Monday, March 17, 2014

The Grind

The big drawback to being a writer is how long it can take to get the ideas out of your head and onto paper. Often times the end result is not quite what you had in mind when you started and fortunately most of the time it is better. I certainly hope that is true with my latest work. Zaran Journals Book Five - One Corner of the Sky, is finished at last. Well, the rough draft. For me and my process, that is the completion of the story, the rest is polishing it to a presentable state.

So while my story telling phase on this book is over, it is time to turn it over to the editor side of my brain. I have some other things to work on, some sort stories to think of and the plot of book 6 to work out, so I have plenty to keep me busy for a few months. Then I'll edit this, have it proofed and the final polish applied in time for it to be out in November this year.

Then it is back to the process for book 6. After that I hope to tackle another project, a stand along of a bit more epic proportions based on an idea I had a long time ago. I just have to locate my notes first. Not as easy as it may sound. My stored papers are a bit disorganized after a minor flood we had in the basement a few years ago. Nothing of importance was lost, but things got moved around and I can't locate my oldest box of writing notes. Ah, these things happen. Even if I can't find them, I still remember enough to recreate it, and even if I do find them, there is no guarantee I will follow them very closely. That is the beauty of the creative process, it adapts to change.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Hartnell Years - An Overview

The 50th Anniversary has prompted me to want to revisit some of the older Doctors that I haven't seen as often. Back when I first found Doctor Who, I watched and became familiar with all of the 3rd, 4th and 7th, but the 1st and 2nd were incomplete and I kept missing the 5th and 6th doctors between the Five Doctors and the Trial of a Timelord. I began my revisit of the 1st Doctor with the pilot, added in the two Cushing theatrial Dalek movies, and ended with An Adventure in space and Time, with all the episodes in between, the Loose Canon reconstructions standing in for the missing ones.

The only thing I will say about the two Custhing Dalek movies is that they are poor (but in color) remakes of two very fine episodes.It was fun to see Bernard Cribbins (Wilfred from series 4 and the 2009 specials) in his first Doctor Who appearance in The Dalek Invasion of Earth movie.

In my reading on Doctor Who for the 50th, and in learning a good deal of the origins of the show, I came to the conclusion that the first story, An Unearthly Child is not one story, but two. I've adopted one of the alternate titles, The Tribe of Gum, for the remaining story and split the first episode off as its own story. What follows is a brief review of each story.

The Pilot - This is a raw first draft of what turned into a fine story. A few too many details about the Doctor and Susan, and the Doctor has none of the inner amusement that characterizes the Doctor as we know him. That and the production gaffs, with cameras bumping into things and the Tardis doors not staying closed, really make this more of peek into the history and development than a story worth watching on its own.

An Unearthly Child - The premier episode, and the first to ever repeat due to the unfortunate timing its first broadcast. The mystery, the twinkle, the hard edge. This is the beginning of the Doctor. He is very much the Timelord. Not sure if it was planned or just happened that way, but the later portrayals of Timelords harken back to these first Hartnell stories. The Doctor does not want to get involved. I love this episode as so much of what the show became come from here. This story was not originally written by Anthony Coburn, but was adapted by him when the original story was canned, but they kept this introductory episode mostly intact.

The Tribe of Gum - Ian and Barbara's first adventure sees them back in 100,000 BC where they encounter a tribe in search of fire. There is a tribal power struggle over the strangers ability to make fire that lands the Tardis crew in hot water. While the concept seems silly, the execution shows the brilliance of the writers, actors, and producers of the show.

The Daleks - An excellent story that totally goes against the grain of what robots or aliens should be. Given the cramped studio it was made in, it is incredibly done.

The Edge of Destruction - Short, sweet, and rife with strife. This is the first time the Tardis shows that it has a mind of its own. Not my favorite story, but good none the less.

Marco Polo - Sadly no episodes or even clips survive, but the reconstruction shows a powerful story. One of many to have getting back to the Tardis (or in this case getting the Tardis back) drives the Doctor and his companions. This is probably the most epic of all the historical stories.

The Keys of Marinus - This story is very much an adventure a week rather than a single story line. It works, but it gets off to a rocky start.

The Aztecs - A fantastic tale of the dual edged nature of time travel. There are things you can't change, as Barbara finds out. The Doctor shares a bit of his twinkle as he flirts with Cameca and ends up engaged to her. I never tire of watching it.

The Sensorites - Strange aliens, mistrust, intrigue, and mystery mark this story. Everything should work, but something seemed off. Wonderful twist at the end and the Doctor was brilliant as always.

The Reign of Terror - The finale to the first season is much more enjoyable to watch now that the two missing episodes have been animated. They are able to convey the story much better. It is a little long, but it does hold your interest with new developments in the later episodes. Lots of deaths, but then the title would lead to that outcome.

Planet of Giants - An interesting concept, one that was supposed to follow An Unearthly Child, works on this attempt, but isn't one of the best stories.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth - The Daleks are back and have invaded Earth 200 years from now. The Doctor had been pretty passive up to this point, trying not to get involved. This time he gets involved and sets out to defeat the Daleks. During the story, Susan and David Campbell fall in love and the Doctor forces her to remain, so she can have a normal life. She is the first companion to leave. Every part of the story is well handled.

The Rescue - The Doctor often encounters mentally unstable people. Here it is someone who has committed mass murder and a vast deception to cover it. Very well done and introduced Vicki nicely.

The Romans - A vacation in a vacant villa and the Doctor getting wanderlust starts out this story that leads them all to Nero's palace in Rome. A few comic moments, but very well done.

The Web Planet - Low budget costumes and effects mar this story that grows in the telling. This one could be excellent with modern effects, but was a bit too much of a stretch for 60's Doctor Who. Good story at the heart of it.

The Crusade - Julian Glover shines as Richard as does Jean Marsh as his sister. Both would go on to appear in later stories. The characters are well rounded and there is no sense of racism in the story. Very nice for the 60's. It is a good story and a good candidate for animation if the 2 missing episodes aren't found.

The Space Museum - An odd concept of the Tardis slipping on landing starts the story. They see a possible future and then try to avoid it. Pretty well done, but not one of the best Hartnell stories.

The Chase - This story is very episodic. A few new locations each week, some of them more serious and some more amusing. The first of three appearance of Queen Elizabeth I. The final episode introduces Steven and says goodbye to Ian and Barbara.

The Time Meddler - One of my all time favorites, ever since I first watched it. It is the first history plus SF story that would become the norm for visits to the past for later Doctors.

Galaxy 4 - Interesting story of good vs. bad compared to attractive vs. evil. Much of it is missing, so its unclear how the visuals would impact the story. They can only improve it.

Mission to the Unknown - The prequel to the Daleks' Master Plan is much like many setup scenes in Doctor Who, it is just longer.

The Myth Makers - Surprisingly witty and funny. An interesting take on the final days of the Trojan war. Vicki remains behind in the past.

The Daleks' Master Plan - This is an overlong tale with several extra episodes that could have been cut. There's nothing wrong with them, they just aren't really needed. This story is reminiscent of The Chase without that story's charm. Very good non-the-less.

The Massacre - While Hartnell plays a big role in these episodes, it is not as the Doctor. A good secondary part for him to shine in and a good story for Steven as the first solo companion. The story ends back in the 20th century (not Steven's time so he doesn't leave) where they pick up Dodo.

The Ark - Ah, what the common cold might do to aliens or our descendants. This is actually a double story, set in two time periods with different problems, but they share the same setting. This is a good, enjoyable story.

The Celestial Toymaker - The Toymaker himself is fun. He and the Doctor have met before. some of the story falls flat with the gams Steven and Dodo must play in each episode while the invisible Doctor plays a different game. This is the first story where Hartnell's poor heath is worked into the story, giving him some time off.

The Gunfighters - Many deride this story, but I love it. It is what you would expect for 60's Brits making an American western story. It isn't very true to history, but it is very in keeping with 60's American TV westerns. The story is good, with Doc Holiday getting the Doctor into trouble and Steven having to do some singing.

The Savages - This story is a surprise. Very good for 60's SF. This is almost a Star Trek quality story in some ways. The end solution for peace is for Steve to remain as their new leader.

The War Machines - One of my least favorite episodes. Right off we meet the new companions, Ben and Polly, and Dodo has an interesting part as she is taken over by Wotan, but when the Doctor cures her, Dodo vanishes never to be seen again, only a relayed goodbye in the final episode delivered by Ben and Polly, which is how they end up on the Tardis. This is the prototype for every Unit story that would follow, but here there is no explanation for how the doctor is so connected. Not very consisted with the previous stories.

The Smugglers - An interesting, but yet forgettable, story set in 17th century Cornwall. A man in possession of a secret is murdered. Ben and Polly are wanted by the authorities for the murder and the Doctor is wanted by pirates for the secrets of the murdered man.

The Tenth Planet - The Doctor meets his second mortal enemy, the Cybermen. While it is often best not to look too closely at the science of things made back in the 60's, this story still is good. Set in 1986, it features a general who does not like the Doctor, Ben, and Polly. Very fine performances in a good story make this one memorable. The regeneration (not named at the time) happens much as it would later on, but with effects closer to the bright lights of the revived series. The Doctor acts odd at the end of the story and says his body is wearing a bit thin. He barely thinks to open the doors to let Ben and Polly in.

Just about everyone who knew William Hartnell said that the Doctor was him. Just as the Doctor was grumpy, funny, moody, and highly skilled, so was William Hartnell. When you compare the pilot to what followed, that is the difference in the raw part and what William Hartnell filled the part with. Every characterization since has carried a bit of that on and in that William Hartnell lives on in all 800 of the broadcast episodes.

What many don't see is that from An Unearthly Child through The Tenth Planet, there is some huge character development. And it does not stop there. It is not until later Troughton stories, or even into the Pertwee era that we get a character that is pretty much as he has remained every since. But most of that happened with the 1st Doctor, but the one thing lacking was the physical participation in the action. William Hartnell's heath wouldn't allow it.

But that, and other things like the lack of two hearts, brings me to a conclusion about the first Doctor. Perhaps even a reason he left Gallifrey. He was not well. Perhaps a debilitating heart issue and one heart was not functioning or functioning properly. Plus in The Daleks' Master Plan and The Savages, the Doctor is exposed to events that would have zapped his strength and taken years off his life. As Hartnell's health deteriorated, so did the Doctor's.

I concluded my exploration of the Hartnell years with the docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time. It is a fantastic story that centers around William Hartnell, Sydney Newman, and Verity Lambert. These three made Doctor Who what it is. Terry Nation and his Daleks gave Doctor Who popularity and an enduring adversary. I highly recommend this story and the cameos are fantastic, if you can catch them.

Next up, the 2nd Doctor, followed by the 5th and 6th... maybe the 7th just for fun.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Echos From the Past - The Missing Episodes of Doctor Who

I tend to get very focused on things. Lately it has been Doctor Who, as the contents of this blog can attest. For a show that spans 50 years, there is a lot to take in. Unfortunately, due to BBC policies long ago, there are currently 97 episodes from the first 6 seasons missing.

Or are they? If rumor is to be believed, all save one have been found. This is by no means certain, after all, that is the nature of a rumor. I've been looking into it and at the source of the rumors and the history and have come to the conclusion (which is just my own personal opinion) that there is weight to them.

When Doctor Who was first broadcast, the episodes were copies onto film for distribution. Thanks to the the early placement of the first Dalek story, the show was immensely popular and copies were sent all over the world. What happened to those copies has long been assumed, but without much proof. In recent years, several people have traveled to find out the final destination of those episodes and as a result, 9 episodes (7 of them previously missing) were found and released.

Rumor has it that is just the beginning. It all seems too good to be true, which sparks my skeptical side. Yet the facts we do know - that the circle who know about the last discovery was small and there were leaks and this seems to be a repeat of that, that 9 episodes were found at a location in Africa which was supposedly checked years ago, that it has been publicly acknowledged that something has been found (though no confirmation of any Doctor Who), and hinted at that there is more Doctor Who by one of the searchers - gives hope that the rumors have some truth to them. Only time will tell.

As rumors can grow beyond the source, I have my doubts that 96 episodes have been found, including a copy of the least likely to survive, The Feast of Steven (episodes 7 of The Dalek Masterplan), but far too many rumors circulating in 2013 have turned out to be true for me to completely discount these. Yes, I have my doubts, but I think there is something to it.

So we sit here in the first month of 2014 with the possibility that a big dent will be made in the list of 97 missing episodes. Yet as happy as this makes me for Doctor Who random, it is still a sad thing for all the other shows hit as bad, if not worse, than Doctor Who. Yet if the rumor is true, many of them will benefit from this as well. All from a fan of Doctor Who, determined to find whatever may yet be out there.

So I listen to the rumors with a mix of hope and skepticism. Just because the rumors of 2013 turned out to be true does not mean that the current rumors must be true, but it there is a good chance they are giving hope to this skeptical mind.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

When Rumors Are Right

I don't like being wrong, but I'm human and it comes with the territory. It is rare that rumors are true, but twice this year they have proven true and proven me wrong. The more recent was right here on my blog. The rumor was that John Hurt was playing Doctor 8.5 (meaning between 8 and 9). I was insistent that this did not have to be the case, but as it turned out, it was exactly correct.

I'm a writer and I tend to think of an array of possibilities and I found that rumor to be the least likely. However, after watching the two Doctor Who specials in the last two months, that really is the only way this story could have been told. I can only guess where or when Moffat got the idea, but how things worked were chance just a few years ago.

When David Tennant's Doctor almost regenerated four years ago, I'm sure we all hoped that didn't count against the regeneration limit we all knew was approaching. But when you rewatch that episode, there really is no other conclusion. Then Christopher Eccleston declined to be in the 50th Anniversary special. That left Steven Moffat with a whole to fill, followed very shortly by Matt Smith stepping down from the role. We all knew Trenzalore was coming, though we didn't really know what it signified. The hints were that it would be Matt Smith's last episode (what else could "fall of the eleventh" mean). Then we were there early (or late from Trenzalore's perpsective) in The Name of the Doctor. The Tardis window cracked on landing and the giant Tardis had the exact same crack. Clara jumped into the Doctor's timestream and saw 11 faces. It has taken a while for that to sink in. From that point we knew the Trenzalore was where this Doctor would fall and it would be the end of the line. There was a missing regeneration and we had to wait until the Anniversary to find out that the Doctor we know so well did not fit in the Time War, so he had a regeneration dedicated to fighting and ending it. This incarnation did something so terrible that his later selves buried the memories and pretended he didn't exist. The Time War is locked so no one would know there had been another Doctor. But the terrible thing he had done turns out to be an illusions. He intended to do it, but he and two of his future selves found a way around it leaving Gallifrey hidden. Then we come to Trenzalore, the Doctor's final battle. When you take Eleven and add in the forgotten Doctor and the wasted regeneration, this, the twelfth incarnation of the Doctor, is the last. Except the Timelords have their own tricks to fix things. A whole new life cycle. The pieces all fall into place and it is so fitting that the Doctor ends his first life cycle at the 50th Anniversary and starts a new one.

So while I could think of many alternate explanations for John Hurt's Doctor, and many ways to preserve the familiar sequence, what Steven Moffat has done is genius. We couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate 50 years and say goodbye to Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor. And it all hinged on a wasted regeneration and Christopher Eccleston not participating. It was so obvious that he was new to the face in Rose and it would have been another glitch to have him play the Doctor who fought in the Time War. We have enough of those with the Second Doctor's several returns.

So all in all, I am glad I was wrong. I think the story has turned out just as it should. Still, it is fun to imagine the other possibilities.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Age of the Doctor (Revisited)

Back in September, I posted on this blog about the Doctor's age. That held fairly accurate until yesterday. The Time of the Doctor has added to that. First a brief rundown.

236 - when he borrowed the Tardis (or it borrowed him)
450 - or there abouts at the time of his first regeneration
600 - or there abouts at the time of his second regeneration
750 - give or take a bit at the time of his third regeneration
800 - at the time of his fourth regeneration
900 - at the time of his fifth regeneration
953 - at the time of his sixth regeneration
1136 - when he met Rose and subsequent regenration
1143 - at his most recent regeneration (you might argue it should be 907, but between when he met Rose and he regenerated, his age changed from just traveling in the Tardis for 900 years to being 900 years old, so you have to add in the 236 years before he borrowed the Tardis)
1339 - the most recent age the doctor gave (1103 plus 236)

Yet when he met Clara he reduced to just 1000, rather than 1103, proving that he lies about his age. In The Day of the Doctor he gave his age as roughly 1200 and admitted he wasn't sure because he lies about it so often.

Then we come to Christmas and The Time of the Doctor. We start out with the Doctor over 1300 and then he spends 300 years on Trenzalore in the town of Christmas while Clara clings to the side of the Tardis. Then he sends her away again and spend an unknown time, but enough to age considerably more so I am assuming it is over 300 more years. My best guess is another 500 years. That makes The Time of the Doctor the longest episode in terms of the Doctor's life. He ages 800 years. Starting at 1339 at a minimum, that puts him at 2139 years. It could be considerably more than that and whatever the Doctor says about his age is probably wrong and less than his real age.

So as Peter Capaldi takes the reins to start off the Doctors give of a complete new life cycle (so does this mean 13 more incarnations of the Doctor or 12? Was this regeneration the first of the next 12? Guess we'll seen in another 50 years), he is over 2000 years old, but he probably won't admit that. It will be interesting to see. Not every Doctor states his age, but all of the new ones have.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thoughts on the Doctor's Origins

I'm a geek. I think about things like this. Especially as I watch the first season again. No, I don't mean Eccleston's Doctor, I mean Hartnell's.

We know he came from Gallifrey, that isn't what I'm talking about. No, I'm talking about the inconsistencies that have arisen from where the show started to what it has become. But the genius of that first season is that there are lots of touches that when we consider what our favorite Timelord has grown into, offer some interesting possibilities for his past.

The Doctor did not originally have two hearts. That came later, after we learned he was a Timelord. Nothing about the Doctor's physiology is seen as particularly surprising until after that. He is even examined on at least one occasion by some high tech medical equipment (The Wheel In Space). But there are hints with the first Doctor, especially in light of more recent comments by the Doctor, as to what the issue might be.

We have to remember the First Doctor is old. He was seen as a very old alien at first. When you do some subtraction on the figures Romana gives for the Doctor's age, he was 234 when he stole/borrowed the Tardis. That is still a respectable age, though far less from the 600 or 400 he was originally written to be. And William Hartnell, although only 56 when he took the role, was suffering from arteriosclerosis, making him seem far older. Plus he was playing older. What we get is that the Doctor is a really old man, weak, in need of frequent rest. He does not spend much time running, he leave the strenuous activities to his younger companions. We don't get a leaping, active Doctor until after his first regeneration.

This all comes back to his hearts. He's a Timelord, we know that now. He has two hearts. Yet this man in his prime (let's face it, he is young for a Timelord) is very delicate. They answer lies in his cardiovascular system. The Doctor has recently said what his limitations are when one heart isn't working at all. They sound very similar to our aged First Doctor. I can imagine a wound or disease that has damaged one heart (it would be the right one), leaving him with one good heart. Perhaps he's been told even a regeneration might not fix it. That plus his rebellious nature, and he steals a Tardis and runs off. But a damaged heart makes Hartnell's portrayal make complete sense.

The other big thing I have noticed is that Hartnell's early portrayal of the Doctor is that of your typical Timelord. He doesn't want to get involved, he wants to look and explore and leave. Yes, he is out running around Time and Space, but he is still a stodgy Timelord. But as time goes on, we see that early twinkle grow into the crusader he has become. And later when we see the Timelords, they are exactly what the Doctor was when he started. It was the adventures the Tardis took him on and the influence of Ian and Barbara that shaped him into the hero he is now. And this is all good character development in the first three years. It only got stronger when the Doctor became a younger, more energetic man and faced more deadly enemies. But it all started with a crotchety old Timelord who landed in a junkyard on Totters lane in London.

There is much to learn from these old episodes, both in what the producers and writers intended and how the actors approached their parts, that really enriches the tapestry that is Doctor Who. There are, of course, plenty of glitches that really don't make sense. Troughton's two later appearances in The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors don't fit with the continuity of his original appearance, and the first two Doctors helping to save Gallifrey in The Day of the Doctor last month doesn't fit with them being on the run. But these are minor points. They can drive you crazy if you let them, but if you ignore them you get to enjoy great TV drama.

There aren't any other TV shows I know of that have been so completely able to transition through different casts and production teams. Doctor Who has completely changed so many times that such changes are almost integral to its success. It has remained fresh and relevant for most of its run. But it really all goes back to the success of the First Doctor and it is fun to see how those early decisions have so shaped all that has come after and that it still fits. That you can believe that William Hartnell and Matt Smith are portraying the same character is a testament to just how much Hartnell's portrayal has shaped all the following ones.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lost and Found

At the risk of turning this blog into a Doctor Who blog, I have more to say. Namely, on the fabled lost episodes.

Many know that the first nine seasons of Doctor how are far from complete. Virtually none of the video tape survives and from before 1970, many episodes have not survived at all, at least not in video form. Off-air recordings made by a number of fans have preserved the missing episodes, at least in part. But through the years some episodes have come back to us. Usually one here, one there, but occasionally an entire story.

Earlier this year, the 50th Anniversary year, we were given the gift of 9 episodes that had been unseen in decades. But that was not it. The rumor was not a mere 9 missing episodes found, but nearly all of them. That is probably a dream, but that is what rumors are for, to give us hope.

Some rumors have been persistent. Marco Polo, the fourth story, seems to be more than just idle rumor. But the question is what shape is it in, can it be restored, will they be releasing it soon. Marco Polo celebrates its own 50th anniversary on February 22. I hold out hope that we will be able to see it by then if the rumors are true.

Other missing stories claimed to have been recovered include The Dalek Masterplan, The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, The Macra Terror, and The Power of the Daleks. Any one of them would be a gem.

Those of us who have been long-time fans of Doctor Who have seen many rumors over the years and many have proven false. I am hopeful at the nature of the news, but I cannot bring myself to count on any of these finds being real until an official announcement is made or until I see it for myself. We have been disappointed before. Still, there is hope that this time it is true because we have already had 2 stories brought back. The way it happened opens the possibility for more.

Until these gems are recovered, I will make do with the reconstructions. Most of these stories are incredible even taken in that limited way.