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So we're back to Tom Bakery goodness with UKTV Drama. Well, except that they last stopped at Robots of Death, and have now picked up again with Horror of Fang Rock, meaning that I had to acquire The Talons of Weng Chiang via Other Means. *shrug* UKTV Drama is a very strange channel.


Fourth Doctor: The Talons of Weng Chiang
A big, enjoyable romp through screen Victoriana, which it would be difficult not to enjoy. For sheer breadth of references, it reminded me a lot of The Android Invasion, although the relationship between original and tribute in this case is usually more explicit and (arguably) constrictive than in ...Invasion. We have Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, Phantom of the Opera, almost any vampire story and Pygmalion / My Fair Lady - which for once works to Leela's benefit, as she gets to play with the role of Eliza Doolittle.

Other than that, though, I was sometimes moved to wonder why Leela was really in this story. The usual companion role is supplied as much by Jago and Litefoot as by her, while she proves generally ineffective in the one area where she really should shine - fighting off the various gangsters and homicidal puppets with which the story is populated. Her sole single contribution to the plot seems to have been to get captured, so that she can then report back to the Doctor about Magnus Greel and his distillation unit - but even that could have been done by anyone, really. A pity, because arguably the Doctor / companion relationship is always indebted to Holmes / Watson, so this story could have become a great big meta-textual commentary on that trope - if only Leela's character hadn't been too one-dimensionally primitive to work effectively in the Watson role. (Sarah Jane could've done it, dammit!)

New Who watch was surprised to encounter talk of time-travel experiments based in the 51st century - I had no idea that Jack Harkness and the Time Agency had any kind of roots in the Classic era. And the Brummie in me felt all proud at the Doctor's unshaking faith in fire-arms manufactured in Birmingham! As for the racist elements in the story which Wikipedia claims have aroused such controversy - well, the story probably wouldn't get made now, but since it is by its very nature an extended pastiche, its stereotypes can perfectly easily be read as send-ups of other people's stereotypes, and hence the whole story as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on out-dated story devices. THAT IS, if it weren't for one line which makes the whole shaky edifice tumble like a pack of cards: when Litefoot expresses dismay that 'ruffians' are prepared to break into his house, and the Doctor replies, "Well, they were Chinese ruffians." Delivered with the appropriate irony, that could have been a piece of damning social satire - but I just couldn't hear that irony, no matter how hard I listened.


And, ladies and gentlemen, if I may indulge for a moment, I treat having seen this story as a moment of graduation. It was a pretty random choice of reference to include in the post which started off this whole Who Odyssey back in January - but, nonetheless, it is at this stage that I get to progress from being vaguely aware that The Talons of Weng Chiang features a giant rat in a sewer to having a meaningful grasp of the plot and some actual opinions about it. I claim my Geek Certificate and Coffee Mug of Rassilon, please.


Fourth Doctor: Horror of Fang Rock
I suppose this would have been less obvious at the time of original broadcast, given that there is a season-break between Talons and Horror, but if you watch them sequentially you can't help but notice that this involves what must be one of the shortest journeys between separate story settings ever to have been featured in Doctor Who - all of about ten to twenty years forward in time, and from London to a non-specific but apparently (to judge from the accents) south-western British light-house station. Which is all to the good as far as I'm concerned, because in practice it means more yummy Gothic horror - see story title for details.

And this really is a dark story. Every single character gets killed except for Leela and the Doctor - which of course means that the usual rules of Gothic horror, in which the bad get their come-uppance and the good (simple, honest Vince) survive, are broken. The face-value villain is one of the Sontarans' perpetual enemies, a Rutan - a creature probably better described than shown on screen. But in fact the real theme of the episode is tradition vs. innovation, as referenced in the elderly light-house keeper's reservations about the use of electricity instead of oil to power the lamp. Both sides of the debate are explored, as the Rutan initially uses the station's electricity supply against its inmates, but in the end, innovation wins out, with the Doctor converting the light-house into a giant laser beam in order to repel a full-scale Rutan invasion.

New Who watch was struck by the Doctor's comment that 'organic restructuring is elementary physiology for Time Lords' - in context, a remark prompted by the Rutan's own ability to change its appearance, but it seems a lot more significant after Human Nature and Utopia, doesn't it? And passing mention must be made, too, of my favourite moment in the story - when the Doctor, having selected the large diamond he needs to make a laser beam out of the light-house lamp, then merrily scatters the rest of the handful of diamonds he is holding on the light-house steps. Aw, bless him and his utter obliviousness to material wealth!


And now? Well, now, we have a Thing. Which is that I've already seen the next three stories UKTV Drama will be broadcasting, and would have to wait until the end of May to come back in at Underworld. Only to then meet the Key to Time season again two stories later, anyway.

Fact is, though, there's another thing happening here, too, and a very sad thing at that. See, as of now, I have only eleven stories left to see from Tom Baker's time as the Doctor (or twelve if you count the video reconstruction of Shada, which I think I shall). It's my own fault, really, for getting greedy already and skipping ahead of the UKTV schedules. I could have spun things out by watching stories featuring other Doctors in the interim, but no - it had to be Tom. It had to be the piercing blue eyes and the dazzling grins and the bouncing curls and the ginger side-burns and the noble profile and the chocolatey voice and the guh! *swoon*.

So I'm certainly running low on UKTV Drama stories in the immediate present - but also facing the horrible prospect of reaching the end of the Tom Baker era in the not-too-distant future if I don't rein things in pretty soon. I don't want it to end, and I can't begin to imagine the trauma of having to actually sit down and watch Logopolis. But, having thought about it carefully, and considered the alternative possibility of watering down my Tom Baker diet by interspersing his stories with those of other incarnations, I decided - sod that! Fie to delayed gratification, and sensible rationing out of indulgent pleasures! Instead, I am just damn well going to max out on his Doctor, right here, right now, while I'm really into him. Because, frankly, I won't rest until I have, and any other Doctor will merely be Not Tom Baker until and unless I know that I have seen every single one of his stories. Then, and only then, will I be able to find it in me to entertain the possibility of anyone else in the role.

So it's goodbye to UKTV Drama now, because you're just going too slowly for me, I'm afraid. Time to plough wildly headlong through those remaining unwatched stories - and I'll leave bitter repentance of my foolish extravagance for the other side of Logopolis!

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
May. 13th, 2008 10:42 pm (UTC)
Pshaw!

I contest that my Doctor gets tied up more often than your Doctor does, and has a nicer arse:



So thrrrrppppp!
(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
May. 13th, 2008 10:50 pm (UTC)
O RLY?

(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
May. 13th, 2008 10:48 pm (UTC)
Gah - and sorry that came out so small. Let's try again, shall we?

(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
May. 13th, 2008 10:58 pm (UTC)
*checks out your userpics page*

*realises she can never win*

*bows out gracefully*
(Deleted comment)
big_daz
May. 14th, 2008 07:47 am (UTC)
Which Doctor will you be concentrating on once you've finished Baker (T)?
strange_complex
May. 14th, 2008 08:42 am (UTC)
I think Hartnell will be a top priority, as I've really enjoyed the stories with him that I've seen so far. But I also want to watch all of Sarah Jane's stories with Jon Pertwee, and quite fancy some random sallies into both Troughton and (strangely) McCoy - especially Ghost Light and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.

Peter Davison... I know I will like, and indeed I have a couple of his stories kicking around courtesy of steer. But I don't want to watch them now, because that's time I could be spending watching Tom Baker stories instead, and I don't think I will want to watch them when I've run out of those either, because of course then he will just be the Doctor that replaced Four, won't he? And I think it's unfair to watch him from that mindset, so I will leave it a bit until I've 'got over' Tom (!), and return to him later when I can appreciate him on his own merits.
xipuloxx
May. 14th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
Hi Pen! Haven't been on LJ much lately, so have been catching up. May I say how much I enjoy reading your DW reviews? It's always interesting to see other people's takes on stories I know far too well.

While on the whole I agree with your thoughts or at least find them thought-provoking (apart from your inexplicable dislike of Leela!) I have to disagree with one thing here:

the Doctor replies, "Well, they were Chinese ruffians." Delivered with the appropriate irony, that could have been a piece of damning social satire - but I just couldn't hear that irony, no matter how hard I listened.

And yet, to me, that comment was enormously ironic! Given that the Doctor clearly doesn't even notice that Li H'sen Chang is Chinese until Chang makes a crack about "we all look the same", I'd say it's pretty clear that such minor differences as race are something the Doctor's barely even aware of.

OTOH, it's fair to say it's a story that wouldn't get made now - at least not without some serious alterations - as all the villains except Greel are Chinese, and believe him to be a god (the superstitious savages! 8o ), and of course all the good guys are white.

As for your future Who-watching, I think you're right to just get Tom over with first, then worry about watching other Doctors. I do think you should watch Castrovalva after Logopolis, though, as it's very much a sequel to it, intended to get the viewers used to the idea that Tom is no longer the Doctor, but the show must go on...

strange_complex
May. 14th, 2008 07:19 pm (UTC)
Hello! Lovely to see you back around these parts. :-)

that comment was enormously ironic

Oh, I do so hope you're right. It would make all the difference if so. Maybe Baker just underplayed it (hard to imagine I know!), and I should listen again with a different ear? Especially given the very good point you make about him not even noticing Chang's ethnicity at first.

As for Castrovalva - actually, it was only the second story I watched when I started all this back in January - and in fact still remains the most recent Peter Davison episode I've seen. But that was on YouTube, and I have actually just purchased the New Beginnings box-set, ready for when I do get to the end of Tom (*long face*). So I may as well watch it again at a decent image resolution - especially since I already know that I like it.
xipuloxx
May. 15th, 2008 02:27 pm (UTC)
Ah, I'd completely forgotten that you'd seen Castrovalva before. But yes, by all means watch it again after Logopolis; I always feel Doctor Who stories should be watched or at least considered in the context of the correct order.

I know there wasn't generally much continuity in the "classic" series, but character relationships did, nevertheless, grow and develop. And many stories make reference (sometimes very subtle) to previous ones.

For example, I note you watched Caves of Androzani as your first Davison story (since original broadcast, obviously!). While I think it's a brilliant story, I do think its impact is somewhat lessened by watching it out of order like that. There are certain aspects to the Doctor's behaviour/motivation in Caves that have far more depth and resonance if you've seen Davison's previous stories, especially Earthshock. While Earthshock itself has more impact if you've seen the stories that precede it, especially Full Circle. I'll say no more, to avoid spoilers!
strange_complex
May. 15th, 2008 03:07 pm (UTC)
I always feel Doctor Who stories should be watched or at least considered in the context of the correct order.

I very much agree, which is why I've been trying to do that as much as possible. You're right about the development of character relations, and I think it sometimes also makes quite a big difference to be clear about what has been established in 'canon' about particular characters or villains when watching stories about them. For example (having just watched it), Horror of Fang Rock would make a lot less sense if you hadn't already seen at least some Sontaran stories.

For all those reasons, I'm quite prepared to take your point about Caves of Androzani. I'll probably watch it again some time, once I've seen more of the stories it builds upon - but it'll be a while, given the break I'm going to need before I can approach any Peter Davison stories at all with an open mind! ;-)
xipuloxx
May. 15th, 2008 02:35 pm (UTC)
Maybe Baker just underplayed it (hard to imagine I know!)

I think Tom was very capable of underplaying things, especially then, when IMO he was at the height of his powers (perhaps the influence of producer Philip Hinchcliffe, or perhaps because he was still fairly new to the role). I think he lost it a bit in his later years; he was never bad, exactly, but subtlety and depth seemed all too often to give way to, well, OTTness, I guess!
strange_complex
May. 15th, 2008 03:02 pm (UTC)
No, I agree actually - I was just being flippant really! I think he has an amazing range, and that his dark and / or serious moments are all the more effective for the comparison with his manic / comic moments.

I've yet to encounter anything of the OTTness or self-parody which people talk about with reference to his later years - but then again I've only seen half of season 17 and none of season 18 so far, so maybe I will. And, given your point about continuity above, maybe it will be more noticeable when I approach those stories having seen all the rest largely in broadcast order, rather than as random dabbling (which has been the case so far).
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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