Sunday, September 30, 2012

Doctor Who-Planet Of Giants
                                      Considering the hectic scheduling,poor studio facilities and non existent budget early Doctor Who producers such as Varity Lambert and Sydney Newman had their work cut out for them in terms of making Doctor Who effective for it's purpose at the time. Sometimes scripts written at one point would be used later,or even not at all. Such as was the case with this serial. Originally conceived of as the episodes following 'An Unearthly Child',this was originally written as a four part serial but due to the chaotic production of the period was whittled down to a three part serial instead. Because it had such a compelling plot line,it was going to be one of those stories that would rely heavier on the ingenuity of the actors and writers to bring the story to life.

                            Following a malfunction in the TARDIS's materialization circuits the Doctor,Ian,Barbara and Susan find themselves shrunken to just under an inch high and being menaced by a world of giant Earthworms,insects and a cat. After the realization that the insects they're seeing are dead,and Ian's discovery of a giant (to him) murdered man it's made apparent what's going on around them: a scientist has been murdered by economically motivated chemists who have been developing an insecticide that,if unleashed could wipe out all life on Earth.

                       Following Barbara's exposure to the insecticide,the TARDIS crew attempt to phone the authorities but again their altered physical parameters get in the way. They are however successful in starting a small fire,at which time the odd high frequency phone call originally delivered by the shrunken Doctor has the authorities are alerted of the suspicious activities and arrest the men responsible for the murder while the Doctor manages to re-create the evens that shrunk them,thereby returning the TARDIS and it's crew to their proper size and Barbara back to health.

                       For it's time,this was a very compact and effective serial for Doctor Who. The effects,including seemingly huge match boxes,drain pipes and drain plug chains in proportion to the actors are extremely well done for their time and budget. There's also an early in the game environmental message as well,concerning a group of money hungry profiteers looking to benefit from the potentially dangerous insecticide that has dangerous side effects on all living beings. The sudden view of life from the perspective of being smaller helps the TARDIS crew to view this wrong against humanity from a different perspective. This is actually one of my favorite first doctor stories and I feel it's a highlight for the entire classic series as well.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Doctor Who-The Krotons
                          Season 6 of Doctor Who came during a very interesting time in terms of society. As seen with 'The Dominators" earlier in the season the show was ripe for serials that made very pointed commentary on society as the many events of the late 60's unfolded it around it. There was also a need within the program itself to develop a new group of villains,since there were some at this particular time who felt the Daleks and the Cybermen would need to be replaced as the decade drew to a close. Of course these would remain staples of Doctor Who that continue to this very day. On the other hand that didn't stop the producers of the show from making the attempt to create new adversaries to keep the doctor and his companions in check and contending with their own mission in different ways. This one such attempt created another excellent atmosphere for commentary on contemporary society as well.

                  After landing on what appears to be a dead planet the Doctor,Jamie and Zoe encounter a structure where a disoriented man is vaporized right before their eyes. Continuing to investigate further,they meet up with a group of people living underground called the Gonds. They are required,in exchange for intellectual knowledge to send their best and brightest students to the Krotons,after which they are never seen again. The doctor,putting two and two together,is able to save one such student Vana from the poison gas. Her insights upon regaining consciousness enable Zoe and the doctor to take the test required to enter the Krotons spaceship called the Dynatrope. After surviving,along with Jamie later,the effects of the Krotons mind control techniques they learn that they are part of a battle fleet crash landed their who have been using the the mental energy of the Gonds for generations to build up their energy supply,to the point of destruction of their world.  The doctor turns the tables on the Krotons amid the divided Gonds and,after destroying the Krotons and the Dynatrope,free the Gonds from their enslavement.

              Very much parallelling the issues of totalitarian regimes on Earth and human beings dependence on different religions,this is very much a story about thinking for oneself. The Gonds are portrayed as a divided society,the leaders open to the awareness the Krotons have enslaved their race through fear but many others seeing force as the only means of resistance. The promise of knowledge has kept them from having any curiosity as to the true motives of the Krotons. For their part,the Krotons are living machines that are dependant on human knowledge,but do not have any emotional attachments whatsoever and therefore view humanoid biology as completely meaningless. Hence have no difficulty in killing their humanoid "specimens". Again of course,we see this all the time in groups of people blindly following religions and economic systems,even killing for them without realizing they themselves may have become victims of a bullying despotism. This is an example of science fiction being an excellent filter for issues often too difficult to deal with in our reality.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Doctor Who-The Dominators
              During the late 1960's both America and England were caught up in a great deal of peace demonstrations,focused primarily on the war in Vietnam. This was beginning to effect the way many people were viewing the issues of national defense around the world. Along with that more politically driven movement there was a growing pacifist movement that called itself the Counterculture. On both sides of the pond,this led to a great deal of censorship on radio and television. Songs sung about this issues were carefully examined for subversive content. And on TV,the issues of war and peace were often best addressed in one way only:under the guise of science fiction. Star Trek were doing that in the US with the attitude of "It's happening on another planet so it's okay to talk about it". And while these sorts of ideas had always been explored in Doctor Who,this particular serial faced the issue had on.

           The TARDIS arrives on the planet Dulkis seeking a brief holiday but finding themselves on what turns out to be a former atomic test sight of the now pacifist Dulcian race. But Director Senex and the rest of the ruling council refuse to admit the Director's son Cully's claim that a group of robots have invaded the test island. When the doctor arrives with Jamie and Zoe,they not only confirm what Cully has been saying but that all the radiation from the test island has disappeared. While the Dulcians negotiate,the TARDIS crew goes to investigate,only to find themselves captured by the sadistic Dominators,who use radioactive materials in a storage container to supply the energy for their ships. After their escape the Dominators had  successfully captured the Dulcian council,along with Zoe and Cully as slave labor to build a drill which they plan to use to turn Dulkis into a massive radioactive lava bed to supply their ships. Upon escape it ends up being the job of Jamie,Cully and the Doctor to stop the rockets the Dominators are using in their mission. And in the end,their own weapons are used to destroy their ship and turn a planetary catastrophe into a mere volcanic eruption.

          Although there are elements to this story that,by today's standards,would be considered politically incorrect in terms of the viewpoint of defensive measures,one point is made clear. It is not the idea of pacifism that keeps the Dulcians from being able to defend themselves against the heartless and murderous Dominators. It's the fact that they consider the only true defense to be endless verbal debate and negotiations between each other. While inherently a peaceful person like the other Dominators,Cully is on the side of the TARDIS crew in terms of the best offence being a good defense. It's a little surprising though to see the Doctors delight in assembling a homemade bomb to fight the Dominators. And even the usually logical Zoe to convince the slave laboring Dulciens that the only way out of their situation is to fight. But this represents in a way real life societies struggle during the post World War II generations of what true patriotism was,and in terms of defense what was the proper stand to take. Actually mixing that up with a very real commentary on nuclear weapons testing makes this a compelling and even mildly controversial serial.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Doctor Who-Enlightenment
                 In this final chapter of this fifth doctor trilogy,the TARDIS is almost diminished of energy after an urgent message is sent to the doctor from the White Guardian which he must attend to. Upon arriving at their appointed destinations the doctor and Turlough find themselves aboard a mysterious Edwardian period Earth sailing ship. Or so it seems. Mingling with the crew reveals they know nothing of where they are. Upon seeing a man outside the TARDIS,Tegan leaves to investigate to be discovered by the man calling himself Mariner,who takes her to a dinner meeting between the doctor,Turlough and the ships captain Striker who,for his part has intimate knowledge of the doctor. As it turns out,these ships are advanced space vessels disguised as ancient sailing ships. It's main crew are in fact Eternals,immortal beings on a ship race whose prize is Enlightenment,an unspoken source of all knowledge.

               Having plucked unwitting crews from different sources all over time and space,the Eternals are finding many of the ships in the race are being mysteriously destroyed. While investigating outside with the doctor and Tegan Turlough,no longer able to cope with the pressure put upon him by the Black Guardian goes overboard and is captured by the ambitious Captain Wrack. He is able to deduce out that Wrack has been tapping into the power of the Black Guardian Turlough has been resisting. While attending a part of Eternals on her vessel Wrack uses Tegan as an  unwitting host to an amplifier she was attempting to use to destroy all the other ships in the race. The doctor discovers this,destroys the amplifier and in the end,there is a meeting between the TARDIS crew and the two Guardians. The Black Guardian offers Turlough a choice-the key to enlightenment or the doctors life to save his own. Turlough chooses the doctor,with the key to enlightenment seeming to incinerate the Black Guardian. For his part the White Guardian leave the doctor with the sobering message that as long as the light exists,so will darkness.

           This is one of the most thematically ambitious stories of the entire classic Doctor Who series. For it's low budget effects,the footage of the space ferring sailing yachts are very visually stunning. But it's also an excellent story for Turlough to learn a valuable lesson. While not inherently evil,the Eternals are very easily turned morally because they rely on the emotions of whom they call "ephemerals" such as human beings in order to survive. This is seen most evidently in Mariner's inability to comprehend his own love for Tegan. For Turlough's part his discovery that the eternal Wrack is only wishing to seek any sensation wherever it comes brings his own greed and avarice into focus. And in the end he decides to continue his travels with the doctor and put his entire affiliation with the Black Guardian behind him. The core of this story though is the concept that for anyone wishing for eternal existence that it's important to have an understanding of our emotions and sensations before giving them up for a self centered concern.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Doctor Who-Terminus
                        With the arrival of Mark Strickson in the role of the provocative Vislor Turlough in the previous serial,the producers of Doctor Who were faced with the dilemma of what is often called the "crowded TARDIS" syndrome that had occurred at the beginning of the Peter Davison years when Adric and the fourth doctor were suddenly sharing the same space with new arrivals Tegan and Nyssa. With Matthew Waterhouse's departure a year earlier,that had been paired down some. But since the opinionated Tegan got most of the attention and their were again now three companions the decision was made to pare down the companions yet again. And it was Sarah Sutton's Nyssa character that wound up getting the axe. She had not herself asked to leave. And Nyssa,being one of a few companions who actually understood the doctor on an intellectual level and actually functioned well as such,would be a much missed character. But the story surrounding Nyssa's departure would raise it's own important questions.

                 It all begins when Turlough,during another attempt to sabotage the TARDIS by the direction of the sinister Black Guardian,winds up disrupting the time circuits of the TARDIS to such a degree it ends up docking with the nearest available ship via a built in fail safe device. Aboard the doctor and Nyssa encounter a group of ill passengers and space pirates attempting to raid the ship while Tegan and Turlough become trapped in it's elaborate ventilation system. The ship turns out to be a transport vessel for Terminus,a giant space hospital complex located at the center of the universe. The people on board suffer from Lazurs Disease for which their is apparently no cure and which Nyssa begins experiencing symptoms of. Once the doctor and one of the pirates make it to the bridge of Terminus,they discover the vessel is the source of "event one" more often known as the big bang and,being as time/space capable as the TARDIS was at one point is about to start another catastrophic event.

                 For her part the infected Nyssa is taken in by the Vanir,guardsmen clad in radiation proof armor who possess the only possible treatment for Lazars. This is portioned out in small measures by a dog like creature called the Garm. Once the doctor encounters him,turns out the Garm is a benevolent but controlled entity who is able to deactivate Terminus's ailing engine in time to stop the catastrophe. By this time fully cured,Nyssa realizes it's the high radition levels caused by the engine that are the source of Lazurs disease. But the head of the Vanir named Eirak isn't about to let his own awareness of this go public on Terminus since a parent organization known as the Company are rationing supplies of the illness's one cure hydramel to the Vanir only. In the end Nyssa and the doctor are able to convince all the Vanir to begin producing hyrdamel themselves,in lieu of the company's stronghold over them. With this understanding as the doctor,Tegan and Turlough are set to depart back on the TARDIS Nyssa decides to put her scientific knowledge to good use to help reorganize the medical situation on Terminus. Once aboard the TARDIS,however Turlough is again menaced by the Black Guardian,threatening him if he doesn't carry out his mission to kill the doctor.

              Within the story Nyssa's reasons for leaving the TARDIS to assist the ill on Terminus is not only laudable but,very much in character for her,is highly practical and logical. The story of Terminus is an excellent commentary on worldwide health care problems. Due to the face that the health care given on Terminus caters not to the care givers or patients on the ship but to the middle men that meddle the treatment,the Vanir have become highly corrupt and the patients left hopeless to fend and eventually die for themselves,with little real research to done on the illness itself. While Nyssa enjoyed the company of the doctor and her fellow companions,her scientific knowledge was would have vital impact aboard Terminus,whereas the doctor could do her job many times over on the TARDIS. Her goodbye is one of the most emotional and genuine since the first doctor said goodbye to his granddaughter back in 1964. The theme in the story of discord and mistrust is heightened by Turlough's self centered wish to return to his world. As well as his lack of willingness to kill for the Black Guardian in order to do so.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Doctor Who-The Mawdryn Undead
                     As presented in the Key To Time series with Tom Baker in the 1978-early 1979 the Guardians were shown to be fascinating characters that a lot could actually be done with. They were omnipotent entities,more powerful than the time lords and one of the few that the doctor would generally come to listen to and even be obedient towards if the circumstances required it. Anything in Doctor Who that adds to the fallible side of the doctors nature tended to make for some compelling story telling. Usually after events providing such a strong emotional plot as that of 'Snakedance',Doctor Who would tend to have a serial that was if not lighter at least quite a bit different. In this case they decided to forgo that concept in production to begin a rather epic series of stories dealing directly with the Black Guardian,a character largely left to the back round when the Guardians were first introduced. Considering the passing on of Adric in Season 19,this would also open the door for doctor to gain and new and unusual companion.

                  At a boys school in England,a student named Turlough is on the wrong side of an automobile accident and is promised his life will be saved and he will be returned to the planet of the original orgin,by the Black Guardian if he kills the doctor. The doctor for his part is returning to Earth with Tegan following her final experience with the Mara. Instead they find themselves forced into materializing on a luxorious spaceship that almost crashed into the TARDIS. In the meantime,Turlough is shadowing the doctor at every turn which leads to the fifth doctor encountering his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart,now a math teacher at the boys school Turlough is attending,but the Brigadier for his part has no memory of the doctor. After refreshing that memory,the Brigadier having had a nervous breakdown six years before,he and the doctor return to his TARDIS to locate the missing Turlough. 

                   Finding it difficult to deal with doing the Black Guardians bidding,his moves become so erratic that Tegan and Nyssa try to rescue a man they think is the doctor. By this time the doctor is realizing the source of the Brigadiers nervous breakdown: a temporal paradox creating by the meeting of himself sometime in the past,deduced from the fact the brigadier of 1983 remembers meeting Tegan. Attempting to travel back to 1983,Tegan and Nyssa return with the TARDIS to 1977 where they meet the Brigadier of that time and ask for his help,unwittingly setting events into motion. In the end it turns out the man they believe is the doctor is an alien named Mardryn,from a group of criminals who stole time lord regenerative technology to extend their lives. It leaves them in a zonbified state where they are immortal but carry a virus that nearly does the same to Tegan and Nyssa when they attempt to leave in the TARDIS with the real doctor. Having been asked by Mawdryn to give up his last remaining regenerations to end their eternal misery he is forced to do so to save his companions. Before that happens the Brigadier from 1977 meets his future self,not only ending the eternal life of Mawdryn's people and saving Tegan and Nyssa from their virus but also restoring both brigadier to normal. In the confusion of returning both brigadiers to their proper time streams,Turlough remains on the TARDIS and asks to join the doctor.

            There key issue to this serial in every sense  is the misappropriation of time itself. Lethbridge Stewart,with his well intentioned but highly regimented thought process doesn't allow himself from either the past or present to fully grasp the concept of the time paradox that he himself is on the verge of creating. The two Brigadiers engage in nurmous near encounters with each other until they do meet and the result encounter has the exact effect it shouldn't have had. Mawdryn and his people,for their part,paid the ultimate price for their survivalist attitudes by having a doomed eternal life of great agony. Solid proof that the lack of understanding of one's greatest wish could very well be one's greatest undoing. As with many of the best Doctor Who serials,this brings up some fascinating moral questions. Also characters as well. Turlough for his part is the biggest puzzle. Himself somewhat the survivalist,he's an alien of some unknown origin here who is trapped living on Earth. And whether it be an allegiance to the black guardian or to the doctor,it's his youthful opportunism that is his motivating factor in his actions and not so much any moral motivation. One senses that the Doctor's motivations for taking him on as a companion is as much self protective as anything,considering Tegan and Nyssa's rightful skepticism of Turlough.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Doctor Who-The Armageddon Factor
                    The quest for the final segment of the Key To Time leads the Doctor,Romana and K-9 to the sister planets of Atrius and Zeos. Upon arrival it is discovered that the planet is in the middle of a long standing nuclear war. Princess Astra,the last surviving member of the royal family of Altrius and her love interest the doctor Merak are both pledging to Marshall,the head of the war department on Altrius to end the slaughter. Upon attempting to assist the seemingly violence crazed Marshall,the doctor discovers Marshall is himself under some type of control. Astra is than captured and held prisoner on an artificial Planet Of Evil. This planet is the domain of the malevolent Shadow,who is intent on getting his hands on the sixth segment of the key,even to the point of manipulating Astra to do his bidding. After nearly being hoodwinked through the brainwashed Astra the doctor,Romana and K-9 penetrate into this third planet to find the war has been masterminded by a supercomputer called Mentalis,programmed to create a stalemate whereby both Altrius and Zeos would destroy themselves. 

               He then creates an artificial sixth segment from chronodyne to use the key to create a time loop before Marshall launches a final assault on Zeos. In a literal race against time against the deteriorating loop,the doctor encounters a fellow time lord in his former classmate Drax,who was himself hoodwinked by the shadow into helping construct Mentalis and therefore starting off the war between the worlds. Drax,somewhat the survivalist agrees to help defeat the Shadow. Upon Astra and Romana being captured again,the doctor learns the Shadow is his equivalent for the Black Guardian,searching for the other five segments of the key for the opposite purpose as the doctor. It is at this point that Astra herself is,and was born to be by genetics,the sixth segment to the key. Before the time loop is broken the Doctor is able to escape to the TARDIS after which time the Marshall's weapons end up firing on the Planet Of Evil,not Zeos whose population have all been killed. Thrawting the Shadows mission,the Black Guardian disguises himself as his counterpart to convince the doctor to return the key to him. For this part,the doctor sees through his plan and redistributes the segments of the key back into space so at least they would not end up in evil hands.

           This is the most complex and densely written story in the Key To Time series. In it reality,matter,good and evil are bent in so many possible directions it's hard to see how everything comes into one singular focus. But somehow it all does. Although the doctor technically fails in his mission to reconstruct the Key To Time,he does in another way fulfill the White Guardians intention of restoring harmony by creating a stalemate: the black guardian isn't able to get the key for one reason. Neither the doctor or Romana are comfortable with Astra literally being genetically constructed to be the end source to universal harmony as the sixth segment. So by saving her life in addition to keeping the key out of the black guardians villainous hands,a balance (of sorts) was restored. As for Astra,Lalla Ward's stellar performance in the demanding role not only earned her the respect of the programs staff but of Tom Baker. So when Romana regenerated in the beginning of the following season of Doctor Who,Ward was chosen to replace Mary Tamm in that role. The idea of Romana taking on Astra's form was even worked into the plot of that story. Overall this is a fine conclusion to the Key To Time series with a very unexpected and morally fascinating conclusion.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Doctor Who-The Power Of Kroll
                           The search for the fifth segment of the Key To Time leads the TARDIS into the swampy marshes of the third moon off Delta Magna. Not long after arrival Romana is kidnapped by a member of a species referred to as the Swampies and a gun runner named Rohm Dutt. The Swampies are planning to use Romana as a sacrifice to appease their deity Kroll. The reason for this,as the Doctor soon discovers, is the fact that a group of human colonists on Delta Magna are using this moon to construct a series of Methane Catalysing Refineries. Since the Swampies were displaced from Delta Magna to this moon in the first place they believe that Kroll will save them from again being dislocated. Adding to this are the fact they Swampies have friends among a renegade group on Delta Magna calling themselves the Suns of Earth and Rohm Dutt is attempting to sell the Swampies defective weapons in a move to hasten the forced relocation.

                      This leads to the discovery that Kroll is,in fact,a gigantic squis-like creature that awakens after centuries of sleep to recharge it's energy and is randomly destroying all that's in it's way. Even though the source of this power is still unknown,the doctors attempts to reason with the Swampies results in himself,Romana and Rohm Dutt being captured (again) as sacrifices to appease what Ranquin,a supposed servant of Kroll,to their now realized false deity. While escaping this sacrifices Rohm Dutt is injested by Kroll,who then proceeds to attack the Methane Refinery. The project leader attempts a murderous rampage in order to secure his mission. Luckily the doctor manages to stop this and,while almost becomming another of Kroll's victims follows up on a hunch that turns out to be correct-that the source of Kroll's power is in fact the fifth segment of the key. Meanwhile Ranquin has been killed by the Kroll creature and the doctor depart the swampy moon with the retrieved key.

                          Incidentally,this is the very first Doctor Who serial I ever saw. It makes a lot more sense now seeing it in it's proper context as part of a series of related serials. Because of the low budget special effects,it may be hard for some to see this as one of the more sociologically interesting Doctor Who serials. Rather than a villain mad for power,we have one who is only out to prove by any means necessary that a species that have been displaced for the pursuit of technological expansion are unworthy of existence. In the words of the doctor,progress is a flexible word that can mean almost anything.The Swampies,lead by the short sighted Ranquin,are incorrectly perceiving the threat around them due to their faith in Kroll. This additionally points to religious extremism's ability to distract people from genuine threats around them. Even though most people would be ignorant to condemn someone else's religious faith,the doctors own experience in such matters makes him eminently qualified to do so.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Doctor Who-The Androids Of Tara
                        In this fourth segment of The Key To Time series the Doctor and Romana have traced the fourth segment of the key to the medieval civilization on the planet Tara. While Romana is convinced that this will result in quicker work at tracing the key than the previous voyages,the doctor just wants to go fishing. Things work opposite as planned when,upon quickly recovering the key Romana is intercepted by Count Grendall at his Castle Gracht-believing her to be an android. The doctor meanwhile is intercepted by the guardsmen of Prince Reynart,who apparently is about to become kind by marrying Princess Strella whom,as Romana soon discovers is identical in appearance to herself. So Romana is imprisoned by Grendall while he creates an android copy of Strella to kill Prince Reynart.

                   What actually happens is that Reynart's guardsmen are building an android of the imprisoned Prince Reynart to trick Grendall by having the princess wed to the android and retake the Castle Gracht. Of course Grendall's main ambition is to wed Strella himself and retake the throne once the Prince,his only competition until the arrival of the doctor,is compromised. Meanwhile Grendall's chief scientist Lamia is very interested in the composition of the key. Romana is twice captured by Grendall,in the end in order to trick the actual Prince into marrying her instead of the identical Strella. In the end it's the doctor and K-9 on a row boat the save the day. The doctor ends up in a dueling match with Grendall,wins and leaves Tara with Romana,K-9 and the key.

                    While there's many entertaining aspects to this story,including some witty banter with K-9 and Tom Baker's dueling match in the end,two story elements stand out. Though the character of Strella has little dialog,Mary Tamm does an excellent job portraying the identical characters.  This also showcases a softer side of Romana,as she admits in the end she has mixed feelings about leaving. One key element I like to this story is Lamia and the androids themselves. It's a great metaphor for anyone whose technology has progressed beyond their cultural wisdom. The people of Tara have electrical swords,androids and advanced technology. However their cultural thinking is still,by Earth standards,hundreds of years out of date. One can see this in the way the villainous Grendall uses the androids at his disposal,to manipulate others and wage war rather than for changing their society. But in the end,perhaps because of the doctors influence,there was a chance at that changing.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Doctor Who-The Stones Of Blood
                     In this third installment of the fourth doctor and Romana's search for the Key To Time the TARDIS tracks the third segment of the key to time to the Boscombe Moore,Cronwell  on contemporary Earth. A series of standing stones are being investigated by an archeologist named Professor Rumford and her assistent Vivian Fey. In the meantime a group of faux druid cultists called cromlech led by a man named DeVries,who is planning to sacrifice the doctor to Calliach,the druid god of war and magic. After a chase in which Romana believes the doctor pushed her over a cliff it's revealed that each owner of this convent house have all looked exactly alike. And they all look like Vivian Fey. Due to the span of time of the portraits,it's revealed she is actually the same age as the standing stones.

                      Understanding this is no mere terrestrial problem Romana goes to investigate,only to be whisked away to a place unknown by Vivian Fey. Meanwhile the doctor,Rumford and K-9 rig up a special device that reveals the location of Romana and Vivian to be in hyperspace,another dimension occupying our own past the spectrum of the speed of light. Aboard a prison ship found there,the Doctor and Romana unknowingly break the seal for the confined Megara,machine judges who plan to execute the doctor for his unknown crime. Upon conducting a fair trail in his defence,the doctor is able to reveal Vivian Fey to be the extraterrestrial criminal  Cessiar Of Diplos,who the Megara have been pursuing. After justice (of sorts) prevailing it's learned that the Cessiar,now eternally imprisoned as one of the autonomous stones she used as weapons,was actually carrying the third segment of the key as a pendant. The doctor and Romana then bid Rumford farewell with the key in hand.

                  Stories such as this revolving around unknowingly extraterrestrial based religious orders would be pursued heavily later on programs such as The X-Files and become a common theme in sci fi and fantasy TV.  It's a very well executed concept and story,with a compelling mystery that unfolds. It's the character of Professor Rumford who is the most memorable. She has a charming and humorous relationship in particular with K-9,and a mildly flirtatious one with the doctor. With her willingness to assist the doctor in unraveling the mystery and saving Romana from her hyperspace prison. She actually is one of those one off characters who would've been a fine companion for the doctor. In terms of the companion involved,by this point we find the usually steely Romana beginning to develop more of a trust in the doctors abilities and effectiveness. And that trust is inevitably what brings the story to a successful conclusion.
Doctor Who-The Pirate Planet
                                In this second segment of the Key To Time series,the Doctor and Romana arrive on a planet that should be definition be the ice planet of Calufrax where the second segment of the key is located. Upon arriving they find not this but in fact a very much populated planet called Zanak,despite the TARDIS indicating it's the proper space and time for Calufrax. Plus Romana is detecting the presence of the key segment literally everywhere. Upon arriving the Doctor finds a new allies in two natives after he is tormented by a group of zombie like telepaths called Mentiads and Romana is taken prisoner. During his efforts to find Romana the Doctor learns the society on Zanak are being tormented by a cyberpirate of sorts called The Captain,who completely controls the society by fear with the promise of material prosparity. 

                           Upon entering an unused mine,the Doctor and the liberated Romana discover Calufrax is present buy somehow being crushed by Zanuk. They are then taken into custody by the Mentiad,who turn out to be benevolent and are railing against the will of Queen Xanaxia,whose ruling and lust for eternal life caused all this trouble. Turns out each segments of even populated worlds that Zanuk is crushing are a power source used not only to sustain the pirate planet,but also Xanaxia who remains alive using a cloning device in the persona of the Captains nurse. Knowing Xanaxia's next target will be Earth,the doctor is able to destroy the planets power source with the help of K-9 and the Mentiad's psychokinetic abilities and restore the planet to a natural existence. Since Calufrax was actually the disguised segment of the Key To Time,the doctor,Romana and K-9 leave the liberated Zanak to it's people to locate the key in the space time vortex itself.

                       Overall this is an excellent serial effectively melding action,compelling science fiction concepts and social commentary. K-9 in particular gets to do a lot in this story and there are all kinds of captivating technological concepts such as an instant cloning camera,an inertial corridor and hover cars. The doctors wit and humor is consistently used to misdirect and confuse the protagonists in this story. He even reveals that at one time on Earth,it was he who dropped the apple on Newton's head-explaining to him the laws of gravity over a dinner. Actor Bruce Purchase turns in a wonderfully comic,over the top villain in The Captain. His bluster and passion for death (along with a murderous robot Parrot K-9 eventually destroys) is at first set up as the main villain until one realizes it's Xanaxia,disguised as his nurse and feeding from mental energy from her original half dead body. The writers throw a lot into this story,including some radical scientific concepts revolving around the many uses of energy. A very energetic and engaging story.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Doctor Who-The Ribos Operation
                         Following the departure of Louise Jamison's character if Leela,it was now time for the fourth doctor to have a third companion. Of course being the way Tom Baker's doctor was,he didn't really fancy having  anybody to accompany him on his missions any longer. To him they were well intentioned interlopers who required too much guidance to really be of any help to him. Somehow his new companion would have to be someone who would not only match him in terms of intelligence level but also prove to be somewhat of a rival as well. This would provide an entirely new type of doctor/companion relationship and change the rhythm of the whole program. Mary Tamm,a friend of Jamison's from drama school,was recommended for the part. In addition a story arc was assembled for the two characters that would be extremely high concept.

                       The Doctor is pulled out of the space/time continuum by a being addressing himself as the White Guardian,whose assigned him on a new mission to locate the five disguised segments of the key to time which,when assembled will stop time long enough to restore the balance of good and evil which is apparently out of sync. He's also assigned the doctor a new assistant,a young fellow time lady named Romanadvortundar who he obviously insists on calling Romana. She is in possession of a device that can track the TARDIS directly to each segment of the key. First stop is the planet Ribos,a primitive world with non stop winters and are caught between a human con artist named Garron,attempting to steal the planets fortune and the pompous,posturing Graff Vynda-K. In the end it's the witch character of the Seeker and Garron's single minded short sightedness that allows the doctor,Romana and K-9 to locate the first key disguised as an all powerful mineral called Jethrik.

                       This story is filled with characters with a lot of big personalities. New companion Romana is highly opinionated,yet also naive and inexperienced out in the field of space time travel. This is an enormous sparring point between her and the doctor,with whom she's constantly trading witty barbs. In the end it's up to K-9,with his focused sense of logic to keep things from getting too out of hand. And he therefore ends up being the unsung hero of this story as opposed to Romana or even the Doctors valiant efforts. Garron is a blow hearted  villian,similar to Sabalom Glitz from the sixth/seventh doctor era. Only Garron sees himself as a Robin Hood type figure. The tyrannical and delusional Graff Vynda-K is one villian I don't think anyone objects to being killed in the end. His bluster and flamboyance makes for excellent drama,but it's hardly possible for the character to do anything but die the honorable death he seems to embrace.  It's Binero The Heritic interesting enough who appeals to the decent side of Unstoffe,Garron's partner with his understanding of the basics of science and astronomy. Overall a good story about overcoming ones frailties either as a person or a society.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Doctor Who-The Sensorites

            By the time this was originally aired Doctor Who was already four serials old. Though sold as a children's program in the beginning,it was becoming clear it had the potential to move far beyond this. The program had a very broad scope to work with,the entirety of time and space itself. Also the characters had changed as well. Barbara,Ian,The Doctor and Susan had developed a very trusting relationship with each other where the characters understood the motivations of the other a lot better than they did in the beginning. In particular the almost motherly relationship between Barbara and the still maturing Susan. By the time this serial came along,the need arose in the program for stories that had a somewhat broader scope and meaning to them. Written by the apparently very unknown Peter Newman (the subject of one of the bonus features of this DVD),this serial very much reflects the changes going on with the program.

           Following the encounter with the Aztecs,a now admittedly close knit TARDIS crew arrive on an Earth spaceship where it's two person crew,Carol and Maitland is revived from unconsciousness that they were put into by a seemingly hostile race the call the Sensorites. The ships mineralogist John has apparently gone mad. He was sent by this 28'th century Earth vessel to the sense sphere,home of the Sensorites to retrieve the valuable mineral molybdenum where an earlier scout team had failed earlier. However the Sensorites seem to have some mind control over the human crew. And Susan begins to develop an awakened telepathy which allows her to communicate with the very telepathic Sensorites. Barbara and Ian are able to strike the deal with the Sensorites,who are desperately trying to cure a deadly disease on their planet to help them in exchange for the release of the TARDIS,of which the Sensorites damaged the lock of.

            On the sense sphere,the first elder Sensorite opens his heart to the friendly newcomers. Though admittedly many people blame the previous human encounter for the illness now afflicting them. That is,until Ian himself comes down with the illness. The Sensorite society is one of well ordered equality where all labors are allocated by a caste system based on ability. This prevents the first elder,in addition to the virtually identical physical appearance of each Sensorite,to realize the illness comes directly from his deceptive,power seeking second elder. He has poisoned the water aqueduct with night shade poisoning,using a previous human expedition as scapegoats. The Doctor of course discovers an antidote and is even able-with the help of Barbara,Ian,Carole and her newly cured fiancee John in uncovering the traitorous second elder before leaving the sense sphere to continue their voyages.

              This serial is actually one of the best plotted and written of the first season of Doctor Who. The Sensorites are very interesting alien characters. Not able to physically tell each other apart,they've developed a society based on absolute trust based on their heightened senses. However this also leads to vulnerabilities. They are unable to see traitors in their own midst,for one. For another any loud noise creates great physical pain for them. So it's up to Susan,who as a character is fast developing her own way of thinking (much to the Doctor's chagrin),to try to communicate their good intentions to the Sensorites telepathically. It's an excellent story about a young woman's coming of age as well as knowing when to trust,and when not to. The blind trust of the decent but somewhat naive Sensorites isn't far removed from how real life human beings place too much faith in those higher in power than themselves. Overall a very telling and highly underrated early Doctor Who tale.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Doctor Who-The Aztecs
                      When Doctor Who was originally conceived,it was pitched to the BBC as an educational program targeted at a primary school age audience. The idea was that the shows themselves would either be set in the past to teach the audience about history,or in the future to teach them about science. This of course went right with the concept of companions Ian and Barbara being science and history teachers. With Terry Nation's introduction of the Daleks in the second serial,the concept of "no bug eyed monsters" went by the wayside. And the program gradually drifted into the area of science fiction as opposed to overt educational programming. Once and awhile,particularly in the earlier years remnants of that concept remained in what are referred to as "historical" episodes,based at some point in Earth's past. About half of these episodes survive to this day. However the first such serial 'Marco Polo' does not. So this particular serial represents the earliest surviving of these historical episodes. Also it's was the first William Hartnell era episode released on DVD stateside.

                 The TARDIS finds itself landing in a tomb in ancient Mexico during the height of the reign of the Aztecs. Barbara in particular is enthusiastic about this. But upon appearing before a group of Aztec warriors wearing a bracelet she'd found in the tomb she is believed to be the reincarnation of Yetaxa,the high priest of their people. Believing the Aztecs to be inherantly civilized,Barbara begins using her position to effect  social change among the tribes and end the practice of human sacrifices. Though the doctor sensibly insists she must'nt rewrite "one word" of history she is able to convince Autloc,another high priest of her wishes. Of course the high priest of sacrifice Tlotoxl stands in the way,continually attempting to convince almost everyone Barbara is a false god,even to the point of an attempted poisoning and the sacrifice of Ian. Meanwhile the Doctor finds himself being the romantic interest of Cameca,widow to the builder of their temple.  She uses her influence along with Autloc to assist the doctor in rescuing Ian and Susan,who was sent to an Aztec monastery to study the culture upon her showing ignorance to their marriage rituals. They succeed in this,though Tlotoxl actually succeeds in a further sacrifice at which time Autloc loses his faith against such practices as the TARDIS departs.

           Considered by many to be one the best early episodes of the program,this also has some very telling elements to it. While Barbara's attempts to appeal to the civilized side of the Aztec culture before the arrival of Cortez is noble,even she begins to doubt her own intentions as she sees the corrupting effects belief in their deities is having on all the Aztecs. Autloc and Cameca emerge as sympathetic characters,both looking to help their society progress. The Doctors flirtatious relationship with Cameca also showcases a warmer side of the character not present too much until this time. The general idea is,along with many societies,the Aztecs religious convictions were the source of most of the corruption in their society. All personified by the crooked and conniving Tlotoxl.  Susan's insistence against arranged marriage and falling in love with whom she chooses showcases a mildly proto-feminist viewpoint that would be hugely significant in later years of the program. So this episode,although with an historical format later shunned by the shows produces,helps lay the groundwork for many future episodes of Doctor Who and is one of the best acted,best written and most important early episodes of the series.

Doctor Who-The Keys Of Marinus

               Since completing my journey with the seventh doctor a week or so ago,I decided to go back to beginning of Doctor Who for a little bit. Specifically the first series with Susan and companions Ian and Barbara. Over a year ago I was ignorant of Doctor Who to the point where I thought the program started during the 1970's. I had no idea William Hartnell existed or that it had ever been filmed in black and white. So I suppose that may be why these serials are the most fascinating to me. Each doctors time on the program gives each the flavor of it's own series,all of which of course come together as a full series.  Of course some earlier serials influence later ones just as strongly. And that is what happened with this one.

                         The TARDIS lands on the planet Marinus,an odd place with beaches of glass and seas of corrosive acid. Soon they encounter Arbitan,a man who explains to them that the planet was once an enlightened society aided with the help of the Conscience,a computer device that provided much good to the people of the world. That is until the malevolent and power seeking Voord race attempted to gain control of the device. Arbitan anticipated this by scattering the five keys to this device all over the planet and denies the doctor and his companions use of the TARDIS via a force field until they help him locate the keys. All this also because his daughter has gone missing on the same voyage.

                     The TARDIS crew are all given preset watch like transport devices to take them to the different locations. First the find Arbitans daughter  Sabetha and another man named Altos under control of the brains of the city of Morphoton,where the squalor of the city is guised in the illusion of a paradise. Escaping that they arrive in an ice world where a local trapper attempts to lock Altos and Ian away and steal their transport devices for profit. After the murderous trapper is stopped they meet up with the Doctor in their final location where Ian is framed for theft of the last key and it's up to the doctor to prove it was all a conspiracy by the defendant's mentally unstable wife and accomplice. Upon returning with the keys they find Aribitan has been killed and a Voord is now impersonating him. Luckily for the doctor Ian gives the Voord the false key Barbara was lured into Morphoton with and the Conscience is destroyed before the Voord can activate it. Facing both triumph with the loss of their conscience device the Doctor leaves Sabetha and Altos with a warning about self motivation before leaving to continue his journeys.

              Of course over a decade later a similar,though longer 'Key To Time' series of serials in the Tom Baker era were aired. It showed again how an idea sprung from an earlier one. As this serial stands it's very much 'The Doctor's Odyssey' as it were. He and his companion are sent from one area of the planet Marinus to another looking for these keys. More importantly we see what an indolent and decadent society Marinus has become,seemingly no thanks to their Conscience device. One city's population is enslaved  disemodied brains and has fallen into disrepair,another has a totalitarian legal system where one is "guilty until proven innocent" and,fact is,most natives searching for the key are economically motivated. Seems to be a sutble message here how often people won't effect change until their wallets are tapped out. The ending theme is basically once's dependence on themselves. In the end it's a relatively  long (at six parts) but rewarding serial.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Doctor Who-The Edge Of Destruction

                 With the enormous success of 'The Daleks' behind it Doctor Who had begun to establish itself very strongly as an individual entity that might change the face of the BBC Saturday evening lineup. On the other hand,it wasn't easy getting around the fact that the main character of this show,a nameless alien with little identity at this point who called himself the Doctor,was not a particularly admirable figure. He seemed to be a self involved opportunist who manipulated those closest to him in order to accomplish his often unspoken missions. For obvious budget reasons the third Doctor Who serial would have to be short and inexpensive. The result was this first two part serial of the program that took place entirely within the TARDIS interior and therefore would require no extra sets or actors. The results were surprising.

                   Knocked unconscious by a bright flash the Doctor,Ian,Barbara and Susan awaken with mild memory loss to a TARDIS with nothing outside. The water dispenser malfunctions,the viewer is showing seemingly senseless images and doors are opening by themselves. Pretty soon the foursome began to turn on each other in paranoia. First Susan than the Doctor turn on Ian and Barbara whom,being aliens from their point of view with an ambition to return to Earth have sabotaged the TARDIS somehow. Still none of this add up. Despite Barbara's feelings being hurt by the Doctors accusations he and Ian are able to derive that the image on the viewing screen and even their clocks stopping are indications that,following their leaving Skaro the doctor made a mistake and sent them to the beginning of the universe where time itself is forming. And the TARDIS is merely caught in the maelstrom. Once released from this force,the crews confidence in each other is restored.

                  Being a claustrophobic "bottle" episode,this gives the writers the opportunity to explore the personality of the still very undeveloped Doctor a bit more. The unusual forces of the episode bring to mind different levels of paranoia and fear in each of the characters. There's Ian and Barbara's fear of understanding nothing of what's been happening so far and just muddling through. There's Susan's fear from youth and inexperience,as well as concern for her grandfather. As for the Doctor there seems to be a broader level of anxiety at work. His immediate accusations to Ian and Barbara of sabotaging the TARDIS were early indications of his renegade status among his native people,and his concern at getting caught at anything. The fact that he realizes this about himself seems just as much a motivating factor in finding the real solution to their problem as the problem itself was proving to be. So this is a brief but telling psychological study of the doctors character. And actually had a significant impact on the direction the show would take in the future.