Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Serial 93: The Invisible Enemy

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Leela, K-9

Written by: Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by: Derrick Goodwin

Background & Significance: So once again we have a team up by writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who have been mostly underwhelming in my eyes with a view gems of greatness sprinkled in here and there.

"The Invisible Enemy" is firmly rooted in mediocre Doctor Who, perhaps elevated again by the script editing of Robert Holmes (as we'll see as well in the next few weeks) but also lowered by the newly arrived takeover by Graham Williams as producer.

More than anything, it's here that you can see the first influx of Williams's influence. It's rather silly and much more focused on the fantasy and silly elements of Doctor Who than it is with the hard scifi or horror of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era. That said, the continued presence of Robert Holmes helps the proceedings, and certain elements of the horror of the monster or even the scientific elements are much more Holmesian than Williams. But more than anything, this just reinforces the idea that the next story, "Image of the Fendahl" was an anomalous hurrah than it was final last hurrah. That goes to another story we'll be talking about in a couple of months.

That's not to say it doesn't have good ideas. We get some interesting conceptual story ideas (that ultimately don't really matter) and the introduction of K-9. So that's.... that's good. I guess. Go that.

We also start to see the influx of what we'll start to call "Drunk Tom Baker", but I'll go into that more as we start to see it. Again, I blame Graham Williams.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Serial 121: Earthshock

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companions: Tegan Jovanka, Nyssa, Adric

Written by: Eric Saward
Directed by: Peter Grimwade

Background & Significance: Sometimes Doctor Who lacks punch. I mean, let's be honest. Doctor Who was designed to be an edutainment Saturday night family programme. It's designed to be inherently new-viewer friendly. Anyone can pick up any story and be able to watch and follow and understand it.

As such, the show is resistant to major status quo shifts and changes in terms of the overall scope of the narrative. Sure there have been major changes, but very little in the show's whole is dependent on past continuity. All you need to know is there's a weird old alien dude named "The Doctor" and he has a blue box that travels through time and space so he goes around with his companion(s) and gets in adventures and that's all you really need to know to get started.

But what happens when something major happens? What happens when something happens to The Doctor? Aren't his regenerations almost always considered legendary and powerful, regardless of the quality of the episode? The fact that The Doctor dies gives the story weight and stakes in ways that the show, to be honest, rather lacks in many places. How many times can you end a cliffhanger with someone pointing a gun at the Doctor and saying "mwahahaha" before you realize that "No. They can't kill off The Doctor. That's stupid." Hint: not many.

But let's say we have something happen. Let's say a companion dies in the line of duty.

It's almost hyperbole to say companion deaths over the course of the show are rare. By my count, the rate of companion deaths is... five? Maybe? There's only been one companion death in the modern era (and even that was retconned) and between the show's creation and Peter Davison (eighteen years) there were only two companion deaths, both in the same serial and with characters we barely knew. They were deaths for shock value, not deaths that mattered and hit on a great emotional level.

"Earthshock" is different. "Earthshock" by itself is a good story, but couple it with the death of a companion and the story becomes nothing short of legendary and wonderfully pyrrhic. It carries weight and is powerfully affecting, regardless of how you feel towards the character in question.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Serial 108: The Horns of Nimon

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Romana II, K-9

Written by: Anthony Read
Directed by: Kenny McBain

Background & Significance: I'm not a huge fan of the Graham Williams era of Doctor Who.

For those not in the know (or not paying attention or sleeping or whatever it is people with lives do), Graham Williams took over as producer for Doctor Who after three remarkably popular seasons under Hinchcliffe/Holmes. He was told to change the focus of the show from Gothic horror to something... else. In lieu up with as a suitable alternative, Williams and the BBC agreed to do the old standby: make it funny and focus on the comedic aspects of the show.

This suited Tom Baker (and eventually Lalla Ward), who thought of himself primarily as a comedian and improvisationalist and wanted to incorporate those skills into the show.

As such, the show became "funny" and hit on a lot more of the camp aspects of the series. As a result, that's what I think of when I think of Graham Williams, and truth be told, I don't think it's for me. I mean, I liked The Key to Time well enough (for the most part), but his "view" (which was kinda inconsistent) isn't exactly what I'm looking for in Doctor Who. Early on, before I decided I was a huge fan of horror (and eventually, Robert Holmes) I thought it was going to be the thing for me; turns out I was wrong.

"The Horns of Nimon" is the final story of the Graham Williams era, but it wasn't supposed to be. Truth be told, after learning from the mistake of the money always running out in his other season finales, he set aside money to make his intended swansong, "Shada", something bigger and epic and not pathetic looking.

But then there was a labour strike and "Shada" got only partially produced and was ultimately unairable. This left "The Horns of Nimon", Williams' penultimate story, to be his last.

And really, when I think of his legacy this is pretty much how I think of it. I find it remarkably fitting: weak story, really camp, very cheap looking, and ridiculously over-acted. This, in effect, becomes the Graham Williams era taken to its ultimate extreme, which makes this as his last story quite ultimately fitting.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Serial 12: The Romans

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companion: Barbara, Ian, Vicki

Written by: Dennis Spooner
Directed by: Christopher Barry

Editor's Note: Hey, kids! We're back again with another guest blog from friend-of-the-blog Cassandra. She's talking Hartnell this time. Next time it's Pertwee (spoilers!). Honestly, though, I just needed a break this weekend so we had to do some re-arranging. But that's all behind-the-scenes stuff and bureaucracy bureaucracy no one cares. I'll be here next week for... an interesting serial to say the least. Merits discussion. That's all I'm saying. So just sit back, relax and enjoy Cassandra talking about "The Romans".

Background & Significance: Who doesn't love Ancient Rome? No one, that's who. The history and mythology surrounding Rome, arguably one of if not the most famously recognizable ancient civilization, is vast and undeniably compelling. And when you have a show involving time travel, you'd be stupid not to cash in on that.

Fortunately, the crew over at Doctor Who was not stupid, which brings us to this week's serial "The Romans".

This serial stands out for a variety of reasons. There'd been talk of a four-part Roman adventure since the earliest days of the show. Late in Season Two this became a reality, and writing duties were handed over to Dennis Spooner, the newly appointed but not-yet-official script editor (interestingly enough, there's no onscreen script editing credit for Spooner since it was frowned upon at the time for the script editor to be writing for his or her own show). Instead of painstakingly recreating actual events (as was the norm with prior Doctor Who historical episodes), Spooner drew from both history and popular mythology; an interesting move and a break with the still-primarily educational nature of the show.

Another interesting break with the educational aspect was producer Verity Lambert's choice to try out a more comedic approach with the show and its format. Which I think works quite well here. The blending of funny happenstance (Barbara, Ian, The Doctor, and Vicki get split up at the beginning of the story and have shenanigans in Rome but never once encounter each other, for example) and drama (getting kidnapped by slave traders!) in such a familiarly foreign backdrop as Ancient Rome lends a certain charm to this serial that I found difficult to ignore.

And it's just plain fun. So let's take a closer look, shall we?