RogerBW's Blog

Doctor Who Re-Watch, series 9 23 February 2014

As always, spoilers abound. See Wikipedia for production details

Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee
Jo Grant - Katy Manning

Day of the Daleks

One can't really blame the Chinese for refusing to attend the peace conference after what happened to them last time.

It's interesting that the first guerrilla from the future fades out when his time machine is activated, even though he's nowhere near it at the time. It's a fuzzy sort of setup that requires all sort of explanation which isn't really forthcoming. Why doesn't the gun also vanish, and for that matter the machine itself?

After five Dalek-free years, it's good to see them again, particularly invading Earth. The original plan was to keep them for the season finale (The Daleks in London), but the producers realised they didn't have a hook for the first story of the series (unlike the Third Doctor in series 7 and the Master in series 8) and asked Louis Marks to work Daleks into his story that would originally just have been about the dictatorship (maybe human, maybe alien, it's not clear) of the future and the time-travelling guerrillas. I think that would have been an interesting alternative; the Daleks often feel pretty superfluous here.

Given the title, the story couldn't hope to keep the Daleks' presence a secret, so I think it's sensible to give some short shots of Daleks in the first episode just to point out where they fit into the story (as the bosses of the Controller). This is of course the first time we've officially seen Daleks in colour (the 1960s films are a bit of a special case). Those colours are pleasingly muted, an effect I think works well. Their voices are rather more jerky than on previous occasions; they didn't use Roy Skelton this time, which may explain it. It's a pity that the BBC only had three and a half Dalek casings left at this point, though, as it restricts their actions early on and makes the final battle sequence far less convincing than it might be. (Mind you, slowly advancing across open ground isn't the best tactic anyway. Sure, the Daleks are armoured – but the Ogrons?)

The guerrillas themselves are thoroughly unprofessional, but that's probably not unreasonable given their situation. More worrying is the unsubtlety of the Controller; more worrying again is how readily Jo falls for his stories.

Even in this rare story that actually tries to be about time travel, the full implications of it are skated over. Sure, guerrilla A or dalek B can't have another go at the same point in time when he's already tried something; but why can't guerrilla C or dalek D try it instead? We ought to see dozens of guerrilla teams all arriving at the same moment. Instead, we get a sort of fixed bridge between 1972+N and let's say 2172+N, where N increases monotonically. It's The Chase all over again.

The short dirt-trike sequence seems out of place, particularly since it clearly can't actually outrun the Ogrons, but the blending of the title sequence into the mind probe screen is very nicely done and almost makes up for it.

Jo Grant has a mixed run, showing some actual skills and guts even if she does fall for the Controller's blarney, and the Doctor does rather better: the irascibility of last series is mostly gone, and he's started acting vaguely sensible again. (But the star for me is Anat. What can I say? She just gets on with her job.)

This is very much a story of its time: when war was averted by big peace conferences, when terrorists wore uniforms and had comprehensible motives, and indeed when a massive explosion at a peace conference would be automatically blamed on its organiser rather than terrorists or a hostile state. If you ignore the Daleks, it's actually rather good. (And I can't help but wonder whether it had an influence on The Terminator.)

The Curse of Peladon

I believe this is the first time that production order seriously diverges from broadcast order. The Sea Devils was made before Curse, but broadcast later.

What a lovely model for that castle! The brown/white hairstyles of the natives are a bit disconcerting at first, but for a bare cheap set the throne room isn't bad at all.

Meanwhile we see a lingering trace of Mike Yates' original purpose: to be a love-interest for Jo Grant. This was a line that never developed far, possibly because Richard Franklin wasn't really up to the job. Mostly here it's just used to put her in a new costume.

Surely if the TARDIS is rocking*, the thing to do is dematerialise and try again? But this is hardly the first time that elementary technique has been neglected; separating the travellers from the TARDIS is one of the classic tricks, and it fell down a hill in a very similar way back in The Romans.

*(no, not like that, that would be for the revived series)

The castle is so festooned with secret passages that one is amazed that King Peladon could possibly have failed to notice them. The sets are very effective, though; A small number of corridors, some in the official part of the castle and some below it, are re-used but never become samey. This story was under budget pressure during the planning phase since The Sea Devils was expected to be costly, so it gets by with no location shooting at all.

A young David Troughton is in his most Hamlet-esque as Peladon (his third and final role on the show, after being an extra in The Enemy of the World and having a short turn as Private Moor in The War Games, though he did return in the renewed series). He pouts well, but still gets the better of Jo in their big fight in episode 3.

It's lovely to see some decent aliens, even if Alpha Centauri is a bit, um, phallic. The robe was apparently added to downplay this a bit; it doesn't really work. Meanwhile Arcturus is more interesting, in a travel machine that's not so much Dalek as juke box; it's a pity the head is so humanoid, but never mind, the falling water is lovely. The voices are less good, particularly Ysanne Churchman (formerly of The Archers) as an Alpha Centauri who wouldn't sound out of place on Bagpuss' mouse-organ. The whole setup, of a background Galactic Federation considering the admission of a planet which apparently has a "native" human population, is an interesting one, implying a lost colony from an earlier era (and obviously loosely inspired by the debate over British entry into the EEC)… but all of it is essentially background to a locked castle mystery.

The mystery may not be as subtle and complex as one might hope, but this is Doctor Who, after all. The Ice Warriors are set up as the obvious villains, particularly as they're the only ones we've seen before; they end up being a bit nouveau glace, with a sudden niceness and civilisation that's never been hinted at before. Well, all right, maybe we're further into the future than in The Ice Warriors and The Seeds of Death (when, erm, if they didn't find a new planet to live on they were all going to die).

The duel in the pit seems gratuitous, though it's well-shot, exciting, and on a good set. Has the Doctor forgotten his Venusian karate again? Things change very suddenly at the end of this sequence, and the end of episode 3, though: Arcturus attacks (someone, ineffectively, even though he has total surprise), he's killed by the Ice Warrior, and everyone instantly agrees that everything was Arcturus' fault. (Yeah, yeah, ugliest looking alien is the bad guy again.) Apart from that, episode 4 starts off well, but the narrative impetus stops sharply with the fight in the throne room.

Hepesh could have been a stock Evil High Priest, but unlike most of the fictional breed there's no sign that he doesn't believe he's genuinely doing the best for Peladon rather than feathering his own nest. His dying speech certainly encourages this interpretation, and it's made at a point when he knows he has nothing more to lose.

Jo Grant's explanation of why she can't stay would be more convincing if Vicki hadn't accepted a much less appealing offer to stay in ancient Greece. I mean, yes, she has to leave because she's the series regular, and there might be problems of paperwork, but.

Anyway, it's a throwback, and not just because it was clearly conceived for a Doctor with a working TARDIS: an action story rather than a thinky one, particularly towards the end, but that's not a bad change of pace after Day of the Daleks and it's an action story that largely works.

In feel it's one of the first stories to remind me of the "classic" (late Baker) show I remember.

The Sea Devils

This is an odd story that doesn't really seem to know where it's going at first. Clearly most of the budget went on the locations. It's only really when we move to the abandoned fort (originally to be an oil rig, but the BBC couldn't get permission to film on one) that the usual sort of story begins; the business with the Master seems grafted on at first, though his presence was apparently part of the plan from the beginning.

Scripting is oddly sloppy: Jo already knows that she and the Doctor have no way off the fort when she says "let's get out of here". It's a bit leaden, too, with a clip from The Clangers more or less the only bit of humour (not counting that nonsense with the sandwiches that's a pointless and cruel recollection of the early Pertwee). Direction is mostly good, though oddly prone to Dutch angles down the corridors of the fort. One barely notices that Trenchard's office is a redress of the Doctor's UNIT lab from series 8.

After the previous year's work with the RAF, the BBC talked to the Royal Navy, who contributed stock footage of ships and weapons fire on condition that they be portrayed in a vaguely positive light; most of the (non-stunt) extras in the naval base scenes are real sailors.

The electronic score, by Malcolm Clarke, is often intrusive, partly because it's mixed very loud; it grabs attention as though it were diegetic sound from a weapon or device, when in fact it's just trying to set a scene for the viewer.

The curiously slow sword-fight towards the end of episode 2 seems entirely spurious; it's all very well, and I'm sure Pertwee and Delgado enjoyed it hugely, but it really doesn't have anything to do with the story. Repeating it, in full, at the start of episode 3 really is just padding.

The Sea Devils themselves are impressively mounted (though they strike me as more molluscoid than reptilian, really), but distressingly prone to violence; this isn't a re-hash of The Silurians even if it did have the same author. Later on things swing round a bit to the peacemaking mode, but it's too little and too late.

The submarine sequence in episode 3 is quite fun: the usual problems of extreme spaciousness are in evidence, but it's always good to see competent professionals doing their job. The commercial submarine model (probably of a Swiftsure) was slightly hacked about in the BBC props department, and apparently drew official attention after broadcast as the propeller in particular bore some resemblance to a prototype upgrade of the era.

By episode 4 it's entirely clear what's going on and the surprises have been sprung, but as usual in a six-parter things slow down. The diving sequence is a long and drawn-out way of getting the Doctor into the hands of the Sea Devils. The interference of the desperately caricatured PPS in episode 5 drags things out further, and combined with the sudden arrival of the Master in the undersea base (nobody ever gets wet while going from above water to the base) makes it clear that the diplomatic approach was always doomed.

The Monsters All Fall Over Device is an unfortunate deus ex machina, but it is at least not the ultimate solution to the Sea Devil problem. If I were writing a game to emulate this show, I'd have to have some system for making good-guy grunts more effective, and enemies less so, as the story went on. (This is the opposite of the usual approach of heightening tension as things continue; instead, the numbers on each side are increased.)

The miniature speedboats bring back memories of Day of the Daleks and those off-road buggies, but at least they're a little bit more useful this time. The hovercraft, well, how can one go wrong with an SR.N5?

The Brigadier is missing again here, and while Captain Hart is splendid it's more interesting to see the Doctor again without a support network. Having UNIT on call for unquestioning backup requires a lot of scriptwriter inventiveness to avoid the solution being "shoot all the monsters"; here the Doctor's completely cut off for a while, and it's much more interesting (until shooting all the monsters turns out to be the right thing to do).

It's not a bad story, overall; it just seems to take a lot of time not to do very much.

After this point, the HAVOC stunt crew was no longer used. They seem to me to have been contributing numbers more than interest; they're just terribly bad at looking like soldiers.

The Mutants

There's a huge and immediate problem here: the fleeing mutant is a dead ringer for the Monty Python "It's" man. This robs the scene of much of its dramatic impact.

This is another off-world mission for the Time Lords in the style of The Curse of Peladon. Alas, it doesn't do as well.

The story, by Baker and Martin on their second outing for the show, is obviously loosely inspired by the African independence movements of the era and particularly South African apartheid. But of course, as always with Who, it has to be simplified to fit into a bit over two hours. It ends up reminding me of classic Baker, but not in a good way. Chris Barry, directing, was unhappy with the political allegory and decided to down-play it, but the author's message still comes through quite heavy-handedly.

In this case, the dusky-skinned natives are so hot-headed that they can't shut up about freedom for the five minutes it would take them to realise they were being given it. Though, granted, even the "good" Administrator is pretty dim, going on with his yay-Earth speech in the face of the annoyed natives rather than just saying "right, independence, we're out of here".

Unfortunately the story, which starts off promisingly, devolves into back-and-forth chases and captures and escapes and all change partners. Jo's very much the plot-device here, being captured and being menaced and screaming (well, more gasping really) and running away into the CSO-ed depths of the caves. The Marshal's just a generic blustering bully, and seems largely to be another plot-device, though a more active one: whatever the stupidest thing to do would be, he will do it.

Sondergaard, with his shaved head and necklaces of wooden beads, seems remarkably modern to me; perhaps the dried-out ageing hippie has come back into fashion. The mutants themselves are excellent, vaguely reminiscent of cockroaches, but the way they shimmy about while in the confines of the Skybase and landside terminal brings back bad memories of The Web Planet.

Set dressing is grey, the planet is grey, everything's grey and tedious. The idea of a world with multi-century seasons would be explored more fully in Aldiss' Helliconia trilogy, but those didn't come out for another ten years and have little in common with this.

Why wasn't the Football of Message Carrying sent directly to Sondergaard? The Time Lords had enough knowledge to pin down Ky, after all. What's the point of the Marshal's terraforming plan, when all the Earth people are going home anyway and presumably have somewhere to go to?

It probably wouldn't have made a terrible four-parter.

The Time Monster

Another new-to-me story; by the time they brought out the book of this one, I'd stopped reading them.

After yet another use of the generic lava stock footage, an interesting start with the Doctor's nightmare. Unfortunately then we switch back to the grouchy argumentative Pertwee doing "believe me because I'm the Doctor"; it's never worked well in the show, even when Troughton was doing it, perhaps because it relies on an awareness of the Doctor's narrative role in the show which isn't available to characters within it. It's a cheap way of getting the audience on side, and he sticks with it through the story. What's more, the dream and the reference to Thera turn out in the end to be completely irrelevant.

The idea of the Master setting up time-based experiments is a great one, and reminds me of Image of the Fendahl mixed with City of Death, both of them stories I enjoyed; we also see the Master as dark mirror of the Doctor, with his experiments and assistants (even if Ruth is a bit of a central-casting stereotype feminist). That's all good stuff. But when the explanation starts coming through, with Kronos, Atlantis, and so on, it all tends to vanish into its own backside. The slow-moving soldiers are profoundly unconvincing, and it's a pity the producers couldn't manage some overcranking to go with the undercranking used for Bessie. (And how does someone recognise, through a window, at a distance, an unmarked Land Rover as "a UNIT jeep"?)

The Kronos-bird is fine while it's a glowing outline, not so good when we can actually see it; the High Priest is having a scenery sandwich with extra mustard, and the other Atlanteans aren't much better. Even the great Ingrid Pitt (plus her co-stars Ingrid Pitt's Breasts) is clearly running in full Hammer Horror mode, though whenever she's in a scene opposite Delgado they both up their acting games, and the effectiveness of their mutual seduction (with not an on-screen snog in sight) is a lesson the new series could stand to learn. The initial Atlantean temple set is a bit sparse and basic, but the others aren't too bad.

The balancing tricks seem, well, silly even by the standards this show has set for itself. And then a sudden knight and Roundheads; they feel far more like padding than anything else, particularly given how few casualties there seem to be on either side. The stock footage V-1 is just the icing on this very odd cake.

The new TARDIS interiors were intended to be the standard from this point on, but as it turned out they got damaged in storage so were only used for this one story. Probably a good thing, really; the "washing-up bowl" effect is a bit obvious. The TARDIS-in-TARDIS prefigures Logopolis in a way that makes the latter story seem frankly rather less clever than it did at the time.

(And because I am the sort of person who'd check: no, that's not backwards speech in episode 4. I'm assuming it's just nonsense noises.)

In effect this is two different stories, and they don't match well. The modern investigation sort of peters out while the Atlantis story gets going, and is then wrapped up in a quick scene at the end. The Doctor's "daisy" speech is a pleasant bright spot, but it can't really salvage the tedium of the rest of the narrative, or the very sudden reversal and literal deus-ex-machina of the ending.

(This is of course the third incompatible explanation for the destruction of Atlantis given in the show. It's even less impressive when one realises that Sloman (and Letts) had also given us the second one, just a year earlier in The Daemons.)

This story has a bad rep among "serious" fandom, and my word it certainly isn't good, but it's not as bad as I'd been led to expect. Not down there with The Mutants, at any rate. With a bit of tightening up, perhaps with more emphasis on the time slippages and less on the Atlantean politics (particularly since Galleia's change of heart is meaningless in the end anyway), it could have been pretty good. Going back to the well of The Daemons just showed how much more was needed to make a good show beyond just some interesting ideas.

Overall impressions

After two series that have been consciously not looking back at the show's history, this one actively does: the return of the Daleks and the Ice Warriors, and the showing of Troughton and Hartnell on the Daleks' mind probe screen.

Pertwee's mostly less irascible and more sympathetic than before, though he definitely has his nasty moments.

It may just be coincidence that it's the last two stories in the series that are the worst, but to me the show's starting to feel tired again.

Next: back into space/time.

Favourite story of this series: The Curse of Peladon.

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 11:40am on 23 February 2014

    I'm a bit surprised that New Who hasn't done a fall of Atlantis story yet. I'm sure it will get round to it.

    The changing character of Pertwee's doctor you refer to reminds me of my annoyance at the change in Tennant's doctor. I liked his early period a lot, helped by Martha being my favourite new series companion. When they had Tennant's doctor become all miserable and morose and travel without a regular companion for a year of somewhat wasted one offs it really annoyed me.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 12:49pm on 23 February 2014

    I think something similar was tried with Colin Baker's doctor, but the fans turned off in droves before the arc could become apparent.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 06:20pm on 24 February 2014

    And Colin Baler was supposed to be an annoying doctor that everyone disliked, who would gradually become a nice person. But the BBC Director General didn't like his doctor, and a condition of continuning Doctor Who was that the actor must change. Which lead to Sylvester McCoy, who I quite liked as the doctor (though some of the scripts he had were dire). I also liked Ace as a companion, so that's another thing to recommend the McCoy era.

    But I digress. The point is that long term arcs involving a change in the doctor's personality have a history of back firing.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 06:28pm on 24 February 2014

    I suspect that when we get to that late stage of the show I'll be digging more into the production politics in order to avoid thinking too hard about how anyone could have thought Timelash was a good idea. Something I'm definitely noticing from this serial rewatch, which I didn't get when picking out stories individually, is the effect of changes to the production team and the way a lead actor can start to feel that he's in charge.

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