Monday, June 17, 2013
The return of the Cybermen; Adric’s death; Earthshock is a landmark serial based on these two momentous plot elements. For me, however, I will always remember Earthshock as the serial for which I finally and fully accept Peter Davison as the Doctor.
Until now the Fifth Doctor has been little more than a playground monitor to his companions; for the first time in Earthshock I sense some real emotion behind the clashing personalities, and as the Doctor’s and Adric’s conflict comes to a head I feel the anguish of previous partings from past generations bubbling to the surface.
I have to give credit to Adric for much of this. “I’m tired of being considered a joke,” Adric tells the Doctor. Adric is fed up with the constant teasing and is feeling neglected by the Doctor. He wants to go home, back to E-Space. He rebuffs the Doctor’s attempts at conciliation and the argument heats up. For once Adric’s performance is more than mere petulance; there is genuine hurt behind his remarks.
The Doctor is aware of this as well and becomes angrier as Adric grows more serious. Nyssa and Tegan, too, realize that this is more than a minor dust-up and try to inject some calm and reason back into the mix. But the Doctor is beyond reason. “Do you really think I’d be making all this fuss if it weren’t,” the Doctor demands when Tegan asks if it would be so dangerous to return to E-Space. He is making a fuss, and I think back to the First Doctor when confronted with Barbara’s and Ian’s desire to leave. “I will not aid and abet suicide,” he said in that long ago time, and continued, “You’ll end up as a couple of burnt cinders flying around in space.” Now, faced with another companion raising an abrupt desire to leave, he declares, “I’m not waiting around while you plot the course to your own destruction.”
The Doctor exits the TARDIS to cool off, Adric plots his course home, and then the adventure begins allowing the context for the Doctor and Adric to admit their faults and make up. It is an affecting moment as Adric confesses he doesn’t really want to go home (“There’s nothing there for me anymore”) and the Doctor gently ribs him, “So, you’ve done all these calculations for nothing.” A display of warmth, and I almost wish Adric had more life to live to explore this budding father/son relationship that is long overdue.
But Earthshock has other things in store.
Adric: “It’s not our problem, Doctor.” (Having made his point, Adric now seems more concerned with eating than with adventure.)
Doctor: “Oh . . . isn’t it?” (The Doctor is always ready for adventure.)
The adventure of Earthshock starts with a bang (more figuratively than literally since the bomb is defused). The opening sequences as the military expedition explores the tunnels are some of the best in all of Doctor Who. The tension mounts as one by one the blips representing life forms on the screen go out, with Walters sitting helpless in silent witness to the obliteration of his colleagues; and suspense builds with glimpses of shadowy sleek silhouettes against the cave walls stalking the remaining party. The shot of Snyder’s name tag dripping with the slime green remains of her body is truly gruesome as it gets trod underfoot.
Then the Cybermen appear and the spell of the taut drama is broken and we are launched into the realm of Doctor Who sci-fi. That is not to say that the Cybermen are a disappointment or that Doctor Who sci-fi is not any good, or even that Doctor Who sci-fi and taut drama are mutually exclusive. It is only that your typical Doctor Who serial cannot sustain the taut drama to that high degree over a full four episodes, nor would I necessarily want it to. In fact those opening scenes are interspersed with the Doctor/Adric spat and are therefore somewhat blunted to begin with; and while I have to admit, Gary, that I therefore resented the Doctor/Adric intrusion upon first viewing, I have since come to appreciate both aspects of this opening episode of Earthshock.
I also have to say that both aspects are skillfully drawn together and eventually knit into one cohesive unit. As the Doctor cools his heals outside the TARDIS, Nyssa and Tegan begin to explore the fossils in the cave and draw the Doctor into a conversation about dinosaurs and their mysterious demise millions of years ago. “I’ve always meant to slip back and find out,” the Doctor says of the cause of this catastrophe. Meanwhile the surviving military expedition tracks the trio in the belief that they are responsible for all of the killings while Adric looks on from the TARDIS console room and provides running commentary. The expedition confronts the Doctor and company just as the androids attack and Adric plays the hero. The Cybermen are revealed, the bomb exposed, and the Doctor and Adric work together to defuse it.
Doctor: “I think drastic action is called for.”
Adric: “But there can’t be much time left. What can we do?”
Doctor: “Abandon methodical procedure for blind instinct.”
That is more like the Doctor I know and love.
Blind instinct not only aids him in neutralizing the bomb but leads him to follow the signal back to its originating source and straight to the Cybermen. Lieutenant Scott and his remaining team tag along.
“Don’t call me ma’am on the bridge.” “Why is she always running me down?” Captain Briggs and Security Officer Ringway are playing out their own mother/son scenario parallel to the Doctor/Adric version, but without the happy ending. Ringway has secreted 15,000 Cybermen aboard the freighter headed to Earth, presumably in a pique against the deprecating Captain. However, believing that Ringway has double crossed him, the Cyber Leader has him killed early on in the proceedings.
Now some of our taut drama elements seep through as Scott’s squad, accompanied by a newly jump-suited Tegan, search through the freighter for the Doctor while Cybermen break free from their cellophane bindings and patrol the corridors. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Adric are on the bridge with Briggs and her First Officer Berger, and through some technobable wizardry involving antimatter they manage to momentarily shield themselves from the Cyber onslaught, with a nod to special effects for the great shot of the Cyberman melding into the doorway.
Cybermen are not so easily dissuaded, however, and soon the Cyber Leader breaks through and reveals his plans. Since the Doctor has foiled Plan A (which was the bomb), he is turning the freighter into a bomb on a crash course with Earth where an interstellar conference is taking place to form an alliance against the Cyber forces. “It will be a great psychological victory,” he states. Cyber psychology—what a concept.
Cybermen have had their emotions removed, but they were once humanoid and this Cyber Leader displays vestiges of lost passions. “Compared to some,” the Doctor says of him, “this one is positively flippant.”
“When did you last have the pleasure of smelling a flower, watching a sunset, eating a well-prepared meal,” the Doctor asks the Leader. “These things are irrelevant,” the Leader replies. But the Doctor knows better. He knows that emotions are not a weakness as the Cyber Leader claims. “For some people,” the Doctor says, “small, beautiful events is what life is all about.”
And what of friendship? “You do not consider friendship a weakness,” the Leader enquires as he discerns the Doctor’s affection for Tegan. A simple “No” is the Doctor’s answer. And even though the Cyber Leader can now hold the threat of Tegan’s death over the Doctor’s head, it is the Doctor who emerges as the better man and the stronger.
Friendship. Through all of the bickering and teasing and complaining, the Doctor has at last uncovered the underlying friendship of his companions. Alas, too late for the ill fated Adric. The Doctor’s last farewell of the boy wonder is moving as the Cyber Leader escorts the Doctor and Tegan back to the TARDIS leaving Adric, Briggs, and Berger behind on the doomed freighter.
Tegan: “Can’t you do something?”
Doctor: “Not at the moment.”
The Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa on the TARDIS watching hopelessly as the freighter approaches ever nearer to Earth. As helpless as Walters from our opening sequence, all the Doctor can do is stand by and offer slight comfort to his friends: “Gently, Tegan.” (Of course Tegan is anything but gentle.) And then, thanks to Adric, the freighter jumps time warps and starts hurtling backwards in time. “It may be of some small consequence,” the Doctor says, “to know we’ve travelled backwards in time some sixty five million years.” Back to the demise of the dinosaurs; so the Doctor has slipped back to find out after all.
“You’ve failed, Leader,” the Doctor triumphs. But it is of little comfort, knowing that Adric is still aboard the flying bomb. Perhaps that accounts for the Doctor’s relish as he guns down the Cyber Leader after first having used Adric’s badge of gold to disable him.
“Now I’ll never know if I was right.”
Adric, so desperate to prove himself, so proud of his badge of mathematical excellence, so young and so vulnerable. Adric, intent on solving the logic puzzles to override the Cyberman technology and save the Earth. Adric, dragged away to safety just when he was so close to the solution. Adric, hit with sudden inspiration and darting back into danger only to be thwarted by a Cyberman’s sabotage. Adric, facing his mortality, clutching his brother’s belt like a security blanket.
“Now I’ll never know if I was right.”
Doctor: “I must save Adric!”
But it is too late.
Tegan: “Adric? Doctor! Oh, no.”
The Doctor stands helpless. His friend. His surrogate son. Dead. Adric’s broken badge at his feet.
A moment of heartbreak. And in that moment I know; Peter Davison is the Doctor.
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 7:53 PM
Friday, June 14, 2013
Tegan: “Now what? Where are we going?”
Doctor: “To a cricket match.”
Doctor: “Why not?”
Why not indeed. A cricket match is just the ticket for our quarrelsome quartet. Tegan has finally decided to stay on as TARDIS crew member so the constant harping on the Doctor to get her to the airport on time has ceased, but our four adventurers need some down time to regroup.
With a cricket match, a fancy dress party, a cocktail, a buffet, and a bath the two episode Black Orchid orders up some much needed respite from the relentless infighting, and there is just enough trouble to keep them on their toes.
I like it.
Black Orchid is purely a period piece. No aliens, no sci fi, no important historical significance, just a mad and mutilated son hidden away and casting a pall over the ball. Oh, it may be a lazy plot. So what? For a two episode interlude this can be forgiven. Let Tegan do the Charleston and Adric chow down while Nyssa and her doppelganger Ann are menaced by the phantom of the manor and the Doctor wanders hidden corridors and is arrested for murder.
Black Orchid does demonstrate that the art of the period piece has been lost over the years. This is the kind of story that only William Hartnell’s Doctor could truly pull off. The Troughton era took a stab at the historical with The Highlanders but abandoned the genre thereafter. However I like that the Davison era is at least willing to give it a try, and it wisely kept the script to only two episodes. Of course the shortness of it could be the reason it turned out so weak, but if not and it was extended out over the typical four parts it would have been torturous. As it is, it is a brief and breezy stroll through the 1920’s.
It does seem to go at a leisurely pace despite the murders, the kidnapping, and the Doctor’s arrest. The bulk of the first episode is taken up with the cricket match in which the Doctor proves to be a one man show and a “much better player than Smutty,” and then with some relaxed conversation over drinks, and finally with the ball itself while the Doctor gets lost in a maze of secret passageways (“Why do I always let my curiosity get the better of me?”).
In keeping with the serene nature of the serial, no one seems to get overly excited about anything. In fact about the most noticeable reaction shot comes courtesy of the chauffer as he desperately tries to conceal his surprise at the remarkable resemblance between Nyssa and Ann Talbot. The others express some slight interest in the likeness and take it as an opportunity to question Nyssa’s background until Lady Cranleigh observes, “Our curiosity has been vulgar enough,” and changes the subject. Some things are above notice, like the strange clothes of the newcomers. When Tegan raises the concern that they have no costumes to wear for the fancy dress party Sir Robert simply states, “I was just thinking how charming yours was.”
As things start to heat up, the lid becomes tighter on the emotions. Shown a dead body in the cupboard, Lady Cranleigh takes a ‘let’s keep this between ourselves’ attitude to which the Doctor replies “Yes, of course,” and goes off to dress for the ball. Even when arrested for murder the Doctor just seems to shrug with an ‘oh, all right, if you must’ air. The topper is when Sir Robert and the police enter the TARDIS. “Strike me pink,” is about the strongest response the TARDIS receives, and Sir Robert’s “all this is going to be rather difficult to explain in my report” is the ultimate in understatement.
It is all very nonchalant. The police don’t really seem very serious about detaining the Doctor, either. With a mere ‘By the way can we stop at the railway station on the way to jail’ the Doctor is able to wander about the depot unhindered searching for his missing TARDIS. Then when the TARDIS is located at the police yard Sir Robert takes this, along with the discovery of a second victim, as evidence that the Doctor is innocent.
But then, the Cranleighs also don’t appear exactly eager to keep George detained. His ‘friend’ Latoni, the Brazilian guard, is easily outwitted and overcome and lets his prisoner escape several times during the story. And knowing that there is a madman loose on the premises who is killing off the servants, Lady Cranleigh and Latoni aren’t in any hurry to recapture him.
And despite the hiding away of her son (even though she keeps him bound and gagged, not much of a life for a loving mother to give her son, mad or not) and protecting him from murder charges, Lady Cranleigh doesn’t act overly upset when George plummets to his death. In fact at the end, aside from the mourning clothes, one would almost think the family group had just come from a garden party and not a funeral.
Amazingly, the one person (or rather two in one) to express any feeling above the level of mild interest throughout Black Orchid is Nyssa/Ann. She (they) gets to scream. Even that is too much for Ann, though, and she faints. (Although I do have to say that Tegan gets unnaturally excited about the Charleston and the Doctor is uncharacteristically elated during the cricket match, perhaps to compensate for the pent up sensibility of the overall serial.)
It is a pleasant little foray into the 1920s, not quite a murder mystery since there is very little mystery about it, and not quite a thriller since everyone rides it out on an even keel, but enough pseudo elements of each to keep us entertained.
I hope, Gary, that somewhere out there you, too, are being kept sufficiently entertained as I send this out and wait . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 6:43 PM
Monday, June 10, 2013
“Strange lights in the sky never bode well for the future.”
That may be, but they usually bode well for Doctor Who viewing, and The Visitation is just what the doctor ordered. A solid script, wonderful locations, good actors, and decent monsters. The first five minutes setting up the atmosphere of seventeenth century Earth are the highlight of the show, and I keep hoping that one or two members of the introductory familial group survived and will pop up again. None does, but it is a testament to the rest of the serial that this is only a minor disappointment.
This opening sequence of a companionable family group under siege is followed up with a mundane TARDIS scene in which the Doctor chastises Adric for his actions on Deva Loka from our previous story and Tegan recounts to Nyssa her own adventures on that planet before entering the console room to shout her displeasure with the Doctor for not getting her back to Heathrow as promised. The subtle tensions depicted by our first family are contrasted with the hostile bickering of our second.
The Visitation seems to be addressing the fact that these are four strangers from four different worlds who are suddenly beginning to realize that they are stuck with one another. The Doctor especially is noticeably resentful of these nuisances cluttering his TARDIS. Nyssa is the only companion that he tolerates in our story. In fact, Nyssa seems to be the only one of our four who gets on with everybody. Even Adric puts up with her bossing to a point, and then he simply tunes her out and goes his own way (to get into trouble, of course; “Poor old Adric; always in trouble,” as Nyssa says).
Adric is at his worst in this story, but his acting is so earnestly bad that I can’t help liking him for it. Tegan also appears to be warming up to the boy wonder. “I’m not entirely convinced that she likes me,” Adric says of Tegan, yet it is Tegan who consoles him with, “Anyway, I’m pleased to see you,” after the Doctor admonishes him for moving the TARDIS.
Fortunately the plot allows for the Bickersons to split up and concentrate on the problems at hand. It is a rather straight-forward tale of crashed aliens seeking to annihilate all of mankind via a genetically enhanced plague in the seventeenth century. The Terileptils are our rubber suited monsters of the day. Three of them have crash landed (actually four but only three have survived). What three lonely Terileptils want with the entire Earth I can’t imagine, but that is their intention—to wipe out all humans to make room for the three of them plus their beautiful android friend. In the meantime they have a group of controlled villagers to do their bidding while they prepare the plague they mean to unleash on the Earth.
I wish we could learn more of this fascinating new race of creatures and their “love of art and beauty” combined “with their love of war.” The three in our story are actually fugitives, having escaped from a life sentence in the “tinclavic mines on Raaga.” The costumes for these creatures are quite good, although rather restrictive. I guess that is why they need androids and controlled humans.
Within the context of this simple story the TARDIS crew is given ample opportunity to vent and work through their various irritations with one another and to also find some space of their own. There are various pairings, with the Doctor and Nyssa exploring, Adric and Tegan getting captured, Adric and Nyssa tinkering in the TARDIS, and the Doctor and Tegan searching for clues to the Terileptil base. Then too, Nyssa spends some quality time alone in the TARDIS while she rigs up a sonic device to decommission the android, Tegan gets mind controlled and aids the head Terileptil in his plague preparations, and Andric petulantly gets in and out of trouble and back in again.
All four eventually hook back up, the action shifts to London (Pudding Lane), and the Doctor has yet another great historical fire to his credit.
I am pleased to see the Fifth Doctor finally following his detective instincts in this story as he investigates the phenomenon of mysterious lights in the sky and the empty manor house with walls that shouldn’t be. He is definitely taking on a more active role than he has in his previous outings. He also begins to utilize the commonplace objects he now carries in his pockets, taking on a certain MacGyver quality. A bit of string and a safety pin are all he needs. Good thing, since his sonic screwdriver has been destroyed by the Terileptil (“I feel as though you’ve just killed an old friend”).
I am finding that I haven’t much more to say about The Visitation. It is a pleasant and entertaining diversion, helped in large part by an over-the-top highwayman/actor by the name of Richard Mace who joins the Doctor to liven things up. The Terileptils are intriguing, the little we get to know of them, and the grim reaper disguise for their android is a very clever and effective scare tactic (“I have always found fear an excellent tool”). And too, this is well worth the watch on the strength of the opening vignette alone.
I send this out, Gary, hoping that there are a few more strange lights looming in the Doctor Who sky . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 8:03 PM
Saturday, June 8, 2013
“Such stuff as dreams are made of.” No, this isn’t The Tempest, nor is it The Maltese Falcon.
“What’s in the box?” No, neither is this my all time favorite movie Bringing Up Baby.
This is Doctor Who; Kinda to be specific. The box and the dreams, they are interesting enough. But they are not perfection. I agree with the Doctor and Todd and their assessment of paradise, “It was all right at first, but it’s all a bit too green for me.”
I’ll start with the dreams. Tegan’s dream is fantastic. It is a very effective mix of her natural thoughts and the invasive evil of the Mara. Using the recent events in Tegan’s life along with her insecurities, the Mara shapes and creates Tegan’s dream, subtly influencing her until he wears her down and overcomes. It is eerie, atmospheric, and very real in its execution. More real than the outside world of fake greenery and phony sets that is in jarring contrast to the genuine inner turmoil of her mind.
(Incidentally, if it is indeed forbidden to dream alone in this place as Karuna claims, shouldn't the natives have given Tegan a shake and said, 'Hey lady, it's forbidden to dream alone here' rather than simply place a garland around her neck and prance back off into the woods? Oh, but I forgot--they can't talk.)
(Incidentally, if it is indeed forbidden to dream alone in this place as Karuna claims, shouldn't the natives have given Tegan a shake and said, 'Hey lady, it's forbidden to dream alone here' rather than simply place a garland around her neck and prance back off into the woods? Oh, but I forgot--they can't talk.)
Tegan’s dream is Doctor Who at its sophisticated best. Unfortunately it does not marry up to the rest of the production. This would be fine if the dream sequence was the bulk of the story or at least half, but as it is it is only about one fourth, and I am including awake and possessed Tegan sequences in that. Possessed Tegan is almost as impressive as dreaming Tegan; seductress Tegan dropping apples on the unsuspecting Aris is quite striking. But then the Mara/snake transfers itself to Aris and its impact is deflated.
Next we have the dream, or vision, of the Kinda. I’m sorry, Gary, but I just find this irritating. The old woman Panna and her young sidekick Karuna can talk. Why don’t they go to the dome and sit down and have a sensible conversation with the survey expedition? Why don’t they communicate directly with the Doctor and Todd? Why the need for this cryptic mumbo jumbo?
No, instead they shove a box at Sanders knowing it is going to drive him out of his mind and make the Doctor and Todd sit through some meaningless apparition that tells them nothing. “Wheel turns, civilizations arise; wheel turns, civilizations fall.” OK, so what? What has that to do with a circle of natives and their jester milling about with clocks ticking towards 12:00 and the jester falling down in pain? OK, so your civilization has risen, is about to fall, it has happened before and will happen again. So what? Who cares? Life happens.
“Wherever the wheel turns there is suffering, delusion, and death. That much should be clear, even to an idiot.”
OK, any idiot knows there is suffering in this world. What has that to do with what is going on right here and right now? How does that help with the crisis at hand? Is there even a crisis at hand? A couple of madmen are in control of the dome and Aris is leading the natives to attack the dome. Why or how is this relevant to the Doctor? And how does a vision of milling natives and a writhing jester help him to understand or alleviate these problems?
“It is the Mara who now turn the wheel,” Panna tells the Doctor. “It is the Mara who dance to the music of our despair. Our suffering is the Mara’s delight, our madness is the Mara’s meat and drink. And now he has returned.” That’s all the Doctor needs to know. It’s rather obscure, but at least it speaks more to the real danger they are facing.
But no, despite the realization that they are wasting time, Panna insists, “You cannot help without understanding. Don’t you see?”
No, I don’t see. Because I don’t see that her vision helps in any way with the Doctor’s understanding. Now he just needs to get out his copy of Dreams Interpreted: A to Z and look up milling natives and falling jesters and ticking clocks and more time is wasted.
Dreams can be very powerful and insightful, as evidenced by Tegan. But they are an extremely poor means of communication when immediate action is required.
Then we have the box.”No male can open the Box of Jhana without being driven out of his mind.” So what is the purpose of this box? Why give it to man after man who comes out of the dome? Again I say, why don’t Panna and Karuna go to the dome and sit down for some civilized conversation? Supposedly it is a box of healing, except it only works on those minds in need of healing, all others it either harms or simply gives a vision of smiling natives. Its message seems to be don’t worry, be happy (or else).
The Doctor and Todd would have us believe that these natives are not primitive, that they are in fact extremely civilized and sophisticated. Their proof of this is the box and the fact that the people wear what could be taken for the symbol of the double helix around their necks. I think I’ll need some more evidence before I fall for it. They also cite the telepathic nature of the populace. However this seems to be more of a liability than an asset. Especially since the power of speech is viewed as a sign of intelligence reserved for females, and apparently only two individuals in the entire tribe have this ability. Doesn’t seem very advanced to me.
Apart from the dreams and the box, the natives, the Mara, and ‘the wheel keeps on turning’ features of our story, we have a separate plot involving the mad Hindle (“Why can’t we all play the game?”) inside the dome. Hindle is a refreshing change from your typical Doctor Who egomaniacal madman with delusions of grandeur, and his reversion to childhood is effectively and believably delivered. When the recently box-crazed Sanders returns it only feeds Hindle’s delusions, and their scenes are amusing, touching, and frightening at the same time; Hindle’s “You can’t mend people” refrain is especially moving. In the end Hindle’s insanity is cured by the Box of Jhana, the one redemption for that overrated prop.
What of our companions and the Doctor during all of this? Nyssa misses out on everything, sidelined in the TARDIS taking a rest cure. I’ve already given my kudos to Tegan. And Adric? Adric yet again tries his hand at play-acting as he pretends to go along with Hindle, and yet again he fails miserably. His ruse only serves to distract, annoy, anger, and generally make things worse, culminating in an uncontrolled rampage inside the TSS (Total Survival Suit). Then he has the nerve to blame everything on Tegan when Tegan and the unleashed Mara had absolutely no bearing on the happenings inside the dome.
The Doctor, meantime, continues in the bland tradition he has established. After channeling his past personas in quick succession upon first regenerating, this fifth Doctor seems to have wiped his mind clean of them all and is going in for a rather vanilla pudding guise. Gone even is any memory of his past brushes with the likes of Maskelyne and Houdini; it is Adric of all people who has to teach the Doctor a simple bit of sleight of hand. He is pleasant enough, when he isn’t scolding, but the action just happens around him. Peter Davison’s iteration of the Doctor so far is still a tabula rasa; I hope that sooner or later he begins to make an impression of his own.
The Doctor does start Kinda with a familiar sense of curiosity as he leads Tegan and Adric around Deva Loka, the planet on which they have landed. “There’s always something to look at if you open your eyes,” he tells Tegan when they discover the beautiful huge crystal chimes in the middle of the forest. But then he has to go chasing after the wayward Adric and he leaves the most compelling part of our story behind. And when presented with the wooden box the Doctor displays an unnatural fear of the thing and uncharacteristically shuns from any investigation of it. He only opens it when forced at gunpoint; and later when opening the box is the one logical solution to the Hindle threat, it is Todd who realizes this and cleverly uses reverse psychology to get Hindle to open it while the Doctor does what he seems to do best these days—stand by and watch.
The Doctor does finally come through, however. With Hindle’s mind put into balance by the box and Tegan’s mind free of the Mara, the two best elements of Kinda are behind us, but there is still the wild-eyed Aris and his snake friend the Mara to contend with, although the Mara’s idea of a makeshift cage made of twigs and branches as a ‘guardian’ is pathetic, as is his whimpering for help when confronted by Adric in his run-away TSS. His band of followers quickly abandons him and it is doubtful that this Mara will be of any genuine danger to the natives. The only real threat is to Aris it seems, and at least the Doctor does rid him of this malevolent presence.
“I think paradise is a little too green for me as well,” the Doctor says as he leaves Deva Loka behind. Yes, Gary, Kinda was pleasant while it lasted and made enjoyable in large part thanks to Tegan and Hindle. And Kinda is full of intriguing concepts, some more successfully realized than others. In the end, though, the evil lurking in the dark recesses of the mind is far scarier than a big rubber snake that is afraid of its own reflection. And I would much rather have an intercostal clavicle in the box than a vision of smiling natives.
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 9:50 AM
Monday, June 3, 2013
I start out liking Four to Doomsday. It is interesting and unique. Somewhere along the way, however, I begin drifting. I think it is after the third or fourth ‘recreational’ as it endlessly drones on with the same routines played over and over (it’s actually not that many times they run the recreational, but it certainly seems so). I can’t figure out why androids, or synthetic beings or whatever they are, need entertainment to begin with, but then again, being androids (or whatever) perhaps they don’t require variety. Seeing the same four acts several times a day every day for thousands of years is maybe all they can handle. Any real person, however, would soon go mad.
The next thing that stands out for me is Tegan’s idea of fashion. Enlightenment asks her what the well-dressed woman wears on Earth and Tegan requests paper and pencil. This in itself is odd. She can’t describe clothing? She has to draw? And then there is the sketch she comes up with. Enlightenment only asked what Tegan would wear, yet Tegan draws both a man and a woman, and apparently Tegan is quite an accomplished artist. What is she doing being a stewardess? And that is her idea of every day wear? Did people really dress like that? And if Enlightenment truly wants to be enlightened on matters of apparel, is one sketch really going to do the trick? But then, given Doctor Who’s penchant for clothing every citizen of alien planets in matching outfits, I guess it is no surprise that Tegan’s drawing looks more like a couple of uniforms and these Urbankan aliens therefore accept them as is.
Next I begin to wonder about the Earth representatives that these Urbankans have kidnapped. Ancient Greeks, all male, and their leader the philosopher Bigon; Chinese Mandarins, all male, and their leader Lin Futu; Mayans, all female, and their leader Princess Villagra; and Australian Aborigines, all male, and their leader Kurkutji; each member of each ethnic group dressed alike. I guess these Urbankans go for uniformity in their diversity.
And what exactly do the Urbankans expect to accomplish with these kidnapped humans now turned into androids (or whatever) thousands of years out from their own time? How exactly are these ancients to influence the peoples of 20th Century Earth? And the four ethnic leaders have really been content to plod along on an alien ship for thousands of years with the improbable hope that at some future date they will return to command their peoples on the Earth?
However, Four to Doomsday does start out impressively. The set is fantastic; I can really believe that the TARDIS has landed on a huge alien space ship (sorry Tegan, not Heathrow) stocked full of advanced technology and I don’t need just the Doctor’s and Nyssa’s word for it. There is an air of mystery as unseen aliens observe our adventurers and comment on their knowledge and appearance. Then we meet our alien creatures and it gets even better. Monarch, Enlightenment, and Persuasion (“Friendly, I hope”).
Monarch in particular with his benevolent god act is intriguing, especially as he retains his “frog with a funny head” form throughout whereas Enlightenment and Persuasion transform into humanoid figures straight out of Tegan’s drawing.
“You’re very kind,” the Doctor tells Monarch, to which he replies, “I am merely civilized.” The polite and cultured Monarch is traveling to Earth “to save them from themselves.” To save them from the “flesh time,” the “time of the chickenpox, of hunger and heart disease, arthritis, bronchitis and the common cold.” To overthrow “the greatest tyranny in the universe: external and internal organs.” To wipe out war and hunger. To eliminate love—“the exchange of two fantasies.” To stamp out “mental anarchy—they call it freedom.”
In short, Monarch is coming to Earth to turn people into Cybermen, or the Urbankan version of this: “fully integrated personalities with a racial memory.” Sort of Cybermen Lite. The reason given for Earth being the lucky planet for such a conversion is the presence of silicon which he needs for his silicon chips to create his race of synthetic beings. And then there is thrown in this rather odd but tantalizing bit about Monarch’s ultimate goal of mastering the ability to travel faster than the speed of light so that he can return to the beginning and meet up with himself—the creator. What that has to do with Earth and silicon is beyond me, but it is fascinating and I wish we could learn more about this Monarch.
But then the mindless music and rhythmic dancing starts, “these little soirees” meant to divert the robotic slaves from their work and study, and that strangely captivates Monarch even though he has seen these same four acts over and over for thousands of years, and that distracts us from the truly compelling aspects of our plot.
Through all of this the Doctor does not distinguish himself. With a mystery just aching to be solved upon his arrival, he does very little detecting. All of the vital information is simply supplied to him by Bigon and Monarch himself. The one bit of deducting he does is to infer that Monarch is still in the ‘flesh time’ but all he does with this information is murder him. I have to say, too, that it is a bit rash of the Doctor, something more along the lines of what the hysterical Tegan would have done. Splashing the poison right at the entrance to the TARDIS, a poison of which only “one trillionth of a gram would reduce you to the size of a grain of salt,” would make it rather difficult for them to pass through the door I would think.
It is Nyssa not the Doctor who figures out how to put the slave androids out of commission. Faced with no oxygen supply, the Doctor does put himself into a trance, which previous incarnations have also done, but this Doctor makes an awful lot of noise gasping and wheezing while doing it. Even his pockets contain nothing to remark on—a bit of string, a pencil and notebook, a magnifying glass, a cricket ball—ordinary sorts of things that could be found in most anyone’s pockets. He does utilize the sonic screwdriver and looking glass to decommission the monopticons and there is some nifty space walking and a clever use of the cricket ball to propel himself to the TARDIS (which Tegan has inexplicably and irrationally piloted out into space and just out of reach).
All in all, though, this fifth Doctor is rather bland so far. About the only persona he has carved out for himself is that of a tsking father on a field trip trying to maintain some semblance of order in an unruly gang of teens.
Speaking of that unruly gang, not a one of them is likeable, and they don’t seem to care for one another, either. I take it back what I said about Tegan in Castrovalva. She is no longer the most valuable member of the team. She has turned into a shrill harpy. What exactly is that hands wringing, teeth gnashing, out of control act she puts on as she punches any button she can find on the TARDIS control panel? Does she really think she can get herself back home? And is she really going to leave the others behind? Nyssa is the one crew member to be of any use in this, and she spends most of the time wandering around lost or in a trance. As for Adric, what can I say? “You’re not so much gullible as idealistic,” the Doctor tells him. All well and good, Doctor, but don’t let that boy get anywhere near the Reverend Moon.
It seems as if our trio is going to compete in each serial to see who can be the most annoying, who can be the most hindrance, and who can be of the most value (even if it is minimal at best). It does not bode well for the future.
I am sorry to say that after starting out on a high note I have come to realize that Four to Doomsday disappoints, and the biggest disappointment is the Doctor and his companions. But we are still early in the generation. I will retain my benefit of the doubt. As Monarch says, “We need doubt. It is the greatest intellectual galvanizer.”
I’m a bit sad, Gary, that I end this with a quote from our villain, but so it goes . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 8:28 AM
Friday, May 31, 2013
To my great surprise I find that I actually enjoy Castrovalva. I think that watching in order as I am has greatly increased my appreciation of certain stories, and this is most notably true of Castrovalva. In the past I always thought to myself, who is this guy who is trying to impersonate my beloved Doctors? Who does he think he is? The Doctor or something?
That’s the point, though, isn’t it?
“I’m the Doctor. Or will be if this regeneration works out.”
Peter Davison is the Doctor, and fresh from a steady diet of the incomparable Tom Baker, and having experienced this regeneration process three times previous, I now see the value of shaking off the looming presence of his predecessor. Rather than letting the action take control, as past kickoff regeneration stories have done, Castrovalva takes its time in letting us get to know this new Doctor and the latest additions to the TARDIS crew.
Channeling personas of past generations, Peter Davison reminds us that this has happened before. We are five generations in; this is nothing new. Dismantling the outer trappings of his fourth, Davison symbolically sheds the giant shadow he is following.
Now we have almost two full episodes that are TARDIS bound while the companions dither and the Doctor struggles with a difficult regeneration. It is a bit of sorely needed respite allowing us to settle in and get comfortable.
With the befuddled Doctor levitating in the Zero Room and Adric in some mystery web with the Master, the bulk of these first episodes falls on the shoulders of our two newest members of the TARDIS crew, Tegan and Nyssa, and in particular Tegan.
Tegan is the return to the traditional companion of old. The Doctor of late has been surrounded by peers and intellectual almost-equals. Tegan, if you will, is a poor man’s Sarah Jane. For that matter, I guess Nyssa is a poor man’s Romana (although more of a poor man’s Romana II who herself is a poor man’s Romana I) and Adric is a poor man’s K9.
I find it interesting that between the smart and precocious Nyssa and Adric and the somewhat shrill and hysterical Tegan, it is Tegan who is the more practical get-things-done type. Of the three companions currently inhabiting the TARDIS, Tegan is the most valuable of the lot.
“Tegan, you have it in you to be a fine coordinator, keeping us all together during the healing time.”
Yes, the Doctor has that pronouncement right.
“If. My dad used to say that if was the most powerful word in the English language.” Tegan, speaking in terms of hopes and dreams and emotion.
“Recursion’s a powerful mathematical concept, but I don’t see how it can help us now.” Nyssa speaking in terms of books and facts and knowledge.
Tegan wins. “If. I F! Stands for Index File!”
Even if it is Adric who is pulling the strings (at the Master’s command), it is Tegan who follows those strings, who learns to fly the TARDIS, who pilots them to Castrovalva. (“So, this air hostess person’s flying it, eh?”)
Once arriving on Castrovalva the Doctor slowly revives and the action slowly takes off and now we have a full fledged, if somewhat abridged, Doctor Who adventure getting us back into the swing of things.
“I feel quite like my old self,” the Doctor tells Tegan. “Well . . .”
“Well, whoever I feel like, it’s absolutely splendid. Let’s go.”
The latest generation starting to take hold, time for some action.
The action centers on the fictional city of Castrovalva that is folding in on itself. As the Doctor and entourage keep finding themselves back at “that wretched square again” while they desperately search for the exit, I am reminded of the TARDIS and its endless corridors, especially as depicted in The Invasion of Time (“Doctor, we’ve been here before”). Since Castrovalva is a creation straight out of Adric’s mind utilizing the leftover block transfer computation from Logopolis, it isn’t any wonder that shades of the TARDIS show through.
It is all cleverly done. Some may laugh at the dated effects used to depict the Escher like nature of the city, but personally I find them effective and laudable, and they are enhanced by some inspired editing and acting. Mergrave and Ruther, Castrovalvans who are themselves part of the recursive occlusion, are believably bemused as they attempt to explain the spatial anomalies on the chalk drawn map of their city.
And then there is Shardovan. When asked if he can see the irregularities: “With my eyes, no. But in my philosophy.” In fact it is Shardovan and his philosophy that provides all of the needed keys to this puzzle. The Doctor, admittedly not at his best, relies upon Shardovan to give him the answers. What is out of reach for the Doctor is evident to Shardovan: “The books are old, but they chronicle the rise of Castrovalva up to the present day.”
It is Shardovan, too, who breaks through the Master’s web thus freeing Adric and destroying the illusion that is Castrovalva. Joining Shardovan in the self-sacrifice department is fellow Castrovalvan Mergrave who refuses to flee the dying city in order to prevent the Master from escaping his collapsing reality.
The Doctor doesn’t do much of anything in Castrovalva. He spends a good part of it dazed or unconscious in the Zero Room (or Zero Cabinet once the room is jettisoned from the TARDIS) and is mostly looked after by others. But for one serial that is OK. Castrovalva is more of a chance for the Master to get in a few good heh, heh, hehs and do some nifty undercover work as the Portreeve; for Adric to do his wooden best to defy the Master (I do have to credit Adric for all of the clever undermining he does and can only assume that such touches as the ancient books reporting up-to-date facts are part of his handiwork); for Nyssa to display her technical knowledge (and to rid herself of the more ridiculous aspects of her costume); and for Tegan to use “a bit of initiative.”
In the meantime, Castrovalva allows for the Doctor to try on his new body and acclimate himself to the role. Discarding the past and looking to the future, the Doctor dons a blandly coordinated cricket outfit and tops it off with a stalk of celery in the lapel. A much toned down Doctor from incarnations past.
“That’s the trouble with regeneration. You never quite know what you’re going to get.”
What we get, as we always get, is the Doctor. I look forward, Gary, to more from this new version.
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 3:39 PM
Monday, May 27, 2013
There’s not much more I can say about Tom Baker. From his first “why is a mouse when it spins” through his “bot of a shik” and culminating with his “it’s the end,” Tom Baker is the Doctor, and that just about says it all.
The tug of sentimentality is a strong one and an important one. It is a thread extending back to our past selves, our past selves that were once as real as we are now as we stand firmly and presently on the ground, and a thread that extends out to our tenuous future. I began my slow path admitting to this emotional pull influencing my choice of Tom Baker as my favorite. I maintain it still.
But it is more than sentiment that forms my preference.
Tom Baker was blessed with a long string of excellent companions, producers, writers, guest actors, and directors. It is hard to find fault with any of his seven year reign. Oh, there were a few inevitable disappointments along the way; The Invasion of Time, Underworld, and Revenge of the Cybermen for example. Overall, however, there is little to criticize.
It is hard for me, too, to single out any one or two serials for praise. City of Death is one of my favorites; The Pirate Planet and The Ribos Operation are two similarly amusing and witty serials that top my list. The Talons of Weng-Chiang is more serious in tone, but as good as it gets. The Brain of Morbius and Pyramids of Mars are two that blend the serious and the humorous to perfection. Any one of these could be my number one pick, depending on my whim at the time. At this particular moment I would have to say Pyramids of Mars. You just can’t get any better than Sarah Jane, the Doctor is in particularly top form, Sutekh is a singularly chilling Doctor Who villain, the script is superbly crafted . . . but ask me again tomorrow, Gary, and I could very well cite any of the aforementioned serials and give just as compelling reasons.
Sarah Jane . . . ah, yes, the companions. Sarah Jane, Leela, Romana I. William Hartnell has Ian and Barbara. Patrick Troughton has Jamie. Jon Pertwee has Jo Grant. Tom Baker has Sarah Jane Smith, Leela, and Romana I; three of the best Doctor Who companions in a row. Romana II is hit or miss for me and Adric isn’t as bad as I remembered but still not very good. And of course I can’t forget K9. K9 works best with Leela; he is more of a companion for Leela and acts as a bit of a buffer between her and the Doctor. K9 becomes somewhat superfluous once the Doctor is joined by fellow Time Lord Romana (both I and II) and boy genius Adric, and he spends much of his time in need of repair and out of commission until he is finally dispensed with along with Romana in E-Space.
E-Space. The introduction of story arcs. While I enjoy the Key to Time and E-Space arcs, I dislike the establishment of the concept during the Tom Baker era. Used to effect in these two instances, I still cringe at the thought of the future exploitation of the idea. But I will refrain, Gary. I am not yet to that point and will stay on track.
The Time Lords and Gallifrey come under more scrutiny during the Baker years and I can’t help thinking that they are better left to the shrouds of mystery. However, fleshed out as they are it makes the Doctor’s flight from them understandable and provides more insight into his struggle between his desire to help and his reticence to meddle.
Seven seasons of Tom Baker gives us gothic, horror, mystery, comedy, sci-fi, drama—it runs the gamut of genres and does justice to them all. And through it all, through all the seven seasons of outstanding productions, Tom Baker shines.
Jelly Babies, bottomless pockets, floppy hat, sonic screwdriver, his endless scarf—all of the trappings of the Fourth Doctor that endear him to us. The sharp wit, the clever banter, the intelligent gibberish. The deeply personal concern coupled with an alien distance. Warmth and compassion alongside an aloof realism. The childlike snits, the casual confidence, the disarming arrogance . . . .
Tom Baker’s Doctor cannot be summed up in a word.
However, Tom Baker can be defined by two words: The Doctor. “The definite article you might say.”
Over a year ago now I first sent my rankings out to you, Tom Baker heading the list; but I could only wonder and wait to hear your own. I send this out again with Tom Baker leading the way, and I am still waiting for that echo, dear Gary . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 3:07 PM