The Day It Rained

Oh, irony. I’m not sure I like it so much when it jumps up and smacks me in the face.

When I wrote this Fairy Tale Tuesday last week, the sun was shining brilliantly. There was a heat haze on the horizon, the grass was a withered yellow, and the river near where I live was more mud than water. But this is Queensland. Which means that almost literally overnight, in a madness of wind and rain, the river is…not a river any more. It’s a lake. More than one lake. I walk around familiar streets in what is once again a blazing Queensland day, under cloudless blue skies, and it could almost be normal. Except around me there are people talking about when they might be getting their power back. And there is water lapping at the midway branches of quite tall trees on the local golf course.

Can I first say, though I was fortunate enough to meet an owl recently (hence the choice of this story) I was VERY NICE to it.

Also, I’m one of the insanely lucky ones. I have power! My house is dry! I was only a spectator to one of Nature’s more terrifying mood swings, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. People only a couple of streets away have back gardens underwater. In other parts of Queensland and New South Wales, they have lost their houses altogether. For many the danger isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. SES (State Emergency Service) volunteers, guardian angels of this state that they are, are still dealing with the devastation on multiple fronts. It is the sort of situation that leaves you reeling, wondering what on earth happened to the real world.

You can’t even get away from the floods in a fairy tale this week.

Fairy Tale Tuesday No.25 – The Owl Who Was Unwelcome

There is no trait more valued in the world of fairy tales than kindness. If you share your last crumb of bread with an elderly beggar, they will turn out to be a fairy intent on assisting you with your quest. If you spare the life of some random fox out in the wilderness, it will not only be fluent in human speech, it will also be incredibly well-informed and offer excellent advice at key moments in your life. This Australian Aboriginal legend, from CollinsDove’s 1994 collection This Is the Dreaming, is a cautionary fable about what happens when you forget that. And let me warn you, it is not going to be pretty.

One day during the Dreamtime, when the children of the Worona people are playing by the river, one boy finds a strange new bird in the bush and calls everyone else to come and see. It is an owl – the first owl ever, in fact, and a messenger from the god Wandjina besides. It has been sent down as a kind of aviatory civil servant, to see if there is anything that needs to be done to help Wandjina’s favourite people. When the owl sees a crowd emerging from the bush to gather around under his tree, he’s startled, but also gratified. A welcoming committee! You shouldn’t have!

Only it is not a welcoming committee. Instead of taking him gently from the tree and back to the camp, he is thrown to the ground, his wing breaking on impact and leaving him helpless. The children then decide to play with him, tossing him in the air, letting him fall, tossing him again, until he is so broken it is remarkable he’s still alive at all. And no one stops them. No one protests at all. When the children grow tired of throwing the bird, they start pulling out his feathers, while their parents watch on and laugh. Then one boy comes up with a new torture. “We can’t have a bird without feathers,” he jeers. “So let’s give him some new ones.” Following his lead, the children begin to pierce the owl’s battered body with the blades of spinifex grass. Then they throw him one last time.

They laugh, expecting him to fall, but then the laughter stops. Because he is not falling. Somehow, the owl manages to move his broken wings, getting stronger and stronger with each flap until he disappears from sight into the clouds. A roar of fury breaks free from the sky. Wandjina may have saved his messenger, but he’s seen the true nature of his favoured people and is sickened by them. So he does the only thing gods know how to do in such circumstances: he sends a flood. His storm rages for days, swelling the river with rain until his once beloved people are swallowed into raging waters. Only two survive, a man and a woman who manage to cling to the tail of an escaping kangaroo. (Yes, the kangaroo makes it. This is a flood aimed quite specifically at humans. I’d like to think all the animals got away…) The price has been paid for one terrible act of cruelty. Now the last two members of the Worona people must remake their home, in the knowledge that all life must be treated with respect – or you will lose it.

This is one of the strongest messages against animal cruelty I’ve ever found in folk lore and is, necessarily, also one of the most graphic. It is, admittedly, more mythology than fairy tale, but it shows the same compassion towards what is different, and what is helpless. Be it from a fairy, a little grey man, or a god, the message is the same: kindness matters.

And so do owls.

Review No.56 – Sea Hearts

Sea Hearts – Margo Lanagan

Allen & Unwin, 2012

Once there were seal wives on Rollrock Island, but now those with any trace of the sea in them are careful to hide it or they will be shunned by their neighbours. Misskaella has troubles enough of her own – laughed at by her sisters, scolded by her parents, sneered at by people of the town. When she wakes up one day with the promises of her heritage shimmering in the world around her, dizzying her, it is only another shame she knows she has to somehow bear. Then one night something changes. Misskaella goes down to the seals who gather around Rollrock Island, and for the first time, she uses her power. But what is the price of shaping your heart’s desire from the wild sea?

This is the latest book from an Australian author well-known for her short story collections and novels, including the World Fantasy Award winning Tender Morsels. In Sea Hearts (which won the World Fantasy Award for best novella in 2010) Lanagan creates a darkly evocative story of beauty, longing and betrayal that not only does full justice to the tragic power of the folk tales upon which it is based, but also makes it hard to imagine how they could be retold any better.


Reviewing Who: The Daleks

Doctor – William Hartnell

Companions – Carole Ann Ford, Jacqueline Hill, William Russell

Script writer – Terry Nation

Producer – Verity Lambert

Directors – Christopher Barry and Richard Martin

Originally screened – 21 Dec 1963 – 1 Feb 1964

Episode 1: Having recently been accidentally abducted by a time-travelling eccentric, the Doctor, and his teenage granddaughter Susan, 1960s schoolteachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton now find themselves stepping from the TARDIS into the petrified forest of some unknown alien planet. The Doctor is thrilled with scientific curiosity and Susan is excitedly trying to collect the petrified flora – Barbara and Ian just want to get back inside and return to Earth straight away. But then they reach the edge of the forest and see a vast city below, and the Doctor will not be satisfied until he’s taken a look. Barbara and Ian, however, insist quite forcefully that he take them home before he does any more exploring. With bad grace, and only because it’s getting dark, he agrees.

On the way back, Susan is convinced someone touched her. Though her grandfather does not believe this is possible, a tapping against the TARDIS doors later in the night is enough to renew Ian and Barbara’s demands for an immediate departure. The Doctor rants that no, this is his ship, and he’ll do what he wants. When a tantrum fails, he pretends to take off while secretly sabotaging the console, and with very unconvincing surprise announces that oh my goodness me, they need mercury for the fluid link, where on this planet are they going to find that…?

Susan is vindicated the next morning when a metal box of mysterious vials is discovered outside. These are left in the TARDIS for later scientific examination and the quartet set off for the city to look for mercury. They enter a silent metal labyrinth that shows no more signs of life than the forest they’ve left behind. Barbara goes one way, Ian another, Susan and the Doctor a third. Getting in was easy; finding a way back, not so much. Running through the unchanging corridors, doors locking down around her, Barbara finds herself trapped in a dead end with a terrible black sucker approaching to corner her…and Barbara, sensible dependable Barbara, starts to scream.

Episode 2: The Doctor, Susan and Ian have reunited and when Barbara fails to join them, they head off to look for her. Following a faint ticking sound, they stumble across a room of alien technology that for some reason includes a recognisable version of a Geiger counter. It proves two things. They are dealing with an advanced civilisation, and also, radiation levels are off the charts. The after effects of a neutron bomb, the Doctor diagnoses, concluding that the headaches and weakness that have been plaguing them all are the effects of radiation sickness…and ah, by the way, he might have been lying just a little bit about that fluid link. He wants to go straight back to the TARDIS, Barbara or no Barbara, but Ian happens to be holding the fluid link just then and he’s having none of that. They return to their search and are immediately surrounded by black suckers. These are attached to metallic bodies striped with little semi-spheres – robotic creatures that look nothing like humans. When Ian tries to run, they shoot him, paralysing his legs. Then one trundles up to tersely inform him that it won’t be permanent this time.

With the Doctor and Susan’s help, he is half-dragged into a cell, where they are reunited with Barbara, and she learns that she is suffering from radiation sickness. Nor is she the worst hit. The Doctor is slumped sideways against the wall, looking at death’s door, but their robotic gaolers are not sympathetic and insist on interrogating him anyway. They accuse him of being a ‘Thal’ and get very cross when he tells them he’s not got a clue what they’re on about. It is, though, self-evident that he and his companions have no protection against radiation sickness. If one of his people goes to collect the contents of the metal box, that the Doctor in his desperation has decided must be medicine to counteract the effects of the radiation, the others must stay as hostages.

But it isn’t all curt electronic voices and intimidation. Over five hundred years ago, one of the Doctor’s gaolers explains, there were two dominant races on this planet, and they were at war – the Thals, and the DALEKS. Fans, you can cheer now.

After the neutron war (good guess, Doctor) the Daleks retreated to their city, protected by the encasing of their machines. Somehow the Thals survived on the outside, though the Daleks speculate with some satisfaction on the likely mutations they must have undergone. Meanwhile, back in the cell, Ian is trying to walk, without much success. Despite his determination, he simply is not capable of the trek back up to the TARDIS. The only one in any condition to go is Susan, who despite her panic manages to get there and retrieve the box. Plucking up her courage for the journey back, she steps outside again, straight into a violent electric storm.

Episode 3: With her back up against the TARDIS door, Susan sees her first Thal – a hot blonde bloke in a cloak. Expecting scary mutant people, she mutters incoherently about his perfection. He kindly ignores this, explaining about the anti-radiation drugs, which triggers her own explanation about the fate of her friends in the city. This is the first he has heard about the Daleks’ continued survival, but from her story he suspects they may not be trustworthy and provides her with more drugs in case they take the first ones away from her. He even gives her his cloak. Aww, chivalry…

Susan gets back and the Daleks eavesdrop on her while she sighs over the magnificence of Alydon the Thal to her rapidly recovering friends – the Daleks allowed her to keep the second batch of medication after all, and aren’t they pleased about that, because the next thing they overhear is that the Thals are suffering a food shortage and want to trade with the city. The Daleks decide to play nice with their prisoners for now, so as to deceive the Thals through them. Cue a cute waiter Dalek with a tray. Susan leaves the cell to help formulate the treaty, while in the forest a group of Thals – pretty much all hot and blonde, an interesting definition of ‘mutation’, that – congregate curiously around the TARDIS. The Daleks were once teachers and philosophers, one elder Thal reminds them all, talking optimistically of ‘magical architecture’ and exchanges of ideas. Alydon seems to share this trust in total strangers, speaking glowingly of Susan, which leads to some cheerful chaffing by his friends and a huff from the Thal girl who fancies him. Then the treaty, handwritten by Susan under the hectoring dictation of the Daleks, is delivered to the city limits and retrieved by the Thals. Trade is on!

Only of course it’s all a trap, something the TARDIS crew are beginning to realise for themselves. They stage a fight to knock out the recording device in their cell and, after working out that the Daleks require static electricity from the metal floors in order to power themselves, come up with a clever plan to escape. When a Dalek enters with more food (so cute, these waiter Daleks!) everyone leaps into action – Ian jams the door, Barbara disables the eyestalk with a handful of mud, and the Dalek wails helpless warnings as it is pulled onto Alydon’s cloak. Without the static electricity of the floor, the machine goes lifeless.

When Ian sees what is inside, he insists Barbara and Susan stand guard in the corridor so that they don’t have to watch while he and the Doctor use the cloak to manhandle whatever it is out, leaving the machine hollow. Ian then actually climbs inside to impersonate a guard for the others. They trundle off. Behind them, a scaled hand emerges from beneath the cloak…

Episode 4: Ian quickly works out how to operate the Dalek and with Susan leading the way, they head for the lifts. When they are stopped by a real Dalek, Susan distracts it by faking hysteria, forcing it to provide assistance in manhandling the three ‘prisoners’ into the lift chamber. The Doctor then jams the door. Unfortunately, Ian has somehow become stuck inside the Dalek casing and the Daleks, quickly realising that they have been tricked, begin to cut their way through to the chamber. Ian insists the others escape into the lift, leaving him behind. The door falls in – his Dalek casing is fired upon – but it is empty. Ian has escaped into the lift! The Daleks then try to bring it down, but Barbara pulls him free in time. Trying to orientate themselves, the TARDIS crew go to a window and witness from above the arrival of the Thals.

If we ever believed that the Daleks intended to help their neighbours, a little chat at the bottom of the lift quashes that. They don’t even intend to capture them. The first ever order is given to EXTERMINATE! For some reason, though, there is a piece of abstract sculpture at the top of the lift and with Barbara and Susan’s help, Ian throws it down the shaft to prevent pursuit. The quartet then split up – the Doctor leaving for the TARDIS, accompanied reluctantly by Barbara and Susan, while Ian stays to warn the Thals, who have just entered the hall where they were told to collect their food. It’s there, piled up with what looks like…toilet paper? Whatever, it’s good enough for the desperate Thals. Their leader (the optimist) enters first and is shot by the waiting Daleks; Ian shouts a warning and the other Thals scatter, running or hiding in convenient architectural anomalies. Ian collides with Alydon and they escape together.

Not long afterwards, the Doctor is installed at the Thal camp in the forest, chatting comfortably with Alydon’s sort-of-girlfriend Dyoni and examining a historical cache. The Thal survivors are still straggling in while Alydon, the new leader, agonises over where it all went wrong. Ian’s argument is that the Daleks are rabid racists. Show some strength, he advises, but the intensely pacifist Thals aren’t into that idea.

The Doctor isn’t bothered. “It’s no business of ours!” is his motto. “Let’s worry about ourselves!” He suggests they return to the TARDIS straight away. Only thing is…Ian had the fluid link. And it was taken by the Daleks while he was prisoner. Without it, there is no way to escape this planet.

Episode 5: The Daleks have duplicated the Thal radiation drugs to give to select groups of ‘worker’ Daleks. They have also managed to capture images of the TARDIS crew and Thals, and assume that this alliance means imminent attack. It’s not so extreme a supposition. That’s precisely what Ian is trying to convince Alydon to do, but his conscience refuses to let him push too far – what right has he to ask the Thals to fight for them? The Doctor has no such inhibitions and finds an unexpected supporter in Barbara. Only Ian seems to realise that no one is going to war over a fluid link. He fakes dragging off Dyoni to hand over to the Daleks in exchange for the lost component and when Alydon furiously clocks him on the jaw, responds with “So there are some things you’ll fight for?” Meanwhile, a Dalek is whirling out of control in a kind of delirium. The radiation drugs, far from improving Dalek health, are killing the workers they were administered to. It’s very, very sad. There is much wailing. The Daleks realise that they have become dependent on radiation for survival.

That night in the forest, Alydon is still awake, troubled by his instinctive violent reaction. Dyoni pats his arm, informing him that she’d have hated him if he’d done anything else. Behind them, an even better looking Thal is taking a walk in the woods with Barbara, laying out his multi-purpose cloak for them to sit on while they admire the chemical glow of a nearby polluted lake. The Thal, Ganatus, tells Barbara about an expedition that went there in search of food. He and his brother were the only survivors. Not a very romantic topic of conversation, he realises, and shuts up.

And suddenly we’re in Dalek cam! From a Dalek’s eye view we enter a new meeting where they are carrying out tests on the victims of the radiation drugs. If the environment outside doesn’t suit them, they decide, well, they’re just going to have to change it.

By the next morning, Alydon has made his decision. As the TARDIS crew will go whether or not they have support, he has chosen to go with them, regardless of whether that costs him his position as leader. Apparently this isn’t so much of a surprise as he thought it would be, because Ganatus quickly agrees to the plan and produces a map he prepared earlier. The plan is that their group will divide into two – one to remain behind and distract the Daleks, the others to go by the lake route to sneak into the city from behind. This involves many spooky black and white swamp shots. Ganatus’s brother is very reluctant about all this, but loses the argument and they camp for the night despite the creepy noises that fill the air. Ganatus goes to sleep with his head pillowed on…Barbara’s leg? Can that really be comfortable? Oh well.

In the morning a Thal man goes down to the lake to refill their water bags, but something rises from the depths and he is dragged to his death.

Episode 6: The water bags are found scattered on the boiling lake. Ganatus’s traumatised brother is more traumatised than ever, but there’s nothing to be done except move on. At the same time, the other half of the group – which includes the Doctor, Susan, Alydon and Dyoni – are spying on the city and making plans to sabotage the Dalek’s surveillance equipment. Little do they know that the Daleks are planning the creation of another neutron bomb. The only difficulty is that they need 23 days to make one and that is too long. Another way must be found to spread the radiation.

By now the first group of Thals have reached a system of caverns. Ganatus and Barbara have broken off from the others as their own team and there is some fun flirtatious banter, including Ganatus’s sly response to Barbara’s caution – “Do you always do what Ian says?” This is possibly why she agrees to let him investigate a narrow passageway in the rock, lowering him down on a rope. She can’t control it, though; it slides from her grip, and Ganatus falls. Ian and the others arrive at this point. Despite the fact that he is the one who fell down a rock shaft Ganatus insists on finding out if Barbara is okay before telling them about the tunnels he has discovered.

The surveillance tech in the Dalek city is beginning to malfunction. This is apparently because the Thals are aiming mirrors at it. Oh, glorious science! While the Doctor, Susan and Alydon break into the city, the other Thals are making their way through the new tunnels – Ian in the lead, Ganatus holding Barbara’s hand…ostensibly to help her along. His brother Antodus pulls him aside, though, demanding that they go back. He is convinced that they are all going to die. Ganatus isn’t willing to let him go and they wrestle briefly (you know, like pacifistic Thals do), resulting a rockslide that decides the matter – there’s no way back now.

The Doctor’s team arrive at a key point in the city and proceed to sabotage the Daleks’ static electricity generation. Sending Alydon away to rejoin the camp, the Doctor continues to happily smash up Dalek tech despite Susan’s trying to pull him away, and they turn around to find themselves surrounded by Daleks. “The only interest we have in the Thals,” they inform their prisoners, “is their TOTAL EXTERMINATION!” A radiation bombardment has been planned to take place the next day and then they will be the masters of Skaro!

In the caves, meanwhile, the first team have reached a new obstacle – a crevasse that it is decided they can only cross by jumping to the ledge on the other side. Ian, of course, insists on going first. Ganatus follows, the smiles between him and Barbara becoming more noticeable than ever. They all manage to get across, but when it’s Antodus’s turn, he misses the ledge, tumbling into the darkness of the crevasse. Above him, Ian has been knocked off balance and is about to fall…

Episode 7: Ganatus catches Ian, but the weight of Antodus on the rope is threatening to drag all three of them into the chasm. Antodus chooses his own solution, cutting through the rope to allow himself to fall. The shock causes Ganatus to lose hope in the expedition. As if anything is needed to make their situation worse, the lantern then begins to fail and they are forced to turn it off to conserve power…but light is coming into the  tunnel from somewhere else. They have found a way into the city!

And not a moment too soon. Alydon has drummed up some fight in his people, giving the order to enter the city, while in a cell off from the Dalek control room the Doctor and Susan are being questioned. The Daleks are quite happy to share their plans. They intend to go forth and take over Skaro, and in order to do that, they are preparing to irradiate the landscape with the full power of their nuclear generators. Hoping to delay them, the Doctor tells them of the TARDIS, offering the errant fluid link as proof of its existence. This backfires. The Daleks would very much like to explore the secrets of the TARDIS, and that’s exactly what they will do – once intense radiation makes it possible for them to leave the city and find it for themselves. They begin the irradiation procedure. Yes, people, it’s a countdown!

Fortunately for the Doctor, a better distraction is on its way. Both groups of Thals are now in the city, looking for the control room and disabling surveillance equipment as they go. Alydon runs into Ian’s team just as the Daleks begin locking down the doors on that floor. Alydon and Ian struggle to hold one open while the others escape, and Ganatus even risks his life by forcing himself back underneath to ensure Barbara gets through safely. Somehow they all make it to the control room, where they find the Doctor and Susan and free them. The Daleks pursue, but the city is suddenly full of Thals. With nothing but ropes and rocks, they start taking out the astonished Daleks. During the fight, the control room is badly damaged, the power supply accidentally disrupted. The Daleks cannot survive without their static electricity. One pleads with the Doctor for it to be restored; he calmly informs it that he doesn’t even know how. The Dalek dies with a pitiful wail. With all the Daleks failing, all that remains is to collect the fluid link and the TARDIS crew can be on their way.

Back at the Thal camp in the petrified forest, Alydon turns amateur scientist, trying to understand Dalek technology. He asks the Doctor to stay and help them rebuild, but the Doctor refuses. “I never give advice, never,” he says emphatically (and untruthfully), then relents a little and adds mysteriously , “Always search for truth.” Well, no one ever said the man was helpful. The fluid link is replaced and general goodbyes are said. Ganatus, farewelling Barbara outside the TARDIS, is clearly on the point of asking her to stay, but stops himself and brings her hand to his lips instead. Ah, Thal chivalry! Barbara presses a brief kiss against his mouth, then disappears into the TARDIS, and a moment later the TARDIS itself is gone, leaving Skaro far behind.

The Verdict: How could I have forgotten how much I love this story? It is the first ever outing of the Dalek and it is always a joy to revisit the beginning of that legend – I admit to a fangirl shriek when, for the very first time in TV history, a Dalek orders “extermination!”. It is also a fascinating reminder of who the Doctor was when the series began. He was no hero, that’s for sure. A brilliant scientist, certainly, but also a heartless, cantankerous loner who only assists the Thals because his granddaughter would never forgive him if he didn’t. I love the Thals, incidentally, who find common ground with the Daleks in being so unintentionally funny. Ganatus, in particular, has a lot of personality and his goodbye to Barbara is one of the great poignant moments of the Hartnell era. Of course, if this was New Who, Barbara might have been allowed to bring him along…now, that would have made for an interesting conversation…

GANATUS: Here’s some fabric for a new dress, since I see you won’t be wearing those borrowed leather pants any more. Pity, that.

BARBARA: That’s so sweet. I’ll try to make time for dressmaking between life-threatening adventures – actually, hang on, do you sew at all?

GANATUS: How do you think I made my multi-purpose Thal cloak?

BARBARA: You’re coming home with me.

DOCTOR: Whatever. Grab a bunk. I’m popping by Earth anyway to stock up on Jammy Dodgers, I’ll drop you guys off then.

DOCTOR: Just call it the TAXIDIS, why don’t you.

I miss the long story arcs of Classic Who. It meant narrative padding at times, but there was also the chance to really explore a world and its people, and what it means to leave them behind when the adventure is over. Though if you thought seven episodes was a stretch, just wait until next month, when we begin the Second Doctor marathon of The War Games. There will be battlefields – rebels – time getting properly messed up and lots of cups of tea! See you then!

“Did I Mention It Also Travels In Time?” – Celebrating 50 Years of the Madman in a Box

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning. Where the sea’s asleep and the rivers dream. People made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do.

– Doctor Who, ‘Survival’

If somehow up until this point in your life you were unaware of Doctor Who, consider this your moment of enlightenment. It all started on the 23rd of November in 1963, when the first episode of a BBC children’s science fiction show opened with an eery pan over a black and white junkyard. Inside was the incongruous shape of a police telephone box…Only of course, if you are aware of Doctor Who, you already know that it is not a telephone box at all. It is a TARDIS, the home, transport and only constant in the mad life of a time travelling renegade called the Doctor, who waltzes through the universe saving the day with something called a sonic screwdriver and many cups of hot sweet army tea. He is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He has two hearts. He has been played by eleven actors and he’s still the same person.

From here on in, I’m assuming you’re a fan, or you’re going to be.

I am not the Whovian of the family. My sister is. I was indoctrinated from an early age, though, spending countless afternoons joining in the family viewings of library VHS tapes, drawing during the boring bits and cheering on the Daleks. I don’t recall us experiencing the series in any kind of order – whatever we could get hold of, we would watch, jumping cheerfully from Doctor to Doctor. By the time the Australian ABC began a more or less comprehensive repeat of the surviving episodes in 2003, I’d seen almost all of them at least once, and heard many of the missing ones on audio. Doctor Who has always been a part of my growing up, from the summer ritual of shouting “Exterminate!” into the distorting current of the fan, to nightmares of the green lion men from Inferno climbing in through the bathroom window to beat me to death with a spanner.

The series was taken off air in the 90s, but fandom remained strong and in 2005 it was returned to the BBC under the helm of producer Russell T. Davies, with a new Doctor, a new companion, and even a brand new look for the interior of the TARDIS. This has become known, for perhaps rather obvious reasons, as New Who. And so it is we find ourselves celebrating the 50th anniversary year of the series with our beloved old Doctor squarely on TV, where he belongs. There’s a lot of excited hype building around what the current producer, Stephen Moffat, might do to celebrate the milestone. What favourites might return, old monsters and companions and maybe even a past Doctor or two…? I am steadfastly avoiding spoilers, but whatever happens, odds are it will be big.

Today, I’m beginning my celebration. Every month for the next eleven months I’ll be posting a review of a story from the series, starting with the Hartnell era and counting down through the Doctors to the anniversary itself on the 23rd of November. Come along for the ride as I take a look back in time. I swear I know how to fly this thing…

Fairy Tale Tuesday No.24 – My Lady Sea

I am a feminist who loves fairy tales. This is not a contradiction in terms, I can defend the strength of women in the world of folk lore with a passion and many examples, but sometimes my tolerance reaches breaking point. With Perrault this is ‘Patient Griselda’; with the Grimms, ‘King Thrushbeard’. And with Ruth Manning Sanders, a teller of fairy tales I admire more than any other, it is ‘My Lady Sea’.

A lonely shoemaker, depressed by the silence of his empty home, moulds three beautiful dolls from dough and pretends that they are his daughters. Proud of his work, he dresses each ‘girl’ up in different colours and the next day sets the doll in white by his open window to overlook the street. Before he leaves, he plays at being the strict father, sternly instructing his blank-faced creation not to do anything more than look. “Do not speak to anyone,” he orders, ” do not smile, or beckon, or make eyes at any handsome young man. Remember you have been well brought up; and modest maidens make no acquaintances without their father’s permission.” There may be a reason this man is not married.

In any case, he departs, leaving the doll in the window all day. People passing by see and admire her, mistaking her for a living girl. Among them is the king’s son. He stops underneath the window, sweeping off his hat for a deep and princely bow. He tries to charm a reaction from the doll, an effort that is of course doomed to failure despite his suspiciously rapid declarations of affection and extravagant proposals of marriage. He even bursts into tears, but the doll manages to stare serenely over his head regardless. Eventually he tosses a gold ring through the window into her lap and steals a sprig from the potted rosemary on the sill, warning her that he’ll be returning the next day in the hope she’ll have changed her mind. More precisely, “perhaps you will be kinder”. Because naturally not fancying him is SO CRUEL.

He returns to the palace, and the shoemaker returns home. He is happy at first, still playing his game of paternal pride, but then he goes to lift the doll from her chair and discovers the ring in her lap. It seems somehow that his inanimate ‘daughter’ has been flirting with strange boys after all. Furious, he dashes her from the chair and hurls every sort of abuse at her, before snatching up his shoemaker’s knife and cutting her into pieces. Yes, the doll can’t feel it. She can’t take rings from passersby either. I don’t recall ever telling you this man was sane.

The next day he chooses from the two remaining dolls, placing the one in the blue dress at the same window. “You are not like your shameless sister,” he tells her. “When I come home I shall not find that you have been flirting and taking presents from strange men.” Little does he know that the king’s very persistent son is coming back for a second visit, this time armed with a ruby ring. When grovelling in the street and telling her that she is driving him to public ridicule fail to touch the doll’s heart, he throws the jewel into her lap and goes weeping on his way. And of course, when the shoemaker gets home that night, who is blamed for the unexplained arrival of a new ring? Mad with rage, he seizes her by the neck and shakes her until her head falls off. Then he cuts her up, throws her in a cupboard with the remains of her ‘sister’, and places the last doll at the table with him so that he can bemoan his ill fortune as a father to her blankly patient ear. Are you freaked out yet? Oh, but it gets worse.

In the morning the shoemaker places his last doll at the window. You might think he’d have learned by now that this not a good idea, but instead he delivers his third ineffectual lecture and leaves the house shortly before the instigator of the whole tragedy arrives for another day’s pleading. The prince makes every promise under the sun in an attempt to change his true love’s mind, somehow failing in all his agonies to notice that she is not actually alive. Not, you know, breathing or blinking. When he fails yet again to draw any kind of response, he throws a third ring, this time a diamond, into the doll’s lap and goes back to the palace, leaving the shoemaker to find the evidence. I expect you can predict the result. Vicious rage, foul language, the knife and then the cupboard.

When the prince resumes his campaign the next day, he finds the window boarded up and no answer when he rattles the door. Every day he comes back, and every day goes away again disappointed, until he wears himself out to the point where he lies bedridden with depression. The doctors produce a brilliant diagnosis. “This is no ordinary illness,” they inform the king. “Your son has a secret sorrow. You must question him, and find out what it is.” An excellent way of escaping royal outrage, that, and the king is duly impressed. He begs his son to confide in him and at last the prince tells him of the shoemaker’s lovely daughter, who ignores his every plea. The king’s reaction? No problem! It’s just a girl, I can bully a girl into a forced marriage with a snap of my fingers!

Which he then attempts to do. Two terrible fathers come face to face when the shoemaker turns up at the palace and is demanded to produce a daughter. As it would be kind of awkward to tell the king, “Oh, I made some dolls then chopped them up and stuffed them all in a cupboard”, the shoemaker tries to insist he has no daughter, but the king is having none of it. If he does not somehow produce the required girl, he will be hanged, and that’s all there is to it. Don’t you just a love a nice old fashioned tyranny?

The shoemaker wanders off into a wood to reflect on his impending execution. As he literally beats his breast in dread (yet not, I think, remorse) he encounters an old woman gathering firewood who inquires with some curiosity as to what is wrong. “Leave me alone!” the shoemaker cries. “I am going to dash my brains out over a precipice!” Taken aback, the old woman manages to talk him out of it and obtain his version of events. She has a solution. Of course she does. She’s a little old lady gathering firewood, obviously she will be the repository of all secret and arcane wisdom. Offering the shoemaker a stick from her basket, she instructs him to go down to the sea and strike the water, repeating as he does so the same rhyme three times, calling for the Lady Sea. The shoemaker, having little faith but no better option, follows her instructions. After he has called out the rhyme for the third time, a wave washes over his feet and he hears a voice, telling him that the girl the king wishes for will arrive in three days time.

Well, the king grudgingly permits the delay. Hearing the news, the prince bounces straight out of bed. Yay, Daddy has managed to bully my dream girl into matrimony! The shoemaker returns home with suicide still in reserve, but when the third day comes he goes down to the beach just in case something should happen. And happen it does. The waves draw back and standing on the wet sand is a girl, the most beautiful he has ever seen, resembling the unfortunate dolls but so much lovelier and dressed like something from a dream in a robe that shimmers with moving pictures. The shoemaker just stares. The girl stares back. Then she holds out her hand and the shoemaker, wakened from his daze, leads her to the palace.

The prince is delighted. Same girl, different girl, who cares, she’s prettier than ever! But then he tries to make her speak, and she will not. So there is a quandary. The prince cannot marry a girl who will neither speak nor nod her head during the ceremony. There’s nothing for the king to do but set her up in a pretty apartment at the palace where the prince can pester her night and day to change her mind. Which she does not.

Exhausting himself with pleading, he falls asleep on her sofa. While he sleeps the girl makes two small dolls and places them on the window sill near where he lies, and they promptly break into violent argument, shrilling at each other so loudly that the prince wakes. The quarrel turns to the subject of his pathetic love life. One doll decides he’s an idiot. The other is more sympathetic. As they fight it out, they reveal that the silent girl is merely waiting for him to say the right words – to say, specifically, “I wish you joy of your sire the Sun, and of your mother, my Lady Sea.” The dolls at last agree on the prince being a fool and spring out the window into the sea, changing as they do so into two small fishes. The prince immediately turns to the girl and says the magic words. She leaps up, hugs him, and agrees to get married straight away.

That’s depressing enough, but the worst part comes right at the end, when the tale returns to the shoemaker. The prince, perhaps still under the mistaken belief that this man is his father in law, installs the shoemaker in the royal household. Here he meets and marries a dairymaid, who soon gives birth to a daughter. And if that doesn’t freak you out, I don’t know what will.

Ruth Manning Sanders is, as a rule, excellent at collecting stories that treat their heroines well. None of them are her own inventions, of course, so I can’t blame her for the creation of ‘My Lady Sea’ – it is a Greek folk tale that she has only retold – but it is an ugly piece of folklore that pushes its female characters into an impossible position between a raging psychotic for a father and a bridegroom who uses tantrums to get whatever he wants. Both men are rewarded for their abysmal behaviour. And this is another reason that I, as a feminist, review fairy tales. Not even a character from ancient folk lore should get away with something like that.

An Update From Under The Mountain

Last week was when I finally saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And…well, maybe I shouldn’t have read this first. Because I’m pretty sure I wasn’t meant to be laughing that much. Then again, if they wanted me to take it seriously, maybe they should have rethought the rabbit sleigh? Looking at the dwarves’ faces, you could tell they were thinking, “Okay, and we thought we had it bad with you, Gandalf. Where was the turning when we stepped into Bambi III: Thumper Saves the Day?”

Then again, I was always going to be touchy about this film. The Hobbit is one of the cornerstone reads of my growing up and is therefore sacred, and any narrative tampering was bound to trigger cross vibes. Which it did. But I came out of the cinema wanting to watch it again, I haven’t been able to get ‘The Song of the Lonely Mountain’ out of my head ever since, and I want the next movie to start straight away.

So, yes. I liked it.

(Also – if you are wondering what you would do if thirteen dwarves and a wizard turned up at your house one evening for an impromptu pre-quest party, one website has a solution – offer them tea. This tea. And if the TARDIS should arrive on an already overcrowded doorstep, that’s covered too. I don’t even drink tea, but this sort of makes me wish I did.)

Another highlight of the week was spending an afternoon trying out the board game ‘Discworld: Ankh Morpork’, which is a bit like a mix of Monopoly and Cluedo, only completely different. With spontaneous demons. I lost – twice – but hello, I GOT THE SUSAN CARD. So in a fangirl sense, I definitely won.

Review No.55 – Who Could That Be At This Hour?

Who Could That Be At This Hour? – Lemony Snicket

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2012

A thirteen year old boy is waiting for a train when a secret note sends him climbing out a cafe window into the battered car of his mysterious new mentor. She will whisk him away from everything he thought he knew to the backwater town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea – which is no longer by the sea – in an attempt to solve a robbery that may not, in fact, be a robbery. There are inquisitive cab drivers, strange telephone calls and more questions than anyone knows what to do with, but even the simplest of answers cannot be trusted.

The name of Lemony Snicket will be very familiar to readers of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the thirteen-volume chronicle of the luckless but highly resourceful Baudelaire children. The same straight-faced bizarreness can be found in this, the first book in his new series ‘All The Wrong Questions’, which takes on his own (fictional!) childhood. It shouldn’t be read as a continuation of Unfortunate Events, but there will be familiar characters and the hint of future explanations. If you loved his earlier books, you should definitely read this one too; if you have not yet been introduced to the weird but wonderful world of Lemony Snicket, this is a good place to start.

Vignette No.17 – Seven Rules

Seven Rules for A Quiet and Simple Life

  1. Never open the third cupboard on the left. It is where the bad ideas are kept. To remind self of this, have made an X in masking tape across the doors, but the heat keeps making that come unstuck.
  2. Figure out how to unscrew full-length mirror from bathroom wall and get rid of it at the earliest opportunity. Avoid any mirror that shows feet, just in case.
  3. Never go barefoot. Not for anyone. Boyfriends who don’t buy a penchant for bedsocks may be more appreciative of high heels. Play it as a shoe obsession and STICK TO IT.
  4. Don’t go outside under a gibbous moon. That light does hellish things to a glamour, and I do NOT mean make-up. Follow the lunar cycle on a private calendar and if in doubt refer to a reliable meteorological website before leaving the house.
  5. Do not eat meat in public. Fake a diet or vegetarianism if necessary.
  6. In fact, avoid all situations where there may be contact with the smell of blood. If forced into such a situation, hold breath or focus concentration elsewhere. Never lick a fresh wound, even if it’s your own.
  7. Whatever you do, don’t let anyone ever see this list.

© Faith Mudge, 2013

Review No.54 – In the Forests of Serre

In the Forests of Serre – Patricia A. McKillip

Ace Books, 2004

Returning home from the war, the troubled prince Ronan runs afoul of a witch when he inadvertently rides down her little white hen. It does not take long for her vengeful predictions to come true. The king intends his only son to marry again, regardless of how the broken-hearted Ronan may still be over the loss of his first wife, and the chosen woman is already on her way from the neighbouring kingdom of Dacia. But many things may be mislaid in the strange forests of Serre. Princess Sidonie arrives to find her bridegroom gone and his father hungry for magic she cannot give, while outside the fortress gates something terrible has found a new shape…

McKillip is a writer of exceptional imagination and irresistably lyrical writing; her novels are like long tangled fairy tales, and this is no exception. There are eccentric and unpredictable wizards, reckless bargains, a house of bones and a bird of fire. It can be confusing in parts, and the many threads of the plot don’t all make sense until the very end, but it is so exquisitely written that it will lead you onward regardless.