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Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil (part six)

This really is a super story, and it ends brilliantly enough to please even the more frightened members of the audience. Our son watched this one with quite a lot of grumbling and nail biting, but I believe that since it ends with a big explosion, he got to grin really big and shout “The Master got his butt kicked!” So this one goes in the win column.

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Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil (parts four and five)

Not too much to say this time, except I seem to be enjoying this story much more than our son, who says this is super scary, and the bad kind of scary. Part five in particular has a great cliffhanger where Mailer, one of the convicts, has Jo hostage and takes a shot at the Doctor. It’s a very well directed and edited cliffhanger, planned and executed right, so after the gunshot, the camera lingers on his pistol for almost a full second before the credits roll. That had to cause a little alarm with our boy.

But he is paying good attention in a very cute way. The Master blackmails the Doctor into helping devise a way to stop or slow down the Mind Parasite that lives in the Keller Machine. As they were working together, our son piped up “Hey, I think they’re brothers!” He’s not the first Who viewer to make that claim. He’ll be drawing his own comics pretty soon at this rate.

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Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil (part three)

I may not much like the character of the Master as much as I enjoy Roger Delgado’s portrayal of him, but there’s one cute little bit about the Doctor’s and the Master’s relationship that I really love. The Doctor is just about clueless when it comes to modern popular culture. He doesn’t know the Beatles catalog, he doesn’t know anything about Spider-Man, he thinks that Batman flies a space rocket, and when he tries to sing the Ghostbusters theme, he might as well be saying “Correctamundo!” to a classroom full of kids, he looks so stupid.

But the Master is fully versed in classic children’s television and popular music. He enjoys the Scissor Sisters and King Crimson. And yes, Crimson was a popular band, once. He’s listening to In the Wake of Poseidon in the back of his limo, and that album actually went to # 4 in the UK charts, a real-world fact that might be even harder to believe from the cold light of the 21st Century than anything in the Master’s latest scheme.

We’ll leave this story here for a couple of days to give our son a break from it. He thinks this serial is super-scary and could use some bionic down time.

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Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil (part two)

I wasn’t planning on using an image of the strange Chinese dragon that appears onscreen for all of maybe eleven seconds in episodes two and three of “The Mind of Evil” – the director sensibly decided it’s an enormously disappointing costume and lingered instead on reaction shots from people – but the illusory beast just scared the pants off our son. You can never tell with kids! He was far more stoic and brave about the notoriously child-frightening “Terror of the Autons” than this infamously poor dragon.

His mom suggested that this story is doing a good job getting under his skin because we tell him that monsters and aliens aren’t real and can’t hurt him. And suddenly here’s a story about things that are not real killing people. It helps sell the fantasy when the dude who plays Senator Alcott, Tommy Duggan, does a really great job of freaking completely out when Captain Chin Lee turns off the lights and turns into a monster. The direction and Dudley Simpson’s loud-as-thunder music and the freaky noise of the Keller machine helps. Grown-ups may roll their eyes at that dragon, but it certainly was a very effective cliffhanger for our son.

Incidentally, who the blazes said “Okay, Alcott’s got a phobia of dragons, specifically Chinese dragons, so he’s probably got some subconscious issues with the People’s Republic, so he’s just the right guy to go to London and negotiate with them!”

In the cast, John Levene is back in action as Sgt. Benton in this episode, and, tying all the plot threads together, Roger Delgado is back as the Master. He’s got a limousine and a driver and a big cigar this time, he’s got Captain Chin Lee under his hypnotic control to cause havoc at the conference, he’s eavesdropping while Captain Yates discusses plans to dispose of the nuclear missile, and he’s able to transmit the Keller Machine’s power from the prison through Chin Lee to attack the delegates. He’s just being deliciously evil in this story so far.

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Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil (part one)

It’s a great pleasure to finally see “The Mind of Evil” in color. I’ve had this DVD for a while and, like “The Ambassadors of Death,” I’ve been waiting patiently to watch it with my son. All of the other lost-in-color Jon Pertwee episodes of Doctor Who had some kind of color version available in the tape trading days, usually a low-quality multiple-generation copy that came from an American broadcast of the series in the mid-seventies. Nobody is known to have recorded this story and kept it. A gentleman called Tom Lundy recorded the other four (I think he was in Buffalo NY) and kept them, but he recorded over “The Mind of Evil” with a football game. All that remained was a few minutes at the beginning of part six before he taped something else.

A few years ago, the BBC’s technicians and magicians reassembled this story as close to the way it was originally shown as can be managed, and it looks very good. Every fifth (or so) frame of part one is hand-colored, with computers estimating the rest, and parts two through six were restored through chroma-dot recovery, extracting a color signal from the data within a black-and-white copy. I think this is all so fascinating. The only critique I can make about part one is that the insides of actors’ mouths seem unnaturally black. Otherwise this looks incredibly good.

“The Mind of Evil,” written by Don Houghton, is a little bit of a throwback to the previous season of Doctor Who. It’s a harder-edged story than the increasingly fanciful and lighter eighth season, tackling prison reform and the threat of global war without an army of candy-colored monsters. The special effects are not as garish as in the previous story, or anywhere as close to how they’d be in the next one, and the Doctor is still yelling at bureaucrats who get in his way, only this time the target of the Doctor’s loud mouth snaps back, and it is pretty hilarious seeing the Doctor get a little comeuppance for his constant rudeness.

Our heroes are faced with two issues that keep them separated in part one. The Doctor and Jo are observing an experimental procedure that is said to be the work of the famous Dr. Emil Keller. It is supposed to remove the “evil” impulses from the minds of criminals. It seems to work on a cruel fellow called Barnham, played by Neil McCarthy, who was the farmhand from the first season of Catweazle a year before this was shown. Also in the cast is perennial guest-starred-in-everything actor Michael Sheard as the prison doctor.

Meanwhile, UNIT is trying to balance providing security to a World Peace Conference while simultaneously planning to dispose of a missile – you don’t think these plot threads are going to join up, do you? – and their jobs get complicated when a Chinese military captain first reports some stolen documents and then waits half an hour after finding her country’s delegate murdered body and lies about it. Joining UNIT for this story and the next is Fernanda Marlowe as Corporal Bell, whose uniform indicates that she enlisted in the RAF, not the Army, before being assigned to UNIT. Corporal Bell has very little to do in her two stories, but it’s nice that the TV people made the effort to continue giving UNIT some recurring characters before forgetting about the character!

I kind of predicted this would start out a little complicated and over the head of our favorite six year-old critic. He wasn’t really taken with it, but he did let us know that the strange Keller Machine, and the bizarre deaths that happen in the prison’s processing room, are “creepy.” Hopefully he’ll enjoy the next episodes a little more!

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Doctor Who: Inferno (parts six and seven)

We meant to watch part six of this serial last night, but we got home too late. So we doubled up again, and really enjoyed this story. I love how the tension in part six just keeps ramping up, even with a plot that doesn’t fill its running time, necessitating a bit where characters run back to a previous location to try one more time to restart the power. It works because the actors really convey their desperation, and Nicholas Courtney’s Brigade-Leader falling apart from the stress is a great, great moment.

After that, and the fabulous cliffhanger of the sea of lava coming to engulf the hut and kill all the parallel universe doubles, the final part can’t help but feel like an anticlimax to older viewers who are familiar with the rules of drama. But it’s paced so darn well for the younger members of the audience! There’s even a bit where the grown-ups are bound to ask whether it’s absolutely necessary for Jon Pertwee to climb up yet another bit of scaffolding in this refinery, and the children will answer that of course it is; he needs to fight another green monster up there. Our son had a ball with both parts. If he uses a make-believe “fire extinguisher” to defeat my playground alter ego of “Daddy Monster,” I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

“Inferno” would be the last Doctor Who serial directed by Douglas Camfield for five years, damnably, and also the last appearance for Caroline John and her character, Liz Shaw. Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks had concluded that the character didn’t really work (they were mistaken), but the actress had already decided to leave. In 1982, she worked with Barry Letts again in the BBC’s four-part adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. She was a regular face in guest star roles throughout the eighties, and reprised her role as Liz Shaw in the four direct-to-video P.R.O.B.E. movies from 1994-96. In a 2010 episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Liz is said to be working on UNIT’s Moonbase (really!), but the actress did not appear onscreen. She passed away in 2012 at the age of 71.

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Doctor Who: Inferno (part five)

There’s a story that Olaf Pooley was really unhappy with the decision to turn him into a full-fanged green werewolf. I guess he’d understood that he would be turning green and going wide-eyed like the fellows in the earlier episodes, but in part five of this story, there’s a lot more goo from the earth’s core and a lot more heat, and this all combines to turn people into white-fanged slavering dog monsters with lots of hair. Our son pronounced these guys “really scary” and they sent him behind the sofa with a shriek.

There’s a really good moment early in this episode to casually remind everybody that the Doctor’s such a great hero. I love how he goes straight into the drillhead room with Derek Newark’s character, hoping desperately that there’s a way to stop the destruction. This isn’t his fight, and it isn’t his problem, and not one person on this hellworld has shown him a second’s consideration, but he’s still immediately willing to risk his life for them.

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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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