Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Serial 6: The Aztecs

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

Written by: John Lucarotti
Directed by: John Crockett

Background & Significance: After the success of long-lost Doctor Who adventure "Marco Polo", script editor David Whitaker asked that story's writer John Lucarotti to write another historical epic about whatever he chose. Lucarotti chose "The Aztecs", a culture which had fascinated him, and they were off to the races.

While it is considered one of the great stories of the classic series, and very memorable in terms of Hartnell's tenure on the show, to call "The Aztecs" a wonderful epic story of awesome is... hyperbole. It's best defined by two very important events that happen over the course of the adventure:

Barbara tries to re-write history and The Doctor gets engaged.

The second bit we'll laugh at when we get to it in the story, but "The Aztecs" does (to an extent) deal with the threat of changing the course of history. In this, "The Aztecs" is, perhaps, most important. The idea that Barbara can, through the aid of The Doctor bringing them to that moment in history, alter the past to fit her worldview and design is nothing short of revolutionary in the scope of the series. Now, The Doctor wouldn't be just having to run away from people who want to kill him and saving his companions (or having them save him). This story established that he needs to have history play out as it should play out and that they can't go and change anything.

(Anything, of course, being rather subjective as a term.)

Really, though, that just makes this story sound much more epic than it actually is. It's not like Barbara goes around and shows the Aztecs guns or anything. She just tries to change their culture in a very small way, which, while not massive and epic on the scale of what other characters (from Time Lords to humans to Daleks) will try to do later on in the series, is at least the first story to tackle the issue, thereby giving them all the license to do it in the future.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Serial 52: Doctor Who and the Silurians

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companion: Liz Shaw

Written by: Malcolm Hulke
Directed by: Timothy Combe

Background & Significance: When Jonathan Nathan-Turner took over as producer of Doctor Who in 1980, he brought with him what I consider to be the most underrated "rules" of classic Doctor Who: The ideal story length for any Doctor Who story is four parts.

Unfortunately, over ten years before he instigated what would be canon for his ten year run as producer of Doctor Who, the folk running around making the show throughout the 60's and 70's were just interested in making it as cheap as possible so they'd have a job next season.

Jon Pertwee's first season is a prime example of that.

After the end of the remarkably expensive three-year run of Patrick Troughton, the BBC sought to reduce the budget of Doctor Who drastically in order to compensate for the newly approved decision to film in colour. One of the outcomes of this decision was the "Doctor banished to Earth and working for UNIT" status quo. Another was the decision to make the stories ridiculously long, so as to save on sets and having to pay more writers, guest cast, and crew for different stories over the season.

This means that of the four stories in Pertwee's first season, three are seven parts long, which, if you do the math, is twice as long as the "ideal" Doctor Who story.

So this story (and by the way, before we go any further, can we all decide that this title is stupid? No, really. If you just called it "The Silurians" it'd be rad, but no. You had to go ruin it by using that title, didn't you?) is remarkably long. It's also in the early days of UNIT, so Jo Grant hasn't even shown up yet and Pertwee's hair is hilarious.

The Time Lords have confined The Doctor to Earth, though. So he has to have an adventure with The Brigadier and his first companion, the oft forgotten Liz Shaw...

So let's get to it!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Serial 103: The Armageddon Factor - The Key to Time Part VI

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companions: Romana I, K-9

Written by: Bob Baker & Dave Martin
Directed by: Michael Hayes

Background & Significance: So it comes to this. The end of the Key to Time.

With its sixth story, the Key to Time season came to an end. There were ups and downs, certainly, but more than anything it was at least watchable.

Yeah... Until this.

Y'see, I do think highly of Bob Baker and Dave Martin (Of note that they've done is "Claws of Axos" and "The Three Doctors". And while I don't necessarily agree or enjoy the "let's make it comedic and let Tom Baker do whatever the hell he wants" mentality of his era, I do think Graham Williams is an entirely competent producer. Likewise, Anthony Read (script editor for the past season and a half) is fine, suitable even.

But "The Armageddon Factor"... This is where I draw the line.

Of course, it's not as easy as the weak, weak script this turned out being. Tom Baker was incessantly fussy about this whole thing (as he gets at the end of every season when he demands more creative control and threatens leaving and gets to be a "diva"), Mary Tamm decided to leave at the end of the season, Baker/Martin split as a writing team after handing one of their drafts of the script, and, as always happens because of poor planning, the budget was running extremely, extremely tight.

In the end, what you have is this... well... I guess we'll just have to take it as we go.

So let's get to it!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Serial 102: The Power of Kroll - The Key to Time Part V

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companions: Romana I

Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Norman Stewart

Editor's note: Never fear! We're almost done! After this Robert Holmes, there's only but one! Cassandra's got our second to last adventure starring the Key to Time and then I'll be back in two days to wrap up this two week saga with "The Armageddon Factor".

Background & Significance: Before Doctor Who's ambitious Sixteenth Season began, script editor Anthony Read worked hard to try and hammer down each of the six stories in place so everything would go smoothly. Unfortunately, writer illness and apparent lack of ideas made it so that the fourth and fifth serials in the Key to Time were unplanned. What resulted was the hire of writers David Fisher and Robert Holmes, both of whom had already written one story each this season: "The Stones of Blood" and "The Ribos Operation", respectively.

The result of David Fisher's rehire we saw with Monday's "The Androids of Tara", but what of Holmes?

Well, you're about to find out.

A couple things I want to point out: Robert Holmes is a good writer. He is. Really. Remember "The Deadly Assassin"? Yeah. That was him.

But what we see with the disappointment that is "The Power of Kroll" (because spoilers: this serial was so disappointing and hokey) I can blame on two things: studio intervention, and writer burn-out. This is Holmes' last serial before he wrote the acclaimed Peter Davison serial "Caves of Androzani", which is supposed to be AMAZING. And watching this, you can tell he needed a break. Also, the Head of Drama at the BBC at the time told Holmes to cut back on his humor. Why on earth would you do that, buddy? Way to fail.

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

Monday, July 12, 2010

Serial 101: The Androids of Tara - The Key to Time Part IV

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companions: Romana I, K-9

Written by: David Fisher
Directed by: Anthony Reed

Background & Significance: Smack in the middle of The Key to Time, producer Graham Williams and script editor Anthony Read found themselves one story shy of a full season. Then, to make matters worse, one of the writers had to back out due to "personal reasons".

With everything else taken care of and running out of options, they turned to David Fisher, who had written the previous story "The Stones of Blood", which the two leading Doctor Who men had been most pleased with (obviously their standards are not as high as mine).

They told him to write something in the vein of what the original writer had written. Something swashbuckling and exciting and full of rope swinging and adventure. Something that was reminiscent of... Perhaps Ivanhoe or Robin Hood. Something like that.

"The Androids of Tara" was the result of that project.

And what a fun, fun time it turned out being.

Really, this is one of those stories that I've had on my mind for a long time. I just love that title. Androids. of Tara. That's just... wonderful. And boy this wasn't anything about what you'd think it'd be about, but I just did not care. What. a. romp.

So let's get to it!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Serial 100: The Stones of Blood - The Key to Time Part 3

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)

Companions: Romana I, K-9

Written by: David Fisher
Directed by: Darrol Blake

Editor's Note: Still on the Key to Time, kids. I needed a break after the one-two punch of the beginning of the week, but I'll see you back here Monday with "The Androids of Tara". For now, just sit back and enjoy Cassandra's discussion of "The Stones of Blood".

Background & Significance: It's the week of Halloween, 1978. What should you be watching to get you in the spooky scary mood?

Why, "The Stones of Blood", of course!

The third serial in Doctor Who's sixteenth season and coincidentally the third installment in the epic Key to Time, it's important for a couple of reasons. The main one being that this lovely serial happened to be the 100th broadcast story in the show's long history.


To ring in the auspicious occasion, writer David Fisher was commissioned to pen this adventure, the first of four Who stories he would be asked to write, including next week's "The Androids of Tara" and the previously reviewed "The Leisure Hive".

Unfortunately, no asparagus people in this, but plenty of supernatural hijinx and ultimately a story that starts off awesome and ends up disappointing.

But enough of that buzzkill, we'll get to that soon enough, I'm sure. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Serial 99: The Pirate Planet - The Key to Time Part 2

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companions: Romana I, K-9

Written by: Douglas Adams
Directed by: Pennant Roberts

Background & Significance: In 1977, a young fellow named Douglas Adams was offered a gig writing Doctor Who just as his grand opus and most famous work The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy got off the ground.

Adams's first story for Doctor Who (one of three he wrote) was called many things by many people. Some called it too complicated. Others called it too expensive. Others called it too dense.

A BBC exec called it "Too funny."

And that's funny right? I mean, you hire a guy like Douglas Adams on the scene for a big sci-fi show, you're going to get funny, right? It's most odd, perhaps, because the backlash against Phillip Hinchcliffe's "violent and scary" tenure as producer on Doctor Who resulted in Doctor Who becoming more comedic.

As such, Adams was a perfect fit. So perfect, in fact, that he became story editor for the season after The Key to Time, but I guess we'll talk about that when we finally get there.

Needless to say, The Pirate Planet is indeed funny, although I'd call it silly more than anything. More than that, though, it is dense but with some very cool sci-fi ideas in it. Also, it's zany. Like really zany. I think this is the zaniest it's been so far.

But fun. I think.

So let's get to it!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Serial 98: The Ribos Operation - The Key to Time Part I

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

Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: George Spenton-Foster

Production Note: Hey guys. For the next two weeks, we'll be looking at the season long epic The Key to Time! It's a fast paced roller coaster of a blogging time, but I figure it's better to get it over and done with so we're not languishing in the story for the next six weeks.

We'll be updating here three serials per week until it's over (that's Monday, Wednesday, Friday through next week). I'm taking the first two, the fourth, and the last, and friend of the blog Cassandra will be taking the third and the fifth. Once we're on the other side, we'll be back on a weekly schedule until the next major multi-serial storyline, but for now just sit back, relax, and read about one of the most ambitious projects in Classic Doctor Who history.

Hope you enjoy the show!

Background & Significance: As Doctor Who rounded into its sixteenth season, producer Graham Williams decided he wanted to put a stamp on his tenure by doing something no one had ever done before:

Tell a season-long story.

Sure, the first several seasons were serialized, with each story bleeding into the next, but Williams wanted something different. He wanted excitement and the construction of a multi-serial narrative seemed like just the thing to do.

It was definitely an ambitious project, one that would require tons of planning an preparation. They'd give The Doctor a goal, a quest in six parts and have each serial of the season see him obtain each of the six pieces of The Key to Time in order to stop the evil Black Guardian.

They brought in Tom Baker and made sure he'd be around for every episode (can't do a season long Doctor story if there's no Doctor) and contracted a new companion, the first incarnation of Romana, and away they set off, on the quest for the Key to Time.

Williams gave the first story in the season, "The Ribos Operation", to veteran Doctor Who writer Robert Holmes, in the hopes that he would turn in a good fast draft that they wouldn't have to spend too much time fixing. It turned out to be the second to last Robert Holmes story until Holmes returned for the legendary "Caves of Androzani."

Unfortunately, many people refer to the period after The Gothic Season and until the rise of Jonathan Nathan-Turner as a weaker time for Doctor Who, when the writing suffered, and the series saw a decline in quality. I know I talked about it a little when I talked about The Image of the Fendahl, but... Yeah... That's definitely present here.

So let's get to it!