Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Doctor Who: The Dominators

Serial Title: The Dominators
Series: 6
Episodes: 5
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury)

Oh, heck. Knew we’d get to this one eventually. Have I already declared a Galaxy 4 for the Second Doctor? If not, this is it. Hang tight, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. The plus side for you, dear reader, is that a brief synopsis may not expose you to the true horrors of dullness on Dulkis, the planet of hippies. (Oh, and Troughton still has some great comic relief; unlike Galaxy 4, this serial at least has a few redeeming factors.)
On the aptly named world of Dulkis, a spacecraft belonging to the Dominators lands, and destroys a boring cruise ship full of uninteresting people, whose leader, Cully, survives. The fact that this was a ship of spoiled rich folk obscures the fact that we will soon discover: that this is an entire boring PLANET full of uninteresting people. The Dominators, Navigator Rago (The Leader) and Probationer Toba (The Upstart) arrive with their robotic servants, the Quarks (the would-be Dalek replacements now that Terry Nation took his ball to go play in America). SPOILER ALERT: They didn’t catch on.
The Doctor and co. land as well. The Doctor knows that Dulkis is peaceful (a polite silver-lining notation about the planet whose natives DO NOTHING EVER) and sets up for a nice holiday- before hearing the explosion of Cully’s craft. Investigating, they stumble upon an old war museum with functional weapons, the only remaining specimens on Dulkis. They meet Educator Balan and his students, Kando and Teel, all of whom are boring. They exposit that the island was a nuclear test site, and as soon as the enlightened Dulcians (Note from Sarah: Shouldn't it be the 'Dulkians'?:) set off the first nuclear bomb and saw its destruction they forswore all war forever (making this officially more of a fairy tale than the forthcoming serial featuring Rapunzel) and the island is irradiated (but they built a museum on it that no one could visit for some reason???) and the unshielded Doctor and co should be dying, but they’re not, because the Dominators vacuumed up all of the radiation for fuel (because radiation works like that). In fact, they only landed because they detected the radiation and thought the whole planet was like that. Idiots. (By which I mean the Dulcians. Because no matter what the Dominators may do stupidly, the Dulcians are simply dumber by default). This research station, built to monitor the radiation (that's the kind of place you’d take students, right? Into an irradiated outpost to monitor nuclear fallout? Okay, I’ve got to stop heckling or I’ll never make it past this paragraph...) detected the sudden loss of radiation, but dismissed it as an instrumentation failure. Idiots.
Cully stumbles in and warns everyone, and the Doctor and Jamie go to check things out, quickly captured aboard the Dominator ship. (Toba wants to kill them but Rago overrules him). They are believed to be average Dulcians, and tested for intelligence and suitability as slaves. The Doctor and Jamie imitate Dulcians (I.e. They act like not-particularly-bright children) and are dismissed as rubes- meanwhile, learning the Dominator plan. The Dominators plan to irradiate the mantle of the planet and then cause a massive volcanic eruption, irradiating the entire planet- at which time, they’ll carve it up for fuel for their fleet (in a plan clearly stolen by the Slitheen in the New Series). This is an innovative plan. It would also be doing the galaxy a favor, by committing genocide against every last member of the Dulcians. Unfortunately, the Doctor decides that he must intervene.
Cully and Zoe take a Flash-Gordon-Rocket back to the capital city to warn everyone, but fail to convince Director Senex (Cully's father) and the council of the danger. The council sits and debates and resolves like the plot of the Star Wars prequels- boringly and uselessly.
The Doctor and Jamie are led to the war museum, where the Doctor bluffs the Dominators into believing that there is a second class of intelligent Dulcian (Too obvious...) who created the weapons of war seen there, that lord over the less intelligent working class (of which he and Jamie are supposedly members). The Dominators buy into this (Toba wants to kill them but Rago overrules him). They set off to look for these intelligent Dulcians (Come on, there’s no subtlety to this joke...).
The Doctor and Jamie head for Useless Central to appear before the council as Zoe and Cully return to the survey station/museum, while the Dominators locate the teacher and student trio. Clearly going by Dominator standards only, they find these to be the mythical ‘Clever ones.’  They also spot Zoe and Cully. Toba wants to kill them, but Rago... isn’t here. The Quarks (SPOILER ALERT: They suck.) begin to raze the place, when... Rago arrives and overrides him. (Rago is obsessed with saving the Quarks' power, and Toba is obsessed with shooting anything that moves. If you handed the guy a mirror he would shoot himself after the first blink). Zoe and Cully are captured while digging themselves out of the rubble. (NFS: I thought the Quarks were rather darling.)
The idiot council will not listen to Jamie and the Doctor, and are quite relieved that the Dominators just want to drill in the planet’s crust. They give their tacit approval (not that they could do anything to stop the Dominators). These people WANT their genocide to happen, Doctor! Who are you to stand in their way? Please, reconsider- don’t interfere!
Zoe, Cully, plus the teacher/student trio are being tested as slaves (a role the Quarks used to fill and now must be replaced in as they are being turned into front-line soldiers instead), hauling rubble from the museum about. Jamie and the Doctor return as Cully sneaks into the museum and grabs the still-functioning laser gun (powered by Dues Ex Machina tablets, no doubt. At least it was Checkov’s Gun-ed twice), but totally wusses out of using it, depriving us of even one admirable Dulcian. Jamie finds his way in as the Doctor is captured, takes the gun, and blasts some Quarks. Toba giddily identifies a threat and overrides Rago’s override. The Quarks (SPOILER ALERT: I know the Daleks, and you sirs, are no Daleks! ...Well, the ones from Victory of the Daleks, maybe...) demolish what’s left of the building and we are ‘treated’ to WAY too much of skirt-wearing Cully as he and Jamie climb down the ladder to an emergency shelter beneath. (NFS: Wait...wait...Cully is wearing a skirt???)
The building is utterly and redundantly re-demolished. Because Toba wanted to kill them but Rago overruled him, and then Toba did it anyway, the two begin to bicker, each threatening to report the other to whatever unfortunate commander oversees this gaggle of slightly-less-idoits-than-the-Dulcians. The Doctor informs them about the council of idiots, and the Dominators invade.  (Toba wants to kill them but Rago tragically overrules him). They seize the council... while Jamie and Cully escape the shelter and begin destroying Quarks (SPOILER ALERT: It’s not hard because they’re wimps). The Dominators return. Toba wants to find the ones attacking them but Rago overrules him (wait, Toba is the SMART one?!?!) and tells them to focus on the drilling.
They drill and prepare to drop an atomic explosive into the mantle. The escaped Doctor and co. tunnel sideways from the underground shelter to intersect the tunnel, and the Doctor catches the radioactive ‘seed device’ as it falls past him (OFFSCREEN, bloody dang it!!! Cheap BBC!!!!) The four downward-pressing rocket engines intended to trigger the eruption are still in place, but without the atomic explosive, it will just cause a normal volcanic eruption.
The Doctor cannot defuse the atomic device, but does the next best thing- sneaking it into the Dominator ship on the back of a Quark. The Dominators lift off and leave to avoid the forthcoming explosion, unaware they’ll be its source, and explode in mid-air. The Dulcians are sadly left to live out their lives in peace, having survived. Ah, well, they can’t ALL be happy endings.


The Dominators, or Planet of the Dull Stupid Idiots, as I prefer to call it, continues the proud tradition of Galaxy 4 by opening the season with the weakest possible sci-fi story about plodding conquerors. The inhabitants of the aptly named Dulkis could be upstaged by dishwater, as they’re duller than it. They're half-speed half-wits who converse with the breakneck pacing of the Enterprise flying over the exterior of V’ger. They’re the geniuses who built and detonated an atomic bomb just to prove how dangerous building an atomic bomb would be, then promptly banned all nuclear research for peaceful purposes and built a museum to war on the irradiated island they had just rendered uninhabitable and unvisitable. Their assumptions are illogical (something is presented to you by someone, thus it is a fact and true, and there is no point in trying to ascertain why... they claim repeatedly that there is no curiosity on Dulkis, and yet there is common debate on the cause of a phenomenon or event... which doesn’t gel at all), their personalities bland beyond all reason, and their clothes... oh, their clothes...! 

The women at least have something semi-decent by 60s sci-fi standards, a goofy little leotard jumpsuit thing, at first. Then Zoe dresses native in a two-tone contrasting dress in which the waistline and the bustline are the same line, looking absurd. And the men... the men do not come anywhere close to having dignity in an apron/dress that may have been aiming for a toga but hits squarely in the center of ‘beefy man wearing his wife’s clothing because he’s a nut.’ (NFS: Cully WAS wearing a skirt...see I thought you just mistyped and were talking about Jamie...)They are so cringe-worthy that description does not do them justice- hopefully upon posting, Sarah will have a picture to demonstrate the true depths to which this costuming falls. The worst irony? This serial had the working title during writing of “The Beautiful People.”


And then there are the mooks out to get them- the flying-saucer-traveling Dominators (I think the Xillians in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and especially Godzilla: Final Wars stole their look)- a pair of dark-dressing, hoop shouldered idiots with their robotic ‘Quarks’- deadly servant/soldier robots. The Quarks are short, box-bodied, with spherical heads projecting cones in each direction- they have R2-D2 fold-out arms from the center of their chests (you know, like that blue plate he uses to open the escape pod hatch?) and a very unique voice (which veers close to Mechanoid/Cyberman territory in being indecipherable but stops just short)- their uniqueness is one of the only two good things about this miserable train wreck. (From what I’ve read, they were intended to be a replacement for the Daleks, since Terry Nation was still playing hardball in his “I want the Daleks for ME!!!” phase and it looked like they were gone from Doctor Who for good- see 'Wheel In Space' and 'Evil of the Daleks.' Regardless... new Daleks these ain’t.) Ironic, though, that the Dominators needed slaves so that they could free up the Quarks for warfare... the Quarks are rather inept warriors- more like remote-controlled guns- and they seemed to have no capacity or manipulators for performing manual labor or other slave duties. I’d think slaves trained as soldiers and issued Quark guns would be a far more effective arrangement than sending these slow-moving, poorly-reacting tin-pots to war. Same result for the episode, but a much greater tactical advantage- make your (smarter) slaves do the fighting, and leave the Quarks shoeless and self-replicating in the food-preparation units at home, where they belong! :-)
The Dominators themselves, though, are... just... irritating!!!! Thugs, conquerors, slavers, bullies... the usual, all fine and good. But they behave entirely irrationally- an insubordinate pyromaniac and a way-too-patient superior. This is an average episode in this serial.
(Three people approach)
Toba: Quark, destroy!
Rago: Why did you do that?
Toba: They may have been a threat!
Rago: They were no threat! Destroy nothing! We need slaves and must conserve power!
(A spaceship is spotted)
Toba: Quark, destroy!
Rago: Why did you do that? Destroy nothing! We must conserve power!
(They cross the rise and see a building)
Toba: Quark, destroy!!!
Rago: Why did you do that? Do not destroy anything- we MUST conserve power!
(Someone moves within the building)
Toba: Quark, destroy!
Rago: Dude! What did I JUST tell you?!
This goes on ridiculously far, over and over and over again to the point where the second Dominator feels like a particularly stubborn 2-year-old. Then, the natives fight back, destroying a Quark with laser weaponry...
Toba: Return fire!
Rago: What are you doing?!
Toba: We are under attack! We must defend ourselves!
Rago: I have had just about enough of you! I told you we needed to conserve power! Cease this defiance or I shall kill you!!!
(Another Quark is crushed by a boulder)
Toba: Quarks, defend me!
Rago: You fool! You try my patience- I told you to conserve power! Stop or you shall be doomed!!!
So, once a legitimate threat presents itself... one that warrants destroying... THEN the infinite patience of the superior for his repeatedly wasting-shots-on-nothing subordinate runs out, and he’s chewed out for defending against legitimate military attacks??? What the...?!?!?!?! How these guys ever conquered multiple galaxies (seriously, they need to lay off the galaxy-spanning empires here; they begin to strain credibility in their one-shot-ness.)
Meanwhile, Zoe is stripped of all interesting characteristics here- showing some braininess, but otherwise reduced instantly to a Dodo/Susan/Victoria clone with none of the potential shown in her previous appearance... it’s like all her emotional issues were just resolved between serials, and now she’s just one of the crew. A waste. (NFS: Heyy...I thought you LIKED Victoria. :-D (NFA: This is me from a year ago, when I was still annoyed by her behavior in The Abominable Snowmen!))
Her companion for the episode, Cully, the council-leader’s son, was at least interesting... but felt out of place, like a character from a British 90s comedy sketch inserted into a 60s sci-fi show. He didn’t ring true, and while he served as an avatar for audience exasperation with his plodding, moron, nitwit, pacifist, useless, imbecilic people... he didn’t feel all that real or likable either, despite being more useful. And his ladies’ skirt flashed us his hairy thighs WAY too many times- for someone wearing a dress more revealing than Jamie’s kilt, they had him climbing things WAY too often- we DIDN’T NEED TO SEE THAT, THANK YOU!!!! (NFS: Reading that bit about hairy thighs' may have just made me snort-laugh.)  (The actor, Arthur Cox, made a grand return into Doctor Who with the Matt Smith introduction “The Eleventh Hour,” where he portrayed the comatose man with a dog whose form Prisoner Zero appropriates.) (NFS: And now that you remember him from 11th can watch The Dominators and take a gander at his hair're welcome.)
The only breaths of fresh air in this miserable heap of nonsense are the Doctor and Jamie, the other of the only two good things in this serial. The Doctor’s 'playing dumb' bits, and Jamie’s gung-ho Rambo attitude are fun and refreshing- both have excellent roles in a decidedly UN-excellent story. Even the capsule-rewiring has some good moments, albeit silly ones. And the moment where Jamie takes out a Quark with his laser canon is a cheer-out-loud moment... for someone in the story doing something useful and actually TAKING ACTION for once, if nothing else. Oh, and the Sonic Screwdriver’s second use- this one establishing it as a multi-purpose device, and as an awesome cutting tool for concrete, verily rocks. In fact, Patrick Troughton requested a screening of this serial at his birthday party, shortly before his death in March of 1987. Some cruel jokes could be made about this choice relating to senility near the end of his life, but the truth is that even amongst a miserable excuse for a story, Troughton is quite good- childlike and innocent, dashing and heroic- I wouldn’t call it his best work ever, but of the surviving works, it is a good showcase for him.
This story represents the epitome of the Doctor Who cliché of the planet represented by quarries. There is, admittedly, some nice location work (all doubled for the Doctor, hearkening back to that good old ever-so-exciting first location work in Reign of Terror), but it also becomes a little bland after a while. Strange that it’s no longer so exciting as it once was...
In this serial, even the cliffhangers have problems. The second episode cliffhanger features an attack on the building that Zoe and the leader’s son are in, as debris cascades from the ceiling... except the shot holds long enough for you to clearly see them both standing there unharmed for a good ten seconds before it finally fades to black. And they end on a collapsing building that we saw the principles escape from in the VERY NEXT EPISODE. What were they thinking???? 

As with most elements of this episode... it’s clear that they weren’t. Likeiwse, idiotic elements and decisions abound- from the unable-to-shut-up councilor who was just begging for death (we weren’t sad to see him go), to the only council in the galaxy more ineffective and useless than the planet Krypton’s. Faced with invasion, they postulate that they have three options: Fight back, hide, or surrender. The assessment rendered within 10 seconds? We refuse to fight, we have nowhere to hide, and surrender could be painful. Thus, we can do nothing; no options exist. That is all the thought they give the matter, then sit around waiting for the Dominators to kick down their door. Idiots. 

Meanwhile, the Dominators cheat- they have a little tally-counter of lit Quark silhouettes (pretty cool actually) that goes out when each Quark is destroyed. Yet at the end, when only two or three should be left, more appear like magic- surrounding Jamie and Cully three on one side and three on another! They appear out of nowhere! Even at the drill-site at the end, two are ordered away by the Dominator and three are at his side when he orders the attack. And apparently, they could only afford to blow up one, because when one has been downed by a boulder and two walk over to investigate, then Jamie throws an explosive, the shot instantly cuts to the previous shot of another Quark being destroyed- on a completely different landscape and all by itself. Either the explosive was powerful enough to level the canyon they were standing in and vaporize the other two attending Quarks entirely (whilst still leaving debris from the wounded one that the explosion originated on), or they were just being plain cheap (NFS: There's another word for's the word of they didn't have enough money and thought blowing up quarks wasn't exactly the best way to use what little they had. That word.). The cut was seamless, but once the explosion clears, everything has clearly changed. For shame, cheapos! It’s your season premiere! Live a little! Planet of the Giants was the biggest spend-fest ever, and it looked INCREDIBLE! Even The Smugglers had decent sets and extras! What is it with the Season-Openers that take place off of Earth (Galaxy 4 and this shlock-fest... though to be fair, Tomb of the Cybermen took place off of Earth too, and it was pretty good...) being SO blasted lousy??? Well, with the third Doctor’s forthcoming Earth exile and the UNIT years, we have to wait until The Ribos Operation, in Season 16, to find out if the trend continues! But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Even the climactic tunneling-and-catching-the-dropped-explosive, the thrilling finale... happens offscreen. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? THEY COULDN’T AFFORD A ‘HOLE DUG IN THE GROUND’ SET?!?!?!?! Yeah, sure, some shots of the Doctor running are a bit exciting, and the Dominator’s final line is a good one, but... that’s it? (And you expect me to believe that tiny explosion would’ve irradiated the entire mantle???)

This, then, is our reward for the hump? Our first sight of video??? THIS?!?!?! What a disappointment. This is Galaxy 4 II. It joins the ranks of the Sensorites, Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve (except for that end scene), and Galaxy 4 as the lowest of the low, and certainly the worst of Troughton’s repertoire. And with a season of Troughton left to go, I’m calling it as his worst here and now- I don’t see it getting any worse than this. It’s not physically possible. Indeed, this serial was reduced from 6 parts to 5 out of concern that the content wouldn’t hold up for 6. Considering some of the long, meandering 6-parters that have been given full runs in the past, this is saying something- to quote Jonathan Winters' character from ‘It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,’ it’s “ it was extra special stupid, or something.” It’s a complete tragedy that until the relatively recent discovery of Tomb of the Cybermen, this was the first completely intact Troughton serial in existence, and thus many people’s introduction to his era.

Poor people.

Great moments:
The Doctor playing dumb in his testing. The sniper shot and exploding Quark. And yeah, the death of the Dominators, shouting “Obey!” See? Even the most wretched of serials are not bereft of great moments (well, okay, except for Galaxy 4)- that’s why we love this show!

Between the Dulkis Dullards and the absurd costumes, this piece of garbage rates 0 out of 5 Bickering Dominators (what, did you think I’d go with Quarks?). That’s right! 0! Nothing! Nada! Zip! Worthless and bereft of any value! YOU LOSE!!! GOOD DAY, SIR!!!!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Series 5 Overview

Opening with a bang via Tomb of the Cybermen, this season is quite possibly the worst of the worst when it comes to episodes lost, existing almost entirely in fragmentary form. The ending ‘hump’ is nearly impossible to muscle through even for the most dedicated and fanatical of reviewers... which I am... and it’s hard to review the merits and pitfalls of the season divorced from that- an overview of the season as it would have aired originally requires a level of objectivity and forgetfulness that I simply can’t muster- so I may be unfairly hard on this series simply due to its ravaging in the archives and incomplete status.

That said, this is a strong series in who history, introducing icons such as the Yeti and the Ice Warriors, giving the Cybermen their rise to prominence as main adversaries to replace the Daleks, giving us the first direct sequel, immortalizing the tradition of female companions being screamers... Jamie is along for the entire season, continuing his marathon run, and Victoria for most of it. And while stories trend towards the exact same plot repeatedly (a remote base of humans besieged by alien invaders), it also contained some great and unique things- Enemy of the World’s dual role and unique villain, the Yeti and their unfathomable master, the creepy horror of Fury From The Deep... overall, it was both a good year for the Doctor, and the cementing of a cliché that stuck around far too long.

Of 40 individual episodes, 21 are missing- just over half, though it feels like far more. This will hardly go down in legend as the best series of Doctor Who... but it had its moments, and would have held its own, I think, had more of it survived.

For this season, the 2nd Doctor's catchphrase was more or less a slightly panicked "Oh, no!" The Doctor was a bit panicky-seeming at times because he kept ending up in situations out of his league, with circumstances out of control... or he attempted to fix things, but didn't get it quite right and made things worse. He was funny and fallible, not the perfect god-like Titan of the new series, a legend built unto himself, but one man trying to make a difference and sometimes bungling it. Just like last series, this encapsulates the character of the Second Doctor, and why we love him, perfectly.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Doctor Who: The Wheel in Space

Serial Title: The Wheel in Space

Series: 5
Episodes: 6
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury)


The TARDIS is perhaps as despondent as Jamie at the departure of Victoria, and those cursed fluid links (for reals this time, not just an excuse to go and explore Skarro) overheat, boiling poisonous mercury fumes into the air. The Doctor and Jamie are forced to evacuate, yanking the crucial Time Vector Generator on their way out- reducing the TARDIS' ability to access the alternate dimension that is its interior, and rendering it on the inside what it is on the outside- an ordinary police box. Wow! Talk about your slam-bang opening!

Searching for replacement mercury, the Doctor and Jamie explore the seemingly abandoned spaceship, The Silver Carrier, that they’ve materialized in- but the Doctor soon gets into a battle with an inexplicably hostile (no, there’s honestly never any explanation given) porter robot, and in defeating it, is also knocked out cold. Jamie discovers nothing but a strange pair of large white spheres before rushing back to the unconscious Doctor’s side.

Meanwhile, on the Wheel, a human space station out on the frontier used as the spatial equivalent of an airport Traffic Control Tower, the derelict ship is detected. Like the unusually high number of meteor bombardments of late, it’s bound directly for the Wheel. Jarvis Bennet, the commander, prepares to blast it out of existence with the primary laser to prevent a deadly collision rather than risking a rendezvous to bring the potentially erratic unmanned ship under control. He is also distracted by sudden, strange drops in pressure in compartments around the outer hull that just as suddenly repair themselves.

At the last moment, Jamie uses the Time Vector Generator to signal the Wheel like a beacon, and the destruction of the ship is averted... but perhaps it shouldn't have been, as the two large white pods that Jamie discovered earlier open shortly after the rescue party departs, revealing... a pair of Cybermen! Hey, they cheated again! This isn’t called 'Wheel of the Cybermen,' or even the slightly clunkier 'Wheel in Space of the Cybermen!' This would’ve been a great Moonbase-esque surprise... if the Fury from the Deep copy we viewed hadn’t had a vintage “Next Week” spoiler-filled trailer attached to the end. Ah, well. Speaking of being extremely similar to the Moonbase, let’s get back to the plot...

On the station, the unconscious Doctor is taken to sick bay, and Jamie meets Zoe Herriot, the para-psychology librarian (I’ve heard of specialized fields of work, but that’s ridiculous! Has psychology grown large enough in the vague “Near Future” [What, AGAIN?!??! Dates, give me DATES, TIME TRAVEL SHOW!!!!] 21st century that it requires its own library?) as well as her boss, Doctor Gemma Corwyn. Bennet is suspicious of the new arrivals, believing them to be potential saboteurs. He probably also refuses to shut off the gas-flow, but we are not shown this on-screen.

Unfortunately, Jamie confirms his suspicions by BECOMING a saboteur, sabotaging the main laser just before it can destroy the derelict Silver Carrier, not having time to explain about the TARDIS. The Doctor awakens into an arrest, and is none too pleased- but the Wheel staff have already moved on to deal with another incoming meteor shower, this time having no functional laser to repel it. And they’ll have even less laser once the Cybermats (who tunneled through the hull and resealed it behind them, accounting for the mysterious pressure drops earlier) finish consuming the backup bernalium rods that power it. Once that is complete, the only other source of Bernalium in the area will be the Silver Carrier, brought onto the Wheel like a Trojan horse (Wheelian-horse?)- yes, the entire ongoing meteor crisis has been engineered by the Cybermen to force the Wheel to take aboard the seemingly abandoned spaceship and facilitate their conquest, which they will then use as a stepping-stone to invade Earth.

Crewmen start to die from Cybermat attacks, but Bennet (who is mentally deteriorating from the stress) refuses to acknowledge the danger or believe in the existence of the creatures, or, presumably, to shut off the gas-flow. (Seriously, the guy is a carbon-copy of Robson.) Anyhow- two crew members are dispatched to the Silver Carrier for Bernalium, and quickly fall under Cyber-hypnosis. They sabotage Wheel communications, and bring over a series of crates, containing “Bernalium,” the quotation marks being my clever little way of implying what you’d already guessed (so why am I drawing this out so long?)- they contain Cybermen instead.

The Doctor and Co. manage to destroy the Cybermats with a sonic wave, but the Cybermen are unhindered, repairing the laser (to destroy their own incoming meteorites, as they want to keep the station intact now that they’ve taken it) and preparing to guide in an invasion fleet. Jamie and Zoe spacewalk over to the Silver Carrier to retrieve the Time Vector Generator, while the Cybermen pick off the Wheel crew one by one, including Gemma. Bennet dies in a blaze of ineffective glory, and the Cybermen seem to have won- until the Doctor uses the Time Vector Generator to increase the power of the main laser and blasts the Cyber-invasion ship to atoms with it, ending the invasion threat. The incoming Cyberman platoon is blown out into space, and the few remaining Cybermen are destroyed.

In the aftermath, the Doctor and Jamie return to the TARDIS with the needed mercury, and leave- with a stowaway aboard. Librarian Zoe wants to expand her horizons. While the Doctor is glad to have another companion aboard, he first seeks to warn her of the potential dangers, by way of a re-run of Evil of the Daleks. Zoe, undeterred, wishes to stay.

The Wheel In Space is an odd duck. It's forgettable yet brilliant. Cliched yet compelling. It's a study in contradictions, divided right down the middle.

The opening is brilliant. The fluid link is an excellent callback to "The Daleks." The folding-in TARDIS. The disabled ship with a killer robot servant (prefiguring Girl In The Fireplace quite nicely). The Doctor and Jamie trapped aboard a ship about to be destroyed as a derelict. The Doctor unconscious and Jamie having to make a rash decision to protect the TARDIS. Fantastic stuff! And then...

It becomes 'The Moonbase' again. Cliched Cybermen-taking-over-a-distant-outpost, complete with a visually stunning (some truly awesome looking special effects) Cybermen-army-walking-in-a-hostile-environment shots before they are repulsed away into space at the end. Plus, an overly cliched paranoid commander. While he's not another 'Gaston/Zentos/Tor' (that role's reserved for upstart second-in-commands), he's a character that's become the epitome of 'stock character' on Doctor Who- last seen in THE VERY PRECEEDING SERIAL, Fury from the Deep. He's Robson, with shades of Bragen (Power of the Daleks) Leader Clent (Ice Warriors), and even a tinge of Moonbase and Macra Terror's commanders, as well. The unreasonable, paranoid commander is becoming overdone quickly enough, but to use him two serials in a row, in a plot derivative of the last major Cybermen story? That this tale was a quickly-drafted replacement (for an intended Cyberman/Dalek war, the likes of which we wouldn't see until the New Series' "Doomsday," kiboshed by Terry Nation's ongoing Daleks-pouting) is rather obvious... and yet the first half is so GOOD- tense and exciting and engaging! It's hard to judge this one. Let's look at the particulars...

Like...who is this guy? Exactly.
The characters, I found to be largely forgettable. The commander is an incompetent paranoid, the counselor/second-in-command a competent and likable character who sacrifices herself, the rest of the bridge crew forgettable, and the remainder of the Wheel staff idiotic.

It’s the Cybermen who thrive here- from creepy visual moments (ranging from their emergence to their repulsion into space), to a great showdown with the Doctor (and its cheer-out-loud conclusion)... the Cyber-controller has a cool, creepy look despite having that “Bzzta grffa nzzt dzzt tzzt” indecipherably buzzy Cyberman voice from previous series- thankfully, the walkabout models have a voice more similar to the Daleks than anything... while the Tenth Planet original Cybermen voice is still missed, this one is still a vast improvement, rendering the Cybermen largely comprehensible.

This is also the introduction of Zoe... she seems to have inherited the mannerisms of Dodo (and somewhat of Susan as well), as they behave remarkably similarly- the character hook of a cold computer, a walking database of facts who want to come into contact with her human emotions (an arc exploited to great success with Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, among others), is an interesting one- I look forward to seeing how it plays out. However, like the Vulcans from the series Enterprise, various android foes, and even the Cybermen themselves, Zoe shows a lot of emotion from a supposed 'cold computer'- curiosity, arrogance, impatience, smugness, etc.- that the analysis of her as an unfeeling computer seems artificial and arbitrary. As with most sci-fi shows, emotion is associated with positive emotions- happiness, cheerfulness, etc.- and social behavior, rather than actual emotion; if you don’t behave with happiness or interact socially without stiffness, sci-fi will label you “emotionless” as a stand-in for “Not showcasing the emotions that I prefer people to display around me.” Anyhow... as I said, I look forward to seeing her development as a companion.

(Note from Andrew, 3 months later: In retrospect, I see I was wrong about Zoe’s character. She was poorly described as 'all brains, no emotion' in this serial, which set up my expectations incorrectly. Instead, the character of Zoe is, as I understand it, all brains but no maturity. Like a child, she is very impulse-driven and naive, simply doing what she wants to do or thinks would be fun without considering the consequences- very intelligent, but lacking in ‘real world smarts’ to a degree that puts her on the same level as an 8-year-old. Based on this, her portrayal past this initial source is good, and fairly consistent- even amusing- giving the Doctor a very parental role even more so than the witty-and-canny-but-ignorant-of-technology-and-alien-societies Jamie. However, I did not come to understand this for another 3 or 4 serials... so you will see my mounting frustration and annoyance with Zoe’s portrayal failing to live up to the premise- "intelligent but unemotional, wanting to become more human despite being initially robot-like" as I understood it in this serial... only in retrospect and hindsight, as of ‘The Krotons,’ do I finally come to understand her character. Thus, if you watch these serials with this understanding, you will likely find her far less frustrating than I describe in subsequent blogs.)

Jamie is good in this serial- very human, if a bit technologically inconsistent in his understanding (sometimes knowing more than he should, other times being completely ignorant). He’s placed into difficult situations, forced to improvise, and makes some rash and foolish choices, but only out of good will. He also gives the Doctor his John Smith pseudonym for the first time, though it doesn’t have the origin you’d suspect it would... regardless, Jamie is at his most human and most 'real' to date in this serial- flawed, but trying hard to do the right thing, and very likable.

The Doctor... well, save for an awesome showdown with the Cybermen, and what may or may not be an excellent fight with a hostile service droid (curse you, lost episodes!!!), he doesn’t have all that much to do. There’s also an Hartnel-style actor-takes-a-vacation disability for the Doctor in this one- if only they could be a bit less obvious.

Cybermats are back- goofy looking, but deadly effective nonetheless... perhaps more fearsome to the characters than to us, but pretty effective where they’re used. Is this their swan song? I hope so... (Note from Andrew, one year later: Actually, now a-days, I have quite a fondness for the little buggers, and cheered their re-introduction in the New Series' "Closing Time." However, this is their swan song for about 7 years. And I really must stop crossing my own time-stream in this blog...!)

The space walk scenes are pretty cool- sure, they’re clearly hanging from wires in gravity... but hey, they’re trying. The Cyber-beams continue to have tracking issues as they move from forehead to forehead, but also look cool. The smoke used to give atmosphere to the space scenes is pretty cool, lending the effects shots a class beyond their means. The only real effects failure... save for the truly bizarre, seizure-inducing repulsion at the end (which itself follows the so-eerie-and-cool-we’ll-ignore-that-it’s-ridiculous Moonbase-ripoff spacewalking scene) is the meteors... described as 'meteorites of all shapes and sizes', they are all spherical, of roughly the same size, spin rapidly, and move uniformly. Uhhh... oops.

Effects failures and character issues aside, this story is a cause for celebration- it’s the end of ‘The Hump’ and the final episode of Series 5- Series 6 begins a nice, straight stretch of pure, beautifully varied, gloriously mobile VIDEO episodes... if you discount the Invasion’s missing parts (due to the official animated reconstructions), then only one serial with missing episodes remains from here on out. The sense of accomplishment and euphoric relief, having conquered this hump and emerging into episode 6 of this serial, the first of a new video dynasty, after the seemingly-eternal reign of the reconstructions, cannot be overstated, or even adequately conveyed, to anyone that hasn’t experienced it for themselves... my friends, we have conquered the mountains, and the valley lies before us at last! Hurrah!!! After nearly 10 straight hours of still images, we have Troughton in motion before us!

The reconstruction, meanwhile (episodes 3 and 6 survive... I’d rather have had 1 and 6- from the TARDIS collapse to the robot battle, an intact Episode 1 would have been SO awesome) was decent- we went with a youtube fan version (having come to distrust the mishmash our Hard Drive collection offered us completely by now) that had relatively sharp photos and a few video bits (Troughton stories are great for this- between repeated FX shots, and lipless villains like Cybermen, the Great-Intelligence-behind-a-curtain, etc., there is a lot of footage that can be played over existing audio and look like it belongs there... and this one went the extra step and mirrored a Cyberman-conversing-with-hypnotised-victim shot, making it still look different from the repeat when the shot was re-seen in the Episode 6 video, a nice above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty touch that, as an editor, I greatly appreciated), and most significantly, narration by the actress who played Zoe. We’ve found that we prefer the narration versions to captions by a long shot, and this one didn’t disappoint- maybe not as stunning as some of the Loose Canon works of the past, but nonetheless, as a note to go out on, it was one of the better Troughton reconstructions we’ve seen.

Jamie, CLEARLY wearing Luke Skywalker's
flight suit from the Empire Strikes Back
So, while the cliched and frustrating stock second half does much to tarnish the good impression left by the originality and suspense of the first half, I’d say that the character of Zoe- with myriad possibilities to be explored- and incredibly strong showing for Jamie, and some cool, atmospheric and stylish visuals tip the balance to positive on this one in the end despite a weaker showing for the Doctor... and most other characters as well. It wasn’t the best of the best, but it was cool and slick, and I liked it. (That’s what she... never mind.)

Great moments:
The whole first chapter- the TARDIS folding in on itself, the trapped-ship drama, etc. - plus the Cybermen spacewalking at the end, and the spacesuit bit.

Like who is this guy even....??? Exactly.
Overall Rating for this story is 3.5 out of 5 Elec- no, make that Instant Plasitc-Encased Cybermats – this story had more positive points vs. negative than nearly any I can remember- Weak Doctor vs. Strong Jamie, intriguing Zoe vs. annoying commander, clichéd story end vs. unique story beginning, forgettable characters vs. cool atmospheric visuals... it was a real back-and-forth with SO MANY good elements, and so many bad... in the end, it ends up on the positive side of the scale.

The reconstruction gets 5 out of 5 Instant Plastic-Encased Cybermats for the little touches- like that mirrored shot- that were clearly put in to keep it fresh. As a ‘final’ (save for one more late in the season), it was a refreshing labor of love. And unlike the more technically ambitious Web of Fear reconstruction referenced recently, it’s smooth and polished, emphasizing the story instead of distracting from it- making its simpler approach far more effective, despite a lack of digital manipulation or compositing flair.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Doctor Who: Fury from the Deep

Serial Title: Fury from the Deep
Series: 5
Episodes: 6
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling)


Landing in the ocean just off the shore of England, The TARDIS crew paddle to shore in a dinghy and discover that the trick of modern-day arrival in England that had eluded the First Doctor, Ian, and Barbara for so long is now becoming rather common-place, for they’ve reached England in contemporary 1968. (No complaints from me- I much prefer this to “the near future!”) No sooner do they investigate a beach-spanning sea-pumping pipe (the Doctor producing a device which he calls a “Sonic Screwdriver” to undo the cover and get a look inside) which is giving off odd noises, and the strange and abundant foam surrounding it, then they are shot by a sniper. Fortunately, the security man for the pipeline company, their assailant, was only using tranquilizer darts, and they soon awaken as captives in the Euro Sea Gas (ESGO) refinery. Chief Robson, head of the refinery, is a paranoid and obsessed man who blames the TARDIS crew, seen tampering with the pipeline, for mysterious drops in pressure that have been plaguing the pipeline system of late, while second-in-command Harris is far less suspicious, informing the group that ESGO's lost contact with one of their sea rigs, as well. When the Doctor notes that it sounded as if something was moving within the pipes, his observation is dismissed as fanciful. Moreover, Robson is obsessed with productivity, and would not allow production to be halted, even to investigate. Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow.

Communication with the rig is briefly re-established, with the man on the other hand whispering only, and then going still. The Doctor suspects foul play, and Harris offers to show gathered evidence that the pipelines DO indeed need to be shut down for investigation. He dispatches his wife Maggie to find it, but when she does, a piece of venomous seaweed has been inserted inside the manilla folder, and stings her. After she tosses it outside, it begins to foam and bubble. Maggie, meanwhile, becomes quite ill.

Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow.

The TARDIS trio manage to break out of their cell, and overhear Baxter, a control rig chief, also opining that there is something in the pipes- and it makes a sound like a heart-beat. The men dispatch Victoria back to the safety of their cell as they explore, but she goes to explore on her own, instead. She ends up in the oxygen storeroom, where a saboteur is trying to empty all of the tanks. The mysterious figure locks her in and opens the vents... through which pour copious amounts of seaweed and foam (Note from Sarah: of the more edge of your seat moments ever. Pretty intense.), pulsing and moving- the Doctor and Jamie are barely able to release her in time, and when the crew come to investigate, the weed and foam are gone.

Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow.

 Harris takes the Doctor home to look at his sick wife. Meanwhile, she has other visitors- Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill, a pair of ‘maintenance men’ that look the harmless part- a tall, thin leader and a short, fat, bumbling assistant- until they open their mouths in a fearsome silent scream that drops Maggie to her knees. (Note from Sarah: AND of the scariest scariest moments in Doctor WHO EVER! This sequence is the first time that I have gotten why the phrase "Behind the sofa" has accompanied Doctor Who since it began. I am the one who puts the pictures in, and my stomach had a horrible thrill of terror when I had to upload even just the picture!)
I don't even want to type under this, it's too much like touching it.

Their wrists are covered, intertwined with, or possibly even made of seaweed. They slip out the back just as the Doctor and Co. arrive. Back in central control, Robson manages to solve a pressure crisis, and Van Lutyens, a consultant, tries to convince him yet again to close down pumping to investigate the ongoing malfunctions. The impeller stops, and the heartbeat sounds.

Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow.

Using a sample of the weed, the Doctor discovers that it gives off a toxic gas, and appears to be alive. It also starts overflowing the container they have- it grows rapidly. Back in central, Robson begins to spiral out of control, raging against his technicians when equipment breaks down, and Harris, Van Lutyens, and others begin to realize they may have to take control. Before they can, Harris is distracted by a crisis- his home is now full to bursting with weed and foam, and his wife is nowhere to be found! She is, in point of fact, standing on the beach, talking with Robson- or, both of their bodies are. Under the control of the weed, she walks directly into the sea.

Victoria finds herself longing more and more for normalcy and peace as the group waits in suspense for the weed’s next move. Van Lutyens, meanwhile, descends into the impeller shaft to investigate- he finds it full of weed and foam, but is unable to report his findings as the creature consumes him. Jamie and the Doctor follow in containment suits to ascertain his whereabouts, and barely escape in time. (An escape not aided by Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill secretly operating- or, more accurately, failing to operate, the lift platform to get them out.)

Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow.

See? He even LOOKS like the type who wouldn't stop the gas-flow.
As Robson spirals into incoherency, the Doctor catches the ear of his eminently (perhaps over-) reasonable boss, Megan Jones. She is willing to listen to his discoveries about the weed- as the heartbeat noise rises, and the weed creature begins to rise through the transparent sections of the pipe in the base, instigating a full invasion- the group can do little more than watch it shuffle through, deeper into the base. All of the rigs have fallen out of contact, the beachhead of the invasion.

The Doctor realizes that Robson is under the control of the weed, and also that pure oxygen is toxic to it. Robson is contained, but soon breaks free with an attack of the toxic gas from the weed entwining his body. (NFS: See? Maybe he WOULD have stopped the gas-flow but he couldn't because he was posessed??? Or wait...did he get possessed after he was being a jerk and not stopping the gas-flow?) Meanwhile, Oak and Quill are discovered as saboteurs, and seem to be incapacitated during a fight by the sound of Victoria’s scream.

Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow (Not that anyone asks him about it, nor is there any mention of it at this point in the story, but I am certain that he still wouldn’t, on principle).

The weed breaks through the pipe and begins to overrun the base, as Victoria is kidnapped by Robson and ferried out to the rigs via helicopter. He calls the Doctor by radio, ordering him to come alone if he wants to save Victoria. The Doctor and Jamie set out for the rig... which is flooded with foam. There, a weed-wrapped Robson refuses to stop the ga... I mean, confronts them and tries to take the Doctor as another mind-controlled slave, but he is disabled by Victoria’s scream, and the three escape. The Doctor tries to fly Robson’s helicopter back to the mainland, putting the group in more peril than they were in on the platform, but eventually is talked down into a safe landing. Meanwhile, as per public opinion poll, it is widely believed by all that, had he still been back at the base, Robson would have refused to stop the gas-flow.

The base is now under full siege from the weed, but the Doctor fights back with one of the most infamous improvised weapons in the show’s long history- the intercom system, a volume amplifier, and Victoria wielding a microphone. Her (embarrassed at first and then earnest as the weed enters the central control room itself, a flailing monstrosity of limbs and tentacles within the foam) screams drive back the creature, and it retreats into the deep. Robson and Maggie radio from the rig, having been safely released from the creature’s control. The day is saved. All is well in the refinery. (Note from Sarah: If they did a Doctor Who Lego video game, Victoria would have to have scream powers like Willie Scott in the Indy one. :-D)

But all is not well in Victoria’s troubled soul. She yearns for peace and a normal life, tired of flitting from crisis to crisis. The Harris’ host the TARDIS crew for dinner, and after the meal, Victoria takes the Doctor aside and expresses her desire to stay with them. Though saddened, the Doctor wishes her well. Jamie is devastated, but come morning, the two TARDIS Travelers depart while Victoria waves from shore, home and with a family once again.

Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow.


Fury From The Deep is two parts cliché (irrational, angry, paranoid leader in isolated outpost being attacked by monsters... that’s practically the basic synopsis of 70% of Troughton’s stories thus far) and one part horror- fortunately for the story, though, the horror is effective enough that the cliché can be overlooked. Creepy moments like the frightening (and originally censored) open-mouthed silent-scream hypnotism, or the base besieged at the end as the seaweed menace crawls up through the transparent pipes, are well done and numerous, offsetting not only the clichés, but the existence of a monster portrayed partially through soap suds. Make no mistake, however- this monster is no pushover and no joke... though its method of defeat is.

Yes, this is the infamous serial in which a female companion’s screams are actually instrumental in defeating the monster. Words fail me. Just... wrap your head around that.

The story also features yet another obnoxious, obsessed, unreasonable commander- this one to the extent that I think any future incarnations of this archetype ought to be referred to as ‘The Robson.’

“Yes, I know that three babies, the secret of life, and the disarm button for the world’s accidentally-activated nuclear arsenal have fallen into the pipeline... but DON’T SHUT DOWN THE GAS FLOW!!!! I’ve got a perfect record, the gas has never been turned off! Don’t you DARE turn off the gasflow! I will kill your wife and children if you turn off the gasflow! The gasflow IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN LIFE!!!! YEEEEAAAARRRRRRGGGGG!”

And yeah, that last bit was the Howard Dean scream. He’s that manic and insane, I swear.

Still, everything to this point probably makes it sounds like I consider it an eye-rolling, silly story, right? No, not at all. It has its goofy elements, but, as mentioned in the intro, it has a lot going for it, too. A very fun helicopter piloting sequence (and a fantastic payoff to the Doctor’s helicopter interest in Enemy of the World) that would have been a blast to see in video, the very first appearance of the sonic screwdriver (used here to... unscrew screws! Astounding! Possibly the only time it was actually used to do so!), in this incarnation a small penlight-like device, plus the first truly motivated-feeling companion departure. (Note from Sarah: I believe when he pulled the sonic out we all kind of gasped and then rewound it just to make sure...yeah...we're those people.)

That latter is Victoria. She has some great moments here, from her attack in the Co2 room (featuring a fantastic gimmick- her screams, from the central ventilation room, carry through all the air ducts, making determining the direction of their source nearly impossible- leaving the others to frantically search for her as her attacker advances implacably) to her very real and genuine feeling of embarrassment at being asked to scream on cue (“I can’t do it! I can’t just... scream!”) And in this case, her departure is prefigured all throughout the serial, as she laments the constant danger never seeming to end with the Doctor, wishes for a quieter life, and moves close to a breakdown in the high-stress life of a companion. Okay, so this is only built up through one serial, and not through several, as would be ideal. Still... it’s a far site better than Ian and Barbara’s motivation (getting home- forgotten about for two seasons, then suddenly reappearing as if we were seeing Marco Polo-era Ian and Barbara in the last five minutes of The Chase), Vicki’s (sweet but sudden), Steven (instantaneous with no motivation whatsoever- and so abrupt and unbelievable as to leave you dizzy), or Ben and Polly’s (sudden opportunity just seized with no inkling of its coming, much like Ian and Barbara). Not to mention Susan and Dodo, who had no choice in the matter! For once, a companion’s departure is prefigured, prepared, motivated, decided on, agonized over, and given its fair due as the real motivations of a real person. This is unique thus far, and a quick glimpse ahead suggests it’ll be unique for the entire black and white era- neither Jamie, nor Zoe, nor even 4th-Doctor companion Sarah Jane will have any such lead-up, either. I’d find out if the 3rd Doctor companions like Jo Grant do... but I’d like to keep some surprises in store for myself, thanks.

Jamie and the Doctor... well... it’s funny, because I have written in my outline notes “strength of jamie and doctor’s roles?” At present, the question mark seems more than appropriate, because not much about their actions really stands out to me aside from the aforementioned helicopter scene, the insertion into the offshore platform, and a great early comedy bit about escape attempts in which the Doctor and Jamie are trying to climb through one of those 50s-detective-office ‘narrow horizontal window above the door’ frames while Victoria insists on picking the lock with a hairpin... culminating in much difficulty, bruising, and a quick haul-back-in on Jamie’s part that leaves him stuck, dangling halfway out as a pair of oblivious potential observes pass by down below- a position he’s still in when Victoria walks out the now-unlocked door replacing her hairpin. Still, it’s not all humor for Jamie- Frazer Hines always said that he played Jamie as if Jamie had fallen in love with Victoria- his inconsolable nature at the end of Fury from the Deep is all the more piteous because of it.

Maggie, the cliché's wife.
The villain of the piece, alternately foam and seaweed, is not wholly menacing- save for some excellent and cool puppeteering work in the final chapter- but it takes a backseat to its seaweed-wrapped, hypnotized human minions, who are truly eerie and grotesque with the aforementioned silent scream. When the sympathetic scientist’s wife joined their legions and walked calmly into the sea, I was genuinely afraid of a modern-Who body count- but fortunately a happy ending prevailed with husband and wife reunited. (Note from Sarah: On and interesting note, I was perusing another blog that was reviewing this same Serial and he/she made notation that Harris and Maggie are the first ever married couple in Doctor Who....I don't remember enough to back this up though.)

The other characters fell into the standard who cliché roles associated with a Robson; the helpful, Doctor-aiding underling, the superior or peer who is still on the Robson’s side but acts as conscience, trying to talk sense into him, until the end, and the eventual overriding and eminently reasonable superior who also heeds the Doctor, at long last silencing the Robson’s ravings. In this case, it simply all plays out with the literal trope-naming Robson. And all the rest are, of course, cardboard cutouts. From Moonbase to Enemy of the World to Ice Warriors, when is Who going to learn that we don’t want to be introduced to the entire operations staff of a lonely facility and won’t invest in learning their individual foibles and quirks- we’ll only care if there are three or less people to track. Any more, and it feels like an “Assignment: Earth” style backdoor pilot attempt (A Star Trek reference, if that wasn’t obvious) to launch a new show or something, since a cast of supporting characters that big exist either to die off, or to have a new show dedicated to them. Yet, once again, we’re introduced here to a half-dozen command-staff officers and their irritable commander... and thus end up only focusing on the irritable commander and the two most dominant personalities among the supporting, with all of the others blending into the background.

Was that a rant? Weird. No idea where that came from. I must have unresolved issues...

The censor clips really are crucial to this episode. Almost all of them are not gory or violent, but grotesque by implication or ‘vibe.’ I’m reminded of an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway, in which Colin Mocherie coined the term “Futbucket” as an example of a word that sounds disgusting or obscene, but is simply a nonsense word that means nothing and is related to nothing. It just gives off that feel. Similarly, thrashing foam, creepy wide-eyed, open-mouthed stares and screams, a technician being carried away by the foam... none of these are truly grotesque, or even disturbing for any definable reason- but they disturb anyway, and their copious placement helps to not only give us a good sense of context and action in amongst the reconstruction stills (with the reconstruction, voiced by Deborah Watling, who plays Victoria, being relatively unremarkable otherwise), but also works to unsettle the viewer and accentuate the horrific aspects of the horror/suspense story, as the attention-grabbing video portions are also the most disturbing images- video horror interspersed at random, like a slow-motion jump scare, into the tense-but-tranquil slideshow, these clips of creepy, disturbing, or vaguely grotesque imagery pop out and go “Boo!” at all the right moments, making the serial almost more effective than if the whole thing was video. Now if only we had that sequence with the seaweed coming up the transparent pipe as everyone stands by helplessly to do anything about it...

And that’s it in a nutshell; the irritating banality of the base-under-siege cliché that practically epitomizes the second Doctor’s era juxtaposed with the surprisingly effective and disturbing horror-show imagery to create something neither rote and repetitive, nor Lovecraftian and terrifying- but something in the middle... entirely better than it deserves to be from its repetitious base-under-attack plotline, but entirely too bogged down by that self-same “Been there, done that”-ness to reach the true horror and tension levels that its effectively cinematographed invasion scenes deserve. It’s the slow, lurking kind of horror, like the original Alien movie, or the motion-detector sequences in the superior sequel Aliens- that of knowing that the menace is there, outside, somewhere... that it WILL get in, that it’s only a matter of time, that fools all about you don’t see the danger, and that it’s coming... coming... for you.

Great moments:

So, SO many. The screams. The seaweed attack. The seaweed through the transparent pipe. Victoria’s echoes of jeopardy. Sonic screwdriver! Non-traditional TARDIS landing. Victoria's forced scream performance-anxiety bit. The helicopter escape. The escaping-the-store-room gag. Yes, there’s a lot of mediocrity surrounding these gems, but...


The actual faces we were making while watching this serial.
...The balance falls slightly to the positive for those effective horror moments, rendering 3 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats for the Frankenstein monster of retread and inspiration that is Fury from the Deep, and the competent but by-the-numbers fan Youtube reconstructions scores the same. It’s not as skippable as the accusations of banality would seem to imply, but to get to the truly excellent 5 out of 5 content within, you have to suffer through a lot of overly-familiar, seen it before, utterly aggravating Robson 0 out of 5 content. Perhaps watching the first chapter, then skipping to #4-onwards, would be the best technique (were it not for the fact that great moments are likely studded all throughout 2 and 3 as well). If the two halves could be distilled, the horror half would rank among the Second Doctor’s- and B&W Who’s- best, while the other half could be as lost as this entire serial is, and no one would shed a tear. But as the two are inseperably mixed, do yourself a favor and track down this reconstruction; you won't be sorry you did!