Season 2 (Jan 22 - Feb 10)

January 22: "Planet of Giants" / "Dangerous Journey" (Planet of Giants 1-2)
January 23: "Crisis" / "World's End" (Planet of Giants 3 & The Dalek Invasion of Earth 1)
January 24: "The Daleks" / "Day of Reckoning" (The Dalek Invasion of Earth 2-3)
January 25: "The End of Tomorrow" / "The Waking Ally" (The Dalek Invasion of Earth 4-5)
January 26: "Flashpoint" / "The Powerful Enemy" (The Dalek Invasion of Earth 6 & The Rescue 1)
January 27: "Desperate Measures" / "The Slave Traders" (The Rescue 2 & The Romans 1)
January 28: "All Roads Lead to Rome" / "Conspiracy" (The Romans 2-3)
January 29: "Inferno" / "The Web Planet" (The Romans 4 & The Web Planet 1)
January 30: "The Zarbi" / "Escape to Danger" (The Web Planet 2-3)
January 31: "Crater of Needles" / "Invasion" (The Web Planet 4-5)
February 1: "The Centre" / "The Lion" (The Web Planet 6 & The Crusade 1)
February 2: "The Knight of Jaffa" / "The Wheel of Fortune" (The Crusade 2-3)
February 3: "The Warlords" / "The Space Museum" (The Crusade 4 & The Space Museum 1)
February 4: "The Dimensions of Time" / "The Search" (The Space Museum 2-3)
February 5: "The Final Phase" / "The Executioners" (The Space Museum 4 & The Chase 1)
February 6: "The Death of Time" / "Flight Through Eternity" (The Chase 2-3)
February 7: "Journey Into Terror" / "The Death of Doctor Who" (The Chase 4-5)
February 8: "The Planet of Decision" / "The Watcher" (The Chase 6 & The Time Meddler 1)
February 9: "The Meddling Monk" / "A Battle of Wits" (The Time Meddler 2-3)
February 10: "Checkmate" / Dr. Who and the Daleks (The Time Meddler 4 & the first Peter Cushing film)



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 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.



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.



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 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 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 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 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 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 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?)



February 1: "The Centre" / "The Lion"

(The Web Planet episode 6 & The Crusade episode 1)

It's my wife's birthday today, so obviously I'm celebrating by watching these next two episodes.  It all comes together in "The Centre", as the travellers finally confront the Animus at the heart of the Carcinome.  The Doctor and Vicki are taken in, Barbara and the Menoptra fight their way in, and Ian, Vrestin, and Hetra dig their way in.  The Animus is a fun design, even if it only vaguely resembles a spider, which is what the story's been hinting the Animus is like.  And it's actually a bit disturbing to see the Doctor so completely under the Animus's power, lying at its feet(?) and literally ensnared in its tentacles.  Vicki at least puts up some struggle, but the Doctor...he's just lying there.

The Doctor and Vicki in the grip of the Animus.
("The Centre") ©BBC
"It doesn't work!" cries Barbara as she tries to use the Isop-tope, the Menoptra's special weapon, against the Animus.  Except, er, then it does.  Maybe Ian distracted the Animus when he popped up out of the floor, giving Barbara a clear shot?  It's not really clear.  But the Animus is defeated with enough time for a proper goodbye.  Water returns to the surface and the Optera learn to frolic in the light, and all is right with Vortis again.

One of the things that struck me while watching this episode was how there has been virtually no incidental music for this story.  It looks like there's an effort to make all the sound here diegetic (i.e., only what the characters would actually experience), which is a rather admirable attempt, but when this means that the primary sound is that of Zarbi chittering away for 6 episodes, it can start to wear thin, and that might be why this story seems so much slower and less exciting than anything we've seen so far.

Really, that's the main problem with The Web Planet.  The production team should be applauded for trying to make this story as alien as they can, with very stagey sets and wholly unrecognizable actors dressed up as giant bugs.  They're definitely trying to create a full alien world, and it's a worthy goal.  The problem is twofold: this story went legendarily over budget, so it was definitely an expensive endeavour.  This means that there's simply no way it could have ever been justified as less than a six-episode serial.  But Bill Strutton's script just doesn't have enough incident to be worth making for six full weeks, and the end result is something visually impressive much of the time but with a story sadly stretched too thin -- and the lack of incidental music only serves to accentuate the problem.  People seem quite taken with the idea of Vortis -- certainly there are more stories in print and on audio that revisit the Menoptra than, say, the Sensorites.  It's just a shame that the finished product itself is such a letdown.

But now it's time to leave Vortis behind and travel to the Third Crusade.  "The Lion" (currently available on DVD only as part of the Lost in Time set) starts really remarkably well, as King Richard the Lionheart exchanges suitably Shakespearean dialogue with his companions, just before they're ambushed by Saracens.  Into this skirmish the Doctor and his friends enter, with Ian fending off a Saracen warrior while the Doctor picks up a sword to defend the fallen William de Tornebu.  Barbara is meanwhile captured by the Saracens and taken to the camp of Saladin, the leader of the Muslims in the Holy Land.  Everything feels suitably epic (well, except for the Doctor's theft of the merchant's clothing, which isn't very epic but still in keeping with the Shakespearean tone), with William des Preaux's deception of El Akir, claiming to be King Richard, worthy of particular praise.  It's also worth noting how nobly David Whitaker's script treats the Saracens (El Akir excepted, but he's clearly meant to be the main villain) -- Saladin in particular coming across as just and reasonable.  There's a slight jarring quality of seeing white actors darkened up to play Middle Eastern roles, but this wasn't uncommon in the 60s and none of the actors playing the roles treat them as caricatures -- again, tribute to both the actors and Whitaker's script.  It's really quite marvelous, and the cliffhanger feels right too, even if it's less about mortal danger and more about the unyielding principles of Richard I.  So far, this has been a good story, and a significant improvement over the previous six weeks.



February 2: "The Knight of Jaffa" / "The Wheel of Fortune"

(The Crusade episodes 2 & 3)

"The Knight of Jaffa" is the first of two missing episodes from season 2 (and we'll reach the other one tomorrow), so once again I'm peering at telesnaps while listening to the soundtrack.

What I found interesting about this episode is how much less Shakespearean it felt compared to "The Lion".  But to be fair, this feels like Whitaker moving his pieces into place so that they can properly unleashed.  And although things seem less grand, there is still some definite entertainment to be had.  Basically every scene with Richard the Lionheart is a marvel of language and charm, even when it's simply Richard musing aloud about how to deal with Saladin -- but the moment when he knights Ian and makes him Knight of Jaffa is also quite wonderful.  But once Ian becomes an emissary of King Richard's and travels to Saladin's camp to arrange for the release of Barbara and Sir William des Preaux, the story has to contrive to remove Barbara from the scene before Ian arrives.  This means that there's some subterfuge involving Barbara's kidnap, and this is the main thrust of "The Knight of Jaffa": arranging for Barbara to be elsewhere.  The business with the merchant Luigi Ferrigo is thus less satisfying than it would otherwise be, since it's not feeding into the main drama concerning Richard and Saladin, but rather contriving to keep Barbara separated from the main group and thus continue the story.  Although it does mean that, once he realizes she's gone, Ian has to decide to rescue Barbara (and the telesnap of him deciding this looks rather uncannily like my father...). 

But the other thing worth noting about this episode (and the series in general as of late) is how much more mischievous the Doctor has become: pulling the wool over everyone's eyes while in Roman times, and now successfully manipulating both the king's chamberlain and the hapless merchant Ben Daheer, whom he stole his clothes from last episode, into believing that the thief was in fact someone else.  It's another lovely little showcase for William Hartnell and a subtle manipulation of the Doctor's character (and it's probably not a coincidence that this is happening now that Dennis Spooner has taken over from David Whitaker as story editor on Doctor Who).

Richard I commands his sister to marry Saphadin. ("The
Wheel of Fortune") ©BBC
Back on video for "The Wheel of Fortune", which resumes the heights set in "The Lion".  (Hmm...maybe I would have enjoyed "The Knight of Jaffa" more if I could have actually seen it...)  Whitaker, having set things up in the previous episode, can now set them loose.  This leads to some glorious scenes, particularly near the end, when Joanna learns of her brother's plan to marry her to Saladin's brother and thus end the bloodshed between the Europeans and the Saracens.  Jean Marsh lets loose with righteous fury, matched by Julian Glover's impotent frustration when he sees his plan for peace undone.  There's also a lot of great lines in this episode: "There's something new in you, yet something older than the sky itself," Joanna says of the Doctor, while later the Earl of Leicester voices his irritations to his king:
You're a man for talk, I can see that.  You like a table and a ring of men.  A parley here, arrangements there, but when you men of eloquence have stunned each other with your words, we, we the soldiers, have to face it out.  On some half-started morning while you speakers lie abed, armies settle everything, giving sweat, sinewed bodies, aye, and life itself.
The only part of the episode that disappoints is Barbara's plight.  There are some admittedly good scenes here, especially when Haroun ed-Diin, who has previously saved Barbara from El Akir's men, instructs her to kill his daughter should El Akir's men arrive and try to take them away.  But because Barbara's so disconnected from the main storyline, it's a little less involving -- even if El Akir does make for a menacing villain.  Still, it's a great cliffhanger: "The only pleasure left for you is death," El Akir informs Barbara, having recaptured her.  "And death is very far away."



February 3: "The Warlords" / "The Space Museum"

(The Crusade episode 4 & The Space Museum episode 1)

Back to telesnaps and the soundtrack for "The Warlords".  It's odd -- I came to the realization while watching this episode that Barbara's storyline is actually meant to be the main one.  She spends her time hiding from El Akir in the harem but is betrayed by one of the girls.  El Akir sounds like he's going to take his revenge, but then Haroun ed-Diin arrives and slays El Akir, letting Ian take Barbara back to the safety of the TARDIS.  Poor Barbara: the last couple times she's traveled back in time she's been captured and sold into slavery each time.  Meanwhile the Doctor and Vicki both get to lark about and essentially have extended holidays.  Sometimes life just isn't fair.

The Doctor berates the Earl of Leicester. ("The Warlords" –
from Doctor Who Photonovels: The Crusade - Episode Four)
©BBC
But as I was saying, Barbara's storyline must be the main one because it's the only one that gets any sort of resolution.  King Richard's plan to create peace through marriage fell apart last episode, and there's no alternate plan or outcome.  We leave King Richard in the same position he was when we found him, and the Doctor's assurances to him that he'll see Jerusalem fall a bit flat -- especially when we know, as the Doctor informs us, that he won't actually be able to capture the city.

The Crusade is a marvelous story, and it's a real shame that only half of it exists in the archive, because what we can see is magnificent, and what we can hear suggests that the rest was just as wonderful.  All the actors involved are utterly committed to their roles, and the script lends the proceedings a gravitas and depth to match.  Only at the end, when you realize that there can't be a denouement for Richard the Lionheart's storyline, does it disappoint.

After "The Warlords" it was time for "The Space Museum", and yes, that is a region 2 copy in the picture there.  It was at this point today that I learned that my region-free DVD player had finally given up the ghost, so a little research and a trip to Target later I had a replacement and was ready to resume.

"The Space Museum" is a striking episode.  It starts oddly, with the TARDIS travellers frozen in time before suddenly being in their usual clothes, instead of the 12th-century garb they were just wearing (Ian says it's 13th century, but Richard the Lionheart was in Jaffa in 1191).  Yet the Doctor is completely unconcerned by this: "All this fussation about a change of clothes.  You know, it's so simple.  It’s time and relativity, my dear boy.  Time and relativity.  That’s where the answer lies."  After that an intriguing mystery arises: they can't hear anything but themselves on this new planet, they don't leave footprints, and they can't even seem to touch anything.  And not only that, but no one else can see them.  Meanwhile, people walk into rooms with our heroes, have silent conversation without noticing them, and then leave.  It's all very eerie and quite effective, director Mervyn Pinfield creating a successful atmosphere of tension, with a silent dread.  Then the Doctor and company learn that they're in the future, and they see themselves in display cases, a part of the space museum they've been exploring.  It's quite a worrying thought.  Then, with some strange music and sound, time catches up and they arrive.  But will they be able to prevent the future they've just witnessed?



February 4: "The Dimensions of Time" / "The Search"

(The Space Museum episodes 2 & 3)

Today's my father's birthday, and what better way to celebrate than with these two episodes?  Because after last time's eerie sense of dread, "The Dimensions of Time" gives way to a feeling of a near-romp.  After the cliffhanger reprise we get a truly astonishing piece of exposition, which even if it was just the dialogue it would be bizarrely unwieldy ("I’ve got two more milliums before I can go home.  Yes, I say it often enough, but it’s still two thousand Xeron days.  And it sounds more in days"), but Richard Shaw's performance, which is filled with a theatrical sense of boredom, elevates this to a misguided brilliance.  And the whole episode has many curious moments such as this.  Everyone points it out, but it's still worth noting how the travellers, worried about trying to change their own future, are deeply concerned about whether Ian's jacket was missing a button when they saw him in the display case, since that could indicate whether they'd changed things.  Yet unraveling Barbara's cardigan isn't deemed nearly as significant.

The Doctor emerges from his hiding spot in a Dalek shell.
("The Dimensions of Time") ©BBC
The other thing worth noting is how the Xeron would-be rebels (the natives of this planet) run around the space museum unchecked by their Morok overlords, dressed like students in black sweaters and slacks and completing the ensemble with tennis shoes -- Jeremy Bulloch, as the Xeron leader Tor, seems to be wearing Chuck Taylors!  It makes for an...interesting sort of rebellion.  But of course, we can't leave without mentioning the Doctor's outwitting of the Xerons, only to be caught by the Moroks because he's too busy chuckling to himself to worry about not being caught.  But this does lead to the Doctor's meeting with the Morok governor Lobos, where he again gets to bamboozle the authorities.  Upon learning that he's been hooked up to a machine that displays his thoughts, the Doctor confuses matters, displaying walruses swimming as an answer to the question of where he comes from.  "But these are amphibious creatures.  You are not an amphibian," Lobos complains.  "Oh, I'm not, am I?" the Doctor responds, and we get a picture of him dressed in an Edwardian bathing costume!

Things aren't quite as wonderful in "The Search", but that's partly because William Hartnell's off for a week, so there's no Doctor shenanigans going on.   Still, we get more entertaining dialogue -- last time the governor complained about working conditions, this time it's his second-in-command's turn: "He will blame me.  Everything that goes wrong on this wretched planet is my fault.  Think yourselves lucky that you have me between you and our illustrious Governor.  A scapegoat, and for what?  For this rank and a meagre pittance of extra pay."  But this episode really belongs to Ian and to Vicki.  Ian gets a number of good fights, and he gets to menace people with a Morok gun for good measure.  And Vicki meets up with the Xerons and shows them how to get into the Morok armory by reprogramming the computer lock: something that's apparently never occurred to the Xerons to try.  "I wonder if this will keep us out of the cases," she wonders to herself.  Sadly, Barbara is mainly confined to hiding in a room before being gassed out, but at least she learns about the Morok conquest of Xeros.

Still, it's interesting how different in tone these two episodes are from "The Space Museum".  Although there are some callbacks to trying to avoid the fate they witnessed -- and it seems to be their motivation for doing things -- it seems more like the TARDIS crew is running around trying to escape and causing problems for the Moroks because that's what they normally do, rather than because they're consciously trying to avoid their fate.  We'll have to see how it all comes together in "The Final Phase".



February 5: "The Final Phase" / "The Executioners"

(The Space Museum episode 4 & The Chase episode 1)

(Not two days after my DVD player died, the hard disk in my laptop decided to fail.  Apparently this is a bad week for me and technology...)

One does get the sense, watching "The Final Phase", that the production team has tried to tie the events of the past two episodes in with the travellers' attempt to change their future.  I particularly like how it seems like they're going to make it out intact, as Ian rescues the Doctor and Vicki rescues Barbara, before each group is captured and taken to the freezing room.   "Were all the things that happened planned out for us?" Barbara wonders.  "Four separate journeys.  Four choices, that led all the time closer to here."  It's quite a nice little introspective moment.  But the Doctor is a bit more optimistic: "My dear Barbara, you must try and remember, the short time we’ve been on this planet, we’ve met people, spoken to them and who knows, we might have even influenced them."  And of course he's right -- Vicki's actions with the Xerons, helping them gain access to the Moroks' weapons, have led to a revolution which defeats the Moroks, leading to an altered future with no more space museum, and therefore no more time travellers in exhibits.

The Space Museum is a bit of an odd beast.  It's been said that the initial scripts had more humor in them before it was edited out, to make a contrast from the following story.  It sort of shows: there are a number of witty moments, but there are also some dead serious moments, and anything involving the very earnest Xerons, that tend to jar a bit, and sometimes you don't know if what you're watching is the result of a joke that wasn't completely removed or just a particularly bad piece of writing/acting.  It's not a terrible story by any means, but I think you have to be in the right, undemanding frame of mind to really get the proper effect -- otherwise it's just a runaround in a museum with some interesting ideas floating around.  Great cliffhanger into the next story though.

"The Executioners" starts by recapping the cliffhanger from last time, which means this story starts with a Dalek!  But after that we're shown near-domesticity in the TARDIS: the Doctor is tinkering with his new toy, Ian's reading a trashy sci-fi book, Barbara's making a dress, and Vicki's feeling useless.  But soon the Doctor gets his gadget working, and the travellers can watch some time television: Abraham Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address (in an oddly desolate-looking Pennsylvania), Shakespeare gets the idea for Hamlet, and the Beatles play "Ticket to Ride" (this last bit, by the way, is missing from the Region 1 copies of The Chase as they couldn't clear the clip for foreign markets -- hence my purchase of the uncut Region 2 version).  It's all a bit larking about before the TARDIS lands, after which point they go larking about in a desert instead.  There are a couple good moments, like when the Time and Space Visualizer starts making a high-pitched noise while the Doctor and Barbara are relaxing.  "What's that awful noise?" Barbara asks.  "I beg your pardon?" the Doctor misunderstands her.  "Awful noise?  That's no way to talk about my singing!" To which Barbara replies, "No, Doctor, not that awful noise, the other one!"  That's when they learn that the Daleks have a time machine, which they're going to use to pursue the TARDIS and exterminate the Doctor and his friends.  This is when the real story begins, you'd think, except that nothing much happens after this: Ian and Vicki get trapped underground by a monster, while a sandstorm blows up and covers the Doctor and Barbara, changing the landscape and burying the TARDIS in the process.  It's a bit worrying, but then the episode reveals, in its final moments, that the Daleks have already arrived on the planet (and were buried by the sandstorm too, but it doesn't seem to bother them too much).  Which means that we have to wait until next time for things to really get going.



February 6: "The Death of Time" / "Flight Through Eternity"

(The Chase episodes 2 & 3)

"The Death of Time" is one of those episode titles that sounds good until you start to think about what it actually means.  Why is this the death of time?  Is it because the Daleks have a time machine?  You'd think that would mean the Daleks are rampaging through time killing everything, but instead they're chasing after the Doctor and friends and not really doing a great job there.  You'd think the Daleks would just go through and exterminate everyone, but instead they make a deal with the native Aridians to capture the travellers, while also using them as slave labor to dig up the TARDIS, which you'd think would be the last thing they would want to do since it gives their enemies easy access to their ship.  I mean, they do try to destroy it with their guns, but really, it would have been better to leave the thing buried.

The more interesting part of the episode is the gesture of examination of the Aridians' plight, as Terry Nation gives us a look at collaborators.  It's not dwelled on, of course, but it's interesting how the Doctor doesn't condemn their decision to hand them over to the Daleks, and in fact they only escape because a Mire Beast happens to knock down a wall and distract everyone long enough for the TARDIS crew to leave.  Which they do.

Morton Dill isn't taking the Daleks very seriously.
("Flight Through Eternity") ©BBC
"Flight From Eternity" gives us a couple locations this time around: New York 1966 and on board a ship 1872.  But first it starts out with a scene inside the Dalek time machine, with another use of a photographic blowup but also some motionless Dalek props (they're the ones without the base or the vertical "solar panel" slats).  For once the photograph isn't shot from an angle that reveals it to be a photo, but there's an extremely misjudged moment with what appears to be a Dalek reading to itself out loud before giving its report: "Er...one...er...forty...er..." it mumbles to itself.  This has to be considered an attempt at comedy, but it falls woefully flat.

The scene on top of the Empire State Building, on the other hand, is much more entertaining.  There are some subtle moments with the tour group at the beginning: I love the way the big tourist knocks that young woman out of the way just so he can get to the front, and as the tour guide talks about gazing "out across the panorama", he appears to be checking out said young woman (it's difficult to tell for certain, since unfortunately they've put a piece of stock footage in the middle of this line, but when we cut back he's plainly staring at her chest and has to bring himself back and start his sentence over again).  And then we're introduced to Morton Dill, who's playing a stereotypical hick from Alabama.  He's consequently the only person to see either the TARDIS and its occupants or the Dalek time machine with a Dalek.  I know Morton Dill bothers some people, but for me he fits into the tone of the scene and his belief that it's all a Hollywood trick is quite lovely.  And at one time I probably would have thought he was overacting, but that was before I met a guy who laughed and moved almost exactly the same way, so now Peter Purves' performance just reminds me of him instead.  I was quite pleased with the whole scene.

The next bit isn't as great though.  The TARDIS materializes on a sailing ship, Barbara gets accosted, and then they leave before the Daleks show up, at which point the entire crew abandons ship.  This might have more impact if the words "Mary Celeste" weren't plainly visible at the start, but then they insist on slow panning across the empty vessel (and showing the name plate again) before finally doing a slow zoom in on the name.  All right, maybe the words wouldn't have been as obvious on a '60s 405-line resolution television until the final zoom in (although I'm not convinced of this).  But then the next scene has Ian mention it in the dialogue, just in case you missed that!  And an ancient mystery is solved.  And the cliffhanger shows the Daleks still chasing the TARDIS through time and space -- not the most exciting cliffhanger by any means.



February 7: "Journey Into Terror" / "The Death of Doctor Who"

(The Chase episodes 4 & 5)

"Journey Into Terror" is primarily set in some sort of haunted house, it seems.  Truth be told, I found the whole sequence very uninvolving, and although I generally try to see things from the point of view of a first time viewer, this time I couldn't view it without knowing the twist at the end, and so the Doctor's theories about where they've landed fall flat.  It's also really poorly structured; there's some effort toward building tension and mystery, but that all goes out the window once the Daleks show up, and it's just a mad dash back to the TARDIS.  This means that Vicki's disappearance and Barbara's vanishing into the wall are never dealt with: they're just suddenly back in the main room and ready to leave.  And there's also the odd moment where, when the Dalek first appears, it demands to know where the time travellers are, as if it doesn't recognize two of them standing right in front of it, and then when Ian slams a metal grating down it tells them not to move instead of just exterminating them through the grating. 

Once the haunted house is left behind, things get marginally more interesting as Ian, Barbara, and the Doctor realize that they've left Vicki back at the haunted house, and they resolve to fight and defeat the Daleks at their next stop so that they can capture their time machine and go back for Vicki.  This means the battle will be fought on the planet Mechanus.  "Just look at that vegetation!" Barbara exclaims.  "Yes, just as though it were alive," replies Ian the science teacher.  Vicki, meanwhile, has stowed away with the Daleks.  She might not hear the reappearance of the slow comedy Dalek ("Er...er...in Earth time...er...four minutes..."), but she is present when they unveil their latest scheme: a robot double of the Doctor, with a resemblance so "uncanny" that you wonder if the Daleks can actually see things the way humans do.  Of course, then the close-up is of William Hartnell rather than Hartnell not-really-a-lookalike-at-all Edmund Warwick, which ultimately ends up just being mildly disconcerting than threatening, even when the robot announces he will "infiltrate and kill."  The next episode is called "The Death of Doctor Who" -- wonder how that one will turn out?

The city of the Mechonoids. ("The Death of Doctor Who")
©BBC
And really, when you're naming episodes you'd think you'd know not to give hostile critics titles like that, but no, this is "The Death of Doctor Who" (spoiler alert: it's not).  It's not a bad episode, but it does feel a bit like marking time: the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara spend most of the time holed up in a cave waiting for the right moment to strike.  The battle with the robot Doctor is quite entertaining, even if it's even more apparent that Edmund Warwick looks almost nothing like William Hartnell.  And Vicki is reunited with the others!  But meanwhile, the jungle set, while reasonably good (except for the obvious studio floors, but there's not much you can do there when you're dealing with Daleks), means that we have lots of gaps through the set in which you can see things.  Including a BBC camera in virtually full view for an awfully long time.  But at least the Fungoids are a good design and reasonably menacing.  And that final part with the Mechonoid is pretty good, even if it takes a couple listens to work out what it's saying.



February 8: "The Planet of Decision" / "The Watcher"

(The Chase episode 6 & The Time Meddler episode 1)

And so the Mechonoid takes them up into that big city we saw last time, and it turns out there's another person already there: Steven Taylor, an astronaut who crashed two years earlier and was taken prisoner by the Mechonoids.  Yes, it turns out that the TARDIS crew has escaped the Daleks only to be held captive by the Mechonoids.  Steven Taylor is, of course, played by Peter Purves, the same actor who played Morton Dill three episodes ago, but here he portrays such a different character that, other than appearance, you'd have no reason to believe they were the same actor.  He does a good job behaving as someone who's been without human contact for two years, yet he doesn't overplay the moment.  But that doesn't last before they've worked out a way to escape, by climbing down off the roof.  Meanwhile, the Daleks invade and attack in what's quite a well-shot battle (though the inclusion of the cartoony explosion graphics is a tad much), and the city burns.

The Daleks prepare to attack the Mechonoids. ("The Planet
of Decision") ©BBC
This only takes about half the episode, leaving the remainder to deal with the almost unthinkable: Ian and Barbara's departure. It starts with an argument, when Ian and Barbara realize they can use the Daleks' time machine to get back home and the Doctor thinks it's too dangerous ("I will not aid and abet suicide!" he says angrily).  But this almost seems more bluster than genuine worry, and Vicki talks him around into helping them.  When they do make it back to London 1965, we're treated to a photo montage of Ian and Barbara frolicking around some of the landmarks and having a good time -- and then we pull back to see that the Doctor and Vicki have been watching them on the Time and Space Visualizer.  "They made it!" Vicki exclaims, and the Doctor agrees, but he looks so crestfallen: "I shall miss them.  Yes, I shall miss them, silly old fusspots," he says, and you're not sure if it's the Doctor speaking or William Hartnell, but either way I teared up a little -- and they say Doctor Who wasn't emotional until the 21st century.  What rubbish.

This concludes The Chase, and it's probably the best thing about it.  You get the impression that the production team don't really know what to do with the Daleks anymore, so they've gotten Terry Nation to do up The Keys of Marinus with Daleks in it and hired Richard Martin to shoot it because he always does Dalek stories, and let them turn it into a romp -- rather missing the point of having the Daleks, but there you go.  It has its moments here and there, but The Chase is ultimately somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

But the show is always moving on, and "The Watcher" is no different.  We get a very sweet opening scene, though, as the Doctor talks gently to Vicki in the wake of Ian and Barbara's departure: "Their decision certainly surprised me, although it shouldn't, I know.  But it was quite obvious they intended to take the first opportunity of going back home."  He then asks Vicki if she wants to go home too, but Vicki refuses -- and any further discussion is curtailed by a sound coming from the living quarters.  It's Steven Taylor, last seen wandering the jungle on Mechanus.  Apparently he made it on board the TARDIS but is still a little confused about where he is, and he doesn't really believe them when they tell him the TARDIS is a time machine.  "Look, Doctor," he says, "I've seen some spaceships in my time...admittedly nothing like this.  What does this do?"  "That," the Doctor replies wonderfully, "is the dematerialising control and that, over yonder, is the horizontal hold.  Up there is the scanner, those are the doors, that is a chair with a panda on it.  Sheer poetry, dear boy.  Now please stop bothering me."

Steven takes some convincing that they've arrived in the past, on what appears to be the coast of England in the 11th century, and Peter Purves does a great job of portraying skepticism.  The Doctor goes off on his own and works out that it's 1066, shortly before the Norman invasion.  But something's not quite right, as he hears the chanting from the monastery slow down, like a gramophone unwinding, before speeding back up to normal.  Meanwhile, Steven finds a wristwatch that definitely not from 1066: "You still say this is tenth century England?" he asks Vicki, holding the watch up.  There's a definite mystery going on, and it seems related to the monk who eavesdrops on the travellers and lives in the monastery, yet doesn't seem surprised by the TARDIS's arrival or its appearance.  The episode is set up quite skillfully, setting up an historical time period with a few pieces that don't fit, leaving the viewers wondering what's going on, and the performances of everyone involved help sell the mystery.  It's an intriguing episode, to be sure.



February 9: "The Meddling Monk" / "A Battle of Wits"

(The Time Meddler episodes 2 & 3)

So William Hartnell's off for a week (other than some prerecorded lines), which means that it's the Monk's turn to take the spotlight.  And, having set up the mystery last time, the show proudly presents its anachronisms: the Monk uses a toaster and an electric griddle to make breakfast before perching on a cliff side, using binoculars to look for incoming ships (while trying to take a pinch of snuff).  It's clear the Monk isn't from 1066, and the question becomes, how is this possible?  And Peter Butterworth does a fantastic job as the Monk -- he doesn't seem to be particularly villainous, more just mischievous, which is far more interesting (and entertaining).

And Steven Taylor really shines as a new companion, doesn't he?  His continued skepticism starts to give way to the belief that they really are in 11th-century England ("I mean they'd hardly go to all this trouble for a fancy dress ball, now would they?" he remarks), but he doesn't let it worry him.  His somewhat shamefaced thanks to the Saxons is rather lovely, and his conversation with the Monk shows he has initiative -- even if it's not clear who's tricking who.  I think we're going to be all right with this new companion.

For much of the time, "The Meddling Monk" feels quite fun, which makes the moments with the Vikings more shocking -- there's a clear suggestion that they've raped the woman Edith, and the battle that ensues, although a bit more stagey than one might like, still is pretty intense, with Saxons brutally stabbing downward into what one presumes are fallen Vikings.  It's a somewhat striking juxtaposition, albeit one that the show has played with before (notably in Dennis Spooner's last contribution, The Romans), but it still works.

The Doctor gets the better of the Monk. ("A Battle of
Wits") ©BBC
"A Battle of Wits" features the return of William Hartnell, and we get to see the Doctor and the Monk engaged in a lovely little struggle as each tries to get the better of the other, with the Doctor usually coming out on top.  But we also learn the full extent of the Monk's plan: he's going to repel the Viking invasion at Stamford Bridge, thus leaving King Harold Godwinson fresh to repel William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.  He is, in other words, going to change recorded history.  What's striking about this is how much of a sea change this represents for the programme: before it had been established that you couldn't rewrite history at all, and then that was stretched a little to suggest that time travellers could be the cause of established history (namely the Doctor giving Nero the idea for the Great Fire of Rome), but this seems to be a suggestion that history can in fact be altered -- the Monk's plan doesn't make any sense otherwise.  The history of Earth, it seems, is becoming no more inviolable than any other world.  And it's a great cliffhanger, too: the Monk has his own TARDIS!  Now that's a sea change.



February 10: "Checkmate" / Dr. Who and the Daleks

(The Time Meddler episode 4 & the first Peter Cushing film)

So by the end of "A Battle of Wits" we knew exactly what the Monk was planning, but the Doctor didn't, so consequently there's a recap where the Monk gleefully tells the Doctor of his plan to change history.  The Doctor is of course outraged, but the Monk rejects his arguments: "Doctor, it's more fun my way.  I can make things happen ahead of their time... For instance, do you really believe the ancient Britons could have built Stonehenge without the aid of my anti-gravitational lift?"  This is a great line, suggesting that the Monk has already changed history to what we "know" it to be, and he's clearly having a lot of fun.

The Monk discovers the Doctor has removed his TARDIS's
dimensional control. ("Checkmate") ©BBC
But the discovery of another TARDIS!  The suggestion before this has often been that the Doctor built the TARDIS himself, but this shows that's clearly not the case.  There are other TARDISes, and other members of the Doctor's race.  It's a bit difficult to convey how significant this is, given how blasé we are about such a thing nowadays, but it proves that there are more than just the Doctor and Susan out there in the universe.

Really though, the rest of the episode is just showing the results of the actions put into motion in the previous episodes.  The Saxons know the Vikings are planning an invasion and that the Monk (who previously requested that the villagers light beacon fires) isn't to be trusted.  The Vikings hiding in the monastery are routed and killed13 by the Saxons, and the Monk is chased out as well, foiling his attempt to meddle with history.  Except he still has his atomic cannon and its neutron mortars, but it seems like it's too late for him to carry out his plan.

The Time Meddler is a lovely little story.  It's about history, but really more about history itself: 1066 is little more than a backdrop to the Monk's machinations (albeit an event that really would lead to dramatic differences if it were altered), but they're the actions of someone amusing themselves rather than of a megalomaniac.  It's also a direct challenge to the premise set up in The Aztecs, of the immutability of history.  We've got Donald Tosh editing scripts now, but this is still clearly Dennis Spooner's domain.  It looks great (even if the prints themselves are a bit rough, with "A Battle of Wits" clearly in the worst shape), it's well directed and well acted -- with a superb guest turn from Peter Butterworth -- and it's a great script.  Really, what's not to love?

The Time Meddler is the last story of season 2.  If season 1 saw Doctor Who establishing the guidelines for the show, season 2 saw everyone trying to push the boundaries.  We get more humor, more abstract concepts (such as in The Space Museum), and more ambition.  It doesn't always pay off (stand up, The Web Planet), but there's always a sense of trying to go beyond what they've done before, and when they occasionally try to play it safe (such as with The Chase), the result falls a bit flat.  Season 2 demonstrates that there's still plenty of life left in the show -- it's survived the loss of all three original travelling companions, and it's done so with confidence.  Season 1 ends with a speech about the TARDIS crew finding their destiny in the stars.  Season 2 does one better by ending with the time travellers' faces actually out among the stars.  It's a fitting end.

The Daleks prepare to destroy all other life with a neutron
bomb. (Dr. Who and the Daleks) ©AARU Productions
But we're not quite done yet!  Between the end of season 2 and the start of season 3 came something monumental: that's right, it's time for Dr. Who and the Daleks, the first Peter Cushing film. Which means this is more like two hours of Who today, but never mind.

But Doctor Who, in color and with money thrown at it!  It looks pretty impressive, even if it doesn't always succeed -- full marks for the Daleks, somewhat less for their salmon-colored city.  But you have to admire a production that sticks lava lamps prominently in frame as a symbol of alienness.

This film is a relatively faithful adaption of the first Dalek serial.  Most of the big changes have to do with the main characters: Dr. Who is an eccentric inventor who lives with his granddaughters Barbara and Susie Who (yes, really), and who happens to have invented a time machine, which he keeps in a police box in his garden.  Ian Chesterton is Barbara's bumbling boyfriend.  Everything else is largely in keeping with the original: all the plot beats are there -- almost to the point where it feels mechanical, rather than organic.  Dr. Who wants to investigate the alien city, so he sabotages the fluid link (which is even the same error code on the fault locator).  The Daleks want to ambush the Thals, so they make Susie write a letter inviting them into the city.  Dr. Who needs the fluid link back, so a small party goes around the back of the city while the main force attacks the front.  (This is actually probably the most pointless plot beat to repeat, since Ian's small party doesn't seem to have any real effect on the outcome of events here.)  This is definitively a big color remake of the original story, but it hasn't stopped to consider why events in the original serial were there in the first place, content instead to just forge on ahead regardless.

Dr. and Susie Who are held captive by the Daleks. (Dr.
Who and the Daleks
) ©AARU Productions
That's not to say things aren't entertaining -- they're just not as entertaining as they could be.  Peter Cushing steals the show as Dr. Who, playing a version of William Hartnell's character with all the irascibility removed.  He's a kindly old grandfather, and you can see Peter Cushing put the twinkle in Dr. Who's eye in almost every scene.  And although Ian Chesterton is portrayed as an idiot, Roy Castle puts enough sympathy in the role that you can't help but root for him by the end.  On the other hand, Roberta Tovey's Susie Who is one of those precocious child geniuses that film and television companies seem to think audiences will like for some reason, and although she tries, virtually every line of dialogue Tovey has to deliver makes her seem stuck up and unlikeable.  And Jennie Linden, sadly, is rather wasted, as Barbara's character fades primarily into the background.  Special mention, though, for the moment when she puts mud on the Dalek's eyestalk: "Dalek!" she yells.  "Yes?" the Dalek replies obligingly, whereupon Barbara slaps the mud on its eye: "Aaah!"

It's not perfect, and the attempts to artificially graft humor onto the proceedings typically fall flat (and nowhere worse than in the awful ending scene, showing Ian panic about Roman soldiers and start faffing about in Tardis14 like he's having a seizure), but there's still enough to enjoy here, especially if you can look past the salmon shower curtain walls.  It's not as good as the original, but it is as confident, and that carries things a long way.

Malcolm Lockyer seems to think he's composing music for a Bond film, though.









Footnotes

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.
11 In case you've forgotten, the first was episode 7 of The Daleks: "The Rescue".
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.
13 Though not in the episode as it currently exists: "Checkmate" is missing 12 seconds of the Vikings being killed -- the result of overseas censor cuts; the audio of the missing segment, though, still exists and is on the DVD.
14 In an interesting reversal of the custom of the television show, in the entirety of Dr. Who and the Daleks the time machine is always called Tardis, with nary a definite article in sight.