25 Stupid Things about "The
(And 25 Cool Ones)
(It's a Tie, Folks!)
(But we're not telling you which is which)
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Previously published in Celestial Toyroom issue 451/2
1. The snowy urban landscape at the start is really very nice.
2. The phrase “chocolate box” comes to mind when viewing this episode, because it's pretty, it's Christmassy, and too much of the contents will make you sick.
3. If you're familiar with Gloucester, you totally cannot unsee the bits of it standing in for Victorian London.
4. The opening montage, with snow, trees, choirs and urchins, is so full of Dickensian cliches that you expect to discover that the Doctor has arrived in a theme park.
5. The Next Doctor has a sassy working-class black companion named Rosita. So basically a multi-way cross between Rose and Martha, then.
6. That particular fact is one of those things which you accept to begin with, and it's only once you start to think of the odds against something like this happening that you realise how completely unlikely it all is.
7.At the time this story's title was announced, rumours were circulating that David Tennant was going to regenerate and, when he was hit by a Dalek death-ray in “The Stolen Earth”, many fans were convinced that this story would revolve around the actual next Doctor. Sadly we got this instead.
8. The Cybershades bear no small resemblance to the ape-like Links from the Blake's 7 episode “Terminal”, and are about as convincing.
9. The Next Doctor keeps making references to relevant past stories, quoting “To A Mouse” as Tennant does in “Tooth and Claw”, and paraphrasing Peter Davison's line “great chunks of my past, detaching themselves like melting icebergs” from “The Five Doctors”.
10. The Cybermen's televiewers are clearly modeled on an early mechanical television system, specifically that developed by John Logie Baird.
11. Which is, again, ridiculous if you actually think about it, since Baird's invention was seventy-four years away at the time. It would be like Cybermen landing in the 1920s and building a digital flatscreen from scratch.
12. And later, when the monitor malfunctions, it makes a noise like a radio losing the signal. You have to ask yourself why.
13. The Next Doctor, as a character, is an enjoyably metatextual riff on Doctor Who itself, working his way through the series' tropes and cliches as a performance. Up until he regains his memory, that is.
14. The Doctor himself starts to get in on the metatextual act, cheerily replying “I'm your companion”, when the Next Doctor observes that he asks a lot of questions.
15. Even Miss Hartigan, when she reveals that she arranged the Reverend Fairchild's funeral purely as a dramatic device to get all the important characters together in one place.
16. When the Next Doctor tells Rosita that “this is hardly work for a woman”, is he speaking as the Doctor, or as himself?
17. And towards the end of the story, Jackson Lake delivers what would otherwise be a contrived infodump explaining the fate of the Cyberking, but which works both as a metatextual acknowledgment of the programme's own tendencies in that regard, and as something that someone who had been exposed to an infostamp might actually say.
18. Infostamps. Is that derived from infodumps? Just asking.
19. Tennant's whistling is actually a pretty good impression of a sonic screwdriver, but not his own-- it's more like the noise Tom Baker's screwdriver makes in “The Pyramids of Mars”.
20. Why does the history of London on the infostamps start at 1066? Did the Daleks, who constructed the original database, have some kind of Norman Conquest fetish?
21. The beam of information from the infostamp blows up the Cybermen's heads. Too much information all at once can do that.
22. There's a nice juxtaposition where we cut from the Next Doctor realising that the Cybermen have stolen his life, to the sight of the Reverend Fairchild's coffin going into the ground.
23. Also the fact that a scarlet-clad woman shows up at the graveside just as the minister gets to the bit in the service about the glorious bodies of the resurrected.
24. And she's working for the Cybermen, who also intend to change our vile bodies into their glorious bodies. So the service and its events work on a number of levels, then.
25. The fact that she addresses each of the men by name and with an unflattering personal anecdote isn't just her rubbing it in; it's pointing out to the Cybermen which ones they need to leave alive.
26. The Cybermen, of course, are associated with snow right from “The Tenth Planet”, so they're a good monster to use in a Christmas story.
27. The Next Doctor isn't actually wrong when he says his balloon travels through time and space; it travels physically through space, and moves through time, albeit only forward and at a rate of one second per second.
28. The business with the fob-watch is actually a very clever bait-and-switch; we expect to find the Doctor's memories inside it, but it's really the key to Jackson Lake's.
29. This is the first time that images of pre-2005 Doctors have appeared in the new series.
30. Although, of course, the War Doctor is somewhat conspicuous by his absence.
31. “Do you have your legs on silent?” We love that line.
32. “The Cybermen offered me the one thing I wanted-- liberation.” Liberation: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Blake's 7, by Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore, is available from www.telos.co.uk for the very reasonable price of £16.99, and would make a perfect Christmas present for any fan, as well as for Miss Hartigan.
33. An orphanage's worth of tragic-faced children, presided over by an evil governess named Miss Hartigan. Little Orphan Annie is reportedly considering legal action.
34. Once you've realised that, when you get to the bit where Miss Hartigan declares to the children, “I want to see you work!”, you seriously expect everyone to break into “It's A Hard-Knock Life”.
35. Fritz Lang also contributes a lot of Miss Hartigan's transformation into the Cyberking, but then again Metropolis has become so much a part of the world's visual landscape it's not too surprising.
36. Given the number of references to the series' famous quotes and celebrated moments in this episode, it's actually slightly surprising when the Cyberleader responds to “have you no pity?” with “correct” rather than “I have no understanding of the word. It is not registered in my vocabulary bank”.
37. A sarcastic woman in Victorian dress making with the innuendo and saying “you will obey me”. You can sort of see the prototype for Missy right there.
38. Meanwhile the paen to fatherhood which starts about 45 minutes in anticipates the cringemaking “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”.
39. There is something a bit annoying about the sequence of the Doctor rescuing all the children. It all feels rather focus-grouped, as if someone said, “nice idea, Mr Davies, but this is Christmas, and Christmas needs children, so let's work a load of kids into this story, shall we?”
40. Jackson Lake's son appears to be wearing eyeliner, and can't keep his mouth closed.
41. How did the Cybusmen, from the alt-universe, build a Cyberking? It's possible the infostamps had details of what the Cyberking was, but a full blueprint for one?
42. What are all those people doing awake and fully dressed at about one in the morning of Christmas Day, in an era when nobody had electric light?
43. Talking of which, how is it that every house in London appears to have several lights on at this hour?
44. How does the Cyberking keep changing size like that? One minute it's small enough to conceal under the Thames, the next it's dwarfing St Paul's and crushing whole city blocks with its feet, and a bit later St Pauls' dome comes about up to its knees.
45. “My people, why do they not rejoice?” Probably because you're stamping on their houses, woman, did being Cyberconverted take your IQ down several notches?
46. And yet, the Doctor says without irony that she has “the most remarkable mind the world has ever seen”.
47. The ending also degenerates into the irritating Doctor-worship which sadly characterises a lot of the Davies Era's worse efforts.
48. A power-hungry woman who puts on a headset and controls a giant robot, which is itself the leader of a horde of machine creatures, and it all goes horribly wrong for everyone. Recyclingwatch for “The Syndeton Experiment”, the second of Barry Letts' deeply misguided Blake's 7 audios.
49. The Doctor accepting Jackson Lake's offer of Christmas dinner works well, since it comes right after the Doctor alludes to Donna's departure-- and in his first story with Donna, the Doctor fails to take her up on her offer of Christmas dinner.
50. “The events of today will be history, spoken of for centuries to come”. Of course, they are shortly to fall through the Crack in Time, and be completely forgotten.