Friday, October 30, 2009

4L5 - The Seeds of Doom 5

It's in this episode that sees Scorby and The Doctor form an uneasy alliance against the Krynoid, and, by extension, an increasingly mad Chase. The scenes between the two in the darkened cottage are completely gripping, and John Challis and Tom Baker raise their games even higher than the lofty acting heights they've achieved this far. They're equally matched by the wonderful Elisabeth Sladen.

Sladen's nearing the end of her time in Doctor Who, and it is tough to find a better performance by her in the series. The way she pushes Scorby's buttons later in this episode is brilliant, and her response to Scorby's chauvinistic remarks is just lovely as she quickly smiles, then blasts back before she bolts out the door to be heroic: "What was that you just said about women?"

And then there's Tony Beckley as Harrison Chase. His being taken over by the Krynoid beast in this episode is a truly haunting scene, made even more effective by Geoffrey Burgon's evocative score. His rallying speech to his plants is just as terrifying. This story has either lucked out by securing so many great actors in so many great performances, or been fortunate enough to have Douglas Camfield as director to choose the actors in the first place.

The UNIT years officially wane down to an anticlimax when the replacements for the Brigadier and Benton (Major Beresford and Sgt. Henderson, respectively) arrive on the scene. I'm glad that two fill-in characters were used, as it would have been sad to see the Brig so underused, and it would have been even sadder to see Benton be garden food.

4L4 - The Seeds of Doom 4

Episode Four begins with just about the most heroic, violent act ever committed by a Doctor in order to save his companion from certain death, in one the most memorable scenes of the entire story. As we pick up the action from the Episode Three cliffhanger, Sarah is about to have her arm infected by the Krynoid pod, which is about to sprout. The Doctor, seeing this through the sky light, jumps through the glass, knocks over Scorby, breaks a chair over his back, then pulls a gun on Chase, who says dryly, "What do you do for an encore, Doctor?"

The Doctor's reply? "I win!", as he pushes aside another guard, grabs Sarah, and makes a dash out of the room. I have seen this scene thirty times and I punch the air harder each time I see it. The Doctor gets his own comeuppance, though, as Scorby catches him investigating the exploded pod, and, in an even more violent scene, really roughs The Doctor up by throwing him repeatedly into some garbage cans before showing him the massive composter that Chase has installed in his house.

And yet, as awesome that this story continues to be, the one thing I still notice every time I watch this episode, sometimes more than anything else, is the scene where Sarah rescues The Doctor in the nick of time before her friend is about to be ground up in the compost machine. Tom Baker turns over, tries vainly to wipe his nose, but fails utterly to stop the large dollop of snot that drops from his nose soon after. The sequence is so flawless up until that point, though, that I can see why Douglas Camfield didn't order a retake.

The final shot of this episode, that of a cheap rubber Krynoid costume bouncing towards the camera, has been mocked a few times, including on one notable 2|Entertain DVD documentary, but it doesn't look that bad, and the super rare night shoot is shot fantastically well on glorious videotape by director Camfield's team.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

4L3 - The Seeds of Doom 3

I don't mean to keep harping on this, but each episode of this story gives me another reason to appreciate the sheer anger of Tom Baker's Doctor in this story. His berating of Dunbar and Thackery in order to get them to listen to him is full of fire, and to see this Doctor use brute force to knock out a limousine driver seems out of character.

But that's what The Doctor in The Seeds of Doom is like. He is almost an antihero - a role rarely seen since the very early William Hartnell days. This story is the last of Season 13, the last story of this particular production block, and the last to see a Doctor this edgy.

Elisabeth Sladen sees Baker raise his game, and so she does her best to match his growliness, especially in the afore-mentioned scene in Thackery's office. We're also briefly introduced to the dotty Amelia Ducat, and we finally see Harrison Chase strut around his mansion in full glory, conducting electronic symphonies, praising his plants, and being the best and closest facsimile to a James Bond villain that Doctor Who would ever see. In fact, while the Jon Pertwee's era was often (inaccurately) compared to Bond, The Seeds of Doom is probably the closest Who cousin to Ian Fleming's secret agent.

The Seeds of Doom is bloody brilliant thus far, driven by its actors who are helped along themselves by a smashing script.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

4L2 - The Seeds of Doom 2

The Seeds of Doom is structured, essentially, as a four-part story set in England with a two-part prologue that takes place in the Antarctic. This approach works terribly well, as the pacing of these first two episodes is quickfire without having to worry about sustaining the same story thread for the next four episodes.

We've already seen brief glimpses of the main antagonist, Harrison Chase, and his minions, Scorby and Keeler. We're properly introduced to Scorby and Keeler in this episode. Remember when I reviewed The Ambassadors of Death and The Mind of Evil and mentioned how Reegan (William Dysart) and Mailer (William Marlowe) were two of the more well written and well acted "thugs" in Doctor Who, and how they were the first of a trio of well acted thugs in Who? Well, Scorby is the third, and possibly the best of them all. John Challis brings such a cold menace to the role, and he is simply magnetic in every scene he's in. Challis is one of many actors who give phenomenal performances in this story, and while his is one of the best, he may have to yield the title of top performance to Mark Jones as Keeler.

Jones's Keeler is a top notch bit of acting. Keeler is so paranoid and so edgy, and is in no way comfortable when forced to hold a gun on The Doctor and Sarah. He is a man out of his element throughout this entire episode. He's forced to pair up with the ultra-violent Scorby, he's not at all happy about being transported to the coldest place on Earth, and, especially, as noted before, holding a gun is totally alien to him. Look at the way Jones awkwardly holds the pistol to guard an already bound Doctor and Sarah. His arm is extended to its full length, holding the gun away from himself as much as he is keeping his prisoners under guard.

Tom Baker once again raises his game, showing a previously unseen side of The Doctor (that of pure rage) when screaming after Scorby when the thug takes Sarah hostage. Only two episodes in, and this might just be the best acted story ever in Doctor Who. And I haven't even started to mention Tony Beckley as Harrison Chase...

4L1 - The Seeds of Doom 1

Hubert Rees played a bit of a daft staff officer, Captain Ransom, in The War Games. It's a lovable performance, particularly when he excitedly tells Lady Jennifer the wonders of paperwork, thinking that she is as enthralled in the subject as he is. Rees's next role in Doctor Who was as Stevenson in The Seeds of Doom - a small performance, but one that is absolutely crucial to the success of this story.

Look how intently Rees as Stevenson examines the Krynoid pod that his fellow scientists pulled out of the ice at the Antarctic research base. He tries to put his finger on what is different about this frozen pod, and then decides: "It's alive. That's it. It's alive!" Look how Rees delivers that line. He doesn't shout it out as Archimedes would, but instead he almost mutters it under his breath with deadly seriousness. It's an acting decision that lends so much gravitas to what could have been a melodramatic moment, and it fittingly sets the scene for the rest of the story.

Speaking of fine performances (and I will be a few times over these next six episodes), Tom Baker continues his dark turn as The Doctor started in Pyramids of Mars, perfected in The Brain of Morbius, then, somehow, exceeding that perfection in this story. Never before has The Doctor appeared as churlish, almost downright rude, as Baker's Doctor in The Seeds of Doom. He balances his berating of the Antarctic base staff by being humorously eccentric in the scenes set in Dunbar's office, playing with his yo-yo, playfully plopping his golf shoe clad feet on his desk, and departing for Antarctica, toothbrush in hand, with the words "No touch pod. Could be dangerous.".

The transformation of Winlett from a normal human being to a grotesquely altered alien life form is done staggeringly well, with each revelation of how far his condition has deteriorated being even more shocking than the last. A fine set-up episode to what looks to be a monumental story.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

4K4 - The Brain of Morbius 4

Picture in your mind these three scenes in Doctor Who history: a shocking scene that contains blood, another which sees The Doctor callously mocking a disfigured rival, and a third scene that sees The Doctor killing his enemy with cyanide. You can find these three scenes in two separate instances in Doctor Who history. One, over the course of Season 22, Colin Baker's first full season as The Doctor. The second, throughout the four episodes of The Brain of Morbius.

What a difference nine years make. Such violence is seen as dark, edgy and brilliant in 1976's The Brain of Morbius. The same approach was one of the main reasons Doctor Who was nearly canceled for good in 1985. Why is there such a disparate reaction between the two eras in Doctor Who history? Is it because the Philip Hinchliffe era is perceived to actually good, a public perception not often granted to the Colin Baker era?

My opinions on the Sixth Doctor era will have to wait for another day, but the main reason why The Brain of Morbius is so good is because it pushes the boundaries of decency to their absolute limits, possibly at the risk of crossing the lines a few times (which it does in spades). There is no point in producing anything - be it television, film, radio, or even something as mundane as spreadsheets or gardening utensils - if the people responsible for its creation aren't going to give it their all, despite what possible limitations might stand in their way. The Brain of Morbius is the culmination of just such an attitude, with everyone turning it up to eleven to produce one of the most grim, shocking, and thoroughly entertaining stories in Doctor Who history.

That initial impression that was left on me when I was 12 years old is now shattered.

Monday, October 26, 2009

4K3 - The Brain of Morbius 3

Things take a shocking and gruesome turn late in this episode when Condo knocks the jar containing Morbius's brain over, sending Solon into a wild rage, pull out a gun, and shoot his trusty servant. As if the gloppy brain and its preserving fluid being spilled onto the floor wasn't enough, but the explosion of blood out of Condo's chest from Solon's gun shot. is still stunning today.

Very rarely has blood even been shown in Doctor Who up until this point, let alone spilled in such a violent and savage way. It's a testament to what was becoming allowable for most on television screens around the world by 1976, and, while Mary Whitehouse and the National Viewers Association were beginning to make a stink about such things, a similar sequence in the final episode of Blake's 7 in 1981, a show intended for older viewers, elicited an even stronger reaction at the time.

While I feel Doctor Who is at its best when it pushes the boundaries of normal television programmes, and I am wholeheartedly behind some of the more graphic and grisly aspects of mid-1970s Doctor Who, I can also see the Visigoths come over the hill, ready to sack the Roman Empire that is brilliant, edgy Doctor Who whenever I see scenes like the shooting of Condo. With each successive gruesome sequence, more attention was paid to it, which means more people were expecting to complain about the next time such a scene occurred.

On a completely different topic, joining the ranks of fine acting performances in this episode is Michael Spice, who is finally "seen" in this episode as a brain in a jar. Credit to Spice for making his dialogue so chilling and alive, and also for both he and Philip Madoc for raising a scene consisting of a man talking to a prop brain in a jar to something worthy of high art.

4K2 - The Brain of Morbius 2

Condo is often mocked and derided for being a quite silly character, but I find him rather sweet. His complete lack of intelligence, though, says a lot about the plight of Solon and the neuro-surgeon's attempt to resurrect Morbius in a new body. If Solon has had to rely on the help of an oaf like Condo as his only assistant for all this time, then the fact that he has managed to achieve anything at all in regards to fashioning a new body for Morbius is remarkable in itself.

Condo also receives a caring portrayal by Colin Fay, who manages to turn Condo's simplistic, guttural lines into actual dialogue (although those same lines do make Condo instantly quotable). It's a thankless job that Fay has taken on, especially since most of his scenes are opposite Philip Madoc as Solon.

There's a reason why Radio Free Skaro has a fascination with Madoc, and it's not just because of his name. Madoc was already fantastic as the War Lord in his last appearance in Who, 1969's The War Games, but Solon is Madoc's definitive role in Doctor Who. Operatic at times, yet equally as effective when quietly negotiating with the Maren in order to secure The Doctor's release from being burned at the stake.

Speaking of the burning scene, it's probably my favourite one of the whole episode. First off, Tom Baker is hilarious. When Solon interrupts the burning ceremony and is chastised by Maren, The Doctor speaks up, "Take no notice, Solon. I'm delighted to see you! The music's terrible!" (The Doctor seems to have a problem with music in Season 13, as we'll find out in the next story). Obviously, The Doctor realizes that being anywhere is better than being about to be burned at the stake, but both he and Solon know exactly why the scientist wants The Doctor released - so that Solon can kill The Doctor himself and take his head.

Solon's overriding desire to have The Doctor's head makes The Doctor and Sarah's return to Solon's castle all that more intriguing. The Doctor realizes that he needs Solon to properly diagnose Sarah's blindness, and, to my surprise, he trusts Solon's findings implicitly, even though Solon's solution of asking the Sisterhood for some elixir means The Doctor has to return to the very people who wanted him dead even more than Solon did.

A special mention, too, for Elisabeth Sladen's great performance as a blinded Sarah, as she manages to show just the right amount of fear, sadness, and self-pity that any normal person would feel in that same situation. She also just looks like she can't see, and stumbles around with incredible believability. We're nearing the end of Sladen's time in Doctor Who, but her talent is very much on display in this episode.

4K1 - The Brain of Morbius 1

It's funny how one's initial perception of a story can be marred so easily by something so trivial, and how that perception can change over the years and make one realize how silly it was to think that story is anything other than brilliant.

My first viewing of The Brain of Morbius in the late 1980s was of a flawed copy sent to many PBS stations. It was flawed in the sense that Episode One contained no music soundtrack or sound effects, which, being watched by an impressionable 13-year-old boy like me who needed the bells and whistles (sometimes in a literal sense) to keep him riveted to the story, was a criminal failing. At the time, I thought Episode One of this story looked and sounded like cheap, abstract, artsy crap.

Of course, any story set entirely within the confines of the BBC Television studio and shot on videotape is bound to look cheap, especially the scenes meant to take place outside. While the surface of Karn, and the vast graveyard of crashed spaceships supposedly seen off in the distance, never look anything close to convincing, the sets of both Solon's castle and the dwelling of the Sisterhood of Karn are both ornately realized, and the actors portraying the inhabitants of these buildings are nothing short of brilliant. (About whom more later...)

Tom Baker's Doctor continues his dark and grumpy turn away from the more docile Doctor seen in the first season of the Fourth Doctor. In Pyramids of Mars, he was seen to not suffer fools gladly, admonishing Lawrence Scarman on many occasion when the latter repeatedly refused to admit that his brother, Marcus, was no more. In the first Doctor scene in this story, The Doctor is downright temperamental and childish, angrily sulking and allowing Sarah to wander off into trouble while he remains perched on a rock, refusing to go along with whatever mission the Time Lords have directed him towards. Baker's performance in this adds another layer to the increasing alien-like Doctor that we are becoming used to, and it's fascinating to watch.

4J4 - The Android Invasion 4

It's interesting that both Barry Letts's first and last stories that he directed in Doctor Who, The Enemy of the World and this story, contained evil doubles of The Doctor (amongst others, in The Android Invasion), and ended with technical difficulties resulting in botched finales.

In The Enemy of the World, the dramatic duel between Salamander and The Doctor had to be edited down to a few brief shots after most of the film of the event proved unusable. In The Android Invasion, Letts ran out of time on the final studio day, and so some scenes that were crucial to the story, most notably those explaining what happened to the Kraal invasion fleet and how the android Doctor was reactivated when the signal from the radio telescope had rendered all androids inactive, had to be dropped and were never recorded.

As a result, this story ends as vaguely and uninspired as most of the scenes that preceded it. The Android Invasion is a rare misstep in the Philip Hinchcliffe era. Or, to put it another way, The Android is a rare misstep in the Philip Hinchcliffe era that still managed to earn over 11 million viewers a week.

4J3 - The Android Invasion 3

So let me get this straight - the duplicate Devesham, with all its intricately designed and duplicated buildings, coins, dartboards, calendars, and, most importantly, villagers, is all just one giant training ground for their eventual (and I do mean eventual) invasion of Earth?

Why do they need to recreate the entire village when all they're looking to do is gain control of the space centre? Are the androids who are preceding the re-entry of Guy Crayford's by landing on Earth (or, more accurately, England) really going to track down their duplicates, one by one, and try and overtake them when no one is looking? And, again, why would they do this? Why is it important to destroy the training village when they leave for Earth?

So much in The Android Invasion is just so contrived with little or no reason for it to be happening, other than give viewers a chance to see evil twin versions of The Doctor, Sarah, Harry and Benton. There's not even a decent main villain in this story as the Kraals, which have impressive looking masks (and were the only rhinoceros-based aliens in the series until the Judoon came along to take that prize), but they wear boots that look more akin to those that a road crew would wear. Say what you will about the duplicate Devesham, but I bet you the asphalt roads were immaculately crafted.

4J2 - The Android Invasion 2

At times during this story, I've been more interested in deciphering which scenes were filmed before Tom Baker had to be taken to the hospital to get his stomach pumped after swallowing too much scummy pond water while shooting the scene that sees him submerged in a pond to hide from some tracking dogs, and which scenes were filmed after, as the effects of the procedure left Baker with a definite (and distinctly audible) sore throat.

As The Doctor and Sarah encounter more familiar surroundings in this episode, we're presumably supposed to feel like the two are back in comfortable surroundings. However, this just isn't the case. Even though we see Harry and Benton again, they just don't seem like the characters that we've come to know and love. They're almost treated as background characters. The spark is gone from them, and you can almost tell it in the performances of both Ian Marter and John Levene. It doesn't help that the Fourth Doctor/Benton team was never as tight as the bond that the Third Doctor had with the trusty Sergeant-Major, either.

And, even as a small, easily impressed child, I thought that the cliffhanger where the android Sarah's face falls off looked cheap and terrible. Plus, what kind of poorly designed android has its face fall off whenever it stumbles slightly? Or doesn't have a "ginger beer tolerance meter" installed in its software? The Kralls' (increasingly elaborate) plan is starting to spring some leaks...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

4J1 - The Android Invasion 1

I'm becoming glad that I won't have to watch many more Terry Nation stories as I'm getting tired of noticing (and pointing out) the various trends that manage to find themselves into almost every script that he writes.

The Android Invasion, Episode One, shares a similar theme with most other Nation-penned stories, as the viewer discovers The Doctor's new surroundings along with him. (The frequency of this is actually surprisingly rare, as a lot of stories since the early Hartnell era are already underway, and The Doctor just has yet to get involved in the story). Also, there's a contrived monster reveal at the end of the episode.

The one thing that singles out The Android Invasion from other typical Nation stories is that The Doctor and Sarah are rarely separated, whereas usually, by now, Sarah would have found trouble, and The Doctor would be finding a way to get her out of it with some help from his new friends he's just met, or vice versa. In seeing how many scenes The Doctor and Sarah have together in this episode, it makes me notice how often the two share scenes together in every Fourth Doctor story since Harry left at the end of Terror of the Zygons. When it was Sarah and Jon Pertwee's Doctor, for the most part, the two were often separate to allow two storylines to develop, as was the case with most other Doctor/companion relationships that came before.

Not so with Sarah, which is ironic, given how headstrong and independent she seems. Perhaps, though, that she manages to hold her own against The Doctor, despite having numerous scenes with him, is why she seems so independent, and the fact that the two of them form such a strong team because they're together all of the time is probably one reason why Sarah's character continues to be popular to this day.

4G4 - Pyramids of Mars 4

Yet more great scenes present themselves in Episode Four of Pyramids of Mars, just as they did in the first three scenes of this story. The best is possibly the meeting between Sutekh and The Doctor. You really get a sense that The Doctor is in way over his head here, and that he is perhaps as scared as he has ever been when having to confront Sutekh. Sutekh is a superb villain almost entirely due to the performance of Gabriel Woolf, who turns every line Sutekh speaks into something worth quoting or putting on a t-shirt.

However, the finale is so derivative of Death to the Daleks that it scarcely bears mentioning, but Sarah Jane mentions it anyway (even though she never entered the city of the Exxilons in the first place). Plus, most of the puzzles that The Doctor has to solve in order to work his way through the pyramid on Mars are so easy to solve that The Doctor looks like he's trying to make them seem harder than they actually are.

Long held up as one of the classic stories in Doctor Who, Pyramids of Mars is massively overrated, yet still thoroughly enjoyable to watch, and sumptuous and gorgeous to look at. It plays out like a clip show of great scenes in Doctor Who as put on by the Doctor Who Confidential team. The editors of such a show would have no problem finding memorable clips in Pyramids - there are probably over a dozen top notch scenes and lines within its four episodes. But without any sense of threat or danger to the programme's heroes, or any strong storyline to keep things going, Pyramids of Mars falls somewhere between the average and very average of Doctor Who stories.

4G3 - Pyramids of Mars 3

Pyramids of Mars has never really hit me, and I'm only now starting to realize why. It's a very uninvolved story that has two almost completely independent storylines: one with Sutekh and his servants slowly preparing to free the last of the Osirians from his prison on Mars, and another with The Doctor and Sarah Jane gradually coming up with a way to stop them.

There is no real sense of urgency or danger to the story. Apart from the cliffhangers to Episode Two and Three, the Doctor is scarcely placed in any real danger during the first three episode of the story. Given that Sarah spends most of her scenes along side The Doctor, she is never in any real peril, either. The robot mummies are intended to be foreboding and frightening, but they only ever succeed in killing peripheral characters like Warlock, Collins, and Clements the poacher. In fact, Clements looks like he was written in solely for the purpose of being someone for the mummies to kill onscreen, and as someone to hide gelignite in his poacher's shed for The Doctor and Sarah to find later on.

Marcus Scarman, Sutekh, and the mummies all have one thing going against them - they are all either incredibly slow or completely immobile. The lack of intensity in their slow movement makes for some creepy, yet terribly unexciting scenes. This is most evident in the scenes that follow Sarah exploding the gelignite on the Osirian rocket. One would think that removing a package that's in the process of exploding would be or prime importance, but, looking at the way Scarman and the mummies react to it, you'd almost think they were in on the deal themselves...

4G2 - Pyramids of Mars 2

It almost seems easier to list the number of classic, quotable scenes from each episode of Pyramids of Mars than it is to review the episodes proper. Two scenes in Episode Two really stick out as being particularly good, which I shall mention in reverse order.

The scene where The Doctor is trying his best, with increasing frustration, to explain to Laurence Scarman that his brother, Marcus, is no longer alive and hasn't been since his body was inhabited by Sutekh. Poor Laurence is devastated, but the best The Doctor can come up with to comfort the poor man is to give him a quick tap on the shoulder. This story almost goes out of its way to show how alien The Doctor really is (perhaps even a little too far at times), but it's small little moments that really distinguish the Fourth Doctor.

The second special scene happens earlier when The Doctor pilots the TARDIS to 1980* to show Sarah that if they don't stop Sutekh in 1911, then the future that she knows will no longer exist. It's a fascinating moment that explains a great deal behind The Doctor's motivations. Although not stated explicitly until the new series, The Doctor really can see what is and what should never be whenever he lands in a new location, and will strive to put right whatever has gone wrong.

But this scene also shows what is starting to go wrong with Pyramids of Mars. If Sutekh is proving to be such a formidable threat to the universe, why does The Doctor have the time to jet off to 1980 for a few minutes just to prove Sarah correct? Surely Sarah would have learned the answer to the question of changing history back in her first story, The Time Warrior (also written by Robert Holmes). In that story, Linx obviously didn't succeed in altering the course of human history as The Doctor had warned as Sarah's present day experiences were the same before and after the Sontaran adventure. The scene is wonderful on its own, but it is completely unnecessary, and possibly detrimental, to the story as a whole.

*Ah yes - 1980. When Sarah Jane tells Laurence Scarman that she's from 1980, my reasoning is this: look at the way Sarah is talking to Laurence. She speaks to him in a smug way that looks like she's going out of her way to prove to him that she's from the future. She obviously thought that the year 1980 sounded more impressive than 1975, and so went with the former to get a more bemused reaction out of Laurence. At least that's how I choose to look at it. There - UNIT dating controversy solved.

4G1 - Pyramids of Mars 1

The first great scene in Pyramids of Mars is the very first TARDIS scene that features a melancholy Doctor and a playful Sarah Jane - the latter, happy to be returning home; the former, unhappy that he has no other place to go. The Doctor even complains about him approaching middle age (lamenting with the fantastic line: "I'm a Time Lord. I walk in eternity."). The whole sequence plays out like The Doctor's midlife crisis occurring before our very eyes. You'd half expect him to set the TARDIS coordinates to materialize at the nearest Maserati dealership.

This scene is also a further attempt to break The Doctor, particularly the Fourth Doctor, away from the shackles of the UNIT era. The Third Doctor, after he was freed from his exile during Season Ten, would still find his way back to UNIT HQ as the environment seemed comfortable for him at the time. Showing the Fourth Doctor feeling decidedly against the notion of returning to UNIT is a deliberate move in the opposite direction for the programme. It would take the rest of Season 13 for the UNIT bug to be completely cleansed from The Doctor's system, but the divorce papers were being signed with that first TARDIS scene.

There's a good few other scenes that stick out in this episode: The Doctor's proclamation of something going wrong contrary to the laws of the universe ("I must find out what"), the mysterious Namin, obsessed with his haunting organ playing, and his eventual grisly demise at the hands of a dark servant of Sutekh who emerges from a time/space tunnel located in a mummy's sarcophagus. The stage is set for a classic story.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

4H4 - Planet of Evil 4

The increasingly tense power struggle between Salamar and Vishinsky that has been building for the past couple episode finally comes to a head in Episode Four. My favourite moment of this struggle actually occurs during the climax of Episode Three (although it is reprised at the beginning of Episode Four).

It happens when both The Doctor and Sarah are about to be ejected into space, as ordered by Commander Salamar - an order opposed by Vishinsky. The two men fight to gain control of the lever that will eject The Doctor and Sarah into space. However, Salamar isn't fighting Vishinsky to try and push the lever himself. He is fighting Vishinsky in order to try and make him push the lever and, thus, obey his command. The adherence to procedure has been the main thread going through Salamar's character arc. When Salamar is deposed by Vishinsky, Salamar goes mad due to the lack of procedure, steals a nuclear accelerator, and dies trying to destroy the anti-matter creature that Sorenson has become.

I'm glad that, at the end of this story, Sorenson survives instead of falling forever in the antimatter pit on Zeta Minor. It gives the story a sense of redemption, and gives The Doctor a chance to change Sorenson's mind about the supposed source of energy he has found. Had Sorenson not survived (as script editor Robert Holmes originally lobbied for, only to have his mind changed my producer Philip Hinchcliffe), then another scientific expedition might have returned to Zeta Minor, attempted to mine the same energy, and the whole business would have happened again, with disastrous results. This can almost be seen as an allegory for the over-drilling of oil on Earth, and the need to find an alternative source of energy that won't damage humanity or hold them back as the antimatter found by Sorenson did.

Overall, Planet of Evil is an enjoyable story, often overlooked by the heavyweights on either side of it.

4H3 - Planet of Evil 3

To offset the cost of the lavish jungle sets in this story, the Morestran interiors were made on a shoestring budget, and, unfortunately, it shows. However, the production team does its best by at least putting the sets on different levels.

The exterior of the ship requires the climbing of two ladders to reach the hatchway, there's a staircase outside of Professor Sorenson's room which offers the antimatter-infected Sorenson to stagger up and down for dramatic effect, and the command deck of the ship is also a multi-layer affair. This offers director David Maloney the ability to shoot scenes in a variety of different ways that draw attention away from the fact that most of the Morestran corridors and walls are made of cheap, grey flats. In a programme with a small budget like Doctor Who, such directorial ingenuity is essential.

Tom Baker and Prentis Hancock perform a brief fight scene scene towards the end of this episode that still impresses me to this day. It happens right outside the TARDIS, when Salamar is distracted momentarily by the distant screams of Sarah Jane, and so The Doctor seizes his moment and clocks the Morestran commander. It's expertly shot on camera to conceal the fact that Baker never hits Hancock, but the punch is so well timed that I'm never entirely sure that Baker didn't actually hit his fellow actor. There's even a sound of...something at the moment of impact that could be the sound of Baker's fist hitting Hancock's jaw, as overdubs of sound effects for studio recordings were still an extreme rarity when Planet of Evil was made.

While I'm sure that Baker most likely did not hit Hancock, the fact that I even need to question it makes the scene a very effective one indeed.

4H2 - Planet of Evil 2

There's some great performances in this story, led by Frederick Jaeger as Professor Sorenson. Sorenson is driven, dedicated, focused, yet slightly aloof, and Jaeger pulls off all these facets simultaneously with remarkable ease.. Prentis Hancock plays his usual "jerk" character well enough for his portrayal of Salamar, and Ewen Solon is a very sympathetic Vishinsky.

Playing the part of Morelli, though, an entry level crewman who has a scant few lines and spends most of his time in this story pointing at screens so other, higher ranking and important, people can discuss what they see, is Michael Wisher. As in the man who brought Davros to life. It seems almost like an even greater insult than his tiny performance in Revenge of the Cybermen to see Wisher taking such a subordinate role in this, what would turn out to be his last role in Doctor Who. Didn't Wisher's agent at least mention that his client had created one of the great screen villains in recent times to any prospective employers?

There's a good action sequence, videotaped in the BBC studio, that sees a bunch of Morestran guards vainly attempt to fight off the antimatter beast. Several guards fall to their deaths during the course of what is an impressive set piece. It's rare that freefall stunts are attempted anywhere except on film, and the fact that all the guards are really waving at and shooting at nothing (the antimatter beast being CSO'd onto the main image) is never really apparent. Credit must go to director David Maloney for preparing his actors and camera crew for what was a very hectic scene to shoot.

4H1 - Planet of Evil 1

The first thing most viewers notice upon viewing Episode One of Planet of Evil is the exceptional jungle set created by designer Roger Murray-Leach. It truly is spectacular, but actually doesn't feature nearly as often as I remembered. Instead, most of the scenes set on Zeta Minor take place in the BBC studio, which, although still well designed, can't possibly hope to be as effective as the set filmed at Ealing Studios.

The key ingredient is water. Safety regulations prevent any such sets to have small pools or rivers of water in the television studio, but the film studios were not bound by such restraints. When Baldwin is running through the jungle to get back to base, the scene looks fantastic on film. He trips and falls in the water, staggers around the gloomy set, and all the while the camera shooting the scene from a distance to give the set a bit of scale. The Ealing set looks like that of Dagobah five years before The Empire Strikes Back. Cut to the BBC studio, and you can tell that Baldwin is on the very edge of a much smaller set, and he's a lot drier than he was at Ealing.

Sarah Jane has some great moments in this episode, almost at the expense of The Doctor. She deduces that the members of the science expedition are human with her powers of observation, she points out to The Doctor that they can escape from the scientists' ship because of the low power levels, and, somehow, she can sense when the antimatter beast is close at hand. Quite how she manages that last marvel (especially since none of the other characters, including The Doctor, seem to pick up on it) remains unexplored, it's a trait that even the hyper intuitive Leela would be jealous of.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

4F4 - Terror of the Zygons 4

Everything is rolling along nicely in Episode Four. There's some great model shots of the Zygon ship in flight, a great explosion of said ship later in the quarry (and I love that a quarry is a proper quarry in this episode, as opposed to it doubling for an alien planet), some good sequences featuring the Brigadier firing off depth charges into Loch Ness, and a nice bit of witty and eccentric heroism from Tom Baker when he sets the self destruct sequencer on the Zygon ship.

Then, with about eight minutes left, everything goes a bit pear shaped. While surveying the wreckage of the Zygon ship and wondering what Broton's next move will be, the Brigadier suddenly remembers (he even says, "I've just remembered") that there is a major world energy conference taking place in London (something which, in the past, UNIT would have been involved in, based on how many peace conferences they handled in the early Pertwee era). So, all the world leaders in one place at one time - seems an obvious place to target for Broton to try and stage a takeover. But how can they gain access to the conference? Security is tight (too tight, it would seem, for even a high ranking officer in the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce to gain access), but thankfully, Sarah remembers that the Duke of Forgill is on the chair of the energy commission! "That's right! I am!", exclaims the Duke, apparently having forgotten until Sarah's reminder.

At the conference, the Skarasen emerges from the Thames, looking nothing like the impressive stop motion creature seen in the last two episodes, but, instead, looks like the cheap, CSO'd hand puppet we were all dreading it would be. Sigh.

Still, the last eight minutes doesn't entirely ruin what was an exceptional story - a fine vehicle to welcome back one of Doctor Who's finest directors, and one to send off one of its most memorable characters (and no, I'm not talking about Harry Sullivan, although I thoroughly enjoyed Ian Marter's year in Doctor Who). Terror of the Zygons is the last appearance of Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart for almost a decade. Admittedly, he's a bit of a passenger in this story, but nowhere near the dunce that he was portrayed as in the later Pertwee years. Still, the Brigadier was, and is, one of the most important characters in the history of Doctor Who - one of the few regular characters to stand up to The Doctor on occasion, sometimes combative with him, but always loyal. The Brigadier's departure was the last real aspect of the UNIT era to be dispensed with in the transition to a purely cosmic Doctor once again. Although we'll be seeing UNIT twice more in Season 13, neither feels like the cosy, familiar UNIT we're used to, even with the presence of Benton and Harry.

I've always enjoyed UNIT as a concept, even though many viewers think that The Doctor should never have been confined to Earth and form a partnership with a military organization to begin with, and that The Doctor should never be limited in his travels. But a series that needs to be bound by its own boundlessness is doomed to get repetitive, and the UNIT years were a refreshing about turn in the series' motivation. After six years, though, it was time to get back out there and explore the universe...

4F3 - Terror of the Zygons 3

Sarah Jane's exploration of the Zygon ship in this episode allows the viewer to get a good look at one of the great spaceship designs the series ever had. Designer Nigel Curzon has come with an imaginative and thoroughly alien looking spacecraft interior. The organic controls, with their blood vessels and almost coral-like accents look fantastic, and shot in just the right amount of light to conceal any potential failings (the one downfall of what were some equally unique sets in The Claws of Axos).

The ingenuity of the ship design compliments the equally impressive design of the Zygons themselves. The concept for the Zygons that future Oscar-winner James Acheson (gosh, Doctor Who had some incredibly talented people working on it in the mid-1970s) is almost breathtaking. Famous these days for being David Tennant's favourite Doctor Who monster from the past, the Zygon costumes wouldn't stand out at all if they appeared as they are in the new series.

Sarah's afore-mentioned wandering about the Zygon ship is accompanied only by the music of Geoffrey Burgon, whose score is one the highlights of this story. Whereas regular composer Dudley Simpson was more reliant on trumpets and more aggressive sound wind instruments, Burgon instead bathes his episodes with a sinister wash of strings and flutes. The result is extraordinary. The music heard in this episode is some of the best ever used in the series. As much as I enjoy Dudley Simpson's music (mostly because of the fact that I often don't notice his scores while watching his stories), Douglas Camfield's long standing feud with Simpson was the catalyst to bring in some great incidental music (like that of Burgon and Don Harper) that we likely wouldn't have had otherwise.

All aspects of the production have come together to form one of the more pleasing sounding and looking Doctor Who story made in some time. Even the Skarasen looks good in Episodes 2 and 3 as it was shot using stop motion animation as opposed to the usual standby for such things - puppets. But we won't be seeing puppets anywhere in this, will we...?

4F2 - Terror of the Zygons 2

There is a very dark and disturbing scene in this episode which sees a crazed and vicious Harry Sullivan hides in a barn from Sarah Jane, then emerge from the shadows and, very menacingly, stab at her with a pitchfork before falling over a ledge. The look of near-bloodlust on Harry's face, and the look of sheer panic and terror on Sarah Jane's, offers more proof that the Philip Hinchliffe era will be very different in tone than the family-friendly years that came before it.

There's also a haunting sequence set in the equalization chamber where The Doctor hypnotizes Sarah into believing she doesn't need to breathe, then puts himself into a trance, as well. Tom Baker's performance in this scene is as alien a performance as I've ever seen. I cannot imagine any other actor as any other Doctor pulling off this scene like Baker does.

Earlier on, the Zygons get downright chatty as they outline their history, ambitions, and motivations to Harry, who is their prisoner. Exposition is a necessary evil of drama, but I wish that the Zygons' story could have been handled in a more subtle manner. Speaking of Harry, he is, for the most part, held captive in the Zygon ship from this point onwards, or else tagging along with Sarah and/or the rest of the UNIT crew. The phasing out of one of my favourite male companions has begun...

Monday, October 19, 2009

4F1 - Terror of the Zygons 1

Douglas Camfield, how we have missed you. It's been five long years since the acclaimed director collapsed on the set of the Jon Pertwee story Inferno, but still managed to make such detailed notes and camera scripts that Barry Letts picked up the ball running and turned Camfield's work into one of the best Doctor Who stories ever made.

Finally making his return on Terror of the Zygons, you can see that he hasn't missed a beat. Everything seems just that little bit tighter and pacier (Graeme Harper studied under Camfield as an assistant director, and it shows) than any other Who made at the time. John Levene, possibly Camfield's biggest fan, always gives his best performances in Camfield-directed stories, and he is no slouch in this one, either. The Zygons are artfully kept ambiguous - a shot of glaring eyes here, another of hands moving there, and a wonderful sequence of several artsy dissolves between the Zygons operating their strange, organic controls of their spaceship.

Camfield's command of action sequences is displayed in full during the scene on the beach where Harry discovers a survivor of the oil rig destruction wash up on the shore. Note the way that the survivor, Munro, is filmed in extreme long shot staggering and collapsing. Cut to Harry running from far away to mere inches from the camera as he flies by. Then the extreme closeups of the Caber eying the scene up, and the even tighter shots of the trigger of the gun as he fires...marvelous, marvelous stuff.

All this leads to a super scary reveal a Zygon menacing Sarah Jane Smith at the end of the episode in one of the all time great shock cliffhanger sequences ever. What I love about it is that you do get a full on shot of the Zygon for the first time - head, mouth, body, everything - but it lasts so tantalizingly short, and zooms into the Zygon's face during the course of the scant few seconds that it's on screen, that no matter how many times you watch that cliffhanger, you never feel like you're seeing the entire creature at once.

4D4 - Revenge of the Cybermen 4

Okay, what was Christopher Robbie thinking when he came up with his portrayal of the Cyberleader? Strutting around the Beacon, hands on hips, barking out orders and insults in strange, almost American accent, and proving singlehandedly that a supposedly emotionless creature like a Cyberman can, indeed, somehow harbour feelings of revenge.

I don't mind the Cybermen in this story, but it is never apparent that The Doctor is frightened of them. Tom Baker's performance is almost a flash forward to his Season Seventeen persona as he spends most of his scenes with the Cyberleader berating him and his species with little fear of recrimination. Indeed, the best the Cyberleader can come up with is a bizarre shoulder massage when he catches The Doctor and Sarah on the Beacon in Episode Four.

Add to this a poorly realized climax to Episode Four with a planet surface on a roller doubling for the surface of Voga, and Kevin Stoney's Tyrum suddenly becoming a homicidal maniac and shooting anyone who gets near the Skystriker control panel, and what you get is a story that's an enjoyable enough watch as a whole, but falls apart on closer inspection.

The highlight of the episode? Easy: "HARRY SULLIVAN IS AN IMBECILE!"

4D3 - Revenge of the Cybermen 3

Finally we get to the highlight of this story - Cybermen walking menacing through the caves of Wookey Hole, wasting Vogans with their uber-cool head guns. Many people have criticized the appearance of the Cybermen in this story, mostly because of the fact that they have flares on their trousers (something that the Cybus Cybermen of the new series seem to have borrowed for their own look).

I'm still a fan of this look, to be fair. This being their first appearance in colour (barring the brief, CSO-fringe marred, unfastened helmet appearance of one in Carnival of Monsters), they look as bright and shiny silver as any Cybermen ever have before. Their chest units are recycled yet again from the costumes made originally for The Moonbase, and their head design, only seen in this story, was popular enough to be used again in 2005's Dalek. The gun where their "lamp" once was is another one-off aspect of the Cybermen's costume, but one that is rather effective.

These Cybermen also set the standard for what was to come in the series. A new rank of Cyberleader was introduced, completed with black painted headgear, a trend that would continue throughout the rest of the classic series run. Another recurring characteristic of the Cybermen that started in this story was the fact that the voices were now provided by the actors in the costumes as opposed to voice artistes positioned off camera, which is how the Cyber-voices were portrayed during the 1960s. For the various Cybermen drones, this new technique works well. For the Cyberleader, though, well...

4D2 - Revenge of the Cybermen 2

How can a story with such notable actors as Ronald Leigh-Hunt (who was great in The Seeds of Death), William Marlowe (who was magnetic in The Mind of Evil), David Collings, Michael Wisher, and Kevin Stoney (the latter three having had, or will have, superb performances in Doctor Who) manage to give none of these fine gentlemen anything to work with?

Stoney, who was simply glorious as both Mavic Chen in The Daleks' Master Plan and Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion, is totally wasted in this story, buried in a fibreglass mask that only serves to obscure most of his dialogue. Wisher, who would, in production terms, give life to Davros in Genesis of the Daleks, is an unimportant lackey of Vorus, as played by David Collings. Leigh-Hunt's and Marlowe's characters, Stevenson and Lester, respectively, are directionless nobodies, there purely to be someone for The Doctor to relay the plot to while Harry and Sarah become involved in the local civil war on Voga.

Speaking of that civil war, it seems to want to be the main thrust of this story instead of the titular Cybermen, which is a shame as the civil war plot is quite dull. Meanwhile, we've waited seven years to see the Cybermen again, and they're given what can best be described as a "soft launch" back into the world of Doctor Who. Barely involved in the plot halfway through the story, as least they finally show up to shoot everyone on Nerva Beacon down (oh, don't worry - they're only stunned) in a mildly impressive fashion.

4D1 - Revenge of the Cybermen 1

The first episode of Revenge of the Cybermen just feels a bit off for a Philip Hinchcliffe production. This seems odd to me, given that the same sets for Nerva Beacon were just used in the previous story produced, The Ark in Space, so familiarity with them and how to light and shoot them would have been high. But these sets seem almost smaller in scale by the way that they're shot. Is it perhaps because of director Michael Briant that this looks slightly substandard? His Death to the Daleks was equally uninspiring, after all.

It may be because of the music score by Carey Blyton, which is better than either of his previous two scores for the series, but that might be because of Peter Howell tweaking it after the fact on the instructions of Briant. It might be because of the fact that there are only four human characters to start the story, and one (Warner) dies before the end of Episode One. Who of those left are we supposed to root for? Because we're certainly not rooting for the Vogans.

Is it perhaps because, for the umpteenth time running, this is a Cybermen story that, frustratingly, doesn't actually feature Cybermen? Their sole scene in Episode One is a very poor scene that sees the Cyberleader (a new creation for this story about which more later) standing in a spaceship behind his two pilots, arm raised, ready to give a command to, presumably, change course. He then motions to the two Cybermen, and the Cybermen obey and change course...despite the fact that both Cybermen have their backs turned to their leader! Have they developed telepathy since their last appearance?

The episode ends with Elisabeth Sladen doing her absolute best to make it look like a Cybermat (and, my, haven't they grown) is attacking her by flailing it about while still trying to hold the prop to her neck. She succeeds only slightly more than Alec Wallis as Warner did earlier in the episode...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

4E6 - Genesis of the Daleks 6

Genesis of the Daleks, full of iconic moments, still manages to save most of its best moments to last. The "Do I have the right?" scene, the Daleks massacring the Kaled scientists and military leaders, Davros's "death" scene (bet you regret not taking Gharman up on his offer to add pity to the list of emotions in the latest line of Daleks, eh, Davros?), and so on.

My two favourite moments, though, have to be the final moments of Nyder, and the final scene of the story itself. Nyder is the only person in this who still manages to keep his character and motivations in tact, even though he dies. His wry smile as he sees Gharman exterminates is loathsome, his shoving of Kravos into the line of fire of a Dalek ray gun is despicable, but his worst crime happens last. While everyone around him is screaming in fear and pain when they are exterminated, when Nyder finally gets his own just desserts at the end of a Dalek gun, he denies everyone the final satisfaction by not screaming. Even when dying, Nyder wins. And that's what makes him one of the most memorable villains in the programme's history.

The optimistic speech by The Doctor at the end as he, Sarah, and Harry spin and float through space as the Time Ring takes them home, is a beautiful peace of dialogue that never fails to get me emotional. "I know also that out of their evil must come something good.", The Doctor says. He speaks as if he knows the future, but what he may not realize at the time is that he has just rewritten it. From here on, a second Dalek history is born. There's no mention of the Dalek invasion of Earth in the 22nd century, and other Dalek conquests likely never happened thanks to The Doctor's actions. The Doctor didn't change history by blowing up the incubation room, though. He changed it by putting enough doubt in Davros's mind to install a forcefield in his chair (as we will find out in Destiny of the Daleks). With Davros alive, he now becomes the Daleks' main focus, and they are nowhere near as effective as in the first history of the Daleks, where they were conquerors throughout time, absent of much internal strife.

The same could be said for the Daleks as a fictional element in the production of Doctor Who. While Davros is a remarkable character, this is his first, best, and what probably should have been last hour. With no offence to the actors that were to portray him after this story, they just aren't Michael Wisher. Wisher's performance as Davros must stand as one of the great villainous performances in the series' history. He is never animated, he rarely even moves his one good arm, and so Wisher has only the power of his voice to convey the many varied emotions that Davros experiences throughout this story. Wisher is just as frighteningly effective when he's speaking in a low whisper with Nyder as when he is in full on rant mode in the later episodes. No Doctor Who villain has ever ranted quite as convincingly as Michael Wisher as Davros.

Genesis of the Daleks is obviously one of the series all time great stories, and it is of no surprise that it is constantly in the Top 5 of any "best story" polls that have been conducted by various fan groups and magazines over the years. As good as it is, and it almost seems insulting to say this, it must still sit in third place amongst Dalek stories for me, behind the two Patrick Troughton stories, The Power of the Daleks and The Evil of the Daleks. However, Genesis also seems as if it will be the last great Dalek story, and is a remarkable achievement for Philip Hinchliffe to have two iconic stories (this and The Ark in Space) in his first season as producer.

4E5 - Genesis of the Daleks 5

In a story that has been full of classic scenes, Episode Five gives us the first one-on-one confrontation scene between Davros and The Doctor, including the magical moment when Davros questions whether or not he would use a poisonous vial to wipe out all life (answer: yes).

The whole scene doesn't play out as two rivals arguing, or a captor continuing an interrogation of his prisoner, but, as Davros states, as a meeting of two premium scientific minds. Watch how Davros shoos his guards, including his right hand man, Nyder, out of the room, so that it's just Davros, a withered man in a wheelchair, and The Doctor, alone in the room. The Doctor could quite easily overtake Davros (which he finally does towards the end of the scene), but chooses not to, because, like Davros, he is fascinated by the scientific debate. It hearkens back to the almost cordial relationship The Doctor had with The Master in stories like The Mind of Evil and The Claws of Axos, which saw two enemies united, however briefly, in the cause of science.

And how about that cliffhanger? The Doctor being in obvious distress while being strangled by a Dalek mutant is one thing, but it's quite another for David Maloney to shoot the scene with alternating, graphic close-ups. Many a child in the UK was have been spooked to tears after having those images stuck in their brains for the week to come. This is truly the age of "behind the sofa" viewing in Doctor Who.

Friday, October 16, 2009

4E4 - Genesis of the Daleks 4

History is made in this episode as Ronson, the scientist who helped The Doctor and Harry escape the Kaled dome, becomes the first victim of a Dalek extermination ray. He certainly won't be the last (the Daleks waste a good few Thals, celebrating their apparent victory over the Kaleds, later in this episode). And, amazingly, when you look at it, his won't be the most over-the-top death seen this story, either, as David Maloney amps up the violence aspect of this story by instructing his actors to really give it their all when they are shot by Daleks. Death by Dalek used to be a much more instant death. Either early Dalek rays let their victims linger for much longer, or Maloney wanted to have their victims' deaths last as long as possible onscreen.

Davros signs his own death warrant in this episode when speaking to Gharman. Gharman questions Davros's order to have emotions removed from the next batch of Daleks to be produced. Gharman states that this will result in creatures with great weaknesses, devoid of a conscience and, notably, "without pity". Gharman gets his own temporary comeuppance later when Nyder tricks him into revealing who his co-conspirators are, in yet another memorable scene featuring Peter Miles as Nyder. This story has been anchored by a dynamite performance by Michael Wisher as Davros, but Miles's Nyder is possibly an even more interesting character - calm and cool with an underlying sense of malice that carries him to the very end of this story.

Genesis of the Daleks is Doctor Who at its most stark. The many scenes set in the Kaled dome are almost completely lacking in colour. The Kaled scientists are dressed in all white; the military, in all black. All the walls are dark grey or silver. The Doctor and his friends, with their colourful costumes, act as an intrusion into this grey world just as their presence marks a disruption in the events that are occurring here. The near-monochrome look is almost a throwback to the early black and white days of Doctor Who, but it's the lighting that helps turn what could have been a very dull looking story into a visually striking and stunning extravaganza. Kudos to lighting director Duncan Brown, who proves that a well placed light can create more atmosphere than an expensive set could any day.

4E3 - Genesis of the Daleks 3

Okay, so the cliffhanger resolution in this episode to the sterling ending of Episode Two is a massive cheat, but does lead into another shocking and sadistic scene as a Thal guard dangles Sarah off the edge of the rocket, taunting her for a few seconds before mercifully hauling her back up to safety. The shift of tone between the Letts era and the Hinchcliffe has been swift and mindblowing.

There are some great Davros/Nyder scenes in this episode which seem to highlight Nyder's growing lack of confidence in Davros's decisions, but it's his undying loyalty that wins out in the end. When Nyder questions Davros on his plan to turn the whole of the Kaled people into Daleks, he seems appalled at first, but when Davros asks him if he was surprised by this eventuality, Nyder answers "no" in way that just about convinces himself and only himself, but also in a way that offers his loyalty towards Davros in whatever else he is planning.

My favourite Davros/Nyder scene in this episode, though? It's the one where Nyder informs Davros that The Doctor and Harry have been sighted in the Thal dome. Not necessarily for the dialogue between Davros and Nyder, but because of David Maloney's choice of camera shots. Maloney starts the scene with a closeup of a Dalek gun, then zooms up to Nyder when he enters the room. When Davros gives his reaction to Nyder's news, the camera begins with a similar shot as the Dalek gun, but this time, it's of Davros's own withered hand, panning up towards his decrepit face as he spouts his bile and anger quietly. It's a visual reminder of the fact that the Daleks are designed in Davros's own withered image - the Daleks' one arm is a gun, and Davros's one working eye, the electronic eye in the middle of his forehead, is replicated by the singular Dalek eyestalk.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

4E2 - Genesis of the Daleks 2

As if the slow motion shootout at the beginning of Episode One wasn't enough to convince viewers that Doctor Who was no longer just a children's program, along comes the rocket silo escape sequence at the end of Episode Two.

The crazy vertical escape has been another Terry Nation staple (witness the elevator and venting shaft chases in The Daleks and Planet of the Daleks, respectively), and we get another one in this episode when Sarah, Sevrin, and the rest of the prisoners attempt an impossible by climbing the scaffolding beside a rocket and slip out the top of the dome several hundred feet up. But David Maloney turns this scene into a vicious (and completely gripping) sequence that is as intense and violent as anything in Doctor Who seen to that date.

The sequence is played out with hardly any incidental music as only soundtrack is provided by the sounds of gunfire and the screams of the dying escapees falling to their grisly deaths. When a Kaled soldier attempts to help Sarah reach the nearest rung of scaffolding, but gets shot in the process, he doesn't just die - he dies HORRIBLY. Sarah's panicked screams as the poor man falls to his death, screaming the whole way, say it all - this is something that she, nor we, the viewers, have seen before on Doctor Who.

The freeze frame ending of Sarah apparently falling to her own death is also devastatingly effective as it elongates the moment of tension to its maximum. One of my favourite sounds in Doctor Who is the sting that leads into the credit music as used from The Ambassadors of Death on until the end of the 1970s. However, the sting is about 3-4 seconds long, which is fine for long, lingering camera shots during some cliffhangers, but for moments like Sarah falling, the sting would either have to be faded in towards the end, thus losing its dramatic impact, or the credits would have to come in early. The freeze frame is perfect - it allows the sting to play out in full, thus heightening the tension as much as possible, and the image of Sarah Jane, hanging in mid-air, is given more opportunity to embed itself in the mind of the viewer while he/she patiently waits for one long week to watch the next episode to see how the cliffhanger is resolved. Brilliant work by David Maloney in what has been a brilliant story thus far.

4E1 - Genesis of the Daleks 1

With the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe era seeming like a reboot of the programme's directive, why not go back to the very beginning and hit the reset button on the history of the very monsters who launched the show into the stratosphere back in 1963? That's what Genesis of the Daleks sets out to do.

At the heart of this episode is your standard Terry Nation script. There's your usual Doctor and companions arrive on the scene, explore on their own, somehow get separated, one companion gets captured by one faction of soldiers, the other companion and The Doctor meet the other faction, and there's a shock appearance of a Dalek at the end of the episode. Check, check, check, check, check.

However, the desire to do something different on the part of outgoing producer Barry Letts, the casual indifference towards Daleks by incoming producer Philip Hinchliffe, the penchant for pushing the boundaries of horror and violence of script editor Robert Holmes, and the talented direction of David Maloney, made sure that Genesis of the Daleks was something more than your average Dalek story. And, boy, did those gentlemen succeed in making Genesis anything but average.

The opening montage of soldiers being shot in extreme slow motion is a wonderfully grim, Kubrick-esque turn from David Maloney, who revamped the opening sequence from being set in a pastoral garden to a bleak wasteland in the middle of a war zone. The effect is palpable - when The Doctor emerges from the fog to be confronted by a Time Lord offering him his a chance at destroying the Daleks, you know we're in for something special.

4B2 - The Sontaran Experiment 2

The Sontaran Experiment is a trite little two-parter (the only two-part story in the whole of the 1970s) that serves the function of breaking up the two juggernaut stories on either side of it while providing diverting entertainment to the masses. It's also, at 46 total minutes, one of the better paced stories of its day, and one that stands up rather well to the 45-minute episodes of the new series.

However, this story signals a change in philosophy in the production of the show. For the past several seasons, there had been, for the most part, a fairly even mix of four-part and six-part stories, although the latter outnumbered the former during the Jon Pertwee era. The Sontaran Experiment and The Ark in Space were, in essence, a six part story in production terms, as the same crew performed as much location work as is usually done on your average six-part story for Sontaran, then retired to the studio to record the normal amount of material for that six-part story.

Splitting a six-part production into two stories, though, showed how Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes were not fans of the six-part story format, and were keen to move away from them as much as they could. As it would happen, there would only be three six-part stories in the Hinchcliffe area, and two of those would have been structured by Holmes in a similar way to Sontaran/Ark was. In moving to six overall stories (eventually) in a season, it also showed how much more confident the BBC was in Doctor Who by shelling out more money to produce different sets and costumes for six stories instead of five.

Flush with more money and more confidence, The Sontaran Experiment, a quiet little two-part diversion on the inside, is actually a major signpost of what was to come.