Reviews

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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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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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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Attack of the Mediocre

Mar
23

Review of Attack of the Cybermen (#138)
DVD Release Date: 07 Jul 09 (Out of Print)
Original Air Date: 05 - 12 Jan 1985
Doctor/Companion: Six, Peri Brown
Stars: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant
Preceding Story: The Twin Dilemma (Six, Peri)
Succeeding Story: Vengeance on Varos (Six, Peri)

After I posted my last review, which was for the Peter Davison audio adventure Spare Parts, one of my regular readers pointed out that I haven't reviewed all of the televised adventures, and suggested I consider doing more. Given that my focus has generally been on the more-readily-agreed-to-be-canonical TV run, I thought that was a great idea—especially since it also makes it easier to come up with something to post about.

So I went and made a list of the DVD reviews I've already done, and the stories covered on in Nu-Views and Retro-Views, and proceeded to make a convoluted spreadsheet. I decided I should begin with ones I've never touched on at all, and try to even out the proportionality of reviews to available serials across all the pre-Hiatus/Classic Doctors.

Colin Baker turned out to be most slighted in this sense, in that only two of his eleven serials (counting the Trial of a Time Lord as four serials) have been reviewed, and one of those was a Nu-View. That means 82% of C. Baker's run is untouched (T. Baker is at 62%, Davison 60%, McCoy 50%, Troughton 50% (of existing serials), Hartnell 47% (existing), and Pertwee 33%). I seemed obvious, then to start with Ol' Sixie. But which serial?

It didn't take long for me to pick one, and several to come after. Having just witnessed the ultimate beginning of the Cybermen last month, and realizing that three more Doctors also had unreviewed Cybermen stories, I settled on a theme. First up, then, is Six's encounter in Attack of the Cybermen.

One of the advantages of reviewing less familiar stories (I'd only seen this one a couple times before) is that I can still be a "new" fan to a certain degree. Because I didn't grow up watching Doctor Who, I still come to it from the perspective of one who believes post-Hiatus/NuWho is just as much "proper Doctor Who" as the pre-Hiatus/Classic stuff. And since I couldn't remember off the top of my head what the story was about—even when looking at the DVD cover art—I didn't have many pre-conceptions, despite it not being entirely new to me.

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