Monday, December 31, 2012

An Afterword

And then I had talked about all of the Doctor Who.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Serial 30: The Power of the Daleks

Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companions: Ben and Polly

Written by: David Whitaker (and Dennis Spooner)
Directed by: Christopher Barry

Background & Significance: Once the Doctor Who production team had made the decision to let William Hartnell step down as The Doctor, producer Innes Lloyd set about trying to find a suitable replacement. But instead of going for Hartnell 2.0 (which Robert Shearman cynically and perhaps rightly suspected was part of the point of "The Savages") they sought something different. They needed a fresh take by someone who could do new and good things with the character. Eventually they settled on Patrick Troughton, and according to legend, William Hartnell endorsed the decision, saying "If there's one man in England who can replace me it's Patrick Troughton!"

That is, of course, probably legend.

But after "The Tenth Planet" Hartnell would step down, leaving in his wake this new actor in the same role, and the production team put a lot of work into Troughton's new character and coming up with ways to delineate him from Hartnell. One of the great stories to come out of this time was the notion that Troughton might perhaps play the character "blacked up", although that was probably a passing thing one time in a conversation and was remembered years later from a purely "wtf were we thinking" retrospective. Eventually they settled on the idea of Troughton as a "Cosmic Hobo", which is, of course, how his Doctor is still remembered as a character to this day.

Now all they had to do was introduce him.

To do this, they brought in David Whitaker, the man who had defined Doctor Who more than just about anyone in the history of the show up to that point. It was he who made the TARDIS the TARDIS and it was he who had overseen Hartnell's fantastic first season. This would help, because what they were attempting (replacing the lead actor in the middle of a season) was ludicrously insane. They'd need to keep things as stable as possible to convince the audience that this was something that would be okay. In terms of companions, this meant keeping around Ben and Polly, the companions who had been around for the past three stories. In terms of villains it meant bringing back the Daleks, because putting this new Doctor up against his greatest foe would be the best way to encourage people that this Doctor was still The Doctor, only different.

I mean, who else would defeat the Daleks? That's what The Doctor does.

Whitaker (to his credit) included a bunch of different ideas of this new Doctor, chief amongst which was the notion that this wasn't The Doctor's first regeneration (something that would, again, be picked up upon in "The Brain of Morbius"). Head of Drama Sydney Newman (who had helped bring Doctor Who to life) was somewhat dissatisfied by these aspects of Whitaker's script and requested a re-write. Whitaker (having completed his scripts and having moved on to something else) was unavailable, so duties fell to Dennis Spooner, Whitaker's successor as script editor, who trimmed up Whitaker's drafts and tweaked the portrayal of The Doctor to better align with Newman's ideas.

The result is "Power of the Daleks", the first ever regeneration story, the first ever 2nd Doctor story, and the last entry for this blog. And I'll just say this before we start: just like "Androzani" last week, I have been saving this one. And now for the last time...

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Serial 135: The Caves of Androzani

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companion: Peri

Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Graeme Harper

Background & Significance: Robert Holmes is one of the three greatest Doctor Who writers of all time, which is rather fortunate because he also happens to be the most prolific, writing seventy two of the Classic series' original almost-seven-hundred episode run (which, by the way, is over ten percent of all Classic episodes). Throw in the lot that he oversaw as script editor and that number balloons to one hundred forty four (which is almost 20% of all Doctor Who episodes ever produced). His run was so long and prolific, in fact, it can be broken down into stages: two Troughton era stories (where he got his feet wet), to four classic Pertwee stories (which allowed him playing ground to experiment with different types of stories) to his run at script editor when he shaped and created (in a sense) Tom Baker's Doctor (during which he wrote five stories), to his few dabbles in the post-him Tom Baker era, to his long break where he didn't write any Doctor Who stories for five years, to his triumphant return with "The Caves of Androzani" and his final Colin Baker stories, which were landmarks and such. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of The Modern Era's Steven Moffat in that Moffat got his feet wet during Eccleston, played around with different stories during Tennant, and then took over the show for a new Doctor when Tennant left. Both men created/are creating classic, popular foes that are known for being scary, wrote tremendously famous/popular stories, and they both are proven to be idea factories through and through.

But "The Caves of Androzani" is his unabashed masterpiece.

We've been talking about Holmes a lot lately. Hell, this is the fourth story penned by Holmes in the past two months, but this is one that's... special. It's the only time Holmes ever wrote for the 5th Doctor and it was his last opportunity to because this is Holmes's opportunity to write a Doctor's regeneration story. Indeed, it really brings him full circle because his bursting onto the scene happened in Jon Pertwee's first story (so he did a post-regen story) after two stories of warm-up. And this is his last story before (essentially) two stories of cool-down (if you count "Trial" as one big monolithic story). It also makes Holmes relatively unique, as he's one of only three other writers (Terrence Dicks, Christopher Bidmead, and Russell T. Davies) to write both a regeneration story (that is, a story that ends in regeneration) and a post-regeneration story (that is, a story that picks up immediately after The Doctor's regeneration).

"Androzani" came about because Eric Saward (having gone back through the Doctor Who archives) became enamored with Holmes and looked for a way to get Holmes back to write a story for Doctor Who again. Somehow Holmes (who apparently thought he'd been away for long enough) and Nathan-Turner (who disliked bringing in people who had been around on the program longer than him and who could thus undermine his authority) both got on board and there was an attempt to get Holmes to write the 20th Anniversary special (what eventually became "The Five Doctors"). Holmes found the laundry list of things to include (Cybermen, a Dalek, Time Lords, Gallifrey, The Master, and Five Doctors) untenable and stepped down from scripting duties. But Saward, not wanting to let go of a good thing and desperate to get Holmes's quality into his own run on the show, managed to persuade Nathan-Turner to bring Holmes in for a different story. That story became, eventually, "The Caves of Androzani", The 5th Doctor's final story.

It's not all about Holmes, though. This story also marks the first behind-the-camera effort for Graeme Harper, who is, for my money, the best Doctor Who director of all time, and this is the first thing he'd ever directed. Ever. He'd been around the show (and other shows) as an assistant at various levels (working under Douglas Camfield at one point). If you know the name, you know for a fact this is not the last thing he directed either and that he went on to do not only "Revelation of the Daleks" but a number of stories during the David Tennant years (including the Cybermen stories in series two, "Utopia" in series three, series four's finale of "Stolen Earth/Journey's End", the exquisite "Waters of Mars", and a bunch of other programs like the BBC's most recent adaptation of Robin Hood.

But this is the first thing he ever directed, so I guess it's worth seeing if he puts his back into it and if there's any hints of a great director in here who might one day blossom into someone fantastic amazing.

I suppose I should also mention that in that Doctor Who Mighty 200 poll this came out at the very very top. So it is considered (at least as of 2009) as the fan-consensus greatest Doctor Who story ever produced. So no pressure there. That poll is basically just saying that this story is better than every single other Doctor Who story we've ever yet talked about. That's a tall order and with fifty years of television stories I'd say... well... it's worth discussing whether or not this is the best Doctor Who story ever. Granted, I know my own thoughts based on the one previous time I've watched this. I'm just wondering if this will confirm or adjust them.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Serial 54: Inferno

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

Written by: Don Houghton
Directed by: Douglas Camfield (& Barry Letts)

Background & Significance: Once Doctor Who's format changed at the start of its 7th season, script editor Terrence Dicks was looking for ways to make the show's new format conceit (aliens arrive on Earth; The Doctor teams up with UNIT to fight them) work without it getting too stale and repetitive. How many times can you see aliens land on Earth and them attempt a take over without it actually feeling like a tired, awful conceit?

We saw this conceit played out in "Spearhead From Space" and "Ambassadors of Death." "Inferno" (like "Silurians" before it) takes a slightly different tact.

Written by Don Houghton and being the twilight story "directed" by Douglas Camfield before his brief return during the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, "Inferno" is perhaps most famous for being "that one story about the alternate/parallel universe where everything is topsy turvy." It's heralded as a classic and considered not just one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time, but also the best Jon Pertwee story of all time in the Mighty 200 poll. So it's got... a reputation. And yet it's still not exactly perfect. Camfield had to bow out a few episodes into production leaving new producer Barry Letts to step in and pick up the slack based on Camfield's extensive notes.

Still though. Parallel universe! That's something, eh?

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Serial 84: The Brain of Morbius

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Sarah Jane Smith

Written by: Robin Bland (a.k.a Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes)
Directed by: Christopher Barry

Background & Significance: Season 13 of Doctor Who is perhaps one of the best seasons of television the show ever experienced. After a season of stories coordinated by the previous production team, this new start allowed Holmes to sculpt the show into whatever he wanted it to be. As we've discussed previously, this resulted in a season full of horror pastiches and sendups. Mummies, mutant plants, shapeshifters, body snatchers...

And now? Frankenstein.

"Brain of Morbius" comes at the exact halfway point of their era and represents the pinnacle of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes vision for the show. Originally written by Terrance Dicks (the original version had an aesthetically-challenged robot that cobbled together a body for the wrecked Morbius based on its own warped view of human anatomy), it was eventually almost completely re-written by Robert Holmes, so much so that Dicks asked his name be removed from the writing credit. As such, it's really a Holmesian contribution to Doctor Who and to say otherwise is massive, massive self-deception (as we'll discuss) because... well... it's a Holmes story, isn't it?

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Serial 13: The Web Planet

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

Written by: Bill Strutton
Directed by: Richard Martin

Background & Significance: "The Web Planet" is just one of those serials. It's oft forgotten by most fans, and, when you look for it on rankings of Doctor Who stories, it will inevitably always be incredibly low on the list. In Doctor Who Magazine's Mighty 200 Poll, it came after "The Gunfighters" in terms of Hartnell, ahead of only "The Sensorites" and "The Space Museum".

"Worse than 'The Gunfighters'", though? Personally, that says good things to me. And I rather did like "The Sensorites" when I watched it, so...

Producer Verity Lambert and script editor David Whitaker wanted to create another successful monster in the way The Daleks had been successful in the previous year. Enter Bill Strutton, who pitched an idea for (essentially) "giant ants" and Lambert and Whitaker loved the idea so much they didn't even request a storyline. They picked up six episodes, which was not a standard practice at the time. And suddenly everyone was off and running, with Strutton figuring out his scripts and Lambert working to figure out how the hell to make this thing producible.

The result is... well... for lack of better term: magic. Again it's widely panned and muchly maligned mostly due to the design and special effects used. As we've spoken of previously, special effects are the aspect of movies/TV/etc. that age worst as time goes on. Today, The Lord of the Rings trilogy still looks pretty good, but is nowhere near the quality of what's coming out today. Hell, look at Alien. Released just a year later than Star Wars and it looks that much better. And with "The Web Planet" being as ambitious as it is, it's no wonder it hasn't aged spectacularly. And yet, perhaps, maybe there's more to it than you might initially expect. I mean, after all, this is the story that Neil Gaiman (having gone back and rewatching EVERYTHING as an adult) refuses to ever rewatch because it scared the pants off of him as a wee lad. He knows it won't hold up, and yet his memory of it holds and he's still a bit scared of it to this day.

A total turkey, then? It does bring the idea into question.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Serial 140: The Two Doctors

Doctor: Colin Baker (6th Doctor), Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companion: Peri Brown, Jamie McCrimmon

Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Peter Moffat

Background & Significance: In 1985 Doctor Who turned twenty two. So it was a few years past the 20th and still a few years from the 25th. Other than that, it's not really that remarkable. Sure, I suppose it's the sole season featuring Colin Baker as The Doctor. Compared to the previous twenty two, his twenty third is positively abbreviated, so it's hard to count that in my head. This was his first proper season. Other than that, there's nothing special or remarkable about it, is there?

And yet here we are talking about a multi-Doctor crossover.

Given the rousing success with which Robert Holmes had written "The Caves of Androzani", Eric Saward was quick to hire him back for another go at some Doctor Who. John Nathan-Turner (capable of knowing how good "Androzani" was and being not unintelligent) was quick to acquiesce to the idea. So we have the return of Robert Holmes offering one of his last stories for one of the most... marmite seasons of Doctor Who ever. And he was given a laundry list of things to do: bring in the 2nd Doctor. And Jamie. And Sontarans. Oh and set it in America. We're thinking New Orleans, because that lines up with your desire to do a story about food.

It was soon changed from Seville from New Orleans because the location filming fell through. And honestly, why not Spain?

But the point stands that this story had a laundry list of things to accomplish and Holmes had three whole episodes (the equivalent of a six parter in the old, 25-minute episode days) with which to incorporate all his ideas. And is it too much? Perhaps? How does Holmes react to the violence and intensity that he helped usher in with "Androzani"? How does he handle all of these elements and how does Colin Baker do? So many thoughts. I mean, well, we haven't talked about C. Baker in a god damn age. And it'll be the last time we talk about him. Sad.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Serial 157: The Curse of Fenric

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

Written by: Ian Briggs
Directed by: Nicholas Mallett

Background & Significance: With the rise of Nu-Who, one of the questions that comes around regularly is "Where do I start with the Classic Series". There's a few different answers. Perhaps the most popular is to watch "An Unearthly Child" and then go for there. The other answer I hear a lot is to warm people to the show through the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era and see how they like it. The idea here is to ease them into the production values with kickass stories that will make them not care. Then introduce them to other stories.

Me? I did something slightly different.

The other big recommendation is instead of going for more-than-adequate production values, you could always start with the eight 7th/Ace stories. They are the most "modern" in terms of dealing with The Doctor AND his companion as real characters with wants, needs, desires, etc. Ace herself is given an emotional and psychological clarity not afforded to previous companions, and comparing her to a previous companion like Tegan or Sarah Jane it's easy to see. Ace is impossibly specific in her construction and the role she fills in Doctor Who stories, enough so that you can tell that the Nu-Who companions like Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, etc. were all spun out of the cloth that Ace started with. It's not perfectly there and there's a way to go before then but it's mostly on the page for the 7th Doctor stories, and thusly provides a good entry point.

Which brings us to "The Curse of Fenric".

"The Curse of Fenric" is the twilight of Doctor Who's original twenty six year run and it's something of a doozy. Next to "Remembrance" is considered the best of its era, which is no small feat and if there's one story that's unequivocally about Ace, it's absolutely this one. And why wouldn't it be? Written by Ian "Dragonfire" Briggs, it's a story that delves into Ace's past and pushes both her and The Doctor to a brink, leading to something so immensely iconic that they basically ripped it off and shoved it into "The God Complex" to give that its awesome ending.

And if it's good enough for Nu-Who...

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Serial 45: The Mind Robber

Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companion: Jamie McCrimmon, Zoe Heriot

Written by: Peter Ling
Directed by: David Maloney

Background & Significance: Patrick Troughton's final season was one giant limp to the finish line for 1960s Doctor Who. As it was originally conceived, Doctor Who was a smaller, less technically-demanding show and could thusly fit more into a weekly production schedule. Recycle your sets for a few weeks, keep the stories coming, no one would be the wiser. It's why the show was able to crank out forty episodes per year for almost six years: less location shooting, less ambition.

Fortunately, given its growing popularity, Doctor Who got more and more ambitious. There was location shooting and aliens and bigger sets and a bigger, more action-based show than the one that was originally conceived.

Needless to say, this was one of the contributing factors to the massive overhaul the show saw starting in "Spearhead From Space". The show's episode count was dropped from 40+ to 25. There was a transition to colour. And all of a sudden Doctor Who became much more producible and less demanding on its actors. Indeed, one of the reasons Patrick Troughton left the role (besides his fear of typecasting) was to take a break from the grueling pace of putting out so many frakking episodes in a year (and to his credit, he didn't take nearly as many days off as other actors did; to be fair, though, Hartnell was remarkably sick when he took the role).

"The Mind Robber" is one of those stories that suffers from this scheduling push. The production team behind Doctor Who was a revolving door around this time, There were new script editors and producers coming in and leaving more or less constantly and the upheaval the show was in led to a "let's just get these out" mentality. Despite this, though, there was the notion that the writers wouldn't sacrifice quality if they could help it, and when it became clear that the story preceding "The Mind Robber" was going to be rubbish (it's "The Dominators" if you must know) they hacked the episode count of that story from six episodes to five episodes in the hope that maybe (just maybe) they could make it a little more bearable. And in their defense, I'm fairly sure a five episode "Dominators" is slightly more bearable than a six episode one, but only fairly.

With the need to fill another episode in the order (and wanting to not get slammed like they did with "Mission to the Unknown" a few seasons back when they cut an episode out of "Planet of the Giants") it was up to script editor Derrick Sherwin to come up with an extra episode to tack onto the top of "The Mind Robber" so they would fill their seasonly quota. To compensate for the overrun, the episodes were all condensed from the usual 25 minutes to an experimental 20 minutes, so we're still getting a hundred minutes of story, only spread out over five episodes instead of the usual four (with the first being a prologue to establish the setting at hand, or at least, to weird you the fuck out for twenty minutes before they slam you with something even more mindblowing).

Written by Peter Ling and introducing the direction of the fantastic David Maloney, it makes "The Mind Robber" something remarkably special and iconic for so many different reasons.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Serial 3: The Edge of Destruction

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

Written by: David Whitaker
Directed by: Richard Martin & Frank Cox

Background & Significance: Doctor Who was under threat of cancellation.

There's only a few times you can say that about. One time is during Michael Grade's attempt to completely shut down Doctor Who starting in the late late Davison era and continuing all the way through until the show's ultimate cancellation in 1989. Another was at the end of the Troughton era, during which the show was more or less floundering creatively and underwent a massive reboot to get it into a place where it was palatable to a brand new audience.

But the first time was episodes twelve and thirteen of season one, also fondly known as "The Edge of Destruction". The BBC's initial order for Doctor Who only took them to the end of this story, so really, it was entirely possible Doctor Who would have been cancelled once it was done.

Now granted, by the time this episode aired the show was almost assuredly going to stick around for a while. "The Daleks" had done gang-busters for the show in terms of ratings and the BBC ordered more scripts and episodes immediately. There would be no interruption in the production process (remember that at this time Doctor Who was producing some forty plus episodes a year), but the production team required an extra week or so to prepare the elaborate sets for Lucarotti's forthcoming historical epic "Marco Polo", so to save on money and set construction script editor David Whitaker took matters into his own hands and wrote what's essentially a bottle episode(s) of Doctor Who set entirely on the TARDIS and featuring no one but our main cast of characters and the one character you rarely ever think of but who's around all the time...

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Serial 95: The Sun Makers

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

Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Pennant Roberts

Editor's Note: Hallo hallo! Dropping in to point out that this is Cassandra's last entry! Lordie lord we are racing towards an ending and quickly, aren't we? By golly we are. But yes. Here's Cassandra with some discussion on "The Sun Makers".

Background & Significance: So the name of this game is 'satire'.

When I watched this story for the first time, the point flew right over my head and so I ended up disliking it.  "Robert Holmes?" I thought.  "Oh, surely this shall be another heavy masterpiece."  And it's not, so, I was confused and felt a bit betrayed and let down, since this was the last Robert Holmes story we did on our initial watch-through.

But just because this is much lighter fair than what I've come to expect from Holmes, doesn't make it bad.  On the contrary, it really shows off his range as a writer, as good comedy is one of the hardest things to master.

And this is a comedy.  It's a very biting satire on Imperialism and Colonialism as well as the British equivalent of the IRS, which I think is hilarious.  Granted, there are some dark elements/moments that we'll talk about in a bit, but at its heart this is a comedy, which makes it fit in splendidly with the Williams era aesthetic.

This is also one of the last stories featuring Leela as a companion, which makes me really sad because I love Leela and I think she's really great here, which may or may not have something to do with the return of Pennant Roberts, who also directed Leela's debut story "The Face of Evil".

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Serial 53: The Ambassadors of Death

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companions: Liz, The Brigadier

Written by: David Whitaker (and Trevor Ray and Malcolm Hulke)
Directed by: Michael Ferguson

Background & Significance: After six seasons, most television programmes start to show age and wear and tear in their day-to-day proceedings. To counteract this, shows need to evolve or grow in the way they conduct their business (creative business, I mean) lest people get bored with what's happening. And rightly so. Even Doctor Who (which at the time was churning out "stories" as opposed to episodes) had done fifty installments, and the past three seasons had been the formulaic base-under-siege format (or to put another way, a bad case of deja-you've-seen-one-you've-basically-seen-them-all-vu). So it was growing tired and the audience was shrinking to reflect that.

Season seven, then, as we know, was a change. New Doctor. New production team. New format. New colours. New episode/story count. And outgoing producer Derrick Sherwin sought to shore up costs by doing longer, seven-part episodes as opposed to the previously standard six-parters.

Now, the second anyone familiar with Classic Doctor Who (but who hasn't seen season seven) hears "seven-parter" they instantly clam up because... my god. There are five and six part stories that don't work. What hope do the production team have of pulling off three consecutive seven-parters? And yes, that's understandable. And to be fair, after the geniusness of the four-part "Spearhead From Space" it's hard to believe that anyone would want to deviate from such an exquisitely simple structure. And yet the season also has "Doctor Who and the Silurians" from masterful structurer Malcolm Hulke, which manages to be fairly adept at keeping the seven-part structure moving so that it's not too annoying. We'll talk about "Inferno" in just a few short weeks, but today we're covering "The Ambassadors of Death".

Yes. The bastard stepchild of the season. It's the one that's not got the iconic monster (Autons or Silurians, take your pick) or the unique premise ("Inferno") or strong start ("Spearhead"). No. This is the one that was only recently released in full colour, making it less desirable Pertwee than others. Black and white was Hartnell/Troughton, not Pertwee.

Originally pitched as an "Invaders of Mars" type story going back to season six, Whitaker did a lot of work on it, trying to make this story of humanity's first contact with alien life useable. What started as a six-episode 2nd Doctor/Jamie/Zoe story was then molded into a seven episode story featuring The 3rd Doctor, Liz Shaw, The Brigadier, and the new UNIT paradigm.  The reasoning was sound, too. The UNIT era was fresh and new and a straight-up alien invasion, first contact type story fits completely into that particular ouevre. Whitaker did his best and tried his darndest, but couldn't see eye to eye with the production team's desire and gave up after finishing the script to the third episode. He moved to Australia. He never worked on the programme proper again.

Dicks handed off the rest of the serial's four episodes to Malcolm Hulke (and his assistant Trevor Ray had done a heavy re-write on episode one) and collaborated with him to slam out the rest of the scripts based on Whitaker's notes and outlines. They brought in Michael "Seeds of Death" Ferguson to direct and the rest, as they say, is up on the screen for us to see. It's David Whitaker's final contribution to the program (and if you read Sandifer you know how big a deal this is) and so interesting to see how he pushes the series into its still-unsure but potential-packed future. And of course, it's interesting to see what great writers do with other great writers' ideas. You see this most during Robert Holmes's tenure as script editor, in which he strove to make the scripts coming in the best he could possibly make them, re-writing them if necessary. And yet this is a case of Hulke (one of my favorite writers of pre-Tom-Baker Doctor Who) shaping and molding the work of one of the greatest and most important Doctor Who writers of all time. Such a combination is rare, and definitely worth taking apart.

But really I'm mostly just dying to start re-watch it again.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Serial 33: The Moonbase

Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companions: Jamie, Ben, and Polly

Written by: Kit Pedler
Directed by: Morris Barry

Background & Significance: Ever since "The Daleks", Doctor Who was always looking for a returning monster to rival The Doctor's original alien foes. That's clearly what the Mechanoids were and it's clearly where the Quarks came from. But nothing ever warranted that "special return" treatment. Yes, you had The Monk returning in "The Daleks' Master Plan", but that hardly counts as "returning monster" especially because he doesn't turn up again.

With this story, The Cybermen enter the pantheon and become the first one-off monster after the Daleks to be "recurring villains".

The story, of course, is also a tentpole for another reason. After their first outting with the format, the production team decided to come up with "formulaic" Doctor Who, or Doctor Who with a simpler, more predictable structure to aid in the relentless schedule they were dealing with at the time. This new format ("the base under siege") was something that would be used across almost half of the stories of the Troughton era, so it's really a key turning point for the show. It's at this point that, truly, the show focuses more on the action and adventure elements inherent in its sci-fi premise than the odd explorations and outtings prevalent across the first three seasons of the series. And if the first scene doesn't tell you that, then I don't know what to tell you.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Serial 24: The Celestial Toymaker

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

Written by: Brian Hayles (and Donald Tosh)
Directed by: Bill Sellars

Background & Significance: It's hard to think of a story with a sexier title than "The Celestial Toymaker". Part of that is because it comes off as inherently nefarious. Toymaker is the profession of a fellow obsessed with details and driven almost crazy by them. The title also sounds like a worthy adversary for The Doctor ("Celestial", that is, reaching out into the cosmos). And there's always (always!) something alluring about The Doctor going up against a nemesis. It's why The Master is so popular and why people will fetishize both The Monk and The Rani. So why not be excited about this? The title is WONDERFUL.

Because after the title it's all downhill from here.

"The Celestial Toymaker" is one of the few stories that was developed by John Wiles and Donald Tosh, the outgoing producer and script editor. As they developed it, Wiles and Tosh came up with an idea to effectively sideline The Doctor by introducing "The Trilogic Game", which The Doctor would solve while being invisible. In this, Wiles and Tosh (probably mostly Wiles) would circumvent William Hartnell and not have to deal with him, as the relationship between Wiles and Hartnell was openly confrontational/hostile. It's a shrewd move, but one that is at least understandable (if not a bit too passive aggressive for my tastes). And yet, Wiles and Tosh both stepped down from Doctor Who before this episode hit production. Wiles phased himself out during "The Ark" while Tosh stepped down during "The Massacre" to tweak Brian Hayles's scripts so they were ready for Innes Lloyd's producing and Gerry Davis's script editing.

And it's to this day considered a lost treasure.

Part of the reason for this (as Philip Sandifer so eloquently writes up here) is down to one authority deciding that certain stories (like "The Gunfighters") were bad while others (like this one) were good. And yet, outside of the underlying premise (The Doctor and his companions land in a dangerous funland full of evil, nefarious games that might end up killing our heroes) there's really... not much to it. And even with the underlying premise there's not nearly so much as you might instinctively believe. But we'll get to that. For now, know, that I dread this story, but mostly because it's the one last story that I truly hate as we pull into the end of this blog in just a few short months.

So let's get to it!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Serial 127: Enlightenment - The Black Guardian Trilogy Part III

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companion: Tegan, Turlough

Written by: Barbara Clegg
Directed by: Fiona Cumming

Background & Significance: With "Terminus" in the rearview mirror, the Doctor Who production team set about looking for a story that would wrap up this "Black Guardian Trilogy" that was the centerpiece of season twenty. To write it, Eric Saward brought in Barbara Clegg, whom he knew from his time working in radio. To direct, Nathan-Turner brought back returning stalwart Fiona Cumming, who had just come off directing the phenomenal "Snakedance".

For those keeping math at home, that means that this is the first, last, and only story in the history of Doctor Who (on television) to be written by a woman while also being directed by a woman. More than that, while it isn't the first story to be written-by-credited to a woman, it is the first to be actually written by a woman (Lesley Scott didn't actually do a word of work on "The Ark").

What's remarkable is that Nathan-Turner even managed to produce it. The story itself ran afoul of a labour strike (don't they always) and Nathan-Turner sacrificed what eventually became "Resurrection of the Daleks" to make it happen. Clearly this pained Nathan-Turner, who was a big proponent for The Daleks returning because, hey, ratings! But that sacrifice led to one of the true high points of the era and one of the best Classic stories, as far as I'm concerned. It's a personal favourite of mine, and as we round the corner towards the last three months of this blog, I love that I'm finally able to talk about it.

So let's get to it!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Serial 126: Terminus - The Black Guardian Trilogy Part II

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companion: Nyssa, Tegan Jovanka, Vislor Turlough

Written by: Stephen Gallagher
Directed by: Mary Ridge

Editor's Note: 'allo, chaps! Matt here stepping in to intro Cassandra's discussion of "Terminus". It's a mid-week thing because we're in the middle of a linked story (the things we do!) but I will be back in a  few days to discuss the fantastic "Enlightenment" so stay tuned for that. Also, appreciate the Cassandra because she's only got one more to go. Lucky her!

Background & Significance: "Terminus" is the second in a loose trilogy of stories featuring the introduction of new companion Turlough and the return of the Black Guardian from Key to Time.  As fate would had it, this story also served as a departure for Nyssa, who was supposed to fall ill and leave in the previous season, but managed to hold on til this story when JNT decided she'd truly run her course.

Granted, for all he brought to the show, I don't really agree with all of his decisions in a producer capacity, and this is one of them.  I personally love Nyssa, but she was never given the chance to grow as a character ever.  This really hurts her departure, because it pretty much comes out of nowhere (as we'll see); and even Davison himself was against the decision, believing Nyssa to be the best and most compatible companion for his Doctor (and he is not wrong).

Written by Steven "Warrior's Gate" Gallagher, you'd think this would be a much better outing with such a story under his belt.  I mean, he's already written a "suitable" companion departure for Romana, and "Warrior's Gate" was interesting and fairly cerebral, which I like in a Doctor Who story.  Unfortunately, I don't feel he lives up to the promise with this.

"Terminus" is the only Doctor Who story directed by Mary Ridge, who had a long-standing relationship with the BBC, but her stint as director for this story was so fraught with trouble and rushed (and it really shows), it ultimately resulted in a really icy and uncomfortable relationship/falling out with JNT, so she never returned.  Which is a shame, because there is some really good stuff buried in here, but...

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

Monday, September 24, 2012

Serial 125: Mawdryn Undead - The Black Guardian Trilogy Part I

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companion: Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough

Written by: Peter Grimwade
Directed by: Peter Moffat

Background & Significance: For Doctor Who's twentieth season, producer Jonathan Nathan-Turner had the idea to bring back a bunch of The Doctor's old villains in an effort to tie every story to the legacy of the show. The kick off story ("Arc of Infinity") featured the return of the "anniversary villain" Omega and the next story ("Snakedance") featured the return of the previous season's "Mara". There were plans for The Master to return ("The King's Demons") and plans were made for the Daleks' return at the end of the season in "The Return" (which fell through and became "Resurrection of the Daleks").

But the middle of the season featured a trilogy of stories that featured The Black Guardian as something of a background running villain. It allowed the story to do new and interesting things with new and exciting villains while still retaining the "returning villain" mandate.

This is widely referred to as "The Black Guardian Trilogy". Indeed, it's even boxed and sold that way on DVD as a trilogy of 5th stories. And yet, that's not quite accurate. See, the Black Guardian (as we find out here) is just a means to an end to finish replacing Adric. It's here that we get the introduction of a new companion: Turlough. As originally conceived, Turlough was somewhat duplicitous and (for lack of better phrase) "The Evil Companion". As an idea, this was one that captured the imagination of script editor Eric Saward, who was always looking at new ways to shake things up. They would roll out this character over the course of this "Black Guardian Trilogy" and once it was all said and done they could decide whether or not they wanted to keep him around as a permanent companion.

So what I'm saying is this trilogy should be called "Vislor Turlough, or How I Learned To Stop Hating The Doctor and Join The TARDIS crew".

Written by Peter Grimwade, who was trying his hand again at writing after the disaster of "Time-Flight", focusing away from directing after having a run of phenomenal stories. Fortunately, this time around he's much more successful. It's also the return of Peter Moffat to the directing chair. But perhaps most importantly, it's the return of Nicholas Courtney as The Brigadier. Ironically, last week we talked about him in his last appearance til this one, so much like The Brigadier here, we're jumping from one story to the next with no cover over inbetween. Granted, it was SUPPOSED to be William Russell as Ian Chesterton, but he wasn't available. Nor was Ian Marter (Harry), Nathan-Turner's second choice. Which left Nick Courtney to return.

And oh what a wonderful bendy return it is.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Serial 80: Terror of the Zygons

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companions: Sarah Jane, Harry

Written by: Robert Banks Stewart
Directed by: Douglas Camfield

Background & Significance: Usually when there's a shakeup in Classic Doctor Who there's a slow period of transition as the show moves into its new ethos. You see it in the Hartnell era when Verity Lambert slowly transitioned into John Wells slowly transitioned into Innes Lloyd with some crossover of stories there. Wells's only real contributions were "The Massacre" and "The Ark" ("Myth-Makers" and "Daleks' Master Plan" being Lambert commissioned) while "The Celestial Toymaker" and "The Gunfighters" were more Wellsian than they were Lloydian.

The transition, the weaning, really helps bridge the gap between a giant paradigm shift, and "Terror of the Zygons" is a fantastic bridge between the UNIT era and the Gothic Horror of Hinchcliffe/Holmes.

Written by Robert Banks Stewart in his first of two contributions to Doctor Who, this story features the last appearance by The Brigadier until "Mawdryn Undead" some eightish years later. Stewart's prior credits (or at least the one most influential on this story) included The Avengers, leading Stewart to really focus on writing his Doctor Who like The Avengers. Script Editor Robert Holmes eventually smoothed out the edges caused by this, but it's clear that this is Doctor Who unlike we've seen previously. This is really high on the rural adventure that The Avengers was so known for in the 60s, which is not unwelcome and instead comes across as tremendously exciting and delightfully fresh.

To direct, the production team brought back Douglas Camfield, one of the great Doctor Who directors, for his first contribution to the program since 1970's "Inferno". Unsurprisingly, Camfield was brought back by the tenacity of the script and tailored his style to fit that.

But really, this is the deep wane of the UNIT years. While UNIT is a present in this, it's more than clear that The Doctor has outgrown them and they have no place in the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era. That doesn't stop them from re-appearing twice more in this season (in "The Android Invasion" and "The Seeds of Doom"), but as you'll see in those stories, their opportunity had long since past and they're very, very faded into the background. The Brigadier isn't in "Android Invasion" and Harry and Benton aren't even in "Seeds of Doom". There were plans to kill The Brigadier off in this story (according to legend, it was even Nicholas Courtney's idea), but Hinchcliffe opted to not kill off one of the programme's main supporting players, which led to the quiet exit of UNIT instead of a bombastic blaze of glory.

In their defense, UNIT had had too many opportunities for the bombastic blaze of glory. Probably best to go quietly.

Oh and this story has the Loch Ness Monster. So if you're ever wondering which one that is, it's this one. This is the one in which Doctor Who does the Loch Ness Monster.

So let's get to it!