Out Like Apathy

Dec
21

Review of The Leisure Hive (#109)
DVD Release Date: 07 Jun 05 (Out of Print)
Original Air Date: 30 Aug - 20 Sep 1980
Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana II, K-9
Stars: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, John Leeson
Preceding Story: The Horns of Nimon (Four, Romana I, K-9)
Succeeding Story: Meglos (Four, Romana II)

It's the beginning of the end for the Fourth Doctor, as he takes one final victory lap around the universe before handing over the keys of the TARDIS to a younger, blonder version of himself. By this point the Four/Romana II team functions like a well-serviced TARDIS, comfortable with each others' foibles and confident in each others' roles in the partnership as much as their own.

As usual, I find Romana's quiet competence to be one of the highlights of the story. The Doctor is mostly watchable as well, since Baker has yet to decide he's So Done With the role, though the spring is certainly gone from his step. The guest cast also performs well—only as campy as the script requires.

The script, though... Well, it could be worse. In fact, I remembered it as being worse before I re-watched it for this review. But it's certainly not a shining star in the oeuvre, either. Remembering that this is the season opener makes the director's choice of spending nearly a full minute on an establishing shot panning across an Earth beach scene (Brighton) feel even more questionable; why would you think that would entice your audience to stick around for more?

Poor K-9 doesn't stick around for long, either. Romana tosses a ball toward the shore in a moment of frustration, causing the hapless metal hound to chase after it to the point of self-destruction. Having thus gotten an unfavored character out of the way, the writer uses Romana's dissatisfaction with their vacation spot as the impetus for sending our heroes off to the leisure planet Argolis—now without the randomizer fitted into the TARDIS's guidance system for the first time since Romana's regeneration.

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Confession # 107: I'm Feeling Undervalued

Dec
07

Since the show's rebirth in 2005, and its subsequent booming popularity in the US, the Powers That Be (PTB) have done a pretty good job including fans on this side of the Pond in various events and celebrations that might interest us. They've not generally made us wait for a later broadcast date for new episodes, occasionally even giving us simultaneous access (like the around-the-world release of the 50th anniversary special), and have made an effort to include American stops on their publicity tours.

These last few months, though, I've felt undervalued as a North American fan. Specifically, there are two multi-part storylines that have been delayed significantly for the US audience: Class and The Power of the Daleks.

Power is widely regarded as one of the best stories out there; I often see it at or near the top of "What lost story would you most like to see returned" lists (along with Marco Polo). In the UK, the 6-part animated reconstruction was released online one downloadable episode per day beginning on 05 Nov 2016. Just over two weeks later, the entire serial was available for purchase on Region 2 DVD, with online/downloadable color and blu-ray versions yet to come (31 Dec 16 and 06 Feb 17, respectively).

By contrast, the US got a cinematic version (one night only!) on 14 Nov 16 (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand got similar options), with a weekly episode airing on BBC America starting on 19 Nov 16. For those of us who weren't able to make it to a theater on the 14th nor have ready access to BBCA, the wait extends out to 24 Jan 17, when the R1 DVD will be released from a single outlet (Barnes & Noble, for those wondering).

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Beginning of the End

Nov
23

Review of Destiny of the Daleks (#104)
DVD Release Date: 04 Mar 08
Original Air Date: 01 - 22 Sep 1979
Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana II
Stars: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward
Preceding Story: The Armageddon Factor (Four, Romana I, K-9)
Succeeding Story: City of Death (Four, Romana II)

By the time Season 17 rolled around in late 1979, Tom Baker had been in the role of the Doctor for nearly five years and was beginning his sixth and penultimate season. His Companion Romana, having been shunted back into the more traditional "either scream or listen attentively as the Doctor talks" role from the "intellectual equal and foil to the Doctor" originally advertised, lost her appeal for actress Mary Tamm. The production team apparently felt there was still plenty of story left in the character, though, as they decided to make use of the fact that Romana is a Time Lord (or Time Lady, depending on who is speaking and when) to allow her to stay on with a different actress in the role.

Thus we open the season with one of the most famous scenes in Lalla Ward's on-screen stint as Romana (usually referred to as Romana II, to distinguish her from Tamm's depiction, Romana I): her regeneration. Contrary to the way we have always seen the Doctor regenerate—only under duress/when his current body gives up, and with no choice in the outcome—Romana has apparently decided to regenerate for kicks and grins, trying on new bodies much as the Doctor tried out harlequin or Viking outfits. Thus the writers lampshade the fact that yes, we just saw Lalla Ward as a different character at the end of last season; she's Romana now.

For the time being, Baker still appears to enjoy the role, perhaps not least because the adventure involves not only the Daleks but also Davros, a character introduced to the canon during his first season (in a story that's now widely considered among the best ever). It certainly also had to help that he and his new costar were attracted to each other (Baker and Ward were famously involved, though their actual marriage lasted only sixteen months); going to work every day with your honey has to put an extra spring in your step (at least until one or both of you start finding the scripts regrettable...).

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Confession #106: I'm at a Loss

Nov
10

I had something else planned for this Confession, but in the days leading up to the US Presidential election, all thoughts of blogging left my head, and now that potential post no longer feels like the right thing to post today.

So I guess what I have to say instead is only peripherally related to Doctor Who. I like to think that the Doctor stands for equality and justice for all people, no matter their color, religion, species, or other identity. I like to think that he calls us to do the same, inspired by his example—including when he messes up.

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Operation Brain Candy

Oct
26

Review of The Ribos Operation (#98)
DVD Release Date: 03 Mar 09
Original Air Date: 02 - 23 Sep 1978
Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana I
Stars: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm
Preceding Story: The Invasion of Time (Four, Leela)
Succeeding Story: The Pirate Planet (Four, Romana I)

Of all of Tom Baker's season openers, I think The Ribos Operation has to be my favorite (though Terror of the Zygons is strong, too). There are any number of details that contribute to my affection for this particular story, and I'll try to outline some of them below, but it probably doesn't hurt that it's the first installment of a series-long arc—the first ever.

Having cut my Whovian teeth on the modern era, a full series story arc seemed natural to me in my early fandom days. I knew when I started watching pre-Hiatus/Classic Who that the traditional style was serialized one-offs, so it's not that I found that format unusual or off-putting. However, when I got to Season 16 (also collectively known as The Key to Time), the familiarity of a longer arc felt comfortable and made it easy for me to settle in for the long haul.

The early minutes of the first episode are thus necessarily spent setting up the whole season. We are introduced to the White Guardian, who takes the Doctor and his TARDIS out of time and charges him with recovering the six segments of the Key to Time in order to restore order to the universe. We also meet the new "assistant" with whom said Guardian has saddled the Doctor: Romanadvoratrelundar. This young (though mature, at "nearly 140") Time Lady is quickly established as the intellectual equal (if not superior) of the Doctor, having graduated with a "triple first" from the Time Lord Academy (and looking down her nose at the Doctor for "scraping through with 51% at the second attempt").

In contrast, the Doctor's vastly more extensive experience proves to give him the advantage over his rather naïve new Companion. While she can analyze a situation based on surface evidence, he knows how to sniff out duplicity and when to trust his gut. Unfortunately, this sets the stage for Romana to be something of a dupe, but her overall charm and poise keep her from falling completely into "bumbling sidekick" territory.

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