Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Ice Warriors (1967)

theicewarriorsIn a scientific research station at a time when the Earth is experiencing another Ice Age, a team of scientists scramble to stop the encroachment of glaciers over Europe with a device called the ionizer.  The station’s manager Clent thinks Europe can be kept inhabitable, but scientist Jan Garrett and the rest believe that soon they’ll have to not only abandon the mission, but the station.  Outside a member of the team is conducting research on a glacier and discovers something frozen in the ice.  He guesses that it’s a warrior from a forgotten prehistoric civilization and another scientist dubs him “the ice warrior.”  Meanwhile the TARDIS arrives and instantly gets stuck in a snowstorm.  After getting out, the TARDIS crew sees two militantly Luddite scavengers, Storr and Penley, the latter of whom used to be a scientist working at the very same station, take food and supplies from the station. After jaunting inside the base, the Doctor impresses Clent with his useful advice about the ionizer and is asked to help make the ionizer fully functional after the Doctor passes a scientific pop quiz.

An avalanche kills a member of the research team outside and causes Storr to break his arm.  Nonetheless, the frozen body is bought in and left to melt.   The Doctor examines the body and rushes out to warn Clent that the frozen body’s supposed stone age helmet is actually an advanced space helmet.  While the Doctor is gone, the Ice Warrior comes alive, attacks Jamie, and abducts Victoria.  Holding her captive in a storage closet, Victoria learns the reptilian Ice Warrior crash landed on Earth with a crew from Mars, before the Ice Warrior interrogates her and decides to try to recover and resurrect his own crew.  The Doctor and Jamie are dismayed that Clent and Jan rely on diagnostics generated from computers, even when dealing with an emergency situation like the revival of the Ice Warrior. Also the team at the station decides to send Jamie and one of the scientists to save Victoria and learn the nature of the Ice Warriors’ spacecraft’s engine, which if hit by the ionizer could trigger a nuclear chain reaction.

The Ice Warrior forces Victoria to help him try to revive his crew with the station’s technology and knocks Clent unconscious when he tries to stop him.  The Doctor runs into Penley getting medicine from the best for Storr and unsuccessfully tries to convince him to stay and help with the ionizer, and later he learns from Clent that Penley did not just defect but had suffered a breakdown.  In the meantime, the Ice Warrior succeeds in finding and resurrecting his comrades.  Jan attempts to force Penley to return to the base to help, but is overpowered by Storr. However, Penley gives her a clue to pursue in his notes. With what Jan mines from Penley’s calculations, the Doctor is able to get the ionizer working. although the Ice Warriors’ engine is still a possible threat. Out on the glacier, the Ice Warriors kill the scientist and wound Jamie, who is rescued by Penley.

Finding their ship buried in a cave deep in the glacier, the Ice Warriors work to repair it.  While they debate over whether or not to kill or further interrogate Victoria, she escapes, but while trying to elude a pursuing Ice Warrior she gets caught in an avalanche. Meanwhile the Ice Warriors plot to invade the station and loot it for fuel, while also assuming that the ionizer is a weapon to be used to destroy them. Victoria is “saved” by Storr, who set out to try to negotiate with the Ice Warriors and drags Victoria with him. Victoria is recaptured and Storr is murdered for his trouble. Armed only with a gas he deduces would be toxic to the Ice Warriors yet harmless to humans, the Doctor heads over to the Ice Warrior ship to get information on their engine. The Doctor tries to reason with the Ice Warriors, but they refuse to cooperate, believing that even if the ionizer doesn’t cause their ship to explode the melting glacier would flood their engines, trapping them on Earth, and they take away the Doctor’s communicator, leaving Clent and Jan without enough data to make sure it’s safe to use the ionizer. Penley and a recovering Jamie return to the base, and Penley pushes Clent to use the ionizer even without the data to no avail. The anxiety over whether or not to use the ionizer is ended by an Ice Warrior invasion. Back on the ship, the Doctor knocks out the one Ice Warrior left behind with the toxic gas and adjusts the ship’s sonic canon to be (somewhat) harmless to humans before firing it on the station, which, along with Penley boosting the station’s heat, forces the Ice Warriors to retreat. The Doctor and Victoria leave the ship for the base, but not before sabotaging the canon. Penley takes control of the ionizer and fires it at the glacier, which destroys the Ice Warriors’ ship without causing a nuclear explosion. The crisis solved, the Doctor, Victoria, and Jamie slip away as green growths appear in the melting snow.

Our Future History

There’s only one vague hint about exactly when this story takes place, but based on just that humanity is due for a (man-made) Ice Age by some point in the fifth or sixth millennium.  The global warming deniers will (very, very eventually) be right!

Choice Quotes

“Regulations do not apply to me.” -The Doctor

Continuity Notes

With this episode we get another iconic enemy alien species, the Ice Warriors, who also made an appearance in the 2005 series – and it’s not until then we see them without their helmets.

Comments

Besides the first appearance of the Ice Warriors, this serial is probably best known for one of the most glaring science errors in the show’s history, which is really saying something for the franchise that still defines “soft sci-fi.” The Second Ice Age is – explicitly and at length – said by the Doctor and Clent to be caused by “a severe drop in the carbon dioxide level in the Earth’s lower atmosphere” which was caused when humanity completely replaced agricultural production with technologically generated artificial food, which (for some reason?) meant that “the amount of growing plants on this planet were reduced to an absolute minimum,” to which the Doctor notes, “No plants, no carbon dioxide.”  Caught that?   Not to brag, but even a dunce like me  who hadn’t taken a science course since my senior year of high school noted the tiny flaw that plants actually use up carbon dioxide, meaning in this scenario the planet should actually be warmer.

And, anyway, who thought it would be a good idea to wipe out most plants?  I get that the implication that humanity just gave up growing crops, but did that necessitate just shrugging and declaring, “Screw the rainforests!” and going to town on most of the planet’s wilderness?

I know that classic “Doctor Who” ditched its educational mission almost toward the beginning and tended to be written and produced on the fly, especially by modern standards, but you’d think someone along the line would have caught messing up one of the first scientific facts children are taught in school. Maybe given how much the plot hinges on the wonky science it wasn’t worth the headaches from a deep rewrite, but I can’t help but feel bad for the elementary school audience who got terribly confused when the brilliant Doctor they loved contradicted their textbook or their science teacher.

Sorry, I probably shouldn’t have harped on that but there isn’t too much else to say. It’s an average “Second Doctor in an isolated base attacked by monsters” story. The plot tries to build up to a moral about not becoming dependent on technology while not ignoring the benefits of science, but it gets muddled when the climax comes down to little more than blind luck. It’s still a fun story that doesn’t rely quite so much on padding (with the big exception of poor Victoria getting captured twice) as other serials from the show’s early eras, with a couple of great moments like the Doctor making his calculations for the ionizer by crawling around and rummaging through his own discarded, crumpled-up notes and scribbling numbers on the floor. Plus the serpentine design of the Ice Warriors is simply classic. Still, besides its contribution to continuity by introducing the Ice Warriors, it’s not essential viewing for those making a tour of the Second Doctor era.

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Abominable Snowmen (1967)

abominablesnowmenThe TARDIS arrives in Tibet in the 1930s and for once the Doctor leaves his companions behind after they fulfill his request to find an object stored away somewhere in the TARDIS, the Ghanta Bell.  Outside the Doctor heads into a valley containing the Detsen Monastery.  He finds an abandoned camp, a destroyed rifle, and a human corpse.   Meanwhile Victoria convinces Jamie to take a walk outside, where they discover a massive footprint.  They investigate, finding a nearby cave that Jamie thinks is manmade. While they look inside the cave, they are trapped by a Yeti.  At the monastery, the Doctor hopes for a warm welcome, but instead an injured British man, the anthropologist Prof. Edward Travers, rushes up to him and tries to convince the monks that the Doctor is the man who attacked him and murdered his companion.  The monks agree to at least detain the Doctor until his innocence or guilt can be discovered.  In his cell, the Doctor is confronted by Prof. Travers, who accuses him of being a journalist who followed him to Tibet to beat him to his planned discovery, finding definitive proof that the Yeti exist deep in the Himalayas.  The Doctor tries to convince Prof. Travers that a Yeti could have attacked him, but he refuses to believe it, claiming that the Yeti are timid animals afraid of mankind.  One of the monks, Khrisong, agrees, but hypothesizes that the Doctor is somehow causing the Yeti to turn violent, since there had been other recent attacks on locals.

Jamie manages to knock some boulders on top of the Yeti.  They find that the cave also contains a pile of faintly glowing metallic spheres. Jamie grabs a sphere and he and Victoria leave the cave, just as the Yeti recovers and begins to free itself from the rubble. Back at the monastery, the Doctor interrogates one of his captors, finding out that the monastery now feels threatened by the Yeti – and that the monks still talk about the disappearance of their sacred relic, the Ghanta Bell, in 1630, which had been entrusted to a foreigner during a time of crisis for the monastery.  The Doctor hands the monk the Bell and instructs him to give it to the abbot even as Khrisong has the Doctor dragged away. Khrisong plans to tie the Doctor to the monastery’s front gate and use him as bait, to see if the Yeti are under his control and will rescue him or just try to kill him, in which case the monastery’s guards would ideally save him.  Meanwhile the monk presents the monastery’s abbot Songsten and his mysterious master, Padmasambhava, with the Ghanta Bell, leading Padmasambhava to immediately realize that the Doctor has returned after several centuries. He orders that the Doctor be released and treated like a guest, but once the monk who bought the Bell leaves a voice not like Padmasambhava’s warns Songsten that the Doctor “may seek to hinder the great plan.” Elsewhere Victoria and Jamie stumble across Prof. Travers while he’s searching for a Yeti. At first he’s hostile, but Jamie and Victoria’s sincere ignorance of the Yeti convince him that he was wrong about the Doctor, especially once Jamie agrees to lead Prof. Travers to the Yeti’s cave in exchange for taking them to the monastery. Arriving at the monastery’s front gate, Prof. Travers tries to convince Khrisong that he was wrong and to release the Doctor, but it isn’t until Khrisong hears about the return of the Ghanta Bell and Padmasambhava’s command that he’s released.  

When the Yeti attack the monastery, the Doctor convinces Khrisong to capture one of them for the Doctor to examine.  Looking at the inert Yeti, the Doctor discovers that it’s a robot. Realizing that the metal spheres Jamie stumbled across are the robot Yeti’s “brains”, the Doctor wants to look for the incapacitated robot’s sphere outside, but Khrisong refuses to let any of “the strangers” out, still suspecting one of them is secretly behind everything.  They look for the sphere Jamie recovered, unaware that it’s moving around the monastery of its own volition. The Doctor guesses that Prof. Travers took the sphere and might be behind the attacks, and manages to convince Khrisong to look outside on their behalf. Khrisong finds the sphere, but the Yeti ambush him and take it. Later Victoria, suspicious of the fact that no one but the abbot has ever been allowed to speak with or even see Padmasambhava, sneaks into the monastery’s inner sanctum, but Padmasambhava’s voice frightens her away, just as the “missing” sphere finds its way back into the Yeti.  Even though Victoria sees the Yeti come alive and warns Khrisong, the Yeti still manages to force its way out. Prof. Travers, still on his search, spies the escaped Yeti meet up with the other Yeti robots and Songsten himself. The Doctor and Jamie try to get back to the TARDIS to get something that will help, but find Yeti standing guard around it. Back in the monastery, Padmasambhava communicates with something he calls the “Great Intelligence,” pleading with it to let him rest once the experiment is done. At the same time, in the cave, Prof. Travers is horrified when he sees a pyramid resting on top of the spheres begin to generate a solid shape. 

The Doctor is able to incapacitate the Yeti guarding the TARDIS with just a rock, noting that the Yeti were made to frighten not fight people, and removes the sphere. Retrieving a tracking device from the TARDIS, he places it in the Yeti along with the sphere. Songsten secretly returns to the monastery, where Padmasambhava praises him for helping the Great Intelligence begin to obtain material form and orders that the monks abandon the monastery so that the Great Intelligence can “expand.” Jamie and the Doctor use the device to track the signal commanding the Yeti back to the monastery, where a fierce debate has erupted between Khrisong, who wants to stay and fight with the Doctor’s help, and Songsten, who insists on following orders to abandon the monastery. Songsten has the Doctor and Jamie taken to their chambers with a Prof. Travers, who never recovered from his encounter with the pyramid, while Victoria returns to see Padmasambhava. This time she sees him, an extremely aged and barely mobile man, who shows her some miniature Yeti models that he has been manipulating over a board resembling the monastery, causing the Yeti robots to attack the monastery in order to “convince” Khrisong of the error of his ways. Padmasambhava brainwashes Victoria into telling the monks with his voice to take the Ghanta Bell, leave with the strangers, and build a new monastery elsewhere. Realizing what had happened to Victoria, especially when she repeats the same message about how the Doctor needs to leave Tibet immediately, the Doctor goes to see Padmasambhava, whom he recognizes from his last visit to the monastery 300 years ago. A now weakened Padmasambhava realizes that the Great Intelligence will expand indefinitely, endangering the world, and warns the Doctor about him, but he “dies” before he can give the Doctor any details. 

As the monks prepare to migrate away, Khrisong returns to the monastery one more time to retrieve Songsten. He finds him communing with “Padmasambhava,” who has now been completely taken over by the Great Intelligence. The Intelligence forces Songsten to kill Khrisong, and the act of murder is enough to shock Padmasambhava back into consciousness, but only for a few seconds. Songsten is ordered by an again unshaken Intelligence to leave with the monks. When the Doctor and the others show up, Songsten attacks but is subdued. Most of the monks stay, but Prof. Evans convinces one monk to join him in trying to destroy the pyramid in the cave. The Doctor speaks with Songsten, who tells him that Padmasambhava built the cave and the robot Yeti to protect it over the centuries under the Intelligence’s guidance. Originally the Intelligence promised it only wanted to occupy the cave, but now it’s demanding the entire mountain to grow in. Prof. Evans finds that the glowing light has engulfed part of the mountain and is blocking the way into the cave. While the monks concentrate their prayers and meditation in order to protect their minds from the Intelligence, the Doctor engages in a telepathic tug-of-war with the force. While it’s distracted, the Doctor orders Jamie and Victoria to destroy the devices controlling the Yeti. The Intelligence is undaunted, but the Doctor tells Jamie to look for and destroy a pyramid like the one Prof. Travers discovered. When Jamie does so, the Intelligence dissipates. Padmasambhava dies, for real this time, thanking the Doctor with his last breath. Prof. Travers escorts the Doctor and the companions back to the TARDIS, where Victoria spots a real Yeti much to Prof. Travers’s delight.

Choice Quotes

Jamie:  Have you thought up some clever plan, Doctor?
The Doctor:  Yes, I really might have.
Jamie:  What are you going to do?
The Doctor:  Bang a rock at it.

Continuity Notes

Early in the episode, while looking for the Ghanta Bell, he finds a jester’s cap-like object with bells and is delighted to find it, saying that he hadn’t seen it in “many years.”  A childhood toy of Susan’s, perhaps?

The Doctor’s telepathy becomes a major plot point for the first time in a while.

So the intangible elephant in the room is that this is the first (chronological, but not canonical!) appearance of the Great Intelligence, a villain that has rather unexpectedly become a big deal again recently in the 2005 series.  Basically, the Christmas special “The Snowmen” establishes that the Great Intelligence had previously encountered the Doctor’s eleventh incarnation in 1892.  Because this story makes it clear that the Great Intelligence had been manipulating humans since about at least the 1600s, it’s assumed that either this or the Great Intelligence’s scheme in “The Snowmen” was “Plan B,” although we never do find out much about the Great Intelligence’s motives, especially why it had a penchant for winter-themed plots.  (A friend of mine does have a theory that the Great Intelligence the Doctor meets in “The Snowmen” is actually what’s left of the Intelligence after its “death” in “The Name of the Doctor”, but we’re really getting into some real timey-wimey stuff here…).

You nerds might also know the Great Intelligence by another name: Yog-Sothoth.  The quasi-, sort-of, kind-of canonical “Doctor Who” books established that the Old Ones do exist in the “Doctor Who” universe and the Great Intelligence is Yog-Sothoth. At least according to the books, this doesn’t even count as the first time the Doctor matched wits with an Old One. That would be The Web Planet where the Animus was (at least according to the books) an Old One. Nothing in the Great Intelligence’s appearances really contradict that theory, so, hey, have at it!  What is certain is that, while the Great Intelligence wasn’t the Doctor’s first recurring enemy that wasn’t an entire alien race (that would be the so-called Meddling Monk, even if his second appearance was forgettable in more ways than one), he certainly was the biggest, appearing in one more serial just a year later, “The Web of Fear”, and becoming in 1995 the antagonist of a straight-to-video “Doctor Who” movie starring a bunch of former companions and associates of the Doctor without the Doctor himself, the obscure “Downtime.”

Comments

“The Abominable Snowmen” was a really successful episode in its day, so it became the first “Doctor Who” serial that actually got a direct sequel, “The Web of Fear.” Sadly like with so many of the show’s early hits, little survives, in this case one out of six episodes. But it’s still easy enough to get a sense why this one was a hit, even though the titular Yeti are less intimidating than the Coca-Cola polar bears. It’s that, even though on the surface the plot is silly even by old-school “Doctor Who” standards, it actually gives its setting a kind of attention that we really haven’t seen since the early First Doctor era.

Something else that was unexpected is how the character of Khrisong is handled.  The thuggish jerk who through ignorance or malice ends up helping the story’s real antagonist is a trope that the classic series had by this point drawn on frequently.  Here, though, Khrisong actually feels like more than just a designated obstacle.  Sometimes he helps the protagonists, sometimes he acts against them; not because he acts inconsistently but because he has his own selfless agenda, the preservation of Detsen Monastery and the well-being of its inhabitants, that compels him to act in ways that might be unwittingly harmful yet are perfectly logical based on the knowledge he has. Something similar might be said about Prof. Travers. Sure, from the viewer’s perspective he’s a paranoid ass, but why shouldn’t the sole survivor of a vicious, unprovoked attack, who saw a companion and possibly a friend be brutally murdered, believe the worst about any stranger who shows up unexpected to an isolated locale? I’m sure bigger Who fans than I can debate the point, but this might be the first time the show actually considered the ramifications of the Doctor and his companions just popping in and getting themselves in the middle of a brewing crisis and expecting people to trust them.

And, of course, I should mention that the Great Intelligence is a fantastic villain too, easily the most original the show has had in a while.  There’s a genuine sense of mystery and dread about him, and the feeling that this time the Doctor really did take on more than he could handle. The connection to the Cthulhu Mythos isn’t quite as contrived as people might immediately assume.

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967)

tombofthecybermenA group of archaeologists from Earth are trying to find an entrance into a Cybermen city on the planet Telos.  The Doctor, Victoria, and Jamie show up just after one member of the expedition is electrocuted to death while trying to open a gate. Klieg, who is funding the archaeologists, guesses that the Doctor is leading a rival expedition, which the Doctor doesn’t really deny. Klieg and his colleague Kaftan are apparently eager to keep the credit for themselves, since the Cybermen were wiped out five hundred years ago after a war with the human race and few traces are left.  Still, Professor Parry, the leader of the expedition, convinces the team to accept the Doctor’s help.  Afterward the Doctor leads everyone safely inside and discovers that the city has sections that have to be opened by solving logic puzzles.  Since apparently the horror genre doesn’t exist in the distant future, the archaeologists decide to split up. Victoria and Kaftan discover the device the Cybermen used to rejuvenate themselves.  Jamie sees an inert insect-like robot, the Cybermat, on the floor.

Elsewhere, the Doctor warns Klieg not to reactive the city’s main power source – but can’t help but assist Klieg in solving the binary sequence needed to do so.  Parry and Klieg find that, even with the power restored, one door in the control room remains sealed. Parry hypothesizes that behind it is the rumored “tomb of the Cybermen” where their records are kept. Victoria gets trapped in the rejuvenation device and Kaftan sadistically experiments with the control panel while Victoria is still inside, until the Doctor stops her and figures out how to free Victoria.  The archaeologist accompanying Jamie is accidentally killed when they trigger a weapon testing room.  After this last death, Parry decides to leave, despite the objections of Klieg, but they learn that their ship has been sabotaged and can only be repaired in 72 hours. Meanwhile the archaeologists complete the sequence that opens the last door, which leads to a sub-zero chamber containing the Cybermen’s tomb.  Kaftan stays behind and the Doctor, suspecting that she and her burly servant Toberman had something to do with the ship’s sabotage, asks Victoria to watch her. Unfortunately, Kaftan drugs Victoria’s coffee and, once she’s unconscious, seals the door. Pretending that he’s trying to open the door, Klieg enters a sequence at a control panel that begins to revive the Cybermen.  An archaeologist tries to reverse the process, but Klieg shoots him to death and reactivates the panel. Klieg explains to Parry that he represents the Brotherhood of Logicians, a society of intellectuals who hope to obtain the technological secrets of the Cybermen in exchange for resurrecting them.  Victoria awakens and tries to open the door.  However, Kaftan takes her hostage with a gun. When the Cybermat attacks and knocks out Kaftan, Victoria grabs her gun and destroys the Cybermat.

The revived Cybermen grimly walk past the archaeologists and the Doctor to open a chamber containing their leader, the Cyber Controller.  Klieg talks to the Cyber Controller and tries to negotiate a deal, who only replies, “You belong to us. You shall be like us.”  The Cyber Controller reveals that the city was designed to attract and only be accessible to logical minds, the sort the Cybermen would want to “recruit” to restore their species. The Cyber Controller recognizes the Doctor as the one “responsible” for the destruction of Mondas, but still admires his intelligence.  However, the Controller “nominates” Klieg to be converted and made into their new leader, promising, “You have fear.  We will eliminate fear from your brain.” The Controller announces that the rest will be frozen in the tomb for future use. Despite the efforts of a revived Kaftan, Victoria and the ship’s pilot open the hatch. The pilot uses a smoke bomb to help the archaeologists, the Doctor, and Jamie escape from the tomb, although Toberman is ultimately captured. Trapped in the tomb, the Cybermen send Cybermats into the upper chambers, while the others decide to imprison Klieg and Kaftan in an isolated chamber.

The Doctor comforts Victoria, who is still missing her father, but soon after the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria are interrupted by the Cybermats.  The Doctor destroys them by electrifying the floor, but a bigger threat is just around the corner:  Klieg and Kaftan armed with Cybermen weaponry that they discovered.  Klieg hopes to use the weapons to force the Cyber Controller into compliance and locks the Doctor and the others outside the main control room after taking Victoria prisoner.  However, the Cyber Controller and a partially converted Toberman turn the tables, attacking Klieg and killing Kaftan. Yet the death of Kaftan at the hands of the Cyber Controller shakes Toberman from his brainwashing, and he attacks and seemingly destroys the Controller. The Doctor enlists Toberman into helping him freeze the tomb again, but Klieg appears. In a scuffle between the Cybermen and the Doctor, Jamie, and Toberman, Klieg is killed by a Cyberman and the Doctor and Toberman succeed in putting the Cybermen back into deep freeze.  The Doctor scrambles the logic puzzle that opened the entrance to the tomb and electrifies all the entrances. When the Controller appears to have lived and tries to escape the city, Toberman willingly electrocutes himself to death to seal the main gate.  As the Doctor, Victoria, and Jamie leave for the TARDIS, a sole Cybermat crawls across the surface of Telos.

Choice Quotes

The Doctor:  The power cable generated an electrical field and confused their tiny metal minds!  You might almost say that they had a complete metal breakdown.
Jamie:  *groan*
The Doctor:  I’m so sorry, Jamie.

The Doctor: No, Jamie. Don’t you see? Don’t you see what this is going to mean to all the people who come to serve Klieg  the All-Powerful? Why, no country, no person, would dare to have a single thought that was not your own! Eric Klieg’s own conception of the…of the way of life!
Klieg: Brilliant! Yes! Yes, you’re right! Master of the world!
The Doctor: Well, now I know you’re mad. I just wanted to make sure.

Continuity Notes

After the footage of this serial was rediscovered in 1991, this is now the first Second Doctor serial that survives in its complete form.

The Doctor tells Victoria he invented the TARDIS.  Of course, I’m sure this is just because the writers hadn’t thought that far ahead, but you could just say he’s lying to impress Victoria.

The Doctor tells his age for the first time after lots of vague hints that he’s very old indeed:  “Well, if we counted in Earth terms, I suppose I must be 400…yes, 450 years old.”

One of the archaeologists identifies Telos as the Cybermen’s “home,” instead of Mondas.   However, the much later serial, Attack of the Cybermen, which is a sequel of sorts to this serial, explains that Telos was just the Cybermen’s last major base of operations in their war against Earth.  Also Attack of the Cybermen makes it clear that Telos is the name of the planet, not just the city.

While on the subject of Cybermen, we get to see the first Cybermats and the first Cyber Controller.

Comments

Right after the not so permanent departure of the Daleks in Evil of the Dalekswe get an episode designed to have the Cybermen take the Daleks’ place as the Doctor’s number one threat.  That said, first I should address the politically incorrect elephant in the room:  Toberman.  A tough, silent, and intellectually backward black man is an uncomfortable sight, even if you don’t know the history of the pulp archetype of the “exotic” muscular henchman.  Now it is true that the script called for Toberman to be deaf, which may help excuse some of the parts of his character, but even if you are not the type of person to take offense at these things, it does cast a bit of a damper on the proceedings.

That said, this serial is remembered as a classic, a reputation that might have been amplified undeservedly by its once “lost” status. However, I won’t dispute its reputation too much.  But ironically once the Cybermen actually show up the story trips up a bit, losing much of the sense of menace and claustrophobia that began with the archaeologists going into the city.  The best “classic” Who is built on high-concept, irrepressible ideas that transcend the low budgets, but while this one has on the face of it a very workable premise it seems to actually skirt going in interesting directions – like making the all too human megalomaniac Klieg a Cyber Controller.  Its biggest legacy probably is that it introduces the idea of the Cybermen being able to in the most literal way “convert” people to their cause, but even that concept is barely used in the story itself, with Toberman shaking off their mind control after just half an episode.

Also it’s not as good as Evil of the Daleks…but what is?

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – Evil of the Daleks (1967)

evilofthedaleksThe Doctor and Jamie spot a truck taking the TARDIS away from Gatwick Airport, but they can’t catch up to it.  They interrogate an airport maintenance worker, Bob, who only gives them fake information and raises the Doctor’s suspicions.  They follow Bob from the airport in a taxi, unaware that they’re being observed from a distance by another man, Kennedy, who knows who the Doctor is. Bob unknowingly leads the Doctor and Jamie to a warehouse, where they discover a barely conscious Bob who has been attacked by Kennedy and find out that Bob had been bribed to help steal the TARDIS.  Bob recovers and escapes, but they find Kennedy’s matchbox which the Doctor uses as a clue – which was exactly the intention of Kennedy, who is following orders from Edward Waterfield, an antiques dealer who specializes in nineteenth century clocks.  At a club the matchbox led the Doctor to, Jamie and the Doctor are met by Mr. Perry, another agent of Edward Waterfield, who believes that the Doctor is an antiques dealer that Edward had approached.  Perry invites the Doctor to later come to Edward’s business.  Meanwhile Kennedy tries to rob Edward, but while looking for a safe he stumbles across a hidden room with a large futuristic device.  When Kennedy activates the device, a Dalek is teleported in and kills Kennedy when he tries to escape.

The Doctor and Jamie sneak into Edward’s house/store and the Doctor observes that the “antiques” are brand new yet authentic. At the same time, a horrified Edward  discovers Kennedy’s corpse and berates a (naturally indifferent) Dalek in the teleporter room.  When the Dalek teleports away, Edward mumbles that he can’t go on with this.  Inside, the Doctor and Jamie find Kennedy’s corpse clutching half of a photograph of the Doctor, along with the teleporter room.  Inside, the other half of the photograph is stuck in a treasure box, which Jamie impulsively opens, releasing sleeping gas.  The Doctor wakes up in a country estate outside Canterbury in June 2, 1866.  There he meets Edward Waterfield and Theodore Maxtible, who tell the Doctor that “they” have abducted Edward’s daughter, Victoria.  Theodore takes the Doctor to their laboratory, where he and Edward explain that they researched time travel and their experiments caused “creatures” to appear.  Edward confesses that “they” told him about the Doctor and ordered him to set up a trap to lure him into 1866 or else they would murder his daughter.  In the middle of the explanation, a Dalek bursts into the laboratory and threatens to destroy the TARDIS and kill Jamie unless the Doctor helps in their experiments.  When the Dalek leaves, Theodore explains that the Daleks are curious about the traits inherent to humanity that has enabled them to resist the Daleks and somehow transfer those characteristics into the Daleks themselves.

Jamie, whom the Daleks plan to use in their experiments on humanity, is abducted by a thug named Toby and brought before a gentleman, Arthur Terrell, a veteran of the Crimean War and the fiancee of Theodore’s daughter, Ruth.  Arthur demands to know what happened to Victoria Waterfield, but then suddenly claims that Victoria is in Paris and denies that he hired Toby to grab him. The Doctor finds Jamie and brings him back, but Jamie refuses to participate in the experiments – which the Doctor was counting on, and he “adds fuel to the fire” by “forbidding” Jamie to try to rescue Victoria.  As Jamie acts, the Daleks are monitoring Jamie’s thoughts and emotions to help them find “the human factor.”   Meanwhile Arthur and Toby argue over Toby’s payment for kidnapping Jamie, leading to Toby knocking out Arthur and taking some keys to the manor, but instead of valuables Toby just finds death via a Dalek laser. While looking for Victoria, Jamie encounters and fights a mute Turkish strongman hired by Theodore, Kemel. During the fight the strongman nearly falls to his death, but Jamie rescues him.  In return the strongman saves Jamie from a lethal trap and helps him elude further traps while searching for Victoria.  Watching Jamie’s adventure alongside the Daleks, the Doctor argues to them that the experience between Jamie and the strongman demonstrates that the human factor must include mercy.  Back in Theodore’s lab, he begs a Dalek to give him what they promised, teaching him one of their secrets.  After roughing him up a bit and barking at him to always obey, the Dalek ominously promises that, out of all the Daleks’ secrets, Theodore will “learn the most important.”  Hearing a little of Theodore’s confrontation with the Dalek, his daughter Ruth comes down to talk to him about her concerns over Arthur’s abrasive behavior.  Theodore only tells her that he’s on the verge of unraveling the greatest secret of alchemy, turning base metals into gold.

Kemel and Jamie manage to destroy the Dalek guarding Victoria and reach the room she is kept in.  In the other part of the mansion, the Doctor talks with Arthur and points out that he’s never seen Arthur eat or drink and that he seems to be generating some kind of magnetism.  Arthur tries – badly – to dismiss the Doctor’s observations.  Later the experiment is over and the Daleks have recorded Jamie’s thought patterns from his adventure, which the Doctor is ordered to implant in three Dalek brains.  The Doctor hopes that being exposed to human emotions will drive the Daleks insane, but an increasingly unbalanced Edward is convinced that the experiment will make the Daleks invincible.  Victoria is recaptured by Arthur, who after secreting Victoria away attacks Jamie with a sword.  After a duel, Arthur is overwhelmed by a signal affecting his mind.  The Doctor urges Arthur and Ruth to get far away from the manor.  Kemel finds an unconscious Victoria in Theodore’s laboratory, but a Dalek catches him and forces him to carry Victoria into the cabinet they first entered into Victorian London from.  Elsewhere Jamie and the Doctor argue, with a disgusted Jamie accusing the Doctor of “playing a game” by letting the Daleks experiment on him and by being callous toward the human lives that have been taken by the Daleks.  The argument is interrupted when the “humanized” Daleks  awake and playfully give the Doctor a ride around the lab and pretend to be trains.  The Doctor uses Jamie to teach the new Daleks about the concept of friendship and gives them the names of Alpha, Beta, and Omega.  Before the Doctor can work with them further, Alpha, Beta, and Omega receive a signal to go to Skarro.  The Doctor guesses that Victoria was also taken to Skarro.

Later Edward overhears Theodore talking to a Dalek about transmuting metal into gold.  After the Dalek is gone, Edward confronts Theodore and demands that he tell him where Victoria is.  Theodore knocks out Edward.  The Dalek returns, admitting casually to Theodore that they’ve left behind an explosive to destroy the entire manor.  While Theodore flees through the Daleks’ portal to Skarro, the Doctor and Jamie find a barely recovered Edward, who overheard the Dalek about the explosive.  Unable to deactivate the explosive, the Doctor uses the Daleks’ equipment to follow Theodore to Skarro.  On Skarro, Kemel and Victoria are kept in a cell, while the Daleks take Theodore away.  Nearby on the surface of Skarro the Doctor leads Jamie and Edward into the Daleks’ underground city.  An angry Theodore yells at a Dalek for destroying his house and asking what right they had, to which the Dalek only mockingly parrots, “Right?  Right?”  On a narrow precipice leading into the city the Doctor encounters a Dalek claiming to be Omega, but quickly learns that the mark was forged and shoves the Dalek over the edge.  Nonetheless, they are eventually captured and led to a room where a giant Dalek hooked into the city’s own mainframe, the Emperor Dalek, rests.  Triumphantly the Doctor tells the Emperor that the humanized Daleks will eventually convince other Daleks “to question,” leading to a widespread rebellion.  The Emperor counters by explaining that the real purpose of the experiment was to determine the Dalek factor, which the Emperor plans to force the Doctor to spread to Earth.

The Doctor and the humans are all placed in a cell.  Edward tries to get Theodore to use his apparent leverage with the Daleks to help them escape, but he refuses.  Instead he finally gets his “reward,” a machine that is supposed to turn lead into gold, but instead only introduces the Dalek factor into Theodore’s mind.  Later the Dalekized Theodore returns to the cell, claiming that he has removed the TARDIS from the city, but it’s a trap to expose the Doctor himself to the Dalek factor.  The Doctor pretends to go along with Theodore’s orders, but once he’s able he tampers with the machine designed to expose humans to the Dalek factor. Later the Doctor learns that Alpha, Beta, and Omega have been questioning orders and, still pretending to be Dalekized, he suggests to the Emperor that all Daleks in case of “exposure” be exposed to the Dalek factor.  The Doctor’s plan works, and it isn’t long before fighting breaks out between the “original” Daleks and the humanized ones, with the Emperor ordering the elimination of all Daleks exposed to the human factor.  Running around the city, the Doctor urges the humanized Daleks to always question and to destroy the Emperor in self-defense.  In the chaos, Edward is shot and before he dies urges the Doctor to protect Victoria.  Despite the Emperor’s protests that their actions will cause the Dalek race to die out, a squad of humanized Daleks destroy him.  Theodore, overwhelmed by the Dalek collective’s kill command, murders Kemel.  The city burns while Theodore rants, “The Daleks will live and reign forever!” before he is pushed into an abyss by Jamie.  Overlooking the ruins of the Daleks’ city, the Doctor grimly pronounces that this is the “final end” of the Daleks.

Continuity Notes

Believe it or not, this really was meant to be the final Doctor Who series with the Daleks.  Because of how the BBC handled creators’ rights at the time, the Daleks’ creator, Terry Nation, still had rights over them.  Since they were such a breakout success, he tried to get an American network to launch a full Dalek series.  These plans never panned out, but it would be five years until the Daleks would reappear in Doctor Who.  Of course, given the timey-wimey nature of the whole series, maybe this is still how the Daleks meet their “final end.”

A new companion first appears and joins the TARDIS crew, Victoria, who like Jamie is from a time not contemporary to the viewing audience.  (Originally Suzanne from the last serial was meant to replace Ben and Polly, but the actress portraying her turned down the offer, although she would much later appear as Queen Victoria in the “new” series episode “Tooth and Claw.”)

We do get one more first with the Daleks just before the “end,” the first appearance of a Dalek Emperor.

When talking about his time travel research, Theodore refers to being inspired by two huge discoveries in British science, J.C. Maxwell’s equations on electromagnetics and Michael Faraday’s work on electrochemistry.

The Daleks recognize the Doctor as “more than human,” but not an alien, although later in the serial the Doctor muses on the possibility of returning to his homeplanet with Victoria, Jamie, and the others if the Daleks do manage to introduce the Dalek factor to humans in the past.  Apparently the Daleks don’t realize the Doctor is an alien and haven’t (yet) heard of the Time Lords – or have lost that knowledge, if the “this is still the last Dalek story” theory is upheld.

The Doctor casually mentions that he personally saw the charge of the Light Brigade.

Finally, this is arguably the first time, or at least the first time since the very beginning of the series, that the Doctor is hinted at having a cold, manipulative bearing, or even a sense of morality that doesn’t exactly align with human sensibilities at all times. This will prove to be a major part of the Doctor’s character, although of course with some incarnations and stories more than others.

Choice Quotes

The Doctor:  Do I look strange or bizarre?
Jamie:  Well, maybe I’m used to you.
The Doctor:  That’s some comfort.

Edward:  You destroyed a human life!  Don’t you understand that?
Dalek:  That is of no consequence.
Edward:  No consequence?!
Dalek:  There is only one form of life that matters:  Dalek life!

Jamie: Anyone would think that this is a little game.
The Doctor: No, it is not a game.
Jamie: Of course it isn’t, Doctor. People have died. The Daleks are all over the place, fit to murder the lot of us, and all you can say is that you’ve had a good night’s work!
The Doctor: Jamie…
Jamie: No, Doctor! Look, I’m telling you this, you and me, we’re finished. You’re just too callous for me. Anything goes by the board, anything at all.
The Doctor: I care about life. I care about human beings. Do you think I let you go through that Dalek test lightly?
Jamie: I don’t know. Did you? Look Doctor, just whose side are you on?

Comments

Like so many early “Doctor Who” series, this one could stand to have some trimming.  The subplot with Arthur, Ruth, Toby, and Mollie, Theodore’s maid, really has no bearing on the story at all aside from lengthening the run time, and the sequence with Jamie and Kemel dodging traps runs a bit too long.  All that said…I love this.  I’m tempted to go ahead and declare this the best Daleks story ever, but we still have yet to get to “Genesis of the Daleks.”  Sadly this is one of the most tragic victims of the BBC’s “slash and burn the archives” policy, with only one episode coming out unscathed, and it especially hurts because of the fact that this serial does try to be more action-y than most Doctor Who serials of the time (plus I’m sure there’s some patriotic pleasure to be had in seeing Jamie in a sword duel with an uptight, rude Englishman).  Still, the quality of the story manages to survive, and it certainly does have the strongest writing I’ve seen in classic Who for several seasons.  There’s some moral ambiguity cast around the Doctor’s actions and his willingness to expose his companions to mortal danger, the brutal totalitarianism inherent to the Daleks’ mentality is conveyed flawlessly, and…well, there’s a reason why the “Choice Quotes” section finally came back for this serial. Then there’s the finale, with lots of Daleks utterly getting wrecked in a civil war, which has to go down as one of the most iconic scenes in sci-fi history.

Twenty-first century viewers might be put off by (the aptly named) Victoria and her helpless maiden hostage act, and I can see why.  However, if you see her as a nineteenth century woman, and a homage to Victorian novel heroines, her depiction does make more sense, and contributes to the sense of this serial as a bizarre but completely functional hodgepodge of sci-fi and Gothic fiction tropes, only this time with the menacing foreign man (er, Kemel, not Jamie) as the story’s greatest hero.

If you don’t mind the long running time and having to watch six of the episodes via a reconstruction, give it a watch.  I mean, if you’re not the sort of person who would want to see a serial that culminates with exploding, screaming Daleks, why are you reading this blog at all?

Victoria

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Faceless Ones (1967)

facelessone

The TARDIS lands right on an airstrip in Gatwick Airport. Finding an airplane – or a “flying beastie” as Jamie calls it – landing near them and catching the unwanted attention of airport security, the TARDIS crew scatters and flees.  Polly hides in a hangar for an outfit called “Chameleon Tours” where she witnesses a pilot kill a police detective with some kind of ray gun.  Detected, she narrowly escapes, but the pilot tells his superior, Captain Blade, about her, as well as explaining that the detective had to be killed because he found out about the “postcards.”  Polly finds Jamie and the Doctor and brings them to the hangar, where the Doctor finds that the body showed signs of being electrocuted.  The Doctor decides to try to go to the authorities, but on the way Polly is captured without him or Jamie noticing.

After struggling with airport bureaucracy, the Doctor barges in on the airport commandant, who has just ordered that the TARDIS be removed.  The Doctor barely manages to talk the commandant into going into the hangar, but the detective’s body had been removed.  Worse, when the Doctor, Jamie, and the commandant see Polly in the airport, she claims to not know them and to actually be a Swiss citizen migrating to the UK on a work permit, specifically in order to work at Chameleon Tours’ kiosk.  The commandant tries to have the Doctor arrested, but he escapes by tricking everyone into thinking a rubber ball is an explosive device.  Meanwhile Jamie meets Samantha, who is investigating the disappearance of her brother sometime during a Chameleon Tours trip to Rome.  With Jamie’s help, Samantha finds out that Chameleon Tours has been giving participants on their tours, who are all young people, prestamped postcards that they are also asked to fill out before arrival.  The Doctor and the others find each other and begin working with Detective Crossland, who is investigating the disappearance of the murdered detective.  With both Crossland’s help and by acquiring one of the chameleons’ weapons, the Doctor finally (somewhat) convinces the commandant.

However, they don’t have Crossland’s help for long.  He infiltrates the next Chameleon Tours plane only to be captured and forced to watch while all the passengers are miniaturized, to be taken to the chameleons’ spaceship in orbit above the Earth.  One more flight is planned for Chameleon Tours, and Jamie boards by stealing a ticket Samantha had purchased (which he does by seducing her, because who can resist a Scotsman?).  A trip to the bathroom, however, saves Jamie from the fate of his fellow passengers, but once the plane arrives on the ship he’s captured.  At the same time, the Doctor exposes a chameleon among the commandant’s staff, and forces him to reveal that the chameleons have been using the airport’s medical facilities to transform themselves after captured humans and that the chameleons have hidden the frozen bodies of 50,000 young people somewhere on the airport grounds, because a catastrophe on the chameleons’ own planet have caused them to lose their physical characteristics.  Using communications between the ship and the commandant’s office, the Doctor and the commandant try to bluff the ship into thinking they already found the bodies of the humans that had been copied until they manage to find them in a parking garage, which gives the humans the power to disintergrate any of the copied chameleons by tampering with the device that links each individual chameleon with the victim they copied.  Pretending to be a copy himself, the Doctor takes a flight into the spaceship where he’s brought before the aliens’ director, a copy of Crossland. The Doctor negotiates, offering to give some advice to the chameleon scientists to find an alternate means to restore their species if they completely free their human victims.  In a small coup, Blade kills the director and accepts the Doctor’s help.  Now restored and freed, Ben and Polly learn that the day is July 20, 1966, the very day they first met the Doctor. Reluctantly they decide to stay, leaving the Doctor and Jamie to find the TARDIS, which is missing.

Continuity Notes

Not only do we see two companions leave with the departures of Ben and Polly, but it’s the severing of the last link to the First Doctor era.  Even the original opening is gone.

The story takes place on July 20, 1966, probably the Doctor’s (Doctors’?) busiest day ever.  At about the same time the adventure against the chameleons unfolds, the First Doctor is combating the evil AI, WOTAN, and, right after this serial, “Evil of the Daleks” takes place.

Sign of the Times

All the people boarding planes are dressed up, with most of the men wearing hats.

Comments

Well, this one was a slog to get through, and it doesn’t help my mood that half my original write-up for this episode got lost in the digital void.  One could have cut half the episodes and the whole serial would have still been thick with near escapes by the heroes and continued exposition on the chameleons long after the audience figured out what this week’s menace was to just pad things out. And I thought “The Moonbase” was supposed to be the boring one.

I know plot holes really aren’t foreign to ’60s Doctor Who, to put it nicely, but “The Faceless Ones” breaches Ed Wood territory. What the hell kind of planetary disaster would cause an alien race to lose their faces?  How do you hide 50,000 bodies in an airport, no matter how massive it may be? Wouldn’t someone have noticed all the unconscious people in cars, sooner or later, so why if they had this miniaturization technology didn’t they take them to the ship or at least stick them in a sock drawer somewhere?  At least the uncloned chameleons do look grotesque and menacing, but their motive is so convoluted and nonsensical it completely undercuts them as villains.  It doesn’t help that the story rarely uses the potential that should be obvious with a race of shapeshifters;  really, even though the premise of this serial is tailormade for it, “The Macra Terror” did a much better job of invoking a sense of paranoia.

Also it’s unfortunate that Ben and Polly are left out of about 70% of the story.   It is true that, since he was introduced, Jamie had better chemistry with the Second Doctor than Ben and Polly (which is understandable, since Patrick Troughton and Jamie’s portrayer, Frazer Hines, were close friends off-camera).    I also understand that most likely for production reasons they had to film Ben and Polly’s departure early and leave them out of the bulk of the filming, but it still feels rushed, especially since it probably wouldn’t have been too difficult to have them learn of the date sooner and have more of them struggling with the decision to leave.  Still, at least it was more than what poor Dodo got.

goodbyebenandpolly

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Macra Terror (1967)

macraterrorIn a human extraterrestrial colony a band is happily practicing while a few officials oversee them.  The preparations are interrupted by a panicked man named Medok, who is trying to escape the colony.  Hiding from the colony’s guards on the planet’s (of course) rocky landscape, Medok notices the TARDIS materialize and attacks the Doctor and the others when they emerge, ranting about the beings who have taken over.  The guards, led by the security chief Ola, capture Medok, calling him “one of their last patients.” Ola offers to introduce the Doctor and the others to “the Pilot” of the colony, who will give them thanks personally for helping capture Medok.  When Jamie asks where they are, the Doctor says they’re in the future on a planet much like Earth, but admits that he’s “only guessing.”

At the Pilot’s headquarters, the Doctor notices that music is constantly played throughout the colony and the Pilot explains it’s how the day is regulated at the colony.  The Pilot leads the visitors to the Refreshment Department, which offers a wealth of spa activities. While the TARDIS crew enjoy themselves, Medok is interrogated and insists that he’s seen strange beings all over the colony. Concerned about Medok, the Doctor leaves the others to check on him just as he’s being imprisoned.  The Doctor sneaks into Medok’s cell and asks Medok if the things he sees crawl on the ground.  Medok is shocked at the Doctor’s question, but still pushes the Doctor aside and flees from his cell.  Ola wants to arrest the Doctor and send him into “the Pits” for hard labor, but the Pilot stops him.  However, the Pilot becomes hostile when the Doctor mentions Medok’s comment about things crawling on the ground, and warns that comments like that could get a person in the hospital for correction.  Ben notices monitors across the colony broadcast a message from a man titled the Controller, who tells the people to “return to their work and play with fresh heart and renewed energy.”  Ben asks one of the colonists if the Controller is a politician.  The colonist replies that the Controller brings the people encouragement.  Ben quips, “He’s not a politician then!”  The Doctor asks the colonist what exactly the other colonists who are busy at various consoles do, and the colonist explains that they channel refined gas, but doesn’t say why.

Later the Doctor finds Medok and finally gets Medok to trust him a little.  Reluctantly Medok explains that the creatures, whom he calls Macra, he sees move at night and look like giant insects with claws.  Other people in the colony have seen the creatures, but claiming to have done so earns people a one-way trip to the hospital.  The Doctor leaves Medok to hide in a construction site and learns that the colony has a strict night curfew when Ola escorts him and his companions to their sleeping quarters, but of course the Doctor takes advantage of the fact that all the guards are looking for Medok in order to sneak away to explore the colony at night.  The Doctor rejoins Medok and while hiding from Ola and a patrol of guards they’re approached by a Macra in the flesh.  In an excited outburst, Medok reveals himself to Ola and says that the Doctor can finally confirm that they spotted the monster.  However, Ola is nonplussed and sends the Doctor to be tried by the Pilot.  Before the Doctor can try to verify Medok’s story, Medok makes a statement to Ola that the Doctor was trying to get him to surrender to the authorities, which the Doctor reluctantly agrees with. After the Doctor leaves, the image of the Controller comes on and orders that the Doctor and the visitors “be turned” since there “cannot be criticism of the colony.”   The Pilot orders that the Doctor and the others be exposed to subliminal messages in their sleep.  Besides the Doctor, only Jamie resists the subliminal programming and, when he tries to wake up Ben, finds that Ben is already looking forward to working for the colony.  Meanwhile the Doctor wakes up Polly and tries to deprogram her, urging, “Don’t do anything of the sort!  Don’t just be obedient!  Always make up your mind!”  Unfortunately, even though the Doctor destroys some of the equipment, it’s too late to save Ben from being brainwashed, and he turns the others in to the authorities.

The Doctor is sent to the Pilot, while at the hospital Medok has been deemed a helpless case and is going to be sent to the Pits.  Ben and Polly fight at the construction site where the Macra appear.  Ben can only repeat like a mantra, “There is nothing harmful or evil in this colony,” while Polly is grabbed by a Macra.  Ben momentarily snaps out of their brainwashing and helps Polly, only to find they’re being pursued by the Macra.  At the Pilot’s office, the Doctor not only pleads guilty to destroying the brainwashing equipment, but admits, “I’m proud of it!”  Ben and Polly are taken to the Pilot’s office too, where Polly insists on their attack by the Macra, but Ben, whose brainwashing has kicked back in, insists that there were no such beings.  The Doctor theorizes that the Pilot and all the colony’s leaders have also been brainwashed all their lives.  Jamie raises the possibility that the Controller is just a face on a monitor and the Pilot pleads with the Controller to prove that he’s an actual person.  Suddenly a nervous old man in a uniform appears on the monitor.  An outside voice commands him to restore order, but the old man just bursts into tears and is attacked by a claw.  Despite the extremely blatant evidence, the Pilot barks that the Doctor and the companions be taken to the Pits.  The old image of the Controller returns and confirms the Pilot’s orders regarding “the strangers.”

As a song with the cheerfully sung lyrics, “We are all happy to work!” plays, the Doctor, Polly, and Jamie are rejoined by Medok, who explains that they’ll have to do work in the mines exposed to gas that will sooner or later kill them, even though no one knows what the gas is used for.  Given that his captors think he’s old (which is the only part of the situation that even annoys the Doctor), he’s forced to be a supervisor, spied on by a still brainwashed Ben.  When one of the supervisors is accidentally knocked unconscious by a gas leak, Jamie manages to steal his keys and uses them to get into a suspicious and seemingly abandoned yet heavily locked shaft, followed by Medok and triggering the mine’s alarms.  The Controller forbids the mine’s officials to send guards into the shaft.  In the shaft, Jamie finds that something has killed Medok;  that something, the Macra, is not far away either.  The Controller orders that the gas be poured into the shaft, but the Doctor realizes that there must be a motive other than trying to kill Jamie and deduces that the Macra need the gas to keep themselves alive.  Back in the mine’s control room, the Doctor pretends to help by meddling with different valves and gets information on what he needs to do from the supervisor’s pleas to stop interfering, saving Jamie and stunning the Macra threatening him by blasting oxygen into the shift.  Then the Doctor pickpockets the supervisor’s keys, locks him outside the control room, and he and Polly flee into a corridor filled with pipes.  Jamie escapes the shaft through a grate and ends up pretending to be a dancer practicing with a trope of the Happy Colony Finals, but is soon caught. The Doctor and Polly hear the Controller’s voice and follow it to a room where a Macra is operating a control panel.

While the Pilot and Ola argue over the fact of Jamie’s escape, the Doctor casually strolls in and asks why they are fighting in a happy colony.  While Polly tries to convince the Pilot, the increasingly shrill Controller demands that the strangers be rounded up and that all the colony’s leaders return to work.  The Pilot is persuaded enough to risk disobeying the Controller.  The Pilot frets over disobeying the law, but the Doctor points out, “Bad laws are meant to be broken” and leads the Pilot to the control room with the Macra, which finally breaks the last vestiges of control over the Pilot.  Under the Controller’s orders, Ola traps the Doctor, Polly, Jamie, and the Pilot in the pipe corridor, which is quickly filled with gas.  Ben, who has finally shaken off the Macra’s programming, follows the Doctor’s instructions and manipulates the mine’s controls to blow up the part of the mine where the Macra live.  In the middle of the Happy Colony Finals, the Pilot appears and rededicates the celebration in the Doctor’s honor.

Continuity Notes

More a production note, but this is the first time that the title screen changes.  The basic psychedelic patterns in the intro remain the same, but now the logo of the “Doctor Who” font has changed and is overlaid with Patrick Troughton’s face, setting a pattern of using the actor currently portraying the Doctor’s face that will last for the rest of the classic series.

Comments

So this is what happens when you cross ’60s Doctor Who with “1984” with a dash of They Live.   Despite having a really rushed conclusion that threatens to slam the story’s momentum against the brick wall, this is definitely a classic episode – which makes it a shame that only a few scattered minutes of footage survive of the entire serial.  Even if you just watch a fan reconstruction or listen to the BBC’s official audio release, it’s worth it.  Even without 99% of the visuals, the Doctor still comes across as a cheer-worthy anti-authoritarian champion and the construction of the colony’s society is conveyed as genuinely unsetling (especially when the old man is “revealed” as the fake Controller). The social commentary might be as on the nose as a fist to the face, but having a protagonist who explicitly urges people to break laws they think are immoral and to always question orders really isn’t as common as you might think.  Plus when you think about it a premise all about giant parasites who brainwash people into mindlessly working all the time for the sake of nothing but the parasites’ own survival in exchange for momentary pleasures and empty platitudes, while malcontents are labelled mentally ill, is pretty daring, and the sort of thing that today would spawn a hundred furious blog posts and a week’s worth of FOX News-generated outrage.  This is definitely on the top of my wish list for episodes to be rescued from oblivion.

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Moonbase (1967)

cybermenmoonThe TARDIS lands, or more like crashes, on the moon instead of Mars.  While Jamie is stunned at being on the moon “way up in the sky”, Ben and Polly convince the Doctor to let them wear spacesuits out and go sightseeing.  Polly keeps thinking she’s seeing a blur out over the lunar surface, but she becomes quickly convinced that it’s nothing, and Jamie gets a head injury while playing around in the moon’s low gravity.  The Doctor and the others stumble across the titular moonbase, where one of the crew has been found unconscious from a mysterious infection, and bring Jamie in for treatment, claiming that they just arrived on the moon via a routine spacecraft.  The Doctor surmises that they’re on a station that uses a device called the Gravitron to control the Earth’s weather (explaining why the TARDIS crashed) and that it’s 2050, although the station’s manager, Hobson, corrects him by pointing out it’s actually 2070.  When the Doctor introduces himself, Hobson drafts him to investigate the cause of the mystery illness that’s been striking down members of the crew, since the base’s sole doctor has been one of the victims.

While overseeing the patients, the Doctor notes that the symptoms of the illness don’t match up with any human disease he knows of.  The base’s doctor dies, his delirious last words about a “silver hand”, while one of the crewmembers suddenly disappears.  Jamie and Polly see a Cyberman, its body sleeker and more metallic than when the First Doctor encountered them, but it vanishes with one of the patients.  Hobson refuses to believe it, saying that the Cybermen had been wiped out many years ago, and instead accuses the Doctor and his crew of being behind things.  Still, the Doctor convinces Hobson to give him 24 hours to cure the mystery illness.  Meanwhile the base’s crew try frantically to stop a hurricane from getting out of control.  When another crew person becomes sick after drinking coffee, the Doctor realizes that the base’s supply of sugar had been infected with a virus that attacks the nervous system deliberately introduced by the Cybermen, a theory that finally convinces Hobson.

When Hobson and the TARDIS crew try to find where the Cybermen are hiding, they reveal themselves, and claim that they have been “converting” the sickened men.  It turns out that since the destruction of Mondas the surviving Cybermen have deemed Earth as a “danger” and plan to use the base’s weather manipulating capabilities to wipe out all life on Earth.  Holding the base’s crew captive, the Cybermen have the base’s equipment operated by the crewmen they had captured, infected, and brainwashed. Elsewhere Polly, inspired by Jamie’s comment that in his day they sprinkled holy water on witches, decides to try using a cocktail of solvents on the plastic unit the Cybermen have in place of their hearts and lungs.  Back in the control room, the Doctor manages to figure out that using the equipment in the control room to create audio feedback interfered with the Cybermen’s control over the men and puts his discovery into practice, just before Ben, Polly, and Jamie kill the Cybermen with the solvent cocktail.  The infected men are freed from the Cybermen’s control (or so it seems) and put in the medical room.  All seems clear, but from a telescope the Doctor looks on horrified as the rest of the Cybermen march toward the base across the surface of the moon.

The Cybermen jam the base’s communications with Earth and manage to get the infected men back under their control. Worse, an infected crewmember uses the Gravitron to deflect a relief rocket sent from Earth toward the sun and the Cybermen use a laser weapon to breach the oxygen shields of the base, although they’re able to seal the breach with a coffee tray.  The sudden lack of oxygen does knock out the infected crewman, letting the crew get control of the Gravitron again.  Under the Doctor’s directions, the crew uses the Gravitron to hurl the Cybermen and their ships toward the sun.  After leaving the base’s crew to try to fix the damage to Earth’s weather patterns caused by the Cybermen, the Doctor decides to use a “time scanner” (which he admits is not very reliable) to get a preview of their next destination, and all he sees is a giant crab claw…

Sign of the Times

Again, Polly makes coffee for all the men…twice.  

Ben refuses to let Polly try to use the solvent cocktail on the Cybermen, saying, “This is men’s work!”, although Polly does refuse to obey.

Our Future History

By at least 2050, humanity will have discovered how to control gravity and how to use that control to technologically regulate the weather.  Plus space travel to the moon will have become so commonplace that even the crew of a moonbase will be unfazed by having unexpected visitors.

Continuity Notes

The Doctor claims to have earned a medical degree in 1888 after studying at the University of Glasgow under Joseph Lister.   Polly understandably thinks this makes the Doctor’s medical knowledge a tad outdated.

Comments

The official Discontinuity Guide labelled The Moonbase as “boring,” which I think is a bit unfair.  It doesn’t really have any memorable Doctor or companion moments (in fact, Jamie is out of action for about half the serial, since the decision to make him a companion was a last-minute one and there wasn’t much for him to do in the script as originally written) and it keeps up the “mystery” of the strange illness even after it’s obvious the Cybermen are behind everything.  However, the last episode at least is genuinely thrilling.  The fact that the basic set-up to this serial will be rehashed many times through the Second Doctor era (enough that, as Diamanda Hagan helpfully points out,  “An isolated base under siege” is to the Second Doctor what “The Doctor working with UNIT against covert alien invaders” and “Massive alien invasion of contemporary London” were to the Third and Tenth Doctors respectively) is honestly a testimony to the fact that something about this serial worked, even if at the same time its set-up is conveniently budget-friendly.

Also it’s the first time we see the Cybermen in anything resembling the incarnation most people are familiar with.  To be honest, I preferred the way they looked in The Tenth Planetsince it gave more the impression of designer cyborgs fashioned by a desperate people on the brink of extinction, but I can also see why the cold, mechanical look of the “new” Cybermen has endured in its place.  The Cybermen still aren’t my favorite Who villains, but I will admit that the scenes of them marching calmly across the barren wastes of the moon were pretty epic.  All in all, it’s not a classic, apart from what is arguably the first “familiar” appearance of the Cybermen, but it’s not the dud some commentators have made it out to be.

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"New" Who, Doctor Who Write-Ups

New “Who” Reviews: The End of Time, Part 2

So I rewatched Part of The End of Time just for this review and…I didn’t dislike it as much as I did the first time I watched it.  No, really!

Well, even the first time I saw it I thought it was an improvement over Part 1, but I didn’t expect to be more forgiving on my last viewing.  Maybe part of it is that I’m watching it post-Day of the Doctor (which, incidentally, I’ll be spoiling in this review, so heads up!), or maybe I’ve gotten some perspective in hindsight on what RTD was trying to accomplish with his run as showrunner.

All that said, to quote Frank Costanza, “I’ve got some problems with you people!”

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Hello, Gallifrey! Sorry we’ll have to wait years to see you again.

It might also be that when I first watched this I felt like RTD has personally punched me in the face.

My problem with the premise of the “new” series was exactly that Gallifrey and the Time Lords were written out.  I understand that this was an attempt to simplify the show for new viewers, but I never got why “The Doctor is part of a non-interventionist alien race that has mastered time travel and are like tech gods” is any less “confusing” than “The Doctor is a veteran of this horrific war that took place off-screen and is burdened with guilt because he had to single-handedly wipe out both the aggressors and his own people.”  The old series got around all that by just having the Time Lords or Gallifrey mentioned occasionally, while with the “new” series’ approach there’s whole backstory at play that’s more complex and intrusive than just the Doctor having stolen a TARDIS for mysterious reasons many years ago.

So honestly I expected that this special would shake up the status quo in a way beyond even introducing a new Doctor.  I thought the idea of the Doctor being the sole survivor of his race – an idea I never really enjoyed but thought it did have some potential (even if it fed into my complaint that RTD wanted to write the Doctor like Superman and really this change to his backstory made him more like Lobo) – had been exhausted and RTD was giving the next showrunner a clean slate.  Granted, I don’t really keep up with the backstage developments of the show like most fans, so as far as I know Moffat wanted to be the one to bring back the Time Lords or wanted more time to play with the concept of the Doctor as a guilt-ridden veteran, but regardless at the time End of Time Part 2 felt like a cheat played on the audience.

But still…Timothy Dalton as Rassilon, one of the founders of Time Lord society!

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Timothy Dalton kills with the power of Awesome.

Granted the script makes Rassilon act like the most cliched of Saturday morning villains, as he kills an adviser for questioning his plans and screams that he will not die.  But God I love how Timothy Dalton fires on all cylinders here.  There’s still too much going on in this special for him to really make a mark, much like the tragically short five minutes we get of Derek Jacobi as the Master in Utopia, but like there I’m glad for what we get here.  Anyway, Rassilon and his advisers are listening to a prophet, portrayed as a ranting old woman who seems like she’s wandered in from another genre, who is predicting the destruction of Gallifrey at the Doctor’s hands.  Seizing on the part of the prophecy that predicts that the Doctor and the Master will outlive the Time Lords and confront each other again on Earth, Rassilon arranges to have a four-note drumbeat broadcast into the Master’s mind across all time and space (the drumbeat only referred to since Utopia, natch) and sends a type of diamond that only exists on Gallifrey to present day Earth to serve as a kind of anchor for bringing back Gallifrey.  Thus we have one of the hugest retcons of all time, carried out on one of modern fiction’s most iconic villains.

Insert lengthy, pretentious essay about the problems with basically depriving a decades-old character of their “free will” here.

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“So all this time I’ve been driven insane by a plot device?”

Back on Earth and the “present,” the Master has got the Doctor strapped down.  Now this does lead into what I genuinely think is not only one of the best moments from this special, and not only one of the best moments in the “new” series, but one of the best moments in the history of the entire franchise.  The Doctor tells the Master:

“You’re a genius.  You’re stone cold brilliant, you really are.  But you could be so much more.  You could be beautiful, with a mind like that.  We could travel the stars.  It would be my honor, ’cause you don’t need to own the universe, just see it. Have the privilege of seeing the whole of time and space.  That’s ownership enough.”

One of the things I really liked about RTD’s run, and which I haven’t given him credit for before, is his interpretation of the Doctor/the Master relationship.  Instead of a classic superhero comic-style rivalry, the Doctor-Master relationship is presented as a friendship gone sour but has not faded, because one of the friends has become seriously mentally ill and self-destructive.  I’m almost sure that this just reflects RTD’s desire to depict the Doctor as a pacifist saint, but honestly? It’s a really interesting take on the archenemy relationship that frankly, as an aspiring writer myself, I’m jealous of.

Of course, my good will doesn’t last long, as we revisit one of my biggest sore spots:  Donna.  How is Donna going to get out of being pursued by a planet full of Masters when she’s beginning to remember her adventures with the Doctor, which has the potential to kill her?  Well, she just releases some Time Lord energy, which knocks out her out and her pursuers and apparently ends the risk that her brain would melt.  The Doctor himself explains what happens for the Master’s and our benefit:  “Well, you see, Russell wrote himself into a corner like he always does…”  Oops, I mean, he says, “Do you think I’d leave my best friend without a defense mechanism?”  So that’s that, I guess.  (The only good thing about this bit is that it causes the Master to blurt out, “He loves playing with Earth girls!”)

Anyway, the two aliens from last time save the Doctor, which leads to a really awkward “Simpsons” reference (“Worst rescue ever!”) and they escape on the aliens’ ship, but the Doctor is for once left without a clue as to what to do.  Meanwhile Bernard Cribbins is again visited by the woman in white, who as always does nothing but say a bunch of cryptic things.  However, she does say, “I was lost, so very long ago,” which means she is totally Susan, no matter what RTD says.  Back on Earth, the Master decides to take advantage of the fact that his consciousness is echoed more than 4 billion times over and finally find out if the drumbeat in his head is real or not.  Needless to say, it is, and he uses the technological resources at hand to create a link to its source.

There’s a lengthy scene where Bernard Cribbins and the Doctor talk about his death, and Cribbins convinces the Doctor to take his gun and tells him that, if killing the Master will free the human race, he should make the choice that is best for humanity no matter what.  I don’t have much to say about this scene, except that both Cribbins and David Tennant sell the hell out of it.  Still, like the “Time Lord Victorious” stuff from The Waters of Mars, the Doctor’s fears about his mortality and breaking his ethics just aren’t earned.  Anyway, the Doctor is freed from his malaise when he figures out what the Master is doing and is terrified by the mere prospect of the Time Lords breaking out of the time-locked Time War.   The Doctor steers the ship to England right in the face of a barrage of missiles that the world’s Master-controlled armies fired, requiring the two aliens and Bernard Cribbins to get behind the ship’s guns and do what is one of the most subtle references to another major sci-fi franchise possible.  

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Not inspired by anything in particular, we swear!

Surviving the barrage, the Doctor makes a personal crash landing into the mansion, but he’s too late for about the sixth time in this special.  The link is opened, Gallifrey is becoming visible in Earth’s sky (enough that Gallifrey’s gravity should tear the Earth apart, but hey let’s just say Gallifrey hasn’t completely materalized yet or a wizard did it or something), and the Time Lords led by Rassilon are breaking through.  Two of Rassilon’s Time Lords are forced to walk around with their faces buried in their hands since they were the only two who voted against Rassilon’s plans, and one of them is the lady in white.  The other one is…well, the show doesn’t even give any hints, but let’s say it’s Romana.  The Master tries to pull on the Time Lords what he did to humanity, but – in a nice nod back to the omnipotence of the Time Lords in their first appearance in the “old” series – Rassilon with a wave of his hand is able to reverse what the Master did to humanity.  The Doctor tells the Master that along with the Time Lords he brought back the various eldritch abominations spawned in the Time War with admittedly fantastic names like the Horde of Travesties and the Nightmare Child and the Could-Have-Been King.  Rassilon announces it doesn’t matter since they’ll simply allow the rift in time created by Gallifrey’s reappearance to destroy the time vortex, devastating all reality and allowing the Time Lords to transcend the material universe as pure consciousness.  This was the plan, the Doctor tells the Master, that prompted the Doctor to end the Time War through any means possible in the first place.

Armed with the gun, the Doctor oscillates between shooting at Rassilon and shooting at the Master.  Of course, it’s not clear what good shooting a bunch of regenerating Time Lords will do, but hey, it’s Drama before Logic.

eotoftimedoctorwithgun

For maximum nerdage, compare this scene to when Batman had to hold a gun on Darkseid in “Final Crisis.”

However, the Doctor regains his ethical bearings when he looks into the face of his mother Susan and instead just shoots the machine powering the link.  Rassilon wants to take the Doctor with them to their fate, but the Master intervenes and uses his super-powers to knock Rassilon and the Time Lords (and himself) back into the Time War.  So, yeah, that’s the end of the promised “return of the Time Lords.”  The Doctor doesn’t dwell on the ramifications of condemning his own species for a second time (well, so he thinks!), but is instead relieved that he didn’t have to regenerate after all, until he hears Bernard Cribbins knocking from inside the radiation gate…

eofdoctordies

What a twist! (Actually, it’s not that bad a one…).

To be honest, I’ve read at least three different plot summaries and I really don’t have any clearer an idea of what exactly happens in this scene and why.  Just accept that the Doctor exposes himself to tons of radiation in order to save Bernard Cribbins’ life.  Luckily, the regeneration process is slowed, just because, giving the Doctor time to ride around in the TARDIS and say goodbye, or at least check in on, most of his old companions.

Now I think when I first saw this, this was the part I hated the most.  I’ve softened up on it, although it does still strike me as pretty self-indulgent on RTD’s part, especially after we already got closure to his run with Journey’s End.  And it’s still a little…iffy that the only two black companions, Martha and Mickey, end up married.  As is the fact that we still don’t get one more scene between Donna and the Doctor.  I can understand why fans found it way too mawkish, but like I said last time I can see why from the Doctor’s perspective it’s like dying.  Plus, given that from the start one of RTD’s main themes has been mortality and the challenge of accepting inevitable change, it is a nice bookend to his run.

…By the Crown of Rassilon, I’m…I’m being positive.

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I don’t want to have a fetish for fezes.

Really, this is still far, far from being  among my top Doctor Who stories.  It’s an improvement over the first part in more than a few respects, but the plot still carries so much it collapses in on itself, the characterization of the Doctor is often put front and center and yet it’s sloppily and hastily built up, and the story just doesn’t make sense sometimes (even by Who standards).

And yet, it does capture some of what made RTD’s run work.  Like I said to begin with, I prefer Moffat’s approach and interpretation of the Doctor.  Still, to be honest, even though I started this series on “new Who” to criticize RTD, writing these posts has actually given me more of an appreciation of RTD’s run.  It might be an oversimplification, but whereas Moffat is more focused on plot RTD is usually more interested in character.  RTD may not always handle characterization with a daft hand, but one of the criticisms of Moffat’s tenure that I agree with is that RTD’s care for that kind of storytelling is largely absent.  Case in point:  Amy Pond is put through the ringer by finding out that she was not only deprived of a chance to raise her child but finds out that a middle-aged woman she encountered a few times is her daughter, but aside from one or two really brief scenes we never actually deal with the emotional ramifications of all that for Amy.  With RTD, we might not see exactly why the Doctor is suddenly worried about dying or about his potential for megalomania, but it is dealt with on an intimate scale that adds something valuable to the franchise.

So can there ever be peace between the RTD-boosters and the Moff-fans?  Maybe, maybe not, but talks don’t have to break down as badly as they did between the Daleks and the Cybermen.

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And of course RIP Elisabeth Sladen.

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Underwater Menace (1967)

underwatermenaceThis time the TARDIS lands on a barren volcanic island.  The crew except Jamie who remains confused and incredulous (remember, he is from the 1700s) excitedly talk about what they might find, with the Doctor hoping they’ll come across “prehistoric monsters.”  Unable to even guess where and when they are, the Doctor scans his diary, while Polly produces a bracelet she found on the beach with an inscription referring to the Olympic Games in Mexico, leading her to suppose they are sometime past when they first left with the Doctor.   Just when they get their bearings, they’re captured by men who take them to a complex of caverns under the ocean floor.

At first their welcome looks like a warm one.  They’re led to a room where they’re fed a meal made from plankton, which the Doctor enthusiastically eats.  This inspires Polly to remark that she’d never seen the Doctor  so excited over food before, only hats.  Unfortunately, the five-star treatment is just part of a sacrificial ceremony for the goddess Amdo, presided over by a head priest Lolem.  The Doctor asks Lolem to see a Professor Zaroff, who the Doctor knows had invented a method to create elaborate foods out of just plankton.  Lolem is nonplussed, but the Doctor convinces a servant to smuggle a note to Zaroff himself, claiming that if the Doctor is killed an important secret will die with him.  Just when the Doctor and the companions are about to be submerged in a pool of sharks to appease Amdo, Zaroff intervenes.  The Doctor is forced to admit he has no secret, but insteead that he hoped that a great scientist “wouldn’t want a modern scientific mind like mine sacrificed to a heathen idol.” Zaroff is amused by the Doctor’s audacity and decides to make him an assistant.  The companions are also saved, only for them to be enslaved with Ben and Jamie sent to labor in some mines and Polly condemned to a surgery that would turn her into a “fish person” so she could work on the city’s underwater crops.  Luckily the Doctor learns about Polly’s planned fate and manages to shut down the power, enabling Polly to escape and hide.

In Zaroff’s lab, the Doctor explains that he knew about Zaroff’s research into food production and thought like the rest of the world that Zaroff had died 20 years previously.   Zaroff explains that he had instead stumbled across this society and  leads the Doctor to the conclusion that the underground city is what remains of Atlantis, which the Doctor believed up until then was only a myth, and explains that although the continent of Atlantis was flooded and sunk into the ocean some survivors discovered expansive underground air pockets, in which they were able to rebuild their civilization.    The Doctor is surprised that a scientist like Zoroff could be accepted by a society that still practices “ancient temple ritual and idol worship” (geesh, what is up with the Doctor’s anti-pagan bias in this episode?), but Zoroff explains he won not only their respect but political power by promising to lift Atlantis above the ocean.  As Zoroff explains his planned techniques for doing so, the Doctor realizes that if Zoroff carries out his plans the Earth’s crust would be deeply damaged and the entire planet potentially destroyed.  Here the Doctor comes to the uncomfortable conclusion that Zoroff is insane as he childishly chants “Bang!  Bang!” and is thrilled at the prospect of single-handedly destroying the world (see Choice Quotes below).

With two shipwrecked sailors who were enslaved by the Atlanteans, Jamie and Ben manage to escape their captors.  Likewise the Doctor flees Zoroff’s lab by “accidentally” mixing some chemicals that create a literal smoke screen.  Free, the Doctor overhears a priest name Rolem express skepticism about Zaroff and tries to enlist his aid.  Rolem offers to take the Doctor to the king of Atlantis, Thous (and the Doctor is pleased to be given a ceremonial hat for the purpose).  The Doctor bluntly tells Thous that Zarloff is “as mad as a hatter,” but Thous is unconvinced since Rolem and the other priests had endorsed Zoroff and his plan to restore Atlantis in the past.  Thous and Zaroff hand the Doctor and Rolem over to the tender mercies of Lolem. Luckily Ben, hiding behind a statue of Amno, tricks Lolem and the other congregants by having them bow and convincing them that the “sacrifices” have been snatched away into thin air.

Reunited with his companions, the Doctor, exploiting the fact that even Zaroff’s plankton-based food cannot be stored for long, sends the two sailors to convince the fish people to revolt and refuse to provide the city with food while he and the companions capture Zaroff.  Disguised in the marketplace as a performer, the Doctor and Polly trick Zaroff into thinking he’s “discovered” the Doctor and lures him into a trap.   While the Doctor, Jamie, and Ben go to Zaroff’s lab to disable the equipment he needs to literally shatter the Earth, Zaroff tricks Polly and Rolem and kills the latter while escaping. Zaroff tries to get Thous to have both the Doctor and the rebellious fish people executed, but Thous refuses, finally realizing Zaroff’s madness.  It is, as one might expect, too late;  Zaroff has gained the loyalty of some of Thous’ guards who turn against the king and stand by while Zaroff shoots him.

The Doctor decides the only way to stop Zaroff now is to flood the lower caverns of Atlantis, including Zaroff’s lab, and evacuate the people in that area to the higher areas. However, the encroaching flooding and the fish people’s strikes only delay Zaroff. The Doctor goes to confront Zaroff and convinces Zaroff’s technicians and guards to abandon him. Undeterred Zaroff tries to activate the device that will penetrate the Earth’s crust anyway, but the Doctor and Ben trick him into moving away from the controls and trap him behind a barrier. The Doctor tries to save Zaroff from being drowned, but a fallen rock blocks access to the lab, and he and Ben scramble to reach the higher reaches of the cave complex.  Thous has survived and reached higher ground.  He becomes convinced that Atlantis can be revived even after the disaster “without gods and without fish people.”

The Doctor, the companions, and the sailors escape back to the volcanic island on the surface.  As they leave (without the sailors) in the TARDIS, the Doctor boasts that he can pilot the TARDIS to wherever and whenever he wants, he just always chose not to.  To prove it the Doctor says he’ll fly the TARDIS to Mars, but suddenly something causes the TARDIS to go out of control.

Continuity Notes

On the note he sends to Dr. Zaroff, the Doctor signs his name “Dr. W.”  It’s shades of when WOTAN called the Doctor “Doctor Who” in The War Machines, even though that was the only time in the whole series where the Doctor is actually called “Doctor Who.”

This is just the first of several Atlantises that will show up through the show’s run.  Needless to say, they don’t exactly gel together.

It’s perhaps also worth noting that this is the first “Doctor Who” episode with a pretty explicit anti-religion message.  It won’t really be the last.

Sign of the Times

Polly takes the reference to the Olympics in Mexico as a sign that they are somewhen in the future (Polly and Ben having boarded the TARDIS in 1966, by which point there had never been an Olympics competition in Mexico). For the serial’s 1967 audience it would have been a somewhat contemporary reference, since it had been announced that the 1968 Olympics would take place in Mexico City, placing this series (as Polly guesses) sometime in the 1970s.

Choice Quotes

This one’s a doozy:

Doctor:  Just one small question: why do you want to blow up the world?
Zaroff:  Why? You, a scientist, ask me why? The achievement, my dear Doctor. The destruction of the world. The scientist’s dream of supreme power!

Comments

There’s not too much to say about this one.  It’s pretty fun and well-paced, especially compared to some of the serials from the last couple of seasons, but it’s definitely not one of the better Second Doctor adventures.  The real selling point of this series is Joseph Fürst’s performance as Dr. Zoroff in all his cheese-and-ham, scene-chewing glory.  In hindsight it’s just amazing to see a mad scientist villain who makes Davros appear reasonable.  The sets are as always low, low budget, but they do convey the sense of a foreign society and the “fish people” look somewhat horrific, even though they are the subject of a long series of dull scenes that just show them swimming around.  Still, if you want to go out of your way to watch the four episodes of this series (three of which are lost but available as reconstructions), it might be worth it to see the glorious Dr. Zaroff – but little else.

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"New" Who, Doctor Who Write-Ups

So one of the reasons I stopped doing so many Doctor Who posts was that I was afraid I was turning this blog into a Who fan blog, which is probably somewhere between social media cat photos and top 10 lists about cats on the list of things the Internet does not need more of.  That was the main reason I gave myself, anyway.  In truth, I just really did not want to have to write about The End of Time.

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END OF TIME? More like, END OF MY DAMN PATIENCE!

We denizens of the Internet exist in the Golden Age of Nerdrage, so I feel like anything I say about how much I disliked “The End of Time” is already kind of meaningless.  But I’ve already delved into my feelings about the Russell T. Davies era here and I don’t want to launch some kind of “Steven Moffat rulez, RTD droolz” debate.  I simply don’t agree with some of the criticisms made about Moffat, especially the accusations that Moffat’s portrayal of the Doctor’s female companions has veered toward sexism, but there are some things that boil down to purely personal preferences and Moffat clearly had a very different vision for the show and the character of the Doctor than RTD did.  It’s inevitable that there will be many people who will prefer one showrunner’s vision over the other. Personally I tend to prefer the seasons made under Moffat, but there are episodes from the RTD era I enjoyed, just as there are episodes made with Moffat at the helm that I’d probably skip with future viewings.

All that said, I truly, genuinely, absolutely loathe “The End of Time,” to such an extent that whenever I hear fans complain about Steven Moffat, my only rebuttal is “END OF TIME!

Of course, I should start with the good.  Bernard Cribbins is more or less the companion for these episodes, and he’s a delight.  Enough said.  And I do like John Simm’s The Master, especially how he’s kind of an evil version of how David Tennant portrays the Doctor.  I don’t like what the writers do with the Master in this story – at all – but I do enjoy John Simm’s take on the Master for the most part.

…And I think that’s it.  As for what I don’t like…well, get a snack and make yourself comfortable.

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If the whole episode had just been Timothy Dalton talking while in full Time Lord regalia, my opinion would have been considerably more positive.

So like any would-be epic the first part is narrated – in full purple prose mode, no less – by Timothy Dalton who is dressed in elite Time Lord gear. I was tempted to put this in the plus column for this episode, but it’s really ruined by what goes down in part two. Plus Dalton’s narration makes less and less sense when you consider who he actually is and the people he’s talking to, but we’ll get to all that. In the episode’s defense I suppose we’re not supposed to think he’s narrating everything that’s going down on screen, even though the idea of Dalton with an epic tone narrating the Tenth Doctor getting felt up by an old lady (yes, this will happen) does make up for a lot. Also it’s not the goofiest thing that will go down even in just part one.

Since this is Russell T. Davies and apparently not a show that can take place anywhere and anywhen, it’s Christmas in contemporary London.  Bernard Cribbins, returning as Donna’s grandfather, is in a church where a mysterious woman in white discusses how the church was once the site of a convent the Doctor rescued in the Middle Ages.  Who is this woman and how is she connected to the Doctor?  We don’t really find out.  I get that one of the charms of Doctor Who is that the writers usually leave in some mystery and ambiguity surrounding the Doctor, but at the same time it strikes me as fairly pointless to introduce a mystery character, one who won’t appear again except maybe in the dubiously canonical spin-off fiction, and never even just strongly hint at who she is.  (Of course, personally I’m rooting on her being Susan, but I’m always for characters who disappeared decades ago making cameos in my fiction…).

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Later commentaries revealed that she’s actually just the Doctor’s landlord from that year in college he spent renting a basement apartment.

As is usually the case with RTD’s epics, we are assured by not only the Lady in White, but also the Ood and the fact that everyone on Earth has been having dreams of a laughing Master, that Something Big Is Going Down.  We’ve already had a mad scientist threaten to erase virtually all reality, so RTD has to resort to making the crisis as vague as possible.  Then there’s the Doctor’s personal crisis.  Having learned about his impending “demise” from both the Ood and the Magic Negro from “Planet of the Dead”, the Doctor has been hesitating to investigate what’s going wrong with reality this time.

To be fair, this reluctance is expressed through probably my favorite scene in the whole affair…

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How I like to remember the Tenth Doctor.

I really do mean it as a compliment when I say that I think the Tenth Doctor is at his best when he’s being an annoying tourist.

Of course, the last time we saw the Doctor he wasn’t worried about his mortality at all, just about becoming a megalomaniacal demi-god twisting all of the universe’s history to suit his personal ethics.  I don’t know if RTD just assumed his audience had the attention span of fruit flies or what, but this is yet another idea that actually would have been much more interesting if it had been developed slowly over the course of a season or a series of specials.  I know of fans that hated this twist in the Tenth Doctor’s character, the core argument being that it was out of character for the Doctor, especially since regeneration has been for the most part not treated like dying.  However, I can see how it could be a legitimate take on the whole concept of a species of aliens that can save themselves from the brink of death but at the cost of losing their original physical appearance and even some of their personality traits.  From the perspective of the Doctor himself, how is it not like death?  Again, though, like with the idea of the Doctor’s flirtation with godhood, it’s overshadowed by a dozen other plot threads and barely given room to breathe, much less grow.

Speaking of plot threads, while the Doctor visits with the Ood, he notes that their society is evolving much faster than it should.  And no, this isn’t brought up again or has any bearing on anything whatsoever.

Instead the focus turns on Lucy Saxon, the Master’s wife.  She’s been kept imprisoned for shooting the Master, who even though the reset button was slammed on his near-destruction of the Earth way back in “Last of the Time Lords” was still remembered as the Prime Minister of Britain by the world and was still “assassinated” by Lucy and…well, to be honest this makes less sense than a film adaptation of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” as directed by David Lynch.  There’s something about a cult that practically worships the Master even though his reign over Britain and then the Earth was at least 95% erased from history as far as 99.999999% of the human race is concerned, and they need a DNA sample from Lucy to bring the Master back to life, and when they do so they have Lucy present at the site of the resurrection even though they have no reason to do so and it’s actually a really bad idea as they find out the hard way, and even though the whole ritual of resurrecting the Master is spoken of in scientific terms it’s conducted like a Witches’ Sabbath, and Lucy throws some kind of potion, which she says her “contacts” helped her make even though she’s been in a secret and highly guarded prison this whole time,  into the cauldron over which the Master is being resurrected and it causes a huge explosion.

Oh, and yeah, except showing how the Master returns, all of that Adds Nothing To The Plot.  We’ll be talking about ANTTP quite a few more times before we’re done.

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Even the Master would admit a Time Lord can’t parse out and explain the plot holes in that one scene I described above.

Oh yeah, and because of the botched resurrection the Master is cursed with a ravenous, even cannibalistic hunger (along with the drum beat we learned about in “The Sound of the Drums” and “Last of the Time Lords”), but he also has superpowers, like being able to shoot lightning like Emperor Palpatine and leap really high like the Hulk (or Wonderella).  Now you might think, okay, this means RTD is trying to set up the Master as a new kind of threat.  But, guess what, aside from a scene where the Master randomly kills some homeless people because why not, it’s all ANTTP anyway!

Well, at least on my part, it did make me wish the Master would go back to shrinking people into dolls.

The Doctor does try to prevent the Master’s resurrection, and we get dramatic shots of him running to the TARDIS to do so, but despite being a time traveler he’s still too late because who the hell knows.  He continues to present remarkably bad timing for a Time Lord when he also fails to stop the Master from being abducted by mercenaries hired by the billionaire Joshua Naismith, whose only characteristics are that he’s got more than his fair share of rich British smarminess and that he has a vaguely incestuous thing going on with his daughter Abigail, whose own only characteristic is that she apparently likes to randomly say “Abigail – it means Beloved of God!” in conversation.

You’d think that sinister human agencies kidnapping a Time Lord, who has near perfect knowledge of all history past and future and of all the secrets of the universe, would be compelling enough for an end-of-the-season plot.  But, no, it turns out that the Naismiths just want the Master to fix some alien device they think can grant immortality.  Is this, and not the thing about time running faster or the Master getting resurrected by his very own secretive, all-powerful cult, supposed to be the main plot?  The truth is, Part 1 of “The End of Time” doesn’t really have a main plot.  In fact, I think the Tenth Doctor himself would describe it as a wibbly wobbly ploty-boty stuff full of crappy, dull, and nonsensical subplots that don’t go anywhere.

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They too are wondering why they’re here.

Honestly, the only one of this episode’s many plot threads that actually gets any momentum is Bernard Cribbins, disturbed by his visions of the lady in white, enlisting his elderly pals to find the Doctor to warn him.  This leads into what is easily my favorite scene out of the entire “End of Time” saga, where the Tenth Doctor is harassed by a crowd of elderly people.

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The Doctor faces a threat greater than the Cybermen or the Sontaran Empire.

But, even so, this only highlights yet another problem I have the whole affair: the comic relief here is just as or even less goofy than the supposedly serious plot developments that are going down.

Finally, we get to subplot #2389-D4:  the return of Donna.  She’s engaged to a guy who I think gets two lines of dialogue, and the Doctor can’t even talk to her because she’ll supposedly die if she remembers their travels together.  It’s at this point that I think RTD meant to troll fans like me.  “Oh, so you liked Donna as a companion more than you liked Rose?  You’d much rather have a companion who’s female but isn’t romantically interested in the Doctor at all, eh?  Well then, how about I bring Donna back one more time…but she and David Tennant can’t even share a scene together.  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, YOU FOOLS!!!!”

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Catherine Tate somehow captures my expression the first time I watched “End of Time.”

The hundreds of plots finally start to a coalesce, more or less, once the Doctor and Bernard Cribbins set out to save the Master from the Naismiths – or vice versa, really.  Once they’ve infiltrated the Naismiths’ lair they come across yet another subplot in the form of an alien couple who have been sent to retrieve the technological device in the Naismiths’ possession.  In the meantime, they’re working undercover as human scientists until the device is repaired and they can leave with it.  Now exactly how and why they expect to be able to abscond with it especially now that the Naismiths believe it’s the key to immortality, and especially since they apparently can’t just teleport it off the planet, you may be asking?  Actually, by now you probably already resigned yourself to the fact that there’s more plot hole than plot here.

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Yeah, I don’t get why we’re here either.

The aliens tell the Doctor that the device is intended to heal people on a planet-wide scale, using a basic genetic template.  This sets off the Doctor’s alarm bells and he rushes to stop the Master from finishing his “repairs.”  Unfortunately, for at least the third time this episode, he’s much too late, and the Master uses the device to do something so dastardly, so devastating, so silly that you’d think you were reading a Silver Age Superman comic:  he transforms the entire human race into clones of himself, which of course he christens the “Master race.”

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Well, at least I’m sure this is somebody’s flash fic fantasy brought to the small screen.

So this is where I have to make a disclaimer that I know Doctor Who is the softest of sci-fi, and that it’s practically a fantasy show, and this is the same program where the most iconic alien villains have plungers for hands, but…this still feels like that ’60s Batman story where Batman is turned into a toddler and still fights crime, you know?  Like someone’s deliberately trying to take a show that has complete disregard for the “suspension of disbelief” and still make people think they’re watching some kind of avant gardeMonty Python-esque satire?

To be fair, John Simm does sell it with flair.  I’m not ashamed to admit I still get a chuckle when Obama-Turned-Master announces “I’m President!  President of the United States!  Look at me!” and is applauded by a room full of himself.  And despite the silliness he still does present the Master with some low-key menace.  Still, this is another case where I wish RTD held back some and, like with making the Daleks a threat without giving them the capacity to blow up the entire multiverse, just have the Master force humanity into a hive mind controlled by him.  As much as I love the visuals of John Simm dressed in the clothes of dozens of extras, I think I would have much preferred the chance to see countless characters playing as the Master.

The Doctor saves Bernard Cribbins from being “Master-fied” by locking him into a radiation chamber.  Donna isn’t affected because she’s still part-Time Lord, which honestly  most writers would treat as a bigger deal than it is treated here but hey I’m not the one the BBC paid big bucks. As the Doctor scrambles to do anything and Donna is threatened by her own “Master-fied” family, Timothy Dalton promises the viewer that the Time Lords have returned!

I’ll get into more of this next time, but let me just say…if only.  

What I dislike most about this story is that it feels like pure sleight of hand, although I write that with hindsight.  It promises some kind of change to the status quo beyond even the Doctor entering his eleventh incarnation, but – spoilers – it doesn’t happen.  However, I’m really getting ahead of myself, so join me next time for Part 2!

New “Who” Reviews: The End of Time, Part 1

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