Archive for the ‘Classic’ Category

The Daleks Invade   Leave a comment

or, Susan Sprains her Ankle, Is Inconvenienced For Five Minutes and Haunted Forever.

(I read somewhere recently that in spite of being famous for spraining her ankle, she only did it twice: here, and in “The Five Doctors,” which being a reference to canon not only doesn’t count but may in fact have established the canon it was supposed to be referencing.)

Lots of stuff happens across six episodes of “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” Daleks emerge from the River Thames. The Doctor is rude to a frightened muggle, setting a precedent for generations to come. (“Not her. She’ll only slow us down.”*) He breaks out of prison using Science. Ian too uses Science to delay a Dalek plot, and Barbara uses History. “The long way round” makes its first appearance. The Daleks cultivate proto-Cybermen, and for some reason, something called a Slyther. Barbara spends most of an episode interacting only with women, inspiring terrified Jenny with her courage and righteousness, and saving the universe in a biiiiiiiiiig yellow truck!** (At least I hope it’s yellow.) Everyone is repeatedly captured, incapacitated, lost, found, betrayed, and rescued, again and again until their heads spin. The Doctor gives a famous speech. A freedom fighter falls in love with a high school student, instigating her abandonment by the people she calls family.

Seriously. Susan tells David she loves him, but she’s hardly a consenting adult. Over the course of her run, she has never been portrayed as older than maybe sixteen, and has often seemed younger. She’s known the guy for a day, under stressful circumstances. But the Doctor decides she’s ready to be left behind, and her former teachers seem to concur.

Given true freedom of choice, what might Susan have done? Of course she loves her grandfather, but does she stay with him out of anything more than obligation? She’s never wanted her teachers to leave her; is she suddenly now ready to let them go? Is this comfortable, privileged child ready to parent a whole new world?

In a perfect world, Susan is ready to grow up. She chooses David freely, and bids a tearful and sincere farewell to her grandfather and their accidental friends. She chooses Earth freely, as the place to grow her roots, and maybe a family of her own. She desires to build this world anew – not as a lovely idea, but as a driving passion, to last the rest of her life.

I wish it had been portrayed that way. Instead, parent figure hands off immature girl-child to adult man for sex and continued infantilization. (It doesn’t help that I was just reading about Sonita Alizadeh, the almost-child bride.) The first companion exit ever is not one of the best. Is this what RTD was (unconsciously?) imitating when he forced Rose and Donna off the TARDIS? Is this what Moffat was (almost certainly intentionally) subverting by giving Clara a choice? and then mostly failing to subvert with Bill? I’m curious now to review upcoming departures. Some things I recall: Ian and Barbara return home joyously; Dodo wanders off without explanation; Jamie and Zoe have their experiences cruelly stolen. I look forward – with some trepidation – to the rest.

*see “Smith and Jones”

**see “Age of Steel”

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They Might Be Giants   Leave a comment

“Planet of Giants” is good clean environmentally friendly fun.

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Don’t litter.

The Dicks/Letts era of the 1970s is famous for its environmental messages, but even in 1964 the Doctor and his friends were foiling the plans of Evil Corporations bent on destroying the planet. (I do wonder how the villain hoped to get away with it, but these people are not long-term thinkers.) The story is told in two parallel tracks: one full-size greed-provoked murder, and the inch-high struggle to solve it. The two interact delightfully, as Ian takes a ride in a matchbox, the Doctor and Susan are nearly washed down a sink, and the four friends save the day by knocking the phone off the hook and turning on the gas.

The sets are great fun – who doesn’t love giant insects and enormous notebooks? At only three episodes, the story moves at a good clip. Susan’s youthful exuberance is put to good use shoving corks and hauling matches. Barbara is nearly felled by Evil Poison, but refuses her friends’ assistance until after they’ve saved the planet. In the end, the Doctor saves Barbara, restores them all to size, and sets them off on their next adventure.

That adventure is “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” Be afraid.

Posted September 2, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, Piffle, The Long Way Round

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The Reign of Terror   Leave a comment

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Barmaid Barbara is ADORABLE

I think I’d appreciate this story better if I knew my history better. Instead, all I can think of is this:

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Overall it’s a decent story with a few hiccups. Why is the Doctor suddenly in such a rush to get rid of Ian and Barbara? Why does he suddenly think he can control the ship with such accuracy? Why does Susan fail so much? Why does Barbara panic over a slight fever in a healthy adolescent?

(Suggested answers: the Doctor hates goodbyes and has a huge ego; Susan is a child; plot point.)

Episodes 4 and 5 are missing, and are replaced with animation on the DVD. Overall I think the animation is quite terrible: people move unnaturally, and everything twitches. However it does manage to capture Barbara’s beautiful skepticism at the Doctor’s suggestion that his plans always work out. I watched the Loose Cannon telesnap version of episode 4, and I’m still torn between them.

The story is a pure historical, with no aliens or monsters invading Earth’s past. It takes the point of view of moderates in a war of extremes: neither the nobles nor the anarchic rebels are the “good guys” in the story. In the end, as Ian and Barbara witness the downfall of Robespierre and the ascent of Napoleon, they revisit the lessons learned in “The Aztecs,” joking about the impossibility of altering events by writing Napoleon a letter, or shooting him. It just wouldn’t work.

(Coincidentally, this fits into the “time loaf” theory which I touched on here. Everything has already happened; nothing you can do will change anything, but possibly your actions are a part of what occurs. I find this amusing.)

Notable in this episode:

  • The correct use of muskets. Guns of the period could be fired only once before reloading, a fact happily ignored by entire genres of film and television. Doctor Who goes for accuracy here: once fired, the gun becomes a throwing weapon, and then combatants are forced to scramble for whatever other armaments they can find lying around. It reminds me of the dormouse mention in “Fires of Pompeii,” a small element that makes a big difference to the veracity of the production. (“Fires” is also a time loaf episode. I’m enjoying the parallels.)
  • The Doctor gets out of most scrapes with brains and bluster, but has zero qualms about bashing people over the head when he needs to.
  • Susan shows a touching affection for her teachers, fleeing to her room in tears when she thinks they’re leaving her. Her inability to participate in her own rescue, however, is problematic. To be fair, Susan believes that her grandfather died in a fire,* leaving her not only bereft of family but stranded in an ugly and dangerous time. Then she gets a fever, and an overcooked brain can be the source of all kinds of problems. Still, it would be nice if the writers could come up with some less pathetic characterization for her. (Though we all know it’s not to be…)
  • Susan claims that the Reign of Terror is the Doctor’s favorite era, a comment that is never repeated and never explained. Nothing about this makes sense.
  • Ian and Barbara remain consistently courageous, perceptive, faithful, and generally perfect. They are the adults in the story: parent figures for flighty Susan, kind and patient caregivers for the doddering Doctor. Sail on, sail on…

This story marks the end of the first season of Doctor Who, wrapping up in September 1964. On Halloween, “The Planet of Giants” began. I may be there sooner.

 

* Whoa, the regeneration questions this raises. The Tenth Doctor once died (“Turn Left”) because he could not regenerate in the ongoing hostile environment of a flooded tunnel. Surely a house fire would have a similar impact. Would Susan be aware of this? (Never mind that regeneration hadn’t been invented yet in 1964.) What does a very young Time Lord know about regeneration, given that they likely won’t experience it for centuries? Do they see their parents and grandparents go through it? Or do Time Lords move on from their families and create new lives across the decades, leaving regeneration something of a mystery to the young? Would this movement explain the ease with which the Doctor has apparently left his family behind? Inquiring minds want to know!

Posted September 2, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, The Long Way Round

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The Sensorites   Leave a comment

This story features more development of the Doctor and Susan’s backstory than any previous. Susan longs for the burnt-orange sky and silver leaves of home; I’m curious as to how closely the Tenth Doctor’s words echo hers. She struggles with growing up in the Doctor’s shadow, while he tries to keep her safe in his own shouty and completely ineffective way. It doesn’t help that he’s almost as much a child as she is, accustomed to getting what he wants and pouting when he doesn’t. We’re reminded here that no matter how personable they may seem in the moment, the Doctor and his granddaughter are not human.

The Sensorites are an extraordinarily vulnerable race. Disabled by darkness, terrorized by noise, they’re justified in their fear of loud, brash, courageous invaders. Still, the main antagonist’s strategy of goading his fellows into irrational terror in his quest to grab power annoyed me a lot. A little too close to home, perhaps; I get enough of this garbage in real life, don’t need it in my show.

Barbara is clearly the queen of this story. She is calm, courageous, and perceptive throughout. She protects Susan while also offering compassion to the John. Her appearance in the final episode pretty much saves the day.

The ship sails on…

Next up is “Reign of Terror.” I remember seeing this one before, but I didn’t remember that two of its episodes were missing. I must have seen them animated, but I don’t recall it.

In fact we own the DVD. Perhaps when I watch it it will begin to seem familiar.

Posted August 23, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, Piffle, The Long Way Round

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The Aztecs   Leave a comment

The villains are the worst of this one. Though the Doctor explains to Barbara that the High Priest of Sacrifice is motivated by perfectly understandable fear – he sees her as a threat to his culture, as well as a threat to his position – the character isn’t played that way. Instead, Tlotoxl is all cackling evil. Ixta too could have been a sympathetic character if played sincerely, but his exaggerated portrayal makes him a caricature.

Otherwise, “The Aztecs” is an excellent serial. Story shines here, as Barbara sets out to make a difference and fails utterly, almost at the cost of all their lives. The native culture in which the time travelers land is portrayed sincerely and believably. The costumes are as gorgeous as those in “Marco Polo,” the sets even more so. Ian convincingly shifts a slab of foam as if it were a hundredweight of stone.

The Doctor himself is a much more familiar character in this story. He’s affectionate toward his granddaughter, hugging her protectively in an effort to shield her from the horror taking place outside the temple. He’s considerate of Barbara – for the first time, he speaks to her as if he might persuade her rather than berate her, and even apologizes for being too harsh. His insistence that some things can’t be changed – “Believe me, I know!” – reminds me of Ten’s post-Time War agony, and left me wondering what trauma this Doctor has endured. He befriends Cameca with flirtatious charm. Their surprise engagement via cocoa is a comic moment, but authentic too: he cares for this woman, admires her, regrets the necessity of breaking her heart – and ultimately can’t bring himself to leave her token behind.

There’s a lot of food for thought in this story. The Aztec practice of human sacrifice is looked back on with horror, as if we would never do such a thing today. Yet tens of thousands of lives each year are given over, without honor, to our need for cars and guns. Untimely death is normalized as a cost of personal freedom. Further, much as Barbara even as a goddess fails to persuade the Aztecs to change, so we today fail to win hearts and minds by telling people their way of life is wrong – even sometimes when they agree. Humans just don’t work that way. The Doctor knows it; Barbara learns it, to her regret.

The other question I’m left with is Cameca. She wanted to come along; what if the Doctor had accepted? What kind of companion might she have made? The affection between them is sincere. Perhaps he thought – perhaps she agreed – that she was content where she was. Perhaps she wasn’t truly the adventurer she wanted to be. Or perhaps he feared losing her in time and space as he had so nearly lost the others so many times. He’s responsible for Susan as her grandfather, and for Ian and Barbara by accident – perhaps he doesn’t want to be responsible for Cameca as well.

And finally: Where did Ian learn the Vulcan nerve pinch?

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Posted July 30, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, The Long Way Round

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Further thoughts…   Leave a comment

A few more thoughts on the last few stories.

Female friendships: Verity! just completed a mini-arc of female “companions’ companions.” Ace is the inspiration and main culprit of the arc, but she is far from alone. In “Marco Polo,” Susan develops a proper teen-girl friendship with Peng Cho, whispering together in the dark about dreams and fears and the future and occasionally even boys. In “Marinus,” Susan and Barbara collectively adopt Sabetha, who overcomes hypnotism to become a contributing member of the team. I know there’s more to come: one of my strongest recollections of “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” is an entire episode of Barbara and another woman driving around saving the world. It’s a trend I can get behind – and one of the reasons I particularly adore S1 Rose Tyler.

Plot inconsistencies: A heck of a thing to bag DW for but this one really stood out. Throughout “Marco Polo,” Tegana comes up with a series of “evil plans” which one after another fail to work. Each seems unnecessarily complex, and none seems to forward his finally-revealed mission to kill Kublai Khan. There are a few cases of things changing on the fly – a sandstorm thwarts one attempt, the TARDIS presents a new unlooked-for opportunity – but I was still struck with a remarkable sense of flailing.

Of course, these episodes are designed to be watched once a week and never seen again, under which circumstances the flailing would hardly be noticeable at all.

Major Character of Questionable Morality: Marco Polo brazenly steals the Doctor’s TARDIS for his own gain, and he’s still the good guy. Fortunately his arc includes realizing that he was wrong, and apologizing – though I’m left wondering why, after rejecting all Marco’s offers of an escort home, the Doctor never offered Marco a lift instead. In “Marinus,” Arbitan has created a giant mind control machine, and blackmails the Doctor into helping him repair it. He never gets called out for it, though he does get murdered – and the Doctor disapproves in a general way in his final speech.

These stories are definitely of their era, but there’s good fun in there too.

Posted June 24, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, The Long Way Round

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Keys of Marinus   Leave a comment

This is an odd one. A Terry Nation script with no Daleks, but plenty of bug-eyed monsters for Sydney Newman to hate. An adorable model island and tiny toy TARDIS to set the scene. Weird directing choices – strangely off-center shots, too-obvious positioning for effects, bland fades to black – and plenty of flubbed lines. It’s almost as if they didn’t have a budget.

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WTAF

Still, it does its best. Ian gets lots of heroics but Barbara isn’t left out. William Hartnell appears to have gotten several days off; his companions carry the story without him, picking up a couple of companions of their own on the way. The Ian/Barbara ship sails on gloriously. Our heroes visit a whole pantheon of new worlds, saving each in a brisk twenty minutes. It’s not brilliant television, but not a bad way to spend six consecutive Saturday teatimes.

“Marinus” is the first story I’ve streamed for this project on Britbox – I watched The Beginning on DVD, and “Marco Polo” via Loose Cannon. I was surprised and alarmed to note it and several other stories marked “Last Chance!” as if they were shortly to be taken down. Classic DW is the only reason I’m willing to pay for Britbox; should those stories come down, I would be forced to cancel my subscription, and I sent them a note saying so. “Marinus,” unlike many others, is still available at my library and not too expensively on DVD. I’m left suspecting that fans like me are being pushed to buy available DVDs and also retain our subscription for those stories no longer affordable by other means. I’m left not surprised, but disappointed in the strategies of the BBC.

I wonder if I can get all the way through “The War Games” before anything happens…