Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Doctor Who: The Savages

Serial Title: The Savages

Series: 3

Episodes: 4
(Sadly, from this serial onwards, the episodes are no longer named! Just “Episode 1,” “Episode 2,” etc. I miss them already!!!)

Doctor: William Hartnell

Companions: Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane)

The TARDIS arrives in… the future, at an unspecified date (aggravating for a blog-writer that likes to track these things) on an unspecified, un-named planet. (What the HECK?!?!?) The Doctor announces it to be an era on unparalleled peace, shortly before they are attacked by spear-wielding cavemen. They escape, and are taken by futuristic guards to a techno-utopia city (I smell class warfare! Sci-fi is unerringly communist in that way- if not everyone on the planet has the exact same conditions, warfare, social upheaval, and overturning are sure to follow by story’s end!) where the Doctor is greeted by the city elders, who have been monitoring his travels (How meta! They are a Doctor Who audience! Sliders did that somewhat better for its finale, I hear…) and were expecting his arrival. Gifts – a dagger and a mirror- are bestowed upon the companions, who are sent off to play while the grown-ups talk.
The Eloquent Jano

While the Doctor and the elders- led by the eloquent Jano- convene in long discussion, Steven and Dodo are given a tour of the city. During this, Dodo sees a captured and terrified cave-person being hauled into the city by the guards, but is dismissed as having imagined it. (This scenario, called Susan Syndrome, is a particularly malicious malady in which the group’s junior member, despite having never been wrong before, is instantly doubted- often over the word of strangers- as having imagined or made up what they have seen. Barbara Wright, early companion, was a particularly virulent victim, twice (An Unearthly Child, Keys of Marinus) accusing Susan of imagining things that SHE HERSELF SAW OR WAS CURRENTLY SEEING AS WELL. However, if one looks throughout sci-fi and films in general, Susan Syndrome is widespread. The command staff of the Enterprise-D was particularly hard hit during TNG’s first season, towards Wesley Crusher. It is especially prevalent in the Disney universe and children’s fantasy films, infecting those surrounding nearly every child exposed to the supernatural. In addition, a mutated offshoot known as Monk-Cadfael-Marple Disease has been known to cause local police and authorities to repeatedly doubt, question, and mock the observations of a sleuth possessing a 100% accuracy rate in all past deductions, every single time. …Okay, no more putting it off. Back to the mediocrity.)

Dodo slips out and encounters a half-dead caveman stumbling out of a laboratory. Here, the Utopian society receives its great benefits- and not from Solar Flares, as originally believed- using paralysis/obedience-compelling Light Guns, the cave-men are captured and brought to the city, where their life force is drained (never to the point of death) which is used to power the city and invigorate its citizens. The half-dead cave-men are released back into the wild to recuperate so that they can be re-captured and ‘harvested’ again.

Dodo attempts to help Nanina, a female cave-person, but is mistaken for one of the victims, and nearly life-drained… but her fighting back reveals her as an outsider (the cave-people have long-since been drained of the will to resist) and she is escorted back to the Doctor. His delight at this enlightened society turns to disgust when the life-draining methodology of the citizens’ prosperity is revealed. (NFS (Note from Sarah): I have to say...this episode sounds really weird but...I cannot remember a single second of it!!!!)

The group departs for the TARDIS, but the Doctor stops to help the half-dead savage (having come a long way from wanting to brain the last one he encountered with a rock), giving him medicine from the TARDIS, but is taken hostage by Edal, leader of the guards. Back in the city, leader Jano decides to drain the Doctor’s life energy- ‘nobly’ having it all transferred into him to test its safety. The Doctor’s half-dead body is released, but Jano himself has begun to take on an oddly Doctorish personality, set of mannerisms, and, most difficultly for him, morality.

Dodo and Steven, meanwhile, have returned with the injured cave-man, Wylda- there encountering Nanina, the female from before, as well as tribe leader Chal, and traditional “I don’t like their face, boss… let me kill ‘em!” second-in-command Tor (or Gaston-Zentos-Tor, to his friends. Of which there aren’t any…)- an antagonistic brute who wants to kill Steven and Dodo, and is rebuffed by Chal. So, he… demands to do so again. In fact, for the remainder of the review, mentally insert “Tor says that they should kill Steven and Vicki” after every sentence, and it will come out about right. Tor says that they should kill Steven and Vicki. That will be quicker than me typing it every time. Tor says that they should kill Steven and Vicki. The cavemen lead them into the… well, caves- their home base, and the one place that the city-dwellers fear to go. Tor says that they should kill Steven and Vicki. Chal shows them the wounded recovering. Tor says that they should kill Steven and Vicki. Okay, I think that’s got you started… ready to take over on your own? Tor says that they should… you finish the sentence on your own this time. And don’t forget- after EVERY SENTENCE for complete accuracy to this story. (Yes, I’m doing whatever I can to make this story entertaining, and mostly, that means talking about something OTHER THAN THIS STORY.) Meanwhile, Exorse, a chief guard, arrives outside and demands their surrender.

Eventually, Exorse comes in after them (Tor insisting they be killed for causing this trouble the entire way), initiating a cat-and-mouse in the dark that ends when Steven turns one of the city’s gifts, a small mirror, back on them- reflecting the Light Gun rays back at Exorse long enough to overtake him and steal his weapon. Exorse is made a captive (guess what Tor wants done to him? Go on, I’ll give you three tries…) and Steven takes his new weapon to break into the city. There, Steven and Dodo find the Doctor’s wandering body, but in trying to escape, are trapped. However, the Doctor’s persona again overtakes Jano and he manipulates the trap at the last moment to allow their escape- in secret, of course. Back at the caves, Tor urges the other to try and kill the captive guard Exorse, and even tries to do so himself, but the guard- the same one that had captured Nanina- is defended by her, much to his gratitude. She treats her captive as a human, something he failed to do when their positions were reversed.

The Doctor’s body is brought to the caves, and a dose of the TARDIS-medicine helps him to recover… meanwhile, a group of guards led by Edal, and accompanied by Jano, pursue them into the foothills. Jano dispatches his guards back to the city, announcing that he will handle the prisoners- suspicious, Edal leaves under protest. Under cover of darkness, Jano slips into the cave- laboring under the Doctor’s conscience, he agrees with the now-recovered Doctor’s plan- the life-transference equipment must be destroyed and the practice abolished.

Exorse manages to escape, but Nanina pursues him- intercepting him before he reaches the city, and pleading with him on the evidence of his own eyes not to interfere- he has seen that the savages are people, and he owes her his life; he should also know that the life-transference incidents must end.

He runs off without answering.

In the city, Edal claims command in the absence of Jano, whom he believes (rightly so) to be compromised, and the testimony of the scientist who performed the transference and noted Jano’s odd behavior seems to corroborate this. Exorse, however, freshly arrived, provides a counter-testimony, claiming Jano’s competence and not revealing the savages’ plan.

The Doctor and Jano lead a raiding party composed of Steven, Dodo, and the cave-people into the city. Encountering the coup-in-progress, Jano re-asserts his authority by claiming that he has captured the group he leads as prisoners. He wrests power back from Edal and orders the laboratory sealed… than allows all within it to run amuck, smashing the equipment and trashing the instruments of oppression, as Edal- proved right- and the guards, sealed out of the laboratory, can only watch helplessly. Even Exorse joins in to smash the equipment. Edal breaks in and attempts to intervene, attacking the leadership- but Steven saves all present by disabling him with a Light Gun.

In the aftermath, Jano and his new conscience agrees with Chal that it is time for both peoples to live in harmony, and for the technological benefits of the city to be shared with the savages. However, for the two people to become one, there will need to be a mediator, a neutral party that both sides trust to arbitrate and guide them through what will undoubtedly be a rocky and difficult process. Steven, seen as a hero by both sides (for saving the savages from Exorse in the caves, and for saving Jano and the elders in the laboratory) is chosen as that man. Though he initially protests, the Doctor encourages him, knowing that Steven can handle this… and the 23rd Century ex-pilot accepts, lead off half-boldly and half-haplessly to begin his new life as leader, and healer, of the planet. (NFS: Seriously? This episode was Steven's last and I didn't even remember it? Must have been a really boring story then...)

In making my notes for this blog, I typed a single sentence- "Trite, a bit predictable, maybe stretched."

Yep, that's about it.

The first episode-title-less wonder is about as forgettable as can be, save for the finale- don't get me wrong; it's no Sensorites or Galaxy 4... but it just doesn't have all that much to recommend it.

The story is very predictable. Were it not for a few scattered gems, and Steven's departure, this would probably be almost forgotten by the public at large. Plus, it's all missing- so 100% reconstruction (minus a few little clips). Is it just me, or are Edal and Tor essentially counterparts of each-other… leadership-usurping, closed-minded kill-the-strangers archetypes in the mold of Gaston, Zentos, and a thousand others- while I am especially irked by, and tired of, this archetype… it is interesting how they parallel each other by having one on each opposing side in this story… both rendered irrelevant and unheeded by peace at the ending of the story, spinning them into Cold-War allegory models reminiscent of Star Trek VI… long before Cold War reconciliation was a palatable concept!

The aforementioned gems are: The excellent impression of the Doctor performed by Fredrick Jaeger, which really steals the show and is an absolute highlight (NFS: Probably would have been even more a highlight if you could have actually seen him moving! Even so I think it's a testament to his talent that him acting like the Doctor was conveyed just through sound.), and the 'smashing' ending in which the life-force-draining laboratory was smashed (I hope the life-forces didn't just fade away then, and could be restored to their original hosts)- not only cathartic, but also amusing, as several characters stand there in the midst of the chaos having a calm, simple discussion in the eye of the storm, as if they were standing in a lounge, as the lab is torn apart around them. (NFS: ...Now I want to watch "The Great Race"! :-D)

Other than that, the only other noteworthy item- Steven's departure, seemed rushed, uninspired, and un-foreshadowed- while not necessarily an unpleasant fate, it felt dreamed-up-at-the-last-moment and meaningless- unlike his departure in The Massacre, which carried some real dramatic weight. This one had no weight, no meaning, no motivation, no tie-in to the character, no connection, no emotion- nothing! While I'd like to have kept Steven around a while longer (I'd be interested to see how he'd respond to the Second Doctor), if he was going to depart, The Massacre's scene was the equivalent of the first episode of Space Museum, or The Rescue, or the Keys of Marinus- and the departure scene here is Galaxy-Freakin'-4. (And both are in bloody stills!)

I will also say that I liked the sympathy-for-the-captured-guard bit- it was well done (genuine sympathy showing these to be good people, minus the blockheaded Tor), but not over-the-top ("We are to be wed next week- the first union of our two peoples!" as the ending scene, as some shows like the original Star Trek might have done.) And Nanina rightly leverages on that sympathy to try and prevent a genocide- we tend not to think of "You owe me!" as an especially heroic behavior in our characters- but it felt especially realistic as it was justified, crucial, and everything hung in the balance of this guard's decision. This little Androcles-and-the-Lion subplot was more compelling than the by-the-numbers, cliched, predictable plot it was enmeshed in. And Nanina was the strongest female character Who had seen since Barbara ascended the Aztec throne (a shot, her first seating in Yetaxa's judgement chair, which was so iconic that it remains clearly in my head as Barbara's 'head shot' default image to this day, over a year after last seeing it.)

As for Tor... well, if Hartnell's First Doctor had still wanted to smash a caveman's head in with a rock (as he nearly did in a cold-blooded scene in An Unearthly Child, before his character had really been established), I for one wouldn't object, and I suspect Dodo and Steven could be persuaded to look the other way for a while... Man, that guy was annoying! (And also very, VERY cliche- the second-in-command that defies his superior so often you wonder how he lasted in the position this long, and who only exists to LITERALLY advocate the wrong position in every single choice facing the characters, and to drum up false tension as he tries to turn the people against the visiting main characters and the leader allied with them. This character had actually been already used in approximately 3,284 movies by the time that the phonograph was invented. He was already a tired, cliche character by the time that the Jazz Singer ushered in the era of talkies. STOP WRITING THIS CHARACTER INTO STORIES!!! I DON'T LIKE HIM!!!!!)

The Doctor is a bit naive in this one, but otherwise unremarkable- Jano, giving an impression of him, stands out far more than he does. As an interesting note, however, it has been suggested that this life-force drain, along with his hyper-aging exposure to the Dalek Time Destructor in The Daleks Master Plan, each took several hundred years off of his life, and their combined exposure conspired to leave the First Doctor severely weakened, leading to his forthcoming regeneration. Without these events, he might have had another 600-800 years as Hartnell, but as it stands, he was cut short in his prime as cruelly as his successor, Troughton (we'll get there eventually)... cruelly robbed of his life in a manner completely separate from the average consequences-of-life-and-death heroics that caused the regeneration of his later incarnations. Thus, in his extremely frail state- literally hundreds of years older at the end of this serial than he was in Galaxy 4, the Series 3 season premiere, just 'days' before, it didn't take much to push him over the edge, into the regeneration we'll be covering soon. A pity Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor had no such excuse for his pathetic regeneration. (And yes, it will be a LONG time before this blog explains that joke!)

Steven was... practically subliminal here, doing next to nothing... making it all the more insulting as his departure episode. This serial really gives him the short straw in so many ways- it would be like Star Trek having Spock's Brain as Leonard Nimoy's swan song, or Sub Rosa as a sendoff for Gates McFadden. Or Shades of Grey as a sendoff for Pula- oh....wait...Well, at least in her case, a lousy character deserved a lousy sendoff.
I think Steven was anything but a lousy character- I would say he might well be my favorite companion yet (possibly vying with strong candidates Ian and, surprisingly, Vicki, for the role), and definitely in the Top 3 of the First Doctor's companions. He was funny, smart, had the same intellectual/moral peer-of-the-Doctor that was such a refreshing dynamic in New Who with Donna Noble's tenure as companion- a willingness to challenge the Doctor on questionable points, a gung-ho attitude, and a great sense of humor. A great actor and a great role- farewell, Steven; you deserved a far better send-off, and you will be missed!

Dodo, meanwhile, was a bit more active than usual, but... she really returns to the background of obscurity here- though at least she's not actively unlikeable, as she was in The Ark.

As for the reconstruction... PLEASE TAKE NOTE: WE DID NOT SEE A LOOSE CANNON RECONSTRUCTION. We are trying to track it down at present. Thus, while I will rate and discuss the reconstruction, please do not take this rating in comparison or as a comment towards the other reconstructions mentioned in this blog- THIS LOUSY RECONSTRUCTION IS NOT A BLACK MARK AGAINST LOOSE CANNON, AS WE HAVEN'T SEEN THEIRS YET!!!!

That said... yeah, it was pretty poor. Grainy, smudgy, blurred telesnaps with a muddy audio and, essentially, a running transcript. It did it's job of keeping us in the loop- which is good, as the minimalist images and the terrible audio quality wouldn't have!

Great moments:
The lab smashing. Jano’s Hartnell impressions. And the confrontation between Exorse and Nanina- a small but pivotal, tense, well-written exchange.

Overall, 1.5 Time Destructors out of 5 for an uninspired story, raised from the scrap heap by a gem of an impersonation and a few good moments. 0.5 out of 5 for the Butterfly Productions reconstruction, about which the nicest thing that I can say is that it kept us informed. (NFS: Though to be fair, we are thankful to them for even doing it in the first place, otherwise we wouldn't have known what the heck was going on or we just wouldn't have been able to 'watch' this episode in the first place....not everyone can be Loose Canon! :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Serial Title: The Gunfighters

Series: 3

Episodes: 4
A Holiday For The Doctor
Don’t Shoot The Pianist
Johnny Ringo
The O.K. Corral

Doctor: William Hartnell

Companions: Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane)

The TARDIS arrives in Tombstone, Arizona, 1881- just outside of the OK Corral. So you know what’s coming next.

Dodo is enthralled, an enthusiast of the Wild West. Steven is absurd, dressing about as well for the period as Marty McFly in Back To The Future III. The Doctor is in pain. Bothered by a toothache, he goes to Doc Holliday, the local dentist- and through a series of misunderstandings, is mistaken by the Clantons (who have never seen the real Holliday) for the outlaw-turned-dentist that they intend to kill for the death of their brother. Doc Holliday and his fiancé, the saloon singer Kate, are aware of the misunderstanding, and more than happy to let the Doctor die in his place.

As sheriff Wyatt Earp tries to keep order- eventually arresting the Doctor for his own safety after the Doctor is forced by Kate to fake holding up the Clantons (aided by sharpshooting from the unseen Holliday, which is attributed to the Doctor) things come to a head in the Last Chance Saloon. Steven is forced to sing for the Clantons’ amusement, then nearly lynched- a Clanton is jailed in the attempt… and an Earp is killed in springing him.

Dodo goes to confront the real Holliday, and is kidnapped, taken out of town… meanwhile, gunslinger and cold-blooded murderer Johnny Ringo comes into town, also looking for Holliday, and falls in with the Clantons.He is a crack-shot that never misses (a skill clearly bequeathed to him by Solar Flares). As an old flame of Kate’s, he kidnaps her, along with Steven, taking the two to the Clanton ranch.

As the Doctor’s mistaken identity is confirmed, and Dodo forces Holliday to return her to Tombstone, a final confrontation is set a-brewing… Holliday, Earp, and his brother against the remaining Clantons and Ringo, in a showdown at the O.K. Corral. The Doctor acts as emissary, trying to prevent the coming bloodshed, but the Clantons are not to be dissuaded.

The gunfight does indeed occur at the O.K. Corral. The Clantons are killed- Dodo taken as a hostage by Ringo, but killed by Holliday’s concealed sleeve-gun- and the TARDIS crew departs the wild west for good.

The Gunfighters follows in the mold of The Romans and The Myth Makers as a comedic historical episode. While (to spoil my conclusions right up front) I find it more successful than the former and less so than the latter, this one is unique in that its humor is split right down the middle- half of it comes from intentional jokes… and the other from entirely unintentional humor.

The story- involving the Doctor being mistaken for Doc Holiday- is both whimsical and dead-serious; in the mold of the New Who episode ‘Midnight,’ at times this feels like the Doctor’s greatest threat- a bunch of ordinary men with guns and short tempers seem more menacing than the Daleks ever did, and more likely to bring the Doctor’s journeys through time and space to a permanent end than any monsters ever did.

The story is laughable at times- especially the accents, which are largely provided by British actors trying, and very badly failing, to affect a southern accent, over-top of their own especially-prominent and noticeable British accents.

There are also laughs of disbelief, along with agonized groans and expressions of aggravated frustration at the serial's soundtrack... there is no incidental music save for the occasional break-ins of the repetitive "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon," a piano-accompanied western tune that half sets the mood for, half breaks-the-fourth-wall-and-narrates, events for the story. For example:

So fill up your glasses
And join in the song
The Law's right behind you
And it won't take long.
So come, you coyotes,
And howl at the moon
Till there's blood upon the sawdust
In "The Last Chance" Saloon.


So it's curtains for Charlie
That barman of fame
He met Johnny Ringo
And he knew Johnny's name.

He knew Johnny's name
And he spoke it out loud
Now Charlie the barman
Has gotten a shroud.

AND, most absurdly pedantic:

Johnny Ringo has found her
Johnny Ringo's found Kate
The gunslinger's got her
Now what is her fate?

Johnny Ringo has seen her
She's coming his way
Johnny Ringo and Katie
Were lovers, they say.

This is a very small sampling.

The first time, it's haunting. (Note From's haunting???) The third, repetitive. The fifth, obnoxious. The tenth, utterly unbelievable. From then on, it alternates between unbelievably annoying and utterly hilarious as it JUST KEEPS COMING BACK. It is literally the only music for 4 half-hour episodes. You cannot truly picture the effect of this unless you see and hear it for yourself. Trust me.

Still, there was a great deal of well-done intentional humor, as well- especially when the angry Clantons force Steven, posing as a musician, to sing the aforementioned ballad for them at gun point, despite his protestations ("Come on, fellas, I've sung it four times already!") finally singing through gritted teeth... I intend to make that my ring-tone. (Steven and Dodo sure are excellent professional piano players who don't make a single mistake... especially for amateurs!) Likewise, the Doctor's repeated referring to Wyatt Earp as "Mr. Werp"- and his accidental hold-up, as the real Doc Holiday, shooting behind the scenes, leaves the Doctor with no choice but to hold up the Clantons with a six-shooter... and having no idea what to do with them afterwards.

The bits with Dodo and Holliday felt like padding to extend the running time and needlessly separate the characters simply so they couldn't leave. In other words, like an average episode of Lost.

The mistaken identity bits, however, climaxing in the rather tense and exciting lynching of Steven, and Charlie the Barman's ironic frantic arrival to tell them they had the wrong Doc Holliday just moments after every thing's been resolved, are all very enjoyable, however. And the climactic showdown at the OK Corral is interesting, well-executed, and just well-sprinkled enough with the companions to keep it relevant while not stretching credulity at the extent of their involvement in the affair. The final ballad, panning over the bodies of the dead Clantons, was one of the few effective uses of it in the serial (Along with the first rendition over shots of cowboys riding into town), and an excellent moment in it's own right.

As for historical accuracy, I encourage you to look up accounts of the fight yourself, but... suffice it so say, it's not even CLOSE.

This was, having over-reviewed the rest of Series 3, probably the one strong serial for Dodo, who is not annoying and has some excellent moments in this one... this serial is really her serial. She has an interesting fascination with the old west, a great strong- and funny- moment in which she holds up Doc Holliday with his own gun, and her crucial interruption ups the stakes of the final showdown (as the audience is suddenly involved via a main character, instead of simply watching historical-figure guest stars duke it out)- overall, she comes across very strongly here. I actually LIKED her in this one.

Steven doesn't have a lot to do other than being bounced around helplessly from one predicament to the next, but he does get the funniest moment in the story- the aforementioned singing-at-gunpoint- and several other great humorous bits sprinkled throughout.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is very amusing in this one- going from mastery of the situation (inventing aliases and cover stories, including a "Doctor who?" "Yes, exactly." joke, off the top of his head- though why, oh why, does he insist on calling her Dodo, a nickname, instead of the less eyebrow-raising, more period-normal Dorothy?) to hapless dupe (encountering the Clantons in the saloon- his performance when forced to pretend to hold up the Clantons must be seen to be believed- it's priceless, Hartnell was in top form!) And while he ends up, like Steven, bounced from place to place throughout the story, he does so with a very endearing manner and a dry wit, leaving a very positive impression.

Likewise, we have some very interesting guest stars- aside from the aforementioned British Cowboy Clantons, we had a fun and somewhat layered Doc Holliday, as a scalawag, rapscallion, and, in Star Wars parlance, scoundrel, who was enjoyable to watch. We had Johnny Ringo, a mustache-twirlingly sinister gunman with a pleasant manner, and we had the voice of the Daleks putting in an excellent on-camera turn as the nervous barman, Charlie, who, along with Doc Holliday, had some of the best guest-character moments of the serial.

Overall, the story was... meandering, in retrospect, but didn't seem it while watching (a good sign... although the same could be said for my first viewing of Attack of the Clones- a BAD sign...), and it had some great moments and good laughs- sandwiched between an obnoxious-to-the-point-of-hilarity ballad and some horrific accents (NFS: Although I thought the horrific accents were one of the better parts of this serial...kind of entertaining :-D). One's thing's for sure, though... this was, contemporarily, the lowest Audience-Appreciation-rated serial yet to date in 32 years of programming- and it didn't deserve that. In fact, numbers for ratings and viewership from here through the end of the Hartnell era were extraordinarily low. Some of those serials might merit that- but this one most assuredly didn't.

Lastly, before we get to ratings, there are a few historical notations important to this serial that I'd be remiss not to mention. First off, this was the final serial of the entire series to have individual episode titles. From here on out, it's just "The Insidious Brain, Episode 1" and "Hygiene of the Daleks, Epsiode 4" (thus, this episode-listing feature will be discontinued from here on out.) It's a pity- overdramatic as they were (2009's 10th Doctor serial "Planet of the Dead" being named in stylistic homage to them), I enjoyed them. (NFS: I agree, it felt special having a different title to every episode, plus it made your mind wonder what was coming to merit such a title...I miss the individual titles :( I also was the kind of person who liked chapter titles for books but they rarely do that anymore either)

Second of all, "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon" holds the distinction of being the last originally-composed song for Doctor Who for the next 40 years, until Murray Gold's "Song for Ten" ushered in David Tennant's 10th Doctor on Christmas Day, 2005. (A golden era of music that looks as if it may, sadly, have ended three years later with 2008's "The Stowaway" on Christmas Day- a grand and wonderful finale to be sure, but we want more songs, Murray Gold! Give Matt Smith some songs! NOW!!!)  (Note from Andrew of 2011: Your request will be granted, Andrew of 2010. Just be patient!)

Great moments:
The actual showdown doesn’t disappoint, and Steven’s Ballad-at-gunpoint is hilarious.

So... How the heck do I rate this? Praise it for where it made me laugh? Pan it for driving me insane with it's incessant, insipid song (which, I will remind you, was the ONLY INCIDENTAL MUSIC IN THE ENTIRE FOUR-PART SERIAL)?

In the end, The Gunfighters recieves 3 out of 5 Time Destructors, for 4-Time Destructor-level writing mired by some unfortunate- THAT FRICKIN' SONG!!!!- flaws.

And I'm still making Steven's whining my ringtone. (NFS: Note from the future....he did make it his ringtone...and it still is.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Doctor Who: The Celestial Toymaker

Serial Title: The Celestial Toymaker

Series: 3

Episodes: 4
The Celestial Toy Room
The Hall of Dolls
The Dancing Floor
The Final Test

Doctor: William Hartnell

Companions: Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane)

The Doctor vanishes from the control room immediately after leaving the Ark- however, this is not the work of Solar Flares, but of the sinister super-being, the Celestial Toymaker. A powerful super-being in the tradition of Star Trek’s Trelane or Q (though predating them both), the Toymaker is not a man-child- but rather an intellectual equal with the Doctor, and an old foe- one that enjoys games, toys, and dolls as part of his bidding (NFS (Notes From Sarah): So your usual...psychopathic....type...guy). He has phenomenal mental and physical powers with which he created this false world (clearly granted to him by Solar Flares).

The Doctor is whisked away to play a game of tri-logic (very similar to the real world Tower of Hanoi puzzle), a strategic game to be completed in exactly 1,023 moves (with no errors in any of them), while Steven and Dodo are forced to play through a series of life-size games with animate, person-sized dolls (that cheat)- each time rewarded with a TARDIS façade that may or may not be the real thing. They must keep playing until they reach the real one. Failure will mean death, or worse- an eternity imprisoned as the Toymaker’s plaything- becoming one of the dolls (NFS: That's terrible!!! That probably means that all the cheating dolls are poor people who couldn't make it out of there!). Likewise, if the Doctor finishes his game before Steven and Dodo succeed, they all lose- and the Toymaker uses automated voice commands to jump the Tri-logic game forward by any number of moves to prevent the Doctor from playing slowly.

As the Doctor and the Toymaker match wits (the Toymaker becoming annoyed enough to reduce the Doctor to invisibility and intangibility in all but the hand needed to play the game, and then later removing his voice,) Steven and Dodo face their challenges.

Dodo and Steven with a Fake Tardis
The first is a blindfolded obstacle course version of Blind Man’s Bluff, in which one is directed by the voice of their partner- opposing the TARDIS Team are a pair of clowns, who cheat terribly- altering the obstacle course as Steven is navigating it, trying to cause him to lose his balance and fall off. Eventually, after a narrow stalemate, Steven wins the second round by applying the same tactics to the clowns (NFS: No wonder this show has a dim view of Clowns...they cheat.). Their reward… is a fake TARDIS. (NFS: Hey...i'd take a fake TARDIS.)

Next up is a strange puzzle containing 7 chairs- 6 of which are lethally booby-trapped. Their opponents are personified versions of classic playing cards- the King, Queen, Jack (Knave), and Jester. They are given three life-size-but-inert dolls to test the chairs- eliminating a few, but not enough. Dodo chooses the wrong chair, triggering a freezing trap- but Steven manages to pull her free in time to save her life- a bit of a cop-out, if you ask this reviewer ( you think that was a cop-out?). Regardless, dolls are vibrated to death (NFS: I am betting that's as unpleasant as it sounds), electrocuted, sliced in half, and vaporized- between the dolls and Dodo’s actions, only two chairs remain. The King and Queen- electing to face their fate together, whatever it may be, pick a chair- and choose wrong. (NFA (Note from Andrew): And in this humanizing moment of courage and love and unity in the face of death... pretty much imply that, yes, they are all indeed captives of some sort and real people.) Steven and Dodo receive another lemon TARDIS- as the opposing team reverts to playing cards- and continue onwards.
A Toy Train? Or a SINISTER Toy Train?!

Their third challenge is a kitchen with a locked door, populated by a matronly cook, Mrs. Wiggs, and a stuffy old retired Sergeant, Sgt. Rugg (who looks like the king from the previous game). Their job is to search the entire kitchen for the key. As Steven grows more agitated at the characters (NPCs, for those of you in the RPG world), Dodo continues to treat them like human beings, receiving Rugg’s help. The characters are diverted, squabbling amongst themselves- with the addition of a lazy kitchen boy who looks like the Jack/Knave- but Steven and Dodo persevere as one of the characters inadvertently reveals the importance of the pie in which the key is hidden by fearing for its safety.

Steven and Dodo slip through the door and onto a dance floor populated by three Ballerina dolls, and are cornered by the three Kitchen characters- possibly other prisoners of the Toymaker playing for a chance at freedom, or true dolls playing for a chance at being made permanently alive- who goad them forward.

Safety lies on the other side of the dance floor, but when Steven enters, music takes control of him, forcing him to dance. Dodo is forced onto the dance floor, as are Rugg and Wiggs, who want to reach the other side first and win- with only three ballerinas to serve as partners, four dancers are shuffled, swapping from partner to partner in the rotation- when Steven and Dodo manage to pair up, neither led by a ballerina, they are able to control their own dance and dance themselves off the dance floor and to the safety of another false TARDIS.

Next, the two are confronted by a simple board game, with dice to roll and spaces to move... made less simple in that the spaces- platforms that must be hop-scotched to- are the only safe ground over a deadly electrified floor. (NFS: Ah the old electrified floor game, an old standby...although usually it's Lava when I play it.) Their opponent? A chubby, bratty man-child in a schoolboy’s outfit named Cyril, who cheats horrendously (NFS: And who is as annoying as he sounds!!!). As the Doctor closes in on the end of his Tri-logic game, the board game begins.

Cyril uses all manner of tricks and rules of the game (invented on the spot) to try and trick, bully, or trap Dodo and Steven- fright masks, slingshots, back-to-start rules for almost every action… Dodo’s compassion is used against her- even as her roll which should carry her to the end is interrupted so that she can look after the injured Cyril, who sends her back to start for her trouble, his injury manufactured with red ink. However, he gets his comeuppance at the end- rolling a winning number and charging forth gleefully onto the space Dodo was headed for… and slipping on his own forgotten sprinkled powder, a trap that Dodo never reached, and falling to a grisly death on the electrified floor. 

The Celestial Toymaker
The Doctor has reached move 1022 of 1023, but Steven and Dodo have achieved their victory, and won the real TARDIS. The group flees into the TARDIS, but cannot take off, held there by the power of the Toymaker… in defeat, his created world will cease to exist in an explosive cataclysm- but until the Doctor makes his 1,023rd move and wins the Tri-logic game, the Toymaker is not yet defeated. The sore loser demands that the Doctor come out, make the final move, and perish in the destruction of the Toymaker’s world.

The Doctor prepares the TARDIS for takeoff, and then, emulating the Toymaker’s voice, orders the Tri-logic game to advance to the final move from inside the TARDIS, dematerializing to safety as the game makes the automated move, ending the game, and destroying the Toymaker’s world. 

The Celestial Toymaker becomes the new prize-winner for 'greatest travesty that it is lost,' as the first three out of 4 episodes are missing- and this is a largely visual story. The reconstruction clearly does not do it justice in the slightest.

That said, I found it to be interesting, intellectually stimulating, and possessed of a very clever ending solution. While it had it's maddening moments, it was what I heard described as "A good kind of frustrating"- the kind that you feel with the characters, instead of at the writers.

The story is most unusual, with the main villain of the Toymaker being somewhat reminiscent of Star Trek's Q, or perhaps Who spin-off "Sarah Jane Adventures"'s Trickster. A standard fun-house-gone-amuck romp, the story nonetheless presents an interesting set of puzzles, and maintains a healthy tension, a tinge of desperation, and a dollop of aggravation as the characters face an absurd, silly, yet undoubtedly lethal set of deadly puzzles for no reason other than the whim of a cruel maniac. (NFS: Which kind of reminds ME of a Batman the Animated Series type story line....speaking of Batman it's interesting to note that the Celestial Toymaker is played by Michael Gough who played Alfred in four of the Batman Movies.)

Each episode ends with a rhyming riddle, and clue to the next episode. Sets are minimal- simply set dressing a black void, very theatrical- the whole thing has a new and different mood- both fun and sinister at the same time, just as the Toymaker himself is.

And speaking of the Toymaker, his implied past history with the Doctor is a nice and intriguing layer to the episode's plot.

The ancillary villains, on the other hand, are a little goofy- with their articulated feelings, very strange (for the show) sitcom behavior, and the ongoing argument between Dodo and Steven as to whether to empathize with them or ignore them is an odd little philosophical aside... all of these feel like elements of a larger story (and somewhat New Who reminiscent as well)... but for the fact that none of them actually lead anywhere, remaining unresolved at story's end without having really affected the plot.

The Doctor was rather absent here- specifically so in the middle chapters so that William Hartnell could vacation- but his general upper-hand superiority was rather fun to watch. He uses a voice-trick for the second time to defeat his enemies (the first being in The Chase.) Along with his mysterious door-opening, hypnosis repelling/controlling blue signet ring (The Web Planet, The War Machines, Daleks Master Plan, etc.), these are two of Hartnell’s signature talents, mysteries left unexplained and talents not awarded to any other Doctor- leaving Hartnell, at the end of his run, a man of mystery and an incarnation of the Doctor with mysterious and unique powers- fitting, I say, for the man who began it all.

Steven gets most of the action bits here, and Dodo the character bits- her empathy for the Toymaker's dolls being both a point of argument and a trick used against her- still, she probably fairs the strongest of the three here, as the other two merely react. As with most action-stories, the focus is more on the situation than the characters. The older I get, the less I find I prefer the former.

Overall, this story had the 'quirky funhouse' feeling that most sci-fi shows try to do at least once- but its villain, implied to be on an equal level with the Doctor- makes it stand out... and I daresay that the various traps and puzzles might be rather exciting... were we able to see them in color ( to mention if we were able to see a lot of them actually ya know...MOVE). It’s still one of my favorites of the season- but is sadly the most forgettable of the favorites due to its piecemeal status.

Great moments:
Final victory and the destruction of the Toymaker’s World- heavy stock footage, but cool nonetheless! Also, ending each story with the printed riddle was a nice touch.

3.5 out of 5 Time Destructors for the Celestial Toymaker- I suspect a motion version might attract even higher, as I did like this one- but this was a largely visual story, and as it stands, too many of those visuals are lost, causing the whole affair to be somewhat lackluster- or more so than it would be otherwise. Likewise, 1.5, out of 5 Time Destructors for the recreation effort. They did the best they could with what they had- but they didn't have much. And frankly, even Galaxy 4 (and yes, I think it's obligatory that I must reference that in every Series 3 review) with it's mist-over-aliens shots, seemed more inspired than this. It just felt like they didn't really care.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Doctor Who: The Ark

Serial Title: The Ark

Series: 3

Episodes: 4
The Steel Sky
The Plague
The Return
The Bomb

Doctor: William Hartnell

Companions: Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane)

In the 57th Segment of Time, quite possibly the year 5,000,000,000 A.D. (due to story evidence that this takes place concurrently with New Who’s second episode, “End of the World”), the TARDIS lands in an indoor forest aboard the Ark, the last refuge for humans (and their allied species, the Monoids, mute alien immigrants to Earth whose planet was destroyed) as Earth itself, nearing the sun, prepares to bite the dust. Well, okay, bite the flaming thermonuclear fusion.

The Doctor and company are welcomed aboard by the toga-wearing inhabitants of the Ark- an animal, vegetable, and sentient species preserve destined for the planet Refusis (many generations away) where humanity and the Monoid’s survivors will re-settle. They see the wonders of the ship- including the foot of a giant statue of the human form, intended to be completed by the time that the Ark reaches Refusis, seven hundred years hence. (NFS: So THAT'S where J.J. Abrams got the idea of the giant statue foot from....)

Disaster strikes, however, as Dodo’s cold (already acquired when she came aboard the TARDIS) proves to be a dangerous plague among the humans of the Ark, who have long since lost their immunity to a considered-extinct disease. Like the introduction of smallpox to American Indian tribes, this makes a relatively harmless disease for the carrier into a terrible plague. Worse, the Monoids, who live in a somewhat subservient role, are hit harder- to them, the virus is lethal, and the deaths begin to pile up.

When the friendly leader of the Ark crew is taken low with the virus- now mutated and re-spread to Steven, as well- the paranoid, hostile, suspicious, Gaston-from-Massacre-like second in command Zentos takes charge and orchestrates a kangaroo court with the intention of convicting the travelers and ejecting them into space… even though we’ve seen miniaturization and suspended animation (a method of storage for living beings aboard the Ark) as a standard punishment on the Ark.

As the Earth burns to it’s final fate in the background, Steven attempts a desperate defense which has no effect on the cruel and bloodthirsty Zentos- but the ailing commander rallies enough strength to make an appearance- via intercom- and order leniency for the prisoners. The Doctor is soon able to create a vaccine and halt the spread of the virus. They depart on friendly terms from the inhabitants of the Ark, dematerializing…

…And re-materializing in the exact same spot. Exiting to explore the reason for this mystery, the group discover the statue from earlier, now complete… in the form of a Monoid! Same place, but a different time- 700 years have passed, and things have changed!

The group is quickly captured by the now-speaking, now dominant Monoids, who have gone one step further and made the human population of the Ark into slaves- exploiting a genetic weakness introduced into the humans by a second, unexpected outbreak of the plague soon after the TARDIS crew left. The now-dominant Monoids still intend to settle Refusis- but do not intend to invite any humans along for the ride.

Prisoners Dodo, The Doctor, and a human named Yendom are sent with a Monoid as guinea pigs to test the safety of the newly-arrived Refusis- finding a strange castle that seems to be unoccupied… but not abandoned.

The native Refusians are, in fact, invisible- having been rendered so by solar flares, and a healthy dose of spitting in the face of physics and common sense. (If you haven’t yet noticed, you will- Solar Flares are for Doctor Who what Radiation was for comics books- Hulk-maker, Spider-empowerer, all-around Macguffin- whatever they want it to do this week, it does.) The Refusians are powerful and benevolent. They’ve monitored the Ark’s approach, and welcome guests- but are only interested in sharing their planet with peaceful inhabitants. The Monoid demonstrates that he and his kin are not that by murdering the human prisoner Yendom and fleeing- but his pod (with him inside) is destroyed by the Refusians to prevent him from informing the Monoids of the situation on the surface.

The Monoids, loathe to trust the safety of the planet after losing an expedition, send down more pods- internal tensions among the Monoids, and the mysteriously destroyed pod, leading to a Monoid civil war. In the chaos, the Doctor, Dodo, and a Refusian commandeer one of the pods and return to the Ark.

Word of the Monoids’ plan reaches them- the Monoids intended to, upon establishing the safety of Refusis, evacuate to the planet and blow up the stranded humans aboard their Ark with a bomb- placed in the head of the giant statue. Word of this ignites a human rebellion, and the Refusians use their telekinesis (clearly granted by Solar Flares) to expel the statue into space via the pod launch bay.

The humans, having achieved their freedom through a violent uprising, alongside the few cowed-but-peaceful survivors of the violent Monoid internal conflict, are seen as desirable peaceful inhabitants by the Refusians, and allowed to stay. (Whoops, there’s that Keys of Marinus recap snark again!)

The ark is, of course, two stories- one an infuriating kangaroo court, and the other a prisoner escape/slave uprising tale. Neither distinguish themselves especially, sadly...though neither is downright awful.

The odd techno-toga ambiance of the first ark story notwithstanding, the Ark concept and its society are at least mildly entertaining for the first half. Special effects range from excellent- the shrinking, the statue completed, to poor- the destruction of the Earth. Likewise, the story varies from travelogue (the life of the Ark residents) to outbreak tale (as the virus spreads) to courtroom drama (sorta). However, the latter ruins the story, as it's the infuriating kind of nonsensical, plot-serving rhetoric of a kangaroo court that is not especially well-written or well-characterized. 

Overall, the first portion of the story is being irritating whenever it's not being dull. (Which is also an excellent description of the new companion, Dodo, in her first silly full-episode appearance here.) (NFS: A. I think it's totally a Doctor Who thing to have infuriating "court" scenes that would be better suited to the world of Lewis Carol, and B. Dodo is totally the most annoying companion we've had YET! Agreed.)

The second half is a more straight-up sci-fi. The cliffhanger reveal that leads into it is actually fairly cool, and I, at least, didn't see it coming- a very early precursor to the Statue of Liberty scene in Planet of the Apes. Or the nonsensical Gorilla-Abe-Lincoln ending in the remake, even though it was clearly established that the Apes' world was a different planet this time around, with multiple moons, thus rendering the shock ending simply shocking for shocking's sake with no meaning or rationale-


The Ark.

Sorry, where was I? (NFS: P.S. A chimp Abe Lincoln actually makes no sense whatsoever; why wouldn't they just make their own statue? Or are you saying it was a statue of a chimp in Abe's place? Cause if it was literally a chimp wearing the suit and hat then....that's just dumb.)

This second story is a slave revolt/taking control of the ship/invisible aliens tale that is decent, if not sterling. The Refusians are an interestingly characterized, mild-mannered non-corporeal bunch that added life into the story. The notion of the Doctor believing he's fixed things when he's actually worsened them is revisited (or hearkens back to, for those introduced to the show by the modern series) the New Who 'The Long Game/Bad Wolf' story arc. (New Who fans can also imagine that the Earth streaking across the sky trailing smoke was simply a more primitive effects rendition of the events in End of the World, and that even as the Ark watches from afar, Platform One is sitting back in orbit, observing, as Lady Cassandra does in the Moxx of Balhoon and Jabe fails to use her liana from a distance or any heavy object and the doctor fails to use his time-meditation powers that he uses just a minute later in a dramatic conspiracy to kill of the first of many one-time companions.)

The only real story issue in the second half are the Monoids- they come across as (politically incorrect statement upcoming!) a whiny minority who is not being treated unfairly but has a complex about it simply because they are a minority. (NFS: Do they? I thought they were being treated like servants?)

The Monoids- at least when we saw them- were not slaves, or even servants near as I could tell (NFS: Oh never-mind, I guess I don't remember as well as I thought that I did.), and the humans went out of their way to praise the Monoids' skills on several occasions. So, this uprising and enslavement of their humans companions would seem to be rather unprovoked by the Monoids- unless the decimation of their population led to a change in social structure in-between the two stories.
Speaking of the Monoids, they are certainly an interesting
and memorable design (achieved by a painted ping-pong ball in the actors' mouths) that would probably be far easier to take seriously without the ragged mop of Beatles hair. (NFS: And really WAS a Beatles wig...)

The Doctor once again shows his skill as a physician in this episode, as in *shudder* The Sensorites, devising a plague cure... in actuality, the plot felt rather derivative in that respect. (And anything that derives from the Sensorites is TROUBLE!)

Steven is the most passionate and active in this serial, though he is largely useless and ineffective for much of the story- and unfortunately, his trial defense is rather pathetic. But at least he tries. He does the most, but accomplishes the least.

Well, not the least. That honor goes to the appropriately-named Dodo (how many times has that joke been made by Who fans since 1966, I wonder?) who is just kind of a moron in this one- neither interesting in her reactions to suddenly being flung from modern-day Earth into time and space travel (because she has none) nor useful in dealing with the issue using some forgotten 20th century technology or moral, nor amusing in her utterly pointless insistence that the Ark is a zoo she's familiar with, or even interesting/dramatic in some form of guilt about being the cause of the spreading plague (which, though unfair, would at least have been interesting to watch)- in other companions, each of these might have been explored to the benefit of the episode. Susan or Barbara might have
agonized about bringing about the plague deaths, Ian would have actively worked on some bit of forgotten cure knowledge, Vicki might well have been a humorous source of supposed knowledge about the location proved to be wrong, and New Who companion Rose already explored the psychological ramifications of being introduced to the much larger world(s) of time and space travel in the aforementioned End of the World, which may theoretically be happening parallel to these events (at least thematically, with Earth's destruction by the sun, if nothing else.) Dodo did none of these, simply using up space and running time as an uninteresting nonentity. One can only hope her role will improve in future. (NFS: I wouldn't hold my breath...or yours. Although I am unfairly writing from the future in which I KNOW for a fact Dodo does not all.)

Other than that, not much comes to mind- this story is neither excellent nor ghastly, simply adequate. And while mediocrity may serve as a condemnation in some cases, in this season, it is merely an indicator that, while not reaching the highs of it's predecessors, it is still good enough to avoid falling into the traps of some of it's rubbish companions.

Like Galaxy 4.

(NFS: I actually liked this episode, or at least I remember liking it (I didn't fall that automatically means I must have liked it). I think I thought the drama of the story was interesting and the relationships between the different factions. I also remember thinking that the court scenes were mildly amusing if not totally aggravating...if it's possible to be both? :) )

Great moments:
That first shot of the completed Monoid statue was pretty cool!

2.5 out of 5 Time Destructors for the Ark. (Or, if broken up into it's separate storylines, 1.5 out of 5 Chumblies for the miserable plague story, and a solid 3 out of 5 Time Destructors for the much-improved latter half.)