Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death

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

The Moon, in the LATE 21st CENTURY- STOP THAT!!!- the Moonbase (not the Moonbase from “The Moonbase,” though perhaps its forerunner?) This lonely outpost is the coordinating and relay system for T-Mat, the global teleporter system that we saw being pioneered in The Dalek Master Plan. (Possibly). A ship docks, and from it emerge a combat squad of Ice Warriors, who take over the base! Heroic leader Osgood sabotages the controls, preventing them from taking T-Mat, and they kill him for it. Cowardly Fewsham values his life above all else, however, and gets to work on invalidating his superior’s (in every sense of the word) sacrifice by repairing the controls in exchange for an extended lifespan.

When Earth control loses contact, Commander Radnor, head of T-Mat, and his assistant, Controller Gia Kelly, become concerned. After some attempts to rectify things for the globally crucial Moonbase, they hit upon a crazy idea- seek out Professor Eldred, an eccentric old scientist who has always opposed the T-Mat project and instead heralds an outmoded and abandoned form of transportation: rockets. Perhaps he can design one to shoot them to the moon to go and repair the base? However, when they arrive, Eldred is already entertaining visitors: The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe, who have just materialized in his museum. In the ensuing conversation, we learn that Eldred has already been building a rocket for himself, and the Doctor convinces them to put he and his companions as the crew- along with Eldred, who is needed on Earth, he is one of the few people in this futuristic world to understand the operation of rockets.

The Rocket launches as Earth’s cities begin to experience critical shortages. The T-Mat is briefly repaired by Fewsham, and Controller Kelly takes a team up to the Moonbase just before the system goes down again. Meanwhile, Phipps, one of Fewsham’s coworkers who refused to aid the Ice Warriors, has escaped, and takes down one of the Ice Warriors with a solar energy trap, a power cell rigged to vaporize the alien. Kelly escapes her new Ice Warrior captors and meets up with Phipps, as do Zoe and Jamie, upon arrival- however, the Doctor is captured and exposed to the poisonous gas of a ‘seed’, one of which is T-Matted down to London control; these are the Ice Warrior’s invasion tools, which will spread a fungus which depletes oxygen- killing humans and terraforming Earth to be more like their native Mars. The seed is followed by an Ice Warrior, who assaults the Weather Control Bureau and takes control of it.

Fewsham is order to T-Mat the Doctor into space, but secretly transports him elsewhere within the base, instead. Then, the T-mat breaks again, for some reason. With the unconscious Doctor safe, the TARDIS group, Kelly, and Phipps decide to attack the Ice Warriors by turning up the heating. On a mission to the control room, Phipps is killed (poor guy), and Fewsham musters enough backbone to delay an Ice Warrior and allow Zoe’s escape. He then repairs the T-Mat again, and, while the Ice Warriors are incapacitated by the heat, sends all of the survivors back to London- but stays behind, knowing the consequences of his traitorous actions await him back on Earth. Instead, once the Ice Warriors get the heat down, he activates a video link and allows everyone on the planet to hear the Ice Warrior’s plans: They plan to use the Moonbase to transmit a signal to guide in their invasion fleet. Once this trick is discovered, Fewsham is killed.

The recovered Doctor discovers that fungus can be destroyed by water- the teraforming can be halted if they make it rain. Zoe and Jamie set out on their own for the Weather Control Bureau, and when the Doctor learns that they’ve gone, and that it is where the Ice Warrior is, he runs off to their rescue. Though locked outside with growing poisonous fumes (while a murderous Ice Warrior chases Zoe and Jamie inside), he manages to get inside soon enough to lead the Ice Warrior on a chase and eventually replicate Phipps’ solar energy weapon, destroying the warrior.

A plan to launch a satellite to serve as a new temporary T-Mat hub is co-opted into converting the satellite into a beacon, replicating the Ice Warriors’, to lead their fleet astray. The beacon is launched, though drowned out by its real Moonbase counterpart. The Doctor, a portable rigged version of the solar weapon in hand (and draped over his back and shoulders in a messy tangle of cables and wires), T-Mats up to the Moonbase to disable the real beacon. After dispatching several ice Warriors, he attempts to do just that, the steady, rhythmic beeping signaling impending doom- but the Ice Warriors thwart his attempts before he can succeed. The arriving fleet hails Slaar, the Ice Warrior leader (Yeah, now I give you his name, at the END of the synopsis)... cursing his name, as his beacon has led them all to fly into the sun! A triumphant Doctor reveals that while he couldn’t shut off the beacon, he did disconnect it from the Moonbase transmitting antenna- the slow, rhythmic beeping of the functioning beacon that they can hear can only be heard in that room, leaving the airwaves outside free for the decoy beacon to lead the fleet astray. As his explanation finishes, Jamie T-Mats up to follow the Doctor and dispatches the remaining Ice Warriors, and the invasion is ended.

The Seeds of Death is a variation on the Invasion-of-an-isolated-base theme, even returning to the moon as a location, but it is a very fresh and original take on the notion- as the story starts, the invasion has already occurred, and our heroes have to reach the base and besiege it themselves in order to take it back. There’s a man in hiding that you're rooting for, interesting characters on the ground, a weaselly little traitor who you're just begging to receive his comeuppance, and a rocket trip to boot! This one has it all!

It starts with a very cool opening graphic- the flare of the sun being eclipsed by the surface of the moon, with the camera then emerging on the other side of the moon to see the Earth hanging into space. To keep things moving, each of the 6 episodes alternates mirroring the same shot, adding variety to an already impressive graphic- each also ends up either moving behind the moon to focus on the Earth, or moving behind the Earth to focus on the moon- depending on where the story is taking place.

The Ice Warriors make their grand return- just as obnoxiously cruel as before, but at least a bit more interesting this time- goofy and lumpy save for their leader, who sports a more streamlined design with some great face makeup. (And their supreme leader, who sports a Michael Jackson styling). Their annoying, scratchy, hissy voices are at least a break from the standard flanging voices of the Cybermen and Daleks (Old Who had a talent for vocal variety) and, though somewhat grating, are a memorable trait for the warrior race. Their compression-ray weapon effect, while sometimes slightly off-center and missing the mark, is visually striking and very unique- I'd love to see a New Series update in which (like the Dalek rays) the effect happens only to the individual and not the whole shot- that would be the height of absolutely awesome. Combined with a unique weapon sound, it conspires to make the Ice Warriors an incredibly memorable race- unlike their first appearance, this one was probably the one that cemented them as a fan favorite in the Doctor's rogues gallery- though hopefully future appearances will be a little less noxious. Even so, some great moments- like the Ice Warrior silhouetted against the sun, advancing menacingly- or the fantastic cliffhanger in which one advances menacingly on Zoe, herself a silhouette (holy cow, what a cliffhanger that was!)- definitely leave a striking impression on the memory. Likewise for the solar energy beam trap that dispatches several Ice Warriors- the classic Who photo-negative combined with some excellent and effective editing (I can't imagine how much of a pain that must've been to edit in the non-digital film-splicing era!) making for an excellent payoff death-scene to culminate a series of tense hunts; the sheer spectacle of it brings a triumphant emotional cap to the respective scenes it climaxes- very, very well done.

Sharing co-villain status in this film is... foam. Errr... didn't we do this already? It feels a little repetitive to Fury from the Deep, but the usage in this one- especially rising in lethal, suffocating waves as the Doctor pounds on the door to the weather control station- as well as the fact that we saw very little of Fury from the Deep in video form- work together to keep the foam menace from feeling stale.

That said, characters are the strength of this serial- from the crotchety old professor who still believes in rocketry (though is absurdly contrary and negative- "Stop handing me the means to realize my dreams on a silver platter, blast it- it'll never work!!!"), the self-sacrificial and heroic moon base leader, who sabotages the controls and then smugly turns to inform the Ice Warriors that they've blown a circuit- knowing full well he is likely about to be killed for his actions in protecting the Earth, the crew chief and his efficient and no-nonsense second in command, the man left behind (who, for whatever reason in his writing, is kept interesting and a compelling character- as opposed to the standard stock generic crew character- so that you really, truly do care about what happens to him and whether he survives- kudos to the writers!) and even the weaselly little traitor, that pathetic subhuman scum who negates the commander's sacrifice and practically dooms Earth with the plaintive plea of "They would have killed me otherwise!" (Then die, you repulsive scum-! Show some backbone and take it like a man, rather than putting your life above every other person on Earth's.) Still, even the loathsome toad gets some measure of redemption- though his sudden decision to self-sacrifice and clever information transmitting don't begin to make up for his detestable actions, they do offer him some measure of humanity and a chance to rectify his attitude in the end. So, while I can hardly call him a hero in the end- more a traitor whose guilt finally gets the better of him for his heinous crimes- he at least does something heroic in the end.

This story was chosen to represent Troughton’s Doctor on the 40th Anniversary collection… and I can see why! The Doctor is a relatively subdued presence in this one until the last few episodes… but then he becomes a gung-ho action hero- the Doctor running to Zoe and Jamie's rescue was AWESOME, and his action-hero bit on the satellite... well, the Doctor literally blows an Ice Warrior away with his weapons, and directs a battlefleet into the sun- a somewhat more bloodthirsty Doctor than we're used to from the New Series! Still, it's an awesome aspect to his character- a gung-ho, take-charge Doctor on the warpath! Plus we have slapstick (an in the chase), problem-solving, and genius… a lot of all-around character aspects! Some very impressive stuff... oh, how I shall miss this Doctor...

Zoe has a great scene with the map-in-her-head, bringing her smarts to work, and Jamie has some nice comic relief, especially when the Doctor is trying to locate the door controls as an Ice Warrior advances menacingly (a tense and exciting scene, trapped in the weather control station), and Jamie reaches over to try the most prominent- turning off the lights, instead. His sheepish just-trying-to-help response and the Doctor's irritated "No, Jamie!" really made for a great comic relief moment- one gets the impression that the Doctor is tiring slightly of Jamie's technological ignorance. But, as always, his heart's in the right place and he's trying, so all is forgiven.

There are plenty of centerpieces to enjoy- from the aforementioned Doctor action moments to the comic chase scene in the moon base (with some great slapstick moments for the Doctor) to the rocket liftoff… it’s just conceptually really cool. And while the shots of the rocket with the Earth receding behind are perhaps more ambitious than they could actually achieve (the focus is off, and the stars end at a certain point, leaving just empty black surrounding them), they are nice ‘conceptual eye candy.’ The episode-ending Rocket flyby was a pretty good model shot, too. The satellites look good, and the locator signal plan (with the Doctor cutting the previously established moonbase-power to the transmitter, leaving the signal apparently going to those in the control room, but not transmitting beyond) was a clever and exciting story element. They make a game attempt at simulating weightlessness on a budget of $0, too. (Actually, the fact that the apparently low budget of this series- circumvented by re-using the Ice Warrior costumes, and evidenced by the relatively few sets in this serial- allowed for a serial of this scale is impressive. Krotons had to trade costumes for sets, and Dominators apparently had to trade new Quark costumes for being interesting, but this one thrives remarkably well during the restrictions!)

Okay, there were a few flaws- there’s only a single manual control panel without backups for the entire weather-control system of planet Earth? What the heck happened with that beaming-the-Doctor-into-space bit? The T-mat effect is lackluster to say the least (a simple jump cut that usually suffers from lighting fluctuations). The idiot who runs away from cover and out into the open instead of ducking behind said cover when an Ice Warrior points a gun at him. And clearly another actor-vacation as the Doctor is out for a good long while after exposure to the seed pod. But still, these flaws are few and far-between in an otherwise engaging invasion story… which is a surprising rarity amongst the many invasion stories of the Second Doctor’s run.

(Also, while I can’t take credit for noticing this- the wiki pointed it out- the T-mat technology in this episode may well be the same technology system being tested in the Daleks Master Plan, making the Doctor the first T-mat passenger, there at its birth and its re-imagining here…)

While Seeds of Death isn’t the character masterpiece that Krotons was, it’s filled with engaging characters (main and supporting), a strong story, a fine showcase for the Ice Warriors incorporating many unique and memorable elements, and some really nice story twists, effects, and cliffhangers. Plus, the Doctor gets to play action hero. Really, this is one not to miss.

Great moments:
The heroic commander. Rocket launch. Springing the trap on the Ice Warriors. The Zoe cliffhanger. And many more- most especially, the Doctor running to the rescue.

4.5 out of 5 Bickering Dominators for the invasion-done-right story of the Seeds of Death, which, despite a few small shortcomings, manages to entertain, engage, and even surprise- one can only imagine what the teleporter/rocket/model-heavy episode (with supposed globe-spanning invasion) could have been with a modern FX budget to truly capture the scope that its script implies! Even so, what’s there, on a character and personal level, is very, very good- another highly recommended adventure from the Second Doctor’s era, and one of the few high recommendations that can actually be watched in full motion!

Plus, the original title of this serial was “The Lords of the Red Planet,” which is a title so cool that it bestows points on the serial even though it was never used.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Doctor Who: The Krotons

Serial Title: The Krotons
Series: 6
Episodes: 4
Doctor: Patrick Troughton 
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury)

The best and the brightest of the Gonds’ newest graduating class are congratulated by being sent to be with the Krotons, alien visitors from space who benevolently watch over them. Only, unbeknownst to the public at large, the Krotons really just sending them out into the desert and then killing them with acid. The TARDIS lands on this unnamed planet in this unspecified time (it’s getting worse), just in time to save one of this years’ crop, Vana, and reunite her with her boyfriend Thara, who already suspected something was up and tried to prevent her departure.

The Gonds are shocked to find out that their alien visitors are actually their slavemasters, who have been keeping them in servitude by executing their most intelligent pupils every year and keeping the populace dumb. They also control Gond education with machines- which a band of angry Gond youth then begin to smash apart. As they barely escape Kroton retribution, na├»ve Zoe dons one of the teaching helmets to test her intelligence. She scores well- marking her for death. The Doctor quickly dons another headset and scores highly in order to follow her, and the two are forced into the Kroton spacecraft, beyond which lies the acid jets. Before being sent out to their deaths, they are brought into a control chamber, where a mind-draining device awaits them; the Doctor manages to circumvent it, ensuring that they aren’t reduced to vegetables as the soon-to-die Gond students are each year. The bypassed device, which converts mental power into energy, is still able to take sufficient power from their intelligence (far higher than the meager pickings of the Gonds) to carry out a portion of its function- two crystalline Krotons are constituted out of a base-chemical slush, their version of suspended animation.

The reanimated Krotons note that the escaped Zoe and the Doctor were not Gonds (something their auto-computer wasn’t smart enough to recognize) and decide to recapture them, starting by capturing Jamie. Meanwhile, the Gonds engage in some Strife & Politics (I can’t use my acronym because they aren’t villains). They eventually decide on acid, a forbidden branch of learning, as the optimum course of action, with the Doctor’s help. Eelek, the security chief, and Beta, a scientist, spearhead this effort- while Selris, current leader, hesitates and waits. No problem, though, as Eelek gets himself elected new leader. (See? Strife & Politics). Eelek then plans a frontal assault that Selris deems suicide- Selris goes to Beta and formulates a plan to attack support pillars beneath the Kroton ship instead.

The Krotons believe that they destroy the TARDIS, but the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System) preserves it, and Jamie escapes to join his friends. The assault of the Gonds draws a Kroton out, and Eelek sells out the Doctor and Zoe, who the Kroton demands, in exchange for getting the aliens to leave. Selris dives under the closing door to deliver the first completed bottle of acid, and is killed for his troubles. (Eeeek! Leaving that skunk Eelek the leader? Dang, Selris got robbed!)

As the Doctor stalls the Krotons with doublespeak, Zoe pours the acid into the crystal slush tank, poisoning the Krotons, who also use it as a sort of lifeline/air tank. Simultaneously, Jamie and Beta pour great vats onto the Kroton ship from a towering cliff, and it begins to dissolve. The Krotons are defeated (though not destroyed; they apparently can’t be), and Thara (Selris’ son, and Vana’s lover) ascends to the leadership position as Eelek is booted out in disgrace.

The Krotons is possessed of an odd, misshapen narrative structure. The plot is a bit simplistic (Bad guys demand sacrifice- which I totally saw coming- then Doctor and Zoe go inside, then they escape but Jamie is inside- he escapes as the others make a weapon to stop the bad guys, Doctor and Zoe go in again to sabotage, the end)- due to this story being a hastily written replacement for another cancelled story (the real shock, all things considered, being that the wreck known as “The Dominators” WASN’T a hasty replacement, and that it actually SURVIVED cancellation!) For whatever reasons, its sets and costumes remind me of the Underwater Menace and its Atlantean civilization - but the villains have unique, creative, and very cool designs reminiscent of the mysterious and equally cool Tholians premiering around the same time in the US on the original Star Trek. Their outfits and design, with the spinning crystals, are very well-designed and realized- though the bottom, which is clearly just a draped choir robe of some sort, lets the rest down a little bit. (Apparently, this series had budget problems, meaning that, per the Wiki, the producers found “that the budget would simply no longer stretch to the creation of large numbers of convincing alien costumes and environments (or even of much incidental music - hence the dearth of this, particularly in the first few stories).” This is one of the few exceptions, with a wild new alien creature design- which accomplishes this by having very few sets, and very simplistic ones for the sets it does have). So, pluses and minuses. More minuses than pluses. But, we haven’t hit the character bits yet…

The TARDIS crew have a few nice moments- saving the girl from the disintegrator spray, the holding-the-chain mental attack, and the Doctor and Zoe's comedic bumbling to buy time for the 'poison' to take effect. Other than that... well, it was only 4 episodes instead of 6, but it felt like it could have been 2 or 3. It was pretty forgettable.

However, it did provide a bit of character insight. As Zoe once again naively dons the teaching helmet in order to further prove her academic smarts/increase her knowledge, and the Doctor takes her to task for it, I realized that this was Zoe's character, which I'd been missing- brilliant, but not smart. Highly developed in power but poorly developed in wisdom and maturity. A naive genius. That's not what I got from her introduction, so it's been tainting my understanding of who she was supposed to be. This doesn't make her absurd naivete in The Invasion any less absurd, but it does explain it- and as a character concept, it works well. Retrospectively, it explains a lot, really.

The Doctor, meanwhile, has an excellent and very heartwarming moment shortly thereafter where he dons the headset himself to place himself into harms way and potential disintegration so Zoe won't have to face it alone. It's a very loving, almost parental moment of self-sacrifice, and something that I don't think the First Doctor would have done, even at his most tender. It's a telling and humanizing moment that really reveals the depths of this Doctor's care for his companions, who in the youthful and not-entirely-wise Jamie and Zoe, are almost like his adopted children. It's a wonderful moment for his character, and most definitely made me 'fall in love' with this Doctor anew- Three through Eight will have to do something quite spectacular indeed to topple Troughton from being my favorite Doctor. (Note from Sarah: Troughton is definitely my favorite and will continue to be.)

This is followed up by a wonderful scene in which the Doctor, so stressed out about wanting to help Zoe, can't solve the simplest equation because he's distracted, and then, after he succeeds, begins gloating that he scored higher marks than Zoe as the two begin bickering about it... it's a wonderful bantering byplay in which both the writing and the actors shine- that scene overall in the halls of learning is really a true gem amidst an otherwise fairly-forgettable serial, and an outstanding moment for both the Doctor and Zoe that makes me incredibly sad at how close their impending loss is.

(Speaking of the hall of learning, when the young rabble-rousers are smashing it up... I'm guessing we weren't supposed to see the bank of lights on the front fall off, revealing that they were just a facade on a flat board stuck onto the blank front of the machine...?)

Jamie is gallant and noble in this one, and also pretty darn clever- if I don't consider this one an episode where he fairs well, it's probably simply because he has far less screen time than the Doctor/Zoe tag team, who kind of get the spotlight. Still, Jamie is caring and brave in this one and puts up an excellent showing of moral character that does him great credit to compensate for his lesser screen time... it's ironic, then, that an episode so relatively simplistic, mediocre, and skippable should be such a strong character showcase for all three of the leads.

There are a few good strong characters among the supporting cast- the tradition-bound leader, devastated to realize the tradition of murder he's played a part in enforcing, and determined to do the right thing sacrificing himself in a last-minute dive through the door that's as impressive in its athletic prowess as it is in its noble self-sacrifice, to deliver the Doctor and Zoe the crucial component needed to defeat the Krotons.

The leader's son, a headstrong and brash young man willing to fight his entire graduating class to protect the woman he loves- like the New Series' "Big Bang" in which the Doctor offhandedly proclaims to Rory, cradling his fiance's nearly dead body, that "Your girlfriend isn't more important than the universe," to which Rory hauls back and slugs him, and declares with a fervor the character had never even shown before, "Yes SHE IS!", this moment gave me a warm glow in my heart- for all the filth and nonsense about relationships, romance, and physical consummation that we're fed by media these days, it always warms my heart to see love- true, sacrificial love- being showcased as the noblest and best of all priorities... which I truly believe it is.

And, of course, the unflappable and determined chemist, who comes off more annoyed than anything at being expected to save the world without proper time to prepare, and completely uninterested in the fact that he may blow himself up in the creation of acid, simply getting down to business and making it happen as Jamie frets and worries in the background- he's a fun character, a serious role with a comic edge of irony- his reaction to the fantastic, in such a deadpan and accepting manner, makes for an instantly likable fellow.

Last, but not least, we get an introduction to the HADS (Hostile Actions Defense System), a TARDIS feature I strongly suspect we'll never see again. However, it's brilliantly introduced with the phrase "That only happens when I remember to set the HADS"- smoothly explaining away why we've never seen it before and may never see it again, hinging it on a character quirk of the Doctor's- his absentmindedness and forgetfulness making the perfect excuse. Subtly clever and hilarious simply because it works so well.

Despite earlier statements, I would not recommend skipping this one- the last complete Second Doctor serial, of the time of this writing (February 2011) not to have a DVD release planned yet. Its story is simple and threadbare, but it's short (so it won't grate too much even if you find the story dull), and the fantastic villain designs and very strong character moments make this one WELL worth watching despite its weak plots, as it's one of the best character pieces in the Second Doctor's run.

Great moments:
For probably the 50th time… the Doctor’s instant and selfless sacrifice to help Zoe. The Doctor and Zoe’s delays. The Doctor’s annoyance at the HADS and its inconvenient placement. The unflappable chemist. The umbrella rescue.

3.5 out of 5 Bickering Dominators for the Krotons and the first true TARDIS 'family'- here, in the shadow of the countdown to regeneration, to color, to UNIT, and an Earth exile- here, at the end of an era... the Black and White classic Doctor Who shows us what it's made of, in the weakest and least-likely story possible, and makes us truly realize what we'll be sacrificing for the move to a more 'modern' Who.

To borrow a quote from Matthew Stover's PHENOMENAL (really, go check it out!) novelization for Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, "This was the Age of Heroes... and it had saved its best for last."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Doctor Who: The Invasion

Serial Title: The Invasion
Series: 6
Episodes: 8
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury)

Returning from the Land of Fiction, the TARDIS materializes above Earth’s moon in- @*^$&^*!!! The ‘20th Century,’ bloody heck gosh-darn you all!!!- and gets shot at by a missile. They revise their landing coordinates to a cow pasture in England on Earth  in the same frickin’ non-definitive time period just in time to avoid the weapon.

They find a guy in a truck who gives them a lift but then gets liquidated by some fascist policemen enforcers just after they leave. Meanwhile, something’s broken in the TARDIS (rendering it invisible), and the Doctor decides to look up good old Prof. Travers (continuity!!!) to get help in repairing it. However, someone else is living at his listed address- he and his daughter have just left for America, and cheesecake model/photographer (seriously, I think she’s wearing just a T-shirt, for no reason) Isobel Watkins lives there instead. She directs the Doctor and Jamie to local electronics/computer monopoly company International Electromatics’ headquarters (where her uncle, Prof. Watkins, who she thinks can help with the repairs, has recently disappeared). Zoe... stays to do some modeling for the camera...??? (Note from Sarah: Well why not? I mean she's there...might as well! :-D)

The Doctor and Jamie sneak in, are caught, and taken before the head of the company, Tobias Vaughn (played by Kevin “Mavic Chen” Stoney, so you just KNOW he’s a bad guy...), who plays the whole thing casually, claiming that Professor Watkins is simply wrapped up in his work. After the Doctor and Jamie leave, he opens a secret panel in his wall to communicate with aliens via a complex transmitter...

The Doctor and Jamie are abducted shortly after leaving the building, and driven to an airfield. There, in the back of an EC-130H Hercules transport plane, they find a complete command center- headed up by recently-promoted Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, their ally from 'Web of Fear.' He greets the Doctor in the name of the newly-formed UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. Quicker than you can say Backdoor-Pilot/Foreshadowing, the Doctor and UNIT are giving the Third Doctor’s era a dry ru- I mean, working together to investigate the suspicious International Electromatics. And so are Zoe and Isobel Watkins, who get tired of waiting and go to check out the company for themselves. Zoe gets annoyed by the reception computer and blows it up for a laugh.

Yes, you read that right. BLOWS IT UP.

The two are then arrested by security and taken to Vaughn- Isobel as leverage to make her uncle work, and Zoe due to her association with the Doctor and Jamie- who Vaughn’s mysterious allies recognize from the ‘Planet 14’ incident. (As per the wiki, this is suggested to be good ol’ planet Marinus, as in ‘The Keys Of,’ whose conscience device is also theorized to have spawned... ah, but that would be telling. Suffice it to say the aforementioned adventure is later fleshed out to take place in the Doctor and Jamie’s futures, and the past from this time period.)

The Doctor and Jamie head back to IE and find evidence of Zoe and Isobel’s presence, but are caught by Packer, the security chief, before they can effect a rescue. They’re taken before Vaughn, who denies the kidnapping, and instead shows the Doctor a new invention- the cerebration mentor, a teaching device that can induce emotional changes in humans. When Zoe and Isobel are spirited away, the Doctor and Jamie escape and give chase, and call in help from UNIT, who send a helicopter which rescues Zoe, Jamie, The Doctor, and Isobel.

Sneaky Vaughn hypnotizes the head of UNIT in order to get the organization to back down from its investigations. The Doctor and Jamie sneak into an IE warehouse in London where UFO sightings have been reported, and witness a ceremony to open a mysterious alien cocoon- a cocoon which then reveals... okay, cut it out, Cybermen. It was cute when I didn’t know you. But this is the third one, now- the Daleks always warn me in their titles when they’re the heavies of a serial. Look, I know they’re not here right now- but if you want to step into their niche as the Second Doctor’s big bad, then you need to show me you respect me. Use the name. Look: “Invasion of the Cybermen.” See? It even had a nice ring to it! Come on, guys, I know you can do it. Now let’s get back in there and win this one!

The big bads revealed, Vaughn tests the cerebration mentor on one of them, driving the poor Cyberman mad- he flees on a homicidal rampage, unable to cope with emotions. The rest venture into the sewers to make their way unseen to various invasion points.

The UNIT leader stonewalls the Doctor and Lethbridge-Stewart, who realize that they need proof of the Cyberman invasion before the recalcitrant (mind-controlled) general will believe them and allow them to act. After blocking the planned hypnotism signal designed to conquer Earth (to be transmitted simultaneously from a concealed circuit within every  IE electronic product ever produced), the Doctor finds his companions missing- all three have ventured into the sewers to photograph a Cyberman and bring back the necessary proof. They barely escape an encounter with the mad Cyberman (don’t worry, this won’t be mentioned again), and the photos are a bust- that bit of padding aside, the plot continues as Watkins confronts Vaughn, and is goaded into stealing Packer’s gun and shooting Vaughn- who is revealed to be a robot or something- he has smoking holes through him but is unhurt! (Don’t worry, this won’t be mentioned again). THAT bit of padding over, the Cyberman invasion begins, and everyone outside the range of the Doctor’s telepathic blocker begins to fall sway to cyber-influence.

UNIT launches a Russian missile to destroy the source of Vaughn’s Cyberman-hypnosis signals, while the UK plans to shoot down the incoming Cyber-fleet with missiles. The Cyber-fleet is destroyed, and the remaining Cybermen blame Vaughn, who is forced to side with the Doctor when the Cybermen announce their (extremely emotional and vengeful) plan to retaliate by destroying the Earth with a Megatron Bomb. (Insert your own Transformers joke here). Vaughn uses the cerebration mentor to take down the Cybermen still on Earth (dying in the process, of course), while Zoe’s ‘living computer’ brain calculates a new trajectory in time to take down the final Cyber-ship and thwart the Megatron Bomb plot.  And Jamie is shot! (Don’t worry, this won’t be mentioned again). The day is saved with no mention of Vaughn being a robot or Jamie being hurt- even though we plainly saw both happen onscreen- and the TARDIS is made re-visible as the victorious companions depart.

The Invasion was all set up to be the 'Daleks Master Plan' of the Cybermen (and now considered a well-loved epic chosen for the unique honor of animated reconstruction)- was this to be the Cybermen's breakout high-point pinnacle of awesome? A memorable epic of truly mind-boggling proportions?
Well, it did have its own Mavic Chen. (Literally- Kevin Stoney, playing a very similar role in his handling of the Cybermen as he did to the Daleks- the one arrogant man who thinks he can control them... and is rather mad!)

As it turns out, however, it was not so much about the Cybermen as it was about inventing the trend of making Microsoft the bad guys back before Microsoft even existed. After coasting on so many sci-fi cliches, Doctor Who perpetuates one- the evil monopolizing mega-corp that builds computers and sticks something sinsiter into every one: an emotional circuit.

Errrr... you know... for transmitting... emotions...

Moving on.

This story surprised me. The Cybermen don't appear until literally halfway through. The introduction of UNIT was surprisingly low-key. It wasn't about what I thought it would be about. Was it bad? Not at all- just unexpected. Oh, and The Invasion is set in the futuristic 1976, as per the director- but not stated anywhere canonically. Announcement by a BBC narrator at time of airing indicated 1975. Neither of these dates is official, though.

The first portion is largely setup, and introduction of another female character to hang about in the background and wear tight and/or revealing clothing- methinks Doctor Who was discovering Sex Appeal. More's the pity. At least this one had an excuse- she's a model (and has a great introductory scene in which the Doctor's obnoxiously insistent doorbell buzzing keeps distracting her just as her auto-timer camera is about to go off.) Parts 2 through 4 are spent building the mystery and menace of Vaughn and his corporation, as well as establishing the Doctor's best catchphrase ever- "Shut up, you stupid machine!" Then, 5-8 are spent dealing with the aforementioned Invasion of the Cybermen, which, aside from a few street-marching shots, seems to consist of half a dozen or so advanced guards- plus the orbital fleet which (SPOILERS FOR THE SYNOPSIS ABOVE) never makes it to Earth.

This all probably sounds like harshly sarcastic judgement, but it's really more of good-natured teasing, because the serial is fun. If it had been named "Corporation of Death" or "The Chairman" or some such, there probably wouldn't be a single snarky remark- it's just that, as the serial stands, the Invasion! moniker seems almost misleading. Like a magician's sleight-of-hand- not entirely untrue, but more of a stagey distraction from the true goings-on of the story.

This tale is truly a battle of wits and a series of intelligence commando raids between Vaughn and the Doctor, backed by UNIT. So, much of the strength of the story depends on the strength of the villain. Fortunately, Tobias Vaughn doesn't disappoint, a creepy villain with cockeyed eyes (one always half-shut), and a sometimes genial, sometimes raving-lunatic demeanor encompassing a broad range. Plus, he's a robot. Not that it matters, as aforementioned. Still, that's the only single disappointing element to an otherwise excellent, competent, and charismatic villain. On the other hand, his right-hand thug, Packer, starts out as an intimidating Bond-henchman and, through a combination of incompetence and the worst wrist-communicator design ever devised, slowly becomes an over-exaggerated cartoon character of such absurd proportions that I had to actually Wikipedia his fate because I didn't notice the Cyberman shooting him- his character had degraded to such an unrecognizable caricature of himself that I didn't even recognize him in his death scene. Vaughn's office is a nice set, but the vista out the window is once again too obviously a poorly-lit painting- like the Aztecs, it's faded and doesn't look like it's supposed to really be there. Kudos, in this case, for changing out multiple backgrounds to make it day and night, though.

This serial is also an excellent continuity piece in the ongoing storyline that's being crafted in the Second Doctor's era, setting things up for the ongoing storyline that will dominate the Third's. Not only does this serial feature the return of the Brigadier and the creation of UNIT, it also references Professor Travers. This storyline- from Abominable Snowmen to Web of Fear to Invasion, is the original Bad Wolf... (or more accurately, BW's lame successor that's completely spoiled and not a surprise if you watch it at any time after it's original air date, 'Torchwood')- like Mister Saxxon or Missing planets, it's the ongoing story thread throughout the season, woven in amongst the one-shot stories, and like Cracks in the Universe, setting things up for the ongoing storyline to come in the next season. It's the original template of the ongoing arc-element that New Who has latched onto- the Rise of Unit, and the setup for the Third Doctor's ever-nearing exile.

The Doctor is a strong presence in this one- despite disappearing and receding into the background for a couple of episodes near the end- repeatedly clashing in strong confrontations with Vaughn. It's still not the 'Rescue' or 'Evil of the Daleks' modern-series style confrontations with the villain- the climactic encounter with the villain is not yet a part of this television program, leading instead to impersonal solutions, ships exploding, or various other anticlimaxes; the show's one remaining weakness, its weak endings and resolutions that don't serve the buildup given to them- but nonetheless, the Doctor has a number of great sparring and outwitting moments here, and even some action bits, including the copter sequence, and the ending battles. (Unsurprisingly, the aforementioned copter stunts were once again among the lost footage. Three for three... Enemy of the World, Fury from the Deep, and now Invasion- every chopper stunt performed on this show has been lost! At least we have an animated reconstruction for this one, but the bizarrely conspicuous assault directly on helicopter stunt footage has caused me to wonder if this is indeed the true, hidden, secret Stone-mason-esque motivation behind the BBC's tragic Jihad against the legacy of one of their most beloved programs back in the 70s... the real reason the deep and storied history of Doctor Who's earliest foundations is riddled with slide show-filled holes is that some Knight Templar-level executive put out a secretive, and as yet unexplained, hit on helicopter footage in Black and White science fiction... and tragically, the First and Second Doctors paid the price. Why this vile anti-helicopter agenda that drug so many sterling works of creativity down with it to the grave? No one knows... but perhaps it can be the arc theme of Matt Smith's Third Series. Oh, and... prediction, Andrew writing this review, 2/11/2011... by the time this blog is released, said series has already aired, because we're that far behind in our releases.) (Note From Future Andrew: The series would just be starting if the BBC weren't playing this delayed-'till-fall game...)

Jamie continues his reckless, rash, and sometimes quarrelsome behavior, which remains very human and realistic but is on the verge of losing its charm; he's mostly relegated to following the Doctor or Zoe around in this one, and doesn't have too much to do.

Zoe, on the other hand, is... bizarre. (Note from a future regeneration of Andrew – Here is the misunderstanding I mentioned in the Wheel in Space blog... at this time, I still understood Zoe to be smart yet unemotional, like a Vulcan, as a character premise... as opposed to intelligent yet immature, almost childish, as I currently understand her character premise to be. Viewed through that filter, her actions in this serial make perfect character sense, and are even amusing, as she’s SUPPOSED to be that naive. The computer destruction, heading off half-cocked because she doesn’t want to wait, etc. all fit perfectly with my current understanding of the character, and would probably give me a chuckle.)

And speaking of said body... she is once again showing herself off in the return of that oddly-hilarious glittering catsuit... but it also leads to one of the best moments I've ever seen in Doctor Who, right on par with that Zarbi running full-tilt into the camera with an audible 'THUNK.' As Zoe flits about the line of monitors in UNIT HQ, reading off figures and making her world-saving missile trajectory calculations (all the while wearing the same sparkly catsuit that, as covered previously, tends to accentuate the actress' aft attributes), she stops beside each radar operator, standing beside them to read their data screens over their shoulders- and in a hilarious moment that seems more more like actor unprofessionalism than planned character nuance, both the second and third actors in the row of UNIT personnel get completely distracted from their acting and stop to observe- the second giving a casual-but-noticeable glance back to inspect the aforementioned aft... while the third full-on turns his head ninety degrees and leans back in his chair to check her out up close in the most blatant and noticeable fashion possible (NFS: He doesn't lean WAAAY back though...the way you describe it sounds like he's practically reclining with his hands behind his head. :-D). The man probably doesn't even remember that he's on a TV show at the moment, much less that he's supposed to be acting like a disciplined military man- he's taking full advantage of the oblivious girl in tight clothing beside him, acting career be darned! (It's a hilarious moment, but also with a slightly disturbing flavor to it in light of Zoe's acting like a distinctly immature minor in this serial.) (Note from Sarah: Although if he's a military man and hasn't seen a girl for a long time...then this is a pretty good character nuance. :-D) 

Plus, there's also another embarrassingly-obvious actress-on-vacation serial in which a kidnapped Zoe doesn't appear. Jamie has a slightly more subtle-but-still-jarring absence in the final chapter for the same reason; at least this one is much better written, as you don’t really question his absence due to story events. It does, however, lead to a rather jarring moment, as mentioned before, in which he’s shot in battle, and it’s never followed up on save for a brief mention of him being in the hospital- with the shooting itself happening practically in the background- no reactions or anything, just a get-it-done-to-get-him-on-vacation wide shot. They really aren't very smooth with these breaks...

Meanwhile, we're introduced to recurring character Sgt. Benton, and reintroduced to Lethbridge-Stewart, now his properly iconic rank of 'Brigadiere'- and both are dull as dishwater, very run in the mill- though the Brig does have a few minutes of facial subtlety and good performance that gives me hope for a future demonstrative range. No, really, the problem here is that their roles- as radio voices and communications coordinators, are simply dry and without much texture of flavor. (What, am I describing a performance, or a cracker, here?) I have no doubt that in future stories, with more to do, they'll be a more impressive presence... but in this serial, they were both dull enough to cause my wife great concern that the forthcoming UNIT-based Third Doctor era would be a snorefest. I think not, or the Brig would not have become such a beloved companion... but we shall see. (Note from Future Sarah: The Brigadier turns out to be one of my most favorite characters ever....that's not to say that the Third Doctors era didn't turn out to be a snorefest though....)

The only other character of note is Isobel Watkins... with nothing much to do but have a fun introductory scene (see above) and wear only a long shirt whilst lying spread out on the floor (to 'photograph' more comfortably, I'm sure- see Doctor Who discovering sex appeal, above), she's really pretty much a Zoe clone, only less interesting. Likewise, her father was a relatively under-developed character; a man of convictions blackmailed into working for a bad guy... though his resignation at his position ("You don't even expect me to believe that, do you?") made him an interesting, if only briefly seen, character- and the shock factor of his being goaded into shooting Vaughn in what seems like it's going to be a standard "See? You don't have the guts!" moment demonstrates a surprising strength of character (as he recognizes the evil that needs to be destroyed and does what he believes he must, despite his personal reluctance and fear of doing so). He was a well-layered character despite having very little screen time, and, heck- he's the scientist I'd want on MY staff!

There are a few nice middle action highlights- the aforementioned chopper rooftop rescue under gunfire (a sequence which conspires to give us the unlikely tableau of three individuals wearing skirts climbing a ladder in the wind... perhaps it’s better that this bit was lost to the ravages of time! Fraiser Hines, the actor portraying Jamie, reportedly sewed led weights into the hem of his kilt to minimize its updraft potential), an excellent and exciting sequence that must have absolutely blown the bank, sadly lost to the Helicopter Footage Jihad (evidence of that potential broken bank coming in the rescue of professor Watkins, a scene planned but not shown due to time and money constraints... leading to the rather jarring edit in which a scene in UNIT HQ ends with the Brigadier essentially saying “Allright, let’s go rescue professor Watkins!” and then immediately cuts from a close-up of him to a close-up of a gibbering, beat-up henchmen proclaiming to Vaughn “And then UNIT hit the car hard, and all of the guards were killed, and UNIT took professor Watkins!” with nothing in-between those two shots to even indicate time had passed. In a modern movie, it might be taken as an intentional ironic editing choice, but here it smacks of didn’t-have-the-budget...), as well as the Cybermen attack in the sewers (with an excellent but completely unsupported-by-the-music moment where a Cybermen pops up to grab the escaped characters' heels as they leave)- plus some nice shocking moments- such as the unexpected shooting of the mysterious UNIT informant in the first chapter, or the unexpected goading of Doctor Watkins into shooting Vaughn to no effect partway through. Shocking in the extreme! The action climax, with the Doctor and Vaughn fleeing together, is nicely staged, but comes before the actual climax of the spaceship destruction which is weak and anti-climactic, leaving the end to flop a little bit- the Doctor/Vaughn bits should have been saved for the finale. Strangely, two of the most important elements- Vaughn being an android, apparently (Yeah, that's kind of a big deal!!!) and Jamie being shot (like, shot, with bullets, during the final battle) are NEVER DEALT WITH. No, not even slightly. They're shown briefly, and then it's like they never happened, with implications and consequences- or even a follow-up mention- not forthcoming at any point later in the serial. How do you throw in story elements that shocking and then not do ANYTHING with them?

The ending itself suffers from the same anticlimactic weak-finale syndrome too many Whos do in this era- an intense, impersonal, destroy-the-mothership finale that isn't very exciting or engaging, happens well after the main climax, or just plain loses all the built-up momentum... but tries to make up for it with a cool outer-space model shot to wrap things up. Sorry, but a bit of eye candy doesn't substitute having an emotional investment in the finale, a stake in the outcome, or a little bit of anticipation built into the proceedings. Again, we can only hope that climactic confrontations in Doctor Who improve with the Third Doctor's era. Oddly... it seems to be primarily the Cybermen that suffer from this truncated, sudden, or unexciting finale syndrome- Fourth Planet, Wheel in Space, Invasion, and to some degree, the Moonbase... though Tomb of the Cybermen had an excellent, personal, thrilling climax involving direct personal confrontation with the final monster (though unlike The Rescue or Evil of the Daleks, not a confrontation by the Doctor)- so we know it's possible for Cybermen stories to have a satisfying resolution- it's just that most don't.

I should probably write a blog comparing the different strong and weak points of Dalek Invasion of Earth to The Invasion, seeing what was done better and worse with each of the two major races, eh? E-mail or comment me if you'd like to see that. Let me know. Leave some feedback. E-mail me if you want a pizza roll... (And if you get THAT reference...)

Plenty of miscellaneous notes. There was some ambitious prop work with the gorgeously detailed Cyberman communicator device in Vaughn's office (with a swinging panel entrance that they were clearly overly proud of, as they showcase it WAY too often).  It's a pity, then, that such a stellar piece of prop work was destroyed, as they appear to have eliminated it in a real pyrotechnic display during it's finale destruction. Effects failures, on the other hand, do abound- from the teeny, tiny grenade explosions more akin to firecrackers in the sewers (which leads to the stumbling Cyberman, which needs to be seen to be believed, and is the fourth entry into the funniest-thing-I-ever-saw-in-Doctor-Who category alongside the Zarbi collision, Zoe check-out, and the New Series' "Vampires of Venice" bachelor party opening), the stock footage of missiles being raised into place around the world that is repeated shot for shot FOUR TIMES (including one where the trajectory was just being adjusted, but which required all of the missiles to rise out of concealment, open up, and arm anew to do so, apparently, as they use the exact same footage) and the missile impacts in space- many of which hit their cybership-targets, go spinning off into space with hilariously obvious spiral trails of out-of-control fury, and then several seconds later, the belated explosion at the point of impact is set off. Plus, the traditional Doctor Who set-extension-matte-painting-that-doesn't-match-the-angle-of-the-hallway-and-thus-is-really-obvious, in the sewers. (Also, not really a failure, but... the Cybermen are still stealing the Daleks photo-negative beam effect!) These are balanced out by the stock footage missile firings- which are about the coolest most awesome things ever captured on film (and okay, the Russian rocket is okay... but the Saturn V launches woulda been cooler!) and some excellent model work for the cool, detailed, and uniquely designed Cyber-ships (whcih make a re-appearance in Matt Smith's first 11th Doctor season finale, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang). It would've been nice to see the Episode 1 missile/dark side of the moon, too. 

On the live-action side of things, the Doctor and Jamie end up hugging alot. The escape-into-the-elevator reminds em a lot of the Doctor's escape in Downing Street in the New Who episode World War Three (the Slitheen two-parter conclusion) and I wonder if it was staged as a tribute to this serial. The mime humor at the end was nicely done, with everyone reaching out awkwardly to look for the TARDIS. Lots of fun. Oh, and the Cybermen...  FAR easier to understand this time, finally breaking from the indecipherable 'Tomb' voice. Plus... they have lace-up sneakers that are just painted silver. Whoops! (NFS: Whoops? Or awesome? You be the judge.)

This serial also features far more incidental music than we're used to, a very nice change of pace, though not without its hitches- including the jaunty, goofy, carnival-like "Car Theme" that gets played whenever someone takes off in a jeep, regardless of how tense the situation may be (and including the brilliantly mind-boggling moment when two UNIT soldiers set out to deliver a nuclear device to Russia (always a good idea!)... driving out the back of a cargo plane in a jeep and off into the distance... apparently preparing to drive to Russia instead of taking the plane they were just in. If the irony of that situation seems limited to 'the trip will take much longer' to you, consult a map and trace the patch from England to Russia, then check the identity of that large blue patch in between)- and the previously mentioned Cybermen-popup-to-drag-you-back-down-to-Heck scare... in which the music doesn't change tone or react to this sudden tension whatsoever, continuing the peaceful, tranquil, out-of-danger tones it was already involved in as men bash at the Cyberman's forearms with rifle-butts, shout, and clamor to escape the deadly cybernetic grasp. Oh, well... despite this occasional failure, it's an overall improvement that added mood and tone to the piece, and helped to keep things lively- even throwing in some ambient source music, which I don't think we've heard since Evil of the Daleks' coffee bar. This is all thanks to composer Don Harper, hired for this serial only because the director, Douglas Camfield, refused to work with usual electronic-tonalities-and-minimalist-pulse-beats composer Dudley Simpson. So sadly, this music will be a one-off.

And did I mention how incredibly cool that budget-blowing chopper rescue would've been to see? Curse you, you Mason-Templar-Scientologist-Alien Overlord BBC execs, and your mysterious and sinister crusade against helicopter footage!!! How many must die (and believe me, the reconstruction Hump and its brethren are pretty killer!) for your secret plots???

Great moments:
The villain revealed to be a robot. Zoe vs. The Computer (Zoe wins). The helicopter escape scene. The unsubtle lecher. (Note from Sarah: I can't remember who said it but I do remember someone yelled out "did he just give her the twice-over!? Rewind that!")  Armies of Cybermen on the streets. The Doctor running and clutching his burning behind. And of course, the Cyber-stumble. 

Overall, the Invasion is an interesting battle of wits interspersed by excellent moments of humor that manages to keep a good, constant pace that never flags, wears, or grows dull, despite an anticlimactic finale. Plus, like Tomb of the Cybermen, the restored DVD video quality is STELLAR, and looks incredible, smooth and sharp, compared to its peers. Overall, I have to give it 4 out of 5 Bickering Dominators. It wasn't my favorite story of all time (though it may have been my wife's)(NFS:I think I just thought they got the atmosphere really well, I liked the idea of an invasion in modern england and everyone underground, they did it really well.) and certainly wasn't another Daleks Master Plan... but it was entertaining, enjoyable, ambitious, and excellent.

And of course, how could I give anything BUT 5 out of 5 to the reconstruction? It's professionally animated, for pete's sake! Sure, the characters tended to be a little stiff below the neck, only occasionally breaking out the full-body animation for a wide shot that required someone walking, running, etc., and the trailer was deceptively cool in that they animate plenty of awesome and atmospheric moments from the serial that weren't actually part of the animated episodes, thus faking us out into expecting animated Cybermen awesomeness, when in fact we only receive one shot of an animated Cyberman in the whole affair, the very final shot- but still... it was excellent, well-animated, fun to watch, and well put-together... this is (no offense to our beloved and missed Loose Canon) the ONLY way to see the Invasion- animated, and on DVD!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Doctor Who: The Mind Robber

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

SPOILER WARNING: This serial is absolutely worth seeing unspoiled. If you have not seen it, go see it- it's on Netflix instant, for one- before reading. Seriously, you owe it to yourself to see this for yourself before you know what to expect. DO IT.

As the volcano on Dulkis errupts, the TARDIS crew are forced to use the emergency escape switch to compensate for a breakdown in the ship, something that the Doctor is loathe to do. The escape switch deposits them somewhere outside of time and space, and as the Doctor works to repair the ship, the white void beyond the doors entices Jamie and Zoe in turn, calling them out into the white void, where strange robots and a surreal altered state await them.

The Doctor barely manages to get them back inside, and tries to return the ship to space-time... but it splits apart, shattering like a pane of glass, and the travelers are left to fall through a black void, clinging to the TARDIS console...

They land separately in a strange land of tall bluffs. The Doctor is forced to complete a series of riddles, the last one of which- a just-reunited Jamie’s face being erased- he fails, resulting in a complete change of the lad’s features. Eventually, the two locate Zoe, and then meet up with Gulliver. Of Gulliver’s Travels. Who only speaks in lines from the book. They are also chased by clockwork soldiers (New Series “Girl in the Fireplace” meets Babes in Toyland). They discover that the tall and oddly shaped bluffs that dot the landscape like a forest are actually letters and words, 20 feet tall- it’s as if they’re walking the pages of a 3-dimensional book.

A unicorn attacks from nowhere, but the Doctor is able to halt its fearsome charge with a firm belief that it isn’t real- at which point, it becomes unreal, just a cardboard cutout. He also manages to fix Jamie’s face when confronted with the same puzzle a second time.

The group enters a labyrinth, and Zoe and the Doctor encounter a Minotaur which they defeat as they did the unicorn, while Jamie, pursued by the soldiers, climbs a long, blonde rope that turns out to be the hair of Rapunzel. From inside the castle, he watches a ticker-tape/teletype device spell out a battle between the Doctor and the Medusa in which he lops off her head. The encounter does occur, but the Doctor, finding a sword suddenly by his side, uses a mirror to defeat Medusa as Perseus did. The teletype machine prints out a failure message.

The Doctor and Zoe escape the labyrinth and encounter the Karkus, a comic book character from the year 2000. The Doctor cannot defeat him in the same way that he did the unicorn and minotaur, because he is unfamiliar with the character and thus doesn’t have the same bedrock certainty that the Karkus isn’t actually real (though he does accidentally dispel Karkus’ anti-molecular ray disintegrator by instinctively commenting that such technology couldn’t exist). Zoe does know the character, and defeats him with Judo, earning his loyalty. The group ascend to the castle and meet up with Jamie, but are captured by the same white robots from the void before, which lead them to the Master (no relation to the Time Lord arch-nemesis of the Doctor), who reveals this to be the Land of Fiction, where fictional characters are real. The teletype machine records his writings- if he can write the actions a person is going to take (by successfully predicting them), then they are in essence acting out his fiction, making them characters whose actions he wrote- and converting them from thinking beings into fictional characters under his control. He then writes that Jamie and Zoe become trapped inside a giant book, and his robots force them to become so trapped, rendering them fiction.

The Master explains to the Doctor that an otherwordly intelligence that cannot take form in our reality run and inhabit this land, but they need a human quality- imagination- to keep it alive. The Master was once a human author from the 20th century, abducted to serve as the hub of this fictional realm. But he is growing old, and the aliens need a replacement brain. They have chosen the Doctor.

The Doctor is hooked into the main computer, but turns the tables and the two have a duel of wits, summoning various fictional characters to do battle. The Doctor manages to use this distraction to cause Zoe and Jamie to be physically freed, in contradiction to what the Master wrote, thus freeing them mentally. They trick the white robots, who shoot up the place, destroying the machinery that runs the land. This releases the Master from the aliens' thrall (he is presumably returned to the time and place he was abducted from) and as they run through the black void that the Land of Fiction has become, the group finds themselves back on the TARDIS, in flight, as if nothing had ever happened.

Our 50th Blog! Woo-hoo! And I can’t think of a more deserving serial- I didn’t plan it this way, but heck, talk about a special event!!! Holy Cow! This serial is made of awesome... and made of crazy! It starts with a bang where Dominators left off, giving us the amazing TARDIS-covered-in-lava, the dangerous emergency escape unit that takes the TARDIS out of space and time, the deadly white void (Zoe and Jamie are with the Prophets!) and then... the total mindscrew ending... and that’s all just within the first episode!

Indeed the first part of this story is incredibly David Lynch-ish; surreal and almost frightening, in a way- from Zoe and Jamie suddenly appearing in pure white outfits, zoned-out looks on their faces, waving the Doctor forward with two hands while Zoe screams eerily- though the onscreen Zoe never opens her mouth (trust me, it's twice as freaky as you’re picturing) to the awesome and rare model shot of the TARDIS exterior in flight suddenly shattering into panels (this whole shot being an effects bonanza at the time), leading to the surreal sight of Zoe and Jamie clinging to the console, falling through the void, as the Doctor himself spirals along through the void, falling into mist... truly surreal, disturbing and cool at the same time, and an ambitious and perfectly-achieved set of effects... wow. (And, errr... made a little more ‘wow’ by the very... errrr... fan-service way that Zoe is draped over the console in that scene. I’ll say no more on the subject. Just... yikes!) (Note from Sarah: I think it's funny how we've probably seen tons worse than that, but for some reason it being in Doctor Who and in the 60's makes it more shocking for some reason!)

Making this even more insane is the fact that this first episode was written as filler (to replace the stricken sixth episode of The Dominators)- the awesome robots were borrowed from another TV show, the episode takes place in a void to avoid having to build new sets, etc. It was designed to be as cheap as possible... and yet was the most mind-bending, surreal, creepy, and effective of all! (Seriously, it’s on DVD- GO SEE THIS SERIAL!!! This is the biggest Troughton must-see of all!) Presumably, in the original 4-episode script, the flipping of the escape switch led directly to the TARDIS bursting apart and the Doctor appearing in the forest of words (a very cool concept with an excellent design). Like The Space Museum, the first episode does feel somewhat stand-alone and separate from the plot of the remaining episodes... but happens to be the best, moodiest, most atmospheric, creepy-cool one of the lot! Due to this ‘stretching,’ the serials were also shorter (the last part being the shortest Who episode of all time at 18 minutes!), which helped the pacing to stay sharp.

As a quick aside not particular to this episode... were the TARDIS walls so expensive that it was impossible to build a set extension? In The Wheel In Space, the chest Zoe stowed away on was in front of a brick extension of the TARDIS wall, placed just beyond where the set ended. Likewise, the walls in many locations here for the first episode (admittedly justified by the episode’s nonexistent budget) are also in front of very cheap, paltry ‘roundel’-studded backgrounds that look nothing like the TARDIS walls. Is there something preventing them from just redressing the console room or shooting at alternate angles to use the background they already had? Why repeated cheap-outs on TARDIS walls? WHY?!?!

The remainder of the episodes are surreal but not nearly so bizarre as the first, if that makes any sense- random and odd like a children’s show is, not like a surrealist film... with a few notable exceptions; especially when Jamie is shot in the forehead by a redcoat and turns instantaneously into a cardboard cutout. This leads to one of the strangest covering-for-an-actor-absences in the entire series to date (though in this case, unlike Hartnell’s usual gratuitous and obvious vacation-allowances, this was due to a case of chicken pox)- when the cardboard cutout becomes faceless, the Doctor selects the wrong face pieces, and another actor plays Jamie for an episode. It is positively surreal to see another not-Jamie, with the same costume and same voice (he does a fantastic impression of the voice and mannerisms!) wandering around as Jamie for the episode (NFS: I thought that Jamie really did a voiceover?). Like many other things in this review, words can’t accurately describe the strangeness of this event- it’s jarring and unnerving, and is both so patently absurd, and so logical within the story itself, that it both calls attention to itself AND works- which it would not have done were it not for the incredibly strong performance of Hamish Wilson as Jamie. 

Aside from this, a brief and cute encounter with Rapunzel, and locating the control room, Jamie doesn’t have much to do in this story. Likewise, Zoe has little to do- save for a random inexplicable freakout that causes the guards to be alerted... and a surprising and rare hand-to-hand fight! This woman is shown to be quite capable of defending herself (far more than the Doctor!) using judo flips and the like- quite a departure from the female companion norm. She also dons a glittering silver catsuit that is at first laugh-out-loud hilarious, and then, clinging onto that console... well... errr... better. (NFS: Better? How do you mean that?) Still, brief moments aside, she and Jamie have most of their action in the first episode, being compelled to run out into the void (and generating one very amusing moment where Zoe breaks Jamie out of his Scottland-trance with a good old-fashioned slap to the face) and then being controlled into eerie siren-figures there. They spend the majority of the story’s remainder just following the Doctor meekly around- save for a nice comedic moment when Zoe deduces that the Doctor’s ignorance is responsible for Jamie’s altered face- which is fine; this is a puzzle and battle-of-wits story; those are always best when the Doctor is the focus. As the preceding paragraph indicates, both characters have plenty of great gags and individual moments, but not a real character focus or arc; that’s the Doctor’s province in this one, and it works well- filtering the audience through his reality, in which even his companions might not be real. It individualizes the experience by placing it through his eyes, and making those our eyes as well- the only way to really experience such a trippy and reality-questioning episode... personally.

This story is full of brilliant concepts, too- chief of which, the concept that if actions can be written from you, and you act in that way, you become fiction, because you are performing the actions of a fictional scenario. Thus, if the writer can predict your actions, he can take control of you. It reminds me of a conceptual cousin to the speak-before-you, speak-in-sync-with-you, speak-in-your-place creature from the New Who episode 'Midnight.'  

This story also incorporates a comic book character- a nice touch, not ignoring that aspect of fiction- and makes him from a comic strip in the future (which is also great- fiction from all of human history shouldn't be limited to solely what we know today). It’s a brilliant little idea, and a great gag, as the Doctor- able to dispel various threats from Medusa to a unicorn to a minotaur by simply being convicted that they aren’t real- flees in terror from a superhero comic he’s never read... because he isn’t familiar with the work, he DOESN’T know that it’s not real, at least not more than conceptually, and thus can’t thwart it! A similarly great moment at first seems to confuse 'statements aloud' with 'belief'- stopping the charging unicorn in its tracks by having Jamie and Zoe shout out loud that it wasn’t real... but then revealing that it was the Doctor’s belief in the creature's unreality that did it, and Jamie and Zoe’s frantic panic was beginning to give him doubts- so he had them shout their (not truly believed) disbelief in order to re-enforce his own skepticism. Brilliant AND hilarious!

Likewise, the Doctor and the Master’s duel of fictional characters was hilariously childish and brilliant at the same time- the same kind of game of imagination and one-upmanship that you can observe in the imaginary play of children everywhere. And come on... didn’t the Lancelot trump card make you want to cheer?

The story itself is not much to speak of- like its conceptual cousin, The Celestial Toymaker, it’s a ‘get to the end of the maze’ tale, more of a showcase for various encounters than a plot line- but it works well, and is entertaining. The ending is a bit abrupt, and the “button pushing/shoot the console” seems like an anticlimactic and overly simplistic solution to such a surreal and complex scenario... but the bookending and surreal run-through-a-black-void followed by the TARDIS flying back together again seems somehow an appropriate ending... with added coolness points for the next episode, Episode 1 of 'The Invasion,' being a lost episode rendered in 2D animation by the BBC, meaning we get the scene repeat in Disney-style animation. Way cool.

As far as the non-regulars for this serial... Gulliver was a fun cypher; mysterious at first, and then an impressive (for work on the part of the writers) and fun character that only speaks in lines from his book. (Has anyone ever fact-checked to ensure that all of these lines were truly taken from the text of Gulliver’s Travels?) Regardless, it’s a neat gag that works well, and his inability to see the robots, casually giving away the TARDIS crew’s positions in his ignorance, is chilling and spooky.

Rapunzel is a hoot, so passively accepting of her hair being used as a ladder, so used to it, that she doesn’t mind or care- always searching with doe-eyed innocence and hopefulness for a prince, and offering strangers the use of her hair. She’s a lot of fun to watch. Karkus, the Superhero, is an odd duck, looking more like a masked Luchador than anything- whether that’s supposed to be a costume, or a low-budget attempt to portray a man built like the Incredible Hulk, I can’t say- but though he’s a gag character, and a bit of a dues-ex-machina, he’s done as a tongue-in-cheek character, so he works. The Doctor gets another great gag or two in the battle with him- failing miserably in a Judo throw (clearly not yet a master of Venusian karate- perhaps the Time Lords gave him that skill to help him fend for himself during his Earth Exile later on?) and accidentally eliminating his weapon from existence simply by pointing out that the sci-fi gadget doesn’t make any scientific sense- unintentional weaponized skepticism, and an ironic commentary on Who’s typically ‘way out there’ science.

Medusa’s stop-motion effects are cool, if primitive- the budget of the show makes me wonder if this is stock footage from another show, or original footage. Regardless, Medusa is as tense, creepy, and effective a threat as any (unlike the minotaur, who falls flat, and the Unicorn, who is freaky, and works well as an adrenaline charge, but doesn’t have much innate menace)- truly feeling like a first-generation Weeping Angel... perhaps a ret-con to establish the Weeping Angels as breakouts from the realm of fiction would help to explain their almost-magical powers?

On a number of miscellaneous notes:
-Was that the Kaiju Barugon as the Minotaur?
-The Medusa scene with the eyes closed and a stony hand reaching out really felt like a prefiguring of New Who’s Blink. I dig the parallel.
-The slow reveal of the windup soldiers- boxed marching feet, strange lit hat- made them seem really cool- until you saw the whole thing. One of Fraiser Hines (Jamie)’s cousins was a mechanical soldier.
-The Doctor Who wiki points out that Blackbeard and Cyrano- and, in the Doctor Who universe, Medusa- were real people; perhaps they were converted into their fictional counterparts just the way that Zoe and Jamie were?
-The use of cardboard cutouts was interesting and unusual here. I feel like it didn’t QUITE work, and felt a little cheap; but it also sort of felt like it fit, too. (NFS: So in other words, your emotional side liked it but your intellectual side thought it was weird.)
-The bookcases in the final chapter, within the Master’s realm, are apparently quite obvious flat images. I am embarrassed to say I missed this, but my wife didn’t. (NFS: She's a smart cookie)
-An obvious solution that the Doctor missed as he was tied into the central brain with the robots advancing on him- “And then the Master triumphed!” It doesn’t touch on him, and leaves the Master with two choices- stop his Robots, or succeed- at the cost of rendering himself fiction and under the Doctor’s control anyway. Yes, a clever wordsmith could render an addendum to the triumph under which he could achieve his current goals and still not be considered a ‘triumph’- adding on a “ taking over the universe” clause which would be proved false immediately despite capturing the Doctor, invalidating the initial ‘Master triumphed’ clause... but, to quote the glaringly obvious loophole left to bring back Ming the Merciless at the end of the final Flash Gordon serial (Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe) should they ever make another one (which they didn’t)- “There’s only one way out, and he’ll be too panicked to think of it!”- followed by a large boom.  (And yes, that was an entirely gratuitous and pointless aside thrown in on the very weak justification of it being black and white fiction in a similar vein to Karkus’ presumed space-adventurer-superhero status.)

Great moments:
The whole show is one big great moment- from the awesome lava burial to the freaky white-void sequence (and its frightening Stepford Jamie and Zoe) to the shocking TARDIS breakup and fall through the void to exciting menaces from the Medusa and Horse to the surrealist Jamie cardboard cutouts and replacement scenes to the hilarious Rupunzel and Karkus bits... The ending with the professor- when the mystery was no longer present and weird things weren’t happening as much- was about the only part of the serial that DOESN’T qualify as a great moment. Seriously, this one was jam backed from top to bottom with awesome. Artistic, exciting, funny, surreal, creepy, brilliant, imaginative... just plain incredible.

Well, like the Dominators, there’ll be no reconstruction rating on this one, as it was all video. In fact, it’s the first we watched on official DVD- via Netflix- and though the quality wasn’t as high as we’d hoped (we were clearly spoiled by Tomb of the Cybermen’s crystal clarity), it was decent for all but the blown-out final episode, and a very refreshing change.

The stellar Mind Robber gets an unquestionable 5 out of 5 Bickering Dominators, and a place on my list of personal favorites alongside Keys of Marinus, Aztecs, Faceless Ones, Enemy of the World, Dalek Master Plan, Myth Makers, Celestial Toymaker, Time Meddler, and a number of others- a sterling Troughton work, full of spooky imagery, intriguing concepts, and very funny gags. (Note from Future Andrew: The first one I bought, and 18 seasons in, still my very favorite!) I can only hope the rest of the season continues on this well (though fan reputation says it doesn’t.) Only one way to find out...