Tag Archives: cliffhanger

Doctor Who: The Sea Devils (part three)

Part three of this story ends with a delicious cliffhanger, with the Doctor and Jo trapped on a beach with a minefield on one side, four men with rifles on another, and a Sea Devil rising from the ocean. It’s a really effective scene that had our son utterly stumped how they’ll get out of this. Helicopters and International Rescue’s Mole were considered.

Speaking of effective, I love how the titular Sea Devils have completely dominated the narrative despite only appearing onscreen for maybe two minutes totally throughout the first three parts. We wondered whether our son would pick up the subtleties in how the Master has convinced Colonel Trenchard to let him take over the prison, and he didn’t. The Master has given him some song and dance about enemy agents operating in British waters, and how only he can stop them, and Trenchard will soon have the thanks of a grateful nation. I think he treated this as new, additional information, like the enemy saboteurs were real, and yet another obstacle and headache.

I think the problem with six year-old viewers is that they will take everything at face value, and not quite understand when characters are being dishonest yet. I realized this when I had to pause the first couple of Avengers episodes we watched because he didn’t really get that Steed and Mrs. Peel will lie about their undercover activities. Television that’s really designed exclusively for younger viewers will wink at the kids a little more obviously.


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Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks (part three)

The third part of “Day of the Daleks” gets a little stick because of this silly bit of runaround where the Doctor and Jo escape only to get recaptured. It’s there because the plot needs a little action, which happens a lot in this kind of program, but it’s incredibly egregious here because the runaround is on the back of an ATV three-wheeler. These were only a couple of years old at the time and still unfamiliar enough to possibly look “futuristic” to the TV audience of 1972. I think that if anybody from our day and age were to find themselves running from eight lumbering Ogrons, they wouldn’t pause to jump on an ATV, they’d just keep running.

But never mind the runaround, Jon Pertwee is on fire in this episode. He’s full of righteous fury about the criminal government of the Dalek-occupied Earth, while Aubrey Woods tries to deflect with a load of nonsense about how the enslaved planet really just puts their hardened criminals to work in labor camps. It’s a really great scene, though I think it’s an underrated one.

There’s a very effective cliffhanger too, surprisingly. I never thought much of it myself – the Daleks put the recaptured Doctor under a mind analysis machine that shows, weirdly, promotional photos of the previous two Doctors against the background of the show’s title sequence – but once again our son was riveted and frightened and hid his face. The Daleks are, “of course,” the show’s meanest enemy. How will he possibly get out of this?!

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Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks (parts one and two)

Back to January 1972 and the ninth season of Doctor Who opened with the return of the Daleks to the series for the first time since the summer of ’67. They’d been retired while their creator, Terry Nation, unsuccessfully tried to sell the American networks on a series in which a Space Security Agent foils a new evil plot by the villains every week. I sometimes wonder about that show, and kind of think that it would have been a fondly-remembered series, but not a very successful one. Still, when they do invent transportation between parallel universes, that’s on my list to check out. I wonder who would have been in the cast…

Anyway, so the Daleks conquered Earth some time in our future, and in the 22nd Century, some fanatics have got their hands on some time travel equipment and have traveled back to “the 20th Century time zone” (just call it September 13, 1973, it makes sense) to kill a prominent politician for an as-yet-undisclosed reason. The Daleks mainly stay in a room in their future city where they yell at a controller character played by Aubrey Woods. But at the end of part two, the Doctor chases after the guerrillas and just about runs smack into a Dalek in a dark tunnel, which frightened the bejezus out of our son. Any pleasure that might come from seeing the Daleks back – he wanted to talk and talk and talk between episodes about how many there were in 1966’s “The Power of the Daleks” – came crashing into the scary reality that creepy dark tunnels are not where you want to find a Dalek.

The Daleks were apparently a late-in-the-day addition to this story by Louis Marks, who had last written for the show in 1964. He had the story about fanatics from the future trying to change history, and the ape-like Ogrons who do all the gunfighting, but the Daleks came on board to boost the marketing push. It’s the first Who serial directed by Paul Bernard. He did three of the ten serials in seasons nine and ten.

Part one of this story features a scene that I absolutely adore. The Doctor and Jo are staying in this big country house waiting for another visit from the time travelers, and the Doctor has helped himself to the cheeses and wines. Jo takes some to feed a hungry Sergeant Benton, only to have Captain Yates order him to get back to work so he can take a snack for himself. “RHIP. Rank has its privileges,” he tells her.

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Ace of Wands: The Beautiful People (part two)

Part two of “The Beautiful People” ends with a magnificent cliffhanger. Our heroes still think that Jay, Emm, and Dee are just spoiled and depraved rich kids. They haven’t been privy to the weird dialogue hints that there is more to them than meets the eye. And so, in the late morning after they’ve closed their private festival, the hippies activate a strange gadget, and all the expensive household goods they’d given away go haywire. Desk fans explode, cuckoo clocks spit gas, hand mixers and vacuum cleaners attack their owners, and a washing machine belches enough bubbles to drown some poor lady.

Almost two years previously, the Doctor Who adventure “Terror of the Autons” had similarly seen inflatable chairs and telephone cords try to suffocate and strangle people, and Doomwatch had a story with a plastic-eating virus that melted airplanes. I think something must have been in the water in the early seventies for all these TV writers to find menace in consumer goods.

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Doctor Who: Inferno (part four)

“Inferno” gained its wild reputation from its tone of accelerating doom, which starts very slowly and trickles through episodes three and four until it hits the amazing climax of this story, which is brilliantly directed and features one of Jon Pertwee’s best performances as the Doctor. But to be brutally honest, most of part four is very frustrating. Our son certainly felt it. As the Doctor tells the truth again and again and is ignored again and again, he shouted “He’s telling them the truth!” It’s a real sense of desperation, with our hero just not able to get out of this mess.

I think episodes three and four could easily have been combined into one and this would have been an even better six-parter. This one’s incredibly repetitive, and not just with the Doctor re-explaining the parallel world situation. We get more scenes of Olaf Pooley being obstinate in both universes, and more of the simmering desperation of Derek Newark trying to get Sheila Dunn to listen, all hammered home again and again, just in case anybody in the audience missed the previous part.

But that cliffhanger! Apparently Douglas Camfield wanted to use stock music and occasional special atmospheric effects rather than let any musician, even one he really trusted, interfere with his desire to make the increasing noise of the drill be the focus. It leaves the actors having to shout over it. The cliffhanger is brilliantly paced, with the Doctor begging everyone to listen while trying to avoid being captured again, and it ends with Pooley cornering him with a pistol while the countdown gets closer and closer to zero. I think that Barry Letts directed this one from Camfield’s detailed battle plan. It’s completely fantastic and left our son wide-eyed and breathless.

We’ll leave it there for a couple of days and give him time to wish we could see the next part right now, right this very minute.

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part six)

I just wanted to note this time that the very memorable cliffhanger of the Cybermen coming down the steps with St. Paul’s Cathedral behind them would have been even better had they held the shot for about another five seconds, and had they somehow, some way, twisted somebody’s arm and got a high-end 35 mm camera to shoot it, instead of this grotty old 16 mm stuff. That’s the case with everything, I know, but this is such a neat and lovely scene, one of the iconic moments of Doctor Who‘s black and white years, and it’s over so quickly and you can’t help but wish it looked as good as it sounds.

On that note, the music for “The Invasion” was by a guy named Don Harper, and it’s really amazing. Harper played with Dave Brubeck when he wasn’t composing film and television scores, was a pioneer in electronic music, and his work has been sampled by the likes of Gorillaz and Danger Mouse. It’s so good that I honestly wish that he scored every Doctor Who story, except for the two that Geoffrey Burgon did.

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Doctor Who: The Mind Robber (part one)

This morning, we watched the TARDIS leave our universe for an opaque white void, for a really budget-conscious episode. From a production standpoint, it’s really fun. As you may recall, the previous story had been cut from six episodes to five, but all the actors and set designers and the like still had to be paid for all six. The lost episode was appended to “The Mind Robber” as a “prologue,” but it had to be made as cheaply as possible. That meant the script editor, Derrick Sherwin, had to write it himself rather than paying for a freelance teleplay, and the director, David Maloney, had only one extra speaking part (voiced off camera), blank and featureless flat walls and floor for the void outside the TARDIS, no music, and four robot costumes that somebody dug out of a closet.

The robots had actually been made about two years previously for an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s short story “Reason.” Retitled “The Prophet,” it was made for the BBC’s SF anthology Out of the Unknown in 1966. The BBC junked the tape, as they did all too often, but the surviving publicity photos show that the robots were black in that production. A lick of grey and white paint and some new polygon chest units and they were all set to scare the pants off children in a different show.

The tone in this episode is one of weird psychological menace, as some unseen force is tempting our heroes into the void. Our son was balled up under a blanket, whispering “this is too scary,” and crawling up into Mommy’s lap as the White Robots hypnotized Jamie and Zoe.

The cliffhanger is remembered as one of the all-time classics. The TARDIS is seen to break apart in the blackness of space, leaving Zoe and Jamie hanging onto the console as it slowly vanishes into… someplace. That sent our kid behind the sofa. We’ll see what happens next tomorrow morning…

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Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors (part one)

I had been wondering whether, when the great big Martian Ice Warrior that some scientists find in the glacier starts to come back to life in the big base that’s about to be under siege, our son would think it was creepy enough to send him behind the sofa. It was! Just as the end credits started over this memorable cliffhanger, he stood up and gingerly walked behind us for safety. It didn’t faze him too much, but he announced “that was so scary when the monster started moving its arm! And instead of an arm, he had a claw!”

“The Ice Warriors” is the third serial from Doctor Who‘s fifth season, shown in November and December 1967. “The Abominable Snowmen,” the second, is largely missing. The story is by Brian Hayles, who had written two serials for William Hartnell’s Doctor, and many other TV episodes and films like Warlords of Atlantis, which I hope we’ll watch for this blog one day. (I need to land a copy!) It’s directed by Derek Martinus and includes in its cast three really big guest stars: Peter Barkworth, who was in between seasons of the successful ATV drama The Power Game, Peter Sallis, who would later co-star in a hundred seasons of the comedy Last of the Summer Wine, and Bernard Bresslaw, about whom more in another chapter.

Anybody interested in some really clever additional reading about Doctor Who should check out the first six volumes of About Time by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles, published by Mad Norwegian. The books really try to place Who in a contemporary cultural context, and the authors constantly come up with really interesting observations that I’d have never caught. Here’s a great one: Who fans tend to just think of this story as the first of four serials featuring the big Ice Warriors, but that’s not what this was at the time. The Martians that we meet are secondary to this story’s real plot, which is the dynamic between Barkworth’s character, an overworked scientist-bureaucrat, and Sallis’s character, a computer expert upon whom everyone and everything relies, but who stormed off six weeks ago to take his chances outside the base. Miles and Wood suggest that Barkworth was cast because of his work in The Power Game, which was the sort of human drama that producer Innes Lloyd really wanted to make. I may be watching the interplay of these characters more closely, and paying a little less attention to Bresslaw and the Ice Warriors this time around.

But also of great note: the hilarious exchange between Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling just before the cliffhanger. Because they’re in a 1967 vision of the future, everybody wears rubber costumes, and all the ladies are in miniskirts. Jamie starts talking about the fashion, to Victoria’s displeasure, and then cheekily wonders aloud whether his prim-and-proper friend might like to wear something like that. “We will now change the subject,” she replies.

About Victoria: this story immediately follows the events of “The Abominable Snowmen,” which in turn seemed to closely follow “The Tomb of the Cybermen.” There seems to be some consensus that “Tomb” is set right after the story that introduced her, “The Evil of the Daleks.” I don’t buy it, and here’s why. Certainly “Tomb”s opening scene in the TARDIS is immediately after “Evil,” because the Doctor and Jamie are introducing her to the ship, but I think that there must be a gap before they join the expedition in “Tomb.” See, there’s a bit in part three where the Doctor asks Victoria whether she is happy with them. Not one single decent thing has happened to her in that hour of screen time. I like to suppose that they spent a few weeks traveling and not getting into danger, seeing some beautiful sights and actually having a great time before the poor orphan started getting guns shoved in her face and locked in weird closets. Otherwise she would have been more likely to reply “No, I am most certainly not,” you know?

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