Sunday, 9 March 2014

What to Watch Next: Parting of the Ways & Remembrance of the Daleks

And we're back. A simple proposition, this week - these two are arguably the two best Dalek stories since they started making DW in colour (let's face it, the Hartnell stories reserve a privileged status simply because they were there first, and you can't fairly discuss Troughton episodes that no one's seen in decades). "Parting of the Ways" did the big, effects-laden Dalek fleet as prettily as anyone's yet managed, introduced the only Dalek Emperor to grace the current series, and killed them off spectacularly (for all the many virtues of "The Day of the Doctor," the finale left rather a lot to be desired). And without wishing to suggest that DW should be a haven of angst, this was a story where a price had to be paid, in a logical and immediately understandable fashion (as opposed to "Doomsday", where Rose's exit has been all prepped emotionally but falls down logically, or "Victory of the Daleks", where it just doesn't make sense that the Doctor can't do a fiddle-de-de to the thingamabob). It's the fulfilling culmination of Rose's character arc - we know now she's willing to do anything to save the man she loves, with that kiss. Her hanging around for another season is understandable, but she hasn't anywhere to go from here. Eccleston, of course, goes out on a high note - this iteration of the Doctor has come to terms with himself at long last.

(Moffat hasn't taken away from this arc - the crucial fact about the Hurt Doctor isn't whether he did or didn't blow up Gallifrey, it's that he believed himself capable of doing so. Eccleston has spent the whole of his tenure recovering from having been that person.
Although heaven knows when he's supposed to have had his part of the Doctors get-together convention, given that Tennant still doesn't know...whilst in the throes of a regenerative crisis, a la Tom Baker and "The Face of Evil"?)

While "Remembrance" is a brilliantly paradoxical creation; it's witty yet earnest, light-hearted at times and deadly serious at others. Aaronovitch, consciously or not, played to McCoy's strengths in making him switch from one mood to the other at the drop of a hat. Case in point: the "unlimited rice pudding" line comes into the Big Shouty Speech at exactly the point where McCoy usually starts getting silly anyway - compare with the one he gets in "Battlefield", which is noticeably less convincing. The story is an elegant homage to the show's beginnings, without being ostentatious about it (compare this portrayal of Totter's Yard with the one in "Attack of the Cybermen" and you'd hardly think it was the same programme). Aaronovitch is earnest in his moralising, as much as Terry Nation could be at times, but this isn't laboured - it's obvious that Mike and Ratcliffe are attracted to the Daleks because of their Fascist leanings, but at no point do they or anybody else feel the need to come out and say so. It was rightfully influential - the novelisation's always held up as a classic of the Target range and an inspiration for the Virgin New Adventures, and with good reason. The cliffhangers are thrilling, especially the first one...

Plus, the Daleks are taken to their reductio ad absurdum extreme. The civil war follows logically from their inclinations and capacities, and insofar as they can be said to have characterisation as all, this is easily the best example of it since "Genesis". Which, as I've mentioned, is grim, dark, and pound-for-pound rather less fun to watch. Tastes differ, but if you wanted something accessible and enjoyable to give someone fresh to the programme, this might just be the perfect example.

Parting of the Ways

Saving the Doctor
"Nul points"
 It is a curious fact about Eurovision Song Contest documentaries that they're all very, very long these days. As in, you might as well go off and watch one of the shows themselves (or, at least, the original nul points entry). So here's a crisp short one from 1971, talking about how you go about putting one on television, and offering up some appropriately silly footage.

"Delta Wave"
A 1996 ITV Children's series about two psychic kids, guest-starring Peter Capaldi and a brave attempt at a Robert Holmes double-act. There's an unintentionally hilarious line around the start of minute fourteen. Fair warning, Capaldi doesn't get much to do until the second part. It's a memorably daft cliffhanger, though (the Doctor dances!)

In reality, of course - it's merely a scientific term for brainwave patterns during very deep sleep. In other words, a massive system-covering delta wave, in operation, should have looked like the end of "The Best of Both Worlds". But let's face it, that would have been something of a dramatic letdown.
(If Christopher Eccleston had decided to stay, however, it would have been a wonderful gag if the Daleks and Jack had assumed that he'd been building a big superweapon, only for him to reveal that it's just a "tuck you into bed and have a nice nap, everybody" device.)

"Official DSA LGV practical test, part one"
The curious thing about Jackie cajoling a big yellow truck out of a friend of hers isn't even so much that she managed it, it's that she's either passed all the various tests required for legally driving a lorry, or it's completely illegal. In which case, you'd think that Rodrigo would insist on coming along to see what's being done with the truck.

"Marbella 1989"
For the benefit of non-EU readers - Marbella was a tourist spot in southern Spain (still is, at that). The Doctor mentioning it probably says more about RTD than the Doctor. 

Then again, there's "The Rapture" to prove me wrong.

 "Heroes Unmasked"
Do you crave more BBC making-of documentaries narrated by Anthony Head? Look no further. If they do insist on making a Heroes reboot, it'd be amusing to have this series back too.

Oh, yes, this is what Eccleston was doing next. As the BBC was clearly happy to remind everyone.

Remembrance of the Daleks

Saving the Doctor
"A Taste of Honey"
This and "Do You Want To Know A Secret" were cut from the original DVD release of the story, due to rights mixups (the original VHS had the broadcast version - you can compare them here, if you like - it's under "Audios", then "Pop Music"). This would be fixed for the UK reissues, but you can never have too much of the Fab Four, can you?

(It'd be good fun to link the full version of Ace's boombox track, but that was an original Keff McCulloch, and he doesn't seem to have written any more of it. Aaronovitch wanted "Runaway Sue" to close out the final scene, but that didn't happen at all.)

"Twelve pennies to the shilling, twenty shillings to the pound"
A quick n' dirty explanation of British currency. The closeups don't work as well as they could, but the narration is all right, and you can see some better illustrations here. Decimalization was not an unmixed blessing, but it did save quite a lot of schoolboy memorisation.

"Empire Windrush"
Huh. Is Ingrid Bergman going to pop up in all the Sophie Aldred write-ups?

This is if you didn't immediately intuit John's part of the conversation in the much-beloved cafe scene - his background is from the West Indies, specifically Kingston, Jamaica, and he or his parents would have moved to England post-WWII. The BBC has lots more about the Windrush and West Indies immigration here. Though Joseph Marcell (who was born that same year, in St. Lucia) seems a little young to have had a grandfather who was a slave - the British Empire abolished slavery in 1833.

(In light of the fraught immigration debate going on in the UK, it's not a little wry that sixty-years-ago, war-torn Britain was more comfortable with the idea of immigrants than any political party would care to be today.)

That's a downer. Here's Joseph Marcell being very silly.

"Quatermass"
QuatermassQuatermass. Quatermass. It's fun to type.

Nigel Kneale essentially invented the BBC television thriller and DW owes his dramas a debt in all sorts of ways (even if he did dislike it). Quite a lot of Jon Pertwee episodes are suspiciously similar in theme and plotting. The namecheck is an apt homage.

(That being said, it's very difficult to sensibly reconcile the Quatermass stories with anything in the Doctor Who universe, if only because you'd have to ask which of the many, not entirely compatible versions you declare to be canonical. But more on that with next week's entry.)

"Static Electricity"
That's background. The relevant part for "Remembrance" is the "Van de Graaf generator", aka an electrostatic generator, aka exactly the sort of technology that Daleks should be using.

All right, so the Renegade Dalek time controller probably isn't a proper Van de Graaf generator given its strong resemblance to a very, very '80s plasma globe (which work on a slightly different principle - noble gases and an electrode). But still. It makes perfect sense that beings whose first appearances revolved around their consumption of static electricity would use an electrostatic generator to travel through time (if David Whitaker had thought of this for "Evil of the Daleks", he could have saved himself the whole 144 mirrors technobabble). So consider it a callback rather than a bit of money-saving by the props department. Or rather, consider it both.

(Postscript: broken rice is quite good for making rice pudding. Just a tip.)

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