Sunday, October 19, 2014

The (Cyber)Man in the Moon


Second Doctor, Fourth Serial, 33rd Story.

4 episodes, Companions: Ben, Polly, Jamie

Summary: Following a disastrous attempt to control the TARDIS, we find ourselves on the Moon. After a few missteps in the low gravity, they encounter a Moonbase, a weather center (They control the weather on the Earth) and, unfortunately, illness. Viral infection is the least of their problems, as there's a spy at work on the base, trying to take it over. Bodies are going missing from sick bay, the Graviton beam is malfunctioing and a Hurricane is threatening the USA, and the station crew can't seem to figure out what's going on! Worse, the disease and everything else is an invention of the spies - the Cybermen!

The Doctor: I would never have expected the Doctor to not want to explore, but he seems awfully reluctant to explore the moon. His knowledge of time comes in handy, mostly guessing nearly right! He's clever, though, figuring out quickly that the virus is artificial. Once bodies start vanishing, the Doctor is eager enough to participate - to fight Evil. You can hear the capital E when he says it! I think Troughton's finally getting the role, and his performance here is wonderful.

Companions: Jamie spends half the serial unconscious. Ben spends a lot of time with very few lines. Polly, on the other hand, takes over as the brains of the crew, soundly and cleverly assaulting the cyberman menace. She's the first one to identify the abductors as Cybermen, but of course nobody listens. Ben and Jamie make good muscle, and are an excellent foil to the clever Doctor and Polly.  It's a shame that four's a crowd, as we already had to learn back in Susan's day, and will, sadly, have to learn again. Polly also refuses to be obedient when Ben tells her it's 'men's work', which is awesome. She's never really endeared herself to me, but I really like her in this story.

Continuity: We pick up from last week's loss of control, although we do hear the TARDIS Whooshes twice for no good reason. The Doctor mentions that in Glasgow in 1888, he got a medical degree - or some sort of Doctorate.  This is the first mention of such a thing.The Cyberman have definitely been Upgraded, for the best. They spend a lot of time silent, doing their jobs, and it's creepy as hell. This is also the first time we see victims being turned into Cybermen, and it's wonderfully scary! Their vocals aren't quite there, yet, but it's better than the Mondasian Cybermen vocals. I love how condescending they are, though "Only simple Earth Brains like yours would be fooled!" We also see the return of the Time Scanner, not used, if I am correct, since The Chase.

Rating: Enjoy it. It's not the best, but it's much stronger than Underwater Menace was. As much as I dislike the characters being slidelined for long periods, three companions is a bit much, and keeping Jamie (and Ben) out of the way worked to move things along. The second Episode is really slow, however, and is barely helped by the strong performances of the Doctor and Polly. Otherwise it's a pretty strong story, with a good villain. There's a lot of threats, but it doesn't feel like a pile O'Threats made just to complicate things, which is rare.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

All Wet.

The Underwater Menace

Second Doctor, Third Serial, 32nd Story.

4 episodes, Companions: Ben, Polly, Jamie

Summary: Picking up seconds after Leaving the Highlands, Jamie, Ben, Polly and the Doctor head off into unknown time and space. No sooner do they start exploring then they are gassed and wake up captives in a strange vessel. Soon taken to be sacrifices for Amdo, their God, they lead a revolution which ultimately destroys Atlantean society.

The Doctor: He's neither brilliant nor awful in this one. To be honest, I watched this one three times and came out of it with very little to say, which is why this one's so short. He Doctors a lot - fast talking, getting captured, escaping, dressing up, cracking wise, plots a way to win non-violently, and ends up causing a heck of a mess, but the bad guys learn their lesson. Nothing special, and that's kind of sad. He is definitely more comedic in this one that we've seen in the past, but it at least doesn't detract from the story. Then again, given how bland this one is, maybe that's not a good thing...

Companions: Ben and Polly and Jamie are important to helping the Doctor escape sacrifice, but I felt like they didn't really do much. Then again, neither does the Doctor. Ben has put himself in a role as the crew's protector, though, and he does it well. Polly plays the victim a bit, but It didn't seem forced this time. I mean, somebody's going to be experimented on, and at least Polly had a lot of other things to do in this one. Jamie is still learning the ropes, but he adapts well, and fits in easily.

There's a strong focus on the Atlanteans and the fish people, and I guess the "swimming scenes" where you can tell they're n wires, but it's well done, is about the best thing in the show. Despite everything else, the actual flooding scenes are also really well done, the best effects in the Series, and probably where all of the budget went.

Continuity: Nothing really new is introduced here, although at the end of his first voyage, Jamie declares that he feels safe in the TARDIS, moments before it goes out of control. This isn't really a continuity point, although it'll come up in the next Serial.

Rating: Skip it. This one is appalling. There's, ironically plenty of action, but no real good story. The motivations for the villains are apparently nonexistent, they just go through the motions of whatever it is they are supposed to be doing. The music is terrible, when there is any, and the fish people costumes are, to the best of my ability to recall, worse than even the Zarbi. Again, I know I promised not to harp on the terrible effects, but look at that picture and tell me it isn't awful.

Monday, October 6, 2014

There can be only ONE ... Companion!

The Highlanders

Second Doctor, Second Serial, 31st Story.

4 episodes, Companions: Jamie, Ben, Polly.

Summary: Scotland, sometime in the 1700's.  Eternal war with England rages on. The travelers are suspected of being traitors or rebels when they fall in with a group of Scots fighting the crown for their homeland. Ben and Jamie are captured and put on a ship bound for the Indies, where they will be indentured for their freedom - enslaved and worked to death more likely. Polly gets away, and she and the Doctor must work to help the Scots defeat a wicked and corrupt English officer, and free their friend.

The Doctor:Impersonating a German Doctor - Doktor Von Wer (Doctor of Who) - and getting into Germ Theory is hilarious. He manages to keep ahead of the soldiery and lawyers pretty much the entire time, mostly by fast talking and convincing absurdity. His flute doesn't make an appearance here, but that's ok, It's my least favorite Doctor Prop. He's getting into the role here, outwitting, fast talking, and outclassing his foes.

Companions: For once, the tables are turned. Ben is taken prisoner along with young Jamie, and Polly and the Doctor work mostly independently to rescue him. It's nice to see Polly being clever and taking initiative. Jamie doesn't contribute much, mostly being utilized strictly as a background character at this point, but Ben and Polly are useful and important - though not central - to the story.

Continuity: There's a recurrence of the Name joke - Doctor Who? Yes. I got a chuckle out of it, which is probably the first time. At this point, it's worth noting that he's still "Doctor Who" in the end credits, although he really doesn't use the full name, Just "the Doctor". The Second Episode is one of the few times the Doctor is seen with a gun, but then it is only brief. Of course, this is the first appearance of Jamie, this incarnation's constant companion beginning here, and ending only with ... well, Spoilers.

Rating: Enjoy it. I'm rating this higher than the Power of the Daleks, although to be fair, Daleks had 3 strong episodes.  It's a historical episode, where the big adventure is the Doctor and companions being caught up in some minor events - a war, capture, enslavement. No Alien menace, no fate of the Universe.  Just a serious adventure, with characters used to danger.  Something the Doctor won't have too much more of, sadly. He's getting older now, and he's about to start getting into a lot more trouble.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Power of the Daleks

The Power of the Daleks

Second Doctor, First Serial, 30th Serial.

6 episodes, Companions: Ben, Polly

Summary: Following his "renewal", The Doctor searches for his new persona, playing flute, reading his old selves' diary, and changing his outfit.  This Doctor is a tad bit more methodical, checking the monitors and such, but he's also acting very strangely.  Ben thinks it's not the Doctor, Polly thinks it is. It soon becomes apparent that it is the Doctor when they find themselves on a strange planet - the Earth colony of Vulcan, which has just discovered the remains of some Daleks! As things go on, the scientists on Vulcan reanimate the Daleks, Which pretend to be servants so that they can further infiltrate the colony, and replicate themselves.

The Doctor: Radically different from anything we've come to expect for the last 3+ seasons.  He plays a flute, for one thing, where the First Doctor had no time for such fripperies. His responses to the Vulcan governor are very Doctor, however.

"I'm the Examiner."
"Why are you here?"
"To examine!"

Initially intrigued by the mystery of the murder of the real examiner, it is the discovery of Dalekanium, and a capsule made by the Daleks that catapults the Doctor from his wobbly flute-playing confused self to reveal who he always is - the Doctor!  Apart from the new personality quirks, he's recognisably the same character, and that helps.

Companions: Ben and Polly of course know nothing about 'renewal' or about the Daleks, but they do understand what the Doctor is like. Their first exposure to the Daleks, though, is unique. They see it without the shell, something seen by companions only rarely. They immediately believe the Doctor when he insists they are dangerous and should be destroyed, which is odd only because they do not necessarily believe that he is the "real Doctor".

Ben uses Cockney Rhyming slang, which I don't recall him doing before, but it serves only to demonstrate that the Doctor is goofy. Unfortunately, other than that, Neither he nor Polly is particularly strong or useful. The companions are decidedly extras on their own show. Worse, Polly plays the victim again, always a plot twist I despise. 

Continuity:The terms used here is Renewal, not Regeneration. This does establish the Doctor's confusion upon a regeneration, however, something that will come up a lot, but we will eventually see Time Lords (Romana) that are not similarly effected. The strong and perfect metallic nature of Dalekanium (although it is not called by that term) is established. It resists acid, corrosion, and other agents. The Daleks do a great job of putting one over on the Humans, seeing sneaky Daleks is kind of fun.

Rating: Bear it.  It's a 6 episode long reconstruction, so that's a huge strike against it. Troughton does a great job being likable and unique, but that's not really enough to carry the entire Serial. The story drags on, with very little happening for the the first four episodes. The continuity of having both Troughton's first appearance and a new, and both creepy and fun, Dalek story is worth the time, but only just. I feel like I definitely would have judged it differently if it weren't a reconstruction, and sadly most of Torughton's era is going to be filled with them, so you and me, we're going to have to get used to it. The story's great once you get to the back half of Episode Three, though, so I say give it a shot.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The First Doctor in Review

Doctor Who 

First Doctor, William Hartnell

29 Serials, Companions: Ian, Barbara, Vicki, Susan, Steven, Katarina, Sara Kingdom, Dodo, Ben, Polly

The Doctor: The first Doctor, viewed across all 29 serials, is the Doctor just as much as any of them will be.  He's beginning to learn to break the rules to save people, and yet he's firm and alien, can be perceived as mean, but always in charge wherever he is.  He knows what's happening wherever he goes, but knowing doesn't keep him form getting swept up in events.

Companions: The women of Who are not just victims of monsters, and the men of Who are not all action heroes or clowns (although Steven Taylor is both!).  We've seen teenagers and Schoolteachers, Astronauts and Secretaries, Sailors and... Dodo Chaplet.  Seriously, what was her job, who was she?  Anyway.  We've lost companions to Daleks, to war, and because they chose to stay behind.

Continuity: The Doctor can freaking Regenerate!  This right here is the thing that's going to define the show as much as the TARDIS itself.  Everything else is just geeks paying attention to details.

Summary:  Overall, there's so many really great moments.  Far more good serials than bad, it's easy to see why the show continued for so long.  

Rating: Enjoy it!  William Hartnell will show you a good time, and sometimes you'll see the faces of the new doctors in the actions of the curmudgeonly grandfather!

Next: We continue Season 4, and Begin the Era of Patrick Troughton and too damn many reconstructions.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Enter the Cybermen, Exit The First Doctor

The Tenth Planet

First Doctor  - 29th (and Final) Serial

4 Episodes, Companions: Ben, Polly

Based on this news article from 2005, you'd think this Serial was about to come true!  Sadly, the discovery of hundreds of Kuiper Belt Objects led to the Tenth Planet in the preceeding article, and Pluto, our own "Ninth Planet" being relegated to status as "Dwarf planets" or "Kuiper Belt Objects".  But in 1966, the concept of a 10th planet was revolutionary - Pluto, after all, was only discovered only 36 years prior. 

Summary: The TARDIS crew land next in Antarctica.  The international crew of the research substation there are tracking an space craft that had fallen off course - and has now encountered a new planet approaching Earth's Orbit!  The new planet's approach coincides with a great force draining all of the power and energy from the Earth, and a heartless new form of life bent on taking everything the Earth has!

The Doctor: Immediately on edge from being challenged by the military leadership of the station, the Doctor nevertheless lends his aid - he knows about Mondas and the Cybermen.  We know that he usually knows Earth's past but this is the first time I can recall us seeing Earth's future (from the late-1960's vantage, at any rate) and him being aware of the upcoming Historical events.  In 2150, when the Dalek's invaded, he was caught completely off-guard.  But this, he knows.  It's a step back into the characterization the Doctor had for the first season - the enigmatic traveler that knew everything around him, and simply needed to put the clues together to find a way out of it.

Companions: For much of the first part, Ben & Polly take a backseat to the Doctor and the Base.  The General is such an imposing figure, and the story of the entanglements take center stage - unusual for Doctor Who at this time.  We're seeing less Companion-play and more Event.  We also see some very strong secondary characters - the General and the other scientists are horrified by what's happening. The general in particular willing to go to any lengths to protect his son, an odd mirror of how the Cybermen will go to any lengths to win.  

Continuity: Before anything, we see a brand new credits sequence - one that has been upgraded by the Cybermen, it seems.  Then the TARDIS crew in antarctic gear- clearly they're making excellent use of the TARDIS wardrobe.  Of course, next we see a startlingly accurate prediction of Space Exploration in 1986 - Back Crewmen on the spaceship, and an international force guiding it!  This is 3 years before Star Trek would do the same thing, although, to be fair, Britain was not as segregated as the US was (although Hartnell's disdain for his non-white co-stars was well documented), so it was less culturally impactful.  Nevertheless, in 1966 the entire workforce, from astronauts to janitors at NASA were caucasian males, but in Doctor Who, we see that this is not always to be the case.

Obviously, the biggie here is the introduction of the Cybermen, warriors from Earth's twin planet, Mondas!  Starting with the second Episode, Cybermen attack South Pole Rocket Base.  Made from improved robot parts, devoid of emotion, designed to be stronger and live longer than their original human bodies, they Cyberman are efficient, uncaring, and brutal.  They no longer care who they hurt, as long as Mondas and the Cybermen continue.  "Weeeee will not beeeee affected [by your deaths]".  Chilling.

And of course, the first Regeneration happens. The Doctor, presumably weakened by the events of the Savages in conjunction with the energy-drain of Mondas, collapses.  Cause of death appears to be old age combined with great strain.  He, of course, doesn't die, but rather begins to glow, and no sooner than the strange phoenomenon began, it stopped, and he changed.  A new face, voice, body, and attitude.  The Doctor is dead, long live the Doctor!

Rating: Youuuuu will Enjooooooy this Serial.  The Cybermen aaaaaaare here for the loooooong run.  Of course, let's not ignore the cultural impact of the advances in medical prosthetics today.  Olympic athletes run with limbs crafted from metal and designed by computers, and we explore every day the integration of our lives with our machines - smart Phones are ubiquitous, and Google glass is a thing.  The questions the Mondasian Cybermen raise with regard to morality and the ethics of 'whatever it takes to survive' uses of technology remain relevant today.  Perhaps we should staaaaaart asking ourseeeeeeelves agaaaaaaaain.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Smuggle Struggle.

The Smugglers

First Doctor  - 28th Serial

4 Episodes, Companions: Ben, Polly

Summary: Ben and Polly follow the Doctor inside the TARDIS, closing the door behind them just as it whirs off to who-knows-where without Dodo Chaplet.  After initially telling them he would not take them back and mocking their doubt of the time travelling nature of the TARDIS, he follows them anyway to make sure they don't get into trouble. Of course, they do, because they're companions.  It is 1700's England, and just as they start to understand what's going on, they get involved with an ex-smuggler/pirate, a conspiracy to murder over hidden treasure, and a tax agent who's just trying to get to the bottom of things.

The Doctor: Initially grumpy, and actually excited about being alone "again".  I'm not sure he's been alone at all since meeting Ian and Barbara, so I'm not sure what "again" references, unless he means before he took Susan in the TARDIS.  I simply cannot think of any other times we saw him without at least one companion.
 The glee with which he joins the escapades of the sailors, though turning the tables on them in the end is typical of his attitude.  

Companions: Polly's visible precious little here, but Ben does a great job as a man falsely accused of murder turning the tables on his accusers.  Polly does figure out how to use the prejudices of the era to escape from prison, but Ben steals that scene.  Likewise, Polly wants to solve the mystery of who killed the churchwarden, rather than simply escape to the TARDIS and flee.  She shows integrity, and I like that.  Ben wants to report back to his ship, but that's not so much integrity to me as duty.

The TARDIS Crew, now.
Continuity: We're in Reconstructionland again, and sadly we're going to be here for a lot in the near future.  This one's by Loose Cannon, which I think I generally prefer over Butterfly Effect. Still, there wasn't much to work with, and I think this show suffers for it. We see the same pictures over and over, but the audio quality is very good.  But this isn't about the quality of the recon, although I say it to point out how the recon affects the watchability.  Beyond that, storywise, The Doctor reaffirms that he has no control over where or when he lands - we know this to be mostly but not precisely true.  The Doctor can sometimes control the TARDIS quite well, and other times, not so much. The first Doctor, at least, hasn't had much luck in choosing landing points, so at least from his perspective the statement was accurate. For now, what we can be sure of is that the Doctor really isn't trying to steer much, if at all.  This Ben and Polly's first real adventure - their introduction was, after all, their own time.

Rating: Bear it.  It's difficult to watch, but that's not really the fault of the story.  This is another nice break in that the problems we're faced with in this serial aren't world-affecting, just the problems of a small group in a small town (and ship).