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Sixth Doctor: Mark of the Rani
There's a lot counting against this story. The setting should be great - but the abysmal and apparently utterly random Northern accents make it impossible to take seriously. The Master gets some potentially decent lines - but Anthony Ainley sounds desperately bored by both the dialogue and the part. The Rani is a good idea for a character and I liked Kate O'Mara's prickly portrayal - but all the same it is distracting how very orange she is (seriously, why do people do that?). And Peri gets some clunky though admirable dialogue about the environmental impact of the industrial revolution early on - but then spends the rest of the story being so useless and annoying that frankly I hoped the Rani would squeeze her brain dry and chuck her down a mine.

The attempts to retrospectively write the Rani back into Who continuity just get annoying, too. Conversations between the Master, the Doctor and the Rani imply that the Master has met the Sixth Doctor before (since she knows that he wears loud clothes), that the Rani has met the Master before, and that the Doctor has met this incarnation of the Rani before (since he recognises her straight away) - none of which has been seen on screen. I'm all for the occasional reference to unscreened adventures - it's intriguing, and leaves room for the imagination. But it's overdone here in a way which starts to feel as though Who's past is being completely rewritten for the convenience of this one particular story, and seems to me more likely to cause confusion than to suggest an exciting back-story for the Rani.

In the middle of all this, Six's enthusiastic exuberance about meeting George Stephenson, and his generally gung-ho attitude to the whole adventure, is by far the best thing in the story. His stint on the runaway trolley gives particularly good value. The Rani's landmine which turn people into trees also threw up a Classical receptions element, reminding me of any number of Greek tales of metamorphosis. Since the gods are usually directly or indirectly responsible for people turning into trees in the ancient world, this constitutes yet another example of Time Lord's being equated with the Greek gods in Who - a theme of which I heartily approve.

Second and Sixth Doctors: The Two Doctors
This is definitely better value than Mark of the Rani. Troughton never lets you down, especially when he starts turning into an Androgum - though before that I did feel he was being rather underused as the Second Doctor, as was Frazer Hines as Jamie. There are some great lines (I especially liked Six's double-entendre, "I seem to remember I was always rather fond of Jamie"), a poignantly alien moment from Six when he muses on Peri's inability to realise what the end of Time itself will mean ("...never more a butterfly..."), some nice suffering!Doctor business when he gets slashed in the leg with a knife, and New Who-related resonances when it turns out that he carries a (slightly manky) banana in his pocket.

There are also some quite admirable attempts to offer a critique of human behaviour and explore themes of race relations. Actually, now that I look this seems to be quite a common theme of Robert Holmes' stories, of which this is one - it's especially prominent in Carnival of Monsters, The Brain of Morbius and The Talons of Weng-Chiang, but bubbling under in quite a few others too. Here, the Androgums appear to have been conceived of as caricatures of the baser human instincts. I think their name is supposed to be a combination of the Greek words andros and gumnos, in which case it means 'naked man', and evokes the idea of human beings in their most primitive state. The device allows Holmes to parody human treatment of animals via the Androgums' treatment of humans, which culminates in the Doctor's change from an enthusiastic fisherman at the beginning of the story to a newly-forged vegetarian at the end.

And that's all well and good. But there are also some uncomfortable aspects of the way the Androgums are presented. For one thing, their costumes and make-up appear to combine the Scottish (red hair, tam o'shanters) with the native American Indian (multi-coloured woven skirt things with beads) - and when that's put together with their characterisation as essentially primitivistic it adds up to a pretty unfortunate comment on those human cultures. There's also no sense that although Androgums may collectively tend towards base and murderous behaviour, it is possible for an individual Androgum to choose to act differently. Shockeye is a straightforward stereotype, and Chessene is only able to be otherwise because she is artificially enhanced - and in the process, she has chosen to reject her Androgum heritage by changing her name.

Other parts of the story have their flaws, too. I think my biggest complaint is that the Spanish location setting isn't capitalised on in the way it could be. There just isn't really anything characteristically Spanish about what happens in the story - Spanish characters only appear briefly in bit parts, and pretty much everything that happens could equally well happen on the outskirts of any city on Earth (or any other inhabited planet for that matter). It seems silly to be spending all that money on location filming for what is essentially just very expensive window-dressing.

The secondary characters are also poorly realised. I felt especially sad for Oscar Botcherby, spread between three identities to suit the demands of the plot (moth-catcher, out-of-work actor, restaurant owner). His death scene should be dark and shocking, the comedy falling away as we finally realise exactly what Shockeye is capable of. But it completely fails to move because he clearly isn't mortally wounded, no-one around him really seems all that bothered, and he himself is over-acting dreadfully. Meanwhile, Shockeye himself is a one-joke character with stupid make-up, stretched tediously over (the equivalent of) six episodes, and Gastari is little more than a cardboard cut-out. The end result of all this is that much of the plot doesn't really seem to make sense, as none of the characters have very convincing motivations, so it is hard to grasp what they are trying to do and why they want to do it. And all this is kind of disappointing, given that Robert Holmes has previously served up such engaging secondary characters as the Lurmans in Carnival of Monsters, Noah and Vira in The Ark in Space, every single character in Pyramids of Mars and Jago and Litefoot in The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

As with both previous multi-Doctor stories, there's also no real attempt to explain how it is that Six doesn't remember having previously experienced the events of the story as Two - unless it is that their paths have literally diverged entirely because of Kartz and Reimer's time experiments, so that Two will return to a parallel Universe in which he will eventually develops into a quite different version of Six. That doesn't seem very likely, though, because the Six who is in this story is physically affected when Two starts turning into an Androgum, suggesting that they are still as much connected as ever. Oh well - this is only one part of such a big series of continuity-hiccups caused by this story that fandom has come up with an entire unscreened season to explain it away. So we can postulate that something traumatic happens to Two during season 6b which causes him to lose his memories of not only the events of The Two Doctors, but those of The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors as well.

Sixth Doctor: A Fix with Sontarans
This was bundled on the DVD with The Two Doctors, so I figured I might as well watch it while I had it. And it was darling-cute! Well, except for the rather repulsive presence of Jimmy Saville at the beginning and end, of course - but even then we get the cathartic relief of hearing Tegan and the Doctor exclaim "It's monstrous!" "It's revolting!" when he appears on the TARDIS view-screen. It's great to see Tegan back (albeit with a very bizarre hair-cut), and she does what she does best really well: i.e. lots of bolshy questions, including calling the Doctor on his technobabble. And even the kid is actually quite cool. He's clearly a bit wide-eyed about being on TV and meeting the Doctor, as you'd expect - but not so much that he can't shout "Boo!" when he first appears in the TARDIS, or press buttons like a pro when the Doctor tells him to.

And as for the two Sontarans in it - I'm pretty sure at least one was left still wandering the further corridors of the TARDIS at the end of The Invasion of Time, where it's not at all implausible that he might have found a cloning machine and made himself a friend. So I'm taking this little sketch as a canon explanation for how that loose thread eventually got tied up - and liking it mightily for it.

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 7th, 2009 05:27 am (UTC)
Mark: Yup. Pretty much my summation. Would have been a lot better if they didnt actually have the Master and were able to concentrate on the Doctor/Rani relationship.

Two: A multi-Doctor story = who cares about continuity or plot. Which is actually one reason I'm quite happy we havent really had any multi-Doctor stories in the new series. It's better kept to quick little references like Time Crash.

But it could have been set anywhere, it could have been about anything, and it has the Doctor killing with something that could be emulated by children - Poisonous gas. I dont think the scene is unjustified (it's a fight to the death), but I think that's actually worse than the Acid Bath scene.

And the Androgums are crap. Even Chessene goes back to her basic instincts, proving the Doctor right, and Dastari, for all his genius, is a wannabe Frankenstein. And oh dear, season 6b... why such a big deal over 6 not remembering the past when none of the Doctors remember anything about their past in the Three or Five?

A Fix: For a child's indulgence, it's actually quite good. Although Jimmy is the most scary thing on it. And there's no Sontarans left in the TARDIS from Invasion of Time, it's explained in the discontinuity guide (which is stupidly handy for trivia), but still, for making a kids dream of appearing in the TARDIS happen, it pretty much has to get 100%.
Feb. 7th, 2009 10:30 am (UTC)
It's better kept to quick little references like Time Crash

Yeah, I think you're right about that. Any longer and the time paradoxes mean that the plot either a) becomes inordinately complicated or b) starts developing gaping holes.

As for the death of Shockeye, I don't think it's very likely that children would actually be able to copy it. I'm pretty sure cyanide wasn't easily available even in the early '80s. By contrast with the acid bath in Vengeance on Varos, I was perfectly happy with it - as you say, it was a kill-or-be-killed situation after Shockeye had already killed one other character (Oscar) and tried to kill three others (Jamie, Peri and Six). And this time Six's profound sigh before he delivers his quip is very clear, so it doesn't seem out of character at all.

So what does the Discontinuity Guide say about the Sontarans at the end of Invasion of Time, then?
Feb. 7th, 2009 10:36 am (UTC)
Taking the discontinuity guide from the BBC Dr Who Classic Site:

The Invasion of Time: Myths

Although three Sontarans are seen to enter the TARDIS, only two are killed, meaning that there is still a Sontaran lost in the TARDIS somewhere. (Only two Sontarans, Stor plus a trooper, are seen to enter. The trooper is killed with the de-mat gun, and Stor is also eventually killed with the same weapon, but outside the TARDIS.)
Feb. 7th, 2009 10:45 am (UTC)
Ah, right - cheers. Pity, actually, as I rather liked the idea of a lost Sontaran wandering the corridors for centuries...
Feb. 7th, 2009 10:46 am (UTC)
I wouldnt be suprised if they kept one of everything that the doctor's encountered in some small subsection of the TARDIS as plot devices for later stories. :D
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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