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First Doctor: Galaxy Four
Oh dear, this was really awful! And that is the first time I have found myself saying such a thing about a Hartnell-era story.

In fairness, this story is obviously somewhat disadvantaged by not having survived in its original form. This isn't automatically a problem: it didn't stop me enjoying Marco Polo, for example. But Galaxy Four does seem to have been particularly badly affected by the loss of its moving images. For one thing, it features rather a lot of scenes involving the movements of little robots which Vicki dubs 'Chumblies', and which can only click, beep and whirr to communicate. These are obviously rather dull when all you have is the soundtrack and a still picture to look at. Also, the Loose Cannon reconstruction which I watched wasn't one of their best efforts. They had gone to the trouble to make some of their own moving images for the reconstruction, using models of the Chumblies and the TARDIS, and people in wigs shot from behind. But they didn't include descriptive captions to say what was going on when no-one was speaking (or, if they did, they must have been on the bottom sixth of the screen, which was missing from the copy I viewed). This meant that the only way I could really follow the action was to read the script in one window while viewing the reconstruction in another, which rather impeded my ability to immerse myself in the narrative.

But, even allowing for all that, I still just don't think this is a very good story. The apparently-deserted planet which actually turns out to be populated by warring races feels rather like a re-run of The Web Planet (which wasn't that great in the first place); I suspect there were too many scenes of people being chased about by Chumblies even with the original moving pictures; it seems nonsensical to me that the Drahvins would rather die than accept an offer from the Rills to take them off the dying planet (in which case the whole plot falls apart); and the attempt to be thought-provoking by portraying the Drahvins as beautiful-yet-evil and the Rills as ugly-yet-nice just seems rather clunky and simplistic to me.

My real problem with this story, though, lies in the way that the Drahvins are portrayed. Let me tell you some things about the Drahvins:
  • They are a warrior society, intent on a programme of aggressive imperialism.
  • Their society is also oppressively hierarchical. Leaders get superior food and weaponry and give all the orders; followers accept this as natural and do what they're told.
  • Indeed, the followers appear to have been deliberately bred / raised so that they have almost no initiative or intellectual capacity of their own.
  • Their leaders use racist scare-mongering (Maaga's description of the Rills) in order to get the followers to obey them.
  • They also commit murder, and then blame it on their enemies, for a similar purpose.
  • When presented with a perfectly reasonable offer of an escape route off a doomed planet by members of another race, they would rather kill them and steal their ship than accept; and failing that, would rather die.
  • They are technologically rather backward.

Not a very nice lot, are they? Now let me tell you one more thing about them: they are all women. In fact, they keep only a few men for breeding purposes, killing the rest on the grounds that 'they consume valuable food and fulfil no particular function'.

In other words, the Drahvins appear to come straight from the Big Sci-Fi Book of Misogynist Clichés. They look like nothing more than the latest in a long line of paranoid male fantasies about what might happen if women stopped 'needing' men, which go right back to the Amazons, had been fuelled by the prospect of in vitro fertilisation and two World Wars' worth of female emancipation, and had recently generated such B-movie gems as Cat Women of the Moon (1953), Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1955) and Queen of Outer Space (1958). And I should add that they are not even redeemed over the course of the story - they remain stubbornly hostile to both the Rills and the TARDIS crew, even though both offer them help, and at the end of the story are shown trapped on the dying planet through their own stupidity, completely un-regretted by any of the other characters. So you see, girls - this is what will happen if you try to go it alone, and you'll jolly well deserve it, too!

This was such a shock to me after the Bechdel-test passing, feminist-positive stories I'd been watching for the past two seasons that I turned straight to every reference site and book I could think of to find out what the hell was going on. And everywhere I looked, I found the same story: the Drahvins had originally been scripted as men, but the decision to transform them into women instead had been taken by Verity Lambert, in one of her last few acts before resigning fully from her post as the programme's producer. And this seemed even weirder. If this had been a male producer's decision, I would have rolled my eyes, gritted my teeth and accepted that feminism had a long way still to go in the '60s. But Verity? Who was the BBC's only female drama producer at the time; was widely celebrated for not letting older male executives walk all over her; and clearly had a major input into the casting and characterisation of Barbara? What was such a cherished Whovian feminist icon doing making such a decision?

Thinking it over, I can see three plausible reasons why Verity Lambert might have made this suggestion: 1) to spice up an otherwise rather boring story, 2) as a cynical means of attracting male viewers or 3) because she thought it was a way of getting strong female characters on screen, and hadn't quite realised that just because women are carrying guns and running a matriarchal society, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are doing feminism any favours. Possibly it was a combination of all three, exacerbated by the fact that her eye was no longer entirely on the Whovian ball, as she prepared to depart and hand over to the new (male) producer. In any case, I can forgive her for it, since it's a relatively small thing next to what was clearly an overwhelmingly positive contribution to Doctor Who overall. But I cannot forgive this story.

It's not just the Drahvins, either. Vicki still shows some of the clever resourcefulness which she has demonstrated in earlier stories - for example when she works out that the Chumblies cannot hear what is going on behind them; only in front of them. But she is also shown spraining her ankle at the end of the story as she gets back into the TARDIS. This has already happened to Barbara in Planet of the Giants and Susan in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and it makes me very angry, because it never happens to male characters, and seems to serve purely as a device to signal the 'weakness' of the female characters and their 'need' for male help and support. Here, it doesn't even have the flimsy excuse of contributing in any way to the plot, since it comes right at the end of the story when the TARDIS crew have already dematerialised from the planet. And so it just seems like more gratuitous sexism, there to remind the female viewers of how weak and incapable their on-screen representatives - and thus they themselves - are.

Meanwhile, the Loose Cannon reconstruction includes an introduction with Peter Purves, in which he complains that he was stuck saying lines which had originally been written with Barbara in mind. But given that those lines consist mainly of intelligent and constructive suggestions that the Drahvins may have mis-judged the Rills, and perhaps everyone should try to negotiate, you'd think he would have been pleased. In fact, those lines which are identifiable as having been adapted to suit his (male) character include him responding to the Drahvins on first sight by sexually objectifying them - 'aren't they a lovely surprise!', 'very nice, too', etc. If that's seriously what you prefer to Barbara's thoughtful and intellectual engagement, Mr. Purves, then you are clearly just another part of the problem here.

So what can we salvage from this story? Well, I did feel that at a couple of points, the script and / or direction was attempting to establish some degree of sympathy for Maaga, who is trapped with followers who are not her intellectual equals, and clearly frustrated by the situation. That at least makes her into a little bit more of a proper character, rather than just a sexist paradigm. And there is actually a very important development in the portrayal of the Doctor, too. I've already noted that, in The Time Meddler, the presence of the Monk causes him to take a distinct step forward into his later hero role, as he is cast as the defender of the established time-line. In the last episode of this story, the Rills face the possibility that it will take longer to charge their ship from the TARDIS than there is time remaining before the planet explodes, but declare that if that happens, it is more important for the Doctor to be saved than themselves: "But if there is a choice, the Doctor must go. He travels further than we can. And everything he has shown he stands for, is what we believe in - so it is better that he goes." In other words, unless I have missed something, that is the first in-script example of the Doctor being referred to as a hero-figure by other on-screen characters. Now where would RTD be without that eh?


First Doctor: Mission to the Unknown
So, OK - on to the next story. It's an unusual one, in that it features neither the Doctor nor the TARDIS crew, and is only one episode long. In fact, it isn't really a 'story' in its own right at all - rather, it is a sort of extended teaser trailer for The Daleks' Master Plan, in that it establishes what their plan actually is, and also covers specific events of which the TARDIS crew encounter the aftermath when the main story begins.

As a standalone, it's a pretty decent story. The moving pictures are missing, but the surviving stills suggest that the production values were fairly high for the time - as they could afford to be, given that the sets and costumes were destined for reuse in a longer story. It is basically a cabin-fever story (hooray!), in which two human space agents stranded on a hostile planet are assailed by both Varga plants (a sort of vegetable equivalent of zombies, werewolves and vampires all rolled into one) and Daleks. The dialogue between them is good, the tension and atmosphere are strong, and we even get a chillingly dark ending - both of them die horribly, leaving behind nothing but a tape recording as testimony to what has happened there.

There's just one problem, though. There is not one single woman in this story.

Now before anyone says that that is simply because the story only has a small cast, that is not actually true. Certainly its main focus is on two characters: Cory and Lowery. But they have a third companion, Garvey (the one who is already infected at the start of the story), while of the six non-Dalek participants in the intergalactic war conference, all five of the ones who have a recognisable gender are male. Seriously, look:



(Ignore Verity Lambert in the middle on the second picture - it's a behind-the-scenes shot.)


I am leaving the Daleks and the Varga plants out of this, as well as the black-clad creature with the glowing eyes, as they all appear to be pretty gender-neutral (well, except that of course they are all voiced and played by men inside those costumes, which in itself perpetuates the idea that the default gender is 'male'). And I am prepared to award quite a lot of credit for the fact that one of the delegates is clearly black. But that still leaves a working cast of eight characters: three in the jungle and five conference delegates, all played by and represented as men. ANY of those eight characters could have been women. Any of them. But they are not. Instead, what is both revealed and perpetuated here is an assumption that activities such as manning space missions or participating at political conferences do not fall within the feminine sphere. And that is very upsetting.


Two stories in a row which display a distinctly sexist world-view, then. And you might well say - "But Penny, these stories were made in 1965. What did you expect?" Except that two seasons' worth of stories featuring strong, independent women (especially Barbara, but not just her) talking to each other, doing amazing things as though it were completely normal, and enjoying the total respect and trust of the men around them have shown me that Doctor Who is capable of a great deal better than this. I don't want to lose that - but here we are, with Verity Lambert still not even properly out of the door yet, and things already seem to be crashing and burning horribly.

So, to cheer myself up after all that, I went right back to the Good Old Days. You know, before the BBC Ruined Our Show by, like, broadcasting it on TV, and shit. Jeez, talk about selling out...


First Doctor: An Unearthly Child (untelevised first attempt)
I got a number of First Doctor DVDs for Christmas, and the so-called 'pilot episode' (actually more like a sort of dry run) for the first story was very sensibly included as an extra on the disk for An Unearthly Child. I'm already familiar with the story, having watched the almost-identical broadcast version two years ago with big_daz. But the decision to re-shoot this episode did give the production team the opportunity to make a few minor changes to the script, sets and costumes, and two of them are important from the point of view of my enquiries into Doctor Who and historiography.

1. Barbara offers to lend Susan a book on the French Revolution, just as she did in the broadcast version of the episode. But instead of Susan being left alone with the book, beginning to read it and then exclaiming 'That's not right!', here she leafs through it in front of Barbara, and then gives it back, saying that she has now read it. In other words, the purpose of this scene in the pilot was to convey the fact that Susan is super-intelligent, but by the time the broadcast version was completed, this had shifted to letting the viewer know that Susan had personal experience of time-travel instead. Presumably this was because her intelligence was considered to have been sufficiently established elsewhere in the script, whereas the time-travel was not - especially after they had removed the line where she stated that she was born in the 49th century, and replaced it with a statement that she was born 'in another time, another world' instead.

2. In the broadcast version, the Doctor refuses to let Ian and Barbara leave the TARDIS once they have entered it, on the purely self-centred grounds that they will tell other people what they have seen and make it unsafe for Susan and him to remain in 20th-century London any longer. But in the pilot version, his reasoning is based on the effects which Barbara and Ian's new knowledge will have on the course of history, rather than on his own safety. In fact, his analogies run thus: "Think what would have happened to the ancient Romans if they possessed the power of gunpowder. Or if Napoleon had been given the secret of the aeroplane."

So the Romans got a mention right in the first ever Doctor Who script! As did the idea that the established course of history could be changed by time travellers and needs protecting from that, and that it is part of the Doctor's responsibility to ensure that it is. This latter is particularly interesting in the light of my comments on The Time Meddler in my last review, because in fact as things worked out, this is something which took the best part of two seasons to emerge in the actual programme as broadcast. I think it needed to come out eventually - otherwise (as swisstone has said elsewhere), the role of the TARDIS crew in the historical stories remains largely limited to that of impotent observers. But it's nice to see the alternative (especially if it involves mention of Romans), and to get an insight into the different sorts of approaches to time travel which were being played about with at the very beginning of the programme.


So, yes, that is better, and I'm ready to continue forwards now - not least because the next story is The Myth-Makers. But I proceed with caution and lowered expectations from here on in.

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Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
altariel
Feb. 6th, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC)
Spoilers for Angel season 4 follow in this comment:

***


3) because she thought it was a way of getting strong female characters on screen

I think of this as the Jasmine effect, whereby a previously right-on producer, in an attempt to portray strong women on screen, inadvertently ends up casting a black woman as the Antichrist.
strange_complex
Feb. 6th, 2010 03:47 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's a good name for it. I hadn't previously thought about why I find the entire story-line with Jasmine and Connor so utterly loathsome, but that may well be a hefty part of it (even though I am extremely partial to seeing Gina Torres on-screen in any capacity!).

And just imagine if instead of fiddling with the Drahvins, VL had simply decided to have all the Rills voiced by women instead. That would have completely transformed this story, and I would be singing its praises to the skies now instead of shaking my head sadly. But I doubt it would have garnered quite the press coverage that the 'ray-gun blondes' allegedly did.
altariel
Feb. 7th, 2010 10:48 am (UTC)
Whedon's feminist credentials steadily nosedive, IMHO. I loathed Doctor Horrible.

I wonder if VL's heart wasn't in it any longer: she was moving on, she had new projects in mind. BTW, I agree that Doctor Who starts out well and gets worse in its portrayal of women; I also have a feeling that telly in general follows this trajectory, from an early sixties effervescence about young women, shifting to a late sixties ambivalence, ending up in seventies misogyny. I'm hard pushed to think of examples off the top of my head, but it's a strong impression I have!
strange_complex
Feb. 7th, 2010 01:34 pm (UTC)
I didn't watch Doctor Horrible, but yeah - I've been watching Dollhouse, and it is so nearly there while really not actually being there at all. Frustrating. jekesta has been dissecting it beautifully.

I don't think I've really watched enough '60s TV to be sure about whether what's happening in Who is part of a general trend or not, but I can well believe what you're saying there. It's something I'll look out for.
altariel
Feb. 7th, 2010 01:54 pm (UTC)
I've kept away from Dollhouse because the premise squicked me, but I'm tempted now that it's a closed canon, and more tempted if jekesta has been dissecting it.

Edited at 2010-02-07 01:55 pm (UTC)
strange_complex
Feb. 7th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
Basically, the issue is that at some points, it engages with the implications of that premise, and when it does it is pretty good. But a lot of the time it prefers to focus on sexy girls in fun outfits; and even when it tries to engage, it often only really gets about 90% of the way there, and pulls back from the real punches. Anyway, thankfully jekesta has a dollhouse tag, which is very much worth exploring.
swisstone
Feb. 6th, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
I think the spraining of the ankle is a set-up for The Myth Makers, in which the separating the characters device is that the Doctor and Steven leave the TARDIS, and get captured, but Vicki can't. But it's still a bit crap.

If you treat 'Mission to the Unknown' as the first part of The Daleks' Master Plan, as I do, then the serial as a whole is less regressive. But again, you have a point.

I can't wait to read what you say about The Myth Makers.
strange_complex
Feb. 6th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
Yes, I've just started watching The Myth Makers, and I see you're right about how Vicki's ankle is being used within the plot. But there are still 1001 other ways that the same plot goal could have been achieved without needing to resort to ankle-spraining. Anyway, I'm certainly enjoying The Myth Makers so far - lots of exciting stuff going on!
weepingcross
Feb. 6th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
You haven't said a great deal about the pilot for An Unearthly Child which despite the very obvious technical glitches I thought was superior to the broadcast version, particularly in the way the Dr is aggressively bad-tempered and offhand - in the final broadcast scene in the junkyard he just seems whimsical to the point of minor derangement. I recently heard William Hartnell began by hating the part and regarding it as entirely beneath his dignity, only warming to it when it was clear how popular it was. That explains a lot!
strange_complex
Feb. 6th, 2010 09:03 pm (UTC)
You haven't said a great deal about the pilot for An Unearthly Child

Well, I don't aim to be entirely comprehensive in these reviews. You can see how much I've written on the aspects which happen to interest me - there are actually 550 words here on what I personally found interesting about the pilot. I'd never do anything else if I tried to analyse every aspect of every episode in the same detail.

Of the two specific changes I've noted above, I actually think that both were changed for the better in the broadcast version. The first reveals more about Susan's background, adding to the sense of intrigue about her, while the second kept the idea of the Doctor as the defender of the time-line in the background for a while, allowing a different vision of travelling into the past to be explored for a bit first.

I agree that having the Doctor as more explicitly hostile is interesting, but that isn't entirely lost in the broadcast version. In fact, again going back to the second change I mentioned above, one of its effects is to make him more self-centred in the broadcast version, thinking only of the effects on his own safety if Barbara and Ian escape. In the pilot, he is more altruistic, since he is concerned to prevent artificially-advanced technological knowledge being unleashed inn 1960s London.

There was also a documentary included in the DVD set which showed some of the scenes from the pilot and the broadcast version side by side, showing how small changes to the direction (of both cameras and actors) had helped to make the scenes in the junk-yard both more interesting visually and more plausible in terms of the characters' motivations.

So, overall, I'm glad we get to see both, but I'm pretty convinced that the changes made before broadcast were generally for the good.
wwhyte
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:32 pm (UTC)
I think the next few stories feature some very strong and significant female characters (except perhaps The Gunfighters, which has I think only one female character, but she isn't just window-dressing). The John Wiles / Donald Tosh stories are in general very very good. It's Innes Lloyd who really got lazy about stereotypes.
strange_complex
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:37 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm aware that in some ways this is simply an unfortunate blip. But it's still a blip that I don't think could have occurred in seasons 1-2, and it's depressing to see that it is suddenly possible.
steer
Jun. 21st, 2010 01:51 am (UTC)
because it never happens to male characters

Except adric... that doesn't help a lot.
strange_complex
Jun. 21st, 2010 09:42 am (UTC)
Oh, poor old Adric! I haven't seen all of his stories, so don't think I've seen his ankle-spraining moment yet. But I can well believe it.
swisstone
Feb. 23rd, 2012 10:46 am (UTC)
You've probably already realised this ...
then gives it back, saying that she has now read it

She actually says that she will give it back tomorrow, telling Barbara that she'll have read it by then - but the underlying message about Susan's intelligence is the same. The line actually survives into the final version - the 'It's not right!' line replaces the Rorschach test scene, which is dropped because it makes Susan look just a bit too weird.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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