Saturday, February 26, 2011

Planet of the Spiders



"A tear Sarah Jane..."

That was Planet of the Spiders and that was the end of the Jon Pertwee era. It seems fitting, maybe 'right', that the last words of the Pertwee era were uttered by Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier.

The story's plot is that some giant spiders on Metebelis III want the blue crystal that the Doctor took, without realizing that it had any significance at all. Partly because when he took it, it didn't. They break through to Earth courtesy of some misguided Buddhist's lead by Lupton. Actually, Lupton isn't misguided, he's bitter, broken and twisted. Although where he got the idea that learning Buddhist meditation techniques would enable him to get great power from is beyond me.

Anyway, Lupton (played by the voice of BOSS John Dearth) is a slightly rumpled, sweaty sort of a villain. He has ideas above his station but finds himself the conduit for a large spider.

Mike Yates, who has gone to the same meditation centre, in an attempt to clear his mind post-Invasion of the Dinosaurs has worked out that something is up and asks Sarah Jane to come down to have a sniff around and then alert the Brigadier if something is afoot. Lupton tries to stop Sarah Jane by talking around Cho-Je (Kevin Lindsey) one of the two monks that run the centre, when that fails he tries to kill them via a bizarre illusion.

Lupton grabs the crystal from the UNIT HQ - ah, Brigadier your security is once more laughable bad - and finds himself on Metebelis III, followed unintentionally by Sarah Jane and intentionally by the Doctor.

My main quibble in this story is the scenes with the two legs - sorry, humans - on Metabelis III. They are just a bit two-dimensional and pretty every actor involved puts in a 'will this do' performance with the honorable exception of Geoffrey Morris as Sabor who at least tries. One of the leading humans, Arak, is played by Gareth Hunt. They're obviously there to pad out the story a little but were they necessary? Surely the threat to the Earth was enough.

There are arguments galore: between the spiders and Lupton; between Arak and his brother Tuar; between the Queen of the Spiders and the Lupton spider. But behind everything is the 'Great One'. Feared by all, including the Eight Le..sorry, the Spiders. It turns out that the Spiders got control because they arrived on board the same ship as the humans, which crashed and got warped by the crystals, which help increase intelligence.

The humans launch a rebellion whilst the Doctor meets the Great One who sends him back to Earth to get the great crystal after demonstrating her power by taking over the Doctor's mind.

At the meditation centre meanwhile all this is coming to a head. Tommy (John Kane) who we first meet as a good-intentioned chap with learning difficulties has his intelligence raised and released by the crystal. The rest of Lupton's meditation circle get spidered. So does Sarah Jane, by the Queen Spider.

The Lupton circle try to seize the blue crystal from the office of K'anpo. The other older Buddhist Monk who it turns out is a Time Lord and the Doctor's old 'guru'. Cho-je also...well, he's not quite what he seems. The scenes between K'anpo and the Doctor in the final episode are wonderful. It's the calm before the storm. There's a bit of philosophy thrown in and when K'anpo says that there is only one thing the Doctor can do you know that the Third Doctor's time is up.

The Doctor is to return to Metebelis III and return the great crystal to the 'Great One' even though it will mean his death. The 'Great One' turns out to be a ridiculous huge spider with delusions of grandeur and an inability to accept advice. The great crystal will complete a web of crystals designed to expand 'The Great One's' mind to infinity. This, the Doctor, warns will lead to massive feedback that will kill her. She doesn't listen.

The Doctor, dying, returns to the TARDIS. The Spiders die as the Great One dies. The humans of Metebelis III are released and the Great One's mountain HQ blows up quite impressively.

The next thing we see is a rather touching little scene. Sarah Jane is in the Doctor's lab. She picks up his coat off of the coat rack, hugs it and gives it a little sniff. Then the Brigadier comes in. It turns out the Doctor has been gone for three weeks. Sarah doesn't expect to see him again because the Doctor knew he was going to die. The Brigadier attempts reassurance but Sarah Jane's given up...at which point the TARDIS rematerializes. The Doctor got lost in the vortex but the TARDIS got him home.

The whole regeneration scene that follows is beautifully played by everyone, from Jon Pertwee's short dialogue; Liz Sladen's sadness, confusion and end of tetherness when Cho-Je appears, to Nicholas Courtney's stiff upper lipped wit at the chaos going on around him.

Cho-Je disappears, the Brigadier gets the last line and Jon Pertwee becomes Tom Baker. It's quite emotional in a Classic Who understated way.

This is a great send-off for Jon Pertwee, whose performance throughout is excellent, especially in the last couple of episodes. Yes, there are some naff bits but there are some wonderful moments too. The Spiders are voiced by Ysanne Churchman, Kismet Delgado, and Maureen Morris and they have a real personality to them. The final total insanity of the 'Great One' and the pain at her death is quite terrifying in truth. It's no wonder the Doctor is afraid. Liz Sladen's good again. The regulars put in an excellent stint to.

John Kane's performance as Tommy is rather sweet too. He starts off looking like a bit of a cliche but conveys the changes in Tommy superbly. Kevin Lindsay as Cho-Je, doing Tibetan is good and the Buddhist conversations have a ring of reality about them. I also have a liking for George Cormack as K'anpo. I love the idea of a Time Lord who runs off not to seek power, or even look for knowledge & experiences like the Doctor but to become a Buddhist Monk.

So all in all a great send off for the Third Doctor. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Monster of Peladon


There's nothing only about being a girl

The Third Doctor returns to Peladon and for pretty much the first three episodes repeats The Curse of Peladon: a new, uncertain monarch Queen Thalira (Nina Thomas), a suspicious old-fashioned Chancellor, and High Priest Ortron (Frank Gatliff) plus the usual political troubles.

Although this time instead of being a Whoed up version of Britain's entry into the EEC a la Curse we have the Miner's strike.

Since Peladon's entry into the Federation, the Miners have been simmering. They're working harder, being asked to use alien - possibly blasphemous - technology and getting paid a pittance.* They're on the brink of revolution with their moderate leader Gebek (Rex Robinson) trying to keep a lid on the more revolutionary and hotheaded Ettis (Ralph Watson.)

A quick note on the Peladon class system: it seems to be based on hair. If you've got red hair with white streaks you seem to be a noble, if you've got badger afros - which is the only way to describe them - you're a Miner. What do the guards have? Perms?

Ortron accuses the Doctor of being a spy and then of being in league with Gebek. The Queen doesn't know and being a woman on Peladon is not taken seriously, despite being Queen. Thankfully Sarah Jane is there to give her a lecture on Women's Liberation, summed up pithily as: "there's nothing only about being a girl". The Doctor meets up with the Aggedor, again. Does something that isn't quite the Venusian lullaby and gets Aggedor onside, again.

Then the Ice Warrior's turn up, having been summoned in a panic by Alpha Centauri, who seems to have spent the last fifty years on Peladon.

I have to say that although Alpha Centauri's physical appearance is a wee bit risible Ysanne Churchman's vocal performance is brilliant. Alpha Centauri has a life of his own. Fussy, frightened, political but in this story a bit braver. It's up there with John Dearth's performance as BOSS in the Green Death as one of the best vocal performances in Doctor Who. Bring back Alpha Centauri I say...OK, maybe not.**

Anyway, things liven up a great deal when the Ice Warrior's, led once more by Alan Bennion. This time as Ice Lord Azaxyr. The arrival of Azaxyr, purporting to be from the Federation but working with mining engineering Eckersley (Donald Gee) to take over Peladon for trisilicate (MacGuffin of the week). Trisilicate is this story's essential mineral. In this case, because the Federation is at war with Galaxy 5 and everyone's technology is dependent on trisilicate. He who controls Peladon, controls trisilicate. He who controls trisilicate, will win the war.

Eckersley, with Azaxyr, has been using 'the spirit of Aggador' to stir up trouble with the Miners by scaring and killing them. They are working with Galaxy 5. Eckersley because, as is revealed in the final episode, he wants to rule the Earth - an unnecessarily grandiose touch really, greed would have been enough of a motive surely - and Azaxyr because he's from a breakaway warmongering Ice Warrior faction.

The next three episodes see lots of people die, often the same actors. Often Terry Walsh.

This is one of the problems with watching a whole Doctor Who stories in one sitting, rather than spread over six weeks. Would I, watching over that time, have noticed that various deaths were the same actors over and over again? Would the endless wandering around polystyrene mine workings and corridors have seemed less interminable? Would Sarah Jane's sadness over the Doctor's alleged death in episode six have seemed quite so annoying as she'd already gone through the upset at the Doctor's supposed death a couple of episodes earlier?

Liz Sladen does these well but if I were a companion of the Doctor after a couple of adventures I'd start to assume the Doctor was alive and well until I saw the corpse. Sarah Jane gives the story real energy when she appears. I have to say Liz Sladen has been a breath of fresh air to the final season of Pertwee, giving the whole programme a bit more oomph. There's a real bite to Sarah Jane, which not many previous companions have had. Although I'd say this was her weakest story so far in terms of what she's asked to do by the script.

Fundamentally this isn't as good a story as Curse of Peladon, although it is more obviously political. It's nice to see as patrician a Doctor as the Third siding with the workers, even if he's a bit anti-revolutionary. It's a shame the most radical of them, Ettis, has to be portrayed as totally insane towards the end like some Peladonian Arthur Scargill (Rupert Murdoch version). Even if the 'Women's Lib' stuff is a bit heavy-handed there's at least an attempt to address the issue.

It also suffers because like Terror of the Autons with Spearhead from Space the sequel shares too many plot points with the original story plus at six episodes it is too long.

Not bad, not great.

And with that, we are almost at the end of the Third Doctor's era. Only Planet of the Spiders to go...but that is a story for another day.


*There also seems to be about eight of them, which becomes a bit obvious in the last couple of episodes where the same actor dies about three times.
**This was written well before Empress of Mars was broadcast so imagine my surprise.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Death to the Daleks


It's another Terry Nation Dalek story...forgive me if I don't look too excited. Like Planet of the Daleks, this is not the most exciting of stories but does throw in a few Nation cliches.

The most annoying of which is saving the Daleks until the end of the first episode so that they can play their cliffhanger role. This would be fine if the story did not give the game away IN ITS TITLE. Sorry. I'm not sure what came over me there, Nation fatigue?

Anyway as Doctor Who stories go it is distinctly average. The TARDIS lands and is mysteriously drained of all its power whilst the Doctor and Sarah Jane are on their way to the lovely Florana. (This 'let's go somewhere nice...oops didn't make it' is one of the series reoccurring tropes. It'll keep the writer's happy forever).

Setting out to investigate the Doctor is grabbed by a bunch of grunting primitives - later revealed to be called Exxilons - from whom he escapes and then stumbles across a party of Marine Space Corps who have landed on Exxilon in search of Parrinium (Macguffin of the Week), which is needed to save the Outer Worlds from a mysterious space plague. They've been stuck here since their ship was forced to land after a similar power drain. They are made the wounded and soon to die Commander Stewart (Neil Seiler) Richard Railton (a totally wasted John Abineri), the plucky Jill Tarrant (Joy Harrison), the wet Hamilton (Peter Fox) and the grumpy Scotsman Galloway (Duncan Lamont).

Meanwhile Sarah has gone off exploring and stumbled across a rather impressive City. The Daleks arrive, threaten to exterminate everyone but find their weapons do not work because of the energy drain. They must work with the humans but everyone is captured and Railton dies (thus wasting Abineri totally, which should be an executable offence really).

Sarah is to be sacrificed by the grunting Exxilons for trespassing in their City, which is sacred to them. The Doctor tries to rescue Sarah but succeeds only in adding himself to the sacrificial party.

The Daleks, having fitted themselves with old school machine guns, set about massacring Exxilons, bullying humans and mining the Parrinium. Commander Stuart snuffs it, after telling Galloway that he is totally unfit for command. (For some reason I kept thinking about George Galloway at this point...not sure why)

The Doctor and Sarah escape and start exploring the roots of the city when they bump into Belal (Arnold Yarrow) who a non-grunting Exxilon. The Daleks start Parrinium mining, chase the Doctor and decided to blow up the City's beacon after they've had a look round.

The Doctor and Belal enter the City just ahead of the Daleks, whilst Sarah and Jill set about getting the Parrinium onboard the Earth ship ready for when the energy drain ends. The City, which is sentient and a bit up itself, had been responsible for primativising (a word I happily makeup, you may take it with you and use it to your heart's content) the Exxilons who were previously an advanced, space-traveling type civilization. It's also a complicated series of traps and tricks: secret entrances, mazes, electrical floors, etc.

The Doctor gives the City a nervous breakdown, a couple of panicked Daleks are chased out of the City by the antibodies it created...then the Daleks ignore a perfectly good opportunity to eliminate the Doctor - again - and flee the planet with what they think is the Parrinium but isn't and much to their surprise Galloway and a bomb. Boom! Galloway redeems his grumpy, realpolitik Scottishness. Jill and Hamilton get to take the Parrinium away. Hurrah!

Which makes it all sound quite exciting but in fact it is all a little dull. Quarries, grunting primitives and a slow trip through a city do not fun and frolics make.

Galloway seems to be a character from another much bleaker Terry Nation story who stumbled into Death to the Daleks. He's surely an escapee from Blake's Seven or a Survivor. Lamont actually plays him quite well. He at least seems three dimensional unlike the rest of the Space Marine lot who are either bumped off at speed or wet but plucky.

Pertwee's a bit flat in this I think as if he's not really that impressed but Liz Sladen's doing a great job as Sarah Jane. She does a great job of conveying quite a lot in a brief glance or lip purse.

Also, Arnold Yarrow's Belal is a lovely little performance for a man stuck inside glowing plastic. He's quite sweetly brave when he joins the Doctor on exploring the City.

It's better than Planet of the Daleks but that's damning with very faint praise indeed and is only four parts long so doesn't drag as much.

I'm a bit surprised actually. This is one of the stories that I'd watched (and liked) before but revisiting is a disappointment, like Tomb of the Cybermen was.

O well. Next stop Peladon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Farewell Brigadier

Well I woke up this morning to hear the sad news that Nicholas Courtney, who played Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewert has died. He was 81.

It's not often that I find the death of an actor genuinely upsetting but Nicholas Courtney is an important part of both my childhood and my nerdhood. As much a key part of Classic Who as any actor to have played the Doctor and I think sometimes you forget that whilst the character might be immortal the actor playing them is only human.

Born in Egypt in 1929 Courtney had only been a Private during World War Two but director Douglas Camfield thought him the right kind of man to play...well initially Captain Knight in 'The Web of Fear' (1968) but a bit of luck saw him promoted to the part that he's best loved and remembered for the then Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. He was promoted to Brigadier for 'The Invasion' and was in charge of the newly formed UNIT and when it was decided that the Doctor was to be exiled to Earth the Brigadier and UNIT were to be a key part of the Third Doctor's era.

Courtney was to appear with all the Classic Doctor's except Colin Baker and Paul McGann - which was remedied on audio by Big Finish. Such a part of Doctor Who mythos was the Brigadier that he even got semi-regular mentions in the New Series.

His final appearance as the Brigadier was in the Sarah Jane Adventures in December 2008. It's a measure of how brilliant a character the Brigadier was and of Nicholas Courtney's great performance that he was to be playing the Brigadier forty years after his first appearance.

In truth the Brigadier is as much an icon of Classic Who as anyone or thing you care to name. To my generation of Doctor Who fans he's a legend and by all accounts an absolutely lovely man, although I only met him once - briefly - at a convention.

His acting career was obviously broader than just Doctor Who. He made appearances in dozens of other series: The Avengers, The Champions, Shelley, Yes, Prime Minister and Only Fools & Horses to name but a few.

Having been getting through the Pertwee era this month myself Nicholas Courtney's been an almost constant feature & without him, his false moustaches and dry wit the Pertwee era would have been a drabber place. People are obviously highlighting 'Chap with the wings there' as THE Brigadier line but for me I always thought the scene in Battlefield is the signature Brigadier moment. When the Destroyer asks surely the planet Earth can find a better champion the Brigadier's response is a pithy, understated summing up of the character: "Probably. I just do the best I can."

Other people who knew him better will be able to write about him in more detail but I just wanted to pay my own little tribute to Nicholas Courtney. He'll be missed. It is a sign of the affection in which he is held that he still trending worldwide on Twitter.

Goodbye Brigadier. (Salutes)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Invasion of the Dinosaurs



"There never really was a Golden Age you know Mike"

Well, this was a pleasant surprise.

An enjoyable old school Pertwee and UNIT story with dinosaurs, double-crosses, villains who are more blindly idealistic than evil, the Brigadier and Benton on excellent form and Sarah Jane Smith being brilliant. They should give that woman a series of her own you know.

Let me talk briefly about the dinosaurs. In my dusty memory, I remember them being embarrassingly awful. However, now I'd say that whilst the movement is a little dodgy the only one of the dinosaurs that are genuinely poor is the T-Rex. It was therefore unfortunate that the production team went for a T-Rex v Brontosaurus fight in Episode 5. It just looks a bit naff. I think it probably did in 1974 although I prepare to be corrected.

Basically a bunch of extreme environmentalists - for want of a better term - have cooked up a plan to push the Earth back in time to a 'Golden Age' before pollution and war. [*]

To help build a new world they have convinced several hundred incredibly gullible people that they are setting off in a fleet of spaceships to a new world where they can live a lovely, fluffy life. How well this will work based on Ruth's desire to bump off Sarah Jane after five minutes because she might be a disruptive influence is a moot point.

The Doctor and Sarah arrive late into the action. The first part of 'Operation Golden Age' has already begun. Central London - with 8m people - has been evacuated. The government has hot-footed it to Harrogate leaving Sir Charles Grover (Noel Johnson) as Minister in charge. General Finch (John Bennett) is in charge of military matters, although the Brig and UNIT are doing a lot of the grunt work by the look of it. However, they aren't getting anywhere and the Brig needs the Doctor.

There are some effective scenes of a deserted London in the first episode and director Paddy Russell does a fine job of ratcheting up the tension. The Doctor and Sarah are arrested for being looters, escape and start work with the Brig. The Doctor has some cunning plans but mysteriously they are all being sabotaged. There is an agent at work in UNIT...and it turns out to be poor old Mike Yates.

The Doctor and Sarah get involved in separate stories. The Doctor gets set up by General Finch and Sarah gets captured by Sir Charles and placed on one of the spaceships. Gradually the noose tightens on our villains. Captain Yates is exposed, the enemy base is discovered, General Finch gets punched on the nose by Benton, Sarah exposes the space people to the truth and in the final episode Sir Charles Grover and chief dodgy scientist Whittaker (Peter Miles) are sent back in time after the Doctor reverses the polarity - as the Third Doctor often does. Victory for the good guys and a fine comeuppance for the bad guys.

It zips by at a fair old lick for a six-parter (although there is some chase type padding to fill in some time). The performances from everyone are strong and there is in amongst the adventure are several strong ideas: about environmentalism, about the myth of a pre-industrial Golden Age, about facing up to the now and to paraphrase Gandhi changing the world by changing yourself and finally on whether the end justifies the means. Phew.

Big cuddly dinosaurs and big ideas in a six-part Doctor Who story.

It's worth watching. Don't let the dinosaurs put you off.

[*] My main quibble with the Operation Golden Age plan is surely by pushing themselves back in time and destroying all previous generations they will have unexisted their own ancestors and probably the technological advantages that previous generations had created thus making it impossible for them to have carried out their plan...it's a grandfather paradox writ very, very large. I mean your not just killing your grandad in this one you're killing all your ancestors.

Perhaps I should think about it so much.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Time Warrior


So we kick off Season 11, which is Jon Pertwee's fifth and final season.

The Time Warrior sees features two debuts: Sarah Jane Smith (Liz Sladen) and the Sontarans, although in this case, it is a single Sontaran, Linx (Kevin Lindsay). It must be said that both have an instant impact.

I don't think Liz Sladen could have imagined that she would have still been playing Sarah Jane Smith nearly 40 years after her debut story but there's something immediately wonderful about Sarah Jane. She has got oomph, she has got style and she is proactive. One of the reasons for the character's longevity is down to how strong she is in this story. She doesn't immediately trust the Doctor or even likes him.

Indeed, the Third Doctor seems to go out of his way to aggravate her on a couple of occasions by making sexist remarks. She doesn't take any crap from anyone, even when she's clearly scared. This is a fantastic start for a companion and Liz Sladen puts in a star performance outshining virtually everyone, including Pertwee himself. I don't think it is any coincidence that Sarah Jane is the one companion to have achieved the singular honor of not just one but two spin-off series, although K9 and Company is not the best.

The Sontaran(s) to make a significant impact. There is something in the simplicity of their design that helps but also Kevin Lindsay makes Linx a combination of arrogance and viciousness, which works well. It's also one of the great Doctor Who moments when having kept the Sontaran's head hidden we get to see what he really looks like as Linx turns to face the camera at the end of episode one. Conveniently Robert Holmes also gives him a nice little weakness: the probic vent. It makes them beatable.

This story has two strengths. A great script by Robert Holmes and a set of fantastic performances from pretty much every guest star. It's a real culture shock to see June Brown, playing Lady Eleanor because June Brown is Dot Cotton. It's one of those moments when you realize how little you know about an actor even when they have burned themselves into a nation's psyche. David Daker as Irongron - the human villain of the story - does a great job of balancing being larger than life but believable. Irongron is a bully and a braggart but not without his moments of humor.

His relationship with his sidekick Bloodaxe is sharply written by Robert Holmes and well-acted by John J Carney. There's a little scene where Irongron is outlining his plans to Bloodaxe - to which Bloodaxe gets in a pre-Baldrick 'cunning plan' - which I could watch over and over again, particularly the moment when Bloodaxe says that Irongron has a truly 'towering intellect'

The other nice part is Professor Rubeish (Donald Palmear). Rubeish is a scientist. He's blind as a bat without his glasses, which protects him from hypnotism. Again the script helps by giving Palmear plenty to play with but it is another good performance from a guest star.

So this is a good 'un. Well written, well-acted and with a couple of stonkingly new characters.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Green Death



After the double whammy of disappointment that is Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks, we get something approaching a classic in The Green Death.

The Green Death is one of a handful of Classic Who stories to have had an impact on the national psyche. It's 'the one with the maggots' that people of a certain age always remember.

It is six parts so there is some padding but unlike some six-part stories, it doesn't particularly drag. There is trouble in the valleys when a miner is found dead at the pit. He's bright green. Just the job for UNIT as the Brigadier says. Jo is already planning her own trip to Llanfairfach to see Professor Clifford Jones (Stewert Bevan), the environmentalist. The Brigadier offers her a lift. The Doctor is going to Metabelis Three.

Having hammered on about Metabelis Three so much over the last couple of stories it is amusing that when the Doctor actually gets there it turns out to be a total hell hole, if prettily blue. He does manage to nab a sapphire though before running back to the TARDIS and then to Wales.

Global Chemicals are up to no good. Dumping toxic waste in the old mine, which not only turns poor old Welsh miners bright green but is creating giant maggots. It initially looks like a plain old story of corporate greed but there's something else going on. The BOSS is planning a takeover. The BOSS is a supercomputer linked to the brain of Stevens (Jerome Willis) head of Global Chemicals.

The BOSS is one of the series all-time great voice performances by John Dearth. He manages to make the computer funny, mad and clever. It's HAL with a sense of humor.

In the process of the story, Mike Yates goes undercover, gets hypnotized and tries to kill the Doctor but is deprogrammed by the Metabelis Three crystal. This is the start of what can only be described as the Mike Yates story arc. Never let it be said story arcs in Doctor Who started with RTD. Mike's about to start his. UNIT will never be the same.

Jo also falls in love with Cliff Jones who she describes as a 'younger version' of the Doctor and the story ends with her staying with Cliff and the Doctor driving off into the sunset. It's quite a sad little departure played in nice style by Bevan, Manning, and Pertwee. The Doctor is clearly a little in love with Jo Grant and she with him.

So Season 10 ends on a high note and it is nice to see Jo Grant - who can be a bit irritating at times but is ultimately one of the more likable companions - get a really good farewell scene.

It will be the last we see of Jo Grant until the Sarah Jane Adventures.

Talking about Sarah Jane Smith...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Planet of the Daleks



I'm afraid this isn't just bad it's the worst Dalek story since The Chase.

It picks up where Frontier in Space left off, dumps us on Spiridon with its invisible natives, dangerous plant life and Daleks. Yes, it's Terry Nation doing his greatest hits. He even wheels out the Thals again to assist the Doctor and Jo. Jo even gets what passed for the love interest in Classic Who: an inexplicably instantaneous love that overcomes a man - it is always a man - for the Doctor's female assistant. It's unrealistic, undramatic and underwhelming.

David Malony, who usually does a fine directorial job, doesn't with this. In one scene Jo - hiding in pretty much plain site in Dalek HQ - wonders past a Dalek which is looking straight at her. STRAIGHT AT HER. I know hiding in plain sight is a Doctor Who staple but normally those people hiding are standing still. This time Jo is moving.

Then there's the moment in Episode Four when Jo - or should I say when Katy Manning - reacts slightly ahead of the polystyrene rock that's about to drop on her head.

It's slow. It's padded. It's half-arsed. I'm sure the production team wasn't deliberately making a bad story but it really looks like it has been put together by people that don't care.

In episode 5 some of the cast can clearly be seen standing off-camera waiting whilst the action goes on in front of them.

When I watch Doctor Who I do so in two different ways. One part of me knows that the budgets are small; that it's obviously a studio; that rock is polystyrene; the monster is a block blatantly dressed in a rubber costume. That part of me is aware of how ridiculous some - if not all - Classic Doctor Who might look to people that only take a casual interest or no interest at all. I'm as capable of taking the piss out of the Skarasan, the Myrka, the Magma Beast or that stupid inflatable snake at the end of Kinda et al as the next Doctor Who fan. But...

There's another part of my brain where disbelief is suspended. Where I can ignore all the things listed if the story and the acting are good enough. I can look at something that is a risible now as The Web Planet and still enjoys it - even moved by it. Yes, it's a bunch of actors dressed as ants and moths but somehow it works for me. Because that Doctor Who bit of my brain says: right for the next twenty-five minutes I'm on an alien world or in a Nuclear Power station menaced by Cybermen or whatever. It's a gift.

However occasionally Classic Who produces a story that is so irritating that I can't suspend my belief enough to care. So I find myself watching with a cynical eye and hoping that what appears to be happening isn't as stupid as I think it is. Planet of the Daleks is one of those stories.

I blame Terry Nation more than the rest of the team. Sooner or later the Doctor Who production team is going to cotton on to the fact that he just writes virtually the same bloody story every time he writes for the Daleks. Only the names change. It's doubly annoying because Terry Nation isn't a bad writer. He just seems not to want to try and do anything new or interesting with the Daleks. He writes for Pertwee as if he's Hartnell. It's like he's afraid that he might break the magic spell if he does anything too new with them. I shouldn't complain too much I know after all they are Nation's invention - even if the design isn't.

The actors - well, most of them - do their best. Bernard Horsfall is his reliable self. Tim Preece puts in a nice performance as Codal, who at the end appears to have fallen a little in love with the Doctor. Jane How's Rebec is fine. Prentis Hancock as Vaber does what Prentis Hancock does best: a lot of shouty angry bad acting and we do at least get to see Roy Skelton on screen as the Spiridon Wester - even if it is at the moment of his death.

But in the end, this is just tiresome.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Frontier in Space



Cor blimey they don't half drag this out.

The main plot: Draconians and Earthmen are on the verge of WAR. Neither side trusts each other & keep attacking the other's spaceships...or do they? The Doctor and Jo stumble into this, realize that the true villains are Ogrons and that someone, somewhere is trying to stir up war between the two Empires. Who could it be?

The rest of the story is told in a series of escapes. The Doctor and Jo are repeatedly captured, escaped, interrogated (by people who don't believe them), re-captured and escape either alone or together. They are captured by the Earth government, The Draconians, The Ogrons, The Master and finally, in a whacking great cliffhanger, by the Daleks. It's like a never-ending repeat.

This is the Master's last story for some time because poor old Roger Delgado is killed in a car crash whilst making a film in Turkey. Whilst he's up to his usual standards his departure in the final minutes of episode six is so badly directed and chaotic that he just...disappears. A sadly downbeat departure for an actor whose Master is - for me - the definitive performance. You can keep your Ainleys, Pratts, and Simms. I'll take Delgado (with a side order of Michelle Gomez).

There's not much else I can say.

The Draconians are well-designed and have a culture of their own*, which makes a change. Their proud, honor-bound and sexist allowing Doctor Who to throw in one of it's half-arsed 'women's lib' comments, which isn't really convincing.

Michael Hawkin's plays General Williams as a man with a spoon shoved up his arse. Stiff, closed-minded and warmongering. Until, in a bizarre instantaneous turnaround, he is told by the Draconian Prince that he killed a load of unarmed Draconians to start the last Earth-Draconian War and he decides that he has wronged everyone. It doesn't feel right. This man, who questioned everything as a Draconian scheme, accepts the Draconian Prince's account without a quibble?

Anyway, I can't be arsed to say much else. It's a story. It passes the time and really it's just halfway through a twelve-part epic that concludes with Planet of the Daleks but it is so padded as to be worthy of a cell of its own.

Will Planet of the Daleks be better?

*Or sort of borrowed from Japan.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Carnival of Monsters


It is another four-parter and by Jove, they rush by in comparison with some of the recent six parters.

The Doctor, his ability to hop about the universe restored by grateful Time Lords* at the end of The Three Doctors is supposed to be taking Jo to Metabelis Three but materializes on board what appears to be a ship making its way to Bombay. The Doctor's not convinced it is Earth - although Jo just thinks he's covering for his mistake. However, the Doctor turns out to be right. The passengers and the crew of the SS Bernice repeat the same behavior over and over again and then the Doctor notices a rather bizarre addition to the floor...it turns out that they are trapped in a Miniscope.

Meanwhile, outside the Miniscope it's owner, a traveling showman called Vorg (Leslie Dwyer) & his charming lady assistant Shirna (Cheryl Hall) are trying to convince a trio of stuffy Inter Minorians (Kalik, Orum, and Pletrac - a pre-Davros, post-Farrel Michael Wisher; Terence Lodge and Peter 'Packer' Halliday) to admit them and their Miniscope for entertainment purposes.

The Doctor and Jo clamber about the insides of the machine - a quite impressive set - before stumbling across the unpleasantly carnivorous and persistent Drashigs.

Will the Doctor and Jo escape the Miniscope? Will Kalik's devious plan to overthrow his brother the President succeed? Will the Drashigs eat everyone and everything?

Yes, No and No.

It's all frothy fun. The Doctor gets to do some nice moral high grounding over Miniscopes and tell us of his and the Time Lord's role in banning them. The scenes involving Kalik, Orum, and Pletrac are all nicely played and all three actors put in lovely, fussy performances.

In fact, the strength of this story is its cast. There are good performances from the crew and passengers of the SS Bernice, which includes Pertwee's mate from the Navy Lark Tenniel Evans; a pre-Harry Sullivan Ian Marter and Jenny McCracken. Leslie Dwyer and Cheryl Hall do a fine job too, especially Dwyer's playing of the moments where Vorg changes attitude mid-sentence but I think the acting prizes go to the Three Stooges: Wisher, Lodge and Halliday.

So not a hugely deep or important story but a lot of nice stuff. I've heard it suggested that this is Robert Holmes' commentary on Doctor Who itself, with Vorg's line about it being 'just entertainment...nothing political' is a highlight in this regard. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't but it feels like we've earnt a bit of light-heartedness. For the record, my favorite line is Vorg's: "The generators were built by the old Eternity Perpetual company. They were designed to last forever; that's why the company went bankrupt."

* And probably a grateful production team

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Three Doctors


There's no point beating about the bush. I love this story.

It is a shame Hartnell's health precluded a more active role in the story but the real fun comes from the interaction between Troughton and Pertwee. Their differences, jealousy and point scoring is done with an excellent lightness of touch. I have said that I liked Troughton's Doctor better than Pertwee so its a joy to have him slip back in the part, even if the writers give him a series of 'greatest hits' to perform.

Omega (Stephen Thorne) is a suitably majestic figure for the Doctor to take on in their celebration. Thorne's performance is excellent because although in some ways Omega is from the bombastic shouty school of Doctor Who villainy Thorne gives him a certain amount of pathos. This is a Time Lord driven mad by loneliness and isolation. When Omega discovers that his physical body no longer exists Thorne does a heartbreaking job of conveying Omega's pain in a single, drawn-out scream.

Here Omega is a villain without being classically evil. He's no Master.

Omega wants his revenge on the Time Lords - who are in a sparkling cloak phase of their development - for abandoning him in the anti-matter universe. As far as the Time Lords are concerned Omega was obliterated, as far as Omega is concerned he should be a God.

There are some nice performances from the other guest stars: Laurie Webb (as Ollis) and Rex Robinson (as Dr. Tyler). Tyler's constant scientific curiosity and enthusiasm is rather charming.

I have two quibbles with the story: one is the Gell Guards. They're too wobbly. Not in a jelly type way but in an 'inside this costume is clearly an actor with feet walking' way. The second is the way that the Brigadier is - for a chunk of the story -portrayed like a buffoon on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It's mainly in the first couple of episodes but it just feels wrong, although Nicholas Courtney does his best.

I'll almost forgive this for the nice way Courtney handles the scene where he - and the others - leave the Doctors to what looks like a fate worse than death. There's something rather moving in the way the Brigadier says goodbye to the Doctors. It's a proper stiff-upper-lip farewell. All suppressed emotion, which I often think is more moving than the full-on tears 'n' snot approach of the modern actor.

In the end, though this does a fine job as a celebration and it is the three actors who have played the Doctor, so far, that deserve the plaudits. Splendid chaps. All of them.

Updated

I watched this again last night as a sort of palate cleanser between all the New Doctor Who I've been watching.

It's fun this, perhaps because it doesn't have huge amounts of pretensions about what it is. It's Doctor Who, it's an adventure story and that's that.

I should give a nod to John Levene as Sergeant Benton whose performance in this story is rather good and his reaction to entering the TARDIS for the first time is pretty much as genuine as you'll get.

I said in the original review that I preferred Troughton's performance to Pertwee's and I still do but there's something about Jon Pertwee's Doctor that is intensely reassuring. I know there's a lot of ticks in there: the neck rubbing etc but I find Pertwee really watchable, if that's the right word and every time I return to the Pertwee era I enjoy it, even if when I'm not watching it I don't feel that drawn to the era. It's odd.

Well-worth a re-watch.

The Time Monster



The last time I watched this story was on a dodgy VHS copy so first of all let me pay a little tribute to The Restoration Team for the work done on this - and other - DVD releases. There's a short documentary on the DVD, which covers that work on The Time Monster in more detail.

What of the story itself? Well, it isn't one of the best but I don't think it is quite as bad as all that. It is definitely far too long. Huge chunks of episodes 2, 3 and 4 are nothing more than padding whilst the story dribbles along. The story itself follows the pretty bog-standard Third Doctor v The Master pattern.

The Master seems to an intergalactic Baldrick. His 'cunning plans' leave him trapped or requiring the Doctor's intervention to escape and this one, involving a mysterious creature called Chronos, ends precisely as expected. Another round of the Doctor v The Master ends with the Doctor, if not quite victorious, at least undefeated.

O and once again The Master has decided to hang about the Doctor's locality as part of his cunning plan. This time 'disguised' as Professor Thascolos. Once again his alias is a little thin...apparently Thascolos means Master in Greek. I'm sorry but the Master is an idiot really and this is the maddest that Delgado's Master has appeared so far with maniacal laughter and shouty rants. However he's still icily polite when he needs to be.

Jon Pertwee is good in this. Yes, I like the daisiest daisy speech and Pertwee delivers it in a nicely subdued fashion. I quite like how calm the Doctor is throughout this story, in contrast to the Master's more frantic behavior.

The supporting performances are pretty variable. The banter between Stuart (Ian Collier) and Professor Ruth Ingram (Wanda Moore) is a little strained when it is - I think - supposed to be witty and amusing. Whether that's the fault of the actors is a moot point. I think the script is to blame.

The Atlantians are all either a bit wet or a bit doddery with the exception of Ingrid Pitt as Queen Galea. I can't avoid mentioning the Queen's rather impressive...decolletage. I'm not sure the performance is up to much though but The Master does a majestic job of seducing, corrupting and disappointing her in record time.

The Minotaur is OK, although he's dispatched a little too glibly for my liking and this is another story where a lot of people die but no one seems too bothered, which I don't feel helps.

The least effective thing is Chronos itself. I'm not sure what the director Paul Bernard was thinking but it is so clearly just a bloke flapping some wings about whilst dangling on Kirby wires. Therefore Chronos seems as threatening as a chicken.

Credit to John Levene for some nice work in this story as Benton.

But in the end, this is a pretty average story that never quite reaches the heights that it should have done but never plumbs the depths that its reputation might make you think it does.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Mutants



This is a story trying to say some interesting things: about colonialization and race but doesn't quite pull it off.

The story starts with an unintentional tribute to Michael Palin's 'It's' man, which doesn't bode well but we are introduced to our lead villain, The Marshall (Paul Whitsun-Jones) and Stubbs (Christopher Coll) and Cotton (Rick James), two Guards who bored with this colonization lark. They'll end up on the Doctor's side, eventually.

The Marshall has come down from Skybase, which is orbits above Solos, to hunt down a 'Mutt'. Solos is an Earth colony on the brink of independence, something which the Marshall - a chubby colonialist of the old school - doesn't want. He's in cahoots with Jaeger(George Pravda), a scientist bent on turning the atmosphere of Solos into a more Earth-friendly one. If he succeeds the native population will be killed but we know that The Marshall has taken such a dislike to the native population who seem to be suffering from a mysterious disease that is changing them into Mutants - or Mutts. They disgust the Marshall.

Into this situation walks the Doctor and Jo Grant on a mission for the Time Lords who want a package delivered. Why they have to go through such ridiculous lengths - not even telling the Doctor who it should be delivered to - is a wee bit of a mystery.

Our heroes become quite a gang: The Doctor, Jo, Stubbs, Cotton, and Ky. Ky(Garrick Hagan) is a native of Solos given to political rants at the drop of a hat. The only other Solosians we see are Varan and his gang of Warriors. Varan hates Ky. Ky thinks Varan is a quisling. Varan gets used by the Marshall. The Marshall kills Varan's son. Varan turns against the Marshall and it all goes horribly wrong.

One interesting thing about the Letts/Dicks era is that the future Earth doesn't sound like a sf paradise. You can believe that the future Earth Empire of  The Mutants is the same one as The Colony in Space. Earth is exhausted, as Geoffrey Palmer's Administrator, says in the brief few minutes of screen time he gets before the Marshall bumps him off. The Earth of the 30th century is 'grey' as the Doctor explains to Jo. It is a world wrecked by industrialization and over-population. The Letts/Dicks future might have Earth Empires and space exploration but it isn't bright. It's ugly, dirty and destructive. In between the lines Letts seems to be trying to make important points about environmentalism, which aren't particularly loudly preached but are background whispers in a lot of the stories of this era. There's politics in the Pertwee era.

What lets the story down is that it is too long and padded and has far too many bad performances in it. Whilst Rick James' performance as Cotton is legendarily bad he isn't the only one. Pravda's poor and struggles to get half his lines out. I'm not sure whether Paul Witsun-Jones' Marshall is good or not. He just doesn't quite look right as a man of the 30th century. It's miscasting I think rather than bad acting.

This all contributes to dragging the story down despite good ideas.

The Mutant costumes look pretty good. The scenes in the caves are all atmospheric enough. I like the fact that everyone from Earth seems to have a different accent: this is the first time I can remember Northerners in the future in a Doctor Who story.

In the end, though it doesn't work despite being a story with ambitions, which I'm usually very forgiving of. It's not as bad as I remembered from first watching it but it still isn't good.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Sea Devils



Ah...the Sea Devils with its electronic score. I remember the first time I watched this, with a gang of non-Doctor Who fans, being vaguely annoyed by the music. It seemed weirdly inappropriate. This time around though I loved Malcolm Clarke's music. It seemed to add an extra layer of atmosphere to the story. It still sounds like nothing else around at the time (as far as I'm aware) but I think that makes it all the more wonderful.

The Sea Devils themselves look pretty good, although there's a scene in the last episode where they stand around for a bit looking like they are posing for a holiday snap or an album cover. They are kept nicely in the background for the first episode as the tension builds and the director does a good job - especially in the end battle scenes - to make it look like there are a lot of them.

They are the aquatic cousins of the Silurians from Doctor Who and the Silurians and much of the plot is similar to that story. The Sea Devils - not the name they give themselves btw - want to revive their race and take back planet Earth from the apes with an attitude that has taken over. The humans want to destroy the threat. The Doctor tries to find a peaceful solution.

Unfortunately, The Doctor is up against an added complication: The Master is back. The Master is supposed to be in prison but being a devious sort he's managed to persuade his jailer Colonel Trenchard to let him have freedom of a kind by blagging him into believing that Great Britain is threatened by spies. Trenchard is one of two civil service blowhards in this story, the other being Walker, the PPC from the Ministry. Trenchard though, on seeing the Master has duped him, at least gets to go out in a blaze of glory.

Walker is a real negative in this story. Even by the standards of the Third Doctor's era, this is a civil servant of epic cowardice, stupidity, and pomposity. His desire for food and tea at every opportunity is irritating and I'm not a big fan of Martin Boddey's performance either. He's just TOO dislikable and too stupid. He also seems to have an incredible amount of power and no one seems to be willing to question this.

This time there is no UNIT but the British Navy. The story is helped by the support the Royal Navy gave to the production team so everything seems to have more heft. The Navy attack in the final episode is quite convincing because it is carried out by real military types. They look like they know how to fire a gun - unlike some of the actors playing Trenchard's security team. There are scenes at sea and Pertwee being ex-Navy looks right at home. (There's a little moment where Pertwee's about to depart in the submersible where his short line: "Yes Chief" is delivered with casual correctness.)

It's a bit padded being a six-parter. I'm coming to the conclusion (as I think production teams do in the end) that the four-parter is the ideal size for a Doctor Who story. You don't have to stretch credulity quite so much or fill in time.

The Master, of course, needs the Doctor's help (both with a machine and to escape after The Sea Devils lock him up with the Doctor at the end) and he can't quite kill the Doctor (again). When The Master escapes at the end The Doctor almost looks pleased for him. It's all quite civilised, again. I'm sticking to my guns: they're playing a game. This isn't for real. (Hey, it's my pet theory and I'm sticking to it)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Curse of Peladon



That was marvelous.

I have to admit to having had a soft spot for The Curse of Peladon but it has been years since I last watched it and I was glad to discover that the memory doesn't always cheat. This was great.

Firstly it is nice to get the Doctor off Earth and involved in something interesting. Peladon feels like a planet with a proper civilization and with people who have been busy doing other things before the Doctor and Jo turns up.

The basic plot: Peladon's King wants to take Peladon into The Federation* but Hepesh, the High Priest is a stickler for the old ways and fears that the Federation will bring destruction to their traditional way of life. He gangs up with...well he sets about disrupting the process.

The delegates from The Federation are a couple of Ice Warriors, a Medusa's head in a fish tank (Arcturus) and Alpha Centauri. I won't describe Alpha Centauri but suffice it to say that the director Lennie Mayne made a pretty accurate statement about how she/he/it looks. It is, after all, a hermaphrodite hexapod with a highly excitable nature. The Doctor and Jo are mistaken for the delegates from Earth and get busy trying to stop disaster befalling Peladon.

It's all rather charming. It is also Jo Grant's best story so far. She gets to hang with the King (who clearly takes a bit of a fancy to her) and the scenes between her and King Peladon (played nicely by David Troughton) are fabulous as she pushes him to be the modern King he so wants to be. Katy Manning is brilliant in this story.

The script also nicely plays with our expectations of the Ice Warriors. Based on previous stories it is easy to think they're the villains of the piece, something the Doctor (uncharacteristically perhaps) does himself but they're actually on the side of the angels.

I should also add that I have a soft spot for the Doctor's Venusian lullaby for reasons I can't properly articulate. I think it might be because it is so sweetly silly. I start a campaign here and now for it to feature in New Who.

The odd thing that this story feels like one I like because it was one of my childhood memories and that my judgment is dangerously nostalgic. I do, as I said, have a soft spot for this story but I can't have seen it until I was 16 or 17 so I don't quite know why I feel that way.

Perhaps it is because, despite the absence of UNIT, it feels like the most Pertwee of Pertwee stories.


*Read Great Britain and whether it should enter the EEC. An argument that I'm sure we'll see the end of by the end of the 1970s.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day of the Daleks




We kick off Season Nine with the first appearance of the Daleks since Patrick Troughton finished them off in Evil of Daleks. Well we know that nothing keeps a good Dalek down and here they are again looking, it must be said, a bit small in number and slightly battered.

Their voices are also slightly odd. I'm sure there's an expert out there - Nick Briggs - who can tell me why: something to do with the ring modulator probably but I digress (again).

It is another Peace Conference but this time mysterious assailants are trying to kill the man leading the Conference, Sir Reginald Styles. It turns out that these assailants are from 200 years in the future and Sir Reg is blamed for destroying the Conference he tried to create plunging the Earth into war and allowing the Daleks to mop up the survivors and once more rule the Earth. So guerillas from this future have traveled back in time to kill Sir Reg.

Jo gets dragged into the future by a dodgy time machine and get buttered up by the Controller. She's quite trusting Jo. To the point of suicidal naivety. So she's a bit shocked when the Doctor turns up, having gone the long way round and starts berating the Controller in that inimitable way the Third Doctor has when dealing with any type of politician or civil servant.

In the final episode a cosy chat leads the Doctor to realise that it wasn't Sir Reg that blew everyone up but the guerillas themselves in their attempt to stop blowing everyone up. We are in a paradox.

For a series where the lead character trots around in a time machine, it is quite rare that time travel forms a part of the plot (at least until Steven Moffat arrived) so it is always quite interesting when we get dragged into discussions about Blinovitch Limitation Effects and paradoxes. By going back in time the guerillas created their own future.

The Doctor and Jo rush back, clear all this up and prevent the destruction of the Conference. Which means that the guerillas future never happened, which means they never had to travel back in time in the first place so the Peace Conference would have gone ahead as before and everyone would have been killed so the guerillas would have had to come back in time to prevent Sir Reg's crime except that they'd be stopped by the Doctor and wouldn't need to travel back...right, I'll stop. I'm getting dizzy.

There's a paradox within a paradox here. Perhaps the Doctor, with his Time Lord skills, can nip and tuck everything to avoid everyone being caught in a strange time loop.

That's the flaw with the story really. If you ignore that then it's a enjoyable romp. The Daleks are a wee bit disappointing but it feels like Day of the Daleks is an epic waiting to happen but BBC budgets and 70's special effects couldn't let it breathe.

I like Aubrey Woods' performance as The Controller. All icy politeness and emotional control, even at the end.

UNIT gets to look proper military and useless at the same time. Getting whacked in numbers by the Daleks and Ogrons in the final battle sequence and leaving a back door to a building that is supposed to be heavily guarded both, er, unguarded and unlocked. Just a minor security cock-up there Brig.

Any road up. I enjoyed this. It's a four-parter so it flew by and it does feel like they've made a real attempt to go for something big, even if they can't quite pull it off

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Daemons



When watching an old Doctor Who story there is a tendency to have one's opinions attached to the weight of fan lore. Hence people think that The Web Planet and The Gunfighters are awful and they're not. I used to let fan lore influence my opinions before I saw the stories and then I realized fan lore is just a polite way of setting opinion in stone. Or a story gets called a 'Classic' and you feel you must be wrong when you don't enjoy it.

The Daemons is one of those 'classics'.

It's well-liked by those that made it - cast and crew. It's had a video made about it - The Return to Devil's End so it had a reputation for being one of the highlights of not just the Pertwee years but of Doctor Who in general. Although in the early-90s when I first got involved in fandom it - and the whole Pertwee era - was getting a bit of a kicking from some fans - Paul Cornell famously.

So I was a little cynical. I expected to find it a bit disappointing in re-watching like I did Tomb of the Cybermen but I didn't. I really enjoyed it. Perhaps it helps that the previous story was so dull but this was a joy to watch.

All the regulars are here and on top form.

The Master looks damn good both as a vicar and as a black magic occultist bent on sacrificing Jo Grant at the story's end.

You would think by now, knowing the Doctor is exiled to Earth, that the Master might avoid the place for a while. Skulk quietly in a corner of the Universe somewhere where he can get on with being evil to his heart's content but no. Instead, he's trying to carry out his plan in an English country village where a live television archaeological dig (BBC3's answer to Time Team) is taking place whilst the Doctor is lurking a few miles down the road.

As I pointed out a couple of blogs ago with plans like these it is no wonder the Master zips through his regenerations.

It just confirms my theory that neither the Doctor or the Master is playing seriously. It is like the Master has agreed to help make the Doctor's exile less dull by taking him on at a game of 'Stop Me Before I Destroy The World'.

The Doctor is quick to pick up on the danger of opening the Devil's Hump but we never quite know why or how the Doctor knows so much about Azal or his plans. His explanation of the back story seems curiously well-informed.

There's a lovely guest performance from Damaris Hayman as a white witch and apparent Joyce Grenfell impersonator Miss Hawthorne. She gets a lovely early scene confronting the Master (disguised as a priest Mr. Magister.*) and she gets one of my favourite lines in the episode after he tries & fails to hypnotize her: "Why should I believe you. A rational existentialist Priest indeed!"

The UNIT crew is all good in this too and the attack on the Church suitably impressive even if Bok is less so. UNIT looks like it is more than three blokes and a jeep in this. Everyone seems to have proper military haircuts at this point still, although I'm sure they're probably far too long for actual soldiers of the time.

Jo is lovely, ditzy and silly. Her attempted self-sacrifice to save the Doctor at the end is brave and allows our heroes to win even though IT MAKES ALMOST NO SENSE.

However, I think it is forgivable in this case because The Daemons is fun

With its English country village setting that hides many secrets: the Post Office Manager is nicking money; the Grocer pads out his bills, etc (not to mention there being a Black Magic Coven in the Church cavern) it's almost a classic British horror setting and would fit pretty well into modern Doctor Who.

O and the scene at the end which ends with the Brigadier line: 'I'd rather have a pint' line is a nice little moment.


*Don't get me started on the Master's penchant for taking names whilst 'undercover' that are either foreign translations of the word 'Master' or anagrams.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Colony in Space



I said in my Claws of Axos blog that the biggest sin Doctor Who could commit IMHO was to be dull. Unfortunately, I then sat down to watch six episodes of Colony in Space. Less a Doctor Who adventure, more an Open University lecture of the perils of space colonization in the 25th century.

The story opens with three of the least impressive Time Lords in Doctor Who history telling us that The Master has stolen some of their files* and is off to do some bad things. As usual, they decide that The Doctor is the man to do their dirty work and so Pertwee gets to land on his first alien planet.

It is, of course, a quarry.

With green primitives and a bunch of dull colonists. We also discover quite rapidly that there are a bunch of semi-evil corporate mining types who have landed on the colony with a view to stealing its mineral deposits. To do this they have embarked on a plan to drive the colonists from the planet. This involves a big green lizard 'hologram' and a robot with claws. Yep. It's one of those plans. Most of the IMC chaps have no problem bumping off colonists if they get their bonuses. Fortunately, their mining engineer Caldwell, played by the ever effective Bernard Kay, has doubts. The Doctor helps the colony...zzzZZZZZZzzzzzzZZZZZZZzzzzz

Then the Master turns up pretending to be an adjudicator & his plan is revealed. Slowly. Very slowly.

This planet was once the centre of a great civilization that built a whacking great weapon of mass destruction. They tested it on what is now the Cra...ZzzzZZZZZZZzzzzzzZZZz...and I am sorry but I am struggling not to be terminally bored by the whole thing.

The Third Doctor gets to patronize an alien civilization that politely decides to destroy itself to prevent The Master getting his grubby little hands on the said weapon. Jo gets to be an idiot again - walking through an alarm beam she's just spent a minute crawling on the ground to avoid.

Ashe, the leader of the colony, played by John Ringham (who is much more fun when his Richard IIIing it as Tlotoxl in The Aztecs) also sacrifices himself. Neither sacrifice actually means much because no one seems to care very much. Even Ashes' daughter Mary - played by a very young, pre-Coronation Street Helen Worth - seems perky enough five minutes afterward. Cauldwell joins the colonists and everyone gets to live happily ever after.

The Doctor gets to be rude about the Brigadier's intelligence in the closing seconds: again. After Claws of Axos and this, the wonderfully high standards of Season 7 seem light-years away.



*It's nice to see that Time Lord files are on paper and appear to fit nicely into bog-standard Earth filing cabinets. The Master has two such filing cabinets in his TARDIS, which the Doctor searches as if we're watching a 1950s thriller.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Claws of Axos



I really didn't enjoy this the last time I watched it and I found it a little trying this time around too.

OK, so there are good bits. The Axons looks nicely weird in their evening wear and suitably spaghetti like when in day wear. The scenes in the final episode when The Doctor bluffs, double-bluffs and treble-crosses are all nicely done but...

It's pretty rubbish innit.

The Master is beginning to look silly rather than being a genuine threat. As I said in the blog I wrote about The Mind of Evil the battle between the Doctor and the Master looks less like a battle to the death than a bizarre game between two renegade Time Lords with too much time on their hands. You get the impression that they get together for tea in between adventures to award points. But this time it doesn't help that The Master arrives having been captured by the Axons, then gets captured by UNIT before the Doctor runs rings around him before letting him escape. Again.

The survival of the UNIT regulars also stretches credulity to almost breaking point. As Captain Yates and Sargent Benton try to escape instead of being ruthlessly blown up (as several lowly UNIT Privates are in the course of this story) the Axons decided to jump on board the Land Rover for a polite punch-up. And it takes Yates's grenade to actually blow anything up.

Chinn from the MOD is too lightweight and seems to have wondered in an episode of one of those series of Ronnie Barker one-offs comedy programmes that didn't go to series. He's a pompous buffoon - even his boss seems to think he's a fool - but he survives the final battle at the end, presumably to collect a P45 after recovering from the shock. I suspect in the real world he'd have ended up dead. Probably at the hands of the Brigadier.

Then there's Pig Bin Josh. You might argue that what other television series would start off a new story with the ramblings of a tramp who stumbles over an alien spaceship. The X-Files? Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D? Monty Python? And then to kill him off. Unpleasantly.

Which brings me to Bill Filer. Why is he there? His role seemed to be to do all the things an assistant is supposed to do - get captured, replicated, escape and reveal an important plot point - with an American accent. It's also a performance of some dullness from Paul Grist. It's like the production team thought 'let's make the search for The Master feel international, let's bring in an American agent. Then let's make him dull as ditchwater."

I'm not sure about Jo Grant in this story either. She enthusiastic, optimistic and has an absolute faith in the Doctor but there's a couple of scenes where she is a bit...OTT. But then she is accosted by claws, weird electronic effects, aged and youthed again and in that outfit must have been bloody cold at some points.

It does zip along quite nicely so the holes in the plot and dodgy performances don't drag on too long. [My unforgivable sin for a Doctor Who story: dullness. There's no excuse for it.]

Did I hate it? No. It's Doctor Who. I'll find things to entertain me: the incongruity of seeing Donald Hewlett, an actor I know best as the useless Colonel Reynolds in It Ain't Half Hot Mum playing a nuclear scientist; the appearance of an incredibly young Tim Pigott-Smith as Captain Harker; the HAVOC stuntmen whose familiar faces warn you of impending punch-ups or impressive deaths; John Levene's Benton; Captain Yates's obvious military incompetence and the Brigadier's dry as dust sarcasm. All of these things make this worth watching but really it's not a Third Doctor favourite.

Indeed, Jon Pertwee does a lot of neck rubbing in this one and I'm starting to think the more neck rubbing he does the worse the story. We'll see because next up is Colony In Space and the last time I watched that I was spectacularly unimpressed.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Mind of Evil


The Mind of Evil is one of my favourite Third Doctor stories even though the Doctor spends a chunk of the story being rude to the Brigadier (again) and Jo Grant.

UNIT look like a proper military outfit, the Brigadier talks and sounds like a soldier who knows what he's doing and both Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates get properly involved. There's some nice comedic stuff between the Brigadier and Benton towards the end of the story when the Sergeant finds himself appointed 'Acting Governor' of the Prison, although I'd forgotten quite how much of a 'Rupert' Major Cosworth (Patrick Godfrey) until this re-watch.

Although no one ever talks about UNIT's 'shoot to kill' policy, which might be something that came up following the shoot-out at Stangmoor Prison. Between the dead prison staff, UNIT soldiers and prisoners it would probably get noticed by someone, somewhere. But I fear I am in danger of taking this all a little too seriously.

Once more The Master has an over-complicated plan and as usual, needs the Doctor to bail him out before it all goes horribly wrong. You can see why The Master rushes through his regenerations if this is the kind of plan he regularly puts together.

However, there are - again - some nice scenes between The Master and The Doctor. The concern The Master shows for The Doctor after the latter has had his second run-in with the Keller Machine makes you wonder how serious The Master's threats to kill the Doctor actually are. It's like their playing some Timelord game with the Earth. (Or playing at being God and the Devil having their bet over Job).

I haven't said much about Jon Pertwee's performance as The Doctor yet. The one advantage to watching Doctor Who in broadcast order is I have got a feel for the rhythm of the programme making and performances in a way that I haven't when dipping in and out of stories.

The Third Doctor does have a tendency to be a little patronising and clearly, his mind is on getting the TARDIS sorted out so he can go off gallivanting around the Universe again. Pertwee plays all that well. Yes, he's got a few trademark gestures: neck rubbing etc that are short-cuts to showing us what's going on in the Doctor's head but what I have been impressed with is Pertwee's ability to play the serious stuff dead straight.

I'll probably have more to say as I carry on through the era.

A couple of other things I noticed. There's another silent black actor, playing The Master's chauffeur to follow Roy Stewert's appearance in Terror of the Autons and one of the technicians in Inferno. I think watching 'Race Against Time' the excellent documentary about non-white actors in Doctor Who (and British television in general) on The Mutants DVD release has made me pay closer attention to these parts. The fact that Chin Lee is played by Chinese actress Pik-Sen Lim made me wonder why six years or so later they couldn't find a male Chinese actor to play Li H'Sen Chang in 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang'. But I digress.

The Mind of Evil is pretty good. There's hardly a duff performance from any of the guest stars but William Marlowe's Mailer should be singled out for special praise for being a nicely underplayed thug. He's probably the most 'realistic' villain in Doctor Who's history.

Also a quick 'Hurrah' for Michael Sheard as Dr Summers. There's something reliably good about Michael Sheard in Doctor Who...like Philip Madoc, John Abineri or Norman Jones.

I think perhaps I damn this with faint praise, which is wrong as I mentioned it is one of my favourite Pertwee stories. It has issues - mainly the design of the Keller Machine itself - but there's a real solid tension throughout.

The Master is magnificent. Also, if you're looking for signs of the close friendship between the Master and the Doctor before Missy then this is the story for you, which is more fuel to my theory that this is all some kind of game.

 

Terror of the Autons



Terror of the Autons is the first story of Pertwee's second season. Notable for the first appearances of Jo Grant and The Master as well as being the second outing for the plastic fantastic Autons or should we call them Nestenes?

It does recycle some ideas from Spearhead from Space, for example instead of weak-willed plastics factory owner Hibbert being under the mental dominance of the Auton Channing, we've got weak-willed Rex Farrel (Michael Wisher) under the mental dominance of the Master. Both men are confronted by colleagues wondering what the hell is going on and both these colleagues are killed as a result. But Spearhead from Space works so well as an introductory story that it is worth borrowing. After all, RTD was to do it again in Rose just sans UNIT.

In fact you might argue that both stories main role is to introduce us to a new Time Lord. In the case of Spearhead from Space it's the Doctor and in Terror of the Autons, it is The Master.

Roger Delgado is my favourite incarnation of The Master.**

He's charming, dangerous and intelligent without ever going too OTT. He underplays what could have been quite a hammy role deliciously. Other actors who have played the part often over-egg the pudding and forget that it makes The Master less of a threat.

Delgado's Master is definitely most terrifying because he is so cold, calm and on the surface civilised, but he's a ruthless murderer. One scene that particularly stood out for me on this watch was where he tries to style out his failure to kill the Doctor when talking to Rex Farrel (Michael Wisher). The surface is all calm but underneath he's clearly furious.

The confrontation between The Doctor and The Master in the UNIT Laboratory is excellent. There's a real sense of two old adversaries meeting up again for the first time in some time. There's an edge despite the politeness.

[Digression Alert: Can I just say that the Brigadier should sack whoever it is that makes UNIT's passes because the bad guys seem to find it shockingly easy to knock up believable copies so they can swan about in the HQ to their heart's content]

As for the other new character Jo Grant (Katy Manning), I think we'll need to see how she beds in over time. Jo Grant is very...enthusiastic. If anything reminds me of how Bonnie Langford will later play Mel Bush: all blundering high-spirits and a little too much 'oomph', but there's also a charm to Jo Grant that balances that oomph a little and having heard Katy Manning talking about her choices when playing Jo, such as pitching her voice higher, you appreciate the skill in the performance more. It'll be interesting to see how Jo works out.

But Jo's likeable enough and certainly makes a more sensible partner for the Third Doctor than poor over-qualified Liz Shaw. A point the script itself makes when the Brigadier dismisses the Doctor's demands for a properly qualified assistant by saying: "Nonsense; what you need, as Ms Shaw herself so often remarked, is someone to pass you your test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are. Miss Grant will fulfil that function admirably."

The usual UNIT weirdness is going on. Sometimes UNIT looks like a huge multinational military organisation and sometimes it doesn't. This difference is sometimes noticeable in the same story. So whilst the fire-fight between UNIT and the Autons at the end looks quite impressive the fact is that the Brigadier's choice of official vehicle - a small blue Austen - is remarkably cheap and nonmilitary.

I'm going to write a separate blog on UNIT at some point* but poor old UNIT privates seem to die in quite large numbers in this episode and it does make you wonder how they explained the casualty rate to both their superiors and to their soldier's families.

I've probably re-watched Terror of the Autons more than any other Doctor Who story recently and each time I enjoy it a little more. The odd thing I've missed mentioning up until now is how much of a dick the Doctor is to the Brigadier at points in this story. So much so that Jo even brings it up. The Third Doctor can be an ungrateful bugger sometimes.

Also, the 'Tubby Rowlands' story is clearly the Doctor winding up civil servant arse of the week Brownrose (Dermot Tuohy) more than it is an indication that the Doctor's gone all establishment. It's an attack on behalf of the Brigadier really.

I really enjoyed watching it this time around. Pertwee's performance is fun. He definitely pings off of Jo Grant better than he did Liz Shaw, which helps I think.

I should also flag up my theory that The Master is here to prevent the Doctor from being too bored during his exile. The way The Master flips so quickly at the end and the Doctor's final reaction to The Master being trapped on Earth seems to be a hint in that direction to me even if unneccessary deaths in the course of a game seems very un-Doctorish. Anyway I throw it out there as a theory. I will come back to it later.


*10/07/2014 Update: I still haven't done this. Perhaps I should?

*21/07/2017 Update: Still haven't done this. Quelle Surprise.

 *28/01/2018 Update: Still haven't done this. Hey ho.

**21/07/2017 Update: Missy runs him damn close now btw. Michelle Gomez was tip-top.

**28/01/2018 Update: Michelle Gomez is pretty much equally enjoyable. A little more batty, but equally well acted, although kudos to John Simms calmer, older Master in the final Capaldi season. That review to come later.