Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Serial 138: Vengeance on Varos

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

Written by: Philip Martin
Directed by: Ron Jones

Background & Significance: Peter Davison, fearing typecasting, left Doctor Who after three well-regarded seasons. Realizing his popularity, and knowing that they, again, would have to do something a bit different, Jonathan Nathan-Turner (the producer from Tom Baker's last season through the show's ultimate cancellation in 1989) decided to cast then-well-known television actor Colin Baker.

Colin Baker's era was particularly infamous. Perhaps most well-known for its darker stories and Colin Baker's completely outlandish costume (more on that a bit later), the series, at this point, had begun to show the signs of both age and disregard.

And I find that rather sad.

In a lot of ways, this is completely grounded and understandable. Doctor Who was entering its 22nd season, and those in charge of the BBC etc. found it outdated and were looking for something new. Not only that, but Colin Baker was a radical take on The Doctor (more on this later), one who was not nearly so likable as his predecessors. The audience got alienated. This wasn't the same guy who had been around for the past twenty years... Which is ironic, because The Sixth Doctor was the same guy, just different.

And perhaps that's a bit unfair, but it's also quite true. Not every incarnation is going to work for everyone. The truth is (as we shall see), The Sixth Doctor was a DIFFICULT Doctor to like. He wasn't as immediately likable as ANY of the other Doctors. But his portrayal isn't about likability. It's about "who is this guy?"

Unfortunately, the writers didn't really have any idea how to write for him. They just saw cold nihilist, so the stories became exceptionally bleak and dark. "Vengeance on Varos" is a story specifically cited for its extremely violent and dark content, and that's completely undeniable (as we soon shall see).

Also interesting to note: this serial (like "The Visitation") is not "remarkable" in any specific way. No Daleks, no Cybermen, no Master, no multiple Doctors, no Gallifreyans. Just a Doctor and Companion get in over their heads and have to deal.

Let's get to it!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Serial 129: The Five Doctors

Doctors: Richard Hurndall (1st Doctor), Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor), Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor), Tom Baker (4th Doctor), Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companions: Tegan Jovanka, Vislor Turlough, Sarah Jane Smith, Susan Foreman, The Brigadier, Romana

Written by: Terrance Dicks
Directed by: Peter Moffatt

Background & Significance: In 1983, Doctor Who turned twenty. You know what that means. Something big. Something epic. Something legendary.

Ten year's previous, they did "The Three Doctors," a multi-Doctor crossover that didn't suck and was kinda awesome (despite the lack of Hartnell, but even then, he had one of the standout lines) and succeeded. In 1983, they decided to re-capture the magic with "The Five Doctors." They gave the script to popular and incredibly prolific Who writer Terrance Dicks. He was given the following rule: to feature The Doctor in his five incarnations and "as many monsters and companions as you could cram in there." The intentions noble, stages was set for the anniversary special to be a celebration of the show's long and varied two decade history.

Spoiler alert: And it fails. Hard.

First off, that's my own opinion, and maybe I'm a victim of my own anticipointments, but I don't think so. And for the sake of some background, here's why...

1) Tom Baker passed on it because it was "too soon". So they used archive footage from an incomplete story that was never aired, meaning he doesn't even really appear in this serial.

2) Hartnell's dead, so they decided to bring in Richard Hurndall, who kinda looks like him, and expected him to pull off Hartnell... But we'll talk more on him a bit later.

3) If you count The Master and not The Fourth Doctor, there are TEN main characters in this ninety minute story. Such character work takes a remarkably skilled writer, and, while Terrance Dicks is good, he's not that good.

4) There was a HUGE mess of scheduling conflicts going on all through this. They couldn't accomadate Frazern Hines (Jamie) to be Troughton's Companion, so everyone got kinda bumped and dumped around leading to some awkward things that don't necessarily make so much sense.

So just know all that as we delve into this. I really wanted to like this, but it ended up being overly ambitious and it ended up failing if you ask me.

One more thing before I start. This story is remarkably bouncy, with each Doctor kinda getting his own storyline, so I'm going to bounce around and just focus (for the most part) on one Doctor at a time.

Or at least, that's the plan, anyways.

But enough blather! Let's get to it!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Serial 119: The Visitation

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

Written by: Eric Saward
Directed by: Peter Moffatt

Background & Significance: Tom Baker's reign (previously described as legendary) ended after seven years. It was legendary, epic, and gave the world easily the most popular and well-known Doctor from the classic series. When he left, the producers were left with a crisis:

How could they possibly follow up one of the greatest Doctors to date?

The answer, interestingly enough, came from casting something that was completely different from the previous four Doctors, who were all fine gentlemen, but the youngest at the time of casting was Tom Baker, and he was 40 when he got the job. So they tried something completely different: They cast 29 year old Peter Davison.

A radical departure from all of the previous Doctors, Davison was notably younger than all the actors had been when they took over (note that he was over a decade younger than Tom Baker when Tom Baker got the role) and casting him (and I believe he was quite the popular actor at the time) was a huge gamble. It was also an attempt to bring in a younger crowd, especially in the wake of Star Wars coming in and becoming a massive influence on all of sci-fi forever. The show went back to basics, focusing on classic stories, science fiction (as opposed to the goofy humour of Baker's era), and the return of old villains.

So part of the question is... did it work? Did the ridiculously young Doctor work?

The Visitation takes place halfway through Davison's first season, with Tom Baker's final companions (Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric) still hanging around, and for the first time on this blog, there is nothing special about it. No Daleks. No Cybermen. No Master. No multiple Doctors. No nothing. Just a classic Doctor Who story.

So let's get to it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Serial 78: Genesis of the Daleks

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companions: Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan

Written by: Terry Nation
Directed by: David Maloney

Background and Significance: When Jon Pertwee abdicated his role as The Doctor after five seasons, he did it having the longest run as the character by at least two years. (Honestly, I find it incredibly cool that he was on the show for about the average length of a fairly successful TV show.) He left the show as a serviceable Doctor, his era coming with some new innovations (color, more action, more and cooler special effects) and a long, healthy run some very good Doctor Who stories and some new innovations (not the least of which was the introduction of The Master).

And then he got replaced.

Not only that, but the run of his replacement, Tom Baker, would be nothing short of positively legendary. Playing The Doctor for seven years (two years longer than Pertwee, and more than Hartnell and Troughton combined), he is an incredibly iconic Doctor, from costume to mannerisms, and the show was never more popular in its original run. Tom Baker's Doctor is widely considered to be the best and most widely known (although David Tennant fans might disagree) of all time, and with seven years under his belt, it's very easy to see why.

With the Fourth Doctor, the show became nothing short of a phenomenon and incredibly exciting as this goofy looking chap with a giant scarf and a silly mish-mash of clothes took center stage and showed the world what Doctor Who was really capable of.

But enough of that, what about this episode?

This episode, "The Genesis of the Daleks," is one of only two times The Fourth Doctor went up against his greatest foe. Shocking as that might sound, especially given the rampant popularity of The Doctor before and since, it's a mark of Baker's era that he wasn't *crutched* by Daleks and they weren't a foe for The Doctor to fall back on.

"Genesis of the Daleks," however, is perhaps most notable because it is the introduction of the incredibly iconic creator of The Daleks.


And really, that's the entire reason I wanted so desperately to see this episode. I loved him in the most recent series when The Tenth Doctor and his multitude of Companions ran up against him in "Stolen Earth/Journey's End," and the appearance of Davros and the backstory that comes with him is the thing that really grabbed me and sucked me into wanting to watch "The Old Stuff", which means it's really his fault that I'm doing this blog in the first place.

So I owe it to the Daleks' creator to talk about his introduction.

Oh. And it's about the creation of the Daleks. Who doesn't love that?

Let's get to it!