Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Doctor Who: The Abominable Snowmen

Serial Title: The Abominable Snowmen
Series: 5
Episodes: 6
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling)

The TARDIS arrives in the Himalayan mountains of Tibet, on Earth, circa 1935. The Doctor recognizes the time period, and excitedly fishes through the TARDIS archives for the Ghanta, a large ceremonial bell- and a holy relic to the nearby monastery. He assures Jamie and Victoria that it will grant them a warm welcome. As he heads off to the monastery, ordering them to stay there, Victoria leaves to explore, forcing Jamie to come with her.

The Doctor receives no warm welcome, however, as British expedition leader (and sole survivor… what is Series 5’s love of killing off expeditions?) Edward Travers, on the mountains in hopes of proving the elusive Yeti really exist, accuses him of murder. Travers, sheltering in the monastery, had his last man murdered by a Yeti- but, unable to rationalize the normally-shy creatures’ sudden violence, seizes on the Doctor’s fur coat and the dark night to believe that he was the true killer, only mistaken for a Yeti. The monks, also puzzled by a recent violent streak in the now-ferocious Yeti, lock him in a cell pending trial.

Victoria and Jamie, meanwhile, stumble into a cave and have a close-call with a Yeti, which proves to be nearly indestructible when they knock down a support and bring the roof down on its head… and it keeps on coming.

Back at the monastery, token Extremely Unreasonable Second In Command (tm), Khrisong (I’m sorry, that should be Gaston-Zentos-Tor-Khrisong, latest in a long, hair-tearingly irritating line) ignores orders from his superior, common sense, reason, and audience likability and bullies the other monks into letting him take the Doctor out and murder him… BECAUSE HE ISN’T WILLING TO WAIT AN HOUR FOR PRAYERS TO FINISH AND THE ABBOT TO COME AND HEAR THE CASE. Let me say that again, just to be clear: HE CONVINCES THE MONKS TO LET HIM TAKE THE DOCTOR OUT AND MURDER HIM BECAUSE HE DOESN’T WANT TO WAIT AN HOUR FOR PRAYERS TO FINISH. Yeesh. (Travers matches his idiotic obstinacy by admitting that the Doctor does not have the physical strength to have committed the murder, but insisting that he won’t be ‘distracted’ from his accusations.)

His preferred method of killing is to take the Doctor out and chain him to the gates as live bait to trap a Yeti, so as to determine the cause of their mysterious violence of late. Meanwhile, young initiate Thonmi has found the Ghanta that the Doctor was trying to return. He brings it to the Abbot Songsten, who is deep in communion with the Master of the monastery, Padmasambhava .(Note from Sarah: I am really glad that "Padmasambhava" will now be stuck in my head for DAYS after reading this! That drove me nuts watching this serial!) Thonmi is thanked (and memory-wiped of his encounter with Padmasambhava) and the Doctor is ordered to be freed. Travers returns from an exploration with Victoria and Jamie, and, anxious to see the Yeti that they have found in the caves, corroborates their testimony that the Doctor could not have committed the murder. 

As the Doctor is freed from his role as bait, however, the Yeti attack the monastery- one is beaten down and appears to suddenly die, while the others retreat- and the fallen is taken inside for examination. A small silver sphere, unnoticed by the group, has fallen just outside the gates- a sphere identical to one found in the Yeti cave by Jamie, which he has brought to show the Doctor.

The mystery of the Yeti only deepens when the inert creature brought inside is discovered to be a robot with an outer fur covering designed to make it look like a Yeti. The Doctor discovers a spherical impression where the silver globe had resided, its dislodging causing the robot’s shut-down… but cannot find the sphere Jamie brought back. Unbeknownst to him, they are moving on their own.

One of the spheres soon reaches the Yeti, sliding into the cavity to re-activate it- and the risen Yeti battles its way through the monks, killing many before it escapes the monastery. Victoria and Thonmi, nearby at the time, are accused of having revived the creature, and the duo are imprisoned. Travers, meanwhile, follows the Yeti to its cave, and discovers a glowing pyramid, surrounded by the silver spheres, that breaks open, and begins oozing a strange living gelatin into the cave.

Padmasambhava, revealed to be controlling the Yeti via model figures on a game-board representation of the monastery, orders the monks to leave, ostensibly to seek safe shelter from the dangerous Yeti attacks. He is revealed to be a puppet of the Great Intelligence, a force possessing his body… and even now manifesting a body of its own, spilling out of the pyramid in the cave. The Yeti attack yet again, killing more monks, and withdraw, as Padmasambhava tries to force the monks to leave.

The Doctor goes in to meet Padmasambhava, a man he knew from the monastery 300 years before. Padmasambhava explains that he was traveling with his mind on the astral plane (a Buddhist monk thing) and encountered the Great Intelligence, which has since taken his body for its own and kept him alive as its puppet. Padmasambhava dies, expressing regret in his dying words... but after the Doctor leaves, he revives, once again animated by the Great Intelligence.

The Doctor is able to remove Victoria from a Great Intelligence-induced trance, and pieces together all the evidence to realize that Songsten, the Abbot, is the chief link between the Yeti and the monastery, also being used as a puppet of sorts. Meanwhile, the Intelligence continues to pour out of the pyramid, overflowing the cave and starting down the mountain.

Songsten kills Khrisong, and is then captured and bound. The Doctor convinces the monks to leave, removing them from danger as he battles the Intelligence. He ventures back into the sanctum and engages in a telepathic battle of wills with Padmasambhava, unable to do more than keep him at bay, and he seems to be losing, immobilized and in pain, while the Yeti-robots break in and advance menacingly to tear him limb from limb- but Jamie and Thomni begin to smash equipment in the hidden lab nearby- first destroying a large sphere which controls the others, deactivating the Yeti-bots once and for all, and then a large pyramid, linked to the other, which dispels the Great Intelligence. Victoria, meanwhile, is useless. (And no, that’s not just a notation on this situation, it’s a general overall commentary on her character.)

Professor Travers
Padmasambhava, freed from the Intelligence, finally dies in peace. The TARDIS crew and Travers leave the monastery, and as they head towards the TARDIS, they stop short when they see another Yeti wandering the mountain. It sees them, turns around, and flees, shy and docile- a real Yeti exists after all. An excited Travers gives chase, exultant that Yeti sightings have not always been the Intelligence’s robots, but are real creatures that were simply mimicked for the machines. As he pursues his prize, the TARDIS leaves the monastery behind for good.

This was an oddly conflicted episode- well written, and suspense-sustaining; I really enjoyed the plot twists- and yet chock full of unreasonable, irritating, dumb-as-a-post obstinate and obnoxious characters. How I could enjoy the plot whilst loathing the characters so much, I don’t know.
The Englishman begins as an unreasonable paranoid idiot who won’t let facts get in the way of his wild and absurd claims, even when directly confronted with the truth.
The chief of the warriors (you know, the pacifist monks’ elite warriors…?) was impatient, foolhardy, and stubborn… but strangely, everyone obeyed him even as he defied the orders of his (and their) superiors as if they were compelled to assist him even though he was clearly in the wrong… and he continues, even when the TARDIS crew have proven themselves, to leap to suspicions every other second, every time something inexplicable happens.

And Victoria… WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH VICTORIA?!?!?!? Does she have some sort of mental problem? Is she mentally stunted? Is she an IDIOT???? There’s a difference between curious, and out-rightly attempting to make trouble and insult your hosts repeatedly in defiance of their every request, demand, and tradition, and going out of your way to attempt to deceive and betray them to satisfy your apparently enchanted (along the veins of Sleeping Beauty or Diggory on Charn in the Magician’s Nephew) compulsion to do what is forbidden and what you have no good reason to do. Victoria was actively grating in this, as she went out of her way to get into trouble in a manner that was downright infuriating- and also betrayed her only ally and left him locked in a cell. The girl is cute as a button, but… rapidly becoming my least favorite companion ever (yes, that’s right, worse than DODO!!!) despite her strong showing in Tomb of the Cybermen. (It would appear to be her version of The Gunfighters- the single serial in which the companion is starring and instantly likable which makes you feel bad for saying you detest them…); we will see if coming serials reinforce or dispel this image.

Jamie is very sensible in this episode- though letting himself be pushed over by Victoria a little too easily- he is protective, clever, and prudent, doing the common sense thing- leaving me little to discuss in his actions, but much to recommend him. The Doctor was clever as ever, but likewise largely generic here- save for a few standout bits; his nonchalant order for Jamie NOT to be interested in the bagpipes he just found, his unexpected unease when he finds that the Holy Relic in his possession is potentially considered stolen, and of course the battle of wills at the end- the Doctor is always in top form when battling hypnosis.

And the Yeti. Oh, the Yeti. How we were cracking up… the bouncy gait, the chubby costume- like a fur covered Grimace from McDonalds’ mascot line, or a fat Talz from the Mos Eisley Cantina, this lumpy, hapless furball is hilarious and in no way threatening- in fact, you feel bad for the poor dear when it’s caught in a net and being repeatedly clubbed in the head, because the poor thing is so obviously helpless even before it’s hoisted up- the Yeti are not a credible threat. They’re kinda cute, actually- you want one as a pet. But they are fun, in an especially cheesy, dumpy, goofy kinda way.

The villain, the Great Intelligence, reminded me very much of The Animus from The Web Planet- while his motivations and background seemed a little hazy, the actor portraying  Padmasambhava, his stolen body, did an excellent job- creepy and effective, as was the slow and gradual reveal of him.

The story itself was a strange, meandering version of the Alamo, or some other last stand, and seemed to wander around a bit- like an episode of Lost, gradually revealing a large, multi-faceted mystery while conspiring in every way possible to keep the whole cast from being in the same place at the same time. The final assault was quite exciting, though- with the battle of wills and the oncoming Yeti, ever symbolized by the simple-yet-effective figures-on-a-model-board approach.

Aside from the aggravating characters and the laughable Yeti, I find myself at a loss to note anything of real substance about this episode. The re-creation we watched, a YouTube compilation set to the narration-enhanced audio tracks, was excellent if goofy- trying hard with it’s silly little moving-cutout figures, more reminiscent of Monty Python than Doctor Who- but it TRIED, and tried hard, remaining entertaining and energetic, and even splicing in video clips when backs were turned or lips weren’t moving, to great effect.

Yeti? Or Dufflepuds??
The dumpy Abominable Snowmen turned out to be a little absurd, but lovably goofball- endearing in that ‘six-year-old’s-best-effort-which-isn’t-really-very-good-but-is-adorable-because-of-the-earnest-effort’ way, just the same as the costumes of it’s titular monsters. And the coda with the eager explorer spotting a real Yeti at last, proving that they are indeed real, was fun. I still think the Yeti must have been the inspiration for the costume design of the Talz in Star Wars: A New Hope, if not a modified costume itself.

Great moments:
The… ha-ha-ha-ha…! The first appearance of the Yeti…ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!

4 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats (or should that be Electrified Control Spheres?) for the reconstruction, which may not have been as technically apt as some previous reconstructions, but really went the extra mile on it nonetheless, reminding me of some of the best early Loose Canons for Hartnell- and 2.5 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats for an innocuous (but oddly tangled in tone) story with fun camp, irritating characters, and a stellar villain. The factors balance themselves into an average… which would have been 2, save for the strength of Wolfe Morris as the villain’s puppet, Padmasambhava.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Doctor Who: Tomb of the Cybermen

Serial Title: Tomb of the Cybermen
Series: 5
Episodes: 4
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling)

A 26th-century expedition to the planet Telos is interrupted- though not before one of its party members can die from electrocution at a pair of giant double-doors- by the arrival of the TARDIS, whose crew (including the first-time-out Victoria Waterfield, who takes all of this future stuff rather nonchalantly… though I suppose having just come from Skarro, one would take any change of scenery well!) is hostilely taken as members of a rogue expedition. Nonetheless, they join forces to enter the doors to the etched and hieroglyph-ed Tomb of the Cybermen, the last remnants of the cyborgs who once rampaged the galaxy… now only a memory and a story from the ancient past to men and women like Eric Klieg and Ms. Kaftan, financiers of the expedition. These two, as well as Kaftan’s mute bodyguard Toberman (foreshadowing: Replace the TO with a CY!), allow the Doctor to stay when he proves useful, and soon the entire expedition has entered the tombs.

Here, they find that the Tombs have more life than previously expected, as remnants of the past- such as an automated shooting gallery/firing range- are brought to life inopportunely, to lethal effect. Party members are killed, Victoria is trapped in a chamber and nearly cyber-converted (by Kaftan, in a sinister and quite intentional moment) and the Tomb is seen as cursed. However, no one can leave… as someone in the party has sabotaged the expedition’s ship. As the captain leaves to crew it, Klieg gets to work on opening a giant sealed hatch in the main chamber, one operated by complex mathematical equation controls. Despite the Doctor’s warning (and subtle interference) he manages to open it, and an exploratory party descends into an icy cavern. There, built into the wall, is a monstrous tower of niches and chambers- the true tomb of the Cybermen. (Note from Sarah: This was truly an amazing moment for me personally...I felt so amazed by that tomb scene and the way it looked when the Cybermen started reviving...for some reason I suddenly felt like a little kid again, watching something with rapt attention with eyes wide and mouth open.) But the beings entombed within their icy confines are merely in stasis, and Klieg revives them- killing another party member and holding the rest at gunpoint as he does so. He and Kaftan are members of a hyper-intelligent sect called the Brotherhood of Logicians, a sort of Militant MENSA, who hold that their advanced intelligence makes them the rightful rulers of the world. Their intent all along was to revive and control the Cybermen with their vast intelligence, making them into an army so that might may match mentality, making the militants mighty men and mortals’ masters. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

The Cybermen, on the other hand, decided that they wanted only the best and brightest to be assimilated as Cybermen- so, with extreme patience, they designed tombs throughout the galaxy that only fiercely intelligent beings could open- thus ensuring anyone that came to them and revived them would be prime recruits. They immediately begin preparations to Cyber-convert the party.
Kaftan...wearing...well...a Caftan.

Meanwhile, Kaftan and Victoria have remained above. When Victoria attempts to free the now-shut-in party, Kaftan holds her at gunpoint… but a Cybermat- a small cyber-converted rodent that the Cybermen use as scouts- found in the wreckage and stored in Victoria’s purse, revives and attacks Kaftan, disabling her. Victoria takes the gun and destroys the Cybermat (Maybe I’ll like this girl! (Note from Andrew of the Future: No, you won’t.)), and fetches the crew repairing the spacecraft. The captain, Hopper, descends into the tombs, and when he discerns the situation, he uses smoke grenades to create a diversion, and the party escapes- all save Toberman, who holds off the Cybermen with his impressive physical strength. The Doctor is dragged back down the ladder by a Cyberman- barely escaping to safety just as the hatch slams shut.

"Probably best not to touch the...uh...cybermat."

Klieg and Kaftan are locked in the firing-range room to keep them out of trouble, while the Cybermen send an army of Cybermats up through the ducts to invade the control room. Surrounded and under attack, the Doctor improvises an electrified cable perimeter around the survivors that generates a magnetic field and destroys all of the Cybermats. However, by this time, Klieg and Kaftan, LOCKED IN THE ROOM CONTAINING THE SPACE-AGE SUPER-GUN, have engineered an escape. Klieg, outperforming Mavic Chen’s stupidity by believing that he can control the cybernetic villains AFTER THEY HAVE ALREADY TRIED TO KILL HIM, re-opens the hatch. He calls up the Cybercontroller, the leader of the Cybermen- who is accompanied by a partially converted Toberman.

The group has the advantage in that the Cybermen, drained after centuries of sleep, are low on power- most Cybermen are back in their tombs to conserve energy. The Cybercontroller negotiates servitude to Klieg for being allowed to enter the recharge station where Victoria was nearly cyber-converted earlier. This is, of course, a lie- which the logical and emotionless Cybermen have no compunction about employing to get what they need- and once the Cybercontroller is restored, the enthralled Toberman is made to attack Klieg and take the gun; the freed Cybercontroller then kills Kaftan when she tries to stop him. This breaks Toberman out of his trance-like control-state, and at the Doctor’s urging, he attacks the Cybercontroller, hurling it into the control-panel and short-circuiting both.

The Doctor re-renters the tomb with Toberman and Jamie to put the Cybermen back into stasis, but Klieg revives, acquires a gun, and holds them off, unfreezing the Cybermen once again- however, the leaderless Cybermen act in defense mode, seeing his weapon, and kill him on sight. Tobermen fights this one off, and the Doctor re-freezes the rest, still in their tombs, resuming their long- perhaps now eternal- slumber.

They return to find out that Hopper and his crew have repaired the ship- they and Tobermen, the only survivors of the expedition, can now leave. The Doctor re-enables the lethal electrical circuit on the doors, re-wiring it to make it un-disable-able, sealing the tomb for good.

Suddenly, the Cybercontroller revives, lurching towards them and freedom. The doors cannot be closed without completing the circuit and making them instantly lethal, and the Doctor and Jamie, using wooden poles, are losing the tug-of-war against the Cybercontroller’s greater strength. Toberman pushes them aside and closes the doors with his great strength, dying as they close and the circuit activates- the final jolt also destroying the Cybercontroller inside once and for all… as the Tomb of the Cybermen is closed for good. (Note from Sarah: That kind of sucks cause Toberman is COOL man!)

Save for a lone Cybermat which made it outside…

Second Doctor fans, rejoice! For here, at long last, is the first Second Doctor story complete in its entirety- and presented in a crystal clarity, to boot! The Cybermen begin their iconic rise to top-tier status, filling the void left by the now-absent Daleks, who won’t be seen again for another five series. This serial is a classic and iconic exploration of the Cybermen which sets the tone for many of their stories to come (the iconography of the Cybermen emerging from the plastic, for instance- used as recently as the new series’ Army Of Ghosts, with Cybermen bursting through plastic-wrapping walls in the under-renovation Torchwood Institute).

While the cybermen still use the very difficult to understand modulated-tone voice from The Moonbase (the original Tenth Planet voice is much better, and closer to the modern cybermen voice- hopefully they will switch back soon!) but remain implacable and spooky- the oncoming juggernaut of the Cyberleader, who just can’t be stopped, is effectively creepy.

The storyline is, actually, pretty simplistic- it’s more of a locked-room-with-a-killer suspense story than anything, but it works. The Cybermen have lain in wait for someone smart enough to revive them to serve as new recruits- and the super-smart MENSA-with-a-chip-on-their-shoulder society, a super-smart group that thinks that they should be ruling the world, has come to wake them to use them as an army to accomplish that end, making the classic Dalek mistake- once you unleash them, you can’t control them, you fools! Why will they never learn?!

Of course, most interesting of the characters was Toberman, the strong, silent type- originally intended to be deaf with a hearing aid, foreshadowing his further cyberneticism coming- who kicks some cyber-tail and takes some Cyber-names (even though, post-Tenth Planet, they don’t have any), gets converted, breaks free of his programming, and sacrifices himself to defeat the Cyberleader once and for all. (Actually, the overriding thought when watching his character was “Have I ever told you about the Umbaka?” from the Prince of Persia.) The character arc of a super-strong, tall, dark, and silent henchman who reforms and joins the side of the heroes, eventually sacrificing himself to atone for his prior evilness, was first commissioned by Pharaoh Akmun-Ra of Egypt (an historical personage strangely under-covered in the history books- with any luck, his recent appearance in the Night At The Museum series will re-ignite interest and more of his history will come to light for the general public) sometime around skjvna^&>[Connection Lost – Abort, Retry, Fail?] B.C., in between the reign of Pharaohs sjfis<382yun#^^>[ Connection Lost – Abort, Retry, Fail?] prior to the Israelite captivity. However, while this is yet another sci-fi cliché older than dust (Darth Vader, anyone?), the application in this case produces a character who is uniquely likable from the start, and his arc- his struggle to break free, and his final sacrifice, are nonetheless compelling- though the notion may nag at the back of your mind, you won’t be consciously thinking “I’ve seen this story before.

The Lord and Lady of the conspiracy, Klieg and Kaftan, are simple, naïve, and foolish characters, who meet their justly deserved fates- the outwitting of Kaftan several times, especially by Victoria, is quite enjoyable and makes these otherwise cardboard and foolhardy stock-villains watchable.

Victoria is indeed very strong here, having a sweet conversation with the Doctor while the others try to sleep, several action moments, and a commanding, level-headed presence when dealing with her own challenges in the hijackers. Her character is strong here, and though we don’t get much depth or character from her (can’t say that her personality really showed through in this one- that will happen next serial, much to her detriment) her role was a very strong one, competent and likable, and she acquitted herself well of the challenges. Well, save for the getting locked in the recharging station- that was just idiotic, and made her look stupid. At least it afforded a great interplay moment between the Doctor and the villainess as he ‘casually’ prevents her from doing harm to Victoria.

Jamie… was here, wasn’t he? He didn’t do much of import that I can recall, sadly.

The Doctor, on the other hand, is very mysterious here- a master manipulator foreshadowing, say, his seventh incarnation… but it is difficult to tell in what way he is manipulating things. To open the tomb, successfully? To prevent it’s opening, unsuccessfully? He’s almost inscrutable in this- though he does have a very gentle, sweet moment with Victoria, talking about family.

The Cybermen are straightforward and guileless as usual, single-minded and forward moving- a nice implacable foe. Their Cybermat creatures, on the other hand… a little too goofy, shades of The Web Planet- but the scene in which they surround the group does have an appropriately menacing feel. (NFS: I really liked the Cybermats and they did genuinely creep me out! I think the juxtaposition of them LOOKING a little silly but being really menacing is what did it. Like I kept imagining one biting my neck....)

The cyber-tomb itself is impressive- the miniature and set versions, the thawing and freezing, and the emergence of the Cybermen- it’s no wonder this has become classic Cyberman imagery (and 11th Doctor Matt Smith’s favorite serial). Sure, there are some VERY visible wires and obvious dummies for hoisted Cybermen, but the high production values of the miniature- and the sets of the complex above- make up for them in spades. The Cybermen are perhaps strangely narcissistic here, though… why do they have Cybermen symbols stenciled on EVERYTHING?! Did they think that even the smart-enough-to-open-the-tomb humans they were seeking were still dumb enough that they would need every little thing spelled out for them, and over-decorated their elaborate trap as an attempt to bait such witless prey as they assumed they’d face? With Cyberman-superiority being what it is, that wouldn’t surprise me.

The doors to the tomb also have a nicely appropriate appearance of weight to them, in design and when being opened… save for the somewhat silly “Pretend to tug on it but hold it closed with my foot” miming that Jamie and the Doctor pull to try and convey the “They’re stuck shut!” attempts. You couldn’t have just had stagehands holding them closed from the other side so that your actors had real force to tug against?

Lastly, the weapons testing chamber left a strong impression- with its creepy hypnotic powers, groovy wall of lights, and deadly weapons (why did no one think that locking the villains in there with them would be a bad idea?), it was very atmospheric.

Great moments:
The emergence. Toberman’s sacrifice.

Final rating for the Tomb of the Cybermen is 4.5 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats- being just a little too slow to earn a perfect 5, but full of moody, creepy, trapped-with-the-monster suspense, and highly recommended viewing… and not just because it’s the first Second Doctor serial that doesn’t need any reconstruction, either!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Series 4 Overview

General Thoughts on Series 4

The Fourth Series is a definite time of transition. It sees the first changeover of Doctors at the oddly-placed second serial, and despite Hartnell’s departure being explained as happening for (among other reasons) disagreements with the tone of the show, this series is much more of a Saturday Morning Cartoon, with serials like the Macra Terror, The Underwater Menace, etc. feeling much more like standard children's fare… an impression aided by Patrick Troughton’s more childish (in whimsy, though not in any lack of maturity) Doctor. He has perhaps slightly less depth, and while he is clever, funny, and energetic, even his deep conversations (such as the charming piece between he and Victoria Waterfield in the opening story of the next season) and ethical dilemmas feel less deep than they were with Hartnell- more simplified.

Which is not to say that the level of writing is childish just because it is more child-friendly in tone. Serials like Evil of the Daleks, The Tenth Planet, and The Faceless Ones are masterpieces- standout stories that the third series had far less abundantly. And here, the ‘lesser’ serials are still consistently entertaining- I can’t look at a single one of these stories and say “That was bad, it didn’t entertain me” as I could for, say, Galaxy 4 or other Series 3 entries. However, there’s just a feeling, a general impression, of rough corners being sanded, of bright colors being (metaphorically, as the show is still in black and white) added, of concepts being simplified- not stories, as stand-outs like The Faceless Ones still have excellent plotting and exciting twists- but perhaps the concepts upon which they are based are less complex, less hard sci-fi, even if the stories retain their complexity. The stories are of equal or greater quality, but their foundational concepts are now more child-friendly… as is the new Doctor and his energetic, sometimes-silly ways.

And that new Doctor does delight; his energetic antics and zany behavior- not to mention his endlessly expressive face, when video is kind enough to make an appearance here (this is definitely the most ‘lost’ series thus far in terms of video-to-reconstruction proportions)- keep even slow or un-engaging episodes entertaining and watchable- even if the story is going nowhere, the Doctor is always doing something, and this energy helps the series immeasurably- not since the ‘golden age’ second season has a series (or season, for us American viewers) felt this consistently entertaining and overall quality. Now, I don’t think there were nearly as many ‘stellar’ stories here, so it’s a testament to how much more enjoyable this energetic and fun, ‘kid-friendly’ approach is, even to adults, that it nonetheless rates the same amount of satisfaction.

If it seems that I am struggling for words and covering the same ground repeatedly, I am. It’s difficult to explain the ineffable quality and tonal change that I sense in these episodes- and the only terms that do seem to fit, “less depth” “more kid-friendly” “Saturday-morning cartoon” all seem to have negative connotations- they make it sound like that’s a BAD thing, like Doctor Who was being dumbed down. It wasn’t- in fact, the change was for the better. It’s somewhat like the difference between the direction of the first two Star Trek movies. Perhaps purists will decry the ‘dumbing down and flashy-ing up’ of the Wrath of Kahn- more about action and fun and glitz than the more somber, more intellectual first entry… a struggle shared by the pilots, when the original pilot was canned for being too cerebral, and the second got its acceptance by mixing a thoughtful sci-fi plot with a fist-fight and effects bonanza. In the case of both pilots and movies, I’ve seen both, and enjoy both in different ways- but neither detractor nor fan would claim that the tonal change, which subsequently defined the series, was for the worse. Perhaps in mainstreaming themselves and becoming more action and entertainment-oriented, both Star Trek and Doctor Who ‘sold out’ some of their thoughtfulness and sacrificed some of their depth. But the new products are hardly anything for intellectuals and ‘grown-ups’ to look down their nose at in disdain as unthinking fluff, because the re-packaged, re-focused series maintain the cores of the cleverness, good writing, interesting characters, science fiction originality, etc. that made both versions great- the newer incarnations simply shifted the balance of thought and action, emphasizing the latter and slimming the former. The New Series of Doctor Who, launched in 2005, has done the same thing, shifting the balance yet again, even further towards action and entertainment… and it is beloved on multiple continents as even the Tom Baker ‘classic’ years of Old Who weren’t. (Note from Sarah: In my point of view what happened is that Doctor Who became a more successful "marriage" of science and entertainment, whereas before it was mostly just 'science' or what the writers THOUGHT was science, it's almost as if the Hartnell years were REALLY trying their hardest to impress people-like when you pretend you know OH so much about a subject to impress a girl and end up sounding really boring and pretentious instead of just being yourself...which happens to be a mixture of really funny, crazy, and smart at the same time. Now this is not to say that the Hartnell years didn't have any entertainment value, seeing as Keys of Marinus is still one of the best in my opinion, I am just saying I personally feel like they FINALLY got the balance of Smart and Entertaining down much better once Troughton came along. The show still gets you to THINK but it doesn't first numb your brain with so much talk that you don't realize when you're supposed to be entertained. :-D )

So, yes- gone are the historicals (which were, unfortunately, too often uniformly dull… save for the Myth Makers! If they’d kept historical as comedies, they would have excelled- but do that too often, and you become Mr. Peabody and Sherman, so perhaps they remain best as unique- and especially enjoyable- footnotes, rather than an ongoing pattern.) 

(NFS: I personally miss the Historicals, they were the ones I usually enjoyed more. A lot of times they were dry yes, but I even feel that way with the new series, really like the ones where they travel to the past! I think because if it were me and I had a time machine I would always chose the past, no question). Gone is William Hartnell- and as fantastic as the new fella is, the beloved original will be missed. Here to stay is a spirited Doctor and his long-lasting Scottish companion. Here to stay is energy, pep, vigor, fun- and yes, perhaps at the cost of a slightly more serious, adult tone. But not to the detriment of the program. Doctor Who changes in this season, at an indefinable point, and in an indefinable way… but it’s more fun than ever, entertaining as heck even when the stories are weak and/or reconstructed, and despite it’s many missing episodes… it’s a favorite!

For this season, the 2nd Doctor's catchphrase was my all-time favorite: "When I say run... run!" Honestly, it just encapsulates the Second Doctor so brilliantly- the excitement and fun, the adventure, the slightly comical cowardice and comic hijinks- and I want to cheer every time he says it!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Doctor Who: Evil of the Daleks

Serial Title: Evil of the Daleks
Series: 4
Episodes: 7
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling)

Picking up on the cliffhanger of the previous serial, the Doctor and Jamie search 1966 London (in fact, the same day as the WOTAN affair from 'The War Machines'- perhaps the Doctor's sinister feeling in that episode was not due to WOTAN, but due to the simultaneous presence of the Daleks in London- which he simply attributed to WOTAN, having found it first?) for the missing TARDIS, chasing- but losing- a pickup truck spiriting the box away. 

After tracking down the thief, and getting into a fight for their troubles, the Doctor and Jamie are relayed a message from a Mr. Watterfield, of Waterfield’s antiques- a firm specializing in Victorian antiques that look brand new. At the behest of his masters, Waterfield stole the TARDIS, and lures the Doctor in, forcing him through a mirror-based time machine to 1866 Victorian England, his own native time period. There, his masters are revealed… the Daleks. Waterfield, and his partner Theodore Maxtible’s, early experiments on steampunk time-travel attracted the attention of Skaro- and they have co-opted Waterfield and Maxtible (threatening the life of Waterfield’s captive daughter, Victoria) into abducting the Doctor… who they also wish to co-opt into a sinister experiment. They propose to identify and distill ‘the human factor’ – whatever nebulous quality humans posess that allows them to defeat the Daleks time and time again- and transplant it into new Daleks, creating a race of un-defeatable super-Daleks. To do so, they intend to put Jamie through a number of tests and gauge his very human responses. The Doctor, under threat of the TARDIS’ destruction, has no choice but to agree.

Jamie is manipulated into running the gauntlet to rescue Victoria, surviving a number of traps, and even Victoria’s mute protector, Kemel. Meanwhile, Maxtible is revealed to be a willing collaborator with the Daleks, working for them in exchange for their philosopher’s stone-esque secrets. Jamie succeeds in his ‘resuce,’ but Victoria is spirited away again by the Daleks.

The Doctor completes the Human Factor distillation and implants it into the three test subject Daleks, whom he names Alpha, Beta, and Omega… who become childlike and playful innocents (NFS: "Dizzy dizzy Doctah!") who consider the Doctor their friend. The Doctor is delighted, but the Daleks soon arrive to ruin the party, taking them all into custody, transporting them through the mirror time/space portal, and destroying both it and the Waterfield mansion with a bomb. The Doctor, Jamie, and Mr. Watefield are left to die, but manage to commandeer a separate time machine used by the Daleks and give chase- landing on the Dalek homeworld, Skaro. Omega arrives to escort them in secretly, but the Daleks prove both aware of their arrival and even more treacherous than expected, as this Dalek has faked Omega’s markings and personality in order to lead them into a trap.

The group is brought before the mighty Dalek Emperor, who reveals the true purpose of the experiments- to use the Human Factor isolation criteria for Dalek scientists to isolate the Dalek Factor, everything that makes the cruel and monstrous beings what they are- which they intend to infect humanity (and the human-Daleks) with to enslave the universe. The Dalek Emperor hypnotizes Maxtible, making him the first guinea pig in an archway (perhaps an early Chameleon Arch?) that instills the Dalek Factor into humanoids. The Emperor plans to convert the Doctor, and then use him and the TARDIS, also relocated to Skaro, to spread the Dalek Factor to humanity throughout history, retroactively enslaving the human race from the very beginning. The Doctor fakes his conversion, however, and tampers with the arch.

As the Daleks are having trouble locating the three human Daleks amongst the populace, the ‘converted’ Doctor suggests running them all through the archway just to be safe, re-infusing them with the Dalek Factor and assuredly catching the miscreant three somewhere in the process. As the process begins, the Doctor slips away and frees his companions, revealing the reason for his non-conversion… the Daleks do not yet realize that he is not human, the species the archway was calibrated to, and thus it had no effect on him. He then switched the Dalek and Human factor canisters, meaning that the first batch of Daleks to go through the archway have been Human Factor-ized. They rebel, and a Dalek civil war breaks out with great ferocity- a conflict that the Doctor believes may lead to their “Final End.” Maxtable is killed whilst insanely expressing Dalek propaganda, and Waterfield takes a blast meant for the Doctor (The Doctor has more people take bullets and bullet-equivalents for him than the president of a despised dictatorship… from Waterfield to Rory Williams, if you’re around the Doctor, plan on wearing a laser-proof vest! And remember, Doctor- your charmed life has a COST!) The Doctor, Jamie, and newly-orphaned Victoria enter the TARDIS to escape, the latter becoming a new companion, as the Dalek emperor is exterminated and the city explodes into flames.

However, later… much later… in the embers, a single light blinks… and something stirs…

As they say in 50s B-movies, “THE END…?”

As a Dalek Swan Song, this was an interesting choice- as the Daleks really only feel important to the story in the Skaro finale, despite their sinister presence being interspersed throughout. However, even though this serial ended up not following through on the Dalek’s “Final End”- though it did finish them off for a while- it is one of the better Dalek tales I’ve seen thus far (maybe not in terms of a 'Dalek story'- Dalek Master Plan still holds that position, in my book (NFS: You only think that cause it has cool 'puzzle' man in it.), but in terms of a 'story with the Daleks in it.'). Note that, due to time travel, this may very well be the Daleks’ “Final End” chronologically, with all future Dalek stories taking place chronologically before this one (though that requires them to lose their knowledge of his Time Lord status at some point before this serial)- at least, up until the between-series Time War resets and scrambles the timelines for the New Series. (Or perhaps the Fourth Doctor serial Genesis of the Daleks rewrites their history... ah, but we'll get to that one all in good time!)

And this was intended as the final Dalek story. Just as with the perpetual James Bond nemesis of SPECTRE (who vanished from the Bond series somewhat jarringly with the end of the Connery era, never to be seen again), the creator of the Daleks, Terry Nation, retained rights to their use despite not having rights to the overall series, and wanted a bigger slice of the pie for himself. Rather than Dalek royalties every time they were used in an episode of Doctor Who, Nation wanted an all-Dalek series from which he could receive 100% of the profits. After creating a backdoor pilot in the stand-alone 'Mission to the Unknown,' and a series proof of concept in the Dalek Master Plan serial, Nation withdrew them from Doctor Who to go and sell a Dalek-only series in America- Dalek-mania was in full swing, with Daleks in England being nearly as popular as Mr. Spock in the US. (The pilot subsequently failed and after several years, Nation returned the Daleks to Doctor Who- Big Finish productions and Nicholas Briggs, the new-series current voice of the Daleks, are coming out with the unmade pilot’s script as an audio drama this year.) This, then, was intended to be their Doctor Who farewell story, one final epic with the Daleks before retiring them from the program for good.

The Daleks, for the beginning, are shadowy puppet masters. Then, they are fun (and not in the usual dark humor/pratfall deaths Dalek way) with the human-factor-infused Alpha, Beta, and Omega (or Alpha, Beeta, and Omeega, as Troughton bizarrely chooses to pronounce them), scenes of their frolicking playtime and childlike fun impressing even through the audio-only of the reconstruction- and lastly, regaining menace in their Skaro stronghold, unseen since… well, confirmedly, since its first appearance in the serial ‘The Daleks,’ the second serial of Doctor Who, though potentially the DARDIS departure point in The Chase and The Daleks Master Plan could have taken place there as well. Regardless, we ramp things up with the epic first appearance (in a very cool model) of the Dalek Emperor, a character seen as recently as the New Series episode “Parting of the Ways,” the final story for the Ninth Doctor. In fact, the final confrontation with the Emperor, like the villain battle in ‘The Rescue,’ feels like a New Series classic confrontation with the villain, a moody and atmospheric final showdown between titanic rivals. Sadly, it seems that, as with the Rescue, each Doctor only gets one of these in his entire run on the show at this point in the series… hopefully in the color era, we’ll start seeing more of these climactic confrontations.

The only confusing potential negative is that the Dalek’s racial/genetic purity, a key component of their overall character, mindset, and makeup, has clearly yet to be defined- as the infusion of humanity into a Dalek is such an unspeakable perversion in their eyes that the self-same “Parting of the Ways” portrayed the Daleks going mad from it- and another Ninth Doctor story showed a Dalek committing suicide rather than living with a human ‘contamination’ within itself. Still, perhaps these Daleks were members of the Cult of Skaro, an experimental think-outside-the-box group of Elites from the New Who series, who once again attempt to absorb human traits and install the Dalek Factor into humans in the utterly horrendous 2-parter “Daleks In Mnahattan/Evolution of the Daleks.”

This serial also shifts wildly in tone, though- going from a skulduggery-and-criminal-empire story in ‘modern’ London (one which I found initially hard to keep straight the characters of in the reconstruction) to a strange gauntlet-test/mad scientist story in Victorian England (complete with, errrr… static-electricity-infused-mirrors as a time machine…?) to a dark and almost apocalyptic final rebellion- and it does certainly have the intended air of finality to it!- on the black, bleak, and oppressive looking sets of Skaro.

Of the three, the middle segment, with Jamie’s testing and the ‘human factor’, felt the most superfluous- a bridging/padding section that didn’t really hold interest, as you knew that Jamie’s success or failure would have little bearing on the story. The only part of interest was Jamie’s saving and befriending of the silent Kemel, forgoing the clichéd ‘drag you down with me’ villain moment, hanging off of the roof, and showing some of Jamie’s nobler character.

The opening, an extension of the missing-TARDIS mystery cliffhanger from the Faceless Ones, felt rather tacked on (despite being more watchable) at the beginning- similar to the 2015 segments of Back to the Future II, placed in there solely to resolve the cliffhanger from part 1 and get the characters from point A- where you ended the last story, and point C- where the story you actually want to tell begins. Nonetheless, the first appearance of the Daleks here is very good, and might have served as an excellent shock, (and indeed seems to be set up as a surprise) if it weren’t for, you know… the serial’s TITLE.

The story on Skaro- with falsified brainwashing, Dalek deception, Dalek treachery, and yes, a deluded Daleks-will-give-me-what-I-wanted ninny from the Marvic Chen School of Naïve Idiocy (seriously, have these guys not been paying attention to how the Daleks treat everyone ELSE?) is exciting and tense, dark and moody, and climaxes in a Dalek Civil War that was probably a bit more epic in motion.

Though the story feels made up of distinct segments that don’t necessarily feel like a cohesive story so much as a story forced to exist out of three separate entities, it is not without it’s merits- only during the testing of Jamie phase did it seem to flag, and there are enough machinations, plots, and counter plots throughout to keep things interesting over its prodigious length.

Victoria Waterfield, new companion by necessity (perhaps the first companion taken on out of guilt, as involvement with the Doctor has- indirectly- gotten her family killed?) doesn’t present much more than a pretty face here- it will take another serial to delve into her role (Good!) and another after that to explore her character (Ugh!) (NFS: Ugh? Like as'd rather not explore her character? Or UGH it takes that long?) (NFA: Ugh as in "I didn't really care for the character that was revealed" at the time- her obnoxious behavior in the Abominable Snowmen! I think I've softened to her since.)

Jamie fares well in terms of traits- forgiving and kind to his enemy, morally outraged at the thought of helping the Daleks, even strongly calling out the Doctor’s questionable behavior when he feels like he’s being used- but he isn’t necessarily that INTERESTING- just shown to be a good character.

The Doctor himself is a little more inscrutable, as its hard to tell what level of plotting he is on. Is he cooperating with the Daleks? Merely pretending to play along? Playing both sides? The Doctor is hard to read and often-absent with the focus on Jamie’s trials, but in the ending Skaro sequence, puts in a strong showing. The finale is the Doctor’s piece, while the middle is Jamie’s, and the start is… no one’s? Meanwhile, the Doctor is established quite firmly as an alien here- though the term ‘Time Lord’ has yet to be invented, so his species remains un-named. The Daleks’ repeated reference to him as ‘human’ is retconned into an ignorance that he, perhaps, perpetuates (thus retconning other instances where he claimed or implied that he was as well?) as an advantage… very, very cleverly creating continuity out of chaos.

The reconstruction for this one- not Loose Cannon, I believe- was decent but lackluster, no real special effort applied, but not horrendous, either.

Great moments:
The first Dalek appearance. Jamie’s gauntlet. The finale. Alpha, Beta, and Omega. The Dalek Emperor.

In the end, the Evil of the Daleks, the swan-song-that-was-not-to-be, receives a 3.5 out of 5 Deadman’s Keys- but if one were to break it down individually into the stories it feels like it is, Theft Of The TARDIS would rate at a watchable 2 out of 5, Trials of Jamie would achieve a yawn-worthy 1 out of 5, and The Final End Of The Daleks (including as a prologue the creation of the human-factorized Daleks) would rate at a 5 out of 5- this is a fantastically-ending serial with just a little too much lingering build-up to get there, which, while not as unwatchable or without-merit as I may have implied, still hold it back from truly classic status overall (though I would still consider it one on the strength of its ending- one that every Who fan should see, even if not up to the quality standards of, say, Keys of Marinus, Aztecs, Faceless Ones, etc.)

The reconstruction is a 2 out of 5; just middling, and I tire of ranking all-the-same cookie-cutter reconstructions; without standout elements that marked the early First Doctor reconstructions, they all just run together… if only my collection contained more Loose Cannons!

About those Daleks...
Lastly, at this break point, when the Daleks sail oversees and hand off the heavy-villain reigns to the Cybermen, let’s take a look at the various stories of the abdicating pepper-pots and see how they rank against each other. Had things ended (and thus spared us the current new-series overdoing-it and Power Ranger Daleks), the Dalek stories on Doctor Who would have consisted of:
The Daleks
The Dalek Invasion of Earth
The Chase
The Daleks Master Plan
Power of the Daleks
Evil of the Daleks

So, how would they rate in the eye of retrospect? From least to greatest:

The Daleks – A decent introduction, but way too long and padding-filled. Borrrrrrrring!

Power of the Daleks – Creepy and atmospheric… but also too long, keeping it from true greatness. Not a bad story by half, though; a single-sane-man-trying-to-find-an-ally tale of great skill!

The Chase – A really fun notion… and the duel of the Doctors is great! But dragged down by the slow Mechanoids bit and a number of great premises that fell flat in execution. The goodbye for Ian and Barbara is almost enough to bump it up a notch, but I have to give Evil the edge due to its excellent finale.

Evil of the Daleks – A great finale, but an overall failing body. So, like Davros. (Yeah, we’ll get there…) Still, several years later, I can say this one was very memorable- from the creation of Alpha, Beta, and Omega onward, this one was a true gem!

The Dalek Invasion of Earth – While I tend to think of this one as dull and unwatchable, further scrutiny reminds me of surprisingly effective post-appocolyptic London and some great scenes, plus that farewell… good stuff, really.

The Daleks Master Plan – Everything, the Kitchen Sink, AND the Meddling Monk- from Volcanoes to Mavic Chen, Pyramids to Sara Kingdom, Katarina's death to the invention of Classic Who's ubiquitous T-mat... not to mention those alien delegates (yes, Sarah, including the puzzle-man) and the Time Destructor! The epic, the longest, and still the best- and I don’t see it being de-throned any time soon!