Confession #103: I Like Doctor Who Tropes

Aug
10

Despite the common claim that Doctor Who can "do anything" because of its premise—the setting could be anywhere in the universe, at any time in its past or future—the show is also well known to do much the same thing over and over again, for various reasons. These plot, set, and character ideas have appeared so often that they've become tropes. And I love me a well-executed trope.

For example, a tried and true way to save money on a show that often suffers from its imagination being larger than its budget is either to set a story in a single location or to set several stories in a filming block in the same location. If the production team can simply re-dress the set and shoot from a different angle to make it look just different enough, the audience (aside from a certain subset of nerds who look for that stuff) won't even notice.

In the pre-Hiatus/Classic era, this trick was so frequently used as to become almost a joke. Viewers all knew that an alien planet would be set in a quarry (very often the same one), and that interior scenes of the Doctor and his Companion(s) getting chased through a ship's interior or alien citadel would go past the exact same, re-dressed chunk of corridor a dozen times. (In fact, this trope is so well known it became part of the title of a 2010 commentary book.)

More recently, we've seen a number of Welsh locations re-used: the National Museum of Wales and the Temple of Peace in Cardiff, Dyffryn Gardens in the Vale of Glamorgan, Llansannor Court in Cowbridge, etc. The production teams are clever enough that a casual viewer won't necessarily figure out how often these spots have appeared, but for behind-the-scenes aficionados, some of these favorite locations could slip into trope territory.

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Changing of the Guard

Jul
27

Review of Robot (#75)
DVD Release Date: 14 Aug 07 (Out of Print)
Original Air Date: 28 Dec 1974 - 18 Jan 1975
Doctor/Companion: Four, Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan
Stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter
Preceding Story: Planet of the Spiders (Three, Sarah Jane)
Succeeding Story: The Ark in Space (Four, Sarah Jane, Harry)

Having completed an overview of Cybermen stories in the last few months, I felt it was time to switch to another theme. The question, of course, was what theme to pursue? By percentage of (extant) stories, the Fourth Doctor is still my least-reviewed incarnation. Therefore I thought something focusing on his tenure would be appropriate.

I had two ideas of how to cover Four's time in the TARDIS: deep or broad. I could delve into one particular season (The Key to Time, which was the first season-long story arc) or I could find a way to choose stories distributed across the entire seven-year run.

Eventually I settled on the latter, with the idea that the first story of each season would provide a simple selection criterion. Four of those seven season openers have never been reviewed either directly or with Nu-/Retro-Views. Two (Robot and The Ribos Operation) were the subject of a Retro-View several years ago (Nov 2012 and Apr 2013, respectively), so are due another look-in. The final story in question (Terror of the Zygons) has already been reviewed in full when the DVD came out in Oct 2013. Further, the story that immediately preceded it, Revenge of the Cybermen, was reviewed just three months ago as part of my Cyber-series. Therefore, I've decided to skip that period (end of Season 12/beginning of Season 13) in my retrospective.

So we're kicking it off with T. Baker's first ever on-screen adventure Robot. Because Baker is able to jump in with both metaphorical feet and make the role his own right from the get-go (his famous quote that "I was the Doctor and the Doctor was me" seems to have been true nearly immediately), it's easy to forget that this story was written before Baker had been cast. Occasionally there is a line that sounds ever so slightly "off" for the person we know this Doctor would become, but for the most part it's as if he has sprung from the head of Zeus Terrance Dicks fully formed.

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Confession #102: I Take the Broader View

Jul
13

Last week was rough. The big thunderstorm that rolled through town on Tuesday was excitement enough, what with trees and branches downed everywhere and power out for as much as a couple days for some folks. But then Wednesday night the epidemic of police violence against Black citizens hit close to home.

Less than five miles from my home, on a stretch of road I've driven countless times myself, a Black couple and child were pulled over nominally due to a broken taillight. The man, whose name was Philando Castile, did not leave the scene alive.

Aside from this particular tragedy happening in my neck of the woods, Philando's death affected one of my micro-communities directly. You see Philando—or "Mr. Phil," as he was known to the kids—worked at my daughters' school.

So why am I bringing it up here, of all places? There are several reasons. First and foremost, it's what's been on my mind. And though I don't get a lot of traffic on the blog, especially since I changed my weekly posting schedule, this is where I have the largest platform. As a white person—a white American, specifically—I feel like I have to stop hiding behind my desire not to invite conflict (good God, I hate facing personal conflict) and speak up when and where I can.

But it's not entirely unrelated to Doctor Who, either. Because when it is at its best, the Doctor (and the show in general) makes us challenge our usual perceptions.

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The Monsters Behind the Curtain

Jun
22

Review of The Invasion (#46)
DVD Release Date: 06 Mar 07 (Out of Print)
Original Air Date: 02 Nov - 21 Dec 1968
Doctor/Companion: Two, Jamie McCrimmon, Zoë Heriot
Stars: Patrick Troughton, Fraser Hines, Wendy Padbury
Preceding Story: The Mind Robber (Two, Jamie, Zoë)
Succeeding Story: The Krotons (Two, Jamie, Zoë)

My decision to review The Underwater Menace last time was not in the original plan for the year, but it turns out to have made for a nice segue into this month's installment in my continuing series. Having just refamiliarized ourselves with the Second Doctor, we can now watch him in action against the Cybermen.

Many fans may be more familiar with Troughton's clash with this enemy on their native Telos in The Tomb of the Cybermen, but that doesn't mean this final encounter (of his four) is unworthy of fans' time. Although it runs twice as long as Tomb, at eight episodes rather than four, there are qualities of the story that, for me at least, make the investment worthwhile.

To be clear, two episodes of The Invasion are still missing from the archives. However, in this release those missing episodes (numbers One and Four) have been animated by Cosgrove Hall, the same studio responsible for Scream of the Shalka. As someone who struggles with audio-only versions (as with the missing episodes of Menace, discussed last time), I really loved these animations. While I don't know whether director Douglas Camfield left any camera notes nor whether any such notes were consulted in the animated reconstructions, these episodes don't feel (to my untrained eye) out of place.

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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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