Posts Tagged ‘strange aliens

15
May
11

Story 035: The Faceless Ones

Maybe landing at an airport was a bad idea.

So, the travelers land in 1966 London Gatwick airport right smack on the runway. If I’m not mistaken, they’ve landed on a runway briefly before, in one of the Dalek chasing episodes. But this time they stay, only to have Jamie flee in terror away from a “flying beasty.” While mildly amusing at first, I’m glad he only mentions the beasties one more time because it could become annoying pretty quickly. At any rate, there are very few interactions with the airplanes. But here’s my question. Why didn’t they look at the monitor? “Oh, we’re on an airport runway, there are planes everywhere. This looks like a great place to go out and explore!” Not the best decision they’ve ever made. But, I suppose they have made much dumber exploration choices so I can’t complain too much about that.

What I can complain about, though, is how painfully long and boring this story was. I thought the 6-episode story had gone the way of Dodo (see what I did there?), but apparently I was wrong. The premise of the story was great (Invasion of the Body Snatchers pod people in a location as inhuman and cold as an airport? nice work. though, admittedly, not entirely original.) and there are some definite bright points (the first appearance of the faceless ones, for example, is genuinely creepy). However, the search for what was going on in the Chameleon Tours hangar lasted just a tad too long. Like about 2 episodes too long. I found myself checking Twitter and playing Angry Birds during episodes 5 and 6. When episode 4 started, I couldn’t believe there were 3 more episodes. The truth of the matter is I started this story way back in January when I was on a mini Doctor Who roll, but I kept falling asleep and eventually gave up (my doctoral exams scheduled in March and April didn’t help). Now I know why I couldn’t make it through.

Ready for a new face!

So, the gist of the story, Polly (whose hair is now inexplicably long again. Shame.) witnesses a murder in the Chameleon Tours hangar, then goes to tell the Doctor. The Doctor and Jamie investigate, Polly is kidnapped, Ben is MIA. Meanwhile, the dude in charge of the airport, Commandant, is concerned about the TARDIS clogging up his runway and suspects Doctor and Jamie, who are standing at the immigration desk without passports. The people at Chameleon Tours are stealing the identity of airport personnel as well as some youths to replace their faces after some horrible accident on their home planet. They do this by complicated medical procedures that transfer physical characteristics but leave the original in tact. And, luckily for their victims, the originals have to be kept alive and they have to wear arm bands. If the arm bands are removed, the Chameleons simply disappear. That’s right, they disappear. Not turn back into chameleons. Not go through some painful transformation. Not fall over dead. Disappear. I don’t get it. Also, they hide the originals somewhere that they are sure no one will ever find them….in parked cars. In a parking lot. At the airport. Genius. Because no one will EVER look in cars that have been parked there for years. And the bodies will NEVER overheat, freeze, or starve. And they were bragging about their superior intelligence…

Somehow, they have kidnapped 50,000 teenagers and only one — ONE! — has been reported missing. That missing kid’s sister, Samantha, is at the airport and helps the gang unravel the mystery. Very. Slowly. In order to transport all of the originals back to Chameleonus or whatever planet they come from, they miniaturize the people and put them in drawers, a la The Ark. The Doctor solves the mystery and everyone is saved. Even the Chameleons are granted clemency and allowed to return to their home planet and find some other way to get faces. The Doctor even offers to help.

While the story was too long, it showcased Jamie’s and the Doctor’s strength. I like Jamie. As soon as his innocence completely fades (“Look out! A flying beasty!”), I think he will be quite enjoyable. Also, Troughton’s Doctor has fully grown on me. I’ve gotten into his mischievous, witty groove. And in an odd way, I kind of buy him as a younger, refreshed version of Hartnell’s doctor. It took a little bit to get there, but I could see this man becoming Hartnell in old age when he’s just as clever but not really able to move quite as quickly and starts to get grumpy. Patrick Troughton would definitely wear that sweet hat Hartnell wore during the French Revolution.

Polly and Ben didn’t really have much to do in this story. Ben spent a lot of time missing and Polly was chameleonized. This is probably for the best since it was their final story and Jamie needed the opportunity to shine. Also, the Wikipedia tells me that Samantha was asked to remain on as a companion, but she refused. As the story was going on and I realized this would be Polly and Ben’s last (They were in London in 1966. It was kind of obvious), I thought she was going to be sticking around. I even kind of hoped. She complemented Jamie well and was clearly written to be a companion. But, no such luck. Anyway, Polly and Ben left, it wasn’t very surprising. I liked Ben a lot, he was very no-nonsense. Polly I liked a little less. But, she was hot. The first hottie companion, which, if I’m not mistaken, is the path the show would take with most of the rest of their female companions. Probably a good choice.

It turns out, it was the exact same day (July 20, 1966) that they had previously departed with the Doctor so it would be as if they were never even gone. Now, this brings up some potential time travel paradox stuff. While the Doctor is running around Gatwick Airport, somewhere in another part of the city he is defeating WOLTAN. There are also two Polly and Bens. What if Polly and Ben go back downtown before they leave? They could see themselves and rip a hole in time-space continuum. Or, what if Troughton were to somehow meet Hartnell? All hell would break loose at that point, I’m sure. And, it seems like WOLTAN taking over the world’s computer systems would be news and Commandant would be concerned about all this Chameleon Tours nonsense happening at the same time as a major computer changeover. And, if this is an alternate Earth rather than the same Earth, there would be two Polly and Bens forever. Convenient plot device, terrible consequences.

Goodbye, Ben and Polly. Don't look so sad.

09
Jan
11

Story 034: The Macra Terror

I want to start right off by saying I really liked this story. It has a lot going for it, the intersection of a few themes, Jamie finally steps up, and Patrick Troughton gives, I think, his best performance thus far. And we have a new intro! I was wondering when it would change, I didn’t expect it mid-season. I have to admit that the picture of Patrick Troughton is kind of creepy, but it’s a good change and the update of the graphic improves the overall look. The change/improvement was a reminder that the show will eventually move into a more modern time. Color must also be coming soon, I think.

At the Colony. Note Polly's new short hair. Hot.

So, the travelers arrive at The Colony just as the police are chasing Medok, some apparent criminal. As can be expected based on earlier stories, the criminal is, of course, the good guy. His crime is telling people about the Macra, terrible beasts that he say are hanging out in the Colony. Those in charge, led by the Pilot and the Controller and Ola, Chief of Police, all claim he’s crazy. Meanwhile, we learn that everyone in the Colony is super happy to be working and living and their schedule is punctuated by music. The travelers are given a buff and a shine in a scene reminiscent of Dorothy and friends arriving at the Emerald City in the film version of the Wizard of Oz, and then told that they are happy, but Jamie doesn’t like the look of things. He’s apparently smarter than he looks.

It turns out that the Controller, who appears as a still image on a large video screen (similar to Big Brother in the film version of 1984), sends them secret messages while they sleep. “you like to work. You are happy. The Colony is good. The Controller knows best.” All in a nice, soothing voice. Ben falls victim, Jamie is too smart to be duped by such nonsense, and the Doctor saves Polly. Apparently these voices make people think that because they get what they want and the sing and dance that everything is alright and they are happy. This is an interesting theme that I think was done well. Of course, it’s kind of like consumer society. As long as we get what we want and can freely spend our credit..i mean money…we tend to look the other way and ignore the ways we are being controlled. We remain hypnotized in a way by the culture industry.

What went on to be interesting about this was the Doctor’s understanding of the Macra, who were responsible for the state of things. He describes them as a bacteria or a parasite that got into the brain of the Colonists. An infection of sorts. I found this theme and commentary to culture to be brilliant. Well done, Ian Stuart Black.

The Macra. Very scary. And delicious with some Old Bay Seasoning.

 

The travelers, known to the Colonists as the Strangers (another brilliant choice that conjures thoughts of propaganda automatically inclining the people against them), begin to think Medok is correct and he shows the Doctor a Macra. The Macra are large, crab-like creatures with glowing eyes. Ben, seduced by the soothing messages of the Controller, turns on his friends and beings helping the Colony (a word which also reeks of unwanted invasion and occupation). Jamie, Doctor, and Polly are sent with Medok to the mines (isn’t there a better form of punishment than mines….think of something new already!) where they are releasing a dangerous gas from underground. In an amusing scene, Medok is struggling mightily to get some tube in the wall while Jamie and Polly, rather than helping, are off looking a door to another mine shaft. Some help they were.

Jamie runs off into the old mineshaft, followed closely by Medok. Meanwhile, the Doctor discovers the secret formula of the gas. Proud of himself for figuring it out, he says “I think I’ll give myself a 10 out of 10.” When he learns it took the Colony’s computers years to prefect the formula he changes his grade to an 11/10. Ha! I’m starting to warm to Troughton’s humor and his portrayal of the Doctor. It’s taken a while, I think I just needed a story I enjoyed to get used to him.

Did you guys just see the giant claw attack that old dude?!

It turns out that the Macra are really in control and they need the gas to breathe. They’ve been fooling the Colonists. In one great scene, Jamie challenges the image of the Controller saying “that’s not really you!” So, they show a picture of some old man talking and when he doesn’t perform a giant Macra claw comes in and attacks him while everyone looks on. This, however, was not enough to convince the people. Instead, the Doctor takes the Pilot to the Control room and shows him a Macra sitting there.

In the end, the gas the Macra need is withheld and the Colonists get their brains back. The Doctor and his friends dance away. The performances of all the leads were, I felt, quite strong. Jamie shows off his bravery and intelligence for the first time, really taking in the lead after Ben was hypnotized. Troughton gave a performance I could take seriously. Polly continued to be the damsel, not really doing too much, but always being there and chiming in. Ben’s performance was probably the weakest, but that was because he was meant to act like the guest cast, which he did just fine. In short, the best Ben and Polly story since the War Machines and the best Troughton story yet. It makes me optimistic for upcoming stories. And the Faceless Ones, up next, actually has two complete episodes. Which I plan to watch on my Lost In Time DVD Set that I received for Christmas. Awesome.

Macra In Control

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.

18
May
10

Story 029: The Tenth Planet

The Tenth Planet, William Hartnell’s final story as the Doctor, is so much better than season 4’s first story, The Smugglers, that I can only shake my head at how The Smugglers made it into this season. I enjoyed the story and the concept, although I felt the approach and destruction of Mondras happened a little too quickly. And it is truly a shame that the final episode, including the Doctor’s regeneration, is missing. There is a quick clip of Hartnell at the TARDIS controls, but the final scene itself is gone. The reconstruction of the episode, however, is the best I’ve seen so far.

The travelers arrive on Earth at a space command center at the South Pole in the distant future of December, 1986. A space mission is coming to an end, but it runs into some serious issues. A new planet, that looks identical to Earth, only upside down, zooms into Earth’s orbit and destroys the ship. The Doctor tells those in charge at the base that he knows what’s going to happen. They, of course, do not listen to him. Led by an incredibly irrational General Cutler, those at the base seem to be a group of angry, reactionary hotheads. With the exception of Dr. Barclay (and, of course, the filler characters that just blindly follow orders). I kind of wanted them all to be killed off by the Mondas inhabitants (the Cybermen). They were all so obnoxious. One thing I did notice, however, was that the world seemed to be full of international cooperation. There were British and American people at the base, they communicated on the phone with a chubby man whose accent I couldn’t place, and received calls from Geneva. Everyone banded together. What I liked about this, is that they didn’t point it out. Often, shows or movies will point out how well everyone is getting along and there hasn’t been a war in years and blah blah….this was just presented as natural. International cooperation has always been an optimistic image, and the writers of this story built it in as if it were not particularly remarkable. Nice touch.

Reanimated by Technology

The Cybermen are a great race of villains. For a couple of reasons. First, they’re truly creepy with their blank faces and the way they talk by just opening their mouth like a speaker. And their robot voices rule. But creepiest of all is the fact that they are something like human. The Cybermen are a depiction of our future. As humans strive for longer and longer life spans and begin replacing our natural parts with technological devices we lose our humanity. And this has happened to the Cybermen. They say that their brain are just like that of a human, but they can no longer feel emotion or empathy. They are truly posthuman Frankensteins. Elaine Graham would describe them as existing at the gates of humanity. Mondas used to be Earth, but left the solar system. While that isn’t really explained, it is implied that the Cybermen truly used to be human. Which makes their lack of humanity even more terrifying. They are us. I know that the Cybermen have at least two more stories in the future, I hope they don’t change too much, because I think they’re a great set of villains.

I must admit, though, that attacking a remote South Pole base twice is not the best strategic move. Maybe it had something to do with the bomb? Unfortunately, as terrifying as the Cybermen are, they really don’t do very much. They show up, do some talking, and are relatively easy to defeat. The plot generally doesn’t have much to it. The quality of the story lies much more in the concept of the Cybermen and regeneration than it does in excellence of script.

The supporting cast is unremarkable. As I mentioned, Cutler is a hothead reactionist. We don’t really get much out of Barclay. He’s apparently a good guy, but there is no depth. And everyone else is bland, following orders. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is standard for the show. And that’s fine. But, it is not really even worth mentioning. In fact, I think that from now on I shall only mention the supporting cast if it is good….It seems that most other reviews I read of the stories point out the flatness of the guest cast. Does it really matter? They’re only around for one story arc. If a good story is being told, I only need my main characters to have depth.

In this story, we don’t get a lot of depth from the Doctor, mostly because he spends much of the second half of it unconscious. But it seemed that Hartnell was essentially phoning in his final appearance. And Polly I’m not sure has a lot of depth. She does stand up to the Cybermen, which something Dodo never would have done. But, when the general asks her why she wants to stay with Barclay she replies “I can make him coffee or something.” Good job, writers. No wonder there are no women at the South Pole base in 1986.

Ben, however, continues to impress me. He’s still a take-charge dive right into the battle kind of companion. He has a no nonsense air about him. And he is the hero of the story. With Polly and the Doctor taken hostage by the Cybermen, Ben is left to work on the bomb Cutler had intended to blow up Mondas. He recognizes that the Cybermen are afraid of the radiation and comes up with a plan to expose and kill them. The plan is successful and enough time is bought so that Mondas, which had been sucking the energy from Earth, was destroyed by sucking up too much energy. This all happened too quickly for my taste. Obviously, they are under time constraints for the show, but it seemed like everything went down in a couple of hours. They could have given the impression that a few days had passed at least. But instead I am to believe a planet from who knows where flew at ludicrous speed into Earth’s orbit, sends some scouts, sucks the energy, sends some warships, takes two people hostage, then sucks too much energy that it melts all in the span of a few hours? That’s just not plausible for me. At least indicate that a week or two pass or something.

Now, the Doctor’s regeneration. It is not exactly explained what happened. In the third episode, without warning, the Doctor simply falls over, as if from exhaustion. He lies motionless for the entire episode, I figured that was all there was to it, Hartnell would wake up as Troughton. But, no, he awoke for the final episode not particularly concerned, only to fall asleep again while being held hostage. At that point he knew there was a problem and needed to get back to the TARDIS. Once there, he fiddles with the controls while the lights flash and things go crazy all around him. He says that his body seems to have worn thin. I thought that was a brilliant description, it had been worn out and he needed a new one. Did he need to be in the TARDIS for a successful regeneration? What if he hadn’t been able to get back? What controls was he messing with? Were they helping him to regenerate?

He collapses at the controls. In the reconstruction, a closeup of Hartnell’s face fades into a closeup of Troughton’s face and that’s the end. It was all very intense, kind of in the same way as the rush to the TARDIS in the wake of the Time Destructor was intense in the Daleks’ Master Plan. Did that perhaps hasten the necessity of the regeneration? Did it have a greater impact on the Doctor than we (or he) knew?

Generally I was fascinated by the regeneration and I hope we get some more explanation in the next story.

The Tenth Planet was very good and I hope is a sign of what Season 4 will be now that Smugglers is behind us and we have a new, younger Doctor. The next story, entirely missing, is a Dalek story. Nothing like throwing the newbie right into the fire. Does the Doctor still have all of his memories? How many times has this happened to him? Had it happened to Susan before? So many questions that are probably never answered…..

William Hartnell: Funny, Grumpy, Mysterious

04
Mar
10

Story 023: The Ark

After two serials and approximately 4 months of gloominess, a bit of cheer returns to Dr. Who. And not just because this is the first of only 3 stories to survive the purge of the 1970s. The story moves along at a decent clip, Dodo isn’t too terrible, and there’s a nice healthy moral at the end.

For at least the second time, the TARDIS lands inside another spacecraft. And once again this has made me wonder if it could materialize randomly in space with nothing around it, and sometimes it just happens to get lucky and appear inside a spaceship. The travelers depart, thinking they are in a jungle, but really it’s just a zoo-type area of The Ark, a ship carrying what’s left of the human race to a new planet. The trip is expected to take 700 years and many generations of humans, some of whom have been shrunk and stored in trays for the trip. We are somewhere around the year 10 million, according to the Doctor’s calculations. This is apparently a time that is so far in the future even he has never visited it.

A Monoid

During this serial I noticed that the budget for the show must have skyrocketed for this season. The special effects are much improved throughout, and they were demonstrated well in this story. Granted, they are still pitifully primitive. But airlock doors opening and things flying through space definitely were not options in the first two seasons. Additionally, the number and complexity of sets has grown. While the jungle is the old standby, we had the control room, the kitchen, the holding cell, the laboratory, the landing craft, the house, and the forest. The costumes haven’t improved as zippers are still visible, but I definitely saw an improvement in overall production.

The Guardians

On the ship (which Dodo names The Ark, after Noah), the remaining humans think of themselves as Guardians. Not just of themselves, but of an innocent race of creatures called Monoids. The monoids are quite possibly the strangest and most visually frightening alien creatures we’ve met so far. They have a single eyeball where their mouth should be. And no mouth. In the first half of the story they are acting as servants as a way of saying thank you to the guardians for protecting them. They cannot speak and use hand signals.

The Travelers

Dodo, dressed in what I think is Vicki’s outfit from The Crusade, is very excited about their trip and skeptical that they’ve left Earth. She’s energetic and seems to get on well with Steven. She speaks in a lot of slang with a country accent (sorry I can’t be more specific with the kind of accent she has). Shortly after landing the Doctor tells her that if she’s going to be with them for any length of time she’s going to have to learn to speak properly. I kind of liked Dodo in her first story. She seems to be a decent mix of Susan and Vicki, although this has the potential to become rather grating. She definitely seems to be a better companion than Katarina, Sarah, or Anne would have been. And her curious attitude and smirky interactions with the Docor signal a shift in mood – one that I might add was quite welcome.

Dodo, apparently has a cold. She has brought it onto The Ark, where it had been eradicated. Having no defense against it, both Guardians and Monoids begin dropping like flies. After accusing the Travelers of bringing the illness on purpose, they allow the Doctor to develop a cure. He does so in short order (how does he do these things so quickly? He did the same thing with the water in The Sensorites.) and the travelers leave.

Concocting a Cure

Now, at this point the TARDIS does something strange. It sets them right back down in the same place, only 700 years in the future. The Doctor indicates that something might be broken, but I have a different theory. I’ll get to that shortly…

Upon arriving back on the Ark in 700 years, we learn that the Monoids have developed guns, talking devices, and have rebelled and taken over the Guardians. The Guardians are now the servants, the statue the guardians were building has been completed as a Monoid and the ship has arrived at Refusis, their destination. We are told that the Guardians, while cured of the cold, were weakened by it. Their will became weak. And the Monoids were therefore able to take over. For all of the Doctor’s attempts to preserve history (as we learned in The Massacre), it seems that he actually altered the future. This, of course, raises all sorts of questions of what other kinds of impact has he had that he or we just don’t know about? The Monoids, taking advantage of a series of event started by the Doctor have decided to go to Refusis on their own and blow the Guardians up with their ship.

Monoid Statue

I really liked this turn of events. The Monoids seemed to be such simple creatures. Rolling along, aiming to please. But they turned very sinister and controlling. And, as the Doctor points out, the Guardians were also to blame for enslaving them in the first place. It was a nice do-unto-others moral. The second moral comes at the end of the story: you have to be able to work and live together. After destroying the bomb (hidden in the statue’s head), the Guardians and Monoids are invited to live on Refusis along with the invisible but very powerful Refusians. But only if they can get along. While I liked it, it was all very after-school special in nature. Which is fine, considering that’s what the show was.

While Dodo is enjoyable, the rest of the supporting cast is, as usual, flat. The Monoids as a race were interesting, but the fact that they had names rather than numbers says it all for their individuality. The Doctor is great, engaging in some good-natured ribbing of the Guardians and the Monoids. But he seems to take the Refusians, clearly a superior race, very seriously. We see him in the Refusis house sitting at the table having a conversation with the Refusian like they had just finished dinner and were discussing politics It was a very man-to-man kind of conversation. I thought this depiction of the Doctor’s respect for the race was interesting. I don’t think we’ve seen this in any other story, with maybe the exception of the walruses in Galaxy 4.

Lastly, my TARIS theory. I don’t think the TARDIS was broken. I think perhaps the TARDIS has a bit of sentient-ness to it. And it took this opportunity to demonstrate to the Doctor that no matter how hard he tries, he does affect the course of events. As we learned at the end of The Massacre, the Doctor believes he is always making the right decision. What the TARDIS has done, by sending them back to see the consequences of their visit, is demonstrate that there are no right or wrong decisions – they all have an impact. Making ethics the more appropriate basis for decision making rather than preservation.

Overall, this was another good story. The mood lightened successfully and gave us (and the Doctor) something else to think about. Good stuff.

25
Feb
10

Story 021: The Daleks’ Master Plan

I finally made it through the epic twelve-part Master Plan. It started strong, went pretty bad, and then finished brilliantly. There’s a lot going on in this story and I think it’s best to talk about it in three parts: The first half of the the story, written by Terry Nation, the Christmas episode (also by Terry Nation), and the second half of the story, written by Dennis Spooner. Warning: This entry is a long one!

Terry Nation

The Terry Nation half of the story is brilliant. I was having the feeling that the story was to be his masterpiece, but that thought was pretty quickly derailed once Spooner took over. First of all, Nation seems to have gotten over whatever was making him write like a moron in The Chase. Picking up where Mission to the Unknown (Dalek Cutaway) left off, the travelers arrive on the Dalek-occupied planet Kembel where rescuers from Earth have gone in search of Kory, our hero from the Dalek Cutaway. The Doctor goes in search of medicine for Steven, still in trouble after being wounded in the hasty departure from Troy. Katarina, still positive that they are in the after-life and in search of the great beyond, is left to care for him. At this point we are exposed to one of the primary characteristics of this story: death. First, an injured Rescuer is killed by a Dalek. He would be the first of many deaths, including a couple of brilliantly done main-character deaths.

The Alien Delegation

Terry Nation, in his last Doctor Who story, put together a great tale. Chen, guardian of the solar system, has Taranium, an element the Daleks need to complete their time destructor, some apparent secret weapon that will allow them to take over the universe. Chen turns out to be a great villain. He is power hungry and, as the story goes on, becomes more and more insane. Along with Chen are other galactic representatives. They include a man that appears to be made of stone, like the Thing, a Mummy, a man in 1950s comic-book space suit, a man with Leaches on his face, one with bumps all over his body, and another one that looks a little like a robot. Apparently this is the greatest brain trust in the universe, but in reality they are all dupes to the Daleks.

The Daleks, in the Terry Nation half, are ruthless. Without hesitation they exterminate anyone that disagrees with them or threatens to get in the way. In this story we meet Dalek Supreme, the Dark Dalek (his only distinguishing feature is his dark color). Dalek Supreme is intense and it seems that even the Daleks fear him. As well they should, considering he has a couple of his own race whacked for failing on a mission.

The Doctor infiltrates the galactic conference and learns of Chen’s delivery of the Taranium (is this perhaps Dalekanium, from the Dalek Invasion of Earth?). He steals the Taranium and off the travelers go, accompanied by Brett, another Earth rescuer. The plan is to go to Earth to warn them of the Dalek Invasion. Unfortunately Chen follows them. On the way to Earth, however, the travelers stop on a prison planet occupied by crazed, violent criminals. The criminals attempt to board their ship, but the Doctor knocks them out, separating himself from the Daleks by saying he does not wish to kill anyone. One of the prisoners had managed to board the ship and quickly takes Katarina hostage.

Brett, the Gang, and TaraniumNow, Katarina. If I had been watching Star Trek (or Lost) she would have been wearing a red shirt and I would have known she was doomed. As I said, she was worthless. She thought they were in the afterlife and the Doctor was a god. She was always prattling on about the perfect place or nirvana or whatever. I think she was still concerned about it when she was taken hostage in the ship’s airlock. Mercifully, she decides to sacrifice herself and opens the airlock door, sucked out into space. It was the first death of a companion, and it was a good one. Plenty of tension, and I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t expecting it. The seconds leading up to the event have existing film, but unfortunately, the film of the actual death has been destroyed. I would have liked to have seen how they did it. The Doctor, after her death, wishes Katarina well. I don’t know why. I was happy to see her go.

Katarina, about to be sucked into space

Chen arrives on Earth before our travelers and brands them as traitors. As a result, Brett is forced to kill his friend and Sara, under Chen’s orders kills Brett. The deaths really mount in the Terry Nation portion of the story. It sets a tense and somber mood that is pretty unique compared to previous stories. At no point has there been this level of violence. As Season 3 has progressed, the show has matured. At this point in the story I was really enjoying it. I was intrigued, I found it exciting. While the secondary characters like Chen and Brett were a little flat, as is typical, the Daleks were at their evil best and I enjoyed both Steven and the Doctor. Even Chen, later in the story, develops some depth. Unfortunately at this point in the story, however, the plot begins to devolve a little bit. This is also the point at which Dennis Spooner took over the writing.

Christmas Episode

The Christmas episode, written by Terry Nation actually follows Spooner’s first episode in the story. The travelers have begun a sequence in which they are running from a so-far unknown pursuer, presumably the Daleks. They land outside of police station in England and on a silent movie set in Hollywood. Hilarity ensues. At the police station one is tempted to think of the scenes in A Hard Day’s Night in which Ringo is arrested and the rest of the Beatles try to get him to the show on time. On the movie set the Doctor has an amusing conversation with a young Bing Crosby, encouraging him to go into music rather than comedy. Charlie Chaplin also makes an appearance. Overall the episode is entertaining The reproduction shows some silent-movie-style title cards. At the end the Doctor (possibly in an ad-lib) wishes all those at home a Happy Christmas. While VERY similar to the absurdity of The Chase, the Christmas Episode was fine on its own, although it doesn’t really fit into the story itself. I give it a thumbs-up as a special episode that aired on Christmas Day, 1965.

Dennis Spooner

The Doctor as Indiana Jones in Ancient Egypt

Spooner takes over for Nation after Sara shoots Brett. And almost immediately the quality of the story drops. At first it’s not too bad. Sara and the Doctor are teleported to another planet by a device that was still in the testing phase. Interestingly, teleportation has not been perfected by the year 4000 when this story takes place. In fact, someone (I forget who) says that it is impossible. Beyond this, however, the episode begins a 4-episode string (including Christmas) of chasing down the travelers. Including what was likely originally intended to be its own story — two episodes in ancient Egypt. These episodes stink. Plain and simple. I felt that it was a rehash of an already poorly conceived concept. What I will mention, though, is the return of the Monk. he has fixed his TARDIS and is back for revenge against the Doctor. Chen attempts to use him to retrieve the taranium. These scenes, infused with humor, are good. But why are they in this serious story? Spooner was unable to maintain the mood that Nation established in the first half of the story and it was really disappointing. The Doctor, disabling the Monk’s TARDIS again, steals the device that allows him to control the TARDIS, navigating it back to Kembel in hopes of stopping the Daleks, once again in possession of the taranium. The arrival back at Kembel got the story back on track.

Chen - On the Road to Insanity

This is the point at which Chen becomes interesting. His desire for power, fully understood by the Daleks, becomes his undoing. He feels that he will be sole ruler of the universe, convinced that the Daleks cannot continue without him. He has no support from the rest of the council (which has been decimated by the murderous Daleks). Yet he gleefully exclaims that he is charge and will rule the universe. While I could not see his face, his voice was delightfully deranged. And over the last two episodes, which were brilliant, he gets crazier and crazier, culminating in the Dalek Supreme’s announcement that their alliance was over. Chen, proclaiming that he is immortal, becomes the latest victim of the truly evil Daleks. In these last episodes, Chen is awesome. So insane, so deranged, so obsessed with his own delusions.

The end of the story, I felt, matched if not exceeded what Nation had initially set up. The Doctor captures and activates the time destructor, the Daleks’ secret weapon. As he and Sara race to the safety of the TARDIS, the time destructor ages them and the planet around them. It has such an effect on Sara that she falls down, dead, turns to a skeleton, and then to dust. The Doctor, falls down but experiences no further effects. The planet ages and dies, the jungle turning to desert. And, lastly, the time has an impact on the Daleks’ casings, rusting them or something, and the mutated creatures within die. The Doctor and Steven examine a dead Dalek and express regret for the violence and the death, mentioning their friends Katarina, Brett, and Sara.

The end of the story was great. The scramble to get back to the TARDIS before the Time destructor could kill them was intense and, as I’ve mentioned, the insanity of Chen. The Daleks never lost their edge in the story and were a truly menacing group of villains. With exception of the downturn throughout the middle, I enjoyed this story a lot. The show is continuing to mature and Season 3, to this point, has been the best so far. If the more serious stories were to emulate what this one did, I think the show would be at its best. The elements of danger and suspense were unlike anything so far. This story really exemplifies what I’ve come to expect from Hartnell’s Doctor, especially considering the more comedic episodes. What I’m left wondering, though, is why the Time Destructor essentially had no effect on the Doctor? And, with Sara gone, how will they fill the open companion character slot? Last time they were left like this we had a quick two-episode story to introduce Vicki. The next story is The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve, four episodes. And while I don’t expect it to match the seriousness of this one, I’m hoping it’s not too much of a let down.

29
Jan
10

Story 019: Mission to the Unknown (Dalek Cutaway)

Well that was interesting. A single episode story and zero appearances by the travelers. Or, at least, not OUR travelers. It wasn’t bad, I suppose. In fact it was kind of good. Of course, this story is entirely missing and therefore received the Loose Cannon treatment. What I like best about these reconstructions are the introductions from the actors. First, there was the awkward introduction by the character Ian Chesterton — that wasn’t so good. But I did enjoy the intro by Peter Purves for Galaxy 4 and now this one from Edward de Souza, who played Marc Cory the main character.

One thing he says in the introduction is that this episode was designed to be a teaser for the Dalek’s Master Plan, set to air a month later. Without that information I would have been a bit confused (until I read up on the story after viewing, of course). It was probably very disappointing for Who fans when it originally aired, not including any of the cast, not connecting to any other serial that they could tell. Quite the anomaly. But, now, the story itself.

We start with a man, whom we actually saw at the end of Galaxy 4 when Vicki wondered what was happening down on a planet they were passing, crawling through the jungle chanting that he must kill…kill…kill. He approaches his crew mates from their crashed spaceship and luckily Cory spots him and shoots him first. Turns out he had been stabbed by a Varga plant, a poisonous plant from the planet Skaro. And he knows this because he has a license to kill and has been sent to hunt the Daleks. This is a great scene, when we get a close-up on his actual license to kill. That’s right — a photo ID card. Not the metaphorical license to kill — the real thing. In case he gets stopped by some intergalactic police officer. I don’t think I have ever actually seen this metaphor in its literal form. I was quite amused. I tried to find a picture, but there is none. You’ll just have to watch the episode to see what it looks like so you can forge your own license. HA!

At any rate, this story happens 1000 years after the Dalek Invasion of Earth, putting it in the 32nd century. And, now, the Daleks want to invade Earth again. This time they aren’t messing around, though. They’ve got a whole interplanetary alliance going on. They’ve got one that looks like he’s made of stone, a couple with helmets, and one that appears to be wearing a leftover Sensorite costume. They’re going to take over Earth, but first they need to exterminate the pesky Earthlings that have landed in their evil plan convention center. They eventually make short work of it, turning Cory into a photographic negative. But, this is not before Cory is able to make a tape recording with all of the important information to send to Earth. As the episode ends, we see the tape lying on the ground, presumably forgotten. De Souza’s closing remarks, though, tell us that the Doctor will find the tape in the first episode of the Dalek’s Master Plan.

Overall, the story is OK. I wasn’t excited by it, but I wasn’t bored, either. I think that the existence of this episode is another testament to the creativity of the Dr. Who team. To put a seemingly entirely unconnected episode smack between two serials and then revisit it later is a neat (and effective) move. I am now looking forward to the epic master plan, if for no other reason than to see the recovery of the tape and find out more about the Evil Alliance. Whether it was effective or well-received at the time, I cannot say. But it was a good attempt and not a bad story.




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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