Monday, August 04, 2014

Doctor Who burns up in Inferno

After a full season of Earth based, UNIT centric episodes I have to say, I'm not a fan. I don't mind the occasional visit to our own planet, The Troughton episode Invasion - which gave so much to this era of the show - was great, but after three stories I was ready to go somewhere else, never mind after the fourth.

Yes I know. I'm almost contradicting everything I said at the end of The Ambassadors of Death, but Inferno was everything that was wrong with the shift to Earth, and has properly put me off.

But this series hasn't just been the shift in focus to Earth, but a number of changes of how Doctor Who is presented. Some are minor like experiments with how to reshow the cliffhanger before the titles (Ambassadors of Death) or do something a little different with the title itself (both Inferno and Ambassadors), but the most obvious is the extra length the production team decided to make the stories. After an absolutely fantastic – and only four part – opener with Spearhead from Space all the other three serials shifted to seven parts.

It worked for The Silurians and Ambassadors, but with Inferno it really does suffer for the length. The pacing is completely off. Events are dragged out far longer than needed. Scenes that have no real reason to exist other than just make time crop up far too often. I'm pretty sure there's a huge swath of parts five and six that could be condensed into a single episode without losing any of the narrative. Also the whole premise of the alternate reality – its first inclusion in Doctor Who – is wasted and basically serves as a way to have two versions of a number of scenes.

It does take the bold step of of trying to tell stories in both timelines, with the evil universe operating slightly faster than the normal, and the Doctor trying to get an evil Brigadier – Brigade Leader no less – to listen, but he's evil and doesn't. It seems obvious what should happen. The Doctor accidentally travels sideways into the 'mirror universe' where everyone is evil and because of that he is unable to stop the disaster. He then travels back and uses his foreknowledge gained from the trip to avert said disaster here. Only that's not what happens. The Doctor doesn't act calmly upon his return but starts ranting and raving, leaving the Brigadier to figure he's gone mad from the travel, and everything ends in the same fight as the other world and the producers get to make second use of the reveal that the big bad has de-evolved thanks to the nasty gas. It's just so un-Doctor Who, and a waste of the alternate reality.

One of the other problems Inferno suffers is something that the entire Pertwee era is lambasted with. Malcolm Hulke, author or a number of episodes in the previous eras, reckoned that there were only two basic story types with the UNIT format: alien invasion or Earth-based mad scientists. So far, in the first season of this new format and we've had two Invasion storylines, but one cleverly concealed as ancient lizards waking up instead of extra-terrestrials arriving. The Ambassadors of Death could be considered another invasion, but again it was cleverly subverted. Inferno is our first mad scientist story, but we're already using a cliché of a character for the mad scientist. The guy in-charge who refuses to believe what's going on and just wants to push on with his job, only for him then to succumb to a horrible fate. He's exactly the same character as Lawrence from The Silurians, except instead of being the annoying management he's the ego-centric scientist.

A full season in, and Pertwee has solidified himself as one of my least favourite Doctors. It's not just his irritability I saw in The Daemons, though without Jo that's only aimed towards the too militaristic Brigadier as Liz mostly keeps up with him, or at the very least has his corner. It's the poor attempts at humour, the Venusian martial arts, and the entire premise of his era in the role. He's too stoic. Which is odd coming from someone who can find redeeming qualities in the Sixth Doctor.

Last time out with The Ambassadors of Death I said that the first three serials had made a compelling argument for Doctor Who being based on Earth. Inferno has killed all that. I'm hoping it was a blip and The Terror of the Autons shows that there is potential. At the very least there's the move away from seven episode serials to improve things.

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