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Doctor Who Rewatch: 26

Six more Seventh Doctor stories today:

And straight in from Paradise Towers, we have another icon of British comedy, Ken Dodd, appearing in Delta and the Bannermen (and also getting killed off, but earlier rather than later). There are a lot of elements here that come close to working individually - the holiday camp, the bemused Americans, the rapidly growing alien child, the love triangle; but the whole is somehow a bit less than the sum of its parts, with the Bannermen themselves rather a weak element, and the feeling that not everyone involved totally understood what was going on. I wonder if we would regard the series in a better light if the sun had shone a bit more reliably during filming?

If one takes Dragonfire as a comedy of character and manners, rather than an attempt at a hard sf plot, it doesn't do too badly. The setting of a resort with a nasty undercurrent is slightly too similar to Delta and the Bannermen but the execution is so different that not many viewers will notice. Glitz's return is another re-anchoring of the show in recent years - it's not just the Rani who is shared with the rest of the Old Who universe, but random dubious smugglers as well. Sophie Aldred is better as Ace than I remembered, and the same goes for the baddies. And the whole thing is mercifully short.

And it's farewell to Mel, who seems to have arrived only yesterday. (Having been around for a season and almost a half, she rates better than a lot of companions; but when you consider that that is only six stories, it's less than anyone since Liz Shaw apart from Kamelion.) With the exception of Susan, she is the only companion who we meet after she is already travelling with the Doctor, so we get the background information about her by info-dump rather than by being shown. I think her dynamic with Colin Baker is very good, and much more healthy than the Peri/Six dynamic; it isn't quite sustained to Sylvester McCoy, who needs to be a mentor rather than a partner. For such a clever girl she screams a lot, and the writers gave her few memorable lines; but she is far from being disastrous, and indeed helps the Colin Baker era to end on less of a sour note, as well as getting a rather empowering ending herself.

(Interesting to note that Seven/Mel is literally the only canonical Doctor/companion team never to have featured in any spinoff novel.)

There now follows the biggest recantation of my former views that I have expressed in this entire run of rewatches. I actually enjoyed Remembrance of the Daleks, which I have previously ranked lowest of all the Seventh Doctor stories. But I think a couple of things were different for me this time. One of my previous objections was to the story's failure to really feel much like 1963; but I think after Delta and the Bannermen, I'm more in the mood for catching what the BBC thought was going on in the recent past. On previous watches I found the incidental music jarring and intrusive; again, watching it five stories into the McCoy era, that bothers me less. But I think most of all it is the discipline of watching an episode at a time, rather than all in one go and wondering when the other Dalek faction or Davros are going to show up; and it somehow seemed to me that I grasped the plot much better on this viewing, and appreciated its subtleties and the skill of execution really for the first time. Ben Aaronovitch, if you are reading this, I take it all back. (About this story anyway. Check in again later in the month when I rewatch Battlefield.)

Continuing along this theme of rehabilitation, I found The Happiness Patrol an excellent piece of sinister dystopia, following on from Paradise Towers. The interaction between Helen A and her retainers and servitors is tremendously engaging, with Fifi one of the great non-speaking parts (like the dog in Two Gentlemen of Verona, only much more vicious); and one wonders why it came as a surprise to anyone to learn that it was a deliberate though not hugely accurate tilt at Thatcherism. Doctor Who does not do space opera terribly well, but this is not space opera, it is allegory played with bitter ironic comedy, and fits McCoy's portrayal beautifully.

I can't quite be as positive about Silver Nemesis, though again I liked it more than I had expected to. It is the first time we have had a contemporary English setting since, errr, the last Cybermen story three years ago, but it doesn't really make enough of the normality such a set-up offers, setting us up with real (Courtney Pine) and fake (the Queen) celebrities and then bringing in Lady Peinforte and De Flores through literal and metaphorical timewarps, with added Cybermen. A lot of the bits work well, including the increasing sense of the Doctor as someone with a number of devious plans which we don't know about (and Fiona Walker's delightfully psychotic Lady Peinforte) but it doesn't quite add up together.

And finally for this run, once again I enjoyed The Greatest Show In The Galaxy more than I was expecting to. The storyline is awfully simple - the Psychic Circus as a deathtrap set by ancient powerful beings, the Doctor and Ace trying to escape from it and destroy it - and there is therefore an awful lot of circular plotting before the dénouement, but somehow the extra bits tacked on to the plot all add to it. A particular cheer for T.P. McKenna's fraudulent Captain Cook as a parody of the show's central character, and the earnest fan played by Adrian Mole Gian Sammarco who finds that the object of his fascination is a fatal obsession; but Jessica Martin and Chris Drury are excellent too, and the whole thing just looks so much better than we were getting two years ago (or even one year ago). Let's hope they can keep up the standards for a few more years.

So there we have it - the second-last of my write-ups, and a much more positive one than I had expected it would be. I should wrap up the enire project later this month - I am extending my definition of Old Who to include Dimensions in Time and The Movie which will mean I will once again have six stories in my final write-up.

< 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 >


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 9th, 2011 08:18 am (UTC)
I'm trying to remember whether Seven/Mel feature in any Big Finish audios. I know Six/Mel do, but not Seven/Mel.

I've always liked Rememberance, but my bugbear with it is such a silly one: if it's really set in November 1963 then some of the evening scenes should be in the dark, not daylight. But then matching lighting to time of year is not something that t.v. does well. I've noticed that no-one ever has breakfast in the dark during the winter on t.v. (unless it's a plot point about getting up really early) - despite the fact that at least half of the year I get up when it's still dark.
Aug. 9th, 2011 08:45 am (UTC)
There are several Seven/Mel audios - Unregenerate!, Red, Bang-Bang-a-Boom!, Flip-Flop and The Fires of Vulcan. Long time since I've listened to any but I think they were all decent enough.

I agree with you about the lighting! Somehow this time I was able to overlook it.
Aug. 9th, 2011 08:24 am (UTC)
Chris 'Deadbeat/Kingpin' Jury was up for the role of the Doctor itself in 1987, or so I've read. Greatest Show was my favourite of that season when it went out - and while I enjoyed Remembrance it doesn't manage to convey a sense of period, partly because there are too many 1980s buildings and cars about.
Aug. 9th, 2011 08:28 am (UTC)
I don't know if anyone's already said this -- it would be very pleasing if, when this project is complete, you were to post your paragraph-of-links in the doctorwho community (together with some explanatory preamble).
Aug. 9th, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
Scattershot thoughts:

- I've always thought that *Silver Nemesis* suffered for having the exact same plot as *Remembrance.* We all know the program loops-the-loop on its own plots sooner or later, but to do it so flagrantly and so few episodes apart... meh. Also, much as I love Ace (and crushed terribly on Sophie when I was 13), watching Cybermen explode from having gold coins flung into their chests doesn't help the poor silver bastards any in the "credible threat" department.

- *Greatest Show* is an underrated gem. Ian Reddington's Chief Clown has my vote as one of the best villains in the series' history... delightfully sinister with a wistful hint of tragedy.

- Ben Aaronovitch's novelization of *Remembrance* was pure magic to me when I discovered it in middle school... it treated its subjects with such loving seriousness, implied a deep culture for the Daleks, and described them as these incredible high-tech antagonists straight out of genuine hard science fiction (his vision of them zooming around at thirty kilometers an hour made it easy for me to forgive the wobbly screen versions). It also did wonders for the raw mystery of the Doctor, and crammed an awful lot of detail about the supporting cast into very little space.
Aug. 11th, 2011 07:48 pm (UTC)
Hi, Nicholas,
Just to let you know I dropped an e-mail to you about an invitation to contribute Dr.Who material to the Fantasy Matters website.
Are you interested?
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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