Sunday, October 3, 2010

Doctor Who Story 014: The Web Planet

Image result for doctor who the web planet

Who's Zarbi Now?

We've left ancient Rome and are now on another planet. This is where Doctor Who excels: the sci-fi aspects, where all sorts of fantastic alien creatures wreak havoc on our travellers. At least, that was the case until The Web Planet.

The Doctor (William Hartnell) and his Companions Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), and Vicki (Maureen O'Sullivan), are taken to a mysterious planet, later learned to be Vortis. Here, the ant-like Zarbi have taken over, pushing out the moth-like Menoptra, who are planning a counter-invasion. Soon the travellers are caught up in the situation, with the Animus, a strange being who is using the Zarbi to take over Vordis.

In the six episodes (The Web Planet, The Zarbi, Escape to Danger, Crater of Needles, Invasion, and The Centre), we endured a continuing series of worse and worse aliens. It was as if there was a contest to see who could come up with the worst creature in a single story. The Zarbi at first I thought were among the worst Doctor Who monsters. They looked like men inside ant costumes, with their forearms (or forelegs) being totally useless. Then I saw the Menoptra. With their exotic moments (choreographed by Rosalyn de Winter) and odd speech pattern, I kept wondering if they had asthma. Finally, once I thought we'd hit the low point of silliness, we were treated to the Optera, whom I kept calling the Grub People. Given that we had a planet inhabited by ants and moths, slugs would then be almost natural. However, they just looked people in really, really silly costumes made up of blankets, slippers, and Rastafarian extensions. Their leader sounded like Animal from The Muppet Show, and I just thought the whole thing silly.

I think that on some level the actors must have thought Bill Strutton's story silly as well. This came to me in Episode Three, when the Doctor wants to speak to the Animus via its communication method. "Drop this hair dryer or whatever it is," he says. Now, there's nothing wrong in having the Doctor be a bit cheeky when facing against his enemies, but who exactly was he speaking to when he spoke this quip? If he can't take the story seriously, we can't either.

The Web Planet also suffers from a bit of repetition from previous stories, which I think were unintentional. In Episode One, the Doctor and Ian come close to being killed by what appears to be water but which is really poisonous. That seems similar to what they faced in Episode One of The Keys of Marinus. The travellers being used as slaves before leading the revolution? We've covered something almost exactly like that in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It seems so strange that at only fourteen stories there is already a repetitiveness to Doctor Who.

Richard Martin's direction is quite contradictory as well. Visually it is quite artistic, but that artistry also creates difficulties. There is this gauze whenever they are on the surface (perhaps to hid the weakness of the sets) but twice the gauze inadvertedly covered the actor's faces, making them blurry. It almost looked as if Martin INTENDED Hartnell to be virtually masked in The Web Planet. The ants marching (thanks, Dave Matthews Band) look so amusing and comical, as does the Larvae Gun. In Episode Four Barbara looks like she's pumping a Larvae Gun like one would pump water.

Episode Three also has one of the most notorious flubs in Doctor Who history: one of the Zarbi crashes with a camera with such force we not only see the camera jerk back and up but HEAR it as well. The nature of 60s BBC television made a retake impossible, and it does add its own charm, but it does make the already unintentionally hilarious goings-on even more hilarious.

In short, not much in The Web Planet is either good or intelligent or interesting. It isn't to say there aren't good things in it. Some of Strutton's lines are quite beautiful, almost poetic. "History doesn't mean anything when you travel through space and time," the Doctor snaps at Ian. In Episode Five, one of the Menoptra says, "Light was our god, and we existed in light, flying above thought". We also have Catherine Fleming's performance as the Animus...or rather, her voice. She has a calm tone to this villain, making her both soothing and even more menacing. The actual costumes for the Menoptra are quite beautiful.

However, too much in The Web Planet was just so laughable that one wonders why the story was commissioned at all. Granted they made a good effort to try something new, but it didn't pan out. At six episodes, it was four episodes too long. Oh, what a tangled Web Planet they've weaved...


Next Story: The Crusade

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fat Chance

STORY 164: ALIENS OF LONDON (Aliens of London/World War III)

This is the first two-parter of the revived Doctor Who, and while I might have stated this before I take this opportunity to say that when we have two-part stories I will adopt one title since it makes it easier for me.

The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and his Companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) have gone through time and space, but now they have returned to Rose's time, or at least they think it's her time. The Doctor's calculations were off... by only a year, a year where Rose's mom Jackie (Camile Coduri) searches for her and where Rose's boyfriend Mickey (Noel Clarke) is suspected of murdering one Rose Tyler. However, whatever private issues Rose faces are drowned out by a spaceship crashing into the River Thames at that moment, right down to clipping the Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament.

In this emergency 10 Downing Street we have no news from the Prime Minister and the entrance of MP Joseph Green (David Verrey) and General Asquith (Rupert Vansittart). They are met by Ministry of Defence Junior Secretary Indra Ganesh (Navil Chowdhry), MI5 operative Margaret Blane (Annette Badland) and Transport Liason Oliver Charles (Eric Potts). With the exception of Ganesh and Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North (Penelope Wilton) who was at Number 10 before the crisis began, all the others share a common trait: they all are rather fat. Coincidence? Not in Russell T. Davies' script. As Aliens of London progressed into its second part, I believe NOTHING in his script was coincidental, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Doctor is eventually called in to help, as is UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce). However, our three fat friends have a trick up their sleeves...they are not human. They are the Slitheen, a family who have plans for Earth. At first you think the Slitheen are here for conquest, but we get another twist. After a Slitheen nearly kills Jackie, she and Mickey join forces on the outside while The Doctor, Rose, and MP Jones (whose name the Doctor recalls but doesn't know from where) are trapped inside Number 10. The Slitheen wish to unleash a nuclear war on the planet so as to destroy all humanity and create a barren world, one which the Slitheen can sell at a profit. Green, now the Acting Prime Minister, tells the population that the aliens are above them and have "massive weapons of destruction capable of being deployed within 45 seconds", and ask the United Nations to give them the nuclear codes. If the UN gives the authority to have a 'preemptive strike', the Slitheen will destroy the world. The Doctor has a way out of all this, but it means risking Rose's life, a situation Jackie cannot tolerate. Still, there is simply too much at stake. Rose and Jones push the Doctor to take the step to stop the Slitheen, and with the help of "Mickey the Idiot" (the Doctor's nickname for Mickey Smith), he launches a strike of his own.

Is it me, or was Aliens of London a lot of things: a two-hour "Bush/Blair lied us into war" advert, a juvenile comedy, an anti-capitalist episode, but not a good two-parter Doctor Who? It may just be coincidence, but this is the second episode (after The End of the World) where the motive for all this murder was PROFIT. I'm beginning to suspect Davies is a bit to the left. The Slitheen aren't even a species, but a family, no different than say the Rockefellers, the Vandervilts or the Astors. This was a bit confusing in that when we learn what planet they are from, does that mean that instead of Slitheen they should be called "Raxacoricofallapatorians"? (Side note: Eccleston deserves a bonus just for being able to pronounce Raxacoricofallapatorius). The Slitheen, away from their human disguise, were a curious creature: both cuddly and monstrous. They were good monsters, but something was off, and I think I know what it was.

It was the farting. It isn't until Part Two (World War III) where we got an explanation for the farting, but to my mind Davies wanted a funny episode, and that's what he got. I couldn't take it seriously because all that farting was done in Part One for humorous effect, or at least that's how it came out (pun intended). If that wasn't bad enough, the Pig Thing. When in Part One you see the alien is a PIG, you start to wonder if we're suppose to take ANY of it seriously. Yes, we got an explanation as to WHY it looked like a pig, but Davies and director Keith Boak can't possible throw a pig at us and not expect us to laugh. All I could hear in my mind was "PIGS...IN... SPACE..." and wouldn't blame anyone else for doing the same. Going back to the farting, I put in my notes "wonder if the farting is to appeal to the children" who I figure would like that sort of bathroom humor. It wasn't to my liking because it did become a little distracting.

You also have things that I didn't follow. You introduce UNIT, which would be great for longtime fans but whom revived fans will know little to nothing about, then you kill them off before they do anything. I wonder why bother having them there in the first place...unless it's some sort of bait-and-switch. What also makes me think this was more a comedy than a straight science-fiction was "Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North". Every time someone asked who she was, MP Jones would flash her ID and state everything but her serial number (having already given us her name and rank). Adding to my criticisms of Aliens of London, I am surprised that being overweight was a major plot point. You'd think that Davies (who is by no means svelte) would not be so quick to take shots at fat people...right down to the farts.

One thing in the script did surprise me above all else. It was in Episode One where Rose tells the Doctor how silly he was being for being so sensitive about Jackie slapping him (the slap was in itself a fine moment). "You're so gay", she tells him, and while it makes sense for that common saying (in every sense of the word) to be said by someone of Rose's background, I wonder why an openly-gay man like Davies (who also created the original and still-controversial Queer As Folk) would use that specific phrase. Will it lead kids to think it's acceptable to dismiss people by saying "you're so gay"? I found that quite troubling.

I don't deny the extraordinary talent of Davies--he's a brilliant writer who puts his ideas on paper and knows how to show them. Of course, his ideas appear to be about his subconscious desire to assassinate Tony Blair. Part of me kept thinking as that missile headed toward Number 10 that he was thinking as he typed, 'Here you go, Tony, for betraying all of us who voted Labour, for becoming that bastard Bush's poodle, for lying about weapons of mass destruction you both KNEW didn't exist, for illegally invading Iraq, which had peace and beauty and whose people were watched over by a benevolent leader until you lied to the UN and the world to get your hands on their oil. Take this, Ha Ha Ha". Of course, this could all be in my head (the unnamed Prime Minister was already dead when the crisis began), but it's the things about the weapons of destruction line that lead me to this conclusion: Aliens of London expresses the producer/writer's view on the Iraq Intervention. It's even more curious in that when the spaceship clipped the Clock Tower, to this American, echoes of September 11th played in my mind. Perhaps then, this makes Aliens of London the ultimate in 9/11 conspiracies: "they" created a crisis to bring about a war for profit.

As a writer, Davies brings a great deal of himself into his work. I digress to say that the episodes of Queer as Folk that I've seen, I couldn't help but think the three characters were aspects of himself (real or imagined), right down to the Doctor Who-loving Vince Tyler (how curious that Vince & Rose share the same last name. Curious, that). Therefore, I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that Davies' political views, specifically in regards with the Iraq Intervention, played a significant part in the overall story of Aliens of London.

In fairness to Davies, I cannot read his mind or know his thoughts; however, I can only express mine. It would be foolish not to think that Aliens of London is Davies' (and by extention, the Left's) response to how we ended up in Iraq, and contrary to what people might think, I think this is a brilliant example of what science-fiction can do: express current-day issues in the guise of a fantastical story. Therein lies Davies' high intelligence (even though as a viewer I've never been fond of stories being written to create a certain viewpoint, whether I agree with it or not). And thus ends my reading of politics into a two-part Doctor Who.

If we focus on the acting, I think Wilton's Jones did a great job balancing comedy with fear. For the most part, she was comedic but in the Cabinet Room, you got that there could be steel beneath her natural insecurity. Coduri showed throughout the story a genuine love for her daughter--in her loss when Rose disappeared, when the Doctor tells her that Rose may die, right down when she waits those 'ten seconds'. In fact, near the end there is quite a sad and touching moment between Coduri and Piper when Rose opts to leave again. Eccleston kept his manic, almost giddy sense of his Doctor, but he still managed to be frightening in his seriousness when called for. His Doctor isn't all goofy grins but a growing sense that the fun he has in exploring comes with a cost.

I'm going to wrap up with this: at two episodes I think the story was too long. Part One: Aliens of London was quick, sharp, funny (minus the pig and the farting). Part Two: World War III just seemed to drag a bit, to the point that I wonder if we couldn't wrapped all this up in one episode. It's as if the second part couldn't hold my interest as the first one did, as if Part Two collapsed from all the energy of Part One.

If I were to score them separately, Aliens of London would get 8/10 while World War III would get a 4/10. However, I have to score them together because they are ONE story, so I might have to balance it out. In the final analysis, this story, ironically, carries little weight.


Next Story: Dalek

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Our Friend From The North

That's a remarkably nice-looking, almost pleasant fellow by the TARDIS, a bloke you could go to the pub with. Given his reputation for being cantankerous (a trait also familiar to The First Doctor William Hartnell) it isn't a giant surprise Eccleston stayed on Doctor Who for only one season. With the exception of Paul McGann, who appeared only once as The Doctor, this will make Eccleston the shortest-serving Doctor in the franchise's history*, and he left by choice. Granted, I think it's an odd choice, but it's his career. If he thought G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was a better use of his talents, more power to him.

Given that, he still WAS a Doctor, and as such should be accorded all respects and honors due to him. I've reviewed a few of his stories and will write on all of them, not just Eccleston's but his successors David Tennant and Matt Smith. The next review will be for Story 164: ALIENS OF LONDON (Aliens of London/World War III).

* Eccleston's Doctor had 10 televised stories while Sixth Doctor Colin Baker had 11 stories. Since I count two-episode stories as ONE story, the two-part stories ALIENS OF LONDON (Aliens of London/World War III), THE EMPTY CHILD (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances), and BAD WOLF (Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways)count as one and knocks the total from 13 episodes from Eccleston's Era. Also, while many count Colin Baker's season-long The Trial of A Time Lord as ONE STORY with 14 episodes, I count them as FOUR STORIES (The Mysterious Planet, Mindwarp, Terror of the Vervoids, and The Ultimate Foe). Even going by individual stories, Colin Baker lasted longer than Christopher Eccleston, so in either count it would make the latter the shortest-serving Doctor. McGann's reign was shorter, but it was not for a season but for one television movie, so his case is unique.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A One and A Nine and An Eleven

Here at Gallifrey Exile, we've set ourselves a simple goal: watch and review every Doctor Who story available on DVD. This will encompass nearly 50 years of programs, some of which are alas, lost, probably forever. Being methodical, we will begin at the beginning with Story 001: An Unearthly Child, and then go from the surviving DVD released stories from Doctor Number 1: William Hartnell (the gentleman above) right down to Doctor Number 8: Paul McGann with Story 160: Doctor Who: The Movie (aka The Enemy Within).

Of course, as it stands many people believe Doctor Who began with this man, Doctor Number 9: Christopher Eccleston. As far as they are concerned, while all that went on before is important in terms of backstory, it's the revived version that they see. In a sense, it's a new beginning, a regeneration, if you will. Being that the case, I've opted to jump around a bit and also review these stories apart from the original series countdown, starting from Story 161: Rose, right down to Story 206: The End of Time.

Which leave us with this young man, Doctor Number 11: Matt Smith. I'm faced with a conundrum: his is the most recent series, and if I wait to get around to him I'll be more than FIVE Series/Seasons behind. Besides, I've spent this season already reviewing Story 207: The Eleventh Hour up to Story 216: THE BIG BANG * (The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang). Therefore, I'll skip yet again, and keep rolling with the reviews.

In short, I'll be taking Gallifrey Exile to three directions: Original Series, Revived Series, Matt Smith Era. At the end of every review, I'll let you know the next story in its chronological order. For example, the most recent Hartnell story reviewed was Story 012: The Romans and the next one will be Story 013: The Web Planet. I've already written three reviews from the Eccleston period--Rose, The End of the World, and The Unquiet Dead. A link will be put up soon, and the next story will be Story 164: ALIENS OF LONDON * (Aliens of London/World War III). As for Smith, once I post the review for THE BIG BANG I'll have a quick link to all those from Series/Season Five. I hope that will sort everything out.

* When it comes to two-part stories, I have adopted the policy of counting them as ONE story with two episodes as opposed to two distinct episodes. I also give it an overall title instead of calling it by both titles. Usually I'll use one of the two titles but on occassion will give it my own title.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Doctor Who Story 012: The Romans


A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the TARDIS...

Something appealing, something appalling, something for everyone: A COMEDY, TONIGHT!

It might have come as a shock to Doctor Who fans to see the four-part story collectively known as The Romans (individual episodes The Slave Trades, All Roads Lead to Rome, Conspiracy, and Inferno--not to be confused with the Third Doctor story also called Inferno). It isn't because it's a historic piece: we've had two already (Marco Polo and The Aztecs). Rather, it's the fact that it veered toward comedy...a Roman farce, if you will. After ten adventures that, while having some humor in them were mostly adventures, and some quite dark, The Romans is remarkably light and comedic (especially given some of the elements within The Romans). That isn't to say the crew: The Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), or the newest companion, Vicki (Maureen O'Sullivan) didn't face dangers. On the contrary: most of The Romans involve them either getting into or out of threats to their lives, but they for the most part are done in such a deliberately funny way one can't help getting swept into the funny form The Romans takes.

The travelers, after having survived the TARDIS falling off a cliff, have been enjoying a respite in a Roman villa for about a month. While Ian and Barbara have been enjoying staying put for a spell the Doctor and Vicki want to go beyond their villa (which they are temporarily occupying while the real owners are away). The new visitors attract the attention of a couple of slavers, who become intrigued with these people from 'Londinium' in far-off Britannia. The Doctor, reverting to his short-tempered, irritable, and crotchety manner, decides to go to Rome and agrees to take Vicki with him. Thus they leave before the slavers seize Ian and Barbara, who themselves are split up respectively between a slave galley and, after a slave auction, at the Court of Emperor Nero himself (Derek Francis). As it turns out, The Doctor is mistaken for Maximus Pettulian, a noted lyre player who has been summoned to entertain at Nero's Court. Tavius (Michael Peake) who bought Barbara to be a handmaid to the Empress Poppaea (Kay Patrick), is overjoyed to see Maximus/Doctor at Court, since he is involved in a conspiracy of which The Doctor is clueless about, as he is about playing the lyre. Ian, having escaped with fellow prisoner Delos (Peter Diamond) when their ship is destroyed in a storm, decides to make for Rome to rescue Barbara. He is recaptured and made to train as a gladiator, and after the Emperor and Empress become displeased by the antics of the travellers, they decide to take revenge, but not before the Doctor gets inadvertently involved with the Great Fire of Rome and after a lot (and I MEAN a lot) of near misses the two groups manage to reunite with their travelling partner and return to their villa without knowing of the other pair's adventures.

The Romans starts off with comedy and never really lets up. The source of the comedy comes primarily through the dialogue of Dennis Spooner's script. Take, for example, in Episode 1. The Doctor goes back to mangling Ian's last name. This is the dialogue:
The Doctor: Chesterfield...
Barbara: Chester-TON.
The Doctor (to Ian): Oh, Barbara's calling you.
Same episode, when the Centurion (Dennis Edwards) questions the Doctor while he and Vicki are travelling to Rome:
The Centurion (pointing to the lyre the Doctor is holding): Is that your lyre?
The Doctor: Why? Have you lost one?

Finally, when referring to Vicki, the Doctor informs the Centurion, "She keeps her eye on all the lyres", much to her somewhat suppressed laughter. There's more pun-fun in Episode 4. The Doctor discovers Nero's plans to throw him to the lions (literally), and instead of showing fear, he shows his wit. He tells Nero that he expects his 'concert' at the Coliseum to be a "roaring success", even if it is to be his "farewell performance". He continues teasing Nero (who has no idea that The Doctor is aware of his scheme) by telling him he "always wanted to be considered as an artist of some taste" and be "generally regarded as, well, palatable" (emphasis mine and his).

It's this word-play that keeps the lightness going, as does the antics in Episode 3. Here, we have the classic 'chasing down the halls' bit, where the lascivious Nero pursues Barbara with naked abandon, right down to chasing her round and around his bed. In the same episode, as Barbara & Nero run around the halls, the Doctor and Vicki keep missing her, and there's more hilarity with the Doctor and Nero while in a steam room and at Nero's banquet. All the comedy bits don't distract or weaken the more serious aspects of The Romans. We get glints of this in the slave auction and the imprisonment of Barbara and Ian. When the story requires a more serious tone, it delivers, and it's a credit to director Christopher Barry that we never get short-changed. When, for example, the minor character of Tigilinus (Brian Proudfoot) is killed, it would have been quite shocking, but since it was done in a somewhat light-hearted way, we aren't as horrified as we should be.

The guest stars are excellent. Throughout the story, we wonder if Tavius is villain or hero, and Peake, with his gravelly voice and stern face, has us guessing all the way to the conclusion. The best performance is that of Francis as Nero. As I understand it, Francis was known to British audiences as a comic, and here he is quite hilarious, as when he attempts to make Barbara his newest mistress. However, he also brings quite a menace to Nero, whenever he threatens or acts upon his violent desires with no sense of guilt. Take for example Episode 4, when he stabs one of his guards for being 'too slow'. Nero is quite a monster, and Francis manages to show him as both childish and deadly. Patrick's Poppaea is by no means comic, but rather sinister mixed with a bit of irritation and vanity, though she also has some humor to her, as when she can't quite decide which bracelet to wear.

This is the first full story with O'Sullivan's Vicki, and here, she's not the central figure as she was in The Rescue. She at times did irritate with her gleeful jumping at the prospects of going to Rome or meeting Nero himself, but given that she was playing someone with a more innocent worldview that can be forgiven. Russell has to continue to be an action hero, and while he doesn't disappoint (both as a galley slave and a gladiator) he almost seems an afterthought. This probably is because he is separated from the others for three episodes. Hill has fun being chased about by Nero, but she manages the darkness of being sold with great grace and dignity, as also when she tends an ill fellow prisoner. Hartnell, I think, has the most fun. Here, he has a bit of the crankiness in Episode 1, but for the rest of the story he has an almost constant maniacal laugh, especially when he reflects that he may be partially responsible for seeing Rome go up in smoke. A side note: the part with Nero ends with the image of the Emperor playing his lyre while Rome goes up in flames, which may not be strictly speaking historically correct but which is beautifully filmed. A final credit should be given to Raymond Jones' score, which clues you in that this Doctor Who is lighter, funnier than was the usual fare.

From what I understand, there are Who fans who object to The Romans BECAUSE it is more comic. I disagree: I think there is nothing wrong with taking Doctor Who to a more comic turn, and given that we've gone through some very dark/sad stories (The Daleks, The Dalek Invasion of Earth), it's a nice change of pace. In short, there's nothing wrong with being able to have a laugh, to have FUN. The fact that The Romans manages to get a lot of humor and to hold up logically makes for good, solid entertainment. To all Roman haters, I say Viva La Roma!

Next story: The Web Planet


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Doctor Who Story 011: The Rescue


A Vicki of Circumstance...

The Rescue is an important story in this sense: it established how a new Companion should be introduced. It also is a short story with two episodes, The Powerful Enemy and Dangerous Measures. Side note: if I were to follow the revived series idea of calling two-part stories by both titles (ie. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang), we COULDN'T call this story The Rescue but would have to call it The Powerful Enemy/Dangerous Measures. Since we don't, I elect to call post Survival stories by ONE title, period (ie. THE BIG BANG). Yet I digress. Above all else, The Rescue is a good, strong story, one that moves quickly, has remarkable effects for 1964, and gives a genuine twist that is for the most part logical.

The crew of the TARDIS lands inside a cave. The Doctor (William Hartnell) soon realizes he's been this way before: it's the planet Dido, home to a small community of peaceful beings. This, however, isn't the experience Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) or Ian Chesterton (William Russell) have. They are menaced by a strange monster, and this same monster, known as the Koquillion, has been menacing two survivors of a spaceship crash, Vicki (Maureen O'Sullivan) and Bennett (Ray Barrett). The Didonians have apparently been killed off, apparently at the hands of Koquillion, and Vicki and Bennett are waiting for a rescue ship. Vicki mistakes the TARDIS crew for their rescuers, but Bennett has a secret or two of his own...

In the space of one hour, The Rescue packs a great deal into it without short-changing the story or the audience. This is the result of Christopher Barry's strong directing and David Whitaker's intelligent script. Barry brought extremely impressive visuals to The Rescue: for example, in Episode 1 when Barbara & Ian look on the crash site it is one of the few times in early Doctor Who when the special effects didn't look fake but were integrated extremely well. This is also true of the end of Episode 1 and beginning of Episode 2, when Ian and The Doctor are close to falling over a ledge and into the den of a Sand Monster. The two levels were mixed in beautifully to where one could really imagine both were in the same space. The Rescue may be a simple story, but it is not told in a simple way.

There is a strong rapport between the cast (a total of five speaking parts--try getting that in any other Doctor Who, especially the revived series). This is clearly O'Sullivan's show as The Rescue basically serves as a showcase for Vicki. She handles the role extremely well: O'Sullivan creates someone who is sweet, innocent, almost a child in her vulnerability. When she has the truth of the crew's time travel she finds it all so hilarious, and her genuine disbelief at all that is brilliant. Her scenes with Hartnell are beautiful in their tenderness and gentleness. Hartnell has a reputation of being difficult on the set and crotchety as The Doctor, but watch when he and Vicki talk. Hartnell never fails to treat her on screen as a kindly old grandfather figure. He has a delicate touch with Vicki, and it belies the view that his Doctor was almost always bad-tempered.

Speaking of Hartnell, throughout The Rescue he is in top form. As stated, he is gentle when he needs to, but when he faces off against The Koquillion, he can be menacing, threatening, even dangerous. There is also a hint of sadness and a quiet inability to resign himself to the loss of Susan. In Episode 1 he asks 'Susan' to open the TARDIS door, but soon the crew realizes his mistake. No one speaks, but his face expresses sadness, confusion and embarrassment in a short moment. Barrett makes his Bennett gruff, unlikeable, which is exactly what he needed to be, especially when we discover his own secrets. Hill and Russell both have their moments: Hill when she inadvertently kills Vicki's pet and Russell when he faces the Sand Monster.

The Rescue even manages a bit of comedy. When Vicki learns that Barbara and Ian are from 1963, she figures that in a way, they are both well over 200 years old. Barbara especially does not like the idea that Vicki is, in a roundabout way, correct in her estimation of her age and her expression is priceless. Thanks to Barry's strong direction, there was never an uneven balance of drama/suspense and comedy/tenderness.

The only real flaw in The Rescue is at the very end. The Koquillion and The Doctor face off in the People's Hall of Judgment (very Communist sounding to me, but I digress), which looks like some sort of underground temple. Just when the Koquillion is about do the Doctor in, two men native to the planet (Didonians I suppose they would be called) come out of nowhere to take care of things. Given that we have been led to believe Didonians were extinct and that we've had no indication that any of them survived, this seems like a convenient cheat. Where they did come from? Where were they all this time? It made no sense and I object strongly to this. It ruins the logic of The Rescue, and given the twist (which is a genuine surprise as well as making perfect sense), it goes one too much to believe.

However, as it stands, The Rescue is a sharp, intelligent story which doesn't drain us. With Vicki on board we have a strong replacement for the teenage role in this 'family', and it is above all, a happy ending. "If you like adventure, my dear, I can promise you an abundance of it!" the Doctor tells Vicki when she is offered the chance to join the TARDIS crew. That is something that could be said to any future Companion as well as to us the audience.

Next Story: The Romans


Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Original, You Might Say

As I begin this journey, I have to confess that I will begin with Story 011: The Rescue. All the preceding stories of the First Doctor that have been released on DVD (An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, Inside the Spaceship, Marco Polo, The Keys of Marinus, The Aztecs, and The Dalek Invasion of Earth) were already reviewed at Rick's Cafe Texan.

However, I would like readers of Gallifrey Exile to have access to them, so here you go:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Home Among The Stars

I never have accepted the Death of Gallifrey and the extinction of the Time Lords. I steadfastly refuse to acknowledge such heresy. Of all the things I don't like about the revived Doctor Who, it's the idea that Gallifrey, The Doctor's home planet, no longer exists and that all his people are lost.

Be that as it may, I have decided to create a New Gallifrey, albeit with only the purpose of looking back in the past. I used to write Doctor Who reviews on Rick's Cafe Texan, but have decided the best thing to do is create a separate world (so to speak) to get the reviews for all the stories from now on. That being the case, I now have a new repository for this brilliant (and maddening series): where I will muse on all things Doctor Who-related. Mostly there will be reviews for the classic and revived series, but on occassion I will have personal reflections on any aspect of Doctor Who. It may be a remembrance of someone who has passed on, or it may be to rail against something I did not like or praise something I did.