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The past couple weeks, I've been rewatching Kinda and Snakedance, the two Doctor Who serials written by Christopher Bailey about the snake demon, Mara. Apparently based on a demon in Buddhism of the same name, the creature is a figure in two different cultural imaginations in these two serials which are even better than I remember.



This is despite the presence of Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) in Kinda. I still feel like the dialogue between Adric and the Doctor (Peter Davison) about magic tricks must have been swapped by the actors--it doesn't make sense that the Doctor would have forgotten the magic tricks he performed in his third incarnation and it really doesn't make sense for Adric to get one over on the Doctor. Fortunately he's not too obtrusive.



Magic and trickery feature again in Snakedance in a different context--the Doctor, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), and Tegan (Janet Fielding) show up in the middle of some kind of carnival in commemoration of a defeat of the Mara hundreds of years earlier. There's a fortune teller with a crystal ball and a fun house mirror maze--both eventually giving visions of the Mara in the form of some kind of animal skull.



When Tegan finds herself facing the Mara in the fun house, the demon having laid dormant in her since Kinda, she's puzzled why mirrors don't banish the creature as they did in the first serial's conclusion. It makes sense, though, as in that case the Mara could only reflect on itself being surrounded by mirrors, but naturally it thrives on distorting the self-reflection of others. That seems clear in Tegan's first dream sequence in Kinda where the Mara divides her personality into two.



Neither is a "false Tegan" and, indeed, they both start to cooperate, trying to figure out how to escape. By thwarting them, the Mara disrupts the basic act or state of self-awareness.

Kinda is also reminiscent of Heart of Darkness with its wouldbe colonists, who come off as very Victorian, being driven mad just by coming into contact with a "primitive" people who live and communicate in ways totally alien and yet deeply familiar. The snake, Mara, being the only one among the natives who can talk brings to mind the snake's extraordinary ability to speak in Genesis (something Milton has Eve remark upon at length in Paradise Lost). The Kinda, the native people, seem innocent in their muteness, but this makes them sinister to the colonists who, like so many colonists who lost their minds in other such stories, fill the void in their understanding with a distorted reflection of self.



Bailey's two television stories show two cultures interpreting the same demon. Snakedance features a civilisation that seems to be a blend of ancient Rome and Renaissance Europe where the Mara is easily able to take control. Faith in their ability to reason has blinded the rulers and the museum curator to the danger the Mara represents--they've come to believe the demon's only a myth. The museum curator and the proprietor of the fun house quickly become the Mara's servants because both are committed to something they don't believe is real.



Poor Tegan, though she's certainly fashion forward in that romper in Snakedance. I miss Nyssa's velvety dress from Keeper of Traken, though I hated the pants version of it. But her weird blue stripey blouse is breezier and makes her seem less like a kid. Peter Davison is good as always, particularly in the climax of Snakedance.

Twitter Sonnet #1041

Reversing sounds of gongs remade the sting.
Advice is dripping in through helmet hair.
In dashes Morse encoded on the string.
The pearls direct a dark immortal hare.
A birdish rabbit fell in monkish hands.
In pickle time the radish cued the lid.
In airy marriage skies align the sands.
The sneaky jacket coats the carded quid.
Direct your eyes to elves in foley clothes.
They put the props within the sound effect.
Convenient sprites distribute noisy hose.
A passing tread for jingles we'll detect.
In sculpted ice a hummingbird decides.
Against disjointed hills the cloud collides.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


If one watches Doctor Who through from the 1963 première to present, one notices there has been a definite feminist evolution on the show. It's something the writers have been quite conscious of as you can see in the moment in The Five Doctors when the Fifth Doctor has to apologise for the First Doctor automatically ordering a woman to make him some tea. Watching the gradual change on the show gives one a peek into how attitudes about the place of women in work and society were changing in the world at the time. From The Daleks, the second serial, when Barbara, a schoolteacher, fearfully asks fellow teacher Ian what's going on when there's no reason to expect he should know more than her; to the Second Doctor's young math wiz companion, Zoe; to the Third Doctor's first companion, Liz, who was actually a respected scientist. It was during the Third Doctor's era that feminism started being discussed more by the characters in dialogue--Three and Liz are amused and disappointed by a chauvinist administrator who doesn't want her included in a meeting in The Silurians. And when Three's second companion, Jo Grant, was introduced, she specifically mentions "women's lib" in sticking up for herself. Arguably she did need to make her case as the show deliberately dropped the knowledgeable Liz so the Doctor could have a more traditionally clueless companion to explain things to.

The show would take a step back now and then, as in the Fourth Doctor's first season when his companion, Sarah Jane Smith, was reduced to a whiny damsel in distress, which I suspect was a factor in actress Elisabeth Sladen almost leaving the show. But in the Fourth Doctor's second season, partly due to some great improvisational chemistry between the two actors, Sladen made Smith a fuller character capable of courage and ingenuity, which makes for a more interesting dynamic in addition to being less obnoxious.



Anyway, this is all a lead up to me saying I watched the Fifth Doctor serial, Four to Doomsday, again this past week. When I was complaining about the lack of Chinese characters on the show after Talons of Weng-Chiang, someone reminded me that Four to Doomsday has Burt Kwouk as Lin Futu, the head of a group of Mandarin Chinese men detained on the giant spacecraft on which the serial takes place.



I'd completely forgotten him, possibly because he doesn't have much of a role in the serial. He's about for the whole thing but doesn't actually have any significant dialogue until the fourth episode where the Fifth Doctor swiftly convinces him to come over to his side. This was only the second time I'd watched the serial and I'd forgotten other things, too, like the beautiful moment when the Doctor calls Adric an idiot.



I've watched State of Decay and Keeper of Traken a few times but generally I avoid watching any serial featuring Adric. When I want to watch a Fifth Doctor serial, I'm most likely to watch Arc of Infinity (I love the stuff in Amsterdam), Enlightenment, Frontios, and of course, The Caves of Androzani. Though I would say the Fifth Doctor has some of the worst written episodes of the series and it's not all Adric's fault--Time-Flight is tedious and Warriors of the Deep tragically squanders an appearance by Ingrid Pitt.



But the reason I started talking about feminism is because one of the reasons I hated Adric so much was that he took valuable time away from Nyssa. As shown in the first episode of Four to Doomsday, she's a lot smarter and more sensible than Adric but by the fourth serial, in a disappointing throwback to Barbara in The Daleks, Nyssa looks to Adric as a figure of strength and reassurance in a moment of danger, crying out, "Adric!" for no apparent reason. Ugh.



To be fair, it's clear we're meant, in this serial at least, to find Adric annoying--thus the Doctor calling him an idiot. And I kind of like how some of the drama in this serial comes from Adric and Tegan being twits. Though when Tegan tries to run off by herself in the TARDIS, it's a lot more satisfying watching her stomp on the TARDIS manual in her heels than it is to listen to Adric being a snot.



It's hard to believe Peter Davison had to fight for Nyssa to stay--she wasn't supposed to stay on as a permanent companion. I'd forgotten, too, how Adric and Nyssa were written as a pair of mildly competitive children, I'm so used to the nearly romantic chemistry between Nyssa and the Fifth Doctor in the audio plays.



Despite some awkward writing and staging for the collection of earthlings on the ship, Four to Doomsday is a pretty good serial, one of the better in the Fifth's first season. Davison is particularly good in it, at turns guilelessly enthusiastic to learn about this strange place and people, at turns carefully playing the circumstances to outwit the arrogant would-be invaders.

Twitter Sonnet #1027

The alphabet's composed of rubber balls.
You can't festoon a cloud with painted cans.
Forgotten throats will never clear the halls.
Across the yard a hare'll load the vans.
What autumn comes in fire's folded sleep?
What shaky turning bed beheld the cell?
In time with ticking planes the punch was deep.
But careful chords could not replace the bell.
To metal turned the sighing morning grass.
Found late at night but made for dawn it was.
Behind some worlds the stars concealed a mass.
The calmer dream runs as it always does.
At last a certain note returned to blank.
The final eyes could see the islands sank.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


Politically motivated journalists, a mediaeval castle, the second World War, Margaret Thatcher's election, and a particularly nasty mythological creature are all connected in the 2011 Doctor Who audio play Rat Trap. Carried especially well by a performance from Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, this story is funny and sinister and ties its various threads together as nicely as a wad of rats' tails.

Maybe you've heard of the Rat King, the extremely rare case of a group of rats who've gotten their tails tangled up. In Rat Trap, a government scientist begins working in the aftermath of World War II to create a super-intelligent, telepathic being by experimenting with rats, connecting them in such a manner in the tunnels beneath Cadogan Castle. Intending to visit the middle ages and witness some jousting, the Doctor and his companions, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Tegan (Janet Fielding), and Turlough (Mark Strickson), find themselves beneath the castle in 1983 where a group of journalists are trying to uncover the truth about the place before it's taken over by Heritage in the wake of Thatcher's election and any unsavoury history can be hidden away.

Just this layering of concept is fun but the characters are nicely rendered, too. The group of journalists the Doctor encounters squabble and have distinct personalities--one had brought along a dog whistle to ward off any dogs when breaking into the castle, at which the Doctor wryly asks if they realise dog whistles attract dogs, not scare them away. Davison is in top form here and I was particularly impressed by his ability to speak great lengths of dialogue in a single breath. He usually played the Doctor as seeming almost out of breath and the impression he gave was of someone who's acutely conscious of time rapidly running out but whose sense of decorum insists that he say everything that needs saying in just the proper way. We see this in Rat Trap when, in rushing from one point to another, he manages to ask very quickly but very politely that he be reminded of a stash of napalm he'd left behind and that he should dispose of it properly when time allows.

Nyssa continues the plot thread started in Cobwebs that finds her much older than she was on the television show. She's given a moment to dramatically chew on the underused point about the Master possessing her father's body. Turlough, meanwhile, has an entertaining adventure in the TARDIS with a defibrillator.
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This week I listened to a 2011 Fifth Doctor Doctor Who audio play called Kiss of Death which sadly did not feature Richard Widmark and Victor Mature. But it's a nice enough heist story with romance mixed in, focused on one of my top two favourite male companions, Turlough.

The Doctor (Peter Davison) is with the Fifth's optimum Companion group again in this one--Tegan (Janet Fielding), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), and Turlough (Mark Strickson). While the TARDIS is temporarily out of commission for dimensional maintenance, the group are stranded on a space station where Turlough is kidnapped by a couple of thieves. They take him back to his home world along with his childhood lover, Deela (Lucy Adams). Before the events of the civil war we find out more about in Turlough's final episode, Turlough and Deela, who came from families on opposite sides, met in a secret room where the thieves think there's a great treasure now and the only way the room can be opened is if Turlough and Deela kiss.

It's obviously all arranged to get some relationship drama going on and I enjoyed the sinister idea of material gain got from reopening someone's private wounds. An ancient alien security system makes things more difficult for everyone--this is the problem the Doctor focuses on for most of the story, basically playing background to the companions in this one but it's still always nice to hear Peter Davison performing in one of these.

The audio format forces Nyssa to explain in dialogue again that she's much older now than listeners are used to, this story, like the previous Fifth Doctor audio, taking place after Nyssa returns from a lifetime spent on Terminus. She muses a little on how experienced she is now when talking to Turlough about his romantic troubles but it's clear the writers aren't quite sure what to do with aged Nyssa. The initial idea was interesting but I can't see them keeping it up for long.

Twitter Sonnet #1020

Through tapes recovered late we found the proof.
The links appear to make a clearer field.
Too crowded was the team's assembled truth.
And now a waffle iron's fit the yield.
The stomach eggs return like boomerangs.
A catcher's mitt explodes beyond all thought.
In hallowed bins a muppet still harangues.
We'll say that all the drifting down was caught.
In cups predicted now and then it sprouts.
No time was like the present put to paint.
The pots are much too steep for shorter spouts.
The message leaves transmit to us but faint.
A waiting queen resorts to rooks and knights.
A single game could last a thousand nights.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


Here are a couple Doctor Who cosplayers I met on Friday, dressed as the Twelfth and Seventh Doctors. Apart from that there's not a whole lot of Doctor Who at Comic Con I can tell you about that you can't experience yourself by watching the full YouTube videos of both panels:





I took notes for the Classic Doctor panel figuring that one might not go online. Of course, it did. I am glad I managed to post a clip of Peter Davison, Sophie Aldred, and Colin Baker discussing the first female Doctor as early as it did, particularly with respect to Peter Davison who seems to be getting thrashed for having a past preference for a male Doctor despite expressing full support for Jodie Whittaker now. I kind of knew trouble was coming when, while Colin Baker was enthusiastically putting out tweet after tweet about how great it was to have a female Doctor, Peter Davison's first tweet on the subject was only one about how we should be encouraging to fans who are "uncertain about change." I'm sad to see now that Davison has deleted his Twitter account over the backlash he's faced. Though I think this may have been an overreaction on his part the rancour that has been aimed at him, even though he has more than once expressed his support for Whittaker, is disappointing and I can see how it might make him want to stay away from social media.

At the same time, the reason I do think Davison's initial tweet was a blunder was that it doesn't seem to reflect the nastiness with which people were reacting against Whittaker, posting flagrantly misogynist and sexist comments and commentaries. I have yet to see, apart from Davison himself, anyone expressing an articulation of "uncertainty" about a female Doctor that's truly respectful.

One of the problems I have with the vigorous efforts of so called Social Justice Warriors--I know many who self-describe that way, so I don't know if it's a pejorative anymore--is that there's a tendency in their publications to respond aggressively and dismissively to people for not knowing the definition of a term that's only current in Social Justice circles. For example, I saw an article recently that blasted an article in the New York Times that spoke in favour of cultural appropriation. The response to the article was to say that the author didn't understand that what he considered to be positive instances of cultural appropriation were in fact something called "cultural engagement". So I often see this seemingly unconscious, but aggressive and sometimes belligerent, conflation of an inevitable ignorance of niche or new definitions of terms with racism or sexism. It's no wonder when people are put off by what seems to be obnoxious pedantry.

I want to say this in preface because it seems Peter Davison is exhibiting the kind of misunderstanding that reflects white male privilege. He's not been forced to have the perspective of a woman and he evidently hasn't spent time trying to imagine what that perspective is like. Otherwise, he might be responding more like Colin Baker. Six remains my least favourite Doctor so it's somewhat awkward that I seem to be agreeing with him more in terms of social politics than with Davison--Colin Baker counters Davison's only really articulated argument so far, that it's a shame boys are losing a role model, by saying that there's no reason a woman can't be a role model for boys. Though I wonder if the realities of gender role barriers in English playgrounds support the viability of boys looking up to a woman.

Personally, I find the idea of not wanting the Doctor to be a woman to be difficult to imagine. Not just for statistical or political reasons but simply because I've always liked female protagonists and I like Doctor Who so it follows I should like a female Doctor Who. But since a young age I've been resistant to ideas of behaviour prescribed by gender so there's a whole lifetime of experience in trying to create oneself as a particular gender identity that I don't really have. People who have had that experience might support the idea of a female Doctor on an intellectual level but have to deal with residual feelings from that lifetime of experience.

In my first post about Whittaker, I casually referred to people who didn't like the idea as sexist, Davison's tweet made me wonder if this was the right tact for me to take. I think Davison failed to consider the issue fully but on the other hand I do agree with what I think is at the heart of what he's saying. The Doctor, after all, walked up to the Silurian and extended the hand of friendship. I'm not saying I feel the slightest sympathy with anyone expressing outright hostility to a female Doctor. But I find myself hesitant to express hostility myself when it might push away anyone for whom this upcoming season might be the thing that changes their minds about what--or who--women can be. This is the sense in which I think Davison advocated being "encouraging".

Someone has compiled a nice video of former Doctors reacting to the concept of a female Doctor:

setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


This crab was on the rocks watching everything outside the Indigo Ballroom yesterday where it turned out there was a panel I wanted to see, a Doctor Who panel, which I'll be posting more about when I have time. For now, here's Peter Davison, Sophie Aldred, and Colin Baker responding to the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor:



Twitter Sonnet #1015

As minty buttons pop the cream of ice,
The grace of ploughing bows impressed a thaw,
Invoked a chasing ray to spark it twice,
The northern lights, a body's moving law.
Excessive spinach fell beside the ore,
The veins exposed in pick and shovel wrath,
Absorbing drops of sandwich, tea, and more,
Awash in chips and ale, its dinner bath.
An ogre's pants upset the drawing man
Beside the storm that brought to hats a fish
Unsuited sharks adorn the festive pan
Outside the pit of bats it was a dish.
The rocks outside uphold the chitin queue.
A coat can be a dress or nightgown, too.

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