Now With More Alien Madness


Review of The Doctors Revisited - Fourth Doctor

By the fourth month of BBC America's Doctor-by-Doctor celebrations of the show's history, we've rolled around to the man who many still equate with the role: Tom Baker.

Perhaps more than any other actor who portrayed him, Tom Baker embodied the Doctor. As the man himself said, "I was Doctor Who. There was no acting involved at all."

Something about Baker just clicked, and no one before - or arguably since - was ever more perfect for the role. This new Doctor was all about humor - at his own expense, from time to time - to defuse situations and get himself out of trouble. As the narration puts it, "Suddenly a big kid was in charge of the TARDIS."

Other key changes mentioned in the first section include his alien-ness, his bohemian wardrobe - notably, the ultra-iconic scarf - and his break from UNIT, as he finally swans off for good. Given that Third Doctor Jon Pertwee's tenure had been almost entirely earthbound, it was a notable change, and allowed for a wider variety of storytelling.


Retro-View #11: Winding Down, or Just Wound Up?


The Keeper of Traken (Story #114, 1981)
Viewed 29 Apr 2013

Doctor/Companion: Four, Adric, Nyssa of Traken
Stars: Tom Baker, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton
Preceding Story: Warriors' Gate (Four, Romana II, Adric)
Succeeding Story: Logopolis (Four, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan)

    It's been a while since G has seen the Fourth Doctor. Not only has it been a month and a half since we were last able to sit down and watch together, but he's cycled through a Companion or two since our last story, which was broadcast nearly two-and-a-half years before this one. So I guess I can't blame her when her first reaction at the start of the story was, "Oh my gosh! Look at the question marks on this collar!" And later, "He's got a new scarf!"

    I have to pause and explain about Adric, too. The whole E-Space thing kind of goes over her head, but truth be told, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me either, and I've seen all the relevant trilogy. She doesn't comment on his pajama-esque costume, though, and declares that she rather likes "the little guy." More than once. And why, do you suppose, she thinks so highly of him? "Because when the women used to tell [the Doctor] he was full of ****, he'd get upset, but when this guy does it, he doesn't care."

    The story is right up her alley, too. Halfway through Part One, she's already sussed out (well before we see it happen) that "ol' Melkur's marching around in the nighttime." When his presence leads to the Keeper (apparently) declaring that the Doctor and Adric are "Eviiiiiil!" she can hardly stand it. "I really hate misunderstandings." (Somehow, I'm thinking she doesn't watch many sitcoms...)


    Retro-View #10: The Lure of an Arc


    The Ribos Operation (Story #98, 1978)
    Viewed 12 Mar 2013

    Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana I
    Stars: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm
    Preceding Story: The Invasion of Time (Four, Romana I)
    Succeeding Story: The Pirate Planet (Four, Romana I)

      Now I've done it. I should've known better than to start G on a story arc. She has a hard enough time with episodic cliffhangers that I suppose I should've expected her to tell me to pop in the next story of The Key to Time once we'd finished the first, but somehow I didn't.

      In the opening moments, I realize G hasn't met K-9 yet. We pause while I explain the general concept. Then the White Guardian (who G understandably thinks looks like Colonel Sanders; "he's even drinking a mint julep!") begins his little chat with the Doctor. No sooner has this dialog begun, though, when I have to pause again to explain about the dog bite (see the Story Notes). It's so much better than the herpes G had been assuming was the issue...

      Once we get to Ribos, G thinks Garron and Unstoffe look like Tibetans or Mongolians (and that Romana looks like the Good Witch of the North). We get tied up enough in the story that there are barely any more comments until Romana blindly walks into the shrivenzale's chamber. "Well look down, sweetie. Good god." Sometimes even the most willingly suspended disbelief gets stretched too far.

      But all is well when the story gets into full swing. I'm loving Dudley Simpson's score and June Hudson's costumes. G is loving Unstoffe's tall tale. She's in fits of giggles when the Graffe Vynda-K and the Doctor face off and trade slaps of the glove. And then Romana tells Garron that she and the Doctor are "searching for the first segment to the Key to Time." "Oh, god!" G spouts in surprise. "She just blabs that out! ... To the opposition, no less." Much as I love Romana I (aka "Fred"), she really does show how utterly green she is in this adventure.


      Off to a Helluva Start


      Review of The Ark in Space: SE (#76)
      DVD Release Date: 12 Mar 13
      Original Air Date: 25 Jan - 15 Feb 1975
      Doctor/Companion: Four, Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan
      Stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter
      Preceding Story: Robot (Four, Sarah Jane)
      Succeeding Story: The Sontaran Experiment (Four, Sarah Jane, Harry)

      For someone who didn't grow up with Doctor Who, especially when watching out of sequence or without paying specific attention to such details, it can be hard to remember that Ark in Space was so incredibly early in Tom Baker's tenure (only his second story to be broadcast). He has already so thoroughly settled into the role, and the whole TARDIS crew - Harry only just having joined in the final moments of the preceding serial - has such a wonderful rapport, it feels like they've been together forever.

      The only thing that doesn't feel quite right is the holdovers from Pertwee's characterization when Sarah Jane tries to tell the Doctor something, and gets thoroughly shushed: "Doctor, look!" "Not now, Sarah." or "Doctor, will you listen?" "Sarah, we're trying to make a plan." Clearly even a writer as skilled as Robert Holmes didn't yet know how to write for this new Doctor.

      In retrospect, this story is an odd combination of the wonderfully timeless and the terribly dated. The general plot, the horror of a man's body and mind being taken over while he is powerless to stop it, the brilliant set and lighting design, and the unbeatable characterizations and acting all fall in the former category. Some of the effects (most notably the bubble wrap) and the choice of "microfilm" for the storage of the sum of knowledge from human history are among the latter. To give it its due, though, the green painted bubble wrap would have worked well at the time, as hardly anyone in the general public knew what it was yet. It simply makes for an unfortunate effect decades on. (One has to wonder how bad Tennant's episodes will look to viewers in the 2040's.)


      Retro-View #9: Return of the Fan


      The Robots of Death (Story #90, 1977)
      Viewed 07 Mar 2013

      Doctor/Companion: Four, Leela
      Stars: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson
      Preceding Story: The Face of Evil (Four, Leela)
      Succeeding Story: The Talons of Weng-Chiang (Four, Leela)

        Regular readers may recall that when I first saw Robots, I was not particularly enamored of it. Only after repeated viewings did I come to appreciate it, and now count it among my favorites. Thus, I was particularly interested to see how G would react.

        Perhaps everything just clicked properly this day - no family members or pets in ill health, no project deadlines pending - but G was back on her usual upbeat form, appreciative of everything the show had to offer. It doesn't hurt that she's taken quite a shine to Four.

        Her first impression of Robots is one of delighted nostalgia: "Look at that computer!" The visuals continued to impress her throughout, from costuming ("Ooh, I love the hats." and "They've got great costumes, don't you think?") to some of the directorial decisions ("We get to see from the robot's point of view. This is kinda cool.")

        As for the new Companion and general characterizations, she loves both Leela's and the Doctor's evasive answers when SV7 questions them. (I love that Leela's already figured out that discretion is the better part of valor.) She also thinks Commander Uvanov is "a bit of a boor." When he uses someone else's argument against a third party, huffily demanding, "Ever heard of the double bluff?" she adds (as Uvanov), "I just learned about it thirty seconds ago!"



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