Reviews

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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Genesis of the Cybermen

Feb
24

Review of Spare Parts (#34)
Big Finish Release Date: Jul 2002
Doctor/Companion: Five and Nyssa
Stars: Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Preceding Story: Neverland (Eight, Charley)
Succeeding Story: ...Ish (Six, Peri)

Years ago when I first became aware of Big Finish and had conversations about which releases were "best," Spare Parts came up again and again. It's thus been on my "to listen" list for ages, though for one reason or another didn't make it into the rotation until now.

Having now heard it, I completely understand why Spare Parts was recommended so highly. It has its pros and cons, as any of the audio adventures do, but what makes it so appealing is the way it adds to the larger tapestry of the Whoniverse—it's the story of how the people of Mondas became the Cybermen, well before the Doctor first encountered those iconic antagonists in his First incarnation in The Tenth Planet.

Any good Cybermen story needs some body horror, and we get it here, though it's not immediate; after all, we need to get to know characters besides the Doctor and Nyssa so that we can be properly appalled when horrible things happen to them. This slow burn adds to the tension as the TARDIS crew struggles with the implications of their actions on the future they know and what they believe, hope, or wish could be changed.

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Absurdly Entertaining

Jan
27

Review of The One Doctor (#27)
Big Finish Release Date: Dec 2001
Doctor/Companion: Six and Mel
Stars: Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford
Preceding Story: Primeval (Five, Nyssa)
Succeeding Story: Invaders from Mars (Eight, Charley)

Big Finish (BF) has been really good for characters much maligned for their televised appearances. While Ol' Sixie was the last incarnation to which I warmed (even before BF), Mel is one I've never quite managed to appreciate. Until now.

Last year I got my first taste of BF Mel, and while she didn't instantaneously win me over, I found her a heck of a lot less grating than I'd ever found her on television. This time around, I actually quite liked her. Not only was she clever without being shrill, the dialogue even had her poking a bit of fun at herself: "Believe me, when I'm scared, I'll scream the paint off the walls."

Similarly, Ol' Sixie was always the cleverest person in the room without being pompous or abrasive (as he often was in his televised adventures). He, too, was the butt of a gentle joke from time to time (references to his expanding girth, exercise regimen, and consumption of carrot juice all cropped up), but none of it ever felt mean-spirited or overdone.

All of this made for enjoyable listening when the Doctor and Mel stumble across a distress call from a planet in the Generios system at the "vulgar end of time," where "been there, done that" is pretty much the order of the day. The Doctor himself is legend, as they discover when they realize someone else has been using the Doctor's M.O. to run a scam—though a few things have been lost in translation.

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A Song of Comfort

Dec
30

Review of The Husbands of River Song
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Christmas episodes are unusual creatures, trying to be all things to all viewers. There is the expectation that a large number of families, including those who don't regularly watch the show, will be tuning in. Thus, the episode should be easy to follow for those with little or no knowledge of the characters and ongoing storyline(s), and fun and cheerful for those making it part of their holiday celebrations.

At the same time, it has to be satisfying for those of us who follow the show regularly. If it's a complete toss-off, the production team risks alienating its core audience, which is also bad. Thus a Christmas special is a weird hybrid (see what I did there?) of fluff and substance that can be very difficult to execute.

As one might expect, then, there were parts of The Husbands of River Song (THORS—Ha! What an acronym!) that made me really happy and others that made me cringe a little. It's difficult even to generalize which was which. Most of the interpersonal bits were good, though some were not; most of the guest artist bits were pants, though some were not; most of the plot points were eyeroll-y, though some were not. You get the idea: par for the course.

On first viewing, though, I found the good bits outweighed the bad. Moffat's dialog was mostly rich in quotable one-liners, with the occasional battle-of-the-sexes comments that he seems to think are funny (but as far as I'm concerned almost never are). I took the lighthearted feel of a "romp" at face value that first time through, too, which meant that the guest cast (Greg Davies as King Hydroflax, Matt Lucas as Nardole (whom I kept mentally calling Unstoffe at first), and Phillip Rhys as Ramone) were all played at a just-right-for-the-occasion "panto" level of off-the-wall.

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