Who’s The Doctor? Who Knows?

The Tale Of A Time Lord: Are You Coming And Going… Or Going And Coming?

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“You may be a Doctor, but I’m the Doctor, the definite article you might say” – The Doctor.

By the gods of Gallifrey, it was only a matter of time before my attention turned to Doctor Who: that beloved, enduring phenomenon of British TV. This weekend, BBC1 showed “Heaven Sent,” the penultimate episode of this current series – a fascinating outing featuring just Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, in a creepy castle constantly reconfiguring itself, stalked by a mysterious veiled entity: “extraordinary; one of the best episodes ever.”

Admittedly, it looked a more engaging viewing pleasure than usual. Too many of the stories in recent years have been incomprehensible, or just dull. Looking – and sounding – so radically different from the Who of old does not help either. Despite their notoriously shoddy sets and terribly-dated special effects, their classic scripts sparkle stronger than ever. 

A huge fan of the series between 1979-1984, it was a joy to be introduced to this Saturday evening ritual during the years of the Fourth – and arguably the greatest – regeneration played by Tom Baker (1974-1981).

Having witnessed the demise of the show in 1989, hearing about its resurrection in 2005 failed to instill any excitement or curiosity whatsoever. David Tennant turned out to be surprisingly successful as the Tenth Doctor, but failed to interest me; the same, alas, can be applied to the Eleventh reincarnation: Matt Smith. Just as well really – working abroad in recent years has kept me away from the BBC’s longest-running series.

However, things are looking up with Peter Capaldi – probably the best casting for the role since, well, Tom Baker. 

Bless both your hearts, Doc. 

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“Homo sapiens, what an inventive, invincible species… Puny, defenceless bipeds, they survived flood, famine and plague – they survived cosmic wars and holocausts; now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to outsit eternity. They’re indomitable… indomitable…” – The Doctor.

Since 2005, of course, the series has metamorphosed into something bigger than ever, even attracting a huge following on the other side of the pond, which is fantastic, considering how quintessentially English this phenomenon traditionally set out to be.

No matter where the Doctor (not just the Fourth, but any of them for that matter) and his companions ended up – Gallifrey, Skaro, Traken, etc. – the aliens always spoke impeccable English, and their planet looked suspiciously like a more terrestrial quarry. Whenever the more malicious species decided to invade Earth, they always ended up targeting England. 

One reason why this bigger (better?) incarnation has failed to lure me in is the standard of the scripts. The writers assembled for the Baker years (1974-1981) were a formidable bunch, including Terrance Dicks, Chris Boucher and Terry Nation (the creator of the Daleks, the Doctor’s most fearsome – and consistent – foe), but particular praise should go to Robert Holmes, who is responsible for penning some of the best-loved stories: including The Ark In Space (1975, above), Pyramids of Mars (1975), The Brain of Morbius, The Deadly Assassin (both 1976), and The Talons Of Weng-Chiang (1977). His scripts really exuded charm, even intelligent dashes of wit – how often can you say that of the series now? 

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“I can see your long rest hasn’t done anything to cure your megalomania. Have a jelly baby” – The Doctor.

What set the the Fourth Doctor apart, and endeared him to multitudes of fans worldwide – besides Baker’s wonderful performances and consistently amazing scripts – was his iconic look: the floppy hat and that seemingly endless scarf, plus the amusing habit of offering any of his adversaries a jelly baby.  

9 million viewers at Saturday teatime sat enthralled or, as legend would have it, “cowered behind the sofa.” During the 1970s, the show was heavily criticised for being too scary and too violent. None of it scared me – on the contrary, it never failed to excite.

And engage my imagination: once that week’s thrilling cliffhanger was absorbed, and taken over by the haunting theme tune (it still induces goosebumps even now), it was off to Gallifrey (i.e. my bedroom) and convert the wardrobe into my very own Tardis. 

To all those fans who insist that Tennant is the best Doctor (pah!) please feel free to (try and) make your case in the Comments below – recommend any stories or individual scenes worth my while.

Good luck: surely there cannot have been any stories in the past decade as stunning as Genesis Of The Daleks (1975). The following scene from that story out of all 41 of Baker’s reign is my all-time fave – not just a classic Dr Who moment, but one of the most impressive scenes in the history of British TV drama.   

You don’t have to wait – the Doctor will see you now…

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“It’s the end… but the moment has been prepared for” – The Doctor.

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“Everything Is Blue”: A Celebration Of One Of The UK’s Finest Writers

Sophisticated Suspense.

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“Why shouldn’t you have a bit of fun while dealing with the deepest issues of the mind?” – Alan Moore.  

“My killers dislocated my electroskeleton…

Bent the clear note of my being out of pitch…

Out of harmony with the earth…

Barred from my planet’s emerald heart…

And unwilling to burn…

The turquoise ferns and duck-egg pebbles…

The aquarium light filtering through clouds of bleached cobalt…

“Everything is blue.”

Seeing as it’s his birthday today, this Post has been set aside to honour Alan Moore, acclaimed creator of such classic comic literature as Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,  From Hell and V For Vendetta; we shall focus instead on Swamp Thing, because that is where my startled discovery of his great talent was made.

Originally created as a simple eight-page modern gothic tear-jerker by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson for House of Secrets #92, in 1972, scientist Alex Olsen was “killed” in a chemical explosion, his flaming body hurling into the bayou, only to be soon resurrected as a mossy and morose muck-monster. 

Each edition of Moore’s Swamp Thing offered individual brilliance, but for me, none more so than Issue 56 (dated Jan 87).

Can remember reading this one for the first time; entitled: “My Blue Heaven” it was more a case of bewilderment, than being gobsmacked. Rather than displaying the traditional lurid coloured inks of say, Superman or Wonder Woman, this particular issue told a unique story utilising an ingenious monochromatic technique, adding instant mood and atmosphereevery panel was blue. 

Didn’t know what to make of it initially, but one thing was clear: here in my hands lay an example of a drastically different form of graphic art, and all my comic-reading years had never prepared my senses to savour a script quite like this. 

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Happy Birthday To The Wonderful Wizard of Northampton!

Moore, Veitch, Alcala - Swamp Thing, My Blue Heaven

“Forever.

I will spend forever here…

An immortal wandering endlessly towards eternity…

Across a monochrome landscape…

One color, ome word.

So many shades…

The color of saxophones at dusk…

Of orbiting police lights smeared across tenement windows…

Of loneliness…

Of melancholy.

The blues.”

When planning a movie adaptation of Watchmen, Terry Gilliam (who Moore revealed would have been an excellent choice to direct a Watchmen movie) asked: “How would you make a film of Watchmen?” 

“Well, frankly,” Moore replied, “If anyone had bothered to consult me, I would have said ‘I wouldn’t’.”

Moore had written Watchmen expressly to explore the possibilities of the comic book medium, utilising narrative devices that deliberately set out to be unfilmable. So with this title, Moore could really experiment with ways in which a superior sophisticated graphic novel could be presented.

What Moore could you want? Who better than the beloved bewhiskered Brit to take this tragic figure but present him optimistically as a creator of his own realm?

Instead of wallowing in loneliness, the Thing creates his own doppelganger: “manipulating… two sets of muscles… I stand and walk toward myself… We touch… marveling to find not the cold hardness of mirror glass… but another palm, cool and dry.” 

Thus unfolded a dream-like narrativestrange: most certainly; compelling reading: oh yes…

And for company, he (re)creates Abby, his long-lost love:

“…As the flowers blossom… in a pale mane from her scalp… I am breathless. 

“Oh, she is beautiful… and I am lost.”

Blue

“We kiss… then kiss again…

Embracing, we sink to our knees,

Through the dreamlike phosphorescence…

Of air too rich in rare gasses, 

We tumble… a kinetic progression…

Of stop-motion glimpses…

Sensual and inevitable in their sequence…

A blue movie.” 

Swamp Thing helped pave the way for DC Comics to handle more mature topics in an increasing number of titles specifically aimed at a much older readership. Amidst other bold and brilliant titles branded as: “Suggested For Mature Readers,” Swamp Thing did his own distinct and bizarre thing on a monthly basis.

For four years, Moore took this unlikely titular vegetable hero and revealed it to be just a tragic “shambling mound of foliage” that has merely acquired the consciousness of the dead scientist (now referred to as Alec Holland). This inspired the kind of extended, positively surreal, character study that Moore relishes.

Ultimately, the Swamp Thing must banish all thought of ever having been human in the first place, let alone trying to devise the bio-restorative formula to regain that glimmer of humanity. Thus, the creature must – over several episodes – contemplate not only the worthlessness of its existence, but decide what it should do with itself from then on.

Where else could you find a comic book where the central character foregoes living and merges with the mass-psyche of the earth itself, becoming a vegetable in all senses of the word?

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“Like blue bile…

The scream floods from my throat…

And I turn and run…

Past cars that are gradually losing their shapes to the rain…

“I try… to hold the world together in my mind… 

“But it slithers from a grasp… made slippery by sap…

In despair… I let it die…

I let the buildings unravel…

And the children fall dead in the streets…

I stop the hearts… of the perspiring old men…

I kill the world.

Blue murder.” 

John Constantine, the British occult mage/annoying smartass – whose character would about to be considerably expanded in his own highly successful, critically-acclaimed ongoing series called Hellblazer – made his debut in The Saga of The Swamp Thing #37. 

Here, he makes another distinctive cameo appearance – as this is Swamp Thing’s own dreamworld, so John is nothing more than an illusion, but still offering an annoying supporting role! Odd, yet compelling material. 

Finally, as this Post comes to it’s end, so we reach the final lines of Moore’s classic script:

“I leave… the world that I have made… behind me…

It shall remain here…

As a decayed monument… to the pain… of sundered romance… 

A bitter love letter… left tear-stained and crumpled…

In the obscure corner… of the universe…  

abby

“A blue valentine.”