Tuesday, June 30, 2009

LL7 - The Evil of the Daleks 7

The pace of the first six episodes of this story has been relatively slow and drawn out (to its credit), but the final installment moves along at a breakneck speed. Things really only start to go off the rails for the Daleks in the last five minutes. (Apologies to those who have never seen this story yet, as spoilers are to follow. But then, if you've been reading this blog this far, you probably already know I don't really avoid them, anyway.)

The final battle is monumental, but I'm surprised that it really happens at all. In Episode Six, the Human Factor Daleks are recalled to Skaro, along with the rest of the Daleks. However, instead of being isolated for study or incarceration (the Human Factor Daleks were only really created, as the Emperor Dalek states, to determine what the Dalek Factor is), they are allowed to roam free and mingle with the other Daleks. Much panic ensues when one is discovered to be on the loose, but it never needed to get that far. Why did the Daleks pay so little attention to the Human Factor Daleks once they got back to Skaro?

In doing so, the Daleks just did themselves in. The Human Factor Daleks start asking questions, then start to revert back to their one basic instinct - kill. The ensuing war (which starts and escalates very quickly) seems to be only between the Black Daleks and any Daleks infected with the Human Factor (thanks to the Doctor's sabotage of the Daleks' transformation arch).

It's fun to think of how this story plays into what we know of established Dalek history today. Because of The Doctor's actions, the Daleks are destroyed. A couple hundred years in his own future, he would have the chance to destroy them again in Genesis of the Daleks, but would hesitate. Does he reconsider then because of the genocide The Doctor inflicts in this story? Does The Evil of the Daleks take place, as some fan commentators would be keen to suggest, in the far future, and is, indeed, "the final end" of the Dalek race? Once the events of Genesis of the Daleks occur, does Evil even exist in the new timeline? Books could be written speculating this kind of stuff.

My primary impression while watching this story, though, was the weight of expectation. The Evil of the Daleks is often lauded as one of the all time classics in Doctor Who, and it is difficult to watch it without having its lofty status staring you in the face. As I said earlier, this was my first experience with a missing adventure, having listened to it years before I came across any other missing adventures, so i already knew what to expect. I fully expected Evil to supplant The Power of the Daleks as my vote for the best Troughton story, if not the best Dalek story ever, but it did not. Evil is good, don't get me wrong, but I think most of its reputation is derived from the explosive finale. Pound for pound, I am still quite firmly in the Power camp, although to have two such strong Dalek serials in the same season is worthy of note, as their adventures would seldom reach the heights of this quality ever again.

LL6 - The Evil of the Daleks 6

Daleks can be frightening creatures to begin with, but when they seem innocent and childlike, like they do at the beginning of this episode, it almost seems more frightening because we know what they will inevitably end up like. However, the three Daleks that are injected with the Human Factor never really change their tone or attitude throughout the rest of the story, which has deadly consequences for the Dalek race.

Maxtible is now starting to take over as the main, crazy villain of the piece, as his greed for the secret of alchemy has become his main focus. Like many a Dalek collaborator before and since, he seems to believe that he has special standing with the Daleks compared to the rest of his human captors. It's quite a fantastic performance by Marius Goring who portrays Maxtible's gradual descent into madness quite convincingly.

I have yet to mention Dudley Simpson's superb score for this story, but it is one of his best. The highlight is, of course, the Dalek theme, which is slightly based on the series' main theme tune. There's two versions of the theme - one full version with a all the bells and whistles (not actual bells and whistles, mind), and my personal favourite version, a much more subtle rendition where the bass notes are played quietly on a tympani. This version is often used to underscore scenes where the Daleks aren't necessarily on the march, but are certainly in the background watching their plans come into being.
The true highlight of this episode, though, happens near the end, when we see the Emperor Dalek in all its glory. It's been tried on a couple of other occasions later in the series, but no other version of a supreme Dalek leader is as effective as the Emperor here. For those only familiar with the new series, there seems to be a direct parallel between the Emperor here and the Controller in Bad Wolf, as they both are perched on stationary platforms connected to several wires and cables. The Controller in Bad Wolf was basically a slave of the Daleks - is the Emperor, in its way, a slave, too, perhaps?

LL5 - The Evil of the Daleks 5

There's a lovely moment in this episode where The Doctor expresses his pride and admiration of how Jamie performed in the Daleks' tests. I mentioned how The Faceless Ones was really Jamie's coming out party, and this story, even though The Doctor and Jamie are apart for most of it, is the first sign of how strong a pairing the duo makes.

There are few Doctor/companion pairings that are better than the Doctor/Jamie connection, which is unique, of course, because of the fact that Jamie is one of the few male companions in the history of the show. This pairing could only work with Patrick Troughton's Doctor, I find. Of all The Doctor's incarnations, Troughton's is most like the mischievous uncle. The one who lets you have an extra cookie from the cookie jar when your mom isn't looking, the one who will take you for a ride on his motorbike with sidecar, the one who will sit down and play with you, as a kid, and actually look like he's enjoying himself.

Jamie's youthful exuberance and wide-eyed innocence, coupled with battle hardened instincts made him a perfect match for Troughton's devious and scheming Doctor. This episode is truly a showcase for Jamie, following on from a strong outing in Episode Four. With Kemel's help, he destroys Daleks, saves Victoria, and confronts The Doctor over his perceived alliance with The Daleks. Often remembered, perhaps, for jokier moments towards the end of his run in the series ("Look at the size of that thing, Doctor!"), Jamie is truly one of the series' great companions.

The end of this episode is particularly noteworthy, as the three Daleks injected with the Human Factor seem to be displaying behaviour that could be best described as childish, eager to play games with The Doctor. We really are, now, seeing the Daleks as we have never seen them before, and nothing could be creepier.

LL4 - The Evil of the Daleks 4

It's the Jamie and Kemel show in this episode, after the two adversaries (at the beginning of the episode, anyway) team up towards their common goal - rescuing Victoria. Along the way, as in the previous episode, Jamie narrowly avoids death by booby trap on several occasions, and often only due to Kemel's help.

Is this the Daleks' plan all along, I wonder? There are a couple of really close calls when it comes to the traps arranged to test Jamie. How close do they want to come before killing him? If he does die, what becomes of the test? Jamie was the lynch pin in their plans before the tests started, so it seems somewhat surprising that the Daleks are so willing to take such massive risks with Jamie's life to find the Human Factor.

Is it, perhaps, that they are confident in Jamie's abilities to get out of these types of situations? The Doctor certainly seems comfortable with Jamie's plight - he rarely shows anxiety or worry when it comes to his friend. Almost too comfortable, really - does The Doctor know something about the Daleks' tests that we don't?

A further revelation occurs when Maxtible attempts to pressure the Daleks into divulging what he is most interested in with this whole arrangement - the secret of alchemy. Up until now, Maxtible seemed only slightly eccentric and more power hungry than anything. Now, his desire to learn alchemy sets his character on a different path than what was expected. The Daleks have promised much to many people. Only the viewer (and The Doctor) know different, but that doesn't stop everyone else in this story from foolishly trusting them.

LL3 - The Evil of the Daleks 3

There's a fantastic scene in this episode where an angry Jamie confronts The Doctor about what the latter has in store for him, and that The Doctor is conspiring with Waterfield, Maxtible, and the Daleks to use the young Scotsman in some way. Of course, it's entirely true, but The Doctor (and, later, Waterfield) successfully direct Jamie's negative energy back on himself, subtly suggesting that he go off to the south wing of the house and try to rescue Victoria. This, of course, all plays into what the Daleks have in a store for Jamie - a series of test to determine the "Human Factor".

Patrick Troughton's Doctor, in full on scheming mode now, knows full well that Jamie's human nature will drive Jamie to do exactly the opposite of what he has been told not to do. This, essentially, is the real "Human Factor" - defiance in the face of what humans think is right and wrong. Frazer Hines excels in this episode as his storyline seems to now be taking centre stage.

Other characters are thrown into the mix as well. What is wrong with Artur Terrell, for instance? His mind jumps all over the place during this episode - is he being controlled by the Daleks? What are his intentions? This story has been wonderful at introducing characters long before their intentions have become clear. It's been a slow but steady buildup, dramatically, but it's been well worth it, and proof that, done well, stories of seven episodes could be made to work, and made to work well.

LL2 - The Evil of the Daleks 2

The Doctor and Jamie are still in full on sleuthing mode as Episode Two begins. I love Patrick Troughton in this. Seldom has the Doctor appeared so clever as he quickly deciphers clues and solves little mysteries about the trap that he knows is being set for him. Troughton is marvelous as The Doctor dives in headlong into the mystery, knowing full well that it must surely be a trap for him and his young companion.

The unanswered questions continue in this episode even when the mysteries from the previous are gradually solved. What "tests" are the Daleks referring to, and why is Jamie so important to their success? Who is the strange man who whacked Jamie on the back of the head and kidnapped him towards the end of the episode? How and why did Theodore Maxtible and Waterfield build a time cabinet, and how did they get mixed up with the Daleks?

Like The Power of the Daleks, the other David Whitaker-written Dalek story, the Daleks are in the background, present but seldom seen, yet firmly in control of all the events that we are seeing. This allows for a greater amount of screen time for the human characters and the relationships between them, while knowing that the Daleks will have just enough time on screen to tantalize you until their next appearance.

The Evil of the Daleks was the first missing story I became aware of, discovering the audiobook version back in the mid-90s. However, I never appreciated it for what it was back then, and so now, with this being just the third time I've watched the story (thanks to the reconstruction), it still does not appear familiar to me. Two episodes in, and I have no idea what is going to happen. It's not often that you can say that about a Dalek story, either.

LL1 - The Evil of the Daleks 1

This episode is full of tantalizing mysteries. Why is the TARDIS being hauled away on a flatbed truck? Who is Bob Hall, and why is he so shifty in his dealings with The Doctor and Jamie? Who is Kennedy, and why is Bob Hall working for him? Who is Kennedy working for?

The one mystery that overtakes all of these, though, is that of Edward Waterfield. Why does he appear to be from the 19th century, has an antique dealership in 1966, but has a secret room in his office full of futuristic alien technology? The Doctor and Jamie are led along through the whole episode, uncovering clues and trying to stay a step ahead of whoever is setting a trap for them, but they, and the viewer, are always left guessing.

The final mystery of the episode is how the Daleks are involved in all of this. A Dalek finally makes its first appearance at the very end of the episode, but, in the middle of the fun listed above, it comes as quite a shock when it finally materializes out of nowhere to wipe out Kennedy. Never before in Doctor Who has an episode asked so many questions, answered so few, and made it as entertaining and enticing to watch as this one.

Friday, June 26, 2009

KK6 - The Faceless Ones 6

That "Meadows" actually seizes his chance to escape the clutches (and that term is used very loosely) of The Doctor in this episode is a bit of a disappointment. Meadows had basically paved the way to victory for The Doctor that his actions would only be plausible if he had 100% joined The Doctor in his cause.

Almost trying to one-up "Meadows" in the race for Greatest Chameleon Turncoat, both Captain Blade and Spencer later relent without so much as three seconds of deliberation when offered an ultimatum by The Doctor. What's even more troubling, though, is the way that the Chameleons are eventually subdued. It happens when the Commandant reactivates the original version of Jenkins, which kills the duplicate version on the Chameleon satellite. The Commandant, Nurse Pinto, everyone, even The Doctor, knew that this would happen, yet all permitted it to occur, and little remorse was shown by any of the "good guys" afterwards. It's more than a bit concerning to see the Jenkins double, or any life form, used so callously as a pawn in negotiations. I was quite surprised that The Doctor would allow such a thing to happen.

This story was the first writing effort from Malcolm Hulke (along with David Ellis), yet already, hallmarks of his stories to come are visible here. While the sudden 180-degree turn by Blade and the the rest of his race was a little too jarring, it did display that classic Hulke quality, that there were no real "good guys" or "bad guys", just different races with different viewpoints, and different and, at times, desperate ways of trying to survive. You can't necessarily fault the Chameleons for why they did what they did, just how they did it. In the end, The Doctor doesn't offer them much hope apart from, basically, going back to the drawing board to find a solution to their problem. You can't help but feel a little sorry for them.

In the last scene of the episode, Ben and Polly make their first appearance since Episode Two, but their last appearance on the show ever. They both had their moments during their time on the show, but they were few and far between. Their finale almost seems to be written in just to not repeat the non-farewell that Dodo had in The War Machines (which, ironically, took place on the same day - July 20, 1966). There's not a great deal of remorse in The Doctor's voice. He's quite happy to have Jamie tag along with him now, and Ben and Polly are old news. The first companions to witness and guide the viewer through the first ever regeneration crisis are now history, and with much less fanfare than when they arrived.

KK5 - The Faceless Ones 5

In which the tables take a dramatic turn in favour of our heroes, and all thanks to the Chameleon version of Air Traffic Controller Meadows. Once Meadows is found out by The Doctor, he starts singing like a canary about the Chameleons' plans, and doesn't stop until the entire history of his race is released as a fully bound, three volume set published by Random House. After his big spiel, he then goes on to help The Doctor with every demand that is made of him. The Doctor's not even threatening him after a while! Has "Meadows" full on joined the side of The Doctor?

With "Meadows"'s help, The Doctor and the newly revived Nurse Pinto (better a minor character who we've only just met instead of Polly, in the eyes of the production team) manage to sneak onto the next Chameleon Tours flight, bypass any and all security checks, and wind up on the Chameleon satellite. Meanwhile, back at Gatwick Airport, Jean, Samantha, and the Commandant are making some headway in finding the comatose originals of the Chameleon duplicates.

After four episodes of a creepy, slow building mystery, the switch in emphasis in Episode Five to an inevitable victory by The Doctor is quite alarming.

KK4 - The Faceless Ones 4

The Faceless Ones evolves so gradually, yet it never seems slow. At the end of Episode One, we see the aliens. Only at the end of episode three, halfway through the story, are we finally let in on the secret that something sinister is happening on Chameleon Tours flights when all the passengers disappear while a shocked Inspector Crossland is watching.

The end of Episode Four finally shows that not only are the passengers disappearing from the planes, but the planes themselves are leaving the Earth to board a massive satellite orbiting the Earth. Because of the slow buildup, this revelation comes as a stunning turn of events. It's also a shame that this episode doesn't exist in the BBC archives anymore, as well, as it would have been neat to see how the visual effects team pulled off the model work for these sequences, as model work was still a rare treat on those days in Doctor Who.

The Doctor, Jamie, and Samantha also form a strong, if short lived, trio during this episode. It is a bit of a shame that Samantha didn't stay on as companion, but actress Pauline Collins had other ideas. Her actions and behaviour during this story, though, are just close enough to those of an "official" companion, too. Her large involvement in the proceedings reminds me of another character from a Doctor Who story set in and around an airport - Captain Stapley in the Peter Davison story Time-Flight. I'll touch on that comparison when the time comes to review Time-Flight, but I will say this. Enjoy the shots of a busy air traffic control that we see in The Faceless Ones, because you'll never see better air traffic control scenes in Doctor Who again...

KK3 - The Faceless Ones 3

With Ben and Polly, for all intents and purposes, out of the picture, Jamie is now the main companion in Doctor Who. Due to his late arrival in the TARDIS, Jamie's participation in his first few stories usually resulted in him taking some of Ben's lines, or having the young Scotsman laid up in bed, moaning in defiance of the Phantom Piper.

With a couple of nice sequences in Episode Two featuring The Doctor, Jamie, and some upside down newspapers, though, the Jamie we know and love has finally arrived. And in Episode Three, the role for which we know him best begins to manifest itself - that of protector. His protectee in this story, henceforth, is Liverpudlian (and pseudo-companion) Samantha Briggs. Samantha is headstrong, yet slightly emotionally fragile at the moment due to the unknown fate of her missing brother. This allows for the best aspects of the Doctor/Jamie/female companion relationship of the Troughton era to take over. Girl=headstrong, yet vulnerable. Jamie=loyal to Doctor and protective of Girl. Doctor=subversive and, with Jamie protecting Girl, free to involve himself in the situation as only he know how to do.

After two episodes of trying to get someone to listen to him, after as many episodes spent trying to get away from those won't listen to him, The Doctor finally gains the trust of the Commandant of the airport, as well as Inspector Crossland of Scotland Yard. Crossland is played by Bernard Kay, who, in this episode, starts off a Doctor Who career made of characters who, in their position, should be immediately suspicious of The Doctor and his actions, but, instead, instantly trusts him. It is Crossland, in fact, who discovers the secret of what is happening to all these travelers on Chameleon Tours flights...

KK2 - The Faceless Ones 2

The next step in the normalizing of the Patrick Troughton era - updating the theme music. The new title graphics, complete with The Doctor's face advancing towards the camera, debuted in time for The Macra Terror, but, with the original William Hartnell-era music as its backing, it just seemed out of place. Now, with added "spangles" and "bubbles" and any other made-up terms to describe the other-worldly sounds from TV's greatest ever theme song, it seems much more familiar.

Another step in establishing the real Patrick Troughton (unlike this fake Troughton era that we've been watching for the past few weeks) - the phasing out of Ben and Polly. Producer Innes Lloyd was never one for soppy companion endings. Usually, when a companion leaves the series, he or she is given a greater share of the action to both showcase the character (often for the first time since that character's debut episode), but also to lead into a plausible dramatic reason for why that character will be departing the TARDIS at the end of the story.

Not so Ben and Polly. We see Polly staring vacantly off into space while being locked up in a crate. We assume that same thing has happened to Ben, too, but we never even see his final scene in the episode. Both characters, swept under the rug, never to be seen until their final (prefilmed) scene in Episode Six. Both actors paid out until Episode Two of the next serial, but, in essence, for the last few weeks of their contracts, paid to not be in Doctor Who anymore. Ouch.

More creepiness with taciturn pilots and spooky music. Thus far, this story has been an overlooked gem.

KK1 - The Faceless Ones 1

This episode marks a change in direction for the Troughton era, a change that will be seen over the course of the next three episodes. The one big change is noticeable in the very first scene. Once the TARDIS lands on the runway at Gatwick Airport, look who emerges from the TARDIS first: The Doctor, followed by Jamie. It's interesting to note how little screen time Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines have shared alone since Jamie came aboard the TARDIS back in The Highlanders. This shot, though brief, is one of the rare examples.

But the Doctor/Jamie connection is so familiar, in retrospect, that, when both of them dash away from the TARDIS to flee a landing plane, it almost catches you off guard when you see, in long shot, Polly, followed by Ben, bolt out of the time machine, as well. It's almost as if director Gerry Mill is setting the viewer up for the inevitable farewell of Ben and Polly. The production team is tired of them, too tired to even devote much attention to them, and they want to ensure that you don't want them around anymore, either.

This is a very creepy episode, helped in no small part by the minimalist electronic music score. Only two music tracks are heard throughout the entire story - a sombre, Brian Eno-esque piece that punctuates much of the proceedings, and a percussion piece which is used to emphasize the few action sequences in the story. Both are terribly effective (and must be either stock music or provided by the Radiophonic Workshop, as no music credit is listed - l'il help?). The creepy music does much to enhance the impact of the super spooky end to the episode, where we see a heavy breathing alien from behind....and he has no face! This is real behind-the-sofa stuff.

JJ4 - The Macra Terror 4

As I mentioned in the last post, it is significant when Medok, the Colony's only dissenter at the beginning of the story, dies in Episode Three. For at the (abrupt) end of Episode Four, the Macra are defeated, but the Colony appears to return to normal almost immediately afterwards. Same empty headed cheer leading and all. Without the threat of the Macra keeping everyone sedated and in line, why does the colony keep going as if nothing had happened? Is it like opening the barn door to free the cattle, just to have the cattle stand there, chewing their cud. Do the members of the Colony have to recognize freedom first before they can grasp it?

On top of that, The Doctor flees the scene after hearing through Ben that he is the front runner for the new Pilot job. But the current Pilot is still in power! Head of Security, Ola, and his minions are still there, too. Is their authority no longer recognized? Is there now a vacuum at the top of the Colony hierarchy, a vacuum created by The Doctor himself? I'm all for the empire-toppling nature of The Doctor, particularly Patrick Troughton's Doctor, the most anarchistic of them all. But what happens to those colonies and planets that he supposedly saves by upending the current ruling regime and clearing off before any questions are asked?

We only ever see the after effects of The Doctor's regime changing at its most blatant in the new series episode The Long Game and Bad Wolf, and it took until 1977's The Face of Evil for it to be touched on in the classic series. The Doctor's behaviour in situations like The Macra Terror is akin to the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003 that unseated Saddam Hussein as leader, but left a power vacuum at the top which led to the mess that the region is still in today. At least the US Army stuck around. The Doctor just gets out while the going is good, leaving the chips fall where they may.

Either that's a sign of confidence in the citizens and their ability to rise up out of the ashes and help themselves, or it's a lack of responsibility and ownership of a situation. In this instance, I'd lean towards the latter. No wonder the Time Lords went after him.

JJ3 - The Macra Terror 3

In which poor Medok, the rebel of the society who The Doctor was so fond in helping at the beginning of the story, meets his end at the end of a Macra claw. This turns out to be a noteworthy development, as we will see by the end of the story. Medok is the only person, at the beginning, who speaks out about what is going on in the Colony. Once he dies, it's now only left to the strangers (The Doctor and co.) to rise up against all that is wrong.

Ben continues his gradual conversion back to his normal self. I like that he has been coerced by words, and not by drugs. It is only his lack of free will that is preventing him from joining his friends in rebelling against the Macra. This story, like its spiritual cousin The Prisoner, is about the suppression of free will and the damaging effects that this approach has on society. It is also a surprisingly infrequent theme that is brought up in Doctor Who; or, at least, infrequent when dealt with as explicitly as it is here.

The final five minutes of this episode consist of a long and tedious buildup to the inevitable and unsurprising cliffhanger. It's almost as bad as the end of the new series episode Aliens of London in how it is all drawn out. Those last five minutes end as they began - Jamie is being threatened by two giant crabs. Still, it's interesting to see Jamie thrust into the spotlight for the first time since he joined the series. It's become more obvious that this story was written with a lot more advance warning of Jamie's inclusion in the series than the previous stories to follow The Highlanders.

JJ2 - The Macra Terror 2

After a great first episode setting up the charade that is The Colony, we finally get to see the titular Macra in Episode Two. And, thanks to the Australian Censor Board hacking out chunks of this episode 40 years ago and keeping those clips in a broom closet to be discovered in the later part of the 20th century, we can actually see a few brief moving images from this episode, too.

When you see the clips, you wonder if the Censor Board cut these scenes because, so they claimed, they may have been too frightening to children, or perhaps they cut these scenes because they looked so terrible. The Macra? Crapra. To see a hysterical Polly scream and flail and pretend to be caught up in the giant claws of the immobile Macra prop is to wish you were a Star Trek fan. It doesn't just look bad. It doesn't look like outtakes of the filming of Plan 9 From Outher Space. It looks like the outtakes from the 1994 Tim Burton film Ed Wood that were ABOUT the outtakes from Plan 9 From Outer Space. For the most part, director John Davies keeps the crab in the dark as best he can, but he was forced to play his hand on this occasion.

There's more stick-it-to-the-man-edness from Troughton has he shorts out all the hypno-gas wires in his companions' dormitories. And full credit to Michael Craze's little performance as a hypnotized Ben. It would have been standard and cliche for him to speak with a robotic monotone when he's hypnotized by the voice of the leader. The fact that Ben speaks as he does normally, but now with a strange urge to work for the Colony and unmask any ne'er-do-wells makes his plight all that more worrisome. I haven't spoken much about Ben during his (soon to be ending) time on the show, but he has had his moments. This is one of them.

JJ1 - The Macra Terror 1

I mentioned when reviewing The Savages about how writer Ian Stuart Black was a contemporary of Patrick McGoohan, creator of The Prisoner, and how there were slight similarities between the two series. Well, Black's The Macra Terror appears to be an even closer offspring of any discussions that McGoohan and Black may have had circa 1966. The most alarming similarity is probably the jaunty music that plays throughout the colony, accompanied by the friendly public address announcer.

There's even a Big Brother-esque figure whose stern (yet, according to Polly, dishy) visage looks down upon the colony and barks orders to his subordinates. The uniforms worn by the various authority figures are all very militaristic. It's creepy atmosphere, to be sure, and it's brilliant that The Doctor almost immediately suspects something is afoot once he runs into, and inadvertently captures, Medok. Why did The Doctor instantly take the side of one man fleeing from the law? To quote Romana, from a few years in the future, "Because he was running".

I love how The Doctor almost blindly trusts Medok to the point that he repeatedly thwarts security measures and warnings to get to Medok and hear his story. At one point, The Doctor breaks into Medok's cell and, without a word, frees Medok from his bonds to indicate to the imprisoned Medok that he cares about what he has to say. This is The Doctor at his most subversive, and it's a sign of Patrick Troughton really finding his feet in the role.

The main plus for this episode? We've barely seen a glimpse of the Macra. More about that later.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

HH4 - The Moonbase 4

One of the prerequisites for Cybermen stories, it seems, is to have a shot of Cybermen marching slowly and menacingly (emphasis on slowly) across a quarry, city street, or, in this case, the surface of the moon. And it looks impressive - there looks to be at least ten Cybermen in one shot. Ten!

The laser gun effect for the Cybermen's massive gun is very good, as well (so good that they used the effect twice in the same shot). Their departure from the surface, though, is less good, leaving via Kirby wire and cheesy sound effects. All this is thanks to the Moonbase crew turning the Gravitron onto the surface of the moon. One setback is apparently enough for these Cybermen, too. Do they collect themselves, rustle up their courage, and try again? Nope. They all catch the next rocket shuttle home. This event does a bit of a number on their "never give up" attitude that they usually seem to portray.

And Polly ends up making even more coffee! They're obviously pulling an all-nighter at the Moonbase, but can't they take the coffee making duties in shifts? There's so much wrong with The Moonbase (the stereotypes, the dialogue, the chauvinism, the silly hats), but it's still an enjoyable watch, oddly. I can't recommend it, but I can't UNrecommend it, either.

HH3 - The Moonbase 3

For an emotionless race, the Cybermen are certainly prone to some bad, idiotic dialogue that borders on gloating. During one conversation in Episode Three, one of them boasts to the crew of the Moonbase that their "stupid Earth brains" wouldn't have been able to uncover the Cybermen's plans, further adding that the metallic monsters are "clever...clever...clever". I half expected Christopher Robbie's Cyberleader to come strutting in at that point, hands on hips.

Despite what the Cybermen actually say, the way they say it is so cool, as is their appearance, but in a "retro" sort of fashion. The electric drone with which they speak is very dated these days, but it has such a charming, 1950's vibe to it that it is irresistible. The new, updated look from the headlamps and cellophane of The Tenth Planet is very effective, indeed, and is my favourite of the 1960s designs, and probably my favourite Cybermen design ever.

It's good to see Jamie walking about again and stealing some of Ben's lines. Soon, he'll actually have something of his own to say and do - hooray!

HH2 - The Moonbase 2

Doctor Who could never be called a flagship for the cause of feminism, to be sure, but the show had its moments where women weren't portrayed as inept waifs who only understood how to sit still just long enough for them to get into trouble and be rescued by men. Not many moments, but it did have them. Most of them involve Sarah Jane Smith.

The Innes Lloyd era of Doctor Who has to be the most chauvinistic era in the programme's history. There are not only few strong female characters in the stories of this era; there are few female characters, period. Apart from Polly, there are no female characters in The Moonbase (nor its earlier clone, The Tenth Planet). Obviously, in the eyes of the people who made Doctor Who at this time, the future was purely a male driven society, and the women are kept well out of the way. Polly manages to scream a few times and then make the coffee (the latter of which, at least, serves as a plot point).

There is an achingly long scene where Hobbs and his staff work on fixing the Gravitron, interrupted by a pep talk by the most snivelly of civil servants over the radio. It seems to go on for ten minutes, and all that happens is a bunch of scientific busywork that must have been fascinating to noted scientist Kit Pedler, who wrote the episode, but interminably dull to everyone else. But it took ten minutes out of the script, and was shot on one set, so into the story it goes.

I'd talk about the new Cybermen and how much I like them, but they've barely appeared in this story, and it's already halfway through...

HH1 - The Moonbase 1

Terry Nation has (rightly) been criticized over the years for basically submitting the same story over and over for each Dalek story he was commissioned to write. We never rake Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis over the same coals, though. Just a few scant months prior to this, the Cybermen made their debut in The Tenth Planet, which featured:

- The Cybermen, in the future, invade an isolated outpost of human characters made up of multi-cultural stereotypes
- Shock appearance of a Cyberman at the end of episode one
- Cybermen attack humans outside of the base on the cold surface of Antarctica
- Polly makes the coffee

Fast forward four months to The Moonbase, in which the following happens :

- The Cybermen, in the future, invade an isolated outpost of human characters made up of multi-cultural stereotypes
- Shock appearance of a Cyberman at the end of episode one
- Cybermen attack humans outside of the base on the cold surface of the Moon
- Polly makes the coffee

There's also some silly business in the Moon sequences where The Doctor and company are jumping around, committing mild acts of horseplay, until Jamie goes to far and gets himself hurt, thus confining him to a hospital bed for two episodes and the writers an early coffee break. Despite all this, it is a relatively entertaining episode. The "aliens-invade-isolated-outpost" meme is still relatively new at this point, as well. Plus, they wouldn't think of doing that type of story again, would they?

Monday, June 22, 2009

GG4 - The Underwater Menace 4

If you'll permit me to be utterly humourless for a moment, I've never felt comfortable with "camp". That is, I've never fully enjoyed finding great amusement in something which had serious drama as its intent. It's almost a slap in the face of the efforts of all involved in the making of the programme who set out to make something worth watching. Even when I do come across something that is laughably bad, I do feel like just a smidgen guilty while I watch it.

That said, the camp factor of The Underwater Menace is probably its only redeeming feature. Seldom in the history of Doctor Who has a story that was rushed to air, or otherwise faced traumatic or truncated preparation and recording time, actually risen above the difficulties of its conception and provided something that wasn't worth mocking. The Underwater Menace was only very reluctantly inserted into the lineup for Season Four, and, by the time recording for the story got underway, the production team were only working a week ahead of transmission. It would remain that way until the end of Season 4, which is quite remarkable. That fact alone prevents me from laughing too hard at this story, but...

Okay, The Underwater Menace borders on being a camp classic - the 1960's version of The Horns of Nimon. But at least The Horns of Nimon was trying to be funny...I think?

GG3 - The Underwater Menace 3

Episode Three of The Underwater Menace could be the campest 24 minutes of Doctor Who ever. There's this strange, bizarre (and bizarrely long) sequence where the fish people are floating around on visible wires through the water, apparently taking several, laid back minutes to pass on word of the wildcat strike that they're about to pull off. It's like watching The Web Planet in slow motion.

Before that, there's an equally long, cacophonous scene set in a marketplace, featuring The Doctor in disguise as some sort of hippy and shaking a tambourine. Also, of note, nothing at all happens for at least two minutes. And it's all brilliantly overscored by some horrific incidental music from Dudley Simpson, who was clearly taking his new Moog synthesizer out for a spin.

Then there's Peter Stephens as Lolem, who must be seen and heard to be believed...

You know it's bad when it's taken me this long to mention Professor Zaroff, the poster boy of camp. Keen to raise its game, though, is the script, offering such softballs to Zaroff like "Let me stand next to you so I might feel the aura of your goodness", and (wait for it), "Nothing in the world can stop me now!"

Somehow, this episode was spared from destruction when so many of its contemporaries were mercilessly wiped from existence. Oy...

On to Episode Four (of four, thankfully)...

GG2 - The Underwater Menace 2

We meet the main villain of the piece, Professor Zaroff, briefly in Episode One, but he gets his big unveiling in Episode Two. Now I see why this story has been dumped on so much. Zaroff so desperately wants to be a great James Bond villian - he has a way out scheme to conquer the Earth, he has a funny accent, he has a pet octopus, and so on and so forth.

Of course, Zaroff isn't a great James Bond villain. He's not even a good one. His idea of draining the ocean to raise Atlantis from t he depths is scientifically ludicrous, for one. (Obviously, science fantasy has fired the first salvo in the war between fiction and fantasy I mentioned a couple posts back). Zaroff probably thinks he's Goldfinger in a story that's more akin to Moonraker. I can't tell,though, if the character Zaroff's failings are because of because of bad writing by Geoffrey Orme or bad acting by Joseph Furst. At this stage, it's being hotly contested between the two.

I'm more happy about the fact that, after 13 straight, non-existent episodes (the longest such stretch that I'll have to endure), I can actually watch something where the pictures move next episode - hooray!

GG1 - The Underwater Menace 1

When a story like The Underwater Menace comes up for review, it's tough to watch it without the excessive weight of the general negative reaction from 40 years of fandom sitting in front of me, trying to block the screen from my impartial eye. So, as best I could, I tried to sit down and watch Episode One with as unbiased an eye as I possibly could. I've only ever seen this story twice before, so how jaded could I possibly be?

The verdict after episode one: middling. The only bad thing I could really think of was a cringe-worthy scene where each companion thinks to himself/herself, complete with cheesy vocal overdub, wishing that the TARDIS has landed in a location that would be fun and interesting to them. I suppose I could pick on the basic plot relying on the fact that Atlantis still exists under the sea, but that would be picking nits.

Jamie accustoms himself to the TARDIS better than any companion before or since, especially given the fact that he was born in the 18th century. It solves the age-old problem in Doctor Who : how do you portray the awe and wonder of a new companion when he/she steps into the TARDIS for the first time, yet make it fresh and exciting each time? Answer: you just ignore it. Jamie has slipped into the TARDIS rather unnoticed, and has already accepted everything that he has seen. Somewhere, Katarina is feeling that much more stupid.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

FF4 - The Highlanders 4

At the end of this story, it turns out that the whole point of the it wasn't to ensure that the laird of the McLaren clan was kept alive, it wasn't to get the Highlanders made it safely to France, it wasn't to have The Doctor and his friends escape unscathed, it wasn't for history to take its right and proper course, and it wasn't to see off Jamie on the start of his long trek in the TARDIS.

No, the person who advances the most throughout the course of this story, with great effect, is Algeron Ffinch. Ffinch took his knocks early on - falling down a pit, being disarmed, robbed, and blackmailed by Polly and Kirsty, being mocked by his men, and winding up poor and dishonoured in a tavern, drinking his sorrows away. While still being blackmailed, his services are used one final time to escort The Doctor and friends safely back to the TARDIS. As a result of this, though, Ffinch takes Solicitor Grey into custody for slave trading, and all because, despite the grief that Polly has given him, Ffinch has taken a bit of shone to The Doctor's blonde companion. Aww.

Ffinch actually turns out to be the hero of the piece, which is actually quite charming. It's the topping on the cake of what has been a fun little romp, the last such historical one that we will see for some considerable time. I enjoyed the historicals, as a whole, but did find they were remarkably limited. A few of the classic series historicals share one main aspect in common with the new series "celebrity historicals", in that they often feature famous historical figures. In the classic series, we met Marco Polo and King Richard I; in the new series, Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria (amongst others). The main difference, though, is how those characters were treated. Whereas the new series almost paid worship to these historical figures and involved them full on in The Doctor's world (because, as geniuses, it was told, they would be able to cope with such alien wonders), the classic series historicals deliberately kept these figures in the dark for fear that their knowledge of things outside their realm of possibility would alter history.

The same approach extended to the different eras that these historical stories were set in. On no account could any changes be made to the events that were occurring for fear of disrupting the timeline. For the most part, the historical stories were mishandled. It's not as much fun to watch something wrong almost happen, but then not. What would have been far more interesting would be to have The Doctor land in the past, see that something had gone wrong to upset history, then be forced to right the timelines by setting the events straight again (just as the Back To The Future movies did successfully some 20 years after Doctor Who stopped meddling with the past).

The move away from historicals finally decided the war between history and science to see which would draw the viewers in. It was a battle that had its lines drawn from the word go, literally, by both a history teacher (Barbara) and a science teacher (Ian) joining the TARDIS crew so that Barbara could basically narrate to the viewer the historical events that were being shown, and Ian could describe what a litmus test is or what acid does to poorly made shoes. After three and a half years, science had won, soon to enter into another war over the coming years between "science fiction" and "science fantasy".

FF3 - The Highlanders 3

The next disguise in The Doctor's (or, more accurately, Patrick Troughton's) arsenal is that of a washer woman in this episode. Troughton is really laughing his way through this story. It's interesting to note that Sylvester McCoy, with his prat falls and spoon playing, did essentially the same thing in his debut story, Time and the Rani. Was it acceptable to fans back in 1966, just as the same antics were panned in 1987? If not, was it perhaps the fact that the quality of the latter story may have been slightly less than The Highlanders? (We'll see that theory explained in a few months time...)

Still, we get to see more (or, rather, we don't get to see) of how successful at the art of disguise The Doctor is after he manages to finagle an entire wheelbarrow of weapons with his washer woman's costume. Not entirely sure how he pulled that off...did I miss something in this episode?

Another light filler episode, with even less of Jamie in it than the previous episode. One doesn't really get the impression that he's going to be one of the longest running companions ever. It really does look like he was a last-minute addition to the show (which, of course, he was). I've always liked Jamie, but he is so in the background in this story, that it does seem odd for him to be added to the (soon to be crowded) TARDIS roster.

FF2 - The Highlanders 2

The Doctor carries on his "Doctor von Wer" persona during this episode, actually putting it to good use in an amusing sequence where he ambushes Grey in his office, resulting in the solicitor getting tied up, gagged, and shoved in a closet. The Doctor later convinces Grey's clerk, Perkins, to lie down for an hour with his eyes closed after banging Perkins's head on the desk a few times.

This episode, like the one before it, though, is a real showcase for Polly. Polly really takes charge in this episode, convincing Kirsty to head off in search of Colin, Jamie, and Ben, then trapping Algernon Ffinch and blackmailing him into helping the two girls several times for the rest of the story. After the strong female character of Janley in The Power of the Daleks, one would think that this is just the next step in the feminizing of Doctor Who...

My favourite thing about this episode is Captain Trask, who uses every pirate cliche in the book when speaking (including countless "arrs!") and is so over the top that it would be laughable in any other situation. But this story is such a light hearted little romp that Trask is a blast to watch. After two episodes, this story is a nice little change of pace from the epic drama of the Dalek story that came before it.

FF1 - The Highlanders 1

It takes any actor playing The Doctor a few episodes to find his feet in the role, and probably just as long for the production team of Doctor Who to adjust to their new leading man. After having Patrick Troughton play an aloof and scheming Doctor in his debut story, in The Highlanders, it seems that the producers are willing to let Troughton loose and indulge his flair for dressing up.

I'll mention this more in following entries (as The Doctor chooses more than one disguise over the course of this story), but in this first episode, he quickly adopts a German accent (and a questionable one at that) in order to try and fool his Redcoat captors that he is a doctor from Hanover. Much silliness ensues, but it can never be said yet that The Doctor is the driving force in the proceedings. The dressing up just gives him something to do while the rest of the characters drive the plot along.

This is Jamie McCrimmon's first episode, but he doesn't attract a great deal of screen time yet. It's weird to think at this stage that Frazer Hines will be in every Troughton episode from here on - quite a feat indeed!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

EE6 - The Power of the Daleks 6

This truly spectacular story ends with easily the bloodiest, most violent episode of Doctor Who to date. All but two characters, Valmar and Quinn, meet their end either at the end of a Dalek gun or a rifle wielded by a rebel. The choice of using real, 20th century weapons as opposed to some BBC prop laser guns with a flashbulb at the end of them was a daring one. Guns had barely featured in Doctor Who up to this point. The only two stories before it that come close are The Gunfighters, which was set in the Wild West and, given the title of the serial, pretty much had to include the weaponry of the time, and The War Machines, where all the army's rifles were seen but not heard.

Most of the gunfire is concentrated on the Daleks by the rebels as the rebels realize far too late that their ability to control the Daleks is long gone (if it was ever even there to begin with). The deaths in this episode are numerous, and none of them are marked by hammy screams or melodrama, making it unrelentingly grim.

The Doctor, who I've scarcely mentioned over the course of these six episodes, finally manages to defeat the Daleks at episode's end, but treats it as if he's a child who's accidentally knock his mom's vase over. "Did I do that?", he cheekily asks Ben and Polly after the dust has settled. Only now do you realize that, when the rebels thought they were in control, the Daleks were really moving the chess pieces from underneath. But yet under the Daleks, The Doctor was the one who was really in control. Scarcely noticed, always aloof, involved in one conversation while thinking of the next one he's going to have, Patrick Troughton's Doctor has a superb debut episode. He almost reminds me of a philanthropic version of The Meddling Monk. They both have the same approach, but The Doctor is doing his best to put all the toys back in the box in the right place.

And The Doctor doesn't necessarily succeed in this story. In any other given circumstances, his goal would be to save the colony. Here, his mission is to defeat the Daleks, which he does, but at the expense of the colony. The fact that he sneaks away before he can receive blame for this is remarkably cavalier. All of the one time leaders and scientists of the colony are now dead, with no one to replace them. Vulcan was definitely left a worse off place than it was when the story started.

The central theme of this story is power. In the literal sense, the Daleks are seeking a power supply to rejuvenate themselves, build an army, and exterminate all who oppose them - the standard Dalek edict. While this goes on, there are numerous characters trying to impose their power on others - Bragen over Quinn, Janley over Lesterson, Lesterson over the Daleks, Bragen over the Daleks, and so on and so on. The real "power of the Daleks" is that the Daleks manage to convince everyone, apart from the Doctor, of course, that they are on their side. It is they who really drive a wedge between the establishment and the rebellion. The Daleks barely fire their weapons until the final episode, but they've long ago consigned the humans to their doom. I am in no way suggesting that Robert Shearman's Series 1 episode Dalek is inspired by this story, but the behaviour of the Dalek(s) in both stories are similar, and unique to any other Dalek stories that happened before or afterwards. Never have the Daleks been more conniving, more scheming, more intelligent, more ruthless, more brilliant than in The Power of the Daleks. This story shows the true potential of them, which was, sadly, never picked up on much until Dalek almost 40 years later.

The Power of the Daleks just might be the best Dalek story ever made, and easily one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time.

EE5 - The Power of the Daleks 5

In which Lesterson completes his descent into madness, going complete batshit once he realizes that the innocent requests for power and supplies by the Daleks that he's agreed to has now resulted in a Dalek army being created. Robert James veers close to OTT in his portrayal of Lesterson, and probably crosses the line on a couple of occasions, but it's still a fun performance.

I love how there are two separate storylines going on here - the rebellion being staged by a group of the human colonists to overthrow the current regime, and the ongoing accumulation of power by the Daleks, who are seen as merely pawns and servants for the rebels. Both Janely and newly minted governor Bragen are banking on their control of the Daleks for their rebellion hopes, ignoring Lesterson's insane warnings. Bragen orders (or so he thinks) a Dalek to exterminate the former governor, Hinsell, which the Dalek does. But not for one second is that Dalek taking any orders from anyone. Throughout the whole story, the Daleks are merely playing along, happy to let the humans dig themselves further and further into a hole, by which time they will be not only dependent on the Daleks for help in the rebellion, but the Daleks will also be up to full speed and an independent entity unto themselves.

The moment finally happens at the end of Episode Five. The rebellion is officially on, and so the Daleks strike, moving out from their capsule in staggering numbers, ready to kill all humans while the humans are busy killing themselves. "Daleks conquer and destroy!"

EE4 - The Power of the Daleks 4

With Anneke Wills off on holiday during this episode, along with her distracting, impossibly long legs, I can actually focus on the matter at hand again. And this episode is, like the others before it, chock full of memorable moments.

I love the quiet war that The Doctor and Bragen have been waging against each other since the start of the story. Like the Doctor/Daleks relationship, in that only the Doctor knows what the true nature of the Daleks are, and, seemingly, vice versa, only The Doctor suspects that Bragen murdered the real Examiner, and only Bragen knows that The Doctor isn't really the Examiner. Their scenes together change instantly once they are alone together, as each subtly threatens to expose each other's motives and actions. It's the type of scene that this devious new Doctor, as played by Patrick Troughton, excels at. It's very early into Troughton's run, yet I can't for a second imagine any other Doctor being in this story other than him.

Janley has another great episode, particularly in the scene where her and the other rebels are having a secret meeting. In order to prove the rebels' power over the Daleks, she has a gun fitted to a Dalek with a control switch attached. The rebels think they have control over the Dalek gun, but, of course, no one can control a Dalek with its gun attached. To prove the rebels' point, though, that the Daleks will not harm them and are working for them, Janley herself stands in front of the Dalek, confident that it won't shoot. The tension is palpable - it shot Resno, it's natural instinct is to kill...but it spares Janley. It knows that now is not the time to show its hand (so to speak). Yet more signs of the truly devious nature of the Daleks in this story.

And why are they so devious? Because they are quietly and secretly building an army of Daleks to overtake the colony. The last five minutes of this episode are given over to the famous Dalek production line sequence, of which only a few short clips exist. It is a damn shame. As Lesterson watches from a safe distance, he probably shares the same feelings of dread and awe that the viewer gets from seeing countless Daleks coming into being. From what would appear to be three dormant Daleks at the beginning of this story are now, with only their cunning and diabolical ingenuity to aid them, manage to recreate themselves from almost nothing into a formidable army. It certainly validates a claim that The Doctor made earlier, that one Dalek was capable of wiping out the entire colony. We're about to see that happen.

EE3 - The Power of the Daleks 3

It's taken over three years, but there's finally a really strong female character role in a Doctor Who story in the from of Janley. She's perhaps the most manipulative character around, too, even more so than Bragen or the Daleks themselves. The way she controls Lesterson without him knowing it is fascinating to watch, and she also seems to know more than she knows when dealing with Bragen, too.

This whole story is about power, about which I'll get into later. Honestly, though, during this episode, the most prominent portrayal of power was from Polly, on a purely physical level (what's another word for "level" that starts with the letter "p"?). I'm not sure there has ever been a sexier Doctor Who companion than Anneke Wills as Polly. I've made it my mission during this viewing marathon to not go back and review scenes or episodes, but just write what I feel about each episode as I view it. But I relented during this episode. I had to watch a five-minute segment of the episode again because I realized I was transfixed on Polly's legs during an entire scene. Having the pictures not move played a part in this, to be sure, as the reconstruction showed a static shot of Polly sitting on a bench for the better part of a minute, but it also didn't help that the Vulcan colonists felt it necessary to dress Polly up in a charming pair of walking shorts. This marathon has made me appreciate certain aspects of the programme's early years a lot more. I'm going to add Polly to that list.

Back to the power theme again - the end of the episode (has there ever been a better set of episode endings than in this story?). The three Daleks that we have seen thus far have just successfully lobbied Lesterson (there's that alliteration again - sorry) to grant them access to the colony's power supply. Still pretending to be subservient, the Daleks start chanting, "We will have our power!" over and over again. An increasingly wary Lesterson thinks that they are referring to the electric power that they will soon be connected with. We all know different.

EE2 - The Power of the Daleks 2

After watching this episode, I'm utterly convinced that the greatest shame in the history of Doctor Who, if not humanity itself, is that David Whitaker didn't write more Dalek stories than he did. Whitaker's take on the pepper pots is so much more enthralling than anything that the Daleks' creator, Terry Nation, ever came up with. In showing the Daleks as a small band of battered, near-lifeless creatures, as opposed to the conquering invaders of the William Hartnell era, it instantly casts doubt on both them and the impressions of them on both the characters in the story and the viewers watching on television.

There are two scenes that literally had my hair standing on end. The first is when the scientist Lesterson, Janley, and Lesterson's assistant Resno are examining a Dalek with its' second "arm" attached. Little to the colonists know that this "arm" is, of course, the Dalek gun. Resno is filming the experiment, but there are also a few camera shots taken from the Dalek's perspective. The intensity builds during the scene, and each shot of Resno through the Dalek eye stalk view is like seeing things through the sights of a sniper's rifle. It's like the Dalek is playing along with being docile for only as long as it can stand it, before it's natural urge to exterminate finally takes over. When Resno is finally blasted, it happens at just the right moment between shock and inevitability. Lesterson's and Janley's reactions are even more paramount. Lesterson thinks that Resno is merely injured, convinced by Janley's immediate diagnosis that he received an electric shock. Janley is becoming one of the more interesting characters in this story, but more on that later.

The second moment of perfection is the stunning final scene, where the Dalek is paraded in front of the heads of of the colony, as well as The Doctor, Ben and Polly. Lesterson is selling everyone on the notion that the Dalek is a skilled worker and servant whose skills will help lift the colony out of its current precarious state. Only two people in the room don't buy into this notion - the Dalek and The Doctor. When the Dalek trains its eyestalk on the newly regenerated Doctor and moves threateningly towards him, everyone else in the room is amazed at its abilities to see and recognize others. The Doctor, of course, is terrified. But how does the Dalek recognize him? Surely they haven't seen this incarnation yet. Or have they? Perhaps in a future adventure? Or do Daleks simply recognize their greatest enemy in all his forms, or perhaps even by his reputation?

The Dalek is also as devious and conniving as the Daleks have ever been (or ever were after this). Disarmed, it lures the colonists in with its promise of solid, skilled labour. The final shot of the episode is haunting, with the Dalek repeating the assurance, "I am your servant. I am your servant." to the increasingly impressed colonists, while The Doctor fights to have his own warnings heard about what the Daleks truly represent. Only he and the viewers know what folly the colonists are setting up for themselves.

Breathtaking stuff. Only two episodes in, and this might be the best Doctor Who story to date.

EE1 - The Power of the Daleks 1

The first installment of Patrick Troughton's debut story is intensely interesting if only for the novelty of watching the first post-regeneration sequence in the programme's history. For most fans of the series, this initial stab at it is probably the most recent one they have seen, or will see (thanks to a superb CD-ROM reconstruction release from the BBC a few years ago). There's the usual disorientation that we're now used to seeing. What isn't explained is why The Doctor's clothes regenerate with him, thus ensuring at least a dozen books to be written about the hows and whys of regeneration.

The reactions of Ben and Polly during all of this are also neat to see. Seldom included on the list of most memorable companions, the two do, however, fulfill a vital role in the story by questioning the identity of the stranger now staring back at them. Even The Doctor himself isn't sure of who he is, as he often refers to "The Doctor" in his post "renewal" babblings. This new Doctor is as distant and aloof as any Doctor has ever been. Ever. And it's up to a cynical Ben and a trusting Polly to simultaneously question and reassure the viewer that this new person is still the same hero they've been watching for all this time.

Patrick Troughton is immediately fascinating in the lead role. His playing of the recorder, which was significantly toned down over the course of his tenure, is in full motion here, instantly becoming an endearing character trait. There are times where dialogue is carrying on amongst other characters in a scene, but in the background, you can still hear The Doctor on his recorder - the soundtrack for him pondering, planning, considering. Troughton even uses the musical instrument to toot back angry retorts to Ben on a couple of occasions.

As fantastic as Troughton is in this first episode, one can't help but feel that neither he nor the producers knew quite knew at this point what kind of character this new Doctor was going to be. It's this uncertainty that is probably the biggest drawing card for watching this, initially. Having taken the leap and changed the lead character, what will the producers of Doctor Who do now?

On top of all this, the bloody Daleks are in it! Their reveal at the episode's end is one of the best, because, for the first time, we see the Daleks not in a state of dominance, but as (apparently) dead creatures. Intriguing, that.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

DD4 - The Tenth Planet 4

And so it comes to this - the first ever changing of lead actor in Doctor Who history (I hasten to not call it a "regeneration", as this term wouldn't be used for years after this, nor will I deem it a "rejuvenation" or a "renewal" as no one can decide if it's called either of those terms, as well). I'd like to know what was going on in the heads of the viewers at the time while watching this in October 1966. It had obviously been announced in the press that Hartnell was leaving the show, so there were no surprises there. Whoever was using his 8mm film camera to record snippets of the action on screen (thus resulting in most of the only known surviving footage from Episode Four) was clearly focusing on Hartnell's appearances, probably hoping to chronicle the event as best he could for all time.

It can not be exaggerated how monumental a step forward the changeover was at the time. Other TV series or films might recast their leading actor, or another prominent character, but no attention would be paid to it. I think of James Bond and the several different actors who have portrayed him (although an argument could be made that there have been several James Bonds/007s, which is the code name for MI6's top secret agent). I also am reminded of the recasting of one of the main villains, Travis, in between Seasons 1 and 2 of Blake's 7. But to actually change the lead actor, and, essentially, the lead character, was such a bold and risky decision for the programme. No longer buoyed by the Dalekmania of two years previously, the main focus of the show was now completely on The Doctor. At this point, The Doctor was merely aloof and different, with only his TARDIS and his past, unseen, experiences differentiating him from the rest of his human compatriots. Once he displayed the ability to change his entire physical appearance, he truly became an alien in both the viewers' eyes and those of the characters around him in the story.

And, of course, the risk paid off. The biggest testament towards the brilliance of this creative decision was how little it has been "retconned" as the years go by. Although flashier special effects and shooting techniques have come along in the years and decades since The Tenth Planet, the process and the end result are exactly the same. From Hartnell to Troughton, from Eccleston to Tennant, from Tennant to Smith - it is the exact same thing.

And all this is thanks to producer Innes Lloyd and script editor Gerry Davis. John Wiles before them may have suggested the idea of replacing the lead actor, but it was Lloyd and Davis who actually did it. This decision virtually assured the show's longevity for years to come, as it can guarantee an entirely fresh outlook on stories that may have been tried and tested before. With each new Doctor being, basically, a new character, but with the memories and experiences of those that came before him, the programme could get away with presenting what might be similar stories in different eras because the actions and reactions of the leading character would change their outcomes.

On the flip side, changing the lead actor also meant that the programme could change its format to suit a new Doctor. One couldn't think of William Hartnell's Doctor being exiled to Earth in the 1970's and have the programme work. With Jon Pertwee, it did. Can you imagine Tom Baker dancing around the TARDIS console, playfully flirting with Rose while singing along to a song by Ian Dury and the Blockheads? No, but it would work with David Tennant. This combination of the programme being able to repeat itself without repeating itself, and forging bold new directions upon the paths of the familiar meant that there were now any number of combinations of interesting stories to tell.

Let's also not forget the contributions of William Hartnell. I feel he's unnecessarily slagged off as a bit of a joke in Who circles these days, more famous for fluffing his lines and being belligerent on set. If anything, this little marathon of mine has reappraised Hartnell for me. From dark (An Unearthly Child) to authoritative (The Daleks' Master Plan) to poetic (The Dalek Invasion of Earth) to funny (The Gunfighters) to tragic (The Massacre), the man could do it all, perhaps in a more convincing and cumulative way than any Doctor actor to come after him. Any combination of the stories listed there would go far in displaying William Hartnell's fine talents.

As a final tip of the hat to the era of the First Doctor, I present to you my picks for the best story, the worst story, and my favourite story (which might not always be the best story. For example, a sumptuous four-course meal might be technically better prepared, but it wouldn't be as satisfying as a few slices of pizza). So :

Best Story : The Aztecs
Worst Story : The Chase
Favourite Story : The Gunfighters

Over to you, Patrick Troughton...

DD3 - The Tenth Planet 3

General Cutler really does prove himself to be one of the more inept authority figures in Doctor Who in this episode. Once he finds out that his son is being sent up in another rocket, he becomes obsessed with getting the rocket back down again. Seriously obsessed. This is evident when he does a rundown of the three problems facing Snowcap base at the time, in order of importance :

1) Cutler's son is stuck in a rocket and needs to get down
2) The Cybermen are invading the base
3) Earth might be drained of all its energy

With the absence of The Doctor in this episode (thanks to a last minute sick day for William Hartnell) and, for the most part, the Cybermen, it's up to Cutler to drive the story in a different (and not terribly satisfying) dramatic direction. The rewrite to hand off most of The Doctor's lines to Ben also doesn't work that well, as most of Ben's new lines start with the phrase "The Doctor says..."

The only time we really see the Cybermen is when a further invasion force gets blasted by some of their own weapons wielded by Earth soldiers. It unfortunately sets a precedent for how easily Cybermen are sometimes defeated in stories to come.

DD2 - The Tenth Planet 2

The Cybermen are revealed in their full glory in this episode. They dazzle everyone with their ventriloquism techniques, wipe out a couple of guards with some of the largest and strangest weapons ever seen in Doctor Who, and then prove themselves to be quite the chatty Cathies by rattling off their entire culture's history and that of their home planet in three minutes flat. If only other Doctor Who monsters could be so accommodating.

There's something distinctly creepy about the Cybermen in their first appearance. I can't decide if it's their weird voices or blank faces that spook me more. The voices are certainly some of the more distinctive ones heard during the history of the series. It also helps, thought, that their debut sets a standard for Cybermen to be tall. It would have been much less imposing if they had been the same height as a Dalek. And the giant headlamps that add about 8 inches to their height doesn't hurt, either.

I was fascinated by a quick little scene that occurred early on in the episode, just before the Cybermen announce their presence in the Snowcap base. When they first enter the control room, they're covered up by the thick coats taken from the guards who tried to stop their ingress earlier. Only The Doctor catches a glimpse of the fact that they are not human. But instead of trying to raise the alarm to the whole room, he quietly and intensely tries to get the attention of, first, General Cutler, and then when Cutler brushes him off, Barclay. Why did he not simply shout out to the whole room to get back from the disguised Cybermen, thus forcing the giants out into the open sooner than they wanted to, perhaps giving the Earth soldiers a chance to strike first against them? It's almost as if The Doctor wanted to warn Cutler and Barclay so that they could react for themselves, as opposed to The Doctor taking the lead and having mankind follow him in one of their first meetings with an alien race. Is this a further instance of The Doctor manipulating events to not necessarily serve his own purposes, but to ensure that everything follows its proper course?

The Doctor knew that Mondas would return before it happened. Did he know how it would be dealt with, too? If so, what else about the future, including his own personal near future, can The Doctor predict?

DD1 - The Tenth Planet 1

Doctor Who's first attempt at depicting the near future is a fun and interesting romp that manifests itself as a bunch of multicultural stereotypes living and working in an underground military base in Antarctica. Into this, The Doctor, Ben, and Polly find themselves thrust in a type of story that would become much more common during the upcoming Patrick Troughton era - a small, isolated base under attack from an alien menace.

Fans of the programme have often stated that Troughton's Doctor was a much more scheming individual than any of his other incarnations; the seeds for that are planted here. Before Mondas, the eponymous tenth planet, makes its appearance, The Doctor correctly predicts its arrival to the staff of the Snowcap base in order to try and establish his credentials to them. The Doctor has not only foreseen the return, but he is aware of how Mondas began. It adds another level of mystery to The Doctor's character and his unseen travels before we met up with him in a junkyard in 1963. Was he there when Mondas moved out of its orbit? Did he even, perhaps, have a hand in it?

Such a great episode, this is, highlighted by one of the most memorable scenes in the show's history - the first appearance of the Cybermen. After a good few tries at duplicating the success of the Daleks, Doctor Who strikes gold (or should I say silver) again with the Cybermen. Of course, they look ridiculous by today's standards, and their subsequent updates would be more effective, I think, but it is the way that they are filmed that immediately rises them above the limitations of their costumes. The first time we see them are shadowy creatures coming from afar through the snow, almost blending into their surroundings. After they chop down a couple guards, we see a bit more - they look like robots, with bits of metal covering up various parts of their body, including something giant atop their heads. The first close up, though, is of a human hand, which then tilts up to that blank, soulless face. Another punch-the-air moment in the history of Doctor Who.

Unlike Daleks, who are often introduced in closeup, Cybermen have always looked best when slowly advancing from far away. This trick has been deployed more than a few times in the show's history (including in the most recent Cybermen episode The Next Doctor), but it has never been more effective than in the closing moments of The Tenth Planet, Episode One.

CC4 - The Smugglers 4

It's been fun tracking the moral standing of The First Doctor during his tenure in the programme, from being aloof and selfish in the early days, to where he is in The Smugglers. When given the chance to flee the scene in the earlier stories, he would have done so at a moment's notice. Now, when time travel newbies Ben and Polly see a way for them to get out of their scrape relatively unscathed, The Doctor stands firm. It was because of his dealings with Captain Pike that has put the village in danger, and so he is staying out of "moral obligation" to try and prevent the village from suffering any recrimination.

I like that this has been a very gradual change in The Doctor's character. One can't pinpoint a specific moment or a telling close-up camera shot that displays, in black and white (literally and figuratively), that The Doctor has changed his attitude to those around him and how his actions affect them. The fact that this change spans over three seasons worth of Doctor Who makes it seem that much more real. So often in shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, for instance, characters would, during the course of a 43-minute episode, encounter a situation unfamiliar to them, deal with it, and then look longingly off into the distance, reflecting on the fact that they just learned something and probably gained 20 experience points along the way.

This is the most overt portrayal of The Doctor's philanthropic nature yet, though, in that he is willing to discover the lost treasure for Captain Pike, and hand the dastardly smuggler the entire prize in exchange for the safety of the entire village. In the end, of course, The Doctor never has to keep his promise, as several people, including Pike himself, die in sword fights, leaving things for the king's taxman, Blake, to clean up. Then and only then, when all the pieces of The Doctor's plan are about to fall into place, does he flee the situation, further enhancing his new fondness for leaving before any questions are asked.

Good little story, this, but do your best to try and track down a better quality copy of the Loose Cannon reconstruction than the one I stumbled upon!

CC3 - The Smugglers 3

It's taken a while, and it's taken a lot longer than I thought it would, but my viewing experience has finally been sullied by a poor quality reconstruction of a missing story. This isn't the fault of the good folks at Loose Cannon, but the copy I have of The Smugglers seems to be about an seventh or eighth generation copy of a poor quality VHS copy.

It's frustrating, naturally, because I can barely hear the audio during each episode, especially during the film location sequences (of which there are a few in the final two episodes). There seems to be a fair amount of backroom dealings going on, though; but, thus far, not as much swashbuckling as I'd like to see in a story set in 17th century Cornwall.

However, despite the audio-visual setback, I must press on. Just over nine months left to complete the whole run, and I'm only now just finishing up the Hartnell era...

CC2 - The Smugglers 2

Anneke Wills is, by all accounts, a charming and enthralling woman who has led a terribly unique and fascinating life. In the 1960's, she was just about as close to a blonde bombshell as Doctor Who ever had. Sexy, big beautiful eyes, long blonde hair and even longer legs, Anneke, as Polly, was a fox (and, thus, makes the non-existence of most of her episodes in the BBC Archives even more of a shame).

So how in the name of all that is mighty did anyone think they could pass her off as a boy in this story? Furthermore, what's the point of trying to pass her off as a boy? And what kind of boy looks like a blonde bombshell, anyway? Because of the fact that she was wearing pants? Is that it?

I couldn't get over this huge unlikelihood for the entirety of this episode. All I could think of was Driver Bob from Black Adder Goes Forth, and hoped that Corporal Blackadder would come in and end this madness, unmasking Polly so we could all get on with our lives. Sigh. Anyway, it looks like some pirates are doing deals with other pirates right now, and there's probably some smuggling going on, too.