Conceptual Gumbo - Just Add Salt


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.


Misleading Title Goes Here


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.


Nu-View #2: First Thoughts on Four


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."


Mutiny of the Botany


Review of The Seeds of Doom (#85)

DVD Release Date: 08 Mar 11
Original Air Date: 31 Jan - 06 Mar 1976
Doctor/Companion:   Four, Sarah Jane Smith
Stars:  Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen
Preceding StoryThe Brain of Morbius (Four, Sarah Jane)
Succeeding StoryThe Masque of Mandragora (Four, Sarah Jane)

As I've mentioned before, sometimes Tom Baker's performances as Four leave me a bit cold.  Not this time.  I can't exactly put my finger on why, but The Seeds of Doom really worked for me.  From the opening moment in the Antarctic (is that Hoth?) to the closing moments where the Doctor and Sarah Jane have a timey-wimey moment, this is a classic, full-on romp.

Obviously, there's personal danger and a threat to the entire planet, but the baddie is amusing (you know he's bad, because he wears his black leather gloves inside, and all the time) and the alien menace is suitably absurd.  Most of the effects used to realize said menace are also pretty good, as Who goes, though the spanner one character uses to bludgeon another was very obviously rubber (spanners aren't generally so wobbly), and I have to admit that the camera-flash-on-a-stick "laser guns" literally made me laugh out loud.

One thing I really enjoyed about this story was the "flash-forward" meta-references, only noticeable from this future perspective.  Several times I was put in mind of other Who episodes (like Midnight, while the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and some of the baddies are holed up, hiding from the Krynoid), and one can't help but draw the parallel with Fargo when the composter is introduced.


Confession #6: The Fourth Doctor Kind of Bugs Me


If Confession #3 irked a few Neo-Whovians (and yes, I did catch some flak from the Ladies), then this one is sure to incur the wrath of some Old Skool Whovians.  Tom Baker, aka Four (you know the one - "all teeth and curls," perpetually wrapped in a ridiculously long scarf), is one of the best-loved Doctors of all time.  In fact, before David Tennant's stint, he was the most popular Doctor ever.  However, though I do generally enjoy him, a lot of times Four just sort of rubs me the wrong way.

First, there's the way he seems to work so hard on being weird.  Sure, the googly eyes give him a head start, but that's the least of it.  There are so many instances where he'll just repeat! someone else's line enough to startle ("of course!"), and then come down from that vocal high still as confused as ever ("nope - still don't know what you're talking about") that it ceases to either surprise or amuse (a trait Tennant borrowed for Ten, though I don't believe he wielded it as often).  I think it would bug me less if it weren't such an ongoing gag.  It's something that feels like it started as one of Baker's many attempts to make the cast and crew lose their composure and start laughing on set - except that once it worked, he kept inserting it as one of Four's quirks, and it lost its effect (file under: funny once).

What really irritates me, though, is how rude he is to everyone.  He frequently cuts off his Companions mid-sentence, usually when they're trying to tell him something important that he needs to know.  It doesn't matter who it is - Sarah Jane, K-9, even Romana (who's supposed to be as clever as the Doctor) - all suffer the same indignity and implication of insignificance.  Again, every once in a while it can be amusing, but it seems to happen nearly every story.  His self-centeredness in this sense feels very anti-Doctor to me, and makes me wonder:  where's the Doctor who loves and values his Companions?  Oh, I know he does, but as the saying goes, he has a funny way of showing it...



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