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Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis (parts two and three)

I guess one advantage to producing a TV show is that if the stars line up right, and the stars are making movies or stage appearances in London, then you can ask some of your favorite celebrities to come work on your show for a day or a week. Who‘s producer at the time, John Nathan-Turner, was a huge fan of show tunes and Broadway musicals, so he was incredibly happy to have Stubby Kaye in a story the previous year, and Dolores Grey making a cameo appearance in this one.

I was reminded, oddly, of how Ben Browder, who’d been in Farscape and Stargate SG-1, appeared in the 2013 story “A Town Called Mercy,” and how Steven Moffat was praised by some geek-focused media for casting somebody with a sci-fi TV background. I wondered what American sci-fi TV actors might have been around in 1987 and 1988 had Nathan-Turner wanted to court that audience instead. I can imagine DeForest Kelley as Weismuller in “Delta and the Bannermen,” and June Lockhart as Mrs. Remington in this story. Wouldn’t that have been cute?

As for the rest of the story, I liked it a little more this time than previously, though it’s still the worst of McCoy’s twelve adventures. The kid had a ball. There are huge explosions and Cybermen getting blown to smithereens, so what’s here for an eight year-old to dislike?

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Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis (part one)

“Cybermen! Cybermen mean trouble! Cybermen TOTALLY mean trouble!” That was our son’s excited response to this episode’s cliffhanger. I asked him what he thought of the three evil parties now competing for a statue made of living metal. “The Cybermen want it so they can make MORE Cybermen, and the Nazis want it to last for a thousand years, and the evil lady just wants it.” We’d paused earlier to explain what the Nazis’ leader meant when he gave his soldiers – who, like no Nazis I ever heard of, are armed with Uzis – a toast to the Fourth Reich. Television Nazis are always offering toasts to the Fourth Reich.

The evil lady is played by Fiona Walker, and interestingly, her character, Lady Peinforte, is presented as an old foe of the Doctor’s from an adventure we’ve never seen. This would be done again to better effect in the next season with Fenric. Her henchman is presented as a ruthless criminal and murderer. In the same way that the story itself will disappoint us over the next two parts, he’ll deteriorate into a comedy stooge.

This morning was the first time that I’ve watched this episode as it was broadcast in almost thirty years. The script editor, Andrew Cartmel, did a lot for Who that we can genuinely praise, but the fellow was just no good at actually timing the scripts before they taped them. Most of the twelve serials that he worked on overran by several minutes, and most of the DVDs feature some deleted scenes.

When they released “Silver Nemesis” on VHS, it was in an extended edition, with each episode bulked up with material, about twelve minutes in all, most in part one. I certainly used to have a DVD-R of the tape, but I seem to have gotten rid of it, which isn’t like me. What’s more like me is buying the official release and putting the sleeve and proper disk into a double-disk case with the bootleg of the extended edition.

I recall watching the extended version with my older kids around 2005, and my son spotting Nicholas Courtney as an extra in the Windsor Castle tourist group, and shouting “Hey, it’s the Brigadier!” That shot didn’t make the broadcast cut, so even if our boy, who is the same age my older kid was when he saw it, was able to identify actors, he never had the chance. Courtney’s back is to the camera in the only shots in the original version. I am disappointed that the BBC didn’t include the extended edit on the DVD version, although there is a lengthy deleted scenes package, so we will go back and see the timey-wimey moment with Ace’s portrait later tonight. Funny how I got so used to the longer VHS version that its original twenty-five minute form felt like watching a “chopped for syndication” version. Hey, there’s a scene missing there!

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Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen (part two)

Once again, our son enjoyed this much, much more than I did. His favorite part came when the Doctor slides a volatile chemical into a corridor, leading a Cyberman to investigate. The chemical ignites shortly after contact with warm air, sending explosions and sparks everywhere. If you’re at the age where seeing Cybermen blow up is the greatest thing ever, then this show was made for you.

I enjoyed a short scene where Lytton introduces one of the alien Cryons to Brian Glover’s tough criminal character. The Cryon doesn’t understand Glover’s character’s slang – “minder” and “you winding me up?” – and it is kind of cute seeing Lytton patiently translate. For reasons he takes to his grave, Lytton decided not to tell the Doctor that he was working for the Cryons, and not the Cybermen. There’s not a lot more that they could have done with this character, but the writer certainly enjoyed him more than he did the Doctor and Peri.

The story assumes everybody in the audience has a well-thumbed copy of Jean-Marc Lofficier’s Doctor Who Programme Guide on the shelf. Since our son doesn’t have that book, he asked me to pause it because he couldn’t make sense of the Cybermen’s plan, which is basically “destroy Earth before the events of a previous television adventure happened.” He might not have the most developed sense of drama, but he’s savvy enough to know that “they intend to change history!” is a very, very bad thing!

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Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen (part one)

With season 22, Doctor Who was back in its old home of Saturday evenings, but with longer, forty-five minute episodes. Colin Baker got a run of six serials in this slot and some of them are a little entertaining. “Attack of the Cybermen” is credited as being written by Paula Moore, but it’s apparently a co-write between Eric Saward and two other parties. It brings back Saward’s character of the mercenary Commander Lytton, previously seen in “Resurrection of the Daleks,” and the scenes with him are by far the most interesting in the story.

There’s a really annoying sense of disconnect in this adventure. The stuff in London is shot on 16mm film and deals with Lytton and some other criminals prepping for a job to heist £10 million in diamonds. It’s incredibly watchable. They keep cutting back and forth with the Doctor and Peri arguing in the TARDIS. It’s not even remotely watchable.

But that’s the grown-up in me talking again. The Sixth Doctor is continuing to keep our son completely charmed. There’s a running gag about the ship’s Chameleon Circuit being repaired but still going wrong that he loved, and there’s just a hint of slapstick in the Doctor’s movements along with his bellowing. He got a huge laugh out of the Doctor almost stepping into an open hole in a scrap metal yard. He claims to hate the Cybermen, but for some reason, the Cybermen in this adventure are either the constant victims of lucky shots or they were built from scrap metal parts, because their heads get knocked off or they get shot and green goo goes spraying everywhere. It’s terrific television for under-tens.

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Doctor Who: The Five Doctors

When I was a kid and comics cost 35 or 40 cents, Superman’s father Jor-El was so recognizable that he was regularly merchandised. There were dolls and action figures of the guy. DC’s writers and editors were almost pathologically obsessed with telling stories of Superman’s home planet. There was a World of Krypton miniseries, and even the Legion of Super-Heroes time-traveled back to meet him. It was all very, very boring and unnecessary to me.

With that in mind, in Terrance Dicks’ anniversary adventure “The Five Doctors,” we finally say goodbye to the Doctor’s home planet for a good while. It is the most boring and unnecessary place for our hero to ever visit, and this stale feeling is driven home by the actors who play Time Lords. This is the fourth story in seven years set on Gallifrey and exactly one actor – Paul Jerricho, as Commissioner “Castellan” Gordon – appears in two of them. Even the most important supporting character, President Borusa, is played by four different actors. How are we supposed to feel any connection to any of these people?

Fans just love kvetching and kibitzing about “The Five Doctors” and all its missed opportunities, but I think the biggest one comes in not addressing these unfamiliar faces. When the Master is shown into the president’s office, he addresses the three people inside. He says “President Borusa, Lord Castellan,” and then Anthony Ainley should have looked at the woman and said “I have no idea who you are.”

But everyone loves “The Five Doctors” anyway, because it’s a lighthearted anniversary celebration and it’s fun to watch Pertwee, Troughton, and Courtney squabbling again. Yes, Peter Moffatt’s direction is incredibly pedestrian and slapdash (count how many times actors don’t respond to objects that are clearly in their sight line), yes, they could have at least given us one clear and well-lit shot of the Yeti, and yes, surely while stuck in the TARDIS, the strange alien teenager and the Doctor’s granddaughter could have found something more interesting to talk about than “what do you think the Cybermen are doing.”

Yes, the Doctor’s granddaughter is in this, but Carole Ann Ford is only allowed to play Random First Doctor Companion. She calls her Doctor “Grandfather” twice and that’s it. This is apparently because the producer at the time insisted on presenting the Doctor as an asexual figure to avoid British tabloid journalists making rude headlines about Peter Davison and his attractive female co-stars in short skirts. That’s another huge missed opportunity and a scene we should have had: the fifth Doctor introducing his granddaughter to Tegan and Turlough.

Our son mostly loved it, as you’d expect. He did that standard grumble about the Master and the Cybermen and a Dalek showing up, but then he went eyes-wide and jumped with a huge smile when he saw the Yeti. He loved the famous “Cyber-massacre” scene, where about nine of them get impaled and decapitated before firing a single shot, but his favorite part of the whole story was when the third Doctor and Sarah “zip-line” down to the top of the tower.

I really enjoyed teasing our son with the strange possible-continuity-error brainteaser about Jamie and Zoe. Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury show up for a cameo as “phantoms” warning the second Doctor from going any deeper into the tower. The Doctor realizes that they’re fake when he remembers that Jamie and Zoe’s minds were erased of the period they spent with him. (The real error is that Troughton asks “So how do you know who we are.” They should both remember the Doctor, but Jamie shouldn’t know Zoe. Glossing over that, the important part is that neither should know the Brigadier. The line should have been Troughton pointing at Courtney while saying “So how do you know who he is.”)

It took our son a minute to wrap his brain around the problem. Where in his lifetime does the second Doctor come from if he knows about Jamie and Zoe’s memory wipe, when (we’ve been led to believe) that the very next thing that happened after the mind wipe was the Doctor regenerated and was shipped to Earth? I told him that we’d get a little more information about that in a couple of months, and that we’d see Patrick Troughton again in a different role in just a few days…

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Doctor Who: Earthshock (part four)

In 1966, over the course of a legendary twelve-part serial, two of Doctor Who‘s companions were killed. They were both created to die; Katarina and Sara were only around for five weeks and eight weeks respectively. Adric’s death was quite different. And the fallout, in the next episode, is one of just a couple of things about that story I enjoy. Is that enough foreshadowing for you readers?

As kids, we were glad to see Adric go. As a character and as a performance, Matthew Waterhouse’s look and costume, and his often petulant portrayal, all seem almost specifically designed to annoy male teenagers. There are probably essays about why viewers of that age disliked Adric so intensely. I’ve written in the past about how I watched Who in a vacuum in the seventh grade. By the time the Peter Davison years started showing on our PBS station, I was in the eighth grade, with a different set of classmates. Not only was my older pal Blake watching, but so were four or five of us in Pod 8A in late 1984. We were all about thirteen and we all detested Adric. The feeling, I learned, was widespread. Eighteen months later, Peter Davison was at a convention in Atlanta and explained by way of an explosion noise into a microphone what he thought Adric’s best moment was and the whole room applauded.

But as for the viewers in the seven year-old age bracket, the one in our house was incredibly surprised and taken aback. His older brother and sister were also in elementary school when they saw this story and were also stunned. Smaller kids like Adric. He’s not the awkward, oily-haired kid in the school A/V club to them but a young hero to look up to.

As a grownup – assuming I can be called a grownup – of course I’ve come to like Adric more and more, especially seeing him through my kids’ eyes. It’s true that Matthew Waterhouse’s performance and line delivery often take me out of the fiction, to say it mildly, and I do like the way that Adric doesn’t even get to die heroically. He’s at least granted a stoic finale, and the music is subtle and perfectly in tone with the moment. For the only time in the show’s history, the credits of part four roll silently. The camera lingers over Adric’s broken gold star badge while the program gives one of its main characters a moment of silence, and I think it’s done extremely well.

It’s certainly the best in-the-show death any companion’s probably ever going to get. I’m never pleased when they undermine the drama of a death with a get-out clause a week or two later, as Steven Moffat did as often as possible. This was done right, and I really enjoyed it. Adric may or may not have been a great character, but he got a terrific ending.

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Doctor Who: Earthshock (parts two and three)

Well, what I was going to say last night, before our son went and stole my thunder, is that “Earthshock” is a very popular and very entertaining story written by Eric Saward and directed, with incredible tension and a frantic pace that Who rarely employed as effectively as here, by Peter Grimwade. It featured the return of the Cybermen after seven years away from the program.

And it features Beryl Reid, interestingly, as one of the main guest stars. Reid is one of those names in British entertainment largely unknown to Americans, but I’m assured that she’s a very curious choice. It strikes me as part of the same spirit of season nineteen, where we’ve seen more prominent “guest stars” better known for starring comedy roles than ever before, rather than returning to the usual bench of character actors. I mean, sure, you want somebody to play the chief constable in a quiet English village in 1925, you go to Moray Watson (or you phone Glyn Houston if Watson turns it down), but I like seeing people like Reid, Nerys Hughes, and Michael Robbins in parts like these.

(I’ve also been oddball-casting what this season of Who would have looked like as an American show in 1982 to drive home just how strange these choices are. I figure Karl Malden as Monarch, Penny Marshall as Dr. Todd, and John Ritter as Richard Mace. I can’t quite decide between Betty White or Jean Stapleton as Captain Briggs.)

Anyway, in the nineties, fandom started turning on “Earthshock” because it’s full of tough men with guns trying to be macho. There’s more of this to come in the Eric Saward years, which is a disappointment to people who only want Doctor Who to be about Tom Baker trading witty insults with Julian Glover. That said, I’m not looking all that forward to a couple of upcoming adventures which don’t have the great bonus of Peter Grimwade’s direction. Considering the severe limitations of videotaping gun battles “as live” in a studio, the shootouts in “Earthshock” rank among the best in the whole program.

And they had our kid on the edge of his seat, up off his seat, hiding behind the sofa, and having a complete blast. He says that he totally loves the action in this story, but he’s also simultaneously protesting that the Cybermen are too scary. “I like action, but the Cybermen are about domination, not action!” That, and their thumbs are mean, we mustn’t forget.

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Doctor Who: Earthshock (part one)

“Oh, come on! Come on!”

Was that a cool cliffhanger, Little Dude?

“No! It was NOT a cool cliffhanger!”

Really? Don’t you want to see what happens next?

“Duh, yeah!”

Well, a cool cliffhanger makes you want to see what happens next. So…

“But it’s the Cybermen! And they’re TOO MEAN!”

They’re too mean?

“The Cybermen are mean! They are TOTALLY mean! Even their thumbs are mean! They’re even meaner than the Daleks! The Daleks are only HALF-mean and the Cybermen are all mean. They want to take over EVERYTHING!”

Millions of opinions about Doctor Who have been voiced in fifty-five years. I think I like this one best of all.

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