Peony, the scientific fairy, suited up to fly into adventure.
‘What do you write?’
As a question, that never used to be complicated. I write comic fantasy, it’s where my heart and mind sit and live and laugh and share. It’s just…me. The first person to inspire me to believe I could write as any kind of professional gig was Douglas Adams, and the ideas which come to me and have the most natural ‘legs’ sit naturally within the comic fantasy/comic sci-fi genre.
Sure, over the years, you have ideas in different genres, and you think ‘Oh, that might be fun, when I’m finished with the story I’m actually writing right now…’ I’ve got a trilogy of darker, more philosophical stories that are waiting in the wings, as well as a kind of Jurassic Park-meets-Brave New World techno-social satire that I’m putting off more or less because it would be deeply difficult to write, whereas the comic fantasy stuff comes easily to my mind and fingers.
But someone asked me the question again recently, and it stymied me.
‘What do you write?’
I stopped and thought about it, because here’s the dichotomy. What I write and have yet to seriously submit anywhere is comic fantasy, and it’s novel-length comic fantasy at that. So I think of myself as a novelist in the comic fantasy genre.
But what I actually write and submit to places is entirely different. Over the course of the last year or so, inspired initially (and somewhat shamefully, in retrospect) by a pal submitting a story and asking me to have a look at it before she did so, I’ve submitted a handful of erotic short stories to three publishers.
I’ve submitted five.
Get yourself some Sinful Pleasures today. You deserve them.
The publisher of the first one – the one inspired by my pal submitting and me, being bloody-minded, thinking ‘Well, why not give it a go?’ – said some very kind words about it. Something along the lines of me ‘having missed my calling in life till now.’ That’ll put a spring in your step, I don’t mind telling you, especially when it was written the night before the submission deadline in a bit of a blur. If you want to catch up with my first official foray into erotica, the anthology’s called Sinful Pleasures, from Sinful Press. Go click and enjoy.
The second one I submitted, a story of vampires on the Queen Mary, I was never happy with and rightly, I think, it failed to get published.
The third and fourth were two different stories in two different anthologies published by an American publisher, SinCyr Publishing, with whom I’m rather smitten for the grooviness of their consent-and-body-positivity politics. Check out Working It and Owning it here. And I’ve heard today that the fifth one is also to be published by them in an upcoming anthology, called Kintsugi. There’s a sixth which is alive in my mind for a submission call with them which has to be done by the end of the month.
So far, my story in Sinful Pleasures was Male/Female, from a Male perspective. The Vampire story was a free-for-all, but again from a Male perspective. Working It was Female/Male, from a Female perspective. Owning It was mostly Female/Female, from a self-evidently Female point of view. Kintsugi was Male/Male and Male/Female, from a Male viewpoint. and the new one which I intend to submit by the end of the month is – get this, it’s in the submission requirements – Male/Male, romantic shapeshifting pregnancy with a happy ending. Which I suppose, if nothing else, brings in a degree of fantasy writing – or at least, it does the way I’m doing it.
All of which is just a way of re-framing how we see ourselves. If people ask you ‘What do you write?’, do you answer them based on what you aspire to be, or based on what you’ve actually delivered? You can argue black is blue that you shouldn’t have to put yourself in a box, but it’s a key question when adding items to your authorial CV – have you done similar things before with any provable success? If you went for an interview, you couldn’t get away with saying ‘Well, I’ve been successful in several positions as a bricklayer before now, but really I see myself as a computer programmer,’ because your proven experience wouldn’t match the requirements of the role.
So what do I write?
Hell, I’m still writing comic fantasy, and enjoying it, and getting good responses when I show it to people. But purely on the basis of production, submission, and popular uptake, I guess you’d have to say the chief strings to my bow are currently erotic short stories and Doctor Who audio drama scripts, of which I’ve also written four in the last year or two, with a fifth to be delivered by the end fo the month. What you write, ultimately, isn’t just a question of what you actually write, but what you write, finish, and submit somewhere, because it’s what other people know you write, or can be shown that you’ve written, that ultimately builds your profile as a writer.
So – best finish a novel then, otherwise I’ll be a short story and audio drama writer, rather than the novelist I’ve always thought I was going to be.
Mind you, one publisher did say they’d take a look at pitches from me for a novel-length erotic story…hmm…
Tony continues his journey through the I, Davros series…
The original idea of I, Davros was taken from a blend of two ideas – showing the life and career of one of Doctor Who’s greatest and most psychologically fascinating villains up to the point at which we first met him in Genesis of the Daleks, and giving the context of his rise to power in a style similar to the Robert Graves epic (or rather, its BBC adaptation), I, Claudius.
In studying the great rulers of history, their connections to other people will either have been a strength to them or a weakness, and I, Davros follows the I, Claudius route fairly faithfully as far as that’s concerned. In I, Claudius, the wives and mothers of the emperors are notoriously painted as interfering, homicidal or lustful to the point of almost toppling the empire. In I, Davros, there are three women throughout the course of his life who either support or threaten Davros’ career. His mother, the thoroughly twisted Calcula, was his most adoring exponent. His sister Yarvell was frightened by the turn of his mind and found herself on the opposite side of the ideological fence from him, with horrifying consequences.
Meet Shan – the third woman in Davros’ life.
Corruption finds Davros an older man, his career In the Scientific Corps progressing with unparalleled clarity and focus – he has become its leader, and has devised, almost to order of necessity, devices to help make Kaled victory a certainty, to extend lives, to target Thal physiology and biology… and to experiment with the effects of radiation on the Kaled genome, to extrapolate the species to its final logical form. If Calcula was interfering and Yarvell was perversely homicidal, it would be entirely wrong to think of Shan as lustful. In fact, neither she nor Davros appear to give much thought to the needs of the body – but she is an excellent scientist, and they work closely together, so it is perhaps forgiveable that non-scientists begin to look at them as a potential couple despite their age difference. It’s a point unsentimentally made that Skaro is a planet in need of breeders and for some time the idea of a marriage between the two scientists is mooted. We can only imagine what would have happened to Dalek history had such an alliance taken place. Would Davros have been saved from his own arrogance, from the direction in which the Daleks would eventually be developed, had he become a husband and a father? Would the ruthless demands and conclusions of science been softened by the compromises that marriage demands or the glow of self-renewal of seeing his own child, made in his own image, on his knee?
Possibly, but possibly not – Shan is actually instrumental in pointing out a vital component that pushes Davros in the direction he eventually takes. But whether love would have blossomed between the two to dull the edge of his scientific urgency becomes spectacularly and horrifyingly irrelevant for two reasons. Firstly the adamantine strength of will that Davros has displayed throughout the series, from his teenage determination to decide his own destiny in Innocence to the furious need to rise above mediocrity whatever the cost in Purity, surfaces again, and he decides their respective fates for them.
And then we hear the moment every fan knows about. The moment Davros becomes Davros. The attack that renders him blind, immobile, dependent forever on his life support system, his microphones and sensors. And, kept alive by systems, most of which he devised, everyone expects Davros to take his own life.
But Davros lives. What’s more, with a perversity of fate, he becomes the Kaled most likely to die of old age, protected from the ravages of time and decay by the systems of his chair. What’s more, this is the moment that Davros psychologically becomes the creature we know – freed from the understanding of the Kaled as a physical creature, and thinking now purely in terms of the purity of their DNA, he will distinguish himself from those around him as they disappoint his understanding of the race’s potential. In terms of Corruption, it’s a theme that permeates throughout this episode – the corruption of ideologies, from winning the war through strength to achieving a peace through diplomacy, a fatal corruption as Davros sees it which dooms any connection he might have made with Shan. The corruption of politicians in the case of the Supremo and the Council, the uncovering of which which allows Davros at the end of this episode to essentially render the Supremo nothing but a figurehead for the power bloc that the Scientific Elite has become. The corruption of Davros’ body of course during the attack that puts him in his chair, a Hitler parallel of significant power – the Kaleds, so intent on the purity and superiority of their race, will be all but led by a crippled scientist very far from their ideal of Kaled perfection (just as Hitler – a small, dark-haired, dark-eyed Austrian – led a government based on the purity of the blond-haired, blue-eyed, German supermen). But mostly, the corruption here deals with that separation of ideas – Kaled purity at a genetic level, and its degeneration over the recent decades of the war, leading to Davros’ research to find the ultimate form of their species. Corruption, while it preserves the purity of the genome, has always been an idea that Davros could understand, but now, with the corruption of his own physical form and the clarity of purpose that gives him, he begins to turn his researches furiously in that direction – research with newborns, research with embryos, to essentially speed up the ‘corruption’ of the Kaled form into its ultimate version, to achieve the salvation of the species while there is still time.
Corruption – volume three of the I, Davros story arc, written by Lance Parkin, delivers two of the most pivotal moments in the development of the Kaled scientist into the monster we know from Genesis of the Daleks and subsequent stories. It is essentially the last chance of Fate, the possibility that Davros could be saved from the destiny his arrogance, his scientific determination and his ideological obsession will lead him to. And once that possibility is gone, it shows us the moment of no return, the moment when Jekyll drinks his potion or Frankenstein throws his switch – the moment when man becomes monster. In terms of the I, Davros storyline, it’s in Corruption that the balance shifts from explaining what he was like before we knew him to his emergence as the villain we know. But it will still take one more hour to get from Davros’ rebirth to his self-renewal as father of the Daleks.
The concept of The Four Doctors is pretty much everything Day of the Doctor could have been, and most of the things it wasn’t. Proper argumentative Doctors together, like the original Three Doctors, barely letting up for a second, and yet when they do, working together to save everyone – and probably, when all is said and done, the universe – from the Big Bad, and from themselves.
Given the freedom Titan Comics has these days to use him, and the nature of the plot developments in issue #2, one thing that strikes you immediately is that there’s no Ninth Doctor involvement in this story. There was too much going on in the first issue to notice his absence, but given the nature of the threat that dogs the Doctors through much of this second issue, his absence becomes more noticeable, especially as the threat seems to specifically target post-Time War Doctors. There’s just the faintest whiff of Tom Baker in The Five Doctors about the fact that, for no especially identifiable reason, this is actually The Four Doctors, rather than The Five Doctors…erm…II.
But it’s remarkable how quickly you get the hell over that – the pacing of this issue and this story so far would outrun a Dalek ray in a straight line. There’s a little Gabby Gonzalez artwork to get through as a soft opening (with which you’ll be familiar if you’ve been following the Tenth Doctor’s comic-book adventures. If not, just go with it, he travels with an artist now) and then bang! The verbal sparring while dealing with a terrifying threat made more terrifying by the freedom of comic-book art than they managed to be on TV – and they managed pretty well there!
There’s a lot of running and banter and bile-spitting here, with the kind of edge that ‘Sandshoes and Grandpa’ never really mustered – there’s a lovely Spice Girls moment which hopefully I haven’t just ruined for you. The barbs are sharper from writer Paul Cornell than they ever were in Moffat’s TV version of the multi-Doctor phenomenon (I can hear the cries now – Cornell for Showrunner!…Hmm, actually, not a bad plan), and the combination of his acid wit, (most frequently vented through the natural conduit that is the Twelfth Doctor, but occasionally, just for the look of the thing and the fightback, distributed Bugs Bunny and the Bow-Tie boy), and Neil Edwards’ great gift for spatial artwork allows for some superb moments, not least of which is a journey through a couple of Tardis console rooms, and possibly the best ever comeback to what is now a time-honoured gag. Edwards’ Twelfth Doctor is a little less realistic than some that have appeared in the latest incarnation’s dedicated comics, but again, the combination of the gorgeous broader visuals – from Paris to Tardises, to space, to a planet of apparently forgettable provenance – and the pace and wit of the dialogue means you can pretty much forgive him for being less than pin-point in the capturing of the Twelfth Doctor’s face.
The action of the first half of this issue is frenetic – hence the running – as the three post-Time-War Doctors try to outpace the Big, Scary Monsters trying to erase them from existence. But when Clara sentences them to some ‘Me Time’ – something akin to the Tower of London scene in Day of the Doctor – the three behave in a way that’s entirely believable for each of them at once, and ultimately, as we all knew they would, go running into trouble on the world of the great First Doctor enemies enjoying a heck of a renaissance in recent years. The cliff-hanger is surprisingly downbeat, like the pushing of a plunger that will, somewhere down the line, cause a big, big explosion, but which has yet to deliver its full impact. But the combination of these three Doctors – the War Doctor’s at least visually absent from this issue – remains satisfying in a way that Day of the Doctor, for all its brilliant moments, wasn’t. John Hurt’s War Doctor was a scarred, tired man, wanting the war to be over, with no stomach for the acid that, for instance, the inheritor of his ‘Older Doctor’ mantle is. Bringing the Twelfth Doctor into the multi-Doctor mix gives it a bite that wasn’t possible on the fiftieth anniversary, when all was celebration of the show’s history and legacy. This is a more combustible, more daring and frankly more fun mixture of the three Doctor-personalities, and again, much of that is down to Paul Cornell’s way with a witty line and his knowledge of Who old and new. The storyline promises much in the way of cataclysm and devastation, though much of the actual plot development in this issue is done as the Doctor would probably expect – on the run. The pace is still fast and furious, but here, there’s excellent, rich Doctor-chocolate in terms of character development. Two issues in, this is still a must-buy. Grab your sandshoes and Bugs Bunny your butt to your comic store now. Your future self is really going to kick you if you miss it.
The Eleventh Doctor comic-book has so far been a ridiculous, barmy, complicated back-and-forth [HORRBLE PHRASE ALERT] timey-wimey touching madcap masterpiece.
And now it’s ending.
This particular arc, at least, is ending. The Eleventh Doctor with Alice Obiefume, Library Assistant Extraordinaire, John Jones, would-be one-day rock god and Bowie in all but lawsuit, and ARC, the Autonomous Reasoning Centre, or ‘chameleonoid robo-blob’ for the non-techies, which is the brain of the entity formerly known as…erm…The Entity. The Eleventh Doctor in full on ‘full Tardis’ mode.
Oh the fun we’ve had – back and forth through the timelines, Jones annoying the bejesus out of us like an Adric with pretensions of superstardom, ARC surprisingly saving the day any number of times, weird Chinese Dragon-Dog emotional-feeders, funfair worlds with something nasty in the basement, a regenerated Bessie, space wars won by misery in the face of awe, Robert Johnson, zombie towns, three Eleventh Doctors, including one Chief Executive, zombie planets, Roman Christian emperors and lights in the sky, Cybermen who wake you up on Sunday morning to ask if you’ve considered letting Upgrading into your life…
It’s been a truly wild ride, absolutely dripping with the character of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor in all his moods. In fact, as we welcome the second season of the next Doctor in line, it’s been refreshing to remember quite how many moods Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor had, and oddly, the comic-book version works better to remind you of them all than any episode-marathon or box-set binge would do.
And yet here it is. Ending.
The ending begins with the Doctor lost, alone, rejected even and especially by the Tardis, which appears to have run off with his mother. Yes, you read that right, his mother. With the Eleventh Doctor doing one of his infamously good sulks – you remember the cloud in the sky, right? – it takes Alice, ARC and Jones together to get the Doctor back on fighting form, because if there’s one thing this and all our Doctors are good at, it’s thinking on their feet, while they’re running away from giant chickenny-looking things.
Alright fine, that’s an Eleventh Doctor speciality, but it still works here to beat one last twist in the seemingly endless story of the Entity, and by the end of the issue, the Tardis is nearly empty again – just the Doctor and one of his companions, the other two left behind as memories.
That’s essentially the arc of this issue – it’s less madly frenetic than many of its predecessors, but it needs to be, to capture the emotional tones of the journey here – which is done through Simon Fraser’s artwork as much as Al Ewing and Rob Morrison’s script. In many ways, it takes us properly full circle to the original story of Alice Obiefume, grieving for her mother, walking through her days in pencilwork of greys and drabness, until the first burst of colour to penetrate the bubble of grief – the Doctor chasing a Chinese dragon-style belief-dog – allowed a little spark back into the panels of her life. That’s almost exactly replayed here, with the Doctor mourning the Tardis, his home, his life – the script talks of him being dead, and the artwork shows that through its ghostlike greyness, till a hand grabs him and there are multi-coloured chickenny dragonny things to chase and a Tardis to talk to, and fun to offer, and redemption for everyone on the skinny bloke in the bow tie.
And then there’s an ending. Each in their own way, the three companions have come back to their beginnings – Alice saves the Doctor as the Doctor saved Alice, and ends this issue acknowledging how much she misses her mum, but that it’s time to move on. John Jones, would-be megastar, has been transformed by his travels with the Doctor, has gone through plenty of changes of image and sound, but it he now ready to fulfil the destiny he was born to have, as a rock and roll legend? Or is there another destiny calling him now?
And ARC – well, ARC’s an odd one. On some levels it’s been difficult to warm to ARC, looking as he does like a lump of sculpted putty. On other levels, ARC’s simplicity of goodness has made it the heart of this Tardis team from time to time, and its ending here, while right, still leaves the tiniest lump in the throat.
As this great big fifteen-issue arc comes to a close, it allows us to wallow briefly in that sense you get, about two-thirds of the way through any season finale worth the name – that feeling that Doctor Who was always like this, and that there’s no way it can be different and still as good. But after all the ups and downs, it ends with the Doctor and one companion in the Tardis, going forward, looking for their next adventure, and whatever Titan has in store for the Eleventh Doctor next, it will soon enough feel like how Doctor Who has always been. That’s the irresistible will of this special programme, and it’s why it’s lasted as long as it has. Constantly renewing, constantly showing something fresh to the audience. The first Eleventh Doctor arc has shown that perfectly.
Has your life turned out the way you thought it would?
Do you still believe it will?
If it hadn’t, or didn’t, what would you be willing to do to change your stars?
We join I, Davros 2: Purity with Davros approaching his thirtieth birthday (in itself something of an achievement on the war-ravaged Skaro), but he is bored. Bored, and frustrated that his attempts to join the Scientific Corps are repeatedly blocked, despite his doing all the right things to justify his ascension to its ranks. We find Davros in a dull day-to-day job as a Tech Op, testing survival gear with his friend Reston. But while, yes, Davros has a friend, his sense of his own brilliance, nascent in Rory Jennings’ portrayal of the character in the first instalment, burns through his day-to-day frustrations here as we hear Davros played in his ‘humanoid’ years by Terry Molloy, who has given him augmented life since the 80s on TV and in Big Finish audio. The arrogance, however justified, feels like the frustration of the armchair manager as Purity begins, or the armchair show-runner for that matter – he knows how things should be run, how things could be improved, and how the war could be won, but he’s never been given the chance to shine. Davros, so potentially brilliant as a child, is heading for a life of unremarkable grumbling, his potential eclipsed by that of his mother, who is now a powerful councilor, while his sister Yarvell has exchanged her initial militarism for an increasing interest in the least tenable position on Skaro – that of the Peace Party.
The thing that comes shining through in Molloy’s portrayal of the ‘middle-aged’ Davros is what makes sense of the story’s subtitle – while as a child, Davros was interested in the history of all the races on Skaro, by the time he’s nearly 30, a fervent belief in the superiority of the Kaled people has gripped him, a need to keep the species ‘pure’ and to make it the only winner in a war not only for resources, but for what he feels passionately is its rightful place on the planet.
But Davros is stuck in equipment testing, going nowhere fast – until The Supremo, the leader of the Kaled Council, offers him and Reston the chance to make heroes of themselves. The story takes a significant risk, borrowing a little from Genesis of the Daleks at this point, taking us back and forth across the Skarosian wasteland, from the Kaled dome to the Thal citadel, but James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown’s script does this better than the Genesis original, because it keeps the point of the journey firmly in front of our eyes at all times: this is Davros at personal war, sent into the field to get information on a new Thal mega-weapon and destroy it if possible. At least, that’s ostensibly the reason for the mission. On a planet like Skaro, of course, you can never be sure who’s playing what hand until the cards are seen. But more than just Davros at personal war on the orders of the Supremo, this is Davros at war with Destiny, with a fate that sees him relegated to a backwater job. It’s Davros’ true nature at war with the comfortable carapace he’s grown – friends, work, family, and the nature of his ‘greatness’ will take no more. When the opportunity arrives on this mission, Davros shows himself capable of strong strategic thinking, deceit, effective military command, scientific analysis and, in a thread picked up from the first instalment, an utterly driven, potentially psychopathic scientific absorption, detached from all the inconvenient emotional bonds of a ‘normal’ life. As the episode unfurls, he also finds himself in a position to play politics for the first time in his life, to outwit those who would seek to destroy or contain him as plots are revealed that give Davros, and his mother Calcula, more power than they’d imagined to make their dreams of his ascension into a reality. The price of that power would be terrible to ordinary people, would be unpayable. But these are not ordinary people. Not even close. They pay the price willingly, even gladly, revealing the truth of the title. It’s not just a notion of racial purity that infects Davros. It’s the purity of his own ego, his own ambition, and his own arrogance to overcome all obstacles, even when those obstacles are the people closest to him.
If you’ve ever had a dream of what you could be, what you could give to your society, but found yourself bogged down in the ‘Real World’ of getting from A-B, of college or work or thinking about things tomorrow, Purity has a kind of object lesson to teach. None of us on the right side of sanity will be asked to pay the kind of price that Davros and Calcula pay here, but the transformative power of a journey to ‘find yourself’ – which is what Davros’ trip across the wastelands really is – to strip away the flotsam and jetsam and make you focus on what’s really important to you, is a message applicable to everyone with a dream of any kind of greatness. Davros emerges from Purity as a focused flame, ready to do whatever is necessary to achieve his goal of Kaled supremacy, and also, for his mind has begun to turn this way, Kaled survival through the grimness of the war. It’s his experiences on this mission that turn him from an armchair manager into a force with which the Kaled government and the Scientific Corps will genuinely have to reckon for the rest of his life.
Even the name stuns with its scope, doesn’t it? Someone dared to write the backstory of Davros? Someone who wasn’t Terry Nation?
Yes, someone dared – Big Finish, years ago, and as a kind of adjunct to its main Doctor Who range, decided to take what we know about the creator of the Daleks and dare to extend him backward, back beyond Genesis of the Daleks, to explain the life and path of everyone’s favourite psychopathic genius. It’s a story partly inspired by the line in Genesis – if someone pointed out a child to you and told you that he would grow up to be a ruthless dictator, could you then kill that child? It’s a line and an idea that persistent rumours suggest we’ll see realized on screen in Series 9, but long before that ever was dreamed of, Big Finish was there.
The tone of the four hour-long episodes of I, Davros is exactly what you might expect it to be, given that title – it’s a saga of family, and of one man’s journey to the seat of ultimate power: it’s Robert Graves’ I, Claudius smashed together with Terry Nation’s Skaro as we see it in Genesis. The Roman Empire, locked in a dirty war of racial purity.
The set-up is simple – the Daleks have Davros, the Davros we know, voiced by the always-impeccable Terry Molloy, ‘on trial,’ but not in the way you might expect. They need guidance, they need direction because battles are being lost. He strives to help his fallen creation by looking to the lessons of the past. His own past. These moments of Davros and Dalek interrogation are mostly framing devices, but they still allow for a healthy dose of shivers down the spine at the beginning and end of each episode.
Episode 1, Innocence by Gary Hopkins, gives us that most unimaginable of gifts – Davros as a boy. It also gives us his place in the society: for those of you who know your I, Claudius, or indeed your Roman history, he is Caligula – a boy of brightness and promise born to a family of power and wealth. His father, Nasgard (played with serious acting chops by Richard Franklin) is an officer at the front, his mother, Calcula, a political player at home. His sister, Yarvell – oh yes, Davros has a sister – regards him, as all sisters do to all brothers at a certain age, as an idiot, a pain. But there is something solitary about Davros. Something self-possessed and extraordinary. He has a fascination both with science, particularly biological science, and with the history of Skaro, the different races that have existed on it. Yes, we see, albeit vaguely through a glass of history, a Skaro on which there were other sentient races besides the Kaleds and the Thals, the other races wiped out by the constant battle for supremacy, till only the two warring nations remain.
Davros is almost obscenely idolized by Calcula (a touch of Nero dripped into the Caligulan template), while Yarvel supports her father more often. Calcula and Nasgard themselves never seem a happy couple, and ultimately, only one of them will survive to the end of the first episode. Nasgard’s interfering sister Tashek is on hand to stir the pot, provoking some critical action in the first instalment, and beginning the slow collapse of the dysfunctional house of cards that is the family of Nasgard, the environment in which Davros grows up – surrounded by plots, counter-plots, secrets and lies.
Not that Davros himself is any shrinking violet – far from it. He remembers spites and slights, has a succinct adolescent contempt for adults he regards as inferior to himself, including his sister, and in particular, he has a cold, furious dislike of a man who dares to give him lessons in science – Magrantine. As the Nero parallel begins to grow in power, Calcula is moved to extraordinary measures to protect the future she sees for her son, and Davros himself takes his first blood as a teenager. The power of their mutual protection is cloying, obscene, and sickening, and there feels like another influence at play beyond the I,Claudius parallel. There’s something almost akin to Damien Thorn in the young Davros, played with a clipped precision by Rory Jennings, as people who threaten him or his future are moved or removed from the equation of his life, either by his own malign influence or by those who seek to protect him. It’s a thoroughly creepy piece of audio, and it’s compelling from start to finish.
It’s actually in the mask and its occasional, almost casual removal, that I, Davros 1 is at its most shocking – the mask that belies what we know what this boy will become. We know we shouldn’t trust him, know it from long experience of the adult, horrifying Davros. But here, he’s just a boy…surely? That’s the point, isn’t it? He’s just a boy, molded by the world he lives in, the influences he’s exposed to? And to some extent, yes, he is. But Davros is never just a boy. Like the poster of the young Anakin Skywalker casting Darth Vader’s Shadow to advertise The Phantom Menace, or the poster of a young Damien Thorn surrounded by crosses of the dead to advertise the original Omen movie, we see the teenage Davros casting shadows rippled with Dalek bumps, consuming a dead planet. But whereas Thorn’s destiny was a matter of prophecy, and Skywalker’s a matter of the Force, what really succeeds in shocking us in this episode is the moments when that mask of ‘just a boy’ drops and the sheer driven power of self-will and mission glints in his voice, in his actions, Jennings managing to create something truly unnerving from the overused archetype of the creepy child.
Be warned – if you listen to I, Davros 1, you’ll be in it for the whole set – four hours of origin story that drag you along like the best of page-turners. But then rejoice – each episode is just £5 from the Big Finish website, so for just £20 you get the whole Davros journey, from his teenage years to just before Genesis. You also get some of the genuinely best audio storytelling the company has delivered in fifteen years, played by a cast that reads like a Who’s Who of Big Finish alumni – Lisa Bowerman, Lizzie Hopley, Richard Franklin, Scott Handcock, Carolyn Jones, Nicholas Briggs (in an unmodulated role, no less) and more. In case history’s about to be rewritten by the TV show, listen to I, Davros now, and remind yourself what any on-screen history of the young Davros is up against.
There’s a trick to good plotting. You should, if you do it just right, give just enough clues to the tuned-in audience, to allow them to get jussssst a little ahead of your reveal. One of the greatest things about Earthshock, Episode 1, was that it did that – you worked out who the Big Bads were just moments before they were first shown on screen, and then you went a bit nuts for the next week running around going “Oh my god, they’re back! AND I worked it out before they appeared. Yes, yes, yes, yes, I am SuperFan!”
Ahem – just me, then?
The same was true to some extent in Utopia – the clues were there, and if you picked up on them, then right before it became obvious to even the moderately clued-in fan, you knew they’d gone and done it.
It happened again with Dark Water – all the speculation over who Missy was added up just before she spilled her bananas beans.
That’s the territory we’re in here, with Spiral Staircase, Part 2. And yes, it’s that big a Big Bad.
It’s on Page 6 that everybody finally gets what’s going on. Panel 3. But there’s a declaration in Panel 2, and if you haven’t got it already, Superfans (it was cooler than you think – there were capes and everything) will get it there.
From there on in, you know what you’re dealing with. Not, by any stretch who you’re dealing with – that’s the reveal saved for the final panel cliff-hanger – but what you’re dealing with, absolutely.
But before we get there, we have to give credit to Rachael Stott and Leonardo Romero on artwork duties this time out. For those just tuning in, there’s a big black flat triangular obelisk in the skies above New York, like the darkest chunk of Toblerone in history. As it begins to bark out its orders to the ‘primates of Earth,’ Stott and Romero borrow a trick from the TV show, and give us reactions from various viewpoints, all looking at the same thing. Page 4 is one great page full of reaction shots, with a background of what it is they’re reacting to – cops, newscasters, and several key people in the story, all looking up at the speaking slab of darkness in the sky. If you tried to do this on TV, it would look confused, and you’d miss things. Sometimes on screen, even the linear progression of reaction shots looks rushed and overplayed. But Stott and Romero take advantage of the whole-page format of comic-books to really deliver a reaction shot that really gives the sense of scale we’re dealing with here.
Once we know what we’re doing, is the excitement blown?
No more than it was in Power of the Daleks, Day of the Daleks, Death To The Daleks and so on. Knowing what you’re up against, if you’re up against something cool and deadly – as we are here – just allows the writer to ramp up the tension, throw us curve-balls, develop character and take us to unusual, unexpected places, both geographically and dramatically, en route to the inevitable, tingling cliff-hanger. Nick Abadzis is good at this sort of thing, and here he takes the time to really develop the characters of both regular Tardis-traveller Gabby Gonzalez, and more especially her bestie, Cindy Wu, who here comes into her own, tackling the Doctor to the ground when necessary, and providing the hip, flip likeably sarcastic guide to what’s going on, while also revealing what she thinks about her friend, and what she’ll do to anyone who hurts her – it’s enough to almost make us want her to go traveling with the Tenth Doctor herself. Gabby, meanwhile, is handholding the person everyone wants a piece of – faded, but now markedly reinvigorated movie star Dorothy Bell, who’s bonded with a piece of alien kit that the Giant Toblerone In The Sky is looking for. It’s a solid representation of the other side of the companion coin, the caring side that tries to make sure as few people are hurt or frightened as possible, and it’s enough to make us remember what it is the Doctor sees in this daughter of New York that makes her worthy of all of time and space.
There’s conflict and drama, space phenomena to put the Medusa Cascade to shame, the Janitor of the Gods, some great colourful art that shows us a key piece of historical information, and the Doctor, mouth as ever set to 90 words per minute, being massively disrespectful to just about all and sundry before the denouement of this issue, and even though you know what it’ll be, there’s enough entertaining hoop-jumping on the way to make the reveal when it comes something of an ‘Oooooh!’ moment.
The joy about that is that while it’s not exactly a returning villain, it is the product of a very rich backstory that’s been touched on recently in other areas of the Who universe, and which clearly still has much to give. And while the cliff-hanger here is not as gasp-worthy as some of those seen earlier in the Tenth Doctor’s comic-book run, it’s one to make you run around for a bit, pondering all the potential it holds for story development going forward.
Get issue #14 and you can be assured of artistic richness, sumptuous character development, a fun, quirky take on the ride with Cindy, and a new iteration of an old, highly exciting villain. What’s not to love?
The Fourth Doctor: Oceans of Fire The Tardis suffers a critical timing malfunction as it lands on Verakis IV, where to his consternation, there’s a Big Drilling Project going on – Project Limitless. The Verakians aim to tap the molten core of their planet to provide limitless heat and energy for the planet, as a safe alternative to fossil fuels or dirty nuclear power. So far, so Inferno – the Doctor and Leela warn of the folly of the project, but the Director, Professor Sherwin Salus, is a man driven by the spectre of nuclear power – his parents were both killed when a nuclear planet went critical, and he swore as a boy to find his planet an alternative. Project Limitless is a success, he claims, having run tests on initial core samples and found the energy output to be staggeringly high.
Then, with no seismological warning, Triska, an adjacent landmass, is engulfed by a tidal wave of molten lava that has shot up from beneath the sea. The death toll is colossal but Salus refuses to acknowledge any connection between Project Limitless and the horrific destruction of Triska. The Doctor tests a sample of the core, and discovers what Salus has not been wanting to see – the lava displays discrete motion patterns that suggest only one thing – it’s alive.
Salus won’t listen to the Doctor, but Leela makes friends with his assistant, Professor Leah Methrick, who, with less of a personal investment, is able to see the truth of the Doctor’s research. With an increasing instability in his mind as his friend and assistant ‘turns on him’ but the ‘ghosts’ of his parents compel him onward, Salus takes the law into his own hands and locks Methrick and the Doctor up – Leela, being Leela, evades him. The drilling continues.
Then they come. Wave after wave, flank after flank of glowing, steaming fire-people emerging out of the bubbling seas, to spit lava over the land. The Pyroviles have been living peacefully at the core of the planet for millennia, but now they have been disturbed, kidnapped, forced into slavery (the Limitless process) and ultimately bled dry of their life-giving fire. And so, without declaration, the Pyroviles have gone to war. Leela tries to do battle with them, and fails – metal weapons melt before they even make contact. She returns to free the Doctor and Methrick, and the Doctor tries to broker a peace with the Pyroviles, claiming the drilling was done in ignorance. All looks to be going well, until Salus intervenes and tries to kill them – he dies in the process, and the Pyroviles declare the world will be theirs – as below, so above, they will make this world their ocean of fire, their Pyrovillia, and wipe the fleshkind from their surface.
With no option, the Doctor and Leela organize a retreat to high ground, and are ultimately forced to use the Tardis to collect as many of the Verakians as they can, and relocate them to a new world. Methrick is key in organizing the evacuation, and will become a leader of the new world, with hard, important lessons to teach her people.
The Fifth Doctor: The Assassin’s Paradox 14th April, 1865. Ford’s Theatre, Washington. John Wilkes Booth fires a Philadelphia Derringer pistol at President Abraham Lincoln, and – thanks to the intervention of Jarrold, a rogue Time Agent – misses.
18th December, 1865 – The Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough arrive in Washington to the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) ratified. As they arrive, the Tardis undergoes a major change – the lights go out, the dimensions contract and as it lands, the ‘wooden’ outside walls fall apart, spilling the travelers out into the world, with no hope of moving on, ever.
In town, they learn that Lincoln is still President and will be present for the ratification himself. They also learn that Ford’s theatre appears to be haunted by the ghost of Booth, who goes through his speech and fires a shot at the Presidential box every night at exactly the same time. Except the ghost is not ghost – it’s actually Booth, trapped forever in the moment that fractured time.
What’s more, there’s a killer on the loose – striking randomly, at anyone and everyone, without motive, and without leaving a body. They simply go missing and are never seen again.
The Reapers are at work. They shouldn’t be – the Time Lords should be able to take care of a paradox like this, but the Doctor can’t contact them, meaning the Reapers are flying in to sterilize the redundant timeline. Meanwhile, Jarrold is trying to engineer a gateway out of the redundant timeline he’s accidentally become trapped in – further weakening the fabric of space-time of Washington in 1865. The only chance the Doctor has of getting himself and his friends out of this alive is to persuade Abraham Lincoln to go and sit in his box again, and die by the ‘ghost’ assassin’s bullet. What could possibly go wrong?
The Sixth Doctor: Punishment and Crime The Doctor wakes to find himself in a small grey cell, dressed in an orange jumpsuit. Attempts to escape prove futile, and eventually, he is marched out for exercise in solitary confinement, but with a single Atraxi guard. He demands to know his crime, the term, the appeals procedure, but is simply told, time and again that he has been tried and found guilty of crimes against the Atraxi, and that execution will follow shortly.
Peri wakes up in a small grey cell dressed in an orange jumpsuit. Attempts to escape prove futile, and eventually, she is marched out for exercise with other prisoners and a single Atraxi guard. She demands to know what she’d done, where the Doctor is, and how long she’ll be there, but is simply told, time and again that she has been tried and found guilty of crimes against the Atraxi, and that execution will follow shortly.
Having made friends with a couple of fellow prisoners, Ros and Kara, both of whom are equally clueless of their crimes, Peri decides to stage a prison break, sparked by a fake fight fanned into a riot. Meanwhile, the Doctor bamboozles his guard with a logic paradox about the nature of rehabilitation and repentance depending on knowledge and understanding of the crime committed. Running almost literally into one another, Peri says they should make for the walls, but the Doctor points something out to her – they still have no idea what it is they’re supposed to have done, and they were snatched out of their lives. Reluctantly agreeing that something must be done, Peri follows the Doctor to the Intendent’s office, where the Doctor threatens the Chief Atraxi with an investigation by the Shadow Proclamation and the truth comes out – the Intendent received a payment to incarcerate the Doctor and his companion from an unnamed enemy; it’s a practice that’s been going on for decades in the for-profit Atraxi prisons of Traxis Minor. The Doctor and Peri are freed, and they contact the Shadow Proclamation anyway, to get the rest of those unfairly incarcerated by the Atraxi freed.
On Wednesday the Second, Seventh and Eighth Doctors come face to face with New Who monsters.
The countdown has begun to a new era for Doctor Who. Peter Capaldi, known for both his dramatic and comedic roles since the 80s, known as Malcolm Tucker, the William Wallace of filth from The Thick Of It, known for his Medusa stare and his Eyebrows of Doom, is about to become our favourite Time Lord. The news has divided the great and invincible fandom, with those old enough to remember the “Classic” series largely greeting the casting as overwhelming positive, and those more used to the stripling Doctors of recent years shrugging and saying “Well, I’ll give him a go, but…”
Capaldi’s already much-used publicity shot as the Doctor crystalises the divide around the question “Yes, but does he look like the Doctor?”
To some New-Whovians, no, he looks like the Doctor’s dad, poncing about and pointing at nothing. To the Classicists though, the answer is an emphatic yes. Tall, thin, imposing, dressed in no-nonsense clothes and looking not a little like he’s ready to kick the Daleks to death and tear the Cybermen’s heads off for dessert, he is, to all intents and purposes, the perfect fantasy Doctor for fans of a certain age. Not only does he reawaken the dream that they themselves are not too old to be the Doctor, or to act like him, the look carries with it the promise of perhaps a rather more grown-up and maybe even a slightly more serious tone to be taken in the Capaldi years.
It’s an impression that’s been encouraged by almost everything that’s come out of the production office of late – the intense stare crowbarred into the 50th Anniversary special; the initial teaser trailer, all dark and brooding and set against a background of an exploding Tardis; and the follow up, with talk of seeing hatred in the Doctor’s soul. All very dark and gritty and serious stuff.
There’s a danger in all this, inasmuch as it has a tendency to foster expectations of some new dark arc, some new realism, some new gritty edge to the show.
Within boundaries, this will probably be the case – each Doctor’s era has a tone, from Eccleston’s survivor-guilt coupled with the soapification of Who, through Tennant’s ‘one-chance’ chatterbox, that brought the fun back front and centre, to Smith’s fairy tale ‘thing-in-progress’ with a post office, a wife and occasional flashes of old-man rage. It’s to be hoped that Capaldi’s era will see the language of the Teletubbies retired (wibbly wobbly timey wimey byesie wysie?) in a post-War Doctor reaction to such infantilism, and a return to good honest pseudo-scientific gobbledegook (your fathers and grandfathers reversed the polarity of the neutron flow, dammit, and so will you – and you’ll like it!), but the boundaries within which the show can ‘grow up’ are very, very significant.
While the Classicists tend to complain about the relentless humour, the romance, River Song’s sexy banter and what they call a generalised “childishness” in New Who, it would be a huge mistake to think that the casting of an older Doctor is going to necessarily address all these things. The degree to which they can be addressed is actually pretty limited, because they’re fundamental ingredients that have hooked Doctor Who its largest worldwide audience – ever.
The point is that while it has always been a family show, Doctor Who’s core audience is a nation, and now a world of eight year-olds. And eight year-olds today are not the creatures they were in the 60s, 70s or even 80s – to which decades the Classicists refer when they claim that the show never needed all this modern stuff to be wonderful back then. Eight year-olds today exist in a world of greater equality, where anyone twisting an ankle while running away (irrespective of gender) would be thought of as a useless prawn and not a respectable companion. They live in a world more saturated with either explicit or implicit sexualisation in every ad break, and at potentially every click of a mouse. (This is not to imply anything Savillian or creepy, just that today’s eight year-olds know more about romance, about partnership, and about sex than eight year-olds generally in any previous generation, and they accept its presence in the world as the norm. They expect people who look like grown-ups to have complex relationships, and that includes hero figures like the Doctor). More than anything, they live in a world of speed: speed of thought, speed of talk, speed of decision-making. New Who reflects the world of New eight year-olds, just as Classic Who reflected the world of eight year-olds back then. It’s a very different place, and this modern world cannot be ignored if the show wants to retain and expand its armies of eight year-old fans.
So while there’s the potential with an older-looking Doctor to tell different stories to those you can effectively tell with Matt Smith at the Tardis console, it would be a mistake for fans of the Classic series to think Capaldi’s Doctor will ditch all the things about New Who they dislike – those things have become part of the core of the show in the 21st century. If we go into Series 8 expecting an all-dark, grown-up Doctor, with less “silliness” and banter, we could find ourselves in the peculiar situation where Capaldi’s greatest fans before he started in the role find themselves disappointed, and those who weren’t that keen on him deciding he’s not all that bad after all. The programme can never be made to principally appeal to the millions of 40 year-olds dressed up at Comic-Con – that would be Game of Thrones you’re thinking of. Who will continue to be aimed first and foremost at the eight year-olds and their families who tune in or download or stream it. Capaldi’s era may see the show grow up a little. But don’t expect it to take itself as seriously as the average adult fan.
Having a fascination for the UK TV show Doctor Who, Tony Fyler joined the bank of contributors to successful multi-fandom website, www.warpedfactor.com. his first piece for the site, an appreciation of the John Simm Master, was very well received – including by the John Simm Society, who retweeted the piece and gained it an additional thousand readers in the space of an hour.
There are two types of Master: there’s the natural Master, who comes by his body by the normal process of regeneration, and the unnatural Master, either disembodied or forced to steal an existence in order to survive. The first tends to play the role for character, the second, mostly for plot.
There’s also a loose correlation between the ‘type’ of Master and the success with which he has been historically played, and also with his ‘fit’ to a particular Doctor.
Roger Delgado, despite being in real life a very pleasant and amiable man, could have been born to play the dead-eyed gentleman psychopath of the universe, and he rarely, if ever, looked forced on-screen. He was chosen specifically to be the Anti-Pertwee.
The two ‘crispy critter’ Masters – Peter Pratt and Geoffrey Beevers – were not chosen specifically to play the Anti-Baker, and such was their emaciation they were forced to play the role largely on plot, to find their way back to a body. Anthony Ainley’s Master was not Doctor-specific either, and having stolen his body, he was forced from the beginning to be a Masteralike of Delgado’s version; it was more important that he looked like what had come before than it was to let him be his own villain. While little is ever heard from the CGI-snake Master, Eric Roberts (bless him, what did he think he was doing up there?) played the Master, again having stolen a body in his outing, purely driven by the plot to get more bodies, rather than as any kind of appropriate Anti-McGann.
When the series became a hit again in 2005, it was more or less certain that the Doctor would face off with his ultimate adversary again. But which Master would it be? Another re-tread of the Delgado Imprimatur, all beard and convoluted plans and gloating? Or someone new and naturalistic, someone that would be genuinely fearsome and scary and funny and dark and aimed squarely at providing the antithesis of whichever Doctor he encountered?
John Simm blew the doors off the part within the first five minutes.
Having had just about that long of Sir Derek Jacobi delivering the Anti-Hartnell, the Simm Master exploded on screen and began immediately matching David Tennant’s Doctor, trait for trait. There was the post-regenerative chattiness, there was the techno-skill, flying the Tardis with gusto, there was the glint of mad humour and the smile. And there – right there at the end of Utopia – was something new and modern. When the Doctor says “I’m sorry”, Simm’s spitting of “Tough!” is visceral and dangerous, it’s a boot to the Doctor’s face, and a note of the savagery behind Delgado’s suavity, Ainley’s chuckle and Roberts’s…whatever-that-was.
Simm went on to imitate Delgado not in any of the trappings of his Master (though the red-lined jacket was a nice touch), but in the fundamental philosophy of what a ‘natural’ Master was. This time, he was absolutely the Anti-Tennant, and the terrifying thing about the script of The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords is that it’s the ultimate version of the Pertwee scripts – disguise, hypnosis, cunning plans and world domination – but given a brave new twist. Simm’s is the Master who won. This is a devastating proposition, because the Master is no ordinary villain – he’s the philosophical opposite of everything the Doctor stands for, embodied in an equal, who can argue his corner and make the viewer question the Doctor’s position. It’s the combination of the scale of what the Master does to the Earth once he’s won it – “the only person to get out of Japan alive…”, and the unbridled glee with which Simm delivers his ‘stark raving bonkers’ Master, complete with dancing, disco and decimation, that make his Master something fresh and vibrant in those two episodes.
And then of course, the production team, having well and truly had its cake with a fantastic, energised Anti-Tennant Master, decided to eat it too, and gave us Simm as the body-snatching Master, the ‘other’ Master. And like disembodied Masters before him, Simm had no option but to play the character subsumed by plot, this time knowing his body was ‘born to die’ but multiplying almost endlessly and aiming to stop the drumming in his head. The End of Time is a busy script, but Simm manages to deliver the furious need of a disembodied Master more effectively in the burger-chomping scene than either Pratt or Beevers were allowed, because he keeps (largely) his own face and delivers the performance through his own interpretation of the Master as a creature propped up and kept sane by nothing more than ravenous consumption. Again, the Master is victorious in this story, though it feels (like the character himself) more hollow and reversible this time, and when events spin out of his control, the Master falls back on another old trope – the idea of joining forces with the Doctor to confront the greater threat. What is unique in the Master’s long on-screen history though is what Simm does in his final moments – he makes us sympathise with the Master, driven mad by ‘grown-ups’ who abused his mind if not his body; he is the child who never stood a chance, and grew up determined to be noticed. Simm’s exit might be a cliché, but it’s arguably the best and most worthwhile cliché in fifty years of Doctor Who.