Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who: The Highlanders (1967)

After the TARDIS appears in the Scottish Highlands, the Doctor stumbles across a decapitated corpse. On the body is a note carrying a cryptic message, “There can be only one.”

Sorry.

Actually, the TARDIS lands in the middle of the the Battle of Culloden, where the Jacobites supporting the Stuart claimant to the British throne, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” have been decisively defeated by Loyalist troops defending the reigning king, George II. When a cannonball lands nearby, the Doctor immediately wants to leave, but Polly and Ben, thinking (for some reason) they might be in present-day England, insist on exploring. Unfortunately, when the Doctor tries on and then throws down a Jacobean cap, he attracts the attention of fleeing Scottish rebels who think they’re Loyalists and kidnap them. The Doctor is taken to a deserted college, where he’s enlisted in tending to the severely wounded Laird Colin McLaren alongside the laird’s daughter Kristy and piper Jamie McCrimmon. While Polly and Kristy are away getting water, a contingent of British troops investigate the cottage and arrest its inhabitants. Even though the Doctor claims to be a traveling German doctor, “Doktor von Wer,” he is condemned to be hung as traitors along with the laird and Jamie. Polly tries to distract the soldiers, and she and Kristy are chased by the group’s commander, Lt. Ffinch, who has heard a rumor that Prince Charles was disguised as a woman. After a few adventures, Polly and Kristy are able to elude Ffinch and his men.

The Doctor and the others are “saved” by a government official, Grey, who is heading an illegal scheme to round up any surviving Jacobites and sell them as slaves in the Americas. Although most of the prisoners believe Grey’s claims that they will be sold to be indentured servants, the Doctor, Jamie, Ben, and the laird work out the truth. Disguised alternatively as Doktor von Wer and as a scullery maid, the Doctor slips away and manages to set up a plan with Polly and Kristy. While the Doctor distracts Grey and his men with a story about Jamie being a disguised Bonnie Prince Charlie, Kirsty and Polly manage to sneak weapons in to the Jacobites, who revolt and commandeer the ship Grey planned to use to deport them to America. The laird, Kirsty, and the other Jacobeans decide to set out for France. Only Jamie, who out of gratitude promises to help the Doctor, Ben, and Polly find the TARDIS no matter what, is left behind.

The Doctor and his companions take Grey hostage to insure their safety while they look for the TARDIS. Grey escapes, though, and tries to have them arrested by Ffinch and his men at the cottage where they ran into Jamie and the others in the first place. However, Ffinch, who has actually befriended Polly, believes the Doctor’s accusation that Grey has been selling prisoners of war into slavery. The deal is clinched when Grey is unable to produce the contracts of indentured servitude he tricked the Jacobites into signing, because the Doctor stole them. Ffinch has Grey arrested and leaves the Doctor, Ben, and Polly in peace. Later they find the TARDIS and invite Jamie to join them. Once Jamie sees the TARDIS, he very reluctantly goes in.

Choice Quotes

Polly: Doctor, you don’t want us to think you’re afraid, do you?
Doctor: Why not?

Continuity Notes

This is the last of the “pure” historicals for the classic series – with  the exception of the somewhat oddball Fifth Doctor story, “Black Orchid” – and, so far, for the 2005 series as well.

Also it’s the first appearance of new companion Jamie McCrimmon, who, after so many short-term companions, will stick around for three years.

Comments

While I’m sad that this will be the last “pure” historical, it was at least something of a high point of the tradition to end on. It’s still not as strong a serial as the classics “Marco Polo” or “The Aztecs,” but it has the sort of attention on character detail that’s been largely lacking for the past few historicals. Also it does a good job of further fleshing out the character of the second Doctor, whose obsession with hats actually ends up becoming a major plot point.

The problem is that, unlike the best historicals, it still doesn’t really do anything with the time travel angle, lacking the kind of theme or playing with the implications of time travel that defined the best of the First Doctor historicals. Nor does it really exploit the specific setting and period. Despite the unique backdrop, it is pretty much interchangeable apart from the introduction of Jamie. You could have done more or less the same plot with the Roman invasion of Gaul, a civil war in China, or, well, any story involving a war and a disenfranchised population. That’s not to say there aren’t any good details thrown in, but it does feel like a lot more could have been done here.  Still, it’s good that, despite the bad experience the showrunners had with Katrina, they were willing to experiment with having another person from (according to the audience’s perspective) the past, something else the 2005 series needs to be more open to attempt.  It’s telling that, despite not in TV producer’s logic being a character a modern audience “could relate to”, Jamie still is one of the more memorable and long-lasting companions from the classic series.

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Smugglers (1967)

The Doctor is furious when Polly and Ben show up in the TARDIS and tries to explain to them that they’re now stuck with him indefinitely because he still can’t control where the TARDIS lands. They end up somewhere on the shore of Cornwall. Although they’re shocked to be so far out of London, they still don’t believe the Doctor when he tells them that they still don’t know when they are. They go to a church where a man threatens them with a blunderbuss. From the man’s clothes, the Doctor deduces that they are in the seventeenth century. They learn that he’s a churchwarden named Joseph and he’s afraid of a pirate crew that served under a man named Avery. Unfortunately, they also learn that the TARDIS will be submerged in the tide. In gratitude to the Doctor for fixing his dislocated finger, Joseph gives him a strange clue, telling him that the “Deadman’s secret key” is “Smallwood, Ringword, Gurney.” After they leave for the local inn to wait out the tide, Joseph, who was a pirate himself under Avery, is killed by men sent by Samuel Pike, Avery’s successor as captain and who is after Avery’s hidden treasure. Pike’s goons had seen the Doctor and the others and suspect that Joseph sold the secret of Avery’s treasure to them. The pirates abduct the Doctor and wound Ben. Worse, the local squire ends up arresting Polly and Ben on suspicion of Joseph’s murder.

The Doctor manages to charm Pike out of some charitable treatment, as Polly and Ben use twentieth-century technology to convince their jailer that they serve a warlock and escape. After doing their own investigation at the scene of Joseph’s murder, Polly tries to present evidence they found to the squire, only to stumble across Pike and the squire, who has been running a smuggling ring, making a business deal. Meanwhile in the church Ben comes across Josiah Blake, a government revenue agent, but before they can leave the squire shows up with Polly. When the squire accuses Ben and Polly of working for Pike, Blake, who came to investigate reports that the squire was corrupt to begin with, pretends to believe him and takes the Doctor’s companions into his custody. After escaping from the ship, the Doctor comes across Ben, Polly, and Blake, who leaves to get a militia for help. The Doctor figures out that Joseph’s clue referred to names in the local graveyard, but one of Pike’s men, who wants the treasure for himself, arrives and forces the Doctor to tell him the clue. Pike shows up and dispatches the traitor, and tells the Doctor that if he doesn’t help him find the treasure he’ll start massacring the locals. Just as the treasure is found, Blake’s militia appears and successfully fights the pirate crew. Blake and the squire, who was of course betrayed by Pike, defeat and kill Pike. As the battle wraps up, the Doctor, Polly, and Ben slip away back to the TARDIS. After the TARDIS teleports again, the Doctor announces that they’ve arrived at the “coldest place in the world.”

Continuity Notes

Actually a production note, but regardless it’s worth pointing out that this is the first “Doctor Who” episode to be filmed on location. The interior shots were still done at the London studio, but the exterior shots were actually filmed in Cornwall.

This is also, as the penultimate serial in Hartnell’s run, the last regular serial to star the First Doctor from beginning to the very end.

Comments

When I started off with the recaps, the historicals quickly became the episodes I looked forward to watching the most. Now I anticipate them with a little dread. I think I’ve said before that I do wish the 2005 series would bring back the “pure” historicals, but seeing their decline during the First Doctor era I can understand why the production crew did away with them in the first place and why there hasn’t been a revival in all the decades the show has been on. To be fair, if you’ve been following along with me, you’d probably agree that the problems aren’t entirely inherent to the historicals; since the original production team and supporting cast left, there have been other wider drops in quality as well. Overall the rich and surprisingly complex writing in the early episodes has largely vanished. The hints at backstory, attempts at world-building, and in-depth characterizations of even secondary characters that made the early First Doctor era such a pleasure are mostly if not entirely gone, and that has especially damaged the historicals, which once exhibited the sturdiest scripts.

However, while “The Smugglers” doesn’t live up to the strong, early historicals like “The Aztecs”, it does represent a small leap in the right direction. Even though the story is built on broad cliches, it doesn’t aim for mostly comedy like “The Romans” and isn’t as egregious as “The Gunslingers.” There’s even a couple of nice nods to the historical backdrop, like Polly having to pretend she’s a man all throughout the story and Ben constantly getting in trouble for lacking reverence toward authority. Also the story is nicely paced, even though it does get obvious that the showrunners didn’t quite know how to make the story entertaining without some action scenes. Since like so many of the later First Doctor episodes the episodes only exist on tape, stills, and seconds of footage recorded for Australian censors, it is hard to tell how effective the action was, though.

The one thing the better or at least the more entertaining historicals had in common was that they always had a broader plot or theme that worked in the premise of the show. “The Aztecs” brought up the question of changing history, “Marco Polo” had the Doctor and crew have to maneuver to get the TARDIS away from actual historical figures, and “The Reign of Terror” was built around the idea of time travelers stuck in a volatile period of time. Unlike those, by the final scene, “The Smugglers” is just a paint-by-numbers pirate story with the Doctor and his companions filling the role of the usual protagonists. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the Doctor popping up in a completely different genre, and in fact some brilliant episodes come out of that sort of thing, but – and maybe this is just personal taste – I think the writers had a tough assignment in making a pirate story interesting.

Speaking of the Doctor, these episodes are known in “Who” lore as the episodes that convinced the showrunners that Hartnell’s health was bad enough that he could not be relied on to carry the role of the Doctor much further. Despite that, Hartnell, as is usual with the historicals, puts in a good performance that hits its heights when the Doctor plays up the role of a seventeenth century gentleman and tries to get on the good side of Pike. There are still a few hints, however, like Hartnell looking exhausted in the last scenes of the episodes (which was covered with a bit of dialogue from Polly) and the fact that the scene where the Doctor is dragged out of the inn by the pirates doesn’t feature Hartnell at all but a dummy poorly disguised as Hartnell.

“The Smugglers” is by no means a must-see, but, like with “The War Machines,” there are small signs that the production crew is finally hitting the mark once again. While it’s good that the First Doctor era is ending with an uptick, it’s a shame that we’re not wrapping up with the same level of quality we saw in the days of Barbara, Ian, and Susan – or will we?

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Gunfighters (1966)

Looking around their next surroundings for a dentist to help with the Doctor’s toothache, Steven and Dido find out that they’re in the town of Tombstone in the Arizona Territory. Dido and Steven are equally excited, which only irritates the Doctor, still complaining about his tooth. Right away, Steven and Dido get a little too involved with their settings and Steven’s outlandish gunslinger clothing gets everyone arrested by Wyatt Earp, who is trying to keep any potential violence at a minimum since the Clanton brothers are in town and looking for revenge against Doc Holliday.

The Doctor tells Earp and Sheriff Behan that he and the companions are a traveling theater trope, but adds (truthfully) that they are just stopping by to see a dentist. The Doctor reluctantly lets Doc Holliday (who actually was a trained dentist) treat his toothache while Steven and Dido check into the local salon, where the Clantons overhear them talking about “the Doctor” and assume they’re working with Doc Holliday. When one of the Clantons, who have no idea what Doc Holliday “invites” the Doctor for a drink, Doc Holliday overhears and tricks the Doctor into dressing up like him and taking his gun. As the Clantons force Dodo and Steven to perform, the oblivious Doctor walks in, but quickly realizes what’s going on when he recognizes the name “Clanton.” The Doctor tries to talk his way out of it but Holliday’s lover Big Nose Kate is there to protect the ruse – but also to help the Doctor hold the Clantons at gunpoint. Breaking up the fight, Earp arrests the Doctor again to protect him, but later the Clantons whip up a riot in the town against Earp, with Steven as a scapegoat in case they can’t get Holliday. In the meantime Holliday plans to escape from town with Dodo as a hostage.

Earp rescues Steven from the mob just as he’s about to be lynched. The Doctor and Steven are prepared to leave when they found out that Holliday had taken Dodo. Away from the town, Holliday promises to take Dodo back to Tombstone, but is impressed enough when Dodo tries to force him to leave at gunpoint that he decides to take her back right away. However, Steven has already left to track down Holliday with Johnny Ringo. Over the passionate objections of the Doctor, Earp deputizes him, as events escalate toward the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. After the gunfight’s over, the Doctor and Dodo say farewell to Doc Holliday, arriving at somewhen the Doctor claims is “on the brink of an age of peace and prosperity.”

Choice Quotes

“And lastly, sir, your humble servant…Doctor Caligari.”
“Doctor who?”
“Yes, quite right.”

Comments

Rumor has it (or maybe it’s an actual fact, I don’t get paid for these so don’t expect me to do more than Google-level research) that “The Gunfighters” is the reason why the showrunners stopped doing historicals altogether. I don’t quite believe it; after all, it can’t be a coincidence that the historicals started to fizzle out around the same time the showrunner regime changed for the first time. But it is true that this serial does have a really bad reputation among not only fans, but apparently the audiences who first watch this serial reacted by, to quote Thor, bellowing, “I say thee NAY!”

I wish I could be a contrarian with this like I was with “The Web Planet”, but I have to admit watching this was a bit of a slog. For one thing, there’s this bizarre, awful, and bizzare-ly awful faux-Western ballad that overtakes the action of the serial every three minutes (you only wish I was exaggerating), sometimes repeating the very same lyrics that were sung just three minutes ago. For another, well, the Doctor and his companions are completely useless here. It was fun seeing Steven and Dodo react like thrilled tourists for once, especially since the show’s start the Doctor’s companions have seemed relatively nonplussed about the prospects of time travel, but the thrill of seeing the Old West must have also caused their minds to shut down. Worse, the Doctor seems completely passive and inept, almost as if this isn’t a series about someone who gets out of sticky situations with his wits alone. By the time we do get to the O.K. Corral shoot-out, our main crew really are little more than observers who occasionally step in only to move the plot along.

I should admit there are bright spots. Anthony Jacobs plays a good Doc Holliday, conveying him as a character that’s mischievous and reckless but dangerous all the same. And the first half of the serial, where Holliday sets up the Doctor to take the fall (even if it does involve the Doctor acting more clueless than we’re used to), is kind of fun, before the writers decide that they want to do something halfway approaching a serious take on the legend of the Wild West instead of a Western pastiche. At the very, absolute least, if you can get past the horrors of the infinite ballad it’s rarely boring, which is more than can be said for the last historical the new regime attempted.

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"New" Who, Non-Nostalgia Reviews

Thoughts on the ‘New’ Who Series: Journey’s End

Let me start by reminding everyone that I am not out to bash Russell T. Davies. It’s taken as a truism, even among his fans, that the second parts of his two-part season closers tend to be let-downs, but I’ll admit from the start that “Journey’s End” is not that bad. It’s not that good either, but as far as Davies’ finales go it’s no “The Last of the Time Lords,” which infamously gave us an ending cribbed from Care Bears 2: A New Generation. And how can you have such a cheesy, bubbly ending with Doctor-Christ like that after you had this story about most of humanity getting wiped out and the survivors left to a post-apocalyptic environment so hellish you would wish you were living in a standard-issue Romero zombie apocalypse and where it’s revealed that the final fate of humanity is facing suffering and insanity in a void at the end of the universe with no life and no hope? The answer is you can’t, Russell T. Davies, you just can’t!

Where was I? Oh yeah, “Journey’s End”!

As I think I was writing before the pills kicked in, Russell’s epic closers were infamous even among his fans for never living up to the potential his hooks promised. What people don’t discuss so much is Davies’ love for the bullshit teaser. Example: the Doctor starts the episode regenerating, but instead his regeneration energy goes into the hand he lost in “The Christmas Invasion” because…uh, I don’t know, some Time Lord vitamin supplement the Doctor has been taking. And thus we get a bullshit teaser, showing a regeneration that most of the audience knew wasn’t going to happen yet. And does this mean that the Doctor used up one of his thirteen allotted regenerations on a silly, pointless little fake-out to the fans? Oh well, as long as the sooner-to-come “thirteenth regeneration” means we’ll get a story that will bring the Time Lords back, I’ll be happy. (Oh yeah, I’m one of those fans. What of it? And, by the way, anyone want to see my fan script for how to bring back The Rani?). Actually, what gets me isn’t so much that one bullshit teaser, because at least it was kind of a natural one given that the media had been reporting that David Tennant would be leaving, even if it did potentially create continuity problems for future writing teams. It’s really that this episode gets more than one, which really strains the camel’s back, with the Doctor-Donna, the fake “clues” that Donna is a bona fide Time Lord, and with Dalek Caan prophesying, “one of the Doctor’s companions will die!”, which doesn’t quite happen, at least not in the literal sense.

But I’m skipping ahead. Let me try to sum up where all the various subplots (I don’t think there is a “main” plot to speak) are going. Davros, who seems to be barely in control of the Daleks, has invented something called a “reality bomb” that he plans to use to destroy everything in all creation except the Daleks themselves. He and the Daleks are guided in their bizarre scheme by Dalek Caan, the sole survivor of the Cult of Skaro, who became an insane prophet after retrieving Davros from the time-locked Time War. Torchwood is saved from a Dalek attack by a “time lock” device made by a deceased colleague, trapping them in their home base and miraculously making their appearance in this storyline even more pointless than it already was. The TARDIS is transported to the Daleks’ space station, the Crucible, and the Doctor, fearing that these Daleks are advanced enough to even penetrate the TARDIS, surrenders with Captain Jack and Rose, but before she can leave the TARDIS the doors suddenly slam shut on Donna. Suspecting the Doctor is planning some type of ruse, the Daleks drop the TARDIS into their station’s plasma core. Sarah Jane teams up with Rose’s ex-boyfriend Mickey and mother Jackie, and convinces them to surrender to the Daleks in order to find the Doctor, but instead they witness first-hand the horrifying ambition of the Daleks’ plan. And Martha, under the orders of UNIT, is sent to stand by with other UNIT agents from across the world to potentially activate the Osterhagen Key, a device designed to trigger planetary suicide in the event of an alien invasion and occupation so brutal humanity itself would be condemned to a fate worse than death.

As you can hopefully tell, there’s a bit too much going on in this one episode. I can understand Russell T. Davies wanting a true capstone to his run (which doesn’t explain at all why he did it again with “The End of Time”, but…well, we’ll get there when we get there), but there really was no need to include characters from Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures for longer than brief cameos, especially since Sarah Jane and Captain Jack are already integrated into the story. There’s an even bigger problem with Martha’s role. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the Osterhagen Key was the strongest and freshest idea to come out of this storyline – it’s nice to see Russell T. Davies actually considering the implications of having the Earth invaded every two months, for one – and it really deserved to have an episode or two centered around it. Instead it’s just another subplot out of many that ultimately, besides giving Martha an excuse to run around and adding a couple of dramatic scenes, does nothing. Now you can say I’m being unfair, that it did more than including the Torchwood gang who almost literally get locked out of the plot, and that’s true to a point. It’s just that, in the end, the dramatic weight of Earth’s governments consenting to the most desperate option imaginable is handwaved away by both the Daleks and the Doctor, in a way. All we really get out of it is a tense scene between Martha and a minor character, a German woman, who we’ll never see again.

But the Osterhagen Key isn’t what you want me to talk about…no, it’s Donna. Well, dear readers, let me take a moment remind you of the clusterfuck…I mean, questionable creative choices Russell T. Davies made with her. Trapped in the TARDIS and sent to a fiery grave, the regenerative energies in the Doctor’s hand merge with Donna, causing a second, half-human Doctor to grow out of the hand and making Donna half-Time Lord (but we’re not supposed to know that yet). Human-Doctor pilots the TARDIS out of the engine core without the Daleks noticing while the Doctor’s various companions threaten to disrupt the Daleks’ plans through various kamikaze tactics. This prompts Davros to brag, “The man abhors violence, never carrying a gun, but this is the truth Doctor, you take ordinary people and fashion them into weapons.” The Daleks easily take the wind of the companions’ sales by teleporting them into Davros’ lair with Davros, Rose, and the Doctor. Human-Doctor appears and tries to stop the Daleks, but fails. However, Donna, her Time Lord knowledge activated in the chaos, manages to use the Daleks’ own equipment against them and stop the reality bomb just as it’s on the verge of being detonated. Meanwhile the Doctor deduces that Dalek Caan, who was horrified by what he saw across time and space about the Daleks and their actions, had been manipulating time itself, allowing Donna to be in the position to ruin Davros’ plans. Afraid that the Daleks would still have the power to wreak havoc on the universe, Human-Doctor destroys the Crucible and kills all the Daleks in a stroke, horrifying the Doctor so much he practically banishes Human-Doctor to Rose’s parallel universe. Everyone flees, with the Doctor offering to save Davros, but he refuses to be saved, screaming that the Doctor is the true “destroyer of worlds.”

I mean, I can forgive Davros, because he’s a few mad scientists short of a supervillain team, but why does the Doctor look pained by Davros’ accusation? How the Doctor should have responded was with, “Um, whoever just tried to annihilate almost all reality, raise their hands!” What’s with the “reality bomb” anyway, besides being a bit too much like the Solaranite from Plan 9 from Outer Space? Again, I can get Davros thinking it’s a good idea, but you would think even the Daleks would balk at the thought of existing in an infinite void on a space station without any planets with resources around.

Well, this really gets at the weird and frankly confused ethics of this episode. I do understand what the viewer is supposed to get out of all this. We’re meant to see the Doctor fully finding himself after the hellish traumas of the Time War and turning his back on the occasional ruthlessness he had been exhibiting. Honestly, though, his treatment of Human-Doctor’s actions comes across as more than slightly dickish. In the early Ninth Doctor episode “The Dalek”, the Doctor, driven by vengeance, tortures a helpless, imprisoned Dalek and barely hesitates to sacrifice a companion to prevent the Dalek from even having a chance to escape. Here the Daleks, far from being at anyone’s mercy, have the technological capability to go anywhere in time and space, abduct entire planets and civilizations, and wipe out the multiverse. There’s about a galaxy’s worth of distance between the two scenarios. Really, the episode would have worked so much better without the whole “reality bomb” premise. Giving Davros and the Daleks the power to destroy everything only eliminates any chance that the viewers will actually see any type of moral dilemma for the Doctor here. Just having Davros single-handedly build a new and potentially even more dangerous Dalek Empire would have been enough and made for a more convincing ethical split between the Doctor and his half-human doppleganger, but I suppose such a premise just wouldn’t have been epic enough.

Now with all that aside, we come to what really made this episode controversial: the final fates of Donna and Rose. The Doctor leaves Rose, Jackie, and Human-Doctor in the parallel universe, and practically fixes Rose and Human-Doctor together (Rose, being Rose, still pouts about everything). The only way Rose’s ending could have been more double-plus good was if it spelled out that Rose and Human-Doctor would parent a new race of Time Lords (although a cut scene does have the Doctor giving Human-Doctor the means to “grow” a new TARDIS…). Donna, however, is dying from being unable to house the mind of a Time Lord, forcing the Doctor to telepathically erase all her memories of her time with the Doctor. He leaves Donna with her family, as shallow and self-loathing as she was before she met him. To be honest, when I first watched it I defended the ending to a couple of irate fans, because I thought that it was a genuinely tragic fate for one of the Doctor’s companions. Having watched it again, I’ve changed my opinion more than slightly. It’s still a good ending…but for Rose, not Donna.

See, Rose was confident and assertive even before she met the Doctor. True, she did learn and gain a lot in her travels, but her time with the Doctor was mostly defined by the fact that she bridged the impossible gulf between their two species by falling in love with him and making him at least consider the fact that he was in love with her too, something that hadn’t happened since Jo. This makes her losing those memories as much a tragedy for the Doctor as for her. For Donna, on the other hand, it wasn’t even really about the Doctor, but their travels. She learned empathy, confidence, and that the significance of her existence wasn’t defined by her job but by what she herself made of things. This ending just renders her entire character arc and her intense growth as a character (portrayed beautifully by Catherine Tate)  null and void. It’s unfair enough that Rose gets the Good+ ending and Donna has the Bad+ ending, but the fact that Donna was underused throughout the entire season and the huge discrepancy between what Rose and Donna get in the end makes it even harder to swallow. So, needless to say, I’ve changed my opinion quite a lot.

And yet…I really enjoyed this episode the first time I saw it. Now it hasn’t held up well to repeated viewings for me, but like I wrote I think it’s still one of Davies’ own better season closers. There are more than a few good ideas here and seeing Tennant’s Doctor go up against Davros is a rare treat, but Davies ends up juggling too many characters and too many subplots for the episode’s own good. Worse, Davies is showing signs of being too self-indulgent, but as we’ll see it’s only the beginning…

Oh, yeah, and just in case I haven’t made my opinion clear:  screw you, Russell T. Davies, Donna was the Tenth Doctor’s best companion.   

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve (1966)

The Doctor and Steven arrive in a place the Doctor quickly figures out is sixteenth century Paris. Right away the Doctor wants to try to meet Charles Preslin, a famous apothecary (sort of the early modern equivalent of a pharmacist). Unknown to them they’ve arrived at one of the worst possible times to be in Paris this side of 1792; Huguenot noblemen are staying in the city to celebrate the wedding between the Protestant leader Henri of Navarre and the French princess Marguerite de Valois, and tensions are running high between the Huguenots and Catholics. Not knowing this, the Doctor reluctantly agrees to let Steven go sightseeing while he tries to find Preslin, but makes Steven promise not to talk to anyone unless he must. However, once the Doctor leaves Steven accidentally disobeys by getting into an argument with a bartender, which leads to him befriending a Huguenot named Nicholas. Meanwhile the Doctor finds Preslin, who is in hiding and is terrified of being persecuted by agents of the Abbot of Amboise, and encourages his research in science.

Nicholas offers shelter to a frightened servant girl, Anne Chaplet, who fled the service of her master, the Abbot, who had heard a rumor that there was going to be a massacre of Huguenots in Paris. To protect her, she is sent to work for the prominent Huguenot Admiral de Coligny; Nicholas also brings Steven to stay the night at Coligny’s quarters, in order to save him from being arrested for breaking the curfew. The next day Steven arouses Nicholas’ suspicious when he mistakes the Abbot for the Doctor, who are both dead ringers for each other. At least Nicholas agrees to help Steven find the Doctor, but has suspicions that Steven is a Catholic spy, which are exasperated when it turns out that Preslin has been missing for years. Steven escapes and tries to make his way to the Abbot, whom he’s convinced is the Doctor in disguise, and winds up embroiled in politics when he overhears members of the royal council discussing an order from the queen mother Catherine de’ Medicis to assassinate someone codenamed the “Sea Beggar,” who turns out to be Coligny.

Steven meets up with Anne, who was thrown out for continuing to defend Steven. Anne and Steven hide out in Preslin’s abandoned home while events spiral out of control. Steven, still thinking that the Doctor has been posing as the Abbot, becomes distraught when he learns that the Abbot has been murdered. The Doctor finally shows up and, knowing that the assassination of Coligny will soon spark the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, wants to leave as soon as possible. Afraid of changing history, the Doctor, despite Steven’s pleas, refuses to invite Anne to join them in the TARDIS, but he does try to help her figure out where to go for safety. Once they escape back to the TARDIS on the eve of the massacre, Steven berates the Doctor for abandoning Anne and vows to leave at the next place they stop: London in 1966. True to his word, Steven abandons a morose Doctor, who is surprised by a young woman named Dodo who thought the TARDIS was an actual police box. Soon Steven rushes in, warning the Doctor that policemen are approaching the TARDIS. Delighted by both Dodo’s resemblance to Susan and Steven’s return, the Doctor launches the TARDIS without warning. Dodo accepts events anyway since she has almost no family to speak of. When Dodo reveals that her last name is “Chaplet”, Steven gladly takes it as proof (albeit not very good proof) that Anne survived the Massacre after all.

Continuity Notes

From what I can tell, there never actually was a sixteenth century scientist named Charles Preslin, much less one who contributed toward finding observable proof of germ theory. Nevertheless the Doctor refers to a German who is working on a device that Preslin would use to see germs. I think this is a reference to Zacharias Jansen, who, depending on who you ask, is the inventor of the microscope, but who was actually Dutch. Anyway, microorganisms weren’t actually seen until 1676, about a century after this story takes place.

After Steven leaves, the Doctor muses, “Perhaps I should go home, back to my own planet, but I can’t. I can’t!” Of course, we don’t know if he means he can’t because of the TARDIS’ technical problems or because of the consequences.

It’s not at all made clear why the Doctor refuses to bring Anne Chaplet in the TARDIS (besides, of course, the desire of the showrunners not to have another Katarina). Apparently the Doctor is afraid that Anne was meant to die in the Massacre, but even then it raises the question of why he hasn’t had any qualms about plucking people out of their native times before.

Finally, we have the first appearance of Dodo Chaplet, who is sort of notorious among “Doctor Who” fans. We’ll wait and see why…

Comments

I wish I had a more elaborate and spot-on criticism, but I really don’t know what to say except that this serial is boring. In its defense you could say it suffers from being one of the few serials from which not a single second of footage survives, but certainly the serial “Marco Polo” got around that handicap. Honestly I can’t imagine any way to make an engaging serial out of this topic; I find the subject of the French Wars of Religion to be complex and I’m supposed to specialize in French history. So instead of relying on seeing the Doctor and Steven get tangled up with historical events, we have lengthy and really uninteresting scenes with characters essentially explaining the history in a mostly flavorless way. Even Catherine de’ Medici doesn’t stand out. Queen Margot this ain’t, and I’m actually stunned that this serial was delivered by the same screenwriter who wrote “The Aztecs” and “Marco Polo.”

There is one element that makes this fun, though, and that’s seeing William Hartnell play another role as the Abbot, but unfortunately even then he doesn’t get to accomplish or just say much. Something else for the plus column is that Steven’s character really does seem well-developed by this point. It’s nice to have a companion always ready and willing to challenge the Doctor, as I said, and seeing him berate the Doctor for abandoning Anne is a welcome look back at the morally ambiguous Doctor from the show’s beginning. Otherwise, though, this season continues what has so far been (with the exception of “The Myth Makers”) a lackluster season.

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Space Museum (1965)

When the TARDIS lands, everyone is concerned when suddenly they find themselves wearing their usual clothes, not the thirteenth century costumes that they had been wearing since leaving Jaffa. The Doctor waves off their worries by mumbling something about the “relativity of time”, but then Vicki swears that she watched while a glass of water that she dropped and shattered on the floor reassembled and flew back into her hand. Through the TARDIS’ monitor Barbara notices that outside there are spaceships. Ian guesses that they’re in a spaceship graveyard, but the Doctor observes that the ships are all from different eras. Venturing outside, they find that, even though the atmosphere is hospitable to life, the planet seems dead. The Doctor is finally disturbed when Ian points out that, even though there is a layer of dust on the surface, they’re not leaving any footprints; worse, they find that someone or something had taken the TARDIS. Approaching a building, the Doctor and the others find two men who don’t seem to notice them even though they’re only a few feet away. Seeing various exhibits of technological devices, including the armor of a Dalek, the Doctor deduces that they’re in a museum. When other members of the museum’s staff appear, they find out that not only are they apparently invisible to the people but also the TARDIS’ crew can’t hear what they’re saying. Next Vicki and Ian discover that their hands pass through solid objects. Eventually they find that the TARDIS has been set up as an exhibit, but when the Doctor tries to enter he only phases through it. Not only that, but they see that their bodies are also propped up as exhibits. The Doctor that the TARDIS skipped a “time track” and that they’re trapped in “the fourth dimension.” He adds that they’re only looking at a potential future and to have a chance at setting things right they only have to “wait for themselves to arrive.” Soon enough the Doctor is proven to be right and the TARDIS’ crew find that they’ve actually “arrived.”

Elsewhere in the museum, Lobos, the museum’s administrator and governor of the planet under the declining Morok Empire, complains to an underling about his job and wishes that his term of office would expire faster so he could return home. Lobos is informed that an unidentified ship has arrived and worries that they may end up helping “the rebels”, but muses that perhaps the aliens can be added to the exhibit. Lobos turns out to be right; two natives of the planet, the Xerons, who have been enslaved by the Moroks, hope that the visitors have weapons. It’s a bit late, and the Doctor is captured by Morok troops, but even though Lobos has the technology to scan minds the Doctor outwits him in the interrogation, but in the end an enraged Lobos condemns him to be made into an exhibit. An attack by the Moroks forces Ian, Vicki, and Barbara to scatter. Vicki and Barbara are found by the Xerons, who explain that the Moroks wiped out most of their people and use the survivors as a slave race. A fiery Vicki encourages the Xerons to seize the museum’s armory, using her knowledge of computers to gain access, while Barbara tries to rescue the Doctor from the chamber where he’s being frozen, unaware that Ian has forced Lobos with a gun stolen from a soldier to retrieve the Doctor from the chamber and revive him. Unfortunately, just as the Doctor is taunting Lobos, a squad appears.

Barbara and Vicki are caught too and wind up in the freezing chamber with the Doctor and Ian. Barbara darkly muses that they all had four separate choices and they all seemingly led to the same conclusion. The Doctor points out, though, that their decisions may have had consequences that didn’t really change the course of fate for them, but changed the circumstances around them. Outside Vicki’s revolution is overtaking the Moroks. Lobos and all the Morok soldiers stationed at the museum are killed, the TARDIS’ crew is liberated, and the museum is destroyed. Back with the TARDIS, the Doctor finds the technical problem that caused them to skip the “time track” in the first place. Before they leave, the Doctor takes one of the exhibits, a “Space Time Visualizer.” On a nearby planet, the Daleks monitor the TARDIS’ departure and vow that their “greatest enemies” will be “exterminated”…

Continuity Notes

The Doctor admits that even he doesn’t completely understand the implications of time travel and “the fourth dimension.”

When asked by a Xeron why she wants to see them revolt so much, Vicki says something cryptic about “I have as many reasons as you, perhaps more, to want to see the future changed.” A reference to her tragic past as we saw in “The Rescue” or a hint about more of a backstory that was never incorporated into an episode? I doubt the showrunners at the time put as much planning into building character bibles and continuity as that, but who knows?

After so many episodes that barely if at all mention that the Doctor is an alien, there’s a brief indirect bit about how the Doctor, if not his entire race, has a more remarkable and durable physiology than humans. Here being almost cryogenically frozen only causes the Doctor to have an outbreak of rheumatism (and get pissed off!).

Vicki mentions how she learned about the events of “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” from her history books, which at least spells out for modern sci-fi fans, now inundated with the idea of multiple realities and diverging timelines, that, at least originally, the “future stories” in “Doctor Who” were meant to be in the future, not a future.

Comments

It’s funny reviewing an entire series like this and seeing one’s complaints being addressed in later episodes, over forty years after the fact. With this serial, Vicki does get her own adventure and proactive role, although it is a little unnerving, seeing Vicki single-handedly engineer a violent uprising. At least she’s in character as her cheerful self all the while, even once the Xerons really start mowing down the Morok troops.

Apart from Vicki taking an unexpected turn as a latter-day Pancho Villa, there’s not much else worth noting, at least that’s good. The first episode is the first time the technical side of time travel affects the story, but aside from the characters pondering fate and the possible futility of trying to avoid the event they witnessed throughout the serial very little is actually done with it past episode one. Otherwise it’s the stock “The TARDIS crew help kind, pacifistic aliens overthrow/resist other evil aliens” plot we’ve seen in quite a few non-historical serials, enough that it could be the First Doctor era’s version of the 2005 series’ “Aliens launch global invasion of contemporary Earth, but ultimately no one seems terribly affected by it” plot formula. Even the museum setting just seems like an excuse to use a set that requires nothing more than a few pieces of machinery here and there. For whatever reason the quality of the dialogue has also taken a dent, at least in the “realistically handling exposition” department, unless people really do typically remind each other of how many days are in a year according to their society’s calendar.

So, not a good serial save maybe for the first episode, but there is one point for you hardcore nerds out there: the actor who played Boba Fett is in there somewhere…

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Daleks (1963)

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Synopsis

The crew of the TARDIS prepare to leave the ship to explore their surroundings, but no one notices that a radiation gauge on the console has suddenly jumped from normal to dangerous. Outside there’s a petrified jungle (wasn’t it a swamp last time?), which the Doctor deems devoid of life. However, they do catch sight of a seemingly abandoned but perfectly preserved city in the distance. The Doctor wants to explore it, but Ian with his human sensibilities and British alpha male authoritarianism refuses to let the only person who can pilot the TARDIS (if barely) go off and possibly get himself lost or killed. While Susan is briefly separated from the group on their way back to the TARDIS, someone or something touches her on the shoulder, frightening her, but no one believes her. Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor, who has softened up just a little since the last episode, shows his human guests the basics of life on the TARDIS, by explaining that there are private rooms to rest in (which we don’t see) and by showing a machine that can generate food bars that will have the exact taste of anything the operator asks for. Barbara and Ian’s joy at discovering that there are perks to wandering aimlessly through infinity is short-lived, though, as they hear something banging on the TARDIS’ doors. This, along with Susan’s claims, is enough to cause all three to demand that the Doctor get the TARDIS as far away as possible as soon as possible. Although he still wants to see the city, the Doctor seems to acquiesce. Yet when he tries to get the TARDIS to “launch”, nothing happens, and the Doctor claims that the reason is because some vital part in the console has run out of the mercury it needs to function…but it’s obvious (except to Barbara, Ian, and Susan) that he’s not only lying but proud of himself for doing so. Now, the Doctor explains with feigned regret, they’ll just have to go down to the city and search for any laboratories that might have mercury since there’s no back-up supply on-board.

As they set out, they stumble on a box filled with vials of liquid, which were presumably left by whoever was knocking on the TARDIS’ door. The Doctor has the box placed in the TARDIS to study later, which soon enough proves to be the second massive mistake he makes. At the city everyone, especially the Doctor, feels exhausted, which they just chalk up to the lengthy hike from the jungle. Once inside the city, which has corridors that run underground, the four split up. Barbara, after finding some doors closing behind her, runs into a something that extends a plunger-like arm toward her (and thus pop culture history is made). Meanwhile the Doctor and Ian discover that they’re not just fatigued; they’re suffering the symptoms of radiation poisoning. Realizing there’s more at stake than just satisfying his scholarly curiosity, the Doctor sheepishly admits he lied about the whole “we need mercury” thing and that the part should work perfectly. Before Ian can get too pissed off, he, the Doctor, and Susan realize Barbara is lost…or worse. The Doctor insists that they just leave sans Barbara, but Ian takes the part the Doctor needs and blackmails him with it. While looking for her they run into the Daleks, who temporarily paralyze Ian with a laser when he tries to escape. At least they do find Barbara, if only in the holding cells they all now have to share.

The Daleks soon get around to interrogating the Doctor – who Willam Hartnell plays so well that you just know he thinks their situation is really the others’ fault, for not letting him satisfy his scientific curiosity, even though he never says the words – and accuse them of being “Thals.” Using the interrogation as a way to learn more about the situation, the Doctor realizes too late that the drugs he carelessly put in the TARDIS were antidotes to radiation poisoning provided by the Thals and discovers that 500 years ago the Dalek “forefathers” and the Thals, two “races” native to the same planet (which is soon identified as Skaro), mostly destroyed each other in an apocalyptic war using neutron bombs. The Daleks had to flee underground. The Doctor makes a deal with the Daleks: if one of his party is allowed to collect the drugs needed to save their lives, they’ll happily share the drugs with the Daleks, so they can use them to finally leave the city. The Daleks agree, but their fingers (plungers?) are crossed; they plan on taking all the drugs, replicating the formula, and leaving the prisoners to die of radiation poisoning. It turns out Susan is the only one healthy enough to make the journey, although she’s terrified of running into the Thals, who may or may not have come out of Skaro’s apocalypse even worse off than the Daleks. In fact, she does run into one on the way back, but he looks human and friendly, and even offers Susan his cloak (it’s a good time to point out that almost all the Thals turn out to be blond and hunky).

The Thal, named Alydon, comes from a society that had been so traumatized by nuclear apocalypse and so determined to adapt to the hostile, scarred environment that they’ve gone from being an industrial society to a culture of pacifistic, quasi-nomadic farmers. Alydon is surprised that the Daleks are still alive, and sees a golden opportunity for his people. If the Daleks are still able to survive, Alydon explains, then they may have ways of efficiently producing food, and the Thals happen to be facing crop failures that could finally drive them into extinction. Alydon isn’t naive enough to think that near-annihilation was as enlightening for the Daleks as it was for the Thals, so he gives Susan an extra case of antidotes in case the Daleks confiscate the ones she’s carrying. It turns out, once Susan returns, that he didn’t need to bother; the Daleks only take enough of the drugs to analyze and allow Susan to return to the cell with the ones she have, where once used they help everyone fully recover. It turns out that now that they know that the Thals survived the Daleks have a new plan to have Susan “volunteer” as an ambassador to the Thals and lure them into the city with an offering of crops the Daleks grew using artificial sunlight. From there it will just be a matter of “extermination” (no, unless I missed something, they only ever use the noun, not the verb). Of course, the Doctor and the others don’t trust the Daleks, especially after they figure out that they’re being monitored in their cell. Piecing together that the Daleks’ armor runs on static electricity run through the metallic floors (that concludes the science lesson portion of this episode), they use mud made from the water the Daleks gave them and the dirt from Susan’s shoes as well as Alydon’s cloak to both blind and de-power the next Dalek who brings them provisions. Tossing out the Dalek inside (whose real form we barely see, since Ian and the Doctor wrap it in the cloak), Ian fits himself inside. Even though Ian can barely work the damn thing, the Doctor and the rest hope they can pretend Ian is a Dalek escorting them to an interrogation.

After a few close calls, the Doctor and company actually do make it above ground out of the Daleks’ reach. Everyone wants to warn the group of Thals they see coming to the city…except the Doctor, who now wants to get away from the former object of his curiosity no matter what. They decide that while everyone else leaves Ian will stay and try to warn the Thals. He does, but not before the Thal chieftain, who was confident that the Daleks would help his people establish more reliable food supplies and repair the damage done to Skaro’s environment, gets killed for his idealism. Back at the TARDIS, where the Thals have made a base, the Doctor studies the Thals’ historical records, observing that the Thals were the militaristic instigators of the war that devastated their civilization while the Daleks were once a peaceful people dedicated to scientific study. Once they’re reunited, the group agrees that they feel sorry for the Thals, but really there’s not much they can do. Unfortunately, just as they get ready to board the TARDIS, Ian finds out that the part he took from the Doctor is gone, confiscated at some point by the Daleks.

The Doctor and, perhaps surprisingly, Barbara take the position that the Thals should be manipulated into fighting the Daleks so at least they’d have a chance of recovering the part. Ian is horrified at the suggestion, but finally he agrees that the Daleks will probably find a way to attack and wipe out the Thals anyway. In hot blooded Brit fashion, Ian challenges the Thals’ pacifism by threatening to take their historical records to the Daleks for an exchange. When that doesn’t work, he claims to be planning to take the girlfriend of Alydon, who has assumed the tribe’s leadership, to the Daleks. Then Alydon finally punches Ian, which opens his mind to the possibility of also fighting the Daleks. In the meantime, the Daleks make the unexpected discovery that the Thals’ drug is poison to them; because of a quirk of evolution they actually need the radiation blanketing Skaro to survive. Pragmatic to the last, the Daleks decide to deliberately explode some more neutron bombs, both to insure their survival by bolstering the planet’s steadily dropping radiation levels and to stamp out the Thals.

Back at the TARDIS, Alydon reasons that letting the Doctor and the others infiltrate the Daleks’ city for the part alone would be tantamount to killing them and that there’s nothing noble in letting themselves get wiped out, either through starvation or Dalek lasers (these scenes are more interesting when you consider that they were scripted by someone who lived in a country that faced invasion by the Nazis about a little over a decade previously). The decided strategy splits the Doctor’s party and the Thals into two groups: one group, with Alydon, the Doctor, and Susan, will approach the city the way they’ve come previously, to distract the Daleks and to try to sabotage their communications equipment; the other group, with Barbara and Ian, will try to find a path into the city from the rear, through a swamp and some mountains. Both groups run into nasty problems: several of the Thals in Ian and Barbara’s group are killed by a mutant monster in the swamp and while trying to cross a chasm, although they eventually make it into the city; Susan and the Doctor are captured after disrupting the Daleks’ communication network, all because the Doctor stood around and bragged to Susan about how clever he was in finding ways to do it.

The captured and shackled Doctor and Susan are (for some reason) kept in the Daleks’ control center, as they watch in horror as the Daleks, having seen the neutron bomb idea as impractical, plan to release radioactive fumes from their nuclear reactor into the environment. Luckily enough, both parties of Thals converge and fight the Daleks. Despite some casualties, the Thals eventually win by stopping the sole Dalek in charge of the “screwing up the entire planet’s environment” project and by destroying the power source for the entire city, which causes the Daleks’ armor to shut down, presumably killing them as well. One Dalek, just before its demise, asks the Doctor for help. He only replies, “Even if I wanted to I wouldn’t know how!” Later the Doctor prepares the TARDIS to leave, after giving the Thals some advice on how they can use the Daleks’ technology to grow food without relying on the all but barren soil and eventually revitalize Skaro’s ecosystem. However, as they take off, the console explodes and everyone passes out…

Choice Quotes

“He seems to have a knack for getting himself into trouble.”
-Ian on the Doctor

“Don’t you think he deserves something to happen to him?”
-Barbara on the Doctor

Alydon: “But why [would the Daleks] destroy without any apparent thought or reason? That’s what I don’t understand.”
Ian: “Oh, there’s a reason. Explanation might be better. It’s stupid and ridiculous but it’s the only one that fits.”
Alydon: “What?”
Ian: “A dislike for the unlike.”

Continuity Notes

It’s the historic first appearance of the Daleks, along with the first detailed look at their home planet of Skaro. Unlike the concepts behind the Doctor, the Daleks have changed quite a bit over the decades, namely in that they lose the limitations they have here. Still, arguably the idea of the Daleks hasn’t changed much, if at all, and there are definite thematic parallels between how the Daleks’ motivations are explained here in the dialogue exchange quoted above and how they were reintroduced in the 2005 series (“But why would it [kill everything it sees]?” “Because they’re different!”). It’s tempting to wonder if Terry Nation, as he set about his assignment to come up with a menacing but economical creature, was thinking about a real regime that also rose out of the ashes of a catastrophic war and based entire plans on their “dislike for the unlike” (if so, it creates a sort of unfortunate irony that all the actors playing the Thals are so…Aryan).

I suppose you want me to talk about how this episode stacks up to the years’ upon years’ worth of continuity that has accumulated since, but I won’t, although if I go through with this all the way the topic will definitely come up. For now it’s enough to say that the episode “Genesis of the Daleks”, which chronologically takes place before this one, doesn’t really contradict the continuity established here, which isn’t surprising, since both were written by Terry Nation.

Comments

Believe it or not, my lengthy synopsis actually left certain and important details out, like Barbara’s nascent and never-to-be romantic relationship with one of the Thals and the heroic self-sacrifice of a Thal who had before been terrified at the prospect of his death. Like arguably 99 percent of all old-time serials, “The Daleks” is guilty of padding, especially in the segments that involve Barbara and Ian and company’s adventures in the caves, but Terry Nation is more than good enough a writer to make it all for the most part seem to matter. For a show about entertaining kids and teaching them several scattered facts about history and science, Terry Nation packed in quite a lot of detail about the characters and their relationships, making even some of the Thals, who by rights should just be background material, seem consequential. I wonder if the Daleks would have made as much an impression as they did if their opposite number had been more one-dimensional.

That said, the seven episodes here have aged even worse than the previous serial, in large part because the Daleks here are just so…hobbled. Admittedly even in recent years it’s hard to convince non-Whovians that, yes, the Daleks are supposed to be utterly terrifying, but besides their dependence on static electricity these episodes’ Daleks also seem incapable of seeing anything out of their direct line of vision. During the climactic fight it’s easy to find oneself wondering why the Thals don’t just tip the Daleks over.

Also there are a number of fossilized sci-fi cliches, like the human looking aliens being the “good” ones (although there is a nice twist in that the Thals’ ancestors were responsible for the war) and a very fuzzy concept of evolution that ends up having very little bearing on the plot. Of course, it’s still fun to watch, even if just to see how the Daleks were first conceived, although it probably is best not to watch all seven episodes in one setting.

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