Saturday, 24 September 2011

Season Ten

The Doctor has been pardoned by the Time Lords and is once again free to roam in time and space! In his most colourful season yet her faces a horror from his own mythology and meets up with his previous selves, the deadly Drashigs inside a miniscope, the Daleks pitting the Earth and Draconia at war, an army of frozen Daleks on Spiridon and giant maggots attacking from a mine in Wales!

The regulars -

The Three Doctors written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin and directed by Lennie Mayne

Result: I don't want to suggest that there is no good in The Three Doctors because that is clearly not the case but it is one of those rare moments in the shows history where the script and the production are so at loggerheads with each other it is hard to believe the that the writers and director ever clapped eyes on each other (Paradise Towers is another example in this vein). The script isn't a work of art but it has some very tasty ideas hidden beneath the comedy but it is constantly undercut by poor resources and some gaudy and dull direction on behalf of Lennie Mayne. Certainly his work on stories like The Curse of Peladon and The Hand of Fear are a massive step up in quality and do not have this level of ambivalence. Before Troughton turns up in episode one it is practically unwatchable, the UNIT scenes here are perhaps the nadir of the era because there is a paradoxical feeling that everybody is approaching the material so earnestly and yet not taking it seriously at all. It's like anti-drama (and I don't mean comedy, just people reacting to things in a very bland way). Then the Gell Guards turn up. Poor Nicholas Courtney feels like he is being characterised by a child and is given some terrible dialogue that he tries his damnedest to overcome. It certainly says something when Benton is given far more credibility than his commanding officer. Things only get worse once we reach the universe of antimatter, probably the singularly dullest place the Doctor has ever visited (and that includes the pacifist planet of Dulkis) and all the characters wind up romping about some garish and over designed sets being chased about by horrible great jellies (I never get tired of saying that). It feels as though it is written as a dramatic piece but is translated into something ludicrous, it is probably the closest Doctor Who has ever come to feeling like a parody of itself (including the Williams era). The good stuff is easy to spot because it is surrounded by so much guff. Troughton sparkles, and whilst this is (again) more of a parody of the character he once played he still makes every scene count and I was chuckling along with his huffing and puffing throughout. It's lovely to see Hartnell too, but it feels like a missed opportunity that he was sidelined so badly (not a fault of the production team, I know). You would have thought that all the resources of the season would have gone into making this anniversary story look as polished as possible but the truth of the matter is every other story in season ten looks better than this. Omega is a terrifying creation and his backstory is thrilling but his world is dressed up in gaudy pantomime trappings, which destroys his credibility. Hurrah for Patrick Troughton who manages to salvage something from this travesty, whenever he is on screen it goes from cheap old nonsense to magic. I feel like a party pooper being so wretched to what is generally quite a fun runaround but I question whether  the most important Doctor Who story to date should have been little more than a fun runaround or something more. I would have made the next story the anniversary tale; it is wholly original, imaginative, funny, dramatic and scary. In comparison The Three Doctors feels like it is just biding time until we get to the good stuff: 5/10

Full Review Here -

Carnival of Monsters written by Robert Holmes and directed by Barry Letts

Result: There is a reason that the oddball stories stick in your mind more than some of the more functional ones - like the Pixar/Disney animated films of late it would appear that they have all the imagination, wit and humour has been injected into them that the other stories (adult films) are lacking. Carnival of Monsters has so many elements in it's favour that I don't know where to begin but chief amongst them is it's relative brevity, it is a Pertwee adventure at four episodes and it is packed to the gills with sparkling material which means it is one of the rare moments in the era where the story doesn't drag or feel as though it needs a little pruning. I would argue that this is a vital Pertwee story because it goes to show what the era can do when it ditches UNIT and contemporary Earth, and lets its hair down a bit. It proves that Letts and Dicks were right to reject the formula and start mining the potential in finding stories out there in the universe again (which the audience might have questioned after worthy but dull tales such as Colony in Space and The Mutants). Given his wealth of excellent material it is no small statement to say that this is one of Robert Holmes' strongest scripts, one that is saturated with wit, creative ideas and great characters. He sure knows how to pique your interest, brewing his own special brand of storytelling alchemy in the first episode and whetting your appetite for the answers. Carnival of Monsters is post-modern before it became all the rage, offering a cutting satire on television and it's conventions with some marvelous digs at Doctor Who in particular ('They're great favourites with the children!'). Holmes is always thinking about how his environment works and there is a twisted logic at the heart of the story that makes perfect sense, even when the wild ideas are bursting like fireworks in the sky. The incredible premise, the Doctor and Jo caught in the workings of a machine with miniaturized environments, is incredibly ambitious Barry Letts never shies away from that. The director is clearly having great fun bringing this world to life and has cast the story superbly too, excellent character actors buying into the concept and bringing even more attraction to the piece. The Pertwee/Manning relationship is at its height and proves effortlessly watchable and the Doctor and Jo are inundated with memorable moments in a story that plants them centre stage. It might have the odd duff effect here and there but this is about as magical as Doctor Who comes; revelling in the possibilities of a limitless format, mocking everything from the TV medium, showbusiness and bureaucracy, indulging in a fast paced runaround, contributing some terrifying monsters and providing much food for thought as it entertains the pants off you. A return to sparkling form: 10/10

Full Review Here -

Frontier in Space written by Malcolm Hulke and directed by Paul Bernard


Planet of the Daleks written by Terry Nation and directed by David Maloney

Result: You can see how an eight year old might think this was the most exciting thing ever (well, young kids and Terrance Dicks whose style of storytelling exposes him as such). It is placed in season ten which has been trying with is last couple of stories to push the show into more sophisticated areas with its outer space adventures, but this feels like an engaging throwback to the sixties where things were a lot simpler. The best thing you can say about the story is that it’s competent, the writing and direction are both quite average with some nice touches sprinkled about. It wants to spread a message of anti war but it does that by engaging in a game of Cowboys vs Indians, not exactly the most subtle of morality plays. As an action adventure it is hampered by its lack of budget and being trapped in a studio which leaves much of the action static and unconvincing. The recently coloured episode three proves to be the best of the lot, a genuinely dynamic chase through the Dalek City but it plays out beat for beat like a similar episode long set piece from the original Dalek story (right down to the Doctor trying to escape whilst the Thals are trying to make their way in) and because nothing that follows can quite live up to the excitement of that it leaves the latter half of the story a complete anti-climax. It is perhaps not the best use of the Doctor and Jo either because despite the latter getting the bulk of the action in episode one they spend so much of the story apart in what would turn out to be their penultimate adventure. Pertwee is sleepwalking his way through this one, his eyes glazing over as he tries to drive the message home to the kids. I hate to knock something that has no ambition but to entertain you with some engaging action for a couple of hours but to put something this undemanding out for six weeks is a real test of patience, every other adventure in season ten is aiming for something a little more intellectually stimulating than Planet of the Daleks. As I said, switch your brain off and slip back into the mind set of an eight year old and you will get much more out of this story: 5/10

Full review here -

The Green Death written by Robert Sloman and directed by Michael Briant

This story in a nutshell: Evil corporation Global Chemicals pours waste down the mine and turn cute little maggots into giant monsters...

Good Grief: A superb showing for the third Doctor, showcasing Pertwee as an actor who can pull off comedy, drama and emotional material with equal panache. I love the early sequences in UNIT HQ with the Doctor and Jo talking to each but neither listening ‘to a word I say!’ because their chemistry positively sparkles. Bright green and dead is apparently exactly his cup of tea. He really gives it his all to tempt Jo into the TARDIS and is quietly devastated when she refuses. It's astonishing that Jo who he wanted to get rid of when she first bumbled into his laboratory all those years ago should capture a place in his heart in a way that his previous assistants haven’t. I guess she helped him through his exile in the same way Rose helped the ninth Doctor through the trauma of the Time War. Come to think of it Rose is probably the next companion that he has the most extreme reaction to losing. There is a real feeling now that because the Doctor has a functioning TARDIS he can refuse the Brigadier’s petty assignments at least at first but feels duty bound to turn up later once his point is made (‘I wouldn’t like to have to order you Doctor’ ‘I wouldn’t advise you to try…’). Once he finally decides to leap into action he does so in style, literally jabbing a crowbar into the works and sparks dancing around him. He shakes Cliff’s hand and tells him that he is impressed with his work, effectively given him his permission to sweep Jo off her feet. He kicks the shit out of three security guards without even breaking a sweat. There is a wonderful, most un-Doctor Who like, moment where he walks in on Jo and Cliff who are about to seal the deal and the look on his face speak volumes. When he can't impress her with his blue crystal (she barely registers where it has come from or the fact that he has finally made it), he drags Cliff away instead, deliberately trying to keep them apart. If Doctor Who is going to play soap opera, then this is the (subtle) way to do it. It is quietly touching rather than cheesy, like all those TARDIS domestic scenes in the early eighties. A political hothead and scientific charlatan? The scenes of the Doctor confronting Stevens and Mike show Pertwee at his intense best, the man who brought some serious drama into Doctor Who without damaging its reputation as a fun show. The Doctor looks gorgeous in his red waistcoat; it is a very stylish look for him. Pertwee’s welsh milkman is comic genius and you can tell he loves the chance to drag it up as the cleaning lady (his waving of the duster made me splutter my coffee). Now he really is trying to inspire Paul O'Grady. Apparently the difficult thing is to stop him from talking, which is a criticism that has been leveled at me from time to time! ‘It is no use begging for mercy Doctor!’ ‘Oh I’m not, I’m just doing a few sums to stop me getting bored’ - even when being tortured he maintains a sense of humour, after all it is always the best way to wind up our opponents. Terrance Dicks always says you can tell the placing of a Pertwee story depending on how bouffant his hair is. It is a fun point but in both The Green Death and The Time Warrior the Doctor is strapped to what looks like hairdressing equipment to give him a hand! He’s the milkman vandal from that you don't want dropping off your pint in the morning, smashing crates and bottles left and right as he careers down the road. His reaction to Cliff proposing to Jo is really awkward, finally somebody has succeeded in turning her away from him and capturing her heart. It looked as though King Peladon might have been in with a shot, but I don't think wilted willow Latep was ever in the picture. Their goodbye scene is desperately sweet, both actors clearly holding back the tears. He’s never felt this heartbroken about somebody leaving before so he downs his champers and leaves quietly to avoid any fuss (and the look Jo gives the closing door is devastating, she knows how upset he is). There is a real sense of a lonely old man losing the love of his life, driving off into the sunset. You couldn't end every story like this but after three seasons watching their relationship grow into something special, this is really very touching.

Groovy Chick: Chomping on an apple, reading her paper and decked out in a gorgeous trouser suit you really can see that Jo has grown up. She stands up to the Brigadier and determinedly heads of to Wales to fight for a cause she believes in. Professor Jones reminds her of a younger Doctor. Jo’s initial scenes with Cliff carefully mirror those of her introduction to the Doctor; she’s dizzy and accident prone and utterly adorable. Jo is genuinely thrilled about Cliff’s treasure map and the thought of travelling up the Amazon, it’s as close to the thrill of travelling with the Doctor without actually stepping foot of the Earth (something that Dicks has ensured that she has always been nervous about right back as far as Colony in Space). Both the Doctor and Cliff try to comfort Jo when she is distressed at the news of Bert’s death but Cliff wins out and it is at this point that you realise that he has lost her. Cliff's gentle fireside intimacy would charm any girl. He gently touches her and they end up kissing, their relationship evolving beautifully before our eyes. It helps that Manning and Bevan were dating at the time because their chemistry is as natural and as passionate as hers was with Pertwee. Had it been any less then this might not have worked. ‘I know I’m cloth headed’ ‘That’s alright love not your fault’ - here is somebody who will love her, warts and all and more importantly treats her accident proneness with some humour. Trust Jo’s blundering to solve the whole issue of the infection, she gets to save a lot of lives in her final story. I love how the story manages to portray her as dizzy as ever but still resourceful, brave and more importantly independent. She wants to go with Cliff more than anything in the world and readily accepts his marriage proposal. She’s using her Uncle again, this time to get unlimited funding for the Nut Hutch. I cannot think of a more appropriate ending for Jo because it is one that springs naturally from the direction her character has been taken in, it exploits her unspoken affection for the Doctor and it is given enough consideration to not feel forced or last minute (ala Leela). One of the few instances of a companion falling in love that really works.

The UNIT gang: ‘Cheap petrol and plenty of it!’ is exactly how the Brigadier would react to the idea of Global Chemicals destroying the world, practical as ever. He seems almost paternally proud of Jo when she mutinously heads off to Wales to follow her beliefs. In a story that goes to some effort to domesticate the Pertwee era it is wonderful to see the Brigadier in civvies and driving around in a sports car. The Brig proudly tells Cliff that Jo works for him and she can take care of herself, his feelings for her are clearly beyond professional. He tries to brow beat Stevens into suggesting he has friends in high places but is outsmarted by his opponent who suspected this approach and who has already ingratiated himself with the Prime Minister. The Brig makes a charming dinnertime companion, stolidly determined that what he is eating is beef and chuckling away at Cliff’s far fetched Amazonian plans. Mike turning up as the Man from the Ministry comes as a real surprise and it's great that the Brigadier is thinking on his feet once again. I don't mean to suggest that he has been portrayed as a total idiot for his last handful of stories because Nick Courtney always managed to inject the character with a degree of integrity but he was certainly let down by some juvenile characterisation both The Time Monster and The Three Doctors. The Green Death sees him back on top form and that would continue on through to Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Planet of the Spiders, Robot and Terror of the Zygons. I couldn't help but laugh at the Doctor bibble bib-bling his chin after he accidentally hypnotises him! Mike is a trained soldier but has mind is turned against his superior officer. Once they have broken through his control he is very brave to go back to Global Chemicals and face the individuals who might have destroyed his career and save the Doctor. Benton’s unbelievably funny moment of comedy is outrageous - ‘here kitty kitty kitty…come and get your lovely dindins!’ made me howl with laughter (the Doctor’s disapproving ‘Sergeant Benton!’ set off another round of giggles). When Jo and Cliff announce their engagement Mike looks devastated for a second before congratulating them and the Brigadier quietly says ‘never mind Mike, lets have a drink’). It's easy to forget that Mike was supposed to be introduced as a dashing male figure for Jo to date because the idea never went anywhere (I can more imagine Mike checking out Benton anyway). Benton and the Brig kiss Jo and they all celebrate their engagement in style, drinking and dancing. There is a sense of unforced family chemistry that comes with five actors working closely together for over three years.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The best? I think you’ll find Mr Yates that this is the worst days work the world has seen for many, many years.’
‘I never thought I would fire in anger at a dratted caterpillar!’
‘If I were to tell you that the next thing I say is the truth but the last thing I say is a lie, would you believe me?’
‘Freedom from fear! Freedom from pain!’ ‘Freedom from freedom!’

The Good Stuff: I love the Metebelies 3 sequences; bleached in sapphire light, the Doctor is assaulted with every prop, piece of stock footage and monster the director can get his hands on. The domestic scenes of Jo exploring the Nut Hutch with cheesy sax music piped in the hallway are exactly the sort of domestic scenes we should have enjoyed throughout early 70’s Who instead of heading of to intergalactic wastelands like Exarius and Solos. Considering this is the only Doctor Who story that was written to make an ecological point it never once comes across as a lecture but instead the ideas the script explores are discussed naturally because it is something that the characters are passionate about. The scenes that cut between Cliff and Stevens (‘No waste, no pollution’) really drive home the idea of how we bury our head in the sand as to the waste products of our luxuries. Alternative technologies, solar power, windmills; Jones’ powerless vision is very attractive if a little romantic. Stevens is somehow both officious and charismatic, a hard act to pull off in Doctor Who (and wearing those headphones) but Jerome Willis is clearly a man of no small talent and he acquits himself beautifully. You need somebody charming in this role, somebody who can convince the staunchest objector that the waste pollution is an acceptable cost. Some people might have found them stereotyped but the mining characters are brought to life by some of finest Welsh actors in the 70’s. Talfryn Thomas is a stalwart actor who turns up in some of the most memorable of dramas (his turn in Survivors is unforgettable). The hippy demonstration is great, although it does make me laugh now the Doctor can nip over that fence in a crane and not be seen but as soon as he walks across a field all cameras are on him. The build up to the reveal of the maggots is almost textbook Doctor Who but done so well, with the nasty glowing infection, the luminescence in the mineshaft and the smell of something rotting up ahead there are clear signs that something nasty is afoot. The shots of the giant maggots swimming in the green waste and filling the mineshaft are some of the most memorable of the era (and certainly worthy of the ultimate ‘good grief!’ from the Doctor). Their hissing, snarling teeth make for a great cliffhanger, one of those memorable pauses between episodes that nobody who originally saw it will ever forget. I love how Stevens bests the Brigadier politically and then shares a cigar and whiskey with him, now that’s style. A computer talking about suicide as self-destruction is really scary, reducing something emotionally and physically shocking to something mechanical. The camera parts a beaded curtain and closes in on a gorgeous dinner scene (with flute playing wistfully in the background) featuring the Doctor, Jo and the Brig at their most relaxed. Isn’t it wonderful how the maggot notices Jo and stands to attention? It’s another super cliffhanger in a story chock a block full of them. The BOSS is the finest mad computer seen on Doctor Who; outclassing the WOTAN, Master Brain, Xoanon the P7E, Mentalis and all the others; he’s witty, funny, deeply insane and sings when he gets excited. The main difference between this computerized nut job and all the others is that he has personality and he isn't afraid to show it. There is a brilliantly scripted telephone conversation between the Brig and Yates where he manages to answer all of his questions without giving the game away. They let off some pretty formidable explosives in this story but then Michael E. Briant was never afraid of a little wanton destruction. Mike pulling the gun on his friends and the Doctor saving him with the crystal introduces two important elements that would be very important next year, Letts seeding the elements for Pertwee's finale. I really like the strained relationship between Stevens and BOSS, the former is simply an instrument but one with a conscience that is slowly asserting itself but what really strikes home is how the latter constantly mocks him for feeling. Come the last episode they really have perfected the Green Death effect and the rash on Cliff’s neck looks really nasty. I've seen this story too many times now and always join in with the BOSS and his 'Co-on-ect' song.

The Bad Stuff: Doctor Who has always been challenged by its budget and what effects can achieved on a relatively small amount of money and The Green Death is probably up there with Terror of the Autons and Planet of the Spiders as the most reliant on CSO, and the least convincing in that respect. It does make you wonder why that process was used in some scenes such as Jo and Bert going down in the lift where that could have been done as a physical effect much more realistically. The worst moment (a shame because the idea is genuinely repulsive) comes when the Doctor and Jo are seen punting through the slimy sea of maggots. The Welsh milkman is a walking cliché. Jean Burgess only has one scene and yet manages to give what is possibly the least convincing shocked reaction ever committed to film when she spots the maggots slurping their way up the tube (‘Oh no!’). How funny (and rude) are the maggots popping out of the coal? Did they run out location filming time because there are some really awful location backdrops that stand out a mile in comparison to their exterior counterparts? Episode five is where the padding really starts to show, but it's charming material so it gets away with it. Mr James turns up from nowhere and picks up the plot belonging to Elgin, an unfortunate casting retool to explain his sudden absence due to illness.

The Shallow Bit: Cliff is a dish. I'm with Jo all the way.

Result: The Green Death closes season ten in superb style, a year that despite it faults feels like the Pertwee era has truly come of age. It is Jo's poignant swansong and as such it is only appropriate for her enjoy a larger than usual cut of the action and her romance with Cliff is written and acted with the utmost sincerity. By this point in their working career it is clear that Pertwee and Manning were head over heels for each other and Letts and Sloman use that intimacy to their advantage and brew up some of the most heartwarming and moving moments of the era as they drive a crowbar between the Doctor and Jo. The closing moments of The Green Death are achingly sad and yet still optimistic for the future, a hard mix to pull off and the sort of relationship driven material that the series usually strives to avoid. Elsewhere there are many other treats to keep you entertained; the maggots provide a memorable monster and some wonderfully icky moments, John Dearth's BOSS scores a win for effortlessly cool fruit loop computers, Jerome Willis spars magnificently with both Pertwee and Courtney, Mike Yates gets some very interesting development that would be built upon in the next season and all the sequences set in and around the Nut Hutch are warm and wonderful to watch. It's a story that slows the pace right down at times to make room for fine character work, realistic details and a very worthwhile moral. The Hinchcliffe era would never stand for a story as slack as this one but it wouldn’t have character work quite this strong or an atmosphere this infectious either. My one concern is the dodgy CSO work but Doctor Who is littered with similar effects disasters and when stacked against the manifest of strengths that this finale provides it really isn't worth worrying about. As worthy as the  environmental message is what I remember this for mostly is the tear jerking scenes of the Doctor losing Jo, Pertwee will break you heart before the show is over. As an endorsement of the approach that Letts and Dicks took during this era I can think of no finer example; warm, adventurous, frightening and colourful: 9/10

1 comment:

Cavecanem said...

Green Death is definitely one of the best Pertwee outings and I really wish they had given it the Special Edition treatment as was done with a couple others (Day of the Daleks?) to fix the horrid Chromakey...lordy. But the mad computer, the real-world politics of the miners' strike, the Doctor driving off into the sunset after he sneaks out of Jo and Cliff's party...lovely moments.