Wednesday, September 30, 2009

WWW1 - Invasion 1

The Doctor and Sarah land back in London fresh off their adventure in the Middle Ages, but not before they either stopped off at a hairdressers (obviously the first place you want to take a girl when trying to impress her early on, Doc), as Sarah's lovely, flowing mane from The Time Warrior has been reined in to a tight, little, slightly less attractive, bob, and The Doctor is now sporting a gigantic bouffant pompadour that must surely be housing a safety helmet to protect the increasingly fragile Jon Pertwee's cranium. Such are the dangers of setting stories back to back despite the fact that they are recorded months apart.

Episode One of this story actually starts off as a moody masterpiece set in a deserted London, expertly shot in black and white (or so I'm led to believe...) by Paddy Russell, making her return to the series for the first time since 1966's The Massacre. Throwing The Doctor and Sarah in the middle of what should be a normal situation is a genius stroke, although one can't help but think that not only has this episode been constructed as a gigantic ruse leading to what was hoped to be a dramatic reveal of a dinosaur at the end of the episode, but that it serves as superfluous padding preventing The Doctor from getting involved in the story until, it looks like, well into Episode Two.

My main memories of this episode, actually, are among some of my earliest memories of Doctor Who in general, but not from the televised adventure. I had read the first few pages of the novelization, Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion, having only ever seen Tom Baker episodes on TV at that point. When the book described The Doctor as having white hair, I though to myself, "That's a pretty poor description of Tom Baker". Years later, when I became curious enough to know which novelizations I had read were based on which televised stories, this one always baffled me because my local PBS station chose to omit the first episode (existing only in black and white, as it did, and, until the Doctor Who Restoration Team can convince me otherwise, still is) and air a compilation of episodes Two to Six. Having only read the contents of Episode One, I was confused for years as to what story I had just watched/read...

UUU4 - The Time Warrior 4

Professor Rubeish is an amusing character not only because he pretty much wears a sign on his back that says "Comic Relief Character", but because he wanders around, oblivious to his surroundings, thanks to his failing eyesight, just managing to ensure that everyone around him is equally as oblivious towards him. Rubeish and The Doctor should have formed a more charismatic duo than they did, though, if it wasn't for Jon Pertwee's decision to play things deadly straight (or, in some scenes with Elisabeth Sladen, condescending and sexist).

The only thing that might let things down a bit in this story is the direction by Alan Bromly. Bromly was in the twilight of his career at this point (which still didn't stop him from nearly being destroyed by Tom Baker six years later during the making of Nightmare of Eden), and some of his techniques seem a little hackneyed by the slick standards of the early 1970s. His most famous error is his choice of using stock footage of a rock slide to simulate the explosion of Irongron's castle. Nothing says lazy quite like stock footage.

Just as wonderful as the first three parts, The Time Warrior launches the swansong season of Jon Pertwee with style, but, being made at the tail end of the previous production block, the team was still in Season Ten mode whilst making it. The next batch of stories would be made with Jon Pertwee's decision to leave the series, along with similar moves by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, firmly on the minds of those in front of and behind the cameras.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

UUU3 - The Time Warrior 3

The character of Sarah Jane Smith was a genius stroke from Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks. She is is the best of both worlds - a strong, proactive female character who, thanks to her journalist background, can ask question after question and have it seem completely natural for her character.

Case in point - the conversation Sarah and The Doctor have in this episode while The Doctor is making some smoke bombs. Sarah's questions are blunt and point blank, and would seem out of place if any other companion (or potential companion) were to be phrasing the same questions. But Sarah's a journalist, and an inquisitive one at that. What sounds like an interrogation for some is completely normal to her, allowing the series to dispense with uncomfortable exposition scenes by having a companion who doesn't have to ask all the questions - she wants to ask all the questions.

There's an aborted battle sequence in this episode that, sadly, for me, a big fan of medieval battle scenes (just wait for the Robin of Sherwood Chronic Hysteresis I'll do one day) wraps up far too early thanks to The Doctor's smoke bombs dispersing Irongron's army. The well-placed line in Episode One about the armies of both Irongron and Edward of Wessex being drained to fight in the Crusades just about makes up for the fact that each castle is defended by as many extras as the BBC budget could afford, but not quite.

UUU2 - The Time Warrior 2

I mentioned how The Time Warrior is notable for the amount of debuts it contains. While it's not the first time the series has done a "pseudo-historical" (that honour would go to the 1965 story The Time Meddler), it was certainly the story that began a renaissance in the genre. That it had Robert Holmes as a writer, someone who never liked Doctor Who stories set in the past, is equally of note (given that two of his upcoming Tom Baker stories could also be classed as pseudo-historicals).

The Time Warrior also carries on Robert Holmes's humourous slant introduced in Carnival of Monsters, chiefly centered around one of Holmes's greatest double acts, Irongron and Bloodaxe. Irongron is the leader, but clearly not as intelligent as he thinks he is, but he is, at the very least, more intelligent than his admiring subordinate Bloodaxe. The lines these two spout "(Narrow hipped vixen!" "You have a merry wit, indeed, cap'n!") are the best things about this episode.

One couldn't mention The Time Warrior without acknowledging the first naming of The Doctor's home planet - Gallifrey. Robert Holmes had already introduced The Doctor's double cardiovascular system into Doctor Who lore in Spearhead From Space. Name dropping Gallifrey is just the next step in Holmes's gradual rewriting the entire history of the Time Lords.

UUU1 - The Time Warrior 1

Three brilliant debuts occur in The Time Warrior, specifically in Episode One. The first debut is the first thing we see - the new title sequence that was used for for Doctor Who's eleventh season. It was, it is, and, unless Steven Moffat comes up with something even more spectacular for Matt Smith's first series in 2010, will always be my favourite Doctor Who title sequence. The amount of movement, the changing backgrounds, plus the stunning use of the slit-scan process all come together to make a superb sequence that is often overshadowed by the similar, yet simplified, version that accompanied Tom Baker's first six seasons in the title role.

Second, we get to see the initial appearance of a Sontaran, namely Linx. Not only is Linx a well written character by Robert Holmes, but his physical manifestation, from his armour to his potato head to his spaceship, are all thoroughly detailed and well realized. My favourite bit from Linx is his first scene when he plants a flag in the ground and claims "Earth, along with all its moons and satellites" while standing in front of, and completely ignoring, Irongron and his men. That says a great deal about Linx and the Sontarans right there - all other life forms are unimportant compared to the glorious Sontaran cause. It's a character trait that has survived through every incarnation of the Sontarans up until as recently as 2008.

Third is, of course, Sarah Jane Smith. The first six and a half minutes of Episode One is devoted to the the first meeting between Linx and Irongron (the brilliance of the latter will be expanded on in later posts, worry not), so we actually don't meet the new companion until almost halfway through the episode. Sarah Jane has become such an iconic part of Who lore over the years (and continuing today), but it is worth pointing out that the Sarah we see in The Time Warrior in 1973 is so remarkably close to the Sarah Jane we know in 2009. Elisabeth Sladen has given the character life for well over 30 years, and has made her grow and change in a believable and natural way, and the roots of her performance are instantly visible from her very first scene.

Monday, September 28, 2009

TTT6 - The Green Death 6

Already at the cusp of perfection, The Green Death ups the ante even more in its final ten minutes by delivering possibly the most well acted and well written scene in the series' history - both old and new series. Everyone - and I mean everyone. Even Benton and Nanci dancing at the party has a believability unlike any other - is top notch in Jo's final scene. From Mike Yates's slight dejection on learning he'll be losing Jo (but, come on, Mike, you know you really never stood a chance...), to the Brigadier consoling him (for the second time in three years, the Brig and Mike share a drink at season's end), it's all a joy to watch.

The three big players, though, are Stewart Bevan, Katy Manning, and Jon Pertwee. Bevan's spontaneous reaction to Jo's accepting his marriage proposal is possibly the best thing in this scene. It is the most natural and raw, and absolutely appropriate, emotional outburst this series has ever seen, and without it, the final moments of The Green Death would be slightly less than perfect than they already are. Bevan has been a tour-de-force throughout this whole story. If the only way Jo was to leave The Doctor was to find a young, dynamic, human version of The Doctor, then the production team needed a top notch, charismatic performance from a high calibre actor, and they knocked it out of the park with Stewart Bevan. His is one of my favourite Doctor Who guest performances of all time.

Then there's Jo and The Doctor. As I've mentioned before, Jo Grant was the first real solo companion The Doctor ever had. People have often stated that The Doctor's relationship with Jo was that of an uncle to a niece. For the most part during Jo's three years on the show, this generalization has been true. The way that Pertwee and Manning play their final scene together, though, it's clear that this relationship has changed. While certainly not a sexual relationship, Jo's leaving clearly has a devastating effect on The Doctor, who finds the notion of Jo leaving almost unbearable. This is no longer an uncle-niece relationship, it's no longer that of Doctor and assistant. It's not that of two lovers, either. It is something more.

Jo's reaction is key here, too. She asks The Doctor is he minds that she stays with Cliff. She's not asking because she's leaving The Doctor as an assistant or as a friend, but she's asking if he minds that she is forming a relationship with a younger, human version of The Doctor - a relationship that she and The Doctor could never have. This is, essentially, the same thing that happens at the end of Journey's End in 2008 in a scene that almost echoes this one. In that episode, The Doctor leaves a human version of himself with Rose so that she can have the best of both worlds - her own Doctor, but one who she can grow old with together.

All the hubbub around the romantic relationship between The Doctor and Grace in the 1996 TV movie and the numerous dalliances into The Doctor's romantic life in the new series have their definite roots sewn in those final few moments of The Green Death. Unfortunately, though, this was most likely not the intention of the production teams from 1973 through to the end of the run of the classic series. Such a relationship had never existed between The Doctor and his companion before, and, thanks to the efforts of Mary Whitehouse, Tom Baker, John Nathan-Turner, and, indeed, the entire viewing public in the UK (and that, most vociferously, of the United States), it would never happen again.

Thus, it's with a definite tinge of sadness that I watch The Doctor down his wine, quietly leave the scene, and, with one look back at his friends celebrating Jo and Cliff's impending nuptials, drive off into the sunset. The sadness is on account of not only how The Doctor is feeling after losing Jo, but because, after centuries of travel and with centuries more to comes, he was experiencing something that we had never seen him go through before and what we would never see happen to him again. The Green Death is sad, happy, and brilliant, and one of the shining jewels in Doctor Who's crown. Were it not for the overall excellence of Season Seven, it would undoubtedly be my choice for the greatest Jon Pertwee serial ever.

TTT5 - The Green Death 5

The Green Death not only sees UNIT basking in it's last shining moment, but the post-Season Seven Jon Pertwee is also positively indomitable in this. Stern when he has to be, calm when he can be, caring when needs to be, and funny when he wants to be, Pertwee is a man on top of his game.

His first meeting with the BOSS had me grinning from ear to ear. That such a wonderful, comedic rapport could be had between The Doctor and a computer is a testament to both Jon Pertwee and, especially, John Dearth as the voice of BOSS. My favourite bit? When The Doctor figures out that the computer's title (Biomorphic Organisational Systems Supervisor) stands for its name: "B, O, double S. The BOSS! Ha!"

This story has been full of so many wonderful moments, all of them faultlessly directed by Michael Briant, who, himself, was experiencing his finest hour in Doctor Who. And please don't start about some of the dodgy CSO and giant maggots disguised as inflatable condoms. The sheer charm of this story glosses over any quibbles one might have with the physical nature of the production. The Green Death is the Jon Pertwee era's answer to City of Death (about which more, obviously, later) - both utter delights from start to finish. And, yes, if you must, both stories have Death in the title...

Oh, right. There's still one more episode in this story...

TTT4 - The Green Death 4

This story really is the original UNIT's last hurrah in Doctor Who. Sgt. Benton takes charge of the demolition at the mine (his duties have increased since his debut - possibly the only UNIT regular who could make that claim). The Brigadier does his best with not as much success as he'd like to see, but instead of general stupidity, it's the Prime Minister himself who thwarts any headway that he's trying to make at Global Chemicals.

But just when we think the Brig is down and out, he pulls a rabbit out of a hat - surprising everyone by managing to sneak Captain Yates into the upper floors at Global Chemicals, disguised as someone in the government. As such, it's great to see Mike in an expanded and unique role after taking the first half of this story off, especially given that Yates wasn't even in the other UNIT story this season, The Three Doctors. His covert conversation with The Doctor and the Brigadier (especially when he calls his superior "Lethbridge-Stewart, my dear fellow") is one of the best things about this episode.

Another great thing? Jon Pertwee's quick return to comedy, first disguising himself as a Welsh milkman, then as the cleaning lady, Doris, in order to try and infiltrate Global Chemicals himself. Everybody seems to be letting their hair down this story (and, judging by the haircuts of some of the soldiers and officers, UNIT has obviously got a head start in that category), and the result is magnificent.

Just when you think this story can't get any better, we finally meet the BOSS - a sentient computer running Global Chemicals while humming Wagner operas and forming a great double-act with Stevens, his "little Superman". Their banter has been great throughout this story, but now that The Doctor has stumbled upon BOSS's lair, the resulting conversation is keenly anticipated.

TTT3 - The Green Death 3

There are some remarkable scenes in this episode that take Doctor Who well and truly out of its comfort zone and into some daring (for Doctor Who, anyway) territory for just about the first and only time in the whole of the classic series run.

First off, there is an alarming amount of cigarette smoking going on here. A scene featuring Hinks and Stevens lighting up is preceded by a scene with the Brigadier himself sucking back a stogie. Seldom has smoking been seen, period, in the series up to this point, and certainly not by one of its main characters (apart from, of course, The Doctor's own plot relevant puffing on a pipe in the very first story in 1963). The Brigadier may have needed a stiff jolt to get over all the hippies in the room practicing yoga and playing flute. A military man to the core, the Brigadier, and although he did his best to fit in with the scene, inside, you can tell he was in his own private hell.

Things take a serious turn, though, when The Doctor breaks the news to Jo that Bert has died. Later, by the fire, Cliff does his best to comfort the distraught Jo. The line that Cliff uses about Bert ("There'll never be another (Bert). Even if the world lasts for a hundred million centuries.") could have been uttered by The Doctor in the exact same situation, and it's notable that, at that moment, Cliff and Jo move in for a kiss. It's clear that, in Cliff, Jo saw a younger Doctor (even telling The Doctor this to his face), but, until that moment, her fascination with Cliff wasn't a romantic one.

And isn't it just adorable when The Doctor stops the romance dead in its tracks by hauling Cliff off to some random late-night science experiment? The Doctor can see the writing on the wall with Jo, but he wants to delay the inevitable as long as possible.

Friday, September 25, 2009

TTT2 - The Green Death 2

I love the first meeting between The Doctor and Professor Jones in this story. There is an immediate respect for one another, and when they both, without actually speaking about it, realize they're thinking the same thing when trying to find a way into Global Chemicals. I'm so glad that their relationship wasn't made to be adversarial because, knowing how this story will end up, it would eventually lead to feelings of jealousy and bitterness.

The theme of this story, about the rise of environmentalism and the negative effects of pollution, makes The Green Death one of the more timeless Doctor Who stories set in the present day UK and dealing with then contemporary issues. As a keen environmentalist myself, as well as an ardent vegetarian, it's both heartwarming and sad at the same time that such a story was made in 1973. Have we come only this far that, in the almost 40 years since this was made, we're still holding rallies and educating people about the same issues raised here? And were portobello mushrooms around for consumption in 1973? Because I've won people over to vegetarianism flaunting the positive effects of those mushrooms. Every time I see the Brigadier scoff at the idea of eating fungus in this story, I want to jump up and correct him...

Two episodes in, and this is already one of my favourite directing jobs as put on by Michael Briant. His quick intercutting between scenes is sharp and effective, and his use of seamless edits (where the audio of the next scene precedes the video) is visionary and would, sadly, seldom be seen again in Doctor Who by an director.

And let's hear it for Roy Evans, who plays Bert, as minor a character if ever there was one, but his compassionate portrayal of the doomed Welsh miner makes the few minutes that he and Jo share together delightful, and when Bert's health takes a turn for the worse, we all feel his panic, and Jo's concern. This is no joke - the relationship between Jo and Bert is essential for what it is to come.

TTT1 - The Green Death 1

Appeasing Jo at the end of Planet of the Daleks, The Doctor finds himself back on Earth, and things just seem comfortable again. It's funny that we, as fans, lament the lack of alien planets and non-contemporary stories in NuWho, but I've almost been longing for a good, old-fashioned, Earth-based romp. And what a story to come back to Earth with.

There's such a loose, familiar feel to the early scenes of The Green Death. Whereas The Time Monster used this same energy to be smug and assume that everyone watching was having as much fun as the production team was making it, The Green Death is confident and slick. It also introduces, in its first scene, a character who will have a massive impact on the story and the programme in general - Professor Clifford Jones. It helped that both Katy Manning and Stewart Bevan were an item at the time, but the chemistry between the two is just charmingly delightful in their first scene together. Both actors, and the script, manage to avoid the standard meet-cute scenario that might have derailed such a scene and make it stand out like a sore thumb.

The Doctor's hilarious, nightmare trip to Metebelis 3, intercut with the Brigadier trying to raise him on the telephone, is nothing short of brilliant. The Doctor is in extreme peril (and Jon Pertwee plays it deadly straight throughout while having spears and tentacles thrown at him), but the fact that The Doctor tried for so long to land on this planet, only to find it completely hostile (yet blue, thankfully) draws all the humour needed out of the situation.

SSS6 - Planet of the Daleks 6

At the heart of Planet of the Daleks beats a rather exciting story that has been overshadowed by the hackneyed shenanigans that have been recycled from previous Nation-penned stories. This episode, though, is refreshingly free of any blatant references/ripoffs from the past, and actually seems, by comparison to the first five installments, to be rather exciting.

There's a whole new rank of Dalek not yet seen in the series, who looks fairly impressive (the only recycled bit from this episode is the Dalek Supreme itself, taken from the two Cushing Dalek films and augmented with a $3 flashlight as its eyestalk). The idea of trying to place the Thal explosive at just the right location to trigger an ice volcano is also well realized and makes for good TV (if you can overlook the Louis Marx toy Daleks in the model sequences). What I actually like best about this episode is that The Doctor doesn't necessarily win, and any success that he does achieve is down to sheer luck. Pertwee's look of shock and defeat after the bomb fails to trigger the ice volcano is so memorable, especially coming from a Doctor who has often borne the signs of invulnerability.

At the end of this (and, unfortunately, after one more lecture from The Doctor, to Taron, about the horrors of war), Latep asks Jo to come back to Skaro with him. We know how this is going to go, because Latep is completely useless. Even The Doctor doesn't seem to concerned when Latep asks him if it would be okay if Jo came back to Skaro, because he knows what the answer will be, too. I'd love to be a party to the unseen conversation that Latep and Jo had, though. The fact that Latep asks The Doctor (as a potential son-in-law would do to a potential father-in-law when asking for his daughter's hand in marriage) is interesting. Why would Latep need to ask The Doctor? Is it because Jo said, "I'm not sure, but ask The Doctor"? Despite her becoming a much more independent (and sought after, apparently) young woman, did she still feel that she needed The Doctor's guidance? She knew how she felt about the situation (as evidenced by her blase push off to Latep shortly afterward), but perhaps she wanted The Doctor to say no? In the event that he didn't, did this cement things in Jo's mind from now on? And we all thought the Doctor/companion domestics began with the new series of Doctor Who...

One of those rare stories that ends much better than it began. I almost feel bad for slagging off the first five episodes as much as I did. Almost.

SSS5 - Planet of the Daleks 5

If it seems like I'm really laying into Planet of the Daleks (and I am), it's probably because of the fact that the first Dalek story is still fresh in my mind from not only having watched it several times in the past, but also less than six months ago. For original viewers of this story back in 1973, one imagines that very few children who watched Planet of the Daleks with enthralled excitement would have also seen the first Dalek story ten years previously (especially since the first story was never repeated on the BBC).

Planet of the Daleks is almost entirely comprised of the more memorable bits of those first three Dalek serials (most notably the first one), repackaged and revisited for a new and younger audience. While this might be seen by some as a quaint homage to the past in this, the tenth anniversary season, I see it as lazy script writing from Terry Nation, plain and simple, as well as a willing reluctance to accept the script by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks in order to appease Nation's demands and allow them the rights to have the Daleks in the story.

It now might seem that I'm getting a few digs in at Terry Nation's expense, and I probably am. I'm still annoyed at how he hogged all the fame that the Daleks brought him, when the accolades should have been at least evenly distributed with designer Ray Cusick, the latter of whom made sense of Nation's oft-quoted description in his original script and created one of the truly iconic designs in all of science fiction. It was clear by The Chase that Nation was bored with the Daleks, and it's clear that, after seven years away from the program, he was still bored with them, unable to think of any original situations to put them, or those battling them, into for the sake of good drama.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

SSS4 - Planet of the Daleks 4

Wow, the Nation self references just keep coming, don't they? In yet another homage/rip-off of The Daleks, the lift chase, followed by dropping a piece of rock/abstract architecture on the pursuing Dalek, is reproduced here almost shot for shot.

Just so I don't leave out the other Nation-scribed Dalek stories, the Spiridons bear a remarkable similarity to the Visians from The Daleks' Master Plan. This is one of the more annoying plot points in this story. Much is made of the fact that The Daleks came to Spiridon to try and learn the secret of invisibility, but, after the "shock" appearance of a once invisible Dalek at the end of Episode One, the entire plot thread is dropped. It seems as if the whole "invisible Dalek" meme was there purely to provide a cliffhanger for the first episode.

Speaking of poorly realized cliffhangers, the ending to this episode is one of the more dire seen in a while. Having captured that jerk Vaber, who no one likes, the Spiridons utter dramatically, "Take him to the Daleks!". Like this tactic is a surprise? And will Vaber, who is most certainly marked for death, be able to survive for even a few minutes longer? The zoom in to a fuzzy purple cloak makes the scene just that much more dramatic. Add to this another scene where everyone sits down and takes stock of the situation while The Doctor lectures someone about something (this time, Taron is the victim, on the subject of leadership), and I'm really counting down the minutes until this story finally ends...

SSS3 - Planet of the Daleks 3

For years when I was growing up and watching endless Doctor Who reruns on my nearest PBS station (KSPS from Spokane, Washington), I was always under the impression that Planet of the Daleks was probably a five part story, because, as with most PBS stations at the time, all the episodes of a story were edited together to form one omnibus version. At the time, I didn't know that Episode Three of this story didn't exist in colour, and it says a great deal about either how much I paid attention to the story back then, or how little regard I had for it, when I say that I barely noticed that about thirty minutes were hacked out of this. Only years later did I finally notice that The Doctor was outside the Dalek city when he was just seen to be held captive there in the previous scene.

This was around the same time that the works of Peter Haining started making themselves known to me, at which time I saw that there were, indeed, six episodes in this story. Why had KSPS chosen to edit out the third episode, I wondered to myself? (This was in those days when I was blissfully unaware of the fact that most of the Hartnell and Troughton episodes were missing, and how I eagerly looked forward to watching all five and a half of hours of The Daleks' Master Plan one day soon). Only later still did I discover the fact that Episode Three existed, but in black and white only. As a result, Episode Three of Planet of the Daleks was the last existing episode of classic series Doctor Who I had ever seen, and so retains a certain freshness for me.

It also marks an upward turn in quality. Oh, sure, there's another Terry Nation retread when The Doctor and Codal disable a Dalek with the help of the cassette log (mirroring a similar escape sequence in the first exciting Dalek adventure), and there's a ludicrous scheme of The Doctor's that see him and three Thals to float up a ventilation shaft with nothing more than a plastic sheet, four lengths of rope, and a lot of hot air. But there is an added intensity to the proceedings, making this a lot more fun to watch than the turgid first third of this story.

SSS2 - Planet of the Daleks 2

The Terry Nation's Greatest Hits Tour continues in Episode 2, punctuated by two or three scenes of boring moralizing and a couple others featuring misguided stupidity.

Anyway, let's get the Greatest hits out of the way. The Doctor gets temporarily paralyzed by being the second (and hopefully last) person to be merely stunned by a Dalek (just like Ian was in The Daleks). What about the Dalek's past history would lead him to believe that he could not only stop the Daleks from destroying the Thal ship (especially by saying "There's someone still in there!" - that's extra incentive to a Dalek!) but that they wouldn't exterminate him on the spot? Jo doesn't fare much better. When confronted with the fungus on her arm, her first consideration is to record her thoughts on the log. That little cassette case has ably served the role of fellow companion during these first two episodes, allowing Jo to explain the situation out loud (as if we wouldn't have figured it out already) and not sound like she's talking to herself.

The episode stops dead in its tracks twice, and both instances are sign posted with giant, Las Vegas-like flashing neon arrow signs that say "Warning - Unsubtle Character Development Ahead". Both involve The Doctor lecturing his new Thal allies (or Thallies, if you will) about, first, caution to the impulsive Vaber (who, conveniently, for all his exuberance, is attacked by a flesh-eating tentacle to enhance The Doctor's argument), and, later, and more painfully, a tedious sermon to Codal about bravery.

Any momentum that the ending of Frontier in Space gave this story has all but vanished now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SSS1 - Planet of the Daleks 1

After the fantastic wild goose chase that was Frontier in Space, an epic set on spaceships, moons, and alien planets, we get the second half of the unofficial twelve-part story with Planet of the Daleks. Everything looks like it's shaping up to be a winner - David Maloney directing for the first time since The War Games in 1969, Terry Nation writing for the first time since 1966, and the resolution of the Dalek army plot revealed in the waning moments of Frontier in Space.

And what do we get? 25 of the most unoriginal minutes in Doctor Who history set in some of the more claustrophobic, yet overlit, sets ever seen. Nation returned to the fold to write for his treasured creations, the Daleks (you weren't expecting me to say the Voord, were you?), and it seems he hasn't happened upon one original idea since he last wrote for the show. There's your typical TARDIS scene featuring aspects of the TARDIS we would see for the first time and never again. There's a Murphy bed in the console room now. For the first and only time, The Doctor uses his last breaths of consciousness to tell Jo to record her every single thought on the TARDIS log. And since when does the TARDIS suddenly run out of oxygen? (All these incidents remind me of similar one-offs from earlier Nation episodes, like the food machine and the fluid link problem in The Daleks).

Another pair of typical Nation standbys rear their heads, too. Jo and The Doctor get separated, and there's a "shock" appearance of the Daleks at the end of Episode One. The latter standby bothers me. The Doctor knows the Daleks are on Spiridon, and he even instructs the Time Lords, telepathically, to send the TARDIS after the Dalek ship. So why he is so surprised to see them at the end of the episode? And why does Nation think he's so clever in disguising the identity of the Daleks by having the Thals go out of their way to not mention them by name. Did he not name the story Planet of the Daleks?

QQQ6 - Frontier in Space 6

One poorly realized monster, and one director's and one producer's dissatisfaction in that monster, resulted in we, the viewers, of being robbed of anything resembling a proper farewell for one of the finest characters, as played by one of the finest actors, to ever appear in the series. That image you see at the top of this post is from the last shot of Roger Delgado's time on Doctor Who. One of the last camera shots of Roger Delgado on this Earth.

Almost halfway through this Chronic Hysteresis (in terms of time spent. I've still got a few episodes to go before I'm halfway through those), I've found new appreciation for some stories and characters, and new reasons to be disappointed in others. Thus far, the standing of Roger Delgado's Master has improved the most for me. Not that I disliked the character in the past, but only while watching each episode of the Jon Pertwee did I notice myself physically sit up at attention whenever Delgado made his first appearance. I knew he was coming. There was no surprise. But Delgado was often the best part of whatever episode he was in.

Delgado is, without a doubt, the definitive Master. His successors all had their own charms, and I appreciate all the efforts of Messrs Pratt, Beevers, Ainley, Tipple, Roberts, Jacobi, and Simm. The fact that, even with all the different interpretations of The Master that came after Delgado, we still compare them to Delgado is quite notable. When a new Doctor is cast, we don't instantly compare him to William Hartnell or Jon Pertwee. Roger Delgado was the master at being The Master.

Delgado's intended final story would have seen him sacrifice his life in order to save The Doctor, perhaps even revealing that the two Time Lords were, in fact, brothers. Part of me wishes that this story could have been made, but another part of me seems content with the fact that Delgado's time in Doctor Who will always seem like it was cut short. Unfinished business is always the biggest regret when we lose someone, but it is also immensely tantalizing. What would have happened in that story? How would Delgado, who injected so much grace and class into what could have been a cartoon villain, have played his final scenes? Sadly, we will never know.

It is an enormous credit to producer Barry Letts to not recast the role of The Master out of respect for Delgado, despite the fact that his character outline practically encourages the change of lead actor. The fact, now, that Delgado's Master is no longer out there to thwart The Doctor is a bit painful to think about. The Doctor-Master rivalry was the main driving force behind most of the Third Doctor era, and now that The Doctor has won by acclamation, a little bit of excitement for this era has died with Delgado. Sadly, the same could also be said for Delgado's good friend Jon Pertwee, who never seemed the same as The Doctor afterwards.

QQQ5 - Frontier in Space 5

Escape update: Finally, things are settling down for The Doctor and Jo. After being held captive by the Draconians for the first third of this episode, The Doctor finally manages to get someone to see his side of the story and convinces the Draconian Emperor that he is on their side. For the first time since The Doctor got involved, he is free and now able to help in the situation. Jo is not so lucky, though, as she is captured by the Ogrons towards the end of the episode. Can't win 'em all...

The set design for the Draconian Emperor's throne room is impressive, and the added reverb creates a grandiose feel to the few scenes that take place in the room. I've spoken about the design of the Draconians themselves before, but I will again here, focusing on their costumes. Notice how only the nobility of Draconia have the peaks on their shoulder armour, whereas the soldiers and minions do not. Little touches like that are what make Draconia such a believable race, and one whose empire has succeeded through the reigns of at least sixteen different emperors.

Jo really comes into her own in this episode. Having been very quickly hypnotized in her (and The Master's) first appearance in Terror of the Autons, it seemed appropriate that this attempt, the second and last one by The Master, would be foiled by a stronger and more assured Jo.

QQQ4 - Frontier in Space 4

Escape update: The Doctor and Professor Dale are "rescued" by The Master from their sabotaged escape attempt, but then held captive and interrogated by the prison governor before eventually being handed over to The Master. Then, The Doctor joins Jo as captives aboard The Master's ship. After an only partially successful escape attempt by The Doctor, the Draconians board the ship and take The Doctor, Jo, and now The Master prisoner by the end of the episode. After four episodes, The Doctor and Jo have enjoyed precious little freedom...

After the early prison scenes, and the proceedings late in the episode when the Draconians take over the ship, this episode predominantly features just three characters - The Doctor, Jo, and The Master, and the main set piece is The Doctor's gradual escape and Jo's (and Katy Manning's) improvised to keep The Master from discovering their plan. It's a rare throwback to the minimalism of the William Hartnell days in a story designed (in part with the following story, Planet of the Daleks) to emulate the epic The Daleks' Master Plan from 1966.

I'm not entirely sure of the science in this episode, though. The Doctor manages to sneak out of the airlock and space walks, while the ship is hurtling through space, around to the top of the rocket so he can enter via the bridge. However, the stars aren't moving in the background, and the when the ship has to make a sudden course correction, the worst it does for The Doctor is shove him off the ship and out into space about 20 feet. Perhaps there's some sort of forcefield around the ship that keeps whatever is within the proximity of the ship safe and close for spacewalks? At least the Kirby wires on Jon Pertwee aren't visible...yet.

QQQ3 - Frontier in Space 3

Escape update: The Doctor and Jo start the episode by getting busted out by the Ogrons, only to be recaptured by the humans less than a minute later. The Doctor is then questioned first by the mind probe, then by the President, before being shuffled off to the penal colony on the moon. He is then aided in an escape, along with Professor Dale, by fellow prisoner Cross until Cross betrays them both and traps them in an airlock at the end of the episode. Jo has a quiet episode. After the initial escape/recapture, she spends the rest of the episode in her cell until The Master arranges for her to be held prisoner on his spaceship.

Ah yes, The Master. He makes his first appearance of the story in this episode, but, almost as if the production team was growing weary of finding ways of involving The Master in stories as Roger Delgado was, his entrance is not accompanied by Dudley Simpson's usual musical theme. I've never felt the inclusion of Delgado's Master to be anything if not welcome, and the same goes here. I like it when The Master arrives impersonating someone else, and not in disguise or having hypnotized someone. The audience and the (absent) Doctor and companion are the only people who know of The Master's true identity. If Frontier in Space was a Christmas pantomime, you could almost hear the children in the audience screaming out to the President and General Williams that the man they were talking to wasn't a commissioner from Sirius Four at all.

The darker side of the Earth Empire is revealed here by the sheer fact that they have a penal colony on the moon, most of the prisoners are there for political reasons, and that all sentences served there are for life. Only in the most iron-fisted of regimes would such conditions be considered normal. The prisoner Patel's attitude would lead one to believe that his beloved Peace Party is little more than a terrorist organization (or a band of freedom fighters, your choice). However, someone has conservative and grizzled as Cross seems to think that the party may soon take power, and that his own pardon would follow soon afterwards. What kind of empire is Earth really running here? And why has The Doctor been so keen to protect it? As much as I enjoyed this episode, I couldn't help but be enthralled with what was really going on down on Earth in the 26th century...

QQQ2 - Frontier in Space 2

Escape update: in this episode, The Doctor and Jo are taken back to Earth, transferred to a cell, marched to be questioned by the President, marched back to their cell, attempt to escape, fail, are marched to be questioned again by the President, during which The Doctor is kidnapped by the Draconians, Jo is recaptured by the Earth soldiers, questioned by the President, The Doctor is questioned by the Draconians, then escapes, then is recaptured himself by the Earth soldiers, and then, finally, at episode's end, it looks like the Ogrons are fixing to bust The Doctor and Jo out of their cell. Phew!

The action outlined above also pretty much describes all that went on in this episode. At the end of the installment, little has changed in our heroes' status. However, not only are The Doctor and Jo being used as pawns in a bigger game, the controller of which we have yet to see (although he does employ Ogrons), but they are being used as MacGuffins for both the humans and Draconians to capture and interrogate, which, in turn, lets us, the viewers, know more about each empire and their motives.

Despite the game of musical chairs played by The Doctor and Jo, and despite the fact that, after two episodes, Frontier in Space seems to be a directionless runaround, this is just so much fun - well shot, well designed, and, after a couple of missteps, a fine directorial effort from Paul Bernard.

Monday, September 21, 2009

QQQ1 - Frontier in Space 1

It's so rare for Doctor Who, even though it's a science fiction programme, to jump headlong into space opera territory, and even rarer for such a genre to be explored in the predominantly Earthbound Jon Pertwee era, but then along comes Frontier in Space. Spaceships, aliens, more spaceships, frontiers (in space), empires, politics - all of these are introduced in this first episode.

The sense of scale is palpable. Not one but two fully fledged empires, those of Earth and Draconia, are presented, and, in typical Malcolm Hulke fashion, neither are truly good or evil, warlike or peaceful. Thankfully, outrageous fashion hasn't died out on Earth, or, at the very least, the President is keen to convey a sense of high fashion amongst her staff. The Draconians are amazing creations, perhaps the most convincing alien race, both culturally and physically, that Doctor Who ever created - new series not excluded. Jon Pertwee spent decades regaling convention attendees about how much he enjoyed the Draconians, but the attention is warranted.

What's most interesting about this episode (setting a theme for the story to come) is how powerless The Doctor and Jo are in this episode, yet their presence is often the catalyst for relations between Earth and Draconia to deteriorate. They are also captured and recaptured at an alarming rate, another recurring theme throughout this story. In Episode One, The Doctor and Jo are captured, imprisoned, escape, only to be captured again before they even get through the open door of their cell, escape again once the Ogrons leave them for dead, then are captured at the very end of the episode.

Such a ludicrous scenario seems laughable, but oddly works here in what was a supremely enjoyable episode, well on its way to becoming epic.

PPP4 - Carnival of Monsters 4

A delightful end to a delightful story in which no one dies (apart from some poor marauding Drashigs), the villain, Kalik, gets his comeuppance, but without any undue malice, The Doctor gets his wish in sending all the Miniscope occupants back home (including himself and Jo), and Vorg saves the day with his timely intervention using the eradicator.

And isn't Cheryl Hall just lovely and delightful as Shirna? Although one does wonder how Vorg will be able to make a go of it, long term, relying on three card monte to fool the bulk of the population of Inter Minor. Mind you, if Pletrac is so eager and willing to drop credit bars left and right, then one suspects that the Functionaries will be just as gullible.

The only slightly disappointing aspect of this episode is that the long awaited meeting between Vorg and The Doctor failed to produce sparks. I was kind of hoping for a sequel to the Odd Couple-esque relationship between the Pertwee and Troughton Doctors, but after Vorg's failing to pin The Doctor as a showman with his use of the carnival language Polare, and The Doctor completely failing to play along with it, all bets were off for a fun romp of an onscreen pairing between the two.

Carnival of Monsters is one of the cleverest stories ever made, and made with such a cheeky tone that would seldom be seen again.

PPP3 - Carnival of Monsters 3

After a pair of less successful directorial efforts from Barry Letts (in the forms of The Enemy of the World and Terror of the Autons. We won't count Inferno because Letts predominantly worked off of Douglas Camfield's notes for that one), the producer of Doctor Who ably puts on his director's hat for this story.

Letts focuses a lot of attention on the Drashigs, and has sung their praises in the thirty-odd years since their onscreen appearance. I don't think they're as jaw droppingly good as Letts claims, but nor do I think that they're as bad as non-Drashig fans think. The scenes with them are effective in this episode, particularly in the shot where the Drashig slithers past The Doctor and Jo and moves away from the camera. The biggest failing of the Drashig is the confidence it gave Letts in his visual effects department in thinking that they could achieve anything - a confidence that would be betrayed by the time Invasion of the Dinosaurs came along in a year's time...

I'm also a big fan of Letts' tight closeups when any one of Pletrac, Kalik, and Orum are talking to each other. The more conspiratorial the conversation, the more striking the shot. Witness the quiet and intense chat Kalik and Orum have in this episode. Kalik is standing on a step a good foot and a half above Orum, then bends down to speak quietly with his intellectual subordinate. When Letts cuts to the closeup of the two, Michael Wisher (Kalik) appears from out the top of the screen, further emphasizing the unease that Orum must be feeling during the exchange.

Even the CSO, Barry Letts's calling card, doesn't seem overused in this (which can't be said for his other Pertwee era efforts). While CSO was in its infancy at this stage, Letts was a huge proponent of the technique and was always keen to use it as much as possible. I find nothing wrong with this. It may have, at times, looked dodgy, but if the production crews of the BBC hadn't been inundated with having to work on it in the early 1970s, they wouldn't have been nearly as proficient as they were by the decade's end.

PPP2 - Carnival of Monsters 2

How I love Robert Holmes. There is a fantastic exchange early in this episode that is clearly an in joke (in an episode full of in jokes) that could be used to explain why most of the aliens in Doctor Who (and, let's face it, most of science fiction in general) are humanoid.

VORG (speaking of the humans in the Miniscope): Scientists have been amazed at the remarkable similarity between these little chaps and our own dominant life form.
ORUM: The resemblance is unpleasant.
VORG: ...Some scientists think that their discover refutes Valdeck's theory that life in the universe is infinitely variable.

Vorg's second line is another gem from Holmes. By mentioning Valdeck, of whom we have never heard, and his theory, which sounds as controversial as Darwin's theory was in the 1880s, Holmes instantly, with one throwaway line of dialogue, creates so much detail in fleshing out the world in which not only this story takes place, but the Doctor Who universe as a whole and how small (literally, in this episode) Earthlings are in the grand scheme of things.

The TV allegory is tamed down a bit in this episode, allowing The Doctor and Jo to become involved in both the action happening on the SS Bernice, as well as their exploration of the inner workings of the Miniscope. It also lets them encounter Barry Letts's favourite monster, the Drashig, at the end of the episode. The fact that the word "drashig" is an anagram of "dish rag", which is probably what Robert Holmes assumed the monster would be made out of (he wasn't half wrong), is yet another cheeky element to an already naughty little story.

PPP1 - Carnival of Monsters 1

Carnival of Monsters marks the birth of the prototypical Robert Holmes story - full of witty, biting satire, "Holmesian double acts", great dialogue, and the ability to portray the society and culture of a planet with just a few well placed throwaway lines. In the opening scene, thanks to Holmes's brilliant writing, it is immediately apparent that there is a ruling class and a working class, the workers are upset but not educated enough to know what to do about it, while the upper class number much smaller, and are needlessly paranoid.

The double act to which I referred is that of the scheming Kalik and the subservient Orum, but, when the authoritarian Pletrac enters, any combination of these characters form an amusing pair. The dialogue sparkles throughout, with the three characters often referring to themselves in the third person as "one" in the reflexive form, causing any conversation between the three to be both garbled and hilarious at the same time.

This episode is also the first Holmes story to feature another level of satire that would have went above the heads of the younger viewers, but would have had the adult audience guffawing. Perhaps in response to Holmes's experiences with the controversy of some scenes in his earlier story, Terror of the Autons, this story (and certainly this first episode) can be seen as an allegory of the upper levels of the BBC (Pletrac, Kalik, and Orum) and their reactions to Doctor Who (Vorg and Shirna, playing the parts of The Doctor and the companion, respectively). The appearance of Vorg and Shirna is akin to that of clowns or showmen and women because that is how the BBC big wigs who don't "get" Doctor Who most likely viewed the show. Pletrac is immediately suspicious of Vorg and his machine, the Miniscope (the latter of which is a decent cross between a TV screen that shows The Doctor's adventures and the TARDIS console itself), thinking that Vorg's presence is dangerous, to which Vorg tellingly retorts, "Our purpose is to amuse. Simply amuse. Nothing serious, nothing political."

The real brilliance to this episode, however, is how the two story threads bear no relation to each other, nor is it ever made explicit during this episode how they will eventually connect. Add to that a staggering cliffhanger, and it's become quite apparent that this will be like no Doctor Who story seen before...

Friday, September 18, 2009

RRR4 - The Three Doctors 4

A great ending to what has been a rollicking four-parter, Episode Four features a couple genuinely moving moments - one intentional, and one circumstantial. Once the Second and Third Doctors agree to stay with Omega in his world of antimatter, Omega grants them their wish of letting their human friends go home. The episode makes a daring move in devoting over two minutes to what could have been a long, drawn out scene featuring five characters anxiously step through a column of smoke. It's the reactions, though, of Benton (who nobly offers to stay himself so that The Doctors can leave), Jo (who wants to stay with The Doctor), and, especially, the Brigadier (whose silent salute followed by a hurried exit shows more than any words could tell how the Brig feels about his scientific advisor) that make the scene poignant.

At the end of the episode, when the First and Second Doctors make their own farewells, it's even more sad, but only because we know now, in retrospect, what would become of both William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. Hartnell, who gamely fought through his illness to give us one last glimpse of the original Doctor, would die a little over two years after The Three Doctors went out, and his health would never improve from what we saw in this, his final screen appearance. And while we would see Troughton again in Doctor Who, he's much older in The Two Doctors, and he's hitting all the expected points of the character in The Five Doctors, but, because of the need to spread the lines and scenes around in the 20th anniversary special, he has no room to do anything more.

In The Three Doctors, Troughton proves to be perhaps the best companion the Third Doctor ever had, and the two of them form one of the best double acts in the programme's history that Robert Holmes never came up with. Troughton is still at the peak of his powers in this, and it has been such a delight to see him again.

What a marvelous story, and a fitting celebration of the programme's tenth anniversary. However, the poignant moments seen in this episode would not be the last as Doctor Who's tenth season would have to deal with a couple other emotional exits...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

RRR3 - The Three Doctors 3

Kudos have to be given to the designers of this episode - both set designer Roger Liminton and costume designer James Acheson. Liminton's design for Omega's main chamber is suitably grand, even though the rest of Omega's castle seems to be encrusted with the remnants of Jello salad and old Christmas decorations. Where Liminton truly succeeds is with his design of the TARDIS console room. Intended to echo the first console room seen in An Unearthly Child, this console room could very well be my favourite of all time, which makes it such a tragedy that it would be seen in so few stories.

Acheson' Time Lord costume designs aren't the ones that he's famous for (those made their debut three years after this in The Deadly Assassin), but in the shoulder pieces and the gowns that each Time Lord wears, you can see the evolution to the costume we've come to know and love. Although one does wonder which Time Lord chapter had "blue sparkle" as their colour...
Another success is Acheson's design for Omega's outfit. Omega created his own world, and so, naturally, would design himself a noble and bombastic outfit to suit his noble and bombastic personality. After seeing how tall Omega is with his mask on, though, and after seeing how low the doorways are in the corridors of his castle, you can tell that Omega pretty much stayed in his throne room for most of the time.

What I love about this story is how many characters there are that get a fare share of the screen time, and yet the story progresses naturally to set up the various scenarios the characters find themselves in. Other than the literal contrivance that forces the Time Lords to pull the first two Doctors out of their respective times and plunk them into the Third Doctor's timeline, nothing seems forced in regards to the story. Everything is tightly plotted by Bob Baker and Dave Martin to the point of perfection. This story is just lovely.

RRR2 - The Three Doctors 2

In many ways, The Brigadier seems just as dumb and clueless as he did in The Time Monster, but in this story, at least, there's a reason for it. The poor Brig is always in the wrong place when exciting things happen, and is often behind on events when they happen. By the time he is exposed to these events (people disappearing, the TARDIS interior), he is the last person to know.

Not only this, but The Brigadier is much more cynical than, say, Benton. Benton is the first of the UNIT personnel to enter the TARDIS and is, understandably, dumbstruck when he encounters the wonders of the Doctor's time machine. However, Benton is, no offence, less intelligent than his superiors, but he is also smart enough to accept things he doesn't understand. Case in point: Benton's reaction to the Doctor of "Nothing about you surprises me anymore, Doc!". Benton's also lucky enough to experience the sudden appearance of the Second Doctor while the Third Doctor is present. Benton doesn't understand how or why it happened, but it did happen, and, to him, that is enough.

The Brigadier, on the other hand, first sees the TARDIS and can think only of how much of UNIT's resources it took to build and maintain such a thing. He also has yet to see both Doctors in the same room, and so assumes that The Doctor, having changed his appearance before, could probably just as easily change it back. The Brigadier is looking at things logically in this story in a story whose events aren't logical at all. He's looking stupid because he's approaching the problem correctly.

RRR1 - The Three Doctors 1

For years, I have appreciated The Three Doctors for what it is - an anniversary celebration story that brings the first three Doctors together in an entertaining romp of an adventure. However, only in viewing the story in sequence during the Chronic Hysteresis, and especially with a heap of Jon Pertwee episodes fresh in my memory, does the true impact of what occurs in The Three Doctors make itself felt.

When Patrick Troughton appears out of thin air, it's almost magical. Here is a Doctor who is now in colour and fresh in the mind despite having left the series some three years previously. You can tell that the character is still relatively easily accessible in Troughton's mind, too, as he effortlessly recaptures the role, and proves an instant and perfect foil to Jon Pertwee's Doctor. When William Hartnell makes his first of several brief appearances, too, the magic is compounded. Hartnell is frail, but the trademark irascibility in his voice is instantly recognizable.

I could crack wise about the appearance and reduced mobility of the gell guards, as well as Corporal Palmer's famous reaction upon first seeing them, but this episode deserves to be savoured and celebrated. From the Doctors' first appearances, to Benton's awed amazement at the size of the TARDIS interior, this episode leaves one with a glow more fuzzy and warm than the dodgy CSO used liberally throughout.

Monday, September 14, 2009

OOO6 - The Time Monster 6

In any other story, the scene where The Doctor reminisces about his youth and meeting an old hermit in the hills of Gallifrey would be a magical scene, worthy of high praise. It's a scene that allows The Doctor to stop and pause to think about the basis of his philosophy in life. However, coming as it does towards the end of a story filled with scenes that stop, pause, and, at times, reverse the flow of the story, the Pertwee/hermit scene is just another stopgap in the way of getting this long, turgid mess over with. You can almost make out the cue cards that Pertwee must surely be reading off of in some shots.

The last scene in the episode takes the cake - a Scooby-Doo ending to a Scooby-Doo story, far too sure of itself with so little to be sure about. The Time Monster is Doctor Who at its most smug, where it's apparent that everyone on screen was having a ball, and thus it was generally understood that the audience would equally have as good a time. It's almost as if the production team felt that they didn't have to try anymore - just open the doors and watch the people roll in.

I really wanted to like The Time Monster more than my memories have allowed me to, but it turns out that there was a reason I had rarely watched this story again growing up. A sad end to what started off as a brilliant season of Doctor Who.

OOO5 - The Time Monster 5

Finally, finally, finally, the story gets to Atlantis, a destination that has been hinted at and foreshadowed for the first four and a half episodes now. And boy, wasn't it worth the wait? If you thought that the earlier Atlantis scenes were stagy, you haven't seen anything yet.

The low light of all the Atlantis scenes is Aidan Murphy, who gets more and more cringe worthy in his first scene of the episode as he tries to bellow convincingly to the members of the court. Things drag from endless talky scene to endless talky scene, usually transitioned by awkward soft focus pulls and needless zooms from the directorial eye of Paul Bernard.

The only part of this episode that is interesting to watch is the burgeoning relationship between The Master and Queen Galleia (they so did it!). The Master is totally after Kronos, obviously, and knows that the way to Kronos is through the Queen. The Queen, however, is enchanted by The Master and is a cuckolding bitch, but....My. Word. Ingrid Pitt is absolutely enchanting in both the dress and the role of Queen Galleia. There are many great tragedies in the world of Doctor Who, but one of the most dire is the fact that most fans' memories of Pitt is of her lamely trying to dropkick the Myrka in Warriors of the Deep, and not of her dazzling appearance in The Time Monster. This might not be saying much, but Ingrid Pitt is far and away the best thing about The Time Monster, and that's with another episode yet to go.

OOO4 - The Time Monster 4

By Episode Four, one would hope that things will have ramped up enough in a six-part story as to make it exciting to watch, but The Time Monster demonstrates the reverse in that the middle two episodes are perhaps the least focused of the lot. After an interminable Episode Three, Episode Four sets new lows in banality.

The last half of the episode is the most superfluous part of this episode, which contains numerous scenes set in either The Doctor's or The Master's respective TARDISes, is supposedly very witty and clever in its outlining of the various intricacies of the TARDIS and time itself, but just ends up looking dull and stupid. And you can tell that director Paul Bernard still isn't 100% sure about how Doctor Who works, particularly in the way that the TARDIS dematerialization/materialization effects are shot. Bernard makes the error of having all the actors in camera shot stand still for several seconds, then face to the next shot with the TARDIS having materialized. It never works out, as not only does it look awkward to have the actors stop mid-step, but they never seem to stand still enough to achieve a convincing effect.

Someone really should have pulled aside Bernard, or at least sent him a memo, telling him this:

Re:TARDIS Materialization, Achievement of the Effect of

1) Roll back
2) Mix

What else can I say about an episode when designer Tim Gleeson's one-off TARDIS set, the ugliest TARDIS set in the history of the programme, is the best thing about this?

OOO3 - The Time Monster 3

Seasons 7 and 8 of Doctor Who were made up of 25 episodes each, but producer Barry Letts managed to convince his superiors to up the total by one to 26. This 24-minute episode is the result of that. Letts fought tooth and nail for that extra episode, and this is it. What a ridiculous episode populated by ridiculous events that don't add anything to the story whatsoever. Ridiculous.

There's the scene that takes forever to set up, forever to execute, then ends as quickly as it should have been chucked in the bin - the one where The Doctor constructs some bizarre contraption out of a wine bottle, a cork, a pair of forks, some keychains, and a tea cup. It apparently is supposed to interfere with The Master's machinations, which it does, but for about six seconds before The Master flicks a switch and ruins The Doctor's little game. Well, that killed about seven minutes.

Then there's the soon-to-be-convenient time bubble that freezes time all around the TOMTIT lab. You can see where this one is going to go. It's like purgatory for needless characters. Any characters you don't want to write lines for, you can just chuck in the time bubble and pull them out again by the end of Episode Six. Don't worry - you can still cut back to this scene if you need to by putting a couple of caretakers in charge (Ruth and Stuart) who are trying to dismantle the time bubble.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the horribly stagey scenes in Atlantis, or the equally pointless scenes of UNIT battling Roundheads and V2 bombers, but what would be the point? We're halfway through this story, and we're barely better off, story wise, than when it started.

OOO2 - The Time Monster 2

This episode is the best of times and the worst of times for the Brigadier and UNIT. In reverse order, look at the Brigadier in the scene set in Stuart's flat. Has he ever looked more out of place than when he's standing stiffly amidst Stuart's collection of hippie artifacts and Elton John posters? He's then made to look very foolish by asking all the dumb questions, and not knowing when he's actually suggesting legitimate answers. The Brig has become a character, at best, endured by those around him - no longer in charge, no longer offering anything to the situation.

Then comes the brilliant scene outside of the TOMTIT complex where The Brigadier instructs the government types to keep schtum about what they've just seen, even quoting rules and regulations while doing so. That sorted, he then directs his attention to Dr. Percival, letting him know, in no uncertain terms, that UNIT is now fully in charge at the university. Attaboy, Alistair. It's good to see that you're honour isn't fully dead and buried yet.

Even Sgt. Benton gets in on the act, successfully fooling The Master into thinking that it was he who was actually fooled, then sneaking up behind The Master and (almost) nabbing him for good. Usually, UNIT's power has been seen through its artillery strength, but it is almost heartwarming to see that their recruits can be authoritative and cunning, as well.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

OOO1 - The Time Monster 1

Fresh off the nadir of the Jon Pertwee era, we're treated with another inauspicious start to a story with Episode One of The Time Monster. There's more garbled and confused storytelling right from the get-go. The Doctor has a dream about The Master (whose appearances have become so common now that his initial scene at the TOMTIT lab doesn't even warrant an introduction), which seems to be of dreadful importance, but its significance is forgotten almost instantly once Captain Yates and Jo start investigating. (The beginning of this story also is remarkably similar to the beginning of The Daemons.)

Ah, yes - TOMTIT. Was this the best acronym for a time experiment that writers Robert Sloman and (an uncredited) Barry Letts could come up with? Surely they would have realized the ridicule they would get by using that name, no? And why is The Brigadier and not The Doctor going to a demonstration of TOMTIT when he clearly, and admittedly, knows nothing of the process? Nor, it appears, does he know much about anything anymore. What has The Brigadier been doing during his few weeks off from the show, anyway, to get so stupid? And what is the point of the scene where a window washer falls off the ladder after he sees TOMTIT in action?

Ruth and Stuart seem to be in a different programme altogether. I keep expecting to hear slightly bemused laughter from the studio audience every time they engage each other with their "with it" banter. Ruth is apparently a keen feminist (as her almost every single sledgehammer-subtle line in this episode attests), but her and Stu have the following exchange when debating whether or not to carry out a test without Professor Thascalos present:

RUTH: Men! It's their conceit that bugs me!
STU: Hey, I'm on your side, remember?
RUTH: You don't count.
STU (tired of being treated like the "big sister" that he is): Don't I? And why not, may I ask?
RUTH: Look, don't bully me, Stu, or I think I might burst into tears!

Nice, Ruth. Way to stay strong under pressure. The episode ends with the viewer unaware of any impending danger, other than The Master shouting "Come, Kronos come!". Looks like we're in for another rough ride...

Friday, September 11, 2009

NNN6 - The Mutants 6

What a remarkable series of coincidences that help out The Doctor in his case to try and disprove the Marshall to the Investigator in this episode. Just when it looks like all is lost, Jo, previously held hostage by the Marshall, is paraded through the door by the Investigator's guards. The Doctor can now speak freely - hooray! But he doesn't have proof of his claims that the mutations that are afflicting the Solonians are natural. Don't worry! Sondergaard is marched through the door at just the right time. Amazing luck, that.

A fitting end, though, to a very poor story. It all comes down to something I mentioned before about how the writers and the director both differed on what direction they wanted the story to take. Writers - segregation satire. Director - rebellion against tyranny. As each separate story thread moved along, the more each separated until neither thread was portrayed strongly enough to hold up the story as a whole.

This story was cited in Salmon Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, of all places, as being racist. I don't think it is, to be honest, but it's intention of showing the Marshall to be racist might be even more offensive. Was it Bob Baker's and Dave Martin's collective intention to show that, in using the mutants (or mutts, as they are colloquially known) as an allegory for the repressed black population in South Africa, the creatures who were scorned so much were merely at an earlier stage of evolution, and that they soon evolve into higher beings? I hope, for Baker's and Martin's sakes, that this was not the case.

The Mutants is a poorly directed, poorly acted mess, and is easily the top contender for worst Jon Pertwee story thus far.

NNN5 - The Mutants 5

Poor Rick James. I'd like to think he's a better actor than he is. I'd like to think he's an actor, period, but having seen him in one another thing (Blake's 7), I can't even think that with the greatest of confidence. But every time I watch this story, I can't help but hope James (not the character he is supposedly playing, Cotton, but Rick James himself) comes out of it okay because it really looks like he's the winner of a write-in contest to be in Doctor Who. Did Blue Peter hold such a contest at that time? For adults? Or for kids, and Rick James won, anyway?

Apologists claim that James was dealt a bad hand from the start because the part of Cotton was originally written with a white, Cockney actor in mind. Nice try. No matter what the dialogue, James merely recites it, line by line, as if he's reading it off the same cue cards Jon Pertwee would have loved to rely on. In fact, James never actually forgets or fluffs his lines, so I'd be willing to bet that he is reading them. It's patently obvious that he's never rehearsed the scenes. Look at the way he awkwardly manhandles Katy Manning and Garrick Hagon as he helps them up the ladder in the refueling station. Surely someone would have objected to this in a proper rehearsal, no? Or, going back to my earlier point, was everyone too polite to upset the Blue Peter contest winner?

I could go on about James, and the silly conclusion to the Episode Four cliffhanger (our heroes wriggle about on the floor a bit, then get up and walk out of the room), but why bother? At least there's only one episode left...