Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The King’s Demons written by Terrance Dudley and directed by Tony Virgo

This story in a nutshell: The introduction of Kamelion, a companion so good he only appeared in his first and last story!

Fair Fellow: No wonder Davison decided to quit after ending his second season on such a low. The Doctor as written here lacks any sparkle or wit, delivers functional dialogue and trips from one scene to the next as though he is a little embarrassed to be taking part in such nonsense. He gets to indulge in a sword fight which is so stagily choreographed it looks like two nervous actors brandishing weapons they don’t know how to use dancing around each other and he’s saddled with one grouchy passionless companion and another who he’s forgiven for recently trying to kill him. The Doctor has the perfect opportunity to put the Master out of his misery once and for all (and lets face it when the poor old git is dragging it up as ginger Monty Python cast off he’s clearly past his best and needs putting out to pasture…) but his ‘moral scruples’ get in the way. I wish Colin Baker were here because he wouldn’t have hesitated in putting the sad sausage out of his misery. His brilliant solution is to nick Kamelion and then just leave. He hasn’t quite got the touch that he used to. I some ways I wish Davison had stayed on for one more year (in that 'what if?' fairyland) because it would have been interesting to see how he would have coped with Vengeance on Varos, The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks.

Mouth on Legs: Perhaps Janet Fielding is right and the dialogue Tegan is given is functional and stilted. How could anybody make a line like ‘Could it be a Black Guardian trap?’ sound convincing? Mind you I don’t think the writing is entirely to blame since Elisabeth Sladen and the other really good actresses to play companions managed to sell their (occasionally) risible dialogue in a way that Ms Fielding often failed to do. Tegan thinks that King John is ‘the one who lost something in the wash.’ That’s a halfway funny line, maybe there is hope for her yet. ‘Who cares!’ she whinges, ‘all I care about is getting back to the TARDIS where its nice and warm!’ Maybe not. Go and step in a rabbit trap you whinging old mare…the sooner you get sickened by the violence of your adventures and storm out of the Doctor's life the better for the series. She is detrimental to the stories playing out – when one of your heroes shows this much despondence towards the adventure why the hell should the viewer be encouraged? Imagine Sarah Jane moaning about returning to the TARDIS all the time? No, she couldn’t wait to get outside and taste the oranges and step out in the snow and that’s why we loved being around her. Tegan cries ‘the Tissue Compression Eliminator!’ as if she has only just twigged that this is the Master despite the fact he transformed about 30 seconds earlier. And what the hell is it about people this season crying out the name of a weapon when they are faced with it (‘Impulse laser?’ is another beaut). ‘Look lets get out of here while we’ve got the chance!’ could be nobody else but Tegan, the bloody coward. Maybe Davison had a point that the far more positive Nyssa complimented his character better. The shot of two Tegan’s in the TARDIS was enough to bring me out in hives, although not as shocking as when the Mara filled her mind with a manifest of grumpy air stewardesses. Remember when Tegan welcomed Turlough so warmly into the TARDIS in Terminus (‘I don’t trust you! You’re up to something!’) well she manages to trump that with Kamelion (‘You can have my room for all I care!’). Seriously, who would want to know this misanthrope unless you had a persecution complex?

Over the Shoulder: Turlough has just been introduced, his murderous secret exposed and now he is a fully fledged member of the TARDIS team! So what do they do to show off his talents…give him hardly any lines, no character development whatsoever and make him completely irrelevant to the plot. What on Earth is going on with this script editor? Saward later complains that they never gave Mark Strickson anything decent to do...why not? It wouldn’t be so bad but he suffers the same fate in The Five Doctors (stuck in the TARDIS with nothing to do), Warriors of the Deep (wandering corridors and not connecting with the plot), The Awakening (locked up in a shed for two episodes) and Resurrection of the Daleks (wandering about with a cloth over his mouth discovering bodies and little more). What is the point of bringing in this character if you aren’t going to do anything with him? His one contribution is to call the Master ‘the EVIL ONE!’ despite the fact he has never met him before or even knows who he is. Unless the Doctor has a spotters guide to villains that he takes all his new companions through when they are officially welcomed on board. Turlough is the only character that hasn’t gotten involved in all the melodramatic shouting so he finally snaps with: ‘I’ve had quite enough of you WHOEVER YOU ARE! So don’t try me TOO FAR!’ Poor Mark Strickson, he deserves better work than this. Even the Doctor is embarrassed, encouraging him back into the TARDIS before he explodes like a supernova of Brian Blessed proportions. 

The Bearded Wonder: ‘You insult ze King!’ says the Master in his least effective disguise of all time (yes, somehow he manages to inch out Kalid with this ginger squirrel stuck on his face). Obviously he has a desire (much like the Doctor) to turn ginger one day and sports a flame red beard and wig as he ingratiates himself into court with his dastardly French accent! Ainley can clearly deliver the goods (his performances in The Keeper of Traken, Castrovalva and Survival prove that) but he and the writers have gotten themselves into a lazy rut where the character simply turns up at the most implausible of times (Prehistoric Earth! The Industrial Revolution! The court of King John!) in the most ridiculous of disguises (‘Shazam! Peshwari Naan!’ says Kalid, the fat oriental Buddha, ‘Hehehe!’ chuckles a scarecrow waiting for years in a field for the Doctor to arrive, ‘I fear now hell hounds!’ says Sir Giles Estram, the ginger bearded wonder) with the daftest of excuses (‘I will harness the power of the Xeraphin!’, ‘One that encompasses the whole human race!’, ‘Chaos shall reign and I shall be its Emperor!’). What a tired saggy old scrotum of a villain he has become. Strangely the Master’s cod French accent seems to verge into Indian on the odd occasion (‘That of the King...’). You have to wonder if the Master has asked the local witch to cast a glamour on him or something otherwise what happens to all that ginger hair when he transforms? I think I would have been more impressed if Anthony Ainley just happened to be playing another character (badly). It would have been far more surprising considering the slapdash approach to disguising him (it looks like JNT and Anthony Ainley took a day trip to a fancy dress shop and just slapped a few bits on). It makes the Doctor and his companions look completely daft for not recognising him. More to the point why does the Master need to disguise himself at all if he doesn’t know the Doctor is coming? Or are they linked cosmically some how like Time Lord magnets so he always makes proviso’s just in case? He laughs like a true pantomime villain (it's something like ‘hahackhehehehe!’ and not just LAUGHING as the DVD subtitles insists). ‘Hehehehe!’ he giggles again as de Lacey is shot down, laughter seemingly the bulk of his dialogue. Think of all the things that the Master could have done with a shapeshifting robot. Why he chooses this period is baffling when he could have returned to Gallifrey and caused havoc with Kamelion baffles me. At the climax the Master seems to have a ‘trap behind that trap that would have been a joy to spring’ to stop the Doctor escaping but the story doesn’t even cut back to him as if we are to just take for granted that he was defeated once again and is standing there in his TARDIS fuming saying something like ‘You tricky Time Lord! I will destroy every molecule of your being next time!’ Like Davison’s Doctor, he feels past his best in this story.And pure pantomime.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘This is useless in your hands – you have moral scruples!’ – is this dialogue actually being written by a human being?
‘To serve the Devilish Doctor’s own purpose!’
‘Quite Masterly!’
‘I must distract them somehow!’ – people are talking stage directions now!
‘Fools! Medieval misfits!’

The Good: The location work around the castle is quite pretty but it is shot in such a workmanlike way that much of the areas beauty is lost on the camera.

The Bad: Why go to the lengths of dressing up the banquet sets with such detail and filming it in such pantomimic way? It feels as if we are slipping in on a local pageant rather than a serious period drama. The scenes in the castle are gagging to be shot on film but instead they look exactly what they are…cardboard interior sets. The stylophonic twing twangs of the incidental music are enough to make you wonder if this is actually taking place on an alien planet rather than in Earth’s history – there can be no other explanation for such an artificial score when it is crying out for an instrumental one. Not that I would want to endure more episodes of this nonsense but the two episode format really works against this story because there just isn’t time to develop any of the characters, to give them personalities or histories or to indulge in any period detail and discussion. It renders the whole setting utterly redundant. We’re given no reason to care about any of the characters because they all behave so irrationally – Hugh tries to torture Turlough for no reason, Ranulf barges into the Doctor’s room with his sword drawn – it feels as if we have walked into the middle of a story of which we have absolutely no context. The fight scenes are a joke; when the Lady Isabella is brought to the dungeon you can see all the actors finding their marks for the fight (I use the term loosely) to begin. Even the continuity is dreadful with Sir Gilles outside guarding the castle and in the very next scene he is at the King’s side at the banquet with no indication that any time has past. How exactly does the Doctor know the Master wants to rid the world of Magna Carta? They haven’t uttered a single word on the subject. By stating it is ‘small time villainy’ even the writer is admitting that this plot is shite. I’ve said again and again…so why not one more time. They introduce this rather cumbersome robot with shapeshifting powers and realise the robot is actually unusable…so why didn’t they just hire a new actor each week to play Kamelion? What a fun idea that would be. The possibilities are endless and yet Saward seems to enjoy shying away from them. Perhaps he just didn't think of it.

The Shallow Bit: What is up with the wench on the King’s left during the early duel scenes? An uglier broad I never did see – with that pushed up nose and bad teeth she looks like Tubbs from The League of Gentlemen! Tegan’s top is quite similar to the sixth Doctor’s coat in that it resembles a the colours and texture of a good bout of sick that somebody has made yucky patterns with. It does nothing for her in the slightest. There’s a really odd scene where the Doctor and Tegan are covered in duvets on location and Turlough stands there freezing his butt off in his school uniform! ‘You’re getting old Doctor, your will is weak!’ has gone down in infamy!

Result: Peter Davison has made no secret that he thinks Terrance Dudley’s scripts for his era were workmanlike but that expression suggests some level of competence but the sheer retardness that holds this story together boggles the mind. The Hartnell historicals are amongst my favourite Who adventures for their scope, detail, atmosphere and emotive storytelling but this sorry tale reveals that all of those skills have been lost as the genre became unpopular and all you are left with is a stagey pantomime that lacks even basic conviction. The setting is poor, the dialogue is enough to get stuck in your throat, the characters are vacuous and unbelievable and the plot isn’t worth wasting your time with. Like The Arc of Infinity that opened this season it fails to work even as a really entertaining slice of crap Doctor Who (in the same way that The Chase and Time and the Rani succeed admirably!) and it commits the ultimate sin – its boring. Failing as a drama, a period piece and even as a Doctor Who story, The King’s Demons is almost entirely without merit and a piss poor ending to the 20th year: 2/10

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