Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Serial 155: Battlefield

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

Written by: Ben Aaronovitch
Directed by: Michael Kerrigan

Editor's Note: Hey, kids. Matt here with a small introduction to this week's blog entry. I know Cassandra is going to talk about it later, but I might as well hop in real quick with just a few passing words about Nicholas Courtney, who, as I'm sure you've heard, passed away yesterday.

It's strange that this week's blog and podcast both covered this story. 'Battlefield'. It is, in many ways, The Brigadier's last hurrah even though he did appear in several other stories (both in audio and on The Sarah Jane Adventures). But it's one of his absolute best and the timing really couldn't be better to do him a service.

So five rounds rapid and a moment of silence for the great and wonderful Brigadier. He was one of those real Doctor Who tent poles, a legend in his own right, and a tremendous presence without whom the show would not be the same.

He will be missed.

Background & Significance: One name: Nicholas Courtney.

"Battlefield" is the last onscreen appearance of The Brigadier on Doctor Who. It's befitting, especially because it's pretty epic, much like him. I know there are other reasons why this is a significant serial, but I just wanted to start off with him, especially in light of the news of his recent passing (which I'll discuss a little more in the final thoughts section). Because of the way I write these, I tend to do the commentary first, which I wrote before I found out the news. It's going to be a little bit of a jolt to read, but my hope is that the commentary captures my thoughts and feelings about the serial itself as well as celebrating Nicholas Courtney's storied contribution to and legacy in Doctor Who. Thanks for bearing with me, it's rather upsetting and I'm a little all over the place right now.

"Battlefield" is also notable for being the first serial of Season 26, not only McCoy's last season as The Doctor, but also the show's last full season before the long hiatus that would only be broken by the Paul McGann movie in 1996 before the reinstatement of the show in 2005. Not only does it see the first reappearance of UNIT since the Tom Baker serial "Seeds of Doom," and the Brigadier, as I've mentioned before (last appearing in "The Five Doctors"), but it also saw the return of actress Jean Marsh, who portrayed (semi-)companion Sara Kingdom in "The Daleks' Masterplan", in the role of Morgaine.

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

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Serial 73: The Monster of Peladon

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companion: Sarah Jane Smith

Written by: Brian Hayles
Directed by: Lennie Mayne

Background & Significance: "The Curse of Peladon" is one of my favourite Jon Pertwee stories. To me, it's a political intrigue story in the vein of Star Trek, featuring not only the return of The Ice Warriors and the introduction of such memorable characters as Alpha Centauri and King Peladon but also some of the best Jo ever, with her being a right bad ass in her a lovely dress and hairstyle. It's a really great story that I love for... so many reasons, not the least of which is because of its elegant simplicity and total departure into the realm of "something different".

Thankfully, I'm not the only one to think so.

After "Curse" went over as a hit, Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks sought to recapture the magic. They re-assembled the Peladon dream team: same writer, director, crew, aliens, cast... Granted, Doctor Who magic is a rare thing. It's like lightning in a bottle. Individual stories tend to be anomalous in their perceived construction, and trying to redo something or recapture the magic in a "sequel" never seems to quite work out. There are exceptions ("Kinda"/"Snakedance"), but recapturing that same first experience is hard to replicate. It's the curse of sequels, I suppose. Dancing the same dance twice. Cliche cliche. All that. Such is the way with "Monster of Peladon", Jon Pertwee's second to last story.

Comparatively, the two are quite similar. Both deal with intrigue surrounding the Federation's plans and involvement in the affairs of Peladon and the various mysteries that come associated with this quirky little society. But while "Curse" was the story of royalty, aristocratic nobles, exotic ambassadors and delegates, courtly intrigue, a mystery in a castle full of guards and secret passageways, and a cage match (dear god that cage match), "Monster" is a story about Marxism, workers' rights, grievances, and a checklist through which we can tick off all of what made the original Peladon so great, none of which is (at least to me) nearly as interesting or compelling. Not only that, but all of the nice surprises in the original Peladon (specifically the Ice Warriors) all go out the window in favour of something that is... so much less special. And with two extra episodes.

In the run-up to "Monster of Peladon", there was a joke around the Classical Gallifrey offices about how "Monster of Peladon" would essentially be "The Curse of Peladon" but with more. "Curse of Peladon" was four episodes? "MONSTER" WILL BE SIX. Instead of two Ice Warriors, THERE WILL BE FOUR. The Doctor gets into a cage match in "Curse of Peladon"? In "Monster", HE WILL BE IN TWO. Well, two out of three ain't bad.

But man, I wish there were two cage matches instead of none.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Serial 134: Planet of Fire

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companion: Vislor Turlough, Kamelion, Peri Brown

Written by: Peter Grimwade
Directed by: Fiona Cumming

Editor's note: Hey, guys! This week Cassandra's in to talk about "Planet of Fire" (continuing a trend of good stories while I get shafted with bad ones. BUT THAT WILL CHANGE), but I'll be back next week to talk about "Monster of Peladon". Also, don't forget to keep checking out "The Doctor's Companion" for weekly recaps of the Classic series! Until then, enjoy!
Background & Significance: I adore Peter Davison.

Apparently I haven’t yet gotten the chance to blog a Peter Davison story, but I think this is a good one to start with, since I really love this serial. I hope you’re excited.

"Planet of Fire" is significant for a number of reasons. Chief among them is that it is simultaneously a Companion departure as well as an introduction. This is Turlough's last story (and Kamelion's, but nobody cares about him), and Peri's very first. Ever wonder how she wound up with the Doctor? Well, here it is.

The decision to cast Nicola Bryant as the new companion was actually met with some surprise and a bit of controversy, especially as time went on. This being Bryant's very first television acting role, she didn't have much experience; she would be portraying American botany student Perpugilliam Brown, and as a press stunt since nobody really knew who this girl was, she feigned an accent and they let everyone believe for the longest time that she actually *was* American. Which was a big deal for this little BBC sci-fi show. (Of course, she's very much British. Maybe she was the precedent for hiring Scottish actor John Barrowman to play everyone's favorite American captain now?)

This story is also notable as the last contribution of both writer Peter Grimwade and director Fiona Cumming to Doctor Who. Which is a shame, because both are pretty great. Grimwade was an accomplished writer and director, directing Tom Baker's last story, as well as Davison favorites "Kinda" and "Earthshock". As far as writing goes, we last saw him here on the blog with "Time-Flight", but he also contributed Turlough's first story, "Mawdryn Undead". Cumming directed some of the very best of Davison: his introductory story "Castrovalva", "Snakedance", and "Enlightenment", all of which are pretty great to amazing. So I think it's fitting that these two people's last contribution to a fantastic era is this incredibly solid serial.

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

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Serial 15: The Space Museum

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

Written by: Glyn Jones
Directed by: Mervyn Pinfield

Background & Significance: I find that watching these old serials can be a bit of a crap shoot at times. What's weird about it is that the mentality of "Will this one be good or will it be bad" (which is, by itself very surprising in places) is only part of the puzzle. Sometimes, a story will be really good for the first two and a half parts and then COMPLETELY jump the rails and randomly become something different. What was surprisingly good can suddenly turn awful and vice-versa. The best example of this that we've already talked about is "The Stones of Blood", which is good for the first... two and a half episodes? And then the little judgment lights come on and it becomes something different and not so interesting.

"The Space Museum" is a perfect example of such a phenomenon.

Hartnell's era itself is pretty middling in my opinion. There are plenty of classics ("The Daleks", "The Aztecs", "The Dalek Invasion of Earth"), but none of Hartnell's stories (at least, as many as I've seen) ever strike me as sheer genius on par with the rest of the show. Even "The Daleks" has three and a half episodes of greatness (The Dalek City stuff) followed by three and a half episodes of boring mediocrity (The Wilderness stuff). It's not even that I hate the Hartnell era (I don't), I just find it insanely average with few stories I out and out despise (the only one that I can think of that was actually not good was "The Chase", which we'll talk about in a couple months) and even the ones that haven't aged well or I find tremendously below average ("The War Machines") I can excuse because they're both tremendously silly and tremendously zeitgeisty.

But what does this have to do with "The Space Museum"?

"The Space Museum" is a bit of an odd creature. It's only four parts (a blessing for Pre-Tom Baker stories) and the first part has little to nothing to do with the next three. In fact, the first part is nothing short of incredible, breath-taking, excellent science fiction and the next three episodes are nothing but a complete and total let down, especially because you're set up to expect one thing and you get something that's totally and disappointingly different. The why of all this we'll go into once we hit it (it's about five minutes in part two that the story becomes something I'm just not interested in: a standard rebel-vs-establishment runaround), but it's just terribly disappointing, and what once had nothing but promise and memorability suddenly drops away and becomes nothing but apathetic un-memorableness and a huge letdown. Ah well. Crap shoot. It happens.

So let's get to it!