Much to do in the last few days, and despite not being a football (soccer for you Americans) fan per se, I wasn't immune to all the excitement, and yes, did watch us getting the World Cup. (You couldn't sleep that night anyway, being in Munich. The celebratory noise level was incredible.) However, I also went on a Seventh Doctor audio binge, which means some thoughts accumulated. Before I get to those, a completely unrelated link: Can we say Vergil wrote fanfiction?
, smart meta involving fanfiction as a genre, Vergil and the Brothers Grimm.
Now, on to Doctor Who
, audio department thoughts. Big Finish does both standalone adventures and story arcs, and I listened into two of the later plus a standalone for the Seventh Doctor. Now, for some years you had the tv team of the Doctor and Ace with the audio additon of Hex, aka Thomas Hector Schofield, nurse from Liverpool, as a Team TARDIS with a dynamic in their own right; then, at the climax of the audio Gods and Monsters
, something shattering happened. ( Which is spoilery, and thus behind a cut. )
One of the very early Big Finish adventures, Coldlitz
, had the Doctor and Ace ending up in guess where; I still haven't listened to it because I tend to shy away from the idea of Doctor Who
actually tackling the Third Reich in an unmetaphorical way (there are plenty of Space Nazis in the long history of the show, just like in most fantasy and sci fi shows). The dangers of tackiness, caricature or softening a real life horror just seemed to great. However, fannish osmosis told me that one of the villains in Coldlitz
, Dr. Elizabeth Klein, who hails from a timeline where the Nazis did win WW II, ended up stranded in the "real" timeline at the end of the audio and was brought back more recently, years later, to serve as the least likely Companion ever. (Unless you count Shalka!Master, I suppose.) This made me curious enough to handwave another of my aversions, to wit: my problem with "Germany wins WWII and the Third Reich continues to rule the world" - just can't see it happen, not with Hitler on top - one reason why Stalin died in bed after decades of tyranny, undefeated, was that he knew to keep the killing within his own sphere of influence and didn't want to be seen as a world conqueror, but Hitler? never would have been satisfied with that even if you suppose technological MacGuffin X forces the Allies to go for a truce - , and not with all the infighting between his upper level paladins if you remove him from the equation. And the corruption within the party. And - anyway. Can't see it happening.
This handwaved, I was curious about Dr. Klein, how Big Finish would develop her, and what type of dynamic she would have with the Seventh Doctor. So off I went and acquired the Klein trilogy - "A Beating of Tiny Wings", "Survival of the Fittest" and "The Architects of History. This turned out to be a great decision. Nitpicks first, so I can get to why and how and praise: perfect, these stories aren't. Beating of Tiny Wings
takes place during the Mau Mau Rising in Kenya, but is essentially a version of The Thing
(of horror movie fame) put in its opposite surrounding, climate wise, and the Mau Mau Rising context is mostly there so there's a reason why various (white) women are trapped on a farm and can't know whether any new arrival is there to help them or kill them. At some point, it must have occured to someone in the storyediting department that if you set a story in Africa, there should maybe also be a black character. So there is one, but a) he's mostly there to make the point the British ladies (and British society in the 1950s) are racist, he gets no characterisation beyond that, minimal text and an unceremonious death. My other nitpick concerns The Architects of History
: I just don't get why German characters other then Klein speak in one of those typical fake German accents when they're supposed to speak German (we're just hearing it as English because this is an English audio.) In fact, it was a HUUUUGE plot point in Survival of the Fittest
that the TARDIS telepathic circuits translate whatever everyone speaks into whatever everyone else speaks for everyone. (Which is why at one point Klein mentions to the Doctor he has a stuffy Prussian accent; it cracks me up to no end that this is what the TARDIS found to equal the Scottish accent, let me tell you.) I mean, Doctor Who
is just following the custom of the majority of film and tv there, and I wrote an entire entry years ago why I think fake accents (be they French, German, Spanish or whatever) when we're assuming the characters are in fact using their own language are ridiculous. I still think so, let's leave it at that.
Those were the nitpicks. Now for the good stuff. Elizabeth Klein turns out to be a great character. One of the things I was most curious about was whether or not the audios would go for a redemption story, especially since she wasn't a member of a fictional
fascist organization with fictional victims, like, say, Aeryn Sun on Farscape
; having real life victims still among us makes for a different emotional resonance. Speaking of real life, what happened in Germany post WWII was often referred to as "re-education", was aided by the Marshall Plan, and it wasn't until the 1960s - when the children of the WWII generation had grown up - that actual confrontation with the past happened not from outside but from inside on a massive scale. This, clearly, isn't something you can carry out in a series of audio adventures with one character.
Elizabeth Klein as the Doctor runs into her again in Kenya isn't repentant or in any way convinced she (and the ideology she was raised in) was wrong; moreover, as far she's concerned, her timeline was the right one, the current one is a travesty, and it's the Doctor's fault that she lost everyone who ever meant anything to her when her timeline blinked out of existence. However, she's also smart and wants to survive, so teaming up with the Doctor in the Thing
-like situation in Kenya makes sense. That she's also a scientist who can talk to the Doctor on that level made me wonder whether the idea for Klein wasn't inspired by the Third Doctor tv story Inferno
, where the Doctor temporarily experiences an alternate universe where Britain is fascist, his then companion Dr. Elizabeth Shaw is Section Leader Shaw, and the Brig is equally fascist. The start of the next audio, when we get Elizabeth Klein's backstory wherein she got recruited by the guy heading an alien artificats investigating organzation in a victorious Germany also argues for that. Anyway, one key difference to Inferno
is that Three has no backstory with Section Leader Shaw and tries to win her over because he knows her alter ego. Whereas Seven and Klein have, in both senses of the word, history, which makes for mutual (deserved) distrust. This makes for great dialogue because Klein is far from stupid and thus not a ranting cliché, which means she and the Doctor keep their verbal digs at each other while working together on an equally successful rate instead of him effortlessly beating her in the verbal sparring. Also, Tracey Childs is fantastic in the role. (And thankfully not forced to fake a German accent.) When the Doctor at the end offers her a lift, it's an incredible gamble (because she still wants her original timeline back), but you can see the variety of motives on why he does it: not least continuing distrust and control issues (she's a lose element with a destructive ideology and superior technological knowledge in the 1950s), but also being intrigued by the challenge of her (she's clever and ruthless; what could she be if she does change?). And, as it turns out, a sense of responsibility, because it's due to him she's stranded in this timeline in more ways than one. He didn't just restore the original timeline in Coldlitz
, no, as turns out at the start of Survival of the Fittest
, where we get her backstory, he manipulated her into coming to Coldlitz to begin with, setting her up to give him the means to wipe out "her" universe.
This he did due to the series of events which created the victorious!Germany timeline to begin with; among other things, the Seventh Doctor regenerated into the Eighth not in San Francisco in a bad American movie but in Alt!Germany, though still after getting shot. Poor Eight. Or not so poor Eight, because as Johann Schmidt (hooray for a Paul McGann cameo), he then cons Elizabeth Klein who is trying to figure out how to operate the TARDIS into bringing it to 1944 to his previous self. One reason why the Doctor and Klein combination works is that this way, the dynamic isn't just "the hero and the Nazi". She does have a genuine non-petty reason to hate him because he used her to basically uncreate her entire world; at the same time, her timeline is bad news for so many people that of course one can't wish it restored. Survival of the Fittest
sees the Doctor and Klein on a planet where the native population are basically intelligent giant bees called Vriil, who are in danger of getting wiped out by some greedy humans. I thought I knew where this was going: Klein would learn empathy by sympathizing with the endangered Vriil and see the error of her fascist ways. Perhaps this is what in story the Doctor expects to happen, too. But the writers go for something more complicated - and realistic - because while Klein does sympathize with the Vriil and shows compassion for them (aided by her disgust for the sloppy and creating-even-more-damage-than-intended-b
y-bumbling humans), this does not change her basic goals, chief among them the need to restore the to her real timeline, or her resentment of the Doctor. Which is why Survival of the Fittest
ends with a breathtaking cliffhanger, and why Elizabeth Klein fulfills both the Companion and the Main Antagonist role in this trilogy, which I don't think is a dynamic we've ever seen before. The Architects of History
, in which basically every character doublecrosses everyone else at least once, sets itself the additional challenge to make the audience care about yet another alt!world and -characters in addition to the Klein-and-the-Doctor double act, and succeeds. It has Leonora Crichlow (Annie in Being Human
; she also guest starred on New Who in Gridlock
) as a Companion-who-never-was, and what happens with her in the course of the narrative contributes to the emotional punch. It's both a siege story and a "be careful what you wish for" story, and at no point does the narrative either excuse Klein or make her into a one dimensional villain whom the Doctor can easily (for both himself and the audience) dispose of; to avoid both extremes is truly an art, and this trilogy, including its climactic finale, pulls it off. And speaking of avoidance: Klein falling in love with the Doctor, let alone he with her, is also one easy way out that I don't think the current tv show could have resisted, and it never happens here. Go, Big Finish!
In conclusion: yes, I saw the latest trailer, and I'm looking forward to the show, but to be honest, the audios right now are what I'm truly
fannish about as far as Doctor Who
is concerned. They have my heart and mind.