Tag Archives: time travel

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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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”.

“It sounds wrong!” – The wit and wisdom of S Club 7 part two: The 1999 Specials

Between Miami 7 and L.A. 7, S Club filmed two double-length specials detailing their adventures on the road trip across America. And so our episode guide continues… [part one here]

BACK TO THE FIFTIES

Really?: It’s the second time S Club have time travelled, this time thanks to a magic mileometer. That’s all very well, but they don’t seem to have any trouble spending their modern day money in the bowling alley.

Paul’s dinners: His subconscious is manifesting as road signs now. Fortunately after this unhappy hallucination he gets to tuck into a huge pile of hot dogs later on.

signs

Topical!: The gang are very keen to point out the unreconstructed sexism of the era. But otherwise it’s an incredible, idealised 1959 that sees Bradley able to chat up a white girl without anyone bringing race into it. Speaking of which…

Exploring other cultures with Jo: Oh dear god she’s blacked up AGAIN.

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 22.59.24

Careful what you wish for: Hannah: “We’re looking for a wormhole in the time-space-whatsisname!” The countdown to Primeval continues.

Slashfic trigger:

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 22.52.57

BOYFRIENDS AND BIRTHDAYS

Really?:  At this point in their long drive the gang’d be somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona. So it’s not clear where Rachel finds the beach with the crashing waves.

Careful what you wish for: When Rachel’s on the point of leaving the band: “I suppose we’re the S Club 6 now.” “It doesn’t sound right.” “It sounds wrong!” A few years later, thanks to Paul, this focus group would take place for real.

Dentalwatch: 

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 23.12.51

Dada never died: Jon: “Statistically fish ARE much more reliable than boyfriends.”

Paul’s dinners: 

Slashfic trigger: Rachel tries to impress new crush Ethan with an invitation to tea and biscuits, but when Bradley points out they don’t have any, she offers him her sticky buns instead.

To be continued…

‘Poo in the sky’ – The wit and wisdom of S Club 7 part one: Miami 7

My exclusive episode guide to S Club’s television adventures gets underway with their debut TV series, 1999’s Miami 7.

Episode 1: Take-Off

Paul’s dinners: ‘I started thinking about lunch and I completely lost it.’

Topical!: ‘You’re looking a bit Tony Blair, Jon!’

Dada never died:

Rachel’s world: ‘Maybe fame is just poo in the sky.’

4th wall shattered: Tina: ‘Hang on a minute, whose fantasy are we in here?!’  – as the gang dip in and out of one another’s dream sequences.

Episode 2: Howard’s Hotel

Slashfic trigger: Bradley: ‘Girls – they’re so rough!’ appearing in a white-splattered t-shirt and offering his body for inspection.

Careful what you wish for: ‘I guess if we don’t make it as famous singers we could always become a singing cleaning service’

Episode 3: The Blue Chevy

Dentalwatch special:

Tonguewatch special:

Episode 4: Wind Resistance

Exploring other cultures with Jo: Jo: ‘You pompous git!’ Paul: ‘What did you call me?’ Jo: ‘Great leader! Only I used the Hawaiian pronunciation.’

Slashfic trigger:

Dentalwatch: Paul: ‘That was a smirk not a smile!’ Hannah: ‘That was a smile! I showed tooth!’ Paul: ‘If you show less than five it’s a smirk.’

Rachel’s world:

Dada never died: Tina: ‘What am I, a choreographer or a combine harvester?’

Exploring other cultures with Jo: Jo blacks up after a flight through the air. But it’s all in good fun!

Episode 5: The Man From EMI

Paul’s dinners: ‘I haven’t had my breakfast yet!’

Exploring other cultures with Jo: ‘Hasta la vista baby! Which in English means – well I’m not sure what it means.’

Episode 6: Alligator

Dentalwatch:

Careful what you wish for: Hannah crawls around on the grass in an attempt to devise a trap for a pesky alligator. She’ll be doing a lot more of that sort of thing once Primeval starts.

Episode 7: Volleyball

Nothing to see here. Just lots of SKIN.

Episode 8: Alien Hunter

Really?: This episode is notable for CATHY BLOODY DENNIS showing up (in her only ever acting role) as Jill, an actress with a terrible northern accent, who plays Cinnamon Hunter, a character with a terrible American accent, in a sort of prototype Sarah Jane Adventures show that’s being filmed at S Club’s hotel.

In  River Song style she leaves S Club with a book, blank except the first page which reads ‘This book is the future, fill it with your hopes and dreams.’

Episode 9: Missing

Paul’s dinners:

Episode 10: Court In The Act

Really?: In this hilarious episode S Club 7 pretend to be American to avoid deportation, and show kids that immigration fraud is fun! Jon actually ends up perjuring himself in court in pursuit of this. His defence also includes describing S Club as ‘the best and the brightest the nation has to offer’ and doing the mid-air splits. Yes, the courtroom scene turns into a full-on song and dance routine.

Slashfic trigger: An American backstory for Tina: ‘Back on her daddy’s ranch, this little homegirl used to really ride the range.’

Paul’s dinners:

Episode 11: Bermuda Triangle

Really?: It’s a time travel episode. S Club sail into the Bermuda Triangle and end up in 1975. Wigs ahoy! They meet Elvis, Cher, and most puzzlingly Madonna, who would have been a Michigan cheerleader at the time. To cap things off, Abba’s Dancing Queen seems to have been released a year early.

Rachel’s world: She mistakes a mop for a spider.

Episode 12: How Deep is Your Love?

Dada never died: Bradley: ‘The secret with girls is to treat them like buses.’ Jon: ‘You mean don’t put your feet on their seats?’

Really?: Hannah finds she’s able to communicate with dolphins (‘That’s a very fishist remark!’) in some sort of tribute to The Ballad Of Halo Jones perhaps.

Careful what you wish for: Rachel’s excited to be approached by a model scout, despite Bradley’s scepticism (‘You couldn’t model, you’re just too… Rachel.’) It turns out he only wants her for her hands. I’m reminded unhappily of her later ad campaign for Braun ladyshavers.

Topical!: The three girls Paul is said to fancy most are Jennifer Aniston, Xena: Warrior Princess and Natalie Imbruglia.

13: Reprise

The season finale’s mostly a clip show, but at least Cathy Dennis’s back to deliver the deathless line ‘One moment I was popping burgers in a bun, the next I was zapping aliens with a gamma pulse death ray!’

4th wall shattered: Rachel turns to camera: ‘Are you sure this isn’t a fantasy sequence?’

To be continued…

This used to be the future… Fear Her today

The Olympic stadium imagined in 2006 for Doctor Who, and as it actually turned out

Six years ago, Doctor Who broadcast the episode Fear Her. It’s set today, on Friday 27th July 2012 – the Doctor and Rose arrive in London on the day of the Olympic Games opening ceremony. Hi-jinks ensue, naturally, and the whole thing was an exciting glimpse into the future a shoddy and much-derided mess.

But how well did the 2006 production team imagine the world of today?

Shayne Ward had a few hits after winning X Factor in 2005, but mostly disappeared from view after his second album and was finally dropped by Syco last year. There’s no Greatest Hits compilation – Rose would be more likely to see a poster for Rock Of Ages, which he’s been starring in recently.

There’s no sign of a Dame Kelly Holmes Close in London yet either, though it was a reasonable assumption. Dame Kelly has had to make do with a guest appearance on an Absolutely Fabulous Olympic special instead.

Rather than relying on coloured pencils, Chloe Webber would be firing up Draw Something on a Samsung Galaxy Tab. But who could have seen Draw Something coming? Touchscreen phones didn’t take off until after the launch of the iPhone in 2007. This really is the future.

As for the tv coverage, here’s really no need to turn to BBC News 24 for a ‘Countdown To The Games’ as Trish does. No need at all. It’s far harder to find a channel that isn’t breathlessly building up to the event.

Speaking of the news coverage we see, ‘the queues started a week ago’ for the opening ceremony, apparently, which doesn’t seem quite right when everyone’s bought their tickets in advance. Mind you, maybe it was simply people who’d ordered their tickets from CoSport.

Then there’s security. In this story Rose steals a big axe from the back of a council van and starts swinging it wildly in the middle of a residential street. By the time she’s pushed her way brusquely through the crowd on the Torch route, ignored a warning from a police officer, shouted ‘I can stop this from happening!’ and thrown a metal object into the air at the torchbearer, I’m very sorry to say that Rose Tyler has been shot dead by G4S snipers.

And the weather? It’s ‘a wonderful summer’s day’ according to the news. But by nightfall the Doctor senses a storm’s coming. Accurate? We’re about to find out…

Chicken & Lantern: Series 4

Over the last year I’ve been bringing the forgotten animated 80s series Chicken & Lantern to a wider audience with these episode guides (Series 1, 2 and 3). And now, as they say, the dramatic conclusion.

It was a year of endings. The fall of communism, the final episode of Doctor Who, and the last time that Sonia would ever straddle the top of the UK charts. But for a few, 1989’s most significant loss was the sad demise of Chicken & Lantern. Their antics had been deemed quaint and irrelevant and their fourth season of adventures was to be their last. The production team tried various controversial creative approaches in the final run of episodes, some wilder than others and not all of them successful, but then they had nothing to lose.

Prunella Scales returned as the voice of Chicken, and the role of Lantern was taken up by Geoffrey Palmer, who brought a certain gruff world-weariness to the time-travelling festival decoration.

SERIES 4 EPISODE GUIDE

6 x 10 minute episodes

Transmitted on BBC1, Wednesdays at 4.45pm, 22nd November – 27th December 1989

Episode 1: Bird Down

In a bravura opening sequence worthy of a James Bond film, Chicken and Lantern make their escape from a Nazi-infested zeppelin high above 1930s New York, plunging through the sky onto the Empire State Building where they battle their way down through Cthulhoid monsters oozing from the walls of the carpeted hallways, finally reaching street level only to get caught up in a dramatic shoot-out between rival organised crime gangs. They race into the sewers, where they outsmart a ravenous alligator, and finally slide down a giant shaft to reach the centre of the earth where we see that our heroes have established a safe HQ that they can safely visit in any time zone. There’s not a word of dialogue up until this point, which greatly alarmed Geoffrey Palmer on his first day of recording. Especially when all that he or Prunella Scales were required to do in the final seconds of the episode was to grunt or scream respectively as the large time scanner screen in their HQ fills with the terrifying face of an enormous fox.

Episode 2: Cooped Up

The bizarre and infamous ‘live action’ episode. Having established a base of operations for the intrepid duo, no time was wasted in setting an entire episode there, and during a power cut at that. Still a great deal of money was clearly saved on animation by having Prunella Scales sat in a chicken suit in a semi-darkened room (lit only by the dim red light of the molten core of the earth,  diffusing through the skylight), whispering to Geoffrey Palmer who’s gamely done up in a whalebone corset, red tissue paper and golden tassles as Lantern. Chicken believes that the fox they saw on the screen will be their undoing and their end, and confides in Lantern of the nameless creeping dread that’s haunted her days and her dreams. She fears and welcomes her oncoming death in equal measure, she confesses, finally breaking down into sobs. As a means of introducing existential anxiety to a young audience, it couldn’t be deemed a failure. But then that wasn’t exactly the show’s remit.

Episode 3: Pecking Order

A time travel romp allowing C&L to pay homage to the programme that inspired it, this episode saw Chicken (now back to her flat cartoon self) spliced into chicken-related footage from 70s Doctor Who episodes, as she becomes separated from Lantern, unstuck in time alone, and tries to track down a fellow time traveller to get her home. At first appearing aboard the SS Bernice where she fails to attract Jon Pertwee’s attention from within a crate, she’s then whooshed to Paris in 1979 where she’s hurtled along her own timeline to the point of old age and death, before Tom Baker reverses the polarity to save her. Finally she pops up in a village church where, just as the Master is about to sacrifice her to a Daemon, Lantern (accompanied for no easily justifiable reason by Crow from Saturday Superstore) swoops in over Jo Grant’s shoulder and they all escape to safety.

Episode 4: Home To Roost

In an ill-remembered episode guest-directed by Peter Greenaway, Chicken and Lantern learn a complicated formal dance in an unnamed baroque citadel. These scenes are intercut with abstract, stylised scenes of a future metropolis filled with rotting foxes. The music was alright.

Episode 5: The Four Lanterns

A celebratory episode designed to clear up the confusion around Lantern’s backstory, which saw a return to the Shanghai setting of Season 1’s finale (where all of Lantern’s past and future incarnations live together as a family) and an ambitious attempt to bring all the actors who’d voiced him together. David Yip refused to participate and had to be represented by recycled sound clips from his earlier episodes. Bruce Willis had loved his time on the show so much that he gave his time for free, although as he was now a major star, and busy filming Die Hard 2, this amounted to a quick phone call with no script, during which he said a few phrases he thought his incarnation of Lantern might be likely to utter. So with two of the Lanterns speaking only in non-sequiturs – “No, dear Chicken! You’re doing it all wrong!”; “Suck my fiery wick, mothers!” – and so on, it was left to Burt Kwouk and Geoffrey Palmer to try to carry the complicated plot, which was some sort of absurdly hopeful epiphany in which Lantern reconciled all the contradictory aspects of his psyche.

Episode 6: Outfoxed

The ending was all that mattered. The story that led to it was almost incidental, save that in a metafictional twist that would only become apparent more than twenty years later when I was writing this today, the fox so intent on senselessly killing off our heroes turned out to be called Bertie.

But what sticks in the mind of everyone who sees it is the last few minutes and their terrible imagery. At least we didn’t have to see the worst of it happen onscreen. It was bad enough that Chicken should actually be savaged by the fox, and that Lantern should fall into a threshing machine while trying to save her. They were wise to cut away at the last moment and leave those fates suggested merely by sound effect with the occasional half-chewed wing or mangled shred of red paper flying across the screen. Although even that informed a generation’s trauma. A light-hearted soundtrack was added at producers’ insistence to alleviate the horror, but no-one would now agree that Spitting Image’s The Chicken Song did anything to make things better.

When the children had finished crying – if they ever finished crying – if they looked up at the screen again they would see their heroes, barely recognisable: Chicken just shreds and bits of bone, Lantern smashed and torn, his light sputtering. But that dying light signalled the start of one final juddering flight through time, and our heroes arrive on a sunny hillside by the opening of a cave in Ancient Greece, where a philosopher scoops up their remnants in his arms and carries them to their rest. The camera fixes and slowly zooms in on the firelit shadows on the wall of the cave, where we see that Chicken and Lantern are slowly becoming whole again as silhouettes. Plato (for it is he, voiced by John Gielgud) explains that through their adventures our heroes have become the best of every chicken, and of every lantern, and that they will live on forever, symbolically, as ideal forms. However much comfort THAT was supposed to be. The light in the cave slowly dies and the credits roll while that unforgettable theme tune plays out one last, sad time.

The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: The War Games

In this series I’m applying the methodologies of my day job to classic Doctor Who stories. Project management is a subtle profession requiring people skills and precise organisational abilities. Let’s find out if the War Chief’s got what it takes.

Every freelancer brings their own unique skillset to an organisation

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

When we looked at Castrovalva in the first instalment of the series, we were analysing a self-starting project manager who was setting his own goals. In The War Games we’re looking at a more common scenario — our hero the War Chief is a freelancer who’s been employed to manage the War Lord’s people’s grand scheme. Their plan to raise a galactic army by kidnapping soldiers from across Earth’s history and whittling them down to find the best fighters may seem convoluted and ludicrous, but getting a ridiculous brief from a client and having to make the best of it is a daily occurrence in our profession. The question is: can you deliver?

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

Amongst other capabilities, the War Chief contributed the TIme Lords' unique 'fridge magnet' control system to the operation

For a project so mammoth in scope, a great deal of resource is required. A suitable planet is found to host the games, and the War Chief contributes time travel capability to his clients’ existing brainwashing technology. Processing and relocating all the participating armies along with great chunks of landscape, ordnance and architecture must have been a logistical nightmare, but thanks to the War Chief everything seems to be running efficiently when we join the project. A clear line management structure is in place with the likes of General ‘glasses of doom’ Smythe running a tight ship in the 1917 zone, where we hear Captain Ransom telling Lady Jennifer: “People don’t understand. It’s the paperwork you see. It’s quite fantastic how many forms we have to fill in.” Reassuring.

If I said you had a beautiful body, you would believe it WITHOUT QUESTION

3. CONTINGENCY

Contingency’s the art of preparing for what might go wrong. We never hear of any particular timeframes that have been assigned to the project so delays aren’t necessarily an issue. And we see that the War Chief keeps a close eye on the one thing which could (and does) go wrong – the brainwashing process. We see him checking in with the head of science and responding to the news that it has a 95% success rate with the words “I’m not interested in excuses”. 95% is fucking brilliant if you ask me. But as a great project manager, he’s instinctively applying quantitative analysis and recognises that 5% of free-thinking humans could pose a serious threat.

And yet the process seemed so foolproof

There’s no black mark to the later revelation that his time travel machines have almost completely run out of energy – the project aim is to to conquer the galaxy and subjugate 1000 inhabited worlds, and time travel isn’t required for that. The SIDRATs trigger no further dependencies on the critical path. In project terms he’s met the goal parameters by using the available resources exactly to capacity. And that’s amazing.

4. MANAGING THE TEAM

The War Chief has a commanding presence, a nice way of strutting into a room and a deliciously camp, snarling way of delivering his instructions – we can imagine he’s a popular team leader. He’s described as ‘silver-tongued’ yet we also see that he’s not shy of injecting an element of threat into his briefs – “I hope for your own sake the experiment will be successful” is much more stick than carrot, for instance. Happy to get hands-on (as we see when he takes over from a technician in episode 6), he seems always to be seething with anger but tightly under control.

There are holes in the process, though. “Didn’t you receive your instructions?” he asks General Smythe in episode 7. And we learn that despite – or even perhaps because of – doing everything right, the War Chief is mistrusted, disobeyed. “I was promised efficiency and co-operation! Without the knowledge I have, this complete venture would be impossible!” he complains. We’ve all been there.

Even sitting on a chair incorrectly can foment hostility towards a visiting freelancer

And it’s the Security Chief we can blame for this. Resentful and disparaging of this senior member of staff brought in above him, he publicly badmouths our hero at every opportunity and spreads doubt about his loyalty. It’s a situation that will be sadly familiar to any freelancer – however good your work, the existing staff structure will violently cling together to ensure you never forget you’re an outsider.

Still, the bickering between the War Chief and the Security Chief is always fantastic. We’re not even halfway through the story before the War Chief starts calling his colleague incompetent. And of course, it leads to one of Doctor Who’s greatest exchange of insults of all time.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

The War Chief runs a tight operation and responds immediately and effectively to any crisis. He prides himself on his logical approach. Phrases such as “In future inform me of all such developments,” are never far from his lips, and we see him supervising even those operations for which he doesn’t have direct responsibility, such as Jamie’s interrogation.

The late, great Philip Madoc

But it’s the arrival of the War Lord from the home planet that throws everything into disarray. The Chief greets this news with the calm panic common to any PM faced with a visit from their key stakeholder at short notice. To be fair, the War Lord is a terrifying client. Sarcastic, suspicious and with a quietly kinky undertow, he’s mesmerising to watch and I’m sure a bastard to work for. We’ve all had devastating conference calls with his type.

Inevitably the client’s arrival is the catalyst for the in-fighting amongst management to escalate. “I am tired of this eternal bickering,” says the War Lord, a full three minutes after arriving at HQ. He hasn’t even sat through the previous six episodes! The classic technique of blaming a recently departed employee is deployed. “Smythe was a fool, he deserved to die!” spits the Chief immediately after the unlucky martinet is shot.

At the end of episode 7 the Chief is, effectively, sacked as project manager while the War Lord takes charge himself. An ignominious end to a project for any professional. But he wasn’t to blame. “I am in complete control,” he says just before that, even as the resistance rises and the operation spectacularly begins to fall apart. You believe him.

If only they'd given him one of these flattering uniforms

He continues to work as a sort of consultant – after all, his skills are irreplaceable – and has the dubious pleasure of seeing things fall apart without him as the  remaining team make increasingly dubious decisions. Their preparing to drop a neutron bomb, for instance, is as typically frustrating an instance of a client undoing all your hard work as I’ve ever seen.

Sadly the War Chief is finally shot dead by his clients to prevent him taking their secrets to a rival agency – a shame, as simply signing a standard confidentiality agreement at the start of the process would have obviated this. Before his death, he confides in the Doctor that his motivation in aiding the War Lord’s people’s plan was to “bring order”. A great project manager to the end.

And I'll need a VERY BIG MAP

DEBRIEF

  • The freelance project manager was given overall responsibility for all pre-planned war game activities
  • His allocation of necessary inputs was fully optimised to allow the project to begin with high efficiency levels
  • With hindsight, the responsibility assignment matrix should have allocated equal accountability to a permanent member of staff
  • Process execution and change control were good, but undermined by a clash of management styles within the organisation
  • What a stupid fool he was

Project FAIL