Due to continuing problems with Blogger on a public computer, I’m putting Some Fantastic Place on hiatus until those issues can be resolved. Successive posts here were drafted for that site so the 100-page “Super Specs “posts are on hold now, also.
Just under a month ago, Britain was sweltering in the grip of an usually hot summer. I was visiting the Rhins of Galloway and en route had a pit-stop in the tiny village of Lendalfoot, five miles south of Girvan.
In 1978, my family took a caravan holiday in Lendalfoot and my lasting memories are of our dogs making themselves sick on seawater when the rain wasn’t cascading down the road and swelling the Water of Lendal. I spent much of that week reading the Target books of Terrance Dicks: they inspired my earliest attempts to dream up adventures for Dr. Who. The savage Leela had departed from the series earlier in ’78 and I thought the Time lady Rodan from The Invasion of Time would make an excellent replacement.
I seemed to be in tune with the zeitgeist since a couple of weeks later, the autumn season issue of Radio Times showcased the glamorous Mary Tamm as Time Lady assistant Romana. This imperious character seemed to be inspired by Star Wars’ Princess Leia.
Sadly, Mary Tamm passed away earlier this year. I listened to her final audio adventures with Tom Taker’s Fourth Doctor earlier this summer.
Phantoms of the Deep: Jonathan Morris departs from his often blackly comic, timey-wimey style for an action thriller on the subsea vessel Erebus in the Mariana Trench. The Doctor, Romana and K9 encounter super-intelligent squid and psychic goblins on a sunken WWII submarine. This cross between The Abyss and Quatermass and the Pit is a bit too spooky for 1978’s Season Sixteen but entertaining enough.
The Dalek Contract: The two-part season finale sees David Warner return as intergalactic CEO Cuthbert, a character originally created for the Audio Visuals taped plays of the mid-80s. Here, the conceit is that the Conglomerate has contracted the Daleks as a security force on the freezing wasteland planet of Proxima Major. The Doctor meets a generic band of rebels but the opportunity to lampoon that trope is ignored. The USP of the story is K9 vs the Daleks, of course.
The Final Phase: the Daleks’ master plan to open a Quantum Gateway is revealed but it feels very familiar: Nicholas Briggs has explored a plot to conquer all realities in his Dalek War series, IIRC. The mystery of Cuthbert’s motives and origins is floated but I don’t think the scripting was up to the face-off that Baker vs. Warner promises. I’d like to see someone other than Nicholas Briggs write a Dalek script for a change; I feel he’s burned out on them.
Is the series in the vein of the Graham Williams era? Well, not especially: unless, perhaps, Cuthbert had been replaced with the usurious Collector from The Sun Makers. Two-part season finales are an innovation of Russell T. Davies and the only story that felt genuinely like a Seventies script was the Wodehouse parody, The Auntie Matter.
Big Finish seems compelled by nostalgia to revisit every era of the show, no matter how crisis-torn and to produce sequels to virtually every story. It’s a fannish impulse to see absolutely everything as “brilliant”. The chemistry of the leads in this mini-series was much less engaging than the combination of McGann and Sheridan Smith. However, the music by Alistair Lock is amazingly evocative of Dudley Simpson’s late 70s scores.
The character of Romana (or “Ramona” as Cuthbert would have it) is a clear response to the perennial request to cast the Doctor as a woman- a pointless and tokenistic idea that resurfaced yet again before the Peter Capaldi announcement. In my opinion, it’s as redundant as a Jane Bond or Tarzana. Yet, I have actually seen it suggested on Facebook that it’s the only way to make the series relevant to a modern audience! I don’t understand what’s relevant or modern or empowering, most importantly, about passing the mantle of a male hero to a female one (see also Supergirl, Bat-Girl, et al). However, the second and most Doctor-ish incarnation of Romana stars in Babblesphere.
Jonathan Morris returns for the fourth installment of the Destiny of the Doctor talking book range, posing the question: would Douglas Adams have made fun of Twitter? A very vivid picture of the volcanic planet Hephastos is evoked where, incongrously, a man in a powdered wig dies in a replica of Versailles, “head smouldering like a spent firework”. The Doctor and Romana are pitted against the Prolocutor of the Babble network, an archetypal mad computer and overcome the machine with a stream of trivia, such as a list of the bits of the Tardis which go wrong. This is a charming and witty two-hander delivered in Lalla Ward’s plummy, acerbic tones.
At present, i’m listening to The Harvest of Time, an audiobook love letter to the era of Jon Pertwee, the Master and UNIT. I’ll be posting about that, about The Wolverine and Marvel’s Savage Tales in the very near future.
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