strange_complex: (Doctor Who anniversary)
Still with the muscle aches and general tiredness. I do think it is starting to get better at base level now, but between the approach of term and me wanting to go off a lot at weekends and Do Things, I suspect I am also cancelling out a lot of the gains. So this morning, the first time for three weeks that I haven't had to set an alarm, my eyes gradually opened at around 11:30am. Which is fine, because my whole plan for today was to Do Nothing, but I clearly need a few more of those.

Anyway, by around 13:30 I had eaten some breakfast and read the internet, and was looking for something nothingy to do, when I came across the Eruditorum Press Doctor Who Poll. Perfect! I have now voted, and since I started out by writing up a short-list of stories and ranking them, I have a record of what I chose which I may as well preserve here. Votes in different categories, including brief recaps of the poll rules, under the cuts.

Best televised Doctor Who story - five points )

Nineteen other top televised Doctor Who stories - one point each )

Twenty also-rans - nul points )

Top five non-televised stories )

Five hate votes )

Best People etc. )

Polls close at the end of September, and the results will be on the Eruditorum blog over the course of October, apparently.

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strange_complex: (Penny Crayon)
I am very happy to say that I now have my laptop back. Since several of you were kind enough to comment on my post about the original fault, and some of you got really quite into speculating about what the problem might be, I will report back that it was indeed a hardware problem. It now has a new screen and LCD back-light unit, and is fine again. Which means that I can now write reviews from the comfort of my sofa once more - yay!

So, continuing with my Doctor Who reviewing, I reach new writer Jamie Mathieson's second story - another good effort, justifying Moffat's confidence in giving him two episodes right from the off. That said, although it was solid all round in ideas, realisation, characterisation and script, and also did a very professional job of carrying forward the big themes of the series, I don't think I have anything very major or original to say about it, especially some ten days after broadcast. So just a few notes follow.

The most obvious 'hook' to this episode is that the Doctor's imprisonment in the TARDIS allows Clara to take on his usual role - something which she has progressively been doing anyway over the course of this series, but which is fully developed and articulated here. Early on, she takes possession of the sonic screwdriver, joking "Does this mean I'm you now?"; by about mid-way through the episode, she is going round saying things like "I am the one chance you've got of staying alive"; and by the time the TARDIS is in siege mode and she can no longer communicate with the Doctor, she explicitly switches from asking "What would the Doctor do?" to "What will I do?" The answer, of course, is to save the day by working out that she can use the 2D beings' power against them - though it very much deserves notice that the detail and execution of the plan falls to Rigsy, whose painting of a door provides the 'bait' needed to attract that power and recharge the TARDIS. This isn't the absolute first time that a black character has saved the world on Doctor Who - Martha did it too, and indeed took on the role of the Doctor herself while he was a shrunken puppet living in a cage. But it's still too rare, hence the need to notice it and to hope for more.

Just like The Mummy on the Orient Express, this story had a high body-count, but because this time the Clara is in the Doctor's role, balancing individual lives against the greater good, Flatline importantly gives him the opportunity to see what that sort of behaviour looks like from the outside - something which evidently unsettles him. At the end of the story, he finds Clara just a little too 'chipper' given how many people have died, and when Fenton (the community service overseer) callously declares that they were just "community pay-back scum-bags", and that the objective in a forest fire is to save the big trees by sacrificing the brushwood, he feels moved to snap, "It wasn't a fire. Those weren't trees. They were people." This is a stark contrast from his coldly scientific usage of dying people to extract information about the mummy in the previous episode, suggesting that he has actually learnt something about himself from the experience, and in the end his judgement on Clara articulates it quite clearly: "You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it." Clara, by contrast, has perhaps learnt rather less, as she continue to lie to Danny about her activities with the Doctor like it's going out of fashion, even when it's obvious that he knows it - something which should, of course, build into a meaningful emotional confrontation in the next episode, but I already know does not. :-(

Like the previous week's episode, this one too was buzzing with Whovian intertexts. We've seen the outside of the TARDIS shrink before in Logopolis, but shouldn't forget also The Time Meddler in which the Doctor shrinks the inside of the Monk's TARDIS so that he can't get into it, or Planet of the Giants, in which its inside, outside and inhabitants all shrink to approximately the size of ants in a thimble. Post-2005 Who was also strongly in evidence. Non-corporeal beings tried to take over dead human bodies in The Unquiet Dead, the relationship between real people and 2D drawings was central to Fear Her (though to much poorer effect), and the Doctor's proclamation that "This place is protected" as he sends the 2D people back to their Universe is of course a repeat of what Ten told the Sycorax. Meanwhile, as Matthew Kilburn has pointed out, the very subject of 2D beings can be taken as a meta-reference to the entire show, which is of course (nearly) always experienced by its viewers in 2D, and at its best feels as though it is emerging into and taking over our 3D world. On the whole the effect of these is merely the simple, obvious one of reminding us that this story forms part of a much larger complex narrative which its writer is intimately familiar with, but that in itself is always pleasing.

Finally, Water-and-Breathing Watch wasn't entirely sure there was any 'significant' water this week, though obviously there was some from time to time - e.g. unexplained steam inside the TARDIS, drizzle while Clara was looking at the mural, or a water-bottle clutched in the hand of the community service bloke who told her to "Cheer up, love". More striking, though, was the fact that as the life-support system on the TARDIS began to fail, the Doctor inside was struggling to breathe - now a repeated theme this season, which I'm sure will feature in the finale.

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strange_complex: (Poirot truth)
I missed the live broadcast of this, as I was out watching Dracula by the Mark Bruce Company in Manchester, and then I had a busy week involving going to Dublin, so I only even got round to watching it nearly a week after broadcast. And then my laptop broke, and then I prioritised writing up reviews of some of the awesome Dracula films I've seen recently (on my PC, as I'm still sans laptop), so now it is another week after that again and I am three episodes behind with my Doctor Who reviews, which makes me sad. :-(

I liked the episode, though. It looked like it was lined up to be a 'silly', especially since (as effectively acknowledged within the script) the entire scenario was derived from a throw-away line four years ago at the end of The Big Bang. But actually the very impressive rendering of the mummy itself (loved the dragging foot!), the high body-count, a decent plot and some good character moments with real emotional weight gave it much more gravitas than I was expecting. It might have been nice to have both a 'Doctor-lite' episode and a 'Clara-lite' episode, showing each of them going it alone after last week's row, before going straight into this (supposedly) 'last hoorah' journey together, but the dialogue between the two of them as they skirted awkwardly around their issues was well written - as was that between Clara and Maisie, and between Perkins the engineer and the Doctor. In other words, this week's new writer (Jamie Mathiesion) seems a lot more competent all round than last week's - as his CV, which mainly includes a lot of Being Human, ought to suggest.

Certainly, the script carried its status as a genre piece both self-consciously and lightly. Obviously it was positioned as a mash-up between the grand tradition of mummy stories and Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express (which itself now also relates to Whovian continuity thanks to The Unicorn and the Wasp), but there were plenty of other genre references going on besides. Anything to do with the baggage car instantly conjured up Horror Express (though we never got a Baggage Man, alas), while the gaping mouth, trailing bandages and reaching arms of the mummy also reminded me a lot of the scenes with the Dementors on the Hogwarts Express. I also felt the echoes of some Classic Who, and particularly Fourth Doctor stories - the Egyptian-style sarcophagus obviously recalled Pyramids of Mars, but the bubble-warp inside it made me think of the Wirrn from The Ark in Space, while the notion of GUS collecting the Universe's leading scientists together in a single location reminded me of Skagra doing the same in Shada. Meanwhile, Clara's exasperated exclamation to Maisie that "We're stuck in this carriage, probably all night, and all you can do talk about is some man?" sounded very much to me like a knowing reference to the fannish dissection device that is the Bechdel test - which the script had already carefully passed through an earlier conversation between Clara and Maisie about the latter's relationship with grandmother.

This episode also kept the season's well-established themes close to the surface. In Into the Dalek, we saw the Doctor using a team-member who was clearly about to die to establish information which would be useful to the wider mission, and likewise in this story he repeatedly made people about to die at the mummy's hands describe what they were seeing, rather than (as he would see it) waste time attempting to sympathise with them. It is Clara instead who takes on a recognisable aspect of some past Doctors' roles when she is the one to say "I am so sorry" to Maisie as she dies. Twelve, by contrast with some of his recent incarnations, is a very utilitarian Doctor, and indeed Clara calls him on the fact at the end of the story - did he pretend to be heartless, she wants to know? But we are also reassured that his moral compass is essentially in the right place, even if he lacks sentiment, by the fact that he manages to save everyone he can, attempts to figure out who GUS was in order to address the real villain of the piece, and is in the end aware that sometimes you don't have any good options, but still have to have the guts to choose the least worst.

Lying has become a pretty big theme over the past few episodes, too, featuring prominently in Clara's interactions with both the Doctor and Danny, and here she finds herself doing it on the Doctor's orders once he has worked out that Maisie is likely to be the next in the mummy's firing-line. Clara is horrified at the Doctor's request that she should lie to Maisie in order to get her into the lab so that they can observe what happens while the mummy kills her, but her understanding of this Doctor's modus operandi, and her essential trust in him, is revealed in the fact that she agrees to do it all the same. Meanwhile, the Doctor's issues around soldiers are raised once again by the fact that the mummy turns out to be a former soldier, still fatally unable to break with the orders it has been given, and who is finally defeated by applying the correct military protocols (here, a surrender).

I'm sure it was significant that the scroll apparently connected to the mummy's appearances was not in hieroglyphics, as you might expect, but in Achaemenid Persian nail script, and somebody who knew that script might very well be able to decipher what the scroll says from a few screen-caps. But unfortunately that does not include me, and nor does Google reveal anyone else around the internet who has attempted a translation, so it remains a mystery - as, of course, does the true identity of GUS. In manner he reminded me of Eddie the Shipboard Computer from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, while his monocle icon of course recalled Poirot, but I am guessing that in the end he will turn out to have something to do with Missy, and that the acronym behind his name will be de-coded for us at some point during the final two-parter.

Last but not least, Water-and-breathing watch noted that:
  • The Doctor's initial theory to account for Maisie's grandmother's claim to have seen a mummy while she was dying went "Dying brain, lack of oxygen, hallucinations."
  • The same grandmother's Excelsior Life Extender included bubbling water as a prominent feature - explicitly good, life-giving water here once again, as opposed to the nasty, dirty drowning type.
  • After the mummy has been defeated, GUS announces, "Air will now be removed from the entire train", which does indeed proceed to happen, rendering Clara and most of the other passengers unconscious - but not, of course, the Doctor, who has a respiratory bypass system which may well turn out to be very useful indeed if, as I now very strongly suspect, water-related oxygen-deprivation turns out to be a major plot-point somewhere in the final two-parter.

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strange_complex: (Cyberman from beneath)
The first half of this season of Doctor Who has been characterised by Steven Moffat either writing or co-writing all of the episodes himself, except for Robot of Sherwood, which he apparently trusted Mark Gatiss to do on his own. We now move into a second phase - a run of stories by writers who are all entirely new to the series.

I think the biggest consequence of that this week is that the sciencey plot details suddenly went from sketchy-but-good-enough to utterly hokey )

I also didn't like the way the entire story was precipitated by Courtney Woods' desperate desire for the Doctor's approval )

That said, we did get some pretty decent material as the episode unfolded )

In the end, though, that whole discussion was utterly undermined by the have it both ways ending )

Other notes - this was an episode heavy with Classic Who continuity references )

Meanwhile, Water-and-Breathing Watch was once again on the case this week )

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strange_complex: (Doctor Who anniversary)
So relieved, and so happy! So glad that I kept my hopes up, and kept the faith after all. I may have started watching the fiftieth anniversary episode feeling a little nervous about what exactly we were going to see, and I may have kept a sense of reservation about the main storyline for a good hour I think as I watched (in spite of all the squee fodder we got along the way). But once Clara worked her magic and turned it all around, it literally became the episode I have been waiting for ever since the reboot )

OK, let's try to be a little more coherent.

The sweet spot between silly fun and format-redefinition )

I can't quite resist the urge to write up a list of my favourite 'cool bits', followed by a couple of disappointments )

Meanwhile, we have some continuity re-adjusting to do )

First, though, it seems from the teaser trailer for the Christmas special that we must go back to Trenzalore and witness the battle there which led to the creation of that enormous graveyard - and perhaps even see the burial of the Doctor in his TARDIS at the end of it all. Whatever happens there, it is going to be epic.

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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
I am horribly behind with Doctor Who reviews, partly because I was in New York when this (half-)season started, and partly because I didn't find the first few episodes very inspirational anyway. This is an attempt to catch up.

7.7 The Bells of Saint John )

7.8 The Rings of Akhaten )

7.9 Cold War )

7.10 Hide )

7.11 Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS )

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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
I should have posted this review nearly two weeks ago now, but was feeling very sluggish at the time, thanks to what [ profile] ms_siobhan calls 'the ladygrims', and just didn't have the surplus brain-power while also greeting new students and finishing articles. I seem to be back to normal now, but still had to prioritise my article until I knew I had managed to meet the deadline for it. Still, any time before the season finale counts, right?

Anyway, this story was pretty damned good for me, and certainly one of the stronger episodes of the season, but I felt it lacked the appropriate emotional weight )

Setting and symbolism )

Rita )

Meh, there's probably other stuff I would have said about this episode if I'd got round to writing it up earlier. It was clever and gripping, made good use of its characters, and dropped in plenty of interesting symbolism and continuity references for geeky types like me to chew over. But I think that will do for now. Here's looking forward to the season finale, and hopefully a few resolutions, tomorrow evening. :-)

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strange_complex: (One walking)
I’ve been slack on the Classic Who front for a fair old time – I blame the BBC for making too many new shows that I’ve wanted to write about instead! But a weekend at home has given me the chance to fill in another slot in my viewing of the Hartnell era.

The setting for this story makes it very clear that change is in the air. We’ve seen almost nothing of 1960s London since An Unearthly Child: only Barbara and Ian’s return there at the end of The Chase, and a passing visit during The Dalek’s Master Plan. But now here we have it in all its glory – the programme’s first full contemporary-Earth story since 1963.

In fact, The War Machines falls into a particular sub-category of contemporary Earth stories, in that there is no alien menace in it )

Other fore-shadowings of later stories )

Swinging Sixties London )

Dumping Dodo )

Picking up Polly )

Bouncing off Ben )

Class tensions )


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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
Yeah, so - for the fifth time this season, I spent the weekend doing things that stopped me seeing Doctor Who on Saturday night, and then most of the rest of the week writing about them. It's going to happen for the season finale, too, which is a bit sad.

I'm afraid I was quite disappointed by this episode )

The history and geography were a mish-mash, too )

Still, all that said, there was some good material here too, which I believe I will present as bullet-points:
  • I liked the gradual emergence of information about the Krafayis - at first presented just as a straightforward monster, but later something which we develop compassion for as we come to understand it better.
  • Bill Nighy as the art critic was just great - absolutely perfectly cast doing exactly what he does best.
  • The structure of a story which begins with paintings in a Parisian art gallery and later requires a visit to the era when they were painted was a HUGE shout-out to City of Death, for which much win - though poor old Foury never did get to meet Leonardo da Vinci (or not in that story, anyway).
  • It's interesting to note that the Doctor puts particular stress on telling Van Gogh when he is depressed on the bed that the one thing there always is is hope - surely a fore-reference to how the opening of the Pandorica is going to be resolved at the end of the story?
  • On a similar note, interesting also that the casual references to unscreened adventures at the beginning of the story are to visits to 'Arcadia' and the 'Trojan Gardens'. I'm reading those as places in space which happen to have Classically-resonant names rather than actual Arcadia or a garden at the historical Troy - but they still fit nicely with the season's theme of myths and legends, and with the Pandorica, which is presumably another example of the same thing.
  • Bored!Doctor waiting outside the church for the space-chicken to appear was really funny.
In fact, there were some great Doctor moments throughout this episode, and indeed plenty of good individual moments and well-crafted lines for all the characters. I did enjoy watching it, for all I've said above. But I didn't feel that it entirely lived up to its own pretensions.

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strange_complex: (One walking)
I thought this story was better than the circumstances of its production might have suggested. It definitely varies in tone and quality, and wanders quite a long way away from the central plot at times, with the result that I began episode 12 no longer really caring what happened with the taranium core and the Time Destructor. But most of the individual moments in it are enjoyable, albeit often in very different ways. That said, some of the scenes between the Daleks and their allies on Kembel get rather tedious (although I don't doubt they would have been more engaging with the original moving pictures). And I was rather disappointed to find out that the plot-lines set up in Mission to the Unknown got much less of a pay-off than I'd assumed they would. The Doctor has already found out what the Daleks' plan is by the time he discovers and plays back Marc Cory's tape in episode three, so that it is rather pointless by that stage - and this felt like rather a betrayal of the earlier story.

Katarina, Bret Vyon and Sara Kingdom )

Mavic Chen and the Monk )

Fun and frolics in 'The Feast of Steven' )

Silent era Hollywood )

Pharaonic Egypt )

Minor points )

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
Yep, I enjoyed that!

Silliness )

Squees )

In short - that will do nicely, thank you. MOAR PLS!

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strange_complex: (Cathica spike)
I've entered the Sixth Doctor era. This would appear to mean unusual verbosity, even for me. Sue me: there is Classical receptions and meta-commentary, and I have Stuff to Say about both of them. You have been warned.

Sixth Doctor: The Twin Dilemma )

Sixth Doctor: Vengeance on Varos  )

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strange_complex: (Adric Ugg boots)
Just bringing myself up to date with my Who reviews here, before I move on to an overall review of the books, films and cult TV I have been gorging myself on for the past twelve months...

Fifth Doctor: The Visitation )

Fifth Doctor: Black Orchid )

Fifth Doctor: Four to Doomsday )

And, as happened previously for the Third Doctor, I have now seen all of the Fifth Doctor stories currently available on DVD. So it's on to Sixie (OMG what am I letting myself in for? ;-p @ [ profile] miss_s_b) forthwith.

In the meantime, here are some common points which struck me about the Fifth Doctor era:
  • It's notably more Earth-focussed than the Fourth Doctor era – enough, in fact, for it to be acknowledged in the script at the beginning of Black Orchid, when the Doctor asks the TARDIS, “What’s the matter old girl? Why this compunction for planet Earth?” As for so many things from this period, knowing this helps make more sense of the similar approach of New Who. It also means more [pseudo-]historicals than in the Baker era, as the production team try to vary the precise character of the Earth setting a little.
  • Cliff-hangers in this period are also notably different from earlier eras. For Pertwee or Baker, they tend to be terrible things being about to happen to companions and / or big reveals of monsters or terrifying alien devices. For Davison, though, they are much more focussed on him: generally close-ups of his face registering horror, resignation, dismay etc.
  • The stories almost always start out well, but all too often a faint sense of ludicrousness begins to overlay the proceedings (usually at around the same time that the main monster is revealed), soon followed by pointlessness.
  • While the DVD extras of the Pertwee and Baker eras are full of people expressing admiration for each other and remembering what a great time they had, these ones largely consist of people politely trying not to be too rude about Jonathan Nathan Turner. I can't blame them.

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strange_complex: (Tom Baker)
Read online at the BBC Classic Doctor Who website.

Science Fiction fans often express concern about why it is that more women don't seem to be interested in the genre. I know they do, because there was a panel to that effect at Mecon 11 in the summer.

Unfortunately, this book is a prime example of the reason why. Apart from Romana and a tea-lady who makes a brief cameo appearance in chapter 2 before being blown to smithereens, all of the female characters in the book are crazed dominant-yet-also-subservient femdroids who turn out to be modelled on the inner workings of K-9. In fact, the total lack of any plausible female characters for the entire duration of the novel even gets the writer into plotting problems towards the end of the book. Realising that the Metralubitans at the centre of the story are in the position of needing to rebuild their society from a small pool of people after surviving a catastrophe, the Doctor has to turn to their President and ask, "Premier, there are females down in your dome, aren't there? Real ones, I mean?"

Dear Gareth Roberts: here is a clue. If you want your readers (and especially your female ones) to find Metralubitan society plausible enough for them to either a) believe in its ability to regenerate itself or b) care, write both sexes into that society in the first place. Don't just suddenly assert that they are there when the plot demands it. Gah.

The world moves on, though. Since writing this, Roberts has proved himself capable of better things, especially in regards to his Sarah Jane Adventures scripts. So my annoyance is more directed at the fact that this is such a common failing in SF contexts in general than it is against him personally. But it is disappointing, and lets the book down considerably.

Which is a pity, because on the whole this is a pretty decent story. The ending gets a bit contrived and hand-wavey, and winds up with Roberts writing himself into corner which nothing but a literal Big Red Button can get him out of. But the essential set-up of a war between two rival parties who actually rather like one another socially, the basic conceit than most human(oid)s are sufficiently vain that they can easily be manipulated into non-sensical and immoral behaviour via a bit of flattery, and the comic touches (especially the parody of Marxist revolutionaries) were all well worth reading. Plus the Four!love was most satisfying, and came complete with a nicely-realised Romana II and a charmingly unhinged K-9 into the bargain.

In short, then, basically good fun, but with a Russell T. Davies-style ending and an apparent failure to register the existence of half the human(oid) population. If you love Four, you should definitely read it.

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
I'm pretty slow writing these at the moment, but still watching avidly, and writing when I can manage to.

Multiple Doctors: The Five Doctors )

Multiple Doctors: Dimensions in Time )

A digression on Tom Baker )

Third Doctor: The Curse of Peladon )

And that's me done with Three for the time being, since I have now seen all of his stories that are available on DVD. At some point I'll go back in fill in the rest via Other Means - but for the moment, I'm well into the Five era instead. Write-ups of that will appear... eventually...

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strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
Well, while I have a relatively normal weekend on my hands, I am going to get caught up with some unwritten reviews. I have spent most of the day on the sofa with my laptop writing this, while the TV burbled away in the background. It's what makes me happy.

Multiple Doctors: The Three Doctors )

Third Doctor: Carnival of Monsters )

Third Doctor: The Green Death )

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strange_complex: (Ulysses 31)
With Sarah Jane covered, I'm now taking two parallel approaches to my Who viewing: returning to the early days to watch William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton's stories sequentially, while also joining Lovefilm and sticking all DVDs released to date for the Third, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors on my request list (well, except for Seven's final story, Survival, that is - I feel that particular one actually does need to be watched last).

When I said 'sequentially' for One and Two, what I'd originally really meant was 'sequentially but omitting those stories that are more than fifty percent missing'. Having watched Hartnell's first three stories back in January, then, that meant I was scheduled to sail right on past the next story, Marco Polo, and pick up at The Keys of Marinus instead. But then [ profile] gair pointed me towards [ profile] altariel, who had listened to the sound-track with linking narration, and she was so enthusiastic about it, actually ranking Marco Polo as the strongest story in the first season, that I decided to give it a try after all.

First Doctor: Marco Polo )

I'm definitely glad [ profile] altariel stopped me from missing this one, then, and plan to continue with audio and / or still reconstructions when I get to other stories for which the original footage has been lost. I do reserve the right to rethink this policy when I get to seasons 3-5, though, where only four stories survive entirely complete out of a total of 26. That could get kinda tedious - at least unless tempered pretty heavily with complete stories from later eras. We'll see.

strange_complex: (Tom Baker)
I've been doing some more painting: this time, the gloss in the back bedroom. It seems to take forever - at least if you don't want to splurge unwanted gloss all over the walls that you have only just finished painting the week before. So I have been working my way through the pick of the last week's worth of Radio 4 comedies, and also the following Who audios:

Radio Play: Regenerations (2001) )

Fourth Doctor: Genesis of the Daleks (1979) )

Fourth Doctor: Exploration Earth: The Time Machine (1976) )

Fourth Doctor: Doctor Who and the Pescatons (1976) )

strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
The Tom Baker era may be over for me, but there's a whole world of other Doctors out there still waiting to be discovered. As already stated, I'm starting my post-Baker viewing by catching up on Sarah Jane's adventures with the Third Doctor, because Sarah is the only person in the entire Whoniverse who can cheer me up in the absence of Four. In fact, in so doing, I'm picking up a thread I began in February with The Time Warrior, because even by then I loved her so much that I wanted to see where she had started out.

Third Doctor: Invasion of the Dinosaurs )

Third Doctor: Death to the Daleks )


strange_complex: (Default)

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