Tag Archives: doctor who

Who Review: Planet of Evil

The Doctor and Sarah leave Harry behind in Scotland to travel back to London by TARDIS. En route they pick up a distress signal to which the Doctor responds, landing the TARDIS on Zeta Minor, a remote jungle planet in the far reaches of the universe. It appears that a geological research expedition has fallen prey to a mysterious killer, and only the expedition leader, Dr. Sorenson, is left alive. A military ship comes to rescue Dr. Sorenson, and capture the Doctor and Sarah, suspecting them of the murders. But the creature that attacked the expedition is now turning upon the crew of the ship. Someone, or something, is not only on the warpath, but is preventing them from leaving. The Doctor and Sarah have seen the attacker, a hazy red entity composed entirely of anti-matter. The Doctor suspects its attacks have something to do with the minerals Sorenson has extracted from the planet. He needs to convince the crew of his and Sarah’s innocence, and get them to return the minerals before they are all destroyed…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The Doctor and Sarah continue their adventures without Harry. While not technically part of the story arc from “Robot” to “Terror of the Zygons,” this story takes place as they are making their way back to London from Scotland. I love the Doctor’s reaction when he hears the distress signal–he’s evidently excited at the prospect of adventure and danger.

I’ve lost count how often the Doctor and his companion(s) turn up on a planet and are immediately accused of causing whatever problem they encounter. I suppose it’s not unreasonable to think this could happen, especially if they are caught examining a dead body, or in some other compromising situation. However, the Doctor is usually able to convince people of his innocence fairly quickly. In this story, Salamar, the commander of the rescue ship, remains unconvinced for most of the story, which is unusual.

This is a good serial, though not entirely original, since it plays on the “planet fights back” theme we’ve seen before (“Inferno” and “The Green Death” for example). Important minerals are extracted, and the planet, in the form of an anti-matter monster, won’t let the explorers leave until they return the minerals. In episode two, the story takes a Jekyll and Hyde turn as Sorenson is taken over by the anti-matter monster and has to drink a potion to control the transformation. Perhaps a hint at the “gothic horror” direction the show’s producer and script editor planned to take Doctor Who?

The effects are reasonably impressive for the time. They use a red superimposed outline to indicate the anti-matter monster, and red reflective patches on Sorenson’s eyelids to show when the monster is controlling him. I’m not exactly sure, however, how an anti-matter monster is able to control someone who is matter. Wouldn’t there be some kind of explosive reaction? And why does anti-matter make Sorenson behave like a Primoid from “Inferno”? Maybe these questions were answered somewhere and I missed it.

It’s notable that the Doctor uses physical violence when he punches Salamar and knocks him out cold. That might be the first and last time we see the Doctor land a punch on someone. Even the Third Doctor’s hand-to-hand combat was restricted to Venusian aikido, which consisted largely of chops and finger pressure applied to certain parts of the body. Certainly no fisticuffs!

The most impressive part of this adventure, however, has to be the forest scenery. The trees, the vines, the plants are all superbly rendered using who-knows-what. The effect is even more stunning when shown on film as opposed to videotape. I think this is one of the best Doctor Who sets in the programs’ history. If they recreated it today, it couldn’t look much better.

In summary, “Planet of Evil” is another good story, with a dark atmosphere and a challenging monster. Indeed, it’s hard to dismiss any of the stories from this era since so many of them are good. The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith work so well together, you can’t not enjoy watching them. Add to that the amazing scenery, and I think you have reason enough to check it out.

Who Review: Terror of the Zygons

The Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry respond to the Brigadier’s summons, landing in present-day Scotland. A North Sea oil rig has been attacked, but no-one is to be able to trace the attacker. It seems three other rigs were similarly attacked in the past month. Harry attempts to talk to one of the attack survivors, but his attempt lands him in hospital with a serious head injury. Meanwhile, the Doctor examines a piece of the rig that has washed ashore, only to discover giant tooth holes in the metal. When Sarah visits Harry in hospital, she is accosted by a strange orange creature that, apparently, used to be the attending nurse. An alien plot is unfolding in that Scottish village, and the TARDIS crew is finding it hard to tell who they can trust…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

While this story begins a new season of Doctor Who, it was, in fact, recorded as part of the previous season, and hence it serves as the conclusion of the loose arc that started with “Robot.” It also marks the end of Harry Sullivan’s time on the TARDIS, and, indeed, the end of the UNIT era. UNIT will make an appearance once more in this season (see “The Android Invasion”), and again 13 years later in “Battlefield,” but from this point on, they are no longer a regular feature of the show.

The Zygons themselves are a great Who baddie, and it’s puzzling that this was their only story in the Classic run. Not only are they a great design, but they are interesting conceptually, with their shape-shifting ability that keeps you guessing who’s who. Fandom cheered when the Zygons returned for the Fiftieth Anniversary special.

Speaking of great design, the Zygon ship is superbly realized, the way it continues the organic look of the monsters, with squishy controls and tentacle-like wires. It’s a very different take on a spacecraft, which is not something you often see in sci-fi, where all space ships tend to look alike.

For his last major role in Doctor Who, Ian Marter does an outstanding job not only playing “normal” Harry Sullivan, but also playing Zygon Harry. The menace he conjures in his eyes as he attacks Sarah Jane is totally convincing. There’s no question this is not the same Harry Sullivan, despite appearances.

Overall, the show is a win for the effects and costume teams, with the possible exception of the “Nessie” monster. We could give them a bit of a pass because it was supposed to be a cyborg in the story, so it shouldn’t matter if it looks like the dinosaurs from “Invasion of the Dinosaurs.” But after doing so well elsewhere, it’s a bit of a disappointment.

In summary, “Terror of the Zygons” is very much worth your time–maybe even essential, given it’s the only time you see the Zygons in Classic Who. The Zygons are a creative and challenging foe, and the effects and costumes are above standard for the era. And, most importantly, it’s a great story.

By the way, I believe the DVD release of “Terror of the Zygons” was the last complete Doctor Who serial to come out on DVD. The soundtrack has been remixed for 5.1 surround, possibly by keeping the core mono track, and re-applying sound effects and incidental music. Did they do this to mark the occasion? I don’t know. But they did a good job.

Links and Stuff

Hello, everyone! Time for another Links and Stuff. First, while Hurricane Matthew has long dissipated, his effects are still being felt here in Eastern NC. We (as in me and my family) didn’t suffer from the flooding, but there are roads and towns nearby that are submerged due to rivers and creeks bursting their banks. It’ll be early next week before the water subsides and the clean up begins for those affected. Many have lost homes, and some have lost loved ones thanks to this storm, and my prayers go out to them all.

Now to the links! As you may have heard, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan became the first lyricist to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The citation praises Dylan for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” This move by the Nobel committee has been lauded and criticized. Among the criticisms is the fact that the Nobel committee passed over under-appreciated writers and works that deserve the spotlight a Nobel prize would afford. After all, Dylan is already a popular figure whose songs have garnered a number of other prizes over the past 50 years. Those pleased with the nomination point out that Dylan is well overdue recognition by the literary establishment for his insightful poetry that became the voice of a generation. I tend to the view that if the award is given for creating “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” Lin-Manuel Miranda should get a Nobel Literature prize for “Hamilton.” And maybe he will. Watch for next year’s awards…

Speaking of literature, an interesting mash-up was announced this week. Puffin announced that they are publishing a series of Doctor Who “Mr. Men” books. For those who don’t know, the “Mr. Men” was (and is) a British book series by Roger Hargreaves, featuring odd-shaped characters named for their distinctive actions or attributes. “Mr. Tickle” has long arms so he can tickle people from afar. “Mr. Bump” bumps into things. “Mr. Strong” is, well, strong–you get the idea. I was really into this series as a child. I remember my Mum buying me “Mr. Men” books to keep me quiet while she shopped (yes, they’re THAT old). I would post a picture of some of my original “Mr. Men” books, but they’re packed away, so these will have to do:

The new series will feature each of the twelve Doctors, the first four, “Dr. First,” “Dr. Fourth,” “Dr. Eleventh,” and “Dr. Twelfth” being released next spring. Here’s what “Dr. First” and “Dr. Eleventh” look like:

Yes, they’re kids books… but I’ll be ordering them. 🙂

Next, another mash-up, this time Lego and the Beatles! On November 1, in time for the Christmas market, Lego is releasing a new “Yellow Submarine” set, based on the iconic 1968 Beatles cartoon movie. The set comes with a giant yellow submarine, along with John, Paul, George, and Ringo figures based on the cartoon characters. At $60 it’s a bit expensive, so I don’t know that I’ll be rushing to get one. It’s a nice collectible, though.

Finally, today is the 950th anniversary of The Battle of Hastings, a battle that changed the course of the Western world. I wrote an article about it five years ago, which contains links to various other sites, including the famous Bayeux Tapestry–possibly the world’s first graphic novel! 🙂 Here’s my article.

That’s all from me. Now, it’s your turn–share your thoughts!

Who Review: Revenge of the Cybermen (Revisited)

The time ring takes our heroes back to the Nerva space station, but they arrive thousands of years before it became an Ark for the cream of humanity. At this point in time, Nerva is a beacon, alerting ships to uncharted moons and planets so they don’t crash into them, like a deep space lighthouse. The planet under Nerva’s watch is the newly-discovered planet of Voga, the so-called “planet of gold.” But all is not well on Nerva. A strange virus is wiping out the crew, causing the beacon to be quarantined. The Doctor isn’t convinced it’s a virus, and the name “Voga” tells him what he needs to know: the Cybermen are involved. And that means even bigger trouble for Nerva. Meanwhile on Voga, there is violent dissension over the future of the planet. One faction wants Voga and its inhabitants to keep to itself, fearing attack from the Cybermen. The other wants to emerge from the shadows, become a great trading planet again, and fight off the Cybermen once and for all. This political and military fighting only complicates things for the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry, who find themselves caught up in the struggle, which turns out to be a fight for their lives and the lives of everyone on Voga…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

I wrote a review of this story about five years ago, but since I recently re-watched it, I thought I’d revisit the review.

Continuing the storyline that began with “The Ark in Space” (which really just continued directly on from the previous story, “Robot”), “Revenge of the Cybermen” saw the return of the tin men for the first time since 1968. The Third Doctor didn’t have an encounter with the Cybermen because, frankly, Terrance Dicks, the script editor during the Third Doctor era, didn’t like them. However, with a new production team coming in, and a new Doctor to get used to, it was decided to put some old favorites in the season line-up to make sure people kept watching. Hence the previous story featuring the Daleks, and this Cyberman story.

Written by Cyberman co-creator, Gerry Davis (with some strong influence from then-script editor Robert Holmes), it’s not a bad story. In fact, there’s no padding at all, which is one of the advantages of four-part stories. The Cybermen costumes get a much-needed overhaul, though not all the visual effects work. We have warring factions on Voga, and a double-agent on Nerva, all of which make for depth and interest in the plot.

Sadly, though, the story is plagued with inconsistencies and plot holes. Here are some that particularly struck, and in some cases bothered, me:

  • How did the Cybermen transmat onto the planet? The Doctor used the transmat to cure Sarah of the “plague” since its beams disperse human molecules, separating them from the virus. So how did the non-human Cybermen make it onto Voga?
  • How could the Cybermen survive on Voga? If gold is now deadly to their systems, surely the “gold planet” would have gold dust in the air? Surrounded with so much lethal gold, the Cybermen would surely suffer, perhaps even die.
  • Why did the Vogans continue shooting at the Cybermen when it was obvious their guns had no effect, and they were simply committing suicide? They mentioned once having used a scatter gun to drive the Cybermen away with gold. Why not use that? Or at least throw gold rocks at them–that would have been much more effective. Indeed, why did the Doctor and Harry attack with gold dust? Why not big chunks of gold that could be thrown and less easily shaken off?

The whole gold allergy thing with the Cybermen was introduced in this story, and persisted through the rest of the Classic era. While it provides a weakness that sort-of fits with the plot, it undermines their menace. Indeed, the only time gold is used as a weapon in the New Series is in the Eleventh Doctor’s last encounter with them, “Nightmare in Silver.” When the Doctor uses gold against a Cyberman in that story, they all download an upgrade that “fixes” the problem. This underscores how lame a weakness it truly was.

Oh, and then there’s the sassy Cyber Leader with his hands on his hips. I don’t know what’s up with that, but it is funny.

The story ends with the TARDIS catching up with the Doctor on Nerva, and the Brigadier summoning him back to Earth. This leads into the next story, “Terror of the Zygons,” which was originally supposed to be the last story in this season, but was held over to start the next.

To sum up, “Revenge of the Cybermen” is a solid, no-padding story, and it sort-of works if you don’t think about it too hard. The performances are great, especially from the leads, so if you like watching the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane at their best, then definitely give this one your attention. It’s also worthwhile to continue the Nerva space station story. But aside from that, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. In fact, the best thing on the DVD release is the extra, “Checks, Lies, and Videotape,” a 30 minute documentary on the history of Doctor Who on videotape, going back to the days when fans would tape the show from television and buy pirate copies of old stories, through to the release of “Revenge of the Cybermen” on video in 1983–the first Doctor Who story to get a commercial release.

Who Review: Genesis of the Daleks

The TARDIS crew are, once again, sidetracked from returning to space station Nerva, this time by the Time Lords. On the planet Skaro, a Time Lord gives the Doctor a time ring, and tells him he must do something to prevent the menace of the Daleks. They will be a scourge on the universe for millennia, so the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry have been brought back to the time when the Daleks were created. This is their opportunity to at least delay their development, if not destroy them, or alter their genetics so they retain a moral conscience. Once they have completed their mission, the time ring will set them back on their course to the Nerva space station and the TARDIS. Of course, this is no easy mission. Not only is there a war going on between the Kaleds and the Thals, but Dalek development is taking place in a well-guarded bunker. And the Kaled chief scientist, the creator of the Daleks, is not going to let his life’s work die without a fight…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Not without its flaws (we’ll get to those in a moment), but “Genesis of the Daleks” definitely ranks as one of the classic Doctor Who stories. Written by Dalek creator Terry Nation, this six-part adventure explores the origins of the pepper pots, drawing from things we’ve learned from previous Dalek stories (e.g., that there is an organic, mutated life form inside the Dalek outer shell, and that there was a war with the Thals on Skaro at the time), as well as adding new information (and changing a few things, too). The biggest new revelation is the introduction of Davros, the evil genius who created the Daleks.

The basic plot is pretty solid. Davros has created the ultimate fighting machine to win the war with the Thals. But, in-keeping with his philosophy that peace can only come through absolute power and suppression of dissent, he has created the mutations inside the Daleks to be without morals or conscience. They are built to survive, and subjugate or eliminate all inferior life forms (i.e., anything not a Dalek). To his ethically-minded scientists and soldiers, such a creature is monstrous, so Davros manipulates acceptance of the Daleks by orchestrating an attack on the Kaleds by the Thals, necessitating the use of deadly force in response. Not only does this give him justification to use the Daleks, but it also serves to eliminate much of his opposition at home. There is still a lot of resistance to his experiments, so he tricks the opposition leaders into a conference wherein he unleashes the Daleks and destroys them all. In the midst of this, the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry are trying to prevent the Daleks from progressing any further, without losing track of the time ring that is their only way back to the TARDIS on space station Nerva.

Davros’s ideal of a super race creating peace by oppressive rule and forced removal of opposition mirrors Hitler’s ideology. Indeed, the likeness of the Kaled soldiers to German World War Two SS troops is very thinly veiled. Even their salute is taken from the Nazis. This isn’t a new theme; from the beginning, Nation modeled the Daleks on the Nazis, and their ideas of racial purity and power through strength. Here he makes the connection a little more blatantly obvious. That’s not at all a criticism. It works wonderfully well.

There are many things to praise about this serial. The main cast are on fine form, but there’s usually little to fault with Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen as the Doctor and Sarah Jane. Add to that Michael Wisher’s superb performance as Davros. He was the original, and he has never been bettered (though Julian Bleach in the New Series does an excellent job). His costume is surprisingly good for the time, leaving Michael’s mouth uncovered, yet made up to blend with the mask. Nyder, Davros’s right-hand man, played by Peter Miles, also puts in an outstanding villainous turn.

I also really like the ironic turnaround at the end of the story [serious spoiler coming up]. After proclaiming the Daleks to be the supreme beings of the universe, and touting the virtues of their pitiless amorality, what happens at the end? Davros gives them a command, and they refuse to obey. Why should they? The Daleks finally figure out that if they are the supreme beings, Davros is nothing to them. They don’t need him. And as they point their guns to exterminate him, Davros pleads for pity. “Pity?” the senior Dalek replies. “Pity is not in our vocabulary.” Of course it isn’t. Davros didn’t give it to them! Excellent writing.

Some less successful moments include–and maybe this is being a bit picky–the Time Lord’s costume. It reminds me of a court jester, only all black, which takes away some of the gravity of his mission. More seriously, Sarah’s attempted escape from the Thals by climbing up the rocket scaffolding is an obvious piece of padding. She gets to the top, is stopped by guards, and taken back down. The plot didn’t move an inch for all that, except for the fact that two of her friends died. But even that didn’t cause any emotional change in Sarah. And then there are “Davros’s pets”–particularly the giant clam that grabs Ian’s legs. Not the design department’s finest moment. Totally unconvincing.

Finally, some points of interest. In every Doctor Who serial, each episode after the first begins by replaying the cliffhanger from the previous episode. Not so episode two of “Genesis of the Daleks.” It just picks back up where it left off. Very unusual. Also unusual is the freeze frame cliffhanger at the end of episode two.

Of interest to me is the assertion of the necessity of morality and conscience in science. Clearly Davros doesn’t see such things as important. But I don’t think the Doctor really puts up much of a case for why, objectively speaking, Davros is wrong. If there are no objective standards of morality, right and wrong, why is it wrong for Davros to establish peace by brute force? Indeed, what makes the Daleks evil? Davros insists the Daleks are good, because they will end warfare and unite people under their supreme rule. In the end, the Doctor simply assumes a standard of morality and the necessity of conscience to justify his attempts to stop the Daleks. And I believe he is right. But my belief is based on a Biblical worldview. Where does the Doctor get his from?

The end is not entirely satisfactory. The Doctor didn’t stop the Daleks, so ultimately he failed in his mission. Of course, he couldn’t succeed, otherwise there would be no Dalek stories. But the Doctor falls back on an argument he made earlier, that some good must come as a result of the Daleks’ evil. Granting that, he still didn’t succeed. And maybe, in an odd way, that adds to the story’s success. The Doctor doesn’t always win the war, even if he’s victorious in battle.

To sum up, this is another must-see story. Aside from the issues above, it’s well written, well directed, even well lit (and lighting is an ongoing issue with Classic Who, with many serials being over-lit). And, of course, it’s Davros’s introductory story. All in all, well worth the time.

Who Review: The Sontaran Experiment

The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry teleport down to Earth from the Nerva space station. As they expected, the place is deserted, and the teleport receptors need adjusting. While the Doctor gets to work, Harry and Sarah explore. But the three of them soon discover that Earth has visitors–the crew from a space ship that arrived in response to a distress signal some time ago. When they arrived, their ship was vaporized, and since that time, members of the crew have been disappearing. But it seems the crew weren’t the first to arrive on Earth, and with a full-scale alien invasion planned, they won’t be the last…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Sontaran Experiment” is a two-part story by established Who writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin. The second story of the season, “The Ark in Space,” was originally given a six-episode block, but producer Philip Hinchcliffe preferred to divide the block into two separate but related stories, “Ark” getting four episodes, and this story the remaining two. I think that was a good call; six episodes would have been to much for “Ark.” But it leaves “The Sontaran Experiment” feeling a bit like a filler. The TARDIS crew have come to Earth to do a job, which they do, though they are sidetracked for a little while.

The story is okay, competent enough, but not Baker and Martin’s best. Bringing back the Sontarans is understandable; they were script editor Robert Holmes’ invention (see “The Time Warrior”), and they work well as monsters. However, Sontarans are supposed to be warriors, so the idea of a solitary Sontaran going to Earth to conduct experiments on humans is a little incongruous. Sure, strategically they want to discover human weaknesses so they can exploit them. But let’s face it, they would probably swarm the Earth and blow everybody up. They’re hardly going to try dehydrating them, or scaring them to death, so the information Styre is gathering is ultimately pointless.

Also, the Doctor’s plan to defeat Styre, though it works, is a bit convoluted. Sontarans supposedly feed off of energy, so he has Harry enter the Sontaran ship and mess with the energy machine so it feeds off of the Sontaran. I suppose with only two episodes, it’s hard to develop a more creative solution, but that just seems a bit too easy. I will commend the fact that Styre hinted at this solution when he noted that humans depend on chemical and organic food for energy, which suggests he doesn’t.

A good piece of continuity is the fact that Styre’s gun blast didn’t kill the Doctor because he had some plating from the Nerva rocket in his inside coat pocket. I remember seeing the Doctor take that in episode four of “The Ark in Space,” and I wondered what relevance that might have to the story. I don’t know if that was planned, but it certainly worked out well.

Sadly, the Sontaran costume doesn’t look as good as it did in “The Time Warrior.” Indeed, I doubt it’s the same costume. The original only had three fingers on each hand, while Styre has five. For a clone race, that’s a bit of an oversight.

To sum up, what makes “The Sontaran Experiment” worth watching is the fact that it ties up “The Ark in Space.” You can watch it as a stand-alone, and it’s entertaining enough for that, but there are too many references to the previous story. You would feel as if you’re missing something. So watch it to find out what happened next, but don’t expect too much.

Who Review: The Ark in Space

On leaving U.N.I.T. HQ, Harry Sullivan gives the TARDIS’s helmic regulator a sharp turn, and the crew find themselves on a space station in the far future. The Doctor dates the station to the 30th century, but is convinced they are at a time centuries beyond that. His theory is confirmed when they discover records of the human race stored on microfilm, and row upon row of cryogenically preserved people. A couple of the station’s residents, Vira and Noah, revive and inform the Doctor that the people stored on the station are the last survivors of planet Earth. Centuries ago, scientists predicted solar flares would soon consume all life on the planet, so they selected the best representatives of mankind to be held in suspended animation, along with records of all man’s achievements, until such a time as it was safe to return to Earth. But something has gone wrong. The station’s residents have been asleep longer than planned because someone, or something, cut the power to their wake-up call. And that someone, or something, has already taken over one of the sleepers, and is using his knowledge of the station to stage a coup that will wipe out the human race…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Ark in Space” was written by new script editor, Robert Holmes, after previous attempts at the story by other writers fell through. Holmes was new to the script editing job, but certainly not new to Who, having written stories for both the Second and Third Doctors. Robert Holmes is, in my estimation, one of the best Classic Who writers, certainly the best post-1970, and “The Ark in Space” is often held up as an example of why he is so highly regarded as a Who writer. I have to say, I fully concur with the assessment. This is a great story, and, along with its predecessor, “Robot,” helps firmly establish both the character of the Fourth Doctor, and Tom Baker as the new Doctor.

Holmes, and new producer, Philip Hinchcliffe, wanted to make Doctor Who a little darker and more adult. Today, that would involve not only gritty stories, but gritty effects and sets. In 1975, the budget for Doctor Who didn’t exist to do visually grittier, so the story had to compensate for what the visuals lacked. And does it ever! The idea of an alien insect race that lays its eggs in a dormant human host is quite nasty. And seeing the gradual transformation of Noah into the Wirrn swarm leader was quite cutting edge for children’s television at the time. It’s not just the outward change, either–it’s the mental struggle we see as Noah’s mind fights against, but eventually succumbs to, the Wirrn possessing him.

The space station set is very well realized, even if the Wirrn themselves lack. And really, where they lack is in money, not imagination. The dead Wirrn looks very good, but the living ones move like actors in costume. The same goes for the Wirrn larvae which are, essentially, stunt men in big bubble wrap sleeping bags. To be fair, bubble wrap was new at the time, so most people wouldn’t have recognized it. But it is, perhaps, a bit overused, though, again, it must have been hard trying to create the effect on such a tight budget. I think the Wirrn larvae in the solar stack, squirming around and looking out the window, is probably the most effective of all the creature shots in the show.

The story itself, however, is hard to fault. A great idea (which is often claimed was stolen by Ridley Scott for the movie “Alien”), a plot that works well, some great lines and memorable moments (the Doctor’s “Homo sapiens…” speech, for example), and superbly acted by all. Even newcomer, Medical Officer Harry Sullivan, proves useful (though modern sensibilities will grate at his old fashioned view of women).

A couple of interesting moments. First, the High Minister, whose voice comes on the intercom while Sarah is getting ready to be preserved, sounds a lot like former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. At the time this broadcast, Thatcher was only just starting to make her mark politically, so I doubt it was intentional. Nevertheless… Also, I found it curious that Vira refers to “Noah” as “a name from mythology,” clearly showing no regard for biblical faith. However, a later voice on the intercom talks about how the planet’s “prayers” are with them, and says, “God be with you.”

Another point of interest is the fact that this story follows directly on from “Robot,” and continues directly into the next story, “The Sontaran Experiment.” Indeed, this whole season forms a story arc, though not quite in the same way as the New Series season arcs. That kind of story continuity was not common in Doctor Who, especially after the Hartnell era in the early-to-mid 1960s.

To sum up, this is Classic Who, and without doubt a must watch (in bold type) for Whovians. It’s simply one of the best serials of the Classic era, and it played a big part in solidifying Tom Baker as the new Doctor.

Who Review: Robot

In an attempt to keep the newly-regenerated Doctor from flying off, the Brigadier involves him in a case of disappearing parts. It seems someone, or something, has stolen what appear to be the parts needed to make a disintegrater gun. Their worst fears are confirmed when the top secret plans for such a gun are taken from a Ministry of Defense advanced research center. From his investigation, the Doctor determines that whatever stole the plans is very large, very heavy, and not likely to be human. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane Smith goes to visit the National Institute for Advanced Scientific Research (“Think Tank”), armed with a U.N.I.T. pass. The Institute has created a giant humanoid robot, K1, that is programmed to replace humans working in hazardous environments. Its creator, Professor Kettlewell, used to be a member of Think Tank, but left to pursue alternative energy solutions. The director of the Institute insists that the robot is benevolent, obeying its prime directive to serve humans and not harm them. But as the Doctor and Sarah start connecting the dots between the thefts and “Think Tank,” they come to the conclusion someone is overriding the robot’s prime directive. A conclusion that puts their lives, and the lives of all humanity, in danger…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The primary purpose of the first post-regeneration story is to introduce the audience to the new Doctor, and if nothing else, “Robot” fulfills that purpose flawlessly. Aside for some (at times lengthy) cut-aways to show the robot stealing things, the first half of episode one gets us into the wacky character of Doctor number four. Cho-Je warned the Brigadier and Sarah Jane that the Doctor’s behavior might be “a bit erratic” to begin with. That was a fair warning, as the new Doctor creeps around in his nightgown, ties up Harry Sullivan, and tries on a variety of outlandish costumes before arriving at his iconic hat and scarf. But in the midst of this, we see the wacky-but-serious Doctor that we will come to know and love for the next seven years. There’s no mistaking this is the Fourth Doctor. Tom Baker puts his stamp on the roll from his opening lines. Of course, we can only say such things with hindsight–audiences still had to get used to this wild, bug-eyed, Harpo Marx character. But it is interesting how little Tom’s Doctor’s character changed from this opening story in 1974/1975 to his last in 1981.

The story itself isn’t particularly spectacular. It’s essentially a riff on King Kong, with the monster forming a bond with Sarah Jane, and protecting her from the destruction he plans for the rest of humanity. At the end, when the robot is no more, Sarah can’t help feeling sorry for him. So, perhaps a little clichéd, but certainly not the worst in the Who canon.

The robot design is actually pretty good. If anything, it’s the CSO, or “green screen” effects, that let the story down visually. The strangest part of the story for me is the emotional breakdown the robot has after it kills Kettlewell. In fact, this robot is very highly strung for a mechanical monster, which stretches credulity a bit. I also wonder why the U.N.I.T. soldiers continue shooting at the robot even when it’s obvious their bullets have no effect. Surely it would be better to try a different strategy rather than waste time and ammunition with the same futile effort?

At the end of the story, Harry Sullivan, the U.N.I.T. medical officer referenced in episode one of the previous story, “Planet of the Spiders,” becomes a member of the TARDIS crew. We also see the Doctor offer Sarah Jane and Harry Sullivan a jelly baby. From that moment on, the Fourth Doctor will never leave the TARDIS without his white bag of jelly babies.

To sum up, as Doctor Who stories go, “Robot” is nothing special. What makes it special is that it’s our introduction to the man who would become the face of Classic Doctor Who. It also marks the end of an era, as Terrance Dicks passes the Script Editor baton to the inimitable Robert Holmes, and Barry Letts hands producer duties to Philip Hinchcliffe. And so begins what is arguably Classic Who’s golden era.

Links and Stuff

I don’t have a whole lot to talk about today, probably because Janet Reid returned from her blog vacation and I’ve spilled so many words on her comments that I have few left for myself.

boxesofbooksOn the moving front, as you can see, I am making some progress with packing. Most of those boxes contain books, and I haven’t finished yet. Still nine more shelves to go. It’s possible we might be zeroing in on THE house, not because we are all giddy over a particular property, but by a process of elimination. As Christians, we believe there is a house the Lord wants us to have, and if we don’t recognize it, he will make sure we know which it is. When we first moved to Eastern NC, it wasn’t my plan to move here. In fact, this place wasn’t on any of our radars as somewhere we would like to live. But after four months of unemployment and scouring the country for a job, this was the only place that offered me one. Some may say that’s just “chance” or “the way things go.” Our worldview sees the hand of God putting us where he wants us to be. So it is with this house. The only other house on our list that was a strong contender just went into “Pending” mode on Zillow.com (meaning the seller has accepted an offer from a buyer). Neither we nor our realtor have found any other houses within our size and financial parameters. This leaves us with one house that, while we don’t love it, meets our needs. But we’ll see. We haven’t signed anything yet, and the Lord may throw us a curveball between now and then. I’ll keep you all posted.

Some Doctor Who news. It seems BBC America and BBC Worldwide (the US and UK commercial branches of the BBC) have co-sponsored a complete animated restoration of the Second Doctor’s first story, “The Power of the Daleks.” This story no longer exists in the BBC archive except for a few clips and the complete audio soundtrack (courtesy of devoted fans who, back in 1966, hooked up their tape recorders to their TVs to capture every sound). The well-regarded animators taking on the project have coupled the existing soundtrack with their animation to bring the story back to the archives.

This isn’t the first time missing stories have been restored by means of animation. “The Reign of Terror,” “The Tenth Planet,” “The Moonbase,” “The Ice Warriors,” and “The Invasion” have all had lost episodes animated. However, this is the first time that a complete story has been restored using animation. It is due to be broadcast in November, and then made available online and on DVD.

So far the BBC has only released a 30-second trailer (see below), but it looks like the same animation style as with the previous efforts. That, to me, is a bit of a disappointment. While those animations weren’t bad, and certainly sufficed to present the story visually, they look cheap and rough. I would love to see these missing stories given a Pixar-style treatment (like “The Incredibles” or “Ratatouille”), and you wouldn’t have to pay Pixar to do it. Have you seen some of the cut scenes from recent video games? There’s some incredible computer animation being done by game designers and amateurs who would jump at the chance to be involved in a project like this.

I don’t doubt this’ll be a good attempt, and I’ll certainly buy the DVD when it’s available in the States. “The Power of the Daleks” is a great story, and worth the attention. I just wish they would get away from the Flash animation, cardboard cut-out look, and try something different.

Here’s the trailer:

Finally, this week, September 8th to be precise, marked the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of the first episode of the TV series “Star Trek.” With its multi-racial crew, the show sought to break new ground in television, attempting to promote a non-theistic philosophy of peace and co-existence through reason and science. The original series was not a resounding success, and only lasted a few seasons. However, a devoted cadre of fans kept the candle burning, and the show returned in the 1980s, starting a movie franchise, and then some well-received spin-off TV shows (“Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Star Trek: Deep Space 9,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” etc.). I was never a Trekkie, though I did appreciate the show, was familiar with the main characters, and enjoyed watching it. So happy birthday, Star Trek!

Are you a Trekkie or a Whovian–or both… or neither?

Who Review: Planet of the Spiders

Shaken by the events of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” Mike Yates has gone to a Tibetan meditation center in the English countryside to find peace of mind. While there, he observes some strange goings on. He invites Sarah Jane Smith to investigate with him, tempting her with the idea that it might be a good story for the magazine she writes for. While there, they see a group of men, led by a former salesman named Lupton, perform a chant which conjures a giant spider. Meanwhile, back at U.N.I.T. HQ, the Doctor is conducting experiments into clairvoyance and precognition when a package arrives. It’s the blue crystal he took from Metebelis Three and gave to Jo Grant as a wedding gift (see “The Green Death”). It seems the Amazonian natives are scared of the crystal, so she has returned it. But this crystal has incredible power, and the current inhabitants of Metebelis Three want it back. Their plans for global domination depend upon it, and keeping the crystal from them will come at a very high cost for the Doctor…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

For the Third Doctor’s last story, the production team pulled out all the stops and gave Jon Pertwee the opportunity to fight, fly, drive, play with gadgets, and hang out with familiar faces. For the action-adventure Doctor, this was the perfect story on which to exit the series. It was ostensibly written by Robert Sloman, but as with other Robert Sloman stories, it was actually written largely by producer Barry Letts, with Sloman contributing.

The serial starts with references back to “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” as Mike Yates talks about the business with the “Golden Age” and him pulling a gun on the Brigadier. We get another Who back-reference, when the Doctor hands Clegg the clairvoyant his sonic screwdriver, he has visions of drashigs from “Carnival of Monsters.” The last major back-reference is the appearance of the Metebelis crystal from “The Green Death,” which becomes central to the story’s plot.

Let’s deal with the story’s weak points. First, and most prominent, has to be the chase scene, which has the Doctor in Bessie, the Whomobile, a gyrocopter, and a hovercraft. It’s all padding, though in this instance, perhaps somewhat forgivable to indulge Jon Pertwee and his love of such things one last time. And if you’re not convinced that the chase was completely pointless, the fact that, in the end, the spiders transport Lupton from his boat back to the meditation center, demonstrates it conclusively. The spiders could have done that before the chase even started!

There’s some very good acting, and some really not-very-good-at-all acting too, mostly on the part of the “two-legs” on Metebelis Three–especially Neska. They don’t seem to be putting much effort into making their characters believable, which becomes even more obvious when they are in scenes with Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane), who is acting her heart out.

And then there are the spiders. It’s notoriously difficult to make convincing model spiders, especially when they have to move. Even if you get them to look authentic, the moment you have to make them scuttle across a floor, all sense of reality is lost–unless you use computer animation, which wasn’t available to the Doctor Who team in 1974. What we have here is a valiant effort that maybe looked realistic to kids in 1974, but unfortunately doesn’t hold up today.

During the course of the story there are some flashback scenes which drip with hoakiness. The one with Tommy, especially. In all honesty, I don’t think these were necessary at all, but clearly the producers felt the audience wouldn’t remember key plot points over the space of a few weeks, so they needed the flashback voice-over “cellar… cellar… cellar… Lupton in the cellar… Lupton in the cellar…”

Lastly, there were a couple of times things were introduced into the story out of left field to save the day. The first was the Doctor’s machine that we had never seen before, and now suddenly revives him, and helps him identify stones that can counteract the spider zaps. The second was the fact that The Great One was actually planning to use the crystal to complete a circuit that would enable her to rule the universe. But completing the circuit produces an unhealthy amount of positive feedback that kills her and all the spiders… and blows up their mountain dwelling, of course. This development was dropped in at the end, having never been talked about before, which was a bit deus ex machina for me.

The two major positives about the story, and two of the main reasons you should watch it, are the story itself, and the acting from the main cast. Yes, there’s padding, and some questionable moments as noted above. But on the whole, it’s a good, coherent story, and a fitting end to the Third Doctor’s tenure. We are introduced to the concept of “regeneration” through K’anpo’s death, which prepares us for the Doctor’s own transformation. And both Lupton and Tommy’s story arcs are developed well.

As for the main cast acting, Lupton is quintessentially duplicitous and self-serving, deliciously played by John Dearth. Tommy, the simple-minded man who stares into the crystal and becomes enlightened, is brought to life by John Kane in a very convincing performance. It’s a shame they didn’t cast ethnically Asian actors for K’anpo and Cho-Je, but given the production team were deliberately casting people Jon Pertwee had worked with before in Doctor Who, the choices were understandable. Kevin Lindsay (Cho-Je) previously played the Sontaran, Linx, while George Cormack (K’anpo) had played King Dalios in “The Time Monster.”

The regeneration scene is, perhaps, the crowning moment of the story. Beautifully acted with no incidental music, Elisabeth Sladen and Jon Pertwee give it their all. The only disappointing part is the actual regeneration itself, which is a simple cross-fade from Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker. It hardly lives up to all that preceded it.

In short, I would call this a must-see story. Yes, it has its failings, but it’s fun, and dramatic, and really sums up the Third Doctor’s era.