The Keys of Marinus

Tardis Crew

Tardis Crew in the Key of Marinus

The Keys of Marinus was the fifth story in season one of Doctor Who. It features the first Doctor alongside Susan, Barbara, and Ian. Written by Terry Nation this six episode story is one of the first ‘moving serials’ in Doctor Who, with each episode taking place in a different setting.

The Keys of Marinus is a bit of a whirlwind quest, with each episode seeing the Tardis crew  – and the planet-side friends they have accumulated along the way – solving puzzles to retrieve the five keys of Marinus. These quests are set against a range of backgrounds: Acid seas,  Eyestalk-brains with mind control powers, a jungle that attacks, a cold snowy mountain with a cruel trapper, and a world with an guilt driven justice system. It’s a quick flurry of setting changes, ideas, and adventure. There are also some uncomfortable moments in this story including an attempted rape and domestic abuse.

The splitting of the Tardis crew into different narratives is very much in Terry Nation’s style and each individual story remains on the underdeveloped side.  It is also clear that the budget required to hold each episode in a different setting wasn’t there – the stock footage in the snowy mountain stood out the most as a clear example of where money was trying to be saved. Similarly, the ice caves really did look like they were made of plastic wrap.

The villains at the root of this story, which force the Tardis crew on the key adventure at the start, are the Voords.  The Voords are essentially actors in wet-suits with rubber masks and hand prosthetics. They are a bit lack luster and the ridiculous costuming made me laugh, but they are effective enough to move the story forward.

Despite some of the criticisms of the Keys of Marinus, I actually really loved this story. It was my kind of adventure, character building, world exploring story. I think this is the first Hartnell story that upon finishing I thought I might actually watch again.  I don’t know if that says more about this episode about my feelings for the Hartnell era as a whole.

The Edge of Destruction

Barbara, Ian, the Doctor and Susan, observing the broken clock inside the TARDIS.

Barbara, Ian, the Doctor and Susan, observing the broken clock inside the TARDIS.

Planet of Giants was the third story in season one of Doctor Who. It features the first Doctor alongside Susan, Barbara, and Ian. It is a short story with only two episodes and it occurs entirely inside the Tardis.  This story was made with minimal budget to fill out season one with two more episodes. This story is another one written by David Whitaker.  I loved the fact that this story begins the development of the Tardis as a thoughtful, sentient being that can communicate with its crew.

Episode 1
The first episode in this story has a very horror movie feel to it.  Distrust builds among the Tardis team, Susan attacks people with scissors, and things keep mysteriously happening without explanation. As the episode progresses the crew grows increasingly paranoid and beings to turn on reach other. The Doctor begins to blame Susan and Ian for everything that is going wrong – Susan does a fantastic job of standing up for herself and angrily highlights how foolish that idea is, and how she and Ian have repeatedly shown their  commitment to the Doctor.

Episode 2 – The Brink of Disaster
The accusing continues and Barbara continues to convince the Doctor that he is wrong.  I really enjoyed that it was Barbara who finally realized that the Tardis is trying to communicate them, and that many of the odd things going on are actually clues to show what the real problem is.  The camera work and light/dark contrast around the Doctor’s monologue explaining the problem was really striking, however the actual ‘fixing’ of the problem – a broken spring – felt fairly anti-climatic to me.

The Doctor delivers a satisfactory apology to Ian, but is apology to Barbara is pretty horrible.  It’s a best a ‘well, actually’ style explanation and I’m glad Barbara walked away from the Doctor.  His second apology wasn’t much better  – the Doctor conludes that without his accusing Barbara she would never have been motivated enough to solve the problem. My reaction to this was pretty much “UGH.” His apology was followed by a condescending remark about needing to take good care of her.  I know this aired in 1964, but some of the male/female power dynamics in this episode have not aged well.

Overall, this is a solid two part story that has a surprising amount of depth and is well done in-spite of the budget limitations.

Planet of Giants

Susan and Ian with an oversize matchbox.

Susan, Ian, and a matchbox in Planet of Giants.

Planet of Giants was the first story in season two of Doctor Who. It features the first Doctor alongside Susan, Barbara, and Ian. It is a shorter story with only three episodes and it’s basic premise revolves around the Tardis and the Tardis crew being miniaturized and working to regain the normal size.

I’ve been watching a lot of Troughton era Doctor Who recently and what struck me most about this story was how different the Tardis team feels under the first Doctor. The story is also dived into team perspectives with the Tardis crew being separated into groups of two for the bulk of the story.

Part One 
This story hinges on the Tardis malfunctioning during materialization.  Following the malfunction the Tardis team begin to explore outside and come to see giant ants, giant worms, and signage.  Both the Doctor and Susan realize independently from each other, that they have all been shrunk to the size of an inch.  Ian expresses his usual disbelief with this conclusion.

Part Two
We learn more about the ‘bigs’ in this episode.  There’s a subplot all about the development of a new insecticide which kills every type of insect imaginable.  I found this subplot a bit on the dry side, though I did enjoy the hint of environmental activism that is woven into the story.

Part Three
This episode starts with the Doctor and Susan being trapped in a drain pipe and thinking quickly to avoid drowning. I think my favourite part of this episode is watching the actors transverse ridiculously oversize props. Climbing down a huge sink chain, crossing a large notepad, and using an oversize match is pretty amusing to watch.

Overall this was an okay story, but not something I will rush to rewatch.

The Krotons

The Doctor and Zoe

The Doctor and Zoe come up with a plan to deal with the Krotons.

The Krotons was the fourth story in season six of Doctor WHO. It was written by Robert Holmes, who would go on to become a well known script editor and contributor to the show. It’s a second Doctor story with more Zoe and Jamie goodness.

Episode 1
Troughton exploring a planet while holding an umbrella brought me so much joy at the start of this episode.  The main part of this episode is spent slowly learning about the relationship between the Gonds and the Krotons.  The story also introduces the ‘Learning Hall’ and the’ learning machines’.

Episode 2
While the Doctor is exploring the dark and musty ‘under hall’ that situated beneath the Hall Zoe starts to use on of the ‘learning machines.’ This highlights some of Zoe’s brilliance though I did cringe at the Doctor’s comment that “yes, Zoe is something of a genius, it can be a very irritating at times.” Eventually both Zoe and the Doctor enter the Kroton’s machine, which turns out to be a spaceship. We get a closer glimpse at Kroton technology and at the Kroton’s themselves.

Episode 3
I kind of adore the robotic mechanical sound of the Kroton voices. There’s a lot of Gond politics in this episode, that I found a bit on the dry side. The episode ends with a cliffhanger, with the Doctor in peril…

Episode 4
One of my favourite line in this episode came from Eelek -“I will launch a mass attack with slings and fireballs.” For some reason that phrase just tickled my funny bone – despite it not supposed to be humorous at all. I liked that throughout this story Jamie is sent on a number of errands by the Doctor, but Zoe is left to her own devices or to accompany the Doctor.

The Invasion

This is the third story in season 6 of Doctor Who.  It features Troughton‘s Doctor with Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe Heriot as the companions.  In this story we get the second appearance of the Brig (yay!) and the version of the Cyberman seen in this story was used up until Earthshock in 1982. Episodes one and four of this eight part story are considered missing – but there are animated versions of those parts available.

Episode 1
More animated Troughton! My first exposure to animation of the missing episodes of Doctor Who was the 2016 release of Power of the Daleks in animated form.  This episode reminded me how much I actually enjoy the animation as a replacement for missing episodes. I really love the black and white animated Tardis. The animation of the Tardis crew is a bit clunky in parts, but it overall it does an effective job of conveying the imagery of the story.

Episode 2
I loved the background music in this one, particularly the music which accompanied the Doctor and Jamie when they were being followed and taken to UNIT – the music combined with the 1960s computers and SF costuming help were some of my favourite parts of this episode.  This is the only Who story with music composed by Don Harper. I also enjoyed Zoe blowing up a computer by overwhelming it with logic.

Episode 3
Kevin Stoney‘s performance as Tobias Vaughn was the standout part of this episode.  The evil, scheming, company owner is well done. The bit about his two offices being identical and standardization as the key to success is a well done gentle hat tip to the coming Cyberman in the episode.

Episode 4
Another animated episode, complete with a daring helicopter rescue by UNIT. The cliffhanger ending is the Cyberman reveal, which actually looks fantastic in animated form.

Episode 5
My favourite part of this episode is the rage from Isobel and Zoe when they are told they shouldn’t do something because they are women, and their response to being told that men are ‘better’ at that kind of thing. So much rage, snark, and wit from Zoe and Isobel in that scene. The fact that they then leave to ‘prove the men wrong’ also made me smile.

Episode 6
I found this episode a little slow paced. But it’s worth sticking through to get to the monumental scene of the Cyberman bursting out of the sewers and taking on London.

Episode 7
Back the sewers! This time its the Doctor navigating the underground to get back to Vaughn’s control area. We’re into the earth defending itself from the Cyberman phase of the story – with a lot of UNIT action and defense planning. Plus Zoe does some quick math and the UNIT team listens to her advice, a win for team Zoe.

Episode 8
More rockets, counter attacks, and scrambling to prevent the Cyberman taking over earth. And UNIT pulls out a bazooka which I kind of love the ridiculousness of.

Overall, there is a lot of greatness in this story.  I loved the Brig and both Zoe and Isobel have some quality segments where they actually engage with Cyberman and do their own thing.

Down the Classic Who Rabbit Hole: The Mind Robber

I’ve gone through all of the Classic Who DVDs owned by my public library.  And I caved and purchased a subscription to Brit Box so I can continue watching other episode of Classic Who.    I’m going to try to keep informal notes about my viewing experiences of Classic Who.  This is partially just to get me writing more on the Oslicken site again but also as a way for me to engage with a show that I love so much.

The Mind Robber

This is the second story in season 6 of Doctor Who.  It features Troughton‘s Doctor with Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe Heriot as the companions.  The story takes place in the Land of Fiction, a place of fantasy outside of regular time and space.

Part 1
Troughton goodness all around.  The cliffhanger – the Tardis exploding – was a really well done dramatic end to this segment.  The ear piercing scream from Zoe combined with music adds an added element of suspense to the cliffhanger.

Part 2
We have arrived in the land of fiction, “a place where nothing is impossible.” Immediately all of the Tardis crew are separated and put into physical danger. This episode introduces an array of people popping out of the woods in the Land of Fiction to engage with the Doctor. These brief interactions are filled with riddles, quirky characters, and puzzles for the Doctor to investigate. I found the part where the Doctor had to put together Jamie’s face both amusing and so very strange.  This segment makes more sense once you realize that during this story Frazer Hines was ill and was then replaced for part of the serial by Hamish Wilson. It’s a bit clunky but the face puzzle works to explain why Jamie looks different for a couple of episodes. This episode also introduces the ‘Master’ as the figure plotting against the Doctor.

Part 3
Rapunzel, Gulliver’s Travels, and Medusa oh my! The Tardis crew keep bumping into storybook characters and begin to learn more about the strange storybook land. This episode fell a little flat for me and felt like a whole lot of filler. This fits with the fact that they had to add an additional episode to this story in production, resulting the story being overstretched.

Part 4
One of my favourite parts of this episode is seeing Zoe be all badass and kicking the butt of Karkus, a comic strip character.  Zoe defends the Doctor and generally rocks in this part of the episode.  The nature of the Master is finally revealed and we begin to understand that he wants the Doctor to replace him as the author being the Land of Fiction. I love that this world is entirely driven by imagination and potential of the human mind, it shows both the whimsical potential of the mind but also the darker possibilities of imagination.

Part 5
All the storybook characters reappear in this episode as the Doctor and the Master continue to battle for control and escape within the Land of Fiction. I love some of the costuming and props in this episode.  The classic robots and the glowing plastic ball type computer are my favourite. The destructor beam that comes out of the robot’s chest is complete with lights and sound effects that bring me a whole lot of joy.

Overall – 4/5.

Doctor Who: Smile…or else?

Smile – there is new Doctor Who on a weekly basis right now.  Episode two of series ten was an off world, first trip to the future for Bill and the Doctor.  It included emoji speaking robots, snark, and Peter Capaldi smiling awkwardly.

Things I enjoyed about “Smile”:

  • Bill! (Okay, I think this might be a weekly thing that I’m happy about). But I specifically enjoyed her questioning nature in the early part of this episode – questions about the locations of the chairs in the TARDIS and question mundane things that as fans we probably have asked about at some point or another.
  • I like the equip about the English language having devolved into emojis and a number of the emoji jokes made me giggle.
  • The location of this episode and the scenery was gorgeous! *inset heart eyes emoji*
  • That  Frank Cottrell Boyce named the Vardy after Canadian scientist Andrew Vardy from Memorial University in Newfoundland who specializes in swam robotics.


Things I wasn’t so keen on:

  • The human reactions to the robots – the immediate desire to kill everything felt a bit off.
  • The ending of the episode and the giant reset button which fixed everything seemed like an easy way out.
  • This episode felt a bit unoriginal – it reminded me a lot of the vardy reminded me a lot of the vashta nerada and the plot reminded me of the nanogenes from “Doctor Dances” that simply misunderstand how the human race.  There were also a number of similarities between this episode and New Earth in terms of early Doctor/companion adventures.

New Doctor Who: The Pilot and a Whole Lot of Squee

So anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I’m a Doctor Who fan.  And anyone who has spent any time with me in the last month probably knows I was mildly very excited about the fact that Doctor Who was coming back to television after a year long hiatus.  Andrew witnessed me jumping up and down in excitement over this fact more than once in the past week.

Last night “The Pilot”, the first episode of series ten aired.  I’m still on a bit of high from watching it – so much squee. So my initial reactions are definitely coloured by that, which I think is fine – it’s okay just to love something and not analyze it to death.

Things I loved about the episode:

  • Bill Potts! I am thoroughly enjoying her character so far and I love that they didn’t skirt around her sexuality but also that her queerness was presented as normal, as part of her, and in a conversational way.  It was obvious in the second line of her dialogue that she liked women however it was done tastefully.
  • The episode also reminded me a lot of Douglas Adam’s work — both in the never completed Doctor Who script “Shada” and in framing of his novel Dirk Gently.   Basically – both of those works open with a professor who has been teaching at a university for over fifty years, and no one quite knows what his actual job is – just like this episode opened. I’m all for more Adam’s references.
  • Bill reaction to the idea that the Doctor was going to wipe her mind was so spot on.  It linked back to Clara’s reaction and vocal discussion of her own free will.  It also reminded me a lot of Donna and the tenth Doctor’s decision to wipe her mind without her consent.  Bill has spark and she challenged the Doctor, stood her ground, and outright ignored him at times.  I hope the intensity, curiosity, and personality of her character continues.
  • I also loved that Bill made numerous sci-fi references early on the episode, she made her interest apparent even before she knew about the Tardis.
  • Nardole was given a back seat in this episode which I think was a really smart decision allowing for this episode to focus more on the relationship between Bill and the Doctor.

Things that fell a bit flat for me:

  • The “puddle monster” was a very typical of Moffat’s monster.  It’s an ordinary thing made scary.  And it was scary initially but by end of the episode the dripping girl chasing Bill around felt a bit like a bad horror movie.
  • I’m not a huge fan of the tutor/student relationship setup that was used to frame the episode.  The idea that Bill was bright enough to attend class but stuck in a job shoveling chips seems like a lazy plot device. I feel like this has the potential to bring in a very unbalanced power relationship into the mix.
  • The River Song and Susan photographs on the Doctor’s desk felt a bit forced/fan service to me – especially since they were referenced multiple times.

Overall I really liked enjoyed this episode and I’m super excited to see how Bill’s character develops over the season.  I also think that this episode would serve as a good introduction to anyone looking to watch Doctor Who for the first time.  The basics of how the TARDIS work are explained, it’s not tied directly to previous plot lines, and you get a fresh entry point to the series with Bill.

2016 in Fiction

BooksReading is my happy place.  In past years I haven’t really taken stock of my reading or reflected on how I felt about what I read.  Inspired by  Allana Mayer’s post, “My year in fiction” I’ve deiced to take a look back at some of what I’ve read in 2016.  According to my Goodreads account, which I try to keep updated with all of the books I read, I tackled 101 books in 2016.  That seems like a huge number – but some of that was non-fiction I read as professional development and that number also includes a handful of audio books.

Part way through 2016 I took a fairly serious look at my reading habits and tried to shift them a bit.  I love fantasy books but I realized I had fallen into a bit of a rut and many of the books I was reading were written by white males and contained very little character diversity.  As a result I decided to actively seek out queer lit and books written by women.  I was somewhat successful in that endeavor but it’s something I want to continue with in 2017.  I would also like to continue to read more books written by Indigenous folks and POC.

The Brandon Sanderson Obsession

Prior to making a decision to read more widely I began 2016 by rereading some of favourite fantasy books – namely the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson.  This is hands down one of my favourite fantasy series and contains some of the best female fantasy main characters I’ve read.  In 2016 I also read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, a fun young adult romp that features librarians trying to take over the world.  I also read Sanderson’s Way of Kings and Words of Radiance which are part of The Stormlight Archive series.  These books are more traditional epic fantasy, but I love their magic systems – use of archives and the mixture of political and personal that permeates these books.  I also ventured into Sanderson’s Reckoner’s series by reading Steelheart, Mitosis, and Firefight.  This series is superhero fiction based around the idea of what if there were a bunch of people with super powers who were essentially evil and it was up to regular folks to fight back.  These were really quick reads for me – and fairly light, albeit with a fair bit of violence and action.  I concluded by 2016 Sanderson kick by reading The Alloy of Law which is the fourth book in the Mistborn world – though it’s set many years later and with a different cast of characters it was still pretty great. Much more of a steampunk Western feel than the other books.   Basically I’m still working my way through the immense amount of writing by Sanderson and still loving most of it.

Charlotte E. English and Kristine Kathryn Rusch

These two great female authors were hold overs from much of what I read in 2015.  Both English and Rusch write SFF and their work has been frequently featured in bundles on Storybundle.  In January I read Miss Landon & Aubranel by English which was a historical fiction with a bit of fantasy in the mix and felt a bit like Jane Eyre in it’s writing style.   I also read Traitors by Rusch which unlike most of the other books by Rusch that I’ve picked up this one was more fantasy than Sci-fi weighted.  I loved the world building in this one however I still think I prefer some of Rusch’s more traditional SF fare.

All the Torchwood

Torchwood novels, BBC audios, Big Finish audios – you name it and I’ve probably sampled it this year.  I went on a bit of a binge on this front that fell outside the idea of diverse reading.  I blame the fact that Doctor Who wasn’t on air this year and I was going through a bit of a withdrawal.   I also read John Barrowman’s two autobiographical style books and the Hallow Earth trilogy Barrow man wrote with Carole E. Barrowman.  I still have a few of the Big Finish Tochwood audios to finish but I’m saving them for the long drive to Southern Ontario at the end of this week.

Doctor Who Reading

Similar to my Torchwood binge I discovered the world of Doctor Who novels and audios.  There are substantially more of these than there are of the Torchwood variety so I’ve really only scratched the surface on this front so far.  I listened to Dark  Horizons a eleventh doctor novel by Jenny Colgan (yay female writer!) that is a delightful romp with Matt Smith’s Doctor involving Vikings and aliens. I also read The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter, The Stone Rose by Jacqueline Rayner (yay another female writer!), Touched by An Angel by Jonathan Morris, Human Nature by Paul Cornell, and Shada by Gareth Roberts, based on the screenplays by Douglas Adams. Of that batch I particularly enjoyed the revamp of Adams’ original screenplays and Rayner’s eleventh Doctor story.

I also listened to a few Big Finish Doctor Who audios this year.  Namely, the Eleventh Doctor and Donna audios which I would highly recommend.  Catherine Tate and David Tennant do a wonderful job making these stories come alive. I also listened to the Destiny of the Doctor audio series which was also good.

Elizabeth Bear

So much love for her writing.  Strong female characters, subverted gender norms, queer relationships, and wonderful SFF storytelling.  I loved her book Karen Memory which has a steampunk feel to it and her Jacob’s Ladder series and the Jenny Casey series.  The Jenny Casey series in particular has a raw, gritty feel that I loved.  And one of the main characters is a Francophone Canadian which is downright rare in SFF.  I highly recommend any of Bear’s writing if you’re interested in reading challenging and diverse SFF.

Uncanny Magazine

I have so much love for this publication.  Edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas this magazine brings together diverse voices, moving stories, and just plain good quality fiction and prose.  Each issue contains challenging writing, inspiring fiction, and thoughtful essays. I’ve religiously downloaded each new issue in 2016 and devoured them with delight.  I also really enjoy the Uncanny Magazine podcast which includes creator interviews and fiction being read aloud.

Queer Voices

I’ve been actively trying to read books that are by queer and marginalized voices or contain well written queer characters.  I’ve also been struggling to find books that represent queer characters as part of a larger story, beyond just a coming out work.  That’s one of the reasons why I love so much of the writing done by Elizabeth Bear and so many of the stories in Uncanny Magazine.  In both cases queer characters are often written as matter of the fact, as part of life, and part of the fabric of the world.  That representation is so important to me and is something I’ve struggled to find.  This year I read Funny Boy by Shyam Selvaduri, Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides, In One Person by John Irving, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, City of Night by John Rechy, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson, and The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham.  I probably enjoyed Middlesex and City of Night the best.  But I’ve also been really wanting to read a book with a strong bisxual, pansexual, 2spirit, asexual, or non-binary character.  And I have yet to come across a book that fits that bill.  The nearest I’ve come yet is Elizabeth Bear’s writing which subverts gender and relationship norms in a SFF setting.  If anyone has any recommendations in this category feel free to share.

Basically I read a lot and I’m really trying to change my reading habits to discover new authors and new ways of thinking.  There are bunch of other odds and ends I read in 2016 but didn’t cover in this post.  I also didn’t talk about any of the non-fiction I read this year as I hope to write a separate post covering that topic.  What’s on your fiction reading list for 2017?

Watching – Power of the Daleks

Animated Daleks

Animated Daleks

This year marked 50th anniversary of the Doctor Who story Power of the Daleks.  The original footage of this story has been lost and the hopes of finding it aren’t all the high.  Given the anniversary and the missing footage BBC opted to celebrate by creating an animated version of the story. It was aired on BBC stations, iplayer, and in theaters.  Since it wasn’t available on Canadian television I opted to attend the local Cineplex screening of the story.

I know it’s a bit of an obscure thing – an animation of a 50 year old TV program – but I was really surprised by the dismal turnout in the local theater.  There was a whole five us.  Despite that lack luster crowd I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  This was the first time I was able to see any form of Doctor Who on the big screen and it was a neat experience.  The animation was interesting to watch and it did really bring to life a solid story.

That being said watching a six part story in theater is not at all how the original content was meant to be viewed.  It was produced as a weekly serial and the animation probably would have been viewed that way — which BBC America was airing it in six parts, which might have been a better watching experience.  One thing I wish the film version had of done was include quick fade to blacks or the episode titles in the longer version.  The sense that this was a six part story was completely lost in the film version and the cliffhangers that were built into the original story were greatly diminished in not giving the episodes space  – even if that space was seconds, I think it would have worked better.

In terms of the animation, the daleks were wonderful.  The TARDIS, Vulcan planet scenery, and the design of the regeneration sequence were solid.  The human characters were a bit less so.  The animation was done in a very realistic style but the physical movement of the people was a bit clunky.  It also seemed as though substantially more time was put into drawing and animating the Doctor with companions Polly and Ben feeling very one dimensional in their drawing and the other characters even more so. That being said it’s a solid story and the animation doesn’t hinder it in any way.  There was moment where a group of characters kind of side shuffle of screen that caused me to laugh out loud because of the awkward nature of the animated movement, but otherwise it mostly blended into the story.

I was also really impressed by the sound quality of the production.  The sound was remastered from a fan created audio recording from the original airing.  A recent Radio Free Skaro interview with Mark Ayres goes into detail about how this process took place and is a really fascinating look at how the audio for this project came together.

Overall I think this was a really interesting bit of the Doctor Who universe that’s been formatted in a new way and made more accessible to a wider audience. Plus seeing the classic Doctor Who opening and theme song on the big screen really made my day – it pretty much instantly put me a good mood.

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