Reviews

Feel the Power

Feb
22

Review of Power of the Daleks (#30)
DVD Release Date: 24 Jan 17 [Region 1]
Original Air Date: 05 Nov - 10 Dec 1966
Doctor/Companion: Two, Ben Jackson, and Polly Wright
Stars: Patrick Troughton, Michael Craze, Anneke Wills
Preceding Story: The Tenth Planet (Two, Ben, Polly)
Succeeding Story: The Highlanders (Two, Ben, Polly, Jamie)

Although we've had some brilliant windfalls in recent years in terms of recovered "lost" episodes of Doctor Who, there are plenty that are still missing in their entirety. Perhaps the most famous/famously sought-after is Marco Polo, but Patrick Troughton's first serial Power of the Daleks is also high on many peoples' lists.

Perhaps that is the reason that BBC Worldwide took the unusual step of animating all six episodes of Power. While they have previously commissioned animations for missing episodes of stories that are incomplete in the archives, this is (correct me if I'm wrong) the first story to be reconstructed in its entirety with no surviving visual material but a few minutes of clips and stills.

Although the animated reconstruction was released on the BBC Store last November (fifty years to the minute from the original broadcast of its opening episode), a physical version (DVD, rather than digital download or BBC America broadcast) was not made available in the US until late January. Being the obsessive collector I am (and refusing to pay for it twice), I therefore didn't get to see it until just recently.

The story begins with the first-ever regeneration. As a fan fifty years out, it feels oddly portentous watching that moment, even animated (though I still find the original surviving footage more moving). Troughton's skill and the lampshading of the wildly radical concept of the lead character's complete change of not only body but personality through the Companions' reactions to him paved the way for everything that followed.

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A Mysterious Plan

Jan
25

Review of The Mysterious Planet (#143a)
DVD Release Date: 10 Oct 08
Original Air Date: 06 - 27 Sep 1986
Doctor/Companion: Six, Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown
Stars: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant
Preceding Story: Revelation of the Daleks (Six, Peri)
Succeeding Story: Mindwarp (Six, Peri)

Today I start a new review series, with an arc I've long avoided here. The Trial of a Time Lord (ToaTL) is, depending on who you ask, either a season-long, fourteen-part story or four, two- or four-part stories connected into a season arc. It comprises approximately half of the Sixth Doctors televised tenure in the role, and thus looms larger in my mental landscape than perhaps it should.

So because my reviews over the years have been particularly shy of Sixth Doctor adventures (at least the televised ones), I decided I'd finally tackle ToaTL for the first part of 2017 (with a Dalek breakaway—see what I did there?—for Power in February) before Series Ten begins.

As we begin this season, then, we see the TARDIS being pulled into a large structure in space, and the Doctor steps out—alone—into a darkened hallway. The room he enters is also darkened until, with some vaguely ominous words, someone eventually identified as "the Valeyard"—the person who is to become his major adversary over the coming episodes—reveals that they are in a Time Lord courtroom.

The Doctor is the subject of a hearing to determine whether or not he is truly guilty of "conduct unbecoming of a Time Lord." As part of his protest, the Doctor claims he can't be put on trial because he's Lord President of Gallifrey (Oh, Doctor... You sound unpleasantly like the new POTUS...), but is told that as a result of his neglect for his duties, he's been deposed.

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Just a Sprinkle of Humbug

Dec
31

Review of The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Ah, the annual Christmas Special... That sixty-minute episode that tries to be all things to all people, but most especially to those who never watch Doctor Who except this once a year. No wonder Moffat chooses Christmas as the time to trot out his most gimmicky ideas.

Having already exploited Santa Claus/Father Christmas two years ago (and included a nod to Sherlock Holmes (and thus his own work on Sherlock) in 2012), Moffat needed a new cultural icon to shoehorn into his annual holiday offering. Since there would undoubtedly be copyright issues with something like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, it seems he decided it was instead time to cash in on the recent resurgent popularity of superheroes—thus we end up with "Doctor Who Does Superman" this year.

Not that a fluffy superhero "romp" is entirely unsuited to the situation. The trope is easily relatable to a casual viewer, who thereby doesn't have to know anything about the show at all to understand the premise of the episode. I'm not a huge fan of this type of genre crossover, but I thought the conceit by which young Grant gained his superpowers was sufficiently Doctor-y and believable in-universe. ("Take this," the Doctor tells 8-year-old Grant, handing him a gemstone to hold with what, in retrospect, turns out to have been a particularly unfortunate choice of words.)

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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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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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