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Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures at Faringdon Arts Festival

July 11th, 2009 (11:18 pm)

I spent this afternoon at Faringdon Arts Festival, a thoroughly community-based event in Faringdon in south-west Oxfordshire (or north-west Berkshire if you abhor the 1974 boundary changes) with which renaissance man of writing Paul Cornell is involved. With live music (all kinds, very very good) playing through from the Market Place, the Breakfast Room in the Old Crown played host not only to Mr Cornell but to his fellow contributor to the Cardiff fantasty factory, Phil Ford, chief writer for The Sarah Jane Adventures. For two hours audiences were treated to live commentaries from their authors on first Phil's SJA story The Last Sontaran, and then Paul's The Family of Blood.

tree_and_leaf has given a great account of what transpired already on her journal. My main impression was of the children - having been a fan through the long wilderness years when Doctor Who and all concerned with it existed in a parallel universe inhabited by the definitely late teenage-plus, rainwear elbowing for space alongside battered leather jackets and perhaps too-crushed velvet. Now, the kids are most definitely in town, and asking the right questions for the most part, though one eight-year-old clearly already thought he should be running the show... Phil clearly enjoyed talking about his inspiration though most of his audience were too young to have seen Predator, which inspired his image of the invisible Sontaran; he cheerfully admitted to the sleight-of-hand by which the episode forced the pace of chase sequences to avoid resolving the question why Kaagh didn't just blast the SJA kids down. He gave a good answer to one child's question: "Apart from the news [Phil having admitted to finding inspiration in a news story about a satellite falling to earth], where do you get your ideas?" urging them to read and watch as much as they could. One boy was adamant that K9 was dead in Doctor Who, having no memory of the replacement K9 left behind with Sarah at the end of School Reunion, and thought that SJA was guilty of a continuity error in still having K9 there, if I understood him correctly. When Phil explained that this was not so, the boy exclaimed "So he is in Cardiff!" which was not really what viewers are meant to think given the occasional references to Sarah living in Ealing.

Paul had to get through a much more layered episode than Phil, Doctor Who's target audience being much broader than SJA's and having to include material that different sections of the family audience could relate to. Nonetheless the children were rapt, and the raising of several hands during the episode, despite Paul's insistence that he would not answer questions until the end, was probably a tribute to Paul's not childlike, but child-familiar obsession with the subject. I was not surprised to learn that the reason 'He who would valiant be' became the signature hymn of Human Nature/The Family of Blood was because it contained the line 'Follow the Master'; I'd forgotten that the episode ends on a medium close-up of the fobwatch, in the centre of the picture, in the elderly Tim's hand; and there was much amused speculation on how Professor Yana could have released the Master's essence from a cricket ball, if that had remained the vehicle for the Doctor's Time Lord nature while part of him was being John Smith.

All in all, a good idea - it was good to take this kind of retrospective out of venues like BAFTA and the BFI and place it among the folk culture where it really belongs.

Some pictures







Comments

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 12th, 2009 08:45 am (UTC)

I now rather wish I'd asked what other hymns were in contention, because in retrospect 'He who would valiant be' seems the only possible choice.

Though I bet one of the candidates was 'Onward Christian Soldiers'....

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 12th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
Sylvester

Doubtless true about the hymn choice...

You've inspired me to look up the novel Human Nature and see what role chapel plays in it... and the answer at first glance it appears to be none, though there is a scene where the headmaster, Rocastle, and one of the boys are discovered by Benny in a ruined room in the school which has stained glass windows. I'd expect Benny, given her scholarship, to recognise a chapel when she saw one.

John Smith's religious affiliation in the book is described as follows:

"His parents had been Presbyterians, very strict and conventional, and thus he'd grown up without religion." (chapter 6, p 104-5)

I don't know what Presbyterians (or children of them) would think of that...

Later on, one of the three soldiers who encounter the time differential barrier is "glad to be everywhere the dome touched at once" and asks his commanding officer "Is it the Lord, sir?" (chapter 8, pp 136-138); a fellow-soldier who doesn't go to church as much dies from the experience.

Finally, when Smith is deciding whether or not to become the Doctor again, he recites the Lord's Prayer, which leads to the tension ebbing from him and the arrival of Labour parliamentary candidate Richard Haldeman and Tim, with the Pod containing the Doctor's biodata. (pp 203-4, chapter 12)

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 13th, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)

Thanks, that's interesting.

I don't know what Presbyterians (or children of them) would think of that...


Disapproval, probably! He seems to have missed the stereotypical calvinistic fatalism, anyway (possibly the Chameleon Arch is not up on such things?)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 13th, 2009 01:37 pm (UTC)

I think the biodatapod is actually a creation of the enemy, the Aubertides, in the novel; anticipating the Slitheen, this particular group are a criminal family rather than representatives of the whole species, who are seeking to steal the Doctor's Time Lord regenerative capabilities to extend their lifespan, having reached their reproductive limit: each Aubertide includes genetic material for five others, one budding from another until there are six, but after that no more Aubertides can be produced. The Doctor, guilty at his own lack of human empathy after Benny loses her mediaeval lover Guy during the previous novel, seeks out the Aubertides so that he can use their technology to become human, but is unaware that his use of the pod is tracked, leading to comparable havoc to that seen on television.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 13th, 2009 01:54 pm (UTC)

Oh, that's right - I'd completely forgotten that aspect of it. It's ages since I read the novel!

It does at least save people wondering why an insular race like the Time Lords have a device for turning into a member of another species, which is a good and mysterious question.... *g*

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 13th, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)

Indeed - then they have to be reminded of the Minyans, and Underworld, which fan consensus claims is best forgotten... perhaps the chameleon arch is principally a research tool, though it's clearly presented as an emergency device, requiring the subject to go through physical agony. Perhaps it was developed during the Time War, to hide Time Lords from the Daleks.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 13th, 2009 02:44 pm (UTC)

Perhaps it was developed during the Time War, to hide Time Lords from the Daleks.

That seems the best guess, I think - it certainly is a gift to the fic writer....

I had never heard of Underworld, but I see what you mean about the consensus!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 13th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)

It's the story after which the knicker factory in Coronation Street was renamed when Gareth Roberts was storyliner...