Monday, December 31, 2012

Dragonfire: "Why is everyone 'round here so preoccupied with metaphysics?"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Dragonfire - Index

Season 24, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #147) | Previous - Next | Index

Stories where a companion leaves or joins are the kind of milestones I feel like I should be up on, if I'm going to call myself a proper fan. Problem with this one is, it's Mel leaving and Ace joining -- so that means no feeling about the one leaving except good riddance, and the one joining is the most poorly conceived, (and with apologies to Sophie Aldred) the most excruciatingly acted companion in the history of the show.

Let's consider Ace, just for a moment. Her backstory is this:  she was a teen with an intense interest in explosives who blew up part of her school as an artistic statement and carries homemade canisters of explosives around with her; she seems to be confused about whether she was an orphan, or just had parents she didn't like because they named her Dorothy. Why did the writers giver her the birth name Dorothy? Because she arrived on a futuristic prison planet turned shopping mall in the distant future by setting off an explosion on 20th century Earth that got her caught up in a time storm. A tribute to The Wizard of Oz, get it?  ~groan~

There is so much wrong with the idea of the story ... "let's exile this super-criminal to a planet that's hospitable to him on the dark side, and inhospitable, even lethal to him on the other, but leave a power source he can use to escape where he can get at it on the hospitable side," and that's just the beginning of the trouble. There's an act of mass murder that is tossed in ... just because? And apart from one reaction shot of a shady character watching his spaceship explode, nobody notices or cares the rest of the show? Kane, our super-villain kills himself in an excessively grotesque fashion at the end because the planet he intends to destroy is already destroyed. Shouldn't someone so driven by the thought of revenge, living on a planet where visitors come and go be aware that the planet he wants revenge on has already been consumed by a supernova? But, "Wait," you say, "I thought this was a prison planet?" It is. Just go with it. Because.

"Already destroyed?! I guess I'll
melt my face off. Kane, out."
The Sylvester McCoy era is, to my mind, a series of slaps to the face of the show's audience, and largely an act of desecration of a well-loved series. I can only surmise that John Nathan-Turner had a deep resentment for either one of, or all of, the BBC, the show itself, and fandom. There's no other explanation that can account for the "cliff hanger" where the writers have the Doctor gaze down an icy chasm, then climb over a rail, hook his umbrella on it, and proceed to climb down the umbrella, start to lose his grip, and find himself about to perish for no discernible reason. They show us a shot of McCoy looking down, his hands slipping, about to plummet to his death ... and then to solve the entirely self-inflicted crisis, which made the Doctor look like a complete idiot, the writers and production team do this: they have a character that was standing up where the Doctor descended from appear below the Doctor, without showing how he got there, on a ledge that wasn't there before, to lower him down. What. The. Fuck.

Just let go and put us all out of our misery.
I don't think I ever felt so personally insulted watching a TV show before. To write and perform something like that strikes me as an expression of contempt for the character performing the action and, worse, for the viewer. If I were an executive at the BBC back when this story was made, I would have fired the entire production team, cast, and crew on the spot. It's a amazing to me the show continued to be broadcast beyond that point.

(And, yes, I've considered the possibility the stupidity of this cliffhanger is a commentary on the stupidity of cliffhangers in general as an element of serialized television. If meant to criticize the audience that wants cliffhangers, then it's mean-spirited. If meant to criticize a bureaucracy that required a cliffhanger, then it's the airing of dirty laundry at the expense of the fans and inexcusable. If the thought was, "Oh, fans will enjoy an irrational mess as a commentary on the cruel and arbitrary restrictions placed on artistes such as ourselves!" then it was terrible artistic judgment. But, out there, in internetlandia, I imagine there are some fans who consider this kind of stuff a masochistic delight. Well, if so, then you're welcome to it. But ask yourselves, is that really what Doctor Who is? A masochistic exercise in tedious irrationality for children and adults to learn about post-modern critical theory?  If your answer to that is yes, then we must agree to disagree. Probably about everything. Ever.)

You want to know what really gets me fired up though? This isn't even the worst show of the McCoy era. I can't even give it the lowest grade because I need to leave room for the depths to which it continued to descend. Injury upon insult, all the philosophical babble loaded into the script, I have a sneaking suspicion it was a bunch of pretentious, failed philosophy majors perpetrating this mess. In any event, they give the whole enterprise a bad name by their malevolent incompetence.

Burying this review at the end of 2012 instead of leading off 2013 on such a down note.

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