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.


Buried Treasure


Review of The Tomb of the Cybermen: SE (#37)
DVD Release Date:  13 Mar 12
Original Air Date:  02 - 23 Sep 1967
Doctor/Companion:  Two, Jamie McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield
Stars:  Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling
Preceding StoryThe Evil of the Daleks (Two, Jamie, Victoria)
Succeeding Story:  The Abominable Snowmen (Two, Jamie, Victoria)

This particular story seems to engender reactions on polar opposite ends of the scale. Either it's the greatest Cybermen story of all time (it's reportedly Matt Smith's favorite), or it's racist schlock. I personally find myself somewhere in the middle. There are distinctly racist facets, I can't deny that. However, they don't put me off the story entirely because I find I'm able to approach them as "historical context" - that is, I can recognize that society has evolved in the past 45 years, and like everything, Tomb is a product of its time. I don't have to agree with the presentation of the dark-skinned Toberman as a nigh-mute servant ("dumb muscle," if you will) to find the rest of the story entertaining.

If we're going to nitpick about yesterday's attitudes that irritate us today, we may as well talk about the women, too. As actress Shirley Cooklin (Kaftan) puts it (see Commentary Track 2, below), female characters in that day and age were primarily "set dressing." The dark-skinned characters were the baddies; the ladies were there to look good. Interestingly enough, the character Victoria even comments with frustration on her lot when told she doesn't get to go with the others down to the catacombs: "Who'd be a woman?" (It doesn't help that the spaceship captain with the bad fake-American accent responds with "How would you know, honey?", marking her as even further down the social ladder due to her youth.) Despite all this, I can't help enjoying Tomb.

In fact, I think this is probably my favorite Cybermen story (along with just about everyone else, I'm given to understand). After all, it's pretty iconic. I mean, it introduces the Cybermats, for one thing. And it's the first complete (extant) story to feature Cybermen, so it's the earliest instance still available to modern audiences when the cyber-conversion process is discussed (and, in fact, shown to a certain degree). When the Controller says they'll use these people to help them control Earth, Jamie is incredulous. "But we're human. We're not like you." "You will be," intones the Controller. How utterly creepy must that have been when it first went out? The simple, understated menace mixed with body horror must have sent thousands of children scurrying for cover.


Confession #19: I Love the B&W Era


In honor of today's 48th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who (that would be An Unearthly Child, in 1963), I thought I'd talk a bit more about the early years of Who and why they're worth your time to seek out if you've never had the opportunity to see them before.

For a general sense of what they're all about, check out my recent posts on the First and Second Doctors' eras, where I give a broad overview. Let me express a bit more love for that whole black-and-white era, though. There's a special something - maybe you could think of it as an innocence - that doesn't necessarily carry over into the color/modern era. The show is so earnest and new and takes itself so seriously, even though it also clearly knows it's a bit rubbish in places.

Admittedly, it took me a while to warm to all that. Coming as I did straight off Series Four with Ten and Donna, I was taken aback at first, even though I knew I was stepping into the Wayback Machine when I sat down with An Unearthly Child that first time. Forty-five years' worth of technological advances are nothing to sneeze at, especially where television is concerned. So even though I'd steeled myself for bad (by modern standards) effects - having grown up with Star Trek, I thought I had an idea of what it was likely to look like - and the black-and-white view, I wasn't truly prepared.


Clownish and Clever


Review of the Second Doctor's era

1966 - 1969
The Power of the Daleks*
The Highlanders*
The Underwater Menace*
The Moonbase*
The Macra Terror*
The Faceless Ones*
The Evil of the Daleks*
The Tomb of the Cybermen
The Abominable Snowmen*
The Ice Warriors*
The Enemy of the World*
The Web of Fear*
Fury from the Deep*
The Wheel in Space*
The Dominators
The Mind Robber
The Invasion*
The Krotons
The Seeds of Death
The Space Pirates*
The War Games
*Partially or completely missing

When Patrick Troughton took up the role of the Doctor, he had a huge task ahead of him. Not only did he have to make the character his own (a challenge every actor since him has also faced), but he also had to convince the entire viewing audience that he was the same person. Had the gamble not worked - or had Troughton been less brilliant - our favorite show would have died an early death. Lucky for us all, Two was a wonderful Doctor.

Not much remains (since so many of these episodes were wiped and remain lost, presumably forever) of Two's time on screen. However, the scripts and the audio recordings are still out there. Some wonderful reconstructions that at least get the general stories across are readily available (I highly recommend the BBC's photonovels). One of the quirky characteristics of Two that has been lost in the æther is his frequent use of his recorder, which seems to diminish with time, just as the percentage of extant episodes increases.

Another disappointing loss is the opportunity to experience the scope of Troughton's acting skills firsthand in The Enemy of the World, in which he plays a dual role as both the Doctor and the main antagonist Salamander. The first time I saw the one remaining episode of this story, it was a real wake-up call. Troughton may play the Doctor quite naturally, but the Doctor is not Troughton. Seeing both roles side by side, we can clearly see what's so easy to forget as we are immersed in the stories: the Doctor is a character being deliberately and thoughtfully portrayed in a specific way, just like any other character.


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.



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