Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Krotons

This era of Doctor Who seems determined to create as many new little waddling robots with silly voices as possible. The croutons… sorry, I mean the Krotons, are supposedly crystalline metal ‘creatures’ rather than robots as such, although the science is fuzzy, and they basically are robots, complete with claw-ended tube arms and deadly acid gas guns. Also one of them sounds South-African for some reason.

One of the two Krotons. Possibly the South-African one, I can't recall.

One of the two Krotons. Possibly the South-African one, I can’t recall.

A thousand years earlier, they conquered the planet’s inhabitants, the Gonds, and now they rule over them, forever unseen, hiding in the machinery underneath the Gond city. Now ruled as ‘gods’, they control the Gonds through lies and brainwashing, telling them that the wasteland outside is uninhabitable, and regularly selecting the most gifted candidates to join them as companions. What they’re actually doing once inside the machine is absorbing their brain waves to power their ship and then killing the unfortunate person afterwards with their deadly gas, which dissolves them into nothing.

The Gonds see their 'gods' for what they really are.

The Gonds see their ‘gods’ for what they really are.

Such a delicate balance of lies obviously doesn’t take much to upset, and the Doctor’s arrival immediately raises questions and shatters the Gonds’ faith. This causes an uprising, forcing the Krotons to come out of hiding and accelerate their plans. The Doctor and Zoe have sufficient mental energy to fully charge their spaceship (poor Jamie doesn’t), but using some hastily made sulphuric acid, the Doctor manages to dissolve the Krotons and destroy their ship, freeing the Gonds, and teaching them a bit of chemistry in the process.

"It's an umbrella. I have an umbrella now. Umbrellas are cool."

“It’s an umbrella. I have an umbrella now. Umbrellas are cool.”

This was another ‘unseen enemy’ type story, with rather bleak ramifications. Nonetheless, the Doctor has some comedic moments, exclaiming “great jumping gobstoppers!” and “oh my giddy aunt!” at one point. Gotta love him.

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The Invasion

The second Doctor seems to attract Cybermen like a magnet! Now, I did see some images from this serial prior to watching, so the big reveal at the end of episode 4 was sadly not a surprise.

Oh, spoilers! Again! Sorry.

This time, we’re back on Earth, just a few years after the events of the The Web of Fear. The Colonel (now a Brigadier) Lethbridge-Stewart from that London Underground yeti attack now heads up a brand new government force called UNIT. A Cyberman invasion is in full swing and the stakes are high. This is certainly one of the more exciting storylines yet!

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart heads up the brand new UNIT.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart heads up the brand new UNIT.

Unfortunately, like many of these old serials, it suffers with being too bloody long! I don’t mind giving a story time to breathe, but eight episodes is just too much. Four or five would have been sufficient. It’s good, but it just can’t sustain suspense and drama over that length, although it does try.

The villain of the piece isn’t really the Cybermen, but the maniac who wants to bring them down to Earth and control them, use them as a force for conquering the world. Tobias Vaughn runs an electronics company with its innocuous-looking devices now installed all over the world, which instantly reminded me of 2006’s Cybermen two-parter (although this plays out quite differently).

Vaughn and the Doctor.

Vaughn and the Doctor.

Vaughn is one of the more entertaining villains to watch. He’s deliciously evil, almost inhumanly so. But, despite his thorough planning and preparation, he is betrayed by the invading army and its commanding computer brain. Fortunately, his failsafe device, a machine for overloading the Cybermen with ‘emotional force’, acts as a successful weapon, and the Doctor is able to help UNIT to coordinate an attack on the Cybermen, blowing its attack ships out of the sky with missiles.

The Cybermen design changes again - note the new 'earmuffs'. I like these ones the most so far.

The Cybermen design changes again – note the new ‘earmuffs’. I like these ones the most so far.

There’s a lot to like here. Being set on Earth again means relatively higher production values, on location filming and outdoor action and setpieces. If anything, the direction lets it down a little – some of the Cybermen attacking just look a bit pathetic. There’s a sequence where Jamie is trying to get one of them off his leg as he pulls himself out of a sewer, and it’s just so blandly shot it looks daft and not the least bit menacing. Maybe they should have set the invasion at night, it might have looked better.

The Cybermen invade!

The Cybermen invade!

The UNIT characters are likeable chaps, as are the other extras – Isobel, the photographer and her uncle, Professor Watkins (whose house they visit looking for Professor Travers). The world of Doctor Who starts hanging onto familiar faces and enemies, setting in a sense of continuity while also opening up into bigger things. Certainly, this mission is too much for the Doctor alone, but he’s making a name for himself on Earth now.

The missing episodes, 1 and 4, animated by Cosgrove Hall studio.

The missing episodes, 1 and 4, animated by Cosgrove Hall studio.

A word on the restoration. For its DVD release in 2006, the BBC commissioned for the two missing episodes to be restored using 2D cartoon animation. Although they look a little like a cheap Flash animation at times, the art style is nice and some of the imagery is really striking. So much so, that when it reverted back to live action for the next part, I really missed it. A much nicer experience than watching telesnaps, although those are available too.

The Mind Robber

This is one of the weirdest Doctor Who stories I’ve seen so far, particularly part 1, which concludes with the Tardis exploding!

In an effort to escape from the volcanic eruption at the end of The Dominators, the Doctor has to reluctantly use an emergency function of the Tardis, which pulls it out of reality and into a dimension of thoughts and fiction.

A dimension of thought and fiction.

A dimension of thought and fiction.

This dream-like setting allows for more than the usual dose of strangeness, since anything can happen. Fictional characters appear and disappear, giant toy soldiers hunt and attack the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, who get separated, trapped or turned into cardboard cutouts. It has monsters, characters from books and legends, a unicorn, a minotaur, a futuristic comic strip superhero (who helps them) and a Medusa statue, with rather impressively animated snake hair.

The Doctor attempts to piece Jamie's face back together... unsuccessfully.

The Doctor attempts to piece Jamie’s face back together… unsuccessfully.

I liked this story more when I had no idea what was going on – that sense of mystery is appealing. As the plot progresses over the five episodes and we learn there is a consciousness behind the events, it loses its appeal a little.

The rather impressive Medusa statue.

The rather impressive Medusa statue.

The man orchestrating everything calls himself The Master. Although seemingly unrelated to the Doctor’s future recurring nemesis, this is the second time a villain has called himself that, the first being The Great Intelligence from The Abominable Snowmen serial. As an aside, the Master in this story is being controlled by a computer brain containing a disembodied intelligence, although I’m not sure it’s related to The Great Intelligence either. Writers, get some original names please!

The Master(mind).

The Master(mind).

Due to illness, the actor playing Jamie is replaced for a couple of the episodes, but this is worked into the plot, as the Doctor tries to reassemble a picture of Jamie’s face and revive him, but picks out the wrong pieces! They could have written Jamie out for a while, or just recast him without saying anything, but they don’t do that here. I like that.

The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie are charged by a unicorn.

The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie are charged by a unicorn.

This is another story where the Doctor’s ‘superior mind’ overcomes being controlled, as he manages to re-write the fictional world to his own whims. A bit of a cheap get-out, but it was done in a funny way. The Master is rescued from the machine and they all escape as the universe around them ceases to exist. The exploded Tardis appears to reassemble itself and… that’s it, that’s how it ends.

Kinda weird, kinda funny, kinda creepy. I’m not quite what to make of it… but it was fun to watch.

The Dominators

A five-parter. With new girl Zoe now in tow, the Tardis arrives on a peaceful alien planet, with the Doctor fully intending to have a nice relaxing break. He’s been here before, an island on the planet Dulkis, whose inhabitants are total pacifists.

But they hadn’t always been. Unknown by the Doctor, the island was a testing ground for the planet’s only ever atomic weapon, nearly two centuries prior, and became an irradiated deathtrap that must never be visited. Luckily for the Doctor and co, an alien spaceship from a fleet of warlike Dominators happens to land minutes before the Tardis does and absorbs all of the island’s dangerous radiation into its energy cells. Not so lucky for the Doctor and co is the fact that the Dominators intend to enslave the people of Dulkis and use the planet’s natural energy for their own fleet of ships.

The Dominators land on Dulkis.

The Dominators land on Dulkis.

Given the era this was made, I suspect it was intended to play into the atomic war fears of the 1960s (Star Trek did similar things back then). The Dulcians have very silly costumes, even by Doctor Who standards. Really not very flattering at all, for either gender. The Dominators do have pretty cool costumes, however, with big arching shoulder mount things around their heads, and lots of funky tassels.

The Dulcians' awful clothes.

The Dulcians’ awful clothes.

It’s lucky that it’s only a scout party of two Dominators that lands on the planet, as the Doctor is able to defeat them. Their main weapons are little robots called ‘quarks’ that waddle around on stumpy legs and fire deadly lasers. As they are defeated one-by-one, it sparks arguments between the two Dominators, who disagree about whether or not to hunt down the slaves or concentrate the quarks’ dwindling power reserves on drilling through the earth. Employing delay tactics, the Doctor is eventually able to capture the Dominators’ explosive device and hide it aboard their ship, moments before lift-off, destroying them as they try to leave. Nevertheless, the island is evacuated and the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie run back to the Tardis as a volcanic erruption starts.

The 'quarks'. Deadly robots. Honestly!

The ‘quarks’. Deadly robots. Honestly!

This wasn’t a particularly interesting story, although it was well-produced. A lot of miniatures were used (for the flying saucers and transport capsules, etc.) and there was an usually high number of explosions. The Dulcians’ technology was also quite utopian futuristic-y, with transport tubes, automated navigation capsules, and all the control panels in their city seemed to use non-touch motion gestures, pre-empting Minority Report by forty years.

The Doctor plays the fool for a while, to avoid arousing suspicion.

The Doctor plays the fool for a while, to avoid arousing suspicion.

There was one other curious reference. When the Dominators scan one of the captured Dulcians, they mention that they have two hearts. Earlier in the story, when Jamie and the Doctor are captured, Jamie is also scanned, but they don’t bother to scan the Doctor because they assume his physiology is the same as Jamie’s. I wonder if this was just a coincidence at this point, or if this was when the writers started thinking about the Doctor’s alien physiology. It’s never really been brought up yet, aside from his extraordinary age and the fact that he can regenerate. In the previous story (The Wheel in Space), the Doctor is given a medical exam, including listening to his heart, and nothing unusual is mentioned. Not that it necessarily would be.

Anyway, enough rambling. Verdict: meh, average.

The Wheel in Space

I like the Cybermen episodes so far because they’re unannounced. Aside from ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’, they’ve all taken me by surprise. Unlike the Dalek episodes, where you know it’s a Dalek episode because it has “Dalek” in the title, you’re not just waiting around for the Cybermen to show up, they just suddenly appear. You see those unmistakable helmet handles and then “surprise! It’s a Cyberman episode!!”

Ooops, spoilers!

The Wheel's control room.

The Wheel’s control room.

The Wheel in Space is set on a wheel… in space. A rotating Earth space station that monitors stellar phenomena, and is armed with a laser for deflecting meteors and such. Doc and Jamie materialise aboard a seemingly abandoned spaceship that’s heading towards the Wheel, and only narrowly avoid being shot down by them as an off-course rogue ship.

The Cybermen are brought over in caskets.

The Cybermen are brought over in caskets.

Once aboard, things take a turn for the strange. Cybermats manage to get through the hull and sabotage the laser’s fuel rods, requiring a salvage operation aboard the rogue ship. This gives the Cybermen, who were hidden aboard it, their chance to get aboard the Wheel and start brainwashing the crew. The Doctor wasn’t anticipated in their rather convoluted plan to conquer the Earth (The Wheel provides a safe gateway to Earth, for some technical reason given in the eleventh hour), and his knowledge of the Cybermen is enough to fend them off. They’re blasted into space and their ship is blown up.

The Cybermen take control of the Wheel personnel.

The Cybermen take control of the Wheel personnel.

This story struck me as rather similar to a lot of others in this series. It was perfectly enjoyable, but once again we have the corruptible power-hungry leader, the hidden enemy who no-one believes at first, the brainwashed humans acting against them in secret, and so on. Fury from the Deep, The Ice Warriors, The Moonbase… it’s a formula they seem to be sticking with. As I say, it’s perfectly fine, and there’s plenty of strong performances, but it’s getting a bit old.

Astronauts under 'cyber-control'.

Astronauts under ‘cyber-control’.

One of the station staff, the emotionally-crippled brainiac wondergirl Zoe, decides to stick with the Doctor and Jamie. Isn’t it a funny coincidence that new companions always join them on the very first mission after the previous one leaves?

Zoe and the Cybermen.

Zoe and the Cybermen.

Six episodes seems to have become standard practise again, and this one does drag a little. It takes an entire episode just for the Doctor and Jamie to get off the spaceship!

Only two completed episodes of this serial exist, but Loose Cannon’s reconstructions are some of the most thorough I’ve seen so far (these are available on Youtube). Aside from the usual telesnaps and composites, they’ve reused bits of clips from the two available episodes wherever possible, and they even made some CGI sequences of the little robot, the Cybermats, the Cybermen and even the astronauts walking around. Impressive work, team!

Noteworthy mention: When interrogated about the Doctor, who is absent for episode 2 (having hit his head!) Jamie says his name is John Smith, seeing it on a label on a piece of equipment. The Doctor sticks with it as his name for the rest of the story.

Another noteworthy mention, not specifically about this story but classic Doctor Who in general… the supporting cast of characters are portrayed as actual intelligent and believable human beings. In modern stories (certainly in most ‘New Who’), the hero is the clever one, maybe the sidekick too, but the supporting cast are slow and dimwitted in order for the story to proceed and the hero to be seen as clevererererer. That doesn’t really happen here. It’s not all about the Doctor, he’s just a cog in the machine. Anyway, just an observation.

Fury from the Deep

Another monster storyline, which are becoming very prevalent in this series! I’m also noting a lot of research or science facility locations, often with power-hungry or corruptible leaders, and people infiltrating them or working undercover. Common themes here. I’m not complaining just yet, I prefer these types of stories.

The Doctor listens to the thumping sounds from the pipes... and then uses his sonic screwdriver for the very first time!

The Doctor listens to the thumping sounds from the pipes… and then uses his sonic screwdriver for the very first time!

This one sees sentient seaweed creatures spreading across a network of natural gas rigs on the north sea by travelling through the pipes and spreading foam and poisonous gas everywhere. The gas controls the workers and the workers spread more of the seaweed around to infect other people.

The Doctor in the refinery control room.

The Doctor in the refinery control room.

They really tried to scare the pants off you back then. The pulsating heartbeat noises from the pipes are just as effective today – the creature (what I could make out of it from the images and surviving clips) was obscured enough by all the foam to remain scarily hidden. And the possessed people… oh my. If I was eight years old watching that clip of the wide-eyed ‘Mr. Quill’, bellowing out gas from his open mouth, face contorted in terror, I’d probably have had nightmares. Who needs CGI monsters when you have that?

The terrifying Mr. Quill.

The terrifying Mr. Quill.

Victoria screams a lot in this story, which for once actually turns out quite useful, as the sound of her scream apparently kills the seaweed creatures. They amplify her scream and send it through the pipework in order to kill the nerve centre and it works! It’s an abrupt solution – it’s previously mentioned that they’re also weak against pure oxygen, and it looked like a plan was being put into place for that, but it never went anywhere. It’s possible the ending was shortened, lengthened or rewritten entirely, but I don’t know. It just seemed a bit abrupt to me.

The head of refinery operation, Robson, is caught by the evil foam!

The head of refinery operation, Robson, is caught by the evil foam!

Notable in this story is the first ever appearance of the sonic screwdriver! Unbelievably, it was actually used to remove a screw (using soundwaves)! It’s also the first time I’ve seen the Tardis physically ‘land’ anywhere – it literally descends from the sky and hovers over the sea, then leaves again the same way (instead of dematerialising first).

Also notable is the first time a companion has remarked on how often they seem to arrive in England – Jamie mentions it shortly after they arrive on the shore. Another nod to the series tropes is when Victoria complains about how they always get into one spot of danger after another and never seem to land anywhere peaceful. It’s true enough – the Tardis must have some sort of “Adventure Detector” that guides it!

This final point actually pushes Victoria to the brink. Deciding she cannot take anymore ‘excitement’, she elects to end her adventures and remain behind. The final episode winds down a little earlier than normal as the Doctor and Jamie say goodbye to her.

This six-part serial was made up of all six reconstructions, again incorporating clips of the scary footage that was cut out from the overseas broadcasts.

The Web of Fear

Bizarrely, this serial follows on from the 2012 Christmas special, the future incarnation of the Doctor having given the past incarnation of the Great Intelligence the idea to come to London and conquer the Underground system with his army of yeti robots. Yes, this really happens.

An older Professor Travers meets the Doctor again.

An older Professor Travers meets the Doctor again.

It seems to start as a disaster episode: London is evacuated! Corpses in the streets! But actually the crisis is confined to the tunnels and rooms of the Underground system, so the story doesn’t swell out into a bloated epic. The core characters (mostly army personnel, although the scientist from the previous yeti story is back as an old man) have their own unique personalities and quirks, and the story stays pretty tight, much to its advantage. The timid Evans always looking out for himself provides some light relief. We don’t discover who is helping the Intelligence (unwillingly) until the end, so there’s a bit of mystery and guessing too.

Yeti advancing through the underground tunnels.

Yeti advancing through the underground tunnels.

Also, a lot of web. I don’t know whether the title of the serial is related purely to this or also the web-like nature of the London Underground, but a core danger throughout the story is the yeti’s web-like fungus guns (yes, this also really happens) filling up the tunnels and trapping the people in.

The yeti themselves have had a slight design change since last time (on the outside, anyway – they still have the shiny control spheres inside them and make the same noise), with browner fur and scary glowing eyes. Clearly much of the footage of them advancing through the dark tunnels was considered too scary for the overseas censors, hence much of these retrieved shots have survived the BBC’s deletion! Additionally, one completed episode exists. The other five are reconstructions. That said, they’re done well (I watched Loose Cannon’s versions, they tend to do the best work on these).

The timid Evans.

The timid Evans.

The Great Intelligence is thwarted by the Doctor’s technical skill in reverse-engineering its equipment, however it manages to escape in non-corporeal form once again… so maybe it’ll come back for a future episode. Presumably, the people of London are brought back in once the crisis is over and nobody ever mentions it again!

On the whole, I enjoyed this. The setting was unique, the evil was scary, and the Doctor was a genius. I wouldn’t rank it as a favourite but it was certainly entertaining. Just a shame so many episodes are missing in action.