...and Docbacker HornOrSilk was kind enough to host this week's article in my absence; I am profoundly grateful for his time and effort. Be sure to check to discussion streams below for any developing DOCTOR WHO-related news over the weekend - and I will be monitoring from afar, so the Code of Conduct, etc. is still in effect here as always.
I’ve been asked to host the DocBack this week. I will do so with a slightly different take. For me, one of the charms of the DocBacks is to see how Merrick tackles a classic Who story. He gets classic Who with all of its plusses and minuses, unlike some people who started with New Who. He can appreciate the period and standards under which some of the worst episodes were filmed and yet see something of value in them, while sometimes, he ends up not liking a story which many Who enthusiasts embrace. So he gives his own interesting insights, ones which don’t’ always agree with mine, but always well reasoned and appreciative of classic Who.
Since I’m an old school Who fan, having been a fan since the early 80s, I can’t really do the same kind of approach to a DocBack. I’ve seen it all. While I do go back and rewatch the series, it’s not the same thing as the fresh approach of a new Who fan. My experience with Who is one of many old-school fans: I went through the excitement of the 25th anniversary and the shock of the show’s cancelation after its 26th season. I even have the old DWB (Dreamwatch Bulletin) which said season 27 was a go, with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred singing contracts, only to find a few days later that the BBC decided to stop the show.
Now, being in America, there was still a lot to watch: through PBS, I got to see the early Doctors, to see the whole history of the show enfold from Hartnell and slowly find its way to McCoy. During this time, I started recording the show, and so got most of Doctor Who on videotape to watch and rewatch as I desired. But as a Who fan I wanted more.
And that is something I would like to bring up here: what happens when one desires to see more Who with one’s favorite actors. So what I decided to do is try to watch movies and television shows which featured them. I think what I did is something many others have done. It is something I still do to this day, though to a much lesser extent than I did in the 90s.
Do any of you do this as well?
Now, it would be rather boring to go through all the movies and shows I’ve seen through the years because of some Doctor Who connection. But I thought I would highlight a few, mostly favorites, and one bad film, and one modern audio-series, to highlight what I think has come out of this affinity with Doctor Who actors.
I would say my favorite Doctor Who actor off of Who is Peter Davison. He has kept busy and many of the shows he has done are of the type I like. My favorite post-Who series he has done are Campion and The Last Detective. Both series I believe were cut short, and should have continued further than they did. Campion is especially a treat to me: it introduced me to the work of Margery Allingham, and I’ve read many of the original Campion novels because of Davison’s series. Oh how I wish the later ones were done – Campion was unique in that his character changed and developed through the years; he aged as the century aged, born in 1900, going from a more immature adventurer stage, to spy, to old age consultant.
Tom Baker, though he has not done as much post-Doctor Who as one would wish, nonetheless has done many things which amuse me: Hound of the Baskervilles and his appearances on Remington Steele and Black Adder being the top of the list. His work as Rasputin, however, makes me wonder if he might be a good choice for a future (brief?) incarnation for the Monk in some future story. He could do a real twisted post-timewar version of theMonk which I think would make the Monk worth bringing back.
Not everything I’ve seen has been good. I remember, after seeing the seventh Doctor (and finding myself really in tune with the twist going on with him), I wanted to see what I could find with Sylvester McCoy in it. I found the short skit in The Secret Policeman’s Private Ball and the terrible movie,Three Kinds of Heat. Yet, I had to watch Heat, not only for McCoy but also because Mary Tamm was in it!
Not everything Doctor Who related that I’ve been interested in is visual and stars one of the Doctors. One of my favorite ongoing audio adventures isThe Scarifyers, which began with Nicholas Courtney and Terry Molloy staring as DI Lionheart and Professor Dunning, respectively. The audios are amusing horror-sci-fi-comic stories, engaging all kinds of genre parodies, taking place in the UK of the 30s. Lionheart (a former cop) and Dunning (horror writer and history expert) were recruited by the Secret Service to deal with the supernatural and unexplained, sometimes bringing others to help them in their quests (David Benson, for example, routinely plays a hilarious take on Aleister Crowley). These audios also give all kinds of Doctor Who nods. With Lionheart given lines and exposition to mirror the Brigadier, I feel the series gives a great place of honor to Nicholas Courtney, and indeed, after he did died, the next story, bringing in David Warner to “replace” Courtney, was an all-out tribute to Courtney.
If you had to make your list of shows and movies you have seen because of some Doctor Who connection, what would it be?
Now, as I often give reviews of Big Finish audio stories, I know many might not have heard any of them. There are a few shorter, smaller-cast adventures, available for free online which you can listen to, to get a grasp what a Doctor Who audio story can be like. Big Finish has released them on SoundCloud HERE . Some are spin-off (UNIT/Benny) related, but others are pure Doctor Who. Enjoy!
Finally, here is a review for another older Big Finish audio:
Big Finish 58 – The Harvest
By Dan Abnett
Since this story was released in 2004, many of the twists and turns contained within it are already known, even to those who have not listened to it, and so my review will contain spoilers. However, as with all of my reviews, I will try to stay away from the way story is resolved, nor will I discuss all of the elements of the story, in order to give a first time listener some surprises as they listen to the audio adventure. Nonetheless, there are some aspects of this story which were surprises to first-time listeners years ago which will be discussed here, because they are, in part, what make this story an important adventure in the Big Finish audio range, and also because they relate to an ongoing discussion of the way New Who as a whole works (and doesn’t work), and where New Who can learn a thing or two more from Big Finish.
In 2021, St. Gart’s hospital is being used for an insidious black-ops research project. The surviving crew of a crashed Cyberman ship has been taken by governmental authorizes to the hospital. A deal had been reached by the two parties: the Cybermen will share their technology, while highly qualified doctors at St. Gart’s (with top security clearance) will work on the Cybermen and give them organic bodies. The Cyberleader has decided that the survivors of his ship would do better if they reverted back to flesh. He talks about all the pleasures and luxuries of the flesh which he wants to experience.
At St. Garts, the lead doctor with the black-ops project is Dr. Stephen Farrer, but behind him, is the creepy head of security, David Garnier. The hospital is high-tech, run, in part, by an intelligent A.I. computer system, and many of the people who work there do not know what is going on where they work. One of them is a young nurse, Hex, who is about to celebrate his birthday. He’s met Ace, who is working undercover at human resources, and befriended her to some degree. But when his ex-flatmate is brought into St. Garts, Hex finds himself entering the world of the Doctor. His friendship with Ace leads him to the Doctor, and from there, to his destiny as a companion of the Doctor. In his initial outing, he is in awe, constantly saying “Oh God” to each and every new revelation, giving a rather comic performance at times in an otherwise serious and dark story. Such releases are often needed and I think prove the quality of writing in this story. Despite the comic exterior, Hex’s ability to quickly adjust to the situation and work with the Doctor proves there is more to him than meets the eye. He might be in shock, his world might be turned upside-down, but he can still act and act well, proving himself a useful ally to the Doctor. To be sure, the Doctor finds out that there is more to Hex than even Hex knows, giving us a hint that the Doctor has a reason to keep him close, but we are not told what it is (in this story). We know, in the end, when Hex makes his way and joins the TARDIS crew, despite all appearances, the Doctor is already at work manipulating Hex. This is the Seventh Doctor, after all.
Big Finish has done two great Cybermen stories. The first is Spare Parts. The second is this one. The Cybermen, I believe, properly deserve the position they have in the Doctor Who canon, even if they rarely meet their potential. The Cybermen are, more than the Daleks, a representation of the dark underbelly of humanity and what happens if one or another of our dark sides is given an imbalanced domination of our personality. Even things which are good, like logic, can be abused and used for evil. The logic of the Cybermen is true logic, but founded upon principles which lead to faulty, and evil, conclusions. Add more to the mix, the logic still leads to the same end, though in different ways, and in different styles, because the foundation of the Cybermen remains the same: we must survive at all costs. Whatever else that is added to the mixture, with the imbalanced end justifies the means, leads to an examination of the dark underbelly of the human psyche and where it can lead us if not engaged in a proper, holistic harmony with the highest of human ideals.
In this way, there have been accidental changes to the Cybermen throughout the history of Doctor Who. Their mission, their central focus, has always been the same: survival. How they seek it changes due to circumstances as well as due to the different strategies they try out. Thus, sometimes, Cybermen will seek mass conversions of large populations, while at other times, they will only seek to convert “the best and brightest,” leaving aside the “mundanes.” In this story, we see another strategy, one which makes the most sense. Seeing the desire humanity has for xenotech, for the advances the Cybermen have, the Cyberleader here has turned human desires for self-preservation and power to his advantage. Humanity doesn’t need to be invaded with a forced conversion: the better path is to offer the technology which makes Cybermen and let humans convert themselves. And there is something else here: the Cyberleader realizes that the Cybermen have lost something which humanity has, something which gives humanity a strength the Cybermen need to thrive: their flesh bodies, though weak, also have elements (emotions, free thinking skills, imagination) which, if combined with Cyber-technology, could create a superior form of the Cybermen. Thus, in this story, the Cyberleader has engaged the possibility that flesh-bodies might be the upgrade the Cybermen need, to regain elements long abandoned, to put them to use for the greater good of the Cybermen. We come to the story where much of this has already been done, so that the Cyberleader even seems to desire this upgrade, not just for logical reasons. But how are Cybermen to be given organic upgrades? Through the bodies of the dead, of course. And what better places to get such organs than a hospital?
When the Doctor finally confronts the Cyberleader, he is amazed at what he has heard. There is an element here which sounds like the change in the Cybermen will be for their moral improvement. The Doctor wants to believe that the Cyberleader seeks peace, but he doesn’t believe it, and of course, his instincts here are correct. The essential core the Cybermen remain, even after organic components are given to them: they seek to survive, to continue at all costs. They seek racial survival, with the conversion of others. And the means by which the Cybermen “upconvert” themselves is monstrous.
Nonetheless an element which is unique in this story is the way the allies of the Cybermen resemble Cybermen, even before their conversion. They are as cold-blooded, as ruthless as the Cybermen. They might not have the mechanical, technological upgrades at first, but they show that the Cybermen quality doesn’t need it to be found. This story shows the terror of the Cybermen is not the technology but the heart of the Cybermen, a heart which can be and is found in humanity as much as in any cyborg. We have seen this somewhat before in The Invasion, but here it is much clearer, darker, more true to nature, as we see this dark underbelly is embraced by governments and is a part of how they work to survive as well.
Let’s compare what we have with this story with the way the Cybermen have been shown in New Who. Despite coming before New Who, there are elements here which tie in with it, though in a way which show these Cybermen transcend what we see of them in most stories of New Who. Now, since their return to the screen, one of the big weaknesses of the Cybermen has been emotions. There are classical Who stories on which this weakness is founded (such as the above mentioned The Invasion), and yet, with New Who, emotions have become the golden weakness of the Cybermen. Through emotions, Cybermen go crazy, through emotions, someone in the middle of conversion can stop the process, and if the emotions remain, the converted person can go against the conversion and the mission of the Cyber-race.
It takes Neil Gaiman to change what we have seen in New Who with his take on the future of the Cybermen. This is something we need to remember with his story: we have come across the Cybermen of the future, the far future, which has survived. How much they have borrowed from and taken in the Cybus-Cybermen we don’t know, but it is likely by this time all groups of Cybermen have joined together and created a new, highly evolved form of the race. And here, we see, emotions are not as much a problem for the Cybermen anymore. They take on qualities of that which they adapt, such as the Doctor when he is partially taken over. His emotions are embraced, not feared, by the Cybermen. Emotions do not have to be a weakness, and the Doctor’s speeches to the Cybermen on this point seem to be embraced, not to their moral development, but as a way to become more powerful and survive even better.
The Cybermen of The Harvest are, in this way, transcendent to what we have seen in early New Who and are the kind of Cybermen needed for what we saw in Nightmare in Silver. Emotions are embraced, and do not have to cause Cybermen harm. Even if these Cybermen are defeated and are incapable of demonstrating this fact to their race, this shows that the Cyberman are capable of adaptation and learning and embracing this fact. But again, instead of being a way to pacify the Cybermen, as the Doctor might wish, it only pushes them forward, creating a worse, more monstrous incarnation of the Cybermen. It’s more manipulative. It’s more like the Doctor than the Doctor would ever want to admit. The Cybermen have found the proper way to integrate themselves into the world: give a government the chance for black-ops research with xenotech, control the experiments, and the government will slowly create the means by which new Cybermen are made. And the freakish way the real Cybermen are given flesh and blood bodies is, once again, the kind of horror proper to the Cybermen: for it is only through the use of human subjects, and their organs, that Cybermen are slowly capable of becoming “flesh,” a kind of “Frankenstein” grafting together of organs to create the best Cyberman-human hybrid. This is the way to do a Cyberman story, and I hope we see something like this on screen one day.
Now, this adventrue is not just a good Cybermen tale, it is also the introduction of Hex. And Philip Olivier does a wonderful job here. Here he is full of enthusiasm, fresh, excited and in awe with the world of the Doctor, and yet capable of action in the midst of all that awe. He constantly shows his shock with what is happening, sometimes appearing to annoy the Doctor. But how can the Doctor really be annoyed? He loves it when people are in awe of him. He loves to show off. Even the dark Seventh Doctor has this about him. The Doctor is the Doctor.
Sylvester McCoy, despite what others might say, gives an enjoyable performance with this story. He has to do several things at once. He has to be multi-faceted in his presentation. While I believe he is quite affectionate with Hex, and his time with Hex is the best part of his performance, his interaction with the Cybermen could have broken this tale if not done in a competent manner. Sophie Aldred is given more as Ace early on and vanishes for quite some time. Her interaction with Hex is good, but not exceptional. There is a set up with Ace and Hex, to give a two-fold layering with their relationship, where Ace is once a mentor and a possible romantic interest for Hex though here, the romantic interest is not as well highlighted as it could have been.
This is a rather tight tale. The plot is well thought out, and, though there are small elements here and there (such as what the Cyberleader fully planned to do) which I wish were better explained, it’s a solid tale and would work great on screen or on audio. I give this one a 9/10, in part because how enjoyable it is to listen to time and time again.
1) a Docback should be about completely open and free discourse regarding all things WHO with, obviously, some variation on subject matter from time to time - the real world intervenes, discussions of other shows are inevitable, etc.)...
2) matters of SPOILAGE should be handled with thoughtful consideration and sensitivity. Posts containing SPOILERS should clearly state that a SPOILER exists in its topic/headline and should never state the spoiler itself . "** SPOILER ** Regarding Clara" is OK, for example. "** SPOILER about that Motorcycle" is fine. **SPOILER** Why did everyone die?" Is NOT good.
And, above all...
3) converse, agree, disagree, and question as much as you want - but the freedom to do so is NOT a license to be rude, crass, disrespectful, or uncivilized in any way. Not remaining courteous and civil, as well as TROLLING or undertaking sensational efforts to ignite controversy, will result in banning. Lack of courtesy may receive one (1) warning before a ban is instigated. Obvious Trolling or Spamming will result in summary banning with no warning. One word posts intended to bump-up any Docback's figures on AICN's "Top Talkbacks" sidebar will be considered actionable Spam - they not only complicate efforts to access Docback from mobile devices, but impede readers' abilities to follow or engage in flowing conversation.
In short, it's easy. Be excellent to each other. Now party on...