Friday, May 29, 2009

V12 - Destruction of Time

After a somewhat meandering latter half of this story, this epic story ends with a pretty shocking finale. The Doctor makes a sudden return (fresh from his hypothetical temper tantrum from the previous week, according to, well, me), a working Time Destructor in hand, ready to threaten the Daleks with its destruction and thus depriving the Daleks of their treasured Ultimate Weapon. I already wrote about the disappearance of The Doctor from the storyline in the previous writeup, but it eventually serves to raise some unanswered questions in regards to the Time Destructor. How did The Doctor manage to obtain it, and the taranium core, so easily? And so unseen? It's taken 12 episodes to get both core and Destructor in the same room together at the same time, but considerably less time and effort for The Doctor to pilfer it.

The other disappointment is Mavic Chen, who was such a strong villain and, really, the driving force behind the first half of this story. But now, without his fellow delegates who all escape back to their own star systems, he's reduced to blundering on about being the "master of the universe" and making other such empty promises. He's the only one in the room who doesn't realize that his eventual fate lies at the end of a Dalek gun. Such a smart mind would have and should have seen this coming, but Chen's been more or less on the outs with the Daleks since recovering the taranium core in Episode 10. It's a pity, as Kevin Stoney was simply magnificent as Chen for the most part in this story, but he, and his character, are not treated as well in its finale.

Any shortcomings of the episode, and indeed, the story, are more than made up for in the final scenes. The Doctor and Sara are being chased through the jungle, functioning Time Destructor in hand, by a horde of Daleks intent on recovering their beloved weapon of death. The staggering results of the device's actions are seen - the jungle is reduced to a stark desert, and Sara ages and dissolves into dust in seconds. There's almost a celebratory end to previous Dalek stories, but not this one. The Doctor and Steven win, but at what cost? Interestingly, The Doctor tries his best to be optimistic of the situation by stating the Daleks have been destroyed, but it is Steven who puts him back on track by lamenting the loss of their friends during the course of the story - Bret, Katarina, and Sara. For the first time in the series' short history, the deadly consequences of travelling with The Doctor have been shown for the first time, about which we will see more in the episodes to come.

It is a bit of a shame that the middle episodes of this story meander a bit, mostly forced by the necessity to cram in a holiday episode for the Christmas Day broadcast. The first five episodes of this story made it appear that it was shaping up to be the best Dalek story ever, and perhaps even the best Hartnell story ever, but sadly, the inability to sustain the momentum over a massive 12-episode length is the serial's only, yet major, downfall.

V11 - The Abandoned Planet

The final two parts of this story see the story return to Kembel for the big finish, and, after the initial TARDIS scenes, the oddest thing happens: The Doctor completely disappears from the story from the moment the action leaves the TARDIS interior. No explanation is given in the story for this sudden vanishing, either.

I have searched the world (well, two or three websites, anyway) to try and find the reason for this shocking left turn in the narrative, and have been unsuccessful. If you look at the final TARDIS interior scene (or, more likely, the reconstruction of the scene), it's not explicitly implied that The Doctor will be disappearing once he, Steven, and Sara leave the TARDIS. But, lo, the next scene afterwards, set just outside the TARDIS, does not feature The Doctor, and Steven and Sara are wondering where's run off to. The Doctor doesn't appear for the rest of the episode.

Production wise, The Doctor's lines were predominantly given to Steven, and most of Steven's original lines were dispensed between Steven and Sara. As I said, I can find no explanation of why this occurred, but I'm going to offer a hypothesis. William Hartnell and producer John Wiles were already at each other's throats during the making of this story, and, although it's no great stretch of the imagination, I think one of their spats led to The Doctor's absence. One can probably ascertain that just such a spat happened after the recording of the TARDIS scenes, where a recording break was probably scheduled beforehand. Tempers were raised, words were exchanged, and Hartnell walked off the set in a huff. Aware that studio time was rapidly running short, instead of wasting valuable studio time to try an lure the incorrigible lead actor back, Hartnell's lines were instead given to Peter Purves, The Doctor's absence was worked into the script, and recording carried on until the end of the evening. (Skipping ahead a bit, The Doctor is also absent for a good deal of Episode 12 of this story, as well).

Understand that this is just a hypothesis, validated by n o one. Douglas Camfield, Wiles, and Hartnell are no longer with us, but Purves, Jean Marsh (who played Sara Kingdom), and script editor Donald Tosh (who would have performed all the required rewrites) still are, and they, nor anyone else who was working on the serial at the time, have never spoken about this distinct incident, to my knowledge.

The Wiles/Hartnell era is a fascinating time in the history of Doctor Who as it was probably the most volatile behind the scenes era in the show's history (perhaps even outstripping the later Colin Baker era), and it is this incident that I'm always most intrigued by. So much so that, as you can see, I can scarcely remember what the actual episode was about!

But I bet you it was good!

V10 - Escape Switch

After taking the last few episodes off, Mavic Chen returns with a flourish in this episode. I love the scene in which he angrily bats aside a Dalek's eyestalk in order to end an argument. But what I love more is that the Dalek lets him do it. The scene is not so much a sign of how powerful Chen has become in the alliance, but how much the Daleks are aware of that power. In very rare circumstances after this story will a non-Dalek carry such weight in an alliance with those metallic pepperpots.

The Monk is, again, a hoot in his final appearance in the show. The fact that The Doctor negotiates his release, along with that of Steven and Sara, shows that, even then, he was more protective of his own kind than he was willing to admit.

The fact that The Doctor is finally forced to hand over the genuine taranium core in order to save his friends sets up what should be a tense and interesting finale after the basic thrust of the story has wavered over the second half of this mammoth story.

V9 - Golden Death

The continuing story of The Daleks' Master Plan takes an odd turn as it settles down in ancient Egypt. It's odd because there is no real reason for things to be set here. The Doctor isn't helping to build the pyramids, nor are the Daleks and/or The Monk aren't attempting to stop them from being built. It's basically an excuse to have some Daleks waste some humanoids; in this case, some very willing Egyptian warriors.

The Doctor is very much a scheming individual in this episode, more often seen in the background than taking the lead. He lurks secretly behind The Monk while The Monk is skulking around the pyramid building site looking for The Doctor. The Doctor mischievously sneaks into The Monk's TARDIS to change its outside appearance to match The Doctor's own police box exterior. most amusingly, though, is an unseen sequence where The Doctor beats up The Monk enough to wrap him up in bindings and stuff him in a sarcophagus!

Still, one can't help but think that the momentum of the first five episodes has significantly dragged a bit over the next four installments. They're still better than The Web Planet, though...

V8 - Volcano

And with that, The Daleks' Master Plan became the longest story ever, surpassing previous seven-part giants The Daleks and Marco Polo. And it doesn't begin all that well, with the frivolity of the previous weeks' Christmas episode wrecking havoc on the proceedings by having the TARDIS quickly materialize in the middle of a cricket match, then leave pretty much as suddenly. Snicker.

However, the arrival of The Meddling Monk is a pure delight. I loved Peter Butterworth in The Time Meddler, and he's great in this, too. It's a bit of a big coincidence for The Monk to appear on the scene independent of the skirmish that's going on between the Daleks and the Doctor, but The Monk comes along to add a twist to The Doctor's struggles just in time as the intrigue in Mavic Chen's life is being replaced by an uncomfortable terror. Chen's allies/competitors are starting to thin out. Trantis manages to talk his way into first becoming a guinea pig for the Time Destructor, then gets exterminated. Celation also bails on the scene for the time being, so Chen becomes the only non-Dalek in the room, and, with the fake Time Destructor being uncovered, Chen doesn't much of a leg to stand on. As such, he doesn't have as many riveting scenes as he did in earlier episodes, mostly because he has no one else to scheme with.

At the end of the episode, things almost dip back into The Chase standards when the Daleks prepare a time machine of their own, much like the one they had in their last adventure. But I have confidence that, this time, proper drama will prevail...

V7 - The Feast of Steven

It's interesting to see how TV viewing habits in the UK have changed over the course of 40 years. The Christmas specials of the new series of Doctor Who get gangbuster ratings, as have the holiday specials of other famous shows such as Only Fools and Horses. In 1965, though, people tended to turn the TV off (or, rather, never have it on in the first place) after eating their Christmas dinner. Such was the environment that Episode 7 of The Daleks' Master Plan entered the Doctor Who pathos.

The Feast of Steven is, of course, the oddest Doctor Who episode ever. It bears no real relation to what went on before it or what was to happen afterwards, contains a truly cacophonous scene set in a a 1920's Hollywood film studio, and it famously ended with William Hartnell turning to the camera and saying those immortal words, "A happy Christmas to all of you at home!".

It's that last line that I love so much about this episode, though, as it has stymied the pedants of the Doctor Who world in trying to work it into the official canon. If Hartnell had just said, "A happy Christmas to you all!", he could have merely been talking to himself, or, at he very least, the multiple personalities in his head that really wouldn't manifest themselves until the later Tom Baker era. The fact that he directed the comment to those of us "at home" leads me to think that there are bigger things afoot.

Quite clearly, The Doctor has been aware of the fact that the CIA (Celestial Intervention Agency) on Gallifrey has been following him for some time, monitoring his actions and discreetly sending him on special missions to suit their own nefarious schemes, all under the guise of a "faulty" directional control. The CIA were smug enough to think that The Doctor hadn't noticed, but the fact that he wished a happy Christmas to everyone at home (i.e. Gallifrey) made them alter their plans and go for more aggressive tactics. To that end, shortly after this, they pull the First Doctor out of time for a mission (The Three Doctors), and, pleased with how it worked out on that occasion, continue to do the same with other incarnations, particularly the Second Doctor.

Yup - the Season 6B theory didn't start with The Second Doctor's trial at the end of The War Games. It started with that seemingly harmless Christmas greeting years before. Stunning. And it's all canon.

Get Paul Cornell on the line. He's got another book to write.

V6 - Coronas of the Sun

The story, admittedly, stalls just a little bit by around this episode, but only because of the circumstances thrust upon the writers at this point. The seventh episode, The Feast of Steven, was slated to go out on Christmas Day, and it had been decided in advance that it should be a, more or less, stand alone episode due to the holiday.

However, the story would pick up again in Episode 8 as if the Christmas episode had never happened (and, for international viewers, that would have been the case anyway as the Christmas episode was never intended to be included in the packaged story, thus making The Daleks' Master Plan an 11-part story outside of the UK. Of course, no country outside of the UK actually aired The Daleks' Master Plan anyway, so it was a moot point). So, Episode 6 basically had to end without too much of a cliffhanger so that it could seamlessly blend in with the beginning of Episode 8.

Thus, the Doctor and his companions pretty much have to find their way back to the safety of the TARDIS at episode's end and not be in any particular danger when they get there so that they can coast around for a week or so until the story was ready to pick up again. Thanks to an old standby that Terry Nation would use again - invisible monsters - the TARDIS crew escape the clutches of the Daleks and do, indeed, make it back to safety. The story then gets its MacGuffin to extend the length for a few more episodes as The Doctor crafts a fake taranium core that the Daleks won't have a chance to check for another couple weeks. Crisis averted! Well done, Dennis Spooner, in getting out of that one.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

V5 - Counter Plot

It seems odd for me to discuss sound in Doctor Who when I'm talking about one of the few episodes of The Daleks' Master Plan that can actually be watched. But it was in this episode that I finally noticed the importance of sound design in Doctor Who, and how it has almost been non-existent prior to this story.

Every location in this episode has a constant sound effect in the background - Dalek control, Mavic Chen's room, the teleport control room, the teleport room itself, the planet Mira. It aids the telling of a story so much more when there's a constant, yet subtle, reminder that the scene you're watching is in a totally different place than the scene that came before it. It also subconsciously affects the pacing. There were far too many quiet or silent scenes in the first two seasons of Doctor Who, and some episodes felt very slow as a result. Not here - the pace cracks along. Credit, too, must go to the audio mixer. Each episode was recorded almost as live back in those days, so to be constantly switching between one constant audio track to another, as well as throwing in cues from Tristram Cary's superb score for these episodes, required some expert skill and precision.

What has also kept this story so interesting through five episodes are the various subplots that occur during the course of the story. Most of them have to do with power struggles - Mavic Chen trying to eliminate his competition in the alliance with the Daleks by tricking and framing the other galactic leaders, then trying to become ruler over the Daleks themselves. One little tangent which is sadly undeveloped after this episode is the short appearance by Maurice Browning as Chen's right hand man, Karlton. Karlton seems to be the only person who can (and the only person who Chen seems to allow to) talk back at Chen when Chen is confiding in Karlton with his thoughts and plans. Karlton's very last line leads one to believe that he's setting up his own plan to overthrow Chen himself, but nothing comes of it. This is a bit of a shame, as I could watch Browning all day in this episode, and he has one of the most distinctive voices in Doctor Who history. The scenes between he and Kevin Stoney are superb.

I could go on about how fantastic this story is, and probably will over the course of the next seven episodes. Terrific stuff.

V4 - The Traitors

This episode begins with the shocking death of Katarina. Even though she was only around for five episodes total in Doctor Who, the gravity of the situation is hammered home by the fact that Katarina is the first person to die while expressly under the care of The Doctor. It's a stunning change from the relatively carefree days of the Ian and Barbara days, where the threat of death, especially towards the end of Season 2, was never very apparent.

On the face of it, though, Katarina's death does seem rather trivial, given how short a time she actually knew The Doctor and Steven (not much more than a few hours, at most!). Thus, the Doctor's impassioned eulogy about her seems a little out of place, but seeing as he feels somewhat responsible for her death, one can understand the guilt he feels. But don't worry - things are back to normal by the next scene!

If anything, Katarina's death scene went on to inspire one of the great films of all time, as, apparently, the special effects people working on an upcoming little science fiction film called 2001: A Space Odyssey rang up Douglas Camfield to ask him how he pulled off the shot of Katarina's body floating in space...

At episode's end, there is yet another death to one of The Doctor's party, this time - Nicholas Courtney's Bret Vyon, at the hands of his own sister, Sara Kingdom. And Bret's death won't be the last one we'd see before the end of this serial. The Daleks' Master Plan is proving to be the starting point of the notion that to travel with The Doctor is not a safe occupation.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

V3 - Devil's Planet

One can easily tell right off the bat that Katarina was just not going to fit in with the show. The character has absolutely no footing in the new, futuristic world that she finds herself in, and her superstitions and primitive beliefs prevent her from joining in on any conversation. The Doctor seems to think so, too. If it was anyone else (especially a male), he (well, Hartnell's Doctor, anyway) would have been quickly dismissive of the young handmaiden, and, in the few, brief scenes that The Doctor and Katarina share together in this story, it's almost like an adult talking to a small child.

I'm not sure what producer John Wiles and script editor Donald Tosh were thinking when they thought up the idea of a character from ancient times becoming part of the TARDIS crew, but at least they realized their mistake and ended the experiment quickly. The detour to the prison planet Desperus (where things are desperate, in another subtle naming convention from Terry Nation) is here pretty much exclusively to set up Katarina's impending death. (Some dialogue that was cut from the final product was meant to emphasize this even more).

And yet, despite the deviation from the plot, it still doesn't feel as tacked on as much as, well, any sequence from The Chase. This is mostly because what Mavic Chen brings to the table, but I've got a good few episodes yet left to talk about him, so why spoil that now?

V2 - Day of Armageddon

(I so wanted to name this post "V2 Schneider", but I figured only the die hard David Bowie/Kraftwerk fans would get the joke)

As cool as this episode is (and it is), the best thing about it, really, is the novelty of actually being able to see it. Returned to the BBC archives as recently as this century (golly, there's hope the other 108 episodes, isn't there), it was an unparalleled thrill to watch this for the first time on the Lost in Time boxed set when it came out a couple years back. Seeing the mythical conference of all the alien delegates, a scene about which we had only heard for years, is the height of strangeness. All the delegates walk funny, or have spikes on their teeth, or bumps all over their body. They all even bang the table in applause in a funny way! They're all remarkably alien, but not in a stupid, annoying way like the aliens in The Web Planet.

I'm sure I'll talk of Mavic Chen again over the next few entries, but Kevin Stoney's villain is as smooth as they come, and is, by far, the strongest antagonist character the programme has seen by this point (and there would be a scant few that would be this strong afterwards, either). His scenes with Zephon are so smarmy, with Chen casually clinging to some upright bars as if he was in his own voluntary prison cell (perhaps a metaphor to his alliance with the Daleks and the other members of the outer galaxies).

And I definitely know I'll talk about Douglas Camfield again, but seeing as we only get to see three episodes of this 12-parter, and then we won't hear from him again until Season 5's The Web of Fear, I'll heap praise on him once again. The whole episode just seems so tight in its pacing, and, occurring in the days before editing was commonplace activity for videotaped television programmes, credit has to be given solely to Camfield's direction. Some other directors of the era would have simply pointed the camera at the actors and let the scene play itself out. It's apparent that the actors have meticulously rehearsed their performance under Camfield's militaristic eye, and it shows.

The real cheat of watching "orphaned" episodes like this is that they end, and promise of something even more exciting to come, but those are episodes that we will probably never be able to see and appreciate ever again...

Monday, May 25, 2009

V1 - The Nightmare Begins

For the first time ever, we get a Dalek story not completely bungled by the monsters' creator, Terry Nation (he only wrote half the episodes) or director Richard Martin. Instead, Dennis Spooner would write about half the episodes (although his contribution wouldn't start until the fifth installment), and the wonderful Douglas Camfield was chosen to direct this 12-part epic.

Camfield's inclusion pays off from the first shot we see of a Dalek. In a film sequence that thankfully has been recovered in recent years and returned to the BBC archives, the camera looks up past a terrified Kert Gantry and up at a Dalek, seconds before it exterminates the Space Security agent. That Dalek might as well have been staring down at every young viewer in England and scaring the pants off of them. After the travesty that was The Chase, the Daleks were back - threatening, scheming, and allying with others in their bid to take over the galaxy.

An interesting event occurs in this episode when Bret Vyon breaches the TARDIS, intent on hijacking it, but he instead gets captured and is imprisoned by The Doctor's special gravity chair (for lack of an actual name of the device). This is the first time that a non-companion has entered the TARDIS in the series' history. Just a few episodes previously, in The Time Meddler, The Doctor's TARDIS was shown to no longer be unique, and now, it's interior is no longer impermeable to outsiders as, in Season 1, even when one had the key, according to Susan, it had to be turned in just the right way or it would damage the lock forever. Bret Vyon doesn't seem to have this problem. The TARDIS is not the place of sanctuary that it once had been.

This installment actually makes me want to watch eleven more episodes of this, which is an impressive feat unto itself.

U4 - Horse of Destruction

It is immediately apparent to the viewer, as it was to producer John Wiles and script editor Donald Tosh when they created her, that the character of Katarina was so primitive and backwards that there was absolutely no hope in having her on board the TARDIS without grinding any scene that she's in to a complete halt. She's even slow-witted for ancient Troy.

It is Vicki who arranges her, as it would turn out, short term stay in the TARDIS. As such, while she thought that she was saving the young handmaiden from certain death at the hands of the Greeks (with the help of The Doctor, of course), she has instead merely delayed her horrible death for the equally horrible she will incur in a few short weeks' time. You know things are taking a bloody turn when even Vicki's lily white hands are covered in blood.

For the second companion departure in a row, The Doctor and companion(s) say their farewells offscreen, and we only see the emotional effects on the respective parties after the scene has finished. That said, The Doctor's quick ruminations about Vicki aboard the TARDIS at episode's end are less convincing, and less moving, than his short and simple speech about Ian and Barbara at the end of The Chase.

The Myth Makers has been an enjoyable watch, if not altogether memorable, but it's more notable, for me, as the first of many cast changes that were to occur before season's end.

U3 - Death of a Spy

The spy who gets killed in this episode is Cyclops, who is actually a fairly minor character, but gets and episode title to himself. Interesting, that.

Two big things happen in this episode, one of them quite literally. The Doctor cements his own place in established history by coming up with the idea of the Trojan Horse to help the Greeks overtake Troy. So, in effect, The Doctor is solely responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Trojans thanks to his actions. The Doctor's place in history and the sometimes negative effects of that were dealt with rather explicitly (and effectively) in the 2008 story The Fires of Pompeii, but such sentiments were a long way away from the series' mantra in 1965.

It is in this episode, as well, that Vicki and Troilus fall hard for each other, and rather suddenly at that. Steven, who watches with disgust a flirtatious jailhouse tryst from a neighbouring cell, thinks that it is a ruse by Vicki to aid and abet their potential escape from the dungeon and doesn't believe the romance to be true. I can't help but half agree with him. When companions leave the series under the guise of falling in love with someone they've only met during the course of the story, it is very difficult to portray these relationships over the course of the story without stalling the main plot in its tracks. Also, the writer is limited to not only the small number of episodes in each story, but also the comparatively short timeline over which the story takes place. Having a character fall in love and eventually leave at the end of a story as long, storyline wise, as Marco Polo would have been more believable.

Vicki (or perhaps I should call her Cressida) and Troilus's relationship is by no means weak (and it, as all such "companion finds love and leaves The Doctor" storylines through the ages, will always look better than what happened in The Invasion of Time), but it's also a tad sudden for Vicki, who has never shown any great romantic inclination to anyone in the past to immediately latch on to the first male she finds she has affection for. Someone should have told both Susan and Vicki to play the field a little more...

U2 - Small Prophet, Quick Return

What a shame that writer Donald Cotton wasn't allowed to use all of his preferred episode titles, such as "Deus ex Machina" and "Is There a Doctor in the Horse?". Fortunately, the title for this installment was kept, despite everyone's best intentions to strike it from the record. It's mildly amusing, just like the episode itself.

The funniest thing about this episode is Barrie Ingham as Paris. I literally laughed out loud during several of his scenes. At least, unlike certain scenes in The Web Planet, I was meant to laugh. Paris is a hoot - such a coward, and a bumbling one at that, and so "English" that it really does fly in the face of any attempt to do an accurate historical reenactment like the ones done in the previous two seasons.

But this isn't your standard historical. First, the events that we see happening are more based on myth rather than fact, so it's easy for the producers to play fast and loose with established historical continuity. Mostly, though, it's different in the fact that all three TARDIS crew members get themselves full on involved in the story, as opposed to past historicals where everyone is encouraged to stay out of the way and let the actual events take their natural course.

In this episode, Vicki goes so far as taking on the persona of Cressida, an established character in the Trojan myth. And we'll see how The Doctor and Steven get involved later...

U1 - Temple of Secrets

The John Wiles era begins with a delightful little historical romp set in the era of the Trojan War. It doesn't really look or feel any different than the Verity Lambert era (difficult to say, I know, on account of the fact that the episodes don't exist in the BBC Archives), but, behind the scenes, massive changes were afoot.

Maureen O'Brien returned from vacation to find that her character, Vicki, was to be written out at the end of the story. Her contribution to this episode isn't much, as she has done the typical companion thing and hurt her ankle in the previous episode, and so is relegated to TARDIS watch. Steven fares a lot better than he did in Galaxy 4, and The Doctor manages to get himself mistaken for the Greek god, Zeus.

Wiles and William Hartnell, quite famously, did not get along at all. Added to that is the fact that one of Hartnell's close relatives died during the making of this story, and that Hartnell's own health was beginning its own slow deterioration must have made this a very difficult experience for the programme's star, but it doesn't show. A true professional, through and through.

The Myth Makers sets out to be a comedy, but we don't see the full height of the supposed hilarity until later episodes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

T/A - Mission to the Unknown

And, no, it's not called Dalek Cutaway! At least, it isn't in my world!

This intriguing little one-off episode came about because of the fact that Planet of Giants, which started off Season 2 of Doctor Who, had its last two episodes edited together into one to increase the pacing. The problem was that the Doctor Who production team still owed the BBC one more episode to air in its place, but, since the stars of the show had already produced their allotted contracted episodes, that one episode could not contain the regular cast.

So, the production team decided to make the episode a teaser, if you will, for the twelve-part leviathan The Daleks' Master Plan, airing later in Season 3. And what a neat little episode it is. There's a couple of space secret agents who are trying to get a message sent to Earth that the Daleks, and six superfluous allies, are massing forces to take over Earth's galaxy. There's a variety of different aliens on display, too (most of whom have changed by the time the Dalek twelve-parter was recorded). The fact that there's no mention of The Doctor or the TARDIS is interesting, too, as Galaxy Four ended very oddly, with Vicki looking at a random planet on the scanner and wondering aloud, "I wonder what's happening on that planet right now..."

It's all whetted my appetite for the Dalek marathon to come, which I hope will wipe the horrible taste of The Chase out of my mouth once and for all. But before that, new producer John Wiles is appearing on the scene to usher in a new era...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

T4 - The Exploding Planet

I spent the whole fourth episode of Galaxy Four waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for a twist to reveal itself. I mean, I do like the fact that it's the strange looking Rills who are the philanthropists and the "beautiful" Drahvins are the ones looking to ruin it for everyone. But these details are sorted out so relatively early in the story that you'd have to think, for dramatic purposes, that a last minute twist would make things interesting.

But it never happens. To borrow a phrase from the programme's future, the Rills are about as truthful, honest, and boring as they come. Once this is established, The Doctor and his friends set about helping the Rills fix their space ship, and the increasingly powerless Drahvins never get close to sabotaging their efforts. It reminds me of the film Star Trek: Nemesis (and you know that if I'm using that as a comparison, it can't be good) in that the main antagonist of the piece gets progressively weaker as the story goes along. Will our enemy manage to be victorious over our heroes? Or will our heroes simply out wait our enemies as they get weaker and eventually win the day?

So, in conclusion, not the best way to end a producer's tenure, as this was Verity Lambert's last story as producer of Doctor Who. (At least it was supposed to be if Louis Marks could have written FOUR good episodes of Planet of Giants. More about that in the next entry). It was certainly an interesting era that probably started off better than it ended. There were also some surprisingly adult themes and scenes that occurred in the show during Lambert's run that would never be touched on again in the show's history.

Lambert's era was also a time of great stability behind the scenes, whereas the two years to follow would be rife with change...

T3 - Air Lock which Steven is given even less to do than in Episode Two. In the first half, he's pretending to be asleep to try and (eventually) overtake the Drahvins guarding him in the Drahvin ship. Once he succeeds in doing that, he spends the latter half of the episode trapped in the eponymous air lock, waiting (like the rest of us) for the damn episode to end so he can finally be rescued.

Vicki, meanwhile, has settled down from her shock experience at the end of Episode Two and is listening to the obligatory infodump coming out of the Rill leader. Or, more accurately, the Chumbly boom box in the room with them, as Rills do not have the ability to speak on their own. Why? Because they're so alien! And such alien aliens can't possibly be trusted, can they?

Turns out they can, as, surprise, the Rills are actually the innocent party on this planet, and the ones that actually tried helping the Drahvins until the warlike female race fought back. This bombshell is dropped so soon in the episode, and The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven buy into this notion and agree to help the Rills so quickly that you have to expect a twist in Episode Four, right?


T2 - Trap of Steel

One thing I'm noticing about Galaxy Four is that I'm not sure there's enough story to stretch over four episodes. This much is apparent once the time frame for the story is established at the end of Episode One. There's only one more day until the nearby sun explodes and envelopes the planet, yet there is very little urgency in any of the character's actions.

Instead, The Doctor and Vicki embark on a very leisurely exploration of the Rill space ship for the latter half of the episode (which ends an admittedly cool and startling cliffhanger). I'll blame the Chumblies for that one, as they do their best to urge their captives down the corridor to a meeting with the Rills while maintaining their steady 7 metre/minute pace.

Steven also fares quite poorly. Oh, how hopeful Peter Purves must have been when he signed on to the series, especially after he saw the script for The Time Meddler. And then he saw the script for this, in which all of his lines and actions had, at one time, belonged to the now departed character of Barbara. That's gotta kill a buzz pretty quick.

The novelty of seeing relatively new (to these eyes, anyway) Doctor Who episodes probably means I'm a lot more forgiving to this story than I should be....

T1 - Four Hundred Dawns

What a cheat the first two seasons of Doctor Who are, in relation to the contents of the BBC Archives. After a good few weeks of relatively complete viewing (barring the odd missing or, in the case of Marco Polo, the odd missing story), one might be led to believe that the missing episode situation in the Doctor Who world has been blown out of proportion.

And then we hit Season 3, where the amount of complete material in the archives diminishes drastically. Over the course of the next three seasons, there are only four complete stories in existence to review, as well as a smattering of "orphaned" episodes. As I explained a few weeks back, though, thankfully reconstructions have been made for each and every missing episode out there, so we can at least enjoy a resemblance of the missing episodes.

Due to the qualms of the TV station that broadcast Doctor Who in my youth, I am on incredibly familiar terms with all Doctor Who stories originally broadcast from 1970-89. I only encountered the 1960's episodes in the early 90's, and so my photographic memory for a lot of the black and white episodes is nowhere near my scene-by-scene recalls for some of Peter Davison's episodes. I only stumbled upon the reconstructions in 2005, which led to an exciting prospect - experiencing new (to me) Doctor Who episodes that were made some 40 years ago. So, as I embark on this, the bleakest era of Doctor Who watching (in terms of quantity of existing episodes, and by no means of quality), a new buzz has hit me, as this will only be the third time through most of these episodes before things settle down a bit for the near complete Season 6.

The downside is that I have to start the journey with Episode One of Galaxy Four, which features cute little robots called Chumblies that look like the tops of giant ice cream cones and make what seems like only two or three different noises. All. The. Time. I'm sure they were a bundle of laughs in 1965, but they're tough as hell to decipher now without the benefit of moving pictures.

Less difficult to understand is the brutal, militaristic race of women called the Drahvins. I kind of like the concept of the Drahvins, as they could have been portrayed as the typical "planet of women" type of aliens, but their singular aggressive purpose and complete contempt towards the men of their own society makes them stand out. If this was a classic Star Trek episode, Kirk would have taken all his shore leave in one go on Drahva, as well as, with less success, Spock and, say, Chekov. Hilarity would ensue.

Not much hilarity going on in Galaxy Four, but the basic plot is hammered out in Episode One. The planet is dying, two different groups want to leave the planet, but can't. Oh, and the Chumblies are vicious little dollops of ice cream.

S4 - Checkmate

When you look at all the episodes of Doctor Who ever made, it is actually difficult to find many installments that changed the entire direction of the programme. Checkmate is one of those episodes.

Up until now, The Doctor has been from some mysterious race and an unseen planet, with only his granddaughter as proof that anyone else from his kind even exists. In Checkmate, we find out that not only does The Monk have a TARDIS of his own, but he is a member of The Doctor's race. The Doctor is no longer unique, and neither is his time ship. It could have been dangerous to introduce this into the history of the show, as it may have reduced the amount of mystery and intrigue in its title character. Instead, it just increases the questions. We don't know at this point why The Doctor left his home planet, and we now must ask why the Monk did the same thing.

Also, this story features the birth of the "psuedo-historical". In previous stories set in Earth's past, The Doctor has been there almost purely as observer of actual events, forbidden to interfere. With The Time Meddler, the main antagonist is also someone from outside of time and place where the story is occurring, and, as opposed to past events being characters unto themselves in "true historicals", the location of the story is now merely a backdrop to a bigger story going on around it. We wouldn't see the complete transformation from "true" to "psuedo-" for another couple of seasons, but the seeds were most definitely sown here.

The Time Meddler is often overlooked, and undeservedly so - it is a delightful little story. The last episode, and the season, ends with poetic closeups of The Doctor and his companions staring out at the stars, perhaps staring off to the changes and challenges they will face in Season 3...

S3 - A Battle of Wits

A few of Douglas Camfield's episodes have gone by without me singling him out for specific praise. His work in The Time Meddler stands out as his best work to date (possibly because Richard Martin's direction in the preceding story, The Chase, seems so clunky by comparison). The camera close-ups are nice and tight, the action moves along from scene to scene at a healthy clip, and there's a series of nice dissolves between certain scenes over the course of the story. Sometimes, they're to show the effect of the deserted and ethereal monastery, but other times, they are an artistic way of covering up the difficult edits made during recording breaks (back in the day when editing videotape actually meant cutting and sticking bits of videotape together).

And then there' s Peter Butterworth as the Meddling Monk (one of the sillier names in Doctor Who lore. Although, as we will see in The Daleks' Master Plan, he's still dressed like a monk then, as well. Does he only create mischief in times and places that afford him to be a monk in disguise?). Butterworth is one of, if not the only, great successes in casting comedy actors in "dramatic" roles in the show's history. Of course, calling the Monk a dramatic character isn't at all accurate. If The Master ever had a Patrick Troughton-type incarnation, it would have looked very similar to the Monk. The Monk isn't necessarily evil, just mischievous, which makes him all the more believable as a character.

Hartnell returns in this episode and shares some lovely scenes with Butterworth. Their chemistry together is what really drives this episode. This is Doctor Who doing comedy right - a serious story with hints of comedy here in there, but with the funny stuff never taking precedence over the story as a whole.

And one couldn't possibly comment on this episode without mentioning the last scene where Vicki and Steven discover the Monk's TARDIS, but more on that in the next entry...

S2 - The Meddling Monk

Given the new and welcome emphasis on The Doctor's solo exploits that were established in the previous episode, the story kind of grinds to a halt in Episode Two as William Hartnell was on holiday, and, thus, so too was his character, locked in a prison cell for the entire duration (supposedly).

We are introduced to the story's other antagonists, a band of Vikings who aren't actually that good at pillaging, but...well, let's just say that they are responsible for one of the most shocking scenes in Doctor Who history when they storm the village containing only an unsuspecting Edith at the time. When Edith's husband, Wulnoth, returns, he finds his wife in a state of shock and has bruises on her face. It is quite apparent that she has been raped, a stunningly bold admission on a children's show. The deed is never mentioned, but Wulnoth's reaction says it all. The scene lends a superb amount of gravitas to the episode, and to the story as a whole.

This is jumping ahead a bit, but you will notice that the next scene in Episode Three that The Doctor has with Edith, the implication of the rape is nowhere to be seen, almost as if The Doctor is completely unaware of it. It leads me to think - was this deliberate on the part of the writers? Hartnell was not around for the recording of this episode, so they could more easily insert the reference to rape into the script without Hartnell making a stink about it.

Or maybe that's the conspiracy theorist in me speaking.

S1 - The Watcher

The departure of Ian and Barbara, who, it must be said, had a fair chunk of screen time during their day, chimes in a new era of Doctor Who. We meet the new male companion/action-man-because-William-Hartnell-is-too-old-and-fragile-to-participate-in-such-scenes in the guise of Steven Taylor, who was introduced in the last episode, but gets his proper debut here. I've always liked Peter Purves's performance in the role (the little we get to see of him, given the state of the BBC Archives), and he gets a good start in this episode, sharing a nice chemistry with Maureen O'Brien as Vicki.

Purves's arrival coincides with a new maturity from Vicki, who, now thrust into the position of senior companion, leads a wary Steven around 11th century England. And with Vicki now experiencing a new found independence, at long last, William Hartnell gets the spotlight to himself for large chunks of the episode. This could be my favourite single Hartnell episode in existence. I love his speech in the TARDIS where he points out various aspects of the console room to a disbelieving Steven (including "a chair with a panda on it" - brilliant).

But his best scene is perhaps the one where he has a cup of mead with Edith, casually inquiring about the goings on in the area to try and determine what period of history the TARDIS has landed in. Commentators often remark of a moment in the new series episode Boom Town where Christopher Eccleston's mood goes from jovial to stern in the blink of an eye in a bravura bit of acting. Hartnell has a similar scene in The Watcher, where one moment he's giggling to himself about his success at pinpointing the current time/place that he's in, and then, with remarkable ease, his mood turns pensive and dour, chucking the remainder of his mead into the bushes, then urgently calling Edith out to ask her where the monastery is when he hears the "monks chanting" slow down, as if it was being played off a record.

This is totally Hartnell's show now, and he was also beginning to realize it himself (about which more, later...).

Monday, May 18, 2009

R6 - The Planet of Decision

The Mechanoid that rescued The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki at the end of the previous episode turns out to not be the saviour that the TARDIS crew had hoped it would be. The Mechanoids are an odd sort. Invented by Terry Nation to give the Daleks' a natural enemy (as well as another species to include in his proposed American TV series that he had hoped to sell to the world in 1965), it's not surprising that the Mechanoids didn't take off. They're huge and unwieldy, their only abilities seem to involving spinning and flapping their metallic pincers, and their dialogue is often obscured by a strange voice effects that renders most of what they say almost impossible to understand.

The battle between the two species at the climax of the episode is well shot on film, and culminates in the total destruction of the Machanoid's city. This story really raises a lot of questions about The Doctor's lifestyle and choice of planets which he visits (even though, as this stage in the show's history, he has little to no control over the places he goes to). Almost every innocent place that the TARDIS has landed has been irrevocably altered by The Doctor arriving there. Several Aridians were exterminated by the Daleks, who directly followed the TARDIS to Aridus; the crew of the Marie Celeste are forced off their ship by the Daleks, who, again, are only there because the TARDIS landed there just prior to the Daleks' arrival, and now the entire city on Mechanus, as well as its inhabitants, is destroyed by the battle involving the Daleks. Joan Redfern, in The Family of Blood, was right - if The Doctor hadn't arrived on any of these planets, would anybody have died?

The last ten minutes is given over to the departure of Ian and Barbara via the Daleks' time machine, and what a few scenes they are. Despite William Hartnell's famous "cinders floating in Spain" fluff, these concluding scenes between The Doctor and the two Earth school teachers are intense. I love the fact that the actual final scene between the four friends happens inside the Daleks' time capsule and is never seen by the viewer. All we see are a very sombre Doctor and Vicki leaving the capsule, having just said their goodbyes to two people who have become dear friends. I would love to have been in on that final conversation.

Once Ian and Barbara make it back to Earth, and their safe return is witnessed by The Doctor and Vicki on the soon-to-be-forgotten Time Space Visualizer, another of Hartnell's best performances is seen. His delivery of the line "I shall miss them. Yes, I shall miss them." is so beautifully underplayed that it speaks volumes of The Doctor's respect for Ian and Barbara.

After a few weeks of various giggles and shouts of "hmm hmm!", Hartnell reminds us all why he's still a top notch Doctor, despite some less than favourable character traits. This episode also signifies the beginning of the long end of the Hartnell era, as all of The Doctor's original companions have now left, soon to be followed by the programme's first producer, Verity Lambert. And then the changes would come thick and fast over the next few weeks...

R5 - The Death of Doctor Who

At last, a sense of purpose graces this otherwise forgettable and pointless escapade with the controversially titled The Death of Doctor Who (one wonders if WOTAN got its metaphorical hands on this episode before Season Three's The War Machines). The TARDIS crew land on Mechanus (home of the Mechanoids, which is convenient, as the Mechanoids only arrived on the planet some 50 years previously), and find that the surface is inhabited by giant mushrooms which don't do a great deal to our humanoid friends other than smother them like a giant Muppet.

The Daleks follow shortly afterward, thus allowing Vicki the opportunity to escape the Dalek ship and warn her friends of the Daleks' duplicate Doctor. She really needn't worry, as most of the time, The Doctor's double doesn't look a thing like him. The clinching shot is when The Doctor calls Vicki "Susan", but both Vicki and Barbara need only look at "The Doctor" to see that actor Edmund Warwick is a spitting image for William Hartnell in long shot only. The same goes for Richard Hurndall, by the way.

A cool little fight occurs between the two Doctors, with both chaps using their canes as swords. It's the kind of fight one would imagine that two competing Yodas would have before the Star Wars prequels came along. The episode ends with the Daleks, after dispensing with some of the indigenous fungus creatures, penning The Doctor and co. in a cave.

But hark! A Mechanoid makes its first appearance, saying something almost completely incomprehensible, but apparently beckoning the humanoids to "follow" (well, Ian seems to understand it well enough). There were a couple of ropey bits in this episode, but it's leagues ahead of the four installments that preceded it. Should be a good conclusion.

R4 - Journey Into Terror

Just when you I thought that this story couldn't get any worse, the TARDIS crew lands in what appears to be a haunted house, eventually finding several monsters and ghouls in the guise of the Frankenstein monster, Dracula, and some strange screaming and laughing woman wearing a toga. But here's the thing - they're actually androids! And the haunted house is an abandoned theme park in Ghana in 1996! Well, sure! It's also interesting to see that the default setting for these disused androids is "CRUSH! KILL! DESTROY!", as they all attack the Daleks when they finally arrive on the scene, and are, conveniently, impervious to Dalek weaponry. Obviously, the Festival of Ghana is run by the same proprietors of Itchy and Scratchy Land.

As a result of all this frivolity, the first three quarters of this episode is a complete embarrassment. But then, against the best intentions of the story thus far, some intrigue and, dare I say, plot development creeps into this episode when Vicki is separated from the rest of her friends, and has to quickly stow away on the Daleks' own time machine. The scene where The Doctor, Ian, and Barbara are gutted about accidentally leaving Vicki behind is a winner, and Vicki witnessing the Daleks creating an android version of The Doctor sets up a sufficient amount of interest for the coming episode.

Where was all this for the first hour and a half of this story? I'm actually interested in watching the rest of this story now, something I couldn't have said after the last two episodes. Roll on Episode Five!

Friday, May 15, 2009

R3 - Flight Through Eternity

"Flight Through Eternity" - these episode titles are getting more and more descriptive of my experience while watching them....

At the beginning of this episode, the TARDIS is 12 minutes ahead of the Dalek time machine in their chase (which is actually referred to by The Doctor, by name, in this episode). By the end, they're only 8 minutes ahead. In a 24-minute episode that felt like 48 minutes while watching it, only four minutes of actual plot time have elapsed during the whole thing. And I use that term "plot time" very loosely. To quote King Peladon in an upcoming story The Curse of Peladon, "I keep telling you! There is no plot!"

This episode consists entirely two truly dreadful set pieces - the TARDIS/Daleks landing on the Empire State Building (sorry, the "Empoyah State Bildin", as spoken by the authentic New York tour guide), and then visiting the Mary Celeste. In New York, we get to meet the yokel Morton Dill and see his comedic antics with the Daleks, who fall even further down the credibility scale in this episode. No longer the soulless killers they once were (and would become again, thankfully), they're repeatedly made the subject of mockery by all who are around them. The Daleks that would climb 498 stories through space to exterminate Lynda-with-a-Y are different creatures altogether. Here, Dill fiddles with the Dalek's gun and yells into its plunger (because it even seems more like a plunger in this episode) with more contempt than Tom Baker could have possibly mustered in all of Season 17.

The TARDIS crew don't seem that concerned about this endless pursuit, either. Despite what should be a life and death situation, Barbara has time to get all giddy and explore the Mary Celeste as if she's on her very own sea cruise while the TARDIS stops for break. But then, why should she be scared of being chased by Daleks? No one else in this story is, except for the jittery crew members of the Mary Celeste. The Daleks were bad enough in New York, but they're simply terrible in the boat sequence. One Dalek seems suicidal and takes a header off the deck into the water. Was this the same Dalek that earlier stammered and stuttered before giving a simple reply to his superior? Was he feeling that promotion just wasn't going to happen and so had to take his future into his own, for lack of a better term, hands?

This is Doctor Who at its most smug. You almost get the impression that this story was planned out at the same time as the programme was getting boffo ratings around the time of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and the production team thought that they could get away with anything and people would still watch. They shouldn't be so cocky. Parts of this story are horrible edited. I've counted four times where the last line of a scene is cut off by the first shot of the next sequence. This is symptomatic of what can be perceived as a general laziness about the whole production. Was the creative team on Doctor Who already running out of steam towards the end of just their second season?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

R2 - The Death of Time

"The Death of Time", this episode is called. Nothing could be closer to the truth, although it's more appropriate for the previous episode and, indeed, this story as a whole - a time killer.

This story seems like a remake/sequel to Nation's earlier effort The Keys of Marinus (and, god, weren't we all screaming for that to happen?) in that the TARDIS crew moves from place to underdeveloped place, has a short, unsatisfying adventure, then moves along to somewhere else. Lather, rinse, repeat. This episode, we meet the Aridians, strange looking amphibian-looking people who speak slightly funny and have a serious problem with their headpieces staying glued on. It's lucky that they are called the Aridians, given that their home planet is arid. But it wasn't always like this. Before the Mire Beasts came along, the planet was an ocean world. So were they called the Oceanians back then?

Anyway, the Aridians look like they capture The Doctor and Barbara in one scene, but it turns out they only wanted to dispense the history of their planet and their life story to anyone who listened. I'll say one thing for the Aridians - they die well, getting zapped by Daleks one moment, and getting mauled by a pile of polystyrene that is the Mire Beast the next. Barbara tries desperately to save an Aridian from the gaping maw of the Beast (assuming it has a maw to gape with), but The Doctor realizes what's best for all involved and drags her away from the Beast and his latest meal.

The Daleks are getting thicker as the story goes on, too, being easily lured into a trap set by Ian. You can tell that Terry Nation is already starting to bore of his creations by this point, and, with these last couple of episodes, he's doing his best to make the programme's audience be bored with them, as well.

R1 - The Executioners

As we saw at the tail end of The Space Museum, the Daleks are back, and there's gonna be a chase! And so, we set off on Doctor Who's six-part version of Cannonball Run, but Burt Reynolds never turns up. And that may actually be a good thing.

But, lo, look who does turn up! The Beatles! Via stock footage from Top of the Pops! It would have been so much better had Brian Epstein not vetoed the idea of John, Paul, George, and Ringo appearing as themselves in the far future as old men. It would have also been more of a blow to Doctor Who canon and continuity than Mawdryn Undead and Pyramids of Mars put together.

The foursome from Liverpool appear, in 1965, on the Time Space Visualizer, in what must surely be to most superfluous first half of an episode in Doctor Who history. As if The Space Museum before it wasn't tedious enough as four episodes to set up The Doctor actually receiving the TSV in the first place, now we actually have to witness the damn machine in action (thankfully, for the first and last time). Pointless vignettes of the lives of Abraham Lincoln and William Shakespeare ensue, until Barbara mercifully fiddles with the antenna and puts and end to the frivolity.

You can obviously tell that this is a Terry Nation script - introduce one or two new gadgets that are never seen again (TSV and the "TARDIS magnet", although the latter would return in the form of a homing device in the 1980's), Doctor and companions get separated, and a surprise reveal of a Dalek at the end of the episode (despite the fact that they've already appeared in a few scenes up until now). Add to this a ridiculously long and vapid sequence of a long string of Daleks filing into their time machine, and you have one of the most underwhelming starts to a Doctor Who story ever.

Should I mention how some of the Daleks seem slow and stupid now, too? Nah. There'll be plenty of time for that...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Q4 - The Final Phase

The best thing about the last three episodes of The Space Museum is that, eventually, the third one ends, and, thus, so does the story. Believe it or not, though, there's actually three things of note in this last episode!

First off, this is a bit of a coming out party for Vicki, who does her bit to help lead the revolution of the Xerons against the Moroks. Previous to this, she had more or less taken on the role of Susan's replacement, that of being taken in under The Doctor's wing and protected from anything that was happening around her. I legitimately don't mind her in this story - might she even be the best thing about it? Can Vicki be the best thing about any story? Is that possible?

Let's take a look at this revolution. The Xerons (who are made up entirely of young males - good luck with rebuilding your society, guys) have been subjugated, somehow, by a small group of Moroks for a good long while. Yet, from what we've seen of the Moroks, they are well past their prime, and are easily overtaken by anyone who actually confronts them during the course of the story. Even more baffling is that Tor proudly proclaims in Episode 2 that their planning is their greatest strength. What was their plan, exactly? To huddle in small storage rooms everywhere and hide from inept guards? If it was, then Tor was right - their planning is very strong indeed.

Once Vicki unlocks the armory for the Xerons, the bloodbath begins, as the Xerons, none of whom have fired weapons before, display remarkable accuracy in systematically tracking down and murdering each and every Morok on Xeros. This isn't banishment or expulsion. This is sheer genocide, and it's all gleefully endorsed by The Doctor and his friends (especially Vicki, who got the guns in the first place). Where were the Time Lords and their precious Article 7 law against genocide when all this happened?

Finally, this story seems to be just a four-part reason for The Doctor to acquire the Time-Space Visualizer at the Xerons' post-genocide yard sale so that he can watch dead presidents, playwrights, and pop groups from the comfort of his TARDIS sitting room. Bittorrents would have been easier, Doc.

Q3 - The Search

The person you see above is the character of Tor, as played by a young Jeremy Bulloch. He's probably most famous today for appearing in the role of Edward of Wickham in the 1980's series Robin of Sherwood (you know, the good TV adaptation of the Robin Hood legend). He would also play an Imperial Soldier in the popular Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, as the guard who pulls Princess Leia away from the wall in the Cloud City while Leia is trying to alert Luke Skywalker of the fact that Luke is walking into a trap set by Darth Vader. Bulloch also had a small walk-on role in the same film as a bounty hunter that Vader hires to try and kidnap Han Solo.

Let me also take a second or six to explain this story behind this blog. There are other Doctor Who review sites that will give you more thorough reviews of each story, or even each episode, as I am doing. But no other blog, that I can see, is cramming in all 750+ episodes in one calendar year, which means a lot of viewing and a lot of writing. I must point out that the only place I am watching all these episodes is on my iPod while I'm riding the bus, riding an exercise bike, or lying in bed waiting to go to sleep (some episodes are a great aid in regards to that last item). Thus, I write these little reviews from memory of what I watched earlier, and, given the timeline, I often watch two to four episodes a day (although barely any on weekends).

Usually I'll focus on one or two things that stood out for me in the episode, rather than a complete and detailed review of the episode itself. My own personal quota is to include three paragraphs per review. Which is handy, because this paragraph you're reading now is the third paragraph of this review...

Here's a bonus fourth paragraph : The Space Museum is dull. Only one more episode to go.

Q2 - The Dimensions of Time

After the weird opening episode to this serial, Part Two seems to settle down in an entirely different place than where the tone of Part One left off. We're introduced to a whole bevy of (totally forgettable) characters and situations, and all the neat stuff about time tracks and jumping and such from the first installment are now a distant memory.

In its place, hackneyed dialogue from tired and bored Moroks who seem to regularly drop into conversation how many days there are in a Morok year, just in case they had forgotten. The governor of the Moroks, (Sheriff) Lobos, seems to be at his wits' end for the whole episode, if not the whole story. He also must work alone, because it's like he is singlehandedly responsible for dispensing the entire history of the Moroks' conflict with the Xerons to anyone he meets. When The Doctor is captured and interrogated by Lobos, he barely has to say anything to get the governor to sing like a canary. Who's really asking the questions here?

The whole thing ends with The Doctor being taken away to be processed and frozen, thus giving William Hartnell a welcome week long break from the monotony of this story. I hope his agent got a nice bonus payment for that.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Q1 - The Space Museum

For a series about time travel, Doctor Who surprisingly doesn't dabble in the concept of traveling in time and the consequences and accidents that can occur because of it. Finally, in episode one of The Space Museum, we see The Doctor and his friends having to deal with the prospect of something going wrong.

It's not that clear what is actually happening, to be fair (all this talk about jumping time tracks is a bit of technobabble, as if time is a big phonograph record and the TARDIS's needle has skipped), but it's neat to see The Doctor (and, in a sudden display of the understanding of the intricacies of the fourth dimension, Vicki) attempt to find a reason for the fact that they have, for lack of a better explanation, arrived before they have arrived.

One reason why I like Doctor Who from the 1960's is because it predates CSO (Colour Separation Overlay), which means it has to be more imaginative in the way it realizes its complicated video effects (as if CSO was the catch-all solution for such things. Well, Barry Letts seemed to think so). As such, there's two or three shots of the members of the TARDIS crew passing through solid objects. The shots look a little creaky, but there's so many metaphorical hamsters running on metaphorical wheels behind the scenes to make the shot work that I find them rather endearing.

The presence of stock incidental music (which was actually rare at this point in the series' history) indicates that this was designated the "cheap" serial for the season, and it kind of looks it. No wonder there's no actual visitors to the museum - who would want to walk around a dull, grey building like that? To hell with the impending revolution in the upcoming episodes. What about a little renovation makeover, instead?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

P4 - The Warlords

Somewhat oddly, after so much emphasis is given to Richard I and his deteriorating relations with Saladin over the past three episodes, the main focus of the final installment of The Crusade switches over to Ian's (eventual) rescue of Barbara. Barbara, in a disappointing turn after that wicked cliffhanger from the last episode, manages to quickly escape the clutches of El Akir and hides out in a harem for the rest of the episode.

Meanwhile, The Doctor and Vicki's only goal is getting back to the TARDIS. After being involved in the midst of the intrigue of the court for three episodes, to have the main protagonist of the show all but removed from the proceedings is unfortunate.

All of a sudden, after a terrific third episode, the story ends with a bit of a whimper. It's a great shame that we see so little of the wonderful Julian Glover in this episode (he features in only two scenes, and minimally at that). We only hear about Richard's eventual fate in passing from The Doctor, and Joanna's involvement in the story also comes to an anticlimactic end.

The Crusade is, in the end, a serial that adds up to less than the sum of its parts. Great acting, great writing, great costumes, great scenes...but no one subplot carries through the full four episodes. Thus, it all feels a bit empty and unresolved, but it still is a fun ride along the way to disappointment.

P3 - The Wheel of Fortune

For years, this was the only surviving episode of The Crusade in existence, until The Lion turned up in 1999. As such, it seems a lot more familiar to me than it's surrounding installments. However, two scenes still stick out for me.

The first scene is where Joanna confronts Richard about the latter's plans to marry Joanna to Saphadin. Both Jean Marsh and Julian Glover give it their absolute all in a couple of blistering performances, yet neither seems to go over the top. My favourite line in the exchange is Marsh's delivery of the line, "Well I like a different way to meet the man I am to wed!". She drags out the "Wellllllll!" so magnificently. Joanna leaves the room in a huff, pursued by Glover, who then raises his stakes by shooing everyone out of the room with equal intensity. There has seldom been a more well acted scene since then in the show's history, and there certainly wasn't one this good in the days before it.

My second favourite scene is the very last one of the episode. A very short scene, to be true, but so chilling. In it, Barbara is thrown to the floor before El Akir, who is coolly sitting on a bench, gently flagellating his shoulder with a whip. As Barbara looks up with a mixture of fear and defiance, El Akir tells her :

"The only pleasure left for you is death. And death is very far away."

I have always loved that line, and it is delivered with perfection by Walter Randall. Goosebumps!

For a "children's show" to imply impending torture in such a manner is almost shocking, and these two scenes went a long way towards lifting that "children's show" tag that it had unfairly been encumbered with.

P2 - The Knight of Jaffa

The Crusade was a serial that was not sold abroad back in the day as much as other stories probably due to what might be a perceived as poor treatment of the Middle East and its people. Pity, that, as it also probably means why only two of its four episodes exist in the BBC archives today.

Still, being a dialogue heavy episode (apart from the largely silent escape attempt by Barbara at the end of the episode), one needn't necessarily see what's going on to understand the story. Richard I relents in his opposition of Ian going to rescue Barbara on account of the fact that he's trying to arrange a marriage between the Saracen Saphadin and his own sister, Joanna. Richard and Joanna share a scene in this episode. This is the biggest drawback of not being able to see this episode. Initially, a slightly incestuous relationship between Richard and Joanna was going to be subtly hinted at, until legendary prude William Hartnell caught wind of this and slammed that
door firmly shut. However, would the actors (Julian Glover and Jean Marsh) have tried to ever so delicately imply the relationship with their performances in a scene between the two? Will we see any possible further hints in the episodes to come?

Speaking of storylines of a marginally ambiguous nature, there's this whole idea of passing off Vicki as a boy for two full episodes. Seriously? Vicki? I mean, yes, she's a slimmer girl, and I would have liked seeing them try to pass off Victoria as a boy (or, for the ultimate challenge, Peri). I suppose this is another similarity this story has with the works of Shakespeare, which, in at least a couple instances, throws a fake mustache on a girl to disguise her as a man and nobody is the wiser.

Before Ian sets off to find Barbara, he is knighted by Richard I. The Doctor laments that he'd like to be knighted one day, too. And he would, but not for another 18 years (by a fake King John) and even later still by Queen Victoria.

P1 - The Lion

After a few weeks of wacky, zany, odd, and not too successful experiments with the formula of Doctor Who, comes a full on return to the serious, thoroughly well written, pure historical that was Doctor Who's bread and butter during the show's first season. It starts slightly unusually for a historical in that we not only find out what era the TARDIS has landed in before The Doctor and his friends discover the answer, but we meet some of the principle characters (indeed, the "celebrity historical figure" himself, King Richard I) before The Doctor even sets foot out of the TARDIS. In season one, the viewer (supposedly) would feel almost giddy at meeting an historical figure, usually through the excitement of Ian and Barbara. Now, the show is confident enough in trotting out such things in its opening minutes that it almost seems old hat. And it also allows the story to get started properly right off the bat.

And what a start! The TARDIS lands, we meet Richard I, there's a sword fight (including a rare action scene featuring William Hartnell), and Barbara is kidnapped, all within the first seven minutes of the episode. We also get to see Julian Glover's sterling performance as King Richard. Glover, who would make a name for himself later in his career, is still probably the best guest actor the show had seen to this point. Judging by the way the Shakespearean dialogue rolls of his tongue, you can instantly tell that Glover has spent more than a couple days performing Shakespeare in his life.

The dialogue in this story comes via story editor David Whitaker, and this is some his best work. Like The Aztecs (written by John Lucarotti) before it, this immediately feels like a long lost Shakespeare play. Except, unlike Shakespeare, I actually want to watch The Crusade...

It's also nice to see that there is no real "good guys" and "bad guys" in this episode - both the English and the Saracens are equally portrayed as noble and righteous. Only various individuals on each side let their lesser qualities show - the Saracen El Akir, and, surprisingly, King Richard himself for the English. It is Richard's reluctance to let Ian go to try and rescue Barbara that gives this story its initial thrust, which also indicates that this story is a throwback to the Season One historicals in that the main goal for the TARDIS crew is escape, and let whatever history is happening around them take its course.

Friday, May 8, 2009

N6 - The Centre

Okay, after six episodes, I have finally pinpointed what has been severely reducing my potential enjoyment of this story. I've already pointed out how bold (yet annoying) the production team was when creating the different species for this story in that each group - Zarbi, Menoptra, Venom Grubs, Optera - each had their own unique alien characteristics. From a distance, too, they never looked too much like they were portrayed by human actors in suits.

And that's the key - from a distance. In order to preserve the mystery of these aliens, their facial make-up/masks are rarely shown in close-up over the course of the story, as a view of the actors' mouths and eyes would destroy the illusion. While I appreciate that fact, it does hamper the production massively in that any scenes with the aliens must be shot in medium to long shot only. There are so many infuriatingly long scenes contained to one wide shot with 4 or 5 actors in the frame, especially in Episode 6, The Centre.

It can't be explained as an artistic choice by director Richard Martin, as he used many effective close-ups for scenes with The Doctor and his friends. When resorted to the wide shots, the direction fails. The viewer loses that intimate connection with the characters, and, thus, is taken out of the story, and when a story is already almost entirely populated by alien characters that are hard to relate to, to further separate them from the viewer is almost catastrophic.

That, and the Optera are total crap.

This has been a bold experiment, especially for something made in 1965, but it must ultimately judged as a failure. I'm sure the record viewing audience (and it was quite sizable) at the time must have been entertained, but I wonder what they would think of it if they could see it now. As John Nathan-Turner famously, and often, said, "The memory cheats...."

N5 - Invasion

Sometimes, out of nowhere, minor character deaths in Doctor Who sometimes leave an impression on the viewer (something I've mentioned before), and another such death occurs when an Optera, Nemini, sacrifices herself to prevent an acid flow from killing the rest of the party. Never before have I cared so much for a pile of foam and felt. Sniff.

Anyway, it's nice to see The Doctor and Vicki finally get out of the Carsinome and do something for a change in this episode. But then there's a truly terrible sequence where the Menoptra try and distract and disorient a Zarbi by yelling "Zaaaaaaaarrrrrrbi! Zaaaaarbiiiii!". How embarrassing.

I've tried to like this story, but something's been bugging me about it, and this has distracted me from the job at hand. On to the next post.....

Thursday, May 7, 2009

N4 - Crater of Needles

A production that relies on its special effects to tell the story is taking risks. A production that relies on its special effects to tell the story that is now 44 years old is taking huge risks, because nothing ages as badly and dates a programme so much than its special effects. But then, who could have predicted in 1965 that we would (and, indeed, could) be watching this over four decades after it was made? (Not whoever was in charge of the BBC Archives, I can tell you).

And just when I thought things couldn't get any sillier in this, the Optera turn up. As much as I adore the ambition and the drug-induced hallucinations that somehow manifested themselves as a six-part Doctor Who serial, but I'd have a hard time showing this story to someone who has never seen the show before. Once the Optera turn up, I think I'd have to turn it off myself. The Optera hop around in much the same way that larvae don't, but they clearly are some sort of dirt dwelling bug that speak even more strangely than the Menoptra.

It's tough to watch scenes with the Optera in them. But here's the dilemma - if you're going to go through the trouble of creating a completely new alien race, you can't possibly have them speak the Queen's English and have them still retain their alien qualities. However, who wants to sit and listen to a bunch of bugs hop around and talk funny to each other? There's a fine line between portraying alien races and making them watchable. I imagine that Russell T Davies, when he launched the new series in 2005, had this very serial in mind when he defended his decision to set every episode of Series 1, and that no one is going to care about what's happening on planet Zog.

But I'm a fan of anything to do with Doctor Who, it would seem, and I'm not actually hating this story as much as it seems that I am. I'm not sure what I'm enjoying about it, either, but something more than obligation is keeping me watching it. Is this the "undefinable magic" that lures us all to Doctor Who?

N3 - Escape to Danger

It was around 1965 when Bob Dylan introduced marijuana to The Beatles. I can't help but think that Dylan made a detour to Riverside Studios at around the same time and offered some of his stock to the makers of The Web Planet. These six episodes are as way out as any that were made before it, and most of what was to come after it.

When you actually sit down and watch these episodes, the plot is remarkably straight forward. The Animus has come to Vortis, empowered the Zarbi as its slave force, and is taking over the planet with some sort of webbed fungus that will eventually grow over the whole planet. In the process, the Animus has increased the gravitational pull of Vortis so much that several wayward satellites (and the TARDIS) have been drawn into the planet's orbit. Also, the Menoptra, once fellow inhabitants of Vortis, have been forced to relocate, and are trying to liberate their home planet.

It's in the execution of this where things go completely mad. Each alien race, to its credit, is completely different from one another (and we haven't even seen all of the species yet). The Zarbi are big ants who speak Radiophonics. The Venom Grubs are giant bugs that look like armadillos and have laser guns on the tip of their noses. The Menoptra are giant moths that wave their arms everywhere and just plain talk funny. The Animus appears as a giant tube and only talks to The Doctor. I can hear the backwards guitar solo from The Beatles' "Rain" cueing up as I type this...

It almost seems as if there's a scene missing in this episode. It happens after Ian escapes from the web, encounters a Menoptra coming in to land, then runs off. The next scene, he and the Menoptra (name of Vrestin) are lying on top of a rock, looking pretty relaxed and chatting calmly as the exposition starts flowing freely. Did Bob Dylan drop by here, too?

I have the feeling that this is only going to get trippier...