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First Doctor: The Sensorites
As I've already realised is standard procedure for this first season, the events of the story are kick-started by yet another incident of TARDIS separation. All other things being equal, the Doctor would have had his crew leave at the beginning of the story, firstly when he thinks that the crew of the ship they have landed on are dead, and then again when he realises they're alive but thinks he can't help them. He (and his companions) only stay and become further embroiled in events because the Sensorites have taken the TARDIS locking mechanism.

That said, the issue of the extent to which the Doctor is or is not given to meddling of his own accord is also explicitly played around with here in the script. On the one hand, he claims that "I learnt not to meddle in the affairs of other people long ago" - and when Ian laughs drily at this, he insists, "There's not an ounce of curiosity in me, my dear boy". Yet only few minutes earlier, his response to the strange in-flight behaviour of the TARDIS had been "I shan't be happy until I've solved this little mystery", while he turns straight round from his line to Ian to ask Captain Maitland what's been going on. In other words, even though his desire to interfere isn't yet well-enough established to be a convincing reason for his getting involved in the events of a story without it also being backed up by TARDIS separation, it has clearly become laughable to claim that he doesn't wish to get involved at all.

As things develop, we also see some interesting character development for Susan. At the beginning of the story, the regular characters talk about how travelling together has changed them: not just Barbara and Ian, but Susan (and implicitly also the Doctor), too. They never actually say how, but what we see is Susan beginning to assert her right to make her own choices. She agrees to go down to the Sense-Sphere with the Sensorites of her own accord, and when the Doctor tells her she shouldn't, she protests "Stop treating me like a child!" Her newly-revealed telepathic abilities of course support her developing emotional stance, since they give her something special of her own which she can do, that others around her can't. I don't know whether the production team were already aware at this point that she would depart early in the next season, but in any case it all helps to lay the ground for her eventual decision to leave her grandfather behind and strike out on her own.

Barbara and Ian get their moments, too. Ian seems to do rather a lot of clutching of Barbara when they are first confronted with the Sensorites in episode two, but Barbara herself lives up to her usual standards of awesomeness by challenging Ian when he starts brandishing a wrench at them. "Do you need to keep them off?" she demands; "Have they actually attacked you?" This is absolutely classic Barbara, and so incredibly exciting to watch. It isn't just that she is a bit spunky, and ready to leap over chasms vel sim. when the occasion demands it. It is that she is thoughtful, resourceful, and always ready to consider alternative possibilities - as, in fact, I noticed in the very first story, when she is far quicker to grasp what the TARDIS is than Ian. I guess this was possibly easier to do while a younger female character like Susan was also along for the ride, since that allows room for Barbara to be mature and courageous while the younger character handles the business of getting afraid and needing Doctor-comfort. Which makes it rather a pity that that dynamic was abandoned a season later, of course. Still, Barbara is right up there with Sarah Jane and Ace as one of my favourite ever Who companions, and I'm going to enjoy her while I can.

Oh, and I suppose this story also has some kind of plot alongside all this character development, doesn't it! It seems OK. As is usual for Doctor Who, the Sensorites are not just an undifferentiated mass of alien beings, but have distinct personalities and motivations of their own, which is always interesting. The pacing of the last episode felt rather rushed, though - I'd have liked more time given to the humans who have been hiding out in the aqueduct pipes, and I think some of the earlier scenes of politics and betrayals could have been slimmed down a bit in favour of that. Other than that, this seemed like a solid, but not exceptional story.


First Doctor: The Reign of Terror
And so we reach the end of Who's very first season on the air. Even at this early stage, there is some sense of season-based structuring, since the setting of Revolutionary France reflects the moment in the very first story when Susan picks up a 1960s text-book on the subject, glances through it, and declares "That's not right!" The logical conclusion from her statement – that she has experienced late 18th-century France before – doesn't entirely seem to be born out by this story, but it's a nice touch all the same.

The story develops over six episodes at a leisurely pace – indeed, it takes the TARDIS crew half of the first episode to establish for sure that they are in the past, rather than in 1960s Britain as had been the Doctor's original intention. I liked the sense of mystery this created, which contrasts sharply with most New Who stories, but is reflected in the Doctor's confusion about where exactly they have landed during the first few minutes of Fires of Pompeii. Later on, though, I began to find the succession of imprisonments, escapes and recaptures to which the characters are subjected rather tedious. I also found it hard to engage with the numerous secondary characters with unremarkable names and appearances and obscure motivations, and the settings seemed remarkably claustrophobic given that this is the first story to include some location footage alongside the usual studio sets. Matters probably weren't helped by the rather poor image quality of the copy I was watching, or the fact that episodes 4 and 5 are (all but) missing – but then again, these factors don't seem to have stopped me enjoying Marco Polo, so it isn't necessarily an excuse.

This is the first story from a new writer – Dennis Spooner, whom I know from his second-season story, The Romans. Indeed, it has some characteristic traits which also occur in The Romans - for example, the amount of time spent by the characters in jail; the comic relief provided by the Doctor's adventures on his way to Paris and the character of the drunken jailer; and the use of maps and models to evoke the landscape of historical cities.

The input of a new hand perhaps explains why two important developments in the character of the Doctor take place in this story. Firstly, as the team gradually realise that they are in the past, and not 1960s Britain, it is Ian this time who cautiously suggests that they return to the TARDIS, while the Doctor actively wants to explore. This builds on the dialogue from the previous story, and is another step away from the Doctor's early role as an aloof observer.

Secondly, episode three marks the first time in the series that the Doctor has adopted period clothing (and a false identity) in an attempt to blend in with the locals – something which also crops up in The Romans. Barbara, Ian and Susan have already donned contemporary costumes in Marco Polo and The Aztecs, but the Doctor had always retained his usual Edwardian garb – and thus a visible sense of Otherness. I hope to say a little more about how the costume is used, and how this new approach fits alongside other gradual developments in the programme's approach to history in my proposed Classical Association paper next March – but for now I'd better keep quiet for fear of pre-empting myself.

The darker and more self-serving side of the Doctor's character, which has been quite prevalent throughout this season, remains in place, though. He knocks the chief of the road-mending gang unconscious with a shovel in episode 2, incidentally allowing the troop of workers whom he has been mis-treating to escape, but clearly for the primary purpose of getting away himself. Later on, in episode 5, he does the same to the Conciergerie jailer in an attempt to rescue Susan, and also shows himself as entirely happy to betray the counter-revolutionaries to the authorities in order to save his friends. This isn't stuff that's entirely disappeared since – any Doctor up to and including the Seventh is capable of resorting to violence, while most of them will do almost anything to save their companions. But New Who does generally make the Doctor agonise about it when he is faced with a choice between harming others or allowing his companion(s) to be harmed.

As in the other historical stories so far, and in keeping with the programme's educational remit, there is quite a lot of emphasis on exploring relevant debates. Team TARDIS find themselves siding with the counter-revolutionaries from the beginning, which is presented as the result of the chance fact that the first people they meet are counter-revolutionaries. But it's also in keeping with long-standing British attitudes towards the French revolution, especially as expressed in stories like The Scarlet Pimpernel. On the whole, the counter-revolutionaries are presented as kindly and heroic, while the members of new regime and their supporters are either tyrannical (Robespierre), aggressive (soldiers) or craven informers (the tailor and the physician). But one of the great strengths of Doctor Who is that things are never that simple – all of the characters have their own personal motivations, rather than simply being unthinking members of one or the other 'side', while at least one of the counter-revolutionaries (Leon Colbert) and one of the revolutionary authority figures (Lemaitre) turn out to be quite other than what they seem.

Meanwhile, the rights and wrongs of what both sides are doing are explicitly raised in the dialogue. It arises especially in the context of Barbara and Ian's different reactions to Leon Colbert's betrayal of the counter-revolutionary escape chain, and his death at the hands of Jules. While Ian is very gung-ho about this, saying that Leon got what he deserved, Barbara is ready to argue the other side – that the revolution has been a good thing for some people, and is a necessary change. This is partly prompted by an earlier attraction to Leon, but also very much in keeping with her character in general - see above comments on The Sensorites. Later on, Jules also gets to justify the counter-revolutionary stance back to Barbara, by saying that he sees himself as fighting for reason and justice, and that he values order over anarchy. By modern standards, some of this is arguably a little forced – we tend to expect more naturalistic dialogue. But it isn't completely hokey, and I like very much the fact that the different views all get expressed, without any explicit indication as to which the audience is 'supposed' to agree with.

The Doctor gets involved in historical debates for the first time here, too, when he attempts to convince Robespierre that his campaign of executions is pointless and counter-productive. But it is important to notice that he is doing this mainly in order to save his own friends from execution, and not to stop the Reign of Terror in its own right. He still retains a non-interventionist stance at this stage, in both historical and future / off-Earth stories, and indeed later famously says to Barbara that there is nothing they can do to stop Robespierre's execution: "The events will happen, just as they are written." For me, this goes alongside Barbara's own rebuke to Ian when he is all too ready to write off Leon Colbert ("You check your history books, Ian, before you decide what people deserve!") as providing some Very Interesting Insights into Whovian approaches to history at this time. But again, that's better saved for my CA paper, I think.


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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
parrot_knight
Sep. 12th, 2009 12:18 am (UTC)
I look forward to your CA paper - I need to return to setting down my own thoughts on the programme's historical themes. There's not really much movement between The Aztecs and The Reign of Terror, really, from what you say... and the Doctor again adopts period garb in The Crusade, before seeming to have gone into much deeper cover in The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve.
strange_complex
Sep. 12th, 2009 08:21 am (UTC)
Thanks! nwhyte and swisstone pointed me towards Time and Relative Dissertations when I was originally putting together the proposal, so I read your 'Bargains of necessity?' paper and found it really interesting and helpful. That was before I found you here and realised I had already met you, of course. But I think we do indeed have some interesting common ground in this topic - although I will state right now that my knowledge of behind-the-scenes thinking and production activity is almost totally non-existent compared to yours! I owe you great thanks for sharing your understanding of that side of matters in your article.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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