Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Highlanders

After the enjoyable Dalek story, things have settled back into old habits with another tedious historical story. The Doctor, Ben and Polly are caught up in the middle of a battle between the English Redcoats and the Scottish Highlander clans, predictably enough leading to someone being captured and having to be rescued (why do these stories always go the same way?). Ben gets caught up in an illegal slave-trading operation and nearly shipped off to sea. Polly has to work with one of the clan women to capture a soldier and meet up with the Doctor.

"You may have swords, but I have a recorder... and I'm not afraid to use it!"

“You may have swords, but I have a recorder… and I’m not afraid to use it!”

The only interesting thing about this four-parter is that the Doctor pretends to be a German doctor, then later dresses up as an old woman. He does the voices well, and uses enjoyably silly tricks to fool the soldiers. (I simply can’t see the same thing working with Hartnell’s doctor.)

One of the Doctor's many disguises.

One of the Doctor’s many disguises.

Anyway, a big battle aboard the ship ensues at the climax, and the Doctor and co escape back to the Tardis. They take one of the highlanders with them, Jamie, who decided not to accompany his clan on the boat to France.

Captured by the redcoats.

Captured by the redcoats.

I’ve yet to actually see Troughton’s performance as the doctor in anything other than stills, as so far only reconstructions and audio exist. On the face of it, this particular story doesn’t seem like much of a loss. I’m hoping things pick up again, and it looks like some completed episodes exist ahead.

The Power of the Daleks

What better way to ease in an unfamiliar Doctor than with a familiar enemy? The Daleks return in a six-part serial ‘The Power of the Daleks’. Unfortunately, every episode was lost, so the whole thing is reconstructed. There are varying quality of reconstructions, but I ended up watching fan-made audio-narrated ones on YouTube.

The Doctor awakens with a new face... and a new personality to go with it.

The Doctor awakens with a new face… and a new personality to go with it.

It’s a particular shame that these episodes were lost. Firstly, because it’s one of the best Dalek stories yet, reminding me of ‘Dalek’ (2005) and a little of ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ (2012), in which they are actually a threatening presence that should not be awakened, rather than a powerful army already in full force.

The Doctor searches the planet Vulcan. (No pointy ears here.)

The Doctor searches the planet Vulcan. (No pointy ears here.)

On a remote planet Vulcan (no pointy ears here), a crashed Dalek ship, several hundred years old, is recovered. Scientists are unaware of the dangers within,* and the Doctor finds the inhabitants dormant. But things are not as they seem, and as the scientists reactivate the Daleks and attempt to turn them into slaves, a rebel group seizes control and uses them to take-over. Of course, the Daleks are simply playing along, secretly building more of themselves and attempting to regain full power again.

Scientists study the Daleks, unaware of the danger.

Scientists study the Daleks, unaware of the danger.

We briefly saw what a Dalek looks like on the inside during their first encounter in The Daleks, but it was very vague and hidden away. This time we see them in full (albeit from the available telesnaps), being grown in vats, injected with machinery and inserted into their armour shells, as the construction line churns out more and more of them. It’s marvelous.

A Dalek production line builds an army.

A Dalek production line builds an army.

The other reason it’s such a shame these episodes are lost is because it is of course Patrick Troughton in his first appearance, and actually seeing a new incarnation of the Doctor finding his feet, feeling his face, and discovering just who exactly he is, is one of the very rare pleasures of the Doctor Who franchise.

Even so, from what I’ve seen, I am already a big fan of Troughton’s Doctor. He has a, frankly, AWESOME voice, and he plays a bloody recorder!

Yes, he’s eccentric, as Hartnell’s version was, but instead of a crazy old man, he’s sharper, seemingly more on-the-ball, intelligent, witty, and gets more involved in the action.

A simple change of lead actor has transformed this whole show into something ten times as watchable. I’m looking forward to more adventures.

* Point of contention, Earth was invaded by Daleks in 2150-ish. I didn’t catch a date for this story, but either it’s set earlier than 2150, or set so far away from Earth that the inhabitants are blissfully unaware of what a Dalek is. Or there’s some timey-wimey stuff going on. Shrug.

[The First Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

When I started watching classic Doctor Who episodes, it was minor curiosity more than anything, but once I’d started, I felt compelled to continue watching, and then decided that I would watch every single episode in order. Part of this compulsion was probably due to how serialised the episodes are. Pretty standard practise in TV shows these days, but I’m unaccustomed to it in shows from back in the 60s. The only other shows I’ve gotten into from back then are The Prisoner and Star Trek, and both of these feature very ‘standalone’ episodes. You can tune in every week and see a complete story, with no reliance on knowing what happened before. I was very surprised by the ongoing continuity in old Doctor Who episodes. Every episode carries on from the last (although the effect is diminished somewhat if you don’t see the ‘lost’ episodes) and although each story is separated from the next, the characters continue and change.

Thoughts on the first Doctor

William Hartnell’s Doctor is a strange old man with a time machine. He’s a mystery throughout the whole show, aside from learning that he and his granddaughter are from another planet. His character is brash, short-tempered, quick to criticise, but nonetheless a genius. His mean spirit and ruthlessness don’t last very long, and he quickly becomes a bit of a mad giggling nutter that finds every little thing amusing, chuckles to himself, talks to himself, and ALWAYS ends his sentences with “hmm?”.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan. The character is fine, but the performance is rarely convincing. Hartnell often fluffs his lines, which was amusing at first, but I always get the sense that he’s trying to remember the next one. He doesn’t speak convincingly. His “I’m thinking now” pose, where he looks down at the floor or holds a finger to his mouth, always seems like the thing he’s trying to think of is what his next line is. No-one else, even the guest stars, have this problem. When the main character on the show is arguably the worst at acting, we have a bit of a problem. I’ve never seen him in anything else so I don’t want to judge his ability entirely on Doctor Who. I will say that he does some things well and he did have a few excellent performances in some episodes. Saying goodbye to Susan at the end of The Dalek Invasion was one of them.

Episode highlights

I would recommended the below serials as the best of William Hartnell’s Doctor Who. There are some other good episodes besides these, like the first Dalek story, but I haven’t included them in the list because they drag on too long. Some stories start well but end disappointingly, like The Space Museum, The Chase or the very first story, An Unearthly Child. I pretty much exclude any historical episode, as these were all much the same, terribly dull, and usually missing some or all of the video footage. As such, most of my picks are from the end of Hartnell’s run, and are complete serials.

The best of the reconstructions that I watched was The Daleks’ Master Plan, which I would still recommend as a good serial, but only if you skip a couple in the middle (the awful Xmas Special at least). Also a good reconstruction was and the final episode of The Tenth Planet, complete with the original regeneration footage. Worth a watch just for that, but it’s also a good serial in itself.

The Sensorites (6 parts, all complete)
The Dalek Invasion of Earth (6 parts, all complete)
The Rescue (2 parts, all complete)
The Time Meddler (4 parts, all complete)
The Ark (4 parts, all complete)
The War Machines (4 parts, all complete)
The Tenth Planet (4 parts, last episode reconstructed)

The Tenth Planet

So, finally, I reach the last William Hartnell story. I have now officially seen every single episode with him as the Doctor (including the reconstructions).

Not only is this the last Hartnell story, I didn’t realise it’s also the first Cybermen story. The place is a space probe monitoring station in the Antarctic; the time is twenty years in the future (1986!!!!), and the appearance of a strange new planet in the sky, an upside-down duplicate of Earth that has drifted back into the solar system after millions of years. Apparently, the Doctor explains, Earth originally had a twin, Mondas, and now it has returned.

The original Cybermen. More like Balaclavamen.

The original Cybermen. More like Balaclavamen.

The people of Mondas experimented with combining technology with biology, and purged emotion in an effort to improve their race. The result, cybernetic men (and women, presumably). Unlike the Daleks, whose design is basically identical fifty years later, the Cybermen look a lot different from how I know them. They’re not exactly armour-plated – instead their costumes are mostly fabric, with big chunks of machinery attached to them, and their faces look like they’re covered with a balaclava, only eye and mouth holes remaining. Combined with their disjointed monotone speech (in decidedly British accents, of course), it’s somewhat freaky.

Cybermen in the control room.

Cybermen in the control room.

Totally impassionate, they attempt to destroy the Earth once they’ve “recharged” Mondas with its “energy”. The base’s commanding officer gets a bit crazy and attempts to launch an atomic weapon at Mondas, which would not only destroy it, but probably irradiate the Earth too. As luck would have it, the Cybermen seem to miscalculate, and their world overloads with excess energy and melts away into space, safely. The Doctor, Ben and Polly’s part in the whole thing is little more than stalling for time, but it seems to work.

Ben and Polly watch helplessly as the Doctor collapses.

Ben and Polly watch helplessly as the Doctor collapses.

Unfortunately, the whole ordeal is too much for the Doctor, whose body is growing weak and weary from age and exertion. In fact, in part 3 (of 4), he’s almost completely absent, having collapsed. I suspect this was Hartnell’s body double and Hartnell himself wasn’t available for whatever reason. I admit, I’m not aware of the reason he left the show. He returns for his last performance in episode 4, which is a good reconstruction, and the final regeneration scene is intact.

After a blinding white light, the Doctor regenerates a new body.

After a blinding white light, the Doctor regenerates a new body.

Hartnell gives probably his best performance when minutes from death, his ‘giggling old man’ persona slips away, replaced with a more sober performance, a vague realisation of what is about to happen to him, accepting his fate and finishing what needs to be done. As the Tardis dematerialises from the South Pole, the Doctor collapses inside, and Ben and Polly observe a bright light covering his face, which begins to change… into that of another man.

The Smugglers

Four-parters seem to be the “in” thing now. Despite this being the start of a new ‘season’ (buh?), nothing has changed, and this is unfortunately as frightfully dull as any other Doctor Who “historical” serial so far.

Really, Doctor Who + Pirates can be interesting, if there’s a sci-fi twist, but so many of these early stories are just about the characters getting into trouble in historical settings. It desperately needs some aliens or other time travellers or something. That’s why I liked The Time Meddler but not this.

The Doctor, Ben and Polly dress for the occasion.

The Doctor, Ben and Polly dress for the occasion.

This time, the Doctor, Ben and Polly are in the 17th Century and get mixed up with some pirates smuggling some gold or something. The Doctor is captured, Ben and Polly are arrested, it all ends with a big old fight, before they get away again. I would have been bored pretty much throughout even if the video wasn’t missing – as a total reconstruction, it was just snoreworthy.

Y'arrrr!! Not so smug now.

Y’arrrr!! Not so smug now.

The only interesting thing about it was Ben and Polly trying to figure out where they were, being new to this time travel lark. Oh, and the pirates thinking Polly was a boy, and calling the Doctor “Sawbones”. I liked that. Otherwise, snoooooze.

The War Machines

Wikipedia says this was the end of ‘season 3’… whatever a season was back then. It’s an appropriate enough ending, as the Doctor and Dodo return to late 60s London to discover a new advanced computer is trying to take over the world by brainwashing people and sending out robotic tanks across the country.

In the WOTAN control room at the top of the BT tower, the Doctor puts the computer's intelligence to the test.

In the WOTAN control room at the top of the BT tower, the Doctor puts the computer’s intelligence to the test.

‘Present day’ Earth stories may become an easy way out, but they’ve been fairly infrequent in this series so far, and I rather like them. Not only do we get a look at 1960s culture and references, but the production can be comparatively lavish, with outdoor filming, a large human cast and no need for pokey little wooden sets. Even the British army gets involved!

WOTAN brainwashes people and has them build war machines.

WOTAN brainwashes people and has them build war machines.

This four-part story also features the “brand spanking new” post office tower (BT tower), the top of which is the home of the computer-gone-evil WOTAN. Both the computer and the war machines are very dated now, with their whirring motorised parts, paper print-outs and typewriter noises, but since it’s set in the 60s, they can rather get away with it. It’s still kind of creepy even now.

A war machine runs amok in the streets of London.

A war machine runs amok in the streets of London.

Dodo all but disappears after episode 2. She briefly enjoys the nightclub life with the two new people they meet, Ben and Polly, before being taken over by the WOTAN computer, but after the disaster, she relays a message of thanks and tells the Doctor she’s staying behind. She’s safe and apparently happy to stay, so fair enough.

Having saved the country (and the world?) from the machines, the Doctor leaves, but not before his new companions (cockney sailor boy Ben, and posh blonde Polly) enter the Tardis unaware of what it truly is. Two young Londoners, Ben is a sailor in the Navy, temporarily on leave, and Polly worked with the WOTAN computer. Ben has a bit of a crush on Polly, calling her ‘Dutchess’, and has a cockerny accent. They both seem nice enough.

Ben and Polly meet shortly before joining the Doctor.

Ben and Polly meet shortly before joining the Doctor.

As Dodo departs, I will summarise and comment on her role.
She could have been a constant annoyance, with her way of talking and her disregard for common sense, but she became bearable by the end. Her accent seemed to become more posh over time, and she stopped doing such stupid things. At first, she didn’t mind being whisked away through time and space, as she explained she didn’t have any family to miss her. She went along with it all quite willingly, really – although it did take her a while to realise she had travelled through time and space. She actually thought the Ark ship they first land within was a zoo! Though she improved, on the whole I wasn’t keen on her. By sheer chance, Dodo ends up more or less where she left, in 1960s London.

The Savages

Another four-part reconstruction. ‘The Savages’ is the first Doctor Who serial to not have individually named episodes (instead calling them Part 1, Part 2, etc.).

It’s a shame the footage was lost as it’s one of the better stories. Again, a classic sci-fi trope, an advanced civilization that has come about by exploiting supposedly “lower” life forms. The savages outside in the wastelands, and the more “evolved” scholars and leaders in their vast and impressive city. They drain their life force to feed their intellect, but it turns out that the savages are no less evolved and have merely been exploited all these years, much to the ignorance of the general population.

The savages. Grrr, so savage!

The savages. Grrr, so savage!

The Doctor gets a bit of heavy discussion with the the city’s ruler, who raises the interesting point that all advances in society must be built on exploitation one way or another. I would have liked to have seen his idea expanded on, but ultimately the story comes to end through the Doctor’s apparently strong moral compass being passed into the leader through an energy transference, and changing his mind about the whole thing.

The Doctor and the leader Jano talk about their perfect society for a while.

The Doctor and the leader Jano talk about their perfect society for a while.

The equipment gets trashed and Steven stays behind to unite the two people as one. Given Steven’s origins (settling a new world), I suppose this is a fitting end to his story, leaving the Doctor and Dodo to travel onwards. I had grown to like Steven’s character, so I hope there is a worthy replacement soon!

As an aside, Dodo’s accent has become posher and posher. I’m chalking that up to the effect of the Tardis – it makes every living thing in the Universe a posh British person.

The Doctor gets some of his life force extracted. He's fine, though.

The Doctor gets some of his life force extracted. He’s fine, though.

As Steven departs, I will summarise and comment on his role.
A plucky young spaceman, Steven took over the role occupied by Ian. I must say, I grew to like the character. He handled most of the roles pretty well. He’s just not as entertaining, sarcastic or curious as Ian was. He doesn’t have the same rapport with the Doctor. He’s fun to watch, though. I was sorry to see him leave.
He ends up on an alien planet, helping its wealthy city-dwellers and underclass population function together as equals. Considering Steven was originally en-route to colonise some other planet, he was up the job and it seems like a suitable enough end. He had no ties or place to be, so he didn’t mind staying behind.