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Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks (parts three and four)

If you read around, you’ll find some stories about how the American movie version of “Resurrection of the Daleks” was edited together from a complete cut of the first half, and a rough cut, lacking music, voiceovers, and sound effects, of the second. These stories don’t really explain how weird, ridiculous, and strange the experience was. Lionheart, the company that syndicated Doctor Who in the US in the 1980s and 1990s, made all sorts of dumb decisions about the prints that they offered stations, but one of the worst was not phoning the BBC to get a replacement copy. We were stuck with that thing for years.

Bear in mind that for a long time, your average American viewer might not have had any idea that these 90-minute adventures were edited movie versions of four-part serials. There were clues that something was up, though. There were occasional editing hiccups, like the one halfway through “Arc of Infinity.” For some reason, the editor used the end of part two rather than the recap at the beginning of part three, so the shot of Sarah Sutton has the sound of the cliffhanger “sting” over her face right before the credits rolled.

So with “Resurrection,” halfway through, there’s the clumsiest edit in the universe. Rodney Bewes’s character says “I’m a Dalek agent,” and the screen goes black for a half-second, and then picks up halfway through a Dalek shouting “-terminate” and there isn’t any music or sound effects anymore. This makes some of the scenes completely comical. When the actress playing the civilian advisor to the military is deafened by a weird sci-fi sound, there isn’t actually any sound. She just falls over with her hands over her ears making odd noises. Another scene doesn’t have a pair of voiceovers by Terry Molloy, so he just opens a door and closes it for no apparent reason. Then there’s a trooper who gets shot in part four. With the music blaring, you can barely hear him, but without the music, he steals the scene when he yodels “Eeee-ohhh-urrrrp!” before falling over.

I wasn’t a big buyer of the Who VHS range. The tapes – at least the American tapes manufactured by CBS/Fox, were notorious among some of my friends for being bargain-basement quality. But I did buy the VHS of “Resurrection” just so I could see the second half as it was meant to be seen and heard!

While our son absolutely loved all the Daleks blowing each other to pieces, the most interesting thing to me about this story is that it writes Tegan out in a remarkably grim and unhappy way. The whole thing is relentlessly bleak – not just the entire supporting cast, but literally every character we see onscreen at all, save the resourceful mercenary Lytton and his two guards, all die – and part three of the story doesn’t just tread water as part threes in Doctor Who generally do, it’s tediously violent and gruesome while also barely advancing the plot. And so this is the point where Tegan decides that she just can’t stand it any more, and leaves. I think the final punch in her gut is the Doctor telling her that he intends to murder Davros. So when it’s finally safe to go because everyone is dead, she shakes the Doctor and Turlough’s hands and she’s gone before she bursts into tears. It’s so abrupt and sad, and it’s always punched me in the gut.

I was talking with our son two nights ago about the idea of fan theories. He was talking with some other kids about connections in the Pixar universe, and how Andy’s mom in Toy Story might have been Jessie’s original owner. I told him that there were all sorts of fan theories in Doctor Who and that I’d tell him about one in a couple of days. That’s because the previous day, I saw that somebody had suggested that the gun used in the most recent episode, “Resolution,” came from the warehouse in this adventure.

A couple of other theories come to mind about this story. Tegan leaves with literally nothing but the clothes on her back. She doesn’t even have a handbag, and that miniskirt doesn’t look like it has pockets. I think she made a collect call and phoned her grandfather, who we met in “The Awakening,” and he took the train up from Little Hodcombe to get her.

I was reminded of one of the many great ideas that Virgin’s line of Doctor Who novels introduced in the 1990s. At one point, the Doctor’s companion Bernice is left abandoned in 1909 and makes use of the Doctor’s bank account. At some point, the Doctor realized that it might be a good idea to have a resource available to any of his companions that get stranded or stuck in the UK, and time travellers should be pretty good about taking advantage of compound interest. I figure that’s part of Companion Orientation, getting the account number and a couple of withdrawal slips, and maybe an ATM / debit card for when you’re on the right side of the 1980s, so that when you call it off because it’s not fun anymore, you can take out a few hundred pounds to get your life back in order. All Tegan would need is proper identification… so maybe she should have grabbed her purse!

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

Yeah, that’s the Doctor carrying a pistol. I’d ask what the writer was thinking, but the writer was the program’s script editor Eric Saward, who had a very strong interest in telling stories about tough guys with guns. One of the tough guys with guns in this story is a mercenary working for the Daleks called Commander Lytton, played by Maurice Colbourne, and it’s fairly obvious across this story and the character’s next appearance that Saward would much, much rather have been working on a program called Commander Lytton, Space Badass.

Joining Colbourne in this story is Rodney Bewes, yet another example of the show casting a really recognizable face from a sitcom. Bewes is best remembered as one of The Likely Lads, a much-loved comedy from the sixties and seventies, and was also the straight man to the puppet Basil Brush for many years. This is the first adventure to feature Terry Molloy in the role of Davros. Molloy seems to try to make Davros much more disgusting, with a constant mouthful of spit and bile, than either of the previous actors to play him did.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, “Resurrection of the Daleks” was one of my favorite adventures, because it’s a story with lots of tough guys talking macho, and lots of guns, and, in our son’s favorite moment – most kids’ favorite moment, I bet – a Dalek gets shoved out a second story window and blows up when it lands dome-first on the pavement. I kind of prefer these less invincible Daleks, honestly. I think this story has aged very, very badly, but our kid, who was already riding high on the thrill of a much more invincible Dalek in Tuesday night’s new episode, “Resolution,” was in heaven.

More to talk about in the serial’s second half, though, so stay tuned!

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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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Doctor Who: The Visitation (parts three and four)

So these are the Tereleptils, and I’ve always thought they were good-looking monsters. They made the interesting, and probably correct, choice, to give the one with the full animatronic mask the additional detail of being horrifically scarred and missing an eye. This unfortunately limited the aliens from ever returning to the show, because they’d have had to start from scratch and rebuild an entirely new head. Otherwise, you’d have dialogue like “You know, I met one of your species on seventeenth century Earth with wounds exactly like yours…”

Actually, they did reuse one of the non-animatronic heads for another alien that made a fleeting appearance in a story four seasons down the line. Perhaps they thought nobody would notice.

Fans and writers have thrown a lot of criticism at the producer of the show throughout the eighties, John Nathan-Turner, and as the program starts getting complacent and annoying – very soon now – I’ll have a lot to say about what I see as some very poor decisions. But let’s give him a round of applause for having that Tereleptil blow up the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver in part three of the story. Nathan-Turner believed that writers were using the device as a crutch instead of coming up with clever and inventive ways around problems. So when the screwdriver explodes, Marie told our son – who’s only seen the latest four episodes of what we call “the modern show” (and enjoyed them very much) – not to worry, that the Doctor can build another. But the beautiful thing is, he doesn’t, not for years.

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Doctor Who: The Visitation (parts one and two)

As I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve mentioned the always-evolving production crew of Doctor Who as I go, but I’ve left a small hole with season nineteen because the script editor’s job was strangely in flux that year. About half of the stories were edited by Antony Root, and the other half by Eric Saward, who would keep the job for the next four years, but since they were made way out of transmission order, I wasn’t sure where to mention it.

“The Visitation” is the first of Saward’s scripts for the program, and I think he gets the balance of the character interplay just perfect in this one. He seems to lose interest in the lead characters after this story, preferring instead to use them as foils for the guests. This story, for example, is almost every bit as much about a gravel-voiced highwayman, played by Michael Robbins, the longtime star of On the Buses, as it is about the Doctor and his friends. Later Saward stories would be much more about the guests.

I had meant to give our son a teeny history lesson before we got started tonight, but I forgot. The story will memorably end with a cute revelation about the Great Fire of London in 1666. This, I figured, would be completely lost on our son, because the second grade curriculum in the United States doesn’t actually mention it. So we talked about the rats that the mysterious and scarred alien creature has been keeping in these Plague-fearing times, and then I mentioned that the really big world event that year was the fire, which destroyed thousands of homes. He told me that he knew all about it. Apparently, it’s revealed in one of his Beano Books that not only did Beryl the Peril start the fire, but she also ate five pies while starting it. Well, did she, now!

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