Saturday, March 30, 2013

All Hail Sir Ian of Jaffa!

The Crusade

First Doctor  - 14th Serial

4 Episodes, Companions: Ian, Barbara, Vicki, as before

Summary: Upon materialization, they quickly run afoul of Saracen warriors chasing European Crusaders. In the process of saving a few Crusaders (including King Richard), the Saracens make off with Barbara, and a loyal Knight claiming to be Richard.  They are exposed as frauds at the court of Saladin, but held because Barbara's beauty entrances Saladin.  Meanwhile, Ian, Vicki and the Doctor meet up with King Richard, and work to convince him to help rescue Barbara.  Political battles among both Saladin's court and King Richard's abound, and the  companions have a difficult task before them to navigate the war and the politics.  Barbara plays on her wild adventures thus far to become a veritable Scheherazade, telling the tales of classic (but future, from Saladin's perspective) literature and the TARDIS in return for her life.

The Doctor: He takes delight in stealing the clothes, not, I think because he is a thief  but because it's a challenge.  He shows himself to be a peace loving man, and an adept trickster and charlatan.  And I don't mean charlatan as a bad thing - he lives on deception of many types, and that's ok.

Companions: As Before, Barbara maintains her composure extremely well, her dignity and grace astound. When captured by the Saracen, she remains a true lady, a figure to admire and look up to.  I continue to be astounded by Barbara's portrayal.  Vicki is forced to dress as a boy to avoid capture, and does a pretty good job of not being a victim in this episode.  She's stronger here than before, and I appreciate that, but she shows some insecurities at being the newcomer to the group.  She's afraid of being left behind, and I hope she gets a chance to see that the Doctor isn't like that.  Ian is knighted as Sir Ian of Jaffa, and clearly is surprised.  He performs admirably, likewise, brave and steadfast, and even gains the respect of Saladin.

Continuity: This Serial did not feature the materialization sound they've been using, which is more or less the noise they'll use from now on.  The noise here was very disconcerting, and I;m glad they ditched it.  Also, there's no mention at this time of the Wardrobe on the TARDIS that I know we will see in future episodes - the Doctor and Vicki have to steal clothes, because they don't have any 12th century money, either.  

Rating: Enjoy it.  I really liked this Serial, the plot and pacing were good, but there was nothing truly stand out in this one.  It falls just short of Marco Polo, but is one of the better historical Serials.  The Doctor and the companions are a little upstaged by the politics of the Crusades themselves, but that is barely a speck of negative argument against this show.  The most poignant thing for me was to see that Saladin was treated very respectfully, while Richard was portrayed with little compassion.  Historically accurate, but it's nice not to see revisionist "our side was the good guys" propaganda sneaking in.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Unlucky Serial Thirteen

The Web Planet

First Doctor  - 13th Serial

6 Episodes, Companions: Ian, Barbara, Vicki

Summary: After a power failure, the TARDIS lands on a strange planet with unusual magentic anomalies, presumably, the planet itself is the cause of the power failure.  Vicki can hear odd noises no one else can, although soon enough, everyone does.  As the Doctor and Ian head off to explore, Barbara is pulled from the TARDIS by something controlling her against her will, and Vicki is trapped in the TARDIS as it is stolen by gigantic man-sized ants, the Zarbi.  We soon learn that the Zarbi are controlling people through Gold (yes, the element) and that the Zarbi are slaves in service to the Animus, and fighting against an invasion of the planet by the bee-like Menoptera, who are trying to rescue the larval creatures, the Optera.

The Doctor: He's certainly worried by the TARDIS-napping, but he remains calm and constant, as we have seen before.  He keeps his wits about him as he mentally spars with the Animus, although he seems to get bested by the malignant intelligence more often than not.  

Companions: Barbara shocks us here by giving Vicki the powerful sedative, known as Aspirin.  Seriously, since when was an anti-inflammatory a sedative?  She redeems herself by keeping a cool head int he face of the Menoptera, when a more stereotypical female of the time would have been written to scream and flee.  Vicki is both more childish and more mature than Susan, and she is given the role of the screaming victim for the first time.  She doesn't stay the creaming victim, as she helps the Doctor to outwit the Animus, and while she's played as not very bright, sometimes, she does figure out how to scare the Zarbi.

Continuity: The Doctor has a ring that is able to supply the TARDIS with power.  We've never seen that before.  Also the ADJS and supplementary respirators - the first evidence that the Doctor carried technology other than the TARDIS itself with them.  We visit the ISOP galaxy for the first time, and see the Doctor's knowledge of astrogation - he knows the planet should not actually have a moon, and yet does. There's a machine on the TARDIS with a Time and Relative Dimension Link - presumably with that link severed, the TARDIS wouldn't work.

And WAIT JUST A MINUTE!  We just had a very strong lecture on non-interference in the previous episode, how you couldn't use knowledge of the future to change things.  But it's ok to use knowledge like how many moons there should be to overthrow the Animus?  OK, I totally grant you that it's the right thing to do - the Doctor is fighting for good, but man, Couldn't they have saved some lives on Earth back in France? And why is this ok but not the Aztec human sacrifice thing?  OK, I'm done complaining.  This Episode just makes me want to rant, as below.

Rating: Bear it.  Note that I would say Enjoy It, except this one suffers greatly from being six episodes instead of four.  Let me explain - six 25 minutes episodes is 150 minutes.  That's two and a half hours.  That's longer than most major motion pictures.  When you try to fill that time with a plot that has to be reiterated weekly because TV audiences are what they are, you end up both with a lot of repetitive exposition and some ridiculous time-fill, such as the heroes being captured, escaping, recaptured, re-escaping, and so forth.  Now Marco Polo was fabulous, and a few others were even pretty good, but to date, all of the skip its and bear its are 6 (or even Seven!).  You have to really be on the ball to make a great episode movie-length.  This Serial is no Marco Polo.

I promised myself I wouldn't harp on the relatively infamous bad effects of the classic series.  Back then, TV was perceived as a televised stage play and on stage, effects are what they are - audiences were expected to imagine.  We have been spoiled by Hollywood, and we just have to ignore it.  Still, I find the vaseline-smeared lens effect used to achieve the outdoors "alien atmosphere" shots comprehensible, but unnecessary. More so than any other theatrical effect, this one hurts the watchability of the show immensely.  This is notable because the story is more ambitious than most stories before it, and it overreached so badly. Until now, effects have been limited and not too bad, but here they really tried hard, and fell flat.  The Optera are the worst of the bad costumes, though, although many point to the Zarbi themselves, the clownish ballet hands of the Menoptera, or the Animus's hairdryer like communication tube, but really, those are just targets of convenience.

Ok, so if I have that much negative to say, why Bear It, and not Skip It?  Because the story is so ambitious. The Menoptera and their plight is epic. Predictable as the Optera/Menoptera thing is, it's still fun.  The animus is creepy as heck, she's an otherdimensional being that just moved moons around and killed a planet to suit her needs.  Creepy.  Heck, there's a blog out there dedicated to the idea that the Animus is a Lovecraftian Old One.  There is a pretty good story at the heart of this, and it has merit.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What has 'The Romans' Done for Us?

The Romans

First Doctor  - 12th Serial

4 Episodes, Companions:Ian, Barbara, Vicki

Summary: The Companions are enjoying a much needed rest, much to Vicki's chagrin. She was promised adventure, and so far has seen only a month of a tiny Roman village.  Of course, before long, the adventure finds them, as Barbara and Ian taken by slavers, and Vicki and the Doctor are mistaken for a bard, on his way to play for Nero.  Ian is sold to a shipmaster, who makes him a rower, and Barbara is taken to Rome to be sold at auction.  

The Doctor: The Doctor is very curmudgeonly towards Ian and Barbara, but dotes on young Vicki.  He seems also to take delight in pretending to be the bard, although he cannot play a note.  He finds the misdirection and subterfuge fascinating, and delights in pulling one over on the court of Nero.  Before long there's a murder mystery to solve, involving the centurion who was originally plotting to murder Maximus (the minstrel whom the Doctor is impersonating), and Tavius, who hired Maximus (now the Doctor) to murder Nero.  It's complex, but actually easy to follow. I think he laughs more in this Serial than in any other, although, to be fair, even though the "threat" of execution by Nero hangs over his head at all times, in this one the stakes aren't really as high as has been the norm.  He giggles a bit like Caesar Romero's 1960's era Joker up to the end.

Companions: Ian and Barbara know nothing of the Doctor's plight, and each fights wildly to get back to each other.  Barbara is bought by a nobleman, Tavius, who recognizes her sympathetic heart and desires her no harm, while Ian's ship wrecks and they are recaptured, and made to fight in the arena before Nero. Soon enough, Nero falls for Barbara, and she spends a lot of time fighting off his advances.  It's fairly clear that Barbara has feelings for Ian, and vice-versa, what with the flirting in the first part and the pining for each other later on.  This romance is rewarding for the fans who've watched them for 12 Serials, and not at all an unexpected or unwanted development.  Vicki has not yet had much development, but she seeks adventure, is thrilled by meeting historical dignitaries, and protects the Doctor from himself. 

Continuity: The Doctor reaffirms his policy to Vicki - one may not interfere with another culture, nor attempt to accelerate its achievements.  We also see that the TARDIS exterior is nearly indestructible.  It's been crushed by a bridge and fallen off a cliff, without any damage to the interior.  This marks the first time the companions had an adventure of which the Doctor remained completely ignorant - not just a secret, but the entire Serial.

Caesar Nero, the wackiest Emperor in all of history!
Rating: Enjoy it.  This one has a lot of laughs, and was played much more for comedy than anything to date.  Nero is clearly a goofball, not the frightening, often insane dictator he is usually made to be.  It's nice to not have the fate of the world int he balance, and though there's omnipresent execution, poison, murder and betrayal, because it's a comedy, it's a nice light touch after the sorrow of the previous two. Also,while there were no refrigerators in ancient Rome, but there was romance!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Curse your Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal!

The Rescue

First Doctor  - 11th Serial

2 Episodes, Companions: Ian, Barbara, Vicki (sort of)

Summary: Here we learn of Vicki and Bennett, astronauts from Earth that have crashed on planet Dido.  They are being terrorized by a being known as Koquillion, who will kill them if he learns of their impending rescue.  Koquillion has already killed all of Vicki's crew, leaven Bennett nearly paralyzed and probably dying.  There are, of course still wild beasts, and it's not long before Ian and the Doctor are trapped by one, and Barbara is found by Vicki, which may be the more dangerous position...

The Doctor: He calls for Susan, clearly missing her.  The first companion has left the ship, and already we see that he cares for them.  He also tries to teach Barbara how to use some of the controls.  This is the only planet other than Earth the Doctor has been to since we started watching that the Doctor has seen more than once, although the first visit was not on-screen.  The Doctor is the driving force here, moreso than Barbara and Ian.  He does most of the problem solving.  He is also the one that eventually invites Vicki to join the crew, presumably missing the presence of a young girl.

Companions: Barbara and Ian definitely take a backseat here.  The Doctor takes the investigative lead, as Ian and Barbara accept things at face value.  Their compassion for Vicki keeps them active in the story, as they both try and persuade Vicki not to accept Bennett's surrender to Koquillion. While neither of them shines, I don;t think either one took a step backwards either.

Continuity: I noticed the TARDIS whoosh whoosh sound here for the first time.  Also, a new companion, the first one we have ever seen be invited and go along willingly, joins the crew here.

Rating: Enjoy it.  This one's pretty good.  The story of Bennett and Koquillion is worth the 40 minutes, it's tight, well written, and believable   

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

EX-TER-MIN-ATE! More Daleks!

The Dalek Invasion of Earth

First Doctor  - 10th Serial

6 Episodes, Companions: Ian, Barbara, and Susan

Summary: They crew lands on Earth, in London! The Doctor is overjoyed that he got it right, and even Ian says that few years one way or the other don't matter.  Unfortunately, London is deathly quiet and seemingly abandoned, and the year is 2164 (or more likely, >2174, as that was an old calendar they found).  There are a few scavengers around, and soon they find resistance fighters, who capture Susan and Barbara.  Resistance against what? No time to answer, because Ian and the Doctor then find guys with monotone voices and Special Education helmets menacing them.  Well, that's when our old friends the Daleks come rising out of the Thames.  Now it's a race for survival, as the companions must find a way to save the Earth from the Dalek conquerors and rescue the TARDIS from under the pile of bridge!  The Daleks are turning Humans into Robomen - unwilling mind-controlled cybernetic servants of the Daleks. 

The Doctor: He's true to form here.  He readily accepts the facts around him, sidesteps direct answers to questions about himself and the companions, and brings useful knowledge to the table. Here we also have him tell us that he never takes lives unless his own is in danger, and while we have learned this to be true, in light of the slaughter of the Daleks much later, we do know that this has limits he hasn't said yet - like 'being a Dalek'.  He also says he doesn't like being called 'Doc'.  This reinforces that Doctor is a kind of name, not a title.

Companions: Susan and Barbara get in with a group of resistance fighters led by David and Jenny.  Here they aid the efforts of the fight. Barbara is pretty strong here, being quite brave in the face of the Daleks, and exceptionally cunning, masterfully tricking the dull-witted Daleks.  We also get some focus on Susan as a love interest for David.  This, ultimately, is what gets Susan, who never really got the treatment she deserved, off the show.  Susan and David's romance in Part 4 is the best development she's ever had, and it's a shame that after two episodes where she's had a good role, she gets written out, but I think the writers will do better with fewer principals to worry about.

A Roboman. Note the similarities we will eventually
see to the Hartnell-Era Cybermen.  Ear bars were the
 universal symbol of being a cyborg in the 1960's.  Certainly
 carefully e-nun-ci-at-ing eve-ry syl-la-ble
was also something robots do.
Continuity: This is the first Story I am aware of that the first images take place outside of the TARDIS, instead of showing the landing first.  We see an unidentified man (later we learn it to be a Roboman) commit suicide.  Grim stuff for a "kid's show".  Ian mentions that the Daleks had been wiped out last time, and the Doctor points out that that was a million years in the future.  I guess at this point in the Dalek timeline, they were still trying to war with the Thals, but really that gets handwaved. We also see them with a cosmetic modification that allows them to operate away from the metal streets of Skaro.  I'm not sure I buy the inconsistency of the timeline, that the Daleks are off conquering other planets and still at war back home, but it's a time travel show.  Temporal inconsistencies are going to happen. We also see the Black Dalek for the first time - an indication of color-based caste or rank.  Susan Leaves the show here, marooned by The Doctor so she can have a life with David, and help rebuild the Earth.  The Daleks plan is to repalce the Earth's Core with a rocket guidance system, turning the planet into a giant missile, or possibly just to use as a spaceship (which the Doctor says will destabilse the entire 'constellation', not Solar System.  He clearly knows more than he's letting on).  Why they want a planet they can pilot when they already have spacecraft is beyond me.  Beyond that, last time we encountered the Daleks they were far less lethal. These Daleks are seen to kill resistance fighters with one hit, and they refer to exterminating the humans as the "final solution".  We also see for the first time the TARDIS has a sound system that can be used to communicate with the outside.

Rating: Enjoy it.  This is the first time an old villain has come back.  Having never before seen the Doctor fight the same foe twice, this one has the interest factor of watching him find a new solution to an old problem.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Little Problems

Planet of Giants

First Doctor  - 9th Serial

3 Episodes, Companions: Barbara, Ian, Susan

Summary: Re-calibrating the TARDIS's frequency, the TARDIS has another mechanical problem - the doors fly open during materialization and the monitor that shows you where you've landed blows up.  The readouts all show that everything is normal outside, so they proceed to explore, and discover that they have all shrunk to be just one inch tall.  They soon discover the sinister plot of an insecticide chemist and salesman who intend to force through their super-deadly toxin through to market, despite the fact that it kills everything on contact. The only person, other than our heroes, that oppose the plan ends up dead, and now the inch high heroes must bring the murderers to justice while escaping the deadly house cat...

The Doctor: He's managed not to take a backseat again, although this Serial splits its time well between Ian and the Doctor.  No significant changes in character or tone now, and I feet like the writers now understand his role in the story.  

Companions: Barbara becomes poisoned by the toxin, and hides this fact from Ian, to keep him from worrying.  She spends a lot of this Serial focused inward, which is understandable, given that she spends half of it about to die.  Ian and the Doctor do most of the saving and solving, but Susan manages to get a good role in just the same.  I felt like she played too young for what she's been through, constantly asking the Doctor to explain the situation, why they couldn't be heard, etc, but she managed to not be as frustrating as half of last season.  

Continuity: I love these mechanical malfunctions.  Later era Doctor's control rooms get more and more elaborate and complex (albeit by degrees until the McGann 'era', which wildly swings towards the cinematic view we'll see in the New Series), and I love to justify that by saying that every time one doohickey breaks, the TARDIS's controls have to grow bypass levers and switches and bulbs, until the quite sedate control scheme the Doctor uses now has become the frantic running from lever to lever that the later Doctors will use.

Rating: Enjoy it.  It has a fun little story, pretty darn good shrink effects for the pre-CGI era, and a nice environmental message about responsible pesticide use.  In the modern era of Organic produce and non-GMO foodstuffs, It remains a message we can get behind.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Looking Back Again!

The First Season, In Summary

The First Season is over now.  Eight Serials have come and gone, and we have truly come to know most of the principals.  But what kind of first season was it? Well, that's what the blog is about, so I'd be remiss if I didn't cover the Season as a whole.  (As a preview, that means when Hartnell's era ends after The Tenth Planet, I'll be reviewing his Doctorship as a whole, also.  So yeah, blog readers, you can look forward to seeing how he does each episode, then each Season recapping, and each Doctor re-re-recapping.  )

The Doctor: In the individual reviews, I've charted what the Doctor has been like, and he's been a character that grew from a curmudgeonly old kidnapper to an entertaining, resourceful man.  There's the beginnings of the personalities we will see in the future - he likes to be underestimated, ignored, and left to his own devices. He's perhaps more surly then he will become, but the shortness of temper still shows up even in his younger incarnations.  It takes a while for Hartnell to grow on you, but he does by the end of this season.  The last two Serials in particular are his greatest of the eight, but that's sadly the best thing going for them.    He's also adopted the lapel-grabbing mannerism that we will see in ... I'm pretty sure every future Doctor, although I don't recall the first time I actually saw it.

Companions: Ian and Barbara steal the series at this point.  Ian's charming, handsome, and rational.  When the companions ride alone, he drives!  Barbara is strong, intelligent, observant, and clever.  I know I harp on that a lot, but there's plenty of female characters that are bad female stereotypes with dialogue, and I think Barbara is an excellent departure from this, especially at a time before the Women's Lib movement made people conscious of the negative portrayals of women.  Susan continues to default to the negative female stereotypes at this point.  I know there are plenty of people who bash Susan, and plenty who stand up to defend her, but among these first eight Serials, the preponderance of evidence is against her.  I know there's more glorious moments coming up for her, and she really needs them.  The promise of An Unearthly Child was that we'd get a brilliant but odd alien girl, and we have ended with a typical teenager that happens to live in a TARDIS.

Continuity: I notice that the companions have yet to wonder why everybody, from the Cathay, Aztecs and French to the various aliens speaks English.  I know in the future that gets answered, but it strikes me as odd that it was never asked and established early. I'll be watching for the first mention of that.  Also, we've seen the TARDIS materialize (without the whooshing sound, though), seen it be hard to pilot, and learned a little about the Doctor and Susan.  In the credits, William Hartnell has been listed as Doctor Who, not the Doctor, causing many flame wars among fans who insist that that's not his name, but what the heck, he's The Doctor, and I use "Doctor Who" in the post tags, so there you go. The only real discontinuity has been the debate over flying or materializing, and I happen to know in the future we will see both.

Summary: This was a mixed bag, with 3 Love its, 2 Enjoy its, 2 Bear its, and a Skip it. The Historicals were both the weakest and the strongest. Although that statement was not entirely true, The Keys of Marinus was the only Skip It so far, and it was decidedly not a Historical. As much as I want to classify whether one or the other kind of adventure is hit or miss, the fact is, at this point, the writing is all over the place, and there's no accurate predictor.  Let's get some tighter scripts and some shorter serials (Yeah, I know, the mixed bag will continue to be an omnipresent force of the Classic Doctors, but I'm at the beginning of the era, and I can dream!)

Rating So Far: Enjoy it.  Our destiny is in the stars, so let's go and search for it!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Reign of ... Meh.

The Reign of Terror

First Doctor  - 8th Serial

6 Episodes, Companions: Ian, Barbara, Susan, as before

Summary: Immediately following the events of The Sensorites, the Doctor angrily drops Ian and Barbara off on what he thinks is their home - and while it is Earth, once again it is the wrong time.  Their squabble quickly forgotten in the urge to commit breaking and entering at a chateau in the French countryside, where they discover they are in the French Revolution, and quickly become entangled in the intrigue and horror of the era.  They are discovered by a pair of rebels (although in this era, everyone's a rebel right? Rebelling against the crown, the church, the rebellion itself) and then captured by French soldiers.  The Doctor is nearly killed when the soldiers randomly decide to burn the chateau, and the others are sentenced to death by guillotine.  Before long, they are all captured and released and captured again, taking sides in the Revolution and even becoming involved in the drama of espionage during the bloodiest era in France's history.

The Doctor: The Doctor is very prideful again, although he soon gets his comeuppance when he is forced to work in a peasant work crew. He soon gets the finery of a nobleman, and spends the rest of the Serial with his nose on the air, even in prison.  He plays the part really well, though.  Without the companions at his side for most of the entire Serial, he shines.  He's quite likable here, after watching him get the comeuppance he needed to put him back down from his snooty treatment of Ian.  He maintains strength of character and wit throughout the remaining 5 episodes, a hopeful sign of the writing we are likely to see from him in the future!

Companions: None of them are bad, or given to useless roles, but this one was odd in it's handling of the companions.  Most of the time, the story focused on the Frenchmen, revolutionaries or otherwise, and I felt that the companions and the doctor were once again involved observers, with occasional threats of death.  There's not really anything of note to call for any of them - Ian remains steadfast, clever, and loyal, Barbara continues to be strong and in control. Susan continues to be a victim, unfortunately.  I liked watching Ian and Barbara squabble about morality and treason in the fifth episode, it's good to see the group disagreeing with someone other than the Doctor.  Just like a real family!

Continuity: We see once again that while the Doctor has all of time and space at his command, locating a specific point in space-time is pretty darn hard. It is the first time we see the TARDIS materialize, instead of simply jump-cutting to where it was, BUT it does so without the (soon to become) familiar WHOOSH WHOOSH sound. In fact, it's completely silent, which is kind of jarring, in perspective.  I suppose at this time it's nothing unusual at all.  Actually, given the materialization, I'm reminded of the references in Marco Polo to the TARDIS flying through the air, and note here that it absolutely does not. The references to meddling in history at the beginning hearken back to The Aztecs.  And here, while the company become involved, and theoretically affect things (telling people Napoleon will become ruler, for example), they do not try to actively steer things the way Barbara did back then.  Susan started the series borrowing a Book on the French Revolution, noting it was inaccurate, which probably explains how the Doctor could go incognito so well - they had been to this era (Historically the Revolution was itself technically over at this point) so they knew the customs.  Ending the Season near the French Revolution is a nice bookend.

Rating: Bear it.  Using the Keys of Marinus as a benchmark, this wasn't that bad.  I really don't like seeing the companions and the Doctor being observers, though, and that's most of this Serial.  By the time they do get involved with the actual story, beyond getting captured and escaping and getting recaptured, I've long since lost interest.  Still, it ends well, and the Doctor is worth watching in this Serial.  Skip it if you like, but if you watched Keys of Marinus, Watch this one, so that you can see that that one truly was the worst of the Season.  If you do want to skip the first 5, go ahead.  The last one of the Serial is pretty good.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cultural Sensitivity and Penlights

The Aztecs

First Doctor - Sixth Serial

4 Episodes, Companions: Ian, Barbara, Susan, as before.

SummaryThe Deerfield Aztecs, a baseball team, crashed in Mexico and formed their own lost tribe of real Aztecs. They track their missing shortstop, Carmalita (Arthur's girlfriend) to America but grab Arthur instead. 

Sorry, that was the The Tick episode by the same name.

Summary: They arrive in ancient Mexico - in the Aztec rule, before 1520.  Barbara is quickly mistaken for the Goddess Yetaxa reborn.  The companions realize they'll all be sacrificed to make it rain again unless Barbara fools them, and, of course, actually makes it rain. Ian is made one of Yetaxa's warriors, who must acquire the human sacrifices.  The Doctor is forced to retire in a beautiful garden.  Susan stays with Barbara as her handmaiden.  Barbara creates turmoil when she abolishes the act of human sacrifice, in order to keep Cortez from wiping out the "barbarian" culture.  Barbara tries to stop it, but the sacrifice victim kills himself on the temple and it rains, causing the High Priest of Sacrifice, Tlotoxl, to vow that Barbara is a false Yetaxa, and plot to destroy her and the others. Clearly Yetaxa's friends are the weak point, so Tlotoxl targets them in a series of cunning traps.

The Doctor: He starts by trying to make sure the characters don't change history here, and this is really the first time we see that rule invoked.  He also has a relationship with Kameka, a woman that is also retired to the garden, we get to see him enjoy the nuances of a romantic relationship for the first time (our first time, at any rate, he already has a granddaughter, so presumably he has scoodlypooked before the show ever started).  He's really infatuated, and willingly becomes engaged to an Aztec woman.  He seems to have found peace, and really seems to want to settle here.  I've not seen that before, and while the romance isn't super-well developed, it is believable.  

Companions: Barbara's knowledge as a History teacher comes to the forefront here, much more so than it did with Marco Polo.  In this episode, Barbara is willful and deliberately disobeys the Doctor, the first such time since they became a cohesive unit.  Ian demonstrates bravery, cunning, and resolve.  Susan herself also tries for some social change, rebelling at the idea of arranged marriage once again, as she did for Ping-Cho.   The companions desire for meaningful social change is commendable, though doomed.  No dead weight in this one!

Continuity: The rule about not changing history - clearly they can try, but it's forbidden.  This has never come into play before, so we'll now begin watching for that rule to affect the companions in the future.  Also - was that the Sonic Screwdriver the Doctor gave to Ian in the Tunnel?  It could have been a normal penlight, but I really want to believe it wasn't. Elsewhere on the web, they say it wasn't used until 1968 by Troughton, but I'm going to vote right here that while the object was unnamed, it was Hartnell's Screwdriver.  Troughton just was the first one to name it.  There.  It is so declared*.

Rating: Enjoy it. It's really another well done Serial.  I didn't enjoy it as much as Marco Polo, but a lot of that was really I felt the recurring issue of the human sacrifices was uninteresting. In among all of the social change dialogue, I kept thinking how the Serial kept reminding us that these people's culture was their own, and that, however noble our intent, us forcing our views upon them was morally wrong.  I kept thinking that this was an interesting message coming from the historically culturally insensitive British Empire.  Then again, I guess us Yanks from the American South don't have much room to talk with regard to our oh-so-culturally accepting past, so there's that.

The hardest part for me was not the plot, or the sets or effects or anything like that.  It was all these English accents speaking Aztec words.  Funny as that sounds, I just found the accents distracting.  Five other Serials of all the aliens and everybody else having an English Accent, and I guess it's because I'm in Texas and the Mesoamerican culture is more visible here that I actually cared this time.

*Ian used it as a flashlight.  It was probably just a penlight.  Stupid logic.  sigh.

Sensorites and Sensibility

The Sensorites

 First Doctor - Seventh Serial

7 Episodes, Companions: Ian, Barbara, ans Susan, as before.

Summary: The TARDIS materializes inside a moving spacecraft from the 28th Century, to find the crew dead - only they aren't, they're suspended by the Sensorites, a group of aliens from the SenseSphere that won't let them escape.  They discover that the Sensorites are not precisely malicious, but they distrust the Humans, who want to mine their planet for Molybdenum.  The Sensorites steal the lock for the TARDIS, trapping the companions outside, and forcing them to deal with the Sensorites to get their ship back. They become embroiled in solving the cultural ills (and actual illnesses!) of the SenseSphere to gain the trust of the homosapienphobic Sensorites, and get tangled up in an ugly power and political dispute.

The Doctor: It's a good chuckle when he claims to be opposed to interfering in other cultures, although at this point he really has only interfered to save his companions. Finally, a Serial where he shines! He's the driving force behind the investigation and solution of most of the situations.  Everything from the Molybdenum to the toxins in the aqueduct, finally the Doctor is an active member of his self-titled show.

Companions: This time, Barabara isn't the star! She's not present for most of the 7 episodes, and without her presence, Ian and Susan get a little more development. Ian still shines as the most observant of the pair of them, but Susan takes on a new importance as the ambassador with the Sensorites, due to her telepathic receptiveness.  This Serial has the least unneccesary capturing, escaping and recapturing of the companions to date.  That's hyperbole, becuase I haven't actually been counting, but I think they only get trapped twice, and spend the other 5 episodes solving the problems before them, and getting embroiled in newer problems instead.  Brilliant!

Continuity: A sonic Screwdriver would have solved half of the first episode.  We also learn here that Susan has latent Telepathic powers - or at least is more receptive to telepaths and empaths than the others are.    Oh - and The Doctor makes a reference to his "heart".  Singular.  Just sayin'.  We also learn that the as-yet unnamed Home Planet of the Doctor and Susan has silver-leaved trees and a burned orange night-time sky.  Susan indicates that she'd like to go home, someday, and The Doctor indicates that he's not able to control the TARDIS very well, giving the impression that rather than being exiles, they are lost in space.  It's not directly stated, and Ian and the Doctor argue about that very thing at the end.

Rating: Bear it.  This one's not as strong as most of the previous ones,   but the Doctor's change to activity, and Susan's useful role make this one worth the time.  I've been waiting for Susan to get a good role, and this one comes pretty close.  As a negative, I found the Sensorites unsympathetic, so while most of the time the Doctor was trying to help them, I really didn't care that much.  Even though there were really only two evil Sensorites, they were insipid and had such a kindergarten kind of petty evil I found they tainted the whole race.  Upon my second viewing though, I came to like the First Elder and the companions in this one, so it's better than the Keys of Marinus. And it suffers form being just too many parts,  the six parter could have stood trimming - it could have easily been told in four.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

After Every High, a Low?

The Keys of Marinus

First Doctor - Fifth Serial

6 Episodes, Companions: Ian, Barbara, Susan, as before.

Summary: The TARDIS materializes on a world of glass beaches and acid seas, only to become prisoners of a strange white monk and a tribe of black alien attackers known as the Voord.  They learn from the monk, Arbitan, that this world was once ruled by a machine that thought for them.  The Voord sought only to take the machine for themselves.  They turned off the machine and split up the micorocircuits that controlled it - known know as the Keys of Marinus.  The Voord could only be stopped with the five keys - complex microcircuits, actually - and the device could be powered on again, this time to control the Voord themselves. Arbitan throws up a force barrier around the TARDIS, and thus the long journey to recover the Keys of Marinus begins.  Along the way, they visit a planet where everything is an illusion, a planet where a crazed biologist monk has made the plants homicidal, a frozen wasteland guarded by an insane trapper, a museum holding the key (with an interesting mystery story there).

The Doctor: At the opening, the Doctor shows a remarkable scientific curiosity and companionship with Ian, both recent developments, personality-wise.  He shows some unusual prescience and understanding.  Of course, he's gone for half this serial, so who can judge?  His role in defense of Ian in Sentence of Death was commendable, and he gained some likability by being clever there.  Considering that I'm only just warming to him, this is a good thing at this point.

Companions: Again, Barbara is the first one to come up with reasonable solutions.  She continues to be the sensible voice behind Ian (who is still kind of the lead actor, here).  I really like her character, and wish she'd gotten some better writers, although she does come up the hero of the Serial in the end, saving Ian and Susan.  At no point here did Susan's involvement bring anything to the serial at all.  She could have not been present and it would have worked fine without her - just have Barbara rebuild the rope bridge, and have Arbitan's daughter play the victim.  Susan, although present, was about as influential on the story as the Doctor was.  I really hope to see a good Susan bit soon, I want to like Susan, she started out really neat, but just hasn't been written well yet.

Continuity: Arbitan has machines that travel in space the way a TARDIS travels, by materializing and de-materializing.  Nice to see other races getting advanced tech.  Fantastic continuity and editing work switching from illusion to reality in Velvet Web (Episode 2).  But as for advancing the overall Whoniverse, there's not much here.  That's not a crime, but it is if the Serial just doesn't live up to the standards of the show, there needs to be something else to latch on to, and this doesn't do it.

There's nothing suspicious here at all!
Rating: Skip it.  Velvet Web was fun but I think it was the best episode of 6. Watch that one if you want and don't worry about the plot holes caused by not seeing the other 5.  Screaming Jungle was pretty much just Screaming Companions.  Barbara is trying to be strong in Snows of Terror, but just continues to be a victim.  I blame Terry Nation.  Sentence of Death is a decent change of pace, as the whole story is an Ian "locked room murder" mystery.  You could do worse than to go ahead and watch that one, too.

I also wondered why the original people of Marinus turned off the machine to keep the Voord from getting it, but the answer to keeping the Voord from getting the machine is to turn it back on.  I don't want to be the guy who spends all day ranting about gaping plot holes, but this one is a huge problem for this entire serial.  This so far is the weak point of the season, and it's a damn shame that all of Marco Polo is lost and none of this one was...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Damn Reconstructions

Marco Polo

First Doctor - Fourth Serial

Marco Polo

Seven Episodes, Companions: Ian, Barbara, Susan, as Before  Reconstructed and Colorized Version, by Loose Cannon.

Here's where I have a hard time with this.  I'd just finished Hartnell's era and seen two of Troughton when the idea to go through this is a blog occurred to me.  But the problem here was, I skipped all the Reconstructions, because I didn't have the patience.  As a behind the scenes peek, for each Episode so far, I went ahead and re watched the Serial as I typed them up.  Adding, deleting, editing as it went, so you're getting my thoughts as I see the show, and then a final edit with my final thoughts as I hit  Publish.  That means when I discussed the Daleks, it was the second time I'd watched it this year, so I had some perspective on what was coming in each show, and some perspective on how Hartnell's era wrapped up.  Heck, at this point I've seen all of Hartnell that wasn't a reconstruction, exactly 3 Troughton episodes, 2 of Pertwee, 2 Davidsons, 1 Colin Baker, and a ton of Tom Baker and the New Series.  I'm not the most knowledgeable blogger out there, but maybe that's the way to review it. I'm not a blank slate, but I'm not coming at it ignorant either.  I'm just a Whovian who wants to see all the ones Ii missed along the way.  So here I am, watching my first Reconstruction.  I promise not to let that interfere with the honest (but biased - I don't deny I have a bias!) review.

Summary:  After repairing the Fast Return switch, the Doctor and Companions return at last to Earth in the year 1289 instead of 1963.  They materialize on the plain of Pamir and quickly encounter Mongolian warriors, who take them to Marco Polo.  Desperate to make repairs to the TARDIS, they become embroiled in the intrigue of the court of Kublai Khan, the machinations of Warlord Tegana (himself an enemy of Kublai Khan), and Ping-Cho (a princess of Samarkand betrothed against her will).  

The Doctor:  Another case of his amusement at odd situations  the Doctor giggles like a schoolgirl when Marco Polo takes the TARDIS from them and promises to give it to Kublai Khan as a gift.  Everyone else, is of course, horrified.  He is more affable in this serial than in previous serials, however, which is good.  

Companions: Ian returns to the strongest character position, although Susan and Ping-Cho take a close second. Ping-Cho is a more active character than Susan however, which diminishes her importance in this serial. Barbara takes a much less active role, but given that she was beasically the hero last time, I forgive it.  As usual, for the most part the Companions stay more or less passive, although they continue to try to get the TARDIS back, they do little to interfere until the last episode of the serial.  

Continuity:  Ian describes the TARDIS's motion as flying through the air, when it has only been shown until now to appear and disappear.  I know in later episodes we will see various combinations of materialization and actual flight, but I found the description of the TARDIS as flying jarring.  Still, this establishes Flight as a TARDIS ability.  

Rating:  Love it.  Really, I was surprised how quickly I got used to the reconstruction format of still images with audio. The story was complex and rich, and a lot of fun.  Tegana was a villain through and through, but he managed to get Marco's ear time and time again, and it never seemed contrived or fake. Very believable, and that says a lot for a sci-fi show from the 1960's!  Well written, well acted, and generally well done.

The Edge of Destruction

The Edge of Destruction

The First Doctor, Third Serial - The Edge of Destruction. 

Two Episodes.  Companions: Susan, Ian, Barbara, as before.

Summary: The crew awaken on the Tardis to find everyting out of order - doors opening and closing, the expterior report showing photographs of old travels, and a sinister force plaguing the TARDIS and their minds.

This is the episode where the group becomes a family.  It's also never expressly stated that the TARDIS is playing with their emotions, but I think it's obvious that it is.  Susan especially seems to be under some sort of spell, and I find that explanation very satisfying.

The Doctor: The doctor's alien values and mindset are specifically pointed out here.  And while his paranoia and distrust of the humans resurfaces time and again, he never attacks them.  You can tell very clearly that he wants to, and he has lost all trust in them, but something inside him holds him back.  Hartnell is definitely getting more comfortable in the role, though his flubs, which will become his trademark, never go away.  It's kind of charming, really, since in real life I flub my own lines, too.  Here, the doctor grows, learns he can be wrong, and that he needs his companions.  His acceptance and respect for Barbara represents the start of the Doctor we all know and love.

The Companions:  Barbara is the true hero of this serial, although I think Ian still gets more dialogue and screen time.  At the end of this one, the Doctor has to acknowledge that she saved the day, and solved nearly every riddle that there was.  She will no longer be relegated to being a second class companion. Susan seems to be the most affected by the problem plaguing the TARDIS, as if the TARDIS itself is trying to get into her mind, but she's coherent and not sterotypical sci-fi-female-running-and-screaming.  Ian does a great job as always, but he's really the go between for Barbara and the Doctor.  Still, there's consistency of character.  Ian is reasonable, rational, and willing to accept input from anybody that makes sense, whether it's a woman, a child, or an old alien man.  Quite open minded for a man of the early 1960's.

Continuity:  Looking forward, here's where the TARDIS starts to develop her personality.  She's talking to the crew. She's trying to get inside their minds, protecting them from harm but trying desperately to send a message.  For the first time, we are presented with the idea that the TARDIS can think for itself - the Doctor dismisses it as not thinking as you and I know it, but nevertheless, thought.  Further, we can see the TARDIS as a character in the show for the first time, not just a set.  We also learn here that there's a tremendous energy stored in the control console, inside that hexagonal table.  Its a power so strong it would destroy a human, and it is capable of escaping.

In addition, we get a hint at the TARDIS's power.  It can go back to the very creation of the Sol System, much further back in time that was imagined by the main characters.  It can travel to alien worlds, as seen in the Daleks, before, so now we have established, in 3 Serials, that the length and breadth of not just space, but time, are open to our heroes.

Rating: Love It.  It's a tense, exciting thriller, reminiscent of the psychological thrillers of Hitchcock like Rope, to me.  One set. Four people.  Danger everywhere. And something preying on their fears, making them afraid and mistrustful, and only by overcoming that can they survive.  It's a powerful Serial, and while its placement here serves to solidify the companions and the Doctor's relationship as a crew and a family, it suffers a little from being so early in the show, because we don't yet love the characters as much as we will.  Maybe we needed this episode to get to that point, though.

The Daleks, or the Mutants

The Daleks

The First Doctor, Second Serial - The Daleks.

Seven Episodes.  Companions: Susan, Ian, Barbara, as before.

Summary: Following their escape from their adventures in 100,000 BC (Year 0) (AKA the Tribe of Gum AKA An Unearthly Child), the Doctor and his companions travel to a mysterious forest, and encounter a strange city.  After faking another repair to the TARDIS, the Doctor convinces the group to explore the city, thus discovering the series most iconic villains, the Daleks, and becoming involved in Skaro's civil war.  After numerous captures and escapes, they discover the secrets of Skaro.

The Doctor: We finally see his curiosity for the first time, as he deceives the party specifically just to investigate the city, after becoming fascinated by the ecology of the planet.  He takes delight in this deception  satisfying the first vestige of curiosity, and regret when his rash, selfish actions endanger the schoolteachers.  This is the first sign of compassion, beyond simply letting them escape the Tribe of Gum with him.  He is beginning to respect Chesterfield, (as he calls him) and this will become a boundless enthusiasm for all humans in time.

The Companions: Susan is unlikable in the first episode of the serial.  She's whiny, petulant, and plays all the most negative stereotypes of a teenage girl of the time - helpless, scared, and sulky.  She had some frightened moments before, but this really is much more than we saw before.  Thankfully she gets better again, even within this serial. By the third episode, she's strong again, but the wobblyness of her character is noticeable.  This may be why she is characterized as a helpless screamer - she does it, a lot.  Ian continues to be the strong role model, and at this time, a virtuous foil to the Doctor's fairly unlikable scamp.  Barbara even has a few moments as a strong character, and no longer playing just the victim.  All of the companions, by the fourth Episode, are likeable and strong again, but Ian seems so much more like the main character than a member of the ensemble.

Continuity:  We meet the Daleks in their first and weakest version.  Their initial attacks merely paralyzed Ian, instead of killing.  They demonstrate their innate deception, however, as they allow Susan to leave - ostensibly to get the drugs they need to survive the radiation, but it is in fact a trap to kill more Thals.
The Daleks wish to exterminate the Thals, who are losing the war as they became pacifists following the nuclear holocaust of 500 years ago.  The Dals created Dalek bodies for themselves to survive the radiation, but are powered by static electricity and may only operate within the limit of their city.  They use the Doctor, whom they have not learned to fear, as a patsy to get the anti-radiation drug they need to finally exterminate the Thals, but are not yet ruthless enough to wipe out the humans out of hand.  They will learn to remedy this.
For the TARDIS, we see it produce food for the crew.  We also learn of the massive security on the door - something that evolves over time.  We see in the future that the interior adapts with each regeneration, so we can assume the security system adapts, too.

Rating: Love It.  Seriously, this one's great.  Seven Episodes is a little long, and by about Episode 5 it begins to drag, but this one has GREAT effects (especially for 1963).  They did so much with so little, effects wise. The Doctor's personality begins to evolve so much here.  The history of the Daleks is highly relevant to the future of the series, and this one is so much a better launching point for Classic Whodom.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Journey Through Time (Lords)

I'm a fan of Doctor Who. I've been watching it since I was a kid, catching episodes late at night on PBS and not really having any idea what was going on. But there's hundreds of Episodes I haven't seen. Through the magic of the internet, YouTube, and a DVD and VHS collection belonging to a friend, I want to start. I've begun rewatching the old stuff, and trying to keep up with the new stuff (Although, to be thoroughly honest, I'm a few episodes behind on the 11th Doctor at the moment). So I figured as long as was taking the time to go through as many of the old episodes as I can, I might as well blog about it, post my thoughts, and try to make it serve some purpose.

Now the blog has a mission - Chronicle, in Chronological order (as they are counted by wikipedia), my thoughts on the adventures of our Time Lord and Saviour, The Doctor. Within that, I need to evaluate each Story Arc - but necessarily the individual episodes - both for its own merits, and for its affect on the Whoniverse as a whole. Following the pattern established by efkelly on his TNG blog Port Terra, I'm going to be rating the episodes as Skip It, Bear It, or Enjoy It. Sounds simple, even if there are two negative levels and only one positive. With that in Mind, I've added a fourth Level, Love It.

 What's it mean?

  • Skip It. The Writing is bad, the story is bad, and the episode has little to no impact on continuity. If you miss it, you probably did something better with your time, and won't have a diminished Doctor Who Experience because of the omission. 
  • Bear It. It's not a very good episode. It has some continuity moments, or maybe it's just a weaker episode, but not altogether a turkey. 
  • Enjoy it. These episodes are why we watch Doctor Who. It's got a fun story, a nice challenge, and a lot of things going for it. 
  • Love it. These are the best moments in the show. Stands the test of time, and makes you want to run around eating Jelly Babies and wearing bow ties!
Beyond that, I really want to examine each doctor's adventures with regards to the other incarnations. Which Doctors have moments that came straight out of Hartnell? Which ones were influenced by Pertwee?  Can we claim to see an influence of Smith in Troughton, or must we only see it the other way around?  Where do we see nods to the previous selves, and how does it change the story to see them in perspective as one, long ongoing story? And then the Companions. Certainly during Hartnell's era, and again in the New Doctor Who Era begun with the Ninth, the Companions have been as central to the tales as the Doctor himself. But how did the companion affect the Doctor, and how did the companion affect the doctor's next choice? There's a lot to digest, and this is an ambitious project.

 Let's get started!

The First Doctor - William Hartnell

Serial One - The Tribe of Gum (AKA An Unearthly Child)

Four Episodes.  Companions: Susan "Foreman", Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright

Synopsis: We meet here The Doctor and his granddaughter, Susan. Her schoolteachers, Ian and Barbara, get way too nosy and follow her home, to discover she lives in a scrapyard, inside a police box.  Feeling pressured to kidnap Ian and Barbara, lest they reveal the secrets of the TARDIS to the people of Earth, he takes them back to the paleolithic era, where they are promptly captured by the cavemen there, who need to learn the secret of fire to survive the winter.

The Doctor here is paranoid, misanthropic, and smug.  He's a kidnapper, and has little interest in helping the tribe of Gum.  He's not motivated here by exploration, or adventure, but by protecting himself - although, to his credit, once the tribe of Gum captures them, he fights for the protection of the companions, and instead of stranding them, he takes them back into the TARDIS for another journey.  He's also inexplicably amused by things we don't quite see as funny, and his thought processes are alien.  When he is captured, he pleads for his life, a weakness of character we won't see in future incarnations.  It's his first appearance, but apart from his grumpy attitude towards Ian and Barbara, he's already beginning to exhibit the inexplicable reactions and odd delight at not-very-delightful things that we will see a lot of in the future. There's a definite same-ness to this Doctor as versions we will see in the future, but he's also unique.

The biggest difference is that the has no love or fondness for the humans.  In the future, he stops worrying about humans knowing about him, because he knows nobody will believe it, but here he's comparatively quite paranoid.  There's really three incongruous moments - the sudden trip to the year 0 (unless the "yearometer" is actually broken as he surmises) and consequent kidnapping of the schoolteachers, the attempt to kill the caveman with a rock - a violent action rarely seen, and his pleading upon capture.  There's one scene that seems incongruous but really isn't - in the forest when the companions hear noises the doctor is very dismissive, and they accuse him of being contradictory  but upon reflection, the doctor is rarely afraid of the things that the companions are afraid of, so while in this, the first story, he comes off as something of a prick for it, it really is fitting.  I keep having to remind myself that the Doctor's relationships with his companions in the future are not the norm, especially for Hartnell's doctor, and especially for Season One.

As for the companions, Barbara and Ian react reasonably well, and they truly do care about Susan and each other.  Susan does a good job of being alien, and showing that not all Time Lords (although those words are never used) are crotchety old bastards.  The two human companions are the drivers of this story (as much as they can be - from the moment they are captured for the first time, they are victims of a story happening to them, and not proactive in the least), as the Doctor here is really an ancillary character.  They four spend a lot of time fighting among themselves, or with the Doctor, mostly.  Susan alternately defending him or her teachers, and there's chemistry, but no camaraderie  only the fact they they are in a hostile situation together.

Ian Chesterton is the standout here, taking a role I associate more closely with the Doctor of future incarnations - he teaches the leader of the tribe how to make fire; how to defeat his chief rival, Za; and suggests that everyone in the tribe should learn how to make fire, that the whole tribe is stronger than any one of them, and thus if they all work together, to make fire, hunt, and fight, they will survive.  His progressive social attitude may violate some sort of temporal interference rules, but the Doctor doesn't try to stop him, or invoke these rules.  It's this action from Ian and inaction from the Doctor that's most striking to me as different.  To be fair, I know that a thousand times the companions will ask the Doctor to help, and he won't - he has his own code.  But this one strikes me for some reason, maybe I'll be able to put my finger on it more clearly later.

For continuity, we are introduced to not only the TARDIS and it's iconic sound effect, but to the idea that the Doctor and Susan are exiles from their home planet, as yet unnamed. It's not much, but it does come back later.  Here we also see the Doctor's inability to reliably pilot the TARDIS, or at least to control where it goes.  Many references are made to the TARDIS no longer functioning properly - the appareance doesn't change from a police box (a feature that never does get fixed) the "yearometer" is reportedly broken, and upon exit, the doctor cannot adequately input the correct coordinates to return Ian and Barbara home.  All of these will come up again, except the yearometer thing.  I'll keep an eye out for that one.

All in all, it has the usual mis-steps you'd expect to see from a first story, but definitely shows the seeds of what will come.

Enjoy It. It's a good episode that suffers from the era, and the 4 episode format, but an enjoyable ride.  I think it would have worked better with 3 episodes than 4, as there's a lot of capture, escape, recapture, but it is still a fun show.