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For issue 384, the cover of which is an homage to the Virgin Missing Adventures, I've been let loose on Season 13 of the original series. Yep, the 'Gothic' one. So, without further ado here's:
Season 13: Gothic Who
Part 1 / The Gothic continuum
(c) 2010 Frank Collins. If you wish to quote from this article please ask the author's permission. If you'd like to commission the author please email via the blog.
Gothic broadcasting policy
With the transmission of Terror Of The Zygons in August and September 1975 and the subsequent run of stories in Season 13, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and his script editor Robert Holmes completed their transformation of Doctor Who. They had swept aside the modernising period overseen by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, where the series had reflected and popularised many contemporary social and political concerns of the early 1970s in its storylines, and had turned instead to Grand Guignol adventure stories, to a pastiche of familiar ‘ripping yarns’ within the science fiction and horror genres, to perfect a sustained run of stories that have often been labelled as ‘Gothic’ by fandom.
Doctor Who at this time was not an isolated example of how the Gothic genre was being expressed on television. Season 13, with its surface narratives full of castles, threatening jungles, monsters and mummies, linked directly into the contemporary popularisation of the form as well as a British televisual legacy that had already explored the same genre tropes. Just before the transmission of The Brain Of Morbius the BBC had aired their annual Ghost Story For Christmas ‘The Ash Tree’ in December 1975, a striking version of the M.R. James story, but even that tradition stretched back to the first adaptation ‘The Stalls Of Barchester’ in 1971. Bearing this in mind, Doctor Who’s penchant for mixing science fiction and the Gothic sat within a continuum of similar programmes, acknowledging such anthology series as Out Of The Unknown (BBC 1965 - 1971) and Late Night Horror (BBC 1968).
The bohemian masochist
As Season 13 unfolded, where was the figure of the Doctor located in the Hinchcliffe and Holmes Gothic pastiche? The Doctor was reinstated as alien outcast in this period – moving away from the avuncular, patriarchal father figure of Pertwee - and became a figure representative of the Gothic novel’s tragic outsider, at odds with himself, society and the cosmos. He reassumed the form of outlaw, undergoing a Romantic metamorphosis into the Shelleyan and Byronic hero. The series returned to the central idea of the Doctor as the outcast-hero, expelled from the Gallifrey of his childhood, an alienated misfit. As a truly Byronic figure the Doctor defined his own moral code, defied the oppressive authority of his enemies through his self-sufficiency and independence and often through his egotistical sense of his own superiority.
He became Maturin’s Melmoth The Wanderer, yearning for a place in society but doomed never to find it. This was elegantly summarised by Holmes in the opening scene of Part One of Pyramids Of Mars, where the Doctor gloomily proclaims to Sarah, "The Earth isn't my home, Sarah. I'm a Time Lord." After she mockingly acknowledges his status, he retorts to her, "You don't understand the implications. I'm not a human being. I walk in eternity."
Having the Doctor positioned within the Gothic and the Byronic subtext of the wandering hero, he also helped to demarcate and then repeat an underlying theme of the Gothic - the destabilising paranoia that threatens to reveal and perplex, via the use of the supernatural or the fantastic, social and "natural" distinctions concerning masculinity and male sexuality to produce multiple, often contradictory, identifications. It is an aspect of the Gothic that is rarely explored in relation to Season 13 and develops from the idea of the Doctor representing the male English ‘aristocrat’, a common Gothic symbol of confused masculinity and sexuality, where the Gothic also suggests a Victorian repression coupled with lurid "secret" lives - the fear of sexuality on the one hand and the struggle for sexual expression on the other - nurtured and given strength in the castles and subterranean vaults which the Gothic style popularised. Whilst the Doctor never demonstrated his own sexuality in Season 13, his presence does act as a catalyst to unearthing the troubling forms of masculinity and sexual aggression present in the adventures.
The reverse of this relationship was the increased sadism on the part of those wishing to harm the Doctor. The aliens and evil humans seemed to gain gratification by inflicting physical or mental pain on him and other characters. There was a palpable delight in torment or excessive cruelty from the monstrous foes and Season 13 specifically utilised the motifs of sadism, helplessness, and human destruction. It is an aspect of power that formed a significant feature of Gothic art and literature and as American critic Mark Edmundson says, "You cannot have Gothic without a cruel hero-villain; without a cringing victim; and without a terrible place…in which the drama can unfold".
And the drama unfolded in the form of six serials which I'll now examine.
Forward to Part 2: Tentacles and penetration
Forward to Part 3: Pyramid Power
Forward to Part 4: Brains and Byronic androids
Forward to Part 5: The Mary Whitehouse experience