Doctor Who: Enlightenment (parts one and two)

Our son has grasped the existential horror behind Barbara Clegg’s “Enlightenment” quite well, I think. “They scoop out the memories of the people on the ship the same way we scoop ice cream out of a bowl and eat it!” He’s really enjoying the story. Part one ends with a terrific cliffhanger revelation, and the whole story is built around mystery, so it’s got his brain working overtime.

“Enlightenment” is the first story in the Doctor Who canon to be written and directed by women. It was Clegg’s only script for the program, but one of several serials in the early eighties that Fiona Cumming helmed. Familiar faces in the cast include Tony Caunter as one of the crew of this strange Edwardian-era racing yacht and Keith Barron as its captain.

I’ve always thought this was a good story, but not an especially gripping or thrilling one, so I’m glad that our son’s enjoying it, and giving the Black Guardian an appropriate level of evil eye action. But as much as he enjoyed the first cliffhanger, the second one fell flat. It should have been a memorable one – Turlough leaps to his apparent death rather than being stranded for all eternity on a spaceship he can never leave – but our son remembered that a character had literally just explained there’s an energy screen keeping them safe. “He’ll just land on the screen,” he interjected. As it will turn out, he doesn’t, but I’ve watched this a dozen times and never caught that.

The Avengers 6.7 – Murdersville

I’ve never been completely on board with Brian Clemens’ “Murdersville,” despite its many charms. I think I’d just seen the trope of the Little Town With a Big Secret one time too many before finding this episode*. The only thing this one does that actually aggravates me is doing an equally tired trope of introducing a childhood friend of one of the main characters just in time to get killed. If you’ve known Mrs. Peel since she was just six or seven, you’re a dead man.

In its considerable defense, the location that they used for the delightful village of Little Storping-in-the-Swuff is incredibly charming. They’d driven through it just a couple of weeks previously, in “Dead Man’s Treasure”, actually! It’s got a few actors I enjoy in small roles, including Tony Caunter and Robert Cawdron. There’s also a great bit where a character played by Andrew Laurence – in a very, very small role – is all set to shoot a man in cold blood, until the village librarian reminds him that he shouldn’t make noise in a library.

Our son was pretty annoyed on Mrs. Peel’s behalf as she comes to realize that it’s not just one or two villagers who are up to no good. He became restless and I could see his lip curl as he figured out that the problem wasn’t just that nobody believed her, but that she didn’t have any help available. Things improved for him by the end, and while the concluding fight scene is deeply silly, even for this show, he enjoyed the mayhem. Villains and diabolical masterminds should know better than to leave a table of custard pies where a fight is likely to break out.

Catweazle 2.6 – The Wogle Stone

I spent the whole episode wracking my brain wondering who was playing the superstitious developer who wants to build a supermarket, and more, on Lord Collingford’s land, and tear down Catweazle’s home, Duck Halt. It’s Kenneth Cope, of course. He had finished filming his iconic role of the ghost, Marty, in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) maybe less than a year before making this, so it’s not like he looked significantly different or anything; I’m just a dimwit. Of course I plan to show our son Randall and Hopkirk as well. Hopefully next year sometime. Tony Caunter, who we saw in the Doctor Who adventure “Colony in Space,” is in this one as well; he plays Cope’s surveyor.

It’s a more amusing episode than a funny one. The script puts Cope through the wringer of silly superstitions, including his fears of black cats crossing his path, walking under ladders, and spilling salt. Moray Watson is even more of an upper class dimwit than usual, and Catweazle, after surviving his encounter with an excavator, takes advantage of the superstitions by either resurrecting one from his time, or inventing it on the spot. It’s called a Wogle Stone, and only a very foolish builder would move one. Cope’s character may be completely corrupt and obsessed with omens and signs, but he’s no fool!

Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part six)

Over the last week, I didn’t stop to praise Morris Perry for his terrific, all-business performance as the nasty Captain Dent of IMC. I love everything about his work here. He’s obliged to be a very different kind of villain than the charming and fun Master, and so he’s ruthless, unsmiling, and straightforward. He simply doesn’t care that he’s sending the colonists to their certain deaths. Alive or dead, as long as they’re out of his way, it doesn’t matter.

The other high point to this story is one of the definitive examples of the Master trying to tempt the Doctor into joining him. This happens several times throughout the series, but it’s usually kind of rushed. Here, Delgado and Pertwee get a lot to chew on, and it’s a really great scene.

It’s a little undermined by the frankly bonkers climax to the problem, as the strange little alien who lives inside the doomsday weapon just decides to have the Doctor destroy the weapon, and, with it, their entire city, rather than let the weapon fall into the Master’s hands. Maybe they spent so much time with the lovely Doctor-Master interplay that they didn’t have any room to develop this decision, which also seems to involve recalling all the primitives and priests to their deaths as well.

I mentioned a few days back that Malcolm Hulke’s eventual novelization of this story, renamed Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, was one of the great triumphs of the line of books. In the US, this was one of ten titles licensed by Pinnacle Books and given very weird new cover artwork and a glowing introductory chapter written by Harlan Ellison. I found the first four books in Pinnacle’s line in a nearby Starvin’ Marvin’s convenience store and gas station and reread them until they fell apart. I loved Ellison’s introduction – he apparently greatly preferred the Doctor to either Luke Skywalker or Kimball Kinnison from Lensman, though why he singled those two characters out for abuse, I couldn’t tell you – in part because it gave this odd-looking show that we watched late at night on PBS a really impressive seal of approval.

The first three of those books, the others being the novelizations of “Day of the Daleks” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” were adaptations of stories that our PBS station, WGTV, hadn’t yet purchased. It’s an understatement to say that the visuals I concocted in my head, helped by that dopey artwork, were far wilder and just plain better than what the BBC could create in 1971. I think that Hulke described the primitives as having six fingers on each hand, and this was reflected on the cover, where the basic, spear-carrying primitive was a shirtless Tarzan dude and the mole-like priest became a rat-faced monk. The story was just amazing, real Edgar Rice Burroughs stuff. Of course the BBC couldn’t match it, but what they did really wasn’t all that bad.

It really could have used Susan Jameson, though.

Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part five)

“Colony in Space” is another of those Doctor Who six-parters that is at least one episode too long. This one’s the turkey in this serial, and I think it and the next part really should have been combined into one, “Dominators”-style, for a leaner five-parter.

There are a few interesting points in this one. I’m not sure why, but I like that the episode spends so much time inside the Master’s TARDIS, and I like that the real adjudicator from Earth, whose identity the Master stole, is actually given a name, Martin Jurgens. Poor Martin probably got dumped out an airlock or had his tissues compressed and eliminated.

But having the IMC people come right back to the area of the colony after being forced off the planet gives this half-hour its repetitive feel. The episode begins with the wrap-up of the shootout from episode four, and then climaxes with another one. The entire installment is just about turning the tables with the supporting players, while the real meat of the Doctor and the Master going to explore the primitives’ city is pushed back to part six. It would have been more interesting, and less of a dull runaround, if the mining corporation had left the narrative completely and two of the colonists found the key to the Master’s ship instead of Caldwell and Morgan.

Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part four)

Our son has picked up the phrase “Oh, come on!” to punctuate any plot development that he doesn’t much like. The arrival of the Master warranted one. I don’t agree. The Master turning up is precisely what this story needed.

“Colony in Space” features one of the very few times that we ever get to see the Master putting his schemes together without the Doctor’s involvement. Usually, we meet the character in the narrative at the same time that the Doctor does, but here, he lands on Uxarieus using the forged identity of an Earth government adjudicator, and he casually and delightfully plays the role in order to further his interests. If you were paying attention at the beginning of part one, you may recall that this has something to do with an ancient Doomsday Weapon.

And if you’re putting two and two together, you might figure out that the ruined underground city, where the Doctor and Jo spend most of this episode, houses this infernal device. There are three alien species on this planet: neither the green and brown primitives nor the white, mostly-blind priests can speak, but there’s a third bunch, represented by a shriveled and tiny little guy who lives in the core of some power room, who warns the Doctor to leave and never return, under pain of death. You don’t suppose these are all connected?

Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part three)

Our son constantly surprises us with the things that he finds frightening. These primitives, about whom we’ll be learning much in subsequent episodes, are the top of the list right this minute. He doesn’t see them as extras in camouflaged body stockings and plastic faces at all. They are unknown, silent, hideous and unreasoning. He was pretty pleased by the Doctor leading the colonists on a revolt to seize control of the IMC ship – the colonists don’t know that an adjudicator from Earth is due to arrive very soon to settle the problem – but Jo being taken to the primitives’ secret city is utterly horrifying. What are these creatures and what are they going to do? We’ll learn more in a few nights’ time!

Doctor Who: Colony in Space (part two)

Last week, when my son and I were watching the Bionic Woman episode “The Deadly Missiles,” I paused to explain, in terms appropriate for a six year-old, a little about politics. I explained that Forrest Tucker’s character was what we would call a typical right-wing character, and tried to give him a simple and balanced view of what that meant.

Tonight, our son really impressed us. We learn that IMC is the Interplanetary Mining Corporation, and that they’re running a scam where they land on planets that have been approved for colonization, chase all the colonists off one way or another, and then suck the rock dry while they’re passing as the innocent victims of some bureaucratic mistake back on Earth. Captain Dent thinks that the Doctor is a colonist, and they have a brief debate about whether Earth would benefit with people leaving to start colonies, or bringing back minerals to build new homes.

Our son listened to their discussion and said “The Doctor is left wing and the other man is right wing.” Mom, who wasn’t here for the Bionic Woman episode, did an amazing double take. We’re very proud of our son retaining that information and correctly applying it. Malcolm Hulke, this episode’s writer, was as left-wing as they got, and had the most cynical and negative view of a future Earth empire that Who has ever shown, with the Doctor shown as strongly opposed to it. Both in this story and in 1973’s “Frontier in Space,” the Earth is run by a totalitarian government in thrall to corporations, where political dissidents are jailed. That’s one reason these two stories are a little hard going; they’re incredibly grim.

But the other political component of this story was a production one. In the photo above, that’s Tony Caunter as Morgan, Dent’s second-in-command. He’s the guy who killed the colonists in the remote dome and staged it as an attack by giant lizards. But Caunter wasn’t originally cast in the part. Susan Jameson was.

Here’s Jameson from the 1969 BBC series Take Three Girls. The actress had been contracted to play Morgan, but at the last minute, some high muckity-muck at the BBC decided that it wasn’t appropriate for a woman to play a ruthless murderer in black leather. So Jameson was paid for five episodes’ work and thanked for her time. The decision not only robbed the show of a strong female villain at a time when it really could have used one, it would have given this particular story some badly needed presence. The only other female characters that Jo and the Doctor meet are colonists who all fade into the background as quite unimportant.