Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Serial 132: Frontios

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

Written by: Christopher H. Bidmead
Directed by: Ron Jones

Background & Significance: "Frontios" is the last great hurrah of the Peter Davison era before it starts slowly transitioning away from it and writing out all of the major characters in anticipation for Colin Baker. This is the last story of the season that isn't based on a main character's departure or introduction and (for some reason, quite fittingly) it brings the TARDIS crew to the very edge of civilization itself.

After this, it will be different as The Fifth Doctor is brought into his endgame.

It's interesting, then, that this story is written by Christopher H. Bidmead, a lovely fellow who oversaw both the end of Tom Baker and the beginning of Peter Davison right before the four-story upheaval that serves as the crux of the back half of season twenty-one. As an on-again, off-again fan of Bidmead's, it's an interesting case-study, especially as it's the Davison story I saved for last when I was popcorn-watching all the way through the show. It's quite different, but I'm not convinced this is a bad thing. I do think Bidmead does some really good work. It's sometimes incredibly difficult to put together, but I do find myself enjoying his stories quite a bit when all is said and done. So really, this could go either way. 
And then we have Ron Jones, who for those who don't remember, is one of those Doctor Who directors who seems to direct turkeys. I don't mind "Black Orchid", but "Time-Flight" and "Arc of Infinity" are rubbish and I positively can't stand "Vengeance on Varos" no matter what anyone says to me.

In summation, it's the last hurrah of the script editor who came before Saward, a middle story for an extremely middling-to-awful director, and the last story of the 5th Doctor/Tegan/Turlough combination in which they all remain intact as a team when the story's all said and done. To add to the madness, we have big 'ol monsters and the TARDIS at the very edge of where it can travel. In other words, it's one giant roll of the dice.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Serial 28: The Smugglers

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companions: Ben and Polly

Written by Brian Hayles
Directed by: Julia Smith

Editor's Note: Hey, guys! I'm off this week, but Cassandra's stepping in so she can talk pirates with y'all! Don't worry. Pirates are rad. And I'm a mite jealous. Onward!

Background & Significance: I feel like this story gets a bit of a bum rap, or not even that—more like lost in the shuffle.  It’s the first serial of season 4, yes, but it’s the penultimate in Hartnell’s run, so I feel it gets overshadowed by “The Tenth Planet” and just forgotten about.  But it is sort of a big deal in its own right.

“The Smugglers” is the first proper adventure Ben and Polly have with the Doctor, which is cool; not their introduction, maybe, but I maintain that introductions are far, far different than first adventures.  Michael Craze and Anneke Wills are adorable, and I think they work quite well as a team; perhaps not as iconic as Jamie and Zoe, but still good.

It’s also the first time Doctor Who had a major location shoot.  Instead of being confined to London, as it had in the past whenever a location was needed, the production team would be filming for 5 days in Cornwall.  A big step for our intrepid sci-fi program.

This story is also directed by Julia Smith, one of the first women directors for the BBC, and written by Brian Hayles, who penned such “The Curse of Peladon” (and some other lackluster stories).  So that is awesome.

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Serial 104: The Destiny of the Daleks

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Romana II

Written by: Terry Nation
Directed by: Ken Grieve

Background & Significance: With two years of Doctor Who under his belt, it's only fitting that producer Graham Williams would choose to bring in The Daleks for a turn. It's weird. There's not REALLY a producership or era that happens without eventually doing a Dalek story (the Troughton seasons are a notable exception, but then again, Troughton is more era than producer, methinks, and he did get two kick ass Dalek stories up front).

But this is the Graham Williams submission to the Dalek canon, and as you might expect it is deliriously problematic.

For a start, this is the last story Terry Nation wrote for Doctor Who, so that's something to look forward to. It's also the first of many, many returns for Davros and a great posterchild for all the Davros stories moving forward, teaching the people who do the stories a great number of things about how Davros should and should not function in a story. Perhaps the greatest mistake was replacing David Wisher with David Gooderson, and it's not that Gooderson is bad, it's just that his interpretation is impossibly way too Hitler-on-the-nose if you know what I mean. It's also the only Doctor Who story directed by Ken Grieve. So that's a thing.

It's also with this story that we get the introduction of the second incarnation of Romana. In the previous story (the unfortunate "Armageddon Factor") Mary Tamm stepped down and decided to pursue other interests, leaving Lalla Ward to step in and be the "real Romana" or rather, the Romana that we all know and love. And it's not that Tamm is bad, she just happened to get stuck in "one big story" that people can't ever seem to really parse out and examine as six separate stories. So people seem to remember her as in a whole lot less Doctor Who than she actually was. Ward had a season and a half. Tamm had "only one story". It's inaccurate, sure. But it does mean that we get a regeneration that is impossibly controversial and helped along by the ever so cheeky Douglas Adams, who has also taken over as script editor. So that happened.

To sum up: we have Douglas Adams and Lalla Ward and the return of Davros and Terry Nation. What could possibly go wrong?

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Serial 148: Paradise Towers

Doctor: Sylvester McCoy (7th Doctor)
Companion: Mel

Written by: Stephen Wyatt
Directed by: Nicholas Mallett 

Background & Significance: As we said back when we reviewed "Time and the Rani", it's hard to blame McCoy's first season on anyone. It's really more a case of rushed and slapped together delivery. Nathan-Turner wasn't expecting to produce another season of Doctor Who (let alone two more after it), nor did Cartmel have a lot of time to develop a tone or direction going in.

It's really just Doctor Who flying by the seat of its pants.

The best way to judge the season is by judging the things that came on either side of it. Take "Time and the Rani". The Bakers were notoriously mediocre writers (that's putting it mildly) so it's no wonder that story mostly sucked beyond all belief. Andrew Morgan really knocked "Remembrance" out of the park, so he's really just saddled with a bad script and a rushed production, neither of which he can do much with. So too, with "Paradise Towers" we have a writer and director who have great credits on either side of this story. Mallett really did a great job with "The Mysterious Planet" if you ask me, and I quite enjoy the direction on "Fenric", and were it not for "Remembrance", Wyatt's other Doctor Who script ("The Greatest Show in the Galaxy") would easily be the best of its season.

And yet "Paradise Towers" is derided, and on the surface it's not difficult to see why.

For one thing, it's the return of yet another Doctor Who staple: an anti-establishment Doctor bringing down the government he's landed in and tearing down the infrastructures of society so that it can be remade. The difference here is that it's got Mel (whom fandom had already decided they hated; still do by and large, actually) and it's blatantly on the nose about the fact that it's about fascism and the perils and horror therein. It also suffers from the Cartmel direction and while you can see the hints of it starting to poke out, it's still not crystalized so efficiently as it is in McCoy's two subsequent seasons. 

So it's maligned and perhaps unfairly. What do I think? I think I should start talking.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Serial 34: The Macra Terror

Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companions: Jamie, Ben, and Polly

Written by: Ian Stuart Black
Directed by: John Howard Davies

Editor's Note: Hey, gang. This is just a friendly reminder that Cassandra's stepping in to write about "The Macra Terror" this week. It's a good 'un. Next week I'll be back for "Paradise Towers". Joy.

Background & Significance: I always have trouble finding things worthy of this section whenever I write a post here. And the same goes for "The Macra Terror" because, while awesome, there's not a ton of significance or background, but I shall try my best.

This serial is the last televised Doctor Who story by writer Ian Stuart Black, who wrote "The Savages" and "The War Machines" back in season three. I know both of those stories aren't necessarily the best, and I do have a few problems with this that I'll be discussing at length later, but "Macra Terror" is clearly the best out of Black's three contributions to Doctor Who history, and there's no better way to go out than with a bang like this one.

As far as directors go, this is John Howard Davies's only stint on Doctor Who and because it doesn't exist, we'll never know if he did a great job or not. Which is sad, but I like to think he did. Because there are some great sequences in here, but I'll get to those in a bit.

I think the biggest thing with this story is that this is the first serial that featured the new and revamped credits sequence with Troughton's face, which set the standard for how credit sequences were designed until the 2005 reboot (in which there are no face credits). So that's something. Also, Anneke Wills got a haircut?

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