Posts Tagged ‘religion

27
Dec
10

Story 032: The Underwater Menace

I first watched this story back in September, shortly after my post on The Highlanders. But I hated it. A lot. So, I didn’t write about it. I started to rethink my approach to the show for the first time. It’s tough to find the motivation to watch when I’m not going to feel like writing about the bad stories. I thought maybe I would just skip ahead. The reconstructions are rough and, let’s face it, the show simply isn’t very good at this point. Then, I got busy and generally forgot about these adventures. When I sat down to finally write my thoughts on the Underwater Menace, I found that I couldn’t really remember much about it. So, I watched it again in a single sitting. And it still sucked. But I’m writing immediately, with plans to move on to the next story right away. So as to not lose momentum.

The travelers land on a deserted beach and are promptly taken prisoner, down an elevator into what turns out to be the lost city of Atlantis. There they are to be sacrificed to the goddess Amdo, but the Doctor has a plan. He has heard of the famous Professor Zaroff and his method for converting plankton to food. It seems that he has promised the Atlantians that he can raise the city from the sea. Now, this bothered me. They had access to the surface, as evidenced by the kidnappers and the elevator. If they wanted to be on the surface, why didn’t they just go there? Later, they mention that they take shipwrecked people, so clearly civilization exists. Polly finds a bracelet from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. So, why are they eating plankton? This bothered me enough that the entire premise of the story was too lame for me. If this were an alien planet, or there was no life on the surface, cool. But, no….it was near the surface of the apparently normal 20th century. A character even recognizes the police box at the end of the story. At least do SOME work on your story invention, please.

So, the doctor chills with Zaroff, Ben and Jamie are sent to some mines (not sure what was being mined or why — mines are apparently the default punishment for prisoners in this era of the show), while Polly is going to get some surgery to turn her into a fish. Now Zaroff is, outside of the principle actors, the lone bright spot in this story. He is delightfully mad. We don’t quite get the same descent into madness as Chen in the Daleks’ Master Plan, but he is comically loony. He plays the role of the mad scientist perfectly, especially in the final episode. His plan is to drain the oceans into the Earth’s core, turning it to steam and destroying the planet. And at the end, as he attempts to enact his evil plot, he has clearly lost his marbles. His character is a delight, though not really worth the climb of watching the rest of the story.

The fish people, on the other hand, are totally lame. They are essentially a rehash of the Menoptra in the water and they don’t talk. There is a particularly irritating scene during the third episode in which they swim around and wave at each other, causing a strike and depriving the city of food (although the people could have just gone to the surface and got some themselves). They have shiny fake scales all over their bodies and are clearly not swimming, but being dragged around by cables. I honestly felt like I was watching something on the local cable access channel. I know the budget was low and the technology was limited, but really? This is what I get? I’m not sure why I hated them so much. I’ve found the poor effects to be endearing in earlier stories, but they bothered me this time, perhaps because the story itself was too weak to overcome them. Or maybe because the long swimming scene was too long. They let me watch too much of the awfulness with nothing else happening. In any case, they sucked.

In the end, the Doctor manages to play with the power generators and explode a wall, letting the ocean in and flooding Atlantis. A bunch of people escape to the surface like they should have done years before. In the meantime, a classic battle between science and religion was raged, as Zaroff attempts to overcome resistance from the high priests of Amdo. The travelers reveal the goddess to be a sham when they hide behind the statue and impersonate her to save the Doctor and another priest from sacrifice. And, at the end, the Atlantian ruler says that religion is finished because it had caused all of the trouble in the first place. Amdo would remain buried with the city. But it seems to me that it wasn’t religion that had caused the problem, but science and Zaroff’s hubris. It was kind of like the writers forgot what they had actually written and wanted it to be anti-religion, pro-science. But in reality, it was the priests that realized Zaroff’s problems, their belief in Amdo that allowed the Doctor to get away and save the planet (again). If anything, science was to blame for their plight, not religion.

So, I felt that the story’s message was a bit contradictory. Not a big deal, I suppose, but the little things add up. The irritating premise, the stupid fish people, the lackluster plot all made for crappiness. And I’m still not really warming to Patrick Troughton. I will admit that I find him humorous, if not a bit whimsical. But his portrayal lacks any sort of serious appeal. He’s witty, but not clever. He’s smart, but not ingenious. In short, he’s just OK.

28
Feb
10

Story 022: The Massacre (of St. Bartholomew’s Eve)

The Winter of 1965-66 was a depressing time to be a Doctor Who companion. Fresh off the death and destruction of the Daleks’ Master Plan, The Massacre (sometimes called The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve) returns us to France for the first time since the Season 1 finale just in time for the slaughter of thousands of Protestants. It’s pretty typical Who fare until the final episode when the Doctor figures out exactly what’s about to happen (and even then it doesn’t stray too far).

Dressed to Kill!

Likely not yet recovered from events on Kembel, the Doctor and Steven land in 16th century Paris, with the TARDIS conveniently hidden behind a wall in an alley. They change into some period clothing, although I was disappointed that the Doctor didn’t wear his sweet hat from Reign of Terror. I also noticed later when we saw a close-up of the Doctor’s walking stick that he is no longer carrying the one given to him by The Kahn. I wonder happened to that one…

The Doctor is extremely excited to go and meet an apothecary in the city somewhere and leaves Steven on his own. Other than his conversation with the apothecary we don’t see the Doctor again until the second half of the final episode. I would say he was on vacation, but we do see Hartnell acting as the Abbott. At any rate, this story’s focus is on Steven’s quest to find the Doctor. Due to Hartnell’s double role, there is some suspense over the Abbott’s identity, which is really the most interesting part of the time in France. Of course, the Doctor is not the Abbott, just a doppleganger.

Steven befriends Nicholas and Gaston, two Huguenots (French Protestants) during a bitter feud with the Catholic monarchy. Gaston is employed by Prince Henri, just married to the Catholic Princess Marguerite. The story’s plot revolves around the mysterious identity/assassination of the Sea Beggar and the tension between the opposed religious camps. The Sea Beggar turns out to be the Admiral, the top Protestant in the government. The Abbot has arranged his assassination. These characters are predictably forgettable. In fact, a couple of days went by between watching the second and third episode and I had some trouble telling them apart.

In the meantime, Steven has come under the suspicion of his new friends. When the Doctor does not return they being to think he may be working as a spy for the Catholics. A trip to the Apothecary’s does not pan out and matters are not helped when Anne Chaplet, the Abbott’s servant girl, arrives. Steven and Anne eventually flee, visit the Abbott and learn of the assassination plot.. They attempt to warn Gaston, but have to flee again, going into hiding at the Apothecary’s.

Meanwhile, the assassination fails and the Abbott is blamed and killed. Steven, still thinking that the Abbott is the Doctor visits the body, but is chased back to the Apothecary. Reunited with Anne he begins to despair. Fearing the Doctor is dead and with no way to get into the TARDIS he’s not sure what to do next. At this point the Doctor appears. There is no explanation of where he was. If he wasn’t the Abbott, what was he up to? This is a pretty major plot point that isn’t explained. It bothered me a bit, but more on a sidenote humorous wtf? way than in any negative way.

At any rate, when Anne tells him the date and the year he realizes that the Protestants are about to be slaughtered and says that he and Steven must leave immediately. He tells Anne to go to her Aunt’s house. After a tense sprint, Steven and the Doctor get out just in time.

This is one of the increasingly rare educational episodes. And I learned something! I’ve seen references to the Huguenots often but have never bothered to find out exactly who they were. Now I know! French Protestant that were slaughtered in the 16th century by the Catholic monarchy, mostly led by Catherine de Medici, the ruthless Queen. I feel smarter for having watched Doctor Who, and not just because I watched Doctor Who.

This is the point at which the story departs from the track a bit. After learning the fate of his friends Nicholas, Gaston and Anne, Steven insists that he is done with Doctor whom he feels could have saved Anne. The TARDIS lands in 20th century London and Steven leaves. In a very touching monologue, the Doctor laments the loss of yet another friend. Hartnell plays this moment perfectly. We really get a sense of how truly lonely he is, saying that they just don’t understand and regrets that they are always in such a hurry to get home. He even briefly reminisces about Susan, whom he hasn’t mentioned in a long time. When Dodo (short for Dorthea), a young girl looking for a telephone, bursts in he sadly tells her to leave because he has no telephone. I have to admit that I really felt for the Doctor during these scenes. His humanity shows through in a way that it doesn’t do very often. In fact, I don’t think we’ve seen this side of him since Susan’s departure. It was a touching moment that was highlighted even more in the next scene.

Steven returns and tells the Doctor they have to leave before the police arrive. Dodo, still in the TARDIS, seems happy to go, claiming she has no family. Her last name is Chaplet and Steven wonders if maybe she is descended from Anne who may have somehow survived. The Doctor notices that she is very similar in appearance to Susan and sounds genuinely happy to have regained friends. Those that travel with him are his family and now Dodo, previously without family has a new one.I really got the sense, for the first time, that the travelers are to be understood as a family. This has been hinted at before, with the Doctor’s reluctance to send Ian and Barbara home and his relationship with Vicki. But in these scenes it’s really made explicit.

For the most part the story is rather ho-hum. As I mentioned, it’s typical Who fare. The closing scenes in London, however, really provide the Doctor with an added depth of character and act as decent introduction to Dodo, our new companion. I truly did believe that Steven was leaving and was pretty surprised by it. I thought maybe they would end the story with the Doctor completely alone. It would have been quite the ending, but the reunion made it better.

23
Oct
09

Story 012: The Romans

The Romans is a truly enjoyable story. It has a great mix of humor, which was my favorite part. The story begins with the TARDIS falling off of a cliff into some bushes, an event I wasn’t exactly sure why it happened. I thought perhaps at the end they would wake up and it would all be a dream and they had been knocked out in the fall, but nope. Plus, it wouldn’t make sense for them all to have a dream together. I suppose maybe the Doctor could have dreamed it and they could wake him up and he could bust out “and you were there, and  were there, and even you!” in classic Dorothy style. But, whatever, that wasn’t the case.

What WAS the case, though, was that our heroes were squatting in some rich dude’s Italian villa just outside of Rome. When we catch up with them, they’d been living there for almost a month! I felt like this was a bit out of their character…lounging in someone else’s house, uninvited, presumably wearing the owners’ clothes and drinking their wine. Also, they were selling his produce at bargain basement prices. Thieves.

It was an interesting historical/educational episode. Although I think the educational aspects were toned down a bit compared to the interminable Reign of Terror, they did a nice job making Nero look like an absolute loon, and worked in the burning of Rome nicely. It was amusing that it was the Doctor’s accidental idea.

We got to see Ian show off those fighting skills he learned in the Aztecs fighting as a Gladiator. It would have been better to see him fight in a giant arena.

Highlighting the humor was the scene in which the Doctor, Barbara, and Nero chased each other through the hallway a la Benny Hill. I could almost here the music playing as they ran up and down the corridor, poking their heads into different rooms and just missing one another.

We got our first look at Vicki in action and, unfortunately, she didn’t really do very much except follow the doctor around. She was kind of superfluous. I have a feeling this may be what they had in mind for Susan’s character, but Carol Anne Ford’s own thoughts on the character kept getting in the way. I hope that they realize it’s a mistake and give this character slot a more active role. Susan and Vicki both have so much more potential.

Finally, there is some indication that twentieth century English is not common to all beings in the universe ever. Barbara corrects Vicki once or twice to make her language seem more Roman/Latin (Londinium). A couple of characters also note the strangeness of the the names Ian and Barbara. I thought that was an acknowledgement a long time coming. I understand that they can’t have everyone speaking a different language….but a “the TARDIS helps us to communicate with all races” or something would be sufficient.

Strange note: the travelers’ Roman friend Tavius is shown holding a cross that he wears around his neck. 64AD is awfully early for any Romans in Rome to practicing Christianity. In light of that, I wonder why they chose to show the cross. Only Christians can be good people? Couldn’t he have been a good Roman without it? I tried to look him up to see if he was supposed to be someone famous, but found nothing. Just an odd production choice, I guess. Or maybe there’s a religious theme to the show that I have not yet picked up on…I’ll tag this one just in case.

Finally, the old romantic notion between Ian and Barbara reappears at the end of the story. Once they learn they have arrived back at the villa they are squatting in, it looks like they’re going to drink some wine and get busy. There’s even some good-natured pillow fighting. But, alas, they fall asleep and the Doctor returns.

I enjoyed this story a lot. I’ve found the historical stories so far to be rather bland, but the humor was good and the story moved along pretty well. It seems that Susan has been entirely forgotten, but Vicki is a suitable replacement for me. Let’s just hope they actually give her something to do. And forbid her to scream.




About These Adventures

This blog exists to document my trip through over 30 seasons of the British science fiction television show Dr. Who. Prior to beginning, I had never seen a single episode of Dr. Who and will be learning the show's mythology and experiencing it all for the first time. I began sometime in July of 2009. Hopefully it doesn't take me over 30 years to reach the end.

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