It’s Saturday April 23rd and that can only mean only one thing: it’s time for Doctor Who. A black and white, completely missing, couldn’t-be-arsed-hiring-John Cura, episode of Doctor Who. God help us all.
War of God
Sue: Can we watch the new Matt Smith episode again instead?
Sue: But I need to discuss my River Song theory with you.
Me: I’m not falling for that old chestnut. Come on, we have to crack on. Do you want to be stuck in the 1960s forever?
Sue: OK, so what’s this one called?
Me: I can’t tell you. Even the fans can’t agree on an umbrella title for this story; the title we used to use is technically incorrect, and while the truncated version sounds better, it’s still a massive spoiler. It’s probably best that you don’t know. Let’s call it War of God and we’ll see if it catches on.
Sue: I wish I hadn’t asked now. Oh well, as long as it’s not 12 episodes long, I don’t care what it’s called.
The episode begins and Sue is crushed when Terry Nation’s name fails to appear.
Sue: Damn. I was looking forward to a foot-rub.
The Doctor and Steven have arrived in 16th century France.
Sue: Is this an historical?
Sue: A proper historical without any time travelling aliens?
I should tell her to wait and see, but she’ll only waste the episode searching for the Meddling Monk, and we’re going to have enough trouble dealing with someone who looks like a Time Lord in a habit as it is.
Me: Yes. Yes, it is.
I suddenly remember that Eric Thompson is in this story, and I’m about to engage Sue in one of our little games, when I instinctively decide against it. She’s going to need her all wits about her if she’s going to concentrate on this recon, and distracting her from the plot with the identity of the actor playing Gaston wouldn’t be wise. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t because once you realise it’s him, it’s impossible not to hear Dougal, Florence and Zebedee in various states of distress whenever he opens his mouth.
Sue: This isn’t very funny, is it?
Me: I don’t think it’s supposed to be funny.
Sue: Really? I thought that’s what Doctor Who did. Amusing romps with famous historical figures.
The Romans and The Myth Makers (and, to a certain extent, The Time Meddler) have set a jolly precedent for Sue, and she’s crestfallen when it dawns on her that the tone word for this story was probably ‘glum’.
While the Doctor visits an elderly scientist, Steven gets embroiled in a complicated plot involving the Protestant Huguenots and the dastardly Catholics.
Sue: Steven is such a bloke. He’s got the whole of Paris to explore but he’d rather spend the day in the pub.
Sue is beginning to fidget as the episode draws to a close, but then a left field cliffhanger throws her for a loop.
Sue: Eh? Is that the Doctor?
Me: That would be telling.
Sue: At least it’s an interesting plot development.
Me: Here’s something of interest for you: that was the first episode of Doctor Who to be directed by a woman.
Sue: That’s fabulous. Now if I could actually see her direction, I might be able comment on it.top
The Sea Beggar
Sue: I know what’s missing.
Me: Aside from the moving images, you mean?
Sue: Peter Purves’ narration.
She’s right: the Loose Canon recon we are watching is superb – we can even watch it on our plasma TV without flinching – but we are used to hearing Peter filling in the blanks for us. And there are a lot of blanks to fill. There’s even a half-arsed sword fight that takes place in complete silence. A series of captions occasionally run across our television screen, like a Breaking News ticker, but it’s not the same.
Me: Don’t worry, we’ll watch Part 3 with a synced copy of the remastered soundtrack tomorrow night. It might help.
And then, approximately six minutes into Part 2, the experiment reaches a very important milestone.
Sue falls asleep.
It was the absence of any confused questioning, especially when Hartnell reappeared as the Abbott, that alerted me to her slumber. That and the snoring.
Sue blames the usual suspects: the warm weather; the late start time (it was nearly midnight before we began); even the bath she’d just enjoyed (apparently, when your core temperature reaches a certain point, and then you quickly cool it down again – in other words, when you emerge from a hot bath – you become very susceptible to the advances of Morpheus. It’s something to do with your body conserving energy – or maybe it’s a hibernation instinct – either way, never let it be said that you never learn anything new when you read this blog. Try it yourself the next time you suffer a bout of insomnia – it’s quicker than Galaxy 4 and more fun).
Incredibly, Sue doesn’t blame the recon for her little snooze, but she does admit that it probably didn’t help.
Sue: We’ll have to start it again tomorrow. I’m sorry.top
When we begin Part 2 the next day, we sync the remastered soundtrack – featuring the ever-dependable Peter Purves – to Loose Canon’s excellent visuals.
Peter Purves: The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve episode two…
Sue: So they all die at the end?
Me: Double bollocks.
As the plot thickens on-screen, I sense Sue’s growing discontentment with the story.
Sue: I might be a bit thick but I haven’t got a clue what’s going on. Who are these people? Am I supposed to know what the politic situation is in France at this point in history? Do I need to read a Wikipedia entry before we can continue?
Me: Don’t worry, I think we’re supposed to identify with Steven’s confusion.
Because this is a recon, Steven looks permanently confused. There is one puzzled expression in particular that is repeatedly used to illustrate his bemusement (see right), and it reassured us both that it’s perfectly OK to be completely baffled as the story unfolds.
When Anne and Steven share a scene together, I decide to have a little fun with Sue.
Me: So what do you make of the new companion?
Sue: That’s the new companion?
Me: Of course she is. Haven’t you worked out how this show works yet? Either they replace a departing companion in the very same story (like Steven replacing Ian at the end of The Chase), or they do it in the very next one (like Vicki replacing Susan in The One with the Crashed Spaceship and the Bloke Pretending to be an Alien). That’s generally how it works.
Sue: Her accent might get on my nerves after a while. We’ll have to wait and see. What’s her name again?
Me: Anne. Anne Chaplet.
Sue: No, sorry, doesn’t ring a bell.top
Priest of Death
Sue: Why is the Doctor pretending to be a Monk? Has he got Meddling Monk envy or something?
Me: He isn’t the Doctor.
Sue: What do you mean, “He isn’t the Doctor”? Don’t be ridiculous.
Me: William Hartnell isn’t playing the Doctor this week.
Sue: You could have fooled me! He looks and sounds exactly like him!
Me: Yes, but -
Sue: And if it isn’t him, what’s the point? Are we supposed to believe the Doctor just happens to be the spitting-double of the bad guy? What are the chances of that?
Me: I probably shouldn’t have told you. I’ve spoilt it for you.
Sue: I would have found out sooner or later. It’s a stupid idea. It doesn’t matter when I find out about it.
Me: The thing is, I think we’re supposed to know it’s not the Doctor. At the beginning, somebody outside the tavern recognises him, which implies that the Doctor must look like someone else in the vicinity. Secondly, William Hartnell is credited as The Abbot, not the Doctor. The last time he impersonated someone in historical France, he wasn’t credited as the person he was impersonating, was he? And finally, he might not be playing the part exactly the same way.
Sue: What a load of rubbish. It sounds exactly like the Doctor!
Me: Yes, but we only have his voice to go on. Did he move his hands differently, for example? You know what Hartnell is like with his hands. And to be fair, he almost sounds like a different man on a couple of occasions.
Sue: I’m not convinced. It’s a stupid and pointless twist.
Me: Oh dear. I think I’ve broken The Massacre.top
Bell of Doom
We decide to crack on with episode four (“Let’s get it over with”), and it’s the first time we see some writing credits: John Lucarotti and Donald Tosh.
Sue: Yeah, it certainly is a load of old Tosh.
We’ve well and truly lost Sue now. She can’t keep up with who’s who (“Is he the king? No? OK, so is he the king?” – and repeat), and she only becomes engaged again when Catherine de’ Medici finally reveals herself to be one bad queen mother.
And then the Doctor turns up in the narrative again as if nothing’s happened.
Sue: He’d better have a bloody good reason for leaving Steven in the lurch like that.
She almost explodes when the Doctor brushes the whole affair under the carpet, claiming that he was held up.
Sue: Held up? Held up! Is that all he’s got to say? He’s been gone for DAYS!
Me: It is a little odd.
Sue: A little odd? It’s a cop-out!
As soon as the Doctor arrives on the scene, he starts making a big deal about the date. When Anne reveals it to him, he gets very flustered indeed.
Sue: Is that date supposed to mean something to me?
Me: No, not unless you’re David Starkey.
Sue: I’m guessing all the Huguenots will be massacred during the celebration of St Bartholomew. Am I right?
Me: What a bloody good guess.
When the TARDIS escapes from Paris, leaving poor Anne behind, Sue punches me in the arm.
Sue: They didn’t replace Sara. It’s still just the two of them. You lied to me.
Me: Did I?
Steven has an almighty row with the Doctor about leaving Anne behind to die (and quite right too), and when the TARDIS lands in 1960s London, Steven storms off in a huff.
Sue: I thought the Doctor couldn’t steer the TARDIS?
Me: HE CAN’T!
Sue: So it’s just a coincidence that we’re back on contemporary Earth where Steven lives?
Me: Steven is an astronaut from the future!
Sue: Oh yes, so he is. In that case, he’ll be back in a minute.
And then Hartnell delivers one of his best – and probably least known – soliloquies as he is left alone in the TARDIS to brood on his fate. He is companionless for the very first time and it’s a heartbreaking scene. Sue and I both agree that it’s probably Hartnell’s finest moment so far, and it’s frustrating that we can’t see it. We especially enjoy the way he forgets, and then corrects, Ian’s surname.
Just as the episode threatens to wallow in its own self-pity, a young Mancunian girl blunders into the TARDIS.
Sue: Who the hell is this? And why isn’t she surprised to be standing in a box that’s bigger on the inside? Is she tripping?
Steven comes running back – apparently the police are on their tail – and the Doctor dematerialises the TARDIS without a moment’s thought.
Sue: He’s just kidnapped a girl from Wimbledon Common. Does anyone have a problem with this?
Me: I told you we’d get a new companion.
Sue: OK, so what’s this one called then?
Sue: **** off!
Dodo explains that it’s short for Dorothea Chaplet, and in doing so she manages to convince Steven and the Doctor that she could be related to Anne.
Sue: Oh, **** OFF! She’s as dead as a -
Me: Please, don’t.
Sue: So the Doctor will only pick up women who remind him of Susan, eh? I bet Anne wishes she’d cut her hair now. Probably as they sliced her head off and stuck it on a pike…top
The Final Score
Sue: I didn’t like that one at all. They should have sent Hartnell on a holiday if they wanted Steven to have a story on his own. I still can’t get over why they had to confuse what was already a very confusing story with that stupid twist.
Me: But those last five minutes before Dodo arrived -
Sue: Yes, they were great, but they don’t make up for the other 90 minutes. What a waste, indeed.
The experiment continues… if she isn’t lynched first.