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Doctor Who Rewatch: 10

As with most of the stories of this run, I found myself enjoying The Mind of Evil more this time than previously. Already, the Doctor / UNIT / Jo ensemble feels comfortable and reassuring. It is quite amazing how much Manning's performance pretty much sets the agenda for all subsequent female companions. I will write more on this when I get to The Green Death in a couple of months, but it's striking how routine she has made it become even in her second story (indeed, even in her first). Also it's nice to get the impression that UNIT does more than sitting around waiting for the Doctor to shout at them.

The Mind of Evil has a lot of similarities with The Ambassadors of Death, except that it is better. The Master's means and motivation are no more convincing than General Carrington's, but Delgado pulls it off far better than Abineri (and of course we also get shown his motivation very explicitly). One could wish for a slightly more evil-looking mind parasite, but apart from that the special effects are pretty good, and the monsters returning from the black and white era in the Doctor's nightmares are practically the first indication in the colour era (bar Tardis, Benton and Brigadier) that this is the same show that Troughton and Hartnell used to be in.

Also Pik-Sen Lim, cast in a story written by her husband, gets the first speaking role for a woman of colour since Carmen Munro played Fariah in The Enemy of the World, and while it's not exactly a strong and empowered role she is very watchable in it.

The Claws of Axos has a number of interesting ideas, which aren't quite delivered as well as they might have been. The portrait of civil-military relations, with the civilians definitely the bad guys, is quite fascinating. Peter Bathurst, last seen trying to run the Vulcan colony in The Power of the Daleks, is selfish civil servant Chinn, bullied mercilessly by his minister but in turn bullying UNIT while trying to cut a deal with the Axons (and then being caught out deceiving the Axons about the global distribution of Axonite). The best bit, though, is Roger Delgado's Master, outfoxed for once by Axos, forced by circumstance to collaborate with te Brigadier, and at the end of episode 3 rather regretfully wiping out the Doctor and Jo in order to save the world.

It doesn't quite amount to the sum of its parts, though it is still better than I remembered. The worst bit is the leaden performance of Paul Grist as US agent Bill Filer, though some responsibility rests with the writers for not deciding whether he was a love interest for Jo, or explaining why he is a civilian in an otherwise military team. The second worst bit is of course comic yokel Pigbin Josh. The other apparent reversal, the Doctor pretending to ally with the Master to flee and let the Earth die, is not as convincing; somehow the Doctor's desire to escape his exile is a comic character flaw rather than a driving obsession (as it would have been in, say, Christopher Ecclestone's hands).

Note that, as in Inferno, nuclear power is much better for you than any other kind of electricity.

Gosh, with Colony in Space we're back to the old days: the Tardis goes to another planet for the first time since The War Games, ending the run of seven consecutive Earth-bound stories. When was the last time we had robots? Autons and Krotons don't really count, so it's either the White Robots of the Land of fiction, or the Quarks. When was the last time we had aliens in rubber suits which are not invading Earth? The Silurians, I suppose, on the technicality that Earth is their own planet and humanity the invaders. Apart from that - the Krotons and Dominators aren't in rubber suits - it's quite a long way back; probably the Cybermen on Telos, if it is their planet; the Macra aren't in rubber suits, and before them it's the Monoids. And because it's Malcolm Hulke, there have to be giant reptiles, even if they are imaginary (though the Primitives do also look a bit reptilian).

This being Malcolm Hulke, it is a somewhat political story, but the message seems somewhat dodgy. The evil capitalist exploiters are of course evil, but the local indigenous inhabitants are denied agency and conveniently destroy their only source of power, leaving the virtuous peace-loving colonists to inherit the planet. In the context of what was actually happening in Africa at the time, this is unbelievably crass.

However, it is mostly well done the story is better structured to watching an episode at a time rather than in one swell foop. John Ringham is particularly good as Ashe, and it's good to remind viewers about the Time Lords, and that the Tardis actually goes places.

The Dæmons is surely the greatest of the UNIT stories, and one of the most English stories of this very English show. Evil morris dancers! A white witch! The Master is your local vicar! The first time I watched this I didn't like it much, but taken in context, and an episode at a time, I can see why this Barry Letts script is seen as a high point of the Barry Letts years; it is the first time, apart from The War Games, that we have had a season finale as such, pulling all the characters together and ending with the Master's disgrace and capture.

The Brigadier is off the main field of action for most of the story, which actually gives him a chance to shine on his own rather than be snarled at by Pertwee, and generates a nice the-boss-is-away dynamic among the other UNIT folks, augmented by Delgado on top form and by Damaris Hayman's wonderfully batty performance as Miss Hawthorne (who we assume had a jolly good fertility dance with Benton throughout the following night). Apart from Richard Franklin, who is clearly the weakest of the regulars, everyone is excellent. (I enjoyed also watching the Return to Devil's End documentary, bringing Pertwee, Courtney, Franklin and Levene back to the village along with director Christopher Barry.)

I commented back in The Abominable Snowmen that Who has four ways of treating religion: squabbling sectarians, deluded cultists, religious buildings used for nefarious purposes, or true believers. The Dæmons includes both the second and third categories. As far as I remember it is also the first time religion has been portrayed on the show since The Abominable Snowmen, and the only time apart from Steven's profession of faith (or at least denomination) in The Massacre and the unecclesiastical antics of The Smugglers that we have had anything explicit about the Church of England. More on this in the story after next.

Day of the Daleks brings back the malignant pepperpots for the first time since Season Four (we're now on Season Nine). Again, though last time I watched it I wasn't all that impressed, particularly in contrast to Terrance Dicks' novelisation which is probably the best of his many Who books, watched one episode at a time and in context it is actually a very clever story. The plot reflects a couple of utterly outdated elements of the Zeitgeist; this was a time when international peace was still a matter of staving off thermonuclear war by holding grand summits among the elite, one the one hand, and when terrorists tended to be earnest lefties in combat uniform whose methods were wrong bt whose ideals were comprehensible, on the other. The future Dalek-controlled Earth is more overtly fascist than that in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, but not quite as obviously so as the Skaro of Genesis of the Daleks, but in contrast to those stories it's not really the point, which is a plot of time paradoxes.

The flashback sequence at the end of episode three is the first time we have seen the previous Doctors visually referenced since they left (apart from the still picture of Hartnell seen in Troughton's first episode). It's interesting that after a first colour season which might as well have been a completely different show, with only the Brigadier and the dismembered Tardis, followed by a season which had an unprecedented level of internal continuity, we're now starting a run of three consecutive stories which do look back to the earlier history of Doctor Who, as if Letts now feels comfortable enough to acknowledge the origins. Fans of New Who will recall that it also seemed to take RTD a while to get comfortable with the programme's past.

It's not actually been so very long since I watched The Curse of Peladon, which is and remains one of my favourite Pertwee stories, so not all that much to say about it; viewed in context, it is notable for Jo's first real love interest, and the first serious love interest for a companion since Jamie's snog with Samantha in The Faceless Ones. (Apart from Zoe and Isobel in The Invasion, of course.) It makes Filer in The Claws of Axos look even worse than he did at the time.

Is Hepesh a deluded cultist, a true believer, or someone using religious instituions for nefarious purposes? Discuss.

In general, I am enjoying these stories a lot more than I thought I would. When I first rewatched the Third Doctor era I found myself irritated by the grouchy Pertwee characterisation, the tedious fights, the overstretched plots and Jo's cutesy blondeness. But in fact Pertwee rather grows on one given a chance, the fights are of course there to remind us that the show is better than The Avengers, the stories taken episode by episode work better (and in any case are not as excessive as the seven, eight, ten and twelve-parters of previous eras), and Jo is recognisable with hindsight as setting the pattern for almost all subsequent companions. Also my ten-year-old (who turns eleven on Sunday) tells me that he rather likes Jo, and I think I can see why - small and childlike, she is essentially the viewpoint character for the younger members of the audience.

I am now 38% through the Old Who stories, 44% by screen minutes and episodes, and 32% of the time from November 1963 to December 1989 has elapsed.

< 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

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
parrot_knight
Jul. 22nd, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
While reconsidering The Silurians in the context of The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, it struck me that there was indeed something already dated about Malcolm Hulke's politics by the early 1970s, and you've brought up more evidence here...

...and I think that Miss Hawthorne counts as a true believer, in the pagan sense. The older I get the more credible the idea of Miss Hawthorne having her fertility dance with Benton appears; the script, I think, envisaged a much older actress than Hayman playing the part, but by the novelisation Miss Hawthorne's age is fixed as 38, two or three years younger than Hayman herself was at the time.

Edited at 2010-07-22 02:50 pm (UTC)
redfiona99
Jul. 22nd, 2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
>>Also my ten-year-old (who turns eleven on Sunday) tells me that he rather likes Jo, and I think I can see why - small and childlike, she is essentially the viewpoint character for the younger members of the audience.<<

Happy unbirthday to him. And yes, that definitely sounds like it could be the reason. I know I adored Jo when I first saw her because she was nice and friendly and happy (I would have been about 7 maybe).
alex_wilcock
Jul. 22nd, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC)
I thoroughly agree with you on The Mind of Evil and wince about the politics of Colony In Space; The Doomsday Weapon was always a favourite of mine growing up but, oh dear, you’re entirely right. I re-watched The Claws of Axos on a whim recently, and I have to say you’re very generous to it… The Master is great as UNIT’s scientific adviser and some of the design is brilliant, but the script’s like poor Season 7 fan-fiction and, after you mention Peter Bathurst, I’m amazed you don’t single him out as one of your “worst bits”. He’s terrible! You’re right about Filer clearly being intended as a love interest for Jo, but with nothing to support it, though.

On The Dæmons perhaps again because of the book I have an enormous soft spot for it (though it’s one of Pertwee’s most gittish performances), but surely “it is the first time, apart from The War Games, that we have had a season finale as such” ignores The Evil of the Daleks, which went for it in a big way, with the Doctor even announcing “The final end”?
xipuloxx
Jul. 22nd, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
I can't let you pass "Day of the Daleks" without mentioning the Controller, played rather camply yet quite convincingly by Aubrey Woods. He really brings out the moral ambiguity of a quisling; listening to his arguments you can see how an essentially good man could be convinced that, with no hope of victory, collaboration was really the best choice. Of course, living in luxury while most people struggled to survive can't have hurt either! Yet, once convinced that there is another way, he seizes that chance and gives his own life for the sake of a better future. And, of course, RTD paid homage to the character with the female Controller in "Bad Wolf".
swisstone
Jul. 22nd, 2010 05:27 pm (UTC)
I alway felt that the probelm with Claws of Axos is that it really needs another couple of episodes.
tree_and_leaf
Jul. 23rd, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
I agree with parrot_knight about Miss Hawthorne; and it's worth noticing that she's suspicious of "Reverend Magister" precisely because she spots that he isn't a believer in anything (The Master appears to have prepared for the role of vicar by skim-reading Honest to God, and leaving it at that.)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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