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!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Serial 43: The Wheel in Space

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

Writtten by: David Whitaker and Kit Pedler
Directed by: Tristan de Vere Cole 

Editor's Note: Hey guys! Matt here reminding you that this week Cassandra's in to talk a little bit about... well... some Cybermen. I guess she's back to the weaker stories? BUT I DON'T KNOW! It's not like I planned this. (Wait. I did.) But oh well. She'll get some good stuff again quite soon, but for now let's hear her talk about the much maligned "Wheel in Space" and I'll be back next week for some more "in Space" action. But for now: TO HER.

Background & Significance: Cybermen were the new Daleks.

At least, that's how it was during the Troughton era. Much like Daleks kept popping up all over the place in Hartnell stories, so too did the Cybermen in Troughton stories. Which increasing the probability of really terrible Cybermen stories, but who doesn't love our funny-talking cybernetic kindred from Mondas? I mean, really.

Unfortunately, "The Wheel in Space" is one of those really terrible Cybermen stories and all because Terry Nation wouldn't agree to a Cybermen/Dalek team-up. (Which quite possibly could have been the greatest thing ever if Nation stayed out of it and David Whitaker scripted, but alas, that only leads to frustrated speculation on my part. And now yours too. (You're welcome.))

The great irony of this story, for me anyway, is that it is scripted by David Whitaker, who wrote "Power of the Daleks" and "Evil of the Daleks", among other things. We know he's a good writer, so how did he go from that level of awesome to "Wheel in Space" level of dull? Personally I think it's the story by Kit Pedler, but I'll get into that a little more in the commentary.

Another thing I do need to talk about before we dive in, though, and that's the fact that this story is the first appearance of Zoe Heriot, played by the adorable Wendy Padbury, who we all know goes on to be a Companion alongside Jamie for the duration of Troughton's tenure as the Doctor. Her predecessor, Victoria, departed in the previous story "Fury from the Deep", and the character of Zoe is a sort of response to Victoria's character; Zoe is from the future and extremely intelligent and forward-thinking, which contrasts with Victoria being from the past and her more conservatively Victorian-era sensibilities.

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Serial 11: The Rescue

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

Written by: David Whitaker
Directed by: Christopher Barry

Background & Significance: "The Rescue" is a bit of an odd entity. It's the second of the seven two-part-length stories in the Classic series' history. And because it doesn't really have a big giant mega monster or a big giant mega crisis for The Doctor and his crew to solve and/or experience, the story exists purely to introduce a new character into the TARDIS crew.

The serial itself starts almost immediately after "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", with everyone still kinda dealing with the loss of Susan (and oh such a tragic loss it is), so the time is ripe for the advent of the first ever "new companion" and because that's a new thing, they gave her her own story.

More than that, there's really not a lot to say. The story is written by outgoing story editor David Whitaker (who is perhaps most famous for being the first ever script editor for Doctor Who, thereby being the first person to really define the stories, characterizations, and inter-character dynamics seen on the TARDIS) and is really a whole lot more of an interlude/bridging-the-gap story than anything else. Sure, it has a really neat mystery (that is... fairly obvious, but hey. Mysteries are hard) and it goes to a pretty friggin dark place, but... Yeah. I can explain as we go.

It's also here that we see the first real paradigm shift in terms of Doctor Who stories. Because this is the last David Whitaker story under his reign (even though it is, technically, edited by new script editor David Spooner), this really becomes the last sort of legacy of the Lambert/Whitaker era, where it's a lot about the mystery and the majesty of the traveling through space crew, when it's all new and exciting and stuff. Not that the Spooner stuff isn't exciting or there isn't the presence/feeling of Verity Lambert in there, but it's VERY much more comedically driven (see "The Romans", "The Space Museum", "The Chase", or even "The Time Meddler") than the early stories, which (while still humourous) were focused a lot on the adventure and almost mythological realism of the story in question.

What I mean to say is, in a lot of ways, this story really brings the Lambert/Whitaker era full circle. They started with The Doctor getting his first ever companions and now they end it with The Doctor replacing the only family member we've [as far as we know] ever seen. Now The Doctor's journey is on for good and so begins the [seemingly endless but not unwelcome] cycle of introducing new companions who will replace those who have left The Doctor's side (even though this is just about as replacey a replacement as they come). It's kind of a gorgeeous little circle really and really helps to establish the future of the series, which is really what the David Whitaker stuff is all about.

So let's get to it!