Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Time and the Rani

So Colin Baker leaves in ugly BBC political circumstances and understandably refuses to do a regeneration and because there is no 'proper' regeneration Time and the Rani begins with Sylvester McCoy in a Colin Baker wig. It's not the best omen.

Time and the Rani, like Season 24 as a whole, has a poor reputation. There is some small justification for this. However, it isn't all bad. Yes, there is too much prat-falling, particularly in Part One. Yes, it is all very obviously a quarry and yes, Sylvester's costume is almost as distracting as Colin's was. Part of JNT's obsession with uniforms and question marks. The question mark jumper is just too much, although I do like the rest of the costume. If only JNT could have got over this question mark fixation.

However, my biggest issue is that this story takes the Rani who had the potential to be quite an interesting foil to the Doctor and turns her into a Master manque. Complete with a fiendishly complicated plan involving scientific gobbledygook and a penchant for pointless disguises.

So, even though I do enjoy Kate O'Mara's Bonnie Langford impression, it does make you wonder where she manages to get hold of an identical outfit to Mel's (including massive ginger wig) and WHY? Why bother disguising herself at all, except for our amusement. Anyway, it is fun in its own bizarre way. O'Mara even gets the bouncy walk right. But amusing impersonation does not a good Doctor Who story make.

The Rani's plan turns out to be creating a 'Time Manipulator' from the collective brain power of a series of geniuses gathered from across the Universe combined with exploding an asteroid filled with Strange Matter and blah-di-blad-di-blah. Oh, something called Loyhargil comes into play: as a light-weight alternative to Strange Matter, I think. Anyway, it gets the Rani pretty excited even if it is a huge steaming pile of Pip and Jane Baker nonsense. There are huge clunking chunks of exposition that just make me want to bang my head against the desk.

Then there's Keff McCulloch's music. It seems to be one of the prerogatives of old age to complain that background music in television is TOO LOUD. Certainly, at the time I didn't find Keff's contributions as irritating as I did this time around. They are about as subtle as a brick. On a couple of occasions, I found myself wishing it would stop. Or at least feel like it had something to do with what was happening in front of me.

Obviously being a new Doctor we get a new title sequence and theme tune. I don't mind this version of the theme tune. It's not my favourite but it is acceptable enough. The title sequence is OK except for the 'wink'. I didn't like this at the time and I think it undermind McCoy from the off.* (Plus I've found it vaguely disturbing since I heard it described by Tachyon TV - I think - as "McCoy's sex wink".)

What of McCoy himself? He does alright. He's better at the quieter more thoughtful stuff than he is at the shouty confrontational and I like the fact that you can see his Doctor thinking. Yes, some of the silly prat-falling in Part One seems designed to play up the comedy and you can see why that might have put people. However he seems to have enough Doctor-ish qualities to me at this point to pass muster. However, it is a toss-up between this and the Twin Dilemma for the worst introductory story for a new Doctor.

He isn't helped by Bonnie Langford who seems to have gone up a notch in the theatrical stakes. Mel seems to be a character without any bass notes at all. It's like listening to the tish-tish-tish of someone else's headphones when sitting on the train. It's irritating but bizarrely hypnotic. The fundamental problem with Mel is that they haven't bothered to give her a proper character. Langford's a far better actress than Mel lets her demonstrate but they seem to have settled on making Mel just energetic and full of positivity, which helps no one.

There's not much else to say really. Wanda Ventham as Faroon and Donald Pickering as Beyus bring a much-needed dignity to proceedings. Pickering, in particular, does a fine job of imbuing Beyus - who is collaborating with the Rani in order to save his rather apathetic people, the Lakertyans - with a realisation of what he's become and gets a fine death to make up for it.

I also like Mark Greenstreet as Ikona**, apparently the only Lakertyan with any balls at all. His nicely sarcastic two-hander with Bonnie Langford is amusing and there's a dry line in cynicism throughout. Greenstreet also manages to make running at full pelt whilst dressed as a sort of fish-reptile-human escapee from a rather unsuccessful new romantic band look vaguely credible.

A small round of applause should also go to Richard Gauntlett as Urak, leader of the Tetraps. The Tetraps, who are the Rani's guards, are a kind of three-eyed bat-monkey hybrid. They're quite nicely designed if a tad obviously special effects driven when close-up. Urak is a cunning little bugger combining creepy brown-nosing, thuggish violence and a nice little plan of his own. It's nice for a minion to get one up on its chief.

So overall Time and The Rani ain't great but it is nowhere near as bad as its reputation suggests, although I might have been tempted to alter that opinion if there had been one more scene of Bonnie Langford screaming. It's entertaining if light-weight. However, it wasn't the best story with which to launch a new Doctor on an unsuspecting world.

This is the last time we see the Rani in the Doctor Who.*** Could you bring her back now that the Master is Missy? I think you could but I she needs to be a different character to the Master. In Time and the Rani she's just the Master in drag. But she could be a different character. She could be a man.

But I suspect we'll not see her again, although I could be wrong. I often am.

*The reason I didn't like the wink and still don't like the wink is that at this point in time being a Doctor Who fan wasn't going to earn you the admiration of your school friends. So, I was constantly on the defensive. It didn't matter then that I loved Season 17 partly for its wit and silliness. At this point, I wanted Doctor Who to be serious. In big, block capitals. SERIOUS. I didn't want pratfalls. I didn't want spoons and I absolutely and without a doubt did not want a wink in the title sequence, which might as well have been a large neon sign saying 'this programme is a joke.' And in 1987 when I was in my first year of O-Levels at an all-boys school that I loathed attending because, apart from a handful of boys who were my actual friends, the place was populated by bullies and tosspots. The last thing I wanted was for Doctor Who to be a joke. I needed it to be dark, serious and scary. I needed it to be SERIOUS. That's why I hated the wink. That's why it still annoys me now.

**Although there is a little part of me that thinks there's something of the fascist about Ikona's talk of people 'not being from here' and the Lakertyans desire to find their 'own solutions'. It reminded me of the end of The Space Museum in that respect. Perhaps Ikona isn't the best person to leave in charge of the planet despite his heroics.

***Yes, I know. I'm pretending it didn't happen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Saturday at The Who Shop

The Patient Centurion meets Michael Troughton

On Saturday I spent a couple of delightful hours at 'The Who Shop'

I was there to buy Michael Troughton's book about his father, Patrick Troughton [Info Here] and get it signed by the author himself. Michael turned out to be a lovely chap, much admired over here at Patient Centurion Mansions for playing Pier Fletcher-Dervish in 'The New Statesman'.

Due to a slight hiccup the signing started a bit late, which meant I spent an hour or so drifting around The Who Shop avoiding its many temptation. Or trying to avoid them anyway. I failed. A bit.

I picked up Elisabeth Sladen's autobiography, 'Blue Box Boy' by Matthew Waterhouse, Anneke Wills' autobiography(s) and a couple of Virgin New Adventures (which I have started to re-read, which is the fault of Jamie of The Terrible Zodin ). I managed to resist the siren call of various toys, even though the Colin Baker 'Blue Costume' figure was calling to me quietly each time I walk past it.

Several of the books I bought are published by Hirst Publishing - see the Patrick Troughton link - who seem to have cornered a niche in Doctor Who memoirs. I may review these at a later point if I can be arsed.

The Who Shop owners & staff were friendly and helpful and if you get a chance pop along & take a quick wander around their little Museum.

Tonight I'll be starting off Sylvester McCoy's era with 'Time and the Rani'.

As a guide to how this blog is likely to pan out in the future my current plan is as follows:

Watch & review McCoy's era
Watch & review McGann's TV Movie

Then to give a proper overview of McGann's Doctor I plan to listen to and review his Big Finish stories. I'll cut it off at some point & maybe review new ones as & when they are released.

Then it'll be back to television with a review of 'New Who' from Ecclestone to wherever we happen to be with Matt Smith. After that I suspect I'll do an ongoing review of new episodes as & when they are shown.

After that? Big Finish - the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Doctors? The Virgin New Adventures? Ongoing reviews of CD, DVD and TV releases? Retirement?

Whatever I decide the blog continues tonight with 'Time & the Rani.'

Friday, November 25, 2011

Trial of a Timelord

This is the first time I've watched Trial of a Timelord trying hard to think of it as one fourteen episode story, rather than four individual adventures. It helps. The courtroom scenes, which previously seemed rather tedious breaks between the action, now seemed more effective.

Colin Baker, Michael Jayston (The Valeyard) and Lynda Bellingham (The Inquisitor) give strong performances to. Bellingham can be sympathetic but icey by turn. Jayston has a certain acid charm that makes The Valeyard more than a cardbord cut out pseudo-Master. Whilst some of the initial 'banter' between the Doctor and The Valeyard verges on the tedious Colin Baker does excellent work in the Court. His reactions to Peri's death for example feel right.

Viewing it as one adventure also means that 'Mindwarp', which I loathed on last viewing and still think is the weakest segment of the Trial, made me less annoyed this time around. Colin Baker has spoken of his difficulties with 'Mindwarp' because he didn't know whether the Doctor's unsympathetic behaviour was the result of the Mentor's machine; Matrix fakery or if it was a ruse on the Doctor's part. This 'nasty' Doctor bullying Peri seems like a retrograde step to me and the whole story aggravates me. It still does a bit but viewed as part of the Trial it seems Matrix fakery is a likely explaination, even if it isn't explicitely stated. The problem is this is not the time to be making the Doctor unsympathetic. The BBC wants to cancel your programme for heaven's sake so try and make an effort someone.

With it seen as one adventure there's also the benefit of seeing a conspiracy gradually unmasked. The Doctor's stumbling upon Ravalox - aka The Earth - leads to a panic amongst the High Council. It was they who shifted the Earth (and its solar system apparently) a couple of light years across the Universe in order to prevent the Matrix's secrets being stolen and the Doctor's arrival provides them with both a problem and a solution. The organise a Trial, set up The Valeyard to prosecute and hope the Doctor can be silenced: permenantly or otherwise.

The Valeyard is a problem though. In the final two episodes it is revealed - by The Master amusingly enough - that the Valeyard is The Doctor. An amalgamation of the Doctor's dark side cobbled together somewhere between his twelth and final regeneration. But how? By whom? Why? The Valeyard wants the Doctor dead so he can claim his future regenerations so he can be unencumbered by his 'spurious morality' I assume. How does that work without ripping up the web of time precisely? In fact how does bringing back a future Doctor through Gallifrey's timeline work in relation to THE LAWS OF TIME? The Valeyard is a pitch idea: 'What if the Doctor went evil?' It is the detail that is a bit ragged.

Enough of my idle waffle what of the story? We begin with a fantastic special effects sequence as the TARDIS is dragged to a space station. I'm not sure why a space station & not Gallifrey itself. Perhaps someone forgot to book a meeting room. Anyway the wonder of that special effects sequence is immediately bought crashing to - er - Earth by the flat, white & brown set into which the TARDIS materialises. We are obviously in that period of Gallifreyan history where they outsourced their interior design to those people who design sattelitte offices for major corporations.

Once the Trial is up & running it turns out that the format will involve us - and the Timelords - watching a number of the Doctor's adventures unfolding on a big screen via the magic of the Matrix (TM). Occassionally it will be interrupted for The Doctor and the Valeyard to snark at each other whilst The Inquisitor referees. You've almost got a DVD commentary on 'Trial' before you start. Our first 'episodic segment' is 'The Mysterious Planet'.

'The Mysterious Planet' is a bog standard Doctor Who story. Not great but not terrible. The Doctor & Peri (who has a new haircut & sensible costume) are much friendlier than in the previous season and I think it helps that Nicola Bryant seems to have become much more comfortable with the role.

There's a fun guest appearance by Joan Sims as the 'Warrior Queen' Katryca, who is doomed to meet a pointless and sticky end.

Tom Chadbon - last seen as the punch-happy Duggan in 'The City of Death' - does a fine job as Merdeen. Initially looking like 'The Immortals' chief henchman it turns out he's been syphoning people out of the Underground & up to the surface. It is nice to see him take a few moments to regret having to kill Grell (Timothy Walker) rather than just do the usual kill & move on.

Also putting in a nice, understated performance is Adam Blackwood as Baltazar, reader of the Sacred Books. The way he says "H M Stationary Office' with reverence is comic loveliness.

Stealing the show though is Tony Selby as Sabalom Glitz, an inter-galactic wide boy on a mission to nick some mysterious 'secrets'. He's accompanied by the slightly dim Dibber. The relationship between the two is realistically male. The Sixth Doctor & Glitz make an amusingly spikey pair. Glitz clearly can't be trusted not to sell his own grandmother. There's hints that all the amusing bluster hides a darker Glitz. After all Glitz and Dibber seemed happily intent upon murdering the Doctor at the beginning of the story, but this isn't particularly expanded upon.

The one - or two - major irritants in this story are a pair of blonde fops called Humker (Billy McColl) and Tundrell (Sion Tudor Owen). They're the Immortal aka Drathro's assistants & have no function except to provide some camp amusement & to irritate the Doctor. It is like having a pair of Adrics squabbling away.

With the end of 'The Mysterious Planet' the first inklings of a conspiracy are indicated. In the next story, 'Mindwarp' we start with the Doctor & Peri investigating an arms smuggling operation that has led them to Thoros Beta, which is home to the Mentors.

This means a return to the show for Nabil Shaban as Sil gurgling laugh and all. The Mentors Sil and Kiv (Christopher Ryan) along with Nicola Bryant are the best things in 'Mindwarp', which I have already indicated isn't a particular favourite of mine. There's lots of odd - if not poor - performances from various minor characters, which doesn't help much. There is an absolute clash of acting styles between Patrick Ryecart as Crozier & Brian Blessed as King Ycarnos. One all silky quietness, the other roaring about like a demented lion.

Much as I like Brian Blessed he is just a bit too Brian Blessed in this. He's so full on that everything else looks rather subdued and false by comparison. It's fun but it's too much and it makes the possibility of Peri settling down with him in happy matrimony seem ridiculous.

Having said all of that the last moments of this story when Peri 'dies' and her body is made a receptical for the mind of Kiv are amongst the most powerful in the whole of 'Trial of a Timelord'. Colin Baker's reactions are heartbreaking: a comination of guilt, anger and grief. Peri is dead. Her mind deleted by Crozier, her body zapped by Ycarnos. All part of the Timelord plan to stop Crozier's experiment from succeeding. Nicola Bryant is great in those last minutes.

And so, in the final installment, the Doctor goes forward to the future & 'Terror of the Vervoids'. He has a new companion, Melanie Bush played by Bonnie Langford.

Bonnie Langford gets a lot of flak, some of which is deserved and some of which isn't. She certainly more theatrical than television when it comes to acting styles and that relentless enthusiasm can set your teeth on edge but it isn't entirely her fault. Making Mel some kind of characture of how people imagine Bonnie Langford to be didn't help. It's as if JNT decided that have cast Bonnie he might as well get the most Bonnieness out of her. If they'd given Mel a proper background & personality & not just introduced her as a fait accompli things might have been different.

She's not bad in 'Terror' though. I think working with Colin who is - in his own way - a pretty theatrical actor balances out Bonnie Langford a bit and she drives much of the action in the early episodes.

'Terror of the Vervoids' itself is just a Agatha Christie murder mystery with added psychotic vegetables. It is a four episode McGuffin designed to set the Doctor up for a charge of genocide & his almost inevitable execution. It's not deep or difficult. It just is. I actually enjoyed it even though it was about as substantial as a bridge made of bubbles.

'Terror' moves swiftly in 'The Ultimate Foe' when the Doctor looks done in. The charge of genocide looks open & shut with the poor veggie Vervoids having been wintered to death as a result of The Doctor's plan but just when all looks lost Mel and Glitz arrive courtesy of...(drum roll please)...The Master. The Valeyard gets a bit paniced as The Master nudges everyone along, explaining huge chunks of plot & filling in explainations with a certain degree of smugness. Anthony Ainley does a lovely job of underplaying The Master's joy at getting one over on just about everybody, including The Doctor. For once - at least at the beginning - it looks like The Master plan is coming together nicely.

The Master blows The Valeyards secret. The Valeyard dashes into the Matrix (TM) followed by the Doctor. The scenes in the Matrix (TM) are suitably odd. I particularly like the Mr Popplewick (Geoffery Hughes) stuff. It's part Dickens, part Kafka and entirely Doctor Who.

Michael Jayston makes the Valeyard even more contemptuous of everyone else as his plans fall apart around him. The Valeyard isn't trying to kill two birds with one stone but several: get the Doctor; get the Time Lords; get the Master and get Glitz. This is a villain with big dreams. Unfortunately the Doctor spoils everything by puttig a sonic screwdriver in the works. Although not before Michael Jayston gets to utter one of Doctor Who's most ridiculous lines. "The catharsis of spurious morality" indeed. It sounds like someone has been force fed a dictionary.

So we end with the Valeyard dead, the Doctor triumphant and Gallifrey in turmoil. The Doctor sets off into the sunset with Mel - who he hasn't actually met yet - leaving The Inquisitor to sort out the mess...except that in traditional style it seems that somehow the Valeyard has escaped, although we never hear or see him again. (Although he'd have been a damn fine soldier for The Time War)

The last words we hear from The Sixth Doctor are "Carrott Juice, Carrott Juice...Carrott Juice". Unfortunately they were to be the Sixth Doctor's last words full stop. After 'Trial of a Timelord' the Beeb wanted him gone. Colin, angry at his treatment, refused to do a regeneration story and so the next time Doctor Who returned it would Sylvester McCoy.

Colin's treatment was atrocious, He carried the can for failings that were not his. As a Doctor Colin is pretty good. Given the right material & support he can be brilliant as Big Finish have shown. So sadly whilst 'Trial of a Timelord' does works - Mindwarp blip excepted - fundamentally Colin Baker is on the receiving end of a miscarriage of justice.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Doctor Who

It's 48 years since the first broadcast of Doctor Who today. But you all know that don't you. I recommend you all dig out a copy of 'An Unearthly Child' and watch the first part. If you don't have it, borrow it. It truely is a remarkable piece of television. I think it would be a remarkable piece of television regardless of the longevity of Doctor Who. Seriously. It's only 25-ish minutes long. A mere blip.

I completed my Starburst column draft on Tom Baker over the weekend and sent it off to the very lovely Jamie Beckwith (of Terrible Zodin fanzine fame) to proof read. In that column I explain a little of why Tom Baker is my Doctor so I will not dwell on that here.

What I thought I'd do, briefly is try and explain why I love Doctor Who enough that I'll bang on about it at any opportunity. Why I'm addicted to & a little in love with a children's television series.

In truth part of it is nostalgia. Doctor Who is the television equivalent of comfort food, at least to me. If I'm down, there are Doctor Who stories that will cheer me up however ridiculous and cheap looking they are now (or even then) - I'm looking at you 'The Horns of Nimon'. It works because it makes me feel like a kid again when I didn't have to worry about pay cheques, bills, work or any of that serious adult stuff. When it was me, my little brother and my Mum & Dad all together in front of the television. When I could be safely terrified by melty faced villains from the future; shape-shifting glowing things; glidy pepper pots with harsh electronic voices and all manner of the worst the universe had to offer.

That's part of it.

Another part of it is that it was fun and clever. The Doctor wasn't some gun wielding thug. The Doctor won by being cleverer than the people he was up against and he never gave up. Even when he looked beaten (or zapped or gassed or...) For a serious child the Doctor was a figure of anarchic joy doing a serious thing in an unserious manner. Defending space & time from the humourless and heartless with just his friends, his brains and a bit of luck.

Then there was the social stuff. As I got older I realised that there were people that loved Doctor Who as much as I did. There was Rick - then Richard - at school. He and I would share dodgy C60 audios of lost episodes so full of hiss you'd think they were recorded at a snake convention. Or ninth generation copies of old Pertwee stories that someone, somewhere had taped off of Australian television and that now were virtually unwatchable but we still watched them. And talked about them. A lot.

And it has been the same since, although with added alcohol. Wherever two or three are gathered together then talk may be of the UNIT dating controversy or why the Master is an idiot. Yes, it is rather bizarre that we can mine an old television programme for so much conversation and that we try to fill in the gaps where the production teams haven't told us or that we write our own stories but - and forgive the pun - who cares. We do it because we like doing it and for some of us - the RTDs, the Moffs and even David Tennant - it has become their job. Doctor Who made people want to be writers and actors. Through the Target novelisations it made us readers and opened the doors to other writing, other books.

There are other things I love about Doctor Who: the fact that it demonstrates that imagination is more important than money; that the Universe is a big and miraculous place; the arguements about continuity that matter even though they don't matter at all; the gadgets; the wonderful idea of the TARDIS in and of itself but in the end I like it because it is entertaining television. It's fun.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Trial of a Timelord - Before I Start

I am about to begin 'The Trial of a Timelord' and after several minutes of ming-monging have decided that I am going to treat the whole thing as fourteen part epic rather than four seperate stories. I think that's the fairest way to deal with the story. The linking court room scenes make it pretty clear - to me at least - that the whole thing should be viewed as one story, even if there are seperate titles for each bit of it. I think the only other way to do it would have been to do individual story blogs and then a final over-arching 'Trial' one, which seems silly. So as far as The Patient Centurion is concerned 'Trial of a Timelord' is one story.

The plan is to watch everything by Saturday afternoon and try and get the blog up before I go away for a few days well-earned holiday sans Doctor Who. When I get back we shall be ready to take on Sylvester McCoy's era.

The shortness of Colin Baker's tenure as the Sixth Doctor really hits home when you realise that he's only got four stories left. The 45 minute experiment is over, which is a shame as I quite like that format and Trial of a Timelord reverts to 25 minute episodes and a tweaked version of the theme tune (one of my favourites actually).

I will probably use Twitter to pass comment on episodes as I go through them. If I have the energy. You'll find me there as Lokster71.

So...Trial of a Timelord. Here we come.

Revelation of the Daleks

Revelation of the Daleks in an odd story. The Doctor is almost irrelevant to proceedings, even though his prescence is desired by The Great Healer. Would anything have happened differently if the Doctor had not been there? It almost does not feel like Doctor Who at all. Part One in particular might be refered to as a 'Doctor Light' story if it were a New Who.

However I love it. In my opinion this is the best story in Colin Baker's first season. The cast is exceptional and Eric Saward seems to have learnt from Robert Holmes about building great and amusing double acts: Kara (Eleanor Bron) and Vogel (Hugh Walters); Orcini (William Gaunt) and Bostock (John Ogwen); Takis (Trevor Cooper) and Lilt (Colin Spaull) and Grigory (Stephen Flynn) with Natasha (Bridget Lynch-Blosse). They bounce great and amusing dialogue off of each other. Good dialogue brings out good performances generally and that's want happens here. Add Clive Swift giving a fantastically sleazy performance as Jobel and Alexei Sayle as the DJ then you get a cast and a half.

The only bum note is Jenny Tomasin as Tasambeker who seems totally adrift. Some of her line readings are not so much wooden as just wrong. You wonder whether she actually had a clue what she was doing. It jars a bit mainly because everyone else is so good.

Terry Molloy plays Davros and it is a different Davros. He is less hysterical than usual until towards the end. Instead we see a smarter more cunning Davros relying on his wit and words to get what he wants. He even sounds like a businessman at some points using phrases like "consumer resistence". It makes an amusing change. Why he decides to involve the Doctor when things seem to be going well is almost Masteresque in its stupidity.

Colin Baker is magnificent in this. Anyone who still thinks Colin Baker is not a good Doctor should watch this, Part Two particularly. I think Big Finish has done a great job in 'rehabilitating' both Colin and Sylvester's Doctors for which we should be grateful. The fact that Colin found himself as The Doctor at the wrong time. The BBC had almost given up on the programme and its budgets were cut to the bone. There was also a growing inconsistency in script quality, in my opinion at least. For example Colin Baker's first season is wildly inconsistent, almost as if there was an attempt to make one bad, one good story. Even then though I do not feel Colin Baker is ever less than excellent. His Doctor might be pompous, bombastic and more violent than previous Doctors but he is Doctorish.

Nicola Bryant gets a little more action here to and there are a couple of nice scenes between her and Alexei Sayle's DJ and her reaction to being forced to kill the 'mutant' is lovely.

I have dwelt more on casting than plot because it is the cast and dialogue combined with the direction by Graeme Harper, which is up to his Caves of Androzani standards. The way he cuts to the DJ to soften some of the nastier scenes is cleverly done. There are some quite unpleasent scenes in this story: the Dalek-Stengos head, with throbbing brain looks nasty enough but his pleading with Nastasha (his daughter) to kill him before the conversion to Dalek is completed is memorably dark. As are the scenes when Nastasha and Grigory are tortured and the stabbing of Kara. For once though this all seems justifable. There is not much in the way of flippancy, which is nice. Even though a lot of people do that.

There are a couple of quibbles - the DJs death for example is pretty badly handled and some shots do not quite work - but overall I love this story to bits.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Where do I begin?

Do I begin with the flat, matt, obviously studio bound sets topped of with a tinsel, polysterene & lightbulb Timelash? A terrifying fearsome punishment for those who rebel against [dum...dum...dah] The Borad that the Doctor can abseil into as if it were a slightly windy cliff face.

Or do I start with Jeananne Crowley's bizarre performance as Vena. Crowley gives some odd line readings whilst drifting about the place as if she's stoned. In fact the acting in this is generally quite odd. Crowley's being fey & freaky, Paul Darrow is channelling Richard III as Tekker in one of Doctor Who's most hamtastic performances. Darrow eats, chews & spits out almost every line as if it is some foul tasting foodstuff. It's borderline genius & frankly hilarious. Dicken Ashworth as Sezon seems to think he's in an episode of some hard hitting cop drama & does a lot of threatening & shouting. David Ashton as Kendron  - the third ex-Brass cast member in as many stories - seems to think he's in a light comedy, which isn't far wrong truth be told.

Only Eric Deacon as Mykros, Peter Robert Scott as Brunner and Tracy Louise Ward as Katz appear even vaguely normal & frankly they get sod all to do.

But I'm being harsh. Two actors from the guest cast do a fine job. David Chandler as Herbert, who is all wide-eyed enthusiasm & Adricesque annoyingness & Robert Ashby as THE BORAD. Ashby's buried under a lot of make-up but his voice is amazingly dark & melifluous. He doesn't go over the top, leaving that to Paul Darrow. He's a mean, nasty villain with a bit of a thing for Peri. Heaven knows what he'd have done if Peri had turned up wearing one of her leotards from earlier in the season as in this story she is surprisingly modestly outfitted.

The problem is poor old Peri is basically Penelope Pitstop in this story being literally dragged from one peril to another. I suspect Nicola Bryant did not enjoy this story as it really is the nadir of her time in the TARDIS. It is pathetic.

As is the 'oh I'm not dead, that was a clone' twist towards the stories end. I mean for heaven's sake & to try & paper over such a cliche with a clodhopping line like: "Ah but I didn't tell you about my OTHER experiment did I" is adding insult to injury.

Even Colin Baker seems to be flagging a bit with this.

Which brings me on to my main complaint about this story. The un-Doctoresque five minutes taunting of THE BORAD at the stories end. It actually makes you feel sorry for THE BORAD whose effectively bullied in to the Timelash by a series of playground insults about his looks from the Doctor. Yes, THE BORAD is an evil bastard but the Doctor doesn't do this kind of stuff. It's petty, cruel & unpleasent. The sort of thing that lesser Timelords would sink to but The Doctor's supposed to be above all that kind of stuff, most of the time. He knew Megelan aka THE BORAD before his accident. Why didn't he try & reason with him? To talk him down?

I don't know but it means this story ends on a bit of a sour note for me despite all the faux jollity that follows THE BORAD's plunge into the Timelash.

And don't let me get started on the Bandrils.

For all its many, many flaws I do find Timelash entertaining. It's fun in a silly kind of a way and it cheers me up in some bizarre way. You can't watch Timelash and be unhappy. Probably.

The Two Doctors

I like the Two Doctors. Yes, there are one or two issues but on a basic 'is it fun, does it work' level this is good.

With location work in & around Seville it feels & looks a little different to your average Colin Baker story, although I would argue that the director doesn't take as much advantage of the locations as he might. The city of Seville itself ends up functioning more like a set of corridors for the cast to run up & down & the total Spanish contribution to the cast runs to two actors: one of whom is just the poor chap playing a here today, knocked unconscious tomorrow lorry driver.

It is good to see Patrick Troughton & Frazer Hines back & the ease by which they slip into their old roles is nice to see. They both seem to have a lot of fun. Patrick Troughton & Colin Baker work together well, in the limited number of scenes they have together. It's a shame there weren't one or two more.

Nicola Bryant gets even less to wear than usual & I'm beginning to get a bit tired of the semi-constant bickering between her & the Sixth Doctor. It's like watching a long, drawn out Eastenders plot line that we all know will end in tears. I'm beginning to feel a bit sorry for Nicola Bryant who is suffering from the fate of many a Doctor Who companion: underused & underdirected.

The guest cast are good. Although apropos my comment in Mark & The Rani about Gary Cady & Brass it seems bizarre to see James Saxon playing the ill-fated Oscar Botcherby in a style not unajacent to his Brass character Morris. The fate of Oscar is one of my issues with this story.

Once more a likeable, harmless character seems to have been introduced purely for the purpose of giving him a miserable & meaningless death. By the time Shockeye kills Oscar we already know how nasty & cruel the villains are. Oscar's death is just a unnecessary piece of point proving. It's as if the production team have decided that the lesson viewers need to learn is that the universe is a bleak place & people die for no good reason. Well, perhaps we watch Doctor Who to be reminded that despite that there is joy, goodness, optimism & fun out there to. That if we wanted bleakness & misery we can get that at home, in school or at work thank you.

Then there's the Sixth Doctor's continuing penchant for the James Bondesque post-death witticism. I said in my Vengeance blog that it was the flippency I objected to & I still do. Colin Baker - in the Vengeance commentary - argues that the Doctor is an alien & his response to death might not be the same as ours & to a limited extent I agree. But alien though he is the Doctor rarely takes death as flippantly as this. Even the death of an enemy. Colin Baker is fond of using the word "right" about the Doctor (and it is one of the best descriptions of the Doctor there is). The Doctor, to paraphrase Colin Baker, sees the "rightness of things". The Sixth Doctor's response to Oscar's death seems "right" to me, but not his response to Shockeye's death.

I'm not saying the Doctor should always win or that no one should die. After all Adric's death had real impact but would the effect have been as strong if for the previous six or seven stories lots of good people were being bumped off. The Doctor's rare defeats or pyrrhic victories have more impact because the series is generally optimistic & positive.

But I have hammered on about this long enough & it makes me sound as if I didn't enjoy The Two Doctors, even though I did.

The guest stars do a sterling job: Laurence Payne as Dastari does an excellent job with that most Doctor Who of roles: the scientist blinded by his own ambition. The wonderful Jacqueline Pearce plays Chessene, the augmented Androgum. Her portrayal of Chessene isn't dissimilar from Servalan if we're honest but as Pearce is so brilliant in that role why quibble. I have already passed comment on James Saxon's Oscar. He's ably supported by Carmen Gomez as Anita, who functions as Oscar's conscience & courage.

Best of all though is John Stratton as Shockeye. He - forgive the pun - really gets his teeth into the part, skirting but staying on the right side of hammery & at moments being realistic terrifying. The Androgums are a nice addition to the Doctor Who universe & could pop up in the new series quite comfortably.

I also wonder if there are a series of adventures involving the Androgum Inheritence that we've not seen in which the post-Troughton Doctors get influenced by the operation to turn The Doctor in to an Androgum. A bizarre series of food related adventures where The Doctor & his companions arri...sorry, I'm getting carried away again.

My final quibble is about The Sontarans. They're amusingly written by Robert Holmes as militaristic buffoons who Chessene runs rings around, which is fine but you don't want to undermine your own monsters do you? Especially at a time when the series is struggling for credibility. They're also a bit tall but that's a ridiculously ming mongesque complaint.

So in the end, despite my (significant) quibbles I do like the Two Doctors. It's entertaining & enjoyable stuff. The first episode in particular is exceptionally good.

Oh & before I forget Colin Baker's monologue in Part Two after Peri's left on the impending end of the universe, which I'm going to hereafter call the "Never More A Gumblejack" speech is lovely. It proves - to me at least - that there was much more to Colin Baker's Doctor than he's often given credit for.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mark of the Rani

Mark of the Rani is not all bad I'll give it that.

Kate O'Mara is excellent as the Rani & the character is a breath of fresh air. She is contemptuous of the Master's 'devious & complicated' plans & the Doctor's morals. She mocks the Master's fight with The Doctor with panache. But then they go & team her up with The Master.

Now The Master is an idiot in this story & you wonder why the Rani just doesn't kill the skulking fool & get on with it. The Master also appears to have disguised himself as a Scarecrow & stood in a random field to await the Doctor's arrival. Now why would he do that? Why? Then he ditches the scarecrow disguise & is back in his 'I'm off to do evil things' outfit as soon as possible.

In fact all the Timelords in this story get to do some dressing up. The Rani as an Old Crone, The Master as a bloody Scarecrow & the Doctor (temporarily & unconvincingly) as a workman in need of a bath. Colin Baker's impressive mop of blonde curls should have put the kibosh on that disguise straight off & why it takes the Rani two minutes to suss it is the Doctor whilst he is unconcious is beyond me.

Then there's the accents. I'm assuming this is supposed to be set in the north-east somewhere - after all Stephenson's from Northumberland by birth - but some of the faux Geordie-Tyke-whatever is bloody appalling. And some of the minor actors are pretty terrible but given that most of the time they're given little to do except shout a lot & rage rather unconvincingly I don't think they can take much of the blame. But if I hear another pseudo-Geordie mention of 'Tobys' I might just smash something up.

But I must remember that this isn't all bad. Colin Baker is excellent - again. I like his mischevious glee when he gets a chance to have a go at the Rani's TARDIS. So to is Terence Alexander as Lord Ravensworth & Gawn Grainger as Stephenson. Gary Cady as Luke Ward is a bit difficult to take seriously if you have strong memories of the rather wonderful Brass but does a reasonable job of a pretty bland part.

The fact that a lot of the story is filmed on location in Shropshire helps to. The opening shot in particular does a fantastic job of setting the scene & period. It's all rather refreshing but once again when one moves into a studio in a story like this it often feels & looks studioesque. The change from film to video being part of the reason.

However the location filming doesn't excuse one of the most pathetic pieces of special effect in Doctor Who's long history. I'm talking about the 'Luke Tree' saving Peri. The idea of the Rani's clever little mines is one thing but it is at moments like this you wonder why someone didn't say: "Look this Luke Tree branch's going to look bloody ridiculous unless we have time & money to do it properly. This is Doctor Who so we won't have either. Let's write something else." But no. So we get a very plastic looking tree fondling Peri. Then we get two big plastic looking trees supporting an uncomfortable looking Colin Baker. It's like someone has gone: "So you've suspended your disbelief thus far. Let's see how you feel after THIS. No...what about THIS. HaHaHaHaetc"

It's a shame really because the writing in this story isn't too bad. Pip & Jane Baker get a lot of flak but it isn't too badly written this story. It's too 'busy'. Why have the Master & the Rani when one will do? In fact since you've apparently killed off the Master once & for all - something the Rani seems to know about btw. How is this. Do they have a Timelord Twitter? Bringing him back makes this story too crowded & in comparison with the Rani the Master ends up looking like a total twonk. He is less Moriaty, more Sylvester Sneekly.

So if you ignore some terrible accents & acting, a surfeit of Timelords, the terrible Luke Tree, The Master's stupidity this isn't entirely bad. It isn't that good though. Go & watch Vengeance on Varos again. It's much more fun.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Vengeance on Varos

I love Vengeance on Varos, although watching again it is clear that the first episode is far stronger than the second.

It might be studio bound but that's because it is effectively set in a television studio where some rather unpleasent games take place. Varos is a former prison colony that has adopted trial by television as the main driver of its constitution. The Governor rules as long as he can survive the votes of his population. It is as if Simon Cowell had been allowed to create his own government: rule by reality television.

Criminals on Varos are punished by live execution. The videos of which are exported to other planets for the enjoyment of people who like that kind of thing. It isn't a pleasent planet to live on. Life - to use an old cliche - seems nasty, brutish & short. Part of the reason for this is that the people of Varos have no idea that they are sitting on a gold mine...well not a gold mine but a Zeiton 7 mine. Zeiton 7, a miraculous mcguffin of the week, is an important mineral required for time-space machines the universe over. Somehow the Varosians have missed this fact & have allowed themselves to be robbed by the Galatron Mining Corporation.

The envoy of the Galatron Mining Corporation is Sil, who is a fantastic creation. He's played with gurgling brilliance by Nabil Shaban. Shaban makes Sil one of the most memorable monsters of the 1980s, partly because he's a rare new addition to the list of Doctor Who enemies & partly because he's so well acted & designed. Sil's laugh is particularly memorable but so is his sadistic glee, deviousness & cowardice.

Shaban isn't the only excellent performance though. Martin Jarvis as The Governor is also great. What sometimes gets forgotten is that the Governor isn't that pleasent a man. He might just be doing his constitutional duty but this is a man who oversees the murderous day-to-day life on Varos. Yet Jarvis makes him seem sympathetic, especially at his most tired & weary. But his stand-off with Peri, where she dismisses him with the line "And I thought you were better than the rest of these brutes" shows the fine moral line between the Governor & his compatriots. He's also nicely under-played. No hystrionics required.

Also Forbes Collins does a fine job as the corrupted & devious Chief Officer.

Jason Connery as Jondar is a bit wooden but I'll forgive him that as apparently it was his first ever television but still he does look a bit all at sea when most around him are actually jolly good. Owen Teale, a fine Welsh actor also appears as Maldak. Oh & I bit of a minor boo for Nicholas Chagrin as Quillam who - with the exception of two elderly nappy wearing cannibals - is the most over-the-top person in a story that doesn't really need them.

In fact the Quillam & the transmogrification sub-plot is a bit unnecessary if you ask me. Another example of over-egging the pudding but Peri's transmogrification is nicely done.

What I think makes this story excellent is the way it is both a Doctor Who story & a commentary on television. There's a chorus - watching at home - in Arak (Stephen Yardley) & Etta (Shiela Reid) who occassionally comment on the action & the cliffhanger at the end of Part One is marvellously post-modern. The Doctor's dying & we hear the Governor & his team giving direction on how to film the scene and it is one of my favourite Doctor Who cliffhangers ever.

As I said at the beginning though Part Two is less effective. The ending is a bit rushed & overly convenient. And again - after Attack of the Cybermen - the Doctor seems to choose the path of violence over peace by organising the deaths of Quillam & the Chief Officer through poison, which doesn't feel quite right. Neither does his post-acid bath James Bondesque quip. It's just a bit flippant. I don't have an issue with violence, even realistic violence but I do have a bit of issue with it being treated flippantly.

However despite the quibbles I think Vengeance on Varos is a fine story. Colin Baker is excellent, Nicola Bryant who - in her words from the DVD commentary is 'in another leotard, another day - is also fun, even if she doesn't get a great deal to do this time.

It's worth watching though & is definitely the best Colin Baker story (so far).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Attack of the Cybermen

Attack of the Cybermen annoys me. It has an excellent cast playing - generally - interesting characters, the dialogue is generally pretty good & I like the Cryons. But...but it has the same bleakness that Resurrection of the Daleks does (& is directed by the same director, Matthew Robinson) & to me doesn't feel 'right'.

I understand the arguements often trotted out by Eric Saward - the then script editor - that violence has  to be shown to hurt but there's a difference between that & a desire to kill everyone to prove a point about making things seem realistic. Doctor Who isn't meant to be realistic or pessimistic, at least to me. And as character after character is killed off it just seems gratuitous & cruel. I suspect that's might be the point but I don't like it. Its just nasty. Particularly so in the case of the deaths of Bates (Michael Attwell), Stratton (Jonathan David) & Griffiths (Brian Glover), which are totally unnecessary. What harm would it have done to the story if they'd got into the timeship & escape? Eric Saward talks about it as 'poignant' but it isn't. It's just nasty. The bathos comes from Lytton's death & the Doctor's misjudgement of him (although as Lytton spent most of his previous meeting with the Doctor killing people is that really unexpected).

Anyway that's my rant over.

Actually there's another little rant: Peri's costume at the beginning of the story. A bright pink leotard & shorts. It's not exactly practical, even if it is pleasent to look at. Indeed for once you find yourself NOT looking at Colin's jacket. However you do think someone in the production team - JNT I'm assuming - is trying to work out how little clothing he can put Nicola Bryant in before someone complains. It's almost a relief when on reaching Telos the Cybermen get her some warm clothes to wear. [This may be a sign I'm getting old.]

Overall though this story isn't bad. The Cryons could have been better designed: the plastic is all a bit too obvious but I quite like the idea of them, even if their nails seem a tad impractical for guerilla warfare. Their addition to continuity (after all where were they in Tomb?) actually doesn't seem to harmful and the actresses playing them all do a fine job. They get some good lines.

The cast is excellent: Maurice Colbourne is magnificently dry & nasty as Lytton; Brian Glover as Griffiths seems surprisingly 'real' for a minor Doctor Who character. He sounds like a normal bloke, if a bit dim & his reactions to Lytton's insults are lovely. Terry Molloy does a good job playing the slightly bland Russell. Michael Attwell is quite scary as Bates, bullying the slightly wet Stratton & shouting a lot. But effectively. There's a difference between the Attwell type of shouty acting & (to pick an example at almost random) the Prentis Hancock style.

Colin Baker is great again. I don't have a problem with his killing various Cybermen because what was he supposed to do, talk to them sternly? He to gets some great scenes with Colbourne & the Doctor's reaction to his misjudgement of Lytton is nicely played.

Peri - costume aside - is a bit annoying in Part One being a bit whiny & Teganesque but improves as the story goes on.

Oh a quick mention of the terrible cliffhanger at the end of Part One. All that no, no noing is really silly & badly directed.

Actually I should also mention that we're now in 45 minute episode territory, rather than 25 minutes and it does feel quite nice. There's no desperate dash for a cliffhanger all the time, which allows the writers to develop characters more, especially as unlike 'New' Who the stories are always more than one episode & can breath a bit.

I was about to say that this is an good script but not that enjoyable to watch but then I remembered the amount of continuity. Did the general viewer understand all the references to Telos-Mondas? Did you really need to cast Michael Kilgariff as the Cybercontroller just because he'd played the part in the 'Tomb of the Cybermen'? In the decade or so that had passed the Cybercontroller has put on a few stone, obviously & it looks silly. It's like being force fed the history of Doctor Who, especially early in Part Two when the Doctor, Peri, Lytton & Griffiths take part in a lecture on Cyberhistory. I'm surprised David Banks didn't take part.

So too much continuity, too bleak & one silly cliffhanger but not terrible. Just annoying. To me.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Twin Dilemma

The Twin Dilemma has its negatives. Lots of them. There is one of the worst villains in Doctor Who history: Mestor the giant cross-eyed slug. Battling away with The Myrka & that bloody giant prawn from The Invisible Enemy as part of the cavalcade of the unloved. Mestor is richly voiced by Edwin Richfield, a British television regular whose face you would know, even if the name means nothing and here he is dressed as a giant slug working bloody hard to be a convincing threat. It is no shame on Richfield that Mestor is about as threatening as a marshmellow. It's the design. If your monster can't walk unaided then I'd suggest you are on something of a loser.

So the main villain is rubbish.

There's some distinctly average acting going on: Helen Blatch as Fabian and Dione Inman as Elena I'm looking at you in particular but the worst are the Conrad brothers as the eponymous Twins (although I'm never quite sure what the Dilemma is in this story but I digress). I'm not sure you can entirely blame them. Child actors are notoriously hard to cox a performance from at the best of times & being asked to play an indistinguishable pair of smug mathematical geniuses isn't ideal. It's like Adric squared. But they aren't great & this does hobble things a wee bit.

So the main villain & the Twins are rubbish.

The script by Anthony Steven isn't great & the direction, particularly after Graeme Harper's sterling work on Androzani, is postively pedestrian.

So average script, bland direction, terrible Twins & the villain is a cross-eyed giant slug.

This isn't looking good is it? And this the first story of our new Doctor, Colin Baker.

Now Colin is great in this. Yes, he's bombastic, theatrical, loud & dangerous but he is Doctor-ish. All the post-regeneration instability does make you question this new Doctor & it was brave to make him seem so unlikeable in the beginning. All of this works though & makes Colin immediately different from his predecessor. However Colin Baker's Doctor is sabotaged from 8 minutes & 21 seconds in to Part One.

Why then? Because that is when he puts on that costume. From that moment he's stuffed. Everyone & everything is in competition with that costume & it isn't good. It makes a little sense whilst he is suffering from post-regeneration trauma but once he's recovered...? One of the reasons The Sixth Doctor is so great in the Big Finish Production is that Colin can be the Doctor without competing with his own ridiculous costume. Colin Baker proves in this story he's a bloody good actor & he could have been a great Doctor but a combination of BBC inertia, producer fatigue & that stupid bloody costume hamstring him. Not always & not entirely but enough.

Nicola Bryant does a generally good job to, especially her dislike of this new person clumping about the TARDIS trying to strangle her. Kevin McNally does a fine job of being sarcastically heroic as Hugo Lang. Praise also for Barry Stanton (Noma), Seymour Green (Chamberlain) & Oliver Smith (Drak) who do a fine job as bird-ish Jacondans. Noma's a git, the Chamberlain is a creep & Drak a doomed hero & all give their characters a certain panache. Also unlike the terrible Mestor costume, the designs for the Jacondans look lovely: feathers, silver skin & beaky noses.

Most lovely of all though is Maurice Denham as Edgeworth/Azmael who gives a world-weary touch to even the most banal lines & gets a lovely little death scene.

So the Twin Dilemma isn't great but it isn't quite as bad as its reputation suggests. It's entertaining enough if you can ignore the cross-eyed slug, there's some nice performances & Colin Baker gets properly introduced.
However I wouldn't reach for this one to impress the non-Doctor Who fan.