Geekbat Tunes

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Doctor Who: The Time Meddler

Serial Title: The Time Meddler
Series: 2
Episodes: 4
The Watcher
The Meddling Monk
A Battle of Wits
Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), Vicki Pallister (Maureen O'Brien)

Following up on the events of 'The Chase,' the Doctor and Vicki discover Steven, the 23rd century astronaut, who has managed to stagger into the open TARDIS and subsequently collapsed into unconsciousness while the Doctor was showing Ian and Barbara, now-departed, how to work the Dalek Time Machine. The now-stirring Steven, the source of the strange noise from before, is an unintentional stowaway.

The TARDIS lands on a rocky beach (NFS: NO WAY!!?!? A rocky beach!?! They've never used THAT location before in the history of Doctor Who so far!!!) in 1066 England, and the Doctor goes to explore a nearby village while Vicki tries in vain to convince Steven that the TARDIS has traveled through time as well as space. The Doctor is given food by a farmer's wife, and gleans enough information to gather the time and place- Harold Godwinson is on the throne, the Vikings threaten England, and the battles of Stamford Bridge (with Harold Hardrada) and Hastings (with William the Conqueror) have not yet occurred.

The Doctor also hears the chanting of monks in the background- which becomes strangely distorted for a moment. In making inquiries, he discovers that a group of monks have recently moved into an abandoned monastery. They are often thusly heard, but seldom seen. Going to investigate, the Doctor discovers the the chants are being broadcast by loudspeaker, and played over gramophone- the skipping record responsible for the distortion he'd heard. However, in the process of discovering this, he is captured in a prison cell.

Meanwhile, Steven's skepticism is further heightened when, while hiding from the villagers, they discover a wristwatch in the dirt. The duo are captured by villagers but manage to convince them that they are harmless travelers, receiving news of the Doctor. They determine that the Doctor must be a prisoner in the monastery, and determine to break in after dark.

The Doctor encounters the gloating Monk, the only true inhabitant of the monastery, who fixes his prisoner breakfast- with a toaster and griddle. (NFS: Oh out for those scientifically advanced lone monks....)

A trio of vikings land, traumatizing the farmer's wife- and after a battle with the villagers, they hole up in the monastery, hiding.

Vicki and Steven break in but find that the Doctor has gone, discovering a secret passage out of the cell. As Steven and Vicki set off to find him, the Doctor surprises the Monk at the front door, tricking him into believing he's being held at gunpoint. The Monk slips away when the Vikings attack, and orders the villagers to light signal fires- claiming ships are coming with supplies for the monastery. In reality, he plans to lure the incoming Viking invasion fleet... and them blast the to pieces with his atomic bazooka, which he has hidden on the clifftop. (NFS: wait wait...he has an ATOMIC bazooka?! Does this not sound like something only the Joker should be in possession of???)

Meanwhile, Vicki and Steven are re-united with the Doctor at the monastery, and together follow a power cable that seems to lead into the base of a large, waist-high stone altar. Opening a pair of doors on the back, they are shocked to discover that it it in fact a disguised TARDIS!

The Monk is in fact another Time Lord (though the episode does not identify him as such, merely "From the same place that I am," per the Doctor) from about 50 years farther in the future than the Doctor. He has a TARDIS Mark IV... and a penchant for interfering in history for his own amusement. He shows up to gloat, noting that he is responsible for Da Vinci's attempts at powered flight, the construction of Stonehenge (which he helped along with his anti-gravity lifts), and has made a fortune simply by compound interest at a bank, collected several hundred years after the initial deposit. The Monk now plans to destroy the vikings and all other challengers, to let history proceed as it would have had Harold never been defeated, bringing England into what he believes will be an early golden age.

The Vikings return and, convinced that the Monk is on their side, tie up the Doctor, Vicki, and Steven, helping the Monk to transport crates to the cliff... the very mortars intended to sink their fleet. However, the villagers arrive in force, overwhelming the vikings and killing them- the unseen Monk flees the scene.

Vicki has freed herself and the crew, having departed for their own TARDIS and left the scene. A letter left for the Monk indicates that the Doctor has thwarted him, a notion he smirks it... until he tries to enter his TARDIS. The Doctor has stolen its Dimensional Stabilizer, a part of the bigger-on-the-inside system... locked into our own dimension, the Mark IV TARDIS is now as small on the inside as it is on the outside, actually fitting inside the small stone altar shape, and the Monk is far too large to even fit into it's miniaturized door. He is now stranded, without his high technology, in 1066 A.D. (NFS: Which seriously has to be the best "get-back-at-someone"....thing in Doctor Who so far.)

Meanwhile, the Doctor and his companions sail off into the stars for the unknown...

This is a landmark episode in that it is the first deviation from the at-the-time Doctor Who historical format and the first template for what Doctor Who became and remains to this day; a story set in a true historical time period, featuring educational or historical content- but only as a setting in which a fictional sci-fi story can take place. This was the first...

The episode was, sadly, a bit slow. The story was dull when it wasn't focusing on the Monk and the Doctor's conflict with him. This is a shame, as the battle of wits is fascinating, funny, and kinda cool in what little moments it receives to shine through.

The Monk is a classic mustache-twirling villain, and the end reflects that, with an empty-room, ranting-to-the-heavens "Curse you, Doctor!!!!" ending- that, coupled with the revelation of TARDIS sabotage (ingenious, hilarious, a brilliant visual image and a finely-crafted, exquisite miniature or blue-screen), makes his storyline truly entertaining, and the generous use of humor for his character works very well. He is an excellent foil.

The remainder of the story about the Viking invasion, while educational and a necessary backdrop for the Monk's plan, is simply... well, boring. (NFS: Uncultured SWIIIINE!!! :-D I was actually talking about myself just then actually.) Unfortunate, as it's almost hard to put into words the incredible contrast with the hugely entertaining Monk segments. Even his reveal- with a record skip heard from far away- is both intriguing and funny.

Steven's skepticism for this episode, while a little stretched, perhaps, is interesting, contrasting well with so many other companions' instant acceptance of the bizarre (Minus Barbara's mega-denial in An Unearthly Child, of course...). Steven's sarcastic humor and sharp wit make for a very interesting foil for the Doctor and a very new Doctor-companion relationship; one that I feel has yet to reach it's full potential until the Myth Makers; he is a very different, and enjoyable, addition to the TARDIS crew.

Overall, I find myself surprised that I don't have more to say about this serial- everything about it, the good points and the bad, can simply be described with very broad strokes and doesn't require many words to do so. The Monk is my favorite villain thus far, and I look forward to his eventual return (though people's suggestion that he return in the new series played by Patrick Stewart baffles me- Patrick has shown he can do humor ("But by then it's too late- I've already seen everything..."),( doesn't baffle me. Patrick Stewart= Heck yes. Even if they were casting him for like...a live action Jem in Jem and the Holograms or would still be...HECK.YES.) but for such a broadly comedic character? It seems a strange match.) He's a delight to watch, and his conflicts with the Doctor, and their two conflicting philosophies, were quite entertaining to watch. Plus, he is the first non-Doctor/Susan Time Lord we've encountered in the series- even if not yet named as such- and that counts for a lot. And the ending, flying off into the stars with solarized images of the actors, was way fun.

Great moments:
The ending, as we see, in a beautiful visual moment, exactly how the Doctor has outwitted the Monk.

2.5 out of 5 Shrunken TARDISes, sadly, as the excellence of the Monk's scenes and the dullness of the others average out to a perfectly mediocre middle-ground. I'd love to have rated it higher.

General Series 2 thoughts:

Series 2 could do no wrong-

Aside from the Web Planet, Series 2 could do no wrong. The production values were stellar, head-and-shoulders above Series 1. The writing was much improved. The stories were interesting. Pacing was better, FAR better; no long-slogs in this one. Everything kept moving. Atmospheric scenes. The beginning twinkles of so many familiar Who elements began to emerge. And the humor...

Oh, the humor. They hit their stride and found what took Doctor Who from an interesting, mildly entertaining sci-fi show to a powerhouse that's over 30 Series in and still going. The use of humor and the improved writing combine to really make this show fly, and easily compensate even where the show's production values are still failings instead of assets. The laughs, well-done, numerous, and fitting within the story, cover over a multitude of flaws. (Come to think of it, the Web Planet had very little humor- except of the unintentional so-bad-it's-good kind- one wonders if it's flaws might have been less evident if it had.)

Series 2 hardly had a misstep- Web Planet aside, of course- and even the dull stories, or those with dull elements (Like Space Museum and Time Meddler) always had something excellent contained in them to keep them memorable, interesting, or engaging. With Web Planet even being funny because of it's shlock factor, I see this Series with extremely fond sentiments. (That was, perhaps, the most confused sentence ever written; talk about your mixed metaphors!!!) There's really nothing in it I didn't like in at least some aspect. This was a golden age for the Hartnell era... and a last bastion of fantastical before the stormy tumultuous-ness of the gap-ridden Series 3 to come, whose writing was far less even, and for whom 2/3 of the series exists only as snapshots. Brace yourself, and gird your heart with fond memories of Series 2 as we take the plunge into this extremely trying period...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Doctor Who: The Chase

Serial Title: The Chase
Series: 2
Episodes: 6
The Executioners
The Death of Time
Flight Through Eternity
Journey Into terror
The Death of Doctor Who
The Planet of Decision

Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Vicki Pallister (Maureen O'Brien)

The accursed humans have meddled in the affairs of the Dalek empire for the last time! The fuming pepper-pots have built their own time machine, the DARDIS (Daleks and Relative Dimensions In Space? Destructive Attack Rocket/Daleks Invasion Sphere? Daleks Are Really Destroying Ian Soon? They never say- even the name comes from the novelization, not the episode.)- intent on tracking down the Doctor and his companions once and for all!

The Doctor, unaware, fiddles with his new time/space visualizer (a gift from the Xerons of 'Space Museum')- tuning in to view the past- the Gettysburg address, the Beatles, Shakespeare meeting the royal family- and the TARDIS sets down on a desert world. Ian and Vicki go exploring... and become trapped in a sand-buried hatch. Inside, they find a computer into which they must type the numbers 4 8 15 16 23 42 every few- oh, right. Wrong mysterious hatch. Actually, they find a horrific monster, fleeing into the connecting tunnels beneath the hatch. (NFS: Close enough.)

The Doctor and Barbara become aware of the danger as the time/space visualizer intercepts the Daleks' plans, giving the duo advanced warning. They set out to find Ian and Vicki, and are intercepted by the planet's native Aridians. It turns out that the Sagarro desert in which they stand was once the Sagarro sea- the arid Aridius (oops, did I give away the naming inspiration? Silly me...) was an ocean world whose flaring sun turned it into a desert- the natives now taking shelter in underground catacombs... which are being dangerously overrun by the native predatory Mire Beasts, who have also taken to the catacombs- leading the Aridians to wall off sections of their own shelters to contain the monsters.

Meanwhile, the Daleks have arrived. Finding the deserted TARDIS to be un-breachable and too indestructible for their weapons, they post a guard, and offer an ultimatum to the Aridians- turn over the Doctor and Barbara, who are now sheltering in the Aridian tunnels- or be destroyed. The Aridians capitulate, but Ian and Vicki break through one of the tunnel barriers, allowing several mire beasts into the main city, and rescue the Doctor and Barbara in the resultant chaos.

Returning to the TARDIS, and tricking one of the Dalek guards into a pit trap, they manage to get aboard and take off- but the Doctor cautions that they will need at least 12 minutes after a stop to recharge before they can leave again- a time during which they're vulnerable to being caught. Thus begins an epic chase through time and space...

The TARDIS materializes on the observation deck of the Empire State building in 1966, much to the shock and amusement of a visiting Alabaman tourist, who assumes it to be part of a film-making effort. They manage to leave ahead of the Daleks, ending up on the fabled Marie Celeste in 1872- causing it to become the famous ghost ship of legend when everyone aboard flees overboard at the onslaught of a Dalek invasion.

With the Daleks closing in, the TARDIS lands in a mysterious haunted castle, inhabited by the personages of Count Dracula, The Grey Lady, and Frankenstein's monster! The Daleks catch up with them here, in what the Doctor has determined to be the physical manifestation of the human subconscious, a shared unconscious realm of unspoken fears and collective icons of terror. They manage to flee with the Daleks distracted by the monsters, on whom their weapons have no effect- inadvertently leaving Vicki behind. (In a coda to the scene, it turns out that these were VERY lifelike animatronics in a 'Haunted House' exhibit at the Festival of Ghana amusement park in 1966).

Vicki stows away aboard the DARDIS. There, she sees a terrifying sight- en route to their next destination, the Daleks create an android duplicate of the Doctor, physically identical in every detail- assigned a mission to "infiltrate and kill."

The TARDIS arrives on the planet Mechanus, where they realize their mistake with Vicki, and decide to settle in and make a stand against the Daleks. They escape from deadly native fungoid creatures via a fortuitous pathway of overhead lights (to which the fungoids are averse), highlighting a safe path through to a large cave. They disable the lights to slow the Daleks, who will have to contend with the fungoids- but when they hear Vicki scream, Ian and the Doctor rush out to find her.

The Daleks have landed, and Vicki has slipped out, encountering one of the fungoids (hence the scream)- but she is rescued; meanwhile, the false-Doctor returns for Barbara, still at the cave with an anti-Dalek device the Doctor designed, claiming Ian has been killed, and leads her from the cave. An inevitable meeting occurs and the two Doctors battle with their walking sticks. The Doctor is defeated and the false-Doctor convinces Ian to destroy it- he is about to smash the Doctor's head in with a rock, and the Doctor compassionately shields Vicki's eyes, instructing her "Don't watch, Susan- this will be gruesome." The duplicate, created with knowledge from the previous two Dalek encounters, doesn't know that Susan has left the crew, and assumes this young girl is her. The impostor revealed, he is defeated by the Doctor, shut down by an imitation of a Dalek voice and then disabled by the removal of crucial circuitry. (NFS: Yeah because you wouldn't be able to tell it was the fake Doctor because he was allowing someones head to be smashed he kind of seems a bit head-smashy in the earlier Cave people episode!!)

The group holes up in the cave as the Daleks come with unstoppable numbers and weaponry... but are suddenly saved when an elevator at the back of the cave opens, and they are ushered in by a strange robot, like a large golf-ball with manipulator arms. They are taken to a city high on struts, hundreds of feet in the air- there, they meet Steven, a 23rd Century Earth astronaut. He reveals that these 'Mechanoids' were robot colony-builders sent on ahead from Earth to terraform the planet and prepare it for human occupation. They built the city and awaited colonists, but none came as Earth had become embroiled in a war. During the war, his ship was shot down, and he crashed here, taken in by the Mechanoids. Now, two years later, he's still being kept in his single, large room- a zoo specimen along with the TARDIS crew for the study of the Mechanoids, as none of them has the correct command code to convince the simple machines that they are the very humans who built them, here to take command.

The Daleks invade the city and a fire breaks out, separating the poor, slightly-mad Steven from the rest of the group. The TARDIS crew repels 1500 meters down to the surface of the planet as the Daleks and Mechanoids battle to the death in the flaming city- fleeing back to the TARDIS. Before they leave, however, Ian and Barbara realize that the DARDIS, with it's more precise destination-controls, can be used to send them home. The Doctor is furious they would want to leave, but after some prodding from Vicki, he takes them in to show them how to use the device.

Meanwhile, Steven, miraculously having survived and presumably followed down the ropes long after they'd left, staggers desperately out of the jungle towards the TARDIS...

Later, having departed Mechanus, Vicki and the Doctor watch on the Time/Space Visualizer as Ian and Barbara return home, set the DARDIS to self-destruct, and then run joyously through the streets, jumping in shock and then laughing with relief upon encountering a genuine Police Box on the streets, celebrating a return to their home of good old 1963 London. Well, actually... 1965 London. Both happily agree that it's close enough as they take a bus home. (As an addendum, later novels indicated they claimed a missionary journey to Africa to explain their 2 year absence- the two later married, and had a son named after two of the Thals they encountered on Skarro.) The Doctor bids Ian and Barbara a fond in-absentia goodbye, shutting off the viewer, confident that the duo has made it home safely and are happy there. He continues on with Vicki, traveling to unknown parts in time and space, finally free of the Dalek menace... when they hear a strange noise from somewhere within the TARDIS...

Alas and farewell, Ian and Barbara! I shall miss you, the two I consider to truly be the first companions! Though a slightly abrupt decision, the departure of the two worked well, and had an excellent, fun, fast-paced coda to their time with the Doctor that wrapped up their story most satisfactorily.

Also, a very cool special effects milestone- this is the first time we see the TARDIS in flight, and the first time we see the Time Vortex... the chase shots through it, though primitive by even original Star Trek standards, are nonetheless very, very cool.

As for the story- like the Keys of Marinus, this is practically a series of individual stories strung together by a common arc. The opening sand planet storyline was mediocre; the Daleks closing in didn't quite engender the feeling of impending doom they should have- at least not consistently- perhaps partly because they were used as simultaneous oncoming menaces... and comic relief. From nodding with their eye-stalks to coughing as they emerged from the sand, the Daleks were at times a little goofy... and one spoke with a cockney accent. You know, "'Ello, guv'nah!" - Daleks should not speak this way. EVER.

It. Does. Not. Work.

No Cockney Daleks.

Still, the first sight of the TARDIS crew being hunted, the Daleks surrounding the TARDIS and preparing to destroy it... certain moments here did have a palpable feeling of dread to them, and were nicely done. The pit-trap for the Dalek was a little too comedic, but interesting nonetheless.

The mire-beasts looked relatively good, as did the Aridians (if slightly cartoony... I am reminded of Flotter T. Water from Star Trek: Voyager, a children's program on the holodeck.) And so did the sandy landscape- clearly a location in long-shots- even if the closeups on sets looked a little more fake as a result. The capitulation of the Aridians was very... well, humanizing- these are not noble-beyond-noble principled aliens, these are scared refugees with no reason to be loyal to our heroes; even if they regret what they must do. Something about that rang very true to me.

The Space-Time Visualizer was an interesting and fascinating concept- one shared by Superman comics at the time- that since all events throughout the galaxy are recorded visually by the photons bouncing off of them, the light containing an event exists somewhere in the galaxy- and by capturing it, you should theoretically be able to view any event from history. (This does not explain where the sound came from... oops!) While Abe Lincoln was on a very, very obvious set, and the Queen and Shakespeare both look and act VERY different from how they would when the Doctor met them in person- this was all a great deal of fun, and a great way to follow-up on Ian and Barbara after they'd left. (As a trivia side-note, several variety-show programs were junked along with old Doctor Who episodes... making the clip of the Beatles appearing here the only surviving clip of their appearance on that program. In other words, the Doctors is doing what we all would with a time machine- using it to recover the missing episodes! :-) ) Some nice humorous moments here, too... Vicki being stir-crazy and getting in everyone's way, the shouting over the loud noise, Vicki's bafflement that the famous Beatles that she's only ever heard of from the ancient past play "Classical music"- and Barbara's afrontery at the notion...

The Empire State Building was a short comedic segment that was a little overdone, and a little silly... but kudos to the actor playing the hick- it's the same one who plays astronaut Steven later in the final episode, and the characters couldn't be more different- I never would've known they were the same actor!

The Marie Celeste was very clever- maybe a little too much waiting for the payoff reveal, but still clever. A Dalek, being destroyed by falling off the side, helps to decrease their menace even further. Ian getting conked on the head from behind (which also happened to him in The Romans) was a nice continuity/running gag.

The 'human subconscious' bit has a nice creepy haunted-hose flavor and an air of mystery- but the payoff is insufficient for the setup, the explanation feels weak, and the robots are clearly human actors- thus making these supposed animatronics far too realistic, especially by 1966 standards, to be believable.

While the synopsis indicates that the Daleks created a duplicate Doctor, in reality the duplicate is a body double; inexplicably even in scenes where the duplicate is alone and they could have used Hartnell; the double has the mannerisms, the costume, and the body... but not the face. In closeups, it's Hartnell (even more confusing) but in long shots, it's the double, with Hartnell's dialogue badly dubbed over his mouth movements. It's not very well accomplished, and not very smooth; continuity is shoddy, but at least the fight is good- in fact, I'm surprised it's not more iconic or oft-mentioned in the annals of Doctor Who.

The Mechanoids were impressive- if immobile and clunky looking- props, whose speech patterns were as unique as they were unintelligible. I felt that whole storyline.section was a bit slow, but the props themselves were quite good, and the miniature balcony with miniature Mechanoids to sell the concept was a failed but valiant attempt at making the exteriors work. A+ for effort, even if I wasn't convinced. The final explosion of the city- an explosion matted over it- actually looked quite good, however! (NFS: Daleks vs. Mechanoids is one of the coolest looking and just...coolest thing to think about ever.)

And as for that final battle, the choreography, cinematography, and camera angles/movements- even the corny 'row of fire along the bottom of the screen that doesn't change when the shot changes' technique- all contributed to what felt like a truly epic conflict between machines from vast armies; the whole battle scene was an impressive achievement of Hollywood- er, BBC- magic over resource limitations, and utilizing clever technique to create a vast impression greater than props or effects could convey. It felt truly epic, and should be commended for that- it was a very well-done climax.

Steven annoyed my wife initially, though for me he simply felt like a slightly pitiable non-entity; he wasn't well-defined here, so I haven't much to say about him. His cliffhanger fate was baffling, but makes sense later on (it did lend to it's suspicions at the time.)

The departure of Ian and Barbara felt a bit sudden and unprompted, as no mention had been made of Ian and Barbara wanting to get home for some time (I don't count the Beatles nostalgia in this serial as sufficient foreshadowing). That said, it was well-handled- from the Doctor's reaction, and his growing closer to Vicki through her convincing of him, to the very necessary and appropriate epilogue. (Initially, the DARDIS disappeared with so little fanfare that I was floored with a jaw-dropping "That's IT?!?") It gives an emotional payoff to Ian and Barbara's departure that, for all the magnificence of the Doctor's farewell speech in Dalek Invasion of Earth, Susan's departure never had. The self-destruct bit was exciting and well-executed, the photo-montage unexpected but fun, especially the moment of spotting and momentarily panicking over the appearance of a genuine police box. The Doctor and Vicki watching it on the time viewer afterwards wrapped it up neatly with a bow on top- film-technique-wise, and emotionally. Farewell, Ian and Barbara... I think I'll miss you most of all.

Overall, The Chase is a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows; special effects were largely top-notch, vignettes were hit-and-miss, humor was generally good, and some set pieces truly excelled. It didn't keep the pace as well as, say, the Keys of Marinus, which was overall a superior story, but it was generally enjoyable with a touching farewell.

Great moments:
The flight through the vortex, the Dalek/Mechanoid battle, Ian and Barbara's epilogue. Lots of great stuff here!

Crowning moment of hilarity:
Ian's dance to the Beatles. 4-5 seconds of absolute, pure, unadulterated comic gold. Almost a tie to the Doctor's Victorian bicycle from the last serial and the Web Planet's camera-collision for 'funniest moment ever in the Hartnell era'

Overall rating is 4 out of 5 Shrunken TARDISes- the opening and ending arcs were too slow- and too much comedic use of the villains, lessening their threat- keeping it from perfection, but it was very highly laudable nonetheless, with some truly superb moments; the low points should drag it down to a 3.5, but the departure of Ian and Barbara and the duel of the Doctors triggered my personal response to it more than the sum of its parts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Doctor Who: The Space Museum

Serial Title: The Space Museum
Series: 2
Episodes: 4
The Space Museum
The Dimensions of Time
The Search
The Final Phase

Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Vicki Pallister (Maureen O'Brien)

After a weird blackout, the TARDIS materializes on a planet of utter silence, where the group leaves no footprints- a planet covered by an enormous world-wide museum, in which no one can see or hear them- nor be heard, in which their hands pass through solid objects... and in which the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki come face to face with themselves, embalmed and enshrined as museum exhibits alongside the TARDIS.

The Doctor determines that they've jumped a time-track in the arrival process- arriving here before they've truly arrived, as it were- which is why everything is wraith-like and full of phantoms. Soon, the time tracks re-synch, and they actually arrive, a matter of days before the phantom-time they were exploring. Now the planet is solid, the people real... and the race is on to prevent the possible future they've witnessed from becoming reality!

The Doctor is captured by Lobos, head of the
space museum on Xeros. Lobos and his fellow Moroks hail from an empire of conquest- this captured world a monument and museum to trophies of their many victories. The native Xerons put up a passive and weak resistance fueled mainly by their youth, but haven't the strength or resources to put up any kind of significant opposition. After proving himself easily capable of outwitting his interrogators, the Doctor is taken away to be embalmed and made into an exhibit. (NFS: That sentence kind of made me laugh inside just now)
Meanwhile, the rest of the group is split up- Barbara is forced into hiding, Ian captures a guard at gunpoint, and Vicki is found by the resistance (NFS: In other words...everyone does exactly what they usually always end up doing.). She works with them to outwit the master computer controlling the impenetrable armory, and the now-armed Xerons begin a revolt in earnest.
Meanwhile, Ian locates and rescues the Doctor by holding first his guard and then Lobos hostage- but his victory is short-lived as guards arrive. Barbara is rescued from deadly paralysis gas, but is soon captured as well- alongside Vicki (NFS: In OTHER words...everyone's doing what they usually do!). The whole group now captive, their terrifying glimpse of the future seems to be on the verge of becoming a very real present-tense.

However, the revolution is an unprecedented success, as the over-confident, complacent Moroks are easily overtaken by the armed Xerons, who capture them, kill Lobos, and free their planet- dismantling and destroying the museum that heralded the triumphs of their one-time captors, and reclaiming their world. The Doctor receives a requested souvenir from the museum, a space-time visualizer, and the entire group receives the gratitude of the Xeron people as they depart.

Whoooo! What a ride! This had one of the best openings, bar none, of the Old Who series. The first episode, dealing with the jumped time-track, was almost like a stand-alone prequel or prologue to the trilogy of museum episodes, and it was brilliant- eerie, shrouded in a sense of mystery, creepy, enigmatic, thought-provoking, with a brilliant "When I think about it hard, that almost makes sense" premise. After that, the story becomes a good deal more insubstantial... but still, worth it all for the first episode.

The episode also did well with humor; for example, the Doctor hiding from patrols within an empty Dalek casing, echoing Ian's gambit from "The Daleks."

Or the exchange between Ian and Lobos- "Killing me will accomplish nothing." "True- but it might be very satisfying!" And the best... well, see "Crowning Moment"below.

The armory bit was a little... silly, to me- but Vicki's enthusiasm for the revolution was an interesting twist to her character. The Doctor shone but was absent for the middle episodes, unfortunately. Barbara likewise had a minimal presence, leaving Ian and Vicki to do most of the heavy lifting for the story- which they accomplished admirably. (NFS: It's understandable really because Vicki is somewhat new so they want you to keep on getting to know her character and Ian...well's just his job to be awesome isn't it?)
I also liked the ending- setting up an element for the next story without being a direct lead-in cliffhanger. All in all, a very satisfying, fun romp... with an exceedingly excellent and atmospheric mystery to kick it off.

Great moments:
The whole first episode, especially its climax as the time-tracks stabilize and the race against time begins!

Crowning moment of hilarity:
The Doctor is hooked up to a machine that can visualize thoughts, and is interrogated for his companions' location, seemingly betraying them...
however, it is simply the last location he saw them, hours ago, leading security on a
wild goose chase... something we realize the smirking Doctor allowed to be seen on purpose when the frustrated interrogator asks his next question, trying to pin down the nature of the TARDIS- "How did you arrive here?" The screen lights up with an image of a Victorian-era bicycle- the kind with a man-sized front wheel- as the Doctor cackles smugly. Maybe it was a 'you had to be there' moment, but it was hilarious- the funniest thing I've seen on Old Who.

Overall rating - 3 out of 5 Shrunken TARDISes, due to the meandering pace and weak-ish story for the last three episodes- which not even the excellent humor of the Doctor's interrogation can quite smooth. But judged alone, the first episode is, quite possibly, a 6 out of 5- brilliant beyond words!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Doctor Who: The Crusade

Serial Title: The Crusade
Series: 2
Episodes: 4
The Lion
The Knight of Jaffa
The Wheel of Fortune
The Warlords

Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Vicki Pallister (Maureen O'brien)

In England, 1190, Robin of Locksley takes up his bow to rob from the rich and give to the poor, battling evil against the corrupt Sherrif of Nottingham and the tyrannical Prince John, claimant to the throne- while his brother, King Richard the Lionhearted, is away at the Crusades. But we, as the audience, see none of this.

For we are away at the Crusades with King Richard instead.

The TARDIS materializes in the midst of a pitched battle between the King's men and the Saracens (Muslim defenders)-Barbara is captured by the Saracens during the fighting,
as is William des Preaux, a companion of the king who pretends to be Richard to his captors. The rest of the group saves William de Tornebu, another of the king's men, from being killed. The TARDIS crew takes him back to King Richard's court- stopping first to steal period clothes from a bazaar. Richard is grateful- though short- with the travelers, but takes a shine to the Doctor's notion of embarrassing Sultan Saladin, leader of the Moorish forces, by revealing the ruse of the captured prisoners- taking the Doctor and Vicki (masquerading as a male page boy) (NFS: No Medieval jaunt would be complete without the obligatory 'girl dressed as a boy' escapade. And ironically I think Vicki ends up looking more like a girl and prettier as a 'boy') into his court, and knighting Ian- sending Sir Ian, Knight of Jaffa, to negotiate the release of Barbara and des Preaux... and to deliver the king's offder, a final gambit for peace before throwing his armies into a full assault on the Muslim-occupied Jerusalem-
a political union and treaty of peace, sealed by a marriage between the Sultan's brother, Saphadin, and Richard's sister, Lady Joanna.

Sultan Saladin and his brother Saphadin are presented the English captives- easily perceiving that they are not King Richard and his sister Joanna (whom Barbara was pretending to be).

The now-humiliated El Akir, their captor, is still taken with Barbara; but the Sultan offers her the role of Scheherazade- tell intriguing tales (as she has already begun to, of her travels with the Doctor) in exchange for her life. A merchant, Luigi Ferrigo, is well-paid to 'help Barbara escape'- in reality, spiriting her away and delivering her to the waiting El Akir.

Once at El Akir's palace, Barbara escapes, and is given shelter by Haroun ed-Din, a poor widower living with his daughter, Safiya- and a man obsessed with vengeance on El Akir for killing his wife and son in return for Haroun's refusal to give his elder daughter, Maimuna, to him in marriage. Now, Maimuna has been taken by El Akir, the rest of his family slaughtered, and Haroun and Safiya live only because they were away at the time of the attack. Recognizing Barbara as a kindred spirit- one who also loathes El Akir; he leaves her with his daughter as he goes out to
search for patrolling guards and check if the coast is clear; however, when the guards enter Haroun's home, Barbara gives herself up to protect the hiding Safiya from discovery. (NFS: No...that wasn't the reason she gave herself up...that woman just REALLY likes being captured I think.)

Ian is ambushed by a bandit, strung up in the sun, spread-eagled, as fire ants, enticed by honey, swarm him- however he manages to trick and turn the tables on his captor, and forces the thief to lead him to El Akir's palace.

Barbara manages to shake free of the guards and hides in El Akir's harem, where she is sheltered by the harem women- including Haroun's daughter, Maimuna. One of the harem girls, Fatima, betrays her hiding place for profit- but when El Akir bursts in with murderous intent, he is beset by Ian, who arrives in the nick of time... Ian is outmatched and nearly killed in the duel, but Haroun arrives, likewise in the nick of time, to slay his family's murderer and re-unite with his daughter.

The Doctor and Vicki, meanwhile, have been embroiled in court intrigue; a powerful enemy charges them as witches and prepares for their execution- but a quick-thinking Sir Ian, whom the enemy has never met, appears on the scene with Barbara, claiming right of execution, and the group slips into the TARDIS under the guise of the Doctor's 'last request.' However, as they escape, knowing Richard's gambit for peace will fail when Joanna refuses the marriage and war will break out, the TARDIS is suddenly immobilized by a mysterious loss of power...

Well, I enjoyed this one immensely. It started out a bit slow, but hits its stride in the second half, and was fantastic.

Now, I'm no big fan of the Crusades- in my life they are, first and foremost, the primary ammunition that angry atheists like to lob-up as a first-round defense for their contempt of my Christianity... leaving aside that they were a largely political affair, perpetrated by an entirely different people, have nothing to do with actual Christian beliefs, and happened over 800ish years ago.

So, I wasn't especially looking forward to this one, as it wasn't set in a favorite time period, and the second and fourth episodes were missing. The restoration is decent, but not stellar; not the largest wealth of material to work with, but certainly more variety of screenshots than Galaxy 4 or The Myth Makers yet to come.

The performers and story stand out in quality and unique style, with chapter 3 being a standout excellent peak. The scene where Vicki talks to the Doctor about being left behind is her best yet- showcasing potential abandonment issues, vulnerability, and a great tenderness with the Doctor- a loving, grandfatherly embrace that he returns- the actress really shines in this scene, and the chemistry between the two is exquisite.

Likewise, Barbara's benefactor,
Haroun, engenders a great deal of pathos and depth even from his first scene, maximizing his very brief scenes and making you always feel as if there is a great depth of history and emotion welling in him, whose surface is just barely being scratched.

Ian, what the heck? No TARDIS crewmember should ever sleep so heavily! Not such great marks- but a brilliant final gambit at the end to redeem himself- very clever!

Barbara performs well and acts heroically, though she isn't given as much to do as the synopsis may suggest; she is adequate, though doesn't have much to stand out this serial... save maybe her agonizing conflict over whether to use the knife provided by Haroun to kill herself and his daughter rather than allow themselves to be captured.

Excellent performances in the Richard/Joanna confrontation, as well- the actors were in top form. And speaking of actors, the irony rolls across in triplicate... the actress portraying Joanna, Jean Marsh, returns to the role of a medieval ruler as the evil with Bavmorda in the film Willow (okay, perhaps that's just coincidence, it's a large genre...), Julian Glover (King Richard) portrayed Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade- a man obsessed with the Holy Grail, tracking it's path from the Crusades and eventually confronting a grail knight to get it (interestingly similar and specific thematic material...) and, oh yes... Jean Marsh was also married to the actor that would go on to play the Third Doctor. (Okay, now that's just freaky!) (NFS:.....freaky? Or Awesome????!!!)

The implied ending of Fatima, the harem sell-out, was a bit dark for this story, though, wasn't it? And even darker material- the historic incestuous relationship between Richard and Joanna-
was not allowed by the BBC, but it didn't stop Glover and Marsh from attempting to imply it for those who knew in their performances. (NFS: Incest is icky, but I have to say I am interested to watch this one again because being an amateur Actor I am always interested in how people can portray something that you wouldn't catch if you didn't know it.)

Brilliant lines on all sides-
"The brave deserve their favors."

"I admire bravery and loyalty, sir. You have both of these. But, unfortunately you haven't any brain at all. I hate fools!"

"We will not speak of this. Let this story die here in this wood or we'll be branded idiots... or liars. Poor Sir Ian, brave fellow. Spirited away by fiends. What dreadful anguish and despair he must be suffering now."
Great stuff.

Great moments:
Haroun's monologue, Joanna and Richard's debate, and Ian's ending gambit- among others.

The reconstruction was decent and well-paced- though not sprinkled through with any especially imaginative touches, it was clear, communicated the action well, and filled with a good variety of expressive poses- and for its service to the realm, we henceforth dub it Sir 3.5 Out Of 5 Shrunken TARDISes, Knight of the Realm of Ye Olde Loose Cannon. And as for its ward, the hearty young Squire Storyline…
For its excellent performances, great cast, and excellent lines- plus a truly heartwarming and magnificent scene for Vicki- this serial gets 4.5 out of 5 Shrunken TARDISes. With a better first half, it would have been a perfect 5.

And now, I return you to Sarah's half of the blog with a hearty "Knight of Jaffa, Kree!" :-) (NFS: I will leave this in because it is cute and all...but seeing as it hasn't been 'my half" of the blog since like January.... :-D But that's my fault...and a fault that I shall...perhaps...maybe...soon? Remedy.)