Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Full Circle written by Andrew Smith and directed by Peter Grimwade

This story in a nutshell: ‘Tell Dexeter we’ve come full circle…’

Teeth and Curls: One thing that is prevalent in this series is that Tom Baker was not allowed to overshadow the production like he had in previous years. Whilst I might complain that this is to the detriment of the entertainment value of the series elsewhere, I don’t think it is an necessarily always a bad thing because the strength of the story can shine through when it is as strong as Full Circle and the Doctor can be seen to be working as a part of the overall dynamic. So even in the last story when Tom Baker played the hero and the villain he wasn’t the dominant feature of the story. As a result of his discussions (lets conservatively say disagreements) with John Nathan-Turner and Christopher H. Bidmead (blimey could these names get any more pretentious) Tom’s performance is a lot more subdued and internalised and some would say (and I’m on the fence) that he gave his best ever performances as a result. How odd, he usually gets on terribly well with children. It wouldn't be a fourth Doctor story if he was able to have a little fun however and I really chuckle as he returns to the TARDIS and starts poking at the space where it was just in case its invisible as is often the case in this series. The Doctor trying to calm and protect the Marsh Child feels very right even though he does get a right bop on the head for his troubles. He asks: ‘Why can’t people be nice to each other? Just for a change…’ which sums up his attitude to the universe rather nicely. I howled at his deadpan reaction to all those kids piling out of the TARDIS. Talk about your worst nightmare come true and a vision of a potential future if he and Lalla keep enjoying extra curriculum activities behind the scenes. His anger in the face of the child's death is extraordinary, we haven’t seen the Doctor lose it this badly since The Pirate Planet and I was flinching at his furious tirade. Baker has still got it, even in his twilight years.

Lovely Lalla: I really like Lalla Ward. She doesn't bother me in the same way she does others for speaking her mind on the DVD commentaries. It certainly makes for more interesting listening than people simply going 'what a pleasure so and so was to work with!' She has been known to make caustic comments about her opinion of Adric's introduction to the series, Tom’s behaviour in their final few stories together and how JNT and Bidmead sucked the fun out of the show. On the whole she is spot on and perfectly entitled to her opinion, certainly as much as any fan of the show is since she was actually involved in its creation. At the same time she clearly has a great love for the show and appreciates her time on it and oh yes, she’s a damn fine actress too. I really enjoy the domestic scenes between the Doctor and Romana and there is some real attempt to develop her character here. Romana doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life on Gallifrey after everything she has been through with the Doctor, which boldly states how far she come since her initial appearance. Romana can barely conceal her disdain for Adric and his pals and I have always said she is an excellent judge of character. In the sort of moment that would normally be reserved for the Doctor, after Romana is attacked by the Outlers she takes the moral high ground and sensibly gives Tylos his knife back to prove to them that she can be trusted. For her troubles she is left for dead when she is attacked by the mechanical arachnids. It always surprises me what terrific nasties the Doctor Who girls make when they are given half the chance. Dodo finally became interesting when she received a bewitching phone call, Polly became a blazing eyed automaton, Jo hysterically tries to blow everybody at UNIT sky high and Sarah Jane was possibly the creepiest villain in the first half of the series, all sly glances and playful murder. Lalla Ward has a good stab at trying to top Lis Sladen's efforts, wandering the corridors of the Starliner with a virus spreading across her face and clawing at the Doctor like a predatory vixen. Although it’s a really tacky moment, her smile looks radiant when she wakes up.

Snotty Maths Geek: For the record Varsh would have made a much better companion and if JNT was keeping an stronger eye on the long term effects on the show it would have been very clear that Richard Willis is a far superior actor (not amazing mind, but at least he can act), he’s a much more interesting character (imagine having to deal with the death of your younger brother that you were sworn to protect?) and far better looking (shallow, but true). Adric on the other hand...how annoying can one kid be? A maths geek (oh please) who wants to be a rebel (oh geez) who wears yellow pyjamas (tragic), has a pudding bowl haircut (and he doesn't even have his mother to blame) and pouts petulantly when he cannot get his own way. How was this considered an appropriate substitution for Romana and K.9? He tries to convince the Outlers to let him join by telling them that he is better than them, both intellectually and socially. Yeah, that'll work. Oddly Adric goes back to the Outlers with the incredible story of the TARDIS and then doesn’t expect them to want to use it as an escape from the approaching mists. Matthew Waterhouse always seems to try his best when acting against Tom Baker and so his quirky description of the TARDIS almost works – for a second you can see how this could be made to work (with triple the rehearsal time and quadruple the amount of retakes). How much of a dweeb does he look when he says ‘I think I pulled the wrong lever!’ I liked the finger-crossing scene because it reminded you that this guy is an alien and doesn’t understand our customs. Matthew Waterhouse has the oddest habit of holding out his hand as he performs which I think is a nervous habit but it looks like a theatrical Shakespearean tic. The very idea. Varsh is all Adric has left now and in the exciting climax he doesn’t manage to save his brother form being tackled and savaged by the Marshmen. Obviously they are going to explore this life changing event in some great depth in subsequent stories…or perhaps not. Unbelievably there is no mention of his brothers death until Adric himself slips off the mortal coil. There should at least be a degree of post traumatic stress but Adric is bopping his way through the console room in the next story as though it was all a dream. Bless Matthew Waterhouse, he doesn’t quite know how to emote so he just glares somewhat gormlessly at his brother’s corpse. It’s nice that they linked Full Circle and Earthshock – when Adric’s death approaches he holds up his brother’s belt, which he takes from his dead body in this story. But in between there is no sign that he is trying to deal with his loss.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Nobody knows how to pilot this ship.’
‘We’re all basically primeval slime with ideas above its station.’
'We cannot return to Terradon…because we have never been there.’
‘But you must agree it does require some thought.’

The Good Stuff: Peter Grimwade was something a bit special and brought with him exactly the sort of energy, enthusiasm and skill that JNT needed to make an impact with his bold new era for the show. In a way I wish this story could have opened the season because ti would have gotten things off on the right foot. The direction throughout is exemplary, often filmic for all it is squeezed into a TV production. I really liked the simple effect that shows the TARDIS moving through the CVE – anybody else could have overplayed it but it just works because it is so simply and effectively achieved. Is that location really somewhere in England? When the TARDIS arrives and they walk out it is lush, spacious, sunny and gorgeous. They must have caught one of the obligatory three days of blissful weather we have in England each year. The riverside sequences really look like a community at work and there has been some real effort put into making this planet look exotic (the mist that weaves through the forest, the webbing hanging from the trees and the striking lighting that hits the actors faces). The location work in the first episode is remarkably assured, Decider Draith chasing Adric through the misty ferns and being dragged into the dirty water looks really expensive and filmic (I especially loved his hand being smothered by the mist , another simple but striking effect). Whilst it isn’t as celebrated as some of the other better-known cliffhangers the end of episode one is a classic, the Marshmen rising from the water shot through the reeds. Who wouldn't want to know what happens next. Guest stars usually work best in villainous roles in Doctor Who but it's rather wonderful that actors of the calibre of George Baker, James Bree and Alan Rowe get to play such a likable triumvirate of bumbling leaders. Baker is especially joyful and brings the underwritten part of Decider Login to life with real heart. There is a very impressive pan through the crowds as Nefred makes his speech which makes the studio sets feel massive, that's the work a very clever director pulling the wool over your eyes. The designers have done a great job on the Starliner; it feels solid, futuristic and shot carefully by Peter Grimwade it feels like a labyrinth of corridors. How awful are they to the Marsh Child? They shove it in a net and drag it through the ship like they are taking out the rubbish. As ever this season great stuff is done with the TARDIS (I think Bidmead preferred the ship to the regulars on occasion, he certainly imbued it with more interest) and the Marshmen beating on the door and planning to use the ship as a battering ram are both great ideas. Grimwade doesn’t shy away from the sequence where the Marsh Child smashes its way through Dexeter's laboratory, murders him and inadvertently commits suicide. The Doctor’s anger is brilliant – accusing the Deciders of the wilful procrastination of endless procedure because he thinks they want to hold onto the new order when they truth is they simply don’t know how to fly the bloody thing. Every 50 years or so another planet takes Alzarius away from its sun; that's a quick explanation for why the Marshmen are emerging now but a very nice one, the sort of plot point that is usually left out. I really like that there are no good or bad guys in this story, just two races of people misunderstanding each other. It’s rarer than you might think for there not to be a villain or evil monster in a story. It’s hilarious that the Deciders cannot make a decision to react to the threat of the Marshmen (‘that’s your conclusion from all this knowledge…do nothing!’) and so the creatures enter the great hall of knowledge and kill them all. That's some jet black comedy, there. The final twist that the Marshmen are the colonies ancestors really works because they have explored the idea enough to make it plausible and yet it still seems to come from completely the left field.

The Bad Stuff: Isn’t it odd how you can only become a companion this season if you lose a family member? Frankly if I were the Doctor I would be discouraging people from thinking of joining him given this freak occurrence. The wilderness of outer Gallifrey looks a little blurry and unconvincing on the TARDIS scanner. The sudden cut from the location work to the studio bound caves is jarring. Aren’t those Outlers spotlessly clean when they enter the TARDIS considering they have just crossed the marsh? Knives being waved around in the TARDIS, surely this should feel like a bunch of violent hoodies attacking rather than posh kids that have just spent a fortune in GAP playing ineffectually with cutlery. At times the Marshmen look extremely rubbery – they should have glistened (and they do in places) like all the best Doctor Who monsters do (Sontarans, Zygons). I could not work if being touched by the Marshmen is enough to kill you because that seems to be the case in the later episodes but they capture the Mash Child without any harm coming to them in episode two. On the whole Full Circle is the most expensive looking stories since The Talons of Weng-Chiang and yet when the Mash Spiders appear (I can’t believe they were designed with bucked teeth and glowy eyes) in the duff cave sets it looks cheaper than anything from the Williams era. Imagine if the series had continued with those four brats flying the TARDIS? There’s far too much K.9 torture porn in this season and it's impossible not to feel sorry for the mutt when his head is lopped off. Put the poor fella out of his misery rather than this abuse. The Marshmen look ultra rubbery in the harsh lights of the studio. Do the Marshmen have OCD? Why do they all throw themselves on the floor to pick up the image translators?

The Shallow Bit: It could be a co-incidence but the producer and the director are both openly gay and suddenly there are scenes of bare chested men, boys splashing about naked in rivers and very exposed bums as they emerge from water in wet clothes. It's almost enough to give you a funny turn. One for the ladies, perhaps?

Result: Full Circle is the first story of season eighteen that proves that Bidmead’s approach to Doctor Who could work. The script is very good indeed; intelligent and exploring some pretty weighty scientific and biological themes but (and this is the important part) there is an emotional core to the story too (Romana’s dilemma, the Doctor's fury over the Mash child’s death, Adric losing his brother). It’s also the lushest and most attractive looking Doctor Who story in an age with some beautiful location work, detailed sets and imaginative directional touches. Unfortunately this is the story that gave us Adric so it isn’t entirely perfect. There are a few moments where you wonder if he might work out but they are outweighed by some dreadful acting that proves Waterhouse was far too inexperienced for the part. A beautifully structured story with some great surprises and an optimistic ending that promises more exciting things in E-Space: 8/10


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David Pirtle said...

Poor Matthew Waterhouse. Kid was probably living his dream. Shame he was such rubbish, though honestly I didn't find him nearly as insufferable with Baker as he was with Davison. Maybe hero worship can carry you a bit.