Friday, February 25, 2011

A Five Rounds Rapid Salute




NICHOLAS COURTNEY (1929-2011)


There were few constants in Doctor Who over its original 26-year run. There was The Doctor, of course, the TARDIS, and his companions. However, there was one more, one that occurred quite by accident, but which enriched Doctor Who tremendously: Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, better known on Earth as Nicholas Courtney. He holds the distinction of having worked on screen with all seven of the original Doctors (albeit briefly with the Sixth in the Dimensions in Time charity special). No other person could or will ever be able to make that extraordinary claim. If one wants to be extremely specific, he worked with a record-eight Doctors if you include audio productions. Again, it's hard to think of people who've worked with more than three Doctors (Elisabeth Sladen comes quickly to mind, but besides her...) Out of all his appearances, it was only with the First Doctor that he did not appear as Colonel, later Brigadier, Lethbridge-Stewart. However, once he became the Brigadier, he found himself one of the most iconic of Doctor Who characters.

His Brigadier was almost, to my mind, a parody of the stiff-upper-lip British soldier, one who had a limited imagination but knew how to fight. His response to any situation can be summed up in Doctor Who & The Silurians, when the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) tells his Companion Liz Shaw (Caroline John) something along the lines that it's typical of the military mind--come across a problem and the first reaction is to shoot at it. However strict the Brig may have been when it came to otherworldly aliens, he never seemed shocked by them. Here could come Daleks and Daemons, Yeti and Cybermen, and he would just take it as merely another foreigner attempting to conquer his home. Silly aliens, he might have thought, don't they know we're British?

Still, what could have come off as a strict martinet in Courtney's hands became a likeable, almost lovable, man. It's a testament to Courtney's talents as an actor that the Brig was never mean (even when going against the Doctor's recommendations), or obnoxious. At heart, we always knew the Brigadier meant well, and to use modern parlance, had the Doctor's back. We knew that at the end of the day, he and the Doctor (whomever he was) had a great deal of respect and admiration for the qualities they saw in each other. In short, we could say that the Brigadier was one of the Doctor's friends. They made a wonderful team, and I see this relationship shown best in The Five Doctors. If one thinks about it, the Brigadier should have been furious. Here he is, poor man, at his retirement party, and how does he spend it? In the Death Zone of Gallifrey, trying not to get killed. Does he rage against the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton)? Does he say, 'I won't have any of this?' No. Like every fine old English (or Scottish) gentleman, he stands shoulder to shoulder with the Doctor, giving all their enemies a right once over. That's the kind of man the Brigadier was, and that's why we loved him.

We also loved the actor as well. Few actors have been so proud to have been associated with a single character as much as Courtney appears to have been. It isn't every day that a truly iconic character in a long-running television show is created. He has that extraordinary legacy, to have known at his death that a role he created was his and his alone. Unlike the various Doctors, no one could ever play the Brigadier. Most actors might have run away from the role, wanted to show they could do more than just that one part. Daniel Craig comes to mind--as (overly) praised as his James Bond is, he is constantly trying to show us how he's an ACTOR by doing all sorts of parts. A more relevant example would be Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy is a good actor (see A Woman Called Golda for proof), but he spent so many years railing against Mr. Spock. Courtney didn't appear to be troubled by being identified as the Brig. You can tell the difference between Nimoy & Courtney merely by their autobiographies. Nimoy called the first volume of his life story, I Am Not Spock. Courtney called his Five Rounds Rapid.

I had always hoped that the Brigadier would have had one last chance to be on Doctor Who, now that the series has been revived successfully. It was a terrible pity that Courtney was not able to reprise his role with either Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, or Matt Smith. I could understand with the Ninth & Eleventh Doctors, but the Tenth had a good four or five years to where The Brigadier could have come back for one more story. It was good to see him with Sarah Jane in The Sarah Jane Adventures story Enemy of The Bane, but alas, the final call has been made for our beloved Brigadier.

As a Doctor Who fan, I pay my final respects to Nicholas Courtney, for in truth, so long as there are novels and fan fiction and comics, The Brigadier will never truly die. He was, curiously enough, supposed to have died in Battlefield. I don't quite know the reason why he ultimately was spared, and I'd have to watch the episode again to see whether it worked or not. However, it just goes to show you old soldiers truly never die. In the case of Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, they never fade away either. He shall be in our hearts forever.

Here at Gallifrey Exile, we like to think we keep The Eye of Harmony burning until a New Gallifrey is established. For today, the Eye dims in honour of Nicholas Courtney.

IN MEMORIAM



Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Museum Piece





STORY 015: THE SPACE MUSEUM

It could have been far more than it ultimately turned out to be. The four-part story collectively known as The Space Museum (episodes being The Space Museum, The Dimensions of Time, The Search, and The Final Phase) starts out all right, but then goes down familiar paths and has some rather curious moments. It may be my Twenty-First Century eyes, but I detected an undertone of commentary in Glyn Jones' script on the evils of colonialism. As it stands, The Space Museum has some good moments to it, but not enough to hold much interest beyond Episode One.

We begin with strange goings-on aboard the TARDIS. The Doctor (William Hartnell) along with his Companions Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Ian Chesterton (William Russell), and Vicki (Maureen O'Sullivan) find themselves frozen in moment briefly, and when they are free to move about, they find themselves in their own clothes rather than in the medieval wardrobe they had in The Crusade they were just wearing. The Doctor is curiously unconcerned about how they got back to their regular clothes or how Vicki managed to break a glass of water and see it restored almost right away. He IS interested in the building on the planet they've landed on. It is a Space Museum with artifacts of all types, including the remains of a Dalek. There, more strange things are going on: the guards and 'visitors' do not see them, the exhibits are visible to them but if they try to touch them they appear to be like shadows, and at the end of Episode One, they make a shocking discovery: the newest exhibits are of themselves!

From this point, the travelers attempt to discover how they got to be part of the Space Museum and to avoid it. The curators of the museum are the Moroks, headed up by Governor/Curator Lobos (Richard Shaw) He is bored on the planet Xeros which the Moroks occupy, much to the displeasure of the native Xerons, who all appear to be college-age men. (Curiously, no women apart from Barbara and Vicki are seen in The Space Museum, not unlike Lawrence of Arabia). The Xerons, led by Sita (Peter Sanders) and Dako (Peter Craze), attempt to foster a revolution, but can't get at the armory, which is guarded by a computer who asks questions that must be answered correctly to open. The travellers become separated: the Doctor captured first by the Xerons, then by Lobos, who starts to turn him into the exhibit. Barbara, Vicki, and Ian at first are together but then the Xerons take Vicki, who promptly begins fostering revolution and gets them the weapons by rejigging the computer to accept the truthful answer regardless of whether it's the logical one. Ian attempts to rescue the Doctor and almost succeeds but is taken by Lobos and the Moroks, and Barbara is gassed and captured. Just before they all succumb to their fate, the Xerons retake the museum and rescue the travellers. The Doctor takes a souvenir of the now dismantled museum (a Time & Space Visualizer) and discovers that a mechanical issue on the TARDIS is what caused the time track jump. We end with them leaving, but they have been observed...by the Daleks!

I think that The Space Museum could have been far better if Jones had not opted for a 'revolution' story. In other words, once Episode One ends, we get bogged down in another story where the Doctor and his Companions find themselves aiding in overthrowing the occupation force. In short, it was a good opportunity wasted with a second-tier story. Once we see the Moroks looking bored while holding Xeros and the Xerons planning revolution, we realize that whatever mystery of how they got to be made exhibits gets thrown out the window (curiously, there are no windows in the actuall museum). The Moroks do appear as if they'd rather be somewhere else and have no enthusiasm or interest in holding Xeros other than they are already there. The Xerons themselves aren't too enthusiastic about overthrowing the Moroks. Instead, they appear to just talk revolution because they truly have nothing else to do. Neither group has any sense of superiority of the conqueror or fury of the conquered.

In short, they all look rather bored to be in the museum (which happens more often than not). If they are bored, imagine the viewer. Jones' script would have worked better if he had opted not to put in this type of story. He could have created a villain who just enjoyed collecting exotic creatures (The Space Zoo would have been a better story), and have them lead a mass escape. A stronger villain or more enthusiastic allies would have done great service to The Space Museum, and the fact that neither are there does the story great damage.

There are also many points of logic in The Space Museum that aren't answered. For example, if this was suppose to be a museum dedicated to the glory of the Morok Empire, why are there no signs to state what a visitor would be looking at or to tell them what room they are in? Much of The Space Museum is built around the fact that the travellers are forever wandering within it, with no idea where they are in this massive complex. If this were to be a real place, any Morok who ventured to the museum would soon become hopelessly lost, and for some reason the Moroks never seem to think this, more than a lack of interest in Morok history, would keep visitors from venturing to what I take it is a remote and distant planet to see a bunch of space junk.

Another oddity involves the Xerons themselves. We're suppose to believe they are the native population, but we never get a full explanation as to why the native population are all young men (and their odd eyebrows are the only things that make them appear alien, but the effect is more humorous than serious). By making them all so young (and remarkably unenthusiastic) The Space Museum gives them very little to do. You'd think they would want to throw the shackles of oppression against the bored Moroks, and thus would try to take the weapons by any way necessary. However, their leaders are either lazy or extremely dumb, and it takes Vicki's need to do something in The Space Museum to lead, or at least instigate, the actual rebellion.

Director Mervyn Pinfield did himself no favors by having some pretty weak effects. His decision to have no original music score made the fight sequences sound odd. The mind-reading effect in Episode Two was a great idea, but it was executed badly with obvious use of photos that didn't seem to mesh well within the story, either here and especially at the end of Episode One. Granted, the effects in 1965 may look weak today, but even then they could have done better. His decision to build up the Doctor's reappearance throughout Episode Three could have been a strong moment, but the final revealing in Episode Four was such a disappointment and remarkably undramatic.

The biggest issue in The Space Museum is just how bored and disinterested everyone looks. No one can muster any enthusiasm or interest: either to stop the revolution or begin the revolution or just to escape the Space Museum. Few stories in Doctor Who appear to have people just going through the motions as this one does. The second biggest issue is in the costumes. The Moroks are all in white and the Xerons all in black. Here, we could have had some subtext about the British Empire and the effects of colonization on the native population. However, when it looks like the Xerons just appear to have come out of a beatnik coffee bar (and I think one of them was wearing Converse shoes) it made it look all so cheap. A side note on the costumes: it strikes me as typical that Ian makes Barbara ruin HER cardigan sweater--far be it for him to sacrifice his jacket threads.

Perhaps the best moment in The Space Museum may also be one of the worse. It is when the Doctor emerges from a Dalek shell, delighted to have found such an excellent hiding place. Granted, it IS clever, but it does run the risk of making the Daleks into a bit of a joke, and from time to time in the future, they do become objects of ridicule as opposed to terror. There are a couple of good ideas: such as when the Doctor is interrogated, but they are few and not enough to life the story.

The Space Museum is not held in high esteem by fans, and I can see why. Overall, the story itself isn't very good, but what pushes it down is the fact that it appears to have wasted a great opportunity. Like An Unearthly Child, it has a good first episode and then wanders away from a strong premise to present a rather boring story of rebellious youth (pun intended). It could have been one of the better First Doctor stories if the villains had been more intent on capturing the travellers and the focus had been on them escaping, not on them leading a revolution. In conclusion, it is clear why people don't visit The Space Museum.

4/10

Next Story: The Chase