Archive for July 2010

Revenge of the Cybermen

July 31, 2010

medium used: Target novelization by Terrance Dicks

Once again, I’m making do with the book, which is a boring muddle, and probably does not do justice to the broadcast version. For instance, the oft-quoted line “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile” does not stand out at all in the novel (NB:Dicks uses the word “idiot” instead of “imbecile”); evidently, the line requires Tom Baker’s voice to make it impressive.

This is a light-weight tale, which does come as a relief after a run of three quite intense stories.  The Vogans are sufficiently interesting as a race that I would like to see them again — although they seem incapable of thinking ahead.  ( A planet full of gold, but they don’t think of using it against the Cybermen?) The Cybermen themselves make a rather poor showing, and don’t seem to be thinking things through any better than the Vogans. Plus, despite the insistence that they have no emotions, they display quite a few of them.

Well, not much else to say, until I can view the DVD.

Food and Drink

“She’d [Sarah Jane] accepted eagerly when Lester had offered her a meal before leaving, but now she was picking unenthusiastically through a plastic box of food concentrates, most of which looked like pink Oxo cubes, and tasted unimaginable.  She realized that the crew had been living on pills and concentrates so long they took it for granted, and she thought longingly of steak and chips.” (page 35)

Kellman looks through the Doctor’s pockets and finds a bag of jelly babies and a half-eaten apple. (page 66)

Grade: (tentative) 2/5

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Genesis of the Daleks

July 30, 2010

medium used: DVD

A totally engrossing story, unfortunately marred by padding and some occasional silliness (e.g., big, nasty clams)

Great Moments

Where to start? There’s so many!

Davros — played to perfection by Michael Wisher.  He dominates every scene that he’s in.

Nyder — another character played to perfection.  One niggle is that I wish we could have found out a bit more of his motivations for being so loyal to Davros.  He shows one moment of doubt upon hearing of Davros’s plan to destroy his own people (“You would go that far?”), but that is quickly over.

SJS leading the slave rebellion, and the climb up the scaffolding — It’s a pity, though, that they have her freeze up and then fall.  No doubt that’s partly to create a time filler and a cliffhanger, but it also undermines the character. Sarcasm alert: Poor weak female, can start a rebellion, but just can’t follow through without messing up, and needs a male to rescue her.End sarcasm alert (Still, the first part of the scene is quite impressive.)

“Excuse me, can you help me?  I’m a spy.”

And, of course, the “Have I the right?” scene,  justly regarded as a great iconic moment.

Random Thoughts

“Have I the right?”  The Doctor hesitates to put the two ends of the wire together — not only would he be committing genocide, but his act would alter the future in unimaginable ways. Still, the expectation that this would destroy the Daleks is unfounded.  There are mature Daleks out doing Davros’s dirty work who would not be affected by the blast; neither would Davros  himself and most of the scientists. Moreover, there are undoubtedly scientific records of the Dalek creation stored in a safe place.  Thus, destroying the “nursery” would be a severe blow, but would still not be a complete solution.

The only way the Doctor could be sure of ridding the universe of Daleks would be to totally destroy the bunker, make sure there were no survivors, and then kill off the Daleks who were  sent out  to murder Thals —  and that’s assuming that Davros has not stored a copy of his records in some other, secret location.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of women around —  there’s Bettan on the Thal side, and I thought I caught a glimpse of another female in the background.  I noticed no women at all among the Kaleds.

One pleasing aspect of this story is that there’s no  simplistic “good guys vs bad guys” scenario.  The Thals are just as sadistic and aggressive as the Kaleds, and the mutant outcasts attack normals just because they’re not mutants.

Shipping Report

Not too much to say here — the TARDIS crew continues to work well together, and the Doctor once again displays concern for his companions — even willing to co-operate with Davros to spare them pain.

Food and Drink

The Doctor brashly asks for tea or coffee after Nyder leaves them in care of their new jailor, much to the guard’s shock.

SJS, after seeing the big, nasty clams, says “I’ll never eat oysters again.”

Grade: 4/5

July 30, 2010

The Sontaran Experiment

July 28, 2010

medium used: DVD

While it’s less intense than the serials that precede and follow it, there are so many grim scenes in this tale that I hesitate to call it a romp.  In quality, it may not be of classic stature, but it’s pretty decent story.

Great Moments

Didn’t spot any truly great moments.  The location work is good, showing us a recovering world, with just a few vestiges of what used-to-be, e.g., the barely recognizable remains of a sewer system.  Plant life is recovering, but where are the critters?  SJS is understandably nervous, there really could be anything out there. (and I suspect that quite a few insects would have survived)

The scene with the chained-up man dying of thirst is quite effective, as is Harry’s compassionate response, and his frustration is not being able to do more to help.

Random Thoughts

The scene of SJS being tortured — it seems the device is digging ever deeper into her psyche to locate her most intense fears.  The snake and the falling boulders scare her, but don’t provoke the most extreme reaction.  What “gets” her is the soil or mud that starts to engulf her.  The scene shifts away from the hallucination to a “real” view of Sarah screaming and the Doctor trying to help her.  What leads to her fainting, evidently, is the illusion of being buried alive, (perhaps that was too extreme to actually show on TV)

I’ve been amusing myself by trying to resolve some of the inconsistencies in the script, i.e., why do the Sontarans send only one soldier to do an assessment that is clearly important to them? My speculation:  The Sontarans have suffered heavy losses and their cloning machines just can’t keep up with the demand.  This not only explains why they can only afford to send one soldier, but why the assessment of human weaknesses is so important to them; they want to make the best use of their limited resources.  It might also explain why they give up so easily at the end — because, of course, they are not going to openly admit to any weakness.

And why go to the trouble of luring a group of humans to a deserted planet?  It would probably be more efficient to kidnap them and bring them to a laboratory.  Speculation:  Possibly no appropriate facilities exist, or are in short supply.  Presumably, the Sontarans wouldn’t value science except as a means to promote their dreary war, i.e., a way to produce better weapons, more efficient cloning techniques, and so forth. So Styre simply makes do — and maybe part of his mission was to make sure Earth really was deserted.

Speaking of Styre, he is really a flawed Sontaran, isn’t he?  I suspect he prolongs the experiments not only for his sadistic pleasure, but also to take a passive-aggressive delight in frustrating his superiors.  Maybe someone put the wrong chemical in his test tube.

I’m reading over the above and realizing that I’m spending too much time thinking about Sontarans.

The Shipping Report

The trans-mat isn’t working properly, as the Doctor had suspected, and SJS seems to be missing.  The Doctor doesn’t show a bit of concern, getting on with his work.  This strikes me as cold, given that she could have materialized anywhere, or not materialized at all.  Does he even give a damn?

But, just as we’re wondering what kind of alien is this new Doctor, anyway, he hears a male voice screaming, and rushes off, concerned that it might be Harry. And, later, he is outraged over the torture of Sarah Jane.  So, yes, he cares about his companions, but doesn’t always show it.  And he can be so absorbed with an intellectual problem that all other considerations get pushed into the background.

Food and Drink

One of the stranded humans reports that Vural is out “looking for grub”.

Styre remarks that humans are dependent on organic nourishment.  He also deprives one of his victims of water.

Sontarans evidently don’t eat, but replenish themselves by linking to the power on their ships (or, perhaps, other power sources). While this frees them of the need for organic food sources, it also makes them very dependent on technology.

Grade: 3/5

7/28/10

The Ark in Space

July 27, 2010

medium used: DVD

A suspenseful base-under-siege story that kept me on the edge of my chair — even though I’ve seen it before.

Great Moments

The set is excellent.  Antiseptic, controlled, and orderly, it reflects the culture that made it.

Sarah being processed for the cryogenic chamber — with the recorded voice commenting on her “supreme” sacrifice, it certainly seems that she is being euthanized.

The Doctor’s speech on the indomitability of the human race.

Sarah’s crawl through the conduits — being claustrophobic, this really gave me the shudders

Random Thoughts

I found Vira the most interesting of the characters.  She’s a product of a compartmentalized, authoritarian society, who has difficulty understanding how anything could possibly have gone wrong with the Ark.  It was designed not to fail!  She is rather suddenly given the task of being the leader, which she was not trained for, but  — she learns to adapt.  Given the rigid class roles she is accustomed to, this is no mean trick.

It would seem this high-tech society had planned for all contingencies, but they couldn’t conceive of something as nasty as a parasitic insect ruining their orderly environment.

I do have to wonder, though — if they needed that electric prong thingie to bring them out of stasis, why didn’t Vira have one in her chamber?  Lucky the Doc and company happened to be in the neighborhood.

The Shipping Report

“Harry is only qualified to work on sailors.” Not sure if the Doctor is quipping about Harry’s sexual preference, his Navy background, or both.

It’s rather nice to have a TARDIS team for a change, rather than the Doctor plus one.  Sarah Jane and Harry snipe at each other like siblings; the Doc is exasperated with Harry, but also recognizes his value; and Sarah is still in love with the Doctor, different though he may be.  How he feels about her is not exactly clear.

Food and Drink

The Doctor keeps brandy in the TARDIS; Sarah says she doesn’t like it.

The Doctor offers everyone a jelly baby, although it looks like he’s the only one who eats one.

He tosses the bag of jelly babies to Vira before going down to Earth.

Grade:  5/5

7/27/10

Robot

July 26, 2010

medium used: DVD

Despite a predictable plot and some cardboard villains, this is a good introduction to the Fourth Doctor’s era.  We get the familiar UNIT setting, and some familiar characters (SJS, the Brig, Benton) and a rather bland plot, thus easing the transition to the new Doctor and a fresh approach to the series.

Great Moments

The regeneration scene — Doc 4 babbles about events from “Time Warrior” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, thus providing a link with his previous incarnation (which benefits the Brig and SJS, as well as the audience).  He also utters some total nonsense “why is a mouse when it spins?” — and while this may be due to post-regenerative confusion, it’s also an indication of the Fourth Doctor’s manic nature.

The scene in which Doc 4 tries out different “looks”.  Maybe it’s a little silly, but it’s also funny — and continues to establish the new Doctor’s character .  One can’t be entirely sure if he’s serious about these costumes, or if he’s having a bit of fun.

The Doctor tries to get into the SRS meeting, pulling out an amazing amount of stuff from his pockets under pretense of looking for his membership card.  The Doctor’s pockets must certainly be bigger on the inside.

“There’s no point in growing up if you can’t be childish sometimes.”

Random Thoughts

The door that leads to the robot’s storage area is labelled “Positively no admittance”.  It is not locked.  Anyone could sneak a peek when no one else is around.  Evidently,  Think Tank management believe their employees are too cowed to disobey orders.

The laughter from the SRS audience as the Doctor “performs” for them seems rather odd to me.  They’re at a serious meeting, and, in any case, the SRS types don’t seem to have much sense of humor.  A more expected reaction would be confused silence.

That unfortunate robot — I feel a little manipulated here, but I do feel sorrow at his fate,  especially with those piteous groans as he dies.  The “King Kong” parallels are not exactly subtle; Kong wreaks far more havoc than the robot does, and yet is a tragic figure.  Unlike the movie, this serial is far from being a classic, but the robot’s story is still affecting.

The big problem with “Robot” is the cardboard cutout villains, a bunch of stereotyped fascists and a mad scientist with crazy hair.

I confess that I found the Fourth Doctor a bit jarring.  After five seasons worth of the dapper and sophisticated No.3 , this anarchical being will take some getting used to.

The Shipping Report

The Doctor’s first reaction upon regaining consciousness is to attempt an escape.  He seems to regard the Brig, Sarah, and Harry as captors, albeit friendly ones.  It as though his core personality is asserting itself — and all it wants is freedom.  When the Doc’s memory starts to return, and he recognizes his old friends, he agrees to stay — but is it friendship or the lure of an intriguing problem that keeps him from escaping in his TARDIS?

Sarah Jane seems at first to regard him as the same man; I imagine she’s thinking, “He’s just a little addled right now, but things will soon be back to normal.” Then comes the whole business of the robot going mad and turning into a metal King Kong.  It’s killed by the Doctor — who doesn’t show a scrap of empathy for the creature with whom Sarah, in spite of everything, has a sort of bond.

Now, the thing is, Doc#3 would probably have expressed some regret at the robot’s death.  He would probably have had some words of comfort for Sarah.  But, instead, he comes upon Sarah Jane in the UNIT lab, dazed and sorrowful — and offers her a jelly baby.  She looks at him, then looks away, rejecting him.  I suspect she has come to realize that this is not the same man that she loved.  The Doctor, understanding a little of what’s happening, says:

“I had to do it, you know.”

Sarah Jane: “Yes, I know.  It was insane and did terrible things, but, at first, it was so human.”

Doctor: ” It was capable of great good and great evil. I guess you could say it was human.”

Then the Doc states his intention to leave, and screw UNIT (doesn’t use those words, of course), and invites her to come along.  Evidently Sarah is sufficiently reconciled with him to agree, or maybe it’s her sense of adventure taking over, because she reaches into the bag of jelly babies and takes one (“a symbolic jelly baby”, as they said in the DVD commentary)

Still, the relationship is not the same as before.  What it will be, and what the Fourth Doctor will be, remains to be seen.

As for Harry Sullivan, he gets a jelly baby, too, but gets part of it taken away from him when he calls the TARDIS an “old police box”.  Still, he and the Doc have developed a good working relationship, and the Doc tricks him into entering the TARDIS.  So, Harry Sullivan, unwittingly, becomes a companion.

Food and Drink

After his rescue, Kettlewell is brought back to UNIT, where Sarah Jane treats his injuries.  Benton comes in with a tray of mugs of tea/coffee for them.

Later, the Doc helps himself to a mug from the tray.  It must be someone’s leftover beverage, and is probably cold by now. Doesn’t seem to bother him.

As discussed above, the Doctor offers both Sarah Jane and Harry a jellybaby.

Winters and her assistant are uncertain they have enough food  stored in the bunker, and go off to check.  Well, really, what’s the point now?  If they find there’s not enough food, what are they going to do about it?  It’s not like they can order in some pizza

Grade: 3/5

7/26/10

Some Brief Comments on the Third Doctor’s Era

July 25, 2010

Before this marathon, I was lukewarm about the Pertwee era; after viewing  (or reading) all of these stories in order, my estimation of these five years of the Third Doctor has gone up considerably. Some stories that I had disliked on first viewing (e.g., Invasion of the Dinosaurs), I now enjoy. One story (The Green Death) I liked somewhat less, but only slightly.

The Shipping Report

Doc 3 starts out as a bitter, resentful exile. He despises the UNIT personnel and the other military types he’s forced to work with — and seldom bothers to hide it.  He gradually mellows, not only being resigned to his imprisonment on Earth, but seeming to like it, actually choosing to stay with UNIT when the Time Lords give him back his freedom.  In his final story, he seems quite content, having settled down to a lengthy research project on human clairvoyance.  He’s on friendly terms with the Brigadier, and more than friendly terms with his new companion. He has, in other words, found both home and family; it’s particularly poignant that now, of all times, he is called upon to sacrifice himself.

Now, for the gossipy stuff — who’s on the boat?

Doctor and Liz Shaw — no, but he is quite fond of her.  As a fellow scientist, she was probably the only person he felt he could relate to

Doctor and Jo Grant — no, a romance that never happened. I suspect that, once the Doc realized he was in love with her, she was already drifting away.  Once she found that hippie professor, it was too late.

Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith — probably, yes

Jo Grant and Mike Yates — they evidently dated, difficult to say how far it went.  He still has feelings for her, judging by his reaction to the news of her engagement.

The Master and the Doctor — have known each other since childhood; somewhere along the line, the Master developed a fixation on the Doctor.  I’m guessing unrequited love.

The Brig and Doris — heh, an untold tale.

Food and Drink

The Third Doctor shows more interest in food than his previous incarnations; enthusing over the quality of Sir Reginald’s wine and relishing his medieval meal in “Time Warrior” while cheerily tossing the bones on the floor in imitation of his host. He likes protein for breakfast (Jo’s comment implies that takes the form of bacon and eggs), and is appreciative of the mutton soup the villagers serve him in “Planet of the Spiders”.

Presumably, the Doctor sleeps in the TARDIS while UNIT supplies his meals. ( It’s not clear whether he’s getting any other payment, which makes one wonder how he’s able to afford all those fancy outfits.)

So, good-bye, Doctor # 3; onwards to the Fourth Doctor.

7/25/10

Planet of the Spiders

July 23, 2010

medium used: iTunes download

Granted, this story  is quite the run-around, but there’s lots of good stuff, too.  It’s a nice swan song for the Third Doctor’s era, but would definitely have benefitted from a tighter plot.

Great Moments

The scenes at the monastery were all well done, particularly the illicit chanting in the basement.

The spiders — not all that scary in appearance, but the voices!  It’s how I would imagine sentient spiders to talk.

Mike Yates gets his opportunity for redemption.  I particularly liked this aspect of the plot — although, without a meeting with the Brig, the Yates story arc still seems incomplete.

The meeting with K’anpo. The Doc’s whole manner changes with him, body language, voice, everything. There’s a genuine deference and respect that we rarely see in the often-arrogant Third Doctor. And it’s a particularly great moment when the Doc realizes that he must return to the Great One’s lair and face his fear.

The reveal of the Queen Spider on Sarah’s back.  I think we can guess that something is not quite right about SJS, but it’s still a shock.

And, of course, the regeneration scene, low-key and effective.  Sarah is distraught without overdoing it, the Brig is stoic, but clearly grieving, Cho-Je/K’anpo calm and benevolent; and the Doctor  — well, let’s just say the Pert does it perfectly. “Tears, Sarah Jane?”

Random Thoughts

We get a bit of background for the Brig: Doris + seaside = embarrassment for the Brig. Still, he must have been fond of her, since he keeps the watch for eleven years.  Or maybe it’s a really good watch.

SJS and Yates have quite a good camaraderie — too good, if fact, considering that (on screen, at least) they’ve had no chance to know each other well.  Had SJS looked him up between the events of Peladon and now?  Curious, perhaps, to find out more about a man who turned traitor? And then learned to like him?

The Doctor reveals his priorities: “Don’t shoot, Brigadier.  You’ll damage my car!”

That chase does go on, doesn’t it?  Speaking of which, I am bitterly disappointed that the Whomobile/car/airplane is not also a boat.

The villagers of Metabelis 3: dire, just dire.  Bad lines delivered badly. As for the costumes — well, they’re okay, but I half-expect the villagers to whip out a balalaika and start doing a folk-dance.

Those thoughtful spiders have provided pillows for the captives in their larder.

Much running about here, captures, escapes, recaptures.  The Doctor sums it up: “Oh, dear.  This is getting monotonous.” Indeed.

I liked this bit of dialogue: SJS “Tommy, you are normal, like everybody else” Tommy: “I sincerely hope not.”

I am puzzled over this notion that the Doctor “stole” the crystal.  Who, exactly, did he steal it from?  The planet, as far as we can tell, had no sentient life at the time he removed the crystal.  If that’s stealing, then astronauts taking samples of moon rock is also stealing.

Maybe it’s a bit like removing a bit of volcanic rock from the Hawaiian Islands.  Reputedly, this arouses the ire of the volcano goddess Pele, who curses the thief with bad luck until he/she returns the stone to its proper location. Come to think of it, the Doc hasn’t had all that much luck since he took the crystal: Jo breaks his heart, Yates turns out to be a traitor, Aggedor dies, and Ettis punches the stuffing out of him.

This whole blue crystal story arc has a mythical quality about it.  The Doc wants a crystal, it seems, to impress Jo.  To get one, he must journey far and battle a number of monsters. It’s a bit like a knight errant doing a quest for the sake of his Lady.  And then there’s more than a hint of Lord of the Rings here.  We have the Great One, with her mental powers, sending out emissaries to find the “One crystal to rule them all”.  The Doctor must bring the crystal back to a mountain, at risk of his own life. And it all ends with a cataclysmic destruction of the evil empire.

The Shipping Report

The Doctor is definitely over Jo.  When he reads her letter, he is clearly pleased to hear from her, but there’s no sense of pain or sadness.  Well, he’s found SJS, hasn’t he?

Speaking of which, I’m getting the impression that the relationship is far more intimate than what he had with Jo.  When SJS visits his lab, she fondles his coat in a way that puts me in mind of how a widow might handle her late husband’s clothing.

Food and Drink

Tommy wants a “cuppa” and asks Lupton and Barnes if they want one, too.  He gets treated harshly for his efforts.

When Clegg demonstates telekinesis, he uses a tray with a tumbler and plate with some crumbs on it — the remains of the Doctor’s lunch, perhaps.  Plate and tumbler are both plastic — perhaps the UNIT budget doesn’t allow for proper crockery.

Lupton offers SJS and Yates a meal or at least a cup of tea.  Sarah wants to accept, but Mike hustles her away.

In her letter, Jo says that the coffee there is as filthy as UNIT tea, and that they haven’t found the toadstool yet.

Benton brings the Doctor a cup of coffee, which the Doc compares favorably to that made by Mrs. Pepys.

SJS mentions fish and chips in her list of mundane things.

The Doctor’s breakfast with the villagers consists of mutton broth and bread.

The spiders eat sheep raised by the villagers, but they prefer human meat.

Grade: 3/5