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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace

Serial Title: The Underwater Menace
Series: 4
Episodes: 4
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Ben Jackson (Michael Craze), Polly Wright (Anneke Wills), Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines)

In the early 1970s, an abandoned volcanic island somewhere in Earth’s Atlantic Ocean gains a new feature- a blue police box materializing on the far shore. The crew soon discovers a sort of hidden elevator, and are whisked away to the legendary lost city of Atlantis, submerged deep below. There, they are nearly sacrifices by High Priest Lolem to the Atlantean god, Amdo, by being fed to a pool of sharks… but they receive a last minute reprieve from the patron of the king, a scientist named Zaroff, a genius long-disappeared from the surface world whom the Doctor convinces that he has great value.

While Polly is sent to be converted into a genetically-altered fish person (the slave labor class of Atlantis) and Ben and Jamie sent off to toil in the mines, the Doctor is let in on Zaroff’s project, and the reason for his favor with the king- his plan to raise Atlantis from the sea… a mad plan involving cracking the Earth’s crust and pouring the ocean into it, creating an incredible steam burst beneath the crust that will split the planet and destroy the world- Zaroff is quite mad, and seeks global destruction simply for the accomplishment of being the first (and only) to achieve it (Note from Sarah: Talk about devoted to his cause, no one would even be alive to acknowledge he's the first, not even him!)- but has convinced the Atlanteans that draining away the ocean is harmless and will put them back on the ‘surface’ again- by bringing the surface to them. Yes, this is incredibly stupid, as the Atlanteans depend on the ocean for their life right now and making it go away is not a solution- but they are apparently very dumb people. (NFS: it's supposed to be poetic...they long so much to be people of the air again that they are stuck deep in self denial-the ocean is symbolic of the depth of their self-denial and how much they depend on it....yeah I was making that all up as I go.)

The horrified Doctor cuts the power, and a sympathetic servant girl, Ara, frees Polly before her operation can begin. Jamie and Ben also gain allies in Atlantis- Sean and Jacko, a pair of sailors shipwrecked on the island above and similarly shanghaied down to Atlantis. They escape the mines and join up with Polly and Ara. Lastly, the Doctor gains his own ally, Ramo, a priest of Amdo that believes Zaroff has sinister intent- the king does not agree, and the two are taken away to be executed in Amdo’s temple- but Ben, hiding within the hollow head of the statue of Amdo, speaks forth as its voice and commands them released. The whole group is together, and the Doctor plots to bring revolution to Atlantis- convincing the Fish People to revolt against their enslavement.

Using disguise and slapstick, the group manages to separate Zaroff and capture him, but he fakes a seizure and gets away- killing Ramo. Zaroff, madder than ever, attacks the king, overthrowing the royal gaurds with his own loyal men. The king survives and is taken to safety by the Doctor, who plans to flood the lower portion of Atlantis to destroy Zaroff’s lab, and the equipment with which he will destroy the world. While Sean and Jacko evacuate the populace to higher levels, The Doctor and Ben begin the flooding; the mad Zaroff tries to detonate his bombs early, but is trapped behind a grate by Ben to prevent his reaching the detonation controls. This also leaves him unable to not drown. With Zaroff dead, and the Atlanteans planning to rebuild, the TARDIS crew departs for dryer environs.

This was an interesting adventure story with an unusual tone… very Saturday morning kids-show. It has a hissable villain, an exotic location, death traps, captures and escapes… and Doctor Who’s first contact with that fable of fables, Atlantis. (Here’s an interesting educational note- did you know that, in Timaeus, the work by Plato in which Atlantis is described, he specifically clarifies it as a story he has created? In the very work Atlantis is sourced from, it clarifies that Atlantis isn’t real. That the myth has persisted doesn’t surprise me- it is, after all, in the hands of the same humans who take the Bible which explicitly states that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to salvation and says “Well, I believe there was a Jesus, but He was just a good person and teacher.” We humans are experts at taking the piece we like out of a work and ignoring the important statements that clarify its nature within the same work.)

I don’t have much to say about this one, either for the story or for the usual breakdown of characters. Perhaps everything they did was simply overshadowed in my mind by the colorful villain.
So let’s talk about him…
Before Crazy: Notice the 'kempt" hair.
Professor Zaroff was not a particularly layered villain- not exactly 3-dimensional… heck, the only reason that I’d call him 
2-dimensional is that a 
1-dimensional being seems like an impossibility to exist in physical space, and I can’t conceptualize what such a life-form would be like. And I’m nothing if not pedantic about my offhand phrases. (NFS: You used a lot of big cool words in that paragraph)

Regardless, Zaroff does seem mad for madness’ sake, with little-to-no motivation, save for being the only one to accomplish such an incredible achievement (destroying the Earth)… though no one would remember him for it, as they’d all be dead. Besides… wouldn’t raising Atlantis for real be achievement enough? Maybe a desire for that acclaim, and constant failure to attain it, is what drove him to such insanity.  (An early draft of the script apparently had his wife and child killed in a car crash, and the grief driving him to madness... but the Zaroff as presented onscreen lacks even THAT amount of characterization.)

After Crazy: Notice the Unkempt hair and evil cape.
He does seem like an amiable and likable fellow at first, but the decent into insanity is quick and decisive- “Nosing in ze vorld can stop me now!” has become legendary among Who fans as a symbol of insane, cartoonish villains who are evil merely to be evil, and more than a little over-the-top… like a chibi anime Hitler whose head grows to three times as large with fangs when he’s shouting (ah, Japanese animated conventions- they make the 60s look positively sedate!), on caffeine, with a ray gun. Zaroff was (arguably) the first (as other villains, from the Voord to the Monk to the Celestial Toymaker have typically had at least some motivation or driving quirk that caused them to do what they did), and certainly the most memorably, scenery-chewingly over-the-top.

There were some funny bits in this serial. The ‘mini-heist’ capture scene is zany and funny, with kooky costumes and the Doctor’s clowning, and is great fun to watch in video. There’s also a very cool James-Bondian death trap at the beginning, the shark pool- it has a very nice, stylized, lethal design- very SPECTRE. (An organization that will soon become very relevant to the Second Doctor era in the forthcoming Evil of the Daleks serial…)

Hilarious for another reason is the scene of dissent spreading among the fish people, as they ‘swim’ by making flailing motions while hung by wires on an ‘underwater’ set. Okay, so it’s not ‘Zarbi’ bad, but it is bad. (NFS: I remember I was kind of impressed with the designs of the fish people actually, they looked kind of freaky and otherworldly-if they weren't flailing I think they could have been quite successful. As it was I still thought they were impressive.)

The Doctor does make use of a clever gambit to save all of their lives from an admittedly cool looking (in the stills) temple death trap. Ben gets a nice (if cliched) hide-behind-the-idol-and-pretend-to-be-its-voice moment, Polly gets a near-genuine bit of tension at nearly being turned into a fish person, and Jamie is… there? I think? (Of course, as someone not originally planned to be a companion, several of these early stories- up through the Macra Terror- don’t give him much to do, as he had to be shoe-horned into scripts written without him.)

There was some irritating “can’t-you-see-that-coming?” stupidity with Zaroff’s faking of illness and escape, which could be seen coming a mile off… and in the end, he is only defeated by his monumental ego and stupidity at stepping away from the controls. He’s Mavic Chen without the depth, more or less… though the Doctor’s nobly wanting to save him, despite everything, was a nice touch.

The reconstruction quality was decent, but very muddy- the shock of going to actual video and seeing how clear it was (3 out of 4 were reconstructed, while episode 3 was video) was incredible. Another tolerable-but-forgettable reconstruction.

All in all, this was a fun story that felt like it belonged to another show… say, the German Flash Gordon TV series (with ze thick accent, ze villain would haf been right at home, Gorrrr-don! Plus, you’d get Zaroff-meets-Zarkoff…), and, while large parts of it were meaningless meandering, it sure had a memorable foe.

Note: Late-breaking wonderful news! As of just before the posting of this blog (December 11th, 2011), a new episode of this serial has been recovered! Where previously only episode 3 existed for this serial, with the other 3 being reconstructions, episode 2 has now been found as well (supplanting #3 as the earliest surviving Troughton episode)- making this serial half complete! Not only that, this missing episode recovery- the first in 7 years, since a 2004 recovery of a Daleks Master Plan episode- was a dual recovery, in tandem with episode 3 of Galaxy 4, the only known episode of that serial! 

…Well, you can’t win ‘em all. Even so, thrilling news! While these episodes have not yet been released to the public and I have yet to see them, I am psyched beyond measure, just to know they exist!

Great moments:
The shark pool sacrifice and the slapstick kidnapping.

Overall, this serial gets 2 out of 5 Deadman’s Keys… I’d like to give it more, but I honestly can’t remember much more about it than the paltry descriptions from this review- I even had to look up Zaroff’s name- making this one of the most forgettable (if fun and silly) serials to date. That, combined with the ultra-kid-y tonal shift to Saturday morning cartoon plot, simply languishes this one to mediocrity… though a different flavor of mediocrity than the simply dull Smugglers or Savages… more of an “Its quality does not equal its premise” mediocrity. (NFS: It's a shame because most of them SOUND like they'd be phenomenal...but they really sometimes...aren't.)

Likewise for the relatively bland (a pattern seems to be forming) but serviceable reconstruction. Some excellent imagery bumps it up to a 2.5 out of 5, but there just doesn’t seem to be any extra effort here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Doctor Who: The Highlanders

Serial Title: The Highlanders
Series: 4
Episodes: 4
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Ben Jackson (Michael Craze), Polly Wright (Anneke Wills), Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines)

Landing in Scotland during April of 1746, the exploring TARDIS crew are quickly caught up in the war between the Scotts and the British as they stumble into a Scottish hut with a wounded Laird inside, and after Ben accidentally alerts the British patrolling the area, they are taken captive by redcoats. The Doctor feigns being a German physician and claims neutrality, but the group is ultimately saved from hanging by British Solicitor Grey and his hapless clerk Perkins, who transfer them to nearby Inverness prison for slave labor purposes. The Doctor, Ben, Scotsman Jamie McCrimmon, and the Laird of his clan are taken away- but Polly and the native Kirsty (who had avoided capture) manage to draw Ffinch, the leader of the patrol that captured the others, into a pit trap. There, they take him prisoner, stealing his papers and money.

At Inverness, the Doctor discovers that the Laird bears the standard of Bonnie Prince Charley, concealing it- the Doctor takes it, then incites the prisoners to a rebellious state with his recorder and traditional Scottish tunes, then convinces the guard that he has information on an upcoming rebel insurgent attempt on the life of an English noble. Once taken to Solicitor Grey, he tricks his way into incapacitating both Grey (tying him up) and Perkins (playing on his hypochondriac fears) and escapes. Grey, meanwhile, has ordered Trask, a sea captain, to take the prisoners aboard his ship, the Annabelle- where they will be forced to sign a life-long labor contract and be shipped to the Indies as slave labor.

Hapless Ffinch is found and rescued by his men, who exploit him for cash- which has been stolen- and he is returned to the Sea Eagle Inn, where Grey and Perkins are staying, and next to which the Annabelle is docked. The Doctor, disguising himself as an old woman (Note from Sarah: You'd think with a scene like that I would remember this one better....), investigates the Annabelle, while aboard the ship, Ben, under the guise of reading the fine print, tears up the contracts and is clapped in irons. The Doctor reunites with Polly and Kirsty and they make their escape, lying low in a barn. Polly hatches a plan to use the stolen money to buy weapons and smuggle them aboard the Annabelle, to incite a prisoner revolt.

Ben escapes both the ship and death after he is bound and thrown overboard, escaping his bonds and swimming to shore, where the Doctor meets him in disguise. (Man, I really wish I could’ve seen this one as a video!!!) The Doctor later allows himself to be captured and uses a ring from Kirsty to perpetuate a con that Bonnie Prince Charley in disguise is actually one of the prisoners aboard the Annabelle. Solicitor Grey and Perkins are thus lured aboard the ship… just in time for the prisoners to rise up and fight off their captors. Trask attacks Ben in a grudge-based duel, but Jamie subdues him and saves Ben’s life.

Kirsty is reunited with her father, the Laird, while the once-captured Scotsmen take the ship (with Perkins joining them in sailing to France, and safety) and the TARDIS crew disembarks (along with Jamie, who joins the group with the stated goal of teaching the Doctor to play the bagpipes, rather than his beloved recorder) bearing Solicitor Grey as a hostage. Grey proves a particularly troublesome one- attracting attention of several redcoats and escaping in the ensuing fisticuffs. Instead, the group returns to the Inn and blackmails poor, hapless Ffinch into aiding them- who, along the route back to the TARDIS, is told the tale of Grey’s illegal slave trade and dishonorable conduct. Nearly to the TARDIS, the group is waylaid by redcoats, led by Grey- but Ffinch takes charge and orders Grey arrested. Grey tries to wriggle away by presenting the contracts (replacements drawn up for the ones Ben destroyed), claiming that since the captured men agreed to become slaves by legal contract, he had done nothing wrong in taking slaves… but the contracts have been pick-pocketed by the Doctor, and Grey, unable to produce them, is hauled off to Inverness prison.

The Highlanders is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is of note for numerous landmarks in the show- the introduction of Jamie, one of the longest-running companions of the early years (who, if what I've read is correct, will remain with the Second Doctor for the rest of his tenure) (NFS: It's weird reading this blog after we've already seen all of Jamie's adventures, he's definitely destined to be a favorite). It is also the last true 'historical,' in which the Doctor and company get involved in (sensationalized) actual historical events. Future stories take place in the past, but always with alien intervention or an alien twist, and seldom around specific historical events- history becomes a backdrop or setting, instead of a story focus.

Despite these landmarks, however, the story is dull and relatively simplistic- capture and escape, cut and dried- with not even that many twists to it. Add to that the fact that it's a recreation, and... well, there's not much to offer in the way of 'compelling', 'thrilling', 'engaging', or even 'not boring'.

On the other hand, though, the Doctor is fantastic in this serial- a master of gambits and disguises, funny, clever... a worthy successor now coming into his own! From his disguise as an old woman ("It'd be a shame to waste good broth...") to his insane bamboozling medical doctor routine ("That noise is all in your head. In your eyes!") he is fantastic and proactive all throughout- this Doctor being part secret agent, part comedian- he's a good sight less passive than the first Doctor was, and very entertaining to boot- even as the situation keeps going straight to heck, the Doctor instantly comes into mastery of whatever the new situation may be. He always has a plan, a way of working out of the danger, an idea, a plot... qualities that typically are ascribed to the Seventh Doctor... except done with great humor. I am officially a fan of the Second Doctor (I'd put him above the Ninth AND Tenth at this time, from my sampling of Doctors 1, 2, 9, 10, and 11... rising to 3rd on the second appearance? That's pretty impressive. That said... I haven't seen a Doctor I don't like yet! But then, I haven't seen the Sixth yet...) (NFS: The Second Doctor is my favorite, FOREVER!)

Ben is his usual headstrong, slightly-foolhardy-but-active self. He touches off a needless confrontation by taking charge at the beginning, and in a moment of careless idiocy, kicks off the whole capture by tossing the pistol. He later tears up the contracts, an impetuous and somewhat foolish move of defiance that is nonetheless courageous. All in all, his heart is in the right place, but his actions are... rather useless.

Polly comes off very strongly here, though- taking charge in the Doctor's absence and handling herself- and a hapless redcoat- quite effectively. One of her strongest outings, and proving herself to be more proactive than most female companions of the time. The humor subplot with Ffinch is a lot of fun, as she repeatedly takes advantage of and blackmails the helpless Captain.

Our Loose Canon productions reconstruction was neither anything to complain about, nor anything to write home about. It merely was. And, in what I suspect will soon become a pattern with Troughton stories, this one was a largely visual story (what with all the Doctor’s clowning around) of which I suspect much has been lost due to its slide-show format. The Second Doctor was hit the hardest in terms of episodes lost, folks… so it begins. :-( (NFS: It's a testament to how good Patrick Troughton is that he can be our favorite and...we mostly can only HEAR him!)
Not much to say about The Highlanders- historicals go out not with a bang, but a whimper- a necessary bridge story to get Jamie aboard, and some hilarious Doctor bits, save it from being useless like, say, the Savages or the Smugglers, which practically drown in their own mediocrity (The Savages being likewise saved by a great Doctor-performance… from another actor! :-) )- but for the last historical, it’s really just… not much.

Great moments:
The old woman, the soldier, the German Doctor (and his ‘treatment’ of Grey and Perkins)- every one of the Doctor’s impersonations.

2 out of 5 Deadman’s Keys to the serial- which would have been worse had it not been for the Doctor’s broth-shilling old lady- and 2 as well for the lackluster but serviceable reconstruction. (Perhaps I’ve simply been spoiled!)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Doctor Who: Power of the Daleks

Serial Title: Power of the Daleks
Series: 4
Episodes: 6
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Ben Jackson (Michael Craze), Polly Wright (Anneke Wills)

The TARDIS Lands on the Planet Vulcan (shall we get the jokes out of the way now?), an Earth colony in… the future. (BAH! Dates! Give me dates!!!). Inside, Ben and Polly are dealing with the appearance of a strange younger man in the place of their familiar Doctor, one awfully fond of playing the recorder. This man also claims to be the Doctor… Polly believes him, but Ben remains skeptical and suspicious. (Note from Sarah: YAYY!!! From that moment on...I knew I t'would love this mysterious Second Doctor.)

Exiting the TARDIS, the still somewhat-disoriented Doctor encounters an Earth Examiner… who is promptly shot by an unknown assailant in the distance. The Doctor takes his identification, intending to use the greater authority granted by the credentials to track down the murderer within the nearby colony.

When he, Ben, and Polly arrive there, they encounter Lesterson, a scientist studying a strange capsule from space found crashed in one of the mercury swamps, and his assistant Janley. Lesterson has not had much success in opening the capsule, (NFS: Make sure when you read that word you are reading it in the proper british way "Cap-see-ooull"..yes it's important.) but believes its technology and alloys may contain untold breakthroughs for mankind. They also meet Governor Hensell, his deputy Quinn, and Bragen, the head of security. The colony is in rough times, as a group of rebels is causing unrest.

The Doctor manages to open the capsule that night, in secret, and discovers even worse trouble for the colony- a pair of Daleks, currently inert and inactive. The Doctor immediately goes to the colony leaders and insists that the Daleks must be destroyed, that even a single one revived would surely spell doom for them all. Lesterson, however brings in a third Dalek, having secretly gained entry to the craft previously… the Dalek speaks, declaring itself to be humanity’s servant. The colonists, enthralled by the prospect of (to their eyes) robotic labor drones that can increase production and do their jobs for them, ignore the Doctor, who is terrified of the machines… but the Dalek lies and flatters smoothly, and the Doctor has no evidence. (Just like 'The Smugglers.' Evidence, always looking for evidence… the Doctor clearly just needs Batman as his next companion, so as to skip straight to the ‘taking the law into our own hands’ step.)

Quinn is implicated as the murderer of the Earth Examiner (which the Doctor claims as an unsuccessful attempt on his own life as part of the fiction, though the real murderer would, of course, know better)- but Polly believes that he is not the real culprit.

Quinn admits to having been the one that called Earth to dispatch an examiner, but his reasons are undermined by security-head Bragen, who spins his words and actions to look like an attempt to push aside and usurp the position of the governor. Bragen is made Deputy Governor in Quinn’s place. When the governor leaves on an inspection tour, Bragen… pushes aside and usurps the position of the governor. Huh. Didn’t see that one coming.

As the Doctor tries and fails repeatedly to warn people of the danger of the Daleks, he is further and further marginalized. Sabotaging the power transfer to revive the other two Daleks in an attempt to destroy them, he is caught and forbidden from the lab and the Daleks by Bragen, now wielding the governor’s authority. However, the Dalek weapons have been removed as a safety precaution… the reason for their subservient act, gaining trust until the weapons can be reinstalled.

Lesterson’s assistant, Janley, is sent by Bragen to the rebels to deliver them a powerful Dalek gun- she is a leader in the rebellion, and Bragen has been using the rebels to create a climate of fear which will allow him to reach this level of power. In other words, he’s Emperor Palpatine. Under orders, Janley also kidnaps Polly. She also blackmails Lesterson, who is becoming wary of the Daleks, seeing their true nature seep through their actions, into giving them all the building materials they want… which they promptly use in secret to construct more Dalek casings for the many Dalek-mutants still secreted aboard the capsule. (NFS: Wow...I can't remember what it looks like but this is obviously a rather large capsule.) The Daleks also order cables laid to convey static electricity power for them (as seen in The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth… and ignored ever since, until now) throughout the base so that they will no longer be dependent on the colony power-transfers that Lesterson doles out to keep them under his control.

While spying on the rebels, Ben is taken, and the Doctor is imprisoned by Bragen for interfering. He sees now that Quinn, also in jail, was falsely accused. He begins work on using a wet-finger-on-the-rim-of-a-drinking-glass instrument to simulate the sonic lock on their cells.

Within the laboratory, Lesterson sees dozens of completed and armed Daleks emerge from the capsule- ordering that no more than the three that are supposed to exist leave the lab at one time, lest the colonists discover their reproduction. Lesterson, horrified, runs to tell the Doctor, and then begins running through the colony, shouting hysterical warnings to everyone.

The governor returns, confronts Bragen, fails to play along, doesn’t recognize incredibly obvious threats (“I will give you one last chance…” says the man with all of your power, whom you have no authority over, are threatening to oppose, and who is holding a very powerful gun in a room with no witnesses…) and is promptly killed.

Quinn and the Doctor escape, and free Polly, but are captured by Bragen’s gaurds… just as the Daleks break lose in full force and numbers to begin their extermination. Ben likewise escapes, as do the Doctor, Polly, and Quinn, in the chaos. Humans are slaughtered all throughout the colony as the Daleks invade. Sheltering in the lab with the now-insane Lesterson, the Doctor sabotages the static-electricty power hub, destroying the Daleks… but not before they inflict a heavy death toll, killing Lesterson (who sacrifices himself to give the Doctor time to complete his task), Janley, Bragen, and nearly all of the rebels. 

Quinn is now in charge of what remains of the colony, and begins the monumental task of rebuilding, as the Doctor and his companions- now firmly convinced that he is the Doctor- sneak away, back to the TARDIS.

This is a very different Dalek story, to its benefit. Rather than the standard "They are unstoppable they will kill you you must run run away!!!!" story of fleeing unstoppable juggernauts, this is a more psychological tale- watching the near-helpless Daleks slowly growing in power until they reach their standard juggernaut levels... a story of greed and folly, and a story of desperation, as the one man who knows what's coming tries in vain to battle the lies of the Daleks- spoonfeeding their new 'masters' everything they want to hear- and warn people of the danger that's coming. 

The Daleks, proverbial serpents in a not-very-much-of-a paradise, spin their lies, gather power (gritting their teeth all the way- as exemplified in numerous near-slips, such as when a Dalek is compared unfavorably to a human being and the outraged exterminator responds with "DALEKS ARE-" *long pause* "-different from humans." (NFS: It's been interesting watching these earlier Doctor Who's when the Doctor is more or less out of control a lot of the time. I'd gotten used to the newer shows, and how it's kind of a rare situation when the Doctor is kind of helpless; this is something you experience quite often in the older shows and it makes for hard watching at first, but then it gets more and more interesting to see the lengths at which he has to go to prove himself half the time.) Quenching the use of the word 'superior' probably took more self-control than has been exercised by any Dalek in all of history. From the Dalek perspective, this is equivalent to a starving, weakened man being chained up by a colony of sewer cockroaches, and forced to cater to their every whim, until you've built up enough strength to escape and crush them like the vermin they are...) and pull the wool over everyone's 'eye-stalks'... until it's too late.

If you can't tell, I liked this one. Sure, the whole 'rebels/governor usurping' bit was a tad annoying to me- and superfluous- as was the 'false acusation' plot, but other than that, I greatly enjoyed the serial. The new Doctor was likable, but doesn't really come into his own (and really make me into a fan of his) until the next serial, The Highlanders.

Partly, this is because the Doctor is so low-key here. Suffering from (as yet unnamed and unconceptualized, but clearly present) post-regenerative madness, he is a little more of an amnesiac blank-slate, displaying few of the traits- save for a built-in silliness and a fondness for playing the recorder- that would eventually come to define him. (NFS: I still liked him. :-D )

The post-regeneration scene is vague and slow- befitting of post-regenerative madness, but otherwise just slightly aggravating. The mirror trick with Hartnell is clever, but other than that... it doesn't have much. Not such a great introduction for a new Doctor.

Ben and Polly are... well, let's put it this way. Ben disappeared somewhere around the 3rd Chapter. It took us until the 6th to realize he was gone and wonder what had happened to him, and when he re-appeared, we had no recollection of seeing anything that showed him leaving or being taken to where he was. Both companions get kidnapped as leverage. They are utterly superfluous- this is the Doctor's story. And as a psychological 3-way battle between the Doctor, the Daleks, and the played-for-fools colonists, there isn't really room for the companions anyhow. (NFS: Unfortunately Ben and Polly are not really interesting companions and feel kind of like stand ins with recycled lines.)

They do have a nice initial post-regeneration shtick, though- with Polly immediately accepting the new Doctor while Ben remains suspicious that it's a trick or impostor. It's a very nice touch. After the story gets going, though, they discreetly exit stage left to give the new Doctor a chance to prove himself.

The colony members are... well, they would seem at first blush to have the combined intelligence of a mud/dung brick... that's had a lobotomy... that was botched. In fact, I was, at one point, wondering out loud if Lesterson had actually achieved a level of idiocy to outdo our old friend Mavic Chen. However, as my wife wisely pointed out, Chen knew who the Daleks were and what he was getting himself into.

Seen from their perspective, while I believe the actions of the colonists in this episode are still slightly trusting and moronic... they are somewhat justified. The Daleks spin a web of very convenient, exactly-what-they-want-to-hear lies, while the Doctor, without any credentials as an extraterrestrial expert in his assumed disguise, merely seems to be an ignorant alarmist who fears the unknown and wants to destroy it... much like the kind of paranoid Luddite fool that the Doctor himself confronts on a regular basis, especially in the modern program; the standard it's-different-so-we-fear-it-and-want-to-destroy-it-(and-by-the-way-by-this-we-mean-ethnic-and-sexual-minorities-we-do-that-to-them-too,-see?) sci-fi message that's been driven into the ground in science fiction since the days of the Twilight Zone is here inverted- making an expert without proof of his expertise appear to the characters as just the kind of paranoid imbecile that must be opposed- which transforms it into another sci-fi cliche, the 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' story, in which one man knows the danger but can't find anyone who believes him, creating a quiet desperation in us, the audience, who likewise know the danger... funny how that role reverses the reason-ability of the positions depending on which one the protagonist holds at the moment, eh? 

However, in this case, it is not a fear of the unknown driving an individual to urge destruction of the alien visitors... but fear of the known. And an audience awareness of what the Daleks can do, building on past appearances, serves this story well- even though their power and capabilities are not demonstrated, we as the audience know what those capabilities are... and so it becomes a tense countdown, a feast of anticipation, as the Daleks move ever closer to what we know is coming- the cynic in us well aware that they won't be thwarted because then we won't get to see another display of power, and they wouldn't make a show that anticlimactic... even as the optimist in us, caught up in the story, is desperately rooting for someone to see the light and help the Doctor to stop them before it's too late! It's a fine psychological thriller, and while a cynic might find it predictable ("These people are petty, foolish, and expendable- the Daleks will clearly succeed and many colonists will die before they stop it... it would only be if the Daleks had a doomsday weapon that could destroy the planet or plans to blow up the TARDIS or something that they'd be stopped before they could reach full capabilities... since their capabilities are something they love showing and won't affect history drastically, they'll be loosed, no doubt about it."), the writing is of such quality that, even in still-picture-reconstruction version, with a weak Doctor character for this serial, a near-absence of companions, and an annoying supporting cast, it remains an engaging, attention-sustaining, and entertaining story that draws you in enough to block that cynicism (which only re-asserts itself in retrospect) and maintains suspense.

((((The Reconstruction we watched, meanwhile, was yet another NON-LOOSE CANNON reconstruction, which I want to clarify- NOT LOOSE CANNON, THEY DON'T SUCK.)))) This reconstruction, on the other hand, does. Badly. Muddy sound, incompetent framing (cutting off the bottom half- during the shots of the ring lying by the Doctor's foot, all we could see were apparent closeups of the Doctor's foot), no action captions- it was about the worst possible way to watch the story... fortunately, we were able to jump on youtube and enjoy the audio recreation with linking narration describing the action for a few of the middle chapters. Honestly, though... if we can still enjoy it after this utterly horrendous presentation, you KNOW it has to be good.

Overall, a strong opening for the Second Doctor... even if he is not very strong IN it.

Great moments:
Not so much a moment as a rising plot thread, as the menace of the Daleks is more and more fully revealed in each confrontation with the Doctor.

I have to give this one 4.5 out of 5 Deadman's Keys- it wasn't perfect, despite my rave reviews- the start was slow and meandering- but save for that, it was flawless. I can't give it a perfect rating (and it seems there are few that I do...) but like Keys of Marinus, Myth Makers, and the Aztecs, a few flaws do only a little to tarnish an otherwise excellent tale.

0 out of 5 Deadman's Keys for whatever pathetic piece of tripe that supposed 'reconstruction' we were watching was... and to whatever dead animal carcass apparently vomited it up from the bowels of Heck to torment innocent Internet viewers with it's ubiquitous incompetence and rank shoddiness. Loose Cannon, come back, and wash the bad taste away...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The 10th Doctor's Mistake

Alright, here we are- floating in the void between Doctors. Now, before we get to Patrick Troughton and his Second Doctor, I’m going to kick-start one more new tradition for this blog.

I’m fairly well-versed in the New Series of Doctor Who, having seen every episode, and most multiple times. But that, of course, is not what this blog is about- I’ve chosen to focus on Old Who… and after all, if you wanted New Who reviews, the internet is full to brimming with them.

However, every time we see a new Doctor appear, following a retrospective on that Doctor’s time, I think we’ll enter a brief New Series diversion before diving back in with the next Doctor’s era.

This first time, I’m going to talk about David Tennant’s 10th Doctor… and my unifying theory of the Whoniverse that suggests that everything bad that happened to him, he did to himself… with one single action on the day he was born.

I’ve spoken and posted on this topic often enough, I figure I may as well blog about it, get it down somewhere permanent. :-)

So, what one action could be responsible for his every woe- from the Loss of Rose to his death and regeneration? What single choice could have such catastrophic consequences that it would crush his youthful enthusiasm into the malaise of depression, self-pity, and arrogance that eventually led to his downfall? How could he pre-destin his death on the day of his birth?

Six little words: “Don’t you think she looks tired?”

That’s it. The spiteful toppling of Harriet Jones on Christmas day. Now, before we get into the why of Tennant’s woes, let’s take a look at the ‘why’ of ‘why was it wrong?’

When Harriet Jones is first encountered by the Ninth Doctor, he calls her brilliant. Says he likes her. She’s an unassuming woman who just wants to do what’s best for the people. And eventually, she’s revealed to be the architect of Britain’s Golden Age.

What changes?

She destroys a retreating Sycorax spacecraft with a ground-based energy weapon to send a message to the rest of the alien marauders not to mess with Earth. 10 is piqued, and declares he’ll end her reign.

First off… was this wrong of Harriet? Well, yes and no, by my reckoning.

Destroying a fleeing enemy, a retreating opponent? Not right. Very dishonorable.
However- the Sycorax were the aggressors, bent on Earth conquest. They had already committed murder. And yes, they had been turned away by the Doctor after he defeated their leader in single combat, ordered never to return, and to spread the message that Earth is protected.

However, the Sycorax leader had already demonstrated duplicity, and a lack of following through on his word, trying to stab the Doctor in the back after being defeated in single combat. The likelihood of the Sycorax double-crossing Earth and returning in force was high. And Harriet Jones, as an elected representative of the people (a distinction 9 loved because it freed him to act without accepting the moral consequences… but which 10 apparently ignored as her right once it became inconvenient to him), was tasked with making the choice for those people that she believed best defended Earth.

So, that brings us to Reason #1 why it was wrong of Tennant to dethrone her: He had no right. She was an elected official acting on behalf of the people, doing what she thought was best, just as she’d always done. This time, he just happened to disagree with what was best. He didn’t consult her on his defense of Earth- nor did she consult him on hers. She attacked an enemy with a high degree of duplicity already demonstrated, and with an ability to easily attack and ravage the Earth, were the Doctor not around. Agree with her choice or not, he had no right to remove her from power because he disagreed.

And that brings us to the second question in determining “Was this (the destruction of the Sycorax) wrong?” – Harriet’s reasoning; the Doctor is not always around to defend Earth, and a message needed to be sent. Was this right or wrong?

Well, first off- like shooting a retreating enemy, killing to prove a point is never right. (Again, I abrogate this with the fact that these were enemy combatants who had demonstrated a propensity for attacking after they were supposedly surrendered.)

Was Harriet right, though? Yes! While it previously seemed as if the Doctor was Earth’s continual savior, concurrent spinoffs Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures have shown us that the Earth is indeed often threatened, several times with Earth-destroying menaces, in the Doctor’s absence. He is not always around to protect us- in this, Harriet is absolutely correct!

On the other hand, she sent her message… and aliens still came. Less than might have otherwise? Perhaps. But we’ll never know.
This one, I’m calling a draw.

So, to wrap up, here’s Reason #2- unrelated- that the Doctor’s actions were wrong.
His moral outrage and fit of pique cost Britain its entire Golden Age. Just who the heck does he think he is- redirecting an entire civilization from a period of unparalleled prosperity simply because he’s angry at a single person? This is inexcusable, even if the people of Britain will never know what it cost them. But it will cost the Doctor something as well…

So, back to the thesis of this episode. How did the Doctor cause all of his own woes through this?

Well, to understand that, I first need to clarify something in temporal mechanics 101. Remember that, to a time traveler, time is subjective. If you go to 2010, then come back to 2005, and change history, 2010 will now be different. But you, as a time traveler, will remember 2010 as it was when you visited it, even though that 2010 no longer exists, and if you visit it again, it will be a new, different 2010 that came from the new, different 2005 that you altered. You visited it before you changed the timeline, so you remember it the way that it was- but now it will only exist that way in your memory.

Got it?


Okay, so here’s my postulation. The Doctor clearly changed time in The Christmas Invasion, altering the timeline to preclude Harriet Jones’ multiple terms, and erasing Britain’s Golden age. This means that the timeline shifted. Season 1- the 9th Doctor years- are Timeline A- the future as it would have occurred. But everything in Season 2-onwards exists in timeline B… 2006-forwards have now been re-written. They are a new timeline without Harriet Jones’ Prime Minister-hood.

So, what’s different in Timeline B?


Here’s my central conceit- Harriet Jones would have kept control of Torchwood. She clearly had control of them in the Christmas Invasion!

And if Harriet did keep control of Torchwood, what would have happened? First off, no Army of Ghosts. With those experiments put a stop to… no Cybermen. The Cult of Skarro would have also remained in the void. No Daleks. No Cybermen. No loss of Rose. Martha Jones would never have become a companion. Donna Noble would have been a one-time companion. No Daleks in Manhattan. No Dalek rescuing Davros. No Stolen Earth. No Victory of the Daleks. No Cyberking. And that’s not all…

No Mister Saxxon, because there was no power void for the Master to fill. Likely, the trip to the future would still have occurred, but the Master would have arrived back in an entirely different manner- never becoming Prime Minister. Entirely likely that there would be no Year-that-never-was (redundantly). No Master-cult created while he was Saxxon. Thus, no resurrection, no Vivoci/Master/Time Lord endgame. Maybe even no encounter with Wilf. And thus… no regeneration into Matt Smith.

So, in short, the Doctor unleashed the Daleks and Cybermen onto the universe anew, lost Rose, and gave the Master a position of power from which to launch the schemes that ultimately caused both of their deaths. (Apparently.)

Now, I call this a pretty compelling and ironclad scenario…But, you ask, where’s my proof?


In this Season One episode- taking place in 2012- no one had ever heard of Daleks or knew what they were, despite their multiple invasions. But remember, this was the 2012 of Timeline A, witnessed subjectively BEFORE changing the timeline in the Christmas Invasion. This implies that no Daleks were ever witnessed by Earth in the 2000s… and since all Daleks in Tennant’s era date back to the Cult of Skarro, it’s clear that they were never released in that time period, because Harriet Jones kept Torchwood under control. (It’s also supported by logic, that a period labeled a ‘Golden Age’ would probably not have multiple genocidal invasions in it.)

More than likely, with Harriet ousted and timeline B in place, if the Doctor revisited 2012 (or gets there on his own, eventually) the events with Van Staten would not occur- or at least not in the same way- as everyone would know about Daleks.

Originally, I noted that there might be one ‘crack’ in my proof, relating to Matt Smith's first year...
However, everything we have come to understand about the Big Bang 2.0 and the cracks in the Universe suggest that the effects were not retroactive to the series to this point- and that Van Staten and the results of Dalek were NOT due to the cracks in the universe- everything we were seeing was, in essence, Universe 1.0 during that time. And while we still don't know if Universe 2.0 is lacking the Cyberking, Dalek Invasions, etc. and everything that Amy didn't remember... Universe 1.0 clearly did. So, no Cracks scapegoat to explain a Dalek-less 2012 (and indeed, unless the events of Waters of mars were also greatly altered, it appears that future memories of the Dalek invasions are fairly crucial to the future, so one can assume that they were, indeed, restored.) As I noted in the previous draft of this article, one would think that the Universe 2.0 would have major gaps if it only contained things Amy knew about.

Either way, cracks or no, regardless of the events in Dalek, I stand by my theory and reasoning- the Tenth Doctor made the WRONG choice, and all of his suffering was because of it. Themeatically, this is appropriate to the themes of the melancholoy, legacy-tarnishing, major-mistake Gap Year... the Tenth Doctor's arrogance and self-righteousness ultimately proving to be his undoing... with the thematic groundwork laid for his eventual fall in his very first adventure. (Note from Sarah: I think you have a sound argument...but unfortunately most people, since he is 10, hold him beyond reproach. I am afraid your argument will fall on a lot of deaf eyes. :-D)

That’s my thesis. 

And now, after that self-indulgence… back to Classic Who with Patrick Troughton and the Second Doctor! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

William Hartnell

Ah, William Hartnel. The First Doctor. THE Doctor. Famous for his crusty, grandfatherly manner. Even more famous for his repeatedly flubbed lines. Due to an illness. That was undiagnosed. And probably killed him.

So it's not so funny to laugh at anymore.

(Due also to the BBC not having the time or money to do multiple takes, so it was recorded practically as if it were live.)

He was funny, at times endearing. He was grumpy, at times block-headed. He had a funny little cackle, and a very particular pursing of the lips. He was my Halloween costume last year. He often claimed to be human. He had a mysterious signature signet ring, along with a monocle- possibly the most awesome accessories a sonic-screwdriver-less Doctor could have. He had power over hypnosis and the ability to mimic voices flawlessly.

He was my favorite.

Don't get me wrong, I still love David Tennant's Tenth Doctor, and if he hadn't gone through his manic-depressive-emo phase (I.E. The Gap Year) he might still retain that spot. But as of now, having viewed the First, Second, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors, I think it's safe to call him my current favorite. That may change, admittedly... but he will always hold a high ranking in my estimation.

He was the first, without whom there would be no other Doctors.

He was the original, the authority, the one that held it all together.

He was the Doctor.

And he will be missed.

My Top 10 Favorite First Doctor Moments
10. Trouncing an assassin (The Romans):
The Doctor takes to impersonating a musician that the group finds dead (for his own safety), not realizing that the dead man was the target of an assassination, and the group he’s fallen in with are determined to keep trying, believing that their initial attempt failed and the Doctor is their still-living target. A mute assassin is sent to stab the Doctor in his sleep as the group stops at a tavern for the night- and the Doctor handily thrashes him, throwing the man around the room with an almost carefree and disinterested ease, not even for a moment concerned for himself. This physical display, and the extreme confidence accompanying it, suggesting this to be merely the tip of the iceberg of the feats that the Doctor is physically capable of, is as surprising to the audience as it is to the assassin, and Hartnell’s bravado through it all really makes it stick in your memory.

9. Resigned Trojan horse proposal (The Myth Makers)
Captured by the Greek armies and coerced into finding a way to breach the unbreachable walls of Troy, the Doctor steadfastly refuses to consider the Trojan Horse as an option, believing it to be a historical myth- here, he has an opportunity to craft, and discover, how Troy really fell. After a series of far-fetched proposals, Steven again suggests the well-known horse, and the Doctor soundly rejects the notion, instead briefing the commander on his final proposal: catapult-launched hang-gliders. The skeptical general agrees, but informs the Doctor that Hartnell will be the one made to test, he will be the first launched on the ridiculous contraptions. Faced with the prospect of riding on his own lethally-absurd creation, the Doctor calls the general back and, ever so reluctantly and with great resignation, suggests a giant wooden horse instead. Hartnell’s performance- from stubborn refusal to begrudging acceptance, makes this one of the most hilarious of Myth Maker’s many laugh-riot scenes, even through the stills of a reconstruction.

8. “DO… NOT… KILL!”/The Double Fight (The Dalek Master Plan):
The strange clearly-not-identical-doppelganger-stunt-double plot comes to a head in the penultimate chapter of the Dalek Master Plan, as the Doctor and his double fight- itself a rare and exciting fight-scene moment for Hartnell, its memorability is enhanced by his unique solution- another use of his vocal mimicry skills to imitate the Daleks’ halting speech and order the robot not to kill, causing it to hesitate long enough to defeat it (admittedly, I find it memorable especially because I didn’t understand what he was doing, and found his odd-cadenced yell to be oddly hilarious)- a scene enhanced by Hartnell’s double-duty roles, and the way that the imposter is discovered- referring to Vicki as ‘Susan’ (recently departed) because the robot’s programmed information was out of date. Definitely one of the Doctor’s most memorable confrontations.

7. Beating the Toymaker (The Celestial Toymaker):
Coming at the climax of a serial in which the Doctor is seldom seen, the titular villainous Toymaker has put the Doctor and his companions through their paces in his sinister games, and they have triumphed. There, on the stage of his final defeat, the Toymaker appears and admits that he is a sore loser- one game has yet to be completed, until which time the TARDIS crew cannot leave- and making the final move will instantly destroy the world which they inhabit, leaving them the choice of eternal imprisonment, or perishing in a pyrrhic victory. Yet the canny Doctor, who has managed to irritate and confound the far-more-powerful Toymaker at every turn, has a trick up his sleeve, turning the Toymaker’s own voice-command system back on him to complete the final move (after a false-start in which his first attempt fails, leading the overconfident Toymaker to smirk in derision) from the safety of the TARDIS, dematerializing it at the last second. It’s a brilliant and well-written gambit, the solution of which had been hinted at, like the great murder mysteries, subtly throughout the serial for those that had been paying attention. It’s a great use of the First Doctor’s unique voice mimicking capabilities. It’s a brilliant and very satisfying comeback as the Doctor utilizes the tool used to intimidate and bully him throughout the serial to have his cake and eat it, too. And his look of victory as he begins his escape makes it all the better.

6. Accidental engagement (The Aztecs):
The Doctor has been growing close to the elderly retiree, Cameca- a closeness that means more to the kind and gentle Aztec woman than it does to the oblivious Doctor. When she offers him a cup of cocoa and he accepts- ignorant of its cultural significance and simply finding the prospect of some Hot Chocolate delightful- he finds a little more than he bargained for when she exclaims with joy about their new betrothal. The expression on the Doctor’s face simply has to be seen to be believed- and the comedy of the scene and wonderful character created in Cameca makes their eventual parting all the more tragic.

5. Farewell speech to Susan (The Dalek Invasion of Earth):
It’s shown at the beginning of specials for a reason. This was the first companion departure, a resolute but sad forced-departure of the Doctor’s own flesh and blood. Hartnell is tender and wistful as he makes the decision, but puts on a brave face for Susan, urging her to go forward and claim the life that she deserves. He gives the speech all the gravitas, regret, tender care, and loving, grandfatherly wisdom that such a moment deserves, and the result is mesmerizing. “One day I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine. Goodbye, Susan.

4. Failed Interrogation (The Space Museum):
The conquering authorities are trying to sweat the Doctor out in an interrogation, but he doesn’t seem to be worried in the slightest. The authorities, greedy for the secret of the TARDIS, haul out their big guns: a mind-reading device. They hook Hartnell up to it and fire away their question once again: “How did you get here?” There’s no way out of it this time! But the Doctor proves that he still easily has the upper hand, as the screen lights up with a picture of an old-timey giant-wheeled bike. Then, as the interrogators stare in shocked disbelief, he cackles with delight; though he’s in handcuffs, captured, and being interrogated, Hartnell is still firmly in control.

3. The Unintentional Hold-up (The Gunfighters):
Seldom has the Doctor (mistaken for Doc Holliday by vengeful Clantons) been so out of his element- believed to be a crack-shot (an illusion aided by an unseen shooter and bolstered by a deceptive saloon girl), the Doctor ends up in a Stetson, six-shooter in hand, holding up the three Clantons he’d just been trying to talk down. You can see written on his face the simultaneous excitement (really getting into being a cowboy, and loving it), and complete fish-out-of-water bafflement and fear; now that he’s got ‘em, he has no idea what to do with ‘em, and has to ask the Saloon girl what’s next. It’s one of Hartnell’s funniest scenes.

2. “I am that man!” (Keys of Marinus):
After a prolonged actor-vacation absence, the Doctor made his entrance into the courtroom drama of the final Key location just as Ian was bemoaning the need for a man that could stand with him, against the potential of sharing his punishment, to defend him at trial. With this pronouncement, the Doctor made his first truly heroic entrance, a save-the-day moment for the Doctor like those we’ve come to know and love, and finally started to demonstrate care and solidarity for the companions that he had, up until this time, treated more like unwanted baggage.

1. Confronting Koquillion (The Rescue):
In a fantastic moment that (even as of the Fourth Doctor’s second season) has been rarely matched, the Doctor has a true showdown with the villain of the piece, one-on-one. He confronts Koquillion in a dark, atmospheric ruined temple, fragmentary remnants of the society upon which he had committed genocide- keeping his back turned as Koquillion enters, the Doctor will not even look at him as he spins the tale he’s managed to work out, reconstructing the events of the past there in the moody, misty remains of a once-proud civilization. The resulting fight- with explosions about and dangerous chasm-edge battles- is cinematic and epic, yet very personal; this is a classic finale, brilliantly filmed with fantastic cinematography, and feels worthy of a major motion picture Doctor debut.
(As a side note, I am so proud of myself- it’s been a year since I’ve seen this, and I spelled Koquillion right from memory!) :-)

Also, here are a few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make my top 10 list, but I feel are worthy of notation for their distinctiveness:
The Backgammon matches from Marco Polo (notably the first time we really see the Doctor taking center stage and trying to save the day), outsmarting the chain gang in Reign of Terror (a great comedic scene), confronting the Monk (I always love seeing those two together), and the grueling Time Destructor standoff/march (another of the Doctor’s most memorable confrontations, and an incredibly powerful finale) in Dalek Master Plan, and facing down the oncoming War Machine in The War Machines.