Archive for the ‘Classic’ Category

The Web Crusade   Leave a comment

“The Web Planet” is mostly unbearable. The story creeps along like cold syrup. Ridiculous aliens wave their hands and hop inexplicably. Giant ants shriek like evil emergency services. Six episodes seem to last ten hours.

“The Crusade” is nearly its opposite. Tight pacing and spectacular performances by Julian Glover, Jean Marsh, and Bernard Kay make four episodes fly. A pure historical, it’s free of badly costumed monsters, and even the villains leave the scenery mostly unchewed.

The companions follow essentially the same script for both. Barbara, self-rescuing princess, is captured and escapes ad nauseum, while gallant (Sir) Ian mostly hurts himself trying to save her. Vicki fills the granddaughter role more effectively than the granddaughter ever did, putting her faith in the Doctor and receiving his earnest affection in return. The Doctor lies, cheats, and steals, occasionally giggling like a lunatic, and everyone has a good laugh (at Ian’s expense, generally) at the end.

“The Crusade” is half missing; the Loose Cannon version includes a delightful introduction by an elderly William Russell as Ian looking back on his adventures. The telesnap reconstruction is hard to follow in places, but the available video – and Julian Glover – more than make up for any shortcomings.

Seriously, though, this cast:


No hopping Opteras here.

It’s not without its flaws, of course. The Crusades were a campaign of religiously motivated destruction that set Arabic civilization back hundreds of years. Did Richard really travel all that way to sue for peace? Or did he partake eagerly of the spoils of murdering the infidel? Glover’s Lionheart of course is full of the glory and honor of Great Britain, even as he offers his sister’s body as currency. Colonialist undertones are difficult to ignore – as is the little extra shading in Bernard Kay’s makeup. I’m grateful now for Malorie Blackman, Vinette Robinson, Vinay Patel, and Leena Dhingra, among others, but we still have a long way to go.

Nor is “The Web Planet” entirely without merit. In spite of the costumes and characterization, it’s hard not to feel something when a felt-footed Optera gives her life to save another race. It’s hard not to be inspired when a bunch of fuzzy butterflies call their comrades home to rebuild. With 1965 technology and a BBC budget, the DW team set out to tell a grand story, alien but humane. I for one can forgive them for falling short.

Next, we depart Earth once more for “The Space Museum.”


Day of the Romans   1 comment

“The Romans” begins with a “Day of the Moon” feel: a cliffhanger promises death and destruction, then all of a sudden we’re inexplicably weeks later in completely different circumstances. Clearly Moffat came by his whims honestly.

Vicki feels understandably cheated, having been promised adventure, and the Doctor seems mysteriously unwilling to return to the TARDIS, in spite of his restlessness. So instead they head off to Rome, leaving Ian and Barbara to be kidnapped and sold into slavery.

For some reason I came into this season thinking of Vicki as an adult, in spite of her elfin tininess. However, here she’s played even younger than the orphan of “The Rescue.” The TARDIS Data Core pegs her as “sixteen at the most;” in this story I’d consider that generous. However, as Susan was alternately infantilized and handed over in marriage, so Vicki’s behavior seems to have little to do with her physical maturity. She’s enthralled by the Doctor – not as Rose or Amy was enthralled, but in the manner of those young fans who hide behind sofas and need their parents’ coaching to ask their favorite Doctor questions at comic-cons.

Barbara remains glorious. Her error gets them captured, yes, but they had little chance of overcoming two armed men on their own; likely they’d have been overcome shortly anyway. Her statuesque and regal bearing command all sorts of attention from slave shoppers, but it’s her kindness that draws a decent man.

The Doctor is a weirdly amoral character in this story. He has no qualms about assuming the identity of a murder victim (though he claims to have done so with a purpose), engaging in violence, or egging on Nero’s abuse of his subjects – even laughing while Rome burns! He and Vicki remind me of Rose and Ten in “Tooth and Claw” – they’re in it for their own amusement, and to hell with the real lives being thrown into chaos around them.

Once more Ian is the proper hero of the story. He never loses faith in his own success, never lets anyone else suffer for his actions, risks everything for Barbara and his new friend Delos. (He also has fantastic knees.) He and Barbara seem to grow more comfortable and happy together with every story. No doubt in my mind they never leave each other’s side once their TARDIS travels end.


Doctor Who seems to have a certain fascination with Romans. Not content to leave them to their burning city, the Doctor meets them again in Pompeii, at the Pandorica, and in Celtic Britain – and that’s just in the new series. A lingering effect of the Empire’s impact on Britannia? Or simply a passion for togas?

A recent Verity game posed the question: Given “The Romans” and “The Sensorites,” and the option to save only one while the other is destroyed completely, which do you choose? For me, “The Romans” is an easy choice. It’s silly, fun, enjoyable to look at, and everyone seems to be (mostly) having a wonderful time.

I believe I’ll have another drink.

Posted October 26, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, The Long Way Round

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The Rescue   Leave a comment

This one’s a quickie – only two episodes, little more than a vehicle to replace Susan. However it’s captivating enough: a little adventure, excitement, cleverness, and in the end young Vicki joins the crew, charmed by the Doctor’s grandfatherly ways. Sets and costumes run at the low end of the budget, as walls serve for rocks, a neat model for a crashed spaceship, and an assortment of tubes for a monster.

It’s also the first time since “An Unearthly Child” that the TARDIS has taken on new crew. “It’s huge!” Vicki observes, declining to utter the famous line. (Who said it first? It remains to be seen, by me anyway.)

I appreciate that the crew takes a moment to miss Susan, though none seems too concerned about whether she’s happy in her new life. In her absence, the Doctor deigns to teach Barbara how to open the TARDIS doors. All this time and neither she nor Ian has learned the first thing about the TARDIS, barely able to recognize when the ship has landed! Modern companions would be aghast.

In the end, the TARDIS falls off a cliff, and we move on to “The Romans.”

Posted October 26, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, Companions, The Long Way Round

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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”

They Might Be Giants   Leave a comment

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


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


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:


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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