Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Serial 92: Horror of Fang Rock

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Leela

Written by: Terrance Dicks
Directed by: Paddy Russell

Background & Significance: "Horror of Fang Rock" slipped through the cracks.

Even though this is the first serial produced by Graham Williams after he took over producership from Phillip Hinchcliffe, but it certainly doesn't feel like it. More than anything, it feels like a big last hurrah commissioned in the waning hours of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, approved before Williams took over, and stamped with all of the Holmesian trademarks of his run with Hinchcliffe. Williams, as nascent producer, didn't do much to change it to match his vision.

Really, that's the thing about "Horror of Fang Rock" that I find so terribly interesting. It doesn't feel like a Williams story at all. No. It really feels like the last great Hinchcliffe hurrah and even deals with the tropes and stylings and tones of his era to the letter.

It's directed by Paddy Russell (who had previously done "The Massacre", "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", and "Pyramids of Mars") and would be her last contribution to the show. It's also written by Terrance Dicks, who would disappear for a few years only to come back and write about some vampires and then a big multi-Doctor mashup, so in a lot of ways it really does feel like a changing of the guard. It's after this that Holmes's work on Doctor Who undergoes a noticeable shift away from his carefully cultivated tone and style towards the more playful work of the Williams era, and you can really feel his fingerprints all over this story as they make the transition from here into something... less good.

And perhaps most interesting of all is that this kicks off a season that is... middling in my opinion. It's good that the Williams run starts off so strong, but also sad because it means he can only go downhill from here.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Serial 42: Fury From The Deep

Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companions: Jamie, Victoria

Written by: Victor Pemberton
Directed by: Hugh David

Background & Significance: When you look at season five of Doctor Who, the famous, so called "Monster" season (so named because the season featured two Cybermen stories, two Yeti stories, an Ice Warrior story, and Troughton "blacking himself up" to look like a dark-skinned Spaniard) stands out for a number of reasons, most notably, perhaps, because the season itself largely doesn't exist. Of the 40 episodes in season five only 13 are still around, there's only one complete story, and only one other of the seven for which half of the story exists. Most of the stories have at least one episode to hint at what the story must have looked/felt like.

Except for this one. This one is missing in its entirety.

It's written by Victor Pemberton and directed by Hugh David. Pemberton briefly stepped in as script editor for "Tomb of the Cybermen" when they decided to try that little experiment and Hugh David was last and first seen in the previous season to help introduce Jamie in "The Highlanders", so it is something of a mystery as to how exactly it would have been done. There's very little that would hint at the way that these two people affected Doctor Who for this one installment of theirs, and that (like with all the missing episodes) is a shame, especially considering they never really returned after this. At least with someone like Douglas Camfield we can extrapolate based on his later work as to how well he might have directed something, but here.... we don't really have that luxury. Not exactly.

It's also the last story featuring Victoria Waterfield, bringing to a close the scares and dares of the season in a very palpable way and ending one of the most conceptually interesting companions in the history of the programme (in my honest opinion). But I'll talk about that in a bit.

All these things give "Fury From the Deep" something of a fetishized reputation. It's extremely well-regarded and considered a highlight of what is also considered an extremely strong and highlight-worthy season. Known for its scares and B-movie horror, the story actually happens to be seaweed and foam, of all things, inserting that as "its monster" while maintaining your typical "base under siege" story that is the formula for every story this season.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Serial 158: Survival

Doctor: Sylvester McCoy (7th Doctor)
Companion: Ace

Written by: Rona Munro
Directed by: Alan Wareing 

Background & Significance: I'd like to say I've had many a conversation about "Survival". I'd like to say that I've debated endlessly about whether or not this is a good place to end the show after a twenty six season run (which is no mean feat. I mean, look at most shows in today's market place). Hell, I'd like to say that I've had long, drawn out, in depth conversations about whether or not this is even a good story.

Unfortunately, that's simply not the case.

In case you missed the memo, "Survival" is the unofficial series finale to Doctor Who, the end of which kicked off the sixteen year long "Wilderness Years" in which no Doctor Who stories were produced (barring The Movie, but that hardly constitutes getting a regular Doctor Who fix the fans had been getting for over a quarter of a century). Because Doctor Who was canceled, it doesn't really serve as an ending so much, instead getting the ending typical of other television shows that were similarly canceled before the crew could make a suitable ending. This is, of course, to "Survival's" detriment, especially because it feels like it's helping propel The Doctor and Ace into some new and interesting territory and the people in charge are hardly done with whatever it is they've got planned.

It also hurts that "Survival" comes at the tail end of what is a very strong season of Doctor Who stories. The season kicked off with "Battlefield" and went on to do both "Curse of Fenric" and "Ghost Light" before doing this, which, to be honest, is not of the quality of the others.

It's written by Rona Munro (her only Doctor Who story) and directed by Alan Wareing (who did "Greatest Show in the Galaxy" and "Ghost Light") and sees the return of The Master for the however many-eth time this is. (In defense of both Nathan-Turner and Cartmel, though, he hadn't appeared in years so it was high time to bring him back?) and sees more exploration of Ace as she and The Doctor return to her childhood stomping grounds of Perivale. So that's something. And it has Cheetah People. So that's something else, I suppose. Bur it is telling that not much is ever discussed about "Survival" (not much as I've heard anyways) with people instead focusing on the other McCoy greats (from this season or the last).

That it's not discussed, is perhaps the best foreshadowing I can give you before we start discussing it.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Serial 20: The Myth-Makers

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companions: Vicki, Steven, Katarina

Written by: Donald Cotton
Directed by: Michael Leeston-Smith

Editor's Note: Hey, kids! Matt here stepping in to tell you that Cassandra's here to talk about some Donald Cotton! Wooooo! Yay Trojans! (Ruh roh that came out wrong...) Any who, I'll be back next week to talk about THE LAST DOCTOR WHO STORY EVER but for now here's Cassandra.

Background & Significance: “The Myth Makers” is an interesting story for quite a few reasons, not because of the actual story, but because of what it represents in the history of the show. 

For one thing, it was the first serial to be produced by someone other than Verity Lambert, which is a big deal.  While “Mission to the Unknown,” the previous story, served as a quiet, fascinating denouement to Lambert’s time with the show, “The Myth Makers” is a ramping up for John Wiles, steering Doctor Who into the very strange and quirky territory it would remain in until the end of the Hartnell era.  While it is a “historical” for the most part, it gets away from that original concept in that it’s also intended to be a high comedy, in the vein of “The Romans” or “The Gunfighters.”

This story is also the last story we see Vicki appear in.  Companion departures are pretty much always a sad affair for me (unless I hate their guts, but that’s another story altogether), and I genuinely enjoy Vicki as a character, and I like what Maureen O’Brien did with the part.  While she is intended to be a substitute Susan, as it were, I think she does a good job coming into her own as the series progresses.  But apparently the fact that she was trying to stick up for the integrity of the character she was portraying was too much for the new producer, who decided after the filming of “Galaxy 4” that O’Brien was complaining too much about her lines, so she should be written out in “The Myth Makers” when her contract was set to expire.  Which hardly seems fair to me.  But that’s showbiz, I suppose.

This also marks the introduction of Katarina, the one-off Trojan handmaiden Companion who (spoilers) ends up dying in the next story, so whatever.  Vicki’s cooler.

But enough of all that. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Serial 91: The Talons of Weng-Chiang

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Leela

Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: David Maloney

Background & Significance: In 1976, as producer Phillip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes were going to wrap their third season as a team, it became obvious to the two of them that Hinchcliffe was being moved away to a new show and that Robert Holmes would most likely be going with him. Holmes, of course, did end up leaving four stories later (subsequent producer Graham Williams asked him to stay on), but in terms of the geniusness that was Hinchcliffe's oversight, this was it, and when it comes to Holmes, this (in a lot of ways) was it for him for a while.

All of this is adds up to the fact that "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" is a wonderfully important and meaningful story. And if it's not that way to anyone else (how many times do we have to talk about the racism again? Fine, fine. I will too) it certainly is to me.

In a lot of ways, "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" is the thesis project for both Hinchcliffe and Holmes and carries all of the trademarks they picked up over the course of their three years running the show. Indeed, Hinchcliffe's first instruction to Holmes was "write anything you want, just don't include The Master" (which Holmes, at one point, wanted to do), giving Robert Holmes free reign to write anything he wanted. This, of course, led to Holmes dialing into the Gothic horror he'd been injecting into the show, only he dialed it up by eleven. He grabbed books and books off the shelf, injecting everything from Phantom of the Opera to Sherlock Holmes to Fu Manchu. He brought in his classic double act, making, perhaps, the most famous double act he ever did (who, by the way, Hinchcliffe seriously considered spinning off into their own series, which would actually happen eventually and to much acclaim), set it in Victorian times (which was the only thing his era was lacking when you really look at it), homaged Jack the Ripper, created a VERY Robert Holmesian villain, and made The Doctor Sherlock Holmes.

Hinchcliffe, of course, didn't care anymore. Well, I mean he did care. He was still producer and he'd had a very good run, but he wanted to go out on a bang (and did in a way very few others have), by making the very best Doctor Who story he could. So when I say he didn't care, I mean he didn't care about silly things like "budget" anymore. His vision for Doctor Who had always run up against budgetary concerns, but this time he threw it all out the window and made it lavish and gorgeous and the best it could possibly be. He brought in David Maloney (of "Mind Robber", "War Games", "Genesis of the Daleks", and "Deadly Assassin" fame) for his final ever work on Doctor Who, authorized night shoots, and told everyone to go crazy and make the best show they possibly could.

As it turns out, when you're running what's probably the best Doctor Who era ever and you tell everyone to make the best story and give them the freedom to do so, it'd be pretty hard to mess that up. And they really don't. It's astounding how much this really ends up being the perfect ending for their era, a climax and zenith that Doctor Who had very rarely reached or would reach again. And for most everyone to agree that this story is easily the best of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes when quality of the era is as high as it is (and in case you've forgotten, go back and see all of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes stories there's been and look at how high a bar they set), that's really saying something. Really truly.

Also, as a heads up this is probably going to be a love fest. I can already feel it coming, but hey. It's the hundredth story we're reviewing on the blog. I say we do it right.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Serial 117: Four to Doomsday

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

Written by: Terence Dudley
Directed by: John Black

Background & Significance: A few months back we talked about "Castrovalva" and sure we had a right old laugh celebrating Peter Davison's first story, but what I failed to mention was that it wasn't ACTUALLY Peter Davison's first story. "Four to Doomsday" was the first serial Peter Davison filmed, and it's in this story that we get to see him having his first few steps as The Doctor. And boy howdy, man. Boy howdy. That guy is on from minute one.

Written by previous Doctor Who director Terence Dudley (he of "Meglos"-directing fame) who would go on to do "Black Orchid" and "The King's Demons", "Four to Doomsday" is a fairly typical Doctor Who story. It's a bit slow in places, a lot of it is about characters and mystery and seeing how annoying Tegan can be and watching Adric do whatever it is that Adric does. (Also dancing. Lots of dancing.) It's the first real Fifth Doctor adventure in the sense that "Castrovalva" is a lot about dealing with the aftermath of "Logopolis" and The Doctor's recovery as he transitions into this new chap we're going to be following for the next three years. This is a lot more about The Doctor going out and having a great adventure, saving the day, and really taking the car out for its test drive.

It's also here that we really start to see what Nathan-Turner's influence really kick in. The previous year was just about cleaning house and preparing the way for his vision to start, but here... Man. All the things he brought to the table are here: new markets, Star Wars, fun adventuring, the works.

Interestingly enough, "Four to Doomsday" was supposed to be a point for the show to get rid of Nyssa. Producer Jonathan Nathan-Turner (obsessed with Tegan and feeling Adric was a good touchstone for the young viewers) thought getting rid of Nyssa was a good idea to trim back the oversized TARDIS crew, but after intense lobbying from Peter Davison (who felt Nyssa was the most Fifth Doctorish Companion (and she was)) decided against it. It really is a classic case of actor knowing more than producer if you ask me, especially because Nyssa is TOTALLY Davison's strongest companion (at least for his Doctor) and losing her would have been a huge mistake, especially if you consider that the alternative means that Adric wouldn't have died and Waterhouse woulda been around for at least another season beyond this one.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Serial 44: The Dominators

Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companions: Jamie, Zoe

Written by: Norman Ashby (aka Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln)
Directed by: Morris Barry

Editor's Note: Hello, gentle faithfuls! It's Matt here introducing another round of Cassandra, here to this time talk about "The Dominators", and by "introducing" I mean apologizing profusely (I didn't know it would suck this bad when I gave it to her. I'M SORRY). But she's back and again she has a story that is... not strong. Le sigh. But all is well! She will have some good stuff in the future. That is a guarantee! I'll be back next week with some fun goodness but for now let's see if Cassandra can find anything redeeming in "The Dominators."

Background & Significance: It all comes down to merchandising.

Season Six is a really interesting season of Doctor Who, one that is at the same time both incredibly rocky and incredibly important. I say rocky, because in comparison to the previous season (which, barring "The Wheel in Space," is pretty phenomenal story quality wise across the board), it's fairly up and down. To go from a story like "The Dominators" to one like "The Mind Robber" (which we haven't talked about yet, but we will, and it'll be fantastic) just shows you what I mean. It reminds me a lot of this past season of Nu-Who (also a season six, hmmm), with the massive fluctuations in quality episode to episode. But I digress.

The people behind Doctor Who at this time (then-producer Peter Bryant specifically) were always looking for a new monster to take the world by storm in the way that the Daleks had. Upon their introduction in Season Four, the Cybermen proved to be serious contenders for another "Dalekmania"; likewise, Season Five introduced a lot of other cool monsters, including the Yeti and the Ice Warriors. But they all never quite reached the popularity of their fellow aliens from Skaro.

Following the relative success and great fan reception of the Yeti in the previous season, Peter Bryant approached the creators, Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, to come up with a new monster that would be potentially as marketable as the Daleks. What they came up with are the Quarks, and "The Dominators" would be their introductory story.

Needless to say, since you've probably never heard of quarks outside of physics class the creepy little robots never showed up again, "The Dominators" is a pretty terrible story, and the Quarks' attempt at dethroning the Daleks in the toy department failed hardcore. But that's what you get when you put merchandising ahead of storytelling.

But enough of all that. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Serial 147: Time and The Rani

Doctor: Sylvester McCoy (7th Doctor)
Companion: Mel

Written by: Pip and Jane Baker
Directed by: Andrew Morgan 

Background & Significance: Much like "The Twin Dilemma" and "Timelash", "Time and the Rani" is one of those stories that is almost universally reviled. It always ends up WAY low on those rankings of best Doctor Who stories (and by that I mean, always at the bottom of everything). Granted, the rankings almost always inevitably end up with Tom Baker stories and Dalek stories much higher on the list than, say, Colin Baker stories, but the fact still remains that this is one of those constants that will most likely never change.

It's not really anyone's fault, though. Well, I suppose it is, but it's a miracle it exists at all.

After completing work on the marathon, nightmare of a season that was Trial of a Time Lord, Producer John Nathan-Turner went on a much needed holiday. After all, he was under the assumption that all the nonstop drama from the past few years on Doctor Who (Colin Baker's disastrous tenure (not Mr. Baker's fault) and in-fighting with his script editor (who eventually quit) and people in charge of the BBC who seemed to want nothing more than to cancel Doctor Who) was behind him now. He was moving on! To bigger and brighter pastures. He'd done his time. And now he could do something else.

When he came back from his trip in late December he found that his new assignment was Doctor Who, the show he had just left behind for good. He begged to be taken off the show, but if he left the BBC would cancel it, so he stayed on so that Doctor Who would not die.

But now he was faced with a number of problems. In just over eight months the next season would air. But he didn't have any scripts. He didn't have a new script editor. Hell, he didn't even have a new Doctor. Additionally, any attempts to woo Colin Baker back for a regeneration scene were met by Colin Baker's refusal to reappear after the way he was treated (and if I might commentary a phrase, "Good on ya, Mr. Baker"). Nathan-Turner immediately commissioned Pip and Jane Baker (hereafter referred to as "Pip'n'Jane") for a story, knowing they could write something shootable in a short amount of time, regardless of quality. They decided to bring back their "fan-favourite" creation The Rani. And... well... it turned out so good the first time that why not make her "even better"?

In mid-February Nathan-Turner found his replacement in Sylvester McCoy and had his new Doctor signed to a deal by mid-March. Also around this time, Nathan-Turner found his new script editor: Andrew Cartmel.

Both of these helped put all of the new season of Doctor Who in place, and the new Doctor's first serial commenced shooting in the first week of April, just five weeks after McCoy signed his name on the paperwork that would make him the new Doctor. Bonnie Langford would stay on as Mel (allowing some sort of continuity) and before everyone knew it, the cameras were rolling and the twenty fourth season of Doctor Who was a go, with everyone scrambling about to make it happen.

Needless to say there wasn't a lot of prep time. By the time Cartmel came in to work on the scripts they'd already been commissioned by Nathan-Turner, so he was just cleaning up what would already be established. Similarly, McCoy had barely a month to scramble together a vision and interpretation for his Doctor. The "darkness" and the "chess mastersmanship" would come from Cartmel's influence once the production team had more time to develop the show, which left McCoy to act more comedic and clown-like in this first season of his. It wasn't a perfect solution, but it made for at least something that was vaguely engaging in this first round of stories, and McCoy himself is a very comic actor, which made it a bit easier to play given the complete lack of preparation time to begin with.

The question mark pullover was, of course, Nathan-Turner's idea.

So you can see why this whole thing is leaning towards being something of a sloppy before it even started shooting.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Serial 29: The Tenth Planet

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companions: Ben and Polly

Written by: Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis

Directed by: Derek Martinus

Background & Significance: Arguably, "The Tenth Planet" is the most important Doctor Who story of all time. I mean, really, the only other stories that seem to have this much weight are the original story ("An Unearthly Child") and the recent reboot from 2005, "Rose". But still, even if those are more important ("An Unearthly Child" perhaps more than "Rose" because without it there could be no "Rose"), "The Tenth Planet" is right there at the top, and I defy you to name a more important story. "The Tenth Planet" establishes a paradigm that managed to keep Doctor Who on the air for... forever really. Everything since "The Tenth Planet" has been completely defined by it because without "The Tenth Planet" there would be no other Doctor Who stories. And why, you ask? Cuz who cares?

"The Tenth Planet" gives us our first regeneration.

At the time of his regeneration, William Hartnell was getting quite ill and increasingly more incapable of performing the rigorous day-in day-out routine of Doctor Who. I mean, this even comes after his health being less than perfect before he started working on the show, but it only deteriorated as he went on. Of course, because the show was proving popular enough that the BBC didn't want to cancel it because of the limitations of one ailing actor, producer Innes Lloyd and script editor Gerry Davis sought to replace Hartnell with another actor, putting into motion a notion that had started with the previous production team of John Wiles and Donald Tosh. Then again, they weren't actually thinking about Hartnell. They were more concerned about Hartnell's stubbornness and how he would get in the way and fight their attempts to divert the show's course from what Hartnell had seen as "the show's original vision", which he thought was his duty to uphold now that the original production team (Verity Lambert, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, etc.) had all left him behind.

Now was the time to replace him, though.

When approached towards the end of his third season, Lloyd very respectfully asked Hartnell to bow out, citing his illness and increasing fragility as the main cause for concern. Both Hartnell and his wife consented to the choice with the knowledge that the show would go on but with a different actor. Hartnell supposedly only had two stipulations: that the show not forget the work he had done with the character and to honor his vision at the very least, and that they get Patrick Troughton for the job. The latter is a story for another day, but the former is something that has... at the very least... been observed and respected in the forty five years since that first regeneration. It's a testament to what came later that no one ever really forgot Hartnell or his contribution to the show, and that his Doctor is no less recognizable than any other Doctor that came after him.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So that brings us to "The Tenth Planet", the second story of the show's fourth season and the first of the show's fourth recording block (the previous story, "The Smugglers" was recorded at the end of the third recording block that the show might stay ahead of schedule a little bit, at least at the beginning) and it really is a transitionary story. Tag-team written by then-scientific advisor Kit Pedler and then-story editor Gerry Davis, we're left with a milestone, turning point story. Amidst our slowly weakening and dying main character we have a completely batshit insane story introducing one of The Doctor's most famous and enduring foes, The Cybermen. It's also the big transitional turning point for the Innes Lloyd era, or indeed the Troughton era coming up. No more are Lloyd and Davis stuck with stories commissioned by the previous production team. Now they're doing their own stories and suddenly we have a new paradigm: The Base Under Siege.

Can you already tell that this one's a little important? But I suppose the bigger question is, "What else is there beyond that?" If you may allow me to quote the most underrated Doctor who ever lived one last time: "Hmmmm...."

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Serial 141: Timelash

Doctor: Colin Baker (6th Doctor)
Companion: Peri Brown

Written by: Glen McCoy
Directed by: Pennant Roberts

Editor's Note: Hello, gentle friends! Matt here saying that I have the week off but Cassandra has the unfortunate task of talking about Timelash, so I'd like to right-off-the-bat apologize to her (seriously, there's anger coming) because... well... I told her I'd give her two Colin Bakers, but by the time I realized I was doing that, this was the only one left. I'M SORRY. But that's okay, She'll be getting plenty of other good stories coming up as we continue this downhill race towards the end of this blog (which will be a sad but relieving day). No seriously, she has one in April that is just not fair. You don't even know how tempted I am to steal it from her. Or better yet I'll just blog it myself because I don't think I'd be able to resist it. And then I'll never release it. Because... I won't.

Anyways, enough blither blather. Cassandra needs to talk so she can get done with it so I'll toss the reins to her and then promise to come back next week with talk of regeneration next week with some post-regen in two. At least those are always good to talk about. I hope..

Background & Significance: So.... This story is pretty terrible. No, really, it consistently lands at the bottom of most fan polls, and if nearly everyone you talk to about it agrees that it's awful? You're probably in a lot of trouble.

The fact that it's written by a fairly new TV writer and rewritten from what was supposed to be a Dalek story doesn't help matters either. Since the parts turned out lopsided and part one ran too long with part two running too short, Eric Saward stepped in to help tweak things, and you can definitely see his handiwork all over this story (which isn't a good thing in this case).

"Timelash" is writer Glen McCoy's first and only Doctor Who story (with good reason) and director Pennant Roberts' second; Roberts previously directed "Warriors of the Deep" and the eventually-abandoned "Shada" prior to this, and Jonathan Nathan-Turner hoped that pairing together a seasoned director with the offerings of a novice writer would help improve the story, but that didn't really happen, as we're about to see.

There... isn't all that much else to say about this. Aside from it's awfulness. Again.

But enough of all that. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Serial 68: The Planet of the Daleks

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companion: Jo Grant

Written by: Terry Nation
Directed by: David Maloney

Background & Significance: Doctor Who's tenth season was a very basic season. It has a wonderful Doctor team-up anniversary story, a very excellent, iconic Robert Holmes story, a quite enjoyable UNIT story that sees the departure of the lovely Jo Grant, and... a very very long story.

As stated previously the last time we talked about Pertwee, "Frontier in Space" was designed to be the first half of Barry Letts's attempt to match "The Daleks' Master Plan" for the crowning champion glory record thing known as "the longest Doctor Who story of all time."

This was probably not the best idea, though. The Pertwee era is notorious for having overly long stories and stories that you can easily squeeze most of the air out of. This, of course, helped with cost (two six part stories is cheaper than three four part stories) but led to a little too much wheel spinning and really hurt the era as a whole, if you ask me. And now Letts wanted to do a twelve part story? (Jesus. How much padding would that take?) To offset the perceived wheel spinning and to alleviate some of the inevitable padding that would come from having that twelve part story, Letts broke the story in half with the first half seeing the return of fan-favourite villain The Master in Roger Delgado's final performance (although it wasn't supposed to be), while the second half saw the return of fan-favourite other villains The Daleks. See? Popular monsters! Tenth anniversary! Everybody wins!

To write it, the Doctor Who team hired creator Terry Nation to come back to script a six part Dalek story to continue the one started in "Frontier in Space". This brought Nation back to Doctor Who for the first time since "Daleks' Master Plan", as he'd been off in America or whatever trying (and failing) to get a Dalek TV show off the ground.

But that also leads to problems with this story. For one thing, after loudly voicing his disapproval of the interim three Dalek stories written in his absence ("Power of the Daleks", "Evil of the Daleks", and "Day of the Daleks") Nation was given the right of first refusal to write the Daleks anytime Doctor Who wanted to do a Dalek story. So in this case, Nation didn't refuse and got to pen yet another Dalek story seeking to come back with a vengeance, wanting to write The Daleks "as they should have been written". Unfortunately, you can just tell that Terry Nation doesn't know anything new or original to do with them (think Steven Moffat using The Silence in "The Wedding of River Song"). Not that he needs to. By creating the Daleks, he's almost allowed to coast on the fumes of their creation at this point because it is the most important/standout thing he ever did and nothing he ever did after creating them would be more important or more iconic, no matter how much he tried.

And no, I don't care that Terry Nation created Blake's 7. Nothing is more famous in Doctor Who than The Daleks. (Okay, maybe Tom Baker's scarf, but you get the idea).

So what we're left with is Terry Nation writing a Daleks story that comes long after the time when he stopped taking his marvelously devilish creations seriously. Really, "Planet of the Daleks" is just an excuse to lazily rehash and repeat things he'd already done with the Daleks back in other stories with them. Granted, this works in 1973, because most of the people watching Doctor Who barely remembered the original Dalek adventure (if they had even seen it at all) and what worked then would surely work now. So rehash and enjoy, Nation said. It was new to some people.

The problem with that is, watching it now, we can totally see the laziness dripping off this script. It's no secret that Terry Nation openly despised the first two Dalek stories that were written without his input (I'll talk about those someday, but there's a REASON "Power of the Daleks" and "Evil of the Daleks" are easily and widely considered two of the best Dalek stories of all time, whereas this or Terry Nation's next "Death to the Daleks" are not), but to hate them because David Whittaker did something new, original, and terrifyingly evil while you can't seem to get your head out of similar tropes? That's just bad. Be HAPPY for your creations being expanded into new territories and into vastly terrifying situations.

But Terry Nation couldn't do that, and what we're left with is this. Six episodes into Letts's supposed twelve part story, hopefully the wheels have stopped spinning (after the first six episodes which seemed like nothing but) and we can just move forward and The Doctor can foil The Dalek plan to take over the galaxy. Hopefully.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Serial 32: The Underwater Menace

Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companions: Jamie, Ben and Polly

Written by: Geoffrey Orme
Directed by: Julia Smith

Background & Significance: One of the things about Doctor Who that I always tend to love is whenever they go for the simple-yet-high-concept story, something so blindingly obvious that you're shocked you didn't think of it, or rather, that it hasn't happened before. This can be anything from "The Doctor hangs out with The TARDIS" to "The Doctor and the O.K. Corral". They're simple choices that fold into larger mythologies or stories and provide "a Doctor Who take" on whatever it is we're talking about.

Enter The Doctor visits Atlantis.

"The Underwater Menace" is only Troughton's third story. It's only Jamie's second. It's only Ben and Polly's sixth. It's still fairly early in Doctor Who lore (comparatively; we're in Doctor Who's fourth season, meaning it's right around the time The Initiative should be showing up to give you a scope of "just how early" we are in the show), but it does give the show the opportunity to touch on rich, unmined material that had previously been untouched. The Doctor and his companions had already been all over time and space, from meeting Marco Polo and Emperor Nero to encountering The Daleks several times to even getting encased as displays in a large space museum. And all this stuff is well and good, but don't you think it's time for The Doctor to touch on something else that's deeply mythological and legendary, that pushes the show into a giant cool direction?

Like I said: enter Atlantis.

It's interesting to think that in Doctor's Who's massive, almost-fifty-year history that he's only ever gone to Atlantis twice. Granted, we here at Classical Gallifrey thought the last time The Doctor visited that legendary lost city it was a complete and total disaster, but there are plenty who disagree. And yet... no one seems to disagree about "The Underwater Menace." That's never a good thing. You'll always find dissenting opinions about plenty of stories. I, for one, actively hate "The Armageddon Factor", but I seem to be in the minority. Not that people say it's terribly good, but it's far from the most consistently loathed of that season, or even of Tom Baker for that matter.

Regardless, there's always discrepancy and there's always argumentation, but when the fandom is pretty universally in agreement on a story's quality, and when that agreement swings negative, you're in a lot of trouble.

The most ironic thing is the fact that Doctor Who can't ever seem to do Atlantis right. Or good. Ever. At all. Maybe it's the fact that Atlantis is too untouchable or difficult to break down to do an interesting or compelling story. It's easy to get bogged down in the fictional mythology of a place that doesn't seem to exist, or to get wrapped up in the only real Atlantis story that can exist if you're giving it a one off (that of its fall; otherwise what's the point?), but surely there can be a better solution than this.

This story also has the reputation for having the first episode of Troughton that exists in its entirety (episode three), but the reason behind that has nothing to do with Troughton and more to do with someone's idea of the biggest practical joke I've ever seen in terms of Doctor Who history. That the first Troughton episode that exists does so for the most abstractly bizarre two minutes of Doctor Who I've ever seen is both blessing and curse, I think. We have to be grateful, I suppose, that the production team sought to poison our eyes and our brains for that two minutes so that this story could at least partly exist, I just wish they'd put something more memorable in, something I'd rather see. Like "Power of the Daleks". But I digress.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Serial 106: The Creature From the Pit

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

Written by: David Fisher
Directed by: Christopher Barry

Background & Significance:
One of the things that strikes me most about working writers (or anyone in the professional entertainment industry, for that matter) is the notion of "Why do sucky people keep getting rehired even though their work sucks?" Take the Baker/Martin team for example. Those guys wrote literally the worst Doctor Who stories ever (or if not that, then my least favourites) and they were around for years and years and years, asked back over and over again. But why?

The answer to this, of course, is that they got the work done. Someone might not be the best writer or director, but they got the job done in good time and on a good budget. Quality is irrelevant. Money was saved.

Such is my thought on David Fisher, who returns to Doctor Who for the Douglas Adams season of Doctor Who with the last story of his we're going to be talking about here at the wonderful(?) Classical Gallifrey. Now, in the previous season he was responsible for the [what I still consider to be] absolute genius "Androids of Tara" and the very very strange "Stones of Blood", which was good except for the bit where it made a really weird and unwelcome left turn two thirds of the way through episode three and became a story I wasn't quite interested in. It's hard to count "City of Death" (because that was much more Douglas Adams than it was Fisher, who just did the base concept), so those two Key to Time stories and this one are all we really have to go on when it comes to judging David Fisher's contributions to the show.

But more on what he does with that in a little bit.

This story was the first story shot in that one Douglas Adams season and is surprisingly low budget seeming for such an early story (let's be honest, though: "Destiny of the Daleks", "City of Death", and "Shada"? Not cheap). It also is the first to not only feature Lalla Ward as Romana, but more specifically Romana II. It's a weird change, especially considering David Fisher had written all the scripts for this story before Lalla Ward was even cast (it was assumed Mary Tamm would be returning) and if you watch this you can totally tell that Fisher is writing Romana with a definite inspiration from her first incarnation than the second (it's the costume and the dialogue more than anything).

It also sees the return of veteran director Christopher Barry, who hadn't been seen on Doctor Who in three years (he'd previously done "The Brain of Morbius") and would never be seen on the programme again. The reasons are understandable, though. If that was the creature the production team came up with, I'd have left and never come back too. Same too with K-9, seen first here done by the voice of guy-who-is-not-John-Leeson, which is not exactly welcome. All in all it's a kickoff to this season I don't consider myself a huge fan of, which is weird because it's technically the third story of the season.

What I mean to say is it's a lot of things. Plenty. Too much. Worth discussing (yeah, boy). Ultimately a bit sour.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Serial 25: The Gunfighters

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor) Companions: Steven, Dodo

Written by: Donald Cotton Directed by: Rex Tucker

Background & Significance:
There's a weird thing in Classic Doctor Who, where incoming producers and script editors are shouldered with some leftover stories commissioned by the previous production team. This happened with the first season of Hinchcliffe/Holmes, in which the two of them were forced to produce a commissioned Dalek story by Terry Nation and a commissioned Cybermen story by Gerry Davis even though Holmes had zero interest in returning Doctor Who villains (especially The Daleks), or even with Nathan-Turner, where he and Chris Bidmead were forced to produce "Meglos" despite knowing that it was totally ensconced in the previous regime's tone and feel rather than their focus on "hard science" (ha!) instead of comedic slapsticky.

"The Gunfighters" is that for Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis.

Commissioned by the previous production team of John Wiles and Donald Tosh, who were interested in another fun historical story from Donald Cotton, who'd previously "succeeded" (as far as they were concerned) with his work on "The Myth-Makers" (which we'll talk about more in a couple of months), this time set in the old west, specifically focusing on the legendary Gunfight at the O.K. Corral with all the tropes and exciting adventures and all that. Much like with "The Myth-Makers", Cotton chose to focus on the spirit of the story rather than being historically accurate (spoilers for "The Myth-Makers": that story isn't "historically" accurate much at all either).

Personally, I think that's a good approach. I think as a rule I'm more interested in the spirit of the thing rather than complete historical accuracy (I am watching a fictional show, after all).

Unfortunately, "The Gunfighters" is something of a final gasp of air for historicals. Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis were more interested in taking Doctor Who to a more serious and science fiction place (hence the hiring of Kit Pedler) and making the show more focused on entertainment and adventure than the educational whatever place it had been for the previous several seasons. It was this team that implemented the first regeneration, after all, and the one that went head on into big sci-fi stories as soon as they could ("The War Machines", "The Tenth Planet", "The Moonbase", just to name a few), employing the base under siege meme in just about all their stories... I mean, the only time they ever even ventured into the past in any sort of way that mattered was when they picked up Jamie in "The Highlanders".

Regardless. I have made my point. This isn't exactly a story they wanted to make, nor is it one that did exceptionally well when it aired, nor is it one that's been well received in the many years since its airing.

But the problem, I think, comes from... I dunno, people being stupid, I guess. "The Gunfighters" is basically anything you could ever want out of Doctor Who. It's big and exciting and fun and funny and badass and a super huge huge blast. If only the production team at the time could have seen the merits of making a story in which The Doctor goes to the old west to take care of a toothache, because this is the stuff of good and continues the hypothesis that season three is possibly the weirdest and most eclectic season of Doctor Who that's ever been made. I mean, this story is basically the why of all that.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Serial 67: Frontier in Space

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companion: Jo Grant

Written by: Malcolm Hulke

Directed by: Paul Bernard

Background & Significance: "Frontier in Space" was one of the five stories of Doctor Who's tenth seaso; as such, producer Barry Letts wanted to let out all the stops and do some good old fashioned homaging. He already had a Multi-Doctor crossover, but that wasn't enough. He set his sights on "The Daleks' Master Plan", seeking to challenge that story's record for "The Longest Doctor Who Story of all Time".

Okay. Before moving on... Flaw in his logic? Maybe he should have worried himself with  "Best" Doctor Who story of all time, instead of "Longest". "Daleks' Master Plan" was an overpadded session of ADD, in my opinion. Really good, but way too long.

But enough of that. What of this?

Because twelve episodes is a lot to do, Letts decided to split up this epic twelve parter (TWELVE! Anything longer than FOUR generally fails) into two halves, with each half featuring one of the two [at the time] iconic Doctor Who villains. The first half, (this half, the one we're talking about today) "Frontier in Space" would feature The Master. The second half, "Planet of The Daleks" would feature The Daleks and we'll talk about that at some point in the nearish future. (It's our next Pertwee story).

Inspired by The Cold War, this serial sees the creation of a new race of aliens, The Draconians, the return of the previous season's Ogrons (who were ape-like brainless servants of the Daleks... So... The Jem'Hedar?) from "Day of the Daleks" and also an attempt to turn Doctor Who into a space opera.

It also sees the return of Malcolm Hulke in his second to last story for the series. Also present, some Pertwee-era padding, perhaps the most ridiculous amount of capturing of The Doctor and his companion I've ever seen in a Doctor Who story, and a mostly useless use of The Master. A damn shame, if you ask me, especially considering this is Delgado's final Master story and the last Master story until the greatness that is "The Deadly Assassin".

And yet not so much, especially considering the plan they had for The Master, which I personally would have hated. But enough rambling!

So let's get to it!