BOX OF JHANA
K9 and Company novel
Doctor Who: Voyager (again)
Doctor Who: Season 26
by David Carroll, 1991
I've always sort of wondered what Verity Lambert would have thought of Season 26. You know the general idea -- drag someone forward in time from, say, just after they've completed the first season to show them the last, and watch them boggle.
It wouldn't work, of course, quite apart from all the little technical hiccups. I've heard quite enough bemoaning from the those involved in the early years about the current state of the program to have many illusions on that score (though as Victor Pemberton said, he hates the current format, but he hasn't seen a Sylvester McCoy story yet).
No, we have to sit in our smug and isolated superiority and know that Season 26 is the best thing ever. Stuff all the Americans who couldn't hear it (due to one of those technical hiccups I was talking about earlier, this time with the audio mix) and probably wouldn't understand it if they did . Stuff all the people who think they're experts just because they wrote a story or two back before we were born.
It is, at times, a depressing thing to be a fan, but if you avoid DWB and certain threads on the UseNet you can get by.
So, now that we're all quite clear about S26's position of superiority, and as it looks increasingly certain that it's going to be the last six hours of DW ever, what would Verity Lambert have thought of her baby now it's grown up?
In the fifties Science Fiction was generally a pretty depressing sort of genre. With the coming of the nuclear age and the Cold War dividing the world into areas perhaps unforeseeable during WWII (or, as Ian Briggs would have us believe, perhaps not), the two enemies were technology and internal subversion. There were lots of invasions by hostile aliens, lots of shape-shifting monsters ala The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the like, lots of monsters created by the Bomb. This isn't horror we're talking about (it wouldn't be till the 1968 publication of Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby till that genre started on the road to popularity) but it was still a decade when 'anxiety, paranoia and complacency marched hand in hand' .
The Sixties were somewhat better. The President of the United States was Catholic, a Pulitzer Prize winner, a supporter of civil rights and hadn't been assassinated yet. Science Fiction was branching out into all sorts of different fields, and becoming respectable as it did.
It was in that sort of environment that they decided to make a television show about a man wandering the Universe in a police box. Educational from both a scientific and historical viewpoint, it still didn't shirk the tensions of the previous decade, and The Daleks is as good an example of that as any. The sheer fact that the Doctor as scientist wasn't exactly a role-model of perfect behaviour is also rather telling. None of this silly American stuff about a future that worked and people who Boldly Go.
Verity would thus find at least one aspect of Season 26 familiar, for it also deals with fears and anxieties. The precise subject matter has changed somewhat, but the feeling is the same. This is the late Eighties we're talking about -- social alienation, ecological devastation, the rights of the individual. All vital concerns of the moment, and all reflected in S26.
Just as a little off-shoot from the subject, one curious thing about this social analysing based on entertainment is that the movies really aren't following suit. A telling indication in the Fifties and Sixties, these days the cinema is side-stepping the issues, mostly producing 'feel-good' movies and simple adventure stories to keep our mind off things. Even the recent popular horror fad has peaked and is currently in sharp decline. If Verity did come forward, DW is actually one of the best things we could show her about her new environment, along with novels and comics (real comics, not this Superhero stuff) -- all of limited appeal to the modern public .
What else would she recognise among those four stories? There is certainly not a great deal of strictly original ideas, but the most obvious past references, UNIT and the Master, would escape her. The Question Mark motif, the term 'Time Lord', references to Cybermen and Ice World, even the lack of trouble steering the TARDIS, all would be new. The TARDIS she'd recognise, though the interior would puzzle her in it's only scene. The theme music would be recognisable (if different). And of course the fact that the Doctor was being played by Sylvester McCoy would be a trifle strange. But this is twenty-six years on, and that's easily explained. William Hartnell's death would sadden her.
Away from Doctor Who's own mythos she'd have more success if she'd read the right books. Battlefield is, of course, a retelling of the Arthur myth, while Ghost Light reuses a great many concepts from last century, Dickens, the Alice novels and the like, not to mention the bible, Tolkien and a lot more (the Hitchhiker's Guide references are perhaps a little modern).
The Curse of Fenric is a very mythic story, and both the setting and the myths themselves would be accessible, though Ragnarok isn't exactly a house-hold name for Armageddon. Of the two main fictional inspirations for the story, she'd have heard of Dracula, but (like most people, I suspect) not of John Carpenter's 1980 movie The Fog. Finally coming to Survival we realise the pattern is broken, and no significant precursors can be found (bar the werewolf myth in general. That's one of the interesting things about S26 -- just about any non-trivial statement you make to describe the season as a whole will not apply to one of the stories).
Now, back in 1963 they were still getting the mechanics of making television sorted out, so we can't expect technical perfection. But then, we can't really expect it in 1989. Television is by nature a rushed medium and there is no less than one effect in S26 that, to me, looks less than real (the sword flying across the room in Battlefield). Still, I think we can say that Verity would be more than impressed with the 'look' of the season. Colour would be no surprise, but before the 1968 release of 2001 -- A Space Odyssey the only movie with effects to prepare her for what is to come (that I can think of, anyway) is 1953's War of the Worlds. That was good, but S26 was a lot better. If you wanted to look at emotional impact instead of basic gee-whiz sort of stuff perhaps Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (from the year in question, 1963) would be the best comparison. But they've been making tense psychological thrillers since at least 1931 (Fritz Lang's M) so there's nothing really new there.
The final question is, of course, now that we've gone to all this trouble of getting her here, would young Miss Lambert enjoy Season 26? I think she would, and not only for the obvious reason that I'm a little partial towards it myself. Admittedly I've stacked the deck a little here, I choose her as my example from all other previous writers and producers because she's the one I trust most. Of all the people rumoured to take over independent production, Cinema Verity would be the one I think would do the best job. I believe Verity would be proud of the way things turned out, and in smug isolation or not, I'm sticking to that belief.
Even without context S26 is a powerful season. Well written, well produced, well acted, at times genuinely scary. Its four stories are completely different in style and content, yet the season still manages to be a coherent whole. In context, as you examine the material around and predating it, look at sources and influences and nuances of meaning, it only gets better. If there is no S27, S26 provides a perfect example of Doctor Who at its best, and Survival provides a fitting finale.
The end of a TV show, or just the end of an era. But for some of us at least, S26 will be fondly remembered as the future tries to overwhelm us with more examples of contemporary Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. The place is different, but the hunt goes on.
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