Monday, January 20, 2014

Tom Baker-My Ten Favorite Episodes From The Fourth Doctor

              Today is the 80'th birthday of Tom Baker. Of course before I ever became familiar with regeneration,Time Lords and TARDIS's it was the visage of Tom Baker: his huge grin,bushy hair,long scarf and coat that I always associated with Doctor Who. This year when William Hartnell, the first actor to play the now iconic role, had a birthday I decided to create a primer to "newhovians",as it were just becoming interested in Doctor Who as I did two years ago. Considering how well that turned out,I've decided to expand that presentation to include a list of my favorite stories of each doctor. So today I am going to present to you my ten favorite stories from Tom Bakers seven plus year run on the show from 1974 to 1981. Thank you and enjoy!

             Well there you have it,my personal ten favorite Tom Baker stories. Happy birthday to Tom Baker-the oldest surviving actor to have portrayed the doctor!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Doctor Who-Image Of The Fendahl

                          During a scan by a group of scientists Adam Colby,Max Stael,Thea Ransom and Doctor Fendelman  are doing on an ancient humanoid skull found on an archaeological dig in Kenya the TARDIS is shaken by an intense sonic time scanner. Ransom meanwhile has been taken over by an energy emitting from the skull. When the doctor finds out it originates on Earth he and Leela journey their to prevent that energy from creating a continuum explosion that would destroy the planet. Arriving in the village of Fetchborough where the scientists have been staying,the doctor and Leela first encounter a local named Ted Moss-who directs them into the town. Adam has discovered a corpse meanwhile that Fendelman wants kept away from the authorities. The doctor and Leela meanwhile set upon the home of Martha Tyler,a local mystic with apparent psychic abilities and her son Jack. By this time Mitchell,a member of local law enforcement who arrived to help protect the town,is killed the same way as the body that Adam had discovered was: drained to the point of becoming an empty husk. While searching the area during the night,the doctor himself encounters what he believes the source of the energy that is causing the potential implosion.

                     The doctor enters Fendelman's lab,where the scientists are in conflict over the fact that Fendelman wishes to keep their discovery a secret from the superstitious townspeople such as Moss and Mrs. Tyler,
and finds Thea Ransom unconscious and surrounded covered in two creatures he reveals to Adam as being Fendahleen,embryonic servant creatures to the Fendahl,a life form out of Gallifreyan mythology who literally fed on the energy force of all life around it to sustain itself. The doctor surmises,correctly as Fendelman soon explains that the creature-whom the time lords supposedly destroyed on the Fifth Planet to avoid it spreading had psychically projected itself onto developing humanity. Unbeknownst to him,thinking he'd been making a great evolutionary discovery about humanity,had inadvertently created the sonic time scanner which had now taken over the mind of Thea Ransom-who was being used as a conduit for the re-emerging Fendahl. After narrowly escaping one of the Fendahleen,Martha Tyler goes into psychic shock that the doctor helps her to emerge from,having himself narrowing escaped the influence of the Fendahl on his mind.

                       Meanwhile Adam,Fendalman and Thea Ransom have been kidnapped by Stael,who as it turns out is actually a member of the local black magic coven along with Moss. He places Thea on a large pentagram-actually having been created by humanity since it and originated as part of the skeletal makeup of the original excavated skull.It is at this point,even to his surprise she transforms into a golden humanoid who is actually the incomplete Fendahl core-who kills Fendelman  and Moss to sustain itself-after which Stael promptly commits suicide due to his failure of judgement. The doctor and Leela,after escaping a telepathic Fendahleen that nearly costs Leela,Jack and Martha Tyler their ability to walk are able to rescue Adam from the Fendahl core Thea has transformed into. Upon learning in their encounter with the Fendahleen that simple salt has an adverse affect on them,the doctor asks Mrs. Tyler to gather as much salt as she can so he and Leela can use it to weaken the core-while Adam prepares to destroy the building and its sonic time scanner to prevent the Fendahl's further escape in lieu of he and the Tylers making a fast getaway to her home. Following this the doctor and Leela return to the TARDIS to take the original skull containing the Fendahl to the core of a supernova-whose energy the doctor is sure that even the Fendahl cannot withstand.

                   Doctor Who has always championed the idea of knowledge and truth over fear and terror in its very essence. This is one of those stories that deals with this concept front and center. The attitudes of Fendalman and his fellow scientists towards the seemingly superstitious townspeople of Fetchborough reflects this vividly. And as it turns out,characters such as Martha Tyler turn out to have the upper hand because they understand the form of what's happening but are dealing more with incomplete scientific knowledge than ignorance. The very idea of the grim reaper-like Fendahl effecting everything from family names,cultural traits to the pentagram itself is a story line that has since become the foot of just about all conspiracy theory-based science fiction/fantasy television stories about humanity having originated from an extra terrestrial source. In this serial that subject matter is treated with a vital blend of intelligence and sensitivity. It's the seemingly superstitious locals of Fetchborough who
end up being the heroes of this story along with the doctor and Leela-taking action to help stop the Fendahl's parasitic influence as opposed to attempting to criminally hide the truth as the rather unethical Fendelman team are doing.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Doctor Who-The Talons Of Weng-Chiang

                         While visiting Victorian era London in order for Leela to learn about her ancestors social customs-in particular the theater of the time. After the nights performance at the Palace Theater,the Chinese illusionist Li H'Shen Chang is set upon by a man whose wife had gone missing,one of a number of women in London who'd met with this face recently,and that her last whereabouts had been in the presence of Chang. On their way to the theater,the doctor and Leela find themselves taken in by the police after witnessing the murder of a cab driver-actually the man who'd just visited Chang, at the hands of a group of Chinese men. During questioning Chang is bought in as an interpreter of events-during which time a vile of scorpion venom given by him to one of the suspects reveals a tattoo on the suspects arm to the doctor as belonging to the tong of the black scorpion-devoted followers of the ancient Chinese god Weng Chiang. 

                     Following this the doctor and Leela consult with the local pathologist Professor Litefoot. With his help in using his home as a base of operations,the doctor and Leela manage to track these specific murdering
of women to Chang himself who has been taking women-mostly of them volunteers in his magic act,who has been taking them to the hideaway of an individual who he is convinced is Weng-Chiang himself. He is using the life forces of these women as sustenance . But he than chastises Chang for not meeting up with his very specific instructions. The doctor and Leela face up to enormous rats that feed off of human flesh in the city's sewer system-while the Palace Theater's owner Henry Gordon Jago attempts to assist the doctor in tracking down the mysterious Weng-Chiang-who is continuing to abduct women and has made off with an ancient cabinet Litefoot had in his home,having been raised in China by a colonialist family.

                 The doctor,Leela and Jago eventually end up following Chang to one of his performances at the Palace-where an attempt to kill the doctor backfires when one of his tricks lead to the revealing of the murder of one of the theaters employees. Not guilty of this murder,Chang goes on the lamb only to be dragged away. With the help of Litefoot,the doctor and Leela find Chang half dead from injuries at an opium den. He tells them that Weng Chiang presented himself as a god upon arrival-with Chang serving him with the women whose life force was his very survival. But Chang was betrayed and gives the doctor a Chinese Puzzle that reveals the local of his former master. Meanwhile Professor Litefoot and Jago have discovered a case of strange ephemera. When the doctor arrives he discovers an object he recognizes as the key to a time cabinet-part of a failed time travel experiment from a 51'st century war using unstable Zigma rays. 

                  When Jago and Litefoot are held captive by Weng-Chiang,Leela finds herself gagged when set upon by the deformed Chiang himself. The doctor arrives and agrees to a barter to spare provide Chiang with the time cabinet key in exchange for the safety of Leela,Litefoot and Jago. And he demands that Chiang lead him to his palace. Once there the doctor learns Chiang is really Magnus Greel,an unethical scientist attempting to restore himself to life using the same unstable methods he had in his own time. The doctor rescues Leela from this fate while they,along with Jago and Litefoot,escape the laser eyed dragon head used by the Peking Homunculus-a murderous cyborg whose mind is that of a pig that almost caused World War Six in the future. The doctor manages to disconnect him while throwing the weakened Greel into his own chamber-which de-molecularizes him. Following this,and a leisurely journey with Litefoot and Jago to buy muffins,the pair thankfully bid the doctor and Leela farewell as they depart in the TARDIS.

                   During its time,this has become one of the most controversial Doctor Who serial. The Canadian National Council For Equality apparently found this story so offensive that Canada and many stations in North America refused to carry the episode. I can certainly see why this might be. Li H'Shen Chang is portrayed as a villainous and deceptive character-using powers given to him by Greel to manipulate his victims. In addition to being portrayed by an English actor,those portrayed by Asian actors are the characters of hoodlums-members of the Tong Gang. Racial slurs and continual derogatory language abound in the dialog as well. Strange as this might be for a show that defines itself by a strong,universal moral code,it somehow seems totally appropriate to me given the Victorian English setting-where the Chinese were vilified and viewed only in stereotypical terms. The doctors wittily expressed condensation towards this racial slurring would also seem to indicate the characters disapproval.

                   Interestingly enough outside this controversy,this really is a wonderfully placed historical murder mystery with a rare glimpse of another time traveler outside the time lords-the highly unskilled (and himself highly bigoted) Magnus Greel. Also welcomed is the presence of two contemporary companions for the doctor in this episode. Fascinated by the doctors deductive abilities and seeking a personal fortune,the jocular and pompous Henry Gordon Jago provides a wonderful comic type character-constantly afraid of his own shadow. Professor Litefoot on the other hand is an estate and adaptive individual-who deeply respects the doctor and Leela-even relaxing from his devotion to Victorian morays to eat meat with his bare hands and deducing a way to use the dumb waiter in Greel's palace to launch a jailbreak for himself and Jago. Its the juxtaposition of two opposite ends of history-along with the presence of well realized characters that make this story so wonderful and compelling.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Doctor Who-The Deadly Assassin

                       Upon being summoned to his home world of Gallifrey,the doctor is overcome by a vision of the President elect of the Time Lords being assassinated in the center of the Panopticon-the presidential  
chamber of the Time Lords capital citadel. Upon arrival the doctor notices he is being pursued by Time Lords carrying degenerative rifles called stasers. The doctor escapes the TARDIS as the guards,answering to a Castellan Spendrell,who observe that the TARDIS (or TT capsule as the Time Lords refer to it) is a highly antiquated Type 40 model. Chancellor Goth requests that the Castellan have the TARDIS moved to the citadel for further inspection. Another Time Lord named Engrin,as well as one of the doctors old instructors named Borusa,additionally observe that the doctor had previously been exiled to Earth for interfering in the laws of time and,while pardoned by them might prove a danger to the upcoming election of the new Lord President of Gallifrey.

                      Continually overwhelmed by his visions of the Lord Presidents  assassination,the doctor borrows the robes of one of the Time Lords and enters into the Panopticon just as the president is about to be inducted. As a media reporter for the citadel (and the doctors former schoolmate) Runcible reports on the affair,the doctor attempts to warn the president of his inevitable peril. One of the delegates among them ascends to a camera with a sniper rifle and proceeds to shoot the Lord President Elect with it-as the crowd witness what appears to be the doctor on the upper level firing said sniper rifle. Despite Castellan Spendrell and Chancellor 
Goth's insistence of the doctors guilt,the doctor claims innocence and that his premonition was actually motivating him to try to save the presidents life. At the doctors suggestion,Runcible investigates the camera above the Panopticon where he finds a Time Lord shrunken in size by matter compression,and is himself stabbed in the back while trying to look further.

                        After observing Engrin explaining the operation of the Time Lord Matrix,the doctor realize since this matrix contains the sum of all Time Lords' minds,used an interface device to enter the matrix in hopes of discovering the true nature of the assassin-who is at least known to be inside the citadel. Once in the matrix the doctor finds himself in a virtual reality-in a Safari like setting with a bounty hunter figure who tries to run over him with a train,throw him down a hill and than attempted to drown him. Though  the doctor was able to overcome the hunter using his own inventiveness, the doctor reveals his opponent to actually be Goth himself. Yet he knows from the use of Matter compression that it is actually his nemesis the Master that they are facing. Upon nearly dying while connected to the Matrix,and aware that The Master's identity is not included in the matrix,the doctor now leads the Castellan and Borusa to where he believes the Master has been.

                         While dying inside a mental transference chamber the Master had used to have Goth interface with the matrix,Goth reveals before his death-following the last of his regeneration's that the Master had bribed Goth to assist him by the promise of becoming Lord President-something the doctor had used to his favor during his earlier trial in order to investigate the matter and prove his innocence. The doctor surmises (with Engrin's help from the Matrix library)  that the Master,too nearing the end of his cycle of 12 regeneration's is planning to use The Sash Of The Great Key Of Rassilon to open the eye of harmony-a obelisk shaped power source from a black hole,as it turns out, from which all the original Time Lord's energy derived from. After facing down the Master in the citadels morgue,the Master returns to the Panopticon and gains access to the Eye Of Harmony obelisk-whose activated energy caused a massive quake in the citadel which ends after the doctor,while fighting with the master,knocks the Master into a chasm. Spendrell,Borusa and Engrin,after offering the doctor a pardon on Gallifrey,find the doctor rejecting their offer yet warning them that the Master had absorbed enough energy from the Eye Of Harmony to survive.

                             One of the qualities that makes gives this story its cohesion is the intensely complicated nature of the plot. A wordly political thriller,this is one of the earliest Doctor Who stories to have generated a high level of controversy from BBC censor Mary Whitehouse-who objected to episode 3 of this serial's cliffhanger which showcased the doctor being drowned by Goth while inside the matrix. This of course went against the BBC's still ongoing perception of Doctor Who as a children's program-mainly due to its time slot. That that is the core of this story in a way. The first real glimpse in the series of what the doctors home planet is like,we find an overly civilized society where even the doctors old instructor Borusa is perfectly willing to bend the truth to protect the Time Lord's insulation from the outside universe. The Master,depicted here as an insanely angry character burnt beyond recognition,is the complete opposite of Roger Delgado's characterization of the character. And this story showcases the Time Lord's inability to cope with his tyranny against them. Personally for me this story does seriously call Doctor Who's reputation in England as a children's show strongly into question-as much of the story contains more verbally weighty dialog and political intrigue than action and/or alien menaces. So this story is probably one of the original run Doctor Who stories that had a stronger appeal to the adult audiences of the show.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Doctor Who-The Seeds Of Doom

                             In the Antarctic,the doctor and Sarah Jane Smith are dispatched by a Sir Colin Thackery to investigate an biological seed pod found under the permafrost by a scientific team led by a John Stevenson. Whereas all of the other scientists  believe they are dealing with an extinct plant species, the doctor has a hunch the pod is extra terrestrial in origin.One of the scientists working for him named Winlett has been penetrated by the germinated pod (whose growth had been accelerated) and has begun to mutate. After observing him,the doctor confirms his original hypothesis- announcing that they are dealing with a life form called a Krynoid-a parasitic form of flora that consumes animal lifeforms for energy. In the meantime an English millionaire named Harrison Chase dispatches one of his scientists Arnold Keeler and his lackey Scorby,with the help of of the head of the local department of ecology named Dunbar,to travel to Antarctica to retrieve the artifact by any means necessary. When the pair arrive,the find Winlett already in the advanced stages of transformation. 

             When the doctor determines his arm must be amputated in order to stop the parasite from spreading further,the partially transformed Winlett attacks and kills Morberly-the zoologist to have performed the operation. Scorby grows impatient and,despite Keeler's warning takes the doctor and Sarah Jane hostage after they return from searching for the escaped Winlett. When Stevenson returns,the doctor tells them that a second pod that was discovered by Stevenson is in the freezer. Once they retrieve it,Scorby insists on using an explosive to destroy the expedition and their laboratory with all hands so that there will be no witnesses to their crime. The doctor and Sarah Jane escape along with Scorby and Keeler when the expedition building explodes. Another expedition discovers Sarah Jane and the doctor and returns them to England to consult with Dunbar,who attempts to drive them to an isolated area to stay out of the way. They pair escape the driver and make their way for Harrison Chase's mansion-where they now know Scorby and Keeler will be with the Krynoid seedpod.

              After covertly sneaking into Chases' mansion,they discover Chase demanding that Keeler inject the Krynoid pod with extra nitrogen to stimulate its growth. Keeler of course mutates into another Kyrnoid while Chase himself observes his reactions and growth while doing nothing at all to treat him. The doctor and Sarah meanwhile enlist the help of a local artist named Amelia Ducat-to whom Chase owes money. When the doctor and Sarah Jane become trapped in Chase's mansion after their discovery by Scorby,Ducat returns to do reconnaissance work for Thackery and Dunbar,who decides to redeem himself realizing how far Chase has gone. The expanding Krynoid life form has now become a central nucleus-transforming all plant life in the vicinity into autonomous Krynoid life forms as well. 

               With the carnivorous plans encroaching on the facility,Scorby makes an uneasy alliance with the Doctor and Sarah before ending up being drowned by such carnivorous flora. Finding Chase himself in a trance like state with his menagerie of plant life,the doctor realizes that Chase has become connected to the Krynoids mentally. With UNIT soldiers finally having arrived,and Sarah and the doctor having survived two of Chase's attempts to turn them into living compost,Chase ends up being thrown into the compost machine before UNIT air bombers destroy the Krynoid and Chase's mansion. After Thackery denies a journey with the doctor,Sarah Jane and the doctor depart-again not quite ending up where they were supposed to be.

                One of the most emotionally charged and powerfully written stories of even this particularly strong era of Doctor Who,the main quality that thrusts this story forward is the characters and their motivations. Harrison Chase is not as clearly defined a villain as one might imagine. Every bit as cool and collected in manner as Roger Delgado's Master,this is a character who holds all animal life-humans included as being nothing more than an infestation to the plant life he obsesses upon. Dunbar and the survivalist Scorby are economically motivated by the eccentric millionaire's requests,which grow more extreme every time. Its Chase's character who provides this intense science fiction thriller with some of its most disturbing imagery-namely observing his own scientist Keeler,a noviolent man too cowardly to act on his ideals,as he suffers terribly while
transforming slowly and brutally into a Krynoid. 

           Though menacing,the Krynoid is presented only as advanced flora acting mostly on instinct-even acting on Chase in a manner similar to a picture plant. Therefore Harrison Chase becomes a character who has merely lost touch with all morality for the sake of his own obsession-as opposed to the stereotypical megalomaniac-type Doctor Who villain. For his part,Tom Baker portrays an unusually frightened and uncertain doctor-desperately attempting to keep the Krynoid's from infesting Earth and destroy all its animal life. He even resorts to bluffing with a firearm-one of the few times the character ever uses a gun at all. In presenting a "what if" story regarding humans often adversarial relationship with plant life,the superb writing and characters more than have the effect of allowing this story to live up to it's implied ideals.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Doctor Who-Terror Of The Zygons

                          Responding to his distress call to the TARDIS the doctor,Harry Sullivan and Sarah Jane Smith reunite with Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart in a small town of small Scottish town,after being driven there from their arrival point by the Duke Of Forgill-head of the surrounding area who is not particularly fond of Huckle,an official at Hibernian Oil,who owned one of the three oil rigs that have just been destroyed mysteriously. This is also apparently the reason that the doctor has been called back to Earth. When the Brigadier brings the doctor and his companions to Hibernian Oil headquarters for a briefing,Harry checks in on the injuries in the sickbay as Sarah elects to return to the inn to do some further investigating of her own.

                         At the inn Sarah meets up with Angus,landlord of the Inn,who describes how the Duke Of Forgill had not been himself of late. Meanwhile while driving along the coastline Harry observes a man coming out of the sea. He is Munro,apparently a survivor of the last oil rig to be destroyed who describes something monstrous having destroyed it. A man while a rifle shoots at both of them-killing Munro and injuring Harry. Harry is taken back to the Hibernian sickbay while the doctor investigates a destroyed part of the oil rig that he found at the sight. A plaster mold reveals two holes in the part to be the giant teeth of a type of as yet unknown massive subterranean creature. 

                          As Harry begins to regain consciousness,Sarah Jane returns to check on his progress and is soon set upon by an bright orange,invertebrate type creature while talking to the doctor by phone. The doctor follows her screams to find Sarah Jane in some type of decompression chamber,and Harry no longer in his sick bed. The doctor places her and himself in a trance while their oxygen supply is cut off. Harry is bought to the underwater spaceship headed by Broton,warlord of the Zygons. Their species planet was destroyed in a recent catastrophe and they are planning to repopulate Earth with their own species-preparing it for the arrival of the rest of their vessels in a few centuries.

                          One of the methods they use in an attempt to do this is by imprinted the physical form of different humans onto themselves. They've done this with the Nurse attending to Harry,the Caber who shot Munro as well as the Duke Of Forgill himself. They are also intending to use the use a giant cyborg-called the Skasaren,under their control to intimidate humanity into conceding to their demands. And whose lactic  fluid they are dependent on for their survival. Meanwhile the Brigadier and everyone at Hibernian HQ have been knocked out by some kind of nerve gas. While Benton has discovered Sarah and the doctor and taken them out of their trance,they learned the entire town have been knocked out in the same manner.

                     Once revived,Huckle gives the doctor some type of device found at the wreckage site of yet another oil rig that has been destroyed. After Sarah Jane is accosted by what turns out to be a Zygon using Harry as a template the doctor,Sarah Jane and Huckle notice the device moving on its own. The doctor takes the device with him to the Tulloch Moors while the Brigadier traces its homing signal on route. When the device fastens to the doctors hand he encounters he finally comes into contact with the serpentine Skasaren and,after the real Harry inadvertently trips the device on the Zygon ship,it unfastens from the doctors hand-by which time the Brigadier traces the original signal to Loch Ness.

                      The Doctor and Sarah then go to visit Forgill Castle,near the lake where the Sarah decides to stay behind,despite the skepticism of the Duke,to investigate any information on the Loch Ness Monster,whom of course the doctor is now convinced he has discovered. When she pulls out one book,a door opens from behind the bookshelf and after a bit of exploring she finds herself aboard the Zygon vessel. She manages to rescue Harry-after which the doctor surmises the mastermind behind the Zygon's plans for Earth was the Duke himself,of course already known to Harry as actually being Broton,warlord of the Zygons.

                      While the Brigadier and Sarah launch a series of charges to uproot the underwater spaceship once she and Harry have escaped,the doctor remains on board-rescuing each of the humans the Zygons had been imprinting and enlisted their help in setting off the ships self destruct mechanism before it lands. While Broton escapes,the other Zygons are destroyed while the doctor and the humans he rescued-including the actual Duke of Forgill,escaped and then reunited with Sarah Jane as well as the Brigadier and Harry.  Remembering reading in the castle how the Duke was president of the Scottish Energy Commission,the actual Duke explains the important world energy conference taking place at Stanbridge House in London. 

                   After arriving there to face down and kill Broton,the doctor feeds the Skasaren the Zygon signaling device to satisfy its energy needs-after it briefly gives London a mild scare. The Brigadier and the Duke Of Forgill decide that,while a few people had seen what occurred,neither men would reveal knowing anything about what had happened-in order,among issues of government,to keep the nature of the Loch Ness Monster a secret. The doctor than takes all of them back to see his TARDIS depart-this time with Sarah Jane alone as Harry's experience with the Zygon's left him to realize he wished to stay on Earth and continue his medical work for UNIT.

                    Probably the enormous vitality of this story comes from its synergy of production factors. There's the return of the Brigadier-who is revealed here to be a proud Kilt wearing Scotsman,and the UNIT family in general. There's also the enormity of strong supporting characters-each with unique motivations and the Zygons whom,despite the very rushed special effects of the first 26 years of Doctor Who was fairly well realized. Again there's also the element of the historical back-round of Scotland-with the Loch Ness Monster revealed as alien and not fully biological in nature. Even as the doctor explains it,there is a complete logic to all of it.

                   Another vital element of this story is the ecological ideas it presents. Very much in the spirit of The Green Death from three years earlier,there's a strong thread in this story about the stability of crude oil as not only a power source but a political bartering tool as well. The Zygons,who think of humans as weak and helpless,intend to use the position of The Duke Of Forgill in his nations Energy Commission to effect the sort of changes they wish to enact par the rest of their species arrival to conquer the Earth. Mention of plans to melt the polar ice caps also bring out some of the modern day conspiracy theories surrounding Earth's very real climate change. Featuring every known hallmark that made Doctor Who so successful in the mid 1970's,this is additionally a superbly written example of science fiction fantasy with contemporary intrigue and mystery.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Doctor Who-Revenge Of The Cybermen

                          Upon leaving Skaro using the time ring that was provided by the time lords the doctor,Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan find themselves aboard Nerva yet again-only thing time with a TARDIS having yet to catch up in time to them and confronting corridors filled with dead crew members. The doctor is soon able to determine they have arrived on Nerva a millennium before the solar flares had threatened Earth as indicated on their previous encounter there. Of course in another area of Nerva,at this time acting as a mere beacon,the dead crew members don't prove to be quite the mystery they are to the doctor and his companions at this point.

                     In the communications area of Nerva beacon,survivors such as Commander Stevenson are about to warn away an approaching spaceship. A planetary surveyor named Professor Kellman how long Nerva can be run with a skeleton crew-seeing as its acting as a warning beacon to advise newcomers  against a plague that has killing off the crew of Nerva-in fear of it spreading to Earth and perhaps farther.  As the doctor and his companions continue exploring what has happened on Nerva,a signal comes from the nearby Jupiter satellite Voga,apparently once referred to as Neo Phobos but before crew member Warner can intercept the signal,he is killed by a Cybermat and Kellman removes the recorded film of the transmission.

                        At this point where Commander Stevenson and the Professor discover had already met the doctor,he addresses himself and his companions as perhaps able to help cure Warner and the rest of the surviving plague victims. Meanwhile on Voga-a world made of pure gold Vorus,Guardian of the Mines there is discussing how he was able to bribe one of the crew members of Nerva with gold,but said agent was not able to contact him because of possible interference from the Cybermen. Following Warner's death,the doctor than realizes where he heard the name Volga before-in reference to their long war with the Cybermen,to whom the constricting nature of gold constricts their life support apparatuses.

                          While investigating Kellman's quarters he locates a communications device as well as some gold. When Kellman becomes aware of this he attempts to sabotage the room with an explosive device,which the doctor counteracts with his sonic screwdriver. Meanwhile Sarah Jane is attacked while viewing local TV broadcasts by a Cybermat. Upon encountering this directly the doctor determines its the cybermats,not a plague that are the sources of death-using some type of deliberate poisoning. Despite Stevenson's continual fear of a plague,the doctor requests that Sarah Jane and Harry use the trans mat to transport down to the surface of Voga and back in order to rid her body of the poison via reconfiguration during molecular re-materialization.

                           Appearing within the gold mines of Voga,Harry and Sarah Jane are swiftly taken into custody by Vorus,who believes they are their to steal gold. The two companions become involved in the struggle between Vorus's wish to attack Nerva beacon using their rocket SkyStricker in order to take leadership of their world and reveal their identities,which goes against the opinion of the Chief Councilor Tyrum,who wishes to continue his peoples lives in hiding from the surviving Cybermen, who were thought to be dead to the rest of humanity,from discovering them and resuming the long war. On board Nerva,the doctor questions Kellman by using a cybermat to apply enough emotional pressure to convince him to unlock the petalium drive that would allow him to return Sarah Jane and Harry.

                           Unable to lock onto his companions due to their capture by Vorus he doesn't yet know of,the doctor is forced along with the remaining crew of Nerva as the spaceship docks with it and they are cornered by a small army of Cybermen led by the black helmeted cyberleader. He tells them that the Cybermen have come here specifically to destroy Voga,whose mass of gold is of course the greatest threat to their survival. Their intention is to employ a large amount of Cyberbombs,an extremely dangerous tactical weapon banned across the galaxy by this point,in order to use Nerva as one gigantic weapon to destroy Voga-with the doctor and the beacons surviving crew to be tied up with Cyberbombs that cannot be removed safely unless the unlocking code is transmitted.

                           The cybermen attempt to use the doctor and the Nerva survivors for a Kamikaze mission-implanting these bombs within the core of Voga in order to facilitate its destruction. Realizing at this point that Kellman was promised rule over the universe by the Cybermen should they be the victor,the doctor and Stevenson manage to free themselves from the Cyberbombs while Harry meets up with Tyrum,whose arguments with Vorus about his insistence on wanting Voga to again become a major trading post come to a fevered pitch and no choice is left but to end the strike against the Cybermen. With Sarah transporting up back up to Nerva,she and and the doctor are captured by the Cybermen there. 

                              With Nerva still on a collision course with Voga,the doctor manages to free himself and Sarah. He manages to instruct Harry on inside of Voga to use the controls of the SkyStricker's rocket to redirect its course to destroy the departing Cybermen ship. Of course Nerva's collision course remains active. The doctor only has a short amount of time to unlock the Cybmerman's grip manually and make a split second high speed slingshot around Voga-putting Nerva and the planet out of danger with the Cyberbombs now deactivated. Once Harry is transported on board Nerva,the TARDIS finally arrives with urgent news from Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart-after which the doctor and his companions intercept the message by returning to 20'th century Earth.

                                  From the beginning to the end,this story gains such a great deal in pace and plot twists that by the time all four parts of this serial are over,there seems in itself a near eternity of information to absorb. One of the keys to this story is the concept of political bickering taking the place of sound action in a crisis. The internal strike amid two parties of Vogans-one living in fear of protecting its financially valuable mineral nature with the other willing to share it for personal gain leaves both sides vulnerable to the Cybermen,who simply see the planet as a threat and want it destroyed. Its another example from Doctor Who-paralleling human reality,how the perceived need for individual profit is often deemed more important than a crisis effecting everyone.

                                  Another interesting twist of this story is the doctors treatment of the Cybermen. As unemotional cybernetic lifeforms incapable of feeling,the doctor continually taunts the cybermen using just about every verbal bullying tactic at his disposal-totally aware non of it has any effect on the Cybermen's psyche whatsoever. Though very out of character for his usual moral authority,the doctor augments this behavior by using a cybermat under his control to effectively intimidate Professor Kellman with anxiety in order to reveal the nature of his involvement with the Cybermen. Not only is this behavior usually of the type the doctor attempts to discourage others from engaging in,but brings out a now common thread of his character to sometimes resorting to desperately manipulative acts to overcome his foes.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Doctor Who-The Sontaran Experiment

                     First the doctor,than Harry Sullivan and (albeit on her back) Sarah Jane Smith materialize on the surface on Earth via Space Station Nerva's transmat unit. Due to their rough arrival,the doctor begins to repair the unit while Sarah and Harry explore the hilly wilderness region where they've materialized-seeking a little R&R and looking to confirm the doctor's insistence that they've materialized in the center of future Piccadilly Circus. Harry falls into a cavern thinking he was avoiding its edge. Sarah notices from a snapped twig that the ground directly below Harry had been filled-indicating a type pf deliberately placed snare.

                        Sarah returns to their materialization site to find the doctor to help Harry,but finds the doctor missing. When she returns to the cavern she finds Harry missing as well. Three astronauts named Vurul,Krans and Erac have discovered the doctor and taken him into captivity. They question him with little luck on their part to five members of their nine party expedition have gone missing-following them answering a distress call from Earth. In her travels Sarah has encountered another and the very distressed astronaut named Roth,who has been tortured by alien visitors of some type and dares not return to the camp site of his ship mates in fear they will locate him and resume the torture.

                           Along the way Roth and Sarah meet up with Vurul,Krans and Erac after they were each individually met upon by a robot that was giving all of them chase. And all three therefore follow Roth along with the now freed doctor. Sarah brings the doctor to the cavern where. The doctor then ends up falling into the same cavern as Harry had when looking for him. The robot than returns-using a lasso type restraint to drag Sarah and Roth to the alien spacecraft where Roth had apparently been tortured. The alien reveals itself to be a Sontaran,whom Sarah Jane believes to be Linx from her previous encounter with them in Earth's 13'th century.Its actually Field Major Styre of the Sontaran G-3 military assessment survey. 

                     He kills Roth right in front of Sarah when he attempts escape.  He then reports back to his marshal,whom is displeased that the progress of Styre's report needed for their invasion to begin. Harry,having walked out of the cavern from the opposite direction, overhears this and reunites manages to reunite with the doctor after an encounter with another of the astronauts hung on a rock and left for dead,and promising to help him. Sarah meanwhile is hung on a cave wall herself behind a force-field,where a Sontaran brain interface is allowing Styre to subject her to various fearful images,such as a snake and being absorbed by rock,to study her reactions as he's never encountered a female human.

                       While Vural,who apparently sold his companions out to Styre for the promise of protection,Krans and Erac are additionally being subjected to lifting an ever increasing weight crushing on of them, doctor manages to rescue her using his sonic screwdriver. Styre manages to knock out the doctor again after this-after which Sarah manages to locate it and Harry-after failing to help the dying astronaut Styre has been studying reunites with his two companions. 

                      The doctor wants to engage Styre in ritual combat since,in the change of gravity,this will allow Styre to be easily worn out and vulnerable. During this combat Harry enters Styre's vessel and disconnects a Tertullian diode device from which it's been drawing energy-which in turn drains the Styre of his energy and kills him. After warning the Sontaran marshal to steer clear,the doctor bids the surviving astronauts farewell as he,Harry and Sarah Jane attemp to use the transmat to return to Nerva.

                        This two part adventure serial is filled with a great deal of tension,uncertainty and often danger. The story is full of cruel and disturbing tests of the human astronauts as well as the doctor and his companions. Of course as done on the part of the extremely cold and callous Field Major Styre,these pleasure/pain experiments are very similar to that of some Nazi "physicians" such as Doctor Mengele. Harry's experience and compassion also comes vitally into play as he seeks to help one of the astronauts Styre is slowing killing for his own experiences.

                 Not only that but Tom Baker's split second wit as the doctor is on full display here,even (probably intentionally) revealing the credibility gap created by the non-appearance of the hibernating crew of Nerva-leaving a forming Galactic empire of humans that survived Earth's encounter with solar flairs believing Nerva itself to be a myth. This combined with the very real cruelty of Styre provides a superb and action packed morality play about how doubt of the truth can lead one to extreme peril. If such people are not terribly careful. 

*Being that this episode is a bridge between two other Doctor Who serials,I am taking this opportunity to alter the layout of my reviews by featuring my reviews for the two stories related to this. Note that the first of them was my very first review posting on this blog. And I have grown very significantly in my understanding of Doctor Who since. That being said,enjoy this review-as well as the follow two. Click on each photo to see the corresponding review. Thank you!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Doctor Who-My Personal Viewing Guide For New Viewers

 It wasn't a simple task to have Doctor Who explained to me when I first asked about it to that Newbury Comics employee nearly two years ago now. Through different life circumstances,my immediate family have become my best and often only friends. Within the last year my mother and father have taken up the task of watching Doctor Who themselves. My father wanted to start from the beginning,but has yet to be able to stay awake for the entirety of An Unearthly Child-for reasons totally unrelated to the quality of the story. My mother has shown a stronger interested in the modern hour long format of the show-citing David Tennant as a personal favorite.

                 Yet when approached by them with the idea of selecting which Doctor Who was the best jumping on point,I was scratching my head because it came to mind that it was easier to understand the show through viewing it than trying to verbally explaining it. As Mister Tennant's tenth doctor might say of Doctor Who,its actually a big ball of wibbly wobbly,timey wimey stuff. Though many Whovians speak of a canonical continuity to the show,the character of the doctor is constantly "getting involved" with altering the course not only of whole civilizations but of time itself-his moral code as flexible as the time vortex he travels through seems to be. 

                  In order to make some sense of this on my end,I would like to present to you-as part of my celebration of William Hartnell's birthday anniversary,my own guide for newcomers to Doctor Who. And it views the show as one continuum-not by divisions such as "classic who" and "new who";its all one inside the time vortex to me. This is not going to be a lost of Doctor Who stories that are necessarily classics or fan favorites. In fact some many be considered by some the very worst the show has to offer. What this list will present are stories from all of the doctors which include important milestones for the series-including personal revelations about the doctor himself. Brief descriptions of these revelations will be included with each episode. So please enjoy this list,than seek out these stories and begin your entry into the world of the time lords and the TARDIS. As the character of River Song would say,this does contain some spoilers.

*Includes the explanation of how the TARDIS received it's name-as well as the first glimpse of its "bigger on the inside" nature.

*The introduction of Terry Nation's iconic Daleks,their home world Skaro,their nemesis the Thals and includes enormous back round information on that particular subject matter.

*The first appearance of another member of the doctors race,as well as another time capsule (if I understand it,the TARDIS is a name exclusive to the doctors time machine)

*First appearance of the Cybermen. And most notable for the story that introduced the concept of the doctor regenerating into a new body.

*First appearance of the sonic screwdriver. To any newcomers this is one of the missing stories of Doctor Who. Only available as of now as an audio track on CD.

*The name of the doctors race,the time lords is officially revealed.

*First mention of the doctor had two hearts.

*Debut appearance of the doctors arch rival/nemesis The Master-as originally portrayed by the late Roger Delgado.

*Debut appearance of Omega,the original creator of the space/time vortex for the time lords. Also the tenth anniversary story for the show the introduced the concept of showcasing multiple incarnations of the doctor.

*First mention of the doctors homeworld Galifrey. Also the first appearance of the doctors most iconic companion Sarah Jane Smith.

*First appearance of the Dalek's creator Davros.

*The first Doctor Who story to fully explore Time Lord society,the history of the doctors time capsule TARDIS and the amount of times a time lord can regenerate.

*Debut and origin story for K-9,the doctors robotic dog companion.

*The debut of Romanadvortrelundar-known mostly as Romana,the doctors first and so far only fellow time lord companion.

*Final appearance of K-9 in the original run of the series,as well as the final appearance of Romana.

*The first appearance of the TARDIS's zero room-with yet further detail into the regenerative process.

*The final appearance of the sonic screwdriver during the series' original run.

*The debut appearance of Rassilon,the first leader of the time lords as well as being Doctor Who's 20th anniversary commemorative story.

*First and only story in the original run of the series where the TARDIS's broken chameleon circuit is repaired and it appears as objects other a Police Box.

*Reveals the nature of regeneration of regeneration as being a lottery.

*However controversial these revelation is to many Whovians,the doctor claims in this story that his mother was human. Also the debut of the eye of harmony-the main energy source for the TARDIS.

*The doctor first mentions the time lords being destroyed following a time war with the Daleks.

*Much about the back round of The Master is revealed here,including why he was driven to insanity and the nature of the drumming sound he has heard throughout his many regeneration's.

*The first time the doctor has had full physical interaction with the sentient aspect of the TARDIS itself-including the revelation they are physically joined.

           I hope that these 24 offerings will help any of you Whovian's who are asking similar questions as I have to introducing family,friends and co-workers to the complex world of Doctor Who. Of course once one is given the back round to the important facts about the show from these episodes there are many iconic and wonderful episodes of the series (such as The Aztecs,Tomb Of The Cyberman,Pyramids Of Mars,etc) for them to watch after that. Luckily many of these episodes are both educational as to the nature of Doctor Who but are also prime examples of the best this series has to offer. So again to all Whovians and soon to be Doctor Who admirers,at least,a very happy posthumous birthday to the late William Hartnell-the man who first portrayed the doctor over half a century ago now. Thank you!

*As a bonus,here's a special video about my collection of William Hartnell era DVD's.