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...

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