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Doctor Who Rewatch: 08

Once again I managed to wipe my draft of this post when I was halfway through watching the last of these six stories, so it's not quite as fresh as I would have preferred.

The Dominators was not as bad as I remembered, though this is admittedly rather faint praise. It's a decent sfnal plot of Team Tardis averting an alien invasion, though it's worth noting that Dulcis is the first planet with a living indigenous culture of humanoids who are not explicitly Earth colonists since The Savages.

The worst bit is the costuming of the Dulcians: the men are wearing what looks like a cross between a maternity dress and a small curtain, while the women's tops obviously won a prize for combining the maximum of exposed skin while being not sexy at all. The Dominators were presumably meant to look threatening and also slightly tortoise-like, but this is a difficult trick to pull off and they just look like they are wearing giant shoulder pads. But there are lots of exciting bangs and blowing stuff up, and an interesting contrast between the passive Dulcians and the vicious Dominators which is probably deliberately reminiscent of The Daleks.

The Mind Robber is one of the most extraordinary Who stories ever. The first episode, bolted onto Peter Ling's script at the last minute by Derrick Sherwin, is full of wonderful moments of inspired lunacy; the only single episode that does a better job of dimension-hopping is Part One of The Space Museum, and it of course is let down by the rest of that story. In The Mind Robber we have the paradoxical idea of fictional characters (the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe) trying to avoid becoming fictional characters (like Gulliver, Rapunzel and Cyrano de Bergerac). Jamie's temporary change of body - made necessary by circumstances totally outside anyone's control - adds an extra element of surrealism to the mix. My one quibble is that the ending is a bit abrupt, and we never see what happens to the Master of the Land of Fiction.

Bernard Horsfall is particularly memorable here as Gulliver, aggravating the Doctor in a world of the mind as he was to do again under David Moloney's direction in The Deadly Assassin. And having griped about the costumes for The Dominators, those for The Mind Robber - produced by the same designer - are superb; particularly Zoe's catsuit. The moment when she is shot from behind clinging to the console of the destroyed Tardis is a moment when Doctor Who starts to grow up. Or at least enter adolescence.

The Cybermen are back (though not reallly for long) in The Invasion, and so are the villain and one of the heroes from The Daleks' Master Plan, Kevin Stoney appearing as the rich mad industrialist Tobias Vaughn, and Nicholas Courtney making a return as Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, now promoted to Brigadier. (The first surviving shot of the latter is of his backside as he emerges from a piece of equipment).

Given how little we actually see of the Cybermen here, it feels more like The Avengers, with the Brigadier trying to stop Vaughn's plan, though eventually relying on Zoe to destroy the approaching fleet (seen only on radar) and on the Doctor to talk Vaughn into renouncing his allies. Taking a longer view, it's the most New Who-ish story so far, with an alien threat to contemporary Earth (which never happened in the Hartnell era, and only three times out of 21 Troughton stories, though it was a staple storyline of both the Pertwee years and of RTD) combined with recurring characters and family dynamics among the Doctor's allies.

It's a very slashtastic story as well, with the strongly sapphic dynamic between Zoe and Isobel Watkins matched by the Doctor and Jamie playing around in canals and tunnels (the Brigadier being the gooseberry) and even the weird powerplay between Vaughn and his increasingly panicky security man, Packer. The music is also particularly good, with the notable exception of the jaunty military theme which destroys the tension of crucial scenes in the last couple of episodes.

The Krotons was another story whose merits were more apparent to me round. When I first saw it in 1981 I really didn't know what to make of it, but it makes a lot more sense in context. Again referring back to The Space Museum, we have the Doctor and friends leading a revolt of the enslaved against their masters; this time the story is much more interesting, and though the Krotons themselves are a bit crap, they are generally shot from angles that minimise that problem, and they curiously spend a lot of time watching events (and trying to influence them) on television, a theme that strange_complex has sensitised me to.

Apart from the Krotons themselves, the rest is OK, particularly Philip Madoc's Eelek, who has been displaced at the end of the story in favour of the younger, more stupid, hereditary leader; one senses that Eelek will be back in power in due course. It's also nice to get some Doctor/Zoe time, with Jamie separated from the rest. (But why does Selris, and only Selris, have a Scottish accent?) But I do wish that the BBC had had the nerve to show The Mind Robber instead back in 1981.

Once again I felt that The Seeds of Death improved for me on this viewing. A big part of this is watching it as six separate 25-minute dramas, rather than (as we tend to in these days of DVD) as a single two-and-a-bit hour spectacle. The original plan works rather well. NB that a few months before men landed on the moon by rocket, Who is portraying a future where the moon is where your day job is and rockets are obsolete - rather audacious. (Also the only person who really understands the T-Mat system is a woman.)

The Ice Warriors are seriously vicious here, and Terry Scully's terrified Fewsham is memorable as well. And the foam machine, which last starred in Fury From The Deep, gets another outing. Mild costume fail (though not as bad as The Dominators): the men of the future all appear to be wearing nappies.

If The Seeds of Death was Who's answer to the real-life Moon landings, The Space Pirates must be considered an answer to Star Trek. Once again, I enjoyed it more than previously, largely because I was watching the recons rather than listening to the audios; the single most annoying aspect of the story is the decision to give ludicrous accents to Gordon Gostelow as Milo and Donald Gee as Ian (Jack May is also a bit irritating as General Hermack but was at least using his natural intonation). On the audio it's impossible to ignore, but there are enough visual cues even in the recons of the five lost episodes to distract one's attention.

The story has other weirdnesses. The Tardis team do not appear until almost two-thirds of the way through the first episode, and do not meet any other character until the start of episode 3 (and spend much of the rest of the time locked up). There's a grotesque "as-you-know-Bob" moment from General Hermack in episode 1. Madeleine appears to have been working and living within a stone's throw of her vanished father for several years without either of them moving to resolve the situation. There are a lot of comedy moustaches, Milo Clancy only narrowly beating Navigator Penn. But the incidental music is very good.

I liked all of these much more on this round of watching than I had before (with the exception of The Mind Robber, which was already one of my favourites). I think it's partly that I have become more sensitive to and forgiving of late 1960s production values, partly also that these stories are much more varied and intesting in format than the previous season's run of bases-under-siege, even if the experiment did not always come off. It is a bit ironic that Season Five rather accidentally hit on the base-under-siege formula, Season Six then successfully moved away from it, and Season Seven then consciously shifted again, adopting the Earthbound setting of the early Pertwee years.

I am very glad that Episode 6 of The Space Pirates is the last missing episode. The reconstructions are generally excellent efforts, but I still felt I needed to have an eye on the script while watching them. I know that not all of the Pertwee stories survive in their original form but it's still better than the soundtrack only.

For the first time since the very first of these roundups, I have no obituaries to write for recurring characters. I will have to do four of them next time (Zoe, Jamie, the Second Doctor and Liz Shaw).

< 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 >

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
wwhyte
May. 18th, 2010 06:26 am (UTC)
It's very exciting to have The War Games coming next!

I didn't hate The Dominators myself. I thought the infighting among the Dominators was what really made the story. Agree that the costumes are rubbish tho. I also agree that The Krotons isn't rubbish. It's not the Robert Holmesiest Robert Holmes, but it is clearly him and that has to count.

I like that you picked out Packer as one of the noteworthy things about The Invasion. Peter Halliday was quite a distinguished actor already at the time and was surprised to be cast in such a minor role, but made the best he could out of it (as you know, Bob, having seen the DVD). His delivery of "Like rats! In a trap!" at the end of episode 2 or 3 is particularly memorable (and strangely unmemorable in the reprise at the start of the next episode, which was freshly recorded rather than being a repeat). He's fantastic as Pletrac (silly name) in Carnival of Monsters, perhaps the role he was born to play, and it's also lovely to see him in your eccentric unlike, Remembrance of the Daleks, as the blind vicar.

In the light of that recent Derrick Sherwin interview, it's interesting how similar The Invasion is to The Ambassadors of Death, the story that finally transitions from Sherwin to Letts/Dicks -- they're both essentially entire collections of random exciting events, complete in themselves, rather than tidily constructed Doctor Who stories. I feel like Derrick Sherwin's view of TV was that you should have an interesting theme and then lots of incident around it, and I think he was wrong: the stories-within-a-season structure is part of Doctor Who's enduring appeal. The only real Sherwin story after The Ambassadors of Death is The Mind of Evil, which is just a mess. But I think that's what Sherwin's approach was doomed to be.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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