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Doctor Who Rewatch: 12

Planet of the Daleks is one of the rare cases where my opinion of the story has dropped largely as a result of watching it in sequence. Picked randomly out of a set of Old Who stories, it seems inoffensive enough; but eight years on from The Daleks' Master Plan, it's more obviously a rehash of Terry Nation's previous Dalek stories, combining various elements from them without bringing much new to it, a collage of bits of First Doctor space fantasy except in colour this time. This is the third consecutive future history story (after Carnival of Monsters and Frontier in Space and the least Pertwee-ish of this un-Pertwee-ish format.

Having said that, it's not all that bad. Katy Manning is actually called on to act a bit more than usual, both bravely coping with the Doctor's condition and her own fungal problems, and then dealing with Latep's affections later on, and she rises to the challenge. Bernard Horsfall and Jane How are good as the Thals. The jungle doesn't look too much like a studio set. But the plot is too padded, and we never find out what happened to the Doctor's appeal to the Time Lords.

I have a soft spot for The Green Death, which was I think the first Who DVD I bought. Watched in sequence, it is more apparent that the story is Inferno meets The War Machines in Wales. But those were both good stories, and I think Sloman has improved on them - BOSS beats WOTAN any day, and the chemicals causing maggots to mutate is more plausible than people turning into cavemen after touching Schumann's gas. It is a decently Lettsian political story as well, the pit closures, hippy environmentalists, and subject of Welsh nationalism all making it feel contemporary.

Of the four Old Who companions who get married off (I do not count Peri) Jo gets by far the best closure (and is the only one to end up hitched to a bloke from her own space and time). Episode Three of The Green Death is surely the most erotic of Old Who, with the lovers almost kissing and the cliffhanger of the maggot lustfully approaching Jo's bared back. And the final shot of the Doctor driving sadly away from Jo's engagement party, which apparently took four hours to set up, still brings a tear to the eye.

One of the most unexpected results of my rewatchathon has been that I have come round to Jo. In comparison with the rather feisty companions of New Who, she seems both prototype and stereotype; but in fact she is the first proper incarnation of the key female lead, with an intense and personal relationship with the Doctor, intended to be the audience's main identification figure. It's a new departure for the programme, and she is the measure that all the others have to match up to (even if, admittedly, many of them do surpass her). Establishing her as a constant, after the fairly rapid turnover of companions in the first seven seasons, was presumably a later decision (she could after all have left in 1971 had she wanted to), but also changed the dynamic and the expectations of future companions' longevity. The by-product of her presence is of course the downgrading of the importance of the UNIT characters (even as they are increased in strength with Mike Yates and the upgrading of Benton to semi-regular), but in a way that gives us the kind of ensemble basis for the show which New Who has picked up so successfully; by far the most interesting of the new regular characters apart from Jo is the evil Master. It is interesting to note that both Russell T Davies (born April 1963) and Steven Moffat (born December 1961) would have been watching her stories in their formative years.

Jo features in several of my top Who novelisations - Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons, Doctor Who and the Dæmons, Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks, Doctor Who and the Three Doctors, Doctor Who and the Space War [Frontier in Space], and Doctor Who and the Green Death. Big Finish's latest Companion Chronicle, Find and Replace, unites Jo with the disreputable Iris Wildthyme, a renegade Time Lord who claims to be the Doctor's ex-girlfriend and is also played by Katy Manning, in what is surely going to be one of the classics of the range.

With Jo having acquired extra legitimacy through longevity, The Time Warrior has the difficult task of introducing the first new companion for three years. But it is also the first story with a historical setting since The Highlanders, which incidentally was also the introductory story for a long-lasting companion (Jamie), which in itself is rather a good signal that the show is still capable of pulling surprises (which is just as well, considering the disappointments in store later in the season). The medieval stuff - Dot Cotton and Boba Fett in alliance against the bad guys - is actually rather well done, to the point that you don't realise that there is only one castle playing two roles. The Sontarans are off to a good start, and there's a satisfying bang at the end as the castle blows up.

It's interesting to note that Sarah actually looks rather boyish here - pageboy haircut, understated bust, wearing trousers rather than skirt - which reinforces the point that the companion is meant to be the audience identification figure, and perhaps makes her easier for small boys to relate to than the much more girly Jo would have been. One can't take this too far - she is certainly femme rather than butch - but it strikes me that after the first seven seasons of regular characters who just happen to be hanging around the Tardis and the Doctor, we have here the consolidation and further development of the Jo Grant dynamic.

One further character note about the Doctor - we have a bit of a reshaping of the role of the Time Lords here, as galactic ticket-inspectors; and this is also the story where the Doctor says he is serious about what he does, but not necessarily the way he does it. Unmoored from the UNIT setting, this is a new Pertwee in some ways, and we are allowed to sympathise with Sarah to a certain extent when she mistakes him for the villain rather than the hero of the story.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs was Malcolm Hulke's last story for Doctor Who, and it must be said that with the rather central exception of the dinosaurs it is rather good. It is a shame about the dinosaurs, especially the tyrannosaurus / brontosaurus fight in episode 6 which is a real low point. The assembly of talent among the guest cast is excellent - Martin Jarvis, Peter Miles, Carmen Silvera, John Bennett, Noel Johnson, all had been on Who before and/or would be again, and all take it seriously (I guess they coudn't see the dinosaurs for the most part).

Hulke takes it seriously too; his sympathies are of course with the New Earth folks, but his message is one of working for revolution and change within the system. Mike Yates' treachery is the most interesting thing that has been done with a regular character since Katarina and Sara were killed off. It's a shame that Richard Franklin never quite rises to the challenge, but it twists Hulke's narrative from being a relatively safe tale of rooting out the dodgy bits of the establishment to a nasty one where your own household may turn against you.

Sarah and the Doctor are awfully cuddly now, especially in their exchange about Florana at the end! NB that this is the second story in a row about bad guys using time travel to transport their innocent pawns between different periods of Earth history.

With Death to the Daleks we have our second Terry Nation story of this half-dozen. It is actually rather similar to Planet of the Daleks, in that it feels like it has escaped from the Hartnell era (except for the music, on which more below), but the good bits are better and the bad bits are worse. On the good side, the plot is considerably more original than PotD, with the Daleks losing power and being forced to cooperate with the Doctor and the crashed humans, and finding themselves equally under threat from the creepy cultists. Good old John Abineri is there, and Duncan Lamont is great as the grizzled and ultimately self-sacrificing Galloway, likewise Arnold Yarrow as Bellal (and I wonder what happened to Joy Harrison who played Jill Tarrant).

But, but... the music. It's really bad. I can't remember anything this bad since The Chase which similarly had experimental scoring and Daleks, but unlike this story The Chase was actually meant to be funny. I'm sure you can do good music for Doctor Who with saxophones, and I know that Carey Blyton did better on both Doctor Who and the Silurians and Revenge of the Cybermen, but it utterly fails to come together here. The worst is the comedy horror leitmotif for the Daleks themselves, but it's all pretty awful.

Also, the puzzle traps in the living city are very poor. The first one appears to be a simple spot-the-difference test; the maze which is the only way out of the room filled with skeletons doesn't seem so very difficult (certainly the Daleks solve it pretty fast); and the floor game is just silly. A further minor gripe: Sarah's bikini is not terribly sexy (though of course that is no crime) and I think that there must still be an Exxilon or two wandering around the Tardis.

The Monster of Peladon is a set of good-ish concepts that fails to be the sum of its parts. Sarah's attempts to educate Queen Thalira in feminism seem awfully earnest now, but probably sounded more startling at the time; the theme of the miners revolting actually reflected what was happening in Britain at the time, when the Prime Minister of the day went to the polls on the slogan, 'Who governs Britain?' and the voters replied 'Not you, mate!' The resolution of the political plot also turns out to be a bit of Cold War style politics with Eckersley exposed as the proxy for the other superpower. And Pertwee gets a dress rehearsal for dying in the next story.

But it doesn't really work well, and it's the third story in a row for which this is the case. There's a bit of a feeling of the old team running out of steam (though the chemistry between Pertwee and Sladen remains charming and totally believable). The Doctor gets most un-Doctorishly bloodthirsty when he starts disintegrating Ice Warriors left, right and centre. While some of the guest cast (notably Donald Gee as Eckersley and the Ice Warriors themselves) are rather good, Nina Thomas's Queen Thalira is very flat indeed (with her shoulders permanently pulled up to her ears, she reminds me rather of Diana Spencer in that awful pre-wedding interview in 1981). And I think I watched the second episode but don't remember anything about it, and suspect it may not have been necessary to the plot. Not the only Pertwee story that would have been better at two-thirds the length, but one of the best examples of the phenomenon.

So there we are - tantalisingly one story away from the next regeneration. My opinion of The Time Warrior has been raised by watching it in sequence, because of the refreshing reboot of the Doctor/companion relationship; my opinion of Planet of the Daleks, on the other hand, has been lowered. I think I also appreciate the good points of Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and deplore the weaknesses of Death to the Daleks, a little more as a result of watching this.

I am now 46% through the Old Who stories, 53% by screen minutes, 54% by episodes, and 40% of the time from November 1963 to December 1989 has elapsed. (The half-way mark in screen minutes is, I think, during episode 1 of The Time Warrior; if you count 697 episodes of Old Who, the 349th is the fifth episode of Planet of the Daleks.)

< 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

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
ceemage
Sep. 24th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
It's an interesting commentary on how society's attitude to married women in employment has changed. (If being a Doctor's companion can be considered "employment.") In Old Who, a female companion getting married was, by definition, leaving the series. In New Who, it looks as if Amy's wedding is just going to be an excuse to bring hubby along too.
wwhyte
Jan. 7th, 2011 05:28 pm (UTC)
Note that Pertwee gets *two* rehearsals for dying in The Monster of Peladon, or at least Sarah gets to say "I thought you were dead!" TWICE.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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