Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Serial 17: The Time Meddler

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companions: Vicki and Steven

Written by: Dennis Spooner
Directed by: Douglas Camfield

Background & Significance: William Hartnell's second season saw a series of Doctor Who firsts. It saw the first return of the Daleks, the first departure of companions, the first arrival of new companions...

And to cap it all off, they rounded out the season with the first appearance of another Time Lord.

While it is kind of a cheat (The Doctor is not revealed to be a "Time Lord" until Patrick Troughton's last episode and Gallifrey is not mentioned by name until Jon Pertwee's final season), the main villain of this story, The Meddling Monk, is revealed to be "a member of The Doctor's race", and an evil one at that.

I think it's safe to say he was created to be a sort of Proto-Master, but he doesn't quite succeed at that. There's a reason he only appears in two stories, this one and "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". He's just not that great of a villain. He's kinda goofy, kind of a waste of time, kind of ridiculous... when you get right down to it, he's just not a formidable foe. The Doctor has much more interesting Rogues in his gallery, from Daleks, to Cybermen, to The Master, to Time Lords themselves... The Monk just isn't the sort of character I'm able to take super seriously.

And that, most likely, is why this story fails.

This story takes place right after "The Chase," at the end of which Barbara and Ian (The Doctor's only two remaining original companions) find a way back home, leaving Vicki (Susan's replacement), and The Doctor alone, recovering from the epic events of The Daleks' great chase through time and space.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Serial 69: The Green Death

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

Written by: Robert Sloman (and Barry Letts)
Directed by: Michael Briant

Background & Significance: After starting off with The Three Doctors, Jon Pertwee ended his fourth season with a story written by one of the major writers during his tenure: a Mr. Robert Sloman.

Sloman's stories (and we'll get to some of them eventually, I'm sure) are widely considered some of the best of Pertwee's Doctor Who, including Jon Pertwee's final story "The Planet of the Spiders" (which, tangent, I want to watch so so badly you don't even know. It's apparently quite good).

This story, "The Green Death" marks another turning point for Pertwee's Doctor. Besides the intense, serious environmental message (so intense, in fact, you can't escape it), the story also marks the departure of Katy Manning as Companion Jo Grant.

Now, I know I've been hardish on Jo in the past, what with her insistence on skinning fine blue furred aliens for her clothing, but, to me, it's impossible to discuss Pertwee's Doctor without mentioning Jo Grant. She was The Third Doctor's companion for three of his five seasons, and it was her departure (along with the death of Roger Delgado (who was the original Master) and the departure of Barry Letts) that incentivized Pertwee into making his next season as The Doctor his final season.

As such, a lot of this story is about The Doctor and Jo separating both physically and emotionally, leading to a terribly beautiful farewell that... well... I can't see how anyone can get out of this serial without caring about Jo in the end, or at least, without caring about the relationship between her and The Doctor. Not with this ending.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Serial 94: Image of the Fendahl

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Leela

Written by: Chris Boucher
Directed by: George Spenton-Foster

Background & Significance: After the Gothic period, the BBC removed Phillip Hinchcliffe as producer of Doctor Who and replaced him with Graham Williams, whom they told to "lighten the tone" of the overall series and to make it less violent.

Graham Williams' era ran for three years, including this season, the Key to Time season, and then the "Douglas Adams year", which we'll get to eventually. The time saw the rise in popularity and input from Tom Baker and a decline in viewership after the rampantly popular Hinchcliffe era. So... I'll cut him some slack.

"Image of the Fendahl" comes right at the start of this change, after the departure of Hinchcliffe but just before the departure of Robert Holmes as script editor. As such, this story is noticeably lighter than the very dark, grizzly content of "The Deadly Assassin", but it does have a noticeably horror-like tone to it, especially in the last episode.

As a story, I was a bit worried about this one, as I'm not sure I'll like the widely-accepted-as-lesser-quality post-Gothic Tom Baker, but it actually delivered in the end. Also of concern was the introduction of Companion Leela, whom I didn't know what to make of going into this, and coming out of it...

Well... I'm still not sure.

That said? A story that's both a haunted house horror story with roots based on a Time Lord Ghost Story? And with an unprecedented amount of sexual tension? Awesome.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Serial 10: The Dalek Invasion of Earth

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

Written by: Terry Nation
Directed by: Richard Martin

Background & Significance: Daleks are popular.

I know that goes without saying, but that's the way the world is. Since their first appearance, The Daleks have always been major players in the scope of Doctor Who. It was their appearance in Doctor Who's second story that rocketed the show into its must-see-TV status.

And as with all things, they needed to monetize on what they had.

To cope with the insane popularity of that second story and ignoring the fact that The Daleks had been completely defeated in their first story, the producers re-hired Terry Nation, creator of The Daleks, to pen another Dalek invasion story, something bigger, badder, and awesomer.

He came up with this, the story of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, explaining away everything, and writing a bad ass story that's a bit more worthy of The Daleks. Again, the Daleks need epic, and this was the first time they really fulfilled the scope and promise of The Daleks as these great and evil bad guys.

Not only that, but this serial is ridiculously significant not just for the return of the Daleks, but also for the first companion departure. Carole Ann Ford, who played Susan, decided to leave the show after she was not allowed to develop the character as she wanted, which is a shame, especially when you consider how important and meaningful a character like "The Doctor's Granddaughter" actually is. That said, this ending is.... just...

Well... We'll touch on that when we get there.

All in all, this is just a great serial, and after spending a ton of time dealing with The Doctor Who of the 70's and 80's, it's really fun to get back to the cheap B-movie delightful science fiction stories of Hartnell/Troughton Who. Not only that, but this could have been awful, but it wasn't. It's here that "Dalekmania" started, and the Daleks' popularity started to skyrocket. This was the first of several notable Dalek stories that would get told over the course of the next several seasons.

But enough of this blather! Let's get to it!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Serial 109: The Leisure Hive

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

Written by: David Fisher
Directed by: Lovett Bickford

Editor's note: Hey, guys. Just wanted to say that due to busy schedule with life we have a fill-in by friend-of-the-blog Cassandra this week. She'll be appearing regularly (probably about once a month) to do a serial here and there. Standard stuff, really. And who doesn't love a good guest perspective? Especially here, on a serial worthy of snarking. But love-snarking. Anyways! Enough hijacking! I'll see you all next week for a First Doctor Dalek story, but for now let's see what she has to say about some Doctor Who!

Background & Significance: 1980 marked quite a few changes for Doctor Who.

When families sat down together in the evening to catch the opening of the Eighteenth Season of the show, dubbed "The Leisure Hive", not only would they be greeted by a new opening credits sequence (complete with updated mix of Ron Grainer's original opening theme, new logo, and new face shot of Tom Baker), but they would come to find that the Fourth Doctor's trademark outfit had mysteriously turned... burgundy?

These, and other changes enacted in this final season of Tom Baker's run, were indicative of the behind-the-scenes changes that had already occurred; namely, the arrival of John Nathan-Turner (often referred to as JNT) as producer of the beloved sci-fi show.

Now, it's not like JNT mysteriously showed up in a poof of smoke at the beginning of Season 18 and enacted all these sweeping changes with the help of his magical mini minions. He'd been under the employ of the BBC since 1960, and 1969 saw his first work on Doctor Who with the Troughton serial "The Space Pirates". Over the years he climbed the ranks, and ultimately served under producer Graham Williams from 1977 til 1979. Tack on his work as producer til the show's cancellation in 1990, and you have over 20 years on the show.

Holy damn. That's a long time, no?

So by the time JNT accepted the position of producer after Williams' departure, the facts were these: Many people (both on the crew and the audience at large) were not taking Doctor Who seriously. Tom Baker had far too much influence in the direction the show had taken over the years and not necessarily for the better (it's in this era, after our friend Robert Holmes left as script editor, that the show turned from dark Gothic to much more comedic in nature).

Thus, the show needed to be updated--or, rather, brought back to basics. People needed to start taking it a little more seriously again, which ultimately led to the changes enacted in Tom Baker's final season (and the many other decisions over the years following these initial few): new credits sequence, new TARDIS exterior, new costume (including the introduction of the question mark motif that would be integrated into each Doctor's costume until the show's cancellation in 1990), even the offing of a companion (which I'll touch on in a bit). This, by God, would be an era of Who to be reckoned with.

So what about this serial?

As far as stories go, I found it decidedly "meh". Not terrible, but not quite good, either. It's really rather average, and I often found myself just going along with what was happening on screen, not fully committed or invested. However, having never encountered Romana II (called such because this particular Companion happens to be a Time Lord (awesome!) and this is her second of the two incarnations we see on the show) before aside from the cheap little gondola scene we got of the two of them in "The Five Doctors", I loved her and found that she was easily the best part of "The Leisure Hive".

But enough of all that. Let's take a closer look, shall we?