Friday, 30 August 2013
This story in a nutshell: The planet of evil has been raped and plundered and it wants its minerals back…
Succulent Sarah: This is the point where Sarah really gets to make her mark, and she has been perfect companion material up to this point anyway. Lis Sladen going solo with Tom Baker and they drunk with contentment in each others company, saving the world in TV Centre and leaving the real world behind completely. It's gorgeous. Sarah has been at this lark for so long that she takes distress calls, bodies and guns being pointed at her in her stride. She is absolutely crazy heading back through the alien jungle on her own but I love her independence. Sarah is out thinking the Doctor these days so clearly she has to go…this woman is destined to have her own show one day. I love her quiet reaction to Sorenson’s rant, Lis Sladen is so confident at this point. She’s superb. Like Tom Baker we adore her. Watch the quiet relationship of respect that builds between her and Vishinsky with barely a word of dialogue to back it up, it is almost entirely the work of the actors suggesting an intimacy that is not visible in the script.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘From the beginning of time it has existed side by side with the known universe. Each is the antithesis of each other. You call it nothing, a word to cover ignorance.’
‘Fools. They really think they’ll be able to leave with this on board.’
‘You and I are scientists, Professor. We buy our privilege to experiment at the cost of total responsibility.’
The Good Stuff: Approaching the planet, the eerie music, the alien jungle…the opening scenes generate a stifling atmosphere from the word go. The clanking chains, the whistling wind, the slurping, bleeding sounds as Braun is sucked dry by the creature...this gave me pause to look over my shoulder so it must have given some children-terrifying nightmares. The jungle is a living thing; shot on film and lit in reds and purples with a mossy, muddy floor with pools and steam curling in the air and fronds hanging from trees. It is the best alien world they ever created in a studio and true testament to what can be achieved on a diminutive budget, it's freakishly realistic. I love the idea of a story being set so far out in space that Zeta Minor is the last known planet in the universe, it gives the story a real sense of claustrophobia and terror, that anything could be beyond this point. There are lots of interesting places to shoot the split-level flight deck of the Morestran ship. As spaceship designs go it might be a little bland colour wise (but works in sharp contrast to the planet) but Maloney makes full use of it's artistic arrangement to ensure that these scenes still arrest the audience. How nasty is the crusty yellow make up job for the fetid corpses? It leaves your imagination to head in some unpleasant places to work out how such a transformation could have occurred. The sudden zoom in on the inky pit is chokingly scary, Maloney leaving you with no doubt that something vicious and scary is lingering down there. Dudley Simpson’s music is at its height here; he scores the deaths particularly chillingly by having the music die away with them, like a scream that is dying away pitifully. The effect of the strobe light guns lighting up the alien jungle is visually stunning. Either it's Hinchcliffe's handling of the budget or its David Maloney's expertise with the technology but this story is full of effects that wouldn’t work in any other story but work a charm here – the Oculoid Tracker is another example. The prop is placed underneath the camera and we see it from the trackers point of view, a pretty ingenious way of selling the idea in a visually interesting way (and even the noise it makes is gets under your skin). ‘Our solar system is dependent upon a dying sun, I have discovered a new source of energy!’ – Louis Marks always finds interesting things to do in his Doctor Who scripts. The end of the universe is a chilling prospect, the boundary between existence as we know it and a universe that we cannot understand. The planet is claiming back its own, the story creating and playing by its own rules. Sorenson remains such a watchable antagonist throughout, he is totally consumed with his find and slowly losing his mind. Never a villain in the traditional sense of the word but just a rapacious glory hunter who refuses to seek out an alternative source of energy. Frederick Jaeger gives a compelling performance as a man on the edge of insanity, invasive alien fronds wrapping around his mind and consuming him. It's lovely to have a character like wide boy De Haan complaining about having to do some work, it turns him from a faceless grunt into a living breathing person whose death actually means something. Is Sorenson drinking blood? it certainly looks that way as he spills the rusty liquid over his bureau. The ‘clean and tidy’ coffin in space is another surprisingly good effect, miles more accomplished than a similar attempt at this sort of thing in season three's The Ark. Marks tells his story so cleanly that the audience is never kept in the dark, what a wonderful metaphor he deploys when the Doctor tells them that they are coming to the end of their piece of elastic and being drawn back. Go and watch how well De Haan’s death is filmed, never once showing Sorenson’s face and highlighting the shadow up the wall as the creatures sucks the life out of him. It is a perfect representation of why horror is so much more effective when you are given enough detail to frighten but kept in the dark about the specifics - this is the genre playing out on a budget with a director who knows precisely how to make that work to his advantage. The end of part three works because the concept of being trapped inside a coffin floating around in the vacuum of space is haunting. The power games between Vishinsky and Salamar are worked into the script from their first scene, the latter constantly feeling undermined by the level headedness and experience of the former. It comes to a head in the last episode, Salamar finally tipping over into insanity and forcing his subordinate to obey his will and ejecting our heroes into space. Watch out for the overhanging shadow that consumes one of the Morestrans on the flight deck, leaving the audience with no doubt as to his fate. For a scientist the greatest indignity is to lose your mind and submit to primitivism and so Sorenson's attempt to commit suicide when he sees there is no way back from his transformation is perfectly natural and that is the moment the creature takes over completely and saves it's host just in the nick of time. More phenomenal electronic effects are on display as the Salamar deploys the the atomic accelerator and splits Sorenson into thousands of energy creatures, red silhouettes plaguing the ship. After a period of stories to have completely failed to use the TARDIS as anything but a mode of transport to get the regulars to their new destination (and in season twelve even that was abandoned for a while), it is wonderful to spend so much time in the (niftily re-designed) ship again. Maloney gets how to transform a few sets into a genuinely claustrophobic location - clearly he came to the show just one year too late as he would have been an ideal choice to bring one of season five's base under siege stories to life. The antimatter creature proves to be a benevolent foe and as good as its word, offering Sorenson back as a reward for keeping their end of the bargain.
The Bad Stuff: After five minutes of flawlessly realised television the Morestran hoover comes gliding into view. David Maloney has another stubborn and unlikable character to cast and once again he fills it with Prentis Hancock. Check out Hancock's charming turn in The Ribos Operation to see how pleasant he is to watch when he plays against type. What a shame Michael Wisher’s last role in Doctor Who is such an unmemorable one. I’m on the fence about the anti matter creature itself, in some shots it looks as though it has impossibly been spun from red silk and in others it is just a ghostly blob on the screen as though a child has conjured it up in a hurry with red felt tip. Still you win some and you lose some and on the whole the electronic effects deployed are generally in the former category which is better hit rate than most other tales.
Result: Last night I turned off all the lights, lit candles and sat back and let Planet of Evil’s rich, moody atmosphere wash over me. Historically trips to the past are very well realised and outer space stories wind up looking farcical but Zeta Minor is brought to life with such conviction and style it confounds me that every foray into outer space can't be this atmospheric. David Maloney is perfectly suited to stories like this; he captures unseen horrors with real skill and lets the story slowly crawl under your skin, giving Marks' creepy ideas a chance to bed in your mind and fester. Planet of Evil is a quintessential Hinchcliffe story; a horror riff, superbly made, very scary and occasionally insensate for all its perfection. Tom Baker and Lis Sladen are a superb team and so watchable and unencumbered by either UNIT or Harry, the fourth Doctor and Sarah finally get the chance to show that they are made for each other. This is an often forgotten story but there is so much here that works, people write it off as an empty chiller but both visually and conceptually it is much more impressive than that. If we could remove the odd duff effect and Prentis Hancock's overplayed mania it might score even higher but to my mind this is not the season thirteen failure that some figure it to be but an atmospheric chiller that is perfect for long winter nights: 8/10
Thursday, 29 August 2013
This story in a nutshell: To misquote the Doctor from Voyage of the Damned - ‘You can’t even sink Nerva Beacon!’
Lovely Lis: This is the story where Sarah is so badly written that she admits thinking gives her a headache. She can’t make her snuggle up with the Cybermat look real (it would tax any actor) but she really plays her infection for real. ‘Stop going on about your stupid gold!’ – despite some reprehensible dialogue Sladen and Marter still make a magical team. Sarah has heard of the Cybermen but thought they were wiped out ages ago (obviously the Doctor has been getting out his invasion snaps again). Go and watch her eye rolling reaction to Harry’s ‘Are you aware you’re heading straight towards us?’
An Imbecile: It is very nice to see Harry’s medical training is used consistently throughout his time with the Doctor. He’s such a thoughtless old rogue and always thinking of money, the idea of a planet of gold giving him delusions of great wealth. Remember in Ark in Space when he suggested that the Doctor could sell the TARDIS or where he tries to steal the (very bling) Time Ring and now he is attempting to nab nuggets of pure gold. Guess what he wants it for? To buy himself out of the Navy and set up a little practice in the country! It's nice to have a game plan, I suppose. ‘The Doctor will be worrying about us’ ‘I’m worrying about us’ – I really like that exchange. So much emphasis is placed on Haryy being an imbecile for causing the rockfall and trying to unbuckle the Doctor’s cumbersome strap but how on Earth would anybody know in either case?
Sparkling Dialogue: Are you kidding me?
The Good Stuff: Doesn’t Nerva Beacon look far more convincing on film? Jeremy Wilkin is such a playful old sleazebag, he is clearly from the Mark Strickson school of ‘look over your shoulder shiftily’ acting. I was really impressed by the sleek (but huge) new Cybermat design, thank god they have no comically bulging eyes any more. This is one of those Doctor Who musical scores that I shouldn’t like (similar to Time and the Rani and the Keff of Death) but I do, it's oddly memorable (like the sound of a good fart). I understand that the radiophonic workshop adding some extra oomph to Carey Blyton's jazzy score and between them they have conjured up something rather memorable. The plague effects had a test run in The Green Death so they look pretty damn convincing. Does it need spelling out that the Wookey Hole location work is fantastic? No, but let's give Michael E. Briant's filmic location work the credit it is due anyway. A fabulously craggy, shadowy location which reverberates with the gunshot explosions and has lakes you can play about on with speed boats. It's not often that Doctor Who actively seeks out real caves to play about it and this extra expense is much appreciated. The one innovation I was impressed with to the Cybermen design were their functional and stylish head blasters and I’m not quite sure why they didn’t hang around. The Doctor and Harry’s attack on the pair of Cyberman in the cave is one of the few action moments that felt convincing.
The Bad Stuff: You know you are in dodgy territory when a story kicks off with the dance of the Time Ring. The idea of landing in a room adjacent to a corridor full of plague ridden bodies is awesome but filling said corridor full of what is obviously mannequins rather than extras doesn’t cut the mustard. You can see now why Survivors went for a much more intimate pilot episode rather than unconvincingly filling the episode full of corpses. One of the strengths of Doctor Who is that it has been running for so long that strong actors can play several characters over time and get away with it. The problem with this approach to casting is that it is inevitable that comparison will be made with their previous work on the show. Ronald Leigh-Hunt and William Marlowe both had better characters to play in their previous Doctor Who roles (The Seeds of Death and The Mind of Evil respectively) and far better dialogue to chew on. The Ark sets have lost their cold, clinical feel and thus they don’t feel half as visionary and somebody has felt the need to smear them with functional grey paint which makes them look ugly. Imagine disguising actors the calbre of Kevin Stoney, David Collings and Michael Wisher behind those duff Vogan masks and forcing them to bring such banal characters to life? What a waste of an incredible guest cast. Revenge of the Cybermen features the worst Cybermen redesign by a country mile, instead of the sleek metal warriors of the Troughton era they are now head to toe in silver sponge! Their hydraulic tubing is also so thick and plasticky it clearly serves no practical function but to add some detail to the bland costumes. You can tell this is a Barry Letts commissioned script because he lets Gerry Davis inappropriately plunder his 1960’s scripts in exactly the same way Terry Nation did several times during the Pertwee era. Watch out for Kellman's bizarre spasmodic reaction to be captured - I think he's trying to get away but in a story full bizarre dance-like movement it looks like he is performing the tango with Lester. Gold is lethal to Cybermen? What a rubbish weakness! Why do they even need a weakness? Doing this reduces from formidable mock humans to super hero villains that can be swiped down by their Achilles Heel. It's like saying throwing a bucket of water over the Daleks could finish them off…so they want to wreck havoc on Ocean World! Come Silver Nemesis this freakish vulnerability would have gotten way out of hand. If Kellman is such a benefactor to the Vogan people why does he murder so many people? Considering the story is trying to set him up as a villain who is actually a hero, it does so in a most unconvincing manner, delivering inconsistent actions that simply don't add up. It is about as plausible as when the trick was attempted again with Lytton in Attack of the Cybermen - not at all. Rarely does a story show up the relative tackiness of the sets in comparison to the polished look of the location work. Back in the day monsters knew how to make an entrance - bursting through walls, rising from oceans, tearing through cocoons - but now the Cybermen advance so slowly in their decrepit old banger of a spaceship that the Doctor should have tied them up in a bow and packed them off before they even arrive. Most alarmingly of all, as soon as the ship is docked he suddenly rushes off screaming ‘We’ve got to stop them!’ Does he just enjoy doing everything in a last minute rush? Is that how he made his name for himself? By putting everybody in danger when he could have saved the day before anxiety sets in? Playing Doctor Who villains requires a certain degree of finesse because it is so easy for the actor to go over the top and lose themselves in the part. David Banks would go on to play the Cyberleader as a boastful and violent sort, an actor who can find menace in the melodrama of the part. Christopher Robbie in comparison completely loses his way, playing up the robotic campness inherent in the script (in a twisted version of the Time Warp he puts his hands on his hips and gives a neck massage in ti-i-i-i-me!). I really want to point out all the inconsistencies in the plot but they have been brought up a hundred times before but I do have to ask why the Cybermen aren’t apoplectic just landing on a planet saturated with so much gold? Imagine somebody with an allergy landing on planet of the cats - you'd be wheezing like a grand puss! There is no sense in the Vogans having any culture beyond their requirements to the plot and thus they are not in the slightest bit believable. The exist as a rival to the Cybermen and once they have played their part in the fight we head back to Nerva and forget about the whole bally lot of them. Bask in the glory of the Doctor being set upon by giant polystyrene rocks! Campness of the Cybermen delights in giving the Cyberleader plenty of opportunity to strut about, his hands barely straying from his hips and spouting out lines like ‘It is good!’ and ‘It has failed!’ The story lurches into insane space opera as the Cybermen aim the Beacon at Nerva…why didn’t they just do this all along rather than bothering with all that nonsense with the Zaaber-bambs? It is lovely to see a Cyberman cuddling a Cybermat so adoringly and falling to the floor in a display of love for the creature. The planet rolling conclusion has to be seen to be believed. There are no goodbyes with any of the remaining characters because the plot is (abruptly) concluded - a sure sign that the writer wasn't at all interested in his guest cast in the slightest. For once, neither am I.
The Shallow Bit: The Cybership is a huge silver penis. You can’t go round the galaxy invading in such a phallic vehicle. Clearly the Cybermen are having something of a mid life crisis, having tarted themselves up to the nth degree. The Doctor hides underneath Kellman’s bed and almost gets several thousand volts up the jacksie. The obsession with male genitalia continues with the Vogan rocket comparable to a giant nob as well. What is it with these inadequate races and there compensatory craft? Is Voga the blingest planet in Doctor Who? Attacking the Cybermen from the rear? Doctor, you old rogue. ‘We’re still heading for the biggest bang in history!’
Result: The Hinchcliffe era is rightly celebrated as one of the most innovative, expensive and imaginative periods of classic Who but it is worth remembering that all eras of this show are capable of producing their own duffers. Revenge of the Cybermen is terrible, one of those rare examples of a story where pretty much everything goes wrong. I will usually go to great lengths to find good things to say about the most slated stories but in this case I am stumped, its that bad. Hinchcliffe was lumbered with two scripts containing old baddies that he didn't want and whilst he and Holmes managed to salvage Genesis of the Daleks and shape it into something exceptional, the same care and attention was lacking with the season finale. The script needs hardcore dissection to make it even passable, the dialogue is perversely bad, the plot riddled with logic vacuums (you couldn’t call them holes) and characterisation lacks any finesse (and I would argue that any of these people are characters but plot functions). The spongy tubular camp-as-Christmas Cybermen fudge their comeback and by the end of the story they are so ineffective you actually feel quite sorry for them. Probably not the intended response. Not even Tom Baker, Lis Sladen or Ian Marter can raise the bar on this story with the leading actor at sea in a script that gives the Doctor so little to work with and his companions swept away in the tide of ineptitude. Worse, the extraordinary guest cast are lost somewhere in there, unrecognisable and struggling with poorly written parts. When the most exciting thing is a Carey Blyton score and the fact that they managed to shoot the story in some real caves, you have some real problems. Let's chalk this one up to experience and never mention it again: 2/10
Wednesday, 28 August 2013
This story in a nutshell: Can the Doctor stop the development of the Daleks?
The Doctor is shocked that the Time Lords would have nerve to ask anything of him after stripping him of his second life, exiling him to Earth and treating him like their delivery boy. Once they gave him back his freedom (he did save the entire universe after all) he thought that was it and he will no longer tolerate their continual interference in his life. Unfortunately the Time Lord agent has the one word at his disposal that makes the Doctor’s blood run cold; Daleks. ‘Who is this Davros?’ – oh Doctor, you’re going to wish you never asked. In an iconic scene Davros introduces his Mark III travel machine to his staff and the Doctor almost becomes the very first victim of a Dalek. The intensity and seriousness of his plea to the Kaled government is impressive, once the Hinchcliffe era is over there would only be a few scant moments of that kind of gravitas in the remaining four seasons. The ‘deaths’ of Sarah and Harry, two of the sweetest companions he has ever travelled with gives Tom Baker the chance to really show the audience what he is made of. He launches himself at the firing pad to stop the rocket that will kill his friends and when he fails he falls, defeated and despondent with only his mission pushing him on as if he has to complete that to make their deaths worth something. So often we explore the companions reaction to the possibility of the Doctor being dead but it is rarely the other way round and after this wave of depression its easy to see why not. Clearly his friends make his existence worthwhile, otherwise it's just duty and where’s the fun in that? He’s so thrilled to see Harry and Sarah, grabbing his hand excitedly and embracing her. Davros proves once and for all that the Doctor’s companions do obstruct his life as well as enriching it by using them to extract the information for every Dalek defeat. The Doctor looks disgusted that Davros could describe a conscience as an ‘affliction.’ In a seminal moment for the fourth Doctor he has the choice to destroy the Daleks or not and he is paralysed by the decision. Holding the two wires perilously close together he questions if he would be any better than the Daleks if he causes their genocide. He remembers the worlds that became allies because of the Daleks, perhaps seeing some good in their tyranny. The story opts out of forcing him to make a choice which is a shame because I would have loved to have seen which we he jumped. Its ironic that this is exactly the same choice faced by the eighth/ninth Doctor when the Daleks invaded Gallifrey. Had the fourth Doctor intervened his people would still be alive but he would also be every bit as battle scarred and tortured as the ninth Doctor. It’s a fascinating quandary both in its own terms at this point in the shows mythology and considering what comes later.
Investigative Journalist: Poor Sarah, she hasn’t had much of a time of it of late! After watching the Doctor die she was the object of affection for a Giant Robot, she was accidentally put into cryogenic storage, tortured by a Sontaran and now she is left for dead amongst a heap of corpses as gas fills her lungs and is put to torturous work by the sadistic Thals carrying their poisonous weapons! It's enough to make a girl want to head back to London and have a rest! I bet it puts her work as a investigative journalist into perspective. Sarah falls into the hands of the very sweet Muto Sevrin who takes care of her whilst she is a prisoner of the Thals. She hasn’t lost that season eleven spirit after all as she whips the exhausted slaves into a fighting unit to escape their captivity. I don’t care how contrived it might have been, the first time I saw the freeze frame cliffhanger that has Sarah falling from the scaffolding of the rocket I was absolutely gripped with excitement. There’s nothing quite like a Doctor Who cliffhanger that sings this well and I was desperate to know if this was the end of my favourite companion. The fear that Elisabeth Sladen displays as she has to cross to the rocket and is playfully kicked to her death by a sadistic guard is unlike anything we have seen from a companion before, that is real terror in her eyes and it is really uncomfortable to witness. It's one of the few moments that this fluffy show tips over into sadism – it makes for a great scene but that discomfort must mean the boundaries have been pushed as far as they can go. I find it very cute that the scene where Sarah warns the Doctor about heading down the ventilation shaft is played almost identically in her own series with the eleventh Doctor in many years to come. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I Say: It’s a shame that there is simply too much going on in this story to give Harry the attention he rightly deserves but Ian Marter makes the most of every moment he is given. Harry shows incredible courage in his willingness to hold the landmine as the Doctor lifts his foot off, anybody else would be out of there in a shot and it says something about how much this Doctor cares for his Doctor. He looks oddly comfortable with a gun and pair of handcuffs! As a Doctor Harry finds the idea of racial cleansing horrible. Like Louise Jameson being gnawed on by a giant fluffy rat, Ian Marter gives his all when Harry sticks his foot in a deadly clam and almost convinces that it is a deadly threat. That’s how good he is.
Scarred Scientist: Michael Wisher gives the single most impressive performance as Davros in the characters run. The Terry Molloy version has taken flight on audio and his prolific nature means that I still consider him to be the definitive version but I would never suggest that Wisher’s performance here is anything less than bravura. In a sequence that redefines the word iconic, Davros is first seen in the half-light whispering to his subordinate that the weaponry of his new creation is perfect and we pan back to reveal a Dalek. We’ve never seen anything quite like Davros before. Sure there have been some pretty gruesome monsters but this monstrous grotesque, somewhere between an ordinary man and a twisted gargoyle truly sours the stomach. For a moment you could be forgiven for thinking this is a nasty looking statue because he is perfectly still and his icy, purring voice seems at odds with its lifeless natures. His limp, scarred hands shake their way towards the buttons on his wheelchair – what’s astonishing is how powerful this character seems despite his obviously crippled nature. The metal grips that is embedded in his head is nasty – it is literally knitting his skull together! What could have possibly happened to make a man so disfigured? Only Davros could possibly think that ‘the best is yet to come’ when talking about giving a Dalek the ability to cold bloodedly kill. His wheelchair having a Dalek design is a great touch because it makes total sense of where that part of their design came from. There is something stiflingly claustrophobic about the way Davros commands the bunker with practically all of his workers terrified of him and opposing the Dalek project. Davros is also a skilled politician who can manipulate the government with gentle words whilst performing the most outrageous acts of treason by giving the opposition the ability to destroy his own people. That was the point where he went from being a superb villain to the best we have ever had. It's such a diabolical act of cowardice to ensure that he can continue with his work you almost have to admire his sledgehammer techniques. That is the point of no return where Davros has surrendered everything to his work on the Daleks and nothing will stop their completion. Even if he has to tear the entire planet apart with his bear hands the Daleks will see the light of day. If you betray his trust he will finds a way to kill you as Ronson discovers. Davros lays the blame for his own treachery on the scientists doorstep and orders him exterminated. It's fascinating to see how Michael Wisher builds to a tyrannical, Hitleresque shriek as he orders the mans death almost as if he surrenders to his own Dalek side when his bloodlust boils over. Even Nyder looks appalled at the notion that Davros would murder his own people to suit his needs (although its not enough for the man to show a flicker of emotion, naturally). Davros talks of peace and prosperity on Skaro, a new dawn for the Thal race but as soon as they fire their rocket to wipe out the Kaleds he sends the Daleks in to massacre them all! It's typical Davros to talk about erasing ‘stupid emotions’ from his workforce so they can still make use of their inventive skills. The Doctor tries to convince Davros to make the Daleks a force for good in the universe and his nemesis toys with the idea playfully but that was never going to be an option. In Davros’ warped view of the world power comes through strength and the ability to threaten and kill and the only way the Daleks will survive is if they are dominant life form destroying everything else. It turns out Davros’ one weakness is a hunger for knowledge and he tries to turn on the charm to extract the Doctor’s scientific secrets. Davros actually considers the Daleks a force for good because once they have destroyed all other lifeforms there will be no need for fighting – that’s some warped philosophy. Wonderfully we get to see just how vulnerable Davros is, the Doctor practically killing him by a mere flick of a switch. He’s little more than a robot after all. There’s a stunning moment where gunfire sounds and Davros is alone in the dark in his laboratory waiting for the Elite to find him, plotting silently. Your average villain wouldn’t get a moment of chilling reflection like that. Just when you think that Davros cannot sink any lower he exploits democracy to buy himself time to get his Daleks back from their last massacre to wipe out the few scientists that are left on the planet. Skaro is literally a sea of corpses with the Daleks the only thing to show for the slaughter. After his psychotic attacks I cannot believe there are people who would still stand at Davros’ side. Ignominy is something that all power hungry dictators have to face and Davros’ punishment for his actions comes at the hands of his own creatures. Their lack of pity, the very emotion everybody has been telling him to imbue the Daleks with, is what brings Davros down and it has a delicious taste of irony to it. His dying scream is the one moment where you feel for this character in over two and a half hours, cut down as he tries to bring his creations to an end.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We must keep the Kaled race pure…’
‘Now undoubtedly Davros has one of the finest scientific minds in existence but he has a fanatical desire to perpetuate himself in his machine. He works with conscience, without soul and without pity and his machines are equally devoid of these qualities.’
‘The Council have signed the death warrants of the whole of the Kaled people!’
‘I have betrayed the future!’
‘To hold in my hand a capsule that contained such power. To know that life and death on such a scale was my choice. To know that the tiny pressure of my thumb…enough to break the glass would end everything! Yes, I would do it! That power would set me up above the Gods and through the Daleks I shall have that power!’ – we don’t usually have dialogue as thoughtful as this to savour and it really is relishable. I love the way Davros snaps his finger and thumb together to simulate releases the virus, the old loon!
‘Rebellion is an idea in the mind! Suppress it and it hides away and festers…’
‘Do I have the right?’
The Good: · David Maloney has a great eye for memorable imagery and his opening of a mist swathed battlefield with gas masked soldiers emerging and gunned down in slow motion has to be one of the most nightmarish first scenes since Terry Nation’s The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The War Games and Invasion of the Dinosaurs have similarly dour opening scenes but there we have the Doctor and his assistants to let us know things will be all right. Genesis of the Daleks chucks you in at the deep end amidst bloodshed that it never recovers from. No wonder Mary Whitehouse was appalled – the Doctor and his chums walk across a minefield strewn with corpses and discover a bunker entrance piled high with yet more bodies. It’s a massacre! I love the shots of hulking, malformed Muto pursuing Sarah through the mist – talk about tense! The spotlight in the Muto’s face (revealing his terrified grimace) as he is shot down sticks in the memory and so does the guards reaction, worrying more about a waste of ammunition rather than a waste of life! The sequence of Sarah on the scaffolding is dynamically shot with lots of under lighting to increase the tension. He uses lighting to incredible effect as the Daleks make their way through the Thal city and Kaled bunker on a rampage, throwing their dark shadows on the wall to pre-empt their appearance. The gorgeous shot of a Dalek scouring the battlefield with explosions lit up behind it conjures up images of devastating tanks grinding up filthy land in the World Wars and taking the lives of so many.
· I always thought I sensed Robert Holmes’ hand in the premise of the show because it is so instantly memorable but after having watched Terry Nation's Survivors and Blake's 7 I am not so sure any more. He is clearly a much better ideas man than I gave him credit for. The Doctor being sent back to Skaro by the Time Lords when the Daleks were first created to avert their creation. I can’t imagine even a non-fan wouldn’t be excited by that! There is just so much potential in the scenario ofdiscovering how such ruthless creations came to be, to explore the war that caused their genesis and the moral implications of genocide.
· The first episode is a perfectly formed pieced of drama and is up their with The Invasion part six as one of the greatest episodes of Doctor Who ever made. The dramatic premise, the return of the Time Lords, slow motion deaths, explosions, a gas attack, the Doctor standing on a landmine, gunplay, meeting some truly sinister characters, the unfolding horror of the scenario and that humdinger of a cliffhanger that reveals Davros for the first time and the very first Dalek. It’s sublimely good.
· The idea of a war that has been fought for a long time so the resources have been depleted and the technology has become more primitive is fascinating because most modern wars accelerate the technology available. The notion that even as we sink back into primitivism we can still find ways to slaughter each other is a chilling one. It just makes the fight more vicious and nasty. The formation of the Elite to think up fresh methods of killing is frightening, especially when that group has become so powerful they are practically controlling the government. Davros has wormed his way to the top and changed their researches towards the survival of their race but with a sadistic desire to use the results of that research to crush all resistance on Skaro. In one bold stroke Terry Nation and Robert Holmes have taken the outwardly ridiculous appearance of the Daleks and turned it into something that is functional and purposeful. By showing the Doctor the creatures that the Kaled will mutate in to we have a clear reason behind putting them inside the pepper pot casings – simply to keep them mobile and protected. The scope of Genesis of the Daleks is incredible with both sides in this war being wiped throughout the course of the story and a new race being born. We truly are seeing the dying days of this planet and the birth of a blasted wilderness that will dovetail into the very first Dalek story with the first Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan arriving to find the mess that his future self has left behind.
· There is some impressive acting talent on display throughout this story. It's great to see the usually camped up Guy Siner playing a straight part and he’s perfect for the role of the young, sadistic general whose trying to play tough. Even the way he excitedly screams out his hatred of the Thals so unconvincingly helps to explain how he wasn’t ready for this role. Who would ever believe that this is the same Peter Miles who played the violently aggressive Dr Lawrence in Dr Who and the Silurians and the madcap brainbox Dr Whitaker last season in Invasion of the Dinosaurs? Stick him in a Nazi-esque uniform and give him a pair of menacing specs and he becomes Nyder, the cool, unnervingly controlled and sinister right hand man of Davros. There’s barely a flicker of a smile in his performance throughout the six episodes and every move he makes is robotic and perfectly judged. Michael Wisher aside, it’s the standout performance of the story. In a very small part Hilary Minster terrifies as he fucks with Sarah’s mind by pretending he is going to let her fall from a great height.
· Dudley Simpson’s music is such an odd beast because whilst it is recognised as some of the best that the show featured there is also the feeling that it can also be a little predictable at times. My opinion is that he was a superb composer who occasionally got a little too cosy. I find most of his work during the Troughton era to be of a superb standard (Evil of the Daleks, The Ice Warriors and The Seeds of Death all feature memorable scores) and whilst his music became a little safe during the Pertwee era (with some exceptions – I find his most memorable music for that era is during the year he was forced to go electronic!) it would seems that the high violence count and atmosphere of the Hinchcliffe stories has re-invigorated him! The Ark in Space had a top notch, moody soundtrack but it can’t hold a candle to what he achieves in Genesis of the Daleks. He’s relying heavily on the piano a lot here and proves what a dramatic instrument it can be and there are some terrific moments of underscoring (Davros first revealing the Dalek has a sinister underscore) and excitement (listen as he bashes away on the piano when the Daleks go in the attack in the later episodes).
· The script plays fun games in trying to convince you that Nyder is working against Davros. The idea has merit because even he looks taken aback at Davros’ mania at points but as soon as I saw him smile (it looked more like a sneer) I knew he was up to no good. When he plays his hand, Peter Miles aces the robotic response to remind you that this quisling is completely without remorse just like his mentor.
· Astonishingly this story gains momentum by scaling the story down as it goes along. Power of the Daleks worked in reverse by opening very small scale and working its way up to a Dalek slaughter. Genesis starts on an ambitious grand scale and as each side is diminished we find ourselves losing more locations until we are trapped in the claustrophobic walls of the bunker. Then the remaining scientists are bumped off which leaves one last victim; Davros. I love how the script goes from the epic to the intimate because most stories work the other way around. It literally feels as if the story is closing in around you until there is nowhere left to run.
The Bad: It would be churlish to focus too heavily on the minor mistakes made in a story that has been put together with such care. The toxic reader by the Thal rocket is simplistically designed and after the myriad of impressively designed sets the caves that the Doctor and Harry find themselves in are distinctly plastic looking and full of crapola BBC props. The electric fence and mutant cliffhangers are that brilliant but they serve their purpose. I would have loved it had they had the guts to end episode five on ‘do I have the right?’ I was utterly absorbed by the story until I saw the TOTAL DESTRUCT button and then I was reminded I was watching Doctor Who.
The Shallow Bit: Don’t dress Tom Baker up in a black leather again. Just don’t.
Result: A masterpiece of suspense and visceral and psychological horror, Genesis of the Daleks lives up to its iconic status and then some. I don’t care whose name is on the credits, this script was either heavily rewritten by Robert Holmes or he gave notes every stage. Under Terrance Dicks Terry Nation produced Planet of the Daleks and the yawning chasm that exists between that story and this is too damn noticeable to be quite believable. Whoever was responsible the script is a work of art in itself; an exercise in world building, character examination, moral dilemmas and how to pace a six part action adventure with real momentum. David Maloney is next in line for credit because he takes this script and refuses to let one iota of atmosphere bleed away. The direction is bold, violent and shocking – you wouldn’t want Doctor Who to be this way every week because it is just too disturbing in places but as a fatalistic one off it is a tour de force. The lighting is superb and Dudley Simpson’s music has really come on since Tom Baker took over the role, highlighting the drama whilst cutting away the melo. It’s a huge cast and nearly all the roles are impeccably performed from the sadistic (Hilary Minster) to the uncomfortably still (Peter Miles) with Lis Sladen and Ian Marter providing impeccable support to Tom Baker’s Doctor who has finally come into his own. The plaudits have to go to Michael Wisher though for creating such a memorable grotesque in Davros – the last three episodes see the action quotient drop but its still completely riveting because Davros’ malevolent behaviour is absolutely delicious to watch. There’s no part of Genesis of the Daleks that isn’t firing on all cylinders and it’s the first major success of many for incoming producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. Even the conclusion is satisfying, managing to be both anti climatic and loaded with irony and murderous relish. It's not a story I can watch over and over because its depressing tone can be quite hard hitting but every time I do watch Genesis I am reminded of just how good Doctor Who can be when everything comes together with absolute precision. Outstanding: 10/10
Tuesday, 27 August 2013
This story in a nutshell: The title couldn’t make it much clearer…
Lovely Lis: Everybody else lands on their feet but poor Sarah materialises in the bushes with her arse in the air. You've got to love her, haven't you? Sarah told Mike Yates that she liked London exactly the way it was in Invasion of the Dinosaurs and here she gets a close up view of exactly what they were trying to achieve with Operation Golden Age and it really throws her. The silence is disquieting, she enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the Capital City. This isn’t what she expected for the future of her planet. She has clearly been travelling with the Doctor for enough time now so that she has come to expect mutations and creatures…she’s on the right track and only has to wait until the next story for her fears to come true. The mental torture that Sarah is put through is pretty strong stuff for a family audience, whilst the snake is clearly a Pound Shop special the zooming close ups of the rocks and the adhesive sludge crawling up her legs are both really nasty moments that would test the character of anyone placed in those circumstances. The Sontaran Experiment is proof that I could watch Sarah and Harry arsing about doing anything, they don't exactly get their most sparkling material but the mix of personalities makes their scenes together sing.
Dashing Doctor: Harry is such an old fashioned romantic sort and he can’t resist running to Sarah’s rescue and calling her ‘old thing.’ Ian Marter brought a great deal of charm to the funless, violent stories of season twelve, so appealing that it is a crying shame that he only appeared in seven stories. He's a medical man through and through and finding a victim chained to a rock and deprived of water makes his blood boil. When he dies before he can help him, Harry heads off to deal with the stinking little toad that is responsible. Not that I wish to question his medical competence but if Harry had given Sarah and the Doctor a thorough examination he would have realised they were both still alive. Just saying. Who cares though when he very sweetly decides to avenge their deaths by going after Styre with a bloody great plank of wood? He clearly has a great deal of affection for both of them.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Why did you make that disagreeable noise?’ – says Styre of Sarah’s scream. At the time that I originally watched this I was embarking on a Doctor Who marathon with my husband – he finally asked me to walk him through the entire run of the series, one episode a night. We were about two episodes into The Daleks when he kept asking the same question as Styre, usually about Susan.
The Good Stuff: An all location story is such a brave idea for the time of challenged budgets and Philip Hinchcliffe cleverly avoids problems by having a six parter split into two stories with four episodes all studio and two episodes all OB. He’s already proving himself to be a very savvy producer. He would later pull off a similar innovation in The Deadly Assassin by confining all the location work to one, startling episode. The slow pan across the bleak moorland tells a bleak story about the future of the Earth that the Doctor and friends are visiting. Sarah’s haunted reaction to the Earth being nothing but soulless moorland and the revelation that they are standing in Central London is one of those moments of Doctor Who cheek that genuinely gets away with it. Clearly it is just a empty landscape that the production team have stumbled across to shoot this story in but if you allow yourself to believe that this is the re-grown landscape after the Earth has been sterilized by fire suddenly the landscape becomes a story in itself. That is the magic of Doctor Who, conjuring up enough evidence to make you believe. Harry slipping down the ravine is a great stunt because it looks entirely accidental and dangerous, not an easy thing to pull off. The more time you spend on this location the more you understand why it was chosen; miles of desolate greenery, mountainous hillocks and interconnected rockeries. It's British countryside at its finest and the silence is deafening. I love the moments when people are spotted just out of sight – it is filmed so quickly you are left thinking ‘did I just see that?’ Death to the Daleks pulled off a similar trick. It’s in those moments that the atmosphere of the first episode really works. I like the fact that the Galsec chaps are scruffy and violent; it is a sharp contrast to the emotionless and sterile populace we discovered on Nerva Beacon. Setting a story on the Ark with the sleeping remnants of humanity and then opening out the same universe to a story set on the Earth with a militaristic survival group paints an epic picture of this time period that Doctor Who doesn't usually go to the effort of realising this well. Normally this sort of thing is usually only mentioned in dialogue to save money but here we actually get to see this period from two very different perspectives. The End of the World/New Earth/Gridlock would pull off a similar trick in many years to come. The Sontaran ship looks wonderful nestled amongst the rocks; it is a defining visual image from this story. Everything about the cliffhanger is excellent from the dramatically rising music, the long awaited appearance of the Sontaran and Sarah’s shocked reaction. This is the first of two stories in a row where Sarah will be reunited with old foes and her reaction is a beauty. Styre is another fine Sontaran character with a delicious sadistic edge. You get the impression he enjoys the more intimate one on one torture (sorry, experimentation) than simply fighting a large scale war. The mission on the Earth to see if it is a viable base gives the Sontaran/Rutan army a real sense of magnitude, gathering entire worlds to play their game of war across. Having Kevin Lindsay play both Sontaran characters really stresses the fact that these creatures are clones. Styre shoots the Doctor and doesn't even bother to dispose of the corpse, treating the leading man as so much garbage. It is probably the least arresting for children (especially when compared to snakes and slime) but easily the most agonising experiment when given any degree of thought, the breast cage test of strength (two men holding a metal weight that is slowly getting heavier over the the chest of a man tied down, threatening to crush in his rib cage) makes my eyes water just to think about it. Watching the two men struggling to save the life of their leader who has betrayed them shows a real sense of character. It is very unusual for Doctor Who to have an entirely physical conclusion with no dialogue (because it is often the cheapest way to tell a story) but the fight between the Doctor and Styre is absolutely spectacular. They dash over those rocks, the camera enjoys the full scope of the scenery and the fight arrangement is full of energy and class.
The Bad Stuff: This is one occasion where I feel that the story deserved to be shot of film and not video so ironically it’s the one of the few occasions pre-Trial of a Time Lord where it isn’t. It would look so much more lush and expensive on film and instead there are times when it feels as if somebody has taken a camcorder and a group of friends to Dartmoor to film a fan production (it looks a lot like one of the Myth Makers tapes at times). It doesn’t help that the guns the soldiers carry and the robot look pretty tacky too, as though said fans have cobbled them up out of things in a kitchen cupboard. The funny business with Harry landing and vanishing probably looked better on paper than it does in practice ('are you coming or going?'). The shots of the robot and the guy running in the same frame are very funny (and I don’t think that was the intention) – it almost looks like a spoof of Doctor Who. When Sarah says that Styre is identical to Linx she is being quite kind to the designer because aside from the shape of the creature the mask looks completely different.
The Shallow Bit: Lis Sladen looks adorable in her bright yellow raincoat and woolly hat. Mind you Lis Sladen often looked adorable in anything.
Result: Unique at the time for only being two episodes long and shot entirely on location, The Sontaran Experiment is a pleasant breather after the stifling claustrophobia of The Ark in Space and a pause before the horrors of Genesis of the Daleks. I really wish this had been shot on film because video does make the location work look cheaper than it should. However the scenery is so spectacular it manages to get away with the awesome premise of being set on a post apocalyptic Earth, the planet having survived a battering by solar flares. Because of its brevity, this story is more effective as a coda for the story that took place before it than a gripping narrative in its own right, and also as a further glimpse at the Sontarans and emphasising their terrible war with the Rutans. Tom Baker seems a little tentative at first but soon finds his way and luckily he is backed up with the unconquerable team of Lis Sladen and Ian Marter who keep things ticking over nicely. Rather than the often cosy violence of the Barry Letts era, much of the material is quite sadistic and already the new administration is making its mark. I watch this story for its gorgeous windy locations, which makes me want to walk across South Downs where I live and breathe in some lovely fresh air. As a story with its own identity it is fairly disposable, but this is still an enjoyable enough tale that adds extra depth to the corner of the galaxy set up in The Ark in Space: 7/10
Wednesday, 21 August 2013
This story in a nutshell: ‘You can’t take on the whole world…don’t you understand they’ll destroy you!’ A nuclear winter looms as the scatterbrained new Doctor takes on the mighty metal man of Thinktank...
Lovely Lis: From the off, season twelve presents a far more feminine Sarah Jane Smith than the trouser suited career girl of her debut year. The early scenes of Sarah pursuing a story in a sporty roadster are remarkably similar to scenes in The Sarah Jane Adventures (although I would argue that this is the last we see of the career girl Sarah Jane until her own series). ‘Why are you telling me?’ says Sarah as the Brigadier spills all the latest top-secret information to her and the simple truth is it's because he can’t tell the Doctor. Watch Lis Sladen’s wonderful reaction when the Doctor slams the door of the TARDIS on her and then jumps when he pops out again, these two are going to be gold together. After her in-your-face sexism dialogue last season it is rather wonderful to see her getting a stiff telling off from Miss Winters for her own thoughtless chauvinism. I often find people who take a defiant stand against something (although I certainly wouldn't question anybody who fights sexism/racism/homophobia, etc) often forget that they are flawed human beings themselves and more than capable of slipping into the same behaviour given the right stimulus. Only Sarah would happily swan into a room that has POSITIVIELY NO ADMITTANCE on the door, risking life and limb to get a good story. It takes the work of strong actress to take hold of an inanimate object like the Robot and project feelings onto it as effectively as is achieved here. If we adored Sarah before this story then her feelings towards the Robot seal the deal as she stands up for its rights and protects its feelings. She touches the beast in a very sensitive way that should be ridiculous but Sladen and Christopher Barry sell the relationship convincingly. Sarah has a cheeky, almost flirtatious relationship with the Brigadier, winking at him and telling him that she is still a working girl.Watch out for her contemporary hippy look, scarf wrapped around her head as she tosses insults at the outrageously sexist SRS nitwit. ‘Mr Benton are we members of UNIT? Are we under arrest? Well then where we go and what we do is none of your business!’ – don’t you just want to kiss her? What a babe, she grabs a gun and threatens to blow Miss Winters’ head off! Elisabeth Sladen single handedly makes us believe in the creature and her hysterical pleas to the beast in the last episode give the story a touch of drama it desperately needs to keep it on the right side of feeling like parody Who. Even after the crazy conclusion, Sarah pines for the creature and makes us ponder on the possibilities it had. Sarah shoves the jelly baby in her gob as a delightful indication she is going to take to this Doctor and will be going with him on his travels once again. Although they don't spend a great deal of time together in this adventure it is clear that this three way ensemble is going to be a joy, probably the most delightful set up since the second Doctor, Polly, Ben and Jamie.
Oh I Say: The initial encounter between the Doctor and Harry is comedy gold and both actors give superb, energetic performances (no wonder Sladen felt as though she had to up her game). It turns out to be the blueprint of their relationship, the Doctor running rings around and thoroughly bamboozling Harry. The indignity of him being trussed up in the cupboard like a pair of old boots is hilarious, I do so like a character who isn’t afraid to look a bit foolish in order to become likable, it is a knack that Joss Whedon landed upon and developed to a fine art in many of his shows. Harry gets the chance to be a real James Bond, infiltrating Thinktank and reporting back on their sinister activities. Unfortunately, it isn't long before he has been koshed, his natural tendency to cock things up coming to the fore. As would be proven time and again over the next six stories Marter and Sladen have a palpable chemistry and it's immediately apparent from their scenes locked up together. You'd think they had been working together for an age. Harry is good in a fight and he gives Jellicoe an impressive right hook in the last episode. His reaction to the TARDIS ('Oh, I say!') rather puts all the others to shame.
Our Brig: Confronted with his third Doctor, Nick Courtney gets to play a whole new side to the Brigadier as he tries to build a relationship with this fruitloop of a Time Lord. The Doctor used to drive him mad but he misses having him about the place. There’s nothing wrong with being a bit old fashioned, he admits of his gentlemanly ways. It's great how the Doctor goes through some of the most heinous military leaders from history when trying to remember the Brigadier’s name. According to the Doctor in a facetious mood, he really must cultivate a sense of urgency. The Brigadier looks like he is going to explode like a nasty old blister when he screams ‘cancel the destructor codes!’ If he's being characterised like a military leader from a kids cartoon strip throughout, that is the moment where he really makes his presence felt. Once all the explosions are over the Brigadier doesn’t really care about the sentimental stuff…when the Doctor tries to explain about the Robot’s affection towards Sarah he responds with a very unimpressed ‘hmm.' Courtney has that deadpan reaction down to a fine art now. When the chips are down you can count on the Brigadier to grab the biggest gun going and get blasting, in this case making a sizaeable problem a hundred times worse.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Why is a mouse when it spins?’
‘Rather a splendid paradox, ay Brigadier? The only ones who could do it wouldn’t need to.’
‘Naturally enough the country that could be trusted with such a role was Great Britain’ ‘Well naturally I mean the rest were all foreigners!’
‘In science as in morality the ends never justifies the means.’
‘The trouble with computers is that they are very sophisticated idiots!.
‘There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes!’ – probably my most quoted Doctor Who line ever.
The Good Stuff: The realisation of the Robot is a mixture of good (the awesome glowing head, the size of the thing and Michael Kilgariff’s emotive voice giving the creature a strong sense of character) and the not so good (the floppy wrists, the smiley face that looks for all the world as though the thing is about to crack up and the anachronistic eighties shoulder pads that would have looked quite at home in Dynasty). Christopher Barry is always looking for imaginative ways to shoot stories and his opening gambit with Robot is the unusual POV scenes, showing the creature about its dastardly work. Add to that the menacing shadow of the beast against a wall and a terrific Dudley Simpson score and there is the immediate feeling that we are in very safe hands.The Doctor's dressing up sequence is played to the hilt, it is outrageously comical and camp but strangely it doesn't attract the same wrath as Romana's body choice scene or similarly costume choices in The Twin Dilemma and Time and the Rani. Perhaps because as much as they might disapprove, Peri and the Rani cannot disapprove with quite the same stiff upper lip as the Brigadier the makes the whole thing so laugh out loud funny. Patricia Maynard is extremely good as Miss Winters, an icy cold villainess who has some very unusual ideas about nuclear solutions to the Earth’s problems. That shows you the difference between Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dick's solutions to the same problems; the Earth is in trouble and needs new management - Hulke chooses to have his villains roll back time and gently erase all of our mistakes so we can start again, Dicks goes for the jugular by having everything go up in a bally big explosion and have the villains shape the debris to their own design. One might be kinder, but the other is far more exciting. The days of UNIT as a top secret organisation are numbered. There was a time when the administration was taken very seriously with lots of gritty action sequences and impressive hardware. There are action sequences and hardware on display in Robot, but the tone is so much more convivial with plenty of jolly music and colourful location work. Kettlewell is the quintessential baffled but brilliant scientist, played to perfection by Edward Burnham and I was howling at his distracted babble as he tries to avoid the Doctor's questions lest he gives himself away (‘they’re incompetant nincompoops!’). Imagine, if you dare, the fourth Doctor, Kettlewell and Amelia Rumpford travelling together – the sheer amount of eccentricity on display would blow The Avengers out of the pool. Miss Winters has clearly been grooming herself in the role of villainess for some time and she has perfected the art, reveling in a sense of theatre as she orders the Robot to dispose of Sarah. Barry tries his damndest to make the Robot look like a genuinely powerful piece of hardware (although at times he is fighting a losing battle) and I appreciate the effort that has gone into the thing tearing through the door of the warehouse, knocking over crates and walking through a hail of bullets. As soon as we start talking about nuclear weapons the story takes on a darker tone but that is balanced by the ludicrous scenes of the Giant Robot, the entertainment factor never forgotten. Once seen, never forgotten, Miss Winters enjoys some fabulous Hitleresque hair-shaking rants that would put the Nuremberg address on a second footing. There is something deliciously cowardly about the SRS bunch sneaking away in a bunker and blackmailing the world with nuclear detonation unless we bow down to their outlandish way of thinking. It would be a little embarrassing if the world was destroyed simply because a group of oddballs felt that etiquette had slipped somewhat. Their plan to detonate a bomb and emerge to control the survivors is so feverishly improbable you have applaud their nerve. Perhaps Miss Winters has been watching a little Bond, all the best villains have giant countdown clocks these days. One thing Doctor Who always does well is blow up things real good and the impressive pyrotechnics as the Doctor waves the sonic screwdriver has to be seen to be believed. I always thought Terrance Dicks was a ruthlessly efficient plotter of stories but here he has Benton whip up the solution of how to defeat the living metal before the Robot has even grown. Amongst all the crazy (read: unsuccessful) special effects in the last episode there are some impressive Ariel POV shots that add a little credence to the scenes of it mincing about the size of a skyscraper. Nothing could have quite prepared me for its path of destruction; trampling a UNIT soldier, using its boot to smash through a hut and getting caught up in a telegraph pole and ripping it from the ground in sheer frustration. Russell T. Davies would approve heartily of the bucket of dayglow goo that is conjured up at the last minute to save the day, he pretty much copied and pasted the idea for the end of his first Doctor Who script. Robot ends with one of the most positive closing scenes in any Doctor Who story with a charismatic new Doctor, two gorgeous companions departing for adventures unknown and the real feeling of a universe of excitement ahead for them.
The Bad Stuff: That poor guy playing the security guard has the unfortunate job of trying to squeeze his neck into the Robot’s cumbersome pincers and making it look like a natural moment of attack. That is a big ask. Could the sequence where it drills from underground look any less convincing? I realise that we are supposed to buy into this mechanical man as a person but I'm not sure that the scenes of the decapitated Robot being operated on with jargon from a medical procedure isn't taking things a step too far. What was the point of having Kettlewell looking so appalled when he learns that the Robot has performed acts that conflict with its prime directive...if he was the one who tinkered with its circuitry to make it so? It makes absolutely no sense in retrospect, except to provide the story with an (unconvincing) twist. How odd is it to see the fourth Doctor driving Bessie? Benton was promoted because…there was no one else to promote? Is that how it works in the Armed Forces? The fight scene at the end of episode two between the Doctor and the Robot is far too theatrical and lacks realism because the Robot is too cumbersome to shot with any can't of dynamism. At points Kilgarrif is so blinded inside that suit he has to be guided around (visibly) by the other actors. Showing the age it was made, the Brigadier talks on a walkie-talkie the size of a breezeblock! Some Doctor Who effects live in infamy and the toy tank must rank pretty high in that respect - what were they thinking attempting something as cheap as this? Bizarrely the Thinktank group ask themselves if they have enough food and water after they set their 300 second countdown - that really doesn't leave them long to pop down the shops. Kettlewell is unconvincingly rationalized throughout, his eleventh hour change of heart doesn't ring true and the way he attempts to avert a nuclear missile launch by smashing the equipment with the chair has all the scientific rationale of tea tray sealing a breach in the dome on the Moonbase. Can a Robot have an epileptic fit? Apparently so, as we witness once Kettlewell dies. I thought the show would never top the Chewits monster T-Rex but prepare yourselfs for King Kong Robot and Barbie Doll Sarah...I promise this image will burn in your mind forever.
The Shallow Bit: Where does Kettlewell get his fabulous electrifying hair gel from?
Result: Unlike anything else in the Tom Baker era, this is a hugely fun and colourful adventure that reeks of the previous management rather than the new administration that was to come. Departing Robot you might be under the impression that things were going stay pretty much the same. Certain TV stories lend themselves well to being drawn as a comic strip and Robot is a great example (Paradise Towers is another), it is full of arresting, epic imagery that needs the unlimited budget of an artists hand to bring them to life successfully. However this is Doctor Who so a certain amount of forgiveness has to be lavished on the effects work and there is much more to Robot than the Giant metal antagonist taking his anger out on a UNIT platoon. Terrance Dicks’ dialogue is fast and furiously witty and the story is full of memorable characters and moments. At four episodes it feels remarkably fast paced, especially compared to some of the more laborious Pertwee six parters. Tom Baker hits the ground sprinting with a performance that reaches into the stratosphere, pulling every trick out of the book to make sure that the audience is wrong-footed throughout. He's demented, and it's a real slap around the face after Pertwee's straight-lacedness. There's a nicely detail relationship between Sarah and the Robot that should have bombed but thanks to the efforts of Sladen and Kilgarriff, it turns out to be rather touching. Robot is one of those Doctor Who stories where it is best not to think about any of the details for too long because it all starts to fall apart (Kettlewell's behaviour, the last minute solution) but simply go along with the ride and be seduced by the adventurous tone, the charismatic performances and wonderful byplay. As a final hurrah to an incredible era of Doctor Who it is a thoroughly entertaining and energetic piece that I never tire of enjoying: 8/10
Monday, 19 August 2013
This story in a nutshell: Aracnophobics beware! The Giant Spiders of Metebelies Three are on Earth! The Doctor has to face his fears because that is far more important than just going on living…
My Sarah Jane: I thought it would be hard to watch this story after the news of Elisabeth Sladen’s death. That night I had guests and had to hold myself together with smiles until they had left but as soon as the door was shut I collapsed in the hall and burst into tears and couldn't stop.If that makes me sound like a big wuss then I am unconcerned, this was the first time that grief has touched my life in this way. Where somebody whose career I followed and admired had been snatched away without warning. Look back on my previous reviews – I have always considered Sarah Jane the finest Doctor Who companion and Lis Sladen’s commitment to the character and the show has always impressed above and beyond any other actor that has appeared in Doctor Who. It was a devastating blow to lose the Doctor’s best friend; it felt like a little bit of my childhood had died. But when I stuck Planet of the Spiders on I didn’t find myself choking back tears but as enthralled as ever by her superb performance – I laughed at Sarah poking fun at the Buddhism, loved her awesome interaction with the Doctor, screamed as the spider appeared on her back and she showed real fear and finally the tears came as she wept over the Doctor’s death. We shouldn't selfishly groan about what we wont see from Elisabeth in the future but bask in the work she has done over the years in bringing such a marvelous character to life. I intend to do just that – I will always love Sarah Jane and I shall continue to enjoy her unique contribution to the Doctor Who universe. The commentaries on these DVDs are a wonderful bonus because we can still spend many hours in Elisabeth’s company and listen to her unique take on the show that brought her so much popularity. Sarah is still after a good story and cannot resist Mike Yates’ summons to the monastery in deepest marmoset, although you get the strong impression that she feels something for the man as well after the incident with the Golden Age bunch. There is something personal, almost flirtatious about their banter and I think she would have been drawn to the monastery whether there was a story there or not. She’s still a career girl, working for Metropolitan magazine and it’s a shame that we lost that once she was whisked off into time and space by the fourth Doctor (with the odd acknowledgement - Terror of the Zygons). She is respectful to a point but can only keep a poker face for so long when discussing the activities of the Buddhist monastery (‘like contemplating their belly buttons?’). Sarah emphasizes with Tommy, she doesn’t patronise him and as such he is drawn to her. Like so many she is clearly not keen on spiders (I'm one of those weirdos who thinks they are rather cute). I love how real Sarah feels, discussing fabulous planets and aliens like talking about fish and chips and the Liverpool docks. She's already had a moment to pause and consider the danger of travelling with the Doctor when she thought he was dead in The Monster of Peladon and we get a glimpse of her future grief when he lies unconscious outside the TARDIS on Metebelies Three. They saved the greatest 'Good grief!' for last, the spine tingling sight of the spider clinging onto Sarah's back. I love how she smells his coat to remind herself of him three weeks after he has gone to his death, suggesting an intimacy and warmth between them and a longing for his return. Her tears at his death make this easily the most affecting regeneration, it genuinely feels as though the Doctor has died and his companion cannot cope with the loss.
Chap With Wings: Another tragic loss to Doctor Who making the commentary on this story an especially valuable one. It’s a shame that we couldn't have had more of the Brig in the third Doctor’s last story (compared to say Robot where he is a strong presence throughout) but as a joyous indictment of the Brig's relationship with the Doctor relationship and the way it has grown we get to witness the two of them socialising together in the first episode. Of course the Brig likes a bit of the old exotic dancing, the dirty get! There’s a very revealing moment that the Brigadier seems to want to skip over – a moment of intimacy in Brighton with a young lady called Doris who would go on to be a very important person in his life.Watch out for his typically stalwart expression when the Whomobile takes to the skies.
Camp Captain: It's most unlike Doctor to look back to previous adventures and capitalise on them so to have Mike Yates come back after his betrayal of the Doctor and the Brigadier in Invasion of the Dinosaurs is an unusual moment of development and allows for some redemption of the character. After his devastated reaction to Jo's engagement to Cliff, it is possible that it was losing her that was the turning point for his character so it is rather lovely that he would try and re-define himself as an individual who shouldn't be afraid of his feelings in this story. Mike is trying to find himself in a Tibetan Monastery after his discharge from UNIT. Sarah comments on the fiendish cunning of the man hiding away and spying on the spooky goings on in the cellar. Trust an ex-UNIT operative to sniff out the one monastery in England to be conjuring evil giant Spiders. His compassion protects him when he is attacked by the Spiders, but then he always was something of a sensitive soul. Whilst the character was set up originally to have a bit of a fling with Jo Grant, his relationship with Sarah is far more flirtatious and you could see how if the wonderful Ian Marter wasn’t available that Sarah and Mike could have gone off into space with the Doctor. After their interaction in this story I can see how this could have been made to work for the benefit of the series.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘When everything is new, can anything be a surprise?’
‘Bow down before me planets! Bow down stars!’
‘A tear, Sarah Jane? No don’t cry. While there’s life, there’s hope.’
The Good Stuff: Cobwebs strewn and giant spiders jumping on peoples backs – it's about time somebody drew on one of the most prevalent phobias and how appropriate to end the Pertwee years with such a memorable monster from an era that gave us mannequins, gargoyles and maggots. Cyril Shaps is one of those actors that exudes amiability and whatever guise he turns up in (even whiny Viner from Tomb of the Cybermen, but especially the Archemandrite in The Androids of Tara) I cannot help but be drawn to him on screen. Here he plays a showman with a real talent for ESP, trying to hide the gift that has cursed him in plain sight. The Doctor's assertion that all human beings have Clegg's capabilities given the right genetic switch being thrown is intriguing and certainly worthy of further exploration (The Tomorrow People had a good stab at that). There is a real contemporary seventies atmosphere to the first episode that we haven't seen a great deal of in season eleven whilst we have been having fun in the Middle Ages, Exxilon and Peladon. Shots of Sarah leaping from a train station and into a tasty red sports car could have come from any contemporary drama of the time. Who ever knew that chanting could be quite as creepy as this? Revealing once again that the Pertwee era was the most serialised of all the classic periods; here we catch up with Mike after his breakdown, find out a little about Jo's adventures up the Amazon and witness a reunion between the Doctor and his mentor. It is appropriate that Planet of the Spiders wraps up all of these threads, the plotting again following up on the Buddhist themes of cleaning out the clutter before the new man breaths life. You can actually hear Katy Manning reading the letter aloud it captures Jo's voice so well and Pertwee dictates wistfully, clearly still missing his friend. Topping off a nourishing first episode, excitement abounds as UNIT HQ descends into psychic chaos, the Professor screams his last and a giant spider appears in the monastery, quivering on its eight legs. I've heard complaints about the silky Spider voices and whilst they can be shrill on the odd occasion (and that weird chorus of 'hmms' they make when giving their assent is just bizarre), I find the voice work of Ysanne Churchman and Kismet Delgado some of the best in the series. What is it with the Doctor's friends agreeing to sacrifice themselves for the Doctor? It's Benton's turn this time around, the lovable old grunt. The idea of a final confrontation between the Doctor and the Master to top of this era is an intoxicating one but tragic events scuppered those plans and so Letts had to fall back on the idea of giving the Doctor a new foe for this story in the form of Lupton. In many ways he is a far more sinister character than the Master (who had become a little cuddly by the time of Frontier in Space), a failed man who seeks power over others to make himself feel more important. John Dearth gives a fantastically feral, sweaty, violent and nasty, just-this-side-of-psychotic performance, a desperate man is always uncomfortable to watch and this is a guy who is past his prime but doesn't know it yet. From the outset it is clear he has got a nasty surprise coming to him and given his previous complications in life it is unfortunate that he should choose such a self destructive path. Everybody piling into Bessie to chase the Whomobile should be tacky but I was cheering with joy - if you can't be a little silly and self congratulatory in your swansong then when can you? Hooray for the comedy copper (he, Stuart Fell's tramp and Pigbin Josh from The Claws of Axos should have set up their own rural sitcom) who is utterly bemused by all the space vehicles that keep racing by him in the English countryside. I wont deny that the chase is indulgent (how could I not - it's over twenty minutes long!) but Letts directs excitingly and it is full of comedy touches that make the absence of a narrative for an episode speed by enjoyably enough. The twitching, breathing spider court is a memorable set up. I wondered how this story would hold up to some of my non fan arachnophobic friends and showed them a couple of scenes but they couldn't get past the shot of the Spider rearing up to attack Sarah and then leaping on her back! Who knows what pandemonium would have occurred had they gone with the original, breathing Spiders. Pertwee gets to indulge in a spectacular fight with three guards – Hiya! Judo Chop! Sorry, forgive me. Whilst there is an element of the theatre (there is no way you will be convinced that Metebelies Three is anything but a staged planet) about them, the night time scenes are evocatively lit (both in the shadowy house and the moonlit exterior) and the funereal bell tolling pre-empts the tragedy to come. Thank goodness I didn't show my mates the Queen Spider - she has horrid shiny eyes and twitching mandibles - it really is a grisly piece of design work. There was perhaps too much subtlety going on with the Tommy thread when I first watched this story and I found it quite boring but through adult eyes I can know see how the Buddhist themes are re-affirmed through him. John Kane’s performance as he reads the child’s book with ease is affecting, a mixture of relief and awe that comprehending the symbols on the page is so effortless. You can count on Terrance Dicks to ensure that the set up of the Spiders on Metebelies Three is going to be back up by an appropriate back story - the colonists came to the planet and the Spiders came scuttling out of the spaceship into the crystal caves and grown out of all proportion, physically and intellectually. There's one moment when the humans in the cellar are surrounded by numerous Spiders, surely the worst nightmare for a large proportion of the audience. The exchange: ‘Tommy you’re just like everybody else’ ‘I sincerely hope not’ is loaded with meaning– after being an outsider all his life Tommy is now in the position to fit in and he cannot imagine anything worse. I cannot think of anybody finer than George McCormack to play K'anpo, he radiates warmth, wisdom and good humour. In his hands, the wise old mentor that the Doctor has waxed lyrical about lives up to his reputation. The Doctor’s mentor knows that they are both soon to regenerate and it is fascinating to see them interpreted in different ways, one is played as a delightful rebirth and the other a tragic murder. Visually the Great One is one of the more formidable foes that the Doctor has encountered but when you add that hysterical, vehement voice she become more than worthy of the rare honour of being a Doctor Who villain that manages to kill the main man. How could this possibly be the final Pertwee story without an almighty explosion and Barry Letts goes all out blowing up a mountain. I love how K’anpo gives the regeneration a little push, gently easing the Doctor on his way.
The Bad Stuff: Oh dear, the Whomobile taking to the skies is exactly the sort of effects disaster that Michael Grade leaps upon when trying to formulate a prosecution against the show. Similarly the effects shot of Sarah transporting is one of the most important of the story (it is a shocking moment, but the realisation is shocking too). How Jenny Laird has an acting award named after her baffles given her performance in Planet of the Spiders, she is hilariously awful (‘I shant let them take you! I shant! I shant!’) and this is precisely the sort of thing that Barry Letts is normally very good at weeding out so I'm not sure what went wrong here. Those are some of the least aesthetically pleasing corridors on Metebelies Three and the Spiders larder feels as though it could do wth more cobwebs or menace or anything...although it is hilarious that they have gone to the lengths of spinning webbed cushions for their victims! Why writers give critics openings with lines like 'this is monotonous!' is a mystery. What is up with episode five's cliffhanger oddly re-edited and five minutes into episode six?
The Shallow Bit: I kind of find Ralph Arliss really attractive – even dressed up like a hippy. Which possibly makes me nuts.
Result: Arachnophobics beware! Metebelians flee! The Spiders are attacking! Often unfairly criticised for a couple of dodgy effects, Planet of the Spiders is a fine celebration of the Pertwee era and a memorable tale for the actor who brought the show a new direction and success to go out on. Rather than concentrating on its few faults (like so many Who fans have an obsession with doing) let's discuss its many strengths. The cast is genuinely impressive (something that bolsters all of the Letts directed stories) with Cyril Shaps, John Dearth and George McCormack all rocking in some well written and characterised roles (especially Lupton, a genuinely nasty piece of work). There is plenty of well directed action, terrific development for the Doctor, Sarah and Mike and memorable scares with the twitching, giant Spiders that have a habit of leaping on their victims backs. The first episode is one of the strongest of the era and the last episode takes the Doctor on the most important journey of his life so far, climaxing on a final scene that will melt your heart as the Doctor tries to comfort Sarah as he dies before her. The Metebelies sequences are quite theatrical but nowhere near as bad as people pretend they are and pretty nicely realised on the whole (only a few CSO shots appall but the design and lighting is very strong) and the power games with the Spiders are great fun, and their voices are particularly effective. There is about an episodes worth of padding, which is unfortunate and some of the acting choices of the Metebelies actors (Jenny Laird is clearly in a world of her own) are unusual. There are so many lovely, characterful touches throughout (Mike’s redemption, Jo’s letter, the return of the Doctor’s mentor, Sarah’s grief smelling the Doctor’s coat) it generates more than enough relevance to make this a worthy swansong to a memorable Doctor. With three of its main cast and the director now no longer with us it stands a fine example of their incredible work: 8/10