Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Doctor Queue - The Caves of Androzani (1984)

The Caves of Androzani (1984)
4 Episode Story
Fifth Doctor - Peter Davison (mostly)

The Fifth Doctor and his 'American' companion land the TARDIS on the planet Androzani Minor and quickly become embroiled in local political warfare over the mining and collection of a valuable substance called spectrox.

Also the guy from Hustle plays a soldier, and that soldier's android clone.

Your disguises and cockernee charm won't help you this time, Robert Glenister!

Change my dear, and not a moment too soon...
Hmm I've introduced myself to Davison's Doctor right at the end of his career. Sure he turned up in a few specials, including this great piece alongside David Tenant, but I really warmed to him as the Doctor very quickly, despite the odd 'cricket' outfit, stick of celery and "?" motifs (Doctor Who? Get it? ? ? ?) so will have to dig back into his past episodes to see more of him.

In 'Caves' Davison plays the Doctor charming, fairly unintimidating and with a familiar disregard for his own safety. There are several scenes when a gun or weapon is pointed at him and Davison's look of fear and submission is a new emotion that I haven't seen the Doctor portray in that situation before.

He isn't a coward though, and genuinely cares for Peri, his pretty companion. At the end of the 3rd episode the Doctor finds himself alone aboard the bridge of a spaceship heading away from Peri, and after a quick fiddle with his poorly tied hands, frees himself and proceeds to pilot the ship at breakneck speed back to Peri nearly crashing the thing and killing everyone on board. Oh Doctor!

Fairly sure this is the same place a certain young farmhand used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16

The political play between the planets Major and Minor is handled really well. There's a good separation between the two locations, considering the budget, and the three-pronged storyline - The Doctor, Morgus & the soldiers, Sharaz Jek & the androids, keeps things running at a quick pace.

I had read articles that compared Androzani's plot to 'Dune' but beyond the Spice=Spectrox (what a gloriously 80's sci-fi word) and Morgus=CHOAM the story is not a rip off. While Dune plays out as an epic galaxy-wide affair, Androzani's plot is a much more localised tale of android-guerrillas vs The Man.

And who better to create and co-ordinate those androids than the revenge fuelled Sharaz Jek, a cross between the Phantom of the Opera and a overly friendly Cyberdog employee. Played by ex ballerina Christopher Gable, Sharaz moves with a creepy grace and his overly theatrical performance adds to his general craziness.

Alongside hoarding the planet's supply of spectrox, and creating an army of android soldiers to defend said hoard, Sharaz also takes some time to watch the Doctor on his arrival in Adrozani Minor's cave system and is quickly shown to fall infatuated with Peri.

Peri is the Doctor's companion for this story, a good looking American lady who generally serves to look pretty, get hit on by Sheraz, fall sick, and cause the Doctor to sacrifice his life for her. Hopefully she has a more substantial purpose in other episodes, because she's a bit of a wet blanket here.

Interestingly her most memorable scene is the Doctor's death/regeneration, unfortunately it's for all the wrong reasons:

"Davison has joked on several occasions of how he was "upstaged" by Nicola Bryant (Peri) in his last major scene as the Doctor. Before the regeneration hallucination occurs, Davison is lying on the floor and his head is resting by Bryant, who is kneeling beside him. As he is delivering his last few lines, Bryant's loose fitting outfit prominently displays her cleavage"
Source: Wikipedia so...

The Doctor's regeneration scene is impressive in it's own swirly video graphics way. I don't yet have any connection with the various characters that are seen talking to the Doctor as he regenerates, although I recognise the Master, but the scene does a good job hammering home how many people's lives this Doctor has affected.

Closing comments - I enjoyed the story as much as 'City of Death' - the Fourth Doctor was definitely more colourful, and I preferred his nonchalant manner when threatened with violence, but as I mentioned earlier Davison's Doctor has a certain caring charm, like a friendly Dad.

Visually the episode had some interesting sets, lovely retro computers and my suspension of disbelief was only shattered by the awful rubber Magma Beast attack scenes, which looked like something you'd expect to be chasing contestents in Takeshi's Castle.

As with the Fourth, I'm really keen to explore more of the Fifth Doctor's history and will see what episodes fall into my lap next.

Until next time, keep your spectrox stored safely and your leather villain outfits buffed.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Doctor Queue - 'The City of Death'

The City of Death
4 Episode Serial
Fourth Doctor - Tom Baker

Quick synopsis -
Following a seemingly unconnected spaceship-exploding opening the Doctor and Romana, who I know nothing about (although this episode implies she's also from Galifrey) find themselves in Paris. They quickly uncover a Mona Lisa theft concocted by an alien, Scaroth - the ugly seaweed-faced fella, who's self has been splintered throughout time by the explosions seen at the beginning of the episode.
"One eye, one eye, stinky as a French guy"
[are Futurama references ok?]

Also John Cleese has a cameo in this which is just perfect.

The Most Important Punch in History
Did I mention my extreme unfamiliarity with Classic Doctor Who? This is my first Tom Baker episode that I have ever watched as a grown up, and it was hugely impressive.

Some research on the production of this episode explains the overly long shots of Paris, but I feel like these are part of the charm and also part of the era's television lexicon. Establishing shots run longer, and entire scenes can be shot single camera like a stage play. I can accept those facts and don't feel like they damaged my enjoyment.

Also I had far less of an issue with the poorly aged effects than I thought I would. Scaroth really does look awful, the close ups clearly show the painted on eyeball and general cheapness, and the spaceship and 'primordial Earth' scenes are equally shoddy.

Yet rather than throw me out of engagement, I simply didn't have an issue with these visuals.

The story worked - the thing above is a spaceship, Scaroth is a nasty alien, that egg was just aged into a chicken - it doesn't matter that the effects don't stand up, the writing and my imagination filled in and embellished the gaps.

I think in a lot of ways watching these classic episodes is going to feel like playing old video games, particularly early 3D games on consoles like the N64 and PlayStation. Sure, I've now seen better looking visuals, tighter, evolved narrative structures and all around greater experiences but these 'old-fashioned' games are still worthy of attention.

They're the foundation stones that sit under and define what we have in the modern day, and if you consider them in that context then they're unmissable. This really useful analogy can also be applied to what I've seen so far of the Doctor's evolution.

There's not much I can say about Baker that hasn't been said before, but I love how some of his quirks in performance seem to have been transplanted into Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor. See this great example [warning: hideously outdated BBC video player, trying to avoid 'unofficial' video] I felt instant recognition for the quick-fire, random changing of a conversation's direction and the slightly bonkers style. Are other Doctors like this, what's with the scarf? I really have no idea but can't wait to find out!

Also curious as a complete newcomer to this series, is the companion Romana. Well spoken, hugely intelligent and clearly not human. I know a brief Wiki search would reveal all the questions I have, but it's going to be much more fun to dig back into previous episodes to discover her origins, history and relationship with the Doctor.

Next up, I think, will be the Seventh Doctor serial 'Ghost Light', the little I've heard about it seems intriguing, and I have even less knowledge about Sylvester McCoy's Doctor than I do Baker's.

Essentially I'm exactly where I want to be. I've opened the floodgates and am now awash in the sheer amount of Who there is to consume. I won't take a logical approach to this, instead I'll dip in and out of whatever DVDs I can get my hands on, jumping from Doctor to Doctor and raising tons of questions I won't expect to be answered instantly.

A slightly irresponsible approach perhaps, but then it does seem quite appropriate...

The Doctor Queue

- For whatever reason, it wasn't until Matt Smith's turn as the Doctor that I really, properly turned my head towards Who. Something about his acting, the awkward inhumanity and unashamed arrogance, won me over in a way Ecclestone and Tenant didn't. For now, let's sideline my man-crush for the Eleventh Doctor and look at exactly what the Doctor Queue is.

I've known for a while that a) I need to write more and b) I need to watch Doctor Who more. There are 769 episodes of Doctor Who, of which I've perhaps seen 50. So I've set myself the challenge of watching the best episodes and serials, cherry picked for me by a crack team of friends, colleagues and blogs.