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The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: The Mark Of The Rani

forest face

“I doubt the Rani ever does ANYTHING at random,” says the Doctor. But is her project management sense really as strong as her fashion sense? Let’s find out.

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

Manic miners

In The Mark of the Rani we see a classic example of a fix-up project. A larger strategic project has gone wrong – in this instance, the Rani’s experiments on her planet Miasimiah Goria have heightened her slaves’ awareness as planned, but lowered their ability to sleep – and an offshoot tactical recovery project is initiated. Wisely, the Rani stages her subsidiary project offsite in Victorian England, where her activities will cause no disruption to the mother portfolio. Her metrical objective is to collect enough brain fluid to restore the balance at home, and from everything we see of her I’m confident in assuming she’s planned out her milestones and set a clear endpoint. A great start.

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

bathhouse

Most establishments would charge you extra for this sort of thing

The Doctor’s surprised to see the Rani’s volcano screen-print as he reckons her tastes are sterile. But in fact all the indicators on her balanced scorecard expose her as a fun-lover. Her chosen methodology revolves around milking miners, for a start. And there’s an element of cosplay to the whole thing, with her man-slaves adorned in fetishwear and her own time spent dressed up as an old lady watching rugged Geordies getting naked. (Is the Doctor into that too? “When we went past the bath house that instrument of yours reacted!” squeaks Peri at one point.) She might claim she sees everyone as just “walking bags of chemicals” but I’ve heard better excuses.

Most excitingly for a Doctor Who villain, the Rani actually understands marketing too. We see her sending a child running off to the tavern with a penny and instructions to tell the men there’s still a bit of hot water left if they hurry. Crafting scarcity into your call to action is a time-honoured technique for driving footfall.

So her skillset includes attention to detail AND flair. And on learning she’s been doing this sort of thing undetected on Earth for centuries, even the Doctor has to concede she’s a brilliant tactician.

3. CONTINGENCY

glitter

Peri gets glitterfaced and shafted

Theres a consequence to her removing chemicals from miners’ brains of course.  One minute they’re enjoying a friendly spot of post-bath towel flicking, the next they’re kicking potatoes everywhere and smashing machinery to pieces. But she’s factored for this resultant aggression and keeps well out of the way when the lads are getting lairy.

There’s nothing to suggest the Rani’s project wouldn’t have successfully delivered had she been left to her own devices. But even so, she’s well prepared for any eventuality with a state-of-the-art remote-controlled TARDIS, the insanely camp touch of a glittery pellet bomb built into her bracelets and of course – lying around just in case – mines that turn people into trees! Well you never know.

tree

“Hoist up your skirts, Peri, off we go!”

4. MANAGING THE TEAM

She’s definitely not a team player by choice, and the Rani’s plans are only spoilt when the Master turns up, purely to see what’s going on and what trouble he can cause. He obviously fancies her too – “Anything connected with you would undoubtedly be fascinating!’ he gushes on arrival. Sure, he goes on about some grand plan to upset history but he’s clearly just making it up as he goes along.

So she’s forced to work with someone she hates and who keeps getting in the way of her iterative dependencies. It’s basically an Industrial Revolution Apprentice special, and it’s surprising we don’t get a glimpse of Alan Sugar selling an early version of his difference engine in the town square.

sweetmeat

“Luke, I want you to swallow this very special sweetmeat” – the Master’s repertory of Victorian chat-up lines in full play here

The Master’s the worst kind of team member to be accountable for too, and spends the whole story pissing on the Rani’s baseline – threatening to break her machinery, stealing her hard-won brain fluid and her mind-controlling maggots, and even bringing the Doctor there so she’ll have no choice but to join forces. The Rani’s critical chains are completely disrupted.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

dinosaur

The Doctor uncovers the Rani’s sideline as a researcher for the value meat industry

With the Master and the Doctor in town, the Rani MoSCoWs the hell out of the earned value to date, deciding that the only sensible course is to abandon the project entirely and salvage what she can. It’s a brave choice for any project manager, but absolutely the right one. She maintains a cool sense of priorities while prevented from leaving, spying on the Master at every opportunity and commenting acidly on his own lack of business prowess: “What’s he up to now? It’ll be something devious and over-complicated. He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.”

When the chance comes she’s even able to give him a face-to-face appraisal: “You’re unbalanced – no wonder the Doctor always outwits you.” Such is her own composure that we don’t doubt her. Finally, with her deliverables in tatters thanks to the Master, she takes a well-earned opportunity to knee him in his own deliverables. “I don’t make mistakes,” she’d claimed earlier. And she’s right.

DEBRIEF

  • The project’s measurable goals were well-established
  • The proposed methodology combined creative flair with metrical precision
  • Every contingency was fully risk-managed
  • The project manager was forced under duress to induct additional team members, which enabled catastrophic chaos creep to the scorecard
  • The key deliverables were unsalvageable, and it is recommended that the project manager works entirely in isolation in the future
rani

Project FAIL

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Carry On Urbanka

carry on urbanka

What happens when you take Doctor Who‘s single most innuendo-laden story and reduce it to its purest form by taking out everything but the smut? A mildly amusing YouTube edit of Four To Doomsday is what happens, and here it is:

5 things I learned from The Snowmen

1. …AND REMEMBER

john lewis doctor who snowman

First, Steven Moffat introduced the Weeping Angels – creatures that can only move when not observed – to Doctor Who. Then, John Lewis took this principle and applied it to snowmen in their terrifying Christmas advert. Now, Doctor Who counters with horrific snowmen who DO move about, and snarl with gnashing fangs, and eat people, with the explanation that they’re made of “memory snow”.

The logical conclusion of all of this – with Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary next year and John Lewis’s 150th the year after – will be a forthcoming crossover spectacular in which the Doctor saves a branch of John Lewis from sentient carnivorous versions of those “memory foam” mattresses that are so popular nowadays. It would not be a big leap for a programme that once made an evil plastic armchair the monster of the week.

2. CHEKHOV’S WORM

memory worm

Among all the funny lines that Strax hogged were mentions of automated laser monkeys, scalpel mines and projectile acid fish. And there’s a video game I’d happily play for hours. He also hopes for a “full frontal assault.” (Is this the first Doctor Who story to use the phrase “full frontal”? In the same episode that has someone say “enter by the back door”?!) But the must-have toy for 2013 will be the Torchwood-tinged “memory worm”. Especially if it actually lets you wipe an hour’s worth of memory. It would come in handy if you’ve just accidentally sat through the live episode of The Only Way Is Essex or something.

3. He can’t sulk in his box forever

Face!

There was a lot of gorgeous imagery in The Snowmen, with the TARDIS sitting on a cloud at the top of an impossible spiral staircase the obvious centrepiece. But to a childhood fan like me it was the revamped title sequence and TARDIS control room that had me all a-quiver. I think they’re the perfect mix of old and new.

4. GOR BLIMEY!

Practically Perfect

The governess and her two young charges caught up in impossible goings-on is a nicely familiar set-up. The children terrified of the late former governess comes to us via The Turn of the Screw, but thankfully Clara doesn’t. With her cleverness, wonder and Gladstone bag she’s clearly Mary Poppins. She even gets a scene in which she ascends cheekily into the air while holding an umbrella. And as for her wild stories…

5. THE CENTURIES THAT DIVIDE HER SHALL BE UNDONE

Coincidence?

In Doctor Who terms, the most easily reached answer to Clara’s existential mystery is that she’s splintered in time like City of Death‘s Scaroth. Her claim (one of her “definitely true stories”) that she was born behind the clock face of Big Ben sounds like a nice symbolic lead-in to that sort of thing. But somehow I can’t see her recreating the most iconic cliffhanger of my childhood by pulling off a rubber mask to reveal what my sister and I always called “The Twiglet Monster”. And this is Steven Moffat we’re talking about. Previous climactic revelations have centred around Rivers and Ponds, preferably by the side of a lake. So watch out for Clara’s claim that she “invented fish”.

The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: The Web Planet

“The power that’s holding the TARDIS has taken your pen!” – but a great project manager isn’t made on a stationery fetish alone. Has the Animus of Vortis got what it takes?

animus

Bad hair day

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

The Animus has an admirably simple and measurable target – to engulf all of Vortis through aggressive business expansion. You get an inkling of her growth strategy when she describes herself as a power, absorbing territory, riches, energy, culture and, later, intelligent minds. Vrestin tells Ian that when her Carcinome encircles the whole planet it will be “too late” and this is a clear sign of a well-defined project endpoint.

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

It’s no small undertaking. The Doctor guesses that her web has been growing for between a hundred and two hundred years. And in order to do that, the Animus needs slave gangs constantly heaping vegetation into the acid streams to provide her with raw material. Her main workforce is her mind-controlled Zarbi, and this is later bolstered by captured Menoptera, subdued with the golden wishbones that amplify her psychic power. The Zarbi are plentiful and easily led, while the Menoptera are more skilled but need careful handling. In this way she creates a classic hierarchical organisational structure. And as the clip above shows, the Zarbi are creatures capable of, if not actually breaking the fourth wall, then at least headbutting it.

3. CONTINGENCY

sticky

The Doctor’s ring was powerless against the Animus’s sticky extrusion

I’m appalled to say that the Animus has no risk mitigation protocols in place at all. She’s aware of rebel Menoptera forces massing in space but can’t get an accurate fix on their numbers or position, and so makes no tactical preparations against an invasion. She suffers from over-reliance on her own capabilities and refuses to delegate responsibility. Her powers are impressive enough – she’s strong enough to attract new moons to Vortis, drag down and restrain the TARDIS, fling its doors open and make the console spin around. It’s almost unimaginable. More to the point, she makes Barbara Wright sob, which to all right-thinking readers of this blog will be the worst offence of all. But note how languidly the Zarbi apprehend the Doctor and Ian at the outset. It’s a poor manager who rests on her laurels and fails to take immediate action against a potential project collapse.

The first thing the Menoptera do on meeting Barbara is have a poke at her hair. Well it IS magnificent

The first thing the Menoptera do on meeting Barbara is have a poke at her hair. Well it IS magnificent

4. MANAGING THE TEAM

Regular contact with your team is essential to maintain a well-motivated workforce who’ll keep your project running smoothly. But the Animus lurks in the centre of her web so doggedly that Prapilius says no-one has ever even seen her shape. A manager this distant risks undermining the resilience of her team by failing to be available at potential crisis points. Note too, that having tasked the Doctor with a basic project milestone she then makes it impossible for him to complete it by refusing to suspend the interfering power source that’s blocking his equipment. Her intra-competency rapport is TERRIBLE.

Another indication of her restrictive management style is the importance she places in secrets, demanding to know the secret of the TARDIS’s armour before she will tell the Doctor the secret of the venom grubs’ weaponry and so on. And when secrecy gets a stranglehold on an organisation the flow of information within the operational infrastructure becomes blocked to a degree that no-one can achieve a maximised output efficiency.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

Once I get Google Maps reinstalled on here we can upgrade it to iOS6, child!

You should switch back from Apple maps to Google , Doctor!

We’ve established the Animus’s lack of interest in the day-to-day metrics of her project. The impressive alarm system that lights up all the webbing in her headquarters is only further evidence of over-focus on her own security architecture. We get our first look at how she adapts to change when the Doctor’s Astral Map becomes available. It’s an amazing piece of kit which revolutionises the reporting capabilities available to her and she’s right to seize the opportunity as excitedly as she does.

But this is where her lack of hands-on team-building skills prove her undoing; her interpersonal inexperience means the Doctor is able to run rings around her by restricting the information flow and even feigning productivity while actually doing nothing. “Let’s look busy!” he even says to Vicki at one point. It’s a poor manager indeed who lets this sort of attitude pass unnoticed on her team. Her rage upon eventually discovering he’d completed the project segment long before reporting in is all too late – from this point on her defeat is inevitable.

DEBRIEF

  • Goal specificity was adequate if ambitious
  • Project planning was woolly, relying on personal abilities and a bottom-heavy workforce
  • Risk management strategy was unforgivably overlooked
  • An over-distant management style contributed to lack of focus among the project team
  • Basing ultimate project success on a key piece of equipment that only one team member could operate was a fatal flaw
Project FAIL

Project FAIL

An unexpected phone call

It’s Doctor Who’s 49th birthday and I took a few minutes to make a little present.

5 things I learned from The Power of Three

1. The Power of Ninety (miles a second, so it’s reckoned)

The Doctor’s heartfelt speech to Amy offering perspective on ‘one corner of one country in one continent on one planet that’s a corner of the galaxy that’s a corner of the universe that is forever growing… ‘ as they sat looking at the stars reminded me very much of Eric Idle’s lovely song in Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life.

2. The Power of Pertwee

I really liked this story and the way it balanced a vibe reaching back through various Torchwood scenarios to the feel of the global invasions in Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who all the way back to the nostalgic glow of the Pertwee era. Mind you I mean the good Pertwee era of my childhood imagination – the one based on the Target novelisations and what we were told by the guidebooks and magazines, where everything was cosy and action-packed at the same time and it felt like a family – before the videos started coming out and it turned out the Third Doctor was really just a horrible thankless old bully.

3. The Power of other mobile networks are available apart from Three

4. The Power of KIRSty

Implacable cubes make great enemies, from Dungeons & Dragons‘ Gelatinous Cubes to the Borg, the world of the film Cube and those remorseless advancing blocks in the old PlayStation game Kurushi. There’s something about geometric perfection that inspires unease, even when they’re not blaring out The Birdie Song. And I wouldn’t go so far as to ask Is Doctor Who’s The Power of Three a Shot-For-Shot Remake of Hellraiser?, but you know –

There’s this girl who can make the cubes work

And the wall in the hospital turns into a dimensional portal

And the cube reconfigures itself on its own

And who the FUCK’s this?

– and this is all very welcome to me.

5. The Power of Poultry

Could they be alien eggs? asks Brian. Oh Brian. If only they were.

5 things I learned from A Town Called Mercy

1. A town called Topical

How extraordinary that the TARDIS crew should be heading off to Mexico for the Day of the Dead festival, this week of all weeks. Were they on their way to get some ideas for sugar skull tattoo designs?

2. A town called Meh

I don’t know about you, but for me cowboys and the Wild West aren’t interesting enough in themselves that you can just drop the Doctor and a Terminator into the genre and hope for the best. And sure, murky moral quandaries around war criminals can be interesting, but, you know, I’ve already seen all of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And don’t even mention the Bechdel test. No, it wasn’t for me this week. Still it was nice to hear The Stolen Earth‘s Hanging On The Tablaphone rescored for banjo.

3. A town called Dolittle

I am excited though to see we really are running with the idea first introduced a couple of years ago that the Doctor can talk to animals. Always  a much underused ability of Wonder Woman’s in her tv series I felt, and it could make Doctor Who a very different show. Talking transgender horses brings us one step closer to Tom Baker’s talking cabbage companion idea. I’m all for it.

4. A town called Narrative Distancing

Does anyone have any grasp on what Amy and Rory’s Doctor/life balance is any more? Do they go about their normal lives with the Doctor dropping in occasionally as the last two weeks have told us, or are they travelling with him so much that ‘Our friends are going to start noticing that we’re ageing faster than them’ as Amy said this week?  It’s so inconsistent that it makes it difficult to care, and caring about it right now would be good.

(More questions: Did they wave a cathartic goodbye to the ordinary world and leave Earth for good on their wedding night, or were they suddenly living at home again at the start of The Impossible Astronaut? Did the Doctor say goodbye to them so finally in The God Complex that he actively avoided bumping into them in a Colchester department store, or did he go on to pop up in their house every other week since then? All of the above adds up to none of the above, emotionally.)

5. A town called EGG!

Yes, this year’s secret recurring element was back again. Oh it’s all very well Den Of Geek coming up with clever and entirely plausible theories about flickering lightbulbs, my money’s still on the eggs. In my mind we’re now building up to a final confrontation on the Fields of Trenzalore between a horde of Tythonian ambassadors and a cluster of Chimeron babies. My mind, ladies and gentlemen. My mind.