The Krotons

Written by Robert Holmes

Directed by David Maloney

In classic Doctor Who there are really two writers that get all the credit: Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes. Dicks had joined the series at the start of this season, nominally as script editor, but previous script editor Derrick Sherwin was still doing the job and didn’t let Dicks get really stuck into the job until the start of the next season. Holmes had recently been working on shows like Dixon of Dock Green and The Saint, when his pitch for a show called ‘The Trap’ was turned down by the BBC, but they pointed him in the direction of Doctor Who, and thus The Krotons, and with it the start of a long and fruitful association with the show, was born.

Holmes’ main strength as a writer was being able to build a story around one or more key moments, which the rest of the script mainly served to build up to. I have to admit that one of the things about classic who I’m not a total fan of is the heavy reliance on cliffhangers. While it may seem like a good idea on paper, what it usually results in is a pointless interruption to the actual story which has to be quickly resolved in an unconvincing way at the start of the next episode. The abundance of piss-poor cliffhangers also cheapens the few genuinely good ones (that mad cyberman in the sewer, for example), because you can pretty much guess that they’ll be resolved quickly next time round. New Who doesn’t use nearly as many cliffhangers, but when it does, it tends to do them well, and they have a whole lot more power as a result (watch The Rebel Flesh if you don’t believe me). Holmes’ writing, however, suits itself very well to that style of writing, and he pretty much arguably has the best cliffhangers.

The Krotons is a rather quiet start for Holmes, particularly compared to his later work, but it is not without some genuinely great moments. A flustered Doctor getting maths and science questions wrong, and being corrected by Zoe further cements her as the greatest companion ever, and Philip Madoc, (another Who regular who first became associated with the show in this story) gives a great performance as the big fucking dafty, Eelek. The first part of the story, with the gradual build up mystery surrounding the Krotons is particularly good, though the rest of the story manages to plod along saterfactoroly, if for a little too long

As for the monsters themselves: well, they’re better than the Quarks, I’ll say that for them. On the whole, though, they very much continue the run of shit monsters the Doctor comes up against. And their camera-on-a-stick is downright freudian.
So the Krotons proved a bit of a washout as villains. Perhaps next time the writers could actually come up with something scary? Nope, its just back the the Ice Warriors, in Seeds of Death.

Advertisements

The Invasion

Written by Derrick Sherwin from an idea by Kit Pedler

Directed by Douglas Camfield

Sometimes when you are a child you will see an image on the television that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I was about four or five when I first saw a heavy metal band performing on the box. It was already my favorite type of music, but the idea that you could have long hair AND a beard blew my tiny fucking mind a the time. Since then my only goals* in life have been to get hairier and play more guitar**.

For my dad, the stand out image of his childhood was very different: A few weeks before his seventh birthday the BBC broadcast an episode of Doctor Who in which the Doctor’s companions and a policeman are trapped in a London sewer with a mad cyberman. Some 45 years later he was able to describe the scene in perfect detail to me, despite not remembering anything of the rest of the story.

The rest of the story, The Invasion, is very much a story of two halves. The first half nothing much happens at all really, there’s a fair bit of running about an a cool sequence with a helicopter, but about one episode’s worth of plot stretched out across an hour and a half. The second half could, with minimal rewriting, be a perfectly good Cyberman invasion four parter just by itself.

The odd thing is though, that it actually works. The strength of the performances, particularly from Patrick Troughton and Kevin Stoney (this time thankfully not blacked up), carry it through the first half, allowing the atmosphere and tension to build up in a way that is extremely rare in television from that era. At eight episodes it is one of the longest Who stories, the second longest so far, and it has no real sub plots or tangents to speak of, so its a real feat of writing that the glacial plot actually holds up.

I’m not sure how much of a writing credit Kit Pedler really deserved for the invasion. It bears none of his previous hallmarks (other than Cybermen), but a lot of Derrick Sherwin’s ticks (i.e. the colossal running time). I’m pretty sure that Kit Pedler’s entire input to this story, when asked to come up with a story set on present day earth, was “er… they land on earth and… CYBERMEN.”

I think it says a lot of the (still to some) U.N.I.T era that this is probably my favorite U.N.I.T story. As a one off, or a recurring thing that happens once in awhile (like they are now), U.N.I.T is great. Similarly, as one story out of many, contemporary earth works really well as a setting. Shame they had to get so fixated on it (more bitching to come on that score, in all likelihood). I do really love the Brig though, even here, when he’s dressed as a baby in a mustache.  In fact, especially when he’s dressed as a baby in a mustache.

Speaking of companions, Zoe gets ample opportunity to prove why she’s the best companion ever, outsmarting everything and everyone left right and centre. Only the Doctor is smarter than she is, and only just. Jamie gets to kick some serious ass too, dangling off a fucking helicopter at one point. Its a shame that no footage survives of that, as apparently it was the actors themselves doing that crazy shit. Like all the missing footage, though, the helicopter sequence has been wonderfully animated. This story was actually completed with animation before Reign of Terror, but I think that it might actually be better. The slightly simpler style may not look as impressive on first viewing, but I think its easier to ‘read’ than the fancier work on RoT.

So the Cybermen have shown up without the story being a ‘base under siege’. How long can the writers last without caving and throwing the baddies at the TARDIS crew, who are trapped on some space station or the like? They might just get through the next story, in The Krotons.

*I have other goals from time to time, but those are the main two.

** If you know me that will come as no surprise at all.

The Mind Robber

Peter Ling (and Derrick Sherwin for episode 1)
Directed by David Maloney

The other day a man in Cleveland was eating reconstituted cow anus on his lawn when he heard a woman screaming from the house next door. Hurrying over there, he found the door locked and, having kicked in the door, three missing women inside, along with a small child. This event is of a very rare type, where what has actually happened in the real world becomes so surreal and odd that its feels like the fictional world is seeping into reality. This feeling was only exacerbated by the fact that the cow anus consuming man in question, Charles Ramsay, turned out to be a fucking legend, and they type of person who hardly ever exists outside of fiction: he is able to be simultaneously goofy while giving an actually coherent and cogent account of quite harrowing events. Its important to hold onto the reality of events like these, as their often at heart quite horrific: the last time one happened it ended in the death of Raoul Moat. The most bizarre and tragic of them all ended in the tragic massacre of 76 people. Its perhaps that tragedy that makes them so hard to comprehend as real events, making it even more important to try and do so.

It’s extremely rare that a work of fiction can cross that divide and end up in the unsettling and surreal territory between fiction and the actual world. It takes the skill of a truly great writer, backed up by a first rate creative team to make it into an actual show. Along with The Invisibles, 4, and a few others, The Mind Robber is one of the few works of fiction that inhabit that intangible and incomprehensible territory just outside of space.

The first episode is not part of the story proper, as such. The Dominators ended up losing an episode, coming in at 5 parts rather than 6, but spent all its budget anyway. The producers had to create a whole episode for basically nothing. There are many decisions of Derrick Sherwin’s that I regard as dreadful (more on them to come), but all the episodes he actually wrote are top notch, and somehow this is no exception. Using only the core cast and crew, the TARDIS interior, an empty room, and a few extras in costumes from later in the story, he managed to create something with real tension. The last time the show was in this position led to The Edge of Destruction, one of the show’s all time classic stories. The Mind Robber: Part 1 has a far more experimental feel to it, an avant-garde take on expressionism which could easily get lost up its own ass, but has just enough story to keep it in place.

But that’s just the precursor to the main event. Much like current Who writer Neil Gaiman’s masterwork, Sandman, the Mind Robber is a story about stories. It explores the creative process and its importance in a wonderfully experimental way, all on prime time popular television. And with one of the finest casts ever assembled. What more could you possibly ask for?
There are, of course, many people who prefer things to be straightforward, with the good guys fighting the bad guys and none of the poncing around. Which is all well and good when its well done. Next up, we get exactly that, in The Invasion.

The Dominators

Norman Ashby (pseudonym for Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln)

Directed by Morris Barry

Towards the end of the 1960s there was a movement among young people towards a more pacifist society. There were many reasons for this: fear if what a war involving nuclear weapons could actually do to the world and the US involving itself in wars it had no business in being two biggies. This was something of a shift from the previous century when many young people, men in particular, saw war as something glorious and honorable, probably because war itself had changed from rounding up a bunch of spear chucking natives from a “newly discovered” island and massacring them for no good reason, to being something you might actually get hurt in.

Of course, not everyone was on board with this. There were plenty of people who had fought against legitimate bad guys in the second world war who mistook protests against weapons of mass destruction and the pointless invasion of a foreign country as part of an ongoing witch hunt for an invisible boogieman* as call for abandoning any and all defence against aggressors.

The writers of the Dominators clearly fell into this camp, and the result is a slightly embarrassing pratfall of a story that demonstrates a sad misunderstanding of what was actually going on in the world. To top it all off, their pro-war message is completely undermined, as the “terrifying” aggressors are ultimately defeated by a 450 year old pacifist and a handful of students. If that’s all it takes to fend of an attack from an entire alien race, who needs an army? Plus, the only owners of a nuclear weapon end up getting blown up by it themselves. Bummer.

As for those “terrifying” aggressors, I’m not sure I would be able to come up with anything quite as pathetic as the Quarks if I tried. Jamie destroys a bunch of them by throwing stones at them, for fucks sake. I don’t think any child was behind the sofa when they were on screen. Apparently, Haisman and Lincoln were hoping that they would catch on and become as popular as the Daleks, making them a shit ton of cash in the process. Needless to say, they didn’t. Their even less intimidating that the yeti, and they look like fucking teddy bears.

More ominous are the dominators themselves, though they are little more than large blokes in corpse paint and shoulder pads. Ronald Allen and Kenneth Ives both give great performances, through, which is what you want from a good bad guy.

So far I’ve been a bit down on the Dominators, mostly because its shit, but it does have a few saving graces. The TARDIS crew, as always for this bunch, are all on top form. Patrick Troughton is at his very best here, actively pretending to be dumb in order not to appear a threat. Zoe and Jamie really begin to work well together in this story as well, with the crew feeling more like an actual group than any since the very first TARDIS crew.

Apparently, this story was Patrick Troughton’s favorite remaining story** and was due to be played at the convention he died at, at his request. I can see why, since his performance does stand out as spectacular, even amongst a sea of great Troughton performances in the rest of his run. Just about everything else about this story is a mess though, which is a shame. Luckily, things would start to pick up soon. How soon? find out next time, in The Mind Robber.

*yeah, a mixed metaphor. What fucking of it?

** Tomb of the Cybermen, often considered his best story, was still missing until a few years after he died.

Wheel in Space

Written by David Whitaker and Kit Pedler

Directed by Tristan de Vere Cole

Humans are not rational creatures. They are rationalizing creatures. It is rare for someone to start off with some premises and then use rational thought and logic to come to a conclusion with an open mind. Far more common is for someone to know the conclusion they are looking for and try and work backwards to meet up with the evidence. This is often particularly clear when listening to the bizarre arguments put forward by religious or right wing people. Which is one of the reasons that “Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority” is one of my favorite Doctor Who quotes.

For the guy who created the cybermen, Kit Pedler wasn’t particularly creative. Plotwise, this story is somewhat familiar. Bunch of scientists. Check. Space station floating out in the middle of nowhere. Check. Inevitable attack by cybermen. Check. In fact, in many ways this story is indistinguishable from the Moonbase, not to mention all the other base under siege stories from this particular era. Happily, the ever awesome David Whitaker was able to take what was by this point a rather familiar idea and turn it into something great. It may not be the best Who story, but it is rather entertaining and easily watchable (listenable?) and one that I regularly go back to.

Whitaker’s script is the main reason for this, and the reason that it stands out from the crowd of other base under siege serials. As well gems like the logic quote, the whole script is peppered with lines like “I feel as if someone’s been hitting me all over with small hammers” or “Kilt? Kilt. A barbaric form of garment as worn by a kiltie! Are you of Scandinavian origin? Danish?”.

As well as being awesome, there is something else those two lines have in common: they are both spoken by new companion Zoe. The Doctor’s last companion, Victoria was sadly given very little to do other than scream, get rescued and moan endlessly. Happily, Zoe is more or less the polar opposite of this. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is possibly my favorite TARDIS crew, and Zoe is a big part of that. She’s the only human companion that the Doctor has ever had who can actually keep up with him intellectually. She may not have his spark of indefinable genius, but she is every bit as bright when it comes to creative logic and reasoning. I’m pretty sure that Wendy Padbury was, and still is, beautiful enough to keep most of the dads watching. Unlike just about every other companion in the classic series, with the exception of Ace and possibly Romana, she actually has an arc, even if it is just Spock’s. Just as importantly, she fits in perfectly with the rest of the TARDIS crew, and right from the start they feel like a single unit.

So as they sail off into the next chapter of time and space, this time actually letting their new friend what she might be in for, the Doctor and his companions leave Patrick Troughton’s second year in the role. The bad guys in this season may have sucked huge balls, but through it all Troughton and Hines were both top notch, and Deborah Watling really did do a good job with a dreadful role. Troughton had already well and truly proven himself in the role, but this year cemented him in the position. The best was yet to come, however, as his third and final year would turn out to be, IMHO, one of the best in Who history. Would it be smooth sailing all the way through, or would there be bumps along the way? Find out next time in The Dominators.