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Transformations and Tranquil Repose

an overview by Kate Orman

First Appeared in Burnt Toast#12, 1992

Of all the people who work to produce Doctor Who, few leave their imprint more clearly than the Script Editor. Robert Holmes is largely responsible for the Gothic feel of the Hinchcliffe years, Douglas Adams for the lighter tone of later Tom Baker Who, Chris Bidmead for the early eighties burst of hard SF. Andrew Cartmel, is, of course, Andrew Cartmel.

Season 22 belongs to Eric Saward. It continues the trends he had established in Peter Davison's last season, especially with Resurrection of the Daleks -- action, hardware, claustrophobia, gloom, and death.

Season 22 has these characteristics in dollops: notably Saward's own Revelation of the Daleks (which, using the same director and incidental musician, recreated much of the style of The Caves of Androzani) and Attack of the Cybermen, the season's opener, which was completely rewritten by Mr S. Attack is representative of the season; let us delve into it.

"What do you do in there?"
"Argue, mostly."
     (Mark of the Rani)

The forty-five minute episodes must have been a Script Editor's nightmare. Scripts had to be re-written to fit the new length -- most notably Timelash, which has the longest piece of padding in Doctor Who history: a five-minute pointless Console Room argument. These 'TARDIS bitch scenes' are a recurring device throughout the Davison era and Season 22, and a major component of interaction between the Doctor and Peri -- hence his reputation as nasty and hers as whingy. Such scenes are conspicuous by their absence in Cartmel Who -- where would you fit padding in Ghost Light?

Attack of the Cybermen is typical of the season in that our heroes spend most of the first episode just getting to the action, while the story unfolds on Telos/Varos/Karfel/Necros without them. Peri moans about their proximity to a realistically dull Halley's comet. The TARDIS goes wzhrhrhrhrh and throws them around.

It's all vintage Saward, as are the steals from Tomb of the Cybermen (first the plastic baggies in Earthshock, and now the Tombs themselves in Attack). The gritty Earth detail -- thugs and real guns -- is much in the style of Resurrection. But the Cybermen, the Cryons, and even the Doctor's bizarre costume ("Suddenly I feel conspicuous") lend an air of fantasy to the story which clashes with its "realistic" style.

     (Griffiths on discovering a Cyberman standing right behind him,
     Attack of the Cybermen, episode one)
The conventional wisdom is that the Cybermen are good in black and white stories and bad in colour ones (with the notable exception of Earthshock). The usual complaint is that they're too easy to kill. This didn't stop fans being delighted with the spectacular cyberdeath dealt by the Raston Robot in The Five Doctors -- or for that matter from cheering at Silver Nemesis when the bullets ricocheted uselessly from the Cyberleader's chest. Mysteriously, no-one seems to remember that the Cybermen in The Tenth Planet had tea-towels over their faces and sounded as though they had a ferret up their nose.

The Cybermen fare reasonably well in Attack, allowing for the fact that they have to be destroyed in the end. Another Saward characteristic: everybody dies. Only a couple of Cryons make it to the end of Attack -- everybody else -- Payne, Russell, Stratton, Bates, Griffiths, Flast (boiled to death), Lytton (tortured and half-cybernised)... At any rate, as Paul Masters pointed out in Dark Circus 5, no Cybermen are killed by conventional gunfire in Attack. This doesn't stop havoc being wreaked on them -- as Stratton and Bates' head-hunting expedition proves.

"What happens if we do fail?"
"We'll be turned into emotionless Cybermen."
     (Griffiths and Lytton, Attack of the Cybermen 2)
The common theme in all Season 22 stories, and indeed a major theme in Doctor Who, is transformation: human beings changing into not-human beings. The struggle to remain human has been explored in everything from The Ark in Space (everyone remembers the scene cribbed from The Fly in which Noah struggles with his metamorphosed hand) to Survival. The horror of being changed underlies Ace's fear of the Cybermen -- and their quasi-humanity is an important part of their creepiness. Like clowns or walking mannequins, they're a parody of humanity. Too close for comfort.

In Attack, the threat of being used as stock by the Cybermen is constantly there. Like Toberman, Stratton and Bates have been given cyberlimbs. Lytton's duplicate companions, and the mercenary himself, all end up as raw material for the Cybermen's process.

In Varos, Quillam uses his Pseudoscience Ray to transform Peri part-way into a bird. In The Mark of the Rani, 'animal matter' is 'metamorphosed into vegetable matter'. In The Two Doctors (working title: The Androgum Inheritance), the Doctor is partially changed into an Androgum. In Revelation, people are chillingly turned into Daleks -- or into lunch. In Timelash, the Board has fused himself with a Morlox, and plans the same fate for Peri.

"I find her pleasing! Pleasing!"
     (An enormous snail in The Twin Dilemma)
Perpugilliam Brown has been the victim of more lustful aliens than any other companion -- in fact, as far as I can remember, no other "Doctor Who girl" has ever been the subject of so much alien romantic interest.

At least Sharaz Jek was human. But what about Mestor (a slug) and Captain Slarn (God knows what, but he lies around in a lava bath)? Peri appears to be only good for breeding. In Mysterious Planet, she's to be married off -- in Mindwarp, it actually happens. The bit where the Governor proposes to her got edited out of Varos. In Revelation, she spends much of episode 2 avoiding Jobel's amorous clutches (she does better than many victims of sexual harassment).

The alien-lusts-for-Peri storyline began in The Twin Dilemma as what must have been a joke on all those BEM-clutches-Earth-female pulp covers. It wasn't even funny the first time.

At a casual glance, Season 22 resembles the Hinchcliffe era -- lots of horror and violence. But Cartmel's stuff is closer to Hinchcliffe in style. More head games, more intellectual horrors. More ideas. Better bloody dialogue.

Why the comparison? Lately, letters in DWM have been arguing which of the two Script Editors was better. There's no doubt that Saward produced classics: Earthshock, Resurrection, and Revelation from his own pen. Without Season 22's free lease on violence, Robert Holmes couldn't have been turned manically loose on The Two Doctors. On the other hand, there was the padding, the sexism, and the paucity of fresh ideas.

But misunderstand me not: Season 22 is a very good piece of Doctor Who. Its grimness, its unabashed handling of topics from video nasties to cannibalism, would not have been possible without the influence of Eric Saward.


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