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?