Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Season Twenty-Six

Or 'the year that Doctor Who got cancelled when it was starting to get its act together' as it is also known. I still see quite a lot of problems but Andrew Cartmel brought a gift for memorable imagery even if the plotting of the stories is probably the shows worst. Here the Doctor and Ace face knights from another dimension and their leader Morgaine, Josiah Samuel Smith & Light, faith sucking vampires and Cheetah People being manipulated by the Master!

The regulars -

Battlefield written by Ben Aaronovitch and directed by Michael Kerrigan

Result: Battlefield is exactly the sort of thing they needed to be doing in 26th season, a contemporary thriller but it exactly the way they shouldn’t be doing it. The production is plagued by poor direction and a script that should have come with a career destroying warning. There are so many attempts to be hip that fall flat on their face that I am forced to grip hold of the remote in case my husband walks into the room and spots what I am watching, particularly the attempts to make Ace appear contemporary and hip. The material is beyond McCoy’s ability to bring to life with any kind of realism so he ends up throwing himself all over the sets and screaming his head off to get some attention. Too many characters, too much filler, too little coherence and too many scenes that make you want the ground to swallow you whole, Battlefield fails on practically every level. The best thing on offer is Morgaine who deserved a far better vehicle and a return appearance in a much superior story. Panto villains, unconvincing action sequences, dreadful music, wasted monsters, unimpressive hardware, banal dialogue...the list goes on and on. Why was the show cancelled in its 26th year? The execs watched Battlefield and decided that enough was enough. You might be able to watch this story through rose tinted glasses and with the rosy glow of nostalgia but for me it is another example of how shockingly inconsistent the McCoy era turned out to be. A spin off featuring Bambera, Ancelyn and Mogaine would have been great but the rest can be jettisoned with my blessing: 4/10

Full Review Here:

Ghost Light written by Marc Platt and directed by Alan Wareing

Result: The first episode of Ghost Light is one of the best of the classic series and has plenty of atmosphere, evocative design, intelligent discussion, strong performances and a great monster reveal. Not bad for the final classic story ever made. Doctor Who has often boasted a stunning cast of well known actors but Ghost Light is the crème de la crème and they have great fun bringing to life a household of sinister grotesques and enjoy the delicious dialogue. I find it astonishing that Battlefield and Ghost Light could be transmitted back to back because the gulf in quality between them is about as cavernous as you can get. In taking an oddball approach to telling a story and running with it Ghost Light really isn’t that different to Paradise Towers but what puts this into a whole different league is a director who is absolutely in tune with the script and the designers who are clearly turned on by the possibilities the location offers them. It perhaps needed one more episode to make the explanations sharper but this is one instance where I wont underscore through lack of clarity because the finished result is too polished and enjoyable with great directional touches by Alan Wareing. This should have been transmitted last because it would have been an electrifying finale for the season and a brilliant two finger salute to all those fans that had slagged of JNT so mercilessly: 10/10

Full Review Here:

The Curse of Fenric written by Ian Briggs and directed by Nicholas Mallet

Result: I don't want you to get the impression from the section you have just read that I am not a fan of The Curse of Fenric. It is a frustrating story because it comes with a shopping list of problems but its better moments are so good that they automatically elevate it to something that is way above average. It has trouble juggling it's shopping list of plot elements but gets some of them so very right it is hard to argue with those people that consider this the best story of all time. The characters are vivid and (mostly) played to perfection, the production is packed full of terrific location work, action sequences and genuinely thrilling and scary moments. However it feels like this story is continually throwing things at you until you submit...curses, ancient evil, war, poisons, vampires, paradoxical mutations, domestic drama, politics. It’s a remarkably sloppy piece of writing, proof that if complicate things needlessly you tie yourself into knots of illogic, poor motivation and unanswered questions. And yet the dialogue is frequently excellent and delivered by such strong actors it almost makes you forget how slapdash the narrative is. The Curse of Fenric has a fantastic number of resources which it uses well and Nicholas Mallet's decision to take the story out on location was the best one he ever made when helming a Doctor Who story. The last episode in particular is the most exciting and slick single piece of Doctor who since the last part of The Caves of Androzani, furiously paced so that you are left clinging onto its coattails. A flawed piece of horror that provides a thrill ride on a scene by scene basis but doesn’t hold up to serious scrutiny: 7/10

Full Review Here:

Survival written by Rona Munro and directed by Alan Wareing

Result: At this stage of the McCoy era Ace was a far more interesting character than the Doctor and Survival scores big time by pushing him to the sidelines and exploring her sexuality and bestiality. Alan Wareing proves once again why he was responsible for a minor renaissance for the show before its demise and his atmospheric and emotive direction is aided by Dominic Glynn’s terrific score to make this a much more affecting experience than it would have been in lesser hands. To this day this still feel like a contemporary piece given that the new series apes the domestic approach Survival took. The two major faults with this show are the physical effects (the electronic ones are pretty impressive but the Cheetah People and the Kitlings are both really cute and unrealistic) and Sylvester McCoy who is trying his hardest but spends the first half of the story acting like a comic buffoon and the second half shouting his head off unconvincingly. Thank God Sophie Aldred and Anthony Ainley are there to take your mind off him and the latter in particular gives his strongest performance as a more feral, less pantomime Master. There are loads of great moments scattered about and the pacing is excellent but it shamefully devolves into a bit of a farce in the last episode with some ridiculous stunts. I want to be kinder to a story that takes these sorts of risks and pulls off some real sensuality but the end result lacks some finesse: 7/10

Full Review Here:


Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

Just want to say, there's no way Battlefield is worse than The Twin Dilemma. *No way.* ;)

I think I like the McCoy era because of it's strength of scripts; Battlefield for me is a triumph of ideas over execution, for instance. And I feel that McCoy had far more good moments than bad over the course of his run, so if there are any cringy moments then I probably just disregarded them as not-very-important. I'm almost dreading re-watching these stories now that I'm closer to adulthood though, because...what if you turn out to be right in my eyes? :P

I haven't seen "The Curse of Fenric" in ages because it scared the *crap* out of me as a kid, so it's definitely time for a rewatch...

Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

And what's *wrong* with two old dears walking around a garden center? :P

Doc Oho said...

Battlefield has dodgy effects, dodgy action sequences, dodgy music, dodgy dialogue, dodgy performances and dodgy direction. The Twin Dilemma is dodgy too, but I would say there is more of merit to it than Battlefield. But then that is just my opinion (putting asterisks either side of your statement doesn't make you right, it just makes you sound a wee bit dramatic :-))

Curse of Fenric is one of the most awkwardly structured stories Doctor Who ever put out. And McCoy is at his all time worst. Saying that you can ignore McCoy's cringy moments doesn't mean that they weren't there - just that you chose to ignore them.

And starting a season of Doctor Who (which is supposed to be an exciting adventure series) with two old dears in a garden centre is a terrible idea...look how exciting this season is going to be folks!

Literate Dead said...

I make no bones about listing Ghost Light as one of my personal favorite classic Who stories; a problem, since many list it as one of the worst!

That said, I -highly- recommend seeking out Marc Platt's novelization of the story. I loved Ghost Light before I read it, but the book gave me a further appreciation, as the slower pacing and internalization lends so much to the atmosphere of the story; along with numerous added scenes that help clarify certain points (in particular, Ace's past, which just sort of tossed in randomly in the TV version).

I would say it makes a better novel than a TV story, but... I love the filmed version's cast (yeah, save for Light), sets, and general atmosphere to toss it off so easily.

If nothing else, there's an audiobook of it as well, read by Josiah Smith himself, Ian Hogg!

Unknown said...

"Why does the Doctor start talking in cod Norse mythology…who on Earth would start a conversation like that?"
The Doctor you idiot.

But beyond that your reviews are well-done, and even though I don't agree with many of your comments, they are well-founded and well-though-out. I personally love Ace as a companion because of her extremes, going from wannabe punk to her real inside of a young woman afraid of abandonment and looking for a father figure in the Doctor.

Maybe this is because I'm younger, and grew up watching first Colin Baker then Nu Who, and only recently got to watching classic again, and even then watched only 5 & 7, but I find Ace a breath of fresh air after so many other companions who were pretty useless, (*cough*Adric*Rose*cough). Yes, there was Leela, and more useful companions that I haven't seen too many episodes of, but Ace was the first companion who felt like someone I could really relate to. She's a product of her time, yes, and that may make her seem a bit dated, but I enjoy that, since it seems like so few companions were stronger connected to their time period.

"Where does the romance between Sorin and Ace come from – like her friendship with the girls it is taken as a given after their first meeting that these two are deeply in love."
Friendship? More than just friendship. Part of the reason that Ace has a love interest of the week in almost every serial (yes, even Battlefield (SY, Ghost Light (, and Survival() is because there was a behind-the-scenes scuffle between writers about her sexuality. Several, including Rona Munro, who wrote "Survival" explicitly said that they wrote Ace as lesbian, but in response other writers wrote her as straight and almost in relationships with a man in every serial to deliberately counteract that. More about that subtext:

Mott1 said...

I think by s26 the McCoy era was showing its quality, tho Battlefield is a character-heavy clunker. I adored Ghost Light on transmission, though it does seem a bit more random and lacking in exposition now.

I agree Survival has Ainley's finest Master performance (apart perhaps from his genuinely malevolent cameo at the end of Caves) and Fenric has some wonderful stuff in it, particularly its weird, hazy atmosphere and like you say it's got a hell of a climax.