Doctor Who 2.13 – Doomsday

Since I’ve praised Shaun Dingwall so much in his previous appearances, I really needed to give him one last shot at the blog photo, front and center where he deserves. Dingwall does not steal the story this time like he did in “Father’s Day” and the “Age of Steel” story; between the Dalek-Cybermen trash-talk scene and Billie Piper’s amazingly sad goodbye, not even this great actor could walk away with the episode. But the first meeting between “our” Jackie and “the other” Pete is nevertheless a real highlight of the story. I love how Noel Clarke, David Tennant, and Billie Piper are positioned well behind Dingwall and Camille Coduri, looking for all the world like they’re just getting out of their way.

“Doomsday” is magnificent. All three of the two-parters in the second series do an amazing job with fulfilling all the promise of the setup in their conclusions. I absolutely love this adventure. I think that in retrospect it set a bad precedent for what I call “apocalyptic” companion departures, with too many characters yet to come that the Doctor can never, ever, ever meet again, but Rose got a great sendoff that’s rarely been equaled. And that little bitchfest between our two alien menaces is one of my all-time favorite Who moments. We paused the episode for a minute there for everybody to have a chance to quit laughing.

The kid absolutely loved it, of course. The revelation that there are millions more Daleks locked in that bigger-on-the-inside Time Lord prison ship had him on his feet with his jaw on the floor. I’ve been questioning him all day whether he’s absolutely sure the Daleks and the Cybermen wouldn’t get along. I noticed that his eyebrows raised when the Cybermen proposed an alliance. Of course the Daleks shoot that idea down. They don’t make friends and they’re not afraid to ask anybody to step outside.

Doctor Who 2.12 – Army of Ghosts

In 2006, Doctor Who would air in the UK on Saturdays and a friend of mine, a dear fellow who’s since passed away, would download a copy from a file-sharing site a day or two later. We’d then get a gang together to watch the episode at our old house on Thursday nights because that was when it was most convenient. A day or two after “Fear Her” aired, I got a message from a pal in the UK on the 2000 AD forum. Knowing that I hate spoilers, he did me the favor of dropping me a line to tell me to not watch the “Next Time” trailer at the end of “Fear Her.” I did as requested. When we watched “Fear Her” that Thursday, I paused the DVD and passed the remote to somebody else while I went upstairs.

Because the BBC spoils lots of surprises – they sort of have to when they film on location and bring identifiable monster costumes or cast recognizable actors for outdoor shots – everybody knew that the Cybermen would be back. After all, director Graeme Harper had filmed all sorts of material with the Cybermen in broad daylight, as the publicity and paparazzi photos had shown, and the previous adventure with them all took place in one evening. So everybody knew that this would be a Cybermen story, but what nobody knew until that “Next Time” trailer is that the Daleks would be back as well. And the trailer doesn’t reveal it, it just half-assedly gives it away by casually including the unmistakable look and sound of a Dalek death ray in one shot as if by accident.

I am so glad that I skipped it that Thursday in 2006, because apart from one bit where David Tennant, forgetting how he’d reprimanded himself for “correctamundo,” acts like a goofball saying that he ain’t afraid of no ghosts, this episode is completely wonderful and ends with one of the all-time great cliffhangers, which I totally did not see coming. The kid loved it as well and said that it was even better than “the one with Queen Victoria and the werewolf!” He didn’t even pretend that the Cybermen annoyed him this time around. Then when the Daleks showed up in the final seconds, he was on his feet, roaring, and saying pretty much everything you can imagine an eight year-old would say about having the two big baddies finally showing up in the same story. I asked whether he thinks that they’ll get along. “No! Absolutely not! They’re going to HATE each other!”

Well, Cybermen don’t understand how to hate, but I take his point. I’m resisting the temptation to jump ahead and watch that brilliant bit of trash-talking in the second episode. I can wait ’til tonight. I think.

Doctor Who 2.6 – The Age of Steel

“That was awesome, but ONLY because the Cybermen were totally destroyed in a totally awesome way.” That’s our son’s verdict, still loving to hate the Cybermen.

“The Age of Steel” is the all-action finale to the story, taking place in one evening with what must have been weeks of night filming in Cardiff. Graeme Harper was brought on to direct this adventure. He’d previously directed the stories “The Caves of Androzani” and “Revelation of the Daleks” in 1984-85, making him the only director from the original run to work on the revival. Harper had a reputation, then, as being one of the most dynamic and exciting directors working at the BBC. But since British television had moved away from videotape and the frequently static recorded-as-live productions, Harper’s work here, while still very thrilling and fun to watch, isn’t quite as thunderously different from the surrounding stories as it was in Colin Baker’s day. The difference between “Timelash” and “Revelation of the Daleks” is obvious even with the sound down. This story looks every bit as good as “The Girl in the Fireplace.”

The story ends with Mickey choosing to remain on the parallel world and help the authorities shut down any of Lumic’s remaining Cyber-factories. I like how the story wrong-foots the audience, because while it telegraphs Mickey’s unhappiness, there’s also a scene where they split up – “above, between, below” like “The Five Doctors” – and it practically screams “Mickey isn’t coming back.”

The only part of this story that raises a question with me is the quickie reference to Torchwood in part one. Why is there a Torchwood in this universe? Did a Doctor show up in 1879 and piss off this world’s Victoria, too?

Doctor Who 2.5 – Rise of the Cybermen

I enjoyed this more than I remembered. The kid jumping up in mock frustration / annoyance when the word “Cybermen” appeared in the title helped. I still think they should have swapped episode titles with the next one. Obviously the BBC’s ongoing policy of spoiling as much as possible meant that everybody in 2006 knew that the Cybermen were coming back in this one. Might’ve been nice to see how he put all the pieces together before the big reveal at the end.

So this is the big parallel universe two-parter, with all the attendant silliness and coincidence that comes from parallel universe stories, and in this universe, the Cybermen evolved on Earth rather than Mondas. Their creator is portrayed by Roger Lloyd-Pack, whose lengthy career I almost entirely missed. I still think of him as that young fellow from Spyder’s Web in 1972 and his dad Charles was the old guy. Now they’re both gone. Shaun Dingwall is back as the Pete Tyler of the other Earth, and he’s once again magical. And there’s one of my favorite Rose scenes from her two seasons, when she decides to try patching up her parents’ marriage, forgetting that the Pete and Jackie of this world are not her parents, and doesn’t so much get put in her place as shoved there, hard.

But best of all is Noel Clarke who gets to play both Mickey and his gun-toting doppelganger, Ricky, and Mickey has the common sense not to try to explain to the much angrier fellow on this world who he actually is. Clarke is so often used as the comedy foil that it’s wonderful to see him get to do some different things, and do them so incredibly well. Again, you have to swallow the same silly coincidences that happen anytime a sci-fi show does a parallel world story – they couldn’t have landed in Sydney or Buenos Aires or someplace where there aren’t any Tylers or Smiths, of course – but it gives Clarke a real chance to shine.

And of course there are Cybermen. Our son has a wonderful love/hate relationship with the Cybermen and feigns exasperation with them. It’s the Daleks that he really likes, he insists, and loudly brags that it would only take five Daleks to destroy all these Cybermen. Stick around for another three weeks, won’t you, readers?

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?

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!

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!

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.

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…