The Rescue (AudioGo novelisation)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 21 May 2013 - Reviewed by Andrew Batty
The Rescue, read by Maureen O'Brien
Doctor Who - The Rescue
Originally starring William Hartnell
Written by David Whitaker
Narrated by Maureen O'Brien
Released by BBC AudioGo, April 2013
The Rescue is a rarity in pre-00s Doctor Who. At only two episodes (50 minutes) in length, it zips along at a fast pace handling the series’ first ever companion changeover deftly and swiftly. The idea of a four-hour long reading of an adaptation of such a slim and expedient story is a rather daunting one.

In adapting The Rescue to fill the page count of a Target novel, Ian Marter uses two main tricks. Firstly, (and understandably) he expands on the events of the TV version, including scenes of the rescue ship en-route to find the survivors of the Astra, further background on the planet Dido and its inhabitants, and more exploration of the planet than we saw on screen. Secondly, he writes lengthy descriptive passages about the locations and the action taking place.

Unfortunately, the majority of this protracted description comes in the first half of the story, making it a bit of a slog to get through, but things do pick up past the half way point.

Many of Marter’s additions to the story (particularly the expanded role for the surviving Didoids and the exploration of their history) are very welcome, adding depth and background, while also ironing out some of the dangling threads and inconsistencies in the TV original (such as the rescue ship). However they also lead to a rather odd structure and uneven pacing with this version of the story carrying on well past the defeat of its villain.

Marter is very successful in emphasising and expanding the script’s focus on appearances being deceptive, with this motif recurring in the characters of Bennett, Koquillion, Sandy and the Didoids, along with the terrain of the planet Dido. He also has a refreshingly different turn of phrase and choice of reference points to some of the other Target writers. A particular highlight comes early on in the novel, where Vicki is described at length and compared to Joan of Arc.

One surprising change Marter makes comes in the epilogue. He ends the story on an unexpectedly downbeat note, but one which he has carefully foreshadowed throughout the novel, and it ties together many of the themes of the original script and the additional ones Marter has added.

Marter captures all of the regulars very well and (as previously shown in The Companion Chronicles) Maureen O’Brien is an excellent reader. She’s very good at adopting different styles of delivery (with the exception of a weak American accent), and unsurprisingly, she excels when taking on Vicki's dialogue. One slight weakness is her portrayal of the Doctor, who she performs in an austere tone, meaning some of the humour of the story (present in the script and in William Hartnell’s performance) doesn’t come across, particularly in the Doctor’s early scenes with Ian and Barbara.

Typically, the audio design is very good and the music and effects are subtle, in keeping with the tone of the story and enhance the experience, rather than distracting the listener.

While Marter's take on The Rescue doesn't quite succeed in stretching the story out to fill the required length it is an interesting curio which offers unexpected insights into one of the highlights of the Hartnell era.

FILTER: - First Doctor - Series 2 - Audio - BBC Audio - 144582633X

FrontiosBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 8 August 2012 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

>"The Earth Is Hungry"

Back in ye ancient days of 1984, there was I with my shiny video tapes that I could just afford in order to record a mere three stories of the new season just about to start. Of course back then we didn't really know that these would all be available on VHS let alone shiny DVD as now, so it was crucial to decide what to go for. Having pored over the descriptions of what to expect from the Anniversary Special, I ended up with "the dalek story", "the regeneration story" and "the new doctor story". With hindsight, I would actually have recorded Resurrection and Androzani as before, but my other choice would have been Frontios!

The story still stands up well today as one of the better stories of the Davison era. With Chris Bidmead at the helm the script was going to be sound, Paddy Kingsland to provide his usual atmospheric scores, a competent director in Ron Jones, and great design by David Buckingham, what could go wrong. Well, all-in-all, nothing at all - if anything its the confines of the studio that perhaps let it down, with cave-setting always quite tricky to realise - Androzani had similar issues - but in both cases lighting was actually used to great advantage, but one wonders how it might have seen in real caves on film ...

This is also one of those rare stories that enabled Mark Strickson to act and Turlough to have some measure of character. It was a real shame he hadn't been used better during his tenure on the show, and it's only his creator Peter Grimwade and Bidmead that really brought Turlough to life. The scenes of his dribbling race-memory-recall are excellent, though it's a bit handy that his home planet just happens to be one that the Tractators invaded in the past!

Ah, yes, the Tractators ... why is it the "monster" can make and break a story, in spite of how great a script it has. Fortunately they don't get too much "in the way" in the story, and it's a shame that in a typical lack of communication between departments we have dancers contracted to move the "lithe" creatures, and the designers created an "intractable" (ahem) costume that fails to provide any grace whatsoever!

The Gravis was an interesting idea, but its threats did seem a little easy to ignore -the novelisation does much to address this so you could really feel the unease of whether he'd grasp that Tegan was not a Gallifreyan serving machine after all. Hmm, actually, he is a bit thick not to realise the Doctor's little tricks even down to his eventual defeat by his own hands!

Also, the minimal visual effects used do seem a little basic, and it's a shame that the DVD producers didn't take the time (or rather, given the budget) to upgrade the effects to a more modern look rather than fuzzy red blurs illustrating the Tractator kinetic abilities. Not that this detracts from the story itself.

"The TARDIS has been destroyed"

Even back at broadcast I thought it strange that the Doctor would be going on about his hatstand, not knowing how much of a mcguffin that would be (or even what the word meant back then :)). It's later poingnancy as being the only remaining part of the ship was a real impact back then, even if I knew we had several more stories to go so the TARDIS couldn't really be gone. Actually, at the time I suspected the chameleon circuit had worked ... but no it was actually dispelled into separate components within our own natural dimensions instead and providing a magical moment when Tegan comes across roundels in the tunnels - still highly effective even now!

Still not sure how the Gravis knew of the Doctor by reputation, TARDISes and Time Lords when this was meant to be so far into the future they weren't meant to be there - if he were just a legend by then I'd have thought there'd be more excitement over him being there (a Tractator equivalent of an autograph wanted?!!). But then as we established earlier he is thick, and can't add up too well either - he'd been stranded for millennia but was on Frontios 500 years ... [actually a deleted scene clarifies this so maybe I should cut him some slack :)]

"The people of my planet"

As I said earlier, Turlough is used well in the story, but it seems weird now how he goes on about his planet without actually saying it. Unknown at this time, of course, but Trion is mentioned just three weeks later!

Plenty of bits to catch the eye in the story, but quite a lot cut out too it seems (which you can see in the deleted scenes bit). I must say the episode pace is pretty good so the extra to-ing and fro-ing cut helps the broadcast version keep running well. And it wasn't until just now watching it that I realised that episode three is essentially just "running around corridors!". Speaking of which, a good "revere-lation" (sorry!) at the end of the ep with Ron Jones choosing not to use a "crash-in to the Doctor's face" for once - hoorah! - especially with the nasty-looking excavation machine turning up (which again the novelisation makes even nastier than on screen).

Always good to see the Doctor's glasses in use (another Bidmeadism).

The restored picture looks great and some great camerawork (like looking up out of the tunnels to the ship), but the clean-up does also show up the Tractators a bit, and also where the scene was speeded up in order to make them look like they could move faster! There's also the unintentionally funny scene of the guards beating up a Tractator with their battons to watch out for!

The production notes also point out some of the inevitable continuity errors: I clearly remember the incident with the metal bar blocking the doors "moving" higher to enable the escape back at broadcast, but never noticed things like Turlough's blazer switching from buttoned up to open, Norna crouching to look in the tunnel (from below) but then standing (from above), or a boom shadow (though this doesn't detract and looks 'natural' anyway).

"A risk shared is a risk doubled"

All in all, a great story and also a great cliffhanger ending too, harking back to the old Hartnell story-telling days (not that I knew this at the time) - it's a shame they didn't retain the Resurrection trailer that immediately followed the end titles when it was broadcast just to maintain that flow :)

FILTER: - Television - Series 21 - Fifth Doctor

The Happiness PatrolBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 September 2007 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

There are some Doctor Who stories that are good. There are some Doctor Who stories that are great. And there are some Doctor Who stories that are sheer works of art. 

"The Happiness Patrol", in my books, falls under that "sheer work of art" category. 

It is, without a doubt, the "King" of all the "oddball stories". Because of this, there is an entire side of fandomn that maligns it to no end. They get upset by the fact that the show is making its sets and costumes intentionally cheesy. Or that certain premises are silly on purpose. As opposed to most of the stories of the last twenty four years where all kinds of silly things happened both visually and in the script but we, as fans, were expected to take them seriously!

I suppose if the three episodes were nothing but sheer "campiness" than I would have to agree with the side of fandomn that maligns it. But there's lots of serious content thrown in too. And a wackload of allegory regarding Margeret Thatcher and gay rights and suchlike that re-assures me, as a fan, that this isn't just Doctor Who "taking the piss out of itself". This is Doctor Who trying, once more, to keep iteslf fresh by exploring new ways to tell a story. I know some fans will never be able to appreciate what the show was trying to do in the eighties. It seems to me that said fans really just wanted bog-standard Tom Baker stories to be told over and over week after week. But I, for one, am glad that 'ole JNT commissioned stories like this and will always applaud him for his boldness as he tried to not just keep the series alive but also give it artisitic merit. And Happiness Patrol is a gem in his "producerial crown" when it comes to artistic integrity. 

We begin the story (after an introduction to the characters that comprise the title, of course) with just the vaguest of continuity references. The Doctor and Ace arrive in the TARDIS whilst discussing dinosaurs. This dialogue seems intentional in a few ways. Firstly, it's the 25th anniversary so maybe they're trying to give, at least, a vague reference to the show's past before things get underway. But it also seems to me that it's perhaps thrown in for a deeper statement. This is going to be an extremely wierd and somewhat unique Doctor Who story and perhaps the continuity is added to tell us, the viewer, that this is still Doctor Who. That, as bizarre as the story might be, it ties in with all that we've seen before. It's still all about the Doctor and his companion(s) getting into trouble. 

One of the very nice "edges" to this story is that our latest TARDIS crew is getting into this trouble intentionally. Once more, the Seventh Doctor's "cosmic chess player" image is being developped as he goes to Terra Alpha on purpose. This isn't a dictator regime that he's stumbled into by accident as he has so often in the past. This time, he's arrived to very specifically clean up the social mess the planet has turned into. And the way it keeps getting emphasised that he intends to do it all "tonight" just makes the story all the more stylish. And this latest incarnation of the Doctor all the more powerful. Even a bit scary. Especially after what we've seen him do to the Daleks only a story beforehand! 

The villains of Doctor Who, I've often felt, are as important as the the hero. That if they're not handled properly by the production team, then the Doctor really can't "shine" against them as he locks horns with them. Our villains in Happiness Patrol are some of the best the show has ever come up with. We have, of course, as a principal villain, the very Thatcheresque Helen A. Not so much an evil woman as she is twisted. And because of this, there's a bit of pathos going on in her. As she weeps in that gorgeous final shot of her we not only delight in her "just desserts" but we also feel a bit bad for her. Because, in the end, she was a rotten woman, yes. But it's as plain as the nose on your face that she was rotten because she was as nutty as squirrel crap. And rather than make us detached from her insanity - we're able to actually feel a bit sorry for her instead. Some very sensitive portrayal going on here in our main villain.

As a sidenote, I am always impressed by how well the McCoy era delivered its "villainesses". It showed a very upward trend in the way the series was trying to portray females. Not only did we now have a very capable female companion, but we also had a whole set of female characters that could be as deadly as the many male villains that have populated the "Whoniverse". And Helen A is easilly one of the best of all the villainesses. Morgaine would give her a nice "run for her money" next season, but Helen A still holds a nice place in my memory as the best Who villainess of both the McCoy era and the series, in general.

With all that said, the Kandyman still steals the show here. He just completely drips with stylishness and coolness. The fact that he looks so ridiculous and is built on an equally ridiculous premise just makes him all the cooler. His sadism and petulance are so well-crafted that every minute that he's on screen is just a thorough delight to watch. Even more impressive that he's used as economically as he is. He could've easilly had a half-dozen more scenes and no one, I think, would've complained. But, in the end, he's a secondary villain and is therefore kept under the appropriate reigns. This fight is really about the Doctor and Helen A and the Kandyman is just a pawn in the game. But what a fun pawn he is! I still cannot surpress my cackle every time I watch him flip a coin to decide whether he should kill the Doctor or Ace first. Particularly as he delivers his "That would be telling" line! 

But the best aspect of this whole story is the Doctor himself. McCoy has mastered the role by this point. Providing a perfect balance between quirky mannerisms and raw power. He's taken those qualities that Troughton and Tom Baker distilled into the character of the Doctor "playing the fool" until the most crucial moment of the story and brought them to their ultimate fruition. Particularly in this tale. This little man with his silly outfit and brolly topples a regime in the course of one night. This is what Doctor Who is all about. The idea that no matter how weak and ineffectual something might seem, it can make as big a difference in the greater scheme of things as the people who seem like the real "power players". And no one embodies that sentiment better than McCoy's portrayal of the Doctor. He is as worthy of the role as any other actor before or after him. And it almost pains me sometimes how underappreciated he can be just because the show was in such a turbulent time.

Although every scene in this story looks absolutely gorgeous (and I mean that, as much some folks love to slag off on Chris Clough's directorial skills), there are two scenes that stand out even more prominently. The first being the "snipers in the balcony" scene where McCoy disarms his opponents with words rather than force. And the second being the final confrontation with the Doctor and Helen A. In this final confrontation, the real point of the story gets stated once and for all. That life is about balance. That, inevitably, the good must come with the bad and that neither can exist without the other. "Two sides, one coin" is delivered so well that it gives just the slightest of chills. And the fact that it's accompanied with a neat little sleight of hand truly makes this a "Seventh Doctor moment". A unique way for McCoy to put his signature on the role.

Yes, the last scene of the story is almost a bit superfluous but it is a nice little afterthought. I can remember reading that Clough wanted to end the story with Helen A crying over Fifi's corpse and that JNT requested a final scene be added. And considering we get just a bit more great dialogue like "There can be no other colours without the blues", I think it was worth throwing that in. And as the TARDIS gets its last little brush from its new paint job and the Doctor pronounces "Happiness will prevail", I find myself completely in awe of the fact that the show could deliver two amazingly good stories in a row. 

This is Who at its best. As strong as anything you can dig up from the series' so-called "golden era". And though Happiness Patrol gets overshadowed by the incredibly awesome "Remembrance of the Daleks", what we've really been given is two classic tales back-to-back. And, in the case of Happiness Patrol, it didn't have to bring back an old monster to help with its impact. It did it all completely on its own merits. 

How sad that some people miss the whole point of this story because they can't get over the campiness....

FILTER: - Television - Seventh Doctor - Series 25

Tooth and ClawBookmark and Share

Thursday, 23 August 2007 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

There are a lot of little details in “Tooth and Claw” that ought to have been cut somewhere. Too much of the author’s personal politics and too much pop culture knowledge projected onto the Doctor really grate, as no doubt they’re intended to. In other words, I think Mr. Davies and some of the other writers enjoy taking jabs at the fans. The Doctor seems less like a mysterious alien and more like a teenager be-bopping around Earth’s history, listening to pop music and indulging in movies. These little asides never really come across as authentic character moments for the Doctor that we’ve been watching for 40 years now.

However, regardless of that, the episode itself is quite good overall. Despite the fact that I’m tired of RTD’s writing style, and despite the fact that this is his sixth episode in a row, for the most part he’s done a good job this time around and deserves credit for it.

“Tooth and Claw” is in many ways a very traditional monster tale with many familiar elements. There’s the old mansion out on the lonely moors, with the local legend of a monster that turns out to actually exist. True to form the monster is nearly indestructible, unaffected by bullets but allergic to a certain herb. The monster is of course is given the typical Doctor Who treatment in that it is not supernatural, but is an alien life form that crashed on Earth hundreds of years before the story takes place. The book that the Doctor finds in the library details the arrival, and the host in the cage tells Rose that he’s “so far from home”.

The idea of an alien werewolf isn’t actually new. The Eighth Doctor novel “Kursaal” introduced the Jax, a virus that migrates from host to host, and appears early on as a werewolf. The werewolf in “Tooth and Claw” could just as easily be one of the same creatures, though it’s been awhile since I read Kursaal so some of the fine details escape me. Regardless of the recycled idea, the CGI werewolf is excellently realized. It’s far more convincing than a man in a suit would have been, and is made very effective by being largely kept in the shadows of a dark house and by only being seen for brief moments. And it’s not just a mindless killer, but an intelligent alien with a plan to take over the British Empire by migrating into Queen Victoria. Presumably the monks are all for the wolf taking over, or else they’d just have killed Victoria on sight rather than set a trap. Perhaps they think that they will be able to exercise the same amount of control over the wolf once it possesses Victoria as they do over the current human host, and thereby rule the British empire.

The monks are effective villains, but the martial arts are silly. Since when do Scottish monks in the 18th century know kung-fu? Their disappearance at the end of the episode ought to have been at least addressed, although it’s easy enough to surmise that with Father Angelo and the wolf dead, the jig was up and they figured that they had better leg it out of Dodge. I expect Victoria had them hunted down later and punished for their crimes. Father Angelo is only around for half the episode, but he’s a creepy villain with his quick reflexes and glaring eyes.

Queen Victoria is treated quite well by the script, and well acted by Pauline Collins. It’s not unusual for someone to play multiple roles over time in Doctor Who, but isn’t it enjoyable to have someone return after almost forty years? How many programs are still around after that length of time? It speaks well of the Doctor Who formula that it allows such longevity. Victoria is a well-rounded character, displaying good humor, wit, grief and a good measure of determination and spirit. I was cheering her on when she shot Father Angelo dead. Her grief over Albert’s death is touching, and seemed to resonate with the Doctor as well, given his silence and facial expressions during that conversation. Victoria is also used well in the story, being not only the ‘guest historical celebrity’ of the week, but also essential to the plot. The actions of the monks are motivated by their desire to assassinate Victoria and take the throne. Victoria is the voice of incredulity as well, questioning the Doctor and his lifestyle, and outright condemning it in the end. She rewards the Doctor and Rose for their actions and bravery, and then banishes them for their cavalier attitude to life and danger. Brilliant. She also is open minded enough not to rationalize away the werewolf attack, but to found Torchwood as an institute to investigate and defend Great Britain from paranormal dangers. It’s an altogether satisfying use of the character, thoroughly justifying her inclusion in the story.

The humor works sometimes. The bumpy landing in the highlands one hundred years off target is amusing, as is the Doctor’s sudden switch to a Scottish accent (Tennant’s real accent) and adoption of “James McCrimmon” as his alias. Rose’s attempts to get Victoria to say “we are not amused” grow old rather quickly though. The unavoidable gay joke is highly offensive, as well as quite honestly being a pitiful excuse for not noticing problems with the household staff. “Your wife’s away, your servants are bald and athletic. I just thought you were happy.” The wife’s away, forget marital fidelity, gay orgies everyone. It’s smut, and it’s not funny, it’s disgusting. I’m not British, but the mockery of the Royal Family at the end also disgusted me, as did the smug dismissal of Margaret Thatcher. No respect for anyone, eh Russell?

The Doctor and Rose are gelling as a team, though I think Rose worked better with the 9th Doctor than the 10th. Piper and Tennant seem like a couple of kids on a lark, laughing and irreverently mocking anything they feel like (rather like RTD), and it gets old fast. Rose in particular is becoming an annoyance. I don’t know what’s happened to her since last year, when she was such a great character. Much has been said about her attempts to get Victoria to say ‘we are not amused’ and so I won’t belabor the point, but if I were traveling in time and met a famous historical figure, I’d be trying to get to know them, not poking fun at them. It does make Rose look quite foolish, which may be the point. However she does display quite a bit more character and moral fiber when she is talking to the host and learning about the werewolf. She also shows some initiative and leadership when she leads the chained prisoners to pull free of the wall and escape the cellar as the wolf transforms.

I’m hesitant to compare David Tennant to either Tom Baker or Patrick Troughton, because I don’t think he’s anywhere near the level of those two actors, but his character seems to draw attributes from both. He’s energetic, enthusiastic and suitably eccentric. Whereas the anti-establishment attitude of the Doctor goes back all the way to Hartnell, it’s far too overt coming from the word processor of RTD and the mouth of David Tennant. Subtlety is the key. The Doctor’s rapid intellect is demonstrated in the library when he works out the trap inside a trap that Albert set up years earlier. His energy is apparent when he’s running down hallways and trying to spring the trap for the wolf. He’s sombre when listening to Victoria speak of her grief over her dead husband. He displays wonderful wide-eyed wonder at the werewolf when he gets his first view of it. It’s an excellent performance.

In short, “Tooth and Claw” is a rather traditional monster story adapted to the Doctor Who framework. It is very enjoyable, and I wish all of Russell Davies’ efforts were at this level. A good solid episode.

FILTER: - Television - Series 2/28 - Tenth Doctor

The Girl in the FireplaceBookmark and Share

Thursday, 7 June 2007 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

I have to admit that I enjoyed this episode more than I thought I would. On the surface, it’s a mix of absurd story ideas. A love story for the Doctor is going to struggle against long odds just to be acceptable or believable, especially with the limited development time available in the 45 minute format.

And “a spaceship from the 51st century stalking a woman from the 18th” is certainly an inventive idea, but any attempt to explain why that is happening is going to strain credulity, even in a Doctor Who context.

Let’s start with the Doctor/Madame du Pompadour romance. I’ll be the first to admit that Sophia Myles is stunningly beautiful, and would no doubt turn the head of just about any red-blooded man who noticed her. She’s also playing a character that was quite accomplished and intelligent in real life, and her performance brings that out fairly well in the limited time available. That being said, the Doctor isn’t normally given to noticing anyone, and indeed it’s possible to argue that the attraction in this story is one-sided. The advances and flirting certainly all come from Reinette, and the lengths that the Doctor is willing to go to in order to save her life and protect history (since history tells us that Madame du Pompadour did not die at the hands of clockwork robots) are perhaps no more than he would have done for anyone else.

The time needed for a genuine relationship to develop is the crucial missing element in the story, both for the Doctor and Reinette. At best she enjoys either flirting or toying with the Doctor, and he lets himself be pulled along perhaps by the sheer novelty of it all. Certainly he seems to treat her kiss as something to be proud of because of who it was that kissed him. “I’ve just snogged Madame du Pompadour!” he says exultantly, after first listing her accomplishments. As for her motives for kissing the Doctor when she’d only met him twice as a child, who can say? It certainly doesn’t make much sense in the context of the story. To be honest, it makes her look rather easy. That’s not a character trait to admire. At least when she becomes involved with the King she’s sleeping her way to the top, though that too is hardly admirable.

In essence what we have is not so much a love story as it is the story of Reinette perhaps trying to hold on to the mystery of this man who keeps appearing in her life. I’m just trying to explain what’s on screen. We’re told it’s a love story, but the events that are acted out for us don’t support that description. There’s no time for love to develop, and there’s no depth to the relationship. Perhaps Reinette hopes that a good kiss and some flirtation will entice the “Fireplace Man” to remain longer so that she can learn more about him. After all it’s worked on other men in her life. This theory holds at least until the point the Doctor suddenly gains the ability to read minds and has his read in return. There certainly appears to be a bit more genuine affection in the final scenes where Reinette tells the Doctor about the one remaining link back to the spacecraft. The two seem very relaxed and happy in each others company, and the Doctor’s sadness at Reinette’s death is certainly heartfelt. Once he opened the letter and knew that she had never seen him again, going back to visit her in the TARDIS became impossible.

So where did this ability to read minds come from? We’ve never seen it before, though I admit it’s plausible given the Doctor’s limited use of telepathy in the past. Susan displayed some talent for telepathy, the Master was able to hypnotize rather easily, and Time Lords are supposed to enjoy telepathy among themselves, so it’s not inconceivable that the Doctor suddenly has the ability to mind-meld with a human. It’s just highly convenient as a plot device.

It’s so highly convenient that I’m tempted to be really irritated at the sudden appearance of the Doctor’s new ability, but I’ll let it go. Convenient or not, it’s certainly a shortcut around the time limitations of the episode and suddenly the Doctor and Reinette are intimately acquainted. Just how intimately acquainted depends on whether the ‘dance’ metaphor from last season still refers to sex and whether the Doctor went along for the ride. You can read it either way. If you like the Doctor as a cosmic Casanova who beds attractive women he barely knows while he’s supposed to be in love with Rose, you can read events one way. If you prefer a more virtuous Time Lord, you can go that route, despite the obvious intent of the author.

During the final encounter with the robots, the dramatic entrance of the Doctor as a heroic ‘knight on a white stallion” is entirely in keeping with the self-sacrificial nature of the character, though his abandonment of Mickey and Rose is hard to explain. He saves Reinette’s life, but (as far as he knows) strands himself in 17th century France, and strands his traveling companions in a 51st century spaceship with no means of returning home. When he asks Rose, “how long did you wait?” it doesn’t really make sense. Neither she nor Mickey can fly the TARDIS, and the Doctor is surely aware of that. What else could they do but wait? Perhaps it’s just a case of the Doctor trying to save face and mend hurt feelings.

Moving right along, there’s a lot less to say about the clockwork robots, proving yet again that this series of Doctor Who frequently puts character above plot, which is detrimental to the story far too often. Plot holes are papered over with sentiment while the writer hopes the audience won’t notice or won’t care. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think that the attempt is successful in “The Girl in the Fireplace”, though in all honestly I must confess that the story is crazy. As a means of tying the spacecraft and France together, we have repair robots who create time windows and travel back in time to find the person their ship is named after, so that they can use her brain to repair the main computer, but only when she’s the same age as the spaceship. It’s so off-the-wall and creative that I’m willing to enjoy the idea tremendously and buy right into the premise.

The robots themselves are inventive, from their mannequin-like period dress and masks, to the clockwork-filled clear heads underneath. Having the first one that we encounter hiding under a child’s bed is just a wonderful conceit.

I have to address the issue of ‘self-awareness’ in the new series of Doctor Who. I would define this as actions or dialog which pulls me out of the story and reminds me that yes, I am watching a TV program. This is frequently a failing of Russel Davies scripts, but it crops up here as well. “The Doctor and the monsters,” Reinette says at one point. “It seems you cannot have one without the other.” And with that meta-textual line my suspension of disbelief is shattered and I’m thinking about Doctor Who the program rather than remaining engaged in the story. Any time that someone says “Doctor Who?” it does the same thing. And it’s very annoying.

There are other things to like about this story apart from the Doctor/Reinette relationship and the robots. It’s Mickey’s first trip in the TARDIS, and his enthusiasm is wonderful to watch. The fact that he and Rose get along with no hint of Rose’s usual jealous streak is a breath of fresh air. I’m sick of Rose’s jealously and tired of the character for that matter. It just seems like her story was told last year, and there’s not really anything new to say about her. It’s a lot like Charley Pollard, whose story came to a good conclusion in “Neverland” and then the character seemed to stagnate. Rose has been irritating in “New Earth”, “Tooth and Claw”, and especially in “School Reunion” where the claws came out with Sarah Jane. She’s much better here, and I hope continues to do well in future. As of this writing I haven’t seen any stories beyond “The Girl in the Fireplace”, so I don’t know how the character develops over the remainder of the season.

Some of the dialog is almost poetic. References to “The slow path” to describe linear time, or Reinette’s phrase “In your world there are rooms where the days of my life are pressed together like the pages of a book” are wonderful to hear.

Overall, the story has an appeal that transcends the crazy premise, but it never lives up to the billing as ‘a love story for the Doctor’. But it is inventive, it’s different and it’s sincere, which sets it apart and elevates it above much of the new series. It’s well worth the time to watch it.

FILTER: - Television - Series 2/28 - Tenth Doctor

The Caves of AndrozaniBookmark and Share

Monday, 23 April 2007 - Reviewed by Finn Clark

I shouldn't care about these people. They're loathsome. The only one who's not complete slime is Chellak and he's the least interesting character, a sheep among wolves. He's not really a bad guy underneath, but he gets pushed around by everyone else, he's happy to execute the Doctor and Peri for no good reason and basically he's a loser. Everyone else is slime and you're looking forward to their deaths, hopefully in humiliating and painful ways.

The Caves of Androzani arguably shouldn't work. On first broadcast, when I saw it as a child, for me to an extent it didn't. It's bleak and unpleasant, like bathing in used engine oil. It certainly shouldn't have been taken as any kind of template. This is the kind of story that works in the hands of Peter Davison, Robert Holmes and Graeme Harper, but in the hands of Steve Cole or Trevor Baxendale makes you want to plant bombs in bookshops. Nevertheless in 1984 it worked like crazy. As so often 'twas Robert Holmes, the grand old man of Doctor Who, who could break the rules. His characters aren't just bastards. They're unbelievable screaming motherfuckers. Holmes hit a roll, a momentum with which he created a cast any one of whom could on their own have been the "unmatched throughout the series" highlight of another story. Sharaz Jek = work of genius. Stotz = has me backing away from the television. Morgus = makes the above look like Disney heroines. "Have the lift maintenance engineer shot." It's profoundly satisfying to see him get what he deserves, from Krau Timmin and then from Jek. I'm not sure what that glowing special effect did to him in episode four, but I'm happy to assume that it wasn't nice.

I could talk about these people for hours. Best of all, they're all completely different. It's no identikit parade of faceless macho mannequins, but a rich mix of villains that in that department outdoes just about any other work of fiction I can think of. Stotz is fascinating even before we see horrors like his terrifying scene with Krelper and the pill. He's a genuinely clever psychopath.

Then of course there's Jek. I discussed the others first to get them out of the way, since here there's so much to say. I'll be here a while. Everyone knows that Christopher Gable went in to read for another part, but on seeing the script fell in love with Sharaz Jek and went to Graeme Harper to ask for him instead. Forget the script for a moment. I've already discussed how astonishing it is that Robert Holmes pulled off what he did here, but I'm about to address the nuts and bolts of TV production. For Graeme Harper, the most script's terrifying line must have been: "You think bullets could stop me now?" That's the acid test. A bad actor or half-hearted direction could have sunk it like a stone and basically killed the whole story, which had all been building up to that confrontation. Why don't Morgus and Stotz just blast down Jek on the spot? Think about it. The guy should be Swiss cheese. In any other story, we'd be rolling our eyes and hooting at the TV... but the televised production doesn't even let you blink. You believe Jek! One truly feels that mere bullets wouldn't do the job. Admittedly the script has already made it clear that he's extremely hard to kill, but by that point our guts are screaming that this man is practically superhuman.

A further point of interest is that Sharaz Jek is an operatic character in a grittily realistic production. In a perverse way John Normington plays up Morgus by playing him down, with that psychotically tight self-control, but the world of Androzani is a million miles away from the plastic BBC corridors of much eighties Doctor Who. It has bullets, not laser beams. Its tough guys feel like tough guys, not ballet dancers and RADA graduates. Nevertheless amidst all this is a richly theatrical creation, using language as flamboyant as anything Holmes ever wrote. "You have the mouth of a prattling jackanapes." I'd kill to hear a Hollywood action hero say that. You can roll it around your tongue like wine, but furthermore it characterises Jek. It's horror as poetry, with luscious descriptions of grossness. When Jek says he wants Morgus's head, that's no metaphor. "Congealed in its own evil blood." "The flesh boiled, hanging from the bone." Jek's obsessed with physicality. He's besotted with Peri's beauty, mentally shattered by his own deformity and speaking a language of blood. It's perfect that he ended up being played by a professional dancer.

Eventually of course Jek becomes the only sympathetic character! He's acting from pure motives rather than greed. Love, or at least his twisted version, and hatred. They're beautiful in their clarity and he's dominated by them. He's like a terrifying child.

Then there's his best line. "I am mad."

I can't believe I'm reviewing a Davison story and I haven't talked about Peter Davison yet. This is one of those rare stories which you couldn't quite do with any other Doctor. The 5th Doctor, especially in Season 21, was the last good man in a bleak universe, which ultimately ended with him giving his life to become Colin Baker. Seasons 21 and 22 are twin epitomes of grossness, but in opposite ways. Colin Baker's era had a flamboyance, a larger than life quality that at its best gave us the likes of Vengeance on Varos. A Davison story on the other hand was always more human and real, as was exemplified in this final farewell. He's a hero in the fullest sense. For the Doctor as a character, I think this remains his finest hour in all his lives since 1963.

The Colin Baker era's stabs at tragedy (Lytton, Oscar Botcherby) were always fumbling and awkward. In contrast there's something uncomfortable about Resurrection of the Daleks and Caves of Androzani that few eras ever attained. Plus of course this story shows Davison's dark sense of humour, letting him stand up to the psychos with deliciously dry sarcasm that's flippant but always purposeful. Watch his first scene with Chellak. That line where he asks for a chair. He's deliberately testing the general. Then in the detention cell in episode one he's asking all the right questions, having already basically worked out the truth about both Salateen and Morgus. This is my 5th Doctor, the one who had Turlough pegged almost from the beginning but never said a word.

His finest moment in this finest moment is of course part three's cliffhanger. Obviously it ends with Davison's toe-tingling "not going to let you stop me now" speech, but personally I love the whole scene all the way from "Ah, Stotzy, have you had a good rest?" and "Sorry, seems to be locked".

Even his relationship with Peri is interesting. She's just as sarcastic, whiny and unenthusiastic as she would be in Season 22, but Davison lets it all roll off him. He's so much more tolerant than in his early days with Adric, Nyssa and Tegan. In fairness he didn't choose any of them; they're miscellaneous orphans who stowed away or got dumped on him, and it's already the end of Castrovalva before he's in a position to do anything about it. (Note that he spends the entirety of Season Nineteen trying to get rid of Tegan, albeit at her request, and he's not exactly reluctant to lose her when they finally reach Heathrow in Time-Flight.) Peri on the other hand was offered her place on the TARDIS.

Plus of course she has the right idea. Androzani really is horrible. Anyone with a brain would want to get away. The Doctor is the hero, but she's the ordinary girl trapped in a nightmare. She's terrified by Sharaz Jek, to the point where she jumps at the Doctor's hand hitting her shoulder.

The regeneration is different too. Everyone knows about the fan theory about the episode three cliffhanger, with the Doctor feeling woozy just when Harper reused the regeneration special effect. He pulls himself together and we get on with the scene. However there's a further regeneration foreshadowing when the Doctor goes down for the milk of the Queen Bat and hears voices, a multiple echo of Sharaz Jek saying, "She's dying, Doctor." Eventually the old faces parade works surprisingly well, trumping the similar idea at the end of Logopolis by bringing the actors into the studio to record new lines. We'd never seen a regeneration like this before, a slow poisoning in which the Doctor basically spends four episodes dying by degrees. Even he says, "It feels different this time."

Continuity menks might surmise that Androzani's backstory is similar to that of Robots of Death. "Where are you from, Earth?" "As they used to say on Earth, every cloud has a strontium lining." There's also the fact that Jek's androids get confused by the Doctor's alien physiology, making it look like a fairly human-centric universe.

Oh, and Morgus's asides to camera. What the hell? As soon as your attention's been drawn to them, they're unbelievable. I love them.

I like the plot. It's hardly an original observation, but I'll say it again... The Caves of Androzani is an SF historical. There aren't any diabolical menaces or plans to destroy the universe, but simply the passion and violence of the characters. We don't need aliens. Everyone's quite enough of a threat to each other. Okay, there's the Magma Beast, but it's little more than a lava flow on legs. There's nothing intelligent or consciously antagonistic about it. Meanwhile for once the Doctor isn't trying to beat the bad guy or save the world, but simply wants to get back to the TARDIS.

I'd always vaguely approved of Robert Holmes, but rewatching all these old stories has heightened my appreciation of him. He's a storyteller, a wit and a wordsmith, but moreover time after time he does things with Doctor Who that no one before or since has thought to do. The Caves of Androzani is unique. It's spiky, uncomfortable and I didn't particularly enjoy it when I was eleven, but it's a breathtaking achievement.

FILTER: - Series 21 - Fifth Doctor - Television