Monday, July 27, 2009
Looking back at Episode One of this, in this day and age, it is difficult to watch the scenes set in the trenches and in General Smythe's office without immediately thinking of 1989's Blackadder Goes Forth. The makers of the later programme must have watched The War Games as inspiration, or were, at the very least, channeling it when they made the sets. Even Major Barrington could be mistaken at a distance for Captain Blackadder, and Smythe is one bushy mustache away from resembling General Melchett.
What would appear to the be theme of the story is set up right from the get-go when The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe are captured (more-or-less) by Lady Jennifer, then again by the Germans, and then, seconds later, my Lieutenant Carstairs and his men, before they're taken back to the English camp where they're held captive yet again. That's a lot of capturing in a few short minutes (a further escape and re-capture occurs before the end of the episode), but none of these events feel forced, at least. Anyone popping up out of nowhere into the middle of a war zone would be treated with no less suspicion.
What I love about this episode is how quickly the stakes are raised when General Smythe first switches on the futuristic TV screen in his 1917 office. An older story, especially one of this mammoth length, would have at least waited until the cliffhanger for episode one, if not longer, to reveal the twist. What starts out as an apparent historical is now moving into territory that Doctor Who has never waded into before...
Speaking of the cliffhanger, what a fantastic ending to Episode One! Guns fire, The Doctor flinches...it all looks pretty legit to me, although keen observers will note that the "Fire!" order is never given. Perhaps, in a further nod to the future, the same leader of the execution squad in Blackadder was called into service here, too?
Posted by Steven at 11:07 AM
What more can you say about a story that is seen as so inconsequential that the regular cast don't even turn up for the recording of the final episode? Because Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, and Wendy Padbury were knee deep in mud filming in a quarry for the upcoming season finale, The War Games, they pre-filmed all their scenes for this episode some seven weeks before the studio recording. So, because I'm fascinated with how 1960s Doctor Who was produced, I'm curious to see how this was put together during the studio recording of the episode. Were the many filmed inserts switched in via telecine as was often done in those days? Or was this an episode borne of the editing suite?
Sadly, we may never be able to see the final product. But, less sadly, this was the last missing episode I'll have to watch during this whole Chronic Hysteresis. Hooray! Fair dos to the various folks out there who have made up all the reconstructions that have made watching the missing episodes so endurable. From now on, though, all the pictures move.
This is a passable story that had some well shot model footage (although use of an (inaccurate) starfield in the background might have added to the atmosphere a bit), but the mammoth that is following The Space Pirates casts a long shadow indeed...
Two plot twists involving members of the family Issigri occur during this episode that, for some reason, took me by surprise. Now, I don't want to spoil a TV programme that aired 40 years ago for you, but let's just say it gives some thrust in a story that, with little involvement from The Doctor, could use a push in the right direction.
I've seen a lot of websites that cover this story list the varied pronunciation of the name Issigri amongst the goofs that occur during the story. I think it's perfectly reasonably, actually. The only person who pronounces the name wrong (apparently) is Madeline Issigri, who says "EE-see-gree", whereas everyone else says "ee-SEE-gree". I figured that Madeline would know how to say her own name, and that, up until now, everyone for the past 15-20 years has been pronouncing it wrong. That alone would have driven Dom Issigri mad and forced someone to lock him up in a room for 15 years. Not that anything like that happened in this episode, of course...spoilers.
The Doctor seems to be in trouble at the end of the episode, but more concern is being placed in this story, it seems, on the fate of Milo Clancey and his ship, the LIZ 79. Oh, and its other occupant, but I won't tell you who that is.
Usually, before settling to watch each story on this marathon of mine, I try and flush all preconceived notions of how the story I'm about to view ranks with me, based on previous viewings, or more generally in the eyes of fandom. Before The Space Pirates started for me, though, it was almost like an eerie silence settled across the land of viewer opinion for this story.
The Space Pirates is an odd bird, and not only because of its relative lack of involvement of The Doctor. Amidst a fairly intact Season 6, only one episode (Episode Two) completely exists in the BBC Archives. No telesnaps for the story survive, as the last known of these were created for Episode Three of The Mind Robber. There's even a scarce amount of publicity photos for the story; so much so that the main villain of the piece, Caven, has seldom been seen because he doesn't appear in Episode Two. This story often rates very low in "Favourite Story" polls, not because it's bad, but because so little is known about it to rate it any higher.
Thus, I officially proclaim The Space Pirates to be "The Most Forgotten Doctor Who Story of All Time". So much so that I've already forgotten most of which has gone on in it so far....
This story is the next in a run of classic Dudley Simpson scores. The highlight of the score is the haunting, ethereal female vocals, often appearing over the opening credits. The music is similar to that heard in Simpson's earlier The Ice Warriors, and elements of it remind me of Lalo Schifrin's score from the 1971 film Dirty Harry.
I'm also a fan of the opening credit sequences. To offset the multitude of space sequences in this story (set against a black backdrop, because, you know, space is black), the opening credits are written in black on a stark white backdrop (although it is most likely a traditional white lettering on black, with the picture turned to negative). I don't know why I've always liked these titles, but I do.
The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe are finally getting involved, albeit tenuously, in the story by Episode Three. I'm becoming more disturbed, however, at how Jamie is being treated. His intelligence does, admittedly, fall far afield of the near-genius abilities of Zoe and The Doctor, but he's becoming resorted to being the first person to blindly rush into a situation and require The Doctor's help. In Episode Two, he receives a further slap in the face when The Doctor explains magnetism to him, then hands him two magnets to play with as if The Doctor was passing them around a class of pre-schoolers. I do enjoy the Doctor/Jamie/Zoe team as a whole, but Jamie has certainly suffered as an intelligent character since Zoe came on board.
It isn't really until the very end of this, the second episode, that The Doctor and his companions become even remotely involved in this story. Up until now, it would be entirely plausible to believe that what I'm watching is a new science fiction show called The Space Pirates!, which chronicles the adventures of the heroic General Hermack, his trusty sidekick Major Warne, the dastardly villain Caven, and the comedic prospector Milo Clancey.
Because of this, though. the proper The Space Pirates actually has much in common with future Holmes classics like Carnival of Monsters, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, The Ribos Operation, and The Caves of Androzani. Those classic stories all contain memorable characters that are often given larger portions of screen time, and a plot that often develops and blossoms without the involvement of The Doctor. It almost seems as if Holmes is more interested in telling the tales of the peripheral characters, rather than that of the Doctor himself, so he spends most of his time and energy creating a world of interesting characters that The Doctor can be placed into, rather than having The Doctor being the key to everything happening.
The Space Pirates doesn't quite have the memorable characters (except for Milo Clancey, who I think is a hoot) as those other stories mentioned, naturally, but the groundwork is being laid.
I wrote earlier about how, in The Seeds of Death, it took over eight minutes for The Doctor to first appear in the story and how surely, at the time, that must have been a record. There's no debate about the new record, though. By my clock, the TARDIS is seen to materialize 14:52 into Episode One of The Space Pirates, and The Doctor and his friends finally emerge from their ship over fifteen minutes into this installment.
This is, quite frankly, alarming. The entire structure of the plot and most of the main characters are introduced well before the hero of the show arrives on the scene. And even when The Doctor does arrive, he is so far removed from the action that he doesn't even exist in the world of General Hermack, Major Warne, or the pirate Caven. In fact, the only thing shorter than The Doctor's screen time in this episode is Wendy Padbury's skirt. And, as you can see in the picture above, there is nowt wrong with that...
This story was another late addition to the lineup when yet another script fell through (a common theme during the production of Season 6), and it was written by Robert Holmes. Fan commentators over the years have often derided The Space Pirates as a subpar effort from someone who would go on to become the greatest writer in the programme's history, but someone who had yet to find his groove in Doctor Who. After seeing this episode, I couldn't disagree more. This story is the genesis of the prototypical Robert Holmes story. I'll explain this more as the story moves along, though...
One of the reasons that The Seeds of Death was made was to try and recoup the cost of production of the Ice Warrior costumes that were made for their debut in the previous year's recording block. Another reason, though, it seems, was to showcase the BBC's latest toy - the foam machine. This device also debuted in the previous recording block during Fury From The Deep, and it features heavily in the final three episodes of The Seeds of Death, providing acres of foam for Patrick Troughton and several extras playing guards to fall down in.
I like the creation of the new rank of Ice Warrior, Slaar (colloquially referred to as an Ice Lord), for this story. It gives the Ice Warriors more of a voice - literally and figuratively - as not only does Slaar stand out from his minions in rank and stature, but his voice is less like a hiss, which made the Ice Warriors difficult to understand at times in their previous adventure. The disadvantage of this, of course, is that the other Ice Warriors are reduced to non-speaking thugs, just as the Cybermen were in The Invasion when Tobias Vaughn was thrust into the spotlight.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I've come to think that Season 6 was considered the laziest and worst season in Patrick Troughton's run as The Doctor, but, if those accusations are true, I find them unjustified. The Seeds of Death brings together two notable aspects of the Troughton era into one cohesive package - an attack on an isolated outpost (as seen in several previous Troughton adventures), and and attack by a strange alien force on the Earth (a la The Web of Fear and The Invasion). It's a story that closes that part of the Troughton era in style, as the last two stories of the 1960s would be very different from what we've seen before.
A tip of the hat to the direction of Michael Ferguson in this story, which is responsible for such gorgeous shots as the one seen above. This story saw a greater use of out-of-sequence recording, which hadn't been attempted that often up to this point in the programme's production history. It shows - scenes flow seamlessly from one to the next, and there's a general gloss to the production that hasn't been as evident before. I don't necessarily credit Ferguson with those technical achievements, but the ease of production did allow him to be more creative with his camera shots.
Poor Fewsham meets his end in this episode, closing the book on one of the more memorable characters in the series's history. Fewsham's apparent alliance with the Ice Warriors is different than other Quislings (to quote Jon Pertwee quoting Norwegian history from World War II) seen in the series. Self preservation is Fewsham's key motivation, naturally, and the viewer is meant to believe, at first, that he has turned traitor towards the Ice Warrior cause because he is doing all that he can to survive. Later, though, he aids the T-Mat crew and The Doctor when the Ice Warriors' backs are turned, not necessarily because he wants to see the Ice Warriors defeated, but because he is more scared of what awaits him on Earth in the form of investigation and punishment for his part in the Ice Warrior invasion. When Slaar asks Fewsham later why he remains allied with the Ice Warriors, Fewsham uses that excuse, which seems like a bluff on his part, but it couldn't be more true.
Once he realizes how grand the Ice Warriors' plan is, though, Fewsham seems resigned to his fate, and finally makes the ultimate choice of sacrificing himself to open the video link to Earth and let the T-Mat crew in on what the Ice Warriors are planning. Slaar trusted Fewsham one time too many. Was Fewsham planning this all along? Probably not. It would be more accurate to say that he was taking each crisis as it came and adapting to survive the situation, but in his final moments, his defiance towards Slaar leads you to believe otherwise. An overlooked character in the annals of Who history, only slightly more overlooked than the splendid performance by Terry Scully that brought him to life.
Finally, after six years of having either William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton take a week off and having the story suffer as a result, this, the final Doctor-less episode in the series' history, shows how writing The Doctor out of the episode for a week can be done without stalling the story in its tracks.
Part of the credit might go down to script editor Terrance Dicks, who was pretty much writing all the episodes of this story at this point, but the development of Fewsham's story is, again, the most interesting thing to watch here. The Doctor's absence (or, at least, his conscious absence, as Troughton's body double appears in a few scenes) is almost beneficial, in this instance. When Slaar orders Fewsham to T-mat The Doctor into space, it seems to finally push Fewsham over the edge in his collaboration with the Ice Warriors. Sure, he's seen the Martians slaughter all of his friends, but the fact that the Ice Warriors order Fewsham to press the button is what makes it hard for the poor technician. Even though Fewsham presses the button to (apparently) banish The Doctor's body to space, he is adamant that the Ice Warriors are the ones behind it. Fewsham's cries of "You've killed him! You've killed him!" hammer that point home. It's a fairly intense scene, and it also shows what Slaar is willing put Fewsham through in order to test Fewsham's growing loyalty towards the Ice Warriors.
The very beginning of this episode contains another one of those deaths to minor characters that always seems to kick me in the gut every time I watch it. Brent, well meaning assistant to Miss Kelly and who probably has one or two employee-of-the-month awards under his belt, is the first onscreen victim of a seed pod. Poor guy. Every time I watch this, I wish he would duck out of the T-Mat booth just a couple seconds early so he doesn't feel the full brunt of the seed pod explosion. Sniff.
Mention must be made at this point about the score for The Seeds of Death, as provided by Dudley Simpson. Simpson was in the midst of perhaps his best work in the series' history, well before he ever became the series' main composer in 1970. The Seeds of Death was only Simpson's third score in as many years, but his work on his previous two serials, The Evil of the Daleks and The Ice Warriors, was seminal.
That strong work continues in The Seeds of Death, his first of three consecutive scores to close out the Patrick Troughton era. Armed with little more than a set of tympani, a snare drum, and a phasing unit, Simpson's themes for the Ice Warriors when they march around the moonbase is evocative, and the chase theme that takes up a nice chunk in the middle of this episode is superb.
The afore-mentioned chase sequence is padding of the highest order (but really, what chase scene isn't?), but at least it's entertaining to watch. Patrick Troughton certainly seems as if he's having fun in the role...but I sense as if he's almost having too much fun in the role. Troughton had decided to relinquish the title role in between his second and third production, and, while he still quite clearly has enthusiasm for the role, I'm sensing there's a certain gravitas lacking from his later episodes compared to, especially, the monster-filled fright fests of Season 5.
While The Doctor and his entourage worry about getting a rocket ready to launch for the first time in years back on Earth, the much more interesting story in this episode is, again, taking place on the Moon. Fewsham is continuing his collaboration with the Ice Warriors, having seen almost all of his colleagues killed before his eyes. When Miss Kelly and her team manage to arrive on the Moon via T-Mat, they are all captured by the Ice Warriors.
This is where, for the second time in as many episodes, the employees of T-Mat show off their vast intelligence. Once captured, Fewsham shouts out "Don't move!". So, naturally, the two men who accompanied Miss Kelly try and make a break for it, and get about as far as five paces before they're mowed down with the Ice Warriors' Mirrorlon guns. The exact same thing happened in Episode One. Does no one obey orders at T-Mat?
There's some amusing scenes in the rocket once The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe are finally able to launch. However, for the second story in a row, Jamie is treated like an infant - not just by Zoe, but Eldred and Miss Kelly - in regards to his knowledge of space travel. How unfair!
Episode One of this story features what might be, at the time, the longest elapsed time before The Doctor appears in the story - 8 minutes, four seconds, by my reckoning (although this mark will be shattered very soon). Two entire settings and plot threads are started up, Osgood, who looks like he's going to be a major character, is introduced and killed before we even see the TARDIS materialize.
This episode, and, indeed, the entire story, features one of my favourite performances in Doctor Who history - that of Terry Scully as Fewsham. Some might call Scully's performance as over the top, but I don't. I think it's perfectly pitched as a man who was probably promoted to a position before he was ready, and is now being thrust into a life-or-death situation where one wrong move could mean his death. Wouldn't you be panicky in that situation? When Fewsham bellows, "I want to live!", it is entirely believable.
One of the worst jobs imaginable, though, would be at T-Mat Control on Earth. Having to wear what looks like a diaper as a uniform is one thing, but to have to listen to that droning computer announce every single dispatch and receipt from every single T-Mat cubicle from around the world would drive me batty. It certainly did in the first scene alone.
But what an ending to the episode! Of course, we all know the Ice Warriors were in this story, after the fact, and anybody who knows anything when this episode first aired could have guessed who the main villains were by the sound of the voice and the visual effect used for their weaponry, but what an impact they make when they are revealed at the end of this episode! the Troughton era was famous for not only its monsters, but its reveal of those monsters. This one doesn't disappoint.
Well meaning characters, especially people who are in positions of power, are not long for the world in Doctor Who stories. Look at poor Selris - once the leader of the Gonds, blindly offering his citizens for selection by the Krotons, powerless to stop them on his own once the truth is revealed, but he is key in the Krotons' destruction before he is vaporised. Yet no one will know of Selris's sacrifice, and it's all The Doctor's fault.
Typical of Patrick Troughton's Doctor, he and his companions flee the scene before the dust settles at the end of this story, leaving Selris's death a mystery to the rest of the Gonds. The Doctor could have at least spoken up about how Selris died before he left. It would have helped rebuild Selris's standing within the community, as his legacy was left somewhat battered by all those who abandoned him. Instead, Selris is forgotten, and now a power struggle seems to be at hand between Eelek and his supporters, and a small minority who might be in favour of Beta and his amazing sideburns. Thanks for helping, Doc.
I have to admit - I was more enthralled while watching The Krotons at times than I was while watching The Invasion. Does that make me a bad person? It was all rather enjoyable fluff, notable for two noteworthy Doctor Who debuts in front of and in behind the cameras, and some terrific comedy sequences that never detract from the story at hand. Much better than its undeserved reputation.
I mentioned earlier how this story is the debut of esteemed writer Robert Holmes, but I've neglected to mention that this story is also the premiere Doctor Who television performance* of Sir Philip Madoc. Although this is easily his least notable role in the programme's history, it still stands up as a typically Madocian performance, that of a fiendishly well-played jerk.
Madoc's character, Eelek, has aspirations to take over the leadership of the Gonds from the kind, yet ineffectual (my new favourite word over the past few days) Selris. Eelek also has the backing or pretty much every other Gond we meet, too. But really, if Philip Madoc wanted to take over Canada, I'd vote for him, too.
We finally get a good look at the eponymous Krotons in this episode. As Terrance Dicks has intimated in pretty much every single interview he has ever given, he had to rewrite scenes in Holmes' scripts to make up for the fact that the Krotons couldn't actually move. They do wobble wonderfully well, though, but whenever they do move, their actions are narrated by characters onscreen, and then, in the next shot, we see that the Kroton has reached its destination. Yes, they're crap monsters, but I still crack up every time I see them, and their voices are equally memorable. How many times have I repeated the phrase "That is not a Gond!" (pronounced "Thowt is nowt a Gownd!") since I've seen this story? Honestly - at least three times.
The blooper of this episode appears at the very end when Beta, whose stature in the proceedings is growing along with the length of his sideburns, appears in his laboratory in one scene, and is then seen in the very next (prefilmed) in the Learning Hall when the roof collapses. He's quick, that one.
*assuming that Madoc's equally stellar performance in the 1966 Doctor Who film Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. was never shown on British television before 1969.
This episode will always hold a special place in my mind because it contains the very first glimpse if Patrick Troughton I ever had as a youngster. A clip of the sequence where Zoe is selected as a companion of the Krotons (the clip starts from Troughton's line "Great jumping gobstoppers!" ) was used in a 1985 PBS documentary called Whose Doctor Who that I probably saw for the first time around 1987. It's amazing how even the smallest scene in a relatively minor Doctor Who story can lead to such warm nostalgia, innit?
That scene in question contains some great comedy bits between Troughton and Wendy Padbury. In my mind, I think Padbury fits the best with Troughton's Doctor out of the female companions during the Second Doctor era. The fact that she appears as clever as (if not more so) The Doctor allows them to have a slightly competitive relationship, with comedic results. The relationship also allows Troughton to be his usual aloof self without having to be protective of Zoe - something he never had the luxury of doing with Victoria or Polly.
The Doctor/Zoe relationship also frees up Jamie, who used to fulfill the protector role when the naive Victoria was in the TARDIS. Poor Jamie, though, takes a bit of a beating in this episode. His role in the proceedings was clearly laid out in Episode One with his fight with Axus. Jamie is the brawn, and his actions fall in line with many of the hotheads of the Gonds. In this episode, he is resorted to trying to break down the door into the Dynotrope with a crowbar. When the Krotons trigger the opening mechanism themselves, Jamie thinks he's done it, and, at episode's end, he is about to be killed by the Krotons because of his apparent lack of intelligence. Poor guy.
Two episodes in, and I'm still finding this wonderfully diverting. There seems to be a notable blooper in every episode, though. The very first shot of Episode One features a door that refuses to open, and, in this episode, listen for the floor director call out for the gong sound effect not once, but twice...
Three words that, for years to come, will bring so much joy and hope towards Doctor Who fans that what they are about to watch just might be the most entertaining 24-and-half-minutes they'll have seen in some time, appear for the first time at the beginning of this episode:
"By Robert Holmes"
To be fair, the "classic" Holmes style is nowhere in evidence yet, with no "Holmesian double act" to be found anywhere, but it was early in his career, and this was an episode that had been sitting, in one way or another, on some BBC executive's desk for four years before being thrust into the spotlight on short notice.
Is it wrong that, while I fully expected to find this dull, I actually quite enjoyed this episode? Part of it may have been because of the dullest looking quarry ever featured in Doctor Who (a hotly contested title), which is notable in itself. Also, the fact that this episode survives on 35mm film results in a gloriously crisp picture and audio. Can't wait for the DVD release of this one in all its VidFIREd glory. This is good fun thus far.
I always have a soft spot for stories, and TV programmes and films in general, that have the main antagonist and protagonist join up and fight what they both no realize is their common enemy. Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker teaming up briefly to dispose of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi is an example that leaps immediately to mind. Tobias Vaughn has been such a great character during the first seven episodes of this story that I was really hoping he wouldn't be wasted in the final installment once his involvement in the Cybermen's plans came to an end. And, thankfully, he joins up with The Doctor to exact revenge on his former allies.
He and The Doctor make a formidable, if short-lived, team. I still think it's a shame that Vaughn dies. It would have been much more interesting, in my opinion, if Vaughn would have escaped after helping The Doctor disable the Cybermen's radio signal, thus sign posting a potential reunion between the pair down the road (which never would have been made, if the show's producers knew what was good for them. Leave the fate of Vaughn to the fan fiction world). As it happens, though, Vaughn is gunned down in long shot by the Cybermen in a bit of an anticlimactic end to one of the best villains in Doctor Who history.
There are so many elements competing with each other throughout the eight episodes of The Invasion. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe, Isobel and Professor Watkins, Tobias Vaughn, Packer, and so on. The most surprising element of this story is the almost complete absence of the Cybermen. They only feature in three of the eight episodes, and they are often reduced to unintelligent drones doing the bidding of the Cyber Director or Vaughn and his minions. In retrospect, after their meagre impact in this episode (barring one or two notable scenes, of course), as well as the relative failure that was The Wheel in Space (and the perceived substandard nature of their next adventure, 1975's Revenge of the Cybermen), one could argue that it took 15 years for the Cybermen to regain their glory (with 1982's Earthshock) after the smashing The Tomb of the Cybermen.
Another, perhaps equally surprising as the Cybermen being ignored, is how little a role, at times, The Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie play in this story. Zoe solves a problem regarding missiles in Episode Seven, but is otherwise often in the background. Jamie, during the second half of the story, at least, is quite ineffectual, sleeping for most of his time after the sewer rescue, and not present at all during Episode Eight (apart from the final leaving scene). The Doctor does manage to get close to disabling the radio signal midway through Episode Eight, but he needs UNIT's help to finish the job. Once that is done, he's reduced to a bystander while UNIT, the real focus of this story, destroys both the Cybermen's missiles and the Cybermen's mother ship. This is the most powerful we will ever see UNIT. In the future, they will try and fail, and will require and seek The Doctor's help - at first, resentfully; later, with more enthusiasm. Here, The Doctor agrees with everything that UNIT is planning, guns blazing and all. It's a promising outlook, and one that paints UNIT in a remarkably positive light, but isn't actually the "promise of the future" for the Pertwee era that it is often made out to be.
After such an epic end to the previous episode, this episode is fairly disappointing in that, apart from the reprise from the Episode Six cliffhanger, we never see the Cybermen at all during the course of this installment. For the first time in the programme's history, the entire Earth us being affected by an alien menace. It would have been nice to see the scope of the Cyber invasion, but, as far as we can tell, the only people who were knocked out by the Cybermen's radio signal.
UNIT, though, is the real star of this story, even though some of their ranks make for questionable soldiers. Captain Turner must have it in for Jamie, for some reason. During the sewer rescue machine in Episode Six, Turner actually makes Jamie, an untrained civilian, take up the rear when everyone is climbing up the ladder out of the sewer. Jamie then gets attacked by a Cyberman as a result. And, in this episode, when Packer's men are ambushing the house that Jamie, Turner, and Turner's men are in, Turner again has Jamie follow on, and the poor kid is shot in the leg. Is Captain Turner really pledged to protect the public? UNIT must take a separate set of oaths than the police and the army.
My favourite bit in this episode is the casual way that Vaughn sits in his chair, legs crossed, while he jots down the plan that he and the Cyber Director are coming up with to proceed with the next step of the invasion. Even at this late stage, Vaughn seems totally in control of events, but that changes at the end of this episode.
This is the episode, of course, that features the famous, iconic scene with the Cybermen marching down the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral (drink). The scene is worthy of all the accolades it receives, mostly because of the atmospheric build-up. It starts with shots of an empty street, followed by the sound of the Cyber signal gradually getting louder, then seeing several passers by on the streets affected by it. When Captain Turner bursts in and tells everyone that there are reports of hundreds of Cybermen coming out of the sewers, you believe it! Even when there's only six Cybermen on screen at one time, you believe it.
Douglas Camfield's direction and the editing really make this scene work, particularly the quick shots of the Cybermen flinging off the manhole covers, with well placed sound effects covering up the fact that the covers are made of polystyrene. I actually punched the air when I watched this scene. I've seen it almost hundreds of time on many and varied Doctor Who documentaries over the years, but when seen in context, it is one of Doctor Who's most magical moments.
Following up on Isobel and Zoe's ill advised trip down to the sewers from Episode Five, one UNIT soldier, in addition to that poor policeman from last episode, met his end at the end of a Cyberman death ray. All that Isobel offers later on to Captain Turner is a brief apology. She also does her best Polly impersonation and makes tea for everyone. Feminism in Doctor Who lasts one episode.
Doctor Who takes some tenuous steps into addressing the rising feminism attitudes of the late 1960s in this episode, with disastrous results. Isobel wants to sneak down into the sewers to take some pictures of the Cybermen for the Brigadier to use as proof when he tries to lobby for assistance at UNIT Headquarters in Geneva. But the Brigadier turns her down flat on account that she is "a young woman. This is a job for (his) men.". Isobel reacts to this as a chauvinistic attack upon her gender, and is backed up by Zoe after Jamie passes his own, equally misogynistic, judgement on the situation.
Thus, without telling anyone, the two girls, with a worried Jamie, tag along, sneak down into the sewers (illegally), where a kind, innocent policeman sees them. The policeman follows them down into the sewer, where he's murdered by a pair of marauding Cybermen. The episode ends with the three crazy kids (as the Brigadier calls them) in dire trouble, being advanced on by Cybermen from both sides.
Now, the Brigadier's comment to Isobel might have appeared sexist (and it possibly was), but really, his main intention in turning Isobel's idea down was to keep untrained amateurs like her and Zoe out of harm's way. The girls didn't listen, and now a policeman is dead, with more deaths to come, possibly, in the next episode. Nice one, Isobel.
As for the Cybermen, it quickly becomes apparent that these versions are much different than ones we've seen in previous stories, and I'm not talking about their appearance, either. These Invasion Cybermen seem to function almost as drones - hatched out of cocoons, obeying orders of humans, willingly accepting experimentation on them by Gregory, and so forth. They're not only playing second fiddle to the Cyber Director (Coordinator? I've heard both terms being used), but since the Cyber Director is already playing second fiddle to Tobias Vaughn, that knocks the Cybermen down the ranks in the orchestra that I'm not even sure what part they're playing anymore.
One thing I find puzzling about this first proper UNIT story is the curiously familiar relationship that the Brigadier has with his direct subordinate, Captain Turner. I actually just had to look up Captain Turner's name because he is constantly referred to by the Brigadier as "Jimmy". The Brig never has such an informal relationship with any of his officers in the future. He calls Captain Yates by his first name, Mike, on occasion, and we never actually learn Benton's first name. But here, it's always Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy.
Is Jimmy a nephew of the Brigadier, or some other sort of relative? A friend? Better than friends? Was there someone before Doris, perhaps....? Slash fiction writers, you have your setup. Have at 'er.
This episode rights the ship a bit after a meandering third episode, with its centerpiece being the helicopter rescue of Zoe and Isobel. While I was watching that (or, rather, watching the animated reconstruction), I couldn't help but think how far Doctor Who had come in just five short years (this episode went out on November 23, 1968, five years to the day after the series first premiered). A big budget(-ish) helicopter stunt sequence on film must have been the furthest thing from the minds of Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman when they were trying to stretch their £250/episode budget to cover the use of three ancient cameras on a crowded Lime Grove Studios set.
And what's this? A Cyberman finally appears at the end of the episode! Hooray! I'm not sure that this story was ever marketed as a Cybermen story, or if their return was kept as a surprise (although given that the Cybermen seemed to feature about every four months at this stage in the series' history, and the fact that hundreds of people crowded in behind the cameras to watch the production crew film scenes with Cybermen a couple months previously, any surprise that was there would have been muted, to say the least), but imagine the disappointment of children everywhere who have been waiting for four weeks to finally catch their first glimpse of their favourite monster.
The Invasion was originally supposed to be a shorter story, but was fleshed out to eight episodes when script problems on other serials in Season Six resulted in those serials being dropped. Episode Three shows the stretch marks of that expansion.
At the end of Episode Two, Packer captures The Doctor and Jamie, while Zoe and Isobel are locked away in a crate. At the end of Episode Three, Packer is looking to capture The Doctor and Jamie, while Zoe and Isobel are still locked in a crate. In the intervening time, The Doctor and Jamie are taken out to Vaughn's office at the IE factory (which, conveniently, looks exactly like his office in London), find out very little information about Vaughn, have a meeting with Professor Watkins and go out of their way to not reveal any information during their chat, then escape again.
All this episode does is make Packer out to look like an idiot on several occasions, and drop the cool factor of Vaughn towards the end as the IE Managing Director is resorted to shouting at Packer for his repeated failures during the past 24 minutes. He redeems himself, though, when he chomps out the line "I'll be in my office, and please don't fail this time. There's a good fellow".
Oh, and still no Cybermen, but at least they're referred to on a couple of occasions as "our allies" by Vaughn and Packer.
Posted by Steven at 10:57 AM
The seed for the next five years of Doctor Who are firmly planted in this episode with the introduction of UNIT, the Brigadier, lots of military equipment, and extensive location filming. It all looks and feels very familiar now, looking back on it, so much so that seeing Patrick Troughton's Doctor in the middle of all of this seems almost out of place. Troughton's Doctor is a deceptive little cosmic hobo whose image is almost overwhelmed by the scale of the operation around him. The only thing more strong and defiant than UNIT in these early stages is the strong and defiant image (and ego) of Jon Pertwee's Doctor. Pertwee's Doctor was made for UNIT. Troughton seems like more of a place holder in this, keeping Pertwee's seat warm for a few more months.
It's nice to see Zoe have a female friend to chum around with in Isobel Watkins. It's also, admittedly, nice to see them chum around in skirts so short that if one was to sew both skirts together, they still wouldn't go down past the knee. I'm not sure I, for one second, believe that Isobel actually knows what she's doing when it comes to photography, but her and Zoe make a good team. Their destruction of the reception computer at International Electromatix is fun, but not half as fun as Vaughn's reaction to it.
I may as well start the Tobias Vaughn love-in now. Obviously, Kevin Stoney is fantastic as the IE chairman, and the real villain of this story, no matter what the Cybermen have to say about things. Just as he made the first half of The Daleks Master Plan three years earlier, Stoney steals not only every scene in this episode, but he steals every scene he's not in because Vaughn is so enthralling that it's easy to spend the time while watching non-Vaughn scenes waiting with anticipation for the next Vaughn scene to come up. Stoney portrays Vaughn with such a defiant coolness that it comes close to being the definitive portrait of a villain in Doctor Who. You are never in doubt that Vaughn is always (repeat, always) in complete control of the situation at this stage of the story. Even though he seems to be taking commands from the strange machine (who I'll call the Cyber Coordinator for now) behind his office wall, you know that Vaughn looks at the arrangement like a partnership, with him as the primary partner. Just as when Stoney's Mavic Chen batted aside a Dalek eyestalk in The Daleks' Master Plan, I love it when Vaughn angrily closes the door on the Cyber Coordinator while the machine is in mid-sentence.
I also can't go on anymore without mentioning what might be my favourite music score to date by Don Harper. His theme for UNIT might be a little busy for my liking, but the rest of his music sets the tone for this entire story that it is impossible for me to not think of the score whenever this story is mentioned. From the moody music often used to accompany The Doctor and Jamie skulking about the IE grounds, to the groovy lounge music used in scenes set in Vaughn's office, Harper's work on this story deserves all the accolades it has received over the years.
Like most stories that begin with its sole focus on The Doctor and his companions, this episode starts very mysteriously with little explanation as to what is going on. The opening shot is that of the TARDIS reforming (taken from the end of the previous serial, The Mind Robber), with no sign of The Master (from The Land of Fiction, of course, not THAT Master), nor with any mention of him. Was The Mind Robber, indeed, just a dream?
The TARDIS crew doesn't have time to worry about this, though, as they're now facing the prospect of being blown out of space by a rocket launched from the dark side of the Moon(!). I assume the background to this will be explained. It certainly wasn't during the course of this episode. Anyway, once the TARDIS instigates an emergency landing, the crew seem to have arrived in the middle of a dictatorship, hitching a ride with someone who is on the outs with the prevailing leader and, particularly, his henchman.
As per usual for a Cybermen story, there is no sign of the metal beasts, nor are they imminent, apart from the strange computer in Tobias Vaughn's office. Oh, and seeing that there's eight episodes in this story, there'll be plenty of time to mention Kevin Stoney as Vaughn and just how bloody awesome he is.
I should also mention the neat novelty of the DVD release and the animated reconstructions for episodes one and four. The relative success of these reconstructions has led many fans to demand such recons for other missing stories, but, to be honest, the animation is slightly crude, reminding me, in an unflattering way, of other quickly made, Flash-animated cartoon series like 6teen (for those who didn't spend 6 years working at a TV station that broadcast cartoons, feel free to look that one up) and even the 2007 animated Doctor Who serial The Infinite Quest. As I said - a neat novelty, but probably not worth the considerable cost it took to bring them into being.
Not only a surrealist piece of brilliance, The Mind Robber was also a landmark story for the future of the show behind the scenes, as it signaled a change for the way the series would be produced for the rest of its original run. This situation actually has its roots in the production of the previous serial, The Dominators. When that story was truncated from six episodes to five, the orphaned episode was adopted by The Mind Robber for its first episode, with the understanding that no further money could be spent on it. Thus, only the main cast could be used, along with any existing sets and props that were at the crew's disposal. Also, the increasing luxury of location filming was beginning to eat into the regulars' rehearsal time, as well as into their days off.
This didn't sit well with Patrick Troughton. Dismayed that, towards the end of an already long production block, the workload for not only him, but of his fellow regulars Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, led Troughton to complain bitterly enough that each of the episodes in The Mind Robber were shortened to roughly 20 minutes in length, down from the usual 25 minutes. (Episode Five would be the shortest episode of Doctor Who ever made, clocking in at just over 18 minutes).
But further changes would be more evident in the subsequent production block. Instead of cranking out 42-45 episodes during the course of one production block, the sixth production block in the series' history would be just 34 episodes long (eventually spanning five stories), with time allotted before the rehearsal period of each story for location filming. It would signal the transition towards the more slick (yes, classic Doctor Who could be slick!) productions of the 1970s, as the rest of the Troughton stories to come would utilize pre-filming a lot more than any time in its history.
With that in mind, watching The Mind Robber is the unofficial end of 1960s Doctor Who in the way that it was produced. It's also a one-off shot at surrealism that was seldom tried again, and one that stands out and apart from the slicker, yet slightly less imaginative, stories to come.
What a shame that Zoe comes from the 21st century. Her version of the 21st century seems so much more exciting than that of the real world 21st century. She works on a space station, was educated with advanced learning techniques - what a time to be alive. But then there's the "Hourly Telepress", and the comic book exploits of the great, the powerful, The Karkus.
It's a wonder how the Karkus ever had a following, really. The first of two appearances by Christopher Robbie in Doctor Who (and his second appearance seven years hence goes just as well), his Karkus is the weakest part of and otherwise excellent story thus far, although most of the blame has to be placed upon the fight scene that the Karkus and Zoe have soon after the cartoon superhero is introduced. In a perfect world, this would have been shot on film and had the benefit of editing. As it was recorded in the studio, we see Zoe holding her arms out in anticipation of the Karkus's punches, the Karkus doing flips on his own, independent of Zoe's efforts, and Wendy Padbury completely fluffing her line at the end of the scene.
The final shot of the episode, however, redeems any shortcomings that this episode might have, with the brilliant visual of Jamie and Zoe getting trapped in between the pages of a giant book. It's another in a long line of literal visualizations of the perils that The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe are experiencing (such as "Jamie is safe and well" and "when is a door not a door? When it's a jar" from earlier episodes). Jamie and Zoe are about to be trapped in fiction just as they're about to be trapped in a book. Superb stuff.
One of my favourite things about The Mind Robber is the "stream of consciousness" feel to it. The setting goes from a forest of words to a cobweb forest to a long winding cave to a castle on top of a mountain and so on, without ever explaining why the location keeps changing to the viewer or the characters. Fictional characters are introduced and dispensed in quick succession, and giant clockwork soldiers serve as the wardens. It looks and feels like what it is probably trying to represent - a dream world.
The fact that The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe react to the changing scenery and situations with relatively little surprise leads me to believe that they are in a shared hallucination or a shared dream. If that's the case, the most obvious point to hypothesize that the dream started was when everyone was being tormented by the loud, pulsing sound in the TARDIS is Episode One. I honestly don't remember the details of how this story wraps up, or if it dovetails into the beginning of The Invasion, so I'll be intrigued to see if this little idea turns out.
I'm also willing to believe that many, many other people have come up with the whole "It was all a dream" idea, but this whole Chronic Hysteresis trip is trying to register my initial reactions from viewing each episode, and not relying on any pre-established thoughts and notions that have built up over the years and decades since it first aired.
I'll finally mention Bernard Horsfall, whose Gulliver is my favourite fictional character out of anyone in this story. My high opinion of him is based both on how much I enjoy Horsfall's performance, but also because of the fact that every line he speaks is a line from the book Gulliver's Travels. Not only that, but those lines are all crafted in beautiful English from over 200 years ago, and I have an enormous soft spot for archaic English.
Can you imagine if Frazer Hines would have contracted chicken pox a few weeks earlier, during production of The Dominators? Or later, during the making of The Invasion? There would have to have been a hasty rewrite, have Jamie knocked out off camera by a Quark or Packer, and somehow pick him up the next week, all refreshed and ready to go as if nothing had happened.
Thankfully (well, not for Frazer Hines, though), the actor had to bow out of the most oddball of oddball stories made to that date (even predating the term "oddball" by a good 19 years), so the explanation of his absence in this story actually enhances the story, rather than providing a detraction and , indeed, a distraction. The introduction of the Hamish Wilson Jamie fits in with the story so well that had you not known the back story behind it, it would seem like just another chapter in an already brilliantly bizarre story.
We first hear (and almost see) "The Master" (quotation marks are used to differentiate him from, you know, The Master) in this episode, too. Emrys Jones is actually acting three characters in this episode - the robotlike, order barking, controller Master; his softer, calculating companion who acts as someone to bounce ideas off of, and the original, soft spoken man who would become the Master. It's a great, twitchy performance that seamlessly glides between each schizophrenic facet.
And then Bernard Horsfall turns up! But more from him later.
To view Episode One of The Mind Robber today, out of context, is an interesting view, is notable for its surrealism, its (budget imposed) minimalist style, and it's famous closing shot of Zoe lying on the spinning TARDIS console, the TARDIS exploding, Zoe lying on the TARDIS spinning console, and Zoe lying on the TARDIS spinning console.
But to see this episode immediately after the 200+ episodes that precede it hits you like a smack in the face. A product of necessity and emergency, Episode One has a lot in common with another episode that was borne under similar circumstances, The Edge of Destruction. The Mind Robber, though, had the luxury of being able to use a white cyclorama and some stock (yellow) robot costumes. The result is mesmerising. When the TARDIS explodes at the end of the episode, all bets are off. We're through the looking glass here, folks. I can just about hear Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" playing in the background.
Doctor Who enters the real 1960s. It's going to be a hell of a trip.
It's a damn shame that the Quarks are so adorable, because any menace they are trying to impress upon the characters and the view is lost by their cute-as-a-button voices, the way they spin around when they're agitated, and the fact that they blow up really, really well. They're also easily imitable by children (which is fitting as they were actually played by children), as any child with a large cardboard box, two empty shoe boxes, and his mom's favourite, circa-1968 lampshade, could make a Quark costume in about five minutes.
Both Dominators seem to kiss and make up after their initial frostiness, with Rago taking a horde of Quarks out with him to destroy and humans he comes across to help Toba complete his drilling task. His true nature shows through, though, in his final moments, when he screams the command, "OBEY!" to Toba seconds before their ship explodes. You almost think that, despite all the progress their relationship achieved during their vacation to Dulkis, Rago's last thought was blaming Toba for their failure.
By this time in Patrick Troughton's tenure in Doctor Who, he was starting to be able to call his shots a lot more than in the past. Not only did he get a week off during both The Web of Fear and The Wheel in Space, but he also managed to get of location filming for The Dominators. In his place, the producers hired an unconvincing double (whose name escapes me right now. I bet you Toby Hadoke would know). You'd think that director Morris Barry would use shots of Troughton's double in moderation, but there's some big, unintentional closeups of him in this story, particularly in this episode.
All in all, The Dominators is a bit of fun, punctuated with stretches of boredom and muted commentary about hippies and hawks. Given the lack of available Patrick Troughton stories on DVD, I'm surprised that this one hasn't hit the shelves before now, but I'll be looking forward to it when it does.
The battle between not just the Dominators and the Dulkians comes to a head in this episode, but, even more so, the battle between aggression and pacifism. Early in the episode, just when the warlike Dominators are ready to impose their will over the entire Dulkian race, the ongoing feud between Rago and Toba flares up. Their argument is intense, and it takes their focus of the task at hand. I hope I'm not reading too much into it, but it shows what happens when you put two aggressive people on the same side - they will eventually fight each other.
Later on, when Rago storms the capital and demands Dulkian slaves from the ruling council, the council fall back on their default tactic and try and resolve the situation through diplomacy and procedure. Rago destroys one of the councillors to prove his point that in a war between singular aggression and pacifism, singular aggression wins outright.
Doctor Who has often been a battleground between science and superstition, with science often winning. However, the programme has also seen a few debates between pacifism and aggression. One would expect that, in a programme whose hero is dedicated to pacifism, that this would be the prevailing theme behind the entire show, but it is often the case that even the most peace loving of races and species encountered by The Doctor are forced to fight at some point. Often, it is The Doctor himself, or more often, his companions who convince those who wish to live in peace that they need to fight to survive (the most famous example of this, of course, occurs in The Daleks). Looking ahead 40 years to Davros's words in Journey's End, and we see that those words often due ring true. But more about that another day...
Posted by Steven at 10:53 AM
Fewer scenes with Quarks + fewer scenes with bickering Dominators + more dull scenes with Dulkian politicians = a much more boring episode than the first two in this story.
There's also a great deal of padding regarding scenes set in, and involving, the transport rockets that everyone on Dulkis seems so fond. The Doctor and Jamie fly from the island to the capital to find Zoe and Cully, only to learn that Zoe and Cully have returned to the island from the capital by travel rocket, which means that a frustrated Doctor and Jamie now have to return to the island. It's right around this episode that Derrick Sherwin and a young Terrance Dicks started taking over the writing duties after finding fault in the original scripts written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln. One must wonder if Sherwin and Dicks were trying to come to terms with the story during this episode, as the plot doesn't move along a great deal.
The original theme of this story, as intended by Haisman and Lincoln, was to show the inadequacies of a truly pacifist society. Although this was toned down considerably in the final version, elements of it are still present. Look how, among the work party, only the headstrong Cully and non-Dulkian Zoe are still fit for work after just a short time, while Balan, Kando, and Teel, the typical Dulkians, have passed out due to exhaustion. Translation: hippies are no good at working. Which side of the anti-war protests do you think Haisman and Lincoln were on back in 1968?
The fun continues. I love how The Doctor and Jamie constantly dupe the Dominators into thinking that they're not smart, and thus, not dangerous, by doing poorly at the tests that the Dominators have arranged. The situation allows for many a great comedy moment, and Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines, who have had a couple of years under their belts together on the show, have the perfect comedy timing to pull these scenes off effortlessly.
More (unintentional, I'm sure) fun occurs thanks to Toba and his army of Quarks. I mentioned how in Episode One that Toba and Rago are like bickering spouses. In Episode Two, though, with Rago constantly berating, correcting, and scolding Toba, the relationship veers between that of a overbearing spouse and a battered spouse, to an overbearing parent and his disgruntled teenage son. Case in point - the cliffhanger to Episode Two. After two entire episodes of being belligerently instructed not to waste the Quarks' energy on wanton destruction, nor wasting possible slave labour resources in the form of the Dulkins, Toba orders the destruction of the first building he comes across, gleefully shouting "Destroy! Destroy!" like a petulant five year old smashing an ant hill out of existence.
Finally, Cully and Zoe seem to be getting along far too well, or, at least, it seems Cully wants it that way. In almost every scene in this episode, Cully runs off camera, hand in hand with Zoe, and, in one instance, wants her out of her Space Wheel clothes and into a proper Dulkian skirt. Either he's looking to settle down with Zoe (and the naive girl isn't doing much to thwart this notion), or else he's just looking for company to the misery that is wearing a Dulkian skirt himself. I'm leaning towards the latter.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
The Gunfighters is easily my biggest guilty pleasure from the William Hartnell era. The Dominators might qualify for that title for the Troughton era, at least based on the first episode. It starts off hilariously well when Dominator Rago storms out of the Dominator ship, followed shortly by his subordinate, Dominator Toba. Both men bark orders and observations at each other while standing far apart and facing away from each other. They've clearly just had a fight. They must be on vacation.
Then we're introduced to some thrill seeking adventurers on a day trip to the Island of Death. One of their number is a young Malcolm Terris, who would gain fame 11 years later for splitting his pants while being shot by a ballet dancer who is dressed as a pantomime bull. Fortunately, he doesn't have any pants to split in this short appearance because he, like all males on Dulkis, it would appear, wear skirts with an empire waist. The women don't look much better. But the thrill seekers at least look pretty cool when they get wasted by some Quarks.
Ah, yes, the Quarks. The successor to the Daleks, the producers of Doctor Who had hoped at the time. Pity they're so adorable, so immobile, so unintelligible. Can anyone understand what they're saying at the end of the episode?
Whatever. I had a blast watching this episode. I also love how The Doctor makes Jamie blow up a beach ball, the latter clearly having never seen one before. Bring on Episode Two!
Posted by Steven at 10:19 PM
Friday, July 10, 2009
Zoe joining The Doctor on his travels is mildly disturbing, only because she tells no one on the Wheel that she's leaving. Do you think she even sends a letter after she leaves? A message in a bottle? A text message? Most of the other companions we've seen join the TARDIS over the years have had all their family and/or friends slaughtered before their very eyes, which is horrific for the companion, but it did save a lot of awkward questions.
Zoe is one of the first companions who would appear to be missed, as she seemed well liked around the Wheel (if seen as a little robotic). Mind you, the crew gets over the deaths of their controller, their chief medical officer, and a good few crew members relatively quickly. Can death be such a common occurrence on a space research station? It's enough for Tanya Lernov and Leo Ryan to find the time for some cuddling.
The Cybermen are dispatched rather easily and, in a purely visual sense, entirely unconvincingly. And why do they look so funny while walking in space? And what, exactly, are they walking on when they're walking in space? Space?
The Patrick Troughton era hasn't had many low points, and although The Wheel in Space is clearly veering towards the end of not being terribly good, at least it's still not terrible.
The Cybermens' plan in this story is remarkable. Most alien races intent on taking over a space station would usually form an army, attack the base (especially when they clearly outflank the station in technology and strength, which the Cybermen clearly are), mop up the survivors, put up some new wallpaper, and take control.
But not these Cybermen. First, they create a supernova to fling meteorites across space (if you're starting your plan with something as complex as engineering a supernova, you know you've got your work cut out for you). The meteorites are headed towards the Wheel, so, naturally, the station will have to defend itself with its laser gun. What does the laser gun need for power? Bernalium. So, the Cybermen somehow smuggle some Cybermats aboard to discreetly destroy the Wheel's bernalium stocks. But, lo! There is some more bernalium on board a mysterious rocket which is floating towards the Wheel. So, the Cybermen (all two of them) hide in a crate of bernalium in the rocket, the same rocket that, were it not for Jamie's sabotage of the laser gun in Episode Two, would have been blasted out of the sky before the Cyberman plan even got off the ground.
Mental. The Cyberplanner is clearly doing its best to earn its paycheque. Future Cyber-invasions would dispense with the middle man, though. Pity, that, because despite the over complexity of the plan, the Cyberplanner doesn't half try.
Is it a bad sign that I've fallen sleep twice while trying to watch this episode? I don't think I'm really that bored while watching it. Perhaps it's because the Cybermen's plan of taking over the Space Wheel is taking forever to be put into action.
That's not surprising, given the complexity of the devious Cyber-scheme. From rockets to crates to eggs, all containing Cybermen, to Cybermats to humans controlled by Cybermen, etc., it's taking a while to get to the real lynch pin of the Cyber-plan. Not even the Cyber Planner is giving us a clue as to what's going. (You know what my favourite thing about writing reviews of Cybermen stories? Affixing the "Cyber-" prefix to all sorts of words. It's Cyber-riffic!)
Meanwhile, Jarvis, the head of the wheel, is quickly going nuts. Does he have space sickness, it is queried? More importantly, what is space sickness? Is it similar to the "space madness" experienced by Ren in the Ren and Stimpy episode of the same name? Only time will tell...
Pleasingly, the horribly annoying qualities of the character of Zoe are quickly being deflated as Zoe raises doubts about her logical and clinical outlook on life. She just might make a good potential companion after all.
In which the Cybermen finally reveal themselves properly, The Doctor finally wakes up from his slumber, and, most importantly to me, after thirteen straight episodes, the pictures finally move thanks to Episode Three existing in its entirety in the BBC Archives.
The Cybermen have been changed yet again after the relative stability of their appearance in the last two stories. The overall result isn't as impressive as the Moonbase/Tomb versions (and, with only two properly functioning Cybermen costumes, the ability to create memorable images of marauding Cyber armies is severely diminished), but perhaps by favourite Cyber-quirk are the little "teardrops" at the corners of each eye and, for this story only, under the mouth. It almost gives the Cybermen a sense of melancholy in their motives. They attempt to conquer others because they are sad that they have no longer have a home. That First Doctor - what a bastard!
The Second Doctor, on the other, is as mobile in this episode as he was in the last one, but at least he's awake now and participating in the plot. He even acquires his pseudonym of John Smith during this story. But he doesn't even get out of bed for the entire episode! Quite amazing is the breadth of Troughton's Doctor that he can still provide the story its necessary thrust by just sitting up. Tom Baker would be jealous.
Just like The Web of Fear a couple stories back, The Wheel in Space staggers a bit in momentum thanks to the vacation of Patrick Troughton. (Just how many vacations does he get? It's becoming as bad as John Wiles-era William Hartnell). Instead of involving our main character in the story, we have to lay him up in a bunk or a hospital bed for an entire episode while we are slowly introduced to the (surprise) multicultural crew of an isolated station about to come under attack by an alien force.
One of the crew members that we meet is the librarian, Zoe, who is about to become the new female companion on the show. The recipe for Zoe's character combines precisely the worst aspects of companions from the years to come. She's a know-it-all smartass like K-9, a young genius like Adric, and utterly humourless and logical like Nyssa. Zoe is a disaster waiting to happen. Why, then, does she (eventually) succeed in becoming a particularly memorable companion? Is it Wendy Padbury's acting ability? Her character development? That shot from The Mind Robber?
If I'm making this story out to be less than stellar, it really isn't that bad, mostly because I have a penchant for stories set in space stations or space ships. When I was a kid, and I wanted to build my own Doctor Who adventures out of Lego, spaceships would be the easiest to build. Cybermen, on the other hand, were difficult to realize, mostly because I had to wrap up Lego minifigures in tin foil and sticky tape. Fitting, that, as it's how the real ones were made, too...
Episode One is a bold experiment in minimalism, hearkening back to the early years of the show when The Doctor and his companions would wander around, exploring their new surroundings, while completely alone. Only at the end of the first episode would another character, shadow, trap, or sink plunger be revealed. What's risky in The Wheel in Space is that instead of the larger entourages of William Hartnell's era, there's just The Doctor and Jamie, and one Servo Robot who sounds like a relative of a Chumblie but looks more like he's giving the viewer a preview of the mind-blowing awesomeness that are the Quarks.
The fact that The Doctor knocks his head and slowly descends into unconsciousness during the last half of the episode makes the narrative even more challenging to portray. But the toughest part of The Wheel in Space for me? Not the writing, not the acting, not the robot. This is easily the worst quality reconstruction that I have for any story (ironic, as it is one of the last missing stories that I have to contend with during this marathon). My copy is probably a seventh-generation Betacam copy of the original recon, which may or may not be from Loose Cannon, but clearly predates the advent of onscreen subtitles to describe scenes with little dialogue. Scenes with little dialogue? Did I mention the Servo Robot doesn't speak, yet is in about half the scenes? Tough work, but all for you, dear reader. All for you.
Also, is it a prerequisite of 1960s Cybermen stories to not feature Cybermen? I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one...
One can tell that things sort of run out of steam in this story by about the midway point of Episode Five. Much time is spent in showing Robson taking Victoria to the control rig, The Doctor and Jamie rescue her, then the three of them returning to the base safely, with the only thing really changing, storywise, is Robson moving to the control rig (where he ceases to provide any function, while possessed, for the rest of the story). Things really hit a snag thanks to a long and needless sequence involving The Doctor trying to fly a helicopter in the first five minutes of Episode Six.
The weed creature is vanquished with about 12 minutes to spare in the episode, and here's the funny thing - everybody lives! Mrs. Harris, Robson, even (an unseen) Van Lutyens, who was sucked into the foam and down the pipeline to the control rig, is apparently all fine and dandy. The Ninth Doctor will have to change his line. "Just this one...or twice...."
The last third of the story is handed over to the burgeoning story of Victoria's departure. It's fantastically well played, particularly in the last scene between Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling. The last line of the scene is particularly poignant, when Victoria asks Jamie, "You won't leave without saying goodbye, will you?", which is a legitimate question, given the usual quick escape preferred by The Doctor once the situation has wrapped up. However, like in The Chase if The Myth Makers, we never see that goodbye scene, as the next shot is of The Doctor and Jamie walking away from Victoria on the beach. The Doctor has actually been mostly absent from Victoria's deliberation about staying, wanting Victoria to make her own decisions. His last line of the episode, "I was fond of her, too, Jamie." speaks volumes, though.
Victoria's departure is unique in that it de-romanticizes the notion of adventuring with The Doctor. Previous companions have left The Doctor because they've had a chance to return home, fall in love, or pursue some other noble cause away from the TARDIS. But Victoria hasn't found any of those things - she just doesn't want to be associated with the TARDIS anymore and the dangers and tribulations that come with it. She'd rather be left behind than continue on. If I was The Doctor, I couldn't help but feel slightly offended...
There's a remarkably creepy ending to this episode where Robson, standing amidst a sea of foam and seaweed tentacles, tells The Doctor that "we've been waiting for you". Spine chillingly good stuff.
The Doctor and Jamie have followed the possessed Robson to the control rig not only to confront the source of the weed creature, but to try and rescue Victoria. Poor Victoria has become increasingly useless as this story has gone along as she spends most of her time either wallowing in self pity or getting kidnapped/incarcerated/rendered unconscious. I'm thinking that this is in keeping with her character arc that has been developing over the course of this story, but with 1960s Doctor Who, you just never know...
Thanks to a few short censor clips that have been reinserted back into this episode by the good folks at Loose Cannon, I can finally view some pictures that move. Both this and The Web of Fear have been quite good, but staring at still photos and straining to hear the audio can be wearing on the nerves. Because this whole Chronic Hysteresis journey, and the large amount of non-existent episodes I've had to endure in such a short time, never before have I looked forward to The Dominators so much...
In a season and era full of stereotypes, be it racial (Toberman in The Tomb of the Cybermen), cultural (Evans in The Web of Fear), or sexist (take your pick), it comes as a great relief to see that the head of the gas company in charge of the refinery is a woman, Megan Jones. She's strong, seemingly in charge....ah, but then quickly sides with The Doctor to try and defeat the Seaweed of Death. Oh, well. Baby steps, I guess.
Jones arrives on the scene shortly after the previous, non-insane authority figure, Van Lutyens meets his (apparent) comeuppance at the hands of the BBC foam machine. Van Lutyens is played by John Abineri. I've long enjoyed Abineri's performances in Doctor Who (and, particularly, in his role of Herne the Hunter in Robin of Sherwood). When I first saw Toby Hadoke's wonderful Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf, which included several references to the illustrious Mr. Abineri, I beamed - finally, a fellow admirer, even if I've never seen any Ferrero Rocher ads. Gosh, for John Abineri's sake, I hope Van Lutyens is ok...
There's some more hand wringing from Victoria in this episode as she grows weary of the dangerous life of traveling in the TARDIS. This aspect of the story is developing quite nicely.
This story falls into, like many other Patrick Troughton stories to date, the standard "base under siege" format that has been used to great effect thus far without feeling repetitive. What Fury From The Deep has in common with another similarly formatted story, The Ice Warriors, is a fantastic performance by the actor portraying the leader of the base. Whereas in The Ice Warriors, Peter Barkworth's Clent was an overwrought and emotional leader on the side of the goodies, Victor Maddern's Robson looks as if he's vying for the title of head humanoid villain. Robson has been seen to be very forthright, driven, and, often, indignant thus far, but he really loses it in this episode. Maddern is rippling with rage during his scenes in this episode without ever going over the top.
Robson's growing insanity is actually troubling as he hasn't been affected by the seaweed yet. Only after he retires to his room does he come into contact with it. That wasn't a possessed Robson ranting and raving in the control room - that was genuine Robson.
Victoria, already having been locked in a room and threatened by seaweed coming in through the vents, drops the first hint in this episode that she's growing weary of being scared all the time. It's awfully refreshing to finally hear a companion say that! Coupled with the earlier comments about the TARDIS always landing in England, this is turning into the most open, honest Doctor Who story ever (until, at least, the Peter Davison stories were novelized).
The episode (which, at barely over 20 minutes long, is the shortest in length to date) ends with a truly disturbing sequence involving Maggie Harris instructing a now possessed Robson on his duties before walking out, sans breathing apparatus, into the sea and under the waves. At first, just a rather insipid wife of the equally rather insipid second-in-command of the base, is Maggie now the mastermind of everything? Can she breathe underwater? Is she walking to her death? Gripping stuff, this.