Commiserate, Exterminate;-(

Commiserate DegenerateI, like many others, submitted several pieces to Lewis Christian’s Celebrate, Regenerate! collection. I’m pleased to say that several of my pieces made it through to the finished product though, as I submitted many pieces, a lot of pieces didn’t make it;-(

Rather than consign these to the dustbin of history, I thought I would preserve them for posterity and here they are below. If you want to know what pieces made it through, check out the book!

The unsuccessful stories

Here are the four pieces that are up for extermination:

  • Forty Two
  • The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe
  • The Snowmen
  • The Bells of St John

Without further fanfare, let us expose them in all their gory details then remember them no more! [They are as submitted so have had no editing]

Forty Two

I have a fondness for the simpler Doctor Who stories. I enjoy saving the universe / web of time / whole of existence as much as the next fan but I feel that in actuality there can’t be that many trapped gods, alien death machines, rifts, time faults or universe resets. If we look across the many stories happening at roughly similar time I sometimes imagine that there is a sort of alien version of Argos where monsters go to get a ticket. They wait their turn while the Doctor or the Bannerman Road crew or Torchwood (unless that universe is now fully split away) defeats the previous threat and then they roll out their own.

I sometimes think it must be frustrating to be the mad scientist working for decades on the super machine to rule the world that meanwhile has nearly been wiped out two dozen times in the interim. And as to how anyone gets anything done in London is beyond me!

Having digressed massively, I return to the episode in question. 42 is so named for its running time (less credits) and that it is designed to be a continuous sequence of events; a Doctor Who equivalent of the US show 24 in effect. There is also a deeper resonance with the Douglas Adams era through the point out to the Hitchhikers Guide. Thus we appeal to viewers new and old.

I like the self-contained nature of the story; in the overall series arc this provides a counterpoint sandwiched between the Lazarus Experiment which is ramping up the Mr Saxon thread and the powerful Human Nature / Family of Blood which would give us some new imagery for the modern era. Yes there is a shoe-horning in with the phone calls Martha makes home but I regard that as an adjunct to the story and irrelevant to my argument. They could have been glued into any episode and are out with the actual action.

I also like that the tale is about saving one ship, the SS Pentallian, and that this is almost a purely classic, sci-fi based thriller of the ticking bomb variety. Visually it is stunning (in the way that Satan Pit also was) and the cast worked well. Michelle Collins was effective as Captain McDonnell and also very believable. The Captain is to blame for the events overtaking the ship and so it is fitting that she makes the sacrifice at the end to even things up and save what is left of the ship and crew.

Within the context of the whole series we have had a change of pace which punctuates the story arc and shows the wealth of possibility of the show that is equally comfortable dealing with aliens, spaceships, robots, gods and also emotions, relationships and almost anything else that the writers choose to throw at it.

Overall a delight.

The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

At first appraisal this Christmas special is rather like the office Christmas party; it is a lot of fun at the time with lots going on and certain people behaving out of character but somehow when you look back just confusing.

I think to fully appreciate this we need to strip away all the tinsel and half-drunk glasses of white wine and judge it on its basics which are the story and the theme.

The story is maybe over-familiar – love story at heart with a young woman who believes she is widowed given a chance for a family Christmas in a large house with the most eccentric of inhabitants. Behind the Roald Dahl like exuberance we have a mother of two young children driven by two incredibly basic needs: protect the brood and be with her mate. Via a convoluted set of events she achieves both, largely without assistance from neither the Doctor nor any of the other inhabitants of this winter Wonderland.

Thematically though beyond the power of love what is this about? Well we all know from the title. Having previously plundered Charles Dickens and the Christmas Carol we now move onto the perennial favourite of the tale of Narnia.

Instead of the Lion we have the Doctor, the Witch is the Widow and we have a wardrobe. Let’s consider each:

  • The Lion – this role may be assigned to the Doctor and emphasise his superiority to we mere humans though I feel that in some regards we also have a cowardly lion in the story. Bill Bailey the Harvest Ranger is not unlike the lion of the Wizard of Oz
  • The Witch – here we have an inversion. Madge Arwell is the central figure in this tale. She initially encounters the Doctor saving him as he falls to Earth (a metaphor?) and via an amusing interlude with a real police box the Doctor is put in her debt. If we pursue the analogy with the CS Lewis classic this makes the Doctor actually either Susan or Edmund. Our Widow both saves Christmas and becomes transformed; almost a parallel with the four children becoming Kings and Queens of Narnia
  • The Wardrobe – this is obvious. This is the TARDIS. Although the temptation was resisted slightly, it is clear even before this that in some regards the TARDIS is not unrelated to the Wardrobe. It is box-like, it goes back a long way and transports you to fantastic worlds. It even has a collection of fur coats inside somewhere!

So there we have it, a story touching to the heart of both Christmas and some of the core concepts of the show itself. Not bad for an hour!

The Snowmen

Christmas 2012 and Steven Moffat faced some interesting challenges for the Christmas special. Both Dickens and Narnia had been done; The Doctor was still adjusting to the departure of the Ponds and couldn’t be seen to ignore them; there was Clara to introduce and finally we fans wanted to get a flavour of how the anniversary might be approached.

Thankfully the job was managed wonderfully and with some minor gripes a lot of people felt that this was the best Christmas Special so far. The story and the production had something for most people and the show survived being moved to the 5.15 slot comfortably.

Let’s tick off expectations first: the whole story started with the isolated Doctor in Victorian London protected by three friends – Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax. This gave us some of the more poignant dialogue when Vastra met Clara; it also gave us some great comedy potential with Strax and the memory worm coming to mind. The whole concept of having switched off from the world but then Clara’s use of the single word ‘pond’ was well done.

Moving onto Clara we were spoiled in that not only did she link to Oswin but she was also killed straight away. I didn’t spot this coming and Clara now has the distinction of being the only companion to die twice before actually travelling in the TARDIS between adventures which is my personal definition.

As to the anniversary we had the re-introduction of the Great Intelligence which long-standing fans recognise. Newer fans are able to follow the Doctor as we assume he will spend some time remembering the Yeti in the London Underground of the Troughton era Web of Fear.

Beyond all that the whole production looked lovely and we need to remind ourselves that we are spoiled by the money being spent on effects. I also loved how we had some tongue-in-cheek references to Sherlock Holmes showing us that Moffat doesn’t take himself too seriously and does see these as separate programmes. I was also really pleased to get the Mary Poppins references with Clara the governess and the use of umbrellas. I have elsewhere linked The Doctor to Mary Poppins and felt this was a lovely touch, along with the cloud stairway for the TARDIS to hide on.

There were some flaws: we might worry that the next Clara looks contemporary when fans might have wanted a historical figure; the Great Intelligence was underused but we assume that it will be back bigger than before as we approach November. All that taken as read this was still a great way to spend Christmas Evening and I choose to take it as a good sign that we might get the anniversary stories we want.

The Bells of St John

So there we all were, eagerly waiting for the Easter Saturday episode that might finally introduce Clara Oswin / Oswald as a real companion and still absorbing the news that David Tennant and Billie Piper were back for the anniversary. We knew this would be a James Bond style London story and were aware of another new monster called the Spoonheads though if we thought anything of that we probably saw it as a distraction. How little we knew as, in fact, Steven Moffat instead gave us a truly scary creation and more Easter Eggs than most of us would open the next day!

Take the Spoonheads first: these were entirely credible as mobile mind capturing devices but what’s more they were genuinely creepy. The slow reveal of the spoon shape as the head revolved was sinister. Every time it happened we felt a shiver (as I am now as I write) and they really captured the mood of both Blink and the Empty Child (one of which also gave us the ringing of the external TARDIS phone).

It is, however, to the Easter Eggs that I wish to turn my attention.

The first was that the true enemy was the Great Intelligence – good continuity with The Snowmen and a story arc not trying to hide behind the trimmings Celia Imrie’s wonderful performance as the apparent mastermind behind the monster in the wi-fi.

Second was the almost throw-away line about ‘the woman in the shop’ who gave Clara the TARDIS phone number, and which several people have jumped on. We all expect it to be River Song, but just maybe it will be something more subtle. I have a side-bet that it will Ace – not that I have any reason to believe that, just that it would be a great link to the anniversary.

The third Easter Egg is one I missed myself. When Clara sees the Spoonhead on the stairs it resembles a girl from the front cover of a book. On closer inspection that book is called Summer Falls and is written by Amelia Williams. Before you can say ‘what a nice link back to Amy’ the BBC have released said book for the Kindle. Unlike Angel’s kiss which was ‘written by Melody Pond’, this is actually a very well-constructed story written by James Goss and of a decent length. It is much better than it needed to be and actually stands as a decent kids story in its own right without knowing of the Doctor Who connection.

So, while the actual tale of mind control and new companions failed to actually ring my bell in terms of story (visually wonderful of course) there are actually many reasons to celebrate this story and look forward to the rest of this set of eight episodes!

Final Thoughts

Let us talk no more of these wretched failures…

I will of course be re-submitting these in 2038 when Lewis produces the 75th anniversary update!

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