Friday, April 04, 2014

Back to Who: A jaunt through Time and Space

It should come as a surprise to no one who followed this blog in late 2013 that I've dived back into Classic Doctor Who. Not just Enemy of the World I got for Christmas but a whole lot more.

Of course that's where I started. A little bit of time left in 2013 I watched Enemy of the World and got to see Doctor Who does James Bond from a caravan. And honestly, it was kind of brilliant.

Yes, there were problems with it. The budget, for one, that results in one of the many bases we visit scattered across the world being a caravan, and the strong arm tactics of the secret police smashing some plates. It's this moment that Enemy of the World really stumbles. But apart from that it does a lot right. The opening episode is absolutely fantastic, and likely where the budget went. A hovercraft chase, quickly followed by a helicopter chase, and then a couple of shoot-outs, the team waste no time letting you know they're going full on James Bond here. With the big bad guy Salamander also being played by Troughton himself we're set up for the Doctor impersonating him, and a final showdown between the two.

Yet that showdown takes its time in happening, with the Doctor seemingly hesitant to get involved, we instead get a neat episode with Jamie and Victoria going undercover and a lot more of Salamander. What's really impressive is we're also introduced to Fariah, a character who is a decent, fully fledged and strong role for a black actress, which is pretty forward thinking for 1967. Especially in a serial where Troughton 'blacks up' to play a Mexican version of himself with a rather stereotypical accent.

But that accent aside, Enemy of the World doesn't let up, with double crosses, twists and revelations coming think and fast. I loved Enemy of the World, and thanks to its ending I immediately jumped into Web of Fear. Which is my first and only brush with a reconstructed story, and as a result I've sworn off them. I realise that this means I miss a lot of the Troughton era. It's got nothing to do with the episode itself, but my attention is a terrible thing, and without enough happening on screen it wandered.

Other than that, Web of Fear was a good serial, and probably more accurate representation of the Troughton era as it was another base under siege story, something that this era apparently suffers from an over indulgence of. Certainly I recognised a lot of tropes from Tomb of the Cybermen. The introduction of the Brigadier – here a Colonel – was an interesting aside. Marking just how unattached this character was to his future incarnation he spends the majority of the serial as one of the prime suspects for being the Great Intelligence's agent. Knowing the future spoilt that, but Troughton and Courtney pulled it off with so much aplomb that it still worked despite that. The Great Intelligence was another unexpected bonus from watching this, having It be one of the big problems from Name of the Doctor it was good seeing it in action without it just being the return of Richard E. Grant's character, which it was to my old New Who Only self.

Deadly Assassin was one of those I put in my watching due to its lore contributions, and because Tom Baker's time was so big I felt like watching some more. I went in knowing that for some reason we got to learn of the Twelve Regenerations, I didn't expect chargrilled Master, or the Doctor's previous adventures working for the Time Lords to be cast under the CIA. That's the Celestial Intervention Agency, not the US intelligence agency. I also wasn't expecting full on psychedelia with the Doctor running around the inside of a computer fighting for his life against another Time Lord in there. I went in expecting some sort of political thriller and got that. It really impressed me. It didn't get me rethinking my opinion of Tom Baker's Doctor, but it did give me more of an appreciation of his era.

Next I jumped to Resurrection of the Daleks, a tale from late in the Fifth Doctor's adventures. This is a much bigger jump than I anticipated, The regeneration of Four to Five is high on my list to watch, but it does show just how haphazard my watching was going to be. It was also the first time that really addressed just what my intentions were. Actually a good part of this was the plan to see more of the fifth to seventh Doctors, since they form the majority of the Big Finish audio dramas, a concept I've long been intrigued by, and now I'm in deep in Who I really want to dig into. I've actually already started, but that can wait for another entry.

For now, lets deal with Resurrection of the Daleks. My brief dalliance with Peter Davidson had struck me that he seemed like a damn good Doctor, but Earthshock never seemed enough, the Five Doctors supported my thoughts but he also had to contend with three of the previous actors. Resurrection cemented him as a favourite. There's a scene when he realises the Dalek's are involved and he starts fighting back with the Army. During the hunt for the Dalek he's wielding a pistol, desperate to kill a member of his long-time nemesis. Then, with the Dalek dealt with, he lets go of the gun, disgusted by it, holding it like it is an extremely filthy piece of garbage he's found. That flip was not only amazing to behold, but perfectly captured the Doctor's mindset of when he's dealing with the Daleks versus not doing. Tegan's own revelation of the nature of the Doctor, and her subsequent decision to leave the TARDIS sums up a hard adventure for our Timelord.

It also helped me figure out the Daleks quite a bit. As I mentioned before, my only Classic Who experience had only been Hartnell's The Daleks and Baker's Genesis. Matching them up to New Who Daleks was a bit of stretch. Resurrection cleared that up. Time tunnels, rescuing of Davros from a prison space station, their betrayal of him and his double cross back gave a good bridge to what I know is to come. This left me with a problem though.

Trying to figure out what came next was a difficult task. I was already starting to question just what I was watching. After Resurrection, part of me wanted to go to Colin Baker's Revelation and McCoy's Remembrance. Covering their last appearances in Classic. Especially given how highly regarded Remembrance is. But around this time I had consulted with a proper die-hard Whovian just what I should include in my watching, and had got shouted at for my sporadic approach. I was told to watch it all or nothing. That scared me a bit, and two other Whovians said it was a bit heavy handed but if I was going in, the start was a good place to go. So figuring my best course of action was to watch a solid sequence, I pressed on with The Planet of Fire, the serial that immediately followed Resurrection. It wasn't originally on my list of recommendations, but it features the arrival of Peri and the departure of Turlough (and Kameleon but we'll ignore that) and is the only episode between Resurrection of the Daleks and the Davison/Baker regeneration story of Caves of Androzani. I figured I might as well as watch it. It's also clear that there was a very big shift going on here. Resurrection saw the exit of Tegan, here two more companions leave as well as their replacement joining, with the regeneration next serial. It was a long thought out staged swap. A clearing of the deck for a new era, that was rather expertly done. Shame the following era wasn't.

Caves of Androzani is another one of those episodes that fans hold in high regard, and is often considered one of the best regenerations. Yet I found it slightly lacking. I'm not sure why, and I'm writing this a good few weeks after watching it, and I mostly remember it with fondness. I think it suffered mostly because I knew just how the regeneration took place. Peri's dying for most of the serial, and the Doctor is suffering the same but is able to keep going thanks to his alien biology. He's only able to find enough to save one of them, so obviously he saves Peri as he will regenerate. But because he's poisoned, and maybe because he's doing his best to hold it at bay long enough to save Peri, that regeneration isn't quite as smooth as it should be. It is a powerful scene, but when you know the result before it even starts, it loses a lot of its punch. The fact the main bad guy was basically a power mad gimp didn't help either. It was good, but not great.

The Twin Dilemma is one I agree with the majority though. Once again, I knew the Peri twist. This time the newly regenerated Doctor tries to strangle her. So that part lost its momentum with me, but here knowing that twist ruined nothing, because The Twin Dilemma is pretty awful throughout. The twins of the title don't have a great deal to do with much, other than being a macguffin. The main aliens are helping the big bad for the sole reason of they can. The Doctor's frequent mental breakdowns are far too plot orientated. It's just a mess.

But The Twin Dilemma did offer a good stopping point. I had tangled with a lot of Six already. I briefly contemplated going back to my Daleks plan. But I didn't. I stopped, and after a few weeks I went back to where it all began. An Unearthly Child.

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