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Doctor Who: The Time Monster (part four)

Okay, so on the one hand, this can be accused very fairly of being padding padding padding. If you’re wanting your Doctor Who to be lean and mean and tightly plotted, I can see why this story maddens you. There’s literally not one minute of story here that’s essential to the plot of the Master going to Atlantis to get control of Kronos. If that’s the only reason that “The Time Monster” exists, then it could have been a three-parter. I understand that the low-budgeted series, throughout the Pertwee years, mainly adopted its format of two four-parters and three six-parters to make the best out of the resources available, but they honestly could have used three parts from this and one apiece from “The Mutants” and “The Sea Devils” and made an additional five-part adventure this year.

But I’m in the other camp. This is fun. The Doctor is being the stodgy old killjoy and the Master is having a ball. Benton gets turned into a baby, the TARDISes are materialized inside each other, and the Master uses his machine’s telepathic circuits to fiddle with the Doctor’s speech and have the words come out of his mouth backwards. If you’re bothered by the Brigadier turning into the Doctor’s straight man, only there to feed the star lines, he gets to stand in place for about the whole episode, frozen in time, so even he can’t annoy you. How could anybody not like this? It’s so fun.

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Doctor Who: The Time Monster (part three)

I think I see one reason fandom doesn’t care for this story. Everybody’s waiting for Ingrid Pitt and she isn’t in the first half of the serial! But seriously, there really aren’t six episodes of plot here. I mean, when the characters are specifying that everything you’re seeing are delaying tactics, that’s a bit of a clue.

On the other hand, I’m loving it. It may be stretching a slow four-parter, at best, into six, but it’s all so entertaining! The scene where the Doctor builds some “modern art” for its sort-of crystalline structure to interfere with the Master’s time experiments is padding, but it’s funny. You also read people complaining that the Brigadier is getting increasingly stupid as the series goes on, but our son guffawed at the Doctor and Jo roaring past his jeep in the super-speed-boosted Bessie. This may not be essential, but it’s fun.

And so the cliffhanger sees Captain Yates, bringing the TARDIS to Cambridge in a military convoy, plagued by more delays as the Master dumps various foes from other times into 1973 via his interstitial time machine. It ends with a massive explosion as a thirty year-old Doodlebug flying bomb comes down in the tree line. That’s a hugely effective cliffhanger; our son was very worried for Captain Yates!

Also, our son was quite frightened by that most ridiculous of Doctor Who monsters: Kronos finally makes its weird appearance, all white costume and colorful visual effects sparkling off the vision mixer, the actor’s arms flapping like an angry canary while swaying in the lab on a kirby wire. No, nothing about Kronos is really successful at all… unless you’re six, in which case this furious caged beast who absorbs Dr. Percival in a puff of nothing really is a surprisingly weird and troubling enemy.

Speaking of Dr. Percival, I’d mentioned that John Wyse would later appear in the BBC’s Dorothy L. Sayers adaptations of the 1970s. He was joined last time by Donald Eccles, playing the Atlantean high priest who the Master zaps into the present. Eccles would also have a big supporting role in one of those Sayers serials. He played the Reverend Venables, the campanology-obsessed vicar in The Nine Tailors, a couple of years after this.

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Doctor Who: The Time Monster (part two)

Very, very little happens in part two of this adventure. It’s all talk and setup, as the Doctor explains that the Master is trying to use the power of Kronos, the most dangerous of a species called Chronovores. These beings exist outside of time and, as their delightful name implies, eat time itself, swallowing life.

It all seems fairly innocuous, and until a scene where Benton comes very close to capturing the Master, slow, but our son takes the Doctor’s warnings very, very seriously. Without even materializing, Kronos swallowed about sixty years from a lab assistant, leaving him an old man. That, and the grim and always-end-of-the-world tone that the Doctor employs, is enough to really convince our boy that this is deadly serious business. He’s very, very worried about Kronos.

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Doctor Who: The Time Monster (part one)

So at last we’re at the much-maligned “The Time Monster,” a story that fandom tends to dismiss, but there’s nothing in the first episode that warrants its low reputation. There very rarely is, of course. Most Doctor Who tends to start strong and peter out. This one starts with the Master up to no good at a research institute, under the guise of a Greek scientist called Professor Thascales, and he’s apparently working on a teleportation device – transmitting matter through “interstitial time” – but, in an admittedly poor cliffhanger, it seems he’s really doing this as a side to his real plan, which is contacting something called Kronos.

The story was written by Barry Letts and Roger Sloman, and directed by Paul Bernard, and is notably the last UNIT vs. the Master adventure, after the four in the previous season. The notable guest star in part one is John Wyse, who didn’t have a long career in TV or film. It looks like this may have been his second-to-last credited part. His final role was as Mr. Murbles, solicitor to the Wimsey family in the first of the BBC’s 1970s adaptations of Dorothy Sayers novels. I really like the guy.

Other than a general unease that the Master’s never up to any good, our son was neither really pleased nor displeased with this one. It’s really all setup, including the delightful and understated business about Professor Thascales’s credentials. Since he escaped from prison in “The Sea Devils” (perhaps three months previously?), he established the Thascales identity and got this position near Cambridge, but neglected to publish anything for peer review, which nearly trips him up.

(Actually, I’ll tell you the big thing they neglected. Since this is set near Cambridge, they really should have asked Caroline John to come back and play Liz Shaw as a member of the institute’s grants committee.)

Three months works within the best UNIT timeline, but it really is a heck of a rush for all the work that the Master needed to do. I like this idea: the Master escaped from prison, got in his TARDIS, figured out a new plan involving the Greek trident crystal, and started setting everything up years before he first showed up in “Terror of the Autons.” Over the same months that the earlier Master was dueling with UNIT and working with Autons, Axons, Daemons, and Sea Devils in Britain, “Professor Thascales” was in Greece, having obtained the crystal and finding an institute or university where he could get the necessary equipment and funding. Playing the long game’s easy when you’ve got a time machine, as long as you don’t meet yourself, I suppose.

Why not? After all, the most recent series of Doctor Who has shown us that at the precise time that the Doctor and the Master are having this adventure in Cambridge, a much later Doctor has been quietly teaching at St. Luke’s University in Bristol, with a much later Master locked in a vault under the college. I really love the idea that every few months in the 1970s, Nardole would get a morning paper with a story about, say, promotional plastic daffodils being recalled as a health hazard, and pop it on the Doctor’s desk, saying “This is you, isn’t it? Must be. You had something to do with this.”

And the Doctor, never wanting to talk much about the past, would say “That was three thousand years ago, Nardole. I really don’t remember…”

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Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks (part four)

In 2011, “Day of the Daleks” was released on DVD with a really interesting bonus feature: a complete special edition of the story with new special effects, several additional Daleks, some new footage for the climactic battle scene, and proper Dalek voices provided by Nick Briggs instead of those guys that did the original work forty years previously and sounded wrong. Unfortunately, the well-meaning team behind this otherwise entertaining upgrade also decided to cut the hilarious bit in episode one where an Ogron actor forgets to talk like an Ogron and just mumbles “No complications” in his regular voice. For shame! I love that part!

We switched over to watch the special edition for part four. It might be fairly accused of having one or ten too many bells and whistles, but it does improve what was originally a pretty tame battle scene. The director, Paul Bernard, did his best, but he just didn’t have the resources to make this important sequence shine. Worse, the human part of the conflict is ridiculous. Sir Reginald absolutely refuses to evacuate. Nobody thinks to say “There is a bomb in this building and terrorists are attacking.” You’d think that would get people back in their cars. But with lasers all over the screen and smoke in the air and bullets ricocheting off Dalek armor and lines of bullets vipping along the ground and UNIT soldiers getting either exterminated or vaporized, there’s so darn much to look at.

Our son loved it. This is the second story in a row to end with a big explosion. “Now you know the meaning of the word Dalek-explosion!” he shouted. This was after a little hiding behind the sofa and worry. He’s at the perfect age where the Daleks are both exciting and scary. He did clarify that they are meaner than both the Ice Warriors and the Master. Funny that he should think of those villains…

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

Back to January 1972 and the ninth season of Doctor Who opened with the return of the Daleks to the series for the first time since the summer of ’67. They’d been retired while their creator, Terry Nation, unsuccessfully tried to sell the American networks on a series in which a Space Security Agent foils a new evil plot by the villains every week. I sometimes wonder about that show, and kind of think that it would have been a fondly-remembered series, but not a very successful one. Still, when they do invent transportation between parallel universes, that’s on my list to check out. I wonder who would have been in the cast…

Anyway, so the Daleks conquered Earth some time in our future, and in the 22nd Century, some fanatics have got their hands on some time travel equipment and have traveled back to “the 20th Century time zone” (just call it September 13, 1973, it makes sense) to kill a prominent politician for an as-yet-undisclosed reason. The Daleks mainly stay in a room in their future city where they yell at a controller character played by Aubrey Woods. But at the end of part two, the Doctor chases after the guerrillas and just about runs smack into a Dalek in a dark tunnel, which frightened the bejezus out of our son. Any pleasure that might come from seeing the Daleks back – he wanted to talk and talk and talk between episodes about how many there were in 1966’s “The Power of the Daleks” – came crashing into the scary reality that creepy dark tunnels are not where you want to find a Dalek.

The Daleks were apparently a late-in-the-day addition to this story by Louis Marks, who had last written for the show in 1964. He had the story about fanatics from the future trying to change history, and the ape-like Ogrons who do all the gunfighting, but the Daleks came on board to boost the marketing push. It’s the first Who serial directed by Paul Bernard. He did three of the ten serials in seasons nine and ten.

Part one of this story features a scene that I absolutely adore. The Doctor and Jo are staying in this big country house waiting for another visit from the time travelers, and the Doctor has helped himself to the cheeses and wines. Jo takes some to feed a hungry Sergeant Benton, only to have Captain Yates order him to get back to work so he can take a snack for himself. “RHIP. Rank has its privileges,” he tells her.

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (part five)

“The Dæmons” is rightly criticized for its ending, but not for the right part of the ending. The problem isn’t the incredibly rushed and ridiculous part where Jo’s offer of self-sacrifice confuses Azal so much that he immediately starts shouting “Does not relate” – if he were a computer in a sixties drama like The Prisoner or Star Trek, he’d say “compute” – and then self-destructs, most of what he says lost in a whirl of keyboards and special sounds and actor Stephen Thorne bellowing.

No, the problem is all the film stuff they did before the studio session. It’s not just Jo retrieving her clothes from the pub when she was forced to change in the church, it’s the whole way everybody in the village just smiles and grins about all these soldiers turning up, their church exploding, and their new vicar being led away at gunpoint, and then decide it’s time for a nice fertility dance around the maypole. I guess it makes a decent enough image for the season finale, but there’s a pretty big church down the road from us, with their playground across the street, and if their building got blown up by a twenty foot tall 100,000 year-old dæmon from space, I bet that the parishioners wouldn’t be in a big rush to start a game of softball.

On the other hand, Nicholas Courtney is just incredibly entertaining in this episode. He steals the show right out from under Roger Delgado – no easy task – with his frustrated, rational, sensible responses to each new problem. And the fight with Bok is really impressive, too. Our son loved the explosions, both hitting Bok with a rocket from a bazooka and the great big one that destroys the church.

I don’t know whether it’s an old wives’ tale or Terrance Dicks pulling our leg, but there’s a great old story that the BBC received several complaints about blowing up that church for the sake of a silly entertainment show. You watch that today and know that it’s a miniature – a darn good one, mind, but still a miniature – and can’t believe that anybody, no matter how lousy the reception was on their antenna in 1971 to make them think the visual was better than it was, could possibly think they’d actually blow up a real church. But then you remember the stories about old ladies beating up Barry Morse with their handbags demanding he leave that nice Dr. Kimble alone, and all the telegrams the US Coast Guard received asking them to rescue Gilligan and the castaways, and you accept that yes, the BBC probably did get some angry phone calls.

We’ll start watching season nine of Doctor Who in September. Stay tuned!

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (parts three and four)

There is probably a thing or ten to dislike about each of the four Doctor Who serials that Barry Letts and Robert Sloman co-wrote, but while none of them are my favorites, I really enjoy the way that each captures a little essence of the early seventies in a perfect way. Even “The Time Monster,” which I probably enjoy more than anybody else, not that I’m going to call it art or anything.

“The Dæmons” is a lot like the Bigfoot episodes of the Bionic shows in that regard. From the bit in part one where Jo says that this really is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, they’re off in a story that couldn’t have been made in any other era. Of course there’s a Satanic coven sacrificing chickens underneath the village church. This was made in 1971, so I’d expect nothing less.

In About Time, Tat Wood assembled what I think is the best ever timeline of the UNIT stories, and he figures season eight as taking place from October 1971 to May 1 1973. This has to be May 1, because the Doctor gets caught up in the village’s sinister May Day celebrations. Wood also noted that this means that “The Dæmons” takes place on the same day as the events in the remarkable 1973 film The Wicker Man. What a delightful happy accident! “The Dæmons” uses some of the same iconography as horror films of the period, including, of course, The Devil Rides Out, Witchfinder General, Virgin Witch, and The Blood on Satan’s Claw, and The Wicker Man then served as the last word on the sinister subject, incorporating all that came before, including this Who adventure.

Because I have a mild interest in period horror films like these, and some of the other stuff that Hammer, Tigon, and their competitors released in the late sixties and early seventies – 1971’s Lady Frankenstein is another, but that may have more to do with Rosalba Neri than much else – my son has been aware of me talking about old horror movies but not getting to see them. He asked what a horror movie was earlier this year, and I think my explanation satisfied his curiosity completely. But one day down the line, he’ll probably look into scary movies. He may be quite some time in finding the interest in sampling creaky old stuff like the old Hammers or The Devil’s Wedding Night – Neri again – but if he ever does, the fear that “The Dæmons” sparked in him might just pop up in a little corner of his memory somewhere. Some of these scenes have him absolutely petrified, and he says, firmly, that this is the scariest Doctor Who story ever.

Not a bad little introduction to horror movies then, is it?

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