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Fourth Doctor: Genesis of the Daleks
UKTV Drama should have broadcast this between The Sontaran Experiment and Revenge of the Cybermen, and I'd been really looking forward to seeing it. I'd seen it previously, although not for a long time - I think I'm right in saying it was in the early '90s, when the BBC broadcast one story for each Doctor as a celebration of the series - so knew it was brilliant. And besides, having recently seen The Daleks, I was keen to see how this story related to it. So I filled in the gap myself on YouTube.

Of course I'd remembered from my previous viewing the iconic moment where the Doctor holds the power to prevent the creation of the Daleks in his hands, and asks himself, 'Have I that right?', but I found that I'd forgotten much else, including the climactic and powerful ending where the Daleks finally turn on Davros. I'd also forgotten the presence of the man posterity knows best as Lieutenant Gruber from Allo! Allo! as the Kaled General Ravon - something which of course now works far better thanks to his later work than the original production team could ever have guessed at the time.

In many ways, this story is such a winner that it's almost pointless writing up any detailed reactions to it, because that would basically consist of a big list of 'I loved this' and 'I loved that' and 'I loved the other'. But some of the things that make it work so particularly well include:
  • A great script, with some quite profound lines and plenty of opportunities for the Doctor to bluff his way out of awkward situations via the gift of the gab - pretty much my favourite mode of action for him.
  • The sheer scale on which the story is operating, with the Doctor coming face to face with his greatest ever enemy, and getting to argue and tussle directly with its creator - something which is only enhanced in retrospect by New Who's use of the Time War storyline, since we now see the outcomes of that tussle as being far more devastating than anyone involved in the original story had conceived at the time.
  • The powerful glimpses the story affords into the Doctor's vulnerability and (for want of a better word) humanity - especially in the closing scene, when he faces his failure to obliterate the Daleks, but focuses on the good that will come about in response to their evil.
  • The excellent use made of having two companions, with both making major contributions to the development of the plot, and one (mainly Harry) serving as someone for the Doctor to talk to while the other (Sarah) is involved in separate action elsewhere.
  • The utter, utter ruthlessness of the Daleks, who are frankly completely terrifying here - far more so than during their original appearance in The Daleks, and of course I need say nothing of them in New Who series 2 and 3. It's probably helped by the fact that their actual screen-time is fairly limited - something that's almost always to the benefit of any screen monster or villain.
  • The complexity with which the motivations and interactions of the Kaleds are portrayed, and the plausibility of experiments like Davros' emerging from their situation, and of some of them wanting to support it.
  • Tom Baker's sheer awesomeness from start to finish. (Could be taken for granted, really, but I thought I'd mention it all the same).
Obviously, this story is very much at the roots of New Who, not only via the Time War storyline, but I think also the Lonely God theme (which is basically what's going on when Four asks himself, 'Have I that right?') and probably also David Tennant's general characterisation of the Doctor. Certainly, I can see future-echoes of Ten in Four's moments of despair and self-loathing (especially after Davros forces the secrets of future Dalek defeats out of him), of using apparent eccentricity to fool his opponents and of concern for his companions in this story (though the latter is more muted than Ten's). Having realised this, I now consider it more likely than ever that RTD will bring Davros back at some point in the new series - unless, that is, Max Capricorn in Voyage of the Damned has already checked that box sufficiently. Anyway, if any New Who fan who hasn't seen any Classic Who now asks me what story they should watch first, I will unequivocally say this one.

Fourth Doctor: Terror of the Zygons
This story takes us back to 20th-century Earth and UNIT for the first time since Baker's first appearance, but to Scotland instead of wherever it is UNIT are more usually based - somewhere near London, I presume. The Wicker Man fan in me wanted to spot the film's influence, and there is a case to put - the pub landlord's second sight, for instance, the 'ancient mysteries and evil spirits' that wander on the moor (although that could equally refer to The Hound of the Baskervilles), the manipulative Lord of the castle, and some of the harp music that was played during shots of the sea. But none of those constitute a concrete case, and the fact is that although The Wicker Man had been released two years before, it got very little publicity at the time, and didn't really start gaining cult status until the late '70s. So there's no particular reason to believe anyone involved in this story had even seen it.

The story was pretty decent, and generally quite slickly presented - except, of course, for the truly dreadful Skarasen (Loch Ness monster). Returning briefly to The Wicker Man, its head reminded me of the snapping hobby horse from the procession at the end of the film - but not in a good way. Sarah Jane, back on home territory, got plenty of exciting action, and I was very sorry to see Harry leave at the end - and with precious little send-off, even from Sarah Jane. The Doctor himself had a pretty gruelling time, getting successively gassed, chased across a moor, captured in some way that prompts a horrible off-screen scream, electrocuted (voluntarily) and finally physically attacked by a Zygon. Always good stuff for pressing the suffering hero buttons. As for the Zygons themselves, they were a bit unwieldy, but the plot device of allowing them to masquerade as humans created an exciting atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion, and I also very much liked how organic their technology was - rather like the inside of New Who's TARDIS.

There were some aspects of it that needed further explanation, though (well, either that or I still need to pay more attention). For example, why exactly was the Skarasen attacking oil rigs specifically at the start of the story? Other, that is, than because of the contemporary oil crisis and so that the Doctor could deliver a line about how silly it is for the human race to be dependent on a 'mineral slime'. And when the Zygons had captured the Doctor in the final episode, why didn't they just get on and kill him, given that they'd decided to do so in the first episode, and had tried to unsuccessfully twice since?

Still, OK on the whole, and it has furnished me with the splendid new icon I'm using here. This comes from the end of the last episode, when the Doctor is about to depart, and the moment I saw the shot I knew I had to have it. It captures the essence of both Tom Baker and the Doctor / TARDIS relationship perfectly, and begs the viewer to follow, speaking of promise and adventure. I had to make it out of a YouTube capture, so it could be a little sharper, but I don't care - just looking at that image fills me with joy. It'll now be my 'generic Who' icon, to replace the 'TARDIS in space' image I had before.

Hmm - I was also going to include some non-episode specific observations about Classic Who here, but I'm pretty tired now, and I really need to put in a solid day's work tomorrow. I think I'll have to save those for some other time.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 27th, 2008 12:38 am (UTC)
I can't remember if there was an "in plot" reason for the oil rigs-- but the story was written in the 70s when Scottish oil rigs were (or certainly were perceived to be) a lot lot more important to the British economy.

I laughed about seeing Lieutenant Gruber too -- I wanted him to attack Daleks in his little tank.
Jan. 27th, 2008 09:16 am (UTC)
Yeah, with that and the oil crisis context, I guess it is just meant to indicate the Zygons striking at the very heart of Earth's (= Britain's) resources.
Jan. 27th, 2008 09:51 am (UTC)
The story was pretty decent, and generally quite slickly presented - except, of course, for the truly dreadful Skarasen (Loch Ness monster).

It's stuff like that that makes me wish *someone* at the BBC would fund some CGI fixes to old episodes of Doctor Who, rather like what has been done with Star Trek (The Original Series). Sometimes Doctor Who effects are vaguely acceptable for their era, but the Skararen rising out of the Thames (glove puppet) was laughable even for the 1970s! [I'm so old I saw it first time round.]

Next up is Planet of Evil... *shudder*
Jan. 27th, 2008 10:13 am (UTC)
CGI fixes - I can see your point, but on the other hand part of the charm of watching these things is that I know they're complete, as-is, unaltered artefacts of their time. I think it makes the things that are really good about them all the more impressive if at the same time there are also clear signs of their limited budgets and technical capabilities. And whilst the availability of improved versions with souped-up special effects would be nice for people already familiar with the originals, inevitably for others the enhanced versions would be their first experience of the episodes - so they'd be getting a false impression of what Classic Who was really like.

Fundamentally, I think the historian in me just baulks at the idea of rewriting the past. No changing history, as the Doctor would say!
Jan. 27th, 2008 10:48 am (UTC)
Yes, that is an excellent icon!

These are two stories I first encountered in the Target books, I was just a bit young to have seen them originally. Both the books are good, and I think the episodes generally live up to expectations, though as you point out the special effects aren't always that special.

As for Max Capricorn, I thought at the time that this was "Davros does panto!" - not that that would necessarily put RTD off ...
Jan. 27th, 2008 11:14 am (UTC)
Yes, I can imagine the Loch Ness monster sequences working a lot better in a book. But of course then one would miss all the awesomeness of Tom Baker's manner, voice and facial expressions...
Jan. 27th, 2008 11:59 am (UTC)
Genesis- Can't fault it.

Zygons- This is one adversary that should make a comeback- I'm surprised they only ever appeared in one story of the classic series (although there was supposed to be a Zygon in the prison ship in "Shada", apparently). Their design was excellent, and the stuff that little kiddies' nightmares are made of. The "organic" spaceship was a good idea too.

The only downside was the Skarasen, which looked like a slimy version of Emu and ruined the end of the story. Mr Petrol suggests replacing some of the dodgy effects in the older stories with CGI- I think this has been done on a couple of the DVD releases, although not owning any, I couldn't say which ones
Jan. 27th, 2008 12:11 pm (UTC)
Well, there is a nice open window for the Zygons, as the leader of the little gang which have landed on Earth claims that whole fleets of the buggers are heading for the planet, and that their job is just to prepare it for them when they arrive - in several centuries' time. So at some point, someone is going to have to defend a future Earth against an army of Zygons - and that sounds like a job for the Doctor!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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