Nae man can tether time nae tide

I don’t remember which came first, Doctor Who on television or Doctor Who in print. I can say with certainty that the weekend when I stayed the night at my best friend Matthew’s house and he showed me Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150AD and parts two to four of Remembrance of the Daleks had a destiny-shattering effect on the rest of my life, propelling me into a future of scrawled cartoon Daleks, obsessive reading and cataloguing of fact and fiction, followed by a VHS then DVD and now slightly more cautious blu-ray habit. Nothing serious, you understand: just standard fan stuff. It was bound to happen eventually.

But the books follow a slightly different timeline. They held an appeal for the same reason as the Nicholas Fisk books I devoured: evocative titles matched with evocative images. For all the idiomatic urging not to judge books by their covers, when I was growing up I absolutely did. Still do, truth be told. As has every child I have ever taught. Publishers, get your covers right.

There was an entire children’s Waterstones in Bath where my Grandparents lived – an entire shop full of children’s books – and one of its biggest delights was a whole shelf devoted to the colourful Target series, a universe of stories to explore. On each of our many visits I would hover there for what felt like hours dipping into the treasures on display. I read whole stories there. If you bought your Doctor Who books in Bath and found they were often a bit grubby… well, sorry, that might have been me.

The Underwater Menace – one of a batch of Target novelisations I was bought for Christmas last year – was not one of these, because The Underwater Menace was a Doctor Who book owned by my school library. The only Doctor Who book owned by my school library. So although it might not have been my first Doctor Who book, it was one of the first Doctor Who books I read in the comfort of my own home (the first or second, in fact; the other was Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks, the grey hardback of which my local library held – oh, those line drawings! The description of the endless TARDIS corridors! The glass Dalek!).

It must, however, have been after that life-changing experience of Doctor Who on television, because I remember this: when I read The Underwater Menace, I attempted to read it as a story featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Quite how long I managed to keep this up for I don’t know; I think it might have been quite stressful, not so much imagining Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor in place of Patrick Troughton’s (not the hugest leap) but somehow turning 60s dolly bird Polly, who in this story is particularly (and uncharacteristically) pathetic, into baseball bat-wielding Ace.

Polly was the only candidate for this treatment: Ben made so little impact I had forgotten he was even in this story until I eventually saw in on video (and even then, he rather fades into the background, possibly because half of his lines have been hastily given to Frazer Hines). And there was no way I’d have tried to turn companion Jamie into Ace, because I was VERY happy to add Jamie to the Seventh Doctor’s crew.

I don’t know why Jamie made such an impact (and having reread this tome, I remain a little baffled). But he did. My pictures of the Seventh Doctor and Ace were immediately and anachronistically joined by the character of Jamie, my ideal TARDIS crew. Which was especially interesting because I had no idea what he had looked like on television. It didn’t matter: I could imagine, and The Underwater Menace put a clear idea of his appearance in my head.

He was a white-haired old man with a fluffy moustache in a kilt and a tam o’shanter.

On picking up this book after all these years, I was curious to see what could possibly account for this – was it possible that Nigel Robinson could be blamed for such a misconception? Well… yes and no. Certainly Jamie’s wide-eyed 18thcentury bewilderment, usually expressed in a colourful vernacular, has more than a little Private Frazer about it. I probably gave him a fluffy moustache because, even though in real life absolutely none of the old men I knew had a fluffy moustaches, in my imagination old men without exception had a fluffy moustache. I blame children’s television.

What I had failed to take note of was a single adjective in the book’s second sentence: ‘It was the only explanation the young Scottish piper could think of’. I picked up his nationality without mishap (I pictured him with a kilt, a detail that I’m pretty sure Nigel Robinson never bothers to fill in). I expect his musical ability didn’t pass unnoticed either (I pictured him with a tam o’shanter, the obligatory uniform of anyone who players the bagpipes – again, I blame children’s television). But thanks to my failure to pick up on his third characteristic, Jamie ended up an old man with a fluffy moustache, and by the time Robinson next mentioned his age the damage was presumably done, picturing-things-in-my-head-wise. This was an adventure featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and an old man with a fluffy white moustache wearing a kilt and a tam o’shanter.

A jolly good adventure I thought it was, too. My subsequent drawings of my portmanteau TARDIS crew attest to that. Reading the book now, its appeal is obvious: it rattles along, Nigel Robinson sticking very much to the Terrance Dicks formula for Target novelisations, and there’s plenty of jeopardy along the way. In fact, it is rather more convincing as a book than it is on television, the idea of the underwater society with its ancient religion continuing uneasily alongside new technology pretty compellingly sold, and the sillier details (‘we turn people into fish so that they can bring us plankton!’) sensibly skirted over. Unfortunately, Robinson can’t skirt over the central plot point that the villain is a man who wants to blow up the world JUST BECAUSE. In a way it’s a pity he doesn’t resign himself more fully and have some fun with this; he’s knowing enough to use the quote ‘Nothing In The World Can Stop Me Now!’ as a chapter title, but I can’t help feeling that a more offbeat narrative approach, like those in the three sublime novelisations Donald Cotton wrote around the same time, would have sold this B-movie stuff rather more effectively.

Not that it bothered me at the time – it is only with adulthood that we fans decide that things like character motivation and scientific plausibility have some part to play in adventures as well as high jinks and derring-do – and even in the absence of those, there is something very modern about the template for this story. The Doctor, an agent of chaos, enters a situation and within 24 hours sparks a rebellion and overturns a regime. Take away the madman trying to blow up the world and you’ve basically got a Cartmel-era archetype right there. Actually, replace the madman with Kate O’Mara and I think we might have found a doppelganger.

So perhaps it wasn’t so inappropriate to try to squeeze the Seventh Doctor and Ace into this scenario after all. The perfect team to take on this kind of fodder, with the aid, lest we forget, of at least one young fan’s favourite moustachioed octogenarian Scotsman, Jamie.

James is occasionally writing reviews of Doctor Who related books on Goodreads, at a rate which should see him get about a quarter of the way through before the inevitable heat death of the universe.

Attack of the Clones

Here’s a problem which came to a head when I spent half of last night’s (very enjoyable) episode of Doctor Who thinking that Keeley Hawes’ character was the same as the recurring ‘Missy’ we have been introduced to, who is actually played by Michelle Gomez, a completely different person.

A silly mistake? I know Doctor Who isn’t mine any more, but it’s fair to say I still take more than a casual interest, so I refuse to believe I was the only person who had this problem. Okay, I was tired, and it has been a few weeks since we saw Missy – but I don’t merely put my confusion down to the fact that they have been given a sort of similar physical resemblance (power-dressed in black, power hairstyles piled and pinned, power make-up heavily applied, power cheekbones – go on, I dare you to deny that they’re more than passingly similar…).

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No, what cemented my confusion was the fact that they have both been written with the same character. You know the one: everso sophisticated, polite yet snarky restraint, schoolmarmish and very emancipated. In fact, in describing this villainess-by-numbers, I realise that we’ve seen it in previous episodes of Doctor Who: I’m thinking of Miss Foster, Miss Kislet and Madame Kovarian.

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It is becoming pretty obvious what kind of woman Doctor Who writers are terrified by.

All of them fine actresses delivering fine performances, by the way – just delivering fine performances of the same character. The only substantial female villain in recent years who doesn’t fit the template is Diana Rigg’s magnificent Mrs Gillyflower, but that episode, The Crimson Horror, was atypical in virtually every way, a darkly comic Victorian runaround that had as much in common with The League of Gentleman (hardly coincidentally, also Mark Gatiss’ finest script for the show). Rigg’s tour de force breathed life into a caricature that might have been played by Gatiss himself in a different context: surely Doctor Who doesn’t need to be doing madcap steampunk absurdism to earn an interesting villainess?

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There isn’t the slightest possibility that the rich tapestry of male villains on Doctor Who could ever be confused. But for whatever reason, the series seems to be stuck with a very singular approach to women. Maybe it’s Freudian.

Why aren’t the female writers doing a better job writing female villains, you ask? Ha. Only one woman has written for the series since its return. One. Count ’em. (Count ‘er, I mean.) One. She was already working on Who as a script editor, so she already had a way in for her two stories. It may be irrelevant, but they were both stinkers anyway.

For a really good episode of Doctor Who written by a woman, you need to go back to the supposed last gasps of the ‘classic’ series. You’ll discover that the final story before cancellation was written by Rona Munro (whose trilogy of historical plays just finished a run at the National Theatre, no less). You’ll also discover that she anticipated the Russell T Davies’ council estatey social realism by 14 years, laced her episodes with heavily submerged sexual metaphor and managed to slip the word ‘tosser’ in before the watershed. (Oh, she also wrote beautifully for Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, reinvented a classic villain, understood the potential for the series to bridge two worlds and got the balance of exciting and frightening just right – in case you’re in any doubt that it’s a really good story.)

That’s the kind of brilliant female writing talent the production team should be actively seeking – specifically female, because a) the series plays an aspirational role in the lives of young boys and girls, and b) because it is clearly lacking a dimension which female writers would undoubtedly bring with them. Before we have another silly debate about whether the next Doctor should be played by a woman, there are far more pressing gender issues the programme needs to address.

Oh, and late 80s Doctor Who, on just four stories a season, had brilliant female villains.

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I was bullied by people like him…

Naturally, when I watched this year’s annual Christmas disappointment – i.e. Doctor Who – the things that bothered me were variations of the usual questions, like: does anybody find these topical references to the economic downturn anything other than utterly embarrassing? Did nobody edit this script before the actors started learning these long, long scenes of dull exposition? Did Russell T. Davies really think that multiple John Simms wearing dresses was the doom-laden cliffhanger image befitting the penultimate episode of David Tennant’s Doctor? Doesn’t Bernard Cribbins deserve better? Doesn’t Timothy Dalton deserve better? And, generally, why oh why oh why oh why…?

But I was already resigned to the whole two-parter being the uncomfortable enema that the series so badly needs, and everything this year has led me to prepare myself for such questions. The question that I wasn’t expecting almost slipped me by at the time of broadcast but is now possibly the most concerning thing about the whole episode, and it is this:

He said what about Good Queen Bess?

So unlikely it seemed, I thought I must have imagined it – so I went and checked it out. And I hadn’t imagined it.

What David Tennant’s Doctor says is this (in his most irritating mockney): “Got married! That was a mistake. Good Queen Bess. And let me tell you, her nickname is no longer…” (does his most irritating mockney oops-missus-I’ve-been-naughty face).

Unless I’m totally misinterpreting Russell T. Davies here, what he wrote for the Doctor to say was the pre-watershed equivalent of “then I shagged Queen Elizabeth”. And whilst I think I am accurately imagining Russell T. Davies chuckling to himself as he knocked the line out, a little chunk of my childhood died when its meaning really dawned on me.

The Doctor has never been interested in sex. When Paul McGann kissed his companion in 1996 a lot of fans kicked up a fuss, though in actual fact it all turned out to be all rather innocent. The new incarnation of the series has had various female companions boringly fall in love with the Doctor and he has formed some strong attachments to them, though this isn’t necessarily a problem as love is a noble thing.

But by making the Doctor a person who casually refers to the notches on his bedpost (whether he did it within wedlock is hardly the point), he has become something that the Doctor has never been before – someone I despise. Tennant’s Doctor was already headed in this direction: he’s vain, a show-off, effortfully trendy – the cool kid in the playground rather than the outsider the Doctor ought to be. But now he is the kid who brags about how many girls he has casually felt up behind the bike shed, which is either misogynous or simply shows a lack of respect for other people (the brush, incidentally, which tarred all gay people in T. Davies’ Queer as Folk). The most sinister thing is that Russell T. Davies, who clearly finds nothing at all objectionable about such bragging, has snuck this character up on us bit by bit, delivering the final blow as a casual one-liner that actually exacerbates the nastiness when you analyse it.

It goes further than a loss of innocence; it makes the Doctor, who has always stood for moral values, respect and equality, a terrible role model for the very people who adore him. I’ve been told by various people that they think David Tennant is the best Doctor ever; sorry folks, but I simply can’t wait to see the back of him.