Evil mastermind steals secret plans…

First there were rumours that Tony Hancock (for whom Terry Nation worked as a script writer) really created the Daleks, and now this.

Steven Clark, 51, says he invented Davros for a competition run by the now defunct TV Action magazine in 1972. Entrants were asked to create a comic-strip villain, and Mr Clark claims he invented the name Davros and sent in a drawing of the character along with a handwritten essay called The Genesis Of The Daleks: The Creation Of Davros.

His drawing – a pencil sketch coloured in with felt pens – showed a ‘half-man half-Dalek’ with an additional eye in the centre of his forehead, a headset, epaulettes, a withered left hand and finger-like switchgear on the Dalek base.

Father-of-three Mr Clark, from Ashford, Kent, has now launched High Court proceedings to try to prove the BBC and its commercial arm BBC Worldwide have been using the character without his permission for nearly four decades.

If this is true, he deserves some sort of recognition. “Genesis of the Daleks” is generally thought to be the point at which Terry Nation returned to form after several relatively lacklustre scripts, and if he had help – or at least drew some inspiration – from a 13 year old fan, he should at least have acknowledged the fact.

(Of course, it may all turn out to be a scam… In the meantime I will try to dig out those old scripts for “Space Trek” I once sent to Gene Roddenberry*.)

*OK, I admit I nicked that joke. So sue me.


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A Night at the Optera

Once upon a time, I attempted to write a review of The Web Planet. This is what came out.

(Note that this contains a few spoilers.)

First, hurrah! There are no soapy subplots here, no modern moral dubiety, no smug postmodern complexity – just a group of friends on an outing and a “Boy’s Own” storyline. Those were the days. The Doctor is mysterious and irascible, more concerned that he might lose his ring than wishing to receive the thanks of the people whose planet he saves. Ian and Barbara get their own mini-adventures, Ian showing a healthy sense of proportion by grumping about losing his old school tie while Barbara is the role model we expect, rallying the troops and planning an invasion. And Vicki is the Doctor’s sidekick, in case he needs someone to explain things to or hold his walking stick.

At 6 episodes, this story is a tad long and drawn out from a modern perspective; or rather, from the perspective of watching the whole thing in quick succession. (But the video library would have made us pay lots more if we’d tried to watch it over 6 weeks, as originally broadcast.) Also, of course, it would have been better to have been 8 years old, and to have watched it as part of an ongoing saga that was simply part of your life, and to be able to imagine oneself on an alien world so completely that one didn’t notice the strings or the actors’ legs. And to have had no idea that the series would last another 47 years, or that William Hartnell wouldn’t always be the Doctor…


However, the first episode was marvellously atmospheric, and gave the feeling that this really was an alien planet, complete with acid pools, numerous moons, a lunar surface, and some sort of prism effect on the camera lens. And mysterious happenings – eerie noises, vanishing pens, people being controlled by their bracelets – and, of course, a disappearing TARDIS.


I was surprised that the Zarbi (effectively giant ants, although evolution took a different turn on Vortis and they ended up with only two legs) were actually relatively convincing, in that you could easily forget there was a person inside (as I, at least, do most of the time with the Daleks). They only made weird sounds, which emphasised their alienness – one of the few species in the cosmos not susceptible to the TARDIS’s “telepathic translator”, apparently. The Larvae Guns, huge animated hairbrushes with glowing eyes and very long noses, were similarly quite convincing, given the limitations. The Menoptera and the “jumping bugs” were less good, inevitably, since they had to communicate with our heroes, which made their “human side” more obvious. It would have been better if they’d hidden their all-to-human looking mouths somehow. In an attempt to increase their alienness, they used flowing gestures and a sort of dominance display where they hissed at each other, but this just tended to highlight their inadequacies. The jumping bugs looked particularly silly in this respect.

The Zarbi were quite menacing in their appearance and behaviour, and the fact that you couldn’t talk to them. Just a force to be escaped or fought – reminiscent of the Yeti in that respect.

The Menoptera failed to convince as a fighting force, being on a par with the Thals in the first Dalek story, but with less justification, since they were allegedly the advanced force for an invasion rather than wandering farmers. (Although they were supposed to have been forced into war reluctantly, so perhaps that was intentional.)

And they were, apparently, only armed with one weapon. Just one. It was called an “isoptope,” and seemed to do them little good most of the time. It was supposed to destroy the Animus, the creature that had taken control of Vortis, although I’m not sure how they knew what would destroy it. (But then how would the Animus know how to devise things like giant wishbones capable of controlling people when put round their necks?) There was some confusing stuff about “aiming for the dark side” when the isotope finally came to be used on the Animus, and exactly how it was defeated was obscure. The gun obviously worked, but maybe not as expected.

(There were a few bits of dodgy science, e.g. how the Menoptera managed to fly in the allegedly thin atmosphere … but anyone who expects real science needs their neutron polarity reversed. As Stephen Moffatt would say, “it’s only Doctor Who“).

It was also a straightforward adventure involving goodies and baddies (hurrah!). Or a baddie, to be exact, who spends most of the story communicating via something akin to Get Smart’s cone of silence. Originally, Vortis was a sort of hippie paradise, full of butterflies frolicking amongst the flowers; only the Animus’ evil influence turned everything to custard. A plot that some may recognise from the Bible, or Lord of the Rings, of course, and which in modern times might seem a wee bit lacking in depth.

The story was at best average for televised SF of the era, especially if we ignore Quatermass and the Twilight Zone and so on. I suppose it rather cuts down on the story possibilities when the putative villains are restricted to speaking in high-pitched twittering noises. But The Web Planet was obviously intended to rest mainly on its creation of an alien world. It would have been better in this regard with a huge budget, of course, but I don’t think this is the main weakness – the story is too thin, drawn out over too many episodes, the dialogue is rather pedestrian, the (alien) characters rather childishly drawn. In fact, I’d say this story relies too much on special effects – which may strike some viewers of the modern series as a familiar complaint!

However, my 8-year-old son, who I was half expecting to be scornful, enjoyed it. (Although it isn’t his all-time favourite Doctor Who story. That’s The Chase…)

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Amoretti, or The Ruines of Time

When I heard that Michael Moorcock was writing a Doctor Who novel, I felt strangely compelled to write a pastiche of an overview. Which I will now foist upon anyone who stumbles across this blog, should that unlikely event (ahem) materialise…

Amoretti, or The Ruines of Time

Being a Scientific Romance of Doctors the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth by Michael Moorcock
Part One – The Wanderer of the Time Winds
The Doctor is disillusioned when he discovers that the events depicted in the TV Movie were carefully orchestrated by the Time Lords as part of their war with the Daleks, and that the Daleks only allowed him to return the Master’s ashes to Gallifrey as part of their retaliatory strategy. Tired of being a pawn in their schemes, he retires to Earth to live in a mildly homoerotic relationship with the character played by Hugh Lloyd in “Delta and the Bannermen”, to keep bees and write his memoires, disguised as works by H.G.Wells which he intends to publish in a parallel universe. But his sleep is troubled by dreams in which a voice calls him to go to Avalon and take his rightful place as Merlin; but when he is finally drawn into the past, he discovers that all is not as it seems, he has again been drawn into the Time War and this time he is forced to destroy the planet he loves and the Human Race, which he has grown fond of and even come to view as a rather large pet, in order to prevent a total Dalek victory.
Alone and even more embittered, he sets the TARDIS controls to take him to the end of time, trillions of years beyond the extinction of the last star. He at last finds peace in a universe in ruins, where not a single creature survives – except, as he eventually discovers, for the planet Gallifrey, saved from the ravages of Entropy behind its Transduction Barrier. He is startled, then disgusted to discover that the Time lords have lost all sense of morality: they have become decadent, engaging in sexual practices so bizarre they would make Captain Jack run away screaming. The only thing he approves of is that this society appears to have no leaders; it is devoted totally to the pursuit of aesthetic and carnal pleasure. One of its leading lights, who calls himself the Bishop of Marylebone, is a consumate artist who has devised the most ingenious amusements imaginable: he has, for example, recreated specimens of races that were once the Time Lords’ enemies, but now devoted to entertainment. Daleks and cybermen, Yetis and Slitheen parade around with strange sexual attachments in an endless orgy. His latest creation, however, is something more strange, and perhaps more sinister – part of the universe as it once was, including the planet Earth and a few other worlds, all cunningly arranged within a bubble of hyperspace to be almost indistinuishable from the real thing when viewed from the inside, in which the Time Lords can have specially arranged “adventures”. The Bishop is, however, a reclusive figure, disdaining to participate in the amusements he devises for the increasingly jaded appetites of the Time Lords. He is also the leader of a small but devoted religion known as the Brotherhood (though it includes members of any of the many sexes available).

Part Two – The Ennui Within
The Doctor hovers on the margins of this society like a pensive ghost, at once attracted and repelled. He is particularly attracted to the recreated Earth, and visits there, finding it is set to the time period of the early 21st century. He has a sexual encounter with the recreated Rose Tyler, and later with someone who appears to be his human mother (or is she, too, just a recreation?). He becomes a follower of the Bishop (or appears to, as he is the only person who is at all mysterious, and hence of interest, in order to find out more about him) and learns that he is, of course, really the Master. “Ah, Doctor, I have at last found a worthy society in which I actually feel at home – on in which I actually crave, and have found, social acceptance…” He tells the Doctor that he, too, should join in wholeheartedly – “Now that you have, so to speak, penetrated my inner circle, you should do so in earnest – we should consummate the sado-masochistic relationship that has always simmered beneath the surface of our rivalry, either using these bodies or in whatever form you would care to take. Oh come, come, Doctor, do you really think I couldn’t have killed you a dozen times during our previous encounters? But then, you see, I could never bring myself to kill my own son…”
But the Doctor realises that the Master has an even more sinister plan than just scoring an ultimate victory by corrupting the morals of his stiff-necked son (assuming he wpoke the truth, and wasn’t simply a fan of “Star Wars”) the Master is still his old self, his “Bishop” persona is merely a front for an almost unthinkable plan of his own, to return to the Dawn of Time, take the place of Davros and rewrite all of history as a victory for the Doctor’s ancient enemies the Daleks, who, as he says, “Have no sense of irony, no scruples, no idea of pity – they are perfect, like a crystal, and shall under my command bring perfect order to this meaningless, chaotic universe!”
But is this really the Master’s plan, or is it merely another, even more extravagant, entertainment he has devised to amuse the Doctor, who clearly still yearns for their old rivalry? The Doctor can’t be sure either way, but decides he has no choice but to as though it is the truth – and the Master, of course, as usual discovers that his “hidden agenda” has been discovered, captures the Doctor and places him in some bizarre leather and rubber restraints, crowing: “So, Doctor as a villain, I must stick to my script! I must first corrupt you, then ravish you, then destroy you! I have already done the first, you have disdained the second, so now I shall finish the job by taking away that which you prize the most – your ego! You will be reprogammed as my mindless slave! Farewell! Hahahahaha” He goes to use the Mind Probe on the Doctor, but (by a strange quirk of fate, almost as though it was intentional) the Doctor manages to escape – he is, however, affected, losing his memory of recent events, and being forced to regenerate.
He recovers consciousness in  a new body, apparently on 21st century Earth. He has confused memories – there was a Time War, and he had to destroy Gallifrey – he is, ne believes, the last Time Lord. The story moves onwards kaleidoscopically, skimming over a series of adventures . . .
He doesn’t realise for several years that he is merely within the Master’s simulation. But gradually, flaws start to appear – the TARDIS will only visit a few planets, events resolve themselves for no obvious reason. people act out of character, he gains almost godlike powers he never had before – and he find that his character is being subtly subverted as a result, becoming more like an avenging angel than one who rights wrongs. Indeed, he wonders whether his whole ideas of “good” and “evil” were ever realistic, or merely sentimental. Eventually he begins to have strange dreams, and comes to suspect that his entire reality is merely a vast game in which the Master seeks to subtly corrupt him, as a prelude to the ultimate seduction . . . and what of his vague memories of the Master’s master-plan, and of another universe in which Daleks will cannot be easily defeated by Rose, Donna, or a vaccuum cleaner . . . ?
But the Master can’t resist joining in with the game, and eventually other Time Lords reappear, even though he saw them all destroyed. And things move to a new level as he tries to escape back to the real world, to – perhaps – save the real universe . . .

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Magic! Science! Magic! Science, Miss Hawthorn!

I occasionally get into robust discussions as to whether “Doctor Who” is or isn’t science fiction. A pretty important point, up there with global warming and the decline of the West, as I’m sure everyone will agree. I generally take the view that it is SF – more or less, give or take. After all, when the announcer said “And now, the BBC presents a new science fiction series…” was he pulling our legs?

Mind you, it certainly isn’t “hard” SF, at least in my humble opinion; but surely a programme about a time-travelling alien is either SF or fantasy, and IMHO Who has generally tended to emphasise the science rather than the fantasy side. At least, it did so when I used to watch it, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

However, I may have to revise my opinion. I recently came across an interview in which a certain person said:

Traditionally, women aren’t the primary watchers of science fiction, so I’ve addressed this imbalance by filling the series with strong female characters.

Yes, it was dear old Russell T Davies. The problem is, I have compelling evidence that RTD doesn’t know science fiction from a bar of soap, so this really counts as evidence against the whole idea. 😀


My view is that Doctor Who fits very well into the science fiction genre – and that that shouldn’t be taken as in some way detracting from either the programme or the genre. Those who object that Who isn’t SF often say that this is because “the science isn’t the point” (and nor, they may add, are trivia like plot mechanics and self-consistent resolutions). However, this seems to me, at least, something of a straw-man attack. What they’re really saying is that they have read some SF and didn’t like it, they do like Who, therefore Who isn’t SF. QED.

However that seems a narrow view of SF, which is a hugely diverse field, encompassing many sub-genres. It has been, perhaps rightly, characterised as the most important literary movement of the 20th century; perhaps its defining literary form. Of course we aren’t very far into the 21st century as yet, but it looks as though that identification may continue to hold for the forseeable future (with perhaps a swerve towards the post-apocalyptic side of the genre after 2050…) It’s hard to come up with many significant events from the last century that haven’t had at least a passing connection with SF. Obviously one of the biggies was the Apollo moon landing, but also the nature of war, society, politics and religion in the 20th century were all influenced by, and commented on by, works of SF – the best known examples being “1984”, “We”, “Metropolis”, “Brave New World”, “Player Piano”, etc, but there are many others.

Also notable, by the way, is the way that SF has permeated into other genres that wouldn’t have given it the time of day 50 years ago. It is now perfectly respectable to make use of SF tropes if you are a mainstream author (Martin Amis’ “Time’s Arow”) or making a romantic comedy movie (e.g. “Peggy Sue got Married”).

Back in the mists of time, SF was seen as “geeky”. When Doris Lessing started writing it, for example, she found it a very enclosed, ghettoised field, snobbishly looked down upon by the literati. People would talk about it dismissively as being all about space ships and ray guns. And that attitude still clearly lingers in some quarters.

But the fact that Doctor Who is SF (if it is) isn’t something to be ashamed of. SF long ago came out of its ghetto, into mainstream literature and film and popular culture.

Doctor Who clearly has borrowings from many other genres, e.g. fantasy, horror, social comment, satire and so on. But SF that includes elements of other genres doesn’t stop being SF; no one would claim that “Alien” isn’t SF because it’s also a horror film, that “Foundation” isn’t SF because it’s based on “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” or that “The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” isn’t SF because it’s full of humour and satire.

But does it really matter? So long as you enjoy watching the programme, who cares what label is hung on it?

Well, of course, that’s perfectly true. The problem of definitions only arises when you stop just enjoying the programme and try to discuss it with other people, perhaps on one of those new-fangled internet forums. At that point it does help to know what you’re talking about. To give a parallel, does it matter that we identify “Ozymandias” as a poem? Well, not unless someone starts claiming it isn’t. “It can’t be, because I don’t like poetry!” he might say – at which point he might find himself engaging in a robust debate.

Or perhaps the key component is the Doctor, and the other trappings largely irrelevant? It could, one might argue, equally well be set in the time of Marco Polo or the French Revolution, or even on someone’s back lawn with bizarrely shrunken heroes (are you taking notes, Mr Moffat?) – and it wouldn’t matter, because the key thing is the character of the Doctor, and what he represents.

Hmm. I must admit that stopping the Doctor being a 900-year old time-travelling alien and making him, say, own a bookshop in Paris is the 1920s might work. Making Sherlock Holmes Maori or James Bond female might work, too – but would it be the same programme? I must admit to having my doubts. I think too much of “what he is” comes from “what he can do,” personally.

But perhaps I’m misrepresenting the counter-argument here. As the Master said, he’s the Doctor, he makes people better. Does it matter that he does so in a world of SF trappings? The important thing is, as it were, the moral: if everyone thought “What would the Doctor do?” it would be a better world. Whether the science works or not doesn’t matter a jot.

This last point (about the science) is a view with which I broadly agree. In fact, my problems with “new Who” have been almost exclusively to do with the stories and characters; I care not a jot for the technobabble, so long as it’s embedded in a good story, which all too often it hasn’t been since that fabulous day in 2005…

But anyway, let’s see what the new showrunner has to say on the subject.

Doctor Who is not a show for beginners, it’s a show for people who really know what they are doing and who also really ‘get’ Sci-Fi. — Stephen Moffat

Yay! Thank you, Stephen!

Oh, but wait…

For me, Doctor Who literally is a fairy tale. It’s not really science fiction. It’s not set in space, it’s set under your bed. It’s at its best when it’s related to you, no matter what planet it’s set on. Every time it cleaves towards that, it’s very strong. Although it is watched by far more adults than children, there’s something fundamental in its DNA that makes it a children’s programme and it makes children of everyone who watches it. If you’re still a grown up by the end of that opening music, you’ve not been paying attention. — Stephen Moffat

Although, actually, I happen to agree. I think fairy tales have had a bad press (or should that be a too-good press?) since the Brothers Grimm and Disney got their bright, breeezy, sugar-coated hands on them. If Moffat is talking about the real thing, then I totally agree. Doctor Who at its best is a fairy tale which also happens to be SF.

Curses, foiled again!

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What’s that groaning, wheezing sound?

….me climbing a flight of stairs? Or could it be me crying because Private Eye rejected another lookalike?

Actually this was a while ago now, I really should be over it.


I should be over bashing poor old Russell, just because he can’t string a plot together to save his life, has to push all the emo buttons all the time to make anyone take notice, and doesn’t understand basic scientific or even SF concepts (“She’s just atoms now, Doctor…”). We now have a shiny new Doctor, possibly the best since my all-time favourite, and surely a better showrunner, too….after all, compare and contrast:

Let’s be honest. I can’t stand good writers. I waste so much time just wanting to be them. — Russell T Davies

Doctor Who is not a show for beginners, it’s a show for people who really know what they are doing and who also really ‘get’ Sci-Fi. — Stephen Moffat

But then again, maybe we should sacrifice the traitor on the stones of blood right now:

There’s a difference – I, Claudius is brilliant. Doctor Who isn’t — Stephen Moffat

So why do I have this niggling feeling that it could all be so much better? Or has “wasted opportunity” been Who’s watchword ever since – well, the year dot?

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