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Doctor Who: Logopolis (parts three and four)

If you scroll way, way back in this Doctor Who story, you’ll see that I once showed all of the original series to my two older kids. It took a while, because we took breaks and had “repeat seasons” and all sorts of delays. The three of us moved to our old house in the spring of 2003 and I guess that summer, my son and I watched the final few Pertwee serials while my daughter shouted at us from the staircase, interrupting as much as she dared with updates about how she’s not watching it. We “shouldn’t watch that show because it’s too scary.” Every time she did come downstairs and give it a try, an Exillon or an Ice Warrior or a giant Spider would show up and she’d run screaming.

So we took a break of a few weeks and I actually showed her a picture of Professor Kettlewell’s robot and she agreed that it wasn’t scary. So she consented to watch, or at least not interrupt us with bellowed reports about how we could watch that scary show if we wanted, but she wasn’t going to. For the most part, there was peace in the valley. As I reported in these pages, the mummies in “Pyramids of Mars” had both kids screaming and crying and sleeping in my bed, but I think that was a one-off. Tom Baker became our Doctor, just like he became everybody’s Doctor for such a long time.

We took breaks, as I say, including the big one to enjoy Christopher Eccleston’s run, and we had the repeats and other shows, and I see that it was September of 2005 that we finally got to “Logopolis.” And it devastated my children. Again, from my old journal:

The end of this serial was absolutely amazing for us to watch together, because I didn’t give the kids any warning or suggestion that this was the end for our Doctor. I think my son realized just before the end, as he took in a deep breath during a flashback scene when the Doctor remembers his last several travelling companions, and his eyes widened. That made me tear up, and when the regeneration began, we were all shocked and weeping. “He DIED?!” my daughter bellowed as the end credits started. That a new Doctor sat up wasn’t important. For a few minutes, nothing was, because our Doctor was gone.

In time, she’d get older enough to start fangirling over Tennant and Smith, and eventually join the rest of the squee brigade in turning her back on grouchy old Capaldi, which is fair, you’re supposed to grow out of Doctor Who for a while and maybe return one day down the line. Part of me thinks that’s a big reason why Capaldi’s ratings in Britain were lower anyway – all the kids whose parents plopped them in front of the TV in the spring of 2005 were nine years older. When you’ve got high school parties or records to collect or people to smooch or college entrance exams, especially the smooching part, you put away the childish things, and it was just a natural time for the audience to turn over and age out.

But Tennant and Smith were in the future. In fact, back in time, we hammered down and watched the next eight seasons and McGann’s movie in a prolonged marathon so that other than “The Christmas Invasion,” we weren’t interrupted by the past or the future in following the narrative. No, that night in September 2005, my daughter bawled her eyes out because our Doctor had died, and she spent the better part of an hour utterly inconsolable. She took it out on Peter Davison. She never warmed to him, the interloper, the usurper. She liked Colin, though. Colin yelled a lot. Nobody ever told Colin Baker to take out the trash.

There was no repeat of those tears tonight. Our son said “Huh, that’s cool,” and wanted to know what that second-to-the-last monster from the flashback was. He wasn’t even a little bit sad. He’s been wondering how many other Doctors there are and when we’re going to get to them. Time marches on.

By the way, though we will be watching, I’m not going to write about Jodie Whittaker’s run at this time, simply because I just don’t want to be tied down to this silly blog and will enjoy having a break on Sundays! But the night after Jodie’s debut, we’ll look in on some old friends, and then start watching Peter Davison’s run later in October. Stay tuned!

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Doctor Who: Logopolis (parts one and two)

“Logopolis” is a story that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does. I mean, the first two parts are just the Doctor and Adric spouting technobabble and gobbledygook at each other. The introduction of Janet Fielding as the new character Tegan Jovanka gives it a little more life, but it’s the direction that makes it. It’s the first story written for the series by the season’s script editor, Christopher H. Bidmead, and it’s directed by Peter Grimwade. He brings an almost unbearable feeling of doom to the production.

Here’s something I wrote in September 2005: There’s a scene in part one when the Doctor looks across the highway and sees a spectral white figure by a fence staring at him and he almost collapses in shock. It works as well as it does because nobody in either the story or in the audience knows who the figure is, except the Doctor. Watching the story as a repeat from that angle reveals so much about the Doctor’s character and his actions over the next hour or so.

This is especially true in the second episode, where the Doctor confronts the figure, but too far away for Adric, or the audience, to know what they’re saying. But Tom Baker’s body language on that bridge… “I don’t want to go” never broke my heart the way that Baker’s silent, distant, slumped shoulders do.

That white figure really drives what’s going on in this story. (Well, the figure and the music, which is probably from start to finish the most memorable soundtrack ever performed for any Doctor Who adventure.) Nyssa, who we met in the previous story, shows up on an alien planet where the Doctor has gone, and tells Adric that “a friend of the Doctor’s” brought her. Then we see the strange all-white man slip slowly across the screen. Our son thinks that he’s another Time Lord. Good guess. I probably like the answer more than some people do.

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Doctor Who: The Keeper of Traken (parts three and four)

Memory’s a tricky thing. Every once in a while, our son will just toss a random Doctor Who fact my way, suggesting that he thinks about some old episodes from time to time. But he doesn’t recall the Master’s last appearance, in “The Deadly Assassin”, at all. We only watched it in April. But it’s also true that he didn’t actually enjoy that story even a little bit.

So part three of “The Keeper of Traken” ends with the not-completely-surprising revelation that the Master is behind the plot, and that his TARDIS – he has two! – has been standing in place as the Melkur statue for something like a decade. Inside, he’s evidently been healing somewhat, because he doesn’t have the hideous skeleton eyes that Peter Pratt wore as the Master in “Assassin.” Geoffrey Beevers plays the Master this time out. Fanon suggests that Pratt and Beevers are each playing the thirteenth and final incarnation of the Master… which is where Anthony Ainley comes in.

Whatever you think of “Traken,” you can’t deny it has a very unique finale. The Doctor and Adric have saved the day, with the assistance of their friends Tremas, played by Ainley, and his daughter Nyssa, and make their customary hasty exit. But the story doesn’t end like we think it should. In a devilishly mean-spirited epilogue, we see that the Master had a second TARDIS parked inside the Melkur-TARDIS, and, using the power he’d somehow absorbed from the Traken Source, he takes over and steals Tremas’s body, clicks his heels and leaves to go cause some chaos dressed in black and with the customary Master mustache and beard. Nyssa’s left to wonder where her father went.

Ainley seems like he was an incredibly interesting fellow. By 1981, he was about ready to retire from acting and just play cricket at leisure, because he’d inherited what many people report was a very, very large amount of money. Who‘s producer, John Nathan-Turner, remembered Ainley from a BBC series he’d worked on in 1974 called The Pallisers and thought he’d be a perfect Master, and then, far too frequently, didn’t commission any decent scripts for him. Ainley had also co-starred in a downright odd ATV spy series called Spyder’s Web which I probably enjoy more than you do, although John at the Cult TV Blog has also celebrated its prickly strangeness, and he was in The Land That Time Forgot and The Blood on Satan’s Claw, a fine character actor finally landing a role everybody would remember.

I’m reasonably certain our son won’t forget Ainley’s version of the Master. Reasonably. We’ll see him again very, very soon. But I was really surprised by how thoroughly he had forgotten the Pratt incarnation. During the closing credits of part three, I asked him whether he was surprised to see the Master again. After all, he did just freeze, give a shocked face, and tumble to the floor when Beevers turns to the camera chuckling. But at the end of the story, he told us he really liked this one, but didn’t understand “just one thing… when that showed us that it was the Master, how’d you know it was the Master?”

And I guess he had a point. Even for viewers with longer memories, it had been four years since the Master’s previous appearance…

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Doctor Who: The Keeper of Traken (parts one and two)

Earlier this month, when I wrote about “The Leisure Hive”, I talked about how in this season, there’s a greater sense of real space in the environments. Every story we’ve watched has great examples, particularly the Starliner in “Full Circle,” but the planet of Traken is the best of them all. It’s not just having more sets and extras than the obvious example, Peladon, it’s having characters with lives that seem to have existed before the plot of the month came crashing down atop them. This is what a later producer, Russell T. Davies, sensibly understood about making the world of the show feel real, and what his successor, Steven Moffat, frequently forgot.

So while I don’t love “The Keeper of Traken,” I absolutely admire it. The writer, director, designer, and composer are all working in fabulous synchronicity. It’s a good story, not a great one, but it’s a truly fine production. It’s the first Doctor Who script by Johnny Byrne, and, sadly, by some measure the best of his three. Byrne came to Who by way of All Creatures Great and Small, where he had worked with Who‘s producer John Nathan-Turner and been the script editor for that show’s first three series. Before that, he had written about a quarter of Space: 1999.

In the cast, we’ve got twenty year-old Sarah Sutton playing Nyssa, a character who, like Adric, appears meant to be a young teenager. John Woodnutt makes his final Who appearance, and Anthony Ainley, about whom, more later, makes his first. Denis Carey and Sheila Ruskin are also very memorable in their parts here.

Our son might have liked this story a little less than he claimed, because he was pretty restless and seemed frustrated by the mystery. The serial is centered around an evil being called a Melkur that, like others before it, turned to stone as soon as it landed on Traken about a decade previously. The planet has a bio-electric power source that freezes and calcifies intruders with evil intent, which is a whimsical, fairy tale-like idea given a sci-fi sheen that doesn’t quite make sense but just feels right. That’s another way that the production triumphs, by taking this odd idea and making it work, against the grumbling of anybody who wants to be critical about it. But the evil being is, of course, just biding its time and literally growing moss waiting for the incredibly powerful Keeper of this planetary system to die.

I think the director does reveal a little too much too soon, but whatever Melkur is, he’s the second villain this season, after Meglos, to know that the Doctor is a Time Lord and is prepared to deal with him. Perhaps this is an early indicator of the Doctor’s reputation preceding him, or perhaps we’re starting to get people behind the scenes who are much, much more interested in the program’s past and its continuity than ever before.

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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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