Monday, 28 February 2011
The event returns for 2011 and I will be blogging later today about Joanna Geary and Adam Westbrook who gave us an online-flavoured, rather opposite-themed assessment of the industry. Keep me tagged for further updates as the week proceeds!
Friday, 25 February 2011
Less amusing was the small but significant error made on the opposite page. In their Space Travel: Final Countdown graphic, detailing the last voyage of the shuttle Discovery, they included several famous spacecraft images - with the starship Enterprise included as a bit of light-hearted fun.
I'm cynical enough now that this type of forced humour just makes my skin crawl. However, as a Trek fan (not Trekkie, nobody uses the term after the nineties except jaded hacks), I noticed the artist had used a schematic of the USS Enterprise-B. That ship, under the command of Captain John Harriman, was launched in 2293 - or 1994 for us terrestrial viewers. Referring to Captain Kirk's 1966 maiden voyage indicates you wish to refer to the original USS Enterprise, as seen thirty years previously.
I understand that hordes of readers will roll their eyes, dismissing this nitpicking as the mark of the socially-inept fan. Who cares about distinguishing between pictures of made-up ships? The answer is - editors. They dislike getting letters of complaints, snide twitter messages, or blogs by fans pointing out their staff's mistakes. More importantly, it indicates a fallibility amongst the workforce that they've already had to apologise for on the opposite page!
Let's dig a little deeper into this error, and try and determine its cause, shall we? The first stop is that limitless boon to overworked, underappreciated journalists the world over; Google, and more importantly, its image search. A quick search of the term Enterprise unsurprisingly brings up a wealth of pictures from Star Trek. The very first picture is of Kirk's 1960s Enterprise, a curvaceous object that looks like some Habitat lamp. It's correct - but for the graphic in question, we need a schematic. Scroll down to the third page, and a perfect image shows up.
Never mind the fact that it says Enterprise-B at the top of the picture. Just rip out what you need, splatter a few lines of prose, and knock out another article. Job done. Except that it's blatant confirmation of all the criticisms that can be levelled at journalists - the laziness, the overuse of cliche, the lack of fact-checking.
What is even more disappointing is the evident attitude behind it. "Who'll care about the accuracy, except some spotty Trekkie anoraks?" Quite apart from the fact that it's a shocking attitude to take towards accuracy of any kind, it's also deplorable to pass judgement on someone else's interests like that. I can't recall the last time a train carriage full of drunk Star Trek fans assaulted anyone or destroyed any property, or the last time a Trek actor got paid fifty million pounds to kick a ball around for ninety minutes, cop off with another actor's wife, and drag the whole sordid mess through the tabloids.
Our harried hack signs off with a sly smile, mentioning the "countless bad catchphrases. Beam me up, Scotty..." With a sigh that could be heard on Vulcan, planet-wide hordes of fans will tiredly point out the line was never spoken in Star Trek, ever. So, the journalist's famous list of 'countless bad catchphrases' comes down to one - that was incorrect. So, zero, then.
Back to the countless bad cliches, Independent.
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
The Third Doctor was stranded on Earth by the Time Lords, and became UNIT's Scientific Advisor, helping defend the planet against various alien invasions. Ironically, the Doctor and the Brigadier had a strained relationship at this time - the Doctor was frustrated by being denied his freedom to roam time and space, and being stranded on the comparatively-primitive Earth.
More time-travelling for our long-suffering officer occurs in legendar y multi-Doctor story
The Five Doctors (1983). Whilst attending a UNIT reunion, the retired Brigadier meets the Second Doctor - just as they are abducted through time and space to the Doctor's homeworld of Gallifrey. There adventures are underfoot as every incarnation of the Doctor is pitted against the safari-park of enemies the Time Lords have amassed - although the sadly departed William Hartnell is replaced by Richard Hurndell portraying the First Doctor, and Fourth Doctor actor Tom Baker
Instead, first encounters between the Sixth Doctor and the Brigadier would be described both in Gary Russell's Business Unusual (1997), one of the Past Doctor Adventures novels from BBC Books, and The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (2000) from the Big Finish Audios, who would count on both actors to produce many audio stories for years after the show concluded, and was rebooted in 2005.
Then, we moved into the closing days of Doctor Who, under the stewardship of Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor. The stage is set for a final battle between UNIT and Mordred's Knights of King Arthur's era (or the BBC and John Nathan-Turner's Doctor Who!) in Battlefield (1989). The Seventh Doctor calls for the retired Lethbridge-Stewart to abandon his gardening and wife Doris (mentioned previously in Planet of the Spiders, 1974) and come to take command of UNIT, which he does - with transport of the Doctor's own, his famous roadster Bessie.
The battle would be fierce, although the Doctor successfully foiled the evil sorceress Morgaine at every turn. However, she eventually unleashed the extra-dimensional beast known as the Destroyer on our universe, confident that the pacifist Doctor would find it difficult in the extreme to kill the Destroyer. In his stead was Earth's most dedicated defender, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - who knocked out the Doctor so he could confront the Destroyer without distraction! Armed only with a single revolver, filled with silver bullets, he single-handedly saves Earth...bringing down an entire castle on his head. A distraught Doctor is mourning the loss of his oldest friend, until the hardy soldier recovers and flippantly dismisses the Time Lord's fears.
Battlefield is one of my personal favourite episodes. There are so many touching moments between the Doctor and the Brigadier, such as the line "Ah. Women. Not really my field." to which the Doctor responds "Don't worry Brigadier, people will be shooting at you soon."
When he confronts Morgaine the Sorceress, she describes Lethbridge-Stewart as "Steeped in blood" and threatens to kill the Brigadier the next time she sees him. Which she does, in two thousand years, when Sara Kingdom (played by Jean Marsh, actress behind Morgaine) murders Agent Bret Vyon (Nicholas Courtney) in The Daleks Masterplan (1965)! It's that kind of circular story-telling and complex continuity that makes Classic Who absolutely engrossing...
That was the swansong for the Brigadier, the United Nations Taskforce and Doctor Who. Paul McGann's involvement as the Eighth Doctor in the abortive Doctor Who: The Enemy Within (1996) did not involve Nicholas Courtney. Nonetheless the Brigadier met the eighth incarnation of his old friend in the last Virgin New Adventure novel, Dying Days (1997) and the actors both co-operated on the Big Finish Audio Minuet in Hell (2001), sealing their relationship again. After the events of Dying Days, the Brigadier received a much-deserved promotion to General, but preferred to retain his older rank as a descriptive!
The Audios and Novels continued enthusiastically throughout this drought of televised Doctor Who adventures. By 2005 the show had been resurrected, with Christopher Eccleston portraying the Ninth Doctor. UNIT is mentioned and features in Aliens of London and World War Three (2005) but the Brigadier is not present. Probably for the best, as UNIT becomes even more cannon-fodder than it was in the show's previous incarnation.
Nicholas Courtney eventually returns to portray the Brigadier in 2008, but on Doctor Who spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, ironically reuniting him with another 1970s staple of Who action, Sarah-Jane Smith as played by Elisabeth Sladen! With thanks to Steve Goble who blogged about the particular episode in question - Enemy of the Bane (2008) - and included two photos that make a beautiful comparison between the two eras, and reproduced below.
On a sadder note, according to writer and producer Russell T Davies' book, Courtney was considered a late alternative to having current companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) feature in the episode instead, but who could not be made available. Whatever the motivation, this inclusion of the Brigadier was hugely beneficial, hopefully inspiring the Sarah Jane Adventures' young audience to find out more about this elderly but vigorous ally of their hero, and discovering the hugely entertaining UNIT adventures of their parents generation.
We will never discover if the Brigadier had any place in the Eleventh Doctor's world, as played by Matt Smith. His sudden passing a few days ago robbed a whole generation of fans the chance to see him for the first time - or return, for those of us with longer generations.
Critics will note I do not make much mention of the 'extended universe' of Doctor Who, which features a much wider selection of encounters between the Brigadier and the Time Lord. Due to the immense scope of these novels, audio dramas, comics, computer games, fan stories, etctera, I would be overwhelmed immediately. Nor would I confidently talk about Nicholas Courtney as the actor, who was reportedly an enthusiastic attendee at the many conventions - as I was sadly never able to meet the man personally. I will leave such recollections to those with the delightful, funny and inspiring anecdotes of meeting him, which I have read with real enjoyment over the past few days.
Instead, I've taken us on a lengthy trawl back through one of the most astounding histories of a supporting character, in one of the most popular - perhaps the most definitive - science fiction television shows ever. The Brigadier's longevity and inarguable popularity stems from his relationship with the audience. We must never forget that the Doctor is a mysterious alien being, dedicated to saving our world from its many dangers and enemies, but ultimately a man of another time and space entirely.
Lethbridge-Stewart is the everyman we can connect with, a mortal human who risks his life even more than the Doctor, and saves the day time and again. It is his face and presence that has remained unchanging for forty years whilst the Doctor comes and goes - it is his unflappable, steadfast nature that always offsets the Doctor's madcap schemes, it is his virtue and dedication that often rescues our titular hero from whatever scrape he's landed himself in this week.
There is some debate about whether or not the Brigadier constitutes a 'companion' in the show's convoluted sense of continuity. When you consider the grounds for what constitutes a companion - and Amy Pond's cast-iron reinforcement of every negative stereotype that has applied to 'the Doctor's woman' - I would say the Brigadier is about as far from the category as you can get.
And rightly so, too. There have been, and will be, many companions. There has been, and never will be again, one Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.
With Thanks - The TARDIS Wiki, the Daily Mail website, the Internet Movie Database , and a whole host of blogs. No infringement intended, no hotlinking pre-meditated, please direct all queries to the Space-Time Telegraph!