Marco PoloBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 8 August 2007 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

The status of this story as MIA is a crying shame, since it is such a good one. "Marco Polo" contains the first seven of the missing 108 episodes. We have no censor clips, and no telesnaps for episode 4, though thankfully we have the other six episodes worth, as well as lots of other photographs. Thank goodness for fans and their reel-to-reel tape recorders, so we can at least hear the stories we would otherwise not be able to experience. 

"Marco Polo" is an excellent story that is easily worth the seven episode allotment it was given. If all you care for is the quick pace of modern Doctor Who, you'll be bored stiff with the leisurely pace of stories like this one. But you'd be missing out, because the pace and length of the story manage to create the successful illusion of weeks of traveling. The longer amount of time allows Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor time to get to know the people they meet and form friendships to a greater degree than they did in "The Daleks". The story is full of excellent acting, and music that really evokes a certain mood. "Marco Polo" possesses a charm that few other Doctor Who stories can match. The structure of the story reminds me of "The Lord of the Rings" in some ways. The plot takes place over the course of a long journey, with events along that journey advancing the plot and developing the characters. There's even a map to allow the audience to visualize the sequence and placement. We also have Marco Polo as a narrator, detailing events, which is almost unique in Doctor Who. 

This is very much a character driven story. The Doctor and his companions want to repair the TARDIS and move on. Marco Polo wants to return home to Venice but cannot, and thus he steals the TARDIS to try and buy his way home. The warlord Tegana, the emissary of peace, is secretly planning to assassinate Kublai Khan. All of these characters and motivations, overt and secret come into constant conflict with the others and drive the plot. This makes a "journey from point a to point b" plot wonderfully complex and interesting. 

Friendships play a large part in events as well, and with the lengthy time span covered by this story, there's plenty of time to make those friendships develop naturally. Susan and Ping Cho become friends rather quickly. Both are about the same age, and both are far from home, a topic they discuss on more than one occasion. I think both are glad to have someone to relate to. Ian and Marco also become friends, because despite his theft of the TARDIS, Marco is at heart a decent man. His friendship with Ian is strained by Tegana's lies, but when Marco says at one point that he thinks he knows something of Ian's character, it rings true. Ian has all the fundamental conversations with Marco, including the wonderful scene where they discuss the time traveling capabilities of the TARDIS, which Marco cannot accept until the very end after Tegana has been exposed. 

The Doctor also forms a friendship with Kublai Khan, which seems to begin mainly because both are old men in pain. "Old age is a burden that must be borne with dignity." The backgammon game in which the Doctor wins half of Asia and then loses the TARDIS is a wonderfully funny scene. 

As the title character, Marco Polo, played by Mark Eden, is someone who is likable from the start. He's courteous to the four travelers, and he's admirably open-minded. His travels in Cathay have allowed him to see remarkable things. He accepts that the TARDIS is a "caravan" that moves "through the air". This soon becomes a problem since he wants to return to his home in Venice, and hopes to in effect bribe the Khan he serves with the gift of the TARDIS. As an aside, if there's a pattern developing in these early episodes of Doctor Who, it is the separation of the crew from the TARDIS in one way or another. In "An Unearthly Child" the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan are cut off by being imprisoned in the cave of skulls. In "The Daleks" they have access, but the missing fluid link prevents them from leaving Skaro. Now in "Marco Polo", the Venetian traveler takes the TARDIS away from them, and refuses them entry. He suffers from a guilty conscience because of this, and offers to take them home, having no idea just how far away home is for the four travelers. 

Then there is the warlord Tegana. Tegana is one of the most calm and calculating villains in early Doctor Who. He is superbly acted by Darren Nesbitt. Tegana is calm and rational, rarely losing his temper. He takes full advantage of Marco's trust in him, and capitalizes on just about any mistake that the Doctor and crew make. He very nearly accomplishes his goal of killing Kublai Khan, and almost steals the TARDIS as well, since he too believes it to be a powerful "thing of magic". Listening to the soundtrack may deny me the visuals, but it allows Mr. Nesbitt's wonderful line delivery to be enjoyed without distraction. 

I could go on and on, such is my enthusiasm, but I'll stop here. Do yourself a favor and get the CDs. Get the Loose Cannon recon, and watch the cut down version on the Beginning box set. Overall, another very solid story. This one comes close to being flawless. 9.5 out of 10.

Father's DayBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 8 August 2007 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

Well, this one got me misty-eyed at the end, I have to admit. Despite the plot-holes and the rather "I can see it coming a mile away" ending, it still worked for me.

Let's get some of the unanswered questions out of the way first. Why is the car that killed Pete caught in a loop, constantly reappearing near Pete, as if to give him a chance to repair time? Is it a case of time trying to repair itself somehow, without the direction of the Time Lords? The behavior of time without any lords to direct it is interesting topic, and one that ought to be addressed at some point in the series. Of course, in plot terms, the car is the 'magic reset switch' that allows time to be mended, and so it's disappointing that no explanation is given to us during the course of the story that allows it to be anything other than that reset switch.

And then there are the reapers. Interesting creatures to be sure, but why do they devour everyone they see as opposed to just the people involved in the time change? I'm not sure this is a plot hole so much as simply an unanswered question. I do wonder, if they appear out of nowhere outside the church, why they can't do so inside the building until the paradox of Rose holding herself as a baby makes them stronger? As an aside, did anyone else make the mental link between the chronovores of "The Time Monster" and these reapers? I did, though it wasn't stated explicitly. Until told otherwise, it makes sense to me to consider them the same creatures. Or cousins at least.

The main plot is full of emotional moments, and is obviously meant to emotionally manipulate the audience, something I normally despise. Most movies or TV programs that try to wring sentiment from the viewers fall flat. "Father's Day" will no doubt strike some people as too maudlin, yet it worked for me because the premise is sound, along with the dilemma presented to Rose. Who among us, having lost a parent or a grandparent wouldn't, if able to travel in time, want to go back and spend just one more day with them? Or an afternoon? Or even five minutes? I think most people would jump at the chance, and Rose's desire to just be with her dad as he's dying is very human and very real, and not at all forced. The Doctor indulges her, which in the past might well have been unthinkable. At the moment, she's his closest friend in the universe, and he's under no one's authority but his own, so he chooses to allow her to return and watch her dad die. Yes, it's a mistake, especially the second time, but again, how many of us have gone along with friends on debatable actions simply because of that friendship? It happens. The Doctor's not perfect, but it does make his berating of Rose later on very unfair, since he facilitated her actions. Like true friends, they do forgive each other and move on, an action I appreciate. I'd much rather see forgiveness than bitterness and revenge.

So Rose gets to spend some time with the father she never knew, and her childhood idealistic view of her parents is stripped away, as no doubt any of ours would be had we known our parents when they were younger and less mature. It's a good thing we can't see our parents like that. Pete and Jackie are very human, and Pete in particular comes across as a good-natured man, trying to do the best for his family despite a very shrill and nagging wife. Earlier in the series I wondered where Rose got her intelligence considering Jackie's ditziness, and I finally found out, as her dad works out just exactly what's going on with time and realizes the truth. With monsters outside the church and the car looping in time, the evidence seems undeniable, and he's broad-minded enough to accept it, as well as give his life for his daughter. Self-sacrifice for love is a theme that can be horribly melodramatic if not depicted carefully. It's one of the highest and noblest virtues a man or woman can display in my opinion, and between the excellent acting,script and direction, it's well portrayed in "Father's Day". A man looking over his life, knowing himself well enough to realize that he's not what he should be as a father, and yet still willing to do the noble and right thing for his daughter was touching. Yes, we all know that's what he'll do in the end, but Pete's character rings so true that his actions don't feel cliched. He's not a hero, he's just a man muddling his way through life, who chooses to sacrifice for his child.

Lastly, there's the Doctor, at both his worst and his best. Indulgent to his friend, blaming her for saving her dad when he's equally to blame by allowing the situation to happen, insulting her and walking out, only to do his best to save as many lives as he can when the reapers appear, even though the situation is hopeless. He ultimately pays with his life as the reaper enters the church, but it's not sadness I felt when he did it so much as pride at his actions, because that rings so true to the Doctor's character. Protecting innocents to the last. And even with time having been damaged, even with his condemnation of Rose for doing it, he still fights to save Pete rather than take the quick and easy way out of sending the man to his death.

To sum it up: a somewhat predictable story and a few plot contrivances exist, but the story manages to transcend them with some very good performances and characters, and some very real explorations of loss and family. My favorite episode so far.

The Sea DevilsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 August 2007 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

In my mind, I can sum up the third Doctor era by saying that the only real classics are in season seven (Pertwee’s first). I knew that The Sea Devils was pretty good though, and so when I came to rewatch it for this review I was hoping I could give out a five-star rating. Unfortunately, while it remains a strong story and one of the era’s best, it never quite achieves its lofty ambitions.

Partly, its good-but-not-a-classic status is down to the most basic methods used to get it onto screen. The opening scene, for example, uses all the obvious methods to get a reaction from the audience, such as coming from the monster’s point of view to prevent the viewer from seeing what they look like. I’m not going to be precious and criticise something like this – and it isn’t bad in any case – but it does set the tone for something that isn’t going to break new ground.

Here’s the thing though: how well is this story made? The cast are largely top-notch, the script is tight and more or less bereft of silly lines and the set design is sumptuous, with even locations that are onscreen for a few seconds given dozens of tiny details. With this and The Curse Of Peladon it’s easy to see what drained the money from The Mutants.

Clive Morton’s charming portrayal of Trenchard is one of the story’s highlights as comes across as a man genuinely convinced that what he’s doing is the right thing and as a consequence prepared to commit some rather dodgy acts. This is crucial for the character, as it offsets the more-or-less motiveless Master (Roger Delgado was a fantastic actor but the character only had credibility in The Deadly Assassin). However, there is some crude plotting evident as Trenchard drops the expo-bomb early on by crowbarring in a reference in about sinking ships. This might slip by unnoticed apart from the fact that Trenchard is – so he believes – in on an extra-legal spy mission with regards to that. There’s more nice characterisation to make up for it with the Doctor and Jo being cautiously civil to the Master (the Doctor refusing to shake his hand is a great moment), and it must be said that while he isn’t really given a reason to be evil apart from simply being the baddie, Delgado is as good here as he ever was and he does at least make the character interesting. This is seen later as well, in the wonderful scene where he watches an episode of The Clangers and seems to be genuinely charmed by it.

Malcolm Clarke’s score is an acquired taste, but his use of early synthesisers creates a score that totally fits with the atmosphere of the story, even if it’s not something I’d want to actually listen to itself. Thinking of this and his dramatic, chilling score to Earthshock it’s hard to credit him with Attack Of The Cybermen, where he sounds like he’s playing a broken harpsichord with his elbows. 

Edwin Richfield puts in a good performance as the stern but sympathetic Captain Hart (it’s difficult to believe he went on to play Mestor, the king of the giant slugs, in The Twin Dilemma). It’s a bit strange though as to why he’d leave some valuable forensic evidence just lying around on the shingle.

The scenes set on the sea fort are wonderfully done, with some interesting camera angles, dark lighting and echoing sound effects all coming together to create a real feeling of unease and claustrophobia. The two crewmen are well played (you’ve got to love Declan Mulholland) but their characterisation as superstitious sea-dogs is a bit corny. This also marks the point where the Sea Devils are seen clearly for the first time, and while they’re reasonably effective – better than the Silurians, to which it’s natural to compare them, and above average by Barry Letts’s standards – but their immobile, rubbery heads could do with being kept in the shadows a bit more. The flash from their guns is a great special effect and it’s hard to credit how much more effective the complete package as a whole is here than in the sequel Warriors Of The Deep a whole twelve years later.

The drama of the Doctor radioing for help is undermined somewhat because the rescue helicopter is already on its way, but really it’s done for comedic purposes and as such works in a generally intelligent and unobtrusive way. It’s here that we really get to notice just how slow-paced the story is, with a huge amount of emphasis placed on what are in real terms minor plot points: namely the Master’s theft from the naval base and Trenchard’s distraction. There’s a well-choreographed fight sequence at the end of the episode that’s fun to watch, as although Pertwee’s by no means my favourite Doctor it’s always nice to see him swash his buckle (or is that the other way round?); when all’s said and done though there isn’t much in this episode to develop what we’ve learned from part one.

Part three has a huge reprise that does get a bit tedious (although I acknowledge that the story wasn’t originally intended to be seen all in one go) and makes it difficult to ignore the amount of padding that’s creeping in at this stage. This is what prevents The Sea Devils from being as great as it nearly is: it’s well written, acted and produced but it takes a long time to do very little. We’re almost halfway through the story by this stage of the proceedings by we’re still hearing about the same sinking ships as we were in part one. Meanwhile poor old Till is still raving about Sea Devils. After an hour, I would have expected a story to have progressed a bit further than this.

There is some very good modelwork to be seen with the submarine, and there are some atmospheric scenes as the Sea Devils infiltrate it. Donald Sumpter’s performance as Commander Ridgeway (wasn’t he in The Queen’s Nose?) is amusingly earnest, with his facial twitch making him seem vaguely Ahab-like in a rather establishment way. The cliffhanger to the third episode is deservedly iconic and back in 1972 my Mum had nightmares over it while ill with German Measles…

Trenchard’s shock at seeing the Sea Devils is nice – he’s the most interesting character in the story, a fundamentally good man whose desire to protect his country is perverted by the master. However, the scene going into the minefield is the beginning of the sonic screwdriver becoming an all-purpose magic wand. “This makes a rather good mine detector…” says the Doctor. I bet it does. There are more atmospheric scenes on the submarine, but the big exposition scene yet again sticks to what we already know. The storming of the castle, by contrast is very well done, exciting without trying to be too flashy which gives it a low-key dynamism. Something swiftly comes along to undermine this though, with the rather old-fashioned feel of the Pertwee era comes to the fore with Blythe – apparently 3rd officer – reduced to the girl who fetches the sandwiches. The cliffhanger to part four is very clever, as we don’t even get to see what Jo finds so shocking.

The civil servant Walker is a great character but doesn’t really have credibility; he’s very much a character of tedious red tape. He’s still fun to watch though, although suddenly Blythe is an officer again and annoyed about being asked to fetch food.

The Sea Devil voices are good, but the negotiation scene brings on the usual Greenpeace line from Malcolm Hulke that pretty much retreads Doctor Who And The Silurians. Surprise surprise, some stock footage later and all is undone. The comedy scene on the submarine is fun if a bit out of place; it does inject a bit of life into what is, while still enjoyable, going on too long.

We go into the climax with the Doctor using the overfamiliar motif of buying time by pretending to help the villain. Oh look, he’s double-crossed him. I don’t want to sound churlish though as episode six is characterised by some great action scenes that remind me a lot of The Invasion (one of my favourite stories), even replicating the somersault-off-the-roof stunt. I don’t really have anything to say about the climax since it’s so obvious there’s no real way of getting an angle on it, but the final twist is almost comforting, as it sees a return to the Doctor vs Master set up of the previous season. Thankfully it wouldn’t be overused like it was then: in fact Delgado only made two more appearances in the show after this before his premature death.

I don’t want to come across as sounding like I don’t like this story: The Sea Devils is well made and very entertaining, but basically it brings nothing new to the table. Put in context of the Pertwee years then it acquits itself well, but on its own terms then despite its general high quality it feels like a wasted opportunity