Friday, June 26, 2015

Chat: Decalog

John: Man, they call them “short” stories, but..the problem I always have with anthologies is that just when you’re getting interested in a story, it ends and you have to pick up a new one from scratch. There’s not enough narrative momentum, even with a framing sequence like this one has. Do you feel that way too, or is it just me?

Dee: I feel that way sometimes, and then sometimes it’s a relief. In one or two of the ones in here, it’s a relief. And I really have a couple of things to talk about with you, because I think we saw at least one story very differently and I wanted to explore that. In particular, “Fascination.” I didn’t like it for very different reasons than you, and I felt a little sick reading your review after I wrote mine and wondering how I missed those things.

John: Well, I think some of it may have been that I was around when that story first came out, and I was aware of a lot of conversation about it at the time. A lot of people felt that Howe was kind of crossing a line between “fanfiction” and “slash” that probably shouldn’t have been crossed in a canonical, authorized work, especially as a) it was about a lack of consent, and b) there was no place to really explore the consequences for Peri. She was very much the object of that story rather than the subject, and it was very “male gaze” for something that sat so near to a story like “Lackaday Express”. Especially as Howe has personal and professional connections to the editors.

Dee: Yes, and I want to clarify the reasons I said it had ingredients for me to like it. It has magic and that magic has rules, it had kindly elders who really turned out to be good guys instead of the Evil Ringleaders, and I do like a bit of mind control in my Doctor Who stories. It didn’t even occur to me as I was reading it that it was rapey, and I’m more than a bit ashamed that my near-total dislike of Peri may have blinded me to that. If it had been, say, Nyssa I think I would have noticed more.

John: Well, don’t sell yourself short--I think it was also the blithe obliviousness to consequences that played at least some part. They really do just sort of walk into the sunset with a, “Oh, tee-hee, my body and mind were violated by a stranger, but I got in a token retributive action and so now it’s alright, on to the next adventure!” tone to it all. I don’t think you can do that in a story that’s ostensibly a part of canonical Doctor Who, treating Peri like a real character. If it was a piece of erotica, I might feel differently, but this is at least claiming that Peri is the same Peri we see in ‘Caves of Androzani’, and it does something to her that would have consequences for a real character. But it doesn’t. The magic is good, the concept is good, but the sexual peril doesn’t belong here anymore.

Dee: That might be part of it. I think were it Ace I would have felt differently about the whole thing. But now I feel dirty, and glad I didn’t like the story in the first place. I just can’t help feeling like I disliked it for the wrong reasons. I also didn’t like “Prisoner of the Sun,” but you seemed to enjoy that one a lot. Can you explain to me what I’m missing there?

John: I don’t know for sure. I remember really disliking it the first time I read it, but this time it grew on me. It feels so weird and experimental, really just sort of setting itself along a whole different tack from the era it came from and the stories around it that I felt almost like I had to like it just for being so unashamedly itself. It was strange and uncomfortable, and I think maybe I was in the mood to be taken out of my comfort zone. Especially since the Pertwee era feels so “cozy” that it’s almost twee sometimes. Does that make any sense?

Dee: It sure didn’t feel that cozy in the stories in this book. I may just not have seen enough of that era to see what you’re saying. I felt like both stories with Three were really badly written. I didn’t care about the deaths in either, and I didn’t find the way they characterized Liz to be at all appealing.

John: Yeah, Liz gets short shrift for a long while. I think it’s because people cared about her for the wrong reasons. The people who wanted to write her the most were the continuity obsessives who wanted to “explain” her abrupt departure from the TV series, so they focused a lot on giving her reasons to leave without warning and hammering her personality to fit those reasons. It’s going to be a while before we get a good Liz Shaw story, I think.

Dee: Let’s move on to Four. I loved “Scarab of Death.” It felt just like it should, to me. I could see Tom Baker and Liz Sladen in every scene, and I’m not a visual person as a rule. But you thought it was fanwanky. At this point, I’m almost surprised we both liked “Duke of Dominoes!”

John: Well, it was fanwanky, but it wasn’t bad. It was one of those stories that didn’t have much to it beyond evoking the feel of its era, and I think we’re going to get enough of those that I want something a little more ambitious. It’s not that I disliked it, just that I felt like it could have done more than just say, “Hey look everybody! A sequel to ‘Pyramids of Mars’! Eh? Eh?” Which I thought ‘Duke of Dominoes’ really did well. It wasn’t just that the Master was well characterized and you could imagine Roger Delgado in every line, it was that it showed us the Master from a perspective we’ve never seen before and really made you think about the character in a new light while it evoked Delgado’s performance, and that was interesting. I like stories that get the past right and also show a new angle, and Marc Platt did a great job with that.

Dee: I fully agree with your thoughts on “Duke,” and I felt like it was a refreshing break from all of the Doctor-centered stories. The inter-story bit with the psychometrist freaking about about the evil of the Master was great too. And I didn’t see “Scarab” as just a sequel to “Pyramids,” I thought it was well-developed on its own. I loved the planet - it reminded me a lot in many ways of the planet in “Robots of Death” more than anything in “Pyramids,” and that was a good thing.

John: Fair enough. There was some worldbuilding in there, among the Osiran references. I’ll cautiously upgrade my initial impressions. Other than that, were there any stories you particularly wanted to get into? I think we both liked “Book of Shadows”, we both liked “Lackaday Express”...

Dee: If I talk about “Lackaday” too much, Paul Cornell might think he needs to avoid me at CONvergence next week. (He doesn’t, but I know how I sound when I fangirl.) I’ll reiterate what I said before: It started out as confusing as “Book,” but I felt like Paul pulled me out of the confusion faster, and I liked the characterization better. I liked “Book” as well, because I enjoyed the Barbara-centrism and her confusion but her equal determination. And “Fallen Angel” was fun. It anticipated the Christmas Angels from “Christmas Invasion” nicely, too. I wonder if that’s where Davies got the inspiration?

John: Good question. I know Davies and Moffat were reading during this era--heck, Moffat writes for a later Decalog. So anytime the question is asked, “Was this an influence on the new series?”, I think my answer is going to be, “Yes, it’s just a question of how much.” And this was mostly a positive thing--I think that on the whole, this was successful as an anthology, as a group of Doctor Who stories, and as science fiction in general. I can certainly see why Virgin commissioned a sequel. But we won’t read that for a while--for now, it’s back to the New Adventures with ‘Legacy’!

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