Confession #15: I Wish Sgt. Benton Had Traveled with the Doctor


I don't really know, but I'm guessing every fan has at least one character about which they think, "man! - s/he should have been a Companion!" Currently, I'm having such wishful thinking about Mdme. Vastra. (Wouldn't that be a brilliant change-up for the TARDIS crew? How often has the Doctor had a non-human companion? KamelionRomana, K-9 (anyone I'm missing?) - a small fraction of the total, regardless.) When we get back to pre-Hiatus Who, though - something that's sadly "mists of time" for me rather than "misty nostalgia" - I've found that there's one recurring yet secondary character I'd really have loved to see travel with the Doctor on a regular basis:  Sgt. Benton.

Benton is a generally congenial soul, mellow and pleasant to be around. That all makes him great as a background character, but what makes me think he'd have done well long-term? There are a couple of major reasons, really, and they have to do with his basically unflappable personality.

First, he tends to take everything in stride. What better qualification than that can a Companion have? (Well... I'll consider that later.) When faced with all sorts of weirdness, Benton pretty much never bats an eyelash - with the exception of reasonable self-preservation instinct. Most famously, he had the best-in-the-history-of-the-franchise reaction to his first view of the inside of the TARDIS. Here's how it played out.


Confession #12: I Adore Delgado's Master


When I first started thinking about why the original Master was such a delicious villain, I thought in terms of his characteristic muahaha!!  He seemed like a wonderfully campy nemesis for the Doctor, and though I don't know that the character ever literally said, "they laughed at me at the Academy!" I really felt he should have.

As I went back over some of the Master's stories I've seen so far (remember that I haven't seen them all) and watched the DVD extra on Frontier in Space about his career and tragic death, I realized that what Katie Manning (who played Companion Jo Grant) said of him was true: "he never camped it up." The character itself is something of a caricature, but Delgado always played the Master straight.

His Master was intelligent, polite, charming, sharp-witted, suave, persuasive (even without the hypnosis), and completely evil. He cared not one whit for what damage his plans might do to the universe or any minor players, as long as he got a thrill from it - and showed up the Doctor. With the easy way he could arch his eyebrow with disdain, he had me at "universally."


End of an Era

Review of Planet of the Spiders (#74)

DVD Release Date: 10 May 11
Original Air Date: 04 May - 08 Jun 1974
Doctor/Companion:   Three, Sarah Jane Smith, with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Stars:  Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen, with Nicholas Courtney
Preceding StoryThe Monster of Peladon (Three, Sarah Jane)
Succeeding StoryRobot (Four, Sarah Jane, the Brigadier)

The last story I reviewed was all about firsts.  This one's rather the opposite, as Three's swan song. I'd heard lots about it for that reason, and even seen the final regeneration scene a couple of times on YouTube (it's so much better in context). I'm really pleased finally to have the opportunity to see the whole thing. I suspect that if I'd been soaking in it at the time (you know... if I'd been a Brit, and old enough to watch tellie), it would've been even more of a thrill to watch.

As it is, I can kind of watch it from two perspectives:  Historic Story (HS) and Standard Fare (SF). As HS, it's got lots of portent, what with the whole Cho-je/K'anpo/Doctor dynamic that only comes to a head in the last episode or two; it's nice seeing a little more of the Doctor's personal history. There are also little nods all over the place to the entire Pertwee era - from the Metebelius crystal coming back to UNIT from Jo (who's off galavanting in the jungle) to the redemption of Mike Yates (former Capt. with UNIT, who turned traitor in a previous story) to the fabulous Sgt. Benton almost blithely offering to risk his life in the Doctor's stead ("Wouldn't it be better for me to have a go first? I mean, I'm expendable and you're not.").


A Beautiful, Um, Friendship?


Review of Terror of the Autons (#55)

DVD Release Date: 10 May 11
Original Air Date: 02 - 23 Jan 1971
Doctor/Companion:   Three, Jo Grant, with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Stars:  Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, with Nicholas Courtney
Preceding StoryInferno (Three, Liz Shaw, the Brigadier)
Succeeding StoryThe Mind of Evil (Three, Jo, the Brigadier)

How can you not love stories that you know in retrospect to be The Start of Something?  At the beginning of Three's second season, having been stranded on Earth sidekicking for UNIT for a year now, the Doctor needs a new "assistant" - and a new challenge.  Enter three new regulars:  Jo Grant, Capt. Mike Yates, and the Master.  I wonder if anyone at the time had any idea how big an impact their new villain would have...

This story is full of win. Not only do we get the aforementioned introductions (including the Master's hypnotic control of others, and his Tissue Compression Eliminator), but we get some key "rare appearances," too. For example, we have only seen another Time Lord or another TARDIS a couple of times before (in The Time Meddler and The War Games), and the Autons last appeared in Three's first adventure (Spearhead from Space). There's also lots more of the same things we've already come to love (e.g., the Brigadier and the Doctor snarking at each other with some glee).


It's All About Perspective


Review of The Mutants (#63)

DVD Release Date: 08 Feb 11
Original Air Date: 08 Apr - 13 May 1972
Doctor/Companion:   Three, Jo Grant
Stars:  Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning
Preceding StoryThe Sea Devils (Three, Jo)
Succeeding StoryThe Time Monster (Three, Jo)

When the Doctor is sent on yet another mission by the Time Lords, he and Jo find themselves on a skybase orbiting the planet Solos.  There, officials of imperial Earth are preparing to grant the natives independence after 500 years, but the Marshal has other ideas.  He wants to make Solos' atmosphere breathable by humans (which it currently isn't), rather than to Solonians (which it currently is).  Due to the experiments he has commissioned, some Solonians are mutating into strange, bug-like creatures - derogatorily nicknamed "Mutts" - which the Marshal believes should be purged from the planet.

I must admit that, from my 21st century American perspective, I saw this story as primarily a commentary on our stewardship of the environment, and to a lesser degree about the treatment of indigenous peoples by colonizing cultures.  However, at the time, especially to a British audience not yet completely out of imperial politics, it would have smacked rather heavily of the British withdrawal from India in 1947, not to mention South Africa or the then-current conflict in Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe).  It's interesting to me that this story can play out on so many levels - standard Who story, allegory of imperialism, and allegory of environmental issues - over so many years.  Perhaps that's why I was so surprised at the way a different theme came across.



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