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Jun 26, 2006

Now where have I seen that before?

Something old, something new, something borrowed........as Rose Tyler heads for whatever her fate is to be, the Doctor’s most romantically-inclined assistant (well, inclined towards him anyway) marks time for the second week running as the series reins in the budget with yet another earthbound story with minimal special effects.

The “something new” is not entirely new, it’s the dreaded concept of the story arc, more or less introduced to Sci-Fi TV by Babylon 5 - long after Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor and irrelevant for the Paul McGann one-off.  What did this episode hae to do with the story arc for Season 2?  Nothing, it was the second “filler” episode in a row, but before the concept of the story arc there was no such thing as a filler, each story had to stand on its own merits.  Last week used the “seen from another perspective” idea that once saw an entire B5 episode played from the point of view of the maintenance crew, this one, well, this one, eh?

The “something old” was the “something borrowed” as well.  Dr Who has always been unafraid of recycling ideas from other shows and/or films - the Cybermen appeared remarkably soon after the Cybernauts featured in an Avengers episode (though they resembled animated shop dummies, not something you’d expect Dr Who to come up with, well, not just once anyway) and the Daemons story with Jon Pertwee essentially mixed Quatermass and the Pit with The Devil Rides Out.  This episode seamlessly mixed Chocky (earth child contacted by child-like alien) with Paperhouse - a woefully ignored piece of British film genius in which a child invents a reality through drawings.  Add in “entire stadium full of people almost vanishes forever” from the last ever episode of Quatermass - hello again old friend - and you’ve got, well, what?

It wasn’t a bad story, although the lack of geographical breadth until the very end reminded me a bit of Brookside.  What it wasn’t was a particularly Doctor Who story, it felt more like Sapphire and Steel (and guess who is on the writing team nowadays) with Rose at least being able to play a saviour role for a change.  The only addition to the “Russell tries to make sense of the mythology” aspect of the two new series was a clever rejoinder to several fannish attempts to explain away Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter, by a tiny mention of “I had a kid once”.  Now we will wait with bated breath as the BBC tries to persuade the Olympic Committee to have David Tennant light the 2012 flame - because otherwise the illusion will be shattered, won’t it- or we will finally get a story in which we learn that absolutely everything in the show happens in an alternate reality, which at least would explain the collective memory loss about London’s invasion by Daleks, dinosaurs, war machines and a whole host of others
these 43 years.

All in all, reasonable budget-saving mash-up of ideas, but we’ll need a spectacular rabbit pulled out of the hat now to justify it.


Our species has the most amazing capacity for self-deception. Who was it who said that? Oh well, must have imagined it.

The Seventh Doctor was starting to swing into the story arc (the 'Cartmel Masterplan') when the series was cancelled.

Coincidentally enough, that WAS the Seventh Doctor, addressing Ace while viewing the scorchmarks left by a Dalek shuttle in the Coal Hill play area.

And what was a Story Arc if not "The Key to Time"? Or, to a slightly lesser extent, The Black Guardian "Saga"? Or, to a more painful extent, "Trial of a Timelord"? All, if I remember correctly, taking place prior to B5(untz). After B5 came The Divergence Universe with McGann, and Bad Wolf with Eccleston - Now Torchwood with Tennant. What with McCoy ramping up for one, Who managed to have a Story Arc for EVERY DOCTOR from Baker to Tennant.

Series like the Keys to Time weren't arcs. The point of an arc is that it runs through other stories before climaxing at the end of a season, usually. Dr Who has had a few named series where several stories would make up the overall tale, but they didn't have fillers, they were usually named quests. B5 on the other hand was leading up to the shadow war for three entire seasons, with little hints here and there while other stories took place.

Glad you agree that Paperhouse was a brilliant British film - much neglected as you rightly point out.

Where have you seen it before? The Idiot's Lantern, with a dash of the aforementioned Paperhouse and you've got it in the bag.

I should probably have added that an arc is usually unannounced until the climax. There was no hint of the Shadows at the beginning of B5, for example. In such series as the Keys of Time we knew about the quest from the beginning.

Having said that, there were earlier multi-part quests, such as the Hartnell one in which we encountered the Voords.

The Shadows turn up half-way into Season 1 and they are hinted at as early as episode 5! B5 is unique in that it sketched out the plot five whole years in advance. Shows these days are lucky if they manage a season. Most just make it up as they go (X-Files, Buffy and Lost spring to mind).

Best multi-year story arc, in my opinion, goes to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Dominion War. Despite it's weak ending(which was only rushed due to the series ending before the producers and writers intended), it was a VERY powerful story arc, with some of the best special effects shots(THOSE SPACE BATTLES!!) I've seen anywhere. Forget the Enterprise going toe-to-toe with a Borg cube, the Defiant swooping through 1200 Dominon ships flanked by two klingon ships was fantastic.

I agree about how spectacular, but rushed, the DS9 ending was. Of course, there was a lot of crossover between B5 and DS9, even disregarding rumours that Strazinsky (sp?) had gone to Trek with the idea that became B5 first. For one thing, after B5 aired the titles of DS9 episodes suddenly became VERY B5!
Yes, the Shadows "turn up" early in B5 but no-one really knows what they are, or the role they are going to play, until later. X-Files used an overall arc, of course, but it was signposted. Bad Wolf and Torchwood have been signposted but we STILL don't know exactly how things are going to pan out - and nowadays writers talk about arcs as well as just writing them. We have both a presiding writer and a Doctor who grew up with Dr Who AND all those other shows, hence the many references to other shows - no-one now bothers pretending that their sci-fi show is the only one that ever existed, my favourite cross-reference was from Farscape (You're gonna freeze me for 80 years? All my friends will be dead. My damily will be dead. Buffy the Vampire Slayer will be dead!) and I've enjoyed "Feed Me" from Little Shop of Horrors turning up.
Anyway, I think the point is that RTD has absorbed and refined. What we really need now is an arc-less season with a defined quest, and Tennant has to defeat the Daleks properly - no new Dr has ever been accepted until he whipped the Daleks, the Cybermen are important for that but I remember the sea change in the acceptance of Troughton, Pertwee and Tom Baker when they defeated the Daleks - it was almost tangible. Everyone HATED Troughton for a long time.
BTW, I agree about the fact all of the non-TV based books and audio thingies meaning very few new ideas can turn up. But I haven't read/heard any of them and there is still no let-up from "seen it before". It doesn't have to matter - there is very little originality in Sci-Fi because it is a collaborative genre. Hyperspace, aliens, energy beam weapons, loads of ideas that appeared once and were adopted. There is, to my mind, only one idea in Sci-Fi that was SO original and shocking that no-one has dared to copy it for fear of being ridiculed as a plagiarist, and that is the idea of a travel device that is bigger on the inside than the outside - and for my explanation of how shocking that was when it first appeared, see my comments on "An Unearthly Child".

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