Monday, August 31, 2009

HHH6 - Colony in Space 6

What started as a reasonable little action romp involving a conflict between bushy faced colonists and impossibly coiffured mining corporation employees sort of takes a bizarre turn into cheap pantomime once the story moves inside the ancient primitive city.

Most Malcolm Hulke stories serve to highlight the differences between various sides in a conflict and how each side could equally be judged right or wrong in their views. Colony in Space is, at its heart, a land claim story set in the Wild West. The colonists are the settlers of the 1800's, looking to move west into them thar hills and make a home for themselves. IMC are the cruel mining and/or oil corporation, looking to set up shop on the same land and rape it of its resources. The primitives are the Native Americans - once powerful, once holders of the land, now resorted to bartering for food in exchange for not attacking the settlers.

One could really look at this story as Doctor Who's response to aboriginal rights. The primitives used to have a great and wonderful civilization, but now mainly practiced less ambitious pursuits like throwing each other into pits and practicing telepathy. They are treated with nothing but disrespect throughout this entire story by all who come into contact with them. The colonists consider them dangerous annoyances, willing to exchange food with them in return for their leniency. IMC barely considers them relevant. Most shocking is the behaviour of The Doctor towards them. It's worth noting that one of the few actives the primitives wage against any outsiders is when they attack The Doctor in Episode Two (an attack that The Doctor is not as keen to dissuade as he is to fend them off without any attempt at diplomacy). In Episode Five, he alerts The Master to a native perched atop a cliff. The Masters blasts the native with his laser gun, an act that doesn't even earn the slightest bit of remorse from The Doctor.

Most troubling is the remarkable act of self sacrifice the leader of the primitives offers when he directs The Doctor to operate the city's self destruct mechanism in order to destroy the Doomsday Weapon. In doing so, the explosion destroys the entire underground city and all its inhabitants, including (presuambly, through psychic link) those primitives who were outside of the city at the time of the explosion. The Doctor thanks the leader for his compassion for laying down their lives - laying down their lives so that others, who have only lived on the planet for slightly over a year can grow and prosper, no longer having to worry about having to feed the primitives, nor worry now about feeding themselves. Judging by this, one wonders if The Doctor would have tried to convince Montezuma in 1521 to allow Cortez and his Spanish army to have the run of the Mayan Peninsula by laying down their lives and accept conquest.

Given the inspiration of Colony in Space as a whole, though (land claim westerns from the 1930s and 1940s), a more direct connection could be made to Native Americans and their place in North American society, which, according to this story, is this: Native Americans were once a valued and noble race, but are now little more than a nuisance, and it would probably be better if they all left (or died) so that the white man can set up his towns and cities and live in peace without ever being threatened or bothered by the indigenous population again.

What a disturbing viewpoint the programme takes during this story, especially given the fact that, up until now, The Doctor has been seen to champion the cause of rights and justice. Here, both he and Malcolm Hulke let us down by not seeing, or not choosing to see, all sides of the issue.

HHH5 - Colony in Space 5

This episode resolves one of the weaker cliffhangers in history, while setting up an equally tepid one at episode's end. At the end of Episode Four, The Master displayed a sudden thirst for gunplay, pulling a gun on The Doctor and threatening to kill him in cold blood purely so that the episode could end with some sort of (contrived) drama. Luckily for The Doctor, Ashe steps in at the right moment early in Episode Five, creating a moment awkward enough to warrant The Master to holster both his gun and his lust for blood.

Good thing, too, as just a few minutes later, The Master essentially beseeches The Doctor to help him (under the guise of holding Jo hostage and threatening to kill her) to gain entry into the ancient primitive city. At the gates of the city, The Master's TARDIS door alarm is triggered, and the episode ends as he is about to press a button on a remote control that will release poisonous gas and kill Jo. Yup, he's totally gonna press the button...and the last shot is of his finger slowly (and I mean slowly) descending towards the button. The question at the end isn't "Will The Doctor be able to stop The Master from pressing the button?", it's "Which elaborate Venusian aikido move will The Doctor choose when he inevitably stops The Master from pressing the button?"

One has to wonder - why did The Master bother with the whole Adjudicator business in the first place? Neither IMC or the colonists are interested in the ancient city. Only Ashe knows about it, but has never been inside. No one on the planet could have helped The Master get into the city, except The Doctor, whom The Master wouldn't have known would be there in the first place. The Master has had better plans in the past, that's for sure.

Friday, August 28, 2009

HHH4 - Colony in Space 4

Wahey! The Master's in this! His first scene is an odd one in that he appears on screen first from behind (and looking about a foot taller than Roger Delgado actually is. Did they get Bela Lugosi's double from Plan 9 From Outer Space to do that one shot?), as to disguise the identity of "the adjudicator". He also doesn't speak. But then, in the very next shot when he enters the dome, Delgado turns to camera to reveal his identity to all. Was it worth the four seconds of added suspense, on top of the awkward silence thanks to The Master not speaking?

Also, how much of a surprise is it that The Master is here when he's explicitly mentioned by the Time Lords in Episode One, and is, indeed, the precise reason why the Time Lords sent The Doctor on this special mission anyway! I mean, did Terry Nation, king of all shock appearance scenes for villains whose names are in the title of the episode, write this scene?

We finally see the inside of the primitives' ancient city, and the Hulke characterization of "one faction, many viewpoints" is evident here, too, as the blind high priest wants to offer The Doctor and Jo as sacrifice, while the wise leader of the city (who spends most of his time sitting in a cupboard and looking like a cross between a baby doll and a puppet. Which is interesting because that's precisely what the creature is) sees reason and grants The Doctor his wish to leave the city in peace. Nice guy.

And look fast for the second time in the programme's history where The Doctor kisses his companion (the first being in The War Games, Part One), as Pertwee plants a quick peck on Katy Manning's forehead when he is thrown in the same cell as her in this episode.

HHH3 - Colony in Space 3


Colony in Space was written by Malcolm Hulke, and various aspects of the story are full of Hulke's hallmark characterizations. Most prominent are The Doctor in the role of peacemaker, and a conflict featuring two (or three) different factions, none of which are necessarily good or evil, but have elements of each within their numbers.

The Colonists all have a common goal - staying on the planet (despite some of them wishing to leave earlier) and forcing IMC off their patch. Ashe, the leader, wants to go about this through the proper legal avenues; Winton wants to resort to more clandestine methods, mostly involving force. IMC has three main cogs - Dent, Morgan, and Caldwell. Morgan is the most sadistic of them all in wanting the miners to clear off, freely using lethal force to do so. Caldwell is the opposite of Morgan. He's just a miner, and wants to do his job without anyone getting hurt, and that means, in his eyes, that the colonists should leave for their own safety. Dent could be construed as being in the middle of Morgan and Caldwell, but it is he who authorizes Morgan's actions, however discreetly. However, Dent is as dedicated to his job (getting as much profit for IMC as possible) as both Morgan and Caldwell are to theirs. Dent is just doing his duty without any beastliness or discrimination. And that makes him the most terrifying kind of villain of them all.

On another topic, doesn't Helen Worth have the goofiest smile you've ever seen?

HHH2 - Colony in Space 2

I mentioned in The Claws of Axos that Bill Filer had one of the more rambunctious hairstyles in Doctor Who history, but that his would not be the last 'do to shock and awe us in Season 8. I present to you the champion of weird (read: bad) hairstyles of all time - that of Morris Perry as Captain Dent.

I only include one photo per post on this blog, but Dent's hair really deserves to have two or three pictures of it because it seems to take on another life of its own from each angle that you view it. I love the asymmetry of it; it's an anomaly. When viewed from the left, it looks completely different than when viewed from the right. Yet when you look at Dent from behind, it is not immediately apparent how both sides as viewed from the front can somehow form what we see in the back. I am dying (dying!) for Character Options to release a Uxarieus gift set featuring a 3D version of Captain Dent so we can finally solve this problem once and for all.

By the way, like The Claws of Axos, this story is proving to be nowhere near as dull as its low reputation implies. It's a good old fashioned western set in space. Although, really, how small is this planet that both the colonists and IMC are so keen to fight over the same patch of land? Is there really no way that either party can move, oh, I don't know, 50 miles east of one another?

HHH1 - Colony in Space 1

Having grown tired of having The Doctor eternally Earth-bound, the makers of Doctor Who finally let loose their main character onto an alien planet for the first time in the colour television era. To capitalize on the ability to show a truly alien planet for the first time in full colour, they chose to find the greyest looking quarry possible to represent the exotic locale of Uxarieus.

It almost seems odd and unnatural to see Jon Pertwee anywhere else but surrounded by his UNIT cronies or zipping around in Bessie back in the neo-present Earth. Jo, who makes her first foray into the TARDIS in this story, seems more eager to leave after an initial fascination with the interior dimensions of The Doctor's time ship.

A remark by Jo casts either a large shadow of doubt over the time period that she's apparently from, or the level of intelligence with which she speaks when she asks Mary Ashe if the colony space ship left Earth "back in 1971". Okay, let's just ignore the fact that Jo might be from a year or two later than 1971, but what version of 1971 does she know of that was launching intergalactic spaceships with the intent of colonizing other planets?

Once The Doctor does arrive, he immediately gets branded a spy, working for corrupt miners, by the hard luck colonists, although The Doctor manages to convince the colony's leader, Ashe, quite quickly that his credentials are bona fide (much quicker than usual, actually). By the end of the episode, Ashe is already giving The Doctor free reign of the establishment, content in letting him investigate the scene where two colonists were recently murdered. He's awfully trusting, that Ashe, and a nice guy to boot. In fact, that may have been his campaign slogan when he ran for leader of the colony.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

GGG4 - The Claws of Axos 4

Okay, did anyone believe for a second that The Doctor was actually going to join up with The Master halfway through this episode? Given their borderline friendly relationship in The Mind of Evil, I often wonder if contemporary viewers were suckered into The Doctor's ploy, just as The Master was. And it only took The Doctor shooting Bill Filer's hand off to convince people, too.

There is some remarkably dodgy science going on when the nuclear reactor explodes. First, the Brigadier and friends hide behind their cars at least a couple blocks away from the Nuton complex to shield themselves from the impending blast. Once the (relatively) tiny explosion occurs, everyone hops back in their cars, drive right back into ground zero of the explosion, fearing no (and feeling no) ill effects of what should have been a massive dump of radiation. Oh, and then The Doctor's TARDIS just happens to materialize in the same spot where the Brigadier and Jo just happen to be looking. Add to this some of Dudley Simpson's worst music during Season 8 (some of it sounds as if he's making it up as he goes along), and you have a closing episode of a story that started better than it ended.

And pity poor Jon Pertwee, forced to utter the infamous closing line,"It seems I'm some sort of a galactic yo-yo!". Funny, though, after Colin Baker's last words on the series in 1986, Pertwee's line would become all but forgotten...

GGG3 - The Claws of Axos 3

Three episodes in, and this story is starting to feel like a guilty pleasure for me. Should it? Sure, it's so colourful that it's bordering on tacky (okay, it is tacky), but then, it was made 1971. But it's holding my attention reasonably well and is winning me over with its charms and its novel set design.

I've already mentioned Michael Ferguson's direction, but he's responsible for another very cool effect when The Doctor and Jo are talking to (for lack of a name) Axon Man. Ferguson dissolves between two camera shots on Axon Man, both shooting actor Bernard Holley as his head turns to face each camera at regular intervals. It's a magnificently offputting effect, and the fact that it is done so cheaply also gives the technique points for the win.

There's another great effect later on as an Axon tentacle flies through the air and zaps a UNIT squadie, causing him instantly to explode. Excellent! Then there's the amusing negotiation of an alliance between The Master and a reluctant Brigadier - honestly, why does this story rate so poorly with some people? I think it's a hoot! Does it all fall apart in Episode Four? Is that why?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

GGG2 - The Claws of Axos 2

The Claws of Axos is director Michael Ferguson's last Doctor Who story, which is a great shame. Few directors on Who have displayed the visual verve that Ferguson's work had in spades, especially given the era in which his stories were made. Ferguson made great use of dramatic zooms and tight cuts in a time when such techniques were a novelty. Note how many quick little scenes there are in this story. Such things were almost impossible to do with videotape as recently as two years before Axos; Ferguson makes such things his bread and butter.

Bill Filer is an interesting character whose dynamic hairstyle and husky American accent has made him a heartthrob for years since this story originally aired. Jo certainly seemed to think so, as she seems quite upset to learn that he's possibly dead despite only having met him before their first scene in Episode One (the outtakes on the Axos DVD show this meeting). Such is the power of Filer, I guess. Speaking of hair, his distinctive coiffure won't be the only hairdo worth writing about this season...

Kudos, as well, to the set design of the Axos ship - a truly unique stab at an organic, living spaceship. The added presence of various overlays of gels and stencil patterns serve to further distort the viewer's expectations of what a "normal" ship would look like. Add to that a couple of brilliant looking glass shots to represent the size and scale of the Nuton power complex, and you have a visually stimulating serial that makes full (and I do mean full) use of the fact that Doctor Who was now shot in colour.

GGG1 - The Claws of Axos 1

Furge thangering muck witchellers rock throbblin' this time o' day. Ur bin oughta gone put thickery blarmdasted zones about, gordangun, diddenum? Havver froggin' law onnum, shouldnum? Eh? Eh? Arn I?

Org margering ricking granoddo luberin' ontopay! Jiggerin' rog fraggering reel rotten fightin' pig rocks!. Ramdo! Rich masting bickery oggering roggaflammin' Filer burging burnin. Bragging blurn blurg! Ratchy fur blitzen donner cawmit derrik wair watcha? Blurp? Fliggerring Chinn Chinn drunken roggin' snow bridden pigbin josh. Eh?

Oh ar? Oh ar?

Oh ar? Oh ar? Oh ar?


FFF6 - The Mind of Evil 6

This episode begins with one of the greatest lines ever in Doctor Who. After the Brigadier steps in and shoots Mailer milliseconds before Mailer was going to shoot The Doctor, The Doctor snaps back at his saviour, "Thank you, Brigadier. But do you think that for once in your life you could arrive before the nick of time?". Brilliant.

I must also mention Michael Sheard's terrific performance as Dr. Summers, a character who always seems to be on the cusp of getting killed off, but constantly finds ways to stay alive and relevant to the story. He even gets an exit scene - an honour rarely bestowed upon minor supporting characters. Summers and Jo have spent a lot of time together during the six episodes, and the way that Summers gently tugs at Jo's chin before he goes off to tend to the wounded in the prison hospital is sweet and touching.

What a fantastic story this is. It contains all the elements of the classic Pertwee era, but in just the right amounts, and never too much at the same time. UNIT is allowed to be UNIT, aided by The Doctor but independent and able to carry out their own plans with varying levels of success. Jo becomes a much stronger character after enduring a great deal during the many prison riots that occur. The Master, as mentioned before, is ultra cool, and is aided by Mailer, one of the best thug performances seen in the series by William Marlowe (Mailer also breaks a taboo on the programme by dropping the first H-bomb ("hell") in Doctor Who history). And, finally, The Doctor gets to be brash, arrogant, caring, jovial, charming, and inventive - all in the same story.

And any concerns that the edge had come off Doctor Who with Terror of the Autons are allayed here when Barnham (and Neil McCarthy's job in bringing him to life should also be commended), a man that doesn't have, literally, an evil thought in his mind, halts his own escape in order to help the fallen Master, and gets brutally run over and killed for his trouble.

Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who has often been compared to James Bond. The Mind of Evil isn't James Bond. It's better.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

FFF5 - The Mind of Evil 5

I get an odd, luvvy duvvy feeling when I watch this episode. It's filled with so many warm and fuzzy moments that, by the end of it, you just hope this story ends at Episode Five and everyone just agrees to shake hands and agree to disagree.

First up is the Doctor/Master relationship again. After threatening The Doctor in order to secure his help (or, more accurately, threatening Jo to get The Doctor to help him), The Master readily accepts the role of assistant - praising and admiring the device that The Doctor has come up with and helping him as he struggles to control the machine. The Doctor also bears no malice to The Master during this scene - the two men are after the same goal (control of the machine), and so any differences between the two are temporarily forgotten. Aww!

The UNIT crew feel the love, as well. Sergeant Benton, who has had a rough few episodes, culminating in a severe concussion, volunteers his services to join the assault on Stangmoor Prison. The Brigadier, however, is less than convinced - not only because of Benton's recent failings, but because of the fact that he's unwell and should be resting. Aww! Benton eventually convinces his superior officer by referencing his "thick skull", a remark that wins over the icy Brigadier with a smile. Aww!! The Brigadier feels so warm and gushy that he not only allows Benton to join the assault force, he tells Benton to lead the assault! AWW!! The close family bonds within UNIT are shown even further when Benton quietly asks about the status of Captain Yates. The Brigadier, sympathetic to the fact that Yates and Benton are most likely friends, is heartfelt in telling Benton that he's heard nothing new.


Before things get too out of hand, though, thankfully, the episode ends with a violent bloodbath punctuated with several uncomfortable closeups of prisoners getting shot by UNIT soldiers, some of them at point blank range. And what a cliffhanger!

FFF4 - The Mind of Evil 4

Although early in their onscreen rivalry, this episode provides some fascinating insight into the past relationship between The Doctor and The Master. The Keller Machine uses negative thoughts deep inside the mind of the victim and uses those thoughts to destroy the victim, then feasting on those same negative impulses.

Twice in this story, The Doctor has an almost deadly experience with the Keller Machine. During his first encounter, he is tormented by images of fire, a nice callback to the events of Inferno and showing that The Doctor's past adventures do indeed leave an effect on him. The Doctor's second meeting with the machine bridges Episodes Three and Four, but this time, The Doctor is haunted by images of old foes - Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors, Zarbi (Zarbi?), and so on. After The Master manages to switch off the machine, he seems genuinely concerned for The Doctor's well-being. Despite all his boasting, it almost seems as if The Master doesn't have the heart (or hearts) to kill The Doctor.

Later, there is a mesmerizing scene where The Master struts into the room which houses the Keller Machine and tries to impose his will over the machine. Part of the reason for this is to try and control the machine for his own use, but mostly, you can almost sense the resentment from The Master that he is unable to break the will of the machine. It's not the fact that the machine resisted him that bothers him. It's the fact that it dared to resist him that upsets him the most.

Once The Master fails to control the machine, he endures a similar experience that The Doctor and the other less fortunate victims of the machine went through. However, this time, The Master is only haunted by one image - a giant visage of The Doctor, laughing and mocking The Master from on high. It could have simply been a case of the fact that since we know so little of The Master, any images from his past would be unfamiliar to the viewer, and thus The Master's fear would seem meaningless (although I secretly wish that The Master had a deep rooted phobia of clowns or kittens, meaning we would have seen cheap photograph cutouts of adorable cats flying around the screen).

I prefer to think that there is clearly a past to this Doctor/Master relationship that we don't know about (and, thankfully, we never know about in great detail). But the fact that The Master fears the mockery of The Doctor, while The Doctor doesn't seem to fear The Master at all, is worth thinking about. Was there a time when The Doctor, for all intents and purposes, was a bully to The Master? Was The Doctor the more evil and immoral of the two? Was the evil of The Master a direct result of The Doctor's actions?*

*Only time, and an unfortunate flashback sequence in the new series episode The Sound of Drums, will tell.

FFF3 - The Mind of Evil 3

Jo has another great episode, showing even more hope for the character. The way she takes charge during the overthrow of the prison revolt is marvelous. It's also interesting to see how much time Jo and Dr. Summers spend together in this story. Their screen time together almost outnumbers Jo's time spent on screen with The Doctor.

It's tough to talk about any episode of The Mind of Evil without mentioning Roger Delgado as The Master. I jumped the gun in the last post when I mentioned The Master's cigar smoking and his enjoyment of King Crimson (these things actually happen in this episode), but he is still way cool. He and Mailer make an irresistible duo - almost a perfect Time Lord/companion foil to The Doctor and Jo.

Mailer's first meeting with The Doctor is fantastic (The Doctor shouts "Don't point that thing at me! It might go off!" when Mailer points his rifle at him.). While the fact that control of the prison changes hands three times in this episode, it was necessary to have Mailer's initial attempt to overthrow the governor fail (despite initially succeeding) so that The Master would have ground to stand on when trying to convince Mailer later on that he was on his side.

Another cracking episode, but for the third cliffhanger in a row, the Keller Machine is seen to threaten someone as the credits roll, and, for the second time, it's The Doctor who's in trouble...

FFF2 - The Mind of Evil 2

Remember when I praised William Dysart's performance as Reegan in The Ambassadors in Death? And that it was the first of at least three notable "thug" performances during the 1970s in Doctor Who? Well, William Marlowe's Mailer is the second such thug on that list. Marlowe delivers his dialogue with great ease, and his general attitude is one of a mischievous criminal. Did you know that Mailer's reply to "It's coming." ("Yeah, and so's Christmas!") was the first time, as a young boy, that I heard that line? It's a fact. Mailer's other memorable response (this one to an invite to a game of checkers - "Drop dead!") is also enjoyable.

The Master is at his cool best in this, his first appearance of the story. Sitting in the back of a limousine, smoking a cigar, listening to King Crimson on his portable radio (now THAT's the future today!): as great as Anthony Ainley and John Simm will be in the role, how can either of them possibly compete with Roger Delgado in The Mind of Evil?

Jo Grant continues her character improvement in this episode, too. There's a sweet little scenes where she brings a box of chocolates to Barnham in the hospital, and it's nice to not have her around to constantly ask The Doctor what's going on. It's also nice to see her able to function on her own, even if she spends most of the time playing nurse to Dr. Summers.

And a nod to the initial meeting between Fu Peng and The Doctor - one of the few times in Doctor Who history where subtitles are seen when a foreign, non-English language is spoken. The subtitles only just cover up the fact that Jon Pertwee has no idea what he's saying (for that matter, neither does Kristopher Kum, the actor playing Fu Peng...).

A good start to the story so far, although how many cliffhangers with the same thing happening (Keller Machine attacks!) can they get away with?

FFF1 - The Mind of Evil 1

What a quaint, silly scene at the beginning of this episode where The Doctor makes a monkey out of himself at the novelty of a security camera. Cute - the days before CCTV. Obviously, 2009 is not a year The Doctor visited before his third regeneration.

The edge that was sorely lacking from Terror of the Autons shows signs of life in this installment, most notably where The Doctor is being an arrogant jerk to Professor Kettering during the latter's demonstration of the Keller Machine. Watch Pertwee as he sits down and flings his cloak into the face of the person sitting next to him. See how he strongly contradicts Kettering later on when the professor questions The Doctor's scientific background. We saw a little of bit of this attitude manifest itself in Terror of the Autons when The Doctor angrily brushed off Brownrose from the Ministry, but here, the arrogant Third Doctor that we've come to know and love(?) plants his feet firmly and takes on all comers.

I like that UNIT and The Doctor are working separately at the start of this story, too, and that each of their pursuits are completely independent of one another (at least for now). Tying The Doctor and UNIT together too much diminishes the effect of both entities. It's kind of sad and depressing to see, though, that probably a good deal of the Brigadier's standard working day is taken up with busywork at his desk. I suppose it can't be air strikes and gun fights every day...

Monday, August 24, 2009

EEE4 - Terror of the Autons 4

This sub-par season opener ends with, at least, another impressive gun battle, this time between UNIT flunkies and Autons dressed as daffodil salesmen. As stated before, HAVOC lasted for much shorter a time than their legacy leads one to believe, but they did an excellent job in convincing the viewer that this new Doctor Who was going to be rife with believable action sequences.

However, the cracks are still evident. The Master is convinced by The Doctor that the Autons will turn on him in roughly seven seconds, and so joins with The Doctor to help repel the invaders before escaping when The Doctor and the Brigadier have their backs turned. But don't worry. I'm sure we'll see him again - every single week...

Most troubling is the last line of the episode, spoken by The Doctor. The original line was, referring to The Master, that he would stay on Earth "until I destroy him. Or he destroys me.". It was changed to, in regards to a possible future meeting between the two, to "As a matter of fact, I'm rather looking forward to it." All the edge of the original line (as written by Robert Holmes) replaced by the bland, family-friendly line provided by the new creative team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks. It's interesting to note that the same story that contained one of the more controversial scenes in Doctor Who history (Autons disguised as policemen) is also the story that wiped out all the strides that the immensely superior Season 7 made the previous year.

Things will hopefully improve, but The Ambassadors of Death seems like another world to me right now. Welcome to the Barry Letts era.

EEE3 - Terror of the Autons 3

Things begin to improve a bit with this episode. There is a truly fantastic stunt performed by Terry Walsh that sees him, as an Auton, propelled down the side of a steep hill, falling even further than planned, yet still getting up afterwards and carrying on with the scene. HAVOC, the team responsible for all the stunts in Season 8, certainly earned their money in this one.

I reckon it's time to mention The Master, whose penchant for disguise extends to telephone repairmen who are actually shorter than him. (Did he use a similar compression suit that we will see the Slitheen use in a few years' time? Is that why Captain Yates stares at the repairman's bum when he's installing The Doctor's new phone cord?). When not in disguise, he does have some fine sartorial sense, often choosing a respectable three-piece suit as his main outfit. Even his traditional "costume" looks good, with a jacket inspired by Pandit Nehru.

The actor behind The Master, Roger Delgado, is, of course brilliant. However, it may not be a coincidence that the diabolical Master is unveiled as The Doctor's arch-enemy in the same story that marks a sudden softening of The Doctor's character. It seems like in order to provide a clear opposite to the evil Master, most of the Third Doctor's antihero tendencies were struck, replaced with those of a kind, gentle uncle. One thing's for sure - the Season 7 Doctor would never be heard to utter a line like (referring to The Master), "That jackanapes? All he ever does is cause trouble!".

Jo Grant continues to have an unimpressive debut, though, including Katy Manning ironically twisting her ankle during the scenes shot in the quarry, before Jo is scripted to twist her ankle in Episode Four. Foresight tells me that her character improves, but for now, she's merely window dressing, consigned to trip over rocks, make phone calls, and call people "dolly Scotsmen".

EEE2 - Terror of the Autons 2

More troubling aspects about this serial present themselves in this episode. At one point, The Doctor boasts to Lew Russell that, while he has no money in his wallet, he can easily obtain it. Never before had The Doctor concerned himself with money. Even as recently as Spearhead From Space, he claimed that he "had no need for the stuff". Yet another sign that he knows full well that UNIT is buttering his bread despite spending most of Season Seven standing up to them.

The direction for this story has also been very flat. Barry Letts certainly hasn't asserted himself well behind the camera in Doctor Who, as his previous effort, The Enemy of the World, was a choppy affair. Most of Letts's problem is his heavy over-reliance on the relatively new production technique called CSO (known to the rest of the world outside the BBC as "blue screen"). Car interiors, home interiors, museums, radio telescope control rooms - all of these are represented by poorly matted blue screen shots in this story. Letts was a big proponent of CSO in its infancy, and it is perhaps the case that such overuse gave the production team essential practice in how to use it correctly in the years to come.

That still doesn't make this any more fun to watch...

EEE1 - Terror of the Autons 1

It's immediately apparent that Barry Letts has put his definitive stamp on Doctor Who, beginning with Terror of the Autons. Letts ascended to the producer's chair rather late during Season Seven, only taking over from Derrick Sherwin for the studio recording of Doctor Who and the Silurians. As a result, Letts had very little to do with the stories selected to usher Jon Pertwee, nor with the overall tone in how they were presented.

By Season Eight, however, Letts was firmly in charge, and so Terror of the Autons is Letts's real debut in Doctor Who. It is immediately evident that the dark, intense, adult drama of Season Seven is a thing of the past. Instead of a Doctor being independent of the system and a true iconoclast, with few allies or friends at his reluctant home-away-from-home, UNIT Headquarters (which gets another of its seemingly endless makeovers in this story), we now have a Doctor who seems quite comfortable in his exile, surrounded by old and new friends. He tinkers with the dematerialization circuit in a vain attempt to override the Time Lords' control over him, but only with the intensity of that of a Sunday afternoon hobby, killing time in between inevitable trips with the Brigadier to plastics factories and circuses.

We also meet Jo for the first time, and she sets the tone for what her role will be for the better part of this story by asking The Doctor more questions in her opening scene than Liz Shaw ever did in her whole tenure on the show. So, instead of The Doctor and Liz engaging in scientific research together and trusting the viewer to assume what they're doing and what the story is about, we now get to see The Doctor outline the basics of the plot to Jo and the reasons behind his various (unfinished) experiments. So ends the era of the Third Doctor as the rebel, and thus begins the familiar image of the Third Doctor - the avuncular teacher, too busy educating and saving the world instead of standing up to it.

Oh, and The Master makes his debut, too, but I'll have more than enough time and space to get to his exploits over the next 2o-odd episodes.

Friday, August 21, 2009

DDD7 - Inferno 7

After the glory that was Episode Six, this is bound to be an anticlimax in regards to tension. But the themes that carry on from those established in the parallel world are notable here.

Several scenes that occurred in the parallel world happen here as well once The Doctor returns. When number two output pipe blows in the parallel world, The Doctor, trying to stave off his own death but also trying to help the situation, has to convince those around him that his idea (reverse the systems) will work. It's Greg who believes him, and eventually, Stahlman relents. Back in the real world, when Liz passes on The Doctor's idea, it is Greg, once again, who agrees first with the idea, and, without Stahlman around to veto the decision, Petra carries forth and reverses the systems.

When the Doctor bursts in and starts smashing equipment to try and stop the drilling in the real world, it's disturbingly similar to the same scene towards the end of Episode Four in the parallel world. Then, as now, The Doctor is alone in the middle of the room, a ranting and raving lunatic who no one listens to. Stahlman stops The Doctor on both occasions - with a gun in the parallel world, and by ordering his removal in the real world.

The difference between the two Stahlmans is key. In the parallel world, once penetration zero is achieved, the infected Stahlman closes the bulkhead door, not only preventing the other scientists from leaving, but in order to convert them into Primords like himself. In the real world, Stahlman acts differently. He shoos the technicians out of the room, instead leaving himself to suffer his soon-to-be grisly fate alone. Was it Stahlman's inner humanity, his inner compassion, that came through at this moment?

Humanity is the theme of this entire story and the choices and instincts that an individual, or a group of individuals, makes. This is crystallized in The Doctor's beautiful speech he makes soon after he regains consciousness where he states that "free will isn't an illusion after all". People's choices have made the situation what it is. Liz's choice to become a military officer as opposed to a scientist, the driver choosing to disobey Stahlman's orders and drive Sir Keith back to the drilling project, Greg's choice to believe The Doctor when no one else would - the pattern can be changed, and it is the choices of these characters that have changed that pattern for good.

The Doctor is present in both worlds, but also an outsider in both, and it is not he who destroys one world with his actions, nor does he save another, but he does serve as the inspiration for others to better themselves and the world around them. It is Liz who turns to his side in the parallel world, and it is she who passes on The Doctor's ideas and theories in the real world. And it is Greg who stands by him in the parallel world, and it is he and The Doctor who go into danger to stop the drilling with only seconds to go before penetration zero in the real world.

This is one of the all-time great stories in Doctor Who history, perhaps even the best ever. Like another famous "classic" story (about which more later), there is a certain sadness after watching the credits roll as it signals and end of an era. Season 7 was an ultra-serious affair, perhaps a little bit sterile, but necessary after all the space age histrionics of Season 6. It also had one of the strongest female companions ever in the form of Liz. What follows now is what is often considered the "classic" Pertwee era, but it is by no means as good as what came before it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

DDD6 - Inferno 6

Despite the renown that Doctor Who has in the UK for forcing many a scared child to watch the show from the relative safety of behind the sofa, I never felt such trepidation while watching the show. It may have had something to do with the relative late age when I started watching the show religiously (I was twelve at the time). I was fifteen when I first saw Inferno. Despite this, Episode Six of Inferno was, and remains to be, one of the very few times I have felt genuinely frightened while watching Doctor Who.

This episode possibly represents the most harrowing and intense twenty-four and a half minutes in Doctor Who history. The explosions become louder in this episode, implying that the destruction is getting closer and closer to our heroes. Earthquakes throw another element into the mix. Outdoor scenes are shot with a reddish tinge to them to show both the intense heat and the destructive matter from the Earth's core that is now spewing forth out of the ground.

The Doctor has managed to convince Greg and Liz of his situation, and that he can get himself back to the real world to help prevent the death and destruction that's occurring in the parallel world. Petra believes Greg, while Liz's position in the army and the respect that the Brigade Leader has for her prevents him from wavering too far. The Brigade Leader is the most conflicted of all the characters left. A soldier all his life, he has maintained order all his life, and is determined to do so even when faced with a new, and quickly expiring world, of no order. This side of the man's character is evident in the Brigadier, as well, notably in the scene where he dresses down Sgt. Benton for his failure to secure a meeting with Professor Stahlman. The other side of the Brigade Leader is one of sheer panic - not only panic brought on by the end of the world, but panic in the fact that he is now out of his element. He's not a leader, he's an enforcer of leaders.

Liz's transformation is almost heartwarming. Her patronizing of the Brigade Leader during an earthquake convinces any doubters in the audience that she is completely on The Doctor's side now. So, too, is Greg. It was Greg who knocked over Stahlman to prevent him from shooting The Doctor at the start of Episode Five, and he has been the most keen to help The Doctor get back to "his other world". The final fight between Greg and the Brigade Leader is epic, made so by The Doctor's line of "Listen to that! Do you want to end your lives fighting like animals?". The similarity of The Doctor's previous line as the drilling was about to reach Penetration Zero ("Listen to that! It's the sound of the planet screaming out in rage!") is not an accident. The planet was expelling contents not seen since the dawn of time; now, the planet's inhabitants (both Primord and human) were regressing to the same time.

When the main shaft finally explodes, all hell breaks loose (literally). As if things weren't devastating enough, the pictures and sound become even more difficult to watch. Scenes set outside are accompanied by an almost human wail of anguish. Is it the cry of the few remaining humans? Or that of the planet itself? The best scenes (and there are a ton to choose from in this episode) are the last ones set in the hut. The first is when the Brigade Leader, watched over by a picture of his revered Leader of the Republic, makes his ultimatum to The Doctor to try and force him to rescue everyone. Liz's last act of humanity saves the day, allowing The Doctor his chance to escape, and just in time before a massive flow of lava swarms towards the hut. Petra's screaming and crying, running into Greg's arms, says it all - the world has ended.

Cue end credits. Best cliffhanger ever. Best episode ever.

DDD5 - Inferno 5

As good as Dudley Simpson's music scores during the past couple seasons of Doctor Who have been, I can't help but thank the serendipity of Simpson's supposed tiff with director Douglas Camfield in 1965 that resulted in Camfield never using Simpson again for the rest of his directorial career (a decision that even extended to the Blake's 7 episode Duel). This story was no difference, but works because of the absence of Simpson's music.

Barring the odd bit of stock music (which is used for the last time in the series' history here), the soundtrack for the entire story is both the sounds of constant drilling and, after the events of Penetration Zero, those of distant (and not so distant) explosions. Such a soundtrack is perfect. The state of the Earth is never far from the mind of the viewer or the participants onscreen, thanks to the unending sounds of their impending doom. The world is ending, something seldom (and, if you take Galaxy Four out of the picture, never) portrayed on screen before this. Coming up with music to accompany such an event would be difficult, indeed.

Once again, there are some tough and brutal scenes in this episode, as there have been on a few other occasions during Season Seven. Platoon Under Leader Benton, whose sole function at this point is to maintain order amongst the technicians and, once they've fled, to maintain order amongst his own men, has displayed no redeeming features in this story. Yet it is very difficult to watch him being dragged to his horrible fate - that of becoming a Primord. Part of it is because he looks like the same Benton we were sharing a laugh with in Episode One, but, for me, it's mostly because of the Brigade Leader's futile warning of "Benton! Get out!" before the Primords get to him. Nicholas Courtney delivers the line with such conviction and believability that is so far removed from the children's show mentality that the show had possibly fostered in the public eye over the preceding six years. The destruction of the Earth is worth an ultra-serious take on things, and, thanks to the efforts of all involved, that is just what we're getting.

This is fundamentally brilliant television.

DDD4 - Inferno 4

In Episode Three, the differences between the real world characters and their parallel world versions are made quite apparent. In Episode Four, the characters' similarities become visible. The Doctor attempts to make some headway in convincing Liz that deep beneath her (damn kinky and sexy) Section Leader exterior beats the same heart that led the Liz Shaw that he knows to become a scientist with an open mind. It's stated that both Lizes studied physics at university. One made the choice to become a scientist; one joined the army.

But did parallel world Liz join the army on her own accord? Or was she forced into it? Petra became a scientist on her own, but the project is a "scientific labour camp", as the Brigade Leader states at one point. If the workers are slaves, what of the scientists?

The key lies in Greg Sutton. Although initially Greg appears to be a more groomed and staid professional, draped in a fine suit, it's quickly apparent that he is the same rakish, anti-establishment persona as his real world counterpart. Petra mentions that if Greg straightened up and flew right, he would make an excellent "servant of the state". Greg is still alive purely because of his usefulness to the project, the exact reason why The Doctor has managed to stay his own execution after fixing the project computer.

The Doctor doesn't need to convince everyone around him of his intentions, as he realizes the Brigade Leader, Benton, and Petra have made their choices. However, he realizes that if he can convince Liz and Greg, they can convince others.

DDD3 - Inferno 3

And thus begins the four episodes for which Inferno is famous, as The Doctor is transplanted into a world that seems so familiar, yet so different. In order to immediately set this parallel world apart from the familiar place that The Doctor just left, director Douglas Camfield doesn't flinch in showing the parallel world as a vicious, brutal world, populated by army thugs with guns.

Kudos really must be given to John Levene as Benton. After fleeting appearances in The Invasion and The Ambassadors of Death, this is really Benton's coming out party as a UNIT regular. We meet the friendly, lovable Sergeant Benton in the first episode of this story, smiling at The Doctor's quip about the Brigadier's mustache, then being gently reprimanded by The Brigadier himself. Platoon Under Leader Benton is a different beast all together - barking harsh orders at soldiers and brutally shoving The Doctor around. It's a wonderful performance from Levene, and, given the amount of praise that Levene has heaped upon Camfield since then, it's a wonderful example of a director getting the most out of his actors.

Jon Pertwee is, again, fantastic in this episode. It's always the little things that I enjoy about Pertwee's performances. I love the way he shouts at a soldier, "What the blazes are you doing?" after the soldier starts firing at him, more appalled at the notion that he's being shot at as opposed to why he's being shot at. I love the fact that Pertwee does all his own stunt driving sequences, some of which include some fairly dangerous stunts on behalf of the team from HAVOC. I love the way that Pertwee kicks himself off the wall when talking to Liz when he says "A joke's a joke." after he first meets her in the parallel world.

I'm also glad that it doesn't take The Doctor long to decipher that he has somehow materialized in a parallel world. This allows for the drama to move along at a healthy clip. The Doctor's independence in the normal world was noteworthy in that, apart from Stahlman's protests, he basically was allowed free reign of the place and use of the project's resources. Never before has The Doctor been as isolated and alone with any friends to help him, to the extent that those who appear to be his friends are the ones who are most interesting in killing him.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

DDD2 - Inferno 2

The friction between The Doctor and Stahlman in this episode offers some of the best "rebellious Third Doctor" scenes ever seen in the series, as well as some fantastic quotes. My favourite:

Doctor: Yes, well I'll tell you something that should be of vital interest to you, Professor.
Stahlman: Well, what?
Doctor: That you, sir, are a nitwit!

After Stahlman leaves in a huff, The Doctor nods jokingly to the Brigadier. Bliss. Later on, The Doctor is imploring Stahlman to look at the data the project computer is spitting out, but Stahlman refuses. The Doctor shouts back, "Well, look at it, man! Are you blind?!"

The Jon Pertwee Doctor of Season Seven could very well be my favourite Doctor of all time. Any similarities between The Doctor and James Bond at this point, too (an oft-mentioned comparison), are inaccurate. The world of James Bond might exist around The Doctor, but Pertwee's Venusian martial arts are only briefly introduced in this story, nor is he engaging in much physical conflict with anyone at all. The Doctor here is such an iconoclast and a rebel, he walks around like he owns the place, but is constantly frustrated by the fact that other, less intelligent beings are in control of the situation. This is also a Doctor at his most independent, despite being forced to rely on his close circle of powerful friends to get his foot in the door.

The main reason for the Third Doctor's independence is the strength of his companion, Liz Shaw. Liz is such a strong and intelligent character that she doesn't even need to be in a scene for her to be taking part in the story. Liz makes her first appearance of the story fifteen minutes into Episode One, having already been hard at work in the hut that The Doctor has managed to secure for his experiments. Any other companion would have to be seen a great deal more, often at The Doctor's elbow, asking him what's going on and what is that strange device he's holding. With Liz, The Doctor is at his most free (ironic, given his imprisonment by the Time Lords), and, since we don't have the usual window into his mind that a typical companion usually provides, he is also at his most interesting.

DDD1 - Inferno 1

I mentioned how The Ambassadors of Death is set in a strange time that looks like the weird, wonderful future. Well, that future of competent space programs and Morse code 2.0 is also, bizarrely, a world that is amazed by remote control garage door openers. And they can't spell "mega" correctly, either.

Such an innocent start to this story, this episode is. On the outset, it looks like someone at a drilling project has become transformed into a murdering monster after touching some strange green goop, and that this rampaging beast will be a threat to the work being done at the drilling project. Will The Doctor be able to stop the beast and save the project? Stay tuned....

Of course, hindsight prevents one from being able to review this first episode without knowing what's to come. It is astounding how little the events that are to come are signposted, apart from a brief trip by The Doctor into Mirrorlon world during a test run in the the TARDIS console. If this was a New Series episode, the first two of installments would almost surely have been a pre-credit sequence (as, indeed, it was, in 2006's Rise of the Cybermen). The sole function of this episode is to not only lay out the plot, but to introduce, and make the viewer intrinsically familiar with, the exact details of Project Inferno, and the people who staff it. We find out that Dr. Stahlman is a jerk, Petra is stiff and humourless, Sir Keith Gold is alive, and Greg Sutton is a playboy. Remember those descriptions for later as there will be a test.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

CCC7 - The Ambassadors of Death 7

I'm really not one to get lost in the whole UNIT dating controversy, but if I was, and I was trying to somehow fit the events and pre-history of The Ambassadors of Death into established Doctor Who history, I would have my hands full. Whenever this takes place (I'm saying 1970. Boring, I know. But then, of course, I'm staying out of this...) is a world of hair dryer stun guns, numerous manned Mars missions, planet surveying missions, and all, most amazingly, in a world that considers SOS ancient history. This isn't even advanced for 1970. At this rate, some of this is advanced for 2070. And we're supposed to be controlling weather from the Moon by then.

Such things are minor to one's enjoyment of the show, thankfully, and this was and is one of my favourite Doctor Who stories ever. The thing I love the most about this episode is that neither Reegan or Carrington are killed, nor do they see the supposed errors of their ways and change for the better. Reegan has only looked after one person thus far (hint: Reegan), and even when he knows the jig is up and UNIT moves in to take control of his hideout, he offers UNIT advice on how to break into Space Control in exchange for a more lenient punishment.

Carrington carries on until the bitter end knowing and believing that he was right to do what he did. His final scene before being taken away is marvelous, with The Doctor realizing full well that Carrington was mad and wrong to have did what he did, but allows everyone to keep their dignity.

The Ambassadors of Death is so often overlooked in the circles of Who fandom, and undeservedly so. It stands up today as a top notch thriller with just the right amount of action thrown into the mix.

CCC6 - The Ambassadors of Death 6

Although this story carries the onscreen writing credit of David Whitaker, most of the actual work was done by Malcolm Hulke, who had just written Doctor Who and the Silurians. Hulke's contributions are evident in this story. One of his trademarks is that his villains are not necessarily evil, just misguided by our standards, or they're, at least, after their own agenda. Reegan,for example, isn't evil just to be evil. He just sees the aliens as a way to further his own ambitions of wealth and glory.

General Carrington's motives become clear towards the end of this episode. Like Reegan, Carrington's not evil either, but he legitimately believes that the aliens are a threat to Earth and that they should be destroyed. Soon, though, it's not so much the protection of Earth that Carrington is concerned about, but, rather, his desire to perform his "moral duty". This makes Carrington even more scary as a villain than any Dalek or Cyberman. Daleks and Cybermen don't feel any sense of duty in what they're doing. Carrington truly believes that what he's doing is what he should be doing.

There's also a fantastic exchange between Cornish and the Brigadier where Cornish chides the Brigadier for allowing Lennox to die whilst in UNIT's protective custody, then berates him further that UNIT has been very ineffective in their investigation of who is behind the kidnapping of the aliens. The Brigadier then goes on to explain the extraordinary lengths that he and his men have gone to in order to try and catch the criminals. Cornish relents in his criticism, but the Brigadier agrees with Cornish's first assessment. Despite the lack of success the Brigadier has had, these are still sunny days for UNIT - an all-powerful investigative team that, more often than not, get to the bottom of any situation they encounter with or without The Doctor's help.

CCC5 - The Ambassadors of Death 5

There's an innocent little scene in this episode that has always made me feel all fuzzy inside. It's the scene where The Doctor is about to leave Space Control for the Recovery capsule and blast off into space, but is met in the waiting room by the Brigadier. The Brigadier is simply there to see him off, and the exchange between the two is brief before The Doctor is summoned to enter the Recovery capsule. The scene really serves no purpose except to provide a transition from The Doctor being in Space Control to him being strapped up in the Recovery capsule.

What it shows, though, is how thawed the relationship between The Doctor and the Brigadier has become since the incident at the end of Doctor Who and the Silurians. (The incident is still recent, too, as The Doctor addresses it in Episode One of this story). The fact that Brigadier takes time out of his busy schedule to offer The Doctor a friendly face to look at for his last few moments on Earth before his mission gets underway is one thing. However, in an earlier scene, Dr. Lennox (Cyril Shaps) manages to summon up the courage and seek the help of UNIT, who place him in a protective cell. Lennox says he will only speak to the Brigadier, and wishes to speak to him immediately, a fact relayed to the Brigadier by Benton. The Brigadier acknowledges Lennox's request, but says that he has a few "security checks" to do first before he returns to UNIT HQ. The Brigadier may have, indeed, had some security checks to perform, but The Doctor's well-being is also first and foremost in his mind.

Sure, the Brigadier's delayed return to HQ gives Reegan's men the extra time they need to kill Lennox and cause the Brigadier great embarrassment, but it's heartwarming to see the Brigadier make the first move towards a greater friendship with The Doctor after having been the one who damaged it in the first place.

CCC4 - The Ambassadors of Death 4

Doctor Who stories are always made better by Cyril Shaps, who excels at playing The Most Worried Man in the World. Together with John Abineri, William Dysart, and Ronald Allen, this story has seen some marvelous performances. And, yeah, how about Ronald Allen as Ralph Cornish? Tall, handsome, wearing a well cut suit and one Magnum revolver and a sour temperament away from being a poor man's Clint Eastwood.

Liz Shaw is one of the strongest female characters in the programme's history, but I'm surprised to see that, since her kidnap at the beginning of this episode, she remains imprisoned (barring one brief escape attempt) for the almost the rest of the story. The difference between locking up Liz and locking up, say, Polly, is that Liz is kidnapped partially to force The Doctor not to get involved, but also because Liz can serve a purpose for Reegan thanks to her scientific background. Polly wouldn't be useful in this situation until it came time to make the tea. Since Liz can serve a purpose as a character while being held captive, the plot thread of her and her fellow captives (the titular ambassadors) carries some weight. Imagine that - a female character in Doctor Who who can think and act for herself.

The fate of Bruno Taltalian is quite shocking, tragic, and gruesome, and all thanks to actor Robert Cawdron, Dudley Simpson's music, and director Michael Ferguson's handling of his death scene. There are three different perspectives happening in this scene. There's that of The Doctor, who knows nothing of what's about to occur. Taltalian knows that he has a bomb in the briefcase, and that he is to kill The Doctor with it by setting the 15-minute countdown on it, but doesn't know that the bomb is actually set to go off immediately. The third perspective is that of the viewer, who knows all of these things. Simpson's score builds up the suspense throughout the scene superbly, Ferguson's use of quick cuts is excellent, particularly the extremely quick edit once the bomb goes off. And Cawdron plays the part very nervously, but it's his horrific death scream that is the most gut-wrenching of all because there isn't an ounce of hammy stage acting in it at all. This is pure, adult-oriented entertainment unlike anything in Doctor Who's history.

Monday, August 17, 2009

CCC3 - The Ambassadors of Death 3

Gunfights, violence, and now a car chase - am I sure I'm not watching the 1996 FOX TV movie here? After the car chase scene (a first of its kind in Doctor Who), there's a harrowing fight sequence on top of a dam between Liz (or, at the very least, a stuntman determined to look the least unlike Caroline John) and her two pursuers. Each episode of this story serves to further separate the 1970s era from its staid 1960s counterpart. Viewing this story on its own is entertaining enough, but to watch it in sequence, following on from the six years of history, it is particularly jarring. In a good way.

Reegan, who is introduced in this episode, is the first of at least three mid-level thugs appearing in the show over the next few years (off the top of my head) that are not only great, believable characters, but receive equally great and believable performances by the actors portraying them. William Dysart plays Reegan, and his is perhaps my favourite performance in this story.

Back to the violence aspect of this, though. There is a rather brutal sequence of events that see two of Reegan's thugs shoot two scientists who have been studying the aliens, followed by the thugs themselves dying of radiation poisoning due to exposure to those same aliens. Three or four years previous to this, numerous complaints would have been raised by the viewing public. Fifteen years from this, and the show would likely be cancelled as a result. If the past is, indeed, just another country, then the early 1970s is a country that no longer exists.

CCC2 - The Ambassadors of Death 2

I'll admit it. I've seen this story at least twenty times and I still have no idea how The Doctor makes the tape spool he's holding disappear and reappear. Is it a conjuring trick? Something to do with all that wibbly wobbly timey wimey business in Episode One? Is it of the same science/magic that we see Carrington and his men display later on this episode when they look to be mowing UNIT soldiers down with hair dryers that possibly shoot knockout gas?

Speaking of that latter sequence, you can just feel the budget spiralling out of control. Trucks, motorbikes, explosions, a helicopter - another episode, another superb stunt sequence. Kids, this is not your father's Doctor Who...

The spies in mission control are starting to pile up, though, as both Taltallian and Hobson are working for the enemy. I never would have figured Taltallian in that role, nor would I expect him to so convincingly handle a gun and threaten Liz Shaw in such a way. I also wouldn't expect him to lose his French accent later on, but that details is such an overblown quibble that naysayers of this story far too often bring up that I'm almost ashamed that I mentioned it here.

The cliffhanger to this episode is fairly weak, dramatically, but is still damned cool, mostly because, at this stage in his tenure as The Doctor, Jon Pertwee is so commanding that his command of "Right! Cut it open!" can end any episode with the right amount of justifiable panache.

CCC1 - The Ambassadors of Death 1

Season 7 is an odd bird, not only for what was seen onscreen, but because of the varying styles and philosophies. With new full-time producer Barry Letts only arriving on the scene almost halfway through production of the four stories that would make up Jon Pertwee's debut season on the programme, there was definitely a lack of cohesion on the way the show was produced. Spearhead From Space was made entirely on film (because of circumstances beyond the control of the makers of the programme, understandably) and looks nothing like any other Doctor Who story as a result. The Silurians went out, mistakenly, under the moniker Doctor Who and the Silurians, and the odd music score made for another jarring entry into the Doctor Who canon. The final story of the season, Inferno, had a special credit sequence made for it (the last time we would ever see such a thing in Doctor Who again), and director Douglas Camfield had to bow out midway through production due to health problems.

The Ambassadors of Death is no different in its desire of wanting a unique opening credit sequence. For the episodes in this story, the titles fade down before the credits appear, after which we see a small teaser of the episode to come (in episodes 2-7, the standard cliffhanger reprise would be seen here). Once the teaser happens, we hear, for the first time ever, "the scream", that sting of music that leads into the theme music that has become so familiar to us now, followed by the title, writer, and episode number. I love the way the titles comes on screen, with "THE AMBASSADORS" zooming up towards the camera, followed by (and punctuated with a bullet) "OF DEATH". So cool. I almost wish they would have added an exclamation point, along with an "IN COLOUR" beneath it.

Michael Ferguson's direction in this is assured and confident, brash and audacious, and brave and bold as a Kang should be. The constant zooms in and out (especially the transition between two consecutive zooms, at different angles, into Ralph Cornish, followed by a zoom out from The Doctor watching events on TV) is brilliant. The Doctor's entrance into mission control is priceless, and displays a Doctor of complete arrogance, yet in complete control.

The battle between UNIT and the thugs in the warehouse is the real birth of the classic Jon Pertwee era, and all thanks the action by HAVOC. HAVOC was a team of stuntmen who appeared in fewer stories than you'd think (by Season 9's The Curse of Peladon, the HAVOC era was already over, replaced by the one-off PROFILE stunt team era), but they left an indelible impression on the stories that they graced with their presence. The battle in the warehouse is remarkable, containing a level of action seldom seen since in the series. The Brigadier, fresh from his blowing up of the Silurian base (FTW), is large and in charge here. Is there any more heroic (and bloodthirsty) scene than of him shooting a man off a balcony, then dispensing with two other (unseen) assailants in the space of three seconds? The end of the battle is very spaghetti western, with director Ferguson milking all he can out of some breathtaking closeups.

But the bestest best part of this episode, and perhaps even this story as a whole (and we're only at episode one, here) is Dudley Simpson's score, the absolute pinnacle of his career. His UNIT theme is brilliant and has never been topped. My favourite piece of music (all of which was still pre-recorded in those days, and not written specifically for any scene in particular) is the loop containing just four notes played on three tympani, played over and over to great effect. Simpson lost his orchestra after this story, being forced to do all of scores on a synthesizer for Season 8. When he finally regained his orchestra, he seemed to lose his groove and most of his music started sounding similar. I'll enjoy these seven episodes if only for Dudley Simpson.

The 1970s arrive with not just a bang, but several bangs. This might not necessarily be the best episode of Doctor Who ever, but it is most certainly the coolest.

BBB7 - Doctor Who and the Silurians 7

The closing scene of this episode is a stunning look into the early relationship between The Doctor and The Brigadier and how adversarial it was. Far removed from the chummy friendship of the later Pertwee years, coupled with the increasing ineptitude of the Brigadier and UNIT, the early days of UNIT are clearly their most influential days, as evidenced by the fact that the Brigadier directly contradicts The Doctor's wishes.

There are many conflicts within Doctor Who and the Silurians - humans vs Silurians, humans vs humans, The Doctor vs humans, Silurian vs Silurian - but the main victor at the very end is the Brigadier. His main goal is not to eliminate the Silurians directly, but to maintain the security of the Wenley Moor complex and, by extension, humanity itself. By blowing up the Silurian base, he succeeds in his mission. The Silurians obviously fail, as their goals of either co-existence with, or dominance of, the humans (depending on which Silurian is in command at the time) are also thwarted by not only the Brigadier's actions, but in their inability to settle on a common goal. The biggest loser out of all of this, though (you know, of those who are actually alive by the end of the story), is The Doctor. Not only did he fail to achieve a peace between the humans and the Silurians today, he failed to convince anyone that a peace could be achieved several years in the future once the Silurians were revived again. It's the first time we really see The Doctor fail, and it's not something we see very often again.

The relative success of this story is mostly down to Malcolm Hulke's writing, but also due to Jon Pertwee's performance as the main peacemaker. Pertwee settled into the role of The Doctor remarkably quick, perhaps quicker than any other actor portraying The Doctor. However, thanks to a couple production mishaps outlined earlier (music, costumes), and a general stiffness about the production as a whole, Doctor Who and the Silurians probably isn't as good as it can be, and is easily my least favourite story of Season 7. Which means, probably, that it could very well be my fourth favourite Jon Pertwee era story...

Friday, August 14, 2009

BBB6 - Doctor Who and the Silurians 6

The introduction of the plague released by the Silurians is a stroke of genius, giving the story a new thrust and doing its best to justify the seven-episode length of this serial. There are some genuinely horrific scenes of characters succumbing to the plague and dying, particularly those involving Masters and Dr. Lawrence.

Unfortunately, some of the least exciting television or film to watch is that of scientists and the like working hard to cure a plague. It happened in Doctor Who once before in The Sensorites, where the portrayal of The Doctor working hard to solve the poisoned water problem was achieved through a musical montage with several dissolves thrown in for good measure. In this episode, we see every aspect of The Doctor's efforts, including several good shots of him preparing slides, adjust magnification on the microscope, and so forth. Exhilarating. While it might not have been that much fun to watch, biology teachers around England at the time were delighted, and were no doubt greeted by a few more attentive students at Monday morning's classes.

Another less successful aspect about this story is the Silurians themselves. Despite an impressive head design, the join between headpiece and body is quite apparent (glaringly, in some scenes), but the most annoying quality about the Silurians is their movements when they are speaking. There's only a minimal amount of "lip" movement that the costumes provide, so, instead, the actor inside each Silurian costume has to bob his head back and forth to indicate when he is speaking. I think the actor playing the Young Silurian must have given himself whiplash by the end of Episode Six...

BBB5 - Doctor Who and the Silurians 5

Let's take some time to properly salute Carey Blyton, composer of the worst incidental music in Doctor Who history. He worked on three stories, and all three were tragic misses. We'll have time to carve up his work for his later stories when it comes time to review them, but at least his work does improve with each successive story.

Well, it seems like it improves after Silurians, but then, how could it not? Carey Blyton's score for Doctor Who and the Silurians gets my vote for worst music score in history. In the scenes set in the caves, any potential atmosphere and tension are completely ruined by Blyton's inappropriately jaunty score. For the sound that often accompanies the Silurians, Blyton chose a medieval instrument called a crumhorn. When used in the score, the crumhorn sounds like what you would get if you used a ball peen hammer to drive a kazoo into the circuit board of a Moog synthesizer.

The vast majority of the music in this story (apart from the admittedly lovely bit of music played over the introductory scene of Squire's farm) is, quite frankly, embarrassing. I wouldn't feel comfortable in showing this story to an outsider because I know that the music would grate and take that person's attention away from the well written story it is trying to enhance. The music annoyed me when I first saw this 20 years ago, and it is the main reason why this story sits so low in my list of favourites today.

Which is a shame because this has been a very good story thus far.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

BBB4 - Doctor Who and the Silurians 4

Two of my favourite things about Jon Pertwee's Doctor are seen in this episode. The first is his compassion. His reaction to the advancing Silurian at the resolution of the cliffhanger is not to attack the reptile in self defence (Venusian aikido had yet to make its presence felt in the series), but to extend the hand of friendship. True, The Doctor has always done this (sometimes less overtly than other times), but rarely has he done so in such apparently dire circumstances.

Conversely, Pertwee's Doctor does not suffer fools gladly, and often considers government officials to be in that category. His utter indignation to Masters, the Private Under Secretary from the Ministry, is beautiful. When Masters inquires of The Doctor, "May I ask just who you are?", to which The Doctor snaps back, "You may ask!".* Later in the same scene, The Doctor and The Brigadier have an argument, after which The Brigadier storms out. The adversarial relationship between the two is at its best here, and appears to only get more tense as these episodes go on.

The scenes that feature The Doctor trying to argue with the Brigadier to strive for a peaceful solution regarding the Silurians is echoed by the similar arguments that are occurring between the two Silurians in the cave. I'll get into this aspect of the story later, but suffice it to say that Malcolm Hulke, the writer of this story, begins to come into his own with this story.

*A similar exchange also occurs in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, also written by Malcolm Hulke. Read about what I think of how the scene was played in that story later, though...

BBB3 - Doctor Who and the Silurians 3

It's rare that we, the viewers, watch the proceedings in Doctor Who through the eyes of The Doctor himself, but this episode is an example of such a thing happening. The only person who had a really good look at a Silurian was Squire, the farmer, and he was killed shortly afterward. The second person who encounters a Silurian is Liz Shaw, the companion, who manages to survive a swat from her attacker to tell the tall to The Doctor later on. The first time that we see the Silurian is at the end of this episode, when The Doctor also sees it for the first time.

True, it makes for a more dramatic cliffhanger to have both The Doctor endangered and to have the main monster unveiled, but it also signals a change in emphasis in the programme. After years of The Doctor being the alien outsider, his exile on Earth is proving to have an effect on his uniqueness as his character is humanized more and more.

This episode also pulls off a bold maneuver by killing off who looks to be a major character, Dr. Quinn, less than halfway through the story. Quinn's death is necessary for the story because it shows the extreme result of a confrontation with a Silurian. The wounded Silurian has attacked Major Baker, Squire, and Liz out of defence, so it would have been easier for The Doctor to convince The Brigadier and Dr. Lawrence that the creatures were only acting in self defence, and were not hostile by nature. The killing of Quinn opens the door to many questions about the Silurians and what they will do to the humans, and The Doctor, in the episodes to come.

BBB2 - Doctor Who and the Silurians 2

There's some fantastic use of POV shots of the wounded monster in this episode as director Timothy Combe does his best to taunt and tease the viewer about what it looks like. We only have the reactions of others who are encountering the monster to go on, and, if these encounters are anything like Squire, the farmer, experienced, then this monster is very strange and dangerous indeed.

Given that Fulton Mackay was offered, but turned down, the role of the Fourth Doctor in 1974, I'm always intrigued to watch this story to try and get some hint of how he might have portrayed the character. To be honest, I'm not sure what producer Barry Letts saw in him for the role, but he's terrific in this story, and we find out that Mackay's Dr. Quinn has struck a bargain with the strange race of monsters who are behind the power failures at Wenley Moor. Quinn's boss is Dr. Lawrence, who is played by Peter Miles, who is always so good in anything he appears in that he'll deserve another entry later.

Speaking of Barry Letts, this story marks his debut as producer. While one can't credit him with commissioning the story from writer Malcolm Hulke (Letts only joined the production after the location footage had been shot), he can be credited, at least, with one thing that has always tickled me in just the right way. Have a look at the end credits and how each credit screen changes on the beat of the theme music. That was completely intentional and all because of Letts, and it the credits would be done this way for the rest of the classic series's run. Letts would be responsible for a great deal over the course of his time on Doctor Who, but this little touch has always been one of my favourites.