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Doctor Who Rewatch: 24

I'm a over a week late late with these, mainly due to tech problems and pressure of other business. But I should also say that the 45-minute episodes rather threw my rhythm; I had got nicely into the habit of finding 25-minute slots during the day, and the longer episodes were surprisingly disrupting. This also inclines me to make a further strategic decision: once I have finished my Old Who run, I will take a break before I try a similar exercise with New Who. Anyway, on with the shows.

There's a decent story in Vengeance on Varos, and particularly some good guest performances by Martin Jarvis, Nabil Shaban, and Sheila Read who plays Etta, and decent special effects at a period when these were sometimes a bit embarrassing. But it is rather spoiled for me by the violence, which I am now realising is a consistent problem with this season; by the silly subplot of Peri being turned into a bird and then magically cured in about five seconds; and by a number of under-rehearsed scenes where actors stand around with their hands limply at their sides, always a bit of a red flag for me.

As discussed after my write-up The King's Demons, George Stephenson is the first actual historical figure to appear in Who since Doc Holliday and Kate waved goodbye to the First Doctor, Steven and Dodo in 1966. But that is largely irrelevant; Mark of the Rani also features a new renegade Time Lord, and actually she is a new twist on the old theme - fascinatingly amoral, and utterly immune to the Master's attempts to seduce her to galactic domination. It is a shame that her plans make so little sense, and that she doesn't get better special effects and music, though she is hardly unique in the history of Who in that respect.

The Two Doctors is most of the way to being a good story. It is a delight to see Troughton and Hines again, working through yet another wrinkle on the Time Lord mythos which Holmes had done so much to develop. The Sontaran / Dastari plot doesn't make a lot of sense but does actually make more sense than the Rani's or indeed several other recent examples. There is no strong plot justification for setting the Earth bits in Spain, but no reason not to, and it's good to see that alien invasions don't only happen in England. Jacqueline Pearce is delicious as ever.

The problems with The Two Doctors are quite serious, though. The gratuitous killing of Oscar at the end is of a piece with the rest of the season and with Holmes' more horrific instincts, but that is really no excuse. Worse to my mind is the depiction of the Androgums as irredeemably savage and evil, and yet also comic relief; it's not too difficult to read as racism, and is the sort of essentialism that Who at its best preaches against, rather than endorsing. (Yeah, I know, Daleks and Cybermen are irredeemably evil; but Cybermen are never comic relief, and Daleks rarely are and anyway don't look like people with odd facial features and curious turns of phrase.) I am more relaxed about the inconsistencies with continuity of the Second Doctor and the Time Lords.

One of the things I didn't like about Timelash was the same essentialism - the Borad being evil at least in part because he looks evil. Another is the fact that the time travel part of the plot is rather botched (I am a fan of the twelfth century and would have liked to see some action there). But actually the story as a whole, and Paul Darrow, annoyed me much less on this viewing. Most of the plot makes sense, and is in keeping with the spirit of Who. While the production values are rather poor, everyone does seem to be aware of this and carries on as best they can in the circumstances. And having had almost 19 years with no real historical figures portrayed as a speaking role, now, with H.G. Wells, we have two in the same season. But I think he is the last in Old Who. (The Queen and Courtney Pine in Silver Nemesis don't count, as neither speaks and the latter is not portrayed by an actor but by himself.)

I do agree with those who see Revelation of the Daleks as one of the best Sixth Doctor stories. It is full of fun stuff to watch - the Kara/Vogel interaction, the Jobel / Tasambeker relationship, Grigory and Natasha, and of course the DJ. And the fundamentals of the plot are fairly sound by the standards of this period of Who; it is the first time, I think, that we have seen the Daleks attempting to propagate their race by converting humans, though Terry Nation had hinted at this in one of the Dalek Annuals. It is a bit odd that the Doctor and Peri are present for so little of the action, and someone less kind than me would say that that is one of the story's strengths.

To round out my numbers I watched In A Fix With Sontarans, the ten minute segment of Jim'll Fix It which was shown on the same day as the second episode of Revelation of the Daleks. I don't think I had seen it before. It is nice to see Janet Fielding as Tegan again, making her I think the only character other than the Master to appear with all of the first six incarnations of the Doctor. The interaction between Tegan and the Sixth Doctor seems somehow healthier than what we have seen with Peri lately. And the rather brief plot seems to make sense, though from the vantage point of 2011 we know that the Sontaran invasion of Earth was missed by the newspapers of the time.

This is not a great run. Revelation of the Daleks is more or less OK, The Two Doctors is almost a good story with serious flaws, and while I liked Timelash more this time than last time I watched it, that really isn't saying much. A consistently disheartening aspect of this period of the show is the poisonous Doctor/Peri relationship, which really kills most of any resiudual enjoyment I might have for the stories.

< 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 )
londonkds
Jul. 5th, 2011 11:20 am (UTC)
It's not "Daleks attempting to propagate their race", surely? More Davros trying to create a better Dalek and using human raw material.
londonkds
Jul. 5th, 2011 11:21 am (UTC)
Also, "A Fix With Sontarans" really does make me sad that Tegan didn't continue into S22, although I think Janet Fielding was getting fed up.
parrot_knight
Jul. 5th, 2011 02:49 pm (UTC)
The impression I've had is that while she was fed up she would still have carried on and seen in Colin Baker, but John Nathan-Turner thought it was wrong for a companion introduced in Tom Baker's period (just!) to continue into the era of Tom's successor's successor, and wrote her out before the expiry of her contract.
scott_lynch
Jul. 5th, 2011 12:56 pm (UTC)
Sigh. What a waste. I've always thought that Colin Baker's natural charisma, his energy, his imposing demeanor, all could have been harnessed to create a superb incarnation... throw out that desperate-cry-for-help wardrobe and give him something more subdued, perhaps Sherlockian... ah well.
bookzombie
Jul. 5th, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC)
Scott, Colin Baker is fantastic in the Big Finish Audio adventures - his slightly over-the-top portrayal works well in what are essentially radio plays.
wwhyte
Jul. 5th, 2011 11:04 pm (UTC)
The scripts are so bad in this period of the show that it's hard to judge Colin Baker's performance separately from them, but I can't think of a single moment where he comes over as something other than someone doing bad children's television badly. I haven't heard his Big Finish performances, but whenever people start to defend him on the basis of those, it seems like an evasion of the central point: for the first time in its history, the show's central performance is really really poor.

Edited at 2011-07-05 11:47 pm (UTC)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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