Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Mind of Evil

The Master returns with another plan to conquer the world, although I’m not sure it’s a very good one. Using another false alias, he equips a prison with a new ‘correctional’ device (that he claims to have invented), which can remove the ‘evil’ emotions from habitual criminals. In reality, the device is an alien creature that feeds on these emotions and can project fear and terror into the minds of others.

The device in use... it turns this poor man's mind into that of a child.

The device in use… it turns this poor man’s mind into that of a child.

Meanwhile, he has hypnotised a Chinese delegate at a peace conference and has somehow used this device to amplify the terror through her telepathically and kill other delegates, with the intent on plunging the world into chaos. Oh, also he’s stolen a missile and plans to use it to throw the world into chaos… thus rendering the whole alien terror thing redundant, no? Coincidentally, UNIT is providing the security for the peace conference and the Doctor is visiting the prison, so everything is wrapped up in a neat little bundle of coincidence.

The 'Thunderbolt' missile.

The ‘Thunderbolt’ missile.

So, this was a bit poor, really. It’s not like the alien menace is particularly scary – it’s a brain in a jar that makes people clutch their heads and overact. The upside, I suppose, is that it makes the Doctor do that wide-eyed contorted face again (twice!). Also, it bombards him with images of the monsters he’s faced before, such as the Daleks, which was a nice touch.

Paralysed with fear, the Doctor does that face again. Yay!!

Paralysed with fear, the Doctor does that face again. Yay!!

The method of death doesn’t make any sense, though. The device can project hallucinations, but even if the mind thinks it’s real, it doesn’t explain how a person can drown by thinking they’re drowning and have water in their lungs. Or how someone imagining they’re attacked by rats can have real tooth and claw marks on their body.

The Doctor and Jo are locked up when the Master takes over the prison.

The Doctor and Jo are locked up when the Master takes over the prison.

What does work well, as ever, is the Doctor and the Master exchanging threats and pleasantries. They play off of each other well and are good fun to watch. Despite the stupidity of his plan (he requires the Doctor’s help, again!), the Master manages to get his Tardis circuit back and then informs the Doctor that he’s leaving. I suspect he’ll be back, though.

The Master listens in on UNIT's telephone calls.

The Master listens in on UNIT’s telephone calls.

The Doctor’s character is starting to annoy me now. He’s so relentlessly grumpy and mean. At one point, Lethbridge-Stewart rescues him from being shot, and all he can say is “couldn’t you have been a bit quicker?” There is no joy in the man’s hearts, he takes no pleasure at anything. Granted, being stuck on Earth could be the sole cause – I just can’t see this man as someone who is filled with wonder and joy about the Universe. He’d more likely be annoyed that it’s too bloody big.

One final note, although originally made in colour, only monochrome copies of this serial exist at the time of writing. I understand they have been recoloured and will be released to DVD later in the year. I don’t think colour will help this one very much, though.

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Terror of the Autons

Season 8 opens with another Nestene / Autons story, a relatively tightly plotted four episodes written by Robert Holmes again. There is a noticeable difference in style between his stories and the rest – he seems more inclined to break out of the rigid structure of the old 1960s episodes, and his characters are written with more naturalistic dialogue. Even the grumpy old Doctor occasionally makes a joke.

Autons attack! I'm never visiting a fairground ever again.

Autons attack! I’m never visiting a fairground ever again.

Orchestrating the Nestene’s plot to return to Earth and control all our plastic is none other than The Master (the actual Master, this time!), in his first ever appearance. I’m only familiar with the Master from the more recent Doctor Who series, but the character here is similarly evil, devious and cunning. More than that, though, he’s an intellectual equal for the Doctor, and from the looks of things, he’s going to be sticking around for a while. Arguably, the Netene and the Autons aren’t the focus here – there’s still the odd scary moment, like the little troll doll coming to life, or the fake policeman pulling his rubber mask off – they’re just part of the Master’s plot. But this is the sort of focus the series needs to avoid becoming stale, since we’re still stuck on Earth for the time being.

Attacked by the plastic telephone cable, the Doctor makes the now obligatory face.

Attacked by the plastic telephone cable, the Doctor makes the now obligatory face.

Doctor Who continues to have big ideas – alien invasion, deadly plastic sculptures, armed forces having shootouts and saving the country from a genocidal Time Lord – but budget cuts are becoming more apparent. We still don’t see inside the Doctor’s Tardis, and the Master’s Tardis only ever appears as a caravan! UNIT seems to ditch the jeeps for this story, and instead the Brigadier and his troops drive around in a little car. It’s quite amusing, actually. Elsewhere, bluegreen backdrops are used extensively, sometimes in place of actual sets. It’s fine, it’s just noticeably more dated than something like Spearhead from Space, which should always look good due to how it was shot.

To alert him of the Master's arrival, an inexplicably tiny Time Lord materialises in front of the Doctor. With a bowler hat. What?!

To alert him of the Master’s arrival, an inexplicably tiny Time Lord materialises in front of the Doctor. With a bowler hat. What?!

So, apparently, Liz Shaw left. I didn’t realise she wasn’t returning. I don’t have much to say about her as she wasn’t in it for long, but I liked that she was clever enough to keep up with the Doctor and take initiative herself. By contrast, the Doctor’s new assistant, Jo, is just there to look pretty and get kidnapped. An unfortunate downgrade, but I will give her a chance.

The Master poses as a businessman, using the highly inconspicuous alias, Colonel Masters.

The Master poses as a businessman, using the highly inconspicuous alias, Colonel Masters.

I like The Master. He’s the villain the show needs, and he’s a pleasure to watch. Granted, he does look like magician crossed with General Zod, but given he has the power of hypnosis, this seems entirely appropriate. I’ll be interested to see what his inclusion brings to the show going forward.

Inferno

At first, this one seems to be falling into the same tired pattern of seven-part stories. UNIT sets up at some new science/power facility, something goes wrong, some creatures appear, the people in charge act foolishly. I can understand why the Doctor is such a grumpy man in this incarnation if this is the sort of thing he has to put up with all the time.

This Doc is a lot more physical than previous ones. Martial Arts Paralysis Poke!

This Doc is a lot more physical than previous ones. Martial Arts Paralysis Poke!

But then the story takes a turn for the interesting. Having removed the console from the Tardis for testing, a surge of power sends it and the Doctor to a parallel dimension, a mirror universe where Britain is a militaristic republic and the power station workers are slave labourers. This immediately reminded me of the episode ‘Mirror, Mirror’ from the original Star Trek series. Although I’m sure it wasn’t the first to pose such a concept, I do wonder if the Doctor Who writers took inspiration from it specifically. I was amused to see Lethbridge-Stewart’s ‘evil’ double sporting an eyepatch and a scar.

Brigade Leader Lethbridge Stewart. Eyepatches are the new goatees.

Brigade Leader Lethbridge Stewart. Eyepatches are the new goatees.

Being set in a parallel universe gives the story the freedom to do a genuine disaster without having to worry about the repercussions. In this reality, the drilling facility has achieved faster results, and manages to breach the crust of the planet. Instead of unleashing all new energy sources, it instead unleashes the wrath of the planet, which spews its molten middle everywhere. Inexplicably, green goo from beneath the Earth also turns people into stony-faced hairy zombie cavemen. Yep, I’ve no idea why, but they’re scary-looking things. One criticism, though: the Doctor seems aware of what’s about to happen just before the crust is breached… and yet he’s pretty silent on the issue until then and seems to not care what they’re up to at all.

The hairy inferno zombies attack!

The hairy inferno zombies attack!

As the planet literally falls apart around him, the Doctor manages to enlist help and transport his Tardis console back to the correct universe, where he is able to convince them to stop and shut the project down. The company director is such an irritating character, in both universes; I just wanted someone to punch him. Instead, he gradually succumbs to the zombie infection and is incapacitated.

Stuck in the time warp, the Doctor does that face. Again!

Stuck in the time warp, the Doctor does that face. Again!

Although longer than it could have been (again), I enjoyed watching this; it was a really good serial and brings season 7 to a satisfying close. But moving on, I do hope there’s a little more variety, and I would like to see the Tardis feature more. Whether the budget didn’t allow the control room to be built, I don’t know, but it’s interesting that the Doctor uses the console on its own and seems intent on leaving without the rest of it!

The Ambassadors of Death

This story follows a similar pattern to the previous one: an alien force is discovered, some people want to destroy it, the Doctor wants to help it, and the mystery behind it becomes clearer over the course of seven episodes. Unlike The Silurians, however, I found this story to be far more engaging, interesting and well-made.

The Mars probe is brought back to space centre to be opened.

The Mars probe is brought back to space centre to be opened.

I suppose part of that is down to the way the plot unravels, with more and more people revealed to be working for the enemy, and by the end of it, seemingly no-one can be trusted! But I think the main strength in this story is the portrayal of the aliens themselves. Having secretly replaced the astronauts on their Mars capsule, the ‘Ambassadors’ return to Earth and are only ever seen wearing spacesuits (aside from one briefly terrifying reveal later on). A combination of their slow calculated movements, their obscured features, and uncharacteristic deadliness (their touch can kill) make for an effectively scary presence. It reminded me of ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ (2011) – there’s just something about unseen foes inside spacesuits that works so well. It also avoids the “bloke in a suit” problem, because they’re supposed to look like blokes in suits.

The Ambassadors are impervious to bullets due to electric field something-something.

The Ambassadors are impervious to bullets due to electric field something-something.

There are some unbelievable elements, however. This is supposed to be set in the 1970s, right? The writers were perhaps a bit… optimistic of the near future of the space program. We apparently have not only sent manned probes to orbit Mars, but can get there and back in what seems like a matter of minutes or hours, rather than the months it would actually take us. It’s not even set in the US – this is all supposed to be happening in England! That said, I do like the design of the space centre set, and the space sequences aboard the capsule are quite dramatically and interestingly shot.

The rescue pod connects with the probe in orbit of Mars - literally minutes away from Earth.

The rescue pod connects with the probe in orbit of Mars – literally minutes away from Earth.

Having watched nearly seven years’ worth of Doctor Who episodes, I have now finally noticed an actor being reused in another role. The head of the space centre is the same man who played one of the Dominators from The Dominators! This was a little distracting, but he’s good in the role.

Don't trust this man, he's an alien Dominator and-... oh no, he's not.

Don’t trust this man, he’s an alien Dominator and-… oh no, he’s not.

I would have to say I did like this story, with the caveat that it was still too long. I prefer tighter, leaner, stories. Unless it’s supposed to be an epic set across time and space, you end up with a lot of repetition – people being arbitrarily captured, escaping, recaptured, and so on. It loses its urgency, especially when the climax is squeezed into the final 15 minutes. Despite this, it was enjoyable.

A variant of 'The Face'... 'The G-Force Face'.

A variant of ‘The Face’… ‘The G-Force Face’.

One final observation: in part one of this story, we see the Tardis control room in colour for the first time! Except it looks like it’s either been moved into somebody’s house, or the Doctor has redecorated the walls with chintzy paper and framed pictures. Either way, I was pleased to see it and to get some mention of him trying to fix it – with an amusing bit of timey-wimey fun thrown in.

The Silurians

The fresh new look for Doctor Who dissolves away again as it returns to the studio sets for this disappointing seven part serial. I was looking forward to the introduction of another ‘villain’ I recognise, but unfortunately The Silurians was terribly dull.

UNIT sets up at the nuclear power facility.

UNIT sets up at the nuclear power facility.

All time and space antics are forgotten about here, as the Doctor is now a full-time UNIT employee, and the threat conveniently comes to England again. There’s not even a glimpse of the Tardis this time; the story plays out more like an episode of the X-Files, with Mulder (The Doctor) trying to convince a skeptical Scully (Liz) about the existence of aliens living underground beneath this new nuclear power facility.

The Doctor visits the caves to negotiate with the Silurians.

The Doctor visits the caves to negotiate with the Silurians.

They’re not really aliens, though, as they’ve been living under the ground for hundreds of millions of years, and now awaken to find they are no longer the dominant intelligent lifeform on the planet. The Doctor spends most of his time trying to strike a deal with their reasonable leader, who is later killed by a more aggressive Silurian, and a back-and-forth show of force occurs between the Silurians and the UNIT soldiers. Naturally, one of the facility personnel is secretly working with the Silurians in exchange for knowledge and power, and he predictably dies.

The Silurians capture the Doctor while he works on a cure for the virus.

The Silurians capture the Doctor while he works on a cure for the virus.

The plot is flabby and leaves things unexplained. The Silurians have a huge dinosaur that they control… but where did that come from and what happens to it when they all go back into hibernation? It’s never mentioned again. What was the deal with the people being paralysed by fear at the sight of these creatures, but later on able to see each other and talk normally? What was that all about with the particle accelerator room giving people headaches? Was that related to the fear thing?

Attacked by the Silurians, the Doctor does that face again. I hope that becomes his "thing".

Attacked by the Silurians, the Doctor does that face again. I hope that becomes his “thing”.

There were some good bits. When the creatures are unseen, they’re more effective. There are some first-person shots of the injured Silurian running around outdoors that work quite well. It’s only when you see them in full that they just look like blokes in suits. (Video recording under studio lights do not do these costumes any favours, they look silly.) Most of the banter between the Doctor and Liz is good fun, and I could happily watch him mixing chemicals and looking at slides under a microscope for hours. I also like the Doctor’s new car, with number plate “Who1”. Also the ending is kind of bleak, with the military deciding to just blow the Silurian base up, killing them all, despite them being no threat anymore. The Doctor is not going to be happy with the Brigadier after this, I’m sure.

The Doctor and Bessie.

The Doctor and Bessie.

Other than that, I didn’t really like this one at all. It was too long, not very interesting and it looked cheap. As this was originally a monochromatic print that was combined with the colour from a poor quality NTSC broadcast, the result is very patchy and inconsistent. Sadly, inconsistent colour is going to be a problem for a little while yet. Hopefully, boring stories won’t be.

Spearhead from Space

Holy crap, the Tardis is BLUE?!!

No, but seriously, Doctor Who appearing in colour for the first time already takes some adjusting to, but more so because this one is shot entirely on film. There appears to be few, if any, studio sets used at all – everything is shot either outdoors or in real buildings. The difference this makes to the look (and sound) of the this show is absolutely stark. It feels like a ‘movie version’ of a TV show.

The Doctor collapses outside the Tardis after arriving on Earth.

The Doctor collapses outside the Tardis after arriving on Earth.

I’m just as interested in aspects of filmmaking as I am the stories themselves, so I could ramble on about this and that until I’m blue in the Tardis. Before this, the show did use film and location shooting, increasingly so as it went on, but the studio video recordings made up the bulk of the episodes. Shooting on film, without the studio environment, changes the style of filmmaking too. While the old show would play out like a stage play, this is more naturalistic, less melodramatic, more tightly edited, more cinematic. But it does mean we don’t get to see the Tardis interior this time. It’s a really strange effect – simultaneously expensive- and cheap-looking.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Liz Shaw visit the Doctor in hospital.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Liz Shaw visit the Doctor in hospital.

This fresh new start for Doctor Who also brings with it a new Doctor, now played by Jon Pertwee. Although the Time Lords erased some of his memories before stranding him on Earth, he is still essentially the same character. He still has Troughton’s deep voice (now with a bit of a lisp, mind) but he’s a little more laid back. Still clever and cunning, but he seems to have more of a sense of humour. Some of his lines are pretty funny, like when he’s admiring his new face’s flexible eyebrows. The acting is, again, more naturalistic, less dramatic. I think I could grow to like this incarnation.

The Doctor borrows some clothes, and a rather fetching hat.

The Doctor borrows some clothes, and a rather fetching hat.

Still, not everything has changed. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart returns, still heading up UNIT. Coincidentally, the Doctor winds up in his custody and is instrumental in stopping an Auton invasion, with help from Liz Shaw, who I assume is going to be whatever equivalent to a travelling companion this series has. I really have no idea where this is going, if anywhere, but I’m okay with the change. On the basis of this story, Doctor Who can be grounded on Earth and still involve alien invasions, sinister plots, science-fiction concepts and a few scares to go along with it. Plastic duplicate people? Cool! Shop mannequins coming to life? Brilliant! Global threat on a local scale. It works here. Can it keep working? That remains to be seen.

Ooh-arr, no sir, I ain't seen no glowing meteorites around these parts.

Ooh-arr, no sir, I ain’t seen no glowing meteorites around these parts.

Noteworthy mention: the extent of the Doctor’s alienness is explicitly confirmed for the first time when the hospital X-rays him and discovers he has two hearts, non-human blood, and irregular heartbeat and brain wave patterns. I was wondering when that would first come up, and now I know. He also adopts the John Smith name again, seemingly long-term.

The Autons attack!

The Autons attack!

This was a good, fun and fresh four episodes of Doctor Who, a whole new style for a whole new decade. Let the adventures continue!

[The Second Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

A remarkable thing happened when Patrick Troughton took over the leading role on Doctor Who – the show changed from ‘occasionally good’, to ‘often great’. I can’t put that entirely down to the character, because it seemed to me a result of the writing and the types of stories that they wanted to tell. Half of William Hartnell’s run were historical type stories, where our heroes would be temporarily trapped in the past. The other half would be futuristic or science-fiction based. After the Doctor’s regeneration, this changes – there is only one ‘pure history’ story (probably a leftover script) and that’s it, not a single other. Every story from then on is either set in the future, or set in the present day, or has some sort of alien threat or science-fiction element to it. Oh, and monsters. Lots of monsters. The start of The War Games is even more stark, then, since it seems like the first historical episode in three years, and even then it turns out it isn’t!

Basically, I want to point out that the improvements made (and they were massive improvements – I was tempted to give up during some of Hartnell’s more boring episodes) are not purely down to the change in actor, nor just the stories, but both of these things combined. I can appreciate the difficulties Hartnell had, but also the writers, in pinning down exactly what sort of show they wanted Doctor Who to be. Arguably, that’s something that is still happening to this day.

There were some other series mainstays introduced during Troughton’s run. For one thing, the title sequence changed (finally!) and introduced ‘the face’. We also got the first use of the Sonic Screwdriver, first use of the alias John Smith, and first appearance of the Earth unit… er… UNIT. And, of course, there was a new Doctor himself.

Thoughts on the Second Doctor

Immediately after regenerating into his new appearance, it’s clear Troughton’s portrayal of the character is markedly different. It’s a confident character, more on top things, more capable. He’s still a little self-involved and weird, but ultimately compassionate. He has a few quirks of his own (a recorder!) and manages to make the character something new.

Troughton gives a thoroughly consistent performance. Whether he’s shouting panic-stricken commands to people or engaging in more solemn discussion about the wonders of time/space travel, so long as the writing it good, he’s always enjoyable to watch, and he becomes what the show needed him to be – a strong leading character. Nonetheless, he’s almost always helped out by the supporting cast, and at times even Jamie has to help set him back on the straight path.

Episode Highlights

It’s difficult to pick out the best episodes of Troughton’s run. Firstly, because the quality is more consistent, so few stand out as remarkable against the rest. Secondly, because so many of these serials are incomplete or missing that I may favour a completed serial over a reconstructed one, despite its quality. That said, I have managed to choose what I think are the best examples, which I now list below.

The Power of the Daleks (6 parts, all missing)
The Tomb of the Cybermen (4 parts, all complete)
The Web of Fear (6 parts, only part 1 complete)
The Invasion (8 parts, 2 missing but animated)
The War Games (10 parts, all complete)