Companions: Jo Grant
Writtten by: Louis Marks
Directed by: Paul Bernard
Editor's Note: Hey, guys! I have the week off because I'm prepping for what's going to be a really... weird entry in a few weeks. So Cassandra is here and talking about a big ol' loopy time travel story. But with Daleks. Word on the street is she liked it. And you know what they say about 'dem streets...
Background & Significance: This story is kind of a big deal.
Since their apparent departure in the epic Troughton serial, “Evil of the Daleks,” the Doctor’s first foes stayed off the air for essentially four years, before the BBC started wheedling script editor Terrance Dicks and producer Barry Letts to bring them back.
But bring them back they did, and, though originally intended to appear at the very end of the season, instead got inserted into this lively little adventure, to open the season with a bit of spectacle.
Planet of Giants” wayyyy back in Hartnell’s second season. He would later go on to write “Planet of Evil” and “Masque of Mandragora,” which gives him a pretty solid track record, at least in my book. It’s directed by Paul Bernard, who would later go on to direct “The Time Monster” and “Frontier in Space,” so his track record after this is…not so good. I honestly have no idea if this was a fluke or what, because… wow.
It’s an interesting choice, starting off with a more ghost story vibe, and then ending with some Daleks yelling EX-TER-MIN-ATE as they love to do.
Just… everything about this. The creepy ass house, the creepy ass dude trying to kill Sir Reginald. How, later, the Doctor and Jo camp out in the house all night, trying to see if they come across anything. I like how the temporal energy/travel is misconstrued as “vanishing” so we do end up with a ghost story, of sorts. It’s neat. It reminds me of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, how they took horror tropes and repurposed them with a sci-fi spin. It’s very much that sort of thing, and I really enjoy it.
Speaking of added scope, I’ll address this up front: I’m watching from the recently re-released version of this story, with all the added in special effects and tweaks. And there hasn’t been too much, just a computer-generated establishing shot of the future, but you know what, I don’t mind it at all. I actually like what they did here. It doesn’t distract too much, and I think the aesthetic of it fits in with the rest of the story and really adds some of the scope this story relies so much on going forward to be successful.
It’s like what they’ve been doing with Classic Trek, making all the shots in space and all the effects nice and pretty and HD quality. I was skeptical at first, but you know what? I was wrong. This sort of thing is awesome.
And I like how the Doctor and UNIT are investigating all of these occurrences, possibly risking their lives for this asshole politician, just because he’s a key player in the diplomatic negotiations going down with China. Because he is an asshole. It’s kind of astounding. I’m surprised the Doctor doesn’t just go “okay, fuck this,” and leave with a swirl of his fancy cloak. Especially after the Brig and the Doctor find the soldier from the future and the ray gun. It’s like, hello, they’ve got concrete evidence that something’s going on here, and you just kinda panic and blow them off? If you think that’s going to help with anything, man, you really are stupid. And you’d think a politician would be better at lying (ooh, burn, I’m sorry, it couldn’t be helped).
Know who else is kind of an asshole? Captain Yates. Stealing Benton’s food and he pulls rank on him. Jesus Christ. But that’s okay, because a) it’s funny, and b) there’s so much gay subtext in that scene I’m freaking out with weird fangirl joy, so I’ll allow it.
So I just noticed how the Daleks are voiced by Nick Briggs, who, of course, does all of the Dalek voices in nu-Who. Which I kind of love, because you can tell that they people behind this restoration really cared about the quality of this story, only changing things for the better. I might get some hate over this, but whatever. I think it’s cool that they’re bringing this story more up to date for a contemporary audience. Because this story ROCKS, and it’s the perfect kind of romp to introduce a newbie to some Classic Who. And who doesn’t want more Classic Who fans? Always a good thing.
And I feel like there’s not a whole lot of padding here. Granted, it’s only four episodes, which, thank the lord (not that I have anything against more than four episodes in a story, if it’s done right, but more often than not, it’s not done right, and there’s a shit ton of boring padding, ugh). But it’s clipping along splendidly, and there’s a lot of great moments. There’s still the mystery of why the soldiers are even going back into the past, and how the Daleks fit in with all of this. There’s a great action set piece towards the end of the episode, with the Ogrons and the future soliders making a run for it. There’s some great funny bits, like the Brig rolling up in that Jeep, shooting down the Ogron for the Doctor, and the Doctor just taking the Jeep right after. And we have some great character bits, too, like with the Doctor and Jo tied up down in the cellar, giving us some exposition, as well as letting the story breathe. It’s just a great execution of structure, and I really like this script. Props to Louis Marks for that.
But he also manages to be suave and word-savvy and able to talk himself out of a lot of situations, as the previous Doctors did, which is nice, and that happens here as well. It’s just a nice well-rounded balance of wacky martial arts antics and talking through scrapes.
Long story short, this is just so great, all of it.
I will say one thing about this, it’s edited together very strangely. At least, at the beginning of the episodes it is. It reaches the point of the cliffhanger, and you can hear the crash of the end credits music for a second, and then it’s right back into the scene. It’s very bizzare, and I’m not sure why it happens.
Otherwise, holy shit is this story superb. Like, this is how you do a third episode. You can tell it’s building to some grand finale stand-off action set piece, but it’s still action-packed and awesome in its own right. There isn’t really any padding in this story at all, and it clips along effortlessly, in my opinion. The episode is over too soon for me, and it leaves me needing to know how it ends, even though I’ve already seen this before. So good.
The narrative in this just… blossoms. That’s a good word for it. It takes all the mythology and world-building up to this point, and introduces new elements that propel it towards the final episode. We’ve been teased by all this evil Dalek-y future stuff in the first two episodes, and now we get to romp around in it.
And this story gets so dark in this episode, it’s stunning. I love how dystopic and bleak this portrayal of the future is. There’s cameras, and squads of police doing random sweeps. There’s spies, and guerilla rebels, and a glimpse of what I presume to be the indentured servitude of the majority of the human populace. And that shit’s dark, bro. I love it.
And it’s just so well-directed and realized. The dried out grasses in the plain outside the city. The dusty, metallic production areas. Again, the computerized depictions of the city/citadel/green eye of Sauron/whatever that huge building is. There’s lots of dark smoke and ominous saucers zipping about all over the place. The sets of the Controller’s area are dark too, everything stark and metallic. Even the people working there seem sapped of their humanity, interacting almost like robotic drones. I noticed that they don’t really look each other in the eye when talking, and that’s a really interesting, unsettling touch. Huge, huge props to Paul Bernard.
I’m just in love with everything about this story, I’m sorry if it’s a non-stop gushfest. It’s super exciting to have a quality story to blog about.
It’s insane to me, though, that we’re three episodes in, and we still have no idea what the answer is to the fundamental mystery of this story: why are these guys so keen on changing history and assassinating Sir Reginald? That’s insane. And I don’t even care that they haven’t answered that yet! Because we’re given all these other great mysteries and things to contemplate, like how the Daleks are even here in the first place, or what these production figures have to do with anything and how that all relates. And how are the Doctor and Jo even going to get out of this one?! The Daleks have positively identified the Doctor, have him strapped to a table, and they have Jo, too. It’s just so thrilling.
And you know what? Fuck Terry Nation. I love Dalek stories not written by him. Can you even imagine this story written by Terry Nation? No. Because he wouldn’t do this. This serial is so refreshing, and entertaining, and well-paced, with none of the typical Nationisms. I mean, sure, there’s a bit of run around and capture and escape, but it’s Doctor Who, for god’s sake, that’s just part of the show. But I think it’s done quite well here, and I’m glad for that. There are already too many shitty Nation-penned Dalek run-arounds. I’m glad this is something of substance, something worthy of the Daleks’ return to the show after four seasons.
Also, Pertwee is eating again. I love him.
So, before this is over, I need to talk about the Controller and how awesome he is. I had this thought before in the last part, but I forgot to talk about it then, so you’re getting it now. I do what I want.
The thing about this story is it waits until the last possible moment to deliver all this exposition, and you know what? I don’t even care that they’re just sitting around telling me all of this, because I’ve been wanting it so bad for so long. It’s quite awesome, if you think about it. And a really effective story-telling technique, I think. I mean, I wish it were a bit more subtle than “let’s all sit around the suite and talk about the history of the world for the past 200 years” but hey, it’s still pretty neat. It also helps that the mythology and world building of this has been superb, so I’m actually interested in what he has to say.
I honestly don’t know if I have anything else to say about this, lest I fangirl for the rest of the time. Ugh it’s just so good, I’m in shock.
Final Thoughts?: So… if you haven’t gathered by now, I love this. Unabashedly.
The script is great, the direction is stunning. Some of the shots in this are just swoon-worthy, they way they’re composed. I love how the whole thing just starts, and once it starts, it doesn’t stop. It’s well-paced, moves along at a much fast clip than is expected in a Classic Who story, which I like. It’s refreshing and wonderful and just a fun romp with some super dark elements that I’d either forgotten about, or wasn’t paying too much attention to the first time around, because I honestly wasn’t expecting them.
So suck on that, Terry Nation.
Next Time!: First Doctor! Susan! Barbara and Ian (squee)! Creepy ass aliens! Susan has weird mental abilities! And that's all I remember of this story because it's really boring! Matt's back next Tuesday to take on "The Sensorites!"