Brief interlude – Enemy of the World and Web of Fear Revisited

So today the ‘Lonely Planet’ declared Scotland the third most awesome place to visit in 2014, which doesn’t sound like an insult, but it was still one place below fucking Antarctica, implying that next year is going to be a shit one for traveling. It then goes on to list several things well worth avoiding as being reasons for this high position on the list. Scotland is a great place to visit, but you’d have to have all the taste of a second hand tetley teabag to think that an overgrown sports day is anything to get remotely excited about.

All of which makes me delighted to be talking about Jamie McCrimmon once again. Even if they did put him in something other than a kilt for parts of Enemy of the World*.

The original plan of this blog was to go through each episode of Doctor Who in order. Sadly, as some episodes were missing ever since their original broadcast well before my birth, I was only able to enjoy them as audio productions. Awesomely however, Enemy of the World and Web of Fear have just been (mostly) rediscovered and given that there is a natural pause here between seasons I thought it would be sensible to go back and watch these episodes and see what was missing from the audio versions.

There have been previously missing stories that when discovered many fans turned out to prefer the audio version. Tomb of the Cybermen, for example, seems to lose a lot of atmosphere when you get to see the wobbly overlit sets and bad Cybermen costumes. This is most definitely not the case with Enemy of the World, which only gains from the visuals. The first episode in particular is an absolute delight to see, with the elaborate chase sequences which just don’t translate as sound effects, not to mention the priceless image of the Doctor paddling in his underwear. But the real treat is the extraordinary double performance from Patrick Troughton. There’d always been hints of it in episode 3, but getting to see the whole thing really brings home what a feat of acting it was. I’d always quite enjoyed Enemy of the World, having seen it in all its original glory I’d now rate it as one of the better Troughton stories, particularly of those not including Zoe, by extension making it one of the finest Whos of all time.

 

While there were not many qualities of the audio Enemy of the World that I felt might not have been in the original, Web of Fear always had a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere which I was slightly scared might not translate. Happily, I am a foolish person, and in this case was very wrong indeed. The overlighting that pretty much every other classic who suffered from is not at all in evidence here, and the sets are outright fantastic. It is abundantly obvious why the authorities in charge of the London Underground were outraged when this show first aired – you could easily mistake the tunnels for the real thing. The only real downside of being able to see what’s going on is that the Yeti, as before in The Abominable Snowmen, look fucking lame. The atmosphere generated by the claustrophobic feeling environment more than makes up for this though.

All in all, these two stories only gain in the discovery of their originally broadcast versions. Both of them positively crackle with that undefinable magic of 60s Doctor Who that the show never seemed to manage to recreate after it went to colour. I was looking forward to seeing them purely as a fan of the show, and excited to see stories thought missing, but both of them turned out to be excellent viewing in their own right. Its hard to describe to a non-whovian the excitement felt when one of the missing episodes is found, but its nothing on watching one and finding out just how good some of them actually are.
*I’m never letting that go.

Advertisements

The Dæmons

Written by Robert Sloman and Barry Letts

Directed by Christopher Barry

“Every newspaper in America, with very few exceptions, has a daily astrology column. Astrology is bunk. Astrology is fraud. How many of them even have a weekly science column?”

Carl Sagan 1934 – 1996

“try anything once except incest or Morris dancing”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900

I like this opening with a quote lark. I’m no good at saying clever or insightful things, so I might as well let someone else do it for me. Unfortunately, so far this week the most intelligent and insightful things were said by a man best known for sexually harassing his wardrobe assistants. I irrationally dislike Russell Brand for two reasons: he looks like a more handsome version of me, and he’s not George Cole*, so when he says something smart, which he actually quite often does, I get quite cross.

A few posts ago I talked about how the boring rural fuckhole that is Buckinghamshire had been going through something of a transformation in the 60s and early 70s into a hotbed of horror and sci-fi madness. Up until now Who had mostly left the horror to the blokes at Hammer, but with the Dæmons that was set to change. Although is it set very much in the UNIT era, the whole story is infused with the gothic atmosphere of the best Victorian horrors, particularly the first episode or so, which has a fair amount of action at night. Later on Who would embrace that gothic atmosphere to a much fuller extent, and watching The Dæmons its easy to see why. There is something undeniably appealing about it, and it sits very well with Pertwee’s dapper style.

As for the story itself, the Doctor’s constant debunking of everyone’s superstition is a joy to behold, even if pretty much every technical sounding word to come out his mouth is 100% pure unadulterated gobshite. Everything moves along at a smart pace and never quite gets bogged down despite being somewhat on the long side.

Sadly, the budget and time limitations of Who meant that some the of dæmonic effects don’t translate to screen quite as well as they could. Low budget as they may have been, but the hammer guys usually managed to created a better dæmon than a bloke in a hallowe’en mask and tights. They could afford an elaborate and pointless helicopter chase though. Go figure.

I’ve said before that I felt like the huge overexposure of the Maser in this series was both a blessing and a curse. There is no story that I would ever want to taked Roger Delgado away from, but confining the Doctor to one planet, in one era made the show a lot more monotonous than it had been**, and having only one villain for a series only exacerbated this. That gripe aside, Delgado is nothing but fantastic in this story. The way he swings from brash overconfidence to abject fear in a fraction of a second is just one of the spectacular feats of his performance.

While on the subject of the Master, I’d like to remark on what a great name he has. On the surface, in normal parlance, a doctor is someone who helps people, while a master is one who subjugates and oppresses. Which works pretty well for a hero/villain pairing. In technical academic speech, however, a doctor is someone who has obtained a doctorate degree, such as a PhD (or a DPhil if you’re in Oxford), whereas a master is someone who has obtained a masters degree***, a step below a doctorate****, meaning that the Doctor’s name right out implies that he is at least more qualified than the Master.

Much as I love the Master, by the end of this series it rather felt like the writing staff were trying to force a popular recurring villain on the audience, rather than letting one grow organically from villains never intended as being recurring. There were a number of such monsters in Who’s past, but the best of them, the most terrifying by far, the one’s who had helped make the show the stunning success it was, had seeming left the show forever some four years previous. But as I’ve said before, despite what many may think, it was always the Doctor himself that made the show. None of his villains could ever survive on their own, and try as he might, Terry Nation never could get his murderous spice shakers to work in any context other than who, so sooner or later they were bound to return. But in what way would they make their appearance? Find out next time in Day of the Daleks.

*I sort of wish I had an irrational dislike of everyone who is not George Cole, not just the ones who have played Flash Harry.

**yeah, most shows are thus confined. Most shows don’t run for fifty years.

*** derived from the very earliest degrees, which were effectively apprenticeships in philosophy – you’d go from being an apprentice philosopher to a master philosopher upon completion of your masterpiece, like any other craftsman, which is what a dissertation is. Sorry for that sidetrack.

**** I only have a masters. And an inferiority complex. And a goatee. Wait, I don’t like where this is going…

Colony in Space

Written by Malcolm Hulke

Directed by Michael E. Briant

Mid last week a bunch of crybaby rightwing pisspots finally gave in and let America go back to work*. They really should have known better; Obama is clearly a man of many faults, or else he wouldn’t be a politician, but a man with that much cool is never going to lose that sort of battle. The thing that upset the pisspots in the first place was the apparently heinous notion that they should care about other people and maybe offer an insultingly basic level of healthcare. The sort of attitude on display here is some of the foulest Randian selfish gobshite imaginable; that this tiny group of people think that they should be able to hold the entire planet’s economy to ransom for their own unpopular self serving agenda, all the while putting thousands of people out of work, while demanding to get paid for not turning up to their own jobs.

It is exactly the sort of attitude shown by IMC, the villains mining corporation in Colony in Space. In many ways it is not at all surprising that the villains of this story would exhibit that sort of anti-capitalist, corporations-are-cunts sort of attitude which I’m so fond of, since it was written by hard line Marxist, Mac Hulke. The folly of unhindered corporate expansion, virtue of the worker and the importance of putting others before yourself are all themes intricately explored in Colony in Space, topped off with a good helping of pacifism and ultimately a subtle push for nuclear disarmament. Great as all of that is though, what really shines though as brilliant in Mac Hulke’s work is his unwillingness treat any group or race as anything other than a collection of individuals. Among his colonists are more than one dafty who thinks that hitting shit will solve something. Among his corporate shills dwells the ultimately very heroic Caldwell.

Not that it’s all plain sailing for Colony though; it does have a good number of issues. Not least, the notion of supporting colonisation of an already populated planet. When the fuck has that sort of thing ever ended well? The planet sure as hell shouldn’t be sued for mining, but those colonists really ought to fuck right off and find their own damn planet, that one already has an indigenous population of ‘primitives.’

The biggest problem on display, though, is that it can at times be really fucking boring. Like many stories from this era, 6 episodes is just too damn many.

So after almost two years there was finally a story where the Doctor actually got to go further than the earth’s orbit. And it was, in many ways, a good one. Issues aside, this story drove home a (mostly) positive message about the importance of pacifism and the dangers of corporate power. It also probably has my favorite Brig moment ever, which was sadly really the only Brig moment at all. Now that the Doctor had returned to alien environments would he be able to settle back on earth? I hope not, but probably. Find out next time in The Dæmons.

*Of all the stories covering this, that is clearly the best one, since it has the title of episode 13 written in huge letters about a quarter of the way down.

Mind of Evil & Claws of Axos

Mind of Evil written by Don Houghton

Claws of axos written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin

Mind of evil directed by Timothy Combe

Claws of Axos directed by Michael Ferguson

Okay, so, first things first. I’m really fucking excited by the newly discovered episodes. Last year I almost wet myself with excitement when two episodes were found, but now NINE. Fucking 9. Almost two full stories. And an early appearance from the Brig. Nice. But anyway, on with the matter at hand.

Surprising as it may be there do exist people who do not find the subject of prison reform interesting. These people are, of course, lame. The conundrum of how to deal with people who have proven themselves dangerous to the public while keeping everyone safe, treating prisoners with basic humanity and shutting up the hate-peddling middle England daily mail reading fuckwits all at once it obviously a vastly interesting one. Almost as interesting as the fundamentals of human thought, the structure of the brain and nature of good and evil.

Which is why, in my view, Mind of Evil is the most disappointing Who thus far. All the elements are in place to have a really interesting story, but what we ended up with was a bland trudge through all the previously mentioned U.N.I.T. era tropes. Doctor and Brig bickering? Check. Jo in a short skirt? Check. Benton looking confused? Check. Master cavorting about? Check check check.

Claws of Axos doesn’t, on the surface, have a lot more to offer. The show was very much still stuck in its rut. But the quality of the writing here is a bit better. The writing team of Barker and Martin weren’t ever spectacular, but their stories were constantly good, and Axos is no exception. There is even a hint of that very British sense of humour that would go on to define his writing when he helped create Wallace and Gromit.

One of the great strengths of Axos is that the Master is by no means the villain. In fact, he spends almost as much time working with the Doctor as against him. Axos isn’t even the main villain either. That dubious honour would go to the bureaucratic, petty and greedy British establishment, whose constant striving to pass the buck almost leads to the destruction of earth.

sadly, the fact remains though that this does not have a whole lot to differentiate it from the two or three stories preceding it. What who really needed was a story that wasn’t set on contemporary earth. Thankfully, the production staff had managed to wrangle exactly that happening. Finally, the Doctor might actually get off world in Colony on space.

Terror of the Autons

Written by Robert Holmes

Directed by Barry Letts

I feel like I’m starting to get a bit cliched every time I compare a member of the government to a Doctor Who villain, but when one of the colossal cunts declares that they want to completely cut benefits to people under 25, while simultaneously describing themselves as the party of hope, the only conclusion is that they are either remarkably stupid or downright evil. I’m not sure about some of his cabinet, but David Cameron is far from stupid. Meanwhile, some wee gobshite, who this time is clearly remarkably stupid, wants to force people to work for benefits, thus forcing the people who had been doing those jobs out of work, onto benefits and ultimately back into the jobs they had, but this time without a wage. Unless they’re under 25, and then I guess  that they’re just expected to starve.

All of which is so fucking disgusting that this upstart villain, some bloke in a beard called the Master, looks a bit petty. After all, all he really wants to do is use an army of aliens to take over the earth and kill everyone on it.

The origins of the master came, I believe, from a conversation between producer, and this time director, Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks, who thought that the Doctor was a bit like Sherlock Holmes*, and decided that he needed a Moriarty. I’ve no idea why: Moriarty was shit. But it seemed to work. The Master is pretty much the third part of the Doctor Who villain trinity, along with the Daleks and the Cybermen. The main things that make the Master stand out are that he is an individual, rather than a whole species, and that he has no real motive. Much like villains from comics of that era, the Master is pretty much motivated by being evil. Which would be dreadful if it were not for one factor – Roger Delgado. His slightly camp, very dapper and slick performance takes all the aspects of a victorian mad scientist, and brings them together to create something entirely new. I always got the impression that he rather liked the Doctor, but was a bit anti-social, and didn’t really know how to show it, so kept just trying to kill shit to get his attention.

The Master’s not the only important new character to show up in this story though: the production staff were clearly fed up with having a companion who was more than something for the Dads to oggle. While recent companions Zoe and Liz had both been as attractive as anyone could possibly ask for, they were also capable of at least keeping up with the Doctor intellectually. Unfortunately, the same can not be said of Jo Grant. I’d be shocked if she were capable of keeping up intellectually with half a ham sandwich. Still, she comes across as quite nice, and does get into trouble quite well.

With the arrival of the Master and Jo all of the elements were in place for the classic U.N.I.T era. For the next three years or so you could generally expect to find similar types of stories from Who – the doctor and the Brig bickering, Benton getting confused, Yates being bashed on the head, varios car chases around the Home Counties, Jo in a short skirt and the Master trying to kill everyone. It is fair to say, in other words, that Who was in a bit of a rut. That’s not to say that all the stories were the same though. Some had other alien threats. Like evil munching brain leeches. Fun? Find out just how much, next time in Mind of Evil.

*He’s not, the only things they have in common is that they’re constantly explaining things to less clever people. I’ve not idea what the fuck they were thinking.