My Quest to Watch ALL Available Doctor Who episodes: An Introduction

This post may contain spoilers about classic and current episodes of Doctor Who.

Spoiler Alert:  This series of posts will contain spoilers about classic and possibly current episodes of Doctor Who.

In the beginning…

I have been a big fan of the BBC’s science fiction series Doctor Who since the late 1970’s, when I was a teenager in high school. I first caught a few episodes from its 15th season storyline Horror of Fang Rock while I was on vacation in Florida.

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Yeah, it really is that cheesy.

A few years later, a Superstation in New Jersey began broadcasting episodes on Saturday mornings. Two episodes every week, each part of a storyline which was often longer than many movies. As luck would have it, the first episode I caught was Tom Baker’s debut episode as the fourth Doctor in the story Robot.

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This was a fun Doctor to watch. Utterly unpredictable, witty dialogue, imaginative stories. A show in it’s prime, heading into what was to become regarded as some of the best episodes in the whole series.

Technically Baker appeared at the very end of the preceding story, Planet of Spiders, but that was a regeneration sequence in which he never spoke or even moved.  Not a debut for Tom baker so much as a farewell to the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee.

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Not their best Regeneration sequence.

Over time…

Over the last few decades I managed to watch all the episodes staring Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, and much of Colin Baker; as well as the T.V. movie with Paul McGann and the all of the episodes since the 2005 revival starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith; and most recently the 50th Anniversary special, Day of the Doctor, which introduced John Hurt as a previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor who fought in the Time War. I have also seen a some episodes from the years when the Doctor was portrayed first by William Hartnell and later by Patrick Troughton, and a single episode from Sylvester McCoy’s turn in the role.

With all I had watched, there was still much which I had missed. I wanted to see the episodes which introduced such mainstays like the sonic screwdriver, UNIT, Colonel and later Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, the first reference to the Time Lords, Cybermen, and so forth.

This desire to see the rarely shown episodes of Doctor Who combined with my love for collecting movies and television series. I own all of the episodes since the series revival in 2005, but among the classic episodes I owned only certain favorites from the Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee years, and a small number from the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton eras.

Befitting a series about a time traveling alien, I saw many of these episodes out of order.  The great strength of Doctor Who is you can take all the stories over its 50 year history and watch them in any sequence without feeling like you are missing something vital.  That said, the show has changed and evolved since its debut. Many things now considered part of the show’s canon simply didn’t exist when it began.  Watching a series from its beginning, in its proper order, allows you to discover the moments when crucial mythology were introduced or altered. It gives a deeper meaning to shows which come later, and a greater understanding of character moments built on a long established history.

A quest begins

I decided it was time to fill in my collection and, at the same time, watch all the episodes right from the beginning, in their correct order. Or rather, I should say, watch all the available episodes. Many episodes and even whole storylines from the Hartnell and Troughton  years were destroyed decades ago. Unless you build a time machine of your own it’s impossible  to watch those lost episodes. Still, that’s no excuse for not collecting and watching what is available.

And so a few months back my wife, Kathryn, and I made a deal. We’d each collect our favorite series (hers is Mystery Science Theater 3000, another show with a high cheese factor and missing early episodes) and every week we would watch a few episodes of Doctor Who and one of her MST3K movies. We’d do both from the beginning and proceed in the order they were first shown, skipping only those stories where either major portions are missing or the surviving video/audio is simply of unacceptable poor quality. We aren’t binge watching either of these series, which would be truly painful given the low quality of many episodes.

Where are we now?

Right now we’ve just finished the 16th Doctor Who story, The Chase, which means we’ve watched about 70 individual episodes. Time-wise we’ve watched episodes from November 23rd, 1963 through June 26th, 1965.

I’ll work up posts for the stories we’ve already watched, and as we go forward I’ll post regularly about our progress, offer my thoughts on the storylines and individual episodes, and remark on important milestones in the series’ evolution. I’ll also note if I find any special features worth reviewing.

My estimate is that it will take us about 5-6 years to watch all the Doctor Who episodes in the classic series alone.  I’ll let Kathryn estimate how long MST3K sill take us to complete, and comment on our progress through that series.

I hope that some fans of the series find these posts interesting, or at least occasionally amusing.  They are mostly meant for myself. Snapshots of my reactions to the episodes I’ve never seen before as well as those I’ve watched many times.  A log of my explorations through the distant past of a series which has become a world wide phenomena.  A fan’s view of a favorite series, with a willingness to poke fun at some of its foibles and a smattering of insights into its convoluted history.

Review of Battlestar Gallactic:Blood and Chrome

The new web series, Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, is fracking awesome.

Debuting on Friday, November 10th  on YouTube’s Machinima channel, the prequel’s first two ten-minute episodes dives immediately into the life of young pilot William Adama, who later becomes Admiral Bill Adama as fans of the excellent Battlestar Galacticaknow him.

The series opens at the height of the Cylon’s first War with the colonies where we meet Adama as he completes his Viper training and ships out to join the fight. His first assignment is on the Battlestar Galactica when it part of a relatively new fleet of warships.

A 1 minute trailer for those too busy for a 10 minute episode.

Throwing Adama directly into the war provides the show with an amazingly fast pace that keeps the action moving without sacrificing character development. Adama’s first mission in the war is supposed to be a milk run, a safe and routine cargo transport with orders to avoid enemy contact. This goes quickly wrong and lands Adama, his reluctant copilot, and a woman with secret orders from the Admiralty in the middle of a very important and dangerous secret mission.

The show is smartly written with a production quality rivaling those of major movies. The Galactica feels like an enormous ship in a major war filled with soldiers tired of fighting. The young Adama’s gung-ho ready-for-war enthusiasm is well-balanced by combat veterans that do their jobs with weary resignation and appropriate caution.

The web series is designed so that, should it prove popular, it can be re-edited into a movie that would be shown on SyFy in early 2013. No announcements have been made of turning Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome into a cable t.v. series like the original BattleStar Galactica. However it is clear this new show has a real possibility of developing into a long running, high-quality series. If you like epic science fiction, I heartily recommend Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome.

Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome episode 1. Nothing phantom about this menace.
Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome episode 2.

NaNoWriMo Is Approaching

National Novel Writing Month is about to start up again, and I plan to participate just as I have for the last two years. 

For those unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, the goal is pretty simple: write 50,000 words (approximately 200 pages) during the month of November. This works out to be about 1,667 words a day. A challenging goal, but one that I am capable of meeting, as my wins in 2010 and 2011 prove.

This year will be a bit different for me than the previous years.  In 2010 I wrote an initial draft of the second novel in my Gods Among Men series, …Demiurge, Unbound,…. In 2011 I focused on creating a draft of the backstory surrounding my most dynamic character, Artemis Arrowsmith.  In both cases I focused on a narrative that flowed from one scene to the next.

This year my plans are more scattered and random. I have some specific scenes in the first book, At The Lady’s Behest Comes…, that need a rewrite, such the opening paragraphs. Also I have decided to alter the opening few chapters of …Demiurge, Unbound,…. And there are a variety of scenes I have yet to create which I need in the second, third, and fourth books of my series. 

NaNWriMo provides an excellent opportunity to jot down quick first drafts of these scenes that I can later rework into useable material.  At the very least, the exercise of writing these scenes will help flesh out details that fill gaps in my rough outline.

In addition, I plan on writing down a lot of mythology that currently exists only in my head.  For example, I can specify:

  • Details about how magic works
  • The true history about Demiurge and the Lady
  • Delve into the wars Demiurge and the Lady fought against the Daemons and the False Gods
  • Explore details about the religions that have grown up around Demiurge and the Lady
  • Flesh out the cultures of the Gogs and Magogs

And so forth.  This material I will clean up and include on my new and improved website under the World menu. 

And I also hope to use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to create a series of musings I can later turn into blog posts. I have a variety of subjects in mind, but will let the whim of the day determine what I focus on.

These are my rough plans for the 2012 NaNoWriMo challenge.  I think I have plenty to write about, but the lack of a strict narrative I think will create new difficulties for me, as will the additional demands on my time. Check back in December to see how well I managed. Hopefully I’ll have a new winner’s certificate to post on my site.

The Big Picture

Some days you wonder if the process of preparing your first manuscript for publication ever ends. There are days when countless hours of hard work seem to not progress your plans or move your goals any closer.  It is at such points that it is easy to become frustrated and want to stop trying, to cease the endless cycles of edits and corrections, and walk away from whole project.

It is fair to say I have put a lot of effort into improving my skill as a writer, and that I have made tremendous progress over the last few years.  But the last meeting of the Magic City Writers’ Group also made it abundantly clear that even with extensive corrections, rewrites, additions, POV shifts, and so on, that my manuscript is still not at an acceptable level.

My writing is mediocre and often boring, my most important characters are problematic, my opening paragraph makes people not want to read further, and those few readers willing to plow on past the first chapter will likely stop reading before reaching the point where the various characters and plot threads come together because they don’t feel invested in those characters or the unfolding plot.

Compound this feedback, and the ensuing work required to address these problems, with my efforts to rebuild my author website from the ground up and it is enough to make me feel like I’m starting over from scratch.

Step Back

It is at times like these that it is important to step back, take a deep breath, and look at the big picture.

Yes, my writing skills are still well below that of good professional writers.

But it is also true that I am currently better than the vast majority of amateur writers, which is the category I still belong to. The reason I spent months interviewing professional editors is because I knew intellectually I wasn’t ready to compete with professional authors. All the reader review demonstrated is that my belief in my writing skills is significantly greater than my actual skills.

This information hasn’t altered my decision to move onto working with professional editors, but it does impact the types of professional edits I must consider.

Currently I am waiting on the results of a professional manuscript assessment, a high-level review of my manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses.  After that assessment I have to decide whether to next pursue a developmental edit, a line edit, or copy edit.

Uh…What’s the Difference Between These?

Without going into excessive detail, a developmental edit focuses on plot, structure of the manuscript, and character development; a line edit focuses on flow, logic of what happens within the plot, and tone of each characters voice; and a copyedit is a nitpicking pain-in-the-ass looking for grammar errors, misspellings, continuity problems, and logic lapses.

Basically a developmental edit is performed early in the life of a manuscript, a line edit is performed once the story and characters are well-formed, and a copyedit is done to wring out any remaining problems prior to typesetting a manuscript for publication.  After typesetting is performed, a proofread is performed to catch any errors that crept in during the final stages of preparing for publication.

The Decisions Before Me

Prior to the reader feedback I was thinking I could skip the developmental edit and move on to either a line edit or a copyedit. In fact, prior to making specific queries about the material, I ask the group which edit they would recommend I pursue next; two members recommended I go straight to a copyedit, while the other person believed a line edit would be of benefit.

But when I asked specific questions about how much each person read, where they stopped reading, why they stopped, and elicited feedback on what exactly they liked and disliked about the manuscript, it became clear  that what prevented them from enjoying the work were problems with character development and plot structure.

In other words, the types of problems that require a developmental edit to correct.

In addition, the group made clear their continued (and even enthusiastic) dislike of my opening paragraph. While I personally believe the current opening serves as a solid anchor for the series, I cannot continue to ignore repeated warnings about the obstacle it poses to potential readers. I must seriously consider replacing the series’ opening with something more gripping. There are several possibilities that have occurred to me, and some of these alternate openings might allow me to address some character and structural issues that continue to plague the manuscript.

Currently I am leaning toward an opening like:

My fate is sealed, Damon Roth scribbled in a large leather bound tome at the top of a crisp white page, the flawless marks left by his quill belying the speed with which he wrote. My apotheosis is inevitable, offering Earth its last hope for salvation. But I have at long last deduced the cost I must bear for daring to become the God Among Men. Knowing now what must befall me, I would turn aside if I could. But great endeavors, once begun, have a life of their own. They grow and feed, claiming more and more from you. The task becomes the master. Worse yet are labors that cannot remain buried, that demand to be exhumed. The beginning becomes the end, creating a new beginning. I am trapped in a web of my own devising, caught in a cycle that can never end. No matter my choices I am damned, and the most I can hope for myself is that my evil deeds will not be all I am remembered for.

Limitations

With regards to my current manuscript, I believe I have reached the limits of what the writers group can offer me as constructive feedback. I could continue to make changes and ask their opinion, but that would be of little value. Their feedback would be far more valuable on the next book in the series, the one I need to start writing in the not too distant future.  I have written many scenes that will be in the second book. A product of my participation over the last two years in NaNoWriMo which I can expand on and restructure until I have an acceptable first draft.

I will be receiving the professional manuscript assessment in about a month, at which time I can make my final decision about whether or not to pursue a developmental edit next or move onto a line edit.  At the moment I believe a developmental edit is called for.

Performing a developmental edit and making the changes required by that process, on top of the already planned line and copy edits, will likely push my publication date into 2014.  This is not a total negative, as that gives me extra time to master the intricacies of self-publishing, overhaul my website, plan my book launch, work on the second novel, establish my presence on various social media sites, and so forth.

The bigger questions are the ones nagging me in the back of my brain. It is clear, despite my innate passion to tell stories, that I am not an innately gifted writer. The progress I have made so far has derived more from hard work at developing crucial skills than from natural talent. Stubborn persistence has proven sufficient to turn what once was a truly terrible manuscript into one that is now mediocre.

But is that same persistence enough to turn the current mediocre manuscript into something exceptional? Are my problems with writing compelling prose part of the normal learning curve all writers must go through? Or are they reflections of my own limitations as a writer?  Am I at a plateau that I can move beyond with the aid of professional editors? Or do I lack some some critical element from the mix of skills required to produce great writing?

The only way to answer these questions is to keep trying, keep working daily, and hope that the final published novel was worth all the effort.

New Music–The Princess, Tara

My lovely and talented wife Kathryn has finished more music for my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. The new songs are called The Princess, Tara and The Princess, Tara – For Two Pianos. As usual Kathryn has also included the sheet music for both pieces. All the music and latest posted drafts chapters can be found at http://gods-among-men.com/blog/books/book1. Below are direct links to the new songs and the accompanying sheet music.

The Princess, Tara MP3: [audio src=”http://gods-among-men.com/Uploads/Music/The%20Princess%20Tara.mp3″]

The Princess, Tara Sheet Music: http://gods-among-men.com/Uploads/SheetMusic/The%20Princess%20Tara.pdf

The Princess, Tara – For Two Pianos MP3: http://gods-among-men.com/Uploads/Music/The%20Princess%20Tara%20Piano.mp3

The Princess, Tara – For Two Pianos Sheet music: http://gods-among-men.com/Uploads/SheetMusic/The%20Princess%20Tara%20Piano.pdf

I hope you enjoy the music. Take care and have fun.