Thursday, October 17, 2013

Counting to 13 the Hard Way: A Quick Response to Moffat's Latest Hints

Steven Moffat dropped some hints a few days ago about what was coming in the coming specials this year.  First, he confirmed that the Doctor can only regenerate 12 times.  But then he said, regarding the number of regenerations the Doctor's had:

"I think you should go back to your DVDs and count correctly this time...there’s something you’ve all missed.

Dear Steven, trust me, I did not miss this:

I just assumed that you'd missed it.  And no, I don't have any doubt whatsoever that this is what you're talking about.

I've always noticed this, I just assumed that the writers were choosing to ignore it.  But when the Doctor was shot by a Dalek in "The Stolen Earth," he regenerated, but he siphoned all of his regeneration energy off into his hand, keeping him from regenerating completely.  While this was exceedingly stupid writing, it should count towards his regeneration count.

So now we know that the 11th Doctor is actually the 13th Doctor.  So that means that, as Moffat has confirmed that he will be following the 13 Doctors rule, something in either the 50th Anniversary Special or the Christmas Special will deal with the fact that the Doctor's out of regenerations.

So we deal with the Doctor's end of his regeneration cycle in the next few months.

But if the 11th Doctor is really the 13th, then where's the Valeyard?  The GI said that the Doctor would be known as the Valeyard by the end, but if he really is the 13th Doctor, the Valeyard should have been created already.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Dead Doctor Scrolls: A Roundup of News About the Recent Found Episodes

On Sunday, the UK's Daily Mirror reported that 106 long-lost Doctor Who episodes had been found in Ethiopia at the Ethiopian Television and Radio Agency.  Fans immediately became skeptical, especially since similar rumors have been floating around for years and nothing has ever come from them.  Furthermore, the source that the Mirror quoted was someone who claimed to have heard the news from a friend.  Everything pointed toward some sort of hoax.  Then, it was confirmed that this news was at least partially true, and now the entire thing is steeped in confusion.  I'm going to try to provide everyone with a little background on this, as well as trying to work through some of the confusing and contradictory reports.

Now, for those of you who don't know, many early black and white episodes of Doctor Who have been lost for decades.  In the 1970's, the BBC showed a shocking lack of foresight when it taped over many old episodes of television shows in an attempt to save time and money. Apparently they didn't anticipate a future where people would pay good money to own such episodes for viewing in their own homes.  At the very least, you'd think they'd have the common sense to realize that these episodes would be useful to rebroadcast in the future.  Instead, many of the best BBC shows from before the 1970s are now lost, probably forever.  Doctor Who wasn't the only show to receive such shabby treatment, as BBC did this with many shows on hand at the time.  For example, many episodes of Til Death Us Do Part and Steptoe and Son--which were the basis for Norman Lear's brilliant American remakes All in the Family and Sanford and Son respectively--are now lost for the same reason.

Over time, lost episodes have turned up in the oddest of places.  Episodes from "The Dalek Masterplan," for example, turned up in a Mormon church in England which was on a property they bought from the BBC in the 1980s.  Imagine being the person cleaning up a freaking LDS church to find a copy of "The Dalek Masterplan"!  Private collectors seem to turn up a lot of them here and there.  Some episodes were sold overseas, meaning that the networks that aired the episodes in other countries have found old film reels of the episodes.  The first regeneration scene of the First Doctor into the Second Doctor only exists because a news program did a special interest story about the regeneration and they showed the footage on air.  While the episode in which the regeneration occurred was lost, someone miraculously saved the news report and got the footage from there.  You'd think that would be an episode someone would say "Hey, that's important enough to save!"

Only episodes from the black and white era--meaning only William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton episodes--remain lost.  While some Jon Pertwee episodes were wiped, black and white prints of the lost episodes remain, meaning that some episodes only exist in black and white, but all of them still exist.  Patrick Troughton got the short end of the stick on this one, as many more of his episodes were lost than Hartnell's.  It's a shame because, if we had to lose an entire Doctor's work, I'd rather it had been Hartnell's.  Troughton's performance as the Doctor was brilliant, and it's the main reason that the show has the longevity it now has.  Only 6 of Troughton's serials remain fully in tact.

Luckily for fans, every episode's audio still exists perfectly in tact.  This has led to a number of groups and individuals putting together what are known as "recons."  Recons are episodes that are reconstructed by combining the existing audio with still photos from the production, what little video remains, narration to explain gaps, and/or original footage to fill in for the lost footage.  These recons vary in quality a great deal.  The most well known company that does recons is Loose Cannon.  Loose Cannon's recons are a little overrated, though, and the fact that they refuse to sell any of their episodes in anything other than VHS quality means that the quality of the episodes suck.  The best recons come from this random dude named Richard who makes them with Windows Media Maker (which is a horrible program, but somehow he does a great job with them) and actually includes the assisting narration to the episodes that is fully available for free from the BBC!  Why nobody else ever thought to include this narration is a fucking mystery to me.

This is above average quality for a reconstruction.
Some of these are more painful to watch than that "Miracle of Life" video we all saw in high school
So what happened in Ethiopia?  Well, the Mirror's announcement that 106 episodes had been found seemed a little too good to be true, specifically because 106 is the exact number of episodes that remain lost.  The idea that every single episode could be available once again is a prospect that would make every Whovian orgasm simultaneously.  Therefore, we're all very weary of such promises.  The story on the Mirror's website was inundated with comments from fans who were all calling bullshit on this.  Some of them, understandably, had trouble with the fact that the article cited Doctor Who "expert" Stuart Kelly, whose first sentence of his quote began with "I was told by a friend..."  It's not something you normally hear in credible news reporting.  "An inside source at the White House today said that he heard from a friend who heard from a friend who heard from her cousin that Osama Bin Laden has been killed."

A commenter named Phil Cooper commented with great confidence:

Ethiopia only got 77 episodes, and didn't GET any Troughton stories, and it only got half of the Hartnell ones. The most we could hope for from Ethiopia is 11 missing episodes and 66 that we've already got."

I saw this same comment repeated on Facebook and it dashed my hopes for a while.  But while Stuart Kelly's "friend" is a fairly weak source, so is someone who's commenting on The Mirror's website.  I decided to wait and see what the newspapers said the next day and see if anything is confirmed.

When Radio Times confirmed the news, that's when people started to sit up and listen.  Radio Times was founded by the BBC and, up until 2 years ago, was still a part of the BBC.  Even if there's no official connection between the magazine and the BBC anymore, the magazine isn't likely to publish bullshit rumors about its former owner.

Radio Times, however, didn't say the exact same things that the Mirror had said.  For starters, it made no claims about all 106 episodes being found.  It simply stated that the BBC would be making some long-lost episodes available for purchase this week.  It said that they were rumored to be from a "haul" found in Africa, but that details were "sketchy."  It seems to strongly imply that they know that there are more episodes that have been found than the few that are being released this week, but it didn't have a number:

Asked by if there were around 90 missing episodes from the 1960s a BBC statement said: “There are always rumours and speculation about Doctor Who missing episodes being discovered – however we cannot confirm any new finds.”
A spokeswoman added: “We can’t confirm because it’s not true, as far as I’m aware."
Doctor Who Online said on their Twitter page that they could confirm that the episodes were found, but also stated that they have heard it is not as many as 100.

Less than 24 hours after their original story, The Mirror returned to the interwebs to defend their original report.  When they talk about the statements that have contradicted their original report, they claim that the BBC is very secretive about Doctor Who news, pointing to their report in 2012 that Matt Smith was leaving at the end of 2013, which turned out to be true.

So now their is a press conference on Tuesday with a screening, presumably of the lost episodes.  Journalists are supposed to learn which episodes exactly have been found.  However, there's one thing I'm very happy about:  Radio Times seems to be very certain that these are Troughton episodes that are being released this week, not Hartnells.  Bleeding Cool was told that they can expect the episodes to be from "Enemy of the World" and "The Web of Fear," both of which are episodes I'd absolutely love to watch in their entirety!

But how many more episodes have turned up?  The Mirror's blind optimism seems too good to be true, but I also have to remind myself that they're just applying my own Rule 1 (Moffat lies) to the entire BBC.  In other words, I can't make fun of them that much if they sound kind of like me.  I'd love to be pleasantly surprised to find that they were right.  While they make a good point about their report about Matt Smith leaving turned out to be true, it should be stated that it may have been a coincidence and that the decision for Matt Smith to leave could very well have been made after their report.

Either way, I'm going to be happy to see a few new Troughtons soon!  I'll try not to get my hopes up too much about what else is coming, because the truth is that the worst case scenario at this point is still very good news.  At the very least, we have a few more Patrick Troughton serials, most likely "The Web of Fear" and "Enemy of the World."  That's still means that, potentially, Patrick Troughton could come to be more appreciated by other Doctor Who fans.  No matter what is to come on Tuesday, that's still really good news!

"Chuck Norris ain't got shit on me!"

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Adventures of Pete, Pete, and Pete: An Update on the Twelfth Doctor

I needed to make an emergency blog post after I found an article on Doctor Who TV about the link between Peter Capaldi's past characters in the Whoniverse and his Twelfth Doctor.  This was about the most fascinating thing I've heard about the Twelfth Doctor, and I can't wait to see what it does.

Here's the amazing quote from Steven Moffat:

“We are aware that Peter Capaldi’s played a big old part in Doctor Who and Torchwood before and we are not going to ignore the fact.
“I remember Russell [T Davies] told me that he had a big old plan as to why there were two Peter Capaldi’s in the Who universe: one in Pompeii and one in Torchwood. When I cast Peter and Russell got in touch to say how pleased he was, I said, ‘Okay, what was your theory and does it still work?' and he said, ‘Yes it does. Here it is…’"
(Moffat apparently really likes the phrase "big old.")
So let's see:  there's a plot arc that was started by Davies and will be fulfilled by Moffat.  What?!  That could be a pretty fantastic idea.  Or pretty horrible.  It depends.  If you've read this blog through, you should know about my strongly mixed feelings on Davies.  While a great show runner, his individual episodes were often...silly.  His ideas for how the show should run as a whole, however, were excellent.  So to have one of those ideas carried out by a much better writer is a great prospect (assuming that Series 8 isn't anything like Series 7).
So this opens up a new mystery:  What do Caecilius and John Forbisher have to do with the 12th Doctor?  God, this is just the kind of Doctor Who mystery that I love to speculate about!  Thank you, founding fathers of New Who!
“The face is not set from birth. It’s not like he was always going to be one day Peter Capaldi. We know that’s the case because in The War Games [sic] he has a choice of faces. So we know it’s not set, so where does he get those faces from? They can’t just be randomly generated because they’ve got lines. They’ve aged. When he turns into Peter he’ll actually have lines on his face. So where did that face come from?”
Good point, Moffat, but not the best example to illustrate this point.  In "The War Games," there was a choice of faces because it was a forced regeneration.  The Doctor was being forced to regenerate as a punishment by the Time Lords.  They gave him a choice of faces.  I always took it to mean that the Time Lords had a special way of forcing a regeneration that would allow them to pick his face.
There are two much better examples, though.  One is Commander Maxil, the Time Lord guard who oversaw the attempted execution of the 5th Doctor in "Arc of Infinity."  Commander Maxil was played by Colin Baker, who would later go on to play the 6th Doctor.  This led to Colin Baker commenting that he was the first actor to get the role of the Doctor by killing off his predecessor.  But why did the Doctor regenerate into Maxil's body?  Did he have a choice?  If so, why choose such an insignificant person in his life to regenerate into?  Not to mention such an unattractive one.  (Sorry, but at least in comparison to Peter Davison, Colin Baker was not much of a looker).  Also, the Sixth Doctor needed to see a mirror before he knew what he looked like, suggesting that it wasn't much of a choice.  And the 5th Doctor's death was a strange one, where he thought he was going to die outright.  How did he find time to "choose" his face?
The next very significant example is Romana II.  Romana was one of only two Time Lord companions that the Doctor ever had, and since the first, Susan, left before the words "Time Lord" were ever spoken on screen, Romana is more or less the only Time Lord companion.  She's also one of the few characters besides the Doctor to regenerate on screen (only one of the Master's regenerations actually happened on screen).  Romana seemed to have a very clear ability to choose her regeneration.  Rather than explaining it to you, why don't I just show it to you, since someone was kind enough to upload it to YouTube:

A lot of people have suggested that Romana wasted a whole bunch of regenerations in her indecisiveness.  However, more recent episodes point to the possibility that this all only counted as one regeneration.  The main clue is the 10th Doctor in "The Christmas Invasion" grows a new hand after it's chopped off.  Likewise, after Mels regenerated into River, her body could be riddled with bullets, only for her to regenerate them away into the Nazi soldiers.  A lot of people have pointed to this to suggest that Romana's several bodies in this sequence only constituted one regeneration, as the regeneration process seems to last more than a single instant.  The concerning part is that she seems to be regenerating just for fun.  But this scene did air before the 12 regenerations rule was established in "Marwyn Undead."  It's a shame that nobody told the writers in the 70's that writers 30-40 years later would be trying to make a real continuity out of all this.

But why did she have so much choice in her regeneration?  No other Time Lord has ever shown this ability.  The closest example is when Mels regenerated into River Song, she said she had to "concentrate on a dress size."  I wrote a fan fiction one time where I said that this was a special ability Time Ladies had that Time Lords did not:  the ability to choose one's own appearance in regeneration.  Frankly, I think it's about as good of an explanation as any.

But even if the Doctor can choose his appearance, that only explains one of the other Capaldi's in the Whoniverse.  If there was one other Capaldi out there, that would explain the 11th Doctor regenerating into a Capaldi Doctor.  But why are there two other Capaldi's out there?  It seems a lot like the Clara mystery, except it could hardly be the same thing.  Somehow, it seems the Doctor has been split across time.  I could almost buy that Caecilius was the Doctor undercover.  The episode also features Karen Gillan in a pre-Amy role.  Imagine an episode in which we find that the 12th Doctor was there undercover, so was Amy, and Captain Jack is there too (he said he was in Pompeii on "Volcano Day"). 

But John Frobisher is definitely not an undercover Doctor.  Frobisher does a lot of things that the Doctor would find despicable.  And the murder/suicide of Frobisher pretty much rules him out as an undercover Doctor.

So I guess I've left you with more questions than answers, but I feel like that's my role more than anything:  raising the questions that need to be asked.  And they're questions we'll be pondering until Capaldi's debut, which won't happen for about a year.