purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Way way back in 1981 the BBC ran a "Five Faces of Doctor Who" season in which they showed one story from each of the first four Doctors (ending with a repeat of Logopolis and Tom Baker regenerating into Peter Davison), except for the third Doctor who got two stories. It's difficult to say how incredibly exciting this was to a young Doctor Who fan at the time. The two stories picked for the third Doctor were The Three Doctors and Carnival of Monsters. I assume they wanted to show both the anniversary multi-doctor story as part of the "five faces" theme but also a more typical story. I never really understood the inclusion of Carnival of Monsters which did not (insofar as one could judge from Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks' The Making of Doctor Who) seem to be a particularly significant Pertwee story, even if one assumes they were restricting themselves to four parters.

I was a little surprised by Tame Layman's enthusiasm for this however. He also had memories of seeing it at some point (possibly also as part of the Five Faces season) and recalled it as being a particularly good Pertwee story. The Teenager was summoned so that she could experience it as well.

I don't know. The story is generally pretty pacey, so it doesn't suffer from the longueurs of some early Doctor Who but I'd say that almost everything happening outside the miniscope on Inter Minor is done in a rather broad and heavy-handed fashion. The CSO, while not the worst Doctor Who has ever committed, is among the dodgier the show has inflicted upon the audience and it seems more obvious than usual that the budget wasn't really stretching to many sets.

The parts of the story set on the SS Bernice are among the best ,in part I would say because both the actors and the producers of sets and costumes were far more comfortable with portraying the 1920s than fantastical machines or aliens. The reveal that actually the first parts of the story are taking place inside some kind of peep show is clever and handled well. Still I'd argue that one good idea doesn't make a solid story.

It's fun but I don't really get the enthusiasm. Still, Tame Layman and Teenager enjoyed it so who am I to judge?

The Lost

Jan. 3rd, 2017 03:16 pm
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Class)
It's sufficiently long since I saw The Lost that the details have somewhat blurred in my memory. However, if memory serves, it contains most of the strengths and the flaws of the series as a whole. On the plus side it is not afraid to explicitly move the status quo along by redefining Miss Quill's role and status, clearing away the antagonists from this series and rearranging the relationships of the core cast without allowing them to settle into any kind of cosy friendship. It also manages a good exploration of the episode's theme of loss which ties into the series themes of growing up and afterlives all framed in terms that focus on the characters while making the SF elements central to the action. The sacrificial love interest bucked all expectations by not being a sacrificial love interest, but this does make one wonder even more why he doesn't receive equal billing to the rest of the cast in the opening credits.

Spoilers and so forth )

I don't love this series, but I'll happily watch another season. It has a distinct identity from Doctor Who and the potential, and I think ability, to do different and interesting things with that identity. I hope it receives a second season.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Class)
Oh, of course, one of Class's themes is interpretations of Heaven and Hell across cultures. In some ways I was surprised I hadn't spotted this earlier, both with the set-up of the Cabinet of Souls, and some of the conversation April and Ram had in the realm of the Shadow Kin, but it wasn't until this episode that I really cottoned onto the fact, perhaps because it is a less obvious theme to explore in a drama aimed squarely at teenagers which is otherwise mostly about growing up.

More, including spoilers for both this episode and next, under the cut )

I think it benefits Class as a whole to demonstrate that its stories need not necessarily revolve around the school and the teenagers. Given Katherine Kelly's Quill is one of the best characters in the series it was good to have something that explicitly centred upon her and developed the character. There are a lot of nice moments in The Metaphysical Engine but at the end of the day it felt a little more contrived than many of the other stories.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
The King's Demons is an odd little story. It's always felt like something of an afterthought to me, though I've never been able to pin down why. I think it may be that, even at only two parts, it feels somewhat padded as if there isn't really enough material to fill even 50 minutes.

One of the most interesting things about what story we have is that this is one where the Doctor never really does succeed in convincing the nominal good guys (in the form of the Fitzwilliam family) that he is on their side. Everyso often he appears to have the situation under control only for them to spiral back into suspicion and belief in the Master's lies.

Speaking of the Master, I knew he was in the story and thought Sir Gilles Estram was fairly recognisable as Anthony Ainley. However, Tame Layman was genuinely surprised by his appearance which, I suppose, just goes to show the power of a fake beard and wig.

It's not a good companion story. Poor old Turlough is side-lined for most of it and locked up in a dungeon, while Tegan just follows the Doctor around while whining about the whole situation. This did not improve Tame Layman's low opinion of her.

I think ultimately this feels like a tale that is just not really that interested in the Doctor's companions or in its supporting characters. It is really only interested in delivering a little bit of, I would say fairly heavily interpreted history about King John (while I'm aware that there is considerable historical debate about the extent to which John was incompetent and/or evil, I think it is stretching it to claim he was "enthusiastic" about Magna Carta), and introducing Kamelion the shape-shifting robot. Everything else pretty much just blurs into people running around a castle being confused about things.

This is he least successful of the Davison "historical" two-parters (using the term loosely enough to cover The Awakening as well as Black Orchid). It doesn't have the BBC's normal lavish delight in creating a period setting, and feels underwritten. It's not bad exactly, there's nothing particularly cringe-worthy going on and it keeps moving, but it's mostly very forgettable.

Detained

Dec. 13th, 2016 09:15 pm
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Class)
Class seems to be at its best in tighty focused episodes which are as much about the characters' emotional lives as they are about the science fiction. I would rate Night-visiting and Detained as the two best episodes of the first season and they both share this structure.

Locking all your characters in a room with no outside interaction is a device that can work well in a story. It is tempting to compare this to Edge of Destruction (having watched that recently) where the original Tardis crew find themselves trapped inside the Tardis. One of the clever things, arguably, about Edge of Destruction is that there is no alien threat, though the flipside of that is that the story fails to explain the characters' somewhat histrionic behaviour. Detained on the other hand has a clear external threat which, moreover, makes them feel angry and requires them to speak the truth in order to escape. As a device to scrape away the veneer of friendship in the group and expose the underlying tensions it is somewhat heavy-handed, but effective for all that.

Detained's position in the season is very obvious. Having, up until this point, built fragile alliances among its teenage protagonists, Class now shatters them just in time for the looming series finale. It's a strong episode but possibly a little heavy-handed in its execution.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
The Keys of Marinus, much like the later Key to Time sequence sets the Doctor and his companions off on a quest to gather a set of objects from different locations. However where the Key to Time sequences manages to drag this out over a whole season, The Keys of Marinus uses a mere six episodes. I think the story (particularly given the slower pacing in general of 1960s TV) benefits greatly from this, though I am slightly surprised that the show's budget managed to stretch to a new set of sets for each week.

There is a lot of really nice stuff in The Keys of Marinus. The story's format means we are shown a planet with diverse locations and communities (something very rare in Doctor Who). The show uses the episodic nature of the story to play with genre as well as location, so we get the fairly traditionally SF-nal Brains of Morphoton, the horror of the Screaming Jungle and a court room drama/murder mystery in the City of Millenius. The Snows of Terror manages to combine the kind of wilderness complete with psychotic madman genre with a tale of mystical knights guarding a mythical treasure in a cave full of traps which is pretty good going for 25 minutes of television produced in 1964. It all benefits from the knowledge that if you aren't much taken with what is happening this week then something completely different will be along next week.

It's not without its weirdness though. "Only Arbitan could brief someone on the location of all the traps," says Darrius in the Screaming Jungle except that Arbitan has conspicuously failed to do any such thing, not even warning his daughter of the deception involving the fake key. Arbitan seems to have access to technology no one else on the planet is even aware exists (most notably the travel dials) and communication between communities appears to be non-existent, even though the general level of technology certainly seems to be high enough to allow radio.

In terms of the development of Doctor Who, it is interesting that the Doctor agrees to go on the quest fairly quietly (albeit grumpily and under duress when Arbitan seals him off from the Tardis). The keys are needed to activate the Conscience of Marinus (a machine that controls free will). This is precisely the sort of thing later Doctors would have railed against at length and it is clear, certainly in the final episode, that the Doctor doesn't think the Conscience is a particularly good thing and he's not at all upset that their quest to reactivate it ultimately fails. But this all happens without the fierce moralising we would later see. One feels mostly that he doesn't approve but thinks this society is, broadly speaking, not his problem so if they are going to blackmail him into reactivating the thing he might as well get on with it. He's more annoyed about being blackmailed, to be honest, than the dubious morality of limiting the free will of an entire planet of people.

The alien Voord are pronounced Vord. This came as a massive shock, I'd always assumed that it was closer to Vood. For a 1960s Doctor Who monster they also look pretty impressive.

I'm not sure I'd describe this story as under-rated, it just seems to be one that isn't discussed very often which is a shame. Susan doesn't get a great deal to do, but all the other regulars get a chance to shine. Everything moves along at a surprisingly quick pace and the sets and costumes look good. Some of the ideas and plots in the individual episodes are genuinely interesting and clever (some less so) but if you wanted to pick an early Doctor Who episode to watch, particularly if you were not looking for a big event episode or something featuring famous monsters, then you could do a lot worse than this.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Class)
Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart and Brave-ish Heart lack the compactness and clear focus of the preceding two episodes. This allows them to attempt a structurally more complex story but I'm not sure that entirely works in their favour.

Spoilers under the cut )

All in all, another strong pair of episodes. The greater length gave the story more room for maneuver and let it attempt to tackle several interlinked events and ideas but the price was that it lacked the clarity of focus of Night-visiting and, I have to admit, if you were going to pick an actress from the core cast to carry a two-parter, I would have opted for Vivian Oparah.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
"What's happening?" The Teenager asked, walking in on us watching Edge of Destruction.

"Over-acting," Tame Layman said.

The Edge of Destruction came about when a script fell through and the Doctor Who production team were left with two episodes to fill and a minuscule budget. The result is a story set entirely in the Tardis which is attempting to be a cross between a haunted house mystery and psychological horror.

It is the stagiest Doctor Who story I think I've seen. I think is partly because, well it's 1964, and partly because everything is focused upon the interactions of the characters. With little else of visual interest, David Whitaker frequently places the actors in tableau where they speak their lines facing away from each other and/or oblique to the audience.

Fan opinion of the story seems to be divided between those who consider it a bizarre oddity arising out of desperate circumstances and those who consider it something approaching a mini-masterpiece arising from its constraints. They speak of the drama and tension as Susan stabs her bed with a pair of scissors. Sadly, I think Tame Layman and I are in the bizarre oddity category and Susan's tantrum with the scissors struck us more as over-acting than a moment of intense drama. Tame Layman did get a laugh however, when it was revealed that the whole problem related to a single jammed switch. He was puzzled about why everyone had been behaving so oddly throughout. I had always understood that this was the Tardis influencing their behaviour in an attempt to communicate the situation to them, but that doesn't seem to be on the page. The crew just seem to spend two episodes panicking in a particularly bizarre fashion before the Doctor and Barbara jointly manage to figure out the problem and the Doctor works the relevant switch loose.

Because of the generally strange behaviour of most of the cast, it is difficult even to see this story as character development. The most successful part is the relationship between the Doctor and Barbara. She stands up to him. She refuses to be mollified at the end by anything short of a proper apology for his behaviour and ultimately it is Barbara who saves the day with the insight that the strange events inside the Tardis are not an indication of some hostile force but an attempt by the Tardis to communicate.

However, in the end, Edge of Destruction is two episodes of padding without even the dubious benefit of a monster and a corridor to run down. It's impressive given the circumstances under which it was produced, but that doesn't actually make it good.

By the end of episode 1 the Teenager was declaiming loudly on the morality of Video Game companies who produce misleading trailers for games. She did not come back for episode 2.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
The Space Pirates has a reputation for being very slow. I seem to recall, once upon a time, reading that this was because it was attempting to realistically depict travel times in space, though this isn't actually a point that is made anywhere in the episode (and doesn't really make sense if you think about episode length anyway). I suspect more of a problem, from the point of view of some fans, is that the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe have relatively little to do. In the first episode they arrive on a space beacon, get mistaken for the eponymous space pirates and then lock themselves in a room. They spend the entirety of the second episode floating through space in said room, the space beacon having been broken up by the aforementioned space pirates.

We were actually quite surprised therefore to find ourselves enjoying the story, and this in spite of the fact only one episode of it exists outside of telesnaps. [livejournal.com profile] daniel_saunders mentioned in my review of The Massacre that early Doctor Who historicals tended to treat the Tardis crew as witnesses to, as opposed to participants in, events. The latest DWM makes a, possibly contradictory, point that a number of changes in production practices meant that more effort was put into creating interesting secondary casts for 2nd Doctor stories. I rather chafed, while watching The Massacre, that Steven (and the largely absent Doctor) had so little to do, but I think that was because the secondary cast was failing to engage. I'd argue that the secondary cast of The Space Pirates is considerably more successful. There are four main groups interacting; the Space Police, the Space Pirates (who are genuinely pretty nasty, ne'er a swash nor buckle in sight here), Milo Clancy the aging miner on a mission of his own to defeat the pirates, and Madeline Issigri and her mining company, the pirates' unwilling accomplice. You don't really need the Tardis crew to tell an interesting story with these characters and give or take a few plot handwaves (could Caven really have kept Madeline's father secretly trapped in his own library all that time) the story manages this pretty well as the pirates seek to frame Milo and the Doctor for their crimes, Madeline tries to conceal her involvement from General Hermack who is clearly very keen to direct matters from the comfort of her office rather than his own space ship and Milo blunders around being cantankerous and difficult.

That said, Milo Clancy, who gets significant screen time as the story progresses is pretty irritating and his fake American frontier accent is risible and makes it hard to follow his dialogue. Mind you, when I commented to Tame Layman, that I thought the accent was unfortunate, he vigorously demanded how I knew that spacefarers in the future wouldn't speak like that, especially if they had been off on their own for a long time and become a little strange in the process.

The Space Pirates was covered in the DWM recurring archives feature in the very first issue of the magazine that I purchased and I remember reading and re-reading that article, even though I actually remembered very few of the details once I was watching. But I rediscovered a fondness for the story. That and the fact that we went into it with pretty low expectations, meant it was actually pretty fun to watch.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Nightvisiting is another confident and assured episode from Class. The comparisons with Buffy are beginning to appear increasingly apt, since Buffy liked to make its Monster-of-the-Week an embodiment of the personal crises and dramas of its protagonists.

Spoiler Cut )

I feel about Nightvisiting much as I do about The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo. I can objectively appreciate its quality but I'm still waiting for the show to actually grab me. It may be that while its ideas and execution are pretty solid, it lacks much of a sense of fun (Miss Quill getting all the best lines). I think maybe its point-of-view is much more that of the teenager embroiled in the process of growing up than Buffy's (obvious point of comparison) which was always much more that of the adult looking back on their teenage years with compassion, but also with wry amusement at teenage obsessions and behaviour.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Class)
The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo is a much more assured episode than For Tonight we Might Die. It feels like, without the burden of introducing the set-up, the characters and including the Doctor, the show actually has the space to tell the sorts of stories it wants to.

Mild Spoiler Cut )

I feel somewhat remote from this show, and particularly from this episode. It is, I think, objectively better than For Tonight we Might Die but engaged me less. I appreciate what it is doing and can see that it is doing it well, but I'm not yet excited by it.

*of course he may not be sacrificial love interest but there has to be something up because, were it not for his billing as a recurring rather than main character, he'd be indistinguishable in significance from the rest of the team.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Class)
Class has been eagerly anticipated in our household since Patrick Ness is one of the Teenager's favourite authors. This episode certainly appeared to hit its target demographic pretty squarely (judging by an n of 1 + reported views of friends). I liked it, but less than the Teenager herself, who I think engaged very strongly with a vision of what might be like for herself in a couple of years' time.

Cut for mild Spoilers since I gather this has yet to materialise legally in the US )

There are a lot worse pilot episodes out there in the history of genre television, and indeed within the history of Doctor Who spinoffery. For all I felt For Tonight we Might Die struggled to fit everything that was needed into its 50 minutes, it did manage to establish a clear and distinct tone for the show: something clearly post-watershed in its use of violence and horror while at the same time focused around the viewpoint and concerns of modern teenagers. Something, in fact, distinctly YA which is unsurprising given the showrunner. While I did not feel entirely engaged by it, I wasn't irritated in the manner I often am by YA novels. I certainly have liked what I've seen so far better than both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
The Massacre, I think, highlights the difficulty of attempting to tell a Doctor Who story centred upon a major historical event. Broadly speaking the outcome of the story is known and the major characters are not the Tardis crew. Mostly Doctor Who avoids these obvious problems by focusing on history as a setting or, when its purpose was more didactic, by focusing on the aftermath of major events.

The Massacre works hard to build a story around a group of protestants doomed to be caught up in France's St. Bartholemhew's Day Massacre but it is difficult to hide the fact that most of the narrative centres around Steven wondering about Paris, achieving next to nothing. The fact that the story only exists as telesnaps doesn't help the situation. I found it hard to distinguish one doomed protestant nobleman from another and ultimately didn't really care about any of them. The servant girl, Anne Chaplette, is more distinctive and sympathetic, but ultimately her role, much like Steven's is to wander about Paris achieving very little and one can't avoid the awkward feeling that she only exist to motivate the introduction of new companion Dodo Chaplet at the end of the story.

Meanwhile the Doctor vanishes from the plot at the end of episode 1 at which point it transpires that he has a double in Paris, the Abbot of Amboise. I was vaguely expecting us to get a lot of William Hartnell enjoying playing a double character but, in reality, we hardly see the Abbot either (I assume Hartnell was, in fact, on holiday) to the extent that the whole sub-plot feels like padding to allow Steven to spend episodes 2 and 3 trying to figure out what game the Doctor is playing.

All that said tame layman was more engaged than I was, but then I studied this bit of history at A level and he didn't, so he was genuinely interested in the religious politics of Paris in the 16th century and felt it was a refreshing departure for the show. I think even he, though, was beginning to lose interest as we moved into the later episodes which mostly seemed to be serving up more of the same of what we had in the first.

It's an oddity of a story, and one in some ways I'd particularly like to see recovered because that might well have a transformative effect on my engagement with the characters. But in general I think it is a lesson in why Doctor Who should not attempt to tell historical stories that focus upon famous people engaged in a famous event.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
I had fond, if vague, memories of The Mutants from the Target novelisation which is slightly odd since, if I remember correctly, the novelisation is one of Terrance Dicks' 120 page wonders - a straightforward retelling that does its job but little else.

I mentioned to tame layman that I recalled it being somewhat "post-colonial" and, to be honest, was surprised to find that it was indeed (within the constraints of 1970s Doctor Who) distinctly post-colonial. The story itself, about a planet gaining independence from the Earth Empire is an obvious enough allegory of the break-up of the British Empire. However, when Doctor Who of this era wanted to suggest a multi-national cast of characters it tended to look towards European, American and Australian accents - here we have South African and (I think) Jamaican accents and we even have two black actors one of whom has a significant speaking role which, again, is a lot for the time. It's a shame really that he's such a bad actor.

The central story idea, of a planet with a year measured in hundreds of our years and whose inhabitants mutate into new forms as the seasons slowly change is fairly unique in Doctor Who and is explored nicely, though it's certainly handy that the next mutational form turns out to be a god-like creature which can quickly solve everything in the final 10 minutes of the story. It's also interesting that the Doctor gains allies from among the Marshal's security guards, where Doctor Who is not generally particularly interested in the equivalent of hired muscle. Framing the science-fictional idea within a tale of the bureaucracy and the tensions that might accompany a handover of power also gives the tale more to work with than it might otherwise have had. That said the story also has to sustain itself with a fair bit of capture-escape and the Marshal's motivation, as is so often the case in Doctor Who, is clearly dependent upon at least some rationalisation along the lines of "he's mad as a box of frogs". It's not really clear what the Time Lord interest in the whole situation is either, they serve as a convenient excuse to get the Doctor into the story but the mechanism (a box that only opens for Ky, but contains writings he can not decipher and has no interest in deciphering) seems pretty clumsy and one does wonder if the story wouldn't have been stronger if the Doctor hadn't just randomly shown up.

Still, I liked this. It reinforced my fond memories of the story from the novelisation.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Claws of Axos is practicality the essence of UNIT era Doctor Who. It has the Master in league with alien invaders, an incompetent government official, plenty of soldiers running about the place and a Nuclear Power station (sorry a Power Complex housing a Particle Accelerator that just happens to look like Dungeness). I was surprised, therefore, that it felt unusual maybe because I've watched relatively little Jon Pertwee, in comparison to other Doctors. In particular I was struck by the dominating presence of the military in the first episode. It's possible this was intended as a deliberate contrast by the production team, since these are the regular military, as opposed to UNIT, but I suspect that there may actually be fewer Pertwee episodes than one might think which actually try to feature troop movements at any scale. There is also quite a lot of outdoor filming here, rendered more obvious by the switch between film and video when the action moves between outdoor locations and an indoor set. Somehow the story feels much larger in scope than it actually is.

Beyond that I found the tale fun but rather muddled. The opposition between UNIT and the UK forces seems, ultimately, unnecessary to the tale and both arises and is overcome far too easily to really justify its presence in the story. This is neither the first nor the last time Doctor Who decides to play with our tendency to assume beauty implies good intentions and, as is often the case, the moral is clumsy in its delivery - in particular the story comes close to implying that the true ugly form of the Axons is indicative of their genuine nature. The last episode feels rather surplus to requirements, the Axon nutrition cycle having been stopped in its first few minutes and the world alerted to the threat - everything after that point feels a bit like padding.

All that said, the combination of the Doctor, Jo, the Brigadier and the Master are very watchable. The story itself isn't bad, per se, its just a lot more of a runaround sequence of, if not capture-escape at least peril-escape moments than I was expecting. The psychedelia of the Axon ship is fun from a 1970s style perspective and the production and effects in general stand up pretty well.

I feel this is the sort of story that works well viewed as its separate episodes in a mind set of simply enjoying the ride. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but one feels that there is a lot of Doctor Who out there with more going for it.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
The Romans (apocryphally, at least) shared a its researcher with Carry On Cleo. I'm not sure if this is true, I doubt that Doctor Who had the budget for a researcher. But there is definitely something "Carry On" in the DNA of this tale of intrigue and shenanigans in ancient Rome.

More under the Cut )

In the end, I felt most of The Romans was a miss. Comedy is difficult to do well, and even harder to pull off when you want an element of genuine peril in your story. Doctor Who in the 1960s had neither the rehearsal time nor, I suspect, the expertise to pull this off. However, as a story, it has its moments of genuine charm and gives us a view of the Tardis crew we rarely get elsewhere.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
We've never had much luck with The Monster of Peladon. At some point in the 1990s I was seized with the urge to watch it and we ordered it from Amazon on VHS. The first time we tried this, we were sent a Seven of Nine boxset, which we much enjoyed watching and wondered idly if whoever had received our Monster of Peladon video had enjoyed it as much. We then re-ordered Monster of Peladon and this time received the right VHS tape only to discover that it was blank after episode 2. Having found the first two episodes rather dull we, at that point, gave up on the attempt.

It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I purchased the DVD from Amazon at the behest of the Randomiser. This time all the episodes were present and correct.

So was it dull? )

Monster of Peladon is interesting in lots of ways, not the least its status as sequel to the earlier Curse of Peladon. I have always been of the impression that it is the lesser of the two stories, but the longuers of the first couple of episodes aside, I enjoyed this considerably.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
I've always confused Meglos and The Creature from the Pit which, it must be said, I've always assumed was just me. But halfway through Meglos tame layman noted it was "very like" Creature from the Pit as well. While John Nathan-Turner attempted to put a very different stamp on the show, Meglos feels very much like a leftover from the Graham Williams era, and in particular one of the less loved stories.

It's not just similar to Creature from the Pit in general tone, it has a jungle planet, a high profile female semi-antagonist, comedy ruffians (whose humour is more hit than miss) and a fourth episode that goes off on a bit of a tangent (though not as much of one).

Its production is better than that of Creature from the Pit, but that sadly isn't saying a great deal and it has a joyless feel to it (possibly because Tom Baker was ill (if I recall events correctly) and possibly because it is a Graham Williams' style story being produced by JNT). Tom Baker should be unstoppable in the double role of the Doctor and Meglos but instead is strangely muted. It doesn't help that the Doctor doesn't actually manage to get out of the Tardis until episode 2, making the whole of episode 1 feel like set-up.

The casting of Jacqueline Hill (who had played Barbara back in the original Tardis crew) is the kind of stunt casting JNT was keen on but this case seems oddly ill-conceived in retrospect - not famous enough to bring in casual viewers and fandom and general geek culture wasn't anything like as high profile in the 1980s (though JNT was an early show-runner to recognise the value of playing to the fans) - and, for whatever reason, she doesn't really dominate in the way you would expect as the celebrity cast member.

All in all, it's not terribly good. It's not out-right bad in the way that The Creature in the Pit is in places, but it fails to be particularly good in an retrospect.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Revenge of the Cybermen lies at the tail end of Tom Baker's first season. This is before the fourth Doctor truly got into his stride (or at least while Baker is still giving a, for him, very subdued performance) but with a Tardis crew (using the term loosely, considering how little actual travelling in the Tardis they do) that was already nearing the end of its time together.

Harry Sullivan was always somewhat overlooked as a companion (as I recall) in the DWMs of my youth. He was considered an unwanted extra, I think, to the dream team of the Doctor and Sarah. Someone who was "only" there on the possibility that the actor cast to play the fourth Doctor would prove unable to handle the more physical demands of the scripts. I think it can be argued that Harry is a lot more than that. He tends to give the impression of often being a step or two behind the Doctor and Sarah, but he's also dependable, good-natured and, well, thoroughly decent. Ian Marter does a pretty good job with a part that was written more or less as an archetypal English Gentleman just as the archetypal English gentleman was becoming a figure of ridicule. He treads a fine line between sending the character up and demonstrating his good qualities. Harry's had a bit of a renaissance in fan opinions as his stories have appeared on video and DVD and while I wouldn't say I was one of his fans, there have been worse companions and less appealing Tardis teams. This isn't a bad story for him, he's comfortably established in the part and interacting well with both the Doctor and Sarah.

Tame layman liked the Vogan costumes and make-up. It must be said I was a little disappointed that a weapon that appears in the middle of the 1970s and is called a "glitter gun" wasn't a bit more disco. We were both rather puzzled, as the Cybermen effectively dispatched Vogan after Vogan about why more glitter guns weren't being deployed. In fact the story in general looks pretty good. Filming at Wooky Hole supplied a better class of cave set than is normal in Doctor Who.

Revenge of the Cybermen is a fairly twisty tale with several factions at work: the Cybermen, two Vogan groups, the crew of the space station (though they don't have an agenda as such beyond staying alive) and Kellman (who I pegged as a baddie as soon as I saw him since I was familiar with the actor from Blakes' 7). I'm not sure any group really gets more than the most superficial attention paid to it, but that may be just as well. Doctor Who is often not at its best when actors in silly masks (even if Tame Layman liked them, I'm not sure the Vogan costumes were good for facial expressions) sit around talking to each other. The padding in this story consists, therefore, not only of the traditional capture-escape cycles but also a fair amount plan and counter-plan.

I'm struggling to have a strong opinion about this story however. It's a good solid Tom Baker story, that avoids any egregious production or acting problems. On the other hand, I don't find I'm particularly excited about it. I suspect the narrative was a little too rambling with too many groups having to change their plans too often to really hold together. It's easy to say, of any Doctor Who story from this era, that it would have benefited from one less episode, but I feel that is truer of this story than it is of many.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
The Keeper of Traken is a strange story in several ways. While it exists at the tail end of Tom Baker's reign, like Logopolis it feels in style a lot more like a Peter Davison story than a Tom Baker story. This might be a reflection of John Nathan Turner's hand at the helm, but the earlier stories this season (or at least Full Circle and Warriors' Gate both of which I have seen comparatively recently) have less of this feel to them.

More Under the Cut )

As I said, it is a strange story. It looks gorgeous and the acting throughout is competent to good. I think it could have been a great story if it had been prepared to grapple more explicitly with the problems created when goodness is artificially imposed upon a society. But it seems unsure not only of what position it wants to take on that, but whether it wants to discuss it at all.

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