purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
I wasn't really sure what to expect from The Myth Makers going into it. I have a fairly low tolerance threshold for so-so comedy and, while it has a good reputation, it is also Doctor Who attempting comedy in the 1960s and I had not been overly impressed by The Romans.

Actually it is surprisingly good )

I would genuinely love to see what The Myth Makers actually looked like. Doctor Who so rarely whole-heartedly tries to do comedy and this has some great dialogue and comic moments. I would have liked to see the actors faces as the lines were delivered. Watching telesnap reconstructions of old Doctor Who is definitely a fans-only past time, but if you feel up to the effort then I would say that The Myth Makers is more rewarding than many.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
This was our second venture into Season 7 and another impressive story.

Stretched over 7 episodes, it is another story that is much better than it has any right to be given its length - and I'm writing that so frequently that I'm beginning to wonder if Doctor Who actually works better when trying to fill 3 hours or more than when it is aiming for around 2 1/2 hours or whether it is the simple novelty of having so many episodes to fill that makes writers think more broadly. I mean it still has the basic structure of set-up - solve incidental problems - resolution but the incidental problems seem to work better as discreet chunks that are interesting in their own right.

The episodes which deal with the Silurian's attempts to start a worldwide pandemic are particularly effective, and a sequence I recall vividly from the novelisation. This is several years before Survivors but seems to be tapping into the same zeitgeist. That said, tame layman had a number of uncomplimentary things to say about quarantine procedures and one can't help feeling the whole thing hinges on several people in authority behaving very foolishly at critical moments.

Fulton Mackay's turn as the weasely Dr. Quinn is also impressive. The audience perception of him naturally progresses from the idea that he is one of the more reasonable members of the research centre hierarchy to the realisation that he is essentially ambitiously self-serving and covering this up with an air of geniality.

On the downside the idea that people are overcome by the race memory of Silurians, which is potentially powerful and atmospheric is more or less abandoned after the first couple of episodes. It is used to justify the presence of UNIT but not really pursued thereafter. I recall more being made of it in the novelisation.

Caroline John continues to make Liz an impressive companion. She demonstrates how a scientist-companion can be used as a person to whom work and responsibility can be delegated by the Doctor. I'm increasingly bemused by the idea that the powers-that-be thought she was not a success as a companion since the script doesn't seem to have any trouble with giving her stuff to do while maintaining the Doctor's overall authority.

Doctor Who would be a very different thing if it had continued down the path set out in season 7. I think you would need to be a much better analyst of media trends than I am to predict whether it could have had the longevity it has enjoyed with this more serious and adult-oriented format but, by its own lights, I would say it was a resounding success.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
It was interesting watching Planet of the Daleks so soon after The Daleks, because the one is so reminiscent of the other. There is the mysterious forest, the first appearance of the Thals since 1963, the somewhat random companion romance that ultimately goes nowhere, the final attack on the Dalek city...

Planet of the Daleks packs more incident into its 6 episodes than The Daleks does into its 7, but I'm not sure it actually benefits from the fact. While The Daleks moves more slowly, its focus on the character interactions of the leads (understandable this early in the show), plus its design strengths makes it feel more special than Planet.

Not that Planet of the Daleks is bad. The Doctor and Jo are charming to watch together. It may not be doing the kind of character development that The Daleks does, but it is still a well-observed excellently portrayed friendship. On the design front, the Spiridon's metallic blue furry blankets have a certain je ne sais quois. The sets throughout are competent and mostly good looking (give or take the eyes of the creatures on the night time plain of stones), but nothing has the flair of the sets in The Daleks. The story, as noted, keeps things moving - so much so that it feels almost like several different stories strung together (Jo surviving in the jungle, Distrust from the Thals, Night on the Plain of Stones, Final assault on the Daleks) but if you aren't concentrating too hard it is pacey and entertaining.

The abortive romance between Latep and Jo is less convincing than that between Ganatus and Barbara. Latep is far more overt about his feelings, but this actually (on such short acquaintance) makes them less believable and it seems entirely unsurprising when Jo politely brushes him off. This is the story before The Green Death so one assumes it was intended to be a kind of foreshadowing, but the execution feels clumsy.

Planet of the Daleks may not be a classic but it's a very solid slice of 1970s Doctor Who with, in particular, great moments for the third Doctor and Jo.

Extremis

Jun. 4th, 2017 09:16 am
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
I really liked Extremis even though I think, as a story, it is a lot less well constructed than either Knock! Knock! or Oxygen.

Is it too late to worry about spoilers? I don't know. )

After two episodes I felt were well-constructed but ultimately a little unambitious, I liked an episode which might have been rather messier but had a lot of interesting ideas baked into it and which executed what is, let's face it, a fairly standard SF trope without falling into some of the pitfalls of that trope.

Oxygen

May. 26th, 2017 10:01 pm
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
Oxygen struck me as, structurally, being very similar to Knock! Knock! and, like Knock! Knock!, I feel I like it less than it deserves to be liked.

Both Oxygen and Knock! Knock! tell neatly self-contained stories. These are well-produced and acted with scripts that are thoughtful while fitting recognisably within the mould of a Doctor Who story. Fond as I am of the Sylvester McCoy era, it would have struggled to produce two stories of this high quality in close succession. In fact if these had appeared during a Sylvester McCoy season, I suspect I would have rated them as highly as stories like Ghost Light and Curse of Fenric.

This isn't a Sylvester McCoy season though, my expectations are different, and somehow neither managed to really grab me.

I don't really want to nit-pick at Oxygen, but among other things I'm dubious about the economics on display. I've mentioned a couple of times when discussing this season, about how you identify that point in a fantastical show, where it's breaking its own unstated rules of consistency. The problem Oxygen had for me specifically as someone who has hung around space scientists a bit, is that its very emphasis on the realities of surviving in a vacuum made me expect more realism from the rest of the Space Science. The reality of space is it is really, really expensive to put people up there (in weight terms, even if you're not factoring in the expense of training someone and are, apparently, discounting any value in human life) so you probably don't want them randomly suffocating even if they are not being as productive as you might like. This then, of course, made me think of the practices of Victorian factory owners and making your workers indebted to you for their use of oxygen (and thereby imposing a form of slavery) and that somehow seemed more plausible though not, obviously as likely to produce space zombies. Like the "how does agriculture work on Christmas?" problem I had with Matt Smith's final story, this distracted me far more than it should have done.

I'm not really qualified to comment on the depiction of disability. [personal profile] hollymath has written eloquently about how hurtful she found it though I've seen other commentary that was cautiously optimistic or at least "jury still out" on the subject.

I was disappointed that the blue alien had no function in the story beyond making a simplistic point about racism and then dying.

Did I like anything about the story? Yes, actually. I really liked the interactions between Bill, Nardole and the Doctor. This is the first time we've seen them operating as a team and I liked the way the dynamic of two companions (who aren't romantically linked in any way) worked, particularly the way that the two of them can jointly put different perspectives to the Doctor. In fact I really like this softer version of the twelfth Doctor and both his new companions.

I did think the story was well-paced, well-acted and I liked that it was allowed to be about something and that its resolution tied back to its themes and the set up of the problem. I'm far from convinced it is really Oxygen's fault that I got distracted by picking holes.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
I have vague memories of starting to watch The Daleks once and then giving up because I felt it was too dull and slow-paced. This rather surprises me now. I'm not sure if that is age, or watching it much more episodically, or simply that I'm now more used to the pacing of 1960s Doctor Who. At any rate, I thought it went along at a pretty decent pace all told and while the plot wasn't exactly full of twists, it did keep progressing from Dalek city, to the forest, to the lake and the caves and then back to the city again.

Much has been written about the design of the Daleks and its contribution to their success. It's difficult not to be impressed. Even today most Doctor Who monsters definitely adhere to the "man in a suit" model, so seeing something from so early in the show that really doesn't look remotely like a man in a suit. The fact that the fundamental design of the Daleks has altered so little since then is probably a testament to its longevity. Even the sink plunger which ought to tip them over into the ridiculous seems to work, and to continue to work. While the design of the Daleks has been much praised, the design of their City is also pretty impressive, both in terms of the exterior shots of the whole city and the internal corridors. There isn't anything in this story that looks risible and a great deal of it looks very good indeed.

Some of the dialogue is also surprisingly nuanced for Doctor Who and a reminder that, at this point in time, its writers viewed it as an ensemble show. I'm particularly thinking of the discussion in the forest over the morality of pressurising the Thals to help them, though I'm not quite sure (even in 1963) why the dynamic of this is the Doctor and Barbara attempting to persuade Ian to persuade the Thals, as if the Doctor and Barbara can't have a go at a bit of persuading themselves. In fact, I'm not at all sure what this story's attitude is to the concept of Ian as the leader. It seems to be implicit in quite a lot that happens, but then the script also undermines him - particularly in the sequence when it becomes clear that only Susan can venture back to the Tardis to fetch the anti-radiation drugs where Ian is basically a bit of a tit about the whole situation.

On the down side, the Thals are rather bland, more so than I remembered from the novelisation - though they do avoid the 1970s mistake of looking like a bunch of actors who have never done a day's physical labour in their lives. They are almost uniformly kind, thoughtful and a little bewildered looking - the only excepion really being Antodus who's cowardly and bewildered looking. My memory from the novelisation is that they were better differentiated than this, but the novelisation is a slightly different beast. I was aware that there was supposed to be a potential romance between Ganatus and Barbara and so spotted the various hints of this, but Tame Layman was a bit taken aback at the end when it was made more explicit in their farewell. Susan is also fairly ill-served by the story although I'm beginning to feel that Susan is often ill-served. While the Randomiser re-watches have improved my opinion of many of the 60s era "screamer" companions, I think my opinion of Susan has dropped. Sadly, the most interesting thing about her is her background. Otherwise, an awful lot of the time, her role in any story just to scream hysterically and panic. Here she is given a moment to shine, when she fetches the anti-radiation drugs, but the script undermines her even then by focusing mostly on her fear and not on her bravery.

I don't know why I formed such a low opinion of this story the first time I came across it. It is mostly intelligently written, well-designed and pretty pacey to watch. As the story that first introduced the Daleks its significance in the history of Doctor Who is clear and it is a story which I think a moderately tolerant modern viewer could easily enjoy.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
"What is she wearing?" Tame Layman asked incredulously when Liz first appeared.

"I don't know," says I, "whatever Cambridge dons tended to wear in the 1970s".

"Oh, yes! I've seen the photos."

Not quite how I was expecting that exchange to end, though it's nice to know "she's a Cambridge don" absolves one of all bizarre fashion choices. Liz changes into something much more boring later on, but initially she is resplendent in a pink mini-dress, white boots and a sort of sleeveless brown jacket type thing. The Internet is failing miserably to serve me up an image of this in its full glory, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

More under the cut )

All that said we were repeatedly reduced to giggles by the title sequence which presented the story title in two parts. "Ambassadors" it would say before suddenly adding "of Death".
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
Tame Layman had sufficiently fond memories of The Talons of Weng Chiang that the Teenager was summoned to watch it with us. She indulged us, but I don't think she was really sold on it. She quite liked Leela and could take or leave the rest.

She prefers The Avengers, I think, which is possibly fair enough.

More under the cut )

Tame Layman and I had a lot of fun watching Talons and felt we were reminded what a great companion Leela was, but the Teenager's relative indifference makes me think that this is not a classic with real staying power. It is a bit too long for the material to sustain, it relies a little too much on tropes from stories that are no longer in vogue, and Leela (out of context) is not as refreshing and different as she appears to older eyes.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
"Oh dear, this looks cheap," Tame Layman said as the opening shot swept along the corridors of Terra Alpha.

I acknowledge the truth of this under the cut )

"That was really rather good," Tame Layman said at the end, showing that a good script and fine performances can lift Doctor Who well above what you might expect its budget to allow.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
I thought that I had seen Death to the Daleks but it didn't feel particularly familiar when we sat down to watch it. Well apart from the obvious familiarity of a Dalek story filmed in a sandpit in Kent, with an additional section in which someone tries to sacrifice Sarah.

In some ways it's an oddly disjoint story. The Daleks don't appear until the end of the first episode and are sidelined for much of the last. To be honest I think Terry Nation was more interested in the concept of the (somewhat ill-defined) anti-electricity planet, the empty city and the people who worship it, and the extent to which a bunch of humans thrown into this environment would cope. He has some fun with the idea of Daleks also adapting to this environment. Deliberately de-powering the Daleks and then showing them overcome this obstacle and still be extremely dangerous is a clever way to side-step the tendency for each Dalek story to need to up the stakes. It has been observed that Nation had a predilection towards survival stories in which man (mostly manly man) must overcome the environment and this definitely fits into that trend. However survival stories are actually a pretty good starting point for a Doctor Who story and beyond a certain humourlessness Nation's stories tend to be pretty watchable.

Since this is a Terry Nation story, there is a character called Tarrant. I was a little take aback when Tarrant turned out to be a woman, however.

The City of the Exxilons is a nice idea in concept, and is a good driver for the plot that takes place outside its walls, but it's internal puzzle-solving aspect is very poorly realised. Obviously portraying the idea that the city is a sequence of fiendish traps which no one in hundreds of years has successfully navigated, while at the same time making each trap or puzzle something that can be made readily understandable to the audience in under a minute is a big ask. But the ultimate effect is a feeling that the city's puzzles are frankly a bit rubbish. The money had probably run out by this point as well - the set design inside the city is noticeably inferior to that elsewhere. Even the Exxilon costumes (which teeter on the brink of failure) ultimately look good enough.

I want to like this story more than I do. It has some nice ideas, an at least moderately interesting cast of supporting characters, keeps events moving and is trying to do something novel with the Daleks. Somehow it all feels a bit by-the-numbers though. Possibly it is because of the familiarity of the sand pit, Sarah getting sacrificed, the running down tunnels and so on - all its interesting parts are very much slotted into the standard template of a Doctor Who story. Its a perfectly solid piece of second rank Doctor Who, but it had the potential to be something more yet never quite managed to gel and become more than the sum of its parts.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
Snakedance, the sequel to Kinda, is one of my favourite Davidson stories. It doesn't have Kinda's single-minded focus on its themes and is prepared to be much more traditional in form, but that has the advantage of making it a great deal more accessible to the average viewer.

One of Snakedance's successes is in trying to depict a complex society in which a space-faring federation is interacting with a still superstitious but far from primitive local populace. Budgetary (one assumes) considerations mean this is only really reflected in the bustling market place of Manussa, but the production team are clearly working hard to evoke a sense of place through both costume and music. Doctor Who doesn't often attempt to give its alien societies much by way of history and tradition, let alone attempt to portray them as particularly complex, so it is nice to see that here.

One could argue that actually explaining the Mara's origins somewhat diminishes it, but I actually really like the way Snakedance works with Kinda. In the former both the Kinda and the survey team are working from a place of ignorance with no real mechanism available to learn how the Mara came about. As such, it remains a mystical force of a nature - a thing that simply is and must be accepted - most of the story is about the break down of understanding and then acceptance. On Manussa, where the Mara originated, far more information is available and the mechanisms for uncovering it are far more familiar to the Doctor although even here he ultimately has to interpret Dojjen's cryptic pronouncements (delivered via telepathy in a set which, one feels, has suffered from the money spent on the market place and cave). Taken as a pair Kinda can be see as setting up a mystery and Snakedance as resolving it.

All that said, shortly after watching Snakedance we watching Nightmare of Eden (not as part of The Randomiser, Tame Layman just randomly picked it). Halfway through Tame Layman pronounced Nightmare of Eden much better than Snakedance* so I suppose you can't win them all.

*No, I've no idea why.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
"This is a story from the 1980s with `Time' in the title. That's always a bad sign," I told Tame Layman as we put this one on.

It is, frankly, pretty poor. Time and the Rani forms the most obvious point of comparison since we watched that not so long ago on the Randomiser. I would be tempted to say that Time and the Rani at least has some good bits - there is at least one nice special effect, some thought has gone into creating the alien race, Kate O'Mara impersonating Bonnie Langford is fun - but it also has some pretty egregiously bad bits - the brain, anything purporting to be science. Timelash is basically just rather tired and sub-standard throughout. I don't think anything in it rises to the standard of good and though it teeters on the brink of embarrassingly bad occasionally (the climb down into the Timelash) I don't think it quite hits the depths of Time and the Rani. If I had to choose one to be consigned to fires of destruction never to be seen again by anyone I'd probably sacrifice Timelash if only because Time and the Rani features a regeneration and a returning villain and a few fun bits. On the other hand, if I was forced to pick one to have to watch again I'd probably also pick Timelash on the grounds that at least one can mostly just let it wash over you while Time and the Rani demands a sort of horrified attention.

I'm not quite sure what else to say about this. The acting is uniformly lacklustre, including from Paul Darrow who seems to be sleep-walking his way through some Avon-inspired type-casting. Lots about it doesn't really make sense, not at the level of gigantic plot holes but more just at the level of a script that is just going through the motions without wanting to think particularly about why anyone would behave in a particular way, or how a "Timelash" might fictionally work, or what H. G. Wells might actually be like. It doesn't help that a number of behind the scenes issues led to part 2 under-running and the hasty insertion of extra padding in the form of an extended Tardis scene.

I've been doing a bit of googling and seeing a lot of people claiming that Timelash isn't as bad as its reputation and despite the fact it is mostly not cringingly embarrassing (for a value of cringingly embarrassing calibrated to someone who likes 1970s British SF TV) I'm inclined to think it is actually that bad. Because, at the end of the day, it is boringly dull with nothing to recommend it.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
Following the comparative success of Vengeance on Varos, Mindwarp by the same writer was one of the more eagerly anticipated stories of Doctor Who's troubled 23rd season though Robert Holmes' final episode (part 1 of the ill-fated Ultimate Foe) was probably more eagerly anticipated. Watching Mindwarp one feels that it had the potential to be as good as Vengeance on Varos but is fatally undermined by both the constricting ongoing story of Trial of a Time Lord and by a general sense of mild incompetence, mostly on the part of the director though, as with much 1980s Who, there is a fair amount of rather lacklustre acting on display as well.

When I first saw Mindwarp I recall thinking that Brian Blessed was sadly wasted in his role as Yrcanos. I'd recently seen him in Kenneth Branagh's Henry V so knew him capable of being, if required, not quite so full on Brian Blessed. Rewatching now, Brian Blessed was definitely one of the best things in Mindwarp. He's clearly having fun and at least we were smiling whenever he was on the screen.

Frustratingly the ongoing story arc of the Doctor's trial condemns this particular segment to a section where doubts are supposed to be growing about the veracity of the material on display. We are essentially told that all the events unfolding on Thoros Beta are being conveyed to us via an unreliable narrator. The Doctor states that events proceeded broadly as depicted but that the emphasis was different. In the hands of a better director this could probably have been made to work, but as it stands the story is frustratingly confusing: relationships may or may not be as the appear on screen, events may or may not have happened for reasons which may or may not be those stated. I've nothing against unreliable narrators per se, but I think Mindwarp demonstrates that you need to work hard to pull them off in a way that doesn't make the result look like something of a confusing mess.

The (as far as one can tell largely one-sided) relationship between Yrcanos and Peri is bizarre as well. It must be said that poor Peri was often saddled with the role of random object of affection/lust for some passing character or villain (we were to watch Timelash next), more so than many companions and I'm sure whole essays could be written on why this particular companion at this particular point in the show's history keeps encountering this trope. In this case though I think we are supposed to believe the feeling is mutual, even though Nicola Bryant conveys nothing more than a kind of indulgent friendly feeling towards Yrcanos. I deduce this because her death at the end of Mindwarp is retconned (I would say unnecessarily) into marriage to Yrcanos six episodes later (in the novelisation it is even more bizarrely retconned into marriage to Yrcanos who is then transported to Earth by the Time Lords where he embarks upon a successful career as a pro-wrestler with Peri as his manager) and one assumes one is supposed to view this as a happy ending - as opposed to a companion being abandoned and forced by circumstances into marriage. Of course one can handwave the lack of apparent affection by invoking the unreliable narrator, but it is ultimately odd and frustrating.

Beyond that there is a lot of running around and capture-escape in this story, rendered more confusing and apparently pointless by the interruptions of the trial in which the Doctor insists the material is being manipulated. An attempt to portray a planet in which not everyone is white is undermined by the fact that all the non-white characters are slaves or servants and very much secondary to the main cast. Patrick Ryecart as Crozier is working hard to inject some depth into his role but is undermined in part by being a less sympathetic character than the Governor in Vengeance on Varos and, to be honest, by a decision to depict this world, not with the grimness of Varos, but as a dayglo confection of pink and orange. Sil is reduced more or less to being a comedy henchman. Kiv, Sil's superior is potentially more interesting (and marks the start of Christopher Ryan's career as Doctor Who villains in latex masks) but it seems unnecessary to suddenly sideline a successful character by introducing his superior.

To be honest, despite my complaints, Mindwarp isn't that bad but one feels it was very nearly good and somehow misses it mostly by just not having a good enough grip on tone and a clear enough idea how to convey the ambiguity over the gap between what we see and what actually happened.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
The Randomizer suggested we watch The Faceless Ones but, when I put it on, Tame Layman claimed to have seen it. I'm fairly sure he's actually only seen the two episodes that exist, and those many years ago, but he was adamant. We've been gradually collecting exceptions to the Randomiser. The project is now to watch all of Doctor Who in random order except NuWho, anything seen in the previous five years and The Faceless Ones. I may try to sneak The Faceless Ones back in at the end.

Anyway, the Randomiser next offered up The Invasion. I had bought the version of The Invasion with animations replacing the two missing episodes some time ago (more than five years, I was fairly sure) and we had watched it so I took the precaution of mentioning this in advance to Tame Layman who then didn't veto it.

The Invasion is remarkably watchable given it is one of the longest Doctor Who stories out there and, as a result, features even more random and somewhat pointless capture escape than normal.

It is definitely helped by featuring one of the better Tardis teams. Although Wendy Padbury has complained that Zoe Herriot, having started out well, was rapidly reduced to just another screaming girly I think the character is generally pretty well-served and definitely fares better than either Deborah Watling's Victoria or Anneke Wills' Polly. While still sometimes constrained by a tendency to be placed in a damsel in distress role, Zoe is generally proactive, competent and often gets to show off her mathematical skills (as she does here - confusing computer receptionists and calculating missile trajectories).

The Brigadier and UNIT, in its first appearance, also work very well. The Brigadier has yet to be reduced to the kind of buffoon who refuses to believe he is on an alien planet and is, in fact, remarkably helpful and supportive of the Doctor throughout. This gives the whole story the feel of military versus aliens which is both nostaligically reminiscent of much 1960s sci-fi fare and refreshing for Doctor Who in which the military are often one of the obstacles to be overcome.

Kevin Stoney's Tobias Vaughn is a triumph as a villain. In particular, it is refreshing to see a villain who is under no illusions about his likely fate once the Cybermen take over and part of the reason I think the story fares so well over its extended length is that it effectively portrays the interaction of three factions at work, rather than two.

We spent quite a while discussing the animation. I felt it was broadly similiar in both style and quality to that in the recent Power of the Daleks release while Tame Layman preferred it. I think it certainly helped that there were live episodes in between the animated ones which helped ground the characters out better in existing performances.

Frankly this is a pretty good chunk of 1960s Doctor Who and certainly much better than it has any right to be lasting, as it does, for eight episodes.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
I'm sure I must have seen Kinda since it was first broadcast but I don't recall when and my memories of it were distinctly hazy. At the time of broadcast it came bottom of the season poll in DWM but shortly thereafter it was placed front and centre in Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text which attempted* to apply academic media criticism to Doctor Who. It would be tempting to say that Kinda is an interesting failure but I'm not sure it is a failure. It's more something completely to one side of main stream Doctor Who and isn't really even attempting to play by Doctor Who's normal rules.

More under the Cut )

I actually really enjoyed this and was surprised that I did. It is like nothing else Doctor Who has ever attempted before or since. In Doctor Who terms it is mostly a mixture of over-earnest, naff and silly, but on its own terms it is grippingly frightening in places, surreal and rather beautiful.

*I've not read it so, for all I know, the attempt was a success even if it was regarded with bemusement by most Who fans of the time.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (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?
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (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.
purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (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: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (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: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (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.

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