Tag Archives: daleks

MacGyver 2.1 – The Human Factor

Our son really likes MacGyver, and why shouldn’t he? It’s perfect for kids, with an inventive hero who doesn’t use guns and no real shocks or scares in the stories. Plus, his mom likes it, and he sure does like his mom, even if he somehow thinks that she has spent three years lying to him about how covering your face with a washcloth will keep shampoo out of your eyes, the blasted kid. So she and I have selected another ten episode run, this time from the second season.

“The Human Factor” is the only episode of this show I’d ever seen, and I wasn’t taken enough to watch it again. I tuned in for this one in the fall of 1986 (or possibly on a repeat) because somebody at the Atlanta Doctor Who club, Terminus TARDIS, had said that it was a tip of the hat to the show’s former producer Terry Nation and had little waist-high “Daleks” in it. They’re in the service of a supercomputer that’s lost its marbles and wants to kill Mac and guest star June Chadwick, who you may recall from V and This is Spinal Tap.

It’s fun to see the little drones with gun-eyes shooting lasers at our hero while the supercomputer is saying “Eliminate!” It’s a little less fun to see a garbage room with an acid bath beneath the floor, which opens when 280 pounds of weight piles up. Daleks and fake floors above pits of acid? This is meant to be a top security military base, but it seems to have been designed by a middle school boy in between Dungeons & Dragons evenings. At one point, Mac walks on a tightrope above a pressure-sensitive floor, and later there’s a corridor with a laser beam “gate,” and later still they sneak around in a ventilation shaft. I guess the budget must not have run to trained crocodiles with chainsaws, because that’s where this very, very silly episode was heading.

We asked our son whether the drones reminded him of anything. He shouted “Daleks!” Good. I’d have been worried if they didn’t.

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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (part six)

There are some good Dalek stories after this one. Some very good ones, in fact. But I really don’t think “Genesis of the Daleks” has been surpassed by any of the Dalek adventures that have come since its 1975 broadcast. And it all comes down to the last seven minutes or so.

Honestly, this last part is a little flabby. The Doctor’s debate about blowing up the incubation chamber and killing all the infant mutants inside is rightly remembered as amazing. It’s good that it takes a minute to address the issue: the Doctor is about to commit genocide. The only Daleks that will survive are the ones in the death squad that’s been recalled. It’s left to these eight or nine to spawn all the Daleks of the future.

Interestingly, this story has sparked all sorts of speculation about what, exactly, the Doctor actually accomplished here. Did he change the future in some way? Did he cause a long enough delay to force the Daleks that we see later in the program to be less scheming and less successful?

On a related note, I really like the retcon that Russell T. Davies introduced, that once the Daleks somehow figure out that the Time Lords screwed with their development, this story becomes the first strike in the Time War of his era. I remain disappointed that something that could have been mythic and almost impossible to imagine, let alone visualize, a cosmos-spanning event that rewrites all of galactic history with every campaign, finally made it to the screen as a bunch of silly men and silly robot-things shooting each other with zap guns, but I think that Davies had the right idea. If the Daleks absolutely had to be the Time Lords’ opponent in the War, then making “Genesis” a preemptive strike is a great idea.

Minus that scene, the first two-thirds of this episode is padding and flab, and then the Daleks make their move and it’s incredible. I love how they don’t talk for a few moments. They just murder Nyder. Then they kill all the extras, after letting Davros know that they do not understand the word “pity.” I love this all mainly because they’ve been obedient little killers, agreeably doing whatever Davros tells them, until they all get together and exterminate everybody. It’s a fabulous climax.

But with it goes the greatness of the old Daleks. The scheming and the quiet manipulation of “Master Plan,” “Power,” “Evil,” even “Planet” really gets replaced from this story on, at least until the Time War. The Daleks that we see in the rest of the classic series just aren’t as effective, in a narrative sense, despite a couple more good stories. And Davros, sadly, doesn’t stay dead, again despite a couple more good appearances when Julian Bleach is in the chair. So I guess the Doctor did accomplish something after all. He made the villains so much less entertaining!

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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (part five)

Bit of a low day around the old pad. It was nice to escape into Davros’s escape-proof bunker for a half-hour. You’d think that this wasn’t a particularly thrilling segment for kids, but our son was pretty riveted, wondering what would happen next. At the end, when the Doctor’s being throttled by one of the organic Dalek mutants, he was reminded of the brief animated appearance of the Dalek creatures in “The Power of the Daleks.” Glad to see his memory banks are working at capacity.

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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (part four)

Some things our son pays good attention, surprisingly good attention, to… and some things he doesn’t. Tonight, as the first squad of Daleks enters the Thals’ city to avenge the mass murder of the Kaled people, our son wondered whether they would recognize the Doctor. We had to remind him that these are the very first Daleks. They haven’t met any of the Doctors yet. “Oh, yeah…” he said.

But on the other hand, regular readers know that I playfully feign despair over our son’s inability to recognize even the most distinctive actors. Tonight, though, he recognized a voice! When Davros started ranting right before sending this death squad into action, our son said “He sounds like that gold Dalek… the one… their leader.” And later, when Davros has our heroes captured, demanding the Doctor tell him all about the Daleks’ future defeats and failures, he repeated “That is exactly like that gold Dalek!”

He’s referring to the Dalek Supreme, from “Planet of the Daleks,” and he’s right. Michael Wisher, the actor who plays Davros here, did the voice of the Dalek Supreme. Good for him! He was so happy to hear that he was correct that he clapped hands and high-fived his mom. Now let’s see what happens the next time Burgess Meredith turns up somewhere.

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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (part three)

Last time, I talked about how much I enjoyed “Genesis of the Daleks” when I first saw it. I was twice our son’s age, though. This is a pretty complex story for a six year-old, and part three is quite talky and political. There’s a brief flurry of gunfire at the beginning, and then Harry and the Doctor bump into that giant clam we talked about last time, and it tries to eat Harry’s leg. This was certainly our son’s favorite part of the story so far!

The Daleks’ creator, Davros, is played by Michael Wisher and it’s a terrific performance. We saw him last night alternately clinical and ranting, but this time out he has to be subtle and calculating. He’s accompanied by the wonderful Peter Miles as Nyder, who is willing to act as the devil’s advocate and ask Davros whether he’s absolutely sure about his actions. Nyder isn’t a simple toadie; when we met him in part one, it was obvious that he’d be an extremely dangerous opponent even if he weren’t loyal to Davros.

But as for the political edge, the villain here is working to his own agenda and it’s not communicated in a simple enough way for our kid to understand his machinations. This is a case where us grownups definitely have to step in and underline the ramifications. Davros is so obsessed with the goal of developing the Daleks that he’s willing to switch sides and help the Thals murder everybody in his city before the city councilors can interfere with his experiments. This is the sort of thing that when you’re watching with a six year-old, you learn pretty instantly you’re going to have to explain in more detail.

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

My first experience with Doctor Who came when I was in the fifth grade. One of our local channels, 36, had a Sunday morning monster movie – Godzilla, Gamera, Gorgo – and one week they played what I later learned was the second of the Peter Cushing Dalek films. I gave it twenty minutes and switched off when it became apparent there wouldn’t be any giant monsters in it.

A year later, I checked out a book from the Griffin Middle School library. It was probably Daniel Cohen’s Science Fiction’s Greatest Monsters. I speed-read part of it, badly, and didn’t pay attention, but concluded that apparently Doctor Who was the British equivalent of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, somehow, and that Daleks were regularly-appearing monsters in the stories, kind of like if the Zanti Misfits popped up in lots of Limits episodes or something.

About a year after that, WGTV showed “The Five Doctors” on its American premiere, about five weeks in advance of starting the Tom Baker years in January 1984. I kept either missing it or being told to go to bed – the show started at 10 pm Saturday nights – but I really wanted to see this “British Outer Limits.” On the fourth week of its run, around the same time that viewers in the UK were enjoying the latest serial, “Frontios,” I got permission to stay up, and long, long before a Dalek showed up, twenty-odd minutes into this two-and-a-half-hour TV movie, I was completely hooked for life. Of course, when the Dalek showed up, I said something like “Hey, it’s one of those robots from that monster movie that didn’t have any monsters in it.”

I loved everything about “Genesis of the Daleks.” I loved the videotaped studio footage and I loved the bleak atmosphere. I loved the unbelievable body count and I loved how amazingly ruthless and nasty Davros and the Daleks were. I loved the heroes: the Doctor was interesting, but Harry and Sarah were the best sidekicks I’d ever seen. I did not mind the low-tech laser effects; everything else was amazing. I loved the killer clams, which show up in the next part. British fans who write books inevitably bring up the clams, with a disappointed sigh. British fans were evidently never twelve years old. I loved the acting and the incredibly weird ending. So these three travel in space… how? It was just me and the TV from 10 until 12:30 the next morning, figuring this out as I went. No Wikipedia, no forums, no books, and nobody, for many, many months, who knew one minute more about this incredible show than I did.

I couldn’t convince anybody, for ages, to try it. (That’s the story of my life, actually.) I’m not kidding: many of my pals refused to try it because it was on the same channel as Sesame Street, and consequently it must also be for babies. Seventh graders, we must remember, are horribly desperate to be grown up and cannot bear to be reminded of anything they enjoyed when they were children, which is why I sadly anticipate this blog concluding around the time our son turns twelve, if not before. See also this earlier entry of an occasion when Middle School Me went apoplectic about an early Batman episode.

My best mate at age 12 was a neighborhood kid called Blake, who did trust my judgement and wanted to see the show. Unfortunately, they went to church Sunday mornings and his mother wouldn’t let him stay up to watch it. Sometime in April 1984, she finally relented, and let Blake stay up while she watched to “approve” of the show. The title of that week’s story was “The Robots of Death.” She saw that name, turned off the TV, and ordered him to bed.

(I shouldn’t mock; she very kindly came to pay respects when my dad died, but that woman drove poor Blake batty. Remind me to tell you the story of the Root Beer Incident one day.)

Anyway: “Genesis of the Daleks.” It’s written by Terry Nation and directed by David Maloney, it has Michael Wisher and Peter Miles in critical guest star roles, and I’m utterly incapable of being objective about it.

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Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks (part four)

Well, that was about as bad as I remembered. Like all of the many Doctor Who stories that fumble, this one has a couple of neat concepts in it. This one should feature the remarkably interesting idea of a living city, but because this is just Who by the numbers, the city is just a location for a deeply boring and slow chase with Daleks somewhere behind them. The “Pop Goes the Weasel” / “Three Blind Mice” music emphasizes just how slow and stodgy this is.

It’s never interesting, and never even fails in an entertaining way. I’m reminded of how “The Claws of Axos” looked and felt so shoddy and rushed. This doesn’t have any of that story’s weird editing decisions or poor acting, but it also doesn’t have that story’s sense of doing something weird, new, and unique. “The Claws of Axos” tried to be different. This just tries to be the same Dalek adventure that they did the previous season.

Mercifully, the Dalek adventure in the next season would try to be something entirely different!

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Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks (part three)

As we suffer through this Christmas turkey, we’d like to say thanks for reading, we hope you’re having a great holiday, and I hope you all found several classic films and TV shows under your tree! More to come later!

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