Saturday, November 26, 2016
So, that is the end of the Patrick Troughton era of Doctor Who and it's a magnificent way to end it. The War Games is ten episodes long but hardly drags for a moment. Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, who shared the writing on this, find a way to inject a new boost just when you think things might be slacking.
The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe arrive in what seems to be World War One but as things begin to roll along it becomes clear that something is not quite right. It turns out that they've landed on an alien world where an alien race - that never gets named - has swept up soldiers from various Earth conflicts and is having them fight on so that they can produce a galaxy-conquering army from the survivors. The whole thing is headed up by the nattily bearded War Chief (Edward Brayshaw) who has built a series almost TARDISes to help out. It turns out that the War Chief is another Time Lord (It is in this story that the Doctor's people get their name.) and that he knows the Doctor.
This is revealed in the lovely end to Part Four when the Doctor and the War Chief recognize each other. It's played superbly by both Troughton and Brayshaw. As are their later conversations. You can see why people think The War Chief is The Master before he gets better branding as their chats aren't dissimilar in tone. You can almost trace a line from The Monk to the War Chief to The Master as the Doctor's fellow Time Lords get increasingly menacing and mad. You can't see The Monk becoming The Master but you can see The War Chief going down that route. Indeed, the War Chief's plan is pretty much a classic Master plan:*link up with the alien race to take over the galaxy with the long-term objective of seizing power yourself but ending up relying on the Doctor to bail you out. Although in this case, it looks like The War Chief actually dies but just because we don't see the regeneration doesn't mean it doesn't happen.
The War Chief reports to The War Lord (Philip Madoc) and is supposed to work alongside the Security Chief (James Bree) but they appear neither to like or trust each other. The War Chief is utterly contemptuous of the Security Chief's abilities. The Security Chief is, basically, a racist who doesn't trust The War Chief. James Bree's performance is...odd. He seems to be channeling a Dalek vocally but does have a level of creepy about him that suits the part. But for genuinely terrifying take a bow Philip Madoc. The War Lord is fantastic. He almost never raises his voice but has a dark presence that makes him feel like Darth Vader but without the need of all the costume to back him up. This is one of the great Doctor Who villain performances.
The aliens have 'processed' the human soldiers but that process isn't perfect and some have thrown off that conditioning and formed a resistance. The aliens tend to control their doubting troops using some glasses - or in the case of the World War One German Officer - a monocle. It's rather odd but it works. I'm a particular fan of Noel Coleman's General Smythe who is a genuinely horrid creation. He's not far off being a character from Oh! What A Lovely War in that his ruthlessness and coldness doesn't fit the cliched version of the World War One British Officer.
I should pause here and say that also worthy of applause are Jane Sherwin as Lady Jennifer Buckingham (who is a sort of Vera Brittain figure) and David Savile as Lt Carstairs. These are two characters from 1917 that the team up with the TARDIS crew from pretty much the first episode and in my headcanon post-War Games they track each other down and live happily ever after, although in reality Lt Carstairs odds of surviving through to the end of the war weren't long. 17% of British Officers died during World War One v 12% of ordinary soldiers. But I'm going to ignore the voice that reminds me that Wilfred Owen was to die on 4th November 1918 and paint a picture of Lady Buckingham and Lt. Carstairs living a long and happy life together. Carstairs perhaps going into politics in the 1920s and becoming one of those Tory MPs that did so much to fight against Chamberlain's appeasement policy like Ronald Carter**
The final two episodes are simply majestic. The Doctor realizes that he's going to have to call on his people, the Time Lords, to sort this situation out. The way he, the War Chief and the War Lord talk about the Time Lords makes them out to be genuinely terrifying. I love the little mental box that the Doctor creates to send a message to the Time Lords. I love the strange sound that heralds their arrival. I love the Doctor's futile attempt to escape. Twice. The second of which I think he only goes through to please Jamie and Zoe. He knows that he's not going to escape. He always knew.
Is there are sadder companion departure in all of Doctor Who than the farewell of the Second Doctor with Jamie and Zoe? It's not just that he's forced to say goodbye it is that the Time Lords are going to wipe their memories of all but their first adventure with him. All those stories lost. Like tears in the rain. All that love and friendship gone.
And when we see Zoe, standing back on the Wheel looking a little confused, and she says - to Tanya Lernov (Clare Jenkins re-hired for that purpose) - "Oh, yes. I thought I'd forgotten something important, but it's nothing" your heart actually breaks. Is there a sadder companion departure than Zoe's in all of Doctor Who? Jamie's is sad too. After all the Second Doctor and Jamie have been together for virtually the whole of the Second Doctor's era. But his final moment seems more positive somehow, although more dangerous.
The Doctor has been tried by the Time Lords. He defends himself by showing the kind of monsters he's been fighting - although why he thinks the Quarks will impress anyone I don't know - and the Time Lords agree. Or they do to a degree. He is to be sentenced to exile on Earth. And his appearance is to be changed.
Troughton who is magnificent to the end refuses to go quietly but go he must.
And then darkness.
The Troughton era is over but it has been such a delight. It's not that a lot of the stories are that strong. There's a lot of repetition of the base under siege plot line but at no point is Patrick Troughton ever less than magnificent. He lifts the weakest material. He can drop his voice and hit you with something terrifying. He rarely shouts. I love Tom Baker. I think Peter Capaldi is amazing. But I think Troughton is the best actor to play the part. I'll miss the mop-haired little Hobbit.
But if you haven't watched The War Games go and watch it.
Actually, watch anything with the Second Doctor in it because you will find the world a better place for it.
*Apologies for the pun. Not really.
**I recommend Lynne Olsen's book Troublesome Young Men if you're interested in that topic.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Well, that was The Space Pirates that was.
It's far too long. It might be bearable at four episodes. At six it requires repetition and padding beyond the call of duty.
Then there are some of the performances. General Hermack (Jack May) and Major Warne (Donald Gee) appear to have decided that they're in Thunderbirds. They talk to each other in strangely not very human ways. My favorite moment being Hermack's mwahaha response to Milo Clancy (Gordon Gostelow). Jack May affects what Clive James calls the 'period laugh, which actors use when they're playing in period dramas. It's weird. Also, Hermack and Warne talk to each other in huge chunks of exposition. That happens a lot. In Part 2 The Doctor and Zoe do something similar. It is rather surprising for a writer like Robert Holmes. But everyone is allowed a bad day.
O. Then we have Milo Clancy (Gordon Gostelow). Milo is played like an old-time US prospector or at least the cliched version of one. He's a little like Walter Huston's Howard in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He's a recognizable character but his performance is so at odds with everyone else in The Space Pirates that it seems like a joke. I actually quite like it. It takes a bit of getting used to but he is at least entertaining and by the final episode he's one of the best things in it.
Let me pause here a moment and make another admission. I'm not sure I have a lot to say about this story. I can't make a proper judgment with so much of it missing. How does one really judge Gostelow's performance without SEEING it? Hermack and Warne are irritating because you can only hear them, although when you see them in Part 2 they appear to be a little wooden. But that's one episode.
Normally, you'd be rescued at this point by a brilliant performance from Troughton but for once - with a couple of exceptional moments - this story makes it hard to judge. (I'm a particular fan of his 'O Zoe, don't be such a pessimist' and 'Jamie, I don't think you appreciate all the things I do for you.' lines.) So, I'm at a bit of a loss.
The really good thing here is Cavan (Dudley Foster). He's the villain of the piece. He's mad, bad and dangerous to know. He's possibly the most ruthless villain we've seen in the series so far. His treatment of Dom Issigri (Esmond Knight) has obviously been terrible. Then there's Caven's ugly, gloating cruelty when we're watching Clancy and Dom Issigri dying on the LIZ-79 whilst Issigri's daughter, Madeline (Lisa Daniely) looks on. It's a surprisingly dark moment in the series. It's unusual for a villain to be the best thing in a Doctor Who story but such is my lack of feelings about this one that I'm finding it hard to be positive.
People often comment on the fabulous space ships and they do look good but they also seems static, with a couple of exceptions and it is hard to visualise their scale but again this is another reason why it is a hard story to judge.
There's a lot of running about in caves. There's capture and escape. I'd love to see the escape from Dom Issigri's study, which is either going to be terrible or brilliant.
Truth is, I'm done. I can't recommend it but I can't slate it too much either because I can't see it. This is the first missing story where I'm having a complete failure of imagination, which implies that I don't care too much about it.
It's not the worst Troughton story. I'm giving that accolade to The Dominators, which I dislike quite a lot. Indeed The Dominators is vying with The Celestial Toymaker as the worst Doctor Who story of the 1960s. In comparison, The Space Pirates seems to commit one main crime: dullness.
But as I've already said this might be worth re-considering if - IF - it is ever rediscovered.
And that's all I have to say.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
The Seeds of Death is the Ice Warrior's tribute to The Cybermen as they attempt to invade the Earth via a Moonbase. This time though rather than a Gravitron we have T-Mat. T-Mat is the teleportation system that the world has come to rely on for all transport of all people and goods over long distances. This is, of course, barking mad. But let's just assume humanity loses its mind, which wouldn't surprise me on recent evidence.
The Ice Warrior's have spotted the weakness and opportunity in T-Mat and thus begins their cunning plan. It does begin with murder. Murder and resistance. And then more murder, escape, and collaboration, which brings me to Fewsham (Terry Scully). Fewsham is unusual in Doctor Who - actually so is Phipps (Christopher Coll) - in that they react to the murder and horror around them in normal human ways: fear, shock, and nervous exhaustion. Fewsham doesn't want to die so he collaborates with the Ice Warriors until the point he can collaborate no more. Phipps escapes but the constant terror almost brings him to the point of a nervous breakdown, which Zoe isn't only mildly sympathetic about. Both Scully and Coll put in fine performances but whilst Fewsham's death is a kind of justification poor old Phipps dies almost unmourned. It's a classic example of what I've mentioned before the utter inability for Doctor Who to allow proper grief.
Also whilst I'm talking about dying a lot of people in this story die out of sheer stupidity. They stand still whilst an Ice Warrior lines up a shot and die. Even Zoe gets into this act when she's in the firing line of an Ice Warrior. She stands stock still whilst watching Fewsham trying to prevent the Ice Warrior killing her rather than doing a runner. If she was a minor character she'd be dead. This links - slightly - to the Ice Warrior's apparent inability to see people hiding in plain site. There's one occasion when Phipps is basically standing in front of an Ice Warrior and the Ice Warrior just looks straight through him. It's a mercy that humans often stand still right in front of the Ice Warriors so that they can make up for their bad vision by not having to try and hit a moving target.
There's also an architect out there somewhere who designed the T-Mat base on the Moon and then - I hope for sanity's sake - never worked again. The heating controller is the wheel from a small ship marked with big science-fiction television series labeling just in case you get a bit confused. The base has corridors within corridors. It has a room with mirrors. I mean who project managed this stuff? Who got bribed?
Then there's the Ice Warriors plan being dependent on a plant that is destroyed by water when invading the Earth. Now, to their credit they're aware of this and try to stop weather control from turning on the rain by knocking out weather control but if you knock out weather control by shooting its control system wouldn't it just revert to natural weather? Perhaps the fungus, which breeds like rabbits, will do its job so quickly that humanity won't be able to save itself.
The fungus is, of course, a combination of foam and balloon seed pods. And, by Jove, there's a lot of foam in this story, which leads to one of my favorite moments as The Second Doctor falls through the door into Zoe's arms at the beginning of Part Six and Wendy Padbury starts giggling at the site of the stumbling foam covered Patrick Troughton. It's still there and it is rather lovely.
The Ice Warriors are still slow, hissing stumble-bums but Brian Hayles has got around this slightly by introducing Slaar (Alan Bennion) who is an Ice Lord. He's less tortoise, more lizard. He's in charge. He gets most of the dialogue and is easier to understand. The Ice Warriors are visually impressive, which the director, Michael Ferguson, takes the most advantage of when filming one of them out on Hampstead Heath.
I have left out my normal paragraph of praise for Troughton because it really I can't think of a time when he's not superb. There's some joyful stuff in this story probably capped off by his reaction to the foam and the famous: "Your leader will be angry if you kill me. I'm a genius."*
Hines and Padbury too are up to their usual standards, although I do think on occasion Zoe acts far more stupidly than her characters intelligence and training would make you assume she'd act.
There's some fine support work from Louise Pajo as Miss Kelly**, who the key T-Mat technician without whom no one would seem to be able to put the system back together, which is surely a case of putting a basket of eggs in one basket already full of eggs; Ronald Leigh-Hunt as Commander Radnor and Philip Ray as Professor Eldred.
I'm particularly enamored of the fact that these futuristic men turn up in the PVC onesies carrying bog standard 60s briefcases as if, instead of getting off T-Mat, they've just stepped off the Bakerloo Line.
Anyway, I've kind of picked at the flaws of this story much more than it deserves. It is too long, it is pretty much a bog standard Troughton story. You could swap in the Cybermen with a couple of tweaks and you probably wouldn't notice but it is elevated I think by Fewsham, Phipps, Miss Kelly and Professor Eldrad: the ordinary people being extraordinary.
*Actually, I think this line gets additional oomph from the brilliantly timed reaction of the actors playing the Ice Warriors.
**Who, for me, is up there with Wendy Gifford as Miss Garrett in the Ice Warriors in terms of beautiful, technocratic women. It's almost as if Brian Hayles has a type.
Monday, November 21, 2016
I have developed something of a soft spot for The Krotons. The first time I watched it, which was a long time ago in a home county far, far away, I found it rather poor but each time since I've found more to enjoy in it. This time around I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Yes, it does have problems.
The main one is the appearance of The Krotons. I'll applaud their spinning crystalline heads but their boxy bodies and stubby arms aren't the most impressive. Unfortunately, it is their lower half - often the curse of the Doctor Who monster, that gives away their man in a costume nature. That and the waddle. All these years of watching Doctor Who has led me to identify that waddle. It is the desperate attempt of an actor or stunt person in an unwieldy costume with minimal vision trying to walk without falling over. Alas, The Krotons are cursed with such a walk, which is a shame as it undoes their rather ingenious nature.
Then there is the 'intensity' of some of the acting, which is particularly noticeable because there are two brilliant actors doing their thing in this story so the clunkier performances stand out intensely. One of them is Troughton - of course - who is at his most mischievous and Pan-ish in this story. He's so good so often that this blog is turning into a series of reviews that might as well just say, 'fine story but made brilliant by Patrick Troughton.' The other is Philip Madoc as Eelek. Eelek is the politician among the Gonds. A man interested in power for himself and prepared for everyone else to pay a price for that power. He first overthrows Selris (James Copeland) and attempts to stir up a full-scale rebellion and then when he thinks he can get rid of the Krotons by selling out the Doctor and Zoe he does that. All with a delightful sneer. Philip Madoc's performance is good. It's mostly underplayed, which makes it so much more effective. Something Troughton himself realized. The Madoc is one of my favorite actors but he's (almost) the best thing in this, apart from Troughton himself.
Actually, I'm being a little unfair because I think this is the story where the chemistry* between Troughton, Hines and Padbury finally comes together. It's been hinted at in previous stories but this time it bursts into its full glory. The scenes with Zoe, the Doctor, and Selris in the Teaching Hall after Zoe completes the Gond/Kroton test are delightful. The balance of seriousness and comedy balanced perfectly.
This story is notable for being the debut of Robert Holmes, a Doctor Who writer who will go on to be something of a legend. And despite its somewhat lacklustre reputation parts of The Krotons sparkle. It's not all perfect. There's a lot of info dumping in the final episode as The Doctor plays for time with The Krotons. The Krotons slow speech doesn't help here. And is it me or are they speaking with a South African accent? Is this story partly a parable about apartheid? Possibly but I think the moral is more about learning for ourselves and seeking the truth through ourselves rather than relying on others to feed it to us. Whether that be our 'Masters' like The Krotons or even our friends, like the Doctor. It's Thara (Gilbert Wynne) who says after Beta has lamented the Doctor's departure, that the Gonds will have to find their own answers. It's that which is the key to this story.
And in the current post-truth who needs experts kind of a world that's a damn good moral. The truth is out there but you won't get it without looking for it and you won't get it just from your friends nor from your enemies. You need to do your own digging and ask your own awkward questions even if that means having to tear up everything you thought to be true. Education is key. And not just education in the sense of the facts you're fed in the subjects you're taught but learning to question, to build an argument based not on anecdotes or wishful thinking but on facts. That means learning to argue - politely - and learning to accept that sometimes, just sometimes you might be wrong. Even if that wrongness feels comfortable. It's easy to accept what you're told. It's easy to deny everything you're told. It's hard to actually find out the truth.**
I think that's partly why I enjoyed this story so much. It is underneath all the science-fiction shiny silver stuff trying to actually say something, to present a point of view. And for that it should be applauded.
Is it brilliant? No. Is it awful? Definitely not. It's a fair story with a good idea at its centre and a handful of fine performances. Watch it.
Decide for yourself.
Be seeing you.
*Ironic considering the story
**And there's isn't enough space here to talk about truth and subjectivity. Just let it be said that I believe that it is possible through discussion and debate to find something that can pass for an objective truth. For a fact. Or at least one that will get us through this life, in this Universe.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
The Invasion is a damn fine piece of Doctor Who. It's eight episodes long, which is the longest story we've had since The Dalek's Master Plan but it feels less padded than a lot of the six-part stories that have preceded it. It's pretty action packed too.
The Invasion though is best known as our introduction to U.N.I.T. who are here still The United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. Led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart who we last saw as a mere Colonel in The Web of Fear. It turns out that since the Yeti U.N.I.T has been set-up to investigate and deal with the 'odd and unexplained', which is what they are investigating here when the Doctor stumbles into things following a TARDIS malfunction, a missile attack around the dark side of the moon and an encounter with a soon to be dead lorry driver. Oh and an encounter with Isobel Watkins (Sally Faulkner) who is the daughter of Professor Watkins (Edward Burnham) who is a friend of Professor and Anne Travers, which is another little continuity throwback to The Web of Fear. It's interesting to note that there's a little Travers thread running through all three of these stories.
Phew. That was a bit of an expodump.
Here U.N.I.T. actually look like an international military organization - even when undercover. It's one of only two times they really do. The other being The Mind of Evil. They have the numbers to put up a fight with the Cybermen towards the end and throughout they look like they have the resources to do what they're being asked to do rather than being two men and a dog, which is what they sometimes look like. They're also competent, which I like.
It particularly helps that the Cybermen can be destroyed by conventional weapons even if it takes a lot of conventional weapons to bring them down so the Brigadier can do proper military things. And I like this. It makes their defeat seem less unrealistic. Yes, chances are that faced with a large army of Cybermen a conventional army would struggle but I like the idea that you could at make a good fist of it.
Having said all that U.N.I.T do carry out a raid that happens entirely off screen, which is amusing. But I suppose budgets can't stretch forever.
Nicholas Courtney does a fine job as the Brigadier. At this point, he isn't an idiot and is open-minded to The Doctor's approach and ideas. He's a military man in a difficult position doing the best he can with the resources he's got. That's how U.N.I.T. should always be in my opinion. It's not just there for cannon fodder, although U.N.I.T soldiers can be killed off with minimal emotional effect when required to make things look dangerous without risking the key cast.
There's a particularly egregious example of that in this story when Isobel and Zoe set off to London determined to get some pictures of the Cybermen after the Brigadier has been particularly patronizing towards Isobel. This trip leads to the deaths of two people: a harmless passing Policeman and a single. slightly cowardly, soldier. Initially, no one, apart from our 'Rupert'* of the week, Captain Turner (Robert Sidaway) seems bothered about these deaths. Indeed, Isobel throws a petty strop when her photographs aren't up to scratch. TWO PEOPLE DIED ISOBEL. But, to Isobel's credit shortly afterward she says sorry to Captain Turner for the soldier's death, which gets shrugged off in crisp military style. No one seems to give a toss about the Police Officer.
It's the odd thing about death in Doctor Who. It is everywhere but nowhere. Lots of people die and most of their deaths hardly impact on us at all. Grief is hard to handle in Doctor Who as is PTSD**. So, you get Rory and Amy losing their child but being unable to grieve about it properly because it's Doctor Who. No one grieves much in Doctor Who, which is understandable really because it wouldn't be on television if they did but occasionally the glibness irritates me like it did here. But not as much as it does in Tooth & Claw, which I think is the nadir of 'other people's deaths don't matter glibness' in Doctor Who.
Anyway, enough about this digression what of The Invasion, I hear you ask.
The fact it is directed by Douglas Camfield might explain it coherence and pace. Camfield is becoming my favorite Classic era Doctor Who director. He seems to know how to get the most out of the series.
Once again there's some fabulous acting. Troughton (again) is magnificent and he gets to play off against a fantastic villain in Tobias Vaughan (Kevin Stoney). Tobias Vaughan is one of the great Doctor Who villains: charming, sinister and ruthless but doomed. He thinks he has all the bases covered but then the Doctor walks in and turns all his best-laid plans to dust even as Vaughan realizes that the Doctor might be the insurance he needs against the Cybermen. The final episode features fine scenes between the Doctor and Vaughan to which both Troughton and Stoney rise majestically. If you want to know how to play a good Doctor Who villain look at Kevin Stoney.
I also want to take a moment to applaud Peter Halliday as the poor, put-upon Packer. Packer is Vaughan's Head of Security but once the Doctor appears his reputation for competence starts to take a bit of a beating. Frankly, the Doctor runs rings around the poor man but it is Packer that points out that Vaughan's screwed up. There's also, in Halliday's performance, a creepiness to Packer that implies that he enjoys his work - which includes killing and torture - a little too much. If Stoney is an object lesson in Doctor Who villainy then Halliday is the go to performance for the wannabe henchman.
So, there you have it. There's more to be said about this story but the point of these blogs is just to highlight the stuff I get hung up on. I'm just going to say that this should be on the list for anyone who is interested in New Doctor Who and wants to dip their toes into the Classic era. It's got Troughton being brilliant, it's got Stoney and Halliday demonstrating the perfect villain-henchman partnership, it's got U.N.I.T. being cool and competent, it's got Cybermen and it's got an actual iconic moment in it as the Cybermen emerge from London's sewers.
What more do you want?
*Rupert - See the 2nd definition on this Collins Dictionary definition
**Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which I'm sure you all knew anyway.
Saturday, November 19, 2016
After the disappointment of The Dominators comes this delightful story. I have lost track of how many times I have watched The Mind Robber and it is never less than a joy. It's such an unusual story, particularly in view of the Troughton eras reliance on monsters besieging bases of various types.
Basically, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe find themselves outside time and space following an emergency maneuver. The Doctor is nervous. He insists that Jamie and Zoe don't leave the TARDIS but someone - or something - manipulates Zoe into leaving, followed by Jamie and finally the Doctor. They find themselves hypnotized but the Doctor rescues them, they pile back into the TARDIS. They set off. But then the TARDIS explodes, which has to be one of the great Doctor Who cliffhangers.
The rest of the story revolves around a world of fiction into which The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe have been dropped. There are riddles, traps, and monsters. There is Gulliver (Bernard Horsfall) and the Karkus (Christopher Robbie). There is the Princess Rapunzel (Christine Pirie) and her patience with other people's use of her hair. There are White Robots. And Toy Soldiers. And there's The Master (Emrys Jones).
Except not that Master, not THE Master. This Master is an unnamed writer of stories for a Boys Magazine. He churns out 5,000 words a week. He's been kidnapped and used to run the Land of Fiction by a Master Brain. What or who the Master Brain is we never know. We just learn that their plan is to fictionalize all of humanity and leave the Earth empty for conquest. One of the nicest parts of the story is that The Master of the Land of Fiction gets returned home. He isn't destroyed or killed, which might have been the easiest thing because he isn't really a villain. He's being used by the Master Brain. It's the Master Brain that gets fried.
I love this story because it is brimful of ideas and odd images from Zoe being trapped inside a jar, to Jamie's changing face. From Gulliver's inability to say nothing but the words Jonathan Swift supplied him with to the creepiness of Jamie and Zoe being pressed within the pages of a giant book and turned into fiction. From the TARDIS console floating in space whilst Jamie and Zoe cling onto it desperately to the Medusa's snake hair rising slowly into the air.
It rattles along at a heck of a pace too. The episodes are generally pretty darn short, which was a consequence (possibly) of Troughton complaining about the amount of work the main cast were forced to do in this story where there aren't many other actors with speaking parts. That still doesn't eliminate all the padding but it makes for a sharper tale, which director David Maloney makes the most of. I don't often talk about director's on this blog but there's a coherence to The Mind Robber that is part of its strength. The ideas in it might be weird but the story itself never gets out of control.
Troughton's excellent. Again. His confrontation with the Master at the end of the story is fine work. Helped by Emrys Jones giving an equally fine performance. Frazer Hines to is great once again, although he went down with chicken pox and looked likely to miss a couple of episodes. The production team came up with a clever idea, which the 'oddness' of this story could allow, that allowed Jamie to be played by another actor, Hamish Wilson. Wendy Padbury seems to have found her feet, although there's an almighty fluff by her at the end of her fight with the Karkus that is worthy of mention. Padbury seems to be tiny, especially when facing the might of the Karkus.
My one quibble with this story is that Zoe is very stupid a couple of times, which doesn't seem to fit her character at all. I'm hoping they aren't going to convert Zoe from astrophysicist to peril monkey just because she's the woman. And there's nothing for me to say here about the sparkly catsuit she wears that hasn't already been said elsewhere.
Bernard Horsfall does a lovely job as Gulliver and I've already said how good Emrys Jones is (and there's no harm in me saying it again.)
What more do I need to say? The Mind Robber is a fantastic story. There aren't many stories like it in Classic Doctor Who. It's definitely worth a watch if you've not seen it before.
The Dominators is the worst Patrick Troughton story I have watched. So far. It was written by Haisman and Lincoln but after a series of rows between the writers and the producer Derrick Sherwin led to it being credited to Norman Ashby.*
The Dominators themselves are basically angry men dressed in woodlouse carapaces and carpet samples. Rago (Ronald Allen) spends most of his time shouting at Toba, his subordinate (Kenneth Ives) whilst Toba spends most of his time shouting at Dulcians, killing them and blowing stuff up. I bet The Dominators have a fantastically ugly social networking culture as it sounds like a society of Twitter eggs.
Also, why are they called The Dominators? Was there a marketing meeting where they decided that they couldn't possibly call themselves after their home planet but needed something with a little more oomph. Unless, in Terry Nation style, they come from a planet call Dominatus.
They back up their shouting with the Quarks. The Quarks are supposed to be terrifying killing machines but are basically boxes upon boxes upon child actors with little squeaky voices. It's especially amusing when you first see one as Morris Barry, the director, has kept them hidden away until CLUNK they're there. They waddle across the island in unconvincing fashion carrying all the threat of a tissue box. The fact that the villains of the story are basically either shouty men having a work based argument or waddling boxes doesn't help.
Then -and this perhaps annoys me more- is the portrayal of the Dulcians. This story is a child of the late-60s so it's a commentary on the 'peace and love' movement and it seems to conclude that a belief in pacifism would lead to a society that does nothing but talks. The Dulcians seem incapable of action (or sensible clothing choices). So, they're the wettest society in Doctor Who so far. The Dulcians make the Thals from The Daleks look like West Ham's Inter City Firm.**
The only Dulcian with any gumption appears to be Cully (Arthur Cox) who is the son of the Director Senex (Walter Fitzgerald). Unfortunately, everyone treats Cully like a clown so when he tries to explain that they've been invaded no one believes him. Even the government.
Their government is a group of old, white men who seem to like discussion for the sake of discussion and whose top man for dealing with emergencies, Tensa (Brian Cant. BRIAN CANT!!!)*** arrives and basically, says 'We might as well wait.' They get shouted at by Rago, Tensa gets murdered and still, nothing happens.
The thing is you could have made the Dulcians damn brave. You could have had Senex respond to Rago's murder of Tensa by explaining that they don't believe in war or violence but that doesn't mean they aren't prepared to do everything short of violence to stop being made slaves. That the Dominators would have to kill them all one by one. Yes, it might have been futile but it would have made the Dulcians look less like a whinge about hippies and more a reflection of the real courage of those who believe in non-violence: people like Gandhi and Martin Luther-King. But no, they're pacifist so they must be useless.
I'm trying to write more about this story but I'm finding it almost as much of a chore as actually watching it.
It's only saving grace is that Troughton is as majestic as usual. If it wasn't for him, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury (who I feel is still finding her feet) then this story would be my least favourite Doctor Who story of all time. In fact, it still might be that. This makes The Underwater Menace look like Macbeth.
And I'm done.
*A story told well on The Dominators DVD extra.
**Insert 80s Football 'firm' of your choice.
***Brian Cant is a big deal in Patient Centurion Towers. He's a key part of my childhood.
Friday, November 18, 2016
With The Wheel in Space, the second season of Patrick Troughton's Doctor comes to an end. And, of course, it ends as it began: with a base under siege and Cybermen.
I'll be honest and say the similarity of basic plots in this second season has become a wee bit...tiresome. If it wasn't for Troughton's ability to turn even the most average dross into gold then I think my patience would have run out a long time ago. Well, that and Frazer Hines.
A truth is The Wheel in Space isn't just a bog standard base under siege story (and I'll talk about the boxes it ticks off shortly) but it's The Moonbase tribute story. We joke about Terry Nation writing the same story over and over again but the various 'from a story by Kit Pedler' credits might as well read 'from the same story by Kit Pedler'.
So, we have an isolated base. It's run by a man - in this case, Jarvis Bennett (Michael Turner) - whose on the edge. Like Robson was in Fury From The Deep or Hobson in The Moonbase.* Admittedly Bennett has actually leaped over the edge and gone swimming in the sea of lunacy before the stories end. He can't deal with the situation he's found himself in. He's in denial. All the little mysteries the crew are reporting - drops in temperature and pressure etc - are just freaking him out. It takes a death to shake him out of his lethargy but it is a doomed recovery.
The Cybermen are basically having another go at their Moonbase plan but with added Cybermats. It's so grindingly similar to what's gone before that you start to wonder at what point the Doctor and Jamie are going to stop being under suspicion. Because they're always under suspicion is these stories as a result of their arrival coinciding with the Cybermen's plans kicking up a gear, which is something I'd be suspicious about if I were the Cybermen by now. Somehow, at key moments, the Doctor always turns up in time to put a spanner in the works. And yet they never expect him.
I'm probably being harsh. It's not a terrible story by any means. It's not even that dull, despite being utterly predictable but that's down to the actors. Troughton and Hines are key, obviously and there's strong support from Anne Ridler as Dr. Gemma Corwyn. Again you get the impression that the Second Doctor gets mildly flirty with Dr. Corwyn who is clearly the smartest and most sensible person on the Wheel. It's interesting that for the second story in succession we get a powerful woman in a position of authority. A woman who gets to be courageous too. Corwyn reminded me of Todd (Nerys Hughes) in Kinda but perhaps I'm finding patterns where there aren't any again.
The Wheel in Space also sees the first appearance of Zoe Heriot, played with elfin enthusiasm**by Wendy Padbury. Zoe is an astrophysicist. She's also the butt of some nasty comments about her lack of heart by various crew members as she dishes out unpalatable facts with minimal emotion. This, we discover, is the result of her education. And Zoe herself is afraid that she'll turn into some emotionless wreck, which makes for an interesting echo of the Cybermen themselves (and perhaps is also an echo of The Brotherhood of Logicians from Tomb of the Cybermen.)*** At the end of the story, Zoe sneaks - badly - aboard the TARDIS.
The rest of the performances are a mixed bag but that's because some of the characters are so thinly drawn as to be almost invisible and I can't help but find Leo Ryan (Eric Flynn) and Tanya Lernov's (Clare Jenkins) thuddingly dull flirtation a little tedious. Sorry. It's just a bit unnecessary. But there's a young Donald Sumpter as Enrico Casali (who is, I'm afraid to say, slightly 'darkened' by make-up) and I think I'm quite glad that no footage exists of Peter Laird as Chang. But it is good to see Kevork Malikyan, even if he gets one of the less impressive deaths in Doctor Who history.
The Cybermen look good again but once more their pretty rubbish. There are moments of tension and perhaps if this story existed in the archive it would be easier to love. The final episode certainly has a nice scene where The Doctor is confronted by the Cybermen and he tries to find out what they're up to whilst they keep coming back to the fact that he 'knows their ways' and will have to kill him. It's a wonderful bit of Troughton work.
So, The Wheel in Space ends season two of the Troughton years not with a bang but with a whimper. I think it is - the occasional moment aside - the only genuine dud of the Troughton years so far. Even The Underwater Menace is more fun. Alas, David Whitaker was unable to do for the Cybermen what he had done for the Daleks in the Troughton years. They're still not quite the monster they should be.
*Looking at the naming conventions we should count ourselves lucky he's not called Dobson.
**If such a thing exists.
***There I am seeing patterns in things again where they probably don't exist.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
After listening to this again I'd put Fury From The Deep high on my list of Doctor Who Missing Stories I'd like to see recovered. On audio - and for this story, I couldn't find a reconstruction - this is a massively atmospheric story. I suppose that apt for a story that ends up revolving around sound.
The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria have arrived on an English beach via one of the TARDIS's more dramatic landings. They wonder around for a bit, get shot & interrogated by Robson (Victor Maddern) and talked to more politely by Harris (Roy Spencer) and it turns out that something is wrong in the world of North Sea Gas.
Indeed this story is a combination of Base Under Seige and a particularly weird episode of The Office. Robson struts around shouting at Harris, Van Lutyens (John Abineri) and the Chief Engineer (Hubert Rees) about how he learned everything he needed to know about gas rigs by working on them, not with all this nonsensical education and theory. He's basically the personification of the 'University of Life' type. He'd almost certainly fit into the modern world with its disapproval of facts; His disapproval of Van Lutyens is such that he'd almost certainly be a UKIP man. But I digress.
It turns out that - despite Robson's denials - that there is something in the pipes. Waiting. Van Lutyens gets a fantastic line about this delivered to perfection by the mighty John Abineri.
Victor Pemberton wrote a pretty impressive base(s) under siege story here but once again the material is raised to another level by the performances. I waxed lyrical about Troughton in the last blog so I won't dwell on his performance too much here except to say it is brilliant. Again. Frazer Hines to continues to do a superb job as Jamie.
It's funny that the cliche of the Doctor Who companion is the young woman and that when people - non-fans mainly - make lists great companions they are almost entirely woman but actually one of the great Doctor Who companions of all time is Jamie McCrimmon. It also illustrates to me that New Doctor Who has given up on male companions because they've decided the default TARDIS team is The Doctor plus young woman. I'm sure it is easier to write. But have we missed out on other Jamie McCrimmon's accordingly? I don't want this to sound like a whinging white man's lament for a lost world. I'm not that sort of person. I just don't think Doctor Who should ever slip into 'only x works' thinking. Its capacity to change and to play around with the format is what has kept Doctor Who alive so long.
But I digress. Again.
The guest stars in Fury From The Deep are all up to snuff too. I've mentioned John Abineri already but Victor Maddern does an excellent job as Robson falls apart. He's clearly something of a pain in the arse as a boss normally but here he's pushed to breaking point, paranoid and then taken over by a seaweed creature. So, it is no surprise he gets a little shouty. Roy Spencer as Harris and Jane Murphy as Margaret - his wife - do a nice job being a normal couple in an abnormal situation. It's the nearest Doctor Who has come to being a soap opera at this point.
Perhaps the best performance though is Margaret John as Megan Jones. Unusually for the 60s, Jones is a female character with real authority and her scene with Victor Maddern when she tries to talk Robson out of the control of the weed creature is great. She tries tenderness and then switches to a harsher 'pull yourself together' approach. It's nicely played by both of them but John gives Jones* real authority.
It would be remiss not to mention Mr. Quill (Bill Burridge) and Mr. Oak (John Gill) a creepy pair of heavy breathers who spend most of the story being unpleasant and devious. They're memorable enough in the little clip that survives and on audio that it makes you even more annoyed that this story doesn't exist on video. There is the worrying possibility that it might turn out to be a disappointment if the foaminess overwhelms the creepiness but I'd be happy to have a chance to make that decision.
Oh. Foam seems to be a big thing in the Troughton era. We saw it in The Web of Fear. Is there a foam agenda?
So, what do I conclude from all this nonsense? Well, if you haven't 'watched' Fury From The Deep then you should. It's a fine, creepy story with excellent performances all around.
You know what. I was about to finish this blog without mentioning that it is Victoria Waterfield's last story and she goes out on a screaming high. Victoria's just had enough of turning up at places where everything is horrible and people die. It's understandable. Since she first met the Doctor back in The Evil of the Daleks (during which her father was killed) it's been a festival of death and she can't take it anymore. It's quite a realistic reason to leave.
There's a lovely scene between her and Jamie in the final episode as Jamie tries to persuade her to stay. And it just confirms my headcanon that there was more to their relationship than just 'friends'. Jamie is incredibly upset at the end and throws something of a mild strop. It's the Doctor's slightly hurt response that caps the story in a lovely way.
Give it a listen. Watch the remaining clips. Find a reconstruction.
"It's down there. In the darkness. In the pipeline. Waiting..."
*That sentence got ugly. Sorry.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Like yesterday's Enemy of the World blog who knew I'd get a chance to watch The Web of Fear on DVD. It seemed lost forever but then it wasn't. O until we realized that Part Three was still missing. Missing presumed stolen.
I'd like to take a moment here to speak to the outrageous horror who 'stole' Part Three and who I assume paid a lot of cash for 'a very expensive gloat'. I hope it brings you no joy at all. I hope that it falls on your head from a great height. I hope - whoever you are - that it rots your mind. You're obviously rich so spend the money on making up for your nasty behavior. You can't take it with you. Personally, I think you're a very sad man. And you will be a man. There's no doubt about that.
Anyway, enough of my dislike of the unknown thief. I come to praise The Web of Fear not to bury it. When this and Enemy of the World were discovered the consensus seemed to be that Enemy of the World was a revelation and The Web of Fear was a tiny bit disappointing. But I can't quite accept that consensus. I think Enemy of the World is magnificent but The Web of Fear is, for me, the peak Base Under Siege story.
It's partly I think because it is in my home city, in locations I know and worked near. So, for example, I know how out of breath the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria would have been climbing the stairs at Covent Garden. I've done it myself. It's a lot of stairs. The idea of being trapped in the London Underground by a combination of Yeti and killer fungus plays to some of my current and childhood fears. Even now I can't go too close to the edge of an Underground platform as I feel like I'm being dragged towards the tracks and an unpleasant death by either crushing or electrocution. So, there's that.
Then there's Troughton. He's majestic in this. The way he lowers his voice when he's about to say something worrying and/or terrible. His light flirtation with Anne Travers (Tina Packer). His concern for Jamie and Victoria. His frustration when HIS plan doesn't come off as the story comes to its end. His delight when the control sphere comes back to life. Everything. This is Troughton at his best. And that best is better than almost any other actor to play the Doctor. He's got charisma to burn but he's also a bloody good television actor. He gets the medium. You can see why other actors who have played the Doctor tend to quote Troughton as an influence. But I could write a paragraph similar to that for every single Patrick Troughton story. He is, almost without exception, the best thing in any Patrick Troughton Doctor Who story.
I should also say how much I enjoyed Tina Packer's performance as Anne Travers. She's a suit wearing female scientist who takes no nonsense from Captain Knight - or anyone else. She works closely with the Doctor (and her father) on nitty-gritty scientific work. She feels like The Doctor's equal without anyone making a huge fuss about it.
Anne Travers is Professor Travers's daughter and that's another thing I like about this story is that it reminds us that the TARDIS travels in time by letting us meet a character we last saw only twelve weeks ago. So Professor Travers 'tidied up' the mess left behind in Tibet after The Abominable Snowmen bringing back a 'dead' Yeti robot and some damaged bits 'n' bobs. Unfortunately, being a scientist in Doctor Who he can't help but fiddle with something that should not be fiddled with and thus starts chaos and murder.
It brings me to one of my complaints about this story: the Jewish cliche that is Julius Silverstein (Frederick Schrecker). I'm not Jewish so perhaps I'm over-reacting but he's not the most subtle of portraits but then Jack Watling doesn't exactly underplay Professor Travers.
Another obvious thing I haven't mentioned yet is that The Web of Fear is the first time we meet Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney). Here he is just Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart and his early appearance happens at a point where we are clearly meant to be suspicious of this new arrival, which is great. But Lethbridge-Stewart's willingness to accept the Doctor for what he purports to be is rather charming, especially in the face of Captain Knight's mocking cynicism.
This is a classic Doctor Who story in terms of the inability of soldiers to deal with the enemy their facing. Indeed it's possible to argue that Part Four is one of the bleakest in Doctor Who history. People die. Lots of people. Not just faceless men in uniform but men we've got to know. Lethbridge-Stewart's reaction when he returns to HQ is well-played by Courtney and for once the sacrifice of soldiers in a Doctor Who story actually feels like it matters to everyone.
Captain Knight is played by Ralph Watson, who does a good job of his first role in Doctor Who. He'll later crop up in The Monster of Peladon and The Horror of Fang Rock
I've not said much about Frazer Hines or Deborah Watling in this story but that's because they do their usual sterling work, although Victoria is in danger of becoming the used only as a pretty girl hostage. Jamie is ridiculously brave throughout, even in the face of impending death.
So, this one really did it for me. There's even time to watch the Doctor and Anne do actual scientific work.
Oh and - without spoiling it - the surprise reveal, in the end, is genuinely quite surprising and sad. If you've not read the novelisation or listened to the audio. Oh, and boo BBC Worldwide - or whoever - for the utter lack of effort with the DVD release from an extras point of view but another large cheer for Philip Morris's work in recovering the episode.
And once more my undying dislike of the person who stole Part Three.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Who would have thought that I'd get a chance to watch and blog Enemy of the World? Lost and unseen for nearly 45 years and then discovered in Jos, Nigeria by Philip Morris of Television International Enterprises Archive. We owe Philip Morris a great debt of gratitude and I hope that his work yields up more lost BBC programming.
The problem with a returned story, of course, is that it carries a weight of expectation. The Enemy of the World wasn't a lost story that topped most people's lists of stories they'd like to see returned. It's an oddity in Troughton's second season: the one without monsters. So sometimes it got forgotten about. There's also the joy in getting a story back that's lost which means you almost feel obliged to love it.
Well, there are lots of things to love about The Enemy of the World. The most important of which is Patrick Troughton himself. No audio or reconstruction can really give you a clue as to how magnificent an actor he is and the depths of his Doctor.
Episode One of this story is a thing of joy, especially as The Doctor goes frolicking (the only suitable word surely) about on the beach clad in longjohns. But The Enemy of the World gives us a bonus: a double-whammy of Troughton as he gets to play Salamander, the Mexican wannabe ruler of the world (according to his erstwhile comrade Giles Kent (Bill Kerr)). This gives Troughton a chance to show us his acting chops and he seizes it with both hands.
Salamander is clever and nasty, which always makes for more fun. And there're some great moments but my favorite is the way - in a later episode - he sits back and lights up a massive cigar after a particularly hard days villainy.
So for nothing else but Troughton you've got to be pleased to see this story again.
Then there's Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling) as his companions. As a friend of mine pointed out on Twitter whatever the relationship between them is supposed to be on - and there's much talk of brother/sister previously - it would be very easy to see them as something more than that. I've no doubt that if the internet had existed in 1967/68 people would ship Jamie and Victoria. I love the way their costumes are echoes of each other and there's some nice mirroring of body language too.
Then there's some of the other performances: Milton Johns as Benik, the sadistic and creepy Salamander sidekick, Carmen Munroe as Fariah (whose death scene is probably the darkest moment in the entire story and confirms Benik's unpleasantness), Mary Peach as Astrid, the action woman who seems to have more honour than most of the rest of the supporting characters and Bill Kerr as the snarling, devious Giles Kent.
My favorite performance though is probably Reg Lye as Griff the Chef. The character might almost be a totally unnecessary one. He does nothing to further the plot. He doesn't even give much in the way of exposition. He's just a grumpy Aussie chef trying to get on with his job. He might actually be the most ordinary of ordinary blokes in classic Doctor Who. And I love the performance.
Actually one of the little things to enjoy in this story is a few glimpses of normal humanity amongst guards: eye-rolling at annoying superiors, horror at unpleasant behavior etc. You don't see it much in Doctor Who and it makes a refreshing change.
There're a couple of performances that draw the attention for other reasons: David Nettheim does a reasonable job as Fedorin but is lumbered with possibly one of the weediest characters you can imagine and is forced to spend most of his time looking flustered and concerned. And then there's Adam Verney's Colin. Ah. Colin. It's one of those over-keen performances that 50s and 60s television are scattered with as actors struggle to adjust to the smallness of the medium. It's not helped by the fact that Colin is supposed to be keen but it's slightly jarring.
The story itself, which is half-James Bondian supervillain, secret bases and half-Prisoner of Zenda doppleganging, isn't bad but it is probably too long at 6 episodes, but having said that it never really feels boring just padded a tad. It also makes a pleasant change that there is no Monsters. It's just human beings being human beings. Or to use a Twelfth Doctor quote it is partly a story of people who, "...Just want cruelty to beget cruelty. You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you, you’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole bunch of new cruel people being cruel to some other people, who’ll end up being cruel to you."
Barry Letts, who directed this, certainly gets the pacing right in the first episode but it wobbles a bit in the 3rd and 4th episodes before getting back on track again in the 5th and then rushing towards its conclusion in the 6th. Maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about.
However, the final episode does see Salamander/the Doctor go head-to-head inside the TARDIS, which works exceptionally well considering the time this story was made and is a final piece of proof of Troughton's magnificence.
So to cut a long story short: I enjoyed it but more for the performances than the plot. It was good to get it back. It's good to see Troughton in such excellent form. You can see why Troughton is the Doctor's Doctor. He's capable of bringing subtlety out of even the cheesiest lines.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Three stories into Troughton's second season and we're again in a base under siege. It's under siege before the story begins but by nature - in the form of a whacking great glacier - not the monstrous. Indeed, as this story progresses you might even argue that it is a story about two bases under siege.
The humans in their lovely futuristic looking clothes are besieged by the Ice Warriors but only as long as they don't know what kind of engines power the Ice Warriors craft. But the Ice Warriors to are under siege. The humans are using an Ionizer to try and keep the glaciers back. That Ionizer is capable of destroying the Ice Warriors ship if it is used. So for a large chunk of the story, it's a Mexican stand-off.
And I'm afraid we come to a problem: the Ice Warriors themselves. I've read that Mark Gatiss had trouble persuading Steven Moffat to let him bring the Ice Warriors back because to Moffat they were the perfect illustration of the slow, clumsy and incomprehensible Classic Doctor Who monster and on the basis of this story I'd have to agree with him. They look great when standing still but as soon as they start moving they waddle slowly about like a duck inside a turtle shell. Their whispering voices, which actually I like, are - on occasion - difficult to understand. But they were obviously memorable enough on their first appearance to get a follow-up.
My other complaint about them is their so stupid. They move straight to violence without thinking about it. Varga threatens to kill the Doctor pretty much instantly even though he's been banging on about 'trapping' someone for ages, which his excuse for keeping Victoria alive. They're just blundering oafs, which is a shame really but explains the...well...we'll keep that for The Seeds of Death.
The best thing about this story though are the performances. It (almost) goes without saying that Troughton is fabulous. He is. Deborah Watling gets to be scared a lot but she's got that ability to be both scared and brave at the same time. An ability that Barry Letts attributed to Liz Sladen. She's terrified almost all the time but she still tries to do the right thing, which makes her heroic. I also love her costume in this story. Frazer Hines never fails to make Jamie feel real and his chemistry with Troughton and Watling is excellent. This is a TARDIS crew that suffered badly from the archive losses but which now might be in need of some reassessment following the return to the archive of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear.
The main cast is given superb support here though from Peter Barkworth as Clent. He's the very definition of a man out of his depth, but then who wouldn't be. He's become reliant on the computer to confirm his decisions and the computer can't handle the mess it is in and so he hovers around the edges of a nervous breakdown without quite having one. I ended up feeling a little sorry for Clent who is challenged by The Doctor, by Penley (Peter Sallis) and then gets told by Varga (Bernard Bresslaw) , the Ice Warrior Commander, that his life is pretty much worthless. I'm not sure anyone would come out of such a testing well.
Peter Sallis also gives an excellent performance as Penley. I think this is the only thing apart from 'Last of the Summer Wine' that I've ever seen Peter Sallis is in and it makes me want to find dig out other things he's done. Perhaps Toby Hadoke can help me? [Pops off to Twitter for a moment.] Penley has abandoned Clent's team and fled to the wilds shacking up with Storr (Angus Lennie), who is an anti-science man. Storr is destined to meet a sticky end. Penley, forced to go back to Clent due to Jamie's injuries, will end up winning the computer v humans argument.
There's a nice little scene at the end between Penley and Clent where their obvious friendship comes through and Penley gives Clent the nudge he needs to reset himself back to 'normal'. It nicely played.
Clent's closest colleague, Miss Garrett (Wendy Gifford) tries throughout to stay committed to the computer and Clent. She defends Clent to Penley and the Doctor. She's dressed, like everyone in this story, in a late-60s version of future fashion. If anything dates this story it is the combination of the fashion. But I'm afraid I developed a little crush on Miss Garrett/Wendy Gifford, which I'm sure you don't need to know.
So to conclude a blog that is in danger of escaping from me The Ice Warriors is a story to watch for the performances. It's plot isn't spectacularly original, it's final episode is a messy little thing but Peter Sallis, Angus Lennie, Peter Barkworth, Wendy Gifford, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling and most particularly Patrick Troughton make it well-worth watching.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
The Abominable Snowmen is one of those stories I think is hard to judge only on audio or reconstruction. It has enjoyable moments, including some of my favourite Second Doctor lines, but it is two episodes too long and has that annoying 'people don't trust the TARDIS crew, then they don and then they don't again' plot threads that are effectively just an excuse to pad out the action for an episode.
The TARDIS lands in Wales...sorry The Himalayas...and it turns out that they dropped down near a Monastery where the Doctor once dropped in before. That time he took away the Monastery's holy bell for protection. This gives him the perfect opportunity to drop it back. Unfortunately, he's arrived at the same time as the Monastery is under siege by the Yeti. Obviously, the Doctor walks smack bang into this situation and gets blamed for everything, including the murder of an English explorer by Professor Travers (Jack Watling). The Warrior Monk Khrisong (Norman Jones) decides to bait a trap with the Doctor. If The Doctor dies, he dies but if the Yeti let him go then he's guilty. A sort of dry version of chucking a witch into the river to see if she drowns.
By the time everything is cleared up it is clear that something strange is afoot. The 'real' Yeti are shy creatures. It turns out the ones attacking the monastery are something else altogether. They are something artificial.
Then there's the mystery Master, Padmasambhava (Wolfe Morris) who lurks about hypnotising the Abbott Songsten (Charles Morgan). Wolfe Morris does a fantastic job of Padmasambhava. There's something of the Gollum in his performance. Or there would be if Gollum came before Padmasambhava. Padmasambhava is not quite the villain of the piece. He's been taken over by The Great Intelligence, which is just a mind floating about the universe. It seems to want corporeal identity and power, which makes me wonder why it doesn't build itself a robot to bung its consciousness in so it can get on with its plans without having to operate through second-hand minds.
The reconstruction I was watching makes Padmasambhava's make-up job look a little shoddy at points but it is hard to tell in reality. Padmasambhava is supposed to be 300+ years old by this time. Kept alive by the Great Intelligence. Indeed, Padmasambhava's death is one of those occasional death's that crop up in Doctor Who where it truly is a release.
Gradually the whole plot is revealed. The Yeti attack but mainly in a bundling Big Daddy kind of way rather than in a wholly terrifying manner. Indeed, part of the problem with this story is that the Yeti are just too damn cute. Big, cuddly fur balls. Like Chewbacca's been eating a lot of pies. They wobbly along looking not at all threatening, whilst the genuine Doctor Who creep factor comes via Wolfe Morris's vocal performance and one or two moments - like Professor Travers flight from the cave - which feel genuinely scary.
Once more Troughton is fabulous. Once more Frazer Hines is excellent. Deborah Watling too is good here, although there is a point - when Thomni (David Spenser) tells her not to do something - where she behaves like a spoiled colonialist child that I felt rather uncomfortable with. She's disturbing though in Part Five when she's hypnotized and trying to get the Doctor to leave the Monastery.
This mention of colonialism brings me on to another unfortunate part of this story, which is all the 'yellow-face' on display. A brief scan of the actor's names above shows a distinct lack of Indian or Tibetan actors. David Spenser was born in Sri Lanka but everyone else is as white British as can be so there's a lot of eye make-up and uncomfortable accent work (which not everyone adopts.) Norman Jones is one of my favourite Doctor Who guest stars but he is a long way from being Tibetan. It's easier to ignore when listening to the soundtrack but if this was to come back into the archive the 'yellow-face' would become obvious and perhaps a little uncomfortable. Yes, I'm sure finding a cast of Tibetan-Chinese-Indian actors might have been difficult in 1967 but you often get the impression that no one even bothered to try. People often mention this issue with The Talons of Weng-Chiang but it doesn't come up often in discussions of this story. I suspect that is because it doesn't exist in its entirety in the archive.
It's also Doctor Who's first introduction to Buddhism, which may crop up again when Barry Letts gets going. But it is interesting that the Doctor takes it seriously enough. Not perhaps as a religion but as a mental control technique. There's no mockery of Buddhism here, even if some of the Monks aren't the brightest of sparks.
So, it's an OK story but it could have been shorter. It introduces us to The Great Intelligence who will crop up again soon and also - eventually - makes an appearance in New Doctor Who, starting with The Snowmen. The implication of The Snowmen is that it is the Doctor's own silliness that gives the Great Intelligence its idea for something that is coming up. Ah, that timey-wimey Mr. Moffat.
Definitely, one I'd like to see on video though to make a proper judgment.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Here's a thing, I don't enjoy Tomb of the Cybermen as much as I used to. In fact, there are parts of it that really, really annoy me. But because I try to take a positive view of Doctor Who I will start with the good stuff.
First and most important Patrick Troughton is majestic in this story. He's devious, snarky and charming. He sees through Kaftan (Shirley Cooklin) and Klieg (George Pastell) immediately but - for reasons of his own - helps them explore the whole Tomb, which seems a dangerous thing to do. There are two of my favourite Troughton moments in this story: the lovely little chat with Victoria about family and memory and his drawing out of Klieg's insanity in the final episode. Basically, Troughton's the best thing in this.
Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling are also pretty damn good. Jamie and Victoria make a rather sweet partnership. I also like the fact that Victoria, who has just lost her father and spent a huge chunk of time being held hostage by Daleks, doesn't take any rubbish from anyone. Her snarky relationship with Captain Hooper (George Roubicek) is another little highlight of this story.
The rest of the supporting cast are also pretty good even if some of the accents are a little...dubious. This is the first appearance of Cyril Shapps, as Professor Viner, in Doctor Who. Shapps specialises in the highly strung and is always on edge in this story, which is a delight.
Then there's the design and atmosphere. The Tombs looks good, the Cybermen look good and we get a quarry as an alien landscape, which is very Doctor Who. The Cybermen seem to have gone in for graphic design and baffling logic in equal measure. Their own image is stamped all over the place like the logo of a particularly avaricious corporation, which isn't entirely inappropriate. They've also set up the whole Tomb as a bizarre trap to attract the intelligent. Their explanation for this odd activity is rather strange.
Indeed, none of this story makes much sense. The Doctor's actions are odd. Kaftan and Klieg are clearly so up to no good it is astonishing anyone agreed to travel to Telos with them. I wouldn't trust them on a bus. There's also the problem of Kaftan being a white actress 'browned up'. I'm not sure where Kaftan is supposed to be from. I'm assuming North Africa or the Middle-East but she's browned up. Why? Why not just change her name and have a white actress play white? Again, I'm not sure where Klieg is from. George Pastell himself was Greek Cypriot so at least he isn't coloured in.
Most importantly though Klieg and Kaftan are idiotic even by the standards of Doctor Who villains. It's obvious, once they appear, that the Cybermen are bloody dangerous and can't be trusted. They explicitly say that they're going to convert everyone into Cybermen but Kaftan and Klieg persist with their plan beyond the point of sanity. Now, I know Klieg is basically batshit crazy by the end but what's Kaftan's excuse? Also, people keep leaving guns lying around for them to pick up. Too many people in this story are too stupid for their own good. Obviously, Doctor Who stories would be less interesting if the villains behaved like sensible people, i.e. after Klieg's first encounter with the Cybermen he didn't say to Kaftan, "Look, we've made a mistake here. These things will not help us. They will kill us."
Then there's Toberman (Roy Stewart). Toberman is a muscular black man who is virtually silent throughout. No one clarifies his relationship with Kaftan - is he an employee? A guard? A slave? A lover? He's certainly distraught when Kaftan is killed. I'll admit, get a fabulous final scene. It just makes me uncomfortable but I am one of those tedious left-wing political correct types. Toberman is half-converted to being a Cyberman but has enough humanity in him to take the fight to the Cybermen once Kaftan dies. I think it's the way the Doctor talks to him like a child that I don't like. The fact that it follows on so rapidly after Kemel in The Evil of the Daleks doesn't help. It's as if black men are just strong, silent - or near silent.
However, as I said earlier Toberman's final scene does at least have a certain power and dignity to it that Kemel's arbitrary death didn't.
For some reason, all those things got under my skin on this watch. Things like the obvious strings and dummies, which non-Doctor Who fans often pick up on and laugh I can shrug off but the stupidity of Kaftan and Klieg plus the treatment of Toberman really annoys me.
I remember being so excited in 1991 when it was rediscovered. I rushed down to the WHSmiths in Lancaster to buy it on VHS. Yes, young people VHS* It was fabulous to get a whole new Patrick Troughton story from out of the ether. I remember there was some disappointment that it wasn't quite what people remembered but it is still a firm favourite.
I don't want you to think I hated it. There's enough good stuff to make it entertaining to watch: have I mentioned how brilliant Patrick Troughton is? But there are enough things that annoy me to have it be a story I'm less bothered about re-watching.
Still, Patrick Troughton's bloody brilliant.
* It looked like this...
Sunday, October 2, 2016
The Evil of the Daleks ends Patrick Troughton's first season as The Doctor, which has been a pretty successful one for me. Troughton himself has been fantastic. I've enjoyed every story, including the unloved Underwater Menace. With Ben and Polly's departure, the last vestiges of the Hartnell era are gone. He begins this story with one companion, Jamie.
It picks up from the end of The Faceless Ones when the Doctor and Jamie try and find out what's happened to the TARDIS. It turns out that a lot is going to happen before they get back to it. There's Bob Hall (Alec Ross) then Kennedy (Griffith Davies) and Perry (Geoffry Coleville) before we meet Edward Waterfield (John Bailey) a dealer in Victorian antiques who just happens to be an actual Victorian. Even then we're not done. For Waterfield, leads us via time machines and a Dalek, to Theodore Maxtible (Marius Goring) and to an explanation of his experiments with static electricity, mirrors and time travel.
The explanation of Maxtible's theory sounds more like magic than science but we'll let it pass at this point as it doesn't really matter. All we know is that the mention of 'static' causes the Doctor to look worried, which is unsurprising as that's pretty much the cue for the Daleks to make their appearance and explain their long, convoluted plan to get him to where they want him. I love The Evil of the Daleks but the Daleks do make this incredibly difficult for themselves. Daleks don't strike me as the sort of race that lays out riddles for people. They're more the sort of people that pop up and start exterminating whatever moves until they get want they want. It takes the deviousness of the Daleks in Power of the Daleks and adds an almost Master like need to complicate things.
It turns out the Daleks want the Doctor's help in identifying the 'human factor' and have set up an experiment, involving Jamie, to help. At this point, the Doctor gets manipulative as hell as he sets up Jamie, without telling him the whole truth. Jamie, who realises he's being manipulated throws a strop but does exactly what everyone expects him to do. It makes you feel quite sorry for Jamie and Frazer Hines does a stonking good job of conveying everything that's required of him. The Second Doctor is definitely more than capable of matching the Daleks for deviousness, which I like.
Maxtible and Waterfield are helping the Daleks because they've kidnapped Waterfield's daughter, Victoria (Deborah Watling), although it becomes pretty clear that Maxtible has his own agenda. Marius Goring - who appears in one of my favourite films of all time: A Matter of Life & Death - is great as Maxtible, although he does edge towards the OTT as his plan and mind starts to unravel. It's John Bailey as Waterfield who puts in the best of the guest star performances. Waterfield is afraid for his daughter but ashamed by what they are doing to save her. It's a wonderful performance.
I should also note that Maxtible has a Turkish servant, Kemel (played by Trinidadian actor Sonny Caldinez). Kemel is a muscular gentleman who job is to get Jamie but who then joins Jamie to rescue Victoria. Kemel is a large, mute black man. Unfortunately, the next story also features a large, mute black man and it begins to look like the production team can't cast black actors except as silent men. Kemel's a good man though and his fate annoyed me as much as that of Griffith's in Attack of the Cybermen. Basically, he dies because they can't be arsed to write an explanation of what they're going to do with him when he survives and that's mainly because Victoria is intended to join the cast as a new companion.
It's hard to judge Victoria/Deborah Watling at this point because it's her first story but she's charming if a little confused and scared, which is unsurprising. She's also conveniently reduced to the status of an almost friendless orphan by the end of this story so she can head off with the Doctor and Jamie without too much thought. It'll be interesting to see how her status plays out as we go forward.
The Daleks 'human factor' is imported into three test Daleks. It works. They're like little children and one of the things from this story that will live in my memory is Daleks crying out 'dizzy Daleks.' They return to Skaro when called, which I'm thinking is a bit of an oversight in the Daleks plan. However, it turns out the 'human factor' was the blag. The Daleks actually wanted the Dalek factor, which they intend to sow throughout the history of the human race via a Dalekised Doctor and his TARDIS. The first victim is Maxtible. Then the Doctor but at this point, the Dalek's don't know the Doctor isn't human. They just think he is 'more than human' due to all his time travel. So the Doctor turns the turned tables on the Daleks.
This leads to a humanized Dalek v Dalek Daleks civil war and the destruction of the Daleks 'forever'. There's a moment where the Emperor Dalek - which is an impressive piece of design work - is trying to stop the Daleks fighting in front of him. It's the Dalek equivalent of 'Gentlemen! You can't fight in here. This is the War Room' from Dr. Strangelove.
Thus endeth the Daleks.
Or do they?
It's a pretty bleak ending as the Doctor's friendly Daleks die in the fighting too. It would have been nice if they'd just packed up and done a runner really. Perhaps more human than a series of suicidal attacks. The Doctor keeps saying 'Don't do anything without questioning it' but basically uses the human factor Daleks as his army. Why are they fighting? To prevent their destruction by proper Daleks but why not simply flee. Take over some saucers and go off to fight another day?
I'm making this sound more snarky than necessary, which is unfair because The Evil of the Daleks is an excellent story. It might be a bit too long but as I said in the previous blog that is a sin committed by many a Doctor Who story. It's got fab performances. Troughton, in particular, is amazing. There're a couple of great moments in particular: "What have you done with your infernal meddling!" (And the whole build up to it.) Then there is the lovely line, "I am not a student of human nature. I am a professor of a far wider academy of which human nature is merely a part."
So ignore my snarky snark snarking and go watch/listen to The Evil of the Daleks of which, alas, only a single episode survives in the archive. So either listen to the BBC CD or find a Reconstruction.
Like Barbara and Ian, I felt that Ben and Polly deserve a joint blog. Why? Because like Barbara and Ian I felt - and this is purely my own personal head canon - that they're destined to stay together after their time with the Doctor. Perhaps it is just because they depart together but I think there's more to it than that.
From their introduction in The War Machines Ben and Polly were an item. It took Polly to shake Ben out of his foul mood and Ben was insistent that they should find and rescue Polly, which he did. Polly also shook off enough of Wotan's influence to let Ben escape. By the time we get to The Underwater Menace there's no way these two aren't an item. In the final episode, Ben asks the Doctor 'What about Polly?' ignoring Jamie's very existence and it is Ben that Polly rushes to hug. They also choose to leave together in The Faceless Ones and the Doctor tells Polly to 'look after Ben.' So I'm all for Ben and Polly staying together post-TARDIS. I don't think it was ever easy. There's the class difference for a start. The implication was always that Polly was 'posh' and Ben was 'common'. I think they were supposed to be Doctor Who's dip into the modern world.
Ben was Michael Caine - and perhaps it is a coincidence that one of Michael Caine's earliest film appearances was as a sailor (blink and you'll miss him) in 1957's Sailor Beware - the young cockney lad. He wasn't a geezer. He was a nice lad. A bit rough around the edges, inclined to complain and bit but loyal, brave and fun.
Polly was...well...Polly was one of the women of the mid-60s: independent, fun and absolutely refusing to be put in a box. Yes, occasionally she can be a little snobbish, especially to Kirsty in The Highlanders but she's good-hearted. It is her idea to put together the 'Polly Cocktail' in The Moonbase and she refuses to stay behind when told too. She isn't feisty, which has become something of an over-used word in Doctor Who terms, but she isn't a soft-touch either.
Michael Craze and Anneke Wills make a great team too. They have chemistry. It's such a shame that their time in the programme has been so battered by the destruction of Doctor Who in the archive. Of the 40 episodes of their time in the programme only 13 still exist. The only story in that exists in its entirety is their debut: The War Machines, which makes it hard to make a fair judgement of their time except through audio/reconstructions. But I always liked them as a team. They seemed like normal people who had fun with the Doctor for a while but eventually wanted to go home. After all, there are only so many times one can be knocked out, brainwashed, kidnapped or threatened with death before it seems less like fun and more like duty.
The truth is once Jamie appeared on the scene Ben and Polly's time in the series was limited. Three companions are too many to give properly balance stories too. Someone always has to end up unconscious or missing, which ends up making Ben and Polly's final story a bit of a waste as they hardly feature in most of it. It wasn't exactly going out in a blaze of glory. It seems to be a hangover to the arbitrary way in which companions were written out at the tail end of the Hartnell era the nadir of which was Dodo's departure. It doesn't have the post-departure joy that Ian and Barbara's departure does in The Chase but you hope that they have a happy life post-TARDIS. According to the Sarah Jane Adventures, they're running an orphanage together in India so I'm not the only one who thinks they're destined to be together forever.
Sadly Michael Craze died in 1998. Anneke Wills, who I've actually met briefly at a signing or two, has led an amazing life. Her two volumes of autobiography - Self Portrait and Naked - are well-worth reading. Not just for the Doctor Who tales but because she has a lot of stories to tell. It's a life worth reading about. She has worked frequently with Big Finish on Companion Chronicles and where they've re-cast Ben Jackson with Elliot Chapman who does a sterling job. The Companion Chronicles are, by the way, some of the best Doctor Who stories you'll hear so if you've not dipped into Big Finish and you have a fondness for or curiosity about Ben and Polly then this might be a good place to begin.