Four

Flippant and Compelled

Dec
28

Review of the Fourth Doctor's era, Part 2

1978 - 1981
The Ribos Operation
The Pirate Planet
The Stones of Blood
The Androids of Tara
The Power of Kroll
The Armageddon Factor
 
Destiny of the Daleks
City of Death
The Creature from the Pit
Nightmare of Eden
The Horns of Nimon
Shada*
 
The Leisure Hive
Meglos
Full Circle
State of Decay
Warriors' Gate
The Keeper of Traken
Logopolis
*Due to a labor strike, filming for this story was never completed.

During his later years, Four seemed to mellow a bit. There were no longer the angry outbursts that could occasionally surprise us with their vehemence; instead, he was jocular even to the point of flippancy. The silliness seemed especially rampant in his adventures with Romana II, perhaps because she seemed especially inclined to dish it back to him deadpan (after she gets past the residual helplessness that plagued her earlier Regeneration). As such, the second part of his run feels more light-hearted, up to the last season.

Much is unchanged; after all, it's the same incarnation, just new Companions and adventures. He continues to pooh-pooh their input, especially K9's ("Oh, shut up, K9!") and still gets to be A Little Bit Fabulous, engaging in the occasional swashbuckling and often doing his damnedest to be the Cleverest One in the Room. There are a few bits of continuing character development (or, should I say, Regeneration development) just in the way he interacts with others. For instance, he taunts his enemies (particularly the Daleks, whom he gives grief about not being able to climb), tries frequently to go on holiday (without much luck), and gets a bit snippy about his age. He seems to revel in quoting (or misquoting) Earth literature and other memes, directing a local to "take me to your leader" at least once.

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Manic and Menacing

Dec
21

Review of the Fourth Doctor's era, Part 1

1975* - 1978
Robot
The Ark in Space
The Sontaran Experiment
Genesis of the Daleks
Revenge of the Cybermen
 
Terror of the Zygons
Planet of Evil
Pyramids of Mars
The Android Invasion
The Brain of Morbius
The Seeds of Doom
The Masque of Mandragora
The Hand of Fear
The Deadly Assassin
The Face of Evil
The Robots of Death
The Talons of Weng-Chiang
  Horror of Fang Rock
The Invisible Enemy
Image of the Fendahl
The Sun Makers
Underworld
The Invasion of Time
 
*Only the first episode of Robot aired before 1975, on 28 Dec 1974.

After a brief pause for Eleven, I got right back in the marathon saddle with Four. Three had had the longest run yet (five seasons), and Tom Baker was relatively unknown when he came into the role. People weren't too sure they were going to like this new guy. Of course, as you probably already know, he went on to become the most popular Doctor of all time (until Tennant became Ten, if you believe certain polls), as well as the  longest-running, with a total of seven series to his credit.

From the get-go, Four was a bit off-the-wall (witness the costumes he presented to the Brigadier as possibilities before settling on his well-known look). With his huge, toothy grin and unruly curls, he came across as an even bigger clown than the Cosmic Hobo (Two), but there was steel beneath that outer veneer. We get frequent glimpses of the deep-seated rage that bubbles out more frequently in his post-Hiatus personas - Four is not afraid to let his exasperation with intolerance and incompetence turn to anger. He doesn't suffer fools gladly, and it can be a bit frightening.

This incarnation shows a fairly dichotomous attitude toward his Companions, too. On the one hand, he'll gladly refer to Sarah Jane (and later, Leela) as his "best friend"; on the other, he'll pooh-pooh their requests for his attention, always assuming that whatever he's thinking about is clearly more important than anything his Companion might add. Irritatingly enough, during his first series, Four's attitude includes a chauvinistic throwback to One's era as he'll brush off Sarah Jane and nearly defer to Harry, who becomes a sort of latter-day Ian - a dashing, young hero whose capability tends to overshadow the female Companions, if not the Doctor himself.

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Conceptual Gumbo - Just Add Salt

Oct
19

Review of The Talons of Weng-Chiang: SE (#91)

DVD Release Date:  11 Oct 11
Original Air Date:  26 Feb - 02 Apr 1977
Doctor/Companion:  Four, Leela
Stars:  Tom Baker, Louise Jameson
Preceding StoryThe Robots of Death (Four, Leela)
Succeeding Story:  Horror of Fang Rock (Four, Leela)

This release is unusual for me in that it involves a story I'd already watched (albeit only once). It was interesting to go through it again with not only much more experience of the Whoniverse but also a memory of both the storyline and my initial reactions. With a bit more perspective, I came away with a new appreciation for Talons and an understanding of the fondness so many Long Term Fans have for it.

For anyone new to the story, let me just throw out the one thing that really bothered me on first viewing: the main Chinese character (Li H'sen Chang) is played by a (Caucasian) British actor (John Bennett). That and the fact that the titular deity (who was, by the by, actually a god of culture and literature) was pronounced "weng chai-ang" - like a coffeehouse drink - rather than a more nearly correct "wen ch[ah]ng" - with an [ah] as in "father" - very much rubbed me the wrong way when I first saw Talons three or so years ago. This time, I was able to take it all with a grain of salt, and let me tell you - it was much more palatable this time.

The story is pretty much a love letter to Victorian-era literature. It has elements of Sherlock Holmes, Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady, if you prefer the musical version), Phantom of the Opera, and various Fu Manchu stories that fed into the stereotype of the Limehouse (Chinatown) area of Victorian London, not to mention a bit of Jack the Ripper. Taken as a nod to all these rolled into one, it's quite charming.

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Misleading Title Goes Here

Aug
17

Review of The Sun Makers (#95)

DVD Release Date:  09 Aug 11
Original Air Date:  26 Nov - 17 Dec 1977
Doctor/Companion:  Four, Leela, K-9
Stars:  Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, John Leeson
Preceding StoryImage of the Fendahl (Four, Leela)
Succeeding Story:  Underworld (Four, Leela, K-9)

Robert Holmes is widely regarded as one of the best writers in Who history, and he certainly contributed vastly to the franchise. In The Sun Makers, he takes a time of personal irritation and molds it into a weirdly engaging dystopian tale of excessive taxes and stagnating humanity. Having fled Old Earth, the human race now lives on distant Pluto, in constant daylight from its six artificial suns (the only mention of any "sun makers" we are ever to get).

It starts out wonderfully creepy with a Citizen apparently pleased to hear of his father's death, and continues with lots of stereotypical tromping (not much running, really) through corridors from there. However, to my eye, it soon took a rather darker turn - something I feel was unintended, or at least reflects the change in times since its original broadcast. Things are quite violent on this future Pluto, as people threaten each other with all sorts of tortures (not just Leela, either, who seems actually to be on par with the locals for a change). Public torture and execution - viewable in person, for a small fee - also appear commonplace. Near the end of the story, there's even a cheerful - not angry, mind you; cheerful - mob of revolutionaries who throw an official to his doom.

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Nu-View #2: First Thoughts on Four

Mar
29

The Invisible Enemy (Story #93, 1977)
Viewed 23 Feb 2011

Doctor/Companion:   Four, Leela
Stars:  Tom Baker, Louise Jameson
Preceding StoryHorror of Fang Rock (Four, Leela)
Succeeding StoryImage of the Fendahl (Four, Leela)
Notable Aspects:

  • First appearance of K9

For some of the Ladies, this was their first experience with Four.  While jE watched him during his original run, and jA at least knew his look, jO got to be our complete n00b.  Initially, it was Leela (or "Barbarella," as jO liked to call her) who got most of the attention - with that "leather bikini" of hers, it's easy to see why she was jE's dad's favorite Companion.  But most of the Ladies agreed that she was a good, fearless Companion, taking it upon herself to take care of the poor, defenseless (as she saw him) Doctor.  I didn't have the heart to tell them right then about her somewhat ignominious departure on Gallifrey.

Obviously, K9 was worth a few comments, too.  From the first little cheer when he first came on screen to the "no - not K9!" when the Nucleus made contact, The Tin Dog was another hit.  I know some fans hate him, but I've always found him cheerful and amusing, especially after having seen some DVD extras in which other actors talk about how John Leeson would crawl around on all fours on set during rehearsals.  How can you not love someone who gets so thoroughly into the role?

As for the Doctor himself, the reception was generally warm.  jA reminded me of my own initial reactions when she noted that he's "got quite a voice."  I remember being quite familiar with only his image, and having taken quite a while to get accustomed to the voice that went with it.  With the limited exposure to earlier Doctors, though, jO found Four the best of them so far (perhaps because he's younger).  She found that though he comes across a bit more pompous, he's overall quite likable.  I think he had such a huge effect on everyone who grew up watching him that it's unsurprising to see elements of him in later Doctors - especially Ten, as jA pointed out.  For those thoroughly steeped in the RTD era, Four seems "more Doctor-ish."

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