Thursday, November 14, 2013

Doctor Who: 1995

After episode 695 (Survival, part 3)
Up Above the Gods, published in Doctor Who Magazine #227 (cover dated 5 July 1995)
<< back to 1994
Up Above the Gods
Art by Lee Sullivan
via TARDIS data core
It's just so majestically wrong: Davros, dad of the Daleks, parked inside the TARDIS, having a chat with the Doctor. That mad juxtaposition - things together that shouldn't be - makes for a brilliant hook into the story, but one aimed squarely at fans.

Up Above The Gods is a single-episode, seven-page comic-strip from Doctor Who Magazine. It a smart, sophisticated story, the Doctor and Davros debating ethics and trying to outwit one another. It's written and drawn superbly, but a big part of the appeal is how much more you get from it if you know your Doctor Who.

Davros isn't just in any part of the TARDIS but the ivy-strewn cloister room last seen in the fourth Doctor story Logopolis. But instead of the fourth Doctor here, it's the sixth. If you know the room, and that the wrong Doctor's in it, there's an extra thrill.

The story itself is a follow-up to a Doctor Who Magazine comic strip from two years previously (Emperor of the Daleks). It sets up events in the TV stories Planet of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks, while it would also help to know the events of Revelation of the Daleks and Logopolis. The title is from a discussion between the Doctor and Davros in Genesis of the Daleks. Yes, all in seven pages.

That's not to say it's impenetrable to more casual fans. All those TV stories had been repeated on BBC Two in 1993 except Remembrance (released on VHS in 1993) and Logopolis (on VHS in 1992). But it rather assumes that the magazine's readers are fully engaged in repeats and releases from two years previously: it assumes a dedicated following.

You can see that, too, in the New Adventures books. Human Nature (published May 1995, and later voted the best of the range) is about the Doctor living as an ordinary human. John Smith is still a kind, brave and clever man, but when aliens attack he can't save the day. The emotional impact of the book hinges on our understanding of what the Doctor is and needs to be - again, knowing Doctor Who makes it more effective.

(That's why it could be adapted for the third series of the TV show, but wouldn't have worked so well in the first.)

Now, it might be argued that it made sense for Doctor Who Magazine to produce comic strips directed at the attentive fan. But it's striking, look back, how inaccessible Doctor Who was in 1995 to newcomers - younger ones, especially. The 1996 television movie was in pre-production at this time, cramming a script full of continuity references that would please the fans. In the first scene after the opening titles, it assumes viewers already know that the huge control room manned by Sylvester McCoy is housed inside the small police box. For a pilot for a new series, there's no concession to those not already in on the secret. (It also features the cloister room.)

But, again in 1995, one clever fellow dared ask if children might yet watch Doctor Who. You can read Gary Gillatt's adventure with Class 4G and the Zygons on his website.
"Today, with Doctor Who a TV powerhouse, we hear young voices much more frequently. But I think Class 4G had some profound things to say about what Doctor Who's priorities should be, and those observations are as true today as they ever were..."
Next episode: 1996

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