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?