Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Doctor Who-Horror At Fang Rock

                    Believing they were on route to Edwardian era Brighton,the doctor and Leela touch down in the TARDIS at the Fang Rock light house. Inside the keepers,led by former army sailor Reuben,are facing a mysterious occurrence. Another of the keepers Vince has witnessed a a strange light in the sky. This is followed by electrical losses at the light house,and a strange cold fog and finally the death of another of the keepers named Ben. Upon arriving the doctor and Leela,identifying themselves as foreign travelers are instant suspects. Until,that is a yacht crashes into Fang Rock and the keepers are forced to bring aboard the beleaguered passengers. These passengers,one Colonel Skinsale along with Lord Palmerdale,a lady named Adelaide and a man named Harker  instantly begin accusing themselves upon arrival of the reason for who stranded their yacht at Fang Rock. 

               As Vince continues to keep the coal fires burning to keep the light house running,Reuban is compromised and (without anyone else being aware) first kills Palmerdale and than Harker. It is after  all this the doctor concludes that an alien form of some variety,that is temperature sensitive,is behind this mayhem. Upon cornering the compromised Reuban the doctor discovers he is in fact a shape shifting alien called a Rutan,from a frozen planet who intend on using the Earth as a colony after being hunted by the Sontarans once,of course they sterilize the human population planet so they can inhabit it's then frozen oceans. The doctor,with the help of Skinsale,Leela and one of Palmerdale's diamonds,is able then to construct a mammoth light beam that effectively destroys the Rutan mothership and averts the threat to humanity before he and Leela depart in the TARDIS.

            Aside from the threat of the form changing Rutan,this story is primarily a character piece focused on two sets of  people: the main three keepers of the lighthouse and the crew of the marooned yacht that crashes at Fang Rock.  As the doctor points out very well,though the educational back round of both sets of characters are in sharp contrast,both are driven by superstition and ,in Adelaide's case,primal fear over the alien threat they are facing. Leela,typically prepared to violently confront their enemy,actually ends up being the voice of reason for the squabbling human parties. She also manages to interject one of this stories few humorous moments when,at the doctors request she pulls a Freudian slip when she reminds Vince to "keep the boy pressure up",meaning to use the word "boiler. Overall an excellent Earthbound Doctor Who tale benefiting largely from mood and atmosphere.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Doctor Who-The Robots Of Death

                        While trying to explain the dimensionally transcendental nature of the TARDIS to his new companion Leela,the TARDIS lands them inside Storm Mine 4,a gigantic mining device scraping a desert area clean for rare minerals. On board there's a crew of nine humans and an enormous amount of servile robots-the non-verbal "Dums", the green colored "Vocs" and the silver "Super Vocs". All Voc robots supposed to control the Dums and each are individually numbered. All is not well on the ship however. A crew member named Chub has been murdered. Each of the crew,led by Commander Uvanov,each suspect the other of murder to gain a foothold in the profit the all seek from the mining. The doctor and Leela are soon caught in the middle of all this,both being thought of as suspects in the murder. But inconsistencies began to pop up. Leela finds herself confronted by one of the "Dum" robots who is somehow about to talk. And the doctor,having narrowly escaped. Soon another crew member, Zilda is murdered after having suspected the Commander was in fact the culprit. 

             The doctor and Leela meanwhile are freed from the Commander's captivity,due to his suspicion of them,by Poul who,as apparently was Zilda's also deceased brother,suffers from a "robophobia",resulting in Poul descending into madness. After earning the trust of the remaining crew when another of them,Toos,is threatened by a Voc but Poul is not,the doctor comes to realize a mad scientist Taren Capel is behind a robot revolution happening on the mining vehicle. Being raised amid robots Capel believed they were superior to humans and had programmed them to work against the miners. Though Poul was originally an undercover agent hired on to prosecute the conspiracy,he is soon too mentally dysfunctional to accomplish his mission. In the end the doctor is able to use a homemade explosive device to immobilize the robots,as well as Capel's own device to end his unhappy existence before departing with Leela in the TARDIS.

              This story is an extremely well written who dunnit story. Not only is it an excellent vehicle for Louise Jamison's Leela,adapting extremely well to the strange environments she thrust upon herself by joining the doctor,but also to the character set up the story itself provides. The crew members of the Storm Mine 4 are all motivated purely by their own greed and pettiness in accusing each other of murder. And each of them never suspecting in any way their robot servants who have been reprogrammed. The story of money clouding judgement is broken largely by Poul who,through his own fears realize their mineral bounty is not as important as the other miners think it to be. The dysfunctional protagonist Taren Capal is a human being believing himself to be a "brother" to the Vocs and Dums. It's up to the doctor,the level headed outsider,and his clever new companion Leela to show everyone involved the right direction to take themselves in this compelling tale.

Doctor Who-The Masque Of Mandragora

                    Upon reactivating the TARDIS's secondary control room,the doctor and Sarah-Jane Smith find themselves drawn into the equally dimensionally transcendental, crystalline realm of the Mandragora Helix. Narrowly escaping an intense burst of energy,the TARDIS redirects itself to late 15'th century San Marino. A midst a power struggle between Giuliano and his tyrannical uncle Count Fredrico,complications arise when the astrologer Hieronymous predicts that the Duke will be killed  upon the next planetary alignment. Sarah is captured by members of the Cult Of Demnos,who plan to use her as a sacrifice to a great power that is soon to arrive.  After witnessing the Mandragora energy burst flying past him,the doctor is knocked unconscious trying to rescue Sarah. There is a peasant revolt occurring in San Marino and the energy kills a peasant along the way. The doctor awakens to find himself taken in by the Counts men. Waking up in a prison cell with Sarah they pair manage to escape. The doctor concludes from what Sarah has witnessed that the Mandragora Helix is a life form intent on influencing the ancient Roman cult of Demnos in order in take hold of humanity for some unknown reason.

            Giuliano's men locate Sarah and the Doctor,hoping they can join forces with him and his companion Marco to stop the bloodshed caused because of Hieronymous's superstition. Complications ensue with the Sarah is taken in by Hieronymous who hypnotizes her to attempt to kill the doctor. After she and the doctor are again captured by the Count,the doctor has understood that Hieronymous has is the leader of the cult of Demnos,who believe the Mandragora helix is their mystical overlord. Even worse it is also understood that this Helix embodies a life form intent on using the cult in order to halt human progress at this time so it can take over as the sole ruler of the planet. Trusting the doctor just enough to investigate the Doctor's claims,Count Fredico releases the doctor only to be killed by Hieronymous,now willingly overwhelmed by the Helix. As Giuliano is upped in rank to Duke he is forced into trusting the doctor's judgement in using the guise of Giuliano's indoctrination gala to force the Helx into escape by draining it's energy and leaving an extremely thankful Giuliano and Marco behind as he and Sarah continue on their journey.

              This find Robert Holmes era Doctor Who story superbly blends science fiction conceptualizing with historical intrigue. The bio-kinetic Mandragora helix fears the progression of humanity as a rival force in the universe. Upon arriving it finds an Earth witnessing the end of the renaissance and the beginning of the modern era. This era itself it filled with rivaling individuals such as Giuliano and his tyrannical uncle Count Fredrico. Giuliano,a man devoted to reason and the new frontier of science confronts both his egoist uncle and the helix absorbed Hieronymous,who himself is overtaken easily due to his own fear of the unknown. This is a very telling story in terms of illustrating humanity's  constant personal divisions when it comes to cultural evolution. This also marks the debut of the Victorian looking "steam punk" styled secondary TARDIS control room,which would be used for a number of Doctor Who serials after this one. The doctor also reveals,among other things,that he gave Sarah-Jane Smith his own ability to interpret foreign languages. And this adds to the deep camaraderie between the doctor and Sarah-Jane.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Doctor Who-The Brain Of Morbius

                                The doctor and Sarah-Jane are summoned to the world of Karn,which is within the jurisdiction of the time lords. After discovering a group of crashed rocket ships they than taken in a scientist named Solon and his assistant Condo. It isn't long before the doctor and Sarah are knocked out by Solon,who is seeking to use the doctors brain for one of his experiments. Meanwhile,a mystical group called the Sisterhood Of Karn have captured the TARDIS. Their experience with the time lords is clouded by an encounter with the villainous Morbius,who was intent on using their elixir,which they believe is created by a sacred flame of life,in order to allow every time lord to live forever. This elixir is now diminishing and the Sisterhood blame the doctor,who they apparently originally summoned   While on the operating table of Solon,the doctor too is captured by the conjuring of the Sisterhood where he unsuccessfully attempts to plead that he is not of the same intention as Morbius and they prepare him for sacrifice for their diminishing elixir. By this time Sarah has escape from Solon. After disguising herself as one of the Sisterhood and helping the doctor escape,the Sisterhood attack her with a light ray that temporarily blinds her.

                   Solon returns to the sisterhood begging for the Doctor back. He wants the doctors brain to house that of Morbius who he possesses,and whom Sarah has already encountered. After the doctor and Sarah escape from Solon again,the disembodied brain of Morbius is convinced the doctor is sent by the time lords in an attempt to destroy him and demands Solon put him in a specialized body he'd created prematurely. During this time Solon finds the doctor and Sarah have returned,along with the Sisterhood now looking for the brain they now know Solon has. When Sarah's sight returns,she and the doctor are both accosted by the mutant body Morbius now inhabits. While a cyanide concoction of the doctors successfully kills Solon,it's the sisterhood chasing Morbius off a cliff that finishes the job. The doctor has been lethally injured in a time lord brain stretching session with Morbius and the Sisterhood leader Maren sacrifices herself to give the last of their original elixir to the doctor. Before departing with Sarah on the TARDIS,the doctor gives them a special material to keep the flame of life from going out again before leaving a midst big explosion.

                    Very much a story of this era of Doctor Who loosely modeled around a Hammer horror story,in this case Frankenstein,this story very much centers in on the obsession with eternal life-between the entropy it's caused for the Sisterhood and Karn society as well as the madness of Solon himself. No irony is lost that,even though Sara-Jane Smith spends the the middle parts of this serial blind,she manages to do more to save herself and the doctor than Solon or the Sisterhood are in their obsessions with survival at all costs.  This story also features a lot of first hand information about time lord society,as well as the Sisterhood's clarity on the fact the doctor isn't the only one who sees the time lord's as having a mild streak of moral cowardice. One important scene is the brain stretching session before Morbius's death-where several other characters representing the doctor are shown following the face of William Hartnell's first. Not only does this indicate an unusual way of time lord interaction but that,just perhaps (though the faces could've represented the first doctor in younger states of his life),the doctor we first saw in An Unearthly Child may not have been the doctors first incarnation.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Doctor Who-The Android Invasion

                Upon arriving back on Earth to UNIT HQ the doctor and Sarah-Jane Smith find an unusually high radiation count and,soon enough,menaced by unusual suited guards and a UNIT soldier who threw himself over a cliff. The pair soon land in the town of Devesham, where Sarah once did a news report in her days as a journalist and where the local population are acting very suspicious. After moving onto UNIT HQ they find the facility has been taken over by Guy Crawford,an astronaut Sarah understands to have been dead. After fleeing UNIT HQ after being attacked  the doctor is confronted with the horrible truth:  this is not Earth,the people they encountered were actually pre-programmed androids and,while escaping the false UNIT HQ the person he believes was Sarah was actually an android as well. During this process,the real Sarah accidentally diverts the TARDIS to the actual Earth par it's fail safe mechanism. When Sarah and the doctor are taken by Crawford and the androids to an alien vessel both of them learn the true motivation behind all this. 

             A planet called Kraal has become dangerously radioactive. And this race,lead by surgeon Styggran,are planning to invade Earth with a group of androids carrying  a deadly virus that will destroy humanity and leave the planet open to Krall colonization. Upon using their mind/body replication device to replicate the doctor,Sarah and the genuine doctor escape back to Earth on the Kraal rocket intended to deliver to deadly androids. Meanwhile confusion runs so amok at the real UNIT HQ at the empty TARDIS's appearance they are not aware of the true intentions of Crawford's return. Not to mention that Harry Sullivan and Benton have already been replaced by androids-as well as the doctor himself,and are already laying the groundwork for the proposed invasion. Upon successfully averting the invasion,the real doctor also stops a coup by the Androids  when Crawford switches sides and is killed by Styggran,the doctor and Sarah return to their journey in the TARDIS.

             As a whole this story is fully representative of all of the best qualities of Doctor Who during the mid 1970's. The chemistry between Tom Baker's fourth doctor and Elizabeth Sladen's Sarah-Jane Smith serves as the main strength motivating this entire adventure. And it's also a very compelling story at that. It mashes up both The Andromeda Strain  and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers in order to comment on the pretentiousness of Earth defense forces to successfully stop an intricately planned extra terrestrial invasion. With it's very clever use of what minute special effects Doctor Who was given at the time in terms of available budget,this story managed to visually convey the sense of uncertainty and deception it was looking to convey. And again as was typical for the era,the fact that the doctor was in a type of danger that genuinely effect his life and that of his beloved Earth added to the strengths of this story as well.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Doctor Who-Pyramids Of Mars

                 En route back to UNIT HQ the doctor and Sarah-Jane Smith  encounter a shock wave followed by the appearance of a jackal-like face that Sarah is convinced is pure malevolence  Upon the TARDIS materialization the doctor surmises they have arrived at the correct site but at the wrong time-in 1911 to be exact in a manor house populated by ancient Egyptian artifacts and a high strung Egyptian man named Ibrahim Namin. A man named Dr.Warlock has been investigating Namin,who has managed to take over the home belonging to the family of two brothers: scientist Lawrence Scarman and his archaeologist brother Marcus. Namin,while consulting what he thinks is an Egyptian sarcophagus is confronted by a creature he thinks is "the great one". The creature promptly murders Namin. And,as the doctor and Sarah soon discover it's Marcus Scarman himself who has emerged along with a team of mummy-like servant robots who eventually kill Dr. Warlock as well. Yet something remains amis. Thanks in part to brother Lawrence's radio telescope the doctor is able to trace a signal sent by Scarman to Mars. 

                   He has determined they are facing an an adversary named Sutekh,an ancient alien from a race called the Osirans on whom ancient Egyptians based their mythology who has been seeking escape from a pyramid on Mars to carry out his biological imperceptive to destroy all life in the universe. And the sarcophagus is actually a space/time tunnel through which Sutekh travels. Realizing with the doctors assistance Sutekh plans to destroy humanities future,Sarah Jane goes about helping the doctor defeat Sutekh. First by a failed attempt to sabotage a rocket he is launching to accomplish his mission,than by almost getting possessed by Sutekh as well during which time divided brother Lawrence is also killed by the man he believes is still his brother. It is only after the doctor and Sarah are transported to the pyramid itself,and find their way out of every trap set by Horace to trap Sutekh and his followers does the doctor manage to destroy Sutekh by transporting him far into the future at the time of his own death,through his time tunnel,before departing in the TARDIS with Sarah.

                   This story is considered one of the all time Doctor Who classics of the programs original run. And it's easy to understand why. In this story,the doctor is faced with a danger that actually comes extremely near to defeating him. Not only that but the human beings involved have to face the fact that much of their mythology was actually based on extra terrestrial incursion. This is accomplished wonderfully not only by the constant presence of Egyptian artifacts but also the two Scarman brothers. Even though he meets his death at the hands of his possessed brother Marcus,it's Lawrence Scarman's faithful devotion to his brother and torment at his loss to him that motivates him to help the doctor. And to trust his story of being a time lord. The concept of mythology representing something otherworldly rather than spiritual,combined with characters whose emotions are very relatable along with the genuine terror the story and settings provide are probably the key factors in this story's success over the years.



Sunday, January 20, 2013

Happy Birthday Tom Baker!!

                                          Before I ever knew about time lords,regeneration or even knew what a TARDIS was this man was the one image I associated with Doctor Who. His name is Tom Baker. He was born today in 1934 and turns 79 this year. With his trademark fashion,including a 17 foot scarf and his distinctive,fruity speaking voice he became the poster time lord as it were for Doctor Who during his seven years in the role,especially when it came to American audiences who viewed his many episodes of the show on PBS during the 1980's.  It was during his era on the show that Doctor Who ascended to the level of international fame. And he remains many Whovian's favorites of the eleven people to play the time lord on television thus far.

                            Though highly successful in his years on the show,his strong belief in how his character should be portrayed often came into odds with the programs new producer John Nathan Turner during Baker's final series on Doctor Who. He was succeeded by Peter Davison in 1981 following Baker's final serial Logopolis. Although he felt it was too soon after his departure to appear in the multi-doctor reunion special The Three Doctors on the program's 20'th anniversary,he has been an active participant in many Doctor Who related events since and currently has no qualms of speaking of his long and unique time as the fourth incarnation of the famous time lord.

                            The fourth doctor Tom Baker portrayed was,in his own words,very much an extension of his own personality. He relished his position of putting the oppressed first in his priorities,with brain over bron,in all situations he encountered. He often took serious things with humor,and seemingly humorous things quite seriously. And with his almost child-like alpha personality he seemed the most genuinely extra terrestrial of all the other incarnations of the doctor. With assistants such as Sarah Jane Smith,Leela and Romana he was always accompanied by people in some way at least close to the equal of himself.  So to Mr.Baker and the many Whovians out there I with Tom Baker a very happy 79'th. If he were here,I'd offer him a Jelly Baby.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Doctor Who-Planet Of Evil

                                         After accidentally landing on the planet Zeta Minor at the very edge of the known universe en-route back to UNIT HQ,the doctor and Sarah-Jane discover an abandoned survey settlement and (on Sarah's part) an usual physical sensation. Not long after arriving their the two find themselves not only in the presence of Sorenson,the last survivor of the team but of an immense creature that seems to exist well outside the material spectrum. The doctor and Sarah are soon taken into custody by the rescue vessel belonging to the Monostran Controller Salamar,who have been searching for the team for some time and have only just come to find them. Upon arriving on their ship,Salamar instantly assumes the doctor and Sarah to be responsible for the death of the survey team and treats them as prisoners. After plea bargaining and his own investigations,the doctor discovers that the purpose of the team on Zeta Minor was to mine a vital source of energy to save their dying sun.

                                   Fairly soon however there are larger issues to concern themselves with. Upon returning to Zeta Minor and almost falling into the bottomless bit the creature inhabited there,the doctor surmised that the creature was in face the manifestation of the planets link to a parallel antimatter universe. And the energy source that Sorenson has been collecting is the solid form of this energy. In the hands of the ships crew,it threatens cataclysm on an enormous scale. Their plans to return the solid antimatter to the planet is threatened both by Salamar's mistrust and the fact that Sorenson's supposed antigen to the antimatter exposure has caused his own body to hybridize into the very creature that destroyed his team-an "anti man" as the doctor calls it. Salamar is killed by Sorenson under this influence. So it's up to the doctor,with the permission of second in command Vishinsky who has taken command,to return the antimatter where it belongs. After the creature gladly returns Sorenson to normal,the doctor suggests an alternative energy source for the Monostran before departing with Sarah in the TARDIS.  

                                  The idea of matter and antimatter annihilating radiation to a scale of enormous material cataclysm had,by this point,become an important element in science fiction in general. This story explored that wonderfully in both scientific and personal terms. This plays very much on the characters involved. The doctor,while having rationalized the threat the solid antimatter poses to the universe,is continually interrupted by the paranoid  narcissism of Salamar-who seems barely trust himself at times. Sorenson, motivated by his own thrill of discovery,is blinded even to his own state of being. It's the reasonable and level headed Vishinsky that recognizes the doctors points and allows the only rational (and successful) set of events to take place. Another special quality of this story is the fact the shows low FX budget is put to good use here-showcasing a life form consisting of little more than pure inert energy. A wonderfully engaging and intelligent story from a very successful period for Doctor Who.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Doctor Who-Robot

                                            Upon the regeneration of the doctors third incarnation into the fourth,he is thrown into a regeneration crisis where he goes on the lamb from UNIT doctor Harry Sullivan having experienced sudden outbursts of physical strength and erratic memory. Meanwhile a type of advanced ray gun has reported stolen by a scientific research concern calling itself Think Tank. With the doctor in general limbo,his assistant Sarah-Jane Smith goes to visit Think Tank herself to investigate. There are journalistic integrity leads her to follow the project head Miss Winters and her own assistant Jerricho to find a device they called the K-1 robot,which was designed to replace humans in hazardous matters such as in high radioactive environments. During a test of the the device where Sarah's life is threatened,she observes it seems to experience emotions as well. Further investigations by the freshly regenerated doctor and the Brigadier manage to reveal,along with Sarah's own questioning of  Professor Kettlesworth,creator of the K-1 robot, that the organization is a massive front for a larger organization called the Scientific Reform Society (SRS),who are convinced that only the intellectually elite should run the Earth.

                           While UNIT attempt to ambush the event,the robot itself murders an official who holds an important secret: that the SRS are planning to sabotage an international disarmament  conference. Hoping a nuclear war will occur that will allow the protected SRS and their robot to lead human survivors in a new society of their rule,it's learned Kettlesworth personally assisted in this himself. However the robot soon kills him,it's own creator,and emerges humanity will have to be destroyed save for Sarah Jane who displayed great kindness towards the robot. This after the doctor and eventually the fail safe device are both able to stop the countdown to the launch of nuclear weapons threatening the planet. In the end the doctor develops a serum that reduces the robot,construction of a biogenic metal,into it's core fragments and the threat is averted.  In the end,the doctor invites Sarah-Jane with him as he finally continues his journey in the TARDIS. And the two are joined by a curious Dr. Harry Sullivan.

                        This is an excellent story to introduce Tom Baker,who'd soon become one of the most famous actors to portray the time lord. Written by Terrence Dicks and edited by Barry Letts,this is essentially still a Jon Pertwee third doctor/UNIT era story. It gives you an excellent chance to see the new fourth regeneration of the doctor very casually dismissing some of the Brigadier's reactionary habits in favor of his own unique (and often more effective) methods. When faced with both the intellectually fascist SRS and the unhinged K-1 robot,Sarah-Jane emerges as her own heroine in the story-having a relationship with the robot reminiscent of a King Kong  for the computer age . The story itself,however,deals with the breakdown of all morality in the place of a machine receiving mixed programming by intelligent but completely uncaring individuals. It's Sarah's sense of moral conviction,even when Think Tank leader Miss Winters accuses her of being a reverse chauvinist,that leads to be every bit the triumphant character in this story next to the new doctor.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Doctor Who-Shada

                           The doctor and Romana visit St.Cedd's university in contemporary Cambridge intercepting a message from Professor Chronotis,an elderly time lord whose failing memory not only prevents him from remembering the message but that an advanced physics student Chris Parsons was accidentally allowed to borrow an ancient Gallifreyian tome from the Professors library. In the meantime a mysterious alien man named Skagra is coming the planet with mind absorbing spheres searching for the dome. And soon the doctor and the professor,at the cost of Professor Chronotis's final regeneration,become targets of these spheres.. Chris and his assistant Clair have been unable to decipher the illegible tome,only learning it absorbs radioactivity. Upon all of these players meeting up,they realize they have been pawns in in Skagra's search for Saliyavan,a criminal time lord incarcerated at the prison Shada. 

                 When Clair went searching for the professor,she'd met him outside of time in his TARDIS (disguised as his library) while the doctor,Chris and K-9 were imprisoned by Skagra on his invisible spaceship and torment by his living stone henchmen called Krags. Skagra's plan was to his Saliyavan's ability to absorb minds into his own consciousness with his ability to remove minds into his own-allowing Skagra to merge himself with all the brilliant minds he's stolen with his spheres to create one enormous mind. Upon the revelation the man Claire thinks is the professor is a disguised Saliyavan,the Doctors mind copied within Skagra's giant mind able to unravel the time vortex as both TARDIS's are on course to Shada. He returns Saliyavan to Shada. And leaves everyone at Cambridge precisely as it was in the beginning,the Professor included,before he and Romana depart.

                    Originally meant to be the closing episode of Doctor Who's 17'th season,a writers strike resulted in the story never being completed and therefore never broadcast-or using BBC terminology transmitted. Tom Baker had to fill in the gaps himself with his own narration for the 1994 VHS release here,included remastered footage left available and that is what you see here. As it stands this is a superb Doctor Who story-full of intelligence,wit and adventure and therefore in the same league as City Of Death from earlier in the season. We actually are never 100% sure of Professor Chronotis's true identity. And the doctor and Romana's encounter with him also reveals a few more tidbits about time lord society that is scattered throughout Doctor Who. As for the humor,one scene stands out in my mind: one where the Skagra's mind sphere pursuing the doctor flies past a men's vocalese street choir singing "Chattanooga Choo- Choo". Despite huge gaps filled in by Baker's clever narrations,one of the finest stories for Doctor Who and Tom Baker's era on the show.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Doctor Who-The War Machines

                     Materializing in contemporary London the doctor,and his companion Dodo experiences an unusual magnetic sensation throughout his body. His investigation leads him to a newly completed tower which houses a new logical mainframe computer called WOTAN. It's creator Professor Brett intends for the device to be networked around the world for peaceful and defense purposes. However the doctor senses something amok when the computer recognizes him and the meaning of the term TARDIS. The Professors secretary Polly Wright offers to take Dodo to her favorite nightclub where they meet up with the Naval officer Ben Jackson,who has been trying to get Polly to notice him and defends her from a palaver. What they do not yet know is that during this time,the Professor and his compatriot Krimpton have been co-opted by WOTAN and are now taking instructions from it. Dodo is soon influenced in the same manner,via a phone call at the club. Sir Charles Summer,promoting the massive WOTAN project to the government body,soon finds a number of mysterious goings on as the Professor and all of his compatriots continue to exhibit secretive behavior. 

              Polly is abruptly summoned to to Sir Charles' office when the doctor recovers Dodo,who he realizes has been attempting to get him under WOTAN'S control under the influence of hypnotic suggestion. While deprogramming her Ben,whose come to pick up Polly for a date,notices the secretary has already left the building. The doctor sends him to investigate and he discovers she,as with the Professor for whom she was once employed is now working for WOTAN. The computer has deduced human beings can no longer effectively run the planet. And is deploying it's own creators to create unstoppable war machines to destroy them. While her friendship with Ben forces the hypnotized Polly into helping him escape,he goes on to inform the doctor who sends the military to destroy the war machines but they are unsuccessful. In the end it's up to the doctor,who creates a magnetic field that he uses to reprogram the machines to destroy WOTAN and liberate it's captors from it's control. Before departing in his TARDIS,Ben and Polly return to send him the message Dodo has elected to remain on Earth. When they find him walking into a police box (actually the TARDIS),Ben produces a key that slipped out of the doctors pocket that he intended to return to him,and he and Polly enter the TARDIS just as it is about to take off.

            In terms of story,setting,pacing and the characterizations this is one of the most engaging and enjoyable stories from the William Hartnell era Doctor Who. For the first time,he's portrayed as something of a man of action rather than merely a scientific detective. It's also a story very much ahead of it's time. With the advent of computerization about to occur,this story was very telling in many people's fears of the machines we ourselves programmed taking over our lives. Also this story takes along with that concept a perhaps implied anti fascist and communist message of human beings forced into serving a greater power based solely in logic and pragmatism. Even though your never sure if the characters of Ben and Polly will stay with the doctor until the very end,these  two lovable and very helpful characters really have the affect of endearing themselves to the heart of the viewer. Though the underrated Dodo Chaplet exists the TARDIS in the story,the show gain two new (if now sadly under-represented in terms of surviving Doctor Who stories" in Ben and Polly.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Doctor Who-The Web Planet

                          The TARDIS finds itself being pulled towards a planet's gravitational force rather mysteriously. Upon settling down on the planet surface,Barbara and Vicki find themselves both under the control of a mysterious power. While investigating for themselves,the Doctor and Ian discover a desolate world with acid pools and where Ian's gold watch disappears out of thin air. The doctor concludes that the planet is Vorbis,a world that he has some familiarity with. Barbara for her part finds herself among the peaceful Butterfly-like Menoptra. They are ensnared in a war with the Zarbi,large ants who have overtaken the moon,driving the Menoptra to the planets moon because of the Animus,a malevolent entity that has engulfed the planet in one life consuming web of it's own creation.

                                The intention of the Animus is to try to use the Doctors knowledge,through it's control device within what it calls the Carsenome,to influence the doctor in the same way they have the Zarbi and Barbara-through the use of their ability to control biological energy through gold alloy. The doctor,for his part however is able to learn their method of control and counteract it. He's even able to use one of the Animus's devices to take control over one of their Zarbi slaves to escape imprisonment. Once out from under the Animus's influence the doctor is able to manipulate the Animus's energy source at the very moment it's about to absorb the planet and renew Vorbis to the fertile environment it once was.

                                   One of the most important elements of this story is the visualizations. While the sets and costumes are extremely obvious even by this era of Doctor Who's standards the use of lighting,filter and the almost experimental theater style of acting used in particular by the actors portraying the Menoptra do more to tell this story then the actual plot. References to enforced evolution,in the place of the Menoptra and their flightless cousins the Optera,as well as alchemy are key elements to this story. In truth,it is a very slow story in parts. And would've been brilliant (and equally as effective) if told in three or four parts rather than six. Still,even by Doctor Who standards,this is a particularly mind bending story.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Happy Birthday,William Hartnell!

                    Hard to believe it was over 49 years ago that Mr.Hartnell first appeared on the BBC in 1963 as the doctor in An Unearthly Child. But here we are,eleven doctors later. No one however has forgotten "the original,as one might say",to quote the first doctors own words. Of course the first doctor is the only one of them to be portrayed by two different actors during the shows original run. William Hartnell died in 1975,two year after participating in the show's tenth anniversary special The Three Doctors with Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee.

                     When the programs twentieth anniversary arrived,the first doctor was portrayed by Richard Hurndall,who himself has since passed on. A long time English character actor used to being somewhat in the back round, Hartnell came to greatly appreciate his role as the doctor and particularly his relationship to his younger viewers. His persona as the eccentric,mildly cranky grandfather helped establish the personality of every one whose ever played the role. As he himself once said,once one has been involved with the doctor some of the magic stays with you for the rest of your life. As much as I appreciate all the others, Hartnell's portrayal has already worked it's magic on me.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Doctor Who-The Romans

                                           After the TARDIS crashes off the side of the cliff,the crew find themselves in Rome in 64 AD,living on the outskirts of town and enjoying all of the pleasures the Roman Empire had to offer. All of this ends abruptly when Ian and Barbara are kidnapped by Roman slave traders. The doctor and Vicki end up going off to investigate and are accosted by servants of the royal court believing the doctor to be Maximus Pettulian,the court lyra playing musician for Ceaser Nero. Upon arriving the at Nero's court the Doctor learns that Ian and Barbara have been taken in as slaves. Ian has been arrested along with another runaway slave Delos and sent to to fight in the circus arena while Barbara is being pursued by Nero himself,who took her into his services with the help of a man named Tavius who liberated her from the slave market.

                                    After both helping each other at the crossroads in their dilemmas,Ian and Barbra both seek help from Tavius to escape. For his part Nero finds himself humiliated by the doctor while claiming to play an ear sensitive lyra melody few can hear-while actually playing nothing. Nero contemplates having the doctor killed in the ring. Meanwhile Vicki learns Nero's queen is planning to have her husband poisoned over jealousy about his pursuit of Barbara. It's the doctor who comes to the rescue in the end. Realizing Nero was supposed to raze Rome due to his failed plans to rebuild it,the doctor sets fire to Nero's plans to facilitate this event. After Tavius helps Ian and Barbara escape,while the doctor and Vicki escape the burning city they find themselves back where they started-non aware of what the other had done until they left Rome in the TARDIS for their next adventure.

                                   This is an excellent story blending elements of historical drama into what is largely a farcical tale of the indolence and decadence of Rome under Nero's reign. Derek Francis does an excellent turn as the faded,gluttonous Roman leader who is more in pursuing his power and indulging his sexual appetite with Barbara than doing much good by him Empire. That comic element is extended by the doctor's not only forgetting Ian's name-calling him "Chesterfield" but also his trolling Nero by playing on his own inability to play the Lyra.  This story doesn't shy away from the dark side of the Roman empire though. The camera often lingers on Jacqueline Hill's expressions as Barbara,realizing even through her own experiences how Romans treat their slaves. Also of note is how her and Ian's emancipator Tavius is depicted,in a brief scene holding a cross pendent,to be a Christian. An excellent and well rounded historical Doctor Who adventure.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Doctor Who-The Rescue

                      Dejected and physically tired following the departure of his granddaughter Susan,the TARDIS finds itself on the planet Dido. Upon exiting the TARDIS,Ian and Barbara find themselves atop a large cliff and find beneath them the hulk of a crashed space ship. Meanwhile inside the ship,a young lady named Vicki is attempting to send a transmission to a rescue ship to save her and fellow crew mate Bennett. An alien wearing a ritualistic mask than greets Barbara,than throws her off the cliff where she is found and rescued by Vicki. Meanwhile an avalanche traps the doctor and Ian inside the cave next to the cliff where they find an unknown force trying to keep them locked in. Barbara is awakened by Vicki,who introduces herself by explaining her ship crashed here and the rest of the crew,including her father were killed at a conference the Dido set up for welcome them. 

                    Believing they were murdered,she has been tormented by Kolluquin,the alien who Barbara encountered whose determined to keep Vicki from leaving Dido,hence her secret transmission. The doctor and Ian soon escape,and encounter a crestfallen Vicki who just saw her "pet" Sandy unintentionally murdered by Barbara believing it to be a predator. The doctor later discovers a secret chamber where he encounters Bennett,who was masquerading as Kolluquin the entire time in order to escape rescue,as he was a prisoner and had killed his crew (save Vicki) and most of the Dido for the same purpose. After a struggle Bennett is killed while the doctor is sent back to the TARDIS by two surviving Dido,who had been a peaceful people. Realizing she had nowhere to do the doctor,Ian and Barbara decided to invite Vicki to join them and she formally accepts. 

                   While an intriguing two part murder mystery that's very surprising up to the very end,this is also a very heartwarming character set up-with the majority of the story pairing up Ian and the doctor,and Barbara with Vicki. We see the doctor and Ian taking action to release themselves from the cave their trapped in. We also see Barbara trying to assist the confused and tormented Vicki,who lost her father than her only friend on Dido in her pet Sandy. Also this story shows us a very sensitive side of the first doctor. He shows calm tenderness and kindness to Vicki,and she is able to except Ian and Barbara-educationally inept by her 25'th century standards of course,largely through the influence of the time lord. An excellent introduction for an often unheralded companion.