Monthly Archives: March 2013

Frontier in Space

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of… a blue police box.

The Doctor and Jo materialise in the 26th century and just happen to get in the middle of a plot to set the two galactic empires, Earth and Draconia, at war with each other.

The Draconians.

The Draconians.

This is another story by Malcolm Hulke; much like his earlier one, Colony in Space, he seems to have a desire to build a rich and consistent future universe, with all the politics and history worked out. This kind of world-building can make for some compelling sci-fi, as it paints a broad picture of where we are as a species and where we’re heading, the trials we may face and the ideals we must stick to. While there are some warmongering characters in this, the Earth President (a woman, how about that?!) is level-headed and reasonable and tries her best to avoid all-out war.

The Doctor is sent to prison on the moon. Draconian laws, haha!

The Doctor is sent to prison on the moon. Draconian laws, haha!

There are two good reveals in this story. Firstly, in part three, that it’s the Master who is manipulating the two galactic powers to fight each other (using a hypnotic device to create illusions of the enemy), and then secondly, in part six, minutes before the story comes to a conclusion, that the Master has been working for the Daleks! I genuinely did not see that coming. With these two very bad dudes working together, the Doctor has no choice but to call the Time Lords for help, and so the story ends without resolution, to continue into the next serial. Okay, that’s a first.

The true masters appear at the end.

The true masters appear at the end.

It’s a little too convenient that the Doctor should happen to meet the Master, yet again, in his free travels. I do like the Master, but he risks becoming overused as a villain when it’s the same thing time after time. I would have liked to see the Master and the Daleks come to a head, but maybe that’s something that will happen in the next one. After all, the Master cannot be anybody’s ally in the long run, and the Daleks obey nobody but themselves. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Jo continue to develop a rapport; their dialogue is becoming more friendly and natural, which is nice to see. I may not think much of Jo, but the one thing she seems to do well is make the Doctor mellow out a bit. He’s become much more bearable lately.

Look ma, no strings! The Doctor does a spacewalk. Twice!

Look ma, no strings! The Doctor does a spacewalk. Twice!

There’s a lot to like about this story and I think it’s visually quite remarkable for a BBC TV show from 1973, years before the likes of Star Wars hit cinema screens, in which we have spaceships flying about through hyperspace, flinging missiles at each other and so forth. The sets, props, costumes, prosthetics and miniatures are all very accomplished and well-made for their time. The Draconian make-up is excellent, very alien without looking too much like they’ve got rubber on their heads. The dimwitted Ogrons also return (this should have been my clue that the Daleks were involved, duh!), so again we have this sense of world-building, pulling in familiar elements and using them in new ways.

On location, this building has a kind of futuristic look to it.

On location, this building has a kind of futuristic look to it.

Will the war be averted? Will the Daleks take over the galaxy? Will the Master finally conquer the Earth? Find out in the next exciting adventure!

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Carnival of Monsters

The Doctor and Jo accidentally materialise inside a ‘miniscope’, a collection of human and alien lifeforms inside a machine used for amusement by a couple of travelling carnies.

There are two plot threads running parallel here: firstly, the carnies trying to entertain the emotionally muted inhabitants of the planet to which they’ve hitchhiked, which is funny because they have no concept of amusement and think the carnies are spies or part of an invasion fleet, and the situation grows more and more ridiculous.

What is this "fun" of which you speak?

What is this “fun” of which you speak?

Then we have the Doctor and Jo trapped on what initially seems like 1920s cruise ship, but is actually an artificial environment within the machine. This is also funny as the people get stuck in a loop and keep repeating the same sequence of events, repeatedly discovering the stowaways and then forgetting about them.

Yoink!

Yoink!

Things get interesting when deadly giant worm-like creatures from another part of machine escape and run amuck. Once the Doctor is able to escape the machine and return to full size, he then does his usual holier-than-thou routine to give the aliens a telling off for allowing the miniscope to be used, because they’ve been outlawed. Using the Tardis, they are able to deactivate the machine and return the creatures and people to their homes.

The miniscope, banned by galactic law.

The miniscope, banned by galactic law.

There’s certainly a colourful cast of characters in this. I like how the carnies’ attire is completely at odds with the aliens’ bland uniforms and grey faces. The looping events inside the machine were quite amusing, and the bits with the giant worms were well-realised and reminded me of the film Beetlejuice. Overall, I thought this was interesting and decent enough.

The drashigs, giant worm-like things, hunt the Doctor and Jo through a swamp.

The drashigs, giant worm-like things, hunt the Doctor and Jo through a swamp.

Noteworthy mention: apparently, the BBC experimented with new title music in this season, but it proved unpopular and they decided not to use it. For some reason, some versions of episode 2 of Carnival of Monsters mistakenly retain this new music. I can see why they didn’t use it, it sounds all sped up and boingy-boingy. Saying that, they’ve kept basically the same music for the last ten years, so I didn’t mind hearing something new.

The Three Doctors

So, ten years. I’ve managed to watch nearly ten years’ worth of Doctor Who in under ten months. This calls for an anniversary special…

When the very universe itself is threatened by an antimatter-spewing blackhole controlled by an ancient ex-Time Lord called Omega, who can the council of Time Lords turn to to save the day (and every other day)? By breaking the laws of time itself, they pull the Doctors of the past into the present. When one Doctor isn’t enough, it’s time for the power of three!

Omega, the man with no face.

Omega, the man with no face.

This is a very silly premise, purely an excuse to get William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton back for a special event… but I can’t help finding it a lot of fun. Frankly, any excuse to get Patrick Troughton back is fine with me, and he’s absolutely the highlight of this particular serial. He plays it perhaps a tad more jovial than he used to, exaggerated for effect I suppose, but he’s superb.

The Doctor's recorder quite literally saves the universe.

The Doctor’s recorder quite literally saves the universe.

William Hartnell is another matter. In 1972/73, he was very ill, and whatever role they had planned for his character was downsized to some pre-recorded segments, the idea being that he was trapped outside in a vortex and couldn’t join the other two in person. But this does suit his character well enough, as he is able to offer his wisdom and advice from afar. His eccentricities are largely absent here, understandably so – he gives quite a sober performance. I was sad to learn that this was the last bit of acting he did, and he sadly passed away a couple of years later. Quite remarkable that he managed this role one last time.

Trapped outside while in transit, the first Doctor can only offer advice through the Tardis monitor.

Trapped outside while in transit, the first Doctor can only offer advice through the Tardis monitor.

Still, it’s Pertwee’s Doctor that does most of the heroics, but he plays off of Troughton well, and their little arguments are amusing to watch – Troughton obsessing over his lost recorder and Pertwee losing his temper, it really shows the difference between the two of them. Naturally, the Brigadier is mightily confused by the whole ordeal, refusing to believe to reality of the situation happening before his very eyes. But meeting the Doctor he recognises from years ago, and trying to explain to headquarters, is fun. I hadn’t realised, but none of the UNIT lot had been inside the Tardis before this… and presumably, this is the last time they will.

The Brigadier is confused, often. He's great, though.

The Brigadier is confused, often. He’s great, though.

Having put their collective heads together, Omega is tricked into releasing them all and destroying his blackhole. Having saved the Time Lords, they grant the Doctor his freedom, ending his exile, and the Doctors of the past are returned to their time zones. Omega is a tragic character, revered for his work in making time travel possible, but abandoned by the very people he helped, and trapped forever in a world he created but cannot leave. It’s the sad side to this rather fun coin.

And it was fun. I got a kick out seeing these three versions of the character together, as I’m sure fans did back in the day as well. For once, I would have actually liked the story to be longer!

The Time Monster

The Master returns again! Isn’t he tired of Earth yet? Posing as a professor in the field of temporal science, he develops a machine that can peer through the gaps in time itself, and summon the ancient god Kronos to help him conquer the universe. Ambitious chap, isn’t he?

The Doctor and UNIT watch as one of the scientists is ravaged by accelerated time.

The Doctor and UNIT watch as one of the scientists is ravaged by accelerated time.

This one definitely teeters on the edge of hokiness, but unlike The Dæmons, it manages to go full circle into insane brilliance. There’s a lot to be said about a story that simultaneously deals with time travel, flying gods, Atlantis, a minotaur, and a man who turns into a baby. Frankly, I’m not sure how that could be anything other than brilliant.

All hail Lord Master of Atlantis!

All hail Lord Master of Atlantis!

What also helps is the characters. The Brigadier is back, and is fantastic at playing the role of bemused outsider. The Master is back, and is he’s completely fruit-loopy, charismatically evil and his exchanges with the Doctor are some of the best so far. There’s a sequence where the Doctor tries to follow the Master’s Tardis to Atlantis and not only manages to land his Tardis inside the Master’s, but simultaneously lands the Master’s Tardis inside his, leading to the one of the most bizarrely brilliant sequences I’ve seen in Doctor Who, new or old.

The Tardis inside the Tardis inside the Tardis inside the Tardis inside the.... Also of note, the interior of both has been "redecorated". Did the Doctor and the Master share an IKEA catalogue?

The Tardis inside the Tardis inside the Tardis inside the Tardis inside the…. Also of note, the interior of both has been “redecorated”. Did the Doctor and the Master share an IKEA catalogue?

There’s also a quiet moment where the Doctor talks to Jo about when he was a little boy and talked to an old mentor about seeing the vibrancy of life in everything around him, in which he actually SMILES! It’s uncharacteristically touching and shows a side of the Doctor that isn’t always complaining about things and being a grump. An earlier scene in the Tardis where the Doctor’s subconscious thoughts are floating around like whispers is also well done. Actual character moments – how about that? Get this writer a job.

The mighty Kronos, devourer of time and space, is sensibly obscured by blurriness most of the time.

The mighty Kronos, devourer of time and space, is sensibly obscured by blurriness most of the time.

There is of course some dated cheesiness: the Kronos creature does not look like an all-powerful consumer of spacetime, and instead looks like a man in a paper suit hanging from some wires. It supposedly destroys Atlantis at the end of the story, but then turns out not to be a monster at all and rescues the Doctor and the Master from oblivion. No mention is made of the Doctor’s previous visit to Atlantis in the future (The Underwater Menace).

The prop-maker MUST have been having a laugh with this "time scanner".

The prop-maker MUST have been having a laugh with this “time scanner”.

Jo is a little more involved in the action this time, but I still find her acting to be awful. It’s a shame, but the rest of the cast makes up for it, and the plot is just the right mix of loose science, history, and megalomaniacal villainy that Doctor Who should aim for more often. It wasn’t perfect but it turned out much better than I expected it to.

The Mutants

Watching all of these Doctor Who stories, I start noticing recurring themes and ideas. The Mutants takes sci-fi elements like the oppression of alien natives who turn out to be more than they seem (The Savages), a dystopian future where Earth is overrun and polluted (Colony in Space) and good old-fashioned corrupted officials hankering for power (half of all Patrick Troughton’s episodes ever). It’s also full of ideas that I’ve seen in countless episodes of Star Trek, and yet it’s no less compelling for being slightly overdone.

The Solonians adapt to their five century long seasons by mutating into a new form. The lesson to take home is: monsters aren't necessarily monsters.

The Solonians adapt to their five century long seasons by mutating into a new form. The lesson to take home is: monsters aren’t necessarily monsters.

While the drama does make the usual concessions for cliffhangers and reversals, there are enough mysteries to keep the plot interesting over six parts. Firstly, the contents of the box, then the identity of the spaceman, the secret of the ‘magic cave’ (what is this, Lost?), the arrival of the Investigator, and the reveal of the mutants’ true form. It’s a good story and it’s quite well plotted. I was engaged throughout.

The Time Lords give the Doctor a package to deliver to the natives. Apparently, they DO care what happens in the universe. Maybe they just don't want to be seen taking sides.

The Time Lords give the Doctor a package to deliver to the natives. Apparently, they DO care what happens in the universe. Maybe they just don’t want to be seen taking sides.

I like the ones set in space, as it allows for more ‘out there’ concepts like this, while also keeping the action locked into one location. Generally, I find space-based shows more appealing; I like all the miniatures they use, and the special effects seem to get more ambitious year on year. If the show was still struggling with budget cuts, this particular serial does not give that impression. It’s relatively lavish and unique-looking in terms of effects, costumes, models and sets. It’s aged more gracefully than most I’ve watched so far, anyway.

Mad with power, the Marshal arranges to have Geoffrey Palmer assassinated.

Mad with power, the Marshal arranges to have Geoffrey Palmer assassinated.

Additionally, the Doctor is more sympathetic than his usual grumpy self, Jo continues to add very little, but the two uncharacteristically intelligent security guards make a refreshing change from the usual drones and add some extra character. I suppose the only thing I miss in these outer space serials is the Brigadier and his witty banter with the Doctor. I guess that just reinforces that the show needs a better (or another) companion, as soon as possible. Otherwise, this was perfectly fine, one of the better stories of the Pertwee era so far.

The Sea Devils

The Silurians were not the only race of subterranean reptiles hibernating underground – a similar species, living in a fault line under the ocean, have now awoken, and are once again a bit annoyed that apes are running the planet, and want it back.

A chilling image, creatures emerging from the sea.

A chilling image, creatures emerging from the sea.

The “sea devils” are not very interesting creatures, really just a similar take on the Silurians, except they can swim and they have (admittedly pretty cool) heat guns. The plot takes too long to get anywhere interesting, and even the reappearance of the Master does little to help. If anything, the prison escape parts of the story slow everything down; and, if I’m being picky, the Master’s motives for his involvement are paper-thin at best.

That said, I liked the fact that the Doctor and the Master have a sword fight and chase each other in jet skis, and that he pulls his rubber mask trick at the end and escapes again. He’s such a devious cad! There’s also lots of footage of boats and explosions, and apparently the Royal Navy was involved in its production in some way, which shows.

The obligatory "annoying authority figure" forces the naval base to launch an attack.

The obligatory “annoying authority figure” forces the naval base to launch an attack.

But, alas, this was all very slow and boring. It was too long and the drama regularly fell flat. In addition, I must mention the music. I can accept “synthy” as a style, but this has some of the worst music I have ever heard in a television show – often so bad that it blurs the line between music and sound effects, regularly distracting me from what’s actually happening, stylistically ill-fitting with the modern day setting and tone. Did somebody give the BBC sound engineer a keyboard and say “go nuts”? Because that’s what it sounds like. Zzzzappp!! Brrrpp!!! CHNGGG!!!! The whole way through. Maddening.

A peculiar moment in which the Master watches an episode of The Clangers in his prison cell.

A peculiar moment in which the Master watches an episode of The Clangers in his prison cell.

I’ve noticed some sexist attitudes lately, particularly apparent towards Jo. Although she rescues people in this story (including the Doctor), she’s treated like a child (literally called one at one point) and the Doctor continues to do that patronising thing where he holds her chin and tells her to run along or whatever.

Nothing else about this was memorable, except for an historic moment, as the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver for something other than removing screws! It’s apparently able to detect mines, and explode them, and later able to burn open a locked door. How handy!

The Curse of Peladon

Having (seemingly) repaired his Tardis, the Doctor takes Jo along for their first “test flight”, and lands on a planet called Peladon. Thus begins another good old fashioned adventure on an alien world, complete with silly costumes, silly voices and silly rituals, as the Doctor pretends to be a delegate from Earth who, along with an assortment of little green men, must decide whether Peladon can be accepted into the Galactic Federation.

The delegate from Alpha Centauri has a comical squeaky voice, rather at odds with the tone of the episodes.

The delegate from Alpha Centauri has a comical squeaky voice, rather at odds with the tone of the episodes.

Although the aliens look silly, this is to be expected from a 1970s TV show on a tight budget, and actually they’re all quite unique and imaginative. Sensibly, Peladon’s people are humanoid, and so they are able to properly emote and empathise with. The young King Peladon is a tragic character, trying to bring his world into a new age, but held back by the traditional views of his elder advisor and mentor, who ends up betraying his king and trying to sabotage negotiations.

The events of this story are contained within the castle.

The events of this story are contained within the castle.

This is probably one of those stories that works better as a novel, with your imagination able to fill in the gaps (see also: The Web Planet). Nonetheless, despite some silliness, it worked well enough on screen for its purposes. It also tries to develop Jo’s character for the first time… but does so by having her pretend to be a princess and fall in love with the king. An unfortunate cliché, but at least it’s something! I did genuinely think she was going to stay behind at one point, but nope.

King Peladon and Jo, sitting in a tree...

King Peladon and Jo, sitting in a tree…

Elsewhere, the Ice Warriors are fleshed out, having put their warlike ways behind them and become a peaceful member state of the Galactic Federation. It was weird to see them behaving honourably, even saving the Doctor’s life, but I liked it because they had previously been written as one-dimensional aggressors, and that just gets old. I’ll be interested to see how they are handled when they are revived in the new series.

The Ice Warriors, now a peaceful race of... er... warriors.

The Ice Warriors, now a peaceful race of… er… warriors.

Before leaving, the Doctor muses that the Tardis is probably still under Time Lord control, because their arrival was so perfectly timed to provide assistance. I found this amusing, because the Tardis’s arrival is ALWAYS perfectly timed to provide assistance! There’s no difference! Still, it does seem like the Doctor hasn’t fully broken free of his shackles. The series was probably testing the waters, I suppose, seeing what it could do on its budget with these little getaways. I can’t say I truly cared that much about the fate of Peladon or its politics, but at its heart is a story about setting aside superstitious beliefs and accepting a broader society, so I’ll give it a little credit. This wasn’t a bad effort, and at only four parts, it didn’t outstay its welcome either.