Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Serial 59: The Daemons

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companion: Jo Grant

Written by: Guy Leopold (aka Robert Sloman and Barry Letts)
Directed by: Christopher Barry

Background & Significance: It feels like we've been talking about The Master season a lot lately. You know the one. It's season eight. Pertwee's second season. The one in which The Master appears in every bloody story. I don't think that's far off. I mean, two of the last three Pertwee stories for the blog have been season eight. I just watched "Terror of the Autons" for the first time back in January. And "Claws of Axos" was a fairly recent story we covered on the podcast a few weeks back.

So if I sound a little weary of the season, you now know why.

But "The Daemons". Yes. The season finale to this Master season. And it's the one in which "The Master Problem" is solved "once and for all" until we get to the next appearance by him later. Regardless, it is the closing of a book of Master stories, I suppose. And it's fitting that it's a story co-written by the era's producer Barry Letts and the other half of that co-writing team is something of a "regular appearance" for the era, in that Letts's co-writer Robert Sloman would be the co-writer for the rest of the Pertwee season finales. It's one of the things I like about the Pertwee era. You can always count on a story in each season to be written by Malcolm Hulke. And once you hit the "UNIT family" stuff you can always count on a season finale written by Sloman and Letts and for that season finale to USUALLY be a good thing. (There is the one glaring exception, though).

To ring out the season, Letts (and Sloman because he was involved) decided to explore a specific paganistic and black magic iconography they hadn't yet seen in Doctor Who

As such, and because it's widely considered such an iconic story for both the era and The Master, it has been celebrated up and down the halls of Doctor Who fandom as one of "the great Master stories". While my initial watch of the story is hard-pressed to disagree, I think I'm most interested to see how it pans out on a repeat viewing and when I'm taking it apart and all that. It'll also be especially interesting to see the directorial style of Christopher Barry, who is something of a hit-and-miss director as far as I'm concerned. But yes. We will see.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Serial 14: The Crusade

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

Written by: David Whitaker
Directed by: Douglas Camfield

Background & Significance: Season two of Doctor Who saw the first major paradigm shift on the show. Susan left and was replaced by Vicki (which is the obvious major shift), while behind the scenes David Whitaker stepped down as script editor and was replaced by Dennis Spooner. Whitaker stuck around, though, writing a variety of different stories all the way up until the first season of Pertwee's tenure and always doing something interesting (as Philip Sandifer is always eloquently pointing out).

So this is one of the stories he writes, and it's unique because it's the only historical he wrote, so we get to see what it's like to have a David Whitaker historical.

Last week we talked a lot about Robert Holmes and how he was one of three influential writers on the show. David Whitaker's the big one in that list because of the way he shaped the show at key early moments in its history. He was the script editor who saw The Doctor through a series of "firsts" and the writer who happened to write the first post-regeneration story AND the "last Dalek story" (again, read Sandifer for more). That said, an historical from him is worth noting to say the least and interesting because this season sees one from him and one from then-script-editor Dennis Spooner, so it's interesting to see how they play off each other.

It's also interesting to really see the first story properly directed by Douglas Camfield. Camfield had previously directed one episode of "Planet of Giants" and would go on to direct a myriad of other great stories, being probably the best director of the first half of Classic Who. It's also the first appearance of Julian Glover (who would go on to eventually be the great Scarlioni) and Jean Marsh (who played both Sara Kingdom in "Daleks' Master Plan" and Morgaine Le Fey in "Battlefield"), which is rather wonderful, and one of those stories that's firmly set with this specific TARDIS crew. Ian and Barbara are not quite leaving yet (they get another story before their departure one) and Vicki has been around for two more stories before this. So this (like "The Aztecs") is something of a banner story to display how this team works together now that they're going strong but don't have the inclinations to leave yet.

So it's should be interesting.

Now let's get to it!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Serial 47: The Krotons

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

Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: David Maloney

Background & Significance: If you know me, or how I talk about Doctor Who, you know that the way I come into the show is based almost entirely around writing and the way in which Doctor Who is constructed. A lot of that is down to the writers because they are (in so many ways so many people could never understand) possibly the most important linchpin to any creative endeavor. Without the writer, there is nothing.

I say all this to underline the fascination I have with "The Krotons". Which (for those not in the know) is the first Doctor Who story that Robert Holmes ever wrote.

Produced as the "middle serial" of season six, it's worth pointing out that this is the last story of the first half of Patrick Troughton's last season. By this point, the burnout factor of Doctor Who in the 1960s was starting to take its toll on the show. And hey, who can blame them? This isn't a soap opera with the fortitude to produce THAT many episodes, and this was the sixth year in a row that Doctor Who had produced forty or more episodes. So everyone was tired and really pushing forward to just finish out the season by any means necessary so they could get to the colour and the UNIT and the producing 26ish episodes a year as opposed to the usual 40+. It was at this time that Derrick Sherwin stepped aside as script editor to help Doctor Who in other ways, making way for his assistant Terrance Dicks to step in and drive the script editing for the show...

And wouldn't you know it, but it was at this same time that Robert Holmes jumped into the picture.

Now Toby Hadoke mentions this in Running Through Corridors, but it bears repeating here: it's interesting that two of the three most influential writers in Classic Doctor Who made their first appearance around this time, almost six years into the show's existence. And it's interesting how the two were almost meant to write the show. According to reports, Holmes's initial draft for this story was turned in almost two months early and rushed into production when the original story assigned to this production ("The Prison in Space") bowed out due to the writer not getting along with notes (or something; don't quote me on that). And really, who turns in a draft so early without someone pointing at him and saying "Damn. He might be something?"

"The Krotons" is his first story, and it's one of the first stories directed by David Maloney, who would go on to direct some fantastic other ones (don't worry, you've seen them) and had already previously directed "The Mind Robber", and it's interesting how it's overlooked/forgotten, or that Robert Holmes outright wrote for five different Doctors on television, but how Holmes's real work on the show almost really doesn't start until he introduces the 3rd Doctor and starts getting all Holmesy. Think of this and "The Space Pirates" as... trial runs, almost. That's not to say they're not good, but I'd hardly consider "The Krotons" indicative of what Holmes would write later ("Mysterious Planet" notwithstanding, but I'll discuss that I guess). No. "Spearhead" is almost a better fresh start to say "look at this guy stumbling onto the scene with some geniusness".

And yet, "The Krotons" is his first. And it's... Well... I think we should talk about it.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Serial 124: Snakedance

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companions: Nyssa, Tegan

Written by: Christopher Bailey
Directed by: Fiona Cumming

Editor's Note: Hey, kids! Matt here! Not stepping in this week because I promised Cassandra a good story and because I had already decided I would be fine with "just" doing "Kinda" I [foolishly] promised her "Snakedance" before I had seen it. So she's in this week and I'm left angsting that I don't get to write it. Ah well. It was nice to watch it again (which I just finished doing. TMI?) and while I'm sad I don't get to tackle this story in a blog capacity, I have no doubt that Cassandra will do a bang up job because it's a rich, kick ass story with tons and tons of things to talk about. And hopefully it won't be in the vein of the epics we've been doing around these parts lately. God knows we don't need another "Kinda"-length entry any time soon. Last week's was long enough.

But I'm talking. I do that sometimes. Shutting up now and turning it over to Cassandra for her thoughts on the return of Christopher Bailey and Fiona Cumming.

Background & Significance:  There's something about sequels in Doctor Who.

Because television tends to be more serialized than movies, it's interesting whenever a TV show chooses to do a sequel, especially considering the more moder and character arc-centric approach inherent to its storytelling foundations. But with Doctor Who sequels, I tend to be pretty wary of them, because they're usually pretty rubbish. I mean, look at "Monster of Peladon".  Same writer, same director, same Doctor, same production team, different Companion, and somehow it managed to take a completely awesome story in "Curse of Peladon" and come up with... well, a crap sequel.

So when I heard that there was a sequel to "Kinda," I wasn't entirely sure what to think. And then we watched it.

And it was awesome.

"Snakedance" is significant because it is a sequel.  It was broadcast during Season 20, the 20th anniversary year of Doctor Who. JNT and Saward wanted the year to be epic, so each story in the season was designed to bring back an old adversary of the Doctor.  Of course, the Mara sort of sticks out like a sore thumb because it was just introduced in the previous season.  But I think that's why it's better than just about every other story in the season.  That, and Christopher Bailey is a boss at writing awesome things.

It's also pretty significant because of its cast, which is expertly wrangled together by director Fiona Cumming. Brian Miller, husband of Elisabeth Sladen, is in this story in the role of Dugdale, which is pretty awesome.  And it's the first television role of Martin Clunes (Lon), who is a prominent and award-winning actor in the UK, which I guess is kind of a big deal.

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