Reviews

Mutiny of the Botany

Mar
23

Review of The Seeds of Doom (#85)

DVD Release Date: 08 Mar 11
Original Air Date: 31 Jan - 06 Mar 1976
Doctor/Companion:   Four, Sarah Jane Smith
Stars:  Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen
Preceding StoryThe Brain of Morbius (Four, Sarah Jane)
Succeeding StoryThe Masque of Mandragora (Four, Sarah Jane)

As I've mentioned before, sometimes Tom Baker's performances as Four leave me a bit cold.  Not this time.  I can't exactly put my finger on why, but The Seeds of Doom really worked for me.  From the opening moment in the Antarctic (is that Hoth?) to the closing moments where the Doctor and Sarah Jane have a timey-wimey moment, this is a classic, full-on romp.

Obviously, there's personal danger and a threat to the entire planet, but the baddie is amusing (you know he's bad, because he wears his black leather gloves inside, and all the time) and the alien menace is suitably absurd.  Most of the effects used to realize said menace are also pretty good, as Who goes, though the spanner one character uses to bludgeon another was very obviously rubber (spanners aren't generally so wobbly), and I have to admit that the camera-flash-on-a-stick "laser guns" literally made me laugh out loud.

One thing I really enjoyed about this story was the "flash-forward" meta-references, only noticeable from this future perspective.  Several times I was put in mind of other Who episodes (like Midnight, while the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and some of the baddies are holed up, hiding from the Krynoid), and one can't help but draw the parallel with Fargo when the composter is introduced.

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An Eye to the Future

Mar
16

Review of The Ark (#23)

DVD Release Date: 08 Mar 11
Original Air Date: 05 - 26 Mar 1966
Doctor/Companion:   One, Steven Taylor, Dorothea "Dodo" Chaplet
Stars:  William Hartnell, Peter Purves, Jackie Lane
Preceding StoryThe Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve (One, Steven)
Succeeding StoryThe Celestial Toymaker (One, Steven, Dodo)

Although we don't really figure it out until halfway through, The Ark is sort of two stories wrapped into one. Beginning with a rather typical "outsiders bring harmless-to-them germs into a closed population, threatening to wipe out said population" plot, the story soon takes a turn toward more socio-political themes.  Groups are set against each other and make plans of varying degrees of stupidity and brutality.  Obviously, this being Doctor Who, there's also a time-travel twist to the tale (which I won't completely spoil here), but that is primarily clever storytelling rather than a necessary element for plot advancement.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the story, at least on the surface, is the abysmal quality of the monster-of-the-week, which is poor even by Doctor Who's standards (and that's saying quite a lot!).  The actors playing the Monoids could not have been comfortable with body-length rubber sheaths that included huge (clearly visible) zippers up the back, mangy wigs draping down over half their faces, and ping pong balls painted as eyeballs in their mouths.  Every time one of these pathetic critters waddles on set, you can't help but snicker and think about the mechanics of wearing the costume (particularly the moutheyeball - nor does it help to learn that it actually was ping pong balls they used).  Yet somehow, the Monoids manage to fulfill their literary roles in (both parts of) the story relatively well.  Clearly that's a testament to the quality of the tale the writers had to tell.

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It's All About Perspective

Feb
23

Review of The Mutants (#63)

DVD Release Date: 08 Feb 11
Original Air Date: 08 Apr - 13 May 1972
Doctor/Companion:   Three, Jo Grant
Stars:  Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning
Preceding StoryThe Sea Devils (Three, Jo)
Succeeding StoryThe Time Monster (Three, Jo)

When the Doctor is sent on yet another mission by the Time Lords, he and Jo find themselves on a skybase orbiting the planet Solos.  There, officials of imperial Earth are preparing to grant the natives independence after 500 years, but the Marshal has other ideas.  He wants to make Solos' atmosphere breathable by humans (which it currently isn't), rather than to Solonians (which it currently is).  Due to the experiments he has commissioned, some Solonians are mutating into strange, bug-like creatures - derogatorily nicknamed "Mutts" - which the Marshal believes should be purged from the planet.

I must admit that, from my 21st century American perspective, I saw this story as primarily a commentary on our stewardship of the environment, and to a lesser degree about the treatment of indigenous peoples by colonizing cultures.  However, at the time, especially to a British audience not yet completely out of imperial politics, it would have smacked rather heavily of the British withdrawal from India in 1947, not to mention South Africa or the then-current conflict in Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe).  It's interesting to me that this story can play out on so many levels - standard Who story, allegory of imperialism, and allegory of environmental issues - over so many years.  Perhaps that's why I was so surprised at the way a different theme came across.

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The Ugly Docling

Feb
16

Review of Doctor Who: The Movie (Special Edition)

DVD Release Date: 08 Feb 11
Original Air Date: 14 May 96 (US)
Doctor/Companion:   Eight, Dr. Grace Holloway
Stars:  Paul McGann, Daphne Ashbrook
Preceding StorySurvival (Seven, Ace) - 1989
Succeeding StoryRose (Nine, Rose Tyler) - 2005
Notable Aspects:

  • Only televised story to include the Eighth Doctor
  • Doctor's first on-screen kiss
  • Bridge between Classic and Nu-Who
  • DVD:  First North American video release

There are those who think The Movie is one of the worst crimes ever committed against the Whoniverse.  I am not among them.  Despite some notably bad features, I actually really enjoy it.  Not the least of my reasons is that it's the one and only on-screen appearance of Paul McGann as the Doctor.

The made-for-tv Movie came about (in its final form) as a "back-door pilot" for a potential series re-launch.  It was to be set in the US and aimed at the US market, so the tone was somewhat "Americanized."  Among other things, it added a splash of romance (much to the horror of Old Skool Whovians), a "car" chase, and an actual American Companion (as opposed to Peri - played by Nicola Bryant, a Brit).  Not all of it worked, but there's a reason McGann continues to this day to get work as Eight in audio-dramas and other projects:  he makes a brilliant Doctor.

After learning more about the tortuous path this story took getting to the screen (see the extras, below), it's easier to understand - and even forgive - some of its flaws.  To my mind, the most notable one is the casting of Eric Roberts (that's Julia's brother, for Six Degrees of Separation buffs) as the Master.  The Powers That Be wanted an American actor as the villain of the piece, so it came down to a matter of who was acceptable to the right corporate suits (and who would take the money offered), rather than who was right for the part.  Roberts' resultant Master is campy, never more so than when he dons that quasi-Gallifreyan get-up.  The role has always been camp (just listen to Roger Delgado's muahaha! some time if you don't believe me), but this takes the biscuit.  And somehow, it's not Master-y to me at all.  Where's the "devious and overcomplicated" plot, the exceedingly clever adversary?  Mostly, he just poses and attempts (poorly) to intimidate.  At least there was some mind control and ruthless disregard for life to make him seem more Master-ful.

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A Dickens of a Good Time

Jan
11

Review of A Christmas Carol

Try as I might, I cannot find a way to make “Christmassy-wistmassy” sound good in a sentence.  But how else do you accurately describe the action in A Christmas Carol, which is simultaneously about as timey-wimey as we’ve seen and also unrelentingly inspired by the holiday season (and, more specifically, by its namesake)?  After a somewhat shaky start (“Christmas is canceled!”? What kind of rubbish line is that?), the episode turns rollicksome and barely pauses for breath.  Little details made me smile before the story really even began.  I mean, how can you not love Amy & Rory’s discomfiture at being caught with their barely-metaphorical pants down?  And after all that happened last series, it’s brilliant finally to see Arthur Darvill’s name in the credits.

From the title down, the whole episode is deliberately Dickensian – the Doctor himself makes a conscious decision to mimic the story when his answer to Amy’s query changes from “a Christmas carol” to “A Christmas Carol”.  Thus it’s no surprise right off to hear Kazran’s rant (“I call it expecting something for nothing!”) so closely echo Scrooge’s complaint that Christmas is “a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!”  It’s almost like a game to find as many references as you can, though perhaps it would be wise to stop before you started counting every little quasi-Victorian detail on the set.

While I’m on the topic of minutiae, I may as well mention the Doctor’s new jacket; his fabulous entrance; and the way he continues to be as frenetic as ever, delivering viciously funny lines that are all too easy to miss while you’re still laughing at the last one.  (A few of those – like the whole bit about the face spider – feel like something Moffat couldn’t bear to leave on his Wonderfully Scary Ideas clipboard despite the fact they wouldn’t support a stand-alone episode.)  I could point out how wonderful the Doctor’s comment about never having met someone “who wasn’t important” is or how well his eyes say “if only you knew” when Kazran spits his venom about trying on a broken heart for size.  Maybe I should mention the subtle use of the Doctor’s Theme when Kazran’s father tells him of the machine’s completion, and he seems to reject it, going to the drawer for the sonic screwdriver before finally rejecting the Doctor.  Or the way Amy’s exchange with the Doctor outside the TARDIS at the end harks back to the end of Forest of the Dead.

Perhaps, though, it would be more interesting to examine some of the overall themes of the episode.  With that in mind, I’ll present the rest of my thoughts on a theme-by-theme basis.

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