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.