Doctor Who Write-Ups, Uncategorized

Doctor Who – The Seeds of Death (1969)

seedsofdeathIn the late 21st century, the dominant mode of transportation is the transmat, which allows the instantaneous teleportation of all people and objects to anywhere on Earth or Earth’s moon bases. However, the main relay station for the transmat station on the moon is attacked and taken over by Ice Warriors, unbeknownst to the transmat operations crew on Earth. The director of the relay station manages to sabotage the transmat equipment before one of the Ice Warriors kills him. Threatening the surviving technicians, the Ice Warriors try to force them to jury-rig a way to Earth.

Meanwhile the TARDIS lands at a space exploration museum. The Doctor plays a recording about transmat technology but is rudely interrupted by a man with a gun, Professor Eldred, the owner of the museum. Eldred is bitterly skeptical that anyone has any interest in his museum; since transmats became widespread, public interest and funding in space travel dried up. Eldred is getting his chance to shine, though, since the head of the transmat operations center, Commander Radnor, and his assistant, Gia Kelly, know Eldred has been secretly working on a rocket and need it to investigate what’s gone wrong on the moon. The matter becomes even more urgent when one of the technicians on the moon managed to get a vague warning back to Earth and ends up killed by an Ice Warrior for his trouble. Unfortunately, there are no trained astronauts available. Jamie suggests using the TARDIS, but Zoe points out it could overshoot by a “few million years.” So the Doctor volunteers to pilot the rocket himself.

One of the technicians, Fibbs, escapes and finds a safe place to hide, but the other surviving technician, Fewsham, complies with the Ice Warriors by rigging up a way to temporarily repair the transmat system. Kelly takes the opportunity to take the transmat up to the moon to finish repairs, believing Fewsham’s claims that the station director went on a rampage. In another part of the base, Fibbs manages to kill one of the Ice Warriors with concentrated solar power, although this also has the effect of messing up the one way for Eldred’s rocket to hone in on the relay station. Luckily Fibbs gets in touch with the Doctor through an emergency broadcast and helps him safely land the rocket. Unfortunately, soon after arrival Zoe finds that the rocket still got too damaged to travel back to Earth and the Doctor is captured by the Ice Warriors.

Since their already harsh and limited habitat on Mars is dying, the Ice Warriors plan to use the transmat to teleport pods around the Earth containing a Martian fungus that will absorb oxygen and “martiaform” the Earth, killing Earth life while making the planet habitable for Martian life. On Earth, the pods manage to start affecting the climate and causing the deaths of humans, even as the shut down of the transmat system starts causing social chaos. Back on the moon, Zoe succeeds, at the cost of Fibbs’ life, in sneaking through some maintenance corridors to the main control room, where she cranks up the heat, murdering all the Ice Warriors in the station.

The Doctor, Jamie, Zoe, and Kelly return to Earth via transmat, but Fewsham tricks them into leaving without him. Experimenting on the fungus, the Doctor discovers it’s vulnerable to water. Jamie and Zoe go to a weather control station to have rain made to combat the fungus, but an Ice Warrior has already been there to kill the sole technician and sabotage the control panel. In a broadcast to Earth, Fewsham manages to trick the Ice Warriors into giving away the homage signal of an invasion fleet from Mars on route to Earth, sacrificing his life. Finding out that an Ice Warrior was spotted near the radio station, the Doctor rushes over there to help Jamie and Zoe. Designing a makeshift weapon with a solar energy device, the Doctor destroys the Ice Warrior and fixes the weather control station.

Armed with a fake homing signal designed by Kelly, the Doctor returns to the moon and confronts the remaining Ice Warriors. Although the Ice Warriors figure out his plans, the Doctor tricks them into thinking they’ve thwarted him at the last minute, when in reality the fleet has already fallen for the fake signal and gets drawn fatally close to the sun. Jamie appears via transmat and helps the Doctor dispatch the last remaining Ice Warriors. Back on Earth, as Eldred and Kelly get into a heated debate over reviving rocket technology, the Doctor and company slip away.

Our Future History

Good news! By at latest the last decades of the 21st century, solar power will be commonplace, weather control technology will be perfected (at least to the extent that rain can be generated), and the hassles of airplane travel will be a thing of the past because everyone will be using instantaneous teleporters. The bad news is that the technology of transmats seems to have created a society that’s so complacent space exploration is basically non-existent and that it can’t function without the transmats because apparently no other forms of transportation are readily available.

Continuity Notes

This series introduces Doctor Who‘s answer to Star Trek‘s transporters: transmats or “t-mats” as they’re mostly called here.

It’s strongly implied, but not spelt out, that Ice Warrior society, or at least their army, operates on a caste system with different ranks wearing different armor. Also by the 21st century the Ice Warrior species is dying out, reducing their numbers so much that despite having superior military technology they can’t just conquer Earth through brute force. This rather puts the Doctor sending an entire fleet of them hurtling into the sun in a darker light, especially if you’re use to the new series and its (occasionally) more pacifist interpretation of the Doctor…

Comments

The Second Doctor battles his true archenemy: foam!

I kid, sort of, but really this is a prime example of how old-school Doctor Who made the most out of so little. The actors playing the Ice Warriors visibly have a hard time getting around in their costumes, and there’s plenty of scenes of the Doctor and random security agents solemnly fighting their way through soapy foam, which originates from “pods” that are obviously balloons. And yet, unless those elements are insurmountable for you (in which case, you really shouldn’t be watching ’60s Doctor Who), there are genuinely thrilling moments to be had here, like Fibbs’ escape or whether or not Fawbsham’s heroic turn will lead to his doom. Doctor Who had long made it clear even by this point that anyone not on the TARDIS crew can die (and on rare occasions not even then!), but I don’t think any previous series exploited that to such good effect.

Plus this series seems to break the mold when it comes to characterization. Even the better Second Doctor serials tended to draw from the same pool of stock characters (i.e., the hardcase authority figure who cracks up when faced with an unprecedented crisis), but here we have a cowardly man who believably becomes willing to commit to a heroic sacrifice, a heroic man who at one point suffers a debilitating panic attack that almost derails Zoe’s plans, and a woman who is dedicated to her career but never slips into cliched “soulless professional woman” or “strong independent woman” territory. But I particularly liked Professor Eldred, a man genuinely in love with rocket technology but extremely and understandably embittered by how society has abandoned it for transmats. The idea of society becoming too dependent on a form of technology was probably not an original theme even in 1969, but a disillusioned scientist whose passion has been tossed away by society was a unique angle to approach it with. Even if it’s not entirely believable that society would ignore all other forms of transportation (after all, we still have transcontinental trains in spite of the option of air travel), there is something all too relateable to Eldred’s rage over dedicating himself to a field of knowledge that the wider culture has deemed unimportant on a whim.

Well, maybe it’s just relateable to me…

What else can I say? I enjoyed this one immensely, and recommend it to anyone who wants to test the waters of Doctor Who‘s black and white era.

 

Advertisements
Standard
Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Krotons (1969)

krotonsEvery year a race who call themselves the Gonds select their two best students to become the “companions” of the Krotons, which is considered a great honor. Outside the Gonds’ city, the Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie arrive, seeing a desolate world with twin suns. Despite his companions’ reluctance, the Doctor insists they set out to explore. They stumble across a Gond being disintegrated in a machine. Next they come across a group of Gonds, where one, Thara, is struggling to stop his lover Vana from being sent to the Krotons. The Doctor recognizes the door as resembling the one that led into the deadly machine. Unable to stop Vana from going to the door, they and Thara rush out into what the Gonds call “the wastleland” to try to find her. They save Vana from being destroyed, but she’s in a catatonic state. After taking Vana’s unconscious form to the home of Thara’s father, a Gond leader named Silras, he explained to the Doctor and the companions that the custom of submitting two of their smartest young people to the Krotons started a thousand years ago, when according to legend the Krotons came from the sky and were attacked by the Gonds. The war ended when the Krotons brought down a poison rain that devastated most of the planet. The Gonds consider the Krotons to be their benefactors, who have set up machines that see to all of their needs and education, but no one has seen a Kroton in centuries. However, after explanation time the Doctor and Silras realize too late that Thara and a group of rebellious students have started smashing the Krotons’ machines in the city’s main hall.  The Doctor arrives on the scene, only to be terrorized by, well, a probe (there’s no way to make that sentence sound less than filthy).

Zoe tests herself on one of the machines and in a trance tells the Doctor that she knows the Krotons are “very pleased” with her. The Doctor is dismayed when the Gonds want to have Zoe sent to them and takes the test for himself to make sure he can accompany Zoe. After being assured by Silras that his people will “always remember him,” the Doctor and Zoe go to meet the Krotons. Inside the Krotons’ lair, the Dynatrope, Zoe and the Doctor find themselves having their mental energy siphoned off. Thanks to not being subjected to a lifetime of brainwashing like the Gonds, however, the Doctor and Zoe are able to rush through the Dynatrope, taking some liquid to analyze later, and escape. Jamie breaks in after them, only to wind up the Krotons’ latest test subject. Under the Krotons’ mental conditioning, Jamie blurts out about the TARDIS.

Jamie learns that there are only two Krotons. They are an immortal crystaline species who have been trying to collect enough mental energy into the Dynatrope, which is their ship. In a run-in with one of the Krotons in the wasteland, the Doctor figures out that the Krotons cannot see in the light and rely on directions from their partner inside the Dynatrope. Meanwhile a power struggle among the Gonds ends with the ambitious Eelek coming to power. Eelek agrees to the Krotons’ demands that they hand over the “high brains”, meaning the Doctor and Zoe. Forced into the Dynatrope by Eelek and his supporters, the Krotons demand that the Doctor and Zoe use their mental energy to help fuel and pilot the Dynatrope back to the Kroton homeworld. Unfortunately for the Krotons, the Doctor was able to analyze a way to contaminate the Krotons’ energy supply  with sulfuric acid and Zoe manages to do so while the Krotons are explaining why they need some “high brains.”  Thara and Vana use sulfuric acid to destroy the entire Dynatrope, while the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe slip away.

Choice Quotes

“Yes, well, Zoe is something of a genius.  It can be very irritating at times.”
-The Doctor

Continuity

It’s when the Second Doctor says “Oh my giddy aunt”, which still gets erroneously remembered as his catchphrase.

This is the first time an episode was written by Robert Holmes, who would go on to easily become the most famous scriptwriter who ever worked on the show besides Douglas Adams. Ironically enough, Holmes’ relationship with “Doctor Who” started as something of an accident. “The Krotons” was actually a heavily reworked idea he had for his own serial that he pitched to the BBC and got rejected. Someone suggested he take the idea to the producers of “Doctor Who”, who rejected it againuntil the script was found years later when an assistant script editor was clearing the script backlog. And even then it didn’t get produced until it was needed for an emergency replacement for an episode that got axed!

Comments

It’s the debut of “Who” legend Robert Holmes as the scriptwriter and it’s…okay.

From what I’ve read, the script got some major overhauling from whatever Holmes originally envisioned into a “Doctor Who” episode, but you can still see the scars from that surgery. There’s a complicated political subplot with the Gonds that suggests something deeper, but it all feels really compressed (especially when a couple of characters key to the plot seem to pop up out of nowhere) and ends up just being why the Doctor and Zoe get stuck on the Dynatrope. It has the effect of making these episodes, a short series by the standards of this era of the show, feel like they’re treading air.

A real missed opportunity was the monsters du jour, the titular Krotons themselves, who really bring to mind the giant Servo from MST3K. I get this was an emergency replacement so we couldn’t expect too much, but, given how many details the episode gives about the Krotons being truly alien, they’re really a missed opportunity. Instead of the sheer weirdness of the Animus from “The Web Planet,” we just get what comes across as yet another second-rate replacement for the Daleks.

For all that, there is a certain weight to the story that makes it believe that this still came from one of the best writers to work on the show. The setting has a little more depth than what we usually see, even if the characters can’t agree if the Krotons had been around for a thousand years or thousands of years. Appropriately enough for Holmes who would become famous for hammering in a message into his episodes, there does seem to be an interesting theme in here, about a society that literally sacrifices its brightest for the self-interest of a couple of war-loving goons it wrongly sees as its benefactors. I bet it’s no accident that you can easily read all of that into the Doctor’s struggle against two bulky cousins of Tom Servo.

Standard
Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Invasion (1968)

doctorwhotheinvasionThe TARDIS gets stuck over the dark side of the moon where its crew spy a UFO. Before they can investigate, the UFO fires a missile at the TARDIS, but it teleports away to a farm in the English countryside at the last second. Because of a circuit damaged by the explosion, the TARDIS becomes invisible. The Doctor decides to go to London and look up their friend Professor Travers for help repairing the TARDIS’s circuit, concerned only that they might be in a time when Travers is an infant. Jamie, Zoe, and the Doctor hitch a lift with a truck driver, who is trying to get away from an industrial compound run by International Electrometics, the world’s largest electronics company which holds almost a global monopoly. After clearing a guard post, the truck driver forces the Doctor and his companions off at a field, and they end up having to hitch another ride. Unknown to them, the driver is pursued and detained by two IE guards on motorcycles, and shot to death. At Professor Travers’s townhouse, they find out that Travers and his daughter Anne are in the United States. The house is being watched by a former teacher of Anne’s, Professor Watkins, an electronics expert who happens to work for IE, and his niece Isobel, a photographer. The Doctor tries to call Watkins at IE’s London headquarters, but he has apparently disappeared. The Doctor and Jamie decide to go to IE’s office in person, only to find to his frustration that there’s no human staff, only computers. Eventually Jamie and the Doctor are brought to Tobias Vaughn, IE’s Managing Director. Vaughn assures the Doctor and Jamie that Watkins is working on an experiment and has demanded total isolation while promising to have his top engineers repair the damaged circuit. However, the Doctor is suspicious, noticing that Vaughn did not blink normally for a human.

After the visit, the Doctor and Jamie are taken to a landed jet where they meet the former Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, now a Brigadier. He explains that he’s been put in charge of a new organization, UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Task Force), which has been investigating mysterious disappearances at IE. Jamie recognizes the truck driver from before among the Brigadier’s photographs of UNIT agents who have been investigating IE. Vaughn gets into contact with some alien beings through a device, which warns him that the Doctor is “hostile” and, while they have never been on Earth before, they encountered him previously on “Planet 14.” Then Vaughn is instructed to watch out for anything that might interfere with the planned invasion. Just at that moment, Zoe and Isobel show up looking for the Doctor and Jamie, but are ultimately taken by Vaughn’s goons, who use them as bait for a trap to capture the Doctor and Jamie, who have volunteered to go back to investigate for UNIT.

All of them are taken to IE’s compound, where the Doctor and Jamie are introduced to Watkins, who is being extorted into compliance with the life of his niece. Vaughn hopes to learn more about the TARDIS by spying on the Doctor and Watkins’s conversation, but the Doctor sabotages the surveillance camera with a magnet. Vaughn threatens to kill Zoe if the Doctor doesn’t give him information about the TARDIS, but Jamie and the Doctor escape.  When his security chief and co-conspirator Packer admits he is worried that he is taking a huge risk by refusing to follow orders to kill the Doctor in order to get the TARDIS, Vaughn confides that he’s having Watkins work on a machine that can broadcast emotions, which he hopes to use to control his allies after the invasion. Finding Zoe and Isobel, the Doctor and the others finally get out of the compound with the help of a UNIT helicopter. However, the Doctor doesn’t take long to sneak back into the compound when the Brigadier tells him that UNIT has been getting reports of UFOs for the past year. At the compound, the Doctor finds his suspicions confirmed:  Vaughn is working with the Cybermen.

Vaughn urges the Cybermen to rush forward their plans for the invasion. But at the same time he tests Watkins’ device on one of the Cybermen, driving it mad. Back at UNIT headquarters, the Brigadier wants to warn his higher-ups at Geneva about the oncoming Cybermen invasion, but realizes he needs photographic evidence. Isobel offers to help, but the Brigadier refuses, infuriating her and Zoe. Meanwhile Vaughn is disgusted when the Cybermen announce that they will convert all able-bodied humans into Cybermen and dispose of the “unsuitable” and vows he will no longer cooperate with the invasion unless they go with the initial plan of allowing him to rule Earth in exchange for giving the Cybermen the raw materials they need. The Cybermen appear to acquiesce and Vaughn knows they’re lying, but is confident that his technology will protect him from the Cybermen’s mind control.

Isobel  and Zoe goad Jamie into joining them on an adventure to the IE compound to gather photographic evidence of the Cybermen. In the sewers beneath the compound, they run into the mad Cyberman, but they are saved by UNIT soldiers sent to retrieve them. At Vaughn’s office, Watkins presents Vaughn with an upgraded version of his device and arranges to have them immediately mass produced, but not before testing it on Watkins. Enraged, Watkins threatens Vaughn, who mocks him by giving him a loaded gun…only for Watkins to find out the hard way that Vaughn has been given a cybernetic body by the Cybermen. With the help of Watkins, who UNIT rescued from IE, the Doctor pieces together that the Cybermen will use chips secreted into all devices manufactured by IE to amplify a mind-control signal broadcast from their ship on the moon. Also the Doctor thinks he’s invented a circuit that can block the signal. Unfortunately, it’s too late. The signal brings human life to a standstill across the globe while Cybermen emerge from London’s sewers with more on the way from outer space.

Only the Doctor, his companions, and the Brigadier’s branch of UNIT are saved from the signal in time. The Brigadier works out a plan to convert a Russian spacefaring rocket into a missile that can be used to take out the Cybermen’s mothership, which is generating the signal, but it would take time. In the meantime, the Doctor decides, with a wire supplied by UNIT, to confront Vaughn. The Doctor tries to warn Vaughn that he can’t outsmart the Cybermen, but Vaughn is coolly confident, and guesses the Doctor is playing for time. Back with UNIT, Zoe manages to calculate the best way to use the missiles available to UNIT to create a chain reaction of explosions that take out most of the Cybermen invasion fleet. As the Doctor watches, the Cybermen blame Vaughn for this catastrophe and decide to use a bomb to wipe out all life on Earth in order to just strip mine it.

The Doctor enlists the help of a now half-deranged Vaughn to disrupt the homing signal the Cybermen are using to bring the bomb to Earth.  Using the weapon Watkins developed against the Cybermen that have swarmed IE headquarters, the Doctor with Vaughn and some UNIT soldiers destroy the source of the signal, but not before Vaughn is unceremoniously killed by a Cyberman. Later the Russian missile is able to take out the mothership, since the ship was forced to get into the Earth’s orbit thanks to the destruction of the homing signal. With the Earth saved and the circuit finally repaired, the Doctor sets off again.

Sign of the Times

Isobel calls the Brigadier “anti-feminist” for refusing to let her go help photograph a Cyberman. Of course, Isobel is still the one to serve tea to everyone.

Choice Quotes

“Don’t look so worried. Fancy a cup of tea?”
-The Brigadier to Zoe, at the height of the Cybermen crisis

Continuity Notes

It’s the first time the Brigadier is, well, Brigadier. It’s also the first appearance of his right-hand man, Corporal (later Sergeant) John Benton.

Trying to give the Cybermen a coherent continuity in the “classic” series may not be quite the hopeless task that doing so with Dalek continuity is, but…well, this series really makes a hash out of the Cybermen’s first appearance, The Tenth Planet.  In that story, the Cybermen’s homeworld Mondas comes into contact with Earth again for the first time in millennia. Even if it’s the case that some Cybermen attacked Earth before Mondas returned to the solar system, which some of Tobias Vaughn’s dialogue seems to suggest, then why aren’t the Cybermen recognized? Or at least why do the Cybermen of that story look less advanced than their “Princess Leia hairbun” counterparts here? Of course, the answer is “They didn’t really care that much about continuity on TV shows in the Pre-Internet days!”

Still, this serial alone has given fuel to many a nerdy debate about continuity. One reason boils down to the Cybermen’s claim that they encountered the Doctor before on a mysterious “Planet 14,” which leads any fan into a collision course into the questions raised above. Probably the best “answer” came from famous comic book writer Grant Morrison, who out of the whole mystery spun a Sixth Doctor yarn in the comic book Doctor Who Adventures where Mondas is Marinus in the far future.

But the big one is that this adds to the big snaffu that is UNIT’s continuity. Basically dialogue from “The Web of Fear” suggested that story took place sometime around 1975 and it’s confirmed “The Invasion” unfolds four years after that. It’s pretty clear that UNIT stories take place at least a couple of years in the viewing audience’s future, but how far is unclear, to say the least (it’s infamous enough that it was made into a joke in the “new” series). I’m sure I’ll note it some more when it comes up, but for now let’s just say that the Cyberman invasion of the Earth took place sometime in the early-mid ’70s.

Comments

You can say the same for a lot of Second Doctor series, and I know I’ve said something very similar before, but this one really feels like a ’50s b-movie. A bunch of scientists (including the Doctor) and military leaders are in a room full of tech equipment and discuss a slowly unfolding invasion or crisis or whathaveyou?  Classic! Also, in spite of the obvious budget limitations, this story does feel like an epic in the same vein as The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  Like that one, it’s a cinematic serial, and the plot just feels like there’s more at stake than in most of the Doctor’s other adventures. This is another episode I’d peg as a big influence on Russell T. Davies and his oft-tapped alien invasion sagas during his era of the “new” show.

But it’s really the characters that make this serial work. The exception unfortunately is Isobel, who dates this story badly. As noted above, she calls the Brigadier out, but her plan, carried out to prove she is a Strong Independent Woman, does cause the deaths of a police officer and a couple of UNIT soldiers for the sake of photographs that don’t really help the Brigadier avert the invasion at all. The rest of the time she’s obsessing over fashion photography, flirting with John Benton, or serving tea. Ironically, it’s Zoe, who never feels compelled to assert her Strong Independent Woman-ness, that becomes the better feminist model, by being the one who actually does help UNIT defeat the Cybermen – with math, no less.

The characters who do make this work naturally include the Brigadier. In a show where authority figures are usually one monster invasion away from turning psychotic, the Brigadier is a welcome and complete inversion. He has a stern edge and dominates the room, but is also kind to a fault and willing to listen to good advice no matter the source. Then there’s the real villain, Tobias Vaughn, who is one of the best, if not the best, human villain the show has produced so far. He’s an oddly believable type of lunatic, who is the model of decorum and respect – until his desires are frustrated, in which case the raging psychopath underneath finally reveals himself. It’s really a shame he didn’t become a recurring antagonist, or at least was killed off so casually.

Finally, it’s worth nothing that fans have yet to speculate on the connections between the Doctor and the mysterious Kilroy…

doctorwhokilroy

Standard
Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Dominators (1968)

thedominators

An intergalactic empire, the Dominators, has sent two scouts, Rago and Toba, to investigate the planet Dulkis. Their ship stops on what is locally known as the “Island of Death”, aptly named because the entire place is bathed in radiation, and absorbs the radiation for power. In a case of very bad timing, Cully, the rebellious son of the planet’s most powerful leader, Senex, shows up with his friends for seeking adventure. Going to a radiation-infested island doesn’t seem like it would be much fun, but who knows, maybe risking cancer is to Dulkians what sky diving is to humans. Anyway, the impulsive and bloodthirsty Toba has the young explorers blasted by their robots, the inappropriately adorable-sounding Quarks – except Cully, who manages to hide. Elsewhere on the island, the TARDIS lands and the Doctor happily explains they’ve landed on Dulkis, a planet whose inhabitants are pacifists, so they can take the opportunity to enjoy the beach. The Doctor realizes something is off when they discover the ruins of a house that he deduces was used for testing weapons. They’re “rescued” from the radiation by Balan and his two students. Balan explains that the island was the site of a nuclear bomb test nearly two centuries ago, before the Dulkians managed to achieve world peace. Thereafter the Island of Death was used as a site for students to learn about radiation and the cost of war. But Balan is shocked to find evidence that all traces of radiation are gone. Cully rushes into the house and tries to warn Balan, but he is skeptical. The Doctor and Jamie volunteer to investigate, and true to many of the Doctor’s investigations they wind up promptly captured.

Thinking that the Doctor and Jamie are beings native to the planet, Rago wants to test their suitability for slave labor, while Tabo just wants to kill them all. Rago wins out and tests the Doctor and Jamie’s intelligence, but they play dumb until an exasperated Rago simply releases them. Cully and Zoe go to the mainland to warn Cully’s father, but Senex is also skeptical, even with Zoe’s testimony that she and her companions are aliens, forcing Cully and Zoe to return to the island again to discover . Balan and his students find the Dominators’ craft and are captured and enslaved once Ragon becomes convinced they are “clever ones.”  The slaves are set to work clearing rubble near the testing site in order to help clear the way for the Dominators to drill into the planet to harvest more energy.

Zoe and Cully manage to escape and fight back against their Quark guards. Tabo imposes his “kill him all” philosophy by destroying the test site in order to kill Cully and Zoe. This causes a power struggle between Tabo and Rago, which Tabo violently wins. Learning more about the planet, Rago goes to the mainland and terrorizes the planet’s ruling council, informing them that, because the Dominators are fighting a difficult war, the Dulkians will be used for slave labor so that the Quarks can be freed up to fight. Back on the island, Jamie manages to destroy one of the Quarks with a boulder, but they are all recaptured. Tabo kills Balan in order to try to frighten the others into giving up the name of the one who destroyed the Quark, but to no avail.

The Doctor realizes that the Dominators need to launch an atomic seed device into the core of the planet, which would trigger a chain reaction that would cover the planet with radioactive magma that could be used by the Dominators for fuel. Even though Cully and the others fail to distract the Dominators, the Doctor is still able to snatch up the atomic seed when the Dominators try to plant it. Although the volcano beneath the Island of Death is activated, the Doctor manages to put the seed device on the Dominators’ ship, destroying it when it leaves the planet. The Doctor revels in his victory outside the TARDIS, until Jamie reminds him that lava from the volcano is headed straight to the TARDIS.

Continuity Notes

The Doctor had visited Dulkis before, apparently on one of his rare uneventful jaunts.

Comments

Usually Second Doctor-era adventures have some kind of moral behind them. Here, though, it’s more than a little muddled. The Dulkians are slow to take action against the Dominators because…they’re pacifists?  Cully is like the boy who cried wolf…even though he’s just adventurous in a docile society, and not ever shown to be deceptive?  I get that they were trying to depict how a society that had managed to successfully adopt a pacifist ideology might react to its first hostile alien encounter, but, really, pacifism does not mean that people would blindly approach a strange spacecraft, especially after they had heard claims that there were robots out there who had killed three people.

The Dominators themselves seem to have been another attempt to replace the Daleks, especially because the Daleks could easily be copied and pasted into this story.  But they’re pretty generic alien conquerors, even with the disagreements over tactics between them, and it doesn’t help that their pet robots sound a lot and look a little (head spikes aside) like adorable cartoon characters for preschoolers.

Oh well…at least it’s not just another “base under siege by monsters” story.

Standard
Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – Fury from the Deep (1968)

furyfromthedeepThe TARDIS lands in the ocean near an English shore, causing Victoria and Jamie to remark (in rather annoyed tones) that they always seem to show up in England. They find a steel pipe funneling gas mined from the ocean and a lid which the Doctor opens using his sonic screwdriver (first time!). The Doctor becomes interested in a strange heartbeat-like sound, but his investigations are interrupted when the Doctor and the companions are shot by a tranquilizer gun. Right as they wake up they find themselves inside a control center whose manager, Robson, accuses them of being saboteurs hired to tamper with an emergency release valve. Less hostile is a chief technician, Harris, who explains that they lost contact with one of their rigs and the pressure in the pipelines has been dropping. Harris gets interested when the Doctor explains he heard a strange noise indicating movement in the pipes, but Harris swears it’s impossible for marine life to get inside them. Nonetheless, Robson has the Doctor and the others detained in a cell. Victoria is able to jimmy open the lock with a hairpin and stumbles across a masked man releasing gas from the pipes. The man locks her in, where she’s seemingly attacked by foam coming in through an air vent just before the Doctor and Jamie release her. Meanwhile Harris’s wife, Maggie, is stung by seaweed while retrieving a file for her husband and becomes ill.

Robson arrogantly resists the efforts by Harris and others to slow down production, despite the mounting evidence that something is causing the pipes to be blocked. In the living quarters of the complex, two strangely acting workers, Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill, enter Maggie and Harris’s apartment claiming that they’ve come for an inspection. The men emit a gas (from their mouths, you juvenile) that causes Maggie to lose consciousness. The Doctor, who Harris brought to check on his wife, deduces that Harris was the intended victim of both the stinging seaweed. As Robson continues to lose his sanity under the crisis, the Doctor and the companions in the TARDIS run tests on the seaweed, finding that it’s capable of movement and feeds on the natural gases on the floor of the North Sea, converting them into a toxic gas. In the TARDIS library, the Doctor finds references to such creatures in the North Sea from the eighteenth century. Later the Doctor deduces that the seaweed is parasitic and can control its host. The Doctor, Victoria, and Jamie return to the Harris’s apartments to report their findings, only to be attacked by foam that fills the apartments, but they narrowly escape, which still unnerves Victoria. Less lucky is Robson, who gets some gas courtesy of Oak and Quill. When Robson disappears, Harris is forced to take charge.

The Doctor and Jamie try to investigate a shaft and rescue a worker who fell into it, but are forced to flee when they encounter the creatures and more foam. The emergency reaches such a crescendo, with more rigs falling out of contact, that Megan Jones, the director of the gas company, comes to the control center. Megan is skeptical, but Harris still tries to convince her to get the government to bomb the rigs. Robson interrupts them, shouting “We won’t allow it!”, the oddne of which erodes Megan’s doubt. After Robson rushes away, the Doctor appears and theorizes that Robson is being controlled. Jamie finds an unconscious Victoria, who identifies her attackers as Quill and Oak. A convinced Megan listens as the Doctor theorizes that the seaweed is trying to form a massive colony out of the rigs and that its ultimate goal is to invade the surface of the British Isles. The Doctor advises against involving the military and having the rigs bombed, since the rig workers might be needlessly killed and the seaweed might survive and only be spread. Instead the Doctor, seizing on the fact that Victoria saw a seaweed-controlled person, notes that the seaweed acted to avoid pure oxygen. Meanwhile Jamie pursues Oak and Quill, who have been trying to release the control center’s supply of oxygen, and fights them, with Quill getting knocked out. However, the Doctor thinks it was the sound of Victoria’s scream, not the Doctor’s punch, that took out Quill. Using an amped-up recording of Victoria screaming and the pipes themselves as a transmitter, the Doctor drives the seaweed back and a mission to strike at the seaweed’s “nerve center” is a success, despite the Doctor’s awful attempt at flying a helicopter. Robson, Maggie, and all the others controlled by the creatures are freed and unharmed. Still, exhausted by the constant fear and danger she has been subjected to, Victoria elects to stay behind with the Harrises, noting that she lost her home and family in her own time. After she and Jamie say goodbye, the TARDIS leaves while Victoria watches from the beach.

Choice Quotes

“You always seem to land on this planet!”
“And it’s always England.”

-Victoria and Jamie.  (Characters pointing out odd things in the plot is not unique to our postmodern, ironic age.  It does seem like later on and in the “new” series writers get around this by implying that there are lots of TARDIS trips that we don’t see.)

“Doctor, why is it that we always end up in trouble?”
“Why, Victoria, it’s the spice of life, my dear.”

Continuity Notes

Victoria leaves the TARDIS crew.

This is the last of the “lost episodes,” but it’s also one of the hardest hit by the BBC slashing and burning its own archives. Pretty much the only way to experience the episode is through finding a fan reconstruction online or through the BBC’s official audio play.

Comments

Okay, so “mind-controlling seaweed that spews foam” does sound intolerably goofy, but here…it works. I don’t know if it’s the black-and-white or just how the show handled it, yet it’s true. Even though this story taps into many tropes that have already become well-worn in this era of the show (highstrung authority figure who is paranoid and has a breakdown, the Doctor and the companions being suspected as the enemy at first, monsters attacking an isolated complex, any one of the survivors might be a traitor/under mind control), this serial actually has an effective, creepy atmosphere – just see any scene with the ominous Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill – with a threat that’s truly completely alien, no matter how you describe it. The Second Doctor really did have a penchant for Lovecraftian villains (even if it was largely because Lovecraftian villains, depending on what interpretation you run with, tend to be budget-friendly).

If a particularly nerdy genie offered me a wish but limited that wish to which of the lost serials I’d like to see completely restored, it would be this one – well, next to Evil of the Daleks. It’s episodes like this that help explain why the show in its humble beginnings had the reputation of giving British kids nightmares.

As for Victoria, she generally isn’t well-remembered, at least compared to Jamie and Zoe, who we’ll meet next time. She was sort of a backwards-looking heroine, in the sense that she screamed and was captured and menaced a lot, although I am convinced it was deliberate on the writers’ part – after all, she was a woman from the 19th century named “Victoria.”  It is interesting to note that she does get more of a sendoff than any past companions except arguably Susan – by which I mean, she gets a sendoff at all.

victorialeaves

Standard
Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Web of Fear (1968)

weboffearAfter Salamander falls into the time vortex, the TARDIS is spinning out of control, but Jamie manages to reach the control panel and stabilize its movement. Elsewhen in 1970s (probably?) London an elderly Professor Travers, accompanied by his daughter Anne, a scientist living in the United States, confronts a collector named Julius.  Travers regrets bringing back the robot Yeti he found from Tibet and selling them to Julius, and angrily demands that Julius let him buy back the Yeti. Anne tries to reassure him, but Travers admits that while experimenting with one of the spheres that control the robots he reactivated it and now it went missing. Just as Julius throws Travers and Anne out of his house, the sphere appears and reactivates the Yeti, which promptly kills Julius. Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor sees that the TARDIS is suspended in outer space, literally caught in some kind of fungus. He manages to rig the TARDIS controls to escape, causing it to land in an unused tunnel in the London underground near a station for Charing Cross. While searching the tunnel for clues as to what trapped the TARDIS, Victoria and Jamie are captured by soldiers preparing to destroy the tunnel and brought to an underground bomb shelter where the Professor and Anne Travers and military officers are working together to stop the Yeti, which have taken over the subway tunnels. Meanwhile the Doctor comes across two Yeti who are guarding a pyramid like the ones from Tibet.

Victoria and Jamie are reunited with Professor Travers, and Jamie volunteers to accompany some soldiers into the tunnels. When it turns out that the explosives were sabotaged, the one journalist allowed by the British government to cover the story, Harold Chorley, accuses the Doctor and his companions of being the ones behind it. Anne is convinced, finding it odd that the Doctor was present both times Prof. Travers came across the Yeti. After overhearing the Travers’ conversation, Victoria decides to return to the tunnels to look for the Doctor herself. In the tunnels, several soldiers find out the hard way that the Yeti are bulletproof and armed with deadly guns, which disable the explosives by generating the same fungus-like substance that trapped the TARDIS and is spread throughout the tunnels.  In the shelter, the Travers observe that the fungus is rapidly expanding on its own across the tunnels. Jamie, who has set off on his own with a soldier named Evans, is trapped by the fungus.

Evans destroys the pyramid but it doesn’t stop the fungus. Victoria finds the Doctor with Colonel Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who had been sent to take over the mission. The Brigi…I mean, the Colonel signs off on a plan to use explosives to seal the shelter away from the fungus, but it’s too late. The Doctor realizes that someone is working with the Great Intelligence, which is why he’s less than happy to learn that Victoria blurted out everything about the TARDIS to the erratically behaving Harold Chorley. Reunited with the Doctor, Jamie and the rest, while looking for Harold, instead find a distressed Anne, who has discovered that her father was taken by one of the Yeti. Learning about the TARDIS, the Colonel is not all that skeptical, but decides it is their last hope to escape the fungus and sends a squad to find it. Unfortunately, all of them except Evans and seemingly one other soldier are killed trying to cross through the fungus.  The rest of the soldiers fare no better: they go up to London to protect the Doctor as he retrieves electronic parts needed for a device Anne has created, but most of the soldiers are slaughtered by the Yeti, leaving the Colonel alone to escape back to the shelter for his life.

There’s no safe refuge for our heroes anymore, however, as the shelter is invaded by the Yeti who are being led by Prof. Travers, who has been possessed by the Great Intelligence. Cornering the Doctor and the others, the Great Intelligence declares that the whole scenario was a giant trap for the Doctor. In exchange for the Doctor’s companions’ lives, it wants to use a device to absorb all the Doctor’s knowledge. The Great Intelligence takes Victoria and drags her into the tunnels, with Jamie, the Colonel, and Evans following. The Doctor and Anne finish Anne’s invention, a remote control that can override the commands sent to one of the Yeti’s control spheres, but it only works in short range. Victoria and Prof. Travers, now free from the Great Intelligence’s possession, are led to a control room where there’s a larger pyramid where eventually they are joined by all the other survivors, all seized by the Yetis. The Doctor surrenders and everyone discovers that the Great Intelligence had taken over the corpses of one of the officers killed by the fungus, pretending that the man had barely survived. At seemingly the last minute, and despite the Doctor’s protests, Jamie uses Anne’s remote control to cause the “rogue” Yeti to break the pyramid and destroy the Great Intelligence’s corporeal body. An aggravated Doctor explains that he had crossed the wires in the pyramid, which would have let the Doctor absorb the Great Intelligence, meaning that the Great Intelligence has only been broken off from contact with Earth rather than destroyed.

Sign of the Times

Anne has this exchange with one officer:

“What’s a girl like you doing in a job like this?
Well, when I was a little girl I thought I’d be a scientist…so I became a scientist.
Just like that?
Just like that.”

Continuity Notes

This is the serial that introduces Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, better known as “the Brigadier” (although he’s not quite the Brigadier yet!), who despite not being an “official” companion is as much a beloved staple of the classic series as Sarah Jane Smith. Sadly, the actual episode where he first appears is missing, even after most of the serial’s episodes were discovered in 2013.  It’s still not the debut of UNIT, although honestly it might as well be.

Also, at the risk of invoking the series’ most notorious continuity snafu way too soon, I couldn’t help notice that if you look at the time frame this serial’s prequel, “The Abominable Snowmen”, was supposed to take place in and Prof. Travers’s claim that he hadn’t seen the Doctor in “over 40 years”, this serial can be said to take place in the early ’70s. Keep that in mind when we get to the confusion over when exactly the “UNIT years” take place…

Anne Travers actually raises a good point, even though the episode does begin with the Doctor being forced to appear in this particular time and place: why does the Doctor show up when there’s trouble? This does get answered much later in “The Doctor’s Wife,” where it’s pretty much spelled out that the TARDIS consciously at least some of the time takes the Doctor to where he’s needed.

Comments

A threat represented by foam and lit-up plastic sheets, a solemn fight sequence between British soldiers and shambling robot Yeti, people running around corridors…now this is “classic Who.”

It’s hard to judge this serial in retrospect, since it lays out so much of what would define the show in the Third Doctor era, and not just by bringing in the (soon to be) Brigadier. Even with the recovered episodes – or perhaps partially because of them – I do wonder if the presence of the Brigadier does give the serial more of a reputation than it otherwise would have. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty good, and watching Nicholas Courtney as the stoic yet not stereotypically cold military man Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart alone explains why he became a mainstay for a show that runs through countless other characters as a matter of course.  But it’s telling that in a story where robotic Yeti and a foamy fungus invade the London tubes the goofiest thing is the overacting of the actor playing Evans (and I think there’s more than a little bit of anti-Welsh stereotyping there too).  It doesn’t help that it feels like he’s practically in every scene.

But for all that this is generally the sort of thing people think about when they wax nostalgic about old-school “Doctor Who.” At the very least it can give you an education on how frightening foam can be.

bridgstewart

Standard
Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Ice Warriors (1967)

theicewarriorsIn a scientific research station at a time when the Earth is experiencing another Ice Age, a team of scientists scramble to stop the encroachment of glaciers over Europe with a device called the ionizer.  The station’s manager Clent thinks Europe can be kept inhabitable, but scientist Jan Garrett and the rest believe that soon they’ll have to not only abandon the mission, but the station.  Outside a member of the team is conducting research on a glacier and discovers something frozen in the ice.  He guesses that it’s a warrior from a forgotten prehistoric civilization and another scientist dubs him “the ice warrior.”  Meanwhile the TARDIS arrives and instantly gets stuck in a snowstorm.  After getting out, the TARDIS crew sees two militantly Luddite scavengers, Storr and Penley, the latter of whom used to be a scientist working at the very same station, take food and supplies from the station. After jaunting inside the base, the Doctor impresses Clent with his useful advice about the ionizer and is asked to help make the ionizer fully functional after the Doctor passes a scientific pop quiz.

An avalanche kills a member of the research team outside and causes Storr to break his arm.  Nonetheless, the frozen body is bought in and left to melt.   The Doctor examines the body and rushes out to warn Clent that the frozen body’s supposed stone age helmet is actually an advanced space helmet.  While the Doctor is gone, the Ice Warrior comes alive, attacks Jamie, and abducts Victoria.  Holding her captive in a storage closet, Victoria learns the reptilian Ice Warrior crash landed on Earth with a crew from Mars, before the Ice Warrior interrogates her and decides to try to recover and resurrect his own crew.  The Doctor and Jamie are dismayed that Clent and Jan rely on diagnostics generated from computers, even when dealing with an emergency situation like the revival of the Ice Warrior. Also the team at the station decides to send Jamie and one of the scientists to save Victoria and learn the nature of the Ice Warriors’ spacecraft’s engine, which if hit by the ionizer could trigger a nuclear chain reaction.

The Ice Warrior forces Victoria to help him try to revive his crew with the station’s technology and knocks Clent unconscious when he tries to stop him.  The Doctor runs into Penley getting medicine from the best for Storr and unsuccessfully tries to convince him to stay and help with the ionizer, and later he learns from Clent that Penley did not just defect but had suffered a breakdown.  In the meantime, the Ice Warrior succeeds in finding and resurrecting his comrades.  Jan attempts to force Penley to return to the base to help, but is overpowered by Storr. However, Penley gives her a clue to pursue in his notes. With what Jan mines from Penley’s calculations, the Doctor is able to get the ionizer working. although the Ice Warriors’ engine is still a possible threat. Out on the glacier, the Ice Warriors kill the scientist and wound Jamie, who is rescued by Penley.

Finding their ship buried in a cave deep in the glacier, the Ice Warriors work to repair it.  While they debate over whether or not to kill or further interrogate Victoria, she escapes, but while trying to elude a pursuing Ice Warrior she gets caught in an avalanche. Meanwhile the Ice Warriors plot to invade the station and loot it for fuel, while also assuming that the ionizer is a weapon to be used to destroy them. Victoria is “saved” by Storr, who set out to try to negotiate with the Ice Warriors and drags Victoria with him. Victoria is recaptured and Storr is murdered for his trouble. Armed only with a gas he deduces would be toxic to the Ice Warriors yet harmless to humans, the Doctor heads over to the Ice Warrior ship to get information on their engine. The Doctor tries to reason with the Ice Warriors, but they refuse to cooperate, believing that even if the ionizer doesn’t cause their ship to explode the melting glacier would flood their engines, trapping them on Earth, and they take away the Doctor’s communicator, leaving Clent and Jan without enough data to make sure it’s safe to use the ionizer. Penley and a recovering Jamie return to the base, and Penley pushes Clent to use the ionizer even without the data to no avail. The anxiety over whether or not to use the ionizer is ended by an Ice Warrior invasion. Back on the ship, the Doctor knocks out the one Ice Warrior left behind with the toxic gas and adjusts the ship’s sonic canon to be (somewhat) harmless to humans before firing it on the station, which, along with Penley boosting the station’s heat, forces the Ice Warriors to retreat. The Doctor and Victoria leave the ship for the base, but not before sabotaging the canon. Penley takes control of the ionizer and fires it at the glacier, which destroys the Ice Warriors’ ship without causing a nuclear explosion. The crisis solved, the Doctor, Victoria, and Jamie slip away as green growths appear in the melting snow.

Our Future History

There’s only one vague hint about exactly when this story takes place, but based on just that humanity is due for a (man-made) Ice Age by some point in the fifth or sixth millennium.  The global warming deniers will (very, very eventually) be right!

Choice Quotes

“Regulations do not apply to me.” -The Doctor

Continuity Notes

With this episode we get another iconic enemy alien species, the Ice Warriors, who also made an appearance in the 2005 series – and it’s not until then we see them without their helmets.

Comments

Besides the first appearance of the Ice Warriors, this serial is probably best known for one of the most glaring science errors in the show’s history, which is really saying something for the franchise that still defines “soft sci-fi.” The Second Ice Age is – explicitly and at length – said by the Doctor and Clent to be caused by “a severe drop in the carbon dioxide level in the Earth’s lower atmosphere” which was caused when humanity completely replaced agricultural production with technologically generated artificial food, which (for some reason?) meant that “the amount of growing plants on this planet were reduced to an absolute minimum,” to which the Doctor notes, “No plants, no carbon dioxide.”  Caught that?   Not to brag, but even a dunce like me  who hadn’t taken a science course since my senior year of high school noted the tiny flaw that plants actually use up carbon dioxide, meaning in this scenario the planet should actually be warmer.

And, anyway, who thought it would be a good idea to wipe out most plants?  I get that the implication that humanity just gave up growing crops, but did that necessitate just shrugging and declaring, “Screw the rainforests!” and going to town on most of the planet’s wilderness?

I know that classic “Doctor Who” ditched its educational mission almost toward the beginning and tended to be written and produced on the fly, especially by modern standards, but you’d think someone along the line would have caught messing up one of the first scientific facts children are taught in school. Maybe given how much the plot hinges on the wonky science it wasn’t worth the headaches from a deep rewrite, but I can’t help but feel bad for the elementary school audience who got terribly confused when the brilliant Doctor they loved contradicted their textbook or their science teacher.

Sorry, I probably shouldn’t have harped on that but there isn’t too much else to say. It’s an average “Second Doctor in an isolated base attacked by monsters” story. The plot tries to build up to a moral about not becoming dependent on technology while not ignoring the benefits of science, but it gets muddled when the climax comes down to little more than blind luck. It’s still a fun story that doesn’t rely quite so much on padding (with the big exception of poor Victoria getting captured twice) as other serials from the show’s early eras, with a couple of great moments like the Doctor making his calculations for the ionizer by crawling around and rummaging through his own discarded, crumpled-up notes and scribbling numbers on the floor. Plus the serpentine design of the Ice Warriors is simply classic. Still, besides its contribution to continuity by introducing the Ice Warriors, it’s not essential viewing for those making a tour of the Second Doctor era.

Standard