strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
[personal profile] strange_complex
Well, while I have a relatively normal weekend on my hands, I am going to get caught up with some unwritten reviews. I have spent most of the day on the sofa with my laptop writing this, while the TV burbled away in the background. It's what makes me happy.

Multiple Doctors: The Three Doctors
This is obviously a very important story, in terms of both the canon and the show. It marks the end of the Earth-bound UNIT era (no tears on that point from me), a decade of programming, and the first ever experiment in multi-Doctor stories. What a pity, then, that it was placed in the clumsy hands of the Worst Who Writers Ever: Bob Baker and Dave Martin. It bears most of the hall-marks of their usual efforts - fairly basic plot, clumsy exposition, and an absence of depth. But for all that it's one that shouldn't be missed.

Pertwee and Troughton between them really make it. Their comedy double-act is a joy to behold. Hartnell obviously wasn't quite able to participate on the same level - but much respect to him for making the effort all the same. And the role he is given in the plot is fascinating. I know it mainly arises out of the constraints surrounding what he was physically capable of doing - but all the same his position of giving advice remotely through a television screen, and seemingly knowing and seeing everything in a way that those participants who are more directly involved in the action do not, really makes him seem like a kind of god-figure. It seems to me to be quite a revealing insight into the way the origins of the show had already been mythologised by this time.

The nature of the story raises some of those lovely time-travel-related questions at the heart of the show - important in production terms, given that it was about to be re-established as a regular plot element. They're not explored as much as I would like, though. You do get some stuff with Two gently trying to explain to the Brigadier that he hasn't yet experienced some of the adventures the Brig has just yet. But do both One and Two go back to their respective time-lines with their memories intact? If they did, Three should already know how everything works out in this story thanks to their memories of it. And whether they do or not, they should both know during the course of the story that they can't be in any danger, as clearly they are going to survive at least long enough to regenerate into the Third Doctor. None of this is really addressed, though. I guess these days we can just say it's all a bit 'timey-wimey'.

We also get a re-introduction to the TARDIS - and Benson's wonderful silent gaze as he takes in the interior, and then just shrugs and gets on with things deserves a special shout-out. In fact, he's great value in the role of temporary companion-to-Two generally. Hooray for Benson's moment of prominence - he's always deserved it. And as for Jo - fantastic, too. I'm liking her more and more with every one of her stories I see, actually. I can hardly believe now that I ever felt ambiguous about her as a companion. Even here, in the clumsiest of hands, she comes across as a great Doctor-enabler, really encouraging Two and Three to collaborate - for example when they need to create a mental door to get out of Omega's prison.

And there's a minor, but interesting, Classical receptions element, too. Towards the end of the story, Three compares Omega to Atlas, supporting an entire world out of his own strength. Since Omega then asks the Doctor to take over the job of maintaining the singularity which supports his Universe, that would make the Doctor Hercules. Which, of course, he is - a wandering adventurer who fights monsters and becomes the stuff of legend. If you ask me, that's a rather more interesting use of Greek mythology than the same writers pulled off in Underworld - probably precisely because they left it as a small passing reference, and didn't try to push it too far.

Looking ahead, the story clearly left some strong impressions on later writers. The plot of The Five Doctors owes something to it (renegade Time Lord, running around on a hostile desert planet), while the mental-battle-as-physical-fight between Three and Omega reminded me of the wonderful, wonderful Matrix scenes in The Deadly Assassin. And there's a moment when Two offers the Brigadier a jelly baby, too - has he ever done that before? Meanwhile, in the present day, the DVD has been used to release an unusually-impressive collection of anniversary-related material - mainly interviews with Troughton and Pertwee on Pebble Mill, Blue Peter and the convention circuit. I'd say they make the DVD worth it, even if this isn't the best Who story of all time (and space).

Third Doctor: Carnival of Monsters
Oh, I loved this one! It's easily the most enjoyable Pertwee story I've seen so far. Unfortunately for the era, that is largely because it isn't really a Third Doctor story at all. Following on directly from The Three Doctors, we're liberated from the Earth at last, and have left behind men in labs, corrupt civil servants, silly vehicle chase sequences and imminent ecological disasters in favour of mysteries, monsters, humour and Actual Alien Planets! Fundamentally, this is a Tom Baker story - and no surprise, given that it was written by Robert Holmes. In fact, it looked and felt to me as though it belonged even amongst the stories of the post-Holmesian late '70s Leela / Romana era. Certainly, a couple of specific story ideas from it were picked up in that period by Bob Baker and / or Dave Martin: miniature!Doctor = The Invisible Enemy, while the Miniscope itself = the Continuous Event Transmuter in Nightmare of Eden.

It's great to see the programme having such fun now they've finally remembered that they have a magical machine which can travel in time and space at their disposal. But it's far from being trivial or ephemeral. Putting a machine like the Miniscope in a television programme in particular inevitably raises issues of voyeurism and exploitation and using other people for entertainment, and those are explicitly addressed in conversation between the Doctor and Jo, when she expresses her shock at how the machine is being used, and he compares it to zoos, pets or ant colonies. In these days of reality TV, it has acquired all the more resonance. There's also a strong undercurrent of commentary on imperialism and racism, explored through the colonial-era Brits on the SS Bernice, the hostility which the Lurmans encounter from the Inter Minorians, and the attitude of both to the various species imprisoned in the Miniscope. It adds up to a pretty explicit and uncompromised message about basic decency and tolerance by the time all that is put together.

Other notes: woot! Ian Marter in pre-Harry Sullivan days - though playing a fairly similar character, which underlines the feeling I've always had that Harry himself is somewhat out of his time. At one point, the Doctor comments that his Sonic Screwdriver is 'out of gas', which suggests it has some kind of power source - presumably a self-renewing one, since it seems to have recovered later on. I've always wondered about that. And the story fails the Bechdel test, because all the women in it function only as side-kicks for various men, and therefore never talk to one another in their own right. Still, both Jo and the Lurman woman, Shirna, come across as strong and independently-minded all the same, so I don't really mind.

Third Doctor: The Green Death
Last but by no means least, the final story in the season that started with the two above. This one's more in keeping with the usual Earth-bound Pertwee format - but it makes such good use of the formula, that I don't mind at all. In fact, this kind of feels like a glorious and perfectly-executed climax to all those stories of politics, corruption and the environment - which, in production terms, it more or less was.

It's the climax for Jo, too, and she gets a brilliant send-off - not something all companions can boast. It's not just the way her relationship with Professor Jones builds so plausibly over the course of the story, or the restrained sadness when she parts from the Doctor, followed by the scene with him driving off alone. It's smaller things, too - like the scene in the first episode where each of them are talking about something completely different, and it takes them ages to realise - but makes them laugh when they do. Just a lovely little vignette of what their relationship has been all this time. Jo also manages to fix a broken walkie-talkie all by herself when she is stuck in a mine towards the end of the story, while the earlier scene in which she punts scaredly but bravely through a cave full of maggots even made me see her as a sort of proto-Sarah Jane. It's good stuff, going in a healthy direction - but I could still have done without the scenes where she is portrayed as a hopeless klutz, and is then all penitent and 'I'm just a silly little girl' about it afterwards.

There are some debts to previous stories. Stevens at Global Chemicals in thrall to a mysterious voice reminded me of The Invasion, while the green glowing contagion from the mines reminded me of Inferno. And of course the Big Reveal - that the intelligence behind the mysterious voice is actually a megalomanical super-computer - leans heavily on 2001: A Space Odyssey (which had come out in film form five years earlier).

The plot tackles serious issues, but tempers them with humour. I especially enjoyed the ironically premature statements from the Brigadier that everything was under control; and who wouldn't love Pertwee as an elderly milkman and formidable char-woman in quick succession? There are also some nice incidental details. I noticed, for example, a gyroscope in Stevens' office - a clever touch in the context of a story about the hunt for alternative energy sources. And a Prime Minister whom we only saw from behind was referred to as 'Jeremy' - perhaps a wishful reference to Jeremy Thorpe, who was leader of the Liberal party at the time? Pity it didn't quite work out that way in reality... The special effects are unusually good for this period, too - a fact which I'm afraid casts further shame on The Invasion of the Dinosaurs in the following season.

Overall, great stuff - and special mention is due, too, to the mockumentary included on the DVD, in which Mark Gatiss revisits the site of the 'Global Chemicals scandal', and many of the original cast reprise their roles as interviewees. Also, if I'd seen this story when I was 15, I would totally have fallen for Professor Jones. Slight of figure, long of hair, passionately intensive and wearing flared trousers? Yes, please.

Click here to view this entry with minimal formatting.

Date: Saturday, 1 November 2008 21:15 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm so glad you liked Green Death, which I adore! (I have nothing further to add.)

Date: Saturday, 1 November 2008 22:00 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

"Worst Who Writers Ever"

Hah! You've not encountered Jip and Pain yet...

Date: Saturday, 1 November 2008 23:57 (UTC)
ext_550458: (Kida Atlantis meep!)
From: [identity profile]
Halp! *quails* What era do they turn up in, then?

Date: Sunday, 2 November 2008 10:17 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
They are some of the terrible script writers who marred the time of my beloved Sixie.

Date: Sunday, 2 November 2008 13:31 (UTC)
ext_550458: (Kamakura Buddha enlightenment)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, yes, I know who you mean now - Pip and Jane Baker. I have a while before I get to them, as I've prioritised my Lovefilm DVDs in order by Doctor, which means I should get to see all Five's DVD stories before I move on to Six's. But I can't avoid them forever...

Date: Thursday, 6 November 2008 15:34 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes you can.

Date: Saturday, 1 November 2008 23:56 (UTC)
ext_550458: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
From: [identity profile]
It would be hard not to. It's one of those ones that both has Classic status and deserves it.

Date: Saturday, 1 November 2008 21:44 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It marks the end of the Earth-bound UNIT era

I'd say it's an important step on the way towards returning the show to something closer to its original format, but that's a process that begins the first time the Time Lords operate the TARDIS by remote control in Colony in Space, and arguably isn't over until Hand of Fear.

Three compares Omega to Atlas, supporting an entire world out of his own strength. Since Omega then asks the Doctor to take over the job of maintaining the singularity which supports his Universe, that would make the Doctor Hercules. Which, of course, he is - a wandering adventure who fights monsters and becomes the stuff of legend.

Oh, interesting. Can I use it (attributed, of course)? Perhaps not in the article that I really should have finished by now, but at some future point?

Date: Saturday, 1 November 2008 23:58 (UTC)
ext_550458: (K-9 affirmative)
From: [identity profile]
Sure, of course you can. Though I see that I clearly meant 'adventurer' there, but omitted the final 'r'.

Date: Saturday, 1 November 2008 22:40 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I haven't seen all of Jo's stories yet, but The Three Doctors is where she becomes likeable for me-- I haven't liked her in stories I've seen set before that one. And I really like her in The Green Death, and I agree that the developing relationship with Cliff Jones was done very well-- such a contrast to Leela's departure!

One thing I like about The Three Doctors is the way it seems to fit in with the whole sense that the Third Doctor's era is a "rite-of-passage" era, which, of course, concludes with his regeneration in Planet of the Spiders. While there is something a bit boyish about all incarnations of the Doctor (though some moreso than others), I was surprised to find that with Pertwee's Doctor, there really is a huge sense that he is undergoing a process of maturation-- and once he has undergone that he is free to become the Fourth Doctor, who seems to embody a sort of oxymoronic controlled chaos.

Date: Sunday, 2 November 2008 00:07 (UTC)
ext_550458: (Mariko Mori crystal ball)
From: [identity profile]
I've only seen two of Jo's pre-Three Doctors stories myself: The Claws of Axos and The Sea Devils. I couldn't stand her in the former, but revised my opinion when I saw the latter (which comes exactly one season later). So I guess maybe she just gets gradually better over her whole time on Who.

And I like your point about the rite-of-passage feel to Three's era. It would be unfair to say that he is immature as such at the beginning of this incarnation, since he comes across as already very strong and wise in The Silurians. But I agree that he is constantly having to battle to prove himself worthy throughout this period - explicitly to the Time Lords who won't let him off the Earth until he does, but implicitly also to himself and to some more nebulous sense of a higher Universal power.

Date: Sunday, 2 November 2008 00:20 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I haven't seen The Silurians yet, but I feel that the Doctor always does have a degree of wisdom, over humans at least, that comes through when it's really important; at the same time, however, when things aren't dire, the Doctor becomes very childlike. I think this is established in Spearhead from Space, Three's first episode-- there is a really interesting dynamic between the Doctor and the Brig in that one-- in so many ways, the Brig must take on the role of parent/schoolmaster, yet they need to be able to switch that around quickly in an emergency.

Date: Sunday, 2 November 2008 12:10 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I really love carnival of monsters. Did you notice that the entertainers were talking Polari? I had the book as a child and loved it -- especially since the whole "falling back into roles" thing was much more sinister. There were some super dodgy special effects though.

Green Death I think is just brilliant. I guess it was inspired by the success of Silent Spring (I think it was just a few years after).

Date: Sunday, 2 November 2008 13:39 (UTC)
ext_550458: (Redneck damn toot!)
From: [identity profile]
Oh yes - I looked up all about Polari afterwards, and found a couple of good ( websites ( with extensive vocabularies. It looks fascinating, and it's such a shame that it seems to have all but died out. I'm particularly interested by how many words it has in it with obviously Italian roots. I would guess that's more to do with the travelling entertainment troupes who originally seem to have given rise to the dialect, rather than the gay subculture who picked it up in the '60s. But who knows?


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