Resurrection of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

Avert your eyes if it offends you...

Resurrection of the Daleks has to be the most bored Doctor Who story ever.

Not that it's dull, or boring, but bored. The story seems to be looking around, desperate to find something interesting, and then dropping it, bored, before finding something new.

Look at the way it treats the Doctor. For two episodes he's stuck in a plot that has nothing to do with the rest of the story - skulking around some eerie docklands patrolled by sinister police force that he never meets. Working with the bomb disposal squad that ignore pretty much everything he says. At the half-way mark, the Doctor travels into the main plot with the Daleks... and gets locked in a room for another episode, getting his memories sucked out in a flashback sequence. When he gets out, he picks up a gun (something he was deliberately avoiding all through the first two episodes) and heads off to kill Davros. Except he doesn't. Then he goes back to the warehouse plot and releases a virus that blows up the Daleks.Resurrection of the Daleks is a story that has no interest in the Doctor, Tegan or Turlough. And considering it's Tegan's swansong, that's a bit of a shame. She gets knocked out in part two, then hides in the TARDIS for the rest of the story, leaving it and running away, and then changing her mind at the last minute. Her departure is one thing that's handled well, but it would make more sense for her to depart in the belief the Doctor's become a hardened killer than a general 'being sick of it'. Tegan seemed 'sick of it' before she joined in Logopolis and didn't want to leave in either Time-Flight or The King's Demons.

No, Resurrection isn't interested in the TARDIS crew.

Maybe it's the Daleks? Yes, the Daleks! After all, first time since 1979 we get to see the metal pepperpots from Skaro and this time no Douglas Adams "sillyness". Yes, we can forgive a story for focussing on the monsters that made the series famous.

One problem. Resurrection seems less interested in the Daleks than it does the TARDIS crew.

Now, if I was in the position for writing a story for the Daleks, I'd want to use them. Make them deadly, kill-all-biped psychopaths or very cunning, self-controlled alien death machines. Make them scary, nasty and feared by one and all.Resurrection doesn't do that, does it?

The first time we see the Daleks, they explode through a door and... get blown up. This gives them their new catchphrases. Forget "Exterminate!" or "Resistance is useless!", the Daleks spend most of the story shouting "Retreat! Withdraw!" or "My vision is impaired, I cannot see!" They aren't even able to defeat a bunch of smoking layabouts who run the space prison. They need Lytton and his men to get the job done, to defeat Styles and Mercer, to face off against Davros. The Daleks have seemingly dozens of plans working all at once and not one of them works. The Supreme Dalek spends the entire story staring at a crystal ball and complaining.

The Daleks don't seem to have any reason to be in the plot. When two of them appear and wipe out the control deck crew, it seems like a token gesture. See? Daleks are in this one! But Lytton's mercenaries do more work. The Daleks pop in for a gloat at the Doctor when they record his memory, and then run away leaving the human character Stien to do their work. As many troopers are ambushed by Davros' little laser gun as are Daleks, and they are interchangeable on a story level.

Not only are the Daleks badly used, they're treated with open contempt. Lytton calls the Daleks stupid to their faces, plots behind their backs and escapes with his life. Davros, their creator, is determined to make a new race of Daleks that aren't as crap as the one that are here. The Daleks explode, froth, melt and disgorge their contents at the slightest provocation. They can't even go through doors without blowing them up first and its painful to see the humans using normal doorways you have to step open while the Daleks have to wait to slide the entire wall back to let them through. The Daleks we discover are, in fact, on the edge of extinction with those rastafarian androids the Movellans completely defeating their enemies off screen.

We're supposed to be impressed by these things? Scared by them? The policemen are more intimidating!

No, the Daleks are as irrelevant to Resurrection as the Doctor.

Maybe it's Davros?

After all, Davros definitely gets a lot of screen time. He's the prisoner who, in an hour after his release, has brainwashed four troopers, a chemist and two Daleks to his cause and sensible created a batch of weapons of mass destruction. Davros also appears, for some reason, to have the moral high ground. The Doctor strides in, picks up a gun and is about to kill this one-armed, blind cripple in a wheelchair.

And Davros stops him using the power of words alone.

Um, forgive me, but the Doctor is the hero of the series, isn't he? Not Davros. Davros is an insane megalomaniac directly responsible for wiping out his own species. Yet the scenes in Resurrection show him cleverer than the Doctor and the Daleks combined. The Doctor is said to be the insane one, rejecting the fact that all sentient life exists merely to beat the crap out of each other. The Doctor said to be the weak one for not murdering a helpless victim right away. Humans are pathetic too, apparently, because we don't slaughter prisoners as soon as look at them.

Of course, Davros gets his comeuppance in the end. But the Doctor doesn't defeat him, or the Daleks, or all the characters united. Davros loses because he is stupid and forgets that a virus designed to wipe out Kaled mutants might just effect his mutated Kaled body.

Well, maybe Resurrection is more concerned with original characters...

Wait a minute, what original characters? We get three groups - Archer, Laird and the troops on Earth, 1984; Mercer, Styles and the prison gang in space, in the future; and Lytton, Stein and the mercenaries. These characters aren't treated particularly reverently. Archer and his gang are systematically killed and then replaced with clones. It takes ages to drain the knowledge of the Doctor and it seems to be important for the victim to be alive, but the Daleks are able to copy and convert several dead soldiers as well in the living in around ten seconds. And why are these perfect copies such crap actors? Why isn't Laird copied?

Now, it strikes me that if you kill off a character and then replace it with a clone, in storytelling terms you might as well not have killed them off at all. Are we supposed to care when the evil cloned soldiers get shot by Daleks? But if it were the original, fighting desperately to keep the Daleks in the warehouse and away from the rest of London, we might actually care.

But we don't. They die. So do a lot of people. A lot of good people, according to Tegan, and it's lucky she tells us that because we certainly don't get a chance to make our own mind up.

Take Mercer and Styles. We get a good chance to know them. A chance, anyway. The first sequence shows Mercer as young, idealistic and rebellious and Styles as tired, desperate and corrupt. The crew of station are more interested in relaxing and playing cards and smoking and laugh aloud at the idea of their workplace actually getting attacked. But in ten minutes Styles is gleefully determined to sacrifice her life on a suicide charge into the Dalek ship, not to mention blowing up the station. In the final battle, she's the first to be shot - which is either shockingly innovative or dramatically pathetic, I'm not sure which. Similarly, Mercer doesn't get any real emotion to his death, he doesn't even scream.

Indeed, there is so much carnage, you wonder if you're supposed to care. The opening scene where a bunch of alien prisoners and a harmless tramp are machine-gunned to death, that's shocking. Like the opening to the author's The Visitation on speed. But then there's another massacre on the space station when the mercenaries gas the workers and the Daleks blast those that are left. By the time Turlough has hopped over the heap of corpses, either trying to prevent infection or stop himself vomiting with a hanky, I think we're fully desensitized. Daleks shoot each other, shoot humans, explode with toothpaste... Tegan seems to be the only one to notice it was a complete bloodbath.

Stein is the only character who dies with a point - and even that's debatable. The Daleks shoot him and luckily his corpse hits the control. And it's ironic because he is the most badly-plotted character there. Why is he with the other prisoners? How come he hides when surely all he has to do is wander into the time corridor for a welcome and that food he's always asking for?

Come to think of it, who are the prisoners at the start of the story? Why are they imprisoned on Earth 1984 in the first place? Why was Lytton's lieutenant so stupid as to arrange for these 'valuable specimens' to be shot dead? Does it matter, if the converter seems able to work on dead bodies? It seems the specimens are to be converted into evil Dalek clones to bring down society... but why try that in the future as well as 1984? Surely if human society collapses in the twentieth century, it won't exist in the twenty-third for other duplicates? What is the plan the Supreme Dalek has to control Davros and why the hell doesn't he use it? Where did Davros get that funky brainwashing gun and why didn't he use it earlier, like when he was arrested? I could complain at the bad continuity between other Dalek stories, but I'll simply ask why Eric Saward was so utterly useless at them after watching every existing Dalek story? Wasn't he paying attention? Was he actually interested in writing this story at all? Was there some subtext that the world needed to know?

Is Resurrection more of a message story? What is it's message? Er...

Well, I think it is that the only way for life kind to go on is to blow up absolutely everything else.

After all, the day is won when Stein blows up the space station, the Daleks, and (apparently) Davros. It's Lytton that survives the story by killing anyone who can stop him. If the humans had blown up Davros, none of this would happen. Its blowing up Daleks that stops them. The Movellan canisters are rubbished by Tegan, Laird and Turlough when they discover they are not bombs and can't blow anything up. The Doctor snatches up bombs and blows up more Daleks.

So, the moral of the story is the only winners are those with superior firepower and no moral scruples.

Remind me, why the hell was this allowed to be shown in Doctor Who? Full frontal nudity has as much place in this program - and at least that's slightly more wholesome! This story was written by the SCRIPT EDITOR of Doctor Who and he couldn't even remember that the Doctor is supposed to show a better way to resolving situations than shooting your enemy in cold blood? Eric Saward recently admitted in DWM that his heart wasn't in Resurrection of the Daleks. Which, considering he had an extension of year to tinker with it, is a damning indictment of his skills.

Now, this isn't to say that Resurrection of the Daleks has no merit. All those involved (bar Saward) give their all to this mess, making such a sleek and polished production that the fans of 1984 were conned into thinking it better than The Caves of Androzani (a fact now treated by people with the same amusement than once people thought the Earth rested on the back of a tortoise). The actors give it their all, the special effects are massive. The moment when the TARDIS takes off carrying Tegan and Turlough to safety is treated with equal respect if not emotion when the Doctor pulls the same trick in The Parting of the Ways.Resurrection of the Daleks continues the harshness of Season 21, and finally shows the characters cracking under the strain of this cruel universe. The Doctor snaps and picks up a gun, while Tegan gives up and walks away. The Time Lord avows to mend his ways and stop any further carnage from now on. The rest of the stories in the season would show how well this progressed.





Attack of the CybermenBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

It didn't go very well, did it?

Decisions, decision. Is Attack of the Cybermen are decent story with a few plot holes, or a terrible waste of space with several moments of brilliance? Hard to tell.

What's wrong with the story? (I'm doing Season 22 in 25-minute episodes because that's how I saw it)

1) No unity of action. The first two episodes are set in the London sewers. Which have no bearing on the rest of the plot. All the important stuff is happening on Telos, which we don't see until episode two, and the TARDIS doesn't arrive until half way through episode three. The whole trip to London is irrelevent, and the Doctor might as well have landed straight on Telos and given the story a chance to breathe. Or maybe set the whole story in 1985 London for Lytton's attempts to leave the Earth, a kind of homocidal Ford Prefect, and his diamond hiest. Has there ever been a story like that? Seeing the Sixth Doctor and Peri caught in a bank robbery would be intriguing... But it's a throwaway plot, which leads us to...

2) Too many ideas, not enough interest. Like Resurrection of the Daleks, Attack throws in a mass of ideas, plots and characters and after juggling them for a moment, gives up and ends in a massive explosion. The return of Lytton and his policemen isn't the epic it's supposed to be simply because the Doctor barely met the former and never met the latter. Peri's met neither! The idea that the Time Lords have manipulated the Doctor into getting caught in the plot are nonsense, as the TARDIS arrives in 1985 because the Doctor was already heading there, and any other manipulation was down to Lytton. Speaking of Lytton, why does he send out the distress signal before going on the raid? Why does he decide to aide the Cryons instead of just trying to hitchhike his way off Earth? If Halley's Comet is so crucial to the plot, why is it only ever mentioned in two scenes involving the Doctor? How are the Cryons responsible for all the Cybermen dying while frozen in the tombs? Who are Bates and Stratton, how do they have access to a time machine, and how do the Cryons know what they're up to? Why do the Cybermen leave the policemen's helmets on when converting them? If the Telos scenes are, as they appear, set in the far future, how did Lytton contact the Cryons from 1984? If the Cyrons have a spy camera in the cold room, how come they don't realize that Flast is in there as well? And how has a bimbo like Rost lived so long in a guerilla war?

3) Wasting Lytton. Now, out of the disparate elements of Ressurection of the Daleks, Lytton was worth coming back for. A cunning warrior capable of surviving a bloodbath that at the time seemed to have wiped out the Daleks and Davros and still take a potshot or two at the Doctor, I can see at least one person considering him a replacement to the Master (who was, after all, dispatched eight episodes ago). Who can forget the brilliant bit where Stein reminds Lytton that the Daleks will ultimately turn on him, and Lytton doesn't do anything but smile knowingly - he's already prepared for that. Doctor Who needed a recurring villain, and Lytton definitely passed the audition. Imagine if The Mark of the Rani had featured Lytton trying to get a lift off the evil Time Lady, or if it was Lytton out for revenge, not Orcini out for honor, that hunted down Davros in Revelation of the Daleks. But no, instead, he dies here, in his second appearance, with his sidekicks gone by the end of the second episode and forgotten. I thought this was written by Eric Saward who, after all, created and rather liked the character.

4) Wasting Lytton (b). At the end of the story, the Doctor discovers Lytton was working for the Cryons and suddenly he's a good guy. Uh, no, he isn't. In his debut, Lytton happily allowed a bunch of unarmed civilians and a passing tramp to be shot dead, deliberately gassed and shot helpless prisoners, slaughtered his own men and did with a smile. He threatens to have Russell killed and ultimately betrays Griffiths, Stratton and Bates. The only-in-for-it-for-himself Lytton clashes harshly with the big-bleeding-heart Lytton who condemns Peri for not having any compassion, and the one the Doctor mourns for at the end. The Doctor, despite his complete lack of on-screen evidence that Lytton was a bastard, did not misjudge him. Lytton could have told him what was doing and got the Time Lord on his side, could have sweet talked his way round the Cybermen. If the Doctor wants to feel guilty, it should be because he was prepared to leave Lytton on Telos, not because he ultimately failed to save him.

5) Decapitating Cybermen. It beggars belief that Saward wrote this story after Earthshock. The earlier Cybermen story showed them to be near indestructible, ruthless, powerful and was only able to defeat them by making it part of history. Take out the extinct dinosaurs and the Cybermen would have won. But here they can get stopped by bullets. Bullets! That's the one thing that has never effected the silver giants till now - but one shot from Griffiths can make one bleed to death, and Russell can blow another's head apart with a single round! Not to mention the endless scenes of Cybermen getting their skulls smashed from their soldiers by metal poles, laser blasts and bare fists... Worse, like Resurrection of the Daleks, Attack shows this classic monster race on their last legs, with one overcomplicated time-travel-bomb-involving plan to stop them being wiped out... And it fails! Did Saward feel he had to kill off every character he enjoyed writing for? Only the regulars and two Cryons survive this story...

6) Too much continuity! As Gareth Roberts pointed out, building a sequel plot out of The Tenth Planet, The Tomb of The Cybermen, The Invasion and Resurrection of the Daleks is almost but not quite as pointless as building a sequel plot to The Smugglers, The Evil of the Daleks, The Mind Robber and Frontios. Worse, you can tell the really obvious padding of the scenes with the Doctor and Peri where they discuss his regeneration. Oh, and Totter's Yard. Why the hell was that there? Why? In Remembrance of the Daleks, it was there because it was one of the few places we saw the First Doctor visit in the first episode, and it also contrasts him with the Daleks - he used the yard as a home and spent most of his time in a police box, the Dalek uses the yard as shelter and spends most of its time killing people from the safety of a shed. There's no reason for the TARDIS to land there, in fact, all I could think of was that the chameleon circuit still thought that a police box looks good in a scrapyard... And imagine! Without all the pathetic scenes about the Terrible Zodin and the chameleon circuit and the Doctor running around London, he could have got straight into the plot. Is it a crime to have the TARDIS land in the action nowadays? And worse, the continuity is WRONG! The tombs don't look the same as in Tomb, which begs the question of why do it then? Why get the guy who played the Controller to come back when all the actor had no dialogue and was brought into wear a massive silver suit that hid his features? Not only does he make the Controller fat, twitchy and robotic, I can barely understand a word he says. Bring him back to play the Giant Robot (as Big Finish did), but not this! The Controller in Tomb was a creepy queen bee of the Cybermen, and this one is a jowly moron you get bored waiting for someone to attack!

Hmmmm. Pretty damning evidence. But there are good sides to.

1) The Sixth Doctor. For the last three years we had a Doctor who behaved realistically when a gun was pointed at him, being prone to panic, desperation and not being believed by people in authority. While that did have its merits, it is nice to see the Doctor have a gun pointed at him... and he beats the living snot out of his assailant, and then, for a laugh, puts on the police helmet and then wanders into the line of fire to give Peri a scare. There's also the brilliant moment where he offhandedly tells Peri to shoot the uncooperative Russell. No one can possibly believe the Doctor actually wanted her to do it, because if he did want Russell dead he would have done it himself. Like the fifth Doctor, this one is not exactly perfect as he causes the TARDIS to repeatedly malfunction, winds up his enemies to no avail and makes mistakes with fatal consequences. However, this Doctor is constantly building himself up as a genius and thus the moments he's exposed as a fraud all the more entertaining. The only downer moments are the noted 'Who cares about Lytton if he's not a good guy?' scene, and the moment when he agrees he wants the Cyber Controller and all his followers as dead as Flast. It's bloodthirsty and not the best.

2) The comedy. The Doctor's funny, and always has been, but the repartee between Lytton and his gang, not to mention Stratton and Bates who seem to have been written with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonsen in mind. Having seen the bloke who plays Stratton in countless police dramas as loud, psychotic overbearing fathers, seeing him young and punkish is a nice culture shock. There's lots of lovely humor moments, with only Rost's 'wit' failing. No one sheds a tear when a Cyberman punches a hole through her, so maybe it was intentional. The whole angle of fixing the chameleon circuit is a waste of time, but it's laugh out loud funny as the TARDIS assumes more and more impractical shapes so you don't notice at first that it's finally fixed. The line "time travel... in an organ!" deserves points for sheer postmodernist alone. The destruction of the Cybermen is worth a laugh too, like the panicked one that tries to pat out its exploding hand with "Naughty sleeve! Don't burn! Naughty sleeve!" or the "Oh, heavy!" wave from the Cyberman as he and his fellows jog casually away from a bomb about to detonate. And how cool is it to see Terry Molloy utterly baffled when people start mentioning Daleks?

3) The violence. Or rather, lack of it. People seem to think this story is one long bloodbath when it's nothing of the sort. Thanks to the dark and some poor pixelation, we can barely see humans getting their necks broken by the Cybermen, who kill people with nice clean laser guns. Even the Cryons dying is nothing more intense than smoke and light. All right, there is the infamous 'Cybermen crush Lytton's hands' scene, but this is after a story where the Cybermen beat the crap out of people with no blood spilt at all, making it quite clear these things are tough. When the impassive Stratton begins crushing Griffith's hand, that's to show you how powerful these things are. When the Cybermen do crush Lytton's hand, that's to show you how tough Lytton is. The small amounts of hydraulic fluid spilt during the fight scenes hardly matter, and its nice to notice the Cyber reinforcements accidentally kill themselves rather than the Doctor doing the deed.

4) The Cryons. Giving the Cybermen a foe other than humanity is always a good idea... and it couldn't be any worse than the Vogans in Revenge of the Cybermen... I mean, the Daleks get Thals, Mechanoids, Movellans and their own creator PLUS the Doctor and humanity to deal with. The Cryons look very creepy, almost like the ghosts of aliens (which ties in with them somehow surviving) and they have distinct personalities - albeit not very nice ones. They can even use the Cybermen's credo with irony. I like the way they're tactile and like to run their hands along each other, and thus visibly have to restrain themselves around Peri due to her body temperature. But the trouble is for an all-female race... why do they all have moustaches? And how can they survive in the presence of humanoids who continually raise the temperature? And just how have they been able to wipe out the Cybermen? How do they survive the destruction of Cyber Control?

5) Conversion. At last! Somebody remembers that the Cybermen can turn you into Cybermen! It's wierd, but watch their televised stories... it never happens! The closest comes in Tomb of the Cybermen, where Toberman gets a metal arm. And that's it. It's not even a background threat in The Moonbase, Wheel in Space, Revenge of the Cybermen, Earthshock or The Five Doctors. But the trouble is that the Cybermen still need to remind themselves not to kill people in order to increase their numbers (which is blatantly contradicted when one of the sewer workers is killed and later seen in a conversion booth). And the fact there are countless of Strattons and Bateses who didn't go through the conversion process... So you've got better arms and legs? So what! You can still feel, breathe, taste and do the nasty, stop complaining! Actually, these last two points are edging more towards negatives rather than positives...

6) The novelization. Truly, Eric Saward is a genius in this field. He manages to do the whole story without any real changes and yet improves it immensely. This is a good book, people. It still has the massive flaws but the characterization is improved, the violence turned down and the deaths don't seem so meaningless. The carnage at the end suddenly looks like there might be a happy ending. And the Doctor's annoyance at Lytton is a vent for his own guilt at not protecting Russell. There's also a beautiful scene at the beginning when Peri confronts the Doctor about his regeneration and threatens to leave unless her demands are met and... the Doctor agrees unconditionally, not even waiting to hear them and sending the TARDIS to a holiday destination, so delighted is he to be with her. A single paragraph makes the death of Griffiths somehow uplifting - his dying thought is the happy one that he didn't die alone and forgotten but killed by cyborg aliens on another planet while stealing a time machine with two millions' worth of diamonds in his back pocket! However, the fact is this changes are so minor... why the hell weren't they in the original?!

So, weighing up the facts... Sorry. Attack of the Cybermen is rubbish, littered with enough diamonds to make this fact all the more depressing. It could have been brilliant





Vengeance on VarosBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

Colin Baker says this was his favourite story out of anything he did on the series. One can easily see why. 

Although there is a school of thought in fandom that claims that this one "isn't all that it's cracked up to be" - I'm not one of those fans. This, in my mind at least, is a classic. In my top ten faves. Possibly even my top five! 

Where does one start with the praise? I'll take my usual route: the script. Phillip Martin makes possibly the most stunning first submission the series has ever seen. It's a great story on multiple levels. First, it's makes a great social comment, of course. Like "The Sunmakers" before it, or "Happiness Patrol" in years to follow, the script focusses greatly on creating an entire society for us to look at as well as a storyline to follow. And like the other stories I just compared it to - there's some allegory at play in this presentation. So, not only do we get a very creative script that puts together an entire self-contained society - but we also get some somewhat scathing underlying symbolism. Nicely enough, Martin's symbolism doesn't totally have to bite you on the ass, though. 

The other great aspect to his script is the actual action of the story. The best example of this is the later half of the first part. From the landing of the TARDIS on Varos to the cliffhanger - we are treated to one of the best roller-coaster rides the series has ever offered. The assailing of trap-after-trap in the Punishment Dome is not just good fun to watch, it's highly imaginitive. It almost seems as though Martin is aware that the story will probably have only so much budget to realise his vision so instead of having the crew build elaborate sets and props to execute his traps - he comes up with more novel ideas like the purple zone. A trap that is not only creative in the fact that it is more a "trick of the eyes" than a legitimate physical trap - but also creative because it required little more than a post-production effect and a bit of purple lighting. Brilliant stuff, really. Even more brilliant that Martin knew when to settle down with the chase through the dome and focus on the political intrigue of the story. Which is as entralling to watch as the action sequences. 

But, that still wasn't quite enough for this script. No, Martin also has to give us one of the most unique plot devices "Who" has ever seen. We get our very own "Greek Chorus" thrown into the mix with the characters of Arak and Etta watching the whole adventure on their T.V. screen. This is a magnificent touch. And their inclusion in the story is one of the vital elements, in my opinion, that propels this story from "fun little runaround" to "classic". Their introduction into the story is delightfully stylistic as the image of the tortured Jondar cuts to the screen on their livingroom T.V. They also have one of my favourite lines in the whole story: "I like that one! The one in the funny clothes". The two actors portraying them do a magnificent job - giving us a real Holmesian double-act even though the great Robert didn't write this one! 

Which leads us into another strong point: the acting. Aside from our two slightly wooden rebels, (who weren't really even all that wooden) - the actors in this piece do a thoroughly magnificent job. Of special note: Nabil Shaban as Sil. No one has ever played an alien with such relish and gusto as he has. In both his appearances on the show, really. But he makes the most remarkable first impression in Varos. I'm not sure what Phillip Martin's plans were for the character after this story - but Shaban can be given just as much credit as the writer for "earning" Sil's second appearance. I'm not sure if the Shaban is still around, but if there's any multiple appearance character from the old series that I would love to see come back for the new series - it would be Sil. He's great fun to watch. 

Also of noteworthy mention was Martin Jarvis' excellent portrayal of The Governor. A troubled man, torn between trying to make some positive changes in his society and remaining popular enough with the people to stay alive. His speech to Maldak as he's submitted to the green light of the cellular disentegrator is an excellent moment that really gets us to see the underlying passion of this character. Yes, he's horribly cold and callous too. But, in the end, his true colours shine through. And, again, this is displayed by a gorgeous marriage between the words of the script and they way they are spoken by the actor. 

While we're at it, though, let's also heap some praise on the great Colin Baker himself. The performance he turns in for this tale is one of his best. One can see his love for the script in how well-crafted his acting skills are in it. And though there is still the slighest insinuation at the beginning of the show that he's still a bit shaky from the regeneration, all of the sixth Doctor's traits are in strong evidence here. He's great oratical skills are displayed from the gallows as he rails against the Gallatron mining corporation. His first meeting with Quillam shows off his very poignant "cosmic jester" personae. And just the general delivery of his very rich, almost didactive style of dialogue is displayed in great abundance. He's arrogant and righteous one moment, compassionate the next, clever and deceitful the moment after that. And Colin gets all these very "topsy turvy" emotions to blend together seamlessly in one coherent characterisation. He does this in every story he was in, of course, but he's at his absolute best here. Even a simple line like: "Peri this is no time for casual conversation" is executed with a great delivery. Watch that bit - you'll see what I mean! 

The third pivotal element that makes the story a classic is its design. One of the greatest challenges I think the show always faces is getting each planet to look different from the last. This must be done by some sometimes outlandish-looking set design. Vengeance On Varos comes just to the edge of outlandish in the way the sets look, but it never quite totally crosses the line into absurdity. So that we really get a cool-looking architecture going on. Even those two little moving spotlights they set up in the background all over the place add just the neatest little effect to the whole proceedings. Not to mention the weird, slated doors and the mottled brown colour scheme. It's the perfect distinctive touch to a very distinctive story. 

Do I have any complaints? They're minimal, at best, so I can't even be bothered to mention them. I will bother to mention however, that some of the complaints levelled at this story by some segments of fandom seem generally unfounded to me. 

Although other people have found this tale to be too violent and almost a contradiction to its message because of said violence, it doesn't come across that way to me. Martin understood that he still had to tell an adventure story whilst making the comments he made and he struck a beautiful fine line between adventure and gratuitous violence. 

This story also has several elements to it that make it very reminiscent of other stories in this season. It's dark and somewhat macabre - like Revelation of the Daleks and The Two Doctors. The Doctor also goes a little anti-hero in places. And, it's a good long time before he actually gets involved with the story proper. But these elements, and others, were all things that I actually enjoyed greatly about Season Twenty-Two. I know I'm pretty alone in those sentiments and that many of you feel this season strayed too far from the Doctor Who formulae. But that's exactly what I like about this season. It tried something bold and different. 

And at the very epicenter of all that boldness lies Vengeance On Varos. A great story that embraces a very unique approach to a T.V. show that could've very easily rested on its 22-year-old laurels rather than explore new ground. But not only does it do some bold experimentation, it also does a wonderful job of telling us the most exciting of tales about a troubled penal colony in the Earth's future. 

As far as I'm concerned, you can hold this baby up to any of Tom Baker's best stories and I think it shines with them quite nicely. In some cases, even better. For instance, I'll take this story over "Genesis of the Daleks" any day. 

How's that for "fighting words"?





The Mysterious PlanetBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

No one knows what a Black Light Explosion could do - there's never been one! "There will be soon."

Ah, a lovely story. The Doctor decides to check out the planet of Ravalox which is eerily similar to Earth, but upon arrival Peri finds the landscape a bit too familiar for comfort. And she's right: Ravalox is Earth, devastated by a fireball 500 years previously, the regenerated world is deserted bar a handful of survivors lorded over by Drathro the Immortal. But all good things come to an end and enthusiastic entrepreneurs Glitz and Dibber have unintentionally triggered doomsday.

Robert Holmes wrote this story while seriously ill and with a bunch of stuffed shirts calling themselves BBC executives breathing down his neck. If I could write something this good under such circumstances, I'd be irrideemably smug. Maybe it's just the return to 25-minute episodes but this is the first story of the Sixth Doctor era where the plot doesn't feel upside down and inside out. OK, it's clearly rooted in Holmes other works: The Krotons (a hidden robotic god demanding the two cleverest youths join him in hiding); The Space Pirates (Glitz is the latest in a long line of Milo Clancy characters); The Ark in Space (humanity surviving the burning of Earth); The Deadly Assassin (a black monolith heralding the end of the entire universe); The Ribos Operation (a con job involving a planet of primatives). Give the guy a break - Rob Shearman rewrites the same story every Big Finish he does, you don't come down on him like a ton of bricks, do you?

Holmes treats the Sixth Doctor like he did the Fifth - ignore everything and write for Tom Baker. This is no slur on Colin; Holmes only wrote for Tom Baker. Look at Carnival of Monsters or The Space Pirates - how easy to have Tom Baker appear in them. It's just one of those things I suppose. But how did I miss the scene where the Doctor offers Humker and Tandrell jelly babies? Or when he calls for Sarah-Jane? And anyone stupid enough to say the Sixth Doctor was 'evil' or 'lost his principals', I refer you to the scene he breathlessly tells Peri they are charging into mortal danger: when Peri ridicules this decision, he stares at her in horror and says, "Peri, I can't just let people die if there's a chance of saving them!" before storming off.

Yep, that's the Doctor all right. Willing to risk it all to save a bunch of people he hardly knows and, like in The Caves of Androzani, they're all callous bastards. No. Look again. Glitz is usually shown as light comic relief, and watching the last three episodes of this story, you can hardly blame them. But look at episode one. This cheeky space-Arthur Daley plans to shoot the Doctor and Peri in the back of their heads for nothing more than sadistic pleasure, at the time regailing Dibber with tales of trying to kill the countless psychiatrists that tried to help him. Glitz is a bleeding psychopath! Maybe it was the rewrites that reduced him to the comic foil he becomes by part four, but he's still a hard case - cheerfully planning to wipe out 500 innocent people by gassing them like badgers, he may rarely get a chance to use his guns but if he did there's no doubt Katryca would be the first to die.

The rest of the cast aren't particularly nice. Drathro's the villain, but Merdeen is supposed to be a hero - though this hero is quite happy to cull the Doctor and dozens of others if he thinks he's being watched. Just because he sees its unecessary doesn't excuse he fact he does it. Grell's worse, not even seeing any problem with murdering friends and family. Katryca... well, she's just a nutter and its good that Joan Sims shows that off. Katryca's written as a wily old woman - as long as she's half-asleep staring into a fire. Beyond that, she goes crazy, makes speeces, and enjoys burning people in Wicker Men, only without the Wicker. The fact that Broken Tooth and the others let her push them around shows they aren't up to much either. The only remotely nice character is Balazar, who winds the Doctor up so much he calls him 'a pallid little swot' to his face, and also organizes fatal stonings.

There are a few problems with this story, I admit. For a start, the fact its working title is The Mysterious Planet. Odd how the mystery is solved five minutes into the first episode. It's Earth! Then, in the third. It's definitely Earth! Surely this should be a Planet of the Apes-style final episode revelation? And why is Peri so instantly tuned into the fact she's wandering around the United Kingdom and speak of it with nostalgia? She's not from there. Was Holmes thinking the campion might be English and recognize it? And Glitz seems well up on human culture for someone who's Andromedan (he knows of marriage, funerals, stamp collecting, charity workers and the Latin phrase Pater Familias). If Earth was destroyed two million years after the 1980s, why was Marble Arch station unchanged? Why do the train guards wear torch helmets when there's plenty of light to see? Why does Drathro only realize there is a village AFTER the L1 has left there? And if Drathro has studied human behaviour for 500 years... why's he so appallingly bad at it? (That may be the point, so I'll let it go.)

But on the whole, it's fine. The Doctor and Peri are the best of friends, with the former worried around the latter enough to delay his exploration and the latter willing to run into a shootout to rescue the former. The humor level is turned up and... I like it. OK, some of it's not sophisticated ('I did it.''I think you'll find that I did it.''I did it.''I DID IT!!'), but I laughed anyway. The Doctor deliberately getting people's names wrong, carrying a teddy bear, Glitz and Dibber discussing their childhoods, Balazar getting a face full of green slime... I laughed. It's feel good stuff. And after the relentless, plotless grittiness of Revelation of the Daleks, a breath of fresh air - this is a story where all the characters get a purpose before dying horribly. In Season 22, Humker and Tandrell would have been brutally shot down (stop cheering!) but here they escape, they reach the outside world... and they are so amazed by it they stop arguing, totally absorbed by it. Katryca learns fatally not to push it and that shouting she's in charge won't impress anyone. For all Drathro's talk of logic, he falls for Glitz's ploy hook, line and sinker. Balazar goes from annoying nerd to... well, he's still an annoying nerd but he'll never stone someone to death again. And Dibber continually proves he's smarter (and fitter) than his boss. It's a happy ending.

And that's Rob Holmes' genius. How the hell does he make these happy endings after such implicitely grim storyline? When I recently watched The Sun Makers with the eyes of a grown-up, I found it utterly terrifying. All of humanity was screwed by the Usaurians and then worked and taxes to death for centuries. The Doctor stops it in one afternoon, but what about the years and years of hopeless horror that Cordo and his ancestors suffered? Not only does this story show all human civilization burnt off the face of the Earth, the five hundred survivors are kept at that number by routine cullings. For five hundred years. Five hundred years. But somehow, even knowing that, it still feels right that the Doctor and Peri walk away from it exchanging witty insults. I wonder how Warriors of the Deep would have ended if Holmes had had a hand in it - it sure wouldn't have concluded with the Doctor croaking there should have been another way.

But it isn't just levity. The Doctor's passionate speech to Drathro is exactly the sort of stuff he should have had right in the beginning - he speaks of life with such awe as if even discussing it is not his place. No bombastic shouting or sulks, and it is a revelation to see the Sixth Doctor face an enemy he cannot sweettalk or defeat. As Glitz says, "Don't knock low cunning,". Seeing the Doctor only win the day by being defeated by a bunch of wandering cooks is a nice throwback to the Peter Davison days as well.The Mysterious Planet is a great story, and bar Peri's hairstyle, I think fandom would have engineered its replacement of Timelash without a second thought. It is only when I look at the story as Doctor Who's last, desperate bid to win the ratings war do I think it's in any way lacking. Where's the returning monster, the new villain, the companion departure, the event that stops a story being a disposable one? Where's the thing that makes you desperate to see what happens next? As a Doctor Who story, it's great, but as a television gambit, this is as far from target as its possible to get.





Ghost LightBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Adam Kintopf

‘Cerebral’ is a word that often gets thrown about when fans discuss Doctor Who amongst ourselves. Let’s be honest, now - we do like to pat ourselves on the back about how *cerebral* the show is, don’t we? I mean, it is much more cerebral than, say, Star Trek or Star Wars, isn’t it; is it any wonder the Americans don’t really get it? More than that, the very towering cerebrality of the program implies something about *us*, too – after all, the simple fact that we have all gravitated towards this show means that we are part of an elite, a select, clubbish group made up exclusively of those with the rare intellects it takes to comprehend, let alone love, such an esoteric, wonderfully *cerebral* work as Doctor Who. Am I wrong?

Well, as much as it might feel good to go on like this, the cold fact remains that much of Doctor Who’s entertainment value was about as cerebral as a fat lady sitting down on a chocolate pie. Think of how often in the series we can observe ludicrous (a) non-science, (b) plot holes, (c) chases and (d) escapes, (e) so-we-meet-again-Doctor! dialogue (and worse), and then of course there’s (f), the show’s amusing tendency to tie up loose plot strings with huge explosions in the final ten minutes. And please don’t make me bring up the Slitheen . . . . It may be painful, but it must be admitted that Doctor Who drew on a vast mishmash of cultural sources, handling them in countless different ways; and the resulting paté-like texture, while undeniably part of the appeal (Doctor Who almost literally contains something for everyone), means that a whole lot of fat and weird gristle can be found mixed in with the lean. Also, another factor is the continuing emphasis on the program as one for children and the family, which often makes for stories that err on the side of accessibility rather than intellectual challenge, for better or worse.

That said, every once in a while, a story aired that truly did live up to the ‘cerebral’ label, and I don’t think anyone, even those who truly hate ‘Ghost Light,’ can deny that it is one of them. This story is dense, challenging, and occasionally frustrating in its obstinate refusal to be straightforward in its narrative approach. At times, it can seem like the Doctor Who equivalent of a European art film – the emphasis is on impression and imagery rather than on completely comprehensible plotting. Its wordplay is buoyant and witty, but it’s also heavy with literary allusions, and can seem mannered and artificial if not approached in the right spirit. It addresses the abstract concept of evolution, but chooses not to make any sort of obvious statement about it; in other words, it doesn’t put evolution under a microscope to dissect it, but rather bats it about playfully like a balloon. This detached approach is not going to be appreciated by everyone, but it can’t be denied that it was daring for the production team to attempt such a complex story in the context of the Doctor Who format. (It has been suggested that omens of Doctor Who’s impending cancellation liberated the production team to experiment, and indeed, it seems hard to believe they would have attempted such a story had they thought a more accessible approach *could* save the program.)

The abstract, impressionistic nature of ‘Ghost Light’ makes a straightforward explanation of what it’s trying to do difficult, and some other writers here have acknowledged that fact - or demonstrated it! And I’m sure that I shall do no better. But perhaps a good place to start is with the ways in which the story depicts the Victorian era, because this time, unusually, the place/time setting is not only there to create atmosphere, but also to resonate with the conceptual subject matter at hand. ‘Ghost Light’ is set in a great old spooky Victorian house, and it does a good job of conjuring up all the morbid associations we expect from gothic literature of this period – the dead birds all over the place are a nice touch – and, indeed, the direct references to James, Carroll, etc., emphasize the self-conscious ‘literariness’ of the approach. More than simply setting a story in the Victorian, Marc Platt’s script exaggerates the Victorianness to the point where it’s almost laughable – such improbabilities as everyone sitting down to a civilized dinner party in the midst of such bizarre circumstances have an element of parody, and Fenn-Cooper, Matthews and Mackenzie are characters that could easily have appeared in Wodehouse. 

But, as I said, the Victoriana goes deeper than surfaces, as the story’s two main villains are revealed as peculiarly Victorian mad scientists, sort of flip sides of the same Darwinian coin: Light is a fastidious cataloguer of life forms, and Josiah seizes on the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ as a way in which he might gain power for himself. But it is interesting that Platt’s script is more ambivalent than we might expect on the evolutionary question. For while the Doctor criticizes, and ultimately destroys, Light for his refusal to acknowledge evolutionary progress (“We don’t want things to change – we make sure they cannot”), we also can’t say that Josiah’s embracing of the evolutionary concept is held up as inherently superior. After all, Josiah’s ambitions are depicted as disgusting (his cast-off ‘husks’) or absurd (his plot to take over the Empire by assassinating Victoria). Then again, it can be argued that Control and Nimrod are characters who use evolution to dramatically improve themselves . . . . but this is a good example of how ‘Ghost Light’ resists attempts to explain it simply. Suffice it to say that viewers who look for easy answers in the story are setting themselves up for disappointment. (This is not to suggest that such a desire is necessarily wrong – just that it won’t be successful here.)

So, having failed to draw a simple conclusion from the thematic content, perhaps we should at this point turn to the aesthetic elements, which are rather easier. The design, as I said, is very effective at conjuring up the dusty Victorian of ghost stories, and the many dead things and creepy crawlies we encounter not only highlight the natural science themes, but also contribute to the horror of the piece. At many points, ‘Ghost Light’ truly does resemble a nightmare, such as when the insect-headed ‘husks’ (in evening dress!) come to life and shamble towards Ace, or when the wraith-like Control first escapes and chases the others down the hall (a very scary moment). The scene in which Ace wakes up in a comfortable bed only to learn that night is falling heightens the sense that ‘Ghost Light’ is a bad dream from which its characters cannot escape. Even the jokes are often macabre, as when the Reverend Matthews accuses Josiah of “disputing man’s dominion over nature” – while the latter is serving calves’ brains for dinner! 

The story’s one real aesthetic flaw, as others have pointed out, is the physical manifestation of Light, who appears not as the ‘angel’ of Ace’s estimation, but more as a tanned, blow-dried eighties news anchor in soft lighting. It doesn’t help that John Hallam seems to be imitating Terry Jones’s Prince Herbert when he speaks, either. By some miracle, the character remains effective in its conception, and perhaps would have benefited from being winged, as the production team apparently wished to do. (But with Hallam playing him, probably not.)

Fortunately, the other actors fare much better. Carl Forgione’s Nimrod is extremely likeable, and comes across as surprisingly soft-spoken, articulate and humane. ‘The Discontinuity Guide’ compares him to Caliban from ‘The Tempest,’ but apart from superficial similarities this doesn’t make much sense to me; and, indeed, if there is a Caliban in this story, it must be Sharon Duce’s Control, who, like Shakespeare’s character, is frightening and ‘monstrous,’ embittered towards her superiors (“You promise me my freeness!”), and ultimately sympathetic, despite her initially repulsive appearance. And it’s nice that Platt allows her a more explicitly happy ending than Caliban’s, too. Sylvia Syms is also good as the Mrs. Danvers-esque sinister housekeeper, and it is a credit to the actress that the character is transparently above her station even before her true identity as a gentlewoman is revealed. And Michael Cochrane at times steals the show as Redvers, who is given many of the script’s best lines (“That, sir, is no way to talk to a lady-like”).

And as for the regulars, just like in ‘The Curse of Fenric,’ they seem to enjoy exploring the dramatic opportunities provided by script editor Andrew Cartmel’s controversial ‘manipulation’ stories. Sophie Aldred is particularly good here, and pulls off Ace’s more overtly emotional moments far better than she did in stories like ‘Remembrance of the Daleks.’ She is comfortable both with the flippant banter she exchanges with the Doctor (Ace frequently gets the upper hand – “Uncle Josiah knows as much about its secrets as a handbagger knows about the Amazon desert.” “Sounds a bit like you and the TARDIS.”), and with the more serious scenes (she seems genuinely shocked and betrayed when she learns the Doctor has brought her back to Gabriel Chase). And as for the Doctor, Sylvester McCoy does suffer from his well discussed inability to create a sense of danger (when he shouts at Control through the window he seems merely hammy), but overall he’s quite good as well, clearly enjoying himself in his scenes with Aldred. And his performance also softens the manipulative elements of the character brought out in the script – he’s certainly believable in playing this Doctor’s compassion for his companion, as when he puts his hand on her shoulder and says, “I think you care a lot, Ace.”

So, how can we sum up ‘Ghost Light’? In the end, the viewer’s appreciation for ‘Ghost Light’ is going to depend on his tolerance for its approach. It’s true that this is a story that remains confused in some ways, even on repeat viewings. Several plot elements, such as the origins of Control and the transformation of Matthews, have to be inferred rather than deduced by the audience, and this is going to make the story somewhat unsatisfying for some viewers, especially uninitiated ones. Like ‘Kinda,’ ‘Ghost Light’ is ultimately apt to remain something of an acquired taste, even for fans, but it is an oddity that is probably worth the effort in the end, whether because of its cerebral quality, or in spite of it. 

Either way, it has a wonderful final line.





The Keys of MarinusBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

One of my favourite Hartnell stories to watch. Not so much because it's an example of one of the best stories from his tenure. Moreso just because it's a fun little story. 

Of course, when I say "fun" I don't just mean from a sort of kitschy "wow was that an awful effect" point-of-view. It's also just a fun storyline. Very comic bookesque. Not a lot of substance - just a bunch of "running around and getting into all kinds of trouble and then trying to find a way out of it" -type adventuring for our TARDIS crew. The sort of story the series could never get away with nowadays but, since it was still "finding it's feet" back when "Keys" was produced, it could pull something like this off now and again. 

"The Keys Of Marinus" has some very strong flaws to it, of course. The most obvious one being that the story has nowhere near the budget it requires to be executed with any degree of effectiveness. Particularly since all-new sets had to be built every episode with the location of the storyline changing all the time. Really, I'm amazed the production team even gave this a green light considering how limited the budget was back then. But what this does spell out for this story is some incredibly preposterous-looking moments where the effects are just so poor that it's laughable (the "ceiling of spikes" descending toward Barbara being one of the more notorious moments that come to mind that exemplify this). But the poor budget also meant minimal re-take facilities too. We get some nice dialogue flubs now and again and some really great "tripping-over-their-own-flippers" moments with the Voords. Quite impressively, however, there are some very nice effects that pop now and again too. The model shots of the island, of course, are probably the best examples of this. 

But some of the silliness of this story doesn't just stem from the production values. Some of the writing, itself, is fairly hard to swallow. I mean, I can accept a growth acceleration formulae that affects nature's "tide of destruction" or what-have-you - but specific vines trying to wrap themselves around peoples' necks and legs because of such a formulae seems a bit too much on the implausible side. As are the frozen warriors. Shouldn't they just be dead when they get unfrozen? Of course, good little fans that we are, we decide that they must have special "cryogenic suits" on. But shouldn't that have been established somewhere in the dialogue too? 

But, if you can put aside these objections. You do get a very imaginative and creative little run-a-round. Those same frozen warriors I just mocked were also quite neat, in their own way. And the idea of an entire city being one giant illusion was really fun too - with some effects in there when we see things from Barbara's point-of-view that were genuinely chilling.

Really, all the different locations they travel to have some nice ideas at work within them. Which is one of the strong points, overall, of this story. We get a planet that seems as legitimately diverse as our own. Something that happens rarely in Who or any other sci-fi series, for that matter. Most of the time, a planet is a "desert planet" or an "ice planet" or something like that. In Marinus, we have various climate conditions and societies. Even races. Which certainly scores some points in the story's favour. The fact that we get fun little storylines in all these different locations enhances my enjoyment of this tale even more. 

Because this is such an early story, a couple of significant things happen in it that I think are valuable to the overall show too. First off, even though the series was labelled by the BBC, at the time, as being for children - there are some somewhat "mature" things that occur in it. Most noteworthy, of course, is the attempt to rape Barbara during the episode in the polar regions of Marinus. But we also get some wife beating and some somewhat vicious-looking knife stabbings. Something you'd never see on a modern-day kid's show! But these moments are significant because it sets an important tone. That the BBC might be pitching this as being for children but that the people making the show itself see it in a very different light. That, already, this is a T.V. series that the production team recognise as having an adult market too. And though they're careful on how some of these sequences are portrayed, those moments are still included in the story rather than just cut out entirely as they would've been had the BBC been keeping a better eye on things! 

The other thing we see for the first time in this story is a "softening" of the Doctor. Up until Marinus, he's a bit of an anti-hero, really. Developing some likeability in Marco Polo, but very little. But his somewhat heroic entrance in the city of Milllenius paints him in a much nicer light than we've seen him in so far. His trial scenes and moment of melancholia after he's lost his case improve his likeability factor even more. It helps that Hartnell's "break" seems to have refreshed him and he gives a very strong performance in these episodes too. Slowly but surely, the Doctor is turning into the hero he would be as the series progressed. But we see some of those first signs here on Marinus. 

So, overall, there are some very definite moments in this story both in production value and writing that give it a bit of a "Plan 9 From Outer Space" kind of feel now and again. Something we Who fans definitely hate to see in the series (even though it happens all-too-frequently!). But those moments, I think, become forgivable as we also get a very imaginative little romp across a troubled planet full of intrigue and danger! I even like how, like the quest for the Key to Time in later years, the quest for the Keys Of Marinus also comes to naught. And we get one of those nice "some things are far too powerful for man to possess" moments as the story concludes. I always loved the way the series handled that kind of theme and it's neat to see that, even this early on, the Doctor's moral tone is getting very clearly defined. That, as heroic as he may be, he knows that even his sense of rightness has its limits and that he has no desire to ever "play god". 

Fun stuff. Not necessarily great stuff, of course. But still lots of fun!