Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Serial 85: The Seeds of Doom

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Sarah Jane Smith

Written by: Robert Banks Stewart
Directed by: Douglas Camfield

Background & Significance: Each story in Tom Baker's second season covered a Doctor Who twist on a different horror movie. The season had already done a version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Mummy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (twice!), Frankenstein. "The Seeds of Doom" was loosely based on "The Thing From Another World" (better known in modern circles simply as "The Thing") and a famous science fiction novel called Day of the Triffids, which, for those who don't remember, is about a bunch of killer plants.

So yes, this story is probably best remembered as "that one with the plants".

"The Seeds of Doom" is the final story of Tom Baker's second season and the second of the three six-parters in The Hinchcliffe/Holmes era ("Genesis of the Daleks" being the first, "Talons of Weng-Chiang" being the third), and it was at this point that Doctor Who was at its most popular ever. Tons of people were watching week-to-week. Mary Whitehouse was screaming as often as she could about how Hinchcliffe/Holmes should be fired because of the show's violent and horrific content (thereby bringing in more people to watch it because that's what hype does). Holmes was gaining more and more influence on the show's writing, so much so that starting in the season following this one he was allowed to write two stories a season, a huge move against traditional BBC policy, which explicitly forbade a script editor from commissioning his own scripts. Hinchcliffe was pushing the budget more and more and more and making the show into a gorgeous looking thing so the sets that weren't made of two planks of plywood and a loofa. People were eating it up.

Not only that, but this is Tom Baker at some of his stunning, stunning best. It's Elisabeth Sladen running around and having a jolly time and being one of the best companions ever. Its dastardly, evil villains who are some of the best I've ever seen. It's brilliant, engaging science-fiction storytelling. How telling then, that this is the second and final script from Robert Banks Stewart, a famous writer for popular spy action drama show "The Avengers" (no, not THOSE Avengers, the other more British ones) who returned to Doctor Who after his great turn writing "Terror of the Zygons" and who infused his scripts with tons of action and adventure to the point where it really does feel like Doctor Who doing their spin on The Avengers. How choice, then, that they always paired him with the-oft-and-rightly-lauded director Douglas Camfield, who did some of the best action-centric Doctor Who of the Classic Era.

Can you tell we're in for a treat?

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Serial 142: Revelation of the Daleks

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

Written by: Eric Saward
Directed by: Graeme Harper

Background & Significance: In a lot of ways, "Revelation of the Daleks" represents the end to a number of eras in Doctor Who. Coming at the end of Colin Baker's initial season (which is problematic, to say the very least), this story really signified an ending to the first twenty two years of Doctor Who. From here on out, Doctor Who would be on borrowed time, always under the threat of cancellation. Always with a far abbreviated season than what it was typically used to.

It's also the end culmination of four years of Eric Saward as script editor. How fitting, then, that he should be the fellow to write it.

Because the Daleks always elevated the show's ratings, Producer John Nathan-Turner sought to bring them back for another season after their success in the previous one. Despite the fact that script editors weren't allowed to commission themselves to write for their own show, Saward somehow managed to wriggle his way around the legal workings of this by writing the scripts in the six weeks leading up to the renewal of his contract as script editor for the next round of Doctor Who. It's underhanded, sure. But he wanted to write The Daleks and Davros, and he'd be damned if he'd let any other "unexperienced" writers go out and write them in his stead.

To direct, the production team brought back the excellent Graeme Harper to handle the proceedings. So that's a plus.

But really, it's just the end result of the show's direction over the course of the previous four years. It effectively kills Colin Baker as The Doctor and is his last proper televisual adventure ("Trial" is a more complicated animal and not exactly the most proper of adventures where every "week" he's somewhere new) and is the last time location shooting for the show was shot on film. Location shooting in the future would all be shot on video tape. It's also the last script written by Eric Saward and is very... Sawardian in all its proper respects. As I'm so wont to say, Doctor Who writers only ever seem to get more themier (Moffat only seems to get Moffatier just as Davies only ever seemed to get more Daviesier) and "Revelation" proves itself to be the Sawardiest script of all the scripts he ever wrote for the show.

Wonder how that'll turn out.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Serial 22: The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companion: Steven, Dodo

Written by: John Lucarotti & Donald Tosh
Directed by: Paddy Russell

Background & Significance: Last week we talked about "The Web of Fear", which was a story that we could only judge by viewing the quality of the direction/design of the first episode (the only one to exist) and then extrapolating the quality of the rest by taking the what we know from the first episode and coupling it to the existing audio and the rest of the script. It's a crude science, but it's the best we can do given what we have and it's hardly the worst thing ever. At least we have the audio. And the audio is riveting. And the screencaps we have paint an almost picture of what it looks like this thing looked like in moments.

And then every so often, you'll get a story that doesn't exist (is all audio) and once in a very long while you'll get a story that is severely under telesnapped.

Enter "The Massacre".

"The Massacre" is one of the most unique Doctor Who stories ever, despite the fact that on the surface it doesn't seem to be doing anything revelatory or special. Part of this is down to the fact that we have John Lucarotti on the typewriter once again. For those not in the remember, this is the guy who "created" the historical (if you assume that "An Unearthly Child" wasn't so much a historical as a story that just happened to take place in he generic past rather than being a "true" historical) when he did "Marco Polo" and followed it up with "The Aztecs".

In a lot of ways, this is the third in those loose trilogy of stories from a thematic basis. Where the first story was about a TARDIS crew who adamantly refused to get involved in the contemporary events in any way, shape, or form and the second story was about the TARDIS crew threatening to ruin the foundations of history, "The Massacre" established a further discussion of history by dropping the TARDIS crew (just The Doctor and Stephen at this point) in the middle of a terribly dark and harsh historical climate. What results is... revelatory. It's one of the best examples of John Wiles's influence on the show and how he helped trailblaze a new and completely different path from his predecessor Verity Lambert.

To put it simply, in a season full of experimental stories that try to define "what is Doctor Who" and push the boundaries of what the show can and cannot do, it's telling that "The Massacre" is right up there with "The Daleks' Master Plan" in terms of doing something special and memorable given Doctor Who's early format.

It's also notable for being the first contribution of director Paddy Russell, who would go on to direct a series of other great and memorable Doctor Who stories and one of the few stories to have an evil Doctor doppelganger, giving William Hartnell the opportunity to be the Evil Abbot of the story. That all said, it's unfortunate that this story is completely missing, also that it doesn't even really have any screencaps to speak of (I assume this was Wiles's fault/decision, but I could be mistaken) so the entire story is based almost entirely on its aurality.

Then again, if you're going to have only one story based on its aurality...

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Serial 41: The Web of Fear

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

Written by: Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln
Directed by: Douglas Camfield

Background & Significance: Almost a year ago we talked about "The Abominable Snowmen" and how The Doctor went to a far off and exotic location to fight some Yeti, or rather, more correctly, he fought a disembodied sentience who created massive creatures (Yeti) to carry out their bidding. The story met various degrees of success when it was first out. I found it middling, but I know others quite like it.

Then again, those people probably knew more than I did when I watched it for the first time... They'd already seen this one, the one that made the Yeti transcendentally legendary.

It's not hard to see why "The Web of Fear" would be legendary. I mean, in terms of check lists, it is the televisual return of the Yeti, thereby elevating them above other such popular monsters like Zygons, Wirrn, Krynoids, and Macra by proving their viability as recurring monsters and meaning that in eventual Doctor Who visual companions The Yeti can get, say, a page to themselves whereas other monsters like the Zygons will still get a page but that page is much more padded and stretched because there's possibly less to say about them. I jest, but the point remains that I feel like more people would care to see the new series bring back the Ice Warriors (who had four classic appearances) than they would, say, Zygons.

So yes, the Yeti are back.

But there's more! This is the story that really kicks the door down to allow The UNIT era to happen. It's the first time The Doctor teams up with the military to take down an evil foe (the first time hardly counts) and that means he's back on Earth to deal with a problem at home. It's also the introduction of The Brigadier in the first of many, many recurring appearances and he's cast by director Douglas Camfield, who had previously directed "The Daleks' Master Plan" and "The Time Meddler" and would go on to direct other such greatnesses as "The Terror of the Zygons" and "The Seeds of Doom". He's an action man through and through and who better to direct this story?

So let's get to it!