Friday, December 6, 2013
I think I’ve finally cracked my code. I occasionally wonder why I enjoy some subpar Doctor Who serials more than others. I have decided that it is because while I can forgive the odd poorly constructed script and shoddy effects, I can’t get on board if there are no characters that I find interesting or worthwhile. Therefore, I can gladly re-watch almost any Doctor Who with the first, second, and fourth Doctor because I am fond of the Doctor himself as well as his companions. The same is true to a lesser extent with the third Doctor. With the fifth and sixth, however, I find for the most part that I need at least one guest actor I can relate to in order to overcome any glaring defects. So far the seventh Doctor is falling more into that latter category, although not to the same degree. Thus I like The Power of Kroll more than I do Kinda; The Invasion more than Attack of the Cybermen; and Silver Nemesis more than Dragonfire.
This is a longwinded way of saying that I like Battlefield despite the fact that more often than not I have trouble following it. Any Doctor Who serial that has Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is a good Doctor Who serial, even if the Brig is confined to a helicopter for half the story. In addition, Battlefield has the stellar Jean Marsh as Morgaine as well as the delightful pairing of Brigadier Winifred Bambera and Ancelyn. To top it all off there is a wonderful monster in the Destroyer (even if poorly used) and some decent locations. All of this makes up for the fact that the story makes little sense.
My basic confusion: Who are these aliens? Where do they come from? Why are they here? What are they after? Why are they fighting each other? I don’t think they know the answer to half of these questions.
Knights straight out of the Arthurian legend have arrived in twentieth century Earth from what appears to be outer space since they initially come hurtling down in a blaze of glory, but then we are told that actually they have entered our world sideways in time from another dimension and have gateways they can travel through. Then there is also a dimensional traveling spacecraft parked at the bottom of Lake Vortigern, and who knows how long that thing has been rusting away down there with no one the wiser.
Mordred and his mother Morgaine bring a contingent of soldiers with them while King Arthur is represented by the lone Ancelyn. The first engagement between these battling knights is difficult to read. Dressed in full armor, visors down, we have no clue who is who, why they are fighting, or what the difference is between one side and the other, if indeed there is a difference; for all we know this is an AWOL soldier that is being chased down by the MPs. Every subsequent battle scene is as confusing as the first, even when there is a clear definition between otherworldly knights and twentieth century military there is no semblance of rhyme or reason to any of the fights.
Nor is there a mad rush to retrieve Excalibur, which seems to be the reason for everyone being there. Once Excalibur is found, it doesn’t do much of anything. It’s only purpose seems to be to bring Arthur to life, and since Arthur has long since been turned to dust it doesn’t even do that. There are no other magical powers associated with it; the bearer of the sword doesn’t seem to have any undue advantage in combat. It’s not even hard to get one’s hands on, either. Ace pulls it out of the stone with no problem and from there it passes from person to person with barely a notice. Morgaine does use it to create her portal home, but it appears as though any sword would do in a pinch; and anyway, why does the Doctor want to stop her leaving? Let her and Mordred return to whence they came and be done with it. What does the Doctor think UNIT is going to do with the pair? It seems a much more dangerous proposition to keep them on twentieth century Earth than to allow them to slip back sideways through dimensions to their own world.
Into this mix we add one nuclear missile and a UNIT convoy, but what exactly is this UNIT convoy escorting a nuclear missile doing camping beside Lake Vortigern? They seem to be stuck, perhaps as a result of equipment failure due to Morgaine’s mystical powers or magical disturbances associated with the traveling knights, but what were they doing down there by the lake to begin with? Did Bambera decide to make a picnic of it at the historical landmark? There doesn’t even seem to be a road on which they traveled; they are simply parked there in the grass along the shore.
As if this were not enough, we have a bunch of miscellaneous characters thrown at us for no good reason and who are carted off half way through. (And by the way since when can the Doctor hypnotize people into doing his will by sheer power of suggestion?) Not to mention a scabbard, which we are told is worth ten times the sword, but since Excalibur turns out to be worth next to nothing what does that make the scabbard? Turns out exactly that—nothing.
Finally we have the Destroyer, a perfectly marvelous Doctor Who monster who is extremely superfluous. Morgaine calls forth this frightening blue creature to aid in her cause, but she already has Mordred and the gang on top of her own considerable powers. The Destroyer seems a bit of overkill, especially since she is afraid of him herself and keeps him bound in silver chains, and especially since her cause of obtaining Excalibur seems easily accomplished with no outside help required.
This much ado about nothing backdrop provides the perfect setting for Bambera and Ancelyn who add a light romantic comedy element that is rarely seen in Doctor Who. “She vanquished me,” Ancelyn says with that boyish grin on his face that never seems to leave; Ancelyn is as much a lover as a fighter. Bambera is more a fighter, but Ancelyn eventually wins her heart.
However it is Morgaine and the Brigadier who are the real standouts in Battlefield.
“What is victory without honor?” Morgaine and the Brigadier are both soldiers of honor and they recognize each other as such.
Morgaine: “A warrior no less. How goes the day?”
Brigadier: “I’ve had better.”
Morgaine: “I am Morgaine the Sunkiller. Dominator of the thirteen worlds and Battle Queen of the S’Rax. What say you?
Brigadier: “I am Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Surrender now and we can avoid bloodshed.”
And then . . .
Brigadier: “Let me see if I’ve understood you correctly. You are holding a Remembrance ceremony for the dead of our World Wars, a ceasefire to remain in force for the duration of said ceremony, right?”
Morgaine: “Your words are strange, but that is the meaning, yes.”
Brigadier: “Right. What must I do?”
And finally . . .
Morgaine: “I wish you to know that I bear you no malice.”
Brigadier: “I understand.”
Morgaine: “But when we meet again, I shall kill you.”
They meet, discourse, and part in mutual respect. Equals.
It makes me long for those Third Doctor UNIT serials all over again. If only Morgaine had been around in those days. What a show it would have made.
Morgaine saves Battlefield, but she is wasted in Battlefield. Battlefield is a pitiful battlefield upon which to fight. The Doctor effectively points this out in his stirring anti-nuclear speech. "Not a war between armies nor a war between nations, but just death; death gone mad,” he argues; and he continues, “Is this honor? Is this war? Are these the weapons you would use? Tell me!”
“No,” is Morgaine’s resounding answer as she aborts the missile launch.
And then the Doctor truly crushes her. “Arthur, who burned like star fire,” is not only dead; he is “gone to dust.”
“Then I shall not even have that comfort,” Morgaine mourns.
There is no honor in this battle; there is no comfort. Battlefield is not the proper stage for these noble characters.
Which brings me to the Brigadier.
Battlefield was meant to be the death of the Brigadier. The stage was set; the groundwork was laid. The Brigadier, at home with Doris in his comfortable retirement: “Tell them I’ve decided to fade away.” But the name of the Doctor (“There are many secrets in names”) lures the Brig into one last adventure.
“You don’t need to go on playing soldier anymore,” Doris says as the Brig dons his uniform in preparation. “I’m not playing,” he responds.
“I just can’t let you out of my sight, can I Doctor?” One last Doctor for the Brigadier to meet. This makes six (the actor, Nicholas Courtney, has actually met all seven, but the character, the Brigadier, has only encountered the six). Recalling those past glory years the show reintroduces Bessie, taken out of mothballs, as well as referencing Liz Shaw. (Where is the Third Doctor when you need him? I had my problems with Doctor Number Three, but oh what I wouldn’t give . . .).
“Well, nothing ventured, Doctor,” the Brigadier says as he futilely pumps several rounds into the Destroyer and then gets blasted for his efforts (“That was uncalled for.”). That is the Brigadier, always game, always up for the venture.
The Destroyer is not done; the Doctor is not done; the Brigadier is not done. The Destroyer is poised to take on the world; the Doctor is poised to take on the Destroyer; the Brigadier is a match for them both: “Sorry Doctor, but I think I’m rather more expendable than you are.”
The Destroyer: “Ah, little man, what do you want of me?”
Brigadier: “Get off my world.”
This is the Brigadier’s shining moment. This is the Brigadier in all his glory. This is the Brigadier facing down Earth’s mortal enemy.
Destroyer: “Pitiful. Can this world do no better than you as their champion?”
Brigadier: “Probably. I do the best I can.”
This smacks of the Brigadier’s last stand. The Brigadier might be pitiful in the Destroyer’s eyes, but the best of the Brigadier is the best this world could ask for.
Doctor: “You stupid, stubborn, pig-headed numbskull. You were supposed to die in bed. I could have handled it, done your job.”
Brigadier: “Nonsense Doctor.”
Doctor: “You’re supposed to be dead.”
Brigadier: “Oh really, Doctor. You don’t think I’d be so stupid as to stay inside, do you?”
Doctor: “Well . . .”
Brigadier: “Really Doctor, have a little faith. Ace?”
Ace: “Yes Brigadier?”
Brigadier: “I’m getting too old for this sort of thing. He’s all yours from now on. I’m going home to Doris.”
By all rights the Brigadier should be dead. The stage was beautifully set. It would have been a noble death. Morgaine and the Destroyer are two formidable foes worthy of the Brigadier. Battlefield, however, is not the worthy stage. The story of Battlefield did not do the Brigadier justice; it is for the Brigadier to do Battlefield justice and he does just that and comes out victorious to live another day.
If only our own scripts could be rewritten, Gary . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 11:13 AM
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is not that. It’s not even great. It’s OK. It starts out well but then loses its way. The circus setting has potential; I know several people who are afraid of clowns and while I don’t share this particular phobia, the clowns in this are the creepiest, especially the Chief Clown. I do have to say, however, that I’m not the biggest fan of circuses; I find them, along with magicians for that matter, well, boring. While The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is not boring, it just does not live up to its billing.
I guess my main problem with this is motivation. I can’t for the life of me figure out why most of the people in this do what they do. I’ll start with Nord. As the Doctor asks, “how do they expect a hard case like him to be going to the circus anyway?” That was exactly my thought when this guy appeared. He just doesn’t fit. His first appearance is sufficiently menacing and foreboding, but then it turns out that he is simply a stock character of convenience thrown in as fodder.
And what of Whizz Kid? All I keep thinking when I see him is, where are his parents? OK, he snuck away from his parents to run off with the circus, except this dweeby, nerdy Whizz Kid just isn’t the type. I get that this is supposed to represent the Doctor Who hard core fan, and I can see this kid as a fan of Doctor Who—just not of some traveling hippie circus. I don’t see this kid dreaming of wearing tights and walking a tight rope or of tumbling about with clowns or even of juggling hoops of fire. If this was a traveling chess club or a band of roving scientists maybe I could buy him running off to join the fun. He’s an annoying addition to hit us with the meta angle, but he only succeeds in being meh.
That might be the anchor weighing this serial down—the desire to spin an allegory about the perceived evils of the BBC and critical audiences and network mentality and trying to force this to fit into the given story. And so you can watch the Whizz Kid in this context and have a good laugh—ha ha he’s the misfit boy obsessing over every last detail of every past show, going to every convention, reading every last detail, analyzing and romanticizing the past. But you can’t also watch the Whizz Kid in the context of the plot and be anything but irritated.
The plot is disserved by the parable.
Especially since, watching it today, some 25 years out, I just don’t care about the turmoil within the Doctor Who production ranks of the time. Perhaps as an historian, yes, it is of interest. Watching it purely within that framework it would make for some fascinating study. However viewing it simply as a Doctor Who serial I find myself scratching my head.
The biggest ‘Why’ I ask myself: Why did Kingpin, the Ringmaster, the Chief Clown, and Morgana sell out? And the biggest ‘What’: What is in it for them? “They took everything that was bright and good about what we had and buried it where it will never be found again,” Bellboy says of them; and from what I can see, they got nothing in return.
“Listen,” Ringmaster says, “just as long as they keep on coming, and they will, no doubt of that, we are a success. Don’t you understand? An intergalactic success.” I for one do not understand. This is how they measure success? A few stray stragglers wander in to their empty tent, are forced to put on an act for a creepy and unappreciative family of three, and then killed for their trouble. From what I see, there are no queues lining up waiting to get in. There is no audience to applaud. And their acts are dwindling fast. How is this winning them fame and fortune? Especially since no one survives to go forth into the galaxy to speak of the wonders of their show. And does nobody get suspicious when their friends and loved ones go out one day to the circus and never return?
There is no logical explanation for why Ringmaster and Morgana are complicit in this murderous endeavor. Bellboy and Flowerchild, too, have apparently been going along with this deadly show for some time before they both decided they had enough and tried to put an end to it. The only two I can understand participating are Deadbeat/Kingpin, who has been driven mad, and the Chief Clown, who appears to have his own insane voices he hearkens to.
Morgana does put on a convincing act of being frightened of the eye in her crystal ball, symbol of the powers behind this charade of a circus. However I’m not convinced that these powers can do any harm outside of the center ring. All of the killings that occur away from the tent are carried out by murderous robots that were created and are maintained by Bellboy and that are controlled by the Chief Clown. And the eyes in the sky that hunt down dissenters were created by Flowerchild. Why can’t the lot of them simply walk away?
This brings me to our Ringling Brothers trio, the so called gods of Ragnarok. “I have fought the gods of Ragnarok all through time,” the Doctor says. This is the first I’ve heard of it, but even still I could believe this statement if only this triumvirate wasn’t rooted to their seats in a tiny arena in a concurrent time space to some out of the way and barren planet and holding some pathetic troop of out-of-touch hippies hostage for no greater purpose than to keep them entertained.
That’s it? Make us laugh? What a joke. They don’t want to conquer the planet, the galaxy, anything? They simply sit in one spot waiting for the raggle taggle team they have working for them to recruit contestants in their Gong Show of death? And I have to say, they’re mighty quick on the reject button. No wonder there is so much down time between acts. They complain bitterly about the boredom as they await the next sucker to try his or her luck on stage, but then don’t even give the poor sap a chance. This again is where it works on the metaphorical level but as a Doctor Who story not so much.
About that Doctor Who story, the part that works, the part that you don’t have to think too much about or scratch your head over.
It is set up rather well. A mechanical gizmo suddenly materializes inside the TARDIS promising “the time of your life with the nonstop action” at the Psychic Circus. It is curious that the Doctor shows very little surprise that this space spam found its way into the TARDIS, but then I’m sure the Doctor has rigged it somehow. The Doctor must have been hanging around his intergalactic water cooler again picking up disturbing rumors about the circus and has decided something needs to be done. For whatever reason he doesn’t let Ace in on his plans and he has to convince his reluctant companion to join him.
Ace is pivotal in setting the tone of underlying dread. She dismisses circuses as childish and boring, but fear registers on her face as she thinks of the clowns of her youth. Taunted by the “junk box,” however, Ace puts on a brave face and follows along after the Doctor. Ringmaster’s rap, the creepy Chief Clown and his hearse full of robot clowns, Bellboy’s and Flowerchild’s desperation, and the high flying kites keeping an eye on the proceedings all underscore Ace’s foreboding.
The Stallslady only confirms Ace’s fears. “Every one of them who’s up to no good goes there,” she says. “We locals wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.” However, the locals dismiss the Psychic Circus; it isn’t a danger to them any more than it is a danger to the universe. It is only a danger to those foolish enough to attend, and those are few and far between it would appear. Ace is correct in hanging back from entering the canvas tent.
That’s not to say it isn’t worthy of the Doctor’s attention or shouldn’t be put out of commission; I just wish the show wouldn’t try to make it out to be more than it is. I wish it had treated it on the small scale where it so obviously operates; kept it to the simple machinations of the Chief Clown and perhaps found a more logical explanation for the eerie family in the stands other than some all-powerful gods who are actually rather stagnant and impotent.
Along the way to the circus the Doctor and Ace pick up Captain Cook and his companion Mags. I’m not completely clear on their motivations either, but they are more understandable than most of the others. There is no affection between these two; Cook regards Mags as a “specimen” and treats her with disdain while Mags has little regard for Cook other than I suppose gratitude for having saved her life once and perhaps as a means of transportation.
Mags is going to the circus because that is where Cook is going; Cook presumably is going to the circus to try and wrest control of its power source. This means that Cook has cottoned on to what is really occurring there (perhaps he belongs to the same water cooler club as the Doctor). He doesn’t seem to have anything by way of a plan, however, other than to try to outwit others into going into the ring before him while he contentedly sits by drinking tea in a cage.
Everything under the big top is well done; the horrors awaiting anyone entering center ring work best as they are left to the imagination and this gives the necessary tension to the scenes of waiting in the ‘green room’ of a cage and scheming to stall the inevitable; the family in the stands, stone faced and demanding, are terrifying; and the daunting prospect of entering the glaring spotlight to face your final judgment and having nothing prepared is straight out of a nightmare.
Equally effective are Mags’ transformation scene, the escape by Ace and her meeting up with the crazed Bellboy, the Doctor and Mags plotting their escape and the eventual betrayal by Captain Cook, and the Doctor’s working out of the puzzle when he meets up with Deadbeat/Kingpin. The action heightens with Ace and Deadbeat/Kingpin racing across the sands to find the missing eye to the magical pendant.
Where everything falls apart, however, is when the big top fades and we are left with the pitiful gods who don’t even know enough to stop throwing their deadly lasers around when they are being reflected back at them. I can’t help but feel disappointed. It was a big buildup for a massive let down rendering much of what preceded incomprehensible.
I repeat: circuses are boring; magicians are boring. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy succeeded in investing this Psychic Circus with a sinister air that kept it interesting, but ultimately it couldn’t keep all its balls in the air. It ends with the Doctor trying his best at his magic act that keeps the gods of Ragnarok (glued to their seats) mildly annoyed, but for some reason they don’t hold up their 0 scorecards (I guess if you make it out of the center ring and into the arena you are allowed more time to pitch your case) and instead let out some warning blasts. Then the Doctor mysteriously divines the exact moment when Ace is throwing the restored pendant down to him and voila, lights out, the party’s over.
“It was your show all along, wasn’t it?” Yes, the Doctor engineered and manipulated his way through without letting on. But Ace is beginning to understand this Doctor. This is a Doctor who puts on a clown’s face but has devious depths. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is the Doctor’s show.
I’m hoping, Gary, that this seventh Doctor can keep all his balls in the air long enough . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 3:37 PM
Friday, November 22, 2013
Silver Nemesis is good only as long as I am watching it; thinking about it is another matter. There have been a number of Doctor Who stories that don’t hold up upon review; Terminus is a prime example. However, while I have great fun watching Terminus, I have even greater fun picking it apart; whereas with Silver Nemesis I enjoy watching it but don’t relish mulling it over.
I’ll start with the worst, as does the serial—De Flores and his Nazi gang. There is absolutely no point in having this character and even much less relevance to his being a Nazi. This goes nowhere and could be dispensed with entirely. The Nazi business is simply a shorthand way of telling us this is a bad guy; I think we could have guessed that on our own. Additionally, we are never even given a hint as to how he obtained the bow or how he knows all about the Nemesis. De Flores is merely plunked down in the midst of the plot as a convenient third member of this triad of baddies that really doesn’t need a third member. The bow could have just as easily been in the possession of Lady Peinforte, the Cybermen, or the Doctor, or even have been sitting in the basement of Windsor just waiting for one of those three to collect it.
(About the only good thing De Flores arouses in my mind is the amusing recollection of a recent FB discussion regarding childhood memories of mangled Milwaukee German and of the everyday use of the word ferschummulled—ferschimmeled? ferschimmelt?—which apparently is a bastardization of verschimmelt.)
Next on our shortcut to bad—the Cybermen. This insert-villain-here of the week came up on the wheel of fortune of baddies, and they just didn’t even try. I’m not sure I need to say anything more because they just didn’t even try.
Now about this plot. My first thought when the Doctor’s alarm watch goes off is: What? Why? Since when? Then I have to echo Ace: “You mean the world’s going to end and you’ve forgotten about it?” For a Seventh Doctor who puts on a very good show of being in control, he reveals himself to be highly irresponsible in many important ways. This has to be one of his lowlights. The Doctor himself admits: “This may qualify as the worst miscalculation since life crawled out of the seas on this sad planet.”
It’s not just that he forgot about the Silver Nemesis that has the Earth on the brink of disaster; it is that he is responsible in the first place for the whole thing. Why exactly did he launch the Nemesis into space knowing that it was going to wreak havoc every 25 years and eventually fall to Earth to rain down destruction? Why not send it home to Gallifrey?
And OK, Lady Peinforte and De Flores have to wait around for the thing to come crashing down (after miraculously calculating the exact date and place—and is it my imagination, or did the Doctor actually give De Flores the means to do this?—and even more miraculously on the part of Lady Peinforte to travel through time to get there), but couldn’t the Cybermen just pluck the thing out of its orbit at any time?
But most importantly, why did the Doctor take his time getting there to resolve this pending crisis that he set in motion? When he first sent the Nemesis out on its lengthy journey, why didn’t he immediately set the TARDIS coordinates and arrive at the moment of impact? No, he set an alarm watch and promptly forgot all about it. And how exactly does this alarm watch work anyway? Presumably he set it in 1638 to go off in November of 1988 Earth time. “Well,” the Doctor explains, “in strictly linear terms, as the chronometer flies, I’ve known since November the twenty third, 1638.” But he didn’t travel in linear, as the chronometer flies terms; did he set his alarm watch to those terms? If so, he could have been anywhere in time or space when it went off 350 years from his adventures in 1638. He might even have been dead. Or did he set it to go off whenever he happened to materialize at that precise time in 1988? In which case, given the vastness of time and space, he might never have made it there. And what if he lost that watch in the meantime? Or didn’t happen to have it on him when it chimed?
This has got to be one of the worst things the Doctor has ever done. Where is the Time Lord Tribunal when you need it?
“Nobody’s perfect,” Ace tells the Doctor. However when the show is trying to make him out to be some grand mastermind with deep secrets hinting at almost godlike powers, he better be darn close to it.
Alarm watch aside—the Nemesis has crashed to Earth; Lady Peinforte, De Flores, and the Cybermen are all converging towards the same goal; Lady Peinforte gets lucky that her foolishly gold tipped arrows are actually the one thing that will take down a Cyberman; everyone gets lucky that the Cybermen are such pathetic shots; the Doctor and Ace hop back and forth between 1638 and 1988 (something that would have behooved him back when he originally . . . oh you know, Gary, I’ve already said it); the Doctor steals the bow out from under the Nazi’s noses without them even realizing it while they run around acting as though they are still a major player in the game; Richard throws away Lady Peinforte’s arrow and drags her off into the alien world of 1988; the Doctor steals it all out from under the Cybermen’s noses, programs the Nemesis to annihilate the Cyber Fleet and tricks the Cybermen into sending it out on its destructive mission (why the Doctor didn’t just give the direct order but instead had to go through his charade with the Cybermen is yet another example of his rather unsound judgment in this serial).
Yes, thinking about Silver Nemesis makes me want to send it out into orbit.
But then I watch it and I enjoy it. Given a choice between seeing, say, Vengeance on Varos and Silver Nemesis, I would pick Nemesis over the vastly superior Varos. Vengeance on Varos is a case where the thinking of it is more appealing than the viewing.
All credit goes to Lady Peinforte and Richard. The entertainment value of this pairing carries me through; Lady Peinforte’s calm, somewhat maniacal confidence and Richard’s cowering loyalty helps me to overlook the defects as they are unfolding before me.
“We ride on the back of time,” Peinforte tells a protesting Richard; and with an “oh fie” she dismisses his understandable concerns as they confront all manner of strange things some 350 years ahead of their time. This anachronistic duo breeze through twentieth century England with barely a sideways glance thrown their way and through it all the Lady Peinforte remains unfazed (“This is no madness; tis England”) while her loyal follower jumps at every shadow.
Yet for all his trepidation Richard stays steadfast to his lady and despite her contempt he remains loyal.
Even Lady Peinforte is forced to notice: “Always I have treated you badly. I have done you no service, shown you no kindness, and yet you risk your life to save me.” But it is ingrained in him; Richard can merely shrug when asked; “What’s to understand,” he wonders. It is who he is; cowardice and all he will fight for his lady; complaints and all, he will attend.
It is this decisiveness of character, the Lady Peinforte in her arrogance and Richard in his dedication, that plays so well in this fish-out-of-water scenario. And so when a couple of street punk thugs confront the two it is the skinheads who are left dangling upside down in their underwear.
Just when I’m getting fed up with incompetent Cybermen and wooden Nazis, Lady Peinforte matter-of-factly informs her devotee, “It is thy grave, Richard,” as they come upon his headstone. “I ordered you to be buried here when I planned my tomb.” And then again: “Such things happen only in the theater,” when Richard frets about a possible bear attack.
And then as the Nemesis, the bow, and the arrow go crisscrossing through the plot and I start getting irritated, this droll pair again save the serial.
“We can avail ourselves of one of these steeds, my lady,” Richard tells Peinforte, and he promptly sticks out his thumb to hitchhike. The comic timing is delightful as Richard tries in vain to flag down a passing car only for the calmly mumbling “All will be mine” Lady Peinforte to slowly enter the roadway and plant herself firmly in front of an on-coming limousine.
Their rich American benefactress is slightly over the top, but Richard’s bemused attempts to make sense of her conversation make up for it, as does Peinforte’s continued “All things will soon be mine” refrain, and then her sudden interest at the mention of a hated foe.
“We ride to destiny.” Peinforte never breaks character. She is so supremely confident that even without weapons, even without the Nemesis, the bow, or the arrow, she will prevail. All she needs is her knowledge.
Lady Peinforte is the holder of some deep, dark secrets regarding the Doctor. “I shall tell them of the old time, the time of chaos,” she warns the Doctor. “Be my guest,” the Doctor replies. The Cybermen are not interested in Time Lord secrets, and I have to admit, Gary, that neither am I. Just like that she is dismissed; it is the only way to deal with this puffed up ego, to brush her aside as superfluous. “You may go now.” Go she does, flinging herself into the Nemesis and becoming one with it as it goes soaring off into space to meet the Cyber Fleet leaving poor Richard behind (not to worry, the Doctor and Ace can give him a lift home).
Peinforte and Richard carry the serial, but the Doctor and Ace have some nice moments as well. They really are remarkably comfortable with one another and it is such a pleasant change from years of TARDIS turmoil.
The moment the credits roll, however, I am left with nothing but impressions of a story that becomes increasingly ferschummulled.
I’ll send this out, Gary, and won’t give it another thought until the next time I pop it in . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 4:37 PM
Monday, November 18, 2013
The Happiness Patrol puts a gun to your head and forces you to be happy, but no one is. That’s about it in a nutshell, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I’ve watched it several times through. One time I think it is just silly, over the top camp; I mean, the pink hair, the toy guns, the Kandyman for goodness sake. And the next time I think it actually works; I mean the pink hair, the toy guns, the Kandyman for goodness sake.
The Happiness Patrol is putting a gun to my head and forcing me to be happy, but am I happy?
Yes and no. And I think that answer means that it is doing its job.
The pink hair, the toy guns, and the Kandyman are all the smiley face sticker slapped on top of the mournful harmonica underscoring the show. “There are no other colors without the blues.”
To begin our rainbow colored tale, the Doctor and Ace land on Terra Alpha, an Earth colony of which the Doctor has “been hearing disturbing rumors.” Evil rumors that the Doctor is determined to investigate. I guess after the joke of a trial he recently underwent, the Doctor now feels as though he can meddle with impunity. And I have to wonder, what water cooler is he hanging around that he is picking up these rumors?
“Too phony; too happy,” is Ace’s assessment of the place. Phony, yes, but happy? They are sitting in an empty street with Muzak droning away. Nothing about this place says happy. Even the pink clad patrols laying down the happiness law are grim faced and dour. Barely a smile is cracked and nowhere is there the sound of laughter. The subtle tones of Earl Sigma’s wailing harmonica is more apropos of the place; Terra Alpha was made for the blues; Helen A’s insistent pink cloud of cheerfulness fosters the dark grim underbelly of life like no other.
Maybe that is the real problem with The Happiness Patrol. Maybe what Terra Alpha needs is not the melancholy strains of the blues or the monotonous tones of elevator music, maybe what it really needs is the lively sound of a rousing polka to stir some true joy in the hearts of its citizenry. The relentless nature of Helen A’s happiness veneer teaches nothing but sorrow to her people; Terra Alphans have no knowledge of actual pleasure; their life is one of constant suppressed pain.
That is the story of Helen A. But it is a story untold. Earl’s study of psychology could gain much from an analysis of Helen A. Something in her past has brought her to this point, whether it was a loveless marriage or a lost child. There is a deep well of grief that is feeding her current desire to force a happy face on life. However we are not privy to this sadness; we only get the end product and can only guess as to the weary road that led her there.
A deeper exploration of The Happiness Patrol would have been a different story. Instead we are handed the sugar coated bitterness of life on Terra Alpha and its denouement.
The depressed Daphne to begin our serial sets the mood; the undercover Silas P establishes the ground rules; the “Have a nice death” Daisy K exposes the hypocrisy. This is life under Helen A on Terra Alpha.
“Happiness is nothing unless it exists side by side with sadness,” the Doctor tells Helen A. The only trouble with that statement is that Terra Alpha is already riddled with sadness. It is happiness that is foreign to them. Citizens are told to be happy but are given nothing to be happy about; they are punished for being miserable which only serves to heighten their despair. Helen A and her subjects have lost the meaning of happiness. The Doctor gives them back the blues, but all they have been doing of late is indulging their blues under the mask of a smile; painting over their blues with a layer of pink. The blues are deeply ingrained in them; their society is built on the blues.
Susan Q personifies it best: “But I did wake up one morning and suddenly something was very clear. I couldn’t go on smiling; smiling while my friends disappeared; wearing this uniform and smiling and trying to pretend I’m something I’m not; trying to pretend that I’m happy. Better to let it end. Better to just relax and let it happen. I woke up one morning and I realized it was all over.”
Susan Q is singing the blues. She and Earl should make quite a team.
Daisy K and Priscilla P of the pink brigade are another matter. These two do not sing the blues, nor do they embrace the pink. These two sneer their way through life. They seize the opportunity to inflict pain and suffering, whether under the guise of Helen A’s illusion of bliss or not. “I’m glad you’re happy,” Priscilla sarcastically says in the end to a disgruntled Daisy, echoing her mantra under Helen A’s reign. Neither has learned a lesson; neither knows true happiness or true sorrow. They are more of an angry purple (along with the surly box office worker in the Forum).
Joseph C is a case study in himself; he is colorless; emotionless. I can very well imagine that he is the reason Helen A has turned to the pink side.
And let us not forget the Kandyman. The kaleidoscope of a Kandyman. This has got to be the most bizarre villain ever conceived. Why he was made is a puzzler in itself. The back story of Gilbert M and his twisted creation would make for some wonderful storytelling. As it is, the Gilbert M/Kandyman symbiosis is enthralling. “You need me and I need me.” “I need you and you need you.” At least they are both agreed.
The Kandyman’s high pitched screams for Gilbert when he gets stuck in the lemonade are hilarious; then Gilbert arrives.
Gilbert: “It’s quite simple. Created as you are out of glucose based substances, your joints need constant movement to avoid coagulation.”
Kandyman: “What do you mean?”
Gilbert: “You’re turning into a slab of toffee. I saw this at the planning stage, and then I realized what the solution was.”
Kandyman: “What’s that?”
Gilbert: “I’ve forgotten.”
Put these two on the Forum stage and they’ll have the audience rolling in the aisles.
For all of the “happiness will prevail” sloganeering, however, Helen A, her Happiness Patrol, and the Kandyman are all about death. Shootings, ‘disappearances,’ Fondant Surprise, sweets that kill; they are not out to make anybody happy; they are out to destroy anyone who is not. They are executioners not doctors.
Enter the Doctor and Ace.
Ace acquits herself well in this serial. She makes believable connections with those she meets and expresses the appropriate moral outrage and grief over Harold V’s death (“I want to make them very, very unhappy”) and again when Susan Q is taken away for execution.
The Doctor is most impressive as well, and very much a Doctor in control. “I ask the questions,” he tells Trevor from the Galactic Census Bureau, turning the roles around and taking complete command. And his handling of the snipers is masterful:
Doctor: “You like guns, don’t you?”
Alex: “He’ll kill you.”
Doctor: “Of course he will. That’s what guns are for. Pull the trigger, end a life. Simple isn’t it?”
Doctor: “Makes sense, doesn’t it?”
Doctor: “A life killing life.”
Alex: “Who are you?”
Doctor: “Shut up. Why don’t you do it then? Look me in the eye, pull the trigger, end my life. Why not?”
David: “I can’t”
Doctor: “Why not?”
David: “I don’t know.”
Doctor: “No, you don’t, do you.”
Armed with nothing but words the Doctor disarms.
Then, after holding his clown-like persona in check for the bulk of the serial, the Doctor lets loose: “Today the Doctor and the drones are having a ball!” And just like that he turns the Happiness Patrol on itself, the only killjoys in the square.
Finally he has his last word with Helen A. Joseph C has left Helen, fled in the escape shuttle to start a new life with the fun loving Gilbert M. Helen is down and out, defeated, deposed, and now ditched. But she carries on, suitcase packed and ready to leave on the next flight. The Doctor is not there to stop her; he knows she can never escape because she is really running from herself. She is defiant; “I always thought love was overrated,” she tells the Doctor; but then she sees her beloved Fifi wounded and dying; Helen A has reached her breaking point, and her sobs are heartbreaking.
“Happiness will prevail,” the Doctor says as his final word, leaving behind the grieving Helen, the bickering Daisy and Priscilla, and the wailing blues of Earl’s harmonica. Yes, sadness and happiness need each other, but Terra Alpha is already one deep well of sorrow; I can’t help thinking that what this planet really needs is a good belly laugh. (I am reminded of Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels.)
I send this out, Gary, with a belated and mournful ‘happy birthday’ . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 11:54 AM
Friday, November 8, 2013
Remembrance of the Daleks—the operative word being Remembrance and that bodes both good and bad for the serial.
Remembrance of the Daleks conjures up images of past Doctor Who, starting with the time and location of 1963 London, Coal Hill School, and the I. M. Foreman (misspelled here by the way as Forman) Totter’s Lane junk yard. Alas there is no Barbara and no Ian to greet the Doctor; in fact the halls of the school are devoid of all teachers and students. This is a story that plays out with the echoes of the past ringing out in the empty corridors.
This is a dangerous move for the show in the first story of its 25th season. Calling up fond memories from a beloved past could shine a spotlight on the inadequacies of the present. When a show is in its infancy and even well into its heyday it can often be forgiven its weaknesses—cheap sets, bad lighting, shoddy costumes—it can all be overcome and overlooked as growing pains if the overall show warrants it. When such a series creaks on into its 25th year, however, it runs out of excuses and needs to justify its continued existence.
Unfortunately, many shows take the shortcut to this end and ‘jump the shark.’ I hate the mentality of bigger is better—bigger effects, bigger bangs, bigger universal perils, bigger Doctor in danger storylines. In its 25th year a show does not need Bigger, Bolder, Stronger. It only needs one thing: quality.
Fortunately, Remembrance of the Daleks has just that; a strong script, good production values, and a solid supporting cast. The shadows of earlier eras enrich the story rather than being overshadowed by a sense of loss for what once was (except for the brief lapse when the BBC announcer begins introducing the new sci fi series and I yearn for that long ago Totter's Lane Doctor).
“Only a fool argues with his doctor.” Maybe so, but I would at least check out his credentials before accepting that he is my doctor, and this military unit stationed around the Coal Hill school and Totter’s Lane junkyard are unrealistically trusting of the Doctor. However, perhaps the ghosts of their Doctor Who counterparts are informing their decision.
Dr. Rachel Jensen is a mixture of Barbara and Liz Shaw, and while she isn’t quite a match for either, she is a stellar stand-in. Likewise, Group Captain Gilmore is no Brigadier, but then again, who could ever top Nicholas Courtney? Sergeant Mike Smith, however, is the perfect alternative to Captain Mike Yates, down to his flirtatious relationship with the Doctor’s companion and his ultimate misguided betrayal of his country for a madman’s cause.
“You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies.” The Doctor’s enemies in Remembrance of the Daleks are the real thing, not a specter of former foes, and they mean business. These Daleks can levitate up stairs, have an ultimate weapon that takes out their own kind, and (unbelievably) can withstand a grenade attack that wipes out everything else around them. However they still have the same penchant for ranting “Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!” rather than actually exterminating when it comes to the Doctor.
We also have not one group of Daleks but two. This seems to be a recurring thing in Doctor Who lately. Two sets of Daleks posing a threat not only to the Doctor and the universe but to themselves as well. Predictably, Davros is the leader of one faction, but I wasn’t expecting him to be on the side of the Imperial Daleks. It is a skillful reveal when the Renegade Dalek Battle Computer opens and it is the creepy little schoolgirl inside and not the anticipated Davros. (Doctor Who has gone in for creepy little girls during this time, but this one is much more relevant and effective than in the previous serial.)
Rounding out the cast of characters, there are two veteran Doctor Who supporting actors taking small turns in this: Michael Sheard as the Headmaster and Peter Halliday as the blind Vicar. Neither is a major role nor as memorable as any of the other characterizations these two have portrayed, but they each lend a nice note of nostalgia and distinction.
Remembrance of the Daleks is more than a mere rehash of the past, however. This is a story that can stand on its own, even if the viewer has never seen another Doctor Who serial.
Sylvester McCoy leads the way as the Doctor in a much less clownish portrayal, and Sophie Aldred as Ace has improved tremendously over her introductory story. The two have developed a comfortable companionship in a remarkably short amount of time. Ace has some meaningful interactions in this, especially as her feelings for Mike Smith play out. Although I have to say that this relationship borders on the edge; she may look 26 but the character is only 16 years of age after all. But this goes more toward showing how the seemingly sweet, boy-next-door Mike is in actuality a rather unsavory fellow.
The Doctor, meantime, is in charge of this story. “Trust me,” he tells Ace, and he does know what he is doing even if he doesn’t let on. The confidence with which he commands those around him, sends the military on wild goose chases to keep them occupied, and retrieves the Hand of Omega instills confidence in the audience as well. He knows what he is doing; he has a plan. Even the unexpected presence of the second faction of Renegade Daleks doesn’t throw him for long.
My only problem is that even though he knows what he is doing, I’m not sure what he is doing is the right thing. The fact that he left the Hand of Omega behind makes that long ago hurried departure with Barbara and Ian in tow even more irresponsible. And why did it take him so long to come back for it? I can only assume that he somehow got wind of the fact that the Daleks were after it and that is why he is showing up now as our story opens; surely he doesn’t have some kind of omniscience to have known all along that they would come for it one day. But now, allowing the Imperial Daleks to steal away the Hand only to have it destroy Skaro? What of the Kaleds and all of the other species living on that planet? Does the Doctor think nothing of them? Or the devastating impact the explosion will have on any other life forms in the vicinity? Some stray spacecraft that happens to be traveling in that area? Any other planets within range? The Cybermen unjustly blame the Doctor and Earth for destroying their home planet, but the Daleks (not to mention Kaleds) can surely blame the Doctor for this. Even if the Daleks are the only ones affected, think of the homicidal rage this will instill in them, as if they needed any more incentive.
“Every great decision creates ripples,” the Doctor philosophizes. I have a feeling that the ripples resulting from this decision could very well be catastrophic.
From the small ripples, like sugar in tea: “It would make your tea sweet.” To the large: “If this sugar thing had never started, my great-grandfather wouldn’t have been kidnapped, chained up, and sold in Kingston in the first place. I’d be a African.” It is a nice little moment, the Doctor and John alone in the café, amidst the rampaging Daleks. It’s one of those quiet, reflective Doctor Who scenes, unnecessary but enriching, that seemed to have gotten lost somewhere along the way but now in Remembrance they are remembered, and I hope will make a comeback as the show goes forward.
This scene also highlights the theme of racial purity that runs throughout Remembrance of the Daleks. The two Dalek factions loathing their respective differences; the ‘Association’ run by Ratcliffe whose positions are espoused by Mike Smith: “It’s just that you have to protect your own; keep the outsiders out just that your own people can have a fair chance;” Ace disgustedly taking down the ‘No Coloureds’ sign and “going out for a breath of fresh air.” Except that this scene would have been far more effective if John were not only one of a mere handful of people of color to grace the show.
Small ripples, however, small ripples. Even the small ripples create waves.
The Doctor has created ripples, both small and large.
“Have pity on me,” Davros pleads. He has made this plea before; the pitiless Davros begging mercy from his equally ruthless creations, and now from the Doctor.
“I have pity for you.” It is more than the Daleks would offer.
But Davros escapes, as he always does. It is only Skaro that suffers and those ripples go crashing out into the universe to effects unknown. “Time will tell. It always does.”
I throw this tiny pebble out into the Doctor’s time swirl and can only wonder, Gary, what ripples it will cause.
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 4:44 PM
Friday, November 1, 2013
Dragonfire leaves me rather cold. The Christmastime pledge drive aura of the preceding serials is fading; it was refreshing to have some lighthearted romps to sweep away the residue of deadly grim seasons; it’s about time we got back to some quality Doctor Who.
Dragonfire comes up short.
The sets, the lighting, the monsters are shoddy, which is never a good sign, but Doctor Who has overcome worse. However it needs something to elevate it—plot, characters, acting, anything. Dragonfire has its share of good points, just not enough.
I’ll start with the acting and I’ll start with Ace. Ace might settle down into her role, but in this introductory serial she is awful. Doctor Who has reverted to the lamentable habit of casting a much older actress to play a teenager. Sophie Aldred flings herself into this sulky tomboy teen persona with all of the subtlety of an elephant. She does have a few quiet pockets of moments when she isn’t shouting ‘Ace,’ calling someone ‘bilge bag,’ or dumping ice cream sodas over people’s heads and the potential shows through, like when she is resignedly playing ‘I Spy’ in the Singing Trees, but overall she thrashes her way through the story like the proverbial bull in a china shop.
Then there is the character of Belazs. In her first scene as she confronts Glitz in the restaurant I can’t help but notice that she never looks at the people she is addressing. She keeps gazing off as though reading her lines from a teleprompter. It’s very distracting and I can’t connect with her character for the rest of the story. She should have some pathos, with the implied back story of a young girl seduced by the cold-hearted Kane and now a mere scorned lover and slave to the man of ice. But I just can’t work up any compassion for her. (How much better a similar scenario plays out in The Androids of Tara between Madam Lamia and Count Grendel.)When Belazs asks for Glitz’s spacecraft and Kane callously orders its destruction I should feel sympathy; however all Belazs is giving me is seething rage, there is no sense of longing or regret; I have no pity for her.
The Doctor has some good moments in Dragonfire. His philosophical discussion with the guard, for instance, is priceless. However his tendency to clown becomes a bit much; for example his exaggerated slips and slides through the corridors of Iceworld. I can understand his desire to convey the presence of ice underfoot, and it is curious that no one else (with the exception of Mel who does make a few tiny efforts) gives this impression at all. Perhaps Sylvester McCoy is trying to overcompensate for this lack on the part of his fellow actors, but it only serves to highlight the silliness. And his inexplicable ‘cliffhanger’ escapade is inane in the extreme.
I have to wonder, too, why the Doctor seems a little dense in not realizing that the so called treasure map is a fake and that the seal on it is actually a tracking device. Glitz is also taken in by this, and while I can understand him falling for the map (you can’t cheat an honest man, and Glitz is anything but honest) I would think he’d recognize a bug when he sees it. Also, the map doesn’t really seem to be a treasure map at all; there is no X marking the spot; it is only a layout of the lower levels of Iceworld, something one would likely find in a rack on the counter of a convenience store. That daft little girl wandering about the place probably picked one up at some point in her aimless journey.
That’s a fundamental problem with Dragonfire. Kane has been hanging around for 3,000 years in search of the treasure but never bothered to go below? Or at least send a couple of his slave army down there? How has Kane survived for 3,000 years anyway? Is he a Time Lord? An Immortal? Or has he kept himself cryogenically frozen for most of it, and if so, why hasn’t this wiped his memory like it does to his gang of cryosleepers? All it takes is one meeting with the dragon and the Doctor unlocks the entire mystery that Kane has been trying to work out for 3,000 years.
It also apparently has taken Kane 3,000 years to erect an ice sculpture of his long departed lover that any kindergartener could have made. He survived 3,000 years without it, yet he has a total melt down when it is thawed into a puddle. I have serious doubts about this guy.
His indentured servants aren’t much better. They have weapons; they could easily overpower this guy and be done with it. It’s not like they have anything to gain by serving him. Belazs and Kracauer finally try offing him by raising the temperature, but when this fails each stands idly by while he freeze dries them to death. I’m also not sure why some of his awakened cryosleeper slaves have personalities and minds (ala Belazs and Kracauer) but others, like the Nosferatu crew, are mindless automatons; but perhaps this has to do with the fact that the Nosferatuites are only recently defrosted.
Now about this treasure. But no, before that—Kane has been exiled to Iceworld for vicious and brutal crimes untold. But apparently his exile allows him to run a trading colony complete with space travelers and ice cream shops and creepy little girls with teddy bears. Sounds rather cushy to me. Couldn’t he take off in one of those visiting spacecrafts? What’s keeping him there?
But back to the treasure. Iceworld, it turns out, is actually a spacecraft itself, embedded into the dark side of the planet Svartos. The treasure is the energy source that will power up the spacecraft allowing for Kane’s escape. (Never mind that he could have taken off at any time without it.) The people of Proamnon, Kane’s home planet, don’t seem too bright themselves.
The power crystal has been housed these many years inside of the dragon’s head, and it is the dragon, shoddy though he may be, who provides the most tragic and poignant element to our story. Wordless and clumsy, he has a dignity that none of the humanoid characters around him possess. His death and beheading lend a genuine air of sorrow.
I do like the wrap up to this story. There is a certain poetic justice to the fact that Kane, who has been wasting all of his 3,000 years in erecting fragile monuments to his lost lover and plotting revenge on his people with no follow-through, is thwarted by the passage of time. The time that he has wasted has done the work for him. His planet is gone; his people dead. (I do wonder why a time traveling Time Lord would not have heard of a planet simply because it has been nonexistent for 2,000 years. The Doctor has journeyed through the millenniums; a matter of 2,000 years is a drop in the bucket to his world view.) Kane’s act of self-destruction is credible, and the special effects depicting his final and literal melt down commendable. Although wouldn’t the unfiltered sun affect everyone in that room and not just the ice man?
“Well, I suppose it’s time” Mel, for some unexplained reason, has decided that traveling with Glitz through space would be more fun than traveling with the Doctor through time and space.
“No point hanging around wasting time,” the Doctor tells her when she attempts to make a meaningful farewell. The Doctor has learned a lesson from Kane it seems.
Time is an old friend and a hated foe of the Doctor. “That’s right, yes, you’re going,” he muses. “Been gone for ages. Already gone; still here; just arrived; haven’t even met you yet. It all depends on who you are and how you look at it. Strange business, time.”
Mel’s has been the strangest business of time in the Doctor’s life; her timeline with the Doctor’s the most confused. I don’t know if the Doctor ever got it straight in his mind who exactly she is or where or when he met her.
But not to worry. Ace is now on board. The twenty something teen with a penchant for explosives.
Strange business, time. Time is relative. Already gone; still here; just arrived; haven’t even met you yet. I send this out, Gary, into that strange time swirl of the Doctor’s, hoping that it will catch up to you in some far distant past, future, or present . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 6:04 PM
Friday, October 25, 2013
I have a number of problems with Delta and the Bannermen, but somehow I don’t seem to mind too much. It has been a long time since I have liked and enjoyed the Doctor, so it is a relief just to watch and have fun and not worry about what is wrong. Also, I first viewed this during the same Christmas time pledge drive marathon that first introduced me to Paradise Towers so it retains some of that aura.
To begin, I take issue with the characters of Hawk and Weismuller. These bumbling bumpkins are not American agents of any kind. They never would have gotten a first interview, much less made it through the rigorous background checks and screenings. No, these are a couple of escapees from a nearby sanitarium or two locals who like to play act at secret agent in their free time. The big tipoff is when Weismuller picks up a phone in a police telephone box in Wales, asks for the White House, and is immediately put through to the President’s right hand man. Never going to happen. Not even close. (A more accurate result would be ala Mandrake trying to reach the President in Dr. Strangelove.)But I can put aside my doubts and simply accept this pair as the comic relief they are intended.
I don’t much see the appeal of Delta, either. She’s a bit bland and emotionless. What does Billy see in her to make him give up his entire world? Then again, Billy is rather impassive himself. And his lack of astonishment or any sort of reaction to the alien nature of Delta—I wonder, could he be a Ford Prefect type? Is he actually an alien who has just been waiting around for a ride out of here? How else to explain that a few drops of Chimeron jelly turns him into a Chimeron, complete with white jump suit.
Speaking of wardrobe, where does Mel get her extensive 50’s collection, how does she get it all crammed in that tiny suitcase, and why does Mel’s dress fit Delta?
It always bothers me, too, that the Doctor wantonly wastes all of that precious honey. Goronwy is so proud of his honey that he has worked long and hard to produce. Then the Doctor rigs the walls of jars up as a booby trap, and for what? All it does is slow the Bannermen down a bit and give them a bee sting or two. It is an elaborate annoyance at best. Poor Goronwy and his life’s work deserves better.
Finally, the murder of the Tollmaster and more particularly of Murray and his busload of happy Navarino tourists is rather unsettling and a grim contrast to much of the lighthearted tone of the serial. However, these acts do serve to remind us of the deadly nature of Gavrok and his Bannermen, keeping the danger real for us.
Overall I have to say that the humor of Delta and the Bannermen is both its downfall and its salvation. And so you have the comedy of Weismuller and Hawk, too ludicrous to be true. Clowns undermining reality. And then you have the toothy Tollmaster and ebullient Murray and the Navarinos providing a cheerful backdrop and a promise of Disneyland fun only to explode in our faces. Slapstick and brutality blunting each other’s edge. Walking the line between the two is the gaping chasm of the aloof lovers.
What brings our divergent styles together is a trio of characters: Burton, the Doctor, and yes, Mel. It is in these three that the humor and the reality blend.
Burton, the cheerful leader of the holiday camp Shangri-La, succeeds where the farcical one-note characters of the Tollmaster and Murray fail.
Burton: “Now let me try and get this right. Now, are you telling me that you are not the Happy Hearts Holiday Club from Bolton, but instead are spacemen in fear of an attack from some other spacemen, and because of the danger you want me to evacuate the entire camp?”
In one fell swoop Burton condenses the absurdity into very real perspective.
Although Burton is not going to blithely accept the absurd in the same way that Billy does: “Oh, by the way, can we have space buns and tea afterwards?” However he has an open mind willing to accept the proof of the TARDIS: “Couldn’t we take it for a bit of a spin, Doctor?”
And so Burton is not simply buttonholed into the role of jovial camp leader; Burton can take a stand; Burton can display bravery and cunning; Burton can become a man of decisive action.
Mel, the companion who screams, also comes across well in this holiday camp of horror. Mel is caught up in the more fun aspects of this tour gone wrong. Throwing herself into the sing-along atmosphere of the Navarino excursion, she doesn’t miss a beat when the bus is blown off course (I can only imagine the hissy fit Peri would have thrown). Mel is making the best of it, and trying her darnedest to get the wet blanket Delta to join in.
Mel and Burton combine to successfully meld the comic and the tragic, culminating in the explosion of the bus with Murray and the Navarinos on board. “You killed all those innocent people,” Mel bemoans, and we feel both the horror and the grief with her as the menacing Gavrok stands over her while the ashes of the victims smolder. Wits about him, Burton calmly steps in to save Mel from a similar fate. Together these two turn what could have been a scene of jarring and gratuitous mayhem into something touching and heartrending.
The Doctor goes one step further than Burton and Mel; he blends not only the comic and tragic but the detachment of Delta and Billy as well. He does not fling himself headlong into the 50’s nostalgia as Mel does; he travels separately in the TARDIS. He also does not step lively out onto the floor during the Get To Know You dance, but he does discern the sad underpinnings in Ray, hopelessly yearning for Billy, and thoughtfully takes a turn with her to ease her pain.
This is the most apropos approach for the Doctor to take against the Bannermen, headed by the ruthless Gavrok, as they maraud their way through the 50’s funland. With just the right amount of detachment, humor, and seriousness, the Doctor stands up to Gavrok. Arriving under the white flag, citing fair play and justice, armed only with droll wit, the Doctor courageously frees Mel and Burton.
His subsequent actions to resolve the conflict are inventive and entertaining, although I still take issue with the wanton destruction of Goronwy’s honey. The use of the Chimeron princess’ high pitched scream, amplified by the Shangri-La sound system, is very satisfying, although having Gavrok trip over his own booby trap wire thus destroying himself and freeing the TARDIS is a bit too much of a plot convenience.
All in all I have to put Delta and the Bannermen in the plus column. The 50’s soundtrack, the likeable Doctor, the comic touches all help in keeping it enjoyable. It might not be the best, but it is one of the brightest in what has turned out to be a long grim stretch.
A promising beginning to the McCoy era. Here’s hoping, Gary . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 7:26 PM