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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Series 7 Overview

Series 7

Clocking in at only 4 serials long, Series 7 introduces the Third Doctor, begins the UNIT/Earth exile era, is the first in color, without TARDIS travel, with companion Liz Shaw, and a whole host of other changes- including introducing recurring villains the Autons and the Silurians (both of who only show up once or twice more in the classic series, I believe, plus two episodes in the New Series (though if you count Auton Rory it’s three, and the brief cameo in Love and Monsters would make it four, but for simplicity’s sake, and because I’ve worked so hard to try and FORGET Love and Monsters, let’s just count it as two.)) So, how did it go down?

Companion Liz Shaw started out a bit grating to me, but soon mellowed into a sympathetic (not just sympathetic to the audience, but her character was sympathetic toward other people), supportive, strong-yet-silent companion- she isn't outspoken or loud, and often more of a background presence, but she is competent, confident, and quietly supportive- so overall, I'd call her a positive- if slightly forgettable at the time due to her tendency not to be as outspoken as everyone else on the show- companion. This was her only season, so we’ll see how Jo Grant stacks up against Liz next series... Liz was written out for being entirely too competent- not needing exposition to explain things to her, and seldom needing rescue- seen as the two primary tasks of a companion. So, she was 'let go' (and, being pregnant, might have left that season anyhow). In-universe, Liz felt that she was redundant and not really needed around the Doctor, and returned to Cambridge from whence she’d been recruited. Liz did eventually get one ride in the repaired TARDIS, later in the Third Doctor’s tenure, and eventually went to work for P.R.O.B.E., another UNIT and Torchwood-like organization (as seen in the Doctor Who spinoff P.R.O.B.E.). It didn’t take long for her to return to UNIT, however, and like Ben and Polly, Sarah Jane, and the Brigadier, she is one of the few companions with an onscreen canon future to be established- as of the modern day, she is still with UNIT, and at the time of the 11th Doctor’s first visit to Sarah Jane Smith, was working a shift at the UNIT moonbase.

Meantime, the Brigadier seems to be having a little bit of an image problem- unlike his appearances in Web of Fear, Invasion, and the first serial of this series, in which he was open-minded, friendly, and competent, in the latter 3 serials he seems to be suspicious, antagonistic, doubtful, and especially possessed of that ineffable quality usually reserved for Miss Marple, Brother Cadfael, Mr. Monk, and other famous quirky detectives... in which the fellow that's never been wrong before and saved the day (and the lives of his associates) MULTIPLE times is doubted and derided as being out of his mind or overexagerating every time that he comes forward with a new theory, as if all of his past successes count for nothing. This same skepticism-without-reason is applied to the Doctor, sadly putting the Brig, who I want to like (and sometimes do) closer to the villainous madmen (see below), who also go forth in belief and action completely unswayed by logic, reason, evidence, experience, or history, when it's really unrealistic for anyone without a major mental problem to not factor in the experiences and sound advice that ought to be changing their position. The culmination of all of this is the unfortunate effect of rendering the Brigadier rather a different character than his first three appearances, and intermittently rather unlikeable; headstrong and willing to challenge the Doctor is one thing, but outright doubting him, ignoring him, disbelieving him, acting as if he doesn't have a track record of success but is some new, unknown, unproven quantity EVERY time- that's not doing the character ANY favors; and in the closing minutes of the series, the Doctor calls him on it, unsuccessfully leaving in a huff... whether this will result in a change for the next series, we shall see.

I must admit to surprise- they tease us with the TARDIS and time/space stories more often than I thought they would!

The theme of Series 7 seems to be "Madmen in charge"- obsessed, single-minded-to-the-point-of-absurdity villains who have gone slightly insane (Spearhead From Space being the exception unless you consider the Doctor or the Brig to fit that description...) This makes the season, unfortunately, more than a little annoying- "The generator must be reactivated/aliens must be killed/drilling must continue, no matter what!" can only be thrown in the face of reason so many times before it gets grating (usually... about once). 

Everyone is stuck in a position of no authority over this obsessed madman, and while it makes an effective story trait for a villain (absolute power), it makes for an obnoxious watch.
"Sir, your infant son seems to be sleeping under the drill..."
"Stop bothering me with your foolish excuses! Double the rate of drilling! We will NOT slow down!"
"Sir, your hair is on fire!"
"Stop trying to distract me! The reactor MUST be kept online! We have no room in this operation for hair fires!!!"
These guys are in defiance of all reality, and unfortunately, the character type of an obsessed despot project leader that won't listen to reason or act reasonably is becoming a stock Doctor Who character. The RPGP, as I coined it in the Silurian review, MUST be stopped.

On the plus side, we're in color. The stories are generally more good than bad (with the Silurians being the only truly-unlikeable one), and while some effects production values seem to have decreased, most of them- especially in terms of physical effects, seem to have increased dramatically. It seems that they're now doing more than one take and filming this in a more traditional style- meaning less flubs in the final product, more closeups, better editing, more practical effects and stunts... it's more professional and a lot smoother, no longer like a live theater production on TV with every gaffe noticeable and only basic editing available. The trade-off...? Fewer serials per season- 4 for this one, 5 for the next few, as opposed to the typical 8 or 10. In addition, they’re long ones; there are so many 7-parters this series simply because longer stories can keep using the same sets, writers, and cast- so we have deliberately long, slow stories to save money!

(Also, there only seems to be 1-2 special effects of note per serial, as a trade-off for all of the stunts. Being primarily Earth-based, they only have 1 or 2 showcase effects sequences per episode, whereas many BWWs had a dozen or more to comment on. Here it’s “The explosions and the alien” or “The dinosaur and the burning tunnels” or “The travel effect and the lava at the door”. Just two, and only two. Very odd.) I don't know, though... not necessarily a bad thing. Less stories is sad, but... ideally, higher production values will mean less BAD stories to make up for it.

This series was nearly the end of the program- due to low ratings, the unproven new format nearly spelled the end of the series... and thus, Doctor Who will, next series, reinvent itself yet again- retaining the Earthbound/UNIT setting, but switching companions and shifting tones... As we move on to the Third Doctor's second year, and serials begin to gradually get shorter in length (a GOOD thing!), we shall see how all of these new trends pan out...!

As for the date, serials seem split down the middle: 2 for 1970, 2 for the ‘near future’ 1980s. We’ll keep a running tally as the series progresses and see if we can’t pin down which time period we consider the era take place in...

Overall, I found one story to be horrifically bad, and the other three to be fairly good. While I can’t say that this particular series has grabbed me as much as the Hartnell/Troughton era yet, there is a definite and appreciable upturn in quality- if the upturn in writing can match and the serial length come down just a bit, then this era could truly be something to behold. It has promise, and while not my favorite of the series thus far, I enjoyed it.

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