Sunday, 29 June 2014

Winter on Mesique

Winter on Mesique manages the rare achievement of being nothing like any story from the Doctor Who TV series and yet, at the same time, it feels like the embodiment of what a Doctor Who story is capable of.

The Doctor, Turlough and Tegan arrive on the planet Mesique, which the Doctor has visited before and made friends with the mannys who live there. According to the Doctor it is "an unusually hard winter for Mesique".

"Well then," said Turlough, "shall we go and see if they've survived or not?"
"Sometimes," the Doctor said, "your flippant remarks are somewhat out of place. The people of Mesique are very good people, and worthy of more than a little concern and respect. They came originally from earth, you know, although that was generations ago.

This exchange cleverly manages to combine a little bit of characterisation for the Doctor and Turlough with establishing some important background exposition. They travel to visit Sellot, "the leader of Mesique," and, although initially met with some suspicion from a guard, are warmly welcomed by Sellot without being accused of being responsible for any murders or anything at all.

In this picture Turlough's eyebrows are so arch it is as though he is trying to do an impression of Kevin Stoney.

He's still doing it on the next page. Sellot wastes no time in getting the Doctor involved in the plot.

"We are not accustomed to such harsh winters, as you know, and neither, apparently, are the creatures who share this planet with us."
"Which creatures?" asked Tegan.
"Two species in particular are a problem," answered Sellot. "You remember, Doctor, last time you were here I showed you specimens of a large rodent, very like the coypu we knew of earth?"

Coypu are a kind of rodent, and rodents are a kind of mouse. As all cats know, Mouses Are For Pounces! If mouses are involved then the Doctor will have his work cut out for him, unless he has a cat to help him solve this problem. They clearly don't have any cats on Mesique because Sellot says they are "in danger of being overrun by the animals."

They have a second problem, which is that there is another animal that has been noming their cows.

"I don't know what to call them," said Sellot, "some people call them after the similar creatures men used to search for on earth - the Sasquatch. But there is a difference between these and the earthly ones. These eat flesh."

Sellot's friend Varl has just captured one of the creatures and has put it in prison. Sellot takes the Doctor there. They hear it "roaring and whimpering" as they approach its cell.

"The Abominable Snowman, eh?" he muttered to himself. "There's food for thought."
"What did you say?" asked Tegan.
"Nothing. I was just imagining what the people on earth would have done to their Sasquatch had they ever caught one. Killed it out-right, I dare say."
"We prefer to examine the creatures who share this planet with us," said Sellot, turning to smile at his companions. "It is not our policy to kill without very good cause."
"I know," replied the Doctor, "I wish more people thought along those lines."

They look into the cell and the Doctor sees the creature.

It sat huddled in the farthest corner of the cell, shivering with cold, its body covered with long thick fur of a pale brown colour. Its face was hardly visible, except for two slanting black eyes that stared, in some-thing like desperation, at the door.

The Doctor and Tegan suggest feeding the creature, but Sellot sadly tells them that they barely have enough noms to feed the mannys on Mesique.

Tegan sees the creature pounce on a coypu-mouse "as big as a small dog" and nom it. As a cat, I approve of this approach, and to me it proves that the creature is not a baddy really. Sellot is worried about how many of these creatures there may be, in case there are so many that there aren't enough mouses to go round, but the Doctor deduces that this must be the last of its kind from the amount of cows that had been nomed.

The Doctor suggests giving it a house to live in, but Sellot is still concerned:

"But how do we know if it's friendly?"
"We'll find out." The Doctor unlocked the cell door and went slowly inside. The creature whimpered with fear and tried to push itself further into its corner.
"Gently, gently," soothed the Doctor and extended his hand, palm upwards, towards the creature. It watched him nervously, then leaned forward to sniff at him curiously, and put out one tentative paw to touch the fingers of the extended hand with its own claw-tipped ones.

So the Doctor makes friends with the creature, and gives her his cloak. He discovers that she is "about to give birth" and insists she needs somewhere warmer than the cell to stay in. Sellot, all his doubts answered by the Doctor, offers his own house for her to stay in and where he will look after her.

The Doctor led the creature to the door of the cell.
"Sellot," he said sincerely," I wish more people were like you. Shall we go?"

And with that the story ends, no more needing said.

In the last three Doctor Who stories we have seen the return of the Master and a sci-fi action-adventure with strange aliens in strange places, but Winter on Mesique is by far the best story of the three - not only as a short story, but as a Doctor Who story. While the first two may be better at emulating the typical trappings of a Doctor Who TV serial - especially those of the 1980s - the latter manages to capture the heart and soul of Doctor Who by telling a simple tale of a wandering scientist helping strangers to solve their problems.

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