Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Top 50 Doctor Who Adventures

Because I have been accused of late of being a right old curmudgeon and hating everything I listen to/watch/read I thought I would take a departure from the usual reviewing duties and have stab at something I know a lot of people of a geekish persuasion enjoy...lists! This is going to be comprehensive list of my top 50 Doctor Who adventures taking in the classic series, the new series, the audios, the books and the comics. It's time to spread a little love...

The TV Series (Classic)

The Daleks' Masterplan - An epic adventure that plays out with drama, comedy, incredible risk taking, great acting and one of the best ever uses of the Daleks. The final episode is absolutely terrifying.
The Power of the Daleks - Six episodes of pure bliss, showing off the Daleks at their scheming best and playing a fascinating game with the audience over the new Doctor. The tension escalates masterfully.
The War Games - Changing Doctor Who for ever and doing it with absolute class, this whopping ten part adventure fees shorter than some four part stories such is the pace and the enjoyment I get from it. Troughton delivers probably the best ever portrayal of the Doctor and the whole production is given a huge lift by David Maloney's incredible direction. As fresh today as it ever was, especially the revelations.
Inferno - Few Doctor Who stories have scared me as much as this one. Not the Primords, they are a stock Doctor Who monster. No it is the terror of the alternative universe scenes as the regulars realise the futility of their situation and yet strive to escape any way. Episode six might be the most perfect Doctor Who episode to date, skin crawling and unrelenting.
Genesis of the Daleks - Justly praised, we might know the dialogue back to front and inside out but this is still an exquisite script, masterfully delivered by one of the best ensemble casts and delivered with an unusual violent touch by David Maloney. I can't watch this one too often but whenever I do I am blown away. Davros' introduction is unforgettable.
The Seeds of Doom - It's all about how this one is directed. Douglas Camfield is my favourite director to have worked on the show and his swansong is his best work; an atmospheric, pacy, gripping and shocking horror tale that features men being turned into plants and makes it the most terrifying thing ever. Also featuring Tom Baker and Lis Sladen at their most sublime.
Talons of Weng-Chiang - Witty, frightening, atmospheric and packed full of great characters, this is the story to show to a non-fan to prove how good classic Who can be. Robert Holmes' dialogue was never better and you'll be hard pushed to find a better guest cast.
City of Death - Like Talons, a funny story that reaches classic status. Douglas Adams and Graeme Williams produce one of the series' most imaginative scripts and the gorgeous acting and scenery is just a bonus. This one constantly surprises in a way that few Doctor Who stories do.
Enlightenment - I'm surprised I included this and it was a close call between this and Androzani. However this is far more imaginative and reflective, which is far more to my tastes than the guns and bombs of Davison's swansong. Everything I look for in a classic Doctor Who story is here and it looks beautiful too.
Revelation of the Daleks - An atypical story that stands out because of it, Revelation never ceases to amaze me with how far it pushes adult content and humour in a teatime slot. Eric Saward is Holmes' protégé and finally he delivers something that rivals his mentors work. Too many blackly funny and memorable sequences to mention. Astonishing characters.
Ghost Light - The last classic Doctor Who story made, Ghost Light saw them out in style. I wish the McCoy era had been more like this because it seems to be all the things that Cartmel was striving for; a gripping Doctor and fascinating companion, complex storytelling, top notch dialogue and characters and everything stylishly brought to the screen. Hard to fault.

The TV Series (New)

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances - This blew me away on first transmission and it has rarely been bettered since. The period is classily realised, the story manages to genuinely haunt me and the relationship between Eccleston's Doctor, Rose and Jack simply flies off the screen. One of the most satisfying Doctor Who adventures with a climax that always brings me to tears.
Human Nature/The Family of Blood - As complex as characterisation gets in Doctor Who, this is the sort of story the series hasn't dared to tell since. War is examined psychologically and the resulting drama is extremely powerful. David Tennant was never better...and considering how good he is usually that is quite a statement.
The Sound of Drums - I make no apology for this. One of the most perfect 45 minutes of Doctor Who with one glorious scene after another. The final ten minutes are dazzling, climaxing on the massacre of 10% of the Earth's population.
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead - Steven Moffat's masterpiece as far as I'm concerned. He has never bettered this story. I was staring at the screen after Forest of the Dead finished for an age, literally astonished at the intelligent, probing and emotional drama that had just unfolded. Tennant and Tate are simply extraordinary.
Midnight - The scariest Doctor Who story ever in my book. Read my review for why I think so. My buttocks were clenched for a good 30 minutes and I was probably sweating at the end.
Turn Left - For Catherine Tate's standout performance (the best companion performance ever in my book), the perversion of continuity, the jet black tone, the astonishing characterisation, the efforts of Cribbins and King, the shocking ending...the best Doctor Who story to barely feature the Doctor.
The Waters of Mars - Graeme Harper's masterpiece. Gripping throughout climaxing on a shock suicide, it doesn't get any better than this.
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone - Moffat is still on fire here, fresh faced and delivering all the elements that have made his standalone efforts in series 1-4 such a delight. The Angels are treated differently but the imagery surrounding them blew me away.
Vincent & the Doctor - Any story that reduces me to a blubbering wreck like this has got to be doing something right. Simply the finest character drama in Doctor Who ever.
The Doctor's Wife - Gaiman's debut script knocked me over. It's quirky, funny, imaginative and heartbreaking.

Audios (Main Range)

Dr Who & the Pirates - A Doctor Who musical? Surely not? Works on so many levels but primarily because it is the audio that made me laugh the most...and the one which shocked me the most too. An unbelievable turn by Colin Baker, finally being able to bring everything he has to the role.
Jubilee - One of the most substantial audios, a cutting satire on commercialism delivered with razor sharp wit and psychological scares. So good it inspired the return of the Daleks in the new series.
The Wormery - This has a unique atmosphere all of its own, somehow melancholic and hilarious. I never get tired of listening to The Wormery and the dazzling Colin Baker/Katy Manning double act.
LIVE 34 - Using the audio format to its fullest, I was shocked at how good this was on my last listen.
Son of the Dragon - The Dracula myth is brought to audio with a superlative central performance by James Purefoy. History at its most gripping and the best example of the surprisingly thoughtful trio of the fifth Doctor, Peri and Erimem. The passion in the performances really sells this one as a classic.
A Thousand Tiny Wings - Still one of the most haunting, disquieting audios with Sylvester McCoy's best ever performance in the role. A fascinating slice of history, beautifully dramatised and re-introducing one of Doctor Who's most interest guest characters.
A Death in the Family - Everything you have hear about this one is true. Check it out.
The Forth Wall - Some might be surprised to see this one on my list but the more I listen to it the more it, the more I am taken aback by the deeply intelligent things it has to say about writing fictional characters. It's also startlingly creative, boldly characterised and features the shock death of a companion. I adore it.
The Silver Turk - Traditional Doctor Who delivered about as stylishly as it can be.
The Curious Incident of the Doctor in Night-Time - From this years output, Nev Fountain stretches the format of Doctor Who about as far as it can go and says something very profound and touching about autism in the process.

Books

Nightshade - Mark Gatiss' masterpiece. I wish this could make it to the screen, grisly deaths and all.
Just War - For what it puts Bernice through, I will never forget the content of this novel. Trapped within its pages, it is startlingly oppressive.
Eye of Heaven - The scenes written from Leela's point of view are done with such style I could have had the whole book told in that style. A non-linear narrative that satisfies, gorgeous prose, shocking content...Jim Mortimore didn't always get it right but when he did he was rarely bettered.
Festival of Death - A Doctor Who story told backwards with a wealth of great jokes, mood, insane twists and some very poignant moments. The climax is most satisfying.
The Infinity Doctors - Lance Parkin's greatest opus, using a wealth of continuity and expanding upon it with reckless abandon. Some of the best imagery and individual scenes in any of the books and the ultimate expression of the Doctor.
Alien Bodies - It's just glorious, isn't it? Lawrence Miles might be nuttier than squirrel shit but he is still a genius.
Father Time - The most beautifully written Doctor Who book of all, one which puts him in the position of being a father for the first time and makes it a stunning prospect. I've read this more times than I care to remember. The writing is so good in spots it gives me shivers.
The Adventuress of Henrietta Street - Terrifying in content, this is the boldest Doctor Who book and one that may have over stepped the mark for some. I loved it, especially the strength of characterisation and the brutal imagery. Shocking twists that have a profound effect on the Doctor.
The Tomorrow Windows - Ridiculously funny and imaginative, there are more ideas in this book than in any other Doctor Who story. It never stops giving, right up until the last page. Just magnificent.
Prisoner of the Daleks - An NSA in the top ten? Go and read this and tell me different.

Comics

The Star Beast - Beep the Meep remains my favourite Doctor Who villain of all time. And Sharon kicks ass too, a black companion years before Martha Jones.
Voyager - Some pages of this comic are pieces of art, not just panels in a comic. I can sit and stare at them for ages. For innovation, this cannot be bettered.
Ground Zero - They wanted the seventh Doctor to depart the comic strip in style. They succeeded. What an ending.
The Glorious Dead - Epic in scope with some insane twists and turns and mind expanding artwork, for me this is the ultimate Master story.
Beautiful Freak - A one issue wonder that shows how devoted the creators of the strip were to the characters of the eighth Doctor and Izzy. God I love that TARDIS in the strip.
The Flood - I first read this in graphic novel form and couldn't believe the scale and striking nature of the storytelling and artwork. Two for two, the strip provided me with my favourite Master story and my favourite Cyberman story.
Time of My Life - Jonny Morris is something of a genius and it is not co-incidence that he has turned up several times on this top 50. Stunning vignettes showing unseen Doctor/Donna adventures, beautifully captured on a page each (check out the bordering) and with a gut wrenching climax.
The Crimson Hand - I adored Majenta and her caustic relationship with the Doctor so I was intrigued enough already when her past finally caught up with her. Dan McDaid saw his companion out in real style, providing a dramatic backdrop to force her to choose where her allegiances finally lie. It says something about the quality of the characterisation of this companion that I wasn't at all sure which way she would jump.
The Professor, the Queen & the Bookshop - A beautiful Christmas tale that left me cooing like a baby.
Planet Bollywood! - I love Bollywood! This quirky, madcap adventure is my personal favourite of the Eleventh Doctor's run because it jettisons the need to be timey wimey and just has a great deal of fun. Colourful, pioneering and very funny.

Signs and Wonders written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

What's it about: The end of the world is nigh. That’s what everybody is seeing in their nightmares. That’s why they are congregating in Liverpool for the party to end all parties, hosted by Rufus Stone, a celebrity turned doomsday prophet. He claims he’s the only one who can save them when the day of judgement comes. Because he’s on the side of the angels. The Doctor, Ace and Hector arrive to find the city in the grip of apocalypse fever. There are lights in the sky, earthquakes and power cuts. The Doctor is determined to investigate, while Ace is more concerned about finding a way of restoring Hector’s lost memories. Meanwhile, in the river Mersey, hideous, slug-like creatures are stirring...

The Real McCoy: Some people never learn. McCoy cannot convincingly pull off hysterical drama. Go and watch Survival ('Don't moooooove!') or listen to The Rapture ('Let McShane goooooooo!') or countless other adventures. However McCoy does play brooding, purring menace well (go and watch Ghost Light and listen to Master). So why does nobody tailor these scripts to his strengths instead of highlighting his deficiencies? The end of episode one is a carbon copy of The Rapture at exactly the same point, the 7th Doctor in a nightclub screaming his head off like a lunatic and coming across as an absolute buffoon as a result. Check out your back catalogue, Big Finish, this duplication of something that was startlingly inept the first time around is unacceptable. I can't believe that this Doctor tries to suggest that humans are not tools to be used...that's all he ever does, move them around like chess pieces. Apparently it took the near destruction of the everything to bring Hex back and the Doctor and Ace consider it worth it. Should these two really be protecting the universe?

Oh Wicked: 'Sergeant Barbie to the rescue!' What the hell does Ace think she is doing? She's attempting to force Hector to confront his past as Hex, taking him to his grandmothers house and trying to force him to mourn her death. She's doing everything that the Doctor did to her in Ghost Light (shoving a mirror up to the past) and because she has experienced this treatment herself that makes this ten times worse. She's learnt nothing from these adventures. Over and over and over again he has said that he doesn't want to be Hex anymore and still she relentlessly tries to peel off Hector mask. It's quite a baffling state of affairs. Ace is so twisted she wants to take hold of a reasonably well adjusted individual (who is Hex in all but name anyway) and try and force him back into a mould where he has feelings for her and can experience the gutting reaction of losing a loved one. That's twisted. Sally points out that everything is a competition with Ace and Ace tries to defend that stance. It's a feat of one-upmanship she has been trying to win for 25 long years since Dragonfire. Ace's adventures with Chunky, Alistair and Winifred are alluded to, pointing out she has a long history with UNIT and her DNA is even on file. Why don't Big Finish make the bolder decision and write out Ace? What else does this character have to offer after so many adventures? I have never known a character that simply wont go away, lingering on like a bad smell. She's given the Doctor a hard time over and over again, she's transformed herself into a mature individual and back into a teenager again, she's suffered more angst than anybody else in the range and has fought and screamed and insulted her way through more adventures than I care to count. There is nowhere to take this person, Ace has been exhausted of her potential. Prove me wrong, Big Finish. Do something ground-breaking with this character.

Alter Ego: Remember when I said in the review of Mask of Tragedy that it was absurd to pick up a character as soon as they gave them an effective conclusion. I also mentioned the last time I was this tired of a companion was when Charley hung around for an interminable amount of time with the 8th Doctor. They are trying to repeat the success of that, aren't they? Charley was getting stale and as a result they wrote her out and in a bold move had her skip Doctors to an earlier incarnation where she had to spin a web of lies to keep her true identity from him. It was a gripping scenario that played out over a number of well written adventures and it provided a new leash of life for the character, not only because she was suddenly having to be so evasive but also because she was playing against a different Doctor (Colin Baker and India Fisher had fantastic chemistry, which certainly helped smooth the transition). With Hex they have done the same thing, given him a departure and then tried to put a new spin on the character almost immediately, desperate not to lose Olivier from the McCoy adventures. In doing so they have fundamentally misunderstood what made the character work in the first place, provided a carbon copy whilst trying to convince us it is a new man. I don't think I have read a single comment on this arc that has greeted this extension of the Hex storyline positively. Worse they have put the character in similar situations to Hex, drawing our attention to their similarities and had the Doctor and Ace act in the most self-indulgent fashion around him. It's horribly misconceived and the whole thing needs a line drawn under it. Fortunately that happens here but not before one more episode of Eastenders, Greek Gods.  What nobody seems to mention (which is very remiss of them really) is that Hector is a personality in his own right and that by attempting to bring Hex back to the surface they will be effectively killing somebody off. It's a moral debate that has been completely avoided in amongst all the epic madness with the Elder Gods. It could have been as agonising as the John Smith/Doctor deliberation in Human Nature/The Family in Blood but the writer is not looking to probe this situation in any great depth. The story requires for the status quo to be corrected and so back Hex pops, Hector be blowed and off into the sunset he walks with Sally. Am I the only person who finds this solution a little too easy? Am I also the only person who wonders that perhaps he had a better ending the first time around when he died a horrible death? Hector is effectively murdered when Hex emerges but it goes unmourned - so what was the point of trying to get us close to that character for the past four stories? Was he really so disposable? After all this struggle and angst the Doctor and Hex don't even get to talk - he just buggers off to the next adventure. The disrespect for these characters is awesome. Even Ace, who has been agonising over Hex ever since Hector put in an appearance just wanders off with a 'catch you later, mate.'

Sally: Picking up where Afterlife left off, Sally as been in Liverpool for two years and is ready to hit the road. It is so good to hear from her again and I still live in hope that she will hop into the TARDIS with the Doctor and shoo Ace and Hector out. Sally isn't sure if soldering is for her but it is all she knows in this crazy world and she is going to stick with it. She's having the dreams too. She stayed with Hex's gran all this time to look after her, something she was very willing to do for such an incredible woman.

Standout Performance: Check out McCoy in this adventure, it is the very definition of an actor who doesn't know how to respond to a script. I don't think he has sounded this unsure about how to judge the tone of a story since Bang-Bang-a-Boom. He's especially hysterical and unprepared in episode three, ranting and cooing like he is back in Unregenerate.

Great Ideas: The collective nightmares of a nation predicting the end of the world? Rufus Stone seems to think so and he is setting up the concert to end all concerts as the doomsday prophet to save them all. Church leaders are objecting saying that he is stealing from every organised religion and stirring things up himself. That's a bold, dramatic place to begin a story. Like we have been dumped in the middle of Russell T. Davies' The Second Coming. Aliens projecting a solar shield and assisting the conjuring act going on down in Liverpool, keeping everyone in the dark. The Aquillians think they are destined for Godhood. They guard this section of England jealously and repel any alien invasions...I guess that would explain why Liverpool hasn't featured prominently in any Doctor Who stories before Afterlife. They are saving the humans, preparing them for the final battle with the Herodines. They are inter-dimensional leeches sucking up psychic energy bleeding between realities, controlled only by appetite. The Doctor and Ace have turned up with a boy who shouldn't exist, someone the Elder Gods moved heaven and Earth to destroy. The parasites try and drain the TARDIS.

Audio Landscape: A chanting crowd, thunder and lightning, train intercom, the Herodine bursting free, walking through the shallows of the Mersey, Hex being dragged out to sea is delivered in the most claustrophobic fashion possible, you might just find yourself gagging for air, guns firing, alarm abandoning ship.

Familiarity: Just an observation, not a criticism but has Ken Bentley become the in-house director of the main range these days? It is getting as predictable as it was when Gary Russell's name turned up and I have a theory that at the time that was a money saving exercise at the time. There isn't that excuse anymore. Bentley has proven time and again that he can bring decent material to life but like Gary Russell he doesn't seem to have the ability to rise above the duff scripts. Some Doctor Who stories are terrible in conception but salvaged in execution. That doesn't seem to be Bentley's style. If it's a good story, he can make it flourish. If it's a bad story, he will flounder. I only bring this up because there has been some bad press about the main range lately and I wouldn't want Bentley to have the blame pinned on him as the go to director for that series at the moment. It's the paucity of the material that is holding the range back and it would take the work of a genius to bring lacklustre scripts such as Antidote to Oblivion, Moonflesh and Tomb Ship up to scratch. Watching Bentley struggle gamely is almost an exercise in persecution. Aside from Nicholas Briggs and the occasional Barnaby Edwards directed tale, I don't see any variety in the roll call of directors and that does tend to make everything feel a little samey. Maybe it is time to branch out.

Isn't it Odd: The premise of a prophet bringing his words of wisdom through music gave me uncomfortable stirrings because it recalls The Rapture, one of Big Finish's first ever stinkers. Music was used as a narrative tool far more effectively in Fanfare for the Common Men last year in the 60s trilogy, the music was really foot tapping for a start. Not the god awful noise it is here. I'm not sure if I like this blame culture that has built up around the Doctor. It's not something that was often considered in the classic series which made the few times where his actions were called into account (The Massacre, Genesis of the Daleks, Trial of a Time Lord) quite effective. I blame the New Adventures, personally. They were so obsessed with exploring the darker underbelly of the series, probing the title character psychologically that they introduced a level of self-criticism for the titular character that as a result has been woven into the new series and has been taken on board by Big Finish. Back when these audio adventures began they were brilliant, often gripping, sometimes funny standalone affairs that allowed the Doctor to play an active role in his adventures without finding himself at the end of some weighty accusations every five minutes. Nowadays (especially in the McCoy adventures) all he seems to do is explain away his actions to people, pleading for their forgiveness. Hex tore several strips out of him in Project Destiny and A Death in the Family, Ace spent an entire episode giving him a hard time in Afterlife and now Hector has beef with him and how he conducts his affairs. This blame culture has gotten out of hand. He should just show them both the door and say if you don't like it then bugger off. Like I said this sort of thing works well every now and then. It worked for me in Arrangements for War because Evelyn had lost several people who were close to her but Hector's overreaction at the end of the last adventure feels unjustified, firing off accusations just to create some drama to send him home. The fight between Ace and Sally which starts out with insults but evolves into a genuine bitch fight has to be heard to be believed. How can this be passed off as audio drama? Killing off Janet was a mistake, she was just about the most interesting character in the whole story. Why couldn't it have Ace been who was picked up like a rag doll and dropped. That would have been much more effective. Hector is screaming his head off at the end of episode two...in exactly the same way that he was in Mask of Tragedy at the end of episode three. What is it about these 7th Doctor/Ace/Hex stories that always descends into hysteria? Despite his many speeches throughout this story I never felt I really got under Rufus' skin and figured out who he is. Come to mention I didn't get much of a feel for Gormley either which made his self sacrifice a little empty. The moment itself was well done but I didn't really feel anything. Enough with the Elder Gods already, it was fairly interesting in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and The Curse of Fenric but they have been rearing their ugly heads for so long now that they have haemorrhaged interest ever since (every other New Adventure seemed to feature some mythological deity from the Dawn of Time and this is the third McCoy adventure in the last handful to feature them). I'd like to see the 7th Doctor have some more intimate affairs now, less duelling with inter-dimensional idols and more engaging with real people.  A big superhero ending where Hex fights with all the power of the Gods, energy shooting from him like the Master in The End of Time. It's all a bit ridiculous, isn't it? Add to that the battle of the squeaky voices and the conclusion to this tale is showdown full of headache inducing bluster (including some dramatic musical stings). Hang on a moment - Hex fancied Ace for years and then when Ace lost Hex she realised that she had feelings for Hex too...and when he finally returns from the ether he heads off into the sunset...with Sally? Am I missing something here? This feels like the perfect way to tie up both Ace and Hex's storyline in one whack. The whole Hector dead end was pointless but it might have been excusable if it were to offer a clean break for the 7th Doctor by pairing off his two companions and saying au revoir to them both. To reject this neat ending for both characters and keep Ace around...it renders the whole Afterlife-Signs and Wonders run even more worthless. This is where the Hex arc has been heading all these years?

Standout Scene: The one part of the conclusion that I did really like was Ace and Sally summarising Hex's adventures and his history, proving that before his storyline got horribly disjointed he was a well fleshed out character.

Result: Signs and Wonders was moving along attention-grabbingly enough until...you guessed it...the regulars turned up. Then a moody drama becomes a melodramatic slug fest, drowning in angst and soap operatics and dodgy performances. I said the same thing about The Crimson Horror last year, this would have worked much better without the TARDIS showing up at all. The scene where Hector bangs his head against a brick wall trying to explain to Ace that there is a Hex shaped hole in him that she cannot fill it with her idea of who he is mortifyingly embarrassing, as Hollyoaks as I hope Doctor Who ever gets. That is until the bitch fight between Ace and Sally in episode two. This melodrama feels so tired, this bunch have been having similar rows over different things for years now. Just get rid of them. The story itself settles down to be a mash up of The Fearmonger (creating a psychic stir with propaganda), The Rapture (a prophet spreading his message through music), Project Destiny (a hysterical apocalypse in a major British city), Afterlife (picking up many of the themes from that story) and Gods and Monsters (the Elder Gods), not exactly where I would look for inspiration given those are some of those are the weakest of the McCoy audio adventures. Ken Bentley tries to direct with flair but there's no denying that we have seen all this before. Ultimately this was another noisy affair trying to be as epic as possible, the sort of thing that the main range churns out every other month now. It seems to be a result of the trilogies that each one feels the need to climax on as ambitious a story in scope, if not imagination. It means we get a great big and somewhat empty New Series finale every three releases. I would like for a trilogy to buck the trend and climax on something small and intimate. Like Mask of Tragedy, this probably would have worked better condensed into a 45 minute episode with all the flabby bits cut away. It wouldn't disguise the paucity of original ideas but it would be a much more digestible piece. I thought the Klein trilogy last year was ill-judged but the Hector trilogy has been even worse, not only poorly thought through but coming off as a poor repeat of everything we have already heard. Why force a character to stick around only to have them exit the range again only not as effectively? Why not take this opportunity to write out Ace, a character that has outlived her usefulness to a factor of ten. A bothersome end to a futile trilogy: 4/10

Monday, 15 September 2014

Victory of the Daleks written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Andrew Gunn


This story in a nutshell: The Daleks are Churchill’s secret weapon against the Nazi menace…

Cheeky Chappie: Bravo to Matt Smith who is working his ass off to make this awkward material come to life. Taken as a whole Victory of the Daleks does offer him a fair amount of scope, from outright rage to defiant heroism. I would say that he is very good at delivering the latter but still has yet to find a comfortable way to display anger. He just goes for it with the spanner and the result is a reminder of McCoy's inability to play hysterical emotion. Nobody can top Colin Baker in that field. It's the natural theatrical genes. I think it is rather wonderful that the Doctor is on such good terms with Churchill (check out Terrance Dicks' novel Players to see a previous encounter between the two men) and I wonder how many other famous historical figures he has this kind of bromance going on with. He admits he has just started running the TARDIS in. You can really see the difference between Smith and Tennant’s approach to acting in the scenes where the Doctor tries to convince Churchill about the nature of the Daleks. Smith plays it very gently and calmly whereas Tennant would have been all wild eyed and feral. Both are valid approaches but Smith's is the less invasive. When Smith loses control and batters the Dalek casing with a spanner it is the sort of thrilling anger we have never seen from this Doctor before.The Daleks are everything he despises. His jammie dodger trick delights, I love the idea of a man who is willing to take on three death machines with a biscuit. There are few moments where Gatiss forgets himself and he writes for the 11th Doctor like the 10th (‘Don’t mess with me, sweetheart’ would never be said by Smith later in the season and his ‘You’re brilliant’ is a replay of a scene in Journey’s End). I don't know that Gatiss ever quite got the hang of writing for the 11th Doctor (or as a friend of mine said recently whether the 11th Doctor is a definable character in his own right) - here he is still constructed out of leftovers from his predecessor and come Cold War and The Crimson Horror he has surrendered to little more than a handful of quirks. Night Terrors is probably his best stab at the incarnation (focussing on his attraction to young child in trouble which kicked off the era) and even that is far from the 11th Doctor's shining moment. Destroy the Daleks or save the Earth – the script makes it abundantly clear that the Doctor will do anything to finally rid the universe of the Daleks but the only thing that could turn him away from that is his favourite planet in peril. When trying to convince Bracewell to live the Doctor manages to capture the joy and the madness of being a human being (I love his reaction to the name Dorabella). At the end it is pure fury as the Daleks once again live to fight another day but Amy manages to remind him of what a fabulous job he has done. And that fury lacks conviction. He’s always worried about the Daleks.

Scots Tart: One of Amy’s best showings in her first season because she isn't portrayed as a morally corrupt, self centre harpy but a generic companion providing adequate support for the Doctor. This was the point however where I realised that we didn't know anything definable about Amy as a character and that she was severely lacking in the identification department compare to her predecessors in the Davies' era. Amy is positively orgasmic with excitement at turning up in the cabinet war rooms. She gazes out at the blimps and bombs with awe, history happening right in front of her. Real focus is given the fact that Amy doesn’t remember the Dalek invasion, the first big indication that something is wrong with this companion. Poor, naïve Amy actually marches up to a Dalek and interrogates it (‘Love a squaddie!’ made me wince). Amy gets to be thoughtful, sensitive and resourceful...what a shame they couldn’t keep this up. When it comes to convincing Bracewell not to crack open the planet Amy mentions fancying people that you shouldn't and this might be a back door reference to the shocking moment that was to come at the end of the next story. This is her wake up call that this life is dangerous.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If Hitler invaded Hell I would give a favourable reference to the Devil.’
‘Would you care for some tea?’
‘KBO of course. Keep Buggering On.’
‘I don’t care if you are a machine Bracewell. Are you a man?’

The Good Stuff: I realise Ian McNiece is offering up a parody of Churchill (like the Doctor of series seven, this is just a series of gestures that constitutes a definable shadow of the man in question without any of the depth) but he’s so cheeky and likeable that I can’t quite bring myself to disapprove. Compared to the treatment they gave Hitler this was positively authentic.  Bill Patterson is an actor I have long admired and he gives a superb performance in this story, I’m really happy he has finally made it into a Doctor Who adventure. Gatiss might be a little short on logic (a little?) but he does know how to construct an entrance for the Daleks and watching their bolts of energy launch into the sky and blow the bombers up is a reminder of glories past for the nasties. You can see how Steven Moffat might have been seduced by the idea of the Daleks turning out to be Churchill's secret weapon, it is such a delicious concept that it breaks my heart that they didn't run with it for the entire episode. There are a number of memorable visuals where we get to see the Daleks going about their business in the background and the Doctor watching on suspiciously. I love the moment the Daleks drop their façade and we cut to the saucer in orbit, unlike most Dalek stories that follow a predictable path I had absolutely no idea where this story was heading (which is a very exciting feeling for a change). You can see the director trying desperately to make the mundane set that the Progenator Daleks are created in more exciting than it is by fluidly swinging the camera back and forth to give the bubble bath toys full exposure. The new Daleks destroying the old ones is a visual representation of the Moffatt regime wiping away the Davies one. Unfortunately it was not a move for the better. The entire sequence of talking Bracewell out of detonating is one of my favourites of the season; the performances are sublime, the music hummable and it captures some real emotions. Bracewell’s freedom is very sweetly played too. I think these moment all come down to Patterson being a fine actor. The ominous crack in the wall makes another appearance. Something is officially going on.

The Bad Stuff: Why did they bother with the pointless subplot about the woman and her squaddie boyfriend? If it was to add layer of emotion to an episode that is emotionally vapid then we needed to spend much more time with her for this to have an impact. We are introduced to her at the beginning of the episode and she grieves for her lost love at the end. That's about it. Perhaps if we weren't arsing about with bubble bath toys we might have had time to make the war setting have a lasting impact on the viewer by getting closer to characters like this. The new Daleks = epic fail of the kind the series hasn't witnessed since it came back. Even Love & Monsters, which divides fans right down the middle has those who are willing to lay down their life to defend. The new Daleks were met with a practically universal critical panning and it boggles the mind that such a stylistic error could be made on a show where everything is cross examined to such an extent. The Fatleks lack any kind of menace; bulging at the sides as though the mutants inside have eaten far too many Skaro-based delicacies, coming in a variety of day glow colours and talking as though they have been suffering from mutant flu for some time. When you have a design that has successfully redefined the Daleks as a stylish, unstoppable menace why would you replace them with this? It was such a disaster that the production backtrack almost immediately and it was the first sign that perhaps the Steven Moffat era was going to be a bumpy ride. Why have we never heard of the progenitor device before? Why wouldn’t the Daleks not recognise their own kind? They’ve got bloody sink plungers and whisks! Also isn't it rather anti-climactic for these Daleks to wake up and then run away without doing anything of significance? They have single handedly taken the most frightening force in the series and gutted them of their ability to get under your skin. Spitfires in space? I know I should just surrender to the general bank holiday spectacular (if that is the right word) of the piece but logic is thrown so far out of the window that my ability to enjoy something as quirky as spitfires in space is scuppered. How were they built so quickly? How comes the regular soldiers aren't going mad for being out amongst the star firing at spaceships? You have to lobotomise yourself to such an extent that it isn't worth the hassle to find some enjoyment from this madness. ‘Do you worst, Adolph!’ – I hate these moments where the writer is desperately trying to please the audience.

Result: Another Moffat era story that has gone down in my estimation, Victory of the Daleks has not aged well at all. Maybe it has something to do with the waste of a perfectly good premise (Churchill's secret weapon) for a far more ridiculous one (the new Daleks supplanted the old ones) or maybe it is because the design of the new Daleks was so ineffective that the production team immediately tried to backtrack and return to the original, Davies ones, as soon as they possibly could. It's a wartime story being told in the broadest of strokes, lacking any serious detail or education and far more invested in the bank holiday spectacle that these sorts of films have to offer. You've got Ian McNiece and Bill Patterson, two extremely strong actors, being wasted on roles that have no great depth or lasting worth to them. Matt Smith is single handedly trying to hold the story together but he can't quite manage it this time...and he still can't portray anger with any great conviction and Karen Gillan is at her least offensive but that is because Amy is given practically nothing to do. I should point out that the first 15 minutes do show some potential but as soon as the Doctor is transported up to the Dalek ship the story dive bombs into a well of decrepitude. Remembered as the story that rivals Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks as the worst new series Dalek story, personally I would rate it lower because even the direction of Victory is awkward and unsure of itself. With a script like this to realise, I am not at all surprised: 4/10

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Mask of Tragedy written by James Goss and written by Ken Bentley

What's it about: Athens, 421 BC. An ancient civilisation of philosophers and poets and the birthplace of theatre. The Doctor has decided to show Ace and Hector how it all began, with help from the great comedian Aristophanes. But life in Athens is no laughing matter. There’s the ever-present threat of invasion from the Spartan horde. The plague that turns people into the walking dead. The slavery. The tyrannical rule of the paranoid, malicious Cleon and his network of informers. And the giant flying beetle with knives for wings that stalks the city streets at night. What Athens needs is a hero. And who better to be a hero in ancient Greece than a man called Hector?

The Real McCoy: For once the Doctor wants to fit in and he dons a toga for this visit to Athens. He pays for one of Aristophanes comedies to be put on every year. How interesting to hear the Doctor admitting that Mel fitted in far more comfortably in Athens than Ace does. Oh that this were a Seventh Doctor and Mel story...gosh when did that role reversal happen? Does anything ever work out the way the Doctor plans it? I love the idea of the Doctor fronting an argument that saving lives is irresponsible, just like he did in Medicinal Purposes. He hates the way the universe works but what happened in history happened in history and there's not a damn thing he can do to change that. Hector declares him a cunning old fox...that's just how we like him.

Oh Wicked: Ace has spent her time in the TARDIS watching Hollyoaks? It's either that or she has spent a few months in the future and never missed an episode. What an entirely unproductive waste of her time. Is it my imagination or has Ace reverted back to her childish days in this latest trilogy? After the embarrassing days of Colditz ('I hate Nazi's!') and The Rapture ('Dance McShane, dance!') I thought they were promoting a tougher, smarter, more mature Ace who was mentoring Hex through his time travelling days. All of a sudden she is overly emotional, reactionary and prone to some very immature moments. Unfortunately sexism is rife in this period of history (isn't it the case in all periods of history before the suffragette movement?) and you can just imagine Ace's calm and collected (not) reaction which hardly brings out the best in Sophie Aldred's performance. There is a question of Ace's ability to act...which unfortunately reminded me of Aldred's inconsistent ability in the area of audio drama. The tone of the two stories is completely different but check out Lisa Bowerman's commentary in James Goss' Bernice Summerfield adventure The Winning Side - now that is an actress narrating with passion. Aldred's efforts in comparison are a little amateurish. She hollers her way through the opening scenes of episode two and it gave me a right earache...and blow me if she's hollering away right at the end of it too. Remember when Leela joined forces with Boudica and marched on her enemies? Imagine Ace doing that with the Spartans but with about one hundredth of the conviction. It was humiliating listening. 'I'm sick of Gods!' This character is beyond tired now, her endless adventures being churned out of the storytelling factory for over 20 years (the TV series handed the baton over to the novels and the comic strip who handed the baton on to Big Finish). Someone make it stop. 'You lying Spartan! You said you didn't lie!' Oh please.

Alter Ego: Hector does not enjoy being compared to Hex all the time, which is kind of difficult given that he is exactly the same character, right down to how Olivier chooses to play him. Towards the end of episode two where the Doctor and Hex had spent the entirety together I found myself saying aloud 'this is Hex!' There is no differentiation between the two characters despite what the script constantly points out. It snatches away the bold decision to get rid of the character in Gods and Monsters and instead turns it into a weak manipulation of the audience, tempting them with the idea that he has snuffed it when a carbon copy is to be dropped in their laps immediately afterwards. It's Star Trek Nemesis all over again. The only thing worse than being a range that refuses to take risks is one that pretends to take them and then chickens out. Hector's mind is still vulnerable from his previous adventure where it took a battering from the Nucleus of the Swarm and he is in no fit state to control the consciousness of the city once wearing the mask. When he rants about history not being fun and games and how impotent he felt in not being able to help people...haven't we been here before with Hex? Hector has a paddy and wants to go home. Good stuff, let's get through Signs and Wonders and hopefully that will be an end to him.

Standout Performance: Those that find the jolly musical commentary in The Gunfighters annoying should steer clear of this adventure...Sophie Aldred's narration is so amateurishly enthusiastic that I wanted to stuff a rag in Ace's mouth at some points (that goes for all her bawling in the main body of the story too). Philip Olivier's attempts on the other hand are pretty intriguing, simply because of the accent he chooses to sport. Olivier's hysterical response to having the mask crushed on his face was the first time I really sat up and paid attention, such was the intensity of the performance.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Athens: cradle of civilisation and temporal tourist hotspot.'
The Spartans are like 'Daleks with good hair. All curls and ringlets...reminds me of Wham.'
'Let's not stand around a wait for the reviews!'
'We've done nothing but help the Doctor invent light entertainment!'

Great Ideas: The opening scenes of Signs and Wonders suggest that this is going to be one of the more impressive stories to come out of the main range this year; Athens is introduced in a beautifully scripted overture and Hector is already written into the narrative. An intriguing opening. You have to have a hero, a villain and a chorus, whether you wanted them or not. Beetles with huge wings like flashing knives...that's a pretty sinister visual. Tragedy dispersed by comedy...there is some mileage in that and Goss goes some way to realising the idea.

Audio Landscape: Cheers, jeers, clapping, steel on steel, crackling flames, birdsong, a dog barking, chickens crowing, heartbeat, chorus of frogs.

Musical Cues: The music leapt out at me immediately as being something quite different from the norm and expertly composed...I shouldn't have even looked to see who it was. Fox and Yason have done it again, providing music that builds in the epic scope and mythological importance of the Athenian setting. Whilst it contributes to the cacophony of noise in the later episodes just listen to this score on its own...it really is very good.

Isn't it Odd: Although it plays about with the time tourism idea agreeably enough, the gigglesome DWM strip Hotel Historia and the BBC novel of temporal mind fuckery that is The Last Resort devoted themselves to the notion and explored it with more effort. I could have done without the intrusion of science fiction elements at all if I am honest - what has happened to the pure historical these days? Goss has the flavour of Athens at his fingertips, he could have written a perfectly gripping straight historical recounting the attack of Athens by the Spartans and I'm almost willing to bet it would have been a knockout. Maybe dented by this TARDIS team a little, but much more gripping. Considering the time it is set in there are far too many pop culture references in this story and why this TARDIS team (who have rarely gone in for this sort of thing before) should start sounding like they are working from a Russell T. Davies script is beyond me. It was pretty distracting and not it a positive way ('Look out Germaine Greer! Guards!'). The story ends with a double pun, one about the Beatles and one aping Superman and neither are as funny as the author thinks they are. Wouldn't it have been nice for the beetle to have been the Terravore from The Crimes of Thomas Brewster? I'm starting to tire of historical characters being quite so blasé about insane science fiction concepts. You're time travellers from the future, says Vincent Van Gogh, I knew it as soon as I looked at you. That's a time machine and Martha is from the future, deduces Shakespeare. Aliens visiting Athens is just like the Gods popping in, says Aristophanes. Groan. Self awareness can trip over into narrative smugness. For everybody else who bought into the idea that Hex became one of the Ancient Gods then the suggestions that this might dovetail into that (Olivier's English accent, Hector taking on the bearing of a God) might get very excited. I was just hoping it would bring this misbegotten arc to a close as quickly as possible so the seventh Doctor could be free of its shackles and head off for some fresh adventures. Too much noise, not enough discussion, the third episode devolves into a lot of action that we can't see and shouting. The end of episode three and EVERYBODY is screaming screaming screaming screaming... The Doctor has had a go, Ace has been doing it all the way through, the people of Athens are in uproar, the Spartans have unleashed their battle cry and now Hex is bawling out hysterically...prepare yourself for a barrage of noise in this one. Bring some painkillers.

Standout Scene: McCoy was mega naff (to quote Ace) in Revenge of the Swarm but seems on much surer footing in this story, its quirky tone playing to his strengths as an actor. As such his speech to the jurors in episode three is a real oddball highlight and he aces the monologue in a way that he rarely does when he asked to deliver a dramatic speech (think of the climax of Battlefield or the 'evil from the dawn of time' speech in Curse of Fenric).

Result: Big Finish just don't know when to let it go, do they? Hex brought a spell of success for a handful of trilogies so rather than bring his character to a natural end they resurrect him in a new guise (after killing him off in the most hysterical fashion) and have this perverted story arc hinder what might have been some very decent stories (well, not Revenge of the Swarm). Without the impediment of the Hector arc running through it like a stick of rock, this might have scored higher. Mask of Tragedy starts out as a rather jolly affair, perfectly entertaining for the most part without ever being enthralling. I expected much more from James Goss but that is only because he has set the bar for himself extremely high (The Last Post, In Living Memory) and I was hoping that dipping his toes in the main range for the first time would be the jewel in the crown this year, just as John Dorney's The Forth Wall managed a few years back. The dialogue is perky, the pacing excellent and there was an element of wit that made it very easy to swallow down. It is a perfectly serviceable Doctor Who story that has all the predictable elements in place (history, aliens, a villain). Somewhere along the line though it all devolves into a chorus (hoho) of hysterical noise, trying to deafen the audience and posing as drama. What really spoils things, though, are the regulars. I'm bored rigid of this line up and not even a writer of James Goss' eminence can find anything new to say about them. Ace seems to have devolved back into a child, Hector is Hex for all they mention otherwise and the Seventh Doctor has nothing fresh to do with these companions. Everything has been said about this line up that is going to be said and continuing it just because they were once popular has the adverse effect of poisoning their run. I haven't been this fatigued by companions since the endless eighth Doctor and Charley saga. McCoy needs somebody new to bounce off (Sally would have been ideal). This is very much in the same vein of Starlight Robbery in the ill-fated second Klein trilogy, a bout of frippery before things get very serious indeed. It's nowhere near as successful and let's prey that Signs and Wonders doesn't turn out like Daleks Among Us. You wouldn't think a story of plague victims and encroaching Spartans could be spun as light entertainment...and if I'm honest I'm not sure it should have been. In Mask of Tragedy science fiction encroaches on history and murders any lasting impact, which is a shame because there are some lovely conceits that are rooted in real history (such as the Doctor being Aristophanes sponsor, a genuine figure in his life). This wasn't appalling but there were times when I wanted to shut myself in a dark room and make all the screaming go away: 5/10

The Web of Fear written by Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln and directed by Douglas Camfield


 This story in a nutshell: Londoners Flee! Yeti's Attack!

Oh My Giddy Aunt: What a wonderful exploration of everything magical that Patrick Troughton brought to the role of the Doctor. I think he is often considered something of a clown but when gems such as The Web of Fear are found it becomes clear that there is so much more to Troughton's Doctor than comedy high-jinks. There are moments in this story when he is quite frightening, drawing on the tension of the situation and coming across as more alien in his responses than ever. He cannot bear to hang around and as soon as the Salamander crisis is over and the TARDIS is back under control he is eager to move on to their next destination. A genuine lust for adventure...or a concentrated effort to move on from an adventure that saw a desperately evil man wearing his face? When I watch the scenes of the Doctor investigating the Underground alone and being menaced by the Yeti's I sometimes wonder how he would have fared without companions for a few stories. You can't take your eyes off him, even when he is silent. Given Troughton's holidaying in episode two it gives the writers the chance to play on the audiences fears...he's missing for a whole episode. Has he been killed by the Yeti? The Doctor gives the most comprehensive description of the Intelligence in episode four in a terrific speech for Troughton. The Doctor has never made less allowances for comforting the children in the audience, unable to give them a precise account of this malevolent entity and admitting he doesn't know how to defeat it. The cuddliest Doctor at his most unfamiliar and most riveting. Watch the Doctor and Anne together closely, it is like a proto 3rd Doctor and Liz and a partnership that has definite possibilities. Shame he is always stuck with kids. There is still time for a little toot on his recorder in the last episode. He's a man of incredible cunning, making it appear that he is willing to sacrifice himself so the others can survive when in fact he has a plan up his sleeve to exhaust the Great Intelligence. Remember that moment at the beginning of Listen where the Doctor is sitting atop the TARDIS like a Buddhist monk ruminating on the darker puzzles of the universe...well the second Doctor got there first, sitting alone on an Underground platform, legs crossed, having profound and sinister and unknowable thoughts. I love it when Troughton is able to play the mysterious side of his character, it counterpoints the comedy elsewhere by allowing him to be perfectly still and yet just as compelling. What an actor. Chorley is desperate to turn the Doctor into a household name but that is his greatest fear. This Doctor doesn't like a big fanfare, he likes to slip away quietly. I'm not sure if that is because recognition humiliates him or simply because he cannot be bothered with explanations and tidying up.

Who's the Yahoos: Watching the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria screaming and groping at each other (not like that, dirty) as the TARDIS reacts violently to the doors being open mid flight is another of those moment when you can see that this trio were made for each other. Although I prefer the Doctor/Jamie/Zoe combination (simply because Zoe was a stronger character than Victoria), these three at their height had great chemistry. What's great is that with Victoria whimpering and paying the victim, Jamie is forced to reason and think things through (when Zoe comes along that will all be done for him). He's not just the brawn in season five, he's the brains too (that's pretty frightening). The uselessness of Jamie and Victoria is made plain in episode four when Jamie asks if there is anything that they can do and he takes Anne with him and tells them to try take it easy and they put their feet up.

Screaming Violet: There's one scene which exemplifies just how hopeless Victoria is in Doctor Who. Soldiers report that she has gone off to look for Jamie and the Doctor and we cut to her ambling along the tunnels calling out their names fruitlessly. She would be the worst rescue party ever. I was longing for a Yeti to spring from the darkness and snap her neck (a bit harsh, but you know what I mean). She's good for corridor wandering for 25 minutes but that's about it. At the beginning of episode three she is still wandering about whispering the Doctor's name, stuck in a narrative (and geographical) loop end for a whole week. And by the end of episode three she is snivelling and sniffing over Jamie. Sticking Anne with Victoria only goes to serve to highlight Anne's strengths and Victoria's deficiencies. The sad thing about Victoria is that she was used as a tool to frighten the children far more than she was allowed to breathe as a character. She's got the same problem as Clara but coming from the other direction - where Clara is all confidence and self assurance but lacking any real emotional depth, Victoria is a shrinking violent finding menace in every shadow with the same deficiency of character. The few moments where Victoria is allowed to stop screaming and shine (there are a number of great moments in Tomb of the Cybermen) reveal that she was capable of so much more. She fulfils no function in The Web of Fear but to act frightened. If she was removed, the story would play out in exactly the same way.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Don't say it Mr Chorley, I have a very quick temper and very long claws.'
'Whoever is in league with the intelligence could still be amongst us here. Perhaps the best way to describe it is a sort of formless, shapeless thing, floating around in space like a cloud of mist only with a mind and will. The only thing I know for sure is that it brought me here.'

The Good:

* The stories in season five often had a tenuous link to the tale preceding it, usually a line inserted about the location they had recently visited. However the dramatic events at the end of The Enemy of the World that saw the Doctor's doppelganger sucked out into the vortex and TARDIS careering out of control had to be addressed, making this the first direct continuation of the previous story in some time. It is certainly a dramatic commencement to The Web of Fear, appropriate in a story that has own fair share of powerfully dramatic moments.  This could have been a horribly embarrassing sequence but Camfield positions his camera expertly and the lighting suggests disarray in a way that a massive budget on effects never could.
* I've always been a bit sceptical about the Yeti as villains. In the publicity shots of them they look so darned cute that I was sure I wouldn't be able to take them seriously. The first moment I knew I was completely wrong about that was in the exquisite sequence set in Silverstein's museum. Moodily lit, dramatically scored and shot like a hammer horror film for a teatime audience, the re-activation of the Yeti might just be the most terrifying sequence in Doctor Who to this point when it comes to its monsters. I don't think stock music has ever been put to such good use either, both melodramatic and very scary (I love the piano). The Yeti bears down on Silverstein with such force that its blow probably smashed his skull in (thank goodness we were spared that).
* What a delightful old curmudgeon Professor Travers has become ('Television? Never watch it! You and actor or something?') and like all the best TV curmudgeons he has the ability to be very funny as well (Victor Meldrew). It was a stroke of genius to set this story in the 1960s and re-introduce Travers as an older man, it gives the story a strong link back to The Abominable Snowmen but with a unique twist. This time Travers comes armed with his daughter Anne, one of the companions that never was. She's acidic with her wit, ruthless to chauvinistic men, charming with those she considers worthy and highly intelligent. Throughout this story she outshines Victoria by a factor of ten.

* The quality guest cast doesn't stop with the Travers' though, there's Harold Chorley too who immediately manages to get under your skin by being a television reporter before he even opens his mouth and a torrent of smarm pours forth. His reaction to the threat strikes me as the most realistic and I wouldn't cast him as a coward at all, he is genuinely terrified by the thought of being stalked in the shadowy underground by the Yeti and consumed by the pulsating, animated web. As much as we would all like to think that we would react to this claustrophobic, dangerous situation like Captain Knight (stalwart and brave), the Doctor (thoughtful and considered) or even Driver Evans (taking the piss without a care in the world), I think a great many of us would be stone cold terrified and run just as Chorley does. I can't condemn him for that. As the story progresses he becomes irrational, paranoid and increasingly frantic in his reactions...and that's how I knew he wasn't a representative of the Great Intelligence (despite the script trying to convince me otherwise). It was too realistic a reaction to the stress of the situation. It's the calm ones you should be looking at. Chorley vanishes for the length of a bible and stumbles back into the action at the climax, his absence supposedly suggesting his allegiance with the Intelligence. When he returns you will witness one of the best portrayals of paralysing terror in Doctor Who courtesy of Jon Ronallson, topped only by Ransome in Spearhead from Space.
* Knight works for the opposite reason, because he somehow manages to stay polite with everybody even when he is under great strain. We don't really learn a great deal about him except the fact that he likes a flirt with the ladies (he is a soldier) and he will willingly risk his life offhandedly to save the lives of others. His death at the hands of a Yeti is a heart stopping moment and one of the most unmerited moments in Doctor Who. Anyone is potentially a gonner in his story.
* Driver Evans is vital in a story like this, just to provide a little local colour and humour when everybody is taking the story so deadly seriously. He loses his charm quite quickly (because his shoulder shrugging makes little sense in such a tense situation) but for a couple of episodes it is nice to come across somebody so normal, a man who is obsessed with his tobacco and not getting involved. What is it about Who and comedy Welshmen? We're almost in Midnight territory during episode five when Evans makes the unconscionable suggestion that they let the Intelligence have the Doctor so they can all escape. The others look at each other but Doctor Who at this point isn't brave enough to see that thought through to its natural conclusion (if people were genuinely this frightened for their lives they would certainly consider the option). A shame because episode five could have done with a shot to the arm like this. The fact that the notion was even aired shows the level of characterisation on offer though, Evans is unique in his casual ruthlessness. By the end of the paranoia is so taut that people are pointing guns as well as fingers.

* This is a story stacked with one memorable image after another; the TARDIS suspended in space encased in web, the pristine chrome infrastructure of the underground highlighted in the darkness, a dead man covered in lecherous cobwebs, propped up and falling to the ground, the crates draped with the oozing web and glowing menacingly in the shadows as the Doctor leaps away screaming, glowing eyes lumbering out of the darkness, screaming fungus rolling inexorably out of the tunnels, web purring and pulsating in front of the cameras as characters approach, an illuminated map of the underground closing in like a spiders web, gas masked soldiers walking into sticky web and screaming hysterically once engulfed and being pulled free on a trolley, lifeless and decked with webbing, Yeti marching through the streets brandishing their web guns, the glassy pyramid dominating the barren ticket office at Piccadilly, Arnold's corpse, battered and bruised and re-animated as a receptacle for the Intelligence and finally his charred corpse released, smoking and lifeless.
* You have probably heard people going on about the quality of the set design and lighting and how London Underground genuinely though they had filmed on their premises without permission because the setting was so realistically portrayed ad nauseum. Well tough, it's worth re-iterating because this is the perfect opportunity to show just how atmospheric Doctor Who can be on a shoestring budget. Clever design work and atmospheric lighting and it looks so authentic you'll believe that they are on location. When other directors/actors/critics point out that the reason the sets look unconvincing is because they didn't have the money to realise them adequately please point them in the direction of The Web of Fear. The tunnels are treated as something to be dreaded and so when characters do venture into the darkness it is a nail biting experience. Yeti's come out of the shadows, eyes glowing, roaring, handheld camerawork capturing their lumbering, unstoppable gait and bullets simply bounce away as they consume the soldiers in web or crush their skulls with their arms. Men scream as the web attacks their faces like an acid. It's about as terrorizing as Doctor Who comes for children. There is a spanking new set in episode six, usually the point where the money has completely run out and it is refreshing to get out of the oppressive atmosphere of the tunnels and into one of the stations. The sterile nature of gives the finale an unearthly feel, with a mist clinging to everything and the glass triangle dominating the space. It feels appropriately opaque to have a showdown with such a conceptual horror. 
* What a truly crap idea the web guns are, especially giving them to the Yeti (I seriously don't see the connection). How terrifying they are in realisation. This might be a first in Doctor Who. Usually it is a strong idea that hasn't been realised adequately. This time around it is a troubling idea that is sold entirely on it's petrifying translation on screen.

* I always imagined that Lethbridge-Stewart's introduction would be met with some kind of fanfare given the important role he would go on to play in the series. Thinking about this logically for a moment...why would that be the case at all? He wasn't designed to be a series regular, this was just a one shot character that worked out really well, they decided to bring back and became woven into the fabric of the series. In fact he is dumped in the middle of this story without ceremony and treated as a figure of suspicion for a while. If nobody can trust anybody...who the hell is this bossy Colonel who has appeared out of the darkness from nowhere? I like that approach, it might just be the most interesting use of the character in his entire run.
* The whole idea of the enemy within is a frightening one that accentuates the paranoia in the later episodes as fingers start being pointed. I love the idea of a shot of the door being slowly unlocked by somebody and then later the Yeti slowly making their way inside. What this story also does very well is capture the essence of dread and fear. It is all very well having Victoria whimper and scream (which I usually approve of in a companion, male or female, because it allows us to recognise that the situation is frightening) but since she does that every week, whether it is warranted or not, it rather renders the exercise pointless. So when adult characters like Travers and his daughter start screaming before being attacked we know that this is a really scary situation. When a mass slaughter of soldiers practically reduces the Colonel to tears in fear and exhaustion, the shit has well and truly hit the fan. Few Doctor Who stories would dare to show anxiety quite so boldly in adult characters. It is quite mesmerizing, if you're willing to come out from behind the cushion.
* Cleverly the story tries to convince you that it was Travers who was doing the Great Intelligence's bidding all along, distracting you from the real culprit. Usually I am devastated by actors who are asked to play 'possessed', it either gives them the opportunity to go wildly over the top and silly or they do something equally ridiculous and quirky with it by trying to be deadly serious. Perhaps it is the atmosphere of paranoia that this story has successfully brewed or perhaps it is because Jack Watling delivers his lines with such lecherous (it sounds as though the GI is sucking the life out of him whilst making him talk) and ethereal calm but this just works. It's pretty uncomfortable viewing. Not to mention the whispering voice coming out of the underground speakers. I bet there wasn't a dry bed in the house for six weeks. Especially in the wake of the moment when the Doctor is trying to gain control of the screaming Yeti coming at him...and it looks like he isn't going to succeed!
* It is a conceptual villain and I'm pleased that the Doctor's plan has gone tits so it can once again exist out there in space, angry and vengeful and ready for the next chance to have a go at the Time Lord. I wonder when that might be...

The Bad:

* Strangely enough the one character who doesn't quite work for me is Staff Arnold, until he is revealed (don't read any further unless you have seen the story) as the walking shell that has been holding the Intelligence's consciousness. I don't know if Jack Woolgar was deliberately giving an awkward performance to lay the foundations for the twist at the end or not but I just couldn't buy into this man as I could Knight or Lethbridge-Stewart.
* What a shame about episode three being missing and having to watch it through a series of blurry telesnaps (although we should be grateful for that since without it it would only be a grainy soundtrack recording to judge by). This is the point where the story chooses to settle down and talk about everything that is going on as well, which might make the lack of moving pictures more bearable (imagine if it had been episode four and we had lost the Covent Garden sequence) but does make the experience a little more wearying too. I think even if this episode was complete, it would be the weakest of the bunch (like Enemy of the World). They call a briefing and the back story is useful but it is basically 25 minutes worth of exposition with very little movement to liven things up. As soon as the story becomes animated again (but not animated in the way of some of the missing Troughton adventures are) it is immediately gripping, Yeti's storming through headquarters and attacking Travers and Anne. The lull is over.
* The end of episode five might be an interesting visual (the foam bursting through the wall) but we've been here a couple of times in the story now...it is time for a wrap up.


Moment to Watch Out For: After watching The Crusade, the surviving material of The Daleks' Masterplan and The Invasion and the top notch quality of the direction in all of those I was already convinced that Douglas Camfield was the finest director to ever work on the show (to date I think only Graeme Harper has come anywhere near close to toppling that position). However after seeing the attack by the Yeti in the Covent Garden sequence, a ten minute action sequence shot on location, I was literally blown away by what the man had achieved on a Doctor Who budget. Even more impressive is that he manages to convince that these great hulking teddy bears are a genuinely relentless and formidable threat. That was easy enough to achieve in the darkness of the Underground but by bringing them out into the bright open spaces it exposes the deficiencies in their design (they really aren't any less ridiculous than the Mandrels) and it should have rendered this sequence a joke. Instead Camfield directs this as though it is a blockbusting film, filling it full of extras, allowing us to see how afraid they are, slaughtering them unremittingly and best of all...these cuddly creatures just keep coming. You can take a few of them out but there is always more. They never tire, they never give up, they don't show a shred of emotion except to roar hysterically and keep on going until every one of those soldiers is dead. It leaves Lethbridge-Stewart close to breaking down, panting, uncomprehending, terrified. It's expertly done and deserves all the praise heaped upon that it can get because really...it shouldn't have worked at all. One of the most dynamic and terrifying action sequences that this series ever put out, up there with episode three of The Deadly Assassin. No wonder Troughton had to issue a warning for the kids to hold their parents hands before watching. That moment when the soldier thinks he has escaped and gets dragged to his death screaming...brrr. A huge round of applause for the music too, which is as persistent and inescapable and dramatic as the Yeti themselves. This sequence sums up Doctor Who perfectly for me...how something intrinsically funny can become very disturbing in a short space of time. It is capped off with possibly the most butt clenching moment in the whole serial when the Doctor and Knight are trapped inside the electronics store with a silent Yeti who glides in behind them and (never before have I wanted to scream 'He's behind you!' at a Doctor Who story...perhaps he cliffhanger The Brain of Morbius episode three) slaughters the good Captain and then turns on the Doctor...

The Shallow Bit: Lots of lovely soldiers. Well a chap has eyes, you know. Anne Travers is easily gorgeous enough to secure a role as the next companion.

Result: What a find. Something that Doctor Who fans had longed to see for so long back in the archives, almost complete. The Web of Fear is a very good Doctor Who story but I wouldn't say it is without flaws. The best parts of it are about as good as Doctor Who comes (the stunning design and lighting, the frightening moments and the action sequences) but it is also overlong at six episodes, repetitive and occasionally it is possible to lose interest when you are waiting for the next impressive set piece to turn up. It is almost the antithesis of The Enemy of the World which had an awful lot of detail, substance and a multi-layered villain, The Web of Fear is practically all style (and most of that is down to the series' best director) with the most conceptual and opaque villain the show ever produced. The fact that The Great Intelligence is such an unknowable threat is part of what makes it so effectively scary and there is nothing wrong with a classily presented serial, especially when it is as classy as this. Watching it in one whack is fatal like all six parters and reveals the padding and recurring escape and capture material, it was designed to be watched 25 minutes a week. Saying that there is a definite lull in episodes three and five and this could probably have been condensed down to a really tight and extraordinary four part story. However the story rouses for an extraordinary action sequence in Convent Garden in episode four and I personally find the last episode one of the creepiest Troughton instalments of all, the paranoia and conceptual horror at its terrorizing best. Troughton himself is fairly quiet in this one, brooding in the background, coming off as more alien than ever and allowing space for the well fleshed out guest cast who carry much of the story (Jamie and Victoria are present but not especially effective). It's interesting to note that this is one of the few Troughton adventures where the viewing figures practically kept on climbing throughout, with episode six the second highest of the serial (the point where most of the audience are fatigued of the current tale and waiting for the next one to start). It says something about the quality of the material that this could grow an audience over a month and a half. It might seem heresy to say that I preferred the other find to this one but that is not to say that I didn't thoroughly enjoy this story and cannot see its many strengths. In a marathon though this is simply more of the same in season five, a claustrophobic base under siege tale with monsters, albeit done extremely well whereas Enemy did something innovative and unique (but perhaps not realised quite as spectacularly). If you allow yourself to get suckered in to it's oppressive, claustrophobic and paranoid atmosphere, this is the ultimate horror Who: 8/10

Over £1000 raised for Age Concern Eastbourne!



Thanks to the heroic efforts of the team at Sainsbury's Seaside we managed to raise over £1000 for Age Concern Eastbourne on our first fundraiser. Over 3 days we cycled 398 miles and managed our target of the length of the Grand Canyon and then some! If you would like to show your support for all the efforts of the team there is a link below where you can donate. Age Concern Eastbourne is a local charity that looks after the elderly of the town and the surrounding areas, it provides information, fun activities, befriending (which I do three times a week with some charming gents), will writing, meals, beauty treatments and so much more. I think sometimes the elderly are sometimes forgotten (nobody likes to be reminded that they will get old) and this wonderful charity ensures they spend their twilight years with dignity and company and somebody to watch out for them. I will be arranging some more fundraisers throughout the year but this was a terrific first push.

Thanks for reading guys.

https://www.justgiving.com/SainsburysSeaside

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Melora written by Evan Carols Somers, Steven Baum, Michael Piller & James Crocker (anyone else?) and directed by Winrich Kolbe


What’s it about: Bashir falls in love with his latest patient…

GE Doctor: Bashir can’t resist a damsel in distress, even one who would be insulted if she thought that was how she was considered. I really admired Bashir for heading to Melora’s quarters and showing her how she insults everybody to keep them at bay. Sometimes you have to face things head on and tell people they are being a right arse. This is the first time we hear the story of why Bashir became a Doctor but he spins a different tale in Armageddon Game and then another one in The Quickening which would seem very remiss of the writers until they reveal in Dr Bashir, I Presume why his story keeps changing and what he was hiding. As far as Trek romances go, this isn't too vomt inducing and Bashir proves to be quite a gentle romantic lead. 

Community Leader: To be fair to Quark he does try every avenue to appease Fallit, throwing exquisite cuisine, free gambling and sex at the guy. Odo’s smile when Quark tells him Fallit has threatened to kill him is lovely. Poor Quark, he’s just about to broker his most lucrative deal of the year (and its all legal too!) and along comes his a shadow from his past to snatch it away.

The Little Mermaid: Daphne Ashbrook gives a full bloodied performance in what must have been quite a demanding role – as written Melora is quite a difficult character but she manages to bring a great deal of humanity to the character. Melora is such a believable character but I don’t know if she is much of a likable one. On the one hand I love the way she is determined to adapt to new environments once her basic requirements are met (my mother belongs to a disability social group and trust me the demands that people make are extraordinary, expecting rather than requesting) but on the other hand she takes things far too personally as though every conversation regarding her disability is an insult. She objects to being treated as though she is ill but that isn’t what is happening and Sisko gives her a good touch of cold water to the face to remind her that what she perceives as people walking on eggshells around her is just a normal personnel conversation. She dreamed of exploring the stars when she was young and she wasn’t going to allow a handicap to stop her. She is her own worst enemy, heading off into areas where she clearly cannot cope. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Then afterwards we’ll go dancing’ ‘Oooh red alert!’
‘You people sell pieces of yourself after you die, don’t you?’ ‘Yes’ ‘I’ll buy one.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘My heart is pounding’ ‘I would like to think that has more to do with me…’ – oh vomit.

The Good: Who wouldn’t want to be able to experience the low gravity quarters? The Klingon restaurant owner is a brilliant touch of madness. I love how he tosses the food over his shoulder so violently when told it is half dead and then bites the money that Bashir gives him to prove it is authentic. He even sings! A shame he wasn’t around more. 

The Bad: Whilst it is nice to be introduced to some of Quark’s nefarious past I’m not sure if this is the best way to go about it. Peter Crombie fails to convince in any way as an ex con that has returned to kill Quark after selling him out, being too softly spoken and delicate to make an impact. The approach to this b plot is far too light and if you were going to have fun with Quark dodging death they could have been far more in-yer-face about it (go and watch Body Parts for a good example ‘ ‘Garak? If you’re in here...I’m not going to be surprised!’). How does Fallit’s stupid nose and mouth work anyway? It’s the daftest piece of design since the big furry monster in The Dauphin. Melora does have a very good point – what kind of architect does design a raised rim at every door? The conversation between Melora and Dax in the runabout belongs in a daytime soap (it’s the sort of trashy nonsense they usually give Troi and Dr Bev to talk about whilst exercising together) and coining long distance relationships as ‘love across light years’ made me wince. The writers don’t trust us to get the illusion and so there is a handy reminder by Dax that this is a riff on The Little Mermaid. There is absolutely no reason for Fallit to kill the guy and steal the money unless he happens to like being on the run…or the episode needed a dull jeopardy plot because it didn’t trust itself to be interesting enough on the strength of its ideas. Melora being shot fails on two levels; one the execution isn’t gripping enough to make an impact and two the get out clause is highly implausible. Surely this episode wasn’t written just to justify the awkwardly realised Melora-flies-through-the-runabout conclusion? 

Moment to Watch Out For: The sequence where Bashir and Melora glide about her quarters is very well done although I almost went blind when Bashir’s crotch came flying towards the camera. Imagine being how to snog and fly like that? It would be the ultimate sensory experience.

Result: No where near as bad as I remembered but still a step down from the quality of the opening episodes, Melora raises some interesting issues about being disabled in the future but confined to one episode they don’t really make much of an impact. It would have been far more effective if Melora had remained aboard DS9 for some time to see this intriguing angle flourish. It’s not as agonising as you would imagine watching Bashir getting all moon eyed over her and they actually share a number of nice scenes together, although even DS9 cannot resist a fair amount of pukey romantic dialogue. Letting the episode down terribly is the abysmal Quark subplot which comes from nowhere, fails to gain any impetus and crashes into the main plot with embarrassing clumsiness. For the first 20 minutes this chugs along nicely enough but by the end the whole exercise feels very tiresome: 5/10