Friday, September 30, 2005

'The Ambassadors of Death'

7 episodes

Or, 'The Ambassadors...' whooosh - BOINGGG '...OF DEATH' as the opening credits would have it, in a unique version where the title sequence grinds to a halt each time to reshow the cliffhanger, before kicking back in for the story title, writer and episode number... of which there are a lot, but in fairness the leisurely pace of this story rarely equates to a drop in interest. There is a slightly surreal fading in and out of monochrome depending on whether the colour footage still exists for a given episode or scene, but this detracts surprisingly little from the presentation. That there are no clear-cut villains means there are an atypically high number of shades of grey (no pun intended) characterwise: the 'alien menace' are merely trying to retrieve their missing ambassadors, General Carrington is heroically misguided, Taltalion a pawn of Reegan, Quinlan an adjunct of those two, Reegan trying to exploit the existing situation for financial gain... Even the 'good guy' scientist Cornish seems as if he may suddenly turn on the Doctor and friends for substantial periods, without this ever actually happening - possibly from his early friction with the Doctor (although this is mostly the irascible Doctor's fault), and possibly this is just the aura that Ronald Allen gives off, considering his superb turn in 'The Dominators'. That the Doctor allows General Carrington to leave with dignity intact at the end, saying he "understands" his actions as they arose from his prior experiences on Mars, speaks volumes about the shading of motives and actions present here. Reegan fills the 'evil' role the most, manipulating his colleagues, the 'ambassadors' and the Doctor and Liz, and killing off opponents, but possesses an undeniable roguish charisma that makes him oddly likeable. When he is trying to thwart the Doctor's space mission and safe return, the sequence of him clambering on the huge industrial rigs of Space Centre is among the best location work yet seen in the series, with some superb camerawork in the 'puddle reflection' shot that enables us to follow his progress upwards without shifting the viewpoint. The spacecraft model shots are likewise the highest-quality seen to date, the alien mothership's surreal backdrops are used sparingly, which keeps their efficacy high, and the fact that the aliens themselves are never named, almost totally kept under wraps and largely sidelined means they are far more effective - the faceless, silent spacesuits are more spookily unnerving than any conventional 'monster' makeup and constume would have been. They are obviously incredibly powerful and can kill with a touch, but it is clear that they do so only because they are being controlled and not through their own volition.

One thing I also really liked was the weirdly wonderful incidental music, where violent action scenes with the aliens and gun battles are soundtracked by ethereal, atmospheric sweeps of melody in an inexplicably effective manner. Lastly, the use of the John Wakefield character to literally narrate the action onscreen is a brilliant device, as not only does he look and sound like a quintessential '70s TV presenter, but his 'telecast' pieces to camera are a very clever way of providing plot exposition bluntly but without seeming forced. That he is played by Michael Wisher means that, as Geoffrey Beevers crops up as a UNIT private, we have both a future Davros and future Master in this story!


Episodes watched: 163
Episodes still to watch: 559

Actually watched the first four episodes last night, but was so tired by that stage I couldn't be bothered to post an entry here then - hence this is one overarching view rather than two half ones!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

'Doctor Who and the Silurians' episodes II - VII


He's not called Doctor Who, and they're not Silurians - the production gaffe that enabled this story to go out under the kind of hack title normally reserved for Target novelisations is on a par only with the shoddy paleontological chronology that infects the plot like the Silurian's germ warfare infects commuters. But, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised: the story kept up the pace and interest very nicely considering the large number of episodes involved, not least thanks to the vivid characterisation - Dr. Quinn (despite his surprisingly early exit), Dr. Lawrence, Major Baker, Masters, the Young and Old Silurians... All have distinct personalities established, and the length of the story means that they all have time to play out their own mini stories without this seeming forced or rushed. There is an interesting morality play at work here: more than almost any other occasion I can think of, the villains are presented in shades of grey rather than being outright evil or insane, the two stock shorthands for 'bad person' in Doctor Who. The Old Silurian's touching connection with the Doctor seems to offer hope of peaceful coexistence before he is violently usurped, while even the Young Silurian, whose bratty attitude, adolescent voice and exaggerated movements bring to mind nothing so much as Harry Enfield's Kevin the Teenager, grows up a little at the very end as he decides to sacrifice his own hibernation to save his species.

The notion of the 'alien' race not only being from Earth but in some ways having a greater claim to it than the human race is explored nicely, with the conflicting views of those who wish to coexist with them and those who wish to blow them off the planet staying within their established characters, e.g. Miss Dawson's fire-and-brimstone hard line after her beloved (?) Dr. Quinn has been killed. Geoffrey Palmer's likeably flexible civil servant/politician Masters proves pivotal to the plot, as he first juggles the conflicting requests of those around him and then forgets to quarantine himself and returns to London, unwittingly spreading the virus/bacteria and dying himself. These scenes are fantastic, with the Brigadier frantically manning every phone he can reach intercut with a white-coated Doctor testing antidote adter antidote and with a sickening Masters weaving his way around London, with his fellows from Marylebone and elsewhere collapsing in the streets. The makeup for those 'infected' is great and helps bring a grotesque touch to the sudden proliferation and to individual deaths such as Lawrence's particularly tortured one. We alse see the Doctor and the Brigadier have their relationship pushed to the limit, with a great deal of mutual distrust culminating in the famous ending where the Brigadier detonates the Silurian's caves hideout to the Doctor's abject horror and disgust. That this takes place againsgt the backdrop of a 'comedy' scene with the Doctor giving the debuting Bessie a novel jumpstart only strengthens the impact and reinforces the theory that not all 'evils' are there just to be destroyed utterly by the Doctor and chums at the end of the last episode - the ending on display here is surely one of the bleakest of all Whos.

The directorial skill thus shown is also evident elsewhere - the unfortunate dinosaur model is used only fleetingly in bluescreen-style back-projection inserts (a first) after its initial appearance, while the merely average Silurian costumes are kept in subterranean gloom for the most part. The first view of the wounded Silurian surfacing against the sun is just ravishingly gorgeous, and the use of tripartite 'monster's-eye-view' camera shots in episodes 2 and 3 is a great touch. The Doctor, usually so elegant and dapper, is clad in a white T-shirt in the final episode, which besides being unsettling, combined with his expressed sentiments helps make him seem sufficiently 'different' for the Brigadier to doubt his motives. As I mentioned, the chronology is way off, though - Quinn's map showing the continents 200 million years ago depicts a world only half as old as the Silurian Period itself (that dating would have made them Triassics, give or take, I believe), while the reptiles' talk of apes would, if applied to proto-hominids, make them far far more recent than this again. Oh well - the rest of their science is up the spout too, since they (and Liz) believe that the Van Allen belts (Earth's magnetic field, if I'm correct, not part of the atmosphere) keep out UV rays rather than the ozone layer. Still, you can't have everything.

His name's still The Doctor, though...


Episodes watched: 156
Episodes still to watch: 566

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

'Doctor Who and the Silurians' episode I

7 episodes

Bloody hell - there had only been six stories with seven or more episodes in the series' history to this point, but now there's three in a row! They'd better be good...

First reports say... interesting. This looked like being a trial to begin with: after a slow start, with not a huge amount happening, memories of the slick, expensive-looking 'Spearhead From Space' are instantly wiped out by a rubber prop dinosaur. But, after this it really begins to reel you in to the extent that you forget it ever seemed inferior. Tried three times to get through episode 2, but after falling asleep twice decided I'd be better off trying again tomorrow!

The characters are all well-drawn, with future Porridge stalwart Fulton Mackay's surprisingly pleasant and likeable Dr. Quinn (not the medicine woman) stealing the show in the early going, plus we get a pre-Blake's 7 Paul Darrow as Captain Hawkins, who has recently turned up in several guest roles in Little Britain. Which is of course narrated by the Fourth Doctor...

Anyway, I look forward to seeing what comes next...

Episodes watched: 150
Episodes still to watch: 572

'Spearhead From Space' episodes III - IV


Hey, that was good... Slick presentation, great new Doctor, a good, sympathetic role for the Brigadier and an able new companion, plus an all-time great Doctor Who moment as the Auton shop window dummies come to life and silently slaughter their way down the High Streets of the UK! The rubber Nestene monster was a bit crap in comparison to the superbly-realised Auton mannequins (I love those guns built into their hands) and 'facsimiles', but even the appearance of that was made tolerable thanks to some first-class gurning from Jon Pertwee. The number of people shot in the back by Autons was quite worryingly high, from Ransome's vaporisation to frantic shoppers, which I thought was surprisingly full-on. The Doctor, once he has shamefacedly stopped trying to escape the planet and turned his full attention to vanquishing the alien threat, is at the forefront of the action, bravely entering the Auto Plastics factory and constructing a device to thwart the Nestenes, with Pertwee turning in a performance full of charm, wit and authority.

I want to go and watch 'Rose' now, just to see the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness in action again! Still, not long to wait until 'Terror of the Autons'...!


Episodes watched: 149
Episodes still to watch: 573

Monday, September 26, 2005

'Spearhead From Space' episodes I - II

4 episodes

Oooh - colour! Suddenly, Doctor Who takes a great leap forward - new Doctor, new decade, new titles, new theme arrangement, the first story after the Doctor has finally been given a background and a context, the first story with a wholesale changeover for the core cast - and it's all in full glorious colour for the first time. Immediately, 'The War Games' seems a very long time ago... Incidentally, it's also the first non-'The...' story I've seen since 'Planet of Giants' eighteen days ago!!

Other than the totally fresh feel all the above gives the start of 'Spearhead From Space', the most noticeable thing is how fantastically glossy and 'expensive' it looks - this was the rarest of things, a Doctor Who episode shot entirely (out of necessity) on film and on location, so it automatically looks bigger and better than those shot on sets using videotape. It all helps reinforce the notion that you're watching something of a new dawn for the programme. Otherwise, the most surprising thing about part 1 is how much it holds back from rushing into the plot, or indeed introducing us to the new incarnation of the Doctor. Jon Pertwee's debut in the role sees him spend almost all of his early scenes either unconscious or otherwise less than talkative, firstly following his regeneration and secondly after he is shot (!) by a UNIT soldier. Consequently his doctors and a sceptical Brigadier learn very little about this mysterious figure and we surprisingly learn very little about his characterisation until this first half has all but elapsed. There is a rather grown-up atmosphere to proceedings, too - from the slicker look (the Brigadier's press conference at the beginning has an almost documentary feel) to a more mature 'companion' in Liz Shaw, plus we get blood on the cracked windscreen when a UNIT soldier crashes his Jeep early on, and the Autons are extremely creepy, with waxy skin, hollow eyes and stilted movements. There is humour too, though - the Doctor's antics in hospital with his shoes, the shower and his stolen outfit and 'borrowed' car, for instance. All in all, Pertwee shines as the new incumbent, while he is matched by an excellent Nicholas Courtney, slipping effortlessly back into the role of the Brigadier, and there is a promising start for Caroline John as Liz Shaw plus excellent support turns from Hugh Burden's Channing (staring eyes, looks like he's listening to the voices in his head), John Woodnutt's Hibbert (deeply conflicted) Neil Wilson's Seeley (shifty West Country yokel in Essex) and more.

Looking forward to the adventure proper in the remaining two episodes!

Episodes watched: 147
Episodes still to watch: 575

Damn - so much effort to catch up, and then I only watch one episode yesterday and two today, my worst sequence yet... Nine behind again!

'The War Games' episode X

THE WAR GAMES continued

And so it ends - 'The War Games', the Patrick Troughton era, the Sixties era, Doctor Who in black-and-white... The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe manage to gain the TARDIS and make their bid for freedom, but despite the Doctor's most valiant efforts to dodge the dubious justice of his people, they are drawn inexorably to his home planet. The Doctor does a good job here of setting out the truisms which are to become widely accepted facts - the Time Lords forbid intervention in temporal affairs, preferring to sit outside these matters and only observe, while he found this far too restrictive when there are so very many worlds and times to explore, so long ago he just stole away... He notes later that the Time Lords "like making speeches", too; the difference between his endless restlessness and their inert, impassive bureaucracy becomes very clear during this episode, and you could in many ways call it a neat template of the years to come. Watching these stories in order, though, it is easy to almost put out of your mind all thar came after and accept it as if it were new; and, although these programmes were made long before anyone ever thought in 'story arcs', it is extraordinary to suddenly find so much information coming out of the woodwork as if it had been waiting there, carefully buried, to be found all along, sfter holding out for six years of almost totally opaque mystery up to this point.

The War Lord is on trial, and despite his flat refusal to acknowledge the authority of the Time Lords' court and a spirited defence, and even the intervention of his fetish-suited guards and an escape bid using the Doctor's TARDIS, he is found guilty of heinous crimes against those he took out of time and those he would have used them against, and he is dematerialised and himself removed from history as if he had never existed. The Time Lords then turn their attention to the Doctor, who mounts his own impassioned defence of his action in defending innocents against the likes of the Quarks, Yeti, Ice Warriors, Cybermen and Daleks (all of whom we glimpse in action) and indicts the Time Lords for their own lack of action where he believes it is needed. The Time Lord quality of self-righteousness is much in evidence as neither side is willing to change its views, and eventually, following a last-ditch attempt by Jamie and Victoria to spring him from captivity, the Time Lords sentence the Doctor to exile on his frequent destination Earth in the 20th century, without the use of his TARDIS - and in a new body with a new face. For his companions there is only a return to their old lives at the moment they left them, their memories of their adventures gone - so we see Zoe return to the Wheel and Jamie to the Highlands, and there is a real sadness is not only their goodbyes but in seeing all their growth and change in their travels with the Doctor undone, especially Jamie after his never-to-be-equalled three-year stint in the TARDIS. Amusingly, the Doctor rejects all the new visages the Time Lords offer him; their patience runs out, and the last we see of the Second Doctor is him spinning off into a void, his features contorting; no matter how much he may fight it, he is about to change once again...

As I say, watching all the episodes in order you really get the feeling like you're 'discovering' things without being aware of the future history of the programme, and for a second time I found it a wrench to say goodbye to a Doctor who I had come to take for granted. After all these years, it's been great to finally familiarise myself with Patrick Troughton's Doctor, the funny, energetic, wildly anarchic prototype of so much that would define the character in decades to come. I only ever saw him play his famous recorder once, though...


Episodes watched: 145
Episodes still to watch: 577

Sunday, September 25, 2005

'The War Games' episodes IV - IX

THE WAR GAMES continued

Phew - this is a long haul, but I'm really enjoying it. The knowledge that you're working up to a pivotal moment in Who history means that the leisurely pace the story is taking in getting there doesn't feel tiresome. It would admittedly be an understatement to say that there are repetitive elements, with the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe getting caught in an almost endless cycle of capture and recapture, and there are a huge number of firefights, brawls and other skirmishes - but then, these are war games, after all. Our heroes manage to infiltrate the alien base from where the games are being manipulated and we find out all the combatants in the various zones have been lifted wholesale from their own times and placed here, brainwashed, to eliminate each other until only the elite are left to form an unbeatable fighting force to use in galactic conquest. The truly creepy scarred German general von Weich turns up again as a Confederate general, whose use of his monocle to focus his hypnotic suggestions is really unnerving, and and there is later on a glimpse of Patrick Troughton's son David as a nervous private holding him prisoner immediately before von Weich thankfully suffers an abrupt demise. Likewiase does the nasty 'British' general Smythe, as Jamie leads a band of control-resistant freedom fighters from the various zones to form a resistance base at the 1917 chateau, and despite the best efforts of the aliens back at the command centre to rout them out.

During this we get to see a lot more of the War Chief and the Security Chief, the two main controllers of the experiments, who delightfully happen to hate each other. The former, with magnificently sculpted facial hair, is a joy as he schemes with a seemingly-duplicitous Doctor to take sole control of the project, and it is revealed that he is the first person we've seen since the Meddling Monk who is of the same race as the Doctor. The powerplay between the Chiefs is highly enjoyable, although the Security Chief has a bizarre, slightly-Germanic accent and delivery reminiscent of Von Smallhausen in 'Allo 'Allo at his most pompous... The shifting dynamic between the two is thrown into sharp relief, however, by the arrival of their superior and ultimate commander the War Lord. A brilliant performance by Philip Madic (making a swift return after 'The Krotons'); what might have been expected to be a raving dictator is portrayed as a quiet, unassuming figure, whose pronouncements only seem more emphatic for being so softly delivered. The fued between the War Chief and Security Chief ultimately results in the latter's death at the hands of the former when the resistance - comedy Mexican and all - storm the base sector via the SIDRAT (silly name!) travel devices, the Doctor's easy use of which makes him rather uncomfortable to explain. Oddly, these seem to have replaced conventional control panels with fridge magnets. It is a real shock to see the War Lord suddenly snap and order the execution of the War Chief for his devious actions - maybe it's just the odd magnifying spectacles, but there is momentarily a bug-eyed lunacy floating dangerously close to the urbane surface.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is finally forced to admit he cannot resolve the plight of all the displaced fighters. We discover the seminal truth that the Doctor is of a race of people known as the Time Lords, but exactly who are they and what is it about them that is worrying the Doctor so much? He summons them only with the greatest reluctance; Troughton's portrayal of the Doctor's total terror at the thought of running into his own kind is tremendous from here on in. He promptly flees in a SIDRAT for the safety of his TARDIS - and the nebulous power of the approaching figures is wonderfully conveyed by the airborne throbbing sound that follows, and the War Lord's almost-awed, foreboding "They're coming...". The cliffhanger is superb, as the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe stumble as if through treacle towards their ship, the Doctor desperately reaching in slow-motion for the keyhole, and at the very last his fingers slip from the key...

Episodes watched: 144
Episodes still to watch: 578

Friday, September 23, 2005

'The War Games' episodes I - III

10 episodes

Well, here we are already at the end of the Troughton era, with a real epic to finish with. At ten episodes, 'The War Games' will be my longest complete story yet, and in the whole history of Doctor Who only 'The Daleks' Masterplan' and 'The Trial of a Time Lord' are longer.

The TARDIS lands in a truly dicey bit of human history, a front-line British trench in the First World War. Through the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe getting captured by first the British and then the German forces we learn that not all is as it seems, as both generals are acting rather strangely, possess some anachronistic communications devices and seem to exert an almost hypnotic influence over their subordinates, none of whom can remember exactly where they came from or how long they've been here. We also learn that the Doctor's sonic screwdriver can actually unscrew and screw screws...! Most of this opening run takes place in the British trench or at their general's chateau, and the settings and the various soldiers' manners are so extraordinarily evocative of the peerless Blackadder Goes Forth you almost feel like you're watching Blackadder, George, Darling and Melchett at times, which not only helps demonstrate what a good job both series did of recreating that world, but how close the latter's comedy strayed to genuine drama.

So well are these early scenes done, it is almost regrettable that this is not a genuine Doctor Who historical, these alas done away with after 'The Highlanders'. There is actually a reminder of that earlier story, with Jamie constantly aggravated by his would-be captors to the extent that he even teams up with an enemy from his own time, a lost Redcoat, to fight their way out of military prison. (Incidentally, Patrick Troughton has one of his best moments as the Doctor bluffs his way into the same place as a 'War Office inspector' through sheer force of bluster that would have done the First Doctor proud.) 'The War Games' does a superb job both in terms of effects and direction: the muddy trench underfoot where the TARDIS lands, the barrage of gunfire that erupts when the TARDIS crew try to leave the trench, the enormously evocative dawn scenes when the firing squad are setting up, ready to execute the Doctor - which leads to a fantastic cliffhanger for the end of part 1. Part 2's is almost as good, as with the aid of a sympathetic Lieutenant Carstairs and field ambulance driver Lady Jennifer Buckingham they manage to escape, and to their surprise pass through the encircling mist into a totally different bit of country where they face a force of oncoming Roman legionaries! Scurrying back to the '1917 zone' they discover that this place is divided into a whole host of adjacent but discrete time zones where different wars are going on, and manage to get separated in the American Civil War zone when Carstairs holds back to draw off some of the 'indigenous' combatants, and the Doctor and Zoe investigate something strangely analogous to a TARDIS that promptly disappears. Meanwhile, somewhere else altogether, we are treated to the surreal sight of the opposing generals conferring in a futuristic-looking war room as to how they are going to manoeuvre their respective forces next to best test the other's resolve. Curiouser and curiouser - I look forward to seeing what happens next!

Episodes watched: 138
Episodes still to watch: 584

Marvellous - only ten episodes today, but I have finally caught up with my quota... i.e. if before I started I had worked out where I'd be after 23 days at a rate of six episodes a day, I'd have located my progress at this point as being episode 3 of 'The War Games', which is precisely where I have got to!! Onwards and upwards, then...!

'The Space Pirates'

6 episodes: 1 surviving

I have to say, slightly contrary to what I said at the end of the last entry, from what I hear this is perhaps the only story other than 'The Underwater Menace' where I'm quite glad there isn't more surviving! The model work of spaceships etc. is particularly good for the era, even if set against oddly blank backgrounds, but really nothing much happens and takes ages to not happen too. And that's only one-sixth of the serial! The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe don't even get a look in until thirteen minutes have elapsed, and proceed to spend the rest of the episode sitting in a small capsule (part of some fragmented space beacon) slowly running out of oxygen, while the rest of the cast talk boringly to each other in not-terribly-good American accents. I'm actually hoping that General Hermack wasn't supposed to sound American, because if he was then that was the worst accent in history... The one good thing is Gordon Gostelow as Milo Clancey, an iconoclastic spacefaring loner (sound familiar?) who has more personality than the rest of the support cast put together, gets an amusing introduction where he is interrupted relentlessly while trying to just eat a boiled egg, and shows an admirably total lack of respect for Hermack and his ilk. Nothing else to see here, move along please...


Episodes watched: 135
Episodes still to watch: 587

'The Seeds of Death'

6 episodes

Strangely compelling stuff, which without ever breaking out into true greatness drags surprisingly little considering its length. We get a substantial setup sequence to introduce the setting, the concept of T-mat and all the supporting characters, although the identity of the villains is kept in the dark until the end of the first episode by clever use of shooting their point of view instead of letting them into the frame. The TARDIS crew take a full eight minutes to arrive, turning up in a space museum (not that one) that houses amongst other things the TARDIS astral map prop from 'The Web of Fear' (shudder) and the Dominators' drill. Funny the Doctor doesn't seem to recognise them...

The Ice Warriors, as they are revealed to be, make impressive monsters again and cement their status in the upper echelons of Doctor Who bad guys, with their leader Slaar being almost unspeakably sadistic in his treatment of Fewsham throughout and in his desire to kill the Doctor by T-matting him into space instead of just having him shot. The seeds of the title are really quite impressive, with absolutely mountains of foam pouring out from them and smothering the landscape. There are some odd plot elements, like the fact that Radnor and co. happily send the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to the moon in a rocket despite having only just met them and knowing nothing about their trustworthiness or suitabiility to fly, and that the three are sent up without so much as a spacesuit let alone any training! Then there is the fact that the seeds' gas kills by cutting off people's oxygen supply and the characters worry that releasing this into the atmosphere could harm the entire world's population, yet we have already seen that only a person who has a seed explode right in their face will suffocate while those behind them will just cough and splutter for a minute. Then there is the glaring error that presumably arose because the makers were all used to thinking in Fahrenheit back in the day, where we see the Ice Warriors incapacitated by the moonbase's temperature being turned up to a blisteringly hot 60 degrees Centigrade, which would surely have killed the humans present as well... Then, Zoe knows Ice Warrior Slaar's name despite having no way of doing so. And then there's that glowing-lights panel on the wall of the moonbase - although it creates very cool silhouettes of people throughout, does it actually have any other reason to be there besides this??

Still, it is easy to criticise, so I'll try not to pick out any more! There is some good model work, with the takeoff and landing of the moon rockets especially impressive. The T-mats are a nice new concept to introduce into the Whoniverse, and the Ice Warriors make good use of them to spread their killer gas and fungus all over the globe. Radnor, Miss Kelly and Eldred make a good treble-act down on Earth, although I was often distracted by Ronald Leigh-Hunt's uncanny resemblance of Bill Pertwee (brother of the future Third Doctor Jon, and Dad's Army stalwart as ARP Warden Hodges) and Philip Ray's odd facial similarity to Davros!! The unwilling traitor Fewsham is also an interesting role, as he alternates between helping and hindering the Ice Warriors in the moonbase at the risk and ultimate cost of his life. Talking of which: you get so used to Who villains using the kiddie-friendly, somewhat bowlderised expression of "destroying" someone every time they mean to dispatch them gruesomely, it was genuinely chilling to hear Slaar simply state "Kill him" when Fewsham's aiding of the humans is uncovered.

The Doctor is, despite the code of his (still unnamed) people, at his most proactive here, as he wastes no time in wading into the conflict with every intention of righting the perceived wrong and helping out the humans. It is quite surprising to see him rig up a makeshift weapon and kill (sorry, destroy) Ice Warriors, as later especially you get used to his pacifistic stance. Regardless, it is another excellent turn from Patrick Troughton, and with only a single episode plus one complete story left to come I can't help wishing we had so many more of his Doctor's serials still available to enjoy today. At least he made the effort to come back for the Three, Five and Two Doctors adventures in later years!


Episodes watched: 134
Episodes still to watch: 588

'The Krotons'

4 episodes

Ah. This was a bit of a comedown. I know I was operating on less than three hours' sleep (snatched after 'The Invasion' this morning), but I think staying awake through the whole of 'The Krotons' might have been a trial anyway... As with 'The Dominators', I came in not knowing the first thing about this serial - which, I'm beginning to realise, probably means that a story isn't going to be much cop since logically if it has a great deal to recommend it I'd have heard about it already, no?

Anyway, it's not as if 'The Krotons' is a bad story: it was the first from perhaps the programme's most successful writer Robert Holmes, features a fine turn from Philip Madoc as one of the Gonds, Eelek, has one cool cliffhanger where the Doctor is menaced by a serpentine metal probe with a glowing 'eye' at its front like those in the recent War of the Worlds film, and doesn't do anything particularly objectionable at any stage. It's just that it's so average it almost hurts - the story just sort of washed over me without ever once threatening to grab my enthusiasm. Admittedly I fell asleep for half an hour a little way into part 2 and had to stop and go back to where I'd dropped off, but even allowing for that it seemed to drag out far more than would appear to be theoretically feasible for a mere four-parter. The titular Krotons are, like the Dominators, only two in number, and are a kind of chunky sub-Quark type of robot whose most notable feature is that one of them is apparently from Birmingham. The Gonds that they have apparently been oppressing for thousands of years are too boring a bunch to waste further wordage on at this point, sorry.

Was going to give this a middle-of-the-road 5-ish, but in light of the fact that absolutely nothing interesting happened at any point I feel I must mark it down, sorry. Plus, I can never think of it without thinking of those little crunchy bits of toasted bread you get in soup...


Episodes watched: 128
Episodes still to watch: 594

Ten episodes today - back to just four behind schedule now!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

'The Invasion'

8 episodes: 6 remaining.

Lying awake with flu-like shivering last night, feeling ill and unable to drop off, head alternately full of depressed thoughts and big dreams, I finally got fed up at about half past five and came downstairs to see if I could get through all six remaining episodes of 'The Invasion' on no sleep...Three hours and only a few momentary dozes later (plus a twenty-minute interlude where I did conk out and had to rewind the tape), I seem to have made it. Good, polished if unremarkable Doctor Who that benefits enormously from a great bit of Bond-style villainy courtesy of Kevin Stoney as Tobias Vaughan, all suave menace and twitching rage, complete with a demi-psychotic henchman in Packer. His finest moment is perhaps the scene where he calmly taunts the distressed Professor Watkins to kill him, placing his gun in the other man's hand - only for it to become evident that Vaughan's body has already been Cyberised! Stoney's appearance seems appropriate, as he had already turned in an acclaimed performance as Mavic Chen in 'The Daleks' Masterplan' and here effectively reprises the role as a misguided megalomaniac who foolishly attempts to ally himself with a race of implaceble alien monsters. That in this case these are the Cybermen is interestingly held back right until the end of Episode 4 - halfway through the story - and hence Vaughan rather than the Cybermen is the main threat for much of the narrative. Curiously, while as in 'The Wheel In Space' they are largely reduced to the role of generic bad guys, the Cybermen don't seem to suffer from this in the same way as they had in their last outing; partly this is because Vaughan takes on a great deal of the evildoing workload and partly because they look so damn cool regardless - their costumes have had yet another overhaul to create perhaps the absolute 'classic' look, with the big 'earmuffs' and five-fingered gloves and an overall more powerful appearance. The scenes where they loom, gleaming out of the darkness of the sewers are superb, and despite obvious plagiarism of the Daleks' 22nd-century sightseeing trip (I swear I spotted the Albert Memorial again) the iconic shots of them descending the steps of St. Paul's and swarming through London are great too.

In a similar vein to 'The War Machines' acting as a First Doctor 'dummy run' for the Earth-based early years of the Third's tenure, so 'The Invasion' does the same for the Second Doctor. This is the first appearance of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) under that name, with Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart returning from 'The Web of Fear' now promoted to his familiar rank of Brigadier. We also see future UNIT regular Corporal Benton, who I couldn't help but notice sounds remarkably like Alan Partridge... That the Brig can command squads of soldiers into immediate action and fire off Russian missiles into space (in a nice bit of international cooperation) means the good guys have some seriously heavy-duty backup this time out, and it is also nice to see the Doctor establishing a friendship outside his TARDIS companions. A good touch, too, is the use of Nicholas Courtney to narrate the linking sequences to cover the gaps left by the missing episodes 1 and 4.

Some good use of location filming and a particularly satisfying mass firefight in the final part help make the serial look a bit more expensive than usual - although the incidental music for the UNIT men arriving to get shot was implausibly jaunty, considering, and I think it was more than a little irresponsible of the soldiers to allow the two civilian girls into their front ranks for the battle... And it's a shame that they obviously only had three stock clips of missile silos manoeuvering into position, made clear through the trio being used in the same sequence on no fewer than three separate occasions! The regulars get to do their bit, Patrick Troughton's Doctor especially excelling in his scenes with Vaughan. One thing that's bugging me, though - when Zoe isn't doing anything (i.e. looking straight ahead with face at rest), she appears to be all huge eyelashes, button nose, cheeks and lips to such a great extent she unavoidably reminds me of a Thunderbirds puppet. Strange but true... Anyway, quibbles like this aside, 'The Invasion' is good, solid fun.


Episodes watched: 124
Episodes still to watch: 598

The earliest completion of my daily quota on any day yet - and there's now less than 600 episodes left to watch!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

'The Mind Robber'

5 episodes

Now, this is my kind of story. Mysterious, fantastical, whimsical, freaky... It covers the same sort of bases as 'The Celestial Toymaker' but has the great advantage of being available to watch in its entirety, Season 6 having been spared the worst ravages that so denuded its two predeessors of surviving footage. The first episode was tacked on at the eleventh hour due to the scripts of 'The Dominators' being edited down from six to five episodes, bumping this adventure up to the same length, and for the first time since 'Inside the Spaceship' we see what the Doctor Who production team can do with no budget for sets or additional cast but a whole heap of imagination - here, creating a featureless white void that is a suitably surreal entry to the Land of Fiction. Contrary to what I thought about the end of the last story, the shenanigans with the lava were not just to allow a funny closing gag, but actively tie into the start of this adventure and lead to the TARDIS being stranded outside of time and space in this bizarre 'other' place. After 'escaping' the void, the crew are threatened by further strange images before the TARDIS blows up, leaving Jamie and Zoe (took a good minute to remember her name there...) spinning off into blackness atop the console. They emerge somewhere else altogether, in a forest of giant letter 'trees' and encounter all sorts of odd folk, from Lemuel Gulliver (who in an incredibly clever bit of scriptwriting only speaks using lines that he was given in Gulliver's Travels) to Rapunzel, Medusa, a unicorn, a Minotaur, an unnerving bunch of man-sized toy soldiers and a comical cartoon superhero known as Karkus. The strange but strictly-adhered to laws of this land means nothing is quite what it seems, only existing in some parody of life as defined in the fiction each character has sprung from. Throwing everything at the tale and seeing most of it stick, the writing and direction are excellent - and even the fact that Frazer Hines came down with chicken-pox for a couple of episodes didn't so much derail as escalate the weird brilliance, as Jamie's face is twice rearranged on a life-size cardboard cutout by the Doctor to explain his temporary morphing into a different appearance!

I have to say, I got a brief shock when the lord of this domain was named as 'The Master' - but then realised that it couldn't be that one as he hadn't been invented yet. Still, it gave an interesting frisson to each mention of his name, up to the point where the malevolent dictator was revealed as a really quite avuncular puppet of a greater Master Brain. Weird and wonderful ending, too, as the whole dimension blows up, the TARDIS spirals back together again, and the credits roll with no further explanation at all! Marvellous.


Episodes watched: 118
Episodes still to watch: 604

That's more like it - ten episodes today, and I'm only eight behind my schedule now with two days off coming up!!

'The Dominators'

5 episodes

Looked forward to this story as I had no idea whatsoever of its content before I put the video in, so had the pleasurable sense of taking a step into the unknown! This is a bit different from the norm - the series' first five-parter, if I'm not mistaken, featuring an alien invasion of another planet by precisely two (2) aliens... To be fair, the aliens in question, the self-proclaimed Dominators (of "the Ten Galaxies", no less) take advantage of theie lack of numbers by being individually quite interesting, with the frequent dissent and tension within the ranks being one of the main recurring plot features. I kind of regret the fact the programme never revisited this people, as their overlords are made out to be extremely powerful, yet their lasting impact on the Whoniverse seems to have been relegated to a mere footnote.

Alas, the people they are invading, the Dulcians, are a pretty dull bunch whose pacifism in the face of even overwhelming aggression is laudable but frankly a bit stupid, with only the get-up-and-go attitude of Cully really standing out from the blandness. The opening is in some ways the best bit, with the shocking move of introducing us to a group of four characters, of whom three are promptly massacred just as we're getting to know them. It's a full five minutes before the TARDIS lands, with a neat tie-in line to link back to the between-seasons repeat of 'The Evil of the Daleks'. We have the pleasure of meeting a new race of robots, the Quarks, who although a bit too cute and, well, square to be truly terrifying nevertheless have a neat design with foldaway arms, and pack an impressive amount of firepower as evidenced by the hugely spectacular destruction of Cully's ship. Otherwise, the best bit is seeing Jamie and Cully running around blowing up Quarks with homemade explosives. The end is great too, with the Doctor gazing rapt at an oncoming lava flow until Jamie points out the mildly hazardous nature of this to him, at which point Patrick Troughton's facial expression does an instant about turn and with an "Oh, my word!" the credits roll!


Episodes watched: 113
Episodes still to watch: 609

'The Wheel In Space'

6 episodes: 2 surviving

Apart from the fact it's meant to be a great story, it occured to me while naming this post that it's a shame I don't get to write about 'Fury From The Deep' as that not only featured the first ever appearance of the Doctor's legendary sonic screwdriver, but also would have been the first non-'The...' title since 'An Unearthly Child', 'Inside The Spaceship' and 'Planet of Giants' from the early days of the programme. Random trivia there...

Not much to report, except that this marks a return appearance for the Cybermen. The fact that a small space station is at threat makes it a bit different from the prior locations they've been involved in, but the sections of story available (parts 3 and 6) are so fragmented that it's hard to get any sense of drama or menace from the occasion. To be honest, there isn't enough uniquely 'Cybermen' in the plot to make it seem worthwhile including them in many ways. The monsters have had another facelift, this time replacing the heavily-rimmed circular eyeholes of their early models with the classic 'keyhole'-style design with the 'tears' at the outer lower corners. The Cybermats similarly look a bit better compared with 'The Tomb of the Cybermen'.

Otherwise, the supporting cast aren't much to write home about, and the most interesting thing is that the Doctor first uses the pseudonym 'John Smith', thanks to Jamie. The only other thing I can comment on is that apparently Victoria departed the TARDIS at the end of the last adventure (there goes another one, again without me seeing it) and is promptly been replaced by the Wheel's librarian and astrophysicist Zoe Heriot, who becomes the latest stowaway at the end of the adventure. In a very neat touch, the Doctor decides to give her a taste of what dangers may lie ahead of her by using a device to show her his mental images of their last Dalek adventure, utilising actual clips from 'The Evil of the Daleks' - which apparently at the time led nicely into a real-life repeat of said serial, in a first for the programme!


Episodes watched: 108
Episodes still to watch: 614

Bit better today - managed to get seven episodes in this evening, eventually, and have completed Season 5 in not much over two days!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

'The Web of Fear'

6 episodes: 1 surviving

And again we have but one of six episodes left to judge this adventure on, just like its predecessor 'The Enemy of the World' and the story it is a sequel to, 'The Abominable Snowmen'. This time, the Yeti turn up in the London Underground, armed with web-spraying guns incongruously enough. There is an early appearance for UNIT soldiers, later to become a regular feature especially in the Third Doctor's era under the command of the Brigadier. Here, pre-promotion, the then Colonel Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart makes his debut appearance - Nicholas Courtney's character was to become the longest-serving in the entire programme, appearing at intervals over 21 years up to the Seventh Doctor's 'Battlefield' in the final season, with further appearances in original audio adventures since then - although here he is unseen as this is not until the missing third episode. There are a couple of other interesting characters: the TV reporter Harold Chorley who is bizarrely reminiscent of Adrian Edmondson, and a welcome reappearance for Professor Travers, thirty years after he brought a Yeti back from Tibet and now with voice and cantankerous attitude redolent of an elderly Churchill... The sets are amazing, an incredibly realistic and magnificently spooky recreation of London Underground tunnels, and there is a great cliffhanger with the soldiers blowing up a tunnel without realising the Doctor has gone down it. And then there's five further episodes, none of which can be seen, just like all six of the next serial 'Fury From the Deep', which is reputed to be one of the greatest 1960s Doctor Whos... grrr...


Episodes watched: 106
Episodes still to watch: 616

'The Enemy of the World'

6 episodes: 1 remaining

Great dual performance for Patrick Troughton here doubling as Mexican would-be dictator of Earth, Salamander; with little more than an altered outfit and hairdo to differentiate him from the Doctor he succeeds in making himself practically unrecognisable through accent and expression alone. The Chef is one of the most humorous characters yet to crop up, wandering off out in the middle of preparing dinner and being for no obvious reason almost suicidally pessimistic. I get the feeling that the sets budget may have been an issue seeing as the character Denes is kept prisoner in a corridor, for crying out loud... As ever, wanted to see more, but alas only one lonely episode out of six survives, once again.


Episodes watched: 105
Episodes still to watch: 617

'The Ice Warriors' episodes IV - VI


Very pleased to report that this finished as strongly as it started. The Ice Warriors are an excellent addition to the legion of Doctor Who monsters, with an extremely impressive reptilian-Viking appearance and sibilant whispering voices. The snowbound scenery continues to be ravishing, the various cave-in etc. effects are pulled off with panache and there's even a plausible-looking bear attack on the Penley and Jamie. Peter Sallis's redoubtable Penley and Peter Barkworth's pressured Clent are two of the best and most understated supporting performances I've seen yet, and their antagonistic/complementary character stories play off each other extremely well up to and including a grumpily touching reconciliation. It is also fun to see Clent's assistant Miss Garrett turn into his 'enforcer' later on! The subtext of not letting humanity be subsumed by dependence on machines is well played out as well, especially as the Base comes under siege from both the encroaching glaciers and the Ice Warriors, with the all-knowing computer unable to make a decision that will guarantee their safety and Clent consequently unable to make a choice of action. Even Victoria's propensity to scream and wail at the slightest provocation is at one point turned into a tool by the enterprising Doctor in the Ice Warriors' ship... Excellent all round.


Episodes watched: 104
Episodes still to watch: 618

Monday, September 19, 2005

'The Ice Warriors' episode I

6 episodes: 4 remaining

Well, it is a shame that not all of this story remains, but at least there's enough to get your teeth into here, for a change. It was only rediscovered in relatively recent years, as well. Only managed to fit the first episode in because rest of evening was taken up by regular weekly fantasy roleplaying session run by Locus and set in the universe of, yes, Doctor Who...! This story shows the structure starting to develop that would later become the norm, of beginning with the situation into which the TARDIS and its passengers are to arrive, before only introducing them to it a couple of minutes later. Cool opening titles, with 'THE ICE WARRIORS' and 'ONE' (rather than 'Episode 1') blurring in and out of focus against a snowfield background.

The scenery is magnificent, showcasing fabulous wintry snowscapes, with an excellent avalanche pulled off just minutes in. The team of scientists trying to hold back the march of the glaciers have an interesting leader in the shape of the hobbling Clent, and a relatively young Peter Sallis turns in a fine performance as Penley. There are some fun interplays between the supporting chatacters out in the icefields, and the monster they turn up gets just enough of a glimpse of screen time to whet the appetite for the next episode - or at least for the final three... Excellent funny sequence, too, where Jamie tries to encourage Victoria that she would look good in the skintight outfits worn by the Britannicus Base's female staff, and gets slapped down pretty brusquely for his troubles!

Episodes watched: 101
Episodes still to watch: 621

'The Abominable Snowmen'

6 episodes: 1 surviving

Only one episode is left from this serial, but it brings up the big 100 mark in my quest! Not bad going for nineteen days' worth, if I say so myself... Again, it's a great pity so little remains of this adventure - I imagine I'll be saying that a lot over the next few days... There is a great isolated Tibetan setting, good supporting cast in the shape of Professor Travers (Jack Watling, Deborah's father) and the various residents of the monastery, and a compelling villain in the bodiless form of what is later revealed to be the Great Intelligence. The Yeti look good too, although perhaps a trifle too cuddly, considering...!


Episodes watched: 100
Episodes still to watch: 622

Sunday, September 18, 2005

'The Tomb of the Cybermen'

4 episodes

Incredibly, this is the only complete serial remaining from the fourteen in the first two seasons of the Second Doctor's era, and was itself only rediscovered in Hong Kong in 1992. Fortunately, given its privileged status, the story is something of an acknowledged classic. The opener for Doctor Who's Season 5, it begins with a neat little recap of the nature of the TARDIS and what the Doctor is doing in it, and progresses to some great location shots... in a quarry, to be sure, but with great steep-angle views up and down the slopes as a group of future archaeologists blast their way into the long-buried tomb of the Cybermen, thought extinct for centuries. The arriving Doctor helps them gain access and, through the machinations of a rogue element in the shape of the expedition's funder Krieg and his partner Kaftan, the Cybermen hibernating within are released from their frozen sleep. For the first time we get to meet the Cyberman Controller, and their little 'pet' metallic beasties the Cybermats. The sets are wonderful, with some cool, almost Art Deco bas-relief Cybermen depicted on the tomb walls, the Controller is imposing and powerful, and for two episodes at least the atmosphere of mystery, intrigue and menace are maintained. Unfortunately things unravel a bit towards the end, as the Cybermen just come out of their cocoons, go back in again, come out again and don't do very much before they return again, backwards, and seal themselves back in. Bit of an opportunity wasted, one might suggest. Deborah Watling as Victoria is a bit hit and miss here, as well, though it's another fine performance from Patrick Troughton. Despite its flaws, still very enjoyable.


Episodes watched: 99
Episodes still to watch: 623

Oh dear, only four episodes today and have slipped back again to 9 behind schedule, as was distracted by Locus and Pip returning home with many tales to be told and photos to be looked through... Cake turned out nice though, and I'm within an ace of my episode tally reaching triple figures!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

'The Evil of the Daleks'

7 episodes: 1 surviving

Another great shame, as this is reputed to be a very strong story. Intended to 'kill off' the Daleks for at least the immediate future, the story jumps from the present day to Victorian times, then makes a return to the Daleks' home planet Skaro in the future for the grand finale, where Dalek civil war breaks out and they are seemingly destroyed once and for all. Alas, all that is left is episode 2, where the Doctor and Jamie get transported to the nineteenth century and run into the Daleks, who are very well depicted, sounding extremely callous and cunning. They also meet the interesting supporting players Maxtible and Waterfield, who are experimenting with time travel - and, unusually, make a stab at establishing a plausible-sounding explanation to describe it. The latter's daughter Victoria becomes the latest addition to the TARDIS crew at the end of part 7; I'm beginning to realise now why I've never had much of a handle on many of these early companions, as not only did they change rapidly but much of their adventures are missing, and there were a Vicki and a Victoria in quick succession for heaven's sake!


Episodes watched: 95
Episodes still to watch: 627

Only three episodes today - have lost a lot of my spare time to the unusual activity of baking a cake, since my newly-engaged friends are returning home tomorrow and I thought it would be nice to welcome them back with a memento of the special occasion...!

'The Faceless Ones'

6 episodes: 2 surviving

I really enjoyed what there was of this - shame it isn't very much, with only episodes 1 and 3 surviving out of six. That's two more than the previous story 'The Macra Terror' has remaining, which means I'll never get to see more of the giant crabs than was present in a brief 'Lost In Time' DVD clip, more's the pity. No, really. 'The Faceless Ones' has an intriguing Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style premise and some neat use of contemporary locations, only the seond time (after 'The War Machines') that the series had returned to the then present day since 'An Unearthly Child'. Of course, with many later stories set in contemporary times the impact of this is dulled now, but at the time I guess it must have seemed quite radical.

In fact, the day is meant to be exactly the same as that on which 'The War Machines' takes place, which implies that the Second Doctor was running around at Gatwick while the First was in central London... and still neither one thought to look in on Ian and Barbara... And hence, Ben and Polly decide to head off back to their own lives at the end, I gather. In the immortal words of Victor Meldrew, I don't believe it - it felt like I'd barely seen these two, yet that's two more companions gone. Looking at the listings, there's a good reason: after their debut serial, only eight episodes survive from the pair's joint tenure, which isn't exactly a good way to get used to them. These two episodes are good ones; I liked the airport setting and the way the mystery was unfolding, but it's just that it's a little hard to follow the continuity when they're spread out like this. But I wanted to see the others, which is surely a good sign - unlike 'The Underwater Menace', say. Good performance from Troughton, too, with the new Doctor beginning to feel like the definite article rather than a substitute. This is incidentally strengthened by an innovation that would come to be a hallmark of the programme - we get to see the incumbent Doctor's face floating amidst a redesigned opening title sequence, which had debuted in the previous story but can ironically in 'The Faceless Ones' be seen for the first time!


Episodes watched: 94
Episodes still to watch: 628

Friday, September 16, 2005

'The Moonbase'

4 episodes: 2 surviving

Aren't there a lot of stories beginning with 'The'? The alphabetical list that pops up every time I start naming a post is getting enormous now...

Often held up as a straight rewrite of 'The Tenth Planet', this has enough going for it to stand scrutiny on its own merits. True, the claustrophic, isolated setting - here on the Moon instead of the Antarctic - is similar, as is the Cyber force trying to gain control of it, Polly making coffee etc., but the setting works well and the Cybermen here are very impressive. Much more metal than before, the cloth suits gone, and with less restrictive outfits and weaponry, they seem more threatening - and this is greatly helped by the new voices, the singsong intonation replaced with a flat metallic monotone that truly suits them. As the first and third episodes are missing, filled in by audio soundtracks on the DVD, it is slightly hard to get into the action; but there is plenty to enjoy, with a couple of interesting supporting characters in the shape of Hobson and Benoit, good use of the Cyber-controlled humans, clever strategy by the Cybermen and a strong performance from Patrick Troughton as the Doctor tries to look after his companions, foil the Cybermen's efforts and prevent Hobson from throwing him off the Moon!


Episodes watched: 92
Episodes still to watch: 630

'The Underwater Menace'

4 episodes: 1 surviving

On reflection, it's possibly just as well there's only one part left of this story, as I can't help but think four would have been rather heavy going... Some great sets (the temple especially) and exotic costumes are undone by a truly over-the-top mad scientist Zaroff ("Nothing in ze vorld can stop me now!!") and some rubbish scripting that gives Polly nothing to do except scream a lot and act helpless. The Fish People (this is Atlantis, by the way) look pretty silly and apparently haven't really got anything to do either, but do at least get an endearingly stupid 'underwater' showcase with the actors 'swimming' on wires... Reading up on the missing episodes, the Doctor destroys the fabled land by flooding it at the end. As it is an infamous Doctor Who factoid that Atlantis is destroyed no fewer than three separate ways over the course of the programme's history, I look forward to witnessing the others in the next few months!


Episodes watched: 90
Episodes still to watch: 632

Missing II - Season 4

Things really fragment for a while after this. The last stretch of the Hartnell era is symbolic of what is to come: 'The Gunfighters' intact, then 'The Savages' missing; 'The War Machines' intact, then 'The Smugglers' missing. Following 'The Tenth Planet', the start of the Patrick Troughton era is devastated by the archive purges, with both his first two stories completely missing - 'The Power of the Daleks' in which the Second Doctor has his first run-in with his greatest enemies, and 'The Highlanders' where he gains another travelling companion in the shape of Battle of Culloden survivor Jamie McCrimmon. Only a few 8mm clips exist from the former on the 'Lost In Time' DVD, and then it's on to episode 3 of 'The Underwater Menace', 2 and 4 of 'The Moonbase', before the entirely absent 'The Macra Terror', 1 & 3 of 'The Faceless Ones' and just episode 2 of the seven-part season closer 'The Evil of the Daleks'. All in all, just six episodes survive from the Second Doctor's 35 in season 4.

'The Tenth Planet'

4 episodes: 3 surviving

Or, the famous debut story of the Cybermen and the last of the First Doctor's era. I effectively watched four episodes, but as the last was a 'recon' it's technically only three. Of all the Doctor Who adventures left incomplete today by the tape-wiping of the 1970s, this is the only story where just a single missing episode would complete the whole serial; and maybe for this reason the lost fourth part of 'The Tenth Planet' is held in almost mythical regard - although, from the audio soundtrack and reconstruction using still photos and scant seconds of film, despite its significance in the canon it seems not to actually have been that great in comparison with the rest of the serial. The strength of the story lies more in its first three episodes: the superb snowbound landscape scenes at the South Pole; the appearance of the Cybermen; the terrible backstory given by the silver giants to their present state; the mini-dramas in the space capsule, its offscreen demise lent poignancy by this only being conveyed by a silent white video screen; the second capsule with the son onboard of the General at the Pole, caught between military action and paternal concern. The last part, in contrast, is a little formulaic as the goodies find the baddies' weakness and exploit it, then Mondas blows up. Exactly how it was 'draining energy' from the Earth is never satisfactorily explained, nor how its continents look the same after millions of years apart, nor how the whole planet has been piloted across the Solar System (shame the Daleks of 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' didn't talk to them - could've saved them a whole lot of bother), but I guess in the long run these can be glossed over. The Cyberman Krang (was this the only time they had names?) has a bizarre sing-song intonation that sounds remarkably like the Dalek Supreme a few stories back - this is explained when the credits come up and you realise that both voices were provided by Roy Skelton, a multi-time Who voice artist/walk-on-part man, who also famously voiced the non-humans in kids' classic Rainbow... which also explains why both sound quite a lot like Zippy... The credits are marvellous, actually: they have another unique look for this story, with blurring rows of numbers flickering into cast and crew names; there is a kind of fittingly stark beauty to it. The cliffhanger at the end of the third episode also deserves praise, with the tense countdown sequence for the Z-bomb rocket reaching zero in perfect time to segue straight into the credits.

One more thing this story does do well is the rare feat of making it feel like a worldwide catastrophe: the use of foreign astronauts and scientists and the Geneva HQ help to spread the reach of the drama beyond the Home Counties (as cliché would so often have it), and make it almost feel for stretches like you're watching a film. In a way, this effect is helped by the fact that the regulars don't have an enormous amount to do, with the Doctor worst affected. Ironically, the real-life illness of William Hartnell caused him to miss his own final intact episode: but this reinforces the on-camera deterioration of the Doctor, who has complained that his old body is "wearing a bit thin". He then spends much of the final part imprisoned on the Cybership with Polly, and when Ben releases them he staggers to the TARDIS, collapses to the floor and is suffused with a bright white light. His face blurs and changes, and a momentous occurrence in Doctor Who history has taken place - the first regeneration.


Episodes watched: 89
Episodes still to watch: 633

Thursday, September 15, 2005

'The War Machines'

4 episodes

How strange, again. For the first time, I'd forgotten to read up on a missing serial before continuing onto the next surviving one - in this case, 'The Savages', which fell between this and 'The Gunfighters' - so I was surprised from the off, as Steven did not make an appearance: it seems that he too had departed the TARDIS at the end of the previous adventure, which is a shame as Peter Purves put in a string of fine performances. Then, I thought I'd accidentally put a UNIT-years story into the VCR by mistake - basically, 'The War Machines' uncannily preempts the early-1970s style of Doctor Who, in all but the presence of the First Doctor instead of the Third. Set in contemporary London, the Doctor is immediately seen as a kind of quasi-Establishment figure who wanders in and straightaway has the ear of scientists, Government ministers and the like - totally at odds with his prior depiction as an mysterious interplanetary loner. This is infamously the one story where the Doctor is referred to as 'Doctor Who' onscreen, several times by the supercomputer WOTAN and also by the machine's creator Professor Brett - I have to say that it's always a pet hate of mine when he's called that, in print, comment or in the credits of the new series, as the original series at least had started crediting him as 'The Doctor' from his fifth incarnation onwards.

Anyway, the plot is that WOTAN takes on a life of its own and tries to take over the world for machines. It achieves sentience late one evening, brainwashes its first victims minutes later and instructs them to find suitable sites in central London to secretly construct war machines, has a warehouse with full assembly line up and running by about 2am (so secret, the components all come in packing cases with the WOTAN 'W' logo on them) and is rolling out the machines by morning. Quite the schedule!! That these fearsome creations subsequently spend little time actually causing havoc, and more time looking for stacks of boxes to crash through impressively, is neither here nor there... The spirit of the Swinging Sixties is alive and well in Polly and Ben, who between them keep the plot moving after the disappearance of Dodo halfway through: she is hypnotised by WOTAN and turns rather creepy until cured by the Doctor, who then packs her off "to the country" for a couple of days' rest - and we never see her again!! At the end Polly and Ben just tell the Doctor she has decided to stay in London - I said before that these companions were dropping like flies, didn't I? - so her character 'finale' takes place offscreen. This was surely the most ignominious departure for a companion ever, I'm certain... The two then inadvertently stow away aboard the TARDIS, and we have two new companions.

Oh, did I forget to say what happened in the plot? Well, the Doctor basically spends the whole story striding around ordering people about, and in the end this works as with the aid of some soldiers and an electromagnetic field he captures and reprogrammes a War Machine, somehow gets it to the top of the (then brand new) Post Office Tower where WOTAN is located, and uses it to destroy the computer. That's it. Incidentally, I couldn't help thinking it was a bit rude of him not to drop in on Ian and Barbara to see how they'd been getting on for the last year or so since they returned from their interstellar wandering. Still, there we are...


Episodes watched: 86
Episodes still to watch: 636

A massive 20 episodes covered today, so I've managed to slash my deficit to a mere 4 behind the six-a-day schedule now!

'The Gunfighters'

4 episodes

How bizarre. This was hardly like watching Doctor Who at all: rather, there was a nicely-staged reenactment of the days leading up to the famed Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona in October 1881, which just happened to have the Doctor, Steven and Dodo wandering in and out of the action at intervals. The supporting players essentially took centre stage for most of the adventure, with particularly memorable incarnations of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp having the most to do. The simple issue of the "Doc" being there on "holiday" causes a case of mistaken identity that ensures the TARDIS crew's entanglement in the rest of the story, but by and large events just play themselves out around them. There is a fairly high humour quotient, the Doctor has a tooth extracted and keeps finding people giving him guns, Dodo and Steven get to bash away at the piano and sing in the Last Chance Saloon, Steven remembers to use his Wild West accent at least half the time, two of the Thunderbirds voices turn up in person, the 'Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon' is sung at the beginning and end of each episode and at intervals inbetween to summarise the plot, and half the cast winds up shot dead. The recreation of a whole Western town set on Doctor Who budget is mighty impressive...sorry, very impressive, as well. This story has traditionally either been slated or adored by viewers and critics; clearly, I fall nearer the latter camp!


Episodes watched: 82
Episodes still to watch: 640

'The Celestial Toymaker'

4 episodes: 1 surviving

Of all the Doctor Who stories lost in the mists of time, this is perhaps the one that I most regret not being able to see. The premise appeals to my twisted psyche, I guess: the TARDIS lands in a fantasy domain constructed by the evil, immortal being the Toymaker, and its crew have to play a series of deadly 'games' against him and his seemingly playful but fiendish underlings in order to try and secure their freedom. It is one of the most out-and-out 'fantasy' stories the series produced and I have heard many good things about it over the years - and, I have to confess, until I started this mission I had believed it entirely lost. It was therefore with great delight that I discovered the final episode still exists, although having read the plot details of the others I am even more intrigued as to what I missed... I'm sure my rating would have been even higher had the whole story survived. What remains is brilliant, a mix of cunning childishness and sugar-coated brutality in the games that is ingenious. The Toymaker remains one of the most fascinating and best-portrayed Who villains, with a classic, universally-acclaimed performance from Michael Gough. Besides the absence of three-quarters of this serial, the greater shame is that we have been doubly cheated - he was due to reprise the role in 'The Nightmare Fair', a story proposed to open the cancelled Season 23 that was jettisoned when the series took its one-year hiatus in the mid-'80s. At least we got to see him a bit later in the four Batman films...


Episodes watched: 78
Episodes still to watch: 644

'The Ark'

4 episodes

Didn't seem like much at first, but slowly built into something pretty good. There is another new companion (they're going through them like nobody's business at the moment), Dorothea 'Dodo' Chaplet, acquired at the end of the previous, missing story 'The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve' - a reputedly outstanding historical that gave William Hartnell an acclaimed dual role as both the Doctor and the sinister Abbot of Amboise, and is regarded in many quarters as the best ever Doctor Who story. Alas, it is long since lost to us, but I must definitely get around to listening to the audio CD of that one sometime...

Like the story, I wasn't impressed with Dodo at first - in fact, she was downright irritating in her opening scenes: to the point where, if I didn't actually wish upon her the same fate as her namesake, I at least wanted to give her a pretty good slap... but, she grew on me too by the end. This time, the TARDIS lands upon a giant spaceship in the far future, carrying the last departees from Earth shortly before it was due to be consumed by the death of the sun, on a 700-year voyage to colonise the planet Refusis. The fact that, while most of the human and animal populations have been miniaturised, the Guardians are keeping some animals in 'wild' environments allows for some spectacular jungle set design (including an actual Indian elephant!) and for Dodo to mistakenly believe they are at Whipsnade animal park... She is bothered by a recurring sniffle, which while no more than an inconvenience for her turns out to be fatal to the spacefarers, who have (like Steven) long since lost their immunity to such things since these were cured generations ago. Exactly how long ago is a matter for conjecture: though the general implication from comments made by characters is several miilion years, the Doctor estimates "ten thousand" as if it were a massively long time - and common sense would say around five billion years, as that is the likely actual time scale until the sun expands into a red giant. Thinking about it, that is exactly what the new series of Who did stipulate in 'The End of the World'... Anyway, the first two episodes revolve around the TARDIS travellers being put on trial for their bringing the disease, then being allowed to help find a cure. This accomplished, they return to the TARDIS and depart, in a very neat false finish - as moments later they reappear on the same spot, to find that almost the whole voyage has elapsed and the Guardians' descendants have been overthrown and forced into subjugation by their formerly peaceful (and slightly Wookiie-like) Monoid servants. When they reach the planet the companions are finally split up - surely a record wait for this to happen - and the Doctor is in the first group to land on the new planet. There are some clever shenanigans involving the native Refusians being invisible and helping the humans, while Monoid civil war decimates much of the oppressors' population, and in the end everyone agrees to coexist in peace and the TARDIS' occupants go on their way... again.


Episodes watched: 77
Episodes still to watch: 645

11 episodes today so far - already my best yet...

'The Daleks' Masterplan'

12 episodes: 3 surviving

As expected, this is very hard to rate - the three surviving episodes are numbers 2, 5 and 10 out of 12, so more than in any other case you really are just dipping in and out of the story at almost unconnected points. The DVD contains a tiny amount of off-air 8mm footage from this adventure's missing sequences, plus from those in 'The Reign of Terror', from 'Galaxy 4' (well, ten seconds of the Doctor at the TARDIS console with Vicki cutting Steven's hair in the background) and Vicki's swansong 'The Myth Makers' - plus some later adventures. Thus we get to see Brian Cant, the peerless children's TV presenter from when I was little (of Playschool and Bric-a-Brac fame), here being exterminated by Daleks in the jungle in part 1! We also see the moments up to Katarina's shocking self-sacrifice in part 4 – having missed almost all of her brief tenure - which was a watershed moment in the programme's history as it proved that a companion could die. Regrettably, though, there is nothing from the infamous part 7, Christmas episode 'The Feast of Steven', which ended with the Doctor smashing the 'fourth wall' by delivering the legendary "...a happy Christmas to all of you at home!" line direct to camera...

It must be said that there is a special frisson attached to the second part, 'Day of Armageddon': this was the very last 'lost' episode of Doctor Who to be rediscovered, to the present, brought to light as recently as January last year (2004) when it was returned by a former BBC engineer – reducing the number of still-missing episodes to a mere 108... In it, we get to see the traitorous Guardian of the Solar System, Mavic Chen, conspiring with the Daleks to create an ultimate weapon, the Time Destructor, and the Doctor making off with its crucial 'taranium core' after masquerading as a delegate at a galactic conference featuring many weird and wonderful alien creatures. We can also see, after nearly forty years, the debut appearance of Nicholas Courtney, who would later play the series' longest-running supporting character Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart. Here he is a different kind of soldier, Space Security Services agent Bret Vyon, who before the start of part 5 is alas killed by interim 'companion' Sara Kingdom - who subsequently admits he was her brother. Sara is played by Jean Marsh, almost unrecognisable from her earlier role as Princess Joanna in 'The Crusade', who apparently fills the vacancy created by Katarina's demise... until the very end of the story, where she too meets an untimely end. Not the jolliest of adventures, this one. Still, there is a neat trick where the Doctor, Sara and Peter are accidentally teleported to a distant planet along with the intended participants in the experiment: two white mice in a cage, which instantly made me think of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Of course, they are immediately followed and surrounded by the Daleks - but, instead of finding out what happened next, we jump straight to part 10 in ancient Egypt. The Meddling Monk has turned up again, and gets captured by Mavic Chen and the Daleks along with Sara and Steven, effectively saving his own life by telling the Daleks they can use the other two as hostages. The sets are magnificent as the Doctor arranges to swap the three for the taranium core at the Great Pyramid and a band of Egyptian warriors launch an attack on the Daleks - and the Doctor and friends escape in the TARDIS after he has stolen the 'directional unit' from the Monk's own ship, condemning the meddler's TARDIS to roam randomly without it. And that's it - no more is to be seen, unless we get very lucky sometime in the future...


Episodes watched: 73
Episodes still to watch: 649

Ten whole per cent of the way through my 'Survival' bid!!


Oh. This is the point where things start to fragment, at least as far as viewing the adventures of the Doctor and his companions as an ongoing saga is concerned, as from the start of the third season the 1970s purges really take chunks out of the archive. No sooner have I enjoyed watching the new combination of Vicki and Steven in 'The Time Meddler' than I discover that that was the only time I'll get to do so. The next story 'Galaxy 4' becomes only the second (after 'Marco Polo') to be completely absent; this is followed by the single-episode 'Mission To The Unknown' (or 'Dalek Cutaway' as it's also peculiarly known) – a preview to the upcoming 'Daleks' Masterplan' – which uniquely didn't feature the Doctor or any regulars, and which is also now missing. Then there is 'The Myth Makers', also lost and apparently one of the least-documented Whos in terms of surviving clips, photos, etc. - and it turns out that Vicki remains in ancient Troy at the end of it, after only nine adventures on board the TARDIS. Shame, I liked her too. Ah well, it seems I have a new stowaway, Greek handmaiden Katarina, to look forward to.

On, then, with the twelve-episode epic 'The Daleks' Masterplan', the longest single story Doctor Who would ever run (discounting the 14-part but essentially four-stories-in-one 'Trial of a Time Lord') - but, again, it has been gutted by those tape destructions and only three episodes survive. Back to the 'Lost In Time' DVD I go...

'The Time Meddler'

4 episodes

Well, this was a pleasant surprise indeed... I'd seen this story before, a while back now, but didn't remember it particularly well - and clearly I'd been underrating it as it doesn't put a foot wrong. The atmosphere of Saxon Northumbria in 1066 just before the Viking and Norman invasions is terrifically rendered through some good location work and fine (monastery, cliff, forest) sets. The story is deftly scripted and intriguing, with the mystery of the 'Monk' and how incongruous modern artifacts are lying around in the 11th century allowed to spiral towards the conclusion, and perfectly paced, with the disparate elements - Monk, Doctor, Vicki and Steven, Saxons and Vikings - not all coming together until the final reel. The Monk, with his deliciously anachronistic wristwatch, gramophone, toaster, binoculars, wallchart (with tick-boxes for each stage of his dastardly scheme) and atomic cannon, is wonderfully played by Peter Butterworth with a wicked sense of humour - he seems much more troublesome than actually evil, and you almost sympathise with him by the end, as so many people come and go at his previously isolated monastery hideout he might as well install a revolving door, frankly. This is the first time in the series thst we meet one of the Doctor's own (unnamed as yet) people with another TARDIS, and it is a delight to witness the verbal sparring in the final third as a mischievous Monk and inquisitorial Doctor finally lock horns. William Hartnell turns in another fine performance, particularly enjoyable in the sequence where the Doctor has his stick jammed into the Monk's back to make him believe he has a gun! He exacts fitting yet not punitive retribution upon the Monk by removing the 'dimensional control' from the latter's TARDIS, rendering the interior tiny and the meddler stranded in 1066. Vicki and new stowaway companion Steven hold their end up well, with Peter Purves' effortlessly charismatic performance instantly endearing the latter to the viewer as he is first sceptical of the whole time travel phenomenon before later getting into the spirit of charging around the countryside from one danger to the next. The Saxons get some nice group interaction, and while the Vikings have less to do on the whole, there is the charming saving grace that one of them is played, entirely inappropriately, by someone named Norman.

All told, an unexpected gem.


Episodes watched: 70
Episodes still to watch: 652

Four down before breakfast! Day off today, so should be able to catch up with the schedule a bit...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

'The Chase' episodes III - VI

THE CHASE continued

You know, this story is tripe... but tripe of the highest order. Ludicrously enjoyable, despite the fact that the plot essentially consists of the Daleks chasing the TARDIS to a different location every episode or so, everyone charging around and falling over the locals, then the TARDIS crew running away again. Thus we get a memorable scene on top of the Empire State Building, when the TARDIS manages to actually get back to contemporary (1965) Earth, and first its occupants then minutes later the Daleks wreak havoc with the sanity of an Alabama hick - played very amusingly by Peter Purves, who will turn up later in the adventure as space pilot Steven Taylor. Then we hop to the Marie Celeste, whose occupants are, to a man, scared overboard by the Daleks... well, that's one mystery solved, anyway! A swift detour via a 'haunted house' (which unbeknown to the characters is a funfair attraction) later, we have Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula fighting the Daleks, before both timeships rendezvous on the jungle planet Mechanus. Our heroes dodge deadly sentient fungoid things and a robot duplicate of the Doctor made by the Daleks to "infiltrate and kill", in the Daleks' words - almost as good a catchphrase as the Dalek troops' ecstatic "Advance and attack! Attack and destroy! Destroy and rejoice!"...! By good fortune they escape to the Mechanoid city high up in the clouds - only to find themselves imprisoned yet again. These robots turn out to be as heavily armed as the Daleks themselves, and while the crew and new ally Steven escape the city and ultimately destroy it utterly, the two bands of metal monsters engage in a truly spectacular conflict, all lurching camera angles and billowing clouds of smoke and explosions - brilliant!

Clear, finally, of danger and in possession of the Daleks' abandoned time machine, Ian and Barbara suddenly realise that they have in their hands at last a way to go home. The resulting exchange with the Doctor brings back all of his old intractability, the old man flatly refusing to help them work the machine, citing its inherent danger. Really, you see he's got fond of them in his own way... In the end, he relents, and the send-off turns out to be all the more affecting as we don't even get to see the goodbyes - instead Ian and Barbara emerge from the ship in 1965 London and, in a glorious bittersweet mash-up of still photographs we see them joyfully larking around back in their own place and time, darting amongst the pigeons and lions in Trafalgar Square, jumping on a bus and so on. Our last glimpse of the pair sees them pondering how on Earth to explain their two-year absence, which recedes into the picture on the Time-Space Visualiser as the Doctor and Vicki pilot the TARDIS - now devoid of all its original trio of 'companions' - off towards more adventure...


Episodes watched: 66
Episodes still to watch: 656

Only four episodes today, so I'm now a record 18 behind schedule... must do better tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

'The Chase' episodes I - II

6 episodes

Another good premise here, with the return of the Daleks; this time, they decide that the Doctor has made himself their enemy and so they construct a time machine to track him down and, well, exterminate him. The order to go and do this is given by the Dalek commander and promptly echoed in different voices by his team, which gives the lovely effect of the Daleks intoning "TARDIS...TARDIS...TARDIS" and "Annihilate...Annihilate...Annihilate" in five-part harmony. Meanwhile, the Doctor has got working his souvenir from the Space Museum, a 'Time-Space Visualiser', which the travellers use to peek at moments in history - so we get fun glimpses of Lincoln at Gettysburg, Shakespeare in Queen Elizabeth's court and, in a unique acknowedgement of contemporary pop culture, the Beatles performing on BBC1! Then they see the Daleks plotting to get them...

There is a nice separation sequence involving the extreme climate of the planet they've landed on, Aridius, which the Daleks subsequently follow them to. The Mire Beast that attacks Ian and Vicki, and later Barbara, looks good in an octopussy way and the Aridians are adequate. Classic moments involve the Doctor claiming "I have the directional sense of a homing pigeon" and Ian and Vicki pausing in their subterranean fleeing to verbally abuse each other. The four finally combine to distract the Dalek guard away from the TARDIS and make their escape, only for the Daleks to pursue them through eternity...

Will carry on with the rest tomorrow!

Six episodes today - ah well, at least I got the quota in... Am discovering the routine is increasingly taking over my life: I find that I start to get twitchy whenever my free time is spent doing anything other than watching old Doctor Who...!

Episodes watched: 62
Episodes still to watch: 660

'The Space Museum'

4 episodes

Hard to rate this one, as it starts very strongly but finishes a little weakly. The decidedly odd first episode sees the travellers land on an alien planet deserted except for a huge museum full of artefacts from throughout the cosmos - but, they realise, they have appeared somehow ahead of their 'actual' arrival time, due to the TARDIS "jumping a time track". Having had a glimpse of their own future (the four of them lined up motionless in a glass case), they then spend the rest of the story trying to avoid this fate. The rub is that of course every action or inaction their progress involves may be leading them either farther from or nearer to their destiny, but they have no way of telling which. Both the premise and the way this uncertainty is constantly played out are excellent, with the anxious and frustrated characters finding their tempers boiling over frequently. Even the inevitable separation and capture are given an amusing twist when the Doctor escapes his captors, the (friendly) Xeron rebels, by hiding inside an exhibit: an empty Dalek casing, then having a little fun imitating its voice - then thirty seconds later running right into a patrol of armed Morok guards. The idea of the Doctor subverting the Morok Governor's interrogation device by feeding it random mental images is also great, as is his being subjected to the first two stages of 'preparation' for being an exhibit in the museum, from which Ian ultimately rescues him. Alas, the rest of the story falls a bit flat; despite Vicki's stirring the Xerons to revolution against the occupiers, they still come off rather bland (even though one of them is the future Boba Fett!), and the Moroks don't fare much better. But I'll give credit where it's due and score this well for the initial imagination at least.

There is one more thing, though - isn't all this trying-to-change-the-future the very thing the Doctor has cautioned against before now, every time he's prevented his companions from interfering in 'established' past history? The future is just the same as the past as far as the overall record is concerned: it only depends on what point you're viewing it from, surely...?! Ah well - it's not like the rule is ever properly enforced, really. After all, every time the TARDIS lands and the crew interact with anyone or anything else they're changing history in small ways, let alone when they actively set out to thwart the Daleks etc., where presumably 'history' would be very different without their actions. At heart, it is one of the great unanswered questions of Doctor Who: what absolute record of time does the Doctor have access to in order to determine what he can and cannot change? Just seems a bit silly to have it effectively the focal point of this story, all things considered...


Episodes watched: 60
Episodes still to watch: 662

On a random but associated note, I'm extremely pleased to report that my housemates and longtime friends Pip and Locus just rang me from on holiday in Vienna, to tell me that they've just got engaged!! That was happening at 9:30 central European time, so as far as I can tell I was just about to start this serial here at the time...!

Monday, September 12, 2005

'The Crusade'

4 episodes: 2 surviving

For what was there, this was a very strong story - literate, almost Shakespearian in its way with dialogue, a vividly depicted setting, unusually adult and violent at times and fair in its portrayal of the Christian/Saracen sides in the Crusades of the 12th century. Unfortunately the two surviving episodes are 1 and 3, which makes watching the story very bitty even though the other two parts are present on the DVD in audio format, and I found it hard to get into the story as much a I would undoubtedly have done otherwise. The 'Lost In Time' 3-DVD set that the story appears on is a real treasure trove of assorted early episodes whose parent stories no longer exist in their entirities - it's due to get a fair number of runs in the PS2 player over the next few weeks... A highlight are in-character prologue, links and afterword from William Russell on the DVD, which are great fun. Storywise, the highlight is the superb exchange at the end of part 3 between Julian Glover's King Richard (the Lionheart) and Jean Marsh's Princess Joanna, with the two really tearing strips off each other. It's a great shame you can't see what comes afterward.

What makes this story strangely evocative is that until not so long ago only one episode was thought to still be extant - but the unearthing of a print of part 1, 'The Lion', in New Zealand in 1998 brought the number to two and is the second most recent discovery of a missing Doctor Who episode to date. It felt quite odd (in a good way) to be watching 25 minutes of footage that theoretically did not exist when I was first reintroduced to Who a few years ago! Shame there's still 108 lost episodes that will probably never be seen again...


Episodes watched: 56
Episodes still to watch: 666

Damn, only a 2-episode day today. Back to being 16 behind again...

'The Web Planet'

6 episodes

Ten episodes in a day. Boo-yah. Only 12 behind schedule now...

Very, very weird one, this. The picture quality is the worst I've experienced yet: very 'over-exposed', with pale colours such as faces and the survival jackets worn by the Doctor and Ian glowing white, and since the early segments involve wandering around a kind of desert the effect is to render one almost snowblind such is the glare. The 'glowing' patches also streak and smudge (lens filters, I gather) and everything echoes, which didn't help my equilibrium much either. The companions are drawn to a strange (and I use the word advisedly) planet, explore, get separated, and run into the indigenous fauna - Zarbi, which are man-size ants, and Menoptra, which are man-size butterflies. Although the costumes are inherently laughable, after a short while you get so used to the whole look you just accept it totally and don't notice this. Funny. As an experiment in presenting a very alien environment it is brave and works quite well, particularly as the Zarbi offer no concessions to 'human' behaviour patterns and are entirely insectile, communicating in bleeps like a child's impersonation of a ray gun. This does start to hurt the ears after a few episodes, though. The Menoptra are more humanoid and have a habit of lapsing into flowery philosophical dialogue, though they constantly maintain a bee-like swaying, jigging dance-type movement - this, coupled with their furred stripy bodies, regrettably creates an effect like watching the Fimbles on acid. Apparently the Zarbi are the servants/guards of an unknown evil entity known only as the Animus, which had invaded the planet some time earlier, and now sits at the centre of its dark web spreading chaos and decay. Or something. It's all very surreal indeed. The Zarbi use bizarre 'larval guns' - essentially, a woodlouse crossed with a tank - against the Menoptra, and when the different species confront each other they skirmish in a big insecty dance and then hit each other with sticks. Ian falls down a big hole. The Doctor and Vicky are captured and placated by having a sort of gold stethoscope placed on their shoulders that renders them catatonic while it is on. The latter suffers this approximately every five minutes for the rest of the story, every time she looks like getting a little frisky. Barbara is off somewhere else with some friendly Menoptra, who are trying to contact their reinforcement force to launch an invasion agaunst the Animus. As they have no decent weapons, their strategy appears to be launch a mass suicidal charge and hope. The Animus talks to the Doctor every time he is released from the stethoscope, by lowering a large plastic cylinder above his head, which makes him look like he is having his hair dried in a hairdresser's. He buys time by sort of helping her plans, inadvertently putting said Menoptra backups in danger. To do this he brings out a cool 'astral map' machine from the TARDIS to locate the reinforcements. After he has finished using it as a map, he uses it later as a power source to reverse the effect of the stethoscope and hijack a Zarbi. Then it gets used as something else, but I can't remember what any more. Then a plot device to destroy the Animus (some kind of isotope) gets hidden inside it. Then it is used as a coffee maker. Okay, I lied about the last one.

Anyway, I make it to halfway a littled frazzled but relatively unscathed, then go out with old friend (mentioned before) and her boyfriend and play pool for a bit. I return eager to get through the second video tape of this story. Unfortunately things go downhill badly from there. The Menoptera, sorry, Menoptra, plus some backup, have a rumble with the Zarbi mostly involving shouting at them loudly, and get trounced. Ian, plus Menoptra accompaniment, encounters underground a bunch of mutant woodlice worm things. They bounce instead of walking. Apparently they are the Optra (Optera?), degenerate descendants of the Menoptra. Their leader sounds just like Trade Federation leader Nute Gunray from the Star Wars prequels. They agree to ally with Ian's gang and head off towards the Centre (the Crater of Needles, I believe), where the evil Animus is. Then part five happens and I nearly fall asleep three times. It is the most ennui-inducing episode I have seen yet - every character stands around talking, then wanders along for a bit and talks some more. Even the Zarbi manage to look bored. One of the Optra commits suicide on the way - I can see its point of view. At least the aforementioned borrowing of a Zarbi via stethoscope occurs, and Vicki adopts it and gives it a nickname. The Doctor controls it mentally using the power of the One Ring upon his finger... hang on, I didn't mean it quite like that... The final part starts, and the whole shebang has blurred (literally) into a freakish hallucinatory ballet, with various huge insect creatures bobbing and weaving around each other mostly in interminable discussion. The Doctor and Vicki arrive at the Centre, and find the Animus. It is a giant tentacly jellyfish spider thing. It glows brightly and makes them go all funny again. They fall over, Vicki realising she has forgotten the plot device. The Animus rants (very calmly) something about galactic conquest, I think. Barbara and co. find the plot device in the astral map and turn up. The jellyfish rants at them in a civil fashion too, then they go all funny as well. Then it collapses and dies for no obvious reason. Ian and his party struggle in, and haven't achieved anything. The four travellers say goodbye and return to the TARDIS, which leaves. The insects get together in a sort of happy arthropod jamboree and pontificate some more for a full minute afterwards, before the programme ends. For the first time, there is no link into the next adventure. The most interesting thing is that the end credits pop up instead of scrolling. Aaaaargh. Undoubtedly ambitious, but just wall-to-wall bananas.


Episodes watched: 54
Episodes still to watch: 668