Archive for December 2008

The Daleks

December 2, 2008

 

Survival — that’s the name of the game here.  On one end of the field, we’ve got the Daleks.  Unpleasant creatures who live inside a metal casing, and, judging by Ian’s reaction to the sight of one, hideously ugly.  They thrive on radiation.  They are devoted solely to the survival of the Dalek race. Team uniforms: metal. Team slogan: Exterminate! On the opposite side of the field, we have the Thals.  Handsome.  Blond. Muscular.  They could easily be a race of Germanic Supermen.  They’re running out of food.  They want to survive. Team uniforms: Sexy, revealing outfits.  Team slogan: We’re pacifists, but . . . 

Which team, I wonder, will the TARDIS crew side with?

Now, you’re saying, that’s a no-brainer. The Daleks imprisoned our four heroes, injured Ian, and made Susan run through the woods to Grandma’s house  . . .um, I mean, the TARDIS.  Meanwhile, the Thals generously donated anti-radiation medicines to the crew without asking anything in return.  And Susan instinctively trusts Alydon.  (that Alydon is tall, blond, and gorgeous has nothing to do with her decision).

So, watcha gonna do? Play with the Thals, of course.  They’re the good guys.  But, it’s not quite as simple as that.  

The fluid link, necessary to run the ship, has been left behind in the Dalek city, and the Doctor doesn’t have a spare.  The crew need that fluid link; it’s either that, or spend the rest of their days as subsistence farmers, always looking over their shoulders for a Dalek ambush.  Clearly, the Thals must be convinced to help out.  Ah, teamwork.  It’s a noble cause, right?  

Depends on how you look at it.  Ian has his doubts, not about surviving, but in asking the Thals to risk their lives for four strangers.  Neither the Doctor, nor, curiously, Barbara, have such doubts.  Susan sides with Ian — they both believe the Thals must fight only if they perceive some advantage for themselves in defeating the Daleks.  And, of course, there is much to be gained: elimination of a dangerous adversary, and food.  Lots of food. The Daleks have piles of it, the Thals don’t.  So . . .let’s go in and take it. And if the Daleks must die in the process, so be it.

Meanwhile, the Daleks have determined that to thrive they must have radiation, and lots of it.  They plan to flood the area with radiation so they can leave their city and rebuild their planet to suit themselves. And if the Thals must die in the process, so be it.

So there you have it.  Survival. Ethics are a secondary consideration. To be sure, there’s more to it than this.  The Thals would be perfectly willing to co-exist with the Daleks, if the latter would also be willing, but the Daleks value no lives but their own.  So, yeah, that makes the Thals the good guys and the Daleks the villains.  But the name of the game is still survival, and the rules aren’t particularly ethical.

 

The Shipping Report

 

There’s a wonderful moment in the first episode when a fragile, petrified flower crumbles to dust in Susan’s hands.  She looks heartbroken.  Shortly after, someone unseen touches her on the shoulder and terrifies her.  To make matters worse, no one believes her story.  The Doctor can’t seem to comfort the upset girl and asks Barbara to intervene, making some comment about the age difference creating a gulf between his granddaughter and himself.

One suspects that the gulf is created by something more than an age difference, and the whole sequence of events emphasizes that Susan is not a happy camper.  When Barbara approaches the girl, she finds her drawing a picture of the lost flower, and complaining that no one believes her.  “Well,” says Barbara, “I believe you.”, even though we suspect she doesn’t.  There’s a special bond developing between Barbara and Susan that starts here. 

Not Barbara’s only bond — the growing relationship between Babs and Ian is indicated by the enthusiastic embrace as he is rescued from the elevator.  But, he’s not the only fellow in her life.  She and the Thal, Ganatus, are seen walking together when everyone else is sleeping (Insomnia, no doubt), and she kisses him farewell in the final episode.  He is sad at their parting, “I doubt that I will ever forget her,” he says.

As for the Doctor, he displays once again his duplicitous nature, as well as his intense curiosity.  Craving a look at the mysterious city on the horizon, he pretends that an essential element of the console needs repair.  It needs mercury, and where are we going to find that in this wilderness?  Why, we’ll have to go to that city, of course.  “Of course,” says Ian, his expression indicating skepticism and disgust.  The Doctor does later admit to his deception, but only because circumstances force him to do so.  Further humiliation comes when he  and Susan are captured while he crows about his cleverness in disrupting the Daleks power source.  The topper occurs when, bargaining for he and Susan’s life, he offers to show them how the TARDIS works.  They decline, they’ll figure out for themselves.  Don’t need him at all!

 

Great Moments

I’m adding a couple more sections to these reviews. This one will look at particularly memorable scenes or dialogue. This serial has so many, I hardly know where to begin:

 

In exploring the Dalek city, Ian says “Why don’t we separate and go different ways . . .”  Yikes!  This is like wearing a red shirt on the Star Ship Enterprise, calamity will follow.

 

First encounter with a Dalek:  Babs has the dubious honor.  In a memorable cliffhanger, we see her cowering before a rod-like apparatus attached to . . . something. Nothing Freudian in this scene.  

 

The sight of a clawed Dalek, um, hand? slipping out from underneath the robe.  Super creepy.

 

Spoken by Ian “Pacifism only works when everyone feels the same”.

 

And, of course, the above mentioned flower that crumbles in Susan’s hands.

 

 

Random Thoughts

As the title implies, miscellaneous stuff . . .

 

 

The Daleks have their fun-loving side.  They even play Pacman (see the symbols on some of the walls)

 

They also have their artistic side, with an appreciation of abstract sculpture.  (Object that Ian throws down on the elevator)

 

And we might want to take a gander at Dyoni’s head dress, which looks like a metal tree sprouting out the top of her head.  When she awakes in the middle of the night to have a chat with Alydon, she’s still wearing it.  She slept with that thing in her hair?  Is it an implant?

 

Ian evidently has mountaineering experience; he seems quite an old hand at it.  Makes me even more curious about his background.

 

The Thals seem to place much emphasis on clothing as a gift item.  Both Alydon and Dyoni give Susan cloaks;  Ganatus gives Barbara a length of cloth “not suited for swamps or caves”.

 

Food and Drink

 

The TARDIS has a sort of food replicator that can produce anything you want.  Well, sort of.  Barbara and Ian request bacon-and-eggs and receive a candy bar-like object — but at least it tastes like what they ordered.

This particular group of Daleks needs organic food.  Using artificial light, they grow a great many vegetables.  They also produce liquid foods and have access to water.  To lure the Thals into an ambush, they’ve heaped up piles of produce in a courtyard.  (no doubt very tempting to the half-starved Thals)

 

Grade

 

A minus.  Wonderful creepy atmosphere, and, of course, this serial is memorable because it introduces the Daleks.  It drags on a bit, though, particularly in the cave sequences.

 

 

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100,000 BC

December 1, 2008

 

Some might call it poetic justice.  The Doctor, who kidnapped two innocent, albeit nosy, humans, and laughed as he did so, is now kidnapped himself, and by a primitive, no less.  Is the Doctor laughing now?  Nope.  Neither are his companions.

Let’s back up a bit.  

The TARDIS arrives on a barren plain, no clue as to where — or when — it is.  Ian and Barbara, who were unconscious during the journey, don’t know what to make of things; Ian, in particular, being skeptical that any traveling has occurred.  Susan offers to guide them (Look who’s the teacher now, she might be thinking) The Doctor goes off by himself to take some rock samples.  He pauses to light a pipe — big mistake.  For the local human tribe has lost the knowledge of fire, and the young hunter who observed him light a match knows opportunity when he sees it.  

His tribe is in the midst of a crisis.  Their leader, who knew the secret of how to make fire, has died without teaching anyone his special knowledge.  Not even his son, who now struggles to maintain a fast eroding authority over his desperate people.  His  main challenger is that same man who kidnapped the Doctor.  If the Doctor could be forced to create fire . . .Alas, the Doctor would be quite willing, but he has lost his matches.  And with no access to technology, even this very simple kind, the Doctor is helpless. 

Of course the companions try to rescue him, getting captured themselves in the process.  The Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara are all reduced to the most primitive of conditions, relying on stones and bones as tools, as do the paleolithic tribe that hold them prisoner. Ironically, the tribe itself displays many “modern” vices, such as duplicity, arrogance, violence, and backstabbing.  A change of clothes, and they might seem very much like modern folk.

Ian, who evidently has some survival training — or maybe he used to be a boy scout — makes fire for the tribe, but that’s not enough to get them freed.  Za, now established as leader, has a great idea — their two tribes are going to join together (there’s a quick shot of Susan’s dismayed face as this news is announced — nicely done), and so they’re going to stay prisoners. The lack of fire got them into this fix, the presence of it gets them out.  The fiery skulls they use to fake their own deaths makes for a memorable scene, worthy of a Halloween tableau.

 

The Shipping Report

The Doctor remains an ambiguous figure; on one hand, he apologizes with evident sincerity for getting the other three into this mess, on the other, he seems to have murderous intentions against the injured Za.  And during the final break for freedom, he’s still looking out for number one.  When Barbara trips and falls, he runs right past her — nearly stepping on her!  Neither does Susan, who is directly ahead of her, turn back to help.  Ian, of course, stops to assist her back on her feet.

It’s worth noting the power struggle between Ian and the Doctor.  The latter gets miffed when Ian takes over during their first attempt at escape.  Later, in the cave, Za wants to know who’s leader; he’s looking at Ian, but Ian nods towards the Doctor.  “He is,” he says.  Ian gets extra points for diplomacy and grace.

 

Food and Drink

 

Mystery meat roasting over the fire.  Water in a hollowed out rock.  Unidentified fruit (probably dried, given it’s close to winter.)

 

Grade

 

B minus.  Doesn’t match the quality of the first episode, but has some nice moments.  

Doctor Who: Pilot episode and An Unearthly Child

December 1, 2008

Pilot episode and “An Unearthly Child”

 

It’s been a pretty strange day for two ordinary school teachers.  Five months ago, a very odd girl showed up in their classes.  Susan Foreman, in some ways a genius,  in others, hopelessly ignorant, and in all ways perplexing.  And to top everything off, it turns out her home address is a junkyard.  So now we have two respectable teachers skulking in a dark street, waiting for an adolescent girl to walk by . . . Oh, of course, they’re doing it for her own good.  Naturally.  Not because they’re bored and can’t resist the mystery of Susan and her reclusive grandfather. Not in the slightest.

And if their day has been a little out of the ordinary so far, it’s nothing to what it’s about to become . . .

This, then, is the beginning.  There’s darkness, mystery, and extraordinary things found smack dab in the midst of the ordinary.  An alien child in a normal, run-of-the-mill school.  An old man with a secret. The ordinary becomes extraordinary with a slight twist of perception.  Consider the junk yard, a place where everyday items are discarded.  They are scattered about, out of place, out of context, and covered in darkness.  In such a place, even the baby carriage becomes a mystery, and a rather forbidding one at that. And, then, there is that police box — an ordinary enough object for the time, but what is it doing in a junk yard?  And why is Susan’s voice heard within it?  Why can’t it be opened?  And who is this old man who guards its secrets so carefully?  Just cross the threshold, and we’re in another world, the closely kept secret now revealed.

It’s a place of wonder, this TARDIS. Our schoolteachers — Just look at their faces. Awe and wonder and disbelief.  How can it be?  It’s bigger on the inside!  More revelations follow.  The Doctor and Susan — aliens? Impossible.  They travel through time and space?  Unbelievable. And the Doctor is not going to let them leave?  Now that   is something Barbara and Ian won’t tolerate for a moment.  

An assault on unmoving doors — and the Doctor’s accompanying laughter — shows them that they are, indeed, prisoners.  Now that laughter, it’s cruel, especially in the pilot episode.  In AUC, he is much less harsh, but he laughs none-the-less.  He is deaf to Susan’s pleading; she begs for him to let them go, they won’t say a word “I know these earth people better than you, their minds reject things they don’t understand.”  To no avail.  Nothing must be allowed to taint the timeline, the Doctor reasons.  (But does he stop to consider that that abruptly removing Barbara and Ian from their appropriate time may wreak even more havoc?  )

Not only is the Doctor cruel and arbitrary, he’s deceptive as well.  He tricks Susan into thinking he’s going to release both her and the humans, and instead sets the TARDIS  on course to  . . .well, somewhere.  Not even he knows the time and place.

 

THE SHIPPING REPORT

 

Here’s the part of these reviews where we look at relationships, romantic and otherwise.

 

Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, Susan’s nosy teachers, have a clearly friendly relationship that was probably established well before the alien child entered their classrooms.  There’s a very slight hint of sexual attraction between them, but only a hint. For now, they’re just colleagues pursuing a mystery.  Barbara can be a bit sharp (“Ian, do pay attention!”), and feels the need to justify her curiosity, (“If I thought I was just being a busybody, I’d go straight home.”).  She is honest enough to admit to some hostility towards Susan.(“It’s got to the stage where I deliberately want to trip her up.”)

Ian is the more easy-going of the two, but less intuitive — when Barbara hesitates to enter the junk yard, feeling that maybe they’re about to meddle in something they shouldn’t, Ian shrugs and says “I take things as they come”.

Susan, the object of their curiosity, is a distinctly odder girl in the pilot episode than in AUC.  In the first, Susan gives herself a Rorschach test by splattering some ink on paper, folding it in half, and then drawing a polygon around it.  Then she looks up, startled.  I’ve always wondered what she saw in that, and whether the series would have explored that further.  Alas, that scene was dropped in the broadcast episode, being replaced by a rather tame bit with a history book.  “That isn’t right,” she exclaims after a look inside the covers.  Apparently, she’s been there with the Doctor, one of their many trips through history.  And she appears to be a reluctant traveler.

“The last five months have been the happiest of my life,” Susan tells Barbara, and it sounds like she means it.  What kind of misery, I wonder, has she been through, that five months in Coal Hill School make her happier than she’s ever been?  Apparently life with Grandfather isn’t a bed of roses.

 

FOOD AND DRINK

 

I’m also keeping a running tab of everything edibles mentioned or seen throughout the series. Not much to note this time, although Susan in AUC is seen eating something as she enters the junk yard.

 

GRADE

 

An excellent start to the series.  I give both versions an A.  The pilot episode is my favorite of the two, as it has more of an edge.