January 31: "Crater of Needles" / "Invasion"

(The Web Planet episodes 4 & 5)

"Oh, my eyes are so sore," Barbara complains at the beginning of "Crater of Needles", and we know what she means.  The smearing effect is really starting to wear out its welcome.

The Doctor and Vicki plot in the control room of the
Carcinome. ("Crater of Needles") ©BBC
Frustratingly, nothing really happens in "Crater of Needles".  Barbara is back from her vacation last time, and she gets a lot of exposition about the Menoptra and the planet Vortis.  And curiously, there's no real mention of her having severe difficulty breathing, given that Ian never got to her to give her the miracle breathing drug.  The Doctor and Vicki are still stuck inside the Carcinome, trying to outwit the Animus but inadvertently giving away the Menoptra's invasion plans.  Only Ian really gets much to do, as he falls (literally) into the midst of the Optera -- underground Menoptra who've lost their wings and hate the surface -- and has to convince them that he and Vrestin are their allies, not their enemies.  But it takes the whole episode for him to even do that.  There's a bit of action at the end as the Menoptra spearhead is repelled by the Zarbi and their larvae guns, but even that's oddly stagey and not terribly exciting.

It looks like things are finally improving in "Invasion" (potentially confusing episode title #412), with some actual incident.  The Doctor and Vicki manage to escape the Carcinome with the help of a controlled Zarbi nicknamed Zombo -- Vicki's habit of giving things cute nicknames really developing here (unless you count Sandy the Sandbeast in "Desperate Measures"), and they meet up with Barbara and the remnants of the Menoptra invasion force, who are planning to launch an assault on the Animus.  Meanwhile, Ian and Vrestin convince the Optera to also attack the Animus from below (or, as the Optera call it, Pwodarauk), which leads to some deservedly oft-praised dialogue conveying alien thought patterns: "A silent wall. We must make mouths in it with our weapons. Then it will speak more light."  Of course, this is followed three minutes later by the Optera Nemini sacrificing herself to stop a flow of acid into the cavern by jamming her head into the hole, which really is an astonishing sight to behold.  Ian looks like he has no idea what to make of it.  But as the Doctor and Vicki head back to the Carcinome to try and destroy the Animus while Barbara and the Menoptra distract the Zarbi with a frontal attack, it at last feels like the plot is ready to advance.

(Oh, and finally a special note for the stagehand clearly visible through a doorway in the Carcinome in this episode: Richard Martin's reputation as a slapdash director really starts with this serial, doesn't it?)








12 Doubly confusing this time around, as not only is there a Troughton story called The Invasion, but part one of Invasion of the Dinosaurs is just called Invasion -- presumably to preserve the surprise appearance of the dinosaurs that had already been widely promoted.

January 30: "The Zarbi" / "Escape to Danger"

(The Web Planet episodes 2 & 3)

"So that's where they've taken the ship to," Ian says during "The Zarbi", indicating an indistinct white haze among the indistinct grey-white haze, and it takes quite a bit to even realize that the indistinct white haze is what he's referring to.  The filters were a nice touch last time, but they're starting to wear out their welcome here: it's not just that they rendered that aforementioned shot virtually incomprehensible, but they also start to hurt the eyes as they try and fail to focus on the image.  And not all of the cameras have the filter: this is presumably to show a difference between interior and exterior shots, but then Richard Martin uses cameras with filters for interiors and cameras without for exteriors, so it does rather start to look like there's a problem with one of the cameras more than anything else.  There's also the amazing scene of the TARDIS wandering across Vortis on its own, with the shot of the Zarbi looking on worthy of particular mention.  Yes, it's supposedly being dragged, but the wiggle motion that the model makes ruins that impression somewhat. 

Barbara is held by the Menoptra. ("The Zarbi") ©BBC
Sadly, things are also about as slow here as they were in the last episode.  There's a lot of slow conversations with the Menoptra, owing to the way they speak -- a nice thought, but it doesn't help the pacing any.  Meanwhile, the Zarbi can't speak at all, so there's no hope of sustaining interest there.  The fact is that you begin to stop seeing them as giant ants and start to pity the poor people hunched over inside the costumes.  That said, there's a scene where Barbara and an Menoptra called Hrostar are captured by the Zarbi, and then Barbara watches in horror as the Zarbi rip the wings off Hrostar, that's really quite horrific.  But sadly that's an exception for this episode, rather than the rule.

Admittedly, things do get a little better in "Escape to Danger" (and how wonderful is it that there's actually an episode called "Escape to Danger"!  Particularly for anyone who grew up on the Target novelizations and greeted chapter titles like "Escape to Danger" like fond friends), in no small part because the Zarbi have been given a voice through their controlling force, the Animus.  And full marks for casting Catherine Fleming as said voice -- she delivers a silky smooth performance as the Animus, improving things dramatically.  There also seems to be more incident in this episode, as the Doctor looks at his astral map and Ian makes a dramatic escape (...into danger!).  Things may finally be picking up.


Of course, this is also the infamous episode where a Zarbi runs into the camera; it's a whacking great collision too, but part of the problem is that the scene seems to exist purely to have a Zarbi crash into a camera -- there's no narrative reason for the scene to be present at all.  Then there's an odd shot of a wall inside the Carcinome that goes on uncomfortably long with nothing happening -- perhaps a Zarbi missed its cue, but that doesn't change the fact that we're staring at a wall for five long seconds.  And if you look closely you can see a camera operator through the Carcinome's webbed walls as Ian makes his escape.  So things may be picking up, but they still could be going better.  And make no mistake: just because we're doing better than the last two episodes doesn't mean that "Escape to Danger" isn't slow -- it's just not as slow.  But given the current direction of this story, I'll take what I can get.

January 29: "Inferno" / "The Web Planet"

 (The Romans episode 4 & The Web Planet episode 1)

It's probably inevitable that "Inferno" (potentially confusing episode title #3) isn't quite as funny as "Conspiracy", on account of its needing to actually conclude the story rather than just lark about having a good time.  But that's not to say that it doesn't have its moments: in particular the Doctor's conversation with Nero about playing in the arena, knowing he's going to be set upon by the lions but carrying on teasing Nero with statements like "I shall try to make it a roaring success", "something they can really get their teeth into", and "I've always wanted to be considered as an artist of some taste."  And Nero's downfallen expression is really quite marvelous.

Nero tells Poppea of his plans for Rome. ("Inferno") ©BBC
But beyond that, this is much more plot-oriented.  Ian has to rescue Barbara from the palace, while the Doctor and Vicki have to leave quickly as well -- after all, they don't actually want to be thrown to the lions.  But there's also an interesting sea change going on here.  Before the Doctor and his companions have always been observers in history, able to see important events but not have any real influence on them.  But here the Doctor (inadvertently) gives Nero the idea to burn Rome down so it can be rebuilt (although it's probably not historically true that Nero initiated the fire, but never mind).  And when Vicki calls him out on it later, he starts to protest but seems rather pleased with the fact nevertheless.  Now the travellers can actually cause history rather than just observe it.

The Romans really is a fun story, full of charm and wit, and far more concerned with exploring a setting than with being at a significant moment of history.  It's something to be cherished.

But now it's on to a dramatically different change of pace (in more ways than one) with "The Web Planet".  One of the first things to notice is that this moves a lot slower than the previous three episodes.  It's a very relaxed pace, giving us lots of pans across the alien surface and long shots inside the TARDIS (the set of which Richard Martin has rotated 180°, showing us the other side of the console room).  You can see that some care has gone into the effects: there is a pretty impressive space backdrop, some nice costume work for the Zarbi creatures roaming the surface, and lots of well done crags and things on the surface (even if Martin then goes and spoils it with a high shot that shows the crags are just flats angled together).  And there's a really nice echo effect "outside", with some interesting filters on the cameras that create a sort of smeared lighting effect. 

It's just too bad that the plot (what little of it there is) doesn't bear quite as much praise.  As I said, it's really quite dramatically slow (there's a 30-second section of just Barbara cleaning some samples and watching Ian and the Doctor wander around outside!), with some odd character moments: Ian, for instance, has completely forgotten about "The Sea of Death" and decides he's going to take a wash in a pool of what's inevitably acid -- and curiously, he appears to be wearing his Coal Hill tie as a belt.  Vicki gets a nice "I'm from the future" character bit, but it's all a bit slow.  Still, at the end Ian is trapped in a net, Barbara is possessed and walking toward said acid pool, and the TARDIS appears to have disappeared, so maybe things will pick up in the next episode.

January 28: "All Roads Lead to Rome" / "Conspiracy"

(The Romans episodes 2 & 3)

Oh, it turned out with another lovely fight!  William Hartnell gets another opportunity to flex his action muscles, engaging his would-be assassin in an energetic scuffle which ends up with the attacker pitched out the window.  "You know, I am so constantly outwitting the opposition, I tend to forget the delights and satisfaction of the arts, the gentle art of fisticuffs," he proclaims afterwards.

But ultimately "All Roads Lead to Rome" is largely a setting-up episode: Ian is a slave on a galley ship which is destroyed in a storm, allowing him to make his way to Rome, where he's recaptured and sent to the gladiator school; Barbara is sold into slavery as a member of Caesar Nero's staff; and the Doctor and Vicki make their way to Rome to meet Nero.  There are some nice moments -- particularly when the Doctor, upon first encountering Nero, flatters him so immensely that he manages to avoid playing the lyre.  But really, this is about putting all the pieces into the right places.

Tavius tells the Doctor everything is ready, while Vicki
looks on. ("Conspiracy") ©BBC
"Conspiracy", by contrast, is where things really take off.  This is by far the funniest episode of Doctor Who yet.  The Doctor is embroiled in a conspiracy about which he knows nothing, while Barbara is chased around the palace by Emperor Nero, who then tries to play the innocent when caught by his wife, Poppea (played by the beautiful Kay Patrick).  "Oh, I'm so sorry," says Nero innocently to Barbara, who he's chased to the floor of his bedroom; "I didn't know you were there.  Did you want something?"  Derek Francis plays Nero more as a big kid than any sort of tyrant or powerful ruler, and it makes him not only more sympathetic but also much funnier.

Meanwhile, as Barbara is repeatedly chased around the palace, the Doctor and Vicki, in best farce tradition, keep just missing her, entering rooms as she's leaving.  The Doctor, of course, has to figure out how to play the lyre in front of a large audience, which he ultimately does by miming playing, after asserting that "the music is so soft, so delicate, that only those with keen perceptive hearing, will be able to distinguish this melodious charm of music."  This leads to enraptured listening to silence, where no one is willing to admit that they can't hear anything.  "He's all right, but he's not all that good," complains Nero.  And Vicki meets up with the court poisoner, Locusta, and switches a poisoned cup from being given to a servant (in reality Barbara, although Vicki doesn't know that) to Caesar Nero himself.  "His wife was going to murder some poor slave or other and I didn't see why that should happen, so I thought...  Well, I swapped the drinks round," Vicki says, causing the Doctor to burst in and warn Nero, who subsequently, in possibly the funniest part of the episode, summons his annoying servant Tigilinus over and has him drink the poison.  When he dies, Derek Francis looks thoughtfully at the camera and says, "He was right."  Trust me, it plays much better than it reads.

The only one who doesn't get to do any larking about is Ian, who's stuck in a cell contemplating fighting his new friend Delos in the gladiator arena.    When he's finally called out to do it, at the end of the episode, he sees Barbara watching but still has to fight (in what's really a very good fight, particularly for a studio session -- you can tell they put a lot of practice into it).  And then, at the end of the episode, he loses...

January 27: "Desperate Measures" / "The Slave Traders"

(The Rescue episode 2 & The Romans episode 1)

The Doctor confronts Koquillion in the People's Hall of
Judgement. ("Desperate Measures") ©BBC
That ended rather quickly, didn't it?  All this story really needed was for the Doctor to wander in and work everything out.  From the moment he enters the spaceship he's charming to Vicki, intrigued about Bennett, and sharply analytical about the truth of what's going on.  For him it doesn't seem to take much effort to deduce the truth about Koquillion, and he gets a decent fight scene to boot!

And he's not the only one, as Barbara gets to be heroic shooting a flare gun at a slavering monster.  Of course, it turned out to be Vicki's pet, and she's terribly upset about the whole thing, but nevertheless, Barbara's doing her best.  And Ian gets the weirdest line ever, as he refers to Koquillion as "Cockylickin" -- this apparently isn't in the script though, and is William Russell's contribution.

But really, this is about introducing Maureen O'Brien as new companion Vicki, and it's a job it does quite well.  She's quite likable, acting pert and strong yet with a bit of vulnerability -- the perfect person for the Doctor to take under his wing.  And the fact that we get a nice little story to boot, with crashed spaceships, menacing aliens, and a neat little plot twist at the end, as well as nice characterization for all the cast, means that The Rescue is quite wonderful.

But then it's on to the next adventure, as the TARDIS pitches over a cliff!  As About Time points out, the next shot is of Ian, seemingly lying unconscious -- but he's actually just stuffing his face with grapes, rather than in any actual danger.  "The Slave Traders" is full of fun moments like this, with the Doctor enraptured by Barbara's menu, Ian getting a somewhat Roman hairstyle which leads him to proclaim Julius Caesar, Vicki complaining about how bored she is...there's a lot of fun to be had.  Plus the pun from the Doctor where, upon being mistaken for lyre player Maximus Pettulian, he introduces Vicki with the line, "She keeps her eye on all the lyres," is good fun (and you can tell Vicki gets the joke).  Really, this is the most relaxed we've ever seen the TARDIS crew, to the point where Vicki is complaining about it: "The way you spoke I thought we were going to have adventures and see things!  We've been here nearly a month and all everyone wants to do is sit around and rest." 

But there're also some real threats here too: the slave traders Sevcheria and Didius are quite threatening, especially since the audience is anticipating their abduction of Ian and Barbara and we're wondering how they'll get out of it.  The fact that they don't is what leads to the episode's near-cliffhanger, where Ian is sold off and has to leave Barbara behind.  I say "near-cliffhanger" because it seems like it should be the end of the episode, except they have a little bit more time to fill and so the actual cliffhanger shows the Doctor about to be assassinated.  Hmm, I wonder how that will turn out...

January 26: "Flashpoint" / "The Powerful Enemy"

(The Dalek Invasion of Earth episode 6 & The Rescue episode 1)

And finally all these disparate threads come together.  Barbara and Jenny make their way into the Daleks' control room, while Ian sabotages their Earth-shattering bomb (twice!), Susan and David cause the Daleks to overheat for a bit, and the Doctor and Tyler also enter the Daleks' control room and help defeat them, thanks to an idea from Barbara to order the Robomen to turn on the Daleks.  And!  The first genuine cry of "exterminate"!

That said, it's actually a bit matter-of-fact, to be honest: this happens, then this happens, then this happens, with no real threat from the Daleks, the Robomen, or anything else.  It's more a matter of wrapping up loose ends than providing any last minute threat.  But that's probably partly to give Carole Ann Ford a proper leaving scene.  Yes, this is Susan's last episode, and her leaving scene is rather sweet: forced to choose between David and her grandfather, both of whom she loves but in different ways, she becomes rather upset, and the Doctor (who presumably has been watching on the scanner) makes the decision for her, delivering one of the finest speeches in the history of the show:
One day, I shall come back.  Yes, I shall come back.  Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties.  Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.  Goodbye, Susan.  Goodbye, my dear.
But David gets the last word, just to make the point explicit: "He knew.  He knew you could never leave him."  It's quite moving.

Of course, the thing to take away from The Dalek Invasion of Earth is how confident it all seems.  It's quite large in scope, moving through parts of London and up to Bedfordshire, but you never get the sense that they're playing it safe.  The production team knows it can pull this off, and so they just go for it, essentially making an action-adventure movie over 6 weeks.  The plot is admittedly very silly, and there's also a sense that the Daleks don't actually get to do much after the third episode, but nevertheless this is a self-assured story that just about manages to get away with it.

Koquillion examines the TARDIS. ("The Powerful Enemy")
©BBC
The next episode takes us to the planet Dido, and a crashed spaceship complete with Union Jack on its fin.  We're still in the future, encountering a young girl named Vicki, an injured man named Bennett, and their captor/terrorizer, an alien creature named Koquillion.  But it turns out the Doctor's been to Dido before, and he can't understand why a native Didonian would be so hostile as to try and kill Barbara and Ian.  But we'll have to wait until next time to find out.

For now, we're left with David Whitaker's script, with some really lovely moments.  "The trembling's stopped," Barbara tells the Doctor, referring to the motion of the TARDIS while travelling.  "Oh, my dear, I’m so glad you’re feeling better," he responds, completely misunderstanding her.  There's also the part where Ian and Barbara are discussing the Doctor's current state of mind, and the Doctor pops his head out and says, "Remember I can hear what you’re saying!"  And I don't know if it's in the script, but the part where the Doctor shows Barbara how to open the TARDIS doors and then compliments her before saying, "You won’t, of course, try to do that during transit, will you?", and she responds with this sidelong exasperated glare, is really quite funny.  But it's  interesting how out-of-sorts the Doctor is, seemingly forgetful and tired in the wake of Susan's departure.  It's quite lovely characterization, of the sort we'll come to expect from Whitaker: very understated and very sweet.

January 25: "The End of Tomorrow" / "The Waking Ally"

(The Dalek Invasion of Earth episodes 4 & 5)

"The End of Tomorrow" doesn't feature William Hartnell, but not because he's on vacation; rather, he was injured during the filming of the previous episode and had to rest up this week.  Of course, it's not terribly noticeable, other than in David's resourcefulness in defusing the bomb left at the end of last week.

The thing to notice about this episode is that the Daleks are hardly in it.  This episode is much more about the humans involved.  If "The Daleks" and "Day of Reckoning" belonged to the Daleks, this belongs to the guest cast.  There are some noteworthy moments, too: Barbara smashing a truck through a blockade of Daleks is one such moment, but there's also Ian and Larry Madison's encounter with Wells (a young Nicholas Smith, now best known for his role as Mr. Rumbold in Are You Being Served?), which leads them to meet up with Ashton (lamentably not played by Philip Madoc here, but still ably portrayed by Patrick O'Connell).  It shows that not all of humanity is united against the Daleks; there are those who use the situation to their own advantage.  It's a nice touch, which also comes up again in the next episode, as Barbara and Jenny are betrayed by the two women to the Daleks.

The Daleks in their control room. ("The Waking Ally") ©BBC
The focus of "The Waking Ally", though, is back on the Daleks, as their plans finally become clear: they want to remove the Earth's magnetic core so they drive the Earth around the universe.  Er, yes.  But anyway, the full extent of the workings of the mine in Bedfordshire becomes apparent, with Daleks on display overseeing workers and plotting Earth's downfall.  And of course, you can also try to answer one of Doctor Who's great unanswered questions (along with other greats like "What did Chang's dying clue mean?" in The Talons of Weng-Chiang): who or what is the "waking ally" referred to in the title?  Is it the Slyther, dispatched near the beginning of the episode?  Is it the two women who betray Barbara and Jenny?  Is it Wells, starting to help Ian in stopping the Daleks?  Of course, this episode also sees the first (fleeting) kiss between Susan and David, so maybe we shouldn't delve too much further into the question, other than to note that the Doctor says, "I can see something’s cooking," after catching them in the act, and it's pretty clear he doesn't mean the rabbit stew.

And then the cliffhanger involves Ian (somehow) entering Dalek HQ and (somehow) hiding inside a bomb without (somehow) being seen by the Daleks, who then prepare to use the bomb to drop down into the Earth.  At least they don't actually show the bomb fall down the shaft, but it's still a pretty weird-looking cliffhanger; the bomb itself would be fine, without having to get Ian trapped in it.

January 24: "The Daleks" / "Day of Reckoning"

(The Dalek Invasion of Earth episodes 2 & 3)

"We are the masters of Earth!  We are the masters of Earth!" a Dalek chants at the beginning of "The Daleks" (the second of Doctor Who's potentially confusing episode titles11).  It's a neat approach, showing not the Daleks attempting to invade Earth but having already succeeded.  It sets up the Daleks as an already unbeatable force, even if we hadn't met them before.

Of course, the fact is that we have in fact met the Daleks before, but that's what makes the choices so canny.  Here in 2014, we're so used to Daleks chanting and conquering and invading and such that we don't really notice how Terry Nation is recrafting the Daleks under our noses.  Remember, this isn't at all how the Daleks behaved in their debut serial.  There they were city-bound, paranoid, and concerned with survival, leaving their city, and destroying the Thals.  But here they've taken the desire to exterminate others (although, it's worth noting that "exterminate" still isn't their battle cry, as they exclaim "kill him!" when surrounding a helpless man) and made that the driving force, adding in conquest and subjugation into the mix.  Yes, the Daleks have become the Nazis.

The Daleks under attack by the rebels. ("The Daleks") ©BBC
Still, it's impressive how well they succeed with this change.  The Daleks may not be as interesting as they were the first time, but they do seem more powerful.  This leads to some great shots in "Day of Reckoning", as we see Daleks gliding around an apparently deserted London, waving their sucker arms up and down and generally acting like they own the place. This matched with scenes of Barbara and Jenny trying to get the wheelchair-bound Dortmun to safety while dodging Dalek patrols makes for some exciting viewing.

There are also some hints from Susan that she's starting to grow up: we had the argument with her grandfather during The Sensorites, and now she's questioning his judgment, favoring decisions made by resistance fighter David Campbell.  But ultimately, these two episodes are about the Daleks, and their triumphant return to Doctor Who.







11 In case you've forgotten, the first was episode 7 of The Daleks: "The Rescue".

January 23: "Crisis" / "World's End"

(Planet of Giants episode 3 & The Dalek Invasion of Earth episode 1)

It's well-known (in Doctor Who circles, at least) that Planet of Giants was filmed as a four-part serial, but when BBC Head of Serials Donald Wilson saw the final two episodes, he deemed them unbroadcastable9 and ordered that they be edited down into a single episode.  The result is this episode, "Crisis".  You can sort of tell, occasionally -- for instance, in one scene they've decided to take Barbara back to the TARDIS, and in their next scene Ian's arguing for taking her back while the rest are taking Barbara's side to do...something; it's never exactly made clear what.

Forrester and Smithers are wanted for questioning.
("Crisis") ©BBC
Really, though, the TARDIS crew barely make a difference in this episode.  About the most important thing they do is cause a telephone to go off the hook -- except the switchboard operator was already suspicious of the goings-on at the Smithers farmhouse and was probably going to send her policeman husband down to investigate anyway.  Oh, and I guess they caused a can of insecticide to explode in Farrow's face, allowing Smithers to grab the gun off him.  But really, Smithers has already worked out how poisonous DN6 is, and Bert the policeman is already on his way anyway, so unless had Farrow gotten desperate and shot both Smithers and Bert, things would have turned out the same.

In a nutshell, this is sort of the problem with Planet of Giants.  It's so unlike any other Doctor Who adventure thus far that it's rather difficult to come to grips with.  The Silent Spring-influenced DN6 plot carries on more or less largely on its own, and for the TARDIS crew it's about exploring a familiar environment from a strange new perspective.  That's entertaining enough fortunately, but any other attempt to put it into the larger context of the show essentially falls flat.

But it's on to the next adventure10, with "World's End".  It's a suitably effective exercise in mood, as we see what appears to be a deserted London in the future.  There's some great location footage here, being used much more extensively than in "Guests of Madame Guillotine", and it must be said that the Robomen do rather resemble the Cybermen (not that at anyone in 1964 knew that, of course), which makes them a bit more effective than they otherwise might be, as they're really just men in grubby clothes wearing metal headgear.  (Special mention, by the way, goes to the "dead" Roboman the Doctor and Ian find in the warehouse, who seems to be moving quite a bit under his own power.)

Still, it has to be said: this episode is one great big delaying tactic for the big reveal at the end: the Daleks are back!  Of course, as this had been promoted in the British press prior to the actual episode (with their own Radio Times cover!), holding back the main baddies is less a shocking cliffhanger and more a tease: we have to wait until next time to actually get any Dalek (tricky) action.







9 Having previously seen the reconstructed versions of the original "Crisis" and the follow-up "The Urge to Live" on the Planet of Giants DVD, complete with a lengthy sequence where we actually see them map out the formula for DN6, I get the distinct impression that he was probably right.
10 Side note to say that on the Region 1 DVDs you can work out roughly when a story came out on DVD by the BBC Wales Doctor Who trailer included at the beginning.  I've mainly been experiencing Matt Smith trailers, indicating that the majority of season 1 was released quite recently; The Dalek Invasion of Earth, by contrast, is old enough to not have any trailer at all.

January 22: "Planet of Giants" / "Dangerous Journey"

(Planet of Giants episodes 1 & 2)

Season 2 starts not with a bang but with a fault: the doors of the TARDIS open in flight, worrying the Doctor and Susan quite a bit.  It turns out the moment of materialization is the most dangerous moment in the TARDIS's flight and thus the worst moment for the doors to open.  Still, everyone seems all right until they venture outside and realize that they've been shrunk down to an inch in height.  The planet of giants is in fact Earth: "Susan, this means we're on Earth!" Ian exclaims excitedly, as if they haven't just been on Earth (maybe they haven't; again, Past Doctor Adventure writers take note).

The production crew have been kicking around the idea of an "incredible shrinking TARDIS crew" story since the very beginnings of Doctor Who, and this is the final result.  It's an interesting serial, and the episodes are quite unlike anything we've yet encountered.  The guest cast (which consists of a scientist, a man from the ministry, an unscrupulous businessman, and a cat) never directly interact with the regulars; they unknowingly cause problems by carting them around and such, but the fact that the TARDIS crew is only an inch tall rather precludes any sort of conversations or similar interactions being held.  This means that the star of the show is less the characters and more the sets.  Fortunately, Ray Cusick's designs are more than up to the task, with some really wonderful sets and elements (the briefcase and the plug chain are really nice, and the various insects are all quite good -- with special mention of the twitching fly in "Dangerous Journey").  This story is more about exploring an environment than anything we've gotten previously, and it's a nice change of pace.  It does mean we get two rather odd-looking cliffhangers, even if they make sense in context.  A close-up of a cat and a man letting water run down the drain don't sound particularly exciting, but they're both quite effective as part of the narrative.  And a special mention for the ominous musical sting that accompanies the line, "There's a sink in the lab" -- marvelous.  Oh!  And this is Dudley Simpson's first score for the show, before he goes on to dominate the incidental music for the '70s.  Not that it's particularly distinctive in comparison to any of the other scores we've gotten so far, but still, you have to start somewhere.

And one final note: "Planet of Giants" (the episode) features another use of "TARDIS sans 'the' ".  Looks like this, combined with the uses in Marco Polo and one I didn't mention in "The Keys of Marinus", suggests that this was a stylistic choice in use at the time rather than one author's decision.  Interesting, given how bizarre it sounds to our ears nowadays.

January 21: "A Bargain of Necessity" / "Prisoners of Conciergerie"

(The Reign of Terror episodes 5 & 6)

It's another animated episode, but thankfully this one seems to be edited a little less hectically.  "A Bargain of Necessity" has some nice moments: the fight between Jules and Leon sounds good (and the animation is quite good here, actually), and there are some more moments of comedy, such as when the Doctor convinces the jailer to let Barbara go so they can follow her but then insists that the jailer was supposed to do the following after she goes free.  And Barbara and Ian have a nice argument about the Revolution itself: "The Revolution isn't all bad, and neither are the people who support it.  It changed things for the whole world, and good, honest people gave their lives for that change," Barbara states.  It's a moment to reflect that, even though in this story we're ostensibly on the side of those fighting the Terror, not everyone who supports the Revolution should be automatically worthy of disdain.

But really, the most significant moment comes when we look in again on Robespierre.  "Mark my words, Lemaitre," he says; "if this plot is successful, tomorrow, the 27th of July 1794, will be a date for history."  (Of course, he should actually call it the 9th of Thermidor Year II, but never mind.)  It is indeed a date for history: we're going to witness the downfall of Robespierre.  But as far as our heroes are concerned, the more pressing problem is the Doctor's seeming betrayal of Jules to Lemaitre, which ends the episode.

But no, it turns out that Lemaitre is in fact the man Ian was told to find: James Stirling himself.  We're back on video for the final episode, and after a moment's readjustment to a shot language no longer like an action movie, we learn that Barrass is plotting Robespierre's downfall and Ian knows where he's going to be.  (And let's take a moment to address something often called a mistake but isn't: Webster tells Ian to look for Jules Renan at the sign of Le Chien Gris.  He does this, and in fact Jules' colleagues find him there -- off-screen and in a missing episode, admittedly, but still.  When exactly Webster told Ian about Barrass and the Sinking Ship is a different problem, but it's not that the name of the inn changed between episodes 2 and 6: they're two separate places.)  This means that not only do we meet Robespierre, we also encounter Barrass and Napoleon Bonaparte, as they plot out the future of France (in a meeting that almost certainly never actually happened) -- because if you're in revolutionary France, obviously you need to meet Napoleon.

Robespierre is taken away by soldiers. ("Prisoners of
Conciergerie") ©BBC
But the best part is when Lemaitre and Ian rush to the palace to help Robespierre; it's too late, obviously, but it does mean that Ian (and therefore the audience) is actually present for Robespierre's arrest -- we even hear the gunshot to the jaw.  It's the first time that the TARDIS crew has been present for a significant historical event, and it's quite fascinating to watch it unfold.  Really, this entire serial is quite good, even if some of the history is a bit suspect -- the period is quite effectively conveyed, even if it's mainly through a prison and a safehouse.  It's certainly entertaining, and it makes you want to learn more about the French Revolution -- quite a compliment indeed.

And finally, the episode ends with a conversation about how there's nothing the Doctor or his friends could do to change history, which leads into a rather sweet end-of-season speech about their destiny lying in the stars.  And that's how the first season of Doctor Who ends.

January 20: "A Change of Identity" / "The Tyrant of France"

(The Reign of Terror episodes 3 & 4)

Hey, it's Tom Baker's birthday today!  And my brother's!  Happy birthday to both of them.  Obviously I'm celebrating by continuing to watch The Reign of Terror...

"A Change of Identity" starts out feeling pretty hopeless, but things start to pick up once Jules and Jean rescue the prisoners being sent to the guillotine: namely, Barbara and Susan.  You kind of want to slap Susan as she stands there being useless and refusing to try and escape, but it turns out she's sick, so it's sort of okay.  Still, it seems less horrible once the two girls are away and safe in Jules' house.  Ian, meanwhile, gets to make his escape from the jail, while the Doctor gets to impersonate a regional officer.

Lemaitre inspects the Doctor's credentials while the jailer
looks on. ("A Change of Identity") ©BBC
This is very much a change of pace as we move from simple bleakness to a more adventure-style serial.  Barbara and Susan's rescue is quite well done, and their introduction to the people running the safehouse means we get a sense of those fighting against the Terror and the public executions.  But really, the star of this episode is William Hartnell, who as the Doctor cons his way into a position of authority (with an amazing hat to boot), only to be pulled in by Lemaitre, who insists on the Doctor accompanying him to meet Robespierre.

"The Tyrant of France" is an episode that no longer exists in the archive (other than a few seconds of off-air 8mm footage, which I duly viewed8), and there are no telesnaps to accompany the soundtrack.  However, the DVD provides animated versions for this (as well as the next episode, which is also missing).  These have to be regarded as a limited success.  The animation itself is actually pretty good, but the editing is incredibly frenetic, at one point changing angles 4 times in one line.  Doctor Who's not the most energetically directed show at the best of times, and The Reign of Terror is a pretty placid piece.  This means that the overall effect is very disconcerting at times.

It's somewhat sad, then, that our meeting with Robespierre comes at the top of the episode, while we're still adjusting to the different style, which means that the Doctor's meeting with this important historical figure is robbed of some of its impact.  (It doesn't help that the off-air soundtrack is noticeably problematic at this stage.)  But it's an interesting argument the Doctor has with Robespierre: "I mean, what can this reign of terror possibly gain?" the Doctor asks.  "For every opponent you put to the guillotine, two more will spring up!" But Robespierre has considered this: "Do you think I want this carnage?  Three hundred and forty two executions in nine days in Paris alone!  What a memory I shall leave behind if this thing lasts."

But beyond that, this episode is largely about two things: bringing Ian into Jules Renan's circle (William Russell being back from his vacation), and getting Barbara and Susan recaptured and sent back to the Conciergerie.  It's somewhat difficult to tell how effective the actual episode was with this, but based on the animation it seems like it did a reasonable job -- things never get too slow, and the bit with the physician is quite good.  And it's a good cliffhanger: Leon Colbert is a traitor!  Pity; Barbara seemed to be quite fond of him...







8 These can be found on the Lost in Time DVD set.  Why they're not on the actual Reign of Terror DVD, I have no idea -- but then it's also missing Carole Ann Ford's linking narration from the VHS, so maybe space was at a premium.

January 19: "A Land of Fear" / "Guests of Madame Guillotine"

(The Reign of Terror episodes 1 & 2)

When we left the Sense-Sphere last time, there was a cozy sort of feeling to everything (the Doctor's ill-tempered outburst at the cliffhanger not withstanding).  That sense continues in "A Land of Fear" for a bit, as Ian convinces the Doctor to come get a drink with him before he leaves forever (also allowing Ian and Barbara to make certain that they're actually back on 20th-century Earth).  But that atmosphere is steadily eroded away as the episode progresses, ending with two people dead and the Doctor lying unconscious inside a locked room in a burning building, while Ian, Barbara, and Susan are forcibly escorted to Paris, to be executed by the guillotine.  Yes, it's the French Revolution story.

What's remarkable about these two episodes is how brutal everything feels.  The soldiers are shown to be harsh and crude peasants, with the suggestion that they're acting out of feelings of vengeance and retaliation rather than any sense of duty.  We meet two aristocrats fleeing from Paris, both shown sympathetically, and they're both shot dead before the end of the first episode.  The cells are dark and dingy, and the jailer7 is vile and visibly fragrant (no mean feat to show in a purely visual medium), even as he describes himself as "an intelligent man" while leering after Barbara.  Barbara and Susan are stuck in a rat-infested cell after she slaps the jailer, so he's clearly not above retaliation either.  Meanwhile the Doctor's encounter with the overseer of a road crew along the way to Paris is also remarkably dark, even if it's largely played for laughs; only the sight of the overseer snoring at the end of the scene suggests that the Doctor has done anything other than kill a man to escape -- and note the relish with which the Doctor seems to bean the man with a shovel.  We're a long way from traveling with Marco Polo in his caravan.

But look! It's Doctor Who's first location footage ever, with Brian Proudfoot stepping in for William Hartnell, showing the Doctor striding across the countryside on his way to Paris.  It's not a huge moment, but it's noteworthy and does start to open the show up a bit, so that it doesn't feel quite as claustrophobic as it occasionally has in the past.  And Ian's entirely on film for "Guests of Madame Guillotine" -- looks like it's William Russell's turn to take two weeks off.  He gets to interact with dying British men and Citizens of the Revolution, while Barbara and Susan get readied for the guillotine -- another brutal moment, but an effective cliffhanger.







7 The Target novelizations were designed primarily for a British audience, with British spellings.  It usually didn't cause problems, but I had no idea what the gaoler described in Ian Marter's version of The Reign of Terror was, other than that he must be important.

January 18: "Kidnap" / "A Desperate Venture"

(The Sensorites episodes 5 & 6)

I have to say, for all his scheming, the City Administrator's not actually very good at being villainous, is he?  It's particularly entertaining how, after the accidental death of the Second Elder, his attempt to pin the blame on the Doctor falls apart in two minutes -- but as the Sensorite Nation is a society based entirely on trust, it makes sense that they would be lousy at deception.  Still, there's something about watching their conspiracy collapse after three questions from Ian that's tremendously fun.  Really, if it weren't for the Doctor, Ian, and Susan suggesting that the City Administrator replace the deceased Second Elder, he wouldn't have gotten anywhere.

Still, for all that, nothing much happens in "Kidnap" -- the kidnap itself is the cliffhanger of the episode -- and there's a bit of a sense of marking time.  But at least it does so enjoyably.  It's "A Desperate Venture" where things pick up.  And Jacqueline Hill's back from her two-week vacation, so we get everyone participating in the story again.

The Doctor and Ian encounter the source of the poisoning.
("A Desperate Venture") ©BBC
And the aforementioned kidnap of Carol is once again quickly foiled.  Once the First Elder suggests where they might have taken her, it doesn't take much for John to head in and rescue her.  Entertaining stuff, but the real focus of the episode is the Doctor and Ian's exploration of the aqueduct system.  It turns out that the three crewmen from the first expedition, presumed dead in the explosion that destroyed their ship and killed their fellow crew, are in fact alive and waging war against the Sensorites.  It's rather difficult, upon first seeing them clearly, to avoid thinking of Monty Python's various bearded and bedraggled characters (especially since the man called Number One bears a passing resemblance to Eric Idle), but that's hardly the fault of the production team.  Indeed, writer Peter R. Newman goes out of his way to give the three men a sense of dignity.  They're clearly insane, but it's not a cackling sort of madness; rather, it's simply a determination to destroy the Sensorites without considering why they're doing it.  In fact, the First Elder suggests it's inadvertently the fault of the Sensorites, since they most likely experimented with the thought transmitters and were driven out of their minds.  It's a satisfying ending when they're caught; none of them are killed, and there's a suggestion that they may be able to get help.  Sadly, however, at the conclusion of the story we're simply told about the former City Administrator's comeuppance rather getting to actually see it.  In this respect, the serial does disappoint somewhat.

Still, The Sensorites is a delightful story.  It might be a little long, but it rarely feels like it's dragging.  And the Sensorites themselves are really well done -- in a series that is occasionally xenophobic, it's refreshing to get an alien species that is so obviously sympathetic.  The story isn't terribly concerned with evil or danger, and there's hardly a cynical bone in its body.  It's a refreshingly charming approach to Doctor Who

January 17: "Hidden Danger" / "A Race Against Death"

(The Sensorites episodes 3 & 4)

Seriously, there's just something wonderful about the Sensorites.  The wizened head, with its wrinkles and wispy hair, combined with the all-over jumpsuits, makes them look very charming -- especially since, as we learn in these two episodes, the Earth people don't have much to fear from them.  Once again, communication is shown as the way to solve conflicts; once the Doctor shows that he and his friends don't wish to harm the Sensorites, things begin to go much more smoothly.

Jacqueline Hill is only around for the first half of "Hidden Danger" before she's gone completely, off on vacation while Barbara is left on the spaceship with Maitland.  Everyone else gets to venture down to the surface of the Sense-Sphere and enjoy the Ray Cusick-designed sets, with its nice non-angular lines informing the look of the place.  Meanwhile, William Russell gets to drink poisoned water and be sick for the entirety of "A Race Against Death" -- his death being the one the Doctor's racing against.  This seems to be the tipping point for the First Elder, the leader of the Sensorites, who becomes convinced that the humans mean them no harm, and he agrees to give back the Doctor the lock of the ship (removed in "Strangers in Space") in exchange for an antidote to the poison that's been afflicting parts of the population.

The Doctor instructs the Sensorite scientists. ("A Race
Against Death") ©BBC
Of course, you can't convince everyone, and in this case it's the Sensorites' City Adminstrator (as played by Peter Glaze) who is determined to prove that the humans are up to no good.  It's not the world's most subtle performance, but there's something marvelous about his rabid xenophobia, as he goes out of his way to be antagonistic, first trying to kill the humans by force before turning to subterfuge.  "We must match cunning with cunning," he says, still firm in his belief that the Doctor intends to poison the Sensorites with his so-called "cure", and this is what leads him to kidnap the Second Elder and take his place, allowing him more freedom to carry out his villainy.

And lest anyone still be unconvinced of the modernity of this story, note that once the Doctor develops the antidote, he's fulfilled his part of the bargain and can get the lock to the TARDIS back; he can leave at any time.  Yet he decides to go into the aqueduct where the poison seems to be originating from and try and remove the source, not because he has any external obligation to do so, but because it's the right thing to do6.  It's quite out of keeping with the previous stories, but not with the direction the current serial is taking -- nor is it out of keeping with the series as we now regard it.  The Doctor is slowly but surely taking steps toward becoming the moral crusader of later years.







6 Thanks go to About Time, which first pointed this out to me.

January 16: "Strangers in Space" / "The Unwilling Warriors"

(The Sensorites episodes 1 & 2)

Well, it took 30 episodes, but we've finally gotten a glimpse of the future.  Yes, we had The Daleks and The Keys of Marinus, but those were set on other worlds, unrelated to Earth -- they were futuristic, rather than "the future".  "Strangers in Space" by contrast, is definitively set in the 28th century, with a spaceship and crew that come from Earth.  It's only a small glimpse (a mention of a lot of "air traffic" and that the southern half of England is all known as Central City, and then the design of the spaceship itself), but it's still something.

These two episodes are quite neat: admittedly, they might be a little slow, but the pace always feels measured, rather than dragging.  There's also the development of a theme: the crew (and by extension, the Doctor and company) are frightened of their fellow mineralogist John, and then again of the Sensorites, and in both cases it seems like this is largely because none of them have tried to talk to them; it takes Barbara and Susan talking to John to realize that he shouldn't be feared, and while the Sensorites still seem to pose a threat, Susan's act of communicating with them appears to reduce the tension somewhat.

The Sensorites themselves are (feet aside) rather wonderful designs.  It's really an excellent headpiece, looking alien yet not too abstract.  They're not the most threatening-looking creatures, but then the script drops hints that they're not supposed to be: "I think that they were as frightened of me as I was of them," Ian comments after holding them at bay with some sort of tool.  Indeed, one gets the impression that the Sensorites have been forced into menacing the crew and preventing them from leaving, and that it's not their preferred state of affairs ("Once before we trusted Earthmen, to our cost," comments one Sensorite) -- indeed, it would seem that the Sensorites are the unwilling warriors of the episode's title, rather than the crewmembers (as one might have surmised at the episode's outset).  There are also some nice educational touches, such as the discussion of a spectrograph, melting points for iron and molybdenum, and the bit about the contracting of the iris (as far as the Sensorites go, evolutionarily silly, as has been pointed out before, but not inaccurate based on what we're told).  And special note has to go to the direction of the beginning of "Strangers in Space", as the camera follows the TARDIS crew straight out of the console room and into the spaceship -- and then we cut to the side and see the police box, seemingly standing where the other camera just was.  It's a neat little bit of direction, and slightly surprising to see so early -- they're still trying to do things like this on Doctor Who now, and Mervyn Pinfield was doing it in 1964!

In fact, in many ways this feels a lot closer to the style of Doctor Who as we know it than anything that's come before it.  The Doctor's taken a leadership role, asking the right questions and showing Maitland and Carol that they can resist the Sensorites' control, while Barbara and Susan go off exploring the ship and, while they're threatened initially by John, they become proactive with John and befriend him, rather than needing to be rescued.  As much as people may not want to admit it, it's not too far of a stretch to see this as, say, a Matt Smith story -- the Doctor discovering that they needn't be as afraid of the Sensorites as they have been could just as easily be something that the eleventh Doctor would do as much as the first.  Before it's seemed as if this show could do just about anything.  That's admittedly still the case here, as the production team are just trying out a different style of script here -- there's nothing to say that this will set the tone for the show in the future, but with hindsight we can see the Doctor Who we know starting to really take shape.

January 15: "The Bride of Sacrifice" / "The Day of Darkness"

(The Aztecs episodes 3 & 4)

Tonila and Tlotoxl test Yetaxa's divinity. ("The Bride
of Sacrifice") ©BBC
"The Bride of Sacrifice" is in fact Susan, who viewed an arranged marriage in Lucarotti's last serial and is now the subject of one.  Not bad for someone who's been on vacation for two episodes.  (Carole Ann Ford is included on pre-filmed inserts.)

There's a bit of a course change here, as the focus moves from trying to prevent the Aztecs' sacrifices to simply trying to get back into Yetaxa's tomb.  Which isn't to say that the issue of human sacrifice goes away; it's just not the main thrust of the drama any more.

Quick digression: there's an episode of Star Trek called "The Apple", where (putting it crudely) Kirk and his crew encounter a culture that they disagree with and force the natives to change their way of life.  This always sat poorly with me, partly because it's just assumed that Western European culture is the best, most "right" culture.  By contrast, here we get Ian arguing with Barbara about the Aztec culture of sacrifice: "You keep on insisting that Tlotoxl's the odd man out, but he isn't. ... You can't fight a whole way of life, Barbara."  It's recognition that the Aztecs don't want to be changed, that they're perfectly happy to continue human sacrifice -- indeed, as the Perfect Victim himself points out, "It is a great honor for me to be chosen."  And in fact it's the travellers who are being less than honest, portraying themselves as a goddess and her servants -- though it may have been a case of mistaken identity, they never disabuse the Aztecs of this belief.

But this is one moment in these two episodes: as noted earlier, we're now much more concerned with getting into Yetaxa's tomb.  This leads to some wonderful moments in the garden with Ian and the Doctor and then with Ixta.  And special mention must go to the lighting, which does a fantastic job of evoking a moonlit night, as well as giving the impression of water rising up around Ian at the cliffhanger to "The Bride of Sacrifice".  And if we're discussing the garden, we have to talk about the Doctor's inadvertent marriage proposal to Cameca: we get a great comedic look from William Hartnell when he learns what he's actually done by preparing cocoa, but afterwards he doesn't seem to be terribly upset at the notion and seems genuinely sad that he has to leave Cameca behind, even though he knows he must.  And it leads to my favorite moment of the story, where the Doctor puts down the brooch Cameca gave him, starts to leave, then turns and snatches it back before entering the TARDIS.  It's an understated and beautiful moment.

All this plus continued excellence from the actors shows why The Aztecs as a story is so highly regarded.  This is the only complete surviving 'straight' historical from the '60s (as opposed to, say, The Romans, which is largely comedic, or The Time Meddler, which is about someone attempting to change history), and one sometimes wonders if the high reputation the historical stories currently enjoy is due in no small part to how well this story pulls it off -- feeling nearly Shakespearean at times, as, e.g., Tlotoxl schemes to destroy Barbara or Ian announces that his and Ixta's next meeting will be their last one (as indeed it is, with a fight sequence shot on film that's far ahead of the stylized movement we got in "The Temple of Evil").  The Aztecs is magnificent.

January 14: "The Temple of Evil" / "The Warriors of Death"

(The Aztecs episodes 1 & 2)

Standard and special edition DVDs
"But you can't rewrite history!" the Doctor exclaims to Barbara, halfway through "The Temple of Evil".  "Not one line!" It's at the heart of this story: can Barbara change the course of history and save the Aztec civilization from the conquistadors?

Let's back up a bit.  We've just left Marinus (as the opening moments helpfully remind us) and have now arrived in late 15th/early 16th century Mexico, in the heart of Aztec lands.  When Barbara is mistaken as the reincarnation of a high priest, she is revered as a god, and thus is a position of power to change history, to turn the Aztecs from their custom of human sacrifice.  She's determined to try, despite the Doctor's protests, and this is what drives things.

It's interesting: the main motivation of the others is to simply gain access to the TARDIS, which is locked inside Yetaxa's tomb.  If the travellers could gain access, they'd leave immediately, but they're forced to interact with Aztec society while they figure out a way in.  This has been happening before, mind; so far they've been denied access to the Ship by way of capture, a missing component/key, and a forcefield.  But this feels like the least contrived and thus most frustrating barrier yet: a stone door that they can't open.  So while they try to break in, Barbara is going to make the most of her situation, and try and change things.

In both of these episodes, we see Barbara try to prevent or change some aspect of Aztec culture (not just the sacrifice, but also smaller things, such as Susan's removal to a seminary or Ian's fight with Ixta), and each time it almost seems like she makes things worse: Tlotoxl, High Priest of Sacrifice, loses faith in her, and then Susan is separated from the others.  But still she refuses to give in.

Ian defeats Ixta with his thumb. ("The Warriors of
Death") ©BBC
Of course Barbara's not the only one with the good role: Ian ably acquits himself as he vies with Ixta for leadership of the Aztec armies.  The bit with the thumb is really lovely, and the unarmed fight that concludes "The Warriors of Death" is quite well done, especially for a studio session (the initial fight with Ixta and an Aztec warrior, in "The Temple of Evil", is also in studio and decidedly less impressive, since they have to be careful not to hurt anyone).  It's also interesting to see how Ian maintains the upper hand in the fight, doing quite well even after he's been scratched by Ixta.

The Doctor too gets some nice moments: his interactions with Cameca are especially noteworthy, being rather more flirtatious than one might expect.  "You're an old rogue," Barbara says after he mentions Cameca to her, and the Doctor doesn't deny it.  And I haven't even mentioned the guest cast yet, who all perform excellent work -- John Ringham is often singled out for his Richard III-like performance as Tlotoxl, but actors like Ian Cullen as Ixta and Keith Pyott as Autloc also deserve high praise for playing things with sincerity and conviction, making things very believable.  In their hands, and those of writer John Lucarotti, the Aztec world of Mexico is just as dangerous as Skaro or Marinus.

January 13: "Sentence of Death" / "The Keys of Marinus"

(The Keys of Marinus episodes 5 & 6)

Well, this is more like it!  Maybe I'm just a sucker for mysteries, but the parts of this story that take place in Millennius are far more engaging than in the last three locations.  There's a sense of drive through "Sentence of Death", as the Doctor must prove Ian's innocence, lest Ian be executed for murder.  The fact that we go out and explore a bit as the Doctor and his team search for exonerating evidence and such means that Millennius feels more fleshed out than, say, Morphoton from "The Velvet Web".  We start to get a sense of how these people actually live, with hints dropped casually in dialogue and sets showing us apartments and such.

Of course, it's still a mystery that they have to get through in an episode and a half, which means that villains repeatedly start to utter self-incriminating statements before they stop themselves just to move things along.  Although I do enjoy Aidan's death as he starts to reveal his co-conspirators -- it feels an awful lot like Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald.  I'm not sure if it's an intentional reference or not, but either way it does add to the air of mystery.

Yartek, leader of the alien Voord. ("The Keys of
Marinus") ©BBC
Sadly, it does start to sag a bit in the second half of "The Keys of Marinus", once the real killer has been caught and they return to the island with the Conscience of Marinus.  Yartek, the leader of the Voord (remember them from "The Sea of Death"?) has taken over and is trying to disguise himself as Arbitan.  It's been noted before how Ian and Susan seem suspicious of him because of what he said, not because his head appears to have grown several inches under his hood, but to be fair it's not like Terry Nation knew what those headpieces were going to be like.  But even so, Ian tricks not-Arbitan by giving him the fake key from "The Screaming Jungle" -- except Ian wasn't convinced not-Arbitan was an imposter, so he potentially gave the real Arbitan the fake key.  Of course, he didn't know it would blow up the whole building when inserted, so we can probably excuse him.

The main problem with The Keys of Marinus as a whole is that it's too ambitious; it wants to be a globe-trotting epic, but there's not enough time or money to fully flesh out all the locations, so the production team has to spend a lot of time hinting at things.  To their credit, they do really quite an excellent job with what they've got, but that can't hide the fact that Terry Nation has to spend time establishing each new exotic location and not developing the ones we've already gotten.  It's not terrible by any means, but given what we've gotten from Doctor Who so far, its flaws become rather more apparent.

January 12: "The Screaming Jungle" / "The Snows of Terror"

(The Keys of Marinus episodes 3 & 4)

So last episode they had a fairly lengthy discussion of how the Doctor was going to go two jumps ahead and look for the fourth key; in other words, William Hartnell's on vacation for these episodes (the first time a regular's been given time off this way), which means it's up to Ian, Barbara, and Susan to carry the day.  Unfortunately, Terry Nation seems to think that Susan's only there to scream and act generally hysterical -- realistic, perhaps, but not terribly pleasant viewing.  So that leaves Ian and Barbara.

Really, though, "The Screaming Jungle" feels like pure pulp.  There's what seems to be an abandoned building in the middle of a thick jungle, and it's simply full of traps.  And they're not very exciting traps either.  Ian getting nearly cleaved in two is probably the best; his getting trapped behind bars isn't very exciting, while Barbara being trapped under a net as a spiked ceiling descends might have been better had it not been shot quite so undramatically from the side, showing a shaky board with obviously not-at-all sharp blades juddering down.  (I do have to say, though, that I quite like the idol with the obviously human arms that grab people.)  Then there's some guff about nature's "tempo of destruction" having been accelerated; this seems to mean that plants crawl around and smash windows and things.  Like I said, pure pulp.

The ice soldiers awaken. ("The Snows of Terror") ©BBC
Things get better in "The Snows of Terror", but that might be because the actors have someone to react to, rather than just some vines wrapped around a pole.  Francis de Wolff turns in a memorably creepy performance as Vasor the trapper.  He's thoroughly nasty, even at the beginning when he's ostensibly helping Ian and Barbara, but there's a nice turn of cowardice from him when fortune shifts against him.

Other than that, though, this is simply the next place on the quest list: we had a jungle, so the opposite is clearly a snow-blasted mountain range.  That said, there's clearly effort being put into the design side of things: the jungle set last episode was quite nice, and the ice caves here are really good.  It's just a shame that the script doesn't have the same degree of care.  To be fair, this was a serial written in a great hurry after another script fell through5; it's just a bit of a pity that you can tell.







5 This was apparently The Hidden Planet by Malcolm Hulke; we'll hear more about him starting at the end of Patrick Troughton's run.

January 11: "The Sea of Death" / "The Velvet Web"

(The Keys of Marinus episodes 1 & 2)

The TARDIS has arrived on Marinus -- and Barbara and Susan have changed their outfits since the end of "Assassin at Peking" (so Missing Adventure authors take note -- Christopher Bulis has already taken advantage of this potential gap).  It's an odd episode, to be sure; there are some nice ideas from Terry Nation, like the acid sea which leads to a glass beach, but it's somewhat thwarted by the direction.  "The Sea of Death" feels rather loose because of this: there are an unusually high number of moments where characters are required not to see things that should be plainly visible to them until the plot needs them to: no one sees the first Voord on the beach, the Doctor suddenly sees submarines that have clearly been in front of him for some time, Ian somehow misses the whacking great building dominating the skyline for the first half of the episode...it's almost theatrical in this approach, but it requires a larger-than-normal amount of good faith to see things through.  Which would be fine if it weren't for the obvious errors and bizarre choices that are also plentiful: Hartnell's having a bit of bother with his lines while he's on the beach; a stagehand is visible through the first swinging door; a Voord is stabbed in the back despite being up against a solid wall -- this is just after George Coulouris as Arbitan appears to wander on set, look at Susan, and then wander off for no obvious reason; there's even a script left open and visible on the Conscience set!

This probably would be less of an issue if the script were up to it, but it's essentially marking time until it's time to send the travellers off on a quest.  So we have a number of Voord who lurking menacingly before they get killed, some exploration on a beach, and a plot dump by Arbitan explaining what's going to be happening.  It's functional writing rather than evocative.  Still, as I said before, there are some nice ideas: the trouble is that there aren't enough of them to paper over the other problems.  Even the TARDIS crew's agreement to look for the missing keys feels perfunctory.

Barbara destroys the brains ruling Morphoton.
("The Velvet Web") ©BBC
Fortunately, the next episode goes some way toward redressing the balance.  There's a lot tighter direction this time around, with the scenes from Barbara's point of view showing the city of Morphoton the way it really is worthy of particular praise. It's also interesting how the episode begins with Ian being the most suspicious of their hosts' generosity, yet ultimately it's Barbara who fails to be affected by the hypnosis.  And can we take a moment to acknowledge how gorgeous Katharine Schofield (Sabetha) is?

Really, if anything lets this episode down it's the nature of the overall story.  Because Terry Nation has crafted a quest epic, it means that we're only just starting to know a place when it's on to the next.  This just means that a) everything tends to be painted in broad strokes, with little subtlety; and b) the resolution of the problem is rather abrupt; it's great seeing Barbara smash up the brains, but it does feel a little sudden and therefore unsatisfying -- especially since they also need to spend time setting up the next episode, in a completely different location.

January 10: "Mighty Kublai Khan" / "Assassin at Peking"

(Marco Polo episodes 6 & 7)

And they were so close!  Yet interestingly, Marco doesn't put the travellers under guard as he did in "The Wall of Lies" -- he must believe that without the TARDIS nearby, they won't be a problem.  There's a nice bit where Ian tells Marco the truth: that they're from a different time, not just a different place.  Marco won't believe him though, pointing out that Ian has lied before, and that provides enough doubt to deny them the TARDIS.

But really, the star of this episode is the titular character: Mighty Kublai Khan indeed!  When Polo's entourage arrives at Shang-Tu (which the map accompanying the CD helpfully notes is also known as Xanadu and thus (sort of) the subject of Coleridge's poem), we're treated to a marvelous performance, as Martin Miller provides an aging, human ruler.  It also gives William Hartnell the chance to indulge in a bit of comedy, as his pain from horseback riding leads him to uttering groans and aches almost in time with Kublai Khan.  "Do you mock our afflictions?" the Khan demands.  But it's not just comedy: their shared anguish allows the Doctor to become friendly with Kublai Khan and insinuate himself into his good graces.  It's a good move from writer John Lucarotti.

But if "Mighty Kublai Khan" was good, "Assassin at Peking" is even better.  Tegana admits his fealty to Noghai and his intent to help him take down Kublai Khan to both Ian and Ping-Cho, and they still can't get Marco Polo to believe it.  Tegana has been good before, but here he really enters the realm of "villain you love to hate", as his silver tongue also starts to convince the Khan that Marco isn't worthy of trust (using a little old-fashioned racism to boot).  It's really wonderful -- kudos to Derren Nesbitt's performance.

But this episode also has some more comedy, showing Kublai Khan as being somewhat henpecked by his wife the Empress -- yet still retaining a sense of authority when, say, dealing with Marco Polo and his perceived disloyalty.  Plus there's that great backgammon game between the Khan and the Doctor, and the fate of Ping-Cho's would-be husband.

The Target book (from
the TARDIS Data Core wiki
article Marco Polo
(novelisation)
)
Yet although the Doctor and his companions work out Tegana's plan (and it's nice to see that they answer the question I asked last time about when Tegana developed said plan), this episode ultimately belongs to Marco and Tegana, as they duel in the throne room in Peking4. It sounds like a good fight, and the telesnaps offer some tantalizing glimpses.  It's also interesting how Tegana throws himself on a sword to avoid capture, rather than having Marco (who's really our hero for this tale) kill him.  (Nor is he shot with an arrow by Ling-Tau, as the Target novelization told me.  But sidenote to say that I adore this book as, although my family had a small handful of Target books, Marco Polo was, along with The War Machines, the first Target book I bought myself.)  In some ways, given what's happened before, the TARDIS crew's final departure is very abrupt: no thanks or well-wishes, just a quick dash out before someone changes their mind.  But it works.  And interestingly, there's no cliffhanger into the next episode; it's almost as if these twenty episodes comprised the first story for the Doctor, Susan, Barbara, and Ian.

It's a really lovely tale, Marco Polo, and I've enjoyed it immensely.  I would absolutely love the chance to see this story on video (fun fact: Marco Polo was sent to more countries than any other missing serials), but even with just the soundtrack and telesnaps it's still easy enough to enjoy.  But next time it's back to video with "The Sea of Death" -- hey, our first "of Death" title!  This should be good.

(Final count for uses of 'TARDIS' as a bare noun (aka no accompanying 'the'): 4)







4 The enclosed map also informs me (although it's not the first to do so) that the use of Peking is anachronistic: the capital at that time was known as Khanbaliq.

January 9: "The Wall of Lies" / "Rider from Shang-Tu"

(Marco Polo episodes 4 & 5)

"The Wall of Lies" was directed by John Crockett instead of Waris Hussein.  Why does this matter?  Because as a result Waris Hussein had no reason to have the telesnaps for this episode: thus this is the earliest episode for which no visual record exists (unless that rumored recovery announcement of the entire story for its 50th anniversary next month is true; the words "yeah" and "right" spring to mind...).  But as noted before, we still have an off-air audio recording to enjoy.

The Radio Times cover for "The Roof of the
World" (from Partners in Time: 50 years of Doctor
Who Radio Times covers
©Immediate Media
Company Limited)
This seems to be a turning point for this particular story: before the travellers were free to accompany Marco Polo, and only his possession of the TARDIS prevented them from leaving.  But now Tegana has managed to turn Polo against them.  It's dramatic, yet still with the same relaxed confidence that permeates this serial.  The central problem has evolved from simply "how to get the TARDIS back" to "how to convince Marco that Tegana is plotting against him and Kublai Khan".

(Incidentally, do you suppose Tegana always intended to betray Kublai Khan, or that it was when he saw the TARDIS that the possibility of claiming it for Noghai came to mind, and that's when he set his plan into motion?)

In any event, "The Wall of Lies" sees the TARDIS crew at their lowest.  It's particularly interesting how, when they decide to kidnap Marco and force him to give the TARDIS key back, how black the Doctor's intentions seem: "I think by the time I've finished with that gentleman, he'll only be too glad to let us go."  It's a surprisingly dark comment, especially as it's about a man that the story has so far encouraged us to view in sympathetic light.

Fortunately for Marco, "Rider from Shang-Tu" (hooray! the telesnaps are back!) opens with a far different situation that results in a change of plans, as the caravan is attacked by bandits.  Continuing the educational theme, here we learn that bamboo explodes when thrown on a fire.  It's difficult to tell from the telesnaps how well the bamboo forest was realized, but the battle itself sounds exciting.  It also leads to an improvement in Polo's estimation of the travellers: he's not as trusting as he was initially, but he's relented somewhat from the treatment given last episode.

Other than the initial fight, this episode is more about treading water than advancing the plot much: there's no new treachery from Tegana and the titular rider only appears for maybe five minutes.  This episode then is actually set up to look like an escape for the Doctor and company, a chance to finally get to the TARDIS.  (Or just "TARDIS", as it's referred to again this episode -- I wonder if this happens in any other story?)  But like the last time they did this ("The Ambush", episode 4 of The Daleks), there's a sense of unfinished business -- Marco Polo hasn't arrived in Peking yet, and Tegana has yet to be unmasked.  Which is why it's not a total surprise when, just as it looks like they're all about to escape (with a scene inside the TARDIS, even!), Susan is grabbed by Tegana, just in time for the end of the episode.

January 8: "The Singing Sands" / "Five Hundred Eyes"

(Marco Polo episodes 2 & 3)

An Unearthly Child is in a bit of an odd position: in some ways it's a journey back in time, but it's to a place that virtually nothing is known about, and the people we encounter there seem more alien than like us.  This means that Marco Polo is the series' first real journey into history.  And so far it's a very entertaining tale: although "The Roof of the World" played with expectations a bit, "The Singing Sands" is filled with suspense, first with the sandstorm whirling through the camp (memorably brought alive, even on audio), and then with the sabotage of the caravan's water supply.  Meanwhile, the characterization of Susan is interesting, as she seems resolutely in teenage-girl-of-the-60s mode, with slang like "fab" and "dig it", yet the script has her reminiscing about metal seas on Venus and describing her language as how people talk "on Earth", as if she's used to being somewhere else. The chess game that Ian and Marco play is also good fun, with what seems to be foreshadowing from Tegana: "Marco, can you save your king?"  Oh! and an occurrence of the word "TARDIS" as a bare noun, when Barbara talks about how "TARDIS is the only home we have".  And it ends on a good cliffhanger, with Tegana taunting Marco Polo from the oasis.

"Five Hundred Eyes" is a curious episode: there's always been a remit for the show to be educational along the way, and this feels like the first real flexing of those muscles.  We learn about condensation, the Hashashins from the point-of-view of the Mongols (with a brief etymological detour about the word "assassin"), and even a little bit about quartz.  That part about the Hashashins is told by Ping-Cho, who spends a sizable portion of the episode in the telling, yet it remains engaging the whole way -- one can only imagine how it would be with the pictures intact.  It's interesting: there's a relaxed pace about the way John Lucarotti allows his tale to unfold, yet it never feels slow or dull.  Even when there's danger afoot, as with Barbara in the cave, it still seems quite content.  It's a sign of the confidence the production team has in the script, without a need to spice things up unduly.  The word is "self-assured".

January 7: "The Brink of Disaster" / "The Roof of the World"

(The Edge of Destruction episode 2 & Marco Polo episode 1)

"We have ten minutes to survive." ("The Brink of
Disaster") ©BBC
And so all the paranoia and danger was because of...a stuck button.  Not exactly the most thrilling revelation ever, is it? You can see what David Whitaker was going for, trying to subvert expectations and all, but still: a stuck button?

All right, so Whitaker might not have the most satisfying plot going, but to his credit, his characterization is very good.  He refashions their relationships under our nose, almost without our noticing.  By forcing the Doctor to have it out with the two schoolteachers, Whitaker makes them reevaluate each other's positions: the schoolteachers are going to have to rely on the Doctor, and he is going to have to trust them.  If they had stopped and worked together instead of giving in to fear and paranoia, they might have solved things more quickly.  And it's a nice touch how Barbara won't easily accept the Doctor's apology: he has to go and sweet-talk her to prove that he's sincere before she gives in.

But that's not the only relationship Whitaker has refashioned: he's also cannily changed the Doctor's relationship with the TARDIS.  Before the TARDIS was a machine, a fantastical machine that could take them anywhere, but still a machine.  But now there's a suggestion that the TARDIS may be alive in some way; the Doctor dismisses the notion, but the clues left by the TARDIS (which presumably include the way it's affecting the crew, given how out of character they were last episode) seem to suggest otherwise.  Obviously this notion will culminate 47 years later with "The Doctor's Wife", but the first hint starts here.

Next up is "The Roof of the World", the first episode of Marco Polo and, alas, the first of Doctor Who's missing episodes.  Fortunately off-air soundtracks exist for every episode, so I'll be listening to those while squinting at the telesnaps3 (as published in Doctor Who Magazine: The Missing Episodes - The First Doctor) for the next seven episodes.

Obviously we can't actually see how it looked, but given Waris Hussein's work on An Unearthly Child we can probably safely assume it was thoughtfully directed.  Certainly the telesnaps offer tantalizing glimpses of what it looked like: the waystation at Lop looks fairly lush in design, and the narration device of the map also looks wonderful -- you can't tell from what we've got here, but it seems like the sort of thing that would have an animated line showing the journey of Polo's caravan.

It's an interesting episode in terms of the script as well: it looks like it will be fraught with danger, but at just about every step this expectation is thwarted: the large footprint is really a man's footprint which has melted a bit; the travelers are in danger of freezing to death on the mountain, but they encounter people; it looks like they're going to be killed by said people, but Marco Polo intervenes...as an episode it looks like "The Roof of the World" will be full of action, but it's actually quite sedate.  We're meant to distrust the warlord Tegana, but his motivation appears to be that he believes that the Doctor and his friends are evil spirits.  But not only that, but Marco Polo has also denied them access to the TARDIS (leading to a very curious yet entertaining outburst of laughter from the Doctor) -- so it looks like even their potential allies are working against them.








3 People didn't have the ability to show people film copies of their television work back then, so if they wanted to keep a record of it they'd hire a man named John Cura, who would take photographs of the show as it was broadcast.  These photographs, called "telesnaps", are for many episodes of Doctor Who the only visual representation remaining.