Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Season 3 in Review

Doctor Who Third Season

First Doctor, William Hartnell

10 Serials, Companions: Vickie, Steven, Dodo, Sara Kingdom, Katarina, Ben, Polly

The Doctor: He's well and truly the character we know from future episodes now.  Sure, this Doctor's harsher, brasher, more of a curmudgeon. But he plays with rules now, and takes delight in flummoxxing the villains.  

Companions: We've lost Steven and Vicki, and now had two companions that didn't even make it out of their introductory Serial, so it's doubtful whether they count - Katarina and Sara Kingdom.  Most sources count both, as do I, but the very temporary nature of these two companions means we can expect the companions to be at more peril.  Dodo's unceremonious departure was unwarranted and out of character, but Polly is already more likable than she was, so let's see what we get from them.  Steven's loss was the one dearest felt here.  After Barbara, he's my favorite of the companions we've met, which is crazy given how I disliked him at first.

Continuity: We've seen the first Sonic Device, the Doctor using Hypnosis, the Daleks working with other races to conquer the Galaxy, Earth as part of a galactic community, and the Doctor learn the consequences of both inadequate precautions against disease.  We've seen the universe (or the machinations of the TARDIS) smile benevolently on the Doctor, revealing the lineage of Anne Chaplet in the form of Dodo, to bring them peace of mind.

Summary: I think overall the show is getting more action oriented, and trying to broaden it's appeal.  The last-minute introductions of Ben & Polly are clearly an attempt to bring the Doctor into the Swinging 60's.  How it goes remains to be seen.

Rating: Enjoy it!  This season was quite a mixed Bag.  One Love it, 4 Enjoys, 2 Bears, and one dreaded Skip.  Throw out the Celestial Toymaker, though, and we're doing better than Season Two!

We've got 2 Serials of the First Doctor left, then we'll review him overall before continuing Season Four and the Second Doctor!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Totally Not Daleks!

The War Machines

First Doctor  - 27th Serial

4 Episodes, Companions: Dodo, Ben, Polly

Summary: Returning to 1960's London with Dodo, the Doctor and Dodo discover that they are a little later than intended, the new Post Office Tower is complete!  But the Doctor feels odd energies from within, reminiscent of Daleks, and goes to investigate.  Inside, WOTAN, a new supercomputer, begins taking control of the brains of those around him, and rapidly subjugating the populace, because it thinks Humankind's rule is over and will not progress further.  Soon, they begin constructing independent war machines - the ones alluded to in the title.  Today London! Tomorrow the World!

The Doctor: He's flubbing a lot of his lines here.  Further, his doctrine of non-interference is nowhere to be seen.  It's unclear if it's because these events aren't "supposed to happen" like with the various alien invasions, or if he's simply beginning to fight for the right, and not for the 'right timestream'.  However, it's disheartening that even though he got emotional over leaving Steven behind (behind the typical stiff upper lip line of not looking back) he's annoyed at her leaving.  I didn't ever like her as much as any of the others, she's my least favorite of every companion we've thus far seen, but it is rather brutal.  Otherwise, he's classic First Doctor here.  Everything he has been is here - gruff, patriarchal, loyal (well, except for Dodo) and indefatigable defender of humanity and opponent of tyranny.

Companions: Dodo wastes no time going to a nightclub with Polly, and there they pick up a distraught sailor, Ben.  Before the first episode, Ben is calling Polly "Duchess" a term we're going to become used to.  Polly, of course, loves the Doctor's fashion sense - his "Fab Gear".  These are companions that are younger and hipper than even the young and presumably originally intended to be "cool" Dodo Chaplet.  After all, she had a "hip" nickname, right?  In this episode Dodo doesn't look as young and healthy as she had before.  Whether this is a visual show of WOTANs influence on her brain, or the producers making her less attractive to replace her, who can say.  Dodo never returns from the countryside.  Ben's a tough fighter with a heart, and Polly's the new fun loving eye candy.  She starts her tenure as a mind-slave of WOTAN, which Ben manages to resist, so let's hope she doesn't become the victim of the week.

Continuity: WOTAN calls the Doctor "Doctor Who".  This happens very very rarely on screen, aside from the callback of a supporting actor saying "Doctor who?" when he introduces himself, like in Gunslingers.  Several of the other characters use the name, also, but only those who heard WOTAN use it.  We're led to believe that the energies transferred in the Savages are taking their toll, and the Doctor is not quite as spry.  The vocal patterns of the scientist leading WOTAN's army are reminiscent of Daleks.  And of course, the War Machines themselves are like Daleks if the design parameters were make the Daleks out of Dumpsters and not Pepper Pots.  The Doctor hypnotizes Dodo.  Where the heck did that ability come from?  Well, we will see it again, but it was here first.  Also, they send Dodo to a house in the country to recover, and that's pretty much it for her.  She wants to stay, and rather than be upset at her leaving, he's infuriated that she would choose it.

Knowing that behind the scenes, the BBC wanted a monster that was as popular as a Dalek but to which Terry Nation did not own partial rights, so they tried to make a pale imitation Dalek, this is ridiculously obvious.  The public didn't bite, although in two more serials, lightning will strike again.  Of course, they're neither as cute nor as menacing, a poor design and a poor imitation in every way.  They don't even have plungers, for Gallifrey's sake!  And, if WOTAN can mind-control the scientists and army of slaves that build his precious army, why does he need Daleks War Machines to fight for him anyway?

We also get a horrible title sequence at the beginning of the third episode.  It's not a big deal, but I wanted to mention how I hated it.  There's not much incidental music in this serial either, and I think that hurts it, too.

Rating: Bear it.  It's not very tense, the pacing is terribly slow, the monsters are awful and not scary, even though they're kind of Dalek-like.  They have no menace, no anger, no hate.  It's not the look that made the Daleks scary, it's the package - appearance, menace, violence, everything.  And the WOTAN things just don't have it.  The best reason to see this is to get a grip on Ben and Polly, or to see what an emotionally neutral Dalek would be like.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Savagery!

The Doctor and His Reacting Vibrator - the first Sonic!

The Savages

First Doctor  - 26th Serial

4 Episodes, Companions: Dodo, Steven

Summary: This one's another Reconstruction, which are now becoming more common, and will be darn near standard throughout the Troughton Era (coming up in 4 Serials!).  So the Companions exit the Tardis in a huff - arguing and fighting. The Doctor is found by some who know of light guns and such, and Steven and Dodo are brought to the city to be reunited.  Outside the city, the titular Savages are primitive people living outside the cities borders, in fear of the Light Guns.  In the City, we find that this odd civilization has been charting the Doctor's voyages.  Their amazing technological breakthrough is a horrific secret, though - the leaders are living off the vitality and animus of the savages!

Not for the first time is the theme of class and caste explored in a seemingly utopian (Should I use the word Dystopian?) world - what gives the upper class the right to exploit the lower classes, and to what extent does technology grant the authority to use it?  Here we see Jano (leader of the civilization with no name) decry the savages as "not like us" but as far as we can tell the only difference is which side of the city walls they live on.  This is not about race or gender, language, or religion (maybe it is about religion, but that theme is not explored on screen) but about have vs have not - Jano has the machines, ergo he may use them as he wishes.

The Doctor being VERY First Doctor here.
The Doctor: He's really enjoying the hero-worship here, but soon his curiosity gets the better of him, and he learns the dark and terrible price of advanced power.  And of course, he opposes them, comparing them to the Daleks.  This is a far cry from his doctrine of non-interference, again begging the question that interfering in Earth's past is verbotten, but interfering with alien societies is quite alright.  I will sadly sing this song again, I am sure.  Still, the Doctor has established a habit of opposing exploitation.  I also find the Doctor's comment on leaving Steven - "We Mustn't look Back." telling of how much he had grown to care, and yet how he was becoming used to leaving companions, in a way.

Companions: Steven is blinded by the brilliant shiny technology of this utopia, but Dodo never falls for it.  She's too curious, asking questions, and not trusting.  Neither companion is played for laughs here. There are very few light notes here.  Then again, neither companion is the screaming victim, although Dodo is menaced a lot early on.  Actually, the Companions shine here, as Jano steals the Doctor's life energy, and they have to save him, going so far as to getting the savages - who until now have been an exploited people, all of them old and drained, to offer some assistance.  Steven, I must say I did not love when he joined the crew, but I wish he had stayed a little longer.  I grew to like him, but he was a decent choice to stay behind and rebuild the society that the Doctor's unique brand on non-interference had destroyed.

Continuity: The Doctor carries some sort of portable scanner he calls a Reacting Vibrator he uses to analyze the environment, or the time stream or something. It's not quite clear, and the images in this reconstruction are poor.  It may be the first incarnation of a Sonic Screwdriver - vibrations are sonic after all. We also now see the existence of a race capable of tracking the Doctor through time and across space that do not appear to have time capacity themselves. The Daleks previously could, but they could also travel in time.  There's great foreshadowing here when they begin to drain the Doctor's vitality - as a fan of the show, I worried that they would trigger regenerations, or even steal his entire regenerative cycle (yet no such thing has been hinted at yet on the show).  Not only are they setting up events for the next 3 Serials, but they are establishing the "remarkably high" reserves of life energy that the Doctor carries inside.  Of course, Steven leaving the show is also significant.  

Rating: Bear it.  It's not bad, got some good dramatic moments, and it's needed to set up the next 3 serials, and most importantly, the Tenth Planet.  Unfortunately the reconstruction itself is terrible (Mine is by Butterfly-Effect, and while I have no doubt they did the best they could with what they had, it's hard to look at).  This may actually be this Serial's saving grace - the terrible reconstruction meant that the effects actually look really good!