The Stinker Swims

Jun
08

Review of The Underwater Menace (#32)
DVD Release Date: 24 May 16 (Region 1/N.America)
Original Air Date: 14 Jan - 04 Feb 1967
Doctor/Companion: Two, Polly Wright, Ben Jackson, Jamie McCrimmon
Stars: Patrick Troughton, Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines
Preceding Story: The Highlanders (Two, Ben, Polly, Jamie)
Succeeding Story: The Moonbase (Two, Ben, Polly, Jamie)

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the third iteration of CONsole Room, my local Doctor Who convention. I won't be posting a full recap on it this year, as I was only there for a few hours each day for the panels I was on, but among the guests were three early Companions: Anneke Wills (Polly Wright), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), and Wendy Padbury (Zoë Heriot). All three worked with Patrick Troughton (though Anneke started with William Hartnell), so there are plenty of each of their episodes that are missing.

Interestingly enough, one of the more recently recovered episodes (found in December 2011) was from early in Season Four (Troughton's first), including Anneke as Polly and Frazer's second outing as Jamie. It was finally released on DVD here in North America about two weeks ago, a week and a half before CONsole Room. I didn't manage to find time to watch it until after the con, which is a shame, because then I might have been able to (a) ask the guests some semi-intelligent questions about the story when I saw them on their main stage panel on Saturday and (b) fully appreciate the cosplay of the (highly embarrassed) young lady who got called out to show off her Polly-as-an-Atlanean costume during said panel. Alas, I did not have that much forethought. With mild regret for missed opportunities, then, I sat down to watch the last release of the home video line (barring any further lost episode recoveries).

The Underwater Menace has a reputation as one of the big stinkers. Until now, it's only been possible to watch one of its four filmed episodes, which in my opinion makes it ridiculously difficult to judge. Even with this release, Episodes One and Four (those still absent from the archives) are terribly difficult to follow, as all we have to go on are the soundtrack and production stills. Thank Prime for closed captioning.

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More "Meh" Than Nemesis

May
25

Review of Silver Nemesis (#151)
DVD Release Date: 02 Nov 10
Original Air Date: 23 Nov - 07 Dec 1988
Doctor/Companion: Seven, Ace McShane
Stars: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred
Preceding Story: The Happiness Patrol (Seven, Ace)
Succeeding Story: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (Seven, Ace)

Marching through our list of under-represented Doctors (in terms of the percentage of their stories I have reviewed in one form or another), we come now to the Seventh Doctor, whose lone encounter with the Cybermen happened to fall on Doctor Who's twenty-fifth anniversary.

While the production team—writer Kevin Clarke in particular—made a valiant effort to add a sense of significance to the passage of that particular twenty-five years (1963-1988), the result was perhaps not as compelling as they might have hoped. Making that span the orbital period of an eccentric object (launched, it turns out, by the Doctor himself some 350 years prior) was not altogether a bad idea (presuming it's orbiting the sun, that would put it beyond Jupiter, but not as far as Saturn, were it in a nearly circular orbit—which admittedly seems unlikely). However, the logical contortions they have to employ in order to make that quarter-century seem consistently historically significant are awkward at best (1913 is called out as "the eve of the First World War"; 1938 "Hitler annexes Austria"; 1963 "Kennedy assassinated").

As for the Cybermen, they're not even the eponymous Nemesis; that name actually belongs to a mysterious statue made of validium—"living metal." Frankly, I found the title to be more about misdirection than double meaning. While one could argue that both statue and Cybermen are silver nemeses, the Cybermen are relegated to a secondary or even tertiary role.

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Confession #101: I'm Tired of Speculating

May
11

About two and a half weeks ago, on 23 Apr 2016, we got the latest big news in the continual evolution of our show: the announcement of the new Companion. In a two-minute video titled "Friend from the Future," we were introduced to Pearl Mackie's character Bill as she and the Doctor hid from Daleks. Fandom immediately began passing judgement.

I will admit that first impressions can be important in forming an attachment to a character, but I find it astounding that some fans have already decided they either love or hate Bill based on 124 seconds of footage. I only read a few reactions (mostly along the lines of, "Why won't she shut up? What part of 'killing machines' doesn't she get?") before I stopped paying attention.

Frankly, I'm tired of all the speculation so far ahead of the fact.

Regardless, it's kind of the bread and butter of fandom (especially for those of us who blog) to leap into the speculative fray. I'm therefore essentially duty-bound to give you my own thoughts on what may be in store for us once Bill's adventures aboard the TARDIS come to our screens. Long time readers will be shocked (sarcasm) to hear that I am "cautiously optimistic."

Here's the thing. While I can see the point of those who think Bill's lack of chill when faced with Daleks makes a poor addition to a potential Companion's résumé, all we have by which to judge her is this tiny snippet of time during which she is immersed in a completely foreign situation. We have no idea what led up to that moment, what else she may or may not have been exposed to while with the Doctor up to this point, or what else in her life might have led her to find him in any way credible. In other words, we know nothing, Jon Snow. (Sorry—wrong franchise.)

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All That Is Gold Doesn't Glitter

Apr
27

Review of Revenge of the Cybermen (#79)
DVD Release Date: 02 Nov 10
Original Air Date: 19 Apr - 10 May 1975
Doctor/Companion: Four, Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan
Stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter
Preceding Story: Genesis of the Daleks (Four, Sarah Jane, Harry)
Succeeding Story: Terror of the Zygons (Four, Sarah Jane, Harry)

Continuing my exploration of Cybermen stories featuring Doctors who have been under-represented in my reviews over the years, this month I consider the Fourth Doctor's only encounter with these iconic enemies in Revenge of the Cybermen.

Aside from being the first time in nearly six and a half years that the Cybermen had appeared on screen (and the last time for another seven), Revenge had the dubious honor of falling between what became two of the most highly regarded stories of the pre-Hiatus (and some would say any) era: Genesis of the Daleks and Terror of the Zygons. How, then, does a mild-mannered serial make its mark on the world? With a fabulous TARDIS team and a plot that has just enough twists to keep it interesting, of course.

The story opens—as every story in T. Baker's first season—following directly on from the end of the prior one. The Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry are all gripping the Time Ring, hoping to land back on Space Station Nerva where they began. Although they arrive intact, the TARDIS has not yet made the temporal adjustment to meet them. Obviously, they decide to look around while they wait.

To their dismay, they find dead bodies scattered everywhere. It turns out that Nerva Beacon, as it is currently known, has been under quarantine the last few months, as all but three crew members and one civilian (an exographer, there to study the asteroid the beacon is orbiting) have succumbed to a mysterious plague. However, what's really behind all the deaths is even more sinister.

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Confession #100: I'm Still a Neowhovian

Apr
13

Five plus years ago, when I decided to start this blog, it seemed to me that most of the opinions I was reading online about Doctor Who were being offered up by "old school" fans—the ones whose formative years included watching Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, or Peter Davison and who really seemed to know their shit. I'd been searching for a way to talk to more people about what I thought of the show, and figured writing a blog that came at it from the POV of a newb (I'd been a fan for only about two-and-a-half years at that point) could be my niche.

Since then, of course, fandom has continued to grow. Being "new to Who" is hardly uncommon these days—there's even a Twitter hashtag about it. Further, as time marches on I have moved gradually toward that Old Guard territory, especially as I include the entirety of the pre-Hiatus/Classic run in my personal brand of fandom. I feel like some sort of weird hybrid (no Series Nine capital letter there, though) between those drawn in by the modern revival and those forever faithful to whichever flavor of the original run they grew up with.

At my core, though, I know I am still a neowhovian. Much as I adore the serial format and other hallmarks of the pre-Hiatus years (not least the various Doctors), I still view those stories through a lens of history rather than one of nostalgia. For me, nostalgia comes firmly in the form of the Ninth Doctor and Rose. Every time I hear the synthesizer sting screaming into those brass-heavy bars and the frenzy of the strings' "Chase," a sense of rightness and anticipation washes over me. To my brain, nothing will ever be so quintessentially Doctor Who as Series One.

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