Level 58 Time Lord: Envisioning a Doctor Who MMORPG

One of the ways to reach Movement Point is to type “doctor who mmorpg” into a search engine, owing to our twin fascinations with Dr. Who and gaming here. This site doesn’t show up until the third or fourth page on that search, though, so you have to be pretty desperate for news about a potential Dr. Who Massively Multi-Player Online Role Playing Game to click through to here. And yet my site stats indicate that someone did.

Derivative work based on Dalek, by theholyllama, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike license

I can understand the desire. Over forty years, Dr. Who‘s writers and producers have populated the show’s more-or-less coherent universe with plenty of planets to explore, characters to revisit, and enemies to defeat yet again. MMOs, and role playing games generally, put the player into the story universe, to shape it and become a part of it, a form of “active” fan fiction. Millions log in to fight dragons daily; it’s not such a stretch to imagine gamers going online to take down Daleks.

So what, then, would a Dr. Who MMORPG look like?

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Becoming One with Blake’s 7

Over on science fiction mega-blog-site io9.com, there’s a recent article on “How to Get into Rebel Space Opera Blake’s 7” that addresses the emotional and psychological aspects of attuning yourself to this slightly quirky show’s worldview:

Be willing to suspend your disbelief a bit in the first season. Blake and his crew have a run of good luck that’s pretty hard to swallow, including stumbling on the greatest spaceship in known space and later inheriting the most awesome computer ever built. Just run with it, because it sets up some great stories later.

Blake's Seven 7” single back cover, on Flickr.com, by Unloveable, via a Creative Commons Attribution licence

Yet another of Terry Nation‘s creations, Blake’s 7 does take some getting used to, as the heroes, broadly taken, are really anti-heroes determined to overthrow the oppressive Federation at pretty much any cost. It’s widely considered one of the very first of the “arc” science-fiction shows that focus on character development over a pre-planned story line (like Babylon 5), rather than being purely episodic in nature, where one episode’s events have little if anything to do with the next (like the original Star Trek).

The io9 article does not, however, address how to actually get Blake’s 7 in DVD Region 1 countries, as they have not been released with our region coding, other than a wink and nod at the torrent route in the comments. Region 2 has the full series, and both PAL and NTSC video tapes were produced. As far back as 2004, there were plans to produce Region 1 DVDs, but there is very little information available about why the deal or project fell through. Some sites claim to have region free versions of the show on DVD for sale, but you don’t have to be Orac to realize that there’s something strange going on there.

I realize that Blake’s 7 will always be a niche show in the United States, and it’s certainly the rights holders’ prerogative to not find a way to take my money, but it would be a shame to have this unique show stuck in the proverbial film can for American fans.

(Image courtesy of Unloveable via a Creative Commons Attribution License.)

First Impressions: Torchwood

CSI: Cardiff. I’d like to see that. They’d be measuring the velocity of a kebab.

I realize that I’m coming somewhat late to the party, but I’ve just begun watching the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, which recently came out on Region 1 DVD.

Torchwood Logo

Featuring Captain Jack Harkness, one of the Doctor’s occasional companions, and his band of alien chasers and tech scavengers, Torchwood is a much grittier and mature show than its parent program. It’s refreshing to watch science fiction with a bit of an edge, particularly in the television/episodic format. I often wonder what a show like Babylon 5 would have been like without the particular strictures of network television.

There’s a fine line between gratuitous and developmental, though. When a show pushes typical boundaries to tell a story more fully, then adding a more adult “sheen” serves a purpose. But adding adult contexts to a show merely to titillate cheapens the storytelling and the show in general. Does Torchwood burnish or tarnish the whole Doctor Who franchise?

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Doctor Who Project: Marco Polo

I find your caravan most unusual, Doctor.

With the Fast Return Switch unstuck, the TARDIS lurches back from The Edge of Destruction and deposits our intrepid travelers on the Roof of the World, the Himalayas—Earth, albeit in the Thirteenth Century. But nothing can be easy, because the TARDIS promptly breaks down again, depriving them of heat, light, and water, miles from civilization of any sort. Luckily, though, they get a tow:

Need a lift?

Marco Polo just happens to be traveling by and gives the Doctor’s “caravan” a lift and his name to the seven-episode story. “Marco Polo” (Story Production Code D) is the first of the “historical” Dr. Who stories and, alas, the first of the stories that no longer exist in filmed form.


For reasons of frugality, shortsightedness, confusion, and bureaucratic bumbling, the BBC erased, discarded, and destroyed the video tapes holding either directly recorded or “telerecorded” episodes of many stories from the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton eras. Film cans with master recordings were also destroyed. Fire hazards, I suppose. Only slowly did prints sent to other countries for broadcast, plus privately purchased recordings and even, as in the case of “Marco Polo,” audio recordings of the broadcasts, begin to return to the BBC. Richard Molesworth’s 1998 article for Doctor Who Magazine on the state of the Dr. Who archives provides a fascinating look into the complexities, quiet tragedies, and minor miracles surrounding the early stories’ loss and (partial) recovery. So this look at “Marco Polo” is based on a remastered (and abridged) audio recording of the story, accompanied by production photographs, put out by the BBC as a special feature on the DVDs of the initial three Hartnell stories.

So just what did the BBC destroy when they trashed “Marco Polo”?

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Doctor Who Project: Inside the Spaceship/The Edge of Destruction

Have you any idea where we are, Doctor?
Where is not as important as why, young man!

That little incident with the Daleks behind them, our time travelers hop back on the TARDIS and promptly get stuck “Inside the Spaceship” (Story Production Code C). You’d swear that the inside of the TARDIS really did conform to the dimensions of a police box, the way being cooped up in there begins to affect them:

Bad Hair Day, with Scissors

This two episode story, also known as “The Edge of Destruction,” takes place entirely inside the TARDIS, the only story so confined and the only story solely featuring the Doctor and his companions. But while just William Hartnell (the Doctor), Carol Ann Ford (Susan), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara), and William Russell (Ian) are credited, one must make the case that the TARDIS becomes, for the first time, a character in Doctor Who as well. “Inside the Spaceship” is as much about the four travelers growing stronger as a team as it is about the mysterious workings of the TARDIS itself, even if the plot does hinge on a wonky spring.

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Doctor Who Project: The Mutants/The Daleks

Oh, Grandfather! Couldn’t we stay a bit longer? The Thals are such nice people!
And the Daleks are not, which is more important, my child!

From the loinskin clad cave dwellers of “100,000 BC”, the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara move on to, well, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, padded vest- and leather pants-wearing Thals of “The Mutants” (Story Production Code B). A slight improvement, at least on a hygienic level.

But no one ever spares a thought for the peaceful Thals and their worship of history and penchant for wearing foam rubber, because the Daleks make their debut:

Obey! Obey!

This story, also known as “The Daleks” for somewhat obvious reasons, transformed Dr. Who from that show that came on before Juke Box Jury to phenomenon. As Howe and Walker put it in Doctor Who: The Television Companion:

Virtually overnight, this gentle, partly educational family series for Saturday teatimes was transformed into the show that, for many people, just had to be watched at all costs.

Stretching over seven episodes, “The Mutants” featured the Daleks quite prominently from episode two onwards, and the mystery of just what hid within the machine monsters is stoked by the appearance of a claw peeking from under a cloak where the Doctor and Ian unceremoniously dumped the contents of a disabled Dalek at the end of episode three. Such hints at greater mystery undoubtedly kept viewers riveted.

But the Daleks aren’t the only stars of this show, and “The Mutants” sets up several lasting Whovian themes.

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