Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

Classic Who: The Five Doctors, Dimensions in Time, The Curse of Peladon

I'm pretty slow writing these at the moment, but still watching avidly, and writing when I can manage to.

Multiple Doctors: The Five Doctors
This is one I've seen a couple of times before, so there were no great surprises for me here. It's been a while, though, and in the intervening time I've become a lot more familiar with many of the characters in it than I had been on previous viewings. In particular, I'm now in a position to agree fervently with lefaym's judgement on the portrayal of Sarah Jane in this story - in short, a complete travesty. The usual warm humour, and especially her readiness to joke bravely in the face of danger, is all but gone. Instead she is whiny, pathetic and distinctly surplus to requirements. Gah! Poor old Lis Sladen - she deserves far better treatment. And thank goodness, these days she is getting it. :-)

The other returning characters seem better handled. Troughton and Pertwee are every bit as good value as in The Three Doctors. It's also lovely to see Susan as a mature and capable young woman, who has presumably been doing great things on 22nd-century Earth since she decided to remain there. (My personal theory is that she stays there for centuries, quietly and benevolently guiding the development of human society, but always remaining a shadowy, semi-legendary figure as she does so).

I especially liked the device of the Fifth Doctor feeling physical pangs as his other selves are taken out of time. I can't be sure, because I'm not watching everything sequentially - but is that the first time this idea of physical (rather than purely psychic) links between the Doctors has appeared? It certainly seems very 'Five', anyway. I've been watching a few more of his stories since this one, and the notion of the young face carrying the weight of a series of previous life-times is never far from his performance. Without those previous lives he is physically weakened; almost stripped of his very Doctorishness - a very vivid indication of how essential the previous incarnations are to the Doctor as Peter Davison is portraying him.

It also seems to be characteristic of the Five era that there's such a high death toll - not, admittedly, of human or Timelord characters, but of the poor unfortunate Cybermen. Their decimation at the hands of the athletic Raston Warrior Robot is good fun, but the gratuitous Cyber-slaughter on the chess board a few scenes later began to seem a bit much.

For all its Fiveyness, though, it seems to be One, not Five, who is recognised by his other incarnations as the Alpha Male in this story - much as he had been in The Three Doctors. Once they are all gathered together at the end, it is he who works everything out first, and gives his other incarnations instructions on what to do. I suppose that suits the somewhat arrogant and detached character which Hartnell defined anyway (even though in practice the First Doctor is often quite helpless and relies on others to solve problems for him if you actually watch his earlier stories).

Finally, in answer to a question I asked after watching The Three Doctors, I notice that Two seems to remember his experiences with Omega, so I guess no-one had their memories wiped after that (and therefore Three should have known during the story how events were going to pan out). But the same issue of the Doctor experiencing the same events multiple times in different incarnations is left unexplored in The Five Doctors, too. In fact, although I've yet to watch The Two Doctors properly, so far as I'm aware the only time it's been explicitly addressed on screen is in Time Crash, when Ten is able to undo the creation of a massive black hole because he remembers seeing himself do so when he was Five. Pity, because playing around more with that sort of stuff could potentially be immensely good fun - though also very mind-boggling and complicated, and certainly hard to sustain for longer than seven minutes.

Multiple Doctors: Dimensions in Time
All of which brings us on to a not-much-longer Children in Need skit - and the very, very last fragment of the Fourth Doctor which remains for me to watch. Actually, I've seen it before, though - I remember it quite vividly from its original broadcast, when I would have been 15. The Eastenders side of it was rather lost on me at the time (and indeed now), since I've never watched it, but I remember getting pretty damned excited by the Who stuff, as well as being very impressed by the 3D special effects.

I was rather surprised, therefore, on looking up background details about it in this information-enabled age, to find that Fandom (collectively personified) apparently hates it. Maybe it is easier to like now than it was when first broadcast, because we've had a series of other Whovian spoofs and comedy sketches since, so we're more used to the idea of not-entirely-serious-Who? Or, perhaps more plausibly, maybe it's easier to enjoy a light-hearted skit when there's also a serious version of the programme on the air-waves, which wasn't the case when Dimensions was first produced. In any case, I don't actually see anything in Dimensions itself to merit the vitriol it seems to have inspired in some circles.

OK, so the plot is highly tenuous, and the ruthless editing makes it difficult to follow what plot there is. And OK, so it's pretty surreal. It's one thing getting used to the idea that the Doctor keeps changing appearance while continuing the same conversation - the idea that all incarnations of the Doctor are somehow linked is long established (cf. Five Doctors, above). But it's another thing that the same becomes true of the companion by the end of the story - so that although Susan doesn't recognise the Sixth Doctor in the first part, by the end of the second Leela knows straight away who Seven is, and can also remember what 'she' was doing just before as Romana.

All of that's only a problem if you are expecting consistency or credibility, though. If you treat it instead as a silly but enjoyable romp through the Whoniverse, it's actually rather sweet. All of the Doctors and companions involved do a brilliant job, really tapping into their old characters and riffing off each other beautifully. Plus, K9! And the Brig! And the Rani's TARDIS as the Queen Vic! I can't see what's not to like here.

There's one interesting thing about Tom Baker, though. I can't help but notice that though all four of the other surviving Doctors at the time were happy to run around Albert Square in the thick of the action, his role is really more that of a detached observer. He calls the others to action (rather fulfilling One's old Alpha Male role, actually), but otherwise doesn't participate in the story. In production terms, of course, this means that he alone would have been able to record his contribution separately in a studio, without interacting with any of the other actors at all.

This is part of a wider pattern with Tom Baker, into which his decisions not to participate in The Five Doctors or in any of the Big Finish Adventures also fit. Somehow, miraculously, he was persuaded to participate in Dimensions in Time - but even then only in a very limited fashion. And at face value, it's odd, because he goes on and on in interviews and commentaries about how he still thinks of himself as the Doctor, and deliberately blurs the line between himself as actor and the Doctor as character when he talks about his career. You'd think, in the light of that, he would jump at every chance to revisit the character for real. But instead he chooses to steer clear.

I guess perhaps part of it is a sense of proprietorship over the character. If he takes part in multi-Doctor adventures or Big Finish audios, he is presenting himself as merely one of many people who have now played the role. But if he stays away from all that, it remains his. Part of me is sad about it, as I would love him to cooperate with Big Finish so that I can hear new Four stories. But part of me also recognises that this somewhat psychologically warped approach to the character is what made him put in such good performances back in the '70s. So for the sake of that, I guess I can live with him keeping his distance now.

Third Doctor: The Curse of Peladon
Finally, regular readers (you can laugh, but I do have them!) may remember that, on the advice of swisstone, I deliberately watched The Monster of Peladon unswayed by a prior viewing of The Curse of Peladon. Now that I've gone back to see Curse itself, I'm all the more convinced that this was a good idea. What it has meant is that I enjoyed Monster, and then enjoyed Curse even more, instead of having what seems to be the more normal experience of enjoying Curse and then feeling let down by Monster. In retrospect, I do now see that a lot of the plot elements in Monster had actually been used before in Curse - but since I didn't know that when watching Monster, it could hardly annoy me then, and as I discovered it during the process of watching Curse, I could hardly get annoyed with it for what was in fact a perfectly original set of ideas. So, the conclusion is clear - if you've got the option, watch Monster first.

Curse itself feels a more solid, serious story than Monster, and the Peladonian society it depicts more convincing - perhaps largely because there is nobody in it with quite such silly hair as the miners in Monster. The king is certainly a much more well-rounded personality than the queen in Monster, although interestingly he was much younger than I'd assumed from the references to him in Monster - presumably because in that story, he features as the deceased father of a young adult woman, so would naturally have been a more aged figure before he actually died.

The real hero of the story for me, though, is Jo. Even on a (really quite well-realised) windswept cliff, she proves herself capable of getting a grip on herself and climbing upwards with the Doctor's encouragement. She's also the one who succeeds in finding a tunnel into the mountain, and sounds positively perky when she urges the Doctor to hurry up and follow her in. She then steps like a total pro into the role of a 'princess', not to mention conducting Sekrit Investigations into the falling statue of Aggedor on her own initiative, telling the king where to get off on several occasions, and challenging the Doctor when he expresses prejudicial attitudes towards the Ice Warriors. Actually, for all the face-value feminism of Sarah Jane's 'nothing only about being a girl' speech in Monster, in many ways Jo's behaviour in Curse actually makes this a more explicitly feminist story. It's just a pity there still has to be a 'Jo is a klutz' moment when she attacks Aggedor while the Doctor was in the middle of hypnotising him, and that the story fails the Bechdel test miserably and irretrievably because the only other female character in the entire thing arrives on Peladon after the Doctor and Jo have left. :-/

And that's me done with Three for the time being, since I have now seen all of his stories that are available on DVD. At some point I'll go back in fill in the rest via Other Means - but for the moment, I'm well into the Five era instead. Write-ups of that will appear... eventually...

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Tags: cult tv, doctor who, five, four, one, reviews, seven, six, three, tom baker, two

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