Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Serial 26: The Savages

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companion: Steven, Dodo

Written by: Ian Stuart Black
Directed by: Christopher Barry

Editor's Note: Hello again! Welcome back to another week! As you probably heard from last week (or whatever) I have the week off and my guest blogger Cassandra is filling in for me on a reconstruction (her first, and it's good). I'll be back next week though. With another reconstruction. Because we do those now. YAY!

And in case you've forgotten, don't forget to check out The Doctor's Companion, where I'm on every week talking about the new and recent episodes!

Background & Significance: Nobody really ever talks about "The Savages." Not that that's a bad thing. But really, it's not a particularly good thing, either.

There's not a lot of buzz on this story, which, having seen it twice, I can understand. It's extremely slow to start, and rather dull in places. It's not an especially remarkable story, really rather standard, but not without its really nifty sci-fi ideas and concepts. Oh, and it doesn't exist anymore.

The plight of the nonexistent story is one of the most bittersweet things about Doctor Who. Yes, the audio survives and various people can make reconstructions from telesnaps and existing pieces of the video and the audio track, but let's be honest, that's not any way to experience a television show. We've done a few reconstructions here at Classical Gallifrey already, but I've never personally reviewed one, so you'll be getting some more of my thoughts on that a bit later.

As far as significance goes, despite the fact that this story is pretty average, it's actually pretty significant for a number of reasons. "The Savages" is not only writer Ian Stuart Black's first story on the show, but it's also the first serial to be overseen by producer Innes Lloyd and script editor Gerry Davis, so it marks a changing of the guard, if you will. It's also the first ever Doctor Who serial to not have individually titled episodes, which is pretty awesome. Aside from the behind the scenes production significance of this story, it also serves as companion Steven's (as portrayed by actor Peter Purves) last adventure with the Doctor, and companion departures are usually always a pretty big deal across the board.

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Serial 96: Underworld

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

Written by: Bob Baker & Dave Martin
Directed by: Norman Stewart

Background & Significance: "Underworld" is not exactly a well-regarded story. In that famous Doctor Who Magazine ranking of all the stories of Doctor Who from "An Unearthly Child" to "Planet of the Dead", "Underworld" was the lowest ranking Tom Baker story. And not just low ranking for Tom Baker standards (his stories get a "Tom Baker bump" because everyone loves him so frakking much), but low as in bottom five Doctor Who story. Of all time.

Now, I should qualify that by saying I don't agree with a fair bit of some of the rankings on that list, but when you get so much concentration on positive (the top ten is fairly solid, if misguided) and the negative, it turns out that the masses are really not that wrong.

I hate Underworld. I'll just say that in the background and significance. It comes in one of my least favourite eras (The Graham Williams era) and suffers from being the first 4th Doctor story not overseen in at least some respect by Robert Holmes. And I think it REALLY shows you how much you need a good writer to bring something to the table to really make a story... you know.... good.

It also suffers from being written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, more jovially referred to as "The Brighton Boys" when they were a duo or whatever.

I'll also repeat something that I've said previously: Baker/Martin are not good. Or at least, the stories that they make are traditionally stories I REALLY don't like. The only time I've actually relished in a story that they wrote, it took Patrick Troughton to frakking save the day and completely steal the show. And of the only other times I found two other of their stories enjoyable, one had the benefit of being completely re-written by Robert Holmes and based on a half-decent concept AND the departure of one of the finest companions ever, while the other was handicapped to being just two parts.

Also, two of my all time least favourite Doctor Who stories OF ALL TIME are written by these two guys. Three if you count this one. So ummmmmm..... Not a huge fan, no.

But enough blather and mea culpa whatevering.

"Underworld" comes towards the end of Tom Baker's fourth season and is still in the early years of Graham Williams's producership and it's everything I associate with the era. It's poorly written and constructed, it looks awful, it makes no sense, it's cheap, and it's schlocky in all the worst of ways. Gone is the good writing and it shows you how much Baker/Martin can't stand on their own. Known for high concept ideas, studying Baker/Martin stories is a clinic in how to not do certain things. Which I'll elaborate on.

Honestly, this story is a mess even before the really awful CSO (green screen) kicks in. It's an awful travesty, and my god do I loathe this story.


So let's get to it!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Serial 71: Invasion of the Dinosaurs

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companion: Sarah Jane

Written by: Malcolm Hulke
Directed by: Paddy Russell

Background & Significance: As this is his last story, this becomes Malcom Hulke's legacy.

He's an interesting fellow, Malcolm Hulke, one of my favourite writers  in the classic era and of a great very many stories I very much enjoy, some of which are iconic ("The War Games", "The Silurians") and others of which are just plain fun ("The Sea Devils"), so it only makes sense that this story is perhaps his most refined in terms of theme and tone and excitement.

Also Dinosaurs.

"Invasion of the Dinosaurs" came about because of the excellent result of the CSO (color-separation overlay, think of it like primitive green screen/CGI) work done in "Carnival of Monsters" just a season previous. Excited at the prospects of new technology and making Doctor Who look even cooler and even more awesome, Producer Barry Letts sought to push the boundaries of CSO and shoot for something even more ambitious than just Drashigs flitting about or what have you. No. He wanted Dinosaurs. And he wanted them to invade.

And invade they did.

The story itself is not terribly well-regarded. Most people will judge a story by poor special effects work and its relative cheapness (when compared to the cheapness with which Doctor Who was put on, of course) rather than... you know, a good story. To me, it's disappointing, but I understand it. Poor effects work will suck you out of a story while excellent work will immerse you in it (it's why people like movies). For me, the effects only ever magnify what is there in terms of story. If it's a good story, good effects work will make me love it more but poor effects won't kill it for me. The contrary is true for a bad story, with poor effects making me HATE it (as we'll see next week) and excellent effects seeming as little more than a consolation prize.

It then leaves me, therefore, rather enjoying "Invasion of the Dinosaurs". Like so many other Pertwee stories, it's very padded in the middle, but that's neither here nor there in the grander scope of things. There's a lot to love, not the least of which is the fantastic character development on Mike Yates or the really impressive guest cast and overall story, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Also, dinosaurs.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Serial 152: The Happiness Patrol

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

Written by: Graeme Curry
Directed by: Chris Clough

Background & Significance: This one's the one that's totally not about Margaret Thatcher. At all.

The 1980s was a bit of a different and controversial time for Doctor Who. I mean, most of this you can chalk up to Producer-through-the-whole-1980s Jonathan Nathan-Turner and the him-mentality he brought to to the show. Much has been said on him. Much will be said in the future.

But for now let's talk about this.

"The Happiness Patrol" is the second serial in McCoy's second season, which puts us smack dab in the middle of his tenure as The Doctor. It's only the second serial that aired with regards to "The Cartmel Masterplan" and it's... a bit different. For one thing, it puts The Doctor in a dystopian futuristic setting (and we all know how that turned out the last time that happened), so instantly it's a little off putting, at least for me. For another the regime as it's led by Helen A. is a definite oh-mah-gosh allegory for then-Prime-Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Honestly, it's a bit of a welcome thing.

Classic Who definitely has a predilection to lend itself to the occasional political/social commentary when the time was right (see "The Sunmakers" among others) and it only makes sense that they actually tackle Margaret Thatcher (almost literally) in this story. Not only that, but having sworn off dystopias in Doctor Who, I find it interesting that they do one here and it works (more or less), but mostly because of the oeuvre they're trying to capture or what have you. Also they paint The TARDIS pink. I don't know what that is.

It's also a three part story and filmed on sets in studio. So... that's good at least. Well... I think that's a fine thing, anyways.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Serial 16: The Chase

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

Written by: Terry Nation
Directed by: Richard Martin

Background & Significance: If I have a problem with Terry Nation, it's the fact that he is often very uninventive with his most-beloved creations and he rarely does anything new or interesting with them, choosing to let them become silly ineffectual things rather than the former, evil, cold-hearted, ruthless beings.

Granted, Terry Nation can make plenty of excuses this early in the game. "The Chase" is in Doctor Who's second season, in the midst of the period many people still refer to as "Dalekmania" when any appearance of The Daleks saw a surge in ratings and popularity for the show (not that that's not the case now, but people were ravenous for the Daleks back then). It's also before the geniusness of David Whittaker's Troughton Dalek stories ("Power of the Daleks" and "Evil of the Daleks") the stories which (in my honest opinion) really showed you what the Daleks were truly and honestly capable of if pushed to the limit and how effective they could be when put in the right hands.

But, again, this is before that.

"The Chase" was commissioned as the third Dalek story soon after production of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". The premise is simple: The Daleks chase The Doctor and his companions through time and space and much fun is had and it's rompy and then Barbara and Ian leave (which, much like "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" is the hands down best part of the story). Unfortunately, you can see the effectiveness of The Daleks wearing thin because this is just a mindless runaround. The Daleks that appeared previously were various degrees of facist bastards (let's commit genocide against our blood brothers The Thals purely because we can). But here, the Daleks are morons. This only makes sense, of course. More than anything else, Nation was more interested in spinning The Daleks off into their own show and riding that gravy train into the ground. He also sought to recapture the magic of his original imagination by creating natural enemies for The Daleks (The Mechanoids) that The Daleks could find in this never-really-realized TV show, but they just come out as total hogwash and a waste of everyone's time.

The result is a jumbled bore of a story, a string of unrelated set pieces that are varying degrees of interesting in theory, but totally wasted in favour of being tremendously silly and a little ridiculous. As with Nation's other scripts, the ideas are all solid and there, but it's the executions that suffer, which tells me a lot about what kind of writer he is.

It's because of stories like this that I perpetuate the theory that Terry Nation's writing in "Genesis of The Daleks" was way punched up by then-script editor Robert Holmes, because honestly? This story is a joke, a total disservice to The Daleks, and a stark contrast to the levels of quality Dalek stories that happen throughout the rest of the show's history.

So let's get to it!