Saturday, 13 December 2014

Why the Hartnell era is so much better than the Troughton era



So you think The Sensorites is a bit boring?

Just imagine if The Sensorites had been made in Season 5.

The Sensorites would be another bunch of evil alien monsters, except with psychic powers. We would spend six episodes running around that tiny spaceship with the Sensorites trying to turn the crew into zombies, until Dr. Who finds a way to blow them up.

Does that sound better or worse than the Season 1 story?

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Creature from the Pit




For me, the Graham Williams era seems very hit and mess. On the rare occasions when Graham Williams got things right, as in City of Death or Androids of Tara, the results are glorious. Sometimes there is a delightful sense of fun pervading some of the shoddier serials of the era, yet often the shoddiness is all that comes across. In the midst of all this era's problems is the unrestrained Tomfoolery of the show's lead actor. The Creature from the Pit is unfortunately one of those stories which particularly showcases the problems with the show in this period. It ably demonstrates just how necessary it was for John Nathan-Turner to come on board at bring the program into shape.

For a serial of this era, the production values in this are a little higher than usual. The jungle sequences filmed in Ealing studios are very impressive and the 'indoor' sets are not bad either. The costumes are also particularly lavish. Unfortunately, the alien monster Erato is rather less impressive and his resemblance to something else makes him a little embarrassing to watch.

Myra Frances is enjoyable in her camp performance as the evil Lady Adrasta. Unfortunately, her adversaries, the gang of bandits are a silly bunch, who offensively modeled on Fagin. They demonstrate the repeated failing of Season 17 to take the stories seriously. As Phil Sandifer argued in his recent book, they are the oppressed underclass of this planet. The viewer should be led to sympathize with them, not laugh at them.

Organon seems to be a creation of Douglas Adams; there is no character quite like him in any of David Fisher's other scripts. He serves no purpose in moving the plot, apart from a little exposition. He is there to deliver Douglas Adams style satire. If you like Douglas Adams' stuff you will love him, if you don't, then every minute of his presence on the screen will be annoyance.

This serial had Lalla Ward's first performance as Romana. With her haughtiness, she plays the role a little closer to Mary Tamm's style and she is dressed up in a dress that was rather more like what Romana no.1 would wear. This is not the Romana no.2 we see in other stories, yet I quite like the way she comes across as a sort of fairytale princess in The Creature from the Pit. It rather fits with the incredible earnestness and innocence with which Lalla Ward approached the role.

As usual for this period, Tom Baker spends his time wandering around the set delivering comics lines. The gag about Teach Yourself Tibetan is just daft.

There is probably a good story wrapped up in here, yet the failure of all involved to take it seriously means that it just ends up being a silly comic story in which any kind of social or political critique is lost.

On the positive side, it is a story about the Doctor exploring a strange alien world, something which happens very rarely in the BBC Wales series. For all that Graham Williams era ended up looking cheap, it did try it's best to give us exciting new worlds. With an exotic jungle planet with a peculiarly appropriate name and lavisly dressed natives, this feels like a story that might have been done and played straight in the Hartnell era. Erato would certainly have looked much more convincing in black and white.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Gallifrey Exile: 10 Things I Hate About Who. Part One: Lack of Bel...



'But Verity Lambert, Anthony Coburn, Waris Hussein and Co. took this off the wall idea and made us believe in it. We believed in this utterly bizarre idea because it was grounded in everyday reality, the reactions of our everyman characters of Ian and Barbara were what our reactions would have been if we had stumbled across this impossibility. 
There is nothing about this first episode which is trying to be clever or funny; it is just good honest drama and immediately sells Doctor Who as a believable sci fi concept. But it could have been done differently, the producers could have decided to make everything wacky which is pretty much what Moffat does today and then the credibility is gone. 
So for the first few seasons Doctor Who goes backwards and forwards in history and out into space, any viewer with a bit of imagination can believe these things are going on, and outside our normal everyday world is a whole universe of adventure.  Later things get a bit more complicated because Doctor Who starts to visit contemporary Earth a bit more and aliens start to invade. The problem is that any viewer knows that there hasn't been a worldwide alien invasion so Doctor Whocould lose that connection to reality.  The producers therefore do the sensible thing and most of the alien invasions occur in the future or in isolated areas. With a stretch of imagination we can still believe in the reality of Doctor Who and that everything occurs just out of view. Okay a lot of the UNIT stuff is now contradicted, but at least at the time they tried to make their ideas palatable. 
The new series has ceased to be believable since probably the first episode Rose back in 2005. In the old days we were slowly edged into the mythology of the series; in RTD's version it comes in one fell swoop: invasions, TARDIS time travel, there is no time for a viewer to be slowly drawn in like there was in An Unearthly Child so it's all chucked in in the space of 45 minutes.'

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Meglos




I am a huge fan of Season 18 and consider it to be the strongest season of the show (the only other contender being Season 25, which is let down by Silver Nemesis). Meglos is unfortunately the weakest story of an otherwise brilliant season. However, Meglos is not nearly as atrocious as it is sometimes considered by fans and shows the consistent improvement in quality between Seasons 17 and 18.

Central to John Nathan-Turner's agenda for his first season as producer was in improvement on production values after the sloppiness of the Graham Williams era. This is very much evident in Meglos, with the spacecraft design, the costumes and the the appearance of Zolpha-Thura. Tigella is perhaps less effective as a planet, with the jungle looking a little unimpressive. More importantly, the brilliant musical score helps to give the worlds of this serial an haunting sense of atmosphere. As even critics of Meglos agree, the spiny make-up effect on Tom Baker is extremely impressive and disturbing. Meglos is certainly an interesting character, a disembodied intelligence manifesting in a cactus. It reminds me a bit of Vulthoom from the Klark-Ash-Ton story in the Cthulhu Mythos.

We also get Jacqueline Hill returning to the show in the role of Lexa. Admittedly her part as a closed-minded fundamentalist is a rather cliched one, with little for her to develop, yet she still gives a lovely performance.

The Chronic Hysteresis is rather less impressive, as well as being scientific nonsense. The scene goes on rather to long, even if Lalla Ward does a good job of appearing distressed by the absurd situation.

I always love carnivorous plants, so I quite like the Bell Plants, even if they are not terribly impressive. It would not be long before the BBC put Doctor Who completely to shame with the brilliance of its Triffid monsters in their own series.




Part of the charm of Meglos is that it is an old-fashioned space adventure that goes to strange and exotic worlds. The presence of Jacqueline Hill is rather appropriate, as it very much evokes the spirit and style of the Hartnell era. This willingness to create exotic worlds is something sadly lacking in the new series.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Death in Heaven




Phil Sandifer recently complained about reviewers criticising this last season of Doctor Who as derivative. In his opinion, those who make such a charge have nothing meaningful to say about Doctor Who. What I say is that I know when Doctor Who is not derivative. Warriors' Gate does not feel derivative, nor does Snakedance. Yes, those stories have influences both inside Doctor who and outside it. Yet this is very different from being essentially a rehash of other stories, in the way that Attack of the Cybermen is. Death in Heaven feels rather more enjoyable than Attack of the Cybermen, but it still feels very much a recycling of similar stories and themes. There is a lingering sense of deja vu about this episode. One feels that one has seen something pretty similar before, but can't quite remember exactly which episode.

Death in Heaven very much feels like a Russel T Davies story with Moffat elements thrown in. Arguably, it is a stronger version of Closing Time with UNIT and the Master thrown in. Perhaps it is inevitable that a story that brings back the Master, the Cybermen and UNIT will feel unoriginal, which perhaps raises the question of whether doing all three together was such a great idea.

Death in Heaven has some exciting moments and it is Michelle Gomez's Missy that makes it really enjoyable, but on the whole it is a slightly disappointing piece of work. The pacing is definitely uneven and the ending is a little confusing and clumsy.

The death of Osgood has definitely bothered a lot of fans and it is easy to see why. Killing off a likeable character is a risky move. I would argue that the last season has been a little too heavy on big emotional moments; they should be used sparingly. Yet in this instance, we arguably ought to have had a more emotion put into the death of Osgood.

Killing off Osgood was a questionable move and so was killing off Missy. I used to be very much in favour of the death penalty. I'm not sure I disagree with it, but I'm not convinced any more. Perhaps this is due to my conversion to Catholicism. Catholicism is ambivalent about the death penalty; acknowledging that it may be necessary, but not identifying it as an ideal. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the death penalty, I was very uncomfortable at seeing an unarmed and helpless woman killed in cold blood. The viewer is clearly encouraged to sympathize with Clara who demands Missy's death. I am sure Moffat did not intend this to be advocating the death penalty, but that is how it came across, much like the way Kill the Moon seemed to unintentionally oppose abortion. Would it really have been such a bad idea to have Missy handcuffed and frogmarched off to jail at the end? Why does the Master need to be killed at the end of every appearance, only to have the writers find some contrived way to bring her back? Lawrence Miles rightly complained about the laziness of writers who kill off too many characters.

As a theologian, I am very glad that the Doctor denied that love is an emotion. Yes, love is not an emotion, but a disposition of the will. Christian orthodoxy holds that God is love, yet he is also impassible, that is without emotions.





Sunday, 2 November 2014

Dark Water




The first fifteen minutes of this story are pretty amazing. We see Danny killed, Clara venting her rage at Dr. Who and appearing to have him at her mercy until he turns the tables on her and then his announcement that he will help her get Danny back from 'hell.' This is incredibly powerful drama and gives Capaldi exactly the kind of material he can deliver like diamonds.

Things get a bit more wobbly once we enter the bizarre pseudo-underworld. It did seem remarkable that the Doctor believed he could take the TARDIS into the afterlife. I was a bit confused by the scepticism he later showed once he got there. Did he believe in the afterlife or not, and if not, why did he expect to find Danny somewhere?

The afterlife is somewhere that Doctor Who should not explore. I'm rather glad that this afterlife turned out to be fake, but the episode probably went a little too far. I know that if I had watched this as a child, I would have been troubled by the apparent conflict with my Christian beliefs. I agree with the Radio Times review that said the idea of cremated people being in conscious torment was insensitive and distasteful. This episode could have been very upsetting for people who had seen a bereavement. The level of darkness here was probably a bit much for younger viewers.

So Missy turns out to be a female incarnation of the Master. Most fans had guessed this as possible, but I had expected her to be some disappointing throw-away character like Kovarian. A female Master is an exciting idea and nobody can fail to love her twister Mary Poppins guise. Her pretense at being a droid is a nice reference to either Scream of the Shalka or Planet of Fire and the sort of camp trick the Master would play. On the other hand, her kissing Dr. Who is a bit of a throwback to flirty River Song, reminding us of the difficulties Moffat has had writing female characters. I also feel a sense of dread at the thought of the Master coming back. A female Master is still the Master; a character with ludicrous schemes that always scuppered and who comes back again and again. No doubt Missy will be killed in the big season finale only for the next producer to find a contrived way to bring back a new Master.

I don't have high hopes for the next episode. The Cybermen harvesting the dead and invading London is hardly a very original idea. This story is starting to feel a lot like a story that RTD did a few times.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

In the Forest of the Night



Phil Sandifer's review of In the Forest of the Night, which delves into the Blakean aspects of the imagery, really made me want to like this. Unfortunately, the depth of Sandifer's review does not quite match the quality of the episode.

I do like the fantastical magical feel of this story. I really do like fantasy in Doctor Who. Unfortunately, this is a story with a solar flair in and so we can't just throw away the science. Doing a fantasy type Doctor Who set on Earth is tricky. Greatest Show in the Galaxy could afford to deal with magical themes because it was set on another planet; a different world with different rules. Even Survival, another magical story was partly set on another planet.

It's a little hard to fathom trees growing so quickly that nobody notices them until they have turned into a forest. Even more incredibly, London seems almost deserted. I know we get the government warning to stay inside, but what happened to the legions of homeless people? What about the people who were not at home when the trees started growing. Of course, what I would really have loved to have seen in this episode is the gigantic trees growing out of the oceans. Such a shame we didn't get to see those.

Once again we get a Problem with Sutekh moment. Clara points out that the world cannot end because she has seen the future. Dr. Who replies that the future has been erased by this event. That makes no sense. No time traveller has intervened to alter history. If history can alter at random like that, then the Doctor could never have any knowledge of past or future history. In fact, history would be meaningless. Would it even matter that humanity would die; their future history erased? Maybe another even would alter this course of history and humanity would survive.

I'm a little bothered by Clara's objection to Dr. Who saving the children. Yes, they would be upset by the deaths of their parents, but would Clara really be happier to see those kids scorched to death with the rest of the planet?

Some aspects of this story were confusing, particularly those related to Maebh. It was difficult to make sense of just how she fitted into the plot. I'm utterly baffled about how the return of Anabel fitted in. The theme of childhood mental illness is a very sensitive topic and I'm a little surprised it came up. I can't say I feel at all qualified to comment on how well this topic was handled.

On the whole it was probably not the best idea to write a story requiring a lot of child actors. And those CGI animals looked terrible.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Flatline



Most people seem to like this story, but I found myself getting really bored watching it. Flatline seemed to be full of lots of running around and pointless action.

The idea of non-3D aliens was an interesting one and had the potential to be genuinely creepy. Unfortunately this failed to terrify due to the comic tone taken by the script. Sometimes I just wish the writers could tone down the humour and try to give us a more serious story. We really don't need a laugh every minute. The story was also ruined by the awful music, the sort of score you get in those family movies they show on Christmas day.

In Flatline, Clara gets to take on the role of the Doctor. She turns out to be rather good at it. It was fun at times seeing her act Doctorish and her resourcefulness was appealing. However, I can't help thinking thst it would have been more interesting to see her do a bad job of being the Doctor. What is the point of watching Doctor Who if anyone can be the Doctor?

Once again, the Doctor suggests that a black man is unintelligent. This really reminds me of that Father Ted episode in which Father Ted accidentally acquires a reputation for being a racist.

I didn't feel at all engaged by this episode. Like so much of Moffat-era Doctor Who, this is just boring.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Mummy on the Orient Express



This story is set on a recreation of the Orient Express in space. It seems a remarkably vivid recreation, because both the crew and passengers are dressed in period costume. Furthermore, they are all human and seemingly British. I think it would have been more interesting visually to do a less perfect re-creation of the period, by having some characters be aliens and some of the passengers wearing non-period costumes. Would that have confused the costume department too much? If they really wanted to do a period drama on the Orient Express, why not have it set on the real train on Earth, with the monster being an Egyptian mummy? This seems a bit like RTD's demand for werewolves, Kung-Fu monks and Queen Victoria in the same story.

I'm not sure why the carriages of the train are swaying, as if on a winding railtrack. If this is a spaceship travelling through space, it ought to be moving straightforward, having no physical obstacles to affect its movement.

I don't think this is how to do a monster story. We get a full reveal of the monster right at the beginning. We see so much of it that it does not stay scary for very long. What is more, the very title gives away the fact that it is a mummy. Could the nature of the monstrous entity not have been concealed for a while? An unknown terror is much more frightening.

The mummy turns out to be a form of alien technology, like several other entities we have encountered in this season. Are we not going to get any proper aliens in these stories? It seems a mundane and dull explanation for the monster. I would much have preferred it to have turned out to be the mummified remains of some ancient alien emperor. This story shares with Pyramids of Mars a misunderstanding about just why mummies are scary. Mummies are not scary because they are wrapped in bandages. They are scary because they are dead things. They are part of the 'uncanny.' A robotic mummy is a bit banal.

I think this story was reasonably well polished and did interesting things with the characters, but it had a lack of imagination and flair.



Friday, 10 October 2014

Gallifrey Exile: The Hypocrisy of The Doctor


'One of the places I go to for Doctor Who reviews that I genuinely trust and admire is Tea With Morbius, run by Matthew Celestis.  For his review of The Caretaker, he made some very pointed comments about the issue of how soldiers are presented on Doctor Who, as well as on the issues of race and class involving both the newest character, Danny Pink (played by Samuel Anderson) and other characters of color whom Celestis I think is saying are shown in a bad light.
I think this merits some examination.
I think the best thing to do is to look at Doctor Who pre-Moffat, and in particular pre-12th Doctor, to see that I agree with Celestis in how Doctor Who appears to have a bizarre pathological contempt for soldiers, and worse, which is completely contradictory to what Canon has established.
If we go back to the beginning, we see that the Doctor didn't have this lifetime hatred for soldiers.  In fact, while he was a pacifist he had a great deal of respect for the military.  We only need to go to the most obvious example: UNIT.'

I'm glad somebody likes my reviews.