Four

Unfinished Masterpiece?

Jan
16

Review of Shada (Unaired)

DVD Release Date: 08 Jan 13
Original Air Date: Slated for the end of Season 17, Jan-Feb 1980
Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana II
Stars: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward
Preceding Story: The Horns of Nimon (Four, Romana II)
Succeeding Story: The Leisure Hive (Four, Romana II)

Here we go. There's just about nothing better for starting an argument among Long-Term Fans than bringing up the question of the quality (or canonicity) of the "lost classic" Shada. Written by the now-legendary Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker's Guide fame and sadly interrupted and eventually scrapped due to a labor strike, Shada has gained legendary status among fans. Many seem to believe it would have become one of the best stories of all time, had it actually been completed.

In 1992 the BBC released the existing footage with "linking material" - that is, descriptive narration of the missing bits - by Tom Baker (who, weirdly to me, does it all in first person as the Doctor while dressed in a natty suit), and Shada finally saw the light of day. (It is that version, though remastered for DVD, that is on this disk.) More than a decade later in 2003, it was reworked as an Eighth Doctor adventure and presented as both a webcast (also included here, for access on a PC or Mac) and a Big Finish audio adventure. After another decade, the novelization - written by Gareth Roberts, but based on Adams' scripts - was released just last year.

So is this serial, "the one that got away" so to speak, all it's cracked up to be? In my opinion, the answer is a firm "it depends."

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Retro-View #7: Here We Go Again

Nov
14

Robot (Story #75, 1974-75)
Viewed 05 Nov 2012

Doctor/Companion: Four, Sarah Jane Smith, the Brigadier, Harry Sullivan
Stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Nicholas Courtney, Ian Marter
Preceding Story: Planet of the Spiders (Three, Sarah Jane)
Succeeding Story: The Arc in Space (Four, Sarah Jane, Harry)

    We've finally made it up to the era G saw bits of in college. "Yep. I remember him" is her first comment as Robot begins. It's wonderful to see this post-regeneration transition period again through the eyes of someone who's never seen it before. Granted, it's only been about five years since I first saw it myself, but evidence suggests I've turned into a bit of a ming-mong since then.

    So I take great joy in her delight over things like the Doctor's erratic behavior, his mention of "the definite article," his first sight of himself in a mirror, and the way he chooses his outfit. It is, perhaps, the main reason to recommend this particular serial. Not, of course, that G doesn't enjoy it thoroughly while still pointing out the obvious and/or silly bits.

    To wit, she realizes immediately when our intrepid Companion (Sarah Jane always did have a bit more gumption than sense of self-preservation) ends up at Think Tank that, "whatever it is is going to fall in love with Sarah." She wasn't taken in by the off-screen tinkering with K1's inhibitor, either: "A little WD-40, and we're on track to kill!" As Part Two progresses, she is particularly enamored of the way Sarah Jane is so proactive (she loves the Brig's call to action, "or shall we leave it all to Miss Smith?"), and she believes she's got it sussed when Kettlewell (whose hair is truly impressive) goes to answer a knock at the door: "Uh oh. It'll be the silver dude. It'll be like killing dad."

    And, true to form, she gasps a bit and wiggles in anticipation of the resolution as the sting crashes in as K1 is about to kill the Doctor. "These guys were absolute geniuses at knowing where to leave off." Sadly, the trend doesn't continue for the next episode, but she makes a good point - when they get a cliffhanger right, they really get it right.

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    Waking Nightmare

    Jun
    06

    Review of Nightmare of Eden (#107)
    DVD Release Date:  08 May 12
    Original Air Date:  24 Nov - 15 Dec 1979
    Doctor/Companion:  Four, Romana II, K9 Mark II
    Stars:  Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, David Brierley
    Preceding StoryThe Creature from the Pit (Four, Romana II, K9)
    Succeeding Story:  The Horns of Nimon (Four, Romana II, K9)

    I'm not gonna lie; this was a bit of a slog. Four does nothing overly clever, funny, or inspiring. Romana's boring window dressing. The Mandrels are crap. The effects are crap. And the plot is nothing to write home about.

    As soon as I realized it was all about drug smuggling, I pretty much completely lost interest. I watch Doctor Who to escape, to be inspired, or to make me look at things with a fresh perspective, not for a futuristic spin on modern crime. Maybe I'm just not the target market for this one, but my one-word "note to self" at the end of this one was "weird."

    Having watched some of the extras, I can see where there might be some endearing parts to Nightmare, but for me, there was not much to love. I mean, it wasn't even John Leeson voicing K9. But seriously, the plot itself was... OK, for being all about drugs - blatantly so, rather than metaphorically, as pointed out by Joe Lidster (see below). There are some interesting concepts, though I was at least twice put in mind of Carnival of Monsters (the CET machine itself is reminiscent of the miniscope, and the Mandrel crashing through the walls at the end of Episode 1 similarly made me think of the Drashigs). Much of it was executed so poorly, though (the bad guy has a Germanic accent? srsly?), that it was hard to look past the rubbish. I'm really not that interested in metaphorical truffle hunting...

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    The Timelessness of Robots

    Mar
    24
    Review of The Robots of Death: SE (#90)

    DVD Release Date:  13 Mar 12
    Original Air Date:  29 Jan - 19 Feb 1977
    Doctor/Companion:  Four, Leela
    Stars:  Tom Baker, Louise Jameson
    Preceding StoryThe Face of Evil (Four, Leela)
    Succeeding Story:  The Talons of Weng-Chiang (Four, Leela)

    I'm not sure why I didn't really take to Robots when I first saw it a few years ago. I liked it better during the Marathon, and better yet this time. (This trend can't continue...) I guess part of the reason I'm enjoying it so much these days is that I can see how well it stands the test of time, especially compared to some other stories. The plot is pretty timeless, and as pointed out in some of the extras, the more retro design keeps that from looking dated, too.

    At its most basic level, Robots is a cross between an Agatha Christie-style locked room murder mystery and an Isaac Asimov-inspired future-of-robotics thriller. But there are both deeper and more superficial ways to look at it, too. Is it a commentary on our society's attitudes towards class? Is it a just a great way to get Leela into the swing of traveling with the Doctor? It all depends on how the viewer chooses to approach it.

    One thing that particularly struck me, as a Neowhovian, was how blatantly the Heavenly Host from Voyage of the Damned were modeled off the robots here. The tone of voice, the pleasant visages, the creepiness of it all when their programming is subverted all can be traced directly back to this Sandminer. It's almost insultingly obvious, once you see it.

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    Old Face, New Face

    Mar
    21

    Review of The Face of Evil (#89)
    DVD Release Date:  13 Mar 12
    Original Air Date:  01 - 22 Jan 1977
    Doctor/Companion:  Four, Leela
    Stars:  Tom Baker, Louise Jameson
    Preceding StoryThe Deadly Assassin (Four)
    Succeeding Story:  The Robots of Death (Four, Leela)

    As the story opens, a young woman is being cast out of her tribe. The scene sets up the character of soon-to-be-Companion Leela perfectly: she's strong and outspoken, not willing to suffer fools gladly, and yet willing to subvert her own position for those for whom she cares. Conveniently for future exposition, she is soon orphaned (a bit subtly, actually) and cut off socially from her home. Why wouldn't she ask the Doctor to take her with him?

    From that perspective, it was nice finally to get to see Leela's "origin story." But aside from that, there were several interesting plot points that make one think a bit more, and clearly demonstrate that the production team were trying to stretch their storytelling muscles. Perhaps most in-your-face (~ahem~) is the idea that the Doctor has clearly been here before, as evidenced by the likeness of his visage carved in stone. He's done his usual number of sticking his proverbial finger in the pie of the planet, only to have it backfire ("I thought I was helping..."). It's a rare situation when we clearly see how fallible the Doctor can be.

    There's also the pretty major idea of an insane computer. Obviously this is not the only time in science fiction history that a sentient computer has gone mad (it's not even the first time in Doctor Who - think back to BOSS in The Green Death, or even further back to WOTAN in The War Machines). The results, though, which include eugenics, linguistic drift (Leela's tribe the Sevateem derive their name from their antecedents on Survey Team 6), and sociocultural evolution (a habitual motion among spacefaring folk has become a sign to ward off evil). It's a rather fascinating quasi-academic study, if one wants to approach it that way.

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