Category: Gabriel VS.

The Keys of Marinus

The Keys of Marinus

And we’re back, after what was probably a thrilling adventure with some alien called Marco Polo who rode Ian like a horse as he belted Barbara about in a giant hamster ball.


This is Terry Nation’s (ancestor to Uha Nation) second episode and it starts quite well only to piss about and fall down at the end. The story differs from the prior ones in that it’s a narrative with a mission, retrieving the titular Keys of Marinus, as opposed to the explorers “accidental adventures”. The first episode fits the standard mould of landing somewhere and poking about, but then it’s 5 episodes of mission. This idea would be returned to in season 16’s Key to Time, which was a multi-story arc lasting the whole year. It’s a good way to drive narrative and one I wish the modern series would dip into again. The show has been weird about series arcs, preferring to repeat the hidden arc idea over and over again which seems about the only way the series can approach an idea.

The Sea of Death

Ian explaining why Bleach is better than Naruto

There’s been a pleasant amount of immediate story continuity in these early episodes and this one continues that tradition by having Ian in his finest weeb gear for the whole story. The TARDIS crew have landed on beach made of glass lapped by a sea made of acid. Naturally, the screaming death magnet, Susan wanted to paddle in it but manages only to see her shoe dissolved. This opening episode drags and I’m torn as to whether it’s a fault of the episode itself or the slower pacing of a medium still in the process of separating from theatre. There’s a lot of standing around and remarking on things, which is less a development of any of the characters and more a kind of hollow retread. Some dildos wash up on the beach which, when not in a miniature-based long shot, turn out to be mini-subs filled with this story’s weakest feature, the Voord.

Probably from Bad Dragon or something

I’ve read three things that have said that the Voord were a failed attempt at striking more Dalek gold which is fucking amazing considering these were probably their best stab before the Cybermen. Doctor Who is littered with failed Dalek attempts which failed because they were either lazy retreads of the Dalek concept or just fucking stupid looking. The Voord cut a reasonably threatening figure and actually stand out from the other failures, so why have you never heard of them? Their sum screen time is probably under 6 minutes across a whole 6 episodes, split only between the first and the last, and the viewer is only ever told that they are jerks. You hear about the leader, see him a bit, and are told that they are villains but in a sort of odd way.

From a Radio Times photoshoot.

See, the Keys of Marinus are for a machine called the Conscience of Marinus, a computer with perfect judgement that exudes a field capable of modifying human behaviour to be more peaceable. There’s ample room here for some classic sci-fi debates about the conflict between peace and free will, with a twist where the Voord are less villains and more crusaders for free will, but none of this eventuates. The idea that this planet has a machine that does your thinking for you is just okay and the Voord leader, Yartek, wants to fill it with dickhead juice or something so he must be stopped.

That a show doesn’t pursue the idea you have for the story, which you consider better because it’s yours and you are lovely, is a weak criticism but it gains more traction when leveraged against the internal faults of the episode. As focal villains with delusions of Dalek, the Voord are never on screen or active enough to be relevant to the plot. Point of fact, they kill the Conscience of Marinus’ keeper, Arbitan, in this episode and spend the rest just waiting for everyone to get back with the keys. While the Daleks were let down by some loose plotting, they were an active presence in their introductory story and manifested their characteristics through on screen behaviours. You also GOT TO FUCKING SEE THEM. HOW THE FUCK ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE A NEW DALEKS IF NOBODY EVER FUCKING SEES THEM, JESUS FUCKING SHIT. The next episode literally has better enemies you actually get a better sense of and they are only the threat for a single episode.

It’s a shame. The other Dalek attempts are failures on sight alone but the Voord have an appearance you can take seriously and could even be expanded into a species with a motivation and culture. Ah well, here, have a gif of a guy in a scuba outfit fondling the TARDIS.

The Voord, everybody.

Aside from this tragedy, this episode is a great example of the “why don’t they just leave” thing that Doctor Who kind of struggles with. In this episode, Arbitan puts a force field around the TARDIS and blackmails them into helping. This is an example of the utility of The Doctor as a superhero. Firstly, it’s a viable and actually canonical development of his character, manifesting most notably in Second’s speech on evil in Tomb of the Cybermen. Secondly, it removes the “why don’t they just leave” thing from a lot of situations. He won’t leave because he’s slowly morphed into a fixer of problems over the years works better than coming up with a new way of hiding the TARDIS key each episode.

So Arbitan has blackmailed them for help and given the crew some nifty teleport bracelets that will take them close to the keys which are scattered about the planet. Then Yartek and his goons kill him and hang out for a week or so.

I wonder if the next episode is called The Killing Time of the Voords. It’s not? Shit! Next episode!

Bart The General

Bart The General

My Recollection

Herman saying that the pincer movement can’t fail against a 10 year old. Movie references. Nelson’s bi-racial buddies, more students we never see, victims of the move to modern animation.

The Episode

Ah, time to sit down and watch another episode of– shit this one’s in a hurry, it skipped the intro sequence and couch gag.

This episode feels more like an episode of Doug than it does The Simpsons. The first half is a standard run through an average child’s problems augmented by fantasy sequences to convey the emotional weight of the small made huge by limited perspective. The second half is the first step The Simpsons takes into the lucrative world of “references”. References are where one text references another by replicating visual, audio, or narrative elements. Wowza! I wonder if this fascinating new thing will take off.

Referential humor is something that gets a bit of a hard wrap and not undeservedly so, though I’d add that it’s less the existence of it and more the preponderance of it that draws negativity. Each, then, should be measured separately. It’s not a text’s fault if you’ve seen shitloads of the same thing in a week and it’s foolish to think that in a world full of active creators a random assortment of them should not do a thing because another random assortment has done it that week. It’s an invalid critical perspective. You’re the problem, so shake it off if you want to accurately assess something. This is not to say you can’t argue that a text is over reliant on them or uses them lazily, those are measurements within a text’s active control and are thus valid. But the tired old thing of not liking something because there’s a current surge in its popular use is childish contrarianism and not critique.

It’s a sign of how an early episode could have a real narrative focus, given that it had the luxury of fresh characters to explore, that you can summarize it in about a sentence. Lisa makes cupcakes for her class, Nelson’s friend steals them, Bart gets into a fight with the friend and then Nelson, and finally Bart enlists Grampa’s help to take down a neighbourhood bully.



Nelson’s homunculoid little chums are what happens when you and your brother pick the same character. They are literally called Yellow Weasel and Black Weasel respectively because Groening had run out of family members and streets to name characters after. They stop being real people and become group shot filler pretty early.


They are the result of Moe Szyslak sexually assaulting two women who had passed out in his bar.

The opening ten minutes are a fairly dry take on bullying from a child’s perspective with a not-quite-Kenobi-ish-enough-to-count-as-a-reference appearance of Homer in a thought bubble reminding Bart to punch balls. That moment itself is interesting more for it’s historical positioning as a very early example of how far rubber band reality can stretch than for how funny it is. Bart’s fantasies, about an unstoppable Juggernelson and his own funeral, smack heavily of Doug which, while it appeared 3 years later, made this stuff its bread and butter as The Simpsons moved on. This Dougian approach to Bart, noticeable here and in moments like his struggling with the aptitude test in Bart the Genius, was abandoned as Bart matured into something resembling a young adult trapped in a child’s body.

Homer’s advice of projectile spam and ducking mids doesn’t really work against a character with Nelson’s range and health so, on Lisa’s advice, Bart turns to Grampa for help. Early Grampa had an actual character trait in his endless letters of complaint, a trait that got moved to Flanders later on as the senility jokes became Grampa’s meat and potatoes. This is not Grampa’s first appearance but it’s his first point of focus in the series and there’s a note of meta to this introduction. One of the production notes the writers received was on the use of “family jewels” in reference to testicles, one they ignored to absolutely no penalty, and the term is amongst the words Grampa is demanding advertisers never put on TV again.

This is a real great line in public attitude stratigraphy, here in 1990 we have a note about the use of FAMILY FUCKING JEWELS being a bit much. Anyway, here’s a shot from Brother’s Little Helper nine years later.

Ah the degeneration of culture. Sure there’s morons inventing genders to cover for their absolute lack of personality but, on the plus side, I can watch shows with swears.

After Jasper successfully wrestles the still unnamed Abe’s newspaper away from him, Grampa admits he may not be the best source of help and takes Bart to see Herman. Herman, (based on Simpsons writer, great novelist, and noted loon, John Schwartzwelder) is an interesting case of a very early side character who fell into such a suitable niche that he’s neither moved nor had a whole episode devoted to him. Here’s where The Simpsons leaps into its first major intertextual piece where Bart’s turn as General draws from Patton and Full Metal Jacket, using scenes, lines, music, and shots from both quite heavily.

There’s a threefold use to references. The first is adding layers of depth to theme, character, and narrative via allusions or direct references to existing works. Sorta like taking someone else’s big Lego spaceship and jamming your smaller Lego spaceship on top of it to make it look like one bigger, cooler Lego spaceship. In comedy it’s a simple, arguably cheap and lazy, means of creating surprise by hiding a familiar thing in an unfamiliar place. Finally, they can be used to fill time. They operate on a continuum between covert and overt, allusion and reference, and each, admittedly vaguely defined, spot on the spectrum serves a different purpose.

If you wanna look clever, you want to be subtle about your references typically to the point of them being invisible to anyone but people also familiar with the subject you’re referring to. These will often go unnoticed and occasionally be mistaken for original work by the referring text. These are less common in comedy because anything too subtle won’t work as a joke, though esoteric stuff often pops up in throwaway lines as a treat for the few who pick up on them. Generally, comedy will overtly signal that a reference is happening to invite people in on the joke and this episode is a good example of this. These kinds of references occupy a kind of middle ground because, while overtly signalled, they fit within the existing context of the referring text’s universe and narrative. The creativity behind this fit is what raises a good reference joke over a bad one. The way the referred text and reference text fit together will itself structure a joke or broader comment, adding the kinds of depth typical to literary allusions. At the far end of overt are things like Epic Movie or Family Guy cutaways. The ____ Movie movies are perfect examples of the laziest of reference humour because the referenced things contain no extra work in either turning their existence within the referring text into jokes or thought about how they are supposed to add to the narrative. They are simply known things in an unexpected place. Family Guy’s have so little relation to the underlying universe that they are wholly removed from it, requiring their own diegetic bracketing. This contrasts with American Dad which, while superficially similar, has enough absurdity within the foundation of it’s narrative world to connect the bizarre jokes to it in a meaningful way.

I feel like this entire part of the story exists purely for this exchange between Nelson and Bart:

Bart: I’m afraid I’m going to have to teach you a lesson

Nelson: Oh yeah? You and what army?

Bart: This one.

It’s a quality moment but I feel like it’s let down a little by the lack of build up to Bart’s guerrilla army. His need to fight Nelson makes sense, but the threat of Nelson, who is introduced in this episode, to the other children isn’t that well established. The entire idea of a horde of children taking down a bully with water balloons is into the rubber band reality’s stretch, but you don’t need to pull it as hard if you set a few more things up. The episode would have been served better by, and had the time for, a moment where Nelson’s threat to the larger student body was shown.

The absurdity of this as a resolution is acknowledged by the episode, Nelson points out that the second he is untied he’s going to beat Bart up, but the actual ending of Nelson signing a post-war document of surrender isn’t much better. Bullying is effectively dealt with in really only two ways, long form social change and removing the bully. Neither of these are an option for a sitcom so they’re going to be stuck with a kind of hand-wave fix. Pointing out the ridiculousness of one doesn’t improve the other. Bart’s direct address to the audience about war is another oddity. This kind of thing was generally saved for the Halloween episodes which exist in their own side reality. It adds nothing but a reminder of how clumsy the early seasons could be.

Jokes, lines, and stray thoughts.

There’s actually a few in this episode that got a good laugh out of me.

Homer appearing as an advice apparition to Bart and saying, “Remember the family jewels, son” kind of gets funnier the more I roll it around in my mind. Like when you say the word “truck” over and over again till it loses all meaning, the more you strip the context from this moment the funnier it gets. Imagine your dad communicating with you telepathically to remind you of testicles. Cause that’s all that’s happening here. He’s not reminding Bart to specifically punch testicles, he’s just reminding him that testicles are a thing. “Remember son, picture nuts”

Lisa describing Grampa as the, “toughest Simpson alive” then saying, “Yeah, remember the fight he put up when we put him in the home?” is a great cruel joke. I like throwaway lines whose brevity and unassuming presentation belie a really cruel scene. Lisa knows of her Grampa’s impressive strength and will to fight from the time she and her family physically ejected him from their home and locked him up in a retirement tomb. I imagine her cackling with laughter while doing it. This is a kind of iceberg joke. As a scene, it wouldn’t really work but as a sneaky reality hidden beneath a throwaway line we get a sense of an absurdity without the unpleasantness of witnessing it.


Grampa saying “horny” makes me chuckle.

There was originally going to be a running gag where Herman had a different story for the lost arm every time he was asked but it was cut from an episode and never returned to again. As much as I like a running gag like that, Herman’s comfortable position as a seldom-use makes his losing his arm in a school bus accident and not a war suit him well.

Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel.

Birthday balloons are terrible water balloons. They don’t burst on contact, I’ve seen them engulf an 8 year old’s head like The Blob before driving the confused child’s head into the ground.


Yours in keeping my arm inside the bus at all times, Gabriel.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

So here’s the thing about Doctor Who, only old people can say they’ve watched all of it. These people have to be in their mid 60s now. No, you can’t have been a baby sat in front of a TV. You were a cannellini bean with a face on it who remembers nothing, shut up. Only old people can say they’ve watched it all because large chunks of the series are missing. Ten whole stories are gone, and a total of 97 missing episodes means there are 26 stories affected between seasons 1 – 6. Season 4 is the worst hit, with only ten episodes surviving across a series of 43, meaning things like the Second Doctor’s first story Power of the Daleks and companion Jamie McCrimmon’s first story The Highlanders are missing in their entirety. These are brutal losses to the canon of the show and an incredibly frustrating part of being a Doctor Who fan.

It all starts with people not understanding how technology is going to change things.

In the olden times, if one wanted to amuse oneself with Visible Fiction, one was forced to hire a variety of individuals to perform it for one. About the closest thing you had to taping back then was hiring a memory savant to watch it with you and then recite it back at a later time. Then along came things like film and videotape, which were a far more accurate means of recording than an autistic who would often recite the dialogue with little attention to pauses or emotional tones. The actors guild in the UK, Equity, actively worked against recording things because in times prior, broadcasting a repeat meant re-hiring and staging the broadcast again. They actually argued the idea that if people could just watch recorded repeats, this would reduce the amount of new productions and hurt their business. This meant that there were weird time limits on when a recorded TV serial could be rebroadcast giving any recorded material an artificial and brief shelf life.

It’s this, combined with the desire to save money by reusing the tape, that resulted in the first purge: the deletion of the masters. This is a bit of a shame but it exists within a context where it’s difficult to expect anyone around to have really known better. It would have been considered peculiar to insist the BBC buy new tape so that some loser 6o years later can see Marco Polo. The good news is that, while these deletions were absolute, there were many duplicates and backups of the originals made. Isn’t that nice. There’d have to be some kind of monstrous level of punishable stupidity to get rid of all of those.

So, between 1972 and 1978, monstrous stupidity occurred. BBC Enterprises had all the episodes as copies but got rid of them because it thought the BBC Film Library was archiving them. The BBC Film Library believed it only had to maintain copies of things that had originated on film and thought nothing of disposing of any of the copies it had. Had there been some basic archiving policy, or even just a bit of communication between the two, there wouldn’t be the hassles there are today. This destruction also followed no identifiable pattern or conceivable reason, which is why there is no order to what is missing. It’s incredibly frustrating but there are a few solutions.

One odd fact about this is that there exist audio recordings for every lost episode. Some are actual audio tracks which were recorded, copied or otherwise stored separately. Others are good, old-fashioned piracy. That’s right, where the producers of the original works were half-formed slobbermongs, incapable of preserving their own cultural legacy, the audience were making cheeky audio recordings of episodes themselves. Fuck yeah, piracy! This has resulted in one of the more common solutions to stories where only an episode or two are missing, like The Invasion, animated episodes. There’s a few of these covering missing episodes like The Tenth Planet episode 4 and even the entirety of Power of the Daleks. I’ve watched bits just to get an idea of what they are like and they do fit reasonably well. A tad Archer-y in their look and movement though which I can’t stop noticing.

I’m going to be using these as the canonical episodes for my recaps but that’s it. The other solutions, audio over stills or narration from actors in character, are simply too shoddy and distant from the original material to bother with. This is an article series that is about the television program too, and while elements of expanded canon may be interesting or brought up from time to time, this isn’t about books so I’m not filling in gaps with novelisations. You can, though, and some of the novelisations even have little extras that add more lore or tidy up a plot gap.

So that’s it, there are just missing episodes and you can give up on ever having the completionist’s dream of a full series. Giving up is lovely as it lets you set whatever reality you are in as the base line and then you can cope with whatever is going on a lot easier.

The most important tool in a torturers toolkit is hope. Hope is what prevents this rebalancing of normal. Hope is the primary vector of suffering and it is something that the world has seen fit to taunt the Doctor Who completionist with for decades now. Every time I resign myself to the situation, some lost episode is found somewhere goddamned weird and, once again, I’m taunted with the possibility of a one-day complete series.

The show was sold internationally to various broadcasters so episodes were cast to the breeze like dandelions creating a bizarre situation where missing episodes could actually be out there somewhere and there’s been just enough discovered to foster that belief. In 1991, the missing story Tomb of the Cybermen was found in its pristine entirety in a fucking cinema in Hong Kong. In 2013 the whole story of The Enemy of the World and most of The Web of Fear were found in a TV station in Nigeria. Fucking Hong Kong and Nigeria. It’s shit like this that keep that frustrating fire of hope alive. If episodes can be found nearly 50 years after they were aired locked up in a TV station in a country you wouldn’t ever associate with Doctor Who then they’re all out there somewhere goddammit.

But that’s hope for you.

Until then I’m skipping the missing episodes because they are missing.

You belong to us; you shall be like us,



There’s No Disgrace Like Home

There’s No Disgrace Like Home

My recollection

The song Marge sings, taking the padding off the mallets, and the electro-shock therapy with the seldom seen again Marvin Monroe. About the only interesting thing Monroe ever did was pitch the Monroe box to Grampa Simpson. This is reflected in the fact that he only appeared in 13 episodes and was canonically dead until the writers got bored and needed a shitty joke in season 15.

The Episode

You didn’t burst out a cunt the fully formed, rad character you are today, that took some time and growth. With some occasional exceptions (sans a massive change, Rick and Morty feels pretty set out-of-the-box), early seasons in a TV series will have characters that can differ a bit from their popular conceptions. The Internet gave a name to this, a mirror of the “jump the shark” concept, called “grow the beard” named for the appearance of William Riker’s facial hair heralding the arrival of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s quality seasons. There’s No Disgrace Like Home is clean shaven Riker. A close shave, too close, and now Riker is bleeding. You made Riker bleed and Marge is acting like Homer. Are you happy now? Am I? Well I’ve committed myself to 11 years of writing these, so no. This episode has no beard, few jokes, and no honour.

The story is literally a bizarro version of later seasons, wherein this mirror reflects to us a vision of Homer being the stable anchor of an out-of-control family who don’t respect or appreciate him. There’s a company picnic! This is being held by a remarkably always on-character Mr Burns and a now WHITE Smithers. Ah, white Smithers, I finally have something to identify with. Burns Manor, and Burns himself, are all here in recognizable form: a demented late 19th century robber-baron so devoid of humanity that he needs to rig and win a father/son sack race by himself to feel joy. Mr Burns, his loathing of gelatin desserts, and his desire to release hounds on his employees are the highlights of another dull tread through season 1 mediocrity.

Homer just wants his family to not be a puddle of worthless scum for a few hours so his boss won’t fire him for… reasons? This seems to happen in cartoons a lot, bosses able to fire you for things that are insane or have nothing to do with work. Maybe this isn’t cartoons and is a reflection of what happens when the USA successfully eliminates its unions. One guy gets fired because his kid says he doesn’t want to be at the company picnic. Capitalism is freedom! So with their potential slide from lower middle class to my level, Toilet Person, as a threat, the family decide to be a fresh batch of fuckknuckle cookies anyway. Bart is understandable as that’s his character, so he can be a tool and it won’t stand out. Shine on, you shithouse emerald.

“You spoke! You spoke! Now LEMONDADDY gets to suck on a certain little boy’s ears!”

Early Lisa was a little more bratty and this is often seen as a sloppy early character trait before she developed out of it but I think it’s part of her and something that does pop up from time to time. She may be a measurable genius but she is still a child, and forgetting the former has flanderised her into a parody of the latter in later seasons. Here though, there is less a sense of childish mischief and a more, as the French say, bartesque purposelessness to it. There’s not a whole hell of a lot but it manages to sit awkwardly compared to the calmer person she’s been in even the earlier 3 episodes so it adds another lump of poo to a shit salad of an episode.

Marge comes off worst here, not only at the picnic but for the entirety of the episode. Some cite her almost neglect of Maggie as being out of character, she dumps her in front of the TV and wanders off, but she has frequently danced on the line of poor mother with the youngest Simpson so I argue that this is within the scope of Marge as a character. Maggie’s been dumped in a ball pit, been given a pacifier in spite of the directions of Dr Wolfe and is often ignored so Marge dumping her to be raised by Television and a Thunderdome-like civilisation of other abandoned babies is fine. The rest of the episode, less so.

I’d disagree again, because I am right, about the assessment of Marge getting drunk as being out of character as it sort of sneaks up on her. She doesn’t just make a Homer like beeline for a bottle of vodka, so the active agency of the character isn’t directed toward getting hammered. Take that away and you have the “never drinker” getting drunk and that functions as a fair excuse for character differences and the hi-jinks that follow. Trust me, I was drunk for 8 years and did bar work for 6, the most insane Jekyll and Hyde changes in people are in the ones who never drink. Me? Fucking stable as a carpenter’s level because I’m 4 years into a bender and this is just who I am now. It’s the fucking normals and office types you’ve gotta watch out for. They don’t know what evil lurks in the hearts of men, I do, I’m Alec Baldwin.

The scene is an interesting blending of cartoon reality and reality, which later episodes milked for a joke but here it doesn’t know if it’s a collective hallucination the characters are experiencing or a comic novelty the audience is. Having a musical episode or sequence within a show that isn’t one otherwise requires either a good explanation or it has to never be acknowledged. Musicals are their own, aberrant level of reality so cancerous they kill anything they sit beside if not adequately quarantined or cured using the healing power of Gwyneth Paltrow sweat. Marge gets hammered and sings, which is normal, the other housewives sing along with her in a coordinated bit, which is less normal. Fun enough for a joke but it’s seen occurring as its own absurdity in the background of other, normal scenes. As with absurdity in earlier episodes, later seasons directly address it to make a joke out of it such as in the “We Put the Spring in Springfield” song in Bart After Dark. Here it just kind of occurs and stands as a signpost that the creative team hadn’t exactly hammered down The Simpsons reality yet. Reality levels are important considerations when discussing something and I don’t see them brought up much so I’m harping on them a bit here. LEARNING IS FUN!

Characterisation aside, the story starts somewhere sensible and flows into a real situation a family may find itself in. Homer is not disappointed in his family so much as worried they aren’t functional. It’s a love based concern that does fit the character even if it’s a little serious. The comic buffoon can have honest moments of serious emotion, I’d argue that those are even necessary to keep them from devolving into parody, so structuring an episode around this is not out of character. What is out of character is Marge. The only times Homer is concerned and Marge isn’t is when the fault that is causing concern is Marge’s. $pringfield is a good counter example to this episode. The family was going to hell and Homer was either worrying openly or coping poorly. Here, Homer is concerned and Marge just doesn’t care. She is not even slightly embarrassed about getting hammered in front of Homer’s boss. She wants to shovel food into her face in front of the TV and isn’t interested in a nice family dinner. This is not Marge. This is Moe in Marge’s skin which was a fanfiction I wrote and an actual episode in season 33.

The Mutants

The Mutants

I’m going with the classic title here as I think it fits the episode better and I sorta prefer when the title retains a bit of mystery. There’s enough Occurrence of the Daleks titles that I will argue the original should always be referred to as The Mutants. It’s a better story than I remember, could probably stand to be an episode shorter but otherwise there’s a solid logical flow of events until the end and some reasonable discussion of pacifism in the face of irrational killers.

The Dead Planet

The episode starts on what is probably only the 4th bit of sloppy bullshit of this story, the radiation gauge’s decision to give it a mo before telling anyone that the outside is a lethal atomic hug. It’s literally that basic. The Doctor asks Susan to see if outside is safe (which is a thing space people tend to do, Ridley Scott) and the radiation gauge says it is, only to scooch up to danger after everyone’s walked outside. This is back in the “The Doctor really can’t fucking work this thing” days, though, and, going by later additions to the canon, it was probably actively trying to kill the person who stole it. So out they wander into the grim fallout of the final war between the Thals and (what this story calls) the Dals.

The Doctor and Susan explore the forest while Ian and Barbara mull over how to deal with him, deciding they have to stick close as he’s their only way home. This is an element lost from the newer series and it has really contributed to a degree of sameness in modern companions. There’s a natural conflict point when the companions are unwilling abductees that makes for a dynamic one can’t explore when adventures are willing jaunts with accurate return trips. Modern companions whine about being let down, Ian and Barbara openly hope something bad happens to First, with Barbara saying, “Don’t you ever think he deserves something to happen to him?” which I find fucking hilarious. Ha, find some stairs in the TARDIS and push him down them.

Speaking of the TARDIS, early episodes tended to give it a bit more of a standard ship feel with large banks of computers and other regular looking equipment about. This episode also features a food maker, that comes with a little menu book full of codes one dials into it like a vending machine. The results are retro-future-y little bricks of what looks like chicken stock but taste exactly like whatever you’ve dialed in which feels a little lo-tech for Timelords but fits with what the 60s thought the future would be like. This is another thing I feel is really missing from the modern series. They have a nice control room set and that’s it. Fuck you, build some more shit or film it wherethefuckever, the TARDIS is the size of a planet and I want to see where people sleep and eat. The internet has already shown me where they shit. I don’t need to see that again.

The exploration of the planet is fairly dry filler. Susan finds a lovely preserved flower that Ian helps pick, only to crush it when Barbara is freaked out by a weird bit of Skaro fauna. The Doctor spots a city and, as curiosity has always been his downfall, absolutely must have a look. There’s no sense of The Doctor as a superhero fixer of universal injustices in these early days. That probably didn’t really come about until Baker and the modern series has made it a foundation of the character but this wasn’t entirely a piece of lazy flanderisation. The Doctor is around 236 at this point and over 2000 by the most recent series end (not counting the billions of repeated years in Heaven Sent) so we are witnessing a very young Doctor in a very young universe as yet unfucked by his constant mucking about. There’s no Time War here or any of the other experiences that will turn him into the minor deity he currently is. As such, a lot of what you see in these early days is less poor writing and more actual character development which is what makes a Ian’s haranguing him about being a shit so interesting. A lot of The Doctor’s early moral development comes from Ian and Barbara.

The Doctor won’t be denied his greedy want to explore the city and fakes a fault in the TARDIS to come up with the nonsense excuse that they must search it for the mercury they need for repairs. Ian knows it’s bullshit, but they’ve no choice and he’ll be the only suspect if The Doctor comes down with a case of beaten to death. Meanwhile, a Thal has been politely stalking Susan (she’s a magnet for stalkers, must be her fault) who leaves a mystery canister outside the TARDIS. Ian jabs it with a stick, the universal means of testing if something will fuck you up or not, but it’s not a landmine or anything. It’s a canister of fucking rad mystery drugs! To be fair, I wouldn’t take anything unless I had at least the vaguest idea what it was. Fun’s fun but I don’t want to Mia Wallace myself. They leave the drugs in the TARDIS and go poke about the city. Ian has the absurdly Scoobian plan to split up and explore a city full of doors that close on their own which, somehow, leads to Barbara getting separated. Her screaming at the plunger that menaces her at the end of the episode is still a bit comic. Granted she’s stressed and probably wasn’t expecting anything but the Daleks don’t exactly have the immediate fright of a xenomorph or Thing.

There’s a remarkable maturity to these early series, made doubly impressive by the fact that it is still pitched at children. Ian and Barbara are acutely aware of the ridiculous danger of the situation and this is presented with quite stark realism. Modern Who evades this a little by having off-camera fun adventures where nobody is exploded but that kind of telling doesn’t effectively contrast the death we’re seeing. It juxtaposes nastily with the companion’s continued desire to adventure, a little like a friend of yours taking you on trips to do extreme sports and one of his friends dying every time. You’d not keep going and you sure as shit wouldn’t bungee jump with them if the last person who did was eaten by rabid crows during the descent.

The Survivors

I quite like the title of this one. It’s another that doesn’t give too much away which effectively plays to the episode. It’s not The Evil Machines that are EVIL, and it supports something I miss of very early Who which is the treatment of enemies as other races instead of monsters. Monsters and evil are inherently two-dimensional and this leads to a lack of narrative options when coming up with events or conflicts. The Daleks here are survivors of a war, characters with a need to survive and a continuing hate for their enemy. This is understandable as their society has persisted in isolation and their hate hasn’t had any opportunity or reason to subside. Counter to this are the Thaals, whose return to a communist agrarian society has changed them into pacifists. Their active society has given them full lives that distract them from a nursed hate. It’s the kind of characterisation that functions as background world building which the modern series’ shorter story time could well use.

The TARDIS crew, now suffering from radiation poisoning, are imprisoned by the Daleks. They surmise that the drugs they found were anti-radiation drugs and need to get back to them. The Daleks want the drugs too as they believe they’ll let them leave their city, and so send Susan (the only one who can still walk) out to retrieve them warning that she may encounter the “disgustingly mutated” Thals on the way. This story is 7 episodes and, while this one is not bad in isolation, as part of a whole it provides little that couldn’t have been accomplished in a single scene. About the only real highlight is the Dalek line “A few questions will reduce the mystery” which I’d rate as a quality bit of linguistic flair for an alien species being translated to English. You can tell a lot about a culture by its language and this line suggests the Daleks see mystery as a dominant state to be reduced as opposed to a human who’d “get some answers” to return to a state of comfortable knowing.

Nothing else happens! Fucking woo! Next fucking episode.

Gabriel Morton versus The Simpsons: The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

Gabriel Morton versus The Simpsons: The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

I can recite whole episodes of this fucking show by heart. It’s my third parent and, much to the chagrin of my biological parents, the one I spend the most time with. When I die, my life won’t flash before my eyes, but I’ll get a pretty kickass Simpsons marathon. It’s the cultural product this period in history will be known for and it will be studied and deconstructed at least until The Humungus’s raiders destroy the last library. It began, in Australia, on February 10, 1991 which was over a year after it had premiered to great success in the US. The speed of cool is a damn sight faster in the age of the internet, so back then you just had to hear about things like this and wonder if you were ever going to get to experience them. Fortunately, Channel 10, which would later become a Simpsons rerun network, bought it and I’ve been using it to replace useful information in my head ever since.

Every week, I’ll be watching the episodes, in order, relating how they interact with the brain of an obsessive as I go. I hope to complete this before the series is finally cancelled. I have also bitten off more than I can chew.

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