Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

Doctor Who Rewatch: 04

In general I am doing these write-ups in groups of six stories at a time, regardless of season breaks or (for next time) changes of Doctor. By most counts, however, this entry covers seven stories, not six. But I persist in my own eccentric view that Mission To The Unknown should be considered as part of The Daleks' Master Plan, in the teeth of everyone else's opposition (and of the evidence from BBC official documents that it should be considered, if not separately, then as a fifth episode of Galaxy Four). So The Myth Makers is the first story of those reviewed below, and Mission to the Unknown in effect is the zeroth story for this month's write-up. OK?

One thing that struck me as never before about Mission to the Unknown: it is a terribly bleak story, with the human characters all dead by the end, their mission an apparent failure - pretty edgy for a children's programme, and puts Adelaide's fate in The Waters of Mars into a long-term context. And of course we are further disoriented by the unprecedented (and unrepeated) non-appearance of the Doctor or any of the Tardis crew. But I also noted that this story is clearly to be understood as being in much the same part of space and time as Galaxy Four - the Tardis crew ended the last episode looking at Kembel and wondering what might be happening there (NB also Mavic Chen's comment in The Daleks' Master Plan about relations with the Fourth Galaxy, and the fact that Zephon is Master of the Fifth Galaxy). This makes The Myth Makers the odd story out in the first half of the third season, which is otherwise set in the far future of the Drahvins and the Daleks. (Though the confusion about the difference between galaxies and solar systems - which Wood and Miles have mercilessly chronicled - remains; note also Malpha's remark about where the Daleks come from.) Good music, good scenery (as far as we can tell) but only 7.69% of a plot.

The first three episodes of The Myth Makers are tremendous fun, rather in the spirit of Carry On Cleo which came out a few months earlier. The switch to epic drama and tragedy in the last episode is rather effective and sets the tone for the next story better than I had remembered. Donald Cotton presumes that the audience will have sufficient familiarity with the Trojan legends to appreciate the paradox of the various heroes being vain, cowardly, stupid, greedy or alcoholic. I wonder also if he deliberately reversed the events of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, where Cressida leaves Troilus for Diomede rather than the other way round. I know that the received wisdom is against me on this, but mention two further, admittedly weak, hints at a deberate reversal: Vicki arrives in Troy while Shakespeare's Cressida leaves the city; and Hector is killed at the end of the Shakespeare play but the beginning of the Who story. Also, though this may not count, Troilus kills Achilles here, whereas Shakespeare has Achilles triumphant and alive at the end. The lore is that Hartnell was in bad form while this was being made, but he seems to me to greatly enjoy his banter with Ivor Salter as Odysseus. Mind you, I felt a bit sad when I realised that John Wiles' name had replaced Verity Lambert's in the credits, and I am sure Hartnell must have started wondering how much longer he would last as the sole survivor of the original cast and crew. (Another year, as it turned out.)

Vicki surprised me as I watched her stories in sequence. She is a huge contrast to Susan - she takes the initiative, she rather likes the thrills. Susan would never have armed the rebels of the Space Museum or stowed away on a Dalek time machine; but she would also never have skipped blithely off to ancient Rome or to Richard the Lion-Heart's court. Vicki comes into the Whoniverse as a very young woman who has already had a certain amount of self-sufficiency forced on her, and her character is all the more interesting for it. And she assertively chooses her time of departure, before she even knows for sure that Troilus will have her.

Maureen O'Brien has done a couple of Big Finish audios, one as Vicki/Cressida - a suitably surreal but compelling tale of alien forces and Jane Austen, by Marc Platt. There is also a brilliant short story, "Apocrypha Bipedium", featuring her and Troilus meeting up with the Eighth Doctor, audio companion Charley Pollard and the young William Shakespeare, in one of the Short Trips collections. I am not wild about any of the spinoff novels featuring Vicki, but the novelisations of both her debut (by Ian Marter) and her departure (by Donald Cotton) are among the best of the Target range, as is Cotton's novelisation of The Romans. (I am on the lookout for any of Maureen O'Brien's own detective novels.)

I am an unabashed fan of The Daleks' Master Plan, and had listened to the Peter Purves narration several times. This was the first time I had watched the reconstructions in series with the surviving episodes, and I have to say it took all my self-discipline to stick to one a day; I like it even more now. The longest single Who story ever (I don't accept Trial of a Time Lord), it pushes the buttons of Doctor vs Daleks and treacherous humans far better than any of the New Who season finales.

What struck me this time is that the Doctor has become a mildly superhuman hero from a far future society rather than the mysterious eccentric of the first and second seasons (a trend which began with Galaxy Four). He spontaneously decides to infiltrate the Daleks' summit meeting himself and steal the tarranuim core; he is insufferably snobbish about the quaint technology of the year 4000; his non-human physiology survives the Time Destructor. John Wiles' version of the Doctor is much more closely related to the Time Lord we know today than Verity Lambert's was. But the heroism of Wiles' Doctor comes at a terrible cost to those who encounter him - ask the Drahvins, the Trojans, the Huguenots, Bret Vyon, Katarina, Sara Kingdom.

Going back to the story, some have complained that the comedy episodes (#7 and half of #8) are intrusive. Again, seen in the pattern of Season 3 as a whole, it makes more sense: by the time we hit the half-way mark of DMP we have had seven episodes of non-stop drama, departure and death, and a bit of light relief, harking back in tone to the first three episodes of The Myth Makers is in order. The return of the Monk is actually a signal that we are back to serious business: last time we saw him, he was changing history for laughs; now he is terrified and out for revenge.

And there are some super performances here as well - Kevin Stoney as Mavic Chen is my favourite Who villain ever; Nicholas Courtney makes a first appearance, as Bret Vyon; Peter Butterworth returns as the Monk; apart from episode 7 and parts of episode 8, everyone is taking it very seriously and the whole thing is marvellous. And Tristram Carey's music plus the sound effect of the Time Destructor make episode 12 brilliant to listen to, which is just as well since we can't watch it.

Katarina will never make anyone's list of Top Twenty Companions. Killed off a few minutes into her fifth episode, she is a rather one-note character, a young woman from a pre-industrial society who simply does not have the mental vocabulary to deal with the far future. Having said that, her story is a poignant one - she begins her travels with the Doctor thinking that she is already dead, and ends up killed by her first and only self-directed usage of future technology. As far as we can tell from the remaining material (one of the five episodes and a few other clips) Adrienne Hill played the part with charm and integrity, considering how little material the scripts gave her to work with. Hill appears (but does not speak) in one of the 1980s Children in Need Who reunions; she died in 1992.

Sara Kingdom is one of the best companions in the whole of Doctor Who, if also one of the shortest lived. Her journey with the Doctor and Steven is one of dealing with the betrayal of her ideals by the leader she once trusted and obeyed. She gets more character development in her seven episodes than the Fourth Doctor got in seven years. But she takes it too far - her death is a direct result of her disobedience, not of Mavic Chen but of the Doctor - motivated by the affection that has built up between them on their travels. Those who saw it assure us that her death scene was every bit as gripping as she deserved.

Jean Marsh must have been the highest profile actor to appear as a companion so far, other than perhaps William Russell, and after her probably only Bonnie Langford, Billie Piper and Catherine Tate exceeded her level of celebrity at the point they came on board the Tardis (others went on to great things of course). She also played major roles in Who stories both before (The Crusade) and after (Battlefield) this. The two Big Finish stories she has done as part of the Companion Chronicles series are good, and ingeniously get around the fact that we all know that the narrator is dead.

More heavy drama in The Massacre, another downbeat story in which lots of people are killed. Again, I was familiar with the Peter Purves audio narration and less so with the recon, which is very impressive given the limited source material, and also gives a sense of what we are missing - director Paddy Russell's trademark of people creeping around the set hiding from each other. This is also the first "Doctor-lite" story, though of course Hartnell is in it as the Abbot. (Are the two middle episodes the only ones in the whole of Who which have no actual credit for the Doctor? And I don't think he even speaks in ep 2.) The story keeps us guessing as to whether the Abbot is the Doctor in disguise, as Steven thinks and as is also hinted at by the Abbot's failure to deliver effectively on his fearsome reputation. Then at the end of episode 3, he is dead in the street - and bearing in mind that we have lost Sara, Bret and Katarina in the last few weeks, it looks very grim for our hero. Yet episode 4 fairly effortlessly shifts focus, and once the political story line has its grim resolution established, it becomes all about the Doctor - will he take Anne with him? (No.) Whose reaction do we focus on after Steven storms out of the Tardis? (The Doctor's.) Will he take Dodo with him? (Yes.) It's back to the old mysterious time-traveller, working to his own set of rules which we do not know: "None of them could understand." And this is entirely under the control of Donald Tosh, who drastically altered Lucarotti's original script though had by now handed over as story editor to Gerry Davies.

The Ark is one of those stories which I did not like as much as before, watching in sequence this time. I don't think it's just because we can actually see it for a change (of the 21 previous episodes, only three from The Daleks' Master Plan survive). The fundamental idea is sound and even a bit daring, but the script is very oddly paced and yet also cliched. (A security kitchen?) It is not surprising that neither the writer nor the director did another Who story, and I wonder how much morale was affected by John Wiles' imminent departure as producer. One thing which always tells me that the director didn't quite Get It is that the crowd scenes are lacking in dynamism - it's interesting to see children in Who, but it's odd to see them and their parents all standing around with their hands by their sides. Imison does better with the Monoids, in the first half at least (and I see that the lore claims they were his idea), but the script doen't help. Both halves of the story suffer from over-long exposition and rushed climax. Poor Jackie Lane starts quite well but seems to gradually have the enthusiasm sucked out of her.

I think The Celestial Toymaker is the story I know least well of this run. It's an odd one, commissioned as an innovative variation within John Wiles' long-term plan, but broadcast as a peculiar debut for Innes Lloyd, and apparently needing a lot of rewriting by him and Gerry Davies from Brian Hayles' original script (not that that deterred them from inviting him back) Making allowances for the lost visuals of the first three episodes, I liked it a little more this time round than on previous listens to the Peter Purves narration. It certainly gets marks for originality and everyone is performing well (Hartnell being absent for a lot of it). I had forgotten how cuddly Dodo and Steven get in the last episode, and she raises genuine questions about the ethics of what happens to the Toymaker's minions which Stephen would prefer to ignore. Unfortunately the reconstruction of the missing three is not particularly inspiring - Loose Cannon did better in some cases where there is even less material to work with..

I have an unfashionable affection for The Gunfighters, and that has deepened a little now that I see it in the context of Wiles' thwarted experimentation and Lloyd's attempt to get a grip on the show. The sets and costumes look very good, the plot holds together, and John Alderson is excellent as Wyatt Earp ("Mr Werp", as the Doctor calls him), though one can quibble about wobbly accents and performances from some ofthe other supporting cast. I have been suffering dental problems of my own recently, so felt sympathetic to the Doctor's plight; note also his aversion to carrying guns, which resonates even in the most recent episode. But that is not all; thirty-five years before "Once More With Feeling", Old Who experimented with a musical element. I really like the "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon"; I think it makes an intriguing dramatic frame for the story, and teases the viewer with the question of whose story we are watching, and how. I know this is a minority view. Also nice to see Dodo and Steven being cuddly in the first episode, though poor Steven ends up just wearing a silly costume and getting captured (normally the role of the female companion).

I had listened to the audio releases of these stories a couple of years ago, and there was some discussion in comments about the changeover from Wiles/Tosh to Lloyd/Davis, which I didn't really twig to on that occasion. This time round, with the surviving videos, and also in the context of having watched what's left of the previous two years' stories, it really jumped out at me. Wiles was I think ahead of his time; his Who stories are much more like those of the colour era than any other period of Hartnell. It clearly didn't work for Hartnell or for the BBC hierarchy, but it works for me.

< An Unearthly Child - The Aztecs | The Sensorites - The Romans | The Web Planet - Galaxy 4 | Mission To The Unknown - The Gunfighters | The Savages - The Highlanders | The Underwater Menace - Tomb of the Cybermen | The Abominable Snowmen - The Wheel In Space | The Dominators - The Space Pirates | The War Games - Terror of the Autons | The Mind of Evil - The Curse of Peladon | The Sea Devils - Frontier in Space | Planet of the Daleks - The Monster of Peladon | Planet of the Spiders - Revenge of the Cybermen | Terror of the Zygons - The Seeds of Doom | The Masque of Mandragora - The Talons of Weng-Chiang | Horror of Fang Rock - The Invasion of Time | The Ribos Operation - The Armageddon Factor | Destiny of the Daleks - Shada | The Leisure Hive - The Keeper of Traken | Logopolis - The Visitation | Black Orchid - Mawdryn Undead | Terminus - The Awakening | Frontios - Attack of the Cybermen | Vengeance on Varos - In A Fix With Sontarans | The Mysterious Planet - Paradise Towers | Delta and the Bannermen - The Greatest Show in the Galaxy | Battlefield - The TV Movie >
Tags: doctor who, doctor who: 01, doctor who: rewatch, doctor who: rewatch: old who
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