Monday, December 31, 2012

An Afterword

And then I had talked about all of the Doctor Who.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Serial 30: The Power of the Daleks

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

Written by: David Whitaker (and Dennis Spooner)
Directed by: Christopher Barry

Background & Significance: Once the Doctor Who production team had made the decision to let William Hartnell step down as The Doctor, producer Innes Lloyd set about trying to find a suitable replacement. But instead of going for Hartnell 2.0 (which Robert Shearman cynically and perhaps rightly suspected was part of the point of "The Savages") they sought something different. They needed a fresh take by someone who could do new and good things with the character. Eventually they settled on Patrick Troughton, and according to legend, William Hartnell endorsed the decision, saying "If there's one man in England who can replace me it's Patrick Troughton!"

That is, of course, probably legend.

But after "The Tenth Planet" Hartnell would step down, leaving in his wake this new actor in the same role, and the production team put a lot of work into Troughton's new character and coming up with ways to delineate him from Hartnell. One of the great stories to come out of this time was the notion that Troughton might perhaps play the character "blacked up", although that was probably a passing thing one time in a conversation and was remembered years later from a purely "wtf were we thinking" retrospective. Eventually they settled on the idea of Troughton as a "Cosmic Hobo", which is, of course, how his Doctor is still remembered as a character to this day.

Now all they had to do was introduce him.

To do this, they brought in David Whitaker, the man who had defined Doctor Who more than just about anyone in the history of the show up to that point. It was he who made the TARDIS the TARDIS and it was he who had overseen Hartnell's fantastic first season. This would help, because what they were attempting (replacing the lead actor in the middle of a season) was ludicrously insane. They'd need to keep things as stable as possible to convince the audience that this was something that would be okay. In terms of companions, this meant keeping around Ben and Polly, the companions who had been around for the past three stories. In terms of villains it meant bringing back the Daleks, because putting this new Doctor up against his greatest foe would be the best way to encourage people that this Doctor was still The Doctor, only different.

I mean, who else would defeat the Daleks? That's what The Doctor does.

Whitaker (to his credit) included a bunch of different ideas of this new Doctor, chief amongst which was the notion that this wasn't The Doctor's first regeneration (something that would, again, be picked up upon in "The Brain of Morbius"). Head of Drama Sydney Newman (who had helped bring Doctor Who to life) was somewhat dissatisfied by these aspects of Whitaker's script and requested a re-write. Whitaker (having completed his scripts and having moved on to something else) was unavailable, so duties fell to Dennis Spooner, Whitaker's successor as script editor, who trimmed up Whitaker's drafts and tweaked the portrayal of The Doctor to better align with Newman's ideas.

The result is "Power of the Daleks", the first ever regeneration story, the first ever 2nd Doctor story, and the last entry for this blog. And I'll just say this before we start: just like "Androzani" last week, I have been saving this one. And now for the last time...

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Serial 135: The Caves of Androzani

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companion: Peri

Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Graeme Harper

Background & Significance: Robert Holmes is one of the three greatest Doctor Who writers of all time, which is rather fortunate because he also happens to be the most prolific, writing seventy two of the Classic series' original almost-seven-hundred episode run (which, by the way, is over ten percent of all Classic episodes). Throw in the lot that he oversaw as script editor and that number balloons to one hundred forty four (which is almost 20% of all Doctor Who episodes ever produced). His run was so long and prolific, in fact, it can be broken down into stages: two Troughton era stories (where he got his feet wet), to four classic Pertwee stories (which allowed him playing ground to experiment with different types of stories) to his run at script editor when he shaped and created (in a sense) Tom Baker's Doctor (during which he wrote five stories), to his few dabbles in the post-him Tom Baker era, to his long break where he didn't write any Doctor Who stories for five years, to his triumphant return with "The Caves of Androzani" and his final Colin Baker stories, which were landmarks and such. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of The Modern Era's Steven Moffat in that Moffat got his feet wet during Eccleston, played around with different stories during Tennant, and then took over the show for a new Doctor when Tennant left. Both men created/are creating classic, popular foes that are known for being scary, wrote tremendously famous/popular stories, and they both are proven to be idea factories through and through.

But "The Caves of Androzani" is his unabashed masterpiece.

We've been talking about Holmes a lot lately. Hell, this is the fourth story penned by Holmes in the past two months, but this is one that's... special. It's the only time Holmes ever wrote for the 5th Doctor and it was his last opportunity to because this is Holmes's opportunity to write a Doctor's regeneration story. Indeed, it really brings him full circle because his bursting onto the scene happened in Jon Pertwee's first story (so he did a post-regen story) after two stories of warm-up. And this is his last story before (essentially) two stories of cool-down (if you count "Trial" as one big monolithic story). It also makes Holmes relatively unique, as he's one of only three other writers (Terrence Dicks, Christopher Bidmead, and Russell T. Davies) to write both a regeneration story (that is, a story that ends in regeneration) and a post-regeneration story (that is, a story that picks up immediately after The Doctor's regeneration).

"Androzani" came about because Eric Saward (having gone back through the Doctor Who archives) became enamored with Holmes and looked for a way to get Holmes back to write a story for Doctor Who again. Somehow Holmes (who apparently thought he'd been away for long enough) and Nathan-Turner (who disliked bringing in people who had been around on the program longer than him and who could thus undermine his authority) both got on board and there was an attempt to get Holmes to write the 20th Anniversary special (what eventually became "The Five Doctors"). Holmes found the laundry list of things to include (Cybermen, a Dalek, Time Lords, Gallifrey, The Master, and Five Doctors) untenable and stepped down from scripting duties. But Saward, not wanting to let go of a good thing and desperate to get Holmes's quality into his own run on the show, managed to persuade Nathan-Turner to bring Holmes in for a different story. That story became, eventually, "The Caves of Androzani", The 5th Doctor's final story.

It's not all about Holmes, though. This story also marks the first behind-the-camera effort for Graeme Harper, who is, for my money, the best Doctor Who director of all time, and this is the first thing he'd ever directed. Ever. He'd been around the show (and other shows) as an assistant at various levels (working under Douglas Camfield at one point). If you know the name, you know for a fact this is not the last thing he directed either and that he went on to do not only "Revelation of the Daleks" but a number of stories during the David Tennant years (including the Cybermen stories in series two, "Utopia" in series three, series four's finale of "Stolen Earth/Journey's End", the exquisite "Waters of Mars", and a bunch of other programs like the BBC's most recent adaptation of Robin Hood.

But this is the first thing he ever directed, so I guess it's worth seeing if he puts his back into it and if there's any hints of a great director in here who might one day blossom into someone fantastic amazing.

I suppose I should also mention that in that Doctor Who Mighty 200 poll this came out at the very very top. So it is considered (at least as of 2009) as the fan-consensus greatest Doctor Who story ever produced. So no pressure there. That poll is basically just saying that this story is better than every single other Doctor Who story we've ever yet talked about. That's a tall order and with fifty years of television stories I'd say... well... it's worth discussing whether or not this is the best Doctor Who story ever. Granted, I know my own thoughts based on the one previous time I've watched this. I'm just wondering if this will confirm or adjust them.

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Serial 54: Inferno

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companion: Liz Shaw

Written by: Don Houghton
Directed by: Douglas Camfield (& Barry Letts)

Background & Significance: Once Doctor Who's format changed at the start of its 7th season, script editor Terrence Dicks was looking for ways to make the show's new format conceit (aliens arrive on Earth; The Doctor teams up with UNIT to fight them) work without it getting too stale and repetitive. How many times can you see aliens land on Earth and them attempt a take over without it actually feeling like a tired, awful conceit?

We saw this conceit played out in "Spearhead From Space" and "Ambassadors of Death." "Inferno" (like "Silurians" before it) takes a slightly different tact.

Written by Don Houghton and being the twilight story "directed" by Douglas Camfield before his brief return during the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, "Inferno" is perhaps most famous for being "that one story about the alternate/parallel universe where everything is topsy turvy." It's heralded as a classic and considered not just one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time, but also the best Jon Pertwee story of all time in the Mighty 200 poll. So it's got... a reputation. And yet it's still not exactly perfect. Camfield had to bow out a few episodes into production leaving new producer Barry Letts to step in and pick up the slack based on Camfield's extensive notes.

Still though. Parallel universe! That's something, eh?

So let's get to it!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Serial 84: The Brain of Morbius

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

Written by: Robin Bland (a.k.a Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes)
Directed by: Christopher Barry

Background & Significance: Season 13 of Doctor Who is perhaps one of the best seasons of television the show ever experienced. After a season of stories coordinated by the previous production team, this new start allowed Holmes to sculpt the show into whatever he wanted it to be. As we've discussed previously, this resulted in a season full of horror pastiches and sendups. Mummies, mutant plants, shapeshifters, body snatchers...

And now? Frankenstein.

"Brain of Morbius" comes at the exact halfway point of their era and represents the pinnacle of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes vision for the show. Originally written by Terrance Dicks (the original version had an aesthetically-challenged robot that cobbled together a body for the wrecked Morbius based on its own warped view of human anatomy), it was eventually almost completely re-written by Robert Holmes, so much so that Dicks asked his name be removed from the writing credit. As such, it's really a Holmesian contribution to Doctor Who and to say otherwise is massive, massive self-deception (as we'll discuss) because... well... it's a Holmes story, isn't it?

So let's get to it!