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Doctor Who Rewatch: 11

The Sea Devils starts strongly, with the first episode containing one of the funniest scenes ever in the whole of Doctor Who, when the Master encounters the Clangers. (Am I right in thinking that this is the only reference to any other sf show in Old Who anywhere? New Who of course has referred to Star Trek, the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Harry Potter)

It's a politically complex story, as one often gets from Malcolm Hulke, with easily the most evil character being the Permanent Under-Secretary from London, come to wipe out the non-humans because they are different. Even the Master's motivation is a bit more three-dimensional than usual, and the Sea Devils themselves behave in good faith for a race which has been awakened from millions of years of slumber to find themselves under attack.

Note also Declan Mulholland as another Ulster actor to appear in Who apart from Harry Towb (and of course Lalla Ward). And Malcolm Clarke's music is really good - I see he scored several later Who stories from Earthshock on, but don't remember those being as memorable.

I didn't like The Mutants when I first watched it, out of sequence, and I don't like it any more watched in sequence either. The political message is entirely reasonable; if anything it loses by being laid on so thick. It's nice to see George Pravda again from The Enemy of the World as Jaeger, and Paul Whitsun-Jones returns from The Smugglers as the Marshal. But the show is dragged down by the exceptionally poor performances of some of the other cast, and by the inadequacy of the script. The resolution of the episode 5 cliff-hanger at the start of episode 6 defies most laws of science, and one has to query why the Time Lords go to such elaborate lengths to get the message to Ky, considering that it is of so little immediate use to him.

It's weird because while I don't rate Baker and Martin all that highly as writers, they are usually rather better than this, and Christopher Barry is one of the great Who directors. One can't get it right all the time, I suppose.

There is a bit of a feeling of the show running out of steam by the time we reach The Time Monster, where the fact that the Brigadier and most of UNIT spend several episodes in suspended animation is almost symbolic of the lack of plot.

Since the actual narrative makes no sense, our attention is held by the dynamic between the three central couples - Stuart and Ruth, the Doctor and Jo, and the Master and Galleia; and unfortunately the first of these, which carries the weight of the story in the early episodes, doesn't really work - we never get a convincing sense of the dynamic between them, and Stuart's totally rubbish moustache out-acts him in every scene.

It does pick up. The sequences of the Doctor and Jo marooned in the Tardis are as emotionally charged as RTD at the height of his powers. The dynamic between Delgado and Ingrid Pitt is very sexy, though badly written. John Levene has his best outing yet as Benton, even if he does get regressed to infancy. But really, this is not a lot better than The Mutants.

I know The Three Doctors more or less by heart (my DVD is the very one which was originally sent by the BBC to Verity Lambert as a complimentary copy), but it's interesting to watch it yet again in the context of what has gone before and what is yet to come. Partly that it's a welcome uptick in quality after the wobbles of the last two stories; partly also that it's a reboot of the show's setting, both a formal launch for the new format of Doctor and female companion wandering the universe and a farewell to UNIT as the default context and incidentally to the previous two Doctors, whose itinerant lifestyle is now to be re-adopted.

It is great to see both Troughton and, however intermittently, Hartnell once again, and although there are weaknesses (the anti-matter monsters, Omega's dark side, the comic yokel Ollis, the pointless physicist Tyler, and the Brigadier losing his marbles), the story is a decent feelgood effort for the anniversary.

And Carnival of Monsters takes us to an alien planet, with one of the great Robert Holmes scripts: he specialised in having a couple of characters whose dialogue informs us all about their world, and here he does it twice over, with Kalik and Orum (and to an extent Pletrac) revealing Inter Minor to us, and Vorg and Shirna representing the outside world. The idea of a closed and bureaucratic society dealing with the decadent entertainment possibilities of its neighbours is a rather good one. The first episode is espeically good with no apparent connection between Inter Minor and the SS Bernice, until Vorg's hand removes the Tardis.

Michael Wisher is excellent as the villainous Kalik. Maybe they should bring him back to, I dunno, play a mad scientist who invents the Daleks. I love Cheryl Hall as Shirna as well, though admittedly more for her costume than her acting. The Drashigs rather let it down though. And I noticed a continuity goof: as Jo flees from being thigh-deep in the marsh, her trousers dry instantly (and her close-fitting pockets don't seem to contain the bulky set of skeleton keys)..

Yet another political tale in Malcolm Hulke's Frontier in Space, where a cold war about to turn hot between Earth and Draconia is being exploited by the Master with his Dalek and Ogron allies. The plot itself meanders a bit - essentially all we do is get from Earth to the Ogron planet via the Moon - but (as I've so often said in the Pertwee era) - watched an episode at a time it keeps the attention. The scene where the Daleks appear at the top of the cliffs is the first Doctor Who I can remember clearly catching when it was first shown in 1973 (I was five).

For the first time this season, the production values more or less match the ambition of the story, lots of spaceship model shots and plenty of sets, none of which wobble. The short sequence of the Doctor in a spacesuit outside the Master's ship is particularly well done. The Earth president, played by Vera Fusek, is particularly memorable, though she and General Williams have a more hands-on approach to dealing with espionage suspects than the presidents and senior military officials who I have dealt with in real life, and they are on the young side for such senior officials.

Another reference to sf outside the Doctor Who canon involving the Master: he reads a copy of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds in Episode 4. (Wells himself, of course, turns up as a character in the Sixth Doctor's era.) And did I pick up Ramsay Williams, as Congressman Brook, putting on a mildly Ulster accent as Congressman Brook?

Alas, the end of Frontier in Space is also the end of Roger Delgado as the Master. I will miss him. I can't be alone in finding Mavic Chen and Tobias Vaughn the two most memorable characters of the black and white era after the Doctors themselves - evil is always more interesting than good. The Daleks and Cybermen are not characters in their own right (until we get Davros, of course). So inventing the Doctor's nemesis was a very smart move.

It helps immensely that Delgado and Pertwee clearly worked very well together. Since the Third Doctor is haughtily dismissive of the Brigadier and UNIT, and needs a companion he can patronise, it is only the Master who is really his equal. His plans are almost always completely ludicrous, but the Doctor takes them deadly seriously and so therefore do we. He really does combine both menace and charm, and actively seduces both Queen Galleia and Captain Chin Lee as well as the audience.

I liked most of these stories about the same as last time I watched them - the two real turkeys, The Mutants and The Time Monster, remain turkeys, but the Season 10 stories seem more forgiveable somehow.

I am now 42% through the Old Who stories, 48% by screen minutes and episodes, and 36% 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

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
londonkds
Aug. 23rd, 2010 06:43 am (UTC)
The "Batman at the controls" line in "Inferno" is probably a reference to the Batman TV show, if you view that as SF.
djm4
Aug. 23rd, 2010 08:44 am (UTC)
If we allow Batman, a model of the Batmobile crops up at one point when the Doctor turns out his pockets in, I think, Genesis of the Daleks.

And Ace wears a Gerry Anderson 'Fanderson' badge on her jacket.
altariel
Aug. 23rd, 2010 07:39 am (UTC)
The Doctor reads Oolon Colluphid (sp?) in Destiny of the Daleks.
djm4
Aug. 23rd, 2010 08:38 am (UTC)
He also riffs off 'Earthmen never invite their ancestors round to dinner' in Ghost Light. And 'Bernard' of 'British Rocket Group' in Remembrance of the Daleks almost makes Quatermass canon. ;-)
nwhyte
Aug. 23rd, 2010 08:44 am (UTC)
On a different topic entirely, did you get the email I sent yesterday?
djm4
Aug. 23rd, 2010 08:48 am (UTC)
I did, and I've just replied. ;-)
wwhyte
Aug. 23rd, 2010 01:54 pm (UTC)
It's The Creature from the Pit, I think. I'm not sure if that counts as a reference or as Douglas Adams messing around.
charliegrrrl
Aug. 23rd, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC)
I quite like The Mutants, although it's been a few years since I last watched it. Looking forward to the inevitable DVD release to rewatch it. It's one of those stories that's a bit too campy/preachy for its own good, but still quite thought-provoking in parts. It's more well-paced than most of the Pertwee 6-parters, plus it takes place on a planet that feels genuinely alien for once -- one of the few Who planets where the air isn't breathable to humans. And I sort of love the fact that the mutations turn out not to be mutations -- it's a genuinely neat twist. But we'll see how it holds up when I re-watch it next time....
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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