories that we’ll try to put to bed over the next five weeks.

The first of these I’d like to tackle is the often-cited view that the classic series was “killed” by continuity usage, a theory seems to stem from the belief that a continuing series making some reference previous episodes is an inherently bad thing which will lead audience to confusion and dis-satisfaction. Which is something that I will agree is conceivable - but something being conceivable and something actually being the case are not the same thing. Not even remotely. There has never been an shred of evidence put forward to back up this assertion, other than fans pointing to the decline in ratings which occurred after the 18-month hiatus and then coming up with their own unsupported theories as to why the ratings decline happened. The actual audience research conducted by the BBC and by BARB at the time points to other factors for audience displeasure which are far more common reasons. Of Doctor Who‘s final few seasons, the one that got the most negative response from the audience was Season 24 (ironically for those foisting the anti-continuity argument, since it is probably the least continuity-heavy season of the last four of the classic series). When asked what they disliked the most about the season, the audience research indicated that they didn’t like the performances or the characterization of the regular cast, nor did they like the stories themselves or the “increasingly silly” tone. There was not a word to be mentioned about the re-use of the Rani or Sabalom Glitz.

If there’s an argument to be made purely from the ratings, the last two times the Daleks and Cybermen were featured in the classic series, the episodes they were featured in garnered some of the highest ratings for the particular seasons in question (Season’s 22 and 25, respectively) - which doesn’t exactly fit in easily with the “continuity killed the ratings” theory.

There is the view that poorly-explained continuity could confuse the “casual viewer” and cause them to switch off. That’s an acceptable and believable theory, but one that doesn’t have much in the way of evidence to support that this was the case with Doctor Who. One might argue that one such example of poorly-explained continuity usage was the unexplained references to the Cybermen in the climactic moment of The Curse of Fenric (something that a fan would get but the casual audience who would have heard of the Cybermen would not have understood) - except the ratings were already pretty low that season by the time you got to its 4th last episode, suggesting that something else had already caused the audience to not tune in. However the bigger problem with this theory today is that the new series has arguably had the clearest examples extremely-heavy continuity-based episodes which didn’t bother to explain the continuity references properly - or at all - to the audience, and yet the lack of explanation didn’t cause the slightest dent in the ratings in the grand scheme of things. For example, Journey’s End features appearances from characters from other television series altogether (spin-offs that were seen by a fraction of the audience that Doctor Who was getting at the time) without much in the way of a proper introduction (or in the case of K9, an explanation of why he suddenly appears out of thin air to help save the day). Another good example is The Time of the Doctor, which spends a great deal of time wrapping up about a thousand continuity questions built up over the course of the Matt Smith-era, questions that the casual viewers for a Christmas Day episode would have no knowledge of in the first place. I know this one from personal experience, having watched Matt Smith’s finale with two family members who had only seen a handful of Matt Smith episodes and confessed to me as the episode went on that they hadn’t a clue as to what was happening on the screen and why. People often like to discuss what would be a good story to introduce the series to a new viewer - I would suggest those two episodes would be among the worst stories you could show as a means of introduction, unless you’d like to spend four hours explaining things ahead of time. And yet on both occasions, the ratings for the episode and the episodes which followed were extremely high, suggesting that heavy continuity-usage without explanation didn’t turn off any significant number of viewers (if it turned anybody off at all). So maybe it is possible for unexplained continuity references to kill the popularity of a sci-fi tv series, but if there’s no evidence of this happening in the classic series and the worst offenders from the new series haven’t caused the desertion of the audience either, it makes the contention difficult to take seriously.

It wasn’t just the classic series that has had this claim made against it. The 1996 TV Movie starring Paul McGann also frequently has had this charge leveled at it. “Continuity….. killed Doctor Who in 1989, and it was a desperate shame to see the same infections do it again in ‘96” is a typical contemporary quote (this one from a former Doctor Who Magazine editor in a fanzine interview from 1997). It has always been mystifying to me that people put the lack of further episodes stemming from the TV movie to anything other the lack of the miraculously-high audience tuning into the US broadcast to begin with. The US ratings indicated that those who tuned in stayed tuned in for the two hours - if there was a decline in the US ratings over the gradual course of the TV Movie, then perhaps a theory could be supported - but there was no such decline. The view that the continuity references confused US viewers and caused them to switch off is not based on anything factual. And without further episodes broadcast in either the US or the UK (where the TV Movie, rather than “killing” the franchise, proved that Doctor Who could once again be a mainstream hit), it is really impossible to say either way whether the continuity references in the TV Movie would have put off anyone tuning in to future episodes. The audience research done in the UK (none is known to exist by Fox in the US) certainly suggests that the UK audience enjoyed what they saw (references to the Daleks and the Time Lords and all) - and thus would be more likely than not to tune in again. It also seems far more likely that the TV Movie could have been a complete re-boot with no past continuity references whatsoever, nor a regeneration, and still not garnered the miraculously-high ratings needed to convince FOX to continue with the expense and continued protracted-hassle of more TV movie co-productions with the BBC.

That is purely a theory on my part, but unlike those who have claimed that continuity killed the TV Movie and/or the Classic series, I am at least acknowledging it as such.

June 05, 2016

Head of the Class

It hasn’t received a lot of fanfare or buzz, but Class, written by Patrick Ness, is currently filming and will be the fourth Doctor Who live-action spin-off series to be broadcast (after K9 and Company, Torchwood, and The Sarah Jane Adventures). Perhaps some of the lack of buzz is the fact that this spin-off is not based upon popular characters from the television series, but a location that has been used on and (mostly) off over the past 53 years - Coal Hill School. Nothing much is known about the characters of Class or the regular cast that has been announced (who are pictured above), which probably also contributes to a lack of anticipation. There are rumours that Peter Capaldi will guest star in one episode - which, as a means of generating some excitement (and ratings) for the 8-part 45-minute episode series - probably seems like a wise move.

The Class cast announced is Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, Vivian Oparah and Katherine Kelly, the latter of whom has been confirmed to be playing a teacher at the school. The rest of the regular cast are apparently playing students yet they all look far too old to be playing students of a school like Coal Hill School (where none of the students over the years have looked older than 16, and often much younger), so it will be interesting to find out if Coal Hill School has now changed or expanded its range of academic years offered. Or maybe they are all humanoid aliens who have emigrated to the Earth but still need to get a primary school education before they can get a job here and will be sitting in the same class as a bunch of 7 year olds. If that’s not the premise of this spin-off then so be it, but I think that would actually make for a fun premise nonetheless.

May 09, 2016

The Companion Departures Extra: Clara Oswald

So now that the countdown is complete, we have one more companion exit to deal with (no pun intended) posthumously. This countdown started so long ago that when we began Clara Oswald was still a companion in the TARDIS and thus hadn’t figured into the original numbering. So where would Clara’s departure fit in?

At the moment (and it is possible that one’s mind might change with the passing of time since this departure is still so “new’) I think Clara’s rubbing shoulders with Peri with respect to their respective departures - part of which is perhaps due to the fact that Peri’s departure is the one that Clara’s arguably contains the most similarities to (although generally speaking it is a pretty unique departure). Both companions are seemingly killed off for good in the middle of an epic adventure, only for it to be revealed during the last act of the said epic adventure that the companion’s death wasn’t quite as final as it seemed. Of course, that is supposed to be Clara’s actual death in Face the Raven (whereas it ends up not being so in the case of Peri) - but at the same time she is effectively granted ageless immortality by the stories end when the Doctor uses Time Lord equipment to extract her right before her death (which she will eventually be returned to, although that could be a billion years later). Certainly the ending does fit nicely with Clara’s increasing recklessness that is set up throughout the season - and also gives us the companion departure from the new series that is the least tragic or sad from the point of view of the companion at least, so “differential points” for Clara’s departure on that front. For that reason alone, it is probably the most satisfactory of the modern series’ companion departures (after 10 years, it seems silly to call it “new’).

Clara’s departure might also be said to share similarities with Romana’s (which I placed just ahead of Peri’s) because they are the two companions who’s departure most signify that the companion has become so much like the Doctor that they end up leaving the TARDIS to travel time and space on their own, and with their own companion for that matter. Romana’s companion of K9 (or even Biroc) I do think works better than Clara’s companion of Ashildr in terms of being a logical choice. I don’t have an issue, as some have had, that Clara is now traveling time and space with the girl that is responsible for her eventual death - Clara’s recklessness and the President of the Time Lords who forced the situation have to take the real blame here since Ashildr genuinely didn’t intend for Clara or anyone to get hurt and they wouldn’t have done so if Clara hadn’t intervened behind the Doctor’s back. No, the bigger issue is that traveling for the rest of eternity with someone you’ve not had much chance to develop any chemistry with or a genuine friendship with doesn’t quite work as well as it does in Warriors’ Gate. Having said that, Ashildr also happens to be an immortal, ageless girl, so Clara does have that in common and there is plenty of time for chemistry to build post-series. Given that Big Finish do not yet have a license to do 12th Doctor stories, those hoping for a Big Finish spin-off audio series about two pretty, forever-young-looking girls traveling time and space together may have to wait a while to hear it…...

April 24, 2016

The Companion Departures - #1: Adric

In the end Adric’s departure was the most dramatic companion departure in the show’s history, and for that reason it is number one on our list. But it is not simply the fact that the character is killed off (permanently by the way - which needs mentioning given the companion “resurrections” which have occurred since then) which makes this such an effective departure, it is also because of how well-written the character is in his final story, effectively and convincingly completing a character arc that had begun the previous season. Adric starts off as an impulsive, well-meaning character who often makes mistakes in his youth and inexperience (e.g. his plan to save Romana in State of Decay or his idea to go after the Master in Logopolis) -  but he also was influenced and inspired by the Doctor to try and do the right thing for the good of all, even at his own personal risk and even if it meant trying to do too much (such as in the examples I’ve quoted). Which of course is how the character ultimately meets his demise, albeit after he has saved the lives of billions on Earth. It is quite notable that Adric is the only alien left on board the freighter in Earthshock, and he stays behind to try save it at the very end while all the humans leave their own planet to its fate. An alien interfering in the affairs of Earth on behalf of the Earthlings while the Earthlings themselves are apparently unable to help themselves…......where else in Doctor Who have we seen that before? With the show’s title character of course.

Clearly Adric looked up to the Doctor who was very much a father-figure for the now-orphaned Adric in this 4th incarnation. The 5th Doctor and Adric often squabbled and didn’t get along so well, with the view often stated that the Doctor was now physically too close in “physical age” to act or seem like a mentor to Adric - a view that I’m inclined to agree with. There’s something else at play though - Adric get irritated the moment in Four to Doomsday that the 5th Doctor prefers to take Tegan with him to explore the ship rather than Adric. This was never a problem in the brief period when he traveled with Romana and K9 in the TARDIS or when he traveled alone with the Doctor. Now the Doctor has regenerated and has other companions that he prefers to spend time with when he can. Adric is no longer the favourite and his surrogate father is effectively preferring his other siblings who have more recently come on board. The Doctor probably does this because Adric is much more like the Doctor than Tegan or Nyssa are, and Adric is more like a younger brother than a son to him - and so often older brothers don’t want to hang around with their kid brothers. The Doctor is harsher on Adric for his mistakes in Kinda than he is on Tegan for her idiocy of trying and succeeding in moving the TARDIS in Four to Doomsday and is annoyed when Adric is so much like the Doctor that he’s even able to pilot the TARDIS on his own to rescue the Doctor and Tegan in The Visitation. He is, as he claims at the beginning of Earthshock, regularly teased by his fellow travelers - something quite prevalent in Black Orchid for example. All this to say, when Adric complains at the beginning of Earthshock that he is “fed up” of life on the TARDIS, it is very believable. It certainly doesn’t have the “where did this come from?” feel to it that Sarah Jane’s attempt at a tantrum in The Hand of Fear did.

The tragedy of course is that Adric dies just after he and the 5th Doctor start to come to an understanding and work together well, something they hadn’t really done for much of the preceding adventures. On the positive side, Adric’s death is quite noble and heroic - as mentioned above, he is responsible for saving the lives of billions of humans in the 26th century as his actions inadvertently send the freighter back in time. And his actions also help to save the lives of the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa - Adric is intelligent enough to grasp that with his gold star on his badge could be used as a weapon against the Cybermen which not only causes a distraction to overcome Ringway but allows the Doctor to take possession of the gold star.  Lots of people have of course noticed that Adric’s mathematical excellence saves the billions of humans in the 26th century, but it’s often not credited for saving the lives of the rest of his companions in the TARDIS. If Adric didn’t get an award for being great at maths, there is no gold star that the Doctor can use to overcome the Cyberleader in the TARDIS. It’s also a good thing that Adric’s pride (some would say arrogance) in achieving the award meant that he always wore the gold star. But then it was long established that Adric believed in badges of honour - the belt that he’s holding in the picture above, during his final moments, was his brother Varsh’s originally and a symbol of belonging to Varsh’s gang, given to him by another member of the gang on Varsh’s death (where he also heroically died saving others).

Revenge of the Cybermen established gold as a weakness to the Cybermen, and Full Circle established Adric’s gold star (along with the Outler’s belt and Adric’s musical “motif” which also makes a return appearance in his final moments despite the musical score being done by a different composer than the person one who originally composed it). Neither story was written with Earthshock in mind, but the continuity elements from those former stories were blended beautifully in the powerful, dramatic conclusion of the latter, resulting in the most memorable and dramatic exit for a companion to date, and one which worked perfectly for the character’s two-season arc during the show.

April 10, 2016

The Companion Departures - #2: Jo Grant

To be fair, one could make a convincing argument that this companion departure could easily be number one. Jo has a three-year character arc that probably surpasses any companion from the classic series in terms of the character’s consistent character development. From a kooky, well-meaning but inexperienced kid that is eager but out of her depth (getting easily taken over by the Master in her first episode of her first story), to a more experienced, wiser version which is still recognizably the same character, Jo Grant has a fairly consistent character arc. In her last season there are some nice touches that allows us to see how far the character has come (for example, the Master is unable to hypnotize her in Frontier in Space - Jo herself points out that she’s come a long way since he first did so in Terror of the Autons) while still remaining the same character. For example in her first trip in the TARDIS in Colony in Space, she is quite freaked out by the fact that they are on another planet - in her final season, she is, frankly, eager to get back home after traveling time and space with the Doctor for a few stories. She gets homesick fairly quickly, which is consistent with her initial horror when she realizes in Colony in Space that she isn’t on Earth any more.

This leads neatly into the final story, where at the start of the story she decides to stay on earth to fight the home-grown threat of pollution rather than to accompany the Doctor on another trip through time and space. That in itself signals that Jo’s time as the Doctor’s “assistant” is soon to come to an end. The fact that she meets a younger, human version of the Doctor is also a nice logical touch. Compare the romance between Jo and Professor Jones to the polar opposite one of Leela and Andred, which comes out of nowhere. Frankly, there is no comparison.

But as with Jamie’s reaction to Victoria’s departure, what helps to make this departure one of the most logical, memorable and emotional is the Doctor’s reaction to Jo’s departure. I’m more inclined to take Jon Pertwee’s view that it was a paternal love, rather than a romantic one, but nevertheless the Doctor really shows his affection for Jo in this story like no other companion departure we’d seen before (or arguably ever again in the classic series). The shot of the Doctor driving off across the skyline after he walks lonely through a group of farm animals (now running free after the threat of pollution/industrialization has been defeated) brilliantly ties the emotional character arc in the story with the thematic, conceptual plot of The Green Death. It’s arguable that no other story has combined both the character and conceptual arcs so well in its conclusion.

It’s number two on the list, but it could easily be considered joint top first.

March 22, 2016

The Companion Departures - #3: Victoria Waterfield

If there was a winner for most under-rated companion departure, Victoria’s would win. A large part of this stems from the fact that her departure takes place in Fury From the Deep, a story that most Doctor Who fans haven’t seen or listened to the soundtrack to since the entire serial is currently missing from the BBC archives, barring a handful of clips. For those unfamiliar with it, this six part story has an unusual ending in that the adventure ends with about 10 minutes to go in the episode. The rest of the time is spent focusing on Victoria and he decision to either leave with Jamie and the Doctor as per usual or to leave them and stay in contemporary England. Its one of the rare occasion where the Doctor and his companions actually stay after the adventure to have a celebratory dinner with the guest characters and on top of that the Doctor and Jamie even stay an extra day in case Victoria (who decides during the dinner that she wants to stay in contemporary England) decides to change her mind. But, much to the chagrin of Jamie, she decides not to.

This departure is definitely a logical one for the character - Victoria never really sought adventure, but joined the Doctor after she was kidnapped by the Daleks and orphaned by them once they killed her father. The Doctor and Jamie took her on board the TARDIS and became father and brother figures for her, respectively. By the time we reach Fury From the Deep, she’s simply got extremely weary from being constantly being kidnapped, hypnotized or terrorized by villains and monsters (something that happens in her previous four stories - in fact, the story where she is least victimized is arguably Tomb of the Cybermen, where Kaftan “merely” pulls a gun on her after she has drugged her). After the latest harrowing adventure, you can understand why a girl that was never looking to travel the universe and fight monsters would want to take a break from it, even if it meant saying goodbye to her adopted family.

While the motivation for the departure was certainly original at the time and not often repeated (Tegan’s is probably the closest) and definitely is appropriate and logical for the character and her development, that’s only a mere part of the reason why this is ranked so high. A bigger part of the reason actually has to do, ironically, with the other companion in the TARDIS at this time - Jamie. It’s Jamie’s heartfelt - and heartbroken - reaction to Victoria deciding right in front of him to leave the TARDIS - that pushes this further up the charts. Because while Victoria saw Jamie more of a brother figure, he was always in love with her, and it is easily the top unrequited love story between companions. We have to remember that Jamie first rescues Victoria from the Daleks because he’s fallen in love with her (based on a portrait of her mother which is strikingly similar to what Victoria looks like - although it’s not as though he changes his mind when he actually meets her). Getting a chance to play the hero in that story, you can see the pride in his face and the tone of his voice when he helps to offer her security and shelter in the opening minutes of Tomb of the Cybermen (which takes place immediately after the end of The Evil of the Daleks, her debut story). From there, he is extremely protective of her while at the same time not shying away from his interest and his attraction to her. For example, he playfully suggests to Victoria that she should show a lot more leg in The Ice Warriors, and he describes her as “very pretty” in The Enemy of the World (a story in which he also voluntarily calls her his girlfriend as part of a cover story for infiltrating Salamander’s palace, even though he could easily have said it was his sister or a cousin).

As such, it comes as no surprise that when the Doctor asks Victoria whether she wants to stay, Jamie is adamant that she “can’t” and is really upset about it.  It’s a shame we can’t see the episodes at this time in order to see if the heartbreak that you can hear in Jamie’s voice as they leave her behind also manifested in Jamie’s face. At the end his anger boils over that he “couldn’t care less” where they go next since it is without her, while the Doctor retorts “I was fond of her too you know Jamie”. Yes Doctor you were, but probably not in the same way that Jamie was…..

Its an original departure, logical for the character but also easily one of the most emotional. It’s built up throughout the entire six-part story and then certainly not rushed at the end - with the 10 minute epilogue at the end of the story, arguably more screen time is spent on Victoria’s departure than all of the other Troughton-era companion departures (Ben, Polly, Zoe and, ironically given his role in this one, Jamie) combined. For my money, this is the best companion departure of the 1960’s.

March 02, 2016

The Companion Departures - #4: Romana

Although she is depicted here, Mary Tamm’s incarnation is not the departure we are referring to here which earns in a Top 4 placing in our countdown. That is of course because the character did not depart in between The Armageddon Factor and Destiny of the Daleks, it was the actress that did. And before she passed away, Mary Tamm was able to record a new string of post-Key to Time season adventures with the 4th Doctor which means that, if you count the Big Finish audios as canon, The Armageddon Factor isn’t even the final chronological story for Mary Tamm’s incarnation. If you were to separate the two Romana’s and base this list purely on actress departures, the first incarnation of Romana’s departure would be way down the list, particularly since Mary Tamm wasn’t even involved in her departure scenes.

But the actual departure of Romana as a character is one of the best. It has the advantage of taking place at the end of a fantastic, mind-blowing Doctor Who story, but even if that story is not to your tastes, Romana’s departure still must be considered one of the best because not only is it unique and true to her character, it is arguably the first time in the show’s history that a companion’s departure is set up stories in advance, rather than merely being set up in the departure story itself, which tended to be the norm in the classic series days (if the departure was “set-up” at all, that is). It is often suggested that Ace’s character arc was the one in the classic series that most similar to what would come in the new (or should we call it “current”?) series, however there is certainly a case to be made for Romana. Like many the new series companions, she doesn’t want to return to her home and give up her new lifestyle seeing the universe in the TARDIS and having adventures - only this sentiment is most overtly expressed in Full Circle, in an episode broadcast about 12 weeks before her actual departure at the end of Warriors’ Gate. And like many of the new series companions, she develops to the point where she becomes an equal partner to or almost an equivalent of the Doctor. This can clearly be seen in Warriors Gate, where she takes on a very “Doctor-like” role in the narrative, even to the point where Adric is pretty much her own companion rather than the Doctor’s. This leads of course to Romana deciding to go her own way and with K9 (yes, his departure counts at #4 too) and have adventures of her own helping those in need. It is not only a logical character progression but also the departure fits in with her need to keep the time and space traveling lifestyle.

In short, Romana’s departure was not just alright - it was superb.

February 07, 2016

The Companion Departures - #5:  Perpugiliam (Peri) Brown

This is certainly an interesting departure - we don’t actually see it happen, we hear about it afterwards. So why isn’t it down in the depths with Dodo or Liz’s departure which also are only referred to after the fact? Mainly because that’s the only thing that these departures have in common, the apparent departure - and death - of Peri at the end of Mindwarp is absolutely the focus of that particularly story in The Trial of a Time Lord, so one can hardly say that the character is just casually written out the same way that Dodo and Liz were. Peri has an extremely dramatic apparent departure on screen. The actual departure - including the resolution which comes afterwards - is very unique and which - spoilers for those who haven’t seen the 2015 season of Doctor Who - ends up sharing some similarities with Clara’s departure.

There’s an impending sense of inevitable tragedy throughout Mindwarp as the Trial format works magnificently in this story. The Doctor’s lack of memory from being taken out of time allows for some brilliant foreshadowing (if that’s the right word) by the Valeyard as he is able to tell the Doctor that he’s in for a nasty surprise when they get to the end of the adventure - something that works better than any trailer ever could (even if the trailer included a clip of the Valeyard saying that very line). When the apparent death does occur on screen - including the Matrix screen - it is quite shocking. Some (many?) fans prefer this ending and feel the resolution that the Matrix evidence was fabricated to be a cop out. However there were plenty of clues - both on screen and off screen - that should have alerted anyone paying attention to the possibility - if not the probability - that Peri’s death at the end of Mindwarp did not actually happen. First, the events are not witnessed in person by the Doctor but he’s watching in on a television screen the way the audience is; related to that the possibility of the Matrix’s evidence being tampered with is present throughout The Trial of a Time Lord. Thirdly, there’s a illogical jump in the evidence presented, where Crozier spends the entire story (as well as much time before it) trying to solve a physical problem of finding a skull that is large enough and yet compatible for Kiv’s brain, but after the Doctor is taken out of time and space, suddenly Crozier is able to transfer the contents of Kiv’s mind into Peri’s brain - a more subtle clue that the ending was a fabrication, but a clue nonetheless. Finally, the people who believe that Peri did and should have died at the end of Mindwarp obviously missed the memo about Doctor Who being an optimistic show, as there was never any chance that a companion’s fate would be that horrific, without any positive side to it whatsoever. In no way is her death a cop out, to anyone paying attention, the probability that it was a fake was always there.

Another question is hoow likely was it that Peri would agree to marry Yrcanos? Under the circumstances that we know of, very likely. The Doctor and the TARDIS has been removed from the planet and given that she was stuck there, who else was she going to spend her time with - Crozier? The old Thoros-Betan who was just happy when Yrcanos didn’t shout? We know that Yrcanos wanted Peri (this isn’t a Andred and Leela fancy each other out of nowhere scenario), and they do spend some quality time together and they do get along. Under the circumstances, I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that Peri takes the best offer available to her. Although I think the Doctor envisioning Peri & Yrcanos with a pink heart around them upon hearing the news is perhaps a tad fanciful on the Doctor’s part - but then he’s an old romantic at heart. Just ask Cameca if you don’t believe me.

January 31, 2016

The Companion Departures - #6 - Nyssa

Terminus is one of the most underrated Doctor Who stories of all time and as such Nyssa’s departure is also often underrated. Yet it is a departure which is original, emotional, poignant, and serves the character well. It is a very logical “fate” for Nyssa and makes for a companion departure that is immensely satisfying as a result. And no, I’m not saying that because Nyssa drops her skirt (although that isn’t a negative either). Nyssa’s departure is one of the most selfless, yet non-tragic acts any companion has done in the history of the show. She stays behind on Terminus to take a very hard life so she can use her scientific skills and knowledge to help the sick. She leaves her companions in the TARDIS (basically, the only “family” she has left) and gives up seeing the wonders of the universe for the sake of staying in a dirty, grimy, bleak space station that is filled with contagious, sick people. And yet, her decision to do this isn’t a stretch at all, but the sort of thing that the audience could always see the character doing. It’s difficult, in hindsight, to see a more satisfactory departure for this particular character - if she was going to leave the Doctor, it was going to have to be for martyrdom reasons, one way after another. Given that her departure is the first to follow the death of Adric, it was always unlikely that they would have killed off a second long-time companion.

There’s been fan speculation that Nyssa would ultimately have married one of the Vanir or perhaps persuaded Olvir to stay and help, and started a relationship with him. I believe the latter is more likely than the former, especially since the fate of Olvir and Kari is left unclear in terms of what they would do next. Either way, I imagine that the Garm would have presided over the wedding, and how cool would that have been?

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