Necessity Is the Mother of Reinvention


Review of Spearhead from Space: SE (#51)
DVD Release Date: 14 Aug 12
Original Air Date: 03 - 24 Jan 1970
Doctor/Companion: Three, Dr. Elizabeth "Liz" Shaw
Stars: Jon Pertwee, Caroline John
Preceding Story: The War Games (Two, Jamie, Zoë)
Succeeding Story: Doctor Who and the Silurians (Three, Liz)

When Pat Troughton left Doctor Who, the show was kind of in trouble. Ratings had fallen, and the BBC wasn't sure it wanted to put any more into something that had such a lackluster performance. For various reasons, it continued nonetheless, but by necessity - both due to casting changes and other production pressures - it did so as quite a different program.

As a result, there are a lot of amazing firsts in this story. We get our first taste of a new Doctor, a new Companion, a new credits sequence, a new "monster" and a new era of television: color. Sitting through it again, I couldn't help but draw parallels to multiple later stories, primarily Terror of the Autons and Rose, thanks to those pesky Nestene-controlled Autons, though the dual-hearted x-ray (another first - the mention of a Time Lord's now-famous binary vascular system) had me flashing to The Movie for a moment.

Its opening episode is a lovely way to bring UNIT back into the mix - where it would stay, to one degree or another, throughout Three's time in the TARDIS and beyond. I can't help but smile at the Brigadier's reaction to the news that an abandoned police box has been found in the middle of a field, or at the exchange between the Brigadier and the Doctor as both realize how much his face has changed.

Equally brilliant is our new Companion Liz. Though she never actually traveled in the TARDIS, that counts against her not one whit. Unlike many previous Companions, she's clearly an adult, fully capable of taking care of herself, incredibly intelligent in her own right ("an expert in meteorites with degrees in medicine, physics, and a dozen other subjects," as the Brigadier puts it, glancing at her CV), and a full-on strong female character. Rather than waiting to be told what to do, and screaming at every turn (in the three of her four stories I've seen, I don't recall her ever screaming at all; I understand she did once, when being shoved off a bridge), she just takes care of business. Being a real, grown up woman being taken seriously by real, grown up men - simply because she demands it by her very carriage - makes Liz one of the most brilliant role models we ever get in the show.


Apathy to the Viewer


Review of Death to the Daleks (#72)
DVD Release Date: 10 Jul 12
Original Air Date: 23 Feb - 16 Mar 1974
Doctor/Companion: Three, Sarah Jane Smith
Stars: Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen
Preceding Story: Invasion of the Dinosaurs (Three, Sarah Jane)
Succeeding Story: The Monster of Peladon (Three, Sarah Jane)

Although based on some of the comments from the extras, Death to the Daleks has a rather special place in some fans' hearts, I'm afraid it hasn't acquired such a position for me. And reviews I've read elsewhere suggest I'm not alone.

It's not that it's a bad story - it certainly doesn't rate a Stinker status - but it's just kind of pedestrian. I simply couldn't get excited about watching it. (Granted, the fact that Real Life has been rather stressing me out lately may have had something to do with it, but still - a good Who story can snap me out of most any funk.) Maybe there were too many bits I'd seen elsewhere before (like an electrified floor, which put me in mind of the yet-to-come Five Doctors; and how many times has poor Sarah Jane been sent up as a potential sacrifice?!), or maybe I couldn't stand the "look out: Daleks" theme music.

On the other hand, I have to think the opening episode would've freaked out the kids at the time. It's always ominous when the TARDIS goes dark, and the fact that every attempt at backup power failed would probably have seemed quite alarming. Better yet, we get to hear Sarah Jane refer to the Daleks as "those robot things"! I've been following her in random sequence for so long, having started from the other end of her timeline, that I was a bit stunned to realize that this is her first Dalek encounter: "wait, since when does Sarah Jane not know about Daleks?!"


Polari the Carny?


Review of Carnival of Monsters: SE (#66)
DVD Release Date:  13 Mar 12
Original Air Date:  27 Jan - 17 Feb 1973
Doctor/Companion:  Three, Jo Grant
Stars:  Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning
Preceding StoryThe Three Doctors (Three, Jo, the Brigadier)
Succeeding Story:  Frontier in Space (Three, Jo)

I have to admit, I was not really looking forward to this one. It had only been a few months since I last watched it for the Marathon, and it's never really struck me as a particularly engaging story.

Whether it was my mood on this day, my evolving tastes in pre-Hiatus Who, or something else, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it this time around. It seemed like there was just the right balance of random political intrigue and technobabble-based s.f.-hijinks in the interior and exterior plot lines.

On the down side, I have to wholeheartedly concur that "Doctor Who should be banned from using dinosaurs." Both the plesiosaur and the Drashigs are utter rubbish (seriously - the Drashigs have six eyes, and they still can't see worth beans?). Bless Katy Manning, she can look terrified at any non-existent horror you can dream up, but I'm afraid I can't muster the same emotion here (unless it refers to the effects). I know, I know... The show is about so much more than the effects, but the Drashigs always make me want to giggle. Or cringe. Or giggle while cringing. Regardless, it's not the impact they were intended to have on tots in the viewing audience, I'm sure.

Another thing that irritated me was the scaling for the miniscope. For example, since the scope itself is between waist and chest height, the "livestock" inside must necessarily be miniaturized to roughly a centimeter or less in height in order to fit (along with their habitats). Yet the TARDIS comes out roughly 8-10 cm tall (at a guess). Worse, the Doctor himself stumbles out of the machine at one point, clearly several inches tall (maybe 20 cm? - regardless, even larger than the TARDIS had been) before beginning to de-miniaturize.


Neither Angel Nor Devil


Review of The Dæmons (#59)
DVD Release Date:  10 Apr 12
Original Air Date:  22 May - 19 Jun 1971
Doctor/Companion:  Three, Jo Grant, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Stars:  Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning
Preceding StoryColony in Space (Three, Jo)
Succeeding Story:  Day of the Daleks (Three, Jo, the Brigadier)

A lot of Long-Term Fans have a pretty high opinion of The Dæmons, from what I understand. That kind of reputation always makes me approach a story with caution. With a pedestal so high, can it possibly be as beautiful as those who put it there believe?

For me, it's a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, it's an enjoyable story. There's a lot to recommend it, and I could probably watch it again relatively soon without complaint. But there are the standard silly bits, too, and it's not quite engaging enough for me to ignore them all.

Based on conversations elsewhere, I think at least some of the story's charm is lost in translation, as it were. An idyllic English village doesn't trip all the cultural nostalgia triggers that it would for a Brit or that, say, a small rural town or farm would for me, as someone who was raised in the American Midwest. So while the village square surrounded by pub, chapel, and such may stir something deep in the soul of a native of the British Isles, I find it merely quaint.

So what is it I'm not ignoring? Let's start with the Master's whole plan. Why the hell (~ahem~) is the Master bent on dominating humanity? Doesn't he hate this backward little planet? Hasn't he already tried to wipe out our species several times over? Isn't he sick of the place? For a while I thought maybe that last bit was part of the answer - he's stuck here, but has decided to make the best of it, and live up to his name. But that can't be right - it's not till the end of The Dæmons that he's locked up by UNIT (so he can later wreak havoc with The Sea Devils), and since we've just seen him in Colony in Space, we know he's got full control of his TARDIS. So I'm back to square one: wtf?


Three Has Company


Review of The Three Doctors: SE (#65)

DVD Release Date:  13 Mar 12
Original Air Date:  30 Dec 1972 - 20 Jan 1973
Doctor/Companion:  Three, Jo Grant, the Brigadier
Stars:  Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney
Preceding StoryThe Time Monster (Three, Jo, the Brigadier)
Succeeding Story:  Carnival of Monsters (Three, Jo)

Whoever first decided the crazy idea of having all three Doctors in one story wasn't so crazy after all (I guess that's either producer Barry Letts or script editor Terrance Dicks, then) deserves an award, in my opinion. This first multi-Doctor story was precursor to many others, both on- and off-screen and I, for one, love that.

The story serves multiple purposes, too. Not only did it provide the fan service of bringing back the previous Doctors, but by the end Three had also regained his ability to leave Earth (which made subsequent story arcs easier, after so many invasion-of-Earth stories already in the can). And those social-interaction pieces of the story, at least, are plausible.

The science, on the other hand... ~sigh~ An antimatter universe? Through a black hole? No. Just... no. I think that - more than any other Doctor Who story - the "science" here is painfully awful. Most of the time, I can gloss over it, suspend my disbelief and say, "yeah, that sounds almost plausible," and roll with it. This bit, though, is egregious enough that it regularly jars me out of that mental story-space. I can get past it enough to enjoy the story, but I kind of have to work at it. I think Letts said it best when he pointed out in the commentary (see below) that "this is really science fantasy, rather than science fiction. It bears no relation really to what ... scientists think goes on in the middle of a black hole." Makes for a pretty good story, though. So let's move on to those good bits.



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