Monday, May 21, 2012

Colony in Space

I want to see the universe, not rule it.--the Doctor

Not Doctor Who's finest moment in monster making
Episode One, 10 April 1971
Episode Two, 17 April 1971
Episode Three, 24 April 1971
Episode Four, 1 May 1971
Episode Five, 8 May 1971
Episode Six, 15 May 1971

Written by Malcolm Hulke
Directed by Michael Briant
Script editor: Terrance Dicks
Produced by Barry Letts

Jon Pertwee as the Doctor
Roger Delgado as the Master
Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Katy Manning as Jo Grant

And at last, two years after the Doctor last travelled in time and space, he's doing so again--though it's somewhat against his will.  The Time Lords send him and Jo to the desert planet Uxarieus in the twenty-fifth century, where a small group of hardy human colonists are attempting to build a new life in the arid soil.

But all is not well in the colony.  Some colonists see giant, dinosaur-like monsters roaming the plains at night, and a pair of homesteaders are killed, their bodies scarred with giant claw marks on their body.  And a bedraggled hermit shows up (played by Roy Skelton, the voice of the Daleks), claiming to be the sole survivor of a former colony that was first attacked by these monsters, then destroyed by the planet's primitive humanoid inhabitants, who live in the ruins of a stone city some way to the south.

And then to top everything else off, a heavily-armed ship arrives from the Interstellar Mining Corporation, looking to exploit the planet's vast duralinium deposits for the voracious market on Earth.  But to do so would destroy the planet as a livable habitat.  The colonists claim that the miners are trespassing, and that the Earth government has allocated the planet for colonisation.  But the miners' story is that a faulty computer on Earth must have allocated the planet both for colonisation and for exploitation; the only solution is to call in a legal official called an Adjudicator to settle the dispute.

What's really going on is that the mining ship know full well that it's the colonists who have rights to the planet, but they're trying to scare them away so that they can exploit its resources.  They're manufacturing the monster sightings (there are no such monsters); they're killing the colonists and making it look like monster attacks; and the "survivor from a previous colony" is actually a spy from the mining ship's crew.

But things get more complicated when the Adjudicator arrives--because he turns out to be the Master, in disguise.  The Master's interest is in the ruined city where the native primitives live.  He has learnt that the extinct advanced civilisation from which the primitives descend created a doomsday weapon but never used it--a weapon that can turn any star nova in the blink of an eye, destroying any worlds that orbit it.  The weapon still exists, somewhere beneath the city, and the Master wants to find it so he can hold the universe to ransom and make himself ruler of the cosmos.  (That's, ruler of the cosmos, as in ruler of the universe, not ruler of the Cosmos, as in ruler of the New York team in the 60s/70s-era North American Soccer League.)

Open violence has now broken out between the miners and the colonists, with the miners eventually defeating and capturing the colonists.  The captain of the mining ship convenes a kangaroo court and convicts the colony leader of treason, but he agrees to commute the death sentence on condition that the colonists depart the planet immediately.  The colonists object--their ship was never intended to be flown again, and its engines are in such poor repair that they could well break up in flight.  But the mining captain has no pity for them, and they have no choice.  They depart, and their spaceship does indeed blow up moments after liftoff.

But it turns out there was only one person aboard--the colony leader, who sacrificed himself so that his colonists could live.  The colonists themselves were in hiding, and once the miners think they've all died, they sneak back, mount an ambush and defeat the miners.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and the Master have headed to the primitives' city to find the doomsday weapon.  But the ruler of the primitives turns out to be a tiny little being whose brain has expanded so much that he has developed powers of telepathy and telekinesis.  He sees the evil in the Master and instructs the Doctor that, for the good of the galaxy, he must operate the self-destruct mechanism on the doomsday weapon.  This also has the effect of destroying the ruined city, and the primitives themselves die when they refuse to leave their doomed home.

But the Doctor and the Master, of course, get out alive, and the Master escapes in his TARDIS.  Their errand complete, the Doctor and Jo are returned to UNIT HQ by the Time Lords.

What Lisa thought

I think this is a pretty good story, and one whose main theme--the common man being screwed over by a powerful corporation surreptitiously aided by a government in thrall to the elite--resonates just as strongly in 2012 as it did in 1971.  I was surprised that Lisa wasn't terribly impressed by it, especially since it's a jaunt into space opera after a season and a half of exclusively earthbound stories.  But she found the plot structure offputting, with the colonist v miner conflict running in parallel with the mystery of what was in the primitives' city for much of the serial.  She did, though, like episode six a lot, in which the two plot lines were neatly tied together at their resolution.

The next story will be "The Daemons".

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Claws of Axos

"In case things should go wrong, I am making this recording as a record of what not to do."--the Doctor

Episode One, 13 March 1971
Episode Two, 20 March 1971
Episode Three, 27 March 1971
Episode Four, 3 April 1971

Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by Michael Ferguson
Script editor: Terrance Dicks
Produced by Barry Letts

Jon Pertwee as the Doctor
Roger Delgado as the Master
Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Katy Manning as Jo Grant
Richard Franklin as Captain Yates
John Levene as Sergeant Benton

Axos crashes in southern England.  Axos turns out to be a spaceship, but not as we'd think of one--a carefully crafted hulk of metal and technology.  Instead, the science of the Axons--the crew of Axos--has followed a biological path, and Axos is a living, organic being.

The Axons aboard Axos are the last of their kind, and now they're dying.  In order to survive they need to replenish their energy supplies by drawing from the Earth's, and they're willing to pay for the privilege by sharing with humanity the secret of axonite, "the chameleon of the elements".  Axonite is the basis for Axon science--it mimics whatever organism it comes into contact with, instantly becoming a perfect copy of them.  If Earth had access to axonite, it would eliminate at a stroke all organic scarcity, and therefore all world hunger.

The Brigadier, as an official of the United Nations, attempts to accept on behalf of all humanity, but xenophobic government minister named Mr Chin steps in, arresting the Brig and the UNIT personnel and instead securing exclusive rights to axonite for the British government.  But what neither the Doctor, Mr Chin nor the Brigadier know is that the Master is aboard Axos.  The Axons captured him as he was fleeing the Earth following "The Mind of Evil", and he led them back to the planet, promising it to them in exchange for them allowing him his freedom.

Whatever the Axons' real plan is, it requires worldwide distribution of axonite.  So the Master leaves Axos and contacts the United Nations, to let them know of the secret deal Mr Chin has struck for Britain.  When news of that becomes public, the uproar causes the British government to agree to immediately distribute axonite to every country in the world.

It turns out that Axos, the Axons and axonite are all a single living organism.  Once that organism has been distributed around the world, it will activate itself, feeding on the Earth--and leaving nothing behind but a dry, lifeless hulk.  The Doctor concludes that now the situation is hopeless, so he joins forces with the Master and takes his TARDIS aboard Axos, offering to show the Axons the secret of time travel if they'll let him escape from the doomed Earth.

Of course, that's a trick, and when the Axons allow him to link Axos to the TARDIS, he traps them in a time loop, forcing them to live the same ten seconds over and over for eternity, thereby freeing the Earth from the axonite.  The TARDIS then returns him to Earth, rather against his will--the Time Lords have set its controls so that it will always take him back to the place of his exile.  "It seems," he says, "that I am some sort of galactic yo yo!"

What Lisa thought

It's unfair, I think, to dismiss "The Claws of Axos" out of hand as just another UNIT story.  There are a couple of really neat ideas here.  For instance, there's the way we automatically side with UNIT and against Mr Chin.  Of course axonite should be distributed freely to the whole world, and of course Chin is despicable for wanting to horde it all for Britain.  But then it turns out that hording it all in Britain would have foiled the Axons' whole plan, and it's the distribution of axonite all over the world that puts the whole planet in mortal danger.

And then there's the parallel of the Axons' plan to destroy the Earth alongside how the Doctor defeats the Axons in the end.  In both instances, the party with knowledge of a spectacular technology got access to the lesser party's resources by appealing to their greed, and then once they had that access, they betrayed the other party for their own gain.

But it's undeniable that this has been our seventh consecutive story set in Cold War Britain, and it's starting to wear.  Certainly it's wearing on Lisa, who could summon up no real reaction to this story at all.  A good thing, then, that the next story in our rewatch is "Colony in Space".

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Mind of Evil

Episode One, 30 January 1971
Episode Two, 6 February 1971
Episode Three, 13 February 1971
Episode Four, 20 February 1971
Episode Five, 27 February 1971
Episode Six, 6 March 1971

Written by Don Houghton
Directed by Timothy Combe
Script editor: Terrance Dicks
Produced by Barry Letts

Jon Pertwee as the Doctor
Roger Delgado as the Master
Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Katy Manning as Jo Grant
Richard Franklin as Captain Yates
John Levene as Sergeant Benton

The Doctor and Jo visit HM Prison Stangmoor to see firsthand the Keller Machine, a new device that reportedly removes all negative impulses from a subject's brain. The plan is for this to be used on prisoners who've been sentenced to life in prison--with their negative impulses removed, they become pliable wimps, able to live out their lives performing menial services rather than draining state resources.

(I know it was around this time that Britain abolished the death penalty, but I don't know exactly when that was.  So I don't know if the reference in the episode to the recent abolition of the death penalty is an indicator that this episode was somewhat topical, or if it's another one of the little touches--like the Prime Minister being referred to as "she"--that was intended to remind us that the UNIT stories are set a few years in the future, and which later turned out to be mildly prophetic.)

Of course, all isn't well.  The Keller Machine works well enough for its designed purpose, but people keep on dying when it's left unattended--the professor in charge of its operation, manages to drown in a completely dry room (and coincidentally, he had a morbid fear of drowning); another fellow, who was terrified of rats, turns up dead with his face and arms covered in dozens of tiny bites and scratches.

While the Doctor's investigating this, UNIT have their own problems to deal with.  London is hosting a major peace conference between the United States and China, and UNIT are handling security.  But they're not doing a good job of it--first the Chinese delegate is murdered, then the American.

(The DVD release of "The Mutants" has a documentary on race in Doctor Who, narrated by Noel Clarke, who plays Mickey Smith in the New Series.  That documentary stresses that in the 70s, the parts available to non-white actors in the programme in the 60s dried up, replaced by white actors in yellowface.  But I'm surprised the documentary didn't mention this story, which has several East Asian performers both as extras and in speaking parts, including the major female guest role, Pik-Sen Lim as Captain Chin Lee, head of Chinese security.)

These two storylines don't look connected, but of course, they are, so what's the connection?  It's the Master.  He's the Keller for whom the Keller Machine is named (and apparently he's taken the time to get it adopted in the Swiss prison system, so that he could then get it tried out at Stangmoor Prison--something which Stangmoor agreed to a year ago--so I'm not sure how that messes with the Master having just arrived on Earth a few weeks ago).  Using the access to the prison this gives him, he allies with its violent inmates and stages a takeover, taking the Doctor and Jo hostage (and also the prison doctor, played by Michael Sheard in the second of several appearances on the programme).  The Master and the prisoners then steal a British Armed Forces missile with a nerve gas warhead; they plan to hold the British government to ransom, threatening to launch the missile at the London peace conference and start a Third World War.

The prisoners get recaptured when the Brigadier (disguised as a delivery man with a Cockney accent) leads a UNIT strike force through an underground tunnel to retake the prison, freeing the Doctor, Jo and Michael Sheard, but that still leaves the problem of the Keller Machine (which by now has developed a mind of its own and is teleporting around the prison, killing people by making them live out their phobiae) and the missile, which the Master still has the capability to launch.  The Doctor solves those two problems by taking the Keller Machine to the missile and triggering the missile's self-destruct while it's still on the ground, destroying the Machine.

The Master, of course, escapes.

What Lisa thought

There are two plotlines to "The Mind of Evil"--the peace conference/nerve gas missile and Stangmoor prison/the Keller Machine.  Lisa thought either one might have made a solid core for a Doctor Who story (though the peace conference would specifically have to be a UNIT story), but that they rubbed uneasily together when forced to cohabitate.  For instance, if the Master's goal is to threaten the peace conference with destruction via the missile, why does he spend episodes one through three using his hypnotised agent to murder the heads of the American and Chinese delegations?  Hasn't he already destroyed the peace conference by that point?

The story also has two extended firefight sequences--when the Master's escaped prisoners hijack the UNIT party escorting the missile, and when UNIT infiltrate and recapture the prison.  For Lisa, these were distinctly un-Who-like moments.

There are some nice character moments, though.  Both the Doctor and the Master get tortured by the Keller Machine, so we get to see their greatest fears.  For the Doctor, it's fire, since he once saw a whole world consumed by flame.  (Of course, we don't yet know that in the future, he's going to see another one, dear to his heart, suffer the same fate.)  For the Master, interestingly enough, his greatest fear is the Doctor--laughing at him.

The next story will be "The Claws of Axos".

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Terror of the Autons

I came to warn you. An old acquaintance has arrived on this planet. The Master.--Time Lord

"I am known as the Master, universally."
Episode One, 2 January 1971
Episode Two, 9 January 1971
Episode Three, 16 January 1971
Episode Four, 23 January 1971

Written by Robert Holmes
Script editor: Terrance Dicks
Produced by Barry Letts

Jon Pertwee as the Doctor
Roger Delgado as the Master (first appearance)
Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Katy Manning as Jo Grant (first appearance)
Richard Franklin as Captain Yates (first appearance)
John Levene as Sergeant Benton

What we've got here for the season eight opener is pretty much a remake of the season seven opener, "Spearhead From Space": the Nestene Consciousness, a disembodied species who take on corporeal form by possessing and animating objects made of plastic, plan to land in force on Earth and wipe out humanity, aided by an ally who runs a plastics factory, and the Doctor must stop them by jamming the radio signals by which they transmit themselves across space and inhabit our plastic goods.  In fact, it's not even an exact remake, plotwise, as the Nestene Autons (human-shaped warriors) have been made less interesting: there's now only one type of them, the drones that are essentially lethal, walking shop dummies.  The second, fascinating type from "Spearhead From Space" has disappeared: the replicas of real human beings that were so convincingly done with such a simple special effect.

But it's not the plot of "Terror" that matters, because that's not the purpose of the story--rather, "Terror" is here to serve as a platform, introducing us for the first time to the Doctor's nemesis.

The Master.

He's portrayed here by his originator, Roger Delgado, and from the first time he appears onscreen--in the first episode's first scene--he's the most compulsively watchable character from amongst the entire very large cast who were a part of the programme during the Pertwee years.  (The Pertwee era had the largest regular cast of any period of Classic Who.)  He's charming, urbane, always already aware of whatever new gambit his opponents will try, a scientific genius and a complete psychopath of an individual, without any care for the life or death of any other being in the universe except himself--and the Doctor.

What Lisa thought

Lisa is of the opinion shared by most Who fans, that the Delgado Master is by far the most successful Master.  As such, she enjoyed this one, though she did notice it was a rehash of "Spearhead From Space".   Myself, I find it difficult to choose between Delgado and Simm, but in a pinch I would probably plump for Delgado.  But I think the reason that the Delgado and Simm Masters both work better than, say, the Ainley or Roberts incarnations of the role is that the Master works best, as a character, when he's a dark mirror of the Doctor.

And Delgado manages that consummately.  Pertwee's interpretation of the Doctor is a distinctive one--he's an aristocrat, instantly at home hobnobbing with royalty and government ministers; he even has a membership (as this story establishes) in a London gentlemen's club.  (It's the third Doctor's adulation of the privileged that's the biggest reason he's my least favourite Doctor.)  And the Delgado Master complements that perfectly--their conversations together* are what scenes would look like in Downton Abbey if Downton Abbey ever dealt with a madman bent on enslaving the whole world.

It's a good thing Delgado's so good, too--since we're going to be seeing so much of him.

The next story in our rewatch will be "The Mind of Evil".

*And that's another thing--Pertwee and Delgado actually talk to each other, in a way Ainley never does with Davison, Colin Baker or McCoy.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Listen to that! It's the sound of this planet screaming out its rage!--the Doctor

Evil Liz and Evil Brigadier
Episode one, 9 May 1970
Episode two, 16 May 1970
Episode three, 23 May 1970
Episode four, 30 May 1970
Episode five, 6 June 1970
Episode six, 13 June 1970
Episode seven, 20 June 1970

Written by Don Houghton
Directed by Douglas Camfield
Script editor: Terrance Dicks
Produced by Barry Letts

Jon Pertwee as the Doctor
Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Caroline John as Liz Shaw (last regular appearance)
John Levene as Sergeant Benton

Liz and the Brigadier, not evil
And now, finally, we have our first unambiguously mad-scientist story, making our alien invasion/mad scientist record 3-1-1.  The mad scientist in question this time is Professor Stahlman, who's heading a government project to drill through the Earth's crust.  He theorises that beneath the crust is a substance called Stahlman's gas, and by releasing it, he'll be able to provide Britain with an inexhaustible energy reserve.

Stahlman's not evil; he doesn't want to take over the world, or destroy it.  He's just arrogant: he's convinced of the rightness of his theory regarding the existence of Stahlman's gas, and he's so eager to get to it that he keeps speeding up the rate of drilling, regardless of any concerns for safety.  He refuses to listen to any warnings--from his assistant, Petra Williams (played by Sheila Dunn, wife of the story's director, Douglas Camfield); from the project's administrator, the civil servant Sir Keith Gold; from Greg Sutton, an oil-drilling expert the government has brought in from a drillsite in Kuwait; or from the Doctor, who's hanging around the project because he's hooked up the TARDIS to its nuclear reactor for some experiments he's running in his continuing quest to overcome the exile imposed upon him by the Time Lords.  UNIT are also hanging around, in order to ... well, actually, I'm not sure why UNIT are there, but they're there.

(A casting note: Derek Newark, who plays Greg Sutton, played Za in the Doctor's very first adventure in 1963, while Christopher Benjamin, here making his first entry into the programme, as Sir Keith, most recently appeared in Doctor Who in 2009, opposite David Tennant and Catherine Tate.  So in "Inferno", we've got 46 years of Who history playing opposite each other.)

But there are problems besetting the project.  Something is happening to a few of its technicians, and to a few of the UNIT soldiers: they're turning into hairy green monsters who are burning hot to the touch, and who are horribly strong and manically homicidal.  Unbeknownst to the main characters, this metamorphosis is caused because the unfortunate individuals are coming into contact with a strange green slime that's been oozing up from the drill head deep beneath the Earth's surface--the drilling is unleashing dark forces from the Earth's core.

The story takes a sudden, unexpected swerve when one of the Doctor's experiments with the TARDIS goes awry.  The TARDIS dematerialises, but it takes the Doctor neither forward nor backward in time.  Instead, he rematerialises in the same place and time, but in a parallel reality--an alternate history.  He soon discovers that he's somehow transported himself to a world where Britain abolished the monarchy in 1943 and turned into a brutal, right-wing fascist dictatorship.

Everything is present in the alternate world that was present in the real world, but it's been twisted.  The Stahlman's gas drilling project is still going on, headed by Professor Stahlman, but now the project is at a "scientific labour camp"--meaning slave labour.  The UNIT team are still providing security, but not as UNIT--they're now members of the Republic Security Forces.  They're led by the Brigadier, who has lost his moustache and gained an eyepatch and now goes by the rank of Brigade Leader.  His second in command is the stern, no-nonsense Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw, who's a far cry from being any sort of scientist.

(The "leader" ranks are a nice touch--even Benton is ranked "Platoon Under Leader".  It's an echo of Gestapo ranks, which all ended with -führer, from Reichsführer, the unique rank held by Heinrich Himmler, all the way down to Unterscharführer, or Squad Under Leader, the equivalent to lance-corporal or PFC.)

Of course, the Doctor is quickly apprehended by the dark, brutal counterparts to his friends from UNIT, who conclude that he's a spy for a foreign power.  So he has to avoid getting put in front of a firing squad, but he's also got another concern--figuring out what's going on with the drilling.

The alternate-world drilling project is further along than its real-world counterpart, and the Doctor is present when it penetrates to the Earth's core.  And it might surprise you to learn, but the result isn't the discovery of a new, inexhaustible energy source--it's the end of the world.  Tremors begin all across the country, and spontaneous volcanoes form.  The Doctor realises it's only a matter of a short time until the Earth's entire crust breaks up.

As the situation deteriorates, people's true characters come out.  The Brigade Leader becomes even more militant, more shrill, more megalomaniacal, convinced his vaunted Republic will save everyone.  (Nicholas Courtney is clearly relishing playing a shrill, paranoid villain.)  But Section Leader Shaw is gradually coming around to the Doctor's story of where he comes from, and she's showing a willingness to help the Doctor get back to the real world so he can save our own reality from suffering the same fate as hers.

Which is, of course, what happens.  The Brigade Leader hatches a plan to force the Doctor to take him back with him to our reality at gunpoint, but of course it doesn't work.  The Doctor makes it back alone, and he's able to stop the drill just before it penetrates the Earth's mantle.  One world has died, but the other has survived.

What Lisa thought

She really didn't like it.  She found it slow and turgid, and she's finding the UNIT format really repetitive.  When I told her "Inferno" is one of the most highly regarded Whos of all time, she asked, "... But why?"

She did like Evil Liz's look--she thinks Carolina John looks good as a brunette.

It's a shame, because I, like most of Who fandom, is really neat--the opportunity to see Britain as a fascist state, the opportunity to see UNIT turned to evil, and the opportunity to see Benton metamorphose into a green, hairy monster.

The next story is "Terror of the Autons".

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Ambassadors of Death

The Doctor: You're convinced their intentions are hostile, then?
General Carrington: Why else should they invade the galaxy?  They were on Mars before we were.

The Doctor greets Death's diplomatic representatives.
Episode one, 21 March 1970
Episode two, 28 March 1970
Episode three, 4 April 1970
Episode four, 11 April 1970
Episode five, 18 April 1970
Episode six, 25 April 1970
Episode seven, 2 May 1970

Written by David Whitaker
Directed by Michael Ferguson
Script editor: Terrance Dicks
Produced by Barry Letts

Jon Pertwee as the Doctor
Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Carolina John as Liz Shaw
John Levene as Sergeant Benton

Another UNIT story, so is this one an alien invasion or a mad scientist?  Well, it has aliens, but they're not invading.  And it has a madman, but he's not a scientist.  So I guess maybe this one ends up as a wash, bringing our alien invasion/mad scientist standings to 3-0-1.

Really, for all that Terrance Dicks (rightly) complains about the constraints imposed on Doctor Who with the reformatting at the end of "The War Games", this first season under the new regime is doing a nice job of varying it.  We started off with a straight alien invasion story; this was then followed by an alien invasion story, except the aliens are actually from Earth.  And now we get an alien invasion story, except the aliens aren't actually invading--their intentions are peaceful.

The story opens with the Recovery 7 space probe docking with the returning Mars Probe 7.  The astronaut manning Recovery 7, Van Lyden, is investigating to see what's happened to Mars Probe 7's crew, who cut radio contact seven months ago.  A piercing noise is then heard over Van Lyden's radio, after which Van Lyden, too, cuts contact.  But evidently he, or the Mars Probe astronauts, are still alive, because their landing pod begins re-entry procedure.

UNIT and the Doctor head out into the English countryside to recovery the pod once it lands, but they're attacked--by military special forces, disguised as civilians, who make off with the pod themselves.  At this point, another dimension gets added to the story--in addition to the usual Who sci-fi-cum-horror plot of What Did Those Astronauts Encounter in Space?, we've also got a government-conspiracy-thriller, as UNIT have to deal with a clandestine organisation trying to undermine them at every turn, headed by the enigmatic General Carrington, himself an astronaut aboard the previous Mars Probe, Mars Probe 6.  In that respect, we can liken "The Ambassadors of Death" to the Torchwood series "Children of Earth".

(Speaking of Torchwood--I've heard a very credible theory that Carrington and his men are, in fact, Torchwood agents.  After all, from Earth's perspective, this story falls between "Tooth and Claw" (1879) and "Doomsday" (2007), so Carrington and Torchwood would view the Doctor as just as much a hostile alien invader as they do the Ambassadors.)

So basically, what happened is that Mars Probe 6, with Carrington on board, encountered an alien race on Mars.  Carrington became convinced that the aliens were hostile, because they accidentally killed his crewmate Jim.  (The aliens didn't know that their very touch would be fatal to humans.)  Carrington therefore told the aliens that he would return to Earth and prepare the way for them; when Mars Probe 7 arrived, they should replace its human crew with their own ambassadors.

It is these ambassadors that Carrington has now kidnapped.  The alien ambassadors require constant access to radiation to remain alive; Carrington therefore rations their radiation, and forces them to perform missions for him--raiding nuclear reactors, murdering soldiers, stealing secret plans.  He hopes thereby to convince the world that an alien invasion is imminent, so that when the alien spaceship arrives in orbit over Earth, he can convince every country in the world to launch all their missiles at it and destroy it.

Of course, the Doctor and UNIT figure out what's going on, and they liberate the aliens and stop Carrington immediately before he makes a worldwide telecast to reveal the alien "threat" to the world.

What Lisa thought

This one was too slow and plodding for her--I think she's starting to feel the press of the other part of the show's new format, the longer story lengths.  She was also disappointed in how dressed the Doctor remained this time--for the third story out of his three so far, Jon Pertwee finds a reason to take his clothes off again, but we only see him once he's already been fully covered by a bathrobe.

It's the thriller element of the storyline that, I think, gives Ambassadors what success it does have.  We've got Liz being kidnapped and forced to work for Carrington's crew as they try to keep the ambassadors alive.  We've got Carrington's chief scientist, who defects to UNIT to tell them what's going on, and insists on being held in a prison cell for his own safety until he can talk to the Brigadier--but then, he discovers one of Carrrington's operatives has left a radioactive isotope in the cell with him, assassinating him by radiation poisoning.  And we've got Carrington going slowly more paranoid and insane, using the ambassadors to assassinate his own superior when that superior prepares to tell the Doctor what's going on, and then in the final episode going so far as to have the Brigadier and all of UNIT placed under military arrest in case they're collaborating with the aliens.

Though the most watchable thing about this story is the cast.  Several of the guest actors, as opposed to characters, are exceedingly engaging.  Chief amongst them are Ronald Allen, playing Professor Cornish (head of mission control for the apparently thriving British space programme), and William Dysart as Regan, the thug who's looking after the imprisoned Ambassadors (and the imprisoned Liz) for General Carrington.  Ronald Allen (who had previously appeared as a Dominator) has a very understated, clipped delivery, while Dysart has an odd Scottish accent, and both of them have great screen presence--Lisa told me she thought Allen came across as a man who should be a leading man, but just never got the opportunity.  Cheryl Molineux also grabs your attention as a technician at mission control, even though her total screentime is a series of about ten three-second closeups over the seven episodes, as she reads a countdown aloud.

Lisa also came up with an interesting theory about Carrington, to complement the one about his Torchwood origins: she wonders if he and Jim, during their months alone together on Mars Probe 6, found the love that dare not speak its name blossoming between them, and that's why his accidental death at the hands of the Ambassadors pushed him into insanity. Come on, people--of such stuff is fanfic born.

So definitely a hit-and-miss story--mostly miss, but what hits it does have are pretty strong ones.

The next story will be "Inferno".

Monday, February 27, 2012

Doctor Who and the Silurians

This is our planet.  We were here before man.  We ruled this world millions of years ago.--Old Silurian

"Hello. Are you a Silurian?"
Episode one, 31 January 1970
Episode two, 7 February 1970
Episode three, 14 February 1970
Episode four, 21 February 1970
Episode five, 28 February 1970
Episode six, 7 March 1970
Episode seven, 14 March 1970

Written by Malcolm Hulke
Directed by Timothy Combe
Script editor: Terrance Dicks
Produced by Barry Letts

Jon Pertwee as the Doctor
Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Caroline John as Dr Liz Shaw

Malcolm Hulke, the writer for "Doctor Who and the Silurians", was a mentor figure for Terrance Dicks, who had taken over as script editor midway through Patrick Troughton's final season.  Dicks, of course, arrived at a time when the outgoing production partnership were planning a radical redesign of Doctor Who, for which "The Invasion" had been something of a test case.

That redesign was basically aimed at reducing the costs associated with producing Doctor Who.  Time and space travel would be reduced from the programme, with the Doctor permanently anchored to present-day Earth.  Stories would be extended in length, since it's easier and cheaper to produce a single eight-parter rather than two four-parters.  And, with an eye on the upcoming switch to colour, the action component of the programme would be upped, to accomplish which a permanent supporting cast of military characters would be added.

When Dicks explained these format changes, Hulke summed them up instantly: "So you've got two possible plotlines to alternate between from now on.  Mad scientists and alien invasions."  Dicks thought about this for a minute, then realised, "Fuck me, you're right."

"The Silurians" is Hulke's first credit for the Pertwee Doctor, and, with the arrival of new producer Barry Letts, the start of the partnership between Letts and Dicks that would run the programme for all five years of Pertwee's tenure in the title role.

So far, the new format had produced two alien invasion stories and zero mad scientist stories.  "The Silurians" is a third alien invasion story, but with a twist--the "aliens" are actually from Earth.  They're a race of intelligent, technologically advanced reptile-men who ruled the planet during the time of the dinosaurs.  Their scientists detected a large planetoid approaching the planet, the near miss of which would cause Earth to lose its atmosphere.  In order to preserve their society, the Silurians put themselves into suspended animation, programming their computers to wake them up once Earth's atmosphere had returned.  Except the computer never woke them up, because the atmosphere never "returned"--it was never wiped away in the first place.  Instead of narrowly missing us, the planetoid got caught in Earth's gravity well and became our Moon.

Now, though, a colony of Silurians have been awakened, disturbed by the construction of a secret underground nuclear reactor in the Yorkshire moorland.  Secretly aided by the construction project's chief scientist, they're drawing power from the nuclear reactor to aid in the resurrection of their race.

And you remember the other part of the reformatting, about the need to draw the stories out more?  You know how the most traditional cliffhanger for the end of episode one of a Doctor Who story is a sudden, menacing reveal of what the monster looks like?  "The Silurians" has that cliffhanger--at the end of part three. The story manages to go three full weeks before we get a good look at the alien race.  For three weeks, there are rumours of monsters lurking in the cave systems--rumours of a monster roaming the moors--someone thinks they shot it, and it's wounded--people are turning up dead in barns and isolated cottages!  It is, in fact, the middle of episode five before everyone is aware of the presence of the Silurians and on board with the threat they pose.

Those four and a half episodes are probably the story's strongest period.  They're moody and creepy.  It's only after that has all been milked for all it can give us that we move on to the direct confrontation between humans and Silurians, and this part of the story suffers from the fact that it's no longer possible to avoid putting the Silurians on the screen.

When the Silurians returned in New Who, opposite Matt Smith in 2010, their costuming was rightly criticised because it depicted anthropoid reptiles as having eyelashes, and anthropoid reptile females as having breasts.  It's true that that sort of design choice is distracting, but trust me, it's not nearly as distracting as anthropoids where the rubber hood that's supposed to be their head is clearly waving and flapping around where it's supposed to be joined to the rest of their body.

Fortunately, this segment of the story proves much less amenable to elongation than the earlier portion.  First, the Silurians release a virus into the human population, designed to cull the primate population.  But it takes the Doctor only an episode and a half to find a cure, so the action returns to the nuclear reactor, where the Silurians take over the facility, inducing the Doctor to send the reactor into meltdown to keep it out of their hands.  The Silurians flee the disaster by going back into hibernation, setting their machines to wake them again in fifty years; of course, as soon as they're safely gone, the Doctor averts the meltdown.

Which brings us to what's probably the most famous moment in "Doctor Who and the Silurians" (apart from when its title appears on the opening credits), the ending.  The Doctor intends to reawaken the Silurians in a controlled environment, so he can reason with them and convince them they can cohabit with Earth's new inhabitants.  The Brigadier consents to this plan.  The Doctor and Liz leave to gather a team of scientists to study the Silurians, but as soon as they're gone, the Brigadier has the cave where they're hibernating blown up--he considers the threat they pose to humanity too great to take a risk on peace negotiations.  This is, of course, the moment that's generally cited as when Doctor Who transitioned from a programme made for an audience of children to one made for an audience of young adults.

What Lisa thought

She has really taken to the Pertwee era so far--she finds it fun and a nice change of tone from the black and white era.

Of the two Jon Pertwee stories so far, this is the second one where Pertwee has found a reason to take his shirt off.  This time, he strips down to what would now be called a muscle shirt (except that prior to Arnold Schwarzenegger, men didn't really have muscles), to demonstrate the extreme tension of the reactor meltdown sequence in episode seven.

And Lisa is ... impressed.  We're talking about a fifty-year-old man from an era a whole decade before standards of male attractiveness had any sort of chiselledness to them at all, but Lisa still finds him rather fit.

She also liked seeing Geoffrey Palmer, whom she knows well as Lionel from As Time Goes By. Yup, he's here, experiencing the first in the series of violent, painful deaths he's going to undergo opposite Doctors ranging from Jon Pertwee to David Tennant.

So on we go.  The next story will be "The Ambassadors of Death".