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!