Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thoughts On Season 7

Well having rattled through 'Inferno' I can only praise the team behind Season 7.

With the Third Doctor exiled to Earth the four stories that make up Season 7 are all variations on the 'alien invasion' theme with 'Doctor Who & The Silurians' having the well-known twist that the 'aliens' are already here.

So at the end of Spearhead From Space the Doctor finds himself stuck on Earth. His knowledge of time travel & the TARDIS 'blocked' by the Timelords. So he signs up as a half-hearted advisor to UNIT. Constantly ungrateful the Third Doctor has an agenda of his own & is only prepared to give UNIT a hand when it suits him.

His companion is multi-degree holding scientist Liz Shaw, played by Caroline John. In a classic case of 'Susan Syndrome' Liz is set up to support the Doctor as a scientist but is eventually relegated to the role of asking dumb questions & in 'Doctor Who & the Silurians' helping the Brigadier answer the telephones rather than help the Doctor find a cure for the Silurian plague. It is no surprise when she disappears at the end of the season. Caroline John does a good job in the circumstances with this rather thin material, although the highlight for me is her performance as the alt-Liz in 'Inferno'.

The other regular character of course is Brigadier Alistair Gordon Letherbridge-Stewert. This is the Brigadier inherited from 'The Web of Fear' and 'The Invasion': a serious soldier. Whilst the Doctor has some fun at the Brigadier's expense the production team haven't yet turned him into the somewhat Pythonesque military buffoon he becomes later. Here Nicholas Courtney plays him pretty straight. He might be military minded but he isn't stupid.

UNIT itself seems to be one of the most inconsistent military outfits in history. In 'Spearhead From Space' they look pretty efficient; in 'Doctor Who & The Silurians' they do a reasonable job but in 'Ambassadors of Death' they are the most inept bunch imaginable. Out-manoeuvred constantly by General Carrington & his men they let various bad guys wonder in & out of top secret bases on a regular basis. By the end, when Reegan drives in to the base in a Bakery Lorry & has time to connect up gas to drug the Doctor & kidnap him we are straining the viewers credulity a wee bit.

In 'Inferno' UNIT looks small scale & security led but their alt-Earth counterparts are surprisingly effective.

The decision to change the UNIT uniforms from a specially designed, slightly futuristic looking one of Spearhead to 'normal' British army uniforms helps a lot. They never look more like enthusiastic amateurs than in that beige kit.

I don't intend to review the stories in depth. There are other people out there who can do that better & can talk authoritatively about direction etc. Let's just say that 'Spearhead From Space' rattles along like a New Who story. its four episodes race by. An excellent introduction to the Third Doctor & his era. The Autons make a memorable enemy & are suitable creepy.

'Doctor Who & The Silurians' is thoughtful, serious & clever. It also plods a bit. The Silurians themselves look excellent, have a believable series of internal feuds & the scenes at Marylebone Station as people succumb to the Silurian Plague have a real impact. Funnily enough this was the one story I really struggled with in terms of keeping my interest. It's still damn good but there are moments when you find your attention drifting. I shall draw a veil over the Silurian's pet Dinosaur.

'Ambassadors of Death' is excellent - despite my previous caveat about the ineptness of UNIT in this story. It is genuine tense. There's a real sinister creepiness about the 'Ambassadors' as they stroll around in their astronauts costumes & General Carrington is a great villain because he's believable. He's a man whose acting from the best motives - he thinks. The subdued ending is quite touching.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Season 7 is that it is painted in shades of grey, with the exception of 'Spearhead From Space' perhaps. There's no villain who is an out & out villain. Everyone seems to have believable motivations & on occasion even the good guys act in a cold fashion: witness the Brigadier lying to the Doctor & then blowing up the Silurian base at the end of 'Doctor Who & The Silurians'. It's not nice.

'Inferno' was my favourite story of the season. Despite being 7 episodes long it fairly rattles along even though the basic plot is not particularly fresh: Doctor turns up at base/scientific project led by focused/over-stressed/mad scientist or Director & things go horrible wrong.

What makes this story really great is the scenes set on the alternative Earth where a fascist equivalents of our regulars stride around in uniform dealing out threats. The alt-Brig is a bullying thug; the alt-Liz (looking good in boots) is a party loyalist until the end & even the alt-Benton is a git. All the regulars play their alt-counterparts dead straight & are all the more terrifying for it.

Most importantly in episode 6 of 'Inferno' we see the Doctor losing. The alt-Earth is doomed. The alt-Liz, Brig, Petra etc are going to die quite horrible deaths & the Doctor can't save them. He can only flee & try to save 'our' world. It is quite possible the darkest, bleakest episode in Doctor Who's history & soaked through with an air of impending doom. Nobody lives.

So I'd recommend Season 7. All of it. But especially 'Inferno'.

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