Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Serial 7: The Sensorites

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companions: Susan, Barbara, and Ian

Written by: Peter R. Newman
Directed by: Mervyn Pinfield & Frank Cox

Background & Significance: Because the first season alternated between educational historical adventures and educational sci-fi tales, the original plan was to have a sole pair of writers write the whole show. Based on his success with "The Daleks", Terry Nation was the obvious choice to continue carrying the sci-fi torch for the show. Hence, "Keys of Marinus". For the historicals they chose John Lucarotti, who did a kick ass job writing "Marco Polo," and then knocked it out of the park writing "The Aztecs", which is to this day the quintessential historical.

Of course, this didn't quite pan out in the way they wanted it to. Writing takes a while. That's why you have Dennis Spooner writing "The Reign of Terror" and Peter R. Newman writing this story.

"The Sensorites" is a much maligned story. In that big ol' "Mighty 200" poll, it was voted the worst Hartnell story not called "The Space Museum" and the worst of its season. And "Second Worst Hartnell" had to happen to some story some time. It just happened to happen to "The Sensorites". It's unfortunate, really, because "The Sensorites" is still Doctor Who at its most nascent. The goal was to do a story based on spectacle and mind-bending (heh) concepts. This was limited by the BBC's casual disregard for the programme's potential, as they had decided it would be filmed in the cramped and inferior Lime Grove Studios. Producer Verity Lambert fought valiantly against this and (being Verity Lambert) managed to get better studios on the other side of the season. For now, smaller sets were what was available for "The Sensorites", which greatly limits its ability to go for "spectacle."

And I can tell people this background. They still won't listen. The only way to MAYBE change minds is to talk about it.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Serial 60: Day of the Daleks

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

Writtten by: Louis Marks
Directed by: Paul Bernard

Editor's Note: Hey, guys! I have the week off because I'm prepping for what's going to be a really... weird entry in a few weeks. So Cassandra is here and talking about a big ol' loopy time travel story. But with Daleks. Word on the street is she liked it. And you know what they say about 'dem streets...

Background & Significance: This story is kind of a big deal. 

As the first story in Doctor Who’s 9th season, “Day of the Daleks” promised to not only open the season with a bang, but also—well, Daleks.

Since their apparent departure in the epic Troughton serial, “Evil of the Daleks,” the Doctor’s first foes stayed off the air for essentially four years, before the BBC started wheedling script editor Terrance Dicks and producer Barry Letts to bring them back.  

But bring them back they did, and, though originally intended to appear at the very end of the season, instead got inserted into this lively little adventure, to open the season with a bit of spectacle.

“Day of the Daleks” is written by Louis Marks who wrote the enjoyable serial “Planet of Giants” wayyyy back in Hartnell’s second season.  He would later go on to write “Planet of Evil” and “Masque of Mandragora,” which gives him a pretty solid track record, at least in my book.  It’s directed by Paul Bernard, who would later go on to direct “The Time Monster” and “Frontier in Space,” so his track record after this is…not so good.  I honestly have no idea if this was a fluke or what, because… wow.

Anyway.  Enough of all that, let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Serial 40: The Enemy of the World

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

Written by: David Whitaker
Directed by: Barry Letts

Background & Significance: Story wise, "The Enemy of the World" is the exact middle of the Troughton era. Coincidentally (as this isn't always the case), it's the exact middle of Troughton's second (middle) season.  It's most famous for being the one in which "The Doctor is the bad guy" and Patrick Troughton plays the evil villain of the story, the devious Salamander.

But really it looks to me like this is just a big ol' changing of the guard.

This is the final story to be produced by Innes Lloyd, the man who had overseen the previous two seasons worth of Doctor Who, taking over after the departure of John Wiles starting with "The Celestial Toymaker". He'd overseen the show through its first ever regeneration and after continuing on the show far longer than he had planned or wanted to, he left after this story with script editor Peter Bryant stepping up to take the producership reigns. To replace Bryant they found a young fellow named Derrick Sherwin to be script editor and Sherwin in turn quickly hired his friend Terrance Dicks to be his assistant. This is also the last story to be overseen by Sydney Newman, who was the head of BBC drama going back to before "An Unearthly Child." So yeah. One of the guys who ushered in Doctor Who is no longer a force involved after this story.

To further complicate this massive changing of the guard, we have David Whitaker back and writing another story that defies our expectations yet again. "Enemy of the World" is the sole story in this entire season that isn't a base under siege. No. Whitaker comes up with something totally different: a James Bondian inspired story featuring Patrick Troughton as the villain. To play up the Bond (and really, so much Bond), they bring in Barry Letts on to direct the story. So yeah. The Patron Saint of Bond-based Doctor Who got to preview his own entire era a year and a half before he actually took over the show. It wasn't the plan, sure, but it's interesting that the first script editor is teaming up with the future producer to usher out a bump in production team with a unique story before it gets all sieged under bases again.

And that's just a taste.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Serial 79: Revenge of the Cybermen

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Sarah Jane, Harry

Written by: Gerry Davis
Directed by: Michael Briant

Background & Significance: Now that we're really rapidly approaching the home stretch of this blog, I think it's become terribly clear which eras of Doctor Who I enjoy and which I do not. I've come to find the Pertwee era one of the most fun eras while I've really come to dislike a vast majority of Troughton due to its lack of both ambition and originality (which is unfortunate, because I love his Doctor). But the era that I have to always mention right up front is the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era. I went into it initally with my arms crossed and without any real desire to partake. "I'd like the comedy", I thought. "I have no taste for horror."

I was wrong about that. Hinchcliffe/Holmes is almost definitely my favorite era in Classic Who. I'm always in the mood for one of their stories because they're just so damn enjoyable (if not flawless) and it really is one of the most consistent runs of Doctor Who in terms of sheer quality. The run of stories from "Robot" to "Horror of Fang Rock" is one of the most outstanding runs in all of Doctor Who history where the lows are more than watchable and the highs are nigh untouchable and some of the best Doctor Who ever produced. What's here is the stuff of legend, and regardless of quality I'm always eager to jump back in whenever I need a Doctor Who fix because what's here is so good, if nothing else than aesthetically. Fortunately there's usually a bit more to go on than pure aesthetics more often than not, but other times? Shrug. That's what you got.

With all that in mind let's talk about "Revenge of the Cybermen".

"Revenge of the Cybermen" is the black sheep of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era. It's widely regarded as their weakest story and "a mess" to put it mildly. But why is this one singled out when "Android Invasion" is an equally impressive candidate? My guess is "Android Invasion" benefits from being buried in the middle of its season, in between two dynamite Robert Holmes stories whereas this story is tacked on at the end of a very strong season, estranged from everything else by what's been called the best Dalek story of all time. That's to say nothing of the pressure of giving the Cybermen a return after a six and a half year absence, nor the pressure of making it something of an informal sequel to "The Ark in Space". Of course, this pressure was only magnified by the return of former script editor and co-creator of the Cybermen Gerry Davis coming back after seven and a half years to pen their return.

Throw in a production haunted by a curse from a petrified witch and you've got yourselves a ball game.

So let's get to it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Serial 8: The Reign of Terror

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companions: Ian, Barbara, and Susan

Written by: Dennis Spooner
Directed by: Henric Hirsch & John Gorrie

Background & Significance: One of the things that strikes me most about the first season (or really, the first two and a half ish seasons) of Doctor Who is the way they applied a structure to the show's stories. It's something that's repeated later in Doctor Who's history (see the Davies era), but it's never more readily apparent than it is here. The structure here was to alternate between science fiction and historical stories, with the original plan to be one person writing the historical stories while another wrote the science fiction stories. And this pattern holds for the first few stories, where we have Terry Nation doing two science fiction stories in a row and John Lucarotti doing two historical stories in a row.

Unfortunately, this pattern didn't quite work out in the way the production team thought it would (writing takes a long time) and Nation wasn't able to write the sci-fi story after "Keys of Marinus", leaving us with "The Sensorites." Likewise, Lucarotti couldn't do the historical after "The Aztecs".

Enter Dennis Spooner.

Dennis Spooner was a successful children's television writer who found his way into the Doctor Who offices through a relationship with Terry Nation. He was pitched the concept of doing a Doctor Who story set during the French Revolution by script editor David Whitaker, leading Spooner to reappropriate the historical into something much more... comic. Spooner's interests and talents were in comedy after all, and unlike Lucarotti, he didn't have a background in the historical subject he was writing about, which led to a much... broader sort of tale.

What we're left with is "The Reign of Terror", which is easily the forgotten historical. Everyone knows "The Aztecs," and "Marco Polo" is legendary for the fact that it's missing. "Reign of Terror" is not so talked about.

That's unfortunate, I think, but not terribly surprising. It's hardly Spooner's best work, as he would go on to write the comic genius of "The Romans" and the revolutionary "The Time Meddler" as well as overseeing the script editing for a particularly strong stretch of stories across Doctor Who's second season. It doesn't help that this story had something of a changing of the guard behind-the-scenes, where the director of this story (Henric Hirsch) didn't quite enjoy working on the program and also happened to become rather ill amidst the rehearsal process for episode three. In fact, the story so disagreed with him that shortly after excusing himself from the rehearsal space (because of his illness) he was found just outside the production gallery by a PA, having collapsed.

The lesson? Doctor Who isn't necessarily for everyone. Needless to say, Hirsch never directed for Doctor Who again.With little time for a replacement, the production team quickly brought back John Gorrie, who had previously and recently directed "The Keys of Marinus".

I will say this about Hirsch, though. He is responsible for the first location shooting on Doctor Who, in which there were shots of The Doctor taking the long trek to Paris. It wasn't Hartnell, though. Just a stand-in. Which amuses me. But we still do get some lovely exterior shots, the first of many for the show. And I must admit I really enjoy that because it's iconic but also tremendously silly. I mean. It's not even Hartnell. It's a ruddy stand in!

We'll talk on this more. Maybe. Okay. Not really. You caught me.

So let's get to it!