Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Serial 136: The Twin Dilemma

Doctor: Colin Baker (6th Doctor)
Companion: Peri Brown

Written by: Anthony Steven
Directed by: Peter Moffat

Background & Significance: Of all the stories we've thus far reviewed on this blog, none have I been more scared of discussing than "The Twin Dilemma". It's not without reason. In a Doctor Who Magazine Poll in 2009 (in which all the readers ranked every TV story ever), "The Twin Dilemma" came dead last, lower even than "Timelash" and "Time and the Rani" (which, to date are bottom of the barrel, for me anyways). As a slight aside to this, "The Twin Dilemma" is the lowest rated story on this poll, while the story that came before it ("The Caves of Androzani") was ranked the best Doctor Who story of all time. The disparity, to me, is stark. It's weird that what's considered the best Doctor Who story of all time aired finished airing just five days before what is considered the worst.

Me? Yeah. Let's go with "worst".

"The Twin Dilemma" is terribly not good. More than anything (as with, it seems, the entire Colin Baker era) there are a series of huge mistakes and truly, truly bizarre choices that do nothing but hurt not just this serial, but the era.

One of the weird choices that deserves mentioning here, because we probably won't have space to do it later: Airing this story as the final story of Davison's final season, instead of ending it with "Caves of Androzani". The intial idea, of course, was to use this story to tease the viewership with a Doctor and get them excited and talking about that Doctor in the nine month wait for the next series. They had successfully overturned the madness of Tom Baker, and now they would show you where they were going with Colin Baker. Now you'd get excited and get buzzing and talking about it and you'd come back.

That is, of course, assuming that everyone is crazy excited about this new Doctor, which we all know, in retrospect, was not the case at all.

Most tragic, perhaps, is, of course, Colin Baker. We'll talk about it more later, but going into this, I'm going to remind you, again, that Colin Baker WANTED to be The Doctor. He wanted to be awesome. He wanted to outlast Tom Baker. To add to the tragic, he wanted people to come to their love of The Doctor. He wanted to earn it, but the thought was always on his mind. It's when you hear about the fact that he specifically went for extremely elevated diction in an effort to encourage children to expand their vocabulary by looking up the words at home that just... Yeah. That sorta thing just breaks me.

But then... you watch this. And you just... you can read the writing on the wall. You can just... it feels like a joke. Surely this isn't and can't be real. I mean, they made every single wrong decision they could possibly make. They didn't honestly think this would work. Did they?

Hang on. You'll see what I mean. Because I'm not wrong. There's a lot of lessons both in this and that we should come out learning. This is the story that started the epic and tragic fall of the classic run of Doctor Who. And it's heartbreaking to watch.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Serial 74: The Planet of the Spiders

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

Written by: Robert Sloman (and Barry Letts)
Directed by: Barry Letts

Background & Significance: So the first thing I'm obligated to say is that "The Planet of the Spiders" is a regeneration story. Yes. It's the final story starring Jon Pertwee as The Doctor and in the end of this story he regenerates into Tome Baker. But more than anything what it does is bring to a close what is, arguably, the longest single-vision run on Doctor Who.

Now I know what you're thinking. Tom Baker was around for longer. So was John Nathan-Turner. But that's not the same. For these five years of Jon Pertwee, the show was guided by the same producer and script editor, overseeing the same Doctor, giving all the stories a similar tone and feel across those five years.

Between Jon Pertwee, Barry Letts, and Terrance Dicks, Doctor Who held a consistent feel throughout the five years of Pertwee. They were based on UNIT, lots of alien invasions, and kept a constant feel of adventures with Pertwee as the leading man of action. With Dicks leaving the show to return to freelance writing at the end of this story, Pertwee moving on to bigger and better things, and with Letts departing after Tom Baker's first story, "Robot", this story becomes not just the end of Pertwee, but for the end of this era of five years of mostly solid stories. And because one of the things I notice about creative types as they go on and hone their craft is that they only seem to niche closer and closer to what they want, this is the most Pertweeian, Dicksian, Lettsian story they ever did.

And really, it's one of the most wonderfully cathartic stories out there.

Because of the way television used to work, Doctor Who was structured very episodically, with each story being a one-and-done serial spread across several episodes. There weren't ongoing plot lines or mysteries. There weren't long story threads to build towards and wrap up, no "Bad Wolf" hints to seed throughout the season with promises of paying off in some big explosive finale. Hell, even the concepts of big explosive finales was barely something the show was starting to play with. All these elements would eventually grow more and more prevalent as you push Doctor Who towards something more and more modern (the 7th Doctor/Ace stuff is the most ready example because, quite frankly, it's the most modern of Doctor Who in every sense of the word), but "Planet of the Spiders" definitely defies that to give us a crazy cathartic trek that seems to capture everything great and weak about the Pertwee era.

The only thing noticeably missing from "Planet of the Spiders" is Roger Delgado's Master, who made an appearance in every story of Pertwee's second season and then recurred throughout the next two years up until "Frontier in Space". The plan, originally, was to bring him back for Pertwee's finale, which would feature a Doctor/Master team-up/adventure in which The Master sacrifices himself to save The Doctor and we find out that The Master is the id to The Doctor's ego and that they are, in fact, the same person just divided into two halves. And, okay. I'm not exactly okay with that. Granted, I'm not a huge fan of Freud, but I'm really kinda glad that they didn't end up with that as the definitive word on The Master. I mean, why does that need to be who The Master is? Why does he need to be tied to The Doctor like that forever? Why can't it just be enough that he's an evil Time Lord from The Doctor's past?

But I'm sidetracking.

Before they could do this, though, Master-actor Roger Delgado died in a car crash in Turkey before they could move on this Master finale and writers Robert Sloman and Barry Letts chucked out what they had and re-wrote an entirely story entirely, focusing on a new villain with different themes and this whole "Id/Ego Master/Doctor" thing is lost to a parallel universe and we don't have to deal with an absurd level of Freudian over-explaining of continuity. And while Delgado was a huge loss, I must admit I'm glad because knowing me and my views on Freud I woulda hated that and (quite frankly) it would have severely weakened the character of The Master.

But alas, "The Planet of the Spiders" is the end of Pertwee and it's a hell of an ending. Not as good as "War Games," but certainly one of the best final stories a team could ask for.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Serial 81: The Planet of Evil

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

Written by: Louis Marks
Directed by: David Maloney

Editor's Note: Hey, guys! I have the week off to prepare(?) for next week's entry. Which (knowing me and what kinda story it is) will be a gargantuan entry. So this week Cassandra's stepping in to talk about a different planet. Only this one belongs to an adjective. Not arachnids.

Background & Significance: "Planet of Evil" aired towards the beginning of Season Thirteen of Doctor Who, the second of Tom Baker's seven seasons, as well as the second season of the show being overseen by the almighty Hinchcliffe and Holmes. We've been around long enough that you should know how we feel about this guys. And these first three seasons of Tom Baker. =)

Season Thirteen is an interesting season because everys tory in it is an homage in one way or another to a very famous sci-fi/horror classic. "Zygons" is essentially Invasion of the Body Snatchers. "Pyramids of Mars" is a send up to mummy movies. "Android Invasion" is Body Snatchers again. "Brain of Morbius" is Frankenstein, "Seeds of Doom" is The Thing and Day of the Triffids, and "Planet of Evil" is Forbidden Planet as well as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The thing about this season, though, is that it takes the tropes and homages the works, but in a way that if you're not familiar with what they're homaging it doesn't take away from the storytelling at all. And I really enjoy that. I've never seen Forbidden Planet, but I'm still able to enjoy this, as well as pick up what they were going for. It's a very clever way of taking classics and spinning them in such a way to suit Doctor Who, which is one of the reasons I really love this season (except "Android Invasion" of course).

"Planet of Evil is also written and directed by names with whom we're pretty familiar. Louis Marks had previously penned "Planet of the Giants" and "Day of the Daleks" (which is also great), and would go on to write "Masque of Mandragora," which is a pretty great track record, if I do say so myself. And David Maloney, of course, directed such awesomeness as "The Mind Robber," "War Games," "Genesis of the Daleks," "The Deadly Assassin," and "The Talons of Weng-Chiang." So don't mess.

This is also the first adventure with The Doctor and Sarah Jane without Harry, who decided to stay on Earth at the end of "Terror of the Zygons." Prepare for awesome.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Serial 48: The Seeds of Death

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

Written by: Brian Hayles
Directed by: Michael Ferguson

Background & Significance: So now that we're back in this season again, I probably don't need to go into the sordid details about just how much work it was to produce Doctor Who by this point. Now in its sixth year, the show was getting more and more ambitious, and its ambition was getting harder and harder to produce on a shooting schedule as rigorous as it currently had. They were doing over forty episodes a year and the grind was relentless. The previous season had the benefit of being impossibly formulaic and unambitious. But now that the show as under Peter Bryant's producership, it was trying increasingly new and different things.

Or at least, it seems that way to me.

"Seeds of Death" is something of an anomaly for the season. It's very obviously a base-under-siege story and is the second story of the season about a massive invasion of Earth. The previous base-under-siege story also happened to be a backdoor pilot to the UNIT era and featured lots and lots of Cybermen. This one features the return of the Ice Warriors, elevating them to "return monsters" status and the Ice Warriors' creator Brian Hayles does a lot to expand the Ice Warriors' mythology and make them a bigger threat than they were previously. But it really does function as a last hurrah to the base under siege format that... well... plagued the Troughton era.

So let's get to it!