Friday, 31 July 2009

The Underwater Menace

Previous viewings - one (missing episodes), many (Episode 3)

And the award for "most absurd story ever" goes to....

The lesser qualities of The Underwater Menace took my by surprise, but I'm not sure why as I've seen Episode 3 lots of times and thought it was just entertainingly camp. I expect it's because when I watch a single episode I don't care much about the plot because I know I'm not going to see it to its conclusion anyway. Laughing at how bad something is for 25 minutes can be diverting, but for 100 minutes - you're just wasting your time.

The story opens on another beach, volcanic this time so we're not in the UK. Jamie is along for the ride, but is still in his early phase: Frazer Hines hasn't yet developed the chemistry with Patrick Troughton that makes Jamie and the Doctor such a great character, in fact hardly anything at all is done with the character in this story beyond helping out his friends and asking the occasional question. He shows a remarkable ability to adjust to his new lifestyle, I suspect due to his inclusion at short notice than any deliberate characterisation, which is why I'll be kind and not blame the writer for his poorly written first TARDIS scene, where he immediately accepts the dimensional transcendentalism and gets ready for the next adventure.

To say The Underwater Menace's plot doesn't stand up to scrutiny is an understatement. It has more holes than a golf course. At times it's total lack of logic is jaw-dropping, almost making it hard to accept this as a genuine Doctor Who story and not a spoof. It ends up coming off as a sendup of the show, which is odd because it's ranting madman plotting to destroy the world plot is more James Bond-esque than Who (You Only Live Twice, also released in 1967, had an underground volcano lair).

Professor Zaroff intends to raise the lost city of Atlantis from beneath the sea. His plan will destroy Atlantis and in fact the whole planet, but he's insane so he doesn't care. While he finalises his project, the TARDISeers are brought down to Atlantis, where Zaroff saves them from being eaten by sharks as sacrifices to the goddess Amdo because of a false claim by the Doctor to hold crucial information. Glossing over the odd detail that the Doctor knew in advance that he would be able to find Zaroff in this presumably isolated and unknown community, Zaroff's attitude towards the Doctor makes little sense. He asks him to help him with his project because he is a scientist - the Doctor, being the good scientist we know him to be, quickly realises that Zaroff's plan will destroy the world, and sets out to stop him. Run that past me again?

The Atlantisans sure are keen on their sacrifices. Having just escaped being shark food, Polly is taken to be turned into a fish, as the Atlantisans do to strangers, who become fish people and slaves, who are responsible for maintaining the Atlantisans food supplies. Polly escapes and teams up with Ara. In a different story, the threat of Polly being turned into a fish would be a definite WTF moment, but here it barely raises an eyebrow. In the context of the rest of the story, good cliffhanger though.

At this point, Zaroff believes the Doctor will help him. Ben and Jamie have been sent to work in the mines, far too normal a punishment for a story like this. The Doctor finds an ally in Ramo, a priest who opposes Zaroff, but Thous, leader of Atlantis, supports Zaroff and hands the Doctor and Ramo over to him.

What's this - moving images! If there's one good thing about this being the earliest surviving Troughton episode, it's that I have visual evidence to support my opinion that the story is utter tosh. The set design and costuming resembled that of The Aztecs, but The Underwater Menace is nowhere near as well directed and has some rather odd mechanical electronic music permeating it, which in any other story would be got very annoying but somehow it worked here.

Zaroff decides to have the Doctor and Ramo sacrificed, but Ben, Polly, Jamie and some stranded sailors have found a passageway behind an Amdo statue in quite an unlikely turn of events, which provides the Doctor and Ramo with somewhere to hide when everybody else is bowing. Their movements aren't exactly discreet, and ultimately for the Atlantisans to assume their vanishing is a miracle from Amdo only shows them up as morons. If I was taking the story seriously, that would ruin it, but I'm not, so it didn't.

Perhaps that's a great strength of this story. Okay, so it makes no sense, but it's never boring. If you're watching it with someone else, you can make a game of it - see who can count the most plot holes, under the assumption that everything is supposed to make sense and the characters are supposed to have normal motivations and agendas. Episode 3 is rubbish - having met up with his friends, the Doctor decides to kidnap Zaroff, while the others convince the fish people to strike so the Atlantisans food will go bad. The fish people are slaves with total control over the food of those who have enslaved them. See what the problem there is? At least we get a funky underwater fish people sequence, although quite what it's supposed to mean is anyone's guess. The Doctor, meanwhile, makes Zaroff chase him so that he can incapacitate him. Zaroff tells him it's too late to stop his plan, then fakes a heart attack, which everyone believes despite it being very poorly acted. Of course he easily escapes and accelerates his plans.

Until this point, I was willing to overlook many of the story's flaws, because despite the absurdities, including the questionable acting of Joseph Furst, easily the most over-the-top villain Doctor Who villain ever, the poorly realised Atlantisan culture, who seem to live in a series of very small rooms, and the ruining of Polly, who has degenerated into screamer and a wimp, it was still entertaining, and none of this was so bad that I couldn't enjoy it. However the last episode is the worst of the lot. The Doctor floods the lower levels of Atlantis, which includes Zaroff's laboratory. Despite the depth, and presumably pressure, the water kindly takes its time to destroy the city while the surviving inhabitants (all the good guys, none of the bad guys) swim to safety and reach ground level. Zaroff is of course still determined to carry out his plan but is trapped behind a grille and drowns. Back above ground, the Doctor and his companions return to the TARDIS.

If you're in the right mood, The Underwater Menace is loads of fun. Entertainment doesn't have to be 100% realistic. The Underwater Menace takes it to the other extreme. Asking the viewers to accept the science in this story is an insult to their intelligence. Add the other flaws I mentioned and you have one of the poorest stories yet.

Horror quotient - With a story like this, who knows what's supposed to be scary. The fish people are possibility.
Comedy quotient - "Nothing in the world can stop me now!" The line is poor already, but the delivery makes it the most memorable line of the story, for all the wrong reasons.
Drama quotient - Drama? Who needs drama.

There are laughs to be had if you're revelling in how awful it is, but to give it a high score would be a disservice to stories which at least tried to be good, even if they failed in the realisation.

4/10

Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Highlanders

Previous viewings - few

Are there any other Scots doing this marathon? The story's setting definitely gets thumbs up, although Inverness is quite some way north of me. It's the last pure historical, and we're in similar territory to The Smugglers at least in regards to theme; a villain has some plot that ensnares the TARDISeers, a plot that can be thwarted as it doesn't involve any real historical people. It's an interesting look at how the Second Doctor can be in an historical, and if this is anything to go it's a shame there weren't any more.

Culloden, 1746. Jacobite rebels are defeated by the English army, after which a surviving Laird and his family seek refuge in a cottage. William Hartnell is forgotten as the Doctor's recent regeneration is no longer a point of concern; Ben and Polly have accepted the new Doctor and from here and it doesn't look like we're expected to dwell on it either, even though his reactions to stepping into history is much changed from what we got before. The old Doctor would be looking for clues to their whereabouts and explaining his thoughts and findings to his companions. The new Doctor is more of a closed book and spends a lot of time goofing around with hats. The narration explains more about the period than the Doctor. Troughton is good at being silly, but this different approach is hard to get used to.

The Doctor and his companions are captured by the surviving Scots. The Scottish accents vary in success; Jamie's is the best, while Kirsty's sounds more like Welsh. I'm surprised Ben survives the episode given he foolishly alerts the English soldiers to the Scots presence and is glad to hear about their approach. The first episode is a typical historical story introduction in that it starts out as a mere exploration of surroundings, but the TARDISeers get dragged into someone else's problem which by the end of the episode is life-threatening. However the pacing is faster than usual as the Doctor, Ben, Jamie and the Laird are about to be hanged long before the episode finishes, only stopped when by nefarious Solicitor Gray who has hatched a scheme to have them contracted as slaves in an illegal operation. The Doctor has adopted the persona of Doctor Von Wer, a German scientist, which sees Patrick Troughton at his comedic best as he hilariously exaggerates the accent and uses his guise to bamboozle people enabling him to turn the tables on them. It's maybe too early in the new Doctor's run to have him not be himself for most of the story, but Troughton's entertaining performance steals every scene.

As the Scots are marched away to a prison in Inverness, while Polly and Kirsty are left on their lonesome. Polly is awesome in this story, for successfully trapping the Lt. Ffinch in an animal trap and robbing him, and being lumbered with the useless Kirsty. In essence she's only being used as she usually is - only caring about getting back to her friends, with no hint about how her experiences affect her emotionally, which by now I've pretty much given up any of hope of seeing. Still, it's better than getting kidnapped, and I'd take Polly the minx, who manages to blackmail Ffinch on a subsequent encounter, over coffee-making Polly any day.

In a hilarious scene, the Doctor as Von Wer locks Gray away and convinces his assistant Perkins that he is having head pains by banging his head against the table and convinces him to rest. It's not clear what the Doctor is thinking or planning, but he disguises himself as a servant woman (the Doctor in drag agenda - see also The Green Death) and fortunately goes unnoticed as he leaves the prison. Ben doesn't get much to do as he and the highlanders are taken to the Annabelle, where Trask will set sail for one of the colonies. Ben convinces the Laird and Jamie not to sign the contracts which will save them from hanging but consign them to a life of slavery. Jamie's role is surprisingly limited given that it was a last-minute decision to have him join the TARDIS crew when he impressed the team. Jamie doesn't quite seem like Jamie yet as he's in his natural environment and doesn't know anything more than his fellow Scots about the Doctor. With what he's given though, Frazer Hines plays a likeable character, the young rookie who nevertheless picks things up quickly.

The Doctor has a chance encounter with Polly and Kirsty and decides that he wants a nap, though Polly is assertive and determined as usual. The fact that she robbed Ffinch works out better than originally thought as he had a lot of money on him, as it allows them to buy weapons. I liked this plot development, it doesn't come out of nowhere like some of the sci-fi conclusions do, although it's equally as convenient it doesn't seem so. Meanwhile, having caused trouble aboard the Annabelle Ben is thrown overboard, but swims to safety (a rather lame but obvious conclusion to a cliffhanger) and has another chance encounter with the Doctor, althoug by this point it's stretching credibility a bit that they wouldn't have to track each other down. Although the Doctor doesn't say so in as many words, he's taking up another cause for moral reasons - stopping Gray, and saving their new friends from prolonged deaths. Again, Ben and Polly go along with it without an argument.

Aboard the Annabelle, Von Wer is back to offer Gray information about the whereabouts of Bonnie Prince Charlie, who he says is Jamie. However, the rebels have been secretly armed with the weapons the Doctor bought, and a battle erupts, although I couldn't see it as I only had the BBC audio (which was fine). Luckily, both Trask and Perkins switch sides when it becomes clear that the Jacobites have won. Another adventure finished, well one with elements of bleakness anyway.

For one of the few times in the series, an issue is made about the journey of getting back to the TARDIS, as the Doctor and his companions aren't sure where it is. Jamie volunteers to come along (and miss the transport to France, which would have saved his life) and they seek out Ffinch, who becomes an ally when he hears about Gray's scheme and arrests him. The action is out of the way early in the last episode, resulting in a rather less eventful finale, but I liked this, because the trip back to the TARDIS should be a journey in itself if it's a long way away. As the TARDISeers set off, Jamie enters the TARDIS for the longest stay of a companion yet.

The Highlanders is the last pure historical (). Yes, it's a genre I'll miss, not just because I like it, but because we also lose the variety. The Power of the Daleks got full marks, but I can't imagine myself giving that score to many base-under-siege stories, which I find less imaginative and they have that hurdle to get over to impress. Between this and The Time Warrior (in Season 11!) the producers and writers seem to lose interest in any historical settings whatsoever, which is just awful. We could be entering the most difficult period of the marathon now...

The story isn't without its flaws. Like The Smugglers, it sometimes feels like it doesn't want to be an historical, just a romp, an adventure. I rate it higher than The Smugglers because though they're similar types of stories I think this on the whole works better.

Horror quotient - There is some violence, and near-hangings. I would need to see it though.
Comedy quotient - Patrick Troughton! He is a totally different kind of funny to William Hartnell, but almost as good, although by Episode 4 I'm a bit tired of his obsession with hats.
Drama quotient - The Doctor doesn't take much seriously, and I think overall Hartnell was better at being funny and dramatic at the same time.

It doesn't quite have the "wow" factor of a classic, but it's very entertaining. Of course the Scottish setting is a huge plus too!

8/10

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Power of the Daleks

Previous viewings - few

A new Doctor! It's not every show that can replace their lead actor to play a same-but-different character and simply carry on as if it's all part of some big masterplan. Until now, there was no such thing as regeneration, it was simply a device to retire William Hartnell from the role, and I doubt anyone imagined it was going to happen again and again as the show ran and ran. Suddenly the show theoretically has no expiration date beyond what the BBC decrees.

It wasn't guaranteed to be a success, and a lot of the credit goes Patrick Troughton and to the writer of his debut story, David Whitaker. The story begins with an extended scene in the TARDIS showing the aftermath of the regeneration. Future writers take note. As will become something of a tradition, the Doctor is slightly unhinged and unforthcoming to his companions who are questioning whether this change of appearance means this isn't the Doctor. The question is left in the background until later. His odd behaviour (referring to the First Doctor as if he's a different person, his dismissive behaviour towards Ben and Polly) is offset by plenty of comedy (playing the recorder), so that even if we're unsure what's happened, at least we're entertained. Best of all, there is a genuine sense of mystery, making this one of the most effective post-regenerative scenes, lacking the self-awareness and more forced manic behaviour of some later versions.

Patrick Troughton impresses straight away. A younger Doctor for the younger companions - somewhat showing up William Hartnell as a relic from an era of the show that had already ended when he left. The scruffier, less refined look goes well with the absentmindedness of Troughton's Doctor, which is at such an extreme in his opening scenes that it's not obvious that behind the buffoonery the Doctor is a very intelligent man. Visually, the most striking difference from Hartnell's Doctor is Troughton's dark hair and haircut, seemingly shedding a generation from his age, leaving the 'grandfather' aspect of the character behind for good. No more walking stick!

If there's one flaw, it's that as newish companions who didn't connect with Hartnell's Doctor, I'm not invested in Ben and Polly as characters much and I would expect them to show more fear at what they have witnessed.

The TARDIS lands in a mercury swamp on the planet Vulcan. The Doctor barely acknowledges his companions and they explore separately. It's a horrid, unwelcoming place, from which we dive into the main plot - a human character enters the scene and is murdered. The Doctor takes the place of this Examiner to investigate his murder as he and his companions are taken to the nearby human colony. The characters we're introduced to here are the stoic head of security Bragen and jovial deputy governor Quinn. The colony on Vulcan is not immediately interesting, being merely a lot of people in dull clothes in dull featureless sets, with little sense that this is a city and not merely a military base - keeping in mind we've just had one of them in The Tenth Planet. However never has the setting for a story been so deceptively uninteresting. By the end of the first episode it's already proved appearances can be deceiving - impersonating the Examiner, the Doctor has free reign of the colony, and as he inspects a mysterious capsule in a science lab, he finds some inactive Daleks inside, and they've been there a while, and something skulking around the floor...

The Power of the Daleks does not appear to have a large budget. Fortunately, for once it's actually fine from the off that there are only three Dalek props. Viewers know the Daleks, Ben and Polly have heard about them, and through his recognition of them, the Doctor convinces viewers that he is the still the same man he was before. The scientist inspecting the capsule, the ever-so-slightly eccentric Lesterson, wants to revive the Daleks, and succeeds, albeit removing their weapons. Gone are the Dalek stories of yesteryear, which each one upping the stakes from the last, because this is smaller in scale. The Daleks don't have their weapons, so they can't simply exterminate everyone (though that is obviously their ultimate goal), and have to use psychological manipulation as their weapons. By offering their services as servants to the humans, their plan is to find a way to make their own power source and reproduce. A race like the Daleks can come across as robots or machines, so when they use intelligence and cunning to survive, distancing themselves from that misconception, I think they're more effective. Automatons chanting "exterminate!" might be the iconic Dalek image, and a good way for the Daleks to make an entrance in a story, but beyond that there has to be something deeper, something that lets viewers know and understand the Daleks a little more. It's chilling that their operation in the story has nothing to do with leaving the planet and rejoining their fellow Daleks but simply exterminating the humans. I would expect nothing less of course, but they gain points for willingly putting themselves at a disadvantage in the meantime.

Of course, the story is not all about the Daleks. A rebellion is flaring up in the colony, which the "Examiner" has been brought to Vulcan to address. Quinn is implicated in damaging the communication equipment, preventing the Doctor from warning Earth about the Daleks. Lesterson's assistant Janley is a rebel and kidnaps Polly, while the Doctor and Ben eavesdrop at a rebel meeting and find out Bragen is the leader of the rebels, and with Governor Hensell on a tour and Quinn in prison, Bragen is serving as relief Governor, a position he intends to be permanent. The two plotlines are cleverly intertwined; ignorant of the Daleks' true nature, the rebels plan to use the Daleks to take control of the colony, assuming they can control the Daleks so that they don't kill rebels. It's desperate situation that makes use of the viewers' knowledge of the evil of the Daleks. We know that as soon as the Daleks can strike, they will do so, and the Doctor knows it, though he is prevented from acting because everyone else is convinced the Daleks can be controlled.

The side characters vary in success; Lesterson is probably the most interesting, starting off as the scientist swept up by the excitement of his discoveries but through working with the Daleks and seeing glimpses of their true selves he gradually turns against them, and goes mad as he realises what he's done. The cliffhanger to Episode 4, where Lesterson enters the secret compartment of the Dalek capsule and sees the production line, is a classic. Robert James plays the different sides to him well, although I didn't feel any sympathy for him when he died - he was in a position to stop the Daleks but ended up useless, simply ranting and raving so that everyone thought he was mad and didn't listen to him. He gets a cracking death scene in Episode 6, offering to serve the Daleks as they served him, but getting exterminated instead.

Polly is missing while she is locked away in Episode 4, and Ben gets the same treatment in Episode 5. It's disappointing but there is so much of Doctor/companion interaction in the story that I can forgive it. Ben isn't convinced that he is really the Doctor until the Dalek recognises him. There are moments when the Doctor seems distant or more interested in being silly, but over time we learn that during these moments he is actually deep in thought. This more playful interpretation of the character seems more intelligent than Hartnell's Doctor, where what we saw was what we got most of the time, something perpetuated by things like getting Ian's name wrong. After getting over the Doctor changing, Ben and Polly are their usual dependable selves; rather two-dimensional but very likeable, enough to liven up any scene they're in.

The Doctor himself is locked away with Quinn in Episode 4, so as a result he doesn't get many scenes with the Daleks. The Daleks have been given more equipment and have made more Daleks, with only a source of static electricity still to finish. Bragen kills Hansell when he doesn't co-operate and the rebels get ready to take control of the colony, just as the Daleks descend on them with weapons at the ready. Episode 6 is a bloodbath, as the Doctor, his companions, Quinn and the one rebel who has seen sense work to destroy the Daleks' power source. As this is the action episode, it didn't transfer as well to audio/static visual as the more dialogue-driven episodes, but I've seen enough Daleks shoot people in featureless corridors to visualise it. Bragen gets his comeuppance and the Doctor blows up the Daleks before they can spread through the whole colony.

With the adventure over, the Doctor, Ben and Polly return to the TARDIS, wishing things had turned out differently. As the TARDIS dematerialises, a 'dead' Dalek looks on.

A story like this is an odd choice to launch the new Doctor. It's gripping and it's tense, things a lot of great Doctor Who stories are, but aside from the Doctor himself it's a little lacking in comedy. There's the possibility that the producer wanted to play down the fact that William Hartnell had been replaced by drawing attention to the popular monsters. Also as a studio-based story it is limited in scope, and as great as it is, doesn't herald a new era as say Spearhead from Space does.

However, I won't judge it by those failings, as they don't consider the story itself, just that fact that it has been chosen to introduce Patrick Troughton, because he is very well introduced. By the end of the story, I'm not thinking I want things back to normal, but that I want to see more of this stranger. He's not quite as we will later know him but still gets to show a lot of sides to him; he's a strong believer that evil must be fought, and we see this when he talks about the Daleks, we see his fear when he reacts to the Daleks, his cleverness when he escapes from the cell, his humour as I mentioned earlier, the only thing missing is the bond he has with his companions, especially Jamie, but that will come later. I'm very much looking forward to seeing more.

Horror quotient - Doctor Who has scarier days to come, but this is no comedy. The Dalek saying "I am your servant" over and over while the Doctor tries to shout over it, warning the humans in vain that the Daleks will destroy them, is on a whole other level than a bog-standard "exterminate!". The Daleks gliding off in their masses, so many of them chanting "Daleks conquer and destroy" that it ends up sounding like white noise, has a similar bond-chilling effect.
Comedy quotient - The Doctor doesn't let a bad situation get him down. Troughton is a natural at comedy, and while Hartnell was too he tended to have "serious stories" and "funny stories".
Drama quotient - Six episodes and not a second of padding. While there isn't any more plot than a typical four-parter, it's written so well that I wouldn't want to lose any of it. I criticised Galaxy 4 for being predictable, and I suppose the same applies to this, but here the predictability is the whole point rather than bad writing. The ignorance of the colonists gets frustrating after a while, but I think that's intentional.

Many Troughton stories will follow a similar formula to this, but The Power of the Daleks sets the bar very high. Can it be beaten?

10/10

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Hartnell Era

Thats all the First Doctor stories watched, scored and reviewed. Before I advance to the Second Doctor, here are the rankings for the era:

Complete Hartnell era rankings:
1. Marco Polo 10
2. The Myth Makers 10
3. The Time Meddler 10
4. The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve 10
5. The Aztecs 10
6. An Unearthly Child 9
7. The Daleks' Master Plan 9
8. The Reign of Terror 9
9. The Crusade 9
10. The War Machines 9
11. The Ark 8
12. The Chase 8
13. The Romans 8
14. The Daleks 8
15. The Smugglers 7
16. The Savages 7
17. The Gunfighters 7
18. The Rescue 7
19. The Keys of Marinus 6
20. The Tenth Planet 6
21. Galaxy 4 6
22. The Space Museum 6
23. Planet of Giants 6
24. The Sensorites 5
25. The Celestial Toymaker 5
26. The Dalek Invasion of Earth 5
27. Mission to the Unknown 5
28. The Edge of Destruction 4
29. The Web Planet 2

Season averages:
Season 1/1963-64 7.625
Season 2/1964-65 6.78
Season 3/1965-66 7.6
Season 4 Hartnell portion/1966 6.5

As the oldest era, it's the most radically different from what came later because the series was still establishing itself, what stories could and couldn't be done, what role companions should play and what they should be like, and most of all who the Doctor is, and often the answers it finds differ from what we're used to from later eras.

I expect other eras might score above it, but the Hartnell era will remain my personal favourite (probably!). It's just dragged down by the experiments that didn't work - namely The Web Planet and The Celestial Toymaker. However even if the story doesn't live up to the concept, I like that feeling at the start of the story that absolutely anything can happen when the travellers step outside the TARDIS, I could be in store for monsters, no monsters, pure drama, comedy, horror, puzzle solving, a space opera, or romance. It's a variety that no other era of the show offers. True, there's variety in scores too, but you get crap formulaic stories, without the imagination. I hate seeing Doctor Who stick to a rigid formula. To think after this era there will only be one more pure historical, simply because they don't have any monsters in them!

Companions are mixed in this era. Ian and Barbara are well written and well acted, but the rest go wanting in one or both departments. More interesting is the change in companion 'types' - the man of action is the only one present in all stories, beginning with Ian and continuing with Steven and Ben. Barbara is unique and is not replaced, as two companions become the norm. The granddaughter figure starts with Susan then is represented by Vicki and Dodo, but while Polly is clearly a new type of companion - the first in the long line of the "something for the dads" late teens/early twentysomething girl, the Doctor still treats her like he treated his earlier female companions. The earliest dynamic makes the most sense considering the characterisation of the Doctor in this period, and I think this is the main reason for the lack of chemistry with the final crew.

As for Hartnell's Doctor himself - I have nothing but praise for William Hartnell's performances. The main three things I expect put new viewers off are the age of his episodes, the age of the actor himself and his frequent passive role in his episodes. I often read people's estimation of Hartnell going up though when they watch his stories in order and understand his character a bit more, seeing him develop as the stories progress, because more than most Doctors he does have a character, he's not just a character type (I don't like dismissing the other Doctors, they're very well played and acted, but this is one of the areas Hartnell's Doctor has the edge I think). Through his stories, we see his character soften from the crotchety old man he starts out as, who is willing to indulge in violence for little reason, and who doesn't think about how his actions affect other people. This is probably where Hartnell's performance is at its best, but he acquits himself well as the character changes. I can see Hartnell isn't a sci-fi actor, because he occasionally struggles with technical dialogue, sometimes getting it wrong completely, but away from the technobabble, when asked to deliver comedy or a dramatic speech, he's owns the stage.

What makes him the best Doctor? The way he can be funny and dramatic at the same time. His absendmindedness, which leaves us wondering if he means it or not. How we can meet his granddaughter and see many different sides to him but he is still the most mysterious Doctor. The way he revels in getting involved in history, throwing himself into the roles he assumes. I hate seeing him near the bottom of fan polls. Without him, I'm confident that the show would not still be here.

Stats:
Favourite companion: Ian and Barbara (can't choose between them).
Favourite alien: Cybermen (as of The Tenth Planet - the first and best version of them).
Favourite actor: William Hartnell of course - showed more dimensions to the Doctor than he is often credited for.
Favourite actress: Jacqueline Hill. Especially in The Aztecs.
Favourite cliffhanger: "The Plague" (Monoid statue).
Favourite soundtrack: The Time Meddler.
Favourite writer: John Lucarotti.
Favourite villain:
Tlo'toxl.

And the special (and favourite) Hartnell category…

Favourite fluffed line: "floating cinders in Spain"

Modes of transport
My special project is to take note of the modes of transport the Doctor uses, of all kinds. Here are the results for the Hartnell era:

As the driver
On foot (all stories)
TARDIS materialisation (all stories)
On horseback (Marco Polo)
Travel dial (The Keys of Marinus)
Climbing (Planet of Giants, The Rescue, The Chase, The Tenth Planet)

As a passenger
Caravan (Marco Polo)
Space ship (The Sensorites, The Daleks' Master Plan, The Ark)
Being carried (The Reign of Terror, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Smugglers)
Wooden horse (The Myth Makers)
Molecular dissemination (The Daleks' Master Plan)
Electric cart (The Ark)
Taxi (The War Machines)
Elevator (The War Machines)

Favoured mode of travel: Walking

Onto the Troughton era... oh my giddy aunt!

The Tenth Planet

Previous viewings - one

Wow, is that the Hartnell era over already?

I'll say nothing about what went on behind the scenes, and the question of whether or not Bill Hartnell was pushed. What's relevant is what's on screen, and here writers Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis offer us another in a line of experimental stories, albeit of a type that seems more like an attempt to find a reliable formula than the more esoteric one-offs like The Celestial Toymaker or The Web Planet. Although the base under siege format of The Tenth Planet will quickly become old hat, even tiresome, it's all new here, and with the chilling original interpretations of the Cybermen thrown in, the First Doctor can only be bound to go out in a blaze of glory.

Conceptually, the base under siege format is a Doctor Who classic; it has a B-movie monster/horror formula ripe for behind the sofa viewing and I enjoy stories with confined settings, but like any story type, it's not guaranteed to deliver the goods every time, it needs the right ingredients. It demands scares, it demands atmosphere. The Tenth Planet certainly has a terrific premise: an underground base in Antarctica where rocket launches are monitored, picking up the approach of a new planet, and besieged by its inhabitants. The snowy setting is new for the show and gives the early scenes of the story a cinematic feel, with the Doctor, Ben and Polly leaving the TARDIS and being brought down into the base.

The year is 1986 - likely an attempt to give us a near-enough present day story but not so close that Ben and Polly would want to stay behind at the end. Away from the cities and the fashions, this passes as 1986, so that's all good. The first episode is the buildup, introducing viewers to the base personnel as they work to ensure the survival of some astronauts. General Cutler provides an early source of frustration for the Doctor as he tries his best to ignore the strangers, even when the Doctor works out some calculations for him. As an international installation, there are American accents to be heard, and they're far less offensive to the ears than what we were offered in The Gunfighters, although most of the base personnel are merely ciphers anyway which is disappointing as we spend four episodes in their company. The two main guests here are the irrational base commander Cutler and scientist Barclay, Barclay being the more likeable of the two as being a scientist he at least is on the same wavelength as the Doctor, even if he doesn't get to do much.

Unfortunately the TARDISeers also don't have much to do, and are relegated to observers for the early part of the story. As the new planet approaches, the Doctor allows himself to be dismissed by the base personnel, quite disappointingly so as I expected him to stand up to them as he usually does. As the first episode ends, the invaders the Doctor warned us about appear, attacking some men outside the TARDIS - our first glimpse of the cloth-faced Cybermen.

The Cybermen steal the story in the second episode, easily infiltrating the base and taking control. Their plan is to take the humans to their planet, Mondas, before Earth disintegrates from an energy drain caused by the proximity of the two planets. They're imposing robot-like creatures, although by today's standards their appearance is rather silly: massive chest units, car headlights on their heads, bizarre sing-song voices, less threatening than later incarnations but as we learn Mondas is Earth's former twin planet, and thus the Cybermen used to be human but converted themselves into Cybermen to survive, there is a tragedy in this imperfect, unrefined look. The glimpse of human eyes and real hands really hits home that these are humans, not robots, and as silly as the overall effect is I think we get a good impression of the humanity they've lost, which makes these the most effective incarnations of the Cybermen.

Of course the look is not the only definitive aspect of the Cybermen, there's also the "improvements" they've made to themselves by getting rid of emotions, I like to think because what they've done to themselves is too emotionally painful to bear. They don't let the base personnel save the rocket crew, and their cold, logical minds can't comprehend why saving them is so important when people all over the world die every day. The Doctor poses a few questions, but they are poor villains for Hartnell's Doctor, who is less of a moral crusader than later Doctors and Hartnell is best when allowed to integrate comedy into his sparring with villains, and obviously there is no opportunity for this with the Cybermen. Clearly the Doctor thinks they are too far gone and doesn't make any attempts to save the Cybermen, but the second episode is largely one big explanation of who the Cybermen are and where they come from, with the other characters merely reacting in horror. Cutler is incapacitated when he warns his superiors that the base is under attack, and Ben gets a chance to shine by killing a Cyberman, though I was surprised and delighted to see him not reacting with thrills, but horror that he has taken a life. Character-wise this is the most interesting thing Ben has done so far, it's a shame we don't see anything like it again. Luckily the Cybermen's weapons can be used against them, which allows the human to retake the base.

An unplanned absence of the lead actor puts the Doctor out of Episode 3 - damn! With the exposition out of the way this should have been his big moment. Unfortunately in the third and fourth episodes the story is less interesting. The Cybermen barely appear, as they take forever to send more troops to the base, Polly is reduced to making coffee, and Ben is imprisoned for trying to stop Cutler making rash actions to ensure the survival of his son, who is in another rocket. It's entertaining enough, but pretty ordinary compared with later Troughton stories and the irrational Cutler is especially yawnsome. The biggest problem is the knowledge that this is William Hartnell's last story, and he is nowhere in sight, and even when he is, he isn't doing anything. It's like the First Doctor's era has already ended and the production team are moving ahead with a story that he doesn't fit well in, and thus has little to do. However, judged on its own merits it holds up better, probably because despite there being similar stories to follow, this is the first.

The destructive Z-bomb is introduced to the plot in Episode 3, which is to be aimed at Mondas which if destroyed when also kill many on Earth. Ben enlists the help of Barclay and sabotages its launch.

My copy of The Tenth Planet included the fourth episode as a reconstruction, but I don't know who made it. Anyway, the Doctor is back but he's behaving quite oddly, like a feeble old man about to collapse at any moment. Then he gets stuck in a cupboard with Polly until the end of the episode. It's often said that the Doctor regenerates from old age, but it's made very clear that the energy drain is having an effect on him and it's this that causes the regeneration.

The conclusion sees the arrival of a new batch of Cybermen, but Ben is able to devise a new radiation weapon to kill them, giving the humans the time they need to let Mondas disintegrate on its own. The Earth saved, its time for the even bigger finale. The Doctor is very ill and insists on returning to the TARDIS. Hartnell plays the Doctor as confused and dazed. In the TARDIS, the Doctor collapses and changes into Patrick Troughton with a close-up of his face being enveloped in a bright light and convincingly changing. The special effects for this are pretty decent for 1966 and in fact the transformation is less jarring than some later ones. I've hated Hartnell being sidelined in his last story, but in an odd way him being out of sorts from half way through has allowed this twist ending to seem like a natural conclusion rather than coming out of nowhere.

The Tenth Planet is a difficult story to come to a judgement on. It's exciting because it's a new kind of story and we're entering a new era, but so many superior base under siege stories are still to come and Patrick Troughton's Doctor is much more suited to them. We got some great Cybermen, although they're not as scary as later versions - and that's another flaw of this story, it's not scary or tense. Polly might as well not have been there for all she did. In light of later stories, it's badly flawed, with the lack of Hartnell especially disappointing, and ultimately it leaves me feeling like he went out not with a bang but with a whimper.

Still, I'm about to embark on a new era and I'm very excited.

Horror quotient - The Cybermen provoke more laughs than scares, although I stand by my comment about this being the closest they've come to effectively presenting them from the original concept. I never feel the Earth is in danger and all we see of Mondas is a still image.
Comedy quotient - Very little.
Drama quotient - Plenty of excitement when the Cybermen are around, but Cutler makes a poor villain. It's decent enough material, but has been eclipsed by what followed.

A story with plenty to enjoy, but its flaws - the lack of Hartnell, the boring base personnel, not scary enough - are big ones, and Episode 3 is dull. William Hartnell deserved better.

6/10

Monday, 27 July 2009

The Smugglers

Previous viewings - one

I've read up on the animosity between William Hartnell and the production team at this stage in the show's history, and I wish I hadn't because as I watch (or listen in this case), I'm constantly looking out for signs that Hartnell's health is in decline, as the reports say. At least at the point of The Smugglers, this is nowhere in evidence; I see a leading actor at the top of his game, in a story of the pure historical genre where he usually gives his best performances. As in The Gunfighters, historical events are gone, it's a voyage into another genre, this time Pirates, with all the trapping that ensues - treasure, secret codes, deceptions, ships, and plenty more.

Thats not to say everything's perfect. This story contains Ben and Polly's first trip through time, the first time the Doctor's companions have been replaced all in one go. Viewing The Smugglers as Hartnell's last hurrah before the big finale, the companion issue is moot, but in isolation Ben and Polly are still at the "newbie/passenger" phase of travelling with the Doctor, so although they look out for each other, there is a distance between them and the Doctor. Further, Ben and Polly don't fit into the Hartnell era mould, and don't form a family unit with the Doctor (except perhaps that of a grandfather and two errant grandchildren). Certainly I favour these in-story explanations for the divide between the Doctor and companions than blaming any tension between Hartnell and his co-stars, which is basically an accusation of unprofessionalism on Hartnell's part.

It's interesting to note Ben and Polly's reactions to the TARDIS. They didn't learn much about the Doctor in The War Machines except that he was Dodo's "boss", and nothing about his mysterious background, but here they trust him and don't get angry or scared about being cut off from 1966 when they finally admit they've travelled through time. For them, all that matters is what's immediately practical. Getting out of a cell, finding the TARDIS, etc. They're a breath of fresh air because they're new and contemporary, but there are things that aren't being dealt with and it gets frustrating as time goes on and they don't raise the issues. If it was me, I would want to know more about the TARDIS and about the Doctor, and why I should put my faith in both. After Ian and Barbara's very realistic reactions in the first season, this is disappointing.

Okay, enough deliberating over the new crew. We're at a 17th-century Cornish coast. The Doctor follows a disbelieving Ben and Polly out of the TARDIS and the group makes its way to a church, where the Doctor's kindly behaviour towards churchwarden Joseph Longfoot leads Longfoot to impart a message to the Doctor. A timely visit from the menacing Cherub, who kills Longfoot just after the TARDISeers leave for an inn, sees the Doctor and his companions suspected of murder. Nothing new here. The Doctor is kidnapped by Cherub and taken to the Black Albatross, where pirate Captain Pike is interested in what Longfoot told the Doctor.

To be honest, the plot isn't that interesting. There are plenty of characters, although on audio it was sometimes hard to tell who was who, especially with allegiances changing. It's lots of fun; Ben and Polly taking advantage of the superstition of the era to aid their escape from prison and the Doctor distracting his captors by telling fortunes are particular highlights. More's the pity that the story is missing because using the audio I was focusing on following the plot when it wasn't that important, it's inevitably a showcase for some nefarious characters, with the TARDISeers mixed up with them, leading to the Doctor figuring out what Longfoot's message means. It falls short of portraying the pirates as comedic, and is generally a more serious story than The Gunfighters, and I think this is a case where it should be funnier than it is. The characters end up interchangeable and only Captain Pike and perhaps Cherub are interesting, but again this could be because it was on audio.

As the Doctor reunites with Ben and Polly, they find a graveyard where people carrying the names in the secret message are buried. Again, the Doctor is determined to see the situation through to the end despite having the opportunity to get back to the TARDIS, attributing it to moral reasons (a pretty selfish thing to do to Ben and Polly on their first trip), and we get a pretty exciting conclusion as the surviving pirates meet up there and head into a crypt, double-crossing each other as they intend to keep the treasure for themselves, for Longfoot's message leads to the holdings of the deceased Captain Avery. It makes me want to see it even more, because it was difficult keeping track of who was present in each scene and I wanted to see what the crypt looked like (although the surviving clips on the Lost in Time DVD set gave a few glimpses via the story's most violent moments). Despite taking up the whole last episode, the finale was the most exciting part of the story.

As the story wraps, the Doctor finds a moment to slip away to the TARDIS, Ben and Polly having already gone back earlier. They're hopefull they will land in 1966, but again the opportunity for a more substantial character moment is passed up. The TARDIS lands in the coldest place on Earth - although given the resolution of the cliffhanger of "Coronas of the Sun", it might just be Scotland.

The Smugglers is an adventurous, exciting story, although I've not seen many pirate movies to base my opinion on, it's not quite as lighthearted as I was expecting and doesn't contain quite so many cliches as The Gunfighters. It comes across as a half-hearted attempt at a pirate story, with any of its successes achieved somewhat unwittingly. In many respects its a huge disappointment - splitting up the Doctor and his companions seems to leave Hartnell without central characters to spar with, as his opponents change throughout the story, and we get hints of how Ben and Polly are feeling, we should have had more. Its a story I suspect would benefit from visuals, although I don't know much about Julia Smith's work as a director, because written by Brian Hayles, veteran of The Celestial Toymaker and later creator of the Ice Warriors, The Smugglers comes across as a story desperate to add more life to the 'boring' historical genre, and ends up losing most of what I love about the historicals. It was a good listen, but next time I might listen in conjunction with the slideshow on the BBC website and see if that makes a difference. In a year, perhaps?

However, as the last 'proper' Hartnell story, The Smugglers is a treasure. It dispells the myth that Hartnell was winding down as he approached the regeneration - the material isn't the best but whatever's there, Hartnell makes the most of it, and a comedy script at that.

Horror quotient - One of the few historical stories with the possibility of being scary, although the censor clips could be diluting this view because they're all violent! Still, a graveyard and a crypt, that's got to be eerie at least.
Comedy quotient - As I said, as enjoyable as it is, it should have gone further. A fresh, lighthearted start to the new season that will quickly take an unexpected turn.
Drama quotient - A surprisingly good blend of drama and humour, which I hadn't noticed until now.

Hartnell's last hurrah, before the real one. An enjoyable romp with potential to be even better - hurry up and find it!

7/10

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The War Machines

Previous viewings - few

The War Machines doesn't feel like a Season 3 story. The reason it doesn't feel like a Season 3 story is that as the first contemporary story one would expect it to be something the show attempted back in its first season. It's an obvious idea, along with the premise of the enemy being an artificial intelligence gone evil - another idea I would expect to have been done long before now. It's new, it's fresh and it's exciting.

London, 1966. The Doctor and Dodo marvel at the new Post Office Tower and go off to investigate. The Doctor and Dodo seem to have a closer relationship than the last time we saw them, which is nice to see. I'm instantly struck by how odd it is to see the First Doctor in the present day. He just doesn't seem to belong there, and I admit this isn't due to anything other than it being so unusual. While he becomes interested in the Tower's supercomputer, WOTAN, Dodo goes off clubbing with secretary Polly Wright (during the day, it seems). This is all new, and more than usual - it's not merely a twist on a familiar format, it is a new format, in a 'who changed the channel?' kind of way.

Poor Dodo. The Inferno club scenes are blatantly there to introduce us to her replacements as companions, and not only that, but to show us how much better than her they are. Dodo is the most generic of Doctor Who companions - given very little distinctiveness to increase the diversity of stories that could be told with her, but it ends up making her less interesting and so bland that she'll react to situations in the same way whether she was from the past, present, future or an alien planet. This is supposedly her native era but she sticks out like a sore thumb, and yet we're led to believe that clubbing is a hobby of hers. Compare with 'hip' Polly, who right away makes more of an impression than Dodo has in her entire tenure. Having been asked to 'look after' Dodo, she's placed in a position of superiority. We know a lot about her - she's a bit posh, she's a secretary, and she has a social life. Anneke Wills plays Polly with plenty of charisma so that I want to see more of her, and she's written so that although she's clearly companion material, it doesn't feel contrived that the Doctor should suddenly meet her just after a companion has left. All the boxes are ticked.

But that's not all. Perhaps because of the success of Ian and Barbara being introduced at the same time, we get a second new companion, sailor Ben Jackson. Obviously his Cockney accent is startling at first in a show that has been uniformly RP so far (except for Dodo's wandering accent). Meeting Polly and Dodo in the Inferno, he's upset about his shore assignment, but proves he's no soft touch when he sees off a sleazy guy who accosts Polly. I'm struck by Ben's salt-of-the-earthness. It's an instant assurance that he's a good guy. I do hope we learn more about him, but except for Ian and Barbara, whose introduction was unbeatable, first impressions don't come any better than the ones we got for Ben and Polly.

Meanwhile, it's all happening at the Post Office Tower. The Doctor doesn't have that much to do as he attends a press conference announcing the 'thought computer' WOTAN, which is currently in the process of brainwashing key personnel, including Dodo over the phone. Obviously the Doctor is next on its hit list, but it also orders the construction of deadly gas-spraying machines (if you're afraid of gas, beware). The Doctor teams up with Sir Charles Summer, who WOTAN luckily isn't interested in. The story is quite Pertwee-era from here on in. The Doctor discovers Dodo has been hypnotised and sends her off to the country to recover - I'm more forgiving of this than most as Dodo has been by far the weakest companion so far and at this stage seems like part of an old regime or old style that is being phased out. We really don't need the 'granddaughter' companion figure in the show anymore. It's still a rubbish exit of course, given this is the last we see of her and she's not herself, but I wonder if the writers knew that it would be a mistake to draw attention to the fact that she was leaving for no reason whatsoever - Dodo has always seemed happy in the TARDIS and wasn't upset about being cut off from her home.

WOTAN's machines seem to get assembled in record time, because by the end of episode 2 there's already one up and running. The Doctor is happy to give the action part of the plot to Ben, despite only meeting him fleetingly earlier, while he waits behind for an update (lazy Doctor!). The war machines are very well designed, and it's obvious a lot more time was spent on making them in reality than in the show. I don't know if they're meant to be a cross between a Dalek and a tank, but they come across that way, but less threatening than either, as although they look good on screen we mostly see them just pushing boxes over.

Ben gets a bigger slice of the action than Polly, who has also been hypnotised by WOTAN but is stong enough to will herself to let Ben escape from the factory when he has been captured. The rest of the story is almost entirely action, which of course means little of the Doctor except him standing around observing, with the occasional line. It's unavoidable that this is the case, and I'm glad that the producer ended the season with an action-driven story. William Hartnell gives an appropriate performance for the story - for once his peripheral involvement makes sense. Once the army gets involved, it's their game, although for the first and certainly not the last time they don't show much intelligence and are easily wiped out. The thrilling conclusion sees the Doctor figuring out how to capture one of the war machines and reprogramming it to destroy WOTAN, which of course can't defend itself as it's still only a computer.

As will become familiar with present day stories, the Doctor doesn't hang around for the authorities to show up and ask questions. As soon as everybody turns their backs, he's gone.

The final scene sees Ben and Polly show up outside the TARDIS to let the Doctor know that Dodo has chosen not to bother telling him about her decision to stay in person. It's interesting that after the adventure they still only see him as a doddering old scientist, unaware of his alien background, something soon to be remedied as they follow the Doctor into the TARDIS using Dodo's key. I want to see more! The two companion removed from their own time, and who want to get back, worked with Ian and Barbara, and it might seem unwise to go there again. There isn't an existing companion to bridge the gap betwee the elderly Doctor and the new youthful team, and they share a much different relationship with the Doctor than Ian and Barbara did, and although it might only end up in the Doctor seeming more like the isolated figure he has been in other Season 3 stories, if it does there are only two stories of his tenure left anyway. I'm quite excited.

It's good to know that The War Machines was deemed enough of a success to have more present day stories. Unlike many fans, I love the pop culture aspects of the stories and seeing familiar things. The TV news report is something we get even now in the new series, and an attempt to show the reaction of the public to the threats the Doctor is quashing. It's not perfect - the evil computer is new, but will be done better later, and the guest characters are all fairly generic. I see The War Machines as a template for present day stories, leaving them to go off on their own tangents and find ways to improve upon it. However calling a story a template is very high praise I think.

Horror quotient - Fear the War Machines! Maybe not. More should have been made of the horror of people being controlled by a computer, especially since a companion is one of the victims.
Comedy quotient - Ben and Polly are shown to be fairly grounded companions and have a lot of humour in them, although I suspect there's more to come as once introduced they got involved in the serious plot quite quickly.
Drama quotient - Action, not drama. Most drama came from the Doctor, although rather disappointingly he didn't get to confront WOTAN. How much drama can you get from having a computer as a villain though?

Subsequent present day stories have rendered this fairly generic, but The War Machines did it first and gave us two excellent companions to boot. A fantastic way to end the season.

9/10

Saturday, 25 July 2009

The Savages

Previous viewings - none

I enter somewhat uncharted territory as this is the first story I've not experienced in any form before. New writer Ian Stuart Black is brought in to pen Peter Purves's last story, which I listened to with the BBC audio in conjunction with the slideshow on the BBC website (which was better than I expected, I might use it again for future stories).

We're in the future, a planet inhabited by the cave-dwelling Savages, who are intelligent but caught in a cycle of exploitation by the more advanced Elders. Yep, pretty familiar stuff - just like in Galaxy 4, a twist our expectations of who the good guys and bad guys are subverted. However, while that story "disclosed" that as the main twist, surprising no-one, The Savages has more to offer.

After some of the most experimental stories yet, it's good to see a fairly typical TARDIS landing on an alien planet and the Doctor invstigating his surroundings with a scientific eye. Innovation doesn't end with the setting and format, which has been mainly how the stories so far have distinguised themselves. Curiously, Steven and Dodo wait in the TARDIS while the Doctor goes about his business outside. Even more curiously, the Doctor meets some people who have predicted his arrival and he is taken to an idyllic city. It's a pity the Doctor being known to the Elders doesn't turn out to be that important - given the way the rest of the story plays out, it would have been interesting if this story substituted the Elders for the Time Lords. It wouldn't be so forgotten then! Although the Elder society seems too good to be true, they put on a better show of sincerity than the Drahvins and are at least likeable on the whole.

We're also introduced to the Savages; they're a suspicious lot but they have every right to be as they're being hunted by the Elders and as Elder leader Jano is telling the Doctor why his people are so brilliant, Dodo goes missing on a tour and stumbles across the dark underbelly of the city (although the Elders seem to make no effort to hide it): a lab where the mental energy of captured Savages is drained, which the Elders use to strength themselves. Again, it's hardly original, and its success is in the delivery - for once, Dodo reacts to danger in a normal way, rather than the thrill she got out of the games in The Celestial Toymaker, and as a result I care more than usual about her safety. Also, that the fact the Elders don't simply turn on the Doctor and his companions, and even let them go (rather than insisting on one of them staying, which is what I would have expected), keeps them from falling into the usual villain traps.

The second half of the story is more focused on the Savages, with Steven and Dodo meeting up with them and being taken to their caves, while the Doctor is coerced into returning to the city and enters the energy machine, a bit of a damp squib as a cliffhanger because we know it means the Doctor will only be out of sorts for a while. I like that the Savages do not all share the same views, with some wary about involving Steven and Dodo, and rightfully so as they are almost instantly found by an Elder guard. I thought Steven's trick with the mirror was clever, but thinking about it a bit more it's an obvious solution to a paralysing light gun. However, it's pretty much the only thing Steven has done in the whole story so far, and at this stage I'm not prepared for him leaving at all.

With the Doctor out of most of the third episode, Jano decides to transfer the Doctor's energy to himself. I was looking forward to hearing Frederick Jaeger's character take on the Doctor's personality to hear his Hartnell impression, and I wasn't disappointed, although surprised that he seemed to shift back and forth between Jano's personality and the Doctor's, leaving him unsure whether he wants to re-capture the escaped travellers or discuss peace with them. I was surprised by how good a performance Jeager gave - he had to play a character whose outlook changes by taking on a double personality, not an easy task. Upon reflection, earlier in the story he still seems like the same character, but an unenlightened version of the one we see later in the story.

The story wraps up with the usual social upheaval, and the Doctor suggests Steven take up the role of mediator that the Savages have suggested. Ah, Steven's departure. Ian and Barbara leaving came out of nowhere as this does, but that was a long time coming as they were lost in time with the Doctor and had an opportunity to get home. Steven seems quite content to stay with the Doctor and Dodo, but the Doctor insists that he is the man for the job. For the purposes of the story this is poorly done - the Doctor would run out of companions if he needed to leave someone behind to mediate between societies he turns upside down during his visits, and I didn't get the impression that Steven was keen. Also, they had to outdo The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve, when Steven stormed out of the TARDIS (although to be honest I wouldn't have wanted that to be the last of him either), and this comes off more as the writer getting rid of Steven having already written the script and being told Peter Purves was leaving with ten minutes to the deadline. I ended up feeling bad for Steven, practically pushed out of the TARDIS without even getting a chance to go back for his panda.

Such was the character though that he could have ended up anywhere, the writers never even told us where he was from.

The Savages rests on interesting ideas, as all Doctor Who stories should (and most do). If the story existed, I might view it more favourably, but like with Galaxy 4 it seems more focused on presenting the ideas to the viewers, taking care to label each one good or bad, than simply giving us a fun adventure on an alien planet. The pure historicals are noted as having been phased out around this time because kids expect monsters - well there are none here. The main problem with doing a story like this is as with Galaxy 4 it falls short on excitement, despite giving us much more interesting alien cultures and characters and putting in a few more twists to keep viewers guessing.

Horror quotient - Relatively scare-free. I think the show at this stage is trying to get back on its feet after the grim-fest of the first half of the season, although grim does not equal horror. As we're nearing the end of the Hartnell era, I can probably conclude that Daleks aside the horror aspect of the show started with Troughton (the era, not the man).
Comedy quotient - Not many laughs in a story more interested in other things.
Drama quotient - A strength, helped by Christopher Barry's direction. I felt for the Savages and even the Elders, who managed to avoid the out-and-out evil that permeates many of the humanoid races. It's good to see that third dimension which all too often is seen as optional in characters. The Doctor's defiance at the way the Elder society works was a particular highlight.

One of the best examples of a genre of Who story I'm not keen on.

7/10

Friday, 24 July 2009

The Gunfighters

Previous viewings - one

As a television programme, Doctor Who's main purpose is to entertain, so I approach this story with some trepidation given its shockingly low AI figures, and a setting which seems to jar with the non-violent character of the Doctor. A comedic Wild West story is no more of a risk than anything in Season 2, and with Donald Cotton writing after the excellent The Myth Makers I'm somewhat reassured.

The Gunfighters places the TARDISeers at the OK Corral in 1881, in the events leading up to the gunfight between the Clantons and the Earps. A search for a dentist leads the Doctor to Doc Holliday, who takes advantage of the Clantons thinking the Doctor is him to slip away with Dodo in tow. There would probably have been a Western setting evenually, and although technically a pure historical it doesn't feel like one, having nothing to do with the politics of the time, but merely jumping on a Hollywood bandwagon. Its not history, its movie cliches. This is not a bad thing, but future historicals will be more in this vein that what we're used to so it's farewell to the 'proper' exploration of history.

My first reactions to the story probably mirror those of most people. Those accents! That ballad! I didn't think the American accents were that bad, they were deliberately exaggerated for the purposes of the story, even the TARDISeers put on pretend American accents (Steven's is especially bad). I can't defend the ballad, although I can't deny that the decision to have singing every few minutes is gutsy. It continues until the very end of the story, so that when we hear the Doctor Who end credits music again it seems weird. It's almost turning the show into an actual Western rather than simply having Tombstone, 1881 be the setting for a Doctor Who story. Yes, it's repetitive, but in the context of the rest of the story, makes complete sense and is even quite innovative.

The scene where the Doctor has his tooth pulled is a classic and sees Hartnell on fine form. It's weird seeing him so worried about the pain, as it's a very human concern we're not used to seeing in the Doctor. Doc Holliday, despite giving the Doctor his gun so that the Clantons will think he's Holliday, is the most entertaining of the guest characters, as he's the only one who's funny but still seems like a threat. We've seen the Doctor mistaken for someone else before, but the characterisation of the Doctor in this story is very curious. The Time Meddler showed us a Doctor who can sometimes seem absentminded, but then surprise us and the villains by showing that this is only a facade. In The Gunfighters, despite the historical setting he usually impresses in, the Doctor's act as the bumbling grandfather makes him look feeble and ineffective, and at certain points in the story he seems to have got the wrong impression (for example the way he keeps insisting that Holliday is a friend of his because he gave him his gun, not having realised the real reason). Whatever the Doctor's been like before, he has always convinced me that he's on top of the situation, but in this story I had my doubts.

Anyway, the story twists and turns a bit. The Doctor is in the Sheriff's custody and Steven is left to deal with the Clantons, who try to hang him, while Holliday, Dodo and barmaid Kate are long gone. Dodo is a surprise in this story - nothing she does goes along with her usual stupidity, making this her best story. I wouldn't go as far as to say that she's great here, just that her being bearable is a nice surprise. Jackie Lane doesn't seem to have Peter Purves' ability to give more for the character than the script deserves - she just delivers her lines with a touch of enthusiasm, and here they happen to be decent lines. There is never a sense that Dodo is a person with a life.

Gunman Johnny Ringo appears as the title character in Episode 3 and gives the story an extra dose of menace by shooting the likeable bartender dead. The Doctor doesn't have much to do after being freed from the jail as his role in the plot has largely ended, getting Dodo back is the only pertinent priority left. By this point, more Earps arrive and with so many Clantons around, I'm starting to get confused keeping track of so many characters. My main complaint so far is that none of them really stand out, or are even interesting - history would record who took part in the gunfight, so they have to be there, but there doesn't seem to be much of an attempt to distinguish them or give the Clantons much to do except act like Western rogue stereotypes. However this is partly because they're mostly in busy bar or crowd scenes - Johnny Ringo instantly stands out despite having the same personality and demeanour, because of his opening scene. As time goes on, although I'm keen to see the finale, no further attempts have been made to rectify this. Everything is a means to get us to the end. The pacing is fine, but there isn't much inclination to care - and we really need it considering the TARDISeers's involvement thins as the story wears on. With the shooting of the younger Earp, I was suitably interested, as the story was starting to slow down.

The gunfight, although exciting and well directed, suffered from the same problem - it was exciting because it was action, I knew the Earps would win anyway and the Doctor was nowhere to be seen. Was this a disappointment? I wasn't really expecting anything more, the Doctor clearly wasn't going to shoot anyone and I would think less of Steven or Dodo if they got involved, and I had had enough of the bumbling Doctor who was clearly a few steps behind everyone else. So ultimately despite it being little more than a necessity I think it did satisfy as a conclusion.

As they return to the TARDIS, everybody is back to normal, as we get a cliffhanger pretty much identical to the one in Episode 1 of An Unearthly Child.

I can forgive some characterisation flaws given the comedic nature of the story, like I did in The Romans. It was a lighthearted adventure romp that I enjoyed a great deal, and although it was nowhere as enjoyable as Cotton's earlier The Myth Makers, I'm shocked by the low reputation of The Gunfighters in fandom. What's so bad about it? I'll have a read of the rest of this thread and maybe someone will point out something I missed, but beyond some dull side characters and the Doctor acting a bit too absentminded, I struggle to think of any serious flaws.

Horror quotient - Okay, so it's a comedy, and a lot of the violence is cartoon violence, so this isn't scary or horrific.
Comedy quotient - Few one-liners, but it's a story that sends up the genre, and is an admirable attempt at a Western given it's a British TV show (is it unique in that respect?)
Drama quotient - This is another story that leans more towards comedy than drama, but in such a way that whenever there is drama, it feels real. Some clever writing there.

For being the first time I've had a real problem with the Doctor's characterisation, I'm marking it down, even though it does provide a few laughs. However, the plot is engaging and the story is entertaining, so as an experiment I'd say it's mostly successful (except with the audience of course).

7/10

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The Celestial Toymaker

Previous viewings - none (missing episodes), many (Episode 4)

Innes Lloyd takes over as producer, but as I understand it this story was well into planning stage when John Wiles was still in the producer's chair, as this was to be the story that carried through with his idea of replacing William Hartnell as the Doctor. More on this later.

It's always a delight when the TARDIS's destination isn't somewhere that can be described as either a time or a place - the writers are pushing the boundaries of what the show is capable of, which is risky, but I love The Mind Robber which is probably the best example of the surreal subgenre of Doctor Who stories. Unfortunately The Celestial Toymaker is nowhere near as good; despite some good ideas behind it it is handicapped by some shocking flaws that should have been addressed before recording began.

The TARDIS has materialised in the realm of the Toymaker, a supernatural being who ensnares his victims and forces them to play his games - if they win, they can go, if they lose, they're his forever. The Doctor is invisible, and plays the Trilogic game against the Toymaker, and is required to win the game at the exact same time Steven and Dodo complete their assorted challenges. This all sounds like a brilliant premise for a Doctor Who story, although it's one that demands to be fun in a creepy sort of way - mindful of the danger, but with some life to it.

Okay, strengths first. Michael Gough plays the Toymaker. I'm not quite sure what to make of him - calm and measured despite doing nothing but plays games for goodness knows how long, and with a dry sense of humour I wouldn't have expected. It's not quite clear why he plays the games. His plan to turn the TARDISeers into his toys is certainly cruel, but considering he makes the rules which makes it his decision to give the players a chance, however unfair, makes him a little more three-dimensional than usual. If only we had learned more about the character - he has bags of potential, but we don't see enough of him. Fortunately Michael Gough gives a scene-stealing performance (though most of his scenes are opposite an invisible and mute Doctor so most of the time he's only got disembodied hands to compete with) which makes him a very memorable character.

Minimalist sets reign supreme, but here it makes sense. It has all been conjured up by the Toymaker rather than being part of physical reality; they're sufficient for the games to be played in them, detailed enough for the set designers to use their imaginations a bit, daft enough to be believable. It's the type of story where Doctor Who's budget works to its advantage rather than its detriment - by concentrating on just a few sets, the designers can do them justice and perpetuate the 'pocket universe' claustrophobia of the Toymaker's realm, and it's very well done.

Those are two key strengths, but they're far outnumbered by the weaknesses. By far the worst of these is the absence of the Doctor. William Hartnell takes two weeks off as his character plays the Trilogic game against the Toymaker. This subplot is sidelined obviously because scene after scene of the Toymaker taunting a silent Doctor would get tiresome. Of the games played, the Trilogic game was the one I found the most interesting, because it seemed to be based on actual rules and the cheating in the other games removed any dramatic tension. Unfortunately more than in any other 'Hartnell holiday' episode the Doctor's absence is felt and his presence is missed. The Toymaker is great villain, so why deprive viewers the joy of seeing him sparring with the Doctor for most of the story? There's some interaction in the first and last episodes but it's not enough.

The bulk of the story, and the episodic structure, revolves around Steven and Dodo facing off against assorted creatures in a battle to return to the TARDIS. The first challenge is a game of blind man's buff against some clowns - cheating clowns at that. Dodo is only slightly annoying so far, and Peter Purves does the best he can, however I wasn't too clear on what was happening amongst the commotion, with squeaky clown voices and horns. It wasn't fun and it wasn't interesting. The second episode was a bit better, with Steven and Dodo trying to determine which one of seven chairs was safe to sit on. Again, the competitors - this time the King and Queen of Hearts - weren't entertaining enough for it to be worth listening to a whole episode of them deliberating over testing the chairs with dolls. It's obvious that every time Steven and Dodo win a challenge the TARDIS they find will be a fake, although I did like the structure of the episodes - ending with the end of a challenge rather than some contrived peril which would have probably had to come out of nowhere just for the purpose of having a cliffhanger. It led me to continue listening because I was hoping the next challenge would be better than the last one.

The final episode is probably the best one, and the only one I watched rather than listened to. Strangely, it's also the one where Dodo grates the most - with her and Steven competing against Cyril in a hopscotch game, Dodo seems to think it fun and keeps giving Cyril the benefit of the doubt despite knowing that the Toymaker's prisoners cheat. It's the first time I've been actively annoyed at a companion's stupidity. Again, there's nothing wrong with the idea of having an episode revolve around a simple game, but it's done in such a pedestrian way that it's dull to watch. It might have been better to save the script for the colour era, who knows it could have been a classic.

In the second half of the final episode, yay the Doctor is back! And more than a match for the beaten Toymaker, who retains his composure despite being about to lose his entire world. The story ends with one last victory for the Doctor, who is able to trick the Trilogic game into accepting his final move from the inside of the TARDIS, allowing them to escape without being destroyed with the Toymaker's world. Hartnell seems quite refreshed after his holiday, which is good because I was getting tired of hearing his voice being dubbed into the scenes where the Doctor was invisible. It didnt convince me at all that the Doctor was really "there". By this point, however, it's clear the Doctor isn't as commanding as he was in the first and second seasons. I'm not sure why; he's less present in the stories, but I can't help wondering if he is being deliberately sidelined because of the creative differences between Hartnell and the production team (this was after all supposed to be the story where he was replaced). Where in the first few seasons the Doctor seemed to be undergoing a character arc and the writers seemed to know where they were taking him, at this point I think they don't know what else to do. For all the talk of Hartnell's health declining I'd say the change in the Doctor is down more to the writing. I'm glad William Hartnell is still aboard, even if only for a short time more, but I'm hoping that the writers make the most of their leading man again!

The Celestial Toymaker is not a Doctor Who classic. The Toymaker manages to be one of the all-time great villains, but I can see him being better in a return story (no, I don't mean The Nightmare Fair).

Horror quotient - The horror doesn't come across well on audio, but if "The Final Test" is anything to go by, it's not a horror story visually either.
Comedy quotient - Despite the danger, this story demanded to be fun, or at least enjoyable.
Drama quotient - Stifled. Steven and Dodo's foes are (unfunny) comedy figures, and Dodo ruins it even more with a strangely upbeat attitude, even after sitting in the freezing chair. It's watchable, but the constant prolonging of the conclusion gets annoying after an episode or two.

A rewrite or two, with Hartnell in all episodes and in fine form, and we're talking. As it is, a huge letdown.

5/10

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The Ark

Previous viewings - few

Past Galaxy 4, the third season so far has been a relentless bloodbath, with the majority of the guest cast of each story dying, and a revolving door policy in the TARDIS. Step forward The Ark, which promises to thrill with its tame, conventional sci-fi plot and characters.

It wasn't what I expected. The premise of a generational ship taking humans to a new world doesn't tell me much - there's so much you can do with that premise it can go either way. Fortunately the writers were full of ideas, most of them good. For once, the cliffhangers are used as plot twists, rather than coming out of nowhere because the episode is about to end. For the first time, the TARDIS returns to somewhere it's already been, but hundreds of years later, so we can see the long-term consequences of the Doctor's actions, something that the show hasn't dealt with before. At least these show that even in the more traditional sci-fi stories, experimentation is going on.

We're still getting to know Dodo Chaplet as the story begins. I'm afraid I'm not endeared to the character - by this stage in the series, I thought we were moving past the Susan surrogate figure, and Dodo strangely seems more like a direct Susan replacement than Susan's actual replacement, Vicki, did. Dodo looks more like Susan and isn't given much personality to distinguish her, other than that she's not too bright. It's slightly unnerving that she doesn't have that 'adjustment' period that companions have when they first meet the Doctor and see the TARDIS - she takes everything in her stride and nothing seems to faze her. Why? It makes no sense. The redeeming feature of her joining the TARDIS crew is that the Doctor and Steven react to her odd behaviour appropriately. Of course it only highlights how odd it is, but I'm glad it was at least addressed.

The TARDISeers land in a jungle inhabited by animals and plantlife usually found in opposite parts of the world, and are surprised to find they're on a ship. After meeting the ship's inhabitants - some typical futuristic humans (ie. somewhat two-dimensional) and the servant Monoids, the Doctor discovers that the humans have no protection to Dodo's cold and it's fatal to them if they catch it. Although it doesn't sound like exciting enough material to build a story on, it's surprisingly interesting, perhaps because it's not allowed to be drawn out, with each episode playing a particular part in the story - "The Steel Sky" is the introduction, and "The Plague" is about, erm, the plague. The human characters were a little more interesting than I expected, for once they were interesting enough that I remembered a few of their names for instance, which I hardly ever do. Also, them imprisoning the TARDISeers and their hostile behaviour towards for once is completely understandable - given their clothing and appearance, I was dreading that they would follow the Thal mould, in that they're trustworthy, cardboard cutout good guys.

By this point, one expects a twist. Surely the whole story can't be about the plague? The Doctor is allowed to work on a cure and test it on Steven, who is now afflicted, and very quickly succeeds, and the TARDISeers don't hold a grudge against the humans who mistrusted them, which was good. After an explanation of the statue the humans are working on, which will take 700 years to build, we're back off to the TARDIS and onto the next adventure.

We've had two-parters before, but if this was one it would be the only one to have a fully developed story and characters, with a premise that was only touched on, and critically we didn't see it to its conclusion. The only way viewers would be satisfied at this point would be if the plague was the most interesting aspect of the story, which it wasn't. However this leads to possibly the best cliffhanger the series has given us yet - the TARDIS lands in the same place! The Doctor, Steven and Dodo return to the Ark and find it empty, but the status is now completed, and it has the head of a Monoid. I wasn't expecting that! So much for a return to the same old, same old.

The third episode plays out like no episode before, except perhaps the first episode of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, in that its a search for missing backstory, an explanation of what happened in the years the TARDISeers didn't experience, although it's obvious from the Monoid statue - the humans are now the slaves, and the Ark is about to reach the new planet, Refusis. It was interesting to have monsters that for a while didn't want to conquer the Earth, so it's disappointing that we no longer have that, but the Monoids aren't terribly interesting as villains, except for their striking one-eyed appearance. As it turns out, the story's greatest strength (that cliffhanger) turns out to be its greatest curse, as nothing that happens afterwards is very exciting. The human characters we meet now, obviously entirely different from the ones in the first two episodes, are faceless and interchangeable, and this time I didn't remember any names. Oddly enough, as the story reaches its conclusion, it doesn't feel like it's going anywhere.

As we reach Refusis, some Monoids travel down with the Doctor and Dodo. The planet is inhabited by the invisible Refusians, who turn out to be good guys, leading some of the Monoids to change their minds about settling on the planet (while planning to blow up the Ark to get rid of the humans). It's not clear why the Monoids didn't simply kill the Doctor and his companions when they showed up, but that is an issue in so many stories that I'm inclined to dismiss it.

Anyway, there is nothing particularly wrong with how the conclusion comes about. The Doctor finds allies in the Refusians, and while the Monoids battle each other, the Refusians travel up to the Ark and get rid of the bomb. It all makes sense, it's logical, but it's just not very exciting. There was more drama to be had from the plague subplot than the threat of mass death, partly because the TARDISeers are key players in the former, but they only either stand by and watch the plot unfold (Dodo and Steven) or ask others to solve everything for them while they sit around doing nothing (the Doctor). The crisis is solved by aliens who can't be seen. Overall, the conclusion is a damp squib on a largely superb story.

The Ark was well worth a watch. Dodo impressed in that it already feels like she's been there forever, but to honest she didn't impress in any other way - she caused the plague, and didn't show much intelligence throughout the story. Steven didn't have much to do, in fact in Episodes 3 and 4 he might as well not have been there, but I did far prefer the first two episodes anyway, in fact until some way through Episode 3 I would have gone for 10/10, but it went wrong through a combination of boring human characters, bland villains the Monoids, and plot progression that was lacking the spark that made everything up to the second cliffhanger so interesting. It wasn't a total loss - it was all very entertaining, but it definitely began better than it ended.

Horror quotient - The Monoids, perhaps? The kids might have been scared by them.
Comedy quotient - Okay, so it's not a comedy, but it doesn't veer as far into humourless territory as many stories. This is mainly down to the Doctor, as Hartnell seems to be in a lighthearted mood.
Drama quotient - Different sorts of drama as the plot twists, some better than others. The most interesting drama was anything not involving the Monoids.

Probably the highlight of the First Doctor non-Dalek sci-fi stories. It's latter half is flawed, but overall it's an enjoyable, imaginative story.

8/10

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve

Previous viewings - none

(A thing to note - the most recent stories I've been saying no previous viewings, for all of them I have read the transcript once but I figured that didn't really count as a viewing)

John Lucarotti is back to pen another script after his two first season successes. I've missed his approach to the historicals - he has a way of eking as much drama as possible out of the plot, and he plays up that feeling of desperation the TARDISeers feel as they cling onto their hopes of getting back to the TARDIS and leaving. He has a good feel for character, and in this story he is given Steven as the lead, a character who under other writers hasn't really come into his own yet.

A lesser-known historical event is chosen as the setting for this story, that of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in Paris, 1572. I'd never heard of it before I stumbled across this story, but it's good that the series doesn't just go with the obvious historical choices (Tudors, WWII, etc.) and goes back to its "educational" roots. I've always felt though that the "educational" tag is a misnomer - the historical stories are no more about teaching kids about history than the sci-fi stories are about teaching them about science - both are sometimes dodgy, it's better when it's accurate but the most important thing is telling a good story.

The Doctor is absent in most of this, but this is the first time that a story requires his absence to work - in a storytelling device that will be repeated in future stories, a familiar actor plays a dual role, with William Hartnell playing the Abbot of Amboise, but without the Doctor around, we're left wondering if this is the Doctor is disguise or not. The plot revolves around rising tensions between Catholics and Huguenots in the streets and political offices of Paris, with the lone Steven trying to survive with the Doctor missing and learning more about the unrest in the city. This leads to a larger focus on guest characters than normal, but it's a fascinating and unusual premise for a Doctor Who story made even more interesting from being told through Steven's perspective (save a few scenes).

The Doctor's involvement is largely confined to the first episode, when he decides to go off in search of apothecary Charles Preslin, but is worried about leaving Steven by himself. Steven is cautious but not afraid - he's never afraid (one of my main gripes with him so far). He's also inquisitive and interested in the things around him, and by this point he and the Doctor share a sort of master/apprentice relationship, which sadly falls by the wayside when Dodo Chaplet joins the team.

With the Doctor off to meet Preslin and vanishing, Steven waits in the tavern and meets Nicholas Muss, a Huguenot, and joins his party of drinkers. I was with Steven as he was interested in the religious unrest in Paris enough to pay attention, but my interest lay with why the Doctor hadn't returned. This was a common feeling I got when listening to this story - Steven's search for the Doctor is the main plot, and that's the main point of interest for me. The fact that he's in the middle of a religious riot is just set dressing. I sound like I'm criticising it, but I'm really not; actually I'm praising it because Steven is the character viewers identify with in this story and his priorities are the same. The challenge for the writer is to get viewers to gradually care more about the people Steven meets, as he does, and make the tragedy of the massacre seem more real.

I did get somewhat confused trying to remember who was who going by the audio, and there did seem to be a lot of characters in this with different positions and agendas. Steven's involvement deepens when he recognises the Abbot of Amboise as the Doctor, and his new friends think he is working for him. Fans somewhat overrate Hartnell's performance as the Abbot - he hardly does anything, and his lines are minimal. He might lack the characteristic line fluffs but there aren't many to remember. I never considered the Doctor was impersonating anyone, because as someone in a position of authority an impostor would be recognised. However it gave Steven a chance to shine as he went from the friendly stranger to an enemy by just about everyone. It might be that Steven wants to believe the Doctor is the Abbot because it's the only clue he has to his whereabouts, and when he hears the Abbot is dead that desperation is heightened, even though by this point it's pretty clear that he's not the Doctor.

It's worth a mention the way the characters are written. I would never do so in any other story, but I was subconsciously subscribing to the notion that those of different religions were completely different types of people, like two cultures. I had to remind myself that politics and religion are separate - the characters here almost convince me that they're the same thing, they treat them as such and aren't challenged in that belief, especially the despicable Catholic leaders who treat the lives of the Huguenots as worthless. Steven is inexperienced and the Doctor isn't around to comment or deliver a few morals, so the story is almost allowed to play out as a proper historical drama.

The Doctor reappears in the fourth episode, and ushers Steven back to the TARDIS, despite Steven's knowledge that the Huguenots are being blamed for the murder of the Abbot and mob violence is inevitable. I'm not sure if I liked the Doctor's attitude as they returned to the TARDIS and left, showing almost as much disregard for people's lives as the culprits back in Paris. The Doctor gets a nice speech as he tries to explain why he can't rewrite history (not one line) and it's a good enough speech that he redeems himself from his seeming stubborn heartlessness. The best thing about this scene is that for once the show doesn't end as soon as the TARDIS leaves - the travellers are affected by the things they experience (who wouldn't be?), and Steven is the last companion one would expect to storm out of the TARDIS in disgust at the Doctor's actions.

And then it all goes to pot. Dodo Chaplet wanders into the TARDIS thinking it to be a real police box - so far, so good - but seeing the inside of the TARDIS doesn't faze her, and she asks where the phone is. Get ready for the Dodo era, folks, a lot worse is to come....

At least Steven returns just before the TARDIS dematerialises, ready for more adventures, even if it somewhat negates the sentiment of his last scene. There aren't many individual personality traits unique to Steven as a companion, but this story shows that with good writing and the ever reliable Peter Purves making the most of it, he can be as good as the best of them.

Horror quotient - The third story produced by John Wiles is yet another death-fest! Did that guy have a fetish or something? I think we've reached the point where stories are best watched individually rather than in sequence - certainly by the time we hit the Troughton era that will be true.
Comedy quotient - For the praise I give John Lucarotti, comedy never seems to be one of his priorities...
Drama quotient - ...but drama certainly is. The story is full of tension. Violence could erupt at any moment. Steven has made friends but they don't trust him and can (and do) turn against him. It's a drama-packed story that doesn't let up even after the TARDIS has landed at Wimbledon Common. It dissipates when Dodo appears though.

Arguably the most 'pure' of the pure historicals - the story tries some daring ideas, even for the genre: the Doctor going missing, the companion taking the lead, no female companion, extended scenes about medieval politics - and it's all the better for it. One of the best written stories ever.

10/10