Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Serial 131: The Awakening

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companions: Tegan, Turlough

Writtten by: Eric Pringle
Directed by: Michael Owen Morris

Background & Significance: Believe me when I tell you it was completely unintentional that we'd burn through the three Davison two parters in such a short short span. It just happened. I don't know how, but trust me, it did. So.. yeah. Here we are, talking about the last of these two parters (and really the last two parter of the classic series) because all the Colin Baker ones don't count (okay, maybe "The Ultimate Foe" counts, but that's... a tricky topic).

The last time we talked about a Davison two parter it involved The Master and was rather odd. The time before that, Cassandra was talking about a "delightfully whimsical" historical. And this?

Well... it's the same consistently odd that the other one is.

Part of what makes these two part stories interesting is the way Classic Who writers have absolutely no idea how to flesh out a story and paint it in all its tapestryness in just two short episodes. To make things even more confusing, there's the same amount of characters as would appear in a standard four parter and the same amount of scope, but it ends up making the whole thing feel incredibly rushed or what have you. So it's a little strange to watch because it feels like they're racing through, leaving me with the sensation that it's all just a little too rushed and sloppy to be anything super amazing or memorable.

That's a shame, of course, because what we have here is probably easily the strongest of the Davison two-parters.

Eric Pringle and Michael Owen Morris are interesting to me because they're in that club of "one-offs". You know the types: the ones who come in and do one Doctor Who story and one Doctor Who story only. And then that story becomes their one, lone Doctor Who legacy, the story that will forever represent their association with the show. Normally, I equate this with the first episode because (if you think about it) it's the story the writer's been wanting to write for all his/her life. As an example, Steven Moffat's would be "The Girl in the Fireplace", which really does a good job exploring the themes and motifs Moffat would later explore in greater depth in his stories going up till today.

For Christopher Bailey the thesis story would be "Kinda", for Neil Gaiman it would be "The Doctor's Wife". And so on and so forth.

"The Awakening", though, is something of an odd, odd bird. Without spoiling the general conceit of the episode, it's a total blending of classic historical while putting on a crazy unique interesting twist on it to make it a "simple" sci-fi story. And yet, it's really not THAT simple. At the time, Pringle was originally commissioned for a four part story and when his outline revealed that he didn't have enough to make a compelling four part story they curtailed it to two parts. But Pringle's condensing led to Saward adding and rewriting making it longer to fill out the time (and yet the initial cut of the first episode way overran. So good on getting that one right, Eric Saward) so it ends up being a bit of your standard Davison era hodgepodge where it doesn't QUITE work out the way it should be.

But that's the era, I guess. Can't do anything about that.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Serial 83: The Android Invasion

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companions: Sarah Jane

Writtten by: Terry Nation
Directed by: Barry Letts

Background & Significance: In the middle of Tom Baker's second season, you'd almost think that Hinchcliffe/Holmes were trying a little too hard to move away from the stories that came before them. As if it wasn't enough that they had clearly moved away from them and into new territory ("Ark in Space", "Genesis of the Daleks", "Revenge of the Cybermen"), it's strange that they would go to such lengths to attempt to reinforce the notion that the UNIT years were over and they weren't coming back again.

So it is that "The Android Invasion" continues the whitewashing of the walls of Doctor Who before Hinchcliffe/Holmes took over.

If I have one problem to fault them on, it's that. Isn't it enough that you've gone and made UNIT almost redundant in "Terror of the Zygons"? Do you really have to go and needlessly include them here or in "Seeds of Doom", where basically they're the LAPD to The Doctor's John McClaine? You'd think they'd have more confidence in themselves or whatever to not have to resort to kicking an old era to seem better than they actually are. By insisting on returning to Earth (not just Earth, though. UNIT era Earth) instead of forging ahead and making the stories that matter to them (Season 14, anyone?)  the Hinchcliffe/Holmes team really are doing a strange thing by not doing stories that play to their strengths. I mean, doesn't it make sense for them to do that?

To add to the confusion, the production team brings in Terry Nation to write and ex-producer Barry Letts to direct.

What we're left with is a bit of an uneven jumble. For one thing, it's totally strange to see Terry Nation write for Doctor Who not utilizing The Daleks as this is the second of only two stories he ever wrote to not feature his beloved creations (meaning that eight of the ten stories Terry Nation wrote for Doctor Who WERE Daleks stories), especially when Nation isn't able to fall back on any of the usual tricks he does with his Daleks. It's also strange to see Barry Letts behind the camera, especially when he was so instrumental in defining the basic everything of the UNIT era and this is so decidedly... not.

Couple those together and this is something of a weird story. It's the return of Benton and Harry (although why, I am not sure) in each of their last appearances on the show and features (as always with a Nation story) some great ideas that never quite congeal in the way you want them to.

More than anything it really cements the notion of how radically new and awesome the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era ended up being. Utilizing new writers/directors/talents was the name of the game during their time, writers who wouldn't ever appear again (I'm looking at you Chris Boucher and Robert Blanks Stewart) and directors who saw their epic last swansong on the show (Rodney Bennett, David Maloney, and Douglas Camfield). But to see such old veterans slash crusty old dudes mixed in amongst this brand new, glossy, shiny, badass interpretation, the story really goes out of its way to make it clear that these two have no business in this new world order.

Which is rather sad, but understandable. I guess we should talk about that.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Serial 154: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

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

Writtten by: Stephen Wyatt
Directed by: Alan Wareing

Background & Significance: It's interesting to take note of Producer Jonathan Nathan-Turner's influence on Doctor Who after his "supposed" departure from the show. (For those who don't remember, he was desperate to leave the show after "Trial" but only stayed on because his leaving the show would have resulted in Doctor Who's cancellation, as the BBC didn't want to replace him with anyone else.)

Any excuse to cancel Doctor Who, yeah?

Anyways, you can tell that the work Nathan-Turner did after "Trial" was decidedly less involved and hands-on, opting instead to let other people steer the ship. There were other ideas, sure, but whenever I think of Nathan-Turner's influence on the McCoy era, I always imagine it as purely background. It's less about flashy Nathan-Turner who was once a blazing firebrand, hungry for work beyond just Doctor Who; instead, he was reduced to something akin to Murphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, trying to make it the best he could by stepping out and letting Cartmel steer the creative ship. Honestly, I'm rather glad he let this happen during Cartmel rather than Saward.

Oh wait. Nevermind. My bad.

But the point still stands.

"Greatest Show in the Galaxy" was meant to be the story after "Remembrance of the Daleks", but when Nathan-Turner demanded that "Silver Nemesis" air on Doctor Who's 25th Anniversary, the story became the season finale as opposed something stuck in the middle of the season. And honestly, I like that it's here rather than there. The originally intended season finale story ("The Happiness Patrol") wouldn't have made as strong an ending I don't think, and this way the season is bookended by this new McCoy Doctor at his absolute schemiest best, don't you think? Not only that, but it really dials into the so-called Cartmel plan, especially because it's a strong story for both The Doctor and Ace whereas "The Happiness Patrol" was good but nowhere close to ideal.

It's written by Stephen Wyatt who wrote "Paradise Towers" for Doctor Who's previous season, and I honestly think he did a lot to progress the perception of McCoy. I mean, "The Happiness Patrol" is fine for showing off McCoy, but this, man. Whooo doggy. This is a whole different ballgame, and one I happen to enjoy very much.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Serial 137: Attack of the Cybermen

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

Written by: "Paula Moore" (but really, Eric Saward)
Directed by: Matthew Robinson 

Background & Significance: We've talked about the controversy of the Colin Baker years plenty by this point. So know that I'm saying something when I say "Attack of the Cybermen" is one of the most controversial Colin Baker stories. Like, really really.

Colin Baker, as we all know, is probably the most widely unpopular Doctor for fans of the old series. That's terribly unfair, I think. Slap a dude with extremely weak stories amidst a new and wildly radical interpretation (which itself is dependent on slow growth over time) and of course people aren't going to like him. It's just not going to happen.

"Attack of the Cybermen" is the first story of Colin Baker's first full season. It's important to note, however, that this isn't the first Colin Baker story; it's the second. The first Colin Baker story, "The Twin Dilemma" (which we'll be talking about eventually and is widely considered to be one of, if not the, worst Doctor Who stories of all time) was tacked onto the end of Peter Davison's final season in an effort to get people warmed up to his Doctor and excited about the radical change brought about by the influx of a new Doctor.

Without going into it too much here, people hated "The Twin Dilemma" and they hated Colin Baker and they hated his portrayal of The Doctor. So now he had even more to prove moving forward and "Attack of the Cybermen" certainly couldn't have helped anything.

I'll have more thoughts as we go through, but "Attack of the Cybermen" is widely criticized for its violent content, something which I thought I could handle because I'm not exactly the squeamishest or flinchiest of persons; I've watched and relished in my fair share of violent movies, be they over the top or not. Turns out I couldn't, and you'll see why. I mean, there's a line, and "Attack of the Cybermen" WAY crosses it and people project that onto Colin Baker's Doctor, who, let's also point out, does in fact contribute to a fair amount of the violence in this.

Not only all that, but this story is also totally ghost written by script editor Eric Saward. As script editor he wasn't allowed to write any stories under the BBC guidelines, but he underhandedly weaseled his way into writing this using front men (like his then-girlfriend, but why she dated him god only knows) because he had a major major crush on the Cybermen. And the result is horrifically Sawardian in all of the worst ways. Saward, like Jonathan Nathan-Turner, is a man of ups and downs. I thank him for such gems as "The Visitation" and "Earthshock" but for every one of those there's one of these, and the stuff that's like "one of these" is rife with problems and I can't say I'm a huge fan. So ummm.... know that, I guess. Cuz I might not be kind to this story.

Honestly, this is where my (and most people's) criticisms of Saward and Producer Jonathan Nathan-Turner start because... well... it's a poster child. (For some reason they think it's a good idea to "sequelize" the great "Tomb of the Cybermen", but more on that in just a bit). All the best and worst of their eras are neatly wrapped up in this story and it's at this point that their "themness" starts to stop helping the programme (because they're "new" and "revolutionary") and start to negatively impact the stories and show they're making, especially towards Colin Baker, who should have been legendary and well-remembered but instead ends up being derided, reviled, and something of a scapegoat on all counts. It's unfortunate, because Colin Baker is SO good, especially in this, despite being in this. He's the thing that makes it better.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Serial 110: Meglos

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

Writtten by: John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch

Directed by: Terence Dudley

Background & Significance:
"Meglos" is one of those infamous little Doctor Who stories. It's unique because it's apparently "one of the few weak Tom Baker stories" (I say that tongue-in-cheekly) and because it's the... odd one out that doesn't quite fit into this, Tom Baker's final season on the show. It's not the kickoff story. Nor is it about E-Space of the return of The Master. So what is it?

I think it's safe to say that it's... a pretty rote and standard Doctor Who affair for being the second Johnathan Nathan-Turner story. Which is exactly what he was worried about, so....

It's strange. I think if anything, this is still one of those stories that's trying to shake off the old reign of the show, that really pushed Nathan-Turner into the paranoid, self-obsessed dude he more-and-more increasingly ended up being as the years went on. He wasn't super hot on "Meglos" in theory (he thought it "a bit too typical even for Who" and "uninspired." I doubt he was hot on the writing team (they never made another story although there were attempts) and he must have at least liked Terence Dudley because he did invite him back (although never in a directing capacity, which either means Dudley is a phenomenal writer (which he's.... ehhhhhhhhhhhh...... alright, I suppose) or Nathan-Turner didn't really care for him as a director.

Or Dudley really enjoys writing.

(Also, interesting to point out: JNT's reservations about this were probably right in the end meaning he could be justified in any future stranglehold he would make over the show or whatever. I mean. With this lack of quality? I would...)

But yes. "Meglos".

There's a lot of interesting mythology around Meglos, although none so uniquely interesting as the story itself. Although other things come close, the most interesting thing (to me, admittedly) is that Gareth Roberts's original pitch for "The Lodger" was designed to have the bad guy turn out to be Meglos in an attempt to wrap up the lasting mystery of this story (of course, the ever elusive "Just who the hell is Meglos and what is his deal?"). Apparently when they were to meet, The Doctor wasn't going to remember Meglos (and honestly, aside for "That cactus thing" what is it that's memorable about him? Come on. That's a fair question).

All this cheeking aside, it does do something interesting for Tom Baker, and that's allow him to be double-cast as the villain of the story, which was done for Troughton in "Enemy of the World" and Hartnell in "The Massacre". My question? Does it work? How does Tom Baker take the opportunity? Well... it's an interesting driving question, I suppose.

So let's get to it!