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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Doctor Who: The Web of Fear

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


Clinging to the console for dear life, The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria rocket through the Vortex like a runaway train, barreling through the time/space continuum inside the TARDIS, its open doors having just dispelled the sinister Salamander into the ether- now the crew fights against the sucking winds of their escaping air, trying to avoid being sucked out into eternity themselves! With a tremendous effort, Jamie manages to reach the controls and close the doors. The TARDIS ends up suspended in space as the trio catch their breath- and slowly, a strange spider-web-like mesh begins to grow over the exterior.

Meanwhile, on Earth, in 1966, Professor Travers, the man with whom they shared an adventure involving the Yeti in 1935, frets around a London museum, demanding the return of the inactive Yeti robot on display there; though the museum owner and his own daughter, Anne Travers, dismiss his fears, he believes that he has accidentally reactivated a control sphere, and the menace of the Yeti may soon reawaken! The museum owner dismisses him, and is killed moments later by a re-awakened Yeti. This is what we in the biz deem ‘a bad call’ on his part.

The TARDIS barely manages to escape the web surrounding it, and materializes in the London tunnels (some days or weeks after the scene with Travers), the apparent source of the ensnaring attack. A group of military men are holed up here, along with reporter Harold Chorley, as well as Travers and his daughter. London is under a fantastical sort of siege, a strange mist covering the city into which people vanish and do not return, which also blocks all forms of communication in the area. Survivors have either evacuated, or retreated down into the tunnels, where the mist has not ventured- but the tunnels have their own problems, as a strange fungus-like web is slowly consuming them, spreading its deadly-to-the-touch tendrils throughout every room and passage. The power is off (rendering the third rail safe, fortunately, or Jamie’s ignorance would have killed him), and the tunnels nearly deserted. They hide and see an approaching trio of soldiers laying a power cable. The Doctor assigns Jamie and Victoria to follow the soldiers while he traces the cables back to their source. Victoria and Jamie are soon caught by the soldiers.

As the Doctor finds the end of the cables, several crates of explosives that the soldiers plan to detonate remotely, he is forced to hide by the sound of a familiar beeping- a pair of Yeti emerge from the gloom, and cover the crates in more of the strange webbing, weaponized from hand-pistols- when the explosion is triggered, the strange webs simply absorb the energy. Back at the bunker/hideout, the military registers no explosion.

Travers recognizes a description of the new arrivals and is reunited with Jamie and Victoria- shocked to find that they haven’t aged in the intervening 31 years that have passed for him. Together, they deduce that the Great Intelligence must have returned, and was the entity responsible for attempting to ensnare the TARDIS in space. Jamie convinces Sgt. Arnold, one of the men that was laying the cables, to take him out in search of the Doctor, as Chorley the reporter continues to pry.

In the tunnels, Yeti set upon the soldiers, slaughtering them mercilessly- bludgeoning one to death, smothering another in web- bullets are ineffective and the indomitable Yeti advance implacably- even an attempt to blow them up fails as the energy is absorbed by webbing. The final survivors- Knight, Lane, and Thompson- as well as Jamie and Sgt. Arnold, who stumble upon them, are cornered and captured by the Yeti, who strangely hold back from killing them. Even more strangely, they are signaled away by the control spheres' beeping signal, leaving their prisoners free.

The fungus which had been motionless for three weeks begins to grow visibly again, advancing further into the tunnels- tunnels which Victoria, too, now roams in, having slipped out to search for the Doctor. The other search party- Jamie and the soldiers- likewise continue their search, and encounter a Welshman wandering the tunnels and singing- Evans, one of the demolition men- who reports seeing a Yeti carrying a glass pyramid in the tunnels, very similar to the one destroyed in 'The Abominable Snowmen' to thwart the Intelligence. Jamie tries to convince the soldiers to go after it, but they continue on to the bunker HQ, leaving Jamie and Evans alone to seek out the source of the Intelligence. The two find and attack the Yeti as web closes in on them... the Yeti is stopped when the pyramid is destroyed, but the web continues unhindered; the duo barely escapes.

Victoria finally locates the long-absent Doctor... but someone else has found him first. Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, a soldier sent in to relieve the current commander, and part of the destroyed demolitions convoy that Evans also escaped from. Victoria leads them both back to the bunker, where the Doctor and Travers are re-united.

After a briefing, the ever-agitated Chorley is given busywork to keep him occupied from thoughts of escape, and the Doctor proposes setting off an explosive to seal them into the tunnel, away from the fungus and Yeti, to buy some time- using explosives on a baggage rail trolley so that they can be rolled into position and detonated as they roll, before the Yeti have time to encase them in webbing. (But also trapping Jamie and Evans outside of the bunker for good).

Meanwhile, a mysterious saboteur unlocks the main door of the bunker, leaving the base open to attack... the traitor also steals one of the model Yeti, also a homing device used to control their movements (as seen in the Abominable Snowmen) and places it at the door of the explosives depot- in response, a Yeti is diverted from the tunnels- the group soon find their entire stock of explosives encased in web and useless.

Lethbridge-Stewart decides to take a group to the site of the explosives convoy that he and Evans escaped from- though the convoy was attacked and destroyed, it is possible, though unlikely, that some explosives there might have survived. Chorley, meanwhile, learns of the TARDIS and the plans to collapse the tunnel from naive Victoria, and in his mounting claustrophobia and panic, slips out into the tunnels to attempt an escape, locking the Doctor and Victoria into the main room. Fortunately, Jamie and Evans arrive just as he leaves, freeing the Doctor, and the TARDIS trio takes off in pursuit. The TARDIS crew finds no sign of Chorley, but collect a sample of webbing- to which the web reacts violently. They then meet up with Arnold, Llethbridge-Stewart, and their party- having failed to find any explosives, the group return to the base- to find the main door torn asunder. The Yeti have attacked the base, killing one of the soldiers, wounding Anne, and abducting Professor Travers!

As the web continues to advance on the bunker, the group realizes that a traitor is in their midst, and the Doctor gets to work on a device to override the Intelligence’s control based on the Control Sphere that Travers possessed. Having convinced Lethbridge-Stewart of the TARDIS’ importance, the Doctor plans an operation to recover the Police Box. The operation is dual-pronged: Lethbridge-Stewart's party (including Knight and the Doctor) will attempt to reach the tunnel with the TARDIS by an above-ground route, while a second group consisting of Arnold, Lane, and Evans will take a baggage trolley along the tracks, to be used for transporting the TARDIS- however, this latter party soon encounters an obstructing web. Wearing gas masks, Lane and Arnold attempt to force their way through the web with the trolley. Light pulses, men scream... and Evans retrieves the trolley and Lane’s web-covered body at the end of his rope. Arnold is gone, and Evans runs in fear.

Meanwhile, the above-ground party encounters the Yeti and are trapped in a pincer maneuver. Many of the soldiers, including Knight and Blake, are killed- The Doctor and Lethbridge-Stewart are the only survivors. Back at the base, The Doctor, Lethbridge-Stewart, Jamie, Victoria, and Anne reunite- but are stilled by a beeping sound- someone had planet the last Yeti model homing device on them, and a pair of Yeti arrive with the possessed Travers, through whom the Great Intelligence speaks. It informs them that this was all a trap set for the Doctor- the Intelligence wants to poses him and his... well, his great intelligence, for itself. It offers that if the Doctor submits willingly, his mind and great knowledge will be wiped clean, drained by the Intelligence, but his body- and his friends- will be released unharmed. The Intelligence gives him twenty minutes to decide, abducting Victoria as collateral.

The Doctor and Anne redouble their efforts and soon come up with a control-unit that should be able to override the Intelligence’s control on a single Yeti. Paranoia builds among the rest of the party, each suspecting the others of being secretly Intelligence-possessed like Travers, and the mole that the Great Intelligence has been using against them. Victoria and a now-released Travers are found by Arnold, hiding in the tunnels, who leaves to seek help for them, evading their Yeti guards. Arnold finds Jamie and Lethbridge-Stewart, who are out searching for Victoria, and returns with them to the base- which is quickly overrun by fungus as the walls bulge and explode inward! With no safe haven left, the group flees into the tunnels, where the Doctor and Anne have successfully brought a Yeti under their control- but haven’t told anyone else about this. Ordering the Yeti to go on about its business as usual, acting as a sleeper agent until commanded to do otherwise, the two slip off to rejoin the group.

Evans is captured by a Yeti, while Arnold escapes, finding a panicked Chorley in the tunnels. Jamie, now holding the control-unit for the ‘captured’ Yeti, escapes also. Victoria and Travers are taken to a strange chamber, the center of the Great Intelligence’s power, where a chair-like device is hooked to a pyramid- the waiting transfer device to drain the Doctor’s mind. The Doctor decides to give himself up as the group is found by the Yeti and ushered to the Intelligence’s chambers. The Doctor uses his control-override device to briefly freeze the Yeti in place, making a quick adjustment to the headset-device they are carrying before unfreezing them again- they then place the headset on his head. Everyone but Jamie, Arnold, and Chorley are now reunited in the chambers of the Intelligence.

The Doctor warns his friends not to interfere as he submits to the Intelligence’s designs- the Intelligence, responding to Lethbridge-Stewart’s demands, reveals the traitor in their midst and its own bodily form: Staff Sergeant Arnold. Jamie is brought in, apparently captured by a Yeti- the one that he controls. As the Doctor is placed into the chair-device and hooked up to the pyramid, the Intelligence announces that the transfer is beginning- and Jamie orders the Yeti to attack, smashing the other Yeti. The Doctor yells for him not to interfere as Arnold is likewise incapacitated. Finally, over the Doctor’s protests, Lethbridge-Stewart and Jamie pull him free, hurling the headset into the pyramid and destroying both, which shuts down all of the Yeti.

The Doctor is livid, berating the celebratory group that they have won the battle when they could have won the war- he had secretly re-wired the headset so that he could drain the Intelligence instead of the other way around, dispelling its astral form and removing its threat forever- which is why he was so eager for the transference to take place. As it is, the Intelligence is defeated, its contact with Earth cut off... but it is still out there, somewhere, ready to one day return...


The Web of Fear... dark, claustrophobic (as the very cool reconstructed teaser on Youtube from the end of Enemy of the World promised)... but also loud, chaotic, and confusing in its reconstructed state. Sure, we get some nice trinkets- an exterior TARDIS-in-space shot, the first appearance of future 'companion' Lethbridge-Stewart, a very cool first-time (unless you count returning Daleks/Cybermen/Meddling Monk, who are really returning characters but don't feature in returning storylines- or The Ark, which is a sort of sequel within itself) revisiting/sequel story (this story being a follow-up to The Abominable Snowmen, set many years later, with an aged version of Professor Travers from that story) that really sells the time travel aspect of this show... but those cool moments, nice as they are, get lost against a dark, incoherent muddle. I don’t blame the story-writing for this, merely the reconstruction. As a sort of war/under siege story, it’s a lot of loud noise and chaotic action that was probably exciting as filmed, but hard to convey with stills and the occasional interspersing of the same 5-second clip of Yeti walking forward under fire. This, more than any since the Celestial Toymaker, is really killed by being a reconstruction. Maybe moreso, as the Celestial Toymaker was still enjoyable despite it. Here... here, it’s a good story that NEEDS its video components to survive, and falls flat without ‘em. Come on, people, start searching those basements, rummage sales, and foreign broadcasting offices. We just found 2 new episodes- a Galaxy 4 and an Underwater Menace- after a decade-long drought; proof that more lost episodes are out there- it’s time to find another one already!!!


This is also the second of three appearances of the dumpy-yet-implacable Yeti (barring a new series revival, which some fans are clamoring for), who wouldn’t appear again until the 25th anniversary special The Five Doctors (starring four Doctors, and one of them a stand-in), which brought back iconic monsters from each era. So in terms of story consideration, the Pseudo-Talz (seriously, go to Wookiepedia, the Star Wars Wiki, and look up a Talz. SAME COSTUME), the furry Grimaces... the dumpy, lumpy, unstoppable juggernaut robots that epitomize unintentional laughter and nostalgic fun from this era, essentially have their swan song here (setting a pattern to be repeated with the Autons, the Sontarrans, the Silurians, and numerous other monsters that, as often as they're talked about, you'd expect to see a little more often in the Classic Series- but instead became famous despite very brief appearances). And the Yeti ARE truly implacable here, facing not just primitive monks, but gun-wielding soldiers, and mowing them down with even more juggernaut-like irresistible force than before. More menacing than their last appearance, which serves them well.

Also returning is the Great Intelligence who controls them, in what I believe is also his swan song (now there's someone begging to be brought back in the New Series!)- though he never really feels like a part of the story, as he’s a background presence through most of it- the Yeti and fungus-web being faced by our heroes on the front lines occupying the center stage instead.

There’s not much to say about the overall story. London is overrun and evacuated (is this what it will be like in the Third Doctor’s UNIT days?) and everyone is trapped in the subway tunnels- Travers, his EVIL (looking) daughter, the military, a foolish reporter, and the TARDIS crew. Much running around is done as folks try to figure stuff out. Then, a final confrontation which Jamie ruins.


Yes, an interesting choice of endings. The brash heroics that Jamie so often showcases are put to poor use for once, as he actually unknowingly works against the Doctor’s plan (trying to save his life) and allows the Intelligence to escape to one day plague the Doctor again (not that it ever does). This is a nice multi-dimensional touch, allowing the character and the story to avoid retreading itself and giving a realistic dimension to the reality of brash heroics- sometimes they’re poorly thought out! It’s a lesson in caution to Jamie, and a lesson to the Doctor that his secret planning and continual holding back of knowledge can have consequences- a very unique and interesting twist.

As for characters and their roles in this one... in a twist on the usual, no one really felt like they had a strong role here- everyone about equally, doing very routine running-around stuff, and not standing out from the crowd. Again, maybe a visual interpretation would have clarified people’s actions a bit more, but as it is, it’s all a bit... cloudy. In fact, it wasn’t until I wrote my synopsis based off of a detailed story brief on the wiki that I finally understood what was happening in the story.

That said, there was one unique feature about the fan-made Youtube reconstruction we viewed. It was the most ambitious we’ve yet seen, including things like video of Jamie pounding on a door from another serial rotoscoped onto a photo of the background of a room from Web of Fear- little bits like this, 2-second video clips rotoscoped onto still images, people’s still cutouts being slid and moved around the screen like a Monty Python animation, etc. were incredibly creative, assuredly time-consuming, and did a great deal to inject life into the reconstruction, which I’d like to see a lot more in these fan reconstructions- but sadly, it still did little to add clarity to the action itself. Livening up chaos doesn’t provide as much aid as you might think. If only this same treatment had been given to a clearer serial. Makes me wish that so many of these 2nd Doctor fans-mades were replaced with their Loose Canon equivalents- based on their past work, they probably did a stellar job... we just don’t have those in our collection.

So, overall...

This is such a short review, and it kills me. I’ve always found something to talk about in the past- always. I’ve never just said “I can’t really review this one in reconstructed form.” The story, the characterization- even when I’ve had little to work with, there’s been something to discourse on. And I hate to change that, but... I can’t really review this one in reconstructed form. It’s probably a decent serial, but it’s too visual to survive in this reconstructed form. It’s like a person without their supporting skeleton- just a flabby little blob on the floor, unpleasant to look at or be around, jiggly, wobbly, deformed, and unclear. And with that lovely mental image, I leave ye be.

Great moments:

We see the Brigadier for the first time here! And also, the continuity of a return of Travers is really cool- making this start to feel like a cohesive universe, and not just a series of stand-alone shorts. Plus, the ending’s pretty good, with the Doctor’s upset chewing-out and the final little comedy bit about the trains. Oh, and the reconstructed teaser at the end of Enemy of the World. AWESOME!!!


While I don’t feel comfortable rating this serial overall, I have to remind myself that these ratings are for enjoyability watched as-is. And in that vein... I have to give Web of Fear 1 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats. It has enjoyable moments, and conceptually, as a first direct sequel/revisiting, it’s ultra-cool. But the current presentation is “All sound and fury, signifying nothing.”I am sure the actual story deserves better; but in it's current format, that's all I can give it. I do so wish the video would be found so that I can judge it on its own merits!

The reconstruction, on the other hand, is a sterling 4.5 out of 5 effort, it’s inconsistent and slightly goofy nature on occasion, putting motion and action in for clarity’s sake without thought to a polished presentation or not provoking unintentional laughter would be commendable in trying to provide needed clarity to this tale... if it succeeded in that and didn’t distract from the story. But it does, keeping it just short of a perfect score. Still, it’s technically impressive, extremely innovative, and clearly took a long time and a lot of careful work. Very impressive.

And my apologies if that last paragraph, or this entire review, is as muddled to you as the serial was to me.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Doctor Who: Enemy of the World

Serial Title: Enemy of the World

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

(Please forgive our formatting difficulties this week...) 

Synopsis: Arriving on an unknown beach, the TARDIS crew begins to frolic in the surf- but their revelry is interrupted by gunfire from an incoming hovercraft. This is Earth (Australia, to be precise), in the... Oh, COME ON!!!! the ‘near future,’ and the crew is only rescued from death by a helicopter piloted by Astrid Ferrier, the leader of the men trying to kill the Doctor, who are acting without her orders (Note from Sarah: I was trying to remember what Astrid looked like...all I could remember was an astounding amount of blonde hair...). The out-of-control troops pursue the group to her house, where she is forced to kill them by sabotaging the helicopter and letting them steal it. After her over-eager and under-disciplined men are blown to kingdom come, she takes the group to Giles Kent, her superior- and there, they at last learn the cause of all of this ruckus.

A despotic, ruthless madman hiding behind a benevolent public face while he secretly consolidates his power and takes over more and more of the world (a ‘respectable’ mafia man combined with the ‘deciever’ Antichrist and a standard ‘meglomaniac’ Bond villain) is perhaps the greatest threat the world has ever known- because they know him only as a benevolent philanthropist. Only a small group- led by Kent and Ferrier- has seen through the smiling public face to the evil lurking beneath, and seek to oppose him. This power-mongering despot is named Salamander. And he looks EXACTLY like the Doctor.

The resistance recruits the Doctor to impersonate Salamander, while Jamie ‘foils’ a fake assassination plot and gains Salamander’s trust (having traveled to the Central European Zone where he resides) and Victoria gets a position in the kitchen (NFS: That's nice...glad Victoria gets to do something useful then....). The Doctor’s first impersonation is sufficient to convince Donald Bruce, the bullying, brutish Security Chief employed by Salamander, to leave Kent in peace. He then travels to the research station in Kenowa, source of Salamander’s rising power: a technology he has developed that harnesses and amplifies the sun’s rays to allow crop growth in harsh climates.

Denes and his wary look.
Salamander warns Alexander Denes, one of Kent’s few remaining allies, of an impending volcanic eruption- but Denes disbelieves him. After he leaves, Salamander blackmails Denes’ aide, Fedorin, into betraying him. When the volcano erupts exactly on schedule, Denes accuses Salamander of somehow arranging the disaster, but Salamander responds by declaring him negligent for ignoring the warning, has him arrested, and poisons him before he can get to trial... then secretly takes over Denes’ territory.

Donald Bruce and Theodore Benik (another of Salamander’s lackeys) get suspicious of the Australia encounter with the Doctor impersonating Salamander, and begin to investigate. Jamie and Victoria are arrested, and the existence of an impersonator revealed- Salamander heads to Kanowa to catch his doppelganger.

Once there, Salamander attires himself in a radiation suit and descends in a secret elevator- into a secret bunker beneath the research facility in which a small civilization believes that they are living in an irradiated, post-apocalyptic world (due to a nuclear war five years prior), and Salamander is their brave and noble benefactor- out ‘scouting for food’ in the irradiated wasteland these last few weeks. It is revealed that the machinery to create the natural disasters lies in the caverns, which Salamander’s society uses in the belief that they’ve been reshaping the Earth’s surface for re-colonization when the radiation abates.

This is case you were just dying to know what he looked like.
Bruce finds the Doctor, Astrid, and Kent, but is persuaded that Salamander is a traitor to the world order. He agrees to follow the Doctor to Kanowa, allow the Doctor to impersonate Salamander to gain evidence of Salamander’s treachery- if not, Astrid and Kent, in custody, will be locked away for conspiracy (though they escape soon after the Doctor and Bruce have left.) Arriving at Kenowa, they free Victoria and Jamie, and hide inside the records room, where the secret elevator is located. Kent soon arrives with a key to the secret elevator- he knows more than he’s told.

In the subterranean world, a stray newspaper clipping used as packing for the food Salamander has brought reveals a normal, healthy outside world in prosperity, and the angry man who discovered it confronts Salamander- who agrees to take him to the surface (and there kill him). Astrid soon stumbles upon the dying, bludgeoned man in the grounds around the research center, who informs her of the underground society before dying. She sneaks into the elevator and informs the populace below of the truth- that they have been living a life as slaves under a lie from their supposed benefactor for the last five years. When Astrid returns up the elevator (to the records room where the TARDIS crew and Bruce are hiding) with an intrepid young pair of subterranean-dwellers, one identifies the just-arrived Kent as the man responsible for taking them down below. As the Doctor had feared, Kent and Salamander were partners, and the entire resistance was unknowingly being used to topple Salamander in order to take over his sinister schemes, not to thwart them. Kent escapes down the elevator.

The Doctor pursues Kent, who has encountered Salamander- Kent is fatally wounded, but get revenge by tripping a self-destruct mechanism to collapse the cavern system, killing the remainder of the subterranean populace. As Astrid works to excavate any survivors and Bruce takes over and evacuates the research center, Jamie and Victoria return to the TARDIS as ordered. The Doctor soon emerges, alive and unharmed, but exhausted. Resting from his exertion, the Doctor asks Jamie to pilot the TARDIS in his stead while he recovers his energy.

Of course, the real Doctor quickly shows up at the door, disheveled and dusty, announcing that Salamander has decided to turn the tables and impersonate him! Salamander attempts to activate the controls, and the TARDIS takes off with open doors as the two men struggle. Salamander is knocked out into the Vortex as the ship flies out of control, threatening to suck the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria out after him...(NFS: Yeah...that's as AWESOME as it sounds! A little Doctor on Salamander action. :-D)


Would this face lie? Or kill you?
The ‘Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve’ concept rears its head again, this time to much greater effect, as the bizarre coincidence of a man that looks just like the Doctor in the exact time/place he visits- who also happens to be a villain- is revisited. And boy, I wish I could see it in video!!!

The characters are fun, the story engaging, and the ending is spectacular... or at least sounds to be. The dual-performance is excellent, giving Patrick Troughton a chance to shine. His revelation as the Doctor faking Chameleon at the end (a cringing, frightened sounding “No, Victoria, don’t hit me!” as she gets angry) is funny and endearing... and Troughton also makes Chameleon a memorable villain- cunning, clever (with his ruse at the end), yet able to appear very kind and gentle, caring, to the point that even you almost believe it. This was a fantastic turn for him, and one that will be hard to top. (NFS: Definitely one of my favorite ever serials, and I totally agree; Troughton so got a chance to really show off his acting chops. I really liked the accent he gave Salamander too.)

Ooh! Pick me! Pick me!
The underground-survivors-who-think-the-world-has-ended-but-it’s-fine-now-and-they-don’t-know-it storyline was first postulated by early theologian Athanasius of Alexandria in 327 A.D. during a meditation on the book of Revelation, and re-discovered some years later by a medieval historian working for Ganos Lal in the archives of Myrddin beneath Glastonbury Tor, where it was then reintroduced into society. (And if you got that reference...) So yes, while it is far more obscure than the average cliche employed by Who, it is still older than dirt... and also a very 60s product (The Time Machine with George Pal, anyone?).(NFS: Have we EVER seen an underground populace or a populace that's been told there's no life somewhere and it's been true!? I think what we can take from this is...if someone puts you in a hole and tells you everyone is dead...they are probably not to be trusted.) It’s been explored in most modern sci-fis, from Star Trek to Stargate... but strangely, unlike the usual Doctor-Who-puts-a-new-spin-on-it or Doctor-Who-uses-the-cliche-as-a-backdrop-to-tell-a-story-against, not only was this story element a straight-up story element cliche, it also felt very tacked on and irrelevant- like it was a second story whose funding got cut, and was added to the Chameleon intrigue storyline (which was doing quite well on it’s own, thankyouverymuch!) to extend it out a few more episodes. A disappointing break from the usual creativity... a cliche that remained a cliche and didn't rise above it- though hardly enough to tarnish the masterpiece! (Note from Andrew of the Future: Looking back on this synopsis from a year later, I feel that it is actually a fairly unique story element in terms of a source for Salamander's power, and a clever notion with the 'they think they're reshaping the world'- but I trust my younger self that, tonally, it still didn't fit organically into the storyline. And it also gave us one of Who's darkest endings- all those poor people are more than likely killed at the end, innocents enslaved and then brutally slaughtered- yikes! No happy ending here!)

The chases at the beginning- and the battle in the house- were exciting, fun, and even a little tense at times- a great introduction to the story once you got past the hovercraft yawner. The Doctor’s helicopter experience prefigures his chance to try it for himself in Fury of the Deep.

The ongoing intrigue throughout the serial, with Jamie and Victoria insinuating themselves into Chameleon’s operations, was interesting and exciting, even if the handling of the prisoner-to-be-assassinated bits seemed a little unusual and nonsensical (why was he being imprisoned in a hallway...?). Still, the majority of the plot, though it feels like I have so little to say about it, is well-executed, consistently entertaining and engaging, and filled with great performances- none more so (beyond the obvious Troughton roles) than the kitchen chef, a very unique and engaging character- well-written, fun, a great source of humor- I wanted to see more of that guy.

Victoria and Jamie both have decent roles- taking center stage for most of it, and yet ending up far less memorable than Troughton despite less screentime for him (at least, as the Doctor).

Her hair comes into the room before she does.
The reconstruction was average to the point of forgetability. I just wish there’d been less of it, and more of the video for this fantastic serial. However, this serial also marks the beginning of ‘The Hump’- a stretch of mostly-reconstructed serials of worse and worse loss-quality that lasts through to the end of the series, and then mercifully breaks into a stretch of pure video (with one exception) for the series remainder (NFS: I am questioning your use of that title especially with the quote marks around it and it being capitalized...). Save for that one isolated reconstruction- hopefully more manageable for being buffered with video- this represents the last hurdle, the home stretch, the final endurance test... and it’s an uphill-in-Death-Valley kind of run (NFS: Or you could just run up Astrid's would take as long and you wouldn't have to go to a desert.). Four 6-episode serials in a row that are almost entirely reconstructions until the last one? After just having suffered through the video-but-absurdly-dull torment of the Ice Warriors? This is a trial like no other, testing the limits of a Who fan like little else can. Stay tuned as we brave its horrors, trying to survive long enough to make a triumphant emergence into glorious video yet again... (This took us about 3 months to finally brave, and far longer to finish.) Fasten your seat belts...

Great moments:

Holy cow! That ending confrontation! I mean, that ending confrontation... the big reveal, the battle, Salamander being sucked into the vortex... HOLY COW!!!! That was AWESOME!!!! One of the best things I’ve seen on Classic Who, EVER- right up there with the screaming vine attack from Keys of Marinus! Also, “No, Victoria, don’t hit me!”

4 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats for the Enemy of the World, a fantastic Troughton showcase and espionage/intrigue thriller that is tarnished only by the out-of-place and clich├ęd underground shelter elements tacked on to the second half. And even those are only enough to take one sizzled little cyberslug from this gem’s overall rating!

The reconstruction rates a 2.5 out of 5 by virtue of being completely, 100% forgettable- I can’t remember a thing about it, suggesting it was neither bad enough to be noticeable, nor possessing any notable touches to make it memorable.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors

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

Earth of *grumble* ‘the far future’ is in trouble- massive defoliation threw off the carbon dioxide levels, leading to a massive global cooling. Glaciers now cover much of the world, advancing with an almost tsunami-like pace. A desperate plan has been hatched to use an ionization system to melt the glaciers, and Brittanicus Base is one of the numerous global control stations dotted around the world, preparing to initiate the plan that will prevent the new Ice Age that is swiftly falling upon the Earth. Within the base, Jane Garrett and her staff labor under Leader Clent to get the device online before the encroaching ice literally drives them from the base- a few hours left to save the world. Sounds like a case for the Doctor... but, even as the TARDIS materializes outside the base, far away on the plateau, senior scientist Arden has discovered something like an armored man frozen within a block of ice. They haul it back towards the base under the watchful eye of Storr and Penley, a pair of anti-technology advocates living like primitive lives on the tundra. The latter, Penley, was once a scientist on the ioniser project, while the former, Storr, is injured in an avalanche.

As Jamie, Victoria, and the Doctor emerge from the side ways-landed TARDIS, they are mistaken for vagrants (which everyone aside from base personnel in the area are considered) and about to be evacuated- but the Doctor steps in and solves a problem with the ioniser, and Leader Clent is convinced of his usefulness. He then investigates the warrior frozen in the ice, discovering cybernetic components and determining that the being is alien.

Upon thawing, the Ice Warrior is immediately hostile, subduing Jamie and Clent, and abducting Victoria. Jamie and senior scientist Arden (the man who found the frozen warrior) are dispatched to search the tundra for the being, while the Doctor warns that it may have arrived in a ship, also frozen into the glacier- if powered by atomic systems, the ship could be detonated by the ioniser and destroy the base in a cataclysmic blast; until they know for sure, they cannot activate the device... but if they don’t activate it in coordination with other Earth ionisers, glaciers will overtake the base and the Earth may be lost to the ice. Jamie and Arden return from a fruitless search.

The Ice Warrior identifies himself to Victoria as Varga, a warrior of the planet Mars from long ago. Finding his crewmates frozen into the glacier, Varga begins to thaw the four. Meanwhile, Penley, sneaking into the base to steal medical supplies for the injured Storr, is found by the Doctor- but refuses to help with the ioniser, despite the Doctor’s pleas. Returning to Storr, he finds Miss Garrett, having followed him, and she also pleads for his help, but is turned away- but also imparted with a small bit of advice that improves the ioniser’s function.

Jamie and Arden strike out yet again, locating the excavation site where the Ice Warriors are digging out their crashed vessel. They report back to base via wrist-communicators, but are ambushed and shot. Arden is killed, but Jamie clings to life by a thread- he is retrieved by Penley after the warriors have left. He returns to his dwelling and Storr, seeing an enemy-of-my-enemy scenario in the Ice Warrior’s aggression towards the technology-using ioniser crew, goes to speak with them.

Victoria gets a wrist-comm from the fallen Arden’s corpse and contacts the base. The Ice Warriors, having overheard Clent’s badgering questions about the ship’s propulsion system, recognize a potential weakness and decide to exploit it. When they attempt to re-capture Victoria, she flees into the ice caverns, and the pursing warrior is killed in an avalanche, but Victoria is left trapped- while back at the base, the Doctor strikes out after her.

Storr retrieves Victoria and returns her to the Ice Warriors, but they are uninterested in his Luddite help and kill him. Penley, meanwhile, finds the Doctor and returns him to Jamie, who is on the mend. The Doctor then sets off for the Ice Warrior’s ship under Penley’s direction. The Doctor and Victoria are reunited (after a tense affair with the airlock), but fails to convince Varga that the ioniser is not a weapon (Note from Sarah: Not to be crude...but is it just me or is it difficult to read "Varga" without reading "Viagra"? No? Just me then.). The Doctor warns Clent via communicator that he may have to use the ioniser regardless of the potential for a catastrophic explosion, as failure to act will be just as fatal. He is then relieved of his communicator (moments later spotting an ion propulsion system instead of an atomic one, meaning that the ioniser will NOT cause the ship to explode), but the Ice Warriors, believing the Doctor was advising the use of the ioniser as an attack to destroy them regardless of the potential for his and Victoria’s deaths, prepare for a pre-emptive strike against the base.

Penley returns to the base with Jamie. There, Clent (a former friend) gives him a frosty reception with a cold glare and a frigid disposition (I could keep this up all day)... but announces that he’s decided to use the ioniser as per the Doctor’s advice, despite the computer advising against it. Moments alter, however, the base comes under attack by the Ice Warriors’ ship-mounted sonic canon. As Varga calls to demand surrender, the Doctor uses a compound that he’d brought with him from the base (a hunch based on an examination of Ice Warrior physiology) and disables the Ice Warrior manning the canon. They work to reprogram the canon so that it will be harmful to Ice Warriors, but not to humans.

The Ice Warriors storm the base in force, killing several humans and dismantling the ioniser reactor to get replacement parts to repair his ship, irregardless of the consequences to the humans. Penley, having hidden, increases the temperature, a hindrance to the cold-acclimated warriors. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Victoria succeed with the sonic canon and drive the Ice Warriors off, disabling the canon before leaving the ship which the Ice Warriors are now returning towards.

Back at the base, the glaciers are approaching critical levels. The computer still warns of a 50/50 chance of catastrophic explosion with the ion-based drives, and computer-addicted Clent is paralyzed with indecision. Penley takes control, however, and activates the device- there is an explosion, but only of the Ice Warrior vessel, and at far less than nuclear force. The Ice Warriors are gone and the glacier begins to recede, and the folly of working with computers is highlighted as the moral of the day. Errrrr...

The Ice Warriors was... a bit of a let-down. The New Series has revived classic Who baddies in each of their running years- Daleks, Cybermen, The Master, Sontarrans, and most disastrously- er, I mean, recently, Silurians. And through it all- even before Sontarrans and Silurians got the nod, Who fans have been positing two classic monsters as the next great baddie. (Well, three, if you count the probably-facetious suggestion of the Yeti, which I’d totally be behind!) The Zygons (haven’t seen them yet) and the Ice Warriors. The Ice Warriors, the assumedly frigid race from Mars (SPOILERS ALREADY GIVEN BY THE PLOT SYNOPSIS ABOVE: No, they’re just Martian warriors who happen to be found trapped in a block of ice...) were even given a geeky fanboy nod in the Gap Year special “Waters of Mars”, in which the Doctor spoke of the Ice Warrior civilization like a legend of yore, implying that the ‘Ice’ warriors had frozen and trapped the ‘water’ monster, The Flood. Get it? Because water and ice are both related and they’re both on Mars??? So, for all of the hype, this serial was our first exposure to the fabled, fan-beloved, nay... legendary (and anything that’s legend to the uber-built-up ‘Lonely God Oncoming Storm Angel Most Powerful Being In The Universe Roxors 111’ Tenth Doctor has GOT to be big!) Ice Warriors.

Well, maybe they get better in a future appearance.

These Ice Warriors- which are named for being found in ice this serial, but suddenly are calling themselves that in future appearances, which is just bad continuity- did not impress here, and continue not to throughout their run (though subsequent serial featuring them are usually excellent regardless). Interestingly, they were originally conceived of as cybernetic vikings-like warriors, with bits of technology interspersed with their armor- a concept which, intentionally or unintentionally, seems to have been fulfilled in the New Series episode “The Wedding of River Song,” by the Doctor’s ‘Live Chess’ opponent.

This is a strange serial. In some ways, a traditional Monsters-besieging-an-isolated-outpost tale. In others, a strange story about... not trusting computers? I didn’t get the attitude here, but given Star Trek’s technophobia at the same time, it seems to be a 60s thing- Computer = Bad. Cannot think like a man. Do not rely on it. It will lead us to our doom. Strange. I could tell that the leader was being set up as a villain/fool... but I agreed with all of his points. He was kinda right, and his nay-Sayers acting irrationally... and yet the story was trying to make the point that he was wrong. Very strange indeed.

The science isn’t so hot, either- the glacial melting thing and it’s rate of encroachment? A little hard to swallow. An interesting concept, though- a frozen Earth being thawed (in new Who, it would have been terraforming for invasion), refugees assigned social casts, a group of reviled outcasts as per the miniseries V... okay, I may have made those last two up... I waited a bit long to review this after seeing it, and the details ARE forgettable. Some nice comedy bits with the TARDIS materializing sideways (with the crew having to climb out the top in a scene later echoed in the Eleventh Hour with Matt Smith- one wonders if his love of Troughton didn’t figure into this as an intentional reference...) and nearly being detected... some random... stuff... melting happening too quickly... a bizarre and pretty arbitrary test... some stock footage of wolves (though the hunt was very nice), an absurd cave-in calamity situation... there’s just... so much to be forgotten, and not a lot of note.

What IS of note, however, was the incredibly cool reconstruction- an official one from the BBC- involving newly shot footage of one of the communications wrist-monitors lying abandoned on the snowy ground, with the camera dollying in during a snowfall, and an announcement of communications interruption from the base technicians. It promises to restore communications in 15 minutes, and so it does... compressing two episodes, with narration, into a 15 minute span (almost seamlessly... only one event referenced later on clued me in that portions of the story had been excised), with a mobile video frame around it, looking nearly identical to the Tenth planet reconstruction, which may also have been official in retrospect. Regardless, this reconstruction is wicked cool, very professional, and awesome-looking, while keeping the pace moving rapidly. Score!!!

Jamie is weak to the point of nonexistence, while Victoria is a standard captured-damsel, though her fiery indignation and last-minute conspiring with the Doctor in the final chapter- a very amusing bit- make hers the best showing in the episode, above the ineffective male members of the TARDIS crew.

The finale is muddled and confusing, with the plan to disable the intruders more effective on the defenders, seemingly, and the last-minute save being played rather anticlimactically. Nonetheless, this serial isn’t ALL bad. Just... mostly. Unlike the Daleks (well, to everyone EXCEPT for me, who found the serial ‘The Daleks’ to be dull) and the Cybermen, the legendary status of the Ice Warriors clearly derived from a second appearance, because it sure as heck didn’t come from this one.

Great moments:
The thawing Ice around the warrior was pretty cool, and the Doctor’s last-minute solution to his test was pretty fun. The bit with the wolves was a definite highlight, though- pretty exciting, if memory serves correctly 6 months after-the-fact... :-)

1.5 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats for the glacially slow, confusing, and weak-villained Ice Warriors. However, a sterling 5 out of 5 (even if, being an official reconstruction, it’s a bit unfair to rate on the same scale as fan reconstructions working off of much fewer resources... but this is a rating of viewer enjoyability, after all...) for the slick and polished, fantastic looking and very cool in-universe reconstruction... a shame it couldn’t belong to a better story.