Thursday, April 30, 2009
Episode 3 starts of with the second half of the big battle set piece between the humans and the Daleks. And just look at all those extras! Has Doctor Who ever had this many people on camera at one time? And there's, like, at least six Daleks! Doctor Who enters the land of big(ger) budget entertainment.
The battle is actually a turning point in the story. As the story was set up, we see the human resistance movement in London to be small, yet well organized, and its members seem quite confident that they can do some damage to the Daleks with Dortmun's bombs. One would get the impression that it would be this small band of humans who would lead the defeat of the Daleks, with The Doctor's help, of course.
But almost every resistance member is killed in the battle, shattering the group and forcing everyone to scatter to different parts of the country. It's a bold move in the script to pick up and move the action to an entirely new setting with new characters and such. It's also a good way to keep a six-part serial moving and have it not seem slow and plodding.
What also keeps the action moving is that there are often three, and sometimes four, plot lines going at the same time - David and Susan's story, Barbara and Jenny trying to get to Bedford, and Ian and Craddock doing likewise aboard the Dalek saucer. The Doctor features less and less over this episode (and especially the next, about which more later), allowing the chemistry between David and Susan to build. The closeness that they are already displaying in this episode is a little jarring considering they never had many scenes together beforehand. It's not Leela and Andred jarring, though, and it does get better as the episodes move along.
Posted by Steven at 8:30 AM
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
And now the exposition comes. I suppose it was inevitable that we have a massive info dump as to why and how the Daleks came to invade Earth in the 22nd century. It is the first invasion of Earth that the show had ever attempted (but certainly not the last), but what sets this one apart from the others that were to come is that :
a) it's a worldwide invasion, not just the home counties of London, and not while the populace is hypnotized or drugged, which brings me to
b) it takes place in the future, making a) all that more believable
I may be jumping ahead of myself here a bit, but this is how you stage a Dalek invasion. Being set in the future, but with the humans subjugated enough that they no longer possess 22nd century technology, you get a recognizable enough setting (London) with characters not too futuristic to be unsympathetic to. Also, you don't have to worry about the after effects of, say, if the invasion was set in the present day, where any story set on present day Earth afterwards would have to conceivably refer back to the events of the invasion. I mean, who gets invaded and conquered one day, and then goes back to their normal life as if nothing had happened the next? In The Dalek Invasion of Earth, though, things happen in the future, and so the consequences can be played with a lot more freely.
The other (wrong) way to portray such an invasion is to set it in the present day, on a grand scale, and then the only solution you have to write your way out of a corner is by inventing some sort of reset button, deus ex machina, or a TARDIS pulling the Earth home from across the galaxy in order to make sure Earth is safe, well, and ready for the next biannual invasion.
Anyway....The Doctor gets to be smart and clever in this episode, too, and really displays a strong desire to remedy the situation for the first time since the show has started. You might say the Daleks bring out the best in him at this stage. There's also a big action set piece towards the end of the episode that begs to have been filmed at Ealing studios, but, with all the location filming in this story, the piggy bank was well empty for that to happen.
Another good episode, though, and it's already rattling along at faster and more robust pace than Nation's previous Dalek story.
Posted by Steven at 2:34 PM
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Viewers of the new series may marvel at how popular the show is in the UK today, and they'd be right. The programme is constantly in the media spotlight, it's a ratings hit, and it is very much the flagship production for the BBC. However, it's not the first time that this has been the case. One might argue that the first three years of Tom Baker's run might have accorded the series a similar status, but the first time that the long-running series was thrust into the public eye was during the Christmas season of 1964. The Daleks were back.
The Daleks were a phenomenal success during their first appearance a year previous to this serial, and the decision to bring them back (despite their apparent onscreen demise) was one of the best decisions the production team made in those early days. The press build-up was incredible. "Dalekmania" had taken the UK by storm.
I'm impressed with the BBC's support of the programme at this point, as well. The Dalek Invasion of Earth was far and away the biggest production that the show had put on in its history, and would really be several years until the size and spectacle would be matched. The fact that this serial was produced at the end of the first production block, a time when the budget had usually run out, is astonishing. This was Doctor Who at its biggest. Apart from a small amount of location shooting in The Reign of Terror (with a double standing in for William Hartnell), this episode contained the first ever outside filming that the show ever attempted, and the results are exemplary. Viewed in sequence, the difference between the relative claustrophobia of the sets used in the show up to this point and the wide open expanse of a deserted London is shocking.
Plot-wise, things start off like a typical Terry Nation script normally does (as we will see for years to come). Doctor and crew land, get separated, some find the good guys, the others find the bad, and the Dalek makes a shock appearance at the end of the episode. Also, some extremely slow Robomen are there to carry out the Daleks' dirty work, beginning a long line of frustratingly slow zombie monsters who people just can't seem to get away from.
The lone appearance of the Dalek at the end defies logic (what exactly was it doing submerged in the river?), but makes for an impressive visual ending. It's all off to a good start!
Posted by Steven at 11:00 PM
For those of you out there who think that the old black and white Doctor Who episodes are slow and creaky, let me just say this - if you think most Hartnell episodes are guilty of this, Crisis used to be TWO episodes long. Even the powers-that-be at the BBC thought that the action dragged over the final two parts of Planet of Giants to authorize both episodes to be chopped up into a single 26-and-a-half minute episode.
And for the most part and, despite some abrupt cuts, the decision to truncate the last half of this serial works out for the better (although the ramifications of the loss of one broadcast episode would be felt about a year later, and for several years after that for those whose business it is to create accurate Doctor Who episode guides). The episode is almost pacey (but not quite Steven Pacey), and is an entertaining view. Of note, and carrying on the observation I made at the end of The Reign of Terror, The Doctor and his friends could have simply escaped once they were all reunited, as they probably would have done in Season 1. However, even when Barbara is fighting the effects of the insecticide that she has inadvertently been affected by, the gang strives to warn someone, hopefully the police, about the nefarious pesticide scheme that they have stumbled upon. The true time meddlers are born in this episode.
As with the previous episode, the sets for the phone and gas outlet are admirable, as is the sense of scale that is maintained throughout the three parts. By the end of the three episodes, you really do believe that The Doctor and his friends are only one inch high. These episodes have been a triumph for all involved, and it has been a great deal of fun watching them.
And if you think Planet of Giants was ambitious for the series in only its second season, then just wait until the next story...
Posted by Steven at 10:41 PM
Taken out of context, the cliffhanger to Dangerous Journey is probably the worst on ever. Oh no! The sink has been emptied! And that man has just washed his hands! Has he done enough to eliminate the germs?
Of course, the cliffhanger goes to emphasize the differing issues between what the main cast is facing and that which the guest cast is having to endure. This is a rare Doctor Who story in that, for obvious reasons, The Doctor and his companions don't meet a single other character. The tale of the crooked financier and scientist who are behind the deadly pesticide DN6 mostly serves as a reason for briefcases to be moved, poison to be left out, water to be drained, etc. - mundane stuff in Normal World, but life altering stuff in Mini World.
The sets are actually pretty impressive in this episode, particularly the sink set. But, in terms of story, there isn't a great deal happening to sustain interest over four episodes. I wonder how they'll deal with this dramatic gulf in Episodes 3 and 4...
Posted by Steven at 10:07 AM
Monday, April 27, 2009
The second season of Doctor Who starts off with an ambitious first episode that was actually recorded immediately after the Season 1 finale, Prisoners of Conciergerie. Despite the proximity to Season 1, and apart from one throwaway line about leaving the 18th century, it feels like some time has passed between that adventure and this one. Ian is wearing a sharp suit, The Doctor is wearing a cloak, and we get to see the full TARDIS set, complete with fault locator, for one of the final times in the show's history.
I will never fault the ambition an creativity of the makers of Doctor Who (let's see if I can uphold that line of thinking when The Web Planet comes up for review). To try and create a land of giant ants, earthworms, matchboxes, and cats on such a shoestring budget is brave, but, understandably, things look a little creaky in this episode some 45 years after its original broadcast.
But there's some fun to be had here. We hear Dudley Simpson's music for the first time (and certainly not the last), and his jaunty score adds a bit more tempo to the proceedings than some of the more morose musical machinations of earlier episodes. And there's even a strain of the plot that deals with the perils of harmful pesticides! Good to see we stamped that problem out then and there in 1964.
Posted by Steven at 10:30 PM
And so the first season of Doctor Who comes to and end with a bit of a whimper, storywise, but the final scene in this, the final installment of The Reign of Terror, is a magical and important scene. The travelers, now back in the TARDIS and safely on their way, reflect on the history that they have witnessed during their time in post-Revolutionary France. The Doctor and Susan, experienced time travelers both, insist to Ian and Barbara that the events they saw would have played out whether they would have been there or not, whether they would have tried to interfere or not.
It's an interesting change from just a few weeks before in The Aztecs when The Doctor explicitly states to Barbara that she "can't change history. Not one line!" That line of dialogue had always been implied as meaning that someone (perhaps The Doctor himself) was forbidden to change history (presumably by the Time Lords, about whom we'll hear a great deal in the months to come). But, in The Reign of Terror, the implication is that to change history is physically impossible, the thinking being that if it did happen, it will happen. Was this intentional on the part of the show's creators? Or was it the 60's version of destroying their own established continuity, a la Mawdryn Undead?
Then there's that superb final shot of a starfield with The Doctor's words echoing out through the cosmos - "Our destiny is in the stars, so let's go and search for it." The line is meant to wrap up the first season before it went into a (then epic length) 10-week summer hiatus. But it really sets the stage for the programme's future. The main theme of Season 1 was of characters trying to find their way home. The Doctor and Susan often lamented about not being able to return home, Ian and Barbara wishing and hoping that The Doctor will be able to take them back to their own time and place, and even guest characters such as Marco Polo were a long way from home, looking to get back.
This conservative approach was also reflected in the stories of the first season and the place of The Doctor and his companions in them. Throughout the stories in this season, the main story thrust was the travelers getting separated from the safety of the TARDIS, and fighting desperately to get back there. With The Doctor's final line in this episode, it sets a new course for the programme. This quartet are now content as travelers, not wanderers in search of a home, and they are eager to see what awaits them on their further adventures.
Posted by Steven at 9:44 PM
Barbara's new (hopeful) beau Leon Colbert turns traitor in this episode and kidnaps Ian in order to pump him for information about the mysterious James Sterling. Thankfully, Jules jumps in to save the day, rescue Ian, and kills Leon in the process. Ian and Jules go back to the hideout to, and, once Barbara is told of Leon's death, it sets up quite a heated little scene between the three of them. Jules defends his actions, and a suddenly bloodthirsty Ian agrees with him, whereas an emotional Barbara not only defends the man Leon, but the ideals of the French Revolution as a whole.
It, and the subsequent scene where everyone calms down and apologizes to one another, is nice little jolt of energy in a story that is sadly lacking any. Barbara makes a comment on she is tired of all the death. This is a rare instance of a companion reflecting on the dangers of travels with The Doctor (done most famously during Tegan's leaving scene in Resurrection of the Daleks), but it's nice to see these harrowing adventures taking a toll on our heroes, as it would any normal human beings. Barbara would see a lot more death in the weeks to come, of course...
Things finally seem to be coming to a head at episode's end as The Doctor is forced to lead Lemaitre to Jules' hideout. But who (oh, who?) is this James Sterling? I mean, who can it possibly be at this point? And what is his function in the plot?
Posted by Steven at 8:44 AM
The above picture is of a chap called Robespierre (well, an actor portraying him, at the very least). As I have said, I know next to nothing of this era in French history, so, to me, the name Robespierre has only ever meant "some character in a Doctor Who story that doesn't exist in the archives in its entirety anymore and the only reason I know anything about him and the surrounding story is because of Peter Haining".
I'm doing my best to follow along with this story, but I'm not having much luck. As I'm watching this, I feel like I'm in the middle of a history lecture that I was 20 minutes late for, and there's no one next to me writing notes for me to sneak a peak at in an attempt to catch up. In other character news, though, Barbara, now out of the grasp of the probably increasingly lecherous Ian, latches on to one of the first men she meets in France, namely Leon Colbert, and has an almost instant attraction towards him. He, likewise, returns the advance in that cool, subtle 1960's TV way, but I can't help think that Barbara is using Leon to hammer the point home to Ian that the two teachers are "just friends".
Susan is sick. Still. And all three companions are captured/imprisoned/recaptured in no particular order while they stay out of the way of history taking its natural course. The inept jailer seems to be amusing everyone with his antics, though, and William Hartnell shines, as usual. But.......sigh. Two more episodes to go.
Posted by Steven at 8:26 AM
Friday, April 24, 2009
Well, Barbara and Susan (the latter of whom is well and truly useless in this episode after developing superpowers in the last story) manage to escape their fate at the base of the guillotine thanks to some French rebels, Ian escapes from his prison cell and what was an agonizingly long film sequence of him fiddling with the keys left in his prison cell door, and The Doctor readily swaps his prized blue ring for a disguise that will no doubt aid him in his quest to rescue his friends.
Oh, and a bunch of French people talk to one another and such. I have to admit, I'm not entirely sure who is whose side in this story, or what sides there are to begin with. My knowledge of this period in French history is minimal, at best. In previous/future historicals, there'd be a quick scene where Barbara turns to the young TV viewers (aka Susan/Vicki) and gives a short rundown of what era they're in and what's going on at the time. With Dennis Spooner's attempts to cram humour into the story at the expense of wordy exposition, these valuable scenes are now gone.
Never mind. I'm sure it will all get sorted out in the end. Which is good, because the next two episodes don't exist, and it will be the job of telesnaps and home recorded audio to get me through this...
Posted by Steven at 8:59 AM
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
With Ian, Barbara, and Susan taken off to Paris to languish in a dungeon before being executed, The Doctor is given a few scenes on his own in this episode where he walks down some nice country roads on his way to Paris to save his friends. On the way, he meets and thanks the boy who saved him from the burning house, and comes across a work party run by a crooked foreman. It gives William Hartnell a chance to shine, and his scenes in this episode are an unequaled delight. His scene with the boy, Jean-Pierre, is a hoot, in which he salutes and exits the scene by giving the strangest wave in television history. His duping of the foreman in the latter scene is, as the story goes, pointless, but worth it to see The Doctor whack the man over the head with a shovel (even though the direction of Henric Hirsch prevents of from seeing such a blow).
Meanwhile, in Paris, Barbara and Susan make a futile attempt to dig their way out of their prison cell while Ian, whose prison cell is encased in 16mm film, learns a secret from a dying fellow prisoner. It says something about the character of Ian that while Barbara, Susan, or even The Doctor were written out of the story for a couple episodes to grant their respective thespians who portray them a holiday, they are barely glimpsed in the episode they've missed (and, in the case of Barbara in The Sensorites and The Doctor in The Keys of Marinus, they are not seen at all), Ian still features on screen for a normal amount of time. Despite the increase in attention on The Doctor's character since the beginning of the season, it's quite apparent that Ian still carried a great deal of weight in the eyes of the storywriters. (And, looking back, you can probably tell that William Russell's scenes were shot during the rehearsals for episodes of The Sensorites where he was simply required to writhe back and forth on a bed for a week and a half).
As for the actual story - what of the message that the dying man told to Ian? And who is this mysterious man who came to see him in the prison? Will Barbara and Susan escape the guillotine? Will The Doctor go back to collect those gold coins? And was he lying about the impending eclipse? Was he???
Posted by Steven at 11:41 AM
The first question I have to ask about The Reign of Terror is why is this period in Earth's history (France's eponymous Reign of Terror) a particular favourite era for The Doctor? It was full of blood and gore! Is there something he's not telling us...?
Anyway, Dennis Spooner's first contribution to Doctor Who has slightly more whimsical feel to it, even if it isn't a comedy, per se. (We'll see more of that in a couple weeks, I shouldn't wonder). In this episode, the crew, after landing on Earth so The Doctor can drop off an apparent discontent Ian (yeah, like that was going to happen), discover an old house, investigate, find perfectly fitting clothes in a trunk, get captured by soldiers of the French army, and then, finally, The Doctor gets trapped in a burning house in a cliffhanger that is milked for about 2-3 minutes at the end of the episode.
The clean split of Doctor and companions is a bit of a welcome change, and (apart from The Keys of Marinus where the separation was necessitated by William Hartnell's holiday) something that the show had never really seen before.
There's also some curious dialogue in which Barbara explains to the French rebels that they are English. But did she speak in French while saying that? Or are the rebels speaking English? The TARDIS telepathic circuits of the new series are a long way away from here, and it's surprising that the programme never really attempted to delve into the language issue during its original run.
This first episode was enjoyable enough, though. Roll on Part Two!
Posted by Steven at 10:03 AM
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Well, it has to be said, The Sensorites ends with a bit of a whimper. The Doctor and Ian, despite more futile acts of sabotage by the City Administrator (I refuse to call him the Second Elder. That title is vacant, in my opinion. It has to be earned, not stolen), manage to track their way through the aqueduct and find the real reason why the Sensorites have been poisoned. The culprits? A bunch of bearded, crazy humans! They've been waging war on the Sensorites ever since they became stranded on the planet years ago.
However, it takes all of three minutes for The Doctor to convince the humans that the war's over, and leads them into a trap to be captured by the Sensorites. Crisis over. And what of the City Administrator? (Barbara refers to him as the Second Elder. What does she know? She's been away on a spaceship for the past two and a half weeks!) He's captured, arrested, and banished to the outer wastelands. Apparently. As the comeuppance of the major villain of the piece takes place offscreen, we're only told this in passing. Bit disappointing, that.
Also, Susan learns from the First Elder that it was the special properties of the Sense-sphere that aided her in her new found ability to use telepathy. Apparently. We're also told that offscreen. For all the pointless discussions about Sensorites' cardiovascular systems and humans' eyelids, two of the more interesting aspects of the story are left unseen. What a cheat!
Anyway, the disappointment in Susan's eyes when she finds out she'll be back to normal the next week almost matches Carole Ann Ford's sullen mood when she finds out the same. You can almost see at which point during her last TARDIS scene where she's working out her notice...
On the whole, this story wasn't as bad or slow as people have made it out to be over the years since its initial broadcast, although I imagine it would be almost completely forgotten if it didn't exist in the BBC Archives.
Posted by Steven at 8:49 AM
Monday, April 20, 2009
I sometimes get upset about the most trivial of things. Sometimes, seemingly minor deaths on Doctor Who affect me more than they should. There's a guard who dies in Episode 6 of The Monster of Peladon whose death always makes me border on the verge of tears. I don't know why. I think it's the way the guard screams as he's blasted by an Ice Warrior - like he legitimately thought he was going to get out of the battle alive. As well, I also think that Varsh's death in Full Circle is quite noteworthy, although that may be down to the fact that I was hoping it would be Adric who gets the chop. To this day, I watch that episode with hope, but the result never changes.
Similarly, the demise of the Second Elder (the REAL Second Elder, not that sash wearing bastard of a City Administrator) has cast a pall over this episode for me. The Second Elder was meek enough, but still served the Sense-sphere quietly and efficiently. He was a devoted family man with a supportive family group. Then, in the midst of merely carrying out his duty, he is kidnapped by the City Administrator and held captive for almost three full episodes. He is repeatedly threatened, as is his precious family group, to the point where he no longer wishes to live. In a last vestige of his life and duty, he sabotages the disintegrator firing key, preventing the City Administrator and his helper (aka The Jerks) from destroying The Doctor. However, in the ensuing struggle, he is killed, having saved the day. Never again does the City Administrator get a better attempt to kill The Doctor, and we will never hear about the Second Elder's bravery again.
And it guts me to this day.
To top things off, the Second Elder doesn't get a parade, no. His superior, the First Elder, with the support and recommendation of The Doctor, Ian, and Susan, simply names a new successor to his post. And who is the lucky Sensorite to be come Second Elder? The f***ing City Administrator! It's like naming Lee Harvey Oswald Vice President after LBJ took over from JFK! Did no one think to take care of the old Second Elder's family group?
Frankly, if this is what justice is like on the Sense-sphere, may an intergalactic war erupt between the Ood and the Sensorites and the Ood win dominion over all Sensorites. And their family groups.
No more today. Too bitter. I'm sure I'll feel differently tomorrow, but I hope Carol, who is kidnapped at episode's end, dies horribly and thinks of the Second Elder's noble sacrifice in her waning moments.
Posted by Steven at 12:40 PM
First off, The Doctor wears glasses a couple times during this episode. Have I not been paying attention? Is this the first time he's worn glasses during the series? Will it be the last? I only ever expect Peter Davison and David Tennant to be wearing spectacles (and Colin Baker to be a spectacle), but now I'm doubting my own ability to properly observe things. Damn.
Anyway, the shot above is taken from a montage of various shots of test tubes being picked up, put down, held up to light, shots of Ian being restless in bed, Sensorites conversing, etc, all in the name of showing everyone hard at work trying to find a cure for the poison that is affecting the city's water supply. It's quite clear that, even in these early days, finding cures for diseases/poisons makes for imminently dull television (see a similar sequence in Doctor Who and the Silurians for proof of that.)
Anyway, The Doctor does eventually find the cure and arranges for a phial of the antidote to be sent to Ian straight away. But, lo! The City Administrator, now disguised as the Second Elder, intercepts the delivery and smashes the phial. Heavens! What a tragic setback to Ian's recovery! How can Ian possibly survive now? The drama lasts for all of a minute and a half, as Susan (offscreen) goes back to the laboratory and gets a second phial, and, after an uneventful trip back to Ian's resting spot, gives him the drugs.
But the City Administrator is evil, make no doubt of that! Thanks to Carol's throwaway (and horribly racist) line that all Sensorites look alike, this gives the City Administrator the idea to kidnap the Second Elder and steal his sash (an idea, which, in turn, shows off the even more racist leanings of the episode's writer). But the City Administrator has nothing to do with the strange sounding monster who is menacing The Doctor at the base of the aqueduct at episode's end...
Posted by Steven at 10:48 AM
Episode 3 begins with the crew (eventually) moving down to the Sense-sphere, but not after The Doctor and Susan have a healthy spat over Susan's burgeoning character development. (Don't worry. That'll get stamped out soon enough.) Barbara doesn't make it down to the planet, though, as, for no real reason other than to facilitate Jacqueline Hill's impending holiday. In fact, Barbara disappears about six minutes into the episode - did Hill have a plane to catch?
The Sensorites, as I have explained, are odd little creatures, and when we see them in their natural environment, they seem odder still. They have no names, only titles, and their relations are known only as their "family group". It's actually kind of interesting how "alien" these aliens are, not just in the way they look and act, but in the way their whole society works. It's actually a brave attempt on the part of the writers to portray such a different species so early in the series' run.
Of course, getting that message across sometimes leads to some laboured explanations. When the City Administrator, the villain of the piece, instructs his minion, the City Engineer, to fire a disintegrator (a weapon which we never actually see) at The Doctor and his friends, the Engineer asks, "Are humans' hearts located on the right or the left side of their body...or in the centre, as in ours?" (ellipsis added for emphasis). Who talks like that? Do the Sensorites have to keep reminding themselves that they're alien? Do their neighbours, the Ood, put up with such nonsense?
Anyway, the episode ends with Ian collapsing from being poisoned, thus minimizing the roles of The Doctor's companions even further as the story progresses...
Posted by Steven at 9:25 AM
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Do you see the picture above? That is the first time we see a Sensorite in a screen grab taken from the end of Episode 1 of this serial. Pretty creepy, no? For the recap in Episode 2, this sequence was reshot, and the Sensorite now looks a lot friendlier. Crisis averted. Sigh.
That little bait-and-switch sort sets the tone for this episode, an installment in which not a great deal happens after a promising first episode. We're told about what's on the planet (the Sense-sphere) that makes it so interesting to outsiders, the mineral molybdenum. Thanks to this interest, the Sensorites are jittery little fellows, and they have an official policy if imprisoning passers-by for eternity to prevent them from pillaging the planet.
The Sensorites are also quite fascinating for a Doctor Who alien race. They hate loud noises and dark rooms (must have been one hell of a party), and they practice telepathy on a regular basis. This rampant mindspeak seems to rub off on the TARDIS crew, too, as Susan suddenly turns into Counselor Troi and is able to send and receive messages to the Sensorites. (It's also implied that The Doctor picks up on this ability as he reads the mind of Ian).
Thanks to Susan's newly found gift (although it was hinted at in the earliest script drafts before the series even started production), she negotiates with the Sensorites to go down to the Sense-sphere and try to break the impasse between the humans and the Sensorites. And it only took a lot of slow, nervous wandering through corridors to get to this point.
Next episode - behold! The Sense-phere!
Posted by Steven at 12:42 AM
Friday, April 17, 2009
For the first time in the show's history, the TARDIS lands inside a spaceship. Judging by everyone's reaction, it would also seem to be the first time in The Doctor's history that he's landed inside a spaceship. There's also a bizarre diversion in the episode's opening TARDIS scene where everyone starts reminiscing about their adventures to date. It almost feels like they're reading an episode guide line by line from a Peter Haining book.
Once the crew leaves the TARDIS, the episode takes a creepy little turn. The two human pilots, Maitland and Carol, seem dead at first, but then suddenly awaken from what is apparently a form of suspended animation. They're prisoners on their own ship and, although we never see the aliens who have imprisoned them, the Sensorites' presence is felt throughout the episode. There's a brief shot of a Sensorite hand melting the TARDIS lock, and it's cleverly implied that they are stalking the corridors behind Barbara and Susan (even though it's the third crew member, a deranged John, who is the true culprit). It certainly enhances the mystery about the titular aliens. Unfortunately, by the end of the episode that mystery is shattered when a Sensorite makes his first appearance...
Okay, I did say at the beginning of this odyssey called The Chronic Hysteresis that I wouldn't dump on the special effects, but latex prosthetics have clearly come a long way since 1964. Despite what the Sensorites might look like, it is an unnerving final shot of the episode to see a Sensorite crawling up the outside of the spaceship to peer in the window.
The Doctor also has a strong episode, especially when he swoops in and pilots the ship away from a collision course with a planet. He looks like he's obviously flown a ship before, the way he works the controls and barks instructions to the others. It's another instance in this young series that serves to point out that The Doctor has seen and done a great deal in his life before we meet him in a London junkyard in 1963.
Overall, I get the impression that this serial isn't highly regarded, but, judging by its first episode, that opinion is in need of re-evaluation.
Posted by Steven at 12:03 AM
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The conclusion to one of the flat-out best stories in Doctor Who's history is also one of its most downbeat. The only victory the TARDIS crew achieves is in escaping. Barbara, who tried so hard to abolish human sacrifice in the Aztec culture, failed in her attempt, as she must have surely realized would happen. She also loses the faith of Autloc, who stood by her through thick and thin for most of the story, only to run off into the wilderness to become a hermit. It is almost tragic to watch Barbara's world collapse around her in a pile of wasted good intentions, and Jacqueline Hill portrays this well-meaning futility extraordinarily well.
Susan also loses some of her innocence, narrowly ducking out of an arranged marriage with The Perfect Victim, only to be punished for the offence with a public torturing (which she also barely avoids). Ian also faces a life and death situation in his inevitable fight with Ixta, which he wins (although it must have been tough for the writers to come up with a way that definitely gives Ian the victory, kills Ixta, but doesn't make out Ian as being directly responsible).
The Doctor perhaps loses the most of all in Cameca. The two don't have a long farewell scene, but the seeds for their sorrow are planted in the scene where The Doctor is making a pulley to help open the door to the tomb and, thus, get back to the TARDIS. Cameca realizes then and there that The Doctor is not long for her world, as the viewer does, but it doesn't lessen the impact of their gradual separation throughout the episode.
There haven't been many more poignant scenes than the final scene in the tomb. The Doctor comforts Barbara, explaining to her that even though she deceived Autloc and caused him to lose his faith, she helped him in finding a new faith in himself. After Barbara goes into the TARDIS, The Doctor leaves behind Cameca's medallion with a look of fond reminiscence, but then turns back and reluctantly places the medallion back in his pocket. The look on his face suggests that he's almost annoyed that he became involved with such a relationship, or that he let himself become involved. William Hartnell again plays this scene superbly, and the pain one senses from The Doctor in this scene leads one to believe that, after this experience, he would resign himself to leave his emotions at the door in future adventures. And he did - we wouldn't see another Doctor romance for many, many years to come.
Posted by Steven at 12:53 PM
(...in which there was no sacrifice, nor a bride to be sacrificed.)
Things that are great about this episode are: The Doctor's reaction to his accidental marriage proposal to Cameca; Tlotoxl and Tonilla trying to poison Barbara to prove she is a false goddess; Susan resisting her arranged marriage with The Perfect Victim, thus starting a chain of events that thrusts her squarely back into the thick of things after two weeks off, Tlotoxl's great facial reaction to nearly having his throat slit by Barbara; both Ian and Ixta struggling to make it look like the stone covering the tunnel weighs a lot....okay, maybe not that last one.
It's getting tough to write about this story as it just clips along fromg great scene to great scene. Admittedly, like a lot of Part Threes in the history of Doctor Who, much of this episode is taken up by lighting fuses for dynamite that will go off in Part Four, but it is still a triumph.
Posted by Steven at 12:24 PM
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Episode 2 starts off with a heated debate between The Doctor and Barbara; The Doctor insists that history can not changed ("Not one line!"), while Barbara, growing comfortable in her new perceived powers as the goddess Yetaxa, is firm in her desire to alter the Aztecs' destiny be maintaining their impressive cultural achievements while abolishing their penchant for barbaric sacrifice. It's a stunning scene, and when The Doctor expresses empathy with Barbara's plight ("I know. Believe me, I know!"), Hartnell's delivery reveals much more, as if he tried to do the same as Barbara a younger man many years ago...
Susan is shunted off to Ealing Film Studios for two weeks while Carole Ann Ford went on holiday, which is fine. There's so much richness in the plot in this story that an extra subplot for Susan would be tough to weave in. The main plot thread of the story is as per usual for most early Hartnell stories - The Doctor's party is separated from the TARDIS (and, thus, freedom), and must negotiate their way through the situation at hand in order to regain that freedom. This time, the wall of Yetaxa's tomb is what separating the travellers from their time ship.
Meanwhile, there's a Shakespearean sequence (in a story that, let's face it, reflects more than a slight influence from The Bard) where Ian is to fight Ixta, The Doctor wants to talk the son of the man who built the temple (Ixta, unbeknownst to the Doctor) to look at the plans for it, but only in return for help in his fight against Ian. Then, to top it all off, after The Doctor has inadvertently aided Ixta by giving him a poison for him to use in his fight against Ian, Ixta is only finally able to scratch Ian with the poison when The Doctor himself (having now been told of Ixta's identity) tries to warn Ian of the poison! It's a fantastic bit of plotting by Canada's second most important contribution to Doctor Who, John Lucarotti. Lucarotti has already given us the glorious Marco Polo, and yet the intricate storylines of The Aztecs almost trumps his earlier success.
The Doctor and Cameca's relationship continues to build in this episode, too, and it's in no small part due to the performances of Hartnell and Margot Van der Burgh (the latter of whom was only 29 at the time of recording, yet played a woman in her 50's). Hartnell's intensity in the opening scene with Jacqueline Hill is contrasted quite nicely with the lighter, romantic moments in his scenes with Van der Burgh. The budding romance isn't sensual. It's sweet, and is so much more interesting as a result.
The episode ends with a further dilemma for Barbara. Not only is she at odds with the Aztecs' sacrifices, but she must try and maintain Autloc's blind faith in her while keeping the bloodthirsty Tlotoxl at bay long enough for The Doctor to try and finagle his way into the tomb and recapture the TARDIS. And now, she has to somehow save Ian from death at the hands of Ixta by using her godly powers that she, of course, does not possess...
Posted by Steven at 11:14 PM
Doctor Who's second ever pure historical, The Aztecs, is a well regarded tale amongst Who fandom, and, after seeing Episode One, it's easy to see why. I lamented earlier (The Daleks) about the slower pace of the classic series, but such a complaint does not exist here. Very unusually. the opening scene crashes head long into the story with Barbara slipping on Yetaxa's bracelet, being captured, and then mistaken for a messenger of the gods. If this was being made today, it would have been the pre-credits sequence.
We're also introduced to the four Aztec characters who will play such an important part over the course of the four episodes. Autloc is the High Priest of Knowledge, who is faithful in the notion that Barbara is Yetaxa. Tlotoxl, played with Richard III relish by John Ringham, is the "villain" of the piece, keen on exposing Barbara as a false goddess who is trying to stop the sacrifices. Ixta is the head warrior, and his ongoing battle with Ian for leadership of the Aztec army is intriguing, if only because one can sense Ian's reluctance in wanting the title.
And then we have Cameca. The Doctor takes an instant shine to her, and the scenes that these two share together are an absolute delight. There are so many scenes that are memorable, even in this opening installment. One of my favourite is the scene where Ian takes down Ixta using only a well placed thumb (and knowledge of pressure points in the human nervous system). It's a metaphor for the mentality and morality of the series as a whole, knowing where to strike as opposed to how hard, especially when the odds are against you.
The cliffhanger sets up the crucial dilemma that will form the heart of the story - Barbara's resistance to the Aztec ritual of sacrifice. What we will see in the episodes to come will not only change the lives of The Doctor and his companions, but also set in place the guiding principle of the show for years to come.
Posted by Steven at 10:58 PM
(And yes, I'm spooked by the above photo, too.)
And so The Keys of Marinus ends with Episode 6, entitled....The Keys of Marinus. And a-ha! I was right about Kala being involved in the crime, wasn't I? And that prosecutor, too! So BOTH the suspicious characters from the previous episode were guilty - amazing! I did like the final reveal of where the key was hidden, though, and it was good to see The Doctor in such a pivotal role.
The Voord make their long awaited return in the coda of the episode, with Terry Nation probably hoping that, by that time, enough of a national craze would have occurred from their first appearance in Episode 1 that the Voord might have been a merchandising bonanza five weeks later. They only just missed that boat...
It may have been the flippers, or it may have been the strange Teletubbies antenna on the top of their head, but they just never took off like Nation's other creation, the Mechanoids (about which, more later). The lead Voord did have a knack for disguise and mimicry, though, as they fooled Ian and Susan enough by putting a cloak over his head and speaking with his normal voice to convince the two that he was, in fact, Arbitan. You'd think the two giant handlebars on his head would have given the game away, but no, they didn't.
Despite some ropey bits scattered throughout the episodes, the whole story was relatively diverting enough. It's also interesting to see how the old series managed to convey alien planets on screen, something which most fans wish they would see more often in the new series.
Posted by Steven at 9:14 AM
Monday, April 13, 2009
Here we go - good old courtroom drama rears its head for the first time in Doctor Who, and the drama plays itself out for about 13 minutes. The episode starts off with Ian finding the final key in a relic room (along with the dead body of Altos' friend Eprin), but is conked over the head before he can procure the key. But who hit Ian in the head? And who stole the key shortly afterward?
Well, it's quite obvious that the guard who discovered Ian (name of Aydan) is implicated somehow. Aydan (played by Martin Cort who, like a few other actors in this story, appears as three or four other masked characters to help the acting budget on course) must also be renowned as The Worst Poker Player on Marinus, as he is so easily tripped up by The Doctor, Sabetha, Susan, even Arbitan, who died four weeks ago, and pretty much the entire population of the city of Millenius. Once Aydan's game has been rumbled, he is shot among a crowd of people, and falls dead. The crowd obviously agree with how useless he was, because not a single one them ducks for cover, confident that the weapon that was used to kill Aydan was set on "Kill Idiot" mode.
Anyway, it looks like Aydan's widow Kala is involved in this whole thing - not because she may have kidnapped Susan at episode's end, but because she just looks evil and there's no one else left in the story to blame...
Posted by Steven at 11:44 AM
Well, things are picking up a bit after two or three pretty uninspiring episodes. This is mostly because there's a hint of a second storyline going on in Episode 4 (Susan and Sabetha trapped in the ice cave), as well as the attempted rape(!) of Barbara by the hunter Vasor while Ian ventures in the cold wilderness to find Altos and rub the young Marinusian's naked thighs. (Seriously, why isn't Altos wearing pants in this story?)
The scene in the ice cave, where our heroes brave a chasm, melting ice, and reanimated knights to get their hands on Key of Marinus #3, is actually quite good, despite the obvious budgetary shortfall, and more than a little bit similar to a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It's quite clear that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were early Hartnell fans.
That attempted rape sequence in Vasor's cabin is worth mentioning again. Of course, it's not graphic, but the fact that it's even implied is staggering. The subject of rape would go on to appear twice more in Verity Lambert's era, and would later be indirectly referenced by Peter Wyngarde's appearance in Planet of Fire in 1984. I've said it before (probably a few times now), but early Who is surprising me with how daring it is in pushing boundaries, and I'm enjoying and appreciating the first few stories a lot more as a result.
Posted by Steven at 9:52 AM
Sunday, April 12, 2009
I complained about the lack of character and story development that had occurred in The Velvet Web in the last entry. I should have stressed the positive, though, and it is this : if the story isn't interesting enough to warrant any development, then why waste time trying?
And the story in The Screaming Jungle is just one of those stories. After picking up some stragglers from the previous episode (namely Altos and Sabetha), the script then contrives to not give anything for these two, or Susan, to do, content instead to have Ian and Barbara to slip past a couple of unconvincing booby traps and find the second key. There's another old actor in it who's crap (Edmund Warwick, the episode's only other guest star), and Ian and Barbara manage to find the key without too much effort, threatened only what appears to be the Krynoid's older brother. If plants only had brothers.
Well, at least half the keys have been found now, right? And with three different (and cheap) settings, the story is at least moving along at a reasonable enough pace. But now it's snowing - what small budget pitfalls and stock footage will try and halt our non-vacationing heroes next episode?
Posted by Steven at 1:07 AM
Having set up the scenario in Episode One, the quest for The Keys of Marinus gets underway in Episode 2, The Velvet Web. And it's this episode that really displays the faults of the story as a whole.
In this installment, the TARDIS crew arrive, are welcomed with open arms by the natives, one of the crew (in this case, Barbara) gets suspicious and seeks to find out more about the regime, gets caught, escapes, finds the answer, helps topple the regime, and everybody goes home happy. That sounds like your average four-part Doctor Who story, but this all happens in one episode! There is no hope for a script to properly develop the characters, the setting, the plot (some might consider that last one to be of at least mild importance), and so forth, and it's painfully obvious that this episode hasn't had the time to do that.
And then there's the budget. The Brains of Morphoton are not some of the best creatures in the programme's history, but they're "control room" is even worse, as the "walls" in the room are simply black drapes. There was nothing left in the tickle trunk for something as simple as walls! This is a testament, though, to how close to the line that first production team pushed things, even if it meant missing the mark the odd time. (We'll talk more about that in Season 2...)
At the end of the episode, another event occurs that would be quite foreign to New Series viewers. William Hartnell was slated to go on a two-week holiday after this episode, which meant The Doctor actually being written out of Episodes 3 and 4 of the story. Such a thing would have been almost unheard of today (until the "Doctor-lite" episodes cam along), but it was something that a programme that pumped out 40+ episodes a season had to do to keep its actors happy.
Posted by Steven at 12:32 AM
Thursday, April 9, 2009
The first episode of The Keys of Marinus, The Sea of Death doesn't start well. There's some stilted looking scenes early in the TARDIS, William Hartnell fluffs most of his lines, and there's some cheap looking sets, including some painted landscape backdrops that never convince the viewer that the studio wall isn't five feet away from the actors.
Add to that a poor effects shot of a paper gingerbread man Voord being dropped into some water, and a studio floor director walking into shot, and you have an inauspicious beginning to one of Doctor Who's most ambitious efforts for some time to come. There's also a remarkably poor performance from George Coulouris, who had been good in everything else he's ever been in. Including Citizen Kane, for crying out loud! All of sudden, all the magic and wonder of Marco Polo has disappeared in a puff of unconvincing smoke.
Most first episodes of early 60's stories feature, almost exclusively, The Doctor and his companions exploring their new surroundings, with little or no interaction with any of the natives. I have to think there's a reason for that. The production crew, perhaps, have spent all that week's resources on the new sets, costumes, etc., that, in order to save money, the scripts are structured as such to minimize the need to hire any additional actors. I could just be making that up, but it does seem to make a lick of sense.
Anyway, the basic story is set up in The Sea of Death, which basically consists of The Doctor and crew having to run around Marinus, find some keys, and bring them back to the guardian of Marinus so he can reset the balance of good and evil on the planet. Or something like that. Whatever. I'm sure they'll never use that idea again on Doctor Who, anyway.
Posted by Steven at 11:08 AM
And so finally the saga ends, with Marco being granted his release to Venice, Ping-Cho getting out of her arranged marriage due to a technicality (her fiance died), Tegana getting his comeuppance, and The Doctor and co. scarpering in the TARDIS at the very end.
I have to say that, going into this one, I wasn't looking forward to it as much due to its extreme length and the fact that none of the pictures move. But it has been a massively enjoyable experience watching this story. Whereas parts of The Daleks seemed to drag on, the storyline for Marco Polo was so wide and varied and contained so many different plot twists and set pieces that the time just flew by. The whole story was given it's initial thrust in the first episode - Marco Polo has captured the TARDIS and is taking it to Kublai Khan as a gift. But it was the (literal) journey along the way which made this so entertaining.
The very end of the episode is quite magical, actually. In the previous episode, Marco expressed his disbelief of Ian's story of where he comes from. Yet the very last words of the story are of Marco finally accepting the truth - "I wonder where they are now? The past? Or the future?" This is the first pure historical in the programme's history (meaning that, apart from The Doctor, his companions, and the TARDIS, there are no other unearthly aspects in the story), but is also unique in that it directly involves the technology of the TARDIS in the storyline. Future historicals would have the TARDIS occupants far removed from their time ship, and no mention would be made of the travelers' origins. Marco Polo bears more than a slight resemblance to the "celebrity" historicals of the new series, in which The Doctor meets a famous person from Earth's history and exposes him to the wonders of the universe. If this story still existed in the BBC archives, one could almost believe that it might have inspired Russell T Davies when crafting the historical episodes in the new series.
Let's hope these seven episodes are found in some basement or broom closet somewhere and unleashed upon the world again, as they really are lost treasures that deserve to be seen again.
Posted by Steven at 10:41 AM
It's obviously tragic that 108 episodes of Doctor Who are still missing from the BBC archives (and don't you think for a second that I'll be done lamenting that fact during the course of this blog), but there are two scenes in Mighty Kublai Khan that would be fantastic to see again.
The first occurs when Ian tries one last desperate attempt to try and convince Marco Polo to relinquish the TARDIS. He actually tries to convince Marco that he's from the future, and the TARDIS can travel through space and time. Marco is almost open minded enough to believe him, but can't. To see the look on Marco's face as Ian spun his wild (yet true) tale would have been fascinating. This is the first "true" historical in the annals of Doctor Who history, yet this instance is actually one of a small handful of instances where The Doctor and/or his companions divulges the secrets of the TARDIS to someone from Earth's past or present. Until the 1980's, when it became almost a weekly ritual, but we'll get into that some 500 entries from now...
The second glorious scene in this episode is an out-an-out comedy scene, the first real such scene in the show's young history. In it, an aged Kublai Khan, hobbled by his advancing years and a wicked case of gout, emerges from his private chambers to grant an audience to The Doctor, Barbara, and Susan. Khan is clearly having trouble, loudly groaning with each step. The Doctor, on the other hand, has a sore back, and, after vociferously objecting to kowtow to the Mongol ruler beforehand, reluctantly bows down to Khan, making similar grunts of anguish. Khan, at first, thinks that The Doctor is mocking him, but soon sees that they both share the same afflictions of old age and become fast friends. Hartnell is a great comic actor, and rarely gets the opportunity to show off his skills in the role of The Doctor, so it's nice to cherish this little bit of gold.
Poor Ping-Cho has a bad time of it in this episode, running away to escape punishment from Marco for revealing the TARDIS key to Susan, then displaying her horrible gullibility by giving all her money to a one-eyed man and his monkey. Ian thankfully swoops in to save her, but a confrontation with the villainous Tegana seems to be afoot...
Posted by Steven at 8:50 AM
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Sword fights! Hiding! A rider! From Shang-Tu! This episode actually has a lot happening in it, although why the episode is called what it is is a bit of a mystery, as the eponymous rider appears in all of one scene. Granted, his arrival at Marco Polo's caravan does send the story along a different path, as he has been sent by Kublai Khan to bring Marco back to Shang-Tu ASAP.
After Tegana's latest failed attempt to kill Marco and the gang, this time by using bandits and assassins listed in his personal rolodex, he takes to kidnapping Susan at the very end of the episode. Marco has made the foolish mistake of trusting Ping-Cho to not tell her BFF Susan where the TARDIS key is located. Ping-Cho doesn't actually tell Susan, but it takes her all of two minutes to just up and hand Susan the key. The other three travellers are all ready to go before Tegana jumps out of the shadows to ambush Susan.
Despite the fact that Marco's relationship with The Doctor and his companions is that of escort/friend/warden/guardian at different times, or sometimes simultaneously, Marco is only one thing to The Doctor - a barrier between him and his freedom. During this story, The Doctor is not interested in ensuring the proper history takes its course on its own, taking steps to alter current events to reestablish the proper history, or stopping any injustice along the way. His main focus is to escape, regardless of the consequences. But we'll see how that plays out in a couple episodes from now...
Posted by Steven at 8:54 AM
The main problem with reconstructed episodes is that the quality of them is dependent on the source material available. The most renowned recon group, Loose Cannon, relies on telesnaps for theirs, but also specially creates scenes and pictures using digitally altered shots and even some crude CGI. For scenes that don't feature much dialogue, a scrolling text marquee is used to inform the viewer what they might be missing. But their recon of Marco Polo was done before the telesnaps turned up in 2004, so their conversion relies purely on colour publicity stills from the time.
My favourite recon provider, the mysterious Elephe, uses some crystal clear versions of telesnaps paired with the official BBC audio release narration. However, Marco Polo is not amongst their canon of fine quality product.
I am unsure of who made the recon that I own for Marco Polo, but it obviously includes telesnaps, but no scrolling text marquee or audio narration. The problem with relying on telesnaps is this: it was Waris Hussein, director of six of the seven episodes of Serial 'D', that recovered the only telesnaps that are known to exist for this story, probably finding them in his attic on a Sunday afternoon. The only episode that is sans telesnaps is episode four, The Wall of Lies, which was directed by John Crockett. Thus, I had the hardest time following along to this episode more than any other.
Despite this, I'm not about to go scrounging for script details from other sites to try and decipher what happened - no! Like the junior Mr. Popplewick, I still have my pride. Only while watching the following episode did I understand what happened at the cliffhanger for The Wall of Lies (Ian discovers a murdered guard), but that didn't entirely hamper my enjoyment of the episode. The relationship between Marco, Ping-Cho, and the travellers reaches its lowest ebb due to Marco punishing everyone involved for spelunking in the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes. It's this constantly changing relationship that is the core of my enjoyment of the episode, but I'll get into that as the story moves along.
Posted by Steven at 8:16 AM
Monday, April 6, 2009
The Doctor makes his triumphant return after spending the last two episodes either behaving grumpy and indolent, or having his grumpy and indolent implied whilst off camera. Here, his first appearance involves him discovering condensation on the walls of the TARDIS, in which Marco Polo allowed The Doctor and Susan to sleep during the night. After managing to capture the condensation, he presents it to rest of the caravan, thus saving their lives and thwarting Tegana's plan to kill the members of Marco's caravan (or, at the very least, his plan to have their lack of water be their demise).
What else has The Doctor been doing through the course of the night? Why, he's only been fashioning a second TARDIS key to use in a potential escape attempt further down the road.
Later on, when the damsel-on-distress (who this week is played by Barbara) disappears after following Tegana into the Cave of Five Thousand Eyes, one would think, based on what one has seen previously, that Ian would be the natural person to step up and search for her. But it's The Doctor who, together with Susan and her new BFF Ping-Cho, venture into the cave to try and find Barbara.
It's a refreshing change for The Doctor's character development, and while I've been enjoying watching Hartnell's performance thus far, this episode contains the first real seeds of The Doctor as the hero, a trait which would carry on for the rest of the series.
Posted by Steven at 11:10 PM
I've already talked about how relatively little screen time The Doctor has had thus far in Season 1, but the first two episodes of Marco Polo prove that point to the extreme. The Doctor is taken ill with "mountain sickness" midway through the first episode, and is absent through almost the entirety of the second installment, partly because of his illness, but mostly because of his sulking in protest of Marco Polo's actions in wresting the TARDIS away from him.
As such, it's yet another Ian-heavy episode, but there's a few nice scenes for Carole Ann Ford at long last. Susan and Ping-Cho hit it off almost instantly, not surprising given that Susan has met no one yet that is close to her in (apparent) age. Although it does seem odd that she didn't have many friends in 1960's London, but seems to be see eye-to-eye with one girl from the Middle Ages. (The answer is, of course, obvious - the BBC bigwigs saw the youth of the day as vacuous, rock and roll loving ne'er-do-wells, whereas a girl such as Ping-Cho, who is arranged to be married to someone four times her age, clearly knows her place in society and accepts it. You won't find that on any contemporary official document signed by Sydney Newman or Donald Baverstock, but we all know that's what they were thinking...)
Tegana, the emissary for the Mongol warlord Noghai, is also travelling with Marco to negotiate a peace with Kublai Khan...but he has other sinister intentions. Tegana is played by Derren Nesbitt (who, coincidentally, would appear with Mark Eden, who plays Marco Polo, in the very same episode of The Prisoner in 1968). Tegana is a Mongol. Derren Nesbitt, like any other actor in this serial, is not. That's another thing about early Doctor Who that takes some getting used to. England of the 1960's was nowhere near the multicultural hub that it is today, and so non-Caucasian actors hard to come by in those days. Still, Tegana is a character of some menace, scheming as he does to rob the caravan of all their water before he robs Marco of his newfound TARDIS.
Posted by Steven at 10:51 AM
And we approach a new twist to The Chronic Hysteresis - the fan reconstruction video. For those who are unaware of what I'm talking about, I'll have to start at the beginning. Here's the Coles Notes version of the The Story of the Doctor Who Missing Episodes (a Terrance Dicks novelization):
From 1972-1978, the BBC erased much of the old programmes that had been broadcast from as far back as the 1950's up until the early 1970's thinking that the sales potential for old black and white programming had long since past. Doctor Who was particularly affected. However, the BBC recovered over half of those episodes that were junked in the form of 16mm film copies, either from other countries that had previously bought episodes, or from in their own film library. 108 episodes are still missing, though.
Fortunately, a small pocket of devoted fans independently recorded audio versions of every 1960's episode of the show at the time of the original broadcast. Another chap, John Cura, was a professional photogragher who used to take screenshots, or telesnaps, of programs and sell them to TV producers so they could keep a visual record of their work. (All this, of course, was long before the days of the home videotape recorder).
Using these audio recordings and telesnaps, another altogether different, yet equally devoted, pocket of fans set about reconstructing the missing episodes as best as they could. Thanks to both pockets of fans, Doctor Who fans can at least enjoy a reasonable approximation of what these episodes looked like when they were originally broadcast.
And, with Marco Polo, we have our first such fan reconstruction. This story is an oddity for several reasons, as I'll get into over the next seven entries. Firstly, it seems almost suspicious that this entire story is missing from the BBC archives. The first two seasons of Doctor Who were sold to scores of countries around the world, and, as such, this initial era of the show is virtually complete in the archives. But Marco Polo remains missing, and, as such, the story has taken on an almost mythical quality among fans. For the longest time, even the telesnaps weren't known to exist until the serial's director, Waris Hussein, found them amongst his personal affects in 2004.
Secondly, the length of time over which the story takes place is perhaps the longest in the show's history - at least a month, probably a lot longer. The first episode sets up the pattern of events. Once the TARDIS lands in 13th century China (then known as Cathay), it breaks down and (somehow) loses all power and water functions. (Did The Doctor forget to pay his utilities bill again?) The stranded TARDIS crew are found by none other than Marco Polo himself, whose caravan is on its way to Shang-Tu. Sensing the magical nature of the TARDIS, Marco seeks to use it to bargain with Kublai Khan so the Mongol ruler will allow Marco to return to his native Venice.
The journey from the plateau of the Himalayas to Shang-Tu begins, and the story starts to settle in. Most of the action during the first episode, at least, takes place not during the journey, but once the caravan has stopped to camp for the night. The story is also told, to some extent, through the eyes and words of Marco Polo himself in the style of journal entries, punctuated by visuals of a map of Cathay. It's such an odd method of storytelling for the show that it makes the episode, and its impending epic length of seven episodes, compelling viewing/listening. The first episode basically serves to introduce the three main characters in the caravan - Marco, Ping-Cho, and Tegana - and to set up what will appear to be the main thrust of the story: can The Doctor and his friends get the TARDIS back before Marco hands it to Kublai Khan?
I sense exciting things are afoot...
Posted by Steven at 6:55 AM
Friday, April 3, 2009
The Edge of Destruction and The Brink Of Disaster were the 12th and 13th episodes recorded during the programme's first season, and, while it was recorded a couple of weeks after the Daleks had begun to take off in the UK, it was planned for and written under very different circumstances. Although the cast and crew would, for years, live and breathe in the understanding that this two-parter was made as a band-aid because the sets for the following story, Marco Polo, weren't ready yet, in reality, these were the last two episodes of the initial 13-episode run that the programme was granted during the early stages of development. If the show was canceled after that baker's dozen of episodes (a very real possiblity at the time), then there would at least have been some sort closure on the series.
Of course, as mentioned earlier, the arrival of the Daleks into the public conciousness of the UK viewing public meant that all bets were off. The show would rarely face such a danger to its survival for the next 20 years. The Brink of Disaster is the last episode made in the world of an uncertain Doctor Who. A week later, the show would feature on the cover of the Radio Times for the first time ever. And the rest, as they say...
Oh, and as for the episode itself, somehow the TARDIS crew get out of the situation they're in by somehow gleaning clues from a bunch of melted clocks and fritzy scanners. The end. But there are some lovely character scenes, particularly between William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill. The team is finally coming together after some harrowing experiences, and it's a joy to see. I think I've said it before (it's only been thirteen entires, and I'm already forgetting what I've written), but the first TARDIS crew is one of the strongest in the series' history, and I can't wait to see them in full motion action in the very next episode! Hooray!
Posted by Steven at 1:28 PM
Finally, a decent and correct episode title for once! (And don't you dare try and tell me that this story is called Inside The Spaceship.)
The episode carries on from the ending of the previous Dalek story where some strange explosion stops the TARDIS in its tracks and knocks everyone down, out, and senseless. Then things take on a weird bent. I have to admit - I've watched this story a few times now and I still don't necessarily know what's going on. It kind of smacks of an experimental high school play with better acting and only slightly better production values. There's a couple chilling scenes with Susan brandishing a pair of scissors (gosh, Verity Lambert treaded awfully close to the line of decency in those days), and William Hartnell gets an early start on his habit of fluffing all of his lines.
The episode is an early attempt at being surreal for Doctor Who, and it pulls it off well, fulfilling the two primary qualities of surreality - it doesn't make any sense, but you want to keep watching. More weirdness to come in Episode 2...
Posted by Steven at 11:32 AM
Thursday, April 2, 2009
(...but not THE Rescue - that comes later.)
So we finally reach the end of the first of many Dalek epics, and it's about time, too. I've enjoyed the story as a whole, but there's not much reason for it to span seven episodes. Perhaps an interesting subplot featuring the Doctor would have made the time pass a little more easily. And the fact that I have to suggest even a subplot for the lead character of a television programme goes to show how different the focus was on The Doctor back in the early days. It may have been because of William Hartnell's age affecting how many vigorous scenes he could partake in, or his inability to remember pages of script. It may have also been to enhance the mystery of the character. By not having as many scenes with The Doctor, you needn't delve into his back story much.
Personally, I blame Susan. Carole Ann Ford portrays The Doctor's grand-daughter quite well, but the character is just a naive teen-aged girl at this point, and it would be irresponsible for The Doctor to not protect her at all times. Thus, since Susan can't be depended on to do much and must be relegated to the sidelines, and The Doctor must keep her safe, then The Doctor must remain on the sidelines, too. Thankfully, the character of Susan develops a bit in the coming episodes to alleviate The Doctor of his paternal duties, but in The Daleks, it hasn't happened yet.
Thankfully, the increasingly dependable Ian is there to save the day. Once again, the Thal/Ian and Barbara expedition captures the bulk of the screen time in this episode. Interestingly, the cliffhanger ending of the last episode is resolved rather darkly. As you'll recall, The Ordeal ended with Antodus hanging off a cliff (tee hee), with his weight threatening to pull both he and Ian down into the crevasse below. How are they going to get out of this one, you may ask? Well, they don't really - Antodus has to sacrifice himself by cutting the rope, and he falls to his death. In most cliffhangers in the show's history, death is averted, so Antodus's demise comes as a bit of a shock, and it further shows how remarkably adult the show was in its early days. (It's also worth noting that in the cinema adaptation Doctor Who and the Daleks, Antodus somehow manages to survive the fall.)
At the end, The Daleks are defeated, only to return time and time again, with better weaponry. The guns must have been the first thing altered by the Daleks after this adventure. At one point during the final battle between the Thals and the Daleks, a Thal is shot point black by a Dalek, but still manages to pull himself off the floor and keep fighting - remarkable!
All in all, The Daleks is an interesting viewing experience if only because of the historical value. The viewership almost doubled over the course of the seven episodes, virtually assuring the epic run that the show would enjoy throughout the years to come.
Posted by Steven at 8:28 AM
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Apart from the obvious variances between the budgets and the technology available at the time to make the program, the main difference between new Who and classic Who is the pace. When the new series first debuted in 2005, there were small pockets of fandom who were worried that the new 45-minute stories would feel rushed and that it wouldn't allow time for proper character development. They preferred the old four-part stories, which they felt allowed time to properly develop the story, introduce the characters, unnecessarily pad out the story during Part Three, and so on.
To a point, I can sympathize with that attitude. But, having now become used to the pace of the new series, jumping right back into the beginning of the classic era takes some getting used to. And a seven-part Dalek story isn't the way to ease into it, either. Basically, each episode so far has revolved around one long set piece. In episode one, it's the TARDIS crew exploring the dead planet. In episode two, it's their plight with radiation sickness. Part Three focuses on their escape from their cell; Part Four, their escape from the city; Part Five, their trek through the swamp; and now, in Part Six, Ian, Barbara and some Thals brave the perils of The Cave of Crumbling Polystyrene in order to try and sneak into the Dalek city.
Meanwhile, the increasingly ineffectual Doctor and Susan, who, oddly, get less and less to do each week, somehow short circuit the Daleks' power supply with the (only?) TARDIS key, and then get captured. To further hammer home the leisurely pace, the Daleks are threatening to explode a neutron bomb....sometime tomorrow! It's all (gradually) building to an exciting climax in part seven...
Posted by Steven at 8:40 AM