Monday, 31 August 2009

The Invasion

Previous viewings - many

The Invasion is The Tenth Planet of the Troughton era - it's a story from the next era, with this era's Doctor. By coincidence, they both have Cybermen in them too! This time I understand rather than simply a change in story styles as dictated by the producer, the budget has been cut necessitating the creation of UNIT and present-day Earth setting that will become the norm next season. The restrictions placed on the format aren't so great however that they would destroy the show, in fact if this story is anything to go by, a change in format might be a cracking good idea to revitalise Doctor Who when it's getting perhaps a little tired.

Eight episodes is a lot to fill up when your characters are stuck in one planet and one time. The Invasion manages this by splitting it up into two 4-part stories: the first four episodes, with the Doctor tackling Vaughn the Bond supervillain and his empire, and the second four with UNIT taking on the Cybermen and their spaceship. Not distinct enough to be standalone, but divided enough that there are no major issues with pacing and that each segment has a different feel, as well as strengths and weaknesses.

I enjoy The Invasion more every time I see it. It's a good action-packed story with memorable characters and plenty of funny bits - something that sounds simple enough but a surprising amount of stories don't have these three essentials.

The story begins in animation, as I'm watching the DVD. It's interesting to come to the animated episodes after so many missing episodes represented by audios and the occasional reconstruction. It's constantly in motion which at least keeps the story visual and moving, however it lacks the authenticity of those other formats and is a bit too blocky, with repetitive facial expressions. By the end of the episode I'm no less gasping for live action as I would be if I had experienced the episode using other means, so I guess it's interesting to fill the gaps in the story but I wouldn't enjoy a full story animated unless more money was spent on it. It's just another form of reconstruction really, albeit a more marketable one.

The TARDIS is damaged after a missile is fired at it in the 20th century. The Doctor decides to look up Professor Travers, though I'm not sure why as they must surely risk altering his timeline if their arrival predates The Web of Fear. They hitch a ride from a nervous driver who is on his way out of the grounds of the International Electromatics compound. The man warns the TARDISeers that people have gone missing after going to work for IE, a major electronics manufacturer. The group skulk around as they try to get out of the heavily guarded area. A visual sequence that makes me wish it was another episode missing and not the first, despite the animation. It does a good job of establishing the threat without dragging our heroes into danger quite yet - having them briefly travel with a guy who gets shot as soon as they part company. This puts us on our guard but allows the TARDISeers to continue on their merry way for now.

With Travers in America, the travellers meet Isobel Watkins, niece of Professor Watkins, who has gone to work for IE. Unimpressed with IE's answering machine, the Doctor and Jamie head off to find Watkins while Zoe models for photographer Isobel. Although the plot is moving along, I'm not sold on the Doctor requiring the help of an Earth scientist he has never met to repair a part of the TARDIS, why can't he fix it himself? It's the one flaw of an otherwise excellent episode.

At the IE building, we're introduced to chairman Tobias Vaughn and his brutal yet dim security chief Packer. Kevin Stoney goes on to give the best villain performance of the series - he even eclipses Patrick Troughton in this story, I'd say, and that's saying a lot. Like Salamander last year, Vaughn is the megalomaniacal supervillain the Bond series never had, although Vaughn doesn't need to take over the world, from his perspective he effectively has already - boss of the world's biggest corporation and we don't see anyone else with any kind of authority in the company - he just wants to take his influence one step further. The best thing about Stoney's performance is the sheer charisma he displays; Vaughn isn't so original a character, in fact he's really quite unoriginal, but his voice seems to command attention and when I watch I feel almost captivated. Also I like the way he says "Packer!"

As the Doctor and Jamie leave, they're apprehended by some people who take them to a plane, the headquarters of UNIT. Nick Courtney is back as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and we can actually see him this time. Being an exception to the 'closed-minded military' rule we see on TV so often, the Brig is a likeable character although Courtney doesn't quite have the rapport with Troughton as he will do with Pertwee. Curiously, whereas in the Pertwee era we very much see UNIT through the Doctor's eyes, here we're allowed to make up our own minds as UNIT get loads to do even when the Doctor is nowhere around. Clearly UNIT are supposed to make an impression, as at times the story seems more like a pilot for a UNIT spin-off than Doctor Who.

Looking for the Doctor and Jamie, Zoe and Isobel go to the IE building, where Zoe causes their enquiry computer to blow up by asking it to solve nonsensical mathematics, which is perhaps my favourite Zoe scene ever. Just awesome. However as we get deeper into the story, with Zoe and Isobel being captured by Vaughn, we're led into a couple of episodes as padding, with the Doctor and Jamie going back to rescue them. Episodes 3 and 4 see Vaughn and Packer take centre stage - two characters, should be no problem, however the plot has to come to a standstill as I wait for the TARDISeers to escape, which doesn't happen until the middle of Episode 4. There are some good scenes in the meantime, including the Doctor meeting with Watkins, Jamie calling the Doctor "a crafty wee beggar", and Vaughn shouting at Packer (a lot), in fact any Vaughn scene is both powerful and funny because of Kevin Stoney, but this is some of the most blatant padding since the latter episodes of The Daleks, serving only to showcase Vaughn as the villain before the Cybermen take over the story. The UNIT helicopter rescue is cool, though since the episode is animated it somewhat diminishes the impact.

Anyone who has watched The Wheel in Space already knows the Cybermen are around, because that light bulb Vaughn has been talking to is the Cyber Planner. However it's still a great moment when that first Cyberman breaks out of its cocoon. They've been redesigned yet again, being the first Cybermen to have the "headphones". These are certainly the most physically imposing version of the Cybermen so do their job in this story.

The Brigadier tries to get something done about Vaughn, but Vaughn has a hold over his superior so he has to find proof the Cybermen exist. Jamie, Zoe and Isobel go to to the sewers to photograph a Cyberman, while the Doctor fades into obscurity for a couple of episodes while he works out some calculations (seems to be a common occurrence in the Troughton era!). I guess this is the closest we'll get to seeing what The Web of Fear looked like - underground and both directed by Douglas Camfield. Unfortunately it didn't leave as much impression as even the audio of the aforementioned story, despite being an exciting sequence it turns out to be futile as the pictures they get look like fakes. Sure, a UNIT private lost his life to get them out, but lets all shake hands and forget it happened. A totally misguided direction to take the story in.

Better is Vaughn putting his plans into action, testing a device Watkins has been making on the Cybermen, which increases its emotional capacity. In a terrific scene, Vaughn instructs his scientists to make a Cyberman feel fear. As the Cyberman screams, I feel really sorry for it. The main thing it does is give credibility to the fact that Vaughn thinks he can outwit the Cybermen - if this scene is any indication he certainly has a shot at taking them on.

Vaughn is thwarted when Watkins is rescued by UNIT - strange that the incident happens off-screen given the length of the story. Vaughn decides to bring his plans forward, sending out a signal which knocks out everybody in the world (except UNIT and its staff because of a gadget the Doctor has invented), while the Cybermen come out of the sewers and march through London in force. The classic cliffhanger of the Cybermen walking down the steps at St. Paul's Cathedral is great not just because of the image but the sound of the siren, which would have been more effective than the Cybermen theme from The Moonbase which would probably have been the alternative.

With all the padding out of the way, we come to Episodes 7 and 8, my favourite episodes of the story bar Episode 1. It sees the Cybermen ditch Vaughn, UNIT get plenty to do, and the Doctor confront Vaughn and persuade him that the Cybermen must be destroyed. Strangely the Cybermen aren't actually in Episode 7, although you never notice because the threat mostly comes from their spaceship. UNIT personnel are dispatched to Russia to complete a planned rocket launch to fire missiles and intercept the Cyber fleet. This is UNIT at their most credible - getting stuff done themselves rather than simply being military backup for the Doctor. They seem like a real organisation.

Meanwhile at the IE building the Doctor finds Vaughn panicking as the Cybermen decide to cut him out of their plans. The Cybermen attack the headquarters, killing Packer, which prompts Vaughn to decide to get revenge on the Cybermen for betraying him. The Doctor and Vaughn actually make quite a good team, with Vaughn being as good an ally as a villain. As UNIT arrive at the IE building, Vaughn gets blown up by the Cybermen. A nice moment stands out - as UNIT go after the Cybermen, the Doctor composes himself as he is photographed by Isobel. Such a Doctorish thing to do.

With the Cybermen defeated, the TARDISeers return to the field the TARDIS landed, with the repaired component, and leave for their next adventure. Jamie is limping having been out of action for all but this scene in Episode 8. I'd say this isn't one of Jamie's best stories, mainly because he's not the type of character who works well opposite the military.

The Invasion justifies its high reputation up to a point. It's exciting but there is padding, and too many plot points are treated quite oddly - the sewer incident, Watkins's rescue, a capture/escape/recapture too far in the early episodes. However this story has the best villain ever and Kevin Stoney's performance makes up for a lot. It might have been better if it was a monster other than the Cybermen, as they steal Vaughn's thunder somewhat undeservedly. Zoe gets lots to do although Jamie is a little sidelined, and extra characters like Packer and Isobel merit the sizeable screentime they get. Best of all, I can't wait to see more of UNIT!

Horror quotient - The Cybermen in the sewer is not scary at all. Vaughn is actually the scarier of the villains in this story!
Comedy quotient - Plenty there too. When he realises he can't outrun those chasing him, the Doctor stops to play cards. Hilarious!
Drama quotient - Any story that has moments where I feel sorry for the Cybermen deserves kudos. This is overall an action-driven story, with some of the plotting coming at the expense of drama, but it's eight episodes long and it has its moments.

A highlight of the era, which bodes well for the next one. However some issues with padding, and some setpieces which turn out to be fruitless, lose it a point.


Friday, 28 August 2009

The Mind Robber

Previous viewings - many

Doctor Who continues to gain creative momentum with this classic five-part adventure from Peter Ling. As I understand it, Ling knew nothing about science fiction when writing this so it's perhaps not so surprising that his take on the show is not what we're used to. Under his pen, Who dips into the realm of the surreal - and quite literally, too, as the TARDISeers discover the Land of Fiction. This gives it something of a unique flavour among all the Doctor Who TV stories; there is nothing even remotely like it.

I'll say it now: when I first saw The Mind Robber I was blown away. If anything, the Troughton era has been a disappointment in the marathon so far because nothing has been written with the imagination or fun element of this story, and as such it's remained my favourite Troughton story since then. So here's why I like it!

Episode 1, hastily written by Derrick Sherwin after The Dominators had an episode cancelled at short notice. No guest cast or new sets, and there's not enough time to rewrite the rest of the episodes much to accommodate this extra one, so the story isn't going to start properly until Episode 2. Imagine how the production team and actors took that news! When you finish the story you hardly remember the first episode because it barely contributes to the plot, and I think I'm one of the few here who thinks that the rest of the story is far better, by virtue of the fact that however good Episode 1 is it doesn't manage to disguise the fact that it's not needed.

Following the volcanic eruption on Dulkis, the Doctor takes the TARDIS out of time and space and into the void - nothing. The Doctor isn't prepared to face the risk of stepping into dimensions unknown so insists everybody stay in the TARDIS. Zoe changes her outfit, Jamie takes a nap and the Doctor works alone to repair the ship. It doesn't last long but I savour this rare glimpse of life in the TARDIS in the Troughton era. Suddenly Jamie and Zoe see images of their homes on the scanner which trick them into leaving the TARDIS - silly beggars - and they find themselves in a white void. As a consequence of the circumstances of the writing of this episode, the rest of the story follows on from it but does not resolve it, hence the things that happen aren't necessarily explained. For the remainder of the episode we're subjected to a series of bizarre events, including Jamie and Zoe lost in nothingness, the TARDIS turning white, the Doctor fighting a mental attack, the TARDIS breaking apart, the Doctor floating around, and Zoe's bum. For the purposes of the plot's internal logic, I have to assume they're already in the Land of Fiction, even though the white void looks nothing like the rest of the place. Whatever it is, it's so bonkers and brilliant that I have to love it - easily the trippiest episode in the whole series.

The other four episodes are slightly shorter than usual. As a result, the whole story seems to whizz by in a flash, which I didn't like actually, because I wanted more of it! The TARDISeers are separated in a strange dimension, and for once we have absolutely no idea what to expect from this place. Jamie is turned into cardboard, except for his facial features, which the Doctor must reconstruct from multiple choices, only he gets it wrong so when returned to normal Jamie looks different, now played by Hamish Wilson. A good way to replace Frazer Hines but serving only to remind viewers just how good Frazer is - Hamish isn't a bad actor but never convinces me he's Jamie, his performance is too different. It was worth it though for the Doctor and Zoe's reactions, especially Zoe when she realises the Doctor is to blame.

As the travellers investigate their surroundings, they meet explorer Lemuel Gulliver. He's the first of several fictional characters we meet in the Land of Fiction but only Bernard Horsfall (who plays Gulliver) makes his character seem like fiction within fiction, something that sounds very hard to do! I've not read Gulliver's Travels but I enjoyed his character.

With Jamie returned to normal, the TARDISeers traverse deeper into the realm, encountering more fictional creations along the way, including a unicorn, Medusa, and the Karkus, placed in their path by an unseen menace watching them on TV. As they discover, any dangers can be got rid of simply by announcing their fictional nature. It works the first time, but in a place that offers limitless potential for cliffhangers, it's a shame to see the same device used again and again, especially as the characters seem to think they're doomed each time! Zoe especially is irritating - for one of the few times in the series - when she can't resist looking at Medusa, forcing the Doctor to allow her to do so using a mirror. Jamie meanwhile has found a castle and climbs up Rapunzel's hair, and inside the castle he finds a tape machine which is writing the events the Doctor is caught up in ahead of time, thwarted by the Doctor's refusal to follow the story plans set out for him. Since the TARDISeers are the only "real" things in the Land of Fiction, their nemesis is trying to turn them into Fiction, which will happen if they become part of his story. It's the kind of Doctor Who tale that's never going to hold up to scrutiny, but at least here you're never sure what to measure it up against. Do the laws of physics even apply? Who knows. Yet this notion that they'll become fiction stands out for not making sense anyway - I'm not sure what that even means! The fictional characters only ever existed in stories, the TARDISeers are real people with minds. However this is a minor issue.

The Doctor and Zoe catch up with Jamie and find the Master of this strange land, who the Doctor quickly works out is being used by a computer for his creativity, and his goal is to force the Doctor to take his place. Nice! Unfortunately a threat to the Earth is tacked on, and one that doesn't quite make sense, but not enough to matter. The Master is a good villain, seeming genuinely intelligent and if it wasn't for the plan to take over Earth, not actually villainous.

Episode 5 is my favourite of the story. Jamie and Zoe have been turned into fiction by being enveloped by a giant book (huh?), as the Doctor discovers when he thinks he's escaped, only for the fictional characters to turn on him. The Doctor decides the only way to defeat the Master is to out-story him, with both wired into the mainframe and creating fictional characters to do their bidding as the Doctor tries to free his friends. It's a hilarious sequence with both conjuring up bigger and better foes which do battle. Unfortunately with that over, it's not clear how the story is resolved because as Jamie and Zoe destroy the technology in the main room, with the white robots programmed to destroy everything, the reality seems to fade out of existence, along with the episode! Mere moments after the TARDISeers have reunited, we see the TARDIS return to normal and that's it, the episode's over. Waaaay too fast a conclusion!

The Mind Robber isn't perfect. I feel Peter Ling didn't get the characters completely right, Zoe especially - although she is still pretty new I suppose. It's the only story Zoe doesn't seem intelligent in, in fact she seems quite stupid - I mentioned the incident with Medusa, but tripping the alarm she's just been told about was disappointingly idiotic and not something I would expect from Zoe. And I wasn't even keen on the silver catsuit! Give me Zoe in her outfits for The Krotons or The Space Pirates anyday. As I watch, I'm wondering if perhaps Ling was aiming more for a child audience than most Who writers do - there's a lot more silliness and goofing around than usual.

However it's one of those stories that is so awesome that any flaws just don't matter. I could watch The Mind Robber again and again and it would never get boring.

Horror quotient - Hard to say. There's certainly lots that could scare kids - two whole sets of alien robots, a creepy place, Zoe has plenty to scream about and the TARDIS breaks up.
Comedy quotient - Much to laugh about too. A nice all-rounder of a story.
Drama quotient - Perhaps there isn't that much drama, because the line between reality and fantasy is blurred.

A real gem. One or two niggles aside, The Mind Robber easily takes its place among the top Doctor Who stories of all time.


Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Dominators

Previous viewings - one

Norman Ashby gave us back Doctor Who. I'm serious. I know he doesn't really exist and The Dominators was written by our Yeti veterans Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, and The Dominators had a troubled production that ended with the story being an episode shorter than planned and the writers taking their names off it, but regardless of story quality (this ain't a classic) for the first time in ages I felt a quiver of excitement as I detected that quintessential "essence" of Doctor Who. The Season 5 stories, though they are great accomplishments, didn't have it - they were scary, atmospheric, tense, claustrophobic, the stuff of kids nightmares, but by Fury from the Deep I was starting to think the producers thought Doctor Who should only ever be these things. With The Dominators, all that's gone, replaced by adventure and plenty of humour, just when time to remind viewers that the universe isn't full of bases under siege. Once again, Doctor Who can do anything.

Thats the best aspect of The Dominators - it's so welcome. Then there's the fact that the bulk of the missing stories are over. From a marathon perspective, the hallmarks of the typical Troughton story are so set in stone that as none of them show up I'm shocked - and relieved, because I was sick of them.

The story begins with the arrival of a space ship carrying two Dominators, Rago and Toba, who have been sent on a mission to drill some holes into the planet Dulkis. The work is carried out by the Quarks, robot servants of the Dominators, and as a side effect of the operation the civilization on Dulkis will perish. So they're not nice guys. You have to feel sorry for them; the Quarks are useless, they have to wear the worst shoulder pads ever, and they're played by terrible actors, who never quite mange to make Rago and Toba anything more than one-dimensional grunts. For comedic reasons, they never agree on anything, but even though Rago is in command Toba goes with his gut and is constantly chastised for doing so. All of these work to undermine their effectiveness as threats, so the comedy in their relationship works, even though it gets wearisome after a while.

This is a very silly story. The inhabitants of Dulkis, the Dulcians, used to be a violent race but now abhorr violence, having taken up a policy of peace and dressing terribly. Seriously, the Dominator costumes are memorable but ridiculous and the Dulcian costumes take this a step further, we're used to seeing revealing clothes on women but the men don't get away with their dignity intact either, wearing what appear to be curtains, really stretching my ability to do anything but laugh at them. A serious misfire there.

The TARDIS arrives on the near-abandoned island of the Dominators just after the Quarks have killed some Dulcians. The Doctor has been to Dulkis before - interesting - and is surprised to find a small weapons museum nearby, given the Dulcians attitude towards violence. This is Zoe's first story as a traveller but she copes well enough that if you hadn't seen The Wheel in Space you'd never know she was the newbie. There's no process of showing her the ropes, and infact given in her own way she has led almost as sheltered a life as Victoria I'm surprised there's no process of settling in, as she experiences things textbooks haven't prepared her for, which way a key part of her character development in her debut story. Zoe's a cipher companion in its purest form, but Wendy Padbury has enough charisma to pull off a character that would be dull if played by a lesser actress.

Anyway, as the story goes on the Doctor and company meet up with a group of Dulcians who have visited the island, including survivor of the dead bunch, Cully, who I have to comment on - he suffers the most from the wardrobe malfunctions, a middle aged man trying to escape his father's shadow, wearing something that looks like he's just come out the shower, with the actor playing the role completely straight. No, just no. The others fare better, I liked Kando even though she was a bit too willing to submit to the Dominators, while Balan was stubborn but more believable than Cully.

As the Doctor tries to determine the Dominators' plan, he and Jamie are kidnapped and tested to determine intelligence. This is the kind of material that's worth it because Patrick Troughon and Frazer Hines's performances make it great alone, to say nothing of the writing itself. It presents the Doctor and Jamie in a situation that isn't the end of the world so they can, so it ends up being more fun. Anyway, they convince the Dominators that they aren't clever enough to be worth putting to slave work, so they are released.

The action moves to the Dulcian city as Zoe and Cully try to warn the Dulcians about the Dominators, however the visit ends up being padding, only introducing us to the docile lot who don't believe Cully. Suddenly I'm finding myself not caring much about whether they live or die, although I do care a bit more about the ones who have been captured back on the island and turned into slave labour. The message of the story is about as subtle and obvious as in Galaxy 4, but at least the plot is more interesting than in that story and is played more as an adventure, which certainly helps it - methinks the two writers might have been aiming for different things here, giving us a story that tries to do both. So the Doctor thinks that violence is necessary under certain circumstances, forcing people who have shunned violence for centuries to take up arms to fight off the aggressors (even though the Doctor and his companions end up doing most of the work).

Their main opponents are the Quarks, the robot minions of the Dominators (the Dominators themselves argue too much). The Quarks are strangely cutesy for a group of deadly robots and I think this was a clear attempt to appeal to kids and possibly the toy manufacturers. The Quarks turn out to be easy to blow up however they have limited power and are critical to the progress of the Dominators' plan, which turns out to be to turn the planet into a power reserve for their ships. In a silly story like this, the Quarks do work, because they go along with everything else which is being silly. Put them in The Power of the Daleks and I'd hate it, and at least nobody seems scared of them.

The finale is action-packed. While Jamie and others blow up Quarks (and have lots of fun doing so), the Doctor tries to intercept the Dominators' bomb and turn it against them. Even though the location is a quarry, there's lots going on and its heaps of fun. It's at the expense of drama but it's not like there was any in the first place. As the Dulcians leave, with the Doctor planting the bomb aboard the Dominator ship which will cause a volcanic eruption on the island, Troughton and Hines are at their best as the Doctor enjoys noting that he has saved yet another civilisation - until Jamie points out that they happen to be on the island that's going to be filling up with lava in seconds! The actors' chemistry has never been finer.

The Dominators isn't model Who, but I disagree about it being dull. It probably could have been four episodes and been better, and I'm glad it wasn't six, but five is good. A decent typical fun story with some bad creative decisions that conspire to ruin it, but don't quite manage to. Can't wait for the DVD!

Horror quotient - I'm scratching my head on this one. But we've had quite enough horror lately, and after all the seasons of the RTD era started off with a more lighthearted story.
Comedy quotient - Plenty of comedy. For once, we get a wealth of Troughton/Hines moments instead of little moments.
Drama quotient - Who'd believe in the threat of the Quarks? There's little drama or tension beyond what Troughton does his best to communicate.

Just when I thought Doctor Who had narrowed its scope, along comes The Dominators to widen it, and it's a hoot too.


Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Wheel in Space

Previous viewings - few (Episode 3), one (Episode 6), none (the rest)

If there's one thing we can depend on in 1960s Doctor Who it's a corker of a season finale. At least it's worked out so far that the story broadcast last each season - whether or not it was the last in a production block - has been great. The Wheel in Space has the dubious honour of being the first disappointing season finale, and I so wanted to like it - David Whitaker writing, Cybermen, introducing Zoe, these things all got me quite excited. However, it's a story with problems.

I'll get into those later, because it starts well, with a first episode mostly featuring only the Doctor and Jamie as the TARDIS lands in an empty ship with a few surprises aboard. The odd exception aside, I prefer it when in Episode 1 of a story centers on the regulars and keeps the threat ambiguous until the cliffhanger. It's the perfect format; it gives us (and the TARDISeers) a breather, as well as character moments, and allows us to better put ourselves in their place as the plot unfolds around them, rather than simply dumping them into the plot and all its baggage within the first few minutes. The Doctor and Jamie are a proven team and they haven't been this fun to watch together since Victoria joined. Even if the story's not that interesting, starting it this way tends to put me in a better mood, like waking up to sunshine.

I could tell within the first few minutes that David Whitaker was writing. Images of idyllic places appear on the scanner to tempt the Doctor and Jamie to leave, and when they don't the fluid link explodes, forcing them to do so anyway as the mercury vapour from the fluid link would be fatal - I can almost hear William Hartnell fluffing a line as I type. The Doctor and Jamie would have investigated the rocket anyway but it was worth it for their reactions to the images on the scanner. A search for mercury follows in the rocket, but the Doctor and Jamie find no crew. Then Jamie decides to go for a nap, but a service robot effects a course change which causes the Doctor to bump his head. Tristan de Vere Cole's direction is a bit flat but I'm going along with the story enough to see where it goes.

Meanwhile, we're introduced to the senior staff of the Wheel, an Earth space station. Throughout the story there are frequent attempts to make the human crew people rather than ciphers, and the results are muddled; there are quite a lot of them, for starters, and the characterisation comes in two varieties; the more important characters are well written and come across as more real for the most part, these include Dr. Gemma Corwyn, a personable yet professional woman, and to a lesser extent Bill Duggan, a sort of everyman character, and commander Jarvis Bennett, who is quite different from the usual base commander in that he seems sane, yet simply not that good at his job. Obviously Zoe Heriot receives the most characterisation given she's the new companion. The other characters aren't ignored, but as there is limited time to do anything with them all we get are not-so-subtle quirks to identify them by - for example Tanya going on about her nose, which I thought was bizarre. In these base-under-siege stories with their numerous similar characters, putting a name to a face is often difficult, and this is probably an attempt to rectify that somewhat, however this was the wrong way to go about it. I prefer it when characters make an impression by actually doing something.

The crew is keen to destroy the rocket as it's off-course, never mind the possibility of survivors, which provides us with our first cliffhanger. Episode 2 sees the Doctor and Jamie rescued before ending with.... the same cliffhanger. Except this time Jamie sabotages the laser, obviously to protect the TARDIS (isn't the TARDIS indestructible? Did the removal of the time vector generator change this?). Episode 2 also introduces us to Zoe.

Ah, the lovely Zoe. Zoe is what Victoria isn't (and vice-versa). Victoria was a very dated type of companion, a generic screamer beyond her first two stories, for the Doctor and Jamie to protect and rescue, and although there was a certain endearing quality about her, her uselessness got tiresome. As a direct replacement, Zoe is about as big a contrast as there could be to Victoria. What they've created with Zoe is a character that it's okay not to develop - she's a scientific and mathematical genius, whose world is opened by meeting the Doctor as he proves that logic is fallible, and that there's more to life than studying. She still screams sometimes but her book smarts allow her to make valuable contributions to plots and hold her own against monsters. I say it's okay not to develop her as a character because she is too much of a logical thinker rather than emotionally driven, and she travels with the Doctor simply to see more of the universe. Obviously Wendy Padbury is gorgeous, so that helps too .

Two episodes survive from this story - Episodes 3 and 6. As Episode 3 begins, we discover that Cybermen are hiding aboard the rocket. The Cybermen's plan in this story is fairly complicated and it mostly holds up to scrutiny; the Cybermen want to invade the Earth using the Wheel by smuggling themselves aboard with the help of some of the Wheel's crew whose minds they have controlled after luring them to the rocket to find bernalium supplies after Cybermats have eaten away the ones on the Wheel which was needed to power the x-ray laser which is needed to destroy meteorites approaching the Wheel after being caused by a nova engineered by the Cybermen. There, as simple as that. Never mind the fact that the Cybermen have a big great spaceship that could do a fair bit of invading by itself. Knowing how clueless the humans of the era are, I don't foresee any problems.

Anyway, in Episode 3 the Doctor is recovering from his injury in the first episode. The good thing about the plot having so many unnecessary stages is that it makes the six episodes rattle along at a good pace; it's never dull - the direction is uninspired, so any lifelessness is down to that. Episodes 4 and 5 are all about the controlled crewmembers doing the Cybermen's deeds aboard the Wheel, while the Doctor works out the Cybermen's plans.

The Cybermen themselves are one of the story's key problems. They've been stripped of most of what is great about them - the funky voices have been replaced by generic alien voices, their distinguished and fascinating background isn't even referenced, they're simply invaders who have set their sights on Earth. They look impressive at least, we only ever see two of them at once which is quite disappointing but but they're imposingly tall. From the standpoint of the portrayal of the Cybermen this is one of their weakest stories, because their plan could have been concocted by anyone and we learn nothing about them. Arguably they will never be quite like as powerful they were in The Tomb of the Cybermen again.

With the meteorites fast approaching, Episode 6 is the story's thrilling conclusion. There is lots of spacewalking - it's good to have a story in space after so many Earth stories - while the Doctor confronts the Cybermen who have infiltrated the Wheel, dismissing them simply as killers and dispensing with them quite easily and quickly. Hardly one of the great Doctor/Cybermen confrontations! The story lacks a proper climax, winding down fairly unsatisfactorily with the airlock closing on some Cybermen reinforcements as they spacewalk to the Wheel and the Cybermen's spaceship is blown up. Some great moments like Gemma Corwyn sacrificing her life are a little too understated and end up having their effectiveness reduced. It's a good last episode but lacked the focus a finale needed.

As the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe return to the rocket with the necessary mercury to get the TARDIS going again, Zoe stows away aboard, curious about the mysterious craft, and is allowed to join the team, forewarned about the danger with a viewing of The Evil of the Daleks (curiously of a scene that didn't have the Doctor in it).

Zoe shows a lot of promise, and to some extent we never see it realised because Zoe is pretty much the same in every story: reliable, clever, and wearing some strange outfits. However in an era in which most stories sit in a comfort zone rather than pushing the boundaries of what Doctor Who can do, Zoe is the perfect companion, and she's certainly one of my favourites. I liked her relationship with Jamie, obviously she considers herself smarter than Jamie, while he thinks she's too bossy, but he's also protective of her and she's too nice to lose her patience with him. Obviously the Doctor appreciates Zoe as someone who can make herself useful and who almost understands the things he says. Season 5 doesn't exactly end with a bang, but in a manner that bodes well for Season 6.

Horror quotient - Any attempt at horror falls completely flat, except at certain moments the Cybermen themselves.
Comedy quotient - David Whitaker has written some funny lines for the three regulars in this. It's no comedy though.
Drama quotient - The threat is too convoluted to be believable. Each setpiece involving danger has its own sense of drama, but the overall story doesn't, which hurts the conclusion.

Some big flaws but there's a really good Doctor Who in here somewhere. Better than its reputation but not by much.


Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Fury from the Deep

Previous viewings - one

Fury from the Deep has the distinction of being the only Season 5 story to feature a monster that didn't return. This story is all the better for that, because another outing for the weed creatures would allow this to sink into total obscurity. I know it's well-regarded, but consider its contemporaries. The Cybermen, the Yeti and the Ice Warriors all took off to varying degrees, while few people remember the weed creatures. This is now the squillionth base under siege story, and it hardly deviates from the template at all, different only because Victoria leaves in it and because it has quite a cool monster.

Okay, that was too negative. If the Hartnell era was Doctor Who's era of finding out what works and what doesn't, the Troughton era is the end of the learning process and giving viewers what's deemed to 'work' week after week, which is probably why the era never coughed up a clunker like The Web Planet. The idea behind this is sound BUT when what 'works' is monster/horror stories in hostile environments it leads me to quite a joyless era - thank goodness for Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines, whose hilarious double act makes every episode worth it. When Victoria muses over how the TARDISeers always land in trouble, it occurs to me how much I would enjoy seeing the TARDIS crew have fun for a while. Of course, Victoria has been thinking the same thing, which kind of makes the emphasis on constant peril worthwhile from a character development standpoint.

We're launched into the new story with an unusual TARDIS landing, on water. The Doctor whips out his sonic screwdriver to investigate what sounds like a heartbeat inside a pipeline. A decent enough intro. We're led from there to the North Sea base, the centre of a network of rigs used for gas pumping. The Doctor believes something is in the pipes, but Chief Robson dismisses his concerns and has the TARDISeers locked up. On audio, the guest cast come off as among the least interesting yet; there's Robson, the obligatory base commander with a screw loose, Harris, the reasonable one, and Van Lutyens, whose demeanour is somewhere between the other two. There's also Harris's wife Maggie, but we don't see much of her.

In the early episodes, the plot develops in the background while of primary concern is the loss of contact with a rig and the possible problems inside the pipes. There's too much procedure, too little character in scenes of operations in the control room, giving us little reason to care about anyone besides the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria. Overall the first episode is quite weak, with the plot having progressed little except Maggie being stung by seaweed and Victoria being trapped and overwhelmed by foam in an underwhelming cliffhanger. There's certainly a lot of tension driving the story, but its papering over quite a slow pace.

Episode 2 works similarly. The threat is effective both in conception and realisation; an expanding seaweed creature that emits a toxic gas and takes people over when it attacks them. There are no naff men in suits waving their arms around pretending to be monsters, only its catatonic victims and a lot of foam (again with the foam!). Episode 2 has that great clip of Oak and Quill, taken over the by the weed, emitting the gas from their mouths to attack Maggie Harris. It could just be that this is one of the story's best bits, but it seemed to indicate a story better than the one I had been listening to. One of the creepiest Doctor Who scenes ever.

With Robson still refusing to heed the warnings of the Doctor and his staff by turning off the gas flow through the pipes, he flips out and storms off. His mad rant reminded me of Evil Kirk in the Star Trek episode The Enemy Within, and was unintentionally hilarious. At least with him out of the way the plot could start moving; by Episode 3 still very little has happened. Seeded throughout the story however are little moments where Victoria expresses her weariness with travelling in the TARDIS. It's very cleverly done as this isn't a story you would expect Victoria to leave in; there's nobody for her to fall in love with, no cause to fight for and they're nowhere near her own time. This is about the only card the writer could have played to motivate her to leave, and it completely makes sense, even her screaming all the time works to make it more believable. I also like the way Jamie doesn't pick up on her feelings, differentiating her from him, as he isn't ready to leave yet. I'm no Victoria fan but it's some genuine, real character development rare for the era.

The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria return to the TARDIS to examine some seaweed in the Doctor's own lab (which we've never seen). It's a bit unusual for the Doctor to bring an apparently hostile creature into the TARDIS, especially in the 1960s when (if I'm not mistaken) only the Doctor and companions have ever been inside. In any case, it returns the focus back to the Doctor - at times in base under siege stories it's too much about the uninteresting staff.

I loved the Episode 3 cliffhanger, where an affected Maggie walks into the sea. It leaves a lasting haunting image of the episode.

Fortunately there is more action in the second half of the story, even though the plot still unfolds quite slowly. The base staff finally get around to investigating the impeller shaft, having switched off the gas flow, only to find out the extent to which the weed creature and its foam has enveloped the key areas of the base. The foam is a bit silly but necessary as the seaweed obviously can't be made to move on its own without looking fake, and the foam makes it look bigger and gives it a greater sense of movement. It's a base under siege in its purest form; more weed creatures growing in number and strength at a relentless pace, exciting but as for the characters I'm still not caring about them one jolt. Despite what seems to be a contemporary setting, it feels disjointed from the world we know (although perhaps that's to be expected as it's coastal) and I get little impression that there is a world beyond these rigs.

Anyway, I mentioned action - a delirious Robson, still under the influence of the creatures, escapes and kidnaps Victoria, taking her to a helicopter. The Doctor is forced to confront the creatures through Robson at one of the other rigs. The creatures have been something of a mystery until now, but in speaking their intentions rather disappointingly turn out to be pretty ordinary: to take over the planet. The Doctor and his companions manage to escape in the helicopter and return to the others. The helicopter scenes are rather long, although it's good to see some action in a rather padded six-parter.

With apparently no way to beat the creatures, the Doctor deduces (I say deduces, but it hardly takes a genius to work it out) that Victoria's screams are what has repelled the weed so far. I think the in-joke is more that Victoria is suddenly reluctant to scream so that the Doctor can record it and play it back on a loop to destroy the creatures, than the solution itself. It's a very visual climax, with the final advance of the creatures to besiege the control room, but after so many missing episodes I've learned to picture such climaxes (at least this is the last story completely missing!). Episode 6 is easily the best of the story, not only because of this, but because of Victoria's wonderful exit.

The creatures have been destroyed and as it turns out nobody has died. As the Doctor ushers his companions to return to the TARDIS, he realises without being told that Victoria doesn't want to go back with them. For once, there's plenty of time to give Victoria a decent send-off, even if she hasn't been the best companion ever (she's my least favourite Troughton era companion). It's one of the few exits to deal with the effect of the companion leaving the other companion, not just the Doctor, as Jamie tries to convince Victoria to change her mind. The next day, the Doctor and Jamie return to the TARDIS, with Victoria waving from the beach. I'm quite excited to have just the Doctor and Jamie left in the TARDIS; two's company but three's a crowd.

Horror quotient - Heavy focus on horror.
Comedy quotient - Little focus on humour. The story is even short of comedy Troughton moments. Here's hoping for more comedy in The Wheel in Space, I'm gasping for it.
Drama quotient - The drama is the horror. However as I've said I couldn't care less about the guest characters, they were either irritating or didn't leave an impression at all. Victoria seems to have chosen to stay with quite a boring bunch.

A competent production but an average story, though there are moments of quite unsettling horror. Victoria's exit aside, there isn't much to raise this from the norm.


Monday, 24 August 2009

The Web of Fear

Previous viewings - many (Episode 1), one (the rest)

As the era of returning monsters continues, the series offers up this sequal to The Abominable Snowmen, giving us more of the Great Intelligence and its lumbering Yeti robots. Its in a setting about as far removed from Tibet as you can get, which might be bad news if you're a fan of that story as the setting was an integral part of it. I'm not such a big fan but I did like the Yeti so a return appearance in a contemporary story gets my approval.

We begin with a cliffhanger that needs resolving despite having nothing to do with this story. I can't think of any other Doctor Who story that begins this way - usually end-of-story cliffhangers are a tease for the next story, this is a hangover from the last one. When Jamie closes the TARDIS doors, the Doctor shrugs off Salamander's grisly fate and is more concerned with the next adventure. Obviously since The Enemy of the World is mostly missing now we as fans value this glimpse of a missing episode and wish there had been a longer reprise but looking at it more objectively it would have been more effective to start with the scene with Travers then follow it up with the scene of the Doctor and Jamie eating at the console. This is the story's biggest flaw, and it's not even a big one!

Decades after Det-Sen, an aged Professor Travers is worried when he loses a control sphere he has activated, and tries to retrieve a Yeti he donated to a museum to make sure the sphere doesn't allow the robot to become a servant of the Great Intelligence once more. How great is it to have Douglas Camfield back in director's chair? Doctor Who always looks so well made under his guidance, and even in Episode 1 when the story is just warming up, there's loads to enjoy, including quite a few film inserts, which helps build up the atmosphere. The scene in the museum is a cracker, and establishes this as a horror story - the music, the lighting, the camerawork - work together rather than against each other. Right away the Yeti prove to be something beyond what they were in The Abominable Snowmen, and certainly scarier.

With the Great Intelligence out and about somewhere, it tries to ensnare the TARDIS, but the Doctor is able to materialise the TARDIS close to the source, allowing him to investigate on his own terms. It isn't until half way through the episode that we find ourselves in the London underground, following some free time in the TARDIS. I'm not against TARDIS scenes as long as they're not overlong and pointless, and in this case any chance for Victoria to be herself and not screaming is something to value. It surprises me that this is already Victoria's second-to-last story as she hasn't had much to do since she joined, and while she, the Doctor and Jamie make a fun team, Victoria stands out as the weak link and doesn't work so well as a character when they're not around. As for Jamie, for some reason it never bothers me that he doesn't get any character development. He has such a distinct background that we're always reminded of it so it's impossible for him to be a bland companion, his reactions to situations are always funnier than everyone else's and there's Frazer's chemistry with Patrick Troughton. He's my favourite companion so far and I don't see that changing as I watch the rest of the series.

Obviously lots of people remember this story. My dad remembers watching the Yeti in the underground (and also Episode 4 of The Tenth Planet ). The Yeti aren't around yet but even when the TARDISeers are just wandering around it's still extremely atmospheric. The setting of a dark, abandoned subway line and stations is so suited toDoctor Who that it would be hard to waste its potential.

The first episode ends with the Doctor apparently getting blasted when the army blows up the tunnel. We say goodbye to the Doctor for an episode - he is sorely missed - and Episode 2 is probaby the story's weakest. Jamie and Victoria meet up with Professor Travers, who along with his daughter Anne is working with the military in the underground of an evacuated London to clear away the Yetis and their expanding fungus. It's mostly filler as we've already been introduced to the army officers in the previous episode but it rattles along at a good pace, with a good balance of action and character. I'm enjoying Travers more this time around, he's more interesting as a doting old man and a firm ally, and the mystery of the non-aging Jamie and Victoria is something new for the series.

Episode 3 puts viewers to rest with the return of the Doctor who arrives with Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. It's the Brig! And he's exactly as I remember him: calm under pressure, open minded but still very much a military man, and willing to indulge the Doctor in his crazy solutions to problems. And he's probably the only character whose relationship with the Doctor transcends what incarnation the Doctor is on. If only they met on-screen as we barely see anything of the Brigadier coming to trust the Doctor. In The Web of Fear we see the Brigadier coping with some things he won't encounter later, including having his entire platoon wiped out during a Yeti attack and an officer who refuses to obey orders. Even though his relationship with the Doctor has frequent moments of humur, the Brigadier seems real here in a way that he won't later.

In the middle episodes, the Yeti are the stars, not the Great Intelligence. It's surprising how much more effective they are in the dark, however this is merely because pretty much all Doctor Who monsters work better in darkness if they're supposed to be scary. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are largely split up in this, following their own plot strands in different parts of the underground. Victoria is surprisingly restrained scream-wise and Jamie is unusually useful (sorry Jamie!).

A lot of the dramatic thrust of Episode 3 onwards is the presence of a Great Intelligence agent. Thrown into the mix have been a few characters who might be up to no good, including reporter Chorley and the irritating Welsh driver Evans. The Yeti and the fungus which slowly entombs everybody makes this one of the most effectiv base-under-siege stories; it's the middle of one of most heavily populated cities in the world, an ordinary place which provides no reassurances as the Great Intelligence seems just as capable of using the environment to its advantage as the human characters. The Doctor is consigned to running experiments for a couple of episodes when Travers is taken by a Yeti, but there's loads else going on in the meantime, with the Great Intelligence using much more cunning this time around, having Yeti models planted on several people so they can be tracked. Compare this with The Abominable Snowmen where it accomplished very little, proving itself to be a bit rubbish. In The Web of Fear the threat posed by the Intelligence is more pronounced as its more advanced in its plans.

At the end of Episode 4, with most of the army wiped out, Travers returns under control of the Intelligence, and tells the Doctor to hand himself over so his mind can be drained. Fortunately the Doctor is in control of a Yeti having activated a Control Sphere which he himself controls. As we're left with fewer people, there are less suspects for the traitor, even though by now it's largely irrelevant, in fact the revelation that a dead officer has been reanimated by the Great Intelligence to do its bidding, although creepy, comes at a time when there is more exciting stuff happening.

Everybody meets up for the big finale. It's not hard to guess that the Doctor's Yeti will play a big role and indeed it does - once again the pyramid of spheres is destroyed just before the Doctor has his mind drained. In something of a twist we find out that the Doctor had altered the conversion headset so that it drained the Intelligence and not him, so he's angry at Jamie for using the Yeti. What's disappointing about this is not only that it was obviously done to keep the Intelligence alive for a return appearance that never happened, but that even if the Doctor drained the Intelligence, I don't see why it can't return anyway given even more 'definite' ends to the Daleks and Cybermen. The Doctor being angry at not being able to obliterate his enemy is a little uncharacteristic and since he's right back to normal afterwards seems tacked on.

In accordance with the story starting late, it finishes late too, with the Doctor and his companions still looking for the TARDIS when the last episode ends.

What's so great about The Web of Fear? The Yeti are improved and actually scary this time, and the Great Intelligence recovers from a fairly average story to rival the best of at least the Cybermen. By this point the Yeti are primed to be a recurring enemy forevermore - only disagreements between writers and producer put paid to that. Admittedly this story uses up most of the potential for a great Yeti story, but there's still plenty to be done with them and had things been differently I can imagine the beeping of the Control Sphere being as familiar as an "exterminate!" with a few more appearances. Bring back the Great Intelligence!

It's also the story that proves a contemporary Earth setting works magnificently for the show. Sure, The War Machines started it off, but merely set the template - this runs with it and delivers a classic, and one of the first stories even the public would mention when recalling the Troughton era if they watched it at the time.

Horror quotient - What more is there to say? The Great Intelligence itself isn't that scary, but the heavy use of film and the Mark II Yeti build up a terrific atmosphere. Thanks Douglas Camfield!
Comedy quotient - Hmm, tough one. There are moments of humour and they're all in the right places.
Drama quotient - Everybody is used well, and the military officers are a more interesting bunch than the monks. The drama goes hand in hand with the horror here, and there are quite a few plot twists too that I really liked.

The Power of the Daleks has been pipped - this is my favourite Troughton so far. It's scarier and more dramatic. It accomplishes everything that so many stories of the era try to, and then some.


Sunday, 23 August 2009

The Enemy of the World

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

Doctor Who vists the "lead actor in dual role" well again, giving Patrick Troughton a chance to flex his acting muscles beyond playing the Doctor. I doubt anyone would argue that this is one of the least talked about Troughton stories and I'll guess a few reasons why - as an action-lite take on James Bond, it doesn't really have a "hook" beyond Troughton playing two characters, which can't compete with the appeal of a popular monster which every story from Season 5 has except this and Fury from the Deep. The surviving episode, while key to the plot, is a talky studio-bound episode. And lastly the title is as generic as City of Death. So what's to like about it?

Loads, as it happens. It's a welcome breather after a swathe of base-under-siege tales (with more to come) and immediately commands attention by being so different. The Enemy of the World is a tale of a politician's quest for world domination, and its political bent (far-fetched nature aside) and lack of alien threat almost allows the story to slip into the pure historical role.

Year unknown, but it's in the timeframe of quite a few stories of the era - 21st/22nd century. The TARDIS lands on a beach in Australia, and the Doctor decides to have a paddle. Instead he finds himself shot at only to be rescued by Astrid Ferrier in a helicopter. Plenty of action to start the story, although I would have preferred it there had been some story beforehand to put the action in context. The setting is worth mentioning - Doctor Who's only visit to Australia, right? It's not the UK and it's weird to see our little island completely ignored in a story with quite a bit of location hopping and strangely makes the serial feel more disconnected from the rest of the series, even from stories not set on Earth.

By the time this story is set, the political landscape is somewhat different to now, divided into Zones, so the world is run by a few people. One of them is Salamander, a shady man with a thick accent, played by Patrick Troughton. The Doctor is taken to Giles Kent, who tells him he is identical to Salamandar, and that despite his reputation as a public benefactor, Salamander is evil and craves world domination. It should be obvious where this is going now, as the story switches from action to exposition overload - Kent wants the Doctor to impersonate Salamander and find proof that he's been up to no good. The first episode is capped off by a really good cliffhanger - security chief Bruce shows up and questions Kent, forcing the Doctor to pretend to be Salamander to get rid of him. It's an unusual crisis for the Second Doctor to face and all the more striking for it, and one of the few times I've felt his anxiety as his abilities are being stretched.

The second episode introduces us properly to Salamander. The situation isn't like Hartnell playing the Abbot of Amboise, for one thing we knows from the off that Salamander isn't the Doctor, and both characters have lots of screentime. I definitely prefer Troughton's performance as the Doctor but I like the way he keeps us guessing how Salamander's mind works by altering his performance depending on who he is interacting with. In Episodes 2 and 3, Salamander commits mass murder by somehow organising a volcanic eruption so that his political opponent Alexander Denes will be removed from office for negligence. As we see him manipulating people and showing no remorse for the consequences of his actions, he quickly becomes a thoroughly dislikeable character. He's too visibly Patrick Troughton for me to completely disassociate him with the Doctor but at the same time I distinguish between them enough that Troughton's performance as Salamander never seems like he's the Doctor in disguise (if anything he was too good - when the Doctor was impersonating Salamander later on I didn't see the Doctor in his performance).

Parallel to the Salamander's schemes plotline, the Doctor conducts his own investigation of Salamander - wanting to know whether he is evil or not before he goes along with Giles Kent and Astrid - by sending Jamie and Victoria to infiltrate his staff. It makes sense given what we know about the Doctor but ultimately this is a bit of plot procrastination to allow the Doctor to fade into the background for a couple of episodes, preventing Patrick Troughton from tiring from exhaustion. It isn't until Episode 4 that the Doctor gets more involved. However it's not like nothing happens while we wait - the story takes the time to establish Salamander and Jamie and Victoria get a good 007ish subplot, with Victoria working in Salamander's kitchen while Jamie pretends to save his life and gets a job on his security force. It's great enough that Victoria doesn't scream, but Jamie was uncharacteristically intelligent, which combined with the uniform could have made him seem not much like Jamie at all if it wasn't for Frazer Hines knowing the character well enough to cope with the different role. In the Hartnell era the companions, especially Ian, showed a variety of skills as they took on various jobs as required in the stories, not so much in the Troughton era. Of course in Episode 4 both of them disappear and in Episode 5 they're back to normal.

The comments people have made about the James Bond allusions are fair for the most part but this story lacks an extra ingredient essential to the Bond formula: action. Aside from the first few minutes and the climax, it's low budget all the way, which isn't Bond at all. I like watching the plot unfold but there is a definite feeling the story is missing something, and this is it. It's especially apparent in the surviving episode, which is therefore an awful episode to watch in isolation on the Lost in Time DVD box set. At least we get to see the characters - usually I'm fine with audio but I like to at least be able to visualise the characters in a story to get a better picture in my head.

The twist in Episode 4 is that the natural disasters plaguing the world are being caused by people underground who have been told by Salamander that a nuclear war is being waged on the surface. This is where we really enter Bond territory as Salamander takes on the supervillain role, all he's missing is his hordes of unquestionably loyal henchmen, rather as the story unfolds he finds himself facing up to his problems alone. The Doctor quickly notices the discrepency involving the large demand for food supplies to the records room while working with Bruce, who turns out to be quite reasonable after all. The Doctor's actual impersonation of Salamander - what the story has been leading up to from Episode 1 - comes to nothing as he drops his cover in front of Jamie and Victoria.

Now we head into the climax, with a few more minor plot twists along the way. Credibility is stretched as Astrid discovers the people beneath the surface and Kent blows up the tunnels. Not only is the survival of the people beneath the surface treated as a minor issue (though it's not clear how many of them there are), but Salamander manages to escape the tunnels alive and instantly find the TARDIS. It's action-packed though so I'm forgiving of these trivial criticisms. The final few scenes finally sees the Doctor confront Salamander in the TARDIS, unmasking him as an impersonator (not that it was hard) and struggling with him at the console. It's a scene I would like to see for obvious reasons - two Patrick Troughtons! Plus Salamander getting blown out of the TARDIS as it takes flight with the doors open, leading us nicely into The Web of Fear. I'm not sure about ending the story on a cliffhanger which doesn't make it obvious that this story is over - the Doctor doesn't confirm that Salamander is dead until the start of the next story.

It's not a typical Troughton story and the budget problems cast serious aversions on it, but I like The Enemy of the World a lot. David Whitaker is up to his usual standard in the amazing characters he creates, the best of this story being obviously Salamander himself, the feisty Astrid Ferrier, the surprisingly honourable Bruce, Griffin the chef and Fariah, who has to work alongside Salamander despite hating him.

A forgotten story? Nah. If the other episodes were found I'm confident this story would become much more popular than it is now.

Horror quotient - This story is a break from the horror season.
Comedy quotient - I've noted that comedy isn't one of David Whitaker's primary interests (that's drama) but I thought the kitchen scenes were quite funny.
Drama quotient - Finally, a six-part story that fully merits the six episodes. It admittedly strings out the plot but in a different way than the two previous stories do, it saves each plot twist for a new episode and builds up the characters in the intervening screentime.

A little more action in the middle and this would get full marks. A shame this story ended up being the money-saver of the season - and makes no secret of that fact on-screen.


Saturday, 22 August 2009

The Ice Warriors

Previous viewings - one

If there was any lingering doubt what direction producer Innes Lloyd was taking the series, The Ice Warriors should quash it. By 1967, the goods were being delivered based on a tried and tested formula, and this is no more evident than in Season 5. There's a certain numbing effect from experiencing so many similar stories in sequence, mainly because they're not all going to be good enough to stand out. The scripts for this story in particular seem to have been written by taking the scripts for The Moonbase and changing the character's names.

Brian Hayles pens this first outing for the Ice Warriors. Having seen/heard three of his stories now, I'm starting to get a feel for his writing style; he creates fantastical worlds and then writes in such a way as to reign in the outlandishness of the settings or plots, sort of normalising them. In The Celestial Toymaker, this was disastrous - it just made it dull - but it worked quite well in The Smugglers. He has an easier job of establishing a believable, relatable world in The Ice Warriors, as despite the futuristic setting most of the characters could be picked from the present day and be no different. The isolated group of humans this time around are in control of an ioniser, which keeps the glaciers at bay as a new Ice Age looms, an Ice Age caused by a change in levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This touches on the modern issue of climate change, which makes the mission of the base personnel hit closer to home than their counterparts in earlier base-under-siege stories.

The Ice Warriors themselves are very memorable. Whether I like them or not I'm not sure - they're certainly not in the league of the Daleks or the Cybermen, but as they come from Mars it gives them a certain distinction that they would lack if they came from the planet Gloob. They are creatures that could only have come from the Troughton era, being portrayed as irredeemably evil creatures, with no regard for human life, and they come complete with distorted voices and lumbering movements, with a body/suit that is way too restrictive. It's becoming something of a Doctor Who tradition for the stock soldiers to be either robot-like or controlled from one central intelligence, and I like that the Ice Warriors are an exception. Their essence is so unashamably B-movie that I can't bring myself to hold any of their design features against them. I'll never be scared of them but as Doctor Who monsters go there's a lot worse.

The story begins with a short montage setting the scene. Yep, it's cold. The TARDIS lands on its side just outside Brittanicus Base. An unusually funny sequence follows as the TARDISeers climb over each other to get out. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are being written and played as three best friends, and it's a dynamic thats lots of fun. From then on its right into the action as they wander into the base. The personnel this time around are the obligatory uncooperative base commander Clent, the useless second-in-command Miss Garrett (good to see a woman in authority though), and impulsive scientist Arden. I thought Clent was very well played by Peter Barkworth, being the base commander he is required to be a thorn in the Doctor's side but he's not just playing an archetypal role, he's characterised as a man who sees the world differently from the Doctor and will stand by what he believes in. None of this changes the fact that everybody is only a slight variation on characters we've seen before though.

A spanner in the works is Penley, former scientist at the base who has been expelled and continues to lurk around nearby with his Scottish sidekick Storr. I wasn't keen on either of them, with Storr being especially irritating largely because I hate when the token Scot is the token idiot.

The first episode is a good. As usual, the Doctor wanders into the control room and spots a problem no one else has. It's Patrick Troughton at his eccentric best - the Doctor earns respect by being cleverer than he looks, but like Hartnell at his best, Troughton plays it to leave viewers wondering how much of the Doctor's absentmindedness is deliberate. At their best, the first two Doctors are actually quite similar.

The plot gets going with the discovery of a frozen Ice Warrior, who is taken into the base. He wakes up and takes Victoria hostage as he returns to where he was found to revive his comrades and salvage their ship, which has been trapped beneath the ice for thousands of years. The combination of the hissing Ice Warriors and the screaming Victoria gets hard to endure after a while - Victoria is nice to look at but by god is she irritating, with this story being possibly her worst. The writers gave her a unique background among companions, so why is it never mentioned? I get the impression it's being used merely as a reason for her to be even more scared of everything than a modern girl like Polly would be. She's good with Jamie, and with the Doctor (though they hardly ever get a scene to themselves), but despite a promising beginning she's turned out to be one of the weakest companions.

A large part of the plot concerns the ioniser, a device which is being used to melt the ice. There is a scene I liked in Episode 1 where Clent quizzes the Doctor on solutions to the problem of advancing glaciers. Even when it's dodgy, I like it when science has a role in the plot, as long as it's only used to service the plot.

Obviously, Episodes 2 and 3 are missing. As with the other nearly complete stories, I had a reconstruction of the missing episodes, in this case it was a full reconstruction and not condensed as most people's seem to be. Unfortunately, as seems to be happening a lot lately, the pace slows down as we get to the middle episodes. Victoria remains a prisoner of the Ice Warriors until the last episode so she's out of action, the Doctor doesn't really do much in the base except work out some calculations, while Jamie gets a larger share of the story as he and Arden goes to find the Ice Warrior spaceship and rescue Victoria.

If there's one word to describe these episodes it's ordinary. The Ice Warriors has some striking visuals and music but disappointingly it's not as atmospheric as I was hoping. It's the fact that the Doctor hangs around doing nothing for so long, and that the Ice Warriors are segregated and don't actually attack the base until the last episode, leaving the glaciers themselves to pose most of the threat, that lets it all down. I think Brian Hayles might have fallen into the trap of making a dull story out of an interesting setup again.

Arden is killed and Jamie is injured. Victoria is particularly awful in a scene where she contacts the Doctor to tell him about the Ice Warriors, but can't answer a single question that will give the base personnel a tactical advantage. It's when the Doctor finally decides to go to the Ice Warrior ship himself that the story is livened up a bit. The Ice Warriors view the ioniser as a weapon as they are used to a colder climate and are going to attack the base. Patrick Troughton is wonderful whenever the Doctor has to confront a villain, humour remains integral to his performance but his conviction in playing the Doctor would make you believe in the threat of monster made of pink candy floss. I know Troughton gets loads of praise on this board anyway but there really never was a single bad performance by him.

The conclusion quickens the pace and finally sees more proactive Ice Warriors. While the Ice Warriors enter the base, the Doctor reprograms their weapon to use it against them. They leave in their ship but it explodes upon take-off.

I hate to say this, but The Ice Warriors was another six episodes that could have been four. As I write I'm wondering if I'm being a little hard on the story, but after listening to The Web of Fear, this story has been shown up as something of a dud in comparison. It has a lot going for it - the Ice Warriors themselves are among the best of the crappier Doctor Who baddies (lets face it, they're never going to be the baddies in a classic without a major revamp), and I loved the setting, which is used to its maximum potential. Brian Hayles seems at home writing a monster story, even if not much about it really excels, lifting it above the competition it faces from the other stories in the season which are similar. Worth a watch, and I think it's going to be one that I'll look more favourably on when I watch it on its own, but for now this is definitely one of the lesser Troughtons.

Horror quotient - Do Ice Warriors scare kids? The hissing voices aren't scary. For a base-under-siege, there isn't much sieging going on, the base personnel are left in peace for waaaay too long.
Comedy quotient - The usual carry-on by the Doctor and occasionally Jamie. I wonder why Troughton's Doctor was so frequently put opposite humourless characters?
Drama quotient - Not too bad there. Interest waned a few times over the six episodes but only because of padding. Good direction by Derek Martinus keeps things from getting too boring, at least if we're not in the base.

Like the Ice Warriors themselves, The Ice Warriors has all the elements of something great, but doesn't use them. It's certainly no stinker but my expectations were higher.


Friday, 21 August 2009

The Abominable Snowmen

Previous viewings - few (Episode 2), none (missing episodes)

I see judging by the near-universal praise for this story I'm going to have to fight my case for my rather different opinion of it.

From now until the end of the Pertwee era, longer stories are the norm. A six-parter is not merely a longer four-parter, it's a whole different beast of a story, and although budget problems can sometimes preclude broadening the scope of a story to fit the longer length, this isn't always the case and in The Abominable Snowmen, a six-parter, an otherwise polished, expensive-looking production (by 1960s Doctor Who standards), I lay the blame at the feet of the writers for pulling out all the stops to slow the story down - you know what I mean: slow-talking, slow-moving villains, going back and forth between locations for little reason, extended scenes with little dialogue or action, characters not realising the bleeding obvious, all hallmarks of padding out a story beyond its natural length.

The BBC audio of this story was dreadfully quiet. I tried to listen to it when I was out and about but could hardly hear a thing, necessitating a relisten of Episodes 3 and 4. Let me bactrack a bit and start at Episode 1 though.

The Doctor decides to return an old relic to the monastery at Det-Sen when the TARDIS lands in Tibet in the 1930s. There's lots to love about the first episode - the Doctor's massive coat (looks warm!), the location filming (always fun to get out of the studio, even if it's just some hills), the pure atmosphere of the episode - very calm before the storm as the plot slowly gets going. Unfortunately upon arriving at the monastery the Doctor is suspected to be behind the murders of some monks and a comrade of Professor Travers, who has come to Tibet to look for the Yeti. I've never been much of a fan of these misunderstanding subplots, since it's inevitably going to be resolved it requires decent characters to be hostile and for little reason other than the story is not yet ready to advance. The lead monk, Khrisong, is a fairly humourless character and so remains pretty unlikeable throughout the rest of the story. Troughton's Doctor is of course entertaining but by the end of the first episode even he is struggling to stop viewer interest from waning.

The Doctor's decision to leave Jamie and Victoria in the TARDIS gives those two characters a chance to interact more. One thing I like about this story is the way it builds on Jamie's protectiveness of Victoria, like she's his little sister. As they leave the TARDIS and follow some footprints, they get trapped in a cave with a Yeti, which provides us with the story's first cliffhanger.

The second episode survives, yay because it's a good one. The picture on the location filming is very sharp and grain-free, so much so that the black and white looks more like a creative choice than necessity, although it does make it all the more jarring when we cut back to the studio, especially considering the Doctor is supposed to be outside too. The story is still slow-moving but we get a good scene with the Doctor speaking to the young monk Thonmi in his cell. Thonmi is the most likeable of the monks, showing more willingness to listen to the Doctor and quickly trusting him. If Jamie wasn't around he would have made a good addition to the TARDIS crew.

After taking an age to reveal his possession of the Ghanta, the Doctor is tied up outside to draw out his "allies" the Yeti, while we get our first glimpse of the sanctum of the monastery, where we meet the Abbot Songsten, an elusive, guarded but forceful man, and hear the voice of Padmasambhava. Both are clearly up to no good. Jamie and Victoria convince Travers that the Doctor isn't the attacker and he is freed by order of Padmasambhava, giving the story permission to actualy begin with investigaton of the real culprits, the Yeti.

The real stumbling block with The Abominable Snowmen comes in the middle of the story, where two whole episodes go by with nothing happening. The monks capture a Yeti and some control spheres but lose them. We are told at the Yeti are actually robots, inert without their control sphere, and that Padmasambhava is controlling the movements of the Yeti from his chamber, moving them like chess pieces for purposes as yet unknown. This simply isn't enough plot to sustain two whole episodes - even the foreboding atmosphere I noticed earlier in the story has fallen by the wayside. On the whole I think the Yeti are a great idea done badly; iconic look and central idea, but they don't actually get to do anything interesting, just move around a bit. Where are the masses of attacking Yeti, destroying everything in sight? There seems to be no attempt to establish them as a formidable force, or even give them a lot of screentime. I know they are only being controlled, with the Great Intelligence pulling the strings, but people don't generally remember the Great Intelligence when thinking of these stories, they think of the Yeti.

The story occasionally drops hints about the Doctor's previous visit to Det-Sen 300 years ago. I liked the notion of the Doctor returning to somewhere he's already been, and meeting one of the characters, although not enough is made of it - strange in itself as there was plenty of time to elaborate on it. It only raises more questions than it answers. A missed opportunity.

Victoria gets a lot to do here, establishing herself as an independent character who is willing to do her own investigating. After finding Padmasambhava's sanctum, Victoria is put in a trance and returned to the Doctor to convince him to take her back to the TARDIS, a ploy to aid the Great Intelligence whose movements of the Yeti are designed to scare the monks into leaving. We see Victoria at her best and her worst here; there is lots of screaming and she is especially irritating when asking the Doctor to take her away, but she pushes the story forwards and accomplishes more than Jamie does, with Jamie being largely a spare part who worries only about Victoria being missing. Unfortunately, writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln don't have a strong grasp of the characters of Jamie or the Second Doctor, and there were moments I was expecting the usual Doctor/Jamie banter but ended up disappointed as it just wasn't there, even though the actors were doing their best. In fact I can see this story being better if Jamie wasn't in the story at all and the Doctor arrived with Victoria. I'm still not keen on the overall triad of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria, but we see so little of it in this story beyond the first and last episodes there's not much to comment on there.

As we head for the conclusion, Episodes 5 and 6 are a vast improvement on the middle episodes. After sitting around working things out for two episodes, the Doctor becomes more proactive and goes to see his old friend Padmasambhava, who has been kept alive by the Great Intelligence and used as a vessel. The Intelligence starts manifesting itself physically through a pyramid of spheres, having failed to clear the monastery of the monks. The Doctor cuts off the link between the Intelligence and the Yeti, leaving the Intelligence powerless. The climax is exciting enough, with the rampant Yetis.

The Abominable Snowmen is a story there isn't anything more to say about than for a four-parter because a four-parter is what it should be. It's great that the production team got more use out of the location and a monster that quickly resonated with the public, but none of that stops the story from being one of the dullest yet. It has plenty of potential, but it's hardly used; Travers is supposed to be a central character and I wanted to see more of him. The Doctor's previous visit to Det-Sen should have been played up more rather than just being an anecdote. The Yeti don't have enough to do and aren't scary. If they'd just been able to sustain the atmosphere of the first few episodes it could have been so much better. This doesn't mean I've taken the good for granted though, and there's lots to like - the plot and budget hold up and the Great Intelligence is an interesting villain who just happens to irk me by talking so slowly. Perhaps I need to work on my attention span a bit....

Horror quotient - I suspect childhood memories of the Yeti are down to The Web of Fear, I'd be surprised if anybody remembered a walk around the hills more than a dark, tense, underground horror story.
Comedy quotient - Patrick Troughton does his best of course, as does Frazer Hines, but they're working against a fairly serious script. The Doctor and Jamie are thus quite subdued from what we're used to.
Drama quotient - The story was going for dramatic but ended up boring. It's a difficult line to tread - it isn't the first story to fall victim to this and it certainly won't be the last.

One of the dullest Troughtons. If you want Yeti listen to The Web of Fear instead.


Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Tomb of the Cybermen

Previous viewings - many

Classic Who fandom can be divided into two subgroups: those who remember the days when The Tomb of the Cybermen was missing and the younger crowd for whom it's just another Troughton story with the Cybermen in it. I'm of the latter, and in fact reading the back of the DVD case of this story was when I first learned about missing episodes. There's something comforting about experiencing this marathon by popping on a DVD rather than by other, less accessible means.

The lovely Victoria Waterfield has joined the TARDIS crew and the first scene is her introduction to the TARDIS. The Doctor trots out his usual explanations of space/time travel, telling us his age for the first time too, which is interesting in itself because until now there has been nothing to indicate the Doctor's lifespan is any longer than a human's. It's a great scene, cleverly avoiding being a repeat of similar scenes from the Hartnell era (it's always impressed me how the writers have managed to make each companion's reactions to the TARDIS unique over the years). It distinguishes itself mainly by its short length and emphasis on humour rather than Victoria's disbelief of the abilities of the TARDIS. I like that Victoria quickly believes the Doctor and Jamie - it rings true given her experiences in The Evil of the Daleks and we've seen all that before anyway. I also like that the Doctor is patient with her and answers her questions, as he's clearly excited to get someone new on board, a marked difference from how Hartnell's Doctor usually reacted to someone new.

We're on location on the planet Telos with an archaeological team as the story starts properly. At this point on first viewing, I felt like I was watching a film from the 40s or 50s - it's the retro atmospheric music, the non-vidFIRED film print and lack of unconvincing BBC sets. Unlike most base-under-siege stories, it's not aliens visiting humans but humans visiting aliens, so we have a limited group of human characters coming from one ship, a finite number that thins as they're bumped off through the story. I like this format a lot; everybody is a character rather than an extra (though technically there are a few unimportant rocket crew, they leave early on) so it gives everybody an added importance, and the story a sense of progression as we start losing people.

The characters themselves are a varied bunch; there's Parry, the leader of the expedition, a scientist at heart but also a capable leader who cares about his people, the terrified Viner, as well as Klieg and Kaftan, who are signposted as the villains right at the start by their nonchalant reactions to a man's death and opposition to the TARDISeers joining their exploration of the buried Cyberman city. These are all good, believeable characters and well played (yes, I include Kaftan, I thought she was quite sinister). Less successful characters include Kaftan's "servant" Toberman, regarding whom all I can say is what were they thinking? We've gone through four seasons of the show without any such dated attitudes towards those of different races. Toberman barely speaks and in the early part of the story only seems to be there to lift things. The rocket captain, Hopper, is awful mainly because of his terrible American accent. Strangely, all of the actors playing the Americans seem to be doing the same terrible accent, making their scenes unintentionally hilarious.

The Doctor enters the scene and helps the team open the doors to the Cyberman city, which have been electrified. As they enters, they split up to explore the city, which is a bit like alien cities from Star Trek in that it seems to consist of about three rooms. This copes better than its counterparts in Star Trek, by only having key scenes in the extra rooms and everything else in the control room, where it makes sense for the team to spend the most time as they can make a quick getaway if things go wrong. The first cliffhanger is decent given that it doesn't advance the story and it's obvious that the firing range subplot was only written in because there had to be a cliffhanger to Episode 1 and the Cybermen weren't being introduced until the cliffhanger to Episode 2. After nothing in Cybermen stories so far but squadrons of attacking Cybermen, it's good to see their habitat, even if it's not really that different from the Dalek city on Skaro.

With the death of Haydon, the team decides to abandon its exploration, however the rocket has been sabotaged, with Captain Hopper offering the pretty lame reason that he doesn't want them in his way during repairs to give everybody a reason to stay in the city overnight. Klieg passes the time by working out the logic problems left by the Cybermen, which operates most of their equipment, and curiously the Doctor gives him a helping hand, giving him the solution of how to open the hatch in the control room, which leads to a lower level. If you're an eagle-eyed viewer then you might think the Doctor's behaviour in this story is pretty strange - the team has only made progress because of him breaking down the obstacles, and opening the hatch leads them directly to the Cybermen tombs. Why go down there? Why not let them be? Obviously the Cybermen staying emtombed is the Doctor's main objective, but as he isn't planning on staying around forever he needs to make sure it's impossible for anyone to get to the Cybermen in his absence. For him, this requires working his way through all the traps the Cybermen have set and making them even more efficient.

Once we're down in the tombs, Klieg turns on everybody and wakes up the Cybermen. It was an interesting creative choice to have two human villains to stand alongside the Cybermen, especially given that it's blatantly obvious the Cybermen aren't going to agree to any deal Klieg has in mind. That Klieg and Kaftan hope to bargain with them is foolish to begin with, but that they persist with it until the bitter end is rubbish. If Klieg comes to realise he's wrong but has gone mad so can't allow himself to accept the obvious it's never made clear. He just seems like an idiot, which is at odds with his apparent intelligence. Strangely however, for all the holes I can poke in his and Kaftan's plan, they still seem dangerous, because the gaps in logic required to make everything work is limited to them rather than the plot itself. By simply assuming they're bonkers, I can brush over any story problems concerning them and they do manage to be menacing well enough.

The Cybermen wake up, and we get our first glimpse of the Cyber Controller. He's quite a big guy. The Cybermen look as they did in The Moonbase, but the voices have been altered slightly to sound more electronic. These are my favourite Cybermen voices, along with the ones in The Tenth Planet they're the creepiest but not as silly. I think if the Cybermen voices aren't electronic they risk end up looking like simply men in suits.

As with pretty much every four-part Cybermen story, Episode 3 is the where the metal meanies come out in force. The most impressive sequences are the Cybermen leaving their tombs and the introduction of the Controller. Again, the music is what makes it with heavy use of the Cybermen theme from The Moonbase. Why I like the introduction of the Controller is because it's creepy the way he simply stands silently while Klieg speaks. We have no idea what the Cybermen are thinking, because they have no facial expressions, and that's unsettling. They lash out very suddenly and try to grab everyone, intending to convert them into a new race of Cybermen, as they possess superior intelligence having solved their puzzles. These scenes at the start of Episode 3 are as good as the story - and indeed the Cybermen themselves - ever got, because it's the one and only time I'm on the verge of finding them scary.

I'm not one that finds the rest of the story a disappointment. Okay, so the Cybermen simply hang around until they need to go back to the tombs and recharge, but if they're that vulnerable then it makes sense for them to remain where they can have easy access to the tombs. The Tomb of the Cybermen is one of those stories that is more about atmosphere and thrill than plot and motivation. Besides, the rest of the story remains action-packed, with Klieg becoming more desperate and the Controller escaping from the hatch. The conclusion sees Klieg get his comeuppance at the hands of the Cybermen and a hurried exit from the city by the surviving members of the team, the Cybermen safely frozen in their tombs again.

There are a few things I've not mentioned. The main one is Cybermats. Okay, they're dismal, even less convincing than Robomen, but the Robomen were one bad element among many in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, while the Cybermats stand out as the weak link in The Tomb of the Cybermen and aren't on screen much, and the Cybermats are laughably bad while the Robomen were simply bad.

In her first story as a companion, Victoria shines. Her background isn't so important as her character - I would simply describe her as shy and she could be from the present day just as easily as 1866 - and she's a screamer but kicks ass enough to redeem herself. Plus there's that lovely scene with the Doctor where they discuss missing their families. Jamie doesn't have much to do and that's a loss as in the two most recent stories we've seen a lot of the Doctor/Jamie double act and if it's proved anything it's that Troughton's Doctor doesn't need a female companion if Jamie's around. I'm liking Victoria for now, though.

A worthy find is The Tomb of the Cybermen, and it could well be the best Cybermen story of all time. The main reason I love it is that is really does feel like I'm watching a Doctor Who movie, sure it's dated, even by 1967 standards, but Morris Barry's direction is top notch, and good direction can do a lot for a story. The performances are universally good, the characters likeable, in fact it only falls down technically (and only in a few places) and the way the Cybermen don't put up much of a fight, merely deciding it's not worth bothering about. Sometimes a story is so good in some areas that the few flaws simply don't matter.

Comedy quotient - Troughton is on form, as ever.
Horror quotient - The direction and music contribute to the scariness of this story. The fact that it wasn't vidFIREd for DVD could make a difference too.
Drama quotient - The main difference between this and The Power of the Daleks is drama and tension. This has less of both than Power, but it's more representative of Troughton's era. It's base-under-siege comfort viewing - not the scariest, not the not dramatic, but it's atmospheric as hell and the plot unfolds at just the right pace.

Whenever I want a base-under-siege story, this is the one I reach for from the DVD shelf. This would be the case even if every episode existed. A classic in every sense of the word.