Sunday, 12 January 2014

What to Watch Next: Dalek & The Daleks

First Dalek story = first Dalek story. As fun as it is coming up with tangled interconnections between episodes (just wait until "Turn Left"), this particular entry was pretty much inevitable.

In the interests of going on for at least a brief paragraph or so before delving into the actual video content that's the ostensible point of these posts (partly for aesthetic reasons, but largely because that'd just be too straightforward for what ought to be an entertainingly fraught discussion), it's worth observing that in both cases the Doctor ends up nearly getting his companion(s) killed for reasons of his own. Pure blind curiosity and carelessness on the one hand (to say nothing of impatience - if he'd looked at the radiation detector any longer he would have seen the trouble), pure blind terror on the other. You can't quite see any of the incarnations in the middle behaving like this.

By extending that logic Tennant ought to have been at once more surface-likeable and giving more of an impression of being unknowably alien underneath than Eccleston, and Matt Smith the one obsessed with his sartorial choices, fast vehicles and James Bond stunts. Yeah, it doesn't quite work, but it's a grace note for Peter Capaldi.


The main difference being...

The trailer for the Big Finish audio that Rob Shearman reworked into his TV script - one of the best stories Big Finish have ever done, and considerably longer and more philosophical than the telly version (it also includes a chocolate-cake-loving history professor, time paradoxes, bunting, the all-dominant English Empire, and an extraordinarily good scene with a much-loathed wheelchair-bound associate of the Daleks). It's also rather wittier and more coherent than this slightly underwhelming trailer would suggest - try his opening scene from the first episode instead. Although the uploader left out the last few lines which make it clear that this is actually propaganda for the aforementioned English Empire...

If you'd prefer an actual video, try this one of Shearman reading a fantasy short story of his: "The Dark Space in the House in the House in the Garden at the Centre of the World," also riffing on an old and much-beloved creation story...

"The Big Time"
Whereas, as fantastic as it would be to see on screen, there isn't yet a movie version of this audio clip - it's the first in Fritz Leiber's handful of Time War stories. Mind, he calls it the Change War. If you ever want a straightforward way to explain the high concept of a universe-spanning temporal conflict to anybody, you could do a lot worse than give them the opening chapter - he doesn't make assumptions about what the reader knows or doesn't in terms of technobabble, but the World War-Two-flavoured atmosphere gives it a solid grounding in something his readership would have recognised as being all too real. And Leiber's always entertaining.

(The text version is on Project Gutenberg here, if you'd rather just read it).

(Actually, Clifford Simak's "Time and Again" both used the term "Time War" and appeared in print considerably earlier, but while there are a fair number of audiobooks of Simak's works out there, that particular book seems to still be in copyright. Nevertheless, take this mention as a recommendation for that too.)

"A clip from Corrie"
Bruno Langley playing the part he was known for before appearing in Doctor Who, and frankly would still be best remembered for if you asked the average person in the street - (and he's recently returned to the programme, no less). For those not up to speed on British soaps, the Coronation Street fan wiki has heroically reduced years worth of plotlines into a fairly understandable and coherent summary about the show's first gay character. RTD could not possibly have missed hearing about this, which might clear up the abandonment of any Rose-Adam romantic tension in "The Long Game".

"Dalek stair-climbing joke"
It's not often this can be said, but the Youtube comments do sum up the situation - despite circumstantial evidence and lots of exciting levitating Daleks in comics, and then Ben Aaronovitch trying to put an end to this once and for all with the cliffhanger in "Remembrance of the Daleks", comedians would keep making bad jokes about Daleks going up stairs.

Thankfully, "Dalek" seems to have put an end to the tradition for once and for all.

"What Time Is It, Eccles"
And speaking of jokes...we'll explain later. Just have a go.

"The Daleks"

...they don't make operators wear ties any more.

"That Pakistani Daleks sketch"
So you've seen a bit of Hancock's Half Hour now, if you've been following this series of posts - Terry Nation did a lot of comedy writing before a fall-out with the notoriously touchy Hancock left him out of a job. Just when David Whitaker was asking if he'd like to work on Doctor Who. But he'd broken into the industry when Spike Milligan (creator of "The Goon Show", the source of that clip above, and inspiration for any number of British comedians) gave him a chance writing scripts. Nation paid back the favour years later when Milligan scored one of the few officially permitted uses of Daleks -

and yet, all the potential from great British icons meeting is wasted on some cheap slapstick gags and a dull and vaguely racist joke about Pakistanis. It's a complete waste, hence putting the good clip first - Milligan was usually far better than this.   

"Beryl Vertue"
As mentioned in the clip, she was Spike Milligan's agent, and by extension ended up as Terry Nation's agent (there's a lot of backstory about Associated London Scripts here). In which capacity, she negotiated that famous contract that allowed Nation to keep the Dalek rights. All sorts of oddities, from "The Android Invasion" to RTD inventing the Toclafane, crop up as a result of this. As the clip also indicates, her career as a television producer has been very, very successful.

Oh, and the interviewer skims over how she's producing "Sherlock" for her son-in-law, which is a trifle odd.

"Civil Defence Information Bulletin"
Ah, public information films - this one actually predates the '70s Charley Says subgenre, but you get the picture. This one's first of a series, made in 1964, prepared to be broadcast in case of nuclear war to tell people what to do next. Fortunately there wasn't ever cause to air it.

In light of the idea that life might be continuable at all after a nuclear disaster (see also: Raymond Briggs' "When the Wind Blows"), Terry Nation's ideas about radiation and science in general seem perfectly sensible by comparison.

"Special Sound - Dick Mills and Brian Hodgson"
Really, a good clip of Raymond Cusick would have been apt, but he's hard to find on video.  There was a nice Confidential with him in it back when they were still doing those, but not for this story, funnily enough. So some fun with the Pebble Mill ring modulators seemed in order instead.

"More Special Sound"
To round off with the crushingly inevitable - by the time the year ended, both Beatlemania and Dalekmania were off to the races. Beloved national institutions after a tentative start making a good showing for themselves, etc. etc. Screaming fans. Etc.

However, since half of this post has been about British comedy anyway, here's a suitable version of "She Loves You".


Will said...

Sue Vertue, Beryl's daughter is producing Sherlock.

Dorothy Ail said...

Indeed. So is Beryl. It's a family project, really.

(Actually, the Sherlock website has a nice potted biography at )