Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Serial 63: The Mutants

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

Written by: Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by: Christopher Barry

Background & Significance: Having just come off their first story "The Claws of Axos", Bob Baker and Dave Martin decided to do a story based on some real life issues. The idea they pitched that proved most sexy to script editor Terrance Dicks was an allegory about British colonialism in Africa, specifically the then-current "Apartheid" of South Africa, which was a form of racial segregation that kept the different racial groups segregated based on what quadrant they best corresponded to.

So, "business as usual", really.

In their defense (and I'm normally on such an offensive when it comes to them that I don't see why I shouldn't at the very least throw them a defensive bone once in a while; and this is the last time we're doing a Baker/Martin script so I might as well, right?), this sorta thing is ripe for a good science fiction story. Slap in a bit of a mythology and some crazy out there madness (in this case, Barry Letts's inclusion of the "the natives evolve" angle because he liked moths or something) and you're off to the races with a Doctor Who story based on some crazy expensive high concept shit which is your standard Baker/Martin affair.

But as you probably guessed, it didn't quite turn out the way they intended.

The biggest obstacle (in this case) to Baker/Martin's script was the inclusion of director Christopher Barry, previously known for his work on a bunch of major Doctor Who stories, including "The Daleks", "The Power of the Daleks", and "The Rescue" and who would later go on to direct "Robot", "The Creature From the Pit", and "The Brain of Morbius". See, Barry's problem was that he just wasn't interested in all that Apartheid in South Africa stuff. He really liked the sci-fi (did you see the other stories he worked on?) and so was more interested in all the science fiction trappings of the mutations and the space station and (in particular) the asshole of a station commander.

Needless to say, this story is in something of conflict with himself.

That said, it is always nice to see the Pertwee era do something off planet, even if this story is something of a bit of a stumble. The other offering this season, for example, did a much better job with it if you ask me, and it does provide an interlude between the season's two Master stories.... so... that's something. But enough gabbing. Let's just judge the damn thing.

So let's get to it!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Serial 113: Warriors' Gate - The E-Space Trilogy Part III

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

Written by: Stephen Gallagher
Directed by: Paul Joyce & Graeme Harper

Background & Significance: Wanting to push Doctor Who out of the complacency he saw under the purvey of Graham Williams, new producer John Nathan-Turner set about completely re-jiggering the show over the course of its 18th season.The first changes and were small but important when he commissioned a new opening title sequence, musical arrangement of the theme, and standard, codified outfit for The Doctor. The final major change was the turnover of Tom "he-pretty-much-is-Doctor-Who-at-this-point" Baker in the season's finale.

But before he did that, Nathan-Turner did a complete companion turnover.

 As with the other turnovers in the season, they came slowly and over time, so as to not be too jarring to the audience. Adric first appeared three stories in and became a full companion proper in the subsequent story. After the escape from E-Space, Nathan-Turner introduced new companion Nyssa in the season's penultimate story, and the final new companion (Tegan) in the season finale. It would leave an over-crowded TARDIS (a problem not really remedied until the departure of Nyssa in "Terminus"), but it still gave a new direction towards "relatability", which Nathan-Turner felt was lacking, especially when The 4th Doctor was as aloof and unconnectable as he was (and only getting more and more so as time went on), the first incarnation of Romana had proved as cold and unrelatable as she was, and the wonderful sidekick of the Tin Dog could only ever be a silly robot (and thusly not relatable). Lalla Ward's Romana definitely helped the situation by bringing levity, but in Nathan-Turner's eyes the fact that The Doctor (a Time Lord) was stuck sticking around with a robot dog and another Time Lord only made the show less connectable and personal...

So Romana and the Tin Dog... They'd have to go. And go they did.

Interestingly enough, "Warriors' Gate" was not the original conception for their departure. Initially, script editor Christopher H. Bidmead had commissioned a story from acclaimed novelist Christopher Priest (of "The Prestige" fame, amongst many many others) entitled "Sealed Orders", which supposedly would have featured "A political thriller set on Gallifrey in which the Doctor is seemingly ordered to kill Romana by the Time Lords. A complex plot involving time paradoxes would result in the appearance of a second Doctor (who dies) and lead to Romana's departure; it also involved the idea of time running into itself, resulting in one TARDIS existing inside another." [source]

Unfotunately, Priest was a novelist, not a television script writer, and the script proved unfeasible for television, resulting in Bidmead to using a fall back script by Stephen Gallagher he had commissioned for such an event.

And so "Warriors' Gate" came to be.

It wasn't a smooth transition, however. Gallagher's script proved to be fairly unfeasible for television, resulting in the story's director, Paul Joyce, working with Bidmead to do some major uncredited rewrites on the script to make the story workable. Joyce himself caused friction because of his ideas on the script, especially with Nathan-Turner (who contemplated firing him), and at one point handed over the reins to production assistant Graeme Harper, who worked on a few sequences alongside Nathan-Turner in what would be his first uncredited directing work.

And what we're left with is... a hell of a story. It's a jumble, it's a puzzle, and it's a hell of a ride. I mean, after all that we just talked about, it'd kinda have to be, right?

So let's get to it!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Serial 112: State of Decay - The E-Space Trilogy Part II

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

Written by: Terrance Dicks
Directed by: Peter Moffat

Editor's note: Hey kids! Matt here to interject a few words before Cassandra takes over. Hope you've been enjoying this week-long look at E-Space (I know I have...). We'll be back to our regular Tuesday schedule on Tuesday but not before I round out the week with a look at "Warriors' Gate" on Friday. So check that out. Until then, feast your eyes on Cassandra stepping in to talk about some vampires.

Background & Significance: "State of Decay" is something of an anomaly in Season 18.

With the arrival of producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Christopher Bidmead, Tom Baker's final season saw a definite shift in the show, as is normal when a new producer/script editor regime takes over.  Shying away from the Williams aesthetic of wonder and fantasy, Bidmead and Nathan-Turner strove to ground the show with a more "realistic" sense of hard sci-fi.  But we've gone over all that before.

So what is a Terrance Dicks penned vampire story doing here, right in the middle of E-Space?

"State of Decay" was actually intended to kick off Season 15. Developed by Dicks and Robert Holmes, the story fell in line with the deliciously Gothic horror tendencies of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, inspired by Bram Stoker's novel Dracula.  However, the BBC stopped all production on the story, then called "The Vampire Mutation", because they were about to do a very expensive adaptation of Dracula, and it wouldn't do to have Doctor Who stepping on its toes with a vampire story of its own. Therefore, Dicks had to abandon his scripts, and wrote "Horror of Fang Rock" instead.

Enter JNT, three years later. Out of all the unproduced scripts that he had at his disposal as producer, he liked the vampire one the best. And so, he hired Terrance Dicks to rework it, replacing Leela with Romana, adding in Adric and K-9, and so forth.  Christopher Bidmead made changes as well, cutting back on the Gothic horror elements and playing up the sci-fi, so the story was more in line with his sensibilities.

So what we're left with is an interesting adaptation of an adaptation of sorts, a Gothic horror story trussed up with sci-fi elements to make it fit the new vision of Doctor Who. But does it work? Or is the tension between the new and the old such that they are entirely incompatible?

Well, let's take a closer look, shall we?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Serial 111: Full Circle - The E-Space Trilogy Part I

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

Written by: Andrew Smith
Directed by: Peter Grimwade 

Background & Significance: Season 18 of Doctor Who is something of a strange beast if for no other reason than because it marks a period of transition for the show. Most transitory periods only last a few or so episodes (the transition from Pertwee to Tom Baker is a good example, where "Robot" is a weird UNIT story and not really the Hinchcliffe/Holmes vision of the show), but this season marks a big paradigm shift as the show prepares to move away from Tom Baker and towards the stewardship of Producer John Nathan-Turner.

This is the one where you really start to feel its effects.

As Philip Sandifer is talking about all this week, the hand off from Tom Baker to Nathan-Turner happened in stages. Certain things were immediately apparent, the change in costume being the one that really stands out. Nathan-Turner really helped to codify the Tom Baker costume, which is... well... it's a good thing, I think. I mean, I'm personally a huge fan of the first three years of Tom Baker's look: Huge coat, colorful waistcoat, tie, button down shirt, slacks, perfect-length scarf... hat optional. It gave the Doctor a sense of ordered chaos and manner of appearance. As time went on though, Tom Baker started to take more liberty with his costume. No tie. Waistcoat optional and unbuttoned (which makes me ask why he even bothered keeping it around). Scarf that looks like a two-story tall curtain rather than an actual scarf. (Compare the two and you'll see the difference).

If nothing else, the burgundy scheme really points towards Baker's imminent departure. It feels very restrained, very somber, very foreboding. Funeral clothes, if you will... but for his own funeral. It's an ominous touch that just feels so good and so right, especially in retrospect.

But then you turn around and talk about script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, who brought in an almost over-saturation of "science" into a show that had been so defined by the "world of dreams and fantasy" under Graham Williams. It's not that I don't like his ideas (I mean, I love "Castrovalva", and "Logopolis" was totally watchable), but the focus on that is a bit silly, especially when it gets into Bidmead's own perspective on "science" which is much more based on conceptual interests (entropy) than actual data, facts, and real physics or whatever.

Which brings us to our week-long discussion of E-Space, which will see the arrival of Adric and the departure of Romana and K-9. E-Space is a big sci-fi concept that really pushes the Bidmead conception of Doctor Who more than "The Leisure Hive" or "Meglos" ever could. Those two stories were conceived and commissioned by the previous production team (re: Graham Williams) and don't make for "Nathan-Turner" stories. The next story ("State of Decay") was a product of long time Doctor Who stalwart Terrance Dicks. Fortunately/unfortunately Nathan-Turner didn't want to be undermined by any experienced Doctor Who crew who could undermine his authority, so Dicks is an old holdover. Almost in response, Nathan-Turner went in the completely opposite direction and commissioned "Full Circle" from Andrew Smith, who was only a teenager at the time.

Talk about fresh blood. Youngest writer on Doctor Who ever. I'm curious to see how it works out.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Serial 9: Planet of Giants

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

Written by: Louis Marks
Directed by: Mervyn Pinfield & Douglas Camfield

Background & Significance: One of the things that strikes me about watching Doctor Who out of order like this is the show's approach to season openers and finales. It's most interesting early on in the show's history, when Doctor Who was broadcast weekly like clockwork and there was very little delineation between seasons. (Really, it was just a sixish week gap, which is barely anything when you're broadcasting over forty weeks a year).

So this is the kickoff to Doctor Who's second season, and what a kick off it is.

The most interesting thing about "Planet of Giants" is the core conceit/concept, which, for those who don't know (MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST HALF OF EPISODE ONE) is that the TARDIS and her crew are all shrunk down to miniature and it basically becomes "Honey I Shrunk the TARDIS" for three parts. This was, interestingly enough, one of the major ideas the production team wanted to do right from the very beginning. It was planned to be one of the first things they ever did on the show (going so far as to be one of the first four stories to be transmitted), but it was pushed back and back and season one became season one (scifi, historical, scifi, historical, etc), and then here we get this new story that is something totally different.

It's written by Louis Marks who would later go on to write "The Planet of Evil" and directed by Mervyn Pinfield with additional work by Douglas Camfield (specifically the "abridged" final episode).

But the thing that strikes me most about this story is the way it just sets up things that are coming down the line. Susan's departure, for one, seems nothing but inevitable, and the whole shrinking thing just pushes The TARDIS into weirder "let's do whatever we want" territory that's... extremely welcome, if you ask me. Watching the Hartnell stories later in the watching of Doctor Who (and helped by reading the thoughts of people who've watched the show differently than I did, that is to say: in order), it's rather brilliant to see just how far the production team is really pushing itself in these first two seasons, where they're only Doctor Who stories in retrospect, not in any sort of "this is a Doctor Who story" sorta way.

"Planet of the Giants" itself was considered by the BBC unfeasible and boring as a four part story and was, unfortunately, edited for time. This resulted in episodes three and four being mashed together and sliced down into one. Honestly, I doubt you'd be able to notice (that said, I'm looking for it this time), but it's a point to note. There's rumours that it'll be around in some capacity for the forthcoming DVD release, but that's another point for another time.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Serial 58: The Colony in Space

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

Written by: Malcolm Hulke
Directed by: Michael E. Briant

Background & Significance: After "The War Games", the Doctor Who production team very famously (and wisely) decided to confine The Doctor to Earth. Teaming him up with the international military force UNIT, the goal was to limit the cost and scope of Doctor Who in order to save money. In a way, you could think of it as them putting Doctor Who on something of a diet, with them being responsible about their boundaries and such.

But like every good diet, the production team would occasionally raid the fridge in the dead of night for some chocolate cake and take The Doctor away from UNIT and out into the cosmos for something a bit more gallivanty.

Let's call this their first chocolate cake.

Written by Doctor Who stalwart Malcolm Hulke (the only writer to contribute at least one story to each Pertwee season) and directed by Michael E. Briant (famous for such high points as "The Sea Devils" and "Robots of Death" and such low points as "Death to the Daleks" and "Revenge of the Cybermen"), "The Colony in Space" has something of a mixed reputation. Sure, it's notable because The 3rd Doctor FINALLY leaves Earth (although I'd hardly call that a problem), but beyond that...

I dunno. I think this first "cheat day" really gave them something of a bit of a stomach ache.

What I find most interesting is how long it took them to get us to this point. The 3rd Doctor is really only confined to Earth for about a season and a half before he's given permission to leave. Sure, he's on a leash by the Time Lords (how else would he get off the planet?), but it doesn't change the fact that this is the start of the end for the UNIT era in a lot of ways. Sure, there's plenty more great UNIT stories to go after this, but allowing The Doctor to go off and have adventures on his own is something of a betrayal of the core concept of his era if you ask me. And... well.. we should probably talk about how well it fares because... well... is it just a minor cramp or a full on flu virus thing?

Ugh. Enough with the metaphors.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Serial 118: Kinda

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

Written by: Christopher Bailey
Directed by: Peter Grimwade

Background & Significance: "Kinda" is one of those stories that gets a lot of talk in Doctor Who circles. Those who see it either hate it or love it with little to no in between. To a lot of people, it's "The one with that silly-looking snake" or "the one that has the forest that looks like a television studio". But my god. That's like saying "City of Death" is the one with that green dude with the tentacle face. Or "The Deadly Assassin" is the one with the dermatologically-challenged Master.

"Kinda", as with many others, is a rare story that is an excellent sum of its excellent parts and more.

It helps that the story is written by Christopher Bailey, who came to Doctor Who with a background in play writing, Buddhism, and academia. As such, the dialogue sparkles and the story is layered with peel-backable meanings that make it ripe for analysis.

The best part about all that is, of course, that you can just watch it and not have to give a damn about what any of the crazy thematics and allegory Bailey's working with actually means. You can take it as a straight story and be none the wiser as to the significance of certain elements or why certain things play out as they do. Sure, it's a little bizarre and (I'll warrant) a mite confusing as to the dynamics of the piece if you don't actively engage the text on some level, but it does at least make sense on its own insane internal logic. But it's rare for a Doctor Who story to work on so many levels at once, or to have a story that can so clearly convey the message while bringing up and discussing so much more. And yet, despite the layers of subtext and metaphor, the story is remarkably simple and easy enough to get at one go. It's just that the more you watch it, the more you think about it, the more you discuss it, the more you'll get out of it.

This story's also significant for being early early Davison and (by proxy) early early JNT. Having spent his previous year concerned with "science" and cleaning the slate of Tom Baker, it was with Davison's run that you really started to get Nathan-Turner's vision for the show, and "Kinda" is one of the benefits of that. It was commissioned by outgoing script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, overseen for a time by Antony Root, and then completed by Eric Saward. Because of such turmoil behind the scenes in the writing phase, the thing ended up not feeling like anything else, even a traditional Doctor Who story. But it's here that you can see just how versatile Nathan-Turner was (or perhaps could have been), and it's astounding how it does fall into line with what I consider the "high adventure" of the Nathan-Turner era (which is why I tend to love The Davison era so) while still being something more, something truly truly special and impossibly unique amongst all the Doctor Who stories that have ever been told.

So let's get to it!