Tag Archives: k9

K9 and Company 1.1 – A Girl’s Best Friend

The only spinoff that made it to the screen during Doctor Who‘s first 26 years was this lone unsold pilot starring Elisabeth Sladen that aired as a Christmas special in 1981. It’s also the first occasion that the show ever gave some screen time to a former companion, as we catch up with Sarah Jane Smith, last seen in 1976’s “The Hand of Fear”.

According to this episode, the Doctor dropped K9 Mark Three off at Sarah Jane’s house in Croydon in 1978. He sat boxed up in an attic while Sarah was off being a journalist, and eventually the crate made its way to the large country house owned by Sarah’s Aunt Lavinia, just in time for Sarah to finally be in the same place as her gift and have a small adventure around some superstitious country folk still a-worshippin’ the “Black Arts” while people start disappearing, including her aunt’s science-obsessed ward Brendon.

(Incidentally, there’s no particular reason to think that the fourth Doctor dropped off a new K9 for his old friend somewhere in the space between “The Keeper of Traken” and “Logopolis,” but that doesn’t stop list-making fans from trying to crowbar it in right there. For all we know, the Doctor assembled Mark Two and Mark Three together, before he even met Romana. Or maybe the next Doctor built him.)

Anyway, despite the presence of notable actors like Bill Fraser and Colin Jeavons, the episode, written by Terence Dudley, has never engaged me much, but we had the actual target audience on the sofa between us, and our favorite seven year-old critic thought this was just fine. It may not be particularly thrilling, and it might lack menace or urgency, but the pace is just perfect for kids this age to chew on the mystery and consider who, other than Jeavons’ character and his leather-jacketed son, is in Hecate’s coven. Of course, he was most pleased with K9’s two action scenes.

The episode got some very respectable ratings – better than season 18 of the parent show, in fact – but there was some changeover of the muckity-mucks in charge at the BBC and more episodes weren’t commissioned. Elisabeth Sladen would have to wait another quarter-century to headline a Who spinoff, but she and K9 would be back in just a couple of years.

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Doctor Who: Warriors’ Gate (parts three and four)

The other thing I really don’t like about “Warriors’ Gate” is Romana’s departure. It’s not as bad as Leela’s was, but it’s far too sudden and it isn’t given any sense of occasion.

Imagine this story with the roles reversed. If Romana had spent part three behind the mirror, then we’d see a reason for her empathy with the Tharils and her decision wouldn’t seem like it came from nowhere. I think that could have made a good serial much stronger.

But this is otherwise a solid story, and I like the way it assumes that the viewers are intelligent enough to figure out that time can flow in different directions on the other side of the gateway’s mirror. I don’t really have a lot of time to talk about it tonight, but our son also enjoyed it, and thought it was compelling and weird. It probably needed more of those Gundan robots, though. He really liked those things.

He’s also got his fingers crossed that there will be a K9 Mark Three. He’ll find out pretty soon.

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Doctor Who: Warriors’ Gate (parts one and two)

It’s kind of the nature of characters in adventure shows to do dumb things. Admittedly, the audience is given a lot more clues than Romana could know that the dudes who show up outside the TARDIS – one of them played by the great Kenneth Cope – are some of the cruelest, most desperate, and most hateful villains the show’s given us for some time: slave traders. But Romana was given enough of a warning when a strange lion-man, wearing shackles!, actually enters the TARDIS and warns them about the people who are chasing him. I guess she figures that she can be smug and superior and push these guys around, and she’s completely out of her depth, kidnapped, and nearly killed by them.

This has always weighed heavily on this story for me. “Warriors’ Gate” is the first Doctor Who serial written by Stephen Gallagher, who would later write some successful science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories. It’s an extremely interesting and complex story with some really interesting visuals – particularly in the next two parts – but Romana’s idiotic decision to put herself in danger has always aggravated me. There should have been another way to get her involved in the narrative than that.

I thought that our son would be a little more baffled than he was, but really, the first two parts are actually pretty straightforward. It’s when we get to the other side of the Gateway that the narrative gets a little less direct. He really enjoyed the Gundan robots, creaky, decaying skeletal things in armor with axes that have been left to be covered by cobwebs and dust. Like I say, it certainly is a story with great visuals, and part two ends with a very effective hand-held camera shot from the POV of one of the lion-man slaves, stalking his way through the cargo ship toward the helpless Romana, which he said was incredibly scary.

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Doctor Who: State of Decay (parts three and four)

It’s a “be quiet and don’t wake up the monsters” cliffhanger at the end of part three, meaning, of course, that Romana isn’t quiet enough and she wakes up the monsters. And it gave our son one of the biggest frights he’s ever had. He was under his blanket like a shot and when the end credits started, he bolted off the sofa and ran for the front door. He’s never hid all that way before. He didn’t come back to the den until he could hear that the third vampire had come into the “inner sanctum” and told the other two to knock it off, because he has important plans for them.

This is a terrific story. There’s a great bit where K9 warns the Doctor that using the “indigenous dissident population” to start his riot doesn’t have a high probability of success, which means that K9 hasn’t been watching the same show the rest of us have. Another great bit has Emrys James, who, to be fair, is indulging in a little overacting, as people playing vampires often do, telling one of his guards that dying is what guards are for.

For his final verdict, our son gave it a thumbs-sideways. He explained that it was totally awesome, but it was also “totally too scary!” This may be the last time he says that for a while. I honestly don’t think Doctor Who was this deliberately scary again for a long time. I’m sure something will give him an unexpected shock or two, but eighties Who rarely went in for real horror. I think he’ll be eight when we get to “The Curse of Fenric,” which is the story I’m thinking of, but if anything else sends him behind the sofa – or to the front door – I’ll be sure to write about it!

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Doctor Who: State of Decay (parts one and two)

I’d like to think that I was too old to be frightened by Doctor Who when I first started watching it around age 13, but I’ll admit that Emrys James’s portrayal of this vampiric villain called Aukon might have come closer than anything else. This is a stunningly effective cliffhanger at the end of part two, where our heroes have deduced that their opponents are vampires and that there’s some gigantic creature living underneath the gothic tower of the Three Who Rule. Then Aukon shows up behind them and offers them greetings, that they’re in his domain now.

The whole production is much, much creepier and more frightening than Doctor Who had been in many years, and our son definitely felt it. He told us this one is so scary, and as our heroes discovered blood-filled feeding tubes and quietly, urgently, discuss what could be happening, he huddled behind his security blanket. Good thing Mommy had some brownies ready for dessert tonight!

“State of Decay” was the second story to be produced in season eighteen, and because the producer and script editor had to hit the ground running and needed scripts fast, they phoned up writer Terrance Dicks. He had submitted a story three years previously which had been cancelled at the last minute by some high muckity-muck at the BBC (“Horror of Fang Rock” was an eleventh-hour substitution), and they asked whether he’d like to do a quick rewrite of it – and therefore get paid for the same story twice.

Somehow in all the turmoil, and with another new-to-the-series director, Peter Moffatt stepping in, nobody actually told Tom Baker and Lalla Ward that they were getting a new co-star. I like the way that they chose to introduce Matthew Waterhouse as Adric. We didn’t actually see him stow away in the previous story, and so when he turns up in the TARDIS after the Doctor and Romana have left to go explore the planet, there’s a surprising “What is he doing here?” moment. Apparently, that’s what Baker and Ward wanted to know as well.

One note on casting: an actor named Clinton Greyn plays the role of the head villager. He’s a tall guy, and about twelve years previously, he had starred as the lead in the obscure, oddball series Virgin of the Secret Service. (John of the Cult TV Blog wrote about this weird show last month and you should check it out.) I always like noting how directors will come back to some of the same actors, and so it doesn’t surprise me to note that Peter Moffatt gave Greyn a call five years later when he was booked to do a serial in season twenty-two.

I thought about that tonight as I noted Greyn towering over Matthew Waterhouse. Moffatt cast Greyn as a Sontaran. I understand loyalty to actors who can get the job done, but clearly nobody told Moffatt that Sontarans are supposed to be short…

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Doctor Who: Full Circle (parts three and four)

This story is even better than I remembered it. There are unethical scientists and forbidden knowledge, and, in a very nice change, no villain at all. It’s just ordinary and badly flawed people in a bad situation without the resources or imagination to change it. “Full Circle” drops in some surprises and curve balls, and while some of these are telegraphed, the actors are so good that they don’t give any tells. I like how George Baker just casually mentions that it will take generations to get their ship up and moving again, as though of course the wise, travelling Doctor knows all about how people just naturally spend a century or more getting spacecraft ready. Our son really enjoyed it, as well. This has all the ingredients for a perfect story for under-tens, with enough for grown-ups to appreciate, too.

A few words about the music and opening credits: conventional wisdom has always grumbled that the neon tube logo, the starfield credits, and the 1980 arrangement of the theme tune are all combine to make the program’s weakest and least imaginative titles. I’ve always agreed. It’s a science fiction show, so “stars” is the theme, yeah? But darned if our kid doesn’t completely love them and has started dancing – at least, he claims it’s dancing – to the music. The incidental music within the show’s a different matter. Most of it is composed by Paddy Kingsland or Peter Howell at this stage and I have always really enjoyed it. Kingsland will end up letting me down badly with one score in a couple of years, but I really like how he introduces recurring motifs and even incorporates the Who theme into the background music in a couple of places. Everybody loves the musician Dudley Simpson for all the great work that he did in the seventies, but at least so far, it really seems like John Nathan-Turner was right to move on. The music is fresh and new, and especially with the much more energetic direction by the newcomers, the show is looking and feeling like it has more life in it than it had over the previous few years.

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Doctor Who: Full Circle (parts one and two)

I really enjoy it when our son reacts with such enthusiasm over Doctor Who‘s cliffhangers. Part one of “Full Circle” ends with the beasts-of-the-month, some Black Lagoon creatures called Marshmen, waking up and rising out of a mist-covered lake. Our son spent the recap behind the sofa. Then the second episode ends with some whacking huge spiders – some hilariously unconvincing tourist trap haunted house spiders with light bulb eyes and giant teeth, but spiders nonetheless – hatching from a pile of what everybody thought were ordinary watermelons that the locals call riverfruit. The kid was shocked. “That nutritious fruit is eggs for spiders!”

“Full Circle” is an entertaining adventure that’s aged extremely well. It was the first professional story by a young writer named Andrew Smith, and it’s the first Who serial to be directed by Peter Grimwade, who is by leagues the most interesting and influential director of the early eighties. It also features the first appearance of Adric, a new character who seems to be about fourteen years old, played by nineteen year-old Matthew Waterhouse. The casting of actors who are unmistakably older than their young characters is going to be a hallmark of eighties Who, unfortunately.

As for the older actors, there’s George Baker as a father torn between devotion and his new duties. We’ve seen Baker as the Beefeater in the first episode of The Goodies. He may have been best known at the time for his regular role in the BBC’s celebrated I, Claudius, though he was also the screen’s first Inspector Alleyn, in a series of Ngaio Marsh adaptations made for New Zealand television. Later, he’d play Wexford in The Ruth Rendell Mysteries for years. Plus there’s James “No, what a stooopid fool YOU ARE” Bree as the leader of this strange community.

Our son has definitely twigged that something weird is going on in this community. Every fifty or so years, a large settlement around a non-functioning “Starliner” retreats inside and seals the ship because the air outside is said to become toxic during “Mistfall.” The citizens make repairs and talk about a great embarkation to return them to their ancestors’ home planet. But the Doctor and K9 know the air is perfectly breathable, and after he breaks into the Starliner, with a young, grunting Marshman scurrying behind him, he starts people questioning why the society’s rulers are so keen to keep everybody locked indoors for years.

I think the combination of scary monsters, scary spiders, and lying bureaucrats has him especially interested to see what will happen next. I asked whether this story is better than “Meglos,” and he happily agreed. There’s certainly a lot to like here.

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Doctor Who: Meglos (parts three and four)

Our son came around and started enjoying this story as it went on. There’s a gunfight in episode three, and then the inevitable bit where Tom Baker gets to play both the Doctor and Meglos and the two have the contractually-obligated confrontation that all adventure television doubles stories need to have. Our son did, however, suffer the huge cheat of the villain’s base not actually exploding. The visual effects team did that rotten cheat that they sometimes do of turning up the lights and the contrast really fast so it simulates an explosion without actually blowing the model to pieces.

I think that “Meglos” would be the last time that Doctor Who would be quite this by-the-numbers for a little while. I think that the only real spark that the story has at all comes when Romana gets captured by the mercenaries and leads them around in circles, supposedly back to her ship as she’s been ordered. She feigns confusion caused by the planet’s anti-clockwise rotation and seems to be enjoying herself as she looks for an opportunity to turn the tables on the villains. Bill Fraser is also pretty amusing as the bad-tempered leader of the mercenaries, and these are high points in a story that doesn’t want to push any envelopes.

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