Thursday, 31 October 2013

State of Decay written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Peter Moffatt

What’s it about: The Doctor comes face to face with an old enemy of the Time Lords…

Teeth and Curls: He supposes that he is incredible but he’s never given it much thought. Tom Baker is clearly so terrifying in the part this point (his boisterous behaviour in the studio is legendary) that hilariously some random extra grabs a spade and runs away as soon as he sees him. You might say that it's scripted but I know the truth. It's easy to forget how charming Tom Baker was in the role when confronted with the weary traveller of The Leisure Hive and Full Circle but in this tale he is a friendly face again. He’s sublime when asking about scientists and making Ivo realise that things haven’t changed in these parts for a long time, gently prodding the status quo with a little revolutionary thought. The ‘What is it?‘You jumped on my toe!’ exchange always makes me giggle despite the fact that it is the lowest form of wit. When they realise that Adric has stowed away both Tom Baker and Lalla Ward can’t keep the eye rolling disdain out of their voices (I especially love the moment when the Doctor literally spits out the name ‘ADRIC!’ as though it is a swear word when Romana suggests they have to rescue him). The Doctor tells Romana about his old mentor, the hermit up the mountain that Pertwee was so obsessed about, and delights in his own brand of overstatement: one single Vampire can suck the life out of an entire planet. You’ve got to love the Doctor’s style in happily sending Romana into danger whilst he heads off to do some research in the TARDIS. Nobody seems particularly impressed with the Doctor’s secret weapon…K.9! This is the last big, bold performance from Baker before he slips back into subdued mode for his final three stories so enjoy him while you can.

Lovely Lalla: More confident than ever and decked out in a gorgeous long beige overcoat, Romana practically owns the show at this point. It would appear that Bidmead has finally figured out what to do with the character and decided to let her go out on a high. There is the vaguest of lesbian undertones as Romana cuts herself and Camilla salivates over her bleeding thumb (and the line ‘there are compensations’ whilst eyeing her up is the most blatant single entendre in the whole series). Romana seems uncomfortable with the attention but then again I think anyone would be uncomfortable having a vampire eying them up. When the Doctor and Romana start going on about yawning chasms and a socio-pathetic abscess its almost as if JNT is determined to convince the viewer that his opinion on this TARDIS team being too smart is correct. I have never heard such clunky, unnaturalistic dialogue. Tellingly, neither of them spoke such shocking lines until JNT took over. How cute is the scene where the Doctor is trying to look for the inspection hatch (already discovered by Romana) and she lets him think he has found it? When the Doctor is trying to creep Romana out about Vampires she strokes her neck nervously. The scenes between the Doctor and Romana when they are locked up are the last great hurrah for these two (they don’t spend enough time together in Warriors’ Gate to really make an impact as a couple) and are imbued with warmth and affection. Clearly Tom Baker was having a ‘fancy the ass off of Lalla Ward’ day that day because the Doctor tells Romana she is wonderful in a way that he only usually reserves for the TARDIS. It's an intimate scene and thank goodness Moffatt chose a day to direct it when they are making moon eyes at each other. It's a beautiful scene.

Boy Genius: Let me ask you…how can you look unconvincing walking across a room? Now I’m no actor but I think even I could pull that one out of the bag. If this was the best JNT could find when he auditioned for Adric then perhaps he should have scrapped the whole idea. Waterhouse is unbelievably stiff in the part and I really mean that as it sounds. Some people are unbelievable in roles because they have been miscast (say Howard Cooke as Pex in Paradise Towers) but they have a fair stab at in anyway and others are stiff because of inexperience (say the little girl Squeak in Survival) but give it a go and earn points for trying. Matthew Waterhouse is so wooden in his portrayal of Adric I find it unbelievable that anyone could be that blank and mechanical. He's like a little wooden boy being operating by invisible strings off set. Nobody behaves in such a robotic fashion in real life so why would they feel the need to portray a character like that, as a deliberate choice. As written by Terrance Dicks Adric is a cheeky opportunist and with the right person in the part (imagine The Awakening’s Keith Jayne or the Sarah Jane Adventures’ Daniel Anthony) he would be extremely likable and a lot of fun but when Waterhouse says lines like ‘gotcha’ to K.9 I simply want to hang him from the rafters with barbed wire and castrate him with a pair of rusty forceps. Squeaky voiced, petulant and by all accounts a little horror on set, I would have fired him on the spot after watching his performance in this story (technically his first). And spare me the thought of Aukon and Camilla lusting after Adric. To be fair Waterhouse makes a great zombie but all he has to do is stand stock still and expressionless and that is his greatest skill as an actor. His unjustified middle class smugness in the last episode is potentially the most irritating the character ever was (hmm…maybe not, Four to Doomsday?). Pretending or not he sounds like a stroppy, petulant, ungrateful twat who needs his blood sucked out as soon as possible.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The peasants are simple folk. Rich affair would only distress them’ ‘Quite right! It would probably give them indigestion!’
You’re wrong. The Doctor is not weaponless. He has the greatest weapon of all. Knowledge.’
‘Why am I still afraid?’
‘Countless inhabited planets all waiting to feed our hunger!’
‘Then die…that is the purpose of guards…’

The Good: The opening shot of the throne room revealed via a spacious glass shot looks very expensive – once again season eighteen looks as if it has more money in one story than the last season put together. Theatrical performances and subdued make up from the Three Who Rule leaves you with no illusions that this is supposed to be a gothic delight. The Doctor and Romana land in a shady wooded glen that screams of autumn more atmospherically than any other moment of Doctor Who. Only The Mysterious Planet threatens to try and top it. The location work is rich and very evocative throughout. The overlay of the bat on Aukon’s face is a justly famous touch of direction by Peter Moffatt who is so often undervalued. Nice to know that a good whack can still knock some life into Earth technology in the future. Moffatt stresses the sensuality of the villains in their first meeting between our heroes and Zargo and Camilla both in the giving of food and drink and in their casual tactile nature. These scenes are beautifully choreographed to suggest a dancing motif between the four characters. The second episode was lacking in truly memorable incident until the Doctor switches on the lights in the bowels of the ship and we discover the blood drained husks piled up and the engine tanks full of blood feeding something living beneath the Tower. Pretty much everything about the build up to the end of episode three works a treat from the cobweb strewn darkness of the inner sanctum containing the sleeping Vampires to Romana’s visible terror as they wake up. The music is excellent too, hammer horror gone synth. Ticker tape in the TARDIS just feels right. Rachel Davies seems to really get off on the viciousness of the character and I find her by far the scariest of the three villains (‘The blood of the dead is stale and flat! I must feed on the living!’ she seethes as though she is desperately hungry). Go and listen to the sequence with the rocket bursting into the sky and the Great Vampire having his heart well and truly pierced because aurally the whole sequence is extraordinary – it's only when you actually look at the visuals that it falls to pieces. On the other hand the deaths of the Three Who Rule is excellently handled with Camilla’s eye rolling skeleton being especially nasty and the waves of smoke that wipes them into dust proving extremely effective.

The Bad: What a shame that there wasn’t the technology to make the bat attack look more convincing because the location and score are both fab but add a number of rubber bats on strings and it all falls to pot. All of the model shots in and around the Tower are so unconvincing I would have scrapped the lot. Some directors know how to shoot models and others don't, it is as simple as that (having just watched Terror of the Zygons on DVD its model work shows up the pitiful attempts in State of Decay to the nth degree). A shame that after two episodes of underplaying Aukon, Emrys James loses it in episode three and surrenders to the melodrama of the character (‘You shall drink the blood of…Time Looords!’). Some severely dodgy fight scenes add some unintentional comedy to the story. One guy gets stunned by K.9 and realises that he is in the way of the robot dog and so rolls across set after he has fallen unconscious. Predictably the bodies of the Vampires were counted and one had vanished (mightiest and most malevolent of all, naturally) and one of the Bow Ships (it's Achilles’ heel) just happens to be lying around to finish this one off. That's so ridiculously neat this story could have been sown up in about five minutes. Probably the worst example of effects letting down the show comes after the Doctor has built up the Great Vampire to be this awesome mythological beast that threatened to bring down the Time Lords and he is revealed to be…a doll being waved about underneath the Tower. Ouch. Even Tom Baker looks appalled. This really is the most hollow group of rebels the show has ever presented. Hundreds of bats are seen flying into the caves and yet oddly only one seems to want to nibble on Romana’s neck. I'm not sure if it is a model or dreadful animation but the sky ray rocket ascending and falling back to the planet to deal with the Great Vampire fails to convince on any level.

Result: I still assert that State of Decay is the ultimate Tom Baker story with the styles of all three of his producers combining to create a rough overview of the era. There is the gothic horror and scare elements favoured by Philip Hinchcliffe, the witty undergraduate humour highlighted by Graeme Williams and also the scientific approach as loved by (‘Stop this silliness!’) the JNT/Bidmead collaboration. It even highlights the best and the worst of Doctor Who visually with the general design of the piece being very rich and attention grabbing whilst being let down at practically every turn by all of the special effects, especially the most important one at the climax. Terrance Dicks is not a script writer to let you down and he packs in some interesting mythology about the Time Lords, lovely moments between the Doctor and Romana and a wealth of colourful lines to quote. There’s a great Paddy Kingsland score which highlights the atmosphere of terror and the sensuality between the Three Who Rule suggests the eroticism of Vampire tales without ever upsetting the delicate family audience of the BBC. Some dodgy performances aside this is a pretty fun if utterly predictable story to watch with one whopping great problem at the heart of the story in Matthew Waterhouse’s Adric who harms every scene in which he appears: 7/10


Anonymous said...

Yeah reading Waterhouse's book Tom was a real dick during this story. Have to say I felt a bit sorry for him as he was very much thrown in the deep end.

Joe Ford said...

Whilst I fully accept that Tom was probably unbearable to work with at this stage (because of so many accounts of the same behaviour), I tend to take autobiographies with a massive pinch of salt. Especially ones written in the third person (that's a glorified version of somebody's childhood if ever I heard one!) so long after the events. These things always tend to paint the writer as a victim, as pretty much any account of any story I have ever read but Waterhouse makes it sound that he was particularly hard done by throughout much of his written account of his time on Doctor Who. Perhaps he just wasn't assertive enough? Certainly Sarah Sutton offers a very different version of the same period on Doctor Who.

Anonymous said...

Where was the handily left behind bow ship ? Thought the rocket was meant to be an earth ship and they just used the scout craft as an add hock compromise?

Anonymous said...

What's Sarah Sutton's version of this same period then?

Joe Ford said...

If you listen to the Big Finish audios they have 'behind the scenes' featurettes after every release and Sutton can often be found reminiscing about her time on the show. A time that she loved, suggesting that they were a family unit that got on like a house on fire and that she was extremely sad to leave when her time had come. It's quite a different account from Waterhouse's during the same period, his being much more self pitying and depressing. Perhaps that is how he experienced his time on the series but let's be honest, with so many accounts of what a precocious actor he could be he probably made a rod for his own back.

Anonymous said...

Odd reading his book his account of working with Davison, Fielding and Sutton is pretty positive

Joe Ford said...

I thought he made them sound quite bitchy and backstabby - he certainly did in his last DWM interview. Mind you given how they relentless tease him in the DVD commentaries perhaps there is something in that after all.