Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Serial 56: The Mind of Evil

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companion: Jo, Benton, Mike Yates, The Brigadier

Written by: Don Houghton
Directed by: Timothy Combe

Background & Significance: After the rousing success of "Inferno", the Doctor Who production team of Terrence Dicks and Barry Letts asked that story's writer, Don Houghton, to return for the subsequent season to contribute another story to the show. To direct, they brought in Timothy Combe, who had successfully directed "The Silurians" in the previous season.

So really, they were just setting themselves up to win.

This result was "The Mind of Evil", the second story of Pertwee's second season. For those keeping score at home, yes, that means we have some Master here. But more interestingly/importantly, it also means we're in the middle of the UNIT heyday. The Doctor is still confined to Earth and, aside from a small stint in low orbit in the previous season and a quick pop over to a parallel Earth (also last season but I hardly think these count), he hasn't even left it in quite a while. It wouldn't be till the next story that he gets limited control of his TARDIS back and the story after that, he's suddenly able to jump off world for the occasional adventure abroad, which wouldn't subside ever, effectively killing the UNIT era, or at least dooming it to a slow and painful death.

But this story at least allows some form of status quo, and a proper Master story the likes of which we haven't seen before. Last time we had to introduce him. This time we get to see what he can do. And we get to see UNIT deal with it.

If there's one sadness about this story, it's that it only exists in black and white. Then again, I can't complain too much because that gives it the look of a badass, dashing 60s spy movie. Unlike "Ambassadors of Death" (where the black and white is nowhere near as effective), this comes off closer to the first episode of "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", where the black and white creates far more ambiance and soul to the show than anything in colour could have. But it's a nice last hurrah for Houghton and Combe, both of whom never return to the program (the former because he got a better gig working for Hammer films, the latter because he couldn't keep this story to budget in any meaningful way) and one of the first last hurrahs of the UNIT era.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Serial 153: Silver Nemesis

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

Written by: Kevin Clarke
Directed by: Chris Clough

Editor's Note: Hello, friends! Welcome back to our continuing coverage of "Evil" month. Of course, you might be asking "But Silver Nemesis and "Evil"? I dunno, man..." Well fudge fudge magic magic and the word "Silver" has an anagram for the word "Evil" in it (if you must know, it's an anagram for "Evil Sr." so there's that) and wonder of wonders I'm not writing this one. This is all Cassandra sharing her thoughts on the 7th Doctor and a buncha buncha Cybermen (also Nazis). So enjoy this one and I'll be back for a wonderful delight of a story next week!

Background & Significance:  I’ve never really paid attention to that traditional anniversary gift list, nor have I known anyone else who has, but apparently JNT thought it was a big deal. 

Now, I’m only guessing at that right now, because obviously I can’t talk to the guy (unless I was a necromancer or something), but you know what?  He was sort of right, in that 25 years of something is a big deal, especially when it comes to a television show.  Well, okay, it definitely is a big deal.  Silver for everyone!

Written by novice writer Kevin Clarke and directed by incredibly seasoned director Chris Clough (known for “Ultimate Foe” and “The Happiness Patrol”, among others), “Silver Nemesis” had a bunch of production snafus, including a very limited rehearsal time that resulted in all three episodes running long, actors not being available and showing up when they were supposed to, and location mishaps.  As a result of the various delays and problems, this story as a result feels a tad sloppy and rather rushed in places, especially when you consider they had to trim down and edit the episodes for time.  I personally would rather have spent a little more tender loving care with a 25th anniversary celebration, but production schedules being what they are, I’m glad it got churned out in any case.

Honestly, I think “Silver Nemesis” is a story that is generally overlooked.  When you think of ‘anniversary specials’ the big ones that come to mind are “The Three Doctors” and “The Five Doctors”, which commemorate the ten year and twenty year anniversaries of the show, respectively.  Nobody really thinks of the 25th anniversary of Doctor Who, but I think they should, because a quarter of a century is a pretty long time for a show to be continuously on the air.  It’s amazing.  But is this serial?

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Serial 89: The Face of Evil

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Leela

Written By: Chris Boucher
Directed By: Pennant Roberts

Background & Significance: After the departure of Sarah Jane and the experiment of not giving The Doctor a companion for one story, producer Phillip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes (who had found writing a companion-less Doctor Who story immensely difficult) set about looking for a new companion to fill the void.

As luck would have it, Hinchcliffe and Holmes had commissioned a story from one Chris Boucher, who had submitted several ideas to the program and had finally gotten his first bite at the apple with this story.

Interestingly enough, one of the most engaging aspects of the serial was The Doctor's de facto companion for the story: a member of the main tribe in the story, a young woman named Leela. Originally, Leela was not supposed to be a companion, but she really fit into the ideas that Hinchcliffe and Holmes wanted to incorporate into Doctor Who moving forward. The fact that she was a savage and nothing like any companion The Doctor had had before (or would ever have since) helped convinced Hinchcliffe of her long term viability. For Holmes, it was his desire to bring in a Victorian street urchinish character later in the season that the following one might have a season-long arc of educating her Eliza Doolittle style.

This story is also the first appearance of the previously mentioned Chris Boucher (who would go on to write such gems as the subsequent "Robots of Death" and the following season's "Image of the Fendahl." He would go on later to be the script editor for Blake's 7. So that's something.

It's also the first introduction to Pennant Roberts who... let's just say he has one of the poorest track records in Doctor Who, having helmed such directorial turkeys as "The Pirate Planet", "Warriors of the Deep", and "Timelash". So that's something. I guess we'll have to talk about him a bit because... well... he actually does rather good here, doesn't he? I mean, he makes great use of the fact that this whole story was shot on a soundstage with no location filming. That's impressive, if you ask me.

This story, though... it also has the unfortunate "honor" of being in one of the greatest Doctor Who seasons of all time. It's wedged between Robert Holmes's Time Lord magnum opus and Boucher's own legendary tale about Robophobia and a murder mystery on a sandcrawler. Throw in the fact that we lost Sarah Jane just two stories ago and we end off the season with "Talons" and it's no wonder this story gets lost in the shuffle. Well... Not any more!

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Serial 36: The Evil of the Daleks

Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companion: Jamie, Victoria

Written By: David Whitaker
Directed By: Derek Martinus 

Background & Significance: The first four seasons of Doctor Who saw the show at its first peak of being "super popular". It happened early on and virtually almost overnight when The Doctor and his crew first went up against "The Daleks". Now I don't need to tell you because you already know, but The Daleks were popular. No like really. Super mega popular. There were Dalek toys and games and vernacular. The whole country had been seized by Dalekmania.

Of course, this bled into Doctor Who, helping to make the show the super popular phenomenon it eventually became, and without The Daleks, the popularity might never have come and Doctor Who might have died after just a few seasons.

And Terry Nation was smart enough to know this.

Because of their popularity, Terry Nation wanted to create a Dalek show, milking all he could out of his greatest creations. He pitched and wrote an idea for the BBC which would have featured Sara Kingdom and spun out of "The Daleks Master Plan". The BBC rejected the idea (although a production of the story was later released by Big Finish just over a year ago...) and Terry Nation turned to the United States to see if they'd be interested. Because The BBC realized that Nation wanted to go a separate way, they decided to write The Daleks out of Doctor Who for good and planned for the end of the show's fourth season.

As Terry Nation wasn't available, the production teamed hired "Power of the Daleks" writer David Whitaker to pen the adventure, meaning that the guy who wrote what is almost certainly the greatest Dalek story ever made returned to bring The Doctor into a final showdown with his oldest and greatest foe. And this was supposed to be it for them. Sure, they returned later in the Pertwee era and beyond all the way to today, but for all intents and purposes, this was their last appearance ever. And the fact that they were gone for seven years shows you how seemingly serious they were about it. For perspective, they were out of the show for as long as Tom Baker was The Doctor and for longer than the Nu-Who has been back on the air.

But even beyond that, it's a turning point for the show. It's the first story that really (and I mean really) utilizes the fantastic team of 2nd Doctor/Jamie and it's the first appearance of Victoria. So... yeah. Turning point.

So let's get to it!