Monday, 9 December 2013
This story in a nutshell: Two episodes too short...
Acidic Aussie: We're approaching the end of her time on the show (thank goodness because I've run out of negative terminology) and she is still bringing down the tone of every single story with her bad attitude and adding very little of actual worth to the narrative. Whether it was JNT or Eric Saward who kept her around because they thought she was popular I couldn't tell you but it is clear from her non-existence in the past two stories that she has long outlived her welcome. The first thing that comes out of her mouth is a complaint that they have landed in the wrong place (which is as predictable as me complaining about it). Bellyaching about her mistreatment. Hysterical about her Grandfather. Pissed off about her (hideous) handbag being stolen. Doesn’t like the carving in the church. Screams at the naff projection. Rants at Sir George. ‘Let me go!’ ‘I wouldn’t dream of putting you to so much trouble!’ ‘I’m not in the mood for playing silly games!’ ‘Thanks for nothing!’ Tegan is just vile. She finally smiles for the first time ten minutes before the end of the story. Frankly she’s only good for a May Queen burning these days.
Alien Spy: Wasted. Again. Turlough is lost amongst a huge cast and is only really actively doing something when he is locked up with Verney. Otherwise he runs about the village, with little dialogue and even less point. I quite like Turlough, his slyness was a welcome touch of character in the frequently stilted 80’s companions but after his introductory trio of stories he was merely a cipher, Frontios and Planet of Fire excepting. A huge waste of Mark Strickson’s talents.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You speak treason!’ ‘Fluently!’
‘The toast of Little Hodcombe…’
The Good Stuff: The ideas holding the story together are great and I can (almost) see why fans of this story are sold on them alone as they are so quintessentially, gorgeously Doctor Who. An isolated village, war games being enacted, an ominous crack in as church wall unleashing an ancient evil…it sounds like a marvellous story but unfortunately much of this is told through dissertation rather than action and all the relevant setting up pieces are missing. It feels like we are coming in at the end of a story having missed all the best bits. The derelict church set is really convincing and I love the little splash of colour in the stained glass window. A English village kissed by sunlight affords the story a few moments of sublime location filming. Will Chandler is charming, emotive and likable and feels like a an authentic person, he really shows up the current companions for the vacuous nobodies that they are. The idea of the Malus ‘having a war in him’ is really scary. I have to compliment the lighting, which is steeped in shadows and appropriately moody - not a compliment you can level at ever 80’s story.The soundtrack is memorable too, more a series of dramatic vignettes than whole pieces of music but snappy and attention grabbing ones nonetheless. Nice church explosion.
The Bad Stuff: You have to question why Eric Pringle was allowed to bring in two substitution companions for the fifth Doctor (Jane and Will) when the two he has are given absolutely nothing to do. Is it an indictment of how badly they have turned out that they need replacing? Polly James, the other half of the Liver Birds is as unconvincing and melodramatic in this as Nerys Hughes was persuasive and gentle in Kinda. There isn’t one convincing piece of dialogue in the first TARDIS scene, either in the script or the delivery. Willow bugs me more than many villainous characters because he is such a crawling mincing old ham and was willing to attack people, burn Tegan and generally behave in an unacceptably violent way and yet at the story’s conclusion they are all shaking hands with him saying ‘No recriminations?’ Get off! He should be arrested for his actions and punished and it is typical of this story not having enough time to deal with things adequately. The cliffhanger features the longest ever ‘Doccctooooooooooorrrrrrrrrr!’ on record. What’s annoying is how you can see how a lot of these scenes could be worked into a longer, more comprehensive and atmospheric story with some real tension and atmosphere. Its almost as though somebody has edited all the exposition scenes together without any of the mood or scene setting. The psychic projections sequences have replaced plot development and are full of empty tension. One character states that the events here will change the future of mankind but there is no context and no substance for such a grandiloquent statement. Frankly it would be more than a little embarrassing if this pageant led to the end of the world. The Malus projections in all their guises are static and nonthreatening. There is hardly a single scene that doesn’t feel truncated in some way and they fail to flow naturally into one another. Why does the Doctor take so many people into the TARDIS at once? And why do none of them have any kind of reaction? Time was when it genuine changed how people viewed the world, now it's a quite 'Strike me Pink!' and on with the plot. What exactly do we know about Sir George, Willow, Jane, Woolsey or Verney at the story’s climax besides their occupation and their function to the plot? These aren't characters, their ciphers. The cast is so huge that many scenes feature people standing about with no dialogue. The casual explanation that the Malus was a precursor to an invasion is a shocking revelation in all the wrong ways, condemning this story as an unimportant prelude to the drama that is to come.
Result: The Awakening features a rushed plot that desperately needs another half an hour or two to sort out a lot of its problems. It would allow the plot to breathe, to set up the story rather than dumping us in the middle of it and leave some time for convincing character development (or simply some characterisation at all). The story pretty much sells itself on its location and the menace of its ideas but there is no substance or texture to the story to hold everything together. It’s a lot of running about, a few idle threats and a dozen psychic projections before everybody piles onto the TARDIS and the story is wrapped up in a bow of technobabble and screaming. This is probably the most frustrating Doctor Who story ever because I can see precisely how this could be worked into a truly phenomenal four parter. Some call it economic and pacy, I call it an empty exercise in time wasting: 4/10
Saturday, 7 December 2013
This story in a nutshell: The Silurians are back and they’ve been watching a few too many Pertwee adventures…
The Nutty Professor: One thing I really liked about Matt Smith’s Doctor in his first season was that he was basically portrayed as an awkward youthful geek that blundered into trouble and somehow found a way out. That was lost in season six when the whole show became focussed on mythologizing the character and building him up into a powerful entity to knock him down with his (apparent) death. Season seven then saw the character become something of a parody of his former self, all arm waving and Willy Wonka madness with hardly any of the gravity to balance it out. Even in Day of the Doctor he was overshadowed by his previous incarnations (particularly John Hurt). I maintain that season five is his strongest year, the one which introduced us to a barking mad kid who still had one foot in the door of reality. I miss that eleventh Doctor. Restricted entry is like an invitation inside for the Doctor. If he doesn’t make any sense it means that you aren’t keeping up. The way the Doctor makes Elliot feel better about his dyslexia by comparing it to something that he can’t do is rather lovely. He tells Elliot that he misses Gallifrey so much. The Doctor is disappointed to hear that there is a Silurian military, but then there always is, isn’t there? The Doctor doesn’t exact give a thorough account of Dr Who & the Silurians when he sums up the story as ‘the humans attacked them…’ Given the situation is already fraught, he might just have exacerbated it by failing to mention that the Silurians also tried to wipe out humanity. Smith seems to have forgotten his lines at one crucial point (‘you were so much…less…than the bets of humanity’). For once you have to wonder if less light hearted Doctor might have been needed to ensure that things run more smoothly and seriously. Imagine John Hurt’s Doctor down in the senate kick starting the negotiations. He would have the gravitas to get them all on the same page rather than just waving his arms about and letting them get on with it.
Scots Tart: So vital to the action that she is removed from the plot after ten minutes for almost half an hour and it is barely noticeable. Amy always knows what to say, doesn’t she? When she and Rory see themselves ten years in the future waving back the first thought that comes into her head ‘we’re still together in ten years!’ I don’t know why Rory puts up with her, I really don’t. This might be my least favourite Amy story of all, both in terms of her characterisation and Karen Gillan’s performance, and given my general dislike for the character that is making quite a statement. There is a smugness and disinterest in events from the character that we haven’t seen since the days of Tennant and Piper except worse because Amy hasn’t done the time in the TARDIS and built up a strong enough rapport with the Doctor to even attempt to justify her cockiness. Amy continues to flirt madly with the Doctor despite the fact that her boyfriend is along for the ride now. It’s very hard to get interested in the story when your lead companion is sitting at the side huffing and looking mightily bored by the whole affair. The first time Amy showed anything other than mild indifference to the whole affair was when the ground started swallowing her whole which co-incidentally was the first point I became interested in her. I thought it was karmic. I kind of figured that perhaps Amy wasn’t working for me when I was cheering as she was consumed by a gaping, muddy maw. It seems the only time I can ever feel anything for this character is when she is tortured horribly and when it appears that she has been buried alive my heart skipped a beat. That’s a horrible position for anybody to be in. Except Amy doesn’t panic for long, she’s soon being gobby again. It looks for a moment as though she is going to be dissected and I couldn’t help but scream ‘do it!’ After she has woken up in a coffin and almost faced vivisection, Amy wanders around the Silurian tunnels bold as brass and more confident than ever – there is no indication that she has undergone any kind of trauma. I’m sorry but Gillan cannot play Amy as facetiously as she does during this two parter and then expect us to suddenly give a shit at the climax when she pours on the tears. The script doesn’t help, making her as cocky and indifferent to her fiancé as possible throughout and then asking her to emote wildly over him at the climax. It’s like watching two different characters. And the confrontation in the TARDIS between Amy and the Doctor lacks the same punch as the one between Donna and the tenth Doctor in The Fires of Pompeii, not only because Tennant and Tate are better performers but because the climax was worked towards throughout the story. Like Amy’s Choice, it seems that only when Rory is killed does Amy remember that she has any feeling for him. That’s some relationship.
Loyal Roman: What baffles me is how Moffat could have gotten Rory so right and Amy so wrong (in terms of likeability) but let’s be grateful that he did because otherwise we would be in deep shit in terms of a TARDIS team that encourages you to keep watching. I will always open my heart out to the underdog, especially one who is treated as appallingly as Rory is (by both the Doctor and especially Amy) and played in such a puppyish way by Arthur Darvill. Rory is by far the most impressive aspect of Cold Blood, the one person who manages to keep his head above ground and prove his worth as a human being. When the shit hits the face he admits that he trusts the Doctor with his life. Watch very closely the differing reactions between Rory and Amy when they finally see each other again. Arthur Darvill is acting his heart out because Rory has confirmation that his fiancé is alive whilst Karen Gillan barely emotes, eyebrow cocked and ready with a disinterested one liner (‘you’re so clingy’). That scene describes perfectly why he is ten times the character she is. I hate those moments in drama when the story appears to have ended and a villainous character turns up at the last minute with a gun and shoots before expiring. It is such a desperate way of injecting a moment of last minute drama. As being shot dead wasn’t an indignity enough, Chibnall (although I’m willing to bet that Moffat had a big hand in this) then has the crack swallow him whole and the universe forget that he ever existed. I remember watching it on transmission and being heartbroken for all the wrong reasons. Not because Amy was so upset but because now we were stuck with her solo. I thought that Moffat had gone insane. Poor Rory. Mind you this is Moffat Who, where death has no meaning or consequence and Rory will be back before you know it. He might even die a few more times and come back again if you’re lucky.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The future pivots around you…be extraordinary.’
- The location work in the Welsh valleys in the Hungry Earth is to be commended as it really shows off how beautiful the countryside is. Isn’t the row of houses that the episode opens out on the same as the ones that belonged to a community of slavering cannibals nestled in the Brecon Beacons in the Torchwood episode Countrycide? I really liked that Moffat dragged Doctor Who away from the cities in his first season and into the countryside where Doctor Who has done some of its most atmospheric filming.
- This two parter is a big sloppy kiss to the Pertwee era and I have read commentaries that some people think that that is a bad thing. A little nostalgia is lovely every once in a while especially with something like the new series that is always striving to innovate and do its own thing. A little bit of love for days gone by shows that we haven’t forgotten where the show came from. Amongst the wealth of references and acknowledgements to the cosiness of the Pertwee era are a big scientific base out in the sticks under threat (specifically a drilling project), the Silurians rearing their reptilian heads to try and reclaim the Earth and a giant bubble forcefield that is straight out of The Daemons. All that’s missing is an interfering man from the Ministry.
- Murray Gold is really on form this week, punctuating the action with some memorable themes. I found that much of his work for season five was the last time he produced a wealth of genuinely great music. The Silurian score has an undercurrent of ominous tension to it that really sells their menace.
- The whole concept of the Earth being hungry and swallowing people whole has been explored in Doctor Who before (Full Circle, Frontios) but it is such a strong, dramatic and frightening notion that it is well worth revisiting.
- I’ve never seen Meera Syal play a dramatic role before (much like Jessica Hynes in Human Nature) and I was extremely impressed by the performance she gave. In fact she had such lovely interaction with Matt Smith I was half hoping she would hop into the TARDIS at the climax and toss Amy into her crack. She even has her own ‘enter the TARDIS’ moment. She’s a superb comic actress so perhaps it is no surprise that she commands your attention so effectively. Comedy is the hardest form of art to get right and she’s wonderfully amusing in The Kumars. The rather awkward kiss between Tony and Nasreen made me beam, it’s a subtle relationship but one that is open to bold gestures like this. The only thing that didn’t work for me was how blasé she was about the whole affair in episode two.
- The build up to the appearance of Silurians appearance is so expertly handled and it would have taken the work of a particularly inept designer to disappoint after such incredible momentum. Doctor Who has always been great at building up to the appearance of a monster and there are some terrific touches in The Hungry Earth (the dark silhouette dashing through the graveyard, the dramatic POV shots, the tongue shooting from the darkness, the creepy masks). The design itself is a bone of contention because I can see both sides of the argument. It is massively unlike the impressive original Silurian costumes from the seventies and eighties and feels like an entirely different species and like the past is being updated to a point where the production team feel a little embarrassed by it (in a way that they weren’t with the Zygons). And yet the make up is absolutely superb and matches the work seen on any other genre show, allowing the actors huge freedom of expression and looking authentically like a humanoid reptilian species.
- Never McIntosh gave a strong enough performance for Steven Moffat to select her as a new semi-regular for the series. I have to say that I was quite impressed with her sinister turn in this two parter and it seems a shame that Madame Vestra is portrayed as she a goody two shoes since McIntosh has a great deal of menace at her disposal. The most emotive moment in the second episode comes when Restac mourns her sisters death with an agonizing wail. It’s heartbreaking.
- Tellingly the most gripping moment in this story is the one part of it that doesn’t belong here – the re-appearance of the Amy’s crack (that joke will never get old). It takes on massive significance here as it swallows Rory whole and leaves a forgotten void in his place. I do question the jarring insertion of arc elements at the end of stories that have nothing to do with it (Davies was much better at slipping these things in so they don’t distract from the overall story that is being told) but since this is the most gripping material on display perhaps I should be grateful. I love the fact that when the Doctor stumbles across a crack in the universe he is mad enough to put his arm inside to see what he finds. The one thing that really made an impact at the climax was the idea of forgetting the most important things in your life if they are taken by the crack. That’s terrifying.
- Was something starting to go a little wrong come The Hungry Earth & Cold Blood? Had Doctor Who started to run its course in the eyes of the public? Time was when eight million viewers would turn up every week to watch the show but this two parter could barely muster an overnight figure of four and a half. Summer, Iplayer, blah blah blah…I’ve heard it all. Strange how you can pull all the excuses out of the bag and yet there were still shows pulling in far more impressive overnight figures at the time. The audience was there for those who wanted to watch on the night.
- One of things this two parter emulates from the Pertwee era perfectly is that it isn’t in a hurry at any point, especially during the first half. The difference being that during the seventies you had Terrance Dicks at the rudder ensuring that the story was full of escapism and twists and turns to keep you interested as you churned your way through six part stories. This is rarest of things, a new series adventure that is slow paced and lacking in incident.
- All The Hungry Earth has to offer as a side bar to the Silurian shenanigans is the exploits of the Mack family who aren’t drawn with a great deal of care and so come across as being far duller than they should. One thing that has often struck me about the Davies vs the Moffat era (something that I shouldn’t really do but I can never help myself) is how Moffat is a family man with a wife and children and yet it is Davies who manages to bring the idea of family to the screen with a much better sense of warmth and entertainment. The Tylers, the Jones’ and the Nobles are instantly recognisable and unique characters, full of personality and humour and massively enjoyable to spend time with. In comparison families such as those seen in The Hungry Earth, The Big Bang, Night Terrors, The Doctor, The Widow & the Wardrobe, The Snowmen and especially Clara and her irritating kiddiewinks are dull as dishwater, lacking a sense of conviction and driving home the twee until you want to be sick. I think it is the perfection that lies in Moffat’s vision of family that doesn’t ring true and how loved up they are at the end of the stories. Russell T Davies pumped his families full of flaws and conflict but they thrived and flourished because of it. The Mack’s in this two parter are too simply drawn, too lacking in personality and failed to hold my interest. I didn’t really care about their fate and that was a massive problem. The performances are sincere but the material is utterly forgettable.
- For once I would say that the threat doesn’t feel big enough. Again I am usually complaining about the reverse (Davies in particular tried to trump his own sense of epic each season until he was moving whole planets…only beaten when Moffat destroyed the entire universe at the end of this season) but this one story where I felt the worldwide consequences of the developments in the plot should have been stressed. When you are talking about an entire race of reptiles that have lain dormant under the Earth for centuries awakening and trying to retake the planet it would be nice to feel as if there was more at stake than a pretty Welsh valley. Both Dr Who & the Silurians (the plague in London) and The Sea Devils (the efforts of the Royal Navy) were given an impressive, epic scale to drive him the enormity of the Silurian threat. When it comes to a handful of people negotiating with the Silurians the story feels inappropriately inconsequential.
- Ambrose comes across as a particularly unbelievable character, somebody who would risk a war with another species in order to protect her family. A war that would probably see everybody she knows murdered. Don’t get me wrong I can buy into the idea of her family meaning more to her than anything else in the world but she is characterised and portrayed as being so single minded and obstinate that I couldn’t really see much humanity in her. She is one of those characters that turns up in Doctor Who from time to time whose only purpose is to complicate that plot, no matter how unrealistic or bloody minded they might appear. I went off her when she started blaming the Doctor for Elliot’s disappearance (aren’t you his mother?) but in reality that was just the tip of the iceberg. This story is so plainly characterised that as soon as the Doctor declared that this ragtag bunch of people had to be the best of humanity I instantly knew it was Ambrose who was going to spoil negotiations (whilst Nasreen would show how honourable we are). I don’t think characters should ever be that easy to predict. When it comes to the moment of Ambrose killing Alaya, she’s isn’t seen as being suitably conflicted nor apologetic for the idea to work as it is trying to. She doesn’t come across as a mother trying to protect her mum, more like a stupid ape taking out her frustrations on a reptile. That’s uncomfortable in a very different way because Chibnall seems to be suggesting that this is where humanity always ends up – with blood on its hands. ‘I didn’t know it would go like that, dad…’ What? You didn’t realise if you shoved a thousand volts up a lizards’ jacksy that it would kill them?
- Despite a fearsome visual, the cliffhanger is oddly undramatic. We don’t get many of these anymore so it seems a shame to waste one.
- What I find especially strange in the second episode is how the visuals leap so wildly from some of the most stunning to the cheapest in a heartbeat. The CGI rendition of the Silurian bunker with hives and mounds interconnected with streams of lava and dotted with glowing lights is stunning but it rubs shoulder with some of the fakest looking caves ever witnessed in a single Doctor Who adventure. The CGI legions of Silurians all standing in suspended animation and ready for activation struck me as quite an unimaginative visual, especially after seeing how beautiful their habitat is rendered. I suppose it is a natural extension of a similar life action visual in Warriors of the Deep when the Sea Devils were woken up. Such a shame that we have seen so much of the Millennium Centre already in Doctor Who and that it should be so lacking in set dressing in this story because it is visibly the same location used in The End of the World, Gridlock and other episodes.
- Why was Malohkeh portrayed as a scalpel brandishing villain who wants to dissect Amy when he is nothing of the sort? It turns out he is a good man who thinks that humanity has evolved into a higher lifeform and wants the best for us. His turn about in character is thoroughly unconvincing, doing precisely what the plot demands of him even if it means his motives change in a heartbeat.
- There is so much corridor wandering in the second episode you that if you squint you might be convinced you are watching classic Who. What is bizarre is that the most important material (the negotiations between humanity and the Silurians) is skipped over in a brief scene so Chibnall can get back to more corridor dashing about antics. We should be privy to these arbitration sessions, they should be the crux of the whole piece and offering a way forward for both species. Don’t present an opportunity for a much more sophisticated drama than usual and then shy away from it in favour the usual action adventure high jinks.
- Why didn’t they mention that Alaya was dead rather than simply making the much more dramatic statement of turning up with her body?
- Was the fate of Nasreen and Tony supposed to be left ambiguous or is this another Moffat loose end that was meant to be tied up but he never quite got round to it? ‘Come and look for us…’
The Shallow Bit: Could Amy’s skirt get any shorter? It’s not just the Doctor’s characterisation that was at its peak in season five, it was his look too. That dishevelled tweed suit and messy hair. He looks like a student pretending to be an adult. Much quirkier than his tailored look these days. Smith wandering around in the darkness wearing shades is the epitome of geek chic.
Result: A missed opportunity and the first mid season two parter in the new series to disappoint. Weirdly enough considering I am usually pumping for the opposite, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood could probably do with being condensed down into one hour long episode and having all of the flab cut away. There is much that works in this two parter (the return of the Silurians is triumphant for instance) but also a great deal that I found wanting (the dullest family unit ever seen in Doctor Who) and as a whole I felt that it was let down by too much running time and a script editor that wasn’t forceful enough in tightening up the script. The Hungry Earth is by far the most superior of the two episodes with some deliciously atmospheric and frightening moments (the Silurians hunting at night) but the plodding pace and relative cheapness of the second half left me clock watching by the end. The characterisation isn’t strong enough to justify and explore the moral implications of Chibnall is juggling and the whole piece eventually devolves into the usual cowboys vs Indians in corridors shtick. I really enjoy the exploits of Madame Vestra and her gang but the one downside to come out of that is that the Silurians (and the Sontarans by default) who were initially introduced as a potential threat are only though of in terms of allies these days. A shame because there is something very sinister about them that I feel like we are missing out on. Like us and yet entirely dissimilar. Perhaps it should be explored again at some point. There was a chance with this two parter to genuine innovate the series, to re-introduce the Silurians permanently and see how humanity copes sharing the planet with another species. It would have made the contemporary Earth stories an absolutely fascinating exercise. Instead Chibnall seems happy to flirt with the ideas (briefly) and then toss them over his shoulder and get back to the running about in caves. There’s nothing more frustrating than potential being wasted (go and watch Star Trek Voyager and you can experience this aggravation for seven seasons) but in the case of The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood it is Doctor Who daring to suggest something bold and then just ignoring it, that’s just maddening. It isn’t even as though there was a dramatic reason for the alliance to discontinue (like an explosion that wipes the species out), Chibnall just sends them back to sleep again and leaves the problem in someone else’s hands. If average Doctor Who is made up of a mixture of great elements and poor ones, then this might stand as the most average Doctor Who of them all but for squandering a potentially riveting scenario I cannot award any more than: 4/10
Thursday, 5 December 2013
The Queen of Time written by Brian Hayles (adapted by Catherine Harvey) and directed by Lisa Bowerman
What’s it about: Somewhere outside our universe, she is waiting. A god-like immortal, living in a realm of clocks. The hours tick slowly by as she plots and plans. She is readying her trap. A trap for a very special man in a very special police box. Hecuba has all the time in the world. But for the Doctor,time is already running out...
Oh My Giddy Aunt: The second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are one of the most amusing line up of regulars in Doctor Who’s impressive 50 year run simply because they are like a bunch of kids rattling around the universe, squabbling with each other and getting up to japes. It would be joyful to step into the TARDIS with this trio and see the sights. You would be hard pressed to recognise this fact in the hands of Catherine Harvey though because she scripts them with relatively little character or humour and merely uses them (for the most part) as slaves to the (lack of) plot. The story seems to consist of them going ‘ooh!’ as they are pushed from one bizarre danger to another and barking ‘oh you!’ at Hecuba as she continually screams with laughter at their attempts to stay alive. It is so limited I could have scripted it. The inference seems to be that the Doctor could have chosen not to come to this realm but his curiosity got the better of him. How dull the universe would be without him, how sad the Queen will be to see him die. Troughton was by all accounts a terrible old flirt and I’m sure if they had managed to secure the services of a beautiful actress to play Hecuba he would have made a play for her. The scenes of the Doctor and Hecuba dancing would have been a delight to watch then, the Doctor’s naughty eyes twinkling as he takes her for a turn about the ballroom. Beings who found love a weakness and friendship something that can be put aside make him uneasy. He really is one of a kind.
Hairy-Legged Highlander: When a beautiful woman appears on the scanner screen laughing a malevolent laugh you can bet your life that Jamie would be beguiled. He always did think with his brains under his kilt. What harm could possibly come from a spot of grub with a bonnie wee lassie, he asks? A dazzling smile from the Queen of Time and Jamie feels as though they are the only two people alive in the whole universe. For one awful moment Jamie thinks that Zoe is dead.
Brains: It strikes me that Zoe always was full of courage for such an offensive looking kid, standing up to whatever menace they came across even if she only reached their waist. Perhaps she wasn’t the best person for Jamie to confide in to that the Queen is the most attractive woman he has clapped eyes on for a long time. Apparently the Doctor’s companions aren’t as stupid as they look…or at least Zoe isn’t. Zoe enjoys puzzles when there doesn’t seem to be a solution, she loves the idea of sniffing one out regardless.
Standout Performance: It was hard to get excited by Caroline Faber’s performance as Hecuba because she isn’t given a great deal to do beyond giggle and play the pantomime villain. She’s basically handed the same role as Ainley’s Master in the mid eighties and the character gets tiresome just as quickly.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I do hate to watch the television at meal times…’
Great Ideas: This kind of oddball adventure would fit perfectly into the more experimental nature of season six than it would in either of the previous two years. Rubbing shoulders with The Mind Robber. Aping the style and unpredictable nature of The Celestial Toymaker, this is one of those Doctor Who adventures set in a realm where anything is possible. The second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are like a trio of children roaming the galaxy anyway so I guess it was time that they found themselves trapped in the most sinister of playgrounds. Clocks which come alive in a ghoulish fashion and bite you. Instead of the Celestial Toymaker and his Dollshouse, the Queen of Time has an obsession with clocks and the passing of time. The Grand Chronometer has hands so sharp they could slice you in half if they came into contact with you. It has the power to move time in any direction, backwards or forwards. This villainess is one of those sorts that doesn’t like to lose and only goes into battle with opponents she is sure she can best. It doesn’t seem sporting somehow. Riddles and anagrams, tests of planetary knowledge and conundrums drawn from the history of the universe. Each clue, once solved, would reveal a letter and the letters would come together to form a word that would reveal a secret about Hecuba.
Audio Landscape: Rolling dice, the TARDIS lurching, laughter, clock chimes, cuckoo clock, lovely old fashioned carnival music piping through the TARDIS, ticking clocks, birds screaming and cackling, a misty atmosphere, a panting dog, battle scenes, men in armour with steel clashing, a pinball machine, gunfire, a busy kitchen, a World War II tank firing, a rocket shooting into the air and plummeting almost immediately, sand falling through the air, the demonic creatures hungrily chomping on bones, Zoe the baby screaming, glass breaking,
Isn’t it Odd: Comparisons with The Celestial Toymaker are inevitable considering they both stories that feature omnipotent beings trying to force the Doctor and his companions to play deadly games and they are both stories that come from the fevered mind of Brian Hayles. Was this Hayles attempt to get it right after his original stab at playful surrealism was distorted out of recognition in the turbulent creative turmoil in season three? Episode one takes ages to find its focus, throwing all manner of weirdness at the three regulars before the Queen of Time turns up to explain what is going on. I’m pleased, four episodes of random weirdness would have gotten tiring very quickly. It might have something to do with the scatterbrained nature of the threats but I found the plotting to be a little too loose and unfocussed throughout, lots of random danger but no central narrative to hang the set pieces on. I realise this is supposed to be the realisation of a story that was supposed to be made for TV but I would have liked some concessions for the fact that it is now being played out on audio. Much like The Celestial Toymaker, The Queen of Time makes for an awkward audio experience because so much of it is clearly supposed to be seen rather than heard. I couldn’t help but think I was missing out on so much by having to make all this up in my head. All this running around between clocks would be a massively enjoyable farce if we could witness the physical comedy of Troughton, Hines and Padbury but having these scenes relayed in exposition doesn’t have the same effect. It takes Zoe two episodes to figure out that all Hecuba’s games involve time in some way or another…it’s been there in her title all along. The Doctor playing a game of wits with Hecuba across a battlefield is a neat idea but strangely it doesn’t translate into anything nearly as fun as a similar fantasy mind game that he has with the Master in The Mind Robber. Jamie and Zoe being trapped inside an hourglass…Big Finish played about with a similar concept in Jago & Litefoot a few seasons back and it feels like it is trying to match the same duo being trapped inside a book in…you guessed it…The Mind Robber. Unfortunately the fact that there is near flawless tale of this nature already nestled in season six means that one of them was going to be left wanting. Companions ageing to death…been there, done that. Hecuba is the Celestial Toymaker’s sister? We’ve waited four episodes for a terrible Jeremy Kyle revelation like that? Hold up, the Doctor manages to foil the Queen’s plans by shoving a spanner into the Chronometer (so to speak) and jamming it? I could have told him to do that in episode one. Villains in the sixties really didn’t have a penchant for screaming ‘Noooooooo! when they were defeated.
Standout Scene: As a vegetarian the Russian doll meat platter consisting of a whole farm yard stuffed inside one another was quite a revolting prospect (‘She started to dismember the charred animal…’).
Result: I love clocks (their intricacies and beauty) but I was starting get a little weary of them by the end of The Queen of Time. Comparisons with The Celestial Toymaker are inevitable (Hayles, the tone, the Toymaker connections) but I would say that the first Doctor oddball adventure is by far the superior adventure because it had a form of narrative thrust that this story lacked entirely. For the most part it feels like a bunch of weird stuff happening for very little reason. Each scene is fun while it lasts but as a whole piece it soon starts to run out of steam when you realise there is no great momentum to the piece, no real purpose. The last few times that Big Finish produced stories that were as obsessed with horology as this the resulting tales were a characterful adventure packed with charm and good humour and another which studied the horror and the intricacies of time and used the theme to genuinely terrify with its possibilities as a weapon (and I’ll give you ten points each if you can tell me which eighth Doctor tales they were). The Queen of Time in comparison lacks the strong characterisation of the former and the solid narrative and intelligence of the other. I wouldn’t say this was a particularly accomplished production either with loud sound effects taking dominance over the music (which the story could have done with a lot more of to make the scenes flow easier) and giving most of the scenes quite a discordant, jarring effect. The saving grace is the performances of Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury who are as game as ever and embody their roles with gusto but they are rather let down by empty characterisation. Caroline Faber’s Hecuba did very little for me either, giggling away like Ainley’s Master and hardly concocting the smartest of tricks of the Doctor and company to unravel. There were moments to savour in this adventure, some imagery that made an impact but on the whole it felt quite irrelevant and amateurish. I love this range for it’s glimpses into what could have been but I have to admit it has turned out to be one of the most inconsistent Big Finish series. I recognise that they are trying to make these stories as authentic as possible but as with Leviathan and Point of Entry a little innovation can go a long way and when you are working from a two page brief you practically have carte blanche to do your own thing. Set your imagination on minimum: 5/10
Wednesday, 4 December 2013
An English Gentleman: With the odd exception in his first two years this is the season where I really start to buy into the fifth Doctor but going against popular opinion I actually feel there are some serious problems with his characterisation in this particular story. Everybody is always harping on about how the sixth Doctor is such an unthinking bully and the fifth Doctor an adorable pacifist – bollocks to that! He says hello to the staff on the Sea Base by almost creating a nuclear explosion and kicking the shit out of two guards when a simple hello would do. He then goes on to disguise himself as a guard rather than just saying hello and then pointing a gun in the face of the edgy Base Commander. He also has a very odd stance on the Silurian attack on the Sea Base, suggesting that they could have blown the base apart and ‘they certainly have reason to!’ Short term memory loss means that the Doctor thinks that all the Silurians have ever wanted was to create peace with humanity when in reality they tried to wipe us all out with a plague in their first story. Then he goes on to have a right hissy fit and questions why he likes the people of this miserable planet when the Base staff suggest wiping the Silurians out when they are attempting to incite a nuclear war. And then he does just that…murders the whole bally lot of them! His logic is severely flawed, his memory is extremely hazy and his actions don't follow through from his arguments. Don’t worry though because he looks around at the end and says ‘there should have been another way.' The Doctor been is rarely this judgemental and has used such sledgehammer tactics – he even murders the Myrka rather than knocking it out. Why stun when you can kill? There’s a tiny scene between Turlough and the Doctor at the beginning, which sees them sizing each other up now that the former has decided to stay, and it's far more interesting dynamic before Tegan crowbars between them with her almighty attitude problem. ‘Tegan make a wish!’ – Peter Davison (despite the dodgy characterisation) is trying his damdest to make this story work. Basically he is fighting lazy direction, poor effects, a naff musical score, weak guest performers and the fact that he manages to find some moments of charm and shows what an incredible (and persistent) performer he is.I have no problems with Davison himself, he is actually very good throughout Warriors of the Deep but Johnny Byrne's characterisation of this incarnation is once again off the boil (in Arc he was too despondent about the whole affair, here he is too accusatory - there must be a happy medium).
Australian Attitude: Tegan says she doesn’t like walking into rooms that say ‘Radiation: KEEP OUT’ written on the door. I bet the Doctor and Turlough were dying to shove her inside. All Tegan seems to do for the first two episodes is walk around corridors and she actually manages to be quite bearable in that role (it's hardly a screaming indictment of her character, is it?) because she isn’t contributing anything to the narrative at all. At one point Tegan is flattened by a mattress, which means there is somebody up there listening to my prayers. My biggest problem is that there is nothing to do with her character anymore – back in season nineteen there was a nice little arc chugging along about her trying to return home plus she had the two Mara stories that showed her at her best but since Enlightenment it is clear that Tegan is suffering from the Charley Pollard Syndrome which is she has to go because there is nothing else to say about the character but somebody on the creative team clearly cannot bear to part with her. With nothing else to explore Tegan is just…there. Being stroppy. Maddox holds the gun on Tegan and I was screaming ‘DO IT!’ at the telly!
Shifty Eyes: Such a waste, not giving Turlough anything to do because he is such an interesting character played by an actor who cares about the material. Strickson has swallowed his melodrama pills in this story and we get the following choice scrotum-clenchingly dramatic statements: ‘FACE IT TEGAN, HE’S DROWNED!’, ‘GO TEGAN! SAVE YOURSELF!’, ‘The master control to bulkhead one…WHERE IS IT?’ and my personal favourite ‘The Doctor and Tegan…WHERE ARE THEY?’This poor actor is so desperate for something to do he seizes every opportunity he can to turn it up to factor eleven and remind everybody he is still involved.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘There should have been another way’ but only because of the irony laced in that statement.
The Good Stuff: I rather like the model work, especially the opening shot and the Silurian probe. Very Gerry Anderson. The story as written is great, two opposing nuclear powers with one expecting an attack and only a work experience lad able to operate the missiles and fire back…so why is it all lacking any atmosphere? I like the idea of the TARDIS entering the forbidden military zone; more stories should start with something juicy like that (but it’s a shame about the middle class BBC English voice that warns them to bugger off). The Doctor falling into the water is a great, unexpected stunt. There’s a really good sequence where the guards walk into the TARDIS with a look of astonishment which belongs in a much better story altogether. The Sea Devil face bubbling up with green goo is wonderful; there should have been more gore like that to make this massacre believable.
The Bad Stuff: Deep breath… The Sea Base is lit up like a football pitch and hugely spacious and gleaming...this should have been a clanking, dirty, cramped space dripping with lichen (think of the sea fort in The Sea Devils). The boring reveal of the Silurians is a shocking oversight; there is absolutely no attempt to build up any menace. Douglas Camfield would be appalled. The Silurian underwater sets should have been shot on film because in the harsh artificiality of video they look alarmingly like the sort of groovy sets that house children's magazine shows. Why…do…the…Silurians…walk…and…talk…so…slowly? It makes the lackadaisical pace of the piece feel even more painful. Imagine one of these guys giving as political speech? Nitza Saul redefines the term 'a wooden performance' as Karina and says ‘don’t throw your career away over this’ with all the passion of a plank of somebody reciting their shopping to Tesco's over the phone. You'd be hard pressed not to recognise Solow and Nilsen as the bad guys. The look and act pure villain (and at one point Solow actually turns to the camera and narrows her eyes with pure malevolence). Ingrid Pitt and Ian McCulloch are big draws but surrender to the pantomime nature of the production. At times the Silurian dialogue is barely audible but since they hardly ever say anything worth listening that’s not a huge problem. The simulation nuclear run should have been tightly edited with quick cut shots, exciting music, tense performances but in reality the camera is stationary, there’s no music and the actors all look like they are waiting for the lunch bell to ring. I’m surprised the Doctor didn’t say ‘Oh look Hexachromite gas! That’ll come in handy in episode four!’ The Silurian suits are way too cumbersome and don’t allow much movement so the actors all walk like they need a poo. I'm not just being facetious, go and look again! Fortunately the Sea Devils walk at a snails pace too so neither of the reptilian races has to hang around waiting for the other as they plod…plod…plod through the Sea Base. Davison makes a very good point about the glacial pace of the action scenes and how they are choreographed...why do the Base personnel just stand in a line waiting to be shot down? Do they all have a persecution complex? Often mentioned but rarely seen, I definitely spotted a wobbly wall at the end of part one. I think he’s supposed to be saluting but Salvix looks like he’s waving as he heads off to attack the Base. Compare and contrast the attack on the Sea Base to the attack on Davros’ prison in Ressurection of the Daleks – in the Eric Saward scripted massacre they are genuinely shitting themselves and everything from the pace to the editing to the lighting to the music is making so much more effort to get you on the edge of your seat. It highlights the difference between a creaky old staff director and a young, new dynamic one. Compare the actions scenes here with those from Caves of Androzani and the difference is so enormous the correlation goes into meltdown. I love how the Myrka peeks his head through the mattress as if to say 'hello!' (reminds me of Big Man T-Rex from Invasion of the Dinosaurs when he comes smashing through a brick wall). The full size creature has to be seen to be truly believed – part panto horse, part seaweed and part Gorn (google it). Why didn’t they rewrite the script to excise the Myrka if it is going to be so hurriedly constructed and wind up look like that? If JNT really did see the finished creature and declare it was magnificent then he had been at this job for too long. Michael Grade had a point. Death is cheap in Warriors of the Deep, so many faceless people are cut down throughout the course of the story without any thought about them. What an unfortunate epitaph for Ingrid Pitt, her ‘judo chop!’ attack on the Myrka has gone down in infamy. The Myrka lies down so he can catch some zzzs, bless him. Watch his demise carefully, this is the work of two puppeteers trying desperately to fall over comfortably. Who’s idea was it to put bubble wrap on the beds in the sleep quarters…how annoying would that be? The sequence where Icthar (who himself looks like he is grinning at something off screen) tells the Doctor ‘twice we offered the hand of friendship’ – it looks like the Sea Devil behind him has fallen asleep standing up! It's at the top of this review if you want a giggle. The Silurians and the Sea Devils in a story that mimics Frontier in Space, this really is a love letter to the Pertwee era. Or an insult to their efforts. barry Letts probably watched this and wept. There’s a whopping great close up on Ichtar’s bum when he dies you get a good shot of his zip. The Commander, easily the most melodramatic thing dies screaming ‘He did it!’ What a guy.
The Shallow Bit: A sopping wet Peter Davison. Someone hold my mum back! Oh no – the Sea Devils look like huge bulbous deformed willies in uniforms. It does sound like Cervix. What the hell is Tegan wearing? Looks like someone has been sick over her.
Result: ‘There should have been another way’ indeed! Warriors of the Deep is one of Doctor Who’s biggest embarrassments – it’s the sort of story that non-fans can justifiably point at and prove that the show was a shockingly inept pantomime. It is clear from the documentary that nobody was ready to make this and the script should have been shelved until they had the time, resources and right director to bring it to life. It's not even fun in kitsch way like The Chase and Time and the Rani because the whole thing is played (unconvincingly) so straight so there are very few laughs. It’s one of the shows lost opportunities because it is clearly Johnny Byrne’s best script; a dramatic, linear, pacy piece that ends on a very thoughtful note but any subtleties or dynamism on lost on the director who films it with all the excitement nature documentary. Warriors’ Gate and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy were made under similarly strained and pressed circumstances and they are both fantastic – Warriors of the Deep is one of the casualties of the classic series: 2/10
Tuesday, 3 December 2013
This story in a nutshell: The introduction of Kamelion, a companion so good he only appeared in his first and last story!
Fair Fellow: No wonder Davison decided to quit after ending his second season on such a low. The Doctor as written here lacks any sparkle or wit, delivers functional dialogue and trips from one scene to the next as though he is a little embarrassed to be taking part in such nonsense. He gets to indulge in a sword fight which is so stagily choreographed it looks like two nervous actors brandishing weapons they don’t know how to use dancing around each other and he’s saddled with one grouchy passionless companion and another who he’s forgiven for recently trying to kill him. The Doctor has the perfect opportunity to put the Master out of his misery once and for all (and lets face it when the poor old git is dragging it up as ginger Monty Python cast off he’s clearly past his best and needs putting out to pasture…) but his ‘moral scruples’ get in the way. I wish Colin Baker were here because he wouldn’t have hesitated in putting the sad sausage out of his misery. His brilliant solution is to nick Kamelion and then just leave. He hasn’t quite got the touch that he used to. I some ways I wish Davison had stayed on for one more year (in that 'what if?' fairyland) because it would have been interesting to see how he would have coped with Vengeance on Varos, The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks.
Mouth on Legs: Perhaps Janet Fielding is right and the dialogue Tegan is given is functional and stilted. How could anybody make a line like ‘Could it be a Black Guardian trap?’ sound convincing? Mind you I don’t think the writing is entirely to blame since Elisabeth Sladen and the other really good actresses to play companions managed to sell their (occasionally) risible dialogue in a way that Ms Fielding often failed to do. Tegan thinks that King John is ‘the one who lost something in the wash.’ That’s a halfway funny line, maybe there is hope for her yet. ‘Who cares!’ she whinges, ‘all I care about is getting back to the TARDIS where its nice and warm!’ Maybe not. Go and step in a rabbit trap you whinging old mare…the sooner you get sickened by the violence of your adventures and storm out of the Doctor's life the better for the series. She is detrimental to the stories playing out – when one of your heroes shows this much despondence towards the adventure why the hell should the viewer be encouraged? Imagine Sarah Jane moaning about returning to the TARDIS all the time? No, she couldn’t wait to get outside and taste the oranges and step out in the snow and that’s why we loved being around her. Tegan cries ‘the Tissue Compression Eliminator!’ as if she has only just twigged that this is the Master despite the fact he transformed about 30 seconds earlier. And what the hell is it about people this season crying out the name of a weapon when they are faced with it (‘Impulse laser?’ is another beaut). ‘Look lets get out of here while we’ve got the chance!’ could be nobody else but Tegan, the bloody coward. Maybe Davison had a point that the far more positive Nyssa complimented his character better. The shot of two Tegan’s in the TARDIS was enough to bring me out in hives, although not as shocking as when the Mara filled her mind with a manifest of grumpy air stewardesses. Remember when Tegan welcomed Turlough so warmly into the TARDIS in Terminus (‘I don’t trust you! You’re up to something!’) well she manages to trump that with Kamelion (‘You can have my room for all I care!’). Seriously, who would want to know this misanthrope unless you had a persecution complex?
Over the Shoulder: Turlough has just been introduced, his murderous secret exposed and now he is a fully fledged member of the TARDIS team! So what do they do to show off his talents…give him hardly any lines, no character development whatsoever and make him completely irrelevant to the plot. What on Earth is going on with this script editor? Saward later complains that they never gave Mark Strickson anything decent to do...why not? It wouldn’t be so bad but he suffers the same fate in The Five Doctors (stuck in the TARDIS with nothing to do), Warriors of the Deep (wandering corridors and not connecting with the plot), The Awakening (locked up in a shed for two episodes) and Resurrection of the Daleks (wandering about with a cloth over his mouth discovering bodies and little more). What is the point of bringing in this character if you aren’t going to do anything with him? His one contribution is to call the Master ‘the EVIL ONE!’ despite the fact he has never met him before or even knows who he is. Unless the Doctor has a spotters guide to villains that he takes all his new companions through when they are officially welcomed on board. Turlough is the only character that hasn’t gotten involved in all the melodramatic shouting so he finally snaps with: ‘I’ve had quite enough of you WHOEVER YOU ARE! So don’t try me TOO FAR!’ Poor Mark Strickson, he deserves better work than this. Even the Doctor is embarrassed, encouraging him back into the TARDIS before he explodes like a supernova of Brian Blessed proportions.
The Bearded Wonder: ‘You insult ze King!’ says the Master in his least effective disguise of all time (yes, somehow he manages to inch out Kalid with this ginger squirrel stuck on his face). Obviously he has a desire (much like the Doctor) to turn ginger one day and sports a flame red beard and wig as he ingratiates himself into court with his dastardly French accent! Ainley can clearly deliver the goods (his performances in The Keeper of Traken, Castrovalva and Survival prove that) but he and the writers have gotten themselves into a lazy rut where the character simply turns up at the most implausible of times (Prehistoric Earth! The Industrial Revolution! The court of King John!) in the most ridiculous of disguises (‘Shazam! Peshwari Naan!’ says Kalid, the fat oriental Buddha, ‘Hehehe!’ chuckles a scarecrow waiting for years in a field for the Doctor to arrive, ‘I fear now hell hounds!’ says Sir Giles Estram, the ginger bearded wonder) with the daftest of excuses (‘I will harness the power of the Xeraphin!’, ‘One that encompasses the whole human race!’, ‘Chaos shall reign and I shall be its Emperor!’). What a tired saggy old scrotum of a villain he has become. Strangely the Master’s cod French accent seems to verge into Indian on the odd occasion (‘That of the King...’). You have to wonder if the Master has asked the local witch to cast a glamour on him or something otherwise what happens to all that ginger hair when he transforms? I think I would have been more impressed if Anthony Ainley just happened to be playing another character (badly). It would have been far more surprising considering the slapdash approach to disguising him (it looks like JNT and Anthony Ainley took a day trip to a fancy dress shop and just slapped a few bits on). It makes the Doctor and his companions look completely daft for not recognising him. More to the point why does the Master need to disguise himself at all if he doesn’t know the Doctor is coming? Or are they linked cosmically some how like Time Lord magnets so he always makes proviso’s just in case? He laughs like a true pantomime villain (it's something like ‘hahackhehehehe!’ and not just LAUGHING as the DVD subtitles insists). ‘Hehehehe!’ he giggles again as de Lacey is shot down, laughter seemingly the bulk of his dialogue. Think of all the things that the Master could have done with a shapeshifting robot. Why he chooses this period is baffling when he could have returned to Gallifrey and caused havoc with Kamelion baffles me. At the climax the Master seems to have a ‘trap behind that trap that would have been a joy to spring’ to stop the Doctor escaping but the story doesn’t even cut back to him as if we are to just take for granted that he was defeated once again and is standing there in his TARDIS fuming saying something like ‘You tricky Time Lord! I will destroy every molecule of your being next time!’ Like Davison’s Doctor, he feels past his best in this story.And pure pantomime.
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘This is useless in your hands – you have moral scruples!’ – is this dialogue actually being written by a human being?
‘To serve the Devilish Doctor’s own purpose!’
‘I must distract them somehow!’ – people are talking stage directions now!
‘Fools! Medieval misfits!’
The Good: The location work around the castle is quite pretty but it is shot in such a workmanlike way that much of the areas beauty is lost on the camera.
The Bad: Why go to the lengths of dressing up the banquet sets with such detail and filming it in such pantomimic way? It feels as if we are slipping in on a local pageant rather than a serious period drama. The scenes in the castle are gagging to be shot on film but instead they look exactly what they are…cardboard interior sets. The stylophonic twing twangs of the incidental music are enough to make you wonder if this is actually taking place on an alien planet rather than in Earth’s history – there can be no other explanation for such an artificial score when it is crying out for an instrumental one. Not that I would want to endure more episodes of this nonsense but the two episode format really works against this story because there just isn’t time to develop any of the characters, to give them personalities or histories or to indulge in any period detail and discussion. It renders the whole setting utterly redundant. We’re given no reason to care about any of the characters because they all behave so irrationally – Hugh tries to torture Turlough for no reason, Ranulf barges into the Doctor’s room with his sword drawn – it feels as if we have walked into the middle of a story of which we have absolutely no context. The fight scenes are a joke; when the Lady Isabella is brought to the dungeon you can see all the actors finding their marks for the fight (I use the term loosely) to begin. Even the continuity is dreadful with Sir Gilles outside guarding the castle and in the very next scene he is at the King’s side at the banquet with no indication that any time has past. How exactly does the Doctor know the Master wants to rid the world of Magna Carta? They haven’t uttered a single word on the subject. By stating it is ‘small time villainy’ even the writer is admitting that this plot is shite. I’ve said again and again…so why not one more time. They introduce this rather cumbersome robot with shapeshifting powers and realise the robot is actually unusable…so why didn’t they just hire a new actor each week to play Kamelion? What a fun idea that would be. The possibilities are endless and yet Saward seems to enjoy shying away from them. Perhaps he just didn't think of it.
The Shallow Bit: What is up with the wench on the King’s left during the early duel scenes? An uglier broad I never did see – with that pushed up nose and bad teeth she looks like Tubbs from The League of Gentlemen! Tegan’s top is quite similar to the sixth Doctor’s coat in that it resembles a the colours and texture of a good bout of sick that somebody has made yucky patterns with. It does nothing for her in the slightest. There’s a really odd scene where the Doctor and Tegan are covered in duvets on location and Turlough stands there freezing his butt off in his school uniform! ‘You’re getting old Doctor, your will is weak!’ has gone down in infamy!
Result: Peter Davison has made no secret that he thinks Terrance Dudley’s scripts for his era were workmanlike but that expression suggests some level of competence but the sheer retardness that holds this story together boggles the mind. The Hartnell historicals are amongst my favourite Who adventures for their scope, detail, atmosphere and emotive storytelling but this sorry tale reveals that all of those skills have been lost as the genre became unpopular and all you are left with is a stagey pantomime that lacks even basic conviction. The setting is poor, the dialogue is enough to get stuck in your throat, the characters are vacuous and unbelievable and the plot isn’t worth wasting your time with. Like The Arc of Infinity that opened this season it fails to work even as a really entertaining slice of crap Doctor Who (in the same way that The Chase and Time and the Rani succeed admirably!) and it commits the ultimate sin – its boring. Failing as a drama, a period piece and even as a Doctor Who story, The King’s Demons is almost entirely without merit and a piss poor ending to the 20th year: 2/10
Sunday, 1 December 2013
This story in a nutshell: Set sail and join the sailing race of a lifetime! A race set amongst the stars…
Mouthy Missus: Colour me impressed but for a few episodes I actually thought they managed to do something with Tegan that was worth watching. It is always so refreshing when a writer decides to do something more worthwhile with the character than having her bleed negativity all over the place and in Barbara Clegg's hands she is a full fleshed out character rather than simply a channel antagonism. Given her propensity for flying off the handle I can see why a being who has never experienced emotion before would find her intriguing and pairing her with an unrequited love interest leads to some interesting scenes. You have to wonder if there is any space left for Tegan in her brain what with the Mara and Mariner rummaging about in there. The Doctor insists she stays in the TARDIS at the beginning and I have to admit I did whoop for joy...but if she had we would have been denied one of her best stories. It really bugged me that she was shown something as glorious as sailing ships flying in space and still she moans, this time about sea sickness! Get with the programme love, that is one of the most glorious sights you will ever see. Tegan’s bedroom on the ship turns out to be a weird mixture of her room on the TARDIS and her bedroom in Brisbane, it’s a creepy and effective example of what the Eternals can create from your memories. I loved it when she fought back, closed off her mind and killed her thoughts to Mariner. Say what you will about this character (and I sure do) but she certainly is strong willed. Decking Tegan in cut jewels and an exquisite wig softens her considerably. Mariner finds the confusion in her mind exhilarating suggesting there is something much more complex going on there than usually appears on screen. Wrack uses Tegan as an assassin which seems like a perfectly reasonable course of action to me. She really doesn’t know how to deal with Mariner’s advances; he wants her completely, to give him existence. Men probably run in the other direction as quickly as possible usually so this is an entirely unpredictable situation. When she thinks the Doctor is dead the sparkle goes from her mind, that's a very telling moment. It’s a shame that the show at the time was stuck in the mindset that relationships for the regulars was out of the question because it would have been quite interested had Tegan been interested in Mariner and happy to explore a romance. Her cold rejection of him at the story’s close is the grumpy Tegan we know and (cough cough) love.
Over the Shoulder: It's great to see Turlough getting so much to do because for his next four stories you be hard pressed to think that he is a companion at all and not just some educated ginger that hangs about in the background looking shifty and as Enlightenment proves Mark Strickson has quite a lot to give. After Adric’s embarrassing bravado it is nice to have a male companion who is clearly a wimp out for himself, oddly it makes him far more likable character because of it. For such a shifty guy, he hits it off with the sailors and seems to fit right in. The turning point for his character comes when he tosses himself overboard, preferring to commit suicide rather than serve the Black Guardian any longer. Turlough is ultimately a good person but will consider all the other options before getting there. Curiosity almost killed Turlough…he is almost sucked into the vacuum of space when he goes poking around Wrack’s ship (in a scene that proves that male companions can scream just as shrill as the female ones). He’s such a turncoat, when it looks like he is going to die he begs his former employer to help him and when he is rejected when that doesn’t work he balls out the Doctor's name instead. I simply can't help but like this guy, for all the wrong reasons. Who else but Turlough would worm his way in with Wrack and her pirates? I love the frightened look he gives her when she shows him the plank in action. He has to choose between Enlightenment and the Doctor and it feels very real that he would actually ponder on that for a moment. It is such an important moment for the character that the climax of the story is given over to him entirely. He wants to go home but we still don't know anything about Trion yet.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You are a Time Lord. A Lord of Time. Are there dwellers in such a small domain?’
‘Living minds are contaminated with crude emotions! Organic, irrational, creative, entertaining!’
‘Love? What is love? I want existence.’
The Good Stuff: This is the second time this season somebody has turned the lights down in the TARDIS and turned the roundels a burnt peach – it is so much more atmospheric than the usual over lit artificiality you have to wonder why they didn’t keep it this way. The White Guardian invades the TARDIS just like old times. It’s marvellous to see the TARDIS materialise in the creaking, heaving hold of a sailing ship. In a season that is starting to feel a little too outer space, it is an atmospheric reminder of the diverse locations where the ship can land. It is very clever how the story completely convinces as a period piece on the high seas cumulating in one of the best surprise cliffhangers the original series ever presented. The hands on the scanner is another unusual moment to delight. The visual of sailing ships flying through the stars highlighted by the corona of the sun really captures your senses. Planets are marker buoys. Fire rages around the ship as they plunge through the atmosphere of Venus – the newly designed CGI effects really work a treat. The Eternals are a fantastic creation, bored immortal entities feeding on human imagination like parasites. Never mind Peter Sallis (who would have been excellent admittedly), Keith Baron gives Striker real gravitas; you really get the sense that he is a fatigued omnipresent being. Mariner is sweet and sexy and just a little bit creepy, it’s a fascinating mix. The scenes on deck touched with starlight and an enchanting view of the stars are pure magic, it’s the sort of atmosphere 80’s Who strived for quite often but rarely achieved. The camera craning up the side of the ship is another winding new effect and to top it off Malcolm Clarke has ditched his experimental style of music and is really plugging for atmosphere and chills. The Bucaneer is beautifully designed; candle lit and decked out in pirate booty and Wrack’s clash of cultures party really allows the designers to go to town and give these episodes a rich, eclectic look. I love Lynda Baron’s flirty, violent and buxom pirate captain; she cackles like a lunatic and positively glows on screen. Enlightenment brings you whatever you desire and you might imagine that the realisation would be stunning but whichever version you watch it manages to live up to expectations. The whole set piece of Tegan’s explosive tiara is edited together furiously in the special edition and with a dynamic new score it feels fresh and exciting. And it was pretty damn exciting in the first place. I really enjoyed the final conceit that Enlightenment wasn’t the diamond but the choice. The White Guardian admits that whilst he exists so will the Black Guardian and he will be looking for a third encounter. Until the universe no longer needs them. Come on Moffatt, get on that.
The Bad Stuff: The only thing I don’t like about this story is the daft birds atop the Guardians heads. I can see what the idea is but it doesn't come off.
Result: Imaginative, enchanting, dramatic and exciting, Enlightenment is one of the best classic Doctor Who serials. The first solo script written by a woman is a belter full of clever ideas and unforgettable imagery. Fiona Cumming is one of my favourite Doctor Who directors and she really has an affinity with this material, bringing it to life with a rare touch of magic and emotion that is unusual in this era series. What’s more there is a great role for the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough (a miracle, I tell you) and all of the guest cast are worth their weight in gold. I really cannot fault this story, the dialogue is like a rich wine, the story continually finds inventive things to show us and the conclusion wraps up everything very satisfactorily. I find it very pleasing that a story this good should not only be nestled firmly during the much maligned eighties Who but also that it adds a touch of alchemy to one of my least favourite seasons. Give the special edition a chance, it takes a great story and cuts out the flab and adds some superb special effects: 10/10
Friday, 29 November 2013
This story in a nutshell: The Big Bang explained and the Big Crunch averted…
Fair Fellow: You have got to give Peter Davison his due he is a very perceptive fellow. When he decided enough was enough after his second year and that his third would be his last it was because of the dearth of decent material he was given in season 20. Snakedance and Enlightenment aside he is pretty much sidelined, ignored or used as a device to channel plot exposition through. Very rarely is he written as a character in his own right, perpetuating stories. In Terminus the Doctor is not given any moments of charm or humour and as a result he is an unrelentingly dull person to be around. All he does is explain the plot (something Davison does very well to his credit, I was never lost) and reel off technobabble. It’s such a waste of an actor of his calibre. He has to suffer a number of particularly inept fight scenes also, directed without much thought under terrible time constraints. In the DVD documentary Davison admits this was a particularly fraught production and he didn't really enjoy it and that comes across on screen. This is not the work of an actor in love with his part. The one moment he shined was during Nyssa’s explanation for why she wanted to leave; his gentle acceptance is very touching and there is a brief rekindle of that special connection between the two characters. As Big Finish have shown, it could have been so much more.
Narky Aussie: In Terminus Tegan manages to be suspicious, rude, accusatory, unwelcoming, judgmental and shout when she can’t get her own way…and that’s just in the first scene. Turlough describes her approach to things as sledgehammer tactics – I always said he was a perceptible sort of fellow. Tegan is groped all over by nasty Lazar hands so I find it a little odd that it’s Nyssa that contracts the illness. If she had to save a friend or defend herself she might consider killing somebody. How funny is it when she has to try and stop the ship from disengaging and when she fails she simply screams ‘shut up!’ to the computer. A rare talent, this one. Her reaction to Nyssa’s departure is, surprisingly, quiet and very sweet.
Alien Orphan: I’ve always liked Nyssa because even though she wasn’t always given the best material in the programme Sarah Sutton was by far the most reliable and convincing of performers in the early Davison era. It's great to see her leave in a story that plays to all of her strengths and weaknesses. If synthesizing and enzyme is Nyssa’s idea of a good night in I imagine she will be single for a long time. Why can't these geeky characters be seen to kick back in their spare time and have some fun? Nyssa is always reading books on maths and tinkering with sonic vibrators. It’s fabulous to have Nyssa alone and afraid in a creepy location, she really has earned this screen time. There is a sudden close up on her face as she explores the Lazar ship which really managed to put the wind up me. Although he doesn’t really deserve the attention Nyssa sticks up for wimpy Olvir. It makes sense for one of the regulars to catch the disease and what could be more horrifying than to subject sweet innocent Nyssa to such filth and degradation? Nyssa slips out of her skirt and parades around in her underwear - the lads punch the air with delight and the ladies step up their women’s lib campaign in protest (fronted by Janet Fielding, of course). ‘Are you Doctors?’ ‘Baggage handlers’ – I really like that exchange because it sums up exactly the sort of people Nyssa is dealing with. And will be dealing with for some time. She slaps Valguard around a bit and later tackles Olvir and jumps his bones, it is great that when the occasion arrives Nyssa is always seen to be able to take care of herself physically. She is a compassionate woman and begs for the more ill victims to be cured before her. She really comes into her own in the last episode, realising that the cure works but it isn’t controlled and than are just trading one killer for another. ‘The Company isn’t interested’ ‘Are you though?’ Who would have guessed that Nyssa would wind up as a drug peddler for a leper colony? I know it isn't as simple as that but that is what it essentially boils down to. Her decision to stay is sensitively handled, she has loved her time on the TARDIS but on Terminus she has a chance to put her skills into practice and really help people. Nyssa chokes back tears and kisses the Doctor goodbye…it's one of the more understated goodbyes and yet one of the more touching examples because of it. I will miss her and I don't say that about many eighties companions.
Traitorous Ginge: An assassin in the TARDIS posing as a companion is such an intriguing idea it’s a shame they didn’t keep it going a bit longer. Davison and Saward bemoan that the idea was already too protracted over 12 episodes but with a little imagination you could easily work an anti-hero into the TARDIS crew permanently. Imagine somebody with the moral scruples of Avon from Blake's 7 travelling with the Doctor? Mind you the fifth Doctor is so forgettable at this stage to put somebody that interesting by his side would reduce his meagre status even further. Perhaps that is why Turlough's role was reduced to nothing post-Enlightenment. He was too interesting and taking the limelight away from a rather wishy washy Doctor. Charm the way he uses it is to disagree agreeably. Tegan thinks he has the manners of a pig but I can only think she is talking about herself. I love his eye rolling sneakiness the moment anyone’s back is turned, Mark Strickson has perfected that look. The decision to kill the Doctor is clearly weighing heavily on Turlough’s mind. Without realising it he almost causes the end of the universe by accident. Way to go, Turlough.
The Good Stuff: Continuity is littered about Adric’s room; it’s a nice, subtle way for the audience to pick up on previous adventures if they have been loyal to the show. The first episode feels as though it belongs in the very first season, there are protracted character development scenes in the TARDIS, a slow build up of tension and a cheap but thrilling location. It could almost be The Daleks. The blackness invading the TARDIS and the skull face appearing in Nyssa’s room is bloody scary (the music, which I will slaughter elsewhere in this review, is extremely effective at this point). The sound effects on the Lazar ship generate far more tension than the direction. The shields come crashing down, the computer leaks information, the lepers emerge and fill the corridors with disease…the first episode is very well done. The first cliffhanger is easily laughed at but this story is supposed to be operatic, it isn't poor Olvir's fault that it is confined to a cramped BBC studio. Imagine thousands of lepers spilling into a vast, dank and decaying terminus and then play the scene again. The CGI Terminus is beautifully realised and it is another example of the DVD extras providing far more scope than the original model work could manage. There is a 360 degrees view with the sun providing a gorgeous backdrop and the ship docks with a greater degree of detail. Gallagher injects a pleasing amount of darkness into the script with talk of sterilisation, drug addiction, disease and corruption. I love the idea of a lift descending into Hell. A commercial company is running Terminus, making plenty of money and not going through the appropriate procedures to cure any of the victims. Sounds like a typical Eric Saward vision of the future to me, but a gripping one. The Company sends coloured water instead of the drug that the slave workers need to survive; you couldn’t pay anybody enough to volunteer to work at Terminus. Bor is a delightful character and played with childish glee (even when his face is covered with hideous radiation burns). Eirak is one of those morally ambiguous characters that Doctor Who slips in every now and again to keep things interesting, sitting somewhere between ally and enemy. Terminus was once capable of time travel, it was a ship in flight with an enormous amount of unstable fuel, which was ejected into the void causing a chain reaction: the Big Bang. Putting aside the production problems, that is a pretty damn solid hard SF idea to build a Doctor Who story around. The pilot time jumped forward and the shockwaves caught up billions of years in the future and killed him and damaged the second engine. Whereas the first explosion created the universe, the second would destroy it. One of the few times the entire universe is put in jeopardy, what a shame that it couldn't have been executed with as much skill as it was written. I really like the uncertainty of the ending, which has no easy solutions and a lot of work ahead of them; it makes for a realistic conclusion.
The Bad Stuff: The Doctor shoving the chair in the door is so lame. There’s more of Roger Limb’s tinny, tinnitus inducing music, which is such a shame because a spookier score could really have benefited this story. Liza Goddard turns up in a huge goldfish bowl and hideous eighties make up and the atmosphere drains like letting air out of a balloon. Why are these pirates dressed up like 80’s glam rockers? Bask in one of the worst robots ever to be committed to film (Until Kamelion comes along). It is supposed to be strong enough to drag victims to their treatment when in reality it looks as though a good sneeze could shove it over. ‘ADVANCE PARTY TO RAY-DAR, COME IN RAY-DAR, COME IN!’ – Goddard is both shockingly wooden and very funny (Simon walked in on that line when I last watched it and fell about laughing...I remember he was quoting this line for a good few weeks). Proof if it was needed that three companions is too many, Tegan (yay!) and Turlough (boo!) are shoved into some service hatches for two episodes and given nothing to do. It's like the Nyssa in bed syndrome in Kinda all over again except more obvious because we keep cutting back to them not getting involved in the plot. Is Olvir the wimpiest transvestite of all time? ‘I’m supposed to be combat trained’ - you would think going around dressed like that he would have learnt how to look after himself. Episode one spends a lot of time delaying the exposition to ramp up the atmosphere but come the second episode the slothenly pace really starts to harm the story. I really like the design of the Vanir but the costumes are made out of such cheap, clunking material that they serve to highlight the cheapness of this production. Pity the poor pot belied, bearded Garm. He wants so desperately to be treated as a serious performer but is mostly greeted with gales of laughter or a good pat on the head. The Terminus sets are so underdressed, featureless and unmemorable which might have been the idea but the result is there is nothing to feast your eyes on but empty blackness. And that gets boring very quickly. Crossing the line into the forbidden zone should be a terrifying prospect but in this Poundland funded production it turns out to be duct tape on the floor and a great hairy dog that has escaped from a kids entertainment party. Everything has fallen to pieces come episode three; the Doctor is fighting ineffectually with Valguard, Bor jumps in, the Garm waddles into view…it feels like it is being made up as it goes along. Terminus is shoehorned into the Black Guardian trilogy but the Doctor and Turlough are separated throughout so we are stuck with reminders at the beginning and the end of the story and several bizarre reminders in between that have nothing at all to do with the story. Terminus doesn’t advance Turlough's character arc at all. The conclusion is a big grey dog pushing a lever, its such a crushingly dull way to avert the destruction of the universe that you have to wonder why they bothered.
Result: What surprised me when looking at Terminus with an objective eye rather than watching it merely for entertainment is that there is far more to enjoy than I previously thought. The script is actually very good and full of dark, seedy ideas and in particular first episode (even Kari and Olvir could have worked if they had been Valkyrie style space pirates that looked as though they might head butt you at any minute) is one of the strongest scene setters of the era. I have always thought that Terminus deserved a stronger director but having seen Mary Ridge's superb work over at Blake's 7 it seems obvious that the terrible time pressure and studio problems really dented her confidence. I would have loved to have seen her helm another Doctor Who because if she brought anywhere near as much drama to the series as she did in the B7 episodes Terminal and Blake we would have been in great shape. Listen to Fiona Cumming discuss her in the documentary and you get the impression that she was the consummate professional director capable of delivering much more than she does here. Take into consideration the madness that was happening behind the scenes and bask in the fact that it is as good as it is in places, or that it was made at all. Terminus is a horror story in space and needed far more atmosphere and a sober score to bring its creepy ideas to life; it needed the same sort of atmosphere that pervades David Maloney’s Planet of Evil. With clunking action scenes, dull sets and a distinct lack of sparkle you will probably lose interest in the later episodes which is a shame because there is some intelligent detail and realism in the script. Minus points for wasting Davison but plus points for letting Sarah Sutton go out on such a strong note. Whilst I would hardly call Terminus a success, it is one of my biggest surprises since starting this marathon (The Tenth Planet is still my biggest, followed by Mindwarp, followed by Terminus). Worth watching with the production nightmare in mind (see also Nightmare of Eden): 6/10