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.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Will the Real Ninth Doctor Please Step Forward

Now that the 50th anniversary is behind us and we have been shown where John Hurt's War Doctor fits in, a question begs asking; Who is the real Ninth Doctor?

This is not as simple as it sounds. For one thing, what do we mean when we talk about the Ninth Doctor. Do we mean the Ninth incarnation of the Timelord we know as the Doctor? That would clearly be John Hurt. Or would it. Or do we mean the Ninth actor to hold the role in the series? That would clearly be Christopher Eccleston. But it isn't even as clear as that.

We were first given a Ninth Doctor in the 1999 Red Nose Day special, The Curse of Fatal Death. Rowen Atkinson played the Ninth Doctor for most of the story, before a quick series of accidents lead to Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley as the 10th through 13th Doctors. It was also Steven Moffat's first Doctor Who story.

That was followed in 2003 by the first post Eighth Doctor story, the Scream of the Shalka, staring Richard E. Grant. He was going to start a new series of Ninth Doctor stories, but very shortly after that, the BBC greenlit Doctor Who for a return to BBC ONE.

So who is the real Ninth Doctor. I have a double answer. Rowan Atkinson's appearance is obviously for comedly and should be taken as nothing other than a spoof, so he is out. John Hurt is a warrior, not a Doctor (and this goes along with what Steven Moffat has said) so he is not the Ninth Doctor. That leaves Richard E. Grant and Christopher Eccleston.

My take is that had the Time War not happened, events would have transpired that led to Richard E. Grant's Ninth Doctor. He is from an alternate reality where the Time War did not happen, but he is the Ninth Doctor for that reality. But in the reality where the Time War did happen, we have the events that led to the Eighth Doctor trying to stay out of it, crashing on Karn, regenerating into a version of himself who would be willing to fight and kill in order to stop the war he had not otherwise been able to stop. He no longer called himself the Doctor (though everyone around him did). Then when he regenerated (and for now we can assume that it was into Eccleston's Doctor, but we didn't actually see the result) he resumed being his normal self and resumed calling himself the Doctor.

In real world continuity, John Hurt's character is no more counted in the numbering (though he does have to be counted in the regenerations) than Richard Hurndall's portrayal of the first Doctor in the Five Doctors. He was a story device so that the Doctors of the past could comment on the Doctor's of the present. The first three actors are dead and the next four are really too old to reprise their roles, so John Hurt stood in for all of them. the only real difference it makes is in the count against the 12 regenerations. He takes up one, but he does not displace the actors who have been cast as the Doctor since 1963. While it is true that Paul McGann only had a one off appearance, that movie was supposed to be a pilot for a revived series, but it did not get the ratings to make that viable. Had it gotten picked up, as it was later in the audio adventures aired on BBC7, he would have had many more episodes. Hurt came in a prequel and went out in the main story. His timeline is locked in the Time War. To the outside world he is not the Doctor.

This all changes when you go to Gallifrey, where they only call him the Doctor because that is how he chooses to be identified. On Gallifrey he is the Ninth incarnation of our wandering Timelord. they don't care what he calls himself. But when you put the two together, the numbering and the name, you have to skip all but Christopher Eccleston. He IS the Ninth Doctor.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Changing Doctor Who

I've been a fan of Doctor who for more than 30 years. I sat in my living room as a kid and watched the 20th Anniversary episode, The Five Doctors (oddly enough 2 days before they saw it in England). That was my first exposure to the first three Doctors. My how things have changed since then.

Which is the point. Change happens and we cannot stop it. The way Doctor Who has lasted for 50 years is by adapting and changing. Yes, for a time there was no new Doctor Who on TV, but that time was filled with reruns, audio adventures, and the 1996 TV movie. Doctor Who was never gone, he just stepped away for a moment.

Yet after the phenomenal 50th Anniversary special, there are many who are decrying Steven Moffat's choice to bring back Gallifrey. They say it undoes everything that came before and is too big a change. Seriously? I know there are at least as many people who were not happy with Russel T. Davis' decision to base the new series on that premise.

The one thing I will say right now, is that every person had their own tastes and every comment is valid... from that person's point of view. However, many people make sweeping comments intended to imply a fan-wide belief and that is not the case. Each opinion (even my own) comes from a very personal perspective and there will be those who agree and disagree. I'm making this post in response to those who take these changes too much to heart and don't give the show a chance after that.

And here is the logic. What we have today is not the Doctor Who that Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert, and William Hartnell created back in 1963. The character and nature of the show are nowhere near the same, yet it is the same show. There has never been a big jump, a great change (although there were some near misses) that has altered the show into something completely unrecognizable.

In the beginning we have a fleeing Timelord and his granddaughter and two nosy teachers. I realized it after watching the The Day of the Doctor that the Timelords are personified as the Doctor was originally portrayed - unwilling to get involved. Well, thank goodness for character development. The Doctor has certainly had a lot and yet very little of the mystery of his origins has been revealed. The changes in the early years of the first two Doctors were gradual and subtle. The biggest change came in The War Games. Suddenly we know the Doctor is a Timelord. Not only that, but the Doctor stole the Tardis and his constant interference is a violation of Timelord laws. He is punished with exile to Earth in the 20th century. The show had probably its biggest change ever. Not only did the Doctor change, but the series went from 42 black and white episodes a year to 26 color episodes. No longer did the Doctor fly around in his Tardis, he had to sit on earth and deal with the problems that came his way. That was accompanied by a complete turn-over in the creative team. But, if you look back, this was not a sudden change. UNIT was introduced first and the stories led up to the change.

But it was a change destined not to work for long. The Doctor needed to fly, both as a character and for good story ideas. But he didn't fly far. For many years after The Three Doctors, the Doctor kept coming back. With the departure of Sarah Jane Smith, ties to Earth were broken and the Doctor went back to flying. Then came the Key to Time. A problem to solve that resulted in two seasons of the Doctor having to fly randomly to avoid the Black Guardian.

Probably the single worst decision in Doctor Who history was Colin Baker's Doctor. Oh, not in casting that actor (a marvelous man - just listen to the audio adventures), but in his post-regeneration insanity. That plus a poor story (The Twin Dilemma is very forgettable) coming at the end of a good season for Peter Davison, and it derailed the show. Add to that, Baker's first season was comprised of 45 minutes episodes and only half as many. What made it worse is that when they went back to 25 minute episodes, they didn't increase the number so for the last 4 seasons you have the smallest seasons in Doctor Who history..Baker's Doctor is fine. He is brash and loud and his clothes fit his personality. But the timing and way he was introduced left a bad taste in the mouth for many fans. This is not just opinion, it is reflected in the viewership stats.

Typical of a show in decline, there are some bad stories. The original Star Trek suffered from this its last season as well. Then Doctor Who was gone. Here in the US, we had reruns. By that time it was of all 7 Doctors, including the newly recovered Tomb of the Cybermen. US audiences got to know the full range of the series and slowly it came out on home video so just about anyone could enjoy it. Even the orphaned episodes, the last remaining parts of otherwise missing stories, came out, plus the audio recordings for the missing episodes and then the reconstruction by some enterprising fans. Some of us have gotten to experience the full 50 years of Doctor Who through what remains.

The one constant in the history of Doctor Who is change.

That was true when Doctor Who returned in 2005. This was not the same old man in a box. This was a hurt man in a box. He was haunted by what he'd done (or thought he'd done). Gallifrey was gone, the Daleks were gone. Yet the Daleks came back. And came back in a big way more than once. So Davis reversed his own idea first. He even tempted us with the Timelords coming back, but these were those of the High Council who had escalated the Time War and were so determined to win at any cost. The Doctor had the choice of Gallifrey or Earth and he chose Earth (as he usually does). But this story of Davis gave us the possibility of the return of the Timelords.

Then Steven Moffat takes over and he doesn't give us anything so big so soon. He builds it up for 4 years. He gives us a series of mysteries and the surprise of changing the total destruction of Gallifrey into the hope of Gallifrey's return. It is like the recent recovery of two of the Second Doctor's stories. For years they were lost, presumed that all copies were destroyed, then hope of finding them surfaced (the shipping records) and then they were found (in Nigeria of all places).

Each lead producer of Doctor Who has faced criticism in the direction they took the show. Some have overstayed their time and their decisions had consequences, but few have truly ruined the show. Even now, if you watch the Sixth and Seventh Doctors, their stories are good, the portrayed is solid. They both (along with the Fifth and Eighth) have gotten a very good extension in the Big Finish audio dramas.

So the claims that Moffat has ruined the show, ruined the last seven years of the war scarred Doctor, are out of step with history. Yes, they may not like the changes, but there is little to prove them right at this point in time. Will this change be like turning the Doctor from a reluctant hero into a man of action (the First Doctor), or like his exile on Earth (the Third Doctor), or the Key to Time/Black Guardian (the Forth Doctor), or the Gallifreyan Mystic (the Seventh Doctor), or the War Scarred Last of the Timelords (the Ninth Doctor)? If so, it will not hurt the series at all. None of those have. The only thing that ever has is having the Doctor strangle his companion and bad writing. Oh, and the BBC big-wigs messing with it.

So virtually every change made in Doctor Who by the production staff over the years has proven successful. They know the show, they care about the show, and they are after shows that will please their audience and attract more people. Only two Doctors have been able to sustain more than 10 million viewers for a full season. The First Doctor did it in the second season. The Fourth Doctor did it in 4 out of his 7 seasons. The new series has been very constant, having its biggest success with the specials (the Christmas specials and the 50th Anniversary).

The end point is that change is good. Change the revamps what came before is normal. Change is what gives Doctor Who its long lasting appeal. Each actor brings something new. Each producer brings something new. It's been around 50 years because of change so we should not be so fearful of change. It usually works out of the best and the fans who come after wonder what the big deal was.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pertwee Era Color Restoration Critique

I recently acquired and watched all the Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who episodes that have been restored to color through various processes. I thought this would be a good time to share my opinions on them.

To start with, Doctor Who had a major change following the departure of Patrick Troughton. It switched from about 48 episodes a season, to 26, went from black and white to color and most of the production team changed. Much of the same practices existed so even though all the Jon Pertwee episodes were converted for US viewing in color, the original video tape masters were wiped. Only a handful of episodes remain as the original PAL 2" video tape masters. Most of the rest that have existed in color were tapes returned to the BBC from the US market. I was fortunate to see virtually all these episodes in color in the early 80's.

But there are several big holes in what the BBC holds. While they have a black and white copy of every single Pertwee episode, they do not have ever episode in color. After a lot of hard work, they have been able to restore the original color to all but 2 individual episodes. The Mind of Evil episode 1 has no color data at present and Invasion of the Dinosaurs episode 1 is missing the blue color data. Other than that, they have all been restored using original color data and those two episodes have been restored using colorizing techniques and the color data from the other episodes.

The two techniques they have used to restore the color leave something to be desired when compared to even the NTSC copies. The first technique was to use inferior off-air US broadcast recordings and overlay the color on the black and white film copy (which has superior resolution). As the original recording was made according to the standards, it was a black and white layer and a color layer superimposed (so that black and white televisions could interpret the signal). This process was complicated by the warping of the image when converted from video to black and white film (the mechanics were to show the program on a television screen while filming it with a camera). The second method makes use of the detail of that filming process. For many of the episodes (except the two noted above), the detail on the film is such that the individual pixels on the television screen can be made out. This can then be converted to color data based on the red, green, and blue pixels and used to restore the image to color.

My critique comes in the inconsistencies that glare when viewing them. Don't get me wrong, seeing them in color is far superior to having to watch them in black and white. And knowing that the colors are original is magnificent, but the errors could be fixed to make this a much more enjoyable and seamless viewing experience.

One of the flaws relates to how the image was recorded. There are some issues with filming a television screen. You end up with some ghosting. It is especially bad when you have portions of the image that are very bright or very dark. Bright areas have a lighter halo around them and the dark areas can be too dark. This extends back to the first six seasons as well. But with the color, it causes a distortion in the colors.

The other major flaw is in color consistency and color ghosting. I must say that the color ghosting only is noticeable in the episodes restored from the off-air NTSC video tapes. In particular an abundance of magenta near darker flesh tones. The real problem is a frame to frame inconsistency. The two processes yield two slightly different results, but it is the same issue. There are color fluctuations that distract. Some ares need some of the colorization stabilization techniques. In particular I recall an orange curtain in the background that had unrealistic magenta stripes than flickered off and on and change position in the scene. In the other process (which I forgot to name as the Chrome Dot technique), some frames loose the color intensity in the middle of a scene. Usually when things move. Both of these issues could be solved by applying some of the colorizing software and some creative computer editing to create a more accurate and realistic color across all the frames. It is kind of bad when a completely colorized episodes (The Mind of Evil episode 1) looks better than the restored color.

But they have come a long way from the colorless versions I last saw. I am suitably impressed at what they have done, but they still have a way to go to get it to a final state. I think they have tried too hard to be faithful to the slightly flawed color in their source material at the expense of the final product. The whole point is to try to make these episodes look like they were never lost in the first place. They have come damn close. They have already tried to restore from the NTSC sources more than once and the current restoration is a vast improvement on the last, but they need another go at it. They need to further compensate for the flaws in their color sources and try to make these episodes look indistinguishable from those that exist as NTSC conversion masters or the original PAL masters.

Just considering the quality of image, I'd rate these restored episodes a three out of five. Just considering what they managed to do with what they had, I'd rate them a five. Just incredible.

Who knows, some fan in the US may yet have these Pertwee era stories on video tape. I think if all the episodes could blend both methods, giving us the best of both methods, that these episodes would then look identical. Sadly that is not possible at this time. I look forward to seeing their next pass at restoration.