Thursday, December 30, 2010

Serial 146: The Ultimate Foe - The Trial of a Time Lord Part IV

Doctor: Colin Baker (6th Doctor)
Companion: Mel

Written by: Robert Holmes & Pip and Jane Baker
Directed by: Chris Clough

Background & Significance: If you count The Trial of a Time Lord as one giant serial of fourteen parts and disregard the four-story structure of it, Trial of a Time Lord is the longest Doctor Who story of all time and this last two parter is the thing that puts it over the edge.

I don't want to talk too much about the actual dynamics behind this story here because they work a little bit better as we get into it, but I can't really talk about the finale of this epicness without going into the gritty details of the behind-the-scenes, which I find terribly fascinating.

So as we mentioned back in "The Mysterious Planet", Trial of a Time Lord was the last thing Robert Holmes ever worked on. The first episode of these final two parts is the last thing Robert Holmes ever completed, and it is a MASTERPIECE. Seriously, I think it's one of my favourite single episodes of Doctor Who of all time. It's dark, elegant, creepy, and amazingly Holmesian in the best of ways. And it's as good as anything we've seen him do so far if you ask me.

Unfortunately, Holmes got incredibly sick and passed away before he could get past more than a rough outline of episode two, meaning Holmes's climactic part two is lost to us forever and we'll never get it back.

For long-time script editor Eric Saward, Holmes's death was the last straw he could take under Jonathan Nathan-Turner. He quit Doctor Who after editing "Mindwarp", but offered to write the final episode based on Holmes's original outline on the condition Nathan-Turner not make him to change anything from Holmes's original outline, which included the planned cliffhanger ending where The Doctor and The Valeyard grappled with each other and over a Time Vent and fell in. The vent closed behind them and the story ended with the fate of The Doctor left up in the air.

So Saward wrote the script and turned it in and then production on the end of Trial started. Locations were scouted, sets were built, actors entered rehearsals...

Then Nathan-Turner, for some reason, decided that the ending was too much of a downer and asked Saward to change the ending. And really, JNT. Why did you do this? You know how much Saward isn't messing around, you had agreed to the ending with enthusiasm, and everything is going good. What did you THINK would happen? Spoilers! Saward told you!

But no. Nathan-Turner did it anyways, and Saward got pissed, walked off the show for a second time, took the copyrighted script and outline with him, and refused to let Nathan-Turner use either for the final product.

So now, they're about to enter production and they have neither script nor outline on the last episode. All they have is list of locations and actors. THAT'S IT. I can't even imagine that day for JNT. Musta been awful.

With no other options, JNT (who couldn't even give the new writers any details about the original part two because of Saward's copyright) turned to Pip and Jane Baker, gave them a list of sets and locations, and asked them to write the episode. He could give them part one because it was done and turned in, but all of part two had to be their own extrapolation.

They turned around a draft in three days.

Now, after all this, did they pull it off? I mean, at this point, you gotta know if they did or not, right? You just gotta know...

So let's get to it!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Serial 145: Terror of the Vervoids - The Trial of a Time Lord Part III

Doctor: Colin Baker (6th Doctor)
Companion: Melanie Bush

Written by: Pip and Jane Baker
Directed by: Chris Clough

Background & Significance: Oh god, Pip and Jane.

That was my first thought upon finding out who happened to write this third segment of "Trial of a Time Lord", especially since the last Doctor Who encounter with them turned out to be less than satisfactory. Apparently Script Editor Saward thought so too, because he wasn't exactly keen on working with this team again, but due to a bunch of delays and unsuitable scripts to constitute the second to last segment of the Trial, they really had no choice--apparently these two churned out work like nobody's business, which is important for a TV show with a rapidly approaching production deadline.

But also important for a TV show is not only the speed with which the work gets turned in, but the quality... Which, all things considered, turned out to be surprisingly good with this serial. But I'll get into that in a bit.

Also notable is the first appearance of Melanie "Mel" Bush, the Doctor's new companion. Created by JNT and portrayed by Bonnie Langford (a well-known actress and musical theater star), she's always had something of a bad rep among fans, but I think she'll surprise you in this.

Unfortunately for the behind the scenes aspect of the show in production at the time, the character as well as the actress chosen to portray her further deepened the rift between producer and script editor, finally culminating in Saward's departure from the show. (But he's kind of an asshole anyway, so his loss.)

Enough about that, though. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Serial 144: Mindwarp - The Trial of a Time Lord Part II

Doctor: Colin Baker (6th Doctor)
Companion: Peri Brown

Written by: Phillip Martin
Directed by: Chris Clough

Background & Significance: "Mindwarp" is a bit of a hard thing to talk about. Thinking about it now, it's hard for me to elucidate on all the things I have to think about without going too much into them. Maybe that's because I've changed my mind on what, exactly, I think about it since my initial viewing.

The first time I watched Mindwarp, I checked out mentally halfway through episode one when we have the re-appearance of "supposedly fan-favourite" alien Sil. Really, once you add him, the story becomes something I'm not interested in. Sil, whom you might remember from the insanely controversial "Vengeance on Varos" back in the infamous Season 22 (Colin Baker's premiere season), was a little annoying slithering alien who laughed and was "funny" and gross and... yeah. I've decided that I don't like weird alien slugs. Just don't like them. I can think of ONE time when they were used well in Doctor Who, and even then, I didn't have to look at them.

"Mindwarp" is written by "Varos" writer Phillip Martin, who was asked to contribute a story to Colin Baker's second season to bring back Sil as a returning villain (because of the popularity?) for what would have been Colin Baker's second season had the hiatus and Trial not happened, but when that season was scrapped in the face of Trial of a Time Lord, that planned story got dead. But apparently Sil was so popular they brought Martin back in for Trial with the explicit request to bring Sil back.

Martin, I find, is interested in wholly different things than I'm interested in. By my count he's done only three Doctor Who stories (the third being a Big Finish audio called "Creed of the Kromon") and all three seem to share similar qualities and interests as they relate to Martin. Unfortunately, I can't say I tend to agree with them. All three stories share forced genetic mutation (and all three to a female companion no less), suffer from stories that feel overly long, weak dialogue, and weird alien characters who are obsessed with money and capitalism.

That was my problem with this in the initial. Now, it's not so much, but there's... a reason for that. Which I will explain as we go through it.

This serial is also significant for being the final work Eric Saward contributed to the series. After this story, he quit due to "creative differences" and "hatred of JNT" and Robert Holmes's recent illness which would prove to be fatal in just a short time. The interesting thing is that most people tend to look at this era and blame JNT and while I don't think JNT is without blame... But man. I don't think that's the case.

Know how I know? Eric Saward showed his hand here. And we're going to talk about it. I recently finished watching all of Colin Baker's run in its entirety earlier this month, and I've come to a "Wow you messed up things" place when it comes to him. We'll talk about it a LOT more next year as we talk about him in the rest of Colin Baker's run, but really. In a lot of ways, this is his swansong and before reading this, I would like to remind you who it is we're dealing with. Check out his infamous post-departure interview he gave. That is Saward.

And oh boy do I just want to talk about him a bit.

If "The Mysterious Planet" explored a story from The Doctor's past, "Mindwarp" explores a story from The Doctor's immediate[ish] present. So let's... yeah. Let's go through this story. It's a doozy and a long one, but I think it gives rise to some solid discussion. Hope you like it.

So let's get to it!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Serial 143: The Mysterious Planet - The Trial of a Time Lord Part I

Doctor: Colin Baker (6th Doctor)
Companion: Peri Brown

Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Nicholas Mallett

Background & Significance: I like ending things with a nice flourish. There's nothing so wrong with some cool events. This past summer it was The Key to Time. For the holiday break, we get to talk about another significant event-story in Doctor Who history. So for the next two weeks (that's two posts a week for y'all. Happy Winter indeed) we're going to talk about a highly debated and strangely controversial Doctor Who story: The Trial of a Time Lord. But first! A little background:

At the end of Colin Baker’s controversial first season, BBC head honcho guy Michael Grade leveled his sights at Doctor Who and took the first shot he could at a show that had fallen considerably in the ratings in the previous several years. He thought the show was silly and stupid and started talking about cancelling it.

The start of this, we’ll talk about more when we get to Colin Baker’s first story “The Twin Dilemma” sometime later next year, but after a full season of odd choices including making The Doctor wantonly unlikeable (which I find a plus because it’s a bold, bold move), moving the tone into a noticeably darker and more-typical-of-the-80s sadistic nihilism (see "Vengeance on Varos" and others), and changing the format into something no one knew how to handle, it’s not hard to see why people started jumping ship. The show had gotten weak and weird and strange and was a far cry (in the span of a season, no less) from the rollicking adventures of Peter Davison just a year earlier and Tom Baker just a few before that.

As such, Grade threatened cancellation and producer Jonathan Nathan-Turner took to the streets to drum up support for Doctor Who. You can’t cancel the thing. It’s been on the air for twenty two years. It’d be like cancelling a long running soap opera and staple of British TV. Fortunately, somehow, Nathan-Turner managed to stay the cancellation with a lot of help from the fans and turn it into an eighteen month hiatus.

It was a hiatus from which the show would never recover.

Now I'll be honest with you right up front. I think the concept for Trial is a bit melodramatic. The entire concept of the The Doctor on Trial comes directly from the current state of the show at the BBC because, in the mind of still-producer Jonathan Nathan-Turner, Doctor Who really was on trial. As such, I really do think it's a bit of a melodramatic concept to insert into the show. "Oh woe is us! Behold The Doctor's slow fall back to Earth as the once great show slowly falls from the graces of everyone" JNT cries, completely ignoring all the little things he did to help the show reach this point over the course of Colin Baker's run to this point (some of which we've touched upon earlier in this year, the rest of which we'll end up discussing in the coming one).

That said? Putting The Doctor on trial is a really awesome idea. As a concept, The Trial of a Time Lord has captured my imagination for quite a long time. Once I became aware of the classic series and started flipping through the collections in my local Best Buy, I remember seeing the boxsets for Trial and being completely obsessed with the concept of putting The Doctor on Trial for an entire season. And by The Time Lords no less. All of that was positively enthralling to me, but maybe that's because I love courtroom drama and never found it in my interest to avidly watch Law & Order.

But enough about my hang ups. What about the story itself?

Trial of a Time Lord is an interesting story to talk about. For one thing, it marks the dissolution of Nathan-Turner's since-first-season-of-Davison partnership with his script editor Eric Saward. It's also the swansong for the derided and notoriously unpopular Colin Baker. And it's also the last thing Robert Holmes ever worked on.

Now I know we've spent a lot of time here loving on the late great Robert Holmes (and there's plenty more opportunities to come), but it's interesting that this serial is not only the last thing Holmes ever completed for Doctor Who, but the last two episodes of Trial was the last thing Holmes ever worked on before his death. As such, it's a definite crux of the classic series if you ask me. After this, there would be a new Doctor, a new script editor, and one of the shining beacons of Doctor Who would be gone forever. Trial is the start of a four-year road to Doctor Who's inevitable cancellation in 1989 and represents a significant turning point for what was once a gem in the BBC's crown as, by this point, the show had become almost universally criticized and reviled.

Trial became everyone's attempt to re-capture the hearts and minds of every Doctor Who fan out there. Everyone on board needed to make a concerted effort to turn out the best show they possibly could. But could they really win over everyone? After an entire season of showing off a Doctor no one really enjoyed on some weird, dark, nightmarish perversion of such a beloved show, was it possible to turn the ship around and return Doctor Who to its glory days?

The simple answer? No. But I think that's... well... We'll talk about that as we go on because it's definitely important and meriting of discussion.

The story itself is split into four acts and based on the structure of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", with acts one, two, and three, relating stories from The Doctor's past, present, and future (respectively) and the final, fourth act functioning as an epilogue to wrap up The Doctor's current situation, the Trial, and what exactly is going on with the mysterious Time Lord prosecutor: The Valeyard.

All of that we'll cover as we look at this story extensively over the next two weeks, but for now, let's just relish in what we have and celebrate two truly remarkable elements of greatness lost as a result of this Trial storyline: Colin Baker and Robert Holmes.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Serial 82: The Pyramids of Mars

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Sarah Jane Smith

Written by: Stephen Harris (a.k.a. Robert Holmes and Lewis Greifer)
Directed by: Paddy Russell

Background & Significance: Robert Holmes wanted Mummies.

If you trace this whole story back to where it started, Robert Holmes wanted a Doctor Who story with mummies in the vein of some god damn old school horror movies. He contracted Lewis Greifer to give him a story with Mummies and gods and stuff, but it wasn't enough and the Mummies weren't real mummies and the gods weren't real gods and The Doctor was written all weird, and Holmes didn't like it, so he kept the concept and rewrote the whole thing from scratch, keeping very little except the title.

And it's one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time.

Granted, that's a gimme, as this one comes in the middle of the very popular Gothic era. But still. It's not like everything in the era gets a pass. All that really matters is that great Doctor Who is great Doctor Who. When we get down to it, the eras don't really matter except to follow the path of tonal shifts over the life of an almost-fifty-year long television story. Eras themselves boil down to a particular producer's vision and how well they seemed to work in harmony with their script editor.

It's also totally, totally classic Holmesian Doctor Who. It's got the similar themes, recurring tropes, undeniable horror, bits of humour. It also establishes a new precedent in Doctor Who history and the moment where Sarah Jane urges The Doctor to pimp the frak out of there and just forget it because the world still exists in 1980 is a game changer, to say the least.

Really, when you get right down to it, this whole serial is just made of win and it's... well... Yeah. It's my favourite so far. Better than "War Games". And that's saying something cuz for the longest time War Games was the one to beat. But yeah. Now it's Pyramids. And the best part? Anyone who's a fan of the new series will love it. And anyone who's a fan of the classic series will love it. It's really got something for everyone. So good.

Seriously, go find it on Netflix or whatever and watch it before checking it out here. It's super awesome and it holds up, man. Totally totally. You'll love it.

Watched it yet? I can wait...

No really. I can.


Ready? Awesome.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Serial 151: Remembrance of the Daleks

Doctor: Sylvester McCoy (7th Doctor)
Companion: Ace

Written by: Ben Aaronovitch
Directed by: Andrew Morgan

Background & Significance: The Doctor has to face Daleks. Always. It's like a rule, and if it isn't, I'm of the opinion that it should be. That's not to say that I approve of Dalek overexposure. I don't. But at least once per Doctor (more possible if he's got a long run), methinks.

It's interesting to see how each Doctor handles the nefarious little buggers. Whenever I think about The Doctor facing off against The Daleks, I always think about that moment in "Doomsday" when The 10th Doctor strides into the room and starts dialoguing with the suddenly scared Cult of Skaro. More than anything, it just reinforces the notion that The Doctor is not your typical hero. Think about the heroes of other science fiction programmes (Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly or Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica) or even from a big-budget action movie/show (John McClane in the Die Hard movies or Jack Bauer in 24) and the difference is stark. That is not how any of them would handle The Cult of Skaro in that scene.

No. The Doctor's a guy who's all British and talky and can stride into the room full of the evilest creations in the universe and talk them out of shooting him. Not every Doctor handles them in that specific way (and oh boy will we see him act other ways), but the Doctor's approach to a solution to a problem is never the "I'm going to shoot them and blow them up"method (although remind me I said that next month). His response is always one of appealing to intelligence and arguing in favour of diplomacy and his reliance on his words and language. That's The Doctor's weapon. That's how he fights the evilest creations in the universe.

"Remembrance of the Daleks" is the 7th Doctor's turn to take them on.

Now, I know it's been quite a long time since we've done a McCoy story, but let's be honest. There's very little of him around (he out-serials Colin Baker by ONE story), and what there is hasn't been widely DVD'ed [yet]. And, because I really, really liked him when we talked about him last time and am all about delayed gratification, we're only doing two stories of him this year, and a "bunch" of him coming up on the other side of January.

But enough about blog politics! Let's focus on Dalek and Doctor Who politics! Much more interesting!

"Remembrance of the Daleks" is written by Ben Aaronovitch and came about because they wanted to give McCoy's Doctor a chance to go up against the Daleks. Producer Jonathan Nathan-Turner commissioned the story and then sent the drafts to Terry Nation to review for his approval. Nation was most pleased with the story, except for one element (which certainly merits discussion but we'll talk about that in part four) which he asked to be excised. Nathan-Turner "took his comments into consideration" and then politely never sent Nation another draft for perusal. The worst part is, "Mad Man" Terry Nation? He was... not wrong.

Ah, Jonathan Nathan-Turner. So consistently self-righteous. So disappointing.

"Remembrance of the Daleks" is considered one of the best McCoy stories and it shows a really nice Dalek vs. Dalek story with some pretty neat graphics and special effects. It's also a really great look at The Doctor and does a bit of a retcon of the first ever Doctor Who story, in a move that is.... questionable? Shall we say? And of course the ending to episode one is famous because it's uh... pretty frakkin badass. Even by today's standards.

Unfortunately, it suffers a bit from the poor storytelling that happened during the Jonathan Nathan-Turner years, but I'll overlook most of that in the light of other really great things about the story, which is thrilling and exciting and pretty damn solid. Also, Daleks vs. Daleks with The Doctor and Ace in the crossfire. What's not to love?

Well, there is that one choice at the end. But we'll talk about that later.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Serial 105: City of Death

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Romana II

Written by: David Agnew (a.k.a Douglas Adams, Graham Williams, and David Fisher)
Directed by: Michael Hayes

Background & Significance: "City of Death" has a bit of a... reputation. For one, it stars the most famous and popular Doctor, Tom Baker. It's the one that is most universally loved of Doctor Who stories, and if you talk to fans of the original series who've seen a good portion of episodes, you'd not be hard pressed to find ones who would say "City of Death" is not one of their favourites. It's on Top Ten lists, top five lists, even "my most specialist favourite" lists. It's also got three of the four highest rated Doctor Who episodes. Ever. (and the only one that isn't in the top four (Part One) still is in the top twenty most-watched episodes with 12.4 million viewers, while Parts Two, Three, and Four were watched by 14.1 million, 15.4 million, and 16.1 million viewers respectively).

That's "City of Death" for you.

My opinion? It's not my favourite, but god damn is it up there.

It's hard for me to not be a naysayer about certain things. I've spoken out many times about my views on the Graham Williams era. I've spoken out a bit about my less-than-enthusiasm for the era's growing focus on silly fantasy and goofy humour rather than the good science fiction/adventure storytelling that makes me love Doctor Who so much. I've also spoken at length about my lack of love for Drunk Tom Baker's post-Hinchcliffe/Holmes interpretation of The Doctor as his portrayal descended into self-parody and his demeanor mutated into divo-narcissism. I mean, when he's trying he's great, phenomenal even, but when he's phoning it in and thinking that HE is The Doctor (and no one else is or ever should be) it makes me passionately dislike his portrayal despite desperately wanting to like him.

See? Not much stacked in the "in its favour" column.

And yet. The most amazing thing about "City of Death" is that with all this stacked against them, Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Graham Williams, Douglas Adams, and the rest of the Doctor Who team shipped off to film internationally for the first time (and in Paris no less) and pulled off a quintessential Doctor Who story. They made it thrilling, well told, funny, exciting, gorgeous, timeless, and ridiculously classic. If only they could have seen what makes this story so good and applied it to the rest of the Williams' era, maybe I wouldn't be so hard on them.

Ah well. At least we'll always have this and its awesomeness.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Serial 5: The Keys of Marinus

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companion: Susan, Barbara, Ian

Written by: Terry Nation
Directed by: John Gorrie

Background & Significance: Terry Nation is crazy. No, really. He is. We have a sort of pet name for him over here at Classical Gallifrey, and, much like Robert "The Goddamn" Holmes, "Madman" Terry Nation is not unearned. But we'll be talking about that more in the weeks ahead.

In the early days of Who, though, that wasn't readily apparent. I mean, I suppose you have to be a little crazy to invent something like the Daleks, but other than that... nah. Just a regular bloke. But his ideas are quite excellent, when he wants them to be. A watch-through of "The Keys of Marinus" (and hopefully this blog entry) will show you what I mean.

Still in the midst of the freshman season of Doctor Who, "The Keys of Marinus" provides something of a reprieve for the cast; the way the serial is formatted, not everyone needs to be present for the mini-adventures that are relatively self-contained and episodic, yet serialized in the fact that they're all to one end: locate the Keys of Marinus. It's a pretty straightforward quest adventure, and though not everyone is present for a few of the episodes (Hartnell actually is absent from two of them, which is kinda lame, but the others totally bring it), it's still tons of fun with lots of energy and shenanigans and some really excellent sci-fi concepts.

Which, despite his flaws, is why I love Terry Nation; because he is crazy enough to come up with this stuff.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Serial 130: Warriors of the Deep

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companion: Tegan Jovanka, Vislor Turlough

Written by: Johnny Byrne
Directed by: Pennant Roberts

A note before we start: As a precursor to my talking about this, I guess I should share a little about the new format I’m trying out this week. After the previous two week’s youtube debacles (youtube cock blocked every attempt made to post the three youtubes both Cassandra and I wanted to post, citing “possible copyright infringement”) and hours and hours of stressing and never ever getting the issues resolved and lots of hard thinking, I’ve thought it necessary to try to change up the format as we’ve had it since our inception eight months ago. Because the blog up until this point has been based around a blow-by-blow recap with three youtubes and a frak ton of screencaps, removing the youtube element really put into perspective how much I rely on the youtubes with my narration as an almost linking tool to bridge the gap.

Granted, that’s a bit harsh on my narration, I know (not saying it’s good narration, just saying it’s a harsh criticism), but the point has been made. The copyright issue last week showed me that I do rely a lot on the youtube (really, they’re the highlight if you ask me because I can talk about Doctor Who all I want but nothing’s the same as actually watching and experiencing it) and - because the copyright folk can be a mite fickle at times - relying on youtubes to help convey the story is not feasible anymore, and really, as the blog has been what with the blow-by-blow recap some parts just need to need to be youtubed.

Now, I’ve done the youtubes for this week and so far they have worked and I’ve had no problems with them, but just in case this sort of mass fail happens again, I’ve decided to try something new for this week. Hopefully it’ll be a bit more in line with what I want to talk about. With less summary, more commentary, and more of an almost one-sided conversational essay about each episode in its each and individual parts. Youtubes will still be incorporated, but hopefully it’ll be a whole lot less reliant on it.

Again, this change might not be permanent. It’s hopefully just a way to save some time and not be quite so reliant on a thing that’s out of my hands. This is an experiment and any feedback on the other side is greatly appreciated. Hope you enjoy.

Background & Significance: "Warriors of the Deep" is another opportunity for Jonathan Nathan-Turner to keep his homage/bring-it-back train rolling. He'd done it with the Daleks and the Cybermen and Omega and The Master (on many, many occasions), and now it was time to bring back the classic greatnesses known as the Silurians and the Sea Devils.

Unfortunately, it's a bring-back wrought with many, many problems.

Due to extraneous circumstances, "Warriors of the Deep" was forced into production early and before anyone was even prepared to get everything together. What results is a story that's nothing short of messy and sloppy, not exactly worth a sense of pride and accomplishment you could associate with other stories.

The problems are evident. The story is a bit mad and uneven. Writer Johnny Byrne (last seen writing "Arc of Infinity") wanted to emulate the wonderfulness of "Earthshock" by telling a fast-cut and dynamic action story. Unfortunately, he overshot and overwrote or something and it was up to script editor Eric Saward to cut out something like half the script to make it fit into time. Again, the schedule was tight and he had to have it ready earlier than he should have.

Beyond even the story, the costumes (especially that of the Myrka) weren't even ready by the time the show was set to begin rehearsals. Actors were unprepared, and Pennant Roberts (whom I think of as a decidedly average director) was left trying to tie everything together. Even with a gifted director it would have been tricky, but my guess is that it proved too much for the poor Pennant Roberts.

And that's a shame, because somewhere in here there's a very good story with real characters and good thematics and good action. But alas, we are left with a rush job that shows. Ah well. Maybe next time.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Serial 77: The Sontaran Experiment

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan

Written by: Bob Baker & Dave Martin
Directed by: Rodney Bennett

Background & Significance: Oh hey look! I'm back for another epic Baker/Martin romp! Isn't that bloody exciting? We had a really great time last time with their "Invisible Enemy", so let's try and hit the gold again here.

Actually, irony of ironies? For not being a fan of most of their other work, I really liked this one.

See, the Sontaran Experiment is unique for two reasons. 1) It's the only two-part Doctor Who story between 1964 and 1982 (we're currently in 1975) and 2) It's shot entirely on location. So that's fun, and really it just exposes how overly long every other classic Who story we talk about can be. It's fun, it's fast, it's early Tom Baker (*love* his first season) and things are happening in a very adventure setting.

Most interesting, perhaps, is the fact that it's a revival of the Sontarans and we see them much as they were portrayed in "The Time Warrior", and it's a nice little in-between betwixt "The Ark in Space" (talking about that next year) and "Genesis of the Daleks", which is the next little story.

Strangely enough, by following directly off the events of the previous story (as all of The Fourth Doctor's adventures in this, his first season, linked one right into the other) this story functions as an almost supplementary parts five and six to the first four parts of "The Ark in Space", so if you've never seen that (which I hadn't before seeing this for the first time), this is actually a little confusing in the outset because it really hits the ground running and with little explanation as to what's going on.

Granted, this is a bit of a dated complaint. The people who were watching Doctor Who at the time totally remembered what was going on with The Doctor and co as they had just seen it the week before. In that, I'm sad that I wasn't able to watch this one right after "Ark in Space" and before "Genesis of the Daleks", but them's the breaks. I know I plan to watch this entire season in order when I go back through and pick and choose, cuz it'll play out most wonderfully, I think.

Oh, and apparently Tom Baker jacked up his collar bone while making this story. Lucky for him and everyone else, he was bundled in a coat and a jacket and a scarf and was able to hide it. But sometimes he looks bulky. And it's amusing.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Serial 66: Carnival of Monsters

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companion: Jo Grant

Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Barry Letts

Editor's Note: Hey, guys! Matt here! Just wanted to say it's a huge bummer that I'm not reviewing this one. Because it is awesome. But we can't keep giving Cassandra loads of weak ones, right? RIGHT!? Ah well. Ce'st la. Here she is with some discussion of the awesome Robert Holmes, and stay tuned, cuz the rest of the year is mostly doozyish. Mostly.

Background & Significance: So, the tenth season of anything is a pretty big deal. But especially so for the little sci-fi show called Doctor Who.

As such, since producer Barry Letts wanted to make Season 10 as big a deal as he could on such a tight BBC budget, "Carnival of Monsters" was written with that sort of constraint in mind. Penned by the brilliant Robert Holmes (who, you might have noticed, we kind of fangirl about over here, but with good reason), the action is very distinctly split between two central locations and two guest casts that never meet up, which cuts back on having to pay guest actors for all the days of filming. And he does this without sacrificing story, characterization, or dialogue. Awesome, huh?

This serial is also notable because the Doctor's definitely got his TARDIS back. Free from the constraints and meddling of Time Lords for helping them out in the previous serial "The Three Doctors", he's pretty much got full and complete control again, and can go where he pleases. And it's pretty great.

One can also view this serial in the light of commentary on BBC treatment and perception of the show, through the Vorg/Shirna (classic Holmes duo!) storyline on Inter Minor and the trouble they get up to there. You'll see what I mean as we go.

So let's take a closer look, shall we?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Serial 93: The Invisible Enemy

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Leela, K-9

Written by: Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by: Derrick Goodwin

Background & Significance: So once again we have a team up by writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who have been mostly underwhelming in my eyes with a view gems of greatness sprinkled in here and there.

"The Invisible Enemy" is firmly rooted in mediocre Doctor Who, perhaps elevated again by the script editing of Robert Holmes (as we'll see as well in the next few weeks) but also lowered by the newly arrived takeover by Graham Williams as producer.

More than anything, it's here that you can see the first influx of Williams's influence. It's rather silly and much more focused on the fantasy and silly elements of Doctor Who than it is with the hard scifi or horror of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era. That said, the continued presence of Robert Holmes helps the proceedings, and certain elements of the horror of the monster or even the scientific elements are much more Holmesian than Williams. But more than anything, this just reinforces the idea that the next story, "Image of the Fendahl" was an anomalous hurrah than it was final last hurrah. That goes to another story we'll be talking about in a couple of months.

That's not to say it doesn't have good ideas. We get some interesting conceptual story ideas (that ultimately don't really matter) and the introduction of K-9. So that's.... that's good. I guess. Go that.

We also start to see the influx of what we'll start to call "Drunk Tom Baker", but I'll go into that more as we start to see it. Again, I blame Graham Williams.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Serial 121: Earthshock

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companions: Tegan Jovanka, Nyssa, Adric

Written by: Eric Saward
Directed by: Peter Grimwade

Background & Significance: Sometimes Doctor Who lacks punch. I mean, let's be honest. Doctor Who was designed to be an edutainment Saturday night family programme. It's designed to be inherently new-viewer friendly. Anyone can pick up any story and be able to watch and follow and understand it.

As such, the show is resistant to major status quo shifts and changes in terms of the overall scope of the narrative. Sure there have been major changes, but very little in the show's whole is dependent on past continuity. All you need to know is there's a weird old alien dude named "The Doctor" and he has a blue box that travels through time and space so he goes around with his companion(s) and gets in adventures and that's all you really need to know to get started.

But what happens when something major happens? What happens when something happens to The Doctor? Aren't his regenerations almost always considered legendary and powerful, regardless of the quality of the episode? The fact that The Doctor dies gives the story weight and stakes in ways that the show, to be honest, rather lacks in many places. How many times can you end a cliffhanger with someone pointing a gun at the Doctor and saying "mwahahaha" before you realize that "No. They can't kill off The Doctor. That's stupid." Hint: not many.

But let's say we have something happen. Let's say a companion dies in the line of duty.

It's almost hyperbole to say companion deaths over the course of the show are rare. By my count, the rate of companion deaths is... five? Maybe? There's only been one companion death in the modern era (and even that was retconned) and between the show's creation and Peter Davison (eighteen years) there were only two companion deaths, both in the same serial and with characters we barely knew. They were deaths for shock value, not deaths that mattered and hit on a great emotional level.

"Earthshock" is different. "Earthshock" by itself is a good story, but couple it with the death of a companion and the story becomes nothing short of legendary and wonderfully pyrrhic. It carries weight and is powerfully affecting, regardless of how you feel towards the character in question.

So let's get to it!