Monday, February 22, 2010

6P4 - Resurrection of the Daleks 4

Terry Molloy is to role of Davros as David Tennant is to the role of The Doctor to fans of the new series. Both were preceded in their roles by actors who spent only a short time in the parts yet who were seen as a definitive portrayal of the characters, but then both Molloy and Tennant took over and made each part their own for a much longer period of time.

Michael Wisher was simply marvellous as Davros in Genesis of the Daleks, but Terry Molloy was equally brilliant, yet equally different, in his first appearance as the creator of the Daleks here. The strength of Wisher's Davros was immutably aided by Nyder as played by Peter Miles. Molloy had no such right hand man, with only his lackey Kiston remaining by his side through thick and thin. Molloy's best moments are when he's uttering his lines almost under his breath, but he has a ferocious rant to end Episode Three. It's a shame in a way that Wisher and Molloy are supposedly playing the same character, as they both really deserve to stand on their own.

Tegan's leaving scene is perhaps the most gut wrenching ever seen. Other companions who have left have done so because they've found more noble causes outside of the TARDIS, because they've fallen in love with someone they've just met, or because they've been forced to stay behind in one way or another. Not Tegan. Tegan leaves because she's "sick of it", because "it's stopped being fun". Travelling in the TARDIS should be fun, it should be an adventure, it should never be something that you should be sick of.

But after the events of Resurrection of the Daleks, it's not hard to see why Tegan would become distasteful for this lifestyle. After Tegan leaves, The Doctor is visibly upset not so much at the carnage that has happened, but at the fact that Tegan finally called him on it. Many times in the past, there have been dangerous adventures in which many people died but no companion has ever left because of it. Resurrection pushed things just a bit too far.

It's not the deaths of major characters that sways Tegan to leave the TARDIS. It's the callous deaths of seemingly minor characters, one an extra only seen in long shot, that she reacts most strongly to. Laird's death is tragic, and Tegan spent a lot of time with her in the warehouse during this story that to see the only person who was kind enough (and the only person who wasn't duplicated by the Daleks) to take care of her. But it's when Tegan is running from the two fake policemen that you can see when she's finally had enough. Standing at gunpoint, Tegan figures she's about to be shot, but instead, one of the policemen inexplicably retrains his weapon on a harmless bystander, scanning the area by the riverbed with his metal detector. That man's death is possibly the most horrific of this entire story because, of all the needless deaths, his is the most needless. Tegan's shock and disgust after his death speaks volumes for what she is about to do at the end of the story.

If the cavalcade of death was intended to the impetus for Tegan's decision to leave, then Resurrection of the Daleks is a bona fide success. But the death in this story eventually just seems gratuitous, and the story seems clunky as a result. There are no battle scenes as much as there are death scenes, and for a story featuring Daleks, the pepper pots actually contribute very little to the blood bath. Still, they fare much better than in their previous appearance five years earlier. The actual resurrection of the Daleks would take three stories to achieve, but the start of the process occurred here.

6P3 - Resurrection of the Daleks 3

Styles, as played by internationally famous Rula Lenska, is a rarity in that she is a fairly major character who never meets The Doctor, or in fact isn't even told of his existence. For Styles and her hastily formed suicide squad, Resurrection of the Daleks is an entirely separate and different story to the one that The Doctor is experiencing, and that story really serves little purpose. From Episode One, Styles's sole function has been to break into the self destruct chamber and blow up the ship, Daleks and all.

Styles never gets to complete that mission - her and her compatriots are gunned down just as Styles is about to (rather casually, I thought) pull the lever to activate the self destruct mechanism. In essence, the entire subplot involving Styles finding the self destruct mechanism is to establish that there is a self destruct mechanism for Stein to finally use properly in Episode Four.

There's a lot of subplots that seem to go nowhere. The entire "Daleks create duplicates for every single character apart from Lytton" subplot is another one that seems to be needless. The whole dramatic reason for duplicates/doubles/androids is to have the original, good version of a character and his or her evil twin. There's never a scene that features both the original and duplicate character because after the duplicate is created, the original is killed. Couldn't the originals just have had their minds controlled by the Daleks, instead of going through the laborious task of creating duplicates? Also, if The Doctor has to go through the whole rigmarole of lying on a bed made of bubble wrap, have his mind connected to a tape recorder and be forced to remember all of his companions (except Leela) in order to have a duplicate made of him, then when do the other characters have this done?

Tegan is another character wasted in this story. She spends most of her time lying in bed, trading turns with Professor Laird to ask the soldiers when the ambulance will arrive. For Janet Fielding's last story, she sure isn't given a lot to do.

6P2 - Resurrection of the Daleks 2

It is really weird to see The Doctor, any Doctor, holding a gun, let alone using one, but Peter Davison's Doctor takes the cake. It just looks so wrong, especially compared to his rather bland and peaceful costume. It almost doesn't seem real to see Davison skulk around the warehouse, gun in hand, and then standing there, pumping six rounds into a Dalek mutant. At least Davison does his best to handle the gun like it's diseased when giving it back to Sergeant Calder.

This is, though, to the best of my knowledge, the most The Doctor has ever fired a good, old fashioned pistol. The First Doctor handles many a gun as part of a running gag in The Gunfighters (and reveals that he has a private collection of guns in the same story), and the Fourth Doctor brandishes an unfired pistol in The Seeds of Doom before finally pulling a trigger in The Talons of Weng-Chiang. I'll defend The Doctor's decision to shoot the giant rat in the sewers of London. It was an unnatural, vicious beast who was terrorizing the sewers, and The Doctor was the only one in the sewer. He needed to defend himself.

The Fifth Doctor in this episode, though, is surrounded by soldiers armed with machine guns. The Dalek mutant is the size of a kitten. What more damage could The Doctor possibly have done by adding in his contribution to the barrage of bullets? But this is a sign of the way Doctor Who was heading at this point in the show's history, especially under the stewardship of script editor Eric Saward.

Saward also wrote Resurrection of the Daleks, which is full of guns and death. His prior Earthshock is equally bloodthirsty, and in both, The Doctor, who has previously stayed out of such situations, is seen actively firing guns. In Earthshock, he fires a Cyber-gun into the Cyber Leader's chest, which is shocking enough, but he's using a laser gun. Laser guns are one thing. They're make believe. Guns that fire bullets are real. And seeing The Doctor use real world weapons helps bridge the gap between fantasy and reality that probably should rarely, if ever, be crossed.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

6P1 - Resurrection of the Daleks 1

Just a note: this marathon of Doctor Who reviews is relying on DVD releases, mostly, for each story, so what's usually released on shiny discs is taken as read over what was originally broadcast. This has yet to affect many reviews, but it will for Resurrection of the Daleks, which was made as a normal four-part episode, but edited together and originally broadcast as two 50-minute episodes. This review will cover the four-part version.

As a kid first watching this story, I was enthralled. For about a year and a half, precisely the time covering my first viewing of this story, the rebroadcast when my local PBS station looped the whole run of classic Who around again, and my second viewing of The Caves of Androzani (about which more, later), Resurrection of the Daleks was hands down my favourite Doctor Who story ever. It, and mostly Episode One, has everything that an 11-year-old boy would want - gun battles and death galore.

In fact, Episode One might be the most grim, bloody, and violent episode of Doctor Who in its long history. Several people are gunned down by policemen in the story's opening scene, including an innocent bystander (I'm always slightly upset when innocent bystanders are killed in Doctor Who). The Daleks make their first appearance in a battle in which they gun down several guards at a prison in space, but the Daleks also rely on horrible gas bombs that leave their victims with some dreadful facial fungus. Death and destruction are everywhere, and yet most shocking in this day and age seems to be when a character on the bridge of the prison ship is seen smoking a cigarette.

Along side all this death and violence, the story's many characters are also introduced, almost of all of them unnecessarily butch. Including Rula Lenska.

6N4 - Frontios 4

It is here where Frontios really falls apart for me. Thanks to The Doctor interacting with the Gravis, we get a few more closeups of how silly the head Tractator looks. It's readily apparent that most, if not all, monsters in Doctor Who are men in rubber suits, but it doesn't need to be this obvious. The Gravis has a mouth with teeth, but the mouth never opens, there's no gap between the teeth. Instead, the Gravis's only facial movement is its lower jaw moving in and out in rapid succession.

Also, just how is the TARDIS separated into multiple segments and strewn within the rock in the underground caverns of Frontios? And why is no one surprised by this completely bizarre outcome? The Doctor takes the development in stride, which may explain his indifferent reaction to the TARDIS's supposed destruction at the end of Episode One.

Later, Tegan is separated from The Doctor, Turlough, and Plantaganet for roughly 20 seconds, but that length of time is long enough for the other three to find the TARDIS console room and for Turlough to remember, and relay to the others, the secret of the Tractators. This is the biggest problem with Frontios: everything important seems to happen offscreen. Turlough's explanation of the Gravis and The Doctor's later trip to some uninhabited planet to drop the Gravis off all happen away from our prying eyes, having to be described by other characters afterwards. Television is a visual medium. It's stories should reflect that characteristic.

Frontios is also Paddy Kingsland's last incidental music score for Doctor Who, and it's easily his worst. It's not so much bad as it is incredibly similar and ubiquitous. It's everywhere, often featuring the same pan flute melody. Kingsland, like Frontios, should have been much better than it was.

Friday, February 19, 2010

6N3 - Frontios 3

A major underlying theme that has slowly been building steam is the comparison between the colony on Frontios to that of an Orwellian, 1984-type society, complete with buzz phrases like "deaths unaccountable" and "retrogrades" and massive portraits of the late Captain Revere like the one found in the hall of justice.

To focus on this subplot would have made Frontios a very interesting viewing experience, but instead, Episode Three sees the story of the Tractators take over. The Tractators are somewhat ridiculous looking creatures, especially their leader, the Gravis. It's one thing that the mobility of these creatures is severely limited and their shells are quite clearly fiberglass, but to give the Gravis a nose and ears to try and set him apart from his non-speaking brethren was a very poor decision. The Tractators are the 1980s equivalent to the Zarbi.

Still, this episode contains something of a rarity - scenes featuring just The Doctor and Tegan. Despite being on the show for three years, Tegan rarely spends any one-on-one time with The Doctor, either because she's separated from him during the course of the story, or because she was never the only companion in the TARDIS during her entire time on Doctor Who. It's a shame, really, because Peter Davison and Janet Fielding make a good team in this episode, and it's easy to see why they're continued their amusing relationship in DVD commentaries today.

6N2 - Frontios 2

One characteristic of Christopher H. Bidmead's writing for Doctor Who that did manage to sneak its way into Frontios was Bidmead's love of abusing the TARDIS. After jettisoning over 25% of the TARDIS during the events of Logopolis and Castrovalva, Bidmead finally dispatches with the TARDIS entirely by apparently blowing it up at the end of Episode One.

The trouble is that while the TARDIS is obviously not destroyed (there wouldn't be much of a show if it was), it might have helped suspend the disbelief if Tegan, Turlough, and (especially) The Doctor would have reacted to the news that their only means of transportation away from a doomed colony had just evaporated by treating it as something more than a mild inconvenience. Someone who is so used to traveling unfettered by the constraints of time and space wouldn't have dismissed the TARDIS's destruction so willingly.

Turlough has some nice scenes with Norna in this episode as the two form a pseudo-Doctor/companion partnership, although Turlough does prove he is completely useless with girls by barking orders at Norna when trying to open the entrance to the tunnel. He did the same thing with Preston in Warriors of the Deep, and often was uncivil to Tegan during their early days together. Has no one taught him anything about charm?

Mark Strickson usually is quite good as Turlough, but his ranting and drooling scenes that start in this episode are a little too over the top, even for Strickson. It doesn't help when director Ron Jones cuts to an extremely cheesy closeup of his crazed expression just after The Doctor stops him from bolting out of the tunnel.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

6N1 - Frontios 1

The first thing that strikes me about Frontios is that Christopher H. Bidmead wrote it. The second thing that jumps out at me is how un-Bidmead this story is. Whenever you see Bidmead's name on the credits, usually overly scientific dialogue and scenes crammed full of dull mathematical logic are soon to follow.

But, on the outset, Frontios is entirely devoid of the usual Bidmead trappings, and seems more like it's shaping up like the most common and familiar of Doctor Who scenarios, that of a base under siege against an unseen enemy. The scenes set on the surface of Frontios actually look quite good, and the cost-saving explosion effects by having debris blown into shot as opposed to rigging up an explosion onscreen works rather well. The only thing that lets the side down is that archenemy of 1980s Doctor Who: overly bright lighting.

Peter Davison's Doctor is at his most subversive, especially in a scene where he berates the colony's leader Plantagenet about the many problems that he is facing and the little that is being done to help solve them. And any time that the Fifth Doctor puts on his half moon glasses, I'm a happy man. Those glasses are such a subtle character quirk, reminding us that despite the youthful exterior of The Doctor, he is probably well over 800 years old. Even Time Lords grow to be a little short-sighted...

Kamelion Watch: my money's on the hat stand...

6M2 - The Awakening 2

There's much to enjoy about The Awakening - Denis Lill as Sir George, the pairings of The Doctor and Will and The Doctor and Jane Hampton (the latter a poor man's version of The Fourth Doctor and Amelia Rumford duo), great location footage - but the classic series just never seemed to quite know what to do with two-part stories enough to make them feel consequential.

The new series basically compresses a classic series four-part story into 45 minutes, removing any padding and upping the pace, but somehow manages to make it all build to something at the end. The end of The Awakening is possibly the most disappointing aspect of the story, as the reasons for why and what happened are not immediately apparent and are either having to be shouted out by The Doctor while the actions happening, or hurried explained by him afterwards.

The last scene of the episode seems to go on forever, too, with about half the population of Little Hodcombe traveling in the TARDIS, most of whom aren't even fazed by the interior dimensions of the TARDIS. It took Ian and Barbara two years to learn where the door control was on the console; it was apparently the first and only thing that Jane noticed when she first entered the ship because she's already operating it minutes later.

All-in-all, The Awakening is like a small scale reenactment of The Daemons that is bizarrely both rushed and leisurely paced at the same time.

6M1 - The Awakening 1

People who say that it took until the new series for Doctor Who to look at the family lives of its companions forget about Tegan for who we met three relations during her time in the TARDIS. After dispatching with Aunt Vanessa in Logopolis, and imprisoning her cousin Colin in an anti-matter TARDIS and guared by a giant chicken in Arc of Infinity, we were slated to meet Tegan's grandfather, Andrew Verney, in The Awakening.

I kind of like the notion of the TARDIS materializing in a sleepy little village for an afternoon visit. In the early John Nathan-Turner era, with most stories flowing into the next one in some way or other, there never seemed time for such a thing to happen. Two-part stories seem to be perfect for these types of diversions, but, of course, things never stay normal for long, and soon The Doctor is being menaced by over zealous war gamers and 17th century pick pockets.

An entertaining little episode that features some interesting camera shots and direction by Michael Owen Morris in is only Doctor Who work.

Kamelion Watch: None. The automaton actually appeared in a scene that was later cut for timing reasons. Perhaps he's the bucket that Tegan uses to clean up Malus puke in Episode Two.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

6L4 - Warriors of the Deep 4

Let it be said that Margaret Thatcher was responsible for killing off Doctor Who. Thatcher's decision to call a snap election in June 1983 forced John Nathan-Turner to make a decision: scrap the production of Warriors of the Deep in order to make way for the BBC election coverage that would take up much of the production resources at the BBC studios, or move the recording dates up by two weeks and finish production before the election. Nathan-Turner, not at all keen to lose his intended big splash of an opener to Season 21, chose the latter option.

As a result of this decision, none of those involved in the production were given as much time as they needed to prepare before the story went into the studios. It shows. The actors inside the Sea Devil costumes stumble about, heads askew because the costume department hadn't had time to fit them properly. When you see the Myrka flop around and wave his flippers without actually moving anywhere, you're not just watching two actors perform in a costume akin to a pantomime horse, you're watching two actors in the midst of rehearsal on how to move in a giant green pantomime horse. Speaking of rehearsal, there is a scene where Janet Fielding as Tegan and Tara Ward as Preston think they are in a rehearsal, when in fact the cameras were rolling to record a final version of the scene. Warriors of the Deep was intended to duplicate the success of Earthshock by bringing back an old enemy in a bold, daring action romp, but completely fails in the attempt.

As with any faulty production, blame must be laid at the feet of the director, as he is ultimately in charge of the entire debacle. Despite all the problems that were supposedly out of his control, Pennant Roberts must take this one on the chin. In the past, other stories that fought the odds to get made pulled through relatively well, particularly The Invasion of Time. Warriors of the Deep is an example of a story where almost everything went wrong. A better directorial effort might have at least salvaged something from this mess.

The only decent aspect of this story is The Doctor's struggle to try and negotiate a peaceful settlement between the Silurians/Sea Devils and the humans, just as he tried in the past, but this time with spectacularly bad results. Everybody dies in this story except for Bulic. The story's most poignant moments occur at the very end, and almost make you forget all the troubles that preceded them, as The Doctor, bruised and battered, stands amidst a sea of dead humans, Silurians, and Sea Devils, having fought so hard to achieve a peace, yet succeeded only in stopping the fighting. All he can say is echoed by everyone who was watching:

"There should have been another way."

Friday, February 12, 2010

6L3 - Warriors of the Deep 3

Go and get your DVD of Warriors of the Deep and skip ahead to Episode Three. Now, shuttle through until you get to the moment where Ingrid Pitt decides to use kung fu against a pantomime horse that's dripping green paint. Watch that scene in full. Even though it's only a few seconds long, it is a historical event, because it represents The Death of Doctor Who (and no, I'm talking about Episode Five of The Chase).

Michael Grade, the newly minted Controller of BBC1 in 1984, couldn't disguise his hatred of Doctor Who, and often cited this particular scene as to why he thought the programme was an embarrassment for the network. Watching this scene again, I have a hard time disagreeing with him. It is simply terrible; one of the worst moments ever seen in Doctor Who. The only saving grace is that it can be looked at now as a piece of total hilarity, a moment of high camp best savoured during drinking parties.

I have never been a fan of camp, though. I always get offended when detractors term some of the more florid moments of Doctor Who as "camp", because if very rarely veers into that qualification. However, so many elements of this production stray awfully close to the line. The first battle between the Sea Devils and the humans is just laughable. Both sides line up less than ten feet in front of each other and start firing, and somehow nobody is hit until after several shots have been fired. Ingrid Pitt's Doctor Solow is, as mentioned, ridiculous, and even capable actors such as Ian McCulloch struggle to appear like they want to be a million miles from Seabase 4.

Dreadful. Utterly dreadful.

6L2 - Warriors of the Deep 2

Leave it to John Nathan-Turner to be so against costume changes for his lead characters that he would write in The Doctor's one and only permanent costume change into the script by having The Doctor change out of his wet clothes and into a guard's smelly costume. The pullover that The Doctor wears in this story would never be seen again, discarded at that moment and replaced next story with a slightly different one. In a way, it's kind of refreshing to see the Fifth Doctor out of his normal costume for the only time during his run.

Davison's Doctor is just about the only good thing about this episode. His handing the gun over to Vorshak to get everyone to trust him his brilliant. It reminds me of a similar scene in Full Circle when Romana hands over Tylos's knife, stunning her captors into submission. The Fifth Doctor also shows a rare distaste for humans, almost siding with the Silurians, just as his third self did on both occasions that he met them.

Unfortunately, though, there is so much that is bad about this story that's starting to show through the cracks. The Sea Devils are simply terrible, wearing ridiculous samurai costumes and moving at slower than a snail's pace. The lighting, as been famously stated everywhere when talking to this story, is far too flat and bright. The Myrka knocks down a bendable door that is supposed to be a metal bulkhead several inches thick. Oh, and the Myrka....

6L1 - Warriors of the Deep 1

If you weren't sure before that Warriors of the Deep was made in the early-mid-1980s, you are once you see what the crew at the Seabase are wearing. Bulic has come straight from lining up for two hours to buy his replica of the jacket that Michael Jackson wore in the video for Thriller. Everyone else wears the same vinyl coat and pants combination, only saving embarrassment by at least altering the colour combination.

That's not the worst of what's on display here, unfortunately. The guards manage to escape having to wear the Thriller suits, but instead are clad in baggy suits with bizarre, clear plastic helmets. If the helmets are intended to protect the guards from some sort of toxic atmosphere, why aren't the rest of the crew wearing them? Or perhaps the guards are protecting themselves of the smell of freshly pressed vinyl from the Thriller suits?

The Silurians are easily the most disappointing thing about this episode, though. Their introductory shot is so underwhelming and anticlimactic that it completely undermines their intended dramatic return after 14 years away from our screens. In those intervening years, the Silurians have become robots, as they now speak in electronic monotone and walk and talk So. Bloody. Slow. Even though they appear fairly early in this episode, their plan never even gets close to getting off the ground, and it's no surprise, given their pace of movement.

The sets, though, are magnificent, designed by my favourite of all set designers, Tony Burrough. Like his earlier triumph, Four To Doomsday, his "jigsaw sets" could be repositioned in many ways, creating several different, and intricate, looks, most of which contained two floors. Another strong visual look was being able to shoot OB video at Shepperton Studios for the water tank sequences at the end of the episode which see The Doctor's dramatic fall into the water below. But does Turlough have to give up on The Doctor so quickly?

*Kamelion watch: tough to tell, but I bet he's probably a small pile of The Doctor's hair in a bin somewhere, because Peter Davison's coif is considerably shorter at the start of this episode.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

6K - The Five Doctors

The Five Doctors is possibly John Nathan-Turner's greatest achievement during his tenure as producer of Doctor Who. The buildup to and eventual broadcast of the 20th anniversary special saw Doctor Who achieve a public notoriety and popularity that it seldom seen before, and would never come close to seeing again in the 20th century. And it was all because of JNT's shrewd marketing initiatives. Criticize his creative decisions all you like, but JNT was a showman to the core.

The Five Doctors is also a remarkable, impossible feat pulled off by writer Terrance Dicks. Cramming five Doctors (then four, more or less), countless companions, Cybermen, Yeti, a Dalek, The Master, the Time Lords, and having it all, somehow, fit into the canon of the show (with a little help from Season 6B, to be fair) is incredible. Mess up those ingredients, even only slightly, and you wind up with Dimensions in Time. As it stands, The Five Doctors is such an enjoyable romp that you don't even notice how much glue and glitter is holding the thing together.

This is a programme celebrating itself and it's own accomplishments, revelling in its own past and bringing out all the greatest hits that it knows the fans would love. It's good that The Five Doctors exists outside of a normal season because it just feels different from your standard Doctor Who story. For one, it's one single, feature length episode, written without the standard cliffhangers occurring every 25 minutes. This is critical to the success of the story. The point of The Five Doctors is not to increase the suspense, but to entice the viewer to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

And there are many moments to cherish in this. Patrick Troughton is, as always, brilliant, forming a great double team with the Brigadier, although the relationship between the two is not at all like the one they had in The Web of Fear and The Invasion. Jon Pertwee isn't necessarily Jon Pertwee, he is Jon Pertwee as Jon Pertwee as The Doctor. Pertwee gradually lost his edge as The Doctor during Season 11, and he continues that trend in this story. It would have been odd to see Tom Baker fraternize with other Doctors, in retrospect, but Peter Davison is the benefactor of the increased attention given to his Doctor. It's a shame that Colin Baker couldn't have returned to play Maxil, as that would have been plain cheeky. It's just a shame that Geoffrey Bayldon wasn't cast as the First Doctor, as, while Richard Hurndall does a reasonable impersonation of William Hartnell, Bayldon would have nailed it. Although it was nice to see the clip of Hartnell during the pre-credit sequence, it may have been detrimental to Hurndall's portrayal. Having not seen Hartnell for years (as long as you skipped The Five Faces of Doctor Who repeats of 1981), it may have been easier for viewers to accept Hurndall in the part without being reminded of the genuine article.

The best moments in this story, again, and unusually, come from John Nathan-Turner himself, as he directed the sequence where the Raston Warrior Robot destroys a squad of Cybermen. Sure, the scene starts a trend of Cybermen dying spectacularly when they should be dominating their attacker, but who cares? The scene looks superb to this day, and stands as one of the best action scenes seen in Doctor Who.

Everything is sweet and lovely about The Five Doctors. The music, the new set, the fact that the most tranquil spot in the universe is a rainy day in Wales, "No, not the mind probe!", and so on - it's all best watched with a giddy grin on your face, knowing that you are watching the best show ever made give itself a giant pat on the back because it knows it deserves it.

*Kamelion Watch: he's the wicker table, and shorts out when the First Doctor accidentally squirts pineapple juice on it.

6J2 - The King's Demons 2

The main problem with The King's Demons (and there aren't many problems at all with what is an underrated story) is that any scheme by The Master that is confined to two episodes is going to seem terribly minor in scale. And, sure enough, his plan to try and stop the groundwork being laid for Magna Carta is, as The Doctor himself says, "small time villainy by his standards".

Still, the concept of Kamelion is intriguing enough, but so much attention is given to him (it?) in introducing the technology behind the machine that it seems almost inevitable that he will become a companion by story's end. This, as history would prove, would be a mistake, as the person who was responsible for building and operating the Kamelion prop tragically died soon afterward, not that the prop functioned beautifully to begin with. It was just something that John Nathan-Turner saw in passing, was impressed by, and, without much forethought in the logistics of making it work, crammed it into the show and left it to others to think up a reason for it being there and what to do with it, as well as the others whose lines and screen time it would be taking away.

In the event, though, much like this story itself and the explanation of how The Master escaped from Xeriphas, Kamelion would be largely forgotten until his final story, Planet of Fire. Or would he? Given that Kamelion is a shape shifter by trade, surely he will be seen in future episodes even though we don't realize it, couldn't he?

6J1 - The King's Demons 1

The two-part stories of the Peter Davison era were almost treated, in budgetary terms, as part of the production of a neighbouring four-part story where the four-part story would be shot predominantly in the studio, while the two-part story enjoyed a larger than usual location shooting allocation. The King's Demons benefits in a big way from the latter, as is evidenced by the opening scenes.

It's rare to see a medieval period piece with a full cast in Doctor Who, but the opening joust sequence is actually quite remarkable. There are a healthy number of extras, and there's some great action scenes during the joust itself. Another characteristic of the Davison two-part stories was that they often were handed to young directors or directors new to Doctor Who. Tony Virgo directs his only two episodes of Doctor Who with The King's Demons, but his work is impressive. There's one shot that I particularly enjoy in this episode. It's when Hugh is knocked off his horse. He falls into shot, quite close to the camera, and lies there grimacing while, in the background and out of focus, Sir Gilles Estram dismounts his horse, discards his shield, takes his sword from his squire, and advances on Hugh to finish the job. And all of that happens in one uninterrupted camera shot. I will always be impressed by good quality camera work.

Once the story retreats into the studio, the effect is no less impressive as the scenes set in the great hall look lavish, accompanied by lute players and jesters. There's also a mystery behind why King John has been seen in two places at the same time on this day, 4 March 1215. It's almost a shame that The Master materializes at the end of the episode (again, why was he disguised?) because it had been a great little unassuming episode up until then.

6H4 - Enlightenment 4

Mark Strickson is at his tastefully over-the-top best in this episode, denying with vigour that he is spying on Wrack, and giving the most intense stare ever seen on television when convincing Wrack that he, too, serves the Black Guardian, and that he wishes to serve her. Judging by his earlier actions in suggesting that The Doctor be banished back to Striker's ship, you could believe that Turlough is bluffing when he tries to charm Wrack.

Turlough has been conflicted for some time, though, even during the climactic meeting between he and the White and Black Guardians. Strickson again is stellar as he mulls over his choice between giving the Black Guardian the diamond or The Doctor. Look at The Doctor's face, though, while Turlough is deciding - it is a face of calm, knowing strength. The Doctor knows what Turlough will decide, almost as if he has known what he will decide for some time, ever since he found out that Turlough was a servant of the Black Guardian in Mawdryn Undead. Back then, The Doctor could have tried to put a stop to the contract between Turlough and his master, but he didn't. He knew he had to see it through to the end, to this very moment on Wrack's ship when Turlough had to make his choice. And he knew that Turlough would make the right choice.

It is often said that the Fifth Doctor is a failure as a character, that he was made much more vulnerable than is predecessors. He is anything but a failure, in my mind. Perhaps more than any other Doctor, the Fifth Doctor makes others around him better people. He turned Adric from a whiny teenager into a noble hero who died trying to save others. He turned Nyssa from a privileged daughter of a future Keeper of Traken to a brave, courageous person who risked her life to help the Vanir treat Lazars Disease on Terminus. And, perhaps his most impressive achievement, he's convinced Turlough that he's a better person than he thought he was, and that Turlough would do much better in life to join him in his travels instead of killing him. The Doctor has set the template for Turlough to be a strong companion for the rest of the boy's time in the TARDIS.

Enlightenment is an exquisite example of Doctor Who at its very best. It is full of rich imagery and deep, well thought out characters who are all seeking one thing - Enlightenment - but each character has an entirely different interpretation of it. Wrack wants power, Turlough wants freedom, while Striker is delightfully enigmatic and doesn't divulge his desire. The one person who wins the race is The Doctor, and he is the one person who doesn't want it. Only a true, enlightened man such as The Doctor would know enough to not want such a prize.

6H3 - Enlightenment 3

Enlightenment is a visual triumph overall, but it positively sings in Episode Three. The space sequences on the deck of the Striker are stunning, beautifully shot on film at Ealing, and seamlessly integrate the equally gorgeous model shots of the Striker's opponents. There is something quite beautiful about seeing several grand, tall sailing ships from Earth's past sailing majestically in the vastness of space.

The party on board Wrack's ship is also a visual feast, featuring people in costumes from several different periods in Earth's history. Only in Doctor Who could such a scene feel so natural. Wrack herself is a loud, bombastic character, and Turlough's desire to align with her is interesting. Is he legitimate in his intentions? Even Wrack, and Eternal, calls his mind "murky". Turlough's dilemma in this story is the most interesting of the three in the Black Guardian trilogy because he has now seen that The Doctor is not the force of evil that the Black Guardian made him out to be. The Black Guardian's presence here merely seems to terrorize the boy, although he has another agent of destruction in the form of Wrack.

And I'm not going to dump on poor Leee(eeee) John as Mansell, because he's heard enough flack over the years for his performance. I do find it odd, though, that John, who wasn't even an actor, was given the job in the first place. Can this be put down to John Nathan-Turner's increasing penchant for stunt casting, perhaps? Was he hoping to lure fans of John's pop group Imagination to watch Doctor Who? Whatever the reason, John is still better than Rick James in The Mutants, whose title of Worst Actor in Doctor Who is still safe.

6H2 - Enlightenment 2

Union strikes delayed the production of Enlightenment, which forced the original actor chosen to play Captain Striker, Peter Sallis, to bow out of the story. Sallis's replacement was Keith Barron, who does such a perfect job at portraying Striker that I would have a hard time believing anyone else in the role.

Barron and Peter Davison have two magical scenes in this episode. The first is when The Doctor first discovers that Striker and the rest of the officers are Eternals, and that they are telepathic. Striker reads The Doctor's mind to glean that he is a Time Lord, that he travels in time. "Are there lords in such a small domain?", he asks. "And where do you function?", replies The Doctor.
"Eternity. The endless wastes of eternity." That last line, one of many beautiful lines as written by the first female Doctor Who writer, Barbara Clegg, says a great deal of the plight of the Eternals. They have the power of gods, but nowhere near the imagination to do anything with it. Eternity would be a vast universe of infinite possibilities for any other being, but for the Eternals, it is hell.

Later on, The Doctor chastises Striker for using the humans (the "Ephemerals") for their minds and their imagination, and that they are parasites. Davison sizzles in this scene. He's an impressive actor, but his skills are even more enhanced by the right director. Fiona Cumming, who directed Enlightenment, the third of four stories directed by her in the Davison era, seems to be the best match for Davison. He's magnetic in Castrovalva, and positively extraordinary in Snakedance, and he is no less brilliant in this story. Most of Davison's scenes take place in the wheelhouse, and although one would think that this takes The Doctor out of the action for a time, the delight in Episode Two is finding out what the Eternals are all about and their relationship with the ephemeral world.

At the end of that scene with Striker, The Doctor storms off, prompting the usually telepathic Striker to ask where he's going. The Doctor is surprised by this, and, seconds later, Striker ascertains that The Doctor is off to Tegan's cabin. "But you didn't know, just for a second. Interesting.", and The Doctor leaves the room. I love that this line is so tantalizing, yet it is never explicitly explained why Striker didn't know where The Doctor was going. That the Eternals are never completely explained is one of Enlightenment's biggest drawing points.

6H1 - Enlightenment 1

My very first impression of Enlightenment is this: doesn't the 1980s console room look brilliant with the lights turned down? The red light roundels might veer a little bit towards mood lighting, but, for the first time in a long time, there's actual, genuine atmosphere in the scenes set within the TARDIS. Peter Brachacki's original set design for the TARDIS interior was intended to create a massive contrast between the contents of a scrapyard (or, indeed, anything found in 1960s England) and the inside of an alien spaceship.

The TARDIS interior continued to look spectacular in black and white throughout the 1960s because of the raw, stark image it conveyed, especially compared to the lush historical settings that were the basis of some of the early Hartnell stories. But as the 1970s became the 1980s, and studio lighting became flatter and more economical, the inadequacies of the original design became more and more glaringly obvious. Once, there were chairs, ornate clocks, and other relics in the console room that indicated the breadth of The Doctor's travels over the centuries. Now? Just a lonely, empty hat stand in the corner, and even it's been painted white to better match its surroundings.

But not in Enlightenment. There's a table and chairs set up for Tegan and Turlough to play chess, and the TARDIS looks like an interesting place to be for once. The low lighting also enhances a really creepy moment when the mysterious Marriner appears on the TARDIS scanner, apparently clinging to the light on the roof, ethereally staring at Tegan through the darkness.

Everything about Episode One is setting up the mood for the rest of the story. It appears to be set on an Edwardian racing yacht, but we never see the outside. We never have en establishing shot of the outside of the ship, nor do we ever see out of a porthole or window. It's a very claustrophobic episode in which nothing, or no one, are as they seem. If this was a new series episode, the Episode One cliffhanger would have happened at the end of the pre-credit sequence, robbing us of all the brilliant mood and set-up that this episode brings us. An excellent first installment.

Monday, February 8, 2010

6G4 - Terminus 4

Terminus is odd in that there are four distinctly different storylines occurring at once, and none of them are directly related to the other. The Doctor and Kari are trying to stop Terminus from automatically jettisoning fuel, thus triggering the second Big Bang. (So long as you believe that such a routine procedure could result in the creation of the universe in the first place). Nyssa is struggling with Lazars disease and the Garm, while Olvir tries (poorly) to rescue her. Valgard wants to find The Doctor and Kari to settle a score between he and Eirak, the prize being leadership of the Vanir. And Tegan and Turlough waste most of their time in underground passages, popping up to the surface just long enough to try and find the entrance back into the TARDIS.

None of these storylines really work because none are important enough to base a four-part Doctor Who episode around. Which is supposed to be the main storyline here? All four vie for attention, all at the expense of each other. The end result is that when Nyssa suddenly decides to stay behind and help, it seems like it's coming out of the blue.

Nyssa was Peter Davison's favourite companion, but the two spend precious little time together during her final story. We're never given any hints at what a strong relationship it could have been. The lack of attention on Nyssa does not negatively affect her leaving scene, though, which is almost gut wrenching. The Doctor and Tegan are not so much sad about their friend leaving as they are worried for her safety. It raises the intensity of Nyssa's decision to stay on Terminus, and it is certainly one of the bravest choices made by a companion. These circumstances also increase the emotion in Nyssa's final scene, both from Sarah Sutton (who is lovely here) and a really forlorn Doctor, played with just the right amount of subtlety by Peter Davison.

Davison is often the best thing in his stories, and he copes fantastically well with the various issues that were going on behind the scenes at the time to deliver another strong performance. However, it was a troubled production like Terminus that possibly convinced Davison to make his next season of Doctor Who his last. And, out of all that was wrong with Terminus, that might be the worst thing of all to come out of it.

6G3 - Terminus 3

Communication difficulties have often been at the root of many a weak moment in the history of television, let alone Doctor Who. Such a problem occurred in Terminus where the company making the costumes for the Vanir didn't know that the armour created for the inhabitants of Terminus were required for action scenes. They were designed only for decorative use, and so lightweight, brittle material was used in their construction.

The result is my main abiding memory of Terminus - the constant sounds of rattling plastic that occur whenever the Vanir are on camera. Those sounds really begin to grate on the nerves after a while. It reminds me of another sound that just drives me up the wall, that of a room full of people tying on computer keyboards. Thus, any scenes with the Vanir are immediately met with cringing from me. The performances from the actors playing the various members of the Vanir are rather good, particularly Peter Benson as Bor, but their dialogue is constantly being drowned out by either clanking armour or the extremely silly helmets they have to wear that the strengths of those performances are considerably muted.

We also get a better look at the Garm in this episode, which is probably the most derided aspect of Terminus. He's meant to be massive and threatening, but he really is just adorable. I mean, he's a giant walking puppy! Who wouldn't want to just take him home and give him a biscuit? More to the point, why is the only person who seems to be able to help the Lazars a giant, anthropomorphic dog? Does he really come out and take one Lazar at a time into the radiation zone to be cured?

And, speaking of the radiation zone, it is treated with great inconsistency throughout the story. Early on, the Vanir never cross the line between safe and danger zones, even with their armour. Later on, they cross it quickly while wearing the armour. In Episode Three, Valgard enters the zone after throwing away his helmet. Bor has been in the zone for some time with the only ill effects coming from practically lying on the radiation source, couple with being burned by power cables. And finally, The Doctor and Kari wander into the zone with absolutely nothing happening to them, despite the dramatic camera angle used to indicate that they're supposedly in danger. Argh!

6G2 - Terminus 2

Ah, ok - NOW I'm starting to see why Terminus isn't as highly regarded as, well, pretty much every other story of the Peter Davison era. Things really take a quick, sharp turn downwards in terms of quality in Episode Two.

Let's start with Turlough and Tegan, easily the most ill served characters in this story. In order to escape from the advancing Lazars at the end of Episode One, both Turlough and Tegan retreat into an underground passageway, a passageway which they virtually spend the entire rest of the story trying to get out of. It's not a unique solution for writer Stephen Gallagher to keep a companion character busy. He did a very similar thing in Warriors' Gate, keeping Adric out of harm's way by having him wander around the void, flipping coins everywhere.

But putting Tegan, and especially Turlough, well out of reach of The Doctor is off putting because it completely undermines the "Turlough's trying to kill the Doctor" arc that carries through this story and those on either side of it. There is never any threat on The Doctor's life from the Black Guardian or his servant. A companion with ulterior motives is a very cool idea, but it is one that is being handled very poorly. The only positive of this "sub-plot" (is it a plot if nothing actually happens?) is that, due to production difficulties caused by strike in the BBC studios, all the underground passageway scenes were shot on film at Ealing Film Studios, and the results look fabulous.

Other less than successful aspects of this production are introduced in this episode - specifically the Garm and the Vanir - but there will be plenty of time to dissect their inadequacies after I mention the infamous skirt incident where Nyssa, for no real reason, drops her skirt and carries on for the rest of the story in her underwear. It's gratuitous, and a limp way of tipping The Doctor off that Nyssa is in trouble. Plus, looking ahead a bit, Nyssa never comes back to collect any of her clothes from the TARDIS before deciding to stay on Terminus for good. Is confining herself on a space station in her underwear with several grubby men who haven't seen a healthy female in years really a good idea?

6G1 - Terminus 1

Terminus might have a much maligned reputation amongst Doctor Who fans, but one would hope and think that Episode One dodges the bullets often fired at this story. As a mood setting piece, it is almost perfect (apart from the extremely silly space helmets that Kari and Olvir wear).

First, it starts off with a long scene (inserted when the episode was running considerably short) between new companion Turlough and a mistrusting Tegan. It's rare to see such a long scene between companions to start off an episode, just as it is to see so much of the TARDIS interior before the TARDIS lands properly. (Another rarity: this is one of the very few Doctor Who stories where we see the interior of the TARDIS, but not the exterior.) Adding to the unique nature of this episode, The Doctor only shows up seven and a half minutes into it.

This bizarre start alters the feel for this story. It doesn't feel like any other Peter Davison story to date. The atmosphere on the strange ship that the TARDIS has merged with is grim and grey. It is not a pleasant set to look at, but that's the intention. It's a place where no one wants to be, and no one has even discovered what the true nature of the ship is until all the poor unfortunates with Lazars Disease are let out of their compartments at the end of the episode.

Creepy, dark, and unsettling, Terminus starts off extremely well.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

6F4 - Mawdryn Undead 4

Part of what makes Mawdryn Undead such an enjoyable story could also be seen as its biggest detriment, and that quality is this: there is no real villain in this story (other than the Black Guardian, whose appearance here, really, is a subplot to everything that's going on). The main antagonist, for lack of a better word, is Mawdryn and his seven friends, and the only thing they are ultimately after is death.

While an enemy who doesn't want to destroy the Earth or take over the universe is quite refreshing, it does, admittedly, lessen the stakes a bit in Episode Four. However, it is a rare instance that sees The Doctor being the person who is most threatened. Both the Black Guardian (for nefarious reasons) and Mawdryn (for circumstantial reasons) want The Doctor dead. Personally, I think the attention is justified. The Doctor has risked his neck to save countless planets over the last 20 years. He deserves to be the focus of everyone's attention for once.

One aspect of Mawdryn Undead that was a brilliant stroke of genius but was sadly underused is the concept of a story taking place concurrently in two different time lines. It's surprising that, for a programme about time travel, Doctor Who rarely deals with the intricacies of traveling in time, and Mawdryn Undead is one of those few stories that does. It is, however, a highly entertaining story, anchored by two stellar performances from Nicholas Courtney. Inhabiting the role of the Brigadier after seven years away from the programme, Courtney gives us two distinct and believable versions of the Brigadier we know and love - the newly retired, hard edged Brigadier of 1977, and the softer, kinder one from 1983.

And as for the whole UNIT dating controversy that was ignited with this story? First, I'm surprised that supposed continuity expert Ian Levine let the whole 1977 thing slip by in the first place, but I'll say this: wasn't it only ever implied that the Pertwee UNIT stories took place in the near future? Nowhere during that time did anyone actually state what year the stories were taking place in. The only person who lets the side down is Sarah Jane Smith, who blurts out to Lawrence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars that she is from 1980. Personally, I'll believable the straight laced Brigadier more when I want to know the date, as opposed to that flight risk of a supposed journalist that Sarah Jane Smith is.

6F3 - Mawdryn Undead 3

The Doctor has already come to terms with Turlough's alien nature with remarkable quickness. He also seemingly discovers the true nature of Turlough's mission with equal ease, which actually makes the events to come much more interesting.

While in Turlough's room, The Doctor finds Turlough's little glow cube that the boy has been using to communicate with the Black Guardian. A look of extreme consternation comes over The Doctor. Does he know what the cube is and what it stands for? Since he tells the Brigadier that they have to immediately find Turlough, you would think that The Doctor doesn't understand that Turlough intends to kill The Doctor.

Yet what does The Doctor do when he finds the boy? He gives him the cube back. The Doctor could have effectively severed the link between Turlough and the Black Guardian by destroying or discarding the cube, but instead, in returning the cube, he keeps Turlough bound to his contract with the Black Guardian. Is it The Doctor's (unspoken) intention to see this Turlough/Black Guardian arrangement through to its completion? Does he feel it's the only way to defeat the Black Guardian, as well as save Turlough? Only time will tell, but it would almost make The Doctor seem foolish if the audience knew what Turlough was planning while The Doctor didn't.

6F2 - Mawdryn Undead 2

One of my all-time favourite moments in the Peter Davison era happens in this episode. After the TARDIS materializes, then quickly dematerializes, a puzzles Doctor wonders what went wrong. Turlough, who just seconds earlier was about to kill The Doctor, postulates, "Could it have been affected by a tangential deviation coming out of the warp ellipse?".

It's what The Doctor does during Turlough's question that amuses me. At first, he looks on with surprise at the futuristic technobabble that's exuding from this 1980s school boy. By the end, though, The Doctor just answers back as if everything was normal. He doesn't need to ask Turlough why he knows what a warp ellipse is. The fact that Turlough seems to know what he's talking about is proof enough that he is most likely an alien, or, at least, not the 1980s school boy he appears to be. It's a beautifully subtle moment that emphasizes one of those great characteristics of Doctor Who - ordinary objects or people that are far from ordinary.

There's another lovely moment when The Doctor attempts to jog the Brigadier's (the circa 1983 Brigadier, that is) by bringing up old friends like Liz Shaw, Jo Grant, and Harry Sullivan. This segues into a lengthy sequence of clips from past episodes (some of which the Brigadier was actually present for). Looking back at Mawdryn Undead knowing the whole of Doctor Who history, this sequence just looks like a clip happy sequence whose sole intention was to keep Ian Levine busy and placated. But, apart from the flashbacks The Doctor has in the moments leading up to his regeneration in Logopolis, the Brigadier sequence is the first full on retrospective sequence seen in the series, and thus the effect is rather charming.

The downside, though, is best exemplified by the fact that my first encounter with the Brigadier as a child was by watching Mawdryn Undead, so none of the clips made any impression on me in trying to job my memory. They were just a bunch of clips of strange beasts that I had never seen before. To uninitiated viewers, these clips could either alienate them or entice them to delve more into the series' history. Fortunately for my 12-year-old self, I chose the latter.

Friday, February 5, 2010

6F1 - Mawdryn Undead 1

Peter Grimwade follows up his previous writing assignment, Time-Flight, with a bang-up fun Episode One of Mawdryn Undead. Actually, Episode One of Time-Flight was quite good, too. Grimwade sure does know how to start a story well.

There's so much to like in this episode, despite all the puzzle pieces that Grimwade was asked to include - the Brigadier, a new companion, the Black Guardian, and so on. Mark Strickson starts off strong in this episode and is a very talented actor. He plays an indolent teenager stuck on Earth with remarkable ease. His disdain for Earthlings, especially his unwanted companion, Ibbotson, makes him seem so much more alien than any pair of prosthetic ears could ever do.

Paddy Kingsland also puts in his best work in the series with his rock and roll music score. His music is also omnipresent - it's rare that single second goes by without his music punctuating the scene. My particular favourite bit of music is for when The Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan wander around the seemingly abandoned space cruise liner that they almost crashed into a few minutes previously.

That scene is also another reason to watch Peter Davison again. In the previous story, Snakedance, he was all action, all ranting. Look at him as the three of them explore the ship. He doesn't say a word, preferring to remain silent while Tegan offers the vocal commentary. Instead, The Doctor playfully stumbles upon a lighted alcove, observing everything in the background while his companions concentrate on the obvious. When the three of them converge on a video game console, and The Doctor starts playing it, a generation of young children, who had put down their Atari consoles only long enough to watch Doctor Who in the first place, must have beamed a collective smile as wide as the horizon.

6D4 - Snakedance 4

There's a very rare insight into The Doctor's mind during the scene where The Doctor and Dojjen perform the Snakedance, during which we actually hear The Doctor's thoughts. Before he settles his thoughts down and has a calm conversation with Dojjen via telepathy, his mind is addled and wracked with concern and guilt. It's stunning to hear how vulnerable The Doctor really is inside, despite rarely, if ever, showing it on the outside.

The Doctor's role in Snakedance is interesting. He spends most of the story playing catch-up to everyone else, learning facts that others have known for centuries, but he's the only person who has the ability to tie all these facts together to decipher what's about to happen. However, in playing catch-up, events are already in motion long before he has the chance to stop them. The entire story is building up to one event - the ceremony to (symbolically) abolish the Mara at the end of Episode Four. Nothing The Doctor does even threatens to derail the ceremony. He is that one ranting, rambling, dissenting voice against a world stuck in its ways, looking like a hermit waving his "The End is Nigh" sign in front of the White House.

Because of this unusual position The Doctor is in, Peter Davison is easily the most watchable person in this story. Davison's performance in Snakedance is remarkable. He has often stated that the stories of Season 20 were among his least favourite, and that they were factors for him leaving Doctor Who after three years. I would hope that Snakedance wasn't one of those stories that grated on Davison, as it is an intelligent story populated by rich characters and a thoroughly developed history and culture for the planet of Manussa, and it is a story in which Davison gives one of his best performances as The Doctor.