Last week you may recall me writing about Embrace the Darkness, wherein I mentioned starting a 3 hour drive to Maryland. For the ride back, I listened to The Time of the Daleks. Oh boy, we start off with Rassilon quoting Shakespeare, because… why not? There’s no apparent reason for this, but surely they will explain it. Two stories back, Rassilon and the Doctor were talking (or exposing button holes), so this story should connect with that, even though the intervening story failed to do so! Or not. Rassilon is just heard quoting Shakespeare to let the audience know this is a story about Shakespeare. To compound the insult, we get some odd time distortion where people are forgetting the Bard, because he was taken out of time, but not all people forget him, which obviously means, he’s not taken out of time yet, but the more people who forget him, the more likely it is that he will be removed from time. Huh?? Someone’s been watching Back to the Future!
Now I admit, I don’t like to drive. I get testy when stuck in traffic, but my drive was fairly smooth so, while I might credit some of my feelings to a long drive, I don’t think I can blame it entirely for my dislike of this story. I freely admit that having Daleks squawk in my ear for a 3 hour drive is not a good thing. First off, they are annoying as hell. (“We-are-annoy-ing-as-hell! We-are-annoy-ing-as-hell! We-are-annoy-ing-as-hell! We-are-annoy-ing-as-hell! We-are-annoy-ing-as-hell! We-are-annoy-ing-as-hell! We-are-annoy-ing-as-hell! We-are-annoy-ing-as-hell!”) They all jabber incessantly on the same sentence when they want to make a point or create a cliffhanger. The only thing I really loved about them in this story is that the Emperor Dalek makes an appearance and sounds exactly like the Emperor from The Parting of the Ways but that was not going to surface for another 3+ years. So it feels like a story that has scope, or foresight. What it also has is a love of The Outer Limits. In an episode titled The Form of Things Unknown, a scientist uses a room full of clocks to make a time machine. (It doesn’t work; I’ve tried it!) The humans here all want to do the same thing with clocks and mirrors – nice addition by the way – and Daleks will help them out, because you know, Daleks help all the time and no one can ever see through their ploys! Luckily, because of the slow effect of taking someone out of time, some humans remember an alternate earth that has always been ruled by Daleks, while others are trying to “Free Will”. (As in, Save William Shakespeare…) So this helps to create two factions of humans who can work at cross purposes. The main human baddie is just a woman obsessed with quoting Shakespeare. She wants to be the only one who will remember Will, when the rest of the world forgets. (I get it! “Originality is the art of concealing your sources” – no I’m not telling you where I got that. So, if no one knows where her awesome quotes come from, everyone will think she’s just the bee’s knees!) This might all somehow make sense, but I can’t see it.
Then there’s “boy”. Everyone goes out of their way to let the audience know no one can remember his name. So as far as I was concerned he was a dead giveaway as a child version of Shakespeare. Which of course means he spends the episode hearing people quote what he will eventually write. Timey wimey! The supporting cast I cared about as much as I care about snails in the garden. (That sounds meglomaniacal, but I mean that sincerely. I didn’t come away liking anyone!) Yes, McGann and Fisher are fine; I mean, McGann is fantastic, but the story just never clicked with me. One issue is that this was remade into Victory of the Daleks in some ways with the Daleks being all altruistic, but you know they will never be good guys! Then their obsession with Shakespeare is so fanciful, I couldn’t buy into it. Rassilon and Daleks quoting the Bard? Surely someone was running low on ideas. To hammer home the final coffin nail, the quote used by Rassilon at the beginning about coming full circle is used now by the Daleks, proving the writer knows what a circle is. Bravo. Next week, let’s examine the trapezoid. (Come on, Justin Richards, you can do better than this!)
The only thing I will give the story is an incredible array of lines designed to help create continuity. When I talked about Seasons of Fear, I mentioned that I thought I heard a Dalek. I was right, it seems. 305AD is the time slot wherein I thought I heard out tin plated friends and this story does indicate that there is a time portal leading back to that era. Karsharat is mentioned from The Genocide Machine with McCoy and Aldred explaining why they were invading that planet. Orson Welles, knowing nothing of Shakespeare in Invaders from Mars, now makes sense. And the use of mirrors for time travel is a nice tie-in with The Evil of the Daleks. So the easter eggs are fun to spot. I am not sure if I missed some, but I did hear the word “Eurozone” and think that was an Enemy of the World reference, but I feel like it would be cheating to look it up!
No, I’ve heard some weak stories, but this one tops the charts for me. It’s a shame because McGann is one of the best Doctors to listen to, but so far his stories have been the most diverse in terms of quality. This season has hit an all-time high for me, and an all-time low. I guess I’d call this one The Time of the Lows. (Even my joke is better than this story, and that’s saying something!) ML
“The only thing I really loved about them in this story is that the Emperor Dalek makes an appearance and sounds exactly like the Emperor from The Parting of the Ways but that was not going to surface for another 3+ years. So it feels like a story that has scope, or foresight.”
No, this story has Nick Briggs 😀
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The notion of Shakespeare being somehow erased from history, as we first learn from the TARDIS dialogue between the 8th Doctor and Charley, can sound significantly original for a Dalek story. Just as cryogenically preserving the dead to one day be returned to life for Revelation Of The Daleks had it’s creative benefits, BF knew how to attract fans to all the new Whoniversal material via the flow of dialogue.
It’s interesting now that one reviewer has complained about how the modern TV Dr. Who has now become too repetitive. There can be sufficient truth for that. So BF, as with our favourites from the classic series, may remind us that familiarity is still great to reminisce with. Thank you, ML and RP.
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Inevitably, even with the best of SF or other genre shows, there’s the risk of story devices becoming repetitive. It always depends on how flexible the shows can be in mixing the familiar with the newer material. This has specifically worked in this decade for Dr. Who and Law & Order SVU. But it may make it all the more understandable why some successful SF shows like Sapphire & Steel and The Man In High Castle are most successful for each having a small number of seasons.
There’s always the question of whether or not a series (at least its TV or film-franchise incarnation) has been taken as far as it can or should go. With Dr. Who, Star Trek and Star Wars as they enter the 2020s, alongside a 2-hour TV movie planned for Red Dwarf and yet another cinema chapter in the Terminator universe with Dark Fate, it’s imaginable at best that SF fans who just want more SF from their lifelong favorite classics will always appreciate the efforts.
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