Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Doctor Who's Greatest Moments: Part Two - The 70s

Following on from last month's walk through memory lane at the best moments in Sixties Doctor Who, now we turn to, you've got it, the seventies, which saw two very distinct eras go by (or almost, in Tom Baker's case). While the sixties are usually seen as the show's experimental decade, playing with what the series could do, the early seventies were really far more so. With a whole new look for the show - the Doctor now finally travelled in colour, as well as through time and space - Doctor Who was also made into a contemporary thriller series; marooned on present-day Earth, the Third Doctor is attached to a division of the army dedicated to thwarting alien threat. By the later seventies, however, the show went back to its roots - with the Doctor once again a hobo in space - but retained the Third Doctor's era's rousing sense of adventure, arguably becoming the most assured era of the series' original run. Whatever your viewpoint, the seventies certainly contains some of Doctor Who's greatest stories - and, by extension, some of its greatest moments.

10. In Paris, City of Death

Near the beginning of Douglas Adams' City of Death, one of the show's greats, comes a low-key but special moment. Making the most of the episode's overseas filming, we are shown a medley of the Doctor and Time Lady Romana, enjoying themselves around the city, accompanied by Dudley Simpson's memorable score (recently heard at this year's Doctor Who at the Proms). In a story full of great comedy moments and a rather fabulous monster reveal, this beats the lot by giving us something a little rarer in Who; the chance to see the Doctor and his companion having a good ol' time away from extraterrestrial shenanigans. And, you know what, they look like they're having fun.

9. The Doctor in the shower, Spearhead from Space

In the previous regeneration up to this point, the Doctor had changed from Hartnell to Troughton with virtually no problem whatsoever, going off to defeat the Daleks and be back inside the TARDIS in time for tea. However, for a long while after the Third Doctor's 'birth' he remains unconscious in a hospital bed before crying out for his shoes and, later, indulging in a spot of singing in the shower. Apart from the fun seeing comic actor Pertwee larking about in a role that he usually played straight, this moment's also significant for being the first of the post-regeneration 'silliness' scenes, in which the still-cooking Doctor will be rather hyperactive. Nowadays, every regeneration is accompanied by something reminiscent of this scene but it remains the original and one of the best.

8. Alternate 1980, Pyramids of Mars

From the moment the Fourth Doctor discovers that Sutekh the Destroyer is trying to break his bonds, his signature toothy grin is nowhere in sight; it is clear this is a fierce opponent. Knowing how much trouble they could be in, Sarah Jane suggests they get in the TARDIS and leave. In answer, the Doctor does just that and returns to Sarah's hometime of 1980 - and it is a barren wasteland. This is the future of the Earth, the Doctor tells her, unless they stop Sutekh. It's a brilliantly effective scene and one that perfectly captures who the Doctor is. Despite the danger posed to himself, he will do anything to ensure that human - or any - lives will be saved. In short, he's a hero. And gawd bless him.

7. The Many Faces of Doctor Who, The Brain of Morbius

We may know that the Doctor's a hero but, as a fantastic moment in Fourth Doctor story Brain of Morbius shows us, we don't really know much about him at all. The Time Lord criminal Morbius, his brain inhabiting a mish-mash alien creature, has engaged the Doctor in a battle of the minds and is pouring through his thoughts. We see all four of his faces appear on screen and then - what?! - several more. 'How long?' the creature cries. 'How long have you lived?' The idea of the Doctor living more lives than those we have seen is a tantalising one - and something I'm glad to see is being explored in the coming The Day of the Doctor. This is such an important scene as it reminds us of that eternal question; Doctor Who?

6. A dandy and a clown, The Three Doctors

Multi-Doctor stories are always great fan-pleasers - what could be better than several incarnations of your favourite hero coming together in a big nonsensical celebratory bash? And for seventies viewers who watched the first occasion this happens on screen, in The Three Doctors which marked the show's tenth - aw, bless - anniversary, it must have been simply the best. Brought together by the Time Lords, the Second and Third Doctors argument is cut short by the appearance of the First Doctor on the TARDIS scanner. However, he doesn't treat his other selves with much more respect. 'So you're my replacements,' he says. 'A dandy and a clown', thereby creating one of the most famous of Doctor Who quotes. This November's 50th anniversary shindig will hopefully provide some fun multi-Doctor moments but it will be hard pressed to beat the first. The original, you might say.

5. 'Where there's life, there's a...', Planet of the Spiders

Realising he is to blame for the attack of the Eight Legs, a race of giant spiders (see number 3), the Third Doctor returns to Metebelis III to stop the Great One and her plans to rule the universe (don't alien monsters ever want a quiet life?). With the spider destroyed, the Doctor returns to his TARDIS having saved  the world - but at a cost. He has been hit with a deadly dose of radiation. Arriving at UNIT HQ, watched by Sarah Jane and the Brigadier, the Third Doctor dies and a new man rises from the ashes. With its Buddhist undertones and many facets that would be used in later deaths of Doctors - accepting their own passing for the greater good, for instance - this is a superior regeneration scene.

4. 'Do I have the right?', Genesis of the Daleks

At the climax of this Dalek-origins story, the Doctor has a tough decision to make. At Davros' incubation room - the birthplace of all Daleks - the Doctor has only to connect two wires to destroy the room, and the Daleks will be wiped from history. But the Doctor's moral conscience is too great. He would be committing genocide - surely making him as bad as the Daleks themselves. Thankfully, though, the decision is taken out of his hands as the Doctor and his friends are found. Not only a brilliant character moment for the Doctor - Russell T Davies has said that the Doctor's meddling in the Daleks' creation sparked the Time War - it also embodies a thought-provoking philosophical and moral question. What would you do in that situation?

3. A Parting Gift, The Green Death

Companion exits are always among the most memorable and, let's admit it, emotional of Doctor Who moments and the time the clumsy but lovely Jo Grant decided to leave the Doctor's side is sure to tug at any Who fan's heart. At a UNIT celebration, Jo announces she is getting married to another adventuring scientist, Professor Cliff Jones. Cut up, the Doctor gives Jo her wedding present, a crystal from Metebelis III (a crystal the spiders of the planet will later want back...) and, as the rest of the party congratulates the couple, the Doctor slips quietly away. The scene is played to perfection, with so much left unsaid by the pair. Sadly, the Doctor is used to goodbyes...

2. 'Don't Forget Me', The Hand of Fear

After a trying adventure, Sarah Jane is feeling tired of travelling the universe.And, at the same time, the Doctor receives a call from Gallifrey, where he must go alone. Departing on good terms, the Doctor and Sarah Jane say farewell. 'Don't forget me,' she tells him. 'Oh, Sarah Jane,' he replies, 'don't you forget me.' A masterclass of underacting, Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are both excellent here. As with Jo's leaving scene, both the Doctor and his companion know their time together is up. They have grown-up. And the Doctor can't stand to see that happen; the one thing he can never do. Overall, this is a bittersweet ending to perhaps Doctor Who's best TARDIS team.

1. Indomitable! The Ark of Space

The moment from seventies Doctor Who I'm naming as the best is not a fond farewell to a much-loved companion or a heartbreaking death of a Doctor, but is in fact a moment of reflection by the Time Lord on his favourite species. Finding themselves on Nerva Beacon, the last refuge of humanity in the far future, the Doctor and Harry discover countless humans cryogenically frozen, sleeping until they find a new world. 'Homo Sapiens,' booms the Doctor, beginning a speech that waxes lyrical about the invincibility of the people of the Earth. We know that the Doctor loves Earth but in this scene we get to see the full extent of his admiration for us. He's almost proud, like a father pleased with how his children have turned out. 'They're indomitable,' the Doctor wraps up. 'Indomitable.' Much like Doctor Who itself, really. No matter how much it changes, it just keeps going. Ready to outsit eternity...? Who knows.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

After the rest of the world has long since devoured Neil Gaiman's latest offering, and a few weeks since I received a signed copy from the man himself, here, a little late to the party, is my review of the superb The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Don't be shy, dive in.

We all remember being scared as children. Of a curtain blowing in the wind from the window, of a misshapen shadow falling on the wall or, for this reviewer at a certain age, of a velociraptor in a chequered shirt coming up the stairs to eat you (don’t ask. No really, don’t). These sorts of memories can be some of the strongest that we retain from childhood. But, usually, there’s a relief at the end; a closing of the window, a switching on of the light, an …even bigger dinosaur protecting you. However, sometimes children have real reason to be scared. And the narrator of The Ocean at the End of the Lane certainly does.

After his family’s lodger, the opal miner, is found dead, our narrator is caught in a helpless situation as his cosy seven-year-old world is torn apart when an ancient entity with the power of a god is released. With designs for the flint lane on which he lives and the people in it.

A lot has been said about the novel's themes of memory and reflection yet, although these are integral to the atmosphere of the piece, what must not be forgotten is that Gaiman weaves together a gripping story which at its core is about the terror and triumph of childhood. What separates this from Gaiman’s other works that feature children against otherworldly forces – for instance, The Graveyard Book and Coraline – is that the novel is a recollection of an adult narrator back to his childhood and the horrors that he faced. Because of this, probably why it was a book aimed at adults rather than children, there is a stronger air of hopelessness to proceedings; a feeling of being totally lost in a grown-up world. Thankfully, though, there is some light at the end of the lane…

For this reader, the Hempstocks are the stars of the piece. The three women of varying ages, who live on the old farm at the street’s end, are ancient, wise beings themselves. ‘The ocean’ of the title sits in their land – it’s actually a duckpond, but one with a few secrets. As a child, I think we all dreamt that something or someone where we lived was different and out-of-the-ordinary and Gaiman personifies this perfectly in the heroic Hempstock women.

However, heroes and monsters are all well and good but perhaps when the novel is at its most involving is in its mixing of this other world the boy encounters and his own family. As a child, our family is our bedrock and when it is at risk there’s nothing more terrifying. We can all find something we recognise in our own family in the one the author creates and so, when the cracks appear in it and his parents fail to help their son in his predicament, Gaiman's exquisite prose takes us all back to being a scared, defenceless child.

Overall, the book is an excellent composite between the author’s adult fiction and his output for younger audiences, and is really suitable for the young and old, who will read it from different perspectives. Give it a go and you’ll find it’s easy to get lost in the ocean of fear and magic and fairy tale that runs through the heart of Gaiman's novel. The Ocean at the End of the Lane may make you revisit a time of moving curtains, lingering shadows and shirted dinosaurs but you might just feel richer for it.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Favourite Fictional Characters: Samantha Carter by @missvariety

Earlier this year, I announced that I was planning to do a blogathon on the subject of favourite fictional characters. However, recently I had a change of heart (to quote a certain criminal mastermind: 'I'm so changeable!') and decided it will now be a monthly feature. Hopefully, readers of this blog will enjoy other wonderful, talented fiction-fans talk about their favourite characters - to make a change from me blabbing on about mine (go on, have a guess who they are). First up, a huge thanks to @missvariety for writing this great, personal piece  - worthy of opening this new series of guest posts for your enjoyment. 

There are many TV shows, books, games and films that I love and within their stories contain some of my favourite characters. Many of these are recent adventures, either still being produced in the pages of novels or broadcast on our televisions. However, my choice takes me back to when I was a teenager, a TV series I was introduced to by my Dad and has often shaped my own interests and personality.  

Stargate SG-1 had already been running for seven seasons until I discovered season eight as it aired. Immediately captivated I spent the following summer earning enough money each week to buy a season. The story itself deeply interested me due to its basis in our own history; one of the characters was an archaeologist, a profession I'd wanted to follow for years. The discovery of a Stargate, a ring that produced wormholes which could transport you across space, opened a whole new realm of possibilities. The characters themselves were relatable and fascinating. The world created felt real. It was my first real fandom, and I was hooked. 

Of course, it was also my first introduction to a very real, and a very impressive female character. Samantha Carter walked into the first season as Captain, and left as a Colonel, with a brief stint in command of the off-world base at Atlantis. Sam was my first experience of a strong, independent and intelligent fictional female role model. What makes Sam stand out from the others is her attitude; she’s in the militaryshe’s a woman in a man’s worldShe enters the first episode defending her own gender, she’s not to be argued with nor put down. As each episode is concerned with travelling through the Stargate a new culture is visited each time which often challenge our own perception of the world, as we do theirs. A first season episode entitled 'Emancipation' contained a community where it was believed that women were ''property''. Through this episode Sam challenges this view, ultimately winning a battle of hand to hand combat with the chieftain in a display of strength and agility. 

However, Sam is most well-known because of her intelligence. Sam is a scientist, and a bloody good one at that. She engineered a lot of the technology around making the Stargate work, and is quite expert in her field. If something needs a scientific fix, Sam’s the one that makes it happen, and this often happens. Yet she’s not just an action hero. She’s also very compassionate, loving, but foremost, very loyal. For me, personally, Sam Carter was a realisation that women didn't have to be quiet, we could be badass and awesome. Sam was everything I ever wanted to be. Sam was my first, and my best, role model. 

If you are interested in contributing a future guest post, please send me an email at chalbo@outlook.com, tweet me @Chalbo100 or leave a comment below!

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