Sunday, 19 May 2013
This story in a nutshell: The reptilian rascals are back and this time they have their sights set on Earth…
I love how Zoe talks to Jamie as though he is subnormal – telling him to look at a dial and asking ‘do you think you can manage that?’ You would have thought that Zoe and Miss Kelly would have something of a totty brain-off but actually they get on very well, ganging up on the others with their reliance on logic. Zoe seems to be well into this adventure lark now, willing to squeeze into the grille and turning the heating up - ‘I’m smaller than you and I’ll probably be a lot quieter too!’ she hisses at Jamie. There’s a very revealing scene where Phipps’ has a panic attack and Zoe coldly diagnoses his nervous exhaustion but cannot empathise with him. She's all logic and no heart. Her photographic memory comes in very handy again. Seeing Zoe spread eagled against a bank of pulsing lights as an Ice Warrior advances to gun her down makes for a memorable cliffhanger. Whilst everybody else condemns him, Zoe defends Fewsham saying that he saved her life. I don't know if it's the lighting or the fact that it is shot of film but during the sequences set outside the Weather Control Station both Zoe and Jamie look as pure as the driven snow. I defy anybody to avoid laughing as the foam pours in and a soggy wet Troughton stumbles onto the set covered head to toe in bubbles! In Padbury's assured hands, Zoe is a marvelously engaging character and adds a great deal to this runaround.
Sexy Scot: Everybody thinks that Jamie is being left behind but he wont here a bit of it and yet once they are rocket-borne he declares that it is worse than travelling in the TARDIS! The best Jamie moment comes at the end of the story when he distracts an Ice Warrior by going ‘ner-ner-ne-ner-ner!’ (well okay he doesn’t say that but it’s just as funny!) so Zoe can open the door and let the soggy Doctor in and T-Matting to the moon to protect the Doctor in the face of Ice Warrior weaponry.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Is that the one?’ ‘No Jamie!’
‘You have destroyed our entire fleet!’ ‘You tried to destroy an entire world.’
The Good Stuff: The opening sequence is a great example of the visual imagination that was rife during the Troughton era – the stories may have become more formulaic but the approach to realising the show was extremely creative (there are similarly strong title sequences in The Ice Warriors and The Space Pirates). The model work is exemplary and the story offers strong geographic markers throughout by panning across to either the Earth or the Moon depending on where the next scene is set. Add that an unforgettable Dudley Simpson score and we are off to a good start. Isn't it marvelous how the computer voices in the 60s tales have such attitude? Miss Kelly is an immediately striking character and not the sort of female character that I would expect to stumble across during this period of the show. She is cold, resourceful and authorative and has wonderfully bossy lines like 'please don't stop me again otherwise I shall have to go above your head!' With both Zoe and Miss Kelly, The Seeds of Death pushes strong female characters to the fore (it's Fewsham and Phipps who panic and lose it under pressure). Michael Ferguson knows how to build up suspense and tells the invasion of the Moonbase from the POV of the aliens, looking through their eyes at the terrified crew members staring back, horrified. The question of everybody's lips is what could possibly cause that much panic and dread? How much mileage does Ferguson get from that wall of pulsing lights? His silhouette shots look especially striking in black and white. Just like the New Series had the cheek to stick Cybermen in various locations all over the world, The Seeds of Death does the same thing but with the far more mundane T-Mat capsule. You have to admire their cheek. Fewsham elevates the Moonbase sequences considerably, a character that we can really buy into because he is trapped in a no-win situation of co-operating with the Martians or being killed. As much as we all like to think that we would be willing to sacrifice our lives in a similar sort of situation I am prepared to admit that it probably isn't as simple as that. Put in Fewsham's position I think many of us would follow in his footsteps and it's that 'what would I do?' that elevates this character from the other, stock characters that populate this tale. Despite his stubbornness (many writers think the obstinacy adds shades of character but more often than not it is just annoying...and irritatingly Doctor Who stories are often full of them to make sure that the Doctor is prevented from saving the day in episode one), I really like Eldrad, an old man with fading dreams of a rocket flying into space. The effect of the Ice Warrior gun is great because it looks like it literally sucks in your insides and scrambles them. When you find out how easy it was to achieve it impresses all the more. There is a close up on Fewsham as Miss Kelly T-Mat’s up to the Moon to confront him where he really looks like a man waiting to be hanged. I couldn't have sympathised with him more at this point. The Ice Warrior suits have been properly blinged up in this story, their armour shines and they look spanking new and menacing. You cannot fault the ambition of a story that has the line ‘if we crash into a mountain range we’re done for!’ and cut to a shot of the POV of a rocket screaming towards the moon! Even if they didn't have the budget to support such an idea, that never stopped Doctor Who in it's early years. Alan Bennion’s hissy voice is very effective plus the Ice Warriors have a new burbling growl, which sounds gives them real presence. After three episodes of skipping from the Earth to the Moonbase it is great to go outside for some impressively mounted scenes of the Warrior stomping across Hampstead Heath. Asking Fewsham to beam the Doctor into space is horrible and Terry Scully plays it for real. There's no attempt to cut away from this agonising choice, as drama so often does. Fantastic shots of the warrior silhouetted by the sun and storming through the foam, pish to those of you who think these creatures were presented as a genuinely frightening force in Cold War. I love the foam covering the camera, for a moment it feels like the danger is spilling from the story out of the TV into our homes. Slaar and Fewsham share a very arty scene silhouetted against the lights, as I said Furgeson really gets his money out of this smart piece of design. The moment when Slaar realising he is being filmed and turns to the camera to cut the link always makes me heart skip a beat. I love it when the villains direct the camera directly. How wonderfully pathetic does Slaar sound when he realises that he has been tricked into sending his fleet into the sun. It;'s a good thing that he dies because he was never going to live that one down.
The Bad Stuff: Those awful nappy trousers! There are some awkward early moments – Osgood turning to his death being far too aware of the camera placement, Eldrad’s absolute stubbornness and the victim who gives a very vacant, toneless plea for help from the moon! Simpson goes crazy with his drums at some points and the music is almost deafening. Perhaps Murray Gold took this story as inspiration. The montage of fuzzy stills make for an unconvincing rocket take off sequence and the model work is pretty ropey compared to great stuff being done elsewhere in this story. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe pull at their faces to simulate G-Force, a trick that trips up all the best Doctor Who characters. I know it should take ages to prepare a rocket and get from the Earth to the Moon but taking a whole episode to get from one location to the other means the padding starts from an early point in this six parter. Watch out for the fat fella who attempts to escape the Ice Warriors in episode one and wobbles horribly to his death. Hilarious stuff. The Balloons of Death more like! Brent’s body is visibly breathing (and his fingers twitch as well) after he has expired. Phipps has trouble trying to squeeze through a grille that is clearly large enough for him to slip through with ease. After an impressive entrance smashing through the T-Mat capsule on Earth the Ice Warrior does some weird kind of Abba music video dance where he turns left and right to frighten the base personnel It just looks odd. I would just groove on down with him. Phipps’ body vanishes from the grille at the beginning of episode five. Give that extra a round of applause…when the Ice Warrior enters the Weather Control Bureau he has nearly as an apoplectic fit and runs about the place like a flea on a griddle. If water kills the seedpods surely Earth is just about the worst planet to terraform? The Grand Martial is beyond bling.
Result: The Seeds of Death is one of those stories that often gets shuffled into the pack which is a shame because there is a lot to recommend it. Nowadays they could easily squeeze this plot into 45 minutes which leaves the almost three hour running time full of padding but shot this well running around and hiding from monsters has rarely been as much fun. The Ice Warriors are beautifully shot in this story, they look great and it’s probably the story where they exude the most menace. Michael Ferguson is the forgotten classic Who director whose work is always stylish and very imaginatively shot (here he deploys pans, fades, zooms, shooting through sets, high shots, extreme wide shots on location, quick cuts, shadows and silhouettes) and The Seeds of Death would be a lot sorrier without his masterful handling of the somewhat repetitive material. There is a point around episode three when it feels like all the arsing about on the Moonbase is going to play out forever but Terrance Dicks is on hand to guide the story back to Earth and gives the story a real shot in the foot with the introduction of the Weather Control Station. Also the inclusion of Fewsham adds a great deal of pathos to the story that would otherwise be missing, he is one of the unsung guest characters that really injects a great deal of realism to an otherwise frivolous bit of running about. Troughton is sublime and Padbury isn’t far behind and all the guest performances are strong. My heart wants to give this ridiculously engaging story a 9 but my brain wants me to give it an 7 so lets split the diff: 8/10
Thursday, 16 May 2013
This story in a nutshell: The cure for insomnia…
Oh My Giddy Aunt: Looks like the Doctor is exaggerating his holiday destinations again…he calls Dulkis a perfectly splendid place! Troughton could light up even the dreariest of stories and he truly has his work cut out for him with this story but I did smirk as he grabbed his deckchair, beach ball and fishing net as thought they were all going on holiday! He’s definitely not the Doctor of old, he cannot remember if he checked the radiation levels before leaving the TARDIS. He has intelligent eyes, apparently. I love the shots of the Doctor (not Troughton but they are shot in such a way that you might believe that it was) juggling the bomb and running in the last episode. After five long half hours of enforced inactivity it is great to finally get to see the Doctor doing something.
Who’s the Yahoos: A simple brain with signs of recent rapid learning. ‘Just act stupid Jamie, do you think you can manage that?’ says the Doctor trying to convince the Dominators that they are unintelligent enemies. The test that they are subjected to finally allows for some entertainment as Troughton and Hines get up to some monkey business pretending to be daft apeths arsing about with guns! There is a scene where Jamie leans his head gently on the Doctor’s in the travel capsule and I was struck by the relaxed intimacy between the two actors – this really is the ultimate Doctor Who bromance.
Brainy Beauty: Zoe is used to a sterile and event free life on the Wheel and landing on Dulkis she is confronted with corpses and explosions and it clearly shocks her. She lets out a few belters as the observation post is destroyed by a bunch of Quarks. Zoe tries to rouse her fellow Dulcian prisoners to riot and fight back but she’s wasting her time. As expected, Zoe is still rather prim and proper in this tale, the girl from the Wheel taking her first steps into the universe. It is only when she is confronted with the truly bizarre, illogical events of The Mind Robber that her character really starts to soften and adapt.
The Good Stuff: The have no idea what the Quarks are doing to those adventure seekers but my word it looks nasty - the effect makes it look as if the girl turns into a cardboard cut out and her face melts. Their method of dispatch is clearly much nastier than their appearance. Cully’s ship sure goes up in an impressive gout of flame. On the odd occasion The Dominators offers a really impressive visual like that (such as the tracking shot of the Doctor running with the bomb in episode five) which is highlighted against all the dreary point and shoot direction elsewhere. I really like the groovy screens inside the Dominator ship – when the only thing I can find to praise is the interior design of the most tedious alien race in the universe then a story is in serious trouble. I’m quite fond of the laser guns that blows great flaming holes in the walls. They remind me of similar weaponry seen in The Tomb of the Cybermen. One episode ends with some appalling direction as a set is junked in an explosion but it is the most exciting thing to have happened in an age so it deserves points for that. The sad truth is that the lava pouring towards the TARDIS at the end of story is just about the most attention grabbing moment in the story and that is only there to serve as a cliffhanger lead-in to The Mind Robber.
The Bad Stuff: I have absolutely no idea what is going on in the first few seconds of this story except it is a hastily chopped together mixture of poor video graphics and poor model work that gets the season off on precisely the wrong note. Can someone clear up for me if that is instrumental music when the Dominators emerge from their ship or just a discordant sound effect to announce their presence? Cully’s ship looks oddly like a thimble and not a very impressive one at that (can thimbles look impressive?). Was this story filmed at the end of the last season? That must be a reason that it all looks so cheap…the dreadful flat looking quarry backdrop outside the Dominator craft fails to convince on any level. Landing on an atomic testing island should make for the most gripping installment of the series to date but the first episode is so ponderous and unexciting. The Dulcians must be the most soporific race the Doctor has ever encountered, certainly the most relaxed in the face if potential domination and I could help but hope that the Dominators would attack far sooner and torture them horribly just so they would actually emote something other than apathy. After all that (for want of a better word) build up (well, a couple of odd POV shots) the Quarks are singularly unimpressive. Can you think of a duller design of robot than these stompy cuboid cuties with their clumpy feet and rectangular arms? How cheap is having the Troughton and Hines pretending to be stuck to the wall? Rago and Toba are the ultimate married couple in Doctor Who, snapping at each other the slightest issue and getting into more bitch fights than the average gay couple. There is a scene in episode four where they stare at each other discussing mutiny and such is their proximity and intensity I swear they were about to snog each others faces off. You would think it an impossibility to find a location more sleep inducing than the nuclear testing island but then we visit the capital of Dulkis and it’s a bunch of characterless officials debating dreary matters of state with yet more unpersuasive backdrops and some hideous (supposedly opulent furniture. Cully wonders why he is treated like a child but his juvenile strops hardly encourage people to tackle him with any maturity. I get the impression that the part was supposed to be played by some young, gorgeous slip of a boy which would make the dialogue make a lot more sense (‘Why can’t I be treated as an individual and not as the son of the Director?) but coming from the mouth of the weighty, middle aged Arthur Cox the effect is rather jarring. I have to wonder if the idea was to make the Quarks look so inoffensive that people will simply dismiss them until they are close enough to face blast you to death. Surely the only explanation for these cuddly machines of death. The Quarks recharge by making a lot of noise and waving their arms about...but surely that would drain energy? Even the Quark voices are desperately cute, about as far from the ruthless robots the Dominators want you to think they are. They are precisely the sort of thing that BBC Worldwide would love to see making an appearance in the New Series now (probably on the side of the good guys though) because they are imminently marketable. The Dominators are masters of the ten galaxies…I bet those galaxies are bit embarrassed about that. I wonder of some of those also belong to Porridge from Nightmare of Silver - he owns thousands! It's one of the few stories when you are glad to see the native species subjugated and forced to commit torturous manual labour, just so they feel something. Can you believe the Dulcian council members are still lounging around debating the threat of the Dominators in episode three? I thought it took the Thals a long time to spring into action (the last story to examine the idea of pacifism as a way of life was The Daleks) but this bunch take inactivity to the point of indolent stupidity. If I were the Doctor I would grab Zoe and Jamie and high tail it back to the TARDIS and let them get wiped out. Frankly they don't deserve the Doctor to rescue their asses. Cully struggles with some polystyrene rocks lent to the production team by Star Trek (I jest). One Quark is blown up, his arms shooting off around the quarry and all that are left are his stumpy little legs. I felt quite sorry for him which possibly wasn't the effect the writers were aiming for. So many of the cliff-hangers follow the same pattern that it gets old very fast - the Quarks doing something vaguely unthreatening with a whacking great close up on Toba's smug face. Like all big bullies Toba is fine when things are going his own way and he can intimidate people but as soon as they start to fight back he proves to be a bit of a wimp, often losing himself in a panic attack. I love the Dulcian who says ‘You better make an appointment!’ after Rago storms into their council chamber with a Quark. You just know he is going to be first to whipped. Who thinks this shit up? ‘A Dominator must be obeyed!’ – I bet they all have small cocks, their names, attitude, even their dress sense suggests compensation for something. I cannot believe that they repeat the scene of Rago interrupting Toba about to hurt/kill/torture over and over and over and over…after a while you start to wonder if you have been caught in a Dominator timewarp and all the events are repeating themselves with no way out. The scene of the Doctor running with the bomb in the quarry is clearly not Patrick Troughton. The Dominator ship blows up in an unspectacular model explosion. Five episodes of build up…for that?
The Shallow Bit: What’s up with those huge Dominator shoulder pads? All the men walk around in dresses made out of curtains, which probably should spice things up more than it does. Kando is a welcome touch of beauty in drab looking story. When Zoe gets changed into Dulcian gear it looks like she is wearing silky underwear.Something for the guys at least.
Result: Can The Dominators really be so bad that the writers were justified in disowning it and the producer for lopping off one episode and giving it to the next story? In all honesty, yes and I can’t imagine being forced to sit through another episode of this muck. It's rare to find a Doctor Who story where both the alien menace and the native populace are this mundane and the episodes suffer interminably from some monotonous direction and a general lack of incident and character. Russell T Davies once said that in order for a Doctor Who story to work you need some kind of human connection and this story made up of entirely alien characters (except for Jamie who is from the past and Zoe who is from the future which means there is still some distance between them and the audience) almost seems to set out to prove him right. It's hard to give a flying fuck about the Dulcians because they are so laid back about the whole affair of being subjugated you have to wonder why the Doctor doesn't just hop back into the TARDIS and leave them all to their fate. The Dominators are equally drab, indulging in the same argument over and over again, stalling the plot with their constant bickering. You’ll never see Troughton and Hines working so hard to try and provide the entertainment that is lacking in the scripts and the fact that they manage to provoke a handful of moments that amuse is a testament to their skill given the obstacles they have to overcome. Morris Barry can deliver some dynamic results when he is commited to the story but it feels as though he has given up at this point (in the same way it felt that Chris Clough had come Silver Nemesis - a general feeling of apathy about the whole piece). This is one story that commits every sin you would might imagine sixties television is capable of; cheap sets, drab location work, static performances and a general feeling of greyness to the whole piece. In truth very little of black and white Doctor Who is anywhere near as bad as this - it's something of an anathema, certainly when compared to some of the other gems to come in season six (The Mind Robber, The Invasion, The War Games). The Dominators is a hugely embarrassing opener to a generally great season and easily the weakest second Doctor story: 1/10
Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Who’s the Yahoos: We get a little insight into Jamie’s first sight of the Earth from space when he visited the moon with the Doctor, Ben and Polly. They had to explain to him what it was and even then it was almost too enormous a concept for him to get his head around. Jamie is a background presence for the most part, observing the strange goings on but he really comes into his own at the climax, showing the confidence that the Doctor has imbued into his ability to get across a complex idea to many people. He refuses to sugar coat what is going on or to make it sound any less ridiculous than it really is, he takes to the microphone and tells the people of the damaged world that it is there pessimism and misery that has brought them to their knees and created the world that they live in. He offers them hope for a better future. Jamie uses his culture shock from when he first visited the future as a reference point to explaining how stepping into a new world can be a positive thing.
Oh My Giddy Aunt: It doesn’t last for long but I could listen to a whole two episodes worth of the Doctor arsing about in the console room and Jamie and Zoe (supposedly the children) frowning disapprovingly. They are so much fun together. But Robson wisely jumps into the story as soon as possible since he only has an hour to tell it in. The Doctor gets so wonderfully stroppy and upset when he is trying to help the rebels and they keep doubting his motives and methods.
Standout Performance: It might seem obvious to say this by now but Frazer Hines’ take on Troughton is so natural by now it is like the actor is putting on a comfy pair of slippers when he steps up to the mike. It doesn’t surprise me that Hines is one of the favourite narrators of the companion chronicles, he approaches the material with such gusto and it is clear he is enjoying every second of it. What’s interesting is the comment that Robson made in his interview in Doctor Who magazine, suggesting that because it is hard work for Hines to play both the Doctor and Jamie they are tailoring the stories so we can enjoy more of his impression of the Doctor. Omitting a villain because it is hard to play a three conversation between the Doctor, companion and nasty and thus making the threat far more conceptual.
‘We’ll present it how it is and people will either believe or they wont.’
‘We can save from disaster but we can’t save them from themselves…’
Great Ideas: Eddie Robson taps into a surreal, poetic form of abstract science fiction that Doctor Who rarely explored. Warriors’ Gate was probably the best example and it shares the same sense of unreal atmosphere. It feels like it is trying mimic Warriors’ in offering what looks to be the same location in different time zones with characters able to walk from one to the other if they fall down with a sickness but that is just a clever ruse to disguise what is really going on which is far more abstract than that. The imagery is extremely memorable, leaping from the audio like it has been drawn in exquisite detail in the strip of DWM – giant metal birds screaming from the sky and swooping in to carry away victims from a broken and desolate city scape. A meteorite is approaching the planet, the impact threatening to be enormous and destroy the city or throw up a dust cloud that will choke everybody and block out the sun. Cleverly Robson ensures that the population of this city are constantly questioning the Doctor and his friends intentions, as happens to be the way in every story when a population is in danger, but once the final twist is revealed it takes on a brand new meaning. It’s essential to the story, rather than merely objections to create some false drama. ‘EVERYONE IS ESSENTIAL! TOGETHER WE CAN BUILD THE FUTURE!’ screams what appears to be propaganda and the populace jeer and deride the message but it turns out to be the lynchpin of what this is all about. The trouble is that people expect the worst from the government, or think they are just out of for themselves. In this case that has a very real effect since both the cities that we see in this tale exist in the same spot. A few years back a group of engineers tested what they called a sympathy engine, the idea being that it would influence the environment and help shape the city into what people wanted it to be. As a side note, I cannot imagine a more dangerous device, given the darker impulses of humanity at it’s worst. It has created two versions of the city, one trying to go forward and one stagnating and the first to cross over to the other version was the engineers. The fracture is driven by peoples perception, they belong either in the decaying one (those who think that they doomed) or the other (those who aspire to a better future). It isn’t a sickness, seeing the other world, as soon as you start thinking about improving things you start to be able to see into the thriving world. Not visions of the past, but glimpses of a better present. It’s a case of changing the way that you think, you can create a better world simply by wanting to.
Musical Cues: Fox and Yason provide their usual sterling support, keeping the music quiet as Robson sets his eerie scene and than adding much to the drama of the tale as the hawkers swoop into action and attack the Doctor and friends.
Isn’t it Odd: Again like Warriors’ Gate, whilst a lot of The Apocalypse Mirror is clever and involving, because it is so abstract it can also by cold and uninviting, which little humour to give the proceedings bounce. I’m not sure that any of the guest characters really came alive beyond what the plot needed them to do (some argue, others aid) but this is one of those Doctor Who stories that works because the ideas are so strong and not the characters.
Standout Scene: The usual jeopardy fuelled cliffhanger is turned on its head, this only appears to be a moment of drama because we don’t have all the information to explain where she has gone. The first episode has built up the idea that the sickness and the hawkers being a menacing presence, as seen through the eyes of the frightened people of the city and so our first reaction to Zoe going missing is one of panic. Once the ideas click into place and we realise what is going, the cliffhanger becomes the moment when she was taken to a place of safety. It is sold as Zoe being taken because she found out about the meteorite rather and they wanted to stop her doing anything about it.
Result: Definitely a tale that could only be told in the experimental and daring season six, The Apocalypse Mirror is an attention grabbing fusion of awkward pseudo science, conceptual danger and poetic imagery. Robson takes hold of what could potentially have been a ropey idea (the idea that people can will a better world into existence) and dramatises beautifully, slowly easing us into the concept with some clever foreshadowing in the disquieting first episode before unveiling the idea in the second. It’s a Doctor Who story where fear and doubt and pessimism is revealed to be the most dangerous of weapons and hoping for a better future is the only way to make it happen. It’s certainly a moral that is well worth paying attention to. Compared to some companion chronicles this is quite a subtle tale (there are no singing puppets, people aren’t being burnt at the stake and giant squids aren’t attacking a harbour) but the just makes the impact of the message more important. Lisa Bowerman excels at these unsettling tales, adding much drama by allowing for stillness which in this case helps to drive home the excitement of the hawker attacks. There’s another stunning Fox & Yason score but since they have never disappointed that should be taken as a given. None of this conceptual horror would work if it wasn’t for the performers who are relaying the ideas to us and whilst I might question the use of Wendy Padbury (not because she isn’t any good, heaven forbid, but because she gets very little to do), Frazer Hines’s dual performance as the Doctor and Jamie is so finely honed by this point it genuinely feels like two different actors are sharing the same scene. Hines’ excitement for audio work is expressed in every syllable and he really helps to bring some humanity to this cold, ideas driven, tale. I found this quite absorbing: 8/10
Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This story in a nutshell: The Cybermen invade!
Oh My Giddy Aunt: It's nice the Doctor mentions Professor Travers because it feels as though the Troughton era has developed a continuity of its own (mind you it would have been great had either the Doctor and Jamie mentioned visiting Polly and Ben whilst they are in the area). If a trio that looked like the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe turned up by the side of the road asking for a ride to London would you give them a lift? He hates computers and refused to be bullied by them and he gives a droning answerphone message a piece of his mind. As he should. As well as his general naughtiness he is also the cutest of the eleven incarnations too – when he asks for a cup of tea and a patatcake biscuit I just wanted to give him a big hug. It's those moments of gentle charm that really separate him from the others. I love that he thinks the Brigadier is going to issue him a tank! Vaughn can see right into the heart of the Doctor, past his clumsy exterior to the genius that lies beneath. Packer however lacks that subtlety and when the Doctor acts like a frightened child he is completely hoodwinked, which aids their escape. It's fascinating to strip away all the cuddly bluster and witness the second Doctor as a scientist, poking his nose into the IE equipment and discovering their method of attack. He’s the only actor I have ever seen make looking into a microscope an experience, just watch his facial expressions when we catch up with him in episode six. And despite his intelligence he still has time for a paddy. He comes across as a cowardly man at times (all his ‘oh my giddy aunts!’ and comedy running) but its at moments like when he walks into Vaughn’s headquarters unprotected to discover the strength of their forces that you realise just how brave he is. It's great how Vaughn has thought through every possible contingency once the invasion has begun but the Doctor walking into his lair completely floors him. The second Doctor can also be the most unpredictable of Doctors. Its clear that he has been observing Vaughn very closely and he does the equivalent of poking him all over psychologically, sitting like a naughty schoolboy winding up a teacher. The Doctor is fantastic in the last episode – snapping at how vainglorious Vaughn is, tiptoeing around being hunted by Cybermen, skipping hysterically away from explosions and ducking as a bazooka shoots over his head and takes out a Cyberman! Troughton is such a physical actor and I was laughing my head off as he posed so regally for Isobel’s photos in the aftermath of the action.
Beautiful Brainbox: There are lots reasons why I prefer the Doctor/Jamie/Zoe triumvirate to the Doctor/Jamie/Victoria one that range from the extremely amusing chemistry between Wendy Padbury and Patrick Troughton (its more of a pupil that has outgrown the master vibe than the paternal affection the Doctor had for Victoria - which was sweet but didn’t really go anywhere) to the fact that you get all the lovability with this trio and some added friction that keeps things more interesting. In Wendy Padbury’s Zoe you have a character who is both a great identification figure for the kids (because she does ask all the right questions), a screamer who can get herself into trouble (she sure does plenty of both) and also a strong female character who can outthink even the Doctor (which she demonstrates in practically every story. Somehow she is both brave and cowardly, clever and daft and with a performance this enthusiastic by Wendy Padbury I could have easily have happily enjoyed her for another season or two. Pairing up Zoe and Isobel was a great idea because they both have very distinct personalities and yet together they enjoy a certain frivolous chemistry that is very appealing to watch. Certainly it is long past time we saw Zoe let her hair down and having her enjoy herself modelling for Isobel is great fun. There’s a lovely moment where Zoe tells Isobel if there is trouble to be found the Doctor and Jamie can’t miss it and we cut to the two of them comically running down a road away from sinister pursuers – it sums up this three way relationship of naughty schoolkids beautifully. Isn’t it wonderful that brilliant, beautiful rulebound Zoe has been turned into a bit of an anarchist by the Doctor? She relishes destroying the IE receptionist simply because it wont give her the information that she wants! When it comes to enter the potentially hazardous sewers Zoe sends Jamie down first like a canary down a coal mine! How completely awesome is Zoe when she goes with the Brigadier to Henlow Downs and calculates the trajectory of the missiles to cause a chain reaction of explosions in the Cybermen’s spaceships. She rushes from desk to desk and vehemently believes in her figures and then when her work is done she is sits on one of the desks and swings her legs flirtatiously at the soldier boys. Its this mixture of brains and beauty that makes her so damn appealing.
Who’s the Yahoos: Jamie enjoys teasing Zoe (‘You look like a chicken with all those feathers!’) but she knows with his simple mind there will be a chance to even the score at a later date. Hines and Troughton are so naturally funny together at this point they even manage to squeeze in a laugh during a cliffhanging moment of tension – the way they dash around a corner and back at the climax to episode two is fantastic. Jamie is still adolescent enough to make idle threats when it is clear that Vaughn has the upper hand in every respect. Brilliantly Jamie likes to think that he is a superior male but Zoe and Isobel run rings around him and he has to tail after them just in case they need protecting. It might be a little awkwardly directed but I like the idea of a story where the companion can be shot in the calf and kept out of the action for two episodes (real reason – holiday time for Frazer Hines!). It adds a little touch of real world danger to the story and ups the stakes.
The Guv’nor: The very first appearance of the Brigadier as we know and love him after Nick Courtney flirted with the series in The Daleks’ Masterplan and The Web of Fear. The Doctor is as delighted to be reunited with his old friend and there seems to be a level of respect between them after they faced the ‘Yeti do’ together which is quite infectious to watch. It's wonderful that Sherwin has thought about the events in The Web of Fear and looked at creating an organisation in response to alien threats to Earth. There is subtle shift in the programme because we aren’t just waiting for the Doctor to save the planet, we are helping ourselves too. This tug of war between whose method is right would be one of the selling points of the Pertwee era to come. ‘This is no job for a girl like you!’ says the Brigadier showing off his sexist attitude once Isobel has done all the thinking for him! He later asks Zoe if she fancies any coffee and everything we have seen about this character suggests that he is expecting her to make it! The Brig is a gentleman whose chivalry extends a little too far into sexism, that’s part of his charm. The gentle moment of reflection and romance between Isobel and Jimmy before the invasion begins reminds exactly of what the Doctor is fighting for.
Villainous Vaughn: It comes as no surprise that the two finest villains of the black and white era were both played by Kevin Stoney but what does shock is just what polar opposites these characters are. Mavic Chen was a delightfully egotistical, theatrical and melodramatic dictator who expressed himself with grand gestures of treachery to his own people. Tobias Vaughn is equally power mad but everything is contained and quietly menacing, silky smooth threatening gestures and stillness. He’s the sort of villain that is amused when two young girls stray into his lair and destroy his equipment and issues his threats as an amusing joke to himself. Vaughn only loses his temper when he thinks that control is slipping away from him but otherwise he has a look of content smugness locked on his face when addressing people. All this violence malarkey is a bit beneath him so he merely issues the threat of violence and has his personal pack animal Packer get his hands dirty for him. Unfortunately Packer turns out to be the incompetant better half as the Doctor continually runs rings around him and it is hilarious to watch Peter Halliday getting into more and more of a tizzy as Vaughn lashes out at his useless lapdog! I bet those scenes were marvellous fun to play. Once Vaughn loses his temper he is a little like Violet Boregard from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – screaming uncontrollably that he always gets what he wants! Only somebody with such a high opinion of himself could talk so brazenly about using the Cybermen’s might and then discarding them. When he calls through to the Ministry of Defence to his puppet Rutledge, Vaughn is momentarily taken aback by the pretty young thing at reception so maybe there is some blood pumping around that body after all. The relationship between him and the Cybermen is a tenuous one at best – they know he will betray them once the invasion is completed and he knows that they will betray him. The fun is waiting to see who will make the first move. Like a good Bond villain he gets to survey the Capital and declare that soon it will all by his. Frankly I would have been disappointed if he hadn’t. The sequence where he abuses Watkins is one of my favourite villain moments in Doctor Who – he loses it at Gregory, pumps fear into Watkins and enjoys a little psychological torture by giving him a gun, smacking him round the face and goads him into filling him full of lead. He stands there laughing his head off with smoking bullet holes in his chest and you know this is a very special brand of villain. He’s like a psychotic version of The Meddling Monk and his ‘to do list’, Vaughn sits quite contentedly ticking off the step by step elements of the invasion. Once the Cybermen finally make their move Vaughn is like a defiant child refusing to eat his dinner, stamping his feet and refusing to taken out of the picture. He does the only thing a child knows how to do when they are trapped, he lashes out and destroys the Cyberplanner. Vaughn is a broken man, powerless and angry and concentrates all of that violent emotion to bringing down his former allies. Even when he is on our side he’s still terrifying! He starts ranting on about how the world is a mess of unco-ordinated ideas and that it needs a single mind to rule it – I think I can guess where he gets his inspiration from! Any method of killing a character as strong as Vaughn was going to feel anti-climactic but the way the Cybermen burst through the warehouse doors and gun him down is so sudden it works a treat. RIP Vaughn, you loon.
Dolly Bird: Isobel Watkins can join the elite of guest characters who were custom made to be new companions but never quite made it. I would say that she is one of the most qualified to join the Doctor given that she is fiery, resourceful, independent, plus also a little bit useless and flirtatious. Sally Faulkner walks a fine line between being punch the air brilliant and slightly irritating, making Isobel flawed whilst still being quite likeable and having presence. She’s certainly more enjoyable than some of the characters that actually made it as companions such as Dodo, Adric and Tegan although her 60s glam would have felt out of place in the deadly serious season seven. Her habit of writing everything on a wall is a wonderful quirk but in practice it would make my husband break out in hives! I do however take issue with her choice of music which seems to stretch to the 60s poptastic heights of ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic!’ Her burgeoning relationship with Jimmy Walters adds a little touch of romance to the tale and I loved her line ‘Are you stinking rich?’ when he asks her out on a date. I know a few girls that would ask that exact question. Isobel gets the right hump when the Brig tells her that her photographs of the Cybermen that she risked life and limb for to get for him look like fakes! It's great that Isobel gets a happy ending, heading off with her dolly soldier and an exclusive photographic contract.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Let’s see how the Cybermen will react to fear!’
‘Is this what you wanted Vaughn? To be the ruler of a dead world?’
‘Five years…and in less than five seconds…’
‘Yes well this is going to be a long twelve minutes…’
· For a start I think I should mention how grateful I am that enough people care about this crazy little show to go to the lengths of animating the first and fourth episode of a missing story like this. As much as I enjoy listening to the soundtracks some of them don’t always translate particularly well onto audio because they are so full of silences where the atmosphere would be generated by the visuals (I would say The Celestial Toymaker and The Wheel in Space suffer the worse for this). Having something as atmospheric as the animation on The Invasion to look at makes this story feel as complete as it is ever going to be unless more episodes are discovered (and I always giggle when more are discovered like the recent episodes of Galaxy 4 and The Underwater Menace because it always makes me think of Ian Levine’s apoplectic fit in the Lost in Time DVD when he guarantees that because he has searched so thoroughly for them no more episodes will ever be discovered, so there) and it allows you to enjoy the story as a whole. The Invasion episode one is another one of those episodes that enjoys a fair amount of silence and the narrator is forced to work overtime to describe everything that is going on – in this version of the story we can enjoy those evocative silences with the correct (and highly evocative) imagery to back it up. Oh and don't listen to Levine's explosive nonsense about adding new imagery and not sticking precisely to the shooting script when it comes to animating this tale - a little creative tinkering never hurt anybody and some of the extra shots are astonishing.
· You have to admire the way that Sherwin brushes the explanations about The Mind Robber under the carpet with a hefty ‘hooray we’re all back to normal!’ moment of blissful ignorance. After the imaginative high jinks of the previous story it would have been disappointing had they felt the need to give us a reason behind it all (although you know Eric Saward would have felt compelled to) and as a result it is a chillingly ambiguous one off. Plus the juxtaposition of a world of fictional characters being destroyed one minute to a rocket being fired at the TARDIS the next is pure Doctor Who – the leap from one genre to another is enough to give you whiplash.
· Episode six shows what a fun idea turning the TARDIS invisible was as the actors get to indulge in some funny business.
· Is there anybody out there who doesn’t love Don Harper’s score for this episode? I can remember the first time I watched The Invasion I had his cues going round and round in my head for days. If you are going to produce a contemporary thriller style Who you need the music to back up your intentions and the wonderfully underhanded and ominous score Harper provides gives this story a unique, almost cinematic, flavour. The way he rests the camera low and lets the Cybermen slowly emerge with St Paul’s dominating the background is what makes this shot so epic.
· Benton makes his first appearance in Doctor Who in true spy film style as he follows the Doctor and Jamie in a black motor. You couldn’t really ask for a more stylish introduction to the show. Had he been the one to try and make a run for it in the sewers it could have been Benton who was a smoking corpse and we would have missed out on sadistic Benton from Inferno, smart Benton from The Three Doctors and some hilarious commentaries courtesy of John Levene! Mind you he throws grenades like a right Nancy boy.
· Isn’t it odd that Doctor Who has always been known for attempting to stretch a tiny budget as far as it can go and yet any material surrounding UNIT automatically feels as though Doctor Who has the budget of a feature film. If you look through the series as a whole (right up to their latest spectacular The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky) the UNIT stories are filled with extras, ammunition, vehicles and resources the likes of which you rarely see elsewhere! Given that this is their first outing it needed to be an impressive introduction and all the stops seem to have been pulled out. There is a secret base inside an aeroplane, helicopter rescues, armed soldiers filling back streets, henchmen with machine guns, canoes in backwaters and a pitched battle between the Cybermen and UNIT with grenades, flame guns and bazookas. I’m not sure about the jaunty UNIT theme though – its much better in season seven.
· Douglas Camfield’s direction is as dynamic as ever but what really drew my eye was the location work which he makes look effortlessly filmic simply by finding exciting angles and methods to shoot it. He creeps down back alleys and onto train tracks to give this story a gritty feel and isn’t afraid of using handheld camerawork or dramatic low angles to spice things up.
· I love the end of episode three which is almost entirely shot in silhouette. That’s the strength of black and white television because it wouldn’t look half as effective in colour.
· Given that in days to come the Cybermen will be vulnerable to any old tat from badges to arrows this is the first and only time a truly ingenious threat has been thought up. Emotion as a weapon is a fascinating concept and it highlights the main selling point of the creatures in the bargain – the chilling idea that they have surgically disconnected themselves from feeling. A deranged Cyberman shrieking hysterically in fear is a terrifying concept on its on but once you shove it down in the dark, dank sewers you’ve got Doctor Who gold. Monochrome was made for the shots of sleek, metallic Cybermen struggling with each other in the sewers as bombs explode around them! Isn’t it so like the Cybermen to crush any kind of resistance with their hypnotising beam before they even begin the invasion? I love the shock moment when the Cyberman’s face fills Vaughn’s communication screen – its surprise moments like that that really make the Cybermen work.
· I love the way this story doesn’t only take the usual approach of telling the story from the point of view of the heroes. We do get to see their reaction to the invasion but we are also treated to a fly on the wall perspective of the villains preparing for the moment to strike. We are as much involved in Vaughn’s story as we are the Doctor’s and that is rarely the case in a Doctor Who story.
· The end of episode six is an absolute peach – the Cybermen apparently taking over the world. Compare and contrast to how it was attempted in Army of Ghosts and see how a little sixties subtlety and paranoia can do it a hundred times better. Well I say subtlety, having the Cybermen marching down the steps of St Paul’s isn't exactly subtle but it looks a damn sight more memorable than superimposing lots of little CGI Cybermen all around the world. The build up has been so good that this sudden release of excitement is edge of the seat stuff.
· I thinks it's wonderful that after all the noise and action of the final battle with the Cybermen the most tense moment of the entire story comes in a long silent sequence as our heroes wait to find out if the Cybermen have managed to drop a bomb. It's not your usual kind of Doctor Who climax (especially when the first attempt to shoot down the bomb fails) and it is conveyed tensely through reaction shots and realistic procedure.
The Bad: Anybody who wanted to call this story padded could happily do so, especially in the early episodes where events reciprocate like Zoe and Isobel searching after the Doctor and Jamie and then the Doctor and Jamie searching after Zoe and Isobel. This might all be tedious if the actors and the director weren’t on razor sharp form but with Dougie Camfield directing and Troughton, Courtney and Stoney on board this material is never less than enthralling. In particular the scenes of the Doctor and Jamie escaping up the lift shaft are total padding but its so beautifully paced and shot in shadows that it is gripping to watch. Old Billy Rutledge is the first of a new breed of officious obstructers that would plague the Pertwee era – from Walker Parliamentary Private Secretary to Dr Lawrence and Stahlman. And a bloody annoying lot they all are! Thank goodness the Cybermen hardly speak because this is the most incomprehensible they have ever sounded. A lot has been said about the off screen rescue of Professor Watkins and the only reason it is so apparent is because elsewhere so much of the action is painstakingly and expensively put on screen. Besides you can’t really complain about a scene that was scripted but unfilmed because they ran out of time. The Cyber fleet going up in flames is hardly spectacular but what else could they achieve at the time? Watching an empty dummy Cyberman take a dive off a roof might have sounded like a good idea in theory…
The Shallow Bit: If you get a chance check out the colour photos of this story and Zoe’s outrageously bright red costume with lime green feather boa! The psychedelic seventies has invaded Doctor Who a few years early! With the Brigadier, Jamie and Jimmy in one room together I was rather spoilt for choice! Black and white TV is a gloriously moody medium but it does annoy for just one moment when Jamie descends a ladder and the camera is right up his kilt but the darkness obscures any detail! That Cyberman emerging from the sewers tries to cop a feel up Jamie’s skirt and the good Captain smothers it back down to prevent him!
Result: Will wonders never cease – a Cyberman story that I really, really like! It's one of only a handful of times that I find them an effectively menacing presence in the show. Because the story takes the psychological approach, both in how they subdue the human race and their antipathy towards emotion which when infected snaps their logical minds and turns them into deranged rogues. There are a stack of compliments to be handed out to The Invasion and I’m not sure where to begin! Douglas Camfield is still to my mind the finest director the show has ever been fortunate to book and this is one of his best stories – the imagery is memorable, the action is exciting and the story is shot in unusual ways that gives it a contemporary visual dimension. Then there is the top notch team of the second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe who all get stellar moments and have developed a supremely watchable chemistry by this point. UNIT is an idea that could have bombed spectacularly but given the resources of this blockbuster they manage to pull it off with real style and Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier is the perfect face to front this military outfit. Brilliant guest characters like Isobel, Jimmy, Packer and Watkins add a human dimension to the story that is vital and the luxurious length of the tale allows the actors to explore the roles. Whilst I think the whole story is pretty special, episode six happens to be one of my all time favourite single episodes of Doctor Who. Starting with a rogue psychotic Cyberman menacing Jamie and Zoe in the sewers and ending with them bursting from the sewers and marching down the steps of St Paul’s – it's the show at the top of its game. Is this story padded? Yes. Does it matter in the slightest? Nope. The Invasion is a story that deliberately takes it time to build up tension and when the big event finally comes you have some of the most exciting moments of the entire era. Its not one to rush your way through but I find that an episode a night before bed really gets me excited about this story – especially with the brilliant cliffhangers. I can completely see why the production team were sold on this format to push the show in a new direction, its riveting. An expensive blockbuster with one of the finest ever Doctor Who villains in Tobias Vaughn, The Invasion is awesome and to prove how the era wasn’t limping home in the sixth season its only the third best story of the year: 9/10
Hairy Highlander: It only takes Jamie a few moments in Zoe’s company to threaten to put her across his knee and spank her…they are clearly going to be great fun together. Jamie listening to himself on a tape recorder is the first time in an age where they have made reference to his (lack of) knowledge. Its been dropped completely since he emerged into his second season, the show instead highlighting his glowing chemistry with Troughton. It’s a shame because I would loved to have seen the Second Doctor educate Jamie in the same way the fourth does with Leela in her initial run of stories. He’s always thinking of his stomach.
Brains’n’Beauty: Zoe makes an immediate impression and clearly stands out amongst the (mostly) dreary Wheel personnel. If you stood back from this story without any knowledge of the future and asked yourself who would be ideal as the next companion there really isn’t any other option (Gemma is fantastic but I can’t imagine her being a particularly stimulating regular…plus I would always be wondering what she and the Doctor are getting up when my back is turned!). Wendy Padbury embodies the role of Zoe wholeheartedly, laughing at Jamie’s kilt, patronising the Doctor and generally coming across as a condescending know-it-all. Perhaps not what you would consider ideal companion material because of her arrogance but it is Padbury’s obvious charms that smoothes out this characters rough edges and makes her so watchable. Zoe is socially awkward and completely unaware of her ability to piss people off until its too late – exactly the sort of person the Doctor should take under his wing and show the universe. That’ll teach her some life skills. In a scene that says more about where Zoe has come from than any other she admits that she is terrified of the idea of being considered an unemotional robot but she fears that she those that call her one might be right. She has had her head packed so full of facts and figures that there isn’t room for anything else. Its impossible not to feel something for her at that moment. She realises she has only been trained to react in certain kinds of situations and that she is pretty much useless now unless she breaks her programming and behaves irrationally. Some of the Doctor’s rebellious nature is rubbing off on Zoe already. There’s a mischievous look on Zoe’s face when Jamie says goodbye which says everything you need to know about her next move (you really didn’t need the shot of her crawling into the chest).
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Well at least you didn’t think of x-rays. That would have been awful’ – another reason Zoe works so much better than Victoria for me, she puts Jamie down so brilliantly.
- Characterisation was always David Whitaker’s forte and if this story has numerous plotting and pacing problems then the characters are at least very real. Skipping back to his time as script editor on the show, Whitaker includes a little prologue at the beginning of the story that sees the Doctor and Jamie leaving in the TARDIS and Victoria waving tearfully on the beach. Its proof that her departure is going to have an effect on them rather than simply skipping into the next adventure without mention of her passing.
- Of the strong guest cast, Anne Ridler stands out in particular as Gemma Corwyn as a strong female character who speaks as the voice of reason for everybody on the Wheel. It’s her unusually intimate relationship with Jarvis that prevents him from becoming just another meglomaniacal Commander and her interaction with the Doctor is unique in that it is perhaps the only time during his run where Troughton actively flirts with an actress. There’s a great moment when she corrects the Doctor who has called her Miss Corwyn and he sounds momentarily disappointed. She’s effortlessly likable because she talks such sense and remains the most morally sound character in the show. Gemma is the one who puts all the facts together and tries to cohere the plot, she’s the one who can charm her way in with the Doctor and Jamie and she’s the one who Jarvis listens to because she approaches him logically. She understands people. Gemma’s death is treated with appropriate seriousness, the Jarvis commits suicide, the Doctor is traumatised and Jamie and Zoe pass her body in a mute scene loaded with gravity.
- Interestingly the Doctor mentions that in times of emergency the TARDIS interior can become a police box…which might offer an explanation to what happens to the Ship way in the future in Father’s Day. Maybe.
- I love the design of the Wheel model, an unusually functional looking satellite rather than something visually dynamic. One thing that this story does get very right is that you believe this is a functioning station with credible personnel. If only Whitaker had put as much energy into his plot as the background details. The focus is on operation over aesthetics although the designer does have a bit of a party on the Silver Carrier with the groovy lava lamp design.
- The fella who is surrounded by Cybermats and starts doing chimpanzee impressions provides a few moments amusement.
- Jamie and Zoe hanging in space between the laser and the asteroids is an ambitious sequence and frankly it’s a relief that something has started happening. The meteorites might be spinning rice crispies but it’s the most exciting thing you are going to see.
- Donald Sumpter is an actor that I have become more and more aware of of late (The Sarah Jane Adventures, The Secrets of Crickley Hall, Game of Thrones) and yet it wasn’t until it was pointed out in The Sea Devils DVD that he was in this story that I even realised it was him. This happens with me rather a lot in Doctor Who – actors take on roles decades apart and I don’t even realise it is them!
- The Doctor and Jamie investigating a deserted Ship is a fantastically eerie idea (so effective it would be duplicated to much greater effect in stories such as The Ark in Space) but to make it an episode long exploration is stretching the idea too thinly. Its perhaps not wise to kick start a story in such a paceless, staring at your watch until something happens, way. Filling time, Whitaker plays out scenes from The Daleks with the travellers sitting around reading space food. It might have worked better had the Servo Robot not been so tickle under the chin cute, stomping around the Ship on its stubby legs, its bulbous bulk filling the corridors. Without the input of guest characters this is all oddly flat – normally I could watch/listen to Troughton and Hines larking about all day but there is a distinct lack of humour or real danger. The most effective aspect is the music, trying to generate the atmosphere that isn’t apparent elsewhere. Bizarrely the Doctor and Jamie aren’t even aware of the greatest danger (Jarvis pointing the x-ray laser at the Silver Carrier) and they would hardly be killed off in ignorance like that. It makes the cliffhanger strangely ineffective.
- It’s the most drawn out narrative Doctor Who has ever concocted with Whitaker failing to explain himself as the story progresses so the thrust of the first three episodes is random problems being thrown at the Wheel and viewer having to remember the (frankly dull) incidents and try and assemble them into some kind of plan on behalf of the Cybermen. Its also a little galling that the plot that Jarvis spells out to Gemma (that the Doctor and Jamie are terrorists having sneaked about the Wheel via the Silver Carrier to sabotage it and stop the space programme) is actually far more gripping than the one we actually get! Nothing seems to happen in the first two episodes beyond the Doctor and Jamie’s arrival on the Wheel and yet we’re told later that these episodes were full if instrumental stages of the Cybermen’s plans. A shame that we have to figure that out later because a little dramatic incident wouldn’t have gone amiss in the first half. It takes the Doctor three episodes to figure out the Cybermen are even involved and its through something as banal as x-raying a Cybermat. Unbelievably episode six features a sequence where the Cyberplanner works through all of the Wheel’s personnel, learning their function and appearance. This should have happened in episode one…by this point the action should be so furious that such establishing scenes should be unthinkable.
- Its only when you get to watch an episode that it becomes apparent that Tristan DeVere Cole wasn’t best suited to directing Doctor Who, As the stalwarts of the time prove (Douglas Camfield, Michael Ferguson, David Maloney), Doctor Who needs pace, visual excitement and a sense of urgency. Cole displays none of these virtues. Its basically the point and shoot approach with only the actors trying to give the material any lift.
- The Cybermen are starting suffering from the Dalek syndrome in that their first handful of appearances were so effective that there eventually had to come a story where they didn’t work (for the Daleks it was The Chase). At the beginning of this season they were breaking from ice tombs like some icy parody of the dead, now they form inside eggs (what the hell?) and hatch like innocent chicks. Its hardly a move in their favour. Its another change of design (are these the least consistent looking monsters?) and not an unpleasant one (I love the teardrop) but the voices are all wrong (they sound both retarded and camp). What’s horrible is how inactive they are; we are treated to countless scenes of them loafing around chatting to their flashing light bulb Cyberplanner rather than doing something. Since few writers ever bother to capitalise on the horror of the creatures (the idea that these are human beings turned machine) the most exciting thing about the creatures is how imposing they are visually (something that Earthshock understands perfectly and slaps menacing imagery across the screens like flashy Doctor Who wallpaper). When you take that away from them as well they are just motionless automatons; lacking character, lacking threat and lacking interest. The Wheel in Space marks the beginning of the end for the Cybermen for me with only two stories between now and the end of series working for me (The Invasion and Earthshock with Revenge of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis two of my least favourite stories ever). When the most intimidating thing about the Cybermen is the cutesy wutesy Cybermats there is a problem. When the Daleks were as scheming as the Cybermen are here (Power of the Daleks), they were riveting to watch. As usual the metal meanies from Mondas are second fiddle. How could somebody ever think that the clearly artifical Cybermats are space fauna? Apparently ‘the Cybermen need to colonise! They must have the treasures of Earth!’ Goodness knows what the Doctor is talking about here (I had a gigglesome image of the Cybermen screaming off into space with a ship full of paintings, doubloons and jewels plundered from the Earth) unless he considers humanity the treasures of Earth. When one Cyberman towers over Jarvis, picks him up (with the rather obvious help of a harness unfortunately) and tosses him about I was rather relieved that they are capable of some action. The expected confrontation between the Doctor and Cybermen in episode six is rather hampered (despite Troughton’s commitment) by their penchant for rocking back and forth whenever they talk. Wonderfully the Cybermen mince when they space walk in the final climactic (rather a dramatic term for what is essentially just shutting the doors on their invading asses) set piece. The less said about them floating off into space, the better. Not the Cybermen’s finest hour.
- Its rather sad that we’ve come to a point where we expect the leader of any base to have a nervous breakdown. Characterisation on Doctor Who should never be that predictable but after the irrationality of Cutler, Hobson, the Commandant, Krishong, Clent and Robson its clear that Jarvis is going to head down the same route. Its what makes Radnor such a breath of fresh air in The Seeds of Death, a genuinely pleasant Commander who refuses to stand in the way of the plot. Its irritating that just when the plot looks like it might get moving we waste another two episodes dealing with Jarvis’ nervous breakdown.
The Shallow Bit: There’s clearly something going on between Leo and Tanya. They are a pretty pair but they don’t exactly set my world on fire. When compared to the much more subtle flirting between the Doctor and Gemma, it lacks any substance. There’s no doubt in my mind that Leo and Tanya are offer to bed at the end of this adventure, the hand holding makes it explicit.
Result: The Wheel in Space is not completely without merit (there’s some fine characterisation for a start) but its one of the least dynamic Doctor Who stories you are ever likely to watch. People often claim that season six’s eclectic harkening back to the early years of Who is a deliberate reaction against the claustrophobic one location under threat formula of season five but come The Wheel in Space its clear that with regards to this sub-genre of Doctor Who the well has run dry. Its not the case of having to tell fresher stories next season, more a case that there simply isn’t anything else to be extracted from the base under siege blueprint. Thanks to an unsympathetic director this lacks claustrophobia, atmosphere and tension and thanks to (the usually reliable) David Whitaker the plot is just a tick list of mundane, procedural events. You might feel the need to blame Kit Pedlar because he wrote the outline but any writer worth his salt would fight against those constraints and produce something with energy and personality whereas Whitaker seems to have given up at this point and just goes with the flow. Have the Cybermen ever been this dull? At least in Revenge of the Cybermen they are so bad you can have a laugh at their expense. Here they sit mooch about plotting and scheming, not even bothering to have any kind of visual menace. Their voices are so lax even they sound like they can’t be bothered. It might not be so bad but if you hop over the Wheel and all they are going is sitting around (the Doctor doesn’t get out of bed until episode four) and discussing things with each other too. There is a general dearth of action that is unusual for this show and especially unusual for a six parter that needs that oomph to kept the audiences interest. Its telling that when the Australian censor clips showed up there was barely more than ten seconds excised from this deliquescent tale. The Wheel in Space has three massive pluses in its favour and that is Patrick Troughton, Wendy Padbury (Zoe makes an attention grabbing entrance) and Anne Ridler (Gemma). Frazer Hines is about but Jamie is pretty wasted in this environment. Whitaker wrote three phenomenal stories for the Troughton era so it’s a crying shame that he should depart the show (I don’t count Ambassadors of Death) on such an ignominious note: 4/10
Saturday, 11 May 2013
Oh My Giddy Aunt: David Whitaker can always claim to do something really interesting with all the regulars he is dealing with and with Power & Evil of the Daleks and Enemy of the World he gives us some of the most thoughtful characterisation of the second Doctor. By this point I am used to the subtle intensity and childish glee that he can bring to the part but Whitaker (like with Power of the Daleks where he was looking to contrast Hartnell and Troughton so dramatically) there always seems to be something a little jarring and fascinating about his portrayal. In Evil it was the Doctor at loggerheads with Jamie for real (bizarrely this never happened again in their two seasons together afterwards) and his skill with psychology that stood out, here it is his inactivity (there isn't a single adventure where it takes Troughton this long to get in on the action, not even The Space Pirates) and his caution. It feels as if he is extremely worried that his presence could cause real problems, something he is frightened off enough that he sends Jamie and Victoria in to check out the situation first before daring to take his part in Giles Kent's plan. Usually he jumps right in and bollocks to the consequences so he must really have a bad feeling about this place. For once the Doctor wants to leave and his companions want to stay. I feel as if I have been more critical of the portrayal and characterisation of the second Doctor and the first so I think I should point out at this stage that I simply adore Patrick Troughton and pretty much anything he is involved in (yes even The Underwater Menace) is automatically elevated because he is involved. A consummate actor, he can play comedy and drama with equal conviction. A superb Doctor. It's just there were a few anomalies in his time that are so fascinating simply because they are different.
He’s like an excited kid screaming ‘We’re by the seaside!’ and he wants to play sand castles! I love the image of his splashing about in his long johns, like some excitable middle aged kid. When Astrid refuses his medical aid he proves to be quite assertive, not taking no for an answer. He’s not a Doctor of any medical significance, perhaps a Doctor of divinity? ‘I’m the nicest possible person!’ He always was interested in phonetics but suggests he needs several weeks to learn Salamander’s accent and mannerisms, not the few minutes he is forced to. Clearly the Doctor doesn’t like being told who the villain is, he likes to make that decision for himself. He will expose Salamander for the fraud that he is but the Doctor will not dish out private justice and murder him. I love his wily cunning, pretending to his friends to be Salamander to see what they really think of the dictator since only their opinions matter to him. He mocks tooting on his recorder to prove he is who he says he is and it was enough to fool me. Secretly I think he rather enjoys playing the villain, it gives the Doctor a chance to ham it up for a change. ‘No friends, no safety, nothing’ – the Doctor is willing to put Salamander outside the TARDIS to face those that want his blood. ‘You’ll run but they’ll catch up with you.’ Nasty. Troughton really seems to appreciate the chance break out of playing the Doctor for the majority of this story and get his teeth into a juicy villainous role but the result of that is that when does play the Doctor he is sweeter and more imminently huggable than ever. The Doctor is smart enough to play Salamander to expose Giles' hand in these events and his true motive and when the time comes he doesn't hold back in darkly condemning the would-be dictator. Whether it is by accident or design, this is a Doctor who can watch a man being sucked out into space, dust his hands down, turn to his friends and say 'where shall we go?' People say only the new series Doctor's have a warped sense of justice.
Sexy Scot: I really like how Whitaker writes for Jamie as an action hero and a ladies man, playing up to Hines' biggest strengths. He leaps straight into action when being hunted on the beach, screaming ‘Craig au Tuire!’ and rushing at an armed man. It is a nice moment of culture shock when Jamie and Victoria cling onto each other in fear as they ascend in a helicopter, the pair of them never seeing such a ‘flying beastie’ before. He’s cleverer than he looks, jumping in to save Salamander’s life and thus gaining his confidence. His cover story is that he is on holiday with his beautiful girlfriend, which is clearly a backstory that Jamie is loving and can completely buy into. He sums up Benik perfectly in one sentence - ‘You must have been a nasty little boy…’. He asks if Redhead is a codeword, clearly having nothing but sex on the brain. Mind you at that age, didn't we all? He really loves Victoria, when Benik starts lusting after her and attempting to menace her he stops fighting with him and agrees to do what he wants.
Screaming Violet: Victoria was never a favourite of mine, she’s cute in a pathetic sort of way but like Susan before her there was just too much snivelling and whimpering for any real effective character to emerge. Look at her in episode one ('I can't! I can't!') …I would never try and stimulate violence towards women but she was getting so hysterical she was clearly in need of a good slap. it isn't Watling's fault, she is only bringing to like the character as written and when she finally gets something to run with beyond hysterics like her comedy of manners with Griffin in the kitchen she relaxes into it and has fun. She makes a typically Victorian menu of soup, fish, meat and pudding and talks about her family’s whoosh up Kaiser Pudding. It's hardly amazing development but I appreciated the tiny insight into her life back home that she will never return to. Griff sums her up beautifully: ‘You’re a bit too smart for me!’ When she introduces Jamie Griff asks ‘He not cook like you I hope?’ suggesting she wouldn’t have made the best of domestic wives.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Yes I’ve got a job for you alright…peel those spuds, yeah now!’
‘People spend all this time making nice things and other people come along and break them.’
‘The history of Hungary is about to be rewritten!’
‘You try, you fail. So what, huh? The moon doesn’t fall out of the sky!’
‘I can only die once and someone’s beaten you to it.’
The Bad Stuff: There are some really dodgy accents in the first episode. Even though it is well played and scripted it is such a shame that we can only see the cheapest episode. The story stutters at this point and is padded out with (hilarious) material in Griff's kitchen but it gives completely the wrong impression about this epic, expensive looking, (generally) fast paced story.
The Shallow Bit: Wow, this might be my longest ever shallow section! Jamie looks thirst quenchingly hot in his tank top and is matched by Victoria who is adorable in her kilt. Troughton looks years younger when dressed in a roll neck with combed back hair. Astrid wears kinky leather boots and very tight trousers. Jamie is dressed head to toe in leather…what are they trying to do to me? Fariah is a rarity in Doctor Who at this point, a confident and intelligent and utterly gorgeous black girl! Benik’s campness is pretty menacing, he manages to make every threat sound like a menacing come on. Astrid flirts outrageously with cute guard Yanos.
Result: A dramatically played story, which is attention grabbing from the very first scene. The Enemy of the World is another story that has had its reputation poisoned by the Howe/Stammers/Walker guide books, long considered the odd man out story of season five for adverse reasons (it is amazing how a few guide books could have embedded into fan consciousness) and it pleases me greatly that so many people have rediscovered this little classic and realised it is quite the contrary. David Whitaker has written an exquisite script with lots of ambrosial touches and a dedicated cast bring the story to life and create some captivating drama. It plays out very much like one of the old Hartnell historicals, with characters coming to the fore and their dynamics proving the linchpins in the plot. Doctor Who doesn't have to be about monsters week in, week out to remain interesting and this is a very bold and successful attempt at detailed world building and captivating spy drama. Troughton aces his role as Salamander and creates one of the series’ most venomous nasties and as a result of this his Doctor seems cuddlier than ever. Barry Letts comes down quite hard on his directional debut but this might just be his finest work on the series, displaying none of the technical difficulties of his later tales and coaxing some lovely performances from his cast. For a six parter it is pacy and always throwing new things at you and there are some tasty twists in the last episode and a cliffhanging final scene. It makes me wonder what I think of the era as a whole because Enemy of the World is proof that the Troughton anomalies are my favourites (Power of the Daleks, The Mind Robber, The War Games are my other treasures). Always a joy to a listen to: 9/10