Monday, June 17, 2013

He's no Santa Claus.

The Celestial Toymaker

First Doctor  - 24th Serial

4 Episodes, Companions: Steven, Dodo

Summary: The Doctor and Team TARDIS .  But the Doctor knows the place, and its diabolical controller.  This is the real of the Celestial Toymaker - a lonely player of games that wants the capture the Doctor and his companions for his own amusement. Separated and forced to play a series of deadly games, the winners being allowed a chance to go free, the losers trapped forever, the crew must ... I'm never really sure what.  

The Doctor: He's barely here for this one, so it's hard to say. He's clearly annoyed by the Toymaker, whom he has knowledge of but has never faced, but doesn't do much to struggle beyond playing along and trying to warn his companions, for which he becomes a voiceless disembodied hand. 

Companions: Dodo kind of gets into the games, but Steven is strictly annoyed by the arbitrary rules, opponents that cheat and are themselves never penalized, and challenges that are nonsense.  Dodo tries to have fun, to enjoy the games, and it seems likely she would make a fine eternal friend to the toymaker.  Keeping Steven would be a terrible mistake, though, as he'd be antagonistic to the not-very-Asian white guy in bad Yellowface (Seriously?  The show is fairly progressive on women's rights, but the first minority character we see is a white guy in makeup??  Hate it.).  For once, though, I think both companions are true to themselves, and this is the real Dodo and Steven, and I don't mind either of them.  Dodo's exuberance is a great foil to Steven's gruffness.  She's not a comic character, just a cheerful one, and that's ok.  In fact, Dodo and Steven's strong presences are the best thing about this Serial.

Continuity: The Toymaker seems to be another Time Lord, like the Meddling Monk, or to at least have that kind of power.  He can make the doctor invisible, make him unable to speak, make dolls live and people into dolls.  He is, in his realm, like unto a god.  and yet he's a spoiled little bully that kills people, cheats at his own games, and punishes the crew for both cheating and not cheating.  In short, he's a moron.  Apart form the idea that he is maybe a fellow Time Lord, he's got nothing.

Rating: Bear it.  This one's horrible.  The reconstruction I have is barely watchable, but beyond that, the Yellowface is appalling, the story is garbage, and the "tension" and games are just dumb.  The Toymaker's arbitrary rules, inconsistency on the subject of cheating, and exactly what the rules are are irritating.  I don't mind bad guys who cheat, I expect it, frankly.  But this guy isn't even cheating in a fun way, he's just being a bully.  The more I think about it, the more I wonder why I didn't say Skip It.  The only reason NOT to skip it, if you must, is because you plan to introduce the idea that the Toymaker is a Time Lord, and you need the research material.  Heck, I'm doing it.  SKIP IT.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dodo Chaplet is a Smallpox Blanket

The Ark
What are you playing at, girl, the Crusades?

First Doctor  - 23rd Serial

4 Episodes, Companions: Steven, Dodo Chaplet

Summary: When the TARDIS next materializes, Dodo runs recklessly out and into some strange jungle.  Like any new companion, she is unaware of any real travel having occured.  Soon she sneezes, and begins to exhibit symptoms of having a cold.  This becomes the lynch-pin of the problem in this episode - Dodo's cold begins to kill the humans on the ship they have landed on.  For thousands of years, the cold has been extinct, and these people have no medicine or resistance to it anymore.  The Humans aboard the Ark (for that is what it is) have banded with a race called the Monoids for safety.  Both races hail from dying worlds, but now, thanks to Dodo, the Ark is itself dying...

The Doctor: He seems annoyed at Dodo, but is enthused about the Ark and the Monoids themselves.  He becomes as protective of her as any other companion until now, so his character is now consistent.  His commitment to nonviolence shines through, as he works with the Refusians to make peace with the Humans and the Monoids - although some of that is making amends for his past actions.  I do think we had a huge opportunity to see the Doctor deal with the moral issues of his travels, and it almost happened, but not quite.

Companions: Dodo is now the comedy bit that Steven had been, and Steven is now being fatherly - or at least authoritarian.  Dodo runs off without hesitation, steals silly clothing from the Doctor's wardrobe, and gallivants about like.. well.. a Dodo.  She finally begins to understand when they land on the same Ark 700 years later, to find the Monoids in charge, and the Humans about to be destroyed before the two races can land on Refusis.  And where Dodo might be being comic relief here, she's not, she's just impulsive and not aware that this is real yet.  Let's see how she does - I like her more than Steven on my first meeting of him.

Continuity:  Dodo steals her outfit from the Doctor's wardrobe, and he insists that she ask permission.    At this point I cannot recall if this is the first appearance of the wardrobe, but it certainly wasn't there in the Crusades, when the companions had to steal period clothing.  It is, then, ironic that the outfit Dodo steals from the wardrobe is one that the Doctor claims is from the crusades, and yet is not an outfit worn or acquired during that adventure.  Off-screen upgrades have clearly occurred.

Rating: Enjoy it.  It's not as strong as the previous Serial, but it continues to be a lot of fun.  The apparent drama of the trial seemed to be over, and so the next 2 parts would be a different story, except that the second half of the serial was fixing the consequences of the first half! It's remarkable to this point because, to the best of my ability to recall, even though there's a Monoid villain, One, team TARDIS is ultimately as much antagoinst to itself in this one.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Tasty, Tasty Crow.

The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve

First Doctor  - 22nd Serial

4 Episodes, Companions: Steven

Summary: The Tardis materializes now in 16th Century France, and Steven and the Doctor look to lay low for a while while the Doctor visits some pioneers of scientific thought in a country torn apart by religious civil war.  The Catholics and the Protestants (Huguenots) hate each other, and knowing which side of the argument the person you are talking to is key to surviving this bloody time.  Of course, before long Steven and the Doctor are separated, Steven falls in with the Huguenots, learns of their plans to kill the "Sea Beggar", discovers that the Catholic in charge of everything, the Abbot of Amboise, is either the Doctor in disguise or an exact double, and generally makes a hash of "lay low"...

The Doctor: Man, he loves him some France.  I dig it. Heck, Tom's got a scarf, Peter's got celery, and Patrick had a flute.  So William has France.  He's tickled pink to be able to go visit Presleur, the guy who invented the theory of Germs, an idea highly controversial in both scientific circles and the church at the time.  Of course, the Doctor doesn't get much face time as himself - although William Hartnell does get to play the villainous Abbot of Amboise in this one.  Sadly, I don't find his portrayal of the Abbot as compelling or convincing, it just doesn't quite work.  Luckily, the serial is strong enough that that one nit-pick doesn't hurt it for me.  At the end, as the whole thing is crumbling around the Doctor - Companions have left him because they were in love, angry, or homesick; Companions have begun to die under his care; he is alone, no longer resolved to accomplish whatever it was he left his home world to do, and he contemplates returning home, his purposes failed.  It's a wonderful tragic moment, and a rare glimpse of something other than the fear he has when he's being chased, or the stern grandfatherly man he has been.  No, he's not human, but he's not actually soulless.  He's got his own priorities, and this is a real low point for him.

Companions: I've beaten Steven up a little for being little more than comic relief on a show I don't think needs to be a sitcom, and today, I take it back.  He does an excellent job here of being dramatic, involved, and central to the events.  He's not standing by being silly.  He's just watched the Daleks kill Sara and Katarina, and on the heels of that dramatic, if overly long Serial, lands in a violent fear-ruled France.  He does everything he can to help people, especially poor Anne Chaplet, and when things go from bad to worse, he's fed up.  Non-interference be Damned, the Doctor's time studies and random jumps without a human heart to drive them become too much for Steven - almost.  This is a Doctor-Light episode, with Steven being the real driving force and the lead, and far from being the clown he has been, he carries it off well enough that on this Serial alone I became a Peter Purves fan.

Continuity: This is the first time we see the Look-Alike motif - somebody in history that looks exactly like the Doctor or a companion.  The And, of course, at the very end, we meet new companion Dodo Chaplet.  In light of what we learn in another few decades, my hypothesis is that the TARDIS took Steven to precisely then specifically to get Dodo on board - to prove to Steven that Anne lived, so that he could stay.  She (the TARDIS) is not done needing him yet.

Rating: Love it. A powerhouse of a Serial, it's the first one I've rated this high in a while.  I might put it a notch below Marco Polo, but I must have rewatched this one 4 or 5 times while writing this post.  Like Marco Polo, I wish this one wasn't available solely as a reconstruction (Yes, I know the BBC released an audio version that has the TV soundtrack with Peter Purves providing linking narrations,but that's not the version I have access to without Crime) but in the end, to me, this belongs on the list of First Doctor Serials to watch if you want to see the humble but grand origins of the show.