Doctor’s (Last?) Orders

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Much has been written about the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the new lead in Doctor Who, and no doubt a great deal more will follow the launch of the new season on 7 October.

Personally, I consider it a pity the role hasn’t been played by a woman before, or that the Doctor’s ethnicity hasn’t been adjusted during one of his — sorry, her — previous regenerations. After all, the Third Doctor revealed in his debut episode he’d arrived with a tattoo, and one of Romana’s potential reboots in ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ had blue-grey skin, so pigmentation clearly isn’t an issue for Time Lords (a term, incidentally, applied to both sexes during the original series).

No, my disquiet with all the heated hullabaloo over the new season began with the sheer inevitability that the Tardis would have a female pilot, and the smug self-satisfaction exhibited by both the BBC and incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall. His more recent comments about returning Doctor Who to the educational approach laid down by its first producer, Sydney Newman, and nebulous references to ‘diversity’ (an angle reiterated ad ennui in the latest Radio Times coverage) hardly boosted my optimism. Can he be unaware that Newman had to rethink his approach almost immediately, and that most of us do not need a weekly lesson the history of racism, sexism and homophobia?

I certainly wish Ms Whittaker no ill, and hope my concerns are unfounded. It would be unfortunate indeed if the number thirteen proved unlucky for a show which has aired thirty-nine of the past fifty-five years.

DVD review: The Doctors – The Sylvester McCoy Years (2018)

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In a near-echo of the problems Doctor Who suffered during the closing years of its original run, the sixth and seventh incarnations of the titular Timelord present quite a challenge for Reeltime Pictures as it repackages individual instalments of its popular Myth Makers series into these compilations.

Chief among these is the lack of co-stars to profile: the Doctors portrayed by Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy only had three companions between them, and one of those – Bonnie Langford’s somewhat less than universally loved “Mel Bush” – has yet to be interviewed by producer Keith Barnfather and his team.

It’s surprising, then, that the existing episodes with McCoy and Sophie “Ace” Aldred (hosted by Nicholas Briggs and shot in 1994 and 1991, respectively) were not augmented in some manner, although the latter does pop up alongside Barnfather in the introduction and past ‘updates’ haven’t always proven successful, most notably the disjointed Nicholas Courtney contribution to The Jon Pertwee Years. If McCoy had any clue he’d be enjoying one final huzzah the following year, in the ill-fated tv movie marking Paul McGann’s debut as the Eighth Doctor, he certainly doesn’t let on, and Aldred’s involvement as a production assistant offers evidence of the close bond between them which still exists to this day.

The focus then switches to three actresses who portrayed notable supporting characters in the series: Lisa Bowerman (featured in the final serial, “Survival”, then subsequently cast as “Bernice Summerfield” in various Big Finish audio spin-offs), Jessica Martin (“The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”) and, most interesting from a biographical viewpoint, Angela Bruce (“Battlefield”). Bringing up the rear is a 2002 chat with former story editor Andrew Cartmel, who offers a tantalising insight into how a 1990 season would have treated the Doctor (a new companion, to begin with).

The interviews with Martin and Bruce were conducted earlier this year by Reeltime’s “Ace” reporter, and Sophie’s uniquely personal perspective does introduce a fresh angle into the equation. I for one certainly look forward to her next Myth Makers assignment.

Who’s Next

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Currently working on my inaugural feature for Infinity, sister magazine to The Dark Side. It’s a profile of Myth Makers, the long-running series of video interviews with key personnel in the Doctor Who universe. I’m currently liaising with founder and producer Keith Barnfather, as well as a number of writers and actors who’ve been involved in both the show and this series of fantastic archive conversations. More details soon.

An Old-Fashioned Horror Convention? No Fear.

One of the long-term plans for the Birmingham Horror Group when it launched in December 2015 was for members to host an old-style horror event in the city, as opposed to the soulless, commercially-orientated merchandise and autograph fairs which have proliferated since “geek culture” became fully monetised. After all, what’s the point in hanging out with friends in a pub, discussing old episodes of Doctor Who or your favourite comics, when you can stand in line to pay £45 to be photographed next to John Barrowman (£10 extra if he wears his “Captain Jack” overcoat) or buy five versions of the same superhero reboot with different covers but the same identical Manga-style interior art? In fact, why even hang out with friends in the first place, when there are thousands of “friends” willing to give pretty much any passing comment a ‘like’ on Facebook?

Well, I believed there was still life in the original concept — and boy, does it look as though I was wrong. Running the monthly group has long ago ceased to be the fun it should have been, the erratic turn-out proving most “fans” are now only willing to show up if there’s some kind of gimmick, like a guest speaker or a free screening, and prefer to scurry back to the warm glow of their computer screens as soon as that part’s over. As for the Birmingham FearFest, ticket sales have been embarrassingly lack-lustre, and we’re currently facing the very real likelihood of having to pull the plug on its incubator. It’s been suggested to me that it could simply be postponed until later in the year, allowing a new round of publicity, but I’m not convinced I have a sufficiently deep reservoir of energy or optimism.

A little over thirty years ago,so many people turned up at a Novacon I chaired in Birmingham that we ran out of programme books, and we’d printed more than 500. These days, I find myself quite literally unable to run a party in a brewery. The world has allegedly evolved, but I’m not sure whether I want any part of this latest mutation; it clearly wants no part of me.

Updated 4 May.

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Towards the next frontier [3]

The inaugural episode of Ghostwords TV is now available online, featuring an interview with Ramsey Campbell, news and reviews, editorial opinion and a personal tribute to David Bowie. You can subscribe to the feed here.