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

“Invisible Daleks!” shouted our son. Yes, indeed.

“Planet of the Daleks” is another story that I’m not actually all that familiar with. I’ve maybe seen it in full only twice. I never recorded it off-air when WGTV played it – I’ll explain why in the next post – and didn’t get a VHS copy until early 1994, a few months after BBC-1 had shown the story in a very nice 30th anniversary surprise. On those rare occasions when Doctor Who had been repeated, it was on BBC-2, not the main channel, but they commissioned a new documentary about the show and gave it a prime time berth for six weeks of garish and very dated glam rock purple and green videotape, leading The Sunday Times to observe that the show didn’t seem to actually time travel very well.

It was a return for both director David Maloney, who hadn’t worked on Who in four years, and writer Terry Nation, who’d been busy with other things for seven. Among them: he’d been on the staff of The Baron, The Avengers, and The Persuaders! while contributing freelance scripts to several other ITC shows. He’d failed to sell a Dalek TV series to any of the American networks, and the BBC passed on a curious and entertaining pilot film with the unfortunate name of The Incredible Robert Baldick.

For what it’s worth, Maloney hired Bernard Horsfall, one of his regular go-to actors. Always nice to see Horsfall at work, even if he’s stuck under a ridiculous blond wig in this story. He also hired Prentis Hancock, and would again when he directed “Planet of Evil” three years later. I can’t claim to enjoy Hancock’s acting quite as much as I do Horsfall’s.

“Planet” is kind of Nation-by-the-numbers, only taped in a remarkable and eye-poppingly busy jungle set and dealing with invisible aliens who have been enslaved by the Daleks on the hostile planet of Spiridon. It’s not a story that aspires to very much more than wowing the under-tens in the audience.

As for our own under-ten, he seems to like this story much, much more than he did “Frontier in Space,” and spent the hour alternately wide-eyed and wondering out loud, or wide-eyed and transfixed. “Ten thousand invisible Daleks! That’s ten thousand times the original problem!”

Doctor Who: Frontier in Space (part six)

The last part of “Frontier in Space” is one of the very few occasions in Doctor Who where major villains team up. The Master and the Daleks only get a few minutes together, and the neatness is overshadowed by knowing this was Roger Delgado’s final appearance in the series.

Delgado had told Who‘s producer that he was ready to move on. He and his agent had heard that the reason he wasn’t getting as many offers in 1971-72 as he might was that all the casting people assumed that he was a regular in Doctor Who and wouldn’t be available. So Barry Letts was beginning to put together ideas for a big finale for the character, which is why he doesn’t get anything like a sendoff this time. He just vanishes in the confusion of the Ogrons running around.

“Frontier” was made in September of 1972. Not too long after, Delgado flew to the south of France to shoot an episode of ITC’s fun little Mission: Impossible clone, The Zoo Gang, which would be shown in 1974. It would be his last English language performance. In June 1973, he flew to Turkey to appear in a small part in a French TV miniseries, La Cloche Tibetaine. On the 18th, while being driven to a location shoot, he was killed in a car crash along with two other men.

Our favorite six year-old critic hadn’t been enjoying this serial very much, but he perked up so much when the Daleks arrived that I genuinely felt bad telling him why this was Delgado’s final appearance as the Master. He listened to my story, a little glum, before saying “He was a great actor, because he played real bad at making the Master SO BAD!” That’s possibly not the most eloquent way to put it, but I agree with the sentiment. He certainly was a terrific, wonderful actor. It’s always a pleasure to watch an adventure show or ITC series from the late sixties or early seventies and find him in the cast. He never had all the major roles that he deserved, but every one of his appearances is worth tracking down.

Doctor Who: Frontier in Space (parts four and five)

Resuming this serial with a double-bill tonight, our son still says that he isn’t enjoying it, but he does at least enjoy the gunfights. That is, I think he likes the idea of the shootouts, because what happens on screen is not all that thrilling. Honestly, I’m not taken with Paul Bernard’s prowess as a director of action sequences. This isn’t the only time in Doctor Who that the design of a set got in the way of a director who needs to stage a shootout – “The Claws of Axos” comes to mind – but it’s every bit as frustrating to watch. The scene where the Ogrons capture Jo is so sloppy. It doesn’t look like Bernard gave any thought at all to where his cameras should be.

For many reasons, I’m not as familiar with this story as I am most of the Pertwee years. Around 2002, when I was watching the series with my older son, circumstances forced me out of the room to deal with unpleasantness for the first five episodes, five nights straight of real life awfulness, and that hangs over this story for me. So it’s locked in my memory as going from prison cell to prison cell and me unable to enjoy even that. I had forgotten many of the details of my original copy, which I taped off air in the eighties and watched several times afterward.

WGTV had shown this during a pledge drive and interrupted the compilation movie at the approximate points of the original cliffhangers. This led to an interesting surprise tonight. At the end of part five, the Master turns on his fear box and the very last shot is Jo looking in horror at something that we can’t see yet. The next part will open by showing her a few of the most recent monsters in the show: a Drashig, a Mutant “mutt,” and a Sea Devil, and that’s the point where WGTV had faded to black, so I thought we’d be seeing them tonight.

Since I’m not as familiar with this as I could be, I had forgotten just how darn good Katy Manning is, especially in this climax. She and Pertwee and Roger Delgado carry almost all of part four with limited interruption from other characters, which is incredibly entertaining, and they dominate the critical scene in the throne room of the Draconian Emperor, played by John Woodnutt.

But at the end, the Master tries to hypnotize Jo again, and she is not having any of that. She is amazing! Delgado goes right into his party trick of “You. Will. Obey. Me!” and Manning stares him down with cold fury, reciting nursery rhymes in his face. He hypnotized her with ease on their first meeting, on her very first UNIT assignment, but she is not the same scatterbrained kid from “Terror of the Autons.” That’s a fantastic scene.

Doctor Who: Frontier in Space (part three)

Thank heaven Roger Delgado turns up this week, because otherwise this episode is like watching paint dry. It’s more and more and more of prison cells and Earthmen not believing the Doctor and Jo. It’s agonizingly repetitive. For those of you who missed the previous two parts, don’t worry, because the other characters are going to force Jon Pertwee to explain the plot twice this week. So when the Master arrives toward the end in the guise of the police commissioner of the dominion planet Sirius IV, it’s the best thing by miles.

Once again, though, the story doesn’t pause to consider an avenue that’s a million times more interesting than what it does give us: 26th Century Earth is an authoritarian hellhole. Michael Hawkins’ general tells the weak president that she is in danger of being replaced by a military dictatorship, but she already presides over a planet where political prisoners are immediately sentenced to life imprisonment on the moon. At this time in its life, Doctor Who was not afraid to depict nasty futures and, in the manner of some good science fiction, warn against taking the wrong avenue. But later on, the producers and writers of the 1980s and 2000s would do more with totalitarian governments and pit a more active Doctor against them.

It’s difficult to square the way this Doctor treats future Earth as just another setting for adventures, albeit an ugly one, with the way the Doctor of “The Happiness Patrol” overthrows the government of a corrupt Earth colony, or the way the Doctor of “The Christmas Invasion” decides that Harriet Jones shouldn’t actually be the UK’s prime minister after all. Looking back at nineties fandom, I recall the way that older, Pertwee-loving fans of the show would praise Malcolm Hulke’s political edge while dismissing the show becoming “silly” in the late eighties. But Hulke’s stories, while sometimes brilliantly constructed and full of nuance and question around the issues of corruption, might have been even wilder if he had been allowed to position the character of the Doctor against the horrible corporations and government of the Earth he showed in “Colony in Space” and in this story. In a couple of weeks, we’ll watch “The Green Death,” where the Doctor is pitted against a corporation set on present-day Earth. It’s a shame that he never got the chance to similarly bring down the IMC, or this horrible president.

Meanwhile, I should point out that our son is just barely hanging on to this story, and the whole lot of nothing that doesn’t happen this week didn’t thrill him one bit. He certainly loved “The Three Doctors” and says that it is tied with “The Power of the Daleks” as his favorite adventure, but after the confusion and horrors of the last story and the frustrations of this one, he really, really needs something big to turn things around. But we’ll see that something big in a few days, after taking a little mid-story break.

One other thing to note this week is that Ray Lonnen’s character has left the narrative after two weeks. Episodes one and two were the only Doctor Who credits for this fine actor. Richard Shaw is in this part, and the next, as a trustee in the moon prison. Shaw had appeared in the 1965 serial “The Space Museum” and would appear in Who again five years after this, but we “remember” him best as Ryan, one of the recurring criminals in series five and six of Freewheelers. I use air quotes around remember because our son has watched series six of Freewheelers twice and remembers the character but, of course, doesn’t recognize the actor!

Doctor Who: Frontier in Space (part two)

The Doctor and Jo spend most of part two of “Frontier in Space” in one jail cell or another. It’s a very frustrating episode, since I have never cared for stories in which our hero is a prisoner, but also because the Doctor has a really believable story and nobody wants to listen.

“Frontier in Space” was written by Malcolm Hulke and it follows “Colony in Space” from two years previously in depicting a future Earth that’s really unpleasant and awful. Earth and Draconia are poised on the brink of a second galactic war and some third party is causing trouble. Earthmen, represented by a president who seems mostly ineffective and a general whose bloodlust is visible from space, believe the Doctor and Jo are Draconian agents, and the Draconians, who briefly capture the Doctor, think that the general is using them as patsies to justify his gearing up for war. Michael Hawkins has a terribly thankless job in playing this general. Ray Lonnen, who would later star in the amazing spy series The Sandbaggers, has a small role as an Earth soldier.

So yes, there’s a lot of back and forth in this story so far, but I’m surprised that the Doctor didn’t follow an interesting lead that the Draconian ambassador suggested. The Doctor knows that some third party is employing Ogrons to raid Earth freighters, and the Draconians think the general is behind everything. Who’s to say that the general didn’t hire the Ogrons? Obviously he didn’t, but since Hawkins’ portrayal is spelling the man out as a baddie, it’s odd that the script didn’t even start to consider him as a suspect.

Doctor Who: Frontier in Space (part one)

We had an unhappy surprise last night as we were putting our son to bed. We told him about the plans for today and that we would be watching the next episode of Doctor Who, and he looked at the ground and said that he didn’t want to watch it. Now, back during “The Seeds of Death,” he threatened to stop watching the show for a month if the Ice Warriors ended up winning, but this was new.

So a little later, after he was tucked in, I went back in his bedroom and sat on his bed with him and asked “Is there something about Doctor Who that’s bothering you?” He seemed reluctant to say beyond a quiet “…yeah.” Then I got it. “Are you afraid of the Drashigs?” His eyes got wide and he nodded firmly.

I assured him that the Drashigs would never again appear in the show, except as pictures, or, in a couple of moments in this story, hallucinations. He confirmed that they are the scariest monster that he’s ever seen anywhere and worried that there would be a monster in this new story. I told him that we’ll be meeting a new race of aliens called Draconians, but that they are not monsters. And that’s the core of this story, oddly enough. The frightened soldiers of the expanding Earth empire refuses to see them as anything but monsters.

The Draconians are, no joke, one of the very best designs for aliens in the entirety of Doctor Who, and it really is surprising that these guys never returned to the series, because they’re incredibly successful both as visuals and as interesting alien characters. They showed up in comics and novels but I don’t think they’re even mentioned in passing in the TV show again until the 2010 story “The Pandorica Opens.” 2006 story “The Satan Pit.” This story also features the return of the ape-like Ogrons – Paul Bernard also directed their previous appearance – and darned if they didn’t vanish from the series completely after this one as well. Lots of good comics and books use them – Gareth Roberts’ novel The Romance of Crime is a favorite – but the series moved on.

And how did the episode go over? Well, every night, as one of my parts of the bedtime ritual, I tell him what we’re having for supper and what we will watch. So tomorrow, Marie’s making this really terrific sausage and potato skillet meal and we’re watching part two of this story. He made a face, because he’s really not fond of the skillet meal, and grumbled “Yay for Doctor Who, but nuh-uh for that skillet…”

Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters (part four)

I don’t have much to add tonight. We really enjoyed the conclusion of this story – again, it’s one of my favorites – and our son liked it as well. It did strike me this time that almost all of the great Drashig action is confined to just episode three. Two of the beasts do escape onto Inter Minor in part four, but they’re really quickly dispatched… after they’ve dispatched Michael Wisher’s scheming politician character. Wisher would return a couple of seasons down the line as one of the all-time great Doctor Who villains. Peter Halliday, shown above as one of the other politicians, will also return to Who down the line in a couple of small roles.

Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters (part three)

Another reason I love “Carnival of Monsters”: this bit here was the first Doctor Who that my daughter, who was then very small, ever saw. She came in just as the Drashig burst out of the ship’s hold and ran screaming from the room in almighty terror. She cried and cried and wouldn’t let me or her older brother watch an episode without making a federal case about it for months. He and I had then our viewing of season eleven interrupted by life getting in the way in a big, but good, way, and after several weeks’ break, he and I resumed in the privacy of our new home with the girlchild usually sitting on the staircase pouting that we were watching something too scary for her, occasionally punctuating our viewing in the television room by bellowing “I AM NOT WATCHING THAT!” If I remember correctly, it took ten episodes like that before she deigned to actually enter the room with the TV to watch Pertwee’s final serial.

If you’re familiar with Doctor Who, you’ll know that last one has some whacking huge spiders in it. She was almost as upset by those as she was the Drashigs. We had to wait a couple of weeks before starting the Tom Baker years.

Proving that the Drashigs still have their amazing tendency to horrify my offspring, while there were no tears tonight, our son did watch portions of this episode with his face buried in the pillows behind his mother’s back. It didn’t take long for her to get tired of that. They really are just superb monsters to inspire such antics.

Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters (parts one and two)

I absolutely adore “Carnival of Monsters,” which, depending on what day you ask me, might make my list of favorite Doctor Who stories. I love everything about it, from the unbelievably dense and witty script to the sets to the costumes to the better-than-average visual effects for its day. I’m so glad to revisit it and pleased that our son seems to really like it, too. “That was pretty creepy,” he announced with a yelp when a Drashig shows up.

Looking back to his earlier adventures with Krotons and Autons, you can see writer Robert Holmes flexing his muscles and learning how to fill in years of backstory with the tiniest amount of dialogue: the Seely’s marriage, the unhappy Farrell family. Here, he can rely on our familiarity with the culture of the 1920s for those characters, and go to work on the alien civilizations: the bureaucratic and xenophobic ruling class of Inter Minor – one is instantly reminded of how Douglas Adams would later develop the Vogons in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, even if one doubts very much that these gray people would write poetry – and the Lurmans. I really love how he brilliantly uses our understanding of colorful, down-on-their-luck showpeople with big dreams to give Vorg and Shirna color that the audience can easily grasp, and then sketches in their galaxy and their opinions of Earth people. We’re called “Tellurians” in their far-distant corner of the universe, and they’re so far away from our sphere of influence that Vorg has to think twice to remember the name “Dalek.”

So it’s a great world and a brilliant script, with new information added very slowly, leaving our son wondering what connects these weird space people and a human cargo ship in 1926. Part one ends with one of the all-time great cliffhangers, as right out of the blue a gigantic hand plucks the TARDIS away. Part two has another fine ending, as we meet the roaring, monstrous Drashigs for the first time. Doctor Who would spend the rest of its original run trying to replicate the perfect success of these giant monsters and flopped, the visuals letting them down every single time. Dinosaurs, giant robots, the Skarasen in Loch Ness, Kroll, the Mara, none of them are as effective or as fun as the Drashigs.

Lastly, what a cast! Barry Letts put together a wonderful team of guest stars. Two of the gray bureaucrats of Inter Minor are Peter Halliday and Michael Wisher, each of whom we’ve seen before. On the SS Bernice in what looks like 1926, we’ve got Ian Marter, who would later join the cast as companion Harry Sullivan, and Tenniel Evans, who starred with his good friend Jon Pertwee in the long-running radio comedy The Navy Lark. Vorg and Shirna are played by Leslie Dwyer and Cheryl Hall. While Dwyer had appeared in dozens of films already, both actors would become better known for sitcoms that were in their future: Hi-de-Hi! and Citizen Smith. They’re perfectly cast here. I love these characters, and I love this story.

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (part four)

Our son clarified that while he was no longer excited about this story after the betrayal of the bad fight with the ugly pig-faced man, he is “attached” to Doctor Who and wants to see what will happen next. Fortunately, the mad Omega banishes the pig-faced man almost instantly as this episode opens, and he enjoyed this part much, much more.

Honestly, we all grade “The Three Doctors” on a curve because we love the idea of multi-Doctor adventures and we love Patrick Troughton. This isn’t as good as it could be. My biggest aggravation is actor Stephen Thorne’s one-note bellowing, but in his defense, he lets out a seriously painful and agonized howl when he realizes that his body has been completely disintegrated, and that’s my second biggest aggravation: it’s the emotional climax of the story and it takes place six minutes into part four.

The director seems to think the climax is all the guest stars walking up a fairground haunted house’s staircase into a column of smoke one at an endless and tedious time and saying their goodbyes to the Doctors, and it assuredly isn’t. This story badly needed to have one more draft: have the Doctors realize what is wrong without telling Omega, escape for a bit, get everybody home through the smoke column, and then explain to Omega that his body has been destroyed, let the villain give out that wretched and painful howl, and then annihilate the anti-matter universe. I try not to Monday-morning-quarterback old TV too much, but I insist that would have worked better.

So it’s entertaining if not necessarily all that good, and I enjoyed letting our son know that Doctors will occasionally meet each other in the future, and never really get along with each other. It’ll be a couple of years before he sees his next teamup, though!

We’ll be taking a short break from Doctor Who, but we’ll resume our look at the tenth season in early November. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (part three)

Our son turned on this story in a big, bad way! Episode three ends with the third Doctor battling a weird, pig-faced man in a black void, the representation of the dark side of their enemy’s will. It doesn’t look like he’s winning this fight; in fact, Jon Pertwee and his stunt double are getting slammed all over the room.

And our son took this as a very, very grim turn of events. He loved the comedy stylings of the Brigadier earlier, bellowing at the Doctor for transporting UNIT headquarters to some “deserted beach,” and sat riveted to the story, but the Doctor losing this fight wasn’t fun. Hopefully he’ll make it out of this mess for the final episode!