Erase This Disaster That Has Befallen Us All (The Pair o’ Docs Paradox)

pair paradoxIn 2006, the only actors the Sci-Fi Sea Cruise managed to secure were Nicholas Courtney and Stewart Bevan. Bevan’s sole Doctor Who appearance was in 1973’s The Green Death, where his character, environmentalist professor Clifford Jones of the Nuthutch activist community, swept the Third Doctor’s companion Jo Grant off her feet. Since Courtney appeared as the Brigadier alongside Bevan in that serial, the only logical way forward was to create a sequel to it. Lo and behold, The Pair o’ Docs Paradox was born. Alas, it’s exactly as inspired as it sounds, and it’s also the longest, clocking in at a regrettable twenty minutes.

You can tell within seconds that not a lot of thought was put into this one. The ship has a large “Celebrity Cruises” decal clearly visible on its side, which would seem to imply that the Brigadier and Clifford Jones are famous public figures of the sort that American tourists will pay to rub shoulders with – odd. The story kicks off with a scientist being discovered dead on-board. The Brigadier ambles into frame, the terribly undramatic direction wasting no time in puncturing expectations. Someone tells him what’s happened, and he declares that it’s “starting all over again” – cut to the opening credits.

Puzzlingly, the video flashes forwards to a scene where the Brigadier is writing his memoir of the video’s events. The footage is recycled from Death Takes a Holiday, but accompanied by a new voice-over, so it’s not actually clear if this framing scene is set on the Brigadier’s second 73rd birthday or some time after.

Back on the cruise, the Brigadier converses with the Seventh Doctor by phone. Since Sylvester McCoy wasn’t on board this year, the effect is achieved with the now-familiar technique of filming the actor from the chest up as he sits alone in a nondescript room. As a result, the two characters are never actually seen together and have zero chemistry, but at least the notion of communicating by mobile makes a degree of sense – it’s not very Doctor Who, but nor is it as distractingly nonsensical as the telepathic cutaways in The Crystal Conundrum, and it’s certainly better than the awkward Colin Baker scene in Death Takes a Holiday. The Doctor explains that Global Technologies, a corporation holding a conference on the ship, are planning to “detoxify the Earth” with a technique that will also destroy a “vital enzyme” needed for all life. Apparently, the scientist was killed by their substance leaking. (Don’t worry, it’s really not worth it.) The Doctor himself is 200 years into the future, where Global Technologies’s experiment has already wiped out all life on Earth – the Brigadier’s mission is to change the future by stopping them. This being the first cruise video unambiguously produced post-Davies, the cross-temporal phone call seems inspired by Rose Tyler’s “superphone”, while the plot to avert an apocalyptic future recalls Pyramids of Mars. In the video’s sole intriguing character moment, the Brigadier asks if Ace is still travelling with the Doctor; he replies, “Oh yes, you should see the new girl. They make quite a pair. One blows up civilisations, the other pieces them back together again.” This line isn’t strictly accurate (Ace has never destroyed any civilisations, as far as we know), but at least it sounds lyrical – it’s a rare attempt by the cruise team to write dialogue that’s meaningful rather than just functional. It also tells us that, from the Seventh Doctor’s perspective, The Pair o’ Docs Paradox is set between the novels Deceit (where Ace rejoins the TARDIS) and Happy Endings (where Bernice leaves).

One of the cruise organisers/writers plays the Brigadier’s UNIT underling, a larger role than they’ve dared give themselves previously. Thankfully she doesn’t have to do anything too dramatic, and just about manages a tolerable proto-Osgood, Courtney’s charisma helping to salvage things as usual. Less convincing is the extremely tall fellow with the ridiculously deep voice as the speaker introducing the Global Technologies conference – he plays a different character in each video, and it’s impossible not to notice his distracting presence every time. (The credits inform me that his name is Mike Leahy. Sadly he does not appear to be related to the Michael Leahy who portrays the barman in “Are You Right There Father Ted?“)  Next we meet the corporation’s boss, Dr Heinrich Zekle – we know he’s the villain because he dresses in black and talks like a pantomime Nazi. We learn that climate change has destroyed the Canadian boreal forest along with much of the Amazon, and that “pollution” is causing widespread famine. Global Technologies have developed a solution, “Sonic Earth Revitalisor Modules”, devices which are somehow both “artificially intelligent” and “genetically engineered”, and which will seek out and “neutralise this poison”, thus solving everything. (It’s starting to look like the Fringe opening credits in here.) No attempt is made to explain why a corporate conference about a piece of revolutionary environmental biotechnology is being held on a luxury celebrity cruise, but nor is any attempt made to hide the fact that this is what’s happening – it just sort of hangs there.

With all this talk of the environment and technology’s role in its conservation, The Pair o’ Docs Paradox is the only cruise video that makes any attempt to be politically conscious – a natural part of its being a sequel to The Green Death. Unfortunately, this doesn’t amount to much more than a bunch of American tourists standing around lecturing each other about climate change without saying anything remotely insightful. Terrance Dicks and Rob Shearman aren’t here to sort things out this time – the team have to rely on Bevan for script editor and Courtney for creative consultant. In the end, it commits the gravest sin a Sci-Fi Sea Cruise video could: it’s just kind of boring.

Finally, one annoying American tourist introduces another to Clifford. While he’s hardly anyone’s favourite Doctor Who character, Bevan’s sheer competence after three solid minutes of primary-school-level dramatics make him seem like a shining beacon. With glasses, thinning hair, and a cream suit jacket and tie, Clifford is much more believably a scientist than in his one youthful Doctor Who appearance, even if he doesn’t look much like the character we remember.

The second American inquires, “Jones, eh? Aren’t you related to Prime Minister—?” Clifford replies, “Ah, no, I’m not. In fact, I’m planning on running against her!” This is a clear reference to Harriet Jones, a revived-series character who recurred between 2005 to 2009. As a line, it’s rather forced, as there’s absolutely no reason anyone would assume Clifford and Harriet are related (aside from their sharing a surname that’s very common in reality and insanely common in Doctor Who). It really does nail the video’s “made in 2006” credentials to the post, as the few months following “The Christmas Invasion” and the Doctor’s “Don’t you think she looks tired?” meme comprise the only period Harriet was a particularly notable character, even in Doctor Who circles. Since she’s referred to as Prime Minister here, The Pair o’ Docs Paradox must be set after “World War Three”. The timeframe surrounding Harriet’s election and downfall is unclear and self-contradictory, so it’s even possible that Clifford (a Green Party candidate, one imagines) defeats Harriet and is himself the one succeeded by Harold Saxon.

Considering that they make zero effort to disguise the fact that they’re producing unauthorised Doctor Who videos (not even changing the characters’ names like the BBV used to), it’s peculiar that the cruise crew are suddenly being so coy about referencing the revived series, having Clifford cut off the question before Harriet’s name can be mentioned. Perhaps this reticence was unconsciously, intuitively inherited from other wilderness-era Doctor Who spin-offs – for instance, Big Finish, who didn’t acquire the rights to include revived-series elements in their audio dramas until 2015. The Sci-Fi Sea Cruise had no more claim to the classic series than the new, but perhaps they just didn’t quite have the nerve to be the ones who crossed that boundary first.

The most obvious mistake in The Pair o’ Docs Paradox (if not the biggest) is its title, which, as well as being an awful pun, promises a multi-Doctor story it utterly fails to deliver. The Seventh Doctor cutaways aren’t ideal, but at least they’re new live-action material featuring the real McCoy as the Doctor. No, the problem is that the crew take their “Green Death sequel” brief too far, and attempt to weave the Third Doctor into the story… despite Jon Pertwee being ten years dead. Clifford’s mobile rings, an image of Pertwee displayed on its screen. (Helpfully, the phone’s display indicates that the story is set on 14 December 2006.) He answers it and begins to converse with the Doctor as if using Skype, telling him he’s about to present his new “Nuthutch Amazon fungus hybrid”, with the Doctor’s modifications, to the WHO; this will hopefully provide a safe alternative to Global Technologies’s dangerous biotech. How is the other side of this conversation depicted, you ask? With a tight close-up of the phone (now a different make and model…), showing desperately edited footage of Pertwee on a talk show, being interviewed about something completely unrelated to the plot. “Who are you suggesting?” asks Pertwee, clearly not in character. “We’re getting very upset about it”, he continues vaguely, while Clifford’s stilted dialogue attempts to weave these incoherent fragments into something resembling a conversation. “It’s a great challenge and enormously rewarding when it’s good, and that exists, of course, abroad, but it no longer exists in England”, concludes the Doctor, who is pointedly not even looking at the camera. “Yes, indeed”, replies Clifford as Bevan dies inside. It’s terrible, but you have to admire the sheer nerve, right down to crediting Pertwee for his “special ghost appearance”. (Since they know each other, the video must take place between The Green Death and Planet of the Spiders from the Doctor’s perspective.)

In a flimsy attempt to keep both Doctors involved in the story, we see several more conversations between the Seventh Doctor and the Brigadier, but only the Brigadier’s side. The Brigadier sends his technician sidekick to search Global Technologies room and retrieve one of their Modules. It turns out that they’re little dome-like robots that buzz along the floor on green spheres – she snatches away one which was moving ominously towards a woman, who turns to smile stupidly after her. (The cruise extras are never good, but this one takes the biscuit/cake.)

There’s nothing wrong with the little Module prop, per se – presumably it’s just some sort of junk toy they found, but it looks suitably futuristic. No, the problem is that it’s a typical science-fiction artefact – just a slick plastic thing that lights up. As the video’s only distinctive visual, the physical manifestation of all this talk about Global Technologies and the oncoming apocalypse, it’s decidedly unremarkable. One imagines they must have had a five-second conversation about bringing back the giant maggots, those brilliantly grotesque practical creations from The Green Death which went on to become the enduring monsters of the Pertwee era, but a zero-dollar budget has its downsides.

After eleven minutes of stalling and corporate technobabble, Clifford and the Brigadier finally cross paths – our two proper characters on-screen together at last, even if they had to be introduced by yet another American non-actor. Naturally, the Brigadier’s first question is after an old friend: “How’s our dear Ms Grant- I should say, of course, Mrs Jones?” Clifford smiles, “Ah, well, you know, I still see her from time to time, usually at scientific conventions.” The clear implication is that Clifford and Jo are no longer a couple, but are still on good terms.

That said, Jo Grant’s marital status has been the subject of some controversy over the years. In The Green Death, she agrees to marry Clifford, then a radical young scientist; the couple head off on an expedition to find some rare fungus or other. During the wilderness years, certain books suggested that they had since divorced; this notion was bolstered by comments from Manning, perhaps informed by her real-life break-up with Beven.

In 2004, Mark Gatiss made his own low-budget Green Death sequel in the form of Global Conspiracy?, a short mockumentary where he played a reporter interviewing several of the serial’s characters (all played by the original actors) about the events in Llanfairfach in 1973. (It’s one of Gatiss’s better efforts in Pertwee-era nostalgia, the format giving it an ironic, amusing quality that more of his work could benefit from.) In Global Conspiracy?, Clifford says that he drifted apart from Jo, and that he is now the chairman of Nuthutch Foods, a successful vegetarian food company he founded in the 1980s. The Pair o’ Docs Paradox matches this account fairly well.

In 2010, Russell T Davies decided to have Katy Manning guest star as Jo in Death of the Doctor, a serial in The Sarah Jane Adventures. Disliking the divorce idea and the unhappy twist it put on Jo’s optimistic departure, Davies has Jo tell Sarah Jane that they are “still together”, with seven children and twelve grandchildren, and that Clifford is currently “picketing an oil rig in the Ascension Islands”. Interestingly, neither Global Conspiracy? nor The Pair o’ Docs Paradox actually state that Jo divorced Clifford, so all that’s needed to reconcile them completely with revived-series continuity is to suppose that the couple spent some years separated before rekindling their relationship.

Clifford and the Brigadier have a chat, and share convoluted explanations of what their respective Doctors are currently up to. Apparently, the Seventh Doctor remembers what happened when he was the Third Doctor, and wants the two men to render the Modules safe by exposing them to Clifford’s fungus hybrid. Meanwhile, Dr Zekle (who thinks his scientists can fix the problem making his technology toxic) and a henchman conspire to poison Clifford by switching the Module the UNIT assistant stole (apparently one they deliberately rendered harmless in advance for some reason) with a toxic one. (This is the point where maintaining a vague understanding of what is happening ceases to be feasible. Throw in a Moffat-anticipating development of the Doctor solving the problem by remembering what his past self did and it starts to look comical.)

Returning to their cabin with a their assistants, the Brigadier and Clifford find the hostile Module, which attacks one assistant. Visually, this is conveyed by the woman holding it against her neck, then flopping onto the bed in mock agony. This is the climax of the video. Suddenly, the Module turns blue, and apparently harmless – the fungus has neutralised it. (This occurs before they can add the fungus to it, so evidently it’s both airborne and rather fast-acting.) In what’s essentially a Scooby-Doo wrap-up scene, an arrested Dr Zekle and his henchman are lectured half-heartedly about the environment. Next the Brigadier tells Clifford that the Seventh Doctor said they can’t tell the Third Doctor what’s happened, and that it’s “something to do with reversing the polarity of the neutron flow”. They get pints. The last couple of scenes have significantly out-of-synch audio, suggesting that the people making this video were about as interested and engaged as the ones watching.

The Green Death hinges on the rather remarkable coincidence that Clifford’s Nuthutch fungus happens to be poisonous to the deadly maggots. The Pair o’ Docs Paradox builds on this contrivance, with Clifford’s new hybrid fungus happening to render Global Technologies’s destructive Modules not only harmless but actively helpful. At first glance, one has to give the writers credit for making the fungus Jo and Clifford headed for the Amazon to collect a key part of the story, but on further reflection, this detail means that not only were two completely unrelated deadly viral threats eliminated by things Clifford happened to bring nearby, but that these cures themselves were also different. If the new hybrid fungus is the original maggot-killer cross-bred with the Amazon variety, does that mean the Modules are also part-maggot? That would make sense in a Doctor Who sort of way.

Wait… like… a hybrid? Could it be that the merger of Nuthutch Nutrients and Global Technologies… the unholy union of Clifford’s Amazon fungus hybrid with Zekle’s Sonic Earth Revitalisor Module… the newborn super-organism now permeating and dominating Earth’s biosphere… is in fact the abomination whispered of by the Cloiser Wraiths, the fulfilment of the horrifying prophecy which compelled the Doctor to flee his homeworld all those millennia ago?

Look, I’m trying.

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