Archive for the ‘Classic’ Category

Marco Polo   Leave a comment

The fourth-ever Doctor Who story is also its most famous loss. Rumors spring up from time to time that the BBC is only waiting for the opportune moment to reveal it, but so far no part of “Marco Polo” has officially been found. A 30-minute reconstruction, pasted together from surviving audio and telesnaps, was released on The Beginning DVD set.

30 minutes out of 7 episodes doesn’t seem like much. Fortunately there’s Loose Cannon.

This highly skilled “amateur” production company did more than painstakingly reconstruct all 7 missing episodes (and many more stories besides). They started with color telesnaps, depicting lush sets and vibrant costumes far beyond the budget of most Doctor Who. Where needed, they colorized, hand-painting individual photographs to match. They added a frame story, featuring original actor Mark Eden as an older Marco Polo looking back on his most unlikely of travels. Eden also provides a charming introduction.

The result is exceptional. The images are gorgeous, vivid, dense with detail. The story is compelling – even at 7 episodes, it never drags. Every character – and there are many – gets a chance to shine. Children of the time must have been fascinated by their heroes’ visit to the exotic court of Kublai Khan. The colonialist perspective and abundant yellowface* make for a harder watch today – but still, I feel, worthwhile.

I once heard a short debate on the merits of telesnap reconstruction versus animation of lost stories. At the time, I fell firmly in the animation camp: I preferred the flow of animation to the stilted awkwardness of snap recons. However, no animator could have captured the lavish detail of Loose Cannon’s “Marco Polo.” Their work has changed my mind.

Loose Cannon can be found online on YouTube, and also here.

* Actress Zienia Merton is half Burmese and was raised in Singapore and Borneo among other places. No other cast member is anything but white white white.

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The Edge of Destruction   Leave a comment

This is a strange one.

The third-ever story of Doctor Who is only two episodes long. It features only the main cast and the TARDIS interior. It’s a kind of psychological thriller, a closed-room mystery in which the heroes turn on each other, missing memories and paranoia fueling distrust to the point of violence. There’s little action, no history, no adventure; the cinematography and character development are cool, but I wonder if children in particular found it sufficient to engage their interest.

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This is actually one of the creepier shots, as the instant before Ian was slumped unconscious in a chair.

The simplicity was likely necessitated by the budgetary demands of the following story, “Marco Polo,” which reputedly broke the bank with lush costumes, lavish sets, and a massive cast. Still, “The Edge of Destruction” is not without merit; that merit being mostly Barbara Wright.

Where Ian played the hero in the previous story, this time it’s Barbara’s turn. She faces down the Doctor’s terrible accusations courageously. She cares for Susan even after Susan turns on her. And in the end it’s she, not the Doctor, who understands what the TARDIS is trying to tell them. Barbara, not the Doctor, puts the pieces together and saves all their lives. Ian, on the other hand, spends much of the story half-naked, unconscious, or both. I can’t help feeling some balance restored to the universe.

The Doctor, for his part, fails to apologize, takes credit for Barbara’s success, and still charms her into forgiving him. He’s very much an alien in this story – his alignment unknown, his intent a mystery – but also, already very much the Doctor.

The Mind Robber   Leave a comment

Fictional characters confronting fictionality is one of my favorite tropes – and this time it wasn’t even Moffat!

For once my husband was in the mood for DW, and the Second Doctor is one of his faves – hence my veering from the Classic timeline. There aren’t many extant Troughton stories left that we haven’t seen, but this was one of them. I remembered it as the story where Frazier Hines got sick and Jamie was played by someone else. (That did happen for one episode – and fortunately in the Land of Fiction you can make that work.)

Overall this is a cracking story. It moves fast for its era with no especially notable padding. The interactions with Gulliver and Rapunzel are great fun – Rapunzel is adorable, and I don’t understand why this is her only television role. I also particularly enjoyed the comic-book superhero from the future: grounding Zoe as a character and legitimizing comics as literature in one fake-muscle-bound stroke. However, neither Jamie nor Zoe is at their best in this story, each having little use for their strengths and both being repeatedly and too easily fooled.

A couple of things confused me as well. The title didn’t click for me at first, though after some thought I managed to put it together – the Doctor’s mind was needed to continue creating the fiction, and could not be got by legitimate means. The intent of the primary villain – to empty the earth via stories? never quite made sense. (The secondary villain’s motivation of looking for a replacement so he could retire worked much better.) And then there was that credit at the end of episode 1: The Master, though no new character had been introduced and the Master himself does not appear until the Third Doctor’s era.

I have never even heard another Master mentioned. In story, the character is more accurately called “the Master brain” or something like that – the alien intelligence that kidnapped the human “Master” for its inexplicable purpose. There is no (apparent) relationship between this Master and the Master. Still, I can’t imagine that fandom hasn’t tried to create one.

The story picks up right where the previous story – “The Dominators,” which I haven’t seen – leaves off. It also ends on a cliffhanger, but as far as I can tell that one does not resolve: the following story, “The Invasion,” begins on the moon, and I recall no reference to a prior story. However I haven’t seen it in some time; perhaps in a few years when I get to this spot in my Classic Who (re)watch, I’ll learn better.

On another note, I don’t usually swing that way but I adore this shot:

Zoe

In the #MeToo era it doesn’t look good. There’s no story value in Zoe’s bum no matter how glorious. We get no corroborating up-skirt shot of Jamie. (A disappointment to be sure.) And truthfully, had this been most any other companion – any modern companion for sure, or any more helpless companion such as Victoria, or more thoroughly sexualized character like Leela – it would be nothing less than crass. But something about Zoe makes it work. One, she is rarely sexualized in the series, and rarely less than fully clothed from chin to sole. And two, according to the stories at least, Wendy Padbury was more than able to hold her own on set. The boys’ club of Troughton and Hines was known for practical joking, generally at the expense of their younger female co-stars. (Deborah Watling reportedly had a difficult time on the show for this reason.) But it’s been said that Padbury could give as good as she got, and was undeterred by any juvenile antics.

 

I don’t know what Padbury thinks of the shot, or what her young fans at the time felt. For me, I’m reminded that sexuality can also be empowering for women.* I’m reminded, in spite of her detractors and of course Moffat, of Amy Pond.

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Your mileage may vary.

 

*This is a complex arena, but I have acquaintances who are strippers and burlesque dancers, and they are anything but disempowered by a glorious bum.

The Daleks, at last   Leave a comment

Announce a new project: it’s a sure way not to have any time to put into the project. :-/

Almost a month has gone by since “An Unearthly Child.” Travel, overbooked weekends, nights at home that got hijacked for other events… with one thing and another, it still took two separate attempts to get through all 7 episodes of “The Daleks.” That’s not even a comment on the quality of the story; it really just takes a long time.

“The Daleks” was the second ever aired Doctor Who story. The concept was originally rejected by Sydney Newman, who famously opposed any “bug-eyed monsters” in his show. However, as it was the only script ready to shoot at the time, Newman was stuck with it.

In spite of Newman’s assessment, something about the strange pepper-pot aliens captured the national imagination. By the end of the story, the number of viewers per episode had topped 10 million, and Doctor Who was a television success. I like to imagine that the scene from “An Adventure in Space and Time” in which Verity Lambert witnesses children on a public bus shouting “Exterminate!” literally happened. Without the Daleks, Doctor Who as we know it today would probably never have existed.

The story opens exactly where the prior story ends: the TARDIS arrives on a new, unknown planet and the radiation dial quietly creeps into the red. Typically of early DW, each episode plays directly into the next, whether they’re part of the same story or not. In fact, “The Daleks” was not known by that name at the time: instead, each episode was provided its own title, its own mini-arc, and its own cliffhanger – even the last one, which sets up the following story.

Ian is unmistakably the hero of the show. He leads the action and looks after his fellow travelers. Barbara, a good character in most ways, gets heavily damseled in this story: hiking through swamps and under mountains in open-toed sandals, clinging to the hand of a male admirer throughout the “scary parts,” and then nearly getting him killed. Susan has a moment or two to shine, but mostly she’s an overplayed stereotype of a horror-movie girl. (I can relate to Carole Ann Ford’s disappointment.) The Doctor is self-centered and callous: he damages the TARDIS himself so the others are forced to let him visit the city that interests him; declines to help the pacifist Thals face their mortal enemy; and then, when he can’t abandon them, tries to force the Thals to help his party. Ian is the good guy of the group: he apologizes to Susan for disbelieving her, drops everything to rush to Barbara’s side when she cries out in fear, and refuses to manipulate the Thals to put themselves in danger for his party. He also has a thing or two to teach the Thals – and the Doctor – about courage.

Overall, the pacing of the story is typical for its time. Episode 1, titled “The Dead Planet,” is edge-of-your-seat intense, with a creepy stone forest, mysterious faraway city, and no sign of life – until someone lays a hand on Susan. The final two episodes, featuring the assault on the Dalek city, are similarly gripping. In between, we spend a lot of time running down corridors, attempting escapes, making terrible plans, having redundant arguments, and generally wandering back and forth over and over again. Not to mention being threatened with extermination!

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Does not occur in this story.

A few highlights:

  • Chestright: The Ian/Barbara ship is well sailed in this story, in spite of the momentary infatuation of one Thal whose name I do not recall.
  • Susan and the Doctor also make a delightful pair on their own: the giggly pre-teen and her indulgent grandfather gleefully sabotage a city.
  • The settings are pretty good for the budget. The petrified forest looks amazing; the swamp is convincing; the “city” is more a collection of odd-shaped bits of junk and a string of endless corridors than a city, but it works well enough.
  • The Daleks are valid characters with valid motivation! You even feel sorry for them as the anti-radiation medicine that was supposed to help them live outside begins to kill them instead. (A Dalek screaming in pain is terrifying.)
  • The final cliffhanger: The Doctor runs around the console, banging switches and buttons from every angle, until it explodes – a familiar sight to any fan of 10.

In the end the Daleks lose, of course. The Thals’ hope of cooperation is shattered, but with the visitors’ help they defeat their enemy utterly. The Daleks’ fear of anything different from themselves is established, and it destroys them.

Of course the extermination of his incredibly successful creation did not prevent writer Terry Nation* from shopping them around. Within a year they returned to DW in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” and shortly afterward in an alternate version of the story featuring Peter Cushing as the human Dr. Who. Since then they have featured in at least 20 televised stories and remain the most popular DW villain of all time.

Not bad for a bunch of bug-eyed monsters.

 

*Rhyming is entirely unintentional on my part. Not sure about Mr. Nation.

Doctor Who: The Beginning   1 comment

The Beginning is a DVD collection of the Doctor’s very first adventures: “An Unearthly Child,” “The Daleks,” and “The Edge of Destruction,” as well as a condensed version of “Marco Polo” with telesnaps. An earlier version of the collection included a series of comedy sketches (“The Pitch of Fear”) about the show’s origins; I was disappointed to find them missing from my version, but I still have them on the DVD of An Adventure in Space and Time (and of course YouTube). The new version – part of the reason I wanted it – includes an interview with the elusive Delia Darbyshire. (ETA “The Pitch of Fear” is still included, just not listed among the special features.)

“An Unearthly Child” was the very first DW story to air, beginning November 23rd, 1963.  The first episode went nearly unseen: the American president had been assassinated the day before, and viewers tuned almost exclusively to news channels. Doctor Who might have died a quick death that very night. Instead, it was given a second chance: episode 1 was re-aired in advance of episode 2 the following Saturday.

Nor was this its first second chance. Finding Hartnell’s portrayal of the Doctor not likable enough, Sidney Newman ordered – and funded – extensive re-shoots for episode 1. The original version is included on the DVD.

I first watched “An Unearthly Child” several years ago – possibly as many as 7 – when I had just begun exploring the classic series. For a modern viewer it presents some challenges, particularly in pacing. I recall this story as an endless back and forth parade of good cavemen and evil cavemen, with captures and escapes and recaptures ad nauseum. Much like the rest of the series, but somehow more so. I recall wondering how anyone got through it that first time.

(The answer probably has to do with expectations of television at the time, not to mention only getting one episode a week instead of all of them in a bunch. Much like the rest of the series.)

Tonight I will discover whether anything has changed since then.

I’ve recorded my thoughts below. The tl;dr is this: The story drags, but not as much as I recalled. The spooky visuals and unusual ideas are engaging right off the bat. The characters and the long-term mystery of the series are set up early and very effectively, and the ending leaves the viewer ready for more. Ian and Barbara drive the show; without them, there is nothing.

Also, I SHIP IT.

Episode 1:

  • So much has been said about that eerie opening visual, and of course the music. I often wonder what people must have thought at the time.
  • I didn’t remember getting a look at the TARDIS in the first shot. It’s spooky!
  • How could anyone NOT ship Ian and Barbara right off the bat?? ❤
  • John Smith ref straight off too!
  • The episode does an excellent job of setting up the characters and the long-term mystery of the series. Ian is brave and cheerful; Barbara thoughtful, empathetic, perceptive; Susan brilliant and odd. Susan’s teachers stand up for her fiercely.
  • “A student who’s brilliant at some things and absolutely excruciating at others” – I think that describes more and more people these days.
  • The Doctor is almost strangely forthcoming under the circumstances. Maybe he’s been longing for someone to talk to.
  • Star Trek-style movement effects FTW – and that TARDIS noise is instantly magical.

What must people have thought of these strange images and stranger ideas? I for one am thoroughly engaged.

Now, imagine a week has passed, and it’s time for episode 2:

  • Historicals were part of the original concept for Doctor Who. It’s hard to imagine this as educational; what real knowledge are they working from?
  • Barbara has fire! I love her. Ian’s skepticism is charming.
  • “Perhaps if we knew his name we’d have a clue to all this.” Why do people continue to think this? How on earth could it possibly help? 😉
  • Upset Susan is unbearable. Her voice is screechy and her behavior over the top, even for a frightened teenager. Somehow I doubt the actress is the problem.
  • I am not engaged in the Stone Age people or their problems. Were they really new and strange enough to interest people at the time?
  • Companions come to the Doctor’s rescue for the very first time. Of course it doesn’t last.
  • Susan’s screaming really is unbearable.
  • 2 significant speaking roles for women among the ancient people, one young and one old. As good or better than we often get now.

And now for episode 3!

  • The younger woman is a conniving one. The story is more engaging than I recall.
  • Lots of good quotes in this story. “Fear has made companions of us all” this episode; in episode 1, “wanderers in the fourth dimension,” and in episode 2, “wheeling in a different sky.” All oft quoted and familiar.
  • I’m reminded of a moment from the Clan of the Cave Bear series: A wife is a status symbol to a man; if he loses his status, he loses his wife. If she loves him, she fights for his status as much as he does. This chieftain’s wife must love him.
  • Poor frightened Barbara. I just want to hug her.
  • I can see why Carole Ann Ford was disappointed. Her character should have been much braver and less lost. Barbara’s reactions are much more accurate to who she’s supposed to be. Her fear, even to the point of losing it, is believable, where Susan’s panic seems overblown. Then Barbara turns on a dime to help their injured pursuer, and it’s still believable.
  • The Doctor, however, is a bit of a harsh bastard. Does he really intend murder?
  • I don’t understand why the old woman is afraid of fire.
  • There are two women, but they don’t have names, and now one is dead.
  • Captured, round 2…

And on to the final episode!

  • The Doctor pulling his magician act is delightful.
  • The firelit fight scene is hilarious in its ridiculousness – and the cave has suddenly gotten much bigger!
  • Susan invents Ghost Rider! 😀
  • The whole tribe does have lots of women – much better than some more recent Viking stories…
  • The TARDIS escapes, leaving quite an impression on those left behind.
  • The Doctor can’t get Ian and Barbara home, but he can give them a chance to get cleaned up. (Does the TARDIS wardrobe appear so early?)
  • The episode ends on a delightful piece of foreshadowing involving radiation.

Overall the story is not great; the cave people storyline is tough to stomach in places, as is the Doctor’s repeated use of “savages” to describe them and others. However, it’s strong enough to pull a viewer through, and leaves me ready for the next one.

Next time: “The Daleks!”

 

DW: The Long Way Round   Leave a comment

It seems like forever till S10 and Doctor 13.

How to make that time fly? Cram in as much classic DW as possible. Yes, my next rewatch will begin with The Beginning, 1963’s “Unearthly Child.” I have DVDs and Britbox, and even some Loose Cannon to fill in the gaps. I have at least a night or two a week all on my own.

Anything could happen. And when it does, you’ll read about it here.

Posted March 27, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, The Long Way Round

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Fifty Years of the Brigadier   Leave a comment

Read this.

Posted February 22, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, Companions, Cool Stuff

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