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).