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Sixth Doctor: Timelash
This seems to have the reputation of being one of the absolute worst Doctor Who stories ever, but it didn't seem quite that bad to me. I enjoyed it more than both The Twin Dilemma and Mark of the Rani, at least, and possibly The Two Doctors, too, for all its Troughton-joy. Some of the dialogue is a bit ropey, especially when it's carrying an expository function. But there are also some fun lines, many of which are pleasingly tongue-in-check or self-referential. Paul Darrow (Avon from Blake's 7) gives good value as Tekker, and I enjoyed having H.G. Wells around, too. I felt a lot more could have been made of his culture shock at finding himself in a futuristic alien environment, though - as is so often the case in Who, especially in the Classic era, he slipped into his new circumstances rather too easily. And it was really quite moving when the Doctor risked death to save Karfel from the incoming Bandril missile, even though we knew he would obviously survive the encounter.

The weakest link in the story, as so often in this era, is Peri. To be fair, the poor girl gets very little to do other than scream, be captured and utterly fail to run away from danger when she gets the chance, since H.G. Wells is fulfilling the rest of the companion role in this story. But Nicola Bryant could at least have tried acting the bits she did get with some kind of conviction. It would also have helped if the Doctor had shown any reaction at all when he saw her about to be killed by a Morlox, rather than just carrying on arguing with Borad; and indeed if he had bothered to rescue her himself afterwards, rather than leaving it to Wells. Some scenes also go on rather long, like the Doctor dangling in the Timelash, without managing to convey any real sense of tension.

There are some rather ideologically questionable elements in the Doctor's reaction on meeting the Borad. OK, so the Doctor knows Borad is evil by the time he meets him, but he also starts actively jeering at his disfigured appearance (calling him a Morlox and affecting surprise that the people of Karfel ever accepted someone so ugly as their leader), rather than treating it as something which the Borad can't help and which is irrelevant to his personality. The fake-continuity references to previous adventures which aren't actually part of the show's televised history were also annoying - as in Mark of the Rani it came across as dismissive of Who's actual onscreen past, rather than respectful of it (despite all the Three / Jo references). I see I felt much the same about similar references in Face of Evil, so it appears I just don't enjoy this as a story device, even in an era I'm otherwise keen on.

So, not perfect by any means, but significantly better than some.

Sixth Doctor: Revelation of the Daleks
This one, meanwhile, is not just better than some, but is actually a really good Doctor Who story. It has great sets, creates a good atmosphere (especially via some unusually competent incidental music), serves up some great secondary characters and does a much better job than Resurrection... of bringing range and depth back into the character of Davros, rather than just having him shouting all the time. And Colin Baker genuinely shines in the middle of it all. I found myself really liking his Doctor here - a state of mind which I haven't managed to achieve after any of the previous Sixth Doctor stories I've seen.

I was particularly interested to note how much self-referentiality the story displayed - from Alexei Sayle's DJ commenting directly on Peri and the Doctor's activities over his TV screen to the Doctor declaring after his near-brush with death that the blood on his costume and the appearance of his own funerary monument are "all part of an elaborate theatrical ruse". This is a very strong theme in Doctor Who at this period (cf. also Vengeance on Varos) - which is of course no surprise given that it was under such close scrutiny that it was about to be temporarily cancelled.

I was pleased to see a rather broader and more tolerant depiction of humanity here than in Timelash, too. In stark contrast to the portrayal of Borad in the above, the diseased mutant who attacks Peri and the Doctor in the snow at the beginning is actually treated very sensitively, with a lot of emphasis on him being a dignified human being who cannot help his physical appearance. You also don't have to squint too hard to read the two assassins who are sent to kill Davros as a gay couple - certainly, Orcini strokes Bostock's head a great deal when he has just been killed by Davros, and is suddenly very ready to die himself once he has lost his partner. Which is awesome, because they are both portrayed as characters with a great deal of nobility to them.

Finally, New Who Watch found plenty of fodder here. There's a recycled guest actor, for one thing: Clive Swift, aka Mr. Copper from Voyage of the Damned as the slimy, self-serving funeral director, Jobel. (I can only assume that he's had a few negative experiences down the years as a result of the earlier role, given the rather rude interview he gave to Doctor Who Magazine when Voyage of the Damned came out.) Meanwhile, Peri's response to the dying mutant seemed to me to be a forerunner of Donna's reaction to the Ood's death in Planet of the Ood, the idea of innocent people being experimented on in an attempt to find cures for diseases points towards New Earth, the conversion of humans into Daleks links in with Evolution of the Daleks, and the Sixth Doctor even manages to future-channel the Tenth when he turns to Peri and says "I'm sorry about the DJ". All of which is, of course, an excellent index for how good this story is - there's some fine material here, and it's rightly been picked up by later production teams.

In spite of Revelation..., though, I found at this stage that I was getting pretty tired with the Sixth Doctor era. Season 22 simply isn't very good value for money, and the decision to broadcast it in 45-minute episodes exacerbates its problems, as you find yourself actively squirming with boredom and disappointment on the sofa, just waiting for each episode to be over. So, for a breath of fresh air, I dropped back in on the unfolding adventures of One, Susan, Ian and Barbara.

First Doctor: The Keys of Marinus
And what a breath of fresh air! I mean OK, so I know it's a lot easier to be fresh and exciting when you only have four previous stories behind you, rather than 142 - but still, this really is impressive in the scope of its vision. This is, of course, the first non-Dalek alien world story, so it is very much defining the parameters of what the Whoniverse will look like. And what's really remarkable here is that having explored a single setting and society in Dalek, the programme now moves on to depict a single planet (Marinus) with no less than five distinct and utterly different settings. This is depressingly rare in SF stories, including later Who, and it's great to see the early era setting its sights so high.

The basic story is a quest, much like a miniature, six-episode version of The Key to Time. We get two 'bookend' episodes at beginning and end concerned with sending the team off on their way and wrapping things up when they return, and a series of four largely self-contained episodes in between, where they visit different parts of Marinus to find (obviously) four keys. It's a bit unsettling that these keys are actually essential components in a mind-control device, especially when the Terrible Challenge which Team TARDIS have to overcome in the first segment of the quest is in itself an only slightly more sinister version of the exact same thing. OK, so they only agree to actually go on the quest because Arbitan (the keeper of the device) puts a blocking field around the TARDIS until they do, but I could have done with seeing a bit more explicit moral outrage about this idea, both at the beginning and at the end.

That aside, though, it's marvellous stuff, dropping the team into a series of very clearly-drawn and crisply-defined situations. Arguably, each one it itself was already a bit of a hoary old classic even at the time - the sensory illusion, the series of tricks and traps, the extreme environment and the legal tangle (many of which have been used and re-used by Who again over the years). But I think that the rapidity with which each setting needs to be established and dealt with means that they have to be quite neat and simple in the first place, and that is achieved very successfully. Meanwhile the rapid succession of them gives a great deal of pace and interest to the story as a whole.

One is possibly on his finest form so far here, although of course we no longer have the benefit of his full performance in Marco Polo, so I wouldn't want to write that off. He's sharp, energetic, canny, commanding and vivacious, and I am really liking him more and more with each story of his that I see. Susan is developing into a bit of a screamer, but I'm prepared to forgive her for this for two reasons. 1) She is explicitly characterised as a child, and what's more a child who (at least according to later retconning) has been ripped from her civilisation at an age when most of her kind are still deeply institutionalised. In those circumstances, it seems to me OK to be a bit weedy and weaky. What's more, 2) her vulnerability provides piles of opportunities for Barbara, by contrast, to be strong and grown-up and generally amazing - being the only one able to resist the artificially-generated illusion in episode 2; seeing off a lecherous assailant with a poker in episode 4; pursuing investigations to help rescue Ian in episodes 5 and 6. I think she's now officially my second-favourite Classic companion after Sarah Jane. Meanwhile, Ian himself continues to combine 'warm and caring' with 'practical and level-headed' in a delightfully Sixties manner, and I absolutely love the way he carries on wearing the Chinese clothing he'd acquired in Marco Polo throughout the entirety of this story.

After my above comments on the Six era, it's worth noting that meta-referentiality is present in Who even at this early stage, when Barbara expresses surprise that such an advanced machine as the TARDIS does not seem to have colour television. Following on from Marco Polo and resonating right up to the latest series, too, is the inclusion of almost two complete Doctor-lite episodes (3 and 4). In this era, though, I think it reflects a much greater sense of the story centring around the experiences of the companions, rather than the Doctor, which the modern Doctor-lite episodes do not really do enough to achieve - and indeed any format which provides the Doctor with only one companion rather than several cannot.

With that, then, I think it's safe to say that my Who gland is much refreshed. I am ready to take on Trial of a Time Lord.

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( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 8th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC)
You'll lose the will to live during parts of Trial. It's...um...interesting. And a big old mess.
Mar. 8th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
I've actually seen the first two stories of Trial now (I'm a bit behind with my reviews), and so far I'm definitely finding it better than Season 22 - even quite good in parts, and certainly boasting an exciting cliff-hanger at the end of the second story. But we'll see how it develops from here...
Mar. 8th, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
The end's cobbled together by Pip & Jane Baker in their own inimitable style with no idea of what the real ending was meant to be. It has good bits, but it goes on, and on, and on... Plus Langford. Mind you, there's little of Fat Colin's era that I *can* re-watch. Not his fault, mostly.
Mar. 8th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, no! Not Pip and Jane! Such a pity, as it is building up really nicely so far.
Mar. 8th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC)
Bob Holmes died partway through. To go from his scripting to theirs when they didn't know his intentions is a bit uneven, to say the least.
Mar. 8th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
Ah, well I guess that's understandable enough, then.
Mar. 8th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
I agree with so much of what you've said about The Keys of Marinus - I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed discovering this gem, and I think it has to be one of my all time favourite Who story arcs (despite the various mocking of it that was had in places). I generally find Barbara's presentation somewhat wet and sexist (although of it's time and hence more amusing than offensive), but she does do a good job in this one. Susan is more of an issue, but, as you say, she's a child, and very much gives off that slightly spoilled, if bright, only child vibe (not that all only children are like this).

Anyway, it's an awesome example of classic Old Who that hits many of my squee factors, even when it's quite predictable. I'm glad you enjoyed it too!
Mar. 8th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
I've yet to see a really wet and sexist presentation of Barbara, so maybe I'll find my bubble gets burst when I get to later stories. But so far I genuinely believe she is awesome, and I am really loving her as a character.

Anyway, I'm glad to here you enjoyed The Keys of Marinus too: *mutual squee!*
Mar. 8th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC)
Well, I was referring mostly to earlier stories. But I did say 'somewhat' rather than really. She does her fair bit of screaming and being unhelpful, not as much as Susan, but she does do it a bit. The attitudes of the Doctor and Stephen towards her are more irritating, but those also improve with time.
Mar. 8th, 2009 07:49 pm (UTC)
Agreed on almost all points.

Taking it in reverse: The Keys of Marinus practically has the New Who format of a monster-of-the-week in an overarching narrative. It worked in 1964 and it works now. Really, we should be surprised that it took them forty years to try it again.

Revelation of the Daleks was voted in a recent poll the best of the Six stories. I guess I can see why people think that, but myself still liked Mindwarp better.

Timelash was voted the worst Six story by the same people. I agree with you that The Twin Dilemma is, however, even worse.

On the bright side, you don't actually have all that many Six stories left to watch, do you???

Edited at 2009-03-08 07:51 pm (UTC)
Mar. 8th, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC)
Yup, that's the one really good thing about the Six era - it's blessedly short. In fact, apart from the rest of Trial, which is on its way from Lovefilm, there is only one other story of his remaining that I haven't seen: Attack of the Cybermen. And since I am not enjoying this era at all, I have therefore taken the slightly paradoxical step of 'acquiring' that story, so that I can just watch it after Trial, get it over with, and live a Six-free existence ever after...
Mar. 8th, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)
I seem to recall reading that the role of the Mutant in Revelation was written with Laurence Olivier in mind as someone had told the production team that Dear Dear Larry had always fancied appearing on the show. When they rang his agent to sound him out though, the agent just laughed at them, so it never happened.

Definately C. Baker's best story though.
Mar. 8th, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC)
Hehe - sounds like an April Fool's wind-up to me! I can't believe anyone fell for that.
Mar. 9th, 2009 10:24 am (UTC)
Have realised I wrote 'Stephen' when I meant 'Ian' - stupid girl!
Mar. 9th, 2009 11:05 am (UTC)
Ah, of course - I didn't pick up on that, but Susan had left well before Stephen showed up, so I guess he wouldn't have had much chance to express any particular attitudes towards her! Anyway, no worries.
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:22 pm (UTC)
Um, hello, I'm a friend of miss_next's, and when I saw your interests included Rome, Dr Who and Diana Wynne Jones I really wanted to read more, so I hope you don't mind if I friend you?
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:30 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's absolutely fine - in fact, I have friended you back. Welcome on board!
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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