Mickey the Tin Dog

mickeyCompanion Tropes 16

Me?  I’m their Man in Havana.  I’m the technical support.  I’m… Oh, my God, I’m the tin dog.

That’s probably Mickey Smith’s most famous line, from the Doctor Who episode School Reunion.  It’s a funny moment, but what exact does that imply, that comparison between Mickey and K9?  What part in the narrative does Mickey fulfil, that can be equated to K9?  I would suggest they are equivalent characters in three key ways, only one of which is mentioned by Mickey:

  • Technical Support
  • Weaponry
  • Comedy

We will have to work backwards through that list, because when we first meet Mickey only one of those three characteristics is present.  In Rose, Mickey clowns around when we first see him with Rose, and then later we see him pretending to be strangled by an Auton arm for laughs.  When the script calls upon somebody to be eaten by a burping wheelie bin, of course that has to be Mickey.

Like K9, Mickey tends to exist to provide the Doctor with funny dialogue, often at his expense:

MICKEY: I bet you don’t even remember my name.
DOCTOR: Ricky.
MICKEY: It’s Mickey.
DOCTOR: No, it’s Ricky.
MICKEY: I think I know my own name.
DOCTOR: You think you know your own name? How stupid are you?

But he also has funny lines of his own, such as his banter with Jack in Boom Town, calling him “Jumping Jack Flash”, and captain of “the Innuendo Squad”, and nicknaming the Doctor “big-ears”.

Like K9, he is the additional companion, the secondary priority.  He is written out of the action when not needed, often the one who gets left behind:

DOCTOR: Mickey, surveillance. I want you outside.
MICKEY: Just stand outside?

In Rise of the Cybermen, he recognises his own status as the lesser of two companions:

MICKEY: Well, you don’t know anything about me, do you? It’s always about Rose. I’m just a spare part.
ROSE: I’m sorry. I’ve got to go.
MICKEY: Go on, then. There’s no choice, is there? You can only chase after one of us. It’s never going to be me, is it?

…and then in The Age of Steel he finally develops as a character beyond the point where he will simply be left to stay out of trouble, growing beyond his tin dog status:

MICKEY: What about me?
DOCTOR: Mickey. You can er
MICKEY: What, stay out of trouble? Be the tin dog? No, those days are over.

Weaponry is the comparison between K9 and Mickey that is the least prevalent, but it is there.  The unpalatable truth about K9 was that, for all the Doctor’s talk about not using guns, for three series he travelled around with a talking gun on wheels.  K9 was a weapon, and was frequently used as a weapon.  We don’t really see a similar companion function from Mickey until late in the game, but when we do he goes BIG with it.  In Army of Ghosts he has a massive gun, and our first sight of him in Journey’s End is Mickey blasting away at a Dalek.  In his final appearance we find him fighting a Sontaran, alongside his UNIT wife Martha (The End of Time).  At other times he is inventive with his choice of weaponry, using vehicles as weapons in School Reunion and The Parting of the Ways, which gets referenced in The Age of Steel:

There’s nothing wrong with a van. I once saved the universe with a big yellow truck.

The closest comparison with K9 though is the one that is quite specific to Mickey as a companion, and the one he mentions in that famous quote from School Reunion: the Doctor’s tech support.  This is of course K9’s major role in many stories.  Writer Russell T. Davies did a very clever thing with Mickey.  He was already fulfilling the comedy role, but that doesn’t make for an especially useful or well-rounded character.  So when an episode requires somebody to do a bit of hacking or whatever, why not make Mickey that character?  At a stroke, that pulls the same trick as was played with K9 all those years before: combining comedy with the tech support.

This starts happening almost immediately.  In Aliens of London, Mickey reveals that he has spent the year since Rose researching the Doctor, and has been resourceful enough to find out about UNIT.  In World War Three he gets into the UNIT website, and later hacks into the Royal Navy to get access to a missile.  In The Christmas Invasion he finds out about the pilot fish on the internet, helpfully substituting for the Doctor at that point as the one who explains things, with the Doctor out of action.  In School Reunion he hacks into army records.

But note how much the tech support role and the comedy both start to fade away as Mickey’s time on the show progresses.  Eventually he becomes far more than that.  It’s a key difference between Classic Who and 21st Century Who: the level of character development.  By the time the Doctor has paid Mickey his farewell visit, he has become far more than just the tin dog.   RP

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The Twilight Zone: Replay

When I read that we’d be returning to the Twilight Zone in 2019, it was an exciting prospect.  Like Black Mirror, this show allows us to look at our lives through the looking glass.  Star Trek, in 1966, also brought this idea home by telling allegorical stories far more concisely than anything on television at the time.  I’m reminded of one of my favorites for reminding us about the stupidity of judging someone based on the color of their skin: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.  But what Star Trek did right was sharing the belief masked behind alien faces.  If the audience did not like the message, they could still enjoy the story for the action/drama it was.  The moment you strip away the allegory is the moment you go from Science Fiction story-telling, to having an agenda.  (This criticism is the same I have with Doctor Who; allow me to think, but try to shove an agenda down my throat, and you’ll lose me as a viewer!)


Warning: spoilers follow and this might get contentious!

Damson Idris plays Dorian Harrison.  He’s having a nice meal out with his mom, Nina (Sanaa Lathan), on their way to his new college.  They encounter a cop, Officer Lasky (played despicably by Glenn Fleshler) who has some issues with the color of their skin.  When things go wrong, Nina finds that pressing the rewind button on her camcorder rewinds time.  Conceptually, this is a wonderful idea and opens the door for a lot of great drama but as tense as the episode is, it comes down to the horrible nature of this small town cop.  The episode is flawed and the concept utterly fails at one point when Damson is shot and Nina doesn’t think to rewind her camcorder.  Another moment, has mom and son walking to their car, knowing how Lasky feels about them and, instead of walking past their car when they realize the disgusting bigot is still in the restaurant, they fall right back into the same trap that he’s caught them on over and over again.

This all leads to the notion that to get to the college, Nina has to go back to her childhood home and ask for help getting there, and luckily there are enough back alleys and underground paths that no one would see them!  “Phew”, huh?  Hey, for the sake of entertainment and a good story, I don’t mind suspension of disbelief.  But like I said above, don’t try to shove an agenda down my throat.  Give me Bele and Lokai any day!  When Nina finally turns the tables on Officer Lasky, it’s after he has committed countless acts against this family but from his point of view, he has only done one thing, because she rewinds time over and over again.  This means, he hasn’t done multiple things; he has done whatever the most recent rewind leaves her with.  Yes, she has seen multiple bad outcomes, but he has only done one thing up until the point where she says…

“You’ve gone too far.  Harassing us, abusing authority.  You’ve been profiling us, targeting us, following us, shooting us, killing us… not anymore…”

So who is the “us”?  Yes, for the story, she means it as her and her son, but he hasn’t been doing those things.  He’s done thing.  So the “us” loses the meaning and becomes a socio-political one.  My argument is not that the message doesn’t have meaning.  It that the forum is wrong.  The writer uses The Twilight Zone to make a social commentary; a valid and important one, but not for The Twilight Zone.  I tell my kids all the time: “Know your audience.”   My older son loves rap music and knows the lyrics.  I have listened to the stuff with him.  It’s not appropriate for some audiences. He knows the words; that’s fine.  I don’t even care if he were singing them.  I care if he’s singing them in front of his grandparents.  I care if he’s singing them in class when he’s supposed to be listening to the teacher.  All I want is for him to have the presence of mind to know his audience and judge accordingly.  If Jordan Peele is going to resurrect The Twilight Zone, I ask the same of him.  Mask the allegory behind the story.  The moment you make a social statement that is completely evident that it’s white cops against black civilians and we might as well be watching CNN!  Because, yes, it’s something we can get heated about and rage about and believe in… but isn’t this a bit overt?

Mind you, I’m not against the message!  Quite the contrary; it’s just that it’s a very big subject that shouldn’t be treated lightly, and I don’t think the Zone is the place for it.  Unless perhaps, it is exactly the place for it.  Perhaps the Zone was the place precisely because Science Fiction can do things other shows can’t.  With SF, we can say things and spark debate and hopefully engage in some really great discussions because we play in a safe place. Maybe it wasn’t the forum, maybe it was.  It’ll be down to the viewer to decide.

Was the episode good?  Absolutely.  Did all the parties involved keep me on the edge of my seat?  Yep!  And did I want to run Lasky over with his own car?  Hell, yeah!  Fleshler played a loathsome being who deserved a far worse fate than he gets.  He doesn’t get defeated in any real sense.  He loses face which will only make him a worse piece of trash.  The fact is, the “win” Nina and her son experience would probably be very short lived because these crooked cops would just wait for the students to leave the school; they’d drive around like vultures.  The fact that the story ends with a flash forward many years down the line just says they were really lucky.

It’s a big, important subject and worthy of discussion, but remember, we come here as fans of science fiction and thought-provoking drama; there’s no “right answer”.  We are here as friends.  Oh, but slightly less worrisome, for those keeping track, the classic icon that makes a cameo: the devil-headed jukebox from Nick of Time.  Brief, but it’s there!  Onto the next one: A Traveler…  ML

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hyoukaThis is one of those moments that I have been looking forward to but also in some trepidation, because Hyouka is an important anime television series to me.  It was the first of its kind that I ever watched.  I had previously been a fan of Studio Ghibli films for many years, and had also explored a few similar but non-Ghibli films, some of which I have written about over the last couple of months, but until last year I never watched any anime television series.  There is actually a significant difference, although I have to generalise here, but anime films and television can often seem like two entirely different genres.  Film is dominated by Ghibli and Ghibli-esque works, which are reasonably palatable to a Western audience without a massive culture shock, but anime television is peopled by huge-eyed cute girls.  Up until last year I had always shied away from it, thinking that the art style wasn’t for me, but I was entirely wrong.  Within a couple of episodes of a good anime television series you get used to the big eyes.  If you let that stop you, then you are missing out on a world of incredible storytelling.

What drew me to Hyouka, of all things, is the same as what drew me to Ghibli films in the first place: the art and the story.  Not all anime is drawn with such attention to detail and beauty, and Hyouka has the added bonus of being stylistically inventive and very clever with the artwork, during flashback sequences in particular.  As for the subject matter, if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, or any detective stories, you will probably enjoy this.  The mysteries are not life-and-death, but instead the premise is to take Holmesian deduction and transplant that to smaller scale mysteries in a school setting.  It’s a much better idea than it sounds, and bubbling away throughout the series are a couple of will-they-won’t-they gentle romances.  In fact, “gentle” sums up Hyouka very well.  It’s a beautiful, feel-good, happy series, that engages the brain.  If some of the excesses of fanservice anime put you off watching, you will find little to trouble you here beyond the slightly icky ending credits of the first half of the series.

Hyouka was based on a novel series, which is ongoing but published frustratingly sporadically, and was one series of 22 episodes, first aired in 2012.  The studio that made it is Kyoto Animation, which has impressed me with their work more than any other studio that makes anime television series.  We’ll be looking at some more of their work over the coming months.

The main focus of the series is on a teenage boy named Hotaro Oreki.  He is an early example of a kind of character that has become incredibly popular in anime: quiet, slightly grumpy teenage boys.  Oreki lives by a self-imposed rule: if he doesn’t have to do something, then he doesn’t do it.  He conserves energy.  This kind of anime character doesn’t throw himself into friendships and has to be dragged into the story, so you then need a character to do the dragging.  There are two of those, one largely unseen.  Firstly Oreki’s sister persuades him to join the Classic Literature Club to stop it from being closed down.  After school clubs are hugely important in Japan, and there are endless animes based around a school club.  They always seem to need a minimum number of members, hence his sister’s request.  Although it’s called the Classic Lit Club, the name is a little misleading, because their focus is solely on classic detective fiction such as Sherlock Holmes.  This is what really brings the members of the club together, because it is an interest they share.  Oreki has a brilliant mind for deduction, like a teenage Holmes, although he tends to downplay his abilities as luck.

I mentioned there were two characters who drag Oreki into the story.  The other is Eru Chitanda, who seems to always stumble into a mystery but needs Oreki to help her solve it.  Once she finds a mystery she gets so curious that she obsesses about it.  Her cries of “I have to know” you might find endearing or slightly annoying, depending on your perspective.  Making up the group of four are Oreki’s friend Satoshi Fukube, and Mayaka Ibara, the latter of which is also a member of the school’s manga club.  There is some history between them, and they each bring their own talents to the group.

The mysteries are small-scale, as I mentioned, but they draw you in.  Chitanda’s uncle went missing years ago, and some old Lit Club anthologies might hold the key to why; the club members take a trip to a hot spring that seems to be haunted; a writer of a school murder mystery play is taken ill before she can finish writing it, and her intended ending seems impossible to deduce; various small items are being stolen during the school’s festival, but what is the connection between the items, and who is taking them? … and various others.  Some of the mysteries play out over several episodes.

So there is plenty going on throughout the 22 episodes (plus one bonus episode) to keep the brain occupied, while the will-they-won’t-they romances meander along nicely.  You can’t help but end up loving those four characters and rooting for them to form their relationships and be happy.  One problem that is commonplace with anime is that they tend to get made while the manga or novel series is still ongoing, which means they tend to end inconclusively.  There are far more frustrating examples than this, because Hyouka finishes with a reasonably clear indication of where life is heading for the main characters, but the whole thing does end inconclusively, leaving you wanting more.

Hyouka was my gateway into anime television, but that’s not to say it would be the right choice for everyone.  If you have a friend who you think would enjoy anime, and you’re not sure what to suggest, go with something that appeals to an interest of theirs.  That’s probably why Hyouka grabbed me.  Three elements were just my cup of tea: the mysteries, the romantic subplot, and the beautiful and inventive artwork.  Hyouka made me a fan of anime, and opened my eyes to a whole new world of incredible storytelling.  It will always be a very special series to me.   RP

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The Talos Principle

the talos principleImagine: you’re on a path and you run into some obstacles.  You find a nice little inn and you stop for a while.  But one day you realize, “a while” has turned into 20 years.  You realize the path is a good one, a worthy one, but for some reason, you’re not on it!  You’re not going the rest of the way down the path!  You wax nostalgic to the days when you were walking the path and then you get introspective.  You begin to question things about life, yourself, even reality.  What?  Well, I do!

I started down a path over 20 years ago, and after overstaying my welcome at that inn, I got back on the road and I’m nearly at the end of it.  Like the delay, the ending also breeds introspection.  And yet, I won’t get all weepy!  Oh, no!  Not me!  During my walk down the path, I went from feeling like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder up a hill and having it run me over a few times, to feeling like Socrates when I actually surprised myself from time to time by “getting it right”.  I guess the point is, I was feeling somewhat Greek!  (Largely because I found myself telling my wife “It’s all greek to me!” but she tunes me out like AM radio.)  But like those Greeks, I too wonder about the nature of reality.  And how better to do that than playing a video game?  (If only Socrates knew what he was missing!)  But not all games are created equal, much to the dismay of many a philosopher!  Some games are actually really thought-provoking.  Some are deep, like Cthulhu.  Take for instance the much loved The Talos Principle.

The Talos Principle is a first person puzzle game wherein you wander a most idyllic landscape, while lovely instrumental music plays and the fields are green and the ruins are … well, ruin-y.  And, as any idyllic place should, it has robots.  And death traps.  And computer terminals that pose philosophical conundrums with no answer, but boy howdy, do they make you think.  And you realize the game you are playing is far more a game about life with decisions and making better choices that might lead you to better outcomes.  OH!  I had forgotten one little detail: you get to talk to God throughout the game.  (But, as you learn more about your identity, you may not find that as awe-inspiring as it sounds!)

The game has you pondering the question of who you are and what your goal is… I just realized as I typed that how wonderfully Babylon 5 that is: “Who are you?  What do you want?”  Sorry, I digress… But the “who are you” is one of the main mysteries, as you learn you’re not a human, but a fine looking robot.  (Not clockwork droid, sadly, but don’t get all glum; not everyone can be a clockwork droid!)  The game puts you through a series of increasingly challenging puzzles but you are not obligated to go through them in a specific order.  The game throws some 120 puzzles at you, and if you are of a deep enough character and you read the computer terminals, you are sure to come away even more perplexed by those mysteries of life.   And why not?  Like watching The Prisoner, you don’t want answers when you can have another mystery to solve at the end, am I right?

This is no action game, and it’s does not have the humor of Portal, but it does make you think.  With over 15,000 overwhelmingly positive reviews on my game platform of choice, Steam, this game is bound to appeal.  I mentioned Portal and in some ways it is a bit like that, just without Glados.  And there is a happy ending in the game, should you chose it.  But like not finishing the path, you do get a choice.  It took me a while to get there, but I chose right!

Which brings me back to my path.  It took a long time, but I’m counting down the days.  As of this post, I have 8 more days to go.  I’ve pondered and debated and fought with myself.  And while I didn’t have a Monty Python visit from “God” (which is good because I hate being asked to collect shrubberies), I am nearing the end of school.  Yes, friends, “it’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…” waiting eight more days!  The only thing that makes that more impressive to me than this game, is that the game had walk-throughs and you’re damned right, I used them!  I did not have the luxury of a walkthrough for school.  Next week, maybe I’ll share how I coped with that.  For now, check out the trailer for The Talos Principle.  Enjoy!  ML

Posted in Doctor Who, Games, Random Chatter, Reviews, Science Fiction | 2 Comments

Babylon 5: Mind War

b5I often compare Babylon 5 to a book and Mind War feels like the first chapter following the prelude.  In fairness, it’s probably better compared to a series of books with each episode representing a chapter and each season being a book.  However you choose to look at it, Mind War sees things ramping up with the arrival of powerful psi-cops, led by Alfred Bester (Walter Koenig of Star Trek fame).  I don’t know what’s stranger, seeing a “bad” Chekov or one without a Russian accent!

Bester, named after the author of the same name, is a great character.  (If you haven’t read Bester’s “The Demolished Man, a story about a telepath, you’re missing out!)  Through him, Talia and Ironheart, we get to understand more about the telepaths of the 23rd century.  Talia explains that telepathy is like being in a hotel room, able to hear the voices in the next room.  You have to try to focus if you want to know what’s going on in someone else’s head.  But she’s a P5, a lower rating than someone like Bester, a P12.  What is it like for a P12, or higher?  Jason Ironheart is more powerful than a P12, and he says he can see through people like glass, but he can’t fully control his abilities.  Maybe he doesn’t see and know all that he thinks he does but we may never find out.

The idea of creating stable TK, telekinetic, abilities is fascinating but made more frightening by the idea that one could kill with that ability.  Mentally pinch shut someone’s carotid artery and watch them expire without a trace… well, that’s horrifying!   Thank goodness Sinclair has enough moral fiber that he can talk to Ironheart and hear his side, but then, that may go back to Jeff’s willingness to put himself on the line.  (It’s interesting that a man who puts his life on the line repeatedly, also fought in the Battle of the Line.  But that may be me just playing with semantics!)

I want to drive home the point once again that Babylon 5 takes place in a universe we can relate to:  Sinclair has budget meetings (these will be addressed in greater detail in future episodes).  People do business on the station.  Catherine came back to the station (“see you next Wednesday” from Parliament of Dreams) to do business regarding a planetary survey to locate Quantium 40, a rare material needed to build Jump Gates.  And the people are diverse.  As G’Kar tells Catherine, “No one here is exactly what he appears.”  This is as much to the audience as it is to the character.  This is especially important coming from G’Kar, the “obvious” villain from The Gathering. 

There’s also an interesting subtext to the Sigma 957 subplot.  Catherine’s encounter there may be in relation to the abundance of Quantium 40, but G’Kar says he knows there are things bigger than he can conceive in the universe and that we are mere ants by comparison to some of them.  We see the effect of one of those things at Sigma 957.  It’s both terrifying and awe inspiring.  G’Kar nails it with that description but the question remains: was it a random event, or something more?

And considering I’ve been keen to point out news articles and broadcasts, it’s confirmed by Ironheart that the Psi-Corp is pulling the strings back on Earth, within the government and the courts… who knows how high that goes?  This story sets the wheels in motion.  Mind War represents a major step up for the series.  While there will be a few more non-JMS episodes, this has changed the momentum.  It will ramp up again soon.  But first…

There are some interesting departures in this story.  Jason departs with the phrase: “I’ll see you again in a million years”.  He may have been evolving but does he believe mankind will get to that same level one day?  Or is there some other meaning behind his words?  Or was it just a goodbye?  Bester leaves the station with that most famous of Prisoner salutes and the words “Be seeing you”.  I wonder what that means exactly…  I guess we will find out.  Eventually.   ML

The view from across the pond:

When I started to watch B5, persuaded by Mike’s love for the show, he explained that it was a slow series to grab you but it was worth persevering.  Wait for episode 6, he said.  Episode 6 is the one where it really gets going.  I’m a little puzzled.  Last week’s I actually enjoyed, and I would say it was the first point at which I would make a decision to stick with B5 for the long haul, irrespective of this project.  Up to that point I found the whole thing just about watchable, but rarely offering me anything worth tuning in for another week.  But this one just collapsed for me like a soggy soufflé.

The main problem, and I know it’s superficial, was the acting.  It’s something I’ve struggled with from the start, and it depends on which characters each particular episode focusses on.  It’s why I enjoyed last week’s so much: G’Kar is a fabulous character, acted brilliantly.  Mind War focusses heavily on Talia Winters, and Andrea Thompson so far is taking cheesy acting to her own special level.

Do you know what’s it’s like when telepaths make love commander?

Ewwwwww.  We don’t want to.  There is also a lot of focus on guest character Catherine Sakai, who is acted by Julia Nickson in a similarly hammy manner, but the prize this episode goes to Felicity Waterman as Kelsey, simply one of the most melodramatic performances I have ever seen, and not even in a so-bad-it’s-good way.  Is she trying to be British with her accent or something?  One thing’s for sure.  She corners the market here in pursed lips acting.

I’m no expert in Classic Trek, but even I recognise Walter Koenig.  Isn’t he the wrong Trekker to be doing a mind meld though?  He’s a level above every other actor in this sorry mess, which still only places him a bit below average.

You. Don’t. Know. What. You’re. DOING!!!!!!!!!

But as I said, that’s all superficial and I know Mike will ask why I’m not looking beyond that, so here goes.  By and large, this episode is familiar sci-fi territory: powers of the mind getting too strong and getting out of control; a corrupt organisation trying to harness special abilities for their own purposes.  I’ll throw an anime title at you: Charlotte.  It does all this a million times better, despite being a lesser known series.

Having said that, there are one or two interesting ideas.  The ability to murder somebody without leaving a trace of the crime by using telekinesis was a new idea on me, and a scary one that would be worthy of being the premise of an entire television series.  And G’Kar’s “why not?” speech at the end was fabulous, as it drove home the point that this is a series that gives us shades of grey.  G’Kar is far more interesting than a moustache-twirling villain.  I also enjoyed the ant comparison, and the acknowledgement that there are forces in the universe that are beyond our understanding.  Perhaps that’s something we need to acknowledge more.   RP

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The Land of the Dead

the land of the deadBig Finish: they love stories.  And I would say some of this story is lifted from one of my favorite authors; the great H. P. Lovecraft with creatures from the deep terrorizing an Alaskan base.  Another similarity to the works of good ol’ HP, is the requisite madman, this time as madman Shaun Brett spirals ever downward.  The Land of the Dead puts the fifth Doctor and Nyssa in Alaska where the Doctor, true to form since his last story featuring Turlough, is on a mission to educate Nyssa.  It’s shoehorned in but it’s not uninformative nor is it uninteresting.  It’s just oddly placed.  The way people describe where they are is cleverly done but it does strike a chord that this is all said for the benefit of the listener.  Not that it detracts horribly, but it is noticeable.  Also noticeable is that Tulong, one of the Alaskan natives, sounds distinctly Australian especially when he raises his voice.  I’m no geography major, but I’m pretty sure those lands aren’t that close, beyond alphabetically, and probably did not see much cross breeding.  One other big negative is that the story has the protagonists exposed to freezing water and brutal Alaskan winds, but the actors do not convey that.  No sniffles, shivers, or coughs, and I felt that was an oversight on the part of Big Finish.  They are usually so in tune with things like that.  But there the negatives end.

The story is immediately interesting and the desolation of their locale comes across beautifully.  The skeletal dinosaurs come across far better on audio than their living counterparts did in Doctor Who and they are adequately disconcerting.  But stealing the show is Monica, played by Lucy Campbell.  Her double act with the Doctor is wonderful and the comedy amidst the terror comes across very well.  Here’s a woman who is terrified but copes by using a little sarcasm, and progresses through her own range along the way.  There were a number of “laugh out loud” moments when she and the Doctor verbally spar especially when the Doctor’s response is so deadpan.

“Can I just say my shoes are completely ruined?”

“Evidently you can.”

There are other examples, but as I drive while listening, making notes is ill-advised.  That said, this is one time where loud noises don’t have to end each episode. The first episode ends with the Doctor crying out  “Nyssa” as monsters growl in the background, which is just as annoying as it sounds, but one episode ended with the Doctor speaking!  “Dinner time so soon?”  Not exactly edge of the seat without knowing the context.  When known, well… that worked surprisingly well.  Learning about Sedna and Alaskan myth was interesting and just the thing Doctor Who should be doing to educate listeners.  This wasn’t the shoehorned education the Doctor goes through in the beginning of the story but delivered bit by bit as the story progressed.

If this CD did one thing, it was that it made me long for the good ol’ days of CDs again.  Lately, I’ve been collecting my Big Finish digitally (after #75).  But this one has a map of the base wherein the story takes place.  I’ll start by saying, I didn’t exactly buy into this weird base: a structure like a museum that showcases landmasses, but having a map of the base did enhance my enjoyment.  Sadly, it was retrospectively.  I hadn’t noticed the map when I took the 2 discs out and set them in my player.  Oh, no!  Captain Observation noticed when the story was over and I was putting the discs back in the case.  Still, it was a nice touch and definitely would enhance the story for the listener if they are a bit more astute than I.

It’s pretty evident that Big Finish was finding their … ears by this story.   The quality is improving and I didn’t think there was really anything wrong with the previous ones.  With a trend like this, there’s only one direction these will go…. ML

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Cargo Cultist Katarina

katarinaCompanion Tropes 15

When we looked at The Face of Evil we examined how the phenomenon of cargo cults were utilised in the story.  During the Second World War, the islands of Melanesia were strategically important, and American planes started using them as bases.  The native population of some of the islands had previously had little or no contact with the Western world, and started worshipping as gods the amazing people in flying machines bringing cargo.  When that happens, it is known as a “cargo cult”.  The Face of Evil introduced a companion from a cargo cult society, Leela, but she was notable as the one who rejected irrational beliefs.

Flash back to 1965, and we have a companion who creates her very own cargo cult: Katarina.  Before we leave the comparison of Leela behind, let’s just acknowledge that a companion from this kind of background can be hugely successful and completely fascinating, so John Wiles’s decision to write Katarina out of the series as soon as possible because he didn’t think that type of companion could work represented a depressing lack of vision for Doctor Who.  The reason he did so was because of dialogue like this:

DOCTOR: I have my key to let myself in.
DOCTOR: Yes. This, child. Key. This opens the door from the outside.

…and this:

KATARINA: Are these tablets?
BRET: What do they look like?

So Wiles thought it was an insurmountable problem to have a companion from the distant past, because she lacked basic knowledge.  For the sake of a few seconds of dialogue like this (and these really are the only two examples in five episodes) Katarina was judged to be unworkable as a companion.  And it’s a tragedy in more ways than one, because she is one of the most interesting companions from the entire classic run of Doctor Who.  We see her build her own cargo cult around the Doctor, and just when we get to the point where she is starting to rationalise things in a religious way less and less, she’s killed off.  Katarina was right at the point at which she was becoming the kind of viable companion Wiles wanted, and then she was written out of the series.

When we first meet Katarina she is a handmaid to Cassandra, so basically she’s a servant, albeit one that carries some status.  To start with, virtually everything she says is a misunderstanding:

You’re from the other place?

Vicki, who has no time to explain what the TARDIS really is, describes it to Katarina as their “temple”, unwittingly fueling the fire of her beliefs.  When Katarina enters the TARDIS what she sees is just too mind-blowing to be rationalised as a temple, so Katarina assumes that she is dead.

DOCTOR: That’s not good. That’s not good at all. We must get help.
KATARINA: What help is there in limbo?

That is the only way Katarina can rationalise what has happened to her.  She is dead, and the Doctor is a god:

KATARINA: Strange god, you bring me peace.
DOCTOR: No, I don’t know what Vicki has advised you, but…
KATARINA: Oh, the Priestess Cressida told me all would be well and I knew it was to come.
DOCTOR: What was to come my dear?
KATARINA: That I was to die.
DOCTOR: My dear child, you’re not dead. That’s nonsense.
KATARINA: This is not Troy. This is not even the world. This is the journey through the beyond.

When the Doctor insists on being called “Doctor” rather than “great god”, from Katarina’s point of view he is simply a god who wants to be named “Doctor”.  It does nothing to shake her beliefs.  So, when we start the next story, The Daleks’ Master Plan, as far as Katarina is concerned everything that happens is a journey through the “underworld”, on their way to “the place of perfection”, and trying to stop them on their journey are the Daleks, the “evil ones”.

From a writer’s point of view, this makes Katarina an absolute gift.  She is easily tricked by Bret Vyon, so he can gain entrance to the TARDIS.  Imagine the opportunities for character development with somebody like Katarina, had she survived, gradually becoming less gullible as she learns about the universe.

There is the slenderest of hints in her final moments that Katarina is having her eyes opened to a wider universe of possibilities than her self-created cargo cult.  Despite already believing herself to be dead, she is genuinely terrified when Kirksen captures her, and who knows whether she understands the final sacrifice she is making?  One thing is for sure: her faith in the Doctor is unshakeable.  When she is separated from him she prays to him.  And these are her final words:

You show me so many strange mysteries. With you I know I’m safe.

What a shame.  So much potential, unexplored.  But if a future Doctor Who showrunner wants to introduce a companion who is somebody fascinating and different from the standard approach of a contemporary human, they need look no further for inspiration than Cargo Cultist Katarina.   RP

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